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Karate, Me and Cancer

According to modern statistics, apparently, one in three people is likely to get cancer at some point in their lives. To be perfectly honest, cancer had not really entered my lifestyle, except for my lovely sister, Liz; she got cancer and she battled it hard. This included having both radiotherapy and chemotherapy. She showed great strength and thank the Lord, she recovered and today enjoys a full and active life.

So, when on Friday 21st of September, I had a phone call from a very nice man called Mike, who kindly took it upon himself even though he was in the middle of his holidays, to ring me and tell me that there was no easy way to tell me, but a CT scan had identified a large tumour on my abdomen, and that I needed to get myself into Warwick hospital as soon as possible, I decided that I had better do what he said, so I did.

Within 40 Minutes, there I was with my lovely partner, in the A & E Ward, where I had been submitted as a “surgical entry patient”, snappily-dressed I thought, in a hospital patient's floral smock, having blood tests, and meeting a multitude of nice professional NHS staff who were asking me all sorts of questions.

I was put in a ward and then after a couple of hours into an isolation room (nice, had its own loo and shower), and at 10am on Sunday, 23rd of September, I was operated on by a very skilled surgeon called Miss Busby. Some four hours plus, I woke up in the ICU (or Intensive Care Unit). My first dizzy thoughts were: "Oh good, I have woken up, not gone yet." Next thought was I was in a nice comfortable bed in my own room with a nice nurse lady asking me how I felt.

I replied that I was fine, thank you very much. At that point, other nice medical staff appeared and a whole series of tests were done, blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, in fairness, a well-oiled machine, taking care of me because unknown to me, post the operation, they were worried that I had sepsis, or blood poisoning, that had followed complications when removing the tumour.

The next three days were spent for me in a very happy place; I could not eat anything, I had pipes and needles everywhere and a succession of lovely visitors. My mum, brother who lives in Scotland, my sisters, my lovely daughter and her wonderful mum and always there, my own angel Yvi, who was there all the time.

The simple reason that I was in such a happy place was simple. I was out of my head, care of my new best friend morphine. Now, I have never been one for drugs, other than the buzz that you get after a brilliant hard session in the dojo. But this was revelation, made even better after a very lovely nurse called Pam explained that I had in my possession a magic green button, every time I felt like it (i.e. any pain in my heavily punctured stomach), all I had to do was press the magic button, and I was immediately filled with happy juice that went straight to my brain.

Well, that was it. Every two hours, I would nod off and my bed turned into a magic carpet. I was off all over the place, I could travel through furniture, forests, oceans... seriously, it was amazing. Unbeknown to me, of course, was that this also meant that when I had visitors, I was out of my tree. My siblings nicknamed me Captain Morphine, as I talked utter nonsense in reply to their questions as to how I felt. Typical reply was: "Yes, I feel great, thanks. I have just been to Narnia on my magic carpet."

Unbeknown to me, my family and loved ones were there because I had just had my life saved with a major operation that had removed a tumour that the surgeon later told me was the size of her fist. Complete oblivion and a just get on with it attitude because I knew no better, because well, all was fine, obviously, as I was still here.

Fast forward ten days, I’m in a ward living the surreal life of a cancer patient, along with a collection of five complete strangers, who all share a common journey. Namely, we are all in various stages of being treated by the angels and stars who come along and fix you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in a world where night and day and time are not distinguishable anymore.

Karate still weighed heavily on my mind, deep in the middle of the night, when I could not sleep, I would move my hands, trying to remember and emulate all the kata that I knew. Feet were unable to follow, as I could barely walk and getting out of bed was a long, slow process of pain management.

I have already been told off for trying to practise kata in the day room, by a consultant who, having observed the hand movements of Gojushiho Sho, decided that it was time that she stepped in as I attempted to move my various drips into position so that I could walk through the finer points. My attempts to explain the value of kata practise were quickly swept aside, as I was reminded that I had just had major bowel surgery.

Each morning while I was asleep, the surgeon and a small army would sweep in to my cubicle, pull the blue curtain across and ask how I was. To be honest, I was half asleep and would attempt to reply, unfortunately in my dazed and confused condition, I kept calling the lady surgeon in charge the wrong name. Her name was 'Miss Busby', but every day without fail I would reply to her 'how are we today question', with a: "Yes, ticketyboo, thank you very much, Miss Bowelsby."

This invariably resulted in giggling and smirking from the small army who stood behind her with clipboards who under hospital protocol were not allowed to speak. However, Miss Busby and myself were about to have a conversation that would not involve giggling; she invited me into an office where with another very nice lady nurse in a dark blue uniform, she explained to me that on the positive side, she had got rid of the tumour, which she described as 'not behaving like she wanted it to'. And that she felt confident that it had been removed from the abdomen.

However, she then told me that cells had moved into the bowel, and that I would need chemotherapy to combat it. I asked the big question: "So what are my chances to beat this?" "To be honest", she said, "I do not know. We will have to wait and see. But you are young and very fit so you stand a chance."

So, with that she was gone and I simply said to myself, I do not care what it takes, I will beat this, and the words of my Sensei, Shihan Cyril Cummins, 8th Dan rang through me: “Never give up, never give in”.

And in truth that has been my attitude and philosophy from that day to this, the thing is you see my dear friends. karate is not simply punching, kicking, blocking, Kihon, Kata, Kumite, it is about over coming your self, not just physically, emotionally, and more importantly the improvement of oneself, and being a better person than you were, as O Sensei Funakoshi said it is about seeking perfection of oneself and character.

So, I take enormous strength and heart from my life in Karate and the outpouring of love and support that I have received. It fortifies the spirit and the soul. It is the source of strength and belief that makes whatever challenge life gives you the power to overcome.

I will keep you posted my reader friend. There are battles to be had, but come what may the mantra remains true:

Never give up, never give in.


Sensei Austin

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