Monthly Archives: April 2013

Incidents and Random Events (For Graham)

Ashburton Dads' Football ClubIt was a first outing to the Old Vic in Ashburton. I have only recently met Richard through his wife. She was working in the same NHS trust as me and as the 6 Nations started, it seemed like the ideal place to watch a bit of rugby. Wales played. I can’t remember against whom, possibly England or France. It was the start of the 2009 season and the Welsh were hungry to retain the title they won the previous year.

Although the details are slightly blurred, somewhere during the evening, we met Eilir, Stuart and Stuart’s dad. I wish I could say that the conversations were deeply intellectual, but I must confess that by that time voices were already harsh in the attempts to stay audible over the pub’s noise in between encouraging the team of your choice. I backed the Welsh, my adopted northern hemisphere team. My choice was before finding out that Eilir and Stuart were backing the boys in red. Although thinking back, it would have been obvious given their vocal support that was fuelled on by the Otter Ale. During half-time or possibly afterwards we discussed life in Devon and how my family and I ended up in the glorious part of South-West England. It was Stuart who in his inclusive manner invited us to join their Thursday Football group. Famously among those in the know as “The Ashburton Dad’s Football Club”.

I must admit that it took some courage to take on their offer. The idea was attractive. In the world of mental health, “boy time” is often limited and my profession tends to dwell on the emotional, the intuitive and the relational. But I managed to get some “kit” and some courage. At that point I have yet not admitted that my prior football experience consisted of about 60 minutes of chasing a football. Once.  I have played rugby union. I have played cricket and tennis (both badly) and have attempted several other activities that involved round shaped objects. But more often than not, I discovered that I had the passion, while the natural talent and skill were lacking. But then, why should that come in the way of a good time!

Game TimeI managed to find the pitch on my first venture out. It was cold and rainy – typical. I was probably one of the early arrivals. Over-eager; as always. Nervous to arrive early; as always. The first person I met was Graham. Slightly over-conscious I introduced myself and made reference to Eilir and Stuart’s invitation. It was quite easy to speak to Graham. Hearing where I was from, he referred to his early years in Swaziland and that their family spend time in the northern parts of South Africa. The next hour involved middle aged men running about on the pitch, several claims of illegal play while I tried to gain to decipher what is allowed and what not. Dave quickly pointed out (aka shouting at me) that diving tackles were not part of the game, while it became clear from Tony’s game plan that the off side rule did not apply. It was great. I was a boy again among two teams of slightly overweight and ageing boys. And that was prior to the philosophical discussion back at the Old Vic afterwards.

And so it continued. Relationships grew. Often taking the mickey was a significant component of post match discussions while we enjoyed a few Otter Ales, some warm chips supplied by Nick and Gemma at the Old Vic and while on tour to Cardiff and Bath. In between the football, ale, laughs and scheming on changing the world, there were moments of seriousness. One point of reference was Grahams’ treatment for stomach cancer a few years before. But this did not deter from pulling his leg and his brush with death.

When our family returned from England, I knew that I would miss playing football every Thursday night. Well, saying football, I mean having a roaring time and occasionally running into a few guys (apologies to Joe, Marco, Nick). And defending like hell. Thursday night football became an integral part of my routine and from the first game that left me unable to climb stairs to becoming more fit and competitive over time. I missed it and was grateful for the kind farewell wishes after my last game and well-wishes on my transfer to the “African Ankle-bitters” (!). But a year after our return I heard that Graham became ill again. The cancer returned.

As I mentioned before, the post-football banter was mostly light hearted and full of jest. But underlying was a caring whenever an ADFC member was in need of it. So with Graham’s return to treatment, it came as no surprise that the football guys were planning to run the Rotterdam Marathon in support of Graham and his fight against Cancer. I could not be left out and declared my willingness to run the SAD half-marathon and a local trail run. My training went well. I noted from the site that my colleagues up north were training and received information on the finishing of the marathon on the 2nd of April 2012 and how they raised 4400 UK pounds for the Rowcroft Hospice.

But Graham died. He could not go to Rotterdam with the boys and passed away on the 25th of April 2012. It was while thinking about him that I completed my half marathon in Wellington South Africa on the 1st of May 2012. It is celebrating Graham’s life tonight and raising a drink a glass of red wine while the AFDC is raising a glass to him in Ashburton. It is looking at the picture of flowers that was put on his grave today and knowing that time is precious even though we are all fragile.

This one is for you Graham. Saluté!

Graham ADFC


Filed under Running (The Just Dump It Project), This thing called life

The Ides of March

It had both. The incredible high was followed by the unexpected sucker punch the next day. The cliché of an emotional rollercoaster rocked me up to the top and then ran me into the ground below. Although I know that is how stories often flow, it took me a few days to recover. But let me start with a question, “Can you become friends with someone in 2 hours?

De OewerIt was a wonderful high on hearing that my MRI Brain Scan came back without any sign of tumour. The message was clear, “Live your life”. I wrote about it and received wonderful responses from friends, family and my colleagues from all over the world who read my blog or those within reach of a phone call. It was a wave of positive energy and we rejoiced. We called up the locals and celebrated at the De Oewer restaurant next to the Eerste Rivier. There was bubbly, laughter in between conversation and a feast to enjoy. Children were running, climbing, playing and flowing with the energy of innocence. It felt like the rise of a new sun that chased away the dark shadows of fear and anxiety. I felt connected to Anneén and our girls, connected to my friends and family, connected to my colleagues who unselfishly walked this road with me. The moments were golden underneath the oak leaves and besides the cool sounds of running water.

I met Gerrit once towards the end of 2012. It followed a suggestion from a colleague who knew him. His brain tumour was removed in 2007 and has been working at the Theological Faculty in Stellenbosch – my old stomping ground from the mid 1990’s. As Gerrit stopped driving, I picked him up from home, about a kilometre from ours. A breakfast at the D’ Oude Bank Bakkerij at the bottom of Kerk Straat, while we shared our stories of diagnosis, operations, survival and reprioritising our lives. Gerrit was in hospital for his craniotomy during the 2007 Rugby World Cup, mine was during the 2012 London Olympics. His tumour was hiding in his left temporal lobe, mine left frontal. We clicked. I could relate to Gerrit and his journey that started 5 years prior to mine. He came to the Cape and was given a position at the theological faculty, even though his background was in journalism and he was open up his medical status. We met for a few hours and it felt like we have been friends for much longer.

De Oude Bank BakerijWe spoke and we realised that I am 2 days older than him. Gerrit spoke about the Argus Cycle Tour he did with his son and how grateful he was for this opportunity. He spoke about his difficulties with word finding and how students will initially laugh when he tells them about this. But then he tells them again and they believe. Gerrit spoke about friends and I realised that we have met them, drank some good wine with them. Gerrit spoke about his love for his wife and sons and how he did not want his sons to worry that “this” might happen to them. Gerrit spoke and often gaps in sentences appeared, getting stuck for a specific word. But he smiled and we know it is there somewhere; it just does not come to the surface. That brokenness contributed to the truth and the integrity of present moment. There is a crack in everything; that is where the light comes in.

The day after my mile-high moment on the 13th of March, the news that broke my heart. Gerrit died two weeks before. Our GP told Anneén. A month before I made contact via SMS and Gerrit’s wife replied that he was deteriorating by the day. I was hoping that it might be due to treatment making him ill or something non-threatening. But Gerrit died. Somehow it did not upset me at first. Maybe I had to make sense of it first; logic always being my first line of defence. I send a message to Gerrit’s wife and she kindly replied, even sending best wishes to me. It was the day after, a Friday. It felt as if a heavy hand pulled my heart into the earth. I was as down as was I was elated two days before. The message of a second chance to live was followed by the messenger that death prevented my short lived friendship with Gerrit. There would be no return for the breakfast I owed him, for our broken words to again spill out of our brokenness to find meaning and truthful reflection on being human and our mortality. And I only met Gerrit once, we spoken over the phone twice. I am not his wife, his sons or his parents. I am not his longstanding friends or those who asked about his well-being at work. I was just his friend for a brief interlude. And I felt sad and lost.

Today I don’t want to celebrate the fact that I just finished my second last course of chemo or the good news about my recovery. I want to celebrate meeting Gerrit. I want to remember the brave man who smiled at his missing words and the kindness in his eyes. The love he expressed for his family and the courage to make the most of the hand he was dealt. Salute!


Filed under My Brain Tumour and I, This thing called life