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  • Writer's pictureAustin Birks

Facing The Reality Of Fighting Cancer

I have recently attended two remarkable funerals of two very unique people, both battling cancer. One fought for over 6 years, while the other battled for 4 years. Both had different types of cancer but displayed inspiring courage, resilience, and even great humor until the end of their struggle.

My friend Dave was a fellow Karate practitioner, and we trained together for many years. He was a strong Karate practitioner with the biggest feet I had ever seen. I had to fight him when I took my third Dan several years ago. He was always a joy to be around, constantly smiling, and greeted everyone with his classic welcome, "Yo Yo Yo Party People." Despite going through painful and debilitating experiences, he never complained. His extraordinary spirit and determination were remarkable. His final wish was to have his ashes sent into space, and his family set up a crowdfunding page to fulfill his final wishes.

My friend Lesley was a force of nature. She was the kind of person who would set out to achieve something and actually achieve it. Whether it was changing her career and becoming a teacher in the middle of her life or finding bargains on the internet, she had a strong and determined character. However, she was also the type of person who would do anything for anyone at any time. Lesley had a little girl shortly after my daughter was born, and they became lifelong friends. I have fond memories of Lesley and me playing Mary and Joseph in the church nativity, with our little girls as baby Jesus and an angel. It was a testament to Lesley's fun-loving nature. At her funeral, her daughter and fiancé delivered a moving, funny, and poignant eulogy. They showed great courage and did her proud, creating a worthy celebration of a life well lived.

Both funerals were attended by a large number of people, as David and Lesley were well-loved individuals. The funeral services were wonderful and respectful, although undeniably sad as both lives were cut short far too soon. Unfortunately, cancer does not discriminate; it affects anyone, anywhere, at any time. David, Lesley, and I were unfortunate in this regard, but we battled through the various challenges it presented. We were also fortunate to receive excellent care from the amazing people at the NHS. We had more time than expected to create cherished memories for ourselves and our loved ones.

Looking back, I remember my two dear friends with happiness and fondness. Their presence enriched my life, as well as the lives of many others. Despite never meeting each other, they both displayed equal measures of courage and bravery in the face of adversity and the ultimate challenge. I will carry their spirit of courage and determination into my own battle.

Just when I thought everything was fine, I was supposed to have my 90th dose of chemotherapy last Wednesday. However, after doing a lateral flow test, I was shocked to find out that I had tested positive for Covid. This came as a complete surprise since I had been feeling extremely fit and well. I had spent an hour and a half at the gym, burning over 700 calories on the Watt bike, followed by 4 sets of 250 sit-ups and 20 minutes of challenging weightlifting. Thankfully, the Covid infection didn't last long, and I soon tested negative. I realized how lucky I was considering how ill some people have been. Hopefully, I'll be able to undergo chemo in a week or so. I've calculated that my 100th chemotherapy session will be toward the end of November. I'm thinking of having a small party to celebrate. Not many people get to reach 100, and I'll gladly take that achievement anytime.

During my last meeting with my wonderful oncologist, Dr. Peter, he informed me that the last PET scan indicated the cancer had spread to my right lung. It was only a small nodule, but he was certain it was there. I asked him what we were going to do about it, and he explained that I would undergo both a PET scan and a CT scan to monitor the situation. He also mentioned that there were many treatment options available, including surgery and more chemotherapy. When I asked if he was concerned, he said no. So, as far as I'm concerned, if he's not worried, neither am I. I have complete faith in this exceptional doctor. He has guided me through my survival journey from day one, helping me overcome two near-death experiences. He was also instrumental in the two instances when I received the all-clear and became temporarily cancer-free. I'm incredibly grateful to him and the amazing teams at Warwick and Stratford cancer wards who have kept me alive against all odds. Here I am, thanking the Lord and celebrating each day as a precious gift. And if you ever find yourself feeling down or unhappy, remember the example set by my two dear friends, who I am convinced are now at peace, free from pain. Reflect on how unpredictable life can be and make the most of every moment.

Embrace life, do the things you love, and always remember to "look on the bright side of life," as the classic song says.

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