Five years ago, to the day, I woke up early to undergo a major operation at the American Medical Center in Nicosia, Cyprus.  As well as my wife Claire, my eldest daughter Leila, and my brother Samir, I was surrounded by medics, who milled around, going through the standard pre-operation procedure.  Days before that, I had gone through a battery of tests and scans which confirmed without doubt that my liver had an aggressive form of cancer that had damaged two-thirds of the liver and that the cancer had to be removed as soon as possible, before I lost the remaining third of this vital organ.

I am not going to give you a lengthy medical report on what happened over those past five years, nor am I going to give you the psychological transformation I went through; that would be boring to write about, as well as reading about it.  Instead, I am going to tell you about my ‘Growing Up’ during that time.

Although I was in my mid-sixties on 31st August 2018, I am convinced that I have grown up and matured more in the last five years than I did in all the years before that date.

I have come to accept death as a real and inevitable possibility that comes to all of us sooner or later.  I have learned to deal with pain as a price for surviving to the next day.  I have acquired knowledge of my body and how it works, only to discover a few months, weeks, and sometimes only days later, that my body has changed, and I have needed to re-learn how to deal with the new manifestation. I have also had to reluctantly accept that I will never return to my former self in terms of the fitness and the capabilities I had when I was wheeled into the operating theatre.  What’s more, I have grudgingly accepted that, even without the liver cancer, five years of aging takes its toll on your body and my Superman days are well and truly over.

You may say ‘that happens to all of us’, in which case, you are a wiser person than I am.  Up to the day of the operation I was still living a delusional life in which I felt strong, quick, and ready for the next fight with anyone and everything.  I was fearless and convinced I would come out of any situation barely scathed.  Now, everything I do is controlled partly by me but majorly by my limited capacities. Due to my limited energy reserves, sitting down, getting up, walking, staying awake, and concentrating on anything that demands mental effort all require me to marshal my best physical and mental capacities.  Worst of all, I now have to rely on others to help me kick-start my engine.

Acquiring all this self-awareness is very small compared to my new realisation of others around me.  I have learned that the majority of people who were very close to me five years ago are no longer or are barely part of my life now.  My tree of acquaintances which was green and full of leaves as though it was in the middle of Spring, now looks barren and thin, with a few yellowing leaves scattered here and there, trying to make it through Winter.  I am not sad or depressed about that; life moves on and sooner or later, I was bound to be transferred to the archives of others lives.  I too shifted, and continue to shift people to my own archives to make room for others and things that occupy my current life.  Having said that, I still somehow have a handful of people who stubbornly stick by me to this day.  To those people I say: thank you and I love you.  As for the others, I do not hate you or blame you for anything, I just wish you the best.

During the last five years, I have written many blogs, to the point that I have run out of topics I would like to speak about.  This is why you don’t hear from me so often.  I also wrote two fictional books mostly as an exercise to keep my mind sharp and engaged.  I have an idea for a third book, but writing a full and lengthy story is such a complex undertaking that requires a great deal of discipline, which is now barely existent.  I have also learned to master the dark art of making and baking sourdough bread.  Months before my illness, I had the idea of producing my own sourdough bread and asked two British bakers who had a bakery in Cyprus to give me some tips so that I could make a successful start.  They refused, claiming the methodology to be a secret.  Not to be defeated, I researched and tried to attempt the challenge without their ungracious help.  As I was busy at work, this challenge joined many others on my ‘To Do List’ for a future opportunity.  Without false modesty, I now make sourdough bread at least three times a week and am happy to put my loaf of bread against the best of them, including those two bakers in Limassol.

During the last five years, I have been blessed to meet two new grandchildren born to Rosy and Faye with a third on the way in the next month or so.  With the arrival of new babies, the growing up of Leila’s two girls, who were already born before my illness, and the ups and downs of our daughter’ lives, I am so grateful that the focus of the family has moved away from me and is now rightfully trained on other family members.  Being in the spotlights  because of my illness was not an enjoyable experience and I much prefer to be a member of the audience rather than a member of the cast.

Finally, it is easy to give the impression that all of the above has been a solo effort and journey.  It is not and has never been.  I am not exaggerating to state that I could not have made it to today without the enormous help and support of my wife Claire.  How she made it through the last five years is truly Herculean.

Now, will I make it for another five years, or even one more year?  I have no idea.  Come to think of it, who is sure of that about their own life?  All I know is that for the time left for me on this earth, I will try and live every day, with all of the new challenges it brings with it, with a positive attitude and the hope that I go with dignity.