Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Night-blogging, Eye-boggling

It's 3.30am and I still cannot sleep. A problem kicked off with giving into to the urge to snooze much earlier this evening, and compounded by the constant stream of water outside my window.

I can stand the rain against my window. I can't stand the torrent cascading down from the blocked gutter for which it's taking 3 different property owners a lifetime to organise a fix.

So, insomnia bites and it's too late to resort to the ageing pack of zoplicone. A post about my day then?

Today was beset my more medical stuff. Specifically to do with my eye.

It was bizarre. I spent most of the morning convincing myself I had some sort of retinal disfunction. I was working with spreadsheets (yes, that will do it) and noticed I was suddenly having trouble focusing on the words left of centre. The problem became more pronounced as time went on. 90 minutes later and I really could not work any more and the distortion and blurriness in the central area of my left eye's vision was accompanied by flickering around the periphery.

I consulted a colleague.

That means you have a migraine coming.

I don't get migraines. Well, I get really, really, debilitatingly bad headaches from time to time but they are never accompanied by nausea or visual distortion - the usual symptoms other than pain.

Calculating that it must have been years since my last eye exam (where I was pronounced to be ever so slightly short sighted but not enough to warrant a prescription) and knowing that in the UK, any employee working with computer screens for more than four hours a day is entitled to claim their eye exam cost, I nipped round the corner to the opticians and made a lunchtime appointment but took a moment to describe the symptoms to the optician.

Oh that sounds you've got a migraine coming on.

Great. Then it crosses my mind for a moment that this could be no migraine. This could be a tumour pushing against my retina.

I told you, post-cancer, every little thing becomes a harbinger of doom.

Five minutes later and I'm back in the office, and things are back in perspective. Literally. My eye seems to be returning to normal. By lunchtime, the blurring has almost gone. Feeling fraudulent I go back for the eye exam.

Last time I had one of these it cost £17.50 and took around twenty minutes. I was charged £35 today and the lovely little elderly optician who did my exam took fifty minutes and still wasn't finished. I have to go back on Thursday for more.

It seems he pulled out every tool and test he had in his armoury. I was given things to look at, to look through, all looking like medieval torture instruments. I was tested for colour blindness, for muscular reactions, for focal length, and that horrid little machine that blows puffs of air straight at your eyeball tested me for pressure. I had so many tests I can't remember them all.

At the end of the test he told me I had astigmatism, which is congenital and nothing to worry about, but may be the trigger for this morning's blurred vision episode. Then he pronounced my eyesight pretty impressive (yes! I was secretly worried he'd announce I'd fallen prey to deteriorating sight and needed glasses as my father did when he was about my age). And then he said he noticed some marks at the back of my eye, on the retina, which he wants to investigate with Field Vision Tests on Thursday. He explained there was a slim chance that there may be some damage to the layers of the retina, which, in the worst case scenario, may need to be seen to in an eye hospital with some sort of laser treatment. His thick accent combined with the unfamiliar medical terms made him hard to understand so I didn't really leave with the full picture. But from a bit of judicious middle-of-the-night research I can deduce we are talking about the possibility of macular degeneration. Usually termed age-related macular degeneration it mostly affects those in their 50s upwards, and happens as a result of blood vessels bursting or scar tissue forming on the retina. What causes this? Free radical damage.

What does chemotherapy do to treat cancer? Produce free radicals to kill all fast-duplicating cells.

Incidentally, all new medical professionals get to hear my recent treatment summary. And this guy did seem particularly interested in the dates of chemotherapy.

Call me paranoid but Thursday will be interesting.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Pucker up

I can't decide whether or not I just invent these things to feed the paranoid side of me but on Sunday I got a call from the dermatologist to say the lab results were back on my scoop excision and the suspected basal cell carcinoma was simply a benign mole.

Hurrah for that.

But hours later I find myself obsessing over my breast again. And I just called the breast care nurse and fixed a physical exam for 12.45 on Friday with the Professor. Mainly to reassure myself but also to check out some genuinely new symptoms which have been concerning me.

Firstly, the pain I got (which I initially mistook for lymphodema) moved around to the front of my chest area, where my breast meets my ribs (in fact, just under the lumpectomy scar) and took ages to dissipate. It's still not quite gone - I can feel it when I stretch my right arm straight up and it is slightly tender to the touch in the immediate area.

Plus, there are still occasional twinges within the breast. I've always been told this is natural after surgery and radiotherapy to an area - so it's probably normal - but then I first discovered the lump because my breast was 'twinge-ing' at me. So I developed a sort of superstitious faith in believing my body was warning me. So I see twinges more as warning shots, fired within my very own bow, and can't help but be concerned.

Finally, I've noticed puckering of the skin around the scar area over the last couple of weeks. It bothers me this, as I have read that skin puckering can be a symptom of cancer in a pre-operative state. But in a post-operative state? Would it carry the same meaning? Or is it just a symptom of having recently been sliced open, had bits removed, sewn back up again, pumped full of drugs and blasted with radiation?

I mean, after that sort of treatment, anybody would forgive a little puckering up. Wouldn't they?

Either way, as the lovely breast care nurse put it in her lilting Scottish voice. "It's probably nothing to worry about but you should come in. I mean, I can't reassure you over the phone."

I hope she's right. I'm sure she is right. But I need to know she is right.

And, to be fair to me, these are new symptoms. They are worth raising.

It's frustrating as I am starting to rebuild life after the last year. R and I are starting to make some pretty big life-changing decisions (which will change things significantly for the better) and as we go through that process this is the only doubt that is niggling at me. It is the only thing holding me back. Maybe it will always be there, but a small trip to the hospital on Friday won't hurt in the short term...

Friday, January 25, 2008

GSOH

People sometimes get offended by the use of humour in certain situations.

Using humour in dark situations either succeeds by breaking the tension (like when I had cancer and someone would make a bald gag - I always genuinely enjoyed that) or by drawing attention to crimes and misdemeanours by successfully highlighting the absurdity of a situation.

This is when people should realise they should not be offended by this humour, they should be enlightened...

Like in this second clip of the day from the Onion. Which brilliantly highlights the plight of child soldiers in Africa by suggesting that American children are 'behind' in their military skills.

Watch and smile. And then realise what you're smiling at.


Report: American Schools Trail Behind World In Aptitude Of Child Soldiers

Happy Anniversary


65th Wedding Anniversary, originally uploaded by paddysat.

As life moves on and the pages fly off the calendar I find myself chalking up more milestones. Any 29th of a month is either the anniversary of the day I was diagnosed, or the day I was meant to fly to Uganda, whichever way you look at it. The 1st of any month is another month since my first chemo, back on 1st May. And the 19th is the day I finished radiotherapy.

There have been so many milestones in the last ten months I could make an anniversary fit with pretty much any date you throw at me.

But lately I have been starting to focus less on the dates. I no longer anticipate them - I spent the week before Christmas thinking 'It's a week until my nine month anniversary since finding the lump. These dates no longer loom on the calendar and I find myself wondering if losing track of them means that finally I'm starting to put it all behind me, properly.

I had dinner with three very close friends this week and we all had really good tidings to share. And even those with no dramatic bombshells were marking the days until a new addition to the family, or a new home.

And it just felt like for once in our combined lives all our fortunes were aligned.

2008 seems like it's going to be a year filled with new beginnings, new places, new additions. We were all busy looking forward and not backwards.

And that, my friends, is why I didn't notice it was ten months today since finding the lump. At any rate, not until somebody I hadn't seen in a while asked me about when it all started.

Make a wish




The cancer gags are the best ones.... as this subtle clip from the writers at The Onion shows...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The trials of a two wheeling commuter

In the last three days, in the course of travelling around town on two wheels, I have managed to fall down a manhole and almost slide into the path of a bus. The former was funny, the latter quite scary.

Firstly, the manhole. This was Friday night, and occurred whilst putting my motorbike away in it's little yard. There is a rusty old manhole cover next to where I park the bike, and in order to avoid getting in the way of the massive recycling bins that belong to the shop below me, I need to squeeze the bike as far up the skinny gap in between manhole cover and the raised paving slabs on the opposite side.

Unfortunately, on Friday, the massive industrial size bin was further along the wall than it should be, blocking my way. So I left my bike in the gateway, flicked the lock off the bin wheels and walked around to give it a shove. As I did so I stepped on the manhole cover. And as I put my weight on my back foot to push the bin forward, I suddenly dropped about 3 feet.

I took stock of the situation and found it hard not to laugh. The cover to the manhole was obviously not fixed, and had been placed back on at an angle. In putting weight on one side of the cover, I'd swivelled it up and around as easily as if it was hinged, and the whole of my right leg was dangling down the manhole. I could not feel the bottom (nor did I want to - god knows what slurry there lies) and the only thing preventing me from falling further down the hole was the fact that the other leg was bent at the knee with the foot still planting on terra firma.

Once out, I was amazed to discover that I didn't have a mark on me. I had imagined I'd be covered in something brown, at the very least.

Then, today, when getting on my bicycle to ride to a lunch appointment, I realise my tyres are flat. The bike shop round the corner from the office handily has a pump for such occasions so I stopped by and pumped up my tyres. Five minutes into my journey, I realised I may have overdone the psi, as my tyres were so pumped up they were catching on the mudguards. But I got safely to lunch, and after some very lovely tuna and borlotti beans, I cycled off back to the office.

Halfway back my front mudguard started making the most almighty noise. Clack, clack, clack as the tyre went round and caught the metal guard on its knobbly bits. I wondered whether I should stop and see if I could twiddle something in a professional looking way. But before I'd even finished the thought my pushbike was in a sudden powerslide, my back wheel threatening to overtake the front one. The mudguard had caught the tyre one final time, and the force of the bike's momentum had twisted the guard like it was a sweet wrapper, turning it inside out and wrapping it around the tyre, locking the front wheel.

And all this time I can hear one of the bendy buses behind me. I also heard a passing pedestrian shout out in shock at the unfolding scene. I think they said "Jesus" but I can't be sure because I was too busy trying not to die.

I then had to carry my bike back to the office. As I walked in late to a conference call about advertising end lines for a four wheeled vehicle I noticed I had a big hole in my tights and my hands were still shaking.

I'm riding the motorbike as usual and that's fine. No manhole cover will put me off that. But the pushbike is officially retired for a while. At least until it's dry enough to rip the mudguards off and not worry about the spray.

So, until about June then.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

If life was an Alanis Morisette song...

My last post, all about needles, was writ thursday evening.

Friday morning I am at the osteopath's, finally having my still grumbling ankle looked at after falling down the stairs on the 1st August.

First thing he says after examining it?

How are you with needles?

He wants to give me acupuncture...

Friday, January 18, 2008

What's needling me?


In the last year I have had lots of needles.

Needle 1 was a slim hypodermic used to give me a quick shot of local anasthetic before needles 2, 3 and 4 came on the scene, all of a larger guage and terrifyingly long, used for the biopsies on my right and left breasts, back on the 29th March 2007.

Needle 4 was a fine needle inserted into a vein in my left arm to draw various blood samples for markers on the 30th March.

Needle 5 was a catheter in my hand to administer anaesthetic for the lumpectomy, the following morning.

Needles 6 and 7 were long thin needles with a large syringe attached. Inserted into my armpit, they drew out the fluid that collected there after the operation when my decimated lymph nodes couldn't carry it away.

Needle 8 was another catheter, for more anasthetic, for when they inserted the portacath on the 1st May.

Needle 9 was the thick stubby Huber needle they plunged into the port whilst I was still under, and through which they administered the first chemo.

Needle 10 was the first of the many painful doses of Neulasta, to help my bone marrow grow and generate more immunity boosting white blood cells.

Needle 11 was the blood test I had a week later to try and diagnose what the pain in my chest was. I pointed out to the doctor that I had a port and he could draw blood through that. Unfortunately, only the nurses had been trained in using ports so he had to do it the old-fashioned way - by jabbing around in my elbow trying to find a vein.

Needle 12 was Chemo 2, my last chemo with hair. Needle 13 followed suit, another Neulasta shot, this time administered gently by Rita, my local practice nurse.

Needle 14 and 15 were Chemo 3 and the subsequent Neulasta. Needle 16 was more blood tests (from the port this time - so still a needle but easier to bear) to diagnose the fact I had a raging throat infection and a fever.

Needle 17 and 18 were Chemo 4 and more Neulasta. They never got any easier to bear and at this point got a lot, lot harder.

Needle 19 and 20 paired up for Chemo and Neulasta no 5. Then 21 and 22 for Chemo no 6. Followed a few weeks later by needles 23 and 24 for a series of blood tests when I had a chest infection and urine infection.

Needles 25 and 26 were mere quickies by comparison. Quick visits to the day care centre to flush the port. Then no 27 was the first catheter in my left hand for a while - I was going in to have the port taken out. So they couldn't administer anasthetic through something they were about to remove, could they?

And needle 28 was today. I went to have my suspected basal cell carcinoma whipped off (in layman's terms, a dodgy but not life-threatening mole). To be precise, a scoop excision. The dermatologist distracted me very professionally as she stuck me with some local anasthetic and then we waited an age for it to take effect. For some reason, I always need elephant sized doses to take me down. I remember coming too after the port removal to hear the anasthetist saying 'I had to give you loads - you would not stay under'. Glad that's the first I was aware of that.

She then took a small device that looked like a lemon rind paring tool and whipped off the offending item and stuck it in a pot to go to the lab.

So that's that for needles, for now. I think. Unless we discover there is more of the basal cell thingummy to scrape off. But I actually winced when I saw the needle today and my legs started to shake so I suspect I've had my fill of the damn things.

I never used to like them. But having 28 of the buggers in quick succession does put you off. I could never be a junkie...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

For the sake of the kids


Psychotic Easter Bunny, originally uploaded by T_Wrecks.

There are lots of weird and wonderful pieces of legislation in advertising surrounding what you can and cannot say, or can or cannot depict.

Mostly they are to do with ensuring companies behave like responsible grown-ups and don't try and encourage 4 year olds that drinking beer is cool. Or make old ladies squander all their savings. Or something like that.

But every so often you stumble across one which is really quite charming.

Currently, we're working on some ads for a client which are to run at Easter. The ads mention the Easter Bunny, and in the course of getting the scripts approved, we discovered that had our adverts suggested that the Easter Bunny did not exist, they would have been thrown out.

This is, apparently, forbidden. Who'd have thought it?

Of course, it would be ridiculous to suggest the Easter Bunny doesn't exist.

He's alive and well. His name is Dave and he lives off the A3 in New Malden.

Squat or sit?

On the subject of signs from around the world, here's a gem from Jakarta. Courtesy of Times Online.



And it reminds me of a story about a man I once knew...

Now, I am open-minded about the ways people choose to defacate. I have travelled and lived in countries where the squat loo is the preferred option and there is a lot to be said for the inherent hygiene in not sitting on the same seat occupied by a thousand other arses. And I've shat in the Sahara, where a shovel is more your modus operandi.

That said, if I know it's clean, I'll opt for the Western sit-down option every time.

But in the years I had a Turkish boyfriend I failed to realise something fundamental until almost the end of our relationship. The fact was, whether he was faced with a squat loo, or a Western loo, he squatted. Not by hovering over the Western loo-seat, thighs a-quiver, like your mother taught you to do in public toilets. Nope. Despite having a Western loo in his modern apartment, every time he used it, he clambered up onto the rim and squatted. As demonstrated in the sign from Jakarta above.

How did I discover this?

One morning, in Turkey, a friend of mine stayed overnight at the apartment. The next day, after his morning visit to the loo, the Turk, an occasional modern man, decided to cook us ladies both breakfast. As he was clattering around the kitchen waving pans around, my friend drew me to one side and silently squirming, pointed out some poo on his slipper.

There's poo on his slippers she whispered, And I'm not going to be the one to tell him!

She was right. On his right slipper, there was a sticky lump of fresh poo in a lurid shade of browny yellow.

It did not look like animal poo...

We both reached the horrible, inevitable conclusion at the same time.

Eurgh! You've pooed on your slippers! we squealed together.

It took him a split second to look down and realise what had happened.

ANANIN AMINI SICKERIM!*

He jumped straight out of the slippers and ran round the apartment, barefoot and swearing. And all the while, my friend and I sat there sniggering.

In his humiliation he blamed cats, dogs, monkeys, birds - anything that could possibly have let themselves into the locked stairwell overnight and shat on his slippers.

We knew it was no cat.

We knew it was because he climbed on top of Western loos to squat, like all good village boys did. And on this particular morning, had slightly misjudged things.

What's more, it's clearly not a habit confined to Turkey. I've seen tell-tale footprints on loos in Morocco. And this sign from Jakarta confirms it. There are village boys everywhere, squatting on a loo near you.

The slippers were, if you're wondering, thrown out. As was I, about a month later.

Maybe it was the sniggering that pushed him over the edge.



*Turkish for doing some terrible to someone's mother.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Twelve Labours of Anne-Marie

Labour One: Slay the bedroom and give it a lick of paint

I am so sore.

This weekend I have cleared out everything from my bedroom other than my bed, hoovered in every corner, sanded, masked up, painted, rollered, hoovered again, ad infinitum.

The worst bit about it was my dodgy stepladder. My feet and legs ache from using it. I rescued it from a skip years ago and it's slightly bent and requires stabilising so it doesn't collapse underneath you while you're on it with a full tub of paint. So the leg and foot aches are from me balancing on it as if it is some sort of tightrope. But I didn't fall, and when I absent-mindedly checked the price of stepladders the other day, it seems the skip rescue was worth it.

I even finally sorted the window. Ever since I moved in, over two years ago, there has been a piece of perspex fixed over the top segment of the window. Ordinarily, the top segment would function well by itself, made up as it is of three panes of glass that swivel on hinges - great for airless London flats when you want to leave a window open during the day without inviting every burglar in the neighbourhood.

However, one of the panes of glass and long since broken or disappeared, so the previous owners had fixed some perspex over it. Fine in the winter to keep the draughts out, and easily removable once it got warm.

But I've been meaning to get it replaced and finally i did something about it. I removed one of the other remaining panes and marched down the road. Handily I have a glaziers just 500 yards away. It took them 15 minutes to cut and round off a piece of glass to fit and cost me five pounds. All of which begs the question as to why I have not done it before now.

So, a whole two days and three coats of paint later I'm only nearly done. I've still got the woodwork to go.

But for now, I've eased my aching muscles into a hot bath and I'm off to bed.

The other bed in the non-fumey spare room.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lymphomaniac Part 2


On New Year's Eve I thought I may have developed Lymphodeama.

I carried some heavy bags just before Christmas and woke up the next day to feel like the inside of my right arm was shorter than it should be. Then, the bottom of my shoulderblade, curving round to the inside of my armpit, became exceptionally tender and slightly swollen.

A week ago, I finally got to speak to the lovely Breast Care Nurse Anne Anderson, about my concerns. She allayed my fears about lymphodeama. As there was no sign of my fingers or arm swelling it was unlikely to be that. But she did urge to keep doing my exercises and take a load of anti-inflammatory pills to try and knock it on the head. If it was still there in two weeks she advised me to come see her and the Professor.

So, I have been mainly forgetting to take the anti-inflammatories and trying to remember to stretch my arm out in various ways but the swelling and tenderness has lessened. I was hugely relieved that noone thought it was lymphodeama. And even more relieved that noone had suggested it's some sort of sign of recurrence (this thought had crossed my paranoid mind... believe me, after having cancer, you end up thinking any slight twinge could be a harbinger of doom).

I even asked her about the sleeves that many women get issued with at the first suggestion of lymphodeama. Tight surgical stockings for the arms. I'm assuming it's common in the US as I've had comments from US blogging BC friends who have urged me to try the sleeve option, plus the sleeve option is mentioned all over the Cancer Vixen graphic novel, whose author is a New Yorker.

Interestingly (for those sleeve-wearers out there) my breast care nurse suggested that recent research has shown the sleeve does not help, relieve or prevent lymphodaema as much as they had first thought. Apparently current 'best practice' for treatment is to prevent by avoiding lifting heavy weights or getting scratches or bites or anything that could cause infection on that side, and to relieve with manual lymphatic drainage delivered by a specialist masseuse.

So now it's a week since our chat and I've been decorating. All tools were downed in March when I was diagnosed, and my house is looking 'half-finished'. Yesterday I cleared out my bedroom, sanded all the woodwork down, replaced a pane of glass in the top half of the window (which meant I could remove the nasty stained perspex that had been covering it up and finally give the window a good clean), and painted the ceiling. Today I need to add another coat to the ceiling and start on the walls.

However, when I woke up this morning and stretched my arms out, my right arm was angry at me. Again, I felt that suggestion of cording, the sensation of the muscles not being long enough for the arm. I blame the sanding, and I remember now, the day before I last got this, while I thought I had sustained it by lifting heavy bags, I'd also been hand-whipping two pots of double cream to make mini pavlovas for some friends who were over for dinner.

Mmmmm.

I can't sit out silly little jobs like whipping cream or sanding down woodwork. This is me, this is everyday life, and I refuse to believe my arm cannot perform them. I suspect it's just the first time I've asked it do anything really tough since the op so it's a question of building up 'arm' fitness again so it can cope.

So, it's back to the decorating again today. And a renewed commitment to remembering to do my exercises. And if that makes it worse then we'll go see the Professor this week.

My arm will not be beaten, it will do the beating.

Breakfast of Champions

Thanks to my recent trip to Holland, I'm still enjoying the fruits of a quick shopping trip to the local supermarket chain called Albert Heijn.

I stocked up on two things I remember fondly from my youth and they both say a lot about Dutch cuisine:

1. Hagel Slag:



It's not as bad as it sounds, though the second word should get the search terms buzzing.

Hagel slag, pronounced somewhere between how it's spelt and an old man clearing his throat, is a breakfast favourite of Dutch children (and some adults). It's essentially chocolate sprinkles, as we might use more normally in baking. But when I was little, if we had any in the house, we all used to carpet our toast with the stuff.

I bought three packs of the stuff in Holland and I'm already on pack number two. It can't be good for you. But I'm trying to eat less during the rest of the day to allow myself this nostalgic treat.

And imagine what else I could have bought! In addition to Hagel Slag, you can also get different types of chocolate toppings and something called 'Gestampte Muisjes'. That is a white sugary aniseed powder and, literally translated, means 'Crushed Little Mice'.

Which is not so appetising.

2. Zoute Drop:



In England, and around the rest of the world, we eat sweet licorice.

But in Holland, Germany and Scandanavia, they have a whole alternative licorice thing going on. Yes, they have sweet, but they have plenty of Salty Licorice too. And not just pleasantly piquant, but full on shock tactic salty.

I remember being about 8 or 9, and my mother would give me a huge piece of drop shaped like a large diamond. It was so salty it would blow your head off. I would take most of the day to eat it, and carry it around on a clothes peg like a twisted, dark sort of lollipop.

The strangest thing? Not a single English friend I have has ever enjoyed the taste of Salt Licorice. They all try, they're all game. They see me with a pack of the stuff and after I've just polished off my tenth piece of drop within as many minutes they suggest they might like to try one after all.

I hand them a piece, only to always see them spit it out, pursing their lips in disgust and squirming in their seat.

Zoute Drop. It's an acquired taste.

And like a drunk claiming he can out-Vindaloo anyone at the curry house, I am happy to take you all on. I can do the saltiest of the salty, the sharpest of the sharp.

I can even do Dubbel Zoute Drop... these little things are so powerful they are engraved with the initials 'DZ' to avoid any case of mistaken identity.

And do you know what they call the soft, sweet licorice in Holland? The wimpy, big-girl's blouse variety?

Engelse, or English, Drop!

Friday, January 11, 2008

It's the weekend! Time to stay in...


Every night this week other than Wednesday I have had social engagements.

Monday Italian with friends.
Tuesday Tea & Cakes at a fancy restaurant with a girlfriend who had cool news. She went away on holiday single and came back engaged. We chinked china tea-cups over that.
Wednesday Shopping, tidying, and relaxing with my friend Vic who's over from Turkey and staying occasionally as she spends some of her UK time refreshing her nursing qualifications at Great Ormond Street)
Thursday Hosting and cooking dinner for a group of friends over from Turkey on a whistlestop tour of the UK

Next week, I have a similar line-up.

Monday Coffee with a German friend who's working in London.
Tuesday Staying in to let Vic back in (I have a spare key shortage going on)
Wednesday Meeting a girlfriend after work
Thursday Having my dubious mole scooped out at the Royal Free.

Now, apart from the last one, I have something social going on almost every night.

But the thing is, my Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are devoid of any social activity. And this has been the pattern for the last few years at least.

Basically, unless there is a wedding to attend, my weekends are my own. Usually spent with R, they focus on getting chores done or catching up on sleep. But on no account does anyone in London do any informal socialising at the weekend.

Nope, they do that in the week. From Monday to Thursday, we're out nearly every night seeing people and just, well, doing stuff.

But come Friday, we clock off sometime after 5pm and head home to hibernate.

Which is exactly what I'm about to do. Along with a bit of painting.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Back to being in control


She's in control, originally uploaded by Rune T.

In the last week I seem to be finally making progress in the great 'Lets Get On Top Of Things Again After Cancer' effort.

Whatever else I went through last year, it took a great chunk of time out of my life. Time I would normally have spent doing the little stuff that you need to keep things going.

Hoovering under the bed; defrosting the freezer; keeping track of my finances; making sure I wasn't being diddled on insurance deals or interest rates; filing my post; sorting cupboards and clearing out unwanted clothes and other items for the charity shop or selling them on ebay.

So, towards the end of last year things had got really bad. Eight months or so of ignoring all the little stuff meant it had suddenly grown into mounting columns of stuff that needed dealing with urgently.

I had to remortgage my property, and that had it's own problems with dodgy surveyors and incompetent lenders. But the deal finally came good last Friday and I'm now back on a slightly less criminal interest rate.

I had to spring clean my house. My house mouse had long since scarpered but I was sure I had dust mites hiding in the corners. I was not far from infestation. And if you think I'm exaggerating, I'd like to point out that I was too embarrassed to let anyone other than the closest (or most insistent) friends or family visit between June and December. I spent two December weekends in a row cleaning. Now I'm inviting people over to eat off my floors.

I sent off for a replacement tax disc for my bike's tax disc. Rich or I would hand the previous disc back and forth to eachother when riding the bike and neither of us claims to have it so who knows where it got to. It probably got eaten by the mouse. But now a new one should be winging it's way to me.

I dug out my letters of referral from my dermatologist and my doctor and booked both a scoop excision of my dodgy mole and a physio session for my ankle - which is almost better but still problematic (it's been over FIVE months since that fall!).

I even had Rich spend a morning looking at my credit cards and bank details. The fact that he did not scarper to Brazil with the contents is proof I could be managing my money better. So on his advice I'm getting a no-fee 0% balance transfer deal with one bank to take on one card's balance and the other smaller balance was paid in full yesterday (why oh why did I take eight months to do that?). And once my mortgage payments settle down, I'll be clearing the overdraft so I can switch to some jazzy new online account where I don't have to pay £30 a month for some daft account fee.

I'm even going to start on the decorating again. Before I was diagnosed, we were frantically preparing our properties to rent them out and I was about to paint my bedroom and had all sorts of other jobs on the go. Similarly, Rich had started to sand down his staircase and woodwork before starting to paint the downstairs rooms in his house. On the day of diagnosis, both of us laid down our tools and they haven't been picked up since.

But when I phoned R this morning he was halfway up a ladder with a paint roller in one hand, and I've got the whole weekend to myself this weekend. So I'm going to sand the window and skirtings in the bedroom, prime the new shelves and maybe have time to do the ceiling as well.

I feel like I'm finally getting on top of things, for the first time in a very long time. Hoorah for me.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Sign your way around the world

Spotting that notice in Amsterdam a few days ago, and rediscovering the art gallery sign from Djenne got me thinking about the random "that's a weird sign - lets take a photo" photos from my collection.

Here's another one from our traipsing around Amsterdam. If you can't read what it says, the sign reads "Don't Piss Here - Piss Off". Sadly I suspect the stag nights from England are to blame for such a reaction from this house-owner...



Here's another strange sign from my travels - this time from Lake Bled in Slovenia.

They are VERY strict there.



And here's an old favourite. The game on banger rallies down to West Africa via Morrocco and Western Sahara was always to be the first to pull over and photograph the camel sign. Or even better, the first to spot a camel.

The novelty soon wore off but the sign is still cool.



But, a thousand km south of where the first camel sign would be, somewhere in Mauritania, we would start to see signs like this. The shot is from my friend Christian, a talented German photographer who was on the PDC with us. Always made us look better, having a pro take our photos...

Then again, it didn't help us decipher signs like these...



But nothing can help you decipher the use of the English language on this sign at security at London Gatwick...

Satisfaction guaranteed


Satisfaction guaranteed, originally uploaded by annemariew.

We saw this sign in Djenne, in Mali, last winter.

It seems like an art gallery offers a lot more in Africa than they do back home...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Good fortune, bad fortune


Something happened today which could reverse a lot of the bad fortune I've had over the last year.

It's too soon to spill the beans, but it's good news.

The bad news? The see saw of fortune has put someone else on the flip side of this whole scenario. They're getting the bad fortune whilst I'm getting the good.

Nine months ago I was getting the bad fortune and they were one of the first to sympathise and offer support. So it's a weird old reversal of fortune that makes me feel happy and sad all at the same time.

And in the meantime, Kenya and The Royal Marsden burn and my thoughts are with the victims of both. Fortune is a fickle thing for us all, it seems.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Because I'm not worth it

I was worried the hair was starting to morph into a mullet.

Fact is, when you are completely bald and your hair grows from the follicle, at the same speed, you end up with the same length all over. Which means that when it's shorter than an inch, you end up looking weirdly buzz cut on top, and when it starts to grow longer than an inch or two, it starts to curl out around and below your ears and you end up looking like a punk trying to become a new romantic. Or German.

Whichever way you look at it (with apologies to my German friends) it's not good.

So yesterday I took action. I discussed my mullet fears with colleagues during our lunchhour and then presented one of them with a pair of the sharpest scissors I could find.

Please cut my hair! I pleaded.

Just the mullety bits mind!

So I had no comeback when, a few minutes later, she'd exclaimed "Oh shit" one too many times for me to remain confident and there was hair all over my jumper. It seems you need to go to a professional salon in order for your hairdresser to remember to put a towel round your shoulders.



To be honest, she'd not done too badly. It looks a little ragged around the bottom edge, but she'd not left me bald and she'd got rid of the dreaded mullet effect. Within a week all the hard edges will soften up a bit and it will look quite professional.

Lets face it, I was not going to shell out £50 for a full priced haircut when all I needed was a mullet-trim...

P.S. I don't like the fact the photo above makes me look like I have a cartoon chin. That's the other new year's resolution. Lose some weight goddammit. Not helped by my attempts to play badminton last night thwarted by turning up to an empty church hall. Looks like they're on their christmas holidays still.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Seasonal Message


This morning, the commute into work was blissfully empty of people. I managed to get a seat on the 8.30am train.

And as if having read yesterday's post, the queue of us unhappy commuters waiting for the ticket machine were heckled by a woman as she passed us on the pavement.

"We're all off to earn pots of money! We're all off to earn pots of money!" she shouted as she passed.

"Money! Money! Money! Pots of Money!" she chanted as we climbed the stairs to the station platform, clutching our free copies of the Metro newspaper.

I could see people around me thinking, Well, I don't earn that much so what I am really doing here anyway?

I suddenly felt part of the herd again.

So, as a short term solution, I'll get back on the bike again tomorrow. Even if it's going to be -8 celsius out with forecasts of snow.

And in the long term, watch this space...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Out with the old

So, as a bona fide blogger now I feel I ought to do a post summing up something of last year. But it sort of speaks for itself. It was pretty bad.

I started out the year waking up, en route to the Sahara, in a small ex-Spanish enclave in Southern Morocco. Rich and I spent New Year's Day taping our team name on to the windscreen of the 18 year old Fiesta which we then went on to drive to Djenne, a mud town near Timbuctou.



When I entered 2007 I did not have fixed expectations of the year. I certainly did not expect many of the things that happened to happen.

I did not expect to be getting job offers from Uganda (hurrah!) and I did not expect to be getting a disease that would change all of that, and change me, forever (boo!).

I started the year simply hoping that we would be happy and find a way to spend more time together.

Well, I got my wish. In a funny, sort of round-about way.

We certainly got to spend more time together.

And in a strange way, even though the emotions can sometimes still sideswipe me, I am more happy. I have a much better idea of what I want from life. When we saw that job advert for Uganda in January 2007, we definitely took it seriously when we applied. And retro-checking it against our own personal wishlists for life did reveal that it ticked pretty much all our boxes.

But there was an element of whimsy in it.

Now I know what I want.

I want to stay healthy.
I want to chase a lifestyle, not a paycheck.
I want to be with R.

It's simple really when you think about it.