Yesterday, as a nation, we came together to remember and reflect on the sacrifices that so many have made to secure our futures.
Today, myself and my family are reflecting on and remembering a more personal anniversary, exactly one year on from the day I discovered I had cancer.
Tomorrow, the world will take a moment to recall the awful carnage wreaked on poor innocents in the Bataclan Theatre and other parts of Paris, also one year ago.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about perspective over the past 12 months.
Nobody wants cancer. I wish, every day, that I could have remained cancer-free throughout my life.
And yet, there are times where I see my cancer as a gift rather than an awful affliction. It’s that perspective thing.
I honestly think I’m lucky, and I’m thankful for every morning that I wake up, see my family and make the most of the day ahead. I see the world in a different light.
Those who died in conflict to secure our futures. Those poor innocents slaughtered by terrorists. They didn’t really have a chance. Fate was not on their side. They weren’t lucky.
I may have been diagnosed with an incurable lymphoma, but I’m currently in remission and hopefully can keep it that way for a good few years. New treatments are being developed that may bring a cure or at least prolong survival further. And when my time does come, at least I’ll get the chance to prepare for it and say my goodbyes.
Unless I’m hit by the proverbial bus. Then all bets are off!
Black humour has been a massive part of my coping strategy. Aided and abetted by my incredibly stoic wife, whose darkness of humour plumbs even greater depths than mine! Forget Fifty Shades of Grey. We’re Fifty Shades of Black!
I find it really hard to believe that it’s exactly a year since we walked out of that consultant’s room in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh knowing that our lives were changing forever – but not knowing how long that forever would be.
Truth is, I’ve had to re-read my blogs to remind myself of the details of those early days, weeks and even months. Maybe that’s a positive sign of not looking back, but focussing on the way forward?
We’ve learned a lot about cancer over the past year. But we’ve also learned a lot about ourselves, our values and our priorities.
Foremost in our list of priorities have been the children.
We’ve tried to be honest with them throughout. Encouraging them to be open with us. Sharing their fears, their questions and their hopes.
There’s no ‘right’ way to deal with cancer. No ‘manual’ on how you should deal with it, as the patient or as the wider family.
Every case is different. Every individual is just that, an individual. Everybody’s needs, their coping capabilities, are unique.
I think we’ve struck the right balance with our kids. Cancer surrounds them, but they don’t let it phase them. They don’t shy away from it, but neither are they obsessed by it. They are sensitive when that’s what’s needed, but have also developed a wee bit of their parents’ black humour…
Often, when I get something muddled, Finlay (5) will pipe up “Chemo Brain!”. You have to laugh!
We’ve been greatly helped in this journey by family and good friends. And also by the wonderful team at Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Edinburgh, who incidentally are celebrating their own anniversary.
It’s 20 years since Maggie Keswick Jenck’s vision for a specialist support facility, designed for cancer patients and their family and friends, became a reality in a disused stable in the grounds of Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital. Tragically, Maggie didn’t live to see the beautiful building open it’s doors.
There are now 20 Maggie’s Centres across the UK, Hong Kong and Japan. More are in the pipeline.
As anyone who watched the brilliant BBC Scotland documentary last week will know, all the centres are uniquely designed, in many cases by world-renowned architects. Yet they all seem to have that Maggie’s ‘feel’ – that oasis of calm and reassurance next-door to what are generally functional and clinical medical centres.
The Edinburgh facility, brilliant as it is, is now far to small for the continually growing demand. This year they expect to see 22,000 people through their doors. And these numbers will only continue to rise.
Efforts are well underway to raise funds for an exciting extension to the building, designed by the building’s original architect, Richard Murphy. If you are looking for a good charity to support in 2017 (or to donate to this year instead of Christmas cards?), may I suggest the Maggie’s ‘Buy A Brick’ campaign, supported by the Edinburgh Evening News?
So, one year on, where am I now?
Not a bad place I’d have to say.
As noted earlier, I’m in remission, as a follow-up CT scan last month re-confirmed. I’m down to seeing my consultant every 6-8 weeks. The last of my cancer-related drugs runs out next week.
I’m getting fitter (if fatter…). This dog hater has become a soppy dog lover. I really look forward to my daily (and lengthening) walks with our Springer-Poodle Bailey, who has just celebrated his six month birthday (if you can ‘celebrate’ by having your bits chopped off!). I particularly look forward to our café visits for hot rolls or scones on many of these walks!!
I’m nearly back to work. I had hoped to return in September but my own continued levels of tiredness coupled with a highly-bureaucratic return-to-work process has slowed my progress. But I’m ready, willing and able now, and champing at the bit to get back into a new routine.
As a family we’ve (re)discovered the joys of a staycation, and the incredible beauty of Scotland’s west coast (back to that thing about seeing the world in a different light). A week in a mansion’s converted staff quarters as the only guests on a secluded coastal estate saw to that!
And now we look forward to Christmas and a chance for a quieter and hopefully more stress-free Festive Period than last year, where as my re-reading of this blog reminds me, it was touch-and-go whether I’d spend 25 December as a guest of the NHS or at home with my family.
So what’s my ‘take away’ from this anniversary blog?
No matter how bad things might get, if you can, try and think about perspective. Look forward, not back. Look up, not down. There are many beautiful, inspiring things out there that can lift your spirits and make you grateful to be alive. And there are people, good people, who will help you do this.