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 ...