"Things are darkest before the dawn", I've heard it said, but I think things are darkest when, with or without eyelashes, you close your eyes..
The essence of 21st century life in Anzaeuromerica is fatigue. When people asked me how I was, even though I knew it was a wossname... rhetorical question, I would answer 'tired'. Sometimes my interlocutor would take pause at this, and ask why. I would reply that I have three daughters and three dogs and I am, therefore, entitled to feel tired. This was my standard 'greeting' for decades (ever since I've had daughters and dogs). Some time back there, I discovered another reason for being tired when a friend told me I had sleep apnoea. 'What's that?' I wondered, and several doctors and a couple of sleep studies later I got another excuse for being tired, and an excuse for allegedly snoring. Never mind all that... everyone is tired these days. It turns out we need about ten hours of sleep a night, most of us only get six or eight. This means we have something called chronic sleep deprivation.
What's that you say? As you get older you need less sleep? Not so! It turns out that the reason old people sleep less is that they (we?) have so much stuff wrong with us that it keeps waking them (us?) up... it isn't that old people don't need sleep, it's that they (we?) can't sleep. How much sleep is it possible to do without?
We all know that sleep deprivation causes a drop in IQ, and lack of delta sleep will eventually cause us to go as nutty as a, well... a pure nut without any contaminants... as nutty as the quintessential essence of nuttiness. We've all seen the episode of ST:NG when Data had to take over because everyone else was off their nuts... well... that nutty.
So for years and years when people asked how I was, I would say 'tired'. It was true. I was tired. So was everyone else, but most of us were too tired to think much of it.
Six months of chemotherapy was, not to put too fine a point on it, hard to cope with. No eyelashes, and not much hope. When people asked me how tired I was, I didn't answer 'tired', I didn't answer at all. I was too tired. After six months I had, apparently, earned a 'break'. I certainly wanted one and the nurses wanted me to have one, and the chemotherapy had sort of stopped working in that my oncs were now shrinking only a little bit instead of a lot. The law of diminishing returns was applying itself to my chemo. So... time for a break. After my break, maybe more chemotherapy or maybe surgery and radiation or maybe good night, sweet prince (I used to have a dog named Prince).
This was one reason for the break, the other was that I wanted to go to HârnCon, and I had enough miles to fly there with my wife in business class. Apart from anything else, I have been trying to get them to hold the thing in York or Oldenburg for some time now; finally they are having it in Leeds... which is close to York, so being there seems de rigeur.
Of course, I have to wait for clearance from my oncologist. Who knows what kind of dastardly plans she might have for me? Finally, she tells me I can have my break. Woo hoo. So I call my airline's frequent flier line and book the flights (four of us are going). Oops. The flights are not available to Manchester (which is the nearest airport). I try for London. No good. Since there are four of us going, and since the other three have gone to great pains to book off a particular window of opportunity, it's time to consult.
It turns out that, my wife has been trying to find accommodations in the UK (we are going for three weeks) and she is almost apoplectic at the prices. When the rest of us find out, we drift in the general direction of apoplexy as well. I don't understand how the Brits can afford to live in Britain...
So plan B: We plan this lovely 'loop' through Europe (which is much cheaper than the UK) with only a week in the UK to go to the con and visit my old stomping grounds in London. Gone are the plans to visit my wife's ancestral homeland on the isle of Skye, down the drain is the hope to go to the land of my mother in Wales. Cornwall is off the agenda, and so on. On the positive side: we get to visit Berlin, Prague, Venice, Vienna, and a lot of other places where they have perfectly good beer. This trip is designed as a 'loop' through Europe with a 'side trip' to the UK. It's a bit of an 'if this is Tuesday' sort of thing, but we work it out carefully and it will work. Everyone is enthusiastic about plan B.
So I call back to make the bookings. Can I get to and from Amsterdam? No? No problem. Because the trip is a 'loop' we can start at any of the air hubs en route (we can even modify the loop a bit here and there to take in extra places). What about Paris? Berlin? Frankfurt? Venice? Vienna? No? What about places that weren't on our loop but could be? What about Copenhagen? Madrid? What? Not even Warsaw? Not Stockholm? What do you mean, 'we can't get there from here?'. What if we buy extra points to get special seats? How much? $5000? Each? Because I think I may still be suffering from 'chemo brain' I get someone else to do the math: it adds up to $20,000 for a trip to Europe + accommodations.
I should clarify: I could have arranged a trip just to go to the convention. Three nights in Leeds, but since this was also supposed to be a family trip, and since my lovely wife has had a lot with witch to put up lately. Plan B is cancelled. Everyone is disappointed. I wanted to get some nice castle photos and whatnot.
I go to work on Plan C.
It's off-season downunder. I've never been to New Zealand and I love Australia. Our dollar is worth more than theirs... plan C forms rapidly and efficiently. Everything comes together nicely.
And this is the story of why, while everyone else was hunched over gaming tables at the Royal Armoury in Leeds, I was snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. It's not that I would rather have gone snorkelling on the planet's greatest natural wonder it's just that one was possible and the other was not. Sigh. As for my trip downunder… Well, that probably deserves a blog or maybe a gallery of its own. I'll get to that as soon as I'm not tired any more.
Oh, by the way (this is where I remind you of the title of this piece): when I got back from my 'second choice' trip, I got another CT scan and went to see my oncologist. This was when I was to find whether the oncs had grown or stayed the same and whether I would be getting surgery, radiation or (shudder) more chemotherapy.
It turns out that, in the five months since I stopped chemotherapy (on my birthday in May), my oncs have continued to shrink. At this point in the story most people say "why didn't you tell us that first?". I just shrug and look evil (which is much easier to do with short hair by the way).
This is in the order of a miracle, my oncologist was astounded and had no explanation. I gather this simply does not happen. So why did it happen? No one knows, but some of us have theories:
It may be the intercessionary prayer and good will out there, although I sometimes suspect that this sort of thing may have caused the problem in the first place.
My lovely wife asserts it must be the vitamin regime she has designed specifically for me, and I would never argue with this sort of thing.
Secretly, I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that I'm able to drink a lot more tea.
Oh and by the way, another way that I am somewhat unusual... most chemo patients take about six months to grow back delicate fuzz on their heads. I, on the other hand, have hair... not a lot of hair, not as much as I had in the sixties, my ears are cold and I have to wear a hat in the sun, but more hair than I should have. So maybe I will live forever after all. Oh, and hey! I got eyelashes!