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Project Hope

“If your heart stops, we obviously won’t be resuscitating you.”

“If your heart stops, we obviously won’t be resuscitating you” …I had discussed this situation many times before with my patients as a doctor but this was my first time as a patient. The irony and paradox didn’t really hit me at the time, it seemed surreal and distant, as I was still alive and well, although the leukaemia had a terminal prognosis.

The discussion continued but I was in the “de-personalised” zone: detached and drawn into this familiar vortex of despair and terror that I had experienced a few times since my diagnosis of leukaemia/lymphoma in October 2014. Then, as it was now, the fear and panic subsided surprisingly quickly, and I was reconnected with reality. I have reflected on my life story on many occasions during this rollercoaster ride of the last 3 years.

Tonbridge School, and my time there, is still vivid and fresh. The memories kept present by my long-term friendships with OTs - Thoby Solheim (formerly Barlow, PS 83-88), Simon Mott (PS 84-89), Giles Pitman (PS 84-89), Denis Czech (WH 83-88) and James Price (SH 83-88) to name a few.

People say you remember the first and last days most clearly and this certainly rings true with me. I was pretty awestruck on the first day. The aura of tradition and history everywhere on boards, trophies and oars on the wall. The powerful organ in a vast chapel, and the organised procession of teachers and pupils in their gowns. I was acutely aware of my Indian-Malay heritage: another layer that perhaps separated me from my peers who already seemed to stride and converse with confidence. Would I match up? The roll-call at tea time at Parkside didn’t help. I was self-conscious of my pre-pubescent voice amongst the deep booms of those in the year above – they seemed like men to my childlike eyes. It didn’t take long though, as we grew up together in the trenches of adolescence. Traditions, hierarchies, rituals, banter and privileged opportunities in academia, sports music and art.

Overall, my reflection is that of gratitude to my friends and their families who looked after me as well as the teachers and my Housemaster. Boarding as a Malaysian in England had its pluses and minuses though I do regret that I couldn’t have a closer-knit family life, being so far from home in a foreign land. My housemaster, Geoff Allibone, became very much a father-figure to me. I really enjoyed the unique friendships we forged which remain today. Nothing since has matched it in terms of the strength of friendship. I personally enjoyed all the subjects I was taught by excellent teachers, though I was constantly hanging on to the coat tails of my illustrious scholarly peers.

I left Tonbridge School with confidence, and a sense of discipline, determination and resilience. This helped me through my next phase of life at Medical School at Nottingham University. My subsequent path has been pretty well trodden: as a Medical Student to Junior Doctor, and finally Rheumatology Consultant, a post to which I was appointed in Coventry in 2004. I very much enjoyed the privilege and interest of being a Doctor, especially the diagnostic challenges. In this respect, Rheumatology with its fair share of rarities was a particular draw. I had always wanted to become a doctor: my mind is drawn fondly to those days of dissecting rats in Biology and exploding fume cupboards in the Chemistry department.

I was married in 1998 and my daughter was born in 2006. Life was heading in a fairly steady direction until my diagnosis of leukaemia/lymphoma came out of the blue in 2014. I have had heavy duty chemotherapy and a fair share of complications, including: bleeding in the brain, infection requiring intensive care treatment with gangrenous toes and fingers, pneumonia and relapses. The last relapse after my bone marrow transplant in late Summer 2017 meant I had an incurable situation.

I remember clearly talking to my family. We were crying together but through the tears my daughter said to me “stop crying Daddy and be strong”. This was the switch to get my house in order, and also, for me to focus on a lifelong ambition of getting my poetry published.
I have been passionate about poetry since those Arcadian days in the English Department at Tonbridge with Jonathan Smith, and have been writing poetry since my medical student days. Despite my terminal illness, I felt compelled to get my poetry into print, whilst at the same time to find purpose in my journey with leukaemia, and raise money for two charities close to my heart: the Anthony Nolan Trust and Bloodwise. These combined ambitions have led to my setting up of Project Hope.
Through the process of raising money I have realised that dream of getting my poetry into print, alongside the captivating artwork of fellow doctor Darren Emillanos, a book that shares my journey from becoming a doctor to becoming a patient with cancer, the rocky road of chemotherapy, remission and relapse, and the avalanche of heartbreak, terror and gratitude of my journey. I would be most grateful to all OTs who read this and donate to the project, and I would be thrilled to send you a copy of my poetry as a gift.

Not only have my OT friends been there supporting me during my cancer journey but they have helped me to realise my dream. My poetry is now in print, Project Hope is alive and well. Without Thoby Solheim’s help I would not have realised my project with its protean (and entirely foreign to me!) components of publishing, website-building, vlogs, crowdfunding and email campaigns. During this journey, I have also had the special privilege of reconnecting with other OT friends as well as my past Housemaster, Geoff Allibone.

I feel very privileged and grateful to have had the life I have had, and to have experienced the bond with my friends, bound by that golden thread of camaraderie forged when we were boys. Tonbridge School has been very much central to this.

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