At the end of 1998, I went freelance as a software developer. My income trebled, the hours were reasonable and I didn’t have to wear a tie. As soon as I saved sufficient money for a deposit, I bought a house. My first house. I joined an exclusive sports club, bought a big new TV and extra sound recording equipment for my home studio. I was fit and young, single and stacked.
Of course, as a freelancer, if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t earning. But I was working, so no problem. I wasn’t completely naive though, I knew that if I did happen to break a leg while skiing in the Alps or fall off the rigging while sailing in the Western Isles, paying the mortgage, gas, electricity and buying food would be a major problem. So I took the precaution of investing in an income protection policy and had a complete health check just to make sure I had everything covered.
My 12-month freelance contract ended and I decided to take a few weeks break for Christmas. A few weeks? But I could, I was a freelancer. I went away for a long weekend to stay with my sister in Vienna. It was bitterly cold but fabulous.
When I got home, there was a message on my answer-phone from my doctor. As with most answer-phone messages, it was garbled but I did understand there was a problem with a blood test result from the health check I’d had recently. I just needed to make a routine appointment to see him and it would be sorted.
The following day I saw my doctor, I was still not at all concerned until he delivered the swingeing body blow. As I sat facing him he said, “I’m afraid it’s not good news. One of the blood test results has revealed you have a condition called Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia.” After the words ‘bad news‘ and ‘leukaemia‘, I heard nothing more. He continued talking but I wasn’t listening. The only thing I knew about leukaemia was that people who had it, died. As he talked, I felt myself heating up and my vision blurred like an untuned TV. I mumbled, “I think I’m going to pass out”. He replied, “No, I don’t think you will.”
As I regained consciousness, images and sounds flashed rapidly through my head. It was so dizzying, it felt like being stuck on a children’s roundabout spinning at a hundred miles per hour. I was caught in this bad dream and couldn’t wake up. These symptoms were familiar from when I’d been seasick during sailing trips and while seasickness is said to be one of the worst feelings, coming round from passing out was just as bad for me. Slowly though, my head cleared and thoughts of dying returned. My doctor led me to another room where I laid across a line of chairs. Then he left me alone for a few minutes.
Alone. Loneliness. That was just one of the emotions that would later come to haunt me.