BY ANDREW MOODY
Mick May, the author of Cancer and Pisces: One Man’s Story of his Unique Survival of Cancer, Interwoven with the Joy and Succour of Fishing was first diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer caused by asbestos poisoning, back in 2013.
(Mesothelioma) is a particularly vicious form of cancer. It is invariably fatal and the median life expectancy from diagnosis is around ten months… It claims 2,500 deaths a year, eighty four percent are men…
May was an acquaintance of the disgraced politician Jonathan Aitken, who had survived his imprisonment in Belmarsh prison and gone onto gaining a first-class degree in Theology at Oxford. Subsequently he became a Christian speaker and prison reformer and suggested to May that he should write a memoir intertwining his passion for fishing with his struggle with cancer. At first May balked at the idea, but as time passed he could see the purpose in it, seeing fishing as a metaphor for life. Obviously it goes without saying that fishing is a deeply Christian symbol, one that brings up all sorts of ideas relating to hope and redemption. A natural optimist and outdoorsman, May applied the same fastidious detail to both his battle with cancer and his passion for the river, keeping detailed diaries on both aspects of his life. His father was a decorated soldier in WW2, instilling in him a love for the countryside and firm patriotism. His mother “was an enormous character, possessed also of a great sense of mirth”.
I was always encouraged to enjoy myself. That wasn’t to imply that there were not firm expectations and clear lines that I must not cross. Self-effacement was prized, good manners and what used to be termed common courtesy to everyone pre-requisites. I also have a keen memory that my father hoped that I might make the world ‘a slightly better place’.
Deciding on a career in merchant banking, he worked steadily after university until he met his future wife Jill, also a banker, with whom he started a large family. She told him one night at dinner that they couldn’t both be bankers, the needs of the children had to come first. Taking a sidestep into the charitable sector, he wound up creating a charity that specialised in finding long term careers for ex-offenders, known as Blue Sky. As his new found vocation took shape and became a success, he found a new passion in fly fishing, a type of angling he had not yet delved into. It seemed that the better he did in life, with career, wife and children all flourishing, his catch on the river grew accordingly.
As his cancer treatment continued, with several brilliant and compassionate doctors working closely to keep him alive, he went through various painful medical treatments that still did not defeat his spirit. Every year he stayed alive was thumbing the nose at Mesothelioma, and a miracle of modern medicine.
Travelling to such far flung fishing destinations as Iceland, Argentina and Russia, May details the techniques of fishing, reading the river, the types of rod and fly best used, and never allows the narrative to descend into misery or self pity.
The end of this tale has been clear from the second chapter, if not the first. As I have been heard to comment, I know everything that is going to feature on my death certificate except the date.
Instead of succumbing to fear or despair at the idea of his own mortality, he admits to a love of Monte Cristo Number 4 cigars on the river, a stogie clamped between his teeth as he wrestles with a catch, thoroughly amused with friends shocked to see a lung cancer sufferer enjoying a good smoke.
Mick May had it stipulated in his book contract that any money received from the sales of Cancer and Pisces be donated to Cancer Research UK. His story is a beautiful and simple tale of a man in love with life, the time spent fishing around the world a metaphor for the indomitable human spirit.
Cancer and Pisces can be acquired via Quiller Publishing at this link.