Today was an admin day as I get myself organised and ensure any loose ends are tied away before I go and spend some time with my family and celebrate the christening of my Nephew Archie down in Evesham. But I was also going for lunch with some friends made in church so needed to fit in some exercise. A morning swim was the order of the day. But only after I had caught a fish. Could I lift my swim from 18 lengths to 20 without triggering a seizure? And how many people could I meet and how much encouragement could I receive from a bus stop, a swimming lane and a bus?

The multitude of flowers in Jean and Charles' amazing garden
The multitude of flowers in Jean and Charles’ amazing garden

Last night I had Heather and James over for tea. I so enjoyed having them over. They were both in great form so seemed to find any attempt at Daddy humour hilariously funny. As a result we had a most entertaining fish pie and as they left in high spirits giggling down the stairs I was left feeling hugely buoyed by their energy and positivity. Everything seemed to be going so well for them at school at the moment. For this I was thankful and it also inspired me to ensure that I complete some physical activity tomorrow, despite a busy day, to help ensure that I beat this beast so that I can have more evenings like that with the children in the future.

So this morning I was going for a swim. I arrived at the bus stop with minutes to spare and met with my neighbour Dave. We got chatting and as he talked about heading off to work he looked up at me and said something that was so very right that it made me feel a little bit more confident about the swim this morning. ‘You know Archie that you are really lucky to be able to get up and get out and do all the things that you do.’ His comment initially caught me off guard as we had bus shared for several months as I travelled to radiotherapy treatment after radiotherapy treatment in Edinburgh while he commuted to work and he was supportive and cheerful each time we met and never once looked again as I developed my reverse monk hairstyle as my hair fell out around the sides of my head but left me with quite a tuft on the top! So he knew exactly what I was going through so why did he say what he said? But then it dawned on me. He was absolutely right. As I thought about others that I have met on this journey and how they suffered I could and should be thankful, not for luck, but for my faith, family and friends that have given me such strength and determination to beat the beast. ‘Dave, it’s not quite the circumstances that I would have asked for but you’re right. I am very lucky.’ His bus arrived and off he went to Stirling. Mine arrived shortly afterwards and I mounted the bus thankful for the day that I have been given and my family and friends that I was so looking forward to going to see. But first I had to get through 20 lengths in the pool without a seizure.

Once in Callander I walked up and over the river to the leisure centre. As I crossed the river in glorious sunshine and with the mountains looking so jolly inviting I stopped to admire the view and peer down into the river. The water so crystal clear and golden in the bright sunshine and lo and behold there was a fish swimming gently and very slowly along the river. I grabbed my phone and managed to snatch a photograph. I caught my fish, on camera. Only drama is that I have no idea what sort of fish it is. Any suggestions would be warmly welcomed.

More bright and colourful flowers in the garden
More bright and colourful flowers in the garden

Once at the pool I changed and was stood at the end of the pool ready to go in. The morning swim was busy and I was hesitant about going in to an empty lane in the middle of the pool. It was less than a year ago that just the smell of chlorine was enough to trigger a seizure. It was only a few short months ago that I was feeling decidedly wobbly and even had a couple of seizures shortly after swimming only 8 lengths and here I was hoping to be able to complete 20 lengths. The lifeguard, on seeing me at the top came bounding over and was all set to ask the gentleman swimming in the lane next to the edge, my escape route, to move to another lane. I calmed him and reassured him that I was more than happy to share and I was so glad that I did. Twice I had to stop Alex who was ploughing with some vigour right up and down the centre of the lane. Firstly to ask him that as we were now sharing could we start the circular system common in lane swimming. But Alex wanted to just split the lane in half as it was just the two of us. I agreed to that so he then set off but in the half right next to the wall. So I had to stop Alex to ask if he wouldn’t mind giving me the half next to the edge due to the risk of seizure. He very kindly obliged and swam on. I jumped in and cracked on. 4 lengths breast stroke, 4 front crawl breathing every third stroke on alternate sides, to try and establish a rhythm, 1 length breast stroke then as Alex passed me I chased him up the pool in my half in backstroke turning to finish that length in breast stroke before Alex turned to come back so I didn’t stray into his side, 1 length butterfly, 1 length front crawl breathing every 2nd stroke as I was a little breathless after the butterfly length but then followed this by a further 4 lengths frontcrawl back to alternate every 3rd stroke breathing before finishing with 4 lengths breast stroke. 20 lengths completed and I felt great. Not even a whiff of a seizure but it can take a while so I got out, showered and changed. Still feeling great so I thought that I would pop back and say thank you to Alex. He had just finished and was stretching off in the pool. We had a chat as he finished and dried off. I thanked him for his patience in the pool and then introduced him to the challenge to explain why I was having to be so careful. He was hugely encouraging of my efforts and then gave me further encouragement. He told me of the 3 examples he had immediately to hand of family and friends still alive today after attacking their diseases with exercise and a positive attitude. I was astounded and then as he told me that he was 65 and was only doing a short 140 lengths today he proved to be a most excellent swimming partner and a person to whom I could aspire to emulate in the pool. When I make it past September, which is the original worst case scenario for my prognosis, I can then aim for age 50. And when I make it past 50 I can aim to be swimming 140 lengths as a short swim by the time I am 65!!

A fish in the river in Callander
A fish in the river in Callander

After a celebratory Mocha, flapjack and hug with Julie and Debbie in the Deli Ecosse I was on the bus back home and sat next to a lady who immediately engaged me in conversation. I of course introduced the challenge to Sharon who then told me about her daughter’s fight with Breast Cancer. How hard her struggle has been. How hard it has been for her 6 year old son to understand and to be able to deal with the fear and the concern he felt as his Mum’s hair fell out during treatment but how Sharon’s daughter has fought her way through to a position where it is hoped that she has beaten it. She got there through determination and positivity. It was a wonderful story of success for which I was very grateful.

Back home it was time for a quick turn around before heading out to lunch with Jean and Charles. Friends made in church, it was a wonderful afternoon. They have the most beautiful garden. A mass of micro habitats all of which oozed health and colour including my favourite little corner, right at the end, nicknamed the jungle. As Jean was cooking and Charles organising the seating I took myself off to explore the garden and found a bench in the jungle, sat on it and felt such calmness and peace that I had rarely experienced and certainly not experienced, except for in church during morning and evening prayer, since that fateful day in September 2013 in which I was told that I had a brain tumour. On that fateful day, which completely altered the path of my life and etched itself indelibly into the children’s lives, my brain started running far faster than it was before. I lost the off switch and it took some time to find it again. I managed to reconstruct one through meditation, prayer and good physical exercise but rarely found such calmness and peace as I did before lunch. I sat and just sat slowly feeling more and more at peace as I drank in the peace of this quiet corner. Charles came and found me to let me know that it was lunch time and as I went with him to eat lunch elsewhere in the garden feeling greatly refreshed in mind I was reminded about how important it is to just find a quiet corner in one’s mind and dwell in it to recharge the batteries and energise the soul. I think the last time I had experienced quite such a sensation was again at lunch time on Day 29 as I sat on the top of the cobbler with my packed lunch in glorious October sunshine and stared in awe at the inversion in the valleys beneath me. Well worth a look at the photos. As we meandered gently over to lunch I learned that Charles was 85 and had successfully beaten Oesophageal cancer through the brilliance of the NHS treatment and by fighting through the treatment with a positive attitude and a determination to win. We chatted merrily though the most delicious lunch sat in the dappled shade of a Rowan tree in the garden before sadly, it was time to go. I had received encouragement from Charles and now it was Jean’s turn, as she showed me out along a secret path. ‘Archie keep going. You are inspiring so many people Archie. Just keep doing what you’re doing because you’re doing it so well.’ It was a lovely piece of encouragement so returned home well fed on both food and friendship.

Thank you Dave, Alex, Sharon, Jean and Charles for your encouragement and support. May God bless you and your families with a long, healthy and happy life for all.

Walking tomorrow!