Excess baggage, more about starfish and dreams of chicken

There are many things on my mind as I pack, now at the end of an intense  week in Cambodia, ranging from intense strategic discussions, inspiring and humbling accounts from our programmes and a harrowing backdrop of the all too recent genocide in the Khmer Rouge years. Captain Paranoia is still with me constantly, but the events of the week have meant that he has had to compete for my attention.

At the outset of this week, I was present at an address by the Minister of Education here in Cambodia.  He gave a very powerful speech, apologising for veering away from the prepared words and sharing his own history about the Khmer years and their impact on education in the country.  He brought the realities of the genocide to life and I was riveted by his account.  Then he told an anecdote which struck an incredible chord with me.  He told us of one day when his wife had woken him urgently.  He was very upset, and told his wife she should have left him sleeping.  He recounted that he had been dreaming that he had been eating a chicken and it was so delicious, and he had been so hungry.  He said to his wife that she should have let him sleep until he had finished eating the chicken!  What an incredibly visual account of the horror they were living through.  His point was that, in the midst of that hell, he was able to escape in his dreams and no one could intrude on his dreams no matter how little control people were able to have in their lives.  It reminded me of my own starfish dream and how that had lifted my spirits and given me an escape from the preoccupation of the upcoming hospital checks.  It is indeed testament to the strength of the human mind.

However, despite that inspiring example of the chicken and my own private starfish collection in my mind, I am being mysteriously, or not so mysteriously, blocked from planning beyond these upcoming checks.  This is not unusual it happens every time.  Usually though, I only have to book a return ticket home afterwards so there is no great issue about that.  This time however, I should (if all goes well, fingers and toes tied in knots, touching any chunks of anything resembling wood and many other gestures of hope) head straight to India after the checks to see my family in law for the first time since I was diagnosed.  But despite several attempts to book my ticket to travel after the appointments, I have been completely unable to complete the task.  I don’t even have a reservation due to difficulties in booking online and the prospect of having a useless ticket if there is anything other than NED ahead.

After our meetings finished, I managed to fit in a visit to the popular Russian Market, initially to pick up some Cambodia silk which a friend had asked me to bring back.  I found myself drawn in to the glorious colours and somehow left the shop with silk sets for my close in laws too.  As I carted the heavy bags out of the market, I was wondering how many kilos I had purchased and whether it would be less than the 3 kilos which I think I had “spare” on the way over.  Then it suddenly dawned on me that I subconsciously broken through this block and managed to project myself into the “after the checks” unknown.  I will probably have excess baggage but at least I have been able to look ahead.  Now I just need to book that ticket!

And in a further coincidence, as I walked along the quayside yesterday evening in Phnom Penh, I passed the Tourist Information Office and there in front of me was a promotional poster for visiting Cambodia.  And the image on that poster, with its starfish and pristine ocean was incredibly similar to the image which I am recalling regularly from my dream!

What a funny old world we live in, with surprises and connections all around us.

A lottery indeed

I had the most bizarre, disturbing and frightening dream the other night.  It does not take a degree in dream analysis to see where a lot of it was coming from, but it does show what a combination of worries does to the creative mind!

It all started with a lottery ticket.  Some one bought me a lottery ticket – a very generous gesture.  However, this lottery was one with a twist.  If your numbers came up then of course you won a large sum of money.  But if an alternative set of numbers came up on your ticket there was a really sinister outcome.  You were sentenced to death.  Seriously – what kind of mind dreams up a lottery like that?  Well, in my horrible dream, my bad numbers came up.  I went through a horrible phase of preparing for the sentence to be carried out and remember the distress I felt. I had an overwhelming feeling of not being ready to say goodbye.

The day of reckoning was upon me in no time (well this is dream land) and I next found myself in a cell.  With interesting company.  Gaddafi no less!!!  It seemed we were due the same fate – a euthanasia pill of some sort.  We were given a briefing and I was told that once I took the pill I would not feel anything for the first 3 minutes.  Then I would feel very nauseous, but you will not be sick and that would pass and then I would be gone. (This has echoes of the CT scan advice – “you will feel hot all over your body for a few minutes, and feel as if you will relieve your bladder, but you will not and it will quickly pass”.)

Luckily, before all that happened I received word that I had been given a kind of pardon.  The only proviso was that I had to undergo a swimming challenge.  Next thing I was in the pool, fully clad ploughing up and down and getting myself out of that very nasty fix.  Before long I was being washed over by large waves and then the pool water drew back and the pool emptied.  I had met the challenge though and was able to climb out of the pool and back to life.

I woke up in a cold sweat, trembling and with my heart racing.  Alarmed by the vividness and extreme nature of the dream, but so relieved to be in my own bed!  Unsurprisingly, a sense of discomfort accompanied me for the day, although this was eased somewhat by relating the details to a rather bemused friend.

It does not take any deep analysis to see the number of things going on my mind, and they are not even buried very far in the subconscious.   For me the most significant message was the way I was given this dreadful unwanted lottery ticket, in the same way as I was given the cancer lottery ticket and the way it confronts you with your mortality, and the fact that the lottery results are so much broader and more optimistic than the initial scenario.  The fact that I was able to rise to the swimming challenge also shows how much my mind acknowledges that I am pushing myself so hard because it improves my chances.  Oh, I love swimming and I really enjoy it, but if I am honest I have to confess that I am most definitely spurred on by the knowledge that exercise is a factor in reducing the probability of recurrence.

I may have no control over the cancer lottery, or over my strange dreams but I hold on to the small things that I do have control over – my continued efforts to stay as fit and healthy as I can and do my best to increase my odds to keep the beast at bay!


I was sitting in Dr W2’s office and he was showing me something on his computer screen.  He explained quietly (not like him!) what was on the screen, but I could not understand what he meant.  I asked him if it meant that he was worried about the cancer beast making a reappearance (ok I didn’t use those words, but that was what I was wanting to know).  However, I just could not understand what he was trying to tell me.  Then he changed the subject and said he would take out my port the next day.

Then I woke up in a cold sweat, surrounded by the remnants of a very vivid nightmare!

I have to return to Bangkok next week for the first of my 3 month check ups and I know I am not looking forward to it.  Let’s be honest, I’m dreading it.  To find that it is intruding in my dreams, and in such a lucid fashion, is not welcome.

I’m not so worried about the procedures – I know the needle lady will get a fair share of blood from my weary veins, and I know I will be prodded and poked.  I’m not looking forward to it, and I know I will be my usual cowardly self faced with the needle.  I also  know I will either have my port flushed or removed and that I am pretty nervous about.

This is not what I am most afraid of though, I realise.  What frightens me most is that the Doctors see some sign of concern, and not the NED (No Evidence of Disease) I crave.  And just in case that fear was not abundantly clear to me, the night time monsters have decided to spell it out in the form of these scary nightmares.