Day 510

Day 510

Well it would be since we first went into Lockdown on 26 March 2020 although I have to acknowledge that there’s been a couple of gaps in my blogging since then! Out walking this evening the roads were silky black and wet. I counted five buses – two only with interior lights on, only one passenger all up. It seemed fitting for the audiobook I was listening to – The Road to Wigan Pier – a grim first person account of depression-era England in the Industrial North, by George Orwell. I selected it on account of another listen to Orwell’s Animal Farm, a book I first read in High School. It’s a depressing yet delightful book all in one. I’m not sure what I make of The Road to Wigan Pier yet, I’ll need to complete it.

Since Day 1 when we were first placed in a national state of emergency and into Level 4 lockdown, recorded global deaths have gone from 14,000 to almost 4.4 million. It’s trite to say, we’ve changed and in the middle of change.

Reflecting back 510 days ago, it seemed like the pandemic would be over in a few months – I’d put my trip to Ireland to see my son and his family – back to July “to be on the safe side”, and I was confident life would be back to normal in relatively short order. It started to, although not the travel, until I had a soft tissue sarcoma identified in my right leg on 12 June. Big dates stay with me and I’ve passed the first anniversary of that find with treatment and surgery behind me, although there’s ten years (I hope!) of follow-up. Because it’s not far off the anniversary of surgery and the weather is similar, I can’t help but feel slightly disoriented – am I home recovering, is it a lockdown, or just normal working from home? When I have a little pain in my leg, am I back to last year or is it just a little pain that’s normal these days?

The anxietyometer was up a bit yesterday, settled but it’s still elevated. All the complications and disturbances of the 510 days are back to the fore for a fresh look. I think that’s a good thing.

Stephen

Looking back at habit forming

Looking back at habit forming

A year ago we were recently out of lockdown and I was continuing a walk a day to not break the chain. Good habit forming. The chain was well broken after surgery in September but once I got off the crutches I was up for another crack at one a day. So far 141 walks in 2021.

I noticed during the Lockdown in March and April last year that it was possible to form new habits much more quickly than I had thought. Adapting to life mainly at home wasn’t that difficult, in fact I quite enjoyed it and the new routines that went with it. I shouldn’t say this out loud but sometimes I feel like I wouldn’t mind another lockdown to have a break! Not that WFH is a break, but for me it has a sense of calm and I know others who feel the same.

It’s about now a year ago this week, that I thought I should see a physiotherapist, assuming I had a muscle problem. There was a delay until an appointment on 12 June 2020. The date is stuck in my mind and always will be. That’s the day I had a scan and consultations and knew, subject to biopsy and MRI, that I had a soft tissue sarcoma in my leg. Studies in both the US and the UK indicate that the typical time from symptoms to diagnosis is over a year. I feel blessed with the rapid support I got from medical specialists, including the physiotherapist who, without my knowledge, immediately consulted with an specialist before referring me for a scan that day.

So for me it wasn’t just Covid that gave rise to new habits. Cancer did too: I don’t run now. I can’t! I don’t jaywalk – there is no quick sprint available if needed. I don’t use stairs yet, unless I have to although I’m told I should get there. I’m careful with seating and make sure I put my leg up when I can.

Taking these two major events to create positive and lasting personal and professional change has been a source of renewed energy and contentment for me. It’s not that work hasn’t continued to grow in intensity and volume. Or that I am physically where I was before. Covid created professional opportunities and the possibilities of new ways of working.

Cancer created the freedom to get on with many things, reinvigorated healthy habits of exercise, but most importantly, took away things that don’t matter giving space to focus on what matters. A new calm energy.

And in case you don’t have the habit of monitoring days of the year it’s 140. I’m one walk ahead!

Stephen

p.s. I am mindful that disease and cancer in particular can be triggers for many of us, and that not all outcomes are as positive as mine is now.

An Honest Climb

An Honest Climb

Tobins Track has a steep incline of about 2.5 kilometres from Arrowtown. A man on a cycle moving barely quicker than me on foot, went past about two thirds of the way up. “It’s a good one isn’t it?” I said. “It’s an honest climb” he replied. As I approached the landing, with a view over Arrowntown, across to the Crown Range and a peek of Lake Wakatipu with downtown Queenstown nestled in the foreground, I felt quite emotional. Last time I’d done the walk was in September last year, recovering from radiation treatment and two weeks out from surgery to remove a soft tissue sarcoma in my leg.

I knew I had a problem during the first lockdown almost a year ago and blogged at the very end of my last daily post on the final day of the lockdown that my leg was still a bit sore. Six weeks later I knew I had a tumour, soon diagnosed as malignant and needing treatment and surgery.

The cyclist was resting at the landing when I reached it. He told me I’d done well. I told him the last time I’d been up here was just before surgery for cancer – “been there done that” he said. Nothing more needed to be said. We enjoyed the view.

Over the last nine months I’ve felt many blogs circling in my mind about the experience, but nothing felt right. It hurt, it felt private and it felt very uncertain at times. I kept a handwritten diary – The Sarcoma Diary – which was a source of calm when I felt the need to look back at it.

Arrowtown seen from above during Autumn

And yet my story is extremely positive – my prognosis now a first world problem compared to many – I limp a bit and possibly always will – and stairs are a challenge.

My resilience has been tested, and at times I considered existential questions, although they passed, and looking in the rear view mirror it’s slightly unreal. More mundane work and home life concerns soon took hold – the meeting at 7.30am, really? and why is the gas bill so variable?

So coming out of this cancer has felt honest, with a clear head and a tight focus on what’s important. All the things I already know, but with an added honesty that keeps me focussed.

I told one of my specialists that having cancer was one of the best things that’s happened to me. Apparently it’s not that uncommon.

Having said that, I know that cancer is a terrible disease. I’ve heard more stories in these last nine months with bad endings than I thought could exist in my circle of family and friends. I know that I’m blessed and for that I’m very grateful.

Stephen

Day 22

Day 22

Sadly, my trip down to Christchurch to do a surprise visit for Mum’s 89th birthday got cancelled by Air NZ. Well, I’m sure Air NZ didn’t want to cancel it but they have no choice as we’re not permitted travel until Alert Level 2 is here. So Mum will have to see in her 90th year just with Dad, which will be just fine!

Mum’s been bottling fruit  since 1952 – 67 years  – as long as her and Dad have been married, and there’s no bigger fan of it than Dad who loves it with his Tip Top Boysenberry ice-cream. On our annual road trip in January, Mum picked up some apricots from the place just on the edge of Cromwell as you head towards Queenstown. I enjoyed a bottle of it tonight, slightly warmed, with some Vanilla Ice-cream. Perfect. I’ve been eating it, not regularly, but all my life. I remember the annual bottling ritual when I was a boy – it’s been apricots, peaches, plums (off the tree), pear and stewed apples. Despite the sugar that I recall going in the big vat, it must be alright for you!

If you’re ever at Mum and Dad’s the bottles are safely stored in the cupboard in the laundry. It always seems full, despite them eating it for breakfast and dessert every night. Just don’t go there at night-time because the cat is locked up in there, heated bed and all, safely for the night.

Apricots all eaten up

During the Lockup it’s definitely been a time to enjoy home pleasures and of course home-cooked food. There’s not much else. But growing up I don’t remember much else either. There were occasional visits to friends, rare fish ‘n chip nights and even rarer meals out. Nowadays, they’d never been a week, or in fact hardly a day, when I wouldn’t eat out or at least purchase out.  So maybe it’s not so bad for us all to have some, hopefully, home-cooked nutritious meals. Who knows, it might keep the ‘rona away!

I walked twice today – total 16.5km – and there’s little doubt that La RĂ©sistance are firmly in control of Cornwall Park. The security guards on duty have gone from stern occupying sympathisers, to silent, but benevolent supporters. Never have there been so many smiles and acknowledgements from passing walkers. Yes, we’re in this together, but we’re also in this– our democratically empowered exercise – together. If we have to choose, it’s the walk, so don’t mess with us!

There’s been some weird stuff in the park. A well groomed small man with immaculately trimmed barista style beard and hi-vis vest hurtling down the road from the peak of One Tree Hill on his tiny cycle, to skid sideways to a halt just before the barrier; a woman who I knew but couldn’t remember her name who claimed to have a gun to ward off runners who came too close; selfies with bulls; a child out of control on her balance bike down the hill in the wet, smiling all the way; people with masks protecting their chins only; golf; one man soccer games; and skate boards that go up hill (I need).

When we get out of our motor vehicles, play, interact and stop being busy and important, real things happen. This isn’t new to me, but like the ‘rona is said to compress the mortality rate of those most at risk from 12 months to 2 weeks, the Lockdown has compressed these great pleasures into a few weeks.

Can I say keep it up! Well the walking yes at least!

By the time you read this it will be Friday. Enjoy your dessert. Only two people will have it as good as mine was tonight.

Stephen