Thursday 29 February 2024

On my fifteenth Leap Day

Of fathers on the record

Two men I celebrate in my acknowledgement of the significance of today, Joel Adebambo Idowu, my maternal grandfather who passed on in May 1961 and Josiah Olubadejo Akintayo, my father, who at a sprightly 84 years old, potters around with energy and wisdom in our hometown, Ìjẹ̀shà Ìjèbú, in Ogun State.

They were both archivists journalling the histories and genealogies of our little town which bears the historical name of Òdo Àyányẹlú and is significant in the Ijebuland monarchy as well as the animist Agẹmọ cult that represents the 16 masquerades or priests in the August festivals at the palace of the Awùjalẹ̀ of Ìjèbú Òde.

Blog - The Agemo Traditions of Ijebuland - A Primer (November 2013)

In the journals of the annals

However, within the drafts of the documentation my father did over decades of research and study, I found some interesting stuff about age grades, a 3-year grouping with fantastic names that allowed those born in our town to be represented amongst their peers. In which you only needed to know the age grade name and who belonged where to ascertain within the margin of 3 years, the age of anyone so referenced.

The age grade information starting from around the end of the 19th Century went back two to three generations before mine, my own paternal great-grandmother on his mother’s side greatly outlived all her peers by the time she passed on. The kind of rapport she and I had was utterly friendly and extensive conversation. People could not understand how or why we got on so well.

Leaping into new age grades

In this leap year, I celebrate my 15th Leap Day and it portends that those born from the 1st of March 1964 to the 29th of February 1968 belong in this artificially interesting leap day and year group. One of my former managers to whom I would attribute such lasting influence in my career was born the day before this date range and that would either make him 16 leap years old or an inductee into the Diamond Jubilee cohort. I wish him well.

Obviously, a 4-year time frame can be quite a lengthy time to consider people's age mates or peers. Still, it presents another dimension to our view of time, the passage of it, and how we reckon it relates to the people we encounter from the past in the stories we are told or the journals they have written, in the present as we recollect the memories of our youth, where we are now and our hopes for the future, and conclusively, the kinds of legacies we want to lay out for the future.

Meanwhile, how many leap days have you seen?

Tuesday 27 February 2024

The arm of flesh will fail you

"Stand Up Stand Up For Jesus" by 250 Voice Mass Choir

I do not remember the tune

While in church on Sunday, I was in a conversation where I saw familiar words of hymns I had sung from the Songs of Praise hymn book that was used in my Methodist-founded secondary school. It was first published in 1925, with updated editions thereafter.

However, it was quite discomfiting for one to know the words of a hymn only for the organist to play a rather unfamiliar tune. The nostalgic moment of recognition and being taken back in time to life probably only slightly more innocent than now, is lost in trying to find your place and rhythm again.

Hear me sing with aplomb

Then with the Offertory hymn, I, with full-throated voice, swayed in syncopation and rhythmic candour, I knew the words and the organist played the tune. I half wanted to look back and grin at my earlier interlocutor to suggest we have had an answered prayer or just the propinquity of desire and coincidence. What an experience to have.

Then out of the recesses of memory came the highlighted lines of the third verse of a hymn I can hardly say I have sung in over 40 years. Stand up, Stand up for Jesus which in those days had the organ powered by foot bellows and played by a Muslim classmate. Only a few had art or skill with classical instruments and when I did offer to learn, a teacher thwarted the activity rather than encouraged it. Yet, I took from that short lesson the ability to play the tune to the Do-Re-Mi song and never really improved on it.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
stand in his strength alone;
the arm of flesh will fail you,
ye dare not trust your own.

Put on the gospel armour,
each piece put on with prayer;
where duty calls or danger,
be never wanting there. - Stand up, stand up for Jesus - George Duffield (1858)

Stand in his strength alone

This probably presents one of the biggest challenges of Christian living where we have learned, been schooled, and have been taught to exert and exercise for achievement derived from endeavour and sweat. The human-centred desire to excel and not attribute success to anyone else without the bruises we have suffered.

The work of faith that involves fully trusting in God for purpose, direction, instruction, inspiration, and affirmation leaves you open to the accusation of being a religious fanatic. Many do not believe in prayer or prayer that works. In terms, many do not even know God’s will about what they pray about to have any kind of assurance beyond the moment they are in.

Unlearning the way of the world and society to stand in His strength alone is a daily quest for letting the divine override the natural world and ways to launch into the orbit of the spirit where one can call things that are not as though they were. God is a spirit and they that worship him should worship him in spirit and in truth. [Bible Gateway: Ephesians 6:10, Proverbs 3:5, Romans 4:17, John 4:24]

The arm of flesh will fail you

The many promises that have been made to us that never got fulfilled by those who in your time of need or great adversity presented a succouring voice that with time was not followed by any action.

In thinking of such, one might be tempted to feel hard done by, hurt, or embittered. Then you realise that for all the abilities people seem to think they have to get things done, meet a demand, offer some support or anything else, they are seriously limited in ability, reach, means, resources, or facility.

We more typically live from day to day as mere mortals unaware of the divine resources that are at our disposal. The abundance of heavenly resources we can call upon but only if we knew anything about God that was first introduced in the Old Testament of the Bible and then the Father God that Jesus Christ revealed and demonstrated in His preaching of the gospel, doing good and healing those who were oppressed.

For the problems that we encounter in life, God has promised us everything to do with life and godliness, yet we depend on what we can do out of strength, maybe in our cunning, or on others who have a frame of reference uninformed by the Word of God and limited to the natural realm.

There is no blessing in trusting the arm of flesh, it even suggests those who do have turned from the Lord. [Bible Gateway: Jeremiah 17:5, Psalm 20:7, 2 Peter 1:3, John 14:12, Acts 10:38]

Ye dare not trust your own

Indeed, what constitutes our upbringing, our education, and our experiences is generally to equip us for a seemingly godless world, where your wits and hard work should yield success. Then, many strive so hard and get nothing or whatever they get is not enduring.

Heck! The booms and busts that have become like milestones in my own life could easily lead one to totally give up, as it can be quite exhausting. It is an engine of hope and expectation created by God within me that keeps me knowing that the night shall pass, the storms shall pass, the pain shall pass, the lack shall pass and His will will be done.

Through time, I have believed in myself, had supreme confidence, and felt I was at the peak of my powers to even project the unassailable before everything came crashing down like a pack of cards.

Trust is in short supply, there is much to learn and understand about trusting God and almost the people you choose to trust with intimate challenges who can give you the desired support and encouragement to traverse the evil day, the wilderness, the doldrums, and the unfortunate circumstances we often encounter. [Bible Gateway: 1 Timothy 4:8, Psalm 34:19, Psalm 112:7, Jeremiah 29:11]

Never a hopeless situation

I am constantly reevaluating what I believe and my faith to be sure that I am never in a situation where I have nothing that can be brought to bear on any situation. [Bible Gateway: 2 Corinthians 13:5]

In the times of the greatest anxiety, I pray, I speak in tongues, and I endeavour not to dwell on the issues that might exacerbate worry and distress. [Bible Gateway: Romans 8:26]

Nowadays, I purposefully decide to sleep and rest even as I am still learning to let God have it all. As He never slumbers nor sleeps, there is no reason for both of us to keep awake through the night. [Bible Gateway: Psalm 121:4]

I listen to sermons about how great God is and who God says I am. One area where I need to devote more voice is speaking to the problem about God, rather than speaking to God about the problem. [Bible Gateway: Mark 11:23]

There is great capacity and possibility in a person who knows God for who God is in His love for us and his care for us, we are only going to find out from His word and those anointed to preach the word. [Bible Gateway: Matthew 19:26]

In that alone, I am not ashamed to know the Christ who came for me that I might have eternal life that starts from this life I am already living on earth. It is why through all adversity, as long as I live, there is hope, change, and a testimony of the goodness and mercy that follows me. [Bible Gateway: Romans 1:16, 1 John 5:13, Psalm 23:6]

PS: Click on and meditate on the links to the verses on this blog and I know that whatever you might be going through, you will find an answer that will give you strength, comfort, resolution, and joy.

Shalom! Shalom!

Saturday 24 February 2024

Thought Picnic: Seeing the more in the person

Just as it is

I recently had a series of exchanges that pertained to relationships concerning significant others. My inclination to err on the side of full disclosure has meant that in most cases the discovery of who I am does not come as a total surprise.

Being open about my sexuality since the early 1990s when it was not popular and sometimes frowned upon in the workplace was not to exhibit flamboyance but to address the scenarios where loose talk might cause unnecessary and avoidable offence.

I have been quite fortunate that I have encountered very little discrimination on the matter. If you ask a direct question, you will get the answer, when I was in a relationship, who I was in a relationship with and what we planned to do at the weekend. Relationships have always mattered to me because it meant I had someone with whom to share life experiences, unconventional as that situation might be.

Engagement with due consideration

In many cases, I have had colleagues ask questions, seeking information or enlightenment, sometimes about me, about themselves, or someone else. I would speak from my experience and understanding of issues, whether it be curiosity or having to deal with the situation of a friend abandoning a marriage for a new journey of self-discovery.

For me as a person, it matters and when others give due consideration to it, acknowledge it, respect it, and genuinely enquire about my well-being by embracing that context. It is why I felt quite enamoured when a prospective colleague deduced from my frequent travels and other information I divulged, that those journeys for whatever length of time they were for, were essentially family visits.

As we love to be loved

It is important and it is about my well-being and happiness rather than about anyone else, we choose our friends and much as we choose our partners, all familial and extended relations have the choice to embrace, reject, or be indifferent, but who an individual has as their significant other remains so regardless of opinion, for a different kind of intimacy exists between partners that is not present with any other.

There is something about being fulfilled and completed by certain associations, you may not understand it, but it exists, and it is what it is. For me, Brian represents that significant other and to be loved, cared for and supported like I am can only be what anyone else wishes for in whoever they have chosen to be their partner.

We should be careful not to be tempted to dismiss the importance and significance of the intimate relationships of others.

Related Blogs

Blog - This is my life, this is me (February 2019)

Blog - Doing what I do for love (September 2019)

Blog - Brian, My Funniest Valentine (February 2020)

Blog - Finding who all matters with (August 2020)

Blog - In my heart and in my mind (April 2021)

Blog - Thought Picnic: Understanding my greater good (May 2021)

Blog - This is deep stuff now (December 2021)

Blog - Make Someone Happy (April 2022)

Blog - Thought Picnic: Mostly, one is not alone (May 2023)

Wednesday 21 February 2024

Read and analyse the bloody tales and trends

Above range readings

Earlier this month, I contacted my GP (doctor) to discuss the results of tests I took in November when some indicators gave me cause for concern. Usually, I would wait for my next biannual checkup and visit with a range of questions and analyses of trends I want explained in essential layman’s detail to my understanding.

Especially now that every single result is posted to a personal portal from which you assess the test results against the expected normal ranges and the trends over a period. Two measurements stood out in the blood tests I took in November, the Mean corpuscular haemoglobin (MCH), measured in picograms per red blood cell [pg] with a normal range of 27 to 33, and the Mean corpuscular volume (MCV), measured in femtolitres [fL] (10-15) with a normal range of 80 to 98, and it is a measure of the average volume of a red blood corpuscle or red blood cell.

When they measure above the normal range, this might be indicative of a form of anaemia related to iron, folate, or Vitamin B12 deficiency, and since I once had folate deficiency anaemia, I wanted this addressed before other issues resulted from it.

Even more detail

My GP invited me to the surgery for a complete set of blood tests where each of the indicators would be checked and I was ready to pursue better outcomes by looking the trend between November and February to urge immediate action.

On reviewing the new results, the MCV had returned within the normal range, but the MCH remained the same reading as before, a note from the assessor suggested no further action was required, I begged to differ and consequently we had a conversation today about those results.

What made the difference this time was serum levels were read for ferritin pertaining to iron, which was normal, Vitamin B12 was also within range, but the folate was well below range. I had already been taking vitamin and folic acid supplements from over the counter, however, I felt a stronger prescription was needed.

The prescription matters

I picked up my prescription from the pharmacy and when I opened the pack, the comparison between over-the-counter medication and the prescription was astounding, I would never have been able to get back into the normal range with the supplements and just my diet. The over-the- counter medication has a dosage of one tablet daily with a strength of 400µg, the strength of the daily dose of folic acid is 500mg, meaning I would have had to take 12 and a half tablets of the non-prescription medication to have any prospect of righting the folate deficiency.

For all that I have written, the main takeaway from me to anyone who takes good consideration of their health is to read to understand every test result you get. Ask questions where things are not clear. Fully pursue any concerns you might have, and seek a second opinion if you are unsure, uncertain, or unhappy.

Always follow through

The NHS is in the process of implementing Martha’s Rule, a set of protocols that would ensure that concerns about a patient’s deteriorating condition are subject to rapid review when raised. It would not be enough to just get assurances or be fobbed off by superciliousness, someone would have to attend the situation and arrive at a conclusion with commensurate action to address the emerging or emergency.

Hence my advice to read the bloody tales and ensure someone is addressing anything that falls out of the normal ranges with alacrity, consideration, and professionalism. In my case, we’ll have another review in a few weeks.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Privacy in a world of extroverts and exhibitionists

When is it too much?

It is interesting when you encounter invasive disclosure requirements that leave you wondering if you have become overexposed and vulnerable.

You meet a fine line and distinction that probably is left to gut instinct as to how you respond and what you are willing to give away. For instance, when over a decade ago the gap in my employment was predicated on the need for cancer treatment and recuperation, I offered to present a medical note from my consultant, but the employer instead requested my medical prescription.

For me, that was egregious and intrusive, I could find no rationale for such a request. Then again, I half appreciated that the request was being processed outside of the boundaries of Europe even as the job was in the UK and I lived in the Netherlands. Much as I could have challenged the request further than I did, I felt that this kind of unwarranted intrusion was not only adverse but that the cultural norms of a certain domain had not cultivated the understanding of elements of privacy we Europeans were accustomed to.

Handling the issues with tact

I soon removed myself from the process and declined the offer because we had reached an impasse beyond which there was no viable future in which I would have felt comfortable.

Indeed, the issues of privacy, secrecy, and confidentiality work together to protect the person we are, having the confidence that you only need to share what is necessary for the sake of meeting a requirement without losing the mechanisation or automation of expediency. I still believe even as a technologist that traditional methods of handling private data have better checks and balances that are less susceptible to unfortunate biases.

At other times, it is being embarrassed by circumstances engendering almost a sense of shame or failure, but these are all part of the story of life if systems are allowed to spare our blushes.

I hope I still have some control

I consciously curate what I am ready to reveal and share, I have faced some challenges that have required inspiration and dare I say of divine provenance to address certain requests. Important in all of this is being open about very significant elements of myself that half a century ago would not have been possible and is still detrimental in some countries and regions around the world.

Where you do not want to be is realising you have lost control of your own narrative in the quest for something you desire, but not at any price.

We have such wide-ranging diversity and have encountered serious adversity at various times, yet we are who we are with all that pertains to who we are and the relationships we hold dear. We understand responsibility and loyalty and appreciate the quality of character while striving for a better world in whatever place we might find ourselves.

I guess I am grateful for understanding and being understood. Even the most interesting and good books need covers, and the most beautiful windows do at times need the curtains drawn. Between the exhibitionist by inclination and the spectacle by duress, neither should be the only choices about how we choose to tell our stories if we are not fully persuaded.

Friday 16 February 2024

Holding sway in the kitchen

Loving the kitchen stage

The kitchen is a theatre, a place of deep expression, where practice and application bring forth snacks or feasts for sustenance and even celebration.

I enjoy being in the kitchen, that work of bringing together ingredients, some never imagined co-exist to become something that excites the tastebuds and sates both appetite and hunger.

Invariably, I love cooking, usually for myself but more to share with others, not large proportions for a party, just enough for a few at a table, a full course with wine with Brian is even the greatest pleasure I indulge.

When nature calls

Recently, I found myself rocking from foot to foot and remembering the times in Cape Town when my need to find relief just seemed to coincide with when I was in the middle of getting things done. At this point, I want to rush before my bowels burst and I wet myself, just as I feel I cannot stop what I am doing.

Brian has now cottoned on this strange situation as someone being pressed who needs to suffer than be succoured. Whilst it happens almost unawares, I have sought the discipline to conceal this call of nature until after it has been answered, my returning to the kitchen grinning knowing I have escaped duress. I have to master this first at home, but I have not.

Maybe what I really must do is ensure everything to the ablutions is done before I start anything in the kitchen. Curbing my enthusiasm to start and giving myself the consideration of relief before recipe might just be the best thing to do.

Thursday 15 February 2024

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es

Chant of the Heart: Miserere Mei (Psalm 50/51)

Influenced by many beliefs

I do not make much advertisement about my beliefs or faith, though, in many of my writings I might allude to how I am persuaded of things, views, doctrines, life, and much else.

My Christian journey is interesting and varied, first seen through the inclinations of my parents, their siblings, and their friends who all attended different denominations from Anglican to which I was both baptised and confirmed, the Christ Apostolic Church that my mother attended before her marriage, the Cherubim and Seraphim Church that my younger aunt attended, the Methodist Church that my elder aunt attended and the Methodists founded my secondary school in February 1946.

Filling in forms the other day, one of the options included Charismatic Christian, which I found interesting as until then, the broadly Christian cachet was used. I embrace the charismatic demonstration of my Christian experience which I encountered 40 years ago in April and even with the many characterisations of belief, unbelief, or disbelief I have been exposed to, the relearning of what the dispensation of grace pertains to remains more pertinent.

Ash Wednesday in practice

I had planned to make pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, but I inadvertently had to be in Edinburgh for an engagement and returned quite late on Tuesday, too tired to do anything other than go to bed. I also wanted to return on Tuesday, because I was on the rota stewarding the Ash Wednesday Sung Eucharist with the Imposition of Ashes.

The ashes are part of a ritual signifying penitence where typically the palm fronds from the previous Palm Sunday are burnt to have the ash for marking the sign of the cross on the foreheads of adherents kneeling at the altar. At the imposition of the ashes, the priest would say words to the effect in Latin or in the vernacular, “Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.” (“Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”)

In addition, the priest said, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.” It was a solemn occasion of awareness, mortality, and the eternal purpose to which we are called. The individuality of knowing yourself in the congregation of the many, your own heart seen and known by God is humbling. I may not essentially be fasting for Lent.

Combining my devotional allegiances

In the background, the Choir as we all met in the quire sang Psalm 51 as canticles in Latin. The high church traditions of our Anglican community could be quite fascinating as we the stewards took the offering and ushered the congregants first towards the imposition and then later to the Communion.

These activities would barely, if ever, be seen in a charismatic church gathering, but I find that I enjoy practising my Christian devotion primarily in the Anglican Church, occasionally in a charismatic church, and generally in listening to messages and sermons by evangelical preachers. An amalgam of community and beliefs that suits my expression and understanding with the assurance that I have found love, truth, mercy, grace, and favour.

Friday 9 February 2024

Yesterday remembered today

Of days remembered

I probably have a knack for remembering dates and events, though I cannot say I have total recall of everything. Sometimes, things are not remembered at all, or the memory is a bit fuzzy. Much as I had many encounters with diaries growing up, I never saw anyone journalling anything, the most a diary was used for was appointments and at a stretch, a calendar.

Having a blog going back 20 years has offered key points of journalling, though not in the strict sense, I still find myself noticing and making notes in blogs that I can reference as an aide-mémoire.

Yesterday, all my troubles

I thought about writing this yesterday but here I am reflecting on the significance of yesterday today. The 8th of February; when I joined Twitter, I buried a friend, and it turned out to be my last session of chemotherapy.

Interestingly, the former happened in 2009 in the week that the 13th fell on a Friday and I joined the bandwagon of those caught in the grip of paraskavedekatriaphobia on what appeared to be the coldest day in the office because someone thought that would be our contribution to helping stem the problems with climate change. We were to wrap up warm rather than enjoy the ambiance of a comfortable office. My first tweet? See below:

Blog - Caught between Paraskavedekatriaphobia and Cryophobia

A sad tragedy, it was

Then in 2010, my friend Dick van Galen Last died on the 2nd of February, 8 days short of his 58th birthday, and hardly 2 weeks after he defended his PhD thesis, an event I could not attend as I was experiencing the most debilitating effects of chemotherapy two days after, I was so weak and for the first time, I had anti-emetic medication that worked a treat.

I had planned on calling Dick to ask about his defense as he had informed me in late December that he was having his PhD viva voce and I had made my excuses that I might be unable to attend. It was then that he told me he was undergoing treatment for lymphoma, I cannot remember if it was Hodgkins or non-Hodgkins. I quipped; we might meet for tea in the treatment room as we shared the same oncologist.

When my phone ranged on Wednesday the 3rd of February, the number ID came up as Dick’s phone number, but it was Ousman on the phone who was Dick’s lodger and he regularly came to clean my apartment, the news he had on the phone was that Dick had passed on, but he had refused to have Dick taken away, Dick was lain in his bed for his friends to come and pay their respects until the day of his buried. I cried all the way to Dick’s place.

Blog - Dick: As he lay

A man, a celebration

The morning of the 8th of February was a dreadfully cold winter morning, I got on my bicycle and rode to the St Barbara Cemetery where we all assembled in the chapel to give Dick a rousing and celebratory send-off, the crowd, especially of the youth that attended with the eclectic mix of different cultures and personalities was a testament to the person he was. The music as pallbearers carried him to the burial plot could not have been out of place at a carnival.

Blog - Seeing Dick Off

However, I could not wait to see him buried as I had another appointment, the 7th session of chemotherapy, with the 8th and what I had hoped would be the last scheduled for the 1st of March. When I arrived at the hospital, the nurses who also knew Dick were quite sad at his passing, one even indicating there was nothing to suggest Dick was at risk of death, he did not have the kind of prognosis I was given at my diagnosis.

It became the last one

Not a vein could be found around my hands up my wrist to insert a cannula for chemotherapy even after warming my hands in hot water than the insertion was further up the arm near where phlebotomists took blood.

Blog - Almost in vain for a vein

I did not know that session would be my last chemotherapy dose until a checkup over a week later in conversation with my consultant that they agreed that the focus should be on recovering my immune system and the chemotherapy had done its job fully as predicted by the consultant in September that the cancer could be treated if I tolerated the treatment.

I could have made much of yesterday and yesterday is a narrative that gives the past a telling different from when you are living in the present. Thank you for the past we can remember in words of triumphal living against all adversity.

Tuesday 6 February 2024

Cancer: No journey is the same

Cancer humanises us

The news that King Charles III has been diagnosed with cancer brings a sense of shared humanity in its frailty, suffering, mortality, and survival. We are told it is not prostate cancer and it was discovered when he went in for a procedure due to an enlarged prostate. [BBC: King Charles diagnosed with cancer]

As a monarchist, a fellow human being, and a survivor of cancer, I can only wish His Majesty a full recovery and restoration to health and vigour. Yet, a cancer diagnosis can come with shock and a dire prognosis, in my experience, is not a battle to fight as only the real tools we have against cancer are faith and hope. Faith that the medicine, the miracle, or both work and the hope that there is a life after cancer.

This looks serious

I watched as what seemed like Athlete’s Foot on my left sole change from the dark blotches of discolouration into a painful weeping sore, I foolishly thought it would go away even as a little voice in me whispered this was cancer tugging at the heart of my life ready to thrust me off this mortal coil.

Eventually, I summed up the courage to go to my doctor demanding urgent attention as the pain had become otherworldly unbearable. The moment she saw my foot, she said, “This looks serious, I have to refer you.” Immediately, she was on the phone to the hospital and moving heaven and earth to get me in as soon as possible, and I got an appointment for the day after.

On observation by the consultant, he said, this is serious and is related to internal diseases, the internist would be in next week on Tuesday, it was Thursday, and I’ll be the first person he’ll see. I was given painkillers that killed nothing, a placebo would have done much better to manage the pain.

I have heard, then again, I know the pain of cancer, I was eventually on 4 different kinds of pain management, the most effective being a Fentanyl patch that I received a doubled dosage of after a few weeks because that pain just refused to fully subside.

We can treat this

Several analyses were conducted on what were fungating tumours that antibiotics did not seem to affect, having eliminated a diabetic cause, a deep biopsy of the lesions was done, and then the consultant came to my bed to give me the news on the 9th day of my admission to the hospital.

These were his words, “We can treat this, but it depends on how your body can take the treatment, if you can tolerate it, you’ll be fine, otherwise, you probably have 5 weeks.” Two things I took away from this message, the advances in cancer treatment for Kaposi’s sarcoma were such that medicine had confidence, and the fact that mortality loomed 5 weeks away left you with a sense of the gravity of what a cancer diagnosis might mean to anyone.

At that point, I thought, I am going to survive this because I had by then navigated the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief, skipping Depression and Bargaining to reach an Acceptance that I spoke within myself, “Akin, you have cancer, what next?” I was already looking beyond cancer and with that, I had my belief, my faith, and my prayers with the support of many friends and particularly neighbours.

Treating cancer, killing cells

I began my 1st course of chemotherapy on the 5th of October 2009, it was to be administered at 10:00 AM but delayed for 3 hours, I did not know that after the course I would be consigned to cytostatic ostracism as the cytotoxic component of pegylated liposomal doxorubicin (tradename Caelyx) meant no one should be in contact with any of my bodily fluids for up 5 days after chemotherapy. Nurses had to don personal protective equipment (PPE) to take blood or dispose of my urine. It was unpleasant, the treatment and the treatment.

As I tolerated the chemotherapy, more sessions were added, and I became more nauseous after every session three weeks apart that by the 5th session, I was given novel anti-emetic medication to help keep my food down for the days after chemotherapy.

When I saw that a 9th chemotherapy session was scheduled, I remonstrated to my consultant that I was planning on restarting my life from the 1st of March 2010 when I was to have received the 8th chemotherapy dose, they stopped with the 7th which I took on Monday, the 8th of February 2010 in the afternoon after I had attended the funeral service of my dear friend Dick van Galen Last who sadly did not tolerate the chemotherapy as well. We had the same oncologist.

By the 4th chemotherapy dose, the cancer lesions had disappeared, and beneath the necrotised skin which had to be stripped off was fresh pink skin which however did not retain that colour.

What to expect

Each cancer journey is different, I count myself fortunate that the body of knowledge accrued from many who had no hope when medicine first encountered these cancers, others on whom experiments were conducted and never survived, then those for whom successes led to improvements and advancements that we further down the line took advantage of because medicine was confident and the treatments could be better managed for good outcomes.

  • Do they know what you have?
  • Do you understand it and how far gone is it?
  • Is it treatable and what is the prognosis?
  • What particular outcomes do you want, what options do you have, some might just want to go home than face gruelling cancer treatment? 
  • How prepared are you in spirit, mind, and body for this journey?
  • What is your source of hope in the midst of adversity?
  • What support networks do you have to draw on?

Hope springs eternal, I believed and saw myself beyond the cancer and probably not much further, but each stage of progress gave the kind of assurance that there will be life after cancer and even if there was none, I would not have died in despair, hopeless, hapless, and without any sense of having lived well.

It is the most encouragement I can give to anyone facing cancer, it is a difficult process, it is part of the human story, some survive, and many do not, we are all grateful for life, but the biggest battle when faced with adversity is whether you can see yourself getting beyond it or life ending because of it.

There is no judgement in what you see, either way, your life and your story would be you lived, you loved, you touched and were touched, and the rest falls into the annals of timeless eternity, you walked this earth and will never be forgotten.

Monday 5 February 2024

Men's Health: Do the important and intimate checks

Looking forward

I have noticed an enthusiasm with which I talk about becoming 60, I am hardly 2 months into being 58, yet, next year is the golden jubilee. I first noticed this when I attended a group session that involved yoga exercises, I could not help but notice my apparent flexibility as compared to many of the younger participants. Our yoga instructor herself is 60.

However, it is not just a matter of age but one of wearing it well, the whole body positivity discourse also involves a bit of work on our part, it should not be a license to just let everything go. Indeed, we should be happy with our bodies, especially with the things we cannot change, things we can change with regards to losing pounds/kilos, healthy eating, a bit of exercise, and basic medical check-ups must be attended to.

Screenings galore

Those things have had my medical minders harping on about what should be checked and noticed so issues can be caught and dealt with promptly. The other day, it was the NHS sending a bowel cancer screening kit that required a sampling of my stool for analysis to be sent in the post for a result that thankfully meant there was nothing to be concerned about. This, I am informed, would be checked every two years.

Another range of issues that have come up have to do with blood pressure, diabetes, prostate cancer, liver and kidney function, and cholesterol checks. Most of these I have twice a year under my regular clinical checks apart from the prostate cancer prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This has come up in a few discussions in group sessions and even closer to home but has been left unattended to.

Blood tales

When the results of blood tests came in just over 2 months ago, I found that my mean corpuscular volume (MCV) and mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) were reading beyond the normal range on the high side and indicative of both Vitamin B12 and folate (Vitamin B9) deficiency. This would mean despite my consumption of red meat and other aspects of diet; I was not getting enough from food and even supplements. All other indicators are normal.

This issue of Folic Acid Deficiency Anaemia came up about 7 years ago and I took supplements for it that subsequent readings came within range. It is the symptom of peripheral neuropathy in my right hand, that got me a bit concerned that I had to call my GP surgery for a conversation, and this meant I was in the surgery early this morning to give blood for a whole battery of tests to assess basically everything.

Eye on the future

It is not only for peace of mind, the knowledge about how your body is performing can allow for the necessary adjustments to keep you well and healthy. I know it is difficult for men to broach and discuss intimate health issues, but what is worse is leaving it to a point when you literally have no other options apart from facing terminal and possibly managed decline.

Having once had life-threatening cancer almost 15 years ago, I am aware of the need to be informed and understanding of the conditions in my body. There are probably times I have been fatalistic thinking I did not have much time left and did not effectively plan for the future. There have been such great advances in medicine and outcomes, then the good results of tests conducted over a decade that would suggest that I have been miraculously blessed to have better health, fitness, and strength than I have had in decades.

This calls for apprehension and anticipation, regulation, and planning, even so, the consideration beyond self to others with whom one shares life, experiences, hope, and a future. If anything is to be learnt, it is, health is wealth and men need to do the healthy to remain wealthy.

Sunday 4 February 2024

Driving confidence

Driving ahead

They say a horse can sense the fear and nervousness of a rider in the saddle, as I am not a horse rider, I hope the first time I do mount a horse, it will feel that beyond my being a learner, I intend to have a really good time exuding confidence that I am being borne with dignity to the extent that the horse would contribute to the experience.

I found myself observing an interesting stance on the control of the automobile. Interestingly, I do not drive, and I cannot drive because of issues with my eyesight reduced by no conception of stereo vision, I have a lazy eye making judging distance and speed of approach quite difficult.

Bosom driving

A lady literally had her chest on the steering wheel, and that was not because of her ‘Dolly Parton’ assets, she had leaned so far forward, her forearms had no clearance as her hands gripped the top of the steering wheel, every so intently, I could sense the apparent lack of confidence in her driving.

It was like her exercise of caution had become a dangerous safety issue if at any time she needed to execute an emergency manoeuvre. Even a non-driver could see it. I would hate to be a passenger in her car.

Then think of those holding the steering wheel at arm’s length, leant back with both hands on the wheel, probably not monarchs of the road but not shy either.

Driving with Mrs

A husband and wife in the car and relaxed driving, both arms dropped down and the steering wheel lightly held at the bottom. They are probably on a leisurely day out.

Then thinking of the man with an arm on the side window and a finger hooking the side of the steering wheel, the other hand on his lap, maybe his head is bopping to the sound of the loud music in his car. That's self-confidence bordering on the supercilious.

My mother started driving in the 60s, though she cannot drive anymore due to sight degeneration. She was always confident and assertive, even on one instance in the mid-1970s, after she was overtaken by a bus driver, he popped his head out of his window to look as if in disbelief that it was a woman driving and driving so well too.

The driving kings

Yet, the kings of the road are not the fast car aficionados who have taken their middle-life crisis to the Ferrari or Lamborghini without having kept trim that they are forklifted into the car, and they have to crawl out on hands and knees, the indignity, it was a widely shared video on social media.

They are in fact, the truck and coach drivers who through use and practice with their fully aware responsibility of human or goods cargo have with practice and experience mastered both vehicle and route, their steering wheels quite like plates angled slightly over their laps and the manoeuvrability that would leave you amazed.

They are confident and effortlessly so.

Driving from the back seat

But I must end with the backseat drivers of which my father is a prime example and from whom I have acquired so much driving theory, I could well be a professor of theoretical driving. In his professional years in senior management, he had company cars that came with his role, and to the company cars were assigned drivers.

One such driver had before been a truck driver and had the penchant for slightly overshooting a turning before turning in as one would when driving a truck or heavy goods vehicle with the length that defines them, this is far different from the shorter length of a 4-door sedan car, and even from being absorbed in the morning newspaper, the Chief Accountant would thunder from behind, the alert for a driving admonition to the driver began with what essentially was his mannerism, “Look!”

Yes, “Look!”, was the equivalent of Jesus’ statements that began with ‘Verily, verily,’ in the King James Version of the Bible, it was the notification to prick your ears for an incoming pearl of driving wisdom. Whilst sitting in the front passenger’s seat, it was there that I learnt, you do not need to put your foot on the brakes to slow down on a motorway, if you have a lot of stopping distance, just shift your gears downward and enjoy the science of automobile engineering.

I have resisted every urge to be a backseat driver where partners like Steven in the 1990s and Brian presently are concerned, they are very good drivers though and I thank them for having such driving confidence, if I had the eyes for it, their example would have stood me well.

Thursday 1 February 2024

Childhood: The fears and hairs that still haunt

What I heard to my hurt

My ears have a sense of betrayal of self, the sounds that syncopate with the rhythmic resonance of my ear drums taking me into worlds that I have never intended to visit. It was one such occasion when my aunt and our male valet or servant were having this conversation about the esoteric and weird, uncanny stories of the evil supernatural in the hearing of an impressionable 10-year-old.

Seeds sown into my vivid imagination would result in 2 terrifying encounters in which I believed I had seen the devil, a red-crested beastly creature at about 7 feet tall, arms raised like in surrender, but I saw terror and the spirit of fear that I never knew before took hold.

A dismissal of my experience

In the first sighting, my father dismissed my screams as some sort of juvenile exuberance and over-excitation, until late at night I woke up to a sound that brought everyone running to my rescue. My mother was both confused and perplexed by this strange change in my demeanour and as we sat in the living room this apparition appeared again.

My listening experience in the space of less than 30 minutes, the unguarded conversations of seeming adults unaware of the consequences of their discussion in the presence of a child would suggest that in the 1970s there was no knowledge of the serious safeguarding requirements to having anyone care for children and the result was a spectrum of child abuse, much of which I have written of.

In the grip of superstition beyond sense

I guess this informs why I curate what I absorb into my overactive imagination, fundamentally, I do not watch horror films, I have the capacity to imagine enough without have the stimulation of things that might go beyond my control.

Maybe I do now rationalise situations in which I find myself that I am more controlling of irrational fear, or so I think. Then I was walking up a road late at night when I realised the open field to my left was in fact a disused cemetery some gravestones displaced like a place abandoned and desecrated to the extent that the forgotten are indeed forgotten in terms of care for the place.

Between the temptation to look there and look away, I quickened my steps and still stole a few glances, for where in folklore have, I acquired the idea that a graveyard, the reliquary of the dead could be a hive of activity that would interact with the living? And yet, whatever schooled that idea into my consciousness has left it unlearnt.

I was ready to scream

Then the hairs still in their roots of my bald scalp were standing on their ends, in an excited state of sense something otherworldly. In the grip of unexplained fear, a wild guttural sound was forming in my throat and ready to explore into a torrent of the fiendish wailing of a banshee, and on the other hand, I checked myself thinking, why are you about to scream about nothing but the phantoms in your head?

It is however likely, if I had screamed I might have not only given voice to the fear, but also it would have allowed the extirpation of the tension, a release that might have brought people to enquire about the source of my discomfiture either for my embarrassment or in sympathy for hapless mental gymnastics with endearing pity for my need of some sort of help.

Time in a timeless appearance

It was not long after that, a homeless man in the recesses of a building along the way nodding to something asked for the time. A time I should have been ensconced in the warmth of my bed. The reckoning wondering is the person I told the time was homeless as pertains to the life in which we live or homeless from the displaced stones of the graveyard in an encounter I was not prepared to countenance.

If there is a lesson in this that has had lasting consequences for almost half a century, it is an admonition to parents to beware of the people they expose their children to, whether relations or employees. I doubt many parents fully appreciate what it might portend and, in my case, I might have been better helped by a child psychiatrist then being trafficked between religious and animist grottos of unlicensed practitioners of strange acts along with the rituals of reading Psalms in a language I hardly spoke into buckets of water for spiritual ablutions to ward away evil spirits.

You haven’t heard half the tale of this gruelling thing, much of which I attempt to forget as I also deign to forgive. Much as one was wronged there is grace that abounds to soothe and calm the troubled soul and it in that knowledge that I have found hope and redemption.

Related blog

Blog - Thought Picnic: A child has memories that last a lifetime

In the dead of the night, don't go changing money for strangers

It’s all on the money

It was a chance to eavesdrop on a conversation that left me wondering about human psychology and social engineering along with the ease with which one can so easily fall for scams or deceit by reason of vanity overwhelming essential self-awareness.

It was at first three people engaged in bargaining activity over money, I could hear the young man and the lady resist every entreaty, that I immediately thought the other man was trying to pawn off some baubles or contraband just to get cash in hand.

The couple was not persuaded and as they separated and this in the witching hour, the man wheeled his bicycle which I had not noticed before towards a black cab where he addressed the driver, and I got a full context of what was going on.

Pounding for a dollar in hand

He had a $100 bill that he wanted to exchange for Pounds Sterling cash and for some reason, this might have been so urgent that he was not ready to wait for a Bureau de Change to open for that business transaction, or so it would seem before my mind took a ponder on the brief scenario that I had witnessed.

The exchange rate at today’s prices suggests $100 would be exchanged for something between £77 and £82 and that is not accounting for transaction costs, commissions, and other charges. I heard the man negotiating from £80 down to around £60.

I won’t know what an authentic $100 bill looks like and how to account for whether it is legal tender or a counterfeit, then a stranger approaches you in the middle of the night with what seems like a bargain, you none the wiser of where he got the bill, beguiled by whatever sob story he has to regale, and your better instincts see you parting with £70 for this unverified paper purporting to be the almighty dollar, you hoping at your convenience you can walk up to a teller at a Bureau de Change and get £80 or maybe £85 for it.

The vanity of half-knowledge

I hate to think of the number of people who have been suckered into the laundering of counterfeit notes and this is not to say the bill in question was counterfeit. Then, many of us might deign to think ourselves seasoned numismaticians (which might read like a neologism, but it is in the Oxford dictionary, I checked), take any bill and give it the handling, feel, sight, light, and smell test, convinced in our assured dilettantism that we have the Real McCoy, only to find at the end of the conversation with the teller, the next day, the teller goes out of sight for a few minutes and next you are being frog-marched by the local constabulary to the station to answer questions, you would never have convincing answers for.

And indeed, that is the quandary, you never got the name of the stranger, he offered no personal details apart from the soothing repartee that eased you gently out of the suspicious and cautionary into the trusting and persuaded, by a total stranger who could easily have been a ghoulish apparition from the city graveyard donning flesh and apparel for the night, just returning from whatever meetings the dead attend.

Always see strangers at night as strange

Yes, I am totally wary of strangers in the dead of the night, striking up conversation with them is something I so totally avoid even as I could be already backslapping strangers in the daytime after a few minutes of engagement. The most I would aver is to tell the time when asked and at a good arm’s length away.

I cannot say if the man did get to change his $100 bill before the breaking of the dawn, but what coursed through my mind was the need to have the presence of mind not to even countenance the thought of exchanging money for strangers, give them something for an urgency, if that is the case, but if you at all listen to the tales and get carried away in the moment that your vanity trammels reason and good sense to assume you are qualified to undertake that transaction, I’ll like to hear that your story is nothing like that worst case scenario I allowed my thoughts to drift to, such that my appreciation of the innate goodness of strangers and humanity is ever so slightly hit.

This could easily have been another Coronavirus streets of Manchester blog. It isn’t.