Up with the Lark

We have Mr Neary visiting this week. We have not seen each other for ages but, as with all good friends, it doesn’t matter a bit and we are into deep conversation before we have even left the station car park. There is so much to catch up on but we are really pleased with his reaction to our new place. Firstly he is blown away by the countryside. It is looking pretty at the moment with the fields of rape giving an acid yellow slash through the many shades of green and brown. Trees are in blossom and it’s looking its best. We go to a pub for lunch and when we are sitting down with drinks, he asks “Why did you choose here?” “This pub?” Mr Mason replies. “Well, not really. I meant why this part of the country?” It’s quite hard to give a coherent explanation so I tell him about our trips to Lincolnshire and how we loved the look of it, the coastline, of how proud the county is of its food and that we loved the Georgian towns, no motorways and how relaxing we found it. We had planned to move before I was initially diagnosed with cancer but then postponed it. I’ve probably told you all this but you know how bad my memory is. We were just about to set the ball rolling again when I was diagnosed with secondary cancer and, despite incredulation on the part of my medical team, we made the decision to go. If not now, when? That has been our motto to get us through the worst of the moving experiences. The portions of food in the pub are enormous, so much so that half of mine comes home in a doggy bag for Dog. Mr Neary is then enchanted by the house and its situation. We take Dog out with us for a walk round the castle, a walk I can manage because it is just over the road. Mr Neary feels quite emotional when we go in. He thinks it’s a feeling of pride. We are still so full from lunch that we can’t manage the steak pie we have planned for dinner so we just have cheese on toast and a piece of Arctic Roll each, a request from our guest. Actually, it’s not real Arctic Roll but a supermarket version. We coudn’t find the original. If you are wondering why I put Mr Neary’s name with links, it’s because he is an extraordinary person who has fought an incredible battle and won, all for love. It has cost him a lot, and I don’t mean financially, but I am so proud of what he has achieved. In the morning he asks if he’s allowed to come again and he goes off to the train station feeling refreshed but having missed an opportunity to go on the Victoria Derbyshire show to talk about human rights.

This week I have my first treatment locally. The set-up is very different and the chemo suite is much smaller than at Charing Cross. Only patients are allowed in so Mr Mason has to wait outside, entertaining himself by reading Facebook and chatting to other people waiting. Firstly I am weighed and my height taken by a very stern nurse called Marta. She also does observations and even takes my pulse so I feel thoroughly taken care of. She suggests I take a chair facing the window as they have some ducks who have sneaked in and have a brood of ducklings running around after them. “The thing is”, she says, “they are all brown except one which is yellow. So what does this mean? Were there 2 fathers?” I don’t know enough about duck reproduction but I like the way she raises her eyebrow as she says it. The ducklings make an appearance which makes up for the loud and irritating conversation being held by a woman in a purple wig and the man sitting next to me. I don’t mind people wearing purple wigs and might even have considered one myself at some point but as soon as I see and hear her, I know she is going to dominate conversation which she does, with ill-observed comments and a lot of hot air. We hear how MacDonald’s will poison you if you eat their food, you can’t have a takeaway and not to buy bread from a market because everyone squeezes the loaves so they’re full of germs. I point out that she can always check the environmental health rating for any premise that sells food by looking online but I get a laser look that says “Keep out of my monologue” so I do. The ducklings are much cuter. Apparently London is a horrible place and if you dropped a bomb on it,only 3 English people would be killed and the rest would be foreign. This is apparently a good thing and no-one would miss the place. She engages in a bit of a double act with the man sitting next to me as they bang on about London and its faults. I tune out. As she leaves, she gets to ring a bell to signify that it is her last treatment so I allow her some slack as she is probably on a high from that. The man sitting next to me then turns to me for conversation. I tell him we are from London and he doesn’t go through his London routine but talks a lot about Yorkshire and how it’s the best place in the world. When he finds out my Dad is from Yorkshire, he says “Well, at least you’re half Yorkshire!” which I presume is a good thing in his world. The nurses in the chemo suite are lovely and have time to sit and chat a bit which is nice. We get fed and watered while we have treatment and I save half my sandwich for Mr Mason who I know will be starving by the time we leave. Indeed he is and practically inhales them.

The following day I get a phone call from my previous oncologist’s secretary inquiring how I am getting on with the new oncologist. I tell her about a couple of things I am not happy about and she suggests ringing Virgil’s secretary and asking who the most experienced breast cancer specialist they have is. I can then ask to be referred to him/her. I am quite touched that they have thought of me and made the effort to see that I am  happy and well looked after. There is also another thread running through the conversation which I am not able to articulate yet but I can tell they are not content. She agrees she will not take me off Charing Cross’ books until I have spoken to her to confirm things really are OK. I make the call and the secretary is very helpful, telling me Virgil is a locum replacing a consultant who had been there for many years. She says there isn’t a senior consultant at the moment but that there are 2 at Lincoln General Hospital and tells me how to get a referral via my GP. I look them up and find one of them I have seen when I had a high temperature and the other is a specialist in breast and lung cancer. He sounds like he might be right up my street so I make an appointment with my GP to get the new referral. I ring the Charing Cross secretary back and explain what is happening and she fills me in a little more, saying they sent my complete file so that it would be there before my first clinic appointment and so they were puzzled by all the requests Virgil had made for information. There were obviously other things she wasn’t happy about but didn’t divulge which is fine.They are keeping an eye on me which is brilliant. She thinks I should have an appointment within 2 weeks. I have an appointment for my echo which will be on my birthday next week. What a lovely treat!

The most exciting thing we do this week apart from serving Mr Neary generic Arctic Roll is go and collect the new dog. We choose Lark, the brindle bitch with the white V on her face. She has never been away from her mum or sisters before so she is very shy and uncertain. We leave Dog at home so there will be no problem with 2 dogs in the car and on the way home stop at the pet shop to buy a new dog brush. Unsurprisingly, we can’t find Dog’s which is a particularly good rubber one. So many are metal and too harsh for his fine coat. We get her out of the car and only a few steps away realise it’s a mistake. She looks extremely stressed and twists in the collar so we bundle her back in to relax in the boot. Although she is house-trained, she has been in kennels with her sisters all day so she’s not used to being in a house a lot of the time and she has a couple of accidents. Mr Mason is aghast at the amount she excretes and brings me into the garden to marvel at it. It’s true, it’s huge – as big as her head. Where does it all come from? Dog tolerates her although he moves himself upstairs to the bed in my study. She sleeps in her crate at night and in Dog’s sitting room bed during the day and he doesn’t complain about that – he just takes himself off. It will take them a while to settle in together but so far it’s all going well. Whippets most often carry their tail between their legs, unlike other dogs, but still wag them – it’s just under their belly they do it. I come downstairs on Friday morning and get a nice waggy tail so that’s a good sign she’s attaching herself to us. We are having to go back to basics with Ms Dog with toilet training. recall and sitting etc. I will leave the hand shaking and roll-over to Mrs Safaie and Mr Mason jnr to teach her. I’m sure she’ll be more than happy to oblige.

Photos courtesy of Sue Phillips, Ladygrove Lark’s breeder.

Lark 2 Lark 1 Lark 3 Lark 4

Happy anniversary!

As you know, in the Mason household we are busy sorting, sifting and throwing things away in preparation for our move on Thursday. I have a large collection of papers in the sitting room and today they have to be gone through. I spend most of the morning in bed with a chemo headache which refuses to abate but likes to cling on, booming away behind my eyelids. I vainly try the Post Office mail redirection helpline but, of course, despite advertising chirpily that they are open, no-one answers the phone. I give up and decide to make sure we have electricity connected and then book a train ticket home for Mr Mason jnr who is going to come and help us move in. After a snooze, I eventually prise myself out of bed and make my way downstairs to face the awaiting paperwork.

One of the first things I find is the pathology report I received on the day I was initially diagnosed with cancer, exactly 3 years ago today. It’s a bit of a gulp moment as I read it through and remember the day I went with my lovely friend, Mrs Halford, and we saw a consultant whose interpersonal skills were so poor he should probably not work with live patients. We are now 3 years down the line and those years have flown by alarmingly quickly. Combined with finding old school reports, cards – particularly birthday cards from Mr Mason jnr which start ‘Dear Mother’ and usually contain instructions such as ‘eat lots of cake and so forth’ – and other memorabilia, it’s a bit of an emotional day. Eventually, I have sorted enough papers out to feel satsified. The rest of the pile will just have to be chucked in a box by the removal men.

Tomorrow most of the packing will be done and then we have a day to clean before everything will be packed into the van. I am almost tempted to pay tribute to the Australian who posted himself back to Australia in a box by allowing myself to be packed into the van but I suspect the idea is more fun than the reality and anyway, we’ve probably thrown away all the small bottles that I could posibly wee into.

I know we’re embarking on a big adventure, one that should enrich our lives and give us the peace and wide open spaces we have always dreamed of but when I left Maggie’s on Friday, I felt bereft. My stomach clenches and I feel really sad and quite sick. We have brought our two beautiful children up in this house, we know the area, we have friends within a few minutes’ walk and I know my way around Charing Cross so well I can direct other people. Seeing our home dismantled is thoroughly unsettling for me. My head knows what will happen but my heart just can’t keep pace. I feel as though anything I put down will be packed up and that I need to carry all the things I need for the next few days around with me like a snail with its shell. Time will sort things out and this time next week, as Mrs Halford puts it, we’ll be in our new crib.

Don’t think for a moment that I am regretting our choice – to move into a house we have been in for a maximum of 15 minutes – but it’s just with chemo, waiting for CT scan results and not being able to find anything, it all feels a bit much. This time next week, things will be very different.

The bone graveyard

I am struggling. Is it OK to admit that? I’m finding it tough? Letting the android/cyborg/superhero mask slip a little is both scary and a relief. Having a chest infection has sent me back to the sofa to watch trash on tv and play Candycrush (thanks to SR for leading me down that Primrose path :-)) It’s also given me huge anxiety about all the things I’m not doing and… oh, it’s the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ making a re-appearance. I should be coping better. I ought to be doing more around the house. Tears spring from nowhere, apparently unprovoked, leaving me breathless and sobbing. What’s it all about?

As usual, the answer is bloody cancer. How dare it rear its ugly, monstrous head at a point when I think I’m getting back onto my feet? Cancer isn’t just the tumour, the disease at cellular level, the physical stuff. It’s also so much about the emotional stuff, the unprocessed, the primeval fear, I guess. To be faced with the possibility of dying is a real shock and it takes its time to work through the system, the system being taken up with breathing, walking, talking, sleeping (sometimes) and just getting on with the business of staying alive. Once the imminent threat is past there is time to think ‘What the hell was that?’

It feels so much better to admit I can’t do it all and that some days I feel like Marge Simpson, sent demented by her family and coming to a halt crossways on a bridge. When the police approach the car, she turns and does a great snarly roar at them which has them backing off fast. So yeah, back off, life! Give me a break and give me some space.

I still don’t want to sit and wallow, though, to allow the bastards to grind me down so I prescribed some light activity to help. Dog makes a lot of smeary mess on the window in anticipation, fear, delight, anger, concern and sheer curiosity so I decided to tackle those as I can see them from my sofa retreat. This means moving Dog’s bed and what a treasure trove I found underneath it. A shoe, many unfinished bone projects (he is currently working on a joint from a leg of mutton but this is quite a long term project), stolen cat toys, treats stored for another day – a cornucopia of doggy delights. He came back from his run to find his bed moved and his stash revealed. He was very brave as we removed the worst offenders, reunited the cats with their toys and the shoe with its partner, threw away the googly eyes he loves to remove from toys and hoovered beneath, no doubt ruining the aroma he has been carefully tending for weeks.

He takes life in his (very long) stride and has simply flopped to the floor to lie in the sun. Maybe I should take a leaf out of his book.

Image

Metaphorical shoes

Getting ready to go to CX today for a scan of my right armpit (makes a girl fee so good) I vacillated between 2 pairs of shoes to wear. I wanted red. I am not a girly-girl but I like my clothes, bags and shoes. Nothing high, mind you. So the choice was a red suede pair of desert boots or a red suede pair of brogues. The desert boots are cool with good grippy soles but the brogues are more stylish and I hadn’t worn them in ages. I tried them on. And then I thought ‘Oh, they are a bit of a metaphor for cancer and me’.

I like the look of them. They are fabulous and have a nice narrowed square toe and they look good with what I’m wearing. But they have leather soles inside and out and that makes them a bit slippy and I’m a champion at falling over (or toppling, as my son calls it). So most of the time I feel like a red suede brogue – feeling good, my life neat and organised but underneath, it’s all a bit slippy and I could come crashing down at any moment. If the cancer returns then I pray for a recurrence rather than a secondary because at least that’s treatable and beatable. It’s this not knowing that is always lurking beneath the surface, waiting to topple me, to see me come crashing down. But I have to wear the red brogues, I have to be out there, risking humiliation and real-world toppling because otherwise I would not be me. It’s not the deepest metaphor in the world, I grant you, but it came to me this morning so I thought I would include it.

Today sees me off to CX, as we know, but first I’ll drop into Maggie’s and see who is there and have a chat and a cup of coffee. I like the warmth of the atmosphere and the way I can sit and be allowed to without someone bothering me. It’s always up to me if I want to participate or not. After the scan which is looking at a painful bit under my right arm – the side I still have a breast attached – I’ll go back to Maggie’s and meet my friend Suzannah for a chat and a bit of reassurance.

I’m feeling a bit all over the place today. A year on from my initial diagnosis and hospital still figures large in my life and uncertainty goes with it. But I will brave it in my red brogues and hope I don’t come crashing down on the Hammersmith roundabout or on one of the hospital’s shiny floors. Normal service with full humour will be restored tomorrow.