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Archive for November, 2009

The World is Beautiful… and Ugly.

November 27, 2009 5 comments

When I look around the world, I cant help notice the juxtaposition of what seems to be amazing, and what seems to be broken. The world works so well in so many ways, yet simultaneously it doesn’t. The human body is an amazing feat of engineering/evolution. Medicine has broadened my understanding of the human body, but it has also just revealed how little we really know about it. It seems the more we learn, the more we realise we need to learn! It is incredible how well the body works together in harmony to produce a living, breathing, feeling human being.

… except when it doesnt work.

Hannah and I recently went to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the central north island, we had spectacular weather, the days either side were miserable and raining, but on the day of the crossing, we had picture perfect blue skies. The walk was amazing, and the scenary spectacular (Click on the photo below to see the photos).

We couldnt help but marvel at God’s creation, at the beauty of it, and how amazing New Zealand is. I think we have particular appreciation for our own country after having travelled for a bit. There is amazing scenery overseas, but very often, we would think ‘we have this back in NZ… and its better!’.

Amongst all of this, we would make throw away comments about other things we want to do, like doing the whole northern circuit, cycling the Otago Rail Trail, walking some of the great walks in the South Island like the Milford, The Kepler, and the Heaphy. These are the kind of comments that get thrown around in day to day life for all of us. But it hit Hannah, and then me, of the significance of what were were saying.

How do you plan for future events and adventures when your future is uncertain?…

…and not uncertain in a ‘I don’t know where I will be be in years time’, but uncertain in a different way…

…Will I be alive in a years time?….

Hopes, dreams, plans, all shattered….. How do you live today when the future is at the very most, short, and at the least, gone altogether? My life, and my world, is both simultaneously beautiful and ugly. I can’t help but admire the beauty of the world, and lament the brokenness of it.

I have realised that this simultaneous juxtaposition is required for us to be able to appreciate either of these extremes. We need ugliness in the world in order to appreciate the beauty, and vice versa. Its through my ugliness, my brokenness that I now appreciate the world in a whole new light. Its my suffering that makes the world that much brighter, that much more colourful, and that much more worth living. It is cancer that has brought a whole new meaning to life, even if that life is much shorter than anticipated.

Conversely its the beauty of life that allows me to recognise the ugly; the injustice, the oppression, the suffering, the poverty, the needless loss of life, the insatiable greed for material goods. Recognising this does not empower me to better avoid it, but to better be a part of the solution of it. I think we instinctively use this recognising ability to avoid the ugly, instead of perhaps being the solution to it. Being the solution to the ugly and the brokenness…

That’s powerful…

… or even better…

… it’s beautiful…

Beauty and ugliness; the world works but it doesnt; both cannot exist without the other.

Thanks for listening.

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Every Moment

November 21, 2009 5 comments

Do you ever drive somewhere thats a part of your usual routine, arrive, and stop and wonder, How did I get here again? Do you ever have stop and wonder where chunks of your memory just disappear to? This is a phenomenon that is common to all of us, and happens to us on a daily basis. When I get up in the morning, I usually have porridge for breakfast, there is a routine that I have sorted to make it happen. I know I had porridge this morning, but I cant remember making it! These automatic functions are usually things that are done regularly in our life. They are activities that no longer require the higher functioning thought of our brain, and is well learnt, so our brain passes the responsibilities over the our cerebellum. When we drive, we don’t think about changing gears, popping in the clutch in and out and timing it with the accelerator, it just happens, yet when we first started out…. that was the hardest part!

In life, this all serves a purpose, we would be exhausted if we had to concentrate on every task that befalls us. By automating these tasks, we then allow the higher function part of our brain to concentrate on higher functioning reasoning, such as what we might be eating next, what our next facebook status might be, and musing on how strange that dog looks as you drive past.

The point of all of this, is not to educate to the intricacies of higher brain function but to point out that huge chunks of our life are capable of disappearing into nowhere, where we have no recollection of various activities whatsoever. I think on the whole, this suits most of us just fine, but one of the things I have noticed is when my time is potentially a lot shorter than most, is that I actually value these times!! I don’t want to forget even the most mundane that life has to offer, because there might not be much of it left!!

And so I have learnt, to appreciate even the most ordinary of life; getting in the car to drive somewhere; eating a meal; catching up with friends; enjoying a good coffee; holding my wife in my arms….

Things that might not exist for me in a few years time…

Things that I will be incapable of experiencing…

let alone enjoying…

All of a sudden, every moment counts, be it the ordinary or the extra-ordinary, the mundane or the special. I get frustrated that my cerebellum, doing what it is supposed to do, is stealing my moments from me. I don’t want my life to disappear into an abyss of faint memories, I want it to be real, I want it to be present, I want it to be experiential.

I’m training myself to change this…. if that is at all possible.

Life is far too valuable to let skip by.

When any commodity is in short supply, its value greatly increases; a basic premise in economics. Life is no different. It’s just a pity that it took cancer for me to realise this.

All of a sudden, every moment counts.

Thanks for listening.

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Qualifying… or Not, as the case may be…

November 16, 2009 3 comments

Tonight was my classes qualifying ceremony. Hannah and I were able to secure tickets courtesy of some behind the scenes wrangling. It was a bittersweet experience, to say the least.

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It seems so long ago, yet also hardly yesterday that our class started out on day 1 of medschool. The anticipation of a new adventure; a timetable of lectures, laboratories, and workshops; dissecting a human body for the first time; and a world where the opportunities were endless and the future seemed limitless. All of a sudden, it all culminated in this evening.

Licensed medical practitioners….

Everyone but me….

I was SO happy to see everyone walk up the stage, it has been a monumental journey to get to this place. But at the same time I was battling my own emotions of loss.

Knowing that it could have been me up there;

Knowing that it should have been me up there;

… and feeling so completely screwed over by the last year of my life. Medicine was my dream. Medicine still IS my dream, my calling, what I still believe God wants me to do. I found it incredibly hard to sit through the ceremony and keep my eyes dry. There were a number of times where tears welled up and I had to blink them away, pretending I’m tougher than that.

Something about this ceremony really reinforced what has been taken away from me this year, not just health, not just parts of my life, but my future, my dreams, my hopes. It sorta all hit home.

But, as God as my witness, I WILL be standing up there next year with the class behind me. It will be by God’s grace alone that I might be able to fulfill this small part of the dream He has given me.

I look forward to that more than anything.

The class tonight put together a giant card for me with their signatures on it, this meant a lot to me. I was also given the class of 09 graduation tie (seen in the photo above). I’m going to wear it in the hospital next year… because in my mind, they will always be my class.

Congratulation everyone. We finally got there!

CIMG4623

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Back on the Clexane (Oncology update 2.1)

November 14, 2009 2 comments

One of the downsides of a portacath being reinserted into me is that I now am back on prophylactic Clexane to keep me from thrombosing off my veins again. The dose is lower this time than the last time as I was on a treatment dose of 90mg per day (1mg/kg for the med geeks), I’m now only on 40mg per day (0.5mg/kg). This means every day, at the same time, I have to inject myself. Clexane is quite a ‘stingy’ drug, the needle itself is only as sore as needles will be, but the injecting process is the bit that is the worst. I also am slowly starting to accumulate bruises on my abdomen, an unavoidable side affect of injecting an anti-coagulalent into your fat.

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In other news, I’m now officially starting chemotherapy on Friday, the 27th of November, which is 13 days away from the writing of this post, so the countdown of feeling ‘well’ is now on.

It makes me want to savour being well for as long as possible.

Portacath Carnage

November 10, 2009 9 comments

Monday this week was the day I got my portacath inserted for the second time. It was my 4th general anaesthetic in the last 12 months. The last one I had was put in in December last year, but thrombosed up the IJV by February, after my 2nd round of chemo. This rendered my alternating arms as chemo targets for the remaining of the rounds.

This time they inserted the portacath on the left side rather than the right side, as the right IJV was difficult to visualise on my most recent CT scan. Interestingly, when we dressed the wound this evening, the insertion in the IJV is much higher up the neck than the last one. It will be interesting to see if this becomes an issue, because I’m already noticing the fact that it is pulling on my neck much more than the last one.

Portacath

Portacath wounds - Note the scar on my right chest from the 1st portacath.

Anyway, the whole thing serves as reminder as to the path I’m about to walk down. It brings home the reality of the fact that I’m about to hit more chemo, and the next little while will at best, bearable, and at worst, miserable.

Heres hoping its the former rather than the latter.

One Year On…

November 9, 2009 1 comment

I’m currently going through a process at the moment of often saying “This time last year..” and then reflecting on what actually was going on at this time last year.

November 2010

The one year milestone is not necessarily an achievement, but more a moment to stop and reflect on the somewhat unpredictable detour life has taken in such a short 12 months. Having said that, the recent news in my life means that I might actually begin to measure achievements in years, or months for that matter. Either way, The week beginning Sunday the 8th of November 2009, maps back to the week beginning on Sunday 9th of November 2008, a week where everything changed, or began to change, in a direction that cannot be considered for the better.

Sunday = The day where something ‘wasn’t quite right’. After a mammoth meal the night before, my stomach was up to, what at the time, seemed to be a fairly routine grumbling about the quantity of food I ate. I stopped eating, lest I aggravate the belly below, and somewhat disconcertingly, stopped bowel motions, the latter wasn’t intentional.

Tuesday = The day where 3 days of stomach pains began to intensify. Pains would come in waves anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes apart, lasting no longer than 30 -60 seconds long. The day culminated in a nice bout of vomiting in the evening. This was the trigger point for Hannah and I to head to the hospital. Medical alarm bells were beginning to ring in our head, and the fact that we were due to fly out of the country on Friday was also at the back of our minds.

Friday = after a few days of ‘conservative management’ which is medical speak for ‘have some Panadol and lets see what happens’, the pain was significantly worse. Repeat abdominal x-rays showed barn door signs for bowel obstruction. The Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine (OHCM) says under the heading ‘Bowel Obstruction’ – “Never let the sun go down on a bowel obstruction”. And so, as the OHCM says, we followed. Surgery was 3 1/2 hours long, and what might have been an atypical presentation of an appendicitis became a full-blown right-sided hemicolectomy.

Thursday = 6 days post op: We got the news that the tumour that had caused the obstruction was indeed an adenocarcinoma of T3N2M1 Histology. Almost as bad as it gets.

Friday (21st Nov) = 7 days post op: Incidentally my 28th birthday, I was discharged.

And so… in that short space of time, in the view of the majority of people, life took a turn for the worse.

I however, prefer to think about it differently. Life didn’t take a turn for the worse, it took a turn down an unexpected route. I am the first to put my hand up and say it certainly didn’t take a turn for the better, but I feel that to say it took a turn for the worse might be a little melodramatic!

There are two reason’s I say this. They are:

  1. Death is nothing to be feared (although arguably the form death might take could be feared). We all die, it’s an inescapable fact of life. Whether Muslim or Christian, atheist or Buddhist, Caucasian or Asian, we die. How we approach this fact (as with all things in life) will determine how we respond to it. By not fearing it, we empower life, which is the part that comes before death. Many people do not fear death for many reasons. For me, faith in Christ is an integral part of that reason, and it is through my faith that the ‘alive’ part of life becomes empowered.
  2. Life is actually at its most interesting when there are mountains to climb, challenges to approach, and valleys to be descended (and ascended). The previous year where medicine has been sidelined in my life is proof to this fact. I NEED something to fill my time, I need challenges in my life to overcome, I need to create meaning.

It’s this final point which is pivotal. Life by itself will no doubt, by default, fall into a repeating pattern of routine, which, for all intents and purposes, lacks meaning. Meaning in life is not stumbled upon, that’s an illusion sold to us by Hollywood. Meaning is created. We have the choice to create meaning in our life regardless of what our circumstances are.

I’m dying of cancer.

But I’m choosing to create meaning in that.

Christ enables me to create that meaning; on my own strength I would fail.

Again, the final point is pivotal.

So when I reflect on ‘This time last year’.. I reflect on not why, but how, how I can create meaning. This is why life has only re-routed, instead of taking a turn for the worse.

It’s an interesting route to say the least.

Thanks for Listening.

Life’s Not Fair!

November 5, 2009 8 comments

Given the set of circumstances I am in, I often find myself saying to myself, or to God for that matter, ‘It’s not fair!’. There are many reasons that go on inside my head why this isn’t fair. An example might be that there are criminals who live a life of crime who survive into their old age, and yet here am I, potentially dying at the age of 28 (soon to be 29). I thought I had a lot to offer the world. I thought that I was going to to be able to become a doctor, and use my skills as such in some of the poorest places in the world. I wanted to bring justice where there was none, I wanted to bring hope where there was oppression, I wanted to show the world that the way it is doesn’t mean it has to be that way, that WE can make a difference and bring about change. I wanted to do all these things with my life, to make sure that my legacy was one that improved the quality of life of others.

 

But now I am dying and these things will never be fulfilled….

 

And criminals rape, they murder, and they rob. War criminals commit genocide and human rights atrocities around the world, and they all get to live into their old age, often with no justice for their victims.

 

How is that fair?

 

…. But then I remind myself why it is completely fair.

 

Two MILLION people were killed by the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia; Children are still being born in SE Asia with deformities because of Agent Orange dropped by the US; 4000 children under the age of 5 die everyday from pneumonia; People in this country and around the world are killed daily by drunk drivers; a two year old toddler falls into a drain in west auckland and drowns; a 22 year old university graduate from otago is stabbed hundreds of times by her boyfriend; thousands of people EVERY DAY die from cancer around the world.

 

Pol Pot

Victims from the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia

 

How am I any different from these people??… What makes me any more special that any of these people that die from injustice everyday?

 

I’m Not!!

 

We live in a broken world where crap is part of our daily routine. Very often in the West, we are immune from a lot of that crap, and we forget that it happens. And when it happens to us?… We cry foul….

When I remember my place in this world, which is amongst the broken, then I realise that it might FEEL unfair, but thats just me being selfish. Shit happens in this life and we just get all moody when it happens to ourselves instead of others.

Perhaps instead of dwelling on our own unfortunate set of circumstances, we would do better to be dwelling on those of our neighbours, our friends, our families. Perhaps we should be seeking to be the answer to THEIR prayers and THEIR needs, rather than wallowing in our own sense of self pity.

 

I’m pretty sure that is what Jesus would do….

 

In the process of all this, I found peace with the fact that I’m dying…… Interesting…

It’s amazing what a bit of perspective will do.

 

Thanks for listening.