Week 3 & 4: Walk a mile in those shoes…

I consider myself, and would certainly like to be considered as, a liberal man. For clarity, I don’t mean to infer any affiliation to the liberal political party. I detest them in fact. By liberal I mean ‘liberal minded’, and by that I mean ‘open minded’ to differing perspectives, views and beliefs. I don’t like to make judgements, because I’m acutely aware that any judgement you make will almost certainly be based on knowledge that will likely be incomplete, flawed or just plain wrong. I try to live my life from the perspective that I don’t know much and what I do know may well be incorrect. I’ve always liked the idea of being open minded to this reality and viewing the world through that lens. When I met my wife however, (she has a unique gift of challenging the status-quo), I was also going through one of those ‘finding yourself’ periods in my life. The combination led me to conclude that from some aspects of my personality, I wasn’t very open minded at all. It was a subtle part of me, inward looking rather than any external view. I concluded though, that when it came to the judgements about who I was, where I was going and what was real I had been complicit in a kind of self delusion / denial that I very much wanted to tackle. Part of those revelations led me to a place where I realised it was important to make too many ‘judgements’ and certainly not to hold on too tightly to any judgements that I made. I heard an expression whilst in the U.S. once where a guy said “all my opinions are strongly conveyed, but loosely held” and I connected with that greatly. But we do make judgements, we need to. Judgements enable decisions and decisions provide purpose and direction. Many are harmless enough - I judge I am hungry so will decide to eat etc, but this constant process of judge / decide means that on some level we are applying value judgements to all the experiences we encounter through our days / lives. It requires conscious intervention (or the acquisition of an event initiated lesson!) to challenge the judgements we make to keep ourselves open-minded. That requires effort and diligence. During the third week of my radiotherapy, I had an experience that reminded me of how real the danger is in making unconscious and unchallenged judgements - it was one of those ‘lessons’ I was going on about. There are a lot of people attending radiotherapy and your treatment inevitably intersects with a group of people who you will see again and again - sometimes every day, sometimes differing schedules. Not everyone is having the same treatment. Multiple cancer types are being dealt with. I’m not 100% sure, but it seems that where I have to go, the patients are mainly either brain, breast or bladder patients. I call them the ‘3B’s’. We certainly make a motley crew. Again, don’t take this as medical fact because I could be way off (don’t judge, don’t judge!) but it seems that the bladder patients have to drink a certain amount of water, over a certain period of time, in the run up to their actual radiotherapy session. It seems a simple enough procedure; empty your bladder 30 mins before the appointment and then immediately drink 2 - 3 cups of fresh water and await your appointment. During the 3rd week, my appointments were intersecting with another man who I reckon was mid to late 50’s. Every day he would arrive in plenty of time but then somehow fail to drink his water as instructed. One of the radiographers was dealing with him, the same guy each day, and was frustrated with him for getting it wrong. That irritation was growing daily. I didn’t like the tone and manner that the radiographer was taking with the poor chap, particularly after the experience I’d had the previous week with the whole ‘Willing’ name incident. But in truth, I was also irritated with the man as well - drinking a couple of glasses of water wasn’t the hardest task in the world. I couldn’t understand how this was becoming such a big deal every day. I obviously didn’t say anything or get involved (I am way way to ‘English’ to do that), but the internal dialogue was there. On the 4th day I experienced this, the radiographer had once again given the guy his daily bollocking was messing the water up when he kind of ‘flounced off’ having told this chap that his appointment would be late (again) whilst he drunk the water. For the first time, I found myself completely alone with the man in the waiting area. He turned round to me and said “excuse me, would you mind helping me pour some water into a glass. I can’t see well enough to work the machine.” I was stunned. I jumped up to his aid and quickly poured the 2 and a half cups of water that he needed and sat him down to drink them. I briefly touched his arm and said, involuntary actually, “why didn’t you tell him that you were having trouble seeing the machine?”. He replied “ah, well - you know. He is so young. I was embarrassed.” I breathed out heavily and said “they don’t make it easy do they?” I’m not sure exactly why I said it, the intention was to convey comradeship. He just laughed and started drinking his water. The next day I was lucky enough to find myself alone in the waiting room when the radiographer walked past, so I grabbed him. I explained what had happened, intending on giving him the insight which might help what had been a painful daily occurrence. To his credit, he seemed genuinely horrified, to such an extent that I felt sorry for him. After all, I had been annoyed by the same behaviour before I’d spoken to the guy. “He finished his treatment yesterday” said the radiographer. Too little too late it seems. So why I am telling you all this? Well, it touched me and it reconfirmed to me how important it is to keep an open mind and never to judge another until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. But this is where I had a bit of a problem. You see, for my own sanity, I felt I needed to position myself emotionally with a decided ‘perspective’ on how I would view my likely chance of survival through this illness. To put myself in either the ‘die quickly’ or ‘long term survivor’ camps. I needed a perspective from which to view my life and provide a framework from which to make decisions. The trouble was, my open-minded approach to viewing life had set up a conflict that I was finding almost impossible to resolve. On the one hand, there was the medical opinion, the documented severity of the disease and most of the internet(!) that was all saying “you’re going to die, and you’re going to die quickly”. On the other hand, there was an instinct within me that was telling me that this wasn’t a done deal. I might be one of the lucky ones. This was further complicated by the same instinct telling me that staying positive and focused on the concept of survival was an important part of making that a reality. Internally I positioned this as a classic ‘science vs. faith’ battle of perspective. I’ve always favoured science through my life, but on this one occasion I liked the faith argument a whole lot more. So how could I rationalise this? How could I adopt a position of (blind?) faith in the face of science and still hold true to my own values of being a liberal man? My therapist listened patiently whilst I tried to articulate it. She said “I understand what you’re saying, but I’m afraid I don’t see the conflict. You’ve acknowledged the severity of your illness, and I don’t doubt that you’ve understood that in detail. Now you are saying that your instincts are telling you to stay positive to try and survive. My advice is to make a judgement and do just that.” What could I say to that? “You’re a class act lady” is what I thought, but as I’m not Humphrey Bogart I didn’t feel I was going to be able to pull that one off. I was very grateful though. What about the treatment? Well - all the hair on one side of my head fell off (like, really, all of it) and I felt a little bit more tired than before. Compared to what Dr. D have warned me of though, it was going much better than I expected. Week 4 done. Only another 2 weeks to go. Go here to the start of the journey. Go here to view next blog entry. Go here to view previous blog entry.

 
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