In Glasgow again, but for the saddest of reasons

How do I work into a blog about my breast cancer and me the fact that my dad has just died? The only way, I’ve decided, is to come straight out and say it.

Because how else do I explain the fact that I’m up here in Glasgow less than a month after my operation (Saturday’s op – a daunting prospect but a key step on the road to wellness) when I really didn’t plan on moving very far at all from home in south London for a good six weeks?

I got a phone call at 5 o’clock on Sunday morning from the oldest of my five brothers saying my dad had died unexpectedly a couple of hours earlier.

That’s the dad who throughout my breast cancer ordeal asked questions about how I was really feeling that no-one else asked and that showed how much he cared and understood. That’s the dad who with my mum had phoned me every single day since my operation on 19 December to see how I was doing. That’s the dad who had recently taken to telling me he loved me at the end of every phone call. That’s the dad who again with my mum read my blog religiously and when I wrote about the bad days told me how sorry they were that I was suffering. That’s the dad who felt bad he wasn’t mobile enough to come down to London to be with me after my operation. And that’s the dad who was so, so grateful that I made it up to visit between one chemotherapy session and the next in September last year (It’s not all bad & Thanks, baby bro!) and then again before my final chemo session in November (I love Glasgow, but it’s not Geneva & 19 December – it’s official).

I declared myself fit enough to travel and took the train up to Glasgow on Monday afternoon, straight after my appointments at the clinic with the oncologist and the physiotherapist (A busy week with welcome news – “no mass identified” and “no further surgery necessary”). I’ve been here since, staying with my mum. Everyone is very conscious that I’m recovering from major surgery. Rather than me help look after my mum, she and I are being looked after in a sad but incredibly nurturing atmosphere by an army of carers comprising my brothers, sisters-in-law and an assortment of nieces and nephews.

Those 20151122_005054 (2)two recent visits of mine were the last occasions my parents, brothers and I were all together. Over the past few days, we’ve wondered at the ironies of life and reflected upon the fact that these gatherings only happened because I had cancer. What’s lovely is that all of us – my dad very much included – appreciated at the time how fortunate we were to be together.

Later today I’ll head back home to London, where I’ll be until I come back up to Glasgow a few days before the funeral on 1 February. I’ll have been here these past few days for the saddest of reasons, but much as I’ve missed my three boys at home, I really couldn’t have been anywhere else.

What a difference a year makes

Precisely one year ago today, I set sail from Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands on a 72-foot yacht called Challenger 1 that was headed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to St Lucia in the Caribbean.

Together with 11 colleagues, flag arcI was taking part in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, an annual race (or rather it’s a race for those who choose to race; most don’t, it probably won’t surprise you to hear we did) involving hundreds of yachts that all follow largely the same route Christopher Columbus took when he “discovered” the Americas in 1492. As part of our “Atlantic Challenge”, we and other colleagues had raised more thn £32,000 for Save the Children. Our crossing took 15 hot, humid, exhilirating days and nights. boatIt was – and I’m sure will always be – one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done (the photo of the dolphins on the About page of this blog is from that trip).

What a difference a year makes. Here I am at home in rainy London preparing for my eighth and final round of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in July (Before Christ? British Columbia? No, BC stands for breast cancer). My last chemo session is tomorrow, 25 November*. Three-and-a-half weeks later, I’ll have major surgery (19 December – it’s official & Immediate reconstruction – the decision is made), and may or may not spend Christmas Day in hospital.

Two very different challenges. I worked so hard to get a place on the boat and I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard I’d been selected. The second challenge, breast cancer, was thrust upon me and is one that nobody would ever, ever wish for.

saveI was determined not to be sad today, but it’s not even 9 o’clock yet and I’ve already been in tears twice – once talking to my husband about this blog post and once later when he made a funny comment to cheer me up and I meant to laugh but cried instead. But that’s enough for one day, and I already feel better having driven back from dropping the boys off at school (yes, I’ve become a bit of a soft touch on that front) to Barry White blasting out My first, my last, my everything on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2.  I defy anyone not to be cheered up by that song (so thanks, Chris!). Now I feel reflective rather than sad. I plan to spend plenty of time over the rest of the day reminiscing about my Atlantic Challenge and contemplating the sheer bloody randomness of life and the importance of taking your chances when you can.

*I agreed with the oncologist at my consultation yesterday that I should go ahead with the final session as the chemo-induced nerve problem in my feet, particularly the right one, appears not to have got any worse. We’ll stick with the reduced dose of 75%. I never thought I’d ever say I was happy to have a session of chemotherapy, but I’m genuinely glad that I’m going the distance on this. As one of my fellow travellers said of my final round on the online forum that I joined back in August, “may it zap any little blighters left standing”. I can only second that.

A lesson on living in the now

I got up this morning very much looking forward to my second mindfulness workshop at the centre where I’m having my breast cancer treatment. I’d so enjoyed the session I’d gone to a month or so ago that I’d signed up again. Not only was I really looking forward it, I’d also psyched myself up to cycle there.

I hadn’t been out on my bike for ages and I was more than a little apprehensive about my ability to make it. There’s one big hill on the way there that I’d struggled with the last time, after just one chemo session. Now I’ve had six sessions, and while I have made real effort to stay active, my energy levels are not what they were. On top of that, it was really windy. But I thought I’d go for it; I’m very aware that with the operation coming up, I’ve got to do these things while I can.

I got there, but it was hard. I cycled most of the 5.6 miles in gears usually reserved for hills, which made the hill when it came even harder. I did not get off the bike. It took much longer than I’d anticipated (almost 40 minutes!) and I arrived at the centre very hot and sweaty, very red in the cheeks and eight minutes late. I locked up my bike, quickly swapped the fitted chemo cap I’d been wearing for my wig, rushed into the centre… to find the session had been postponed and rescheduled for another day.

Now if this had happened four months ago, I’d have got really cross. It  might not have been obvious externally but I’d have been fizzing inside. And I’d have stayed cross for a good while. Today, I did get cross – you can’t change that quickly! – but not for long. I took a few deep breaths, remembered the reason I’d come, got myself some water and a coffee and sat down to cool down. I then had a chat with a woman that I’d met once before who’d also turned up for the session. Forty minutes later, having met yet another woman I knew and had a chat, I set off for home, wig back in the bike pannier and chemo cap firmly in place.

timeThe ride back was much easier than the ride there. On the way home, I noticed a restaurant with the same name as a friend of mine so I stopped and took and photo and emailed it to her. Just like with the bakery the other time I’d cycled (Love that bike!), I’d driven past this spot on my way to and from appointments but had never noticed it from the car. Yet another win for the bike in the bike vs car stakes!

pestoIt doesn’t end there. As I was on my bike, I was able to stop and buy some pesto at the Earlsfield branch of Carluccio’s. Carluccio’s is an Italian restaurant and deli which sells the best fresh pesto you’ll ever taste; my boys will tell you that I can’t walk past one without going in and buying some. I knew this branch was here but had never been able to stop in all the times I’ve driven past. Yet another win for the bike!

Later on the way back home, yes, you guessed it, I whipped off the cap. This time it wasn’t because I had anything to prove (Paris and being where I never thought I’d beThe Great Sugar Loaf Uncovering), I was just so hot! The wind on my scalp felt good.

So here’s to living in the now. I’m booked on to the rescheduled mindfulness session, two weeks today. Watch this space on whether I cycle to that one.