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Beat The Beast Challenge

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30th Sep 16

Day 176 has seen more golf balls struck with growing frustration as I try to train the brain, a short swim, and a dawning realisation which has led to probably the biggest question that I have ever posed.

View from Wardlaw Hill over city Bridge, 27th September
View from Wardlaw Hill looking towards the city Bridge, 27th September

Over the last couple of days in which we have been ravaged by gales, I have been unable to do anything more than catch up with some emails, take a couple of short walks and reflect on the wonderful news I was given on Wednesday. I have felt numb and perhaps even a little confused by the news I received. It was so much better than I could have ever expected. For almost a year now in which, during my quarterly scans, the wonderful oncology team have been saying, after the first two scans in which the tumour had officially shrunk, just a little, but had shrunk none the less, saying that the tumour was stable. That it was too small to measure any change. I can remember that first time. I had been praying so hard and hoping so hard that the tumour would continue to shrink to nothing so remember bitterly the disappointment when I was told that it was stable, that it was too small to measure any change. I felt that God had let me down in some way. I didn't give up on him but I was asking why he had given up on me. The oncology team were sat with huge smiles telling me that this was the best possible news but all I heard was that any change in size to the tumour was too small to measure. In my mind I still had the mental image of the beast, the size of a tarantula spider sat on its backside, its legs sticking out from under its head and reaching deep into the brain. So large that it had pushed the centre line of the brain all the way over to just above my left ear. Surgery and the removal of 40% of the tumour, in effect the backside of the spider, had allowed the centre line to come back to centre but still I had this big beast buried deep into the brain. No wonder I didn't grasp the true meaning of what they were telling me. We weren't supposed to be able to shrink it or cure it or kill it. They were just trying to buy me some time by putting it to sleep for as long as they could by hitting it hard with the brain surgery, radiotherapy, and year of chemotherapy. So when I was told again on Wednesday that the tumour was stable, that any change was too small to measure, I asked with hope in my voice whether or not it might be dead. The answer to that question astounded me and its implications are only just now starting to sink in. This enormous great tarantula spider has all but disappeared. They can't find it and haven't been able to find it for some time. What they were telling me was so very different from what I heard. I heard that the tumour was stable. That any change on the tumour was too small to measure. What they had actually been telling me was that the tumour was too small to be able to measure any change, and as I questioned that further and was shown the MRI slides, the dawning realisation was wonderfully surprising. They can't find it. They have no idea how big it is if indeed it exists at all. Being the hugely experienced experts that they are, they tempered my excitement by saying that even if it is no longer a mass of tumour cells, there may well be tumour cells remaining so the chances of it recurring are extremely high and now we know that the tumour had jumped from a Grade 1, slow-growing tumour, to a much more aggressive Grade 2/3 tumour, that explains why my prognosis has only improved by a couple of years and not been cancelled all together. Finally I understood what my wonderful team had been trying to tell me for months, but as I thought about the implications yesterday, one thing sunk in. I had been told many times by a number of UK and US experts that this tumour couldn't be shrunk, cured or killed. Yet right now the tumour has disappeared completely. Suddenly I felt like a child being given a new bike after years of desperately pleading for one. Like a child stood in disbelief in front of this shiny new bike with a huge present tag tied on it with red ribbon saying simply, ‘To my son, with lots of love, from your ever loving Father’. Despite having read the tag, touched the bike, and stood back to look at the whole shiny bike in its full glory, this young boy will slap his hand on his forehead and exclaim in his excitement, ‘Oh my goodness I don't believe it. Is it really mine?' 'Yes son, it is', says his father and despite the facts staring him full in the face he exclaims once again, 'I just don't believe it!' Am I like that small child? I have prayed twice a day every day fervently for healing. Others have also prayed and do pray for me. I profess to have a faith and have, since the start of the challenge in which I opened my eyes, my ears, my mind and my heart to God, twice experienced first-hand the healing power of prayer. Yet here I am, like the small child with the bicycle, in which the facts are staring me full in the face, exclaiming that I just don’t believe it. I have asked for healing with tears in my eyes more times than I can mention. Friends and family have prayed for me and the tumour has all but disappeared, despite being told by a number of experts across the country and the world that this beast couldn’t be shrunk, killed or cured. How much more evidence do I need? Is it not therefore entirely possible that God has helped the amazing team from the Western General Hospital make the impossible possible? It is almost as if there is a gift tag hanging off the computer screen on which my brilliant oncologist showed me nothing in my brain other than some scaring and bruising from the treatment. On that gift tag was written simply, ‘To my son, with lots of love, from your ever loving Father.’

This is a huge claim to make but if I profess to have faith and to truly believe then surely I have to believe, truly believe that God has healed me. The warnings from my brilliant oncology team are ringing clearly in my head and it is those warnings that have perhaps clouded my ability to see what has been staring me full in the face, but I truly believe that I have been healed. It is incredibly exciting and isn’t it entirely possible? Food for thought but only time will tell.

In the meantime, however, I would be foolish to do anything less than look after myself in such a way that even if the tumour does want to come back that it will struggle to get even a look in. I have to do all that I can to ensure that I make the most of this additional time that I have been given and to do the best I can to make a difference to others. To try and improve the lives and life chances of so many more. So nothing changes. I remain on the strategy of the 5 Fs designed to help me Beat the Beast:

Food – Every day I consume fruit and vegetables designed to actively attack the tumour but also to keep my immune system as strong as possible:

Banana – 1 a day
Brazil Nuts – 6 to 8 a day
Blueberries – 24 a day
Apples – 1 a day
Calcium in the form of coconut milk and a lactose free yoghurt every day
Omega 3 in the form of flaxseed taken with the cereal and yoghurt each day
Egg – 1 a day
Carrots raw x 100g each and every day
Tenderstem Broccoli raw x 50g each and every day
Exploding (Cherry) tomatoes x 4 each and every day
Red Grapes x 12 each and every day
Spinach, Roocket and Watercress x a handful each and every day
Oats in cereal and flapjacks for carbohydrates (energy) each and every day
A freshly cooked meal with a salad each and every day if I possibly can to ensure more protein and certainly more vegetables taken on board each and every day at a rate of consumption of:
Red Meat no more than once a week
White meat a couple of times a week
Oily fish no more than once a week
White fish a couple of times a week
Vegetable only dish once a week
I try and ensure an intake of 5 portions of organic fruit and vegetables each and every day
A port glass of organic red wine each and every evening
A mug of Horlicks each and every evening

Physical Training – A minimum of 5 days a week I try to ensure that I conduct some high quality physical training to help keep my immune system as strong as possible including:

Running 3 times a week
Upper Body circuits twice a week
Swimming twice a week

In this I also include cognitive training to try and isolate the diseased right temporal lobe in favour of the healthy left temporal lobe, so golf 5 days a week and organ practice 14 times a week also feature.

Faith – Morning and evening prayer each and every day. This is my moment to talk to God and most importantly to listen to God. By keeping my mind, eyes, ears and heart open and engaged with God, I have witnessed the most wonderful things and met the most wonderful people and it is this open line of faith that has kept me buoyant through what was probably the greatest trial in my life, but will also, I am sure, keep me living life with a smile on my face.

Focus – Having been given the idea of the challenge as, on diagnosis, I mourned the loss of all my plans for the future, I am convinced that having a reason to get up in the morning has helped me to get through the brutal months of treatment. The clear space to think and breathe on the hills, while also being a source of inspiration through the people that I have met, and God’s glorious creation around me, kept me sane when I was truly losing faith in myself let alone God. To be able to try and help improve the lives and life chances of so many more people while trying to help myself is undoubtedly a God-given gift.

Family and Friends – While knowing that you are never alone through faith and through the wonderful support on the challenge has been truly fantastic, there have been days in which I longed for a mother’s hug, or a brew with a true friend, while laughing about shared experiences. Being able to just offload and seek a sense of perspective has lightened the load, as have wonderful days in which the children and I made shared memories. To hear the children sing, laugh and succeed brings true light into my life and is a real gift. I was given the gift of Allie the day that I sat in her seat on the train, and her instinctive feel for what I needed to hear and when truly kept me afloat when all around me was dragging me under. I must nurture that relationship because I need, we all need I am sure, someone that we love and loves us back and that can be truly relied upon as a third leg but that also truly needs me. Another person to fight for while I will of course continue to pray for family and friends who are themselves in need of healing or help.

But I also try and follow the advice I was given right at the start of the challenge:

Take time to think, it is the source of power. Take time to play, it is the source of perpetual youth. Take time to read, it is the fountain of wisdom. Take time to pray, it is the greatest power on earth. Take time to love and be loved, it is a God-given privilege. Take time to be friendly, it is the road to happiness. Take time to laugh, it is the music of the soul. Take time to give, it is too short a day to be selfish. Take time to work, it is the price of success. Take time to do charity, it is the key to heaven.

So I have made my statement. It is a bold one but the facts are hard to ignore. It is too exciting to ignore. I know that some of my friends and family will roll their eyes at my bold claim. One in particular will also be flabbergasted, asking me how on earth she is ever going to be able to get me some greater exposure if I keep writing such long posts and talking so openly about my faith and even making such bold claims. But they will also know that I truly believe it. That I will only ever write honestly and openly and will only ever want to share with you the wonder of this truly extraordinary journey. As my wonderful Rector Alison Peden once said in a sermon given in St Modoc’s, ‘Prepare to be amazed’. I have no idea what is going to be written in the story of this journey from the moment that I get up and leave the house, until the moment I come home. The story just unfolds in front of me in its truly amazing technicolour on each and every day that I am blessed enough to be given. I have no idea how this story is going to end. Only one person does and God is keeping his cards very close to his chest. So I need to keep my eyes, ears, mind and heart open to God and be prepared to be amazed.

Yours aye

Archie