Friday, 31 December 2010

Life is a rollercoaster ...

You know ... I used to say “if only I could have a pound for every compliment I receive for them red shoes.” However, over the last few weeks it would be for each time someone has said to me “Gosh ... doesn't time fly ... where did that year go ...?

These comments have left me rather bemused ... wondering whether I am now looking so good that people have forgotten what has featured during my year ... or (what is more likely) is that they have very short memories. You see, to be honest, I wouldn’t say this year has been totally plain sailing.  Why not?  Well, let's spend a moment flicking through my 2010 diary ...

January ... mmm ... that was when I had my seventh and final chemo. Moving onto February there were discussions about a mastectomy – something that I really didn’t want – though the ultrasound showed Yukky Lump had not totally disappeared or dispersed but had shrunk and a lumpectomy was indeed possible. In March I had surgery – including the removal of 11 nodes – which was thankfully successful, and finally seven months after my diagnosis I was told that at this moment in time I was cancer-free.

Moving onto May ... when I experienced the high of returning to work ... and the low of four weeks on my back enduring radiotherapy. June and August saw sunny spells in France ... with the final removal of my trademark Baker Boy caps ... coming back to discussions in September regarding further surgery. Then, in mid-November, I saw not one op but two ... asymmetrical surgery on my ‘other side’ and the abstraction of my ovaries. Following a few nail-biting weeks, when I was dreading further bad news, I was informed that the tissue removed had been tested and everything was looking good ... and  I was finally done and dusted ... in time for the festive period and the New Year.

Last Christmas I spent a lot of time thinking about this Christmas ... and this Christmas I spent some time reflecting on last Christmas. Twelve months ago I wasn’t in a good place – not really mentally and definitely not physically. I had just received my sixth chemo – Taxotere number two – and the weird second wave of side effects were just kicking in. I probably could have endured the cardboard mouth and achy joints – but the sore throat, hacking cough, the loss of voice and the hideous rash were terrible. On Christmas Day family members cried when I walked into the room, I missed the Pigeon Pooh Crew Annual Festive Outing ... and by Boxing Day I was visiting the out-of-hours GP to discuss the possibility of being admitted to hospital so I could be treated with antibiotics.

During this horrid spell I remember sitting on my bed – feeling isolated and lonely – flicking through my Favourites and deciding to pop over to Alright Tit. Now, for those of you who have had some unfortunate experience of BC the chances are you will also know Lisa .... Lisa is the Queen of the BC blog world.

I came across Lisa very shortly after my own diagnosis and, although it sounds funny to say it now, I couldn’t bring myself to read large segments of her blog. It was so brutally honest and detailed there was only so much that my distraught emotional state could take, so I would read one entry, switch off and return at another point. However as time went on ... and as I came to terms with what I had ... and the treatment I was to receive ... I became a regular reader.

So what did Lisa have to say during the 2009 festive period? Well, she had posted a photo of herself and husband P. In fact two pictures. The first taken on a bus in London a week after her own diagnosis ... and then the second, more recent snap, captured on a boat on the Seine. She looked lovely in both. Not just lovely ... but happy... a girl that looked a picture of health and fitness ... who was having fun. Lisa’s accompanying commentary basically said “this was me then” and “this is me now ... we made it”.

So I dropped her a note (mine was one of 31 comments on that entry  – I told you she is the Queen of blogs, I think the maximum I have attracted is half that number) and this is what I wrote:
Hey - that is just what I needed. I am having a totally shite time in the middle of this cancer crap - and Christmas crap. Gives me hope that one day I can truly smile again.

Love and hugs - P x
Lisa’s pictures and lengthy personal response to my comment gave me inspiration and on my own blog this very day last year I said:
I bought myself a camera for Christmas. I know, I already have a camera. But the camera I have is big and bulky ... in your face ... so I decided to purchase a little cutie which I can pop in to my back pocket. And it is pink! Yes, how girlie. Now, I am usually very practical with these things. Normally I would buy one in black ... or silver ... with view to the fact that once I have outgrown it then I can pass it on to one of my boys ... they are both broad minded and level headed but they don’t ‘do’ pink . But I didn’t this time. I just thought sod it. I want pink. I am having pink.
So far I have taken one picture with my new pinkie camera. Yep, just the one. Of what? Of me. Yes, rather surprisingly of me. Me, who hates having my pic taken at the best of times ... and this definitely ain’t the best of times. Now, don’t worry I am not gonna post it anywhere. Not yet anyway. I think the description above probably gives you a pretty good idea of what I look like at the moment. Perhaps the word ‘pretty’ isn’t the most appropriate word to use ...

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

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

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

This is this time last year ...

And ... this is now ...

Me in a new red frock ... and new red shoes ... with that pixie hair cut ... with a celebratory glass of red.  I hope you think I have "made it" ... and that it gives inspiration to anyone who is currently where I was this time last year.

I talked about rollercoasters in my very first ever Red Shoes Green Peppers blog ... so I think it is only fitting to refer to them in my very last.

Indeed life is a rollercoaster ... but I am getting used to riding it.  In fact, I would say I am riding it bucking bronco style, one hand gripping and the other swinging, into 2011 ...

Appreciating that most women would not want to stand in my shoes ... but that there are a few out there which gladly would ...

Saying farewell to Red Shoes Green Peppers ...and possibly hello to Red Shoes Red Wheels ...

Someone out there knows what I am referring to ... the rest of you will just have to wait and see ...

In the meantime I would like to wish you a happy, healthy, fit and fun New Year!!!

Monday, 22 November 2010

When ‘C’ is the common denominator ...

Back in January I went to the supermarket to do my weekly shop. As I was wandering around the store I caught sight of my reflection. It was really was one of my worse times ... both mentally and physically. My bare scalp was covered by one of my trademark Baker Boy caps ... my eyebrows had long gone ... and there was nowhere to apply my mascara. My treatment had finished but my consultants were trying to prepare me for the possibility of a mastectomy ... not something we had aimed for... and something I certainly didn’t want.

As I took the items out of my trolley and put them on the conveyor belt the lady behind the till stopped ‘pinging’ my goods and looked up at me. “Are you having chemotherapy?” she enquired. I was so cheesed off that I was tempted to snap “What is it to you?” But I didn’t ... I just affirmed I was. “I hope you don’t mind me asking” she said, “but that was me last year. Breast cancer?” I looked at her, astonished. She looked so well ... so healthy ... and I told her so. “What about the chemo ... did it work?” I asked urgently. She replied it had. “So what about surgery, did you have a lumpectomy?” “No, no” she replied. “I just wanted the whole thing off. Get rid of the breast.” I told her that was something I didn’t want. “Having said that”, she replied, “I don’t like not having a breast and I am hopefully going to have reconstruction soon.”

I wished her well ... and as I walked away I was very grateful ... despite my initial annoyance ... that she had spoken up and given me some encouragement.

A couple of days ago I was required to go to the Oncology Department for a photo shoot. Whilst waiting for everyone to turn up I stood in the waiting room. Dr Oh-so-luv-ver-ly flashed by ... was a little surprised to see me ... but said “hello”. I wondered how he does it ... how does he surround himself with people with cancer all day, every day.

Then a face caught my eye. A young angelic face ... a girl who was in her 30s ... maybe even her 20s ... sitting under a familiar turban-type cap. And as I looked at her ... she looked at me ... and I remembered sitting in the very same spot watching ‘NHS managers’ wandering in and out ... and wondering where they were going and doing. I guess she thought I was ‘just’ one of those. I wanted to go up to her and say “This was me, this time last year I was going through this too. I made it. Well, this far. You can too.”

But I didn’t get chance ... as I got called through to take the pic. It was a donation from a lovely chap ... probably the same age as me ... a football referee so probably quite healthy ... he had been diagnosed a few years ago with cancer of the throat ... but went on to have cancer of the tongue. He proudly told me the details and said that he is now in remission. I was really pleased for him ... he really didn’t know how pleased.

That was the first of two trips down memory lane – the second was to the Breast Care Unit. Now when I came back from holiday back in June – after I had finished my four weeks of rads and completed my treatment – one of my first meetings over at the hospital was up at the BCU. A group of patients were looking to raise some money and for the unit and I was asked to go along, in my capacity of Comms Manager for the hospital.

It was a late afternoon meeting and I was a little nervous. It was my first full day in the job ... and the very first day that I had gone into work without my cap on. I needn’t have worried ... as I walked in I was greeted by about a dozen very smiley faces. One by one the ladies went round the room introducing themselves. And then it got to me ... “Hi, my name is Paula ... the Communications Manager ... and a patient of Dr J’s ... I finished treatment just over a week ago.” There were cheers and clapping ... it was so welcoming.

Later on we moved down to the Board Room for a presentation. By chance I was sat next to Dr J and all ‘the girls’ were sat on the opposite side of the table. I looked over at them in total awe. They were all chatting, laughing and giggling ... all enthusiastic about their mission to raise money for the unit. I watched and thought they could be anywhere and anyone. A group of old schoolfriends ... colleagues ... a gaggle out on a hen night ... nobody would have known they had one thing in common ... breast cancer ... and they were all patients of Dr J. I felt so inspired ...

Someone walked by to pick up a cup of tea and whispered to me “I expect you still like a patient ... you haven’t moved on yet?” She could have almost read my mind. “No, no” I replied, “it is still early days”. “Don’t worry ... you will quickly move on" she replied.

I thought of that comment when I returned to the Breast Care Unit a couple of Saturdays ago. I was late ... as usual ... and ‘the girls’ and Dr J were already sat comfy, drinking coffee and eating muffins. They welcomed me just as warmly and introduced me to Rebekah Gibbs – who had volunteered to compere the first charity event ... a Gala Ball.

As I grabbed my own coffee I looked across at Rebekah ... and thought it is a funny old world. You see, when I was very first diagnosed I did lots of googling ... desperately trying to find any ‘ray of hope’. Stories of women who had been told that they had breast cancer at a similar age to me ... that had got through the horrid diagnosis, treatment ... including chemo, who had experienced the trials and tribulations of losing their hair, had undergone surgery ... to finally live another day. And, during my hours and hours of cyber searching I had come across Rebekah.

Rebekah Gibbs ... also known as BBC Casualty’s Nina Farr ... was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35 ... ten weeks after her daughter Gigi was born. Despite the shock she went on to write a book and a weekly column for the Daily Mirror ... and this was what I read and what gave me some comfort and confidence that I could get through it all.

And there I was a year later ... sat in my BCU waiting room ... drinking coffee and swapping stories with her. Note that I didn’t mention the muffins ... they were passed under my nose and as I went to grab one I noticed Rebekah’s black skinny jeans tucked into some absolutely ‘gorgeous dahling’ black boots ... and suddenly changed my mind ...

On Thursday I was back over at the hospital ... stood in a now familiar position ... Dr J drawing in black felt-tip pen over my semi-clad torso. “Hey, I just thought” he chuckled, “I just realised you are going to miss the Ball on Saturday night!”Yeah I am!” I laughed. “After all the build up I am once again going to be sat home alone ... a right Cinderella”.

And as I relax at home recuperating from last week's surgery ... which consisted of not just one op, but two ... with two different surgeons ... I am not sad or depressed about missing the Ball. Don’t get me wrong it would have been lovely to be actually there ... with my new BCU friends ... but I was there in spirit ... even if I was sat at home in front of the TV with my beans on toast.

The first time back in March I had to have surgery ... a lumpectomy ... because I had cancer.

But on this occasion I made the decision to have surgery ... for cosmetic reasons and to hopefully prevent me from getting a different type of cancer in the future.

This time the ‘C’ was ... for choice ...

and control ...

... and a cracking pair ;)

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Life on a ‘G’ string

When you’re with a man you like, be quiet and mysterious, act ladylike, cross your legs and smile. Don’t talk much. Wear black sheer pantyhose and hike up your skirt to entice the opposite sex! You might feel offended by these suggestions and argue this will suppress your intelligence or vivacious personality. You may feel that you won’t be able to be yourself, but men will love it!

The Rules ~ Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider ~ 1995

The miles and miles of vines and vineyards had expired and we were skirting one of those non-descriptive industrial French towns ... so unremarkable I can’t remember its name. We were on the way to a medieval fort up in the mountains.

I am glad we are going out for the day” said S, “I couldn’t do another day on the beach, it is far too hot. Besides ... I am starting to look like a Sambo.” “You could never be a Sambo ... you don’t have any hair” I retorted. “As opposed to you” he replied, pointedly looking at my dark curly post-chemo barnet. “I guess you are going for the golliwog look?” he chuckled. “Actually I used to love golliwogs” I responded huffily.

I turned away and looked out of the winddow ... my mind drifted as I thought back to my childhood and how I used to eagerly and routinely chop out the coupons on the Robinson’s marmalade jar ... and despite this I never obtained the much wanted golliwog badge for my school blazer ... as I kept losing the little slips of paper and struggled to save the six that I needed.

Why does everyone called Ronald have ginger hair?” asked a little voice behind me, breaking my train of thought. “Such as ...” I asked rather bemused. “Well, there is Ronald McDonald” Harry Look-a-likey replied and pointed back to the Golden Arches that we had just passed. “Right ... and?” “And Ronald Weasley.” OK so he didn’t quite say “doh” but it could have easily followed. If my life is ‘g’ filled then his generation has moved onto ‘h’ ... all Harry Potter, Homer, Halo and hamburgers.

I don’t think Ronald Reagan ever had ginger hair”, I finally replied. 

Who is Ronald Reagan ...?

That evening we sat on the sofa and watched Grease. I snuggled up to Harry and said “I was your age when this film came out.” He nodded a little but said nothing. I am sure that as my head touched his I could swear I could hear his mind saying “Please ... one day ... let me sit down to watch this film without her saying that.” Anyway he got his own back, because what I didn’t realise until a few days later was that the Harry Look-a-likey thick brunette mop was riddled with nits and they took the opportunity at that very moment to jump into my boucles. Ruddy nits ... something I haven’t had since I was his age ... and something wouldn’t have ... couldn’t have ... this time last year.

Grease was the first grown up film that ever saw. It was 1978 – a few years before Ronald R became president of the United States - I was 10 years old. I went with my friend Sue. It was Thursday night – a school night – "we stayed up til ten o’clock".  I felt very grown up. And ... thinking about it ... it was about that time that life changed ... I changed ... and I started to mature. Up until then my life had been very Enid Blyton. All Mallory Towers, O’Sullivan Twins and Famous Five. My heroine was George. Famous Five George – the bright one of the pack - with her dark curls and cool dog. To the extent that I wrote “George” on my pink eraser and tried to get my friends to call me that.

And then things changed ... I left George and her jolly ginger beer behind ... and I started shopping at Chelsea Girl and listening to songs like Heart of Glass and Enola Gay. Ironically those tunes are still on my playlist today ... unlike other things that have come and gone ... like golliwogs ... George and Mildred ... My Guy ... and gob stoppers ... ‘cos they were all politically incorrect. Which is why Grease is hanging on in there right? Mmm ... let’s just stop and have a think about that ...

Grease. Boy meets girl on holiday. He likes her. She likes him. They think they won’t see each other again ... but by chance she doesn’t return to Australia as planned ... instead she stays and goes to his school, Rydell High. However ... when they meet up he acts really cool and shuns her as she doesn't fit in with his image. There is some emotional to-ing and fro-ing. He does up a car and claims that "chicks'll cream for greased lightnin'" - that it will be "a real pussy magnet" and that "we'll be gettin' lots of tit".  In turn, she bouffants her hair, puts a fag in her mouth and sews herself into some incredibly tight leather trousers ... and he changes his mind ... ahem ...

My favourite character was feisty funny Rizzo ... who sings "Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee" and “There are worse things I could do”. Sandy prior to her transformation was a bit wet ... and afterwards ... well ... somehow I knew even at that tender age that never in my lifetime would I squeeze into a pair of leather trousers like that. Having said that ... I can’t claim that I could foresee that thirty years later that my post-chemo look would leave me looking like Rizzo ...

Before going on holiday we had a barbie ... the old Pigeon Poo crew ... My Little Friend, the Silverback and the Prince and Princess of Darkness. With it being August 1st I had images of us sitting in a beautifully sunny garden ... but it wasn’t like that ... and the afternoon commenced with the guys erecting the gazebo. The gals supervised from the kitchen ... with a little glass wine ... trying to hum the tune of the Good Life - but coming out with Terry and June – I am still not sure why. Then the conversation moved on ...

I remember our first meeting Princess”, said My Little Friend. “The Prince turned up at the curry house with his new girlfriend. All long blonde hair ... high heels ... wearing black leather trousers”. “Ooh ... I’ve still got those trousers”, replied Princess, “they are in the attic”. “I bet you can still fit into them?”, replied My Little Friend. “I am not sure about that”, admitted Princess. “Well” I chipped in “I can safely say that I certainly don’t have any leather trousers in my closet”. “No” replied My Little Friend, deadpan and no second of hesitation, “we would have to kill a few more cows for that to happen.”

G is for Game for a Laugh ... do you remember it ... awful programme ... but time for a revival me thinks ... I have a few victims lined up already ...

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Simply red ...

I love the thought of giving hope to you
Just a little ray of light shining through

Mick Hucknall ~ Fairground ~ 1995

My mother died 14 years ago, aged 53, of ovarian cancer. She had been diagnosed five years before ... but to be truthful the cancer had probably been there since her early forties, when she was a similar age to me. For a year or two they had said she was peri-menopausal and by the time they realised the real problem, and operated, the tumour was the size of a melon.

I wore a pillar box red jacket to my mother’s funeral. I wasn’t being disrespectful. My mother didn’t like black. I don’t recall her ever wearing anything black. Black doesn’t suit me ... and it probably didn’t suit her. She liked red ... she liked the red jacket ... so I wore that.

I remember the cortege pulling up outside the crematorium, and as I opened the car door and climbed out I heard someone say “There’s Sylvie”. It was an odd thing for me to hear. Sylvia was my mother. Obviously, they weren’t talking about her ... they were referring to me... and how much I looked like her.

I must admit I did inherit a number of her features and as I mature, steadily edging closer to the age she was when she died, it is probably now even more noticeable. She was also shortish and curvyish, with high cheek bones, and fine brown hair. When she was alive mine was shoulder length and wavyish and which I would straighten ... whereas she wore hers short and would curl it.

My mother was pretty low maintenance. She used to wear a dash of mascara and little bit of lipstick. However, her big thing was her hair. She liked to go to the hairdressers and have it permed and styled. The chemo she had didn’t make her hair drop out until right near the end. When it did she got a really good wig and lots of people didn’t realise it wasn’t her hair ... but she did. It hit her hard.

Until twelve months ago the only cancer that really appeared on my radar was ovarian. If I saw something about it in a magazine, or on TV, then it would get my attention. Not breast cancer. And ... when I went for my very first appointment at the Breast Care Unit, a year ago this week, Dr Jordan looked at my family history and said he wasn’t too concerned. “The lump is probably a cyst that will need draining.”  Of course once they had scanned it and taken biopsies we all knew that it sadly wasn’t “just a cyst”.

A few weeks ago I returned to the hospital to have Perky checked out after the four weeks of rads. I saw Dr Gillies, the oncologist, and she said it was looking pretty fine ... that there might still be a little fluid there and that I need to keep slapping the aqueous cream on and massaging it ... and that they will take another peek at Perky again next month.

Whilst I was there I decided to ask her a couple of questions. I wanted to know why they hadn’t done any genetic testing ... why they hadn’t tested to see if I have either of the faulty BRCA genes and whether my chances of another incidence of breast cancer, or my chances of getting ovarian cancer, were significant. She said that as I didn’t appear to have a noteworthy number of breast or/and ovarian cancer cases in my family then that isn’t something they would normally do. I explained that my mother had no sisters and no aunts ... however, my grandfather had died of cancer ... as did all of his five or six brothers. She said it wasn’t something that the health profession was sure about ... but if I wanted genetic counselling to talk about it then she could arrange it.

I knew the answer ... I had thought long and hard about this ... and the answer was “no”.

Is that right? I don’t know? I may have the opportunity to discuss what my risks are of another incidence of breast cancer ... or getting ovarian cancer ... but I am not taking up the option.

I explained to Dr Gillies that I have survived this last year ... but my head is not in a place to consider the implications of testing and recommendations ... which I guess may mean being advised to have both my breasts removed ... along with my ovaries. Perhaps I am being silly ... or naive ... or stupid ... especially as I am Triple Negative and there is no medication to keep the cancer at bay. But, for the moment least, I am happy to protect my ignorance ... and live on a ray of hope ...

I went back to the hospital again last week. Let’s think ... on Monday. Oh ... and Tuesday. And probably Wednesday. Thinking about it ... Thursday too. And Friday ... definitely Friday.

Don’t worry ... I am OK ... I didn’t have any appointments. No. I was at the hospital because I now work there. Yes ... my hospital. What I have not had chance to tell you about yet is that when I came back from holiday in June my job changed. Not totally. I am still working with those old colleagues including Mr Campbell, Peaches, Miss Sweaty Jockstrap, Cornish Cous et al. But my different role means I now have some new colleagues ... including Chemo Nurses A to H, Dr Jordan and the luv-ver-ly Dr O ....

Now ... I know it sounds odd ... but you would think that each time I go to the hospital I would think about what has happened there before. My mother’s cancer ... her death... as well as my own diagnosis and treatment ... especially as that really wasn’t very long ago.  But I don’t. OK ... so when I walk past the breast care unit ... or radiotherapy building it might fleetingly cross my mind ... but generally I consider it just to be one of the places that I work.

I say “generally” as last Friday was a little different ... it was a year to the day that I attended the Breast Care Unit for the very first time.

On Friday I went over to the hospital to do a charity donation photo shoot. It went well and once it was done I left the hospital feeling all warm and fuzzy.  That was until I drove down the drive .... and I looked at the clock and it said ten to two ... about the time of my appointment exactly a year ago ... and it got me thinking. I had a flashback of me and Nit Nat getting into her little black car and setting off to the hospital to get my lump checked out. I remembered feeling nervous ... and a little scared ... but certainly no idea of what was about to knock me for six ...

As I drove along, the memories from my initial visit the previous year caused tears to well up in my eyes and warm salty drops toppled down my cheeks. I thought back to the comment made by the actress Lynne Redgrave when she heard her diagnosis. She said: “I have my moments of such sadness. They hit me quite suddenly. My loss of innocence. The innocence that made me feel that cancer couldn't happen to me.

And that is what happened to me at that moment as I was driving along. I got cancer... I got treated ... and hopefully it has gone away ... and I am truly grateful for that. But ... I will never be the same person who walked into that Breast Care Unit a year ago. I want to continue to live a healthy, happy and fulfilling life ... but I know that even if I go hours ... or maybe days ... and perhaps one day even weeks without thinking about cancer ... that it will always be in my life. Not necessarily physically but definitely mentally. There will always be something in the back of mind ... I will never have that innocence ever again ... I will always live with a silent shadow ... a tiny grim reaper sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear and reminding me that the cancer could reappear ... in my breasts ... my ovaries ... anywhere ...

I got back to the office and pulled into the car park and checked my face ... grabbed a tissue to wipe away the smudged make up. And, as I did so, I caught sight of my hair ... and let out a little chuckle. Yes ... my hair ... my hair that used to be fine and shoulder length but ain’t no more. Following the chemo it has grown back thick and curly ... not even wavy ... but curly. Honestly, my mum would love it. She would be so envious of it ... along with them infamous red shoes of mine ...

I can’t remember who made that comment as I got out of the car at her funeral ... I am not even sure if they are still alive ... but I do know that if they thought I looked like my mother back then ... then they certainly would now.

Fingers crossed hey, that it is just our looks ~ and our passion for red ~ to remain the things she and I have in common.

Monday, 2 August 2010

You are one in a million ...

Well, actually I am not one in a million ... I am one in 28 million. What I am not sure about is whether that makes me more ... or less ... special ....?

Last weekend saw the end of the Tour de France. Yes, I know what you are saying. “Tour de France?! What is she on?"

That it is up there with my admission about my fondness for fishing?

OK – your thought processes? Well let me guess ...

 “Tour de France? No!

Oh ... but hang on there ... Tour de France ... men ... fit men ... fit men in lycra ... perhaps it is to be expected of her ..."

Oh you guys ... do you really think I am that shallow? Honestly!

Let me explain ...

Well ... annually I do dip in and out of the Tour de France ... as I did this year. Why? Well, as an imposed-Francophile I like to check out the bits of France that I’ve been to ... and the ones I haven’t. I must admit there aren’t many. As I joked with a colleague at work a couple of weeks ago ... I am often tempted to buy one of those ‘departmental’ maps of the country and fill in the places that I have been to ... painting by numbers style ... and I don’t think there would be too many white ones ...

And then there is Lance. I must admit I have a bit of an obsession with Lance.  Yes ... Lance Armstrong. Now ... I don’t want you to worry ... I have not become some kind of celebrity stalker ... he has not had any need to take a court injunction out on me ... honestly. Maybe 'obsession' is too strong ... perhaps I should say 'admiration' and since my diagnosis 'fascination'.


Well firstly, I muse over how on earth back in 1996, when he was the world no 1 ranking cyclist and member of the Olympic team, did Lance get cancer. Nope ... not only did this extremely fit top sportsman get cancer, but he got bad bad cancer. It started as testicular cancer – but that wasn’t it in a nutshell. No. No, that definitely wasn't it.  It roamed ... and roamed lots ... it spread to his lungs and his brain. It was so severe that in fact he was given a less than 50-50 chance of survival.

Secondly, I want to know how someone who was so poorly manage to kick that cancer in the balls and come back and not only complete the arduous Tour de France the following year ... but an unbelievable further six occasions after that.  Hollywood could base a film on these incredible highs and lows ...

And thirdly, as an aside, how on earth did he and singer Sheryl I-just-want-to-have-some-fun Crowe get it together? I guess it takes all sorts, everyone to their own ... and all that ...

So this year? Well .... Lance didn’t make it an eighth time ... but he certainly didn't let me down. If he ain't conquering cancer one way ... then he is successfully doing it another ...

I don't think Lance really thought he was going to win this time round.  And at the end he was 40 minutes off pace. 40 minutes ... about the time it takes me to do a bit of shopping, or make some supper or run a bath and have decent soak. But 40 minutes is a long time in the sporting world.

"So this race was a meek and mild affair then?"

Err no ... this is Lance ... who is renowned for not just being yellow-shirty ...

First of all there was that run-in with the pedestrian who made the mistake of getting in his way.

But ... even more amusingly there was that ending ... when Tour officials noticed Lance’s Team RadioShack were wearing unauthorised jerseys for last Saturday's final stage, they halted proceedings and made them put their official kit back on.

The disgraced shirts were emblazoned with the number 28 - to signify the 28 million people suffering from cancer worldwide. They were billboards for Livestrong, the charity Lance set up in 1997, a year after he was told he had a less than a 40% chance of beating his cancer. The successful charitable foundation vows to 'unite and fight cancer'.

Lance and Radioshack had already been told by Tour officials that they weren’t going to permit the unauthorised sweaters. And, if the intended message was that nobody is bigger than the Tour, then it didn’t happen. Lance and the guys still put the shirts on ... and Tour officials insisted they be removed.  Farcical scenes ensued as the team changed by the side of the road, safety-pinning race numbers to their old shirts, while the rest of the riders wondered what was going on. The officials had stuck to their guns but ironically headstrong Lance still got his photo opportunity and publicity. The world’s media watching and talking about what he is doing to raise awareness of cancer for 15 minutes ... absolutely and totally priceless. I have to hand it to him ... a true example on how to take others for a ride ...

"So talking about France how was that holiday back in June?"

Yeah, nice. It was warm and sunny. I got do the things I said I would do. Resting and relaxing .... reading my books and poodling around on my bike. But to be truthful it feels like quite a long time ago now ... it was after all two months back. I’m actually looking forward to my next holiday ... to France ... in a week.

Yes, I know, I know. Another holiday. But nobody can begrudge me of this one. This is the holiday I was due to go on last August. But didn’t ... as I was diagnosed the day before my scheduled departure. So I am going this year ... on my actual first year 'cancerversary'. I will be taking the ferry to Calais and going right down the middle of France ... all the way to the Spanish border, nestling in the foothills of the Pyrenees, beside the sea. Oh don’t worry, I will have my bike with me, but I won’t be cycling there. Gosh, no. What takes Lance three weeks and 40 minutes would take me at least three years ... honest. No, I will be travelling down more conventionally by car. The Tom Tom says it will take about 10 hours ... 10 hours for me to watch the French countryside fly by ... and quietly reflect on the last year.

Now, for those of you who have been with me since the beginning you may remember the Cogs story ... when I described how the months ahead of me felt long and never ending. That how I wondered whether I would ever look back at that diagnosis and treatment time... and it would feel like a distant memory. Well, for those of you that are just starting off on a similar journey ... I can say it does. Only three months since I returned to work ... and two months since I finished treatment ... those nine months of hell really do feel like a blur.

So what will I be thinking about as I am heading down to the sunny south? Well, I will be looking forward to that long-awaited break ahead of me. How I will be enjoying my usual favourites walking, cycling, exploring, taking photos ... soaking up the sunny atmosphere ... swimming ... and boarding. Yep ... boarding.  That raised a few titters in the office this week. Instead of the delivery of the expected and accepted shoe box shaped parcel ... this week it was body board shaped ... and what most of my colleagues failed to realise was they had paid for the accompanying wetsuit. Uhhh ....??

Well, about six months ago, Mr Campbell said to me that he still had some money left over from my gift collection. He asked if I would like him to buy something or would I like the money ... did I have something in mind I would like to purchase. And I told him that funny enough I did.

Back in September, after my treatment started, I spent a day on the beach with my family and friends. Now, I have done a bit of body boarding ... borrowing a wetsuit and board as required ... but I have never been too bothered. I was just as happy sitting quietly on the blanket with a magazine or book. But back last summer it was different ... it was the classic thing of I wanted to do something ... because I couldn’t... I wasn't allowed in the water because of my low immunity due to the chemo.  It was a bit like wanting a particular food if you go on some wacko diet which doesn’t allow you to have certain things to eat. Life is like that ... as  soon as you are told you can't have something you want it makes you want it even more.  So, I vowed there and then ... that once I was able to ... then I would grab the opportunity. Which I am ... and every time I put on my wetsuit I will picture my lovely kind and generous colleagues. I am just thankful that they won't be able to see me ...

Before I sign off I want to mention my friend Johnny Boy ... Johnny Boy who will be jumping on his bike soon and cycling from Honiton to Teignmouth to raise money for prostate cancer – the number one cancer for men. Now, if you know and work with Johnny then put your hands in your pockets and throw him some loose change ...  And for those of you who don’t ... well ... when someone you do know does something similar then I ask you to do the same for them. Honestly, every little bit counts.  There are 28 million of us out there you know ...

I am going to sponsor Johnny Boy ... but I am not sure how much yet ... I need to check out whether he is prepared to put on the lycra ...

Sunday, 30 May 2010

That’s all folks ...

"Women are like teabags. We don't know our true strength until we are in hot water."
Eleanor Roosevelt

You know ... I used to say if only I had a pound for every time someone made a comment or complimented me on them little red shoes. These days I confess I would relish a quid for each occasion over the last few months that I have been told that this blog is really good ... and that I should write a book ...

And believe me, I am delighted. If only one person who reads my ramblings takes on board what I have explained ... and who appreciates that cancer can happen at any age ... that breast cancer can sadly appear in those who are in their 40s, 30s .... even 20s ... and encourages them to regularly ‘coppafeel’ ... it means I have achieved something extraordinary.

When I was little I loved books ... and was renowned for being a book worm. I wanted to be a writer or poet when I grew up. Either that or a travel agent or a librarian. Many years on, I am fortunate to have a job which involves writing ... and in hindsight I now realise that being a travel agent or librarian would be a nightmare. Assisting travellers to flit around the world, visiting exotic places whilst I was stuck in a shop ... or watching people walking off with all those books that I anxiously wanted to read. And besides ... I think those who know me would say I am not the shy, quiet retiring type suited to working in such a studious environment ...

If I was a writer then I would be the sort to desperately miss my characters once my tome was complete ... ‘cos I even do that when I am just reading a paperback. And it is not just books ... ‘cos this week I am mourning the loss of Alex ... and Ray ... and Chris ... and Shaz ... and of course ... the ‘Unt ...

For those of you who don’t have a clue as to what I am referring to, and didn’t watch Ashes to Ashes, then here is one of those infamous RSGP quickie summaries:

Ashes to Ashes was a fictional BBC series about Alex Drake, a female police officer in the Metropolitan Police, who is shot in 2008 and inexplicably regains consciousness in 1981 ... working for DI Gene Hunt ... a whiskey drinking, foul mouthed, totally politically incorrect, tangerine-coloured Quattro driver ... but who is totally loveable.  (Gosh ... did I really publically admit that ...)

Throughout the series, we didn’t know whether Alex was dead or alive in the present day, though in last week’s final episode it was revealed that the Ashes to Ashes world was a kind of limbo land for ‘restless dead’ police officers. That in fact Gene, Ray, Chris, and Shaz were all dead; and in fact that Alex herself has died. The programme ended with all of them, except Gene, all moving on to a new heavenly life ... via the local pub, the Railway Arms. I know ... if you didn’t watch it then it does sound a bit odd ... but it was really good ... honest ...

Over the last few weeks colleagues have been asking how it feels to be back at work. My response? Great ... but a bit weird. It is wonderful to have returned ... but it is still not quite the normality that I unexpectantly left behind last summer. Why? Well for starters I am only doing 15 hours a week ... rather than 37 ... over three short days where I start later and finish earlier. Then, on top of that, I am still a breast cancer patient. I have to be at the hospital for my daily zapping ... which once I have got there, waited and had my treatment is about an hour out.

I’ve often spoken of this weird parallel-malignant-universe ... where you live out a ‘normal’ existence ... even though you have this life threatening disease ... and are receiving this powerful cocktail of chemicals ... which make you poorly ... and as a consequence you lose your hair ... and are vulnerable to infection. Where your doctor’s surgery and the hospital become your second homes ... and your GP and consultants become your new best friends.

So as I watched Ashes to Ashes ... I felt an affinity with Alex. No, not because Keeley Hawes is nearly six foot ... with legs up to here. Nah ... but because her character Alex Drake found herself in an alien cosmos ... a world that wasn’t hers ... and she desperately wanted to return to the life she had suddenly and shockingly left behind ...

And ... like DCI Drake ... this Wednesday I will be leaving my weird and not so wonderful parallel universe ...when my breast cancer care pathway comes to an end. Yep ... after 9 months of treatment which has included 4 bouts of EC, and a further 3 doses of Taxotere ... surgery ... and 20 sessions of radiotherapy ... I am finally done. That is it. There are no meds for me as I am Triple Negative. I was told that “taking hormone tablets would be like eating Liquorice Allsorts” ... worthless ... especially as I don’t like the black stuff ...

But ... unlike Alex ... I am not escaping my ‘other world’ by entering the Railway Arms ... though Mr Campbell has suggested a celebratory drink at our local ...  No, my transition is via a ferry ... to France. My first proper holiday for a year. And where am I going? Back to the idyllic La Palmyre of course ... the place I visited exactly 12 months ago ... just before my diagnosis. The last time that I can really remember feeling happy and relaxed ... doing the things that I like to do ... cycling ... swimming ... photography. Eating some locally caught seafood ... oh and yummy cheese ... all washed down with more than a little red wine ...

But unlike last time I won’t be coming home bronzed and bonnie ... as I am under strict instructions to keep out of the sun ... so I will be sitting under a brolly ... liberally lathered in factor 50. Bitter? Nope. At least it will drastically reduce my chances of skin cancer ...

So is the Big BC all over? No ... of course not ... I am not kidding myself. I know this isn’t it. That there are still many more issues ahead. Of course there are. For starters I have been told I could suffer the side effects from my tough chemo for at least 12 months ... and that the consequences of the powerful radiotherapy could appear in many years’ time. I know I am still to face little challenges... like going out for the first time without my cap ... and the cosmetic surgery that I am have in the autumn.

And then there are the bigger confrontations... like my regular trips to see Dr Oh-so-luv-ver-ly and Dr Jordan, my Oncology and Breast Cancer consultants ... that will take place over the next ten years ... and where they will continue to do tests to make sure the cancer has gone away ... and not returned. And trust me ... every one of those visits is going to be darn right nail biting and unbelievably stressful ...

But for now ... I am packing for that long-awaited holiday. My clothes ... and shoes ... and swim wear. And of course there will be my books ... some in my suitcase ... oh ... and the one in my mind ...

Yeah, perhaps I could .. and should ... write that book. Mmm ... I’m thinking it might be about a girl ... and her diary ... She has legs “only up to here” and will “always be a little bit fat”. She often says the wrong thing ... at the wrong time ... because her mouth goes into gear before her brain can stop it. She falls off her exercise bike ... and skis down mountains backwards. Mmm ... a bit like the endearing Bridget Jones ...

But ... unlike Bridget ... she unexpectantly gets told she has breast cancer. So she talks openly and frankly about the consequences of that. What it is like to hear the news ... how she cries hysterically when she goes for her first chemo ... how she talks about ‘Cogs’ over a pub lunch with her pal Bubbles ... and describes the afternoon she sits in My Little Friend’s garden as her hair falls out. She shares how she is the only patient her consultant has seen who is pleased to hear that she has a lump ... because it means a breast conserving procedure. Oh ... and how she manages to inadvertently flash her silky covered arse to more than twenty patients sitting in the waiting room just before surgery ...

And she also talks frankly about the trials and tribulations of her treatment.  That there are very bad times ... along with much better spells ... and the special people that help and support her through both. That she makes wonderful new friends ... but sadly loses comrades along the way ... and that all these things that give her the strength to get through the crap and think positively about the future ...

Anyway ... I am off now ... I am not saying I won’t be back ... but it will be a while.

Maybe time out to write that book ...

Storms and teabags in my D cup ...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

I'm feeling hot ... hot ... hot ...

I am thinking about buying this green top and matching shoes, what do you think?” asked Cornish Cous. “Very nice” I replied. “I don’t usually wear green ... do you think it will suit me?” she questioned. “Oh yes”, I assured her, “and green is very 'this season'. In fact I have never worn green before, but I have bought a few bits lately in various shades.” “Oh, perhaps I should go for them....” she trailed off. “Definitely”, I responded. “everybody needs a treat now and again ... and we have just been paid.” “You are right!” she exclaimed. “Will you be wearing green to our pub grub evening?” “I might”, I replied “but it is complicated .....

Just before I went on long term sick leave, a colleague of mine enquired “You have so many clothes and shoes, do you have a walk in wardrobe ...?” And I confirmed ... slightly tongue-in-cheek ... that in fact I do. “I knew it!” she said. And I laughed. “I have a walk in wardrobe but sadly not like the one that Mr Big built Carrie. I wish. No, my walk in wardrobe is the tiny nursery room which Little Tinker moved out of a few years ago and where the laundry basket and ironing board live ... along with my piles of clothes waiting to be pressed!

So what issues can I possibly have when deciding what to wear ... when, I must admit, have such a vast choice?  Mmm ... there are three very good reasons actually ...

Well ... for starters I am still wearing my little caps and array of scarves. We have now moved from the thicker heavy cloths of the Autumn/Winter range ... to the lighter bright Spring/Summer numbers. My hair is growing ... but obviously not at the rate that I want it to ... a watched pot and all that. The good news is that it has returned dark ... in fact even darker than it was before. I was born a brunette and it is now bordering on black. It has a few sprinkles of grey ... but hey I had those before it fell out so I ain’t gonna grumble about those ... and, like them pit hairs, they will also magically disappear sometime soon.

So what do I look like?  Well for those of a similar age to me then think Lisa Stansfield ... you remember ... All around the world Lisa ... And for my younger readers you need to think of recent pics of the model Agyness Deyn  ... though I need to point out that although the party prom dress and Doc Martin boots would not be at all out of place in Funky Town ... I would really need to lose two decades and three stone to pull it off ...

Having said that, I guess I don’t look too bad ... I even got one of those infamous not-quite-compliments from My Little Friend a little earlier.  Yes .. My Little Friend, who I haven’t seen for nearly two months (partly because she unintentionally ended up in Florida for almost half of that time), so it was lovely to go and see her and The Silverback for a spot of Sunday lunch today.

Oh my”, she exclaimed as I walked in the door and removed my hat, “I always thought you looked a bit French ... you certainly do today. In fact, you look almost chic.” Mmm ... what’s that saying ... who needs enemies ... bless her ...

And so what else do I need to consider on getting dressed each morning? Well ... there is something I haven’t mentioned before ... I wasn’t really sure whether I should talk about it ... whether it was too much info ... But then I thought before I finally wrap up my blog in a few weeks time that I should ... after all ... my mission over the last nine months has been to talk about cancer ... raise awareness ... talk about the trials and tribulations of treatments ... and their side effects ...

Can I ask you to read this and sign under my signature at the bottom?” We have returned to last August and I am meeting my Oncologist, Dr Oh-so-luv-ver-ly, for the very first time. He has suggested that we go for neoadjuvant chemotherapy ... chemo before surgery ... and I have to sign a consent form to confirm that I understand what this entails ... and what side effects I could encounter.  Doing as I was asked, I signed on the line and put the pen down. “Oh no”, said Dr Oh. “Oh, I am sorry”, I said and glanced down at the form “have I signed in the wrong place?” “No, no. My fault I forgot to mention something”, he said apologetically. “I should have told you ...the chemo ... it might stop your periods.  Permanently.  Is that a problem?

No, it wasn’t, and in fact I didn’t think much about it ... until the following month ... when I realised that he was right. Then ... in November ... out of the blue ... I experienced my first hot flush ... on the M6 ... in road works ... just outside Birmingham ... on the way back from Wales. Suddenly I had my head out of the window ... despite the noise ... and the dust ... like an over excited dog ...

So what did I do when I finally got home?  Switched on the PC ... and googled “Symptoms of menopause” ... obviously ... you really should know me by now. And this is what I found ....

1. Hot flashes, flushes, night sweats and/or cold flashes, clammy feeling
2. Irregular heart beat
3. Irritability
4. Mood swings, sudden tears
5. Trouble sleeping through the night (with or without night sweats)
6. Irregular periods; shorter, lighter periods; heavier periods, flooding; phantom periods, shorter cycles, longer cycles
7. Loss of libido
8. Dry vagina
9. Crashing fatigue
10. Anxiety, feeling ill at ease
11. Feelings of dread, apprehension, doom
12. Difficulty concentrating, disorientation, mental confusion
13. Disturbing memory lapses
14. Incontinence, especially upon sneezing, laughing; urge incontinence
15. Itchy, crawly skin
16. Aching, sore joints, muscles and tendons
17. Increased tension in muscles
18. Breast tenderness
19. Headache change: increase or decrease
20. Gastrointestinal distress, indigestion, flatulence, gas pain, nausea
21. Sudden bouts of bloat
22. Depression
23. Exacerbation of existing conditions
24. Increase in allergies
25. Weight gain
26. Hair loss or thinning, head, pubic, or whole body; increase in facial hair
27. Dizziness, light-headedness, episodes of loss of balance
28. Changes in body odour
29. Electric shock sensation under the skin and in the head
30. Tingling in the extremities
31. Gum problems, increased bleeding
32. Burning tongue, burning roof of mouth, bad taste in mouth, change in breath odour
33. Osteoporosis (after several years)
34. Changes in fingernails: softer, crack or break easier
35. Tinnitus: ringing in ears, bells, 'whooshing,' buzzing etc.

Wow ... a list that made the cancer and chemo look like a breeze. I won’t go through them one by one and tell you which ones I have or have not experienced ... that really would be too much information ... but I can thankfully say that to date it isn’t many, and that other than saving at least 50 quid on monthly essentials ... the most obvious one is the hot flushes. Oh ... and the cold ones. I am not sure if mine are particularly nasty as my menopause is chemo induced ... and is not part of the natural aging process that most women experience... but it does mean that when I am considering what to wear that layers are good.

And thirdly ... the final impact on my wardrobe choice ... well, there is currently radiotherapy to consider too. Every day I have to go to the hospital at 1pm for my daily zap ... which, if I am truthful, I still don’t like. The actual treatment is literally two minutes ... but I usually have to wait for 20 minutes or so ... and then it takes I guess about ten minutes to carefully align me so the radiation is hitting the necessary area ... and not sensitive areas ... such as my lung.

My lovely new booby is currently standing up to the powerful treatment ... but is a little red and warm ... a bit like sunburn ... so I have been told to keep the aqueous cream in the fridge and slap it on at any opportunity ...

Rather than get changed on arrival for rads I usually wait until I am called to the treatment area and then quickly whip off my upper garments and slip on that fetching flowery gown, so I need to ensure I wear something that can be easily removed and put back on.  And, as I did on Friday, if I wear a dress I need to remember to take skirt with me so that I am not lying on the couch half naked. Once treatment is done I grab my bag and items of clothing and then pop back to the changing cubicle to put on my usual attire.

One of the positive aspects of radiotherapy is that you attend the same time each day ... which means other patients do too ... and you get to know others who are going through a similar care pathway as you. Bea, who comes along with her husband Jay, started her five week course of radiotherapy the same day as me. She is much older than me ... in fact her children are older than me ... but she too is very upbeat, open and frank about her illness, which is very different to mine. It has been interesting to learn about someone else’s treatment ... and lovely to be greeted by a pair of jovial faces each day.

On Friday, I walked into the waiting room, a little late as always and a little puffy from running down the corridor. “Hello Bea ... Jay ... how are you? Fine, fine” they grinned. “Ooh ... Bea ... you have had your haircut ... it looks very nice.” “Thank you”, she responded, and smiled broadly “it is lovely isn’t it?” “It is indeed” I replied. “I liked yours so much” she went on to say “that I asked my hairdresser to cut it the same”. I paused ... I was going to explain that I hadn’t actually had mine styled ... and that it wasn’t a cut that I had by choice ... but stopped ... and smiled back ... “great choice, suits you too.”

Here’s hoping for a long warm sunny summer ...  'cos us gals in the know are aware what is hot ... and what is not ... and will be looking and feeling pretty cool ...

I am sure Agyness would agree that short is pretty damn sweet ...

Monday, 10 May 2010

Can’t be ...

A woman can’t be too rich or too thin
Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

Well ... it has been a pretty momentous week ...

Tuesday ... and for the first time in nearly nine months I returned to work. It was lovely ... back at my old desk ... working on my computer ... answering the phone ... and best of all seeing my wonderful friends and colleagues. Honestly ... it felt as if I had never been away ...

Wednesday ... my first session of radiotherapy. It was OK ... it doesn’t hurt ... but it is daunting. You lie there in a darkened room ... alone ... with the red “Radiation on” sign flashing ... and the machinery clunking around you. I will admit that on that first day I got a bit low ... there on my back ... knowing that this was the inaugural session of 20. It has been two months since surgery ... where did that time go ... and four months since my last chemo ... and there I am ... back to being a patient again. But ... as always ... I turned my situation around ... remembered that the consent form that Dr Oh-so-luv-ver-ly had asked me to sign had said “precautionary treatment”. That he thinks the Yukky Lump has gone away and that this is a belt and braces job ... to make sure it doesn’t come back ... and I need to be grateful for that.

Then on Thursday I jumped on the scales and was delighted to see I had shed the final couple of pounds to get me back to my pre-chemo weight. OK ... I am not suggesting that I don’t need to shed some more ... ‘cos I do ... but at least the scales are saying the same as they were last August before I went off work ... and I can now comfortably fit into my clothes.

And finally ... Friday. I popped into Marksies to buy some sausages for the boys ... yep my life has returned to that level of normality ... and I bought .... mmm .... a copy of Hello magazine.

Now ... I have never purchased a copy of Hello before ... though I am not saying I have never read it ... if it is loitering on top of the coffee table in the hospital waiting room then I will take peek and flick ... but it is not something that I actually buy. Why? Because it is usually full of slim and bronzed young soap actors and actresses ... that I don’t even recognise ... let alone name ... and who generally make me feel very old and frumpy ... heck I don’t need to pay for that privilege ... so what swung it on this occasion ...

Last weekend I was really quite shocked to read a small newspaper article which reported that the actress Sally Whittaker, who plays the character of Sally Webster in the TV soap, Coronation Street, had been diagnosed with breast cancer back in October ... a case of life imitating art when she discovered she had the disease after a plotline in which her character underwent treatment for breast cancer. So when I caught sight of her picture on the front of Hello ... with the subtitle “My battle to beat breast cancer” ... my curiosity got the better of me.

Now ... I have mentioned Kylie before.  Yes, that Kylie. Cute, sweet, girl-next-door Australian Kylie with the gold lycra hotpants ... who was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2005. And I have admitted that the announcement and media coverage floated past me ... not really hitting my radar ... even though we are exactly the same age. Probably because I didn’t think it would ever happen to me.

Well ... over the last nine months I have thought about Kylie quite a lot. Mostly during the dire time of chemo ... when I felt really rough ... and looked really ill. As I lay in bed ... contemplating whether I had been transported to a living hell ... I would think of Kylie ... reminding myself that although she was rich ... famous ... pretty ... with a hot-totty-botty ... that she had to endure exactly the same as me. Similar treatment ... comparable sickness ... the loss of hair ... and eyebrows ... and eyelashes ...

Some years on Kylie described her treatment. “It’s like a prison sentence. I can’t quite articulate it. It’s a bit like being in an atomic explosion and people asking you to describe it: ‘ So, exactly how big is the hole?’ I don’t think anyone who hasn’t had it can understand it.”

So what did Sally Whittaker have to say in Hello? Well ... she explains that she discovered the cancerous lump in her breast herself, prompted by her storyline. "If I had not been researching this storyline, I may not have discovered the lump in my breast and had it looked at so quickly. I had never properly checked my breast before because I thought this wasn’t going to happen to me. It’s a stupid thing to think, but I think a lot of women are like that.”

Sally was diagnosed with a 1.8cm grade 1 tumour. "We got into the car and I cried like I’d never cried before in my life. It was uncontrollable sobbing. I didn’t want to die. I said to Tim, ‘I’ve got three children, I can’t die’. I would hate to be sat on a fluffy cloud looking down on them. I couldn’t cope with that. I had to be there to see them grow-up."

Despite the coincidence Sally agreed to continue filming her soap scenes in a bid to raise awareness about the condition. “Those were the hardest scenes I’ve ever had to film,” she explains. She undertook her cancer plotline scenes in a month’s block then took a break to undergo surgery, chemo and radiotherapy.

Sally says she now has a new outlook on life. "It’s made my appreciate life more and I feel humbled. Everybody I love, I love a million times more."

The photos of Sally in the mag are great ... but as someone who has been there ... the first things I notice are the painted eyebrows and false eyelashes ... And although she is pictured with her little blonde prickles she admits “I would love to go around with a bald head, but sometimes I wear headscarves because I don’t want to draw attention to myself and I don’t want pitying looks.”

She received no payment for her interview and instead asked that a donation be made to The Genesis Breast Cancer Appeal and The Christie Hospital Appeal, the hospital where she has been receiving treatment.

And that is the first article that I read this week and I wanted to tell you about ... the second ... was the announcement by her publicist, that actress Lynn Redgrave had this week “passed away peacefully after a seven-year journey with breast cancer.”

After she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, Lynn asked her daughter Annabel Clark, then a photography student at Parsons School of Design, if she would photograph the course of treatment and recovery.  Following her death, at the age of 67, these intimate and emotive photos are now displayed on the New York Times website.

I must admit that I find some of them difficult to look at ... especially the post-operative ones ... particularly the one with the drains ... perhaps it doesn’t feel like such a short time since my own surgery ...

And then, under the picture of Lynn doing her recuperation exercises, there is an inscription taken from her diary which rings so true.  It says: “I have my moments of such sadness. They hit me quite suddenly. My loss of innocence. The innocence that made me feel that cancer couldn't happen to me.”

There are a number of events taking place over the next few weeks ... including the many Run for Life races, organised by Cancer Research UK, as well as the Playtex Moonwalk in London, which a number of my friends and colleagues are participating in. I would like to wish all those that I know, as well as those I don’t, the best of luck with raising awareness and attracting funds to improve the treatment of cancer. Sadly it is too late for the likes of Kylie ... and Sally ... and Lynn... and me ... and the many millions of people who have already been diagnosed with cancer ... and who have already had to endure the horrid side effects of chemotherapy ... and radiotherapy ... and surgery ...

But we don’t know who will be next ... you ... a family member ... or a friend ... or a colleague ... or a neighbour ...

You can’t be too rich or too thin ... or too old ... or too young.  You can't be too famous ... or too pretty ... or too popular ... or too talented ...

Cancer ... it doesn’t discriminate ... so never think “It couldn’t happen to me”.

Monday, 3 May 2010

One small step ... one giant leap ...

Work like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ve never been hurt
Dance like no one’s watching
Sing like no one’s listening
Live like there is no tomorrow
Mark Twain

Friday ... and the Sloane Ranger came over to Funky Town and we strolled into the high street. After a spot of lunch (thank you Hun) we had a bit of a wander around the market and the cute little shops. It was in one that I pointed out a little plaque, you know the sort, brightly coloured, a bit kitsch, the type that people hang in their kitchen. The verse on it was the one above. “I think I should buy that and hang it on my desk at work” I joked with the Sloane. “Oh yes ...” she laughed appreciatively.  I am sure she feels some camaraderie with my current colleagues ... and empathy ... and sympathy ... after all she spent a number of years listening to my 'beautiful' dulcet tones ...

Later that evening, tucked up in bed, I was reading a magazine which featured an interview with Joseph Fiennes ... the actor ... best known for wearing breeches and doublets ... When asked “What do you think is the most important lesson that life that has taught you?” He quoted the exact same poem ... surely someone somewhere is trying to tell me something ...

It has been a busy week ... my diary has been so full even Bridget J would be envious. On Monday I met with Mr Campbell to discuss my return to work ... before meeting up with over a dozen of my girlie friends from work for a pub grub evening (thank you Lindyloo for organising). It was great fun ... lots of giggles and raucous laughter, in fact as if we could neither be seen ... nor heard. No, Cornish Cous, I am not going to repeat what happened at that Divorce Party you attended and what you actually did to those vodka jellies! Then on Thursday I had lunch with Hoops and Margarine ... before attending the staff awards ceremony ... where I boogied for hours ... like no one was watching.

Wednesday was the day that I went into work ... to discuss my return with HR. My half hour meeting was followed by cruisin' around the office getting up to speed with my friends and colleagues ... which took four hours. Yeah ... I know ... four hours ... but I had a lot of catching up to do!

Whilst meandering around the building I bumped into PG, a colleague who I haven’t seen since I was at work back in August. We started chatting and she asked after my health, what treatment I had received (chemo and surgery) and what further treatment I am to receive (radiotherapy). She went on to say that a friend of hers had been diagnosed at a similar time as me, but that the chemo had no impact on her tumour so they terminated that treatment and undertook radical surgery instead. I said that I empathised ... that I know of women who had received chemo and that their tumour hadn’t shrunk ... or even continued to grow. I explained that I appreciate that the treatment worked for me ... that initially things were definitely not looking good ... a 6cm grade 3 stage 3 tumour ... but thankfully the chemo had reduced Yukky Lump to less than half its original size ... and fortunately it appears it has been caught before it ventured any further.

PG said that her friend had not felt a lump but had made an appointment to see her GP after seeing a dent in her breast ... and that she didn’t realise that this was something to look out for ... that when she checks her own breasts she is only looking for a pea-sized lump. Which, of course, was an opportunity for me to give my little spiel ... so I explained ...

You need to feel your breasts for changes... any lumps ... small or significant. Look in the mirror ... for any dimpling ... puckering ... or indents. Inspect the nipple for discharge. Some women do experience tenderness and soreness ... either immediately before their period ... or during the middle of the month ... and this is sometimes accompanied by ‘lumpy breasts’. Breast cancer doesn’t usually hurt ... though I should point out that mine did as the Yukky Lump was so large it was pressing on a nerve. And ... at the end of the day ... anything that does not go away after a week or so should be followed up.

Thanks to my friend MackieC who has recommended the Embarrassing Bodies website where there is a great video demo on the best way of examining your breasts. Sermon over.

After I had finished my health promotion talk PG leant forward and whispered “Can I ask you a personal question?” Now, as I am sure you appreciate, I am a pretty upfront kinda girl ... yeah, in more ways than one ... but that request does unnerve me slightly. “Go ahead”, I responded, wondering what she was going to ask. “Well ... having said all that ... how come your lump was so big by the time you found it?” And that is a very good (personal) question.

Right, for those of you that have just joined me this is a potted history on how the Yukky Lump and I became reluctantly acquainted. I woke one Saturday last summer ... and as I lay in bed ... I could feel a funny tingling in my breast ... like one of the first signs of pregnancy. I knew that definitely wasn’t the case ... so wasn’t too concerned. However, a few days later my breast felt solid ... and then a few days after that I started experience some pain ... so I called my GP. To be truthful I wasn’t too worried to start with ... because the mass was so large ... sitting right along the cup of my breast ... I didn’t think anything so big could be that suspicious. I too, at that stage, naively thought that nasty lumps were petit pois sized. Sadly ... I was proved wrong. Very wrong. And for a long time I kept kicking myself ... beating myself up for not seeing it ... nor feeling it ... much earlier. How could someone who is usually pretty in tune with their body allow a lump to grow to 6cm before spotting it?

Now, I have told you about them infamous red shoes. Yeah the ones I used to wear to work and that everyone loved. “They are chilli red, with peep toes, a Cuban heel and shiny buttons. A bit sexy, a bit cute but def not OTT. When I wear them I get at least half a dozen comments. I often say that if I had a pound for every compliment that I have received then I could have bought another three pairs ... or more”. But what about their less glamorous and more practical cousins ... my little pink crocs?

Just before I found the lump, and whilst I was still at work, I had one of those late Friday afternoon chin wags with The Poet. We were talking about our plans for the weekend. “You know if people could see me at the weekends they would be horrified” I confided in her. “I don’t wear a scrap of make up ... I just wear something that is comfy ... no heels ... just my crocs.” “Don’t worry” she said “I am just the same.”

And that is how I was ... that afternoon in June. Saturday ... the day I spend most of my time doing household chores ... cleaning ... tidying ... washing. On that oparticular day the weather was warmish ... with a breeze ... a great opportunity to empty the laundry basket and peg everything up outside ... which is what I had done. It was about 5 or 6 o’clock and I had just started cooking supper, when I heard a tapping on the window. I turned around to see it had started raining. “Oh no, my washing!” I exclaimed. So I grabbed the wash basket, ran out into the garden and up the steps. But I didn’t make it ... just as I got to the top step my croc hit the damp surface ... and I slipped. But, because I had the basket in my hands I couldn’t put them down to protect myself, and instead I fell, very heavily, onto my chest. No kidding, it was full pelt. I lay there for a few seconds ... shocked ... and in pain. It is probably the closest, as a female, that I will get to understand what it is like for a guy to be kicked in the b...s

I thought such a heavy impact would, after a day or so, leave me with multi-coloured bruising ... but it didn’t. And in fact I didn’t think much about the incident until I was referred to the Breast Care Unit. It was only at that point that I thought that maybe the thickening in my boob was in fact internal swelling as a consequence of the battering ... but of course it wasn’t.

However ... it may still be relevant as I have since learnt that cancer can feed on inflammation ... inflammation that is fuelled by our environment. This maybe what we eat, drink or smoke. The amount of exercise we take and the amount of stress we endure. It is also believed that a number of cancers that develop are directly linked to a chronic inflammatory state ... for example cancer of the colon and rectum is linked to inflammatory bowel disease ... ovarian cancer is linked to pelvic inflammatory disease. Not only that, but studies undertaken as far back as 1863 showed that patients developed cancer where a shoe or tool had rubbed repeatedly, or at the exact spot on their body where they had received some kind of trauma, such as a blow.

Now I am not saying that my fall was the cause of my breast cancer – but what I believe may have happened is that the inflammation, which was a result of my fall against the step, fuelled a small but malignant tumour that was already there. A tumour which otherwise may have grown at a slower pace, which would have been less noticeable, and so possibly a greater opportunity to roam to more vulnerable places. Mmm ... perhaps I have a lot to thank those practical but unflattering little pink crocs for.

So what is in my diary for this week? Well ... Tuesday 4th May says ... “Return to work”. Yes! After nearly nine months of horrid gruelling treatment and its nasty side effects ... the nail-biting angst ... and lonely solitude ... I am about to take a significant step to resuming normality.

Live like there is no tomorrow.

I did.

But I sincerely hope there is a tomorrow ... ‘cos my red shoes are sitting here ... polished and shiny ... ready to dance around the office ... whilst I sing a little song ...

It really has been far too quiet there ... for far too long ...

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Oh ... oh ...

I lay in the semi-darkness ... strapped to the bed ... and looked around the room ... noting first the bright lights ... and then the camera which was pointing at me. A voice beside me broke the silence. “It won’t take long. And it shouldn’t hurt. It is just a small prick. Then I will untie you ... we’ll be done ... well for today anyway...”

My very first porn film. It is a remake of that raunchy 80’s classic ... 9½ Weeks  ... but this time called 4 Weeks ... as twenty years on Mickey Rourke no longer has the stamina that he once had.

O ... kay ... so I am joking ... teasing ... pulling your plonker. It was in fact just my infamous vivid imagination during this week’s radiotherapy planning session. But hey, it got your attention didn’t it ... and the thought kept me amused.

So it was back over to the hospital on Wednesday. I wasn't really looking forward to my appointment ... nor was I worried or concerned about it ... I just couldn’t be bothered. The end of treatment is in sight and I am getting impatient.

Hi, my name is Looby Lou, I am an Assistant Radiographer, and will be doing your planning session today.” I peered up at the beaming friendly face ... gosh I was definitely old enough to be Looby Lou’s mother ... I quickly tried to mentally calculate if I could be her grandmother ... she looked so young!

Today we are going to work out your treatment so that your breast receives the most radiation and the healthy tissue and organs, such as your lungs, receive the least. Are you OK with us doing some small tattoos so that we can easily see which area is to be treated?" I nodded my head ... I knew they were going to be tiny. “It means that when you come in for your four weeks of treatment we will be able to line up the linear accelerator quickly and hopefully you can be in and out within 20 or so minutes ... of that the actual treatment will only take a few minutes. Is there anything you are worried about?” I smiled at her. “After seven sessions of chemo ... and then surgery ... this is the part I am least concerned about.” Now, I have been told that this bit is ... quote ... “compared to the rest radiotherapy is a walk in the park.” But as I was the person who used to insist that my dental records were marked with Nervous Patient ... and that I used to greet my dentist with my stress ball ... I am not using that phrase quite yet ... after all we are still talking health professionals and medical equipment ...

I have read the booklet that I was given ... and I think that explained most things” I said to Looby Lou. “Oh good”, she nodded ... and grinned. I wanted to tell her about the bit which made me smile... but there was no point ... she wasn’t old enough to appreciate my comical thoughts. It was under the paragraph Reactions to Radiotherapy. It said .. “External radiotherapy doesn’t make you radioactive. It is safe to be with other people, including children, throughout the course of treatment.” Which made wonder whether some patients think they are going to walk around with a fluorescent silhouette ... like that 80's TV advert for Ready Brek ... with the slogans Central Heating for Kids and Get Up and Glow ...

I have some pressies for you”, said Looby Lou. Oh goodie ... I like pressies. “Here is a gown for you to take home and bring in each day. It is yours. Well, until treatment is finished anyway.” I can admit to you now ... I wasn’t at all disappointed by that last bit. Quite frankly, the gown would have ended up in the same drawer as those fetching DVT stockings ... and at least the DVT stockings might be of some use if I jump on a plane. “And ... some aqueous cream.” Hey ... I bet Looby’s colleagues hope she doesn’t draw their name out of the Secret Santa hat ...

Some people get a mild reaction during treatment so there are some things we recommend you do and don’t do”, continued Looby Lou. “Firstly, we recommend using this cream at least twice daily to keep your breast moisturised. You shouldn’t shave or use a hair removing cream on that armpit ... and no deodorant.” I looked at her quizzically. “I know I shouldn’t put deodorant on before treatment ... but I can apply it afterwards ... right?” “No”, smiled Looby Lou back, "we don’t recommend using deodorant at all during the four weeks ... unless it is aluminium and perfume free ...” Well folks, I know I was pretty excited about the arrival of them pit hairs ... but what I didn’t go on to say was that they didn’t hang around for long ... and although I didn’t admit it to Looby there and then ... there is no way that I can endure four weeks of smelly pit hair ... and for those of you who personally know me ... I don’t suppose you could either ...

Now, I will give you a few minutes to change into your gown and then I will take your down to the treatment room. We will ask you to lie on the couch and then we will work out where we need to make the treatment marks. It can look a bit scary with the green laser lights ... a little like that James Bond film ... but I promise that unlike that, this definitely won’t hurt.

Oh yes ... I know what she is talking about ... which film was that ... err ... ah ... Die Another Day ... with Halle Berry... as Jinx. Now there is a girl who looks good with very short hair. Very short hair and in a bikini. Not just that ... very short hair ... and in a lurid orange bikini. Pah. Just as well I don’t do orange ... I say tongue in cheek and with no bitterness ... ha ha ...

Don’t worry,” interrupted Looby Lou, “we are there all the time so if you are concerned or feeling uncomfortable then you can just say. We do have to leave the room twice ... just quickly ... but we are watching through the CCTV so you just indicate if there is a problem."

I changed into my blue flowery gown and Looby Lou took me down to the treatment room and introduced me to Nicola ... and for 20 minutes or so I lay on the couch, with my arm strapped above my head, as it moved up and down ... left to right ... and light beams flashed across my torso ... Then Looby Lou finally made two tattoo marks ... one between my breasts and another on my armpit ... so tiny they are smaller than my freckles.

As I walked out of the Oncology department ... back into the bright sunshine ... I grabbled for my sunglasses in my bag ... and had a flashback. I suddenly remembered the time a couple of years ago when I was delivering my canvases to the hospital for the annual art exhibition. I had dropped them off and was getting back in my car ... I was feeling a bit low and gloomy. As I went to start the car I looked up and saw a woman leaving Oncology ... she had a book in her hand ... and a scarf on her head ... she had obviously had chemo and was now having radiotherapy. ... but her face was bright and smiley. I recall looking at her and thinking “If she can be happy ... with all that she has been through ... then so can I ... what have I got to be so down about?

Little did I know that exactly two years later ... that woman would be me ...

As I strided down the hill to the car park I bumped into a friend of mine, F1. “You look really well” she said. I thanked her and said that I felt great. “Honestly, you look really well”, she repeated. It wasn’t until later that I realised what she was saying. That not only do I look OK physically, but that I look OK mentally. She could see that sparkle in my eye and a spring in my step.

And things are feeling good you know ... in fact this week I am meeting with my manager, Mr Campbell, to discuss my return to work ... part time to start off with.

I guess you will want to take it easy at first ... especially if you are still having radiotherapy?

Yeah ... there is that ... but then there is this new thespian avenue that I want to pursue. Perhaps a small role in the next Bond movie ...

... with Daniel Craig as 007 ... in his DJ and dickie ... I could be tied to the bed and be shaken and stirred by him anytime ... in fact I am getting that Get Up and Glow just thinking about it ...

Oh oh dear ... I really am back on form aren’t I ...

Sunday, 18 April 2010

"Say fromage .... "

A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.
Ansel Adams

A while ago ... actually sometime ago, long before the Yukky Lump appeared, I asked my friend Bubbles a favour. “If I was to die ... would you arrange an exhibition of some of my photos ... perhaps just a dozen of them ...? Of course!” she replied. Then after a moment of two of consideration she said ... “but does the death bit have to be part of the equation ... I would much rather help you do one whilst you are alive and kicking ..."

After I had recovered from my diagnosis in August (well sort of recovered ... I don’t think I will ever really come to terms with it),  I decided to make the most of my involuntarily time out and set myself two goals, and one of them was to do that photography exhibition. Ironically, my new vulnerability had given me the confidence to go ahead with it ... but I didn't appreciate at the time that my photography mojo was going to take a serious bashing.

Photography is one of my true passions. I remember the very first time I was allowed to use a camera. I went on a school trip to the Roman baths in Bath and my mum let me take her Box Brownie. I got on the bus and everyone else had one too ... and I recall being really fascinated by the fact they came in different styles and colours. Since then photography has always featured in my life ... though at some points more so than others. In my early twenties I purchased a 35mm Canon EOS ... but then some years on the children came along and didn’t have so much time ... then I bought a cheap and cheerful digital to record their early days ... before I later invested in some more heavy weight equipment.

My pals are use to me constantly carrying my camera in my hand or around my neck. My bike even has a pouch on the handlebars so I can easily pedal around and whip it out at a moment’s notice. I remember me and My Little Friend cycling around Poitou Charentes a couple of years ago ... at the beginning of the holiday she would look at me and then out at the landscape to where my lens was pointing and wail “I can’t see the picture ...” but after two weeks of observing me ... literally watching me take hundreds of photos ... she got the idea ... and would get really excited as the shutter clicked and would exclaim “I can see the picture!” She and her family even have a special term ... “Oh it is very Paula-resque” ... which they use to describe a photo ... or something that I might take a photo of.

So what has happened with the photography over the last few months? Well not much really. I am not sure why ... probably because I haven’t being getting out and about much ... and on top of that, because of treatment, two of my proposed French holidays were knocked on the head ...

When I went to Wound Clinic a few weeks ago Nurse G asked me when I was due to see Dr J again. I said I didn’t know and so she logged on to the computer and checked. “Oh ... next Wednesday” she said. “No”. I replied. “I am not coming in next week. I am going away next week. Since August I have cancelled two holidays and I am not giving up another one.” “That’s OK” she assured me “it is only a check up we will postpone it a week. Where are you going ... somewhere nice?” “Only Cornwall ... but it will be an overdue break.” She nodded and replied “Cornwall can be lovely ... especially if the sun shines ...”

The first couple of days were a bit grotty weather-wise. Grey and damp ... but on Wednesday I woke to glorious blue skies and sunshine. We drove into Padstow ... now jokingly nicknamed Padstein ... and actually saw the renowned chef walking up the hill ... though it was funny not to see Chalky dancing at his feet. We met up with Lil’sis, her husband and That Ruddy Dog, who had chosen a great day to join us, and we all jumped on the little ferry and rode over to Rock. Once there we walked along waterfront, admiring the beautiful and impressive houses, before settling down at a restaurant for a little alfresco lunch.

Just after our food was served I turned to Lil’sis and said “I had to laugh on our first morning here.  Tinker woke and asked if we had bought some pain au chocolat. He thought we were in France! We obviously spend too much time there!” “Well ... you can hardly talk” jibed S, “sat here with your mussels and glass of wine ... anybody would think you were there too.” And I could have been ... I could have been in Cornwall ... or Poitou ... or even Cape Cod. The sun was shining ... the sea was glistening ... and I closed my eyes and sat back ... relaxed ... feeling happy and content ...

The weather remained good and the following days we did more of the same ... packing picnic bags, books and various bats and balls and went off to Polzeath and Constantine Bay. And ... it was there ... at Constantine ... that I decided to pick up the camera and leave the beach and wander over to the rocky cliff. The huge waves were pounding into the cove ... spraying high into the air ... and ... for the first time in ages ... I was captivated. Which is one of the reasons I enjoy photography so much ... I just lose all my senses ... I become totally ignorant of what is around me ... my mind become totally focussed on what I am attempting to capture ... I enter a world of my own. And, it was there, as I waited for each wave to break, and I sat with baited breath, staring through the view finder, with my finger on the shutter, that for the first time in ages I felt that old familiar photography passion. Later, as I walked back to the beach I thought about a newspaper article I read earlier that day...

Now, even before the arrival of the Yukky Lump, I wasn’t a save-it-for-best kind of girl. I couldn’t understand the point of buying a shiny new car but never driving it just in case it might get dirty or scratched ... or accepting a beautiful solitaire but never wearing it, because of fear that the rock might fall out ... so to me the thought of owning a camera and never using it is unbelievable.

According to the morning paper, camera king Leica has teamed up with fashionistas Hermes, and are going to sell a special edition M7 camera. Just a hundred of them. I must admit they are cute ... clad in special orange calfskin ... delivered in special silk lined and linen covered boxes. But the cuteness comes at a price ... £8,735 ... to be exact. And, what is so sad, is that most of these M7s will remain in their designer boxes ... as just breaking the seal could mean a four grand depreciation. Of course, the fact it is actually a camera is totally irrelevant. It could be vase ... or a picture ... it is a collectable ... something to be admired and not used. What a waste.

Just before my operation I hunted down my friend Caerphilly who works at the hospital and who organises an annual art exhibition. I have entered twice before and have sold a number of photo canvases. It is obviously nice when people say that like your pictures ... but when someone actually chooses to buy one ... and voluntarily displays it in their home ... it is a real compliment. Last year a hospital consultant was so pleased with his purchase that he even sent me a photo of my photo hung in his living room.

I take it you are running the exhibition again this year? What date is it?” I asked Caerphilly. “Oh ... I am sorry ... we are not doing it this year ... I have just sent a note out.” “Oh no ... I was just considering my entries” I said disappointed. “I tell you what” she replied. “the current exhibition at the Chapel gallery is due to come down ... would you like to do your own exhibition there? Your photos would be suitable for such a sensitive environment. There is room for about a dozen pictures. I'll take you down there”.   So me and Bubbles followed her and took a look.

So it is happening. My very own exhibition. And not only that ... an exhibition at my hospital ... at the hospital where I was born ... where my mother sadly died ... where I tragically lost my first baby ... but went on to celebrate the birth of two healthy sons. The hospital where I was told that I have a huge Yukky Lump ... and where the wonderful health professionals have shrunk it ... removed it ... and got me back on track ... to enjoy the things I love doing ... like taking photos ...

So it looks like I am to achieve one of the goals that I set out to do last Autumn. The other one ....? Well ... maybe not ...

So what was it?

Well ... it was to learn French ...and I admit ... I am not progressing so well on that front. I still can’t enquire “What time is the next train to Lyon?” ... or “Do you have this shoe in a size 5?” .... but heck ... I can I get by with the important stuff ..

Je voudrais des moules ... et une bouteille du vin blanc, s'il vous plait ... oooh la la ...”

To see the Cornwall pics come over to mine - click here