‘If you build it, they will come’
Field of Dreams
It was a rest day today and a welcome one too. My throat has become increasingly sore and I also found a swelling in my groin. Whilst experience and good sense tell me that it’s probably a lymph reacting to a compromised immune system and that I almost certainly have strep (Strep and Staph despite sounding like an 80s pop combo are the two main infections that have given me most grief both during and post treatment) it has still unnerved me. Instantly I have begun irrationally obsessing about weight loss (my weight which I watch assiduously was naturally a little down after a long, hot run yesterday), night sweats (which I’ve had since I hit early menopause several years ago) and fatigue (I’ve basically been a bit tired every day since I was thirteen), all symptoms of Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s a common issue amongst cancer survivors, the fear of relapse and it’s my current favourite brainworm. I’ve been told that the longer my period of remission the better my prognosis would be if and when my cancer returned, today is six months exactly since I had my final chemo.
It was a heavenly mid morning, the grass was tall and the air was heavy with the scent of orange blossom and yarrow. Dozens of magpies dotted a field in the distance as we edged towards them through the wish laden dandelions and glowing buttercups.
Merlin found a stick and proceeded to lose it every 45 seconds causing me to go wading into the Masai like field dodging disgruntled bees and the occasional lump of fox crap whilst saying ‘for fucks sake’ under my breath a lot.
We ambled for a while, my mind had disposed of its more troublesome contents for the time being and I had eased into daydreaming about pursuing a career as a street dancer or happening upon a pile of treasure. As we crossed over into the next field I noticed that the grass was short and the field positively barren. On the right hand side I could see a clear path cutting a huge circle amidst the stubbly wilderness. As I walked over to it I felt the distinct contrast beneath my feet as they hit what felt like solid rock underfoot. And then I realised what I was walking on; I had found it, I was in Chaffers.
As a kid I had a mixed relationship with sport; netball and hockey were way too shouty, girls would screech at you if you didn’t do what you were supposed to and besides, the potential for facial injury and even worse – humiliation, was high. Swimming wasn’t my forte and despite a clutch of attempts to get to grips with the technique, to this day I can barely float. The only thing left on the sporting menu for a girl in the eighties was athletics and this did light my candles a little. I watched the Moscow Olympics in 1980 with my Dad, avidly following my gymnastics hero Nadia Comaneci but by the close of the games and the excitement of seeing Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Daley Thompson I had lost my heart to track and field. Just before my 11th birthday the Olympic Games were held in true spectacle and glitz in Los Angeles, I was spellbound. For the duration of our two week camping holiday I remained glued to our black and white portable tv with a coat hanger aerial and sang The Star Spangled Banner every night at bedtime. I had fallen in love with an athlete, and he wasn’t just any old athlete, he was Carl Lewis.
My obsession with Lewis along with my irrational hatred of barefoot South African runner, Zola Budd intensified over the holidays and by my return to school, my final year in primary, I was ready to take on the world with my athletic prowess. And to be honest, I wasn’t that bad either! As a tall kid I was pretty quick on my feet and whilst I rarely made the top spot I would usually sneak in around third in sprinting races. As I entered secondary school a year later my enthusiasm was still high and remained so until my mid teens. I followed televised athletics avidly and was a massive fangirl of the new British hopefuls that had rocked up, a good looking, talented bunch of guys including Tom McKean, Colin Jackson, Kriss Akabusi and my own favourite, Roger Black. I was totally hooked, they inspired me to try a bit harder at Sports Day and I was picked for the athletics team. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t sporty by any stretch but I was a pretty competitive kid in the classroom and so I naturally tried my hardest in athletics too.
The athletics meetings were held at Crosby Playing Fields, known locally as Chaffers. It was a traditional cinder track with all the proper markings and a real long jump pit. And that’s where my athletics career pretty much started and ended, after a lacklustre performance on the track I was left fielded to the long jump, the PE teacher told me that although I wasn’t fast enough to be a sprinter I was tall and so I might do as a long jumper. I didn’t, I was crap. In hindsight no one showed me how to do it properly or helped me to improve, I was left to sporting humiliation and suddenly my confidence and with it my motivation was gone.
But for the brief few times I ran on Chaffers track I felt like a real athlete and the buzz was incredible. I fantasised about getting a pair of spikes and setting off from proper starting blocks. It was an incredibly exciting experience that must have stayed with me, somewhere locked down deep in my soul for many years. And so I was a little sad today, walking the track that is now nothing more than a narrow footpath leading to nowhere. The long jump pit is still there too, a strange sand filled recess sitting in an overgrown field it looks alien and odd. So odd in fact that Merlin decided to take a crap in it then I had to climb in and scoop out a bagful of sandy shit. Chaffers demise had happened over a long period that I had missed when I was travelling the world, growing up, having a child and watching her grow up. It had grown old and been replaced by a new, synthetic track in a purpose built sports centre in nearby Litherland.
I wandered around the track for a while feeling wistful, thinking about my childhood and what I’d have thought of the grown up version of me. I doubt 13 year old me would have liked the look of what was coming for her if she’d have read the doctors notes.
But that’s just the thing, the doctors notes, the diagnosis, the illness, the treatments and whatever else the future holds for this body are just the tiniest fraction of the story. They’re a side note in what so far has been the most epic of blockbusters. My life thus far has been about so much more than cancer, it has been about madness and excitement and fun and romance. Yes of course I’ve know pain and desolation, I’ve also know grief and despair but I’ve also know massive joy, great happiness and deep, deep love.
The 13 year old me had no idea of what an amazing life she had rolling out before her and of the incredible adventures she would have with the most brilliant of people. And amidst it all, she would become an athlete, she would win medals. She would be a runner.
So I left the track with Merlin and wandered back through the fragrant fields with thoughts of the future. And I resolved to return, maybe to do a little speed work, something I keep meaning to try. Who knows, I might even buy a pair of spikes.