December 2020 started really well. Not least because of the news that I got on the 1st, telling me that I seemed to be coming to the end of my illness. But in a reassuring, “you’re getting healed”, kinda way. Not a discouraging, “you might want to start saying your goodbyes”, sorta affair.
I covered this good news more fully in my previous post, imaginatively entitled: November 2020 Update and Good News.
And, because of my stunning range when it comes to choosing post titles, you already know that December 2020 has not gone so smoothly. Frankly, I’d make an awful poker player…!
But December really did start well, and turned 2020 into an almost acceptable year. Strictly in terms of my own personal health, that is. By almost all other metrics, 2020 was genuinely terrible.
Firstly, in my case, I managed to start another diet. If the liver surgeon wanted me down to 18 stone by the time of the surgery, then I’d damn well give it a go. Sure, it would mean that I’d have a low-calorie Christmas, but I’m 50 now: it seems like we have another Christmas every couple of months. I’d just wait for the next one.
The drive for this diet, however, was briefly nudged out of gear when I got the notes of my meeting with the Liver Surgeon. In these notes, the Liver Surgeon had put my current weight as ’19 stone’. A full stone lighter than reality! As such, even if I hit 18 stone by the time of the surgery, he’d just shrug and mutter something along the lines of, ‘I see you made the most of Christmas then?!’
I’m pretty sure he does this sort of thing on purpose, just to mess with me…
I can’t help but like the guy.
Secondly, I stuck with my video counselling sessions with the HOPE team at Musgrove Park Hospital. The session on the 10th December 2020 was particularly useful. We discussed my conversation with the Liver Surgeon, and how I might be coming to the end of my treatment. She then talked me round how I felt about that, in terms of my cancer. We had a nice, productive chat that left me feeling very good.
This meeting was so effective, in fact, that in our next session, on the 21st, the counsellor suggested that we draw an end to these sessions…
This was because the things that I wanted to talk about, by that stage, were more general, or related to my weight issues. Ultimately, not the specific cancer-related problems that she focusses on. Basically, she’d done her thing. She’d got me to the point that I was not worried about my cancer, and it was time to release me back into the wild.
Quite right too.
After all, there are a regrettably high number of cancer patients desperately in need of her time. And to these patients, I say: “Work with her, you’re in good hands.”
Thirdly, and finally, I was feeling good about all the trees that we’d planted.
I’d been in talks with the Woodland Trust about turning our top field into a forest. The Woodland Trust offers funding to assist with this type of planting, under their MOREwoods Project. And work, G&L Consultancy Ltd, agreed to sponsor our costs for the project, in line with their Environmental Management Policies.
It took a lot of the year to get everything in place but, on 15th December 2020, the trees turned up. Well, I say ‘trees’, what we actually got were very small saplings called, bare root whips. Which is to say they were between 30cm and 90 cm tall (1-3 feet), often with little in the way of branches, and not much more in the way of roots…
And there were 950 of them….
As well as 300 shrubs!
In truth, though, there was very little visual difference between the ‘tree’ whips and the ‘shrub’ whips.
Oh, and they all had to be planted within a week…!
We got them in by the 20th. And that certainly left me feeling good.
While I’m talking about this, I’d like to express my thanks to both the Woodland Trust and G&L Consultancy for making this happen. Give it a decade, or so, and it’s going to look awesome!
From all this, it should come as no surprise that I was really quite content through the middle of December 2020. And this was despite the impact that the tightening of the COVID restrictions was having on the Christmas plans.
I’d pre-ordered enough food to cater for the 12 people that had been lined up for Christmas Day. Plus a bunch more for the 10 that would be round on Boxing Day. The new Lockdown, however, meant that there would only be two guests on Christmas Day, and none on Boxing Day. As it turned out, and fortunately in the circumstances, Waitrose, with whom I had placed the order, suddenly announced that they couldn’t provide half of it.
Admittedly, this dropping of the ball was almost certainly also related to the increasingly tight COVID restrictions and Lockdowns. Still, it would have been something of a nightmare in any other year. How can I be so certain? Well, on the 22nd, when I went in to Waitrose to collect the food, I was casually informed that there were other things missing from my order.
Oh, hadn’t I had an email?!
No, I damn well hadn’t – and I think the staff I was dealing with were completely aware of this.
It wasn’t their fault, of course, and there was no point getting upset with them. Still, I certainly won’t be using Waitrose again in the future. Not because they weren’t able to supply everything I’d ordered. These things happen at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic.
No, I won’t be using them again because one of the the things that I got told wasn’t available, when I arrived to collect it, was the Christmas Cake. And, personally, I think that not being able to supply someone with the Christmas Cake that they’d pre-ordered months ago, is the sort of thing that warrants an email!
And do you know how difficult it is to find a Christmas Cake after the 22nd December, in 2020?
Because I do!
Pretty well impossible, as it turns out…
Fortunately I managed to get my hands on a couple of Sainsbury’s Genoa Cakes, some marzipan and fondant icing, and even some festive decorations. From which I was able to cobble something together:
And I know what you’re thinking:
Yes, this is far too trivial a matter to get so worked up about.
It’s hardly like I didn’t have plenty of other food. And there would be tens of thousands of COVID patients and medical staff stuck in hospitals, for whom Christmas Cake, or the lack thereof, was not even a consideration.
But, you see, earlier on the 22nd December I got a call to inform me that my surgery with the Liver Surgeon was off.
And that really knocked me off kilter. Far more so than I realised at the time.
And, worst of all, the call suggested that the Liver Surgeon was seriously ill. Meaning it probably wasn’t COVID related. And, while I have no wish to speculate, I do worry that ‘seriously ill’ could be very serious indeed.
Like I say, I really do like my Liver Surgeon. And now it seemed likely that he would be laid up in hospital over Christmas, while his family was unable to visit him. For all I knew, he might be in mortal danger; or he might not be able to work again…
And there I was, unable to stop myself thinking about the impact that his serious illness would have on my liver resection…
And whether, or not, I can get my hands on a stupid Christmas Cake…!
It was an interesting mix of guilt, stress and anxiety.
And comfort eating!
Because of course there was comfort eating. I mean, if I wasn’t going to be having a surgery any time soon, I might as well make the most of Christmas, right?! And I really made the most of not being on a diet, for the rest of December 2020.
Anyway, I felt that I had to try and ignore everything cancer and/or surgery-related, because I needed my family to have a good Christmas. And, we did have a good Christmas. We really did. Despite, or perhaps because of, all the restrictions and difficulties, we all pulled together and had ourselves one of the best Christmases in many a long year.
Unfortunately, when Christmas came to an end, the comfort eating did not. Perhaps inevitably, without anything else to focus on, the guilt, stress and anxiety led to my old friend, depression.
And, with my depression goggles firmly in place, I had a good look at the details of my new reality…
When you learn that your life expectancy has gone from 3 years to 30 years, you are going to be delighted.
However, when your depression gets hold of the implications of a lifespan newly, and unexpectedly, measured in decades, it goes to town!
Consider, for example, the way that I’ve spent my last five years.
In the time since I was told I was on palliative care, I have been carefully putting my affairs in order, so to speak. The last thing I wanted to do was leave my wife and daughters any of my unfinished business to deal with. That, I figured, would be entirely unfair.
So I’ve made sure that no such things exist.
The upshot of this is that I have no future plans. To be honest, I have no current plans…
During the last five years, I have felt that starting any long-term project would be pointless. I mean, what’s the point of learning a new skill, or studying a new subject, if you’re not going to have time to put it to use? As such, I haven’t been planning more than 18 months ahead, for a long time. Basically, I have no irons in the fire.
As for work, well, I’ve long since disassociated myself from that. And my wife has made it very clear that she doesn’t want me disrupting her smooth running of that particular ship.
So, here I am, having just turned 50. I’m without a job but still a cancer patient. Meaning that I’m very likely to have some meaningful cancer-related treatments in my future. There is also a real chance that I’m not out of the woods, and that the 2-3 year prognosis was right after all. None of which seems like it’s going to be particularly appealing to a prospective employer…
Not that, financially speaking, I need a job. My wife’s running of the company has got that covered, even through this Coronavirus Pandemic. She’s very good at what she does. Certainly better than me. Anyway, the point I’m wittering my way towards, is: I’m still a shareholder at G&L. And because she is keeping the company profitable, I am still able to draw an income.
I’m a kept man! Sort of…
So, I don’t need a job. But I do need something useful to do with my recently-acquired time.
What I want to be is a novelist. But the one thing that I have definitely learned over this last couple of years, is that I can’t be creative when I’m depressed. And, as it turns out, I’m depressed far more than I originally thought.
Which means that, come the New Year, I’ll see if my old therapist has got some spare time and is willing to take me back. She’s helped me before, and I have every confidence that she can help me again.
I mean, it shouldn’t be too challenging. All I want her to do is:
- Overcome my current depression
- Give me the tools to stop me becoming depressed in the future
- Help me re-find the joy in life
- Point me in the direction of some form of meaning in my life for the next couple of decades
- Oh, and sort out my issue of comfort eating when I’m feeling down
Piece of cake, right?!
I did get one promising bit of news, towards the end of December 2020: a meeting with my oncologist in early January. The main focus of this meeting is to finally sort out whether metastases can, in fact, generate other metastases. It will, however, at least give me an opportunity to ask how the Liver Surgeon is getting on.
And, although I’ll likely hate myself for doing so, I can also ask who I need to talk to about moving ahead with my liver surgery.
It’s been a tricky old month for me, has December 2020.
Here’s hoping for a friendlier start to 2021 for all of us.