By Gideon Schneider
November 27, 2008
I have a terrible affliction for which there is no cure. Try as I might, I can't seem to stop myself arriving on time. I aim to turn up fashionably late to parties, but I'm always there before the host. When meeting friends I'll call in a panic to say I'm running ten minutes late, only to turn up ten minutes early. The Swiss could set their clocks by me. With my height, I should change my name to Ben and chime on the hour. Unfortunately most things in life aren't so punctual, so I'm often left waiting around with only my frustration to keep me company. Postponed planes, tardy trains and friends who get delayed are the bane of my life. So it's been refreshing that my chemotherapy-induced sickness, at least, has demonstrated such rigid timekeeping.
So far it's been one week on, one week off. That's how I've been living for the past two months. The seven days following each of my bimonthly treatments always see me drop half a stone in weight as the nausea makes eating a struggle. I've tried various cocktails of anti sickness drugs - paper umbrella not included - and even resorted to wearing special wrist bands designed to reduce symptoms, all to no avail. However, while doubled over a bucket, red faced and writhing, I've felt reassured that by the end of the week I'll be back to normal again.
In the throes of an ‘off' week, while curled up in bed and nursing my aching abdomen, a friend from Gloucestershire phoned for a chat. Knowing that my ‘on' week was approaching, he invited me to visit him out west. It would be relaxing, he promised, and at the very least a distraction from treatment. It would also break up the monotony. I knew I'd be well from Wednesday so agreed to take the train over for the weekend. If only the weather was as predictable as the seasons of my sickness.
"Those clouds don't look promising," Scott said, greeting me at the station. I was just happy the train had arrived on time. A sympathetic sky held back the rain for the short moments it took for my transfer from platform to car. We drove from Stroud to the small village of Nailsworth. By now the windscreen wipers were sweeping water like the oars of a rowboat caught in a torrent. The roads were narrow and winding. My unruffled driver careened around oncoming traffic, while I hid my terror behind a mild grimace.
By afternoon the rain had subsided. We took the opportunity to walk through the countryside. I was soon to discover how ill prepared I was, with my cashmere coat and smooth soled shoes more suited to the Westfield mall than West Country moors. "We're going this way," Scott said casually, pointing to the top of a hill steeper than the Gherkin. The rain soaked grass brought me to the soggy realisation that my shoes were far from being hole free. Wind was thrashing against us and the flaps of my knee length coat became sails, threatening to steer me off course and in to the abyss. Two thirds of the way up my heart was pounding. I had cancelled my gym membership when diagnosed, so this sudden demand on my energy reserves left me tight-chested and breathless. For fear of falling, I resorted to crawling up the remainder of the incline, dog-like, clawing at the sludge for stability. "Come on," my so-called friend goaded from the top, "it's really not that difficult."
Dirty and exhausted, I joined my fellow hiker on the peak. Uncontrollable wheezing prevented me appreciating the view of the shimmering river Severn, framing the plains below. "Wales is just beyond that ridge," Scott said. A warm, inviting branch of Starbucks would have interested me more, but I feigned interest nonetheless. As we trekked on, grass bowed and swirled at the insistence of the wind around our feet. Swathes of dark grey cloud filled the sky as droplets fell on our frozen faces. The remainder of our ramble would be conducted under worsening grades of precipitation.
Two wet hours and one lost watch later, a steep decline presented itself. Ordinarily I would have felt naked without my time piece and the structure it gave to my days. But now I was more concerned about the ground slipping upon touch. Bullied in to submission by Scott's persistent cries to "just run down," I let the weight of my legs fall ahead of me, one after the other. My subsequent burst of confidence came crashing down as hard and fast as my posterior hit the yielding mire. Covered in mud and resembling a Grodzinski chocolate cake, I peeled my sodden back off the spongy floor and watched as amusement fought with sympathy for control of my friend's facial expression. "That's enough nature for one day," I said as we reached our car some time later.
The 7.43 to London left late the next evening, but with the destination being another week of drug-induced sickness I was in no hurry. Although the weather had proved unpredictable, the chaos had been a welcome break from my regimented schedule. Sinking in to my designated seat and feeling more relaxed than I had on arrival, I decided I was in no rush to replace that lost watch.