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PTSD isn't real

Paul McMullan photo
Paul McMullanRochester Castle
PTSD isn't real
It is helplessness that kills

When Prince Harry read the magical words of the Invictus poem as he opened the games: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” it hit me between the eyes like a punch.

I was just beginning chemo. I had never heard it before and I can’t remember the rest of the poem, something about boats maybe.

I immediately went out and bought a copy. It had nothing to do with boats.

It was stirring stuff for the victims of roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. Losing arms and legs is clearly terrible but your new life starts today, you are the master of your fate. Go for it.

Cancer is different, it is the body turning in on itself and at the moment in 2019 we still have no idea why. We know how it works but with cancers like mine we simply cannot stop it coming back. We don’t know where it has come from or how it started in the first place.

Just like the soldier, every cancer patient, suffers PTSD. I was certainly diagnosed. It is a shock. I bought my 5 year-old son some new school shoes in the morning. That afternoon I was told I could be dead in six months. With my mind racing at my utter helplessness, I showed him how to tie his laces as he was laughing and stomping around. His big first day to be one of my last.

The soldiers are not haunted by night time visions of battlefields and explosions, they are haunted by images of helplessness when they are forced to watch a brother in arms die because they are pinned down and cannot get to him.

I know the feeling.

But when I heard those lines, I am the master of my fate, I thought maybe I can try. It is me, eating me, inside but maybe I can do something. Maybe I can help myself.

I drove an elderly friend of my 86 year-old mother to a care home, she had fallen, her children had left, her husband had died and she decided to give up her house in the suburbs.

We had tea and biscuits leaving her alone to be cared for in a comfortable chair, in a warm environment surrounded by nurses but as we walked out, we turned round to wave goodbye and suddenly we saw an old lady sitting there, helpless. She died within two months.

Helplessness, I thought, really is a killer.

With cancer, the doctors tell you you are truly helpless, you must do this course of treatment, there is nothing you can do yourself. But I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul and I will do something, but what?

My best friend laughs when I turn down a slice of cake or a piece of white toast. I know my ulta-vegan nothing in a packet diet is mental but that is the whole point. It is mental. I am in control. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my dinner plate.

My life is going to be incredibly difficult I know that.


My girlfriend shaved her beautiful blonde hair off in solidarity and I will love her forever for that. 


She said she dreamt of having two children with me and nobody else but me despite my diagnosis and we would start a family and I had to live and she would make sure of it. The brutal nature of cancer treatment today quickly rendered me infertile probably for the rest of my life and the dream was suddenly over. I threw her out because she wouldn’t go. Some dreams are better shattered quickly. There was no sniper fire over our heads but I was pinned down by a painful decision. I had the chance to save this one and I took it. She could fulfil her dreams with someone else.

You see cancer has opportunities for PTSD in spades and I don’t even believe in it. PTSD is just doctor speak for really upset.

My mother may have to go into the same care home as her friend, they don’t last forever, I am going to have to face that but thank you Prince Harry, I am the captain of my soul.

My cancer is ‘it’, or rather i.t, incurable and terminal. I wish ‘it’ stood for something else. It affects the marrow inside my bones. Inside every single bone in my body, hence it is called multiple myeloma. Years ago people died within months, a horrible death as their bones, my doctor said, turned to something with the consistency of mashed potato, your spine, legs and rib cage generally collapsing first. Thank you doctor, mashed potato is now off my already, rather small menu.


I have worked in hospitals several times as an undercover journalist and a dying man once pulled me closer and whispered in my ear, ‘sonny, take my advice, never get old, never get ill,’ I laughed, ‘I promise, I never will.’ It was 20 years ago but I am still not that old. I want my life back. I don’t want this poison to shrink my testicles to the size of peanuts. When I was learning French my first rude phrase was, ‘j’ai des grosses couillles velu,’ It means, I have big hairy balls. It’s really hard to say for the English as there is no sound like couilles in our language and I remember sitting round a swimming pool in the south of France practising with everyone falling about.

Now they are hardly there at all. I am a eunuch. I have been castrated with poison. I would rather father a child and die than live like this.

But I do live like this. The instinct to survive even when everything and everyone has dumped on you from the greatest of heights is still there.

Would the heroic master and captain of the poem bravely pull the needle from his arm, blood squirting and then stride manfully out of the ward for the sick and dying.

I imagine myself running, a free man, free of this death sentence, free of this illness, breathing clean fresh air and I run and I run but I have nowhere to go.

Two years ago they discovered 8% of myeloma sufferers just don’t die, they stay in remission and their bones stay solid. I want to get in that 8%. I am the captain, I am a pirate and I want a piece of that 8, maybe it was about boats after all.


#Prince Harry, #multiple myeloma, #Invictus, #PTSD, #vegan, #William Ernest Henley

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