Time flows by and well random thoughts

So here I am sat in front of my computer typing again. Facebook told me earlier today I wrote an entry 3 years ago today, it does that pretty often actually. The entry 3 years ago was about my chemo and radiotherapy starting the next morning. Reading that entry I look back and realise how naive I was about the treatment and the side effects. I really thought I would cope easily with them and that 2 months after it ending I would be recovered from it by end of February. I wasn’t. And whilst the first 8 or 9 days days of treatment went well and I had few real problems, it suddenly went downhill after that, in a big way requiring hospital admission. Fortunately with the intervention of the NHS and support of Macmillan, friends and family I got through it and by end of February was definitely beginning to recover. I was still very weak and suffered from bouts of fatigue, but they were not really a problem then because of my general weakness and didn’t make much difference to me.

So 3 years on, after reading this entry, I went for a medium to longish for me cycle ride and discovered that Saltdean is hillier than I thought. That some of the hills are effing steep. But as I like cycling up hills it was good to exert myself and succeed in getting to the top. I am trying to think the last time I had to get off my bike due to unexpectedly meeting a steep hill and can’t remember when it was. Today I just changed down a few gears and pedalled away till I got to the top of it. After these hills it was a ride along the prom towards Brighton into a headwind, which meant it was like going up a slope the whole way. Despite it being cold this morning I was pretty warm when I arrived back home and took some time to cool down and enjoyed a coffee and a read as I did so. I am riding less frequently at the moment, trying to do slightly longer rides and walking most days I don’t ride to see if this stops the bouts of fatigue emerging whilst allowing me to get some exercise. I don’t think it is working as I feel that I am fighting a bout back at the moment and am refusing to give into it as I have arrangement for tonight and another tomorrow to see friends that I don’t want to cancel. I know there will be a cost to this, but as I don’t have anything planned for the weekend I can rest up then.

This time 2 years ago, I was at work and trying to ignore the fatigue, which meant that I eventually got totally fatigued and ended up having a month off and breaking my collarbone and then having several months off. Two years ago, I was in complete denial that I couldn’t do it all, I was back working all the hours I did before I was diagnosed. Which meant that I basically went to work, did a couple of bike rides a week and spent the rest of the time hermit like at home with very rare socialising. I am hoping that now I am not working I can push myself and do exercise and social activities, then relax and regenerate energy. I seem to manage this better in Dalyan, there when I overdo it I can just sit by the river for a couple of days and take a gentle walk into town for bit to eat or a coffee/cay as the mood takes me or if feeling really exhausted get a delivery of tasty food. Here it seem harder to regulate energy levels, not sure why this is though.

So what else is going on, well the world is still seemingly going to hell in a hand cart. We humans really shouldn’t be left alone to run our planet I sometimes think. Not sure who we could get to sort us out, so I guess it is down to us to do so. When I was a young adult we thought we could change the world for the better and for middle class and skilled working class western Europeans, amongst others it did mostly become much better over the years. Since BREXIT, we Brits are seeing our standard of living being further eroded, this started after the crash in 07/08 and it will get worse. BREXIT partly happened because a lot of people didn’t benefit as we did and they voted to leave the EU partly as a protest against this. Sadly, they voted with the bigots, racists and fascists (sorry Alt Right) and have condemned themselves to a much bleaker and more uncertain future. The political establishment in the UK is treating the referendum result as if it was a sacred text, when in fact it is more like an opinion poll. Why an opinion poll, well because it was only ever meant to be advisory and not to be taken as a mandate for action. Of course the Maybot as she is cruelly but fairly called is ignoring this inconvenient fact and taking us lemming like to the cliff to remain in power. Why because she is being held a hostage to fortune by the rabid right of the Tory party and keeping the Tory party in power is more important than having a mature thorough debate about what is best for the country.

Compared to much of the world, the UK is a safe haven, somewhere people will risk anything and everything to reach. So in reality we have it pretty good despite the problems looming ahead. Which leads me off in a slightly tangential path:

The confrontation with death—and the reprieve from it—makes everything look so precious, so sacred, so beautiful, that I feel more strongly than ever the impulse to love it, to embrace it, and to let myself be overwhelmed by it….I wonder if we could love passionately, if ecstasy would be possible at all, if we knew we’d never die. (In Arkoff, 1975)

One of my half brothers sent me this, I won’t say which one and leave you and the other brothers who didn’t send it guessing who did, if you guess there could be a prize or then maybe not. The one who sent it thought it would resonate and we have talked previously about the impact of my cancer on me emotionally and cognitively. Whilst, I don’t see life as sacred (atheism runs deep in this one), I do see it as precious and now find it easier to notice all the small things that make life worth living, even in the darkest of times. Having your mortality thrust into your face does in my experience help you recognise all the beauty and good things in the world around you. It might be something really small like someone pausing on a pavement for a second to let you cross their path to something really big and important to you, all are equally worthy of being noticed and appreciated if possible. All of the good bits of your day when noticed in my experience make a difference to how you feel about yourself and your life. Being heard and noticed make a difference to all of us and when I think back it is this belief that children and young people need adults to notice and hear them that led me to undertake training and subsequently spend most of my working life working in different service for children and young people and so hopefully assisting them to have better life opportunities.

Coincidently, I was chatting on Whatsapp today with another relative and we got to talking about mindfulness and how helpful it is. Whilst working, I after being introduced to the approach some years ago by team member, worked to introduce to more of the team and offered them all training in the model. Mindfulness, is not magic, it is a fairly simple set of techniques that with practice will help you remain in the moment and hopefully be kinder to yourself. It has origins in meditation but without the mysticism that Buddhists and others cloak it in. My team member who introduced it to me once said she thought I was naturally fairly mindful, when she said it, looking back, I think I was more considered than mindful (discussing this difference will have to wait until another time, remind me and buy me a beer if you want to find out more). My treatment and experience of cancer helped me be more mindful and notice better when I am and when I am not being mindful. As regular readers (well if there are any left) you will know how my walk through Queens Park to and from radiotherapy and other appointments became one of the highlights of the day. I would always walk through it noticing the sights, sounds and smells as I did, as I became weaker and sicker due to the treatment, this really helped me find the strength and energy to make the walk to and from the cancer centre. Being mindful usually helped me cope with not sleeping during and after the treatment, I would monitor my breathing, notice where my body was pressing on the mattress and where the duvet was touching my body, noticing the sounds of the night. It also helped me let go of my anxiety of not sleeping and being tired in the morning, helping to reduce my insomnia significantly.

I can’t say I do regular mindfulness exercises as such, but I would say I endeavour to be mindful when I do different things through out the day. I find taking photographs a very mindful thing, I get lost in the act and notice what I am doing, particularly the composition of the shot, I could and have in the past, just use instinct to get a good photograph but find I get more satisfaction when I focus fully on the process or the aspects I want to focus on at the time. Exercise, in my case cycling can be mindful, sometimes I focus on the mechanics of cycling and performance, especially when climbing up a hill, your breathing, the burn in your legs or lungs sometimes or the good feeling of the endorphins coursing through your blood stream. other times you focus more on the traffic around you and on occasions you take in the view. It is all about being more in the moment rather than worrying about things in the future or the past which you cannot change. If you haven’t tried mindfulness I really suggest that you look into it and see if it could help you, but only if you want to. Like every approach it is not for everyone.

So returning to the quote send by my half brother, my being mindful is partly due to facing my own mortality but I think my facing my mortality has had other equally important effects on me that are not due to mindfulness but go alongside it. Re-framing or finding positives in a negative situation, has been a significant part of my self care during this time. One day I will write an entry about all the benefits of having cancer there have been for me, I know I have touched on this subject before and finding the silver lining to the cloud of cancer. Cancer does steal away a lot and if you let it, will leave you in a bleak and dismal place, by finding and focusing on the few good things that emerge from it, you can in my experience reclaim much of you life from the shadow of cancer. As I type I am heading towards a check up on Monday next week, 4 days time I will be walking home or home after finding out the outcome. As I have said before it is a weird thing to go for a check up, whilst I am positive about the outcome I have to be prepared for bad news. This is not as I have said before being morbid, just being realistic. This appointment coming up is probably contributing to my determination not to let the fatigue win over the next couple of days as I want to live my life normally and enjoy it until the appointment. If I get invited out over the weekend I will try to overcome the fatigue and go. Well time to end, as I need to started getting it together to go out shortly. Take care and remember to notice all the little good bits of your day, I promise it will help you find life better, or at least easier to bear if you are going through a difficult or challenging time.


Looming appointments, cycling and well who knows where my mind will take this blog entry

As I write I am coming up to another check up apppointment in a little under two weeks. There is always an amount of stress or anxiety about these and this one is no different, what is slightly different about this one is that the anxiety has arrived later than it has recently. I have no particular reason to be anxious about this check up but I think that by conincidence is occurs 3 years after the date my treatment started could be connected, of course it might be that some of the anxiety I am feeling today is for a much more mundane reasons. I have the dreaded dental check up tomorrow, which does cause highish levels of anxiety for me.

I do not like dental appointments because there is a chance that I might be told I need to have a drill taking chunks out of my teeth and no sane person wants to contemplate this. I have long avoided dentists whenever possible and have as an adult always made sure I cleaned my teeth regularly, at least twice a day and did so thoroughly. Not because I liked cleaning my teeth but because of the incentive that doing so meant that I would be less likely to need treatment. Since the cancer treatment where half of my salivary glands were removed surgically and the remaining glands and teeth were bombarded with high levels of radiation, one of my biggest fears was needing to have teeth filled because of the radiation damage and poor quality saliva not protecting the teeth from decay. So far this has not happened and hopefully will not happen following this check up.

So it will be interesting to find out tomorrow after my check up and hygenist visit whether my stress levels diminishes or not. Whilst we are talking about things I don’t like, I recently had a flu jab and blood test to check my thyroid function. Prior to my cancer treatment, I really fretted about injections and blood tests were even worse. Injections are still slightly anxiety producing. Weirdly I am less stressed by blood tests these days than I am of subcutaneous or intramuscular injections. Prior to all the treatment I couldn’t even look at the equipment for a blood test or inserting a canula into a vein, now I can watch dispassionately as they do it. Sure it can hurt a little bit but the pain is very slight. Whilst having my recent blood test the nurse doing it alonside my flu jab commented that my veins still haven’t fully recovered from the damage done by the chemotherapy. I know that from having my recent surgeries that they are a challenge to get a canula into. Hopefully, I won’t be needing any canulas stuck into me soon so it won’t be a problem and that they have plenty of time to recover further.

As an aside or a slant off the topic, I have now noticed that if I cut myself it takes a lot longer for the injury to heal. Something I am not sure about, is this is due to aging, a side effect of the chemo therapy or a combination of both. I still find it hard to believe I am 60, that despite all the minor and not so minor mishaps along the way that I have made it to this age. Somehow whilst I have had some serious and potentially fatal illnesses I have so far been one of the fortunate ones to have survived thanks to modern medicine and the NHS. As I head towards being 60 and 1/6th years old next week I am beginning to wonder if I might arrange a belated birthday celebration. Probably a bit late to arrange now but maybe over the next months I might arrange something.

Since being back from holiday I haven’t done a great deal of cycling, not sure why. Some of it has been the weather but it has also been a bit about lack of motivation. Yesterday after seeing a friend in the morning as it was a lovely afternoon I decided to go for a ride and ended up having a lovely ride in the glorious weather. What marred it slightly was that towards the end of it three times pedestrains stepped right out in front of me and a car overtook me as I was positioning myself to turn right after signalling. People complain about bike riders jumping lights etc, but I have noticed that often pedestrians tend to ignore bikes and will just step out forcing you to serve and or brake as well as second guess will they jump back to the pavement or rush further out into the road so you avoid them. As for car drivers that overtake you as you position yourself to turn right they seemingly don’t think about the consequences for the cyclist if there is a collision. Yesterday, if I hadn’t swerved left, I would have been clipped by the car as it pulled in when it passed me. Cycling is normally a way for me to reduce stress, yesterday I felt other road users were attempting to take away this method of stress reduction away from me. Normally people are mostly considerate so I am hoping that I was unlucky yesterday, that for some reason I encountered all the inconsiderate road users that I will for a bit now.

As mentioned earlier I met up with a friend yesterday, someone who several years ago used to be a colleague. We talked about lots of things, her partner’s recovery from a gastric tumour, which fortunately is good, how things like this often trigger you to re-evaluate your priorities. I got to talking about retirement and what I was doing or not doing and the impact it has on me. At one point I started to say that occasionally I get bored, then realised as I was saying this, I was wrong. I don’t get bored, I always find things to do and occupy myself with, what I do find though is that sometimes I find them unfulfilling. I used to lead a busy and challenging life in work, which had the benefit of being very rewarding and left my feeling fulfilled, that I made difference. I found this satisfying, enjoying being pushed and stretched. Immediately after the treatment when I returned to work I did enjoy this, I felt frustrated that I could not work and function at the same level as I had before the cancer treatment. Struggling to do so and eventually ending up totally exhausted as I attempted to push myself through the fatigue.

Now I am beginning to feel more and more that I want to be challenged and stretched again. Not to the level I was whilst at work; but significantly more than my life does challenge me at the moment. Hopefully, the voluntary work I am going to be starting over the next few months will offer me a challenge and rekindle my enjoyment for working again. I have also been thinking on and off, through talking with friends and excolleagues what I could do and that I still have a lot to offer due to my expertise and experience if I choose to go this route. I might choose to do something completely different and as my friend yesterday pointed out I need a project to focus on, whether it be moving, putting on an exhibition or something else. She helped me see that my life is a bit unfocused at the moment, lacking in foundations to build the next stage of it on. I am and have been drifting for the last few months, the nearly 6 months since my collarbone healed after the surgery. For nearly 3 years my life was dominated by illhealth, treatment and recovery due to the cancer and both collarbone breaks. Now I am getting back to a more normal place healthwise and as the fatigue lessens will be able to do more. Which leaves me needing to find more to do or finding things that offer me the level of challenge and enjoyment I want from them. A future awaits me and I need to start strking out for it rather than treading water as I have been doing recently and maybe I need to start in a direction rather than spending more time which direction to go, I can always alter course if I choose to.

Sunshine, MacMillan and other stuff

So we are well into the Autumn here and the leaves are tumbling off the trees or maybe I should say being washed and blown off due to the wet and windy weather we have been having. On the plus side it has been pretty mild, often around the mid teens centigrade during the day and not falling that much at night. I am getting back into the routine of being home again, thanks to the darker mornings managing to sleep later some days, which makes a change from waking up at 6 or earlier. Last Friday I went to Sheffield Park with a friend to see all the Autumn colours and it was glorious, I think we possibly timed it perfectly, though I might go again early next week if weather is OK to see how it has changed. The weather heading up to the planned day there did not look promising but on the day, it was wet till about noon and then sunny until around 4, so we caught the good weather there. I also managed to get a couple of photos I was happy with. All in all a lovely day out that included catching up with a friend.

Since then I have seen a few of friends at various times and will hopefully catch up with more over the coming weeks, plans are afoot to meet up with a few. Other excitement, well I had my annual flu jab and I got the all clear from a routine bowel cancer screening. This screening was one of the surprises I had for my 60th birthday, apparently you get sent a kit every two years from 60 to 75. Not the most pleasant test to do but well worth it I expect. Whilst we are talking cancer, I am just under a month away from the next check up, so that shadow is in the background again. Today I attended a feedback session for MacMillan about the Horizon centre and met other services users there and we discussed what worked well, what could be improved and what they should do more of. We also discussed our personal journeys through cancer, from pre diagnosis to today. It was interesting to here how people dealt with the telling people and how open they were with colleagues, family and friends.

I hadn’t fully realised how open I have been compared to many people about my cancer and my journey through treatment. This has got me wondering about this area of living with cancer, openness v keeping it quiet or secret. There is not a wrong way to be, just a range of right ways for each individual to deal with this devastating news when you receive it. Looking back I now understand a bit more why I got so many comments and compliments about my openness about my cancer from colleagues and friends. It was interesting to hear why they didn’t want to talk about it and one of the reasons was people asking how they were and having to retell the tale repeatedly. Whilst I find it easy to talk about my cancer and recovery from the treatment writing my blog was partly started to keep people informed so I didn’t have to retell updates all the time to different people. I think in reality whilst it has done this for some people who I don’t see regularly the blog has been more a space for me to express what is going on for me in the here and now. It has not stopped me from talking about my feelings, emotional responses etc. to what is going on as I have lived the last 3 years, it has just been a different way of expressing myself. It has also been a record of things and it is surprising how many things I have forgotten in the 3 years since I started this. Fortunately, it is normally the less pleasant things I have not recalled until I read old blog entries.

Sometimes when reading them I go back to being in the moment of the blog entry, other times it is more distant and sometimes it feels like it happened to someone else. There are some things that I do not need to read the blog to remember. Being at the Macmillan Horizon Centre today also keyed me back into some memories I had put to the back of my mind. People talked about the shock of being told the news and how it was devastating. For me it was a relief being told, having my certainty of of the outcome confirmed. The earlier ultrasound appointment suddenly including biopsy and CT scan, that for me when the acceptance and knowing I had cancer happened even if not formally told, I knew from peoples reaction to me that I had cancer deep. One of my strong memories of the day when I heard I had cancer was talking with the nurse after all the formal diagnosis discussion with my ENT consultant and being told that I would be seeing the Oncology team and getting the proposed treatment plan confirmed. She kept asking if I was OK, seeming to expect more of a reaction from me, tears, anger or a combination of them and other emotions. Yet on the day, my sense of relief of not being in the limbo of not knowing for sure was the dominant thing, that uncertainty being gone meant a weight was lifted which for me cushioned the blow of the bad news. Also my blind optimism that I would breeze through treatment, be cured and only have minor side effects helped. Despite having an advanced cancer I was certain I would be one of the fortunate ones. Sure I knew the odds but I wasn’t going let them stop me being in the group that are around for a long time after treatment.

I went into treatment convinced I would be fine and I knew that from reading some research about outcomes for cancer patients people who were more positive tended cope better with the treatment and have better outcomes. This reinforced my conscious and unconscious decision that I would take an optimistic stance, which has mostly throughout the 3 years remained in place. The difference is that now I am more aware of the fact that I could get bad news at the next appointment, I don’t expect it but I am prepared for it. When I talk with some people about this, they see it as being negative, I don’t and talking with other people going through the post monitoring process many of them don’t either. It is just a realism that bad news is something you need to be prepared for while you go through the run up to the check up. There is always a sense of relief when I walk out and a mild elation now, earlier check ups and the first one it was total elation. For me, it was only in the run up to the first check up that I seriously considered that I might not be cancer free. Now, I go towards the appointment in a position of guarded optimism and a belief that whatever treatment I might need will work, that advances in effective treatments will be there for me if I need them.

We never know what lies around the corner and the experience of my cancer, my life threatening pneumonia 20 years ago, the recent pneumonia and the bike accidents and collarbone breaks have left me definitely feeling that I am living on bonus time. I also have a belief that whilst things can be tough, maybe unbearable at times, things work out OK in the end, which reinforces my position of guarded optimism. I have no idea why I have done so well and I suspect my medical team would not be able to say why I responded so well to the cancer treatment and have had nearly 3 years cancer free whilst others with less advanced cancers did not. It could be that I am too stubborn to be beaten by as pesky pair of tumours, Tabitha and Trevor as I called them then. What I hadn’t realised or to be more accurate was not acknowledging at the time was they they had already given rise to a group of smaller tumours. So the treatment successfully evicted the family of feral cells as far as I and the medical team know and they are not back yet and the odds increase that they won’t be back, but being realistic I have accept they could.

So my optimism helped me through the early part of the treatment and again did during the later part of treatment. It was in the middle part of treatment I struggled most due to the nausea and dehydration. At my darkest moments even then I was sure the treatment would be effective, it was just that I wasn’t sure that I could cope with the treatment. Fortunately, after my big blip and dip, with the support of all the professional involved, friends and family working together got me through until my determination and positivity kicked in again and helped me through the hell of the treatment and I am here today enjoying life.

This has turned into a fairly long post and not the one I intended to write, actually I rarely write what I intend when I do sit down in front of the computer and start typing. This has gone further afield than normal though. I think partly due to talking with other people who are either ahead or behind me in their cancer journey. And the bad news for you is that I still have more to say, maybe you should make a drink and wonder why you were foolish enough to start reading this meandering post.

So after I got home from the McMillan centre I sat down and read for a bit, browsed for a bit but couldn’t settle so decided to go for a bike ride as it was a beautiful Autumn afternoon. I rode to the seafront and along, then went a meandering route inland up to the race hill and as it was a clear day could see westwards all the way to the Isle of Wight and wondered for a bit if my friends that live there live on this side of the island or the other and if with a telescope I could see their house. Why that thought popped into my mind I have no idea but it did and they were there throughout my treatment with encouraging messages, so maybe that is why I had those thoughts. Cycling and exercise have also been a significant thing in my recovery and contributed to my resilience, as does photography, which I find a very mindful exercise. So today’s ride was really enjoyable, I pushed myself a bit, worked up a sweat, got up some hills easily and had to work a bit harder to get up some others. As I was near the top of one, a guy walking his dog, jokingly said something about that looks like fun, which I laughed at, despite it being a tough hill and commented that surprisingly it was the best bit. Which for me it is, I love the work of getting up the hill, well maybe not during some of the steeper harder hills but immediately you hit the top you have a great sense of achievement. Though to be totally honest, I do actually enjoy the hills and pushing myself as long as I do not go “into the red” as they say in cycling circles and run out of energy. I guess it is the endorphin rush of exercising that I like.

So how am I, well I am OK or better than OK. Still wondering what to do with the next stage of my life, thinking about options and looking for ideas as well. Life is pretty good and I am one of the fortunate ones to be here. Sure I would like to meet someone who would like to share my life with me and vice versa but whilst I am waiting I am content being single and with my life. I have many things to look forward to, despite my medical history I do have pretty good health and am able to live an active life. I have enough money to meet my needs and enough to do many of the things I want to do, which is more than most people. All in all despite a few minor and not so minor blips over the last few years I am in a pretty good place emotionally, physically and mentally. Life is good and I have many good bits to notice, which makes it even better and these good bits make the challenging days easier to live through.

Back home.

Well, here I am back home nearly a week now. The weather forecast kept promising some nice sunny days, they never materialised here, somehow the sun mostly managed to avoid Brighton with the help of cloud cover. Across the downs, people tell me it has been lovely. I suppose it is only the weather balancing things up, over the last few days in Dalyan they forecast rain, this never arrived in Dalyan, we could see that it was raining in Candir across the river and heard about it raining in Ortaca and other places. I think having a month in Dalyan with no real rain, just a few drops of drizzle is pretty good.

Often when I return home I find that last few days are spents thinking about the return home and wanting to get the travel over with, this time I just wanted to stay in Dalyan for a few more weeeks. I had a really relaxed time and unlike some previous visits did not feel a self imposed pressure to do as much as posible. This time I just went with the flow, went out and about if I felt like it, sat by the river if I felt like it and probably did less this time than I have recently. However, much of what I did will stay with me, watching turtles being released back into the sea and baby turtles swimming off for the first time is one of them, doing a 12 Islands trip for the first time in many years was another. Then, of course, there was meeting old friends and catching up with them, both human and feline. Discovering new places to eat and returning to old favourites, I think soon I will need a month there to visit all the restaurants I like once during a stay. Some I like because of excellent food, some because of good food and location and others because of good food and excellent service and some because they have nice cats hanging around and good food. I am now wondering how many other people choose where to have a snack or a coffee on the basis of the feline overseers?

So what have I done since I have been back, well to be honest not a great deal, went out for an ex-colleagues leaving do and a cycle ride and some food shopping; this was the sum total of activity for the first few days. I had a quiet weekend and it is only this week that I have started to get my ass in gear and begin to make arrangements to meet up with people as it dawned on me that if I didn’t I wouldn’t have a social life as people probably don’t know I was back. So I am, in a haphazard and random manner, contacting people and making plans to see friends and making other plans to do teveralhings I want to do. Whilst in Dalyan and staying in the panisyon you always see people and Dalyan being fairly small you keep bumping into people or you make tentative recurring arrangements to be at a certain place around a certain time, usually a Cay Garden or a cafe, so it is easy to keep on touch with people.

Getting back to my social life here, if I haven’t contacted you yet, watch out because it is likely that I will be over the next few days or so, well maybe I should say weeks. As I think I have mentioned before, sometimes I do find it hard to contact people and make arrangements, which means I must put more effort into it. Part of this is a feeling that I don’t want to bother people, becauseI think they are likely busy and won’t have time or want to see me. This is a long standing thing and over the last couple of years I have been working hard to overcome this. This is not always easy and is part of the reason I am so bad at making arrangements. My fatigue is another, I hate the thought of having to cancel arrangements due to fatigue, which does happen more often than I would like so I sometimes reluctant to initialise making arrangements because of this. Also for someone who used to like going out to busy places and be in big groups I am now the opposite, preferring to be in quiet places and to only see a few people. The thought of seeing big groups can trigger a bout of social anxiety and leave me finding some social events challenging. My mild hearing loss doesn’t help either, which makes hearing people in a crowded and noisy place difficult and reinforces my homebody tendencies and introversion. Of course once I get out I do enjoy myself and I must hold on to this and make the arrangements over the next few days.

Well enough for this entry, the sun is threatening to break through the clouds and I want to see if I can get a photo or two of Brighton with odd coloured light due to Saharan sand and smoke particles from massive forest fires on the continent.

Before and after

So here I am sat by the river, kitten on my lap purring as I type away, I return home in a couple of days. Yesterday was the 3rd anniversary of my surgery, so 3 years ago I would have been sat on my bed in the ward, taking copious amounts of pain killers and looking out of the window of the ward towards Whitehawk hill. As I recall, I was feeling OK considering I had around 6 or 7 hours surgery, I had a drain in my neck and an IV and all the other paraphenalia of of modern medicine around my bed. However, I much prefer being here with a kitten on my lap. The year before I was just back from Dalyan and missing another kitten that had befriended me. A white and tabby cat came up to me the other day and obviously seemed to know me so maybe it was the kitten from 4 years ago, they looked similar. I wonder if in 4 years the kitten on my lap will remember me? Her mother always does and is always here to welcome me at breakfast time, well until a couple of days ago when she went missing. We all assumed she had died as she wasn’t looking very well and is a rather elderly street cat, around 10 it is thought. However, she arrived back yesterday afternoon wanting attention from me and the other people she knew in the pansiyon.

I feel very fortunate to have had another month here and whilst I have again had a wonderful time I am looking forward to returning home and catching up with people there. I have an ex-colleagues leaving do to go to a day or so after my return, which means I will catch up with a lot of work friends. Besides that, I have some tentative arrangements that I will need to firm them up once I get back. As ever, with the end of my holiday looming I am thinking of my next trip and hope to get away again soon. My intention after retiring had been to do a fair amount of travelling but due to the second collarbone break that was put on hold. Now I can do it and with 3 month and soon to be 4 month gaps between check ups it will be easier to plan ahead and not have to take into account that I might have to cancel due to cancer being found at a check up, whilst I am positive I have to be realistic their is still an increased chance for me. I would like to do some longer haul travel, also go back to La Palma to see a brother and his family, would also like to visit the one or two other Canary Isles as well. Would also like to return to Sri Lanka, India, visiting Kerala this time and maybe heading further south down to Tamil Nadu. Thailand, Cambodia also appeal, a return to Bali maybe. Sub Shaharan Africa is also on the possible to visit list, as is South America. Whilst I would like to vist my brother and wife in the USA, it is off the list at the moment due to health insurance costs, I haven’t even enquired but I know it would be prohibative at the moment. A return to Australia and a trip to New Zealand would also be nice.

Enough of my travel wish list, which would need a reasonably sized lottery win to fund. What have I been up to whilst here. Well to be honest, much of the time has been sat by the river, kitten on lap and camera close to hand. It has has been a very relaxed and not do much holiday. Partly because it was how I felt and partly because midway through I hit a fatigue wall that has been hanging around for a week or so, I get energised do something and then get flattened again. Today I am having an energised day so went for a walk into and around town and the river before returning and starting this blog entry. When I have been feeling better I have been to the beach to watch caretta turtles being released back into the sea from the turtle hospital and baby turtles released into the sea. A 12 Islands boat trip was a lovely day out, as have been some wanderings in the countryside around Dalyan, taking photos, admiring the view and stopping off for tasty lunches in restaurants I like.

I chose the title of this blog because I have been thinking in terms of before and after for a few days. Partly because I have been talking to someone I know about the possibility of doing an exhibtion of my photos in Dalyan next year. They suggested that it included my insect and wild life photographs alongside some of my landscape photographs, featuring a couple of places I have photographed many times over the last few years showing the changes over the seasons and times of day. Not sure if I will go ahead with this but it is something I am giving serious consideration to. Going back to the blog title, it is something that is very pertainent to me now and actually is for all of us al our lives. We live constantly in an evolving and changing state of before and after, which colours our lives. How these before and afters impact on us very much down to how we think about the event and how we relate to it and the effects it has on us. As you regular readers know, I have been positive in the after of my cancer diagnosis and believe I have a future, so in effect many more befores will become afters.

Whilst it is has been easy to think of before and afters, I am now thinking about the during phase. Which can be very short, an instant in time, or it can be a long period of time, such as a relationship or a career or treatment for cancer. The one thing all these durings have in common is that whilst we are experiencing them we don’t know what the long term impact of them will be. The smile at another student when you start university, will it lead to a long term friendship or just few words during your time studying alongside each other. For me a major during phase was my cancer treatment, for others in my situation it might be the moment of being told the diagnosis. This for me was not such a big deal as I was certain of the diagnosis before the appointment because of they way I was treated at the ultrasound appointment and given a biopsy and CT scan immediately, so this during had more impact on me than the appointment where I was told I had cancer. The treatment was a much bigger during for me and one that had a much bigger impact on me than I was prepared for. I remember often or mostly minimising the impact of it to people whilst I was going through it. I even did so after I was admitted to hospital because of how badly I reacted to it. I got through this during phase thanks to the support of the professionals, friends and family. Having the after to this during I think really has helped me be so positive about my situation and seeing myself as being fortunate. The treatment for my cancer is said by oncologists to be worst and harshes treatment for any cancer, so to go through it and not have a least a few years being cancer free would be shitty to put it bluntly. That I am apparently cancer free at the moment is a massive bonus and makes the experience of the treatment all worth while. So the after of cancer has many good features for me. Coming to Dalyan regularly, being able to retire early, enjoying life stilll are all things that I feel fortunate to experience. Many who go through life threatening health issues do not have the good fortune I have had, so do not get to live a period of bonus time. This is why I feel fortunate and take the time to notice all the minor but important good bits of my day. Be it a glorious sunrise, a tasty meal, a smile from a shop assistant, seeing an old friend, having a kitten choose to sit on your lap or something bigger like being told the treatment has left you with no detectable signs of cancer.

So as I end this blog, I wish you all many more before and afters, not forgetting the enjoyable durings. Remember any unpleasant durings won’t last forever, that once they are afters you can look back knowing you survived it, well that is how am with the treatment during. Which, despite the horrors does have many happy memories thanks to the wonderful staff at the Sussex Cancer Centre and Royal Susses Country Hospital. As I have said many times before life is better when you notice all the little good bits, so smile and notice them, it might make your day easier as it does mine.

3 years or 3 score years, which to celebrate?

Here I am sat by the river in Dalyan as the sun sets, in a couple of hours it will be a week since I arrived back in my home from home. The weather for the first few days was pretty normal for the season, now it is warming up again and temperatures of close to 40C have been forecast.

From the title of this post astute readers will have realised that there are two anniversaries to notice, both are significant in differenet ways. The reaching 60 years is considered by society to be one of those big important birthdays. I am unsure why 40 and 60 have such a significance whilst 50 does not. 30 is a biggy whilst 20 is not such a big one. When I was growing up your 21st still had signifcance, now I think it is more that 18 is the significant one, well in the UK at least. So here I am at the grand old age of 60 and retired, the later being something I was not expecting a few years ago. I am officially a year into retirement but due to the collarbone saga it only feels like I am 6 months into it, the months before felt like being off sick still.

I guess I should be reviewing my life at 60, but after the cancer it seems that reaching 60 is not such an important thing, living 3 years after the diagnosis seem a much bigger achievement, though one that is down to others more than me. All I did was go for the treatments, do the physio and speech therapy exercises and take all the many meds I was given.

In many ways it is not possible to separate the celebration of reaching 60 or 3 years, which is why I decided on the above title. Both are worthy to celebrate and yet in many way both are arbitary periods of time to celebrate, the birthday, socially constructed to be important, the cancer survival more arbitary and probably more about my need to mark my survival for 3 years and in fact the anniversary of the treatment ending is the ones my oncologist and ENT surgeon see as more important. For me though my birthday and the diagnosis are entwined, partly because of closeness to each other on the calender and partly due to being here for my birthday after the diagnosis.

So what did I do for my birthday, well very little besides being sent lots of birthday messages and a few friends in Dalyan wishing me happy birthday in person. I deliberately had not arranged anything, choosing instead to have a day doing things I like and going to places I liked. So lunch was in a favourite restaurant outside Dalyan, with a lovely walk there and back. Dinner was in a favourite restaurant in town close to the river. I did have a bit of a celebration on Saturday night, a few days later when a friend made me a cake as a suprise, which was shared with a few people I knew. I really didn’t want to celebrate on the day and would have hated having a party and being the centre of attention. I may or possibly should say might, arrange something once I get home.

What have I been doing in Dalyan I am sure you aren’t asking. But in case any of you are I can tell you not a great deal. I am taking the occasional photograph, doing a bit of gentle walking about and one longer walk on the other side of the river to Çandır and the harbour there. I am reading and sitting by the river, chatting with people I know around town and generally having a relaxed and chilled time. Today I have suffered from a bout of fatigue and I am not sure why, as I had not pushed myself over the last few days. I suppose it is just one of those occasional dips I sometime have and need to accept as being a part of post treatment me. Fortunately they are getting less frequent and I don’t usually hit me as hard as they did.

So here I am 3 score years into my life and hoping for at least another score of years of healthy and active life. If I don’t get them, well what will be will be. Like all of us my life has been full of the ups and downs we all experience but the main thing is that I am now enjoying life and feel very fortunate to still be here, able to do many things I want to do and have a future to look forward to, whether it is a short one or a longer one of bonus time. When I retired a little over a year ago, people were very kind to me, telling me that I had made a difference to many people lives through my career, which was good to hear. I don’t know that the next phase of my life will bring, I would hope that in some small way that I can have a similar postive effect on others as I have so far and to this end I will be seeking out voluntary work and possibly some paid work over the next few years. My life is good and I have plenty of good bits to notice and I hope you take the time to notice the good bits in your own lives, because when you do, the tough times we all experience seem a little bit easier to bear. This postive attitude I believe helped me recover better, suffer less from ongoing side-effects than my treatment team expected and survive longer. Surprisingly there is research that does inidcate cancer survivors who are more postive do better, so looking on the brightside is good for you.

And on this positive note I am going to end this post with my catch phrase, “life is better when you notice the good bits” and remember smiling is contagious, when you smile you feel better and others smile back and feel better and then as they go about their day they hopefully spread the contagion.

Little to report, a quiet life can be good

Well it is about 2 weeks since my last entry and I am pleased to report that there is nothing major to report. I have been cycling a few times a week, seen a few friends and generally got on with life. Booked my next trip to Turkey, which I am looking forward to.

So what will be happening over the next week or so. Well firstly I will be enjoying the bank holiday weekend, well the rest of it. For once the weather has been good here for a bank holiday weekend and I think it will be tomorrow as well. The voluntary work application is progressing, I have been offered training dates which I can’t do so they are offering me more dates for when I get back from Turkey. I am looking forward to doing the training and am keen to start as I now feel that I am ready to move on from just being retired. It is good whilst a bit strange to be thinking about getting back to doing something work related again.

Life feels a bit like I am between stages at the moment, part of that is due to current events but a lot I think goes back to 3 years ago and the recent check up. 3 years ago I was waiting for the confirmation I had cancer and my biggest concern was would I be allowed to go on holiday or not. I was. Now I am in the post check up phase and feeling good, which is a very different place to be, a much better one than 3 years ago. So in 3 years life has changed a lot and despite the cancer and all that I went through I feel that in many ways I am happier than I was prior to the cancer arriving and domintating much of my life for a good period of time. The shadow of it is always there but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying life and finding plenty to look forward to.