In late 2007, I contracted a nasty chest infection necessitating a trip to my local GP. After a week or two interspersed with much coughing, wheezing, spluttering and large doses of various antibiotics and steroids, I felt somewhat better, though not quite “match fit”. I was not overly concerned, putting this down to the vagaries of time (53 years) and general wear and tear. Within a month of my visit to my GP, I presented again with similar symptoms. There followed an almighty dose of medication. In this instance, I concluded that the cure was more demanding than the illness!! Recovery followed.
Just as my life attained its normal rhythm, my GP contacted me one November night. He was not comfortable with blood test results. There followed in quick succession visits to a haematologist, blood tests, scans and a bone marrow procedure. In short order, CLL (Chronic Lympho. Leukaemia) was diagnosed. I was stunned, knowing almost nothing about any cancers, save that they were nasty conditions which afflicted relations, neighbours, friends and colleagues, but never me. I told my wife, children and family. Being the youngest of ten children, much upset was generated amongst the latter group. My two sons, both in their twenties, were stoic but positive. My wife was, as ever, utterly brilliant. Inside, I was rattled, unsure, bewildered. I also was in a deep state of ignorance regarding my medical condition. With the advice of my Consultant (Don’t read dodgy websites or start taking weird treatments!”), the support of family, friends and the wonderful ARC centre, I calmed, appraised and got on with my life’s routines.
No treatment was advised “yet”. I was Principal Teacher of a large urban school. One Friday in work, in March 2009, I had something of a Pauline moment. Yes, I felt well but, what if I were to undergo demanding and ongoing treatment? How might I feel physically? Would I be unwell or miserable? For how long? Later that evening, I discussed my train of thought with my wife and my boys. The general consensus was that I should retire…..as soon as possible. Next morning, the letter of resignation was typed and lodged with my Board. Following my retirement three months later, a whole new life opened before me. By 2011, treatment was outlined.
Commencing in January 2012, chemotherapy commenced. By July, my course of chemotherapy was completed. I looked pale, thinner and was short of energy. The previous six or seven months brought with them minor physical symptoms familiar to all chemo fellow travellers. Those months and the many that followed, also brought me in to a world of “comrades”…in the Day Ward. What wonderful, wonderful people. Young and older. Never ever did I hear a complaint. Many of my mates did not make “the cut” and passed away. But so many, many more did and continue to do so. As any reader will undoubtedly agree, these wards are staffed by angels. Nothing and nobody is a burden. Love and support carried us all along.
In the time since, I have developed red cell aplasia and numerous other challenges. The medicine and the knowledge are improving exponentially. Yes, I have learned that life is great, to be enjoyed. Cancer in my life is a fact. But it is not my life. It is a pebble in my shoe which requires occasional attention. I am only conscious of my condition in the weeks or days prior too “bloods” or visits to my wonderful Consultant. True, I might be disinclined to plan for ten years hence. I am sixty two…. it would be a clairvoyant or a fool who would make long term plans at sixty two.
I have every confidence that I will enjoy pints, travel, great company and fun for the rest of my days. Bring it on!!