Full Circle

This blog began in 2012. At the time my son J was a few months into his first year of a Biomedical Sciences degree. Of all the things I despise about cancer, being diagnosed at that time is in the top five. No-one wants to learn their Mom has cancer when they’ve just committed to three years higher education and live in an unfamiliar environment far from home.  For much of the time J was at University, I was making regular trips to the Oncology centre. It was a surreal and difficult period for us all.

J knew from a young age that he wanted to go into medicine. Last week his wish came true when he took up his post as Physician Associate in Neurology, caring for people who’ve had strokes or other serious brain injuries.

In 2012, surviving cancer meant I could stay around to provide J with the love, support and encouragement we all need when we set out on our lives. Every day I hoped I’d still be here to see him take up the medical career he worked so hard for. I’m hugely grateful that in December 2018, my wish came true too. It is, quite simply, the best Christmas present I could ever imagine.

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MSc Physician Associate Studies with Distinction, 29th November 2018

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Days to Remember

Time has been rushing by of late and at home things have been extraordinarily busy. Over the last few months we’ve been through the stresses of revision and final exams, reflected on my son’s three years at university which seem to have passed by in the blink of an eye, received the results and classification is his degree and started planning his next steps. We’ve reviewed job adverts, prepared him for interviews and celebrated two very good offers which take him closer to his ultimate goal – four years further study (graduate entry medicine) in order to become a doctor.

I’m so very proud of J and what he’s achieved. University is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, a time when we’re unencumbered by thoughts of death and hardship. Unfortunately his university journey was marred from start to finish by more crises and calamities than some folks experience in 50 years.

At the start of 2012 it was uncertain whether I’d be here now because the extent of my malaise was yet to be determined. Our lives turned upside down in that instant and for J, a deep pervasive depression began to take hold. Every day was difficult. Some were just plain awful. Those events, the days, weeks and months of trauma, we choose to leave behind. I know that eventually they’ll gather so much dust that they’re obscured from thought, displaced by altogether happier and healthier periods of our lives.

After so much chaos and consternation things are finally looking better. Health, for both of us, is heading in the right direction and luck (if that’s what it is) has decided to make a long overdue appearance. We have some very special days to remember, free from the shadow of cancer and depression, free from people who’ve been unsupportive (and mean) and free from physical and emotional purgatory. In the last two months there have been some very, very good days. It feels as if we’re living a different life and in many ways we are. For that I am more thankful than words will convey.

Yesterday presented a particularly good and special day to remember bringing with it a new wave of optimism and positivity to hold in our hearts. After three years of effort and J’s tremendous determination in the face of much adversity, we celebrated his degree during a wonderful ceremony at Bristol Cathedral. His formal graduation could not have been more well-deserved, it’s a day that will stay with us for the rest of our lives forever bringing an overwhelming sense of happiness, pride and achievement. To have any prospect of entering medical school J had to achieve at least an upper second class honours degree in Biomedical Science and that’s exactly what he did. Well done J 🙂

These are the days to remember. They remind us that with love, tenacity and enduring faith we can achieve much more than our circumstances appear to support.

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Silence

Clee hill

 

It’s hard to believe it’s just two weeks since our trip to London. It’s even more difficult to believe that a visit to the capital city with all its hustle and bustle, perpetual motion, noise and mayhem, could be seen as an oasis of tranquillity. My son had said “I don’t want this to end…” I can easily see why.

When I took up my current post I made a conscious decision to step back a level. In doing so I sought to achieve something that had eluded me for several years – the fabled work-life balance. I’d come to believe it was as rare as a unicorn and the last time I saw one of those I was seven years old with my head in a mythological creatures book!

Being a well-paid business person is all well and good but the salary isn’t much help if you’re dead. No matter how good the employer they’re unlikely to pay your family for your untimely demise due to overwork or work-induced critical illness. I know too many people who didn’t make it to retirement age and not one of them said they wished they’d spent more time at work.

My father, knowing me well (and holding much the same values, ethics and ethos), has often said I wouldn’t like a boring job. He’s right, whichever way I look at it that statement is true. I find slow, bureaucratic and/or stagnant very unattractive along with anything that requires scant intellectual challenge. It’s not that I’m hard to please, I just need some pace, some food for thought, some ability to improve things (you know the phrase change or die? Only one of those conditions is aspirational), and some willing comrades to work with. I like being part of a good team delivering interesting, useful stuff that makes a difference to other people’s lives.

Along with cancer the eighty-hour week is something I chose to consign to the past and having consciously stepped back I wasn’t looking for the kind of role that rips through your every waking hour like the biggest dawg-gone twister this side of the yellow brick road. I wasn’t looking so guess what I got… Some sparkling red shoes and one hell of a journey in all directions.

Preventing my head from exploding or simply rolling off my shoulders has been a high priority over the last few months. As a naturally hardworking person with empathic tendencies and the ability to carry a heavy load, (one of my previous French colleagues said “you English work like stupid donkeys” and in my case he was probably right), I sometimes forget that the maelstrom happening all around me also works its way into and through me. I do not want to be caught up in the chaos or torn to wafer-thin shreds because at a cellular level my health probably can’t withstand that turmoil again.

People develop cancer because normal
cells suddenly become abnormal. The abnormal cells proliferate because they never switch off. Holistically and right down at a nano level we’re all supposed to switch off.

Silence is the best option and lately I hunt it down like a trained assassin. Alone isn’t worry-making for me, it’s a long story for another time. I’m happy searching out the most depopulated, remote, off-the-beaten-track places I can find. North Wales is good, mile upon mile of hills with little evidence of any other humans to be seen. Clee Hill summit is also good and somewhat closer to home. I almost bought a house on Clee a few years ago. The purchase fell through but not before one of my dear colleagues of the time advised against living there… “they’re strange folks up on the hill you know…”

Despite the warning the hill is where I went last weekend and it’s where I’ll be heading this weekend too. It’s empty. Emptiness is next to godliness as far as I’m concerned. Past the car park the only way to the summit is to walk using one of the scrawny uneven paths carved out by rugged sheep who look at you knowingly as you pass by. It isn’t an easy walk for me, flat ground is better, but there’s no hope of finding an expanse of flat ground devoid of human detritus, clutter and noise nearby. The hills are all that’s left, untouched by developers because they’re frequently inhospitable.

The walk is worth the pain because the environment is strangely welcoming. It is often totally silent. Have you ever heard complete silence, the kind that engulfs you from head to toe, seeps under your skin and deep into your psyche? You could be persuaded to think the whole world disappeared except on top the hill you can see it stretching in front of you like an impossibly large green carpet.

Close your eyes and you could be out in the dark silent vastness of space.

For a split second the silence is eerily daunting because our lives are so full of 24×7 noise. When the birds stop singing there is no sound at all. Even the voice we all carry in our heads, the one that reminds us to put the trash out, buy some milk, clean the car, phone Susan – and for goodness sake get a grip of your work email because there’ll be a thousand more to deal with next week – seems to find it’s mute button. All it takes is an hour’s silence.

A few years ago I couldn’t imagine the thing I most enjoy at weekends would be scrambling up a barren hilltop past some tumbledown ruins, a handful of sheep and the occasional crow simply to find a complete and all-consuming silence. A silence impervious to everything including the chattering of one overly conscientious inner voice. The desolate hilltop is the only thing keeping me from the madness of a world that was not of my making. I will fix it because my conscience doesn’t allow for anything else but this time I am older, wiser and understand the costs involved. They are not mine to be borne alone.

While I was away…

My writing habits have been random approaching completely erratic over the last few months of 2013, so much so that my friend Diane at Dglassme’s blog noticed I hadn’t been around much lately.

Image credit: “safe” – © 2007 Paul Keller – made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic

I started a new job 80 miles from home and although I wasn’t travelling every day I was soon spending very long days at work. It was all a little surreal and in truth paradoxical because I do my homework as far as new jobs are concerned and normally have a very good idea of what I’m letting myself in for.  There’s no point being sentient if we don’t learn from experience! Working in Information Technology within non-technology organisations is challenging for three very common reasons:

  • IT is often seen as a cost and not appreciated for its intrinsic value in all we do. From on-line applications to processing invoices, air conditioning to making phone calls, there’s no technology-free zone these days. Under-investing causes the same kind of pain as failing to go to the dentist. Teeth rotten beyond minor fillings need root canals, crowns or implants and if you’ve ever had a tooth in that condition you’ll know it’s excruciating in every sense of the word, including the time and expense of repairs!
  • IT people (and I’m one of them) sometimes find it difficult to explain the complexities of designing, building, testing, deploying and maintaining systems (that work) to non-IT people. Assumptions are made, pressure is applied, short-cuts are taken and before you can say Bolognese there’s a pile of very over-cooked spaghetti that no-one (even the IT people) can easily unravel. Everyone knows it doesn’t look or taste good but some poor person still has to consume it.
  • There’s a lot of snake oil. Some vendors will sell non-IT management whatever it is they want to hear, even if that happens to be unavailable until software version 99.9 (and they’re supplying v2.0). Another jolly wheeze is forgetting the complexities (and cost) of integration, data migration, security and business continuity, all of which deserve at least a nanosecond of thought when attempting to deal with the aforementioned over-cooked spaghetti.

As an IT person who has been in the industry a while, come across all the above on more than one occasion and then been gifted the opportunity to sort it out (have you ever tried untangling over-cooked spaghetti and reforming it into a non-toxic gourmet meal that looks and tastes good?!) I ask questions about the environment I’m coming in to. I try to assess how much bad pasta needs to be consumed, who is consuming it and how sick it’s making them.  I evaluate how much time, effort and elbow-grease I need to devote because I want to improve things without becoming another casualty of discombobulated pasta! This time I didn’t expect a spaghetti mountain of Mount Etna-esque proportions. I believed I’d find something more like Capri – composed of a mixture of old and new, perhaps rocky in places but generally solid, well maintained and inhabited by people who were happy in their daily lives.

The battered old safe in the photo is a good metaphor for the last three months of 2013. I’ve been locked inside it, banging my head against it and trying to work out how to fix it.  It didn’t take long to establish exactly how it came to be on its way to hell in a hand-basket and a very dear friend of mine recently joked that his experience elsewhere isn’t dissimilar.  What we both know (and resign ourselves to) is that it takes longer (and costs more) to refurbish and re-install than it does to let things slip into a state of disrepair.

No matter how much you dislike the dentist, regular check-ups really are in your own interest.

Recently I broke out of the safe and despite the dereliction I’m encouraged. Signs of life remain. Those green things aren’t more mouldy spaghetti, they’re seeds and they’re growing in spite of a very barren landscape. Nature always finds a way to rebuild and restore given the right conditions. Fortunately I’m good with seeds; I plant them, tend to their needs and they grow.  Rarely do I find myself surrounded by weeds because nurturing the seedlings helps them all become tall poppies. There is no sight more beautiful than a field of resplendent poppies and it certainly beats a Gordian knot of over-cooked pasta!

Breaking out of the safe reminded me that I have many gardens to attend and neglecting them, whether intentional or not, leads to dereliction.  Dereliction – of gardens, people, past-times or well-being – is something that weighs heavy on my soul. I’m at home with chaos, have built a career from resolving it, but I choose not to live with it 24 hours per day any more.  Sitting here in the winter sunlight I am reminded that balance in all my various commitments matters to me.  The derelict safe is in balance with its derelict environment but dereliction isn’t welcome in my life, now or in future. I and my various gardens are beginning to flourish so sad as it may be, I cannot let the demands of one previously neglected environment overshadow the needs of all the others.  I hope to untangle the spaghetti (for everyone’s sake) and I’d love to grow a new field of gloriously tall poppies but it has to happen alongside and not at the expense of the many other gardens I enjoy.

Tall Poppy