Monday, 3 September 2012

Perfect Storm

I must say a huge thank you to those readers who have been in touch to ask how I am since I was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the beginning of 2011. Your support and encouragement is much appreciated. Incidentally, where people initially get in touch via the  'Comments' link, I will always reply to those who give an e-mail address and do my best to pass on my predilection for positive thinking in the hope that it will work as well for them as it does for me.[I do not post comments, though, as it not only takes up space but also encourages trolls intent on spoiling a blog for others. Needless to say, I never respond to trolls and simply ignore them. [I will respond to even the harshest criticism, though, so long as the critic makes his or her reasons clear.]

A reader who has only just been diagnosed with prostate cancer has been in touch and is obviously very distressed and asks my advice. Apparently, it is not aggressive so he has several options, but admits to being terrified by the very presence of any cancer in his body. I can understand that only too well, but never presume to give advice; regular readers will have noticed, though, that I frequently express an opinion on this or that subject.  It is a personal decision that this reader, along with anyone else similarly affected, must come to in their own way.

Now, today’s poem appeared on the blogs in January 2011 shortly after a scan had revealed a tumour in my prostate but before a biopsy confirmed it was cancerous. As I have said many times, poetry is my lifeline; it helps me confront my worst fears and rise above them, the better to tackle them rather than cave in to a knee-jerk reaction…and pretend ‘God’s in his Heaven and all’s well with the world.’ (Robert Browning)

My cancer is not aggressive, but at a ‘low to medium’ level according to the medics. So far, I have avoided radiotherapy because I have a weak bladder and the side-effects for both bladder and bowels can be grim. I don’t want to take the risk unless I have to. In the meantime, I have chosen to have hormone therapy which, so far, has kept my PSA count low and the cancer at bay. The hormone therapy sometimes produces nasty mood swings, and I find I need to urinate a lot so that can be (very) inconvenient, especially when out and about or travelling.  Otherwise I am fairly fit and feel fine; no heart, liver or kidney problems, rheumatism or arthritis, and no diabetes... yet. (Fingers crossed...)

Given that I am in my late 60s, I count myself very lucky. As for what may be lying in wait for me around the next corner, I’ll deal with that if and when the need arises. Yes, sometimes I get scared, but fear is just one of many things we have to at least try and overcome rather than let it have its wicked way with us, and see us lose out on all the good things life has to offer.

My mother used to say, if you worry you'll die and if you don't worry you're still going to die one day so...why worry? She died of brain cancer in 1976 and remains an inspiration to me. She rose above her fears just as he helped me (time and again) to rise above mine. Hopefully, reading the poem will encourage readers to rise above their fears too.


Black cloud
chasing me
over blue grass and green sea;
Twilight’s waves
teasing me,
dumping seaweed at my feet;
Shadowy surfer
homing in on me
over weepy grass and angry sea;
I try to turn,
black cloud pinioning me
to blue grass,
a green sea clothing me
in seaweed,
shadowy Surfer
skimming every nuance of mind
and body

Black cloud
a vast, appalling darkness;
Twilight’s waves
thundering me
for tearing at seaweed;
shadowy Surfer
poised to catch me up
and drag me down
where weepy grass and angry sea
issue a challenge
to throw off the black cloud
pinioning me,
let every nuance of mind and body
scale its threat,
dismiss the Surfer’s shadow
and go free

Black cloud
moves on,
its vast, appalling darkness
swallowed up
by a gentler twilight
if no apology
for its thunder or waspish seaweed
making me out
to be worth no more, no less
than a shadowy Surfer
would have me
laid out on a sandy bed,
every nuance of mind and body
killed off
by a surge of self-pity
because I dare not tread a board
or even swim

Shadowy surfer
exposed for a Peeping Tom moon
challenging me
to go on home and try again
rather than let them win
who chased me like a black cloud
over blue grass
and green sea, pinioning every nuance
of mind and body
to a sandy bed with seaweed
nature never meant
to be used to dress a body
for some dark deed,
thwarted, for now at least,
by another victory
for Light over Dark at the edge
of time

[From: Tracking the Torchbearer by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2012]

[Update (10/ 2013): I entered the Shine night-time half-marathon walk (13.1 miles) on Sat. September 28th to raise as much as possible for prostate cancer research. [I considered entering the full marathon (26+ miles) but decided that would be too much for me, especially as I am in my late 60's now.] My best friend, Graham, walked with me. (See photo below.) Between us, we raided over £700. We hope to enter again in 2014 and raise even more.

I am the one in the silly yellow hat!

[Update (4/2015): I would have been  taking part in the Shine (half marathon) Walk for Cancer again last September, along with my friend Graham, to raise money for prostate cancer research, Sadly, I was unable to participate following a bad fall in which I sustained a bad fracture of the heel and must not put any weight on my left foot. My friend, Richard, participated as a proxy for me and completed the half marathon with Graham in 4.2 hours. All my sponsors were aware of the circumstances and sponsored me anyway, possibly because I would easily have hopped a half marathon around my flat with a Zimmer frame before I walking without aids again. I am walking fairly well now, but need a walking stick and will probably always have a limp. So no half marathon for me this year.  Even so,  I hope to participate again should my ankle/foot ever be up for it.]

[Update (20/12/2015): I will be 70 tomorrow. Today, I start a new course of hormone therapy, but no complaints.  Patients can go six months on and six months off, but it is over 2 years since I had my last hormone injection so I must be doing something right. In the beginning, I found it quite hard to live with the fact that the cancer is there, but now I rarely even think about it just take each new day as it comes and enjoy it as if it were my last.[

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