In the early hours of Sunday, 19 September Morpheus (or perhaps some other member of his rather suspect family) dished up a most unpleasant nightmare.
In the dream someone very dear to me was staying at our house and was taken violently ill. I am not going to say who was; even such a fleeting vision distressed me that much, so great was the aura of fear and indignity that surrounded it.
To anguish was added inconvenience as I immediately woke up. It was 5am and I was feeling the all-too-familiar symptoms of acid indigestion: sharp pain and a burning sensation in the chest that periodically gives way to a dull ache. This has been a feature of my life on and off since my teens, bananas then being quite likely to trigger an episode. For some time before my WM diagnosis the frequency of attacks had subsided but I still have a supply of omeprazole—a proton pump inhibitor (“PPI”)—a pill not a machine—at hand to quell the production of stomach acid. Excess acid and reflux of it into the oesophagus are a risk of steroid medication and, as you know, I am currently on prednisolone and have been prescribed lansoprazole (another form of PPI) to address the problem. This last is the first pill I generally take on waking and so I did on this occasion.
I also had lower-back pain: quite a frequent visitor, that one. Hypnos having therefore definitely absented himself for the time being, I decided to add self-medication to what had been prescribed and went downstairs to make some stomach-easing warm milk spiced with clove and cardamom and sweetened with honey. This concoction generally helps but its taste is also very pleasing. My hope was also that this ambrosial drink would entice Sleep back. Greek or Teutonic archetypes—I am not fussy, just so long as they turn up when wanted and make themselves scarce when not.
I hesitated to include the spices because I had just seen guidance from The Lymphoma Association indicating that peppercorns can be harmful to the interests of immuno-compromised individuals. It is true that spices can play host to pathogens, but I leaned in favour of admitting clove to my drink as I was mindful that it had a long therapeutic history, traditionally as an anaesthetic nostrum for the sore gums of infants, but with a more recently recognised role in the reduction of bodily cholesterol. Cardamom’s refreshing warmth makes it a favourite with me but the rest of the family do not share my enthusiasm. I sometimes however sneak it into my cooking by grinding it up, although nothing really beats the joy of biting down on a whole pod!
Here is the drink just after the honey was added.
|Beware the lurking peppercorns...|
I went back to bed—my stomach feeling more settled—and dozed pleasantly for a couple of hours or so.
Soon enough it was time to set off for church and to continue the dance begun the previous Thursday evening. The congregational worship was powerful and joyous and I was able to play with a forcefulness and assurance that belied the weakness my body felt.
The sermon was by a visiting speaker who has been involved extensively in developing the Alpha Course (an introduction to the basic elements of Christian faith). One of her key points was that challenges change us, while another was that Christians need to ask themselves how desperate—her very word—they were to seek Jesus: in other words to involve him in all areas of their lives, not just those they found convenient to expose to the searching divine light.
Then she dropped this bombshell, summarised as: “If you were given a terminal diagnosis now, what would you do differently? I suggest that you would live every day as if it were your last”.
I could have leapt straight to my feet and taken the platform to tell my recent story. Culturally, basic Englishness restrained me as did, more seriously, a strong intuition that this was not the time to bring my news to a wider audience.
Readers, my case is not as yet terminal, but I have a disease that is already nasty and fraught enough with possible complications to prove deadly if left untreated. I will however now tell you what I would otherwise have said if I had been given the microphone: that what fell away from me more or less in the instant of receiving such news as we all fear was a lot of unwanted, time-wasting rubbish. The accompanying risk was, as I have previously recounted, to travel the whole range of abandonment and succumb to despair, losing sight of things of lasting value and importance: matters of heart, value and intellect. If however we can step back from that sheer drop into inconsolability, the hope is that we will be able to turn around and see just what a glorious green, flower-strewn, sunlit meadow we have been standing in all along. What is more, we are free to move at will in this landscape and linger before whatever sights attract us there, to feel the gentle breezes and catch the distant sounds they bring to our expectant ears.
I continue to experience this landscape each day, in spite of the temptations, mercifully few, to go back to the dark precipice: such come when there is bad news from the world at large or in moments of nausea, in bouts of vomiting, or even in the sheer tedium of continuing symptoms and of having to take so many drugs. I cannot ignore that I have cancer and that this has changed my life in ways that are not always welcome, but there is a nugget of gold hidden in the dungheap.
|We dare to believe that God came down to the dungheap at a moment in history and in the person of a man, so that we might be raised with him to eternal glory.|
There will be jokes in this blog, but this is not one of them.
I was about to go through a darker few days, but for the rest of that Sunday I was blind to the implications of the excessive body heat, the extreme tiredness and the partial loss of appetite that gripped me on my return home from church. Tomorrow was another day…