As we approach the shortest day of the year I’m in reflective mood. I’m thinking of times gone by, of good times had and all those Christmases when I was a kid when the place was full of family and friends now long gone. We’ve put decorations up that are full of memories. We do it every year. They’re the old paper ones that my mum bought. Beneath them on a table sit old glass bowls brought out only at this time of year that my partner’s mum would fill with sweets, nuts, fruit and anything else that her six kids loved at Christmas. The tree’s different but the things that we put on it hark back to a different age, like the old glass baubles bought for half-a-crown in Woolworths, old fashioned non-glary, warm glow fairy lights and an angel at the top with wings that still have their glitter. The world that these memories evoke was one of stability, where nothing ever changed, where everything would be alright and if anything bad happened mum would sort it.
I haven’t written for months because there’s been too much going on and my head’s been in a whirl but all this reflection has fired up my brain and my typing finger. In the three years since I first started to feel ill change has become the norm. The latest change is that I’ve retired and, to be honest, I’d rather not have stopped working just yet but it became increasingly obvious that was my best choice. Some might say it was my only choice. The less said about that the better.
Life has changed and that’s a fact! It would have changed without the cancer, but cancer has hastened things. On the outside I don’t look that different. A bit more haggard for sure, a lot greyer, paler, but nonetheless relatively healthy looking. I’m forever being told how well I look by well meaning people and, compared to some, I am healthy but I’d rather people actually asked me how I felt because on the inside things are very different. I am still sore in some very personal places from the radiotherapy, I’m tired and I now get more tired doing everyday things than I ever did before. I now have to be very careful what I eat and drink for fear of “having an accident“. High fibre or spicy foods are a definite no-no! Caffeine and fizzy drinks worsen the waterworks although I am one of the lucky ones as I have suffered no incontinence and don’t (yet?) need to use pads. Long may that continue. I couldn’t imagine any of these things as a serious topic of conversation three years ago but now they’re an everyday consideration. I count myself as very lucky because I know other men with prostate cancer who are much worse off. It’s a horrible disease whose debilitating, life changing effects are not understood except by those involved.
I’ve never been afraid of change, in fact I’ve usually embraced it, but pace of change is something else and three months ago I knew I was going from being very stressed through to being depressed. The only times I’ve been stressed for more than the occasional short period is when a close family member has died and that has never turned into depression, yet here I was in a very dark place feeling like things were closing in on me. I knew I had to get help. My GP prescribed pills and I restarted the counselling that Macmillan Cancer Support had previously arranged, but which I’d stopped. They’ve both helped and I now feel much better in my head, which is just as well as I’ve recently been told that my PSA blood level is still going up despite the surgery and radiotherapy that I finished 5 months ago. I’m seeing my oncologist at the end of January and, if the PSA is still increasing then, that will mean more change. Fingers crossed it goes down!
So, as the Winter Solstice and the shortest day get closer I’m celebrating Christmas more for its Pagan, Druidic significance, for the good memories that can never change no matter what, for the promise it brings of longer days, shorter nights and on a personal level hope for a future where change arrives at a much more manageable pace.