As the year draws to a close, I can’t help but pause and reflect on the year that has been, the happiness of hope, the pain of despair, and a multitude of ups and downs in between.
The year started with what was perhaps the most hopeful we had been since my diagnosis, that I might actually survive this thing called cancer. The offer of surgery, specifically a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, was perhaps the closest we had come to some sort of outcome that wasn’t an inevitable demise related to my current predicament. The surgery was six and a half hours, followed by 10 days of recovery as an inpatient. I had to take 3 months off work in order to recover although in retrospect, I could have gone back 2-3 weeks earlier than that.
The anticipation and hope of the new year was shattered in May, a follow up PET scan that cruelly removed the carrot that had been dangled in front of us. Just as we started to believe we could have a future, the harsh reality of my mortality was a rude reminder that didn’t need to be made. Our dreams and plans, that we had been tempted to make again, came crashing down with the news the cancer had returned, and this time in my liver. I remember going back to work, feeling utterly despondent, wondering why I was there. A deep disappointment had settled in that took a few weeks to shake. We were back in the place we were before, perhaps even worse given that the cancer was now in my liver. As routine was re-established, the new revelation was slowly integrated into life again as I restarted chemotherapy.
In amongst this, we decided to have a decent holiday, with three weeks in Italy. This was easily one of the highlights of the year, a festival of food, history and art. I gained a few kilos in weight, only to lose them rapidly with a bout of gastroenteritis at the end. In truth, a decent gastro bug is far more tolerable than chemotherapy, so I didn’t mind the net loss of weight that resulted from our travels.
On the professional front this year, I was informed in August that I was to be a nominee for the NZ Junior RMO of the year award. I received an email whilst in Italy advising me that I had actually won this award! I felt incredibly humbled and privileged, especially in the context of the ongoing saga of my health. I went to Perth in November for a conference where I was also the NZ nominee for the Australasian award, which went to a girl from South Australia. Beyond this I was also kindly awarded ‘best guest lecturer’ by the third year medical students for whom I had lectured earlier in the year.
Coming back to the real world after Italy was a slightly surreal experience surrounded by TV cameras and moves into a newly purchased house. We had bought a house just prior to going on holiday, and had our move in date was planned for 5 days after we were back from Italy. On top of that, 20/20 had approached me to do a follow up story on the one they did last year. This involved two weeks of filming around when we shifted and then aired in November. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the story, which we thought was very well put together by the team at TVNZ. The days immediately after the show elevated Hannah and I to pseudo-celebrity status amongst colleagues, friends, and strangers.
The thread that ties the year together has been faith. Not faith in healing, but faith that God has something bigger and better planned than just my life. In the context of this world view, the events in my life are only a trivial quiver on the strings of eternity. My ongoing work at Auckland hospital gives me an insight into the suffering of others, and at the end of the day, I have been blessed with far more than I deserve, and I will be forever grateful that I have got to experience 32 Christmases on this Earth. There may not be a 33rd, but I am okay with that. Finding peace in my mortality has then freed me up to live my life, even though it is short. My life is not consumed with trying to stay alive, it is consumed with living the life that God has meant for me to live; and that is to love others, to show His grace and to build His kingdom.
This Christmas I am thankful I am alive to enjoy it. Next Christmas is always an unknown, but it is Christ I give my thanks to that I am still here.
Until next time…
I have been slow to update, but the rounds continue. Since I last posted I had the dubious milestone of reaching the half century, then adding a few more to that total. Round 51 had the honor of punctuating an extensive course of manflu, which served only to elongate the recovery even further and giving me a few days off work in the process. Its hard enough just being a man, let along getting the flu, and when compounded with chemotherapy, its a triple whammy.
The most recent round of chemo has been one of the harder ones. The nausea was just that little bit worse, lasting just that little bit longer. It’s always hard to know from round to round if it is getting worse, or whether or not I’m just minimizing the effects of previous rounds in my mind as a coping mechanism. Either way, this round has certainly been a bit harder than previous.
Of course in the midst of all of this has been the change in living environment, and this has been a change for the better. Being out of the city, having silent nights to sleep to, and having a much bigger living abode are all adjustments that make chemo just a little bit easier. We have been in our new house for almost 2 months now, and it has been a real pleasure to live in.
So from here the next round will coincide with Christmas, which, as 2 years of tradition will dictate, means I skip a round. The next round will fall in the New Year sometime, and will be preceded by a CT scan later this month for which I shall update you all on.
Until next time…