Long Live My Happy Head: Edinburgh artist Gordon Shaw opens up about living with incurable brain tumour in documentary

The story of Gordon Shaw, a 42-year-old artist from Edinburgh who was diagnosed with a life-limiting brain tumour 10 years ago, has been told in an uplifting new documentary.

Long Live My Happy Head, which aired on BBC Scotland on Sunday evening, is based on Bitter Sweet – a comic book which Gordon created about living with incurable cancer.

A documentary team followed Gordon’s life for three years, capturing his struggles with his health and the isolation caused by the Covid pandemic.

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Gordon was 32 and living in London when he began having seizures, and was soon after given a terminal diagnosis of cancer.

After encouragement from his family, he moved to Leith to be closer to them.

To deal with his diagnosis, he started drawing humorous cartoons about his experiences and his feelings towards his tumour – who he nicknamed ‘Rick’.

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"It was my own kind of art therapy, I think," Gordon told BBC Scotland. "I was maybe hiding from myself."

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Gordon and his partner Shawn on the Isle of Harris.

“I seriously believe they have helped me come to terms with what has happened…or as close as anyone can get.”

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The documentary captured Gordon's 40th birthday – a significant moment as brain tumours kill more people under the age of 40 in the UK than any other cancer.

It also explores his long-distance relationship with Shawn Puller, his partner since 2017.

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The pair struggled particularly in 2020 – when they were separated for longer than usual due to Covid restrictions. The couple’s daily calls throughout this trying period feature heavily in the documentary.

Gordon Shaw, sitting proudly in front of illustrations from his comic 'Bittersweet'.
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Gordon went through brain surgery and chemotherapy last year, but his tumour has continued to grow. He has been told that may have less than a year to live.

Despite this prognosis, he is currently working on a comic book highlighting the stories of unpaid carers who look after people living with cancer.

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As part of this project, he has been meeting and interviewing people who have cared for and lost loved ones to the very same disease that is killing him.

He hopes that someone else will step up and finish the book if he is unable to complete it before his death.

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Gordon holding 'Bittersweet', a comic which explores his cancer diagnosis with dark humour.

You can watch Long Live My Happy Head, which was made by Leith-based production company Melt the Fly, on BBC iPlayer.

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