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Karate and Cancer: Update Number 3

So here we are in January 2019, and I am delighted to say that Enso, like myself, has survived a year. Hard to think that just over a year ago, amongst much excitement, the fledgling club took off.

In fairness, considering the model of the club, it was a bit of a risk. Most dojos exist for the purpose of encouraging beginners and instigating them through the learning curve from beginner through the coloured belts and then the brown belt spectrum and then finally, hopefully several years on, Dan grade students emerge from the process.

I decided that I wanted to do something a tad different from day one. The purpose of Enso was really to keep black belts and club instructors training at a standard that attempted to keep them improving and learning, as well as myself. And while numbers have been modest, the effort and commitment of those good men and women who have supported the club has been outstanding. However, I never envisaged the club being anything other than a melting pot for senior Karate across Kihon, Kata, and Kumite, to dive in head first and continue the lifelong journey.

All, fine and dandy, and everything was looking good until September 14th, 2018, when with two day's notice and a short stay in hospital, I had major surgery to remove a major tumour from my abdomen. Clearly, this was not in my crystal ball, but in fairness it is life, and it happens, I never thought that it would happen to me, but it did, and it just goes to show two things. One, cancer is indiscriminate and does not care who gets it. Two, when you get it, it is easy to fall into a dark trap, questioning your mortality, for me I never allowed my mindset to engage this negative option. Indeed just the opposite, the mindset was fused by my life in Karate.

"Never give up, never give in" was the mantra of my Sensei, the one and only, Shihan Cyril Cummins, 8th Dan. He did not just teach Karate, he taught you about yourself, and about life. This was and remains for the me, the greatest gift that Karate can bestow.

There is, however, a perverse irony in that both Sensei Cummins and Master Keinosuke Enoeda ("the boss") were both diagnosed with bowel cancer that ultimately proved one battle too many. However, they both showed the true spirit of Shotokan Karate in their resolve and courageous dignity, in facing the final battle. Their example has given me the spirit and the hope, and the desire to fight this and beat it. A worthy aspiration and obviously tied in to the strong desire to keep this mortal coil, to quote the Bard.

However, this week the odds changed as I was diagnosed with a white blood cell count that was not only too low for the scheduled chemotherapy but also made me at very high risk, due to a complete lack of any immunity, to severe sepsis. This blood poisoning killer takes lives, it destroys human organs and people pass away very quickly. On the side of ambulances it gives details about the symptoms. There is a good reason for this. It is designed to keep people alive. The symptoms are subtle, as a result of my lack of immunity, I was advised not to go out for a week, it also meant that most days I had to have blood tests, this required popping to hospital every day and checking to see if the white blood cell count had gone up. Being confined to barracks and being unable to meet people, train at the gym, and live an ordinary life was for me, a very challenging experience. Worst of all was not being able to put on my gi and get training, especially as I was fortunate enough to train over the Christmas period.

So, after one week of checking my temperature with a thermometer every hour to ensure that I did not hit the 37.5 level, or even worse 38, that is basically the grim reaper not only knocking at the door, but half way through it, I was delighted that the temperature count remained at a safe level, and by the end of the week I was teaching, and training, knowing that if honest, I was not out of the woods. The reality is that thinking that you are OK is actually a dangerous game.

One of the things that has occurred to me is that you really need to respect this illness, but you cannot allow yourself to become a prisoner to it. I refuse to let cancer dictate my lifestyle choices. I will of course always respect the advice and instruction that I have been given by the wonderful medical staff. I obey the rules, especially when the rules keep you alive.

So, five months down the line from becoming a cancer patient I am about to undertake chemo session number three out of eight. Still a long way to go, but while there is breath in these old bones, that gi will be going on whenever I physically and dare I say it, sensibly, can train (well mostly sensible). So, death scare over for now in the short term, but still a longer battle and war to win. I will keep you posted my dear friends, but remember this, cancer can affect anyone of us, but today like never before, the medical advancements and treatments are better than ever. But, you need to keep mentally focused and keep belief in yourself, and seek perfection of Karate, now, where have I seen that before.

Osu! Keep safe and train hard.

Austin