Rocker Wilko Johnson’s thoughts on his terminal cancer will change your week
Guitarist Wilko Johnson played for several British pub rock bands that came somewhere between the British Invasion of the ’60s and the punk of the late ’70s. Now 65, he was founding lead guitarist for Dr. Feelgood, Solid Senders, and later the Wilko Johnson Band. (More recently he also had a small role in “Game of Thrones.”)
Earlier this month Johnson learned he has terminal pancreatic cancer and was diagnosed with nine or ten months to live. He declined a radiation and chemotherapy program when his doctors said it might add another two months to his life at best.
But he’s not down about it—just the opposite. Finding out he’s going to die has set him free and lifted a lifetime of depression and dark clouds.
Johnson talked to BBC about how he’s feeling about his condition, and it’s seriously a perspective-altering interview. Here are some of the most poignant parts:
Johnson married his high-school sweetheart and she died seven years ago of cancer. But the grief he had for his wife’s passing is transforming into something totally different for himself. “I’m still prone to bursting into tears thinking about her, but I’ve never come anywhere near that thinking about myself.”
He continues, about receiving his diagnosis:
We walked out of there and I felt an elation of spirit. You’re walking along and suddenly you’re vividly alive. You’re looking at the trees and the sky and everything and it’s just ‘whoah’.
I am actually a miserable person. I’ve spent most of my life moping in depressions and things, but this has all lifted.
I am a feather for each wind that blows and the wind’s blowing me this way now. But yet I still retain this marvellous feeling of freedom. This position I’m in is so strange, in that I do feel fit and yet I know death is upon me. I just wanna know how long I’m gonna feel like this, which is absolutely fine.
Right now it’s just fantastic – it makes you feel alive. Just walking down the street you really feel alive. Every little thing you see, every cold breeze against your face, every brick in the road, you think ‘I’m alive, I’m alive’ – I hope I can hang onto that.
The things that used to bring me down, or worry me, or annoy me, they don’t matter anymore – and that’s when you sit thinking ‘Wow, why didn’t I work this out before? Why didn’t I work out before that it’s just the moment you’re in that matters?’
Worrying about the future or regretting the past is just a foolish waste of time. Of course we can’t all be threatened with imminent death, but it probably takes that to knock a bit of sense into our heads.
It’s one of those interviews that will reorient your whole outlook, like Randy Pausch’s lecture on living your childhood dreams. So if you’ve had a shitty week, head over and listen to the whole thing here.