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‘I ain’t saying I beat the devil. But I drank his beer for nothing and then I stole his song’ – Kris Kristofferson, To Beat the Devil
I’m not saying I beat the devil either. But for now I have at least successfully confronted the brute of a disease they call the ‘Big C’ and gotten through all the progressively harder tests it threw up against me.
Today, my final round of chemotherapy came to an end. Now, after months of treatment, both surgical and medicinal, a sort of normality is restored. No more visits to the Royal Marsden Hospital for over two months.
It hasn’t quite sunk in yet – I still have the chemotherapy-induced nausea of recent weeks and much of the mental uncertainty – but already the feeling of relief is overwhelming.
Like many people in my situation I will be subject to scans every six months for the next five years. As my doctor said yesterday, I’m officially ‘on watch’ but that’s a whole lot better than how it looked back in June 2010 when I was first diagnosed. Living with such doubts will pose its own challenges, but the key word here is ‘living’ – not an option for most cancer patients two or three decades back. The pace of research into this disease is remarkable and there have been monumental gains in the survival rate as a result.
So I’m preparing a quiet celebration. As mentioned previously, when I started this journey on the day of my diagnosis (6 June, 2010) my wife and I opened (and signed) a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir called Mount Difficulty (above). Both the name and the origin seemed singularly appropriate.
Tonight I will close the journey (or at least this stage of it) with a Shiraz called Journey’s End, produced by The Cape Doctor winery in South Africa, and kindly given to me by my colleague Sarah Genest. The only sort of doctor I want to meet in the future…
The allusion with the concept of journey (for that is what every cancer patient embarks on) was rendered more poignant by a very special gift I received from Ed and Debbie Brennan and Lynn Arce of DFS a few weeks back. It was a beautiful leather-bound book, inscribed with the words ‘My Journey’ on the cover. Inside, it contained words and lyrics from this very Blog. The back pages of the book were left vacant to allow me to add my own further thoughts and reflections as the journey continued. I open it every week and reflect on what has taken place, my evolving mental and physical state, and what might lie ahead.
On the eve of the conclusion of my treatment, I received yet another e-mail from a member of the industry’s ‘cancer survivors’ club’ – Zoila Antonie from Duty Free World in Miami. I have known Zoila, a delightful person, for many years. But I had not known that she had challenged and beaten this disease, having been diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago.
“My dear Martin, reading your Blog brings back memories,” Zoila wrote. “You are so right, people think that the worst part is to hear your doctor say ‘the biopsy came back positive’ when actually the treatment IS the nightmare.
“To be in the waiting room seeing people like you (or worse) all wondering how will I come out of this? Then, after the regular check-ups for 2/3 years… until they tell you that you are in remission! Then everything goes back to normal… pretty soon the same will happen to you…you’ll see!”
Indeed I hope so. I never thought the word ‘normal’ would become one I craved so deeply.
Zoila’s is just one of hundreds of notes and calls I have received in recent months. Correspondence has become my biggest task and I apologise if I have not replied to everyone. I have been touched by so many people’s support along the way, a support I will never be able to repay.
All of them have kept me going. Many have told me that writing about such a personal subject via this Blog is a good thing for both reader and writer, and not in any way self-indulgent (my prevalent fear). This beast, bully and tyrant of a disease can and must be stood up to and it is important for others to read that it can be challenged, and, yes, even defeated.
Have I beaten the devil? No, not yet. But I have at least, as Kristofferon wrote, stolen his song. And tonight I shall mark the scaling of Mount Difficulty and drink, literally, to the Journey’s End.
Footnote: Tonight my 10 year-old son Ali (below) surprised me by asking to play a tune on his violin for me to celebrate the end of my treatment. It was Ode to Joy by Beethoven. The beauty and innocence of children is just one of the many riches, indeed joys, that lie ahead.