In the interests of ‘telling it as it is’, I must admit to a slight feeling of dread. Not panic at all. But definite dread. Only forty eight hours to go before heading off to the hospital. I have been feeling a bit like a condemned person heading off to the block or the gallows. This brilliant picture of Mary Queen of Scots at her execution says it all.
See how she holds her head high. And she looks straight ahead of her, ignoring that massive axe. I will be like this. Strong, resolute, wronged!
Haven’t even got the sports bras yet that they recommended I buy. Nor have I managed to throw away three quarters of my possessions like wot I wanted to. Have been typing and editing Dennis’ book though. And walking miles and miles while trying to hold on to my mind.
Over the last two weeks, up till now, my mental state remained reliably steady. I simply took the decision to trust the surgeons. To hand myself over to them. Mr Farouhi strikes one as calm, kind and clever. What more could you want from a surgeon? Miss Benyon is quick, clever and incisive. No problem there with decision-making, a huge asset in somebody who will be tunnelling in your armpit. You don’t want one of them faffers for sure. Just imagine one going ‘Ooh, should I cut off a bit of this rib? I’m so not sure. Mmm. Don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. And how far down should I slice this ol latissimus dorsi muscle? Six centimetres? Or eight? Ooh, can’t think! Tut, aren’t I naughty?’ Would make a wicked sketch. Get on it, Tabs! It really would also be preferable to have a surgeon with elevated thoughts, one well acquainted with Shakespeare. You don’t need someone poking around inside you going: ‘Yeah, the new Batman movie is well sick, innit? The baddie is like sick, and Batman is like even more sick. And it’s like three hours long.’ So I don’t think Alfie should be a surgeon. He’d probably sew you up with bits of popcorn left inside from throwing them in the air and failing to catch them in his mouth. It’s what he does with blueberries. They end up all over the kitchen floor. (Don’t tell Gwanny.) They’re expensive too. Drives me mad.
I have been in philosophical bent, questing, trawling the depths of my being. Calling upon any lost or hidden reserves. Have also been enjoying every minute being free of chemo. Loved the three-day beer festival at the Legion with the locals, rode a horse called Twister to a country pub, nay, even attended the Olympic dressage with Claire, cheered on Zara no less. Gosh though, isn’t it odd on that train from Stratford to Greenwich when you peer between the shiny buildings and spot enormous olde worlde SHIPS? Fascinating. It’s like: skyscraper….enormous shiny tower block….GREAT HULK OF A SHIP….mirrored edifice….MASSIVE SAILS AND MASTS….blinding bling construction….LOOMING GALLEON. Unreal.
Life is busy again. Four children returned to wreak their havoc upon Bishops Stortford. Tabs has shot off again to Edinburgh. Fred has set up his company, Tingeytime Ltd. He’s working flat out. I am secretary of the company. Lucky I can type. Don’t tell Fred but I am teaching the parrots to say ‘Tingeytime YEAH!’ We are also revising ‘Get a jooooob Fred,’ for when the money runs out.
I have to be at the hospital at 7am on Tuesday. Must not eat anything from midnight. I went for pre-op tests, blood-pressure, bloods, ECG etc. It wasn’t too scary. Just one nurse chatting to me in a tiny cubicle. She did mention the ‘discomfort’ quite a lot though. The phrase she used was ‘yes, you will probably be in quite a lot of discomfort.’ I wouldn’t have taken this too seriously except for the sad look in her eyes. She has accompanied many women through their ‘discomfort’. She also said that I would wake up with a catheter. Hate that. They are so uncomfortable. And I don’t like them fiddling around with me while I’ve been out. However, needs must. Worse to be desperate to go for a wee and not be able to get up.
The plastic surgeon sent me for photos. You have to stand there with your tits out. You feel very exposed and very much like you have done something wrong. Then I went for a cardiogram. It was not an ultrasound one like last time. No probing. Just someone sticking very sticky plasters attached to wires all over you. They tell you to relax, and get some graph print-outs of what your heart is doing.
So, back to the mental preparation. Firstly I have been reading poems, which take you to different levels of your mind, far away or deep inside you. I have been reading the anthology Being Alive. I actively appreciate the craft and share the fun the writers have had putting the words together. The thing is, the choice is so vast. Any word can come next so a writer has to possess serious sifting skills, decision-making powers. How do you choose which one? Even with my inferior casual bloggy prose, this still applies. I could choose my next word to be Bollock or plank or blunt. But they would jar. They would not further the narrative. Oh Bollock.
Secondly, I have been drinking Pure Synergy. This is a powdered green drink. It looks like it’s been dredged from the stinky underbelly of a London canal. You knock it back. It has sixty four ingredients. It makes you feel like all that Olympic swinging about on the parallel bars would be a piece of piss. Weight-lifting? Tchuh! I could hoick that thing onto my chest and heave it aloft no sweat. I could chuck that javelin miles. I could run and swim like a loon. I highly recommend this drink. It’s seventy three quid, but the jar lasts six months.
Thirdly, I have been going to yoga. It expands your mind right into the tips of your limbs. When you are in the poses, you feel relief. Relief from the whole of life. I have been doing Salutation to the Sun. It is a sequence of moves which you do with steady breaths out and in as your body opens and closes. Your lungs start to feel like powerful bellows. It has the added benefit of toning up your abdominal area fast. I want to tone it up, even at this late stage, as I don’t want the operating team to be going ‘worra fat cow!’ while I’m not in a fit state to formulate a smart riposte. Sincerely sorry to bore you with this pathetic insecurity, but I am telling it as it is, and maybe this is how a lot of people feel about their bodies.
My friend Tracy B popped round to wish me luck. She is out the other side, having had reconstructive surgery on the second of June. She showed me her very neat new boob. This has really helped. I must remember to do it for someone else before their op, assuming I get a neat one of course, and not a botched job. We were talking about friends who have had double mastectomies. I said that in the end my surgeon was recommending a single. This means there is still the possibility of having to go through all this again with the other boob. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘you’ve been through it once. You would go through it again, it wouldn’t be a problem.’ You know, she’s right. We are capable of so much. And I’d probably make a whole lot less fuss the second time round. Take it in my stride. None of this blogging Bollock.
Reminds me of when Alfie first joined the College, age 8. I went to a rugby match (he was in the Gs at that point, poor lad!) and then to the Match Tea. There was a tiny geezer sitting pale and trembling with his cracked arm on a pillow. ‘Gosh, what’s happened to him?’ I asked.
‘We put up a jolly good fight, that’s what’s happened to him!’ enthused a mother, briskly. ‘Can’t let St Faith’s get away with it, you know. Got to lock horns!’
So I am going to be like a College Rugby Mum. Brisk, no nonsense, all that. Watching the Olympics has been an education in this. Those athletes have had to fight through pain and face defeat regularly. (My normal self does ask for what though? You could understand it if the aim was to escape a woolly mammoth. I’m not sure I get the competitive thing about simply wanting to be the fastest. But a lot of people seem to think it’s very important. So I will call up images of Jess and Farah when the going gets tough.)
I suddenly wanted to send postcards to all the people who have sent cards to me. This was an urge beyond my control. The Stiven Family Postcards work in mysterious ways. And I don’t want to leave things outstanding in case I never come round from the op. Unlikely, I know, but possible. Gwanny came round with her bottomless tub of cards. We had fun choosing the most apt ones for Lissi, Hilly, Hilda, Jeanie, Sue, Meg and Ali, Bobby and Marlene, Fiona, Roo, Phoebe Meg, Georgina, the list goes on.
This one is for Annika, because the statue was found in Thessaly, and we spent our year in Thessaloniki together:
It is how I imagine myself waking up after the op if things have gone a bit wrong, to say the least.
I found a brilliant Freda Kahlo which reminds me so much of how the FEC made me feel. Needles everywhere, a ripped and exposed body, a broken column up the centre, tears jetting out and arid wastes behind. Essentially pretty fucked up. Thank the angels that’s over. I didn’t send it to anyone for fear of making them fall into a depression.
I’ve been reading a book called The Four Agreements. They are basically, oh God, I always forget what they are, dammit! The first one is …..shit, I’ve bloody forgotten. Oh yes, it’s Impeccability of the Word. It means, don’t lie, say is as it is. The second is Don’t Take it Personally. Very useful and you know, it is often about the other person’s crap, not about you. The third is, oh God, I’m going to forget again. Think. Oh, yes, it’s Don’t Make Assumptions. So important. I always assume other people are going to see the dogs’ water is getting low and refill it. But they never do. The fourth is Do Your Best. Even at little things like stroking the cat. If you follow all these you will apparently experience heaven on earth. I’m trying.
Comfort can be sought in so many things. Last night I had cider. Ooh, can’t say cider without a distinct West-Country accent creeping in. It’s well refreshing, though. Organic, Waitrose. Mmm. Today I had Old Jamaica chocolate. Didn’t know it still existed but found it on the Dairy Milk shelf.
I am gathering things to take into hospital: Rescue Remedy, Arnica, Hypericum, roll-on Energy Remedy, Burt’s Bees balm, Mike’s warrior, my Synergy drink, pyjamas and the soon-to-be-bought bras.
So please think of me on Tuesday morning. Fred is going to visit straight away on Tuesday afternoon to hold my hand while I’m moaning and groaning. He won’t mind or notice, as he’ll probably be reading his book, which is what he did whenever I was in labour, even when the heads were popping out, but truth is, he’s still the person I would most like to be there. Dennis is going to visit at some point, can’t wait. And so are the gin group! Same time as our usual meeting, five thirty on the Friday. They will bring gin apart from Mad Lucy who will bring vodka in her hip flask. I won’t have any gin *wink*. I’ll be on the hard drugs. (I have handily suspended my anti-drug fanaticism, due to anticipation of ‘the discomfort’, until one month hence.) Then I should be out, all being well, on the Saturday.
Chloe will do a quick blog to tell all bladdicts that I have come round ok.
Have been receiving unprecedented numbers of hugs from kindly friends. And of course, being me, I laugh any seriousness off, and sidestep it all with silly jokes, but they have been insistent. They hold my arm, look me in the eye and say, ‘No, really, I hope it goes well. I will be thinking of you.’
This helps so much, I can’t tell you. I am buoyed up with love. Tracy says she felt ‘carried’ by her friends. I feel that too, like the burden is being shared. I’m also thinking the surgeons probably have angels with them. If not, I’m hoping an angel will choose to go in with me. Maybe Ferg, or Anjani, or Mike. So, I’m really not nervous, just EXCITED. Bring it on!