Thursday, 7 October 2010

It is a year ago today that, around lunchtime, I walked into our CEO’s office and said “I’d like to go home; I’ve just been told I have Leukaemia.”

It was already turning out to be a busy day cramming work in so that the following day I could take the morning out to attend our baby’s 20 week scan. Of all the curve balls that come my way on a working day this was one I was not expecting.

I guess that relative to many cancer sufferers the time from my diagnosis to being told I am in full remission is pretty quick, particularly given that my treatment was on hold for a good three months and yet conversely the last year seems to have lasted a lifetime. That three month wait probably doesn’t help.

As autumn arrives laying a cold damp blanket across the country I am looking forward to spending time outside, walking through piles of fallen leaves and spending occasional evenings tucked up in a warm pub packed with others sheltering from the inclement weather outside. From this time last year I was confined to home lest I met anyone who gave me so much as a cold that might kill me.

This year I fully intend to immerse myself in the cold seasons; to be with people.

Meeting people recently I am frequently told how well I now look. Looking back on the few photos that survived my attempts at deletion I can testify as such. Thin, pale and gaunt in hindsight it should really have come as no surprise that something was deeply wrong.

Since leaving hospital in February I’ve certainly gone up a few belt holes and clothes bought just before I was diagnosed no longer fit as they should. I am sleeping much better of late and it is over a month now since I had any dreams of being in hospital, of being treated, of needles in my arm.

I find it a little scary at times not having the constant check-ups. For all the discomfort of being in hospital the daily routine of tests and scans brought with it a sense of security. Reporting the slightest change in symptoms brought waves of tests, studies and consultations. I felt safe in the knowledge that should anything be found to be abnormal I would be told right away and it would be treated and addressed. The most complex decision I ever had to make was what to choose for dinner.

At least slightly institutionalised I sometimes miss that safety net and worry about aches and pains that are most likely symptoms of nothing more sinister than sitting badly at my desk all day or tiredness that is caused by nothing more than being a father. Statistically HCL sufferers have a fifty per cent increase of developing a secondary cancer in the first two years following treatment. Only after five years of remission do chances of normal life expectancy begin to appear and I feel that, in spite of the good news, I am still very much in the woods

Not a day goes by when I don’t worry about dying of cancer and this is a cycle I need to break.

I keep telling myself that this is all just statistics. That my fear is only great because this is still such a recent event and that a fifty per cent increase in the chances of getting secondary cancer are an increase on an already small margin not a fifty per cent chance in itself. Readers of Dan Gardner’s “Risk” would tell you that. My pessimistic side counters with the observation that the chance of me getting HCL was also infinitesimally small as to practically not exist and yet it happened. And so the debate rages in my head. It is difficult at times not to descend into a quiet spiral of worry and when I do it can take a good few days to climb out. I am yet to find the thought, word, or phrase that pulls me out early.

In the meantime I crack on with work. My job has changed over the last few months, a lateral career move oddly into a position where my deadlines are much more immediate; the view less long term. I wonder if it is purely serendipity or actually a subconscious move on my part to no longer need to look to far ahead.

I love the job though and as a distraction from the background fears it is seconded only by the greatest joy in life that is my daughter. The change in my life over the last year is as much about her as it has been about Leukaemia. With every day that passes the joy she brings more and more eclipses my fears of shortened life expectancy. Every new thing she does that I witness is a gift, an event that without very recent advances in treatment I’d simply never have seen. She is the absolute reason to get up every morning and the reason to keep on working and to keep on fighting.