Saturday, 12 April 2014

You don't wanna do it like that...

So before I launch into my treatment journey (and yes I hear you all saying please get bloody started!)  I just wanted to share this with you because personally I think it's really important when somebody gets a diagnosis like this that they are absolutely ready for the amount of 'advice' (and I use that word lightly) they will receive. It is also very timely as I am signed up with my lovely friend Swazi to do the 2014 Moonwalk (actually the Half Moon, but still physical activity involving 13.1 miles of walking at night with your top half clad in a bra only!) and on Swazi's blog Chocolate is not the Only Fruit one of her most recent posts about sponsoring us tackles the very same subject (as she's a much more prolific blogger compared to my pathetic one post a month you may have to look for it - though all her posts are worth having a read of so don't be shy!)

However I do want to begin this post by saying that I know that many of these people who give this type of 'advice' are not doing it out of maliciousness or in any attempt to hurt the person who they want to impart this 'advice' to. They honestly want to share what they know, believe or have been told because they want to help the person. Well I want to believe that this is their starting point.


However in my humble opinion what I actually think is that they are being a bit thoughtless and not always helpful to a person who is already confused, scared, unsure and completely and utterly lost as to what to do for the best. The person receiving this 'advice', without wanting to put too dramatic a slant on it, is frankly having to make decisions about staying alive. So when someone approaches you with something they've heard, read or been told worked for someone else it puts the person being given this sudden 'revelation' (because trust me that's exactly what this is if they haven't heard it before and haven't even considered and accepted or dismissed it into the bin of old wives tales, quackery or snake oil remedies) can be quite mind blowing. Literally. Even if you have dismissed it as a load of hokum that has no place in your treatment plan and never will do, logic goes out the window as you begin to doubt yourself and start questioning what you've decided to do. 


I feel qualified to say this because that is exactly how I felt. I live in a town which is a lovely combination of old school traditions and new school quirkiness. I love it and wouldn't and couldn't imagine living anywhere else. But it sometimes comes with a price to pay. Although I can accept and understand the alternative approaches brigade I also tire of the constant deluge of medical versus non-medical sermons with, I have to say, the non-medical alternative voice, at times feeling much louder and more sanctimonious. When having to make big decisions it can make for difficult and unsettling listening. 


I have always embraced and been a supporter of holistic approaches to health. So much so that hundreds of years ago I qualified in aromatherapy massage (and 'yes' to all you cynics there is such a qualification and 'no' I am not available to hire, nor for your dirty minded individuals do I do 'extras'!) That was all a very long time ago in another dimension. However my point being that I have had first-hand knowledge and have been exposed to a non medical practice that had incredible benefits in the healing process. But that was exactly it. It formed part of a bigger process. By me giving someone a massage with essential oils it wasn't going to cure them of cancer or Crohn's disease or HIV, but what it did do was support the healing process. Aromatherapy massage is a great relaxer, de-stresser, detoxifier, works wonders on the neurological system, is fantastic for aiding good circulation and gives the immune system a great boost. However it is not the cure to acute and life threatening illness and because of the toxicity of some natural products such as essential oils should not always be used whilst undergoing medical treatment. In short it made you feel nice, helped kick start your system which in turn impacted on your overall health. But again, a bit like cancer, the responses are all very individual and what might work for one person has no guarantee of working in the same way for another person. 


I cannot put into words the awful feeling that wells up in the pit of your stomach when you are wracked with indecision about whether the path you are taking is the right one. All you want to do is make the right decision that will enable you to fight this thing head on. What you don't want is the feeling of being judged for not doing something in another way when you have already had to make the most important decision of your life to date - the decision about having a life to make decisions about in the future!!!

http://flyingglory.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/old-man.jpg
Harry Enfield's '"You don't wanna do it like that" character
And another point I want to make so as not to upset my friends who have an interest, are actively involved or work in this alternative therapies field is that I am NOT talking about you. You are my friends and not at any time did my FRIENDS question my plan of action. If alternative approaches were discussed with my friends then it never came across as judgemental or sanctimonious and it was certainly never received in that way. This post is talking about those whom I maybe have a tenous acquaintance with, work colleagues and in many a case complete strangers. Those are the memories that resonate with me. 

Just to demonstrate what I mean I thought I would share some of these with you:

  • Lavender oil rubbed/sprinkled/submerge onto the affected area (never explained exactly how much was required and how frequently - suppose that wasn't too relevant)
  • Ice cold cabbage leaves (again no type particularly specified so can only assume that savoy, red, green or even napa would do it?)
  • Vitamin C IV treatment (a lot more out there about this, but still not sure...) instead of chemotherapy
  • Coconut oil (the wonder oil that just about cures everything, but doesn't help if you hate coconut!)
  • Wearing a bra at night or not wearing a bra at all (this one was clearly interchangeable because was given by the same person. Never did quite clarify why it needed to be complete cladding 24/7 or hanging free all day, every day. Maybe depends on type of breast cancer?)
  • Coffee enemas (again know this one has been around for a long time, but not sure it's for me. Seems like a perfectly good waste of a cup of coffee and really don't relish the idea of shoving it up my jacksy. Call me weird, but that's the 'coffee in a cup and not up my arse' kind of girl I am.)
Anyway I hope I have made my point without upsetting anyone who might hold these views dear to them. I am all for exploring complimentary approaches whilst having treatment (if no likely contraindications with conventional drugs, such as reiki which I really do recommend during the chemo stint of the treatment - again helped me but may not help others!) and particularly post treatment to help heal your body after the trauma and shock it's been through. Looking at your diet, nutrition, alcohol intake, levels of exercise and psychological support I am up for 101% (don't always abide by it, but try to and actually get it!) However when you've got some big decisions to make about the best way to get better you need to know that the decisions you are making are the best ones possible for you. If you believe in what the person is telling you and it makes sense to you that is great. Go for it. But when imparting this knowledge all I ask is please think of the recipient. 

We all know the arguments about the big pharmaceutical companies and their hold over us in this and many areas of medical treatment. However until I can see a big enough meaningful controlled sample of those undergoing these specific alternative treatments I think I, personally, will stick to the tried and tested evidence based treatments out there. They have worked for me and millions upon millions of people out there like me. They've enabled us to live long (or at least longer) healthy lives with our friends and families. Yes there is no doubt that we are scarred, battered and bruised - physically and emotionally - by the seemingly barbaric treatment we have had to go through, but we are still here. 

However if this cancer thing decides to rear it's ugly head again I may well be the first person heading to Starbucks for a caramel macchiato to go!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Groundhog Day

I knew from fairly early on in my diagnosis that I wouldn't tell my mother that I had breast cancer, a decision that was agreed with by my nearest and dearest. My mother has vascular dementia and, as you will have gathered if you've read my profile on my blog, lives with us. With her inability to grasp what day it is, where she is, what she's doing today or indeed who any of us are from one minute, hour or day to the next it felt like a redundant and pointless exercise. 

At first I thought it would be cruel and upsetting for her to comprehend that her youngest child had an illness that could be fatal and by telling her and then her getting upset and then forgetting and then having to tell her again would just be fruitless and lead to a day to day emotional roller coaster. I felt it would be like Groundhog Day for me having to relive the scene over and over again like Bill Murray. 



I thought it would become increasingly difficult to hide it from her as my health deteriorated and my hairloss became more apparent. My mother had also been a state registered nurse so had, in her day, the medical knowledge to understand the enormity of the disease. She was also of the opinion, very strangely for a medical person, that once you started messing with certain things it would lead to the speeding up of the inevitable. I'm not sure where that logic came from considering I assumed the job of the medical profession was to ultimately aim to make you better and to do that you might have to go through some horrible, but unavoidable procedures especially if you wanted to live. But maybe her years of experience working on wards and at the midpoint of her career in geriatric care had shown her otherwise. Still that point of view resonated and kept coming back to me. Another reason for not wanting to share this news. 

For me however it was the saddest thing in the world. Although I put a brave face on it so as not to upset others, everyday of my illness was tinged with real sadness that the one person I wanted to share this with who over the years had looked after me unconditionally and without question, who had mopped my brow, held my hand and soothed me with comforting words and just been there to make it all feel better could no longer do that for me. She would have always been the first person I would go to in times of need. All I wanted to do was tell her what was happening and for her to hold me, stroke my hair and tell me that it would all get better like she use to. 

But that was a long long time ago and I am now that person to her. It is the way things are and of course I understand and accept it, but now that time has passed and my health is better (and my hair is growing back!) it is time to recognise the sadness, deal with it and move on. I need to remind myself I did it for her. She was one of the main reasons for me to fight and get through this because protecting her is now my job and what I do for her. 

So when I first said it was to avoid Groundhog Day it was really to preserve it. So everyday would continue to be like the last and that we could hold onto this time forever with my mother's dementia not progressing and all her memories of us fading and I, in turn, holding onto my life before cancer and not getting closer to the inevitable - whatever my 'inevitable' might be.






Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

My D day is looming and I have one last thing to do before I step onto the treatment treadmill which will, I have no doubt, change my life forever. That last thing is to go get a wig. It's not that this is an enshrined pre-requisite to having chemotherapy. From my own research and talking to people I know that many don't do the wig thing for a whole host of reasons and opt for a headscarf or hat or even go au naturel,  but I want to be ready for all eventualities. I also secretly harbour a desire to be incognito and to have a wig that is so unlike my natural hair that no one will recognise me and therefore throughout this gap year I can ostensibly be undercover. I know, I know. Most people would be angsting and agonising about the hairloss, but I see it as an opportunity to be someone else. I think Freud would have a field day with my fucked up psyche. But it's much simpler than that. I am a bit of a show off and a frustrated wannabe thespian so this allows me a chance to sink into a fantasy world where I could be anyone or go anywhere else other than here having to face my own immortality. I also quite like the idea of going blonde!

For this task I need to chose my shopping companion wisely as I cannot be trusted to do this momentous task on my own. I have very little sense of style (or indeed any style) and am sure in my panic I will buy something that resembles a merkin or leaves me looking either like Paul Daniels or at the other extreme Bet Lynch.

Anyway as my last post shows I am truly blessed with the most amazing friends all with their own wonderful qualities and strengths. I therefore need someone from amongst this group who will be brutally honest, is stylish and won't let me leave the shop looking like a very very poor excuse for a drag queen or a reject from a reality show with really bad hair extensions or WAG aspirations. I need a fashionista straight talker who won't bullshit me and there is only one person who keeps popping into my head. The lovely Anne-Marie whose sense of style is unique and always looks fabulous, and whose Liverpudlian 'no-nonsense-or-won't-suffer-fools-gladly' roots ensures that this will definitely
be a 'no bullshit zone'!

My only experience of buying wigs is at novelty or joke shops for parties or Halloween so therefore don't think it makes me a very good judge of what would be right. I have been very good at masquerading as Morticia Adams, Cher (circa Sonny and Cher) or Ronald McDonald, but I have no experience of buying wigs for aesthetic purposes and had no idea that a shop in Hove called Trendco, that has been supplying women with wigs for years, even existed. However it does and I make an appointment.

http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2013/10/2/1380713396945/wig-shop-mannequins--012.jpg


We arrive at a very unassuming building which looks more like an office block than a wig shop. Though I have no idea why I say that as I don't know what I imagine a wig shop to look like. Maybe like a hairdressers or a beauty salon. However I think it's initial unassuming appearance is such as not to make women feel self conscious about having to go to a place like this. It's always said that a woman's hair is her crowning glory so to be in a position whereby you are having to face up to losing it, admit you are already losing it or you've lost altogether must be such a difficult situation to find yourself in and to have to face. So in order to make these women feel less distressed they make it less obtrusive and obvious to others. Not a good analogy but it reminds me of how sex shops use to market themselves with no advertising and maybe just signage above the door informing that it was an "Adult" or "Private" shop with a clientele of very sad looking middle aged men in macs trying to get in and out of the shop without being seen clutching a brown paper bag filled with their illicit goods with descriptive, but not very imaginative titles such as "Big Jug Lovers". It feels quite quaint remembering the secretiveness of these shops in our out there world of social media, twerking and Snapchat and the like, where it's participants are keen to share the most intimate of details and images in a heartbeat. The shops now have names like Taboo, Sh! and Harmony... And nothing is hidden. It's all out there for everyone to see with nothing left to the imagination.

Maybe this revolution will one day extend to women's hairloss. But not today. Today hairloss and wigs are safely tucked behind a blank veneer allowing the company to provide a discreet and, I have to say, very professional and empathic service to its customers - helping them to face the changes ahead in relation to their personal appearance in a sensitive and supportive way. 

I have tried to approach this in a different way. One where I see hair as not important especially as I don't believe that the hair I already have is such a great crowning glory as to be mourned. I fear less about my hair falling out, more about being so ill and weak wracked with fatigue that I am incapable of doing things for myself or at least severely compromised in trying to. So I think my attitude is about approaching this purchase as a bit of fun. I may never ever take it out the box, but I'm going to enjoy the process of selecting it. I have also definitely chosen the right person to do this with as we certainly have a laugh at the ridiculous looks that emerge in the next hour. 

We are greeted by a woman with glorious hair. I so want to ask if it's all her's, but think better of it. She is very attentive and extremely helpful and knowledgable. She really knows her wigs. My initial thoughts are that I am not going to be hiding my hairloss so I am not trying to replicate my own hair (not that I would want to and pay for it!). If I was going for a long hair look I'd want bounce and body. I'm thinking Farrah Fawcett-Majors (or actually any Charlie's Angels a la 1970s or the 2000s version would suffice). However I am thinking this is a good opportunity to go short and gamine. However what no-one points out, which is the elephant in the room, is indeed the elephant in the room - me! Pixie haircuts and short sassy crops look great on slim, elfin girls and young women, even well groomed and maintained older women. But on someone carrying a bit more flesh than is probably necessary it doesn't have the same effect whatsoever. Every shorter cut wig just looks fucking hideous. I at least had hoped I would look like Halle Berry's older and slightly fatter sister. But the image looking back at me couldn't be further from that imagined truth. 

I just look and feel like a menopausal (though well coiffured) middle aged woman desperately trying to look younger. At worst I feel fat, dumpy and a little bit butch - a cross between Big Mo from Eastenders and Wee Jimmy Krankie. I am feeling anything but "fan-fucking-dabi-dozi"!

We all decide that maybe short isn't the way to go and we start to look at longer versions. Bizarrely and contrary to what I thought I appear to look better with hair that a WAG would fight me for. Lots of bouncy curls and incredibly girly, though somewhat on the fake side. However there was me thinking I would look like mutton dressed as lamb, but I'm looking like a smokin' rack of BBQ lamb. Not sure that's a good analogue but you get the drift. I looked pretty hot. However again these styles fall into the category of look low maintenance, but require high maintenance input which I knew I could not sustain and after a few wears the look would very quickly descend into a look more like that of Neil in The Young Ones or Lemmy. I needed length, but practical (as the bishop said to the actress...) God how boring, but true. It needed to be that low maintenance looking to low maintenance input ratio. However we are running out of options at the lower cost range. Anne Marie picks up on my sense of disillusionment. She spies a blonde wig which looks fun, just the right length and not as tousled and teased as the others I have tried. She urges me to try it on. We had joked about me trying on a blonde one and as I am here it would seem churlish not to. I put it on and the image staring back at me looks amazing. It's the right length and looks really natural. It has a nice bounce to it and is a bit sexy too without being too overt. I wouldn't feel self conscious or fake in it. It's does feel slightly retro circa 1950s but with a less styled look. However I think it's because it's blonde. I feel a little like an extra from Mad Men. 

As much as I want to be reckless and approach this wig purchasing with a two fingers up who-gives-a-fuck swagger I know that I may have to wear this wig often and as much as the fun of seeing people's reaction to my new found blondness I fear the novelty would wear thin very quickly. I need longevity so I enquire whether this style comes in another colour resembling my own. It does. It's the right price too and with the £60 deduction on the NHS for medical purposes it's a steal. With my wig called Carrie (very Sex and the City-esque) in its box in its plain carrier bag I leave this unassuming building ready to face the world and more importantly feeling better equipped to face the one side effect I know I will definitely experience. Chemo do you worse. I've got a 'Carrie' in a box which I'm not afraid to use along with a plethora of crazily coloured headscarfs that would give Camilla Batmanghelidjh a run for her money. Hair loss - I laugh in your face. Bring it on...





Thursday, 30 January 2014

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Little Help From My Friends

My partner does not drive. It's never been an issue between us. It is just the way it is. He is the king of public transport and cannot understand car drivers obsession with using their cars at every opportunity when they could savour the delights of rail travel of which he does a lot - whereas I like the freedom that having a car gives you to just get up and go not relying on anyone else except your own horse power. When I first met him I wasn't a great proponent of public transport, but over the years he has won me over and we now balance our trips between the car, trains and buses. There have been some times when I have wished I had been in the car when trains have been delayed, cancelled or overcrowded, but on the whole our transport arrangement seems to work well for us.

Well up until now. Though actually that's not strictly true. When I was pregnant with our son I spent many a sleepless night wondering when the time came how would we get to hospital. My partner took great delight in recounting his experiences with his ex-wife when she went into labour with their daughter and how they had gone to the hospital on the bus! Well she was a braver person than me that's for sure. I had even toyed with a home birth which terrified us both but would mean no need for any bus trips or anxieties around travel plans on my part. However our bathroom deciding to malfunction on a magnificent scale put pay to that. No easy access to running water, a new unpacked bathroom suite in the room that I had decided to give birth in and no plumber free until after Christmas to plumb it all in (way after my due date) really hammered the nail into the coffin of that brainwave. Thankfully (though not sure if thankful is the right word) my son had no intention of coming out on his due date or anywhere near to it so I was induced. One of our lovely neighbours took us and picked us up afterwards so transportation dilemma was well and truly averted. 

However I find myself three years later again bemoaning silently and in that kind of crazy 'muttering under your breath way though hoping it's slightly audible' that my partner still doesn't drive and yet again I face the prospect of bus travel from my home to Brighton to the cancer centre. It is
compounded by the fact that I have no idea what to expect. I might be able to get myself there a back
in the car, but one thing I do know is that for me public transport is not an option. My health and wellbeing will undoubtedly deteriorate as time progresses and I do not want to share this with the general public. So I need a plan. And that plan involves in the words of the Fab Four or Joe Cocker if you prefer, getting 'A Little Help From My Friends'.

And what top friends they turn out to be. As quickly as my call to arms goes out I am inundated with offers. I have to say it was quite overwhelming. I know I am incredibly blessed with fantastic friends, but I don't think I was quite prepared for the onslaught and immediacy of the replies. In my panic and harbouring the theory that a greater reach would yield more positive responses, I had done a kind of blanket bombing on the email and texting front. So not only did my 'old muckers' (a term heaped with endearing love and affection always) get back to me, but also friends I had made more recently which I found quite amazing. Getting responses back from people who really hardly knew me but still wanted to help me meant the world to me. For all the crushing loneliness of this illness there are
moments like this that just make you feel that you are wrapped in love and maybe not so alone as you thought you were. It's these precious moments that keep you going during the lonely unknown
months of treatment. Knowing that there is a band of beautiful people who will do what they can to make this journey (or in my case gap year) go as well as it can. Even writing about it after all this time I can feel the enormity and emotion of knowing that and can feel tears welling up because if it wasn't for all those wonderful people who accompanied me on those treatment trips with so much love, compassion and humour I don't think I would have fared as well as I did.

So this post is dedicated to all you wonderful people. You know who you are but just in case you've forgotten (and I never will) thank you from the bottom of my heart - Jo, Caroline, Donna, Vic, Susie, Anna, Charlie and Mike. Thank you, thank you, thank you...












Sunday, 22 December 2013

We want to be together...

I'm not sure if any of you reading this will have had the pleasure of visiting the Brighton Marina, but for me it has never quite lived up to its promise. Being a Brightonian born and bred I remember when it wasn't there and all the excitement about it when it was being built and then the disappointment that it was not all it was hyped up to be. Over the years it has tried to reinvent itself with businesses coming and going and where it seemed to be at one point outlet city it's now transformed itself into restaurant-chain heaven with the added benefit of free parking and the myriad possibilities of finding 2 for 1 offers and using your Groupon and Wowcher deal. It's moved on from just offering Harvester pub food and the opportunity to purchase a yacht or cruiser as one does after lunch. It now boasts a superstore, bowling alley and multi-plex cinema. It's a veritable world of opportunities if indeed you like those sort of opportunities. But even if you love those opportunities they are rarely to be open and available to you at stupid o'clock in the morning!

So we aimlessly wander around trying to find somewhere to get a decent cup of coffee. What we end up with is a lukewarm cup of cheap and nasty tea and some dry inedible piece of toast (yes I too wonder how a simple 'dish' of toast could be made to be inedible but trust me it was!) and we need to make it last for nearly two hours. Not sure how we do it, but we are old masters at the art of conversation and time rushes by and we are soon making our way back to the spa. 

This time we are greeted like old friends and in fairness to them there is no hint of animosity towards the mad harridan who so spectacularly lost the plot earlier. The are professionalism personified. We are ushered to a waiting area to complete the personal information questionnaire. We are given an array of oils to smell in order to choose which one we would prefer as the base oil for the massage. We are then asked what sort of massage pressure we'd like. I am really warming up to this lovely place and the awful start to this day spa adventure has completely disappeared into the ether of time. We are both mulling over how forthcoming we want to be about our respective health problems as we don't want any other obstacles to get in our way of the elusive massage. I don't think they picked up on the cancer rant I had so we both decide that less is more. Our questionnaires are taken and a moment later the manager returns asking which one of us is pregnant. We both look at each other bemused by this revelation - each one waiting for the other to come clean. My friend mockingly asks is there something I want to tell her and I look overly horrified as if I have been caught out. I laugh it off in what feels like a completely over the top unconvincing way. It is quickly established that I have ticked the wrong box and in what feels incredibly lame we try a few attempts to laugh it off with cracks about chance being a fine thing, that it would be more like the immaculate conception and "letting the cat out of the bag", but our hosts are giggling and looking bemused by our strange double act. The wierd awkwardness is thankfully interjected by the manager telling us that the masseurs are ready for us and we are ushered down the sumptuous hallway to our respective massage havens. 

Well that's what I am thinking is about to happen, but it appears the spa has other thoughts for us. We are both ushered into a large beautifully and tastefully decorated room with lilting music and wonderful herbal aromas. I expect this is the anteroom and we will be taken to our respective rooms. But no that doesn't appear to be the case at all. I think my prostrations about needing to "be together" have been taken quite literally and we are indeed going to experience our massages side by side and most definitely together in what I can only imagine is their 'couples' room as there is no hint of us being separated. I ask one of the masseurs if we are going to another room after this and they look at each other and smile and shake their heads in unison. We are told that we can undress and get under the towels on our respective massage beds. For modesty purposes we are both given a pair of highly attractive paper pants. They leave the room giggling between themselves. 

"Oh my god honey." I say with my hands in my head. "I am so so sorry. All my bloody going on about wanting to be together they've taken it literally. I think they think we're a couple!" We both start to laugh. "Are you okay with us being in the same room?" I think my friend is so concerned that this massage is never going to happen that she's beyond caring just as long as it does actually happen. We've both been up for hours by this point and endured the very un-heady delights of the Marina so we're going to have this massage in whatever way they want to give it to us. We undress and put on our crispy crunchy paper pants.


Our masseurs return and begin our respective massages. My masseur is the older of the two and the firm technique I have requested is most certainly delivered. I think it is probably the best massage I have ever experienced and all the morning's angst has completely disappeared within five minutes of this amazing experience. It begins with an exfoliating massage which at first feels strange as it feels like an all over body oatmeal face mask with lots of grainy bits being rubbed and pummelled into my skin but god is it good. And so thorough...well actually a bit more thorough than I or my friend expected as at the same time we both let out a high pitched squeal as (in my case though I later find out in my friend's case too) the massage and exfoliating process extends to quite a concentrated breast massage! Now as this is my first experience of a Thai massage you seasoned massage-lovers or travellers may tell me this is par for the course, but as a Thai massage virgin it wasn't what I was expecting and considering I have become overly conscious of touching the lump I am not ready for this and keep squirming every time her fingers trace over the area. What seems like ages but is probably no more than a couple of minutes the breast massage ends. I am wondering if everyone gets this treatment or is just for 'couples'. Of course my imagination is now into overdrive and I am wondering if my friend has just been given the same treatment. 

The masseurs explain that we can now shower in the adjoining shower room to wash off the exfoliating debris. I suggest my friend goes first and as she goes towards the shower one of the masseurs says, "You can go into together if you want." I don't have my glasses on so I can't make out any facial expressions, but I am sure I can hear them giggling as I say, "No that's fine thank you." They leave the room chatting and laughing and I in my paranoid state think it's about us. My friend comes out of the shower and mumbles something about the paper pants, but I don't quite hear it as am still mortified that we could be the source of such amusement. 

The water is just the right temperature and pressure and my skins feels soft and supple. I am feeling quite glowing, radiant and even a bit goddess-like when I look down and see my plastic pants are filling up with water and my already not so small bottom looks positively gargantuan like those terrible 19th century pictures of Hottentot women with their extended buttocks!!! 

http://mf6form.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/hottentot-150-220.png

Oh god I need to get out of here to save my poor friend from this terrible sight that I am sure she can't help but make out through the frosted glass door. You certainly couldn't miss it that's for sure...


By the look on my face she can see that I am as disturbed as she was about the water filling pants and she gingerly asks whether the massage went places that I wasn't expecting and I say that it did and I was nervous that this might happen again, but we both agreed it would just add to the opinion they already had of us as being completely odd if we said anything. We both agreed that it was all probably very innocent and innocuous and it was just my mad 'togetherness' comments that made it feel wierd and that it was most probably the most normal thing in the world when having a Thai massage. 

The masseurs return and begin the second part of the massage. I am transported into massage heaven and am relaxed again and completely in the moment. There is no more 'breast action' and the only unusual thing is when my masseur jumps on the table to really get pummelling, but it is all so fantastic that I don't care where or how she does it just as long as she keeps doing it. 

The massage is all over too quickly and we are soon back into the hustle and bustle of Brighton and quaffing glasses of wine over a gorgeous tapas lunch with all our detoxing clearly behind us as we attempt to increase our toxicity levels. We laugh at what's just occurred and the confusion around us being a couple. However we conclude that maybe we have got it wrong and just because we were close to Brighton's gay community (or is the trendier term 'quarter' as Brighton very unmathematically seems to have a lot of quarters these days!)  Kemp Town or as us locals have affectionately called it for years Camp Town. Whatever it is it's made for a funny story and something to keep me chuckling in the grim days ahead. I wanted to create memories for what could be the dark times to come and I'd certainly done that. 

We part company radiant and glowing now from too much afternoon drinking and as I make my way back home I see a text from the Spa thanking us for our custom and giving us an early bird Valentine special for loving couples. Obviously we did a good show of togetherness even though I'd hidden my pregnancy from my lover and we were too shy to get into the shower together to scrub each other down dressed only in our bellowing watery pants. However for a massage like that well sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do...


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Don't you know who I am? (answers on a postcard please!)

So I've left my job with all its trials and tribulations to face one of the most challenging chapters of my life. However I still have a few days left to do some nice things before I begin chemotherapy. It really feels like life is about to change unrecognisably for me and I want to have nice memories I can quickly access when I'm not feeling so great whilst in the thick of it all.

I have some spa vouchers given to me by my colleagues at work when I moved from one civil service department to another and had never gotten round to using. My partner's father had also given me some money to '...do something nice'. I thought if I added these together it would enable me to take someone with me to share the 'nice' experience I was determined to have. So I ask one of my lovely friends who very quickly takes up the offer and now I find myself looking for a spa that will take the vouchers. We are limited but eventually I find one that is in the Brighton Marina. Bit of an arse end of nowhere to get to on public transport, but if we sort out the timing well enough we can be in and out then off to enjoy a lovely leisurely lunch afterwards back in the bosom of the city centre with a few glasses of wine thrown in to get us all 'toxined' up again. 

I book us in for a Thai massage which works with the amount of money that I have and sounds quite lovely and hands-on according to the 'menu' on the website. None of that light sweeping touch effleurage stuff for me. I want to be pummelled and prodded and chopped. Basically 'man-handled' in a nice 'massagey' way. I am asked whether for an extra £20 each we would like to use the hydra therapy pool beforehand. It again sounds delightful and I sign us up to the whole works. I then get a phone call from a friend and before the conversation ends I tell her my plans which she thinks are great. However she is just concerned about the hydrotherapy pool and is worried that I might be opening up myself to potential infection threats prior to starting such aggressive treatment. At first I think she is being overly cautious. But although I am crapping myself about starting this treatment and so wish I wasn't I have already worked out the treatment plan and how long it's going to take and I don't want anything to delay the end date. I call the spa back and cancel the hydrotherapy pool. 

So the day arrives and we find ourselves off to the spa. I'm not quite sure what to expect as although the photos on the website looked gorgeous we all know that's no guarantee. However on this occasion it really was an amazing oasis of calm. Just what we both needed. Subtle atmospheric lightning, wonderfully evocative smells and fantastic sumptuous decor. I give our names to the receptionist. She looks confused and says there is no booking. She goes through her bookings sheet but our names do not appear. My feelings of calm and tranquility are starting to seep away and are quickly becoming replaced with anxiety and hysteria. I find my voice becoming high pitched and emotional. I haven't come to this beautiful oasis on two types of public transport to the pain-in-the-arse-to-get-to Marina. My 'Violet Beauregarde' of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame is riding to the surface. But it's not an ompah-lumpah I want and want NOW. It's my massage. I WANT IT AND I WANT IT NOW!!! I am short of saying to them the most ridiculous thing ever which is 'do you know how I am?' because quite clearly there is really no reason why on this earth they should know me. I don't even know who I am these days so why should I expect anyone else to know. Maybe subconsciously I'm looking for the answer, but trust me I wasn't being that philosophical and existentialist that day. I was just being a grumpy, hormonal mardy mare. Anyway it is quite clear from their booking sheet they haven't a fucking clue who I am!

I have decided that I will not be treated like this and in a hysterical torrent tell them that in no uncertain terms. Much of what I say is lost to them as English is not their first language, but they regardless of this are trying to placate me, but I am so caught up in my own melodrama that I start to descend into those murky depths that I vowed that I would never descend to - using my cancer for sympathy. I know not pretty or clever and am not proud, but all I could see was my imagined tranquil pre-treatment  odyssey turning into a nightmare which in turn (in my illogical reasoning) did not bode well for the treatment ahead. If booking a simple massage was beyond me how the fuck would I cope with nine months of intensive treatment for which I needed to keep on top of in order to get through it. 

Thankfully I choose to do this massage experience with a wonderful friend who admirably becomes the voice of reason possessing the skills of a expert negotiator navigating her way between two waring nations to establish foundations for peace talks in order to resolve this crisis. Firstly they have no appointments until 11am (it's now 10.00) but they will only be able to do one of us at that time and the next one at 12.30. "What the fuck..." I hear the words coming out of my mouth like a woman possessed. She quickly continues the negotiations at a pace hoping to cut me off before I start again.  But not before I chip in that "we want to be together" or else it's prolonging our time in arse-end-of-nowhere territory. She takes this on board and tries to find a time when they can accommodate us but she getting nowhere fast. I can't bear this anymore. I know very dramatic, but all I wanted was a relaxing massage to alleviate some of this stress that's been building up over the last few weeks (sorry who am I kidding - I mean the last few months/years/decades not that one session would be enough to untie those knots that I have lovingly and painstakingly nurtured which crisscross my back and shoulders!) Still what is happening here is certainly not what I wanted or expected. I should be being pummelled, chopped and remoulded back into something quite lovely. All floppy, flexible, agile and supple. But I am not anywhere near that. I am still in this husk of a body that is aching, miserable, tense and diseased. 

As I start to speak I see the receptionist usher someone over to deal with me as quite clearly she's had enough of my hysteronics. He is the manager and he explains that it appears I cancelled the booking. I explain as calmly as I can that I didn't. All I did was cancel our hydrotherapy pool session prior to the massages. I explain that I had booked appointments so that we could have the massages simultaneously as we had plans for the rest of the day. I keep my cool even surprising myself. However when he starts to say they can do one of us now and the other in two hours time I just lose the plot. I hear my voice raising and I am sure I see out of the corner of my eye the receptionist run for cover! "What do you not understand? WE WANT TO BE TOGETHER. How much clearer can I be? And if you can't do that then let's just forget." I can see my friend is mortified by that suggestion as she really wants this massage. She cranks up the negotiating skills into overdrive and ascertains that they can "do us together" in two hours time. Eureka! We have a break through. We are ushered out with reassurances that we will be have our request for togetherness fulfilled. Now the real challenge is to find what to do to fill two hours in the arse-end-of-nowhere...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Off piste

If you have followed my blog then you will know that it has been a series of posts about my experiences of being diagnosed with breast cancer and treatment. I have tried to post as regularly as I can being a mum to a 5 year old, a step mum to an 11 year old, a carer to my 85 year old mother who lives with us and has dementia as well as working three days a week. As you can imagine with all of that going on the period between posts can be sporadic. I aim for at least one a month but am conscious that doesn't always happen because life has a habit of getting in the way. I am also very aware that my story is a long one as it covers a year long period where lots happened which, at times, leads me to wonder if I might be beset by old age before I ever get to the end of it!

Following some constructive feedback from a seasoned blogger friend I have decided to aim for more output in a punchier style which may see me producing more posts than I had ever envisaged, but will hopefully keep the story going at a pace and in turn keep you, dear reader, interested and wanting more (well a girl can dream...) But do note the use of the word 'aim'. It is indeed my aim and those who know me well will know that's a very tall order as I am never short of words or the desire to use them or indeed possess the ability to know when to stop using them. However for my own selfish purposes I need to deposit all the 'stuff' that has accumulated in my head over the last two years somewhere else ie into my blog, in order to, I suppose, move on and get on with embracing this period of remission and my new life ahead. 

Anyway the title of this post not only refers to this update about future output, but also about going 'off piste' about the subject matter of my blog. So with this in mind I wanted to take this opportunity to add to the debate about the lack of diversity at the recent Mumsnet BlogFest. Both http://www.chocolateisnottheonlyfruit.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1 and http://pramonrye.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/5-thoughts-on-mumsnets-blogfest-2013/ have most eloquently captured my thoughts and feelings so I won't rehash the very pithy points they both have made. 

What I wanted to do was to encourage people to read their respective posts and spread the word about collectively wanting to make a difference and effect change. There is no apportioning of blame onto the organisers of that event and similar types of events. However those of us who have recognised this and have shared these thoughts between ourselves are keen to work with these organisations to break down barriers to engaging with a more diverse community of bloggers which would be a better and truer reflection of the wider society.  I hope I am right in saying that those women of colour who have expressed a view do not see themselves as the appointed spokespeople on this debate. We just have a point of view and want to express that point of view. Others may feel differently or indeed have no opinion at all. But that's ok because as we have established women bloggers come in a variety of guises. It's just an observation as women of colour that BlogFest seemed to have attracted very few people like ourselves which was also reflected in the choice of panel members as well as the contributors to the breakout sessions. 

Anyway am in jeopardy of breaking my new 'less is more' cardinal rule so will end with just saying it would be great to firstly see if there are (and I am sure there are) more than just the handful of non-white women bloggers who went to BlogFest out there, secondly to identify the barriers to engagement, thirdly finding ways to engage them in this debate and fourthly harness their energies and considerable talents in order to, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "Be the change you wish to see in the world". 

Right I'm off to get back 'on piste' and will return to what I unfortunately know best about which is my (mis)adventures with cancer in my crazy three generational household. Watch this space for the new improved 'Big C in 3G ' coming soon to a computer screen near you...



Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Working 9 to 5 NOT my way to make a living


9to5-Movie-Cast.jpg
9 to 5 The Movie
 As I am inducted into my 'new job' it is time to say goodbye to my old job. It's a hard one for me. As much as my love affair with my work was starting to wane even before my diagnosis, I had been so seeped into my world of offender management that I couldn't imagine a working life anywhere else or doing anything else. Even though ironically I knew it really wasn't good for my health mentally or otherwise I struggled with making the decision to leave. However money was now on the table in the form of voluntary redundancy and as I had been there for a considerable time it was certainly worth taking. So as you will know if you have followed me on my rocky road with cancer I had already decided to take the money and run before I knew that I wasn't actually going to be doing much on the running front in the foreseeable future.

However the decision had made me feel empowered and excited. Even though I had no idea what I would do, I knew that whatever I ended up doing could only make me feel better. It felt absurd to think this considering how much I had invested into this path both emotionally and financially with a degree and a masters in criminal justice policy, but it had run its course. Since my son had been born my life had changed unrecognisably and these changes impacted daily on my life. As much as I was committed to my work and my contribution to reducing reoffending I knew that the drive and desire to make a change and be recognised for that was beginning to diminish. This had been accelerated by the way I was treated on my return from maternity leave (as is the case for many women). If anything I worked harder to prove I could be a super worker, super mother, super partner, super daughter - just an all round goddamn super woman. However even though I was being recognised for my contributions it ultimately wasn't enough. A new coalition government had come into being and in civil service speak 'the direction of travel' had well and truly changed. All the rehabilitative achievements that had been made could be legitimately stymied under the auspices of austerity. So the proverbial throwing 'the baby out with the bath water' began. We were about to embark upon a 'rehabilitation revolution' with the concept of 'payment by results' replacing upfront investment which meant that all the amazing work that had been undertaken by small but dedicated providers would be lost and steamrollered over by larger organisations (seemingly regardless of any level of expertise in the subject) who could afford to do this and tender for bigger more far-reaching projects. I couldn't reconcile myself with this approach and though I struggled on for a few more years I ultimately knew it was only a matter of time. 

So I make my decision and I am successful. Not sure there was any fight to talk me out of my decision. I was part of the old guard with my hippy dippy lefty ideas of rehabilitation whose approach did not chime with new type of agile flexible civil servant that central government were keen to cultivate. I was too stuck in my ways, too wedded to my area of specialism (even though that's what attracted them to me in the first place). I needed to be happy to work not only on offender management, but be able to apply the same said skills to any other policy area from dangerous dogs to noise abatement. No that's not why I joined this outfit in the first instance. It was to work with offenders only. I just wasn't a 'civil' enough civil servant, but I guessed that was no bad thing in the end. 

But things have now changed. That confident and empowered person is now facing an even bigger challenge than not having a job. The challenge now is to stay alive and everything about the job with all its trials and tribulations pale into insignificance. I no longer care if there is a system of 'payment by results' or 'payment in magic beans'. I no longer feel the need to forge another path away from the 'rehabilitation revolution'. Frankly I couldn't give a shit if the 'rehabilitation revolution' was more of a WI tea party than a Boston tea party. Nothing matters against the backdrop of cancer. I just needed to free up all the space that was cluttered up with this irrelevant crap. I needed to use that space to concentrate my mind on the road ahead. Basically I didn't want to die. I wasn't ready to die (if you ever really are ready for death). There was too many many things I wanted to do, to experience and to live for - my family being the most important. Therefore things had to give in order for me to beat the cancer and the job was the easiest one to go. As an old boss loved to say in his irritating 'I'm one of you' tones he loved to put on when everyone else thought him nothing like us and basically a complete tosser - "It's a no-brainer!"  God I still shudder when I hear that phrase all these years on.

So it has been agreed that I can't leave sooner than the agreed leave date of March 31st. However my two line managers (yes I said 2 - I will leave you to decide whether it's because I generate so much work that I need 2 or I am so unmanageable that 1 isn't enough!) have both agreed that I can 'work' from home which really means if I want to I can, but no-one expects too much. So for all my moaning about work in the end things came good. I was effectively being paid throughout my chemotherapy which in itself was a huge relief. I still wonder how people get through this without having any financial safety net. I also, now out the other side of treatment, wonder how people keep working through it. But that's a subject for another post. So I am grateful to my ex-employers for making this easier for me and providing me with the space and time with no pressure to get through it. 

I arrive outside my offices near Victoria. I haven't been back into this building since the day before my appointment for my test results. It feels so strange. I left this building just under a month ago hoping against all odds that I would have been breezing back in the next day with good news and that it had all be a lot of fuss about nothing. But that wasn't the case and now I had to go in and face all those people who albeit had been kind and well wishing in their messages to me would still see me through a different lens. I would now be the one they pitied, thanked god they weren't or indeed were unable to make eye contact or pretend everything was ok and not talk about it. I didn't want to be that person. I didn't need nor want their or anyone else's pity. I just wanted to be acknowledged and then left alone to get on with clearing my desk and leaving this old world behind. I'm really not trying to appear unkind or ungrateful. I remember how awkward I felt when two of my dear friends (and work colleagues) came back to work after their respective bouts with cancer (sorry not a great term) about what to say or how to treat a person. There are no rules and even if there where you'd bound to get it wrong because we are all individuals who deal with things in different ways. Cancer makes that no different. If anything, like the disease itself, no two cancers are ever the same. Even if they have the same name they can respond differently to treatment. This is no different. I feel a bit sorry for my colleagues because in a way it's so much easier for me being the one with cancer than it is for them having to respond to it (again a subject for another post). In a way the recently diagnosed cancer 'patient' (sorry another crap term) is being a bit hard to please or at least I was. I didn't want pity or over the top sympathy, but I also didn't want it not to be acknowledged and be the 'elephant in the room' that everyone skirts around, but nobody mentions. So my colleagues were effectively doomed if they did or doomed if they didn't. Still I never confessed there being any logic to it. I have never been a logical person and a bit of cancer certainly wasn't going to change that!

The ride in the lift to the fourth floor on that day was one of the most sad and anxiety-ridden journeys I have had to take because I knew that this was it. Goodbye to the old familiar comfortable yet infuriarating life to a new uncertain, terrifying and unknown life. This wasn't how it was meant to end. I was meant to be going out in a blaze of glory, wisecracking my way to the pub to my leaving-do with an envious entourage in tow wishing they had the balls to have done this too. It was, however, clearly not going to be this way (not sure it would have been the other way either, but do I get blogging license, you know like poetic licence?). The reality is that I am scuttling in and out and trying to be as wallpaper-like as I can possibly be which me being me is quite frankly ridiculous and nigh on impossible. Still that is my aim. In and out in a pincer-like fashion. Very SAS. So low key that I would hardly be noticed and people would question if I had even been there. Well that's the approach I am taking in my deluded mind.

So I swipe my card to get in, but of course I haven't been here for awhile so some security thing has kicked in. Someone I vaguely know let's me in and as I am holding my pass it gets stuck in the door as it closes pulling me backwards. I am going one way but the rest of me is being pulled back to door. In trying to untangle myself I drop my handbag and all the contents spill onto the floor. Somebody comes through the door and my pass springs free sending me hurtling forwards. I then scramble around gathering up the contents of my bag. I can't quite believe how un-SAS this has turned out and I have yet to say good morning to anyone! I hurriedly pick up snotty tissues, multi-coloured tampons packets in various sizes (a girl needs to be prepared for any emergency - sorry probably too much information) along with a lot of other useless debris that makes up the contents of my bag. I get to my feet and try not to make eye contact with anyone. Thankfully I don't work with these people on this side of the office. Thank god I choose the other door to come in and make my village idiot entrance. 

As I walk into the office and spy my colleagues I know that it is going to be alright. The queen of melodrama that I am has built this into something more than it every would have been. I seem to forget that I work in an organisation where banter and ridicule is the order of the day and just because I go and get  cancer isn't going to change that. Within an hour it feels like I haven't been away and the wisecracks mixed with the genuine empathy of my colleagues make the next two days so much more easier than I could have imagined. I think what I needed to remember is though the world is changing ever so quickly for me its not the case for everyone else. And that's the way that I want it to stay. I never want any of them to feel the way I did now and facing what I had to face. 

Don't get me wrong there were some difficult and uncomfortable encounters, but those were with people who I don't really know, but again are trying to be helpful and in their embarrassment feel the need to say something however inappropriate or ridiculous it may sound. I know because I have done it myself and am sure will continue to do it in the future. The difficulty is having to manage other people's emotions and responses to this news (again a subject for another post as just too complex to discuss here) especially when for the person experiencing it you have managed all the negative and difficult emotions over and over again whilst breaking the news to different people at different times that in the end you are completely drained and become quite numb and unemotional to it. Cancer becomes just a word.

So I did it. I got through the two days pretty unscathed. I had a quieter send off than I had hoped but that was okay. It was with people who really wanted to be with me and me with them. I said my goodbyes and was back into the unknown world ahead of me. The comfort of the world of 9 to 5 was now behind me and for all the years I was desperate to leave I am now feeling even more alone and lost than ever. I don't have the comfort of knowing what's ahead and standing at Victoria station waiting for my train I am nostalgic for my previous life, the life before cancer with its 9 to 5 routine. But in the words of Dolly Parton, "what a way to make a living" and maybe in time I would see that cancer saved me from that way of making a living. But right now I shed some tears, as quietly and as unassumingly as I can on a packed train, to my lost life, career disappointments and unmet ambitions and scurry as quickly as I can back to my new comfort zone - home. 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Try before you buy

So after the embarrassing trauma of having to locate and swab my perineum I return very sheepishly to my induction - all eyes upon me. A nurse with the longest and thickest dreadlocks I have ever seen in the medical profession (actually I believe the only dreadlocks I have ever seen in the medical profession) begins our induction. She introduces herself and gives a five minute potted talk on what we can expect from the chemotherapy process. She concludes her chat with stressing to us all the importance of being able to identify neutropenic sepsis which can occur during chemotherapy as the patient's immunity system is weakened. However she can't stress enough that we must be aware of any changes that could be the first sign of neutropenic sepsis as left untreated it could be fatal.

She then talks us through some of the side effects of treatment - nausea, mouth sores, flu like symptoms, tiredness, fatigue, constipation... And the list goes on and on. She's not only really not selling this to me she's also confusing me somewhat. Not that that's unusual or a difficult thing to do to me at the best of times but I am now fixated on knowing if I have netropenic sepsis. I thought I got it (well not actually got it as that would have been very misfortunate as I hadn't even ystarted!) but understood what signs I was looking for. However the more she talked the more symptoms and side effects started to merge together and I found my anxiety levels rising and my ability to maintain calm slowly ebbing away. 

She then left us to watch a DVD about neutropenic sepsis. I was optimistic that it would enlighten me somewhat and help dissipate the anxiety but my optimism was quite quickly dashed. After five minutes I wanted to scream at the screen, "How the fuck do I distinguish side-effects from chemo from this fucking potentially fatal thing you keep banging on about. Can someone please put me out of my misery???!!!" I hang back from vocalising because nobody else seems that perturbed. They stare ahead looking blankly at the TV screen seeming to hardly blink. Just absorbing it all in like sponges. And yet I can't. My desire to know more - to get this right (whatever I imagine 'right' to be in such circumstances) is overwhelming and yet I can't even discern a flicker of concern from my fellow inductees. They just take it all in without question. I suddenly feel like I am in a herd or probably more appropriately a flock as all I can think about is the phrase 'lambs to slaughter' - a phrase that keeps springing to mind time and time again throughout treatment.

However I now know it's not because they didn't care or possess the same anxieties as me. Far from it. I am sure they all cared and were as anxious as me, but another lesson I have learned from the world of cancer is how we all deal with things differently and react differently. I am sure they were just as scared deep down but felt, as I did, this overwhelming sense of inevitability. Also unlike me all of them were going straight into their first chemotherapy session after this induction. I, on the other hand, was undergoing what I have come to refer to as my 'Try before you buy' session. I had a week before I was starting proper, but these guys were having to process all this information then dive in head first into the unknown - real hardcore. So really what was the point of stressing. It's not like we were being offered any alternatives. It was this or...well not this. I don't want to be an alarmist and appear overly dramatic and say death, but I suppose that was the only other alternative so the likelihood of a bit of neutropenic sepsis or the inevitable shitty side effects must seem like a small price to pay for being given the opportunity to live! I sometimes think I should have started then too. Maybe I would have forged strong friendships with these people. I often wondered what happen to the only male amongst the group who had throat cancer. He was so upbeat and just wanting to get started so things could go back to normal. His treatment regime sounded so harsh. Mornings of chemo and afternoons of radiotherapy every day for an intensive period of time. At that time I couldn't really take the enormity of it all in, but it seemed a lot for one person over a one day period. Nearly two years on I am fully aware of what it must have involved and hope that it was successful and positive and that indeed life has gone back to as normal as it can after everything this disease throws at you. 

Being none the wiser as to how I would distinguish between whether it was side effects or neutropenic sepsis and getting withering looks for the nurse with my constant inane questions I felt it was time to go. She had given us all a DVD to take home and watch at our leisure. I started giggling at the thought of watching this whilst listening to the CD of my diagnosis - god the NHS know how to cheer a person up! I believe the DVD is tucked away with that CD gathering dust somewhere never to be re-visited I hope. 

I stand up to leave and say goodbye, wishing everyone good luck. For the first time my fellow inductees are looking animated. One of them asks me where I am going and I say that I wasn't that impressed with my 'try before you buy' session so have decided not to go through with it. I see a look of astonishment and puzzlement on a number of faces. I quickly remember that as much as I may think it amusing these people are not here to be amused with my flippant nonsense, but about to embark upon a life changing experience. I quickly backtrack and explain that they were just fitting me in, but my treatment is scheduled to start next week. There is an audible collective sigh of relief though the man with throat cancer says to me, "I was just thinking good on you, what a brave girl..." 

As I leave I think about that word. Brave. They're the brave ones going straight into this. I have a week to process what I've been told and mentally prepare myself whereas they are putting their hands into warm water trying to make the veins rise to the surface to make it easier to insert a cannula. They are the one being pumped by syringe or intravenously over a period of hours with drugs that will feel like nothing else in this world and even though I don't know all this right now in the weeks and months to come I think how wonderfully brave they were like foot soldiers going over the trenches into the First World War into the unknown, but determined to do it. 

I however am not feeling that brave today. That will be me next week and I will try to be the bestest bravest soldier ever, but right now I am going to be a little more cautious and a bit less brave and spend the next week preparing myself and contemplating what's ahead of me. 

My friend snaps me out of my revery. "Do you think you could extend this try before you buy to the pub? We can see if we can get a few glasses of wine on the house. What do you think?", says my friend. Unlike the last hour I have no problem understanding this and the only anxiety I have is how far away the nearest pub is. 

No further persuasion is needed as we head to the pub to try our luck.