Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sing it loud and proud

I'm brimming over with a half contained excitement.

I had my follow up scans today (ultrasound) and a consultation with the breast surgeon. I'd pretty much parked it in my mind (the state of denial is a far happier one) apart from one day on holiday when it dragged me down, but I am glad to report those two little words we all long to hear...

All clear.

All is as it should be. The last nine months of highs and lows have not been in vain.

And thank **** for that. God knows what I would have done had the news been any different. There were moments where my mouth was dry and my heart beat very fast. During the ultrasound when the memories of diagnosis came flooding back, the experience of realising that something was not quite right as the radiologist I had back in March hovered over the tumour and a shadow fell across his face. Today's radiologist reassured me at every turn but I was still jumpy as a rabbit.

So off I skip to dinner at a friend's. I'm going to bring a bottle of champagne rather than wine I think. An all clear treat for tonight.

Sweet news indeed.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Kerala Tales, Part Two

One morning early in our holiday I woke at six, unable to get used to the new timezone. I wandered down to the beach and watched the fishermen cast their nets into the bay and then spend the next two hours hauling them in. Their patience and skill was captivating. Their weather-beaten faces showed that they had been doing this all their lives and several were even missing hands (lost to fishing lines over the years, maybe?). As many as about 50 men worked together for a catch which one local told me would only fetch around 500 rupees at the market (about six pounds sterling). It's no wonder most of the town are turning to tourism to make their money. This is the way traditional trades and crafts are lost, all over the world.

The early bird catches the fish.

I spotted this guy at one point. Clearly white (with a painfully pale complexion and the sun damage to show for it) I wondered what his story was. What was he doing working side by side with all these local Muslim fishermen? Maybe I have inadvertently stumbled upon Lord Lucan, who knows...

The Kerala Tales, Part One

So, we're back from two very delightful weeks in Kovalam, in the south eastern coastal state of Kerala, India. Jet-lagged to the hilt, it's possible this story is told best in pictures. I'm not sure I can string much more than captions together at the moment...

Kovalam itself is a fishing village come resort town only 80km north of the southernmost tip of India. A steep hill leads down to the sea, with a rocky outcrop dividing the sands into two crescent shaped beaches.

A lighthouse stands guard up on the headland over a jumbled beachfront of seafood restaurants and pashmina shops, opening onto a walkway crowded with hawkers of carved elephants and pineapple sellers.

Behind this promenade of hustle and bustle, a warren of alleys and raised walkways snake their way through the coconut palm groves and rice paddies, crows swooping overhead.

As I mentioned in my previous post, it's touristy for India, but nevertheless still feels very ethnic for a package holiday. You still feel like you're somewhere pretty special. As I type this I'm fading fast, so I may not get to post any more tonight, but I plan to post a few tales from our trip with plenty more photos to show for it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Maybe tomorrow"

Mosque near Kovolam, originally uploaded by pastrami44.

Oh how quickly we slip into the cycle of doing very little, slowly.

A bite to eat, a light sleep, an evening spent watching the families promenade in the surf, an afternoon poolside with an indulgent read, an early morning at the beach watching the fishermen chant songs as they haul the nets in.

Our entertainment comes from watching all life pass by.

The rickashaw drivers and taxi drivers become our best friends as we climb the steep hill. We smile hello but shake our heads as our pass, and "Maybe tomorrow" becomes their hopeful goodbye.

Kovolam is tourist-packed for India, but still miles off the beaten track compared to most package destinations. The fishermen still fish, the men still turn 45 degrees from the street to pee none too sureptitiously, the women's saris stream behind them like colourful sails, the air is filled with the ripe smells of hot fruit and aromatic incense. Beady eyes stare out from wrinkled old faces that line the manic streets of rickshaws and old Ambassadors fighting for priority. This may have been a pretty little deal through a division of Thomas Cook, but this is still India and I'm glad of that.

So glad in fact that we have spent the last 30 minutes trying to decipher the railway system. This country's stirred our blood and we want more than just two weeks by the pool. R has a friend in Pondicherry - some 700 odd kms away. We're trying to see if we can conjure up a little road trip.

Old habits die hard...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Thank you London

Thank You London Luv SFA, originally uploaded by Fresco108.

By the way, saw these guys (SFA) for the second and half time (don't ask about the half) last Saturday and they were their own usual Welsh brilliance.

Go see when you get a chance.

Twelve more hours and none of this will matter

Delhi from a rickshaw, originally uploaded by wili_hybrid.

If yesterday was the frying pan, today was the fire.

A million more things at work interrupted mid-afternoon by the discovery that the valuation made on Tuesday has been given back to the mortgage provider - at £50k less than the mortgage application is based on. Yikes.

I think it's a genuine mistake on the part of the surveyor and not actually a real valuation. Apparently he wandered round my two bed flat with paperwork that said he was looking at a one bed.

I mean, I know the second bedroom is a small one, but come on...

Upon correction he muttered something inarticulate but failed to write anything down. And now he's written down a figure which is less than I paid for the bloody place two years ago and that's going to have screwed up my application. And I'm leaving the country in a little over twelve hours.

And. And. And.

I got so angry by all of this that I even had to go and have a cigarette. I know I'm pissed off when that happens and I fall off the nicotine wagon...

Never mind, there is little I can do and sometimes being powerless, once you accept it, makes for a more relaxing ride. I can make a few irate phone calls in the morning, trawl local estate agents for some proof that the local housing market is a little more buoyant than that, and then give up and bugger off to India.

Posts may be few and far between over the next two weeks.

Happy Diwali one and all...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Thank F*** it's nearly Friday

The printer won't work and is making a five minute job turn into it's third hour of fighting with jamming paper. Some people in the office are in foul moods and I have to tiptoe around them. I'm trying to do a million things (workwise) before the end of play tomorrow. I've been ticked off at work for two different things by two different people - by someone both my senior and junior. I've had the 'proper' amount of sleep but feel exhausted. My stomach is squirling all over the place and I'm worried I'm getting R's bug. The holiday company keep ringing me with small but mounting changes to the itinerary. I still need to do a mound of washing to get packed in time. The house is a mess. My mortgage has not yet come through and if not sorted before I leave, will result in me paying almost double my normal rate for December. I have yet to book my new travel insurance, book my BCC excision, book my port removal procedure and there are a thousand more 'personal' things I could be getting on with. And I've just stubbed my toe by kicking the printer.

Everybody wants something from me and all I want to do is get on a plane.

Heal Heel!

I feel justified. A visit to the GP yesterday to enquire as to whether I should now be starting to get concerned that my heel and ankle are still giving me pain as long as 3 months and one week since I fell down the stairs and badly sprained them.

Yes. It seems all my wailing at the foot of the stairs (and on camera) was justified.

Apparently I must have torn my achilles tendon in the process. Not all the way through (if I'd done that I really wouldn't have been able to walk for weeks) but I've certainly partly ripped it otherwise it would not be taking so long to heal.

So I am being referred to a physio who will bend me stretch me pull me until it's better. Or something like that.

So for someone who feels their monopoly on medical treatment has ended, I have a lot to look forward to upon my return from holiday:

- A meeting with the oncologist
- A meeting with my breast surgeon, clinical exam and ultrasound (to check the bastard cancer's gone gone gone)
- The removal of my portocath under local anasthetic and sedation (methinks I should schedule this post-ultrasound all-clear, otherwise I'd only have to have it re-inserted, which would be a pain)
- A scoop excision of my basal cell carcinoma under local
- And now, physio on my ankle and heel

And I have had the novelty of playing nursemaid over the last few days. R has been ill with a stomach bug, and while it's not pleasant to watch him suffer, being the person who ISN'T ill for a change almost feels like part of my rehabilitation to normal life.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The day that Dina died

Dina Rabinovitch (Photo from Guardian.co.uk)

Another post I've been meaning to make since last week's nightmare of busy-ness began, compounded by the countdown effect to leaving the country this Friday.

Last week, Dina Rabinovitch died.

She was a Guardian journalist and writer, who wrote about other things very very well but became most famous for chronicling her battle with breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2004 and went through operations, mastectomies, chemo, radiotherapy, herceptin, tykerb and lord knows what else. She was Jewish, but did not have the breast cancer gene, and yet the cancer kept recurring. All this time she also mothered a large family and kept up her writing.

When I was diagnosed earlier this year one of my first reactions was to consume everything I could on the subject. Medical pieces, diet books, newspaper articles, memoirs - the lot. Her book, "Take off your party dress", was one of the things I read which I identified with most closely.

It's terribly sad she has died, and I can't help thinking of her husband and their children, and wondering quite how they are going to cope without her.

But these passages of life, death and survival, and the reporting thereof, have a huge impact on breast cancer patients everywhere.

When I was being diagnosed, the big media role model du jour was Kylie. Just back from a year of treatment, she was on stage and back to her shiny, bouncy, Kylie self. At least I could think of her and see someone who had made it through the wilderness of diagnosis and treatment and was out the other side, unchanged to the casual observer. I think this was significant to the way I was able to process the information I received and look at the whole thing as 'a hijacking' of life, rather than some sort of death sentence.

And yet there will be those women who will be getting diagnosed this week. And the next. And the next after that. For them, who will see Dina's name loom large in the headlines of articles they will be scouring, it must feel more like a death sentence.

Dina's own example of how to live with cancer is a very positive one, and yet she still died. The very fact of her death, or rather its prominence in the media coverage of such a disease, will undeniably have a chilling and negative effect on other women in her situation.

This is difficult to say, as we all like to think our first thoughts to be altruistic. I'd like to think that my first thought upon hearing of her death was of her husband and family. But that wasn't even my second thought - it came third.

It came right behind "That could have been me" and, more frighteningly, "That could still be me."

And I challenge anyone with any history of breast cancer not to feel the same horrible flickering of relief and dread in their gut when they hear such news.

We are, inherently, such terribly selfish creatures.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Some sort of ending

On Thursday, I decided to go and get my port flushed.

The portocath, when not being used as the vessel through which my main vein received doses of chemotherapy, needs to be flushed every 4-6 weeks with some sort of special fluid to keep it working and prevent it from seizing up. I guess it's rather like an oil change.

So when lunchtime came, I jumped on my bicycle and headed on over. But only after stopping at a gift shop and buying a few tokens and cards to say thank you.

A jewel-bound pocket diary for the lovely breast care nurse.
A box of hand-made chocolates for the chemo team.
Another box of the same for the radiotherapy team.
And cards for all three.

I need to get some more when I next go over, for a few other parts of the jigsaw not honoured above. The surgeon and his team, the Info centre and their therapists, the reception staff. But the act of buying these items and delivering them by hand to the teams that helped me feels like some sort of ending to this all.

And the best bit was the card I found. The image above is the world's most perfect ending breast cancer treatment thank you card.

Medicated and motivated - who could put it any better?

Excuses Excuses

A fleeting post to say more later, I promise. The week has been a very busy one and i planned to catch up on the blog at the weekend. However, my Safari programme decided to go on strike and accessing the internet became impossible. Have now almost fixed that problem (well, installed Firefox as a temp backup instead) I should be able to post some stuff at lunchtime to keep things ticking along...