THE NEW NORMAL #15 – THE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL

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“So this is Christmas, and what have you done?”. Well, John Lennon, I’ve given cancer a mighty slap around the chops for a start, that good enough for you? I’ve been cut open, lasered and injected. I’ve leaked, lost feeling in whole sections of my body and felt sensations I never knew I could. I’ve also experienced love, friendship and hope during a period when I needed it more than ever as well as the inevitable depths of desperation. I have carried on working, continued to write and generally kept on living. This last point, in isolation, is not so remarkable but if you’ve been following this blog since March when I first started it you will remember that I wasn’t supposed to live this long, according to my doom hungry GP.

That’s right folks, you didn’t think I was going to let you get to the end of the year without banging on about cancer one last time did you? Well don’t worry, I’m not here to be morbid or overly sentimental. The thing is, when you’re told before Easter that you won’t make Christmas it doesn’t half feel good to hear the dulcet Brummie tones of Noddy Holder screaming “It’s Chriiiiiiistmaaaaaaas” from every shop doorway as you walk through the centre of town on a frosty December day. Our household has been doing all the normal things families do at this time of year – stocking up, buying presents, stressing out over how we’re going to fit in seeing everyone. Nevertheless, I’m determined to make this one a special year because I might have won the battle but war inside my body rages on and pretty much always will.

‘But what you have been doing since last you wrote’ I hear you all ask like a bunch of bored primary school children greeting their teacher on a wet Tuesday morning. Well, class, living with the remnants of cancer goes a little something like this. I get up every day and have a shower, shortly after which I have my daily wrestle with the dreaded stocking that is designed to keep my lymphedema at bay. The rubber studs irritate my now hairless thigh and it’s about as comfortable as exfoliating with sandpaper but it’s better than not wearing it and having one leg twice the size of the other by the end of the day. I eat breakfast, I drive to work, I walk from the car park in a mixture of a lurch and a waddle which I’ve now got down to such a fine art that it’s either unnoticeable or everyone is too polite to pass comment on it. I work, I eat lunch, I chat with colleagues, I try to use the fact that I have cancer to get out of meetings and then I return to my car and go home.

I play cars with my son, I read him his story (or three) and put him to bed with a kiss and an ‘I love you’. I don’t feel the sting of tears when I put him down to sleep anymore but I do feel the gratitude for every single extra day that I have with him. I make three lots of packed lunches for the step-kids and answer those endless, curious questions about why you can’t have crisps for breakfast or what’s going on at any given moment of any given film. At the end of the evening my live-in angel and I might just catch an episode of whichever TV series we’re trying to catch up on (Game of Thrones, Westworld and Humans at the moment, if you’re interested). By and large that’s how my week goes, nothing extraordinary, nothing anyone would notice from the outside but I walk around with the knowledge and that’s enough to make a difference.

Once a week I go to a local college where the good people at McMillan have set up six weeks’ worth of exercise and body conditioning classes to help those recovering from or coping with cancer. I’ve done five sessions now with one to go and it has been yet another eye opening experience within a year which has opened my eyes so wide that I’ve started to look like Donald Trump when someone asks him a slightly difficult question about politics. Of the 15 of us doing this fitness programme, we have a whole range of people from teenagers to the retired, those still having chemotherapy and those (like me) who have come out of the other side of their treatment, for now. For my part I have to lose weight to help my body fight any future cancerous incursions but for others it’s about building back the body mass and muscle that the treatment has destroyed, we’ve all got different exercise journeys to go on.

From yoga to step aerobics and gym equipment to Nordic walking, we’ve tried lots of different things with a view to getting in to some activity that we can stick to. So far, the most hilarious thing has been watching the whole group nervously walk in to the sports hall to be faced with two badminton courts and a table tennis table all set up and ready to use. There then ensued a fairly ungainly round robin of matches between cancer patients and medical students, none of whom were being particularly competitive or adherent to the rules. That said, it has been my favourite activity so far because I’ve always found the idea of exercise for the sake of exercise to be maddeningly annoying. “You get satisfaction from beating your own time/weight/distance (delete as appropriate)” fitness fanatic friends will say but my first though is always one of sadness for the previous me who just got bested by the new, fitter me. Or what if I don’t beat the me of the past? What then? Have I peaked? It’s all very depressing so I’d rather do something where I can at least be distracted by a small feathered cone arcing majestically over a high net whilst sweating like a Remain voter in the toilets at a UKIP party conference.

“Another year over, and a new one just begun”, as John Lennon continues. A friend of mine reminded me that 2016 had been a hell of a journey for me (as if I could forget) and wished me a very different 2017. I’ve always lived by the adage that if you can look back on a fixed point 12 months ago and be confident that your life is in a better place then you’re doing OK, even if that’s only because your job is better, you’ve finally got your end away or you’ve managed to put your CDs in alphabetical order. Now, if I can look back in March in 2017 and still be alive and without any new health dramas then I’ll be cock-a-hoop but that does feel like I’m setting the bar pretty low. To that end, I’ve decided to put together a bit of a fundraising day of live music on 25th March 2017 down at my local pub to mark the end of my horrible year (or horrible anus as the Queen would have it), more to come on that but if you’re in the South-East Cornwall area then keep the date free.

Anyway, I’m sorry to all those folks out there who have had weddings or given birth to beautiful children this year but I won’t be sad to see the back of 2016. Politics and celebrity death aside, it has been a ruddy trial from the end of March onwards and I’m ready to put this one to bed. I hope, years down the line, I’ll be able to sit with my family and friends sipping on wine, looking back and saying “Christ, do you remember 2016? What an omnishambles of a year that was!?”. Of course, that will rely on Trump not starting World War 3, Theresa May not ostracising the UK from the rest of the world so much that all communication is cut off and the Daily Mail not inciting so much fear, anger and hatred that we all turn on each other until tribes start to form in the suburbs. The future is terrifying and exciting in equal measure, it always has been, but for once I’m more excited by the future than I am nostalgic for the past and that’s got to be healthy, right? Now, pass me the Port and pipe down, Only Fools and Horses is on.

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