Monday, 21 February 2011

Reflection, research and action

Although, as you will have seen from my account of what happened on 5 October, I made up my mind to proceed with a more robust regime of chemotherapy than I had started on, the deeper recesses of my mind still resonated with uncertainty. That is why I found myself awake at 5:30am on Wednesday 6 October, trawling the Internet for information on the possible risks of acute myeloid leukaemia associated with the treatment I was about to receive. Will I never learn? I am not scientifically trained and so, in trying to seek out such information, I was like a blindfolded man in a cave trying to catch tiny shrimp from a pool he had yet to find and using a net with a hole in it. After some time I found myself sufficiently reassured to be able to go back to sleep for a little while, but I would not presume to share what I discovered, as the purpose of this account is to describe a personal journey rather than to issue authoritative pronouncements on science that I am not qualified to make.

Once up and about I decided to gather some moral reinforcements and went to have a chat with my neighbour, who is a Macmillan nurse. As well as giving her the latest medical news, I asked her how to set about getting community-based support. Her advice was to go and see my GP. Amazingly, I was able to secure an appointment that very day with the doctor of my choice and this bolstered the sense of rightness I felt about this course of action (although this thinking is not grounded in logic, I readily concede).

To see this particular doctor is always a pleasure, as his manner is consistently calm even if he is discussing uncomfortable realities. Another bonus is that he has a fantastic collection of colourful turbans. The one he wore on this particular day must have been so dazzling that I have forgotten what precise hue it was. This was in fact the first opportunity I had had to see him since my diagnosis, many of my previous dealings with him having arisen from rather more trifling concerns than those now presenting themselves. He readily understood my need to access additional support in view of the fact that I was about to experience a more demanding chemo regime and he agreed to make the necessary referral to the local hospice where Macmillan services were based.

The trip to the surgery had the added benefit of giving me a walk there and back of around two miles and I was able to stride along at quite a brisk pace. Once home I gave my news to one of my closest friends over the telephone and to other friends by e-mail.

After all this energetic communicating, I felt buoyed up, but still quite emotionally vulnerable. I have often found cooking a very potent displacement activity and so I made a lamb mince curry for the family, later distracting myself still further by ordering from the trusty Amazon a total of four books: single-volume histories of the two world wars, together with “Tommy" by Richard Holmes, a much-respected account of life on the Western Front, and “Overlord" by Max Hastings, a study of the Normandy landings and their aftermath.

The final weapon in my armoury against the onslaught of gloomy thoughts and preoccupations was the return to the television that evening of that modern equivalent of the Victorian freak show known as “The Apprentice", starring the prickly teddy bear of business himself, ennobled since the last series and now therefore known as Lord Sugar. I duly armed myself with a collection of virtual rotten fruit to hurl at the participants as soon as they uttered their inflated pronouncements about their skills and achievements.

Lord Sugar of Nascent Beard (for it is he),
caught in the act of firing someone.

These various tactics to dispel brooding seemed to have worked because on Thursday 7 October I faced the day rather tired but in a calmer frame of mind. This state of equilibrium was however threatened by the cheeky black cat Frida, who, you will recall, belonged to a neighbour but who had shown increasing signs over recent weeks of wanting to adopt us. The crafty feline had identified the bag in which our own cat's food was stored and lacerated it in several places, eventually making a whole large enough to access what were its, no doubt to her, scrummy contents. Such behaviour was beginning to spark a change in our attitude to this otherwise likeable and beautiful creature, as she was showing every sign of being more intelligent than our own pet and therefore as constituting something of a threat to her. We were not yet so annoyed however as to give Frida her final marching orders.

I had lunch at our local cafe with a friend from church who was beginning to support me with visits, conversation and prayer, as well as loans of CDs from his ample collection of classical music. He cautioned me against throwing myself too readily into “the WM Cause", saying that this particular time was one of regrouping and concentrating on my own existing interests, rather than for being pressurised into others' agendas. I valued the kind intent behind this advice, believing in my quieter moments that there would be ample time to be more involved in raising awareness of this rare condition and thus in helping to generate more funds for research. I cannot however ignore the white flame burning deep inside me, believing firmly that I have a responsibility to play my part in the battle against my disease.

In the evening I prayed with my wife and son about the treatment that would begin the next day. The phrase from Scripture that came to mind were “underneath are the everlasting arms", words of assurance given to Moses as he faced various dangers.

Moses, as played by Charlton Heston.
A rather fuller beard than Lord Sugar's, but probably not his own.

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