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  • Writer's pictureAustin Birks

Trouble and strife with the strawberry tart

In my adolescent years, I had a mate of mine called Eamonn Martin. One of the things that we used to do was make up our own version of cockney rhyming slang. Many might be familiar with the old classics; for example, Trouble and Strife = Wife, Richard the Third = Turd, etc. So what on earth has that got to do with anything related to this blog?

Well, my dear chums, not only do I enjoy the rich delights of being a cancer patient, along with the many splendid challenges that come with it, but now I also find that I have not one, but two somewhat serious heart conditions (Heart/Strawberry Tart, as those cockney sparrows like to call it). Along with two hips that now need replacing, resulting in some days my being virtually unable to walk, as well as my using the lift every day to get to my flat because I cannot manage the stairs. Ironically, on other days I can go to the gym or do an hour on my new Peloton-type bike that I recently bought.

So at the moment, I not only have the brilliant care of Dr. Peter Correa, my superstar oncologist who has guided me through surviving cancer for the last 5 years and 7 months, but now I also have the brilliance of my cardiologist, a wonderful lady who is managing the two heart challenges. The first being Atrial Fibrillation (where the heart beats a lot faster than it should as the top two heart chambers beat out of sync, resulting in sufferers having a 5 times higher chance of having a heart attack). If that was not enough, she also advised me that they had identified a second issue called a heart flutter. Now, in my innocence, I thought that this was something that happened when you fall in love (there was another anatomical flutter that I had heard of, but being a gentleman, I will just leave that one in the long grass!).

As a result of said flutter, I have now been scheduled to visit a leading heart expert who is based at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. The last time that I attended that hospital was in 2003 when my father was taken after he suffered a massive heart attack. Sadly, that was where he met his maker, so it is probably fair to say that the Birks family already have form with the JR hospital and dodgy tickers.

Interestingly, when I met the lady doctor, she told me that my heart overall was quite strong due to a lifetime of regular exercise. Indeed, I was delighted when she said that she encouraged her patients to exercise and actually, there is nothing wrong with exercising hard. "Just listen to your body," she said, "it will tell you if you are training too hard." Well, this was of course music to my ears, so I did the decent thing and went and bought myself a Peloton-style exercise bike, called a NordicTrack. It has hundreds of exercise programs. So, me being me, I found the toughest one that I could. Called Ange’s Ultimate Boot Camp Spin and Exercise Class, it is simply brutal. Ange controls the incline and resistance of the bike. She herself is ridiculously fit and she loves pressing the buttons. I did 5 classes on 5 consecutive days, and I lost 4 kilos. I only stopped because I picked up a very unpleasant chest cold, so rain stopped play, as it were. It was tough enough trying to keep up with Ange and her Hollywood-style spinners of beautiful people, none of whom resembled the 63-year-old cancer-ridden old English knacker with a dodgy strawberry tart and hips that need taking to the BBC’s Repair Shop.

So, armed with my new exercise routine, I look forward to tackling my next challenge, which is trying to get my broken hips fixed. I have an appointment in June courtesy of the NHS. I have been on the waiting list for 11 months so far, but I would love the chance to get them fixed and then work hard to get my karate flexibility back, with the box splits being my ultimate aim. However, I understand that you cannot get both hips fixed at the same time, so do one, then wait between 3 to 6 months before getting the second hip fixed.

The good news is that my rather unsightly skin rash/spots/boils, etc., are presently under control. This is good news because I no longer make small children cry when out in public places. The reason being because I have to coat myself in a thick white tar-like substance which needs 20 minutes to absorb itself under the skin. While that is happening, I then inject myself every day in the stomach with a blood thinner. After that, I take my beta-blocker heart regulator pills, closely followed by my doxycycline tablets, and then for dessert, magnesium tablets and sachets. In total, my medical ablutions take around 30 minutes.

Having said all of that, I am just happy that I am still here in the first place. The thing is, my dear chums, life is short, and you need to live every day as if it is your last. That is why next Friday I am going on a hot air balloon ride with my wonderful daughter and the former Mrs. Birks. After all, why would I not? Life is about making memories, so forget bowel cancer, dodgy hips, and dicky tickers; just do stuff and live life to the full.

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