Surviving the dark

The Dark (K)night rises…

It’s a little past half past 11 on a warm December morning. The sky is blue and the air … fresh. Yet, there I sit with sweaty palms… holding on tightly.

Suddenly my seat feels an uncomfortable fit and my eyes well up. The room spins and everything slows down. My head drops, sobbing uncontrollably, I hold nothing in. “Not again”- I think to myself. My friend leaves his desk and places his arms around me. The room falls silent as we take in the news. As I look up I catch a glimpse of my wife’s unease, I drift, and intermittently I hear the doctor’s words again: “Regrettably, your cancer is back.” Those words still echo. I doubt they will ever leave…

Three months have passed since the original cancer went into remission. Having gone through it the first time you would think I would have been able to handle the news better but all I could see was grey. I suspected this feeling would only intensify in the months to come.

Chemotherapy – the necessary poison.

Each passing week brought with it the usual prick and a different prod. Infection and reflection trade places as the invasive vulnerability of the current reality spirals. The chemotherapy was draining me, sapping not only my energy but more significantly my enthusiasm. With each passing treatment the bone marrow transplant became more imminent, my anxiety ebbing and flowing as I awaited an uncertain outcome which I was told would culminate in the total destruction of my immune system.

Truth be told, I was scared. I tried not to show it, but I was. I wasn’t afraid of dying, on the contrary, I was prepared for that. Rather, I was scared that if things did not work out I wouldn’t be able to play cricket with my son or enjoy the attention of my daughter. I was afraid of never being able to take in another sunrise with my wife, of what I would miss out on. I was missing the little things that made life beautiful. The threat of infection was a reality. Fever a possibility and the realisation of this hit home within my first month of treatment when my fever peaked at 40. This uncertainty is what made the process scary, not knowing how the body would react and what tomorrow would bring was a heavy burden to bear.

The Transplant days

Being placed in isolation for the transplant was one of the hardest experiences I have endured. A friendly welcome soon gives way to a week of high dosage chemotherapy. Your rest day is followed by a symbolic rebirth ceremony, and instead of sucking the marrow out of life, the marrow is sucked back into you. To kick-starting a process of regeneration and recovery. Your rebirth is a painful and lonely journey in which your routine becomes your sanity.

As the dark night rises, your loneliness intensifies as you familiarise yourself with the different shades of black. Failure is not an option, you cannot give up, you have to soldier on. The nurses try their best to comfort you but the struggle is very much your own.

By day 4 post transplant your body is weak and nauseated, you succumb and agree to let them feed you through a pipe. You given up trying to brush your teeth, it’s just too painful. By day 6 you can’t smile for every movement feels like being savaged by a Rottweiler, even crying is painful. By day 8, you are ready to throw in the towel but you can’t!

“When days are dark… friends are near.”

To survive it’s imperative that you search out every last spec of light, light in all its forms is essential for the cancer patient. If used correctly Social Media has many benefits and is a useful tool in beating cancer. I have a new found respect for technology and in particular social media. It afforded me the opportunity to stay in touch with my contacts, with minimal contact. This is relevant because bone marrow patients are at a higher risk of infection. With every PING! I grew stronger. Strangers would soon became familiar, friends became friendlier, and family more important than ever. The outpouring of support was phenomenal and much needed.

There’s something Godly in all of this.

I was reminded that grey is also a colour. Once you recognise this, it uplifts, it calms, t inspires. The road to recovery has many paths. As the days passed I soon realised that my difficulties were fast becoming a source of inspiration to others. It became clear that people wanted to take stock of their own lives and reflect on how to improve and be of benefit. Through facebook, sms, whatsapp and word of mouth, my cancer was fast becoming an excuse to do good It made me feel happy, it made me grateful.

My advice for anyone visiting a cancer patient is to be happy. Happiness is infectious and a much needed source of light. Yes, respect the moment but smile and speak kind words. Never underestimate the effect that a kind word has upon the psyche of the injured or sick. In moments of vulnerability you need inspiration. So inspire, and be heroic.

In Conclusion

Life is beautiful, I love that saying! What’s important is to make it count.

Peace. Love. #Cancercanbebeaten.