This is a collection of my thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams. There are diary entries, scraps, emails and ideas – one day I´ll get out and get them organised. Until then, dive in…
28th October 1998.
Just a date of birth, something we all have. We cherish that date when we can be bothered to celebrate it, or when we feel like asking for an i-pad.
My date of birth was no different.
My life was no different until the 6th of March 2014.
From then on, every day becomes a challenge and leukaemia begins to whittle away pieces of my life until I´m left wondering what´s left and, sometimes, what´s the point of going on.
It´s an illness that not everyone can see at a single glance. Sure your hair goes weird, you´re always cancelling plans because you´re tired and you randomly have the desire to drop down fast asleep on your bed or at your desk but with a good suit and a short haircut you could be just any another student, just any another person.
I figured it would be worth others knowing what it really is like to survive it- and to have to survive it every single day.
So here´s my story: my childhood, my odd experiences as a teenager, the contrast between ´normal person´ and ´cancer patient´, other people´s reactions, shitty hospital food and what it´s like to be high on morphine and gas (for the record – awesome!).
You´ll read my deepest thoughts during my darkest and most summery days. You´ll see how hungry I am to break through to the other side of this and be a success. You´ll read about the ways I coped, the ways I didn´t, and you´ll read some entries I wrote when high on ketamine.
Hopefully you´ll learn a little something. Or laugh your ass off.
Both are fine with me.
I was a weird kid.
I was easily influenced by music, older students (Year 11 – LOL) and pretty much anything I thought was cool. But hey, I made friends, despite an obsession with Ice Cube (don´t ask – please) and I like to think my weirdness got me somewhere when I was in Year Seven and Eight. No-one needs more clones after all.
I was constantly on the Xbox 360, playing the game of all games: Mass Effect. All three releases, each just as awesome as the others. No competition with my brother, either, just with myself. Yeah, there were way too many hours spent on my Xbox hard drive but by Year 9 I was a very skilful player and mum had to start limiting the time I spent playing. That was the first time that had ever happened.
Elsewhere in Year 9 I began to simmer down, develop a distinctive taste in girls, perform quite well in class and become deadly on Mass Effect 3 online. Good times.
Then comes Year 10.
I start making a name for myself. Playing rugby. Kicking the Ice Cube obsession. Stopping wearing over-sized blazers and, dare I say it, building up the muscles. Not ´Dench´ but enough to increase my self-esteem a bit.
Mass Effect didn´t completely disappear. If anything, I was reaching “Command Centre Die Hard 4.0” moments. The small circle I played with at school never defeated me apart from one idiotic sniper rifle loadout that I will never forgive myself for.
Yeah, life was cool until…
…I needed an oxygen mask on the rugby field.
We all thought it was asthma, which it looked like. But something much more sinister was going on inside my light-skinned body.
Something called blood cancer.
I took three months out of school, riddled with many misdiagnoses from my GPs.
Depressed, maybe? Just a bad cold, perhaps? A malaise?
Thank God someone decided to give me a blood test.
I was rushed to Croydon University Hospital in a cab with my mum and I remember every single detail of the trip. The make and model of the cab: a Toyota Prius. My outfit: H&M denim from top to bottom, accented by a crisp white T and white air forces to match.
The raw pain in my – well, every limb – as I walked quickly into A&E was just as unforgettable. How I walked so fast with a blood count 80% lower than normal is something only God knows. It´s one of the most painful things I´ve ever done.
Diagnosis still hadn´t been finalised at this point. It could have been anything.
The horrors of A&E that you might have seen on crappy BBC TV shows didn´t apply that day, thank god. A doctor realised quickly how precarious my situation was and a bed was procured.
Around this time things get a little hazy.
I remember stepping – collapsing, really – into one of those not-really-modest-enough robes they give you, lying in bed for about two hours, and my father, grandfather and step-grandmother arriving.
Then, finally, they gave me the news.
DIARY ENTRY: 26th February 2017
I have quite a lot to say today. I´d like to begin with something that I don´t talk about much: the smaller things in life.
Joshua Stedford is not all designer clothes and Porsche 911s. The best days of my life do not consist of twenty-four hours littered with crimson fifties and living in the clouds.
The best times include having friends around, sharing a pizza, playing music and laughing until tears. The best times are roaming around Croydon with (mostly) empty pockets with my closest squad, just doing whatever comes to mind: grabbing food, getting a girl´s number, window shopping, going to someone´s crib, linking up with another friend who happens to be out – you get the idea…
Days spent with family around Christmas Day.
Even on my 18th birthday, still in hospital, I had Jack Daniels, Five Guys (the dope fast food place), my closest family and my closest friends from sixth form. A perfect amalgamation. It also showed how well everyone knew me because my presents were so… accurate: a Rotary watch, CK aftershave from the nurses, burgers and pizzas, all spec´d to my exact preference and a House of Fraser gift card. It was just fantastic.
I realised recently, after coming home on provisional leave from hospital on the 24th, two days ago, that the small things are just as important as the big dreams and material things that are always there, shimmering, in my mind. Looking at my own posters and possessions, being in my own bed, knowing that everything I can see here has some kind of meaning or use…it makes me realise that my room exudes my own personality and interests.
It is minor, but I am a very independent person and just knowing that this accumulation of items are all within easy reach and… carry sentiment…is comforting. I think I´ve expressed this poorly but I feel a bit emotional right now. I’m almost crying as this piece is being written. But now I know a vital truth: look at small symbols of happiness with the same eyes as the large symbols of success.
Are the best things in life free? No. I still don´t agree. The best things in life are good experiences you share with your closest (very rarely alone). Some require funds. Some don’t. But they are equally valuable as happy memories.
Here is why I want money so much:
On reflection, what has been taken away from my life, in almost complete entirety, is my ability to really experience life. I can’t go out for a walk like a normal person, like I used to. I can’t go out to parties. I can’t earn my own living. I can’t live life like the precious thing it is. It is simply hospital to home, home to hospital with Xbox, TV, chemotherapy and essentially unexciting stuff filling my days.
Over 1100 days have become like this. And still counting.
What makes it worse is that I know what I am capable of. And I know how much I´ve been limited by something completely out of my control. When treatment is over, I still don’t know if it will be TRULY over. People get cancer more than once. And my life is still in the early stages. There are many years left to still have my life fucked over again and I´m not prepared for this. The stakes will be higher too. Children? Girlfriend? Wife? Career? All gone.
I can’t do this twice. And I´m scared I´ll get cancer twice.
Money would allow me to simply “buy” the chance to experience new shit on the days when the sky is blue and the sick-bowl is empty.
I could go to Tokyo, do Skydiving, maybe one day even motor racing. I’d love that shit!
But I can’t earn money if I´m ill. And until I´m treated, more and more time gets wasted when I could be earning and creating the opportunity to have more experiences. Yes, they don’t all cost a fortune but things like extravagant holidays do.
So the earlier I make bands, the sooner I can find out if New York is an awful place glamourized by the media. It probably isn’t but…Uno. Let’s find out.
So that is why… well, one of the reasons I’d like to be rich. Correction: wealthy. You can do more things with your life and experience more things. Better things. Maybe I’ll achieve wealth and find this not to be true but until then…y’all know what I want and why.
Until then I just want to go for a damn walk before I use a Maybach and a driver called Rupert to get around everywhere.
DIARY ENTRY: March 17 2017
Thursday, approaching Friday, and a five-year anniversary of being a patient at The Sutton Royal Marsden (if ever there was such a thing).
This round of chemo doesn’t hurt or make me feel ill but I´ve got an artificial feeling of exhaustion. Horrid. Coffee and a good sleep should make you feel like Super Mario but thanks to chemo, Nelarabine it’s called, I feel more like those Goombas you squash on world one.
Also, I´ve experienced as a writer just how hard it is to write without stimuli. When I´m out of hospital and healthy, ideas stream through my skull. But when I´m stuck staring at the same TV screen, lying in the same hydraulic bed with the same cream-coloured blinds, odd blue green and white walls staring back at me, where’s the stimulation at? You’d be more inclined to pick up a 9mm pistol over a pen.
No wonder so many old-school writers were depressed souls.
Right now, I don’t know what compelled me to get an entry down today but I didn’t wanna leave too many days without writing something. It´s been very difficult but I have no intention of not writing because it’s “hard”.
Nothing in my future’s gonna come easy, although after leukaemia, it’ll probably seem simple enough. I basically planned my entire future about six months ago, maybe five. Plans though “are fragile things. Life often dashes expectations to the ground” (Kotor 2, Kreia).
So damn true.
I have to make a few comments about this entry.
Much has changed yet so much remains the same.
The restless mind still draws pictures, plans for success.
Stimulation is not quite so sparse but opening a document still takes willpower.
Back then I would never have dreamed that today, July the 12th, today´s date, I would still be in hospital, unable to walk. An image of me skipping through the air in gleaming Jordan IV’s with my best friends would have been my expectation back in March. But then again, I expected Mass Effect Andromeda to blow my mind so what do I know?
The key, I believe, to getting through this shit, is to not lose the image of freedom, whatever it may be. Could be home-cooked food, a job opportunity at the finish line, or just walking around the house naked because you can.
Always have an image in your head.
Might come true.
Yeah, yeah, I talk about gaming stuff too much. Can’t help it! I’m pretty nerdy at heart. Here are some clarifications:
Super Mario: The character in the massively popular game by Nintendo, Super Mario Bros. Gotta be honest, I’m disappointed you don’t know this!
Nelarabine: If you have T-cell Lymphoblastic leukaemia, you take this chemotherapy drug. Serious stuff.
Goombas: A very weak enemy in modern day Super Mario bros. You stomp on ‘em and they just get flattened, sometimes materialising into a coin.
Kotor 2: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: a video game on PC and Xbox. A brilliant one too.
Kreia: A character in Kotor 2. Very cryptic.
About the author
Joshua Stedford was born in London. He´s a patient at the Royal Marsden Hospital and would love to read your reactions and thoughts.
He can be contacted via me at
This is his first book.