Tuesday, July 31, 2007

There's a madcap banger rally born every minute

Part of the fun of old banger rallies is the network it creates. A network of slightly mental people, from all walks of life, who may be mad about cars or just mad about travel, but who constantly come up with increasingly madcap schemes for the next rally.

Since doing the original PDC, I've looked at the possibilities and they are endless.

The Mongol Rally
Reliants to Russia (run by some ex PDC mentalists who call themselves Extreme Trifle)
Pizzas to Palermo (also an Extreme Trifle project)
The Ring Sting (ditto above, this one's about driving Honda C90 mopeds to the Nurburgring and complete a lap... presumably very slowly).
Rickshaw Rampage (also Extreme Trifle, this one does what it says on the tin, more or less)
The Greaseball Rally (a eco-friendly biodiesel rally stateside)
The Crumball Rally (incorporating The Italian Job and Thundercrawl - the weekend break of the old banger rally world)

These are all run around themes, geographical or automotive.

But there are plenty of less well 'branded' rallies that just involves nutters we know procuring an old car, fixing a point in a map and just going.

The latest two ideas?

1) Run from the sun

Should have been called Run to the sun but the user group name was already taken on Yahoo. So Run from the Sun it is. This is a jaunt to the heart of central Asia, virtually China, to go and witness the total solar eclipse due on 1 Aug next year.

2) No name Iran

Julian Nowill, loveable and slightly mad stockbroker and founder of the PDC, has suggested he will be driving an old motor to Iran next Easter. If anyone wants to come along, they're welcome. Cool.

The latter will be truly disorganised and wonderful for it. The former will be debated endlessly in terms of routes (shall we go visit Chernobyl en route or take the Southern leg?) but will ultimately descend into friendly anarchy.

This is how I like my rallies. With just a smidgen of forethought and very little actual preparation.

Perfect chaos.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The last of the busy weekends

Phew! It's the 30th July!

Which means I've made it to the end of a really busy month, with two chemos, without getting REALLY sick. I think.

I've ticked off most of the things I was booked in to do, had to cancel or postpone a few of them, but most importantly, the diary is now relatively free and I do not feel the never ending pressure that I was under a few weeks ago (self-induced of course - no sympathy required).

I have of course, had two chemos, vomiting at both of them, followed both of them with dodgy stomachs (I'm hoping my current hostage to the toilet situation will ease off - started yesterday and last night was very difficult - it's hard to sleep when you just cannot stop going...) but am more or less out the other side and staring my last chemo (two weeks time) in the face.

This last weekend we had a wedding on Saturday, followed by an Open Day at the Royal Enfield importers (those classic British bikes that they now only make in India) followed by a drop in at a surprise birthday thing for a friend.

Sensibly, we'd thought ahead and advised the wedding hosts that we would stay for the ceremony, and the early drinks/canapes part of reception, but not for the sit down meal. Getting drunk, or even just eating rare red meat on Saturday in the company of a bunch of people getting drunk, would have killed me. Having said that, I found it remarkably easy to knock back a couple of glasses of champagne and wolf down a few halloumi and salmon canapes. They were delicious and thankfully sat well with my stomach. A real treat - party food I could eat!

Food and drink at venues and parties becomes such an issue on chemo. You never quite know what is the right thing to do. But I could hardly turn up at a wedding with a packed lunch (though we had secreted a big bag of pretzels in the car just in case!).

Certainly, I was really glad to have made it down there. The bride is a good friend and looked gorgeous. Plus there were a couple of people I hadn't seen in years who it was lovely to catch up with. And her family are lovely - and have been very supportive over this whole thing. Her mother whispered in my ear at one point that there were about 8 women there who had been through breast cancer. It is, as ever, everywhere. Did I just not see it before, or was it never really spoken about in public?

We left the wedding at 7pm and drove back home for an early night. The next day, we were off to an Open Day at the Royal Enfield importers near Chipping Campden. For once this English summer was smiling on us and the rain forecast for Sunday actually rained itself out on Saturday night and we drove up into the Cotswolds with blue skies and Simpsons' style clouds as far as the eye could see.

R test rode an Enfield Elektra - the modern version of the bike - and then took a Trail bike version off road on a small muddy track. His off road experience stood him in good stead, as he managed to stand on the pegs and carry the bike round the mud despite (or perhaps because of) the large crowd that had suddenly gathered to watch him. I even got a ride in a sidecar - which was great fun.

Then homeward bound, via a friend's in Surbiton for a not so surprise celebration for her husband's birthday. We were also late. The surprise party was scheduled for lunchtime and the afternoon. When we turned up at 6.30pm most had already gone but we stayed, ate more yummy party food, and chatted about pretty much everything.

Home by 9.30pm, in bed by 11.30pm, then awake again from 1 til 3 running backwards and forwards to the loo. Not sure what yummy party food was responsible (I think it was me rather than the food - I just should have been strong and avoided the brie) but I feel rotten now. Dehydrated and scared of eating anything much. I was meant to be in work today. But with not much too do, and feeling this rotten, I made an executive decision and stayed home. I need to get seven months of timesheets done - and this afternoon is looking perfect for that particularly fun piece of admin.

But right now my eyelids are fading and a snooze is tempting.

God I cannot wait to get my energy back. I feel like a small child or an old lady - always wanting to sleep or doze off. I'm even wearing thermal leggings right now because I'm cold.

Lets just cut to the chase, get me a granny blanket and call me Bridget!

Knitting as therapy

Since my last post I was doing the usual mong like recovery from the dosing in drugs I received last week. The lorazepam was getting me to sleep at night but during the day I felt fuzzy and spaced, and increasingly forgetful (welcome back my memory loss drug...).

I dabbled in staying in touch with work: making it on a pitch list on Thursday evening led to a flurry of excited phone calls; filling in a consultant's questionnaire; and get this, reading a book called BrandGym on the loo - how dedicated is that when my bathroom reading moves away from discarded sunday supplements and Geographical magazines to something dangerously close to being full of marketing bullshit.

But most of the time I sat on the sofa, monged out of my head, and made small in-roads into knitting various items. I have completed two hats. Both of which I have cocked up the sizing on so they are too large and look a little tea cosy ish. However, when my hair returns, maybe this will pad them out and mean they are perfect? Either way, they are cosy and i made them. So I'm proud of my own handiwork, however crap it is... Here's one of them...

I am now starting on a pair of hand warmers (or tramp gloves as R calls them) in the same wool as one of the hats. Plus a cute baby's bonnet thing with ears and eyes for a friend's newborn. But I keep making mistakes on the latter so it may not see the light of day.

R wants me to knit him a naff jumper. Like the sort that your grandma used to knit for you at Christmas and you'd have to wear for that one day a year to save her feelings. Except this one would have a twist. Instead of reindeers, or your name, it would have some rude, crude and offensive statement on it. Like "I am a twat" only if R had his way, probably ruder. He reckons it's a business idea. I'd agree if it wasn't for the fact that he's relying on me for his workforce. That would push the overheads up a bit...

But knitting is good therapy. Quite apart from the fact it's a practical solution to my problem (no hair? just knit yourself some...), the repetitive nature and detail of getting the stitches right is strangely soothing when my brain is full of cotton wool and the drugs just make me mong. You can see why basket weaving goes down so well for psychiatric patients. Pumped full of drugs, whether a mental patient or undergoing chemo, that blank-stare, non-thinking, yet doingandachieving action of something like knitting strikes just the right balance.

It's far better than starting a work email, or phone call, losing your thread halfway through and forgetting what it was you wanted to say in the first place and ending up feeling pretty pathetic.

I recommend it to you all.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mambo no 5


There is a side-effect of chemo known as anticipatory nausea.

I'd always felt immune to that because I'd never felt nauseous from the treatment, until the last treatment that is.

After the last treatment I finally gave in, involuntarily I might add, and ended up having a good old chunder. What I didn't realise is that it would make me feel pre-emptively sick before yesterday's treatment. It started at home, in the morning, a light feeling of nausea.

When we got to the day care centre it accelerated into full blown waves of feeling like I was about to throw up. Triggered by sights and smells associated with the treatment - a wiff of antisceptic wipe, the sight of the nurse gently pushing the hyperdermic full of the epirubicin. I asked her to hold a sick bowl nearby just in case. With that many wires, drip stands, bags of fluid and needles hanging off me, I wouldn't know how to disentangle myself if I did have to run for it.

Thanks to them pumping me full of dexamethasone, lorezapam and domperidone I managed to hold off vomiting until I was safe at home, the drugs wearing off, and the mere action of opening the fridge to put some food away made me run for the loo. This time, thanks to the epirubicin, everything was very, very red.

I gave back in to the lorezapam last night and took some of that instead of using the lighter sleeping pill, zolpicline. Lorez may turn me into a space cadet and be harder to wean off, but it doubles as an anti-nausea drug so at this stage, with work easing off as we head into August, and only one treatment to go, I just don't care.

However, it was only at 10pm tonight I realised I had clean forgotten my doctor's appointment to get my Neulasta injection to boost those white blood cells. But the nurse on 24 hr call at The Harley Street Clinic reassures me I have at least another 24 hours before the benefit starts wearing off, so I'll call into the GP's surgery first thing and face the wrath of their receptionist. I'll just have to play the cancer card and they will just have to live with it...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Winner of the Best Dressed Twat Award

Spotted this weekend at Lovebox...

...and he's not posing for this photo. It's a completely candid shot. Honest...

Guilfest 1 Lovebox 0

This weekend we were at Lovebox. A festival hotly tipped to be the trendiest festival outside of Glastonbury. Started up as club nights by Groove Armada, Lovebox grew to become a one day summer outing on the Common. This year, it's a two dayer with an enviable eclectic line up.

We arrived Saturday with great expectations. One of the two 'ummissable' bands on our Saturday agenda was Super Furry Animals who were, for some obscure reason, the first band on the main stage. Quite why they didn't get a later billing was beyond us, but SFA fans, we decided to get out of bed on time to make their 1 o'clock start time.

We get to the festival entrrance at about 12.45. There's a huge queue. Given they were due to open the gates at 10am and acts on other stages started as early as noon, this was not a good sign. We hear contrasting rumours in the queue. Some say it's a security alert, others give Friday's monsoon-like deluge as the reason for the delay (stall holders and stage management being unable to set up under such wet conditions).

I leave R guarding our spot in the queue and wander to the front to find out what's going on. Two different security guards and event officials reassure me that they are about to open (it's now just gone 1 o'clock) and that all the bands have been delayed accordingly so we shouldn't miss anything we came to see.

The gates open, the queue system falls apart, but we benefit from this and get through in reasonably quick time, considering the mass of people the guards are dealing with. Even so, it's about a quarter to two as we make our way through the festival site to find the main stage. As we round the corned I see the lead singer from SFA on the big screen. There's an embarrassingly small crowd in front of them. And they're halfway through The Man Don't Give a Fuck. The song they always play at the end of their gigs.

We're just in time to see Gryff hoist his red bike helmet onto his head and wander off stage. Then the heavens open and it starts to pour with rain. It's a great start to the day.

We then while away five hours waiting until Blondie come on. When they do they seem to be playing a good set but the sound is shit. You can hardly hear Debbie Harry and the rest of the band sound like they are playing underwater.

The place is also full of very young, slightly scuzzy, London kids. All fashion victims to a tee. Girls in micro denim shorts, over black footless tights. Electric blue bomber jackets and pink outsized wayfarers. And those are the ones dressing 'mainstream'. The real trendies are wearing thriftshop dresses, cinched in with sequinned waistbands, worn over cherry or mustard coloured opaque tights with plimsolls. Or a sort of fucked up Kids from Fame look with purple leotard tights, under a micro-shorts playsuit, over the top of a retro kids programme t-shirt. Some were even wearing Saturday Night Fever style glittery headbands. The men are doing the ironic 70s sportswear thing well. There is more than one group of boys who look like their fashion heroes are the 118 men. Others are in the boy band uniform of ohsoskinny black drainpipes, misfitting faux school blazer and a pork pie hat. It's all too weird. Suddenly Guilfest seems like home sweet home among this sea of self-conscious youth.

And as Blondie launch into Tide is High they give themselves away. One of the more skanky teens, dressed in micro denim shorts with a customised white vest and sun visor and big big shades. As Debbie Harry sings the words "The tide is high but I'm holding on", sun visor girl turns to her friend and shrieks "Awwwh! I fort this was by Atomic Kitten!"

The highlight of our festival experience was discovering the lovely Granny's Tea Shop. A small wooden cabin decked out cottage style with tables and chairs surronding it, manned by women and men dressed as grannies. Their point of difference was clear on their chalk sign out the front "Normal-i-Tea". Tea and cake for £2.50.

Given the stall round the corner was doing only a Mint Tea with Honey for the same price, yet Granny's Tea Shop's offer included a big mug of builder's tea with a massive slab of W.I. cake, it was not a bad offer.

Plus the amusement factor from the people manning the stall was second to none. We whiled away our tea break watching one organise Zimmerframe races. Class entertainment...

Tales from London Transport no 3

I hadn't meant to write three posts in a row about this sort of thing, it just happened that way. Honest.

Yesterday morning, R and I are on our way to Lovebox (a music festival which ain't worth the money - more later). We're harrassed, running later than planned, and the lateness was my fault, which made me all tearful and stressed out (everything this weekend has made me tearful and stressed out, so this was not hard). I'm wrung out by the last three weeks of doing far too much and the cracks are starting to show...

We're on the Central line and although the tears have passed, the day has started badly. Then a woman gets on. R stares at her and then I realise why. She's red in the face, wearing Nike gear, and a race number. She's just run Race for Life for Cancer Research. To top it all, she has a pink ribbon on her top.

She sits and catches us staring. She smiles and nods at me and my baldness.

In my emotional state, the thought of this woman raising money for something so important to me right now is overwhelming. I smile weakly back at her and then turn my face away, ashamed of the tears I am now crying.

As we leave the tube I talk to her, explaining I'm feeling a little tired and emotional and the thought of people raising money for what I'm going through just pushed me over the edge. She is full of enthusiasm for the day "You should have seen it. 8,000 women all running for cancer. It was amazing!"

The tube doors are almost about to close, I have to leave. And I walk away even more emotional than before. Having lived a lucky, comfortable, middle-class kind of a life, I've raised money for charity but have never yet been in a position where I may be the beneficiary. The thought of all these people running around town, busting a gut for cancer research - it's all very touching and I make my way with R to the worst festival we've been at for a while, wiping yet more tears from my eyes.

This whole chemo-fatigue thing. It plays havoc with your emotions. I am worse than in my worst PMT moments.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tales from London Transport no 2

Coming home late from Ealing Broadway last night was annoying as hell yet strangely touching.

Annoying as hell because the journey took twice as long as it should have done, I became desperate for the loo and had to resort to using scuzzy station loos (sometimes I am very grateful that I currently carry antibacterial hand gel around in my handbag) and by the time I eventually got to Wimbledon the overland had stopped and I ended up having to get a cab home anyway.

Strangely touching because a complete stranger kissed me. I was being gently heckled by an old Irish drunk opposite me. I was knitting and he thought this was brilliantly clever and decided to ask all the other girls in the carriage if they could knit. Given I'd only started knitting again for the first time since I was 10 years old two weeks ago, I felt a little fraudulent. When the woman next to me admitted to the Irishman that she hadn't knitted since childhood I admitted this to her, explaining that I was knitting a hat to replace my temporary loss of hair. Turned out her aunt had recently got the all-clear after going through the same thing.

The drunk got off at the next stop but we chatted all the way down the line. When she and her boyfriend got off at East Putney she wished me luck, hovered for a moment indecisively, then leant forward and gave me a sudden kiss on the cheek.

I was embarrassed in that English way, and said something stupid like "Thank you, I'll see you soon". (When, exactly, I wondered after the words had left my mouth?)

But it was strangely touching. It is bizarre how this disease has the capacity to create such intimacy and empathy among strangers.

I remember feeling the same way, the day of diagnosis, when the lady who I'd been talking to earlier who had turned 70 that day, emerged with teary eyes from the nurse's room after getting her news. She looked so lost. I had an inkling of what she was going through (being thirty minutes ahead of her in the process) but I couldn't put it into words. I just remember thinking how unfair it was for her to have the disease, especially as it was her birthday. All I could do was give her a big hug.

And now I'm getting hugs and kisses from strangers on tubes.

I'm just glad it was the nice, sober girl and not the mad, Irish drunk who took pity on me.

Thank you, East Putney lady...

Tales from London Transport no 1


Yesterday I took the train into work, just like every other day over the last two weeks.

Except because I was involved in a 9 o'clock meeting I had to actually get one at the proper, full-on rush hour time (rather than linger in bed because I am officially allowed to be 'tired' and have lie-ins at the moment and come in much later when the madness has died down). So, as it was full-on rush hour, there was no chance of getting a seat. In fact, there was barely a chance of squeezing into the carriage at all.

The day before, there were no seats but the fact it was less crowded in the standing area meant a nice man spotted me and offered up his instead.

Yesterday, I was elbow to elbow with a bunch of commuters, all in our own little miserable worlds. Being nowhere near the seats, and in a forest of bodies, there was no way anyone would even see me to let me blag a seat*.

However, when I got to my meeting, one of the guys involved, who I'd never met before, announced he recognised me from the train that morning.

"We both got on the same train at Earlsfield this morning" he said, "I was standing right next to you".

Strangely, I did not remember him from the journey.

It seems I stand out a little more from the crowd at the moment. Wonder why.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Much too much on


Write presentation, go to meeting, go home, go to work, go to Guilfest, three days running. Rock with the oldies to classic bands like Supergrass (hey, they were 90s, that was only yesterday), Madness (80s, we're getting on a bit here) and Squeeze (positively ancient but very very good). Hide in the comedy tent when the rain fell down. Get home, stay up late knitting (I'm so rock and roll), go to work, write presentations, provide estimates, write case studies, have meetings, go to open air theatre and see gershwin play, enjoy picnic and ambience and company but not the bloody music and jazz hands, go home and stay up late knitting (again), go to work and finish presentations, off now to meet ex colleague to find out how he's getting on, followed by race to a church hall to meet R to play badminton. And tomorrow it's more presentations, more cost estimates, more meetings, followed by the Ealing comedy festival in the evening, another day at work and the Lovebox Weekender music festival on saturday and sunday.

I never thought I'd find myself looking forward to chemo, but I can't wait for next Tuesday to put an end to all this madness and get some peace.

I'm actually having a good time, but I'm knackered. I've taken too much on, again. It will serve me right if I get ill again but so far I seem to be holding out. Just.

As long as I make it to next week I'll be ok. Next week seems to herald the start of silly season professionally. The yanks will have gone home, every marketing director in London is on holiday with their family, and half the agency will be on a beach. I'll be alternating between the sick bed (or more precisely, sick sofa) and the desk, but will be twiddling my thumbs in both places, wondering where everybody's gone.

But at least it will give me a chance to get my breath back.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Guy walks into a bar, steals laptops, leaves

I never 'go out' in London with my laptop. Normally I only ever carry it directly between work and home and do not linger. If I was to meet a friend, I'd leave my machine at work (I would probably have no time to use it that evening anyway).

However, after suddenly falling ill the other week and finding myself stranded at home without my laptop for several days, I have taking my laptop home with me every night, just in case. This meant it would occasionally come out to dinner with me and a friend, or as was the case of last Monday, out for a swift visit to John Lewis's haberdashery department with Jenny my new knitting consultant (more on that later) followed by a quick fruit smoothie thing in a bar round the corner.

Only trouble was, when I got up to go, my handbag and two John Lewis bags were still at my feet but my rucksack containing my laptop, and all the paperwork ready for a meeting I had the next day, had vanished.

The Manager reviewed the CCTV footage to see what she could see. She saw us chatting, bags at our feet, and admitted to me later that because of the waywe had positioned our bags, there was no way anybody could have taken them without us noticing. She assumed we must have left it in a cab.

But she acknowledges that what happened next was a stunningly professional bag theft. And she's seen a few in her time.

A guy walks into the bar, pausing in the doorway to scout around (looking for victims? cameras? who knows) and walks with confidence up the steps to the mezzanine where we sat. He's 'on' his mobile, looking like he's looking for someone. As he walks past our table he scoops up the bag without a moment's hesitation and without ducking down at all (his shortness helps him avoid us noticing him picking it up).

And here's the clever bit.

He deposits the bag he has just picked up within 3 feet of where it was. He has simply scooped it up from our feet at our table and dropped it silently at the table directly behind us. It has barely moved. He continues walking and talking on his phone without missing a beat.

If anyone had noticed him move the bag, this is when we would have reacted, and he could have simply shrugged it off, pretending he'd knocked it by mistake.

He turns at the end of the mezzanine level and hovers, all the while chatting on his phone. Has anyone reacted? No. He wanders back to the table behind us and sits down.

The bag now looks like it is his, it's at his feet at the table he's sat at. But even if we turned and challenged him now, he'd still be able to pretend it was all a big mistake.

But we are oblvious. You can see the eyelines on the footage, and how he cleverly avoids our gaze.

After 30 seconds at the table he slings the bag onto his shoulder and wanders out, going into the back of the bar and down the rear steps to avoid having to pass me again.

Barely five minutes passes before I discover the theft and I am livid. It's a work laptop, and they are insured, but the sheer waste depresses me, not to mention the audacity of the crime. Watching on CCTV is fascinating - I feel like it's one of those TV programmes where they showcase the perfect crime on unwitting members of the public. Only I have no TV crews descending on me to 'reveal all' and give me my laptop back. Mine has gone for good.

Thank god it wasn't my handbag. That had EVERYTHING in it.

The upside was that rather than race home and work on a presentation, all I could do was go out for pizza with Jenny to commiserate. See, every cloud does have a silver lining...

And since then I am weighing up my current career vs a life of crime. It seems all you need is a certain brazenness. If you approach anything with enough confidence people will assume you know what you are doing and you are meant to be there.

Pretty much like new business in advertising but I bet it pays better.

Why no blog

The distinct lack of posts over the last week is down to two things:

1. My laptop got pinched last Monday night so I have been limited to blogging from the office (which would probably get me sacked if I did it too often) whilst waiting for the replacement laptop and then waiting for me to get my arse into gear and replace all the software and get it hooked up to my home connection again.

2. In the meantime, as the British office summertime appears to officially start this Friday, after which I have no meetings in my diary until the end of August, everyone is busy trying to fit in everything they need to do so I am manic. Plus we have the agency's US based owner-directors over this week so yours truly has to present to them quite how great we are doing at new business despite the apparent lack of new clients. Hmmm. Anyway, suffice to say I am busy at work.

3. And I am busy at home. It's week two/week three time and the diary is fully booked. Saw two friends last week in the evenings and ended up having to cancel a third because I needed an early night to prepare for the weekend. Which we spent at Guilfest. Well, at Guilfest during the day and home in my own bed at night. No point camping it up when it's only 20 miles away. Saw Charlotte Hatherley, Supergrass, Jimmy Cliff, Captain, The Magic Numbers, Madness and Squeeze. I've now seen Cool for Cats live on stage. I can die happy.

Anyway, more later today once I'm hooked up at home. Or if I get a chance over lunchtime.

Promises, promises.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

An Ornithologist's Guide: The Blue Tit

I've tussled with whether or not to put this photo up. It was taken with R's phone the afternoon after my operation and shows my blue tit, in most of its glory.

But I've banged on about my blue nipple enough (it is no longer THAT blue) and I've cropped the shot so that you don't actually see any real nipple.

Frankly, once you've had breast cancer, your boob becomes objectified to such a point I no longer see it as such a 'private' part. I've whipped it out for doctors, nurses, radiologists, oncologists - why not for friends, relatives, colleagues and internet voyeurs too?

So publish and be damned, here is my blue, radioactive tit. From 1 April 2007.

Isn't it weird? Radioactive blue boob!

I am such a freak show...

Hostage to your own health

Monday brought with it an appointment with the breast surgeon. Professor Mokbel had requested a check up. It's been three months and counting since the lumpectomy and he just wanted to have a prod, or clinical exam as it's technically known, and see whether everything was feeling normal now that the scar tissue from the op has softened up a bit.

He very sweetly said my boobs were actually extremely soft. That's a good thing healthwise (lumps bad, soft good) but it also felt like something I could be quite proud of on a personal level. I mean, nooone wants pointy hard boobs do they?

We also talked about radiotherapy and what would come after. I'd sort of already had part of these conversations with my oncologist, Dr Alison Jones, as well, but as they both seemed to be saying the same thing it was reassuring to discuss it all again.

Two more treatments of chemo, finishing up the cycle of the last treatment by the first week of September. Kick off with six weeks of radiotherapy appointments, once a day, every day (bar weekends) at the same time each day.

Did I want the appointments at Parkside, a hospital in Wimbledon, or in central London? Central London, please. I explained my plan to cycle to and from the hospital. He looked impressed. Or disbelieving - can't be sure which. Either way, even if I had a 9am appointment at the Wimbledon location, it would still be less convenient than the central London mid-morning or late afternoon cycling plan. And I would probably fail to take the pushbike and therefore still be the size of a house come November.

And then the good news. Post-rads, apparently I am not scheduled for a mammogram until April next year. I can have the follow up ultrasound whenever I want to schedule it - November, December, whenever. But the mammogram is a fixed, yearly appointment every year for as long as I breathe. Which sounds tough but actually I had been led to believe that I would initially be required for check scans EVERY 3 mths until they decided to relax it to 6 mths, and then to a year etc.

So the idea of merely being tied to a yearly mammogram feels rather liberating by comparison. I virtually skipped out of the hospital, feeling freer than I have done in a while.

There is nothing more frustrating than feeling hostage to your own health.

And for the first time in three months, I'm feeling a little more master, a little less servant.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Misty-water coloured memories...

PDC, 2005-06. A certain pink lady and some camels.

I love the desert...

Cars and kites and mud and sand

Somewhere in a field in Devon on Friday night, we met up with a bunch of other Plymouth-Dakar, London-Tashkent and T4 Challenge rally veterans.

I'm still churning from the chemo and the specially installed portaloos do not appeal. But my mistake of trying one of the generously provided (but too rich for my current constutional state) hog roast sandwiches means I am forced to stumble into these dark chambers and scrabble around, trying not to touch anything. It's a good thing I brought the extra anti-bacterial wash and an even better thing we are booked into a B&B down the road with a clean, safe loo of our very own.

The inevitable happens. Boys and old cars and an empty field. They take turns racing around the ruts and the mud, spinning donuts and horsing about. Oren rides on Tim's roof. Except it's not Tim's roof. Tim's sister has trustingly lent him her car for the weekend. Does she know what these weekends are like? My car keys are zipped safely into my pocket at all times. The suspension on the Peugeot has started creaking and the exhaust is already rusty. I do not need it to die in a field in Devon tonight.

Thankfully noone dies, no cars expire. Light fails and we resort to chocolate cake and cider and lighting bonfires. I ride a mini moto round the field. Very slowly. The teenager it belongs to goes embarrasingly faster on it. I think it's a weight thang...

It was a great evening but was followed by a dreadful night's sleep. Getting to bed at half twelve in our B&B, I realise once tucked up that my sleeping pills are on the floor of the passenger seat. It took me lying awake failing to sleep until after 3am to give in and go and fetch them. I tiptoed across the gravel drive of the B&B like a burglar, got my pills, only to return to the house and find the pig sandwich was not yet done with its revenge. Eventually I fell asleep around 4.30am.

The next day we head for the north coast to Saunton Sands. The kids, so called because of their youthfulness and great line in pranks and japes, have all sorts of toys with them. One is a stunt kite.

We spend the next four hours untangling lines and taking turn flying this thing. Or should I say, letting this thing fly us.

The power of the kite is amazing. I am scared but exhilarated - but have enough after a few goes (my shoulders still ache now) and leave the boys to it. The others surf, and eat ice cream, and we all get very sandy.

Later that night, back at the field, the 300 or so other entrants and veterans of this year's Plymouth-Dakar have turned up. Julian, our erstwhile Disorganiser, strolls around in a voluminous white bou-bou, the traditional dress worn by the Bedouin guides in Mauritania - a must rally souvenir for any self respecting veteran.

Others are wearing old russian army hats, sombreros, jellabas, matching team overalls, anything goes. Me in my tweed trilby, I suddenly feel quite normal.

Speeches are made and as veterans we're pounced upon by some fresh faced newbies. Everything wants to know what car to take, is it dangerous, what do you use to bribe people with? It's always the same questions and we try and pass on some common sense and encourage people not to assume that you need to bribe your way through Africa (although arguably there are times when it is easiest all round) but they will do it their way and each team will have to decide for themselves.

Then we collect our little group of vets and head back down to the tents for a showing of the film that Karl made from last winter's trip to Mali. Lots of memories. Including this one:

Our team was called Team Lionel Shapiro, in honour of an unsolicited (and eventually retracted) online complaint from someone of the same name. On the road to Timbuctou, Frankie stopped to chat with some local kids. The results are on the video. Jackass-style, the kids chant in time to her lead, their mouths feeling out the foreign syllables...

"My name is Lionel Shapiro, and this is the T4 Challenge."


Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday comes and the fog is slowly lifting

Well, I was meant to be at a client meeting in High Wycombe this morning. Selling our agency in to a potential pitch for something tasty in a jar.

But in the spirit of saying no more (I do listen to my oncologist and my breast care nurse when they both independently tick me off) and because this chemo has been particularly tough (throwing up, diarrohea, lack of sleep because I have upped the steroid intake because of the nausea, and perhaps most significantly, I've found it a lot harder emotionally without R around to distract me with bad puns and organise my daytime TV viewing schedule for me), I decided it just wasn't worth it and shock horror, my colleagues could probably, at a pinch, cope without me.

So I fired off the deck that I had written with their input yesterday, over the remote server connection to the office server (which is so cool to have for these days at home but has taken me until chemo 4 battling with our very laid back IT manager to get sorted!).

And today brings organisation into my life. After three days of head down the loo, monging on the sofa (give or take the five laborious hours it took me to write the presentation yesterday - chemo slows your brain down quite significantly - it would normally have taken me about 2 hours max) the house is a mess and I am slowly getting it together again. A bit of work on another presentation for next week, and then after lunch I'll pick up the car, go pick up R off the bus and then we'll drive to Devon for the weekend to catch up with rally people in a big muddy field.

I feel bad not going into the office this morning because I usually make it in by the Friday after Chemo, but I just cannot summon up enough energy to do the commute for a half day (had the afternoon booked off to get to devon on time anyway) when I can access email and the server from home and do anything that needs to be done here without exhausting myself unnecessarily.

So be it. I have two more sessions left and i do not want to kill myself before the gruelling regime of radiotherapy starts. I've been told to say no more - so I'm trying to exercise it.

So here's to trying to have a quiet weekend in Devon. Should be feasible. The first Plymouth-Dakar rally launch/reunion I went to was a raucous, debauched affair. I got hideously drunk on cider and some guys raced an old banger round and round the centre of the field (also, no doubt, hideously drunk on cider, making those that had pitched their tents a little too close to the improptu racetrack a little nervous every time the Nissan slid by on two tires) until they burnt the clutch out. Later that evening someone torched the car. This led to weeks of pompous debate online as to 'the type of person the rally was now attracting'.

Two years on, and we're going to catch up with people we know from previous rallies. And maybe intidimate a few novices for sport. But those we're catching up with are a small number, amongst whom there aren't that many big drinkers, plus you've got me on chemo and another girl around 5 months pregnant. So it will be a subtle affair, with R and I sloping off to our pre-booked B&B. No bad-sleep-camping experiences for me the first weekend after chemo thank you very much.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Finally getting to drive the porcelain bus

(With thanks to Roger's Profanisaurous, pictured above).

So far during my chemo I have avoided the most feared side effect - vomiting.

Sadly, I have broken my chunder cherry and finally succumbed.

About half an hour before going to bed last night I felt faintly nauseaus. I had just taken my sleeping pill to counteract the steroids they give you to avoid the nausea, but was not due to be able to pop any scheduled anti-emetics until the next morning. So, I popped open my first packet of Domperidone, an anti-sickness pill which had been prescribed to me for ad hoc use (more easily remembered as Dom Perignon, especially with it's reknowned brilliance as a hangover cure).

When the first one hit my tongue I felt my stomach do a mini flip. Uh oh, this one was going to be tricky. I took it with the tiniest sip of water but had to get up and run to the bathroom before the water had even hit my stomach.

I got there and literally cradled the loo for the next 5 minutes of violent eruptions. I have not been sick with such force for some time.

I spent the next half an hour letting my stomach settle before tentatively popping two more Dom Perignon pills and a half size sleeping pill (having thrown the full size one up before much chance of digesting it).

(It reminded me of that old nursery rhyme. She swallowed the Dom Perignon, to keep down the Zoplicine, which was swallowed to counter the Dexamethasone, which was injected to kill the epirubicin, which wiggled and tickled and wriggled inside her. Or something like that...)

I slept okay, and upon waking felt dehydrated so took a couple of slugs of water from my bedside glass. Twenty minutes later that came up as well, but it was just down to the bile. There was nothing in my stomach. And if there is one thing worse than throwing up, it's throwing up on an empty stomach. Plus I had to take my Dex, which needed to be swallowed around mealtimes and can only be taken with breakfast and lunch. Torn between wanting to line my stomach with something to eat and the fear of seeing it all come out again far too quickly I settled on a piece of toast and marmalade. It worked. The Dex went down with it and stayed down, and I felt much better within hours.

I even had pizza for lunch. Just to make up for all those calories lost down the loo the night before, you understand.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Freak weather for no 4

Chemo 4 today and I trundle in and out of town to go about the business of being drugged up to the eyeballs. The breast care nurse has a word and tells me to take it easy. She's heard I've been sick in between bouts and I made the honest mistake of telling my oncologist I was peaking at 37.5 again last Thursday, 10 days after being sick. I was very gently and very nicely being told off for pushing myself too hard. Of course, she is completely right.

Then, on my way home, with massive rainstorms pummelling London at the moment, I decide to take the bus. Frankly only because it was pouring with rain when I came out of the tube and walking to the bus station offered better cover than the train, plus it drops me closer to my door.

So staring dumbly out of the bus windows in my chemo stupor, I am jolted to my senses by the sight of something completely unexpected.


In July.

It's coarse snow, almost hail, but it has piled up in narrow drifts all the way along the front gardens and side streets of Wandsworth Road. Weird.