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.

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Accompanying baggage, starfish and secret wish lists

In the first two months of the year I have had an exorbitant amount of travel.  Which I love, if I am honest.  Even if it is draining physically, I find it energising (how illogical is that?!) and fills me with motivation, enthusiasm and inspiration. I get a real kick from visiting new places, soaking in the surroundings and exploring.

But even although I have been travelling on my own, I have not been alone.  I have been accompanied by an unwelcome presence. He has not been there constantly, but I keep catching him feeding me unwelcome snippets of information.  It is that wretched Captain Paranoia.  He has been intruding on my travels as I skip from city to city, airport to airport and street to street. He is lingering just behind me, as I explore and I sense his presence around me.  He is waiting for me when I get home too, smugly making himself comfortable, oblivious to how unwelcome he is.  Or perhaps that is part of his strategy?  He has been particularly disturbing my sleep.

It should be no surprise that he is around.  In just over a week, I have my next round of checks.  This time there will be a six month, rather than a three month interval between checks and it is causing added anxiety.  After all, quite a lot can develop in six months.  Captain P takes particular delight in reminding me of this.  I know I will need to ask Dr W about the pains I had back in December and as always I have convinced myself this will need some investigation.  The prospect of the blood tests and what the tumour markers might reveal also plays on my mind considerably.  This time I will see four doctors rather than three, as I have an annual post radiation check up with Dr C.  And four is an inauspicious number.  Plenty to feed an anxious mind.

i slept particularly badly on Thursday night. I would doze off for a while and then wake, looking at my watch, to find out only 14 minutes had passed since i had last checked the time.  i would toss and turn.  i would curl up under the sheet as it was getting cool, only to throw the cover away a short time later as I was too hot.  Knowing I would get up at around 5.30 am, my subconscious would prevent me from sleeping soundly.  But at some point I must have dozed off as I found myself paddling in a crystal clear sea.  The water was warm, and the water pristine.  The sunlight was dancing through the rippling waves and picking up the tropical marine life as if in a microscope.  I had a sense of awe and wonder as I picked my way over the white sands underfoot and felt a flush of delight as I spotted a starfish.  I have always wanted to see a starfish in the sea. As I looked more closely, I saw another one, beside some colourful coral.  And then another one.  This was too special to miss and with the water being so clear I paddled gently towards the shore so that I could get my camera and capture these amazing images.  And then I woke up!  But the glorious images and the accompanying emotion stayed with me through the day.  I could see the starfish every time I closed my eyes.  I could even re-call it when my eyes were open, if I am honest!

As I luxuriated in this self-made entertainment package, I realised that seeing a starfish in the sea is something I should put on my secret list.  My secret list is a kind of “things I would love to do or see and if I don’t make an effort I will find out one day I am too old or ill to do them”.  A wish list really.  This is secret wish list, with some pretty weird stuff on it.  Remember, it’s a secret…….

  • Meet a blogging friend in a new place (repeat as often as possible)
  • Buy a picture/piece of artwork at a gallery opening and watch them put the red sticker on it.
  • Book into the Oriental Bangkok for a weekend.  Or maybe a night.  Or maybe just have afternoon tea there given the price!
  • See a kangaroo in the wild.
  • Visit a country with the letter ‘Z’ in it.
  • See the Aurora Borealis (northern lights)
  • Get funky, colourful nail art on my finger and toenails just for fun, just for once.
  • See the rings on Saturn through an astronomy telescope
  • See some of my writing in print.  In a book with real pages!

And now I have added

  • See a starfish in the sea

I remember lying in my hospital bed after my mastectomy.  My head was trying to absorb the horror of the previous days.  I was trying to come to terms with the reality that my left breast had been growing cancer, and that it had been removed along with the 2 tumours it had been hosting.  Desperately trying to get to grips with the reality of a cancer diagnosis, I tried to escape by watching the TV in my room.  This was foiled by the Movie channel playing one film on a loop.  Can you believe they were playing “The Bucket List”?!  Over and over, again and again, and no matter what time I switched on, there it was, goading and taunting me in my immediate freshly diagnosed cancer mindset. I really want to differentiate between this secret wish list, and a bucket list.  In Scotland a bucket is another word for the bin, or trash, or garbage (depends where you come from).  I am thinking of another list which would be of things I do not want to waste good time doing and that would be my bucket list.  My “chuck it in the bucket list”.  It would probably have things like filing bank statements and tidying that box of old papers in the spare room.  But that is for another day.  For today, and the coming days I will focus on my secret wish list and re-live seeing those starfish and trust that it will keep Captain Paranoia at bay.