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Archive for July, 2012

Alfie and five of his mates, Alex, Andy, Brandon, Jack and Teddy have had their heads shaved.  They look fantastic!  (No, in truth, they look quite odd and much older!)  Incredibly, they have raised almost four grand for Cancer Research.  If you want to look at their Just Giving page, it is http://www.justgiving.com/LADS2K12 .  Please don’t feel obliged to give anything; it’s not like they’ve run a marathon!  However , as Tabby eloquently explains on her Facebook ‘If you know them, you will know how important this is, as they absolutely bum their hair.’   Here is a picture of me with Alex, Teddy, Jack and Alfie:

When they got to France, they went one step further and shaved their heads with shaving foam and razors.  Alfie unfortunately cut into Alex’s head, not having had much experience of razors.

You can see the plasters on Alex’s head.

Fred accompanied me to see the Plastic People.  We discussed his new project on the way.  Exciting stuff based on a big idea, but I can’t tell you what it is because it’s a secret and if I tell you I will have to kill you.  He’s setting up a company and getting cool peeps on board, so funsville!

We waited in a tiny room.  I put on the small gown thing.

‘We should write down some stuff while we wait,’ I suggested.

‘Good idea.  So, what have you learnt so far?’ asked Fred.

‘Well, obv they can’t do the tummy op because of the damaged blood vessels…’ I began.

‘No, no, not about all that,’ said Fred dismissively.  ‘About my project.’

Er no.  It was time to focus on boobs.  I made him write down all the questions that have been surfacing recently.  He then went off on a long meandering journey to find the loo.  Typical.   Just as he had left, Miss Benyon and a nurse came in.  Miss Benyon is animated and direct.  She impaled me with her eye, and claimed ‘I have read all your notes.’

‘Good,’ I replied.

‘The lymphoma you had when you were sixteen was wrapped around the mammary artery, and they actually removed part of the blood vessel that I would want to use if we were doing the tummy op.  So, it’s a definite no now to that option.’

‘Fine.  I had already accepted that.’

‘It is possible that the high levels of radiation you received will also have damaged the blood vessel in the back that I want to use, but we will only know when we go in.’

I have chosen reconstruction using tissue from the back.  I like that all the skin of the boob is left.  Only the stuffing will change.  I have watched the op on youtube.  The flesh is just shunted round under the skin.  Even the small circular piece of skin from the back pops through to become the new nipple.  All still attached to its own blood supply.  A bit confusing for your body, and for the Angels trying to help, I would think, but really very clever.

After all this exciting gory stuff, Fred came back.  Miss Benyon answered our questions.  ‘You must do nothing for five weeks.  She must do really nothing,’ she insisted, giving Fred a bit of a menacing look.  Hehe, I like it.  Maybe him popping off to the loo at the wrong time has given her the clue that it’s probable my newly carved-up self will be abandoned with multiple crises brewing requiring heaving, lifting and shunting.  Insightful woman.

‘Can we have a date?’ we asked.

‘I don’t do dates,’ she said.  ‘One of my people will ring you.  Don’t worry.’

One of her people did ring me.  I have a date!  Tuesday the 7th August.  Hooray.  I need to be able to make plans.

Then on Thursday I went for a final oncology appointment.  Waited two hours.  Watched patient people being called in for bloods and appointments.    Met a nice couple.  She was very cheery and he was called Henry.  He looked wiry and bright-eyed despite being on his third bout of cancer.  He’s had the top half of his stomach removed, so he doesn’t feel hunger and has to remember to eat.  Sometimes he can only drink Jersey milk which he claims kept him alive after ops.  Having said all that, he’s doing marvellously well.  ‘Living with mets isn’t that bad,’ he told me, ‘I’ve done it for twelve years.’

After Henry had been seen they both came back to find me in the waiting area.  His wife clutched my hand and said ‘Good luck.  I just know you’ll be fine.’  Sprightly Henry shook my hand.  ‘Yes, really, best of luck’, he said.  This made me feel happy and helped me wait patiently.

Finally I was called in to see a chap called Hugh Davies.  He obviously had no clue who I was or what I had but did apologise for the wait.  ‘You’ve been seeing Nandos have you?’ he asked.  ‘Nandos is away.’

Haha, now I know his nickname.  I am glad he’s escaped.  He’s probably swimming in Greek seas.   I told Hugh my whole sorry tale.  He was useful for one thing.  He said ‘Really, don’t worry about the lung nodules.  Half of my patients have nodules.  Your lungs’ surface area is that of a tennis court.  Two 7mm nodules on a tennis court?  Pfff.  See what I mean.’

This lifted me a bit.  Since then I have had twinges of excitement like wot I used to have.  My life used to twang from twinge to twinge.  You only realise they’ve been missing once they’re back.

The recent twinges are because my friends Beth and Bruno taught me how to make sushi.  I just love rolling it, squishing it and eating it.  Then we have Fred’s wicked idea and new company, and the fact that my children are scattered around Europe:  Chloe is on Gavdhos, Tabby is in Lefkada, Alfie is in the Pyrennees and Bashi is near Perugia!  I am chuffed that they are all off exploring the world.  Another thrill is because Cousin Kate in Paris has invited the Gin Club to visit.  Now that will be something to look forward to – the start of the Gin Club’s Grand Global Adventure.  Kate says she doesn’t mind that Anonymous and Mad are bonkers, as she will be out at work!  They do create trouble after dark, I should warn her.

I did not make it to the Cancer Centre this week, and anyway I don’t want to be greedy and use up all the healing slots, but I had a phone call from Dennis who said he would come round on Saturday morning.  ‘But Dennis, it’s so far for you to come,’ I protested.

‘I like your company,’ he assured me.

Dennis came, and healed.  He put me into a deeply relaxed state where breathing slowed right down and the barking of the dogs and whistling of the parrots seemed to echo from another world.

I did the ponies, walked the dogs, then fell into a deep sleep all afternoon where again breathing was long and slow and deep.  Then we met up with Janet and David at a Mexican place in Notting Hill.  Enchiladas, Tostadas, Passionfruit Margaritas, and a very strange dish with hot charred peppers stuffed with queso on some black refried beans.  Later, in the pub, I proudly showed off my new fuzz.  Unfortunately Janet and Fred had quaffed large quantities of red by then and too truthfully pointed out that a) my new hair is grey, and b) it has really not grown very much since last time I showed them.  OK, OK, you have deflated me quite enough thank you.  I pointed out defiantly that my new hair is jolly thick.  And soft.  (And my friend Sarah said I was Sinead O’Connorish the other day.)

Had the oddest feeling on the tube and train, that the chemo really has sterilised me, got rid of all my colonies of bacteria, cleaned me up.  I looked at all those people with wild thick hair, stubbly underarms and God forbid, nostril thatch, and perceived them anew as untamed breeding grounds for thriving germ armies.  I toyed with standing up to declaim, ‘You all need chemo!  You should be cleaned!  Strip that nasty hair away!’

How strange.  Maybe I have that syndrome where you fall in love with your kidnapper.  I was a Happy to be Hairy.  Now I am a Born-again  Smoothskin.  I sense a good plot for a book rising.  Just like in Day of the Triffids where only the blind or temporarily blind people survive, howsabout a big plague comes and kills everyone who’s not on chemo?  Oh, Cancer is already halfway to doing that, thinking about it.  You’d end up with a new race of humble, philosophical, depressed baldie-peeps.

I have woken up with the desire to throw things away again.  Need Arulesh with her strict whisk-limiting capacities for that but she has scarpered.  Will put it off til she returns.  Wozzie and Claire are arriving from Ireland today.  They love walking so we will escort them along our favourite well-trodden paths and then eat sushi.  We have sushi rice, seaweed, avocado, green beans, mushrooms, cucumber and ginger, all ready.  Thrillsvilles.

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OK!  Stuff!  Yeah!  Bring it on!

Firstly, must tell you about the gin club outing.  Took my vom bucket, just in case.  I went in one door of the junk shop and Penel went in the other.  By the time we met up we were both dragging beautiful old wooden chairs from the same set!  Telepathy!  We rummaged in three charity shops, with phenomenal success.  It’s all White Stuff and Fatface in Saffy Walden.  Penel found a beautiful patterned skirt but insulted almost everyone around her by exclaiming ‘Yes, but it’s so ENGLISH!  UGH!  I COULDN’T.  SOOO ENGLISH!’  As if by living in France you become French or something.  She bought it anyway.  My mates are very persuasive.

We ended up in the King’s Arms having gin no less.  Apart from Penel who had bitter because she misses good beer, poor thing, having to live in France.  Then we drove home singing all the way.  We chose the songs we would like at our funerals.  Claire chose ‘Here Comes the Sun’, I like ‘There were Bells’ which was so good at Colin’s funeral, and ‘Seasons in the Sun’ of course, and Penel wants the French version of that.  Mad Lucy would like ‘Star Man waiting in the stars’ and Agent-X-who-must-not-be-named because of her internet phobia wanted ‘Blackbird Singing in the Dead Elm Nigh’ and some mad tune none of us had heard of.  We sang it anyway and went down Baroosh for cocktails seeing as how we were in the mood.  We invited the men to come too.  They had enormous fruity beer things and worked out how many clinks if everyone clinks.  I had a mojito and then a rather healthy elderflower cocktail.  We celebrated the chemo being OVER, FINISHED, GONE, DONE  and the new hair being IN, BACK, THERE, BLACK.  Hooray, hooray, yippedee doo dah. 

Reminds me of a story Gwanny tells about her junior school lacrosse team cheering a gruff  ‘HUP HUP HOOOOREEEE, HUP HUP HOOOOREEEE!’ and being taken aback by the other posher team chirping a ‘Pip pip Purrah!  Pip pip Purrah! Pip pip Purrah!’

Four days after chemo I went for healing.  Not a moment too soon as random retching was taking its toll.  I think Dennis could see I was battered as he said he would come round on the Friday.  He had spoken with Agent X too and had said he would heal her at my house.  So, double healing.  Absolute luxury.  Thank you Dennis.  Again as he left my feet to come up to my shoulder I could feel my feet still being held.  Very odd.  Also as he worked his way down my left side I felt the most wonderful sensation, like waves stroking my body, like I was being washed.  It’s just exquisite.  The relief!  Afterwards we were sitting on the sofa talking and Dennis exclaimed suddenly at a bright flash of light in the room.

It’s the angels.  You know, Dennis is seventy nine.  You would never know.  He looks about sixty.   He says there is a man, a presence, in our big room.  We always did think our house was haunted.

Since then I have felt better, certainly physically.  However it don’t take much to upset the apple cart.  (loving my metaphors today!)  You know how you run into someone who is a bit abrupt maybe, and you suddenly understand exactly what ‘Bull in a China Shop’ means?  Well, that happened to me this week.  I told Gwanny about it on the phone.

‘It’s like the bull in the china shop, Mum, and I’m the china shop.’

‘Och, Grampa!  She says she’s a china shop!’

I heard Grampa in the background saying ‘Och, noo!  Oh, dear!’

‘Tell him about the bull, Mum, otherwise it will make no sense.’

‘Och, Grampa, there’s a bull, a bull, in the China Shop.’

I had to talk to Grampa myself to convey the metaphor properly.  I’ve been jangled bad, that’s what it is.  My aunt Lindesay laughed and said that she has always felt like a China Shop without even having any chemo.  It must be nerve-wracking to be so sensitive.  Normally I am a QuickFit Tyre Shop where a frolicking bull would be a welcome distraction.

I have been alone.  My whole family are in Greece.  So, just me and the animals.  Time to stare into the mirror and contemplate  baldness, ageing and being human.  A chance really to take on board what has been happening to me.   And to learn that if you order an indian takeaway for just one person, you don’t order the sag aloo, the tandoori king prawn, the bhindi bhaji, the biryani, the vegetable curry and the nan bread.  Barney had to come round and help me eat it.  But now he’s gone off to Greece too.

A few days ago, after an episode of dark contemplation, I found myself putting on false cheeriness for the animals.  I didn’t want them to know I was sad, though if I do cry they all pile on top of me, it’s wonderful.  If I go out, I return to find Huggi’s bed full of my jumpers and coats and my bag.  Luckily for my mental state, every day I have had to go round Claire’s to have her inject me.  She is quite good at this.  Tabby trained her.  She flicks the needle and everything.  Doesn’t mind if I scream.  In fact, Mattie reminds me to scream.  And then they give me talk therapy, beer and romcoms to take home.

Yesterday I finally got to see the Plastic People.  I waited for an hour and a half past my appointment time.  They were most apologetic.  Miss Benyan looks extremely clever.  It took her one minute to explain that she would not recommend using flesh from the tummy for reconstruction, because the radiation I had to the chest area when I was sixteen will definitely have left damaged blood vessels there and for that particular op you need perfectly functioning blood vessels.  ‘If you were my sister,’ she said, ‘I wouldn’t recommend it.  It’s too risky.’

‘Oh.’  I said.  Pause.   ‘Gosh, it would have been really helpful to have known that four months ago.’

Four months during which options (which it turns out never were options) sloshed their pollution around my head.   Cruelty to middle-aged women, that’s what it is.

‘How far through chemo are you?’ she asked.

‘I’ve finished chemo,’ I replied.

‘When did you finish?’

‘Ten days ago.’

‘Oh.  Normally they send people to see us halfway through chemo, so we can book the op.’

Hmmm.  I had a feeling someone somewhere had messed up.  I did keep asking if I could see the plastic people.  I did feel that time was ticking by.  Here’s the rub:   if the next available slot for my op is a long way off, they could ask me to have another chemo to keep the cancer at bay.

So:  will I just nod cheerily and say ‘Oh, another chemo?   Why not indeed?  Feeling sick for nine days?  I don’t mind.  Anti-sickness which gives me depression?  Not a problem.  Going round Claire’s nine days running to be stabbed?  Loving it.  And I do so miss seeing my chemo fwends.’

Or will I lie down on the floor on my back, kick my legs and thcream and thcream and thcream until I am thick like the girl in Just William?  And then pop my red face up to inform them that my blog is read in seventy five countries and do they want their reputation damaged and spread around the world?

‘You could choose the Latissimus Dorsi option where we use flesh from your back,’ Miss Benyan continued.  ‘In which case we use a blood vessel from the back and tunnel it through under the armpit so you would have a natural blood supply.’

Oh, God, oh God, oh God.  QuickFit has gone and China Shop is back.

Should I just do a Carmel and have the boob lopped off with a jolly old straight scar and no stupid fake bulge?  I don’t know anymore.  I like my back.  I don’t want people carving into it.  But then would I get upset at dinner parties if Fred ogled cleavage?  He is a man after all.  I probably would.  I would suffer dreadful boob envy.  I could just decide never to go to another dinner party.  Overrated things anyway.

‘I don’t have much fat on my back,’ I protested.

Miss Benyan swivelled me round and made me look at my back in the mirror.  ‘You do.  Look at this layer of flesh.’

OK.  So I have a fat back.  Bovvered?  Like, literally, bovvered?

I spoke to a nurse before leaving.  She showed me pictures of the op.  I said ‘Can you give me a date?’

‘Next week we will have you in again so you have time to think of questions.  Then we will give you a date,’ she said.

For the first time I am wondering how it would all have been if I had chosen to go to the Epping Breast Unit.

I wished I had taken Claire with me.  She would have got a date for me.  She would have decided it was time to set up the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Middle Aged Fat-Backed Women.

Since then I have been for dinner at Claire’s, Sue’s, Agent X’s, I’ve been on a fab outing to see Singing in the Rain with Cath, Ali, Lizzie, Gill and Lizzie’s Mum, I’ve had coffee in the Rosey Lea with Phoebe, I’ve been walking with Margaret.  Despite all these blessings, I still feel freaked and wish I was swimming in the sea with my children.  Claire just texted to ask ‘Are you feeding your good wolf?’

I replied ‘Good wolf died unfortunately.  Only bad wolves.’  It’s really not that bad but I like to scare her and keep her on her toes.

She texted again:  ‘I prescribe a dose of gin and friendship.’  We’re on for tonight.  I’m thanking the Angels for friends.

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