I realised the other day that it had been a year since I finished my exams. That’s probably the best way to date the end of my student career, since I haven’t actually graduated yet, and everyone took their leave of Oxford at different times. I well remember 2nd June 2005: I remember a few people telling me they’d never seen anyone quite so ecstatic at having finished exams… I was pretty delighted.
What struck me is just how differently my first year in the Big Wide World has turned out to how I had expected. And to how it could have turned out. I’m not a big one for looking at the future, so I didn’t have detailed plans and huge ambitions: in fact, it wasn’t until a few days after I finished exams that I went to Literary Review and was offered a job. So I suppose upon finishing exams my life could have taken just about any path.
But as it was, I did get my job at Literary Review, and moved to London. I managed to work for a good three months or so, before the tiredness and limb pain I would later be able to put down to leukaemia put me out of action. I lodged for a couple of months in Denmark Hill, and then a couple in Chelsea: both times with wonderful and generous landladies and landlords. I went to Lourdes and carried on my job as Secretary of the OMV, while starting to consider the possibility of running for Chairman in April. And then, of course, on 31st October, I visited the haemotologist who rushed me into St George’s, where I was diagnosed with ALL on 1st November.
So I’ve been imagining where I might have been… Working at Literary Review, still probably as Editorial Assistant, though given a bit more time I might have found a few ways to supplement my income (I had been planning to try to get a bit more freelance journalistic – probably literary, at least to begin with – work; I was also going to look into private tuition, which pays very well, particularly if you have an Oxbridge degree up your sleeve). Even more settled in London: possibly still in Chelsea as it was working out so well. I could have had a run at the OMV Chairmanship in April, and if I’d been successful would no doubt have had my life dominated by it from then on! Poor Adam… Either way, I’d definitely have been to lots of OMV events, especially as being in London makes it a lot easier. I might have found a nice local choir to join in order to keep up my singing. I was also keen on getting a bit of fitness up and joining a football team, or finding a few friends to get a 5-a-side team together. And how about ham dram? I’m sure that if the opportunity had cropped up, I’d not have been able to resist the smell of greasepaint and the tread of the boards… These latter plans were all postponed firstly by the fact that I wanted to get settled into my job and room before getting too stuck into other activities, and secondly by my health: I told myself that when I felt better I could go out and find a choir/football team/etc.
But life never quite proceeds as you plan, and I’m quite happy to accept that. I didn’t imagine I’d be spending most of my time in hospital; moving back home for the times I’m allowed out; terrifying my family and friends, not to mention myself, with a visit to Intensive Care; regularly having to avoid crowds due to neutropaenia; getting almost 4000 visitors to my blog in a month and a half; increasing my knowledge of medical terms by an infinite percentage; and so much more.
As an older, wiser Norton has been known to comment, “the only thing that you can be certain of is that nothing is certain”, and though he was referring to my treatment, I guess the same is true of life. I mentioned early on in my treatment that I felt my general philosophies on life prepared me quite well for something like getting leukaemia, and thinking about how everything’s turned out, I still think that’s true. As I say above, I’ve never been much of a planner in my personal life, so if you’d asked me a year ago where I would be and what I’d be doing now, I expect I would have struggled for an answer. Admittedly that would partly have been because I was most likely in a post-Finals drunken stupor, but it would also have been because I do appreciate how much things can change. My trip to ITU is a good example: one moment I was pretty much fine, having a course of chemotherapy that had been touted as being easier than what I’d faced so far, as well as being the less risky option for the relapse-prevention phase; the next moment I was down in Intensive Care with my lungs and heart at full pelt struggling to keep me alive. Best not to count your chickens before they’ve hatched, methinks…
Comparing what this last year might have been with how it has turned out might make the latter seem a little depressing, but to me it isn’t. I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself, about life and about my friends and family. I’ve often wondered to myself whether I’m not happier now than I ever was, in spite of – or possibly indirectly because of – the leukaemia. I feel so well supported and loved, and that is something you cannot put a value on. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t realise it, unless life takes a turn for the worse. I’ve really learnt to appreciate life, and recognise that it can be a lot shorter than it seems, so needs to be grasped! I’ve found out what’s important to me, I’ve come across some amazing people, and I’ve decided that bacon sandwiches are among the greatest pleasures in life. Perhaps more importantly, I’ve realised that being happy is much more the result of such small pleasures, and making the most of things, than of life happening to fall into place. I fully intend to get better, but this leukaemia has taught me so much.
That’s why I entitled this ‘annus mirabilis’, rather than ‘annus horribilis’. True, it’s had its unpleasant patches, including the deaths of both my grandmothers, and having leukaemia isn’t necessarily something I’d choose, but it has in many ways been a ‘wonderful year’ (certainly a year to wonder at…) – in large part due to people, many of whom might be reading this. So; I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thank you. Your love, support and kindness has ensured my spirits have been buoyant and have given me the strength to get through the tough patches. Thank you so much.