The Bard himself famously said that life is but a stage, and we are all but players on the stage. Well, the older that I get, the more that I realize what a genius Shakespeare truly was, because actually, I have begun to realize that he was right. It is richly ironic that I will be receiving my 100th dose of chemotherapy in Stratford Cancer Hospital. How strangely appropriate to be in his birthplace; he defines Stratford Upon Avon as much as Stratford Upon Avon defines him. As the millions of visitors who stream to Stratford testify, I just wonder how one man born of humble stock rose to become the world's most famous writer of plays.
But given a choice, I cannot think of being in a better place for such a milestone treatment. My journey with cancer since September 16th, 2018, when I got my surprise phone call to say, "You have a massive tumor on your abdomen; you need to go to the A and E department right now, we are waiting for you." And that was it, I went from a healthy pedestrian to a desperate patient. Seriously close to death, but not really realizing how very ill that I actually was. Looking back at the time, I could not really understand why my family and friends all appeared by my bedside. It is possible that my memory was influenced by my morphine-induced happy days that was my main memory, along with a lot of hallucinations.
Back then, did I ever think that in December 2023, there I would be, having had yet another blood test prior to my treatment number 100? But praise the Lord, here I am still having chemo, albeit I am also sadly coming to terms with a new challenge as I have been diagnosed with a heart condition called Atrial Fibrillation. This is a condition that needs to be treated with respect; it is essentially where the four chambers of the heart, which usually beat in a regular pattern, get out of synchronicity. They can result in strokes and heart attacks and can kill you. As a result, I have had to wear a heart monitor for 24 hours and was told not to get stressed or excited. Well, that was not difficult, let me tell you, as you are strapped up to this small monitor which is attached to probes on your chest as well as other limbs. This basically just monitors your heart beat so that they get a good average of what they call your resting heart beat.
So, my wonderful oncologist Doctor Peter has suggested that I need to stop doing strenuous exercise, wise advice which I will of course follow. As he said to me today when I saw him, he said that it would be a real shame to have gone through all this chemo to inadvertently meet my maker as a result of trying to bench press large weights. So a slight change of lifestyle is needed for my own well-being. In addition, sadly I have to confess that my hips are getting increasingly worse. Some days I find that I can hardly walk, but other days I am still able to go to the gym and do a good hour on the cross trainer, which I just stop calling the cross dresser by mistake.
However, the simple reality is that after almost dose number 100, I am a very lucky man. I prefer not to think about all the chemicals that my body has enjoyed as well as all the side effects that have resulted from the treatments, but amazingly I am still here, still functioning and doing all the things that I am able to do. Last Saturday I went all the way down to Mere in Wiltshire where I had the great honor of teaching on a Karate course. Did I ever think when I was about to be operated upon twice that I would still be here enjoying such a rich and fulfilling life? No, I had not got a Scooby-Doo, but here I am. And all that I can say is thank you, Lord, and thank you, Dr. Peter, and all the amazing angels at the NHS who keep people like me alive week in, week out, month in, month out, and even more amazing, year in, year out.
Embrace every day, my dear friends, always keep positive no matter how dark you may feel, because life is too precious, and as the Bard reminds us we are but players on the stage, the trick is to stay on that stage for as long as you possibly can. Exit left pursued by a bear… (check out your Shakespeare!)