Pardon the French, but 2018 had been just that kind of a year.
HELL of a Year
“There’s 40% chance it could be prostate cancer.” my urologist muttered matter-of-factly.
I’ve been having urination issues since the last quarter of 2017. The issue worsened towards December 2017 with frequent visits to the toilets at night and many ‘urgent’ episodes that had me rushing to washrooms in malls and petrol kiosks.
My plan to seek medical help was put on hold when Angie was diagnosed with cancer in January 2018. I decided to keep mum about it, as my priority was my wife’s recovery. It wasn’t until after her remission in May that I finally made an appointment to see a urologist.
So there I was, 3 months after Angie’s MRI, at the same radiology clinic. Totally surreal and shockingly unbelievable but absolutely true that months after my wife’s health scare, this time it was my turn.
This was how 2018 started for us. For the rest of the year, we traversed between medical check-ups amidst the demands of our jobs, parenting a tween AND an active preschooler, children falling sick, visits to school to meet teachers etc.…To make matters worse, just as the year was stabilizing towards the end, I sustained a painful knee injury and had to see an orthopaedic specialist for a few months (will save this story for another day). All in, 2018 provided enough drama to create many subplots for a gripping serial.
10 Lessons from a Shitty 2018
These are 10 lessons I learnt from a ‘shitty’ 2018 that would shape my life going forward. I am penning it down for my kids to reap some wisdom from their parents’ experiences.
1. Dream: Before Angie’s cancer episode, we had booked our flights for a DIY trip to Finland. Little did we know that the December trip would become a ‘tangible’ finishing line as we endured the marathon of health scares and treatments throughout the year.
I was quite emotional when we stood on the frozen lake admiring the magnificent Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland. THAT was my finishing line for the year. We made it.
So as a new year begins, set a dream goal as a couple / family and work towards it together. It’s a powerful motivator to work towards a common finish line.
2. “Better a neighbour nearby than a relative far away”: Trials test relationships. While it is easy, almost effortless to say, ‘I’ll pray for you”, there are those who went out of their way to uplift our spirits when we were literally in the pits. To really make a difference for a friend in need, be there physically and emotionally; do something, do anything to reach out and show you care. Send a postcard, order a Deliveroo, plan a welcome-back-to-office breakfast. Make an effort to walk in their shoes. Love is a verb.
Never belittle the power of encouragement you may have on a friend in their times of need.
3. Less is More: Lying on an MRI table helps you prioritize your life. Friends, events, obligations and commitments – all legitimate excuses to be busy. Given that our lives are unpredictably short, it’s important to be busy with life, rather than to be living a busy life. Declutter your life, weed away toxic friends and devote your time to those who truly matter.
4. Talk: Conversations are a great way to diffuse life’s stresses. Don’t shy from it even though, as men, we prefer to keep quiet, bottle everything in and carry the burdens on our own.
I remembered how devastated and alone I felt when I knew of my wife’s cancer diagnosis. I had to put up a strong front for her and my kids. Thankfully I found support in the form of Daddy friends from Daddy Matters. Conversing with them gives me perspective and helps me manage my emotions better when I go home to my wife and kids. It enables me to feel belonged to a community, knowing I am not alone in my struggles trying to be a good father, good husband and good man.
5. Don’t Cast the First Stone: We were flabbergasted! Imagine this, an acquaintance who was not even close to us at all texted Angie to ‘prophesize’ that her cancer is due to our ‘covetousness’ and even proceeded to warn us to ‘get right’ with God before more calamity befalls.
We understand if we are deemed not holy enough in your eyes but never pass quick, baseless, hurtful remarks and judgments, especially to a fellow Christian sister who is battling cancer. It makes you a terrible person.
6. Work…is Work: It was a tough year where I had to take 1-2 hrs ‘time-off’ on some afternoons for medical reviews. All the time-offs were approved and substantiated with time-off chits signed off by our doctors, radiologists and therapists.
Still, that didn’t stop my superior from sending me a message on the final week of 2018 with instructions to cut-down taking time-off. “Preferably, please do personal matters on Sat mornings”, sent via a common shared group chat with another colleague in it.
I was disheartened. I did not take time-offs for recreational reasons. I don’t skive at work. I did try to ask for Sat appointments but specialists appointments are almost always fully booked way in advance, with weekends snapped up first. It’s impossible to arrange ALL medical check-ups, MRI scans, therapy sessions etc. only on Saturdays.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my profession deeply. But this episode has taught me to keep work in perspective. Work is work; to our employer, we are but just another employee. But to my family, I am their only husband and Daddy.
7. Mind your own Health: Take care of yourself, because no one else will. Exercise, eat well, sleep more and if resources permit, travel while you can…Health tips that are featured in the Sunday newspaper columns suddenly become so relevant as our mortality comes into focus. Only when we are well can we buy more time with those we love.
8. Prepare for Rain: When faced with life-threatening ailments, the first thing that came to mind was the urgency to get ourselves treated, at all costs. With that, comes the consideration of finances. The reality with government hospitals is that wait time can be long. With cancer, you don’t procrastinate your treatment options.
Thankfully our insurances took care of a substantial part of Angie’s medical expenses and set her on the road to recovery. Never underestimate the importance of protecting yourself and your family with medical insurance.
9. Look Up: Religion helps us to believe in something bigger than ourselves. Particularly important when we are thrown with challenges that are larger than life. Through our struggles through childlessness, multiple child losses and a shitty 2018, we still believe God has been merciful and faithful to us.
Religion helps us see our life’s purpose within a larger perspective. When you are in the trenches, take a minute to look up…it may just give you that ounce of strength to move forward, one step at a time. Many mornings, I would wake early to spend quiet time praying and interceding for my family. I would never have made it through 2018 without God.
10. Live Intentionally: My father died when I was barely 13. So I understand what it feels like to grow up ‘father-less’. I am relieved I am that my enlarged prostate is not cancerous but I am on daily medication, with surgery being one of the options if symptoms persist and my prostate index still does not improve this year.
In 2019, I want to be more intentional how I live my life. To create more tangible memories with my family and leave a legacy whilst I am still able to. Because we never know when that one phone call or that one singular event would just change the course of our lives, forever.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Psalm 90:12 (NIV)
“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
Follow my journey on IG over at @doting_dad.