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 Résistance 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

 

Day 11

Day 11

It’s already late! And we’re supposed to have had an extra hour to make us get to bed early. It was dark by the time I got back from a walk and shop and it was only 6.45pm. This was after an afternoon of home-admin: financial planning, an insurance claim for overseas travel postponed due to COVID-19, and other bits of “shallow work” that take time, but need to be done.

Not that financial planning is shallow work. It’s most definitely not. I’m giving serious thought to the changing environment – following my Barefoot Investor* rulebook – and devoting deep work time to it as described in Cal Newport’s book* of the same name.

There’s an awful lot out there right now, that we can’t control, but as I’ve said earlier in on the Lockdown I consider that this is a great time to focus in on ourselves using Windfulness and what is truly important to us. In my experience, narrowing my focus in a way that brings meaning to the things I can control reduces anxiety, and increases my life contentment (or satisfaction – you can choose the work that suits you here).

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Much of what we can’t control is the strong alarm soundings everywhere – the flashing red news site banners (did you know that the colour red raises anxiety) – and strong opinions on the Lockdown in Social Media and the Media generally. It does nothing for me to read much of it. That’s not to say I don’t keep myself informed or that I do have opinions on some matters but can I control it? No. Essentially, no one person can, so I refuse to unnecessarily bother worrying about it, if it’s upsetting for some reason.

This is why I endeavour to remain upbeat and in good humour about the current events. I consider I am much more use to those that need me and rely on me for support – family, team, colleagues.  I’m well aware there are thousands of personal tragedies, directly or indirectly related to COVID-19 and I have empathy for those impacted. But I refuse to let it get me personally down.

And about those opinions we’ve all been reading (that’s most news items in case you hadn’t noticed!). Well, what if you didn’t have an opinion? Is that acceptable? In his book The Art of the Good LIfe, Rolf Dobelli says that it can be immensely liberating not to have an opinion on something. My son Thomas, who’s a great reader, put me onto this and I agree. For example, I don’t have an opinion on either the Cannabis or End of Life reform legislation that are going to a referendum.  I hope I get one when the time comes! But it’s freedom – my most important value – and like Marie Kondo does with your house, you can do it with your mind.

Take the Lockdown time to do some deep work, clean out the shallow work and home clutter that are getting in the way, free yourself of unnecessary opinion, and focus on facts, not on-line windups.

That’s me for the next 17 days at least!

Happy working week 3 (can we call it that? Why not)

Stephen

*There’s no financial or other advice implied or provided here of course. These are just my personal reflections only.

Day 9

Day 9

We’re all bouncing around in our bubbles in anticipation of the weekend. So what better way to start the weekend than with a Day 9 Cartoon? It’s fresh off the press, with full credit and thanks to Peter Bromhead, New Zealand’s pre-eminent cartoonist.

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Some milestones today: the first full work week ended, end of “week two”, and an entire hospital building at North Shore Hospital is being repurposed for, um, the patients.

Awkward questions about the economic impact started to flow more readily today. You read it here first on Day 0 of course! There was an awkward ministerial bike ride too. The Finance Minister announced a change in the law to allow companies that are going to fold as a result of the COVID-19 ban on business, to be provided with a “Safe Harbour” for their business’ debts until the ban was lifted. Sounds helpful.

So looking back so far, I started the Lockdown feeling quite anxious. How would I cope being cooped up all day, every day? It brought back memories of anxious flying – claustrophobia – and Air New Zealand’s “Flying without fear” Programme which I am a graduate of. I know from experience, that conditioning is a key element of facing fears and this week has proved that again. Tonight it feels serene, calm and in control. The ability to have daily walks has been incredibly important for my physical and mental well-being.

Anxietyometer: Very Low

Have a great weekend, don’t get pricked by the ‘rona!

Make sure you have a walk, maybe three and celebrate that we made it this far.

Stephen