Saturday, December 26, 2009

Aurora Beatrice Smith

"By the tender mercy of our God,
            the dawn from on high will break upon us,
      to give light to those who sit in darkness
                  and in the shadow of death,
            to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

-Luke 1.78-79

Merry Christmas! God's new day has dawned in Christ and in this season we celebrate the new life we now share.

We are also celebrating another new life that has dawned upon us this season. On Christmas Eve we received an early gift when Jessica gave birth to a lovely and healthy little girl. We have named her Aurora Beatrice Smith. Aurora is Latin for "dawn" and Beatrice comes from the Latin for "traveller", bringing together the ideas in these two verses, which have been very significant for us over the last couple of years.*

The labour began around midnight and Aurora was born naturally around 1.30pm. Mother and baby are both in excellent health.

There are more details and photos over on Jessica's blog and I am sure they will keep multiplying there in the coming days and weeks.

We shared a lovely, quiet (and white!) Christmas Day yesterday and are delighted to have our "babymoon" in this special season of nativity and joy. With hope and delight we embrace the promise of Immanuel ("God with us") as we remember the birth of his son and welcome a beautiful little stranger as our daughter.
*See this sermon I wrote after being diagnosed with cancer.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Still Not Dead

Today I finally saw an oncologist weeks after having my latest scan and he said that there were no problems to report. Next scan is likely to be another year or so away, though I will continue to have physical check-ups every three months. It helps if you are not ticklish for these!

I've now been clear for over two years and I no longer regularly think of myself as a cancer patient (even when I was very ill I tried to not let this become the primary description of who I was). For life and ongoing good health, I remain very thankful. Indeed, Jessica and I still begin each day (more or less) with the call and response from Psalm 118.24: This is the day that the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it/him! Sometimes it is said a little grumpily or with a yawn, but the repetition is good for our hearts.

Even though I have been feeling much better (or perhaps, have been taking my good health for granted again), I have recently been thinking some more about what it means to die well. Here are some thoughts on the common phrase "dying with dignity".
This picture was obviously from a couple of months ago, since the temperature for the last few weeks has sat around a balmy 10-14ÂșC.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Scan and flashbacks: two years

Today I had my first CT scan in the UK. I was back at the Western General Hospital and it would have all been very efficient except the person who was in the scanner before me had some kind of emergency (I never found out what the issue was. I hope s/he is ok) and so I was left sitting in my hospital gown with an IV in my arm for almost an hour.

I won't get the result until I go back see the oncologist, and I won't know when that is going to be until I receive a letter informing me of my next appointment. Back in Australia, I would usually get the result that afternoon.

As my experiences of hospitals get further apart, that season of my life seems further away. It has now been over two years since I finished treatment. Yet returning to a hospital brings it all back. I suddenly see the chemo ward, or the radio room. Although these flashbacks are (generally) not overwhelming, they are quite unbidden and spontaneous.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Clear again, and a discussion of scans

Yesterday I went back to the Western General Hospital for another follow-up appointment. All was well. The doctor even checked my legs this time (with all the poking and prodding I receive each time, no one has thought to do that before).

We talked about the possibility of another CT scan and three arguments were suggested as to why it wouldn't really be a good idea. First, it is more or less unnecessary after a certain period of time (though the Australian doctors thought two years, here they think one), and any relapse is likely to be signalled through clinical signs anyway (e.g. loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, coughing up or passing blood, weight loss, lumps and bumps, difficulty breathing, and so on). Second, since I have already received the maximum amount of radiation they are ever going to give me (lest they damage my spine),* each scan adds a little more radiation to this (only a fraction of what I received in treatment, but there's no point pushing it). Third, and this was the point he elaborated the most, he believed that the more scans you have, the more anxious you become, since scans pick up more than cancers, so that every little dot becomes a reason for worry.

There was, of course, a fourth reason which he didn't mention: cost. It would be interesting to know the extent to which this was a factor in his recommendation. I don't think that in principle this is an unreasonable consideration as I don't think we ought to do everything possible to keep people alive. It is possible to over-invest in health. However, I don't know enough about the NHS and the UK budget to make any kind of informed decision about the relative investment in health here in the UK.

Nonetheless, at the end of the discussion, he agreed to arrange a scan prior to my next appointment in three months in order to mark the two year milestone.

Every now and then I struck afresh by how surprising it is to be here: (a) alive and (b) in Edinburgh** doing a PhD. Praise God!
*I can't remember if I ever mentioned on this blog the strange sensation I got a few weeks after the end of radiotherapy. For many months, whenever I walked for more than 5 minutes, my feet would tingle. I told my oncologist about this and he told me to nod my head. Being taken off-guard by the apparent nonsequitur of the request, I complied, only to find I could generate the same tingling sensation just by moving my head. He explained that the radiotherapy had started to affect my spinal column and so when I stretched it (through walking, or just nodding my head), then I felt that strange sensation. It was a little off-putting at the time, but on reflection, it showed that they had indeed given me the maximum dose of radiation. Earlier, the radiologist had referred to the real possibility of burning a hole in my oesophagus if they gave me a little bit more than I had.
**The image is a picture of my college in Edinburgh (the neo-Gothic towers in the middle of the photo) during a greener part of the year.