When you embark on a dangerous and life-altering mission, such as sailing solo around the world; going to enemy territory to rescue hostages; or as in my case, fighting cancer, make sure you take a few angels with you because you are going to need them.

I am not talking about those round-faced, chirrupy baby angels with tiny wings, and cute little cheeks.  I am talking about angels that will come to your rescue when you are at your lowest points of the mission.  Sure, you have to do the practical preparation by gathering and analysing data, getting expert advice, collecting the necessary material and equipment, to the rest of it.  All of that is not enough, you need angels too.

Like so much of what happened to me so far, I had a large dose of luck, including my angelic companions assembling round me.  I cannot, with all honesty, claim to have gathered them deliberately, except perhaps for two of them.  So, let me tell you about the angels who came with me on my cancer-fighting journey.

  • My Guardian Angel: She has been with me all of my life and she is both tough and gentle.She does not interfere until I am so close to the edge of survival, then she reaches out and pulls me to safety. Off the top of my head, throughout my life, I faced real and perilous danger on no less than eight occasions.  Every time I found myself being helped out by her.  On this most recent fight for my life, she actually spoke to me reassuringly three times; she had never done that before.  Most vividly, she came to visit around 03:45 on Tuesday 4 September, when I was in intensive care.  I had a terrible night and I felt I was about to die.  She came, stood by my left side touched my left arm and said: ‘Hi, it’s alright, you are alright’, and then left. By morning, I was filled with determination and confidence that indeed I would eventually be fine.
  • Cardiologist Dr. Constantinos Kyriakou: He is the first individual to spot the high liver enzyme count and literally pestered me to carry out repeat blood tests, ultra sound and finally the MRI scan that showed a likely malignancy. This man is incredibly busy, he could have advised and left it to me to be a sensible adult by doing the right thing, But no, he phoned me daily to make sure I went through what he believed to be the  necessary steps.  Since I went to hospital, he has been calling Claire and mutual friends to check on my progress.  In my book, without his persistence, things would have been much, much worse.  I believe Dr. Kyriakou qualifies as an angel.
  • Professor Nikos Zamboglou: A renowned oncologist who built an excellent oncology centre less than 10-minute drive from where we rent a house.I have known the professor for a few years now andalthough we did not meet regularly, we found ourselves in offices, hotels, restaurants, sometimes pre-planned and sometimes coincidental.  When the first MRI scan results came out, I needed a specialist to review the images and advise on the best course of action.  Armed with the MRI results, I went to see him with my dear friend Chris Georgiades on Wednesday 22 August. He met us at the entrance to his hospital, we shook hands, kissed and he asked me to give him the report to go away and study while Chris and I had a coffee in the cafeteria.  20 minutes later, he joined us and said that he would like me to have a biopsy of the liver, I asked when, he said he could arrange it immediately. Having had a terrible experience with a prostate biopsy a few years back, I did not relish the experience again so, I made an excuse that I had business to attend to so, he said tomorrow morning then.  It was agreed for me to turn up at 09:00 the following day.  Sure enough, I arrived at 9:00 and there he was, waiting for me at the reception with another doctor (the Interventional radiologist Dr. Leonidas Ioannou) whom he assured me was the best in biopsy extraction, harvesting or whatever the terminology medical people use.  Preparations were made and 45 minutes later, I was asked to change to a hospital gown and go through a side door.  There  in a very well-lit room, waiting for me were a nurse, Dr. Ioannou, and our professor. I was instructed to lie on my left side facing away from the machinery and equipment, then a brief set of instruction on keeping still, and to recognise a sharp noise a second ahead of the actual extraction of 4 samples.  The professor stood by my side held my right hand in his and stroked my head with the other.  The procedure was painful but made bearable by his presence in the room.  Roll forward to that fateful day of Tuesday 28 August, having had the biopsy results, the head nurse at the oncology centre called me saying the results of the biopsy are in and the professor would like to see me.  I drove up to the hospital and was met by the head nurse who took me to her office and made a phone call in Greek.  Two minutes later, Nikos Zamboglou walked in, the head nurse walked out and the two of us sat at a small round table. The professor reached and touched my left hand so gently and said: ‘Mufid, you have a tumour in your liver’ and we need to treat it. Within two hours I was in Nicosia, talking to my next angel.
  • Athanasios Petrou: Sharply dressed, slim and as serious as you expect someone who spends his life perfecting his craft, including going straight to the point.Dr. Petrou is not a Cypriot, he comes from mainland Greece, with qualifications the envy of many in his profession.  His angelic nature was not to manifest itself immediately but, over the weeks I was under his medical supervision at the American Medical Center in Nicosia (@amedicalcenter), he let slip his serious medical mask and showed his true angelic nature. He used all of his technical abilities to remove the tumour, insisting on keeping me in ICU for 12 straight days, coming to see me every day to inform, re-assure, and encourage.  He had this ‘emotional intelligence’ habit of gauging how I felt and used appropriate words and gentle touches of the shoulder, hand, or arm, to pass on his message of hope that all will be well in the end.  I trusted him completely, even when he didn’t get the right course of action quite right, he really hauled me back to life.  If our sharply dressed, bouzouki playing Dr. Petrou is not angel, I don’t know who is.
  • Michalis & Aurora: During my many weeks stay at the American Medical Center in Nicosia, I must have been cared for by at least 30 different nurses. I have nothing but good things to say about them, they are professional, dedicated, hard-working people who take their responsibilities very seriously. From my very clear and honest perspective, the two stand-out nurses were Michalis and Aurora.  They had this visceral feel for their work that went beyond perfecting the technical aspect of the work.  They really cared deeply for me and my situation and went well beyond the reasonable to make me feel better. They both took copious notes about all my parameters; they explained what they were doing, they took great trouble the needle did not hurt when it went in.  Whatever I asked for at whatever time of day or night, it came within a minute.  Above all, when they looked me in the eye, I felt the warmth of their hearts and compassion in their soul.  They are angels too.
  • Chief Angel: the seventh and final angel will not thank me for this but, I am willing to be admonished by her. My wife Claire is my Chief Angel. She can be tough when toughness is needed but, she can be the epitome of kindness, compassion and caring.  I called upon my Chief Angel on that fateful Tuesday 28 August where she was in England.  She had already sensed (don’t ask me how) that I was going to need her like I had never needed her before and was already making preparations for flights, temporary home for our dog Maggie, verbal agreement from her company to take an open-ended leave of absence,  and a dash to London to assemble our three beloved daughters with their partners to break the news to them. Very early on Wednesday morning 29 August Claire took a one-way ticket flight to Cyprus to be with me as my operation date of 31 August approached.  Her first words to me were “I am here now, I got your back”.  Since then she has been with me every single moment of my highs but mostly lows, cajoling, encouraging, lecturing, holding me tight, wiping my tears of despair.  She invested so much emotional energy which she channeled to me, I just wonder where does she get it from?  She also built a practical fortress around me, only letting through what was absolutely necessary thus giving me a chance to focus my dwindling energies to fight my cancer from within.  At the physical stamina level, she drove  the 85 km between Limassol and Nicosia countless times, covering over 7,500 km as well as all the kilometer trips to shops, stores, pharmacies, airport collections, take away restaurants around Nicosia, without ever flagging.  What else do you need from an angel?

Finally, I am concluding this blog in time to have it published on Sunday 14 October as a tribute to Claire on her birthday.  Happy birthday darling Claire, I love you more than I can ever express.

Where you have Angels, you are sure to have demons too, who need no invitation to join the party.  The next instalment is all about Demons!

Thank you for reading and you’re welcome to comment or ask questions.