Mr Mason and the Hitler moustache

Some time ago, Richard Herring, the comedian, thought about reclaiming the toothbrush moustache. Obviously heavily identified with Adolf Hitler, it was a tough challenge and he received quite a lot of stick for even raising the subject. As I watched his efforts some years ago, little did I realise I would have my own toothbrush moustache kerfuffle to deal with. I am resting in bed before I head off to the hospital to have my arm wrapped in an effort to reduce the lymphoedema. It’s a long process that requires doing on a daily basis. Luckily it also involves a very soothing massage as the nurse moves lymph fluid around my body. She mentions that Mr Mason could help with massaging my back for when she is not around and I mention it to him later but he looks dubious. A look he quite often adopts these days. As Mr Mason finishes his ablutions in the bathroom, he wanders back into the bedroom with a piece of toilet roll pressed tightly to his face. In the olden days, it was not uncommon to see men wandering around with small pieces of toilet paper stuck to their faces from where they had cut themselves shaving. There seemed to be no embarrassment or sense that this was not the most stylish way of looking. I have to say that I haven’t noticed toilet paper stuck to men’s faces for ages. Presumably the rise of modern razors with their millions of blades has put paid to the need but today, Mr Mason is on a time warp, big style.

“I have cut myself shaving” he says. “I appear to have given myself a Hitler moustache”. Once he removes the toilet paper, I can see that he has, indeed, given himself a Hitler moustache of sorts. He appears to have sliced a chunk out of his upper lip and the resulting dried blood looks very much like a toothbrush moustache. We are very fortunate Mr Mason does not have dark brown hair or he would have to stay indoors.

Mr Mason offers to give me a lift to the hospital so I can get my arm bandaged. In order to lure me in, he says “I have a bag of cat litter and a pack of toilet rolls in the boot” with a slightly mad look on his face. He is such a smooth talker. In spite of my better judgement, I accept and my journey goes smoothly. As I am early for my appointment, I go into Maggie’s first and catch up with some friends. Firstly I announce to my friend Tamsin that Tamsin will not be able to meet us this morning. She gives me an old-fashioned look (how I love that phrase) and I realise I have confused her with my friend Tatum. This is the first in a litany of frustrating dead-ends in my verbal dexterity. My mind is like a complicated maze at the moment and I continually run headlong into the hedges, bouncing off as I grab at words that elude me. I have quite a long conversation about going to Bakersfield in California some years ago and explaining we had gone to see XXX XXX who had a hotel and club there. Who is XXX XXX? they ask. I cannot tell them but I can tell them a lot about our visit, including that he had a young protegee who is current in country music. Who is that? they ask. Ah, that I cannot tell them that either. We have seen him play, I tell them. Both of them. And XXX XXX was elderly and forgetful but could play guitar although his singing voice had deserted him. He died a little while after we saw him although the two things are unconnected. This is despite the fact I told Master Mason that XXX XXX only died after he saw him and that the two things were undoubtedly connected, he being possibly on a silent rampage, killing elderly musicians. Some of the Village People  died after he saw them at the age of 5. I am saddened to say that his very first gig was to see the Village People (who were great) and Gary Glitter who has since been exposed as a paedophile. Gary Glitter did not perform as he injured his back, probably by falling off his platform shoes or so we posited. This early exposure to entertainment and very dubious individuals does not seem to have affected him unduly although he would tell you he needs counselling, should you ask him.

In the end I save the day by shouting out “Buck Owens!” for it is indeed he who is XXX XXX. My memory is definitely getting worse. Having expected improvement, I am rather depressed by its decline and don’t know how I can rescue it. Chemotherapy has torn a large, ragged hole and is holding my memories hostage. If anyone sees them, please let me know.

Seriously, really?

I have gone beyond the pale, so far I am a mere whitewashed speck and I don’t like it. When Miss Mason was small, she used to say “I don’t like it!” in a very peculiar voice that I still find myself using today. Toddler speak. Anyway, on Tuesday I go to Charing Cross to see two friends, one of whom is having surgery and the other who is having a new drug, TDM1. So new is this drug that it is not on the NHS prescribing list and no-one seems to know anything about it. What are the side effects likely to be? I ask. “Don’t know. No-one knows. It’s a mystery” she says with resignation. Yep. Nothing to do except take the drugs and hope for the best. I am actually hoping for more than best because she is one diamond in my depleted night sky at the moment. My other friend is having herself tidied up. This is short-hand for removing a radiotherapy damaged implant, re-doing the reconstruction and up-lifting the other breast so it will resemble the other. When I go to visit her, there is a woman in the bed opposite she describes as ‘a shouter’. Oh, yes, indeed she is. She shouts at every approach from a nurse. “Don’t do that! Don’t touch that! Don’t move it!” As soon as one nurse has seen to her she is ringing the bell again with a delighted look on her face. It is time to go when she orders a commode. As the curtains are drawn we are hoping it will just be for a wee. Some things should really be private. However, it sounds as though she has a racehorse in there as a Niagara Falls sound-a-like issues forth which continues far longer than nature intended. Henceforth she is known as Shergar. I hitch a ride home with my TDM1 friend who is already feeling the effects. The only information she has been given is a brochure for health professionals. Sigh.

Today I have a meeting at Kings Fund which starts at 11, leaving me time to have a slow start to my day. I admit I have been feeling more and more tired recently and am glad it does not start at 9. I work out what time I will have to leave by and then work back from there, giving myself a time I must get up by. I have coffee, I shower and then dress as I listen to a really interesting Radio 4 programme on women in Islam. I keep glancing at the clock to make sure I am on time. When it says 10.33, I go downstairs and gather my things together before Mr Mason gives me a lift to the station. Fellow Londoners will be spotting the deliberate mistake here. If you ever ask someone in London how long it will take to get from point A in London to point B in London, they will overwhelmingly say 1 hour. It will take me almost an hour to reach Kings Fund and I am leaving the house at 10.45. Hmmm. My brain does not detect the mistake until I am on the train and glance at my watch which says 11.10. I am absolutely thrown by this as though I have gone through a time warp. It then dawns on me that I am out in my timings but a whole hour. Given that some people at the meeting have travelled from Whitby and still arrive on time, I hang my head in shame as I sidle into the room.

Sometime during the course of the morning, the second bombshell drops. Mr Mason rings to ask where my passport is. He has looked in the drawer and cannot find it. Now, I have a memory of doing something with my passport in the last few weeks but I am not sure what. I feel I needed to enter the details on a form for, possibly, insurance. I remember showing it to Mr Mason and saying how I looked like a peasant or Russian hit woman. I could not decide which. What became of the passport after that, I am not sure. All day I worry about it. I absolutely hate that cancer and chemotherapy has so massively robbed me of my memory. I know I joke about it and everyone says “Oh, my memory is terrible, too” but it’s not the same. I had a good memory. I could file things away mentally and then retrieve them. I knew where I had put things. My brain worked. And to have that suddenly taken away is – well, devastating. A part of me has gone and while I was so ill I didn’t notice because I was only focusing on hour to hour or day to day. Now I am attempting to reconnect with my life in a meaningful way, I am reminded time and again of what I have lost. “It will come back!” people say, reassuringly. When? Just when will I be able to remember what I did and when, who said what, where I put something? How long does it take? Like this, I am not me. Perhaps, more tellingly, I am not accepting the me I have become. The person I do not want to be. I am not angry I had cancer. I am angry with the effects of the disease and treatment and where that leaves me. Yes, yes, things could be a lot worse, I know. But that doesn’t take away from how I feel about being different.

So, I need to turn the house upside down in an effort to find my passport which I will need in the next few weeks. It’s a real pain and I don’t like it.

Just to cheer myself up and because I have learned how to, crank up the volume and enjoy 3.21 minutes of  The Hives  🙂


The mystery of the avocado

There is an avocado in the fruit bowl, nestling between some bananas in an effort to make itself softer and more alluring. I don’t remember how it got there. I ask Mr Mason. He says ‘you bought it when you went out yesterday and I found it in the bottom of the shopping trolley’. Oh, I have amnesia when it comes to the purchase of avocados. Actually, I have amnesia when it comes to a lot of things these days and it shows no signs of abating. Looking up information on the internet, it seems that memory loss and impairment of mental function often returns. Meaning sometimes it doesn’t. Memory loss or not, it still reminds me of the Bill Bryson book where he walks part of the Appalachian trail and reads a book on bear attacks. He was not really comforted to read ‘Bears rarely attack’ because in Bryson speak, it meant ‘Sometimes – they do!’ And that’s how I am viewing my mental impairment at the moment.

What will I do if it doesn’t come back? It’s all very well being amusing, referring to actors as ‘the one who isn’t Harry Enfield’ (and, of course, I mean Paul Whitehouse) but that will only get me so far and, to be honest, it’s not that much fun telling someone that I am reading a really good book but I can’t remember who it is by or what it is about nor, indeed, what it is called. And before you shout me down with cries of ‘it’s old age!’ – it’s not. It’s really not. Multi-tasking was a specialty of mine. I could juggle tasks with ease, remember what needed to be doing when and never forgot a birthday. Now? I am unreliable and can’t be sure to remember anything and it’s fucking annoying. That’s clearly putting it mildly but I am aware I may have some young people tuning in.

So, apart from the forgetfulness, the absence of the multi-tasking ability and the ability to buy fruit without remembering, I can’t see properly. My eyes constantly tear up. I wander along the high street looking like I am perpetually tearful which, I am, but not for reasons of sadness but because my eyes don’t know when to shut up. They go on and on, tearing away like anything, ruining my attempts to look interesting with the application of a little makeup and causing me to be hypervigilant about carrying tissues which, given the state of my memory, is a tall order. Not only do they fill with water, they also fail to see things properly. They are really letting the side down. Talking to fellow cancer survivors, I learn this is quite a common problem but not one which is widely talked about. And, let’s face it, glasses are expensive to replace but not the sort of thing you can skimp on.

I decide on a whim to visit the local opticians. They say they are doing eye tests for free which appeals to the hard-up side of me. I enquire if they can see me and they have an appointment there and then. I wheel in my shopping trolley and feel embarrassed about it. I hadn’t planned on having my eyes tested or I would never have taken the shopping trolley. I feel it marks me out as elderly, infirm or slightly bonkers. However, I can’t do anything about it so I apologise for it and then go with the young man who seriously looks like he should still be at school. I am expecting a proper optician to pop up at any moment but no, this young man is the optician and he is going to check my eyes. Now, I have a freckle/mole/birthmark – call it what you will – at the back of my eye which always excites opticians and they spend a lot of time looking at it. When I say a lot of time, I really mean it. This young man is no different. He shines lights in my eyes like an expert interrogator and contorts himself about so he can see it from every angle. I reassure him it’s been looked at and it’s fine. It’s not a lesion which is what they worry about. It’s just a birthmark/freckle/mole. He still spends ages looking at it and tells me he wants me to be seen annually ‘just in case’. We all know what he means and I am far too fed up with the whole thing to even open up that debate. He explains kindly that chemotherapy has stiffened my retina which means my sight is worse than it was a year ago and that it won’t recover. Bugger. And also boo to those who told me it was just old age. The next person who says that is going to get a sock in the mouth. Honestly.

The next stage of the torment is to go and choose glasses. I don’t think I look good in any glasses but I have a steely and determined woman with me who is going to tell me what looks good and find bargains, to boot. She is very drawn to the designer brands but I tell her I am not going to pay that much. She then searches through all the sale glasses to find designer brands heavily discounted. Personally, I don’t mind if my glasses were designed by a chimp as long as they look OK and do the job. I don’t know who Roxy or Osiris is or are and I don’t care. I tell her if I’m going to change glasses then I’d like something different. This is a mistake. She finds me pairs that make me look demented and says bizarre things like ‘you really like lime’ which I am hard pressed to understand. She is very fond of one pair which looks like an old lady might like them. Something for that woman in Murder She Wrote. But not me. I finally decide on a red pair which I’m not sure I like and a roundish pair (they are Roxy!!) which will have those lenses that go dark in the sun. Whatever they are called. Memory failure. The sum I have to pay is astronomical and I wince as I type in my PIN number. Ouch.

They will be ready in 10 days’ time whereupon she informs me we can meet again for another hour of torture as she fits them and waxes lyrical about spring arms and designer brands. Will they stop my eyes tearing up? I hear you cry. No, of course not. But I may be able to read subtitles a bit better which will make me slightly less grumpy. Oh, the joys of cancer. It really is the gift that goes on giving. Hmm. Maybe a good strapline for one of the charities.