I found the immediate aftermath of my MS diagnosis a fairly confusing time as I tried to make sense of what it meant for my life and for my future. It was suggested that I start some sort of blog to assemble all my thoughts in a therapeutic way. As I was struggling to find anything in the MS literature that tallied with my interests, hobbies and lifestyle, a blog entitled “CyclingwithMS” seemed to make sense.
Since then it been heartening to receive words of support from family, friends and even interested strangers and other cyclists. One message that has been repeated is that some of the challenges I’ve faced as a cyclist should stand me in better stead for the MS hurdles that lie ahead.
I hope so.
My experiences this year have made me ponder a bit more about what resilience, or mental strength, mean. The ability to keep on (and on), without breaking in the face of an adversity, pain or challenge is certainly a strength of sorts.
But I am increasingly of the belief that it is an ability to carry on after a beating – to keep going after defeat – that is a different kind of strength, but probably one that will become more important for me going forwards. I’m going to have to learn to adjust strategies; to adapt; and to evolve – so that if one approach fails, I can take a deep breath and try another.
My colleague at work has just seen his son through training for the Marines. He relays that one night-hike physically broke the group. They arrived to their destination exhausted and hungry. They were given 5 minutes rest then told to get up and repeat. Some dusted themselves down and set off – although probably quite slowly… they would have done so again, and again; others stopped right there and threw in the towel.
With my chemotherapy due to start in 2 weeks time, today I had a pre-treatment appointment.
My progress over the last 6 months was discussed and reviewed. On one side, my efforts at a new diet; more focus on getting the right rest/sleep; and an actual awareness of my condition; versus the knowledge that, just this last fortnight, I’ve been suffering a couple of most unwanted, new symptoms….
The result? 4 new relapses were suggested since my initial diagnosis in March. One relapse a year signifies an MS condition that is in advance; 4 in 7 months is not good news. At all.
It suddenly felt as though I am losing this fight.
Left unchecked, this condition will get worse and worse. Onwards it seeps – if blocked in one direction, it expands in another. I almost immediately retreated mentally to what I am most desperate to preserve – <<ability to walk… ability to see….>> – both threatened this year. Both I do not wish to give up.
Almost time to unleash “Lemtrada”. A drug that 8 years ago didn’t exist. So fingers crossed for 2 weeks time. I need some heavier artillery. And to toughen up. I take inspiration from those who have faced a hundred times worse with a courage that I admire.
I know that MS is not a person. Not an object I can fight in a ring. It’s a function of a mis-firing immune system. Messages to the brain, molecules, biochemistry. Just science…. like the plankton in the sea, or the atoms in the sun. But seeing it as a foe whom I need to beat? That gives me more appetite for whatever might come. And makes me think I can win… so for now, I persist with this illusion.
In “The Hustler” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) plays a titanic game of 8-ball, head-to-head against a legend of the game, Minnesota Fats.
As the frames (and hours) tick past it becomes less a battle of talent, more one of focus and of will: (perhaps the more talented player) Paul Newman undoes his top button and begins to look more and more dishevelled, speech slurring with whiskey; whilst Minnesota Fats changes into a freshly pressed shirt, re-slickens his hair and dusts himself down, ready to go again. He was in it, not for the battle, but for the war – for that was what needed to be won.