What's this all about?

A new adventure beckons, and this is once again about my personal journey to make it happen.

It might make you laugh; it might make you cry, but by 'eck lads and lasses, it will be worth a quick skeg every now and then, tha's for sure.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Another dose of reality (4) - A heart melted; a tear spilled; an anger fuelled.

A picture paints a thousand words; that's what they say don't they? What that statement can't prepare you for though is a roller-coaster of emotion that might ensue from a photo like the one below.

1a. An Update (of sorts); early November.

That is the lovely Florence. I'm not going to say much about her, even though there is SO MUCH to say, but she's captured so sweetly in this late night/early morning photo by her Dad. It melts my heart whilst filling my eyes with the soft tears of sadness and a feeling of total helplessness and last week, when I spent some time with her Dad (Jay), I've never been so stuck for words.

At this very moment her wonderful parents continue to go through a personal hell, and this beautiful little 2-year old knows nothing of the angst and pain and terrible dilemma her loving parents face every single day.

When I saw her last Sunday, she was having her 7th and penultimate round of chemo. A treatment so toxic to the human body that no-one is allowed more than 8 rounds of it. A treatment that is helping to fight the cancer, but it's simply not fighting it enough.

Watching her; bright yet shy in front of this stranger (me); recalling the recent visit of a puppeteer to the Royal Marsden Hospital with both animated actions and enthusiasm in her voice as she jumped around .... well, she appears just a normal 2-year old, with a deep love of the Disney film 'Frozen', but with a pipe up her nose.
And yet everyone I talk to about this 'normal 2-year old' is reduced to tears. Everyone I talk to about her goes home and gives their children an extra long hug; even though so few of us know anything of what life is like with cancer.

People like Jo Austin know; folks like Frances Shaw know, and I'm sure a couple of other readers know but so many of us ... SO MANY can count our lucky stars that we don't know. And long may it stay that way.

1b. An Update (of sorts); mid-November.

The above was written just after I visited them all on the 1st and 2nd of November.  When I saw them, they had just received a letter from a Kings College liver cancer specialist, asking if Kings could do a scan of their own on Florence (evidently they'd used the Royal Marsden scans to diagnose that there was probably nothing they could do).

Florence was duly taken to London on the 6th November, to see if this was hope, rather than another seemingly cruel offer of hope that would turn into nothing. She spent the night there with her Mum, and the following weekend in another hospital, facing a transfusion to try to fight off a worryingly high temperature.

This morning, sat in an office in Manchester, I had tears in my eyes as I read an update Kerry had just posted on Facebook. 

They had met a professor last week who had offered them the chance of surgery for Florence, and they agreed to a gruelling 4-hour operation to try to remove the tumour on her liver. Whilst they were told of the risks and that this was just a small step in a very long journey, it provides them with hope.

This amazing little girl fights on and, for her family, it offers hope where no obvious hope existed just a couple of weeks ago. Even now I'm crying gently at the events that have unfolded. Go Florrie go; you can beat this, supported by the thoughts & prayers for you from literally hundreds of people!!

2. An adventure fuelled by hatred

After seeing Jay (Saturday) and Kerry & Florence (Sunday morning), I had the good fortune to head deep into East London; to near the Isle of Dogs. I was meeting 4 of the people who'd signed-up to join in on my latest adventure, and to try out a boat for the first time ever.

These 5 fine athletic <coughs> gentlemen <coughs even louder> are part of the 24+ who have signed-up to take part in the 100km row on the River Thames in May 2015.

Two travelling from within London; one from Brighton, and Jon (who came down from Leeds that morning, especially for the trial row) arrived at the AHOY Centre brimming with excitement, and not without a little bit of trepidation. We'd all contributed to the cost of an experienced coxswain and a safety boat to help us through our first ever 90 minutes rowing on the Thames - something which we'd be doing for about 20 hours next May, such is the scale of the challenge.

The plan was that we'd head out onto the Thames and help us understand the scale of not just the distance and the 'terrain', but to demonstrate to us all that we were about as co-ordinated as Bambi's legs on ice. It was also (so we found out later) a chance for Sarah to assess whether this group of scallies were even likely to get 10 metres, let alone 100 000m.

Only I had had the briefest of experience rowing (and that was as part of a team who rowed 10 miles for charity on Lake Windermere last summer). Anthony, Stuart and Stan were models of power and athleticism, and Jon had a history of rowing (and losing some serious weight) through regular intense Concept 2 activity. I had prepared by doing 20 miles on a Concept 2 (as well as having a reputation of just being a stubborn so-and-so when it came to putting my head down and slogging things out until we got to the end).

We know that the route we'll be taking on the bank holiday weekend will take us out to the mouth of the estuary, then back passed the O2 arena, under Tower Bridge; up to Richmond Park and then we'll turn round one more time and finish outside the Houses of Parliament.

And so, after being told about the boat; informed what to do if we 'caught a crab' (which we were told we were all likely to do) and some more on-land advice and tuition, Sarah said we were ready to head out to the boat (some one hundred yards off-shore). The safety boat pulled as close to the shore as possible and we all climbed in.

The swell of the tide and the bow waves of passing high-speed boats took me by surprise a little, as did the unease at being sat on the side of a dinghy, but the boat was remarkably stable despite the swell, and I was the final one to transfer into our rowing boat.

The first thing I think we all noticed was that the oar we each had was simply huge. None of this Sir Steve Redgrave nonsense; no, these boats and their industrial oars are modelled on those used to shuttle people across the Thames in the last century, and to row out to the middle of the English Channel and back this century.

The rowing - and the synchronised element of the rowing - started well; failing us only when people either forgot to follow my lead (I'd been put as point in the boat, so we all rowed in time with my efforts) or (as Anthony summarised perfectly later) when one or more of us thought too deeply about what we were supposed to be doing with or legs, torso, arms and the oars.

It's a bizarre balance to strike; think too much about what you're doing and something will go wrong, but don't think enough about it and something will go wrong too. Thankfully we seemed to coping pretty well, until there was a clunk, a yelp and the boat shook ever so slightly. Jon had caught a crab.

As each of us found out on this trial row, 'catching a crab' is a term used for the poor sod who fails to lift his oar out of the water fully; it catches on the swell and then sweeps backwards into your chest, knocking you backwards off your bench. Jon however had actually caught a crab AND grown an egg. With no-one behind him to break his fall, he absolutely leathered the bench behind him with his skull and had two lumps within seconds.
This only shows half the width of the Thames. It is huge when you're actually on it.
Anyway, the good news is (apart from the fact that Jon dragged himself back up and carried on rowing) that we survived; we enjoyed our first experience in the boat, and we found out 2 days later that we'd been assessed as wholly capable of undertaking the challenge. 

And so it was time to head back up north. I had offered Jon a lift, as he lives in the same town I do, which was rather a good choice by me, as not only did Jon buy coffee and nosh on the way back, but he was also dab-hand at changing tyres once one of mine had burst at 70mph on the A1.

Oops - now that's a blow-out.

3. Time to stop typing; time to get training.

And so now, with only 24 weeks to go, I am grateful that I can feel the anger rising inside me from time-to-time. An anger that will fuel my desire to train; a rage that will see me row until my shoulders ache and my chest feels like it's permanently concave.

Why? Because I know I can do this. I know I want to succeed and I know that I want to raise some money to help kick cancer's arse.

For Florence. For Kerry and Jay. For all those who have suffered through this terrible disease called cancer.

I've now met with the head of the new multi-£million Leeds Rowing Club Centre, not 10 minutes drive from my house. He's already promised to help in whatever way they can, and so this other group of trainee rowers met there yesterday, to say hello to each other; to ask questions and share ideas .... and soon to get in a boat and onto the water.
David (the head honcho) and the lovely Rosie (who is seriously good at rowing, and thinks we're bonkers)

Ethan, Chris, Gareth, me and Jon at the rowing centre.

Thank you Mark Bowness at beyond , for once again supporting my challenges with coverage in your magazine
Another Jon (this could get confusing); he's just got himself a Concept 2 rowing machine and a team of 5 other rowers to join in. Sadly I can't print the suggested name for his team as it's not past the 9 o'clock watershed yet.

So I now only have 4 things to say dear reader, and then you can get on with your day/evening/weekend (depending when you read this):

1. If you want to know more, because you just might want to join in for both days, or get 12 people so you can row a day each, please get in touch.

2. If you want to go #ontheflag3, it will be £50 to put your company logo or the photograph of a loved one onto it. Please note that £42 will be split equally between the 3 charities I'm fund-raising for, and £8 goes towards the design, logo collation and production of the 'flag' (which this time will be a very durable material, to withstand all weathers for up to 20 hours).

3. If you have no idea what we've let ourselves in for, try this simple exercise next time you're at a gym. Go on a rowing machine; set the damper to 5 (not 10), and complete 2000m on the rower in 10 minutes - take a 2 minute break and do another 2000m in 10 minutes - take a second 2 minute break and then do another 2000m in 10 minutes. After that imagine doing that 10 times one day and 7 times the next day.

If you love it, see point 1 above. If you hate it, think about point 2 above. And if you know of someone who has suffered through or is suffering through cancer right now; remember I'm thinking of you and I'm not only #RowingForFlorence, but for everyone who faces and will face cancer.

4. If you don't want to row, we'd LOVE to see you on the banks of the Thames, cheering us on. Even if you can only spare an hour or two - it will feed our passion and ease those burning muscles to know you're there.

Right, let's bring this on!