Thursday, 31 December 2009

Move over Dorothy

YES! Yes, yes,yes, yes. YES! YES! YES! (Does a little Michael-Flatley-tiptoey-dance and punches the sky) Yes! I have only ruddy gone and done it. I even have a signed certificate from BBC’s Record Breaker’s Norris McWhirter to prove it.

"Done what exactly?"

Well, you know a little while ago I got a Golden Gong – or rather a Beige Bong – for “2009 – Crappiest Year Ever”. Well, I knew I was in with a good chance of winning that one. Come on, let’s face it, the year I was told that I had a 6cm-stage3-grade3 breast tumour ... out of the blue ... it was pretty much a sure thing. Though the judges did admit to me afterwards that the fact I was diagnosed the day before my three week hols down in the south of France really tipped it for me.

Anyway .... I have now been an awarded a second Beige Bong. Yes, I am the proud owner of not one ... no sireee ... but TWO Bongs! Yes, two. I have just got my second Bong for .... drum roll please .... “2009 – Crappiest Christmas Ever”. They look cracking. My Bongs, that is. They are now sitting here beautifully symmetrical on my mantelpiece. A fine, stunning imposing pair. Here’s hoping that Dr Jordan, my breast surgeon, can do an equally impressive job on my boobs in a six or so week’s time...

So ... back to Christmas ... I had my number two Killer Chemo exactly two weeks ago. As before, the achy joint and muscle pain kicked in over the weekend. It wasn’t too bad ... on the Sunday we had a little bit of snow and I managed to go up on to the moors and take some pics. The next day or two I felt alright, other than the horrid cardboard mouth which I hate, but then I started to dip a bit. And a bit more. Then it hit. Right on Christmas day. I woke with a cold, a hacking cough ... and a very very sore throat ... with left me with no voice ... absolutely nothing ...

I spent the morning in bed and got dressed to have some Christmas dinner. Now, I don’t want to over egg this or anything ... I am not going for the sympathy vote here ... honest ... but I felt terrible and looked pretty bad. I think this is backed up by the fact that I walked into the kitchen and two rellies, who admittedly I haven’t seen for a little while, took one look at me and both burst into tears. Merry Christmas ... here help yourself to one of these Piggy-in-Blanket-Thingies ... oh, and a Kleenex ...

I made it to Sunday. Sunday at 8am. Then I knew I had to take action. I wasn’t getting any better. Now, I have this thing about NHS services ... ‘cos part of my job is to encourage people to access services appropriately. Now, before this BC thing I wouldn’t see my GP from one year to the next .... those were the days my friends ... And so I had a bit of an issue calling the out-of-hours GP ... on a Sunday ... a Bank Holiday Sunday. Then realised how stupid this was .... I’d just had my sixth chemo ... my throat was so sore I could hardly eat or drink .... I was whizzing on painkillers ... and barking like an orphaned sea lion ...

Yes, I would really like to see you,” he said over the phone. Oh good. “You may need some antibiotics”. Just what I thought. “But if that is the case then I can’t prescribe them. You will need to go in to hospital for them to have them administered there.” Not, what I thought .... I hadn’t bargained on that.

I rummaged through the magazines whilst I was waiting to see the doctor. There was a supplement from a Saturday newspaper so I flicked through that. Aaah ... Lori Reid ... “Britain’s Best Astrologer” ... mmm ... so what has Britain’s Best Astrologer got to say about my future .... Pisces ...

With all the hard work you’ve been doing lately, you’re physically in great shape. You love parties and you’re ready to let you hair down on New Year’s Eve! Call my starline to hear which is the best day to hit the sales.

Err ... I have never been in such a worse shape. I have no hair to let down. And the last bit is the most ridiculous ... every day is the best day to hit the sales ... obviously ... doh ...

Dr H was really nice actually. Young charming chap. If my usual GP was like that then I probably would have gone to see him a lot more often ;) He had called the hospital prior to my visit so that he could find out more about my medical history and the treatment I have been receiving. He was very patient as I whispered my symptoms and my concern that I might have an infection. He checked my chest and my throat and said no, there was no infection. Basically, I had internal burns ... chemical burns from the chemo. There was nothing that he could prescribe, I just needed to keep taking the cough medicine, painkillers and Strepsils. Which I have.

So a week on how am I? OK. Better. I still have the hacking cough but thankfully the sore throat has now gone. Unfortunately, the hideous rash which I got last month, which I thought was as a consequence of an allergic reaction to the eyedrops, wasn’t. And, once again, I have chemical burn on the outside too, with my face and chest covered in severe itchy and inflamed hive-y bumps.

The good news - for everyone else that is - I still have no voice - so I won't be joining in on Band Hero or singing Auld Lang Syne tonight. 

I bought myself a camera for Christmas. I know, I already have a camera. But the camera I have is big and bulky ... in your face ... so I decided to purchase a little cutie which I can pop in to my back pocket. And it is pink! Yes, how girlie. Now, I am usually very practical with these things. Normally I would buy one in black ... or silver ... with view to the fact that once I have outgrown it then I can pass it on to one of my boys ... they are both broad minded and level headed but they don’t ‘do’ pink . But I didn’t this time. I just thought sod it. I want pink. I am having pink.

So far I have taken one picture with my new pinkie camera. Yep, just the one. Of what? Of me. Yes, rather surprisingly of me. Me, who hates having my pic taken at the best of times ... and this definitely ain’t the best of times. Now, don’t worry I am not gonna post it anywhere. Not yet anyway. I think the description above probably gives you a pretty good idea of what I look like at the moment. Perhaps the word ‘pretty’ isn’t the most appropriate word to use ...

You know the last week has been really tough. The worst in terms of feeling physically poorly. I won’t lie ... there have been tears. But not that many really. Yeah, I got cheesed off ‘cos I wanted to enjoy Christmas Day. I didn’t want my children to wake up on their special day and see their mum looking and feeling so God damn awful. And all the nice things I had planned ... meeting up with my friends for brisk walks and leisurely lunches ... a Christmas party with colleagues ... have all been knocked on the head ... I was really disappointed about that. But mentally I could have been worse ... and am not quite sure why I wasn't ... why I haven’t dissolved in the middle of the kitchen floor. And the only thing I can put it down to is that I have felt so physically poorly that I couldn’t slip mentally ... ‘cos my mind and body would not be able to cope with both. Or perhaps when you feel so so bad that you know that the only way is up ... I dunno. So what has kept me going? Next Christmas. Yeah, I know, it sounds a bit odd. Especially from me ... who doesn’t really ‘do’ Christmas.

You know I mentioned that red silk dress of mine ... the one that I wore to the Christmas party last year. The one where my Little Friend said that I looked like Jessica Rabbit. Well, I have been thinking about that. Thinking about it a lot. And I have made a promise to myself ... that next Christmas I am going to be back in that dress ... and I ain’t going look like I did for Christmas 08 ... no, that is because for Christmas 2010 I am going look even better.

I am going to have the little pixie crop, just like I had done a week before my hair dropped out, and which everyone loved. My brows will be back ... and hopefully my beautiful long black lashes ... Oooh ... and as a treat ... I think I might buy some new cracking killer heels ... red of course. Then I will take a second photo with my little pinkie camera.  And I will be able to say ... that was last Christmas ... poorly, blotchy and hairless ... but I made it ... just look at me now. I am back ...

The future is bright you know. It ain’t orange ... ‘cos I don’t do orange. It ain't black. Nor grey. But it might be pink. It could be red.

The future is bright. And it is mine all mine.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.

Someday I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh why can't I?

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Bad, the Ugly ... and the Good

I like to think that I am a modern, up-to-date, finger-on-the-ball kind of girl ...


Mmm ... I guess that is one of my problems ... at the ripe old age of 41, I still consider myself to be a ‘girl’. Note to oneself – New Year’s Resolution to find and adopt new and appropriate description ... mmm ... babe ... chick ... err ... maybe not ...

I love IT. No, not it .... I.T. Information Technology. It never ceases to amaze me that as a child, armed with my two penny pieces, I would have to run along the road to the smelly public telephone box to make a phone call. That we only had one TV in the house ...with three TV channels ... which didn’t broadcast all day, everyday. That the highlight of my week was watching Top of the Pops on a Thursday evening ... and trying to record the weekly number one on the Hit Parade. You know, pressing the play and record simultaneously ... and being desperately annoyed when Bruno Brookes spoke over the beginning or end of the song.

I embrace everything to do with new technology.  Texting ... instant messaging ... e-mailing ... surfing the net. Google!  I just lu-u-r-ve Google - the answer to everything. I have two ... no three ... no four websites ... two photography sites, Facebook and this blog. Photoshop, Pagemaker and Powerpoint, I adore them all. Internet shopping ... isn’t it wonderful? iTunes will never cease to amaze me ... you can find, pay and download an album in two and half minutes ... sod ruddy Bruno Brookes ... what happened to him anyway?

But ... there is just one little diddy thing that I have yet to adopt ... that I resist ... an electronic calendar ...

I can do it. I have the means to do it. I have the skills. I have a laptop. A mobile. An iPod. All those things would keep an electronic diary ... and to be frank if I used one of those then I wouldn’t have forgotten the wedding anniversaries of two close family couples this year ... I can’t even blame my turmoil for that, as they were both BBC ... formal apologies to those guys. But the thing is, I love my diary ... and that is OK ... after all ... who has heard of Bridget Jone's Blackberry ... or Raspberry as my former Chief Executive use to call hers ....

I don’t actually have a diary. It is a filofax. It is a lovely rich chocolately brown. And it is leather. Each time I get it out of my bag, before unpopping it, I surreptitiously raise it to my nose and take a discreet little sniff. Now ... you have got to admit I would pretty darn stupid sitting in a meeting doing that with an electronic device? Not only that, but my filofax is comfy and friendly. It is jammed with bits of paper, notes, things to do, photos, vouchers. It just kind of represents me ...

At the end of the year, before putting in the new, freshly laundered cotton-white clean pages for the next fifty two weeks, I enjoy opening my filofax and flicking through my diary just gone. A time for remembering and reflecting on the year of birthdays, celebrations, events, meetings, appointments. Though of course it was a bit different this year. It started off OK. Just fine. Then I got to July ... and it said Dr’s appointment. Then there were a couple of hospital appointments. Then it went rather quiet. With pretty much only bloods, oncologist and chemo scheduled every three weeks.

But then, on the other hand, I discovered a new game this year. Honestly, I did. It is called WOW. Yes ... WOW! WOW stands for “When O’ When?”. It is a bit like Patience or Solitaire ... it ain’t a team game. In fact it is a pretty exclusive game. Pretty exclusive to me that is. My starting block is the beginning of my diary and involves me going through the pages and wondering when exactly the Yukky Lump came in to my life ...

So when did the breast tumour appear? Was I sat at the Christmas table last year ... champagne in one hand ... a cracker in the other ... and the Yukky Lump in my breast ...? Was it bouncing up and down with me to Auld Lang Syne ... mocking me for little realising what the year was going to bring? Was it laughing at me as I tried to ski down that Alpine mountain in March? Was it lying there in my breast enjoying the warmth of the sunshine as I relaxed on the lounger and cycled the coastal paths in Royan in May? Of course the ‘game’ never ends ... as these are questions that I will never be able to answer. I still sit here and ponder how a 6cm tumour could flourish in my breast without me having even a little inkling. It just seemed to appear overnight. I only can only ‘comfort’ myself that I took action straightaway ... and ... although my health practitioners didn’t think that it was anything “suspicious” they took it seriously ... and the rest ... as they say ... is history ...

So does that summarise 2009 for me? "How was 2009?" Oh, I got breast cancer ... that is about it actually ... Well, no, that isn’t it. Yes, I did jump and down at a New Year’s Party last year ... happy ... a bit merry ... little knowing what horrific, life changing news would hit me within a few months. But I didn’t know something else either ... that I would get through it with the love, care and support from an army of people ... some I personally know ... others I don’t ...

Breast cancer is hell of an experience ... hell being the operative word. You really really wouldn’t wish it on anybody. There is of course the painful and scary parts ... the news, the treatments, the side effects. The slog of attending appointments ... being pricked and poked about ... powerful chemical cocktails that make you feel terrible ... both mentally and physically. Then there is the worry ... the unknown aspects about lots of things ... for this week, next month, next year ...

And I would have found all this totally impossible without an amazing mass of people who have supported me in so many ways. I have had friends and family who have sent me good wishes – regularly via text messages, e-mails, cards, telephone calls, comments on my blog. There are those who provided practical help - they have shopped, cooked and taxied me to and from hospital appointments. And then those that have whisked the children away for the weekend; who have picked me up and have emptied my head of worry and filled my lungs with fresh air by taking me to the moors or the beach; others that have organised jolly soirees and held lovely Sunday lunches, where I have chatted and laughed and forgotten my troubles. There are very special people who take my hysterical calls in the wee hours of the morning and still manage to sound as if they are pleased to be rudely awoken by my howling. And then there have been gifts ... flowers, chocolates, cakes, fruit boxes, wine, spa days, books and magazines, angels, stones, keyrings, DVD box sets, bundles of Fingers of Fudge ... the list is endless.

And there is more. There are still the people that don’t even know me. Comrades that I have not even met. Those who have been through this journey ahead of me. Who ring me regularly and tell me that I will be OK. Tell me that what I am feeling is normal. And those ... like me ... who weren’t expecting to be on this journey ... but sadly are too. Who offer me reassurance and comfort even during what is an incredibly worrying and stressful time for them.

OK – so this time last year the diary didn’t say that 2009 would bring me breast cancer. But it didn’t tell me other things that I have learnt too. That good can come out of bad.

To all of you ... my husband, my children, my family, friends and colleagues ... I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and safe, healthy and happy New Year ... and show my appreciation by saying a huge thank you and sending you a big big festive hug!

Here’s to 2010! Px

PS - I think the festive celebrations may have started a little early.  I sat down to watch a film last night.  It was called Bridget Jones - The Edge of Reason.  For some unknown reason a number of my buddies sent me a text to say that they were watching it too and thinking of me.  Now ... don't get me wrong ... Bridget seems like a lovely 'girl'.  But she can't ski; swears like a trooper; gets stoned and stands in the sea; has legs 'only up to here' and will 'always be a little bit fat'; opens her mouth before her brain cranks in to gear; wears big knickers ... and definitely can't sing.  I suspect a bit too much mulled wine may have been consumed by my friends.... cos I can't for the life of me understand why I came to mind ...

"Like a W...iii...r...g ...i...n ...  Like a W...iii...r...g ...i...n ... touched for the very first time ...."

Friday, 18 December 2009

Can’t get used to losing you

Can’t get used to losing you,  no matter what I try to do, gonna live my whole life through .. loving you. Jerome "Doc" Pomus and Mort Shuman - 1963

It was Sunday supper. I decided to talk a little bit about the progress of my treatment to the boys. They don’t ask many questions and don’t talk about it too much so I try to subtly drop tidbits into day to day conversations. “This week I am going to the hospital to have some more medicine. And then it will be Christmas and then New Year, and then I will only have to two lots of medicine and hopefully that will be it. That’s good isn’t it?” I looked at them for agreement and there were little nods. “Hopefully it means that I my hair will grow back properly so that by the summer I won’t need to keep wearing my hats and scarves.” My little Harry-Potter-looka-likey stared at me intently. “I don’t think of you with hair now, I have got used to you not having any hair.” I smiled at him gratefully – then poked my Brussels sprouts around my plate – I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I couldn’t work out whether he was saying that to make me feel better – he is very thoughtful for someone of such a tender age. If he really doesn’t mind, if he doesn’t find it worrying, scary or embarrassing, then I am pleased. But I felt slightly mortified that if I was to be hit by a bus tomorrow his lasting memories would be that of me going to my grave resembling Shooting Star's George Dawes, not how I have looked for the previous ten years of his life. He has managed to get used to me losing my hair – better than I have.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if you don’t actually know me then I ain’t going to pretend that I am an oil painting – and if you really do know me then you will certainly know that I am not. But, with a bit of time and a lot of energy I was previously able to scrub up OK. Now, if Susan Boyle scores a one and Martine McCutcheon a ten in the looks department, then on a good day I could possibly push a four, or even sometimes a five. Obviously if we were talking about our singing skills then the balls would be reshuffled with Subo on a ten, Teens on a five and me on a one – I will say that before someone else kindly points it out.

I didn’t cry at Sunday supper but I am going to admit to you that there have been lots of tears over the last two weeks. Not sad little tears welling in my eyes and slowly and deliberately toppling over my cheeks and down my face. No, this crying has left me lying hysterically on the kitchen floor ... and cowering in the corner of my bathroom like an injured animal. My world has felt deep and dark. Why? Lots of reasons – none of which I can blame on the steroids on this occasion.

It started about a week after my first session of Killer Chemo. Killer Chemo was not too bad – I got aches and pains for about four or days, but they were manageable with some pain killers. I think the thing that got me more was a horrid swollen tongue and throat which lasted for about ten days. But after these side effects wore off I got a cold ... and swollen glands ... and a tickly cough which turned into a hacking chesty cough. It got so bad that at one point I lost my voice - the kids thought it was great. On a bad day I sounded like Whisper in the Bond films ... on better days I acquired at Demi Moore rasp. Two weeks on I still haven’t managed to totally shake all the symptoms off.

Now nobody likes being poorly but in my mind I started getting anxious about two things. One, that my white blood count must be dipping so low that my next chemo was bound to be postponed for at least week – and with three more sessions to go that means my treatment pathway could actually get extended by three weeks. In fact my chemo might not be done and dusted by the end of January, but flow well into February. Secondly, as someone who is prone to chest infections I was becoming paranoid that I could end up with bronchitis, or even worse pneumonia, that would result in me being admitted to hospital, which again mean delays in my treatment. I was so sure it would happen I took myself off to Marksies so that I could prepare an emergency overnight bag. Now, I might have been ill but I couldn’t consider going in to hospital without new matching nighties, dressing gown and slippers. I call it my After Eight Collection. Nah .. not because it is risqué ... but because of the mint and chocolate colourway ... so this season dahling.

Then on top of all my grotty cold and cough symptoms I then developed a really itchy red hive-y rash across my chest – very fetching – not. I wasn’t sure if this was a late side effect from the chemo, as the steroids had worn off, or whether I was allergic to the eye drops I was taking for the conjunctivitis ... yep, I had an eye infection too. Oh, and on top of all that, my swine flu jab decided to double the size of my arm ... and hurt. Oh, and top of that ... and on top of that ... my fingernail pads started to feel sensitive and I was conviced that the chemo was going to leave me nail-less and unable to type my pleading e-mails and texts to my wonderful army of supportees which are helping me get through this.

Then, in addition to this vast number of physical ailments I then got mentally low too. As my mind was coming to terms that my chemo could finish in about six weeks, it then started to consider the next step – surgery. Now, I am going to be very honest with you and tell you that I like my boobs. No, that is an understatement – in fact I love my boobs. In the past I have read articles of women who have had to have a mastectomy – some even choosing to have double-mastectomy proactively due to a strong history of family breast cancer – and I have recoiled at these stories. It could never happen to me – I could never imagine life without my boobs.  I can't bear the thought of them scarred, frazzled, disfigured or ... removed.

Some women say "Why on earth do you want to hold on to a breast that is trying to kill you?"  But my response is that it is the tumour - the horrid Yucky Lump - the thing that was certainly not invited into my body - that is trying to kill me - not my beloved boob.

Last year I went to a Christmas party ... aah ... those halcyon days. My little friend – the one who has one glass of wine and is suddenly no longer backward in coming forward in saying what she has on her mind – walked into the room and said “It is a shame it is not fancy dress, you look like Jessica Rabbit.” I looked at her quizzically and realised she was glaring at my heaving bosom in my red silk dress. I laughed. Even my late mother, who was also rather well endowed, but also quite conservative (with lower and upper case Cs) used to say “if you have got it flaunt it”.

And I am not the only one to admit that my boobs are part of my character. A few months ago a former colleague and old friend – who will remain nameless - rang me and we had a long discussion about my diagnosis. First of all we talked about the practical stuff – no longer being able to go to work – going for treatment – my hair falling out – then we moved on to the mental stuff. Missing the social contact – the lack of daily routine – my long term outlook – my boobs. “The problem is my boobs are so me,” I complained. “Paula ... the dark one ... big brown eyes ... curvy with boobs.” “I hear what you are saying”, he replied diplomatically. “Having sat beside you for a number of years I wouldn’t say your boobs are the very first of your characteristics that I recollect ... but I will admit they do come to mind.”

He is back in my life!! I thought after I made the flippant remark about turning up for my next appointment in my red and black lacey corset that he was refusing to come out from behind his desk. I thought I had lost him. Yes, I am talking about Dr O ... the oh-so-luv-ver-ly Dr O ... my Oncologist.  I went to see him Wednesday. He kept me waiting again ... at least an hour ... but ... don’t tell him ... I would have waited two or even three hours to see him. Cos he is so luv-ver-ly. Now this was just a checkup appointment and as I waited to see him I wondered if I would be whooshed through to make up time - but I needn’t have worried. Cheeko has Cheeko Time – Dr O has Dr Oh-so-luv-ver-ly Time – you walk in to that consulting room and all his attention on you. Making sure that you are receiving the right treatment, that you are not suffering from horrid side effects, that the medication is working. He listens, reassures and cares.

He first asked me about the Killer Chemo and the side effects I had endured. I explained and said they were bearable. I could live with the joint pain if it lasted only three or four days. I said that it was my sore throat and swollen tongue which I found the most distressing and most uncomfortable. He said that he could prescribe some mouth washes to help with those which was cheering. He then went on to say that Dr Gillies had noted in my file from at my previous appointment that the lump had appeared to have shrunk dramatically. I explained that this had happened early on – between chemos number two and three. “That sounds really encouraging. I think we might look to cancel your eighth and final chemo.” I could have hugged him – but he suggested that he take a look – so I stripped and jumped on the chaise instead. “Yes, that looks really positive,” he said. I then decided it was moment to go through the mental list of questions that I wanted answers to. I knew I had probably established the answers to many but I had built up the courage to hear the details from the expert. In hindsight, my timing was not ideal. I ended up having an intense conversation, lying half naked on my back, with a man I had only met on two previous occasions. After ten minutes I decided that I should get up and get dressed ... but that was probably not a good move ... I didn’t feel any more comfortable doing that. But hey, Dr O’s job is boobs ... in his mind boobs are probably two a penny ... though quite frankly you don’t get too many of mine to the lb.

“So, what percentage of neoadjuvant chemotherapy treatments result in lumpectomy instead of mastectomy?” Quite a few”, he replied. So I pushed “But does it depend on how the lump shrinks? I can’t imagine that they all shrink in the same way?”. He replied “No, they don’t. With you we may have to go for the mastectomy because your lump has shrunk so much that we may not be able to find where it was. If we can find dead cells or calcium particles then we could possibly go for the lumpectomy, if we can’t then we will have to go for the mastectomy.” I didn’t have to tell him I was crestfallen ... or chest fallen ... he could actually witness that. They may have lost my lump  ... but that might mean a mastectomy ... just what I didn't want! “The thing is, there are many benefits for giving chemo before surgery. For me, as an Oncologist, my priority was to get the chemo in there to stop your large and aggressive tumour from growing, and hopefully make it shrink. By not doing the surgery first then we can see what progress we are making, we can hopefully see that it is reducing. It also means that if it is having an impact on a 6cm tumour like yours, then we also know that it blasting any lose cells which are floating around the rest of the body. For me, if we can offer the lumpectomy that is good but the priority will always be to get rid of the tumour.”

"Very, very occasionally we don't do surgery or radiotherapy but in your case I am sure we will.  Because you are Triple Negative (a type of cancer I have) this is it - there is no further treatment or medication for you - we need to throw everything at you now to make sure that it is gone and to stop anything coming back."

I knew what he was saying ... and of course he was totally right ... though in fairness my concerns about having surgery, but particularly a mastectomy where all of my breast removed, rather than part of it is not purely cosmetic, I know that the more drastic the surgery the greater the risk of infection, extended recovery time and possible longer term complications.

You know, I have been kicking around this parallel-cancer-universe for some time and am not complacent. I know that in comparison to many many others I am ‘lucky’. I know that there are women out there on the same or similar aggressive chemo regimes who are not seeing the same dramatic results that appear to have happened for me. I know that there are women who are not seeing their lumps shrink and that for a few the lump continues to grow. There are also those who are experiencing horrific side effects from the chemo, who end up in bed for nearly the three weeks of their cycles, or become poorly through severe reactions and end up at A&E, or become chronically ill with life threatening conditions and end up in hospital. There are also people who have fought cancer to see it return, people with secondary cancers, people with terminal conditions who will not live to see this Christmas, let alone next Christmas. There are people who have every right in the world to turn around and say to me “You are a totally ungrateful vain cow. You have had treatment and it has appeared to have worked well. That is what matters. Yes, they may have to remove your boob but you could be cancer-free. You may have a pretty good chance of going away and leading a long and healthy life. I have a brain tumour – there is no option for me to have my head chopped off.

“So what about my bloods?” I asked Dr O.  He nodded positively. “They are absolutely fine. You can have your chemo tomorrow no problems.” For the second time I resisted giving him a big hug, but instead I gave him a beaming smile as I walked out of the door.

Chemo went fine. My veins decided to behave and we didn’t have the bursting problem that I had to endure before. “Right", said Chemo Nurse G - yes a different nurse again - “all done, you can move into the lounge.” Oooh, I wasn’t sure about that. Up to now I had enjoyed sitting in my little private consultation room. As I walked out to the main area I felt like a ‘real cancer’ patient ... hat on my head and pushing the large drip stand. I stood in the entrance and I quickly tried work out the best place to sit. Being attached to the wheelie drip meant I couldn’t move quickly and inconspicuously. I took at seat against the back wall and looked around. This was ‘professional cancer’ land. What you imagine when you think of chemo treatment. Very poorly people who have moved in for the day or even days. They come prepared with books and magazines, iPods and packed lunches and teas.

I looked across at the chap opposite me. He was sleeping. I was surprised. Not that it was particularly noisy in the lounge but it seemed out of place. Then I realised that he was indeed in a bad way. There were four drip bags on his stand, which were going through to some kind of port attached to his nose, one of them was morphine. A girl came along and woke him by saying “Morning Bob.” Bob grunted. You couldn’t blame him – after all who is cheerful when they are rudely awoken. She was a dietician. “How is the eating going Bob?” He turned away from her and went in to his bag. I watched nosily. What was he doing? He got a large crumpled writing pad out ... and started to write his response. It then dawned on me. Bob couldn’t speak. Sadly he had lost his voice through something like cancer of the mouth, throat or oesophagus.

I believe in coincidences. I am not weird or wacky or alternative. But I believe in fate. That some things are meant to be. Accidentally bumping into old friends ... making a new friend with  a stranger on a bus ... whether you get that job or new house. And yesterday, I think that it was my fate to sit next to Bob. Bob, who due to his awful illness could no longer communicate verbally. Can you imagine what that is like? You can’t talk to your friends, you can’t call anyone on the phone, you can’t even reply to the offer of “tea or coffee?” What would be like for me to permanently lose my voice? My job has ‘communication’ in the title. I speak to lots of people all of the time. By phone, in person, in meetings, presentations at conferences. What about my home life? How wouldn’t be able to ask the boys what kind of day they have had, cheer them on at a football match ... or shout at them for leaving bags, boots or clubs at the kitchen door. What about my girlie chats ... about lovely girlie things. How would I order a meal ... or a drink ...? No more singing or witty jokes.  What means would I have to ask where they have moved the toilet rolls for the sixth time in six weeks at Sainsbury’s? How would I tell the ones that I love ... that ... well ... I love them. The list is endless ... bringing a whole new meaning to whispering sweet nothings.

Fate? On Thursday morning there was my wakeup call ... sitting right in front of me.

Bob or no boob? If you need to ask me the question then you have lost it.

Friday, 11 December 2009

An A to Z of ABC

"Well ... that was like attending a Help the Aged Christmas party", I declared, as I stomped into my doctor’s consulting room. He gave a wry smile, but said nothing. I am sure he was thinking “Oh thank God we don’t have too many like Paula".

Of course, if it had all gone to plan then it would have gone well. But of course, things don’t. It was Tuesday morning of my third week and I was due to have my bloods and flu jabs. The flu clinic happened to coincide with my bloods appointment and I worked it out that I should have been in and out in about half an hour .... Yeah right, two hours later ....

I turned up at my doctors’ surgery at 10.15 and asked to see the doctor. “Well, open surgery closed 15 minutes ago.” I know I shouldn’t but sometimes people just annoy me and I have to play my trump card. "Due to my cancer and chemotherapy I have a low immunity so I try to come as late as I can so that I am not around too many people", I said smugly. Unfortunately I didn’t know that she hadn’t yet played her trump card that morning and she responded with “You are out of luck today” and pointed to the waiting room. I spun round and the place was filled with elderly people who were waiting for their flu jabs. Lots and lots of them. I sat there for about ten minutes observing and listening to their conversations. Honestly, it was like being at geriatric kindergarten. If I had a pound for every time I heard one of them say “There’s no spare chairs, you’ll have to come and sit on my lap.” or, even worse, "Everyone else is having their jab in the arm, I've told the nurse to do yours in your arse." After ten minutes I returned to the receptionist. "I’ll stand outside", I said. Honestly, I want to get through this cancer crap. I want to grow old. But I really don’t want to be old.

I got my winter flu jab and the first of my two swine flu jabs about twenty minutes later but had to wait another hour to see the GP for my bloods. Once I got there I sat down with a bump and he said “How is it going?"Oooo ... Kkkkk ...", I said, not very convincingly. “Fed up with going round the system?” "You’ve nailed it", I replied.

Now I like talking. OK, perhaps that statement is a little broad and I was probably asking for a bit ribbing on that one. Let’s start again ... I like communicating and dispelling myths. When I was at work at it was part of my job, now I do it talking about cancer and the treatment to my family and friends, and through this blog. There are probably three questions that I am asked the most. Where people sidle up to me and say “Psssst ... tell me ....” I call them the A, B, C Questions. A = Alcohol? B =Bare? C = Chemotherapy.

The first question is: “So, can you drink when you have chemotherapy?” Now, there are some things that I can’t have. I can’t eat shellfish, soft cheese, uncooked egg or live yoghurt, because of my lowered immunity these things could make me poorly, but I can drink. I guess the chemo chemicals are so poisonous that a glass or two of wine is no great shakes.

The second question is “Do you really lose your hair everywhere?” The simple answer is yes. With some people the hair drops out absolutely everywhere and they are as smooth as a baby until the chemo treatment stops. Then there are others, like me, where it drops out in stages and you have hair growing back whilst other areas are still losing it. My head hair dropped out a few weeks after the first chemo and is trying to grow back again but is struggling against the lethal cocktail that keeps getting pumped in to my body. I still need to ‘do’ my legs, but not as regularly as usual. And ... I now have to very reluctantly admit that my brows and beautiful long black lashes are just stubble.

And finally, the last question. “What actually happens with chemotherapy?” Well ... until a few months ago I had no idea. Like most people my image was of patients sitting there for hours on end looking really poorly. And, I suppose, at some point it was probably like that for a lot of people, and even now for a few, but my experience has been quite different.

My chemo takes place every three weeks, on a Thursday. On the Tuesday before I have to go to my GP and have my bloods taken. My bloods are then sent over to the hospital to check that they have returned to normal since my previous chemo three weeks before. All being well ... which touch wood has been the case so far ... I then attend the cancer/chemo unit on the Thursday morning.

Now I don’t know if you are aware of this but there are in fact 200 different types of cancer ... and over 50 chemotherapy drugs to try and kill them. Research shows that women with breast cancer may benefit from chemotherapy but its effectiveness depends on the type of breast cancer; the size of the tumour (in my case it was 6 cm); the stage of the cancer – the extent of spread (stage 3 out of 3 for me); the grade of the cancer - potential to spread (grade 3 of 3 in my case). Yep, the Yucky Lump was pretty big and aggressive so it is good news that the chemo seems to have already had a pretty positive effect on it.

Chemotherapy can be used before surgery to reduce the size of the breast tumour to make surgury less severe. It can make the difference between taking off the whole breast (mastectomy) or just removing the lump (breast-conserving surgery) which is hopefully what will happen for me. Chemo is also given after surgery to reduce the chance of breast cancer coming back or to reduce the chance that breast cancer will grow somewhere else.

Chemotherapy may be given in different ways, depending on the type of cancer and the chemotherapy drugs used. Most often chemotherapy is given by injection into a vein (intravenously) - which is what I have – but it can also be given as tablets or capsules or injected into a muscle or into particular body areas. Chemotherapy creams are also used for some cancers of the skin.

When I go to the hospital I go into a little consulting room and the Chemo Nurse (CN) puts a short, thin tube called a cannula into a vein in the back of my hand. A clear bag of fluid (a drip) is then attached to the cannula by a tube. When I was having my first chemotherapy drugs, EC, these were given manually by injection into a rubber bung in the tubing of the drip. What got me with the EC is that the drugs were in these huge syringes and I would sit there politely looking the other way, but because due to governance reasons, the nurses would wave these ruddy great syringes in front of my face saying “And this is your name, and this is your date of birth, and this is your hospital number and this is the expiry date ....” Thankfully with my new chemo, Tax, it is given directly from drip bag and with my first time the nurse even put a little cover over it so I didn’t have to watch it being administered.

Now, I have been through my fair share of Chemo Nurses. If the first one was “A”, then the last one I saw was “F”. I have never seen the same Chemo Nurse twice. The first one ... aah ... you never forget your first one ... Chemo Nurse A was very gentle ... just the sort of nurse you need when you are crying hysterically in the middle of the waiting room. She had just returned from her holiday cave home in Spain. Chemo Nurse B ... oh she also lives in Funky Town and we talked about the pros, cons and expense of that. Chemo Nurse C ... she had responded to the NHS’s international recruitment drive about ten years ago and we talked about returning to India ... oh, and holidaying in Scotland. Chemo Nurse D .... errr .. oh yes ... the perils of raising teenagers ... and gig racing.

The last time I went for chemo I met CN E. "I am starting to get a complex", I said, as we walked in to the little consulting room. "Oh yes", she said, "why is that?" "Well this is my 5th chemo and I haven’t seen the same Chemo Nurse twice. Perhaps I have earned myself a bad reputation?" "Well", she said, "I can assure you there isn’t a big sign up in the restroom saying Patient Paula Alert" "Oh ... well I do get a bit emotional", I explained ...

Like all the nurses she was very nice. Actually, she didn’t talk very much ... instead she asked me about me. Not just about the chemo treatment and the side effects ... but the mental stuff ... about my world ... my cogs. I told her that I had been OK on the EC but was scared about the Tax. About the side effects. That I get depressed on the steroids and vent my anger and frustration on doing the housework – going to war with the Hoover and mop. She empathised with what I had to say. She also wondered whether I might like to talk to the Clinical Psychologist. She wasn’t the first. Both Chemo Nurses A and B had suggested the same. I said I didn’t have a problem with talking to a CP and that I was still considering it. But to be truthful I am wondering if she could handle me. I think it might be only fair to forward her details of my blog – then, once she has read it – she can let me know whether she feels strong enough to take me on.

It was after that conversation that the fun started. CN E tried to put the cannula in so that the chemo could be administered. She put the first needle into my arm – pop! "OOOw!" I said, "that hurt". "I’m sorry, your vein popped", she said, "I will try again". "OOOw!" Yes, once again it exploded and again it really hurt. "I am usually really good at this", she said, "I am sorry". I knew it wasn’t anything to do with her competence. So she tried again ... and once more, it was my veins just saying no, no, no ... they just were not having it. "Look", I said, "in the last couple of days I have had bloods, two lots of flu jabs and my body is protesting at having a new chemo". "I can’t try again, three times is enough" she said. "I am off to get reinforcements". I looked out of the window ... through tear filled eyes.

“I hear you are playing hard to get?” I swung around as CN F walked into the room. Now, I have now made it to season 3 of Sex and the City and I think Samantha might be having a bad influence on me. My response just popped out without me thinking. “Well ... now they have sent a chap in, I might just change my mind.” Thankfully, CN F got the cannula in and I finally got my chemo. After he walked out, CN E was obviously a bit miffed. "He had the same problem", she said, "but he obviously wasn’t as compassionate as me". "Typical man. Wham bam thank you mam", I assured her.

I am now well and truly in the middle of my treatment. Depending on when you ask me depends on how I view my progress down my treatment pathway. On a good day I am celebrating the fact that my final chemo could take place in six weeks and six days. On a bad day, when I push my treatment timescale to the ultimate limit, I wonder if I will be absent from work for every day of the six month sick note that my GP has just issued. My white blood count has taken a battering and they had to ask Dr Gillies for the go ahead with the chemo last time. If my white blood count doesn't rise sufficiently then they will delay the treatment for a week - which means the chemo could go well into February rather than being done and dusted by the end of January.  It will also be postponed if I become poorly ... and sadly one of the consequences of a low white blood count is that you are much more prone to infection or illness.

If the start of this BC journey was like a mad rollercoaster ride then I can now tell you that it now feels like I am sitting on the Magic Roundabout 

“Time for Bed” said Zebedee. “Oh good idea” replied Samantha.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The train now leaving platform 5….

At times like this, continuing with one's life seems impossible... and eating the entire contents of one's fridge seems inevitable. I have two choices: to give up and accept permanent state of spinsterhood and eventually be eaten by Alsatians... or not, and this time I choose not. I will not be defeated by a bad man and an American stick insect! Instead, I choose vodka. And Chaka Khan.

I had a party to go to this week. No, not one of my exclusive cocktail parties ... that was last week. This was a real party. You know the type - one with other people – guys in dickies, chicks in pretty frocks. There was a bit of food, some drink, celebrations and dancing. Not only that, it was in London! A party and the chance to get away for a couple of days. I’ll explain …

It all started back in July. What feels like eons ago for me. BBC (Before Breast Cancer) time … when I was still enjoying my tick-along-life … little knowing that the Yukky Lump had unsuspectingly started squatting in my warm and welcoming boob. In fact, by then it was probably so comfy I can imagine it was laid out in a gently swinging hammock, legs crossed, sun hat on and chewing on a grassy straw.

My organisation had been invited to nominate itself for a prestigious national award. I had been meaning to fill in the application for weeks but it was quite lengthy and it kept slipping to the bottom of my ‘to do’ pile. It got to 5 o’clock on the day of the deadline – the Friday afternoon of a long week. I wanted to go home and put my feet up with a glass a wine, but I had promised myself, and others, that I would give it a go. In the end I spent the evening glued to the computer and eventually submitted my application at half eleven – 30 minutes before the midnight deadline.

I received the call to say that we had been shortlisted during the horrid grey and gloomy ‘no man’s land’ between my Dr’s appointment and my diagnostic visit to the Breast Care Unit. It was probably the only occasion during that awful period to bring a smile to my face and a cheer to my voice.

A couple of months ago my director wrote me a letter to say that there were a handful of places at the actual award ceremony and that he had nominated me to go as I had made the original submission. I was delighted ... and touched ... but had to send him an e-mail to say that there was no possible way that I could attend. For starters it was only a few days on from the first cycle of Killer Chemo, just as the side effects were due to kick in. But that was only the beginning. If I was to go then I would have to get the train up to London – sitting with a hundred or so possibly infectious people – plus more coming and going along the carriage. Then, once in London, I would have to get on the underground. At rush hour. A definite no no. And then, once I had struggled up and down the escalators with my luggage I would need to get from the station to my hotel. In reality if I made it to Marble Arch then the chances are I would be found lying on my back asleep with commuters throwing their spare change at me, making comments that I would make more money if I adopted a dog or played an instrument.

If ...  if I did miraculously make it to the hotel ... then I would for sure be asleep before the hors d'œuvre were served. However .... with the steroids I have been on ... I would be awake at 3am just as everyone else was sloping off to bed. I have this image of me going downstairs after my nap, and with renewed vigour, forcing the tired DJ who thought he was about to go home, to commence a little private disco. Me standing there isolation in my pinky jim jams, BJ style, singing “All by myself”

So of course I didn’t go. Mr Campbell went in my place – here he is letting his hair down. Beforehand I was quite benevolent ... I sent him a text saying “I accept I can’t be there so I hope you and the gang enjoy yourselves.”

Well ... that was until I found James Nesbitt was there. Yes! James Nesbitt. Cold Feet’s James Nesbitt! Now, I luuurr..vv..e JN.  No … not in that kind of way … but he is such a cheeky chappy .. with an Irish accent to boot. Though … in hindsight … it is probably just as well I didn't go. Knowing me, I would have got tiddly on a glass or two or champagne and told him how much I cried when Rachel died and asked him to put a rose, or any kind of foliage to hand, between his “cheeks” …

So instead I remained at home waiting for my side effects from Killer Chemo to kick in. What one of my BC chemo cyber friends described as “a 125 hitting me”. And yes, my train arrived on Saturday night ... joint and muscle pain gripping my body. I had backache, then earache, tummy ache, then pains in knees and so on.  In fact pains where you just can't imagine ... well,  places that you are fortunate to know exist ... if you know they do ... As well as a sore throat, sensitive gums and cardboard mouth ... which I still have even now ... so food is tasteless and I can’t eat bread or pasta ... not even pizza.

I am gutted I couldn’t make it to the bash, but, like Bridget, I am adamant that I won’t be defeated. I think in the next day or two I might put my party frock on, pour a little vodka, put some music on and dance around my bedroom. Cos let’s face it ... it doesn't matter what I currently look like or feel like ... I am sure you will agree ... I'm every woman ... I'm every woman ...

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Big C's little c

I am not sure if you have noticed, but I haven’t spoken about ‘it’ in my last two blogs. ‘It’ being the Yukky Lump of course. This was intentional, on my part, though I am not totally sure why. Perhaps a bit of me thought you might be getting a tad bored with it by now and that I should lay off it for a while. Maybe it was my way of attempting to say that although cancer has taken over part of my body it hasn’t taken over my life. Though of course that sadly isn’t true ... I can’t even convince myself of that one.

I still think about ‘it’ every morning when I wake ... and every night before I go to sleep. I don’t get that horrid sinking feeling that I got at the beginning, after what would have been a restless night, but I do lie there and think sometimes: why me?  Yes, I still say that.  And, other times, I fantasise optimistically about the future. The day when people greet me and ask how I am and the day when I am not tempted to say: “Just fine. Fortunately, I managed to shake off that sniffly little cold I had. I just now need to get rid of this huge cancerous lump in my breast.” I lie there and ponder when the time will come when I will meet with friends and the BC will not come up at any point during the conversation. The day when I look and the mirror and am surprised because I have momentarily forgotten that I HAVE hair. When all the treatment and surgery is done and when I can go back to work and participate in crucial discussions on life changing decisions ... you know, like which new shoes to buy, which of the latest diets to try ... big drawers vs little knickers, Brazilian vs Hollywood ...

I hate the term ‘The Big C’. It makes it sound like a national favourite. You know, up there along with Big Ted, Big Ben and Big Macs. And I guess if cancer is the 'Big C' then chemotherapy must be the ‘little C’. I have this weird thought. Well, you know me ... that vivid imagination and everything. I wonder what responses you would get if you were to ask one hundred people what they think of when someone says ‘Chemotherapy?’. You know ... Family Fortunes style. Vernon is standing there centre stage, his two contestants with their hands on the buzzers, and then he says “We asked one hundred members of the public: What do you associate with chemotherapy?”

And what do you think? I reckon most people would reply sickness and hair loss. Funny enough, I don’t suppose many would say “It hopefully kills cancer”. I don’t think many would suggest that the side effects include diarrhoea; constipation; dehydration; heartburn; headaches; joint pain or pink wee ...

I know this will sound a little odd, but last time I had chemo I was really excited. In fact, I was counting the days down ... as if I was going on holiday. The reason? Because it was my fourth session. Four out of eight. A big milestone. After the fourth one I would be able to say I was half way through. Not half way through the whole treatment, only the mid-point of chemo, ‘cos after this the lovely Drs Jordan and O also have surgery and radiotherapy lined up for me. I give it to those guys, they are really keen to get rid of this Yukky Lump and any little venturous cells that might be looking to set up camp elsewhere in my warm and accommodating body. Either that, or they really don’t like me ...

But the fourth session didn’t turn out to be the mini celebration that I had anticipated – in fact it was a mighty anti-climax. Why? Not sure. I think part of it was that we turned up at the hospital on time, and they called me in about 20 minutes later, but I ended up waiting over an hour for the chemo to come up from pharmacy. I had been warned at the beginning that this can happen, but it hasn’t happened before and the waiting bit is the stressful bit. Once they are actually administering the drugs then I am OK but it is the hanging around that does my head in. The other thing is that I am having two lots of chemo. Four of one and four of another – and the second one is ‘more aggressive’ with possibly more painful side effects. I think that at the beginning I thought that getting through the first four would be like standing at the top of the mountain and looking down at the remaining four on the other side of the mountain. Actually in reality, once I had got there, it felt that I had climbed the first stage of the mountain and that I was now looking at the steeper, tougher ascent. The north face.

Each person's reaction to chemotherapy is different. Some people have very few side effects, while others may experience more. My first chemotherapy was a combination of two drugs called Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide – EC – quite a common drug which a number of women with BC receive.

As well as the usual things that we relate to chemotherapy such as feeling sick or actual vomiting, tiredness and hair loss there are a number of other side effects. Like most chemotherapies, EC can reduce the production of white blood cells by the bone marrow, making you more prone to infection. It can also hammer your platelets, which help the blood to clot, so you can experience rashes, as well as bruising or bleeding, including nosebleeds or bleeding gums. A sore mouth or/and ulcers are also quite typical and a number of people say that they get taste changes and suddenly can’t tolerate their favourite foods, or get cravings for certain things. Diarrhoea and in particular constipation are also pretty common.

So far I have been quite “lucky” with EC and the side effects. Each of the four cycles have been different, but none of them really bad. The things I have experienced are varying levels of tiredness, as well as some nausea, a bit like sea sickness or morning sickness, but not actual vomiting. It also makes me a bit ‘spacey’ for about five days, so much so that I don’t feel safe to drive. This is possibly down to dehydration and I have to make a real effort to drink lots of water. The other problem is that when I have a cold, or a bug as I did a couple of weeks ago, then it take ages to shake it off. Oh, and Epirubicin is blood red and makes my wee a pinky-orange for a day or so. But all and all for the side effects from the actual chemo I would say 2 or 3 out of ten.

But now I am moving on to a to a second regime, a chemotherapy called Taxotere (Docetaxel). A number of the side effects are the same as EC but some are very different. When I saw the Oh-so-luvverly Dr O a couple of months ago he said that I would need to be monitored as Taxotere can effect on the nerves – including peripheral neuropathy. PN is a term used to describe damage to nerves that are outside of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms can include pain in the joints or muscles. It can also cause burning or pins and needles, as well as numbness and sensitivity. Hands and feet are particularly vulnerable to this, and I have been warned that my nails may crack and discolour and may even fall off. Doesn’t sound great does it? But there is still more. On top of that my steroids have been increased – increased massively. Up to now I have taken steroids for a few days after my chemo. With Taxotere I have to start taking the steroids the day before. During my last visit to the hospital, whilst we were kicking our heels for the meds to come up, the chemo nurse mentioned that it so important to take them the day before that if I failed to do so then they would not administer the chemo and it would be delayed a week. Up to now the most I have taken in tablet form is 3mg ... which have caused me to have depression for three or four days of each of the cycles. I now have to take 8 tablets daily (which amount to a massive 16mg) for three days so God knows what I am going to be like by the weekend. The pharmacy guidance does say "If you feel suicidal ...."

Now the thing with my types of chemo is that more often than not you lose your hair. Everywhere. Upstairs, and downstairs, and in my lady's chamber. And the chances are I am going to lose my hair ... once more. Now, a friend of mine called a couple of weeks ago and said “I see from your blog that your hair is growing again. Is it like a crew cut?” Err ... no ... I had to tell him sadly not. I am actually being very possessive of very little. The hair on my head is more than a 5 o’clock shadow but it is very sparse. My eyebrows have thinned but still look pretty normal, as do my eyelashes though they are not as long and thick as they used to be. And Sod’s Law ... I had to shave my legs yesterday. But by next week it could be all very different ... when I start Killer Chemo ... a nickname my Ugly Sister Number One hates.

Now, if I am the ultimate Cinderella, banished to home with my lovely frocks and dancing shoes, then it is only right that my two younger sisters are the ‘Ugly Sisters’. Of course I can only get away with calling them that as they are of course far from ugly ... both prettier and thinner than me ... though we do have some similar features such as dark hair and dark eyes.

Many years ago I went to the local Indian restaurant on a Saturday evening, following a few Mad Dog 20/20s. Do you remember Mad Dog 20/20s? A horrid revolting concoction that probably had a worse impact on my body than the chemo. Three was the golden number. Why? One Mad Dog and I was tapping my fingers along to the jukebox. Two? Two and I was dancing on the tables. Three ... after the third one I would be on the floor admiring the ceiling. So returning to me sitting in the Indian. I was there one particular night and someone I used to go to school with happened to be sitting at the next table. “How are you?” Fine, I replied. Which was true ... at least I was until the third 20/20. “And your sisters?” Mmmm ... I faltered quizzically ... they are fine too. “That’s good”, he replied. “You know, you always used to remind me of The Corrs.” Oh yeah right. “I used to have this thing about The Corrs.” For goodness sake, how long does it take to get a prawn balti around here? “All three of them girls. Obviously not the brother. The bloke whose name nobody ever remembers.” Which got me thinking and temporarily forgetting my curry ... perhaps me and my siblings were missing out on a trick. We could make a bit of money from being a tribute band. ... I even have a brother to make up the complement and could pretend to be the 4th Corr ...“the bloke whose name nobody remembers”. We would call ourselves Hard Corr ...

Oh, I forgot to mention ... the biggest problem with Mad Dog 20/20 was that it wrongly led me to believe that I could suddenly sing ... at least chemo doesn’t do that. Well, it hasn’t yet ... and if it does ... then we are all in trouble.

So back to Killer Chemo. My response to my disapproving Ugly Sister is that it I call it that because hopefully it is going go in and finally finish off any of the cancer crap that is remaining in my body ... not because it is going to kill me ... though admittedly having read the possible side effects there is the chance that it might feel like it is having a go. In my mind I have this image of Killer Chemo storming in and kicking ten bales out of anything still lurking in there and terminating it. In fact, if the previous chemo was little soldiers charging in and atttacking Yukky Lump then we need to order them to step down. We are now calling in the Marines.  As Aunty Gok would say ...

“Hey si .. s..ter! It is time to send those Big Boys in to go and sort them gorgeous Big Boys out”

Friday, 20 November 2009

If you don't know me by now

"Natasha, this is Bridget Jones. Bridget, this is Natasha. Bridget works in a publishing house and she used to play around naked in my paddling pool."

Last night I went to some friends for dinner. It was lovely. We ate a lot and drank a little ... or was it the other way round ... whatever ... a good time was had by all. During the course of the evening the conversation turned to my blog – this blog – and I received some nice comments and lovely compliments. Well ... sort of. As the rest of the table moved on to another topic my long term friend and neighbouring dining companion carried on talking. “I knew you were bright, but didn’t appreciate you were that clever”, she stage whispered. Mmm ... I guess that was what they call a back handed compliment. She then went on to say something along the lines of “But I am not sure about some of the comments. I wonder if they are actually referring to you. They obviously don’t know you as well as I do.” Which kind of got me thinking ...

Life is a funny thing, isn’t it? You travel this path meeting various people in different guises. There is family; there are friends; then colleagues and acquaintances. Some are colleagues who become friends ... and friends that become family ... or as good as family. People come ... some go ... some go and then come back again. These are the people that witness and observe your personality and characteristics, as well as the numerous range of experiences that occur during your lifetime. The good times and the bad times. The happy times ... and the sad times. If you were to ask 100 of these people for their opinions, views, memories of you ... then you would receive 100 different versions, stories and tales. So I thought we would play a little knowing-you-knowing-me game.

Now, I appreciate that there are various people tuning in to my blog each week. Some people have known me for a while ... many for quite a long time ... and a few that would go to the extent of saying “far too long.” Now, whichever camp you fall into, I am challenging you to how well you really know me and if you are up to correctly answering the following - 'cos I don't think it matters how long you have known me I don't think there is anyone out there who can fully answer all of them. Are you ready?

Right, there are four questions. You need to go through them and simply answer True or False. Here goes ...

1. I have won a beauty pageant

2. I have appeared in a popular BBC drama

3. I have never been to Wales

4. I like fishing

Please check your name is on each of the papers before you hand them in.


I won a beauty pageant – True.

Unbelievably, I did win a beauty pageant. It was back in 1981 – Joe Dolce was number one with "Shaddap You Face"  It was purely by accident. Me winning that is – I can’t speculate on Joe Dolce’s success. There was a disco at our local hall and they said that if you entered the carnival queen competition then you would get in free. I wanted to save my 50p, but had no intention of entering with view to winning. After all I was wearing my jeans and rugby shirt – hardly ‘queen’ material. However, saving that 50p resulted in me spending at least a dozen Saturday afternoons sitting on a roaming throne and waving sweetly at roadside onlookers who smiled back ... who used me as target practice when throwing their spare change in my direction. The highlight of my majestic year was hosting an event with The Wurzels. Yes, The Wurzels. Jolly cider-drinking farmers from Somerset. Yeah right. They were the grumpiest old sods that I have ever met.

I appeared in a popular BBC drama - True.

Well ... a sort of true. The BBC drama was Down to Earth. It was shown some time ago on Sunday evenings. It was all nice and warm and fuzzy, you know, in that Heartbeat and Doc Martin kind of way. I suppose it was about ten years ago, before the answer to everything could be found at Wikipedia and Google, so researchers for TV programmes had to work a darn sight more harder. This is where I came in. Down to Earth was supposedly based in heavenly Devon and there were a number of references to day to day health services – GPs, dentists, hospitals. Now I am quite used to taking queries from journalists, including those working for national media, so a call from the BBC is not that unusual. However, my first call from the researchers for Down to Earth was a little unusual. “Can you tell me which would be the most appropriate name for a hospital – Postbridge or Okeham? I guess I was pretty helpful as they called back a number of times, asking for advice on things which you would only really know about if you lived in Devon and had a pretty good knowledge of NHS services here. As a consequence they named a character after me. Sadly, I missed the episode, which would have been quite amusing to watch, but lots of colleagues told me about it the next day. I liked the fact that 'Paula Wakeham' was young and attractive and drove a sports car. But of course she turned out to be baddie – as all of those one-off episode characters always are.

I have never been to Wales – True and False.

Yes, but. No, but. Well, but, both. I have been to Wales. Three times actually. Once on a Christmas shopping trip when I was about 13. Why on earth we went all the way to Cardiff I really do not know, when actually we could have quite easily spent our pocket money (what, £10 at the most?) in Plymouth or Exeter. Then in the late 80s I went to Cardiff Arms Park see U2, supported by The Pretenders and The Alarm – and then again in 1996 to see REM, supported by The Cranberries. So I have actually been to Wales but I am not sure if my fleeting visits really count. But ... as you read this ... I am now there.

Having missed my summer holiday to the south of France I would love to say that I am about to jump on a plane for a little sun, sea and sangria. But we know that I can’t practically do that. So I am in Wales ... for rain, sheep and rain. No, I joke, actually I have been looking forward to it ...  I am staying here.  Fingers crossed it will be sunny, though cold and crisp, to allow for walks along empty desolate beaches and up rugged tors. Hopefully some hearty exercise, with photo opportunities, followed by warming one pot meals and a little wine, succeeded by some fun sing-along DVDs (think of me belting out Mamma Mia on a mountain) or family games. And ... if I am really lucky ... a bit of fishing.

I like fishing – True.

I know. It is a bit weird, but the answer to number four is that I do really like fishing. Sitting next to a river and trying to bait trout, or out on the sea and catching mackerel. Even crabbing. I am good at crabbing. I will let you in on a little secret ... success is all in the wrist movement (OK - stop sniggering!) The only thing that isn’t surprising is that once I have caught something I am a bit of girlie getting it off the hook and killing it ... especially when ‘it’ is a ruddy great eel ... I really don’t like those.

So there we go, whether you really know me or not, you know even more about me now. Unlike Bridget I don’t recall splashing around naked in somebody’s paddling pool. Though there was that time I unintentionally flashed my bare pinky arse at the plumber ... but I guess that is another story for another day ...

Friday, 13 November 2009

All different and yet the same

"We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same." Anne Frank

I have gone from somebody who rarely stopped to have lunch, and usually grabbed a bite to eat on the run, to being A Lady that Lunches. Not something that I previously aspired to, but when it happens now I do enjoy the company and social interaction. Tomorrow, all being well, I am due to meet up with a friend of mine. The Sloane Ranger and I used to work together until the inevitable organisational changes and reconfigurations that intermittently happen in our line of work resulted in us based in separate organisations about 30 miles apart.  We don't get to meet up that often but still keep in touch by the usual methods of communication - phone calls, e-mails, Facebook and the like.  So on this occasion we are looking forward to actually getting together ... having some coffee ... shopping a little ... and no doubt chatting a lot.

The place of work where we were previously based was just awful. A single story building, slightly bigger than a domestic bungalow, on a hideous industrial estate. It was freezing cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer - the latter of which was due to the fact there was no air conditioning and for health and safety reasons the windows only opened 3 inches at the most - surely they didn't think we were going to try and jump? However ... one of the good things that we had going for us ... was a Waitrose store on the doorstep. Bliss!

Due to the lack of options available most lunchtimes the Sloane Ranger and I would wander up to Waitrose for a sandwich. Well, our intentions would be to go in and a buy a sandwich but the sandwich would more than often cost us £20, £30 more. Why? Because once lured into Waitrose the temptations were often too great. Now, the Sloane Ranger and I have quite a bit in common but I can say that we have a number of completely different tastes and interests too. We used to walk into the store together, but then she would turn left and I would turn right. She would head for cakes ... whilst I would be on speed dial to cheese ... she would grab the biscuits ... whilst I would be eyeing up the baguettes. We would both be pretty content in the wine section ... but before we got there we would have to pass the ‘Seasonal’ aisle ...

Last weekend, the Sloane Ranger called to confirm details of our impending meet up. We had a bit of a chit chat and then I asked her whether she had something nice planned for the weekend. “Oh yes!” she replied with great gusto. “It is Bonfire Night. We are having a party, with fireworks! I felt a twinge – but I let it go – deciding not to concentrate on it too much. Until later ... when I popped over to Facebook. The Sloane Ranger had logged on earlier and happily declared to the world and his wife/her husband that she was very excited about the fact "It is only five and half week until Christmas!"

And that was it .... I felt really lightheaded ... giddy ... the room began to spin ... and it came back to me... What came back to you? The night I killed Father Christmas.

Now, I need to explain that these differences between the Sloane Ranger and I stretch further than chocolate and cheese. Yes, she likes bags ... whereas I like shoes (though I don’t mind bags if you are thinking of buying me one). But there is more. For starters you might be able to tell from her name that she isn’t from around these parts. Also, she is much more confident than me. She says what is on her mind. No ... not in an unintentional open-your-gob-and-let-it-topple-out Bridget Jones kind of way ... but in a confident and self assured manner. But the biggest anomaly between the Sloane Ranger and I, the thing that generates the most bickering and heated ribbing, is our opposing views on so-called ‘celebratory diary days’. You know the ones ...

Let me start with Valentine’s Day. Now, I need to be careful here I as I could go on and on as I absolutely and totally detest VD (to give it its proper name). The Sloane Ranger, on the other hand loves it. To the extent that she even got married on VD. But it is so not me. For me it is up there with some of my other Room 101 choices – squeezed between rats, football, polystyrene and sci-fi. I see it as grotesque sickly sugary sweet commercialism which the lines the pockets of crafty marketers such as Mr Hallmark and the like. What drives people to go out and purchase overpriced cards, balloons and flowers is just beyond me. What is even worse is the thought of going for a ‘quiet romantic VD meal’. Oh, yes ... along with 99 other supposed Romeo and Juliets who have been squeezed into the restaurant which legally only caters for 50 covers so you can’t burp without at least 20 supper companions hearing. You are then charged an inflated rate for a meal that you haven’t chosen. “Sorry madam, you can’t order the moules as it is a set Valentine’s Day menu tonight. We are only serving items in shades of red and pink.  Would you like some watermelon?” Then, once the meal is finished there are the two camps. The traditional one, where the couples don’t actually talk to each other but look over each other shoulders, staring around the room, just nursing their nearly empty glasses, taking sneaking cursory glances at their watches debating when it would be deemed appropriate to 'sadly' annouce that it is time to go home.  And, then there is the new 21st Century camp, where he is on his mobile phone trying to find out the latest football score, and she is updating her Facebook page with details of the ‘wonderful romantic evening’.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It is not that I don’t do romance and sentiment. It is just that I don’t do it for only one day – and because I am told to. It shouldn’t mean spending lots of money on overpriced commercial rubbish, gaudy cards and hideous stuffed toys from Korea, or going for a meal when you just fancy beans on toast. Touching gestures should be something that you do because you want to. A poem stuck to the fridge door or details of a surprise dinner date hidden in the packed lunch box.  Or maybe returning home to a hot bubble bath with a glass of chilled bubbly on the side.  A newly released CD by your favourite band ... or even better ... tickets to their next concert combined with a weekend away ...

One of the nicest and genuine things you can do is hand over a little package and say to someone is ... “I saw this and thought of you ....”. As opposed to “I forgot it was VD until my secretary said Wayne was taking her for a special 2-4-1 meal at McDonalds. I popped in to the garage on the way home and I was surprised that they only had these straggly carnations left. Here you are dear ... to show my love ...”.

A couple of Saturdays ago I went in to Sainsburys and demanded to see the store manager. I told him in no uncertain terms that unless he handed over at least half of his confectionary stock then I was going to run around the store throwing eggs and flour. OK – so that is a stupid suggestion. But I thought about it – just to make a case in point about Halloween. My number two calendar event pet hate. The date in the diary when it is OK for anyone under 4ft tall to knock on total strangers doors and demand ‘treats’, such as money or goodies, and, if they aren’t forthcoming, then it is perfectly acceptable to cause cosmetic damage with their ‘tricks’. This year I bought a huge bag of horrid fluorescent sweets full of colours, preservatives and E numbers. I took consolation in the fact the ‘pesky children’ would return home, whizz up and down the walls for at least three hours, before their teeth fell out.  By half seven the sweets had long gone - as had my patience - so I put a 'polite' notice on the door saying "please do not ring on on doorbell or knock on door."  I am not sure if anyone read this and took heed or whether by that time all the dear 'Little Treaters' had gone home to watch The X-Factor.  I was slightly disappointed as I was going to take my revenge on anyone that ignored my note by opening the door ... bare headed. A sight which was going to scare them far more than any fancy dress effort was going to do to me.

And finally .... on to number three .... Christmas. Now, before you shout "Bah Humbug" at me, let me just put my point across. I don’t dislike the whole of Christmas. And, actually, on the day it is OK, particularly by mid-morning when I have a spud peeler in one hand and the compulsory glass of sherry in the other. I just hate the huge build up which commences as early as August - do you realise that there are people working in shops listening to festive musak for over a third of the year? And then there is the pressure for people to spend money that they don’t necessary have, on things that people don’t really need, that also gets my goat reindeer.

The Sloane Ranger was definitely at her worst at Christmas. Before we had turned the December page on the desk calendar she would have the tree and decorations out in the office and on her desk. This was bearable ... until our final Yule together ... when she brought in a Father Christmas. You know the sort of thing – a stuffed toy about a foot high. That bit was OK. What totally pushed me to the edge was that on poking his inflated tummy it would sing “Ho ho ho. Have a very happy Christmas.” Now, I know that doesn’t sound much ... but day after day ... after day ... it didn’t half grate. And of course, the more annoyed and niggled I became the more the Sloane Ranger would squeeze the thing and wave it in my face. I give it to the girl; she knew how to wind me up. To the extent that as I sat there alone at my desk one night ... in the empty dimpsy office ... looking over at the grinning bearded face of Father Christmas which I swore was laughing at me ... I came up with "a cunning plan"...

A cunning plan? Well ... you know how I have this vivid imagination ... it kicked into action ... there and then.  Staring at his smug little face I thought it would be really funny to grab Father Christmas and dash through the vacant building to the front door. And ... whilst there was no-one there to witness my actions ... manically taking a pair of sharp nail scissors to one of his chubby little legs.  Chopping it off with aggressive retaliation and strategically leaving it on the office floor. Then, with some ketchup from the fridge, drawing a dribbly 'bloody' red trail leading to the next roughly amputated leg. Squeezing some more ketchup along the floor ... and leaving the first podgy arm. And finally, some more 'gorey' ketchup leading to the last limb. A pathway of destruction which the following morning would take the Sloane Ranger to her desk.  Where she would find the dismembered torso in a pool of grisly sweet sticky ‘blood’ on her chair.  And finally ...the solitude head of Father Christmas on her keyboard ... next to a note made up from letters that I had cut from a newspaper, ransom bid style, saying: “Ho, ho, ho. Ha, ha, ha. Hee, hee, hee. Rest In Peace.”

OK. So I didn’t actually do it. I seriously considered it, but eventually came to my senses. It would have been funny but it would have broken the Sloane Ranger’s heart. She would have suffered from lifelong nightmares. Christmas would never have been the same ever again for her.

But ... she needs to remember the thought was there ... and I haven't forgotten it. So, here is a word of warning. If we are sat there tomorrow afternoon, enjoying a nice cuppa and a slice of cake, and her hand slips into that crimson Mulberry bag of hers, and a familiar rosy cheeked and white bearded face suddenly appears only a few inches from mine, and I hear those immortal words “Ho ho ho, have yourself a happy Christmas” then I cannot take responsibility for my actions. I might appear to be a Lady that lunches, but if I see red, in more senses then one, that fork in my hand may just go somewhere where it has never been before.

Ho, ho, ho. Ha, ha, ha. Hee, hee, hee.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Relight my fire ...

I have two passions.  No, I am NOT talking about shoes and handbags.  Nor cheese and wine.  Or even Robson and Jerome (as if ... shudders).  Let's make it clear, I am talking Words and Pictures.  Yes, you heard right. Words and Pictures.  The Words bit has been going OK as I have my blog.  However, lots of my friends have asked how my photography has been faring, and have been most surprised to hear that the answer is "not far" and that my camera has been sitting in its case for the last few months.

Last week, when the Oncologist (the one who isn't the Luv-ver-ley Dr O) asked me about the physical side effects of chemotherapy I had to say very few.  If I had to mark it out of ten then I would say maybe 1, sometimes a 2.  Overall I have been very very lucky ... so far ... bearing in mind my chemo regime changes radically in a couple of weeks.  However, the thing that has totally got me, and what has been very unexpected, is the lows and depression.  Not particularly dealing with the impacts mentally and physically from the cancer, but from the medication.  Two or three days after the chemo I just hit a massive dip. Drug high ... drug low.  Now, this cancer thing has already got my body and I ain't gonna let it take control of my mind by forcing me to take further medication ... quite frankly there is enough crap going through my bloodstream ... so I am going to try plough on regardless.  However, this is rather easier said then done. 

If you feel low or depressed it is often recommended that it is better you get off your arse and do something rather than sit in a darkened bedroom and cry -  so on Saturday I decided to just try that.  I got up and went over to Dartington and took some photos.  Now, Dartington Hall Gardens is one of my all time favourite places.  Memories of Foundation Day ... sunny picnics ... and teenage summer holiday jobs ... ooh, whatever happened to that lovely chap James ...?

As a result of my little expedition I have loaded a few of my new pics up on to my Flickr site ... along with a few which I took BBC (before breast cancer).  I do feel a bit sad looking back at the BBC pics ... but hey ... no point on dwelling on the past.  I am thinking that maybe now is the time to bite the bullet and do a photography exhibition.  I have sold some images previously and it is a mood booster to know that people are taking your work away and hanging it in their homes. We'll see ...

In the meantime, if you do get chance to take a look at my Flickr site then please pop along.  I have even put a couple up of Dumpy Daisy - who seems to be just getting dumpier - to prove that she didn't leave me forever and that my praying worked!! Just click here to take a look.

See you later in the week for my usual blog!!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Does size really matter?

Bridget: I'm so sorry. I didn't mean it. Well, I meant it, but I was so stupid that I didn't mean what I meant... After all, it's only a diary. Everyone knows diaries are just... full of crap.
Mark Darcy: Yes, I know that. I was just buying you a new one.

I have bought a new diary. Well, Filofax innards for next year to be precise. It wasn’t as eventful as when Bridget got her new diary – running down a snowy road, in just her undies, to retrieve it off her attractive and charming boyfriend. Instead I just went into the shop and gave my money to a grumpy old chap, who was sadly more Dozy than Darcy. Though, I can admit that stripping off is now becoming much more of a habit – but at the hospital rather than outside W H Smith.

Yesterday the diary said: “Wash hair. Visit Oncologist.” Now this chemo and hair thing is just weird. I know I have talked about the prospect of losing it, and when it actually started dropping out that I bit the bullet and shaved it off. By now, just as I have hit the chemo halfway mark, I thought I would be totally bald – modelling the Shiny Egg Head look. But I don’t. Hold up; please do not get too excited. When I say I have hair I say it in the loosest, or should I say shortest, sense. It is sparse. Spiky. Probably just over a cm or so long. A bit like a little chick. No ... not one of those cute Easter chicks that you want to take home but one of those one day chicks which is a bit straggly and ugly looking. You know – like the ones which you don’t feel so bad about when they feed them to the Birds of Prey or the snakes at the zoo. Think Kiwi Head. I thought it could be growing again but I wasn’t really sure until I took a closer look today that I realised it truly is. Not only do I have a little tufty bit on the top, at the back, but I have a curl too. Honestly, just one, by my ear. I couldn’t believe it – I got really excited about it – just like the moment when I found the green pepper. Once again I had the urge to tell everyone.

Now before you say “Don’t get your hopes up” I can assure you that I haven’t. It is not uncommon for hair to grow back before the end of chemo but I have some way to go yet. I have just returned from the hospital, having had chemo number 4, and I know that next week, when the cocktail kicks in, that the hair could start dropping out again. If it doesn’t happen then, then it could happen when I start my new regime of chemo which commences in three weeks time. But it is a bit weird having to check my legs again ....

I have a bit of a reputation you know. OK, can you guys in the cheap seats quieten down please? I have a bit of thing for tottering off to work in bright colourful outfits, with matching shoes and baubles. What most of my colleagues don’t know is that what matches outside usually matches underneath. Oh don’t get me wrong – when I say most it doesn’t mean I make a habit of walking around the office flashing my underwear like a naughty schoolgirl in the boys' playground – well not every day (joke). What I mean is that I enjoy the topic of girly conversations of the pluses and negatives of thong vs. G-string, Bridget Big Panties vs. French knickers with my collegues. What do you mean you don’t have those kinds of conversation in your office? Hell, that’s what I go to work for.

So what do I do when I am not talking about pros and cons of underwear? Well, I work in PR. It is one of those jobs that unless you actually work in public relations nobody seems to know or understand what you do. I must admit it is not as easy to describe as other roles such as a lawyer, hairdresser or milk delivery person. I use to try and describe public relations by using the example of “The difference between a rat and a squirrel is that a squirrel has good PR”. However, I now use the “Marks and Spencer’s Boob” story instead. If you don’t remember it, it all hit off about 6 months ago when Marks and Spencer decided to charge a controversial surcharge of £2 for bras over a DD cup. Unfortunately good old M&S did not take into account what a storm in a teacup – or double D cup – that it was going to cause. Now, if M&S had any sense then they would have floated their idea via their PR people – who in turn would have said it was a definite “no no”. Or, their PR people would have heard about it and would have gone back to senior management and said “scrap it.” However, that didn’t happen and it went ahead - and what M&S hadn’t taken into account was that thousands of women across the country, who had been loyally purchasing their bras from them for years, did not want to pay a ‘boob tax’ surcharge.

Now that is the funny thing about PR – second guessing what customers or clients want or will accept – and what they certainly won’t. Yes, they will pay more for a bigger pasty, longer socks or a pint, rather than a half, but not for bigger bras. To the extent that they were prepared to set up a ‘Busts 4 Justice‘ campaign via Facebook which gathered the support of thousand of bigger-breasted ladies – of which a number of them even bought shares in M&S so they could storm the company’s Annual General Meeting. To date over 17,000 people have joined the FB Busts 4 Justice campaign.

The combination of pressure from the campaigners who attended the AGM, and the increasing media exposure, led Marksies to rethink its decision. Shortly after the outburst of negative publicity and complaints with regards to the increase in the price of DD+ bras they retracted it - and apologised with a gesture to those they had offended.  Through its PR people they issued a press release which said: “We’ve heard what our customers are telling us that they are unhappy with the pricing on our DD-plus bras and that basically we’ve boobed. So from Saturday May 9 no matter what size you buy, the price is going to be the same. We’re not going to cut the quality though – they’ll still be made to the same high standards so you get the best support on the high street. The chain is also offering 25% off the price of any bra in any size. The promotion will last until May 25.”

So that is what PR people do. They try to protect their organisations’ reputation, and if ... and when ... things do go tits up, they try to remedy it and make it better.

Prior to yesterday’s Oncology appointment I had a shower, where I washed ‘the prickles’, and then chose some appropriate underwear for my visit to see my Oncologist, the Oh-so-luv-ver-ley Dr O. Now, when I say appropriate I am not talking about a French fancy outfit for l’amour in the boudoir - the Agent Provocateur red and black lacy tie up corset with fishnet stockings have remained firmly in the drawer, honestly. No, I am talking about underwear that is fit to be seen in public. Nothing greying with dodgy tears or holes. The sort of thing that you wouldn’t feel embarrassed about if Your Auntie Gok raided your wardrobe and strung it up in your local high street.

My appointment was 10 to 2. I was called in to the waiting consultation room just after 5 past. Not bad. I waited a few minutes until a lady walked in and sat down. “Hi, I am Dr Gillies (not her real name) and I work with Dr O.” Honestly, I can SO do snotty when I want to. I can feel myself doing it. And I did it there and then. I just looked her up and down and glared at her as if she was something the cat had dragged in. Where was Dr O?! "So how is it going?" she asked. Fine, I said, looking over her shoulder to the door searching for illusive Dr O. "Does it hurt?", she continued. Well, actually it does, it was something I was going to mention. "That’s good" she said – "a sign that the chemo is kicking in". "Can I take a look?"  Yep, fine, I sighed, reluctantly realising that Dr O had stood me up. So she took a look. "I can’t find it – can you tell me where it is?" No, ‘cos I haven’t got a clue either. She look astonished.  "Well, there was something there as Dr O has said it was 6cm x 6cm." What?! My turn to do astonished.  I was told it was 4cm at the ultrasound. 4cm by something ... no-one told me what ... so I thought maybe 4cm x 2cm. It was very odd to be told that my tumour was in fact much much larger than I realised - and then promptly told that after only a few chemo sessions that it appears to have shrunk.  Not just shrunk ...  but shrunk pretty dramatically as she can’t feel it ... and nor can I.

I am also just glad I wore the decent matching underwear. Being a woman she probably would have noticed if it was grotty, more so than Dr O.  The lovely Dr O who still is "Oh-so-luv-ver-ley" but I am sulking out of principle.

After the Oncology appointment I went in to M&S to buy some supper. You see my Wednesday nights before chemo turn into Saturday nights. I have something nice to eat and a glass of wine or two, as I know I am going to have a few of days feeling a bit grotty, when I go off my food and am not allowed any alcohol, and besides I don’t feel like drinking anything other than bottled water. As always I eyed up the lingerie. The embroidered sets ... the silky combos... the lacy outfits ... but I can’t buy any. Well, I can physically – not surprisingly security aren't standing there saying "Sorry Loyal and Faithful Customer you have exceeded this year’s lingerie quota" - but it just is not really worth it as in a few months time I am not really sure what my bits are going to look like. If they do a mastectomy then they will probably look pretty much the same size wise – though one will be reconstructed. If they do a lumpectomy then they will be bit smaller, possibly quite a bit smaller, though by how much I am not sure. So the lingerie shopping is on hold for a bit. And that’s fine ‘cos at the end of the day I know the pretty bras and nice undies are just an extra luxury. The important thing is that the chemo cocktail appears to be hitting the tumour where it hurts. After all, it is the size of the lump - not the boob - that matters.

In the meantime, I need to decide whether I should wear that red and black tie up lacy corset to my next hospital appointment ... just to make the most of it whilst it still fits you understand.