“Family,” he begins, “is the real deal, the stuff that matters most.” Take the main photo for example, a heartwarming portrait of grandfather and grandson. Daniel James Walker Martin, and his grandfather John in a priceless photographic moment. “Daniel is not only my best friend,”John admits, “but also my newfound inspiration in my life today.” John Walker Pattison, born February 1957 in South Shields by the sea. He admits he was quite the class clown in school, didn’t pay much mind to the books. The pivotal moment in John’s life however, was when he met June.
John went on to become a senior clinical nurse specialist and head honcho in hematology at the local hospital, but life threw a curveball. Chemotherapy and radiation left him with chronic illnesses, and by the same hospital that gave him that cancer diagnosis nearly five decades ago. Back then, they told his folks he wouldn’t make it. But look at him now, one of the longest-surviving cancer warriors in the UK!
Eight years later, his daughter gets hit with terminal leukemia. John’s a big shot in the world of hematology and oncology, bagging awards left and right. But you know what he’s proudest of? Outliving that cancer!
Back in 1973, he was working at a shipyard, but cancer came knocking. Last year, he spills the beans in his memoirs, ‘Me, and My Shadow – memoirs of a cancer survivor,” and readers eat it up. In retirement, he becomes a writer for the kids, ages 8 to 10. His stories? Oh, they’re something else. ‘Strange Trips and Weird Adventures’ dropped in 2021, and people were eating that up, too. He assures us he’s got more books are on the way, like “Lunar Von Buella the Mystical Mouse from Missoula”, and ‘The Fastest Water Pistol in Splodge City’ in 2023, and ‘Esmerelda and the Kingdom of Huckleberry Jam’ in 2024. These days, when John’s not writing , he enjoys some quiet time fly fishing and snapping photos. He found strength and solace in the history and spirituality of the Lakota Sioux Nation. In 2018, he’s out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and the indigenous friends unknowingly help him conquer cancer.
John Walker Pattison has led quite the extraordinary life, nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece. From the UK, let’s begin…
John: I am truly touched by the incredible reviews of my book so far – in excess of forty, all offering exemplary comments, and all five star reviews, I’m speechless.
However, the review that epitomized the book more than any other was by Pat Green, she said “Never thought I’d go on a sunny holiday and still spend 3 days indoors reading this remarkable book. John’s account of his highs and lows battling his cancer treatment and corresponding inner thoughts throughout his ordeal were truly riveting and inspirational. A truly great and humbling understanding of his life’s journey. Highly recommended.” (As posted on Amazon, unedited). There are many more descriptive reviews, such as the one below, but, I love the fact that this person went on holiday and read the book as a priority – for me, that speaks volumes.
“John’s memoirs are beautifully written, not only setting out a clear picture of John’s life, but also allowing the reader to consider what may be helpful when dealing with life’s every day ups and downs and the challenges of dealing with having cancer, almost dying and then becoming a cancer survivor. There is much less written about surviving cancer and John excels in his description of this complex process. You will get to know John from a young age until the present day. You will become enthralled by his writing and storytelling. This is a superb book for those experiencing cancer and also for students of health care and experienced professionals. Thank you for writing this John. Thank you for all you have skilfully and compassionately given to others throughout your life.” –R. Gamlin (Senior Nurse Lecturer)
Tell us about your inspirations. (Both literary, and music.)
John- Writing ‘Me and My Shadow – memoirs of a cancer survivor’ was meant to be a cathartic experience; yet many of the demons that lurked in depths of my mind, remain. If you are fortunate enough to survive a cancer diagnosis, then that legacy will last forever, trust me on that one.
I completely wasted my school years, much preferring to play the practical joker, and at the expense of my educational chemistry. However, in 1972 I discovered a band called Hawkwind, who produced a sound of hypnotic rhythm, electronic synthesizers, blistering guitar riffs and lyrics that were so different to anything else out there, this gave me a sense of escapism. At that time of course, I had to make do with the vinyl records and what was written in the musical press – that was until I started work in a local shipyard. I was able to see Hawkwindlive in 1975 in London, after that show, to say that I was under their influence is an understatement. So, I started to hitchhike the length and breadth of the country to see the band play many different venues and festivals. That was, until the spectre of cancer took me in a deathly stranglehold and refused to let go.
I had been traveling all around the country to see Hawkwind play, and to be totally honest and transparent, I had been enjoying some, let’s say, illicit substances. I dabbled with LSD, speed, cannabis and the occasional uppers – but I was overwhelmingly exhausted, losing weight and had a few lumps and bumps appearing (in my neck and under my arms). My family doctor dismissed all these symptoms and said I was depressed, although I knew I wasn’t depressed, he was the doctor, so I took his prescription for Valium.
Clearly I needed my work to fund my travels around the country following Hawkwind, so after I was found asleep at work, and given an almighty verbal rollicking, I was at an all-time low. Some days later I was admitted to the local hospital were over a ten day period a barrage of tests were undertaken.Eventually, my parents were told that I had cancer (Lymphoma), and that chemotherapy offered a 50% chance of achieving a remission. My parents, in their infinite wisdom, tried to collude with the medical establishment and keep my diagnosis from me. I always (to this very day) resented this, although I do understand why they did this, as there is not a worse feeling in the world than being told that your child has a cancer diagnosis – but I agreed with their approach, moreover, how they plan to keep this diagnosis from me when I was facing months of debilitating chemotherapy was beyond me. I knew deep down that I was going to need inspiration, and Hawkwind could provide that – but, unknown to me, a greater inspiration would deliver untold motivation.
So in 1975, I started chemotherapy treatment which back in the seventies was quite honestly, brutal. There was little to combat the explosive vomiting, leading to a fear of eating which would result in constant wretching for almost ten days. The plan was six cycles of chemo delivered at twenty-one day intervals. I struggled not just physically, but psychologically, and there many, many times during my cancer journey that I have no shame admitting, I contemplated suicide to escape my torment. But, in all honesty, I never had the courage to grasp the tempting hand of suicide,a handshake that would have been irreversible.
To exacerbate my pain, my long hair started to fall out leading up to my second treatment. This was so difficult to accept, as my hair was my identity, my persona, and for me was as difficult to accept as the diagnosis itself, a diagnosis which in the canyons of my mind, I knew, could ultimately claim my life.
Despite receiving chemotherapy, the Oncologist tells me that my cancer is NOT responding! I am forlorn, definitely now depressed and very angry – angry as I had already missed a few Hawkwind gigs. This cancer was interfering with my ability to enjoy life. So here I am, my first relapse………
Only weeks earlier to my relapse I read how the Americans had launched the Viking rocket to Mars, where they would discover massive dry river beds. Proof that life once existed on the red planet. Such impressive scientific achievement, and yet medical science could not eliminate my cancer which was freely roaming around my body, an unwanted accomplice.
So, more chemotherapy (a different regimen) is now initiated, and yet it was no easier to navigate than the first. I knew my mind was on a knife edge, and the ever present temptation of suicide was never far from my thoughts. I believe a fundamental reason I never grasped that unconditional end to my life was the effect it would have on my family, and so it was once again, pushed to the back of my mind. It was now that a new dimension of inspiration would enter my world. My mums sister had married an American GI after the end of the second world war and she lived in North Carolina – my mum had told her of my interest in Native American history and culture (an interest that had begun many years before my diagnosis), and she had sent me some memorabilia from Ooconaluftee Village in the Smokey Mountains, home of the Cherokee Nation. However, she also included a copy of ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ by Dee Brown. As I started to read of the oppression and how these proud people had been maligned and persecuted, I instantly felt a connection, and I knew this feeling of inspiration was different from anything else and stronger even than Hawkwind. I particularly felt a relationship with the Lakota Sioux, the plains people.
My second lot of chemotherapy was finished and Hawkwind would be playing a local venue which, naturally I would attend. But, no matter what I did in those months after chemotherapy, my thoughts were never far from the Lakota Nation, their pride, spirituality in the face of such overwhelming adversity.
Only a few months later and those tell-tale signs returned, night sweats, lump and bumps meant only one thing, cancer! The Oncologist confirms that this is my second relapse and as such it is going to be more difficult to control it…………….
A third type of chemotherapy is started, and without doubt would prove no easier to tolerate, physically or mentally than the last treatments. With the help of Hawkwind and of course, my friends, the Lakota people I eventually got through that persecution. Unfortunately once again, after less than four months my unwanted accomplice returns and the Oncologist again confirms this, a third relapse…………..
As the majority of disease was in my chest he decided that radiotherapy should start in November 1976. A Christmas I would rather forget, my get up and go, got up of its own volition and left me bereft of energy, feeling perhaps at an all-time low and missing a further two Hawkwind gigs. I scoured through the pages of my many works about the Lakota Empire, but I could find nothing as to how I can deal with this cancer. Even the impressive writing of the medicine man, Black Elk, made no reference to cancer – ironically, at a later date; Hawkwind would record a track called Black Elk Speaks. Radiotherapy was complete in January 1977 and now it was time to move my life forward.
Sadly, as had happened previously, in March those signs came flooding back and a fourth relapse. I convinced myself that my life was simply not destined to be a long one…………
Collusion is such a dirty word, and as if they didn’t learn the first time, mum and dad are told by the Oncologist that there is nothing more they can offer, other than palliative chemotherapy to alleviate my symptoms. So here is the paradox (another Hawkwind track), if I had been told this information, would I have accepted further treatment, or just accepted my fate?
March 1977 palliative chemotherapy starts, and surprisingly, it is absent of side effects (of course it is palliative so not expected to cause side effects, but I was still in the dark about this). During that summer, I took a break from the treatment (medical consent), and visited North Carolina and spent four fantastic weeks with my relatives, which included a visit to Ooconaluftee Village; sadly the Lakota people were too far away in South Dakota (at least at the time they were).
On my return to England I would start the weekly chemotherapy again for a further ten weeks, after which time I would be admitted to hospital for a whole barrage of tests which would determine my future.
Eventually, I am informed that my cancer is in remission. But, surviving survivorship would present many more problems in my life………..
Thinking my cancer journey was over would have been an oversight, and in 1984, aged just 4 years old, my adopted (the chemotherapy I received left my infertile) daughter Donna was diagnosed with lymphoma (now there’s a strange twist of fate). After nine months of chemotherapy we were told by the Oncologist that there was no more they could do and Donna was expected to die…………
Being told that your child has cancer is unlike any work of fiction, the emotional rollercoaster is indescribable. But then to be told that all of the treatment had been in vain, usurps those terrible emotions. It feels like the world is going to end!
Yet, remarkably, many months later, Donna is getting stronger and stronger. The Oncologist cannot explain what has happened, and she went on to become and international swimmer, ending her career at the World Swimming Championships in New Zealand, 1998 – coming home with two silver medals, to make me the proudest dad in the world. How fate works is bewildering.
In a strange sort of way cancer has helped me achieve so much my life, and for the better. Clearly the inspiration of Hawkwind was important. So important that in 2005 my own band ‘Wind of Change’ (another Hawkwind track), was invited to play a festival alongside Hawkwind in Devon. In 2006 and again in 2007, I was part of the Hawkwind road crew touring all around the country – the final gig of the tour was at Donnington Park – only weeks earlier I had taken pen and paper and re-wrote the lyrics to one of Hawkwind’s iconic tracks called, ‘10 Seconds of Forever.’ However, my lyrics
reflected the first 10 seconds of a cancer diagnosis, which the band knew about, and they invited me on stage that night to narrate those lyrics, fate at its best.
In the first second of my diagnosis I was informed that my world would end and with it my very existence….
In the second second of what seemed forever I felt a numbness overcome my body, the tingling sensation of fear and the chronic pain of this reality….
In the third second of my diagnosis I thought of a leaf, a stone and the creaking branches of the ancient oak tree and the innocence of life….
In the fourth second of what appeared whenever I remembered an empty room where voices spoke to me about nothing…
In the fifth second of my diagnosis I thought of the life I would not lead and the effects of my confused mind….
In the sixth second of which seemed to last forever I thought of the toxic poison that attacked my fragile veins….
In the seventh second of my diagnosis I could remember nothing I did not love….
In the eighth second of what felt like never I thought of my Father, my Mother and my sister crying….
In the penultimate second my diagnosis I saw the rain caressing the window, the marshmallow clouds drift through the sky….
In the tenth and final second of what would be forever I thought of the others, those that had not been so fortunate and the long past that had led to now…
And forever, forever, forever.
On those tours, I had built a great friendship with Bass player, Alan Davey, a man of integrity, phenomenal Bass playing, but an all-round nice guy. After the tours, Alan had invited me and my wife, June to his wedding ceremony. In addition, together we enjoyed a passion for fishing and he and I spent a few days together searching out Pike and Carp.
Alan would leave Hawkwind in 2007 and continued a number of side projects, not least was his band, the incomparable ‘Gunslinger’ hard rock at its very best. But not only did Alan invite my band, ‘Wind of Change’ to support ‘Gunslinger’ when they played the North east, I was honoured when he asked me to perform the narration on a track called ‘Reality Foil’ from his ‘Four Track Mind (Vol 4) solo album.
When my band, ‘Wind of Change’ folded, I was not ready to give up playing and decided to continue as a solo artist, calling myself ‘The Weird Noise Master.’ Yet again, I was honoured and grateful when Alan asked me to support his band ‘The Psychedelic Warlords’ on a national tour of England and Scotland.
Had it not been for a cancer diagnosis, none of this would have happened, again, fate working in a strange manner.
Being a cancer survivor.
Following on from Donna’s diagnosis and unexpected recovery, I decided that I should re-train to become a nurse. After all, I had so much respect for the nurses who had cajoled me through a difficult trajectory and nursed me through the real possibility of an early death. Therefore, I went back to college, and in 1989, started my nurse training, enjoying meteoric rise to the very top of the professional ladder. My whole nursing career was spent in cancer services, and which ended when I retired in 2021 from my local hospital as senior clinical nurse specialist, and head of service in hematology – the same hospital that made my diagnosis almost fifty years earlier. The very best of what fate has to offer.
I use the word ‘humble’ a lot, but it is a very important description of my feeling regarding my survivorship status. The statistics regarding cancer are truly scary – 1 in 2 of the population will be given that diagnosis at some point in their lives, and we all know someone, friend or relative that has been touched by societies greatest fear, cancer. Today, I am humbled to be one of the longest survivors of cancer in the UK.
My wife and I have visited Wounded Knee in South Dakota on many occasions. But, in 2018, I wrote to the tribal council of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the home of the Lakota Nation, and I was invited to visit. I spent a week on the reservation with the indigenous people of South Dakota who had unknowingly, supported me through my difficult cancer journey. At the end of the visit, I was presented by the tribal council with a ‘Star Quilt.’ Quilts that are only given to honored guests – fate works in mysterious ways…………
What inspires you and gets you going through the day?
That’s an easy answer, undoubtedly, the people of the Lakota Nation. Currently, I travel around the North of England to present lectures about my friends on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, their history and their plight today. Admittedly, I still have very dark thoughts, and concerns about my health, but my wife is regularly topping up my glass and reminds me how lucky we are, not just to be enjoying life but also with the family we have, especially, our grandchildren.
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
No question, I want ‘Me and My Shadow – memoirs of a cancer survivor’ to deliver hope and inspiration. Life is difficult for everyone, but it’s even harder when you get the diagnosis of cancer, and therefore, I want my story to inspire people, and to realise that life is not a rehearsal. The fight is worth it, and you can fight and win.
What does “writers block mean to you?”
John: Thankfully, I never experienced that when writing my memoirs. However, there were times in the middle of the night when I would remember specific events, go down stairs and write it down. I think with any kind of writing, being in the mood to scribe is very important.
Tell me about your escape with photography, what subjects interest you?
John: I love to get out and about with my camera. I would love to say that I love photographing Native Americans, and I do – however, being in the UK limits me to that end. In 2017, I went to a Wacipi (Powwow), in North Dakota, and managed get some wonderful shots, many of which hang around my home. Other than that, we are very blessed to live on the North East coast of England, literally a two minute walk down to the Ocean, and I love to photograph down there, particularly during rough weather.
Anything else you would like to add.
As a consequence of the historical treatment I received decades earlier, I have a number of health-related issues. Pulmonary Fibrosis of the lungs due to the radiotherapy, an under active Pituitary gland due to chemotherapy, and which requires daily hormone medication. I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in late 2018 again, due to the chemotherapy. I have Osteoporosis due to all the steroids I required. But importantly, life is sweet.
I was delighted to receive an honorable mention for my book, ‘Me and My Shadow – memoirs of a cancer survivor,’ earlier this year, at the New York Book Fair Awards (equivalent to third place). Meanwhile, it has also been nominated in both ‘Best Independent Book Awards 2023, and Wishing Shelf Awards 2023. Nominations plus New York Book Fair Award 2023.
Finally, if you happen to read ‘Me and My Shadow – memoirs of a cancer survivor,’ take form it what you can, hopefully, a bucket full of inspiration, but please criticize it where you feel necessary. It is not a prescriptive guide of how to cope with a cancer diagnosis, because quite simply, no such prescription exists.