Karate, me and cancer. Part 2
I hope that you are well and that your Karate journey continues to evolve with positive results. I wrote a blog about 4 weeks ago, after I had undergone what actually turned out to be life-saving surgery for a rather nasty and large tumour that had decided that it would make its home on my abdomen.
In fairness, in my happy state of ignorance, I had absolutely no idea until I received the phone call from my physician to say that I had to get myself to hospital straight away as I needed urgent surgery. Being the typically compliant and polite Englishman that I am, I did exactly what was asked and presented myself to the fine folk at Warwick hospital.
Having already chronicled what happened with the operation and my time in hospital, I thought that I would share with you what has happened since. Firstly, I have to say coming home was brilliant. Staying in hospital is an utterly surreal experience where day and night blur along with time. This resulted in my body clock essentially going on strike. I ended up being awake for most of the night and regularly nodding off throughout the day, as the combination of drugs, morphine, and exhaustion coupled with the natural benefit that sleep to heal the body all kicked in resulting in my reversed sleep/ wake pattern.
My relief at leaving hospital was essentially because it meant that I had survived the operation and had not as General Bernard Montgomery used to say when referring to troops who had been killed in combat “not crossed the Jordan”. In truth, I had no real idea just how seriously ill that I had been until I got out. My immediate family and friends all did, but Captain Morphine, as I became known, was in blissful ignorance.
Essentially what happened to me was that the cancer which was quite aggressive had been busy growing and about a week before I was diagnosed, it blew up. The result was that bits of it scappered and decided to move on from my abdomen and take up residence in the bowel and colon. This of course explained my physical symptoms of a grey colour, massive and rapid weight loss, a complete lack of energy, and a general feeling of not being my usual cheery chappie self. Ironically, within this time, I also managed to teach Karate; once as a guest instructor, and once in my own dojo. As a sensible precaution, given my rapid and unreliable bowel habits, I fortunately invested in purchasing the largest size Tena pants that Boots sold. The logic was simple, I did not want to get caught short as it were, with the runs (never good at the best of times, but in a nice crispy white Karate gi, a let’s face it, life-changing and quite horrific trauma), not just for me but God forbid for all those who might witness an “accident”.
Fortunately, as it happened, such precautions were not required and a healthy dose of adrenaline, ignorance, and determination saw both lessons pass without, as the Police like to say “without incident”.
Interestingly, when I was in hospital, I found myself quite frequently going through kata; not only in my head but with my hands. Indeed, I found myself bursting with energy. Bizarrely, this has resulted since I left hospital with contracting insomnia. Now, I had never had this before, and I have to tell you, it is horrendous. I am desperate to sleep but my brain, and even worse my hands and feet want to exercise.
As a result, I literally, as soon as my head hits the pillow, have this overwhelming desire to get up and move. At first, I had a strange form of jazz hands but I soon converted this into advanced kata, normally between 2 and 5am. Now, to be honest, there is absolutely nothing good about this, as your body is demanding sleep, especially after the trauma of major surgery. As for me, I was basically passing the time by doing kata and then watching utterly rubbish TV shows, these included Walker: Texas Ranger staring Chuck Norris, one of my teenage Karate heroes. I soon came to realise that watching it was actually better with the sound muted. Each episode allowed Chuck to demonstrate his excellent kicking ability, normally resulting in him physically kicking very large bulky bad guys through wooden doors and window frames.
I have to admit that it has been seriously frustrating not being able to pop down the dojo and train. Mind you, I did succed in popping down to the gym, and film myself doing Jion, admittedly at a snails pace and without using any kicks due to the stitches in my stomach. On reflection, this was a bad decision, as the low stances resulted in pain to said stitches which had already managed to get an infection, resulting in antibiotics and a regular stream of bright yellow pus, that stained my pantalons. Lesson learned don’t be a pratt, and be a patient patient, as it were.
Although physically all I can do is emulate the kata by means of hands only, mentally and physically I’m keeping my Karate knowledge sharp, this is all that I can do, so that is what I will do. Such discipline is important, as I have this week been informed that starting soon I will be undergoing a 6 month chemotherapy program. This will require two treatments that will operate over a three week cycle. This is not an easy experience; the side effects manual has 15 pages. Now in fairness, every person reacts differently with a very few lucky souls having no side effecya. However, knowing my luck, I am expecting to pick up the full monty of crap side effects.
Naturally feeling utterly terrible for 3 weeks over 8 consecutive cycles is not likely to see me in the dojo, especially when quite frankly getting out of bed will be an achievement in itself. But, until the process starts no one can predict what will happen, so my Karate journey remains interrupted, however, I will endeavour to maintain doing as many kata per day as I possibly can, even if it is just jazz hands. This of course is perfectly in fitting with my Shihan’s philosophy of “Never Give Up, Never Give In”. And suitably inspired I will not. I will, however, attempt to blog on as I go through the treatment.
Karate and my Karate family have been magnificent in ensuring my spirit remains and stays strong and my resolve as determined as ever. After all, anyone of us can get cancer, so if I can help people understand what it is like living with it, and still be strong and full of resolve, then that is what I will do.
Keep the faith and keep training,
Austin Birks, Karateka and cancer patient