Monday, 13 January 2014


A better day today.

Still no sleep - haven't had a proper night's sleep since last Tuesday, and last night had no sleep at all. This hasn't been anything directly connected with this cancer thang, but to other stuff going on. A crisis, to which I reacted badly.

OK, so I went to the allotment and saw - not what I had feared I'd see, which was a disaster area - but quite a lot needs doing.

Some of it looked kind of fun.

There were also some rewards: treats. Picked sprouts, and pulled some gorgeous fat carrots. Then came home with booty after chatting to the old chap with the blue blue eyes (I can't remember his name).

I like the allotment when it's just a big larder, essentially, the weeds are not growing much, and all we have to do is walk up and get stuff. I'm more a forager than a grower.

But we stocked the larder: hard work last spring and summer got us this.

Then... something else I'd been dreading, easing back into the novel. And I quite enjoyed it.

I tend to beat myself up a bit with writing as duty, especially at the moment when it's my job. BUT oh Lord when it's pleasurable it's really really pleasure. Lots of ideas, suddenly. Too many, of course, to pursue, but the last 4 days I've had none except dark ones unrelated to writing or researching.

It's said that Iris Murdoch and another writer whose name escapes me once got into a conversation about how much they enjoyed writing. Murdoch said 'Oh yes - but you must never tell anyone.'

Perhaps I should think of it as my guilty secret hedonistic pleasure, rather than my guilty undischarged responsibility...

Friday, 10 January 2014

Choices, choices

I have a life-threatening illness.

It is currently curable, they think. With an operation, maybe with more than one. With radiotherapy. Maybe, if needed, chemotherapy. Curable. It may not even affect my life expectancy.

But if it went untreated it would certainly kill me, in time.

So at times when life does not seem worth living, instead of knowing what I would have to do in order to cease, I know that all I have to do is refrain from doing things.

Don't go to hospital. Don't let them operate. Wait. Do what I'm good at: lie low, give no trouble, wait.

And things will happen, of their own accord, and I will not need to trouble myself - before long, will need to trouble nobody.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

My news in 2013

So, the news with which I ended 2013 is that I have breast cancer. It is operable, and both the consultant and the support worker made great stress of the word curable.

In a couple of weeks the surgeon will remove a small chunk of me - a cancer and some surrounding tissue - and also a bit of lymph gland from my armpit. I imagine they grab the lymph first, as this gets whisked away to the laboratory while I'm still unconscious. If they find anything dodgy there they can then take all the lymph glands away in the same operation, which is convenient all round. They may later come back and take the lymph away in a later operation, after they've had time to have a really good look.

The next thing is to give me some radiation - locally applied - to make sure any spare cancer cells that may be lurking get knocked out.

If that doesn't work, there is chemotherapy, which will make me feel considerably crappier, but still a good deal better than cancer would, in the long run.

As the cancer is what is described as 'oestrogen fed', I then have to take an oestrogen blocker for probably the rest of my life. This will be a novelty, as I've taken very little medicine in my 53 years, and nothing day after day since my 20s when I was briefly on the pill. I daresay I can get used to it, and (having spent since November when I first noticed the lump wondering about different possible futures) am relieved that I may have time to.

Before Christmas, I went in for some samples of tissue to be taken from the lump which I had become aware of, and from the other lump I hadn't known about which the screening had identified, and the slightly suspicious lymph glands showing up, like knots in wood grain, on the ultrasound.

The sampling is done with a small spring-loaded gun type device which shoots into you, snatches a little core of flesh, and withdraws it through a shaft not much larger than a needle. It's like being punched hard by an incredibly dense and tiny fist, but means all you're left with is a small puncture wound and a bit of bruising. The consultant clicked it a few times first to get me used to the sound so I wouldn't flinch when it was actually being used - obviously, if you flinch, you're going to have worse bruising. I didn't and had only very tiny bruises.

This is all a part with the extraordinary amount of inventiveness and ingenuity that has gone into trying to stop people dying of cancer. About 250 years of treating breast cancer and finding out what works and what doesn't, from Fanny Burney walking alone to her mastectomy with no anaesthetic and hearing the surgeon's saw grate on her own ribs, to this.

In amongst the ingenuity, the language used is interesting. The support worker, Valerie, talking about possible effects, referred throughout to "ladies" - "some ladies find that this or that". Not being a lady myself, makes me wonder what I'm doing there. Conscious efforts are made to include one's partner, and B had the pleasure of hearing himself referred to as "hubby".

Certain phrases recur I suppose as formulae for getting us all through the social transactions involved. The surgeon read me a form in which he explains what he's going to do, and what he might have to do (for instance, if he needs to take all the lymph instead of a bit), and what effects it might have, and then hands it to me to take away, read and sign, with the words "My gift to you". About 15 minutes later, the support worker, piling information into a big file in case I fancy a bit of light reading, said the same thing.

 Both concluded by saying "Well done" to us both several times. Buoyed on this wave of congratulation we made our way to our bus before I wondered what exactly it was we'd done well - possibly, well done for not breaking down? Or refusing to countenance treatment? Or refrained from punching the surgeon?

Or perhaps it was just a signal that the interviews were over and we had leave to depart, without using words such as 'goodbye' or 'that's your lot', which might, under the circumstances, make people nervous.

So 2013 ends as it began, with a visit to hospital. Last January it was B who had a scare, which turned out to be nothing. Come to think, the last few Januaries have involved visits to hospitals, though always for other people.

This time it's for me, and I'm glad and grateful we have such good hospitals, and the NHS in general - there for us when we need it... still.