Being a ninja and benchpressing cadillacs

I really don’t buy into the idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger cadillacso I loved this cartoon about benchpressing cadillacs when I came across it.

Challenges such as having cancer are life changing for sure, but it’s clearly nonsense to say that every hard knock you take in life makes you stronger. I’ll come out of this different, certainly. Chastened, definitely, and more appreciative of what I’ve got and grateful to be alive. But stronger? I’m really not sure. Anyway, as my two teenage sons would say, what does that even mean?

As for this second cartoon, about God and ninjas, I just love it. ninjaThat really is the way I would feel at the moment if I were at all religious.

All the way through my treatment, I was determined to stay positive and work my way through it, taking things as they came. I was determined not to feel too sorry for myself… and I didn’t want anyone else to feel sorry for me either. Then my dad died (In Glasgow again, but for the saddest of reasons) and I thought, ok, there really is only so much a person can be expected to handle at once. So when a friend posted a version of the ninja cartoon on Facebook* the other day, I thought that’s got my name written all over it.

Even now though, I can’t bring myself to be too despondent. It’s tough, but my treatment has gone well, I have an amazing support network of family and friends, I’ve learned a lot, made new friends and met some amazing people, etc, etc. As I’ve said before, things could be worse (It’s not all bad).

That said, it would have been nice if Scotland had beaten England at rugby in the Six Nations Tournament yesterday! And this weekend I’d have loved to have been sorting out my own ski gear as well as helping Andy and the boys sort out theirs for when they head off to France this coming Sunday for the half-term week… while I stay here and plough through a week of radiotherapy.

To be fair, it was I who persuaded them to go skiing. Andy took a bit of convincing but for the boys it was a no-brainer. Hang about in London with mum at home most of the day cramping their style or go skiing with dad and friends? I know what I’d have chosen. “Do you think it’s right to go skiing without mum?” Andy asked them a while ago. The reply: “Well no offence to mum, but she goes skiing without us.” Fair enough, I guess (I love Glasgow, but it’s not Geneva). I think I can hear the sound of chickens coming home to roost.

I genuinely hope they have loads of fun. I’ll enjoy it all the more if I go next year for not having gone this year.

*The cartoon that the friend posted on Facebook was funnier than the one I’ve used here. The FB one used the real f word – but my mum reads these posts so I looked for a version that wouldn’t offend her! 






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.

Tennis II

A few of you have asked whether I did in the end challenge my two teenage sons to a tennis match before I started chemo. That was after I’d written a post (Tennis I) way back in the summer saying they hadn’t yet beaten me. Should I leave well alone or risk defeat, I wondered.

Well I had a knock-about with the older lad before that first chemo session back on 19 August. We played and chatted for around half an hour then he suggested we play a “friendly tie break”. He won 7-5. Now does that count as beating me in an official sense? I’ll leave it to you to decide.

I genuinely thought I’d be hanging up my tennis racket as soon as I started chemo. I really can’t put into words how delighted – not to mention astonished – I am to have been able to keep playing throughout. I pulled out of the ladies doubles team I was in and out of the club leagues, but I have played a fair amount.

Every time I got out there on the court was a bonus. I surprised myself when I won – although that hasn’t happened for a good while now – but in all honesty I was happy just to be playing. I no longer run for balls that a few months ago I’d have got to no problem and my lovely doubles partner has had to get used to losing not just some but all of the time. I still love it though.

jamie and mumAnd what a massive treat to get a session through our tennis club at one of the indoor practice courts at Wimbledon one evening last week! My older son (yes, he’s the one in the photo), my doubles partner and another friend from the ladies team I was in and I turned up a little early… to find Davis Cup TV commentators Andrew Castle and Jamie Baker playing on the court we would play on ten minutes later! And yes, we were told to wear “whites”.

So a million thanks to the lovely young man my son is turning out to be and to the fabulous women who’ve made time to play over the past four months. I’ve got two matches planned for this coming week, the final one for Friday, the day before my operation. You’ve got to really, haven’t you, especially when you have no idea when you might play again.



December 19th – it’s official

I’m pleased to report the date of my operation has been confirmed for December 19th.

Calendar on white background. 19 December. 3D illustration.I heard on Friday and since then I’ve felt a lot calmer. This was something I’d been worrying about since it emerged that while the medical team who’ll be doing the op were all available on 19 December, the facility where the breast surgeon wanted to do it appeared not to be (Immediate reconstruction – the decision is made). I can worry for Scotland and, believe me, this particular concern has had pride of place at the top of my personal worry league for the past week or so. Now it’s settled I can relax (!).

Regardless of whether my final session of chemo goes ahead this coming Wednesday or not, the operation will be within the recommended period of three to six weeks after finishing chemo. If I do have the final session, the op will be three and a half weeks after finishing; if I don’t, it’ll be five and a half weeks. The decision hinges on whether the chemo-induced problem with the nerve endings in my right foot (An “excellent response to treatment”) has got any worse since my last session. The decision will be made at the consultation I have with the oncologist tomorrow afternoon. Strange as it may sound, I’ll be gutted if we skip the final session.

The hospital where I’m to have the operation – right-side mastectomy, right axillary lymph node dissection (removal of the lymph nodes from the right armpit) and immediate breast reconstruction – is further away from home than the centre where I’ve been having treatment so far. The fact we have a date is more important than the location, however, and, to be selfish about it, I’m not the one who’ll be doing the travelling to and fro during the 5-10 days I’ll be in hospital after the op! I’ll advise my husband and boys to view the travelling time as an opportunity for some dad and lads bonding ;-).

I’m flying back home to London today after a fab few days up in Glasgow seeing family and friends. I’m pretty sure I’ve put back on some of the weight I’ve lost since being diagnosed in just three days up here, what with the multiple sessions of coffee and cakes with friends, lunches out, and – because a trip to Glasgow wouldn’t be complete without it – Sunday morning breakfast of sausage, bacon and eggs.

des wigI’m leaving Glasgow a lot poorer financially; the card school with my dad and five brothers last night did not go my way. But it was lots of fun. I laughed ’til I cried when my youngest brother (yes, the one who shaved my head the last time I was here – Thanks, baby bro!) decided he should try on my wig. It then ended up getting passed around among various other brothers and the nieces and nephews who were there too. It was good to laugh. It took two decades off my youngest brother but I can say with every confidence that it looks much better on me than it does on anyone else! Thank goodness for that. Happy days indeed.

More good news

The results from my latest MRI scan are in and, writes the oncologist, the report “does confirm ongoing response within the breast which is good news”.

I currently have an MRI scan every month, after every two sessions of chemo, to check progress. The first scan showed the main mass had gone from 30mm to 20mm (Why my oncologist “couldn’t be happier”). This second scan shows this mass now measures 11mm.  The overall affected area, which last time had gone from 100mm to 90mm, is now 87mm but is “very much less intense”. You could tell by feeling that the mass had shrunk further but it’s good to have the specific details.

The oncologist sent the results through a few days ago. I would normally show a little more enthusiasm writing about good news such as this but today I am knackered. Yesterday was our older boy’s 17th birthday and I did probably overdo it a bit.

Among other things, I made our traditional lasagnabirthday meal of lasagna and garlic bread. I also insisted the boys take some birthday cake to their grandma, who lives in a care home a few miles away; grandma scoffed down the cake. For those of you who are freaking out at how unhealthy our birthday meals are, I should point out that we do always have a huge salad too (it’s there in the photo). I should also point out that grandma – my mother-in-law – has made it to the ripe old age of 93 without ever worrying about anything as trivial as a healthy diet!

Also, yesterday evening, I had a beer AND a glass of wine. In these abstemious times, that pretty much counts as binge drinking.

Incidentally, younger son was a massive help in preparing the meal. Older son refused to help “because it’s my birthday”. Fair enough, I guess, and he did hang up the washing.

Thanks, baby bro!

I decided to take matters into my own hands when I realised that while I did in fact have lots of hair left on my head, it was so thin and patchy that I no longer felt I could venture outside without some sort of cover.

So I got the nearest pair of scissors and my husband’s hair clippers and chopped off what I could. That was about three weeks ago and since then the wig has been a de rigeur accessory whenever I’m outside. I assumed that was it, but when I was up in Glasgow this past weekend, my youngest brother and I got chatting and we agreed he should use his own hair clippers to finish the job off. I realise this sounds a bit grim but it was in fact done amid much hilarity.

barberpoleSo there I was, on Monday night, sitting on a chair in my parents’ kitchen with a towel around my shoulders. We advised my parents to stay clear as I’m pretty sure it would have freaked them out to see their youngest son shaving their only daughter’s head.

My baby brother, clippers in hand, sounded every inch the barber. In time-honoured fashion, he asked me about my holidays and we chatted about the weather… and we had a laugh about whether I’d need something for the weekend (some of you younger folk, especially if you’re female, may have to Google that).

It was over before I knew it. I was completely bald and smooth-headed, and I guess that’s how I’ll be until my hair starts to grow back in once I finish chemo.

It does feel very weird. Two days on, I haven’t yet found the confidence to let anyone else other than my husband see it. Give it time, I guess. And who knows? You may even see a photo of the bare-headed me on this blog. Not yet, though. But that’s partly because the only photos I have at the moment are those I took on Monday night… and since baby bro looks so much better in them than I do, they’re staying on my phone! I still have my pride.

It’s not all bad

If I hadn’t had a cancer diagnosis, I wouldn’t be sitting here now feeling  cherished in my parents’ flat in Glasgow where I’ve come for a couple of days because I’m feeling ok after that third round of chemo last Wednesday. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this in the bed that my dad lovingly made up for me last night, counting my blessings as my mum cooks me bacon and eggs in the kitchen.

If I hadn’t had a cancer diagnosis, I wouldn’t have got back in touch with friends I hadn’t been in contact with for years because life is normally just so darn busy.

If I hadn’t had a cancer diagnosis, my many friends – and something like this makes you realise just how many friends you have – might never have felt the need to tell me they consider me to be strong, determined, resilient, courageous, focussed and a fighter. I’m not sure the cancer cares about any of that, but it’s good to feel the love!

And if I didn’t already know what a rock my husband is, I certainly do now.

2015-dcsf-murrays-700x300-gettyAnd if I hadn’t come up to Glasgow this weekend, I wouldn’t have got tickets for the final day of the Davis Cup semi-final and I wouldn’t be sitting here now looking forward to going to see Andy Murray in a few hours hopefully take Great Britain into the finals of the tennis world cup for the first time since 1978!

And I wouldn’t be looking forward to seeing my brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews and some old school friends before I go back to London to see my own two lovely boys again on Tuesday.

A cancer diagnosis turns your life upside down, but once things settle down and you take stock, you realise there’s a lot to be thankful for. I clearly wish my cancer had been caught sooner, but the bottom line surely has to be that it’s being treated with curative intent. Given that and all of the above, I am very much aware that things could be a lot worse.