Every now and then my father turns up at our house with a box of bits and pieces left over from my years in the family home, which I usually try to squirrel away as quickly as possible before Mariacristina can divert them to the recycling bin. It’s good that the imminent threat of a cull hangs over these relics from my past, though, as otherwise it would be easy to leave them in their boxes, gathering dust as they age ungratefully, possibly to be abandoned in the cellar until the drains overflow again and render them all completely useless.
It was fun to read an early violin grade examiner’s comments – “There is a musical sense to your playing” – and to be reminded of my glorious successes in completing the local library’s summer reading competitions (I even won a book once), but I didn’t spend too long gloating over my two-star soccer skills certificates. Perhaps my proudest discovery was that in 1987 I raised the princely sum of £9 for my playgroup through a sponsored slide – it’s certainly given me another fundraising idea for the charities now closest to my heart…
Generally, though, I’m not one to get caught up in nostalgia, dwelling in the past and wondering what could have been. I’d far rather concentrate on what I have now, where I am and what I can do to make each day worthwhile. Cancer has done a great job in reminding me to concentrate on what I can control – the life I am living – and not to wallow in regret for missed opportunities or irreversible mistakes.
However, looking back at tough times from a more comfortable viewpoint can give a sense of perspective. Back in December, the doctors were clearly a bit worried that the intensive FLAG-IDA chemotherapy hadn’t got me into remission, but neither they nor I dwelt for long on what that meant for my chances of survival. Instead we charged ahead to Plan B, an innovative antibody-based treatment under the MARALL trial at the Royal Free, before we had too much time to take in what a blow the relative failure of the FLAG-IDA regime had been.
It was only when I had reached remission, had my transplant and been given the thumbs-up after my Day +100 biopsies that it really became clear to me quite how tight a spot I had been in. My consultant almost seemed relieved to be able to reveal at last just how concerned he had been before the MARALL trial unexpectedly brought about my remission, as with a smile he declared the successful engraftment of my new stem cells to have been ‘a good transplant’. I think I felt more frustrated than concerned back in December, and I’m glad I didn’t try too much to get my head around the magnitude of the setback at the time, but I’m also pleased to be able to look back and recognise it now with a sense of wonder, gratitude and humility at my reversal of fortunes.
I’ve also got the ‘flu again, although this time it is parainfluenza 3, as opposed to the influenza B I had around about the time of my transplant. Although my symptoms have thus far been limited to a heavy cough and a slight increase in snot, this ‘flu’s nastier: apparently it would have been far more dangerous to me had I picked it up instead of the influenza B when my immune system was non-existent. With this, too, I’m grateful for the reminder of where I was medically just a few months ago – the fact I should now be able to deal with the parainfluenza 3 by myself (albeit slowly) makes it clear just how far I’ve come in that time.
It’s amazing to have got this far, and remembering what I’ve got through helps prevent me from taking anything for granted. So, too, do these niggles: minor medical imbalances that might once have been easy to ignore now take on potentially huge significance. They’re not going to stop, though – with a very immature immune system and considering everything my body’s been through, I’m not expecting my health to give me a totally smooth ride from here on out…