Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Tired but encouraged

 A simple card...

On Saturday I received a simple hand made card with a handwritten note inside. In the late 1970's we ministered at the Palmerston North Church of Christ for six years. It was a very busy time but also a time of learning. It was our first full time ministry out of college, and I look back and recognise I would have done some things differently now.  They had recently heard about my terminal illness and as a Church decided to send the card.

"You are both in our prayers as a congregation as some still in the community that gathers here in Palmerston North still recall your ministry here and the huge contribution you made in their lives."

It was so encouraging to get this little note after what has sometimes been quite a miserable week when I have had times of feeling weak and quite sick. 

The Palmerston North Church of Christ. We built the chapel while we were in ministry there. 

I can still do it...

My daughter and son in law came out on Saturday. We worked on repairing and "hen proofing" a fence in our paddock. It required installing posts and hammering in stakes. We did not get it finished, but we were working quite hard until it was virtually dark. I am a little stiff and sore today, but I was quite pleased with what I managed to do. I really think the horrible chemotherapy must be improving my lung capacity. I was puffing hard at times, but I am sure that a few weeks ago I would not have been able to do what I achieved. It encourages me because there is one further fence I want to complete, and I now feel confident that I will be able to do it. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Over the floods, treatment and troubles.


The cafe we went to with our son: I love the Maori proverb.

The day after the treatment. Not feeling great but enjoying a walk in the bush.

My wife Jean. She epitomises the saying, "When the going gets tough the tough get going."

This is our youngest son Simon and his wife and youngest child. We had a great evening relaxing with them. 

Riccarton Bush is a small area of original native bush that has been preserved within Christchurch city. This is the original Dean family cottage.

Native Kahikatea trees. Of course used by pioneers for building.

Fascinating root systems of the trees.

Second session of Chemotherapy with Immunotherapy.
We had an interesting week for the first week of June. On the the last weekend of May in mid Canterbury (North of where we live) there were unusually heavy rains and the braided rivers that run from the mountains, across the plains to the sea, filled with raging torrents of water.  We were lined up to go to Christchurch for the second dose of chemotherapy /immunotherapy. We were going to drive up on the Monday and Tuesday to have a blood test at St Georges hospital on Tuesday afternoon. Our plan was a meeting with the oncologist on Wednesday morning, treatment on Thursday, injection on Friday, and come home to Dunedin on Saturday. 

Over the weekend more and more roads were closed to Christchurch. Our daughter Angela, texted on Saturday afternoon suggesting that we will need to fly. Eventually she texted saying that she had booked us on a plane on Tuesday morning. That was a good move because by Tuesday all roads to Christchurch were blocked by flood waters. 

We flew to Christchurch, hired a car and went through the planned program. Angela was working in Auckland from Wednesday so she flew to Christchurch on Wednesday, attended the meeting with the oncologist, and flew on to Auckland. The oncologist was very pleased with my blood tests. I had handled the first treatment OK. He decided he would increase the chemo by 20%. So Thursday the infusion went ahead as planned.

Friday was OK - Jean & I went for a walk in Riccarton Bush. The injection happened on Friday afternoon and we picked Angela up at the airport on Friday evening. 
On Saturday she drove us the five plus hours home through damaged roads and bridges. I was sitting in the back feeling more sick as the trip went on.  Sunday and Monday were miserable with very little food staying down. It really hits you like a bus and you wonder where your energy goes.

By Tuesday, I had managed to keep food down and had started to feel partly “normal” again. I went down the back to feed the hens and collect firewood and was surprised at how weak I felt. The chemotherapy impacts on every part of your body. Even trying to concentrate to read or write is quite hard. The oncologist talked about Chemo-brain, but also said something like, "Mind you if your base line is low, what can you expect?" with a cheeky grin.
After the first lot of treatment we found that it was not until the week after that I returned to "normal".  I have a guy filling in at Fire Service chaplaincy and I have lots of sick leave to use up so I decided I would have the full week off.  I don’t mind admitting it is really hard going at times, and I wonder if the treatment is worth the effort. …I have felt really sick, with all sorts of impacts that are not nice to talk about. One night in bed I felt almost delirious sometimes…. But today, Friday I am now feeling more energetic and even went to my favourite hardware store. 
The plan is that after the third session in a week or two there will be a scan to see if it is making a difference. I feel like I have more lung capacity but I guess we will see after the scan. 
After two more sessions of chemo and immunotherapy the plan is to have 6 weekly immunotherapy treatments to slow decline down, I guess until it stops working. 
That is my life at the moment... One week of travel and treatment. The next week of sickness and recovery. The third week of relatively normal life, but then the cycle starts again. We are half way through.

Writing a "book" 
It sounds like I am full of my own importance, but I am writing a "book" about where I am at theologically at the moment. The working "title" is "A happy heretic confesses and celebrates his walk with Jesus." I began and printed off a draft, but it has grown, been altered and shaped since then. I tell my daughter that I'm finished, but a few days later I will tell her again, "I'm really finished now." It is not really a book, but I just thought a few copies might be of interest to various people when I'm gone.  I am also putting together a history of my life for the family to share with grandchildren. Both exercises have been an interesting and growing experience.

Nurses are wonderful
Getting the treatment means you enter this room where there are six big comfortable chairs. They find a vein in your arm and hook you up, and I sit there receiving various drugs for two and a half hours. There are five other cancer patients coming and going, and I guess all are a bit frightened by finding themselves with various forms of cancer. The nurses are welcoming, caring, good humoured yet not flippant. They are under pressure because sometimes things go wrong, air gets in the line or a change of drug is required. Patients come and go, and watching them it must be emotionally draining working with us patients. I sent them a note just to say "thank you" and to express support. Nurses in NZ are at the moment seeking higher pay. I think these ones deserve it. 

Catching up with Simon and family
One of the good things about travelling to Christchurch has been the opportunity to spend a bit of time with our youngest son, Simon and his family. I have been so fortunate because both he and our local daughter have been very supportive. Simon has taken time off work to sit in on oncology meetings and the other day he came and sat with me in the treatment room. He spent time with Jean at the hospital cafe and after treatment we went shopping and had a special afternoon tea.  We also had a meal with him and his family and enjoyed sitting talking with and reading with his children. I am very fortunate to have the people I have around me, I hope they know of my appreciation. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

"ALIVE!"

 "Dead man walking"

I absolutely loved the film "Dead Man Walking" the story of Sister Helen Prejean relating with a man on death row and the community who saw nothing but evil in him. I have often thought that Chaplains of all sorts should watch the film, discuss the film and learn what it means to walk with people. But recently I have often thought of that call, "Dead man walking" apparently the announcement when a prisoner is led out to be executed. Sometimes, because of my terminal illness, I'll walk into a room and every one looks at me and you think... "That is what they are seeing. Not 'me' but a dead man walking" I try to bust through that stunned reaction to it all. 

I was with a friend buying chook feed at a farmers supply company. The store man was coming past, recognised us as regular customers and said as he passed, "Hi, how are you?" "I'm good thanks." I responded. My friend sniggered, "Wonder what he would say if you told him the truth?... The conversation would go, 'Hi how are you?' - 'Me? Oh I'm dying!' - It would be great to see the reaction!" 

In a hardware store a little later I bumped into a man I have known awhile. "Hi Dave." "Oh Hi John, it's good to see you!" followed by a warm handshake. Then in a good humour but with genuine warmth and sincerity he simply said, "I heard about your predicament! So sorry to hear that. It's a real bugger! Lots of people are thinking of you." and our conversation moved on to his life, his retirement and friends we have in common. It was so good... concern, but I was still me, our friendship real, and I was part of life.

A little later in the store I bumped into one of my brother's friends. I knew my brother had been at his house the night before and my situation had been discussed. "Hi Dave" he said awkwardly. "Hi" I said, "I heard you caught up with my big brother! That's good." "Yes!" Stunned silence and awkwardness. He did not know what to say next, yet his whole demeanour screamed, "Help! Dead man walking!" I was nasty I said nothing to put him out of his misery, "Well better go, catch ya!" 

First I want to say I am NOT a "dead man walking." In some ways I feel more alive than I ever have. Fantails, Pukeko, Rosellas fly past my backyard, and these days I REALLY notice them. My wife cooks a meal and these day's I really taste it. I read a book and these days I really soak it in, chew on its truths and absorb them. Of course I am terminally ill, but I am in many ways so much more deeply alive. I am enjoying that!

Secondly I am still just "Dave".  I am still interested in them and their journey. I still have opinions. I still am happy to talk current affairs, cars, tools, the weather. There is no need for stunned silence. 

Mind you there have been times when I have been the "stunned silence" person uncertain of what to say next, so I understand. 

We people are funny creatures.

Hope you are enjoying your journey.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

A "Plan" for the journey

 Chemotherapy/Immunotherapy

Last Thursday I had my first session of Chemotherapy/Immunotherapy treatment. You take appropriate medication, then sit in comfortable lazy boy chairs and receive the infusion through a tube in your arm. The nurses were wonderful, friendly, with a good sense of humour, but not flippant. They warned me of side effects. It made the reality of what I face sink in a bit more. This treatment may slow my decline but this is it, I am facing the end of my life and there is no escape from it. 

While sitting there I got to thinking about how I am going to handle this journey? I am learning not to plan, not to dream, that I have to be in a slow shut down mode. I had been receiving steroids and I find that when I have ever been given steroids it gets my mind going. So I decided that I need "a plan". I need to think this stage of life through and highlight important things to concentrate on. So while sitting there and since I have evolved a "plan". It has already been tested.

Effects

On Friday I did not really feel any after effects. The nurses were surprised. On Saturday my daughter and son-in-law drove us home to Dunedin again.  350 plus kilometres through the centre of the South Island of NZ with beautiful country and mountain scenery. I felt washed out and tired, but no real side effect. Sunday I began to feel the impact, with all sorts of uncomfortable side effects to cope with, and absolute weakness and tiredness. I recalled that I have been fortunate in that I cannot remember the last time I ever vomited. Now I was having eye watering, stinging episodes. I could not eat safely, and my stomach perpetually hurt. That continued Monday and Tuesday and just yesterday, Wednesday I began to feel "human" again. I can tell you that "plan" made on steroids was sorely tested, and I began to say, "Is it worth it? Just let me die!"

I recall when I was running half marathons an experienced runner said to me that whenever you decide you are going to train for one, tell your friends and family, and that will keep you on track. So I have decided to share my plan and hope friends and family will keep me on track on this journey to the end. Below is my "plan". 


I guess I am boasting but I discovered this on the Dunedin Fire brigade facebook page...



Wednesday, May 12, 2021

I LOVE NEW ZEALAND

I have lived nearly all my life in New Zealand, except for four years in Australia. (I have some good friends there - but don't tell my NZ mates) I am so fortunate to have lived here. I have visited other places. Scotland I loved. England - London- York - I really enjoyed. In spite of the fact we had lousy accommodation, I enjoyed Amsterdam. Other places I enjoyed, but it was ALWAYS good to come home to New Zealand. Most recently with a Labour Government led by a very empathetic, clear thinking person, it has made me proud to be a New Zealander. Of course like everywhere, we have our problems. But I like our more egalitarian values. I like that we have a treaty with Maori, the indigenous people and we are constantly working out what that means. Anyway we are in Christchurch and in our motel there is a wall hanging with familiar New Zealand phrases and listings of well known New Zealand items. I simply share that in honour of my country.

"Choice" slang for "Good"

Stubbies - a style of mens shorts or small bottle of beer.

"Sweet as" - "Choice" - good, OK, "that's fine"

Hokey Pokey - a sugary sweet often included in Ice cream! 

Kia Ora - Maori Greeting Aroha - Love

Jandals - simple beach shoe with straps between the first and second big toe holding the soul on. (Pictured above the word by "Sheep"

AOTEAROA - Maori name for NZ

BUZZY BEE - a wooden NZ child's toy.

Your neck of the woods - your locality - where you come from.

KIWI - a flightless bird which has become our symbol. We love to call ourselves and be called "KIWI's"

KIWI AS BRO - proud to be a Kiwi

TIKI - Maori greenstone carved figure hung around the neck.

HAKA - Maori "challenge" dance. 

The Land of the long white cloud - an English translation of a phrase Maori used for New Zealand.

My life has been full of grace - unmerited favour. One of those great graces has been the country I have lived in and loved.

"Just sayin'" "Kiwi as Bro!" "NZ - Sweet as!"


Two posts in one night? I guess when you are facing Chemo and Immunotherapy the next day, that is what you do. We also watch on our Maori TV channel an excellent talk show. - It is a pity our TV producers on other channels try to emulate stupid shows from other countries. - This one was as kiwi as and really good.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Bloods OK!

Chemotherapy back on. 

I received a delightful phone call from Ashley, a nurse at St George's hospital Cancer centre. She told me that drinking water and the change of the blood pressure med had worked, my kidney's are OK to proceed with the chemotherapy/immunotherapy. I read an article about Mesothelioma which talked about several cases. One 68 year old woman had chemotherapy and was "in remission" and feeling great. When she relapses she plans to have immunotherapy. Another woman who is now dead, had immunotherapy and it gave her another year of life. I found these encouraging. 

About 2 p.m. tomorrow (NZ time) I begin to receive an infusion in my arm of chemotherapy "poison" with the immunotherapy drug. I have to sit reasonably still for 2.5 hours. I'll read a new book I have by Richard Holloway. 

"Lots of people are praying for you!"

I have lots of lovely Christian Friends who are praying for me. I appreciate the prayers and thoughts, it makes you feel appreciated and not alone in the battle. 

There are many Christian friends and others who like to deny the reality. "You'll be right, you're too good to die." - "Nah! not true!" "Or you'll be right, you have so much life and energy, you'll beat this." - again "Nah!" Again I appreciate the thought but you and I know a heap of VERY good people who have died unfairly. Shit happens. 

Thirdly there are lovely Christian people who say, "You'll be right we all are praying for you." or "you'll be right, there are heaps of people from many churches and other Christian groups praying for you. So many people- you'll be right." Is prayer a popularity vote? Does God say, "Wow I better take notice he just hit a thousand votes! Prayers! Poor old Joe Bloggs who only knows a few people, he'll miss out!" As much as I want to live, I would find it hard falling in love with, and worshipping a god like that! 

Thanks for being with me in thought and prayers. My job is to still find ways to enhance life (Help Jesus with his mission of bringing fullness of life.) for people as I go through this experience. It is also my job to continue to grow in love. I'm tryin' that. 

A Maori wiata (song) called Te aroha (Love) goes


(Maori)

(English)

Te aroha
Te whakapono
Me te rangimarie.
Tätou, tätou e.


Love,
Hope,
Peace,
For us all.


That is my prayer for all and for my readers.... God knows this old world could do with a dose of all three!


Monday, May 10, 2021

52 years married.

 Wedding Anniversary today

Today was our 52nd wedding anniversary. Given my mesothelioma it could well be our last Wedding Anniversary together. I do choke up at that prospect. 

Last week we travelled to Christchurch for me to undergo chemotherapy and Immunotherapy treatment. We arrived on Tuesday and I was asked to get a blood test done. On the Wednesday we attended an orientation session, at which they told us all the bad news about the possible side effects and how best to cope. My wife, daughter and son sat in on the session which was good. We went for lunch and got a phone call and was asked to come into the hospital again for a session with the oncologist. He had caught up on the blood test and my kidney function numbers were not right. Apparently the kidneys are important for coping with the chemotherapy mixture they put into you. So I was told to go away, drink water, drop a blood pressure pill and get another blood test on Monday of this week. 

We were of course disappointed, and drove all the way back to Dunedin, 356 kilometres. This morning we went into town and I gave blood for a new blood test. All day we have been awaiting news from Christchurch hoping that we will get the all clear for chemotherapy to start. The results will probably come out over night and we may be contacted tomorrow. We'll wait and see.

This morning we had a special morning tea and bought a couple of plants to mark the anniversary. Tonight we went out for tea to a Thai restaurant and enjoyed the time out.  I wrote the following on "facebook" this morning. - 52 years married today.... what a varied, creative, exciting, playful, constructive, challenging, and grace filled partnership. I was/am a troubled shy "child", Jean has strengthened me and made up for my weaknesses on my journey.


Packing up a life

On Saturday my daughter and husband decided to come out and help us to do some clearing out and taking things to the rubbish tip. So I was going through stuff wondering what to get rid of. I have kept a lot of stuff "in case I need it." But now is the time to discard it. I have a lot of stuff like tramping gear I will not probably use again, but if I choose to discard it I feel like I am giving up? It is the same with tools, or wood I have stored? What attitude should I have? Anyway we did a trailer load to the rubbish tip, took some other things for the shop at the tip to be sold to others, and then stacked fire wood that I had chopped up from tree branches I chopped down with some fire fighters. (since it will have to dry for 12 months at least, I guess I'll never use it.)

"We're only here for a short time!"

Today we went into a hardware store. These are my favourite types of stores where I usually covet so many things. But these days nothing attracts me. What is the use of adding to tools I have, others will only get them? What is the use of making plans? Again I see properties for sale, vehicles for sale or other things that might have once attracted me, now they are no longer of interest. Other things pass through my mind, a caring ministry possibility; a charitable venture I might be interested in etc. etc. and the reality hits and I no longer dwell on them. I am only here for a short time longer, why buy? Why dream?

I look at the things people try to sell on TV, on line, in the newspaper and I think, "What a waste of resources, we are all only here for such a short time, that really is not worth wasting resources on." I mix with shoppers in crowded shops (it never has been a favourite past time of mine) and I see the covetous looks, the fretting, the desire and I want to yell, "DON"T ... we are all only here for a short time! You can have all the stuff you want, but in the long run, it will not matter at all."

I was given a book and have enjoyed reading it - but at times thought, "Why? It sparked my thinking, and excited me, but this brain will be dead soon?" I bought a book by an author I love, but again wondered, "Why study, think and dwell. Thoughts will be gone?" (I am continuing to read and think and dwell... A recent ex-mayor of our city died after a battle with cancer recently. He said to a friend during his last week, that it had been an opportunity for growth. That is what I am finding, and it is good!)

I have read of people receiving a death sentence in places where they still have capital punishment. I have often wondered what it would be like to live on death row? Now I am finding out. I try to get on and enjoy each day, but it is like living with a black cloud above you, waiting for the storm to strike. I will and am coping one day at a time. I am getting increasingly breathless and nowadays there are twinges of pain. Lying in bed on my side I feel pressure points. There are constant reminders of my loss of ability and prospective loss of life. .... but I also have lots of messages and reminders of people who are "with me". I have expressions of love and friendship, these certainly help. A prayer I have had on my wall for years reads;

God grant me

SERENITY

to accept the things

I cannot change

COURAGE

to change the things I can,

and

WISDOM

to know the difference.


When my mother was dying she had a booklet open on the bedside cabinet to Teresa of Avila's quote;

“Let nothing disturb you, 

nothing frighten you, 

all things are passing, 

God is unchanging."


Once when I was with her and she winced in pain, she opened her eyes and said, "This too will pass." 

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