Any Idiot can face a Crisis


Any idiot can face a crisis- it’s this day to day living that wears you out. Anton Chekov may or may not have said this. Someone said it.

Now I’m brave because this bit is tough.

When we are facing possible death and certain pain things are very simple. We focus only on the immediacy of the present crisis – the desire for life to continue and for pain to cease. We are focused and mindful of the present moment.  Decisions tend to be easier to make.  Paths are clearer.

Coming out the other end is a whole different kettle of fish. Trying to gather up the pieces of my old life and achieve some normality, keeping the black dog of depression at bay, dealing with boring old chronic pain and lymphedema.  This is a different kind of difficult.

Readers of the blog will know that I was made redundant very shortly before my cancer diagnosis two years ago. For me there has been no gentle, phased return to my place of work amongst supportive colleagues. (Not that it’s always like this; returners have their own challenges.) Instead I have had to sell myself in a competitive jobs market. And I have done it. I have sold myself.

Applying for jobs in 2017 has been a very different experience from doing the same in 1997. That’s the last time I went through a proper selection process.  In the olden days jobs were advertised in newspapers, you phoned up for an application form, if you were invited to interview your travelling expenses were reimbursed, you received proper instructions about public transport and parking, if you were unsuccessful at any stage you got a letter saying so. You were informed about timescales.

But now we are in May’s Britain and we jobseekers have to be put in our place. Nowadays it’s all done online and most companies don’t accept CVs so many tedious hours are spent typing the same stuff again and again into online forms, only to get to the final page where I am unable to submit my application because my ‘postcode is not recognised’ or some other irritating nonsense. And trying to contact these people to tell them that your postcode is legitimate is like wading through mud. Forget it.

The jobs are advertised as though they are precious gifts to be bestowed on very lucky, humble and grateful people. Do you want the ‘opportunity’ to be a ‘sandwich artist’, or to deliver food on your bicycle, to earn ‘up to’ £200 a week? (We all know what that ‘up to’ means, don’t we?) Would you be attracted to the ‘exciting night-time call-centre operative position’?

The standard of written English leaves a lot to be desired. Here are some of the gems:

This is not an exhausted list

The successful candidate should of completed a university education

Candidate’s must have they own car….

In one interview I had to sit on my inner English teacher and not correct the director’s persistent subject/verb errors: ‘Tell us about when you was working at The Institute of Financial Services.’

The main problem has been that I am not well enough yet to take on full-time work and part-time jobs can be pretty dire. Occasionally something semi-decent turns up; I recently got to second interview and in the final two for a job share in a management position but was pipped at the post by someone with twenty years’ experience ‘in recycling’ that was never mentioned as either necessary or desirable in the job and person specification, nor in the interviews. That’s the reason the director gave for my lack of success anyway. It may have been something totally different. It may have been the cancer.

Because that was always one of the first questions that I was asked at my interviews:

‘What have you been doing since October 2015?’

The law is fairly clear on this point: potential employers are not allowed to ask about health issues during interviews, nor am I obliged to tell them anything. If they offer me a job then they may ask and I must answer honestly but not until then.

But how was I supposed to answer? I could have said …

‘I’m not legally obliged to answer that question.’

Whilst true I hardly think that this would have got any interview off to a good start. So I decided to be open about the cancer. I’m not ashamed of being ill and I’m proud of my resolve to get back to normal so why wouldn’t I be honest? I resorted to the kind of language I absolutely LOATHE but in an interview situation clichés seemed appropriate. So I said…

‘I have been fighting and beating breast cancer. I have completed my treatment, feel better and ready to take on some part-time work.’

I would then smile and nod politely as the interviewers told me about their sister/cousin/aunt/friend/neighbour who had ‘beaten’ breast cancer and wasn’t dead yet. If they asked me how my own ‘journey’ had been I said that it had been ‘tough’ but I was happy to be moving on. I behaved well and tried to keep my weirdness and dark sense of humour shut tight in a box deep inside me. I thought about normal people and how they would react to these questions.

So now I have two jobs. I teach a two-hour class one morning a week and I work as a receptionist at a vets four long afternoons a week and alternate Saturday mornings.

Pulling together the dregs of my self-confidence and standing in front of a class for the first time in years was hard. But I did it. Go me! It’s a lovely group; we have fun and make progress. I’m looking forward to seeing them again on Tuesday.

The vets is an exercise in humility. I work very hard, I clean up poo and wee and blood, assuring the owners that it’s-fine-it-happens-all-the-time; I deal with lovely customers and not-so-nice-customers and very stressed and anxious customers; I make appointments, log microchips, register insurance, do surgery paperwork, anaesthesia consent forms, book people in, take money, set up care plans and monthly direct debits, record deliveries, deal with enquiries by phone, e-mail and in person; I dispense worm and flea stuff. I am told by my colleague that, as receptionists go, I’m a pretty poor specimen, that I am slow, ‘need to step it up a gear’, that ‘something ain’t working.’ It’s true that I get tired and sometimes my brain feels like it’s full of fluff. I forget stuff. I grit my teeth and bite my tongue (which is not easy). I tell myself that I am proud of myself for getting back into paid work. I consider myself an ambassador for job-seeking cancerettes and as such I do not complain about having to work late, about the constant pain in my upper body, about exhaustion. I am not used to being considered slow and stupid and it’s got to be good for my soul to have my pride knocked a bit.

So when the colleague tells me to stick my boobs out I laugh rather than run away crying. I tell her that I am better at being offensive than offended. Anyone who knows me will acknowledge the truth of this.  When I am told that I will probably cry because of work pressure I reply that this is not going to happen.

What I don’t say out loud (because I’m pretending to be a normal person) is that I have survived a stage three, grade three cancer. I have looked death in the face. Why should I be scared of anything?

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 118 vs 6

Normal life is tough but I’ll keep at it. The alternative is worse.

Pollyanna Moment: Firstly, excellent big sister marking my cancerversary by taking me away to a spa for the weekend. Drinking wine and falling into the outdoor pool fully clothed feel sort of normal. I have some great bruises.

Secondly, during a spa treatment a therapist touched my hard, flat chest. For two years my chest has been a source of fear, anxiety, pain and embarrassment; it’s had surgeries, portacath implant, drains, bandages, paraffin dressings. I massage the scars vigorously three times a day to stop them sticking to my ribs. My troublesome chest continues to be poked and prodded every few months by my consultant oncologist and breast surgeon. Yet this kind young therapist gently massaged oil into it as if it was just a normal part of my body. It felt nice. This made me cry at the time and still makes me cry.

Thirdly, working at a vets is interesting and I am full of admiration for my colleagues and the care they show for the animals. And there are puppies with soft pink tummies to stroke. I love puppies.

Needlecount: What needles? No needles here.






keep-calm-and-put-the-kettle-onOur bodies are wonderful things. My body is amazing because it keeps on recovering. I feel better now than I have felt for nearly three years, confirming to me that this cancer was brewing long before it was discovered.

Long term readers of my blog (a discerning and dedicated group) will know that I was ill for more than a year before I found Terry the Tumour lurking at the top of my chest. I had a whole series of lurgies including a drug-resistant superbug, glandular fever, bronchitis, flu and chronic fatigue. My white blood count was in my boots meaning that my body’s natural defence system was seriously compromised. White blood cells play an important role in hoofing out atypical cells so it makes total sense to me that this period of impaired immunity allowed cancer to develop.

Getting the docs to admit this is another matter. It varies….possibly…..maybe. Docs tend to focus on particular issues and aren’t always great at seeing us as a complex system where everything is interrelated. I had so many blood tests in that first year but no one checked my tumour markers. These can indicate cancer somewhere in the body. Like mammograms, they are unreliable but, also like mammograms, they are better than nothing!

Speaking of mammograms, my pre-mastectomy mammogram showed nothing to give concern in my remaining breast. All normal and huge sighs of relief all round. When I returned to hospital in February after the mastectomy for my biopsy results I expected a nice chat with my lovely surgeon and a few jokes about the size of breast (2 kg) and how it would provide enough material for a whole cohort of medical students etc etc ha ha ha. I expected to be discharged from her clinic meaning that I only had the regular oncologist appointments to deal with. However, I was greeted at the door with the words:

“You were right to get rid of that breast. You made the right decision.”

This I was not expecting.

It turns out that the breast was brewing something nasty; it had widespread atypical ductal and lobular hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). Not all hyperplasia leads to cancer but given my history it would almost definitely have gone that way…..and this would have been how the cancer started on the right. She said that she would be recommending a double mastectomy if I had any boobs left.

So my ‘healthy’ breast that had a clear mammogram was not healthy. Given a few years the whole cancer circus would have come to town again.

And the procedure that I had to push for….the surgery described by the hospital as ‘cosmetic’ and ‘for symmetry’ turned out to be prophylactic.

I always knew that my remaining breast would try to kill me.  I was right.  I didn’t want to be right but I was right.

I wasn’t expecting this news and had to fetch excellent big sister from the waiting room. Our different temperaments meant that I had been expecting an all-clear and she had been expecting bad news. Neither of us had considered a middle-ground.

Lovely surgeon was upbeat as always and readily admitted that I was right to have insisted on the second mastectomy. This result means extra monitoring and follow-up is required and she won’t discharge me from her clinic for the time being, even though I am also having three-monthly follow up appointments with the oncologist. All the usual stuff was reiterated – checking for lumps, bumps, new pain, rashes and skin changes, coughs etc etc. And the great thing is that I’ve got no breasts trying to kill me. Lucky flat-chested me!

But I was sitting there having kittens! And I spent the next few days having a really wobbly wobbly. Because….

  • How could my recovering wonderful body betray me by starting some new problem in this way?
  • After all that awful AWFUL devastating chemotherapy, how did my cells dare to start being atypical and dividing too quickly?
  • I only finished one year’s course of Herceptin injections in September. Herceptin is the wonder drug that has dramatically improved the prognosis for people like me with aggressive and invasive protein cancers. Herceptin is supposed to guard against recurrence. So WHY was I growing a new cancer in the other breast?
  • And if I was growing a new cancer in the left breast how do I know I’m not growing one somewhere else in my body? HOW DO I STOP THINKING ABOUT THIS?

Anyone who has had cancer will understand that we live with the fear of recurrence. Breast cancer is the gift that keeps on giving with high recurrence rates, sometimes decades after the primary cancer is dealt with. This is why breast cancer patients don’t go into remission; the best we get is No Evidence of Disease at this time. Some cancers can be dealt with tidily and people can trot off into their future, confident that that is it for them – been there, done that, got the t-shirt. ALL CANCERS ARE NOT THE SAME!

After a few days I got bored with this. I wrote down the questions to ask Prof when I see him this Wednesday at UHCW’s Arden Cancer Centre and got on with my life. It’s hard to be down when you feel well.

Getting on with my life means improving my fitness by doing my physio three times a day, swimming, walking, eating healthily, losing weight to help with the lymphedema and to ease residual joint pain. It means starting to think about returning to work. A few months ago I couldn’t imagine this but now I want to get out there and earn my own pennies again. I’m going to have to pace myself because I still need to rest or sleep in the afternoons, and I still have to deal with pain, stiffness and lymphedema in my right chest, shoulder and arm from the axillary clearance last March. (Second mastectomy has been very straightforward and two months on I have no pain on the left, just a little tightness.) I’m itching for some mental stimulation, some challenge beyond surviving and taking my pills at the right time.

I smile so much these days. I keep catching myself smiling.

Needle count: 180. Is this the first time that the count hasn’t gone up between blogs? Yay!

Polyanna Moment: I’m glad, glad, glad that Spring is here. I’m glad that Storm Doris only took the roof off the shed, not the house. I’m glad that I’m taking my gorgeous Things away next weekend.  I’m glad that I have been able to go out and do stuff and be sociable with my lovely friends and family.  I’m glad that I just celebrated my 51st birthday in a very normal, understated way. (Much better than my 50th in hospital!) I’m glad that I’m driving again. I’m glad that I found the memory stick with my CV on it in my knicker drawer.  God is good!


Iron Bra and Buddha Belly


Iron Bra and Buddha Belly

There are some interesting disparities between feelings and reality at the moment.  For example, I have an itchy left nipple.  But I don’t have a left nipple, nor a left breast, nor anything on the right for that matter.  Of course I’m still full of codeine which makes me a bit bonkers.  (Note to self – hide my tablet after surgery so I can’t order any more inappropriate items like that indoor trampoline, or totally unnecessary silver charms for my charm bracelet, or that shirt in the wrong colour which I thanked my sister for but when I checked my browser history it transpired that it wasn’t from her…..)  I can still feel the weight and pull of my left breast but it’s not there.  I feel the grip of an iron bra tight around my chest and back, yet for the first time in thirty seven years I am not wearing a bra.  It’s all a bit weird.

The Buddha Belly is what we see if you take our breasts away.  Even very slim women are shocked to have an unimpeded view of their belly.  Those of us in the business talk about being eleven months pregnant.  I suck mine in but it still sits there.  It doesn’t really matter.  As one of my friends said recently, “well, your organs have to go somewhere, don’t they?”

My chest is a bit of a battle ground: bruises in blue, green and yellow, a dark red haematoma, a hole in my side from the drain and a wound which stretches from high in my left armpit across to the right.  My surgeon took the opportunity to do a bit of tidying up on the right so the new scar is long – about 37cm long, getting on for 55cm if you join in the old mastectomy scar.  Both ends rise into my armpits.  I am Frankenstein’s underwear model.

My chest is skin and bone and feels cold and vulnerable.  Being built for comfort not speed I’m not used to being able to feel or see my ribs. I am pear-shaped now.

It’s going to take some getting used to but I am much happier as a pear than as a one-boobed, lop-sided freak show who failed completely in the wearing of a suitable prosthesis.  Horrible, sweaty uncomfortable things that made my nerves jangle.  I am also free of the fear of my left-boob turning nasty and trying to kill me.

Pain – there’s plenty of that but it’s nothing like as bad as the axillary clearance last March.  This pain is more straightforward and my body tells me every three hours, day and night, that it needs painkillers.  Miss Paris Cetamol and Mr Cody Eine are my pals, together with Ike buprofen and La La lactulose to keep things moving. (Yeuchy stuff!)

I was a medical marvel for a while as my drain was draining more gunk each day for a fortnight rather than less.  My body doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to.  It doesn’t follow the rules.  Drains shouldn’t stay in too long due to the risk of infection; there is also the real risk that the bearer of the drain will go crazy one night and snip their own stitches and haul out the damned thing themself.  Drains do an important job but are universally hated.  Who wants to carry a plastic bag full of blood around day and night?  Who wants a hole in their side with a tube stuck in it?  Who wants daily visits from the nurses poking at it.  Ask me if it pinches…go on….ask me.  Does it pinch?  It bloody does!  And I only had one drain.  My friend who had reconstruction had to deal with six and two young children.  What a trooper.  Anyway, my surgeon decided that the drain could come out last Friday and I heaved a huge and painful sigh of relief.  Last April I developed a seroma that had to be siphoned off with big needles twice a week after the drain came out but so far, touch wood, thank God, there’s no sign of a build up of fluid.

It’s all so disgusting isn’t it?  I’m pretty disgusted with it all.  The smell of the hospital makes me want to run in the opposite direction, I even got fed up with the lovely, kind, daily district nurses.  I have really had enough of all of this. I want to shout at the docs and nurses “I used to be well and have a job and never go near any of you!”  I think this means that I am on the mend and not in danger of becoming institutionalised.  So it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I’ve been so patient for so long and I just need to hold it together a while longer.  Now the drain has gone I can start my proper exercises and get moving a bit.  This morning I walked to the chemist round the corner.  Hurrah!  But now I feel like I’ve been run over by a bus and my arms ache so badly.  It has taken me hours to type this as I have to keep stopping and stretching.   I have to follow the physio programme and take it slowly as that will mean better and quicker healing in the long run.  Oh but it’s hard to be patient.  I want there to be an end in sight but I have to see the surgeon on 14th February for the results of the breast biopsy and the Prof on 29th March which is routine three month oncologist appointment but will also give results of the x rays of my hip.  There always seems to be something going on.

As for all those people out there grumbling about losing a week to flu ….come on people.  Really?

Polyanna Moment: There are so many of these.  This operation marks the beginning of the end of all of this nonsense and I’m glad, glad, glad that it’s done.  It was devastating when the December operation was cancelled at the last minute (And I mean ‘last minute’.  I’d been there all day, hungry, thirsty, anxious and it wasn’t until early evening that I was told it wouldn’t happen).  I’m also glad and grateful for the friends and relations who are STILL visiting and doing shopping and cooking for my freezer and bringing presents and cards and giving me lifts to boring horrible hospital appointments and walking Bonnie, and the long distance people who are sending flowers and cards and texts.   Thank you!  Things One and Two also need a special mention as they continue to be kind and resilient.  Thing Two kept me fed and watered for the first ten days or so, put the fire on in the morning, checked on me, stayed in.  Being alone in the house with someone who’s just had an operation requires courage and kindness.  Thing One came home for two weekends to help and, with my sister, got me up and dressed in the hospital. This was no mean feat as I was completely out of it!  She’s constantly in touch.  Amazing daughters.

Needle Count:  Oh the fun we had in hospital trying to find a viable vein for the anaesthetic.  How we laughed.  Including the drain we are now on 180 needles since diagnosis in August 2015.








R.I.P. Bertie

Yesterday we said goodbye to our gorgeous boy, Bertie.  Surrounded by his loved ones, at home on his favourite bed and blanket he entered his final rest.


We found Bertie at The Dogs Trust in Evesham.  He was sitting in his pen, looking absolutely miserable, surrounded by crazy barking dogs.  Our eyes met.

“Get me out of here,” he said.  “I can’t bear it.”

So I did and he came to live with us in Rugby.

His previous life was a mystery as he had been picked up wandering the mean streets of Birmingham sans collar, sans microchip.  Hence nothing was known of his past but Things 1 and 2 and I formed our own theory; based on his preferences for old men, buses, biscuits (terrible teeth), sofas, and on his loving gentle nature we think that he was owned and thoroughly spoilt by an elderly gentleman.  Maybe this gentleman had to go into hospital or maybe Bertie just wandered off one day.  We will never know.  But I like to think that Bertie has now found his previous owner and is snuggling with him on a celestial sofa eating the sugary biscuits that he was denied under our ownership.

Also mysterious was Bertie’s heritage.  To describe him as a cross breed does not sufficiently convey the complexity of his physical make up.  Stumpy Queen Anne terrier legs, the bushy tail of a red setter, german shepherd colouring, long corgi body and thick thick hair which has covered our house, car, clothes, food for the past four years.  He was our ‘stretch mongrel’.

Bertie treated our attempts to get him to fetch a ball or play with the contempt of a proper old dog but he did learn to walk on the lead and developed strong views about where he wanted to cross the road or which direction we should go.  He would dig his feet in and refuse to budge if we went the ‘wrong’ way.  He would raise a paw with an almost audible sigh if food was in sight.  Until he got too wobbly on his pins.  In the early days he evidenced a strong foraging instinct and we had to lift the bin each night.


It took Bertie a few months to realise that this was his forever home and to settle.  He became the most loyal, loving, devoted old boy and would shadow me around the house.  He never did get the hang of stairs and would hang around the hall crying if I was upstairs for any length of time during the day.  He was my constant companion during the long period of illness.  His bed was next to my favourite sofa and his snoring and warm body helped to relax me when things were hard.  Bertie turned sleeping into an art form.

He adored the Things and they loved him back.Abi and dogs  In fact it was hard not to love Bertie and this past few days many people have turned up to bid farewell to him.  He was always polite and gentle, presenting his big head and velvety ears for a scratch.  I never knew him to growl or snap at anyone, animal or human.  Bonnie wasn’t always very nice to him, quicker and sharper she used to steal things from under his nose and hide his bone in the garden but he never held it against her.

Over time Bertie got wobbly on his little legs and used to tumble.  He slept more and enjoyed his walks less.  He had accidents and was sorry.  He was virtually deaf and quite blind.  All of this was fine and we saw it as the inevitable aging process.  He just needed loving care.  Then the anxiety began.  Once noted for his calm disposition he began to show signs of distress.  For long periods in the evening he couldn’t settle and would stagger around from room to room, bed to bed, asking to be let out and back in again over and over, panting and clearly looking for something or someone.  He ceased to recognise the Things and myself as special, as his pack.  He greeted us in the same way he would greet a stranger, politely but with no recognition.  I couldn’t calm him down or settle him, in fact stroking him seemed to upset him more.  The vet confirmed that he had dementia and was deteriorating rapidly.  She said that, like in humans, doggy dementia often takes the sufferer back to his younger self.  He may have been looking for his previous owner and home.  He was bewildered and lost.  It was a no-brainer.

It’s only one day and I miss his sturdy, long body and little legs and big head bumping into things, his nails scratching the floor as he pads around.  Bonnie and I keep looking at each other glumly.  There is a big Bertie-shaped hole in our lives.  We gave him a great four years, he had lovely walks, beach holidays, endless cuddles, good food, stability and security.  He was adored.

Rest in Peace, lovely Bertie.  Enjoy your sofa and your biscuits and your cuddles.  I bet you can run as fast as a spaniel now.  We love you.  We miss you.




Mastectomy (second and final)


Next Monday I will go into hospital to have my second mastectomy. This will mark the beginning of the end of the period of my life dominated by cancer. Seventeen months, so far.

I seem to remember writing in an earlier blog about how cancer was like a huge balloon that filled my vision. Occasionally a crisis with someone important to me would squish the balloon and allow them into view but it soon expanded again. I was assured that over time the balloon would deflate and normal ‘stuff’ would come into view again. The balloon has deflated but it reinflates periodically, pumped up by visits to the oncologist, scans, pain (OMG! I have pain in my hip, it must be a secondary cancer), cancerversaries, other people’s cancer diagnoses etc.  And this.  Obviously.

The re-inflation of the balloon is fine. I have to go with it. A month or two ago I went through a phase of waking three or four times in the night, convinced that I had cancer cells growing somewhere. I googled survival rates for my type, grade and stage of cancer which is really stupid – I’ve already been caught out by the statistics. I read academic papers that were virtually incomprehensible.  I grilled the oncologist mercilessly.  I cried frequently. People told me that I should get more counselling. However, I was fairly certain that this was just a phase that I had to go through. I had dealt with so much physically and had been focussed on surviving and getting through the pain. This was my brain catching up.

I was right. I usually am. The phase passed. I feel cheerful which is much closer to my old self.

I keep meeting my old self. I thought she was a-gonner and I missed her. But she was there, all the time, just waiting for the crisis to pass. I have also realised that it’s very hard to feel mentally upbeat when you’re physically poorly. Yes, yes, I am sure that this is obvious but it wasn’t obvious to me. We should NEVER judge people for being grumpy or irritable because we just don’t know what that person is dealing with. For most of my readers pain is temporary and you can tolerate a lot in the knowledge that it will pass. Imagine if that pain was going to be with you for ever. For me, struggling with constant ‘discomfort’ in my arm, chest and shoulder is irritating and sometimes I just want to scream. I make a joke of my arm stretching and groaning because that’s my way of dealing with stuff. The worse the pain the more terrible my jokes. But it’s still pain. So please forgive me if I snap occasionally.

Anyway, I’m wandering off topic again. The mastectomy is what I want but what I never wanted. Why would anyone want to lose a pair of lovely jugs like mine? Lovely squishy, bouncy, soft breasts. I’m still chatting with left boob and we have had some nice cuddles. I hadn’t appreciated how warm my boobs kept me. My right side is just ribs and skin after the radical mastectomy. No fat, no muscle and it’s cold! I pile up the scarves and vests and wonder if there’s a market for chest warmers.  This fella has got it sussed.

eeew man

I have a list of things to do before Monday. Any mum will relate to these items:

  • Big shop
  • Cook meals for freezer
  • Sort out the microwave (it drops bits of metal and paint into the food which I’m fairly sure is not very good)
  • Laundry up to date
  • Write daily jobs from Monday for Thing Two (her list will include putting my socks on before she goes to school, lucky girl)
  • ALL Christmas presents bought, wrapped and labelled. (EEK!)
  • Get cash
  • Petrol in car (for Thing One when she comes home)

Then there’s the dog-owner items:

  • Get Bertie’s nails clipped
  • Order dog food and treats
  • Dog walking planned (I have six people who will be wholly responsible for mad springer spaniel exercising for a while)
  • Bonnie to friend with bedding, food, leads (for a week)
  • Bertie sorted (Bertie is old, very deaf, short-sighted and bonkers and gets very distressed if he has to leave the house. So people are coming to spend time with him and to meet his very particular needs. These include being let out in the garden six times in the space of one hour every evening…..)

Very far down the list are things relating to me:

  • Pack hospital bag (front opening pyjamas, slip on shoes, baggy knickers that are easy to pull up one-handed)
  • Find bags for drain (don’t ask)
  • Everything at waist height (for about a week I won’t be able to raise my arms nor bend over so I need clothes, food, crockery, phone charger, and TEA BAGS to be accessible)
  • Pick up prescription and sort painkillers
  • Range of constipation remedies (painkillers have side effects……)
  • Pillows and cushions EVERYWHERE
  • Haircut (my hair is turning into a grey afro)
  • Sort lifts to and from Coventry. (My excellent big sister and stalwart friends once again take up their supporting roles. They’re wonderful.)

I am plodding through the list and doing some fun things too. These fun things mostly involve friends taking me out for meals. Which is nice.

On Monday I will go into hospital at about 11am but probably won’t be operated on until early evening.  I am still last on the list due to my plague status. (C.Diff).  So think of me being hungry and very thirsty through the afternoon and waiting for the chop.  Prayers and love please.

Pollyanna Moment: I’m glad, glad, glad that this will all be over by the end of the year. Apart from a new nephew and Thing Two’s GCSE results, 2016 has been mostly horrid. 2017 has to be better.

Needle count: 174. Bone scan (results later), flu jab and fun with the phlebotomists for my pre-op tests. The pre-op was a giggle as I had to jump around a bit to get my blood pressure up to acceptable levels.


Cellulitis and The Return of the Mummy’s Curse


‘Cellulitis’ must not be confused with ‘cellulite’; cellulite is the subject of many wobbly-bottomed celebrity photographs in the kind of magazines some women read on holiday. The discovery of cellulite is life-changing for a celebrity as she (it is always a woman) must then bring out a fitness DVD showing her transformation from normal curviness into the skull-faced, orange-skinned stringiness required by current standards of beauty.

Cellulitis is obviously much less serious. Granted, it is extremely painful, unsightly and unpleasant; it does bring flu symptoms and a raised temperature; it requires prompt treatment with antibiotics, often intravenously. It is the scourge of lymphedema sufferers. But no one is required to bring out a fitness DVD so we must be positive.

I had an attack of cellulitis recently. It started as a small patch of red skin in my inner elbow. The patch resembled Svalbard and my lymphedema nurse drew round it in pen. Modern medicine is very sophisticated.

“If it grows you need urgent antibiotics,” she told me.

Over the weekend Svalbard became Australia and a new peninsula stretched down towards my wrist. It was hot and it hurt. It really hurt. I was sweaty and shaky. So I had a fortnight on antibiotics and that sorted it out. More antibiotics. My body has had so many and they always upset my stomach. But the alternative is not acceptable. Australia would become South Africa, then Asia…. It had to be stopped.

Cellulitis is an infection of the deeper layers of the skin. Those of us with a damaged or depleted lymphatic system are prone to it as our bodies’ natural defences are compromised. It can often follow a small cut or insect bite, even an overenthusiastic manicure. I found no such break in the skin and my lymphedema nurse said that my cellulitis was probably due to a sore throat which, although minor, was enough to put my body under pressure. It’s nonsense, isn’t it?

What else is new in Ed-land? Well, I’m pleased with my swimming. I do twenty lengths three times a week; I try to walk 5,000 steps a day; I do physiotherapy three times a day – a series of stretches and then tugs on a band. I’m quite an athlete these days, albeit a wobbly-bottomed one. I am doing my best to get strong for my operation which is now supposed to happen on 5th December. The second mastectomy. Second and final as I only had two breasts. No more mastectomies for me. Yay! I had my pre-op last week and I’m good to go. My blood levels are better than they have been for two years. My amazing body continues to recover!

Another sign of recovery is The Return of the Mummy’s Curse. I haven’t been cursed since I started chemotherapy thirteen months ago. Chemotherapy shocked The Mummy’s Curse back into its tomb. But last week I was cursed again, rather surprisingly. It’s normal for chemotherapy to affect our bodies profoundly and no one could tell me if the withdrawal of the curse would be permanent.

“It varies.”

I am quite pleased to be cursed once more as it’s good for my bones to have some oestrogen knocking around. My bones have taken a bit of a battering from chemotherapy and radiotherapy and need all the help they can get.

Speaking of bones, I have a bone scan this week. I don’t like bone scans; there are too many needles (two for people with normal veins, around seven for people with tricky veins like mine) and too long waiting for the radiation to seep into the bones – up to four hours hanging around during which time I am not supposed to mix with children or pregnant women and have to use a radioactive toilet. The bone scan is required because I have a persistent pain in my left hip. It’s my own fault for mentioning the pain to the oncologist in a recent consultation in response to the question,

“Do you have any new pain?”

The old me would not have mentioned it. But of course things are different now and nothing is to be gained from not mentioning stuff.

Pollyanna moment: I’m glad, glad, glad that my mammogram was clear.  I’m glad, glad, glad that I will have had my op by the end of the year. 2017 is going to be better. I’m glad, glad, glad that I am getting stronger each day and able to do some normal things. Last week I even went to a party IN THE EVENING! OK, I only managed an hour, but it was still a party.

Needle count: 168 My veins are getting worse and worse and even the experienced phlebotomists need a few tries these days. What fun it is, having a blood test. How we laugh.



keep-calm-and-put-the-kettle-onOn Thursday I am having a mammogram and seeing my surgeon.  We will be discussing my second mastectomy, scheduled for 7 November.  This is all fine.  It’s what I want.  I’ve struggled through this long, hot, dreadful summer with one boob bobbing around in a lonely disorganised manner and I’ve had enough of it.  Whilst others have rejoiced in the sunshine I either sweated under scarves and cardigans draped over my craterous caved-in lumpy side or had to tolerate the stares.  And people do stare.  I haven’t quite worked out what to do with the starers.  Some women get t shirts made with challenging legends:

My other one tried to kill me

It’s rude to stare

Flat and Fabulous

Others approach people and offer to explain why they’re flat, aiming to educate and inform.  I’m English so I just pretend that it’s not happening.  It works for me.  I’ve started swimming again (hurrah!) and I’m so blind without my glasses that I can pretend that people aren’t staring.  Except for that man in the changing room who did such a comedy double take at my chest that I laughed.  Sometimes I wonder what the starers are thinking.

Poor woman.  She must have had a mastectomy.


She’s so brave, coming swimming when she looks like a freak.


That’s disgusting.  She shouldn’t be allowed in the swimming pool.  Or out of her house at all.


Why isn’t she wearing a prosthesis?  Does she want everyone to stare at her?

or more likely….

What’s for tea?  I hope it’s sausages. I must remember to post that letter on the way home..

It was Thing Two who got me swimming again.  We were on a beach in Wales and I’d managed to struggle into my ultra modest high necked tankini and skirted bottoms.  The French police would probably have arrested me for covering up too much and potentially concealing a Kalashnikov up the leg of my shorts, or a suicide vest.  (That’s not a suicide vest, officer….that’s my belly!)  Anyway, I looked up and down the beach.  Because it was gorgeous North Wales, there weren’t many people about.  A few.  I asked Thing Two for her opinion.  You can always rely on Thing Two to be honest and so I braced myself.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” she said, after inspecting me.  “You look like a woman with one breast.  But no one cares.  Get in the sea.”

So I did.  And I had the most amazing swim and cried with happiness.

I do try to get on with false boobs.  Honest I do.  Periodically I try Priscilla prosthesis but find her sweaty, sticky and jangling to the raw nerves and recovering skin of my chest.


Priscilla is beautiful; properly positioned she looks and feels like a real breast. I’m always inviting people to give her a squeeze.  Friends, family, the postman….  Except she doesn’t feel like a real breast to me. She feels like a cold, solid lump of silicone stuffed down my chest.  I have such a crater that there’s a huge hole between her back and my chest wall.  I stuff it with silk scarves and consider taking Priscilla shoplifting.  I could fit a bag of peas down there easily.  I doubt that the shop assistants in Sainsbury’s would dare to challenge me to remove my breast.  Maybe they would.  Maybe it’s a common problem – people sneaking bottles of whisky into their prosthetic limb and tubs of taramasalata behind their phoney breasts.  It would be terrible if the taramasalata leaked though….

Then there’s the knitted knockers.  These are soft cotton boobs knitted with love by kind people.  They come in a box wrapped beautifully with a card wishing you the best with your treatment.  I cried when I received mine because the compassion that had gone into their knitting and wrapping was tangible.  But there’s a problem:  I want to get on with my knitted knocker but I just can’t.  It’s not heavy enough to hold its own in a bra straining to retain the remaining left boob.  The knitted knocker ends up under my chin.  It has been suggested that I add some ballast in the form of curtain weights or ball bearings but I don’t want to clank and clink.  And anything pressing on my chest feels like I am being brushed with stinging nettles.  So the knocker gets yanked out of the bra and flung across the room.  I am most definitely not knocking knitted knockers;  I know that many women find them much more comfortable and gentler on scarred irradiated skin than silicone.  I think that my problem is one of engineering and balance and I hope that when I have no boobs I may find them more tolerable.

Bras are tight uncomfortable things, especially when you’re big-boobed.  There is always that moment of the day when you take your bra off and your whole body heaves a sigh of relief. AAAAAAAHHHH!  Keeping left boob under control is a daily challenge for me; whatever I wear – bras, camis, or cropped tops I get swelling and pain on the right side where the elastic digs in.  This undoubtedly interfered with healing from the first mastectomy and the radiation burns that came later.  It doesn’t help with my lymphedema either.  So when left boob is gone I will have a period of healing where I don’t have to wear a bra.  I wonder if I’ll ever wear one again.

This blog post was supposed to be about my mammogram on Thursday and I have digressed a bit.  Apologies, dear reader.  I have to confess that I am scared £&*tless about the mammogram.  For the first time since chemotherapy I have mouth ulcers; my stomach keeps doing flip flops; I’m not sleeping well.  I know that this is silly.  I know that the chance of there being anything sinister going on in left boob is remote.  My intelligent brain knows this.  So why do I have ulcers and nightmares and feel sick?  Why am I convinced that my left breast harbours murderous intent?  We have a very difficult relationship and some strange conversations:

“Look, you’re just being ridiculous.  I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I know, but you being there….you’re just so heavy and difficult to deal with.”

“It’s hard for me too since you took my pal away.  I’m lonely and there’s no one to snuggle up to.”

“She nearly killed me!”

“It wasn’t her fault.  She tried to tell you but you were looking in all the wrong places.  You don’t have to chop me off though.  I promise to be good.”

“I can’t trust you.  I’m sorry, but you’ve got to go.”

“But I wouldn’t hurt you.  I’ve been with you for decades.  I’ve been such an asset.  I got you all that attention, I was there for all the fun times, I nursed your babies, I propped up your books, kept you warm….”

“Sorry, but my mind is made up.  It’s just too hard trying to manage you, and worrying about what you might do to me.”

“So mean!”

As you can see, I’m a bit unhinged at the moment.  Bear with me.

Pollyanna Moment:  I’m glad, glad, glad to be swimming again, even if I am very slow and frequently overtaken by the elderly and infirm.

Needle Count: 165