Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 - A Much Better Year

At this time last year, I did a year in review piece (see here) and it is therefore only right and proper that 2011 gets the same acknowledgement.

Wow, have things changed this year.  It would be very easy to gloss over the many events of the year, because when push comes to shove, surely it is the end result that is important isn't it?

That is where I struggle a bit.  My "new normal" effectively dictates that I don't take life for granted any more and that means I end up both analysing and in most cases appreciating things that have had an influence on my life.  So with this 'ethos" in place, here goes.

The year started with a return to work full-time and while I did struggle with energy levels, etc initially, I'm now back to doing full days without any noticeable side effects.  I did start off by being very diligent with my hours and concede I've fallen somewhat back into longer hours, but 2012 is a new year, so will tweak things back a bit.  Important thing here is I acknowledge I've "fallen off the wagon" and need to adjust for the long term gain.  Given the events of 2010, it has been really good for me mentally being fully immersed into work again.

During the year, the Gang of Seven continued to play their part and as I sit here now, I feel the last of my concerns have finally been addressed. With the aid of the thyroxine (late October) I finally got control back over regulating my body temperature and I've been able to enjoy the recent lovely hot weather.  And in late November the hearing aids finally provided some relief with regards my ongoing hearing issues.  The subsequent tweaking of the volume has only enhanced the experience, and I'm sure the next/final tweak in early January will complete the process.

The one thing I struggled with for most of the year was my inability to accept that I had beaten the cancer, with each pending clinic appointment bringing on a bout of anxiety.  I think I've finally beaten that as well.  I'm looking forward to moving on without that fear as I know it has held me back a little.

It has been a good year as well as far as the other "potential" health issues go.  The annual diabetes check has me back to normal levels, and the hemochromatosis is now also back down to levels that are within the desired range. 

Sure, the good old saliva issues are still there, but like so many of the other "minor" inconveniences, I have found ways around it.  My eating is pretty much back to normal (albeit that mealtimes still require more time than they used to as I compensate for restricted jaw movement, etc) and I'm even eating a bit more bread "comfortably".  I still have to be careful with anything spicy (having even found the need to experiment with things like tomato sauce to find one with low/no spice content), but I consider these adjustments are now just part of life.  And I must be doing something right as the weight is remaining nice and stable.

There are still some things from my past that I still can't eat, but I've moved on and no longer really miss them.  In most cases they have been substituted for something else - and it is normally something that is better for me.  I will say though, that I'm pleased to be able to eat a bit more chocolate now than I could at the start of 2011, although the quantity is way down on what I used to be able to consume.  The same applies to alcohol- while I can at least drink a couple of beers now, I certainly can't handle the quantities I used to.  I'm pretty much in designated driver territory now. Wine is still pretty much 100% off the "menu" though.  What I've tried to date is just too dry on my throat and I can't be bothered even trying now.

My general energy & stamina levels are also continuing to improve in leaps and bounds.  I'm now regularly walking for a solid 60-90 minutes without any problem, and currently alternating the walking with biking for 40 minutes minimum.  The workout from the bike rides is so much better/satisfying that I'm actually leaning more towards the cycling whenever practicable.  It is more challenging and I can really feel I'm pushing myself, whereas walking doesn't deliver that same buzz any more.  Hills still present a challenge, but I'll get there with time.  

Ongoing issues being taken forward into 2012 are actually pretty minimal.  I'm still receiving treatment for my tight neck muscles and everyone concerned (osteo & acupuncturist) are happy with progress to date.  Hopefully we'll have a major breakthrough early in the year and will be able to tick that off as well.  Worst case is we'll hit a plateau where there is no further improvement, and that will be my new normal as far as that is concerned.

While I'll never forget what I've been through (and nor do I want to), I must say I'm no longer "haunted" by the experience and am really just moving forward with my new life now.

I said some time ago that I'd continue this blog until such time as I received the final all clear from the Oncologist.  I've still to get that, but I'm also in the mindset now that it is almost a matter of process now.  I think once they're happy with the results of the thyroxine (next appointment is late March) they'll stretch the appointments out and that will signal the start of the final stages.  See PMA still working.

The Russell going forward into 2012 is, I believe, a considerably stronger person both physically and mentally than the one that started 2011, so watch out everybody.  I hope you are all looking forward to the new year as much as I am.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Most Important Lesson?

The last week has seen a couple of reasonably high profile local deaths as a result of cancer.

Last Thursday, Kiwi racing driver Jason Richards succumbed after a very brave 14 month fight and just yesterday Natalie Murphy, the young Auckland mum whose plight captured the hearts of many, also passed away.  

Both these victims were young being in their mid-30s, and both put up a bloody good fight, living every day to its potential and delivering what I consider to be an important message.

I appreciate this posting might come across a bit "heavy" and quite honestly I probably wouldn't be so passionate about it if I hadn't been through a battle with cancer myself, but I did and now I feel I have to do what I can to get people to appreciate how precious life is.  So, I'll make no apologies.

I'll never really understand how I  came to be lucky enough to be one of those chosen to be a survivor, but I'm just bloody grateful I was.  I've said on many occasions how I'm now living my second chance and treat every day as something precious.  Life is for living, not for moaning about what-ifs.  

So, why do so many people not embrace the privilege that is good health?  You never know when your number is going to come up, so surely you owe it to yourself, and all those that you love and who love you, to make the most of every day and be the best person you can.

To just go through the motions and moan about "everything" is existing not living.  Sure, some people have been dealt a cruel hand, but by-in-large they are also the fighters who don't wallow in self-pity.  Why do people expect good things to happen to them or for others to support them because they have a "woe-is-me" outlook?

I have a very close friend who has been dealt the double blow of redundancy and pretty serious health scares this year, but they aren't just curled up in a ball waiting for somebody else to fix it for them.  No, they are getting on with life and making the best of what cards they've been dealt.  Sure, things are bloody hard for them, but they know others are worse off.

I said early this year that I now have a "new normal" and my tolerance for negative people was now pretty non-existent.  Not surprisingly, I continue to observe people who do nothing to better their situation/outlook by carrying on about how tough things are for them, while doing nothing to try and change it.  I don't think I actively seek them out, but I can't avoid them either.

I dare these people to front up to the families of Jason Richards, Natalie Murphy (or even my family for that matter) and try to extract sympathy from them.  These people have lost loved ones who epitomised the most important lesson of life - life itself is a gift, not a right, and as such is worth fighting for with everything you have.  

Terminal illness will always win on the sympathy stakes (and so it should) and never more so than when the patient is doing everything they can do to fight for every last minute with their loved ones.

While this is the season of goodwill, I must admit to finding it a bit harder than normal to show tolerance for the moaners of society.

Please, all I ask of you is to stop and take a look at your life.  Think about how lucky you are to be alive and start to make some changes (if you need to) so that you become one of those positive people who enjoy the gift that way too many people are currently taking for granted.

Positive Results Keep Coming

Last Thursday I had my annual diabetes check-up.  Prior to my cancer challenges, I was diagnosed as borderline type 2 diabetic.  Before we could do much about it, the cancer made itself known and all efforts went on fighting that.

At my check-up last year, things were looking pretty good, but again as I was still in full recovery mode, they were more than happy to leave that as the priority.

This year I'm obviously "fighting fit", so it was going to be interesting as to what the results were.  I had to fast for 12 hours before blood tests on the Saturday (a bit of a bugger as that was the night of the work Christmas party), but I duly obeyed and "donated" 3 vials of blood.

Come Thursday, the moment of truth arrived - and it was all good news.  My results put my levels fair and square in the "ideal" range, they were happy with my weight and my feet (I presume there is a reason they check them) passed muster as well.

All good for another year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pump Up The Volume

Sixteen months or so ago, that term would have referred to my need for more morphine.  Today, it refers to tweaking my hearing aids.

It's quite amazing how far things have come in that time, and while the comparison may seem weird, in reality it is a perfect snapshot of how different things are now versus the same time in 2010.  I am really looking forward to a "normal" Christmas this year - and many more to come.

Back to the hearing aids.  Nicholas has tweaked the volume and what a difference it makes.  While there is a slight distortion to the sounds now, I think that will settle down as my brain adjusts.  Even typing this, the noise of the keys is really loud and knocking my watch strap against the desk is also really noticeable now.  They still aren't set to maximum level, but that will be reviewed at my next appointment in early Jan.

The level of the various notification beeps (like low battery) has also been raised, so hopefully I'll hear them in the future.  Speaking of which, the batteries had to be changed again yesterday.  That means the first ones lasted 8 days, while the second set only lasted six.  Obviously I'll need to be aware of the varying battery life and make sure I've got spares readily to hand.  It will be interesting to see if the increased volume impacts on the battery life.