I woke up on Saturday, 29th August, much the same as I do most days… with my 18th month old baby boy vocalising his hunger and desire for his bottle at around 5:30am. I grabbed my phone from the side table and sauntered downstairs in a daze, still somewhere between asleep and trying to assimilate my tasks for the day, whilst trying to avoid falling down the flight of stairs.
With the kettle boiling in the background, I flick my iPhone off of airplane mode (a recent habit that saves me being bombarded with emails and notifications throughout the night, as well as unnecessary signal). Another recent habit is to try and steer clear of browsing the news until after breakfast… I like to start my day on a positive note.
I had been tracking some stories on twitter so I open the app, and the first post I see is Ryan Reynolds’ “Such a brutal loss. RIP, Chadwick”. Hmmm, interesting, I’m a superhero movie fan and there’s only one actor I know that fits the bill, Chadwick Boseman. But surely he cant be referring to the same actor that donned the Black Panther uniform, the same actor that played Jackie Robinson in 42… this actor is all of 43 years old so surely Mr Reynolds can’t be referring to him. The kettle begins to scream, so does my mind.
Scrolling down on the twitter feeds confirms my fear. Someone else has died of cancer. Except this wasn’t just “someone else”, this was someone with a voice. Some who marked a generational change for people of colour, by playing both Jackie Robinson and King T’Challa. Someone who has been vocal of the need for change, and who has driven that change himself. How did he die of cancer?
I then notice that I’m fidgeting with the keloid scar I have on my stomach, a scar born out of my own fight with cancer. This fidget is more like a nervous tick I get when I hear about someone else fighting, and losing their battle with cancer. I have numerous scars, 4 on my head, 5 on my stomach (so long abs, nice to never have known ya), not to mention the emotional scars. Yet it’s the one of the left hand side of my stomach that I fidget with at night and when my anxiety peaks.
It distils a fear in you, knowing that someone that positive and that impactful can succumb to this disease… what hope do we mere mortals have.
This constant roundabout of emotion is something I go through every night when I look in the mirror and see the scars, when I go to bed at night, when I hear of someone else being diagnosed. I know knowledge is power, but knowing that this disease is still inside of me, still trying to kill me, is something I still battle with every day. When I hear of someone passing from cancer, I try and assess what kind of life they lived, whether they were a force for good, and why was it them and not me?
That is a question I’ll never know the answer to.
For the rest of Saturday morning I’m in this weird funk, where I keep seeing stories flash up on Sky and CNN about this incredible impact this “actor” had and continues to have on peoples lives. He transcended the role of actor and stood for something greater, he was an icon to me, and so many other people, kids included, and now he’s gone, and all we’re left with is his legacy.
I think the most perplexing part of this whole story is that he suffered in silence. This was his cross to bear, yet I cant understand why he carried it alone. Yes, stage III & IV colon cancer is more than likely terminal, but there is support out there and I can only hope it carried him though until the end.
Chadwick’s story then got me thinking of what he left behind, and that quickly turned into me thinking of what I would leave behind. When I was diagnosed with a malignant brain cancer at 24, I never really feared death. Sure, I knew it was likely but the thing that kept me up at night would be what I left behind. At that point in my life, the answer would’ve been unfulfilled potential. Today, its so much more & I cant even think about it.
I honestly believe that it was in those blurry moments of anaesthesia induced reckoning before my surgeries that I maybe had my clearest thoughts ever. “If you wake up from this thing, don’t live an ordinary life Brad”… and then darkness. When I woke up I fought like hell to avoid death again, but it was at the back of every future decision I’ve made. “If I eat this, is it more likely to cause cancer”, “If I don’t exercise, am I more likely to live an unhealthy life and get cancer again?”… and so the wheel turns.
I know it sounds insane, but I promise you, when you’re in the fight for your life, you will assess and reassess everything.
Chadwick Boseman was a hero, a Superhero, on an off the screen. He’s made everyone reassess what it means to force change and to change the status quo. He’s made me reevaluate what I’m doing with my life, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.