Thursday, 30 September 2010

Chemo Six - Last One - who knows?

28th September

I was quite up; last chemo, blood clear, scan clear, but the words of that charming doctor changed everything, like a weather-forecaster on the evening news who announces calmly that an unstoppable meteorite is heading for earth, or at least my bit of it.

According to him I can expect two years at most before the cancer comes roaring back and if we are just looking at the statistics, as he does, less than five years of life. He has given me enough stress to trigger off any stray microscopic bits of disease.

I thought I would have no story to blog now, but instead I am left wondering whether to go and pester another doctor for reassurance, trying a woman as they tend to be more empathetic and not such ruthless show-offs, should I complain about him and enter a fight? I don’t know his name, on the phone when the nurse repeated it, it sounded like a gurgle in the throat. I don’t remember his appearance except that his face was like a wholemeal fruit scone.

Cardinal Newman said that everyone has a mission in life and should try to find it, is fighting with glib, supercilious doctors to be mine? I have no strength for it, and defeated at the start as I need them and what he says can probably be backed up by those good old stats.

A chemo ward is not like a concentration camp when you know you are going to die so you get stuck in and try to blow up the crematoria, we need these doctors of death as they are the only people who can offer any hope at all.

Hope? Well I had that, it was like a small, gusting wind, an erratic zephyr inside, until scone face punched it flat.

29th of Sept.

Slept quite well but as soon as I got up on my last chemo day, I remembered that according to stats, I will be back there for more perhaps within a year, and I have a life expectancy of about five years.

Did some crying in the shower. These are tears of shock, of having to adjust rapidly, not those deep agonising tears of despair often to be heard emanating from shower units all over the country. Heard on the Today Programme, about a report conducted by Relate the marriage guidance people and TalkTalk the mobile company, about how unhappy and unfilled most middle aged people are. I don’t feel bad about my life; the writing and the painting have come back to me with renewed vigour, I am not sad, just knocked off balance by that smiling, brown faced bully.

Need to change my future plans too – in fact all plans on hold. I was going to buy a new car and was looking at the Vauxhall “life time warranty,” for cars doing under 100,000 miles, that is now pretty much a cert! I was going to buy a very basic model as I am trying to save money to move, sometime after a policy comes up in 2012, but I can’t make plans like that now.

Rang the hospital to find out about the message they’d left the night before, and mentioned to the nurse that I had been upset the day before, and wanted to speak to another doctor, preferably a woman as they seem more empathetic. She said she would mention this quietly to the lady doctor on duty. The one I saw previously, whom I liked has now left.

Before I set off for the hospital I prayed for a short while, asking God to send me an angel pretty damn quick, someone to help me as I was at such a loss, unable to cope with this new situation; thinking I might be cured but being told this was next to impossible.

My two angel friends Chris and Melissa were waiting for me when I arrived, but in Garry I was told I could only have one guest as there was such little room in the corridor/clinic. They worked out a shift system between them.

Rather than mention it quietly, the young nurse had announced what I said in a full staff meeting including all the doctors. This seemed to set up a bit of a flurry. While I was getting the canula stuck in my arm, a Spanish looking woman doctor, with a large silver crucifix round her neck came over. I told her quickly what had been said. She said, “I have no words for you about this as I was not there, but he was behaving professionally and a lot of patients would welcome that.”

Worse, she said that Proff. Gabra, the head man, he of “this is a Rotweiller not a poodle,” back in May when I first got my results, said he wanted to see me in his office on Tuesday. No thank you, I do not want to hear any more statistics telling me I must die, and soon.

I saw a Russian woman looking at me cynically. Her cancer has returned after less than a year, but they never removed it all in the first place. No doubt she thought I was screaming out denial about my own condition.

Then Loretta Oliver strode in, the mighty woman who has been ill since 2007, who helps to run a charity called Ovarian Cancer Action, as well as running a home and being a mother to two young children.

I told her what had happened. She looked horrified. At his words, only between two and four percent of women do not have cancer recurring, which means that about 98 percent do, she looked appalled. “The figure is 50 percent of women returning,” she said, and she went off to find him, and challenged him.

She said he backed down and admitted that his figure was wrong.

She didn’t ask him the interesting question of WHY he said all that to me. In 2007, her GP told her husband that she would be dead within six months. Doctors, do they just go mad and start to hate their patients? “Inappropriate,” was the word Loretta used to describe both these events.

She was my angel and as soon as she spoke to me, with that 50 percent my spirits went up. Scone face knocked me off balance and she righted me.

Before I left Nurse Eileen took my hand and stroked it. “I never want to see you here again,” she said very quietly. She could not have said anything sweeter.

Now I have so much work to get on with – on, on.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

What was it all for?

28th September.

I had a great Saturday. Attended the London School of Painting and Drawing in Kensington, such a good class. I have been going there since it began about ten years ago. They have a life class once a month, with two models in natural and artificial light. When I got home I carried on painting till about 9pm then I noticed a red ring right round my middle, and itching under my arms and down my shoulder blades. It went on growing from there, a terrible rash, which spread all over, up the back of my head, behind my ears, but not on my face.

I was scared and had a night of Lord Peter Whimsey and other crime and sci-fi hours which all blurred into one.

On Sunday I could not go to church as I was covered in Calomine lotion and would have looked like a zombie. As usual in this day and age, I looked myself up on the internet and saw under side effects of chemo, a rash that covers the body and spares the face. Something called, macupapular which can strike at any time during the post-chemo cycle.

Feeling anxious I rang the oncology dept at Hammersmith, some how the word “oncology” doesn’t really seem to apply to me. No one answers. Try Charing Cross and get a friendly doctor who says it is a reaction to the Steroids. He suggests I go in to the A & E.

Decide not to go in as I would almost rather die than spend Sunday sitting in an A & E department, and I do not have a temperature so it can’t be that bad.

Spent the day feeling listless and lost, longing for company. The shock of it and realising that for once I had nothing much in the fridge made me feel lonely. A friend called at my request, dropping off some washing up liquid and a she added a box of chocolate éclairs. She didn’t ring the bell though, as she thought I was asleep.

Living alone certainly has its down; the art class, I hadn’t been there since April, before the start of all this. I was uncertain whether anyone would greet me or say anything about my bald head. They were friendly but I wasn’t sure. As a single person I am always like a college fresher, out to meet new exciting people, always waiting, hoping for a good response but always uncertain.

Felt very gloomy by tea time but got on with some painting. I’ve set up a still life tying to make objects and ordinary things suggest unease, they probably will without my trying.

Tuesday it’s Garry for my last blood test before my last chemo. I hardly dare say it, I hope so much never to see the place again but feel I can’t really be that lucky. This feeling stops me being really happy that the thing is nearly over.

The clinic has become part of my little world, a tiny Ambridge full of gossip and human feelings. It's my lucky day, for the first time there is only one other person there waiting. Anne has been chatting to the Singaporean phlebotomist, who says he is Spanish. Apparently he has been in the job since January and before that he was in catering – in a restaurant.

Well now he gets to swank about in a white coat, touching up the nurses. In the narrow corridor between the doctors’ rooms and the nurse station see him put his hand on a nurse’s back and let it lie there until she shrugs it off, not looking up from her sheet of notes.

Ask to see a doctor, I didn’t have to, but I am looking for reassurance since the last one said that as my cancer was “aggressive” it was more likely to come back than a non aggressive one.

See a doctor I haven’t seen before, two other people, probably students are sitting in. The atmosphere is jovial, even skittish. When I tell him about the rash he laughs says it must have been caused by fruit juice. He says it would only have appeared right after my last treatment not a few weeks later.

He also says that statistically ovarian cancer is almost certain to come back within two years.

“There are only about two to four percent of patients where this doesn’t happen," he said, as if this would cause no reaction in me.

"With that level of disease, it is very doubtful that we can have found all the microscopic cancer cells out and removed them," he went on cheerfully.

I remembered a letter passed to my doctor saying that the disease was "well contained within the ovary" and had not spread. They had removed all the cancer, and my blood test was down from fifteen to ten, totally normal. But his words struck me such a blow that I couldn't keep hold of this information against his.

As I went out he said, “Fingers crossed,” with a cheerful grin.

Walking out of the hospital, up the tunnel which leads from the north side, feel I want to burst into tears, but can’t as it is too embarrassing. Desperate to get home again but there is the long wait for the bus.

On the way back, go over it, this way and that. He said most people with stage 4 ovarian cancer have a nodule in the diaphragm, up by the navel, I didn’t have that. Nothing has gone to my vital organs, my blood is clear, everything was well contained, but he said, “It is unlikely that we have removed all the microscopic cancer cells. Only a small percentage don't come back.”

I have to live with this, this waiting for it to come back when I have to start living with it as part of my life, the "chronic condition" they talked about when I was in hospital. It feels like an overwhelming nightmare and I am right back to the first time I went down that passage in tears, thinking, not me, why me?

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Too Much Joan


Who is this in the mirror? Whoever she is, I am sick of her and she’s making me nervous.

After all the talk about looking good and feeling glam, I am having doubts. My face seems to be swelling up so I look more like Ed Balls and Matt Lucas than La Collins, and despite eating acres of broccoli I seem to be pasty with lines under my eyes, like a rueful ghost.

Realise that I am upset because my eyebrows have suddenly gone, and with them my eyebrow pencil. I had a soft old, grey stick, but the lead is now finished. None of my other pencils work well, and if you go out with an eyebrow colour too strong, blotchy or wiggly you look absurd.

Also realise that I have slowed down. My legs ache and my feet feel as if I am wearing wooden boots, so I just can’t progress up the pavement at the speed I used to. I must accept this I suppose. The idea of having a hernia also makes me feel like an old crock, caput really. I suppose I should have accepted this weakness as part of the new person that I am, but I am miles away from doing that.

Tuesday 14th Young Father Steve came from St Michael’s in Chiswick, bringing communion. Apparently it’s “Holy Cross,” day.

The first time I have ever sent out for it. I wasn’t sure that he was bringing it, I thought it might just be a friendly chat, but he came on his bike with a large black holdall and started unpacking gold candlesticks, a cross and other shiny objects, looking rather like a burglar.

He set up the altar on my small coffee table, putting down a crisp white cloth, then laying out the objects including a shining silver pyx in the centre. It all looked surprisingly beautiful.

He took the service from the Roman Missal. The reading was from Numbers, 21:4-9 about Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt only for them to be stranded in the desert where they were bitten by “fiery serpents.” He takes a serpent and ties it onto a stick, not an easy thing to do at the best of times, and holds it up before them, prefiguring the idea of the cross; an object of terror which becomes a symbol of hope. I did enjoy the service and felt if not encouraged, calmer. Not so alone with the idea that I might die soon. It’s probably the most satisfying take-away I have ever had.

I was able to give him a piece of cake I’d made with fresh blackberries, and sherry, well I had that, he had tea. I always try to get vicars to drink sherry and they just never will as if taking part in the cliché will do them serious damage.

Friday 17th.

Have to go to the Renaissance Hotel, High Holborn to interview Amanda Evans, a former tennis professional about the death of her father. He died from Pulmonary Fibrosis. The Daily Telegraph want a piece about it for their health pages.

This is a bit of a task, not because I can’t do the interview or write it – but because I can no longer get my eyebrows right. I haven’t found a good replacement pencil and I think they look a bit ropey.

At the bus stop, sitting there in my turban, makeup and shiny black mac, a woman walking past gives me a look – I cannot interpret it, it could be, “get you,” or you look ridiculous, or it could have meant that she thought I looked too good for Acton Vale, W3, which isn’t difficult. I can’t interpret it but it’s like a knife cutting me.

Arrive early and look for lunch. There are a mass of tedious chain cafes, but find a Vietnamese café. It’s crowded and when I have finished my rice and aubergine realise that I have to go to the back of a very long queue to get some tea. Mention this to a young girl who has come to my table. She doesn’t reply, just stares at me. What must she see? Some ghastly looking, mad old bat?

Scuttle off and see an Italian greasy spoon up a side street. They are usually quite cosy places although their cakes look strangely artificial. They could well be as no one ever seems to eat them.

Not many people in, and as I stand at the counter the Italian serving comes up, but ignores me and speaks to some young girls who have come in behind me. I must look so bad he can’t bear to look at me at all. I am invisible. Decided to have the tea outside at one of their tables on the pavement. Realise I am surrounded by smokers and I am terrified of breathing in carcinogens these days. The tea doesn’t come, decided to give up and walk away. Half expect to be called back to pay for something.

At the Renaissance, I am treated at least as graciously as if I were Joan Collins, or the late Princess Margaret. Sink into the soft cushions on a large sofa as young men fuss around me and bring me a menu and tea. When I had money I stayed in places like this and rarely saw the other stuff. Money might not bring happiness but it brings you less bruising.

Amanda arrives and the interview goes very well, but all the way home I can only think about that Italian and how rude he was, and wonder, why? Why?

During the week the Pope arrived. This all started out very badly with virulent atheists and pompous lefties prating on at great length. The whole things seemed mired in the disgrace of the paedophile scandal, but as the week went on things changed around and somehow a festive atmosphere emerged. The sight of his little red shoes boosted me. I suppose a change is as good as a rest and he doesn’t come on a state visit that often, about once every four hundred years.

I was encouraged to face my fears too by some of the words of John Henry Newman. I also discovered that Newman largely invented the Anglo-Catholic church, he is responsible for beautiful young vicars cycling about with bags full of divine objects.

Bought a book on Anglicanism, which is suddenly more important and real to me. It’s becoming a bit fashionable again too - perhaps because it is, as Elizabeth I put it, “mere English,” something that is gradually becoming valuable again.

It says in this book which seems to be written by a friend of Peter Tatchell, that the church has lost its congregation because it can no longer speak to a national character, we no longer have, a national character. Of all the appalling ideas flying about over the last few weeks, that is perhaps the worst.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Original newspaper article

Telegraph health Sept 13 Jane Kelly

[This needs a standfirst billing it as a follow up piece to an article we ran earlier this year on Jane’s experience as an NHS cancer patient. Here she looks at some surprising effects of treatment].

Getting cancer is a terrible shock for anyone. When Jane Kelly was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer last May and began chemotherapy she expected to look and feel dreadful for the best part of a year. Unexpectedly, things didn’t turn out quite like that.

Becoming Joaney

“You do look well and much better than you used to,” an elderly lady said this to me recently. She was being kind like the other people who keep saying this sort of thing. They know that four months ago I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, stage four, and am now in the middle of six sessions of chemotherapy, enduring fatigue, mouth ulcers, weight gain, nausea, aching joints and sleeplessness.

Aged 54, I have long since learned not to expect my face to win me any favours – but now most unexpectedly, I look years younger.

During my illness and treatment, I have changed into the kind of woman I never was: lilac turban, perfect maquillage, and discreet jewellery. To my shock and awe I look increasingly like Joan Collins; there she is in the mirror smirking back at me, all luscious cherry lips and arched brows.

Chemo makes most people bald and in June after two sessions my dark, shoulder length hair began its journey into the shower tray. I was warned this would be distressing, and it was. Stepping out of the shower after the second chemo, I saw clods of hair around the plug hole, lying there like a drowned mouse. I felt breathless with shock and stood in front of the mirror panting, as if I had just run up the street naked, like in a bad dream, but this was real, and I wept.

My hair fell out in patches starting from the crown, so I looked like a monk. At the Maggie’s cancer support centre at Charing Cross hospital, I skimmed catalogues of wigs, which cost from £100 upwards. They reminded me of Dynasty the 1970s TV show, all tip tilted noses peering out from teased golden haystacks, wispy fringes and highlights that look as if they cost a banker’s bonus.

Maggie’s centres and Macmillan support nurses steer women towards workshops on hair loss, make up and wigs. I wasn’t very interested in attending these but felt grateful when I heard that I was entitled to a free wig on the NHS.

My referral papers got lost at the hospital and after waiting over a month I was sent to a gloomy specialist wig makers near Paddington. I was attended by an elderly woman who looked like an assistant to Sweeney Todd. Her face was immobile under its make-up, her own yellow hair like a farm girl in a musical. She didn’t look at me, or show any sign of interest as she plonked down a large black wig.

For some reason she didn’t let me see any of the wigs in stock or choose from them myself. With a sinking heart I put on the one she selected and from what I could espy from under it, it was suitable for a 1960s fancy-dress party. Where were all those short, chic things I’d seen in the catalogues?

“You want it flicky do you?” she said, when I asked for something short, returning with a different bush of black acrylic that seemed to have been chewed. “It’s a bit rough at the back,” I said. “That’s because it’s flicky,” she said.

I felt like a nuisance so I shoved it on and left hastily, but outside I felt deflated. In my reflection in the shop windows I seemed to be leaning forwards under a bear skin, and it felt as if it was about to lift off, like an over tight egg cosy.

I decided to do visit a salon in Kensington to try and sort myself out.

Happily it was quiet so I could hide my balding pate from curious eyes. I asked a lad called Josh to trim the wig so I could see from under it, and remove the rest of my hair, which was patchy, thin and hanging down in wisps.

“I’ve never done this before,” he said snipping nervously at the thick acrylic fibres. Then he gently applied an electric razor to my head. We both stared as my white skull appeared, and it looked good! My head had a surprisingly good shape, my ears small and neat.

I looked strangely young and left the salon feeling pleased that going bald had not turned me into a monster at all. I rather cowardly put the wig on to meet a friend for lunch. A waitress glanced at me sympathetically, the way you do at any woman forced to wear a Busby, as you know she must be odd, bald, or Joan Collins.

During lunch I felt it slip sideways, so I placed it on my knee like a lap-dog, where it gradually filled up with stray frites and crumbs. I went home in my head-scarf. The wig is still in its box and the cat can have it for Christmas. My shaved head feels like velvet, I like the way water runs over it in the shower, and I am particularly happy not having to worry about my hair anymore.

I started going out in pretty scarves donated by my mother and friends, then a private medical supplier who had read my blog about my hair falling out, sent a very pretty range of head-gear, including a lilac turban; this was the Joan Collins secret. As she herself recently put it:

'I must give good hair and if I don't, I will give good hat. For trips abroad, or for accessorising with a gold sling-back, nothing beats a turban, darling.'

Maybe she’s as bald as a badger underneath hers too, we haven’t seen her real hair for years, but turbans work for her and for me. It looked beautiful, if rather stark and benefiting from the use of make-up and jewellery.

With a layer of foundation, eye and lip pencil, lipstick and sparkly earrings, I was transformed: here was Joaney, or at least one of those well kept ladies who look like her.

In a cab the other day I saw a road sign saying “Labouring men.”

“Do men still labour?” I asked the driver vaguely, as if I had just landed by jet from a life in Palm Springs. I have no idea where that vapid remark came from, but this new elegant person that I am, looking like she does, is bound to say things like that.

It was after that that I really noticed there was something different about my face. Looking at photos taken at a birthday party in August, my skin looked taut and smooth, like a teenager, albeit a Mekon. I put this down to a very good diet, as I am trying to eat myself well. I didn’t twig that my face had not changed because of all the spinach I am eating, or because of the turban and slap. I realised the uncomfortable truth last week, while talking to a friend I hadn’t seen for months.

“You look great!” She said to me. “Really well.” But she added, “You don’t look wrinkled or haggard at all.” Meaning, “Like you used to.” At that moment I finally realised that a poisonous cocktail of chemicals worthy of Dr Frankenstein has turned me into La Belle Collins.

We were warned that the steroids we have to take to prevent any allergic reaction to the chemo can create a puffy “moon face.” They make a lot of people put on weight but in my case they have put just enough fat back under my skin to restore my long vanished youthful bloom. Four sessions of chemo have given me a free face - lift, and de-bagged my eyes.

Looking like a Collins clone is not so bad, after all she is the ultimate triumph of survival over cruel nature. Friends seem delighted with my new look, partly because they are glad to see that I am not at death’s door, but also it signals that the chemo which everyone fears so much, is tolerable and you can look well on it - in fact too well.

I will have this dewy skin until the treatment ends in October, but what then? Cancer is full of uncertainty, but I am pretty sure I will soon shrivel back to being the old me again, better from the back than the front – it’s cruel, it’s heartbreaking!

Turning into Joaney (Original from blog)


Something has happened to my face and I only realised when it was pointed out to me, naturally by another woman.

I first noticed something had changed when I had the last of my hair removed.

As the young lad, Josh, took off the last wisps, I thought, gosh, I look so young! But I put that down to the lack of hair. There was a Chernobyl child staring back at me. It looked surprisingly good though and I went out to the salon on winged feet.

Then I noticed something during my mother’s birthday celebration when she started taking photos. Sitting with my cousin from Yorkshire I saw myself looking good in a snap – and I haven’t done that for ages. I looked like a teenager, albeit a teenage Mekon.

I didn’t give my face any more thought except I thought I looked healthy. I am eating a very good diet, concentrating on my food, trying intricate new recipes, making efforts to cook myself well.

Yesterday a friend came to visit whom I hadn’t seen for some time. She has lost four stone and suddenly looks like a teenager, I can see how she looked as a student, long before I knew her.

“You look great!” She said to me. “Really well.”

But as she was leaving she added, “You don’t look lined or haggard at all.”

I felt winded. She meant, like you used to look of course and I realised, it’s the steroids. Those legendary little pills chemo patients have to take before they are given the intravenous poisons, have filled out my face slightly, enough to remove all lines and bags and my old haggard look.

We were warned about their side effects and apparently they can give you a “moon face.” They have put just enough fat back under the skin to restore my youthful bloom which disappeared very quickly about five years ago or so. In the mirror there is me as I was in youth, as I would like to be again.

Chemo has given me free drugs and a free face lift, the padding even smoothing out the bags under my eyes. I will have this face until the treatment ends – it’s cruel, it’s heartbreaking!

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Big C can also mean Christmas

Illness has changed my life, filled it with fear, and bought me unexpected benefits; contact with old friends and colleagues, lager drinking and more work; I’ve finished two pieces for a national newspaper on my situation and there is more work to come, after six very lean years.

(The link to my D Telegraph piece)

I have also got a painting into a public art competition. Something I haven’t done since I got into the RA Summer Show in 2000.;

(Link to the paintings in the show)

OK so you have to nearly die to get work nowadays, and if I do expire the value of my paintings with increase, but such is life, that is one of its great jokes.

I once thought that having cancer, I can still hardly bear to write that word, would mean a complete waste of my time, I'd be like a limp rag, lying about in the afternoons watching Fanny By Gaslight and old Powell & Pressburger films on TV. Well I do do that, but it has also galvanised me, between five to seven day bouts of chemo nastiness.

At the moment I am going through one of those, my fingers tingle and throb on the key board, my feet are numb apart from one ridge of sensation down the middle, so it feels as if I am skating on bones. At night I keep changing temperature and when I can sleep I have lurid dreams. But I’ve got that moment of transformation to come, and all the days when I feel great again have become separately valuable. Days no longer run into one.

Last week I heard the last episode of a dramatisation of The Count of Monte Christo on BBC 7. I first came across this yarn in October 1964 aged eight, when it was one of the BBC’s Sunday tea time serials. I was at an age when I could still be astonished by human wickedness and was fascinated, especially when Edmond, played by Alan Badel, was transferred to prison by boat and first saw his gaol looming up out of the dark. I heard it again on radio in January 1979 when I was living in southern Poland. Just after it finished I was hauled off to prison along with two other people, a case of guilt by association. Unlike the Count we only languished in our freezing cells for a mere twenty four hours.

This time I caught the Count’s last words of advice: “Wait and hope.”

Chemo 5

Chemo 5

Penultimate Chemo, visit the clinic with my friend Maggie. We haven’t seen each other for a long time but manage to talk almost non stop for five hours, until I almost lose my voice.

She is shocked at the state of the clinic. “It’s like a store room,” she says, particularly puzzled about the array of blue plastic water bottles all over the floor.

I have put in a request to see a doctor as there wasn’t one available the previous day in the clinic. She says that I have an “incisional hernia,” caused by the operation. This is a bit of a bummer I must say – it swells up like a balloon and brings back memories of jokes on the Goon Show about old men with trusses and rumours about secret, furtive things called “supports.”

Perhaps I will have to buy an "appliance?" Look them up on the internet and they seem to apply only to men.

I expected to be able to get back to full fitness quite quickly after the next session, but I can see that being subject to some delay. I can’t imagine bashing up the swimming pool, performing tumble turns and diving off the high board with this bit of gut sticking its head out in the wrong place.

Pamela also turns up, looking flash in tight black pants and winkle picker court shoes. We leave the hospital in a tremendous downpour but it’s good fun being together.

When we get back to my flat I open a letter saying that I have got a painting into the Discerning Eye competition, which opens at the Mall Gallery on 11th November.

They received 2,500 entries and usually hang about 500 paintings. Getting into public competitions these days is like a lottery, but they accepted my painting, Chemo I, showing my head when my hair first started falling out in patches and I looked like a lunatic.

I had to ask my friends several times to check that there was really an “A” for "accept," on the paper, and I hadn't imagined it.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A Nice Cup of Tea

7/9/10 Afternoon.

Feeling very down after my trip to the clinic I was happy to go to the Ealing vicarage for the first tea party of the autumn, a cup of tea and a nice sit down, the restorative which never fails an English person.

I took along my fruit cake. I had followed a quick recipe which involved boiling. It seemed a bit dry so I made holes with a skewer, threw a large amount of sherry and brandy over it and set it on fire, that works wonders on most food.

When I arrived Fr. Bill was putting out the biscuits, chocolate side down for some reason. He didn’t think many people would turn up due to the great tube strike which began last night. My Japanese friend wouldn’t be there as, for some reason that she has never explained, she has just started training to become an electrician.

Beyond the French windows in the sitting room, his garden still looked like an hay field. The room contained one old lady, aged ninety three, in a neck-brace.

“You are much too early,” she told me, and I felt like saying, “shut up you silly old cow.”

Instead I joined Bill in the kitchen. He was fretting about God and science. “I am a great reader of the New Scientist,” he said, pointing to the latest issue on the kitchen table, next to the Guardian and his home made plum jam.

“Stephen Hawking is completely wrong,” he said, “science is as subjective as anything else, and religion is not subject to empirical science, it’s not Boyle’s Law, it’s subjective and experiential. "He’s right when he says we’ve got multi- universes, ten to the power of five hundred out there, but the whole thing is so incredible, so large,” I missed the end of this as he carried the tea tray in to the old lady.

“Isn’t it odd the way the sun goes in then comes out again?” she said which seemed to sum up the conversation really. No one knows much of anything or not enough for any conclusions.

“I spend £3.40 every month for that magazine,” said Bill, undaunted, “to keep my parishioners abreast of science. And that is the only time this vicar will mention breasts, I can assure you.”

We like a bit of music hall at St. Martin’s.

Marjorie, a mere ninety years old arrived in her own car. I usually find her interesting but this afternoon she seemed a bit odd. There is a church Ball coming up in November and on the form where it asked if there were any dietary preferences, she had stated that she didn’t want any offal.

“Are we likely to have offal at the ball?” said Bill, highly amused. She said she had recently been to a dinner where they food had been bad, in fact, they had been “eating the insides of human beings.” She insisted on this.

The room gradually became crammed with large tea quaffing people, many of them happily stuffing in my cake, apart from Marjorie, who said she had just started a new diet. The unhappy German arrived with his ghastly wife and they immediately began quarrelling as she was one of those suspect English people who prefer coffee and he had to go into the kitchen to get it.

After that chore he settled down to my cake and I felt a bit annoyed seeing him take a very large slice, perhaps because this very day marked seventy years since the start of the London Blitz. Marjorie, who married a Pole during the war, was a bit off with him too.

She told me that two of her daughters had died of cancer, one ovarian the other breast. Oh dear, there seemed to be no end to it, almost everyone has terrible grief somewhere in their lives. But as usual she did lift my spirits a bit; “They could do very little in those days,” she said, “not like now when they are trying out so many new things.”

Then she told me about her grandson, Jean Michel Villot. Apparently his mother died, his father refused to see him, and he lost his job all at about the same time. His response was to go off on an expedition to the Arctic with the dashing Bruce Fogel. He climbed a wall of ice 30 ft high. While he was doing this he heard a voice saying, “Take the rope, Jean.”

“I asked if it was the voice of God,” Marjorie said, “but he said, no, it was the camera man, hanging upside down by his feet.”

Although he had never been on skis before, he skied for two days and nights, without food, to reach his destination.

That is the kind of story I need, and the kind of adventure I need too. I’ve just read in “Paws,” the Battersea Dogs magazine, about a dog sledging excursion in north Norway to raise money for the dogs’ home. I wouldn’t mind doing that, although the person writing her account fell off her slay at one point and had to run to catch it as the darn dogs don’t stop. Wonder just how fast I can still run these days?

On the way home I stopped off in Morrison’s supermarket and spotted my first mince pie of the season, or rather the non-season, or perhaps this is now the “peri-Xmas period?” In the doorway there was a doleful looking Asian youth with a bucket, collecting for the flood victims in Pakistan. I gave him some money but he didn’t smile or make eye contact and I couldn’t help wondering if the money would get to the desperate people. I was too embarrassed to check if there was a charity number displayed anywhere. I decided to take it on trust - I want to help, but am I also trying to bribe a cruel God?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Bloody Clinic

Been feeling quite good lately, boosted by getting clear blood test and scan.

Life between chemos was taking shape; more journalistic work coming in, a day out to the Cookham Regatta on Saturday, yesterday made my first ever fruit cake.

Today, 7/9/10 at 11am, I went to the Garry Weston clinic for the pre-chemo blood test, and I thought I might see a doctor about problems using my left, my main hand.

I found myself sitting with women who – I have to rush to the lavatory here just thinking about this – were there because their cancer had returned.

A young woman was talking about how ovarian cancer, “deliberately hides itself away.”

“Mine hid for a year,” she said. “Now it’s in my liver, my blood looks normal, but it’s in my bones. They couldn’t see that on the scan at all, they didn’t know until my leg swelled up. It’s gone to the lymph node in my groin too, that’s gone crazy.”

An older woman next to her gave me an all knowing smile, as if they were speaking about an incorrigible old friend they both knew only too well.

I don’t know these women, their lives, or how far gone they were when it was first discovered. The young woman said she had refused to have chemo for about a month, but it was perhaps longer than that as they don’t give it to you for a month after your operation.

The women spoke of someone who had a recurrence after ten years. Well that sounds OK to me – but one year? How do they face it and look so at ease with it, living with it as what doctors now term, a “chronic condition.” Cancer has taken over their whole lives and will drag on for years.

Habib, in a blue sari and half her front teeth missing says she was diagnosed with a stage 3 ovarian cancer but now it has returned and gone to her liver. She is taking part in a trial, taking something called “Calyx.”

“After twelve years it can come back, despite what they can get out by hand,” she said graphically. But worst of all was hearing those words; “Its gone to my bones.”

They seemed to deal with these disasters matter- of -factly gossiping about the disease as if it is a person they know but I could also sense a bitterness there, as if they belong to a club and they want to disabuse outsiders of the idea that they won’t one day be joining.

I ask to see a doctor as I want to see if they can do anything about the peripheral neuropathy in my left hand, which actually started way back in January as I remember. They say I can go on the list to see one, but sitting waiting I find myself wondering if anyone did put me on the list. Went back to check and I wasn’t on it. A nurse says there are too many people waiting and not enough doctors available. She does make some notes about my condition but I will have to take it up another time. I have seen a notice for a “neuropathology unit,” so I am determined to see if I can use it.

All the way home talk sensibly to myself, telling myself to buck up, but it doesn’t work.