• Austin Birks

Reflections on Life 7 Days After Being Declared Cancer Free

Well, my dear chums, it is 02.00 in the early hours of Tuesday, 10th November 2020. As usual, my insomnia has come to visit me once again (slight nod in the direction of seventies pop warblers Simon and Garfunkel and their classic ditty "Hello darkness my old friend"). As ever, there is silence on the roads and we are in the second lockdown of this Coronavirus pandemic.


World affairs are changing dramatically, as President Trump is voted out by President-elect Joe Biden. In addition, the Prime Minister has just held a press conference suggesting that a possible cure has been found for Corinavirus that shows a 90% success rate.


Almost within 7 days, the world has turned around and positive change is popping its head above the parapet after a most extraordinary year for many of us.

Nobody to my knowledge had an inkling just what 2020 was going to be like. When I celebrated New Year’s Eve in 2019, my prospects were not at all good. I had been told in October that my prognosis was bleak, with a 25% chance of living for two years. Even tougher when I had been told in July 2019 that the cancer post surgery number one and chemo had gone. I was undergoing a brutal process of chemo that included 9 hours on Christmas Eve. Cancer does not respect crackers and cribs, nor holidays or traditions.

I remember thinking to myself on Christmas Day if it might be my Last Christmas (tip of the hat there to Wham’s Christmas classic).


In fact, Yvi and I went for a walk on the Clent Hills and made a little video about thoughts and reflections of having cancer and Christmas Day. Little did I know that I was going to have a truly tumultuous year waiting for me with highs and lows. The highs came early with a chance of an operation to see if the cancer might be treated with severe surgery coupled with a little known process called the HIPEC procedure, in which heated chemotherapy is pumped directly into the abdomen after surgery. This was something of a last chance saloon operation, and I duly prepared myself mentally and physically for it, only for the operation to be cancelled the night before, as all the CTU beds were taken by Coronavirus patients.


My only hope was to pay for it at a time when all banks were shut and we were all right in the middle of lockdown. Fortunately for me, my mum bailed me out and I had the operation, got released early due to the speed of my recovery and came home. Three weeks later, the day after I had my 60 plus stitches removed, Yvi got COVID and had to isolate. How on earth I did not contract it myself is another miracle, given that my immune system was so low and I was a very lucky vulnerable person.


Fast forward, in lockdown I did loads of things, including undergoing my third round of chemotherapy. I also managed to get a book finished, and landscape my garden, learned to cook, and got super fit. I also managed, in late September, to pass my 6th dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, training by myself every day, before taking a formal grading examination.


However, the ticking clock that subconsciously sat in the back of my mind was the results of the CT scan that was due in late October, and last Tuesday morning at 12.30 my oncologist, Dr Peter Correa, told me that the CT scan showed that there were no signs of cancer. It is hard to describe the tide of emotions that sweep over you, relief, appreciation, euphoria, gratefulness, all in a split second.

The news was the best I could have hoped for and then again amazingly, half an hour later, an email arrives telling me that The Bag for Life blog had been selected as one of the top ten cancer blogs. Again, two incredible events that happened in swift succession. Not unlike the world-changing events that just occurred with Presidential elections and COVID cure.


One week on and the dust has still not settled. Tt was enormous joy being able to tell my wonderful daughter and her mum, and my family and a lot of very dear friends of my truly miraculous change of fortune. I have felt humbled and beyond grateful. Yes, I know that cancer has a nasty habit of coming back (been there, done that) but you learn to live for the moment and joy that you are still here, and Praise the Lord, the cancer is not.


The gift of life takes new prominence and I will admit it, I have also visited my relationship with the good Lord, when I reflect on everything on my almost 3-year-journey with cancer, there have been several amazing interventions, and some incredible people who have saved my life.


So, how does it feel 7 days on? Well, the answer is simple: it feels truly wonderful.

And yes, very early days, more blood tests to come, more mount-flushing, more stoma bags to order, but I am the luckiest man in the world. I’ve been fortified by love, support, and encouragement at every step, and I do not know what the future holds, but no one does.


All I know is that against all the odds someone up there has been looking after me. My guardian angel is up there smiling. I can think of a few prime suspects, but whoever they are, if I ever get to those pearly gates they are the first person I will buy a pint for.


So, remember my friends no matter how tough and challenging life can be, there is always that eternal beacon of hope. You just have to believe, and keep your steadfast faith, and most of all, Never Give Up, Never Give In.


Keep you all posted, keep safe and well!


Austin

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