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.