Tuesday, 19 October 2021

We suffer as grass in fighting cancer

In the scheme of things, cancer

An African proverb says, “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” The meaning from The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs suggests, ‘The weak get hurt in conflicts between the powerful.’ [TODOP]

This was the thought that came up in discussion with my boyfriend on the shocking and sudden death of his uncle from cancer. I reflected once again on how battling cancer rarely involves the person as there is hardly any natural means of defeating it.

Rather, we are the battleground on which the cancer is tackled by chemotherapy, radiotherapy, therapeutics, and/or surgery. For we are the hosts for the onslaught that is raised against cancer, with the caveat that we might or not have the physiological capacity to tolerate the treatment.

Tolerance in intolerance

When I had 7 sessions of chemotherapy, each session progressively attacked cancer and left me weaker with a totally compromised immune system that was already immunodeficient because of HIV and full-blown AIDS that my consultant was beginning to worry about doing something for the cytotoxicity of the treatment.

Meanwhile, one the day of my 7th session, early that morning I had attended the funeral service of a friend who passed on after 2 sessions of chemotherapy. It had exhausted him totally that friends who attended his PhD viva voce just 13 days before he passed on said, they can hear the strength drain out of him in his voice, he was barely there.

Our mortal frame

I do not subscribe to the idea of battling cancer as something you can overcome by the force of the will or any kind of determination, you can only aim to trust in the medical expertise brought to bear and hope that you can tolerate whatever is thrown at your body and that there is just sufficient in your system to carry you through to the other end where you have just been fortunate to have survived.

For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
[Bible Gateway Psalm 103:14-16 (NKJV)]

Monday, 18 October 2021

Feyike: 5 years on and the memories

My kidulthood was over

You were the reason mummy called me into her bedroom one late evening to have our first adult conversation, she was probably in her second trimester with you when I, totally oblivious and that is strange having been schooled in noticing when girls get pregnant with the whitening of their eyes and their constant spitting, along with the morning sickness. Maybe it was the familiarity, for apart from my immediate sister, I had never really noticed when my mother was expecting, the babies just arrived after a few days away.

Anyway, the conversation went along the lines of, I am an older woman now, as she was just shy of 40 and I 17, exactly a month after her landmark year, well, our birthdays have always been a month apart in and out of leap years. Yes, an older woman having a baby, and this was unexpected, but we now have to pull together and recognise that some responsibilities would fall on us over time.

My deception was complete

Much as she felt that this information should be shared with me, I was not having the best adolescence, my first year at Lagos State College of Science and Technology was going to be an unmitigated disaster doing Chemical Engineering, my performance was woeful, it was not even good enough to be asked to repeat the class.

Meanwhile, I had pulled a switch to Yaba College of Technology (YabaTech for short) for Electrical Engineering where the faculty had to be given proof that I was still 16 when we had the admissions interview, the underlying issue that many would call unseriousness and was patently clinical depression, carried along into that stint, I just rarely understood why I was in a class, the new beginnings for mother and child too divergent for concern or consideration.

My situation was dire

What would a nursing mother do with a child who is supposed to be smart but cannot understand anything going on in his lectures? I had never used drugs, that was not the problem, I just had a fog in my head that I could not clear, that religion became the steadying rail for my mental health until things began to clear up was the background in which Feyike arrived.

That week in which Feyike was born was when I moved into the YabaTech hostels, I was a parents’ nightmare, for when my mother was in hospital I had stolen money out of the kitty in her wardrobe and then had to face an inquiry against the conviction that she put aside some money and it had somehow disappeared, indeed, I was a nightmare, everything I could do wrong, I did.

My behaviour was atrocious

For the hostel, I snagged that by writing to the accommodations department that I could not stay with my uncle, even my parents found a copy of that letter when I did not arrive home on time having been on the new students’ jaunt to Badagry and Cotonou. I guess I was excused serious punishment that my father was always ready to mete out when I explained the situation.

I did not attend Feyike’s naming ceremony and for that, I faced the full wrath of my father, this weedy kid against the brute force of an angry and menacing bully, I asked for it and I got a lot, I never escaped being a child. Some encounters with my father in those times have so defined the quality of our relationship since then.

My religion was unhelpful

As I was rarely home, I did not know much about the illness that put my baby sister in hospital many times, and sometimes for weeks. I returned home once to lift her and there must have a dislocation in her arm, we soothed her with lullabies and lulled her to sleep. Many times, I prayed fervent prayers for her healing, hoping for a miracle and much else, but there was a radical change in our family unit.

Medicine only seemed to provide temporary outcomes, my mother’s inclination was she was in deep spiritual warfare for the soul of her first son and the life of her last daughter, she found a prophet that had some answers to whatever ailed all of us and got stuck in. My father with all pretensions of rationality hated religion even if he did the basic church attendance and community group activities, he could be persuaded to do the full fetish rituals, which had the accoutrements of the macabre. I saw a lot and said very little.

My knowledge was deficient

Invariably, I never knew how ill our Feyike became over the years for most of the time I visited home, she was in remission from another hospital visit or bout of illness, everything I know I have learnt mostly after the fact.

When I was told that she had fallen very ill some years before her passing, I made enquiries through some doctor friends of mine on Twitter, they found the medical notes and history that for her apparently chronic illness she had not been adherent to her medical regimes.

Probably, a trait in our family, we hate medical regimes, it took a medical emergency for me to face up to the reality of my own situation, and now, I have been on at least 3 pills a day for over 12 years. It is just part of my life.

My mourning was early

She had end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis thrice-weekly dialysis and consequently needed a kidney transplant for hers had stopped functioning. I saw a medical abyss ahead, and began to mourn, long before we knew much more, the system in Nigeria, I did not think could sustain her dire medical needs and my sisters put everything they had into trying to keep her alive.

We were somewhat in a losing battle, and towards the end, Feyike herself was donating money raised for her own treatment to others. On the morning of the 18th of October 2016, my middle sister called, Feyike had left us.

My sister was my daughter

The way our story was intertwined seems to be much more around what I was going through than what her own experiences were because I had left home in the second year of her childhood and everything else I know of her is through conversation than observation. Yet, she to me felt more like a daughter than a sister, she would have been the sole beneficiary of my estate, it was her name on the life insurance policy I took out when I bought my apartment in the Netherlands in 2001.

Maybe, I was something like an absent father, one she knew was somewhere out there in the periphery, not intruding but interested, I cannot tell. I know I miss the snatches of conversation we used to have, the hopes and dreams that seeped into the ever-present sense of hopelessness that something might just change for the better.

She lived her life and when she died, it was a great release from lifelong suffering and disease, a baby, a girl, a lady, a woman, a person who touched our lives in immeasurable ways, some difficult to put in words, but time becomes a store of the fondest memories that can never be forgotten, recalled for sombre occasions like this.


Oluwafeyikewa, 4th November 1982 – 18th October 2016.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

My friend, the genius

Your boundaries are sacrosanct

I would hardly be the one to initiate an intervention because I respect boundaries to the extent that I might not have been as helpful a friend as I could be. Also, I am rarely confrontational, it is not my personality type, though, if I have to confront a situation, I will, usually as a last resort.

However, if I am specifically engaged on an issue, I will apply all my faculties as objectively as possible, but herein is my dilemma. I believe I am watching a friend go off the rails and I do not know how to address the matter. I provide nominal support, but this is hardly sufficient to the situation, and it thoroughly disturbs me.

Call me anytime

My inclination is always to have an open door against the buffeting a person may face from others, but what if I am the only one left as the voice of reason: the last bastion of hope. The thought I might lose my friend terrifies me.

Professional support offered does not seem to meet the underlying need that moralises addiction and its detriments when a person believes they gain benefits from substance abuse and usage, or so they aver.

What he could be

This is someone whose abilities, aptitude, and intellect, if harnessed can operate consistently at a genius level with prolific output, whereas now, we contend with torrents of sometimes incoherent but amazing ideas that might only be realised with some sobriety. I have a friend who is a lot more than he sees in himself and considerably a lot more than I know he is capable of.

Whether rehabilitation can begin to extricate him from this situation towards better outcomes and fulfilment, I cannot tell, but in my view, he is doing himself gradual and progressive harm without realising or acknowledging it, comfortable in the feeling that exacerbates his most creative self. It bothers me and I am somewhat crying for help and inspiration for what is possible and within the scope of arrest. My friend is a genius unrealised.

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Do not mistake me for a Nigerian

I am not your Nigerian

Sometimes, I am left frustrated by assumptions others have of me, the way elements of my expressed heritage seem to suggest I am wholly one thing to the exclusion of other aspects of my mixed identity.

In July last year, I ordered some food that was to be delivered at a certain time from a Nigerian food caterer, we conversed in Yoruba most of the time and it must have given her the impression that I had the stereotypical predilection for poor timekeeping. Nothing could be further from that presumption.

Timekeeping is a virtue

In one of our exchanges, I had to tell her, our familiar repartee should not be mistaken for me being a core Nigeria, I am nothing of the sort, I am an Englishman who just happens to be able to code-switch into Nigerian parlance with ease, but I am completely unreconstructed for the Nigerian way of doing things. On that issue of time alone, much as her food was exceedingly good, we would not be doing business ever again. Please, do not waste my time.

Then again, I find myself quite irked by another situation. This is a person not particularly enamoured of familial ties to be blackmailed into doing anything. I do what I need to do according to my own convenience and abilities dictated by my own worldview. Some might consider that harsh, but I am not here to please or pleasure anyone about the things I do, I just work to make the best of my expression of humanity.

Warming to growers

I have an acquaintance who I met when I was a superstar-technical-guru parachuted in to create a solution and move on. That stint for just over 4 weeks worked because the technical bud I was working with was knowledgeable enough to pick up what I was doing and run with it.

Obviously, it was nice to see a Nigerian trying to find his feet in the technical team, and so we kept in touch. This young man has now landed a role he is totally incapable of handling, he is out of his depth and apparently winging it with keeping things going but without the wherewithal to do anything new to implement or improve the service that is desperately in need of both the expertise and audacity to introduce change.

Disappointing engagements sour interest

Months ago, I was invited to have a look at the environment and in the process, it became and has become more evident that not only does he not know what to do, he cannot even follow detailed instructions to achieve what he needs done.

How am I supposed to be able to help this situation without going back to the fundamentals even as the prospect shows no agility, ability, aptitude, or capability of the growth necessary to give him control of his brief?

I do not work weekends, not if I can help it, in all my contracting life of over 25 years, I doubt I have done 20 weekend days of any work, and this is considering the rates are double or triple my usual rates. You need to set aside your weekend from work except where no other time can be found to do what needs doing. I have a life. Please, you have no hold on my time.

It’s my time, not yours, man

Altogether, I have probably spent 14 hours of my weekends doing stuff with this chap, the last time, I planned on just 90 minutes but on recognising what we had to do, we were still at it 6 hours on, until he had to break off to attend to some volunteer activity, priorities, I thought.

Since then, he has sought my time first to continue from where we left off and then suggesting he has progressed, which is fine, but I have had other plans and it has not been convenient for me to engage. I guess what is more annoying is the premise that he can choose the time I am to be available to help him, it is a kind of unwitting sense of unconscious entitlement that demands without consideration for the other. Please, do not abuse my time.

Things that move me

Now, I like to help, but I want to recognise that I am helpful in that the person being helped is growing and developing in the area where the help is being sought. I appreciate I have a wealth of knowledge that I also like to share with people that show the aptitude to learn, I guess that is the first part of my discomfiture.

Then, if you are asking for help, you have to tailor your request around how convenient it is for the ones you need help from, do not assume you have a call on their time as if they are waiting on your beck and call. We all have things to do and have to eke out our time for these things, even if I decide to spend the whole weekend sleeping, that is my prerogative fully dictated by me.

It is still my time

In this case, he does not ask when I can do stuff, he immediately thinks my Sunday is available, I have just decided to ignore him, and I am close to getting pissed off enough send him to Block-land. How do you teach that my apparent affinity to things Nigerian does not mean I acquiesce to the varied forms of passive-aggressive entitlement that allows the sense of kindred to expect anyone to just give in. Please, you cannot usurp my time.

I am hamstrung by my Englishness, for even finding a polite way to suggest I am unimpressed almost seems rude whichever way I might want to deliver it. He is best sent to Coventry, maybe some moderating effect can play out in the end.

Friday, 15 October 2021

Looking up and out

Beyond the clouds

I could write a long rant about so many things but that is just energy-sapping and depressing, I need to focus on other more wholesome things that dwell on the future and great expectations.

Indeed, this pandemic has messed up so many things, but you begin to work towards how things are easing up. For instance, South Africa was removed from the red list on Monday morning meaning we, the fully vaccinated do not have to undergo mandatory hotel quarantine on returning to the UK.

Towards these things

Obviously, this means we can begin to plan for another rendezvous in Cape Town, though not until I have fulfilled a few things. My biannual check-up is at the end of the month and the 6-month duration after which I qualify for the booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine is in the first week of the next.

Altogether, I guess we are looking at a December meeting and that means a lot to Brian and I. We can eventually get married and catch up with all that time of being apart since the middle of January. My mind is out there, my heart is there too and my life, I hope to set up out there.

A future beckons

It informs any prospect for my expertise that I am looking for a fully remote working opportunity that would allow me to work out of Cape Town. If I have learnt anything from my father, it is not to embark on sudden changes but to manage transition gradually as one deemphasises UK residence to creating a hybrid existence between the UK and South Africa.

There is a lot to plan for, but we have to take it a step at a time. Yesterday was the twelfth anniversary of Chris’ passing, I am so glad that Brian has taken me beyond the grief and sorrow of a love lost to the expectation and future love anew and a love like I have never experienced before. Miracles happen, though rarely in ways we expect.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Thought Picnic: And so to rise

Dump the funk

There have been days where I have been unsure of what portends, I feel a bit listless and uncertain, thinking about what I am trying to do but not getting done if I had any idea of what or how.

It is like one is caught up in a funk and by that, there is a disinterest apart from allowing for routine to just tick along and hoping there will be a breakout to something useful. In our video conferences, Brian would nearly always notice something and then begin to incessantly probe, even though I cannot put words to the situation that it seems to exacerbate my discomfiture. It is like a low energy situation that cannot be salvaged with a tonic.

Eventually, I do find my way of the clouds because I am such a person who begins to realise, I am not in the most comfortable place to thrive. I find things to be thankful for, what I should be planning for, stories to be grateful for, the light that sweeps the darkness away, I rise, rise above it to do the things I enjoy. I do get on and get on well. It is well.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Let's treat the cancer and laugh

Notes to the times

I recall that when I was in the hospital, I was writing blogs about my situation, it gave the impression to some readers, especially my brother that I was not that so near death if I was lucid enough to be tapping away on a keyboard. He had no idea.

Even though I was in my sixth year of blogging, the records of those contemporaneous are the best journal of my life at that time and it becomes the kind of advice I would anyone who starts blogging. Always journal the before, the during, the after, the reflection, the analysis, the memories, the rehash, if you must and any other thing that celebrates your story.

Considering the pain, discomfort, and situation I was in, I find myself reading the blogs 12 years on and extracting some of the apparently humorous lines that made light of a grave situation. I say, no matter what you are going through, acquire a sense of humour if you do not have one and use it as much as you can, a little mirth can be extraordinarily good medicine, it saves your dignity and enhances your gracefulness too.

Excerpts to amuse

When I was in pain and it appeared, nothing was being done about it. “I was literally begging, give me morphine, I beg of you – I am in a hospital for crying out loud, I am not here to find out how much I can endure pain and seek my pain threshold as a thing of achievement – I am not that mad.” {In hospital to kill the pain]

Could there be a better way to talk of urination? “And so I have been manufacturing bottles of Premier Cru Urea 2009 by the gallon, the colour is golden, there doesn’t appear to be impurities, I would not hazard the ideas of bouquet, palate, odour and what not.” [Golden red and painless]

It was pain, pain and more pain. “No, I did not die and go to heaven; I lived through the pain to tell another story of an event in my hospital life.” [The looming abyss of a deep biopsy]

There can be no praise of hospital food, none at all. “Don't worry, I am sick-bag trained, no mess.” [Seeing hospital meals again]

If I had a book of Psalms to write, this might be one of them. “For weeks I had sacrificed my peace at the altar of pain, bringing offerings of agony and lamentations of the unbearable as I worshipped as a subject of things going wrong and circumstances becoming dire.” [Getting off the pain train]

When you move from manual to automatic, there probably is no instruction for that transition. “One observation, the hospital bed controls do not lend themselves to geriatric finesse, I have observed both fumble in frustration with the buttons, the more senior expelling expletives as if he was out at sea. Strewth!” [Crutches on the drip]

In utter exasperation, I wrote. “Can you believe it? I can hear him from here. Save our ears. Save our sanity or as restraint overcomes whoever decides the cat of throttling him – save that man from himself.” [A relocation from the cacophony]

Something called chemotherapy is neither a barber nor a dentist. “The chemotherapy is supposed to be very tolerable though, what I am told and what I read are in two different spheres. I am not to expect hair loss, as if I had much anyway and my nails will not be growing off my teeth.” [Scuttling cancer with chemo]

Content is everything, especially when vomiting, yet, sometimes, you just have to go through the motions. “So, four times overnight I regurgitated the exclusive hospital gourmet till my body was conditioned into realising you could only throw up content, the channelling remains in the body. It was horrible.” Then on the gentler matter of the thing that might have brought misery after much pleasure. “The pain that ran to my feet when I stepped off the bed for a shower was excruciating, I threw away all inhibitions and let the nurse bath me, she was gentle on my crown jewels.” [Nausea abates by suppository]

I probably lost some of my humour in the next few blogs, not that I had given up, I was in good spirits, the food and seeing it all again but not from the plate in which it was served was getting to me. One last stab at this cuisine. “I will NOT abide this food any longer, no not any longer.” [I'm alive after my autopsy]

One last act on the catwalk before I leave tomorrow. “I have also changed to using the designer hospital tunics which seem to have no front or back, I suppose you wear the buttons to the back for ladies and to the front for gentlemen.” [One more night]