Fundamental Unit of Concern

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a Damn.” – Rhett Butler, Gone With The Wind

One thing I learnt while on chemotherapy in 2010 is that everyone has a finite number of Damns to give. When you are fit and well and healthy you have a huge supply, sometimes it even looks infinite. But when we are unwell, the supply of Damns is smaller, and events and activities have to be important to you if you are to give them a Damn at those times. When you are seriously ill, ill enough to need chemotherapy, the supply of Damns is very limited indeed.

During chemotherapy in 2010, my supply of Damns was almost non-existent, and family got most of them. After family, I only had two Damns left to give: one to ZBK karate, and one to an environmental project in the Blue Mountains.  And then I started to get better, chemotherapy finished, and the oncologist thought I would have five years, maybe ten, before I needed chemotherapy again.

By 2011, I was starting to feel OK, and starting back to karate training, although in fairly limited way. I had to be careful I didn’t go too far, and it was pretty easy to go too far. My goal was still a black belt, and I wanted to get fit enough to at least make an attempt at a physical grading. The trouble was, I wasn’t doing as great as I thought, and I thought there was plenty of time.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, and 20/20 hindsight tells us the CLL was still actively messing with my blood and immune system. I was hospitalised, then over-extended myself training, and camping, and travelling overseas. More and progressively worse infections followed, requiring more hospital time. Through it all the lymphocyte count was rising much faster than the “five to ten” estimate. My fitness was once again in decline, and commuting to work in Sydney left me with very few spare Damns to give.

I realised that more chemotherapy was fast approaching. Then another infection and another week in reverse isolation in hospital, and the lymphocytes went ballistic, going from “wait and see” to “treatable” in less than two weeks, significantly worse than a more recent estimate of six months; the only thing preventing treatment instantly was pneumonia.

By late April, my fitness was once again plummeting, and I finally had to acknowledge a hard truth: my fitness probably would never recover, even after chemotherapy was finished, to the point where a traditional physical black belt grading would be within my reach. Feeling my way to acceptance of this took longer.

Something that is within my reach, and allows me to participate in ZBK karate, is to teach. I often have that opportunity and, it seems to me, it is always well received. I enjoy teaching, it feels like an appropriate way to “pay it forward” for all the benefit of all the years I have been learning. And it is a vital piece of a feeling of community and support within ZBK karate.  The black belt exam was in June, and the black belt was conferred in August.

Lately, my travel is limited to being in range of hospitals, preferably ones with my medical records and specialists who know me… and blood products.  Things that are impossible include commuting on trains and sharing air conditioning with hundreds of people (shopping malls, picture theatres, etc).  To plan to travel requires a significant allocation of quite scarce Give a Damns.  At this point, I plan to go to LCA 2013, which will require some significant inter-hospital cooperation, and probably more than a few medical face masks.

Fortunately, the phone network and the Internet keep me in contact with friends and family, although there are some folks I would really much rather see face to face, it serves for day-to-day sanity.