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A mild touch of the cancer: 50 shaves of grey (Stuff Nation)

Me with my ‘welcome to cancer’ pack. Who knew you get a free tumour shaped wallet?

There are two types of men in this world – and no, I am not talking about the famous lover/fighter divide that Michael Jackson was espousing, (although now that I think of it, there may be some correlation). No, a much more important division separates men around the planet. If you want, you can do a poll around your male workmates and family members – just look them in the eye, and ask them straight: do they prefer boxers or briefs?

If they shift uncomfortably in their chair, they are boxers men. Boxers men by definition are constantly shifting around in a furtive fashion, trying to find a better position to be in, trying to unravel whatever latest twist or stranglehold their undergarment has them in. Briefs men, on the other hand, will sit there, secure in themselves and the support they are getting in the undercarriage department, they will smile back at you and say nothing. They don't need to; they have every confidence the world already knows the answer. They may glow with self-righteous inner calm.

I'm not telling you which one I am, apart from to say there is no excuse for wearing boxers unless you are actually a boxer and even then, you should be boxing at the time, and wear undies underneath. Men who wear boxers as part of their everyday attire are asking for trouble of the chaffing kind, and (while I have no scientific proof of this), are likely to also drink inferior beer and like motorsport.

A mild touch of the cancer: In which David realises doctors are not so bad
A mild touch of the cancer: In which David discovers laughter is a pretty good medicine
A mild touch of the cancer: In which David finds out cancer is not all it's cracked up to be
A mild touch of the cancer: When the cancer life chooses you
A mild touch of the cancer: 'I've now lost 10 per cent of myself'
* A mild touch of the cancer: Chemo side effects no-one tells you

Briefs are the bras of the male world, giving comfort, support and a little lift (which gives me a new product idea – padded undies. It would save rock stars having to insert small pieces of fruit in the front of their tight pants). Briefs cushion and support and hold dear that which we hold dear, or even that which we often hold, dear – if you get my punctuational drift.

[The only exception to the briefs mandate is of course when you are swimming, where the opposite rules apply. What in God's name are you thinking wearing essentially undies in the sea. The world doesn't need to see your package, put on some swimming shorts (the type with the support undies built in, preferably). Remember that great ad from a few years ago 'Togs, togs, togs, undies, undies…' – it's a salutatory lesson for those who parade around the beach or pool in speedos showing the world their family jewel collection.

Briefs – not suitable for wearing in the sea, but in all other situations, the undies of choice for the discerning gentleman.

So in conclusion – and remaining ever neutral – boxers are the devil's choice of underpant for men.

Now, I tell you all this as a rambling preamble, and mainly to chastise and re-educate myself. For I had a momentary lapse of judgement; memory and style the other day which backfired on me and gives another reason (as if I needed one) to remind me of the supremacy of the brief-styled underpantaloon.

My lovely extended family in Australia sent me a care package of cool cancer-battling stuff, and having read my column about my frayed undies, also decided to get me a pair of boxers. Yes, they mistook me for 'one of those'.

I don't blame them, I suspect they were also remembering my words about being a cancer battler and a fighter and decided to give me the undergarment to go along with the fighter image. Either that, or they have been living in Australia too long and become acclimatised to the wearing of boxers – again, I have no empirical evidence, but I am willing to bet there is a disproportionate ratio of boxer wearers on that dusty island. What else would explain the XXXX beer and the constant watching of V8s?

So I received this pair of boxers, and in a regrettable lapse of judgment, I wore them. Not only wore them, but wore them on a day I was headed in to town to see a few people. I was dressed otherwise nicely – long pants, a shirt with buttons on, actual shoes. Clothes I haven't worn in months. Now, not only was I not being supported in the manner to which I was accustomed, but I have discovered another major downside to the wearing of boxers, one that can only be truly discovered by a man with cancer at a certain stage of his chemo treatment, the sort of stage where body hair is falling out of its own accord, from every part of the body, including those which should be supported by briefs, if you catch my drift.

Unlike briefs, boxers don't collect any hairs that might decide to fall out of the nether regions while you are walking around, and instead let them drift unencumbered down the inside leg, sailing past the pants, ultimately to escape out the bottom cuff of your trousers and thence to lie on the ground beneath you.

I discovered this unfortunately while walking down a corridor in an office building, when I glanced behind me, and unmistakably there, in the middle of the darkish carpet, was a greying (distinguished looking, now that I reflect back) pube. It was reminiscent of pubes I had seen before, in the vicinity of my own body, so suspicious, I paused and bent down to have a closer look.

There was no mistaking it, it was one of mine. Initially confused, I stood up and looked around to see if it might be anyone else's – couldn't see another silver fox in the vicinity, so I was the natural suspect. I looked down again to see there were now three of them. They were multiplying.

The full reality of what was going on hit me like a boxer's glove during the only time wearing these damn shorts should be allowed, and, horrified, I looked up along the corridor I had just walked down. Sure enough, there was a trail of grey and black hairs leading back where I had just come from. I was the Pied Piper, leading a line of hair through the office. Hair that would have been safely nestled in the secure comfort of my briefs, had I only the sense to wear them.


Leaving a breadcrumb trail of sorts…

To make things worse, I had been walking around the office for a good hour or so, leaving a trail through the whole place. However, like Hansel and Gretel before me, I could follow the breadcrumbs and retrace my steps following the clues left behind – but I could hardly bend over and pick up every one of them, it would be too conspicuous and besides, there was nothing to stop it happening again and compounding the situation. I could get into an infinite loop. I momentarily thought about grabbing a wad of bluetack, sticking it to the sole of my shoe, and walking on the top of them all, so I could collect them up, but then I'd have to explain why I had a giant hairball on my shoe, like I'd stepped on an aging chihuahua.

There was nothing else I could do. With a silent apology to the cleaning staff for the damage I'd already created, I made a hasty retreat – pausing only to tuck the cuffs of my pants into my socks. I remembered that movie The Great Escape where the prisoners were digging a tunnel, and to hide the dirt they'd dug up, they stuck it in their pants, and then slowly released it through the exercise yard. I did a similar thing, but at the bottom of Queen St.

I've only just thought how foolish that also was – now, whenever there is a crime committed anywhere in the vicinity, the police will likely find one of my pubic hairs. My DNA is everywhere, I will be a wanted man. "Can you explain, Mr Downs", the judge will enquire, "how you came to be at 17 different crime scenes at the same time?".  "Well, your honour", I will begin, "there are two types of men in this world…"

Coming second on the leader board – mind you, there are 2 people in the lead, so on a per capita basis, we’d win.

To conclude the story – another cancer pro-tip for you – wear briefs between days 10 and 21 of the chemo cycle when you are moulting, or you too will lead people on a public and pubic treasure hunt around your office or home. Yet another thing they don't tell you in the books; glad to be of service to you.

Anyway, moving on now. To remind you – the last time we talked I was planning to shave my hair off. Well, that went well. That went very well, in comparison. Firstly, most importantly, we collectively raised over $12,000 for charitable purposes. Thank you. An amazing result. I had somewhat arbitrarily set a target of $10k, and we blew that away, which the good folk at Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand were very pleased about. Those funds help them in their work of supporting patients with information, advice, advocacy and research. I've been really impressed with them and the work they do, so I was happy I could support them.

I do feel a bit of a fraud, because if I had done nothing then all that hair would have fallen out anyway, and we wouldn't have had to donate anything, when instead 175 people have paid too much for a haircut I didn't need. But I'm pleased I was able to take control of the cancer and choose when I could get my head cleared, rather than sit back and be a victim to it. So again, thanks.

Two of the folks from the Leukaemia and Blood Society.

To make the most of it, we had a bit of a shave party (not the kind you're thinking, West Auckland readers). In this Katherine and the kids and I were joined by my mate Trev, a few people from Leukaemia NZ, and even a TV crew from The Project who'd heard what we were up to. (Watch the excellent The Project to see for yourself.)

Before we started the shaving itself, I wanted to get some good headgear, so we went on a bit of a shopping trip to choose a good hat for a baldy.

Take a look at them and see if there is one that meets your approval.

Headgear for the cancer guy. Lots of choice, but not all of it ‘choice’.

Getting my hair cut was actually pretty entertaining. One of the kids, I think it was Batman, suggested I get a mohawk, which Superman then further escalated by insisting it should be painted pink. I was game though, and for 10 mins a nouveaux Johnny Rotten was to be seen terrorising the Sugar Suite salon in Devonport. Well, to be fair, it didn't terrorise anyone except the old man walking his chihuahua outside (at least, that's what it looked like…).

Then Katherine and Superman both had a go shaving the mohawk off and I was left, bald as a coot, with a pale head atop my neck looking like a giant lightbulb.

I take consolation that apparently "I have a very nicely shaped head'", according to the hairdresser, who knows about these things and so must be believed.

Not so much Once Were Warriors - Jake the muss as Jake the wuss.

There is so much more I could tell you but we have already chatted too long – I'll come back to you next week when I am back in hospital again for "chemo-therapy #2 – the rumble in the jungle". I'll just let you know that we did leave the hairdressers in a bit of a mess, but after cleaning the evidence off the floor, packing the TV crew on their way and apologising to the hairdresser for my friends, we left the car behind and went off to the pub to have a celebratory pint (or three).

After not drinking for a month, and then necking a couple of cold ones, was I worried about finding where I left the car? No, not really, I've got a cunning way I can find my way back to it…




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