Dom Joly: Face to face with my own mortality

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The Independent Online

I've now passed the two-month, no-smoking barrier and really feel that I've kicked the filthy habit. I've tried to give up before but I always secretly knew that it would only be a matter of weeks before I was back on the cancer sticks again. (Look, I've already started calling them "cancer sticks", I am definitely so over the whole smelly thing.) The problem with giving up is that no one actually believes you as they've heard it all before so many times.

I do actually have a strong reason for quitting this time: Stacey is something of an alarmist when it comes to health. No, maybe that's unfair; she's more proactive when it comes to illness than I am. For instance, if one of the children gets a cough, Stacey is up in the middle of the night ringing NHS Direct, steaming up a bathroom and opting to sleep on the floor beside their bed. I, meanwhile, do the "relax, everything will be OK" approach favoured by many lazy fathers.

Stacey feels that it's best to prepare for the worst where illness is concerned and so it was when, one morning, I innocently complained of a "burning feeling" on my tongue. Stacey investigated the offending orifice and announced that I had cancer. I immediately collapsed into a heap of weeping jelly, totally unable to put up the required "fight" that you hear about when people talk of cancer patients. It was only after about 10 minutes that she managed to calm me down and pronounce the word properly - she had, apparently, actually said "canker".

I was so relieved I didn't have cancer that I immediately lit up a celebratory fag. My happiness didn't last long. Stacey told me I had several cankers on my tongue and that this was unusual. She headed straight for the dreaded internet to confirm her suspicions. If any of you have ever tried to self-diagnose using the internet, don't. There is no good news available on it. Obviously, a site that tells you lots of cankers on your tongue could possibly be a sign of mouth cancer but is probably something more innocent, would get sued by someone. So, within seconds, Stacey was reading me my death sentence.

"You have a 25 per cent survival chance and a maximum of two years to live." She almost seemed to be relishing the news. For someone so terrified of these events she has an almost unquenchable thirst for gory detail. By now I was lying on the sofa in a serious state of hypochondria. I was getting heart palpitations and finding it difficult to breathe.

"This is because of your smoking and debauched lifestyle," screamed my demented, non-smoking, yogic, vegetarian wife. "You'll never live to see your children grow up. You're a selfish father." I was beginning to wonder whether this was a normal way of treating cancer patients?

"Go and see the doctor! The internet says you must treat it as soon as possible, every minute diminishes your survival chances!" So Stacey drove me to Lechlade where, unlike in London, I could see my GP within half an hour of my online diagnosis. I shuffled into his office waiting to hear the official death sentence. "What seems to be the problem?" he asked. "I have mouth cancer, sorry canker," I replied, trying to hold back my unmanly tears. "Let's have a look," he said.

He poked around my mouth with that weird instrument that appears to be a rather unhygienic, used ice-lolly stick. After a couple of seconds, he told me that I was probably a little run-down and recommended an antiseptic mouthwash. "So... I'm not going to die?" I asked him through misty eyes. "Not yet, no, now move along, I've got Mrs Miggins outside and she's been attacked by a small cow."

I left the surgery in a happy daze and got back into the car next to Stacey. "Well... how long have you got?" I could see she didn't want it to last too long. "I'm going to live. It's just cankers," I replied. And I could swear that, for a fleeting moment, she looked disappointed. Then the moment passed. "I'm glad you're not going to die," she said. "Me too," I replied.