It all happened.
I became the healthiest I’ve been as an adult. A health kick I’d started a year before saw my weight loss total 100lbs. I was walking ten miles a day in the spring months. I felt really good.
My divorce came through. While there’s a sadness about that, I felt happy within myself.
My employer of thirty years put me at risk of redundancy. I managed to cling onto a role by dropping a level to cover a maternity leave. But I knew I’d have a battle to remain employed after May 2017.
I travelled solo to Madrid (see image) which is possibly now my favourite city. I’m not really a fan of metropolis, natural wonders is more my thing, but the transport, the historic buildings and the two football stadia made me a fan. It was also where I learned the benefit of starting a city break with a free walking tour. That €10 tip was well worth it and helped me fill the time for the following days.
My son Chris joined me on a trip to Yellowstone. What a wonderful place that is. We took a loop route out of Denver through Colorado Springs, the wonderful Pagosa Springs (a place to enjoy natural hot springs), Chris slept through the magnificent Ouray and Silverton but we both got a kick out of white water rafting the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs before heading to Grand Teton, Yellowstone in all its splendour and a drive over the extraordinary Beartooth Pass.
My good health at the start of the year did take a couple of knock backs. I injured my shoulder in January after playing badminton rather enthusiastically after a thirty year break. The middle of my back suffered excruciating pain in April (the doctor prescribed Cocodamol)and my lower back gave me real grief, including sciatic leg pain, which nearly cut the Yellowstone drive short.
i utilised my employer’s BUPA and was referred for physio. While I enjoyed the Lycra clad ladies giving me some attention it didn’t work and I was referred to a neurosurgeon in September.
This guy looked at my scan and said he thought I had myeloma – a form of blood cancer. This was a shock, more so the bit when I checked online and saw an average five year life expectancy. Whatever it was had eaten away at three of my verterbra, T7, L4 and L5. He recommended verterbroplasty on the L4. Basically pumping in cement to stabilise my back and hopefully reduce pain.
It did reduce pain, although I found walking over the next six weeks uncomfortable and slow. A half hour walk was now taking forty minutes. My multiple pains had, however, reduced to a single trapped nerve in my buttock. Painful, but so much getter than things had been. At the same time I developed Bell’s palsy, one side of my face dropped and my eye refused to shut, even at night. Three months later I was still cursed!
The day after my operation came another shock. A CT scan had shown up something small in my lungs. Google told me that if I had lung cancer and it had spread to the bone I had six months to live. The private oncologist I saw a week later didn’t put a time on it, but he confirmed the myeloma thought was wrong. I did have lung cancer and he referred me back to the NHS. My employer’s BUPA doesn’t cover secondary cancer. He didn’t tell me that as well as my spine my pelvis, ribs, sternum and lymph nodes were under attack too.
While the NHS might not have wifi on the wards like the private hospital did, they do seem to have a relatively efficient cancer programme. A biopsy of my lymph node revealed a genetic mutation in my cancer and my new oncologist prescribed afatinib. The joyous side effects of diarrhoea, rash and acne remained a few weeks later, albeit less severe, seemed a small price to pay for an extra couple of years life.
Indeed, six days into this treatment, I became pain free. That last pinched nerve had been driving me mad but it just disappeared. I’d been taking a mix of four pain relief drugs which were suddenly not needed. My forty minute walk became half an hour again. I was still less stable than I had been, but felt quite excited. Maybe coincidence, maybe the afatinib had zapped something unpleasant. Sooner or later the drug will stop working but, for now, I like it.
With a sick note issued to the end of January I saw the likelihood of finding a new role with my employer before redundancy kicked in at the end of May diminish. The desire to put myself through the interview process wasn’t there. And then it struck me. I could travel once I’m not working. Indeed, I should start the travel pretty soon because if I’ve only got a couple of years and some of that time will see me deteriorate then the sooner the better.
I decided to embrace the idea of redundancy, which would include a substantial pay-off. The idea of travelling on a sick note didn’t sit comfortably with me. So I emailed my union leader to enquire about the likelihood of garden leave for my three month notice period March to May. He made enquiries and said I’d hear from my line manager after Christmas.
Suddenly I’ve gone from wanting to get back to work to wanting to get on a plane to wherever. 2017 is now a year of opportunity. Perhaps my only opportunity to see more of the planet.