A Question of Balance
Easts Beach Kiama Sunrise
I mumble “I’m now getting up” to myself as I raise my frame from the sofa, as if to reinforce the notion that I must stand. It’s not a matter of not having the strength, I have that now, cycling has helped in that regard, to return power to my legs. The issue at play here is balance, or the lack of it. The chance that I could launch myself skyward yet come a cropper half way through the trajectory, as I find the angle at which I am ascending to be somewhat askew of the strictly perpendicular, is at the forefront of my thinking, so I verbalise, as if to remind the god of gravity that I am still a little lacking in the stability department.
Before I go on, I should preface my comments by saying that my intended audience for this missive is not the brain tumour community, they may read this and remark “tell me something I don’t already know”. It’s for anyone who may know a brain tumour survivor, or has met one, and who wonders what the fuss is about.
It’s been almost 18 months since my surgery, I have been making good progress, I am back driving my car, I get a good nights sleep, something foreign to me pre-surgery, my countenance has changed, I can do most of the things I would like to do, except ride my bike on the road but of course, it’s a small price to pay and there are benefits, being relieved of motorist angst not the least of them.
But of late, the pace at which I have been making progress has begun to take a toll. I have had to realise, the revelation is a startling one, that things on the outside betray the inner workings. For the past fews weeks the fogginess that I have so readily tried to describe has manifested rather more brutally than I had imagined it might. I have realised that brain tumour recovery, I suppose much like progress in any area, does not proceed in a straight line. Nothing about it is linear.
Without wanting to repeat myself, I’ve previously described mundane activities such as walking to the shops in terms of preparing for a final, making sure there’s a back up plan if the game day strategy somehow disintegrates. Walking at the moment is more difficult than it was 12 months ago. It shouldn’t be, it defies logic that it is, but that is the reality of it. I am finding the effort required to even walk the dog around the block is greater than that of getting on my bike and riding hard for an hour. The reason for this may also defy the reader’s logic but it’s a fact. This is simply the result of the kind of sustained energy and concentration required to prevent falling over, whereas when I’m on the bike, I’m, for all intents and purposes, strapped in. I don’t have to concern myself with staying upright, or well balanced, so as not to run into Mrs Johnston as she’s innocently perusing the Harris Farm fruit and veg.
What I may have considered in the past as being a bit of sport, crossing at a set of lights not specifically indicating to me permission to walk, I now consider plain fool hardy to even contemplate such a daring plan. I now wait, even if it takes another five minutes out of my day – yes, one can wait, around these parts, that long for pedestrians to be given the green light – for the next round of offers to come around so that I can cross the street in relative safety. I don’t care if it makes me look old, overly cautious or somehow infirm. I’m taking as many of the rash decisions out of the new normal equation as I can.
I have to build more common sense into living, and probably, you could observe and accuse me of being that way, overly cautious for a fit man such as myself. But I am beginning to appreciate what lurks around the corner if I go ahead and assume like I once did. That in itself is not such a bad thing when you stop and consider it, the pause to consider, to slow down, to simply relax a little more.
I have just finished reading a book, written by a gentleman by the name of Henry Marsh. He was one of the U.K’s most pre-eminent neurosurgeons. Entitled Do No Harm, he exposes his career to the reader, admits faults and rejoices over triumphs. One chapter was devoted to what he described as the most difficult operation he’d ever undertaken. The tumour that he operated on was precisely the tumour I had, a Petroclival Meningioma, as with these, it’s the location that matters not just the tumour, benign as it was, although I am reminded by my fellow travellers that there is nothing benign about a brain tumour. His operation didn’t go so well. The patient lived but spent seven years bed ridden in a nursing home.
He stated, and bear in mind this is just his opinion and neurosurgeons, even the eminent ones, can be wrong, as Henry would concede, that brain tumour survivors very rarely fully recover. My response is that even if we don’t, and I don’t know whether I will, I certainly haven’t accepted that I won’t, we redefine our lives, what is normal, what is important, what is relevant.
That my surgery was a success, thanks largely to the skill and care of a quite brilliant human being and surgeon, makes me not care that I can’t spin my pedals up through Akuna Bay, or change a light bulb, or rise from the sofa without a groan, or take liberties with traffic, or pull on a pair of pants without some decent planning. What matters is appreciating the things that really matter, and now I must get up, slowly, deliberately and probably, if you’re watching, rather amusingly. My wife has bought cake and I need a cup of tea.