September has always been my favourite month. The sun radiates its final glow before winter’s arrival, the air is that bit crisper and I find my mind selecting a new gear with the slow change in season. Warm days give way to cool nights via supersaturated Technicolor sunsets, the gentle and evocative smell of wood smoke rising through the still evening chill. Leaves drift downwards, creating an organic carpet underfoot that turns damp and mossy. There’s no such thing as a bad weather day, just a bad choice of coat. A walk outdoors can be a friendly and welcome assault on the senses. You can breathe autumn in.
Autumn 2017 feels like a lifetime ago. So much has happened, so much has changed, sometimes I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. My life was picked up by a hurricane, tossed around and splintered upon landing with the diagnosis of a brain tumour. It’s had such a tumultuous effect that sometimes I don’t quite know where I’ve landed. I’m sure my wife feels the same. Some days I feel like an explorer visiting an alien world, donning a big heavy spacesuit that occludes the finer details of life. I have to constantly refer to memories of life pre-tumour as a datum to help me process current information. I don’t always come to a logical conclusion.
Autumn 2018 was the height of my illness and I was undergoing radiotherapy. I stopped looking at the outside world; I found no joy in being outside. It was a chore to be outside. My world became sterile and extremely inward looking. Such overt introversion did nothing to improve my mental wellbeing and I started to retreat from the world. I worked hard during radiotherapy to stay active, as all evidence shows increased exercise can improve outcomes, but after treatment finished I struggled to summon any enthusiasm for walks. I became quite reclusive in many ways.
Autumn 2019 is vastly different. It’s nearly twelve months since radiotherapy treatment was completed. I’m back at work part-time, on a phased return. I’ve reapplied for my driving licence. I’ve learnt to walk without my stick. More importantly I’ve got my head up and I’m looking outwards.
The reason for this is my latest MRI scan results and clinical review. Pent up nervousness almost boiled over in the run up to the appointment with the consultant and clinical nurse specialist. The neurosurgeon who performed my biopsy noticed my wife and I waiting for my appointment. She came over, remarked upon how well I was looking and said that she’d kept an eye on my case through the multi-disciplinary team (MDT) meetings.
Then all of a sudden it was my turn. We were ushered into the meeting and greeted with quite a lot of news.
- There is radiation scar tissue which casts a shadow over the tumour – the tumour shows up bright white with contrast dye, the scar tissue is grey.
- The size measurement is now made up of the tumour + scar tissue.
- The size has not increased since the previous scan.
Conclusion: the tumour has been arrested and has maybe even shrunk slightly. The brain can repair radiation scar tissue to a certain extent but takes a very long time. If the tumour is now dormant, I can expect some further improvement in my condition over the years, but I will still require a scan and review every twelve weeks for the next year. Last year we were discussing whether I’d have a life. Now we’re discussing what quality of life I may have.
I’m allowed to fly again. There is no hint of a refusal of my driving licence application, I just have to wait for DVLA to make their decision. I still have side effects to cope with but I am so much better than I was.
I know this is just the end of the beginning. A beginning that’s lasted almost two years. I now have to learn to live my future life and connect with reality. Whilst there are things I can’t do, there are many things I can do and I’m at a stage where I need the positives to outweigh the negatives.
And, after coming to land after my review, I’ve come to the conclusion that there really is no place like home. But there’s also no place like outdoors in September.
Perhaps there’s no place like coming home after being outdoors.