• Austin Birks

Living in a Box

So, here we are again. It is 01:56 on a Sunday morning. I’m watching some film about USA special forces, as they like to say, “kicking some butt” against some people with whom there has obviously been some umbrage taken. Not personally quite sure why I am unable to sleep. It is just seems to be one of those strange reactions that I have had since I became a cancer patient. To be honest, it seems odd to me that in January, it will be almost two years since my world changed. And looking back have those two years been good or bad? Well, of course, when you weigh up everything, you know, on those big scales that stand outside the Old Bailey Court in London, you would always rightly say, God, of course I wish that I had never got cancer. It’s human nature to fear a life-taking disease and that is what this does. It does not care. It simply does what it does, and your job is to fight it as long, and as hard, as you can.


So, this is the deal going forward. I have recurrent bowel cancer, in three parts of my bowel. It’s not good, but there is a quality of life that is always worth having. Because, and this is the key thing, life is always worth living.

One thing that I have learned is this: when you think that you might lose your life, it truly shapes your appreciation of each day, breathing, living, talking, you name it, when you think that might go, you want to fight and make each day, rich, and valuable. It is the essence of the basic survival instinct which is hard wired into us.

Which is of course richly ironic, because cancer is basically hard wired parts of our DNA that decides it wants a different path, and in its rich pursuit of change, it will try and take you away.


So, this blog is a review of two weeks since I sat here again in the early hours, drinking tea, watching a movie, and just thinking about the next 14 days. So, here is my review. Monday was a nice meeting with one of my favourite nurses, to conduct a cancer review. It was really blood test, blood pressure, and what I can expect going forward. Yvi and I left feeling buoyant, and ready for the chemo. That was a tough gig. I did not sleep well the night before, I was awake all night. But all of a sudden, you just flip into patient mode, and that is what I did. Becky, my nurse was lovely, she talked me through the 9-hour treatment malarkey, Yvi dropped me at the Rigby unit, and off I went. The thing is I’m an old hand now, apparently, so I knew the routine, what time the tea trolley turned up (10 queen 1400, by the way). I even got a sandwich. I did ask for the vegan option and got a tuna sandwich and a KitKat which in fairness was a close second.


So, home I went. I felt ok. I mean, it was tough having had some surgery the day before, and these required cuts in my neck, and very colourful bruises on my chest when the port thing was placed into my chest. It was interesting surgery and the team in Coventry were brilliant. Looking back, I think I was a bit naive when I thought that I would be able to teach Karate on the Tuesday after 5 hours in hospital. And I suppose that this is an interesting aspect, managing expectations in both treatment, and prognosis, is actually really important.


Don’t get me wrong, it is not an enjoyable process, but for me the trick to a good and positive life is actually very simple: just enjoy the best of whatever happens and dont waste time worrying about things that you simply cannot control. And guess what, that is what I do. I have suffered some awful things this week, but I only judge it on the few nasty seconds in a whole life where all those bad things gather. But, and here is the thing, you roll with it, take it on board, beat it, and then look for the next great thing.

And so this treatment has been frankly different and not quite what I expected, and I suppose that the trouble with cancer is that you really don’t know what it has planned up its sleeve. In fairness, all could be great, but actually it’s horrible.


I have suffered badly this first new week, due to a situation that, of course, until I went through this new hard, nasty and painful chemo, I did not know what to expect. I won’t go into all the details right now, but one very major side effect is awful acne. It has burst upon me at an alarming rate of pimple spots, adorning themselves across my face, my chest, and well, who knows where. It is not a great thing, but like everything with my cancer journey, it’s just a bit of hassle and annoyance, occasionally coupled with deep, dark, menacing dread about cancer, and its hard-worked attempt to do you in. So, as I embark on yet another new cancer chapter, I will sit back, have a think, and take a look at how things are going, and then let you know how things are working out.


Until then my friends, keep strong and remember: never give up, never give in.

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