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Six years post diagnosis
It was all very nasty and frightening when I was first diagnosed, but, contrary to my expectations, it's turned into a tale with a bit of hope attached.
One thing is for definite, it's best not ignore stuff. Men in particular are great ignorers of stuff!
Even today I chide myself that I could have prevented most of my troubles.
The 'hope' comes from the fact that over the previous six years I have found that I COULD do something about it. There's a bit of disciplne involved with the diet and exercise, but there's also fear lurking. Fear is a good driver.
Let's be honest there's a lot of discipline involved, and a fair amount of fear.
Recent blood test results were OK. Actually, since my last, I've had covid so that may have put the cat among the pigeons (or bat among the pigeons, if certain Chinese theories are to be believed!) But overall I’m pleased to get satisfactory results because I don’t half make an effort. I’ve explained a little about the ins and outs of the results previously so I’ll not do there again. I’ll just say that my last HbA1c was 46. Up a little on the best one I had, which was 42, but pretty good nevertheless.
Since diagnosis around six years ago I've been pretty productive. We've renovated a total of six houses, the last of which we live in. Here I've created a garden from scratch, re-vamped my boating books and written three more novels. I continue to eat well and exercise. I list these things not to show off, but because I can see myself sitting on the vascular man's couch that first time wondering what the hell was going on. In fact, everything we achieve is the result of the shadows of ill-health that still hang over us. Jan (thank the Lord) continues to be well but what drove us forward for so many years were the memories of when she was poorly. We try not to sit still. It’s been a funny period but we’ve come out of it with new tales to tell. Sub-consciously we’re driven to it I suppose.
Reminders are always there for both of us. Due to the results of Jan's desperate health battles, she has scars all over her body. Each one makes her more special. Each one made her stronger but there were times when we both thought she could take no more. But she came through. Every time I look at my legs I see blue blotchiness all over my thighs, tell-tale sign of knackered arteries. It’s worse when it’s cold or when I’ve been sitting down for a long time.
The practice nurse had a real job finding any sort of pulse in my feet. I tell her the machine is knackered. She laughs politely but we both know things are not just as they should be. It’s basically been the same for 6 years and she tells me that other people have had far worse outcomes than me. She doesn’t need to elaborate. In fact it's better than it was six years ago, I used to have a blue little toe, but that's usually got nice colour now so I'm doing something right. My resting pulse-rate is ‘ideal’ as is my blood pressure. I quip that it must be all the wine I consume.
‘How much do you drink,’ she asks.
‘Mind your own business,’ I tell her.
She's a lovely lass called Janine, daughter of one of my wife's school friends. She's a generation below us but now trained and helping keep folks in the town fit and well. In fact, it was Janine who took my blood and sat in on my very first meeting with the dragon nurse. Dragon no longer, I like and respect her now. Though I think she still hates me!
When I started my exercise regime I could only walk a few hundred yeards without various bits around my midsection and legs going variously painful and numb. Now I can walk up to ten miles a day, I even climbed a fell in Cumbria recently.
Over the years I've had a number of alcoholidays. That's no booze for a month or so. I had one during one of the (ludicrous) lockdown periods. My reasoning was that I'd try and come out of a period of incarceration with something positive to show for it. Wine, it allows you to forget things, at least temporarily. Thing was, during lockdown there was nothing worth remembering. My mind was empty (not unusual) meaning there was lots of space to welcome new expreiences - but there weren't any. I'd created myself a wine-memory whirlpool that just went round and round.
I have to keep the blood flowing so I exercise, not manically, but fervently. We have a new addition to the household, my e-bike Columbanus. Here it is in all it's glory.
Humour is how we got through Jan’s tough times. Recently, it’s been my turn. Of course, having a medical condition isn’t funny but making light of it can help. It helps us anyway. Although never done consciously, we created the smiles that now light up the dark. When we look back there is a salve to soothe some giant bruises in our past.
Here is an example of a light in the dark. Jan was in remission and decided to volunteer at The Christie Hospital near Manchester, where she herself had been treated. She went along and made tea and chatted to anyone who wanted or needed to talk. One lady was waiting for her appointment so Jan made her a cup of tea. She handed it over and came back a few minutes later to see it untouched.
‘Don’t you like it?’ She asked. The lady looked down and pointed. Jan had dropped a tissue in without noticing. It was now semi-dissolved so the whole thing looked like a radioctive puddle, the kind of thing you might see in Chernobyl. It had nasty-looking scum floating on top and was most unappetizing. They looked at each other and laughed.
Then the lady was called for her chemotherapy. She walked off down the corridor with a big smile on her face, just for a moment or two the edge taken off her fear.
Anyone who knows me understands I’m not good at doing serious. If you seek it out, most things in life have a daft element. In my boating books there is a humorous element as there is with the cycle-writing. We were 'forced' into our magical boating life because Jan was told that she hadn't got much time. 'You're unlikely to see the year 2000', said her oncologist in the late 90s. We had most material things for a modest but comfortable life. What we didn't have was the only really important thing - time. That's why we set off and lived a daft, bohemian life for 12 years on boats. I was only in my mid-forties and people asked, 'how can you afford to do it?'
'We can't afford not to do it,' was my stock answer. And truthful answer.
You can gloss over any bits you need to. In my sporty youth I was super-fit. Against the elite, maybe 8 out of 10. Now, much less so, 4 maybe. But I was 3 a couple of years ago. I hope to get back to 5 or 6. In fact, the e-bike has helped and I've 'invested' in some walking poles. They do help a little on the uphill bits where I particularly struggle. Plus the very fact of having them, and dressing in vaguely walking attitre, won't allow me to sit down at the side of the path and look like a dying, green blob. No, a person who looks the part with walking poles keeps going. As far as the pub anyway.
It’s funny where we find solace. A good mate is physically worse off than me but we cheer each other up with banter. I don’t see his dark times and he doesn’t see mine, but rest assured, they lurk. My next-door neighbour has recently passed away. She was wheelchair-bound but somebody of wonderful spirit and an inspiration to many people. When she passed she left a light on so we can see where we’re going. She kept going as long as she could despite her disability. RIP Lynn.
I befriended a man recently, a fellow dog-walker I met out on the playing fields. He’s recovering well from a stroke but says he’s still a little down on where he used to be.
'That last 15% will never come back,' he tells me. 'In effect, I'm left to mourn for my former self.'
It sounded extraordinary but he explained he was grieving for a time when he was fully fit and carefree.
‘The psychological side of it is something I never considered while recovering,’ he told me.
My wife had hinted at something in similar vein. Her battles took something from her that is gone for good. I realize now what they both mean. It relates to me too, though not as obviously as Jan and my friend. Something of who I used to be is gone. It’s not just gradually slowing down, which I’d expect, no, it’s more fundemental than that, it’s a new base level. I must come to terms with it and manage what I have. And enjoy what I can.
Our dear old dog is keeping fit, he and I walk 3 miles every morning (he's 13). I feed him then set off again. I either walk another six miles or cycle between ten and twenty. Although it’s electrically assisted I make sure I have the bike set so I have to push myself pretty hard. The real bonus of th electric bike is being able to tackle some decent sized hills which has opened up a new world – or more accurately re-opened a former one.
Overall, pretty positive. I have a friend who has just done a six-week health trip, a really good effort. Lost weight, got his blood sugars down, stayed off the booze. People are aware of their health a bit more I think, perhaps it’s age-related.
I know how hard I try - which is why I encourage people who are having a go.