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Intercessionary Prayer and Plenty of Tea

"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!

I know... Leeds is the other way

The plan was to go to Leeds, but the airlines wouldn't let us. So we had to go downunder and suffer though antarcticy winter. Sure, the snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef wasn't that cold... but some of the rest was. I actually had to put my sweatshirt on a couple of times.

Live and Learn: Look Ma, No Eyelashes

"Live and learn", I always say. Well, not always that would irritate people, and besides, always doesn't seem to mean what it used to mean. Perhaps the key here is the 'live' part, but it's the learning that seizes my attention, and shakes it by the throat with vim and vigour.

For example, did you know that most people on chemotherapy actually gain weight? I've managed to acquire an additional 50lbs... make that 23 kilos or better yet, 3 1/2 stone... that doesn't sound like so much.

I've had long hair since the sixties and I treasured it as part of my cultural identity, like chips, tea, cheese and onion crisps, Ribena, cheddar and Weetabix. When the hair on my head started to fall out in great big clumps it was traumatic, even though I knew it was going to happen. What surprised me was the departure of all the other hair. Naturally, I took comfort in more chips. The hair on your head keeps your head warm on cold days and cool on hot days. Mine kept the sun off my neck and helped me to maintain my milky white complexion. It turns out that all the other hair that used to be distributed strategically here and there around my body also had useful functions: My beard used to efficiently disguise the fact that I had a surfeit of chin. Hair in my nooks and crannies used to insulate, and prevent the accumulation of excessive moisture. My eyebrows used to stop the rain from running into my eyes.

But who could have guessed the vital role played by eyelashes? I have learned, in their absence, how vital they actually were. Never again will I take eyelashes for granted. They keep dust and wind out of one's eyes, and they seem to play some arcane role in preventing watery eyes. Also, when stuff gets in your eye, you can use eyelashes like little brushes to get it out.

Ode to my Eyelashes
Eyelash, Eyelash day or night,
Keep me safe from dust and light,
When my eyes is full of grit,
You're the ones what brushes it.
Now you're gone, I miss you so
Come back soon and never go.

With eyelashes I had 20:20 vision (allthough I did need reading glasses) without them the world is a slightly sadder, and much blurrier place where certain people fall down and walk into things a bit more often.

Just last night I fell up the stairs and as I lay there thinking about the pain in my wrist, I thought to myself that I didn't used to need to count the stairs... there was a time when I could see them. I suppose some people might say that was my own fault for turning off the light and *then* going upstairs, but I reason it would not likely have made that much difference.

On the other hand, I have managed to get a fair bit of work done in the past few months (I'm afraid to go outside) although it does take me twelve hours to get four hours worth of work completed... it's amazing what you can get done without any eyelashes...

That's another thing. Apparently there is a thing called "chemo brain" which brings about "chemo moments", these are brief lapses in mental process... they are usually quite minor like forgetting that two and two equal four, how to turn on a light switch, inhaling, standing upright or the proper wossnames for things. I don't suffer from these myself, but I've seen purple platypus donkey duck happen to other people.

Hydration is important. I have been told this on many occasions, not just for me, but for everyone, although especially for me. Apparently, the average person requires about three litres of water each day. However, things like alcohol, tea, coffee and chocolate are diuretics and need to be neutralised by equal amounts of water. My estimate is that the average Anzaeuromerican probably needs to drink between five and eight litres of water daily (although a typical Aussie might need considerably more). I don't know anyone who drinks this much water. I manage about a litre a day, and for about six months I cut out tea, beer and chocolate completely. Even so, I don't think I could drink enough water without drowning. Anyway, my very clever wife recently pointed out that the reason I was suffering from exhaustion, headaches and whatnot is that I clearly was not consuming a sufficiency of tea. I am drinking more tea now (partly because my sense of taste is returning to normal) but I do feel better. The fact that I have been on a "break" from chemo since May-18 might possibly be contributing to the fact that I feel much better, but I'm sure the increased intake of tea has a lot to do with it.