Cycle five and the light at the end of the tunnel

Less than two weeks into the fifth cycle I felt healthy again, prepared to be infused for the last time with poison, in fact I wanted to get it over with, to bring forward my appointment a week.


As soon as I left the hospital at the start of this cycle I knew there was only one more visit to go. Light was already visible at the end of the tunnel and, despite periods of foggy confusion, remained so throughout the rest of the cycle, which turned out to be much less challenging and traumatic than all previous cycles.


After the hellish experiences of cycle four I was determined I was not going to repeat any of it. No more self indulgent fury. Much more mental discipline. I do not know if it was this determination that made the difference, but it is the only difference there was – all medication was exactly the same, the circumstances of my life have not changed, I ate much the same as I usually do, the weather continued to fluctuate incomprehensibly through many seasons during the course of a single day.


The effects of the poison were the same as usual, but they were milder and lasted only into half way through the second week, at the end of which I was ready again for another dose. The only dip was when, at the start of the final week, my regular monthly subcutaneous injection of Degarelix – the chemical castrator that suppresses hormone production and turns me menopausal – reacted badly and pushed me back for a day or so into the depths of the chemotherapy lurgy, piling on the hot flushes beyond anything I have experienced. But it passed.


At the beginning of the cycle I concentrated on completing the piece about revolution that had been too much infected during the previous cycle by unresolved fury. With my new determination, this was an exercise designed to focus attention and sharpen up my mental attitude by concentrating on something other than bodily challenges and the collateral damage of medical intervention. I believe I articulated precisely what is at stake during the current crisis. The bizarre circus that is UK politics at the moment does not affect my being, my powerlessness against it intellectualised away with political philosophy, through gritted teeth. In daily life too I found ways of ensuring my rage was safely internalised.


I decided that I should more often move about, rather than take to my bed as a way of getting through the lurgy. Often at the point when I think it is time to lie down and seek sleep against another wave of indescribable discomfort or twinging pains, it is better to get up and move about, to go for a walk or just for a run in the car with my lovely wife. At home, I have attached my mountain bike to a home-trainer so I can turn my legs for a while at variable resistance with different gearing, so as to move through the muscle groups and give me a good workout. Once I get into the zone here my body remembers journeys from the past, cycling across Europe, through the Rockies and in cities all over the place. Happily, muscle memory of quarter a million cycling miles does not fade.


With my new determination and active attitude, my lovely wife and I were able to get out a lot more, though we never got higher than the summit of West Lomond, which is always worth the effort, for the views in all directions are spectacular. From the car park on the high point on the road between Falkland and Leslie in the col between the hills, it is a long rising walk to a final slog, which either spirals round the north of the summit cone or piles on straight up. We climbed it with friends before the end of the second week of the cycle – at this stage on the previous cycle I had still confined myself to bed. 


We also took a trip to Border Country (to visit Martyn, his wife and Coll, because neither of us was up to a Munro right now) and back via East Lothian. We walked often along the West Sands at St Andrews with a borrowed dog, investigated some of Fife’s flourishing summer woodlands, and I took a trip with an old school friend to see the ospreys at Dunkeld. I am looking forward now to getting out a lot more during the final cycle as it peters out into the rest of my life, to the first forays into mountains and a trip in the campervan.


For a while I have been a bit trepidatious about the rest of my life. It feels a bit odd to be embarking once again upon a new future I was not expected to enjoy, once more looking for something to do with my time, for respectable employment. What could a person in my condition offer? Who would employ me or give me work? How easy will it be to fit in again to a working day? How long will this PIP last?


But then, just on the last day of the cycle, my Dutch biologist friend came round for tea and gave me the go-ahead to translate his book and to project manage its publication. So not only do I have a future again, I have something to do with it, and I look forward to presenting, at some as yet unspecified point in this future, a translation into English of De Ontsnapping van de Natuur. Watch this space!


The first five cycles have clarified a great deal in my mind, brought it to rest in a way I had not expected. The opportunity afforded to write has been most productive. Maybe chemotherapy was not such a hellish experience after all; the collateral damage will pass, but the words will remain always written.


The light at the end of the tunnel grows stronger.




Author: Duncan Spence

Mountaineer, retired bicycle messenger, philosopher, wordsmith, proofreader, Dutch translator.

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