• Austin Birks

A Milestone Is Achieved: 50 Doses Of Chemo - Not Out

Well, my dear chums! Today is a landmark day in the life and times of myself, for today is the day that I attend the Rigby unit at Stratford hospital to receive my 50th dose of chemotherapy. It certainly sounds like a lot of chemo and if honest, when I take a step back and consider just how many chemicals have been pumped into my body, it is probably a good idea not to dwell on it for too long.


Either way, however many buckets of sulphur, that may have been induced, injected, or swallowed, there is one indisputable fact, I am still alive and very much kicking. Quite literally tomorrow night, when I will be teaching Karate at Enso Shotokan Karate Club.


Truth be told, if anyone had told me 3 years ago what I was about to go through, I would have probably have kacked my proverbial pantaloon on the spot, as the fear of the unknown is always 100 times worse than the reality. Certainly this has been my own experience. When you add into the mix two life-saving surgeries, and all the process of recovery and recuperation that accompany them, and it might seem like this has been a daunting mountain to climb, but, here 3 years on, it does not seem or feel that way.


I am not underplaying the realities of cancer; parts of it have been awful, painful, tiring, stressful. There is also another element that needs addressing and that is the emotional impact of the journey. There are many and complex elements within this. But, I will focus on the tougher elements. First is being told that your life will be ending in a certain time, and as a consequence you need to put your affairs in order.


If I am being honest, when I was told, I did not really believe it. It was like he was talking about someone else, I just happened to be there, and while I heard the words I just thought these are predictions based on statistics, for other people, who don’t do Karate, who don’t train hard physically, who refuse to accept the norm, who might give up, who might give in, which I will not do.


As it happens, when I was told that I had a 25% chance of surviving two years on the 28th of October 2019, I just thought to myself: "Well we will see about that". And here I am on the 29th of September 2021.


I hope that this determination does not come across as arrogance. I am not in denial. My cancer is real and is trying to take my life I know that. However, I have come to terms with it, I accept and I have realised that it is part of me and I have to learn to live with it. Has it stopped me living a full and rich life? No, it has not. Just the opposite, it has made me embrace life, and all the rich tapestries that lie within it.

Let me elaborate if I may. Let me tell you about the last few days of my rich and varied life. I spent the weekend on a canal boat with two good friends Alex and Simon. We hired a 46 foot barge which went by the name of Daffodil. If truth be told, my nautical Viking self had hoped for something more swash-buckling for my weekend of pirate adventures, maybe Thor or Odin, but Daffodil it was.


It was a superb experience as the three men in a boat navigated the Grand Union canal, tackled the locks, and tried hard not to crash Daffodil. What surprised all of us was the amount of abuse that we received, mostly from rather rich private boat owners who had a habit of bellowing “SLOW DOWN FOR GODS SAKE, YOU'RE GOING TOO FAST”.


My own theory is that there is some sort of private code or pact that these people have that lets them know when a very amateur narrow boat hirer is approaching they receive some sort prepare to abuse the lower orders, in a very English class-conscious know-your-place kind of way.


As for the fishermen that we encountered, well, that particular treat warrants a blog to itself (watch this space), upon returning an unscathed Daffodil to her base at the hiring office, I then set off for a talk with my oncologist and a blood test in hospital before finally returning home and enjoying a fine feast at the Bell and Cross pub in Clent with the good doctor.


Yesterday, I travelled down to London for the first time in nearly 2 years where I was a judge at the UK Bus Awards. The event is always a challenge and this year after the heroics of the bus and coach industry was especially both difficult as it was inspiring and even emotional. A journey home on the train was interrupted due to a signal failure making a one hour journey nearly double the time. Once arrived at Warwick Parkway, it was straight off to the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath Birmingham for 2 hours of training in how to be a stand up comedian, something I will be doing at the Glee Club in Brum in November in front of 450 people to raise money for cancer research UK. James Cook, the comedy teacher, was on inspired form as a group of some 20 complete strangers were slowly moulded into budding Billy Connoly, Sarah Millican, or Jack Dees.


Finally, a dash around Birmingham’s finest empty and deserted petrol stations to find a place that actually sold some fuel. Thank God for good old Morrisons of Rubery, a venue that has a special place in this blog site, for all the most wrong of reasons. And so to today, an early start, a home COVID test, and 9 hours of life saving chemo with the wonderful nurses Jo, Roxanne, Verity, Alice and all those angels who have now on 50 occasions over 3 years kept me alive, well, happy, and grateful. Here is to the next 50….hopefully still not out HOWSAT, as they say in cricketing circles.


Austin

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