Today is my 29th birthday. It’s been a tumultuous year, to say the least. Thankfully, I finally have some good news to cling to after Thursday, which has given me so much to celebrate today.
I’ve been very busy since getting the results on Thursday. We went walking with Lucy and a few friends yesterday afternoon. Then many more of my friends came over last night to celebrate the news with me and to surprise me with TWO entire birthday cakes! I also received some lovely presents, including an oil burner and a new baking book. As I write, the oil burner is on right now, and it smells wonderful. It is a ‘Focus’ one – Andy and Ruth told me they got it so I could put it on whilst I write.
Today, I’m going to be celebrating with my family and some friends. Dan and Em travelled up from London to hand-deliver some presents to me – one of which is this amazing apron! They only stayed for an hour or so; I feel very touched indeed but also feel bad that they are spending most of their day on a train.
It feels bitter-sweet receiving such good news this week and celebrating my birthday today; seeing so many videos and reading the news reports from Ukraine makes me feel somewhat guilty for doing so. There is so much suffering going on right now that I cannot help but think of it often. We find ourselves back in the unfortunate position of addressing the bigger iniquities of our species: our lust for power, propensity for war and conflict and a lack of empathy for others. I saw a video of children being arrested in Russia for laying flowers at the Ukrainian embassy, something which, if true, is truly horrific. Unfortunately, I don’t entirely trust our media to portray everything accurately or honestly either. This video of a child in a cage crying whilst her father tries to comfort her is incredibly disturbing, though, and did not seem fabricated.
I watched a documentary on the BBC about the conflict a few days ago, which was throwing around all sorts of theories about Putin. For example, he has become very paranoid during lockdown and was spending a lot of time alone, so he has now invaded Ukraine. How they would know such things is beyond me – but they had thrown the documentary together very quickly and were trying to influence the audience heavily towards what seemed to be baseless claims. All I know for sure is that there are millions of people now at risk of needlessly dying, that children will be caught in that number and that Europe seems increasingly complicit in the shelling and destruction of many major cities in Ukraine. There is also an entire country of individuals in Russia now being damned to suffer against a broken economy, a corrupt regime with a taste for war and a lack of any democratic process to hold those waging the war accountable. It feels like it will get a lot worse before it gets better again.
This post is not about the war in Ukraine, and I have written far more on it than I planned to. In reality, there is always a war being waged somewhere, a population of people suffering against some form of evil. It does not mean that we should not try and enjoy our lives. To an extent, enjoying our lives and exercising our freedoms is a stance against what is going on in Russia right now. No matter how much our government lies and frustrates us, we can confidently criticise it without fearing indefinite jail time and/or death. We shouldn’t have to overtly state that this is a positive of a government in the modern world; it should be the standard. Unfortunately, it is not, for far more governments than just the Russian government.
I have my own fight to consider, though, and I have reason to believe that I may be winning it, for now. The tumour has reduced by around a third. It still feels strange even 2 days after receiving the news. If I could go back to myself sitting in the hospital bed, having just been told I had pancreatic cancer, and tell myself that this would be the outcome at the first scan, I wouldn’t have believed it. All I wanted was to hear that the tumour had stabilised, and I would have been happy. I had set myself up to be happy with any news that wasn’t the tumour spreading. Sitting in the room on Thursday, waiting for the specialist to come in, I told myself that I didn’t need the tumour to be smaller; I just needed things to be stable. As she read the report out and started reeling off the positive details, I was pulling out the phrases and trying to figure out if I understood it properly. “…reduced in size from 3.2 to 2.1…,” “…CA19 marker down at 200…,” “…will be recommending that your case is taken to the MDT to be discussed…” In my head, if this was the result, the nurse would have got out the ‘Congratulations’ banner, and the whole staff would run in clapping and whooping. Instead, it was read off the medical report like it was just another meeting. I think my expectations may have been off.
Even if I was writing a novel, I wouldn’t have written that I’d get these results straight away; it seemed too unlikely. Luckily, I have spoken to a few survivors whose diagnosis was similar to mine and who are now on the other side of The Whipple procedure, so I was aware it was possible. For every “some people survive, why wouldn’t you?”, I couldn’t help but think, “why would I?” That attitude has faded slightly more with this news.
What has also faded is the attitude that I don’t have something to celebrate on my birthday. I thought that it would be an intimidating day – celebrating surviving another year of life when I am unsure how many more of these celebrations I will have. It doesn’t feel like that after having some positive news. There is also the fact that your birthday means very little in reality and that we are all getting older every second that passes. It is more ritualistic than anything else having a day to celebrate it. I do have confidence that I will be celebrating many more birthdays, though, which is something I would not have said even a month ago. I certainly wouldn’t have said that in November last year, so I’m making progress.
It is strange fantasising about where I will be a year today too. I play this game with myself a lot – thinking about where I will be in 1, 2, 5 years from now. The game is even more interesting with the cancer in the picture. Will I be cancer-free? Will the war in Ukraine be over? Will Lucy have grown to be a normal-sized dog? The questions vary in their gravitas; the last one probably isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things, but she is so cute with her little legs and long sausage body.
The question ‘Will I be cancer free?’ reminds me of a catch-phrase my best friend Luke used to have, where he would say ‘x free since ’93’ because it rhymed. For example, before November 2020, I would have said ‘Cancer free since ’93’. I can’t say that anymore. What a shame! If I get rid of the cancer in 2023, I can still say ‘Cancer free since ’23’. Maybe that should be the aim, and I should refuse any attempts at the surgery this year. I wonder if the doctor would support it; he’d probably recommend I get a therapist and think hard about my priorities in life. He would be right.
For the rest of today, my plan is to chill out with my family and open some presents. Anna and I were meant to be going to the Lake District next weekend, but we have had to cancel because of chemotherapy being moved to next Saturday. Although it would have been nice to go away, I am looking forward to an extra week off the chemotherapy. My mouth is feeling much better already from the ulcers. I’ve already been running this morning with Finch. It was my first run with my new Garmin running watch, so I was playing around with the functions and seeing what new types of data it captures. I got giddy as I finished the run, and it started to cycle through various chart summaries of my performance. It is a bit sad, really. I did get a chemotherapy 5K PB, though… a little birthday present to myself.