By Andy Burrows, 11 November 2018
Life at Base Camp
Before I give you my reflections on what’s driving my attitude at the moment, it’s worth giving a quick update on my situation to set the scene.
I think I mentioned last time that things had settled down after my chemotherapy. My blood counts have recovered. I am simply left with no hair and low energy. Low energy in the sense that I can’t get out of bed in the morning as early as I used to, I get pretty tired late in the evenings, and have to have a nap around midday most days. So, my energy capacity is reduced. But when my battery is charged up (so to speak) I can function more or less normally.
In my last update, I was waiting for the PET CT scan results. And those came along on Wednesday 24th October.
And – good news – I am “PET negative”! That means everything is appearing on the scan in the “normal” range, and they can’t see any lymphoma. So, I’m in remission again.
I have to admit, though, that I got the news, and forgot to celebrate, and even forgot to tell people!
It’s kind of funny really. I have got into this “one step at a time” mentality to such an extent that the PET CT scan and results felt like just another step somewhere in the middle of long journey.
I forgot the significance of this milestone. I forgot that getting to this point is pretty darned fantastic in its own right!… Just like getting to Everest Base Camp (to continue with my Mount Everest analogy) is a fantastic achievement in its own right.
I guess I reached the camp and immediately started staring at the route up that bloomin’ great big mountain – that’s where I’m going! Gulp!
And yet, more than two weeks after reaching that milestone, with my Everest-like allograft ahead of me, I’m still waiting, and likely to be waiting for another few weeks.
There are several potential donors, but the donor hasn’t yet been selected. Various tests and logistics have to be sorted first – for the potential donors, not for me. Once the donor has been selected and the logistics have been worked out, so I’m told, things will move quite quickly.
So, the stem cell transplant is still my next step, but I don’t know when I will move on to that step. So, I’m just waiting.
And while I’m waiting, I’d started to think about doing normal things like going to church, going shopping, going to pubs and restaurants. But then I spoke to the clinical nurse specialist in Southampton Hospital, and she said that it’s really important to keep well, and not to risk picking up colds and flu at this time of the year. So, I’m still being advised to keep myself to myself… and “go and have a flu jab”.
So, my reflections today are around the “spare” time.
Intensity with gaps
I suppose, also, that my thinking around “spare” time doesn’t just apply to waiting at Base Camp between the two main elements of my treatment. Even though the chemotherapy I’ve just had was fairly intense treatment, I wasn’t in hospital all of the time. Ok, for about two months I was in there for something or other on most days. But there were gaps.
And even in hospital, I was feeling pretty “normal” most of the time. I guess what I mean by “normal” is that, whilst there were a few definite periods of nausea, fatigue and low energy, I was able to think straight and get up and walk around (even if I had to take my IV drip contraption with me!). And I was able to walk home after each hospital stay, and I didn’t feel too bad.
(The upcoming stem cell transplant will be different. It’ll be six weeks in a hospital isolation room. And at least half the time I’ll be feeling quite ill. To give you an impression, I’ve been told that I will be fitted early on with a naso-gastric tube (a tube that is inserted via your nose and goes down your throat into your stomach) in the expectation that at some stage I will not be well enough to eat. So, let’s keep the stem cell transplant(s) separate… but even then, the points I’m going to make are applicable.)
On the other hand, there’s no way that I had (or have) enough capacity such that I could have continued to work (in the standard salary-earning sense). Not given the amount of time I’ve had to spend in hospital, and the need for flexibility to deal with responding to blood counts and infections.
So, all in all, that leaves a lot of “spare” time. What do I do with that time? And why? What is there to do while at Base Camp, especially if (like in my case) I don’t know how long this hiatus is going to last?
Wanting to be useful
Well, there’s two things I’d say.
Firstly, I personally have always had something of an obsession with being “productive”. I feel like I’m wasting time if I’m sat on the sofa watching TV, playing games, stood in queues, waiting in waiting rooms, lying in bed not sleeping, etc.
On several occasions I’ve tried to trace this to some defining moment, something that made me so restless. But I can’t.
It’s nothing to do with having had cancer, because the year before I was diagnosed, while I had time on my hands (unemployed) I was obsessing over learning marketing skills and web design so that I could build my own business.
And I can go way back to when I was 21, just after I graduated, and I was unemployed off-and-on for over a year. And being 1991/2, all my career research was in libraries, and job applications were pen and paper affairs, sent in envelopes with postage stamps! I sat at my desk almost every day either researching firms to approach or writing job applications. I also had a couple of temporary jobs during that time – but even finding a temp job was hard. I was living in the North of England during a recession!
But all that tired me out, so I had to find other things to fill my time. Music was one thing – I was a guitarist and songwriter, and I used to record my songs in those days (on the old cassette tapes). Bible study was the other – I set myself a project to understand Biblical eschatology, and particularly the book of Daniel. So, I spent hours writing notes, consulting commentaries, history books and other reference material.
And I can go back even further to when I taught myself to play the guitar and piano when I was in my early teens, sitting for hours drilling myself through chord progressions and tunes (and in the process, discovering that I could make up my own tunes and words), teaching myself to read music through actually just doing it with no guidance at all.
Intellectual stimulus and creativity have always needed an outlet in my life.
And that’s why I’ve always found things, projects, to keep going with while I am laid aside.
At the moment my main project is www.superchargedfinance.com. There isn’t really space here to talk about what Supercharged Finance means to me personally. But I will try and get it across briefly.
Supercharged Finance started at the end of 2016. But my desire to have an “internet business” started in 2009 when I signed up for the Internet Business Mastery Academy. In seven years I had so many false starts and abortive attempts, so many domains I’ve registered and scrapped, websites I’ve tinkered with and then binned, ideas I’ve researched and found to be non-viable.
The reason I wanted an “internet business” is fundamentally because I was fed up of my income (and therefore family financial stability) being dependent on me selling my time. The problem I had with selling my time was that I kept having spells of unemployment (made redundant three times in six years between 2001 and 2007, and then when I’d moved into contracting/interim management I had an 8-month “gap” in the 2009 recession).
And then at the end of 2009, I started my battle with cancer, and it meant more income gaps. And so, the desire to develop products I can sell online, and scale to sell across the world, has sharpened.
Why online? Because it gives immediate access to a massive international market, so even having a tiny niche in that market can generate a decent income. The work involved in setting up and maintaining a website is fairly easy, and the costs are low, and pretty much the same whether you have 100 customers or 10,000.
And the reason it took me seven years to finally settle on a niche in my core area of expertise – Finance and accounting – is because all the analysis I did during my early dabbling said that there would be no profit in this niche.
The reason I ignored that analysis in the end was because I realised I just didn’t have the passion or enough confidence in any other subject. And so, I just thought I’d give it a go. Better to do something than to carry on starting projects and then scrapping them.
And I’m still enthusiastic about Supercharged Finance, and as determined as ever to give it my best shot. I’m enjoying the journey – the people I’ve met, the opportunities it’s given me – most of which I would never have thought of when I set out.
It hasn’t made a profit yet, let alone paid back my investment in courses and failed ventures over the last nine years. But I can see how it can do…
… And the other great thing about internet business is that you don’t have to be in any particular location to do it. So, I can do everything from home … or wherever there’s an internet connection (here’s a photo of me working on the website while sitting in Basingstoke Hospital having a blood transfusion!… I told you I like to make good use of “spare time” and I hate just sitting around!!)
And that’s what makes it a great project to continue with while I can’t work in an office over the next year!
Needing to be flexible
However, (and this is my second point) in times like this I try to make sure that the things I do to keep productive are things that aren’t going to enslave me.
So, I don’t set myself deadlines or agree to fixed meeting times and things like that. I know that stressing myself out over a personal goal or project would not only be bad for me, but futile as well – who am I letting down if I miss my self-imposed deadline? Myself!
So, I give myself permission to give myself a break and not be so hard on myself. The world is not going to end if I don’t read as many pages as I wanted, write as many pages as I wanted, etc. In fact, no one else in the world is going to care… or even know anything about it!!
I’ll admit, though, that this is the hard part for me. It is hard not to get frustrated that progress is so slow. It’s hard not to get fed up that after I’ve helped with the school run and the dog walking every morning, I then have to go and have a sleep. And so I only get a couple of hours a day to progress things. Even writing this blog post took me a few days altogether!
But that’s why the “one step at a time” mentality is so important.
I have some creative/productive objectives. I know what needs to be done to complete them. And I just use whatever time/energy I have today to make progress on whatever is next on the list.
And the thing is, I’ve proved that it works.
If I’d waited until I had more time or better quality time, I would never have even started a blog and published content that has helped people in various ways.
And yet by 2016 I’d self-published three books that you can find on Amazon. I then started Supercharged Finance. I now have hundreds of people on the mailing list, thousands of views on some of my articles, and some sales of online products. There’s a good chance that, given a bit more effort, Supercharged Finance can be profitable within the next 6-9 months.
My encouragement to you
And I didn’t write that last paragraph in an attempt to big myself up some more!
I wrote it because it should be an encouragement to you – yes, you, reading this now.
If I can self-publish three books, set up my own website, and develop an online business – in my “spare” time, while fighting cancer four times, working full-time some of the time, being a husband and father of four… what can you achieve?
Have I felt like giving up on those things at any point? Sure, lots. Sometimes it has been painfully slow, and I thought I’d never get the things done.
Have I ever questioned whether I would have had an easier life if I hadn’t been obsessing over these pet projects? Sure, lots. And friends and family haven’t always been encouraging either.
And, okay, we also need humility. Things have a habit of not turning out how you wanted (I wrote about this back in 2010, and more recently on the Supercharged Finance blog). So, I am categorically not going to say, “you can achieve whatever you set your mind to”!
But, I really want my experience to say two things to you:
- You can achieve far more than you think yourself capable of, if you will just ignore your negative thoughts and get on with it!
- You can experience more joy than you think possible, even whilst going through some really tough stuff, if you’re willing to embrace the positives of each day!
One step at a time… and keep smiling!