Last time I posted, I was approaching my first second birthday – one year post-transplant – and somehow we’ve got to more than 100 days since that, given that it’s over a year now even since the momentous Day +100 that confirmed I was on the right track. For the record, the birthday celebration was fabulous, and involved a little more alcohol than the party 365 days before… Oh – and I’ve even had another ‘original’ birthday.
I’d love to tell you my stem cell transplant is now a distant memory and that I’m pretty much in the same shape I was before relapsing – and if I said it with enough conviction, I’d probably convince myself, too. Sub-consciously, I’m doing that all the time – but it doesn’t mean it’s true.
It’s been a very interesting pre-season for Pompey (FC – the football team I follow), as we’ve hired a successful manager who’s overhauled the squad with proven and promising players.. On the messageboards, many fans are already expecting us to win the division at a canter. And why not – aren’t the ups and downs of raised and dashed expectations a fundamental thrill of sport?
One discussion on the board particularly grabbed my attention, though. One older player (it’s odd to think he’s probably about my age) from a top club was turning down opportunities lower down than the leagues, in the hope of still being able to do a job in the top divisions, whereas another was happily moving down to a level where despite his ageing legs and slowing reaction speed he could still be a key player. Only time will tell whether the former was right to push to keep his spot at the top table, or if the latter will have a more satisfying season at a lower level.
How did they decide? It’s clearly not an exact science, but some degree of self-awareness must play a part. I’m still not sure I’ve got the hang of it: truly accepting and understanding the changed circumstances and increased limitations I am now facing – even though I’ve come off pretty well, all things considered.
Now I’ve recovered to a certain point, I want to do everything – possibly more than pre-transplant – and often assume I can, even if experience proves otherwise.
When Anthony Nolan first announced they would be taking a team to the British Transplant Games, my first thoughts were that perhaps I could compete in a ‘lighter’ sport, and enter one short sprint, in the terrifically ambitious expectation of both getting fit very rapidly and not aggravating the ankle and knee injuries that pop up every time I convince myself my limbs will let me play football again.
At work, it was tough to admit to myself that I wasn’t (and am probably still not) ready to work five days a week again, and even tougher for me to understand and accept that that would mean a change of role. More generally, I dream of grand projects and ever-greater involvement in the charitable work I find so rewarding.
I seem to believe that through sheer force of will, I can do everything. And, to an extent, that probably helps me to do as much as I manage – just as the determination of the older footballer stubbornly refusing to drop down the divisions will probably give him more chance of continuing to succeed. But it’s not always possible, and that’s what I’m trying to learn. Sometimes you just have to try, though, and doing so enabled me and Mariacristina to spend a fabulous 16 days on holiday in Cuba and Mexico in April.
As the football analogy shows, we all have to face declines as we grow older. Nobody at 40 will run the 100m as fast as they did when they were 18. But by then, life will have moved on. Footballers become coaches or managers. School sprint champions become providers for their family, or business champions. New doors open – and even transplant recipients with less energy than pre-illness can discover new opportunities.
I woke up one morning and realised how absurd it would have been to enter the 100m at the Transplant Games. So, for the previous couple of Saturdays, I’ve been heading over to Streatham Park Bowling Club to get a feel for what is a completely new sport for me, prior to competing in ‘Lawn Bowls – Beginners’ at the Games on 1 August. And it’s great! The Transplant Games are basically just like the Olympics, so I’ll expect an open-tour bus if I accidentally fall into the medals…
Meanwhile, on the health front, I came off the anti-viral medicine (aciclovir) – and promptly got shingles, which kept me itching for a good few weeks but I seem to have got on top of at last. I’ve started my childhood vaccinations, but sadly didn’t even get a lolly for good behaviour. And blood results have looked good, although I’ve been kept away from immuno-suppressed fellow haematology patients since the potentially contagious shingles appeared.
I’m not the man I used to be – but that doesn’t matter. Life is different; but feels more exciting than ever.