Don’t do drugs, kids

Sometimes it takes me ages to write the next blog. It is usually because life gets in the way in some guise or another and, in this case, it’s because I’m feeling unwell in various ways. No sooner than we get the good CT scan, the rib pain comes on and doesn’t give up. It stops me from sleeping and I can actually point to the areas where it hurts. “It hurts when I press here” I tell Mr Mason. “Don’t press it, then” he says, with the age-old family joke. He speaks to the GP who says he will ask for an ultrasound of my liver. A couple of days later, I go to see a different GP from the practice. They are all nice, accommodating and listen to me but I am struggling to get someone to actually examine me. The second GP doubles my morphine so that we can get on top of the pain. He also writes to my oncologist to ask for a bone scan. Bone scans are my least favourite thing as they so claustrophobic. This GP tentatively examines me but really is interested in pain so that’s what his goal is. With this amount of morphine in my system, I am really off my head. I go to see another GP a day or so later (the exact chrononology is a bit muddled, unsurprisingly) to check his opinion of my  medication which he concedes is a little high but as long as it’s got on top of my pain, that’s fine. I can also take a sleeping tablet should I wish to. He also feels around the painful area on my ribs and can’t find anything untoward. He is quite reassurring.

The difficulty in taking lots of morphine is that there are side effects. I am in the car with Mr Mason when I can quite clearly see Mr Mason jnr sitting in front of me on the seat at the front of the bus carrying a big log and wearing fawn trousers. I text him to see if he will turn round but receive a text back saying “No, I’m not”. I know it’s pantomime season but I don’t get into the “Oh yes you are” repartee. He probably wouldn’t respond, either. I have conversations with people I know and people I don’t know, often deep and interesting but I find it a little concerting when Mr Mason breaks in with some real live conversation and I realise I’ve been off in my drug fuelled world again. I decide to cut down the amount I am taking gradually to see whether the pain returns or not and manage to get back to my normal level in 2 weeks which actually impresses the oncologist. He thinks that as the pain has subsided, it is probably musculo-skeletal and that it will flare up occasionally but that’s about it. He’s arranging for a bone scan which he says won’t be before Christmas and smiles with me as I realise I will get a week off chemotherapy over Christmas.

In between all this muddle, my friend, Mrs Jones, comes to visit me from Nottingham and we take her to see the seals. Ever since I open my eyes I don’t feel right. Can’t put my finger on it but I just feel a bit icky. As we are leaving to pass the last of the seals, we see a small chap who has found some water channels and is busy swimming up and down them. In one lane, he finds it blocked by a bull seal and his little fins go twenty to the dozen to get out of there. All the while he calls for his mum who ignores him and he seems to get further and further away from her. He starts to scramble up the grassy bank towards us, calling and puffing for all he’s worth. When he gets to the top he does the one thing I suspect will kill him. He puts his head through the fence and we jump away as though burned. If you take a look at him you’ll see why someone with less self-control might just have put a hand down to stroke his head, unwittingly meaning his mother will reject him and he will die. After a few moments calling us all Mum, he flapped his way off again towards another cow with her pups but he wasn’t well received. I could never be a wildlife photographer or journalist. The plight of this one little seal pup has stayed with me.

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As we leave Donna Nook, I begin to feel worse but we haven’t eaten so maybe that will make me feel better. It doesn’t. It just makes me want to urge the tea lady to hurry up with her food and then for my companions to eat faster. I am rapidly feeling so ill I don’t even feel I can speak. I signal I need to go home. Urgently. We arrive home, I dash to the bathroom, show Mrs Jones my trumpet lights and then say that I have to go to bed. She is great about it and has a good old natter with Mr Mason downstairs while I crash out. My temperature goes up and down, I feel a bit chilly and then OK so I tough it out. Over the next few days I am in bed with aching limbs and headaches but determined not to go to hospital. One one day, Mr Mason also feels a bit yucky (or “a bit umpty” as his parents say) so I am convinced it is a virus. Gradually the symptoms subside and, due to the reduction of my morphine, I stop seeing things and having conversations whether I don’t know if I’m awake or asleep. On our wedding anniversary – 36 years this year – I write Mr Mason a card but get confused with Valentine’s Day and our anniversary. I end up writing a lot of hallucinatory stuff which will no doubt make its way through the family annals as to “This is when Granny went mad and we have it in writing”. Actually, should the day occur when I am a grandparent, I am going to be Babcia in honour of my lovely friend, Ms Baranska, who very sadly died on 22nd November 2015, another victim of cancer, this time of cancer of an unknown origin. She was just 32.

Our exciting news is that not only is Mrs Safaie snr coming to spend Christmas with us but it also looks as though Mr and Mrs Mason are also coming. This news is absolutely epic given that Mrs Mason snr hasn’t stepped outside the back door for several years and I’m not sure even owns a pair of shoes any more. In between high temperatures, headaches and exhaustion, I have been ordering a new bed and bedding, re-arranging the bedrooms and making sure the annexe is up to scratch, getting a wardrobe dismantled (not the Mr Shaya jnr way), Christmas shopping and planning work for the new year. The physical work is not mine, of course, but that of Mr Mason and our gardener, Gavin.

I was almost on the point of declaring blog bankruptcy given that it has been so long since my last episode but I enjoy writing and although it’s frustrating when I can’t write chronologically, I suppose that level of control also has to be let go. I know there have been messages on Facebook and via email that I have not answered but if the choice is between a quick nap or writing, the quick nap will often win. So just sit back and imagine how the last great storm whipped through the village making it sound as though we were on a beach and shaking the ancient trees to their foundations (none felled, though, that I saw). The owls were quiet that night but are now back with a vengeance. And at the weekend we went to the Horncastle Christmas Market which is low key but entertaining and  I got to hold a barn owl which was incredible. I wish I could sign off with Too Wit, Too Woo but alas, that’s the Tawny owl so until the next time, Eeeeek eek eeeeeek!

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Tiger, tiger, burning bright – why didn’t you protect the ducks?

The last few weeks are full and busy. We have visitors who arrive laden with chocolates, flowers, presents for the dogs and, more importantly, themselves to entertain us. No-one minds when I drag myself off to bed early and don’t over indulge in wine. We take a trip to Chester to see our dear friends Mr and Mrs Hurley, she who has been to hell and back with treatment and an incredibly long hospital stay. As we arrive, I am grabbed and hugged and sobbed over, so intense is the emotion. It is truly wonderful to see them both looking so well and before we know it we have been talking for 4 hours and Mrs Hurley is looking decidedly tired. It’s a real frustration – you look forward to seeing people so much and then after a while you can’t even hear what they are saying, the tiredness which overwhelms you is so great. And yet you don’t want them to go. I don’t want to leave, either, but we have a long drive home so we need to go. They are tolerant with Lark who manages to sneak upstairs and carefully remove a small bear which takes her fancy. She takes it into the garden to chew and throw around and they still smile fondly even though I suspect they would like to throttle her at that moment. The sausage she buries carefully under the bush is dug out and given quietly to Dog who doesn’t mind the dirt. The journey home is excrutiating and I am in pain which I can’t shift. It is such a relief to see our gate and tumble into bed.

Saturday sees the sun shine and the Old Bolingbroke Village Fete. It really is like an episode of Midsomer Murders. Held in someone’s garden, we turn up to see how many people we now know and it’s a pleasant surprise. Those who do know us say hello and those who don’t also say hello and introduce themselves. I meet our next door neighbour for the first time, thus puttting to bed the rumour that I don’t really exist or that I am a Mrs Rochester-type character. I meet people’s wives for the first time and feel we’re starting to become known which is very nice. There is a tea tent with home-made cakes, a home-made cake stall which is laden with fabulous creations. Someone tells us there are mostly one or two people who create all these comestibles and there is a rumour that Doug who used to live in our house has bought a cake made by me. But it’s false – I haven’t made anything but next year I just might. There are a couple of very sad tombola stalls which we feel obliged to try, winning a deodorant and some washing up liquid. There is a large game of skittles being run by the vicar who looks exactly like a Midsomer Murder vicar. He is rather portly and wears a battered straw hat. As far as I know, that is the extent of the Midsomer Murder similarity. No-one was killed by drowning in cheese (a new death designed by my friend Miss Ede and myself, following a visit to the Louth Cheese Shop) and I don’t think anyone ran off with the church money.

Our very good friend Mr Giffin comes to visit and brings his dog, Ludo, with him. Ludo is a very agreeable black labrador with an unhinged streak. Arriving late at night, Lark decides she must repel all boarders and barks herself silly, making Dog join in. She shows a very aggressive streak in defending the house and its occupants and it’s only as they are preparing to go 2 days later that she thinks she might quite like to play with Ludo after all. Dog steps up into the Top Dog role beautifully, seeing Lark’s more extreme attacks off by protecting Ludo and putting Lark’s head in his mouth at every opportunity. He is saying for all the world “This is not how we behave with guests”. Dog is much more socialised than Lark which is something we need to remedy.

House training progresses well until a wet spell of weather sends us back in time. Lark decides she cannot possibly go to the toilet outside when it is raining. I put on a coat and hat and take her outside on her lead for at least 10 minutes and she stands miserably around getting wet but doing nothing. No sooner are we back inside than she has weed on the utility room floor. Dog is clearly joining in the training effort and when she poos right in front of him in the conservatory, he barks at her to tell her it’s not on. If only he could communicate a little clearer, she would get it, I’m sure.

The district nurse comes round to check my bottom but, to my joy, it is a different nurse. I have been brooding on this problem all week and have decided to ask her to take the cushion away so there will be no need for anyone to come and examine me. This nurse is reason itself and I explain what happened last time and she rolls her eyes and says sometimes the healthcare assistants get carried away. She looks at the cushion which I tell her isn’t even very comfortable and she agrees and lets some air out. She is more than happy not to come and check me over weekly and instead we settle on a very agreeable telephone call once a month and a call from me in between if necessary. I realise how stressed I have been feeling over this issue and feel very relieved we have come to an agreement. I really don’t want to fill my week up with medical appointments which is surprisingly easy to do. Even appointments like Reiki start to come burdensome when they are tacked on to a chat with the nurse and an appointment with the physio. I would really like some days where we have absolutely nothing in the diary at all so we can just drift about and do whatever we feel like during the time I feel energetic. I have really started to notice if I miss a morphine pill. The aches and pains that come with its omission are excruciating and oral morphine doesn’t have the same effect. Fortunately the symptoms disappear once I have had 24 hours on the right medication but yes, I suppose I am now addicted to morphine. Not something I had ever expected but it has become an essential part of every day living. I also feel like raging against the unfairness of this illness, how it hits people of all kinds, young and old and, more importantly, people I love. So I am sending a huge wave of love to my friend Ms Baranska who is struggling at the moment and could do with some very positive vibes.

Living in the countryside means we see lots of animals. Some are squashed on the road but we also see the live ones, skipping along include huge hares (how lovely they will taste in the Autumn) and deer (ditto). There is an ostrich farm near us and they have a few ostriches knocking about in a field nearby, wobbling their heads and looking confused. We buy our eggs from a farm that raises turkeys, ducks, geese and all kinds of other birds. You go down a driveway and into the yard where they are all milling around happily and eventually someone comes out and sells you the most delicious fresh eggs I have ever tasted. This time, Mr Mason gets out of the car and speaks to the farmer. Then he comes to the window and says “Get out of the car! Quick! Come and see this!” He is not usually an excitable chap so I am curious as to what has got his dander up. I get out of the car and about 6 feet away, I see this.

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He is so close I could have touched him but I am not that simple. There is a long, complicated story behind his stint on a poultry farm but that’s for another time. The sad thing was a fox got in and killed 17 ducks so there were no duck eggs for us. Now, with a tiger in the yard, that’s one hell of a gutsy fox.

In a consulting room far, far away…

Saturday 8th March dawns a little cloudy but with a promise of sunshine. The temperature is mild, even by March standards. Mr Mason and I get ready for paddling as we are off to the Royal Albert Dock to train hard; it is only a few weeks before we go to Venice for the Vogalonga. Dog makes a sad face as we leave him in charge of the house and cats.

It is an important day. 2 years ago I was sitting in hospital being prodded, scanned and biopsied (I’m not sure if that is a real word but you know what I mean) before facing the surgeon who gave me the news that I had cancer in the most cavalier way possible. In case you haven’t heard it before, this is how it went.

“I am very worried about you. The radiologist is very worried about you and I think you should prepare yourself” I ask what I should prepare myself for, thinking he is telling me I have terminal cancer. “Well, when you came in here this morning you told me you didn’t think it looked good so I thought you had prepared yourself.” A few sniffles from me. I look blankly at him. What do we do now? “Do you want to read the radiologist’s report?” I do not know. I ask if I should read it. “Well, it doesn’t make very nice reading” he says, deadpan. He looks at me as though I am a boring person at a cocktail party,not the patient he has just delivered devastating, life-changing news to. No smile, no sympathetic look. Absolutely deadpan. And before you go thinking that’s just my memory of events, Mrs Halford is with me and she is shocked by his attitude. She snatches up the report and says “We’re going”. At the desk, pausing to make another appointment, I ask the receptionist through teary eyes whether I can see another surgeon and she confirms in a way that makes me think she knows what he can be like. The man in the blue chalk-stripe suit, the silk hankie tucked into his breast pocket and looking like a man who hasn’t a care in the world.

I sometimes see him now when I’m waiting for an appointment in hospital and think – should I ask him if I can talk to him for 5 minutes and then give him a good slap tell him how his delivery felt? Would it make any crack in the hefty veneer? Possibly not. I have not found the courage/energy/will to tackle him. Maybe a letter but I would not know what the response was and that is something I would need to see.

So, Saturday, out on the water. It is glorious. We work as a team and I find I am able to paddle a few strokes more each time we perform the gruelling pyramid. We start with 10 strokes with 10 seconds rest, then paddle 20 strokes with 10 seconds rest all the way up to 100 and back down again. It is tough and I cannot pretend I paddle 100 strokes all in one go but by the end of our training session, we find out we have paddled 10km! Wave Walkers even has its own little entry in Wikipedia. OK, cough, cough. I have to admit I added it but why not?

There have been many people and events which have helped me on the road to recovery and who have been around through some of my very darkest moments. Especially Mr Mason who found himself holed up in Boston with me on morphine trying to celebrate our wedding anniversary. That was a pretty bleak moment. He didn’t even get anything to eat that night. No fat rascals. Nothing. I cannot name everyone who has had a hand in pulling me out of the cancer mire but it feels quite emotional to get to this point. A point I was not sure I would reach at times. For those of you who read my Facebook blog – I kept most of the bad stuff out of it. It seemed cruel to tell how I was feeling when it wasn’t good. But here we are today, out on the water with fellow cancer survivors, the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces. I have a ribbon in my hair and I may look ridiculous but you know what? I don’t care.