Bees.

Yesterday I was walking across our block in the country and was attracted by intensely loud buzzing sounds coming from some shrubs I had planted a few years back as small saplings. Now these shrubs are two metres high and the same wide, and currently they have a fabulous array of red flowers on them. On close inspection I saw that this was where the buzzing noise was coming from – bees! ….. hundreds and hundreds of them, all enjoying the flowers and the pollen within. There are four of these shrubs, and each one was alive with bees.

Waking further around the block a similar scene was to be found on many of the shrubs and trees which were flowering, in particular my beautiful lavender which I love and is everywhere. These tiny creatures had clearly flown miles to get here, and were busy, busy, busy doing what bees do. I liked the sound. It is a sound of the country, it is a sound of nature going about it’s work, it is a sound of life.bees

The beauty of nature is not just in the beautiful sunsets, or the gorgeous colours of a flower garden. It is not just in the deep blue sky or the deep blue ocean. The beauty of nature can also be found in the sounds. The sound of those bees, the sound of the bird cacophony making ready for the day ahead or the evening to come, the sound of the crashing waves as the mighty ocean goes about it’s business.

When in the country I love to sit on the verandah at sunset, listening as the light and the sounds change. The day settles down into night, and into the silence which brings a contemplative beauty of its own.

evening

Flying is big business. Holidays are big business, and everyone enjoys a break, a chance to renew strength, a chance to marvel at new and exciting surroundings. Too often though we simply fail to see and appreciate the wonderful things around us here at home. The country, the ocean,the bush, the deserts all have their own special beauty. Maybe it is better not to  spend so much time longing to fly away that we fail to enjoy what we have.

picnic

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It never rains…………..

……………. but it pours. Have you heard that saying? ….. Or :- “It never rains in southern California” (with thanks to Albert Hammond). Here in Western Australia it is winter. No snow for us, even frosts are unusual, but what winter does bring is rain. This is always welcome but I sometimes wish (as I suspect do most WA folk) that our rain would not all come in one season (well most anyway).

We have long, hot summers which are gorgeous if you like the heat and constant sunshine, and perfect if you are a surfer. However if you are a gardener it can be a trying time, so water has to be saved from the winters for the warmer days. A little better spread would be lovely, but that’s just the way it is here.

It got me thinking about the seasons. They come and go. It is one year ago since my diagnosis, one Christmas ago, one Easter ago, one birthday ago. Summer turned to Autumn, then to Winter. Spring will be welcomed, and then we will be back into summer again and the cycle will repeat itself. This is the way of the world. The sun reappears each morning and disappears each evening. This is marked often by beautiful sunrises and sunsets (if we are lucky with the atmospheric conditions), and warms the heart whatever time of the year it is.

The cycle of life rolls on irrespective of our situation, our time of life, our health and our level of happiness. I have often heard it said that living only in the moment is the vital ingredient to happiness, and appreciating the world around us is the key to this. As I have grown older, and particularly as my health has deteriorated, I now begin to understand this. As age and ill health creeps up one begins to wonder ……….

How many Christmases left? How many summers will I see? How many rainy winters are left for me? As I feel good at the moment I like to think that the answer to these questions will be in double figures and maybe more, but realistically my future is unpredictable, and possibly shorter than I would wish.

So ……… each rainy day is appreciated, every sunset is loved, every spring, and every flower it brings on creates a warmth in the heart. The turning of the leaves in Autumn has it’s own beauty too. I will celebrate my birthday this year with something special, and I will look forward excitedly to my wife’s birthday in November. I will cherish Christmas……… and I will wish for many more.

Appreciating the now and the world around you is surely the way to happiness.

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Celebration.

Celebration – we all know what it means and we all find excuses to celebrate – or do we?

I think that there is a danger as we trek through life that the moments of celebration grow fewer and fewer, we search for excuses to celebrate. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, we have always done it. An excuse to have a party, open that special bottle of champagne, go out for a meal, treat ourselves to new clothing or ‘toys’ (men?).

But do we get complacent? How many birthdays can we celebrate? That new job?- as we get older the new jobs come few and far between …. as do the promotions, the pay rises, the accolades.

……. and what of the style of celebration? If our team wins the world cup do we celebrate in the same way as when our first grandchild is born? Do we ‘mature’ our celebrations to acknowledge the type of celebration. A quiet birthday meal with the love of our lives may be all we need for the annual event, unlike the 21st, where we had to dutifully get smashed as everyone ( and there seemed to be a cast of thousands) bought a drink that we had to down – rather like an initiation.

There’s nothing like a good party whatever one’s age – and not all parties need to include the downing of copious and amounts of alcohol.

party

As life rolls on and age creeps up, not to mention illness and the worries of a changing life it inevitably forces one to ask the question “What is worth celebrating?”

I would suggest that many things are worth celebrating. Many of these things may not be what we would have celebrated 50 years ago, 20 years ago or even 10 years ago, but life changes and one’s perspectives on life changes with it.

Celebrate the sunshine, celebrate loving relationships, celebrate the cuddles from your dogs. Some celebrations will mean more than others – that is inevitable – but a good day is as good an excuse as any to celebrate.

I will now go and pour the wine for my lovely wife and I as ‘cocktail hour’ approaches and we celebrate the evening ahead.

wine

ackowledge

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Where have I been?

It is a long time since my last post on this site. I will not use this page to catalogue what has been happening – simply too much, too complex, too distressing.

But I  am back, although finding it hard to type because the chemotherapy (which is costing me a fortune by the way) has given me ‘peripheral neuropathy’. Essentially this means I have very little feeling in my hands or feet and lots of pain to boot. Yet another side effect which they failed to tell me about. This side effect, I have been told, will probably never go away, as it means the nerves are damaged. Nerves take an age to heal, and old folk like myself will probably not be around to see them heal. So – the Myeloma (the original culprit) caused me no pain whatsoever, but the chemo to ‘cure’ it has done me in- ruined my life.

Since Before Christmas 2014 we have had no real life, no social life, few pleasures to take us ‘away’ …….. just stress and shared angst, as well as massive bills. (.. and remember we live in Australia which has socialised medicine – my ‘private health care’ covered a lot less than I thought!!!)

The question in this blog then is simple …….. is the chemo worth it?

If quality of life is sacrificed for time, is this the right choice? We could have been enjoying life, instead we have been getting through from day to day. We could have been planning holidays, instead we have been stressed wondering what was to come next. We could have been ‘living’ an intimate, married life enjoying moments together, instead we have been consumed with simply getting through the days.

The chemo has left me with a weakened heart (now its back to the cardiologists to try and fix the damage done by the chemo) , and debilitating neuropathy which has crippled me into looking and acting like an old man.

Yes, my Myeloma cells have been pushed back, and yes I am not currently fearing an immediate collapse of my immune system …… but am I enjoying life? NO.

Was it worth it ? What do you think ?

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Precious moments.

life2 copy

Ah yes, those precious moments, the ones that flash past our eyes in our dreams, the ones that remind us of the magic that was in our lives. These moments may last but seconds but they are, indeed, the things we remember as we look back on our lives. Whole days, whole weeks, whole months, all may have their part to play, but the reality is that it is the moments in those times that come to us – It’s the moments in those times that come and make us smile, make us feel warm and fuzzy, make us feel positive about our lives.

“When will we share precious moments?
Will I have to wait forever?”

(Three Degrees – When will I see you again?)

No-one has to wait forever. Everyone has some precious moments in their lives. Treasure those moments and life will have been treasured.

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What price hope?

It really is interesting the things people say when they learn that you have a serious, inevitably terminal disease. I mean – what can one say?

“So sorry, enjoy your final days” ….. probably not.

“Bummer, glad it’s not me!” ….. probably best thought rather than said.

“My heart is with you during the difficult times ahead.” …… appropriate and appreciated.

“I’m rooting for you buddy.” …… again, right for the occasion – and appreciated.

” Remember, there is always hope.” ……. where does this one fit?

Hope? Hope for what? A miracle cure? That would be a first. A peaceful end? Strength to get through the treatment and all the ravages it will, undoubtedly, put your body through? Hope for a life worth living once all the chemo crap has been endured?

Hope is important. Hope is vital in life, hope is what keeps us all going, whether poor or rich, young or old, healthy or sick, privileged or unfortunate. Without hope there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no way out of the abyss, no end to the misery, nothing to plan for, nothing to strive for, nothing to aspire to.

So when someone says that there is always hope just what are they meaning? What would they be hoping for (for you). What would they think you would be hoping for?

I guess the ‘hope’ has to be personal. I could hope for a cure to be discovered. I could hope for the chemo not to debilitate my life any more, I could hope for ten more years. My situation is complex, despite the doctors seeing it as relatively straightforward (a diagnosis, a treatment plan, an analysis of success or otherwise, a new plan). Doctors fail time and again to understand the emotional side of serious illness, and yet it is the emotional side of the situation that is the really complex one. Hope has nothing to do with cells, tumours, lesions, pain, cancers – it has to do with the mind, the soul, the very essence of life.

So what should I hope for? If I am to keep hope in my life then what shape will it be?

It will have to be realistic – miracles don’t happen. It will have to be achievable one way or another. It will need to be worthwhile. The hopes I nurture in my future will probably evolve as my situation evolves. I just hope that my hopes keep me positive. ( have I just hoped to stay positive?)

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The summer of ’65.

I was listening to Bryan Adams recently, and one of my favourite songs – “The summer of ’69” made me prick up my ears and listen more intently than usual. I’m sure you all know this classic song and love it like I do. The lyrics say it all – “Those were the best days of my life” …… “I guess nothing can last forever” ……. “Look at everything that’s come and gone”.

It got me thinking – did I have a ‘Summer of ’69’?

The wheels of my brain started whirring and I decided that I did – it was the summer of ’65. The Year 1965, the whole year in fact, but for the purposes of literary convenience I shall say the ‘summer of ’65’.

It was the year I left high school, the year I went to college, the year I won the school track and field championship, the year my head was filled with all the dreams and hopes of new beginnings, new challenges and new futures. I listened to The Shirelles, The Beatles, The Stones, The Righteous Brothers, Del Shannon and the Kinks. The summer was carefree, the sun shone, hours were whiled away with my girlfriend making plans, enjoying the freedoms of youth. College was all I had hoped it would be, new friends, new interests, new perspectives and I felt I had begun to grow up. My life ahead dawned and it felt great….. put well by Tom Petty “The sky was the limit”.

“Oh, when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Yeah, I’d always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life”.

Fast forward 50 years! Yes, 50 years! It is now the “Summer of ’15” – 2015.

50 years …… where did they go? My life has been led. Mortgages have been paid, careers have been begun and ended, children have been brought up and have lives of their own.

The lithe body that excelled at track and field, and latterly at rugby and skiing is now not so lithe. I look in the full length mirror and groan……. despite the fact that I am currently only 6kg over my ‘fighting weight’ of those halcyon days.

My recent health problems have inevitably led me to look back over my life. It’s not as if I am ‘old’  it’s just that the future is uncertain. Either way you look at it 50 years is a long time. A lifetime for sure.

Was it a life well led? Did I achieve all my dreams? Did everything turn out as I had hoped and planned for?

These questions, like many, are only answerable in the heart.

Do you have a “Summer of ’65?”

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End of life ?

I’m going a bit philosophical this blog. Asking the question – what constitutes the end of life? A week ago my father passed away – died. His living life ended. He died in hospital peacefully following a short illness. He knew it was time – I would venture to say he had had enough. Life recently had not been great for him as his wife had been consigned to a nursing home a couple of years ago with Altzheimers. He visited regularly but she didn’t know him any more. He was clearly lonely.

His general health was quite good and he had all his faculties in spades. Money was not in abundance but not a problem either. His small council pensioners home sufficed, and the neighbours looked out for him. Although continents apart we communicated regularly by phone and text – yes text – mainly about cricket and rugby. He was 91 years old. I believe he was content, but nevertheless I do believe he had had enough, and when he was admitted to hospital with chest pains he confided to his daughter in law that he didn’t think he would be coming out this time. He died two days later, peacefully, in his sleep.

He had lived a long life, had fought and been wounded in the war, where he met my mother who was nursing him. They married, lived a hard life in post war Britain and worked hard to forge a living for us. She died young – 52, after a long, long fight against cancer. He remarried a few years later and lived on to enjoy his life . I feel sad at his passing but at the same time I am happy for him that he led a full and happy long life, despite no riches, despite hardships.

His wife of many years still languishes in the nursing home, alive – but ‘living’?? It is not my intention to discuss her position. The family intention is not even to tell her that her husband has died as it simply would cause stress beyond understanding – what husband??

So ……. what is living? and what is life?

When people discuss life, cancer, terminal conditions, serious injury etc .. the question always has to arise  “what about the ‘quality of life’ – what is ‘quality of life’?

I am approaching the end of cycle 3 of my initial bout of chemotherapy. Without going into detail I would just say that it has been very, very debilitating in so many ways. It has completely changed my life for this short period. I haven’t ‘lived’ I have been ‘living’. Full of pain, discomfort, fatigue and depression, unable to do pretty much anything I normally do. I have stage 4 to come – the worst stage I have been told, in preparation for a stem cell transplant. This whole scenario is designed to help my problem, to extend my life, to enable me to live normally and make the most of the time ahead.

Best case scenario is great, it works! Worst case scenario – Crap, it doesn’t. then what?

The quote at the top of my blog does not refer to being alive – it refers to ‘living’ …… feeling alive! By the time this whole thing ends I will have ‘lost’ 6 months of my life. My life span has not ended by six months, but I have lost the chance of living fully those six months of my life. Chemotherapy does that for you.

Is it worth it? Of course like most people in my position I am fully aware that there are many, many people who are worse off than myself. Who in this world, when beset with problems cannot say that? That, however, is not relevant. This is my life, my chance. Should I be grateful for it? Should I be prepared to do anything to stay alive?

If I am told in a few months time that ‘things didn’t quite work out we need to do it all again’ ….. should I do it all again. Should I be prepared to lose another segment of my opportunity to ‘live’ in order to stay alive ( not guaranteed by the way!) …… or should I simply ‘live’ and be damned until living really does end for me?

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That bucket list.

That bucket list..

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That bucket list.

After dinner talk amongst friends in convivial situations  often leads to that regular subject ….  “what would you put on your ‘bucket list’?

Greatly interesting insights into friends can emerge from such discussions, and we all have had, I am sure, many hours of stimulating conversation during such jovial, and yet serious conversations – as all dinner talk should be.

This changes a little – or maybe a lot – when the discussion is not about theory but reality. People don’t ask

“So Dave what’s on your bucket list (before you peg it)?”

So any thoughts about a bucket list are left to oneself. I recently viewed (again) the highly entertaining movie “The bucket list” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. I did so with some trepidation as I wondered whether this time around it would be too emotional and traumatic for me. However, I really enjoyed the movie again – it is a well made movie with a great balance of the serious, the humorous and the pathos needed to create an impact in any audience.

I have thought about this a lot, but have I written a list – no.

Its actually easier said than done when one is actually faced with the fact that it might really be a bucket list, rather than a theoretical exercise. When most people have a bucket list I contend that what they really have is a list of wishes and dreams, many of which they feel guilty about for not being able to fulfill because their priorities in life at that time are for other things – like paying the mortgage, taking the kids to sports events, balancing the cheque book, making their marriage work …… etc.

The bucket list provides a lovely interlude whereby dreams can be articulated and fantasies elaborated on. In that sense it is not a bucket list at all – it is a ‘to do’ list for  ‘when I find the time’!

No-one anticipates the end of their life. We all know it will come someday but in western culture it remains a taboo subject – the subject of fun chat rather than serious discussion.

Maybe that’s why I don’t have a ‘bucket list’ – I have more important things to think about.

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