Monday 25 September 2017

The Enemy Within...

I never thought I would get cancer.

Arrogant of course, considering the number of people who suffer from cancer at some point in their lives – but I never thought it would be me.

There is no history of cancer in my family, as far as I am aware. My grandfather had his early adulthood stolen by the horrors of the trenches in the first world war.   He lived a hard life and smoked 40 cigarettes a day for as long as anyone can remember.  He lived until he was 82 when finally a stroke got him.

My father died just over a year ago in his eighties.  He had chronic back problems and heart disease which led to a triple bypass in his early 70’s, but it was post-operative complications which finally finished him off after major abdominal surgery at 84.

My mother developed Alzheimer’s in her early 60’s and over the years which followed she lost all recognition of the world around her, including her family, and yet she still reached her 80’s before finally giving in.

Heart disease I had expected at some point in life, Alzheimer’s I would understand, but cancer?  Never.

So it has come as somewhat of a shock, at the age of 54, to be told that I have Advanced Prostate Cancer.

I had been meaning to go the doctor for a while, as my toilet patterns gradually changed.  I started to think that something was wrong when I started to suffer fatigue – acute tiredness for no apparent reason.  When I finally went, it was after two episodes of debilitating pain in my hip and right leg.

The result of initial tests pointed to Prostate Cancer, and having now had a full suite of scans and biopsies, I know it is Advanced Pc.  For those who know about such things, my Gleason score is 9 and my PSA is in the 300’s.  It has spread to my lymph nodes and my bones.  It is beyond surgery or any other cure.  It is simply a case of ‘managing’ it now.

The irony is that, following my first course of hormone therapy, I felt fine again.  The fatigue subsided, and my hip pains had largely gone (until earlier this month).  Yet now, I know that lurking deep within, many of my cells are slowly mutating against me and there is no way to get rid of it.

Treatment is, of course, improving all the time, and Prostate Cancer UK’s website says that ‘treatments can help to keep it under control, often for several years’ but suddenly life seems different now.  The finite nature of life which we prefer not to think about, has suddenly come into sharp focus.  Long term plans, dreams and expectations suddenly seem obsolete. Retiring to the west coast of Scotland with my wife Mel, buying a RIB, and exploring the beauty of the Inner Hebrides.  All seem like folly now.

I am reminded of the story Jesus told about the successful farmer who built his barns bigger and planned to ‘take life easy’.  That very night, his life comes to an abrupt and untimely end with God’s words “You fool!” ringing in his ears. (Luke 12)

At times like this, people often re-evaluate their lives.  We ask ourselves what is really important in life?  For me, as for so many others, the two things which come to the forefront are family and faith. 

Both, of course, are inexorably intertwined. Since my first visit to the doctor, I have found my most uttered prayer to be,

“Really God? Is this really my time?  Because I don’t think it is!” 

My wife Mel is partially disabled after a road accident and in chronic pain.  For 14 years, I have been her principle carer to a greater or lesser degree.  She isn’t getting any better, and in time may well get worse.  Really God? Is this my time? 

My children at 17 and 19 and will soon be off to University.  I want to see them graduate, perhaps marry and have children.  I want to see them establish their lives and be the wonderful people I know they are, and I want to be there for them when life is not straightforward or easy.  Really God?  Is this my time?!

On the positive side, this makes me want to fight.  To be determined to be alive in several years’ time, whatever the odds may be.  Determined that I will not give up, and will take every opportunity to be there for them, for as long as I possibly can.  To be determined not to go gently into the night.

When it comes to my faith, I know what is waiting for me.  I am not afraid of death because I know what Christ has done for me. I know that one day I will stand before his throne in awe and wonder, not because of anything I have done, but because of Him who died for me and rose again.

That does not mean I don’t have my issues with God, of course.  Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair, and Mel and I have had our fair share of those times.  Like Jacob, I sometimes wrestle with God and will not give in.  Like Job, I sometime find that God seems far away and oblivious to my petty concerns.  Like Jonah, I sometimes don’t want God anywhere near me, and yet God is there.

Putting all of those together, I press on.  Life is different now.  And I will treat each day, each month, and each year differently, as I join others in living in the paradox of life and death.