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Column: The Lump

This column first appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post.

I have found a lump and I think it’s safe to assume I’m going to die.

This isn’t the first time. Once before I was resigned to the prospect of a journey to meet my maker, until Dr. Malhotra told me I’d be the first person in human history to develop toe cancer.

I’d like to take this opportunity to issue a disclaimer. This column is not going to be as bleak as the following sentence suggests – in fact, I’m getting to something profoundly uplifting.

I often think about when I’m going to die.

It’s a thought that floats through all of us. The issue of mortality is, whether we like it or not, inherently fascinating. How can you not be completely compelled by the notion of it all ending? Of what may or may not be next? And the reality that it is our fate. All of us.

I often look at older people and wonder why they aren’t running around with their arms in the air, panicked at their proximity to eternal darkness. OK. That’s as bleak as it gets. I promise.

The thought of death doesn’t just occupy that dark and sinister quarter of my brain, but more the part that prods us occasionally, helpfully reminding us of the importance of today.

Despite being 27 and admittedly quite far down the scale of ‘how panicked should I be about death’, I do allow myself regular opportunities to give it a good mull over. I discover a new incurable disease almost daily, I have a heart attack every time I climb the stairs and I’ve contracted the plague at least twice.

Plodding merrily alongside my hypochondria is a deep emotional attachment to almost everything I do. I become incredibly wrapped up in the smallest details and worry constantly. It’s a by-product of the ADHD I was diagnosed with as a child, but I seldom tackle anything without throwing 100% of myself into it. Blood, sweat, tears and…. worry. I worry about work. I worry about my family. I worry about my car. I worry that I’m doing too much. I worry that I’m not doing enough. I worry that I look stupid when I walk. I worry that I’m making porridge wrong. Why does it always stick to the pan? Why am I so incapable of getting the right consistency? I must be the only grown adult in the world who can’t get this right.

It’s good to care, sure, and there is no doubt that it drives success – but when it seizes every available thought and drags you into a hole so deep you can think of little else, it gets in the bloody way a bit.

What I’m left with is an almost daily back and forth between being wrapped in the anxiety of correctly making breakfast and the thrilling rush of feeling a tweak in my arm and realising that it could all be over soon anyway, so I might as well just enjoy it.

On the somewhat liberal assumption that I make it to the average life expectancy of around 80 (liberal, given how much cheese I ate at the weekend), that leaves me with 53 remaining years. There are 8,760 hours in a year. That leaves me 464,280 hours. The older you get, the faster they go. Once you’ve deducted the time spent asleep and the 5 hours a day spent looking at pictures of dogs on Instagram, that in itself is an awakening. Whatever time me and the lump have left, we ought to use them better than worrying about porridge.

‘Ah yes,’ said the doctor with a tone that suggested she’d already picked out which hat she would wear to my funeral, ‘I see.’

She turned and walked back to her desk and began typing some notes. I squinted to see if I could spot any trace of ‘6 months left’ or ‘don’t bother donating his liver, he drank a whole bottle of wine last Tuesday’, but it was all a blur.

‘You have,’ she began, leaving a pause so long I was sure she was teasing me, ‘a cyst. A course of antibiotics should shift it.’ And she thrust the little green slip into my hand and ushered me from the room.

There was the rush. I rejoice in it briefly but these things work in cycles. It’s never long before you’re wrapped back up in something ultimately insignificant.

So, here’s to hypochondria – because we all need an occasional reminder that porridge isn’t that important.

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By darrylmorris