• Austin Birks

Back in the saddle... with cancer

So, I am very aware that I have not been putting pen to paper, as they used to say, for quite some time. Writing is a strange phenomena in many ways. In my case, my mindset has to be in a certain place. In truth, for different reasons I’ve not been in that zone, but now and again it makes a guest appearance and so yet again in the very early, silent, hours of the morning that my journey with cancer has gifted me with my insomnia, I am visited by the ghost of writing past, as Charles Dickens famously said.


So what do I have to say at this point in time, well there has been a lot of angst throughout this challenging period of being a lockdown cancer patient at very high risk, but so far, thank the Lord, I’m doing well. It has been tough. My life-saving operation being cancelled the night before it was due to take place, then having to raise the money to pay for it, when all the banks were closed and the cancer was getting so aggressive that I was literally married to the loo. Bowel cancer is particularly cruel in that sense, and you need a strong disposition to deal with its unpleasant side effects. However, there is no benefit in denying the reality of it all, and whatever has happened to me I have always seen the funny side of it, even when it’s frankly not funny. But you can, if you look hard enough, see the humour in everything in life, which is what I have done from day one of being born into this rich and baffling world that we all share, then as Rudyard Kipling famously said in his poem “If” then you will be a man, my son.


So, what have I learned from now my nearly three years of living with cancer? Well firstly, the world is actually for all its faults a good place, and also life is a special gift that should never be taken for granted, but nor should it ever be squandered lightly. I always deeply despair when people take their own lives, and a man who I admire hugely is my cousin who has created a help group for those who have suffered from suicide. In truth, all that I have ever done is focus on staying alive because I have too much left to do, to experience and enjoy .


The gift of life is far too rich and fulfilling to be given up without the energy to fight back. That is not necessarily a physical fight it is more about the strength of your heart and more importantly your soul, that defining life essence that makes every single one of us unique. And I have to say, bizarre as it might sound what I have learned about myself, and humanity in general is that there is a great deal of beauty and goodness in the human spirit, much more than you realise when you contemplate that your days might be numbered, and even more so when you are told that your days actually are numbered, as I was in October last year. But to quote the immortal lines of Sir Elton John, I am still standing and doing a lot more besides.


Cancer is an evil and indiscriminate illness even worse when you realise that it is your own bodies cells that rebel within you to try and destroy you. Treachery of the highest source in many ways but you always have to remember that no matter what the body does to you, it is your own power of strength and thought that will ultimately sustain you through that battle.


Yes, of course, we all have a time to live and time to die, but from my experience if you so choose you can fight back and live a good and fulfilling life as I do. I never take it for granted, whereas before cancer I always did, and in fairness why would not you?


But, when you are really up against it people come good. The NHS have been frankly magnificent. I’ve been through 3 sometimes very tough sets of chemotherapy and the care, compassion and kindness I have received has been exceptional, from cleaners to the most senior surgeons I cannot thank them enough.


One of the reasons why I started with Yvi (the real power behind all of it) The Bag for Life blogs was because I wanted to try and document my own journey, and the vital importance of being strong, positive, and resilient mentally, physically, and emotionally.


We have a saying when you study Karate do, you have to follow the three K’s of Kihon, Kata, and Kumite. This wholly trinity is spot on, without strong basics, you will never perform strong and skilled Kata, without good Kate and Kihon, you will never deliver strong Kumite, or the fighting end of Karate, that rather cheap common public denominator that many judge it by.


The truth is however the opposite within my own dojo, I focus on strong basics, stances, and well executed Kata, the kumite or fighting side gets attention but only after the basics are right. And so it is with fighting cancer you need to get your mind focused and strong if you do, you can cope with whatever gets thrown at you. Also if you keep your body strong and fit, you can deal with the pain and discomfort that visits you. But, and this for me is the key, if you get those thing tight then the yings and yangs in harmony, then your soul, can and will deal with any challenge that life and cancer will give you.


Keep strong and safe,


Austin

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