Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Come all ye faithful

Back in the mid-1980s I used to like George. As in Michael, rather than Boy, Bush or Orwell. I was old enough to understand that I wasn’t going to grow up and marry a popstar, but still naive enough to think that George was gazing into my eyes as he sang in the Careless Whisper video. Though of course in reality he was looking right past me, and even the Princess Di look-a-like, and checking out the cameraman instead. By the time news broke that he was gay, that he had a penchant for taking drugs and driving into walls, I had moved on to some other unsuspecting idol ... probably Clooney.  The only time Mr Michael has hit my radar in recent years was when he was arrested for lewd conduct in a public loo in Los Angeles. I thought that escapade was a bit below the belt ... excuse the puns.

During the horrid haze of weeks of waiting to see the GP, to see the consultant, to have the tests, to be told the results, I kept hearing the same song on the radio. I hadn’t heard it in years. It was George Michael’s 1987 hit Faith. How many times? I don’t know. Maybe a dozen. 'Cause I gotta have faith... a faith ... a faith. And the more I heard it ... the more I sang along ... And then it occurred to me perhaps it was a ‘sign’ and that somebody or something was telling me to have a little faith. So each time I heard it I started to sing-along ... 'Cause I gotta have faith ...

The day I returned to the Breast Care Unit for my results it was warm. It was mid-August. Not sunny, but hot and humid. The little waiting room was full of anxious patients, all suffering from the consequences of the oppressive heat and raw nervousness, all on tenterhooks waiting to hear their destiny. The radio was on this time. I didn’t recall it being on during my previous visit. I can’t tell you all the songs they played. Just one. Faith. I sat upright. Faith. George Michael’s Faith. It must be another sign. Perhaps the consultant is wrong after all. Perhaps I was wrong. Miracles do happen. Perhaps I am going to go in there and he is going to say “It is good news after all. There is a lump. But it is just one of those things. We see them sometimes. It will disappear. Now go home and pack your bags and go on holiday. Go back to your ticking-along-life-life. Come along, get a move on, I’ve got patients with life-threatening conditions to see.” Of course this didn’t happen. It was my vivid imagination ... again.

Just after I had been diagnosed, and whilst I was waiting for my treatment to start, I was driving along and happened to pass one of those pretty little village churches that are quite common down this way. For the first time in ages, well maybe ever, I was tempted to stop and go in. To park the car up on the grassy verge, go through the peeling wrought iron gates and meander across the pretty and peaceful graveyard. Enter the church through the side entrance, rather than using the large and heavy front door, as this would rudely disturb the reassuring calm and tranquillity on the inside. Tip toe across the well worn flagstones, which have witnessed thousands of footprints over thousands of years. Take a seat amongst the domino of solid oak pews, choosing one underneath the suspended dancing rainbow mosaic squares of light, cast by the sun radiating through the huge and imposing stain-glassed window. Pull out the dusty dappled tapestry-style carpeted cushion ... and kneel.

Yes ... I was tempted. But I didn’t.

Instead I drove by ...

I can't say I am religious. I always have a bit of a dilemma when I am asked on application forms to indicate my faith. Although I was christened, and went to a Church of England school, I don't feel that my religious beliefs are strong enough to mark the Christian option. However, the Atheist box feels too extreme, and, if at some point it is proven that there is indeed a "God", that I could be unintentionally cutting my chances and dramatically slamming the door on their spiritual support and guidance, perhaps at a point in my life when I might really need it. So I usually sit on the fence, and quietly and gently tick Prefer not to say, so that I keep all the options open.

My views on religion are pretty ambivalent. I don't have a problem with other people having a faith, that is fine, as long as they don't bang on about it, in some kind of preaching evangelical manner. I don't even have a strong argument for not being religious. I would love to have an original, convincing and powerful case for not upholding the faith ... but I don't. I am going to fall unashamedly on those old clich├ęs. You know the ones. Millions of people across the world have lost their lives due to wars over money and religion. If there was a God we wouldn't see child cruelty ... adult abuse ... people dying ... because of poverty, through starvation ... or because of horrid medical conditions, like cancer ...

This time last year I never thought I would be saying that I am the proud owner of two cats. Though admittedly, it was probably, in my mind anyway, a tad more likely than hearing myself say I am the reluctant owner of a horrid cancerous lump in my breast. The arrival of the cats followed many months of junior pressure to have a pet. A dog was a no, no. Far too much hassle and responsibility in my already hectic life - after all, I am no fool - who would end up going for early, dark rainy morning walks and doing the poo-pick-ups? No, neither was I going to have a rabbit that would dig up the lawn, the lawn that quite frankly already looks like a football pitch. Actually, is a football pitch, cricket field, rugby ground, golf course ... And, once the conversation turned to goldfish ... stick insects ... crawly things with eight legs ... crawly things with no legs ... I knew I had to make a proactive decision. So I begrudgingly I agreed to a cat or two. After all, they are independent, self-sufficient, no hassle. Aren't they?

The cats arrived back in the early summer and when they were about six months old. They couldn’t say precisely as nobody knew their exact age. This is due to the fact that they had been abandoned in Haldon Woods between Chudleigh and Exeter. Not near the car park, nor on a path, but deep, deep amongst the dark foliage, where nobody would find them, so that they were certain to perish and die. But fortunately there was redemption as by chance on that particular day a jogger or cyclist decided to go a little off-track and found the box with two white, fluffy, cold and hungry little bundles.

If you were to see the cats you would say they are beautiful. You probably wouldn't be able to tell them apart as they do look similar to the untrained eye - and this is not helped by the ironic fact that they don't actually like each other so you very rarely see them together. ‘Little’ Lily is smaller with yellow eyes. She is long-haired, feline and pretty. Lily is feisty and independent. A hunter of voles and mice. She returns home for food and then disappears again .. until the next meal time.

And then, then there is Daisy. Still white with dark patches. Still long-haired. Except her tail is even fluffier. Do you remember when Pink Panther got his tail stuck in the tumble-drier - hers looks like that - quite comical. Daisy is bigger and chunkier - which is why she is ‘Dumpy’ Daisy. Daisy the house cat. Daisy really isn't bothered about going anywhere - the food bowl in the kitchen is usually just far enough. Occasionally she does hurtle through the backdoor, meowing like mad, proudly announcing that she has ‘caught’ something. Except Daisy doesn’t catch mice or moles or voles. Daisy ‘catches’ socks and gloves. Usually from my neighbour’s washing line. Daisy is affectionate. She needs lots of loving and attention - and demands it.

Whilst I was still in ticking-along-nicely mode I didn’t really take too much notice of the cats. I fed them occasionally. Stroked them occasionally. But generally they were doing their own thing and I was doing mine. But this changed ... when my life changed. I was around more, so they were around more, particularly Daisy.

After my first chemo I suffered some of the side effects that you generally hear about, such as nausea and tiredness. Under strict instructions to take it easy I got in to this habit of spending the morning in bed, with a book, my laptop or watching TV. Not only did I like this routine but Daisy did too. She would have breakfast and then come upstairs and join me. A bit like a baby she would need some soothing but would eventually settle and spend the rest of the morning napping next to me. By day 3 I found this quite comforting and, as she lay there snoozing, I leant over and said very quietly, so even Jeremy Kyle couldn’t hear, I wouldn’t know what to do if anything happened to you. Her response? A dozy meow and then she turned over for another hour of two. Before she went out ... and failed to return.

Daisy didn’t come back for her dinner that night, which was very much unlike her. I tried to not to worry too much. She is probably up in the fields chasing crickets and butterflies. She’ll return soon – so tired out that she won’t move for a week. But she didn’t. And when she failed to return for breakfast I knew there was something desperately wrong. By mid-morning I was doing the Kite-Kat-ie-Biccy shake in the back garden. By lunchtime I was hanging out of my bedroom window calling her name. By mid-afternoon I was literally pounding the neighbourhood, scouring the gutters and gardens for her. By suppertime I was worried, seriously worried. ‘Reassuring’ comments like “well, she is only a cat” were immediately dismissed.

That night I went to bed and fell to sleep, just for a few hours, waking again during that terrible no-man’s time which they must be referring to when they say the dead of night. Waking up when something horrible has happened to you is is awful. There are about 7 milliseconds where you just feel calm and rested and then you suddenly remember ... that horrible thing that has had a monumental impact on your life. Up to that point the previous few weeks had meant waking, at all times, day or night, and remembering that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and having this long, arduous and scary journey of treatment and surgery lying ahead of me, for what seemed like the foreseeable future. But this night was different. For the first time in days ... weeks ... I thought of something else. Daisy. And for the first time in days ... weeks ... I cried for something other than me. Horrible thoughts went through my head. Perhaps she had been knocked over and injured. Perhaps she was caught in barbed wire and crying in pain. Perhaps hooded youths (OK so I don’t get too many of those down my way) had caught her and were torturing her. Yes, she is only a cat but that wasn’t the point. It was the fact that she had been abandoned, left to die. That someone had fortunately found her and as a consequence I had agreed to give her a happy home.  A safe and happy home.

And there was more. It wasn’t just that my cat had gone missing. It was the fact that in those previous weeks so much had already just been unexpectantly, unexplicitedly and cruelly taken from me. And now, something that had become part of my life, something that I became fond of, that I admitted to caring for, had once again unexpectantly ... unexplicitedy ... and cruelly been snatched from me. So, for the first time in a long long time, I prayed. There in my bed, in the darkness, for the safe return of my cat. Not for me. Not for the horrific things that are going on in the world. But for a ruddy cat.

Daisy didn’t return for breakfast. Or lunch. I went upstairs and went back to bed. I felt physically well but emotionally ... down trodden. I had a nap. Woke. Got up. I didn’t get the sinking feeling. I knew it was too late. She was gone. I opened the bedroom door and walked down the stairs. Lily was sitting in Daisy’s spot. Except it didn’t look like Lily ... it looked like Daisy. Surely, my eyes are playing silly buggers. I bent down and sure it enough it was Daisy. Daisy sleeping. Not hurt, bedraggled or distressed as I had anticipated if she were ever to return. Just Dumpy Daisy dozing. No explanation.

Now as I recover from my second cycle of chemotherapy, Daisy and I are back together. I am sitting on that sofa, under that blanket, enjoying some peace and quiet. I could say that I am about to pop a DVD on – maybe Redemption Day, Sister Act, The Dark Knight, Cat in the Hat, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – but that would be corny. And I would be lying. So what am I doing? Well, I’ve finished the Cold Feet box set for the second time – and yes, I did cry again when Rachel died - and now I am moving on to my Sex and the City box set. I have just checked it out and I have over 2,500 minutes of sex, cosmopolitans and designer shoes. What more could a couple of gals want? That, and of course, Mr Big.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The very first time

Bridget is at her mother's New Year's Curried Turkey Dinner. She glimpses Mark Darcy for the first time "Perhaps this is the mysterious Mr Right I have been waiting my whole life to meet."
She sees the reindeer sweater. "Mmmm ... maybe not."

The first time is often memorable. Not necessarily the best time, or the most enjoyable, but almost eminently memorable. There are certain things, without doubt, that benefit from practice. The more you do it the more your confidence builds. You become more reassured and relaxed. The familiarity means the experience becomes easier and much better. I have something in mind ... but will come back to that later.

This summer is the first time that I have had my own vegetable plot (OK, so we know it is not really a vegetable plot but two growbags on my patio. But hey, I work in public relations and can add spin to anything ... including growbags). The strawberries were not terribly successful, the tomatoes were pretty fruitful , but unfortunately I have been left with quite a few unripened ones so it could be chutney for a number of friends and family this Christmas. But ... drumroll please ... the green peppers and the chillis have just ... well ... flourished.

When I first spoke to you about my first green pepper a few weeks ago there was something that I didn't mention. Although I loved my baby green pepper there was an aspect that troubled me about it. It was the fact ... that well ... the pepper was quite diddy and when I looked at it all I could think about was how that little pepper was in fact smaller than my horrid yucky lump. Anyway, time moves on, and now this is no longer the case and I would say that in a week or so that my special green pepper will be ready to eat. Not only that, but he also has a number of little pepper friends which is good news too. In fact, I am so fond of my pepper plant that I am proposing to bring it into the kitchen, as I think that there are more little peppers to come, and I want to protect them all from the frosts. However, there is a slight problem. When I say the pepper plant has flourished ... what I mean is that it is now at least two foot tall ... so I am not quite sure where it is going to reside. I might need to remove the dishwasher and put it in the area that it vacates ... well ... needs must.

When I was younger my father grew tomatoes and strawberries - and if I recall correctly - he was more successful at this than me. I don't know whether this was down to those long hot summers that we use to experience, or the weird sheep's poo concoction that he would liquidise (in a big metal container in the garden, rather than in the Kenwood Chef, I hasten to add) and use as fertiliser. What I am sure about is that he didn't grow chillis or green peppers.

I am not afraid to admit my age. I have already mentioned it twice in this blog. For me age is not an issue - it is just the dying young that is a problem. I was a child of the 70s and 80s. I would come home from school and have a couple of Rich Tea with a cuppa whilst watching Jackonory, Blue Peter or Grange Hill. Tea - not dinner or supper - would be served as the credits came up on The Magic Roundabout or Captain Pugwash. I grew up in an age of "traditional food" which is shorthand for meat, potatoes and two veg. My mother would cook steak and kidney pie, cottage pie and stew with dumplings. We would have a roast twice a week. Sunday roast would be proper roast like beef, lamb or chicken, Wednesday roast would be something like "Harz". I liked "Harz". It was soft, sweet meat which was served with apple sauce and stuffing. That is I liked it until I discovered that "Harz" was in fact hearts - as in pig hearts - and then it didn't seem at all appealing. In fact it was a significant contributing factor to me becoming vegetarian for over 20 years - though I think it was the oxtail soup which was the deal breaker.

In the early 1980s I knew of three popular music festivals locally. There was Elephant Fayre in Cornwall, Hood Fayre in South Devon, and another, somewhere in Somerset. I've heard rumours that one of the three is still ticking along nicely.

Many people regard Hood Fayre as the forerunner to Glastonbury. It attracted huge crowds for an alternative festival of music, dance, food, art and crafts. People, mostly hippies, from all over the country gathered for a summer event they knew would be different, whether it was building a bridge across the river to an island on the Dart or using a kiln on which they could fire their own pots.

I went to Hood Fayre a number of times but I the time I went when I had just turned fourteen is one of the most memorable. I am not sure if I was planning to go along, or if I bumped in to someone who suggested that I go, but I remember I went with absolutely nothing. Perhaps just a couple of pounds in my back pocket. It was like a much smaller and informal version of Glastonbury. Local bands rather than international rockstars, but still lots of mud ... oh and the same grotty toilets. On that particular visit it got to supper time and I was absolutely starving and went off the hunt for food. I came along a stall which was serving filled pittas - I am not sure what they were filled with - but one of the ingredients was fresh, crunchy, green peppers. I can't remember if there was anything else - there may have been - or it could have been chicken and as I was vegetarian by then perhaps I just had peppers. Whatever ... I was so so hungry ... I had never tried either before ... and the food just tasted so lovely. New, novel, different ... and yummy. The first time I had tried pitta ... and peppers ... and I have never forgotten it. In fact, it was a great day. A great evening. The first time that I ever slept outside. Under the moonlit sky. The first time I had ever fallen to sleep on a haybale ... the first time I saw shooting stars ...

The next day I went back home and my father wasn't very happy with me. That certainly wasn't a first. He wasn't angry because I was only fourteen and had disappeared for 24 hours. Nor the fact that I had crashed out all night in a field with a load of stoned hippies dancing to bongo drums. He was angry because I had returned home with 3 inches of dried mud on my boots.  These were my brand new white Adidas boots, with the three blue go-faster-stripes, which my mother had bought the day before, which I had worn for the first time ...

So going back to earlier, I said that the "first time" is often memorable. Not necessarily the best time, or the most enjoyable, but eminently memorable. There are certain things, without doubt, that benefit from practice. The more you do it the more your confidence builds. You become more reassured and relaxed. The familiarity means the experience becomes easier and better. And that I had something in mind ...

Well, I am sure you all know what I was referring to. Chemotherapy.  What do you mean you were thinking of something else?! Yep, this is "second time" week. Yesterday I had bloods for the second time, today I see my oncologist for the second time, and hopefully he will give me the OK to have my second chemo session tomorrow.  Don't get me wrong.  It might be the second time but I wouldn't go as far as saying I am looking forward to it, but if he says my bloods are not good enough and that the treatment is to be delayed for a week I will be gutted. So fingers crossed, it will go ahead as planned, and hopefully I will feel more prepared than I did last time. You know on this occasion I might even get through it without any tears ... now that would be a first.

This has also been the week that my hair has fallen out. Although I was prepared for it, it was still pretty shocking. It was like snow. Just a light dusting around the house to start with, but progessed to dropping bigger and thicker and started to lay as time went on. Then one day I woke up and it was almost magically gone.

Hair today, gone tomorrow. The only time I have said that.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Just a quickie

This is just a quickie blog - just a in-betweeny-note - my main rambling blog will be posted tomorrow.

About two months ago, whilst I was still at work, the local contact for Macmillan got in touch with me asking if I would be able to help with some publicity with two events - one to be held locally and the other a national event.  I said I was more than happy to assist.  I was also able to provide contact details of my counterparts in neighbouring organisations so that the Macmillan representative could call them and spread the promotion even further.  He was really grateful for my help and sent me a note with the publicity materials thanking me profusely.

Two months on, since that phone call, the first local event has been and gone and the next event is due to take place on Friday.  Oh and of course I have, rather ironically, been diagnosed with cancer myself. 

Last year Macmillan held their annual coffee morning - I can't say I really remember it  - as this time last year the work of Macmillan hadn't really hit my radar.  I may have made a contribution, I may not.   However, I can now tell you that 45,000 people did do an incredible job by holding coffee mornings and, together with their family, friends and colleagues, raised over £7.5 million.

This year I can tell you about Macmillan. Macmillan befriends thousands of people who are effected by cancer in one way or another.  It provides support to patients, to friends and family of those with cancer and to professionals who work with those with cancer.  Macmillan offers valuable emotional help, factual information, financial guidance.  This is provided in person, by phone and online, via information and support groups and through publications.

Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I want to continue my support of Macmillan by promoting their coffee morning, as I promised a few weeks ago. I am not suggesting you bake a cake, but maybe if you go to the shops before now and Friday you could pick up a packet of biscuits or two and get your colleagues to make a donation.  Or alternatively if someone in your office does do something to support the event that you dig in to your pockets and chuck in that loose change.

That £7.5 million raised last year is really making a differece to people like me, people who have cancer, who need all the help and support that we can get.  And let's face it, this time next year it could sadly be you, or somebody you love.

For further information on the work of Macmillan and raising money through a coffee morning click here.

Thanks - P x

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Why you? why me?

You probably don't realise this, but me and Kylie have quite a bit in common.  Yes, that Kylie.  The smiley singer-songstress and actress. The Antipodean girl-next-door turned pop princess.  Miss Minogue, who many moons ago as Neighbours' Charlene made oily boilersuits Long-Hot-Summer hot, whilst the members of Girls Aloud were still looking sweetie cute in their pink babygroes.

For example - Kylie and I were both born in 1968 - making us 41 years old.  I was born in the March and her birthday is in May.  Obviously, the years of spending so much time with Stock, Aitken and Waterman, touring the world and counting all that money has somewhat taken its toll on her looks but I think she deals with it admirably.

We are also pretty short.  Both only 5' 2" in our stockinged feet - which probably explains our shared love of a nice pair of heels.  On top of that, we spookily have five characters in our first names and seven in our second.

And ... well ... that is almost it.  She is blonde and petite ... and I am well brunette and curvy ...   For those of you who don't know me that does not mean I bear a passing resemblance to Beth Ditto, but it does mean Kylie looks good in a pair of lurid lycra gold hotpants, whilst pole-dancing, and I definitely don't.  She made Robbie Williams' champagne bottle pop ... and I, hand on heart, am pretty damn sure I wouldn't.

I have never really bonded with Kylie.  I don't dislike her - but I am not particularly fond of her (Ky if you reading this I don't want you to take this personally).  Kylie is cool - and well, a bit distant.  She is not really the sort to let her hair down at a kareoke, dancing on the table after after a couple of G&Ts.  Or accidentally serve her friends blue soup. Nor is she the kind to open her mouth and say what is on her mind before putting her brain in gear.  All of which are so typical of Bridget ... oh, and me.

Anyway, back to where I started.  There is of course one other thing that Kylie and I do have in common. We are both a "one in nine". One in nine women who have been told that we have breast cancer. And that is the thing with breast cancer. It doesn't matter where you live, what you do, what money you have, it is all totally irrelevant. The impact of the news on you and on your friends and family, your worries and your fears, the painful and lengthy treatment, the whole upheaval to your life, is exactly the same no matter who you are.  And I am pretty sure whether you are rich and famous, like Kylie, or not, like me, that during that initial horrid haze of trauma and shock everyone who is diagnosed with breast cancer says "I can't believe this is happening to me".

Kylie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 - just before her 37th birthday.  I remember I was surprised but not particularly bowled over.  As I have admitted before, I previously sympathised with such news but had no real empathy as I had no understanding or appreciation of the consequences, or what it really means. To be really truthful I probably took more notice of the surprising news coverage some years before that which revealed she was dating INXS frontman Michael Hutchence.  I think I raised an impressed eyebrow to that and said "go girl".
 
The press coverage after Kylie was diagnosed with breast cancer reported that she had a found a suspicious lump whilst she was showering.  I was very sceptical of this and thought that her PR machine had gone in to overdrive.  I suspected that the lump had really been found during medical examinations undertaken before her world tour but they said that she had found it because a) it was in line with her girl-next-door reputation and b) it would encourage other young women to check themselves.  I could understand why they went for the "shower story"- both to encourage public sympathy and to promote public awareness - but I didn't really believe it.

However, over the last few weeks, my lengthy internet investigations on breast cancer have proved me wrong ... a little bit.  Apparently Kylie had a mammogram before her worldwide tour - during medical checks as I had suspected - but these the results came back as fine.  However, according to reports, a couple of weeks later she found a suspicious lump and decided to have it checked .  As it turns out ... the fact she undeterred by the recent clearance was fortunate ... it was indeed a malignant lump.  And, despite her enormous fame and fortune, at the end of the day her shock, her fears and her treatment, were all similar to that of the 46,000 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer in this country every year. 

In a Sky One interview, Kylie said of her diagnosis: “I felt really bad for everyone around me. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, my poor parents’. It’s like a bomb’s dropped.  Not that I intended to go anywhere but from then on I was just completely thrown into another world. It’s really hard for me to express how I felt or even the chain of events. It’s such a personal journey. (Even now, the diagnosis is) still sinking in. It’s a very steep learning curve.”  She also went on to describe the chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment she had to undergo and the depression it caused.  She said: “I don’t want to go into the doom and gloom of it but it’s hard.”

Before I had my first chemo session I went to see some very very long-standing good husband and wife friends of mine.  We sat around their dining table and discussed my diagnosis and what was to happen next.  And the husband said something along the lines of "I can't get my head around this. I just keep thinking  - why you?"

Now these same friends would probably love to tell you the Pigeon Story.  Their version would possibly be more detailed and probably much funnier, but heck it is my blog so here goes.  Last year we went on holiday to La Palmyre in France.  La Palmyre is about half way down the country, on the left handside, an hour below La Rochelle and an hour above Bordeaux.  I have been there about half a dozen times, one of my favourite places.  The campsite is set in pine tree woods, next to a blue lagoon and near long long sandy beaches.  Days are spent walking, cycling, swimming and reading.  Evenings are relaxed and informal, usually sitting in the late evening sun, food cooked on the barbeque and washed down with a couple of bottles of red.

On this particular evening, as was customary, we had set up a long banquet table to accommodate all twelve of us.  We were having pork chops and vegetables - I sat down and thought how yummy it looked.  However ... just as I picked up my cutlery .... just as I was about to tuck in ... something hit me.  Literally.  A big fat pigeon had done a big fat poo on me.  And my food. And in my glass of wine.  Everyone gasped.  Held their breath.  Nobody dare laugh ... well at least until I went inside to change.  By the time I returned to the table the splattered plate and glass had been whipped away and been replaced with new.  So I sat down and decided that I wouldn't let it spoil my evening.  The meal was as I nice as anticipated and I really enjoyed it.  Which was just as well .... because ... as I put my cutlery down ... with a lovely sigh of satisfaction ... it happened again.  Another big fat pigeon poo.  Except this time it was full blown right on top of my head.  This time there was gasps - but no stifled laughs - everyone was just totally shocked and horrified. I stood up, and, predictably, I cried.  "Why me?" I wailed.  "Why me?!  There are twelve us of sat around this table and I have been hit by pigeon poo - not once but twice!!"  I went back inside - again - this time I had to shower before changing my clothes once more.  I returned to the table.  Somebody had ensured the pigeon was no longer on the branch but I changed seats anyway.  I was still pretty cheesed off and everyone was trying to cheer me up a bit.  "One day you will laugh about this".  "To be pooed on is good luck.  Twice must be really good luck".

Eighteen months on I can now laugh about it.  In the grand scheme of things incidents like that are really not that significant.  However, I am not sure who I need to ask, but I would now like to claim on my double pigeon poo luck, if that is OK. As I said before, until six or so weeks ago life was ticking along just nicely.  Great job, nice holidays, my new little non-Noddy car etc.  But I can't really think of anything that has happened which I would describe as "lucky".  I certainly haven't won the lottery ... and am not aware of any near misses with a double-decker bus.  So if I could call on that pigeon poo luck at this time, just to get me through these next few months, lick this breast cancer thing, just as Kylie has, and let me go back to my ticking-along-nicely life, that would be just grand.

Anyway, I gotta dash as I have a diary commitment. You see that's the other thing about Kylie which I haven't yet touched on - she can sing - and I certainly can't.  But that is precisely why they have asked me to return once again and be the singing voiceover for the latest Bridget Jones film.  Today we are doing Bridget's hen night.  She is at an 80's kareoke - dancing on the table after a couple of G&Ts - and singing her heart out.

"I should be so lluucckkeeee ... llucckkeeee ... lluucckkeeee ... lluucckkeeeeeeee ..."

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

War and peace

I haven't written for a while.  Two reasons.  Firstly, my inaugural cocktail party on Thursday which, as I expected, did leave me a bit worse for wear.  Secondly, looking back at my blog I just realised how much I talk.  Yes, yes, I know you are not surprised, and I'm not really, but at this rate this tome will be comparable to War and Peace.  Not that I have read W&P .... and hasten to add that even though I have a bit of time on my hands at the moment I am not planning to.  In fact, this is a moment in my life when I can openly admit to enjoying girlie fashion mags and chick lits without reproach.

Over the last couple of weeks I have had some lovely notes, calls, e-mails and comments and I have been extremely grateful for every one of them.  Some have been funny, some have been thoughtful and kind, some have been gossipy ... and some ... well ... have just told me what is on the lunch menu ... but they have all been very much appreciated.   If I haven't got back to you yet then please bear with me ...

Amongst the many messages lots of people have made comment on how strong and brave they think I am. I have spent a little time dwelling on this, as these remarks have bothered me somewhat, and I have decided to come clean and admit that I am certainly neither strong nor brave.  In a Carrie-Bradshaw-type-manner I have checked the dictionary meaning of 'brave' and the definition appears as: possessing or displaying courage; able to face and deal with danger or fear without flinching.  That implies that if I had a choice to go to war with this breast cancer thing then I would willingly do so.  But the honest to God truth is that I wouldn't.  If I could do a U-ie, right here and now, then I'd have my foot to the floor. But one of the most frustrating and depressing things about all this is I can't.  For possibly the very first time in my life there are no alternatives other than to put my head down and soldier on.

There have been lots of tears you know.  Shock-tears, sad-tears, depressed-tears, scared-tears, why-ruddy-me tears, will-I-make-it tears ... It doesn't help that I am an "emotional little soul" who cries at the best of times, and somewhat surprisngly, this is a trait (I refuse to call it a problem) that I think has heightened as I have got older. I didn't cry when Kylie and Jason got married, when England lost the World Cup (as if) nor when Princess Di died.  Though I did, for example, when Rachel was tragically killed  ...

It was Saturday afernoon a few months ago.  Weekly chores done and the house was unusually quiet for an hour or two.  I decided to grab a blanket and get comfy on the sofa with a nice cup of tea and a Finger of Fudge (who are they kidding ... whose diddy finger exactly?) and watch Cold Feet.  It was a programme that I would avidly watch on a Sunday night - until they moved it to a later slot and I kept falling asleep.  (In case you missed it, it was a kind-of English version of Friends.)  So I settled down and decided to catch up with my DVD box set.  Everyone knows that Adam's wife, the nice one, Rachel, died in a car accident.  I was primed for that bit.  However, when that truck hit her car ... and she was taken to hospital ... and when the gang all gathered round ... and then she passed away ... What I wasn't quite so prepared for was me crying unashamedly, well you could say hysterically sobbing, under the blanket as if one of my best friends had died.  Well, as I said, she was the nice one.

Thursday was chemo day.  There were lots of tears on that day too.  Tears all the way to the hospital. Tears in the waiting room.  The staff were so lovely.  They even made me a nice cup of strong tea, proper Typhoo, in a china cup.  I looked such a sorry state.

Calming down a little after the cuppa and before going in for my treatment I looked around the waiting area to see how everyone else was fairing. And ... I hate to admit that everyone else... young and old ... appeared to be reasonably calm and assured.  There was an old chap, in his 70s or 80s, sitting in a wheelchair and attached to a drip.  He was reading a Tory tabloid which had a double-page spread on the 70th anniversary of the commencement of the Second World War.  There were grainy pictures of troops and land girls, possibly some of whom were amongst the 50 million people who died during the years of that conflict.  There were also pictures of Hitler, and of Churchill, standing defiantly with his two finger salute.

I wondered how old the man the was and whether he had been alive during the war. I guessed that if he had then he might have been a similar age to the little boy who was being bounced vigorously on the knee of his father, who was sitting to the right of me.  The boy was about two and his parents were putting on an impressive entertainment show to keep amused and stop him running around.  His father was singing nursery rhymes with exaggerated enthusiasm and gusto to keep his attention.  "The Grand Old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men, he marched them to the top of the hill and he marched them down again ...."

I was starting to flag again and then my mobile beeped to say I had received a message. Earlier I had sent a text to a friend to say I was on the way over to the hospital and this was possibly the worst day of my life.  He had sent a text back.  His response said: "We may not be there in person, but in spirit all of your friends are gathered around you now. Grit your teeth and imagine these drugs as soldiers going into battle for you." Of course I started to blab again .....

Now, nearly a week later, I don't feel too bad.  I've have suffered some of things that you generally associate with chemotherapy, such as nausea and extreme tiredness and lethargy.  I have also endured a few side effects that you probably aren't aware of, and I won't bore you with all of those.  However, I will tell you that over the last few days I have had to face the stark reality that this is very much the beginning of what is a very long and grueling journey.  And, if you sit and think about this no-choice process, which involves a medley of strong medications being pumped into your body indescriminantly killing good and bad, for too long then it can really freak you out. So what does a girl who really isn't that strong and brave to do?

Well it is simple.  When I get a bit low and start to worry about those soldiers inside and their friendly-fire, I grab that blanket and snuggle up on the sofa with a box of tissues and a chick lit bonkbuster.  I pop on a film - no - not some famous epic which involves wars, battles and combat - but a sugary sweet one with a soppy banoffee pie ending. And of course, to top it off, I grab a lovely strong cup of tea in one hand and a Finger of Fudge in the other.

Actually, these days I go with Churchill on that ... and make it two fingers.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

I've got a toot on ...

This is going to be my last post in a while as today I am off to a little cocktail party  - and I SO know what I am like with cocktails.  Sex on the beach ... Pina colada ... Rum swizzle ... love them all but more than one and I am off colour for a few days. So, before I lie low for a bit, I am going to take this opportunity to get on my soap box.

I've got a toot on ... and you what I am like when I have toot on. I get so annoyed.  So het up that I might write a letter of complaint.  Oh God, did I really say that.  Am I going to turn in to one of those people with so much time on their hands, that I start incorporating writing letters of complaint as part of my daily life ...  Perhaps if I share my gripe with you then it will stop me from going down that blinkered and mindless route.

Apparently some just-published research strongly indicates that 4 out of 10 breast cancer cases could be prevented if women adopted a "healthier lifestyle".  And of course the media has gone wild - cos they just love anything which they can dramatise.  Especially if it effects so many people and if they can quote numbers and percentages.  When I first heard it on the news I cringed.  Oh great, so not only do I have to deal with breast cancer but I am now being made to feel guilty because I brought it on myself.  And then I thought sod it, I am just not going to beat myself up over this.  So 4 out of 10 cases might be triggered by lifestyle choices but that still means that more than 50% are not.   Yep, I used to smoke, but I gave up some years ago.  Yep, I eat moderate amounts of red meat, but I have spent more than half my life as a vegetarian.  I like a glass of wine or two - but not every day and I very rarely drink spirits, not even cocktails.  I am no gym bunny - but I live in possibly one of the most beautiful and idylic places in England - and I enjoy exploring it through walking and cycling. At the end of the day, we all know that a "healthier lifestyle" is probably better for us - it doesn't just prevent breast cancer, but any cancer, as well as heart disease, diabetes and strokes. And, on the other hand, there are people out there who are in their 80s, 90s, or even a 100 years or more, who swear they have lived that long because of a 30-a-day habit washed down with half a bottle of whisky. So I just decided to let it go... until This Morning came on. 

I hate daytime TV - but I was going through my e-mails and it was on in the background.  And on came This Morning. I wasn't really watching until they mentioned that "40% of breast cancer cases could be prevented" and I my ears pricked up. Eamonn and Ruth were there with Dr Chris and somebody had called in to say that they had been experiencing some tingling in their breast for a couple of months and asked if could it be breast cancer.  Dr Chris responded in a rather unsensitive and matter-of-fact way: "Yes, it could possibly be breast cancer as tingling is sometimes a symptom."  He then went on to say that there a number of symptoms which could be attributed to breast cancer, not necessary a distinct lump, but perhaps a burning sensation or/and changes with the nipple.  And then it cut ... to Eamonn ... who then went on to ask about prickly heat.  PRICKLY HEAT! I couldn't believe it.

I wanted someone to say that if there are ANY changes to your breast, and if you have ANY concerns, then you MUST see your GP.  Yes, it can be scary and if it makes you feel better then take a friend along with you.  But whatever you do you MUST get it checked.  This woman had been experiencing this problem for two months! Although you might fear the worst you must remember that cancer will never go away, it will only progress. 

I was bitterly disappointed and annoyed that This Morning didn't take the opportunity to urge what maybe 2 million watchers, probably mostly women, that if they have any concerns, worries or niggles then they need to act straightaway.

I didn't feel a lump.  I woke up one day and had a funny feeling in my breast.  A bit like when you are first pregnant ... but I knew that definitely wasn't the case  Although I responded quite quickly, and thankfully my GP immediately referred me for tests, my tumour is still pretty significant.  I look back and think "how in the hell can I have missed it?"   But at least I can say that I soon I knew something wasn't right that I reacted as quickly as I could.

You see it is alright for researchers releasing statistics to say that if we do this and do that then it lessens our chances of getting breast cancer.  But in reality there are very few women who were ticking along nicely, as I was even only a few weeks ago, that are going to read that media coverage and suddenly pledge that they will eat less processed foods, cut their alcohol units and take out a gym membership.  Because don't we don't ever really think it is going to happen to us. So what is vital is that those who have the power and the influence to warn women about the different symptoms of breast cancer, including the media, take every opportunity to encourage women to overcome their fears so that they take the necessary steps to get it checked out. 

Anyway, got to go now. I've got a cocktail bash to go to. Sadly no LBD required.