Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A Good and Deep Remission

Readers, I am so sorry to have left you high and dry after the last entry, written in February. The truth is, I have been waiting on what is now a rather old-fashioned thing: a statement in black and white—involving actual paper and ink, albeit the variety of the latter that comes from a digital printer—about the status of my disease. Well, now I have the statement, although I have known it is on the way for a couple of months. Everyone started telling me some weeks ago how well I looked, so much so that I had no alternative but to believe them and accept that my health really had returned.

Although I fully expected that my bone marrow biopsy, carried out in February, would show the marrow to be clear of malignant B-cells, the simple statement in my consultant’s most recent letter to my GP that she is confident that I am “in a good and deep remission” is music to my ears, the cream in my coffee and the spring in my step. I have a “completely normal” blood count, which would explain why I am now rather pinker than I was in the dark days of September 2010 and why my energy and concentration are, at least sometimes, better than I have been used to for some years. Brains need oxygen and without enough haemoglobin they struggle.

I am still living with and working through the implications of the fact that my genes harbour a serious blood problem that is expected one day (but not for several years if all goes according to the general run of things) to reassert itself. There is nostalgia for the days before a kind and wise haematologist told me about Waldenström’s macroglobulinaemia, while  photographs of myself taken in the weeks and months before diagnosis are like vignettes of a vanished and more innocent world. I inspect snaps from the years before that—WM being slow and insidious in its development—for signs and clues of what was to come. Although on my guard for odd symptoms like never before, yet I am eating well, keeping active and living a normal life, not on any medication at all and back in the City at the work I love. There was some good advice in an online WM forum today in answer to a question about life expectancy for WM patients: “Look at the number, tuck it away, and live life”.

Some people have a much more difficult journey with cancer and a whole host of other diseases than has so far been my experience, but I am not ashamed to say that I have been enriched by what living with this rare and quirky lymphoma has brought me: the selfless support of a loving and beloved wife and the deepening of existing friendships and family bonds; a wealth of simple acts of kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity; the best that the National Health Service can offer in the way of care and facilities (but let’s not mention the food); riches of more profound communication with friends and strangers alike; a clearer vision of what to take up and what to put aside; the enjoyment of simple moments and pleasures; a strengthened faith in God torn from the grasp of despair.

It has been like a rather prolonged spiritual retreat, from which I been allowed to emerge slowly. As I come out of the hermit’s cave my eyes are getting used to new light and changed surroundings, finding familiar landmarks but brighter colours. However, as I have re-engaged with the everyday, old temptations to cynicism have reasserted themselves. Only last night, as many of us celebrated the Jubilee, a close family member was burgled. I have spent the moments since hearing this unwelcome news devising exquisite revenge on the perpetrators, knowing all the time this will solve nothing, achieve nothing.

Consider this passage from the First Letter of John in the New Testament (Chapter 1: 5-7):

“…God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

I know of no other secure hope or foundation for living than to walk hand in hand with God, stumbling and failing maybe (make that “definitely”) but never alone. There are many circumstances of life that can fill us with dread,  drain our endurance or drive us mad with rage, but there is another way and I want to walk that path until my last breath, trusting the Love that holds us all and lies beyond all. As St Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 13: 12):

“Now we see but a poor reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Thank you for being with me on this journey and for being so kind about what I have written in these virtual pages. Its main work is done, I feel, but I may pop back here from time to time. My love and good wishes to all who read this; my prayers as well.

Reflecting on life