Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa (BBCA) is an organisation dedicated to raising the awareness of bowel cancer. A few years ago I was asked to be an ambassador for them to help them raise the profile of bowel cancer in NZ as it is one of our biggest killers. Breast and prostate are the fashionable cancers that celebrities get (although no cancer is actually fashionable) and people like to wear ribbons or grow moustaches to raise awareness for. Bowel cancer is a bigger killer than both of them combined and slides under the radar forgotten.
Leading up to Christmas this year, BBCA has launched the ‘I give a crap’ campaign that they hope will get spread via social media and the likes to help raise awareness of bowel cancer. The idea is to help people realise that if you actually catch it early by knowing what symptoms to look for, you can beat this disease. As part of this campaign, BBCA has put two videos together, which you can see here. See if you can spot me in one of them. 🙂
Help raise awareness of this cancer in NZ which only has a 55% survival rate (at 5 years) when compared to 75% in the OECD. Its easy to talk about bowel habits if you give a crap.
I give a crap this Christmas*….
*I probably recorded that line about 20 times till I had it nailed… ahh showbiz..
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…
It’s that time of year again. The time that is apparently crucial for businesses to turn over as much product as possible so that they can stay financially viable for the following year. I’m not particularly cynical about the commercialisation of Christmas, I’ve grown up only knowing a commercial Christmas, so its part of the whole Christmas tradition. But this year, Christmas has had a different spin for me.
Unless we live with our head in a paper bag, we all know that the Christmas tradition has its’ origins 2000 years ago in a greeko-roman society where Jesus Christ was born. Any Judeo-Christian society today celebrates this, some a little more fanatical than others. This contrasts starkly against a Christmas I had in India 3 years ago where the day passed as little more than news item that evening observing the West’s obsession with this ‘festival’. Ironic given the nature of religious pilgrimages in India routinely number in the 100’s of millions.
The West’s obsession with this ‘festival’ however, has very little to do with it’s origins, and a lot to do with financial bottom line. It’s BIG, because it’s big money, not because a child was born in a manger heralding a new counter-institutional movement (that ironically was later institutionalised).
Commercialism aside, Christmas IS an event that is large on the calendar for us, and routinely revolves around family, the purchasing of gifts, BBQ’s, beaches, and eating way too much food.
This year Christmas has made me think differently.
When people have asked me what I want for Christmas this year (in an effort to buy a gift that is more than just a token gesture) I have been tempted to reply with ‘How about a cure for cancer?’. Given the fairly cynical nature of this response, I havent used it. But it has really hit home just how pretty much any of the items purchased for me will have a lifespan that is longer than my own…
Unless it’s food…
- This time next year, unless I’m extremely unfortunate, I should be celebrating Christmas….
- This time in 2 years, if I’m good at fighting, I should be celebrating Christmas….
- This time in 3 years, unless God Himself intervenes, I should be dead…..
How does THAT make me feel this Christmas???
It makes me feel great Happiness in the now, yet great Sadness at the future; It makes me realise that if material items can outlive me, then the living I have left is short.
Above all, this makes me realise how we totally sell out to the belief we need more stuff.
What we need, is more life.
What I need, is not to die…..
The prospect of limited life has made it a valuable commodity, and material goods a cheap add-on. But instead for most of us, it is the material goods that are the commodity and life that is taken for granted.
More Life is not just limited to a temporal measurement, More Life is also how we live it: it’s reaching out to those who suffer, despite the fact we also suffer; it’s making a difference in the lives around us; It’s building God’s Kingdom; it’s ironically giving up the priorities of your life for the priorities of someone else’s; it’s loving with no agenda;
…It’s knowing that even though I am dying, right now I’m still living…..
What you want for Christmas might be a playstation….
All I want for Christmas is to live…..
Tomorrow I start chemotherapy again… for the second time. I’m looking forward to it about as much I would a hole in the head, but because this is the way the cookie crumbles, if I want to survive, chemo it is. This last week leading up to to it has had some absolutely amazing weather, and it has made me appreciate the enforced free time that I have had over the last year. I appreciate it a lot less when it is rainy and I’m stuck inside feeling nauseous.
My apartment has felt somewhat like a prison over the last 12 months. Hannah and I have considered moving a couple of times to a slightly bigger place, but with rental prices the way they are in this part of town, we can’t really afford or justify it.
This is the view of the Auckland sky tower we have from our place, a view that I am completely sick of. I’ve had to look at it far more than the average person would living in a place like this. And now, as I am about to embark on the chemo process all over again, I’m both weary, and appreciative.
Weary because its sucks to be feeling sick and miserable;
Appreciative because I’m glad that every extra day I get is one that I can spend with Hannah and with creation;
Weary because I’m emotionally shattered, and soon to be physically shattered;
Appreciative because I know I’m part of a plan bigger than me;
Weary because I know all this fighting for life will probably end in death;
Appreciative because I know death is not end of everything;
I’m increasingly discovering that life is a tug and pull between juxtaposing ideals and reality. The way we WANT life to be and the way life actually is. Sometimes we think life should be an ‘either, or’ proposition, mostly i’m discovering its a ‘both, and’ one. The good with the bad, the beautiful with the ugly, Christmas with chemo, and life with death. Each holds hands with the other, unable exist without the other, yet inexorably bound to opposition.
Isn’t that what grace is about? Forgiveness in the presence of unforgivability?
My life is slowly being polarised to either end of any given spectrum, great joy with great sadness, a ‘both, and’ proposition that I dearly wish was ‘either, all’. My wishing will however, be in vain, as life is never what we wish it to be, because if it was, our wishing would create a world with no contrasts. A world with no contrasts is like a world with no colour.
The beauty is in the contrast.
Thanks for listening.