Father’s Day

Me, Mum, Dad at My Sister Josie’s Wedding, 2017

Last night I had a weird dream where I had hurt my knee. I was really worried about it as I sat in some kind of waiting room. I’m not sure if I knew how I’d hurt it in the dream, but I don’t remember that part if so. There are many blurry patches where I’ve forgotten what happened exactly, but I remembered the gist of it. The next thing that I remember is being in a doctor’s office and him feeling around my knee and asking if it hurts. All of a sudden he poked a spot which did hurt and I gasped in pain. It woke me up almost straight away. I was confused at first. I felt certain that it had really happened for a couple of seconds. Looking around me in the bedroom, I realised it was a dream. I suspiciously looked at my knee and felt a little uncertain about it. Was my dream predicting another problem with my knee? Or was my mind playing cruel tricks on me, reminding me what problems I used to consider life-altering in the past and laughing at the situation I find myself in now? If my mind is doing this, that means there is some part of my brain that is capable of doing such a thing. That would make me a bad person, wouldn’t it? It would certainly mean that part of my brain was plotting against me… although it probably was just a random memory dream.

This situation has happened to me before. I had an injury from overtraining in 2020. It happened a few months after lockdown started; I’m assuming because of the working from home and not moving around enough in the day, then running a lot in the evening. When I went to the physio at the hospital, I expected her to say that it was a knee injury – my knee hurt whenever I ran, so why would I expect anything else? As she made me do a series of exercises and activities, she smiled to herself. “I think I’ve figured it out,” she said, “it’s your hip.” Turns out that my left hip was very out of balance with my right one, meaning that my right one was much stronger than my left. It meant that my left hip was recovering slower from the runs, resulting in small changes in the way that I was stepping with my left leg whilst running. Those small changes were enough to start damaging my knee. Whilst investigating this issue, I had my first ever MRI scan. It felt a little intimidating at the time, but nothing came of it really. I just had to do strengthening exercises and have a break from running.

That winter I cycled a lot in place of running. It was during the first Covid lockdown and there wasn’t a lot of traffic around London. It was actually a lovely time to be cycling around the capital. I discovered all of the hills in the north of the city: Muswell Hill, Ally Pally and many around Hampstead. It was really fun. Then I started joining my cousin and a couple of his friends for ‘Tuesday Hills’ when the weather started to get warmer. Throughout summer, he and his friends would meet on Tuesdays to do 20 miles of tough hills around the Southeast of London, then go back to one of their houses for a BBQ and a few beers. That introduced me to the hills around Crystal Palace, Dulwich and Forest Hill, where Anna and I decided to purchase our flat in 2021. That summer had a large influence on me. I saw a lot of London that I hadn’t been to before. It influenced where Anna and I would buy our first flat ever flat, that I find myself writing this from and that we love so much.

For the first 6 months of living in the flat, I would regularly get out and train on those same hills. Despite it being the end of lockdown and the roads being busier again, it felt too convenient to not still get out on the hills around the flat. I haven’t been out since being diagnosed – I was thrown straight into treatment, and that’s been my life since really. I’m also worried about my hands as the neuropathy isn’t going from the chemotherapy. I don’t want to mess up using my breaks on the hills around London when there are cars everywhere, and there are always cars everywhere now. I’m not sure if it’s a mental block or a legitimate excuse, but I’m not ready to find out just yet.

My love of exercise comes from my dad. He’s always been obsessed with exercise and it defines a large part of his life, but not all of it. I’m going to list his passions below and then speak about them one at a time to provide some context to the best things about him on Father’s Day, here in the UK.

  1. Sweet Things
  2. Work
  3. Maintaining Bikes
  4. Exercising

1. Sweet Things

My dad has been a huge influence on me with his love of sweet things. He is the first person I witnessed putting chocolate in the freezer to stop it from melting when he eats it with his hands. I then witnessed him putting chocolate-covered digestive biscuits in the freezer, and now do that religiously too. To be honest, any snack with chocolate in/on/around goes straight into the freezer now, both in my house and in my parent’s house. It is a far superior way of eating chocolate. One area of sweet treats where my taste deviates from my dads is fruit cake. I cannot stand fruit cake. I’m not sure why, but it brings back memories of me being a kid and wanting something to eat, so eating some fruit cake from the kitchen side and feeling bitterly disappointed that it wasn’t chocolate cake. That disappointment sits on my shoulder and has never left; I now have a permanent grudge against fruit cake for not even attempting to be chocolate cake. It doesn’t even have chocolate chips in it – why would anyone bother? Nowadays I’m not too obsessed with chocolate cake, but I’m still mad at fruit cake for daring to not be chocolate cake.

I’ve witnessed my dad eat half a victoria sponge cake in a single morning before 9am. I came downstairs feeling a little hazy from the chemotherapy a few months ago. My mum had baked a cake the evening before for dad’s birthday, but it had been baked too late for anyone to eat any of it that evening. I thought I’d have a laugh and see how much he had eaten that morning as I waited for the kettle to boil, allowing me to make my coffee. To my dismay, half the cake had gone. The only people in the house were me, Anna and my mum. My mum was still in bed and Anna had been with me the whole time. There was no doubt who had eaten all that cake. Dad the cake mad lad. He has an unparalleled stamina for eating sweet, sugary things; he will forever be remembered for it by everyone that knows him.

2. Work

Part of the reason that my dad has such a stamina for eating sweet things is that they are quick and easy to consume. Why is that valuable to my dad? Because he only ever has 3 minutes maximum to spare between meetings. The man boasts about how many hours he works as if it is a badge of honour. He once told me a story about how he had not used hardly any of his annual leave one year. HR sent him an email telling him he needs to take more leave, reminding him that it is necessary to get a break to stay mentally sane (not their exact words). Dad’s rebuke to this was to suggest that he gifts his annual leave to his PA at the time; HR (obviously) disagreed and said that it was not even possible to do such a thing.

What HR probably didn’t realise was that work does seem to keep my dad mentally sane. Everyone thinks their parents have the answers to everything, I know this to be true, but I do think my dad could give a good answer to anything. He has a very analytical mind and enjoys solving problems. It is the reason he agonises over the cryptic crosswords in every newspaper, every week. Sometimes he likes to humiliate me by asking me one of the questions; inevitably, I tell him I don’t know, and he tells me how ‘easy’ it is before explaining the most insane, inexplicable pathway to get to the answer. The experience always leaves me more confused as to why anyone would ever enjoy doing them, and probably leaves him feeling even smugger about how much he genuinely does.

There is another thing that his work demonstrates – his commitment. Not only through the amount of hours he puts in, but also the amount of time he has spent working on the railway. It is a true passion of his and he knows the workings of railways through and through. I know that people say it is a generational thing, with my generation’s parents spending much longer in a job than we tend to, but I really believe he would do it all the same if he could go back. He loves it. His colleagues love him, and last year he was given an award for championing women in the company. My dad simply likes people who care; you don’t need to meet any specification outside of that. If you care, are willing to learn and are enthusiastic about what you do, he will ensure that he makes time for you and will do everything in his power to champion your success.

3. Maintaining Bikes

Linked to my dad’s love of work is his love of bikes. He’s a civil engineer by trade but has mostly switched the practical application of the trade from maintaining railways to maintaining bikes. Typical of him, he cannot half-arse it as a mere ‘hobby’. It is a lifestyle. You will regularly find him on a Saturday morning sat at his laptop, watching detailed videos on how to replace x part on a bike. He will then discuss at length with you the problem he is trying to solve, how he managed to get a critical tool to help solve the issue, and how he got that tool off eBay for 50% of the price. I’m not sure why he enjoys saving money when it comes to bikes as it is not something he enjoys in every other area of his life. He pays around £160 a month for Sky subscriptions, yet only watches approximately 5 programmes, 3 of which are on the same channel, which is available on Freeview anyway. Sky must wonder when he is going to sober up and start demanding his money back, but there doesn’t seem to be a risk of that any time soon.

My dad spent a few months working on a bike belonging to a colleague of his. After hearing her talk about her bike being broken, he offered to take a look at it. It was his project for months. He was incredibly excited about it, spending lots of his own money ordering new and better parts for it, and at least quadrupling its total value. When he handed it back, he mentioned nothing about the money, time or effort that had gone into it. It is a perfect representation of many of the things that make my dad great – his want to help people, his ability to grasp a problem with both hands and tackle it with ingenuity, and a genuine disregard for money (I assume this is what it is, as he never spends his money on himself, yet finds ways to spend it on everyone else, even his colleagues).

There’s another reason that maintaining bikes is so important to him: he loves to ride them.

4. Exercising

My dad has always been incredibly into exercise; he’s also always been very good at it. When he was younger, he boasts that he used to run over 100 miles a week on average. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks that is a good idea anymore, but at the time “you tried to run as much as you could, as hard as you could,” according to him (the exact wording may be incorrect but the general message is spot on).

He told me a story about how he was involved in a run on a 400m track once. The race distance was 100km, which is a ridiculous distance to be running around a track. There were various houses which backed onto it, and one gentleman was apparently outside gardening, watching them run. After a while, he got confused about why they were still running. “Why are you running around the track for hours,” he shouted to my dad as he ran last. My dad had to do a full lap before he could answer. “We’re running 100kms on it,” he replied as he ran past again. Dad proceeded to do another lap before being in earshot of the man again. “Are you fucking mental?” The man shouted back as my dad made his way past again; that was his response even after having 400m worth of time to contemplate his response. I don’t blame him – it is totally fucking mental to run that distance on a 400m track.

As he got into his 30s, the hundreds of miles he was running a month started catching up with him and he developed various injuries. Cycling took over from there. He’s been on various trips to Europe to tackle some of the most notorious climbs, once taking my brother Greg with him. I was meant to go too, but was starting a new job and told I needed to join that week to join a training course; I wish I’d put my foot down and refused now – memories could have been made that would be far more valuable than any job. That job did teach me a lot, though, so it had its own value. I met many friends for life there as well as growing a lot as a person. Without it, I can’t confidently say that I’d be responding to this diagnosis in the way I am.

I know that things are hard at the minute for both of my parents. It must be surreal to have raised a son, investing so much time, energy and love into something for so many years, to watch it potentially end in front of their eyes. Feeling the excitement of every achievement with them, watching them become a teenager, young adult, going to university, getting their first job; hurting with them when things don’t work out, celebrating with them when it does. In Lord of the Rings, there is a quote which goes something like ‘No parent should bury their child’. No parent should have to bury their child; it isn’t right. The world doesn’t work by the parameters of our perceived morality, though. People have to bury their children all the time, sometimes in horrendous circumstances. Here, in London, there are always stabbings in the news. Just a week ago in Forest Hill, a helicopter had to land in the park next to our flat to transport a boy to the hospital who had been stabbed in the neck. Luckily, he survived. He is 17 years old. His loved ones would have got a call to inform them at some point – where is the morality in that situation? There isn’t any.

In March 2021, Sarah Everard was lured into a car by a man, convinced to do so by the sight of his police badge. Unfortunately, that off-duty police officer had sinister intentions for Sarah, who only realised so too late to try and save herself. Her body was found days later in Kent. It turned out that the off-duty police officer was Wayne Couzens. He had told her that she was being arrested for breaching lockdown restrictions, showing just how evil this man was. He was preying on the fear of the day and how could Sarah say no to a police badge as a law-abiding citizen? It’s absolutely despicable.

The advantage of having cancer is that I get a period of time where I know that I possess something that may kill me, and so do my family. If we look past the awful parts of it, that’s actually an amazing opportunity to be afforded. Whilst I’m still healthy and able, I want to enjoy my time with my family and friends.

I’ve said before in the blog that I used to have a crippling fear of watching my parents suffer. It kept me up at night when I was about 10 and the fear gripped me. Now I have an opportunity to show them that you don’t need to suffer through these situations; you can face them with relentless strength. I still cry, I still get scared, I still feel angry sometimes. I just try to let none of it consume me for longer than it needs to. My life is amazing no matter when it comes to an end; I’m not going to waste a second more than I have to on being sad, angry or depressed because of a situation that was totally out of my control. My dad has been positive throughout this process – seeing every next step as progress and unrelenting in his determination that the only outcome is recovery. Upon hearing the news of the surgery, he seemed different; there wasn’t a voice of positivity, an uplifting perspective that this surgery was necessary and amazing, in its own way. It may not be exactly what we wanted to hear, that the tumour was likely to be fully removed, but it’s something. There’s still a chance that this happens anyway. no matter how small. Even if that chance is 0.000001%, it’s still more worthy of our time and effort to believe that this will happen over a more bleak alternative.

So, this is me throwing the positivity back at you, dad, and telling you that this surgery is amazing no matter what happens. Whether it gives me a year, ten years or cures me entirely, it is amazing. Even if the worst case happens and I die in the surgery itself, it was the best opportunity we had to fight. Besides, I don’t want to be buried when I die, I want to be cremated, so there will be no parents burying any of their children in this process. There’s always a loophole if you look hard enough.

Thank you for everything, dad. We fight on.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Another chemotherapy treatment day rolled around yesterday. That meant another 6:45am alarm, 4.5 hours in the hospital on a Saturday and more baked goods for the nurses. Yesterday I made them chocolate chip banana bread. I’ll save that material for the next Chemotherapy Diaries post though, thank you; I’m collecting ammunition for it with every second that passes. But this isn’t a blog based on chemo complaints. This post has a more positive topic: thankfulness.

One of the significant side-effects of having cancer that is not listed on the NHS website is the incredible opportunity to see the best in human beings come out constantly and unrelentingly. I find myself humbled time and time again by the actions of others. This is another post, similar to my Friends & Family post, where my only goal is to highlight the amazing things people have done for me and give thanks. I’m only covering a select group of scenarios here, but I have plenty. I plan to slowly drop these things into other blog posts over time. “A steady flow of content, how irresistible,” I think to myself, stroking my black cat and cackling to the sky. I will name drop everyone one day, in one way or another.

The first thing I woke up to yesterday morning, doing my usual scan of Twitter and WordPress in bed, was this post from Dr. Eric Perry recommending my blog to his 33K+ followers. I was truly bowled over by the gesture. His blog is far more advanced than mine, both in form and purpose. His articles are written eloquently, always have a fantastic central theme, and contain well-researched information to support the points. It is an excellent self-help blog, and I am so honoured to have my blog featured within its work. To everyone who has joined Ebb and Flow from that recommendation, welcome, and I hope it lives up to the expectations set by Dr. Eric. I’ve already received touching comments from many of you, and it made my treatment day feel so special and joyous, 2 words I usually don’t associate with the chemotherapy ward.

The next person in the firing line is my cousin Anna. Unfortunately, she lives in Europe, so I seldom see her or her talented children. They play various instruments among the 3 of them. After a family wedding in Germany that I could not attend, my family returned home full of praise for her children’s instrumental skill after they performed there. Upon reading one of my Chemotherapy Diaries posts where I had complained about my hands cramping (as they are now) because of the drugs, she sent me a little gift. The below fingerless gloves arrived with a lovely note inside, telling me that they were to help alleviate the cramping when writing. I wear them often and they not only help the cramping by warming up my hands, but have a similar effect on my heart. What a beautiful gesture. Thank you so much, Anna.

A more general thank you next to an exceptional person in my life. Her name is Daniella, but everyone knows her as Dee. She insists that it is spelt ‘D’, but I cannot fathom something so ridiculous. D is a letter and something you try to avoid getting in an exam in school, not a name. In all seriousness, Dee has supported me so much throughout the 6 years I’ve known her, though more than ever since the hospital visits started. There are few people I find myself speaking so openly to. She is the first person I cried to when I was first diagnosed with a cancerous tumour. I had managed to keep it together with my fiance Anna, choosing a display of strength over vulnerability. Within 2 minutes of speaking to Dee, I just collapsed. With every supportive text, weekend visit and comforting word, she has been a pillar in my life that has withstood so much stress, emotion and pain. I love her dearly, and I will try my very best to be there for her in the same capacity that she has been there for me.

My best friend Luke is to thank next. I hope he doesn’t mind me saying, but he has had his own fair share of battles with mental health. When I was living and working in the US, I spent nights worrying about him and speaking to him as often as possible. I always wondered how vulnerable he was, how things were going for him and if he was managing to win his battles. It was hard being so far from a friend you knew was suffering. He has a wonderful girlfriend and seems better at managing these days, or so I hope. I can’t say, though, because he somewhat selfishly always speaks to me about my situation, asking how I’m feeling and providing a reasonable voice when I feel worried. All this, as well as making me laugh more than anyone I know (my fiance Anna is close second here; she won’t appreciate being second, though). Every time I see him, I cry with laughter at least once. The positive effect on my ability to fight cannot be understated. He’s been my best friend since we were both in school, and his intelligence, wit and enormous heart continue to surprise me every day.

Finally, my fiance Anna. She has had a good amount of air time in this blog but it is mostly in passing, during The Road to Diagnosis series and in other places. We only met 2 years ago. If the Covid pandemic had not occurred, I would have still been living and working in Philadelphia, US, and I almost definitely would not have met her. We met during lockdown 1, and within 3 months were looking at properties to buy together in London. When you know, you really do know. I thought it was a cliche but I’ve felt it. Meeting Anna has proved to me that sometimes things are fated to happen. If I hadn’t met her, I don’t know how I would be dealing with my cancer diagnosis. That isn’t to discredit the role of friends, family, and everyone else, but Anna is constant support for me in a way that only someone you love can be. She teaches me so much every day through her kindness, her ability to laugh at everything and how she can wear pyjamas during every work call; it’s quite impressive how little she dresses for work these days. I can’t wait to see what our lives bring us and she’s one of the main reasons I’m fighting this cancer with the force I am – I cannot stand missing all of the things she’s going to do in her life, and I refuse to not be part of them.

Of all the talk of positivity and hope, I owe so much to the actions of others. I do not stay positive every second of every day, and I don’t expect myself to be. Suffering alone is tough. The hard miles come during the sleepless nights, the nausea-laced days and when the ruthless nature of the cancer is more prominent in my mind than the possibility of survival. Small actions of kindness, a handwritten card, some gloves, unannounced flowers, all represent another human’s empathy and want to contribute to something otherwise out of their control. It isn’t about the present; it’s about the human spirit they represent. The text messages, comments on the blog and random exchanges on Twitter. They all contribute to a feeling that I am not alone in this.

To close this post, I encourage you to invest in the people around you. Whatever your support network consists of, nurture it. Life is unpredictable and changing. Without the help of others, we are far less capable of coping with the curveballs it throws at us. Something that I am changing my opinion on is social media. Twitter is allowing me to seek out other pancreatic cancer patients, survivors and experts that I would not have connected with otherwise. Their many posts, interviews and articles are a wealth of knowledge, encouragement and support. Used in the right way, it can be a museum of information tailored to your needs. I will post a link to the blog’s Twitter account below. Please follow if you so wish by clicking on the Twitter icon. It’s another growing support network in my struggle, and I look forward to seeing where it takes me.