Thursday, 31 July 2014

Seize the Day - Mallorcan stye

In what feels like the lull before the storm, we are out in Mallorca on holiday for two weeks with great friends and an assortment of children and it is wonderful. Every day is full of moments when I want to shout: Stop the clock! but the time keeps rolling past and today two of our offspring are heading home and with their departure reality seems a little nearer.

But yesterday was perfect. My number 2 and her lovely fiancé arrived (does he refer to me as the prospective mother in law, I wonder? Not sure I'm ready for that yet). So three out of the four children are here and we have just 36 hours together before 3 and 4 head home to take up the mantle of looking after 3 dogs - two of ours plus Milton, half dog, half human who belongs to number 2 and LF. We have a week more including 4 days on our own and then we have to face the music in the form of A level results and 3 hospital appointments, the last being the first round of chemo - and all within a week.

But back to yesterday because it was just one of those days that, were I Professor Dumbledore, I would have wafted the memory out of my head on the tip of a wand and dropped into the Penseive to enjoy again and again. So exciting to have number 2 and LF here because we have wedding plans to discuss and even more importantly she hasn't been on holiday with us for a few years and it is so lovely to have her here. So they arrived early and it was fabulous to share their engagement excitement with our friends here, the singing dancing doctors and Skip and Mrs Broccoli and their children.

Whilst we've been here, the four teenage boys have been playing padel tennis on a daily basis. Smaller court, underarm serve and the ball bouncing off the walls like squash, sooner or later I was bound to succumb to the temptation of having a go. Like jiving earlier in the week with the singing dancing doctor, this is almost certainly not in any kind of post-operative regime but I've been doing my exercises and swimming ever-increasing lengths in the pool and I felt good. I was, of course, rubbish at it, playing right from the off against teens who'd been honing their skills all holiday but it was ridiculously joyful to have a racquet in my hand - even if it looked like a swing ball racquet and the ball behaved in a most untennis-like way. Maybe I might get on a tennis court this autumn - I daren't hope.

Then last night was The Big Night Out. There has to be one and as this is the second year of joining in this holiday, we know the form. Cocktails - I know, piña coladas are not at the sophisticated end of the drink range and it's a very cheesy song - then a delicious dinner, all fourteen of us in Stay right on the seafront. Any niggling thoughts of resistance to further carousing were long gone by the time my Irish coffee had been consumed and the walk to Nostalgia, the karaoke bar was only a short one.

I can't sing but I know I'm going to and without my intervening in any way, Friday I'm in Love by the Cure is on the screen and my name called out. Since I know that Skip is behind the covert nominating of all our names, he has to sing with me and we manage ok. Of course, the joy of karaoke is that there are people who really can sing, and people who just think they can sing and folks like me who know they can't but will do it anyway. And we've all been singing and dancing together for so long that we all know each other's signature tunes. And as well as the usual numbers - Fly me to the Moon, 9 to 5, Sweet Caroline, Oliver's Army, there were great songs from the children including Stacey's Mom by one-hit-wonders The Fountains of Wayne sung by my gorgeous girls. This was a regular song on our journeys to school when all four children would sing along with me - such happy memories gone in the speed of light.

It was a 3am finish meaning that number 2 and LF had managed a 23 hour day but it was perfect. Carpe diem absolutely. Never going to waste a minute of my life again.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Hair Today... Not Gone Tomorrow - Hopefully

Yesterday was a good day - a surprisingly good day - and good days are to be treasured and cherished now. 

I had gone to bed the night before thinking that from the next day onwards I would no longer look like me. I had felt my hair touch the pillow and silently said goodbye to it and the old me. A very wise friend told me that one of the hard things about being treated in hospital is that once you step through the doors you cease to have any kind of control. And losing the ability to control events in my life and losing myself in the process is one of my fears - one amongst many. In some very small way I needed to take control or at least feel I was doing so.

A week or so ago, I went to see my wise friend and asked her to help me. You see, attached as I am - literally, emotionally and most importantly for self-confidence - to my hair, I couldn't bear the thought of waking up to shoulder-length strands splayed across the pillow no longer attached to my head. Or, as Kim, the breast cancer nurse put it, watching it fall into the sink as I cleaned my teeth. Surely if there wasn't so much it wouldn't be quite so awful? So I asked my wise friend to take me to her lovely and brilliant hairdresser David at the Story of O in Leeds to cut my hair as short as he and I could bear. It was a big ask - for her, for me and for David. 

I found some pictures of the short-haired me a few years ago but we had to be braver than that. Where next for inspiration? My beloved and I have been watching House of Cards with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright and she turned out to be my role model. 

Pictures on my phone ready, Mrs O'Polo, as my friend shall be named, drove me to Leeds, kindly listening to me whilst I burbled all the way, filling any imagined silences that might cause me to stop and think - and cry.

David was wonderful. He and I know each other and he's cut my hair before when he was based in Harrogate and he is a great supporter of Acorn which makes him a top bloke. With a hug from Mrs O'Polo and me, and a warning that I might cry, he started cutting. With Otto, David's dog as a footstool, the hair cascaded down and because he was so brilliant and Mrs O'Polo so entertaining, I didn't cry and the end result was amazingly better than I could have imagined.

So I no longer look like the me of old and I may not look like this new me for long but I have taken back a tiny bit of control rather than being railroaded by stuff I can't control and for the brief interregnum between surgery and treatment I am in charge. And it feels good.

Monday, 21 July 2014

'A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing'

Sometimes I look back at what I have written and think: ooops, that was tempting fate! In my last blog I wrote that I wanted to have the answers to my questions so that fate couldn't creep up and goose me. Prophetic (or pathetic!) that's me.

So picking up the sorry tale, we headed back to York Hospital on Friday whilst the intrepid granny was training it up from Warwickshire. I am thinking... I know what I'm having - or more accurately, I know what all the terms are and how long it all takes though I have no idea how ill I am going to be. We meet the oncologist who is a young gun and I have googled him (of course!) and he is well rated and we start on my medical history. Then we go through the conventional treatments whilst he piles up literature on the desk for me and my beloved to read with instructions on the front sheet of how much, how long (53 weeks!!!), side effects and so on. Then with the verbal agility of a car salesman, he moves on to the Big R - the brand new Research programme that is on offer and, lucky me, I meet all the criteria.

This is where everything that I had steeled myself for was completely derailed. Forty five minutes later and an even bigger pile of stuff which is in such small print that an old gimmer like me is going to get eye-strain just reading, and he's done - and gone. We sit in the consulting room with the fabulous Kim (breast cancer nurse) feeling utterly shell-shocked. I had not factored in having to make a choice. I thought: sign here, this is it, do it, man up and if I'm sick and bald, as my number 1 child would say, suck it up.

So back home and I can't even bring myself to look at the pile of papers full of drugs with too many consonants without crying. And, the intrepid granny needs to see me, brave as a lion, as I used to say to my children. Not crumbling like pastry (thanks Ed Sheeran) and in a mess.

The best distraction came in the form of a Friday night trip to Bedale with number 3 child and my (sorry, but I am allowing myself all sorts of liberties at present) junior tennis team who were playing in the final of the Black Sheep League for the fourth consecutive year - this time against a strong team from Northallerton. They did not let me down and that very big trophy is back in my conservatory (might not share it round this year - it's inspirational). Proud doesn't begin to cover it and a celebratory drive-in McDonalds was worth every penny. Thanks Charlie, Evan, Jack and Joe - you're good for my soul.

Still putting off the awful reading of the literature, Saturday was equally distracting though less pleasurable. I had kopped for cricket teas and since number 2 and the intrepid granny were on hand, I had decided not to be a wimp and do it. We made cakes, brownies, quiches, sandwiches and scones whilst the rain hammered down outside. And then the rain stopped. As it turned out, it only stopped for one over (Barr 0-0) and then it started again so we fed 22 miserable but surprisingly hungry men, washed up and went home.

Still putting it off...

Up early on Sunday morning and I had to read the literature. Meanwhile in Majorca, the singing dancing doctors were doing the same. My beloved read it, I read it and we both independently came up with a list of questions for the singing dancing doctors. Then we went to a party and a jolly good one it was too. Much excitement about our good news and my forthcoming role as MOB and it was so lovely to forget all the bad stuff for a while and spend time with wonderful friends. Carpe diem. Oh, and my dinner plate exploded in front of me - literally.

Eventually we had to do the hard stuff which involved nearly an hour on the phone to our wonderful and incredibly supportive doctors who are in the unique position of understanding the science and knowing me really well. We made a decision to let the medical profession practise new drugs on someone else - selfish but that is now my default setting - and hope that after 53 weeks I can be me again.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Knowledge is power... maybe?

We are back from York Hospital after my first post-operative appointment since the fit and seemingly healthy woman that was yours truly let the medical team at York write on me, then slice me and dice me two weeks ago. It's also a week since Mavis the drain and I ended our intimate relationship - actually I've had complaints about calling her Mavis because I know a Mavis and very lovely she is too. Other name suggestions have been offered by friends based on the names of the women their ex-husbands went off with but I hope my drain-naming days are over.

My plan for today was not just to get the results which I had had on the phone over a week ago. The consultant, who reminds me disturbingly of a very tall pixie and is more than a little eccentric, told me those. Whilst I am worried about (amongst other things) hair loss, his stands vertically like Jedward - though rather less of it. Anyway, he is chuffed with his work and my lumpiness (which is far more widespread than the lump ever was) is apparently to be expected. Now what I want to know is:
1   What happens next?
2   How bad will I feel?
3   What are my chances?
4   Will I lose my hair and if I do, will it grow back quickly because I am to be MOB next autumn. Cryptic clue here - work it out!

Anyway king of the pixies wasn't up for giving me any of that because he has now deftly passed the parcel to the oncologist whom I will see tomorrow. Another day outing to York but it has to be done so no point in moaning. However,  Kim, the breast cancer nurse is much more helpful. If I say yes to chemo tomorrow (vanity and fear of nausea apparently are not good enough excuses) I will have six rounds of chemo in three week cycles. I will feel sick, feel fatigued and other side effects which I have unwisely googled and none of them are worth having or even including here. Will someone please tell me something good!

My chances are also to be discussed tomorrow because I am one of those people who likes to know everything, then at least fate can't come up behind you and goose you which is how I feel at present. I'll let you know on that one... probably.

Re hair, my chances are apparently one in three of keeping my hair which are not good odds. But we'll give it a shot and hope for the best for the reason stated above. Just don't put your house on it.

So is this knowledge helping? Not really at present but I guess ultimately it will. I would have liked to have got all the bad news stuff out of the way today, having steeled myself but that was not to be.

But I did learn something yesterday. Gentlemen: look away now! I am an under-wire girl but with under-wire comes pain. So new foundation garments required and I'm shopping online. Tick the box marked 'no underwire' and I am presented with the following:
1   Teen bras - I think that horse may have bolted.
2   Sports bras - I have plenty of those already and it's like having your bosom bandaged.
3   Mastectomy bras - no, I still have two, thank the Lord.
4   Nursing bras - same as number 1.
5   Old lady bras - think Hilda Baker, Mrs Brown, Les Dawson in drag, Mrs Slocombe - need I say more?
So £250 later and a whole selection of most of the above is on its way to try and if you see me and I am re-arranging myself in a comedic manner, be so kind as to look away!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Waiting Game - part 2

I'm quite a positive person, a glass half full person, a make the best of it person. I think so anyway. But I was in a very dark place at the weekend despite the wonderful and amazing Tour de France which made me so proud to be an adopted daughter of this fantastic county.

I was desperate to see the ten second flash of cyclists hurtling down the Ripon Road on Saturday and I managed, even though it rendered me in no state to do or go anywhere else that day. (Bummer, missed the tequila slammers at Il Presidente of the Cricket Club's evening event!). I met Gary Verity of Welcome to Yorkshire over a year ago when he came to speak at an event I organised for a client and fantastic he was. The Big V, as he is known amongst the journos, is a larger than life personality and now he has lost some weight he has been renamed the Medium-sized V - nice. I met him again at the launch of the Tour at Ripon Cathedral which we were lucky enough to go to and frankly, he has done a brilliant job and I am full of admiration.

Anyway, Tour de France - tick, but the whole thing left me exhausted and being tired just made the future look bleaker. Anyway Sunday was bad, very bad and I sat on the bench in the garden on my own and wailed.  But on Monday things took a surprising turn. The district nurse who is, of course,  my friend Fifi called to see me. My drain was nearly full and I was lugging Mavis, the drain, containing 480mls of red gunk around with me on my rather weaker side. Fifi's advice was to go to York to have a new drain plugged in. And so we set off to York on Monday afternoon through horrendous traffic (why?) and whilst my beloved parked up, I trundled slowly to G1 where I had spent the previous Wednesday night after the operation with the snoring Florence.

I arrived on the ward with no paperwork (had I also had a lobotomy at the same time, I wondered) but I explained my predicament and the nice nursey went off to find my notes. She came back moments later saying that my notes SHOULD be here but weren't and they could only have disappeared if someone wanted them for a meeting. Meeting? My results aren't due till the end of the week and it's only Monday. Anyway, with a new Mavis on board we went home.

On Tuesday I had a call from the lovely Kim who is my (yes, I know I'm sharing her but she is going to be there for me throughout and therefore mine) breast cancer nurse. Am I OK? Yes, drain drained and all hunky dory and sleeping better - hurray! Are there any results? I wondered, you know, just in case and because of the trip to the hospital on the Monday with no notes. No, she said and rang off having fixed for me to come in next week. Then she rang back. Results!

I'm sitting down, writing down (because of the lobotomy and because in times of stress I may forget important stuff) and she says that there is a clear margin around where they took the lump - great! And that of the 18 lymph nodes they removed only the two they already knew about were infected. More very good stuff. Am I still going to have chemo - yes. And all the other stuff which I will be more familiar with as time goes on. But...

I am no longer in the dark place. I am going to see next year and even if my hair falls out (big worry of mine) and I am nauseous (a nearly as big worry) I will be ok in the end. And I am clinging to that thought because despite everything I have the best family and friends in the world and I'm not done yet!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Waiting Game

This is another blog from number 1 daughter who writes so brilliantly. Things have moved on since she wrote this and I have written but not posted some rather dark blogs. However, there is more cheerful news on the horizon which I will be sharing when I am not so tired. 

Since we last spoke, you have been in hospital and had a lumpectomy and your lymph nodes removed. You jiggled a plastic cup of red stuff rather cheerfully on Skype last night which has a long tube attached to your armpit. You have been sleepy and dealing with the highs and lows that seem to strike you once the shock is over. I think. I have no idea.

I think you will agree with me when I say, rather irritatedly, that people think all cancer sufferers are the same. It is a common disease, I agree, but if I hear about your close or distant relative one more time, you I fear will be off my Christmas list with a big black stripe across your name. It is not really your fault - rather an automated response mechanism that peculiarly ricochets out of one’s mouth when they hear the big “C” word. Almost like a “please leave a message after the tone” voicemail. You know it’s coming. Beep off. 
No it is not the same. Not when it is your flesh, living blood, the most precious and sacrosanct figure in your life (+ 4 other family members), this fragile, yet strong, beautiful thing - my mother - who requires me to hold all my dreams and hopes dear. The very pinnacle of everything you look up to. And this nasty tainted thing (for there is no synonym for the word cancer) has quite literally and viciously kicked the walls down.

You call me the drama queen - you are probably right. Sorry mother.

I am at the stage now where cancer is no longer a word which is lodged in my mouth uncomfortably and uncouth. I can say it without a thick swallow. Just about. I can also be rational and logical for a sustained period of time (most importantly, at work) without needing to breathe fresh air, look up at the sky and say “Why God?” I can stop after two glasses of wine. I can talk quite companionably, laugh out loud, complete a gym session without telling my Personal Trainer to bugger off. Life has gone on. I have half-heartedly gone along with it.

We are now doing the waiting game. The waiting game consists only of a set of dice and it’s a few days before we see which numbers are up. We sit tight - patiently and impatiently - a perfect synchronicity of opposites in play. In the meantime, I revisit and revisit the past. 
Last week I was at home and I was stupendously proud of myself for not cracking every time I looked at you. On the last day, you and I went to Helperby to track down an old gravestone which belonged to the ancestor of my godfather’s mother in law - Granny Annie. We sat in the car quietly, clear blue skies and a breeze squeezing itself through the window. Country lanes and fields running past. Birds were probably singing. We did not talk of trivial things - only the important, but we gave them the air of normality. We talked of marriage, family, friendship, life after cancer (for yes, extraordinarily, you have planned that far ahead). The strangest thing which I am still dwelling on, is that you told me that finding out I was deaf was worse than being told you had cancer. It was such a incongruous statement to me. “Me - Deaf. You - Cancer” - it  has replayed itself in my head as broken English between two foreigners. 

I have no memory of when you were told, nor any understanding of what it is like to be a parent but I can tell you this. I would choose having a mother like you over being able to hear in a heartbeat. Being deaf has taught me the reward of hard work. Being deaf has taught me to be humble and to care about all human beings - the strong and the weak. Being deaf has given me an edge more than any disadvantage I face. Being deaf makes me cherish what I have rather than mourn what I don’t have. This attitude, zeal and sense of life did not come from being deaf but from your conviction that I could have the sun, the moon, the stars and more if I had the confidence, conviction and determination to go and get them. We all know the saying ‘life is a rich tapestry’ - another of those overused cliches - but I truly believe that my life is more enriched for living with broken ears. 

When we are little, we don’t know what words mean. After a while, we are told by our parents a ball is something you can bounce. A door becomes something you open. When you grow older, you learn that a ball is also a sphere. It can be made out of different materials. When we are even older, we question the validity of those definitions - is a ball always something you can bounce? Do you always open a door? When I was little, being deaf meant that I couldn’t hear. And that was ok. You told me I had these magical toys in my ears called “ear bugs” that made my ears better. When I was a little older, I realised that being deaf meant that I could do some things but some things I would find a little bit harder. And that was ok too. When I was even older, I questioned the validity in everything you had ever told me - mainly because I was a horrendous teenager - except for one thing; what being deaf meant. Because you had sold me on its meaning from Day 1. Being deaf didn’t mean that I was any less than anybody else. If anything, it made me all the more special. And I have clung, rather egocentrically perhaps, onto those magical words because they reward me with the confidence, conviction and determination to reach for the sun, the moon and the stars. As you want all your children to do. You did it.

So I suck at this waiting game and I don’t know which way the dice are going to fall. But I do take strength from the past. I hold certainty in the way you dealt with all your hurt and pain in other matters, because you did right. You came out strong and you came out on top. I know this because the rest of us have followed you.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

What I want just now... I reserve the right to change my mind later.

Am I really here? It's 3.00am and I am blogging from my bed on a ward at York District Hospital because, although I am utterly exhausted, I can't sleep. It feels surreal - like I might wake up and still be going to Wimbledon tomorrow (today actually, as it turns out) with number 3, meeting up with number 1 child and staying with lovely old mate JCB. 

But I am here, wearing brand new jammies and some very fetching elasticated knee socks (boy, my feet must pen and ink by now - hot in here!) and there's a drain in my armpit and the unlikely combination of a road accident of bandages, bruising and graffiti on my left breast. On a positive note of course, it  - and I - am still here. And I feel ok - which is also good. Of course, sleep might be a possibility if the elderly and very charming bewigged lady opposite didn't snore with the randomness and sheer ferocity of my beloved. I nod off, thinking thoughts of Jonny Wilkinson (a girl must take her pleasures where she may) and then Florence lets out a rip snorter and I'm wide awake again. It is darkly humorous that her wig is pretty much immobile throughout and her mouth is like a letterbox. I may not be finding wigs so full of comedy value in the months to come. 

Not going to talk about yesterday though hopefully it's not regarded as rude to drop off mid-sentence to Graham, the anaesthetist. He must get it all the time. Anyway phase 1 of the horribleness completed and I'm waiting now for the consultant to give me the heads up on yesterday's damage limitation exercise. 

I am blessed to have truly amazing family and friends. A record-breaking eight texts yesterday morning before 6.30 whilst I was loading tweet deck for Spear Travels, and then a Skype with number 1. My friends have been wonderful, offering loads of support which is what I need now. And my nominated cancer buddy, aka my ladies doubles partner at Ripon and very dear chum, knows exactly what I need. But I don't want this bloody awful event to define me. I want my friends to entertain me with all the usual madness and not dwell on what is happening to me. And most importantly - and sorry if this sounds bossy but if I can't be bossy today when can I? - I don't need to know about anyone else's experience of cancer. I've all on dealing with this and I don't need anyone else's, however kindly meant. 

So I don't want to be the woman with breast cancer. I want to continue to be the mother of four fantastic young adults, my beloved's beloved, party animal (did I tell you I went out in thigh boots and hot pants on Saturday?), tennis nut, marketing consultant and her from the Acorn Charity. And if I turn into a cancer bore I rely on you all to tell me!  
Not quite the mother and son day I had intended but numbers 3 and 1 having a ball at Wimbledon. Excellent! 

Friday, 4 July 2014

Big C and little c

This is a blog by my number one daughter. With everything I do now, there is always one of my children that can do it better than me and with writing it's number 1. This is her take on recent events...

There is nothing quite like the sudden jolt of reality when your mum tells you she has cancer. It was Wednesday afternoon in London, 25th June, 16.54pm and I was in the middle of delivering a four day programme for 100 students at BP on the subject of ‘Smart Cities’. The sun was shining and the energy in the group was high. Halfway through delivering a session with 20 senior leaders and 100 students, I got a text from my mum saying “I need to talk to you”. This was followed by a text from my dad saying “Call your mother now”. A feeling of dread over washed me. Plain and simple.

I took off my microphone, dropped my things, marched past security and went outside. The traffic was booming and there was chatter everywhere. I couldn’t hear and I couldn’t find a quiet spot. Eventually, I walked back inside to reception and rang the number. Mum picked up. “Can you hear me ok?” she said. “Yes” I said. “Listen carefully. I have bad news, darling. I have breast cancer.”

At that moment, there was this loaded silence and a repugnant cacophony of cliches came rolling in. The world stilled. Sounds became defined. A sharp intake of breath. My heart rate went through the roof. And the surroundings stayed exactly the same - I resented that. I remember. Focus, Gen. Focus. Do not break down. Focus on the matter at hand. “Are you ok?” I asked. “I’m fine. I have been in hospital all day and I wanted to tell you as soon as it was definite.” “Who knows?” “Robbie and Sabrina and I am waiting for Antonia to get back from work.” Simple facts. I told her I would call her later. Took a breath and went back into the auditorium and into the mayhem.

My boss immediately knew something was up. I struggled to articulate the words but I did. “My mum has breast cancer.” It was a barely audible whisper - probably the best I have managed to do in my life, since most people will know whispering is not my forte. But the day went on - the only way I could function at that point was to get on with the job at hand. Mum had more information to tell me, the programme was due to finish in an hour and, more importantly, I had no battery on my phone. I could sit and be vacant or I could continue with the job.

The day went on.

My mum’s mantra has always been “My body’s my temple” and it feels mockingly ironic that the healthiest person in our entire family has been diagnosed with Grade 3 cancer. But I know that life doesn’t shoot straight. I also know that breast cancer is incredibly common, that 90% of people are ok, that a lumpectomy is followed by radiotherapy and in bad cases by chemotherapy. My mum is terrified of having chemotherapy. I am terrified for her. She goes into hospital for the lumpectomy tomorrow and she is being brave and honest and organised as much as I would expect my mum to be.

There is no rationale or logic to be had behind coping with these things. Emotions are rather haywire but I am trying not to predict or control how I feel at specific moments in the day.
There are a whole lot of precious moments and memories being savoured during this time. And part of me is doing this to process - in the only way I know how right now - by writing; but also because if I can make my mum smile through reading this, then I know I will have made her day that little bit better. And because of that, mine.

So mum, as I know you are reading this right now, here are a few precious memories to share with you. Antonia and I have already regaled over these so already you know these are the real golden nuggets.

Songs: You, me and Antonia singing to Mamma Mia the musical in London. ‘Slipping through my fingers’ - our song. The Remix to Ignition, the coolest song ever. Robbie singing ‘Obviously’ - I’m sure you can emotionally blackmail him into doing this again…though he may never forgive you!

Clothes: Some hilarious fashion statements - Antonia’s sunflower hat. My orange anorak. The pashmina dress. So - my entire teenage years. The twins dressed as sheep for the Burton Leonard feast, bawling their eyes out. Antonia’s bat costume. My chinese costume. You were a genius at this. Your James Bond costume - squeezing into my wetsuit. I was mortified then but rather proud now.

Films: Mamma Mia…nuff said. Mrs Doubtfire “He was run over by a guinness truck”. Mighty Ducks - the flying V which I spent my life trying to recreate on the lacrosse pitch.

Holidays - Salcombe - when Jon Newey wore your swimming costume. Bahamas - the black Father Christmas. Dublin - Eric Clapton and you flirting with some young stoners in a rather fashionable bin bag and heart shaped sunglasses. Ibiza - Auntie Jean, Jack the Crack and hair bobbles. Jumping off the cliff. Losing my tooth in the Spaghetti Bolognese. Portugal - the broom dance and Josh pulling down the curtains.

Birthdays - An army stripper for a 16th, a black vicar for an 18th but only at the stroke of midnight, Sabrina’s sleepover - I had supposedly pooed behind the sofa very recently. Sleepwalking and trying to climb into Robbie’s bed naked. (Sorry Robbie). Epic birthday cakes - the Lion cake to name one.

Miscellaneous - When we had Guy Wright to babysit and we made him cocktails. (Antonia felt it was of import that we dredged this back up) Our obsession with Echo the Dolphin on the Mega Drive. Very important moments - listening to the Queen on Christmas Day. Me and Sam Storey painting an L on Antonia’s nappy. @TheLPlateNappy

This list could go on, but I’m only giving you a nibble. There will be many more to come and many more to create. 
So I will leave you with a favourite quote and a last message before the big brave day tomorrow:
“When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew.” William Shakespeare

I love you, I am so proud of you and we are with you every step of the way.

First daughter

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Small c and the Big C

I'm not sure at this point whether this blog is ever going to be published but in the last few days I've been aware that as writing is one of my best releases that perhaps I need to write about what is happening in my life. Perhaps my children may want to read it and it will help them to understand.

How ironic that my last blog should include a bucket list. Might just be needing that further down the line. However, here's an update on where we are:

While we were on our fabulous 30th wedding anniversary trip to Barcelona, I found a lump. It was on my left breast almost under my armpit. No immediate cause to panic. I've had one of these before, had it checked out and it has dispersed of its own accord. Keep an eye (or rather a hand) on it and see how things go. After all, twins' A levels are just a couple of weeks away and this is a distraction we don't need. A week before the end of the exams, I am still not actually full-on panicking but the lump, though no bigger, is definitely harder - but perhaps this is a reaction to the daily poking it's getting from me in the shower. At this point, I have to state that since I have an alarming number of friends who've had breast cancer I am a virtually daily-checker of that region. I don't miss much.

Time to make an appointment with the doctor. Our doctor is also one of our closest friends and indeed we (his family and ours) are planning to holiday together in July in Majorca (of which more later, obviously). So the day before the final Maths A level, the singing dancing doctor (as he has always been known in my blog) has examined the lump and says I need to get it checked. He says that he will send me to the best of the best (as they say in Top Gun) and that means going to York. Just the two of us know any of this - the singing dancing doctor and me. My beloved is away for a couple of days on business whilst all this is going on and I don't want him worrying about me so I manage to hold off till he gets back. As ever, when told, he puts a most positive spin on the proceeds so far, but I know... because I just do... that this is not going to be good.

Normal... that's all I want at home for now. No point in scaring the children until it's definite and so we do all the usual stuff to keep up the pretence although the senior dog is giving me strange looks - maybe I'm just imagining that. I manage to play two tennis matches for two teams, officiate at a juniors match, go to the school ball and stay on the dance floor till the bitter end (though I do resist the urge to shimmy up and down the tent pole unlike some others!) and even go to see The Eagles in concert with my beloved. This was his Christmas present from me and it was a really wonderful concert. I have a feeling that the Eagles may be the soundtrack to all this in my head. After all, it was The Eagles that was playing on the radio at the moment when the twins entered the world eighteen years ago.

And that's the thing really. There is a curious symmetry about much of this. I'm 58. I had 29 years of growing up myself (not always great as I am a classic at learning things the hard way) and 29 years (nearly) of bringing up my wonderful children. Perhaps this is just my time.

My beloved and I went to York Hospital on Wednesday leaving the post-exam, snoozy twins at home. Point about the design of York Hospital. They cleverly call the Breast Cancer centre the Magnolia Centre so you're not going into a tailspin of tears just going through the doors but it is sited immediately next to the Cancer Care Centre which has its name in gigantic letters right next to it. From a facing your fears point of view, this is like a gigantic slap in the face. Trying not to cry.

The singing dancing doctor is right. I've done my fair share of hospital appointments with number 1's hearing and number 3's ability to crash into stationary objects, hockey sticks etc and a couple of dashes to A&E with the intrepid granny and this is a cut above in terms of efficiency and caring. And I am very scared.

The consultant is really kind and curiously we discover a mutual bond in 18 year old twins. I know I'm in the right place from the off. The system at York means that you go from one element of the diagnostic process to the next with hardly any waiting. Mammogram (and yes I always attend those sessions in Morrisons car park when called) and then an ultra-sound. The radiographer is very quiet and spends a lot of time not so much on the lump but on my armpit. I'm no mug... this is not good. Although my knowledge of all things breast cancer-related is about to take a seriously upward trajectory from a comparatively low level, even I know this is not a good sign.

Back to the consultant and my beloved is hoiked out of the waiting room where he has been sitting for the last hour and half or so. It's almost certainly cancer. The lump is small - less than 2cms which seems to be good news or as near as we are going to get to such a thing. More tests. Needle first to take some cells for testing and a 45 minute wait for the results which may or may not tell us anything. And while we're waiting I'm off to have some proper tissue taken. Local anaesthetic and a full-on attack with something which feels like a heavy duty staple gun. Not pleasant and I am feeling a bit battered. However, all the staff are lovely and whilst all this is going on, I manage to establish the following:

I will get back home in time to watch Andy Murray play at Wimbledon.
I can definitely have a large drink.
I can play tennis tomorrow. Actually this last one proved a bit painful. Whacking the ball was ok but the throw up on the serve with my left hand felt a bit sore. But I did it anyway - of course!

Back to the consultant. He's my kind of man. He doesn't mind my swearing. In fact, in a subsequent telephone conversation he let me know that his language has been described as tourette's once he gets behind the wheel. I have to have surgery. And I want it now. Sorry, but 58 years of being impatient to get stuff done isn't going to change now. If I'm going to feel crap, bring it on, because, in theory at least, the sooner it's done, the sooner I will be me again. And I can have it done, but not by him and not in York. So we're booked for a trip to the seaside - Scarborough with another consultant on Tuesday.

Friday - bad day. The consultant rings. This isn't in the plan, I think, as I hear his voice. He has the results and it's not good. Grade 3 cancer (and because I'm that sort of girl, I've read through the book they gave me on Wednesday so I understand that this is the most aggressive form). Cue more bad language from me. Also at least one lymph node is infected so they will be removing all the lymph nodes. He wants to do the operation himself and he's made it possible. Next Wednesday at York with himself and the very kind breast cancer nurse Kim who may well be my new best friend. And yes, chemo is very likely for eighteen weeks - joy! And that's where we are now.