Saturday, 20 December 2008

I believe in Angels .........

My beautiful birdhouse, created by Mountainear's husband

Sometimes people perform acts of generosity and kindness that defy explanation; yesterday I was the grateful and fortunate recipient of such a gift. A mystery parcel had been sent to me. You can imagine my delight when I opened the large box to discover carefully wrapped inside, this most gorgeous birdhouse, designed as a New England style Church, which had been handcrafted for me! I was completely overwhelmed by the generosity and the kind words for me in a card that accompanied it.

I had admired a similar creation a while back on a friend, Mountainear's blog, when she and her glamorous assistant had headed for a local Craft Fair armed with his glorious creations hand crafted from Oak and Pitch Pine. The attention to detail is remarkable, even the roof has tiny dowels fixing the roof in place. I am looking forward to being able to get it out in the garden and watching to see who the lucky residents are! I shall keep you posted about who moves in.

F, I can't tell you how much this cheered me up, I don't have enough superlatives to express my feelings. You were so right, it has been a horrible month so far, and I am impressed you picked up my gloomy mood, it has been hard not to feel that way though, we have lost 3 members of our family in as many weeks. Thank you so much.

'I have a dream', Abba - dedicated to Mountainear

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
Ill cross the stream - I have a dream

I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
Ill cross the stream - I have a dream
Ill cross the stream - I have a dream

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
Ill cross the stream - I have a dream
Ill cross the stream - I have a dream

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

On the mend ....

Just a quick update. The infection seems to be subsiding, my breast has taken on an almost normal colour and texture, and now I have some decent dressings (God bless Mepitel), even the sores from the radiation burns are bearable.

I am in Hospital again tomorrow as a day patient, but this time just for my routine sense of humour top-ups were I have my 12 weekly long acting pain relief injections into my caudal, facet, sacroiliac and lumbar spinal joints . I shall be sedated whilst they do this and it usually takes me a couple of days to become sentient again, so no worrying if I don't answer emails quickly, the combination of tiredness from infection and radiation, combined with an anaesthetic will probably see me zonked.

Only a month until Christmas, and so far I haven't done a thing! Panic!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Guess What?

The infection is back with a vengeance. I am currently taking two different antibiotics, my skin is falling off - yes literally. I have infected weeping Cellulitis in and around the breast that had surgery. I am in quite a lot of pain too. I am in danger of eating a GP receptionist if they are obstructive again, I am sick to death with little Hitlers that think they know my medical history and needs better than me! Test results that were due back yesterday still aren't available and all I get is 'I don't know'. I want to scream at them, 'well bliddy well go and find out, and when you have let my GP know and make me an appointment to see him'. For once I am feeling totally fed up, under the weather and liable to going under, all because I haven't the energy to do battle with stupid officious women who think working in a Doctor's surgery gives them some kind of right to be rude, apathetic, and darn right arrogant. GRRRRRR!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

I'm celebrating!

Kool and the Gang - Celebrate (1980)

[via FoxyTunes / Kool & The Gang]

This afternoon I had my last Radiotherapy treatment at Southampton General Hospital! I can't tell you how happy I am to get my life back, and restore some kind of normality. I have spent the past 5 or so weeks doing the monotonous daily 80 mile round trip from home to the Oncology Centre. I spent 10 days of that time as an inpatient at the Hospital as the infection became quite severe and I was admitted as an emergency. I am much improved now, and despite being given another course of antibiotics to take yesterday, can honestly say, that despite the expected side effects of weeks and weeks of radiotherapy and antibiotics; Ceflexin, Vancomycin and now Erythromycin, I haven't felt as well in months!

So, with my treatment almost done, I am looking forward to a healthier future. That's something to celebrate in my book. Woooooooooooooo Hoooooooooooooooo!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Just a Quickie ....

Just thought I would let you all know I got out of Hospital at lunchtime today - think I brought home the entire NHS drugs quota with me too, but it's so good to be home. I'll blog more about my most recent adventures when I have caught up on sleep over the weekend. In the meantime, thank you once again for the kind emails and comments you have left for me. XX

Monday, 20 October 2008

50! Not Out

A beautiful arrangement of David Austin Roses sent me by my Sister-in-Law 'Ben'

Some of you will know this already, some of you wont. My 50th birthday last week was supposed be spent in South Africa. We had a long held dream to celebrate both mine and the iGit's October birthdays. He had announced his plan to do this a long time ago, in the interim between his and my 50th years. The timing would be perfect, both the children would be happily ensconced in University, we had heaps of credit with neighbours on the cat sitting and garden care rostas, and felt confident to leave everything for a week or three.

A few of the many Giraffes munching their way through their hay ration in the Giraffe House

Spring starts in September in South Africa, the Fynbos erupts and this is what I wanted to see so much along with the Botanical Garden at Kirstenbosch. Of course we had planned a Safari too, a trip to the Kruger National Park to see all the large animals, a balloon trip, and various other delights. Sadly, my current circumstances got in the way, and all has been put on hold until next year now.

A Sand Cat, the size of a domestic moggy and equally cute patrols his territory

Not to be beaten, we went on a miniature Safari of our own, to Marwell Zoo. I pass the brown tourist information signs for the Zoo each day on the M3, as we make the 80 mile round trip between home and Southampton Hospital for Radiotherapy. The gods smiled on us and granted me a perfect sunny autumn day for my jaunt to celebrate my birthday. So the iGit and I made our way to the Zoo for a gentle afternoon walk amongst the Zebra, Giraffe and various large cats. I also got the chance to try out my brand new Digital SLR Camera, that my clever husband had bought me, it will be a while before I am able to take full advantage of its wonderful optics and functions, but I made a start, and learned a lot whilst we ambled around oohhhing and ahhhing at all the fabulous beasts.

The most stunning Snow Leopard, normally found in the Himalayas , not the Hampshire Downs

Just a quick update on the treatment aspect, as I know some of you want to know how I am doing. I had my 9th Radiotherapy (RT) session today, I saw the Oncologist afterwards due to the radiotherapists concerns about the size of my breast, and now have to see my Breast Surgeon tomorrow afternoon in Basingstoke, after my RT treatment in Southampton. The Antibiotics don't seem to be clearing up the infection properly despite taking two courses back to back. I now have what I refer to as my 'Comedy Boob'; very swollen, more than twice its normal size; very red, and quite uncomfortable. The monstrosity bras went out the window as they wont go anywhere near me anymore. That situation suits the Radiotherapists, they don't want you wearing one anyway, but I know I shall get a ticking off by the Breast Care Nurses tomorrow for not wearing one when I go to see the Surgeon. It's one area where I am frequently given conflicting advise. The outcome of tomorrow according to the Oncologist is that I will be probably be admitted to Southampton Hospital so that I can continue my Radiotherapy whilst having antibiotics and whatever else I need intravenously to clear the infection up. I suspect I shall be silent for a few days again, so please don't be offended if I don't reply to emails I won't have access to the Internet in all probability.

Friday, 10 October 2008

It's been a while.....

Some violas in pots in my garden. I love their diminutive faces

I have been a bit mute lately, tiredness is to blame. The infection last week floored me and I took to my bed. If sleeping were an Olympic sport, I think I stand a reasonable chance of winning a time trial. Come Sunday we were supposed to be in celebratory mood, it was my iGit's birthday. Unfortunately I wasn't up to doing much more than directing everyone else how to make Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pud, followed by an Apple crumble. Cooking by committee may catch on, I even ate a little. I hadn't made a birthday cake, so No1Son kindly brought one home, only to discover that LittleBird had to be kept at a safe distance from it; it's carton carried the ubiquitous nut allergy disclaimer.

On Friday despite feeling pretty grotty still, the swelling had subsided significantly, and I was given the go ahead to start Radiotherapy treatment in Southampton. On Tuesday I duly waited as I had been instructed for a hospital car to arrive, I waited and waited. My appointment was at 2.30, and it was well past 2pm by the time a car arrived, after a few phone calls to the hospital. They told me a car had been dispatched some time ago. To where I wondered, were the hoards in Outer Mongolia now being approached by a man in a Mondeo? The receptionist at the Oncology centre told me, they were a law unto themselves, and there had been some speculation that they in fact resided in an alternative time dimension. I nodded my agreement, just concerned that I would be seriously late, and that this would somehow effect my treatment. I was reassured that they were used to the flexible attitude towards time of the hospital cars, and that I would be treated regardless of what time I got there. The best way to deal with this was to forget the time, and just be ready each day at the appointed time. They would arrive; eventually.

So I am now 4 days into my treatment, and killing time waiting for a car to collect me; any time after 12 0'clock, so far its been 2.15 , 12.55 and 13.30. Sometimes there are other patients in the car, and we do a detour around parts of Hampshire I haven't visited before, it's not unlike a magical mystery tour, getting in a strange vehicle with various persons unknown, the only thing I can be sure of is my destination, how we get there, and who I get there with is kismet!

The system of checking in for appointments is very clever, we are issued with a barcode specific to us as a patient, I worried I might loose mine, I am prone to loosing bits of paper. It had occurred to me that they could have tattooed me with it when they tattooed my dots, and then all I would need to do is scan my belly. There wouldnt be any risk of loosing that, and believe me, I have tried!

Each day the radiographers ask how you are, they have some very strict do's and dont's about skin care, especially in the area you are being treated. No soap except Simple Soap. No Deodorants or Antiperspirants . No Perfume, no make up, no baths, no bras, you get the picture. Cool showers are allowed, but you are not allowed to scratch or drag the skin, and must try and pat yourself completely dry after. They are also keen that you cover the area being treated in Aqueous cream once or twice a each day. They give these instructions to try and ameliorate the long list of side effects Radiotherapy has. It ranges from skin irritation and burns to Lymphodema, and several unpleasant things in between.

Each day they ask you how you feel , any swelling, any soreness. Yesterday I had to answer, 'Yes'. When I had been drying myself after a shower that morning, I had noticed that my right breast was considerably larger than usual. I showed my iGit, he just smiled that inane smile men do when presented with a naked body, and agreed, yes it was larger. I mentioned this to the radiographers, and that the area was again tender and sore. Initially they said, not to worry about it, and settled me into the position I need to be in on the couch for the treatment. They zapped me as per usual, but when they returned told me they had called an Oncology Registrar, they thought I should be given the once over. I toddled off to find said Dr. and was examined again. The verdict? More antibiotics; deep joy, I have only just finished a course on Wednesday, and they aren't exactly gentle on the stomach.

So by the end of today, I will have completed 4 treatments, and have 21 more to go. Good news is, they agreed to let me have my 50th birthday off, lets hope the weather is as good and I can go for a nice walk somewhere beautiful! Yay!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Things that go 'Lump' in the night

I had a good old moan yesterday didn't I? Well here is an update; last night I ended up at the District Hospital with a lump the size of a Grapefruit underneath the scar where they had removed my lymph nodes. Combined a temperature of 102ºF despite taking Paracetamol to reduce it, and a fair bit of pain I really felt sorry for myself, and thought I had better speak to a Doctor. I gave the out of hours service a call, they wanted to see me, and confirmed my suspicions about the swelling that had been bothering me the past 4 weeks was what now making me feel like I had the Flu, and causing the swelling. He said he thought it was either an infected haematoma or an abscess, and I may need to spend a day or two back in hospital. He gave me some high dose antibiotics straight away and a prescription for more, and urged me to see my own Doctor first thing in the morning as I needed an urgent referral back to the Breast Surgeon.

I saw my own GP who faxed the required referral to the Hospital and suggested that I phone the Breast Care Nurses and 'make a nuisance of myself' so that I was seen today. I did as instructed, and was called back quite promptly telling me to get myself there as quickly as I could: a Registrar would see me when I got there. Thankfully the threat of admission was dispelled, and the Registrar using what looked like a syringe you might use on a horse, had a couple of attempts at draining the swelling. They said it is called a Seratoma, but I can't find a reference to this on the Internet. She said this would be sent off for analysis. She dressed the area, and I have to go back on Friday and Monday. They will review how well it is clearing up before they postpone my Radiotherapy treatment. The hope is that I will be well enough to start this on Tuesday next week as planned.

Thanks for the helpful and thoughtful comments yesterday, I think finding a project that requires research will be my best bet at the moment, being a bit of a one armed bandit!

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Not so Angelic ...

Could this be me sulking? You bet!

It's been a week since I last blogged, and I think its fair to say a few chickens have been coming home to roost. It's been difficult to maintain a positive attitude, as the pain under my arm persists and boredom sets in because of the enforced rest. Too much time and not enough to do, and I am not quite sure how to remedy it. It is a pretty destructive combination. I will admit to being weepy and feeling very low, I am not quite sure why, I suspect its just part the natural process in part as reality sinks in, and the rest maybe the Tamoxifen as it alters my hormone levels to prevent cancer cells reproducing. I saw the BCN again last Friday to check the swelling, she says in effect I need to be more realistic with myself, and that it's only 3 weeks since the surgery and I need at least 6 weeks to be anywhere near healing fully from the surgery. Ho Hum.

I was distracted soon enough though. When we got back home from the Hospital, I received a very confused call from Little Bird, she had bought a Ready-Meal from the Co-op; Chicken Tikka Masala, and was feeling unwell. My first thought was maybe food poisoning, but as she described her symptoms it became apparent it was an allergic reaction of some kind. She felt nauseous, her lips were swollen, and she said her asthma was getting worse. I told her to take an antihistamine, but she didn't have any. I then suggested she walk the short distance in to town and ask to speak to a Pharmacist in Boots, not realising just how ill and how quickly she was going to be. Thankfully the Pharmacist recognised her symptoms straight away; and called for an Ambulance. By the time she reached Boots she was struggling to breathe, the swelling on her face was very pronounced, and she was covered in a rash, that resembled large raised welts. By the time she got to hospital she was loosing consciousness, and was administered adrenalin, antihistamines and steroids. She had gone into Anaphylactic Shock. She was stabilised and came home a few hours later, I felt awful, I wasn't there for her, and initially she was all on her own. Her brother who is at the same Uni went to be with her as soon as he was able, and brought her back to her new home in a taxi, neither of them drive and it's a long walk home, especially after such a medical emergency. It wasn't until Monday that Little Bird realised what a close call she had had. Some of the drugs the hospital had sent her home with were making her feel really unwell and as if she was 'speeding'. She needed to see a GP anyway to arrange the skin tests the hospital had told her to get organised to determine exactly what she was severely allergic too; peanuts and cashews are the rogues suspected. Her part time job in Covent Garden had been giving her a pretty hard time about not working on Sunday too, she was effectively bullied into going in. She worked until lunchtime and then asked to go home, as she felt so rough. They continued to pressurise her to stay, completely dismissing what a serious thing had happened to her only 36 hours earlier. She told the GP about this and asked if it was possible to have a sick note for work so they had an official explanation of why she was ill. He was horrified and wrote a terrific letter for her, stating she had suffered a life threatening allergic reaction, and had been seriously ill, and that the drugs she was currently on are entirely likely to make her unfit for work. He has also prescribed her with an Epipen which she must carry with her at all times. He told her that next time this happens, its likely to be much more severe reaction, and she will need to stab the pen into her leg (it administers adrenalin) and get herself to a Casualty department pronto. She came home last night, poor lamb is worn out, and is sleeping it all off.

Yesterday I went to Southampton Hospital for my Radiotherapy Planning session. It has to be one of the strangest experiences I have been through. I undressed, and laid on a metal couch with a device that looked like a sleeping policeman halfway down to stop me sliding off the end when it was inclined. I had my right arm in a very awkward position jutting out from my side above my head. This was very uncomfortable, and my arm went into spasm shaking uncontrollably. One of the radiographers massaged it to calm it down, the swelling under my arm is much more pronounced today, and I think I may have to endure a fair bit of discomfort over the next 5 weeks. I laid there for some 25 minutes, various people measured my body and made marks in black ink all over my chest! Once they were happy that they had the machines and me all lined up and marked properly, they made some of the marks permenant, and did some tiny tattoos, pin-pricks that look like tiny black freckles. Only one is really visible, sat at the top of my breast in the cleavage, so will be visible with some tops, the other marks are around the sides and I can't imagine anyone will ever notice them. I start the Radiotherapy on Tuesday next week, each session takes about 12 minutes under the machine in my case, plus the length of time it takes to get you in the right position. It will take me about 3 hours or more travelling though! I can't drive myself as the swelling under my arm now resembles a lemon, and driving is painful, and quite probably dangerous and illegal too. I have opted to use a Hospital Car, as it's virtually impossible for the iGit to keep taking so much time of work for so many weeks. This will mean a lot more waiting around for me, but at least it doesn't mean we end up completely borasic. We work for ourselves, and if we don't work, we don't get paid.

So if anyone has any bright ideas that will keep me occupied over the next five weeks, please tell me them, I am fast running out of ideas myself and would be grateful to hear them!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Grounded! Grrr!

I think I should have this hung around my neck, I am feeling quite volatile; boredom is setting in!

I went to see the Oncologist yesterday, and after some discussion we settled on a course of 25 sessions of Radiotherapy starting in a couple of weeks time. I will get the appointment sent from Southampton direct, so I am not exactly sure when. I mentioned that I was quite uncomfortable under my arm, and in my shoulder. I had a full range of movement, but there was visible swelling, that had initially subsided after the surgery, but had returned and was visible in my arm too. The area felt hot and hard, and I've since noticed it in my breast too. A dull ache that doesn't go away when you take Paracetamol. I was referred to the Breast Care Nurse(BCN), so waited to see her afterwards.

The BCN asked had I been resting plenty, I lied - yes! I neglected to tell her that I had washed the utility room floor and then spent an hour and a half ironing sheets and pillow cases and various other items that morning, giving up using my left arm as it was too slow and cumbersome, and using my right instead. I omitted to tell her that the previous day, I had taken myself of to the nearest large town on the train, and spent 3 hours rummaging around the shops, carrying 4 bags full; 3 books from Waterstones, a bevy of bras from M and S, and a fabulous wool blanket found in TK Maxx.

She looked at me sideways, I am not a convincing liar, and proceeded to lecture me. Upshot is, I have to rest, and she means rest, til Friday, and take pain relievers/anti-inflammatory every 4 hours, and return to see her on Friday at 2.30. If the swelling hasn't subsided, she will drain it; I hate to think what that will entail, but I have a reasonable idea.

To make matters worse, my Mother called in yesterday lunchtime, and the first thing she saw was the ironing board. Icy glare. Then she asked why was my arm puffy. I felt about 11 years old again, ready to rebel and protest. Today, my Father phoned me, and effectively read the Riot Act, albeit with humour, and told me if I didn't start being sensible he was going to phone my Consultant and tell her how stupid I was! Grassed up! Tsk! So how am I feeling? A mixture of being really cross with myself for doing too much too soon, and being arrogant enough to think I could get away with it, and mind numbing boredom. Even the new books I bought and dragged home on the train, have lost their appeal. I'd really like to go for a walk, and take some pictures of what I find in the woods near the cottage, but that will probably do more harm than good too. Moany, moany, whiny whiny me; I know!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Life's a Picnic

Yesterday, the sun shone, and we decided to head to Epsom, were both my children are now living, to see how Little Bird had settled in, and spend a day together as a family again; I was desperate for some normality, and simple pleasures. We made a picnic, not the usual fare, as I am still a bit limited in what I can and can't easily do, my arm is still sore and I have decided to let my body tell me when its OK to go full steam ahead and resume normal frenetic activity. Even so we dined on freshly baked baguettes stuffed to overflowing with Tuna and sweetcorn, Strawberries, Bananas and Grapes, Chocolate and Blueberry Muffins, and our families favourite sins; Giant Cadbury Chocolate Buttons, and Waitrose own Jelly Babies!

My Son had walked to my Daughter's place. We called in, and stayed a while, meeting some of her new housemates, and for me finally a chance to check out her garret now that she had turned it from attic to home. Although much smaller than the space she had here, it retained the quirkiness of home. Sloping walls and ceilings, the ubiquitous piles of fashion magazines, fabrics, and notebooks everywhere. My daughter is studying Fashion Journalism, and the previous day had been scouting the West End in London, and had made her way to Mayfair. She proudly showed me a bag she had blagged from the Marc Jacobs' store, essential a cotton shopper, emblazoned with the Marc Jacobs' logo that we are all being encouraged to use instead of plastic in these days of recycling. Recommended Retail Price? Seven Pounds!!

We piled into the car and headed the short distance to Epsom Downs, famous for the race course, and the Epsom Derby. We parked up near Tattenham Corner, and unloaded the boot. We lay rugs on the grass, and the wicker Optima hamper that I had won in a competition some years earlier, courtesy of The English Garden magazine. Both my children love picnics, it is something we did often when they were kids. Teatime is so much more fun when you pack a basket full of goodies and walk half a mile to sharpen the appetite to a nearby Wood.

After lunch, we went walking. Just behind where we picniced is a Public Golf Course, with fabulous views over the Thames Valley of London. The brow of the hill we stood on was about 600 feet above sea level (son has an iPhone with GPS), and I surveyed the plain as it stretched out before us. I love this view, even 17 miles out, London has a magical potency, and energy, and it is easy to understand why it draws so many people to its streets. We walked the grass paths as dozens of horses and riders appeared to be taking part in a mounted orienteering competition. Within the bounds of the race course, horse boxes disgorged horses and ponies of all shaped and sizes, from portly coloured Cobs to bright grey Welsh Mountain types. Further away in the centre of the racecourse, family groups flew huge kites in the welcome breeze. We bumped into some of my son's flatmates and chatted a while, all returning to his home to freshen up, and then consume the delights of dinner at a local Italian restaurant. After we walked Little Bird back to her new home. It was strange to say goodnight to her on a foreign step, and I learned to let go a little more. We walked back through the town to my son's and said our goodbyes too. It was strange to drive away, and leave them to their lives, having spent the whole day together as if nothing had changed since childhood. I settled down into the passenger seat of my car. Tiredness almost overwhelmed me and I fought back the tears that wanted to come, and thought to myself NO; be happy for them. And I am. I have put a couple of pictures of the amazing view from the Golf Course towards London, hopefully you can make the landmarks out.


Looking over Docklands to the East, you can make out Canary Wharf and the 'Gerkin'


To the West, you can clearly see the Arch over Wembley Stadium

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The Fortune Teller .....

At 4 O'clock yesterday afternoon, I went to visit the surgeon who had removed the tumour from my right breast, and the associated lymph nodes. It had been a full week since the operation, and I have to say I was more than ready to hear the full diagnosis. I had been feeling as if I was a refugee in some alien hinterland that I didn't recognise and when I sought direction from my internal compass to navigate my way back to more comfortable waters, it just span around and around, hopelessly seeking answers that disappeared like mirages every time I approached too closely. I think the past week has been one of the most uncomfortable journeys I have ever been on. Totally lost and disorientated in a familiar landscape.

We waited in the now familiar Waiting Area and watched as Couples, Daughters and Mothers, and occasionally a woman on her own, left the Clinic having had their fortunes told. No words were necessary to understand their destiny; the smiles that lit up faces or quiet tears of despair said everything the onlooker needed to know. You couldn't help but be moved by them, and I couldn't help wonder which I would be. My Husband saw me watching and clasped my hand tightly, his eyes reflecting the fear of the unknown visible in my own.

A Breast Care Nurse(BCN) called us in, and we went into a Consulting room. I was asked to go behind the curtains, undress and pop onto the couch; Miss Stebbing would be in shortly. While we waited, the BCN smartly removed the dressings that had hidden the wounds from a week earlier. I knew I was bruised, I had seen the yellow and purple mosaic spreading out in all directions when I bathed, but I hadn't quite prepared myself for how large the incisions were and was a bit surprised by what I saw. My husband's reaction to it later when we had a proper look in the privacy of home was ' Zoë fought the Tiger and the Tiger won'.

Miss Stebbing came in, and examined her handy work, and I have to admit, despite the initial shock, I had to agree with her that it all looked remarkably healthy, was healing well and was very neat; you can't see a stitch mark, despite there being 2 wounds, one 3 inches and the other 6 inches long. Happy with her work she told me to dress and come and sit down again. It was a joy not to have the dressings on, and as the nurse helped me do up the monstrosity bra, I couldn't help but wonder how long it would be before I could wear something less utilitarian again.

I sat down next to himself, and waited with butterflies racing around my stomach and my heart in my mouth. The last time I had sat in this chair, Miss Stebbing had told me it was 'bad news'; that I had Breast Cancer. What was she going to tell me today? She smiled. I knew the news would be good, and she started to explain what the future held. Mercifully, they hadn't found any cancer cells in the lymph nodes they had sampled, and from that they were confident there had been no spread. The tumour itself in the scheme of these things was small, and all the margins of the tissue they had removed was also clear of any cancer cells, which meant she was confident that they had removed it all; the threat of more surgery was gone. It also means that I don't have to suffer the effects of Chemotherapy, that I can continue as she initially predicted, and take Tamoxifen for the next 5 years, which is a hormone cancer therapy appropriate to the type of cancer they found in me, and Radiotherapy once the wounds are well healed.

I should start on the Tamoxifen today; my GP will phone to let me know when the prescription is ready, and I may throw all care to the wind and walk the mile into the village to collect it. I still haven't driven yet, as the area is still sore, and I don't want to push my luck and endanger other road users because of a wonky arm. I will see an Oncologist next week to discuss the follow on treatment from the surgery, Radiotherapy, and arrange when that will start and for how long.; the hospital will phone and tell me which day at sometime today. Miss Stebbing thinks 25 visits should do the trick, going along on every weekday to the Unit in Southampton for 5 weeks. That in itself is going to be quite a feat as it is an 80 mile round trip.

So it's Champagne all round! Here's a toast to you all who sent me messages of support and encouragement, kind thoughts and positive vibes; they really made a difference. XX

Monday, 8 September 2008

Some light relief

This cupboard in my bathroom is filled to overflowing with bubbles, oils and other exotic ungents

I thought I would share my comedy moment of the week; it will be these moments that stick in my memory in years to come when I discuss my personal journey with Breast Cancer; the things that made me laugh, when even laughing hurt.

There are so many little things we take for granted in everyday life, the ability to access hot water and clean ourselves when we feel the need. Little bathing rituals we acquire that help us set the world to rights, a bath, a hair wash, just feeling clean can be spiritually cleansing too. Imagine my dismay when I was told not to get the dressings wet! No showers, no baths, and washing my hair virtually impossible! I wanted a hair wash, it hadn't been washed in 3 days; I was beginning to feel like the great unwashed, it bothered me out of all proportion, despite my Husband's protestations that it looked fine, it smelt fine, and anyway who was going to see! Men don't get it.

I wash my hair every day usually, it's one of the few things I do that is any kind of concession to the usual female preening rituals, I don't wear make up, never have. I don't colour my hair, never have. I do like to feel clean, I like my hair to shine and smell fresh . I bathe every day, often having a shower in the morning and a bath in the evening. It is my way to cleanse away the ills of each day, a luxury; to feel renewed, rejuvenated; it is healing.

I had figured out that with some help from himself, I could clamber in the roll top bath, and submerge my nether regions in a couple of inches of water perfumed with my favourite bubbles and generally splash around cleaning me from the waist down. Introducing water above my belly button was problematic, it was apt to get uncomfortably close to the dressings on my breast.

A little Internet research is often my way to circumvent frustration when faced with a task that seems seemingly impossible; and my mission was to wash my hair. Despite having a bath of sorts, I still felt grimy, and unclean. Yes, I know I am totally irrational, but as I reminded my Darling husband, I am female and it is my prerogative to be totally irrational about such things, and if he valued peace, he would stop telling me I was being irrational and that my hair was fine and could wait a few more days.

They say 'Desperation is the Mother of Invention'; well I was desperate by now, and willing to consider any method to secure clean locks, regardless of how madcap it might at first appear. My Saviour appeared in the form of a roll of Clingfilm. Yes, that right, Clingfilm. I undressed, and bid my poor husband wrap me in it tightly, over the area that the dressings occupied, and above and below; this way if I got wet, it didn't matter! I have to tell you that it took us a while to accomplish this, and the subsequent mayhem that ensued as I was wrapped up like a Turkey had us both in uncontrolled fits of laughter.

It was some while before either of us calmed enough to allow him to wash my hair for me; I bent over the basin and he carefully and gently washed my hair, rinsing it as if I might break; me still trying to stifle giggles and the rid myself of the ludicrous image I made in the mirror. I shall never be able to look at Clingfilm on the shelf in Waitrose again without having to stifle a smile.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Little Bird flies the Nest

My Little Bird holding Wayne the Chavfinch after his run in with the French Windows

This weekend is a difficult weekend; I had planned it so scrupulously, not realising that even the best laid plans often end up in the waste bin. My daughter leaves home this weekend for University. I had spent the summer scouting around the sales, buying her bedding and pots and pans, and all the things you need to set up your first home away from home. I was totally oblivious to the circustances that were going to overtake me, I had it planned to the most minute detail, so that in my heart I knew she was well provided for and would settle into her new surroundings quickly and easily. She is renting a house along with a group of other students as Halls accommodation at her Art School is very restricted. I went through this exercise with my son a couple of years ago, and it helped me a great deal to know that he was well equipped, and comfortable in his new home. This time I can't help, all I can do is watch as they load the car and plan what's going where in her new home. I find things like this so difficult, I so want to be part of it, plump the cushions on her new bed, run a duster around at the last minute, spring a home baked cake on her as we leave; but I can't, and it fills me with a huge sadness. I feel as if I have been robbed of sharing essential part of my daughter's development from madcap teenager, to self sufficient adult. It's moments like their first words, their first steps, their first tooth, they are moments you can't repeat, and I feel robbed and bereft as I watch the last load of books and clothes disappear into the boot of my Husband's estate car, ready to transport her to her new life. I shall just wave goodbye as they disappear down the lane.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Home Again

Taken earlier this year; Roses and clove Pinks from my garden

Sorry I haven't let you know how I am sooner, I have been rather dopey and have been sleeping rather a lot! I went in for the surgery at 7.45 am on Tuesday. I was greeted in the foyer of the Diagnosis and Treatment Centre (DTC) by a Theatre Nurse, and taken to the female locker room, where I was asked to change into a theatre gown, my robe and slippers, and then to wait in the Pre-Op waiting room. I duly did as bid, and scurried off, book in hand to wait to talk to the different Doctors and Nurses who would be checking me out before I went down to Theatre.

It is all very relaxed, its a bit like sitting around in a GP's waiting room; Radio 4 was playing in the background, and around the room were doors leading to 4 small consulting rooms. First to call me in was the Anaesthetist, who went through a routine set of questions about my general health, how I got on with anaesthetics and so on. Next a Nurse came to check my pulse, BP, and all the usual signs and placed tags on my arm and leg so they remembered who I was! I was also given some very glamorous stockings to wear; I am sure they will catch on eventually! I also had a Pre-med and some anti-emetics, as I was keen to go home that day. Once all the standard procedures had been carried out, I went up to the Breast Care Unit to have the wire inserted. This was a bit uncomfortable, but once it was in place and taped down the pain went away, and it was just a dull ache.

I then returned to the waiting room; now filling up with various shapes and sizes of patients in for different procedures. I caught the eye of a lady across the room, and she mouthed silently 'Breast?' to which I nodded, and went to sit by her. We established we were both being treated by Miss Stebbing that morning for an identical set of circumstances. It was reassuring to have someone else to chat to, and we soon forgot why we were there and discussed anything but surgery. She went down to theatre before me, so I bid her well, and waited on my own, reading the novel I had taken with me. Around about 10.30 the Theatre Nurse came back to get me, and said it was my turn. We walked down to the Theatre and I hauled myself on to the table; I think they were expecting someone taller! Everyone introduced themselves and talked me through everything they were doing, and I gradually drifted off to sleep singing 'Octopus's Garden' silently to myself.

When I woke I was aware a considerable pain in my right side, and the nurses very quickly sorted that out with an infusion of Tramadol, followed by morphine. They helped me put on the monstrosity bra, and made sure all the dressings and the drain were secure. I dozed on and off for quite a while, whilst they took my BP etc and made sure I was recovering well from the anasetic. I was then taken around to the small DTC ward, where I slept for a while, and then was offered some water. I was very chuffed, it usually at this point the day goes wrong and I end up disgracing myself, meaning I cant go home. Thankfully, this time the anti-emetics did the trick, and I followed the water with a coffee, and some digestive biscuits. These ALWAYS taste so good when you have been fasting for a few hours. I slept a bit more, and was soon feeling hail and hearty ( ish) but well enough to ask to go home. I was given the once over again, and told I could go. I got myself dressed and waited for my iGit to come and get me and take me back to the luxury of my own bed. I pretty much slept the next 12 hours without interuption.

Yesterday afternoon, the District Nurse called by to remove my drain, and generally check my dressings over. They have to stay in place until Tuesday next week. How am I feeling? I am sore as you might expect, but it is manageable, and I have tablets at home to help with that. I have been doing the exercises religiously, and think this helps a great deal. I have been resting and reading lots, and because the painkillers are quite powerful, find it hard to concentrate for long, and often start dozing off to sleep like the proverbial Dormouse.

Tuesday next week I have to go back and see the Doctors, and it will be then I find out exactly what I am dealing with. The waiting is the hardest part, but I am trying hard not to think about it, and just taking each day as it comes. Thank you for all the good wishes and kind thoughts, they mean a lot to me.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Today's the day

West Wittering, 30th August 2008

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Dx Day +16

'Pandora' ~ John William Waterhouse

Time flies when you are having a ball; I wish. I have found time running mercilessly slow, and despite keeping myself busy with any number of jobs, I am finding that the surgery seems to be taking an awful long time to come around. I have been reading a lot too, despite my Breast Care Nurse (BCN) telling me to get off the Internet and put the books away. Having seen some of the claims made by some people, I can understand why she says that at this early stage of the treatment process, they can offer false hope to people in a vulnerable situation, and effectively try to capitalise on our ignorance and our desire for a cure, some are just frightening, and I don't think it helps at all to add to the stress of an already stressful time. I think in many cases she may be right about not reading too much beyond the stage you are at in your diagnosis and treatment, it is so easy to scare yourself witless in the process. It is easy to speculate and imagine that is you some months down the line, and before you know it, you are ordering your coffin and choosing hymns! Don't go there. Deal with today, and tomorrow, and the things you know to be true right now. I have tried to confine my information searches to what I know about my circumstance, although the temptation to read beyond is always there, a hope that you may catch a glimpse of the future or discover the panacea.

One of the reasons I read is I find the more I know and the better I understand what is happening to me, and what will be happening to me, I am then able to feel as if I am involved in the process of treatment, and rather than feeling overwhelmed, I understand the necessity for some things, and how and why they are done. It helps me to cope and feel more in control of what is happening to me. For example, I know I will have Radiotherapy sooner or later, and I have read about that in Terry Priestman's book 'Coping with Radiotherapy', which I found very useful. It helped disperse some of the arcane images I had about all things nuclear, although I have to admit to a tinge of disappointment when I discovered I won't have glow in the dark breasts! Another book that I have read and bought simply because the title appealed to me; ' 'I've Got Cancer, But it Hasn't Got Me'. These few words encapsulated perfectly the way I wish to deal with it too. The book was a warm , witty and informative account of the author, Kate Dooher's, own journey with BC whilst coping with the demands we all face; work, family, children and so on.

Other things that had mildly alarmed me included knowing that my breast would turn turquoise for several months, and that I would have tattoos. 'Miami Ink' sprang to mind, and I had some fun imagining several ink dots being being added to the freckles I already have and that I might be able to while away quieter moments playing dot-to-dot with me as the puzzle! Sadly, there are no artistic credentials attached to these marks, and they are there to ensure they line the machines up as accurately as possible, when undergoing radiotherapy treatment.

Another thing that really did have me worrying was the fact that I know I am going to have a 'wire' inserted to guide the surgeon when they do the Wide Local Excision to remove my lump. I understood half the process, having had Stereotactic Core Biopsy the second time around to confirm my diagnosis. This was a remarkable bit of technology, straight out of Star Wars. They take two images if your breast, and feed them into a computer (the images, not your breasts, although whilst they did this to me, I was firmly clamped in the mammogram machine). The computer software then creates a 3D image of the space your breast occupies, and shows the structures within it, so that the tumour itself can be accurately located and samples taken. I had imagined this wire would be along the lines of 'X marks the spot', that was a little naive, but having discussed this with my BCN, I am happier about what's involved.

Yesterday morning I spent an uneventful 4 hours wondering from one department to another at the Hospital on the pretext of Pre-Op checks. The British Army might consider it useful as an orienteering course, I walked miles and got lost once! They seemed very through in their tests, and I was asked to provide urine and blood, and was also sent for an ECG and chest Xrays. I found this reassuring in a bizarre way. At least they would know how to put me back together.

Before I went for all the Pre-Op checks, I had arranged to see my BCN, as I had emailed her last week with a vast list of questions about various aspects of the treatment. I have found this side of it all so refreshing; the ability to be able to phone, or email someone who is throughly clued up about my case and the disease, who is there for me as a fountain of information when I am unsure. It's all highly civilised at the hospital I am at, and we went of to a quiet room complete with sofas and fresh flowers, armed with coffee in proper china mugs, and my gargantuan list. She talked me through each of the questions I had asked, and we discussed some non-medical stuff too which I had found difficult. It's amazing how people react to you when they learn you have cancer. In some instances it may as well have been the plague. But you soon learn who your true friends are, and after the first couple of shocks about peoples reactions, you mentally switch off to that kind of negativity. I decided I wasn't going to allow the hurt I felt at their reactions turn into negativity or depression. I have decided I have enough to deal with without having to deal with other peoples emotional cowardice or ineptitude.

I also contacted the Breast Cancer Care Charity, who are the is the UK's leading provider of information, practical assistance and emotional support for anyone affected by Breast Cancer (BC). I talked to a lady who was skilled in the art of discussing all the questions and issues I wanted to raise, without feeling I was adding to the burden of those around me. She was amazing, and suggested a number of practical solutions to things that had been bothering me, including sending me information to read about specific aspects of the disease, and also suggested that I might benefit from a 'Peer' to support me on the phone from time to time. Some one who had been through BC themselves, and was now a trained counsellor. Someone who was able to empathise and be realistic. This Angel phoned me last night, and we talked for quite a while. She is 10 years past her diagnosis, and had a very similar set of circumstances to my own. Knowing she was there, and life carried on as normal 10 years on, and that her kids got through Uni, and her husband was still by her side, gave me huge hope, and helped me put aside some of my less rational fears. She's going to call me again next week after the surgery, and we can talk again then; waiting for the full diagnosis is difficult, and I wont know the full story until a week later, but shes been there too, so understood my worries, and is willing support me along my journey. How amazing is that? My own personal Angel!

I think the most difficult thing I have had to do in the past two weeks however is find a Bra that is suitable to wear after the surgery, I actually ended up reassuring two quite upset fitters in one of the flagship Marks and Sparks yesterday afternoon as they desperately tried to help me find something that would fit! I had ordered some from the Internet, but they are a bit lacking in the cup department, and I had visions of waking up with my boobs poking out my back! Last night I discovered some monstrosities on and have ordered a couple that may fit at the outrageous price of £46 each! Let's hope they turn up in time. I have to say it's the practical issues like these, that drive me close to tears; sheer frustration at not being able to do something that should be so simple.

Anyway, huge ramble; sorry about that, but I thought I had better let people know what I was up to and how I was fairing.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Thank You

This rose was part of a bouquet my youngest sister sent me

I am completely overwhelmed by the warmth and kindness shown to me in the comments left on my blog on Monday. I am not sure what to say, but it has touched me deeply, and each one brought a smile to my face at a time when I was finding it hard to smile. Thank you so much for all the good wishes, the messages of support; the encouragement, and the positivity. It means more than you know.

I am sorry I didn't reply earlier to say thank you to everyone; Tuesday was a busy day as I took advantage of the good weather and went to RHS Wisley; I have blogged about my day on Garden Hopping. Today I was in hospital as a day patient having my 12 weekly sense of humour top up, and am just about sentient after the sedation. Thankfully my pain management specialist Doctor is a complete Star and kindly agreed to get that out the way before all the other treatment starts and brought my appointment forward.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

In the beginning ........

'Danaë' ~ Gustav Klimt

My journey began with a routine visit to a Mobile Screening Unit on the 21st July 2008. It had been parked up from some weeks in the G.P's surgery car park in an adjacent village. I had missed my first invitation to enjoy the bizarre contraption that is used for a mammogram as I was already in hospital when it arrived and wasn't able to attend. Only a comedian could have designed such a device. I always end up imagining a hamburger press on the occasions I attended a mammogram clinic. Often I have been chided by the attendant radiographer for not staying still and giggling too much as these bizarre ideas enter my head. I rebooked the appointment, although I was reluctant to go as I had had quite enough of Doctors and being poked and prodded in intimate areas to last me quite a while. Common sense got the better of me, and under duress I went along not thinking that I would get anything but the usual 'all is well' letter as a result of offering my breasts up to the indignity of said hamburger press.

The following Wednesday, I received a letter asking me to attend the Breast Care Clinic at the local District Hospital for a recall that Friday. I was a bit surprised by this, but not worried, as I have been investigated a couple of times in the past for odd lumps, which mercifully turned out to be benign. Having been a guest of the NHS on several occasions over the past year, I was pleasantly surprised by the surroundings I found myself in, and the compassion and thoughtfulness of the staff I came in contact with. My husband came along too, as I think he took the recall a little more seriously than I had. We arrived and I was taken almost immediately to have a new set of mammogram xrays taken. I was shown the areas on the previous films they were concerned about; 3 abnormalities, 2 in the left and 1 in the right breast. The radiographer took a number of new images, and then I dressed and waited to go and talk to a Dr. A specialist Breast Care Nurse came to reassure me a couple of times, and then guided me into a room where they had an ultra sound machine. They had a look at me using ultrasound, and I was then told the left breast was fine, but that they would like to do a fine needle biopsy on the right hand side. This involved the Doctor inserting a needle into my breast guided by the images on the ultrasound and scraping around to collect enough tissue for a laboratory to analyse. It wasn't the most pleasant experience I have been subjected to, but it wasn't too bad either. They gave me an appointment to return for the test results at 5pm the following Tuesday. Then all would be revealed. As you can imagine, by now little alarm bells had begun to sound, and so began the agonising wait.

Tuesday lunchtime, my husband took a call from the hospital whilst I was out, stating that they needed me to come back for more tests. They had cancelled the 5pm appointment, and wanted me to attend on Friday instead for a Stereotactic biopsy. Thankfully this time I was given a local anaesthetic, and they took a number of core needle biopsies. The nurse placed a pressure dressing on the wound, and told me to leave it there for at least 24 hours and not to get it wet. I have to say this did ache for a few days, and I still have some visible bruising today. I was given a further appointment for the following Tuesday at 5.30pm. More waiting to know; is it, isn't it? Time seems to move so slow when you want answers.

The days really dragged to the following Tuesday, and I caught myself trolling the Internet reading about Breast Cancer, and then spending ages convincing myself I was scaring myself needlessly. When I mentioned my concerns to people, they often responded, 'You look too well to be ill, it will be fine'. You don't know how much I now wished they were right. We went along at the appointed time, and waited, still hopeful it was all some huge mistake, and that the journey would end here. We went into see the Consultant Surgeon, which I knew was a bad thing, but exchanged pleasantries all the same and sat down to hear the verdict. The Dr stopped smiling, and my heart sank. She told me it was bad news, and that I had an invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast. I would require surgery to remove the tumour and the associated lymph nodes, and that this would take place on the 2nd September. I will also take Tamoxifen, and have radiotherapy each day for 5 weeks. Depending on the outcome of the surgery, I may need Chemotherapy too. As yet I don't know how serious the cancer is, or whether it has spread. More waiting.

So almost a week on from receiving the diagnosis, how do I feel? I don't feel ill. I am very scared, there are still many unknowns, and I find coping with problems far harder when there are intangibles. The numbess and shock are subsiding, and are being replaced by countless questions I was too dumbstruck to ask when I was told my fate. Once I know exactly what I am dealing with, then I am sure I will rationalise it better, and cope. I know I can phone up and speak to Breast Care Nurse, and have them explain things I am uncertain about, and know that they will treat me with care and compassion. I feel very grateful that we have a free National Screening Program in the UK, and that my cancer has been caught early, giving me a really good chance of a full recovery. As the days and week, and probably months pass, I shall blog as I feel the need and hopefully by sharing with you I can find a way to navigate my way through the seas of uncertainty.

Facing it, always facing it. That's the way to get through. Face it. ~Joseph Conrad~