"If there's anything I can do to help, just let me know".
Sound familiar? This is the question or statement usually offered to someone by a friend who is at a complete loss when a friend or family member is going through a difficult time. The truth is there's often very little that one can do and none more so than when that person has just been told they had cancer.
After being told I had leukaemia only days before, I was almost instantly placed on a course of drugs to kick start my treatment in order to help me in my fight to combat the disease. Steroids were one of the first tablets I remember being administered - and one of the side affects that I first encountered (aside from constantly feeling ravenous) was a complete lack of attention span and a lack of sustained interest in absolutely everything - with the exception of the current status of my white blood cell count. Having being dealt the worst news that I felt was possible only days before, I'm sure I could be forgiven for having other things on my mind, and indeed I did. In those first few days after diagnosis barely a moment would pass without me bursting into tears about the prospect of what I was facing and what lied ahead. However, I remember vividly the first moment where something else grabbed my attention and indeed provided me with some exterior focus away from my illness and in turn provided me with hope for my battle.
A close friend of mine called Andrew (Woody) had visited me in the late morning in mid December. He had naturally bunked off from his lectures at University, jumped on the train and came to see me at Worcester Royal hospital armed with a carrier bag full of DVDs (and a Sponge Bob Square Pants balloon, no less). Later that evening I was once again feeling restless from the steroids and found myself diving into the carrier bag I'd been given earlier that day. After giving one or two films a try I naturally lost all concentration with them almost instantly. Then I picked up a disc that read "Long way down - Ewan McGregor Part1". There was seven of these discs. I didn't recognise the title of the "film" so I decided to give it a try. After the opening two minutes I was hooked. This wasn't a film at all. It was instead a documentary following actors Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman on their journey around the world on a Motorcycle in a quest to reach New York. I instantly took to it. The concept, the belief, the story and the challenge. I had finally found something that not only held my concentration span for more than four minutes but something far more significant. I found a sign of hope and a form of escapism through following their journey across the world as they travelled from London to New York via Europe, Asia and Alaska. Each episode was roughly an hour long and I went through the whole lot back to back - feeling like I was with them every step of the way, or every mile more appropriately. They too had their own challenges throughout their journey, both physically and mentally. Through the unbelievably difficult conditions and the extremely tough terrain their routes were often incredibly difficult to negotiate not to mention the very lengthy border crossings and dealings with somewhat begrudging borer patrol guards. The difficulties encountered throughout their challenge also put a strain on their friendship at times as living in such close proximity each day along with being away from loved ones would only add to the battle and grind of their journey.
I finally felt like I had a purpose for my days spent in my isolation room. I waltzed through all seven of the episodes one after the other and felt emotionally attached to their journey. I too was on a journey, albeit of a very different sort, one which I was aware was nether for the purpose of a television show nor could be halted if the journey proceeded to be too challenging. However, I tried not to spend too long thinking about such pessimism and negativity as I was too engrossed in following Ewan and Charlie in their pursuit of their quest. There is one point in the series where Ewan visits a hospital in Chernobyl where he meets children who are subsequently living with and battling leukaemia and other forms of blood cancers as a result of the 1986 disaster. This, I felt, was extremely tough to watch as it brought it all back home to me just what situation I was in. For a few moments throughout those scenes my focus on their journey switched to my own and I was left absorbed with self pity. It wasn't unusual for me to become emotional throughout my illness and seeing or hearing any leukaemia references really hit me hard.
I finally felt like I had a purpose for my days spent in my isolation room.
It wasn't purely the challenge that Ewan and Charlie were undertaking that inspired me. The cinematography throughout the documentary was at times breathtaking. I was encapsulated by not only the beauty of some of the destinations they passed, but also the warm hearted nature of the local villagers for example. People who had nothing but kindness to offer these two strangers as they passed through their towns. Again, I was deeply touched by this. To this day I am constantly amazed at the kindness that can come from a stranger in moments of difficulty.
Ewan and Charlie eventually made it to their destination and as I watched with tears running down my cheeks I couldn't help but feel a wave of sadness. A sense of sorrow that they had reached their goal and their journey was compete when I was merely at the start of mine. However, I tried to retain the feeling of inspiration that had kept me glued to the television throughout the seven DVDs; the challenges they faced along with their attitude in overcoming a mass of obstacles that tried their best to get in their way, to the tender moments of seeing how much their presence meant to people much less fortunate than most. I was simply touched and inspired by 'Long way down' and upon completing the series felt an empty void that needed filling to help me get through the long days and nights spent in my isolation room.
We all need moments of help, inspiration and belief when faced with dark days ahead. Not to mention some moments of escapism. This documentary series provided all that for me and gave be something to hold onto, and to use as fuel for inspiration to help me through my own journey.
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A mixture of insightful comments, posts and general 'blogging' from various Bpositive contributors