Well I am back from Evesham and the scan was conducted successfully although there was a real sense of trepidation for this scan for some reason. I am confident that all will be well. Even better than that, that we will continue to make the impossible possible by shrinking the beast, even if just a little, but today felt different. I was cheered up as I waited at the bus stop outside Waverley Station and met a young man from Pakistan whose friend was ill in hospital and was looking for the Western General Hospital. I offered to escort him and as we got off the bus and walked into hospital I discovered that his friend was in the Department for Clinical Neurology (DCN). The very same department I was going to and tough to find at the best of times in such a large hospital but even tougher if you are not working in your Mother Tongue so I was able to walk him with me towards the DCN. On the way we bumped in to Gill who is one of the team of three Oncology nurses that look after me. She was in good spirits and pleased to see me and made me feel welcome, made me feel a little less nervous about the scan. Then my new friend and I bumped into two more of his friends who knew where they were going so we parted with a smile. I had done a good deed today and been made to feel most welcome so should have felt positive about the scan but instead as I walked the rest of the long corridors of the hospital throwing out smiles of reassurance that were, this time, never returned I suddenly felt very alone. The sun had been shining bright but as I reached the DCN department the clouds gathered and the light and the mood darkened. I walked into the waiting room, reported in and turned expecting to see somebody that I recognized. Somebody that had been on a similar treatment path and timelines to my own and with whom I had subsequently become friends but this time there was nobody I recognized and as I stood there searching with a smile fixed to my face it was never returned. I gave in and took a seat quietly in the corner. All was quiet. I wondered where my friends were and hoped that they were okay. ‘Archibald Douglas’ came the call. It was my turn. I followed the nurse who was full of life and as welcoming as Gill had been. She recognized me from a previous scan and chatted with me briefly as she made sure that all metal was removed from my person and my pockets emptied. I was allowed to keep my wooden cross, given to me by a friend, after it was checked for metal components by a magnet. We cross checked the medical questionnaire. I explained that I had been feeling a little wobbly with the epilepsy this morning but was now feeling more stable but was quietly a little worried about the dye they were going to inject for the second part of the scan. I was reassured that all will be fine and led into the room. Laid on the scan bed, ear plugs fitted, head clamping mask fitted to keep me perfectly still, panic button placed into my hand and we were off. The machine whirred, vibrated and clumped and banged rand bumped rather loudly as it did it’s job and I prayed, prayed hard that this scan would show further shrinkage before falling asleep. Then a band being placed around my right arm woke me as the nurse asked me to pump my wrist. A sharp prick and the dye was injected in. A short burning sensation as the needle was removed, the small wound bandaged with a small compression bandage taped in place, the band removed, panic button placed back into my hands and the table slid back into place. Thumbs up and the scan resumed. I fell asleep again woken only as the panic button was taken from my hand. I was unclamped, unmuffled and allowed to sit up with instructions to drink lots of water to flush the dye from the system. I put my shoes back on, put everything back into my pockets, grabbed my coat and bag and turned to thank the team and say goodbye. The next patient was already in and the doors to the scanning room locked closed. Suddenly I felt very alone again. As I walked the long and soulless South corridor back out of the hospital and out towards the bus stop I had realized that I had spent the last week permanently surrounded by the love and companionship of family and friends. There was never a dull moment. Yet now, all of a sudden I was on my own. As I got to the bus stop miraculously the No19 bus pulled up. Perfect. I turned to face the doors and pulled my wallet out of my back pocket. Pulled my bus pass out of my wallet and went to mount the bus. The bus driver just looked straight through me. As if I wasn’t even standing there. As if I didn’t exist. The doors closed, he checked his wing mirror then pulled off. I was left standing there. Alone.

Thankfully another bus pulled up 10 minutes later and I managed to get on and make my way to Princes Street. As I travelled I felt numb and a little detached from all around me as I watched the beautiful city of Edinburgh pass by through the window. I was struggling to engage with those around me. I was struggling to even find someone to make eye contact with me. This was a most unusual experience in the last 7 months of the challenge and made me feel as if I had somehow ceased to exist. Nobody seemed to see me. I felt cold.

I made the train in good time and remembering that I had no food in the flat in Doune bought a ready made meal for one from the M&S Food Hall in the station. The server said nothing to me. Didn’t look at me once. Just picked up my card which I accidently dropped on the counter as I took it from my wallet, put it on the top of the machine for a contactless payment, put the card back on the counter on top of the meal and turned to the next customer. I drifted off unnoticed and headed for the platform for the Inverness train which stopped at Stirling so I could catch the bus back home. On the way I passed a couple of policemen in bright fluorescent stab vests sharing a joke as they laughed jovially. I smiled at them and tried to make eye contact. Nothing. Not even a flicker of an acknowledgement that I had just passed right in front of them. Still they laughed, the laughs echoing around my immediate surroundings as if they were caught in some form of repetitive loop. They laughed and laughed and laughed in exactly the same way again and again and again, throwing their heads back in mirth in exactly the same way again and again and again. I turned onto the platform and started to meander my way through the gathered crowd of passengers towards a gap I had seen in the waiting throng. I smiled, made eye contact, nodded my head and even mouthed hello to those that seemed to look at me but they either turned their gaze or head away from me or just ignored me altogether. My polite calls of excuse me seemed to fall on deaf ears. Nobody moved. I had to shimmy on several occasions around passengers fixed and unmoving from their spot on the platform. It was almost as if nobody in the entire city of Edinburgh from The Western General Hospital to Edinburgh Waverley Rail Station even knew that I existed. That I not only existed but that I was living and breathing in the very same space as them. Sharing the same air yet I couldn’t seem to get one response or even flicker of acknowledgement that I was trying to communicate with them. With someone. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and scared by this inability to solicit a response from somebody. I nearly walked up to a gentlemen and poked him just to try and get a response but then the train arrived. Again, as if I didn’t exist the crowd thronged past me and mounted the train. None of the usual after you no after you between passengers. Just brushed straight past me to get on first. The seats were now full so I walked rapidly down the train to the last carriage and concerned that the conductor wouldn’t be able to see me either I jumped on. The doors were slammed shut behind me and locked. I looked for a seat and realized that I had just climbed on to the first class carriage. I decided to stay in the gangway by the door as it was only 50 minutes to Stirling but as I did I saw a message telling me that this area was for first class passengers only and passengers caught in this area with a standard ticket would be charged for a first class ticket. I was most perplexed that I could be charged a first class fair for the privilege of being able to stand in the gangway by the first class doors and breathe the same air as them. I decided to move back down the train and as I looked down the carriage to see the buffet trolley already out and working it’s way up the carriage I thought I would stand at the end and hope that the steward would see me waiting and offer to let me squeeze past. Nothing. No acknowledgement that I was there but as I waited the door knew I was there. It opened and closed again and again and again as I waited on the footpad for the door. The cold air from the guards carriage that poured through the door each time it opened caused a couple of elderly passengers to look up at me. I smiled apologetically and gestured that I was waiting to walk up the carriage once the trolley was past. Nothing. They just looked at me or through me but as the door continued to open and close behind me I understood why passangers were not encouraged to use that area by the doors as an alternative seating area. It would be quite annoying. But not nearly as annoying as not existing. The stewards trolley that I had been waiting so patiently for pushed past me and through the door without even acknowledging that I was there. I stepped aside for them as he backed towards me but he didn’t seem to notice. Just went straight on by. Perhaps I should have stood my ground just to see what would happen. To see if I was actually in the same space/time continuum as the rest of Edinburgh and the train. Then as I went to go down the carriage the chef’s complimentary food cart was making it’s way up. I sat on the floor and waited as the door slid backwards and forwards with a sssuuuussshhhhing noise each and every time. Eventually it was my turn and I made my way down the next two carriages stopping at each junction to see if I was allowed to wait there. Nope still first class passengers only until I got to the buffet carriage. I didn’t want anything so went to navigate the narrow alleyway between the carriage wall and the buffet bar. Nobody moved or seemed to want to move. I became like a slinky and had to bend and morph my way past the three ladys and gentleman stood at the bar. Nothing. I got to the next doorway for the next carriage and waited there as the rain started to fall in sheets across the distant hills. 30 mins gone. Only another 20 minutes to Stirling. Not long and thank goodness. There was another gentleman in the doorway of this carriage but when I looked up to talk to him I realized it was pointless. He was stood, glazed eyes, looking at the floor and rocking ever so slightly, not with the train, but with whatever thoughts were going through his head. As I looked at him wondering if I could or should talk to him the ticket inspector came into the doorway. I had heard her coming through the buffet car. I had my ticket and disabled rail card ready but she didn’t stop. I held it out but she just walked straight past me. Past the both of us. I just stood there confused, sad, slightly scared and very, very lonely. The sun came out so I opened the window on the train door and put my head half through the window to feel the wind against my face, to confirm that I was actually existing in this place and to look for a rainbow, for a symbol of hope. Nothing. Just a wet face so I closed the window and waited for the train to reach Stirling while the other gentleman rocked. I was really very, very uncomfortable. I could not fathom what was happening to me as I came home from the scan. The train was in the approach for Stirling so I got my ticket back out and put it in my jacket pocket ready for the ticket barriers. Eventually we stopped and as soon as the doors unlocked symbol lit up on the door a couple of hands came over from behind me and lowered the window. Again as if I wasn’t actually stood there in front of them. Then as I went to put my arm out to grab the handle a gentleman on the platform opened the door and I fell forward stumbling on to the platform out of the way of the weight of unseeing passengers behind me. I got to the ticket barrier and a barrier was open. Nobody else was walking through it. Just queuing to put their ticket through the machine. I tucked my ticket away in my pocket and went for the open barrier hoping; No, wanting to be stopped but just walked straight through. This wasn’t a victory. This was a huge disappointment. Still I failed to exist despite the three or four fluorescent jacketed staff around the barriers. Not one saw me walk through.

As I walked the short distance to the bus stop I felt increasingly dejected. I was in good time for a bus so went into the waiting room to check some emails for 30 minutes. Nobody noticed me. So I just got on with some emails. Then it was 10 minutes til the bus so switched off the machine, packed it away in my bag and walked to my stop. Took a seat and nearly jumped out of my skin!! A lady talked to me!! She looked straight at me. Apologised for speaking funny then proceeded to tell me that she had had a stroke a couple of years ago so was struggling to form words, struggling to read, in fact struggling to achieve much in life. She had lost her job as an IT teacher and lost faith that she would ever actually be able to do anything. It was depressing to listen to and I had no flyer to give her. But here was the first person since I had walked out of the scanning room and started my journey home who had actually acknowledged that I existed. It was spooky though because I was immediately reminded of the old lady from Dollar with the Marks and Spencers Shopping trolley who had shuffled into my peripheral vision on a dark and wet winters night and asked for my assistance before telling me that she had had a stroke and grabbing my arm without even knowing my name and looked at me through her milky, misty eyes and implored me to, ‘Keep fighting Archie. You have to keep fighting’ at this very same bus stop. Her message was heard loud and clear.

This time though I suddenly felt that, now I existed once again, that I had a message for this lady. A message of hope to give to her. That she could get back an awful lot of what she has lost but she has to believe it and fight for it. That she actually now spoke rather well and could read and write again but just needed to retrain herself to do so. I had no flyer but I wrote the four magic words ‘Beat the Beast Challenge’ on a piece of paper I had in my computer bag. I Gave it to her and told her about my Brain Tumour and how I was not only fighting the disease but also building my life and capabilities back together again after the disease, symptoms of the disease and treatment of the disease had left me with significantly reduced capability and little hope for the future or even a future. But here I am beating the Beast. I went on, ‘You can get so much of what you have lost back. It will take time, it will not be perfect, but it will feel so jolly good each time you win a small victory. Make a pot of tea and with a friend or member of the family to help google beat the beast challenge and watch the video. Then have some more tea and go to the posts. Read through them from Day 1 upwards or have them read to you and I guarantee you that you will find hope, inspiration and encouragement to fight for your life back. You can do it!’ My bus arrived so I thanked her for talking to me. If only she knew how important it was that she acknowledged my very existence this evening as darkness fell with the rain, but I hoped that I could become the rainbow for her that I had so desperately searched for in vain from the train.

She took my hand and asked my name, ‘Archie Douglas’ I replied. ‘Isobel McCaskell from Callander’ she replied. Her hands dropped from mine and I mounted the bus and waved a fond farewell.

As I walked home to the flat through the village a few saw me and waved hello. I felt like I had been gone for far longer than a week and it felt good to be home but I felt a little lonely as I sat and ate my M&S meal for one with Radio 4 for company. But there was no time for feeling glum. The buzzer went. I picked up the phone. Hello? ‘Hi Dad it’s me’ ‘James!’ I exclaimed as my heart leapt. ‘Come in!’ I opened my door and to the top of the short staircase bounced James, arms outstretched for a huge hug and a kiss with a late but warming happy Easter. I put him down and showed him in to the flat ruffling his hair with a smile on my face and a warm glow in my heart. ‘Dad I can’t stay long. Can I have a fiver!?! The youth club is having a pizza night for a leader who is leaving.’ I smiled, opened my wallet and thought to myself. Nothing changes even if you do become like some sort of non-existant entity stuck in a random continuum. Once back in the land of the living and real world there are people out there who need help, hope, inspiration and encouragement and there are sons who always need a little more money!! I only had a tenner. That’s okay said James. He hugged me, took it and ran down the stairs. I just smiled.

Swimming tomorrow!

Yours aye