Health

Antrim - 25 June - 12 of 22

A scenic and happily hill-free parkrun at Antrim with family, friends and colleagues present. 

Thanks to the Bulls,

Antrim-A3
the McGlades

Antrim-A4

and BT's David Brady for their presence and support...

Antrim-A6

The parkrun community thrives due to its volunteering ethos, and Antrim's Volunteers, including Event Director Kathy Hood welcomed us all, especially the 40 or so graduates from a recent Run-Anon Aidan Couch-2-5k programme.

David Brady proved an effective co-runner on the course. I had emailed around BT's Belfast Software Engineering Centre and have been heartened by offers to run with me at future runs.  Many runners aim for their PB - personal best.  I offer a unique opportunity to experienced runners of achieving their PW - personal worst! - by running with me, and David gladly obliged.  

Aidan, pictured below, organises Couch-2-5k programmes in the area.  We have met at previous parkruns.  An effective & energetic coach, Aidan was roving to-and-fro encouraging people running their first 5k, and myself, thereby boosting psychological state & physical performance. Our world needs more of that.  

I was chuffed to receive my first piece of runners' bling - a "Run Anon" medal.

Antrim-D1

Antrim proved to be the day for runners' accessories.  Deirdre McKenney introduced herself as involved with Antrim parkrun.  Deirdre's employer Dow Chemical is merging with DuPont and, given that BT recently bought EE, we were able to swap notes on our experiences of integrating corporate organisations.  Deirdre opened up a bag and brought out ... a 2016 Olympic Torch!  So, an unexpected photo opportunity!

Antrim-E4

Antrim-E3a

Design details of this year's Olympic Torch are here ... an interesting read.

Finishing my 12th run felt significant this week.  After stem cell transplant on 24 December 2013, Friday represented the half-way mark to the five-year-free-of-cancer milestone.  On Thursday, with a couple of small lymph nodes persisting in my neck, I'd had a biopsy and the surgeon said I'd be ok to run. I'm feeling very well - stronger than ever - and such scares can happen occasionally for some cancer survivors.  So we're hoping for a renewed all-clear in a couple of weeks.

As former Sullivan School Head Teacher John Young wrote to me in September 1984 ...

"Fight hard. Keep going."

... one of my lifelong mantras.  

No PB at Antrim this week, then, due to gentle running after biopsy.

This week, especially, thank-you to Ruth, experienced co-runner David, Claire & Jamie, the McGlades, Patricia McCauley, torch-bearer Deirdre, fellow-runner Claire McDowell Williamson and Aidan for their strengthening support.  Presence and encouragement are very significant.

Looking forward to running Carrickfergus next week.

Antrim photo album is here.  Facebook's photo viewing experience is better, album here.

 

Project Objectives

Raised for Leukaemia & Lymphoma: £8960

Raised for Delete Blood Cancer: £500

People registered with Delete Blood Cancer: 62

People who have signed up with parkrun: 19

Tim's Running Progress

#

Date

Course

Time

Position

Age Grade

1

19 Mar

Belfast Victoria

36:22

177/209

41.2%

2

26 Mar

Belfast Waterworks

37:05

222/237

40.4%

3

16 Apr

Bangor Ward Park

42:10

386/390

35.53%

4

23 Apr

Portrush

40:22

140/155

37.12%

5

7 May

Queens

38:10

162/167

39.26%

6

14 May

Enniskillen

39:18

136/145

38.13%

7

21 May

Comber

37:56

94/103

39.50%

8

28 May

Limavady

35:42

32/37

41.97%

9

4 June

Valley

39:03

181/265

38.37%

10

11 June

Wallace

37:37

183/191

39.83%

11

18 June

Ormeau

35:13

328/352

42.55%

12

25 June

Antrim

37:39

198/216

39.80%


Ormeau - 18 June - 11 of 22

With BT Riverside Tower a mile and a half away, Ormeau was, as David Mark said the "BT home match".  I really appreciated the great support this week from many colleagues at this beautiful course on a midsummer day.  Thanks, also, to Sue from RQIA who came and ran alongside me.

Ormeau_A5
Our BT posse included Gavin Raby (technology consultant), Gavin "Head Up" McBride, Raymond "Who's under 25 or 30 minutes?" Fullerton, Mark "I've just run 10 miles" Crothers and PB-seeker John Purvis.

In 52 years, I don't recall being in Ormeau Park.  It's another beautiful place - recommended for a walk or run.

Ormeau_A2

From the first of the 22 parkruns, my target has simply been less than 40 minutes. However, I mentioned to Gavin and Mark that this time - with a flat course and unprecedented support - I had the PB from Limavady 35:42 in my sights.

Run Director Gerard Walls gave everyone a warm welcome.  We chatted briefly before the run and it became clear that here was someone promoting health and well-being locally. Gerard agreed to a video interview after the run before he moved on to guiding the Couch 2 5K participants arriving at Ormeau later that morning. 

Once again, I struggled to keep my head up as the run proceeded.  I seriously need to keep working at the conditioning training, including a specific focus on strengthening my trapezius muscle.  

Thanks to the Ormeau Volunteers and the posse running with me for encouragement around the course.  I was pleased, after some exertion, to have knocked 29 seconds off my PB, now down to 35:13.

After the run, with Ruth as camerawoman, we recorded this video interview.  

As a Health Promotion Specialist, Gerard works within the community, including with people facing challenging circumstances at home, work and/or some sort of trauma.  

Gerard encourages people to look at health in a holistic way - including mental, physical, emotional and environmental angles.  "It's down to resilience" and "taking life by the horns" to live life in ways that promote happiness and well-being.

Considering the demands of life and work Gerard asks "are you taking time out?"

For people in the Ormeau area, here's information on resources.  Zooming out, there is also the wider Jog Belfast initiative including Couch 2 5K and Beyond 5K. Information at UK national level is here.

The Ormeau photo album is here.

Looking forward to Antrim next week!

Project Objectives

Raised for Leukaemia & Lymphoma: £8816

Raised for Delete Blood Cancer: £500

People registered with Delete Blood Cancer: 62

People who have signed up with parkrun: 19

Tim's Running Progress

#

Date

Course

Time

Position

Age Grade

1

19 Mar

Belfast Victoria

36:22

177/209

41.2%

2

26 Mar

Belfast Waterworks

37:05

222/237

40.4%

3

16 Apr

Bangor Ward Park

42:10

386/390

35.53%

4

23 Apr

Portrush

40:22

140/155

37.12%

5

7 May

Queens

38:10

162/167

39.26%

6

14 May

Enniskillen

39:18

136/145

38.13%

7

21 May

Comber

37:56

94/103

39.50%

8

28 May

Limavady

35:42

32/37

41.97%

9

4 June

Valley

39:03

181/265

38.37%

10

11 June

Wallace

37:37

183/191

39.83%

11

18 June

Ormeau

35:13

328/352

42.55%


Valley - 4 June - 9 of 22

(Run report late this week due to various commitments...)

Another week; another full-on parkrun experience at a great course on a beautiful day.

Valley was, by some way, the most demanding run yet - the sustained incline on each of the two laps was not easy.

This was the graduation of over 80 "Run Newtownabbey" Couch-to-5k graduates - a nine week programme organised by Mallusk Harriers

5k Graduates

Several people said they'd had a sleepless night anticipating their first 5k - this was a Big Day.

It was a Big Day for Valley parkrun too, with 254 people running.  Having run 9 of 22 NI parkruns to date, in terms of numbers, this was second only to Bangor's 358 runners on 16th April.

The event was well organised - lots of Volunteers, clear directions for people, administration, sponsors supplying refreshments & T-shirts.

After giving the pre-race briefing, Alex Davidson invited me to start the run, counting down to zero.  I felt honoured and without a doubt, this is a personal highlight of this six month #TimPageFitForLife project. 

Valley-B5


Valley-RKSon Downey ran alongside me - his first parkrun.  

My time was up significantly, to 39:03, partly due to the incline.

Without Downey's encouragement, I might have been over my 40 minute threshold. 

 


The Couch-to-5k graduation was marked by people receiving their certificates, along with a very generous spread laid on by the Harriers.

Before leaving, I waved cheerio to Alex who was speaking to the 5k graduates and their supporters.  Alex pulled me up onto the stage to say something.  The media had earlier reported the death of Muhammad Ali.  Being a collector of quotes, one was in my hand as I stood on the stage.

Ali-Champions
At Valley I saw 80+ people run their first 5k.

Guided through their preparation, they achieved something significant and beneficial within the context of lively community and a spirit of encouragement.

These people, with basic running skills, had determined to push through physical discomfort, and any doubts about their capacity, to achieve their 5k goal.

Recalling the words of Champion Ali, the 5k Graduates' 'will was stronger than their skill'.  It was a privilege to acknowledge the Valley runners' personal achievement in front of their supporting family and friends.

 

I left Valley pondering what one word could capture the experience.

Saturday at Valley was "Dynamic"...

  • Valley parkrun and local running groups are introducing people to new experience, enabling personal achievement
  • There is collaboration with the Council & the Valley Park, e.g. signage and the Leisure Centre, e.g. promoting Couch-to-5k
  • There is engagement with, and support from, business sponsors and the local press
  • There was a strong Community spirit of volunteering and mutual encouragement

This was another parkrun Saturday event when I experienced that parkrun is about more than running.

Photos from Valley are here and here's a good list of Muhammad Ali quotes.

Thanks to everyone for the welcome, hospitality and interest in this project supporting Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI - a good local charity,

My 10th run is at Wallace on Saturday 11 June, Wallace venue details here.

Best wishes,

Tim.

 

Project Objectives

Raised for Leukaemia & Lymphoma: £8632

Raised for Delete Blood Cancer: £400

People registered with Delete Blood Cancer: 62

People who have signed up with parkrun: 11

 

Tim's Running Progress

#

Date

Course

Time

Position

Age Grade

1

19 Mar

Belfast Victoria

36:22

177/209

41.2%

2

26 Mar

Belfast Waterworks 

37:05

222/237

40.4%

3

16 Apr

Bangor Ward Park

42:10

386/390

35.53%

4

23 Apr

Portrush

40:22

140/155

37.12%

5

7 May

Queens

38:10

162/167

39.26%

6

14 May

Enniskillen

39:18

136/145

38.13%

7

21 May

Comber

37:56

94/103

39.50%

8

28 May

Limavady

35:42

32/37

41.97%

9

4 June

Valley

39:03

181/265

38.37%


Waterworks - 26 March - 2 of 22

237 runners today at Belfast Waterworks - the photo album is here, parkrun results here.  I was aiming for less than 40 minutes again today, and pleased with 37:05. 

_Runkeeper_Data_WaterworksIt was great to have BT colleague Mark Crothers running with me again.  Last week at Victoria Park, Mark kept reminding me to keep my head up - helps breathing - and these reminders were necessary again.  Waterworks has two inclines; you go up each twice and 'small steps' is the approach to
take.  On one incline, I was finding it tough going and Mark said "Keep breathing!".  This took me straight back to the day in December 2014 when I walked into Belfast City Hospital Ward 10 North for stem cell transplant, not totally relaxed, and the admitting nurse said "All you have to do is keep breathing!"  Generally good advice.

It was also great to have Patricia McAuley and friends Heather Chestnutt, Karl & Kerri Thrower, Parkrun Jim, Eric Morrison, David Mark, Alistair Shaw and Claire Bell running today.

Rosy Ryan had been in touch before today, and I hope to catch up with Rosy about her own life and running experiences later in the year. When I found the going getting tough today, Rosy deployed a catchy mantra...

"My feet are light, my legs are strong, I can keep this pace all day long!"

On Easter Monday, I'm off to India with work for a couple of weeks, where I intend to stay fit and lose some more weight - one stone down, two stone still to go.  Below, there's the updated progress against objectives table.

I wish you a very Happy Easter, and look forward to seeing people at Bangor's Ward Park on 16 April

Project Objectives

Raised for Leukaemia & Lymphoma: £6538
People registered with Delete Blood Cancer: 62
People who have signed up with parkrun: 4

Tim's Running Progress

Run # Date Course Run Time Position Age Grade
1 19 March Belfast Victoria 36:22 177/209 41.20%
 2 26 March Belfast Waterworks  37:05  222/237  

 


TimPageFitForLife - one objective met

1fTwo days before the first parkrun, we have reached £5542 - when our objective was £5000 by the final parkrun in September.  I am so encouraged by the response and donations.

Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI appreciate the donations via the TimPageFitForLife mydonate site.  And, over the months, we will have some stories about medical research, human resilience and ways into physical fitness.

If you can join us for the TimPageFitForLife launch this Saturday, 19-March, that would be great.  Cheer people on, or come and run.  The parkrun dates are listed here.

One further thing - if you're on Facebook, have a look at Melanie's pagecampaigning for NI patients to have access to drugs that are available in GB.  Yes, funds are tight.  Yet, as Melanie says, if a prescription item charge of 50p for all was introduced, that could help make these drugs available locally.  I think we can afford that... as Melanie quotes from the film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure,

"Be excellent to each other."

And, Happy Birthday to Ruth - we journey together.  The day we got married we promised to love each other

"when it is easy and when it is difficult"

You did and do. The world is a better place with you in it.
x

Tim


At the pool of Bethesda

“At the pool of Bethesda, Jesus healed a man who couldn't walk” – John 5:1-15

Unwell through Autumn 2013, with relapsed aggressive lymphoma, I lived in Belfast City Hospital for nearly 6 months.  Over time I lost power and mobility, due to weakness and being confined to bed with up to 6 pumps attached to me for a week at a time.

BCH-pumpsSuffering from ‘cabin fever’, I recall a precious half hour ‘jailbreak’ in the sun outside the Cancer Centre with son Chris, and Chris Agnew, as we enjoyed a Polly Pineapple each.

By May 2014, convalescence was progressing.  Ruth and I could visit Barcelona for our wedding anniversary.  By the sea, there’s a spacious plaza and I could barely contain the sheer pleasure of being alive, well and able to walk about freely under the expansive blue sky.  Truly, “He had led me into an open space.” (Psalm 18:19)

At Bethesda, Jesus did not say “Get up, take your bedroll and sit down to watch Jeremy Kyle on daytime TV.”

Rather, he asked a question, “Do you want to get well?”, and then directed the invalid of 38 years to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

Along with Jesus’ gift of healing came freedom, individual autonomy and an opportunity to move forwards.

On return to work on 1 September 2014, I was still weak.  Signing up with a Personal Trainer for two sessions a week proved to be a good decision and I’m now the strongest I’ve ever been.  Getting fitter, I resolved to complete a 5k run in 2015 and, on Saturday 5-November, I joined 161 runners to run three laps of Belfast’s Victoria Park.  The encouraging words of other runners and onlookers – “You can do it!”, “Nearly there!”, “Keep going!” – remain with me three months later.  Of 162 runners, I finished 162nd.  But I finished.  Exhausted, I sat down.  Suddenly, tears of gratitude for running the race.  A lingering parkrun volunteer greeted this trailing runner.  His presence, positivity and gentle support will remain with me for ever.

In December, I decided to set myself the challenge of running all 22 Northern Ireland parkruns.  Then, on New Year’s Eve 2015, Roger Grant encouraged me (that word again!) to run in support of a charity. 

So, from March, each Saturday, I will join each NI parkrun to advance the aims of a “Fit For Life” project which include: Portrush space

  1. Raising £5000 for local research charity Leukaemia and Lymphoma NI
  2. Encouraging people to register with Delete Blood Cancer as potential stem cell donors
  3. Promoting the benefits of fitness for everyone

The first run will be 19-March at Victoria Park.  On 16-April at 09.15, I’ll be at Bangor’s Ward Park.  You are welcome to come along to run or to cheer people on.

In the words of hymn 739 - “May I run the race before me, strong and brave to face the foe, looking only unto Jesus as I onward go.”

For more information on this project see www.timpagefitforlife.com 


Two Towers

New perspectives for Easter 2015.

1 September 2014

It’s the first day of my return-to-work plan agreed with Occupational Health following a year’s sick leave due to relapsed Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. I’m in British Telecom’s Riverside Tower, close to Belfast’s River Lagan and the Waterfront Hall. A regular Monday morning conference call is about to begin, reviewing changes that have been made over the weekend and considering the week ahead.

Chris Jenkins has dialled in early from Swindon, welcomes me back and asks, ‘I suppose a lot has changed?’  Actually, no it hasn’t, and I’m surprised. It’s the same building, the same people at the same desks, wearing the same headsets.  The whiteboard even has the same writing as a year ago.  I blurt out something vague about a changed perspective on life.  But I’m not very articulate.

Colleagues enter the room with smiles and operational urgency.  We don’t finish our conversation; Chris tails off, ‘So nothing has changed. And everything has changed…’ 

2 March 2015

I’m back to work full time.

During the five months I spent in hospital the previous year – months when my odds of survival were 50/50 – I used to look down from Belfast City Hospital’s Level 10, thinking of all the work happening on the 12 floors of the Lego-brick-sized Riverside Tower I could see in the distance.

Skyline from BCH Tower 5-Jan-2014

Now, restored to health, I survey the Belfast skyline from Riverside Tower, seeing in the distance a Lego brick-sized City Hospital Tower Block.  And I can better articulate the shift in perspective. I have an acute appreciation of the preciousness and precariousness of life, recalling a concerned nursing assistant, when I was at my lowest, explaining that she needed to position my bed closer to the resuscitation facilities.  I see profound significance in small acts of kindness, having experienced the certainty of regular midnight tea, hot toast and a brief chat with one of the exceptional nursing assistants working during my salvage chemotherapy.  And I know the motivating power of encouraging words, remembering the effect of the cleaner on the morning shift who suggested some colourful language I might want to direct at the cancer cells.

Skyline from Riverside Tower 2-Mar-2015True, both the Riverside and City Hospital Towers are still standing in their customary positions. Nothing has changed. But everything has changed.  I’m still working out how ways in which valuing life, practical gestures and encouraging words can impact the ‘new normal’.

At times in hospital, I was confined to bed and chair, either due to weakness, pumps and tubes, or to the requirement for isolation following stem cell transplant.  One revelation since then has been the rediscovery of space – the ability to just move about – whether it’s a lunchtime stroll around the Lagan or simply walking down the street with home in view.  As Psalm 18:19 says, ‘He brought me out into a spacious place’.  And, more than before, finding space to nurture connection with God seems vital.

However, there’s a knottier shift in perspective too.  I’m more aware of others’ suffering – disease, poverty, abuse and conflicts between people in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Gaza – unimaginable levels of suffering.

During a recent retreat at Tobar Mhuire, the Passionist Community in Crossgar, I had a helpful conversation with Fr John Friel.  In passing, he mentioned theologian Johann Baptist Metz.  Metz’ emphasis that ‘Human persons are not just hearers of the Word, but also doers of the Word’ was influenced by a formative experience during the Second World War.  After training at Würzburg Nazi base, the 16-year-old Metz arrived at the front where his company numbered one hundred young men.  One evening the commander sent him with a message to battalion HQ.  When he returned in the morning they were all dead, overrun by combined bomber and tank assault.  Metz says, ‘I remember nothing but a wordless cry.  What would happen if one took this sort of remembrance not to the psychologist but into the Church?… if one did not allow oneself to be talked out of such unreconciled memories even by theology, but rather wanted to have faith with them and, with them, speak to God?’

My perspective until now has been to stand up for God, showing kindness and encouragement where possible in the light of Jesus’ saying, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’.  But a further perspective shift happened recently at our Carnalea Methodist home group, suggesting a further possible response.  The reading was from Exodus 32: 1-14 where, following plagues, escape from slavery, the Red Sea miracle and provision of manna, Moses finds the people revelling around their golden calf. God is clear.  He will destroy the people and start again with Moses.

In response, the reluctant leader Moses directs the Creator of the universe to, ‘Turn from your fierce anger, relent and do not bring disaster on your people’.  Moses doesn’t pull any punches.  He challenges God.  And in the light of his example and Metz’ biblical thinking, it struck me that there is also space in our relationship with God for standing up to God in protest about injustice as we live in this precarious, broken and beautiful world.  Indeed, the Bible implies that this is something God wants us to do.

29 March 2015

Palm Sunday – the start of Holy Week with its two towers of crucifixion and resurrection.  Nothing has changed – my perspectives are messy, fragmented, incomplete – but everything has changed.  Maranatha.  Come, Lord Jesus!

 

Published in the Methodist Newsletter, April 2015 edition


Reason for Hope

“There either is a god or there is not; there is a ‘design’ or not.”
~ Christopher Hitchens

16-December-2013.  Tomorrow, I enter Belfast City Hospital for stem cell transplant, following three months of chemotherapy for relapse of aggressive lymphoma.  Today, without seeking medical permission (!), I’m taking ‘A Dublin Day’, in a more physically precarious state than I’ll admit to anyone, to buy Christmas presents in Dublin’s Kilkenny Shop.

On the train, I read the late Christopher Hitchens’ book ‘Mortality’.  Eloquently, he shows that people of faith have no monopoly on appreciating beauty or railing against injustice.

A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humour, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called 'meaningless' except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so.’

I meet Patrick Mitchel, Director of Studies at Irish Bible Institute.  Patrick is my oldest friend, since Sullivan Prep in Holywood, 1967.  We have lunch in Trinity College before he returns to work.  I go shopping.  Mindful that this may be my last Christmas, significant thought and budget go into fitting gifts for the women in my life!

I get a taxi to the Institute around 5-ish.  Exhausted, I’m given soup and bread before a tour around the impressive college.  I’m a manager in BT, not a theologian.  However, provoked by traumas personal and global, I ask Patrick my perennial question ‘So, does everything work out OK in the end?  Does Love win?’  We don’t arrive at a tidy answer.

Patrick gets me onto the Enterprise.  Half an hour later I discover he has slipped a gift of ‘Surprised by Hope’, by Anglican Tom Wright, into the Kilkenny Shop carrier.  Unexpectedly, the understanding expounded in this book sustains me through the months ahead. 

17-December-2013, and back into hospital for high-dose ‘conditioning’ chemo, which kills the immune system, before bags of previously harvested stem cells will be returned on Christmas Eve.  Ascending in the lift up to Ward 10 North, I recall David Tennant’s final words before his Doctor Who regeneration, ‘I don’t want to go!’ and say to Ruth I’m quite OK if we go home right now.  Ruth says we’re heading for ‘Tim Version 2’ and, hand-held, I’m firmly guided back across the threshold of 10 North into isolation Bay J.  I say to the Nurse that I’m terrified of the procedure – possible risks and definite side effects.  ‘That’s easy.  All you have to do is keep breathing.’

During this challenging month, physiologically and emotionally, my ‘shields are down’.  Mindful of suffering on the Ward and suffering of friends, I can’t cope with news items such as Hurricane Agaton in the Philippines.  Instead, on recommendation of my son Downey, I listen to Mumford & Sons sing ‘Ghosts That We Know

So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light
Cause oh they gave me such a fright
But I will hold on with all of my might
Just promise me that we'll be alright

I do hold on, but will we be alright?   Or does each life end only in putrefaction or crematorium ashes?

As Tim version 1.0 recedes so that, hopefully, Tim version 2.0 can emerge, I share day-by-day the dying Christopher Hitchens’ heartfelt appreciation of friendship, love, irony, humour, parenthood, literature and music.

And also, over time, Tom Wright’s exposition of the implications of Jesus’ resurrection sinks in.

The night before He dies, Jesus says: ‘Because I live, you also will live.’

On Sunday morning, Mary goes with spices, expecting to anoint a decaying body.  Instead, she is first to see the risen Lord, but misperceives Him to be the gardener.  Somehow, His appearance is changed.  His resurrected body represents both continuity of life and God’s ‘future-arrived-in-the-present’ (p.57).

With the church at Colossae, Paul used the phrase ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’.  Until now, I had thought of that in terms of each individual’s private experience.  However, as Tom Wright says

‘When God “saves” people in this life, by working through His Spirit to bring them to faith, and by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope and love, such people are designed – it isn’t too strong a word – to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos.  What’s more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate “salvation”; they are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in both the present and the future.’ (p212)

Now, writing late in 2014, I’m back to health, work, church and the gym. 

Tim Version 2.0 has a firmer hope that there is a designer of this world created as good, with a plan to make all things new again, inaugurated via an empty tomb.

However, I have no tidy answer for people suffering abuse, disease, poverty, severe learning difficulty or in conflict areas.

Since re-entering normal life, I have been in the presence of people who have suffered beyond imagination and yet have shown courage, cheer and somehow a generative approach for others.

Jesus calls us friends, not servants.  But, ‘Hope’ is a verb, an action word.  As we pray for His Kingdom to come, what might we do to work out our prayer?

 

Published in the Irish Methodist Newsletter, Jan 2015 issue.


Living with Lymphoma – a most unexpected adventure

‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.’ (Helen Keller)

September 1984.  I’m 20 years old, on a diet and have lost weight with unmerited success.  The doctor wants a chest X-ray.  Within hours I’m in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast (RVH). Biopsies identify a mass as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Five months of chemotherapy follow, with unimaginable nausea – then a month of radiotherapy to my chest.

With my dad terminally ill, Holywood Methodists kick into action.  Mr Jack Wilson co-ordinates a rota of daily drives: Belvoir for Dad, RVH for me.  Friendly faces show up regularly with casseroles. I learn from this man of God the value of leadership in co-ordinating compassion and practical care. One night in Ward 22, I wake up following chemotherapy.  Opening a card and reading the comforting words, the room fills with a sense of peace I haven’t experienced before.

Access to my veins becomes tricky.  I experience ‘anticipatory vomiting’ as doctors approach with syringes.  Reflecting on my terror of this procedure – administered for my benefit – I become a supporter of Release International, established by Richard Wurmbrand, that supports people imprisoned for their faith.

Life proceeds.  I get a job with BT.  I meet Ruth and am profoundly blessed to marry this beautiful, insightful woman in 1994.  Twin boys Chris and Downey arrive.

May 2008.  The growing mass in my neck is diagnosed as Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  It’s just bad luck or, possibly, a ‘late effect’ of Hodgkin’s treatment.  Ruth asks what if it comes back after treatment.  The succinct answer – ‘limited options’.

Cancer treatment had moved on dramatically.  Anti-sickness drugs neutralise my brain’s nausea response.  Chemotherapy is administered as an outpatient.

Treatment days pass uneventfully, featuring helpful chants from Margaret Rizza.  One favourite track (recommended!) is, ‘You are the centre, You are my life…’

From that summer one day shines, infused with an unexpected peace.  While on a drip, Ruth kissed me on the forehead.  A friend from Corrymeela called in.  He kissed me on the forehead.  One of the nurses kissed me.  Small gestures… with abiding impressions of presence and compassion.

I learned to respect expert counsel from the doctors.  I was advised to save sick leave until, after three months chemo, I truly needed time off.  A low moment during my recuperation occurred one rainy autumn morning, with the house empty.  Waiting for a PET scan, I was convinced the disease remained.  Thinking I’m ‘going down’ and feeling ‘anticipatory grief’ for Ruth and my 14-year-old sons after my likely demise, I cried to God ‘I give Ruth and the boys to you’.  The consultant rang the following week.  ‘The scan is clear, you are in total remission.’

Time passed.  Worries about relapse receded and ‘thinking positive’ became more natural.  We had family around for the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.  Serving drinks, I suddenly found myself weeping with thanks amongst those I love, blurting out, ‘It’s just good to be alive’.  I started to look forward to my five-year survival, anticipating a celebration barbecue in August 2013.
June 2013, I’m worried about a neck lump and bowel symptoms.

By the end of August, I’m critically ill with tumours obstructing bowel, jaundice, pancreatitis, no sleep and hallucinations.  Admitted to Belfast City Hospital, I’m too sick for surgery or chemotherapy.  We update our wills.  I draft my funeral service.  During September numerous doctors, nurses, laboratory and ward staff stabilise me.  Chemo can start, with a view to a stem cell transplant in December.

Ruth and my sister Rozzie visited daily.  Rozzie helped me set up the visitors’ room for a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ TV date with Ruth.  Friends left food at our home, sent cards and texts.  Church prayer was intense, including a prayer-filled, hand-knitted blanket from Carnalea Ladies’ Connect group.

From those five months in hospital, I still ponder an experience one October night.  Attached to six pumps, on chemo, I had a stomach bleed.  A blood sample had to be obtained peripherally – ie, from my veins.  A nurse tried – no joy.  A doctor tried – nope!  A roving ‘Hospital At Night’ team member, a blood-taking expert, was called at 4.00a.m.  Agitated, I’d been asking God for help, but my veins just weren’t obliging.  Surveying my arms, she explained this would not be pleasant.

The needle went in deep and fast, with confidence and skill – a sharper needle pain than I have ever experienced.  Just as the needle went in, totally unexpected, I received a clear impression that ‘Angels were active when Jesus was on the Cross’.  I don’t ‘do’ angels, but this was very clear – not a visual image, but a definite impression.

After a moment, I said, ‘Can I share an experience I’ve just had?’

‘Yes.’

I articulated what I could.

‘As you were speaking I felt a tingle down my spine.  I’m actually just reading a book about angels.’

We didn’t say much more.  I offer no tidy conclusion for this story.  The fact that Jesus was pierced has come into clearer focus for me.  Seeing images from conflict zones, I understand that we have a suffering, as well as sovereign, Lord.

In Helen Keller’s terms, my adventure has been an involuntary roller coaster ride rather than ‘daring’.

On this adventure, the phrase ‘show up’ has become very meaningful for me.

All sorts of people have shown up for me and my family in extremis over the years.

God’s love can be experienced as ‘closer than hands or feet’ in diverse situations – maybe, in some inexplicable mystical experience, but more often through a card, kiss or casserole.

Recently, my son Chris quoted from the film Bill and Ted’s Most Excellent Adventure where two teenagers prepare a history talk using a time machine.  Bill says: ‘Be excellent to each other.’

In his hymn, Charles Wesley asks us to ‘Kindly help each other on, till all receive the starry crown.’

The exact nature of the ‘starry crown’ remains vague for now, but each of our adventures presents ample opportunity to show up for others – whether family, friend, colleague or stranger.

 

First published in The Methodist Newsletter, November 2014 issue.