By Sara Bondell - November 18, 2022
The clinic is running behind again. Kevin Ogden has a long wait ahead of him, so he grabs his briefcase and pulls out his sketchbook.
He begins to draw. His page is filled with whimsical, almost distorted cartoons. He sketches himself, his wife, his doctor — all caricatures with odd-shaped heads and wacky colorful clothing. He jots down how he’s feeling and what he sees, mostly self-deprecating humor and satirical retellings of his latest medical mishap.
His name is called. Time to be tethered to a chemotherapy chair for another few hours. He opens his sketchbook again.
Ogden’s pages put a new spin on the good, the bad and the ugly of cancer treatment. He’s bundled them together into “Just Because We’ve Got Cancer Doesn’t Mean We Can’t Have a Laugh.”
Born in England, Ogden spent his life traveling the world. He met his wife, Kate, in San Francisco and the pair has lived in England, France, Greece and Ireland. They welcomed two daughters along the way. Ogden doodled and wrote short stories about their travels, eventually compiling them into “Travels with Kate.”
Ogden found himself drawn to his old hobby again after he was diagnosed with stage 3 invasive bladder cancer in 2021.
“I am not a restful person and suddenly I had all this time on my hands,” Ogden said.
He was able to find humor in his fear. He describes seeing “Polly the Polyp” on the ultrasound for the first time: “This thing looked to be six inches across and resembled a sprig of cauliflower smothered in ketchup and marinated in balsamic vinegar and I knew right at that moment that this could be my ultimate undoing and I couldn’t wait to get out of there and continue organizing my affairs and rehearsing my farewell speech.”
Lab results after surgery to remove Polly showed Ogden’s cancer had spread. His bladder had to be removed. He now has an opening in his abdomen called a stoma that is attached to a pouch that collects his urine. He affectionally calls it his “Gucci Bag” and draws cartoons of himself with his new luxury accessory.
“It became my constant companion and was useful when the girls phoned and asked: ‘What are you doing right now?’ And I would answer: ‘I am peeing into my Gucci Bag.’”
His writing also helped him cope with the severe side effects of treatment. Chemotherapy brought bright scarlet lesions and frustrating memory loss.
“I often forget what the dishwasher is called and call it the wet microwave whilst the fan is the turnaround thing … Although my stomach is my worst complaint. It was like a burning pit of lava and if you could have introduced a shoal of small live whitefish into it, they would have come out battered and fried.”
Ogden’s sketching and writing inspired him to slow down and appreciate how his family took care of him.
Now a year cancer free, he still takes out his sketchbook. He’s not in a waiting room; this time he is on the road. He and Kate bought an RV so they could resume their travels during his treatment and the pandemic. Even without a bladder, he says he feels normal again.
With every new adventure, he still has a laugh.