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 ...


  1. I'll buy that book. Have a fabulous holiday!

    Marsha x

  2. You're an inspiration Paula, best wishes & thinking of you. Kate x

  3. I hope you enjoy that much deserved holiday in France and don't take too long away as I enjoy reading your blogs.

    Best wishes on your journey in the future.

    C xx

  4. Paula, that's a fabulous blog and we all hope you have a fabulous time in La Palmyre (without the pigeons ...!), you deserve a happy, family, relaxing time and we'd love to go back to La P with you and the Billis' next year - perhaps after your book is published! See you soon and lots of love. Beci xx

  5. Your blog has had a huge impact on many people's lives ... some you know about ... and some you never will ... some in ways that you would understand ... and some in ways that would astonish you. But it's time for you to step back from the responsibility of sharing every moment of your life with the world and embrace the opportunity to spoil yourself in France .... have a wonderful time dear P & I look forward to checking diary dates when you get back. Fondest love always, Bubbles xxxxxx

  6. How about 'My cups runneth over'? You could write that book, you know. Just saying. I'd buy it too.

    And the 'afterlife'. Basically, it's like staring at the situation square on and then making a decision. I bet I would live. I signed up for college, and am up to my ears in books. Sometimes, I stutter-step. This week I found out that a friend, who had been in remission for a few years has cancer in her bones again. Original diagnosis: breast. That made me stumble, badly. When 'what if' suddenly has illustrations, it will scare the bejeebers out of you. But you get your footing, and you make the decision, again. I will love my friend, I will help her anyway I can, and I will move on.

  7. Hurrah! Hurray! good to pop back and hear the news. Looking forward to your Flickr fotos soonest
    David/ tq9kite

  8. Paula, thankyou for the blog, it has been an amazing read and a privilege to share in. Have an amazing holiday and every day after that too. Even the dullest of days can be appreciated after this.
    I hope to see your exhibition and read your book in the not too distant future.
    Enjoy life, and flag me down if ever you see me.

  9. Okay, this isn't funny anymore. I thought you were just going on vacation - you are truly done writing this blog?

    Well, good for you. Put cancer behind you and move on. I'm behind you. I hope you read this - thanks for the great blog. If you ever start a new one, let me knnow.


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