Sunday, 19 October 2014

For my Three Beautiful Daughters and for all Daughters Everywhere

One of the major anxieties that has been burrowing away in my head since this all started in June is whether my three beautiful and talented daughters will be more at risk from breast cancer as a result of my contracting it. This is something we haven't discussed because I wanted an answer before I could raise it with my own children.

I asked the surgeon who sliced and diced me back at the beginning of July but he simply said that it was not his field. Then when we met the oncologist a couple of weeks later I asked again but he was too busy trying (unsuccessfully) to sign me up as a guinea pig for a research programme and once again I did not get an answer. All the time, the worry, like a tumour, was growing in my head. Then last week, the day before the Chemathon round 4, the oncologist, whose bedside manner has either improved or we are reaching some sort of understanding, asked us if we had any questions having had me sign up for different poisons for the next three rounds. He was half off his seat when he asked if we had any questions, ready to sprint off to some other unhappy customer. I did. "I have three daughters and I need to know if they are more at risk because of my cancer."

He looked through my history and answered with an unequivocal NO. Music to my ears. I do not have the sort of breast cancer that is genetic. My daughters are at no more risk than any other women. However, my beautiful daughters, that does not mean that you should not be breast-aware... and here comes the lecture.

1  Check every day and if you find anything suspicious go to our doctor. As you all know, if there were Oscars for bedside manner and general brilliance, the singing dancing doctor would have a whole mantlepiece full of them.
2  Don't smoke. Smoking is for fools.
3  Take breaks from oral contraception. That is not a 'get out of jail free card' for any of you to be careless. There are other options and I do not want to be a grandmother before you have finished your education and fallen in love and married someone wonderful. Old fashioned but if I can't tell it like it is here then where can I? I am, of course, making an exception for acting births over Christmas though I suspect I shall find that disturbing.
4  Have lots of children and try breastfeeding. I was crap at it but I did at least try.

I know that watching me battle through this is incredibly hard for the intrepid granny and, like her, I would rather go through it again than watch any of you have to be as I am now. I don't say it lightly.

And finally, whilst we're talking medical stuff... one of the things that made me cry a few weeks back (before I went into full-on wailing, axe-murderer phase) was when I spoke to Blood UK and told them that I could not come to my next appointment. I explained why and said that once I was well again I would be back. No. Once you have had cancer your blood-donating days are over. I have given blood on and off since the first Gulf War and for the last few years, never missed. Please, if you want to do something for me, be a blood donor. You never know whose life you might save.

My beautiful family. The absolute best thing in my world. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

Tiptoeing up the Learning Curve

When I used to do a school run every evening, a question that used to pop up a lot (from me, of course) was "Have you learnt anything today?" Said in a hopeful tone, it generally elicited the following responses: 70% of the time they either grunted or completely ignored me, 20% of the time gossip from school or entertainingly, one child would dob another. The final 10% was the best though, with some actual learning having taken place which they were prepared to share.

Learning new stuff every day is really important. When I was a secondary school governor, I would sit in meetings listening to folks using words that were a mystery to me or using acronyms that I had not heard of. I would dutifully write them down and then look them up on the internet when I got home (unless I had to vote on something involving both in which case I would put my hand up and ask.) I am quite sure that there were some relieved faces round the table when I did this who had as much clue as I had, but didn't want to look like a numpty...

I love trivia too (I am after all married to a member of a Thursday night quiz team and his specialist subject is Thunderbirds!). So little things like where did Bing Crosby die, which monarch's last words (allegedly) were "I die with Calais written on my heart" and what did Ian Paisley call his dog are also entertaining for me. Answers at the bottom, in case you're interested...

So the point of this is that there is a fairly steep learning curve going on for all of us at present. Number 4 is learning lots of 'ologies for her first lot of nursing exams later this term. She has also learnt how to dress as a baby for her netball club initiation... still no pictures, I am noting! Number 3 is learning to be a student - note to self: must remember to ask him if he has changed his sheets yet as we are now in week 5. Number 2 is learning to organise a wedding - a venture in which I apparently have a voice but not a vote. She's doing it brilliantly, of course, so no need for me to interfere... yet! And number 1 is learning to sign the whole of her script for Call the Midwife (the only sign language she knows, as far as I am aware, is a whole range of swear words which will probably not be required for family viewing before the watershed on Christmas Day) and how to pant and groan in childbirth.

My beloved is learning to do all sorts of stuff which usually is done by me. Most recently, he has had to take up the mantle of being chief carer to the dogs, of which the junior one has had an ear infection. I booked the appointment at the vets but it was immediately post-chemo so I was bed-bound and my beloved had to go in my stead. Normally he and the dogs pretend that each other don't exist but clearly this had to change. So then he announced that he assumed going to the vets was like taking the car in for service. You drop it off and come back several hours later when the work had been done. No, I said, it is like taking a seven year old to the dentist (he didn't do that either - with any of them!). You stay, hold their paw and murmur sympathetically. He actually had to go three times and now he and Bobbie (junior dog) have moved on from ignoring each other to regarding the other with deep suspicion.

And as for me... I am learning to be compliant and obedient although I do ask a lot of questions - what does that do, what are the side-effects, can I still drink (apparently yes, but the only thing I am enjoying drinking at the moment is sherry - and trust me, I have tried all sorts of things!) and last week, why did you say my heart sounded "squelchy" and is that a good thing? In the last week, I have had (and it was brilliant, thank you, Julie Crossman) two lots of reflexology - no idea how it works but it makes me feel better so I don't need to know, one lot of lymphoedema physio - I had cords in my arms that needed popping to give me full movement for the purposes of sport next year - again, no idea how it worked but it did and finally an ECG using ultrasound - which is when the squelchy comment was made. My heart has now been measured and given a baseline ready for the further atrocities in the future. So that's where we are.

Finally, what I am learning most of all is that I have (as if I didn't already know) THE BEST FAMILY AND FRIENDS and I undoubtedly live in the most caring and kind village. I optimistically hoped people to be wonderful at the start, but thought they might then forget about me.  But this is a marathon, not a sprint and yet I am still getting lovely messages, cards and gifts for which I am truly grateful and in awe of you all. Thank you, each and everyone.

Answers (in case you're interested):

1   Bing Crosby died on the eighteenth hole of La Moraleja Golf Course, Madrid where he had a heart attack and died instantly. I have my name down for such a demise.

2   Queen Mary - in her reign England lost its final foothold in France.

3   Bishop - so he could say "Sit, Bishop!" "Lie down, Bishop!" etc - for obvious reasons!

Bing with Grace Kelly in one of my favourite films, High Society

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Murphy's Law and the Drama

I have long felt sorry for the hapless Murphy of Murphy's Law fame, assuming him to be a nineteenth century Irish potato farmer with a consistently long run of bad harvests. But in trying to write this latest blog I thought I should check my facts and it turns out he was in fact a twentieth century American aerospace engineer named Edward Aloysius* Murphy. To give him credit, he came up with the expression: "If it can go wrong, it will go wrong" and it has certainly felt like that in my world of late. Not to trample over old ground, stuff that I thought might have gone better has tended to be slopping out of the wrong side of the tea cup and it's hard to imagine you're winning the war when you appear to be losing all the minor skirmishes.

But don't sweat the small stuff is this week's mantra and I'm writing this from my bear cave where I've been holed up since Monday morning. Most of the time, I'm asleep or dozing - hence all the phones turned off if you've tried to ring me - not that you should because life goes on and I'm not in a chatty place just now.

So, quick update now: I think I am on day 5, round 3 and consequently hitting what is now the new bottom of the birdcage - a previously uncharted area of unpleasantness but, as opposed to day 5, round 2, I am not feeling as mad as a bag of spanners and none of my nearest and dearest is in imminent danger of being attacked by the would-be axe murderer I threatened to become last time. Progress of sorts though there's may be time for the axe murderer to re-emerge tomorrow - who knows?

Last week, I felt well - hurray! Not well in the sense that I used to feel well but at least a functioning human being. And I saw two old friends who were good for my soul which was a treat - or two. And on Wednesday, I whizzed off first thing to Boroughbridge - or BozzaB, as my children now call it, making it sound like a hick town on the Gold Coast of Australia - for my blood test prior to round 3 of the Chemathon which was due on Friday.  On Thursday afternoon, I collected number 1 from Knaresborough station so she could once again be part of the Chemathon tag team. And then Murphy arrived...

There was an urgent message from the hospital on my return to call the Cancer unit immediately. Now I don't claim to understand much of this but seemingly to do the tri-weekly poisoning of anything growing in my body I have to have a white blood count of plus 1. And I wasn't even close.


However, nice nursey on the phone said I could come early on Friday and give the blood test another crack so off we trekked for another long day at York Hospital. I did however get very lucky with my nurse for the day, Chateau Shirley (so named by my beloved on an early visit because she said I could drink red wine throughout - actually, red wine tastes like sh** at present but it's the thought that counts). Blood test done and only interrupted by the alarms sounding and Chateau Shirley dashing from the room with the crash cart because someone had had an anaphylactic fit during chemo (another occupational hazard apparently).

So I passed at my second attempt and who would have thought I would be sitting in the Hospital cafe, happy to be having chemo? But any delay would have been bad news and another week hostaged to being ill. So on we went and aside from the current 'bottom of the birdcage' experience we are still going forward - somehow.

The other thing of note in my increasingly strange world is that I am to be a grandmother...on either Christmas Day or Boxing Day, depending on television schedules, and my forthcoming grandchild will be delivered by one of Chummy's gang! Number 1 is appearing in the Christmas episode of Call The Midwife and already my phone has many pictures of my heavily pregnant number 1, dressed in 1950s costume and practising her puffing. Lord, this grandchild will arrive before I was even born! Another surreal experience but surely not as bad as seeing number 1 killed and eaten by aliens in the science fiction drama, The Fades?

Whoever planned my life (certainly not me) has ensured that nothing is ever as I might have expected  - for good or ill.

Well, it might be Chummy on delivery duty... who knows?

*One of my childhood teddy bears was named Aloysius after Sebastian Flyte's bear in Brideshead Revisited. I'm sure my children are delighted they managed to dodge that bullet name-wise!