There is nothing like cancer to concentrate the mind.
I got a cough at the tail end of spring that was vicious enough to hurt and left me gasping for breath. After suffering for a month, I went to the doctor and was told it was a viral infection. It would clear up on its own.
It eased sufficiently so that I no longer turned purple and scared children but it didn’t go away.
The tickle at the back of the throat was annoying. An unwelcome lodger who’s presence became so familiar, I forgot it was there until, across the bar one evening, Tim said: “You’ve still got the cough, then.”
It was a shock to realise that I had and I could see problems ahead.
I’m on the waiting list for a cataract operation. The last thing you want is to cough unexpectedly when a surgeon is at work on your eye.
I also remembered the NHS campaign two years ago that pointed out only one in 10 people realise that a persistent cough could be a key symptom of lung cancer.
If you have a cough for more than three weeks, get it checked out, it said. A bevy of British stars supported the campaign.
So I made another doctor’s appointment and was summoned to the surgery that morning, given a thorough examination and sent to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary for a chest X-ray.
The cough probably was the result of a viral infection, I was told, but an X-ray was important to rule out any possibility of cancer or other complications.
The word had been said. Speaking it made real the vague fear that had been lurking at the back of my mind.
An old friend died of cancer last Christmas. Two weeks ago, I’d had a call from my oldest surviving friend, who told me he’d just been diagnosed and had between a year and 18 months left. He was surprisingly philosophical.
Would I be so philosophical if my X-ray proved terminal?
The X-ray was carried out the same day and I told myself there was nothing to worry about.
I walk every day, have never been a smoker and I eat a healthy diet.
In the days that followed, I was philosophical and persuaded myself the cough was getting better. But in the long silent hours of the night, the nag of worry returned to fire my imagination and worst-case scenarios.
During the day, existence took on a sharper focus.
Finally, I telephoned the surgery for the results. A hint of bated breath. “You’re normal, Mr Kilcommons,” was the verdict.
It’s a long time since I’ve been called normal but I didn’t take offence. The result was the one I had expected, wasn’t it? There had been nothing to worry about.
Except that I had, quietly, in the recesses of my imagination. Cancer is a word that has that effect.
Dr Sarah Jarvis on the health and wellbeing blog, Patient.co.uk says: “As many as one in five of us have a persistent cough, which usually doesn’t have a serious cause. Doctors describe a persistent or chronic cough as one lasting more than eight weeks.
“Of course everyone’s worst fear when they get anything wrong is the Big C.
“However, do bear in mind that there are many causes of chronic cough which are much more likely than this.”
So if you have one, get it checked out.
Now I can relax.
But I wonder just how philosophical I would have been if my result had been different.