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Archive for August, 2012

The new boob feels great, but every time I sneeze I fear it might explode.  I have heard reports of friends of friends who ‘did too much’ after their op:  their scars opened up and wept; their implants popped out.  So I have been careful to be lazy.  We got Netflix so I have watched all of Fawlty Towers and plenty of crap movies.  Every so often I shout or text someone for a cuppa tea.  Sometimes I go in the kitchen and comment about the state of the floor or sink or dogs’ water.  TTYTT (This is my own invention:  To Tell You The Truth) *whisper* the kitchen has been a lot better than when I am looking after it, God knows how, as I swear I spent most of my old life cleaning it up.

I more recently moved up to my room as there is another jolly frisky mouse running around in the big room.  I got freaked that if it ran up my leg the resultant screams could shoot the implant, back steak and fake nipple across the room to splatter the TV with gore.

So upstairs with no TV went back to blogs and found one called ‘Sweaters for Days and Moves like Jagger.’  The writer does marvellous recaps of 50 Shades of Grey chapters .  Have also discovered Red Lemonade, an Irish blogger with posts on the theme of ‘Fifty Shades of Tedious Fuckery.’  They have been keeping me amused.  Have had to clutch the Beaut firmly with both hands for fear again of detonations brought on by painful snorty paroxysms.

I am not allowed to drive, so other people have been driving me about.  Chloe takes me to the ponies.  I just pat them and sniff their lovely smell while she picks up poos, he he.  Tell you what though, sooo annoying being driven to the shop by Fred.  Firstly, he always bumps the car into Maura-next-door’s garage door.  Then he reverses a bit and bumps into Maura’s house.  I shriek, ‘Bloody Hell!  You’ve crashed the fucking car twice and we’re not even out of the drive!’  He denies it every time.  Chloe’s just the same.  She not only mounts the kerb regularly (ooh sounds rude I know) but scrapes the car against the gate every time we come home, then denies it!  Like father like daughter.  There’s blates blue paint on the gate, mate.

Worse, in the shop.  Fred does not take a trolley, just a basket.  As if I can fit everything I need/fancy in a blinking basket!  Then he rushes me past whole aisles.  Today he marched me straight past the whole fruit and veg section!  Bloody Hell.  What will the parrots do without their lychees?  I notice he does not miss out the wine aisle.  Anyway, it’s all false economy, proved by the fact that since there was nothing to eat in the house except wine we had to get a takeaway from Chutney Joe.  The parrots quite like the garlic nan, luckily.

Claire went away for the week.  This was sad.  I missed her.  She is the only one to understand about Miss Benyon.  Someone has written ‘I heart Miss Benyon’ all over my diary.  Tabby…!  your writing is recognisable you know.

Went to the Breast Unit for a reccy.  Mr Farouhi was away.  (Thank God these peeps get holidays from scooping out breasts.)  We saw Prof Benson instead.  Chloe giggled because he reminded her of David Walliams.  He asked who did my dressing.  I said I did it.  He said ‘You can have a nurse to come and do it properly you know.’  I did not tell him about our local nurse who insisted there was ‘absolutely nothing’ in Tabby’s foot when later that day an inch-long shard of wood spewed out, and who accidentally jabbed Chloe twice with Typhoid.  Prof Benson was pleased with my scar nonetheless.  Gave me the news that only one out of eighteen lymph nodes was cancerous.  This is an ‘excellent’ result.  Am slightly mournful that seventeen healthy nodes had to bite the dust, but, hooray, I beasted it.

They let us go, then called us back in again.  Uh oh.  He’d forgotten about the lung nodules.  ‘We’ll book a CT scan to check they are static, not growing,’ he said.

Then I talked to a Dr Wilson about the oncology side of things.  He was jovial and awfully kind.  He explained about Tamoxifen.  Wikipedia says this about the drug:  ‘Some breast cancer cells require estrogen to grow. Estrogen binds to and activates the estrogen receptor in these cells. Tamoxifen is metabolized into compounds that also bind to the estrogen receptor but do not activate it. Because of this competitive antagonism, tamoxifen acts like a key broken off in the lock that prevents any other key from being inserted, preventing estrogen from binding to its receptor. Hence breast cancer cell growth is blocked.’   I will probably take it for two years.  One pill per day.  Will switch to an aromatase inhibitor for the three years after that.  They both stop the cancer coming back.  I asked if it would make me depressed like wot the FEC did.  He said, no, it’s not anywhere near as bad as FEC, but ‘you might have a little slump,’ he warned.

Dr Wilson talked about Herceptin too.  It’s a monoclonal antibody that I will have intravenously every three weeks.  It can give you flu-like symptoms but not for long.  He offered me the Persephone trial where you are randomly assigned to six months or a year.  I asked if six months was better in his opinion.  He said he suspected it was, and that he was generally quite good at backing the right horse.  I asked if one can choose just to have six months.  He said yes, one can just walk away, but it is not advisable.  I said yes to Persephone.

Since then I have been googling Tamoxifen and Herceptin like mad.  It’s fascinating.

Then right after the bank holiday I went back to the Plastic Surgery Unit.  Fred took me.  Lindsey, who worked on stitching during the op, changed the small dressings which are still on The Beaut, underarm and back.  She seems so young.  We chatted about buying houses. A dissolvable stitch has popped out of the boob wound.  She trimmed it.   Then, OMG, I heard Miss Benyon’s voice outside the cubicle.  The curtain was tossed aside, and she was there, dressed in her softly green operating garb.  What an unexpected delight.  Neither Fred nor I could say anything as we are so besotted.  We just sat there like duhs.

‘How are you doing?’

‘Fine,’ I croaked.

‘Really?’  She turned to Fred.  ‘Is she really doing fine?’

‘Nghh,’ said Fred.  He has truly joined the Miss Benyon Appreciation Society.

‘Well, you certainly look well!’ she enthused.  She had maybe spotted that my hair is now one centimetre long in some places.

I just sighed with admiration and joy.  She admired her handiwork.  In answer to a burbled question she reckoned I could probably swim in the Greek sea in a month.  She always finishes with ‘Any questions?’

We can never think of any.  Oh, I did remember one.  ‘Sometimes I bend forward and the implant kind of goes ker-plunk.’

She laughed her wicked laugh.  ‘It will do that for a while, but it will soon settle.’

We drove home plastered with happy grins.  When you have seen Miss Benyon you feel like you’ve had a hit on a mahoosive bong.

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How It All Began

Some of my more demanding Bladdicts have requested the tale of how the whole cancer thing began.  It’s true that the beginning is missing from the blog:   I only started writing things down two weeks into the saga when everything was already spinning round.   I do remember the start of everything in fine detail though, and you never know when a story might help others who are newly diagnosed, so here it is:

I was lying in bed reading Asterix or maybe Tintin, absentmindedly stroking my breast, as you do.  I registered an irregularity.   Not even a lump, more of a slight ridge.  I felt it again and again.  They are hard to feel.  They kind of slip away from you.  ‘Fred,’ I asked, ‘Is this a lump?’

He felt it and said, ‘Yes.’  He doesn’t pussyfoot around, Fred.  No ‘Sorry’, or ‘Oh, dear’, or ‘Mmm, could be’.

That ‘Yes’ was the beginning of it all.  It was a Friday in early March.  I waited the weekend and went to the doctor first thing on the Monday morning.  It was Doctor Hunukumbure.  I said to her, ‘I am Tabitha Tingey’s mother.  Diabetes, remember?’

She did remember.

‘I have a breast lump and I would like to go to Addenbrooke’s please.’

She felt the lump and filled in the forms without any fuss.

Addenbrooke’s Breast Unit phoned a couple of days later and offered me an appointment that very Friday.  Fred was away in India with work so I went alone.  (Silly me, but I had no idea that needles and biopsies would feature at this very first appointment.)   I started to feel really scared sitting in the waiting area.  Apprehensive, embarrassed that I would have to take my top off, verging on terrified.  Wanted to just run out of there screaming my fucking head off tbh.  Chatted to another lady who confessed that she also was shitting bricks.

They show you into a room which has a panicky level of equipment in it.  I took my top and bra off and put them on a chair.  I lay down on the bed.  They probed the breast with ultrasound, confirmed the existence of the lump, took images of it, and measured it.  During this you crane your neck trying to ogle the screen but you can’t see a damn thing.  They then put a needle of local anaesthetic into the boob, and really soon afterwards inserted a long needle, wiggled it about to make sure the end was in the lump, then shot a kind of gun which made the end of the needle bite into some of the tissue.  They pulled the needle out.  This is called a Biopsy.  It feels revolting.  They did the same again to a lymph node under my arm.  This was all pretty scary, but they are trying to help you, long term, so obviously you try to be brave.  (If you are mad enough not to have taken a friend, a kind nurse holds your hand when the gun goes off inside your breast.)  They then put steri-strips over the wound and a dressing over the steri-strips.

During all this, your mind tussles with the realisation that needles and ‘discomfort’ could be playing a largish part in your life from then on.  After it, you feel proud for being brave but also like you might start weeping and wailing at any moment.  The only thing that comforted me was the thought that the gin club was absolutely going to love the drama of it all, darling.

Then I was called in to see Mr Farouhi.  He said, rather quietly and sadly, that he thought my lump was cancerous.  ‘I look at lumps all day long,’ he said.  ‘So I know what cancerous looks like.’  He mentioned lumpectomies and mastectomies.  The word mastectomy gave me chills. I was told to come back a week later for confirmation.  ‘Bring someone with you,’ they advised.

Remember, this all happened within one week of having first found the lump.  A lot to take in.

I drove home in a stew and entered a state of constant anguish.  I spent the week researching online.  Phoned friends who I knew had been through it.  Didn’t want to tell Gwanny.  Didn’t want her to be sad.  ‘Should I tell Gwanny?’ I asked Bashi.

‘Well….would you want me to tell you if I had cancer?’ offered Bash.  She is clevs.  I told Gwanny.

A week later, Fred was still away.  Kind Claire came with me to the Results Clinic.  We discussed it on the way.  I said to her ‘Look, they told me not to spend the week hoping.  So I haven’t.  It’s obvious they think it’s cancer.’

So when they said it was, nothing moved inside me.  I had already understood.  I did space out though, so Claire wrote things down and asked questions on my behalf.  One does go into a bit of shock.  Mr Farouhi said the cancer was very probably caused by the radiation I had when young. He explained that with a lumpectomy one also needs radiation.  He was therefore recommending a mastectomy as my only option because I had already had over the recommended life-time dose of radiation.  The breast care nurse showed us line drawings of  mastectomies and different types of reconstruction.  She did say one reassuring thing.  It was that all the possible surgeries are at least on the surface.  It’s not as if you have to go deep into any body cavities.

Claire and I went for lunch at Brown’s.  I did enjoy it, as pitta with mezedes and vino can always cheer me up, but found, of course, that I was heavily distracted.

That evening the gin club came round to commiserate.  We wrung our hands together, googled pictures of mastectomies, checked out survival stats, and got pissed.  Over the next few days, I contacted cousins, friends and friends of friends who have experienced breast cancer and I listened to their stories.  I berated myself for not really having realised that they had a story until it became my story.  Selfish bitch that I was.  ‘It’s all about me!’  My feelings swung up and down and around and about like I was a loon.

Fred then came home from India: his arrival home is charted in the first blog post ‘My husband comes home.’

Thinking about it all now, six months later, I realise that it seems strange to say this, but I am glad that this happened to me.  I have discovered a blogger, Florence, who writes about ‘the perks of having cancer.’  She has seriously managed to find zillions.  I hope she won’t mind if I tell you my top seven ‘perks’:

1.  Miss Benyon sigh with admiration and joy.

2.  Dennis the Healer.

3.  The many kindnesses of wonderful family and friends near and far.

4.  Experiencing the joys of a brazilian with none of the pain.

5.  Discovering a whole social cyberwhirl through the blog.

6.  The fact my kids have finally learnt how to do the dishwasher, do the shopping, cook, tidy up, clean out the parrots, do the ponies, walk the dogs, pick up poos, sweep the floor, wash the clothes, de-flea the cats, clean out the car.

7.  The fact that the gin club is going global, which would not have happened without the cancer nor blog because our international profile would not have been sufficient.  (OK, OK, cousin Kate in Paris just invited us to stay, but still….woohoo Europe here we come.)

 

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Escape from the Asylum

I arrived home from hospital to an email telling me that the Breast Blog in the World is in the top 23 breast blogs of 2012 on the american website Healthline.  I am honoured and chuffed.  The best thing about it, for me, has been discovering the other 22 bloggers.  They are clever, energetic, inspiring and varied.  Some are anti-pink ribbon activists.  They think a lot too much is spent on ‘raising awareness’ when funds should be pouring into research.  Some are very sad.  More than one of the blogs link to another activist blogger, Rachel’s site.  Read her blog and you will want so much to meet her, but you can’t.  She did not survive metastatic breast cancer and died at 41, just last February.

This is probably why so many writers choose not to be as jokey jokey as me.  Seeking out any scraps of fun cancer may afford (on a good day) does not help eradicate the bastard.  The truth is there, staring us in the face, unless we maintain seriously impenetrable filters.  But then, sometimes I think, ‘for want of a joke, the reader was lost.’  Many readers get compassion fatigue.  They just can’t take in too much seriousness or pain and end up zoning out.

Another come-down:  Dennis is ill.  He has a chest infection.  The antibiotics he has been given are not making any difference.  I hope the massive task of taking away my sin has not destabilised him.  He is such a giver; it must be very draining.  I have been typing up his book as fast as I can, as it will make him better to see his book in print.  Tonight the whole family is going to type taking it in turns.

So I have been reminding myself that my post-op euphoria is all very well, but not very clevs.   When things are going well, it is wise to regroup your armies, not let down your guard.  Not go and behave drunkenly and stupidly like wot I am tempted to.  Not break into that pack of medicinal marijuana someone popped in….;-)

So, practicalities.  I am not allowed to lift anything (as this can exacerbate a lifelong condition called Lymphoedema which you get from having missing lymph nodes.)  This leads to frustrating situations where, from my chair, I am trying to direct others to do what I would normally do.  We were in the garden.  Fattipuss turned up with a frog.  A beautiful fat frog.  ‘Quick, Fred, save it!  Save it!  Fattipuss will bite off its legs,’  I yelled, of course.

Fred is so laid-back that, to me in hyper-loon mode, he appears vexingly slow.  I would have shot over there and had the frog free within around seven seconds.  It took Fred seven seconds to realise that I had spoken to him.  He looked up from his crossword.

‘Fred!  Please, please, save the frog, the frog!’  I screamed.

Fred finished his clue, sighed and meandered over there.  He crouched down and watched Fattipuss with the frog.

The parrots strutted outo their outside cage to watch proceedings.  ‘Puss, puss, puss!’ called Kiki.

‘Take the cat away!’  I yelled.  ‘Pick the cat up!  Put him in the kitchen so he can’t get out!’

Eventually Fred put the cat in the kitchen, failing to shut the other door, so Fattipuss came straight out again.  I gave up on Fred.

‘Alfie!’ I yelled.  ‘Alfie, please come and shut the cat in the kitchen!’

‘Wot?’ asked Torro.  ‘Wot?’

Alfie turned up all sleepy and duh-looking.  He picked up the cat and put him in the kitchen.  He forgot to shut the other door.  The cat came straight out again.

‘Alfie!’ called Torro.  He has a way of predicting people’s lines.

‘Alfie!  The cat got out!  Put the cat away again!  Shut both doors this time!  Duh!’

Alfie took the cat away again.  Five seconds later, out came Fattipuss, heading towards the frog.  Honestly, you couldn’t make it up.

I was by this time hopping with frustration.  You cannot control these people.  They are too mellow for their own good.  Fred was laughing and saying ‘That cat is so clever.’

‘He’s not clever!  He came out of an open door three times!  It’s you wot is mentally challenged.  Aaargh, he’s going to get the frog!’

‘Nah, he’s forgotten all about the frog, he’s not going to bother with the frog.’  Fred picked up his crossword.

‘Of course he will!  I know about cats:  they never give up!’

Alfie said dismissively  ‘Relax mandem!   He’s bored of the frog.  No way will he go after the frog.’

Fattipuss sprinted at the frog.  The frog did a massive leap.  They both went into the bushes.

‘Was I right?  Say that I was right!  I am always right!  Say I am always right!’

‘I am always right,’ said Fred.

Puerile.

Went to Gin Club in Claire’s garden with the blokes.  They all want to meet Miss Benyon but I have entered a possessive phase.   ‘No, you can’t, she’s mine.’  LOL.  Mad Lucy and I have decided to have a splinter gin group for ‘people with implants.’  He he.  We will have our own mutual fakey boob admiration meetings.

One of the bladdicts wants to know the story of how we got the parrots. OK, if you bear with me I will reward you at the bottom with pictures of ‘Tabby escaping from the asylum’ and ‘Tabby having a hypo’.

Naughty.  You are not meant to scroll down when I tell you things like that.  You have to earn your Tabby pictures.  Soon they will cost money.

Anyway…..it was Alfie’s seventh birthday coming up.  He had said that he would really love a budgie, so I popped along to Thorley pet shop.  They had budgies for £7.50 but they only had small cages and I was determined to get a big fuck-off cage so our budgie would be very happy.  The Thorley people sent me to PetWorld in Harlow.  There they had budgies but again, the cages were not big enough.  They suggested BirdWorld on the M25.  Off I went.

I entered the enormous warehouse and told some chap I was looking for a budgie.  He’d obviously seen me coming a mile off.

‘What you want a budgie for?’  the man said.  He took a three month old African Grey parrot out of its cage and said ‘Put your hand out.’

The bird blinked sleepily at me and stepped slowly onto my hand.  His claws were warm and soft.  His feathers were fluffy.  I was entranced.  He was just so sweet.   I had what I would now recognise as a Miss Benyon moment.

‘Reared him from an egg, I did,’ the chap said.  ‘You won’t find a better bird.’

‘Look, I just can’t,’ I protested weakly.  ‘We have dogs who will rip him apart.’

‘Uh uh.’  The chap shook his head.  ‘Look at this beak.  No dog will go for a bird with a beak like this.  Some of my customers’ birds ride the dog round the house.’

‘Do you have a big cage?’

He showed me the most enormous cages.

‘How much is he?’  I really thought he was going to say like thirty five quid or something.

‘Seven hundred quid.   They do live for a hundred years though.’

You would think that I would have laughed at that point and walked away, but no.  I phoned my neighbour and friend Meg who was about 85 at the time.  (She is now 91!)   ‘Oh wonderful!’ she exclaimed.  ‘I had an African Grey as a child.  They’re the cleverest, most entertaining birds of all.  Ours was called Torro.  Such a character.  And no trouble.’

Then I phoned Fred.  ‘I’ve found the most beautiful parrot, Fred.  Only thing is, he’s seven hundred quid.’

Slight pause.  ‘Yeah, alright, why not?’ said Fred.

Sigh.  In those days, we had money….but no sense!  Should have thought about saving up that seven hundred quid for Berklee College of Music.   Still, at least I asked him so he could never say it was my fault.

So that is how Torro came to live at our house.  He was happy but looked a bit lonely so few months later it was Fred’s birthday and the kids and I went back to BirdWorld and found Kiki.  We put them in together and within minutes they were kissing.  Aaah bleeesss.  Barney came round and knocked up a really big cage in our kitchen.  A few weeks later we said we wished the parrots could go outside.  Barney just went outside, bashed the wall with a hammer, took out three bricks and built a cage on the outside of the wall as well.  So the parrots have been going in and out as they like for seven years now.

So now you deserve your reward:  a couple more gems for you from Tabby’s library of acting.  Tabby has a bunch of fwends who we call her Stiletto Fwends.  This is because they turn up in a big gaggle, navigate the paving stones and gravel in their stilettos, put on piles of makeup and false lashes and wobble off into town shrieking and laughing.  One of the Stiletto Fwends is Alex, the daughter of my fwend Caz/Patsy.  Alex took this photo of Tabby.  It is called ‘Escape from the Asylum.’

This one is also taken by Alex.  Thanks Alex!   It is called ‘Tabby having a Hypo and Alex just loving the excuse to eat Wotsits in the middle of the night.’  Don’t know about you, but they both make me piss myself.

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I am back home now, still high as a kite, but wrote this while I was still in hospital:

I am now feeling pretty much 100%.  Have been for a walk and sat outside in mild sunshine and breeze.  My roomies looked at me as if I had been to another planet when I got back.  Poor Susan feasts her eyes on me.  She needs to turn the corner. I am giving her encouragement.

Most of the nurses seem confident I will be released tomorrow.  I just don’t have an invalid mentality.  Today, being fully dressed, I really don’t fit in.  Another drain came out.  They think both the others should come out tomorrow or I will go home with one.  Shanelle’s Mum, who is called Laura, (she says I can tell you), says her drains were full of skanky slop.  She has a bit of a way with words.  She is on Twitter, it’s Bubbalicious80.

Monday

I can go home!  Both drains were taken out this morning.  The nurse tells you to take deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, so you know it’s not going to feel great.  You soon find out that it feels as if a long turgid panicking maggot is tunnelling its snout through your body.  I looked at the retrieved drain.  Quite a length, like 15 cm, had been inside me.  (sounds rude!)  I asked the nurse if the tube suctions the skanky slop up just from its end.  She said no, the tube has lots of little holes, so the slop is slurped up from all along its length (sounds even ruder!)

Spent the night watching the Olympic Closing Ceremony.  Steve, one of the nurses, had said to call him when the Spice Girls came on.  As soon as they started popping out of their lit-up cabs I skidded out into the corridor and hissed ‘Spice Girls!’  The nurses came running, and we turned my TV round, took out the headphones, let the sound out and had a quiet, illicit boogie.

I and ‘The Beaut’ (my new boob) are now home.  Always strange exiting sterility into earth, muddy pawprints, rampant vegetation.  The dogs were out at the farrier with Chloe when I got home.  We sat at the table to have a cuppa and Debbie and BB came by with a fabulous lemon cake which we ate there and then.  The dogs got back and galloped down the big room to leap onto my sofa.  Then Norwich Phil dropped by for a cuppa as she’d been to Stansted, and Barney came in and had sups with us, wot Tabby made.  Told him about Miss Benyon-sigh-with-admiration-and-joy.  He says everyone falls in love with their surgeon.  It’s classic and to do with the morphine or the fact you’re totally in their hands or something. (Claire looked it up for me.  She says it’s called Nightingale Syndrome after Florence.)  I won’t tell you what Chloe then said, but it meant did I want to have sex with her (in much cruder terms which I will not detail as Bashi and Alfie’s mates read the blog).   I was like ‘No, Chloe,’ shocked, ‘this is a purely platonic love.  Admiration and joy.’  Fred doesn’t mind.  He fancies her too.  The whole world does.  If you met her you would understand.  The gin group are all gagging to meet her.  I said they should book a tit enlargement or something.

BTW, please don’t tell Miss Benyon-sigh-with-admiration-and-joy that the world is in love with her.  I would not tell you about it if I did not feel fairly sure that she is way too busy wielding her skilful scalpel to check out patients’ blogs.

I am FB fwends with Laura (Shanelle and Chelsea’s mum.)  She is very naughty and gets on a negative bent.  She posts things like ‘No college, no money, only pain.’  I have reminded her to think of the things she does have, like her gorgeous girls, her cat mctubbyfluffybumbum or whatever he’s called, and her house (I’m assuming she has one and does not live in a ditch.)  Then I told her I had encased her in pink cottonwool and was asking the universal energy to help her.  Dennis told me how to do this.  Do you know what?  She slept like a baby and now thinks I’m her angel!  Today she posted ‘I am not well, I need Shanelle.’  What a great poem!  I can tell the force is now with her.

Bashi has changed over the last couple of weeks.  She has become scholarly.  This is because I took away her computer.  Her reliance on it had been bugging me.  She has made a map of Greece on her wall and is sticking arrows on it to the places where things happened to Odysseus and other ancient peeps.  She is also making family trees of the Greek Gods and heroes.  This is complicated as the gods often bonked mortals and messed it all up.

This just goes to show that if screens disappear from children’s lives, creative things start to fill the time.  I have long believed this, and used to throw away the TV rather randomly as the fancy took me when they were little.  We had so much more fun without it.  Our favourite game was sweetie shop.  We would buy sweets from a shop, come home with them and set up our own shop.  We would make little signs that said ‘1p’, ‘2p’, ‘5p’ and ’10p’, find lots of coins and paper bags, and go shopping.  We would take it in turns to be the shopkeeper.  Ahhh.  Happy days.  I actually feel like I want to play that game now but with Old Jamaica, After Eights, Green and Blacks Organic Neapolitans, fifty ps and pound coins.  (Fred says these goodies sound like different types of grass.  You can tell he grew up on a council estate.)

Alfie would make a massive fuss whenever I got rid of the telly but within minutes he would recover and start to make up for lost time.  When he was five he was reading the Biff and Chip books at school along with the rest of the UK, and embarked upon an ambitious project to create a reading scheme of his own.  He actually managed this, writing thirty one books.  He peaked a bit early really and has not done much since to impress apart from ‘beasting’ COD (Call of Duty, a playstation game for those who don’t know about these horrors).  He got four detentions in one week the other day.  The process apparently went like this:  ‘Alfie, you have not brought your calculator with you: you will have a detention.’

‘Nah bruv, my mum like washed my blazer and stuff….’

‘Alfie, you will have another detention for answering back.’

‘Wot you chattin mate?  You can’t do that, innit…’

‘Alfie, stop talking or I’ll give you another detention.’

‘Nah mate, you’re shittin me, you can’t give me detentions for arguing my case, we live in a democracy, you know I is right bruv,’  and so on.

Honestly, the poor teachers.  I have remembered a story from Redland School in Bristol. We had an RE teacher, Miss Colliver, who had a bit of theatrical spirit in her. The very first lesson she planted herself firmly at the front of the class of eleven-year-olds, holding a Bible aloft, and declaimed: ‘This is not a book.’

Us kids gazed at her a bit blankly and thought her a bit odd frankly.  (Hey Laura, I can do poems too innit?)  We all were made to hazard guesses as to what it was if it was not a book.  All of our answers, however clever, (and we did have a few good ones) were wrong. By the end of the lesson, we had learnt that the Bible is not just one book, but lots of books. At least this annoying method meant I never forgot this. Of course, seeing as we never had a telly and did actually communicate with each other as a family, I related this to my sister Penel, who, it turned out, had quite a retentive memory. Two years later she walked into her first class with Miss Colliver.

This is not a book!’ announced Miss Colliver.

There was hardly time for this bold statement to reverberate around the room before Penel shattered the peace with:  ‘No, it’s LOTS of books!’   The teacher choked and spluttered in distress.  Her entire method had been belittled.  I bet Penel is repentant now, being a teacher herself.  For some reason my brother Pete absolutely loves this story, and can do it with voices and everything, even now, and for Penel using a squeaky little Donald Duck voice.

But anyway, a decade ago, when Alfie was five, he could hardly wield a pen or spell, but this did not stop him focusing on his work.   The back of  ‘the horible giant’, which is thirty two pages long, has a picture of a small rather ill-looking owl and says:

Stage six  OWlS      Stage severn

the bonfire              the teacher

the pig                       the bully

balincing                  the horible giant

pictuese                     a fite

the robber

the chinies vase

the flower pot

(I have helped you in case you are not yet on Stage 7 and thus find the original hard to read.)

It’s a dim photo because we can’t find the camera charger so had to use the mac.  Will show some of the ‘pictuese’ when we find it. You will love the very phallic ‘a fite’ which is full of ‘bow-ran-arrose’ and ‘souds’ and ‘speayears’.  Basically goodies kill ‘badies’ and badies kill goodies and then ‘light tin comes and rain comes.’  You turn the last page and it says ‘And the sky biagan to turn red.’

Nighty night from happyland.

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So, to pursue this mental tale: Thursday, a bit later, Lisa, a breast care nurse that I know from the breast unit, brought me a heart-shaped pillow and a shoulder bag for the drains. She explained that my body will be trying to identify the implant which is under the steak from the back. It will try to put white blood cells in to kill it off as a foreign body but will soon realise it canʼt, so it might start trying to do the next best thing which would be to encase it in scar tissue. She was warning me that things like this can lead to the need for maintenance later. She also explained that the part of my back which was swung round has left two layers that are now stuck together as if with glue. She likened it to a ham sandwich having had the ham taken out of it and the two pieces of buttery bread being stuck together. She is brilliant at constructing helpful images.

Fredʼs cousin Suzanne dropped in. I was so touched. Also my friend from Debden days, also called Suzanne, came by as she had accompanied her son for an MRI. Thrilling and unexpected. You just have no clue whoʼs going to pop by for a quick reccy.

On Friday I received a text from Mad Lucy. It said: ʻThe gin club support squad are mobilised and ready for action. ETA, gin oʼclock.ʼ

They turned up, Lucy, Claire, Agent X and Mette, a rowdy rabble. ʻShushʻ I hissed, ʻweʼre in a bloody hospital. Youʼll get me evicted!ʼ Claireʼs cousin Becky from Manchester was with them. I had only ever met her on Facebook so we were delighted. She has done five chemos and has one left to go, but had her op before the chemo. She was recently hospitalised with an infection but is now against the odds looking fantastic with her blueygreen headscarf and translucent earrings. We both dumped our scarves because it was so hot.

The club had brought gin and ice and lemon and glasses. I had a burdock, dandelion and ginger drink instead. A nurse came in. ʻWeʼre having too much fun,ʼ I explained guiltily. (Sin is back. Poor Dennis will have to come again.) ʻIt is allowed,ʼ she smiled. ʻWeʼre ignoring the bellows of laughter coming out of this room.ʼ Thatʼs Agent Xʼs fault. Mad Lucy swears she can hear her laughing from the other end of their common street.

The club absolutely drooled over the new boob. They were as surprised as me that it looks so good. I told them all about Miss Benyon. Every time I say her name I give a little sigh of admiration and joy. Claire said I obviously fancy her and now that I have lesbian hair I could make advances. I said she would never have me as she has seen my fat, scars, baldness and probably lolling tongue. Claire said no, Miss Benyon could sculpt me into a perfect shape exactly as she wanted me. Ooh, we did ave a larf and a half.

Claire wants to write a blog solely about the exploits of the gin club but says she canʼt write for shit. I told her she should call it ʻThe Worst Blog in the World.ʼ She came up with ʻThe Worst Blogin the World. ʼ He he. It wonʼt be like my blog. No angels, only cynicism and despair. However, she did shave her head for me. Maybe only a true cynic would do that, having shed all clinging shreds of vanity. Hmm, a girl of contradictions. Will we ever truly know the darkness in her soul? Perhaps she is an angel but in a most sophisticated disguise.

Mad Lucy had brought me blackberry chocolate, kissing mints and balms. Mette brought me stacks of postcards from her art shop. Peeps will be receiving these soon – panic not,you have not been forgotten. Not sure how, but we ended up getting very merry and singing ʻI beliii-hiii-hiiieeeve in angels, something good in everything I see,ʼ before we remembered to shush. I managed to get rid of the bunch of loons.

At around nine at night a nurse came in and said she was very sorry but they badly needed my room for someone else. (More on this later!) Damn, I had a feeling the raucous party atmosphere of the gin club would cause my eviction. Claireʼs caterwauling might have been their clue that I am having an absolute ball and donʼt deserve my private suite. I had to move out there and then and lie on my bed in the corridor for two hours as punishment (only joking obv, they really were sorry) while they arranged for a space in a communal bay to be cleaned. I didnʼt mind. I eavesdropped on snippets of banter between nurses. Being on a ward is kind of noisy though. Snoring, groaning, comings and goings. Harder to sleep and the view is mostly blocked by a curtain. Never mind, I was spoilt for four days, canʼt complain.

So today I met Susan in the bed opposite. She was in a collision with a bus in her Smart Car seven weeks ago and was airlifted here, unconscious, from Kings Lynn. Canʼt remember a thing about it, not even where she was trying to get to. If she had gone to her local hospital she would have had her arm amputated, but here they saved it and gave her a skin graft from her thigh. She is shockingly lucky to be alive. She has not been home in seven weeks and misses her seventeen-month-old labradoodle, Ted. I suggested her husband bring the dog and take her down in a wheelchair to see him. Susan refused all vegetables and salad at lunch. I tried to make her have some but she wouldnʼt.

The pretty blond in the bed next to her has had surgery to remove excess skin stretched from previously being (her own words) ʻmorbidly obeseʼ. (BTdubs donʼt wuz she has said she doesnʼt mind if I put her in the blog.) She had a stomach bypass a while back which made her into ʻthe amazing shrinking mother.ʼ Sores from resultant flaps of skin forced her into the op. Her life is like Eastenders in more ways than ten. Jolly entertaining. Her beautiful daughters are called Shanelle and Chelsea (This last after the football club and the flower show, apparently). Her cat is called Tibby, but his full name is TubbyMctubmuffintub-burgerboy. Double-barreled poshness. It must be admitted that this extravagance rivals our Lucifer Archimedes Benjifluffles Fattipuss. This lady has become a bit of an instant addict on the morphine front, though, must be said, looking at her watch waiting for her next dose, but then her op was only on Thursday afternoon.

OMG have just been enlightened by Susan that the lady in this very spot before me was whisked off and given my room because some swabs had come back positive for something deeply infectious deserving instant isolation. FREAKOUT! Thatʼs why the cleaners were so strenuously wielding their disinfectant-laden mops at eleven at night. They even put up new curtains. At least Iʼve kept my own bed, table and cupboard and Iʼve been following the nursesʻ lead and washing my hands every five seconds. OMG do you think they wiped the light, the chair? Bloody Hell, donʼt come and visit me now, guys. Oh, TubbyMctubmuffintub-burgerboyʼs mum just told me she saw them wipe the light, and the chair. Panic over.

The kindest nurse of all, Josie, the one who gave me the foot bath, removed one back drain earlier today. It was the one that was itching a bit, so Iʼm chuffed. It felt revolting as it was tugged out from quite deep inside. Squeamish times, but one down, three to go.

Arulesh called from Harlow Hospital. Her son was rushed in two nights ago with a raging temperature. They were terrified he had contracted Dengue Fever in Sri Lanka. Arulesh has known people who died of this, so was panicked out of her mind as you can imagine. However, all seems to be well and fear is subsiding. Thank the angels.

Trouble does come at least in triplicate: Chloe has not been to visit as she has been in severe pain. She thought she had bruised her coccyx and asked Fred to drive her to the doctorʼs clinic. He refused as sheʼd been out on the piss living it up all night so he was blowed if he was going to bother as she wasnʼt even trying to get better. The next day she was in such agony that he relented. The Doc said the impact had caused an extremely painful internal infection.  So she wasnʼt skiving, poor lass.

Fred texted me ʻHave just been squeezing puss out of Chloeʼs back.ʼ The mind boggles. I texted back ʻI think you will find that pus is spelt with one s.ʼ Now heʼs laughing wondering how you spell ʻpussyʼ as in ʻfilled with pus.ʼ It canʼt be pusy, nor pusey. Must be pussy. This has sparked a debate on the ward. Fred says ʻHa, you see, pussy and pussy are spelt the same.ʼ I say, ʻMaybe, but puss and pus are not.ʼ

The mind also strangles itself over who might be emptying the dishwasher at home, seeing as how Chloe was scheduled to be in charge of all that shiz. Iʼm just not going to think about it. Iʼm going to enjoy the fact I have lusciously entertaining new neighbours and the fact the NHS know how to make a mean cup of tea.

Ooh, Addenbrookeʼs Radio just came round. Theyʼre doing a request show from five today. Guess what I requested? No! Not I Believe in Angels, (although Iʼll phone in with that one too, as everyone here needs angels.) Seasons in the Sun of course. Because it doesnʼt do to forget neither our darkest anguish nor our childhood holidays. Will leave you now as Iʼm going to tune in.

Yay, they are playing it now!!! Now that the spring is in the air, little children everywhere….think of me and iʼll be there….the hills that we climbed were just seasons out of time….the wine and the song like the seasons have all gone……boo hoo hoo, oh shit, Iʼm going to crash just like Miss Benyon (sigh of admiration and joy) predicted….with the flowers everywhere, I wish we could both be there…ooh wicked key change, ooh another one, orgasmic stuff….all our lives we had fun, we had seasons in the sun….

I rest my quill, for as Fred says, I could blog all day, but that is one way to get clots.

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Hospital High Jinks

Well, Grampa has brought in a laptop for me to tell all. It might be easier to talk you through it day by day as so much has happened I might get confused.

Mad Lucy dropped in during the day on Monday to give me some witchy talisman crystal thing. She has never let it out of her sight before so I am honoured. She asked me ever so seriously if I had said goodbye to my nipple. ‘Yes, of course‘ I answered, confidently. Later I had a bit of a panic because I realised that was not true. I had not really said goodbye to it. Still haven’t. Oops. Too late.

All that day I received phone calls, texts and messages on the blog and on facebook. I realised that the burden really has been shared. My friends and family and blog readers have been shouldering little chunks of the worry for me.

That evening, I went to Lorna’s yoga, which is not for the faint-hearted. She is like a Sergeant Major and she really really cares more than her life that you do the poses right. We did Tadasana and Trikonasana and Gotagreatbigarsana. In Trikonasana I felt strength coursing through my arms, shoulders, back. In the Warrior pose I thought of my warrior and really tried very hard to keep my knee back and the back foot pinned down and my trunk straight and my arm shooting out in front strong. I looked out over the arm and saw vistas unfolding before me. We did downward dogs, upward dogs, Uttanasanas, where you hang forward and powerful back-bends over a chair. This was like a last supper for my lymph nodes.

After all that I was so buzzing I thought I’d never be able to sleep but conked out no problem.

On the way to the hospital I impressed upon Chloe and Fred the importance of buying the green sack of dog food for Huggi from the pet shop. ‘Please, if you only do one thing, do this,’ I begged. Fred dropped Chloe and me off at five to seven am. The pre-op people filled in forms and asked me questions. One of them was ‘Have you had any Mad Cow disease in your family?’ That made us roar with laughter, it was so random yet so apt. We are all Mad Cows.

Miss Benyon turned up all smiles and with undisguised glee drew on my back and front with her black pen. I was glad that Chloe could meet her and see what an ace person she is.

I lay down on a bed, with my stretchy stockings on, a hospital gown and a stretchy tube on my head. Many green-clad people milled about calmly. They put a line in my arm and said ‘We’re going to put something in that will make you a little drowsy, OK?’

Then they were saying ‘You can wake up now,’ and honestly it was just like Mad Lucy said, ping, I was awake and alert as anything, and the five-hour op had been done. I just could not believe it. Lying in recovery was bliss. The morphine was making me deeply relaxed and ecstatic. Then they wheeled the bed to ward M5. Along the way the scenery changed like with camera angles on the telly. It was quite a bumpy ride but enjoyable. I was wheeled into a room and Fred was there straight away. He held my hand. I could only whisper, so he whispered too. He tells me now that I kept forgetting what I had just said but I was under the impression I was making perfect sense. Miss Benyon popped in and told us all had gone well. She said that my insides had been quite sticky but that is caused by the chemo and they are used to it.

I was bowled over by my private room, the wonderful view of poplars out of the window and the gentle hands of nurses making me comfortable. Fred got to see the boob and said it looked great. I told Fred what to write for the blog.

That night, nurses came in every hour, checking the boob was warm and pink. They checked the drains and catheter, took my blood-pressure, temperature and pulse, reassured me, checked the pain-relief and antibiotics in the drip. Teams of them worked hard all night to help me. I was impressed and grateful. In the morning a lovely nurse sponged me and put my feet in a tub of warm water. She helped me out of bed to a chair with infinite tenderness.

That day, Wednesday, Miss Benyon popped by again. She is my absolute Top Woman now. Honestly, you should see her. She is beautiful, funny, extremely talented and has a wicked throaty laugh. OMG so many people must be in love with her. I can’t believe my luck that I had her doing the job. It does make me wish I had really engaged my brain, tried harder in Science lessons and maybe had a massive career helping people the way she has. She told me I had a great muscle on the back with which to rebuild. This made me glad of all the yoga and heaving hay bales over the fence wot I done.

Miss Benyon showed me the boob. It is beautiful. Honestly, anyone would be impressed. The skin is all still there, apart from the nipple, which is now a circle of skin from my back. The circular scar is covered very neatly with white gauze, which is covered with a highly advanced kind of cling-film. My whole chest is covered with thick padded gauze to keep it warm. The new breast is younger-looking and a bit higher than the other one, but will apparently drop to match the other more droopy side. (I did breastfeed my babies for ten years remember.) The very best thing about the new boob is that it has NO CANCER in it. She told me that Mr Farouhi managed to scrape everything out, and took out all the lymph nodes from under my arm. She said my insides look so good I will probably live for a long time, much longer than the feared five years. Phew.

She said I could have the catheter out first thing the next morning. It was quite nice not having to bother with going to the loo tbh. She also said that I am doing so well that I might crash, like start weeping and wailing with exhaustion, but then she doesn’t know about all you guys sharing the burden and Dennis talking to the angels for me and Claire and her six children doing the rosary for me (even newborn Aggie I’ll bet!) and all the prayer groups praying for me and my mum and dad wringing their hands for me.

So. I am a plastic surgery convert. Who’d have thought it?

I phoned Claire and told her I wanted her to visit me. She asked what she should bring. I said trashy magazines and Viz. She admired my new boob and reckoned the others would be well jells that she’s seen it first. She also admired my room with a view. It is enormous and very clean. We are massively impressed with the NHS. Fred brought me Private Eye and got my telly working. Really funny, he bumped into Fred’s sister’s bloke Graham down in the Concourse. He is a drug-runner for the hospital. He came up to see me too.

The next day, Thursday, Mr Farouhi came to see me. I was absolutely delighted to see him as he is my new hero. ‘Just a social call really,’ he said with his wonderful smile. ‘I know you are doing well.‘ He told me that the tissue they took out and the nodes looked really good, healthy, not sinister.

‘Does that mean that the cancer is less likely to have spread elsewhere?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘And it means that the chemo did its job well.’

I thanked him again and again.

You know, my friend Cecile told me that she experienced no pain after her op, and I really did not believe her. I thought she must have forgotten, blotted it out. But now I can sincerely say, like her: I have not had even a moment of pain. The first night and day I had a morphine dispenser in my hand. Did get a bit trigger happy yes. It’s so lush though, you can see how people get addicted. Yesterday I was only on Paracetamol, and last night only on Ibuprofen. Today I had two Paracetamol and feel fine.

So, the rest of Thursday, I practised walking about as the physio told me to and did arm exercises. Bash, Alfie, Big Alf and Fred came to visit. This reminds me of a time I phoned the College to see if I could get tickets for their Science Cafe thing. The man on the phone said ‘Give me the names of the people who want to come and I will let them in.’

I said, ‘Well,’ pause, ‘it’s Alf Tingey, Alf Tingey and Alf Tingey.’

The bloke thought I was avin a larf. But Fred is Alfred really, actually Alfred Frederick, which I’m sure is quite unusual. But then his mother Irene was quite unusual. I am sure she is an angel now. And Big Alf has called his new boat Irene Jean after her.

So Alfie lay on the groovy hospital bed and watched the little bikes whizzing over the mounds and people smashing their faces in. Bash told me all about how Fred had forgotten to buy the green food for Huggi so he had squitted everywhere and howled the neighbourhood down. *sigh*

I showed them the drain tubes. I explained (and will now explain for the benefit of Alfie and Bashi’s fwends who, I am told, read the blog) that they gently suck out the gunk and stuff from the wounds. I told them my catheter had gone. I explained that it is a tube which goes into your bladder and sucks out the wee so you don’t have to get up. The end of it inflates to keep it in. When they take it out they deflate it. Luckily, or it would hurt like crap. I think it’s good for kids to be acquainted with hospitals and to know that they exist. They were pretty impressed with my fabby room. We looked out over fields of harvested wheat. We talked about the word harvest. See, Miss Benyon had said she could ‘harvest’ the flesh from my back. The word gives me shivers ever since reading Never Let Me Go, the book about the clones. They only exist in order to provide organs for their Real People in the outside world. It turned out that from GCSE biology Alfie actually knows quite a lot about cloning and how you do it. I was impressed. I told him maybe he could have a career in cloning and on the side create little armies of Alfie Tingeys. Bash groaned at the very thought.

Later my mum and dad came. They were relieved to see me so happy and well as they have been ‘soo worried.’ After that, Dennis came. He gave me healing. It was again unbelievably good. I felt suddenly at one point as if I could let go of that small but ever-tugging feeling that I am a bad person, that I don’t deserve my lovely Fred, my happy life, my lovely children. I think Dennis was pulling away my original sin. I remembered a time when I was about nine, with my sister, when we went to the playing fields on Granchester Road and we found in the hedge a tiny den, with little seats, a rug, a shelf with cups of pencils, notepads, poems, candles. It was so lovely that we were jealous and angry that it was not ours. Do you know what we did? We scribbled ‘UGH!!’, ‘STUPID’, ‘RUBBISH’ all over the poems, we snapped the pencils, we trashed the place. I am now (and have been for years) sincerely sorry for this. Anyway, Dennis took it all away. I slept the deep sleep of the sinless.

Och, Granny has to take the laptop off noo, so I will save the rest for another installment. Sorry I have not had time to tweak. Raw stuff. See you soon!

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All is well

Fred here. I am under instructions to say:
Hester has come round. She is loving the drugs. She has a room with a view of poplar trees.
She thanks everyone for their prayers and best wishes.
(The booby looks great).
It was a long day that simply flashed by.
The NHS rock.
Feel a million dollars.

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