Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Time out

I have decided to hang up my keyboard and mouse.  Oh, not for long.  Only for half term.  Half term? Yes, just as the children have returned to school following their seven-week-long summer holidays ... and just as you have got yourself into a routine and just as they have settled in once more ... they are off again.

I have this idealistic image of spending the week doing fun and wholesome things.  Kicking up leaves with our jazzy designer wellies as we run through autumnal woods dressed in warm and colourful outfits.  Putting shiny and glossy chestnuts in the pockets of our matching wollen duffle coats, which we will take home and roast in front of the roaring fire and consume with frothy Belgian hot chocolate (think Boden catalogue).

In reality?  Oh reality will be me acting as an underpaid and much abused and over used taxi driver.  Pinging madly between different diary dates and social events.  Such as football club ... golf lessons ... roller blading ... days out to adventure parks ... and time at friends' houses (think pinball machine rather than Boden).  I'll be saying things that I swore I would never say.  Comments that my mother used to wearily repeat and which made her sound 'old and boring'.  You know the ones.  "You are not getting in my car wearing those flippin' muddy boots", "If you two don't stop then I am going to bang your heads together" and "What do you mean you have lost your coat*/ball*/brother*?" (*delete as appropriate).

So, in my temporary absence I am going to leave you with a little ditty.  If you don't personally know me then it probably won't mean much to you, but will give you a better idea about my loveable quirks and habits.  If you do know me then you are likely get the drift a bit more.  And ... if you actually work with me ... then you will totally appreciate it.  The ditty was written by a colleague of mine shortly after he heard about my diagnosis.  I am going to call him Mr Campbell.  Out of 'politeness and respect' I am going to tell you that Mr Campbell is in fact my manager (he in turn will chuckle and call that 'politeness and respect' a first) though I prefer to call him my friend.  I think I may have mentioned, just once or twice, how much I am missing my job and all the lovely people that I work with, and that I can't wait to get through this 'time out' and get back to where I belong. I hope that this will prompt them to remember me fondly!

An Ode to P

It's quiet here, my ears aren't ringing
Without the sound that you call singing

And there's no waft of last night's dinner
Your microwaved gourmet (but only grimmer)

No shoes with garish bows or flowers
No gossip updates every hour

No fist to clench, no face to fall
Upon the seventh Drummond call

It's still Bay House but with less soul
And where you were there is a hole

It won't be filled 'til you appear
So get well soon and get back here

(And when you do, although it's rare
I'll make the tea, I will, I swear!)

Anyway, time to go ... no rest for the wicked ... ;~)


Thursday, 22 October 2009

You're as young as the woman you feel

I have a confession to make. What another one, how many do you have? Well ... probably quite few ... but this one is about numbers. Now ... before your vivid imagination gets too excited ... I am talking about numeracy, mathematics, figures ...   It is a kinda phobia that I have I had most of my life.  I don't think that I am that st-ooo-pid. I believe that it stems back to something that happened in my dark and deepest childhood, which has had long and lasting impact on how my brain refuses to compute or calculate anything in relation to currency exchange, cms, yards, metres and miles. Thankfully, the exceptions to this numeracy phobia are sale discounts (must be at least 50%), shoes (usually a size 5), pizza size (I demand a minimum of 12 inches).

Now, I am putting the blame on my number phobia fair and squarely on the shoulders of Miss Jeffrey. Miss Jeffrey was my first year teacher at primary school.  I was seven.  She was in her early twenties.  She was dark and attractive.  I saw her as chic and glamorous - with her 'silky' shirts and heavy sweeping fringe.  Remember, this was the mid-seventies when the Nolans were In the Mood for Dancing - the first time round.  She used to sit at the head of the classroom, with her elbows balanced on her huge desk, resting her delicate little chin on her interweaved cradle of fingers. Miss Jeffrey didn't particularly like me, she preferred my friend Natalie.  Natalie lived in a posh house, her parents were divorced and she took ballet lessons three or four times a week.

One day, shortly after I had started in Miss Jeffrey's class, she held a times table test.  I remember, oh so clearly, the classroom with its worn wooden floorboards and large arched windows, my old fashioned lid-lifting desk, and my little blue exercise book. The test started off OK and I was answering the questions just fine ... but then Miss Jeffrey started asking the questions too quickly ... and I couldn't keep up.  I knew the answers but I got flustered and panicked.  As a result I only managed to answer four or five of the twenty questions in the test.  We were asked to hand our books in and Miss Jeffrey made a flippant comment about my low responses.  I was mortified. Humiliated in front of the whole class.  So what did I do?  Oh that is easy to answer ... the lower lip wobbled, and a big fat tear slowly brewed and balanced on the edge of my long dark lashes until it finally toppled down my soft, smooth and rosy cheek.  Yep ... even at that tender age ... my automatic response was to cry.

Of course I look back now and smile. The knowledgeable and worldly wise Miss Jeffrey was of course nothing of the sort.  She was a young and naive teacher, who has just left teacher training college.  She had no experience.  It was easy for her to favour Natalie who was confident and self-assured. Somebody who was older, with more wisdom, would have been a position to help the little girl who got nervous and flustered, who needed a bit of nurturing to boost her confidence.  But hey ... you'd have to be pretty special to have those kinds of skills, or that level of knowledge or drive, when you are only twenty-something wouldn't you?

On Saturday I woke and just lay in bed looking up at the ceiling.  It could see from the tiny ray of sunshine creeping under the blind that it was going to be a bright autumnal day. An opportunity to go for a long relaxing walk across the moor, a picnic on an empty windswept beach, or a cycle ride along a leaf strewn wooded trek.  But not for me ... two days after chemo and I need to "take things easy" and just potter around giving my body time to rest.

As I lay there in my bed I thought back to the Saturday morning when I realised that there was something wrong. The day when I woke and was just lying there - just as I was there and then - and wondered what the unusual prickly, tingling sensation which had just appeared in my right breast. The feeling which was similar to the one you get when you are first pregnant.  How many weeks ago was that?  I wasn't sure. So I placed both hands on my honed, toned, sun-kissed stomach (OK so that wasn't the reality - but I did promise in my previous blog that I wouldn't do scary or gory) and counted the weeks on my fingers.  Thirteen.  Thirteen weeks.  Number thirteen, unlucky for some.  Surely, it couldn't be any more unlucky for me?  Ironic too.  If I had been trying for a baby, and if I had been pregnant, then I would now be past those "tricky first few months" and now would be the time I could shout my good tidings across the rooftops.  Everyone would be congratulating me on my wonderful news.  But that wasn't and isn't the case.  I don't have a bump ... I have a lump.  My very own Yukky Lump.

One of the things that got me when I was diagnosed was that I was only 41 years old.  I knew of women who had been diagnosed with cancer - but I didn't personally know anyone that well - and the majority of women that I knew of were older than me.  Another thing about my diagnosis and my lump was that it wasn't some cute little pea-sized lump that people often talk or read about - but a significant lump.  An aggressive ... significant lump to boot.

Doctors divide breast cancer into three number stages. The stages take into account the size of the lump (tumour) and whether the lymph nodes around the breast or in the arm are affected. Identifying the stage is important because it helps the doctors to decide on the best treatment.  Stage 1 breast cancer is the easiest to treat as it means the tumour is no more than 2 centimetres cm and the cancer has not spread anywhere else. Stage 3 breast cancer is not as easy to treat as the tumour is larger and/or the lymph nodes around the breast contain cancer cells.

The outlook for breast cancer depends on how early it is diagnosed - its stage. But it also depends on something called the 'grade'. The grade means the appearance of the cancer cells under a microscope. When the breast cancer is biopsied or removed, the tissue is sent to the lab where a pathologist looks at the cells and decides what grade they are. The more like normal breast cells they look, the lower the grade. And the more abnormal they look, the higher the grade.  For breast cancer, there are 3 grades, called grade 1 (low grade), grade 2 (intermediate grade) and grade 3 (high grade). High grade cancers can be faster growing and more likely to spread.

Now, if I tell you that I have a stage 3, grade 3, 4cm tumour at the age of 41 - then you can understand why there are times when I feel pretty hard done by.  Why I don't say "why me?" just once, but lots and lots of times.  Let's face it, for a girl who doesn't do numbers I pretty much get these.  Now ... for those of you who know me and love me ... yes, it is possible to do both, honestly ... they probably sound a bit scary.  So I really should point out that my Oncologist - Dr Oh-so-luv-ver-ley - do you remember him? of course you do - is very upbeat and talks about my recovery.  Which is good ... and what I try to bear in mind when I am feeling a bit low and grotty ... and, quite frankly, sorry for myself.

However ... it is actually Kris that slaps me across the face and tells me to pull my socks up.  To adopt a strong, positive mental attitude and get on with it.  Who on earth is Kris? Well, you may have come across Kris, as she has been getting herself out and about recently.  In fact she has been earning a real name for herself.  Let me explain ...

Kristin Hallenga is a bright, intelligent, attractive, witty young girl.  She is just 23 years old.  Now even I don't have to use my fingers to work out that Kris is indeed young enough to be my daughter. Last summer Kris was experiencing a "lumpy and painful" breast so she went to her GP to raise her concerns.  Her doctor dismissed it as "hormonal", even though Kris' grandmother had been diagnosed as having breast cancer at 30.  Given all the "all clear" Kris flew off on a "footloose and fancy-free trip to China".  By the time she flew back last Christmas she knew something was very wrong and returned to her GP and to again raise her concerns and explain her breast was "very tender".  However, she was told by her doctor that she was "fine" and that again the problem was "hormonal".  Fortunately ... so to speak ... her mother decided to take her back down to the surgery and demand a referral to a specialist and the doctor reluctantly agreed.

In February of this year Kris was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Stage 4 isn't actually breast cancer. It means breast cancer and more.  That the cancer has spread. That it has metastasised to other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver or bones.  Kris was told that not only did she have a 9cm x 6cm tumour in her breast ... but another one sitting snugly on her spine as well.  Kris who ate well and exercised regularly. Kris who had never touched a cigarette in her life and says "I drank very occasionally ... but didn't ever give my liver a good beating." In March Kris started her radiation therapy - followed by 8 sessions of chemo which kicked off in April.

After only a couple of sessions of chemo Kris declared "once and for all to grab this bitch by the horns, slap it round the head with a block of tofu and devote my life to healing, understanding and change."  And, as a consequence, in June of this year only four months after she had received her horrific diagnosis, Kris launched Coppafeel.   A campaign to get people to understand that cancer not "only" affects older people but that younger people are diagnosed too. It aims to reminds those who are younger than the usual targeted aged group - ie under 50 - that they can still can get breast cancer and the earlier it is diagnosed the easier it is to treat.  It explains that breast aware means you are totally understand what your boobs look and feel like, and that you check them regularly so that you recognise any changes. 

Remember, you aren't necessarily looking for a little pea-sized lump.  Changes can include puckering, hardening, inflammation or discharge from the nipple. It can also mean swelling or soreness around your armpit.  And, if you do notice any changes, then make sure you do something about it ... if it doesn't feel right then go to your GP and insist on further checks.  Sadly, Kris is not the only person that I have 'met' who was turned away by their doctor because they were "too young" to have breast cancer and as a consequence have been diagnosed at a later 'stage'.

Although I don't generally do numbers there are some that I have learnt over the last 13 weeks.
  • One in 9 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer
  • 46,000 women a year are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK
  • Of those, 8,000 women are aged under 50 years old
  • Of those, 20 women will be aged under the age of 25 - OK so 20 under the age of 25 doesn't sound like many - but then do you want your daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece to go through this?
  • 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer today will be alive in five years time
Earlier this month, Kickin Kancer Kris got the well earned recognition that she has so rightly deserves when she received the national Pride of Britain Award. Kris, who at the tender age of 23, is travelling her own gruelling journey, but is benevolently using her story and experience to forewarn other young women about the importance of catching breast cancer early. This widely broadcast TV programme not only told the story of a remarkably strong and courageous person, but gave CoppaFeel the unbelievably widespread publicity - that quite frankly even money would find hard to buy - hopefully taking the campaign and its messages from further strength to strength.

Kris has now completed her chemo and in the next week or two will be having her mastectomy. I am sure you will join me in sending her positive thoughts and best wishes. Although Kris is going through an incredibly tough time, which she could feel extremely bitter and resentful about, she remains outstandingly strong and determined.  She said recently "If you believe the statistics it ain't looking good for me. So it's a good job I'm not going to be another stat. I know I'll get through this and along the way raise awareness."

Here in the UK, statistics show that the number of women surviving breast cancer is the highest in forty years.  Let's keep it that way.  Being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a death sentence but early diagnosis is the key to rapid recovery. Don't forget to let your fingers do the walking ... and CoppaFeel

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Baps, buns and cupcakes

Today I thought I would talk a little bit about me.

"But you always talk about you."

Well ... yes ...   But ... ummm ... errr ....    Oh yes, but in fairness Bridget always talks about herself in her diary ...

"Yeah, but then again Bridget talks about her friends, her social life, her job ... oh and the handsome Daniel Cleaver and the gorgeous Mr Darcy ..."

Ok - so I guess it is time to introduce you to the two new, and important, men in my life ...

Today I thought I would talk a bit about me.  No, not the mad ramblings in my brain, but a bit about me and what is actually happening to get me on to the road to recovery and hopefully back to normality.  First of all we will need to rewind.  Not for too long and too much as I don't like reflecting on the first few weeks when I was diagnosed as they were really really grotty.  However, I do think it is time to look at the nitty gritty - or should that be the titty gritty? 

Right, before you switch off and do-something-far-more-interesting-instead then please don't.  I am not going get too detailed here - there isn't going be anything scary or gruesome.  Just imagine that you and I have just parked our butts on one of those lovely leather sofas in Starbucks and just getting comfy.  We've both got lattes ... and cake.  Yours is chocolate, as you prefer that, and I've got carrot cake with that lovely frosted topping. So let me begin.

Back to August - my GP has referred me to the hospital.  I turned up at the Breast Care Unit (BCU) to see the Breast Care Consultant.  I am going to call him Dr Jordan - cos he's the boob man - get it? Look, try to keep up - I am trying to make this as simple as I can!  Dr Jordan said: "Looking at your history and age I don't think that this is a cancerous tumour, but a cyst.  I am going to send you for a mammogram and an ultrasound to make sure." 

Mammograms are usually routinely offered to women over 50 (though the Government has just this week reduced this to 47) as mammograms are not as efficient at diagnosing problems in younger women.  This is because younger breasts are denser.  But this does not mean that mammograms are a waste of time.  They are offered to older women for a reason and it is something they should take up.  It also means that younger women, i.e. pre-menopausal women, who are given a mammogram should not take the results as absolute and continue to do manual checks too (think back to Kylie) or have other tests, such as an ultrasound.

And ... whilst we are on mammograms ... I would just like to clarify they do not always hurt.  Apparently lots of women who are entitled and who are invited to have a mammogram refuse to have one because they have heard rumours that mammograms are painful.  Well, at that point in time Yukky Lump was really tender and the thought of a mammogram was equivalent to some kind of Japanese torture.  But for me it was OK.  I can't even say it was uncomfortable - let alone painful.  Please ... if you, your mother, grandmother, or aunt, puts off a mammogram due to fear of it hurting then please go, or encourage them to go ... the bark is worse than the bite.

After my mammogram I went to see the doctor in ultrasound - he has a small walk-on part at the moment so I am just going to call him Dr Ultrasound.  The ultrasound is like what they do when you are expecting a baby.  Except they are hunting the lump not checking the bump. Dr Ultrasound didn't tell me very much - perhaps because he didn't say very much - but I knew something was very very wrong.  I went back to see Dr Jordan and, although he couldn't confirm there and then that it was definitely bad news, he said that it wasn't looking good and from the tests he could certainly tell me it wasn't a cyst.  He told me to come back in seven days - actually I asked if he could make it six days as I was supposed to go on holiday a week later.  I returned to the BCU for that scheduled appointment and that was when Dr Jordan told me something that he and I had known all along ... that it was indeed breast cancer. And I didn't get to go on holiday.

Dr Jordan described to me how big the tumour was, its location, the grade, and then went straight into his spiel.  He told me that I would need to have a mastectomy - where they remove the whole breast - and then have chemotherapy - probably followed by radiotherapy.  I felt totally numb all the way through his briefing.  Until  ... until he said: "But there may be another option as the good news is you are big busted." 

It was as if Paul McKenna had clicked his fingers as I suddenly jumped out of my breast-cancer-news induced shock.  I suddenly sat up bolt upright in my chair, crossed my legs, and started to nod my upper foot up and down just very slightly.  I discreetly hid the crumpled and snotty tissue in my hand under my thigh.  I tipped my head and flirtatiously gazed at him with large doe-like eyes through my wispy fringe - think Princess Di - and in a raspy seductive tone, lifting my eyebrow slightly (think Samantha from S&tC) - said: "Well Dr, that certainly isn't the first time a guy has said that to me."

OK so I didn't.  But honest to God I thought it.  To the man who five minutes earlier had delivered the most horrific and devastating news that I have yet to be told in my whole life.  Can you believe it?  But then something else happened which has never happened before either.  For the first time, possibly ever, my brain got to my mouth before it had chance to open and shouted a very loud and resounding "No!"  And, just as amazingly, my mouth obeyed.  All that came out was a quiet and subdued: "Oh right".  He went on to say: "But I am a Breast Consultant, I do breasts.  You will need to see the Oncologist, he does cancer."  Hey, I guess you can tell who pulled the short straw out of you two.  But I didn't say that either...

And then we were whizzed off on the next bit of the "Welcome to Breast Cancer Induction".  The Breast Care Nurse (BCN) ushered us out of that consulting room, down the corridor, to another consulting room.  Now for those of you in the 21st Century I want you to imagine that this takes place at about 6x, maybe 12x, on your Sky Plus. 

For those of you who still in the 20th Century it is the fast forward button on your video.  "Right", she starts, "there are three important things I need to tell you.  Firstly, we never lie.  We tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Secondly, I advise that you don't look back.  You don't look forward.  But you treat each day as it comes. Concentrate on the moment.  Thirdly, .....".  Thirdly .....

Honestly, I can't remember.  But there was definitely a third.  Perhaps it was "I want to you to listen and remember everything I say."   She went on to talk about practical things.  "Your hair will fall out.  It will grow back.  It will grow back thicker, stronger and possibly curly."  Well, every cloud ...  She then went on to book an appointment for the mastectomy surgery.  As well as a pre-surgery appointment. And a post-surgery appointment.  "Of course we will cancel all these and arrange the chemo dates if you have the chemotherapy first", she said breezily.  BCN then went on to ask: "Would you like to see some photos?  Photos of women who have had surgery? Dr Jordan does great breasts you know and absolutely sooo-per nipples". 

And I did it again.  Perhaps it was the shock.  Or perhaps I have a very deep and hidden sense of black humour which had just come to the fore.  I suddenly had this image of Dr J standing in his large beautiful country cottage kitchen - handcrafted oak with granite worktops - in his green operating scrubs - but with a chef's hat balancing on his head.  In his hand is not a surgical knife but an icing bag ... and he carefully squeezing fondant pick icing to form nipple shapes on to little buns. "Hey, Dr J you could top up that consultant's salary with a bit of pin money you know? Handmade specialty cakes - apparently there is quite a demand for them." The BCN asked me again: "Do you want to look at some photos?" I declined - I preferred my own images sourced by that vivid imagination of mine.

About fifteen years ago a colleague of mine who had worked in hospitals for many years told me a joke. "What is the difference between God and a Consultant? God never thinks he is a Consultant." It is the only joke that I remember.  Which is a shame, because as we see fewer and fewer James Robinson-Justice/Sir Lancelot Spratt type consultants it is not very funny these days.  And it certainly isn't when I am talking about my Oncologist - Dr O.  Now you are thinking that I have called him Dr O because he is an Oncologist.  But that is not the case.  He is called Dr O because every time I talk about him I say: "Dr O, my Oncologist, oh-he-so-so-luv-ver-ley".  Not just once, lots and lots of times.  But the funny thing is that when I am asked at the hospital who my Oncologist is every female enquirer responds with: "Oh, Dr O, he is sooo luv-ver-ley".

From my appointment with Dr Jordan until I saw Dr O was 197 hours. That week and one day was really painful.  I didn't sleep very much, and, when I did, I would often wake and cry, hysterically, driving myself to panic attacks.  When I was awake I got terrible dizzy spells due to the lack of sleep and the incredible stress.  I put the dizzy spells down to the brain tumour which they were bound to find on the MRI scan which I was sure they were going to make me have done (vivid imagination me). My appointment with Dr O was at 7.45pm.  The very last appointment of the day.  By the time I went in it was 8.45pm.  I thought it was very ungentlemanly for Dr O to keep me waiting over an hour for our first rendezvous.  In fact, to be truthful that last hour finished me off and by the time I went in to the consulting room I was bordering on hysteria.  No, actually by the time I went in I WAS hysterical.  The poor chap was sitting there thinking that he was coming to the end of a long and tiring day ... and then I walked in.  But Dr O, because he is oh-so-so-luv-ver-ley, was a total trooper.  He put any thought of a Chinese takeaway and a glass of wine - or do you think that he might be more of a fresh-tuna-salad-and-a-glass-of-pomegranate-juice type of chap - and turned his attention 100% to me and how we were going to get rid of Yukky Lump.

"Now as you are rather big busted" he started. No. I didn't think it.  I was far too distraught.  My wicked and mischievous sense of humour had evaporated. "So you might like to consider having chemotherapy first to try and reduce the lump.  That way we might be able to do a lumpectomy, which means surgery would be less severe than having a mastectomy."  I said to him: "Dr, I am in your hands".  Which actually at that particular point in time was in fact true in more ways than one - I guess he didn't pull that short straw after all ... 

"Well", he replied, "I think we should try the chemo first". So we are. And, just to let you know that on neither of the two occasions that we have met has Dr O suggested the MRI scan ... well not yet anyway ... I think he has already realised what an emotional and sensitive little soul I am.

Before I wrap up I want to thank all my lovely friends who have I seen over the last week or so, leading up to today's chemo number 3.  Your time and company was both loved and much appreciated.  In particular, I want to mention my friend who I am going to call Little Miss Sweaty Jockstrap.  Now only the handful of friends who came to the super little soiree that she arranged and held earlier this week will know what that means - but it is my little revenge to the fact she has shared some photos of me with a few of our colleagues.  Me, who hates having my photo taken at the best of times, sitting in her living room, wearing my new and practical, albeit not very sexy, Baker Boy hat. 

Now, the super Little Miss SJ has not stopped at the soiree but has also been planning a number of events to raise awareness and cash for breast cancer care.  Earlier this month she kicked them off by baking some cakes to sell to our colleagues for a donation to charity.  On asking her how it went she said well, but had to confess that she was rather heavy handed and they had turned out much bigger than she planned. 

Now, just after I was diagnosed I e-mailed some of my colleagues to say that although I was out of sight I certainly didn't want to be out of mind and they needed to keep in contact with me.  So I want to take this opportunity to say a special thanks to Little Miss SJ because ... well let's face it ... whilst she is handing out large, pink, D-cup cupcakes around our place of work then there ain't no chance of anyone forgetting me.

That's because I am apparently "rather big busted".  Well, so I have been told ... more than once in my life.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Gone to the cogs

I have this chick-flick DVD box set. Now, before I continue, I just want to clarify something. I know that I have already mentioned two DVD box sets and I don’t want you to think that I live in a house with walls covered in shelves filled with DVDs, because honestly, I don’t. I have only three DVD box sets. Two were gifts and one was a present to myself – I work on the basis that if you are disappointed and don’t get the gift you were hoping for that the best thing is to just go out and buy it yourself. Until seven weeks ago I watched very very little TV, not even DVDs. For example, I have been sitting on the Sex and the City box set for two years and I only opened it last week. Today I fiinished Season One – Carrie and Big have just split for the first time, if you really want to know.

Anyway, this chick flick DVD box set consists of Bridget Jones, Love Actually and Notting Hill. I love the first two – absolute classics – well if you like that kind of thing – but I am not sure about the latter. For those of you who haven’t seen Notting Hill then in summary it is: guy who owns bookshop accidentally throws orange juice over famous Hollywood star, as you do. He really likes her, she kind of likes him, but they have a misunderstanding and she storms off in a huff without listening to him – that's the realistic Mars vs Venus bit.  A year goes by and they meet up again, it turns out she really likes him after all and they patch things up and live happily ever after. Well sort of. I think the reason I am not so keen on Notting Hill is that Anna, the film star, played by Julia Roberts, is very cool and aloof. In the other two, Bridget is ... well just Bridget ... kind of average, a bit curvy, with a habit of opening her mouth at least 20 seconds before her brain goes into gear. In Love Actually there is Natalie, the one which falls for the Prime Minster, again played by Hugh Grant. Natalie is the “chubby” one, with the “thighs the size of big tree trunks” who also has a problem with her brain/mouth choreography and, on top of that, swears like a trooper. Say no more ...

Anyway, although I am not that keen on Notting Hill there is a scene which I have always thought was really innovative and clever. Often, when films want to demonstrate time has passed they show pages of a calendar been torn away or flipped through rapidly. Instead of this, in Notting Hill Richard Curtis had William Thacker, played by Hugh Grant, walking through the markets of Portobello Road amidst the rotating seasons of a year. The weather changes accordingly, Thacker’s clothes metamorphose as he strides along, and the goods being sold on the stalls interchange. The whole piece only lasts a moment or two but must have taken absolutely ages to film. It is very clever.

When it was confirmed that Yukky Lump was indeed breast cancer, I just kept thinking about this particular scene. I just wanted to go to London and walk through Notting Hill and have that same time-travelling experience. Stroll from one end of the market to the other and be magically transported twelve months into the future. Avoid this long journey of mine – bypass Christmas and the New Year, and the chemotherapy - omit Valentine’s Day, and my surgery - skip my birthday, and radiotherapy ... and the rest.

A couple of weeks ago, just before my second chemotherapy session, a dear friend of mine offered to take me out for the day. We went down to the coast - down to Bantham to be precise. It is one of my favourite places. Not so much during the summer, when it is full of grockles, but, as it was on that day. When it is unhabitated ... barren ... deserted ... Just enjoying the wind blowing on my face and through my hair. Well, at least I did when I had hair ... before my head was uninhabitated, barren and deserted.

Prior to our walk we went for a light lunch at the pub down there. We had pan-fried halloumi on a bed of dressed rocket leaves. With a sneaky bowl of chips. I must admit that when the waiter put the plate in front of me it crossed my mind whether this was a "middle-class" version of cheesy chips. It was nice. But I do confess to liking "working class" cheesy chips - a bit of grated cheddar - with a lovely dollop of Hellman’s on the side... mmm ...  Anyway, I digress ... ruddy steroids ...

It was a simple lunch, just washed down with orange juice, but we still managed to sit there for an hour and a half. Because we talked, as we always do. Not just about the "usual" stuff. Not just about cancer, and the chemotheraphy, and the fact that it was making my hair fall out ... as it was there and then ... but about other things too. About the stuff that other people don't automatically think about or consider when someone says cancer. The fact that your ticking-along-life is swept right from under your feet - by a tidal wave.

Today, here and now, as I type this blog, there are things which would have a bigger impact and possible consequences on my life and mortality other than breast cancer. If I feel unwell then I need to take my temperature. If my temperature reads higher than normal then I have to contact the hospital, whatever the time, even if it is the middle of the night. This is because of my compromised immunity from the chemotheraphy and that something like flu or a virus could be really serious.

The risk of catching something nasty means I can’t do the things that I used to do. Just normal things that I took for granted. Going to work, doing a job I love, being with colleagues and friends. It is a long long time since I went clubbing, but until recently I enjoyed the occasional party or bash. However, I now feel like Cinderella. I don’t need Prince Charming to turn up with his shoe so as I can go. Let’s face it, I have enough shoes and frocks to go to a ball every night between now and Christmas. No ... my problem is that one of the Ugly Sisters might take their revenge by popping a cockle in my soup or by sneezing on me.

And travelling - I love holidays – and to be truthful there is nothing stopping me from going on holiday. That is just as long as I squeeze my vacation into my three-week cycle of chemo treatment. Not during the first week when I feel tired and grotty - and so that I am back in time to have my bloods and see my oncologist during the third week, in preparation for my next session. Oh, and as long as I don’t travel by train ... bus, or plane. And as long as I don’t stay somewhere they are likely to dish up salmonella in my supper.

So what did my friend and I conclude over our pub lunch on that day? Cogs. We decided that aspects of your life can be illustrated by cogs. A map of cogs. Cogs that can change in size, and reduce or increase in the speed they turn. Some cogs are older, well worn, slightly oilier, and even rusty. Cogs can disappear, or be joined by larger, shinier, newer cogs. All this depends on what is happening in your life at any point in time.

So what do my cogs look like at the moment? The fact I am now recognised and greeted by my first name when I visit my GP, or go in to hospital, means my healthcare cog has taken centre stage, is large and turning pretty steadily. But sadly my work, social and travel cogs have shrunk somewhat. So has my photography cog, but there is a new blog cog in its place. Right next to the DVD box set cog. Replacing the hairdresser cog. My shoe cog has shrunk and has been replaced by a newer and shinier scarf and hat cog. Oh ... and a new green pepper cog ... of course. I hanker after my aged and familiar cogs. I am just not quite so fond of those newer and shinier cogs that have appeared in their place. I know my dear old cogs haven’t disappeared for ever. They have just shrunk and slowed down temporarily – but I miss them.

So going back to that scene in Notting Hill. Some weeks on I now accept that there is no way that I can press a fast forward button on life. Normally I grieve the end of summer and hate the thought of Halloween, followed by Guy Fawkes and then Christmas. However, this year is different. As I look out of the window, watch the golden amber leaves spin in the wind, listen to the rain on the pane, put on my wellie boots to grab some fresh air, I appreciate that each of one those calendar events is a milestone on my own walk through the market. Although it doesn’t feel feasible now, I am hoping that this time next year this journey will feel like a distant memory and that I will be able to reflect on it in just a moment or two.