Posts Tagged ‘Illness’

Happy birthday to me

Today is my 59th birthday. I opened my inbox to find several greetings messages from various websites and forums. Ah, you’re never without a friend in cyberspace!

Olga and I are not planning any special celebration today, though Olga is such a great cook that I prefer eating in anyway. I’m still off wine, despite still having a cupboard full of the stuff from when I was a member of a mail order wine club. At the moment I have enough trouble staying upright when sober. Surprisingly, I really don’t miss it (wine, I mean, not staying upright.)

But today deserves celebration as the birthday doctors told me I’d have a slim chance of seeing. Pah! Doctors! What do they know anyway?

There’s no reason why you, my loyal readers, can’t have a drink on my behalf, though. So here’s hoping I’ll still be hamming, blogging and beating the bugger in 365 days time, and many more days after that.

Thanks for all your support, and for reading my blog.

2011: Annus Horribilus

Well, what a year 2011 turned out to be! As I write this it will be six months since I learned that I have incurable brain cancer.

Let me tell you, nothing prepares you for the shock of being told you have a terminal illness. One day I was a reasonably fit 58-year-old who had never been seriously ill in my life, enjoyed long walks in the outdoors, didn’t eat junk food, never smoked and drank only in moderation. I fully expected to live until my 80s – the average expectancy of people in Britain.

A week later and our world had been turned upside down. Within hours of being referred to hospital after complaining of a persistent slight headache and fuzzy vision I had been give a CT scan and told that there was something in my brain that shouldn’t be there, something that might be a tumour.

Then I was told that whatever it was, I would need brain surgery, and asked to sign a form to show it had been explained to me that I might never recover from the operation, I might be left in a coma, or unable to speak or recognize my wife. The thought of brain surgery was scary but with no time to even think about alternatives I signed. A couple of hours after that and I was being whisked by ambulance across the breadth of the country in the middle of the night to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. There, they made an MRI scan and then performed the brain surgery to remove as much as they could of the tumour without harming normal brain function.

A few days later I was recovering in hospital from the operation, feeling better by the day and fully expecting that I would be home soon and in a few weeks life would get back to normal. Then a grave-faced hospital registrar accompanied by a nurse drew the curtains round my bed, sat down and informed us that the material taken from my brain had been analyzed. It was a brain tumour, and not just any old brain tumour but the worst sort possible (glioblastoma multiforme grade 4) that only one in 40,000 people are unlucky enough to get. I’d hit the brain tumour jackpot. The prognosis was from a few months to  a year, but I would receive treatment to “prolong quality of life as far as possible.”

The news was like being punched in the stomach. Nothing in our life would ever be the same from that moment on. And Olga and I, stunned and numb, were left to find our way home to Cockermouth from Newcastle.

Since then, we have been through a whole gamut of emotions. At first, I felt that nothing I did before I knew I had a tumour mattered as much as making the best of whatever time was left to myself and Olga. In that frame of mind I felt that ham radio was a fairly pointless activity and posted in this blog what I thought would be The Final Over.

But I soon came to realize that life wasn’t over yet. Because of the need for rest and treatment, Olga and I couldn’t just take ourselves off on a world cruise anyway. I needed to be available to see the doctors and go to the hospital. So I regained my interest in my hobby and was soon very thankful for it as gave me something to do during the weeks spent at home, something that took my mind off the darker thoughts I often had.

Learning that I had a brain tumour and that my life was likely to be shorter than I had hitherto expected has made me a different person. I now live from day to day and try to be grateful for whatever each day brings me. I used to be the archetypal “grumpy old man” ranting about the government or other people. I haven’t altered my opinions about bankers, politicians and the EU but now I don’t waste precious time grumbling about things I can’t change.

After I began writing my brain tumour diary one or two people pointed out that it wasn’t just me, we are all mortal and we all die eventually. Some people go off to work and die in car accidents or suddenly drop dead of a heart attack giving their loved ones no opportunity even to say goodbye to them.  Others die after long and painful illnesses with months in hospital. We don’t know for how long the treatment will keep my tumour at bay. At the moment I’m feeling no pain, just frustration sometimes at not being able to do things I could when I was fit. But I’m at home with my wife and expecting that I will eventually get back to something more akin to normal.

The realization that time is precious means that Olga and I will do things that we otherwise would probably never have got around to. I am lucky that I have been able to give up work and devote my energy exclusively to recovery and recreation. We are both savers not borrowers so we are fortunate not to have money worries – well, not apart from the possibility of a world economic collapse making all of our savings worthless! Being diagnosed with a terminal illness has even allowed me to fulfil a goal I thought I never would – that of retiring before I was 60. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Most of all, I am so fortunate to be married to my wife and soulmate Olga. She has never once complained about the stresses and strains of suddenly finding her husband has brain cancer. She is always there for me, making sure I take all the right pills at the right time and helping me keep my strength up with lots of tasty home-cooked food, fruit and vegetables.

My situation has been harder for Olga to bear than for me. I have always had a bit of a fatalistic view of life – that what will be will be – and a tendency to look for dark humour in a situation. But I only have to imagine how I would feel if the situation was reversed to know how Olga must be feeling. I would be heartbroken to lose her and it won’t be easy for her if she loses me.

For Olga, even more than for myself, I need to beat this tumour. I need to prove the doctors wrong and show that you can survive a glioblastoma. I’m optimistic about it. So my one and only resolution for 2012 is to beat the bugger and still be here in a year’s time to write about all the things we have done despite my having a brain tumour.

Thank you for reading my blog and for all the messages and cards of support sent by many of you. They have all made a difference and helped us both to feel better about the situation. I hope that 2012 will be a great year for you and not spring any nasty surprises like 2011 did for us.

Happy Birthday Olga!

Today is my wonderful wife Olga’s 60th birthday. Without her amazing help and support I don’t know if I would have the strength to cope with this brain tumour. I keep up the fight so that I will still be here to help celebrate the next one. Happy 60th birthday, Olga!

K2 audio switchbox

My vision and steadiness of hand have improved to the point that I am able to build projects! Here is a picture of a switchbox I made for my Elecraft K2 a couple of days ago which allows me to switch the audio input source from the microphone to the computer sound card.

One of the niggling annoyances of the K2 is that it does not have separate inputs and outputs for voice and data modes. Most users carry out one of several published mods to obtain a fixed level audio output for the computer. Mine is tapped off the KAF2 filter module and runs to an RCA phono socket on the back panel. But for transmit most people just swap the mic lead and data lead over.

I used my K2 like that for years, though it wasn’t a great hassle mainly because I hardly ever used a microphone anyway. But I finally decided to come up with a better solution – hence the switchbox. It was easy to make and I thought it would be within my capabilities. Here is a picture of the internals.

In one position of the front panel switch the microphone signal is switched straight through. In the other, the audio comes from the computer sound card headphone output via a potentiometer. Since taking that picture I added some resistance to the hot side of the pot so the control can be used over a greater range as the K2 mic input is very sensitive and needs some attenuation. As you can see, I don’t bother with isolating transformers. I’ve made dozens – well at least a handful – of computer/radio interfaces in my time and I have never, ever found the need for one. YMMV.

To celebrate the restoration of my constructional skills I have ordered a W5OLF WSPR beacon kit. John Harper, AE5X, recently reviewed it and wrote that it took him 50 minutes from starting to build to receiving his first spot. So I figured it shouldn’t be too difficult, though it will probably take me longer than 50 minutes. It would be nice to successfully complete a kit before I start undergoing the treatment that I expect will make me too tired to do all the stuff I am managing to do at the moment.

A little portable

The weather here ever since I was diagnosed with a brain tumour has been glorious. One of the bitterest frustrations for me has been being housebound, able to do little more than walk slowly to the shops and back instead of going for walks in the hills and activating Wainwright summits as I had planned to do. On Thursday Olga and I caught a bus into Keswick for a day out. I took along the little Baofeng UV-3R handheld in the hope of catching some SOTA or WOTA activators from the surrounding fells whilst I was there. I was pleased to make contacts with Mark MM1MPB/P and Terry G0VWP/P during the day.

I love this little UV-3R radio. It’s so small and light you can take it anywhere and the range of its 2 – 3W on the slim Nagoya NA-666 antenna I have put on it is amazing. It can receive broadcast radio so I can listen to Classic FM or BBC Radio 3 and if someone puts out a call on the 2m FM calling channel the music is interrupted and I can reply to them. The Baofeng is not ham band restricted so I have also programmed in the 8 license-free PMR446 channels and can use it to talk to Olga who has a little Goodmans set that I bought for a tenner on eBay. I can even dual watch between Olga’s channel and 2m channel S20 so I don’t miss anything.

My only niggling annoyance with the Baofeng is the audio volume level, the lowest setting of which is too high so that any station using wide FM deviation – which most folk round here do – is audible to anyone within a 50m radius. There is a mod for this, which involves putting a resistor in series with the speaker, but having tried a small soldering task a few days ago and succeeded only with a lot of difficulty I think that performing the mod would be beyond me.

I know from the Yahoo group that there is not much quality control on these Baofengs and one or two people have had the misfortune to receive radios that don’t work correctly. But for me this has been the best thirty quid I ever spent on a bit of radio gear.

Rest and recreation

As I have written in my other blog, I am currently in a period of recuperation from my brain surgery prior to beginning treatment to try to stop the cancer. I’m feeling better every day, if still rather weak and living as if in a dream – in part no doubt due to my difficulty in sleeping.

Since I can’t go anywhere much – we sold the car to a neighbour yesterday – I need things to keep me amused here, so inevitably I am once again becoming more interested in my radios. But I do have a different outlook on the hobby now. The computer gives me a headache in more than small doses so digital modes are out for the time being, as is the APRS gateway. The simple approach to ham radio now seems far more appealing. Perhaps I’ll even spend some time trying to improve my CW.

I managed to set up my Kenwood TM-D710 as a digipeater and it can be heard and gated by Mark MM1MPB’s station at Annan, Scotland. So my weather station G4ILO-5 and my Kenwood handheld TH-D72 G4ILO-7 still appear on the map and I can do limited messaging via the keypad on the handheld.

This burst of activity is only a sign of recovering from the operation (and of coming to terms with the fact of my mortality) not of beating the cancer. The treatment will not begin for a couple of weeks or so and I have been reliably informed that it may make me feel so tired that I won’t feel much like blogging or radio. So my main intention during these next couple of weeks is to try to enjoy them as much as possible.

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