Aged camel chair from Lanzarote; completely irrelevant but reminder of another, cancer-free world out there.

May 8th 2015

So it begins and ends. I am a writer of fiction. Inevitably my fiction, like everyone else's, picks up on life - devours it some would say. Which doesn't mean it say it isn't fiction. The business of novelists is to make things up. That means twisting, turning, inverting, reverting stories, themes and images from life into different stories, different contexts. So I write a novel: Goodnight Ophelia. Create a character, so far from me I dare give her certain parts of my life. Above all, I give her my family's genetic BRCA1 cancer. From which my mother died, aged 53; my twin sister died, aged 51, and from which both my younger sister and I have suffered;and;survived. Not fun - but it could have been worse - it could have been say BRCA2 - or, any amount of still more hideous things.

Jane Ophelia - Jo - in my book - is dying. I have, by definition, never been on my deathbed let alone died... Though of course, equally by definition in such a family, I have sat by more than one deathbed - using those as grist to my fictional mill in the way we ruthless people called writers tend to.I have also as I have said had cancer: three times up to the writing of this book - with 25 year and then 10 year gaps between. I am one of the lucky ones.

Ironically, however, just as the book about my dying woman comes out, up pops, once more, the dread lurgy; on the opposite side of my body this time. Still not a death sentence by the look of it - those with a known gene get picked up fast: but still not a pleasant prospect. I am less afraid, therefore, not so afraid, as massively PISSED OFF. Who wants to spend months wedded to hospital waiting rooms. And worse, hospitals. ..having nasty things done to you. Meantime I wait for all that to start. And sit on my sofa, sore in the legs having spent yesterday traipsing around the back ends of Ealing and Acton digging out voters - at least that was one campaign that succeeded;- watching the election;result - with dismay - and determining to stick around for the next one. If anyone needs the NHS it's me. Let's hope it remains there.

None of this improves my general sense of doom; I also sit reflecting on how differently breast cancer is treated now from my first encounter with it, back in 1980. I'll blog about that as time goes on. But right now I am going to get some sleep after a rough night, and then disappear to Scotland tomorrow to rev up for the unwelcome processes to follow. No, I'm not going to emulate Jane Ophelia's fate, at least not this time. I shall also be hoping not to see too many shots of DC and GO in high-viz jackets and builders' helmets for some time to come.. God save us all. PS. Lovely GP just rang to commiserate. The medical profession can be nice when it tries. I also have the loveliest of surgeons too. Not liked by nurses, apparently, because on ward rounds he spends far longer with patients than the other consultants. Much as this may inconvenience nurses, as a patient I will be - I was, 10 years ago - grateful.

May 11th 2015

I should at this moment be being rained on on the island of Mull. But alas, a dread stomach bug struck on Friday, the day before we were due to leave. And that had to be that. The worst downside apart from that, of course, is that when you have a lurking alien in your breast you fear any bug is some kind of exacerbation, even when, clearly, as in this case it isn't. I could, of course, claim that the stranger had lowered my immune system: but suspect the bug had more to do with five hours of tramping the streets knocking up voters (some friendly; some not - one woman yelled from a window 'go away and don't come back' - I had sneaking sympathy; knockers up had been very assiduous in those parts) and then consuming a suspect samosa. The upside, now, three days later, is that looking out from my bed of sickness today, as yesterday, I see that the swifts are back.....and feel uplifted by them the way I do every year. Lovely lovely lovely. My favourite birds almost. Birds are it.

Years ago, after my first bout with the family lurgy, I took part in a visualisation programme in which we were all invited to imagine something or other snatching our tumours out of our bodies. I came up with swans - such powerful birds - reaching out their long necks and still stronger, evil beaks, and plucking out little black wriggling things that looked like tadpoles. I thought of this a couple of weeks ago, the last day with beloved little sister from Oz, when we went down to the Barnes Wetlands - now with everything grown up a much more inviting place than it looked in its earlier more industrial phase. At the back of it are bare reservoirs reaching away and a hide from where you can watch what's going on there. Immediately outside the window of the hide are two little arms of the reservoirs, separated by a glass bank. In the nearest, that day, a duck is swimming with around 10 very new ducklings; lurking in the background are two drakes. Suddenly, down plops a heron. Duck very anxiously gathers her little ones around her, shouts angrily at the new arrival; I wonder why; surely herons only eat fish? Alas; I am wrong. Stalemate, for a while. But then one of the drakes ups and drives the duck away; the heron seizes its moment; heaves its wings up, rises, swoops, rises again, a squeaking duckling held by one leg, dangling from the heron's beak while its wings rises and falls in a heron's lazy way, to the other side of the pond. Sad end of the baby; oh what a short life. The duck meanwhile takes her chance, hustles her brood over the grass bank and down onto the relative safety of the other small arm of the reservoir. One of her babies, though - as is normal with children - hasn't been listening; there it still swims in the first pond, all by itself, squeaking, while its mother calls ever more frantically from the other side of the bank. If I have hoped the heron has already eaten its fill I am wrong about that too. It looks back, sees, flies up, flies down; stands in the water, looks and then heaves up and grabs again. Again one duckling less - I think of the song I sing to my grandchildren - two little ducks went swimming one day - in this case two little ducks did not come back. My sister was very upset. And so was I; in a way.

On the other hand given the scads of mallard ducklings everywhere, they couldn't all be left to grow up, could they and the heron needed to eat, didn't it? What we saw was brutal, it was awful; it was also rather wondrous; oh the economy by which nature provides itself - talk about a take out lunch. In my present fix I am horrified and comforted simultaneously. If I go on for it again, I could, I think, rejig my visualisation, replacing swans and tadpoles with swans and ducklings. But then again maybe not. Tadpoles are too embryonic to suggest pathos...whereas ducklings in such situations embody it. (Jemima Puddleduck anyone?) Slaughter of the innocents maybe not quite the healthy image I want to encourage my healing, if healing this activity helps.

I'd almost forgotten about the visualisation business up till now; part of the cancer subculture into which I plunged thirty years ago, seeking some relief from the brutality of the orthodox approaches to my disease - by which I don't mean the doctors were brutal, apart from the treatments they were forced to impose, then as now. But their training had left them no obligations to think one step beyond the physical. The minds, the feelings of their patients were not considered to have any part in treatment, let alone to be capable of helping or impeding the progress of the disease. This left a large gap - into which stepped a more imaginative and sympathetic alternative world - along with the quacks, alas - for it could be, it was, a very lucrative business.Things have changed in orthodox medicine, at least. I'll write about that. But not till another day.

May 12th 2015

Well then: Himself now has nasty stomach bug, so malevolent fantasies about its origins in my alien can be put to rest. Shame it's at his cost, though, but I think he's generous enough not to mind. It is also raining non-stop in Mull, so that's one upside about not being able to get there. Likely result might have been pneumonia which three weeks before the start of 'down with P's alien' campaign by the Royal Marsden, might have been an even less helpful prelude than norovirus four weeks before. Preferable to either would have been no bug and no rain - let alone no alien; but you can't have everything.

Meantime we have retired rather less far north to Himself's retreat on an organic farm in Oxfordshire where the swallows replace swifts to lift up P's heart. Don't say - doesn't the threat of a mortal illness make one appreciate life more? - maybe it does, but I think I'd rather appreciate it less and not have the present prospect. And anyway swifts and swallows, let alone the burgeonings of May, always have lifted up my heart and I don't need any such illness to remind me to uplift it. So there. A preliminary skirmish is to take place next Monday afternoon - a CT inspection of my lymph system, the summons to which arrived with the usual lengthy list of instructions - drinking pints of water, not eating two hours before, no jewelry no metalware on clothing (do I have a track suit? - no but I do seem to remember possessing a rather jazzy and barely worn pair of loose leggings from Uniqlo which would probably be more suitable than the only other non-metallic candidate: namely checked male M&S pyjama bottoms, inherited from sadly deceased husband of a dear friend. I don't fancy walking through South Kensington in those.) The one instruction I don't get which I remember from last experience of such an investigation back in 1980, was 'don't hug babies or old people for 24 hours' or something of that ilk, because this scan involved having a purple radioactive substance injected into said system - have things changed? Or have they changed only to extent of not having that instruction handed out till the deed is done, in order to avoid frightening you in advance? Don't know about that. All will become clear sometime after 3.25pm next Monday afternoon.

What I do have now is a clearish memory of that last event, taking place in a far older hospital which, to my memory, had much more wood in it than any current pallid-linoleum-cloned outfit does. And that it was quite a jolly session presided over by a plump and amiable 50 something lady who told me she kept bees on a roof above her flat in Wembley. IN WEMBLEY? How could I forget a detail like that? What if the bees swarmed in the middle of a cup final? And what did the bees get to eat? She did assure me that there were plenty of flowers growing in Wembley and that the honey was delicious - I asked if she'd send me some but she said she didn't get so much. I wonder if she's still doing it. Probably not; she'd be well into her eighties now. I hope she's still alive though. She was nice. A significant detail for the secretly - or not so secretly terrified person I was back then.

May 14th 2015

Sic transit.... this time last week I was traipsing the back streets of Acton, being promised by an eager fellow activist that Ed M would be prime minister within two weeks and expecting to be up in Mull by Sunday....Today I sit in Oxfordshire farmhouse, looking out on a farmyard on which the rain is falling; swallows are sensibly absent today - while Mr C ever pinker and smugger has been Prime Minister since Friday. The wretched Norovirus is more or less in retreat, apart from the odd rearguard skirmish - the thriller with which I've distracted myself is finished, alas; the prospect of next week's shenanigans now loom ever closer.

The alien in left breast, the reason for the shenanigans has many ancestors, I've discovered: the Marsden genetics team, that first set up the British BRCA1 database in which our family figures, encourages setting up of family cancer trees. The furthest back I've tracked ours was to my great great grandmother, wife of the military engineer turned government architect who designed not only Broadmoor but Pentonville Prison - an ancestry carcogenic enough in its own way. Pentonville, curiously enough featured in a telly programme the sick pair of us were watching this week: it featured the Caledonian Road, the prison's dour walls looming as ever over the now upwardly mobile terraces north east of King's Cross; an awful warning perhaps to their prosperous inhabitants not to be too smug about said prosperity; t'is possible to fall down as well as up. Viz: my poor great-great grandmother,one Mary Legh Thomas, married 1830, died 1850, in her early fifties or younger, at a guess; leaving her prison-rearing husband to marry a much ritzier Lady Amelia, four years later, which was alright for him, though what her step-children thought is another matter. (My family now as then has rather gone in for stepmothers, though not all of them for that reason.)

It was too early for Mary Thomas' death certificate to be accessible. But subsequent history makes it likely that she did die from such cancer. Her daughter, my great grandmother also died in her fifties - her death followed shortly after by that of my one-legged great-grandfather (losing a leg - in the Crimean War in his case - seemed another family inheritance, if less genetic; his father lost one of his, in the Peninsula War): her two granddaughters, my great aunts, also succumbed in their turn, one in her fifties, the other having survived breast cancer, in her seventies - 'riddled with cancers' was the description, pointing even in such euphemism to the likelihood of her having succumbed to the equally prevalent BRCA1 scourge, ovarian cancer. Their brother, my grandfather, was obviously a carrier too, for the full sweep continued into my mother's generation, and thence into mine. All four of us carried the bloody thing; the only comfort is that in the next generation down the three who have been tested are all clear. Let's hope more of them are. This is not, otherwise, a happy record. Sic transit.

May 15th

Ah, no rain today and outside in the yard the pigs are being cleaned out. A large sow lies with a big belly. Any time now she'll farrow; life goes on at speed for pigs. Last years babies are probably well on their way to dinner tables now. Meanwhile, listening to Bradley Wiggins on Desert Island Discs talking about his family traumas, I decide on some blog housekeeping; namely moving a large chunk of the last post - all too much for one episode - to a new page; here.

As a child I knew none of the family history; I can just remember the aged aunt,but she died, old people did; of how we were not told . But my mother knew everything and though genetic transmission then could not be proven, was duly terrified of it all turning up in her. Always an edgy woman - having lost her mother at the age of three - not from cancer in this case -and having been shunted round from aunt to aunt thereafter, it was not surprising. My father, though more hidden due to upper lip stiffening imposed on him by his upbringing, was a not much sounder case; born to parents old enough to be his grandparents he suffered a very lonely - and, given his exposure to a prep school at an early age and a sadistic headmaster - oh the unthinking brutality of the English upper-classes - sometimes brutalised childhood. In the patronising way of children towards their parents I thought of them from at least my twenties as babes in the wood, clinging together, covering themselves with leaves for protection. The arrival of my mother's cancer constituted the expected arrival of evil robbers. Against whom they submitted themselves - or rather submitted my mother - to an ever more drastic series of remedies, in the attempts to preserve her life and their adoration for each other.

The first remedies were normal enough at the time; a radical mastectomy, a horrible business which involves removing not only all the breast and all the underarm lymph nodes but all the pectoral muscles as well. No surgeon since the 70's would consider doing such a thing; apart from anything else it is no guarantee of anything. This was followed by radiotherapy, normal enough to this day, though then much less accurately targeted. I was in my last term at Oxford, rejoicing in the end of finals, celebrating everywhere, beginning to think almost nostalgically of what was about to be the past. When I took the telephone call, on a sunny morning in June standing in the hallway of the convent in whose hostel I lived, I did not know what to think. I was shocked obviously. But assured that all was well, would be well, I was only too willing to believe it: I did believe it - other people's mothers died but our mother wouldn't. No, you needn't come home till term finishes they assured me, so I retired happily to my adolescent solipsism - twenty-one almost, going on twelve - cosseted girls like me grew up very slowly then - and to our end of term parties, to the prospect of my first book coming out, within the next few weeks and the resultant publicity for the infant prodigy. (An interview in the Evening Standard; a double spread in that long-defunct comic 'Girl'. The odd review talking about a 'young magician.') How could my mother's ailment compete against that? And anyway my mother seemed back to normal very soon: joking about her 'falsie' replacing the absent breast, in what I suspect were pretty brittle tones, but this was not something I'd have noticed then.

My younger sister tells a different story; only thirteen at the time, she claims she ceased to be mothered at all seriously from that time on. That my mother did withdrew into herself, I only observed myself, in a much more extreme way, when the illness recurred in late September two years later, only a month or so after my marriage; a day on which in my memory, I saw the mother I'd grown up with for the last time. All through that autumn she went through various ordeals, the nature of which I still don't know; but just how far she'd retreated into depression I only realised, when I went down to spend the day with her in the middle of the Cuba crisis. Shocked out of my post-marital bliss I could think of nothing at the time but the possibility that all of us were about to meet our ends; not just my mother. But my mother sat, solid as a block of wood, staring at the wall, acknowledging nothing. It was as if the world and us did not exist - for my mother, for whom family had been everything. Now I can feel and weep for her unutterable aloneness, despite my Dad. And again, seeing her like that, weep for him, how unutterably alone he must have felt, in the face of her depression. But at the time the biggest shock was that he, and with him, us, were no longer the centre of her world. Even if I no longer wanted to be at the centre of her world, too busy setting up my own, I still expected it of her, I think, such was the solipsism of us all, then, apart from my poor abandoned little sister: she was already by far the canniest, for the saddest of reasons. By Christmas we were assuming it was our mother's last. At the new year snow fell and did not stop falling on and off till April. In the middle of the freeze my parents made their last desperate lunge at life, accepting the offer of an untried operation, which involved taking out her pituitary gland, an operation so dubious that a senior houseman at the Maudsley where this operation was performed who happened to be a friend of my husband, muttered his own doubts to us both. But thus it was my mother spent her last two months of life with a bandaged head and fearsome headaches, lying in a gloomy private room, its walls green, its floors wooden, looking out on snow-covered shrubs in the Maudsley's back or front - I don't remember which - while the rest of us slithered most days up and down from Denmark Hill Station, past the tall black tower of the Salvation Army College, past the sweet pairs of Salvation Army students, in full uniform - including bonnets for the women - walking hand in hand along the street, black against white, a vision which even now reminds me of my parents' devotion for each other and what it led to. That was not an operation that should ever have happened.

One day I remember feeding my mother a mushed-up peach from a bowl, holding her head and thinking; I am the mother now; this is the wrong way round. Another day I came in to find her in remission, sitting up, sounding and looking like herself and feeling a wild swing of hope - this is it - everything will go back to normal. But that wretched procedure gave her what two? - three days? of such normality. Not much more. Next time I saw her I'd bought snowdrops from outside the station; winter was beginning to retreat at last. But she was in a coma. A few days after that she died. I look back on all this with disbelief and sadness. But it taught me something - forgive me if I patronise my parentage again in the way of grown-up children - about how not to respond to the dread disease; how to look, or try to, beyond the fear. (I cannot blame them for it of course - what help was out there then; sympathetic doctors yes - especially for a private patient - but what the doctors said went and that was the end of it; and even the nicest doctor was in no way concerned with what went on inside a patient's head, unless it related to physical systems such as brain tissue or neural pathways. Not that my parents would have expected anything better. They were innocents of their own time, calling on birds for help, pulling the leaves over, crying out with terror as they clung to each other unto death.)

I was not expecting to have to put this experience into practice of course. I did not suffer my mother's terror of our genes. Maybe approaching fifty I might have reflected on it, but at the age of forty it never occurred to me that I might be in any kind of danger. I inspected my breasts, as we were all urged to, and as I admitted, reluctantly, was probably a good idea. And so it was I did examine myself in the small hours of one morning, if in a desultory way, lying awake besides my teenage daughter, who was suffering from such bad menstrual pains it seemed easier to keep her in my bed than run endlessly up and down stairs to tend her. And so I found it; a palpably large lump in my right breast - a discovery I greeted with as much as terror as my mother would have greeted hers, I am certain. But then? The story continues from here.

May 17th

Back in London. Swallows abandoned for swifts, assuming they are there in the morning; it looks like rain. Not a piglet in sight. This will be brief. Writing the blog makes me realise why I have never had any desire to write full-on autobiography; relating my own life, except in the briefest of terms, feels tiresome, unlike turning it into fiction. And anyway, now, it's almost time for the Archers.

Unable to sleep last night I realised I'd embarked on the first cancer business a few months into the government of Thatcher; no relief from her lot for 17 years. Hope that's not true of now, renewing the business barely a week after the triumph of Cameron and his. More than likely I'll not be here still if that lasts 17 years. Or maybe I wouldn't want to be. Who knows. Another CT scan is requested; 15.35 on Tuesday to follow 15.35 on Monday. To my dismay realise that both are supposed to take place at the other Marsden site in Surrey. Since this involves a journey of at least an hour and a half each way on a variety of public transport - and in the rain most likely, and, moreover, I'm not entirely convinced of the need for either, am somewhat inclined to decline the offer - at least until said scans can be shifted to the South Kensington scanning site. I didn't have the last lot of scans till the first alien was done for. So why not wait till the second has had its marching orders, if there isn't a slot sooner? Now, unlike then, there's a dedicated nurse I can bleat to - to cry rebellion in the nicest possible terms, since none of it is her fault. Am grateful she exists, though. Some things have changed in 35 years; not just the existence of such support, perhaps, but also a more immediate capacity - in me - to make my own decisions; or try to. Or maybe, at this end of life, I'm merely less bothered about getting it wrong. Let us pray. It really is time for the Archers now.

May 18th

Another fed-up aged..

Wake this morning remembering further fact about scan - that you have to knock back at least two pints of water beforehand.....An hour and a half's travel with a 75 year old bladder harbouring two pints of water? I think not. Ring nice breast care nurses. No answer. Leave message. Ring Imaging department in back end of Surrey where scan booked. Get answer. Oh no, you should never have been booked in here. So no need for fury, merely sense of justified protest. Via several further calls;- including one - or two - from friendly breast nurses, am now on urgent list of Fulham scanners. They still haven't called with date, but at least they're on the case: and If don't hear I am licensed to call and hassle them. Oh and by the way, second CT second scan shouldn't have been that at all, it was supposed to be a PET scan. When I look this up it turns out it is the one where they inject you with a radio-active substance and you are urged not to hug babies. So, much as before, except that you are now fed into a space age container quite unlike the dear old machine of former days. That's changed anyway, as has access to nice breast nurses when things go wrong. How strange, though, that alongside such improvements, along with ever more high tech hardware, admin is worse than it seemed to have been then, at least in my experience.

How speedily everything happened in 1979: my very hands-on and proactive GP got me to the hospital the day after I saw her and would have had me in the surgeon's hands two days later, had it not been Christmas Eve; surgeon and I had to wait till the day after Boxing Day - what a very merry Christmas that was, by the way. Proactive GP more than knew her surgeons too. When I, mindful of my mother's experience, stated refusal to have a mastectomy at any price, she sent me to the only one prepared to do a lumpectomy (he is now a legendary figure - thirty-five years later you stil find the odd article about him in the national press.) But I was lucky; then as now, the equivalent of postal lottery prevailed. A patient of local male GP was referred to the very crap local hospital which my GP refused to touch - she waited two months for an appointment: was dying by the time I met her. But at least, given a good GP, things could happen quickly for NHS patients. My surgeon declared; 'I don't believe in waiting lists for women with breast cancer'- and had the resources to act on that, too. Now, even in such a top hospital as the Marsden, even in spite of the fact that with my history and BRCA1 status, I did get to see someone fast, in other respects progress seems much more stately. My difficulties in accessing a scan may well put all treatment back; planning consultantancy scheduled for Wednesday could be redundant according to helpful breast nurse. Just as well perhaps, there are now such shoulders to cry on. Such a minor thing, I realise having to go a distance for a scan; why make a fuss.

This morning I read the obituary of a woman who's died of cancer at the age of 53 - and feel mildly ashamed. But still, in these still tiresome circumstances, it is the minor things that get to you, day to day. Cool you might be, in some respects - Death, what's that then? - and, in my case, having written a book about someone else's seems to have been useful therapy. On the other hand, the prospect of an hour and a half on two trains and bus with a leaky bladder, of another hour and a half getting home thereafter, that does seem altogether too much; and so, shameful as it might be, that's what kept me awake and raging last night, not the dying of any light.

May 19th

Good enough day - breakfast with oldest dear friend, good advice from more recent one - decisions made, even if no scan forthcoming. (We will call you with date - oh yeah.Like when?) Suddenly tired of this limbo. Want not so dear alien OUT, plus all flesh containing it. And collateral damage - if any - determined. Consultant meeting in the morning. Let us pray. Meantime, have written a few more lines of current book and also bought another paperback of Middlemarch  - old one has volume two missing - for good long re-read thereafter. That's better, anyway. 

PS masks accompanying this display mood not dissimilar to mine today. The next door meat is appropriate...

May 20th

I started writing this on my iphone yesterday during endless waits for this and that in the hospital. In that way nothing changes, you wait and wait and wait .... though I have the feeling the atmosphere in cancer waiting-rooms has changed somewhat, along with the decor - too many pastel colours there may be, but effect, if bland, much less forbidding. More importantly I get less sense of people sitting grimly, terrified, awaiting death - with some forced cheerfulness thrown in. The decor helps I guess, but the support too. Noone now expects you to get through all this alone. And oh how they shower you with helpful and optimistic little booklets. And aren't the nurses so very friendly and nice.

Appointment with consultant very business like, this time, less of a reunion.....not so businesslike was  P's upending unedifying contents of handbag all over the floor in front of him (memo to self; do a clear out: dead metro tickets from Paris trip not essential to my life..) Lovely consultant kindly about this, but very firm around P's requests to change some aspects of his surgery; he was not at all impressed by reference from minor American medical journal with which request backed up.) Business now arranged for 2nd June - astonishingly what was nearly a week in hospital for mere lumpectomy 35 years ago, and not much less for mastectomy 10 years ago - is now one night even for a mastectomy and even then you are are thrown out at ten o'clock next morning. I suppose it's to avoid hospital infections. Merrily, merrily.

No getting out of the hospital post consultant....first the inevitable blood test, followed by inevitable wait to be weighed measured docketed listed etc etc for the operation to come - a bit like a pig being set up for slaughter. Seems shame the treatment of the big C little changed in important respects even from my mother's day: choice is to be cut, burned or poisoned, sometimes all three. No hope of a simple pill yet which merely does for the cancer and not large parts of you. I had to wait an hour and a half for the pleasure of this annointing, so foreswore lunch in Marsden Friends cafe served by nice blond limp-haired Tory ladies from South Ken, and retired instead to retreat of choice, namely Carluccio's opposite South Ken station, to be surrounded by more limp-haired Tory ladies, of the lunching not so charitable kind, some entertaining grandchildren others being entertained by Tory men in suits. (The younger jeaned sort were patronising the take-away section at the other end.) I fell on my confort of choice: namely a heavenly thing called a Bicerin - a little jug of strong coffee, a little jug of hot, thick, dark chocolate and a jug of cream; to be mixed in whatever ratio you care for. Heaven. Did also have some asparagus and proscuitto......Memo to self; time to foreswear such unhealthy treats and start juicing carrots beetroot etc.... Oh I will, I will,  But not yet, oh lord, not yet. 

Returned to waiting room. Muslim lady covered in black from head to foot, including face, still sitting, motionless, sans entertainment an hour and a half later. Nice Italian woman replaced by a group of Spaniards. The guy at the reception desk looked Polish. That''s another thing that's changed - sick as well we are all multinationals now.

The CT scan has at last materialised. That's today's pleasure, at five o'clock. Oh the boredom. Filling in yet more forms, No I haven't got asthma epilepsy heart trouble high blood pressure, high cholesterol - very healthy me, apart from nasty little alien. What a pain. 

Himself being very nice to me, by the way, somewhat tetchy as I am. It has to be remembered that it isn't just you suffering - in some ways it's easier to be the one done to, rather than the one forced to observe the doing. Poor old man. But I did persuade him to go off and  have a hair cut. Good. Picture above is him, by the way - in Venice in happier season. He's the standing one on the right. With haircut.

Space age machine in and out of one such went she....

May 22nd

The hi-tech object above is not the actual and very new one, the writer was subject to; that sits at the heart of a centre clinical enough but also sufficiently opulent  for the private patients who also use it. It's only been open for two weeks, and is not at all like the rather cluttered space in which she was investigated last time and which allowed her to see the pretty pictures the machine produced. All she could see on her glides through this monster was her name, the date and, flashing up now and then, the all too familiar nuclear warning (a warning which to someone of her generation who grew up and lived through the nuclear terrors of the cold war still feels threatening, in spite of the number of times she has been subjected to it under the many investigations of her cancerous life.) I did ask if I could photograph this beauty, but was told that in the current world of public/private the media rights are restricted - something like that; a mere patient clearly doesn't have any such rights.

Actually it was all very easy; a nice lunch with dear friend, offering good advice as both ex-patient and doctor followed by a quick trip on the tube on the one warm and beautiful day this week. Then I was in and out in of the building within 3 quarters of an hour instead of the threatened two hours. Usual friendly staff; the plump one, dealing with the forms while all smiles didn't let you get a word in edgeways, other than answers to her questions - she clearly liked the conveyor belt of patients to glide past her without interruption. As she hustled through the door into the nuclear suite, someone did manage to ask her if she'd like to be subject to these wondrous machines herself; she claimed she'd always prefer being her side of them rather than ours; wouldn't we all. Now I have sore arm after insertion of tube into same vein as the day before's blood test - liquid sent via tube to make veins etc clearer had weird effect of giving me, briefly, very warm genitals - warning was that it would feel as if you'd peed; but it didn't. It felt pleasantly odd and even faintly sexy. But of course they couldn't put it like that, could they.

Back by the tube station were various entertainers including the one above - fire came out of his tuba as he played but it wasn't available to my phone. Such low tech was reassuring after the space-age suite. Rather more assuring than the music, actually, very pompity-pom but quite jolly all the same.

Dear friend, incidentally, was one of those who back in the 80s produced evidence that the patients who did best under cancer treatment were not the good ones who did what they told, but the stroppy ones like me; as also, counter-intuitively, those who denied altogether that they had cancer. I remember finding this research reassuring then. I still do.

Today the one empty day this week - next week only the PET scan. Calm before storm; feel quite blank, not sure how to fill the time, apart from endless discussions inside self about how to respond to suggestions of chemo-therapy in due course. Busyness stops you thinking. Return to staring at the laptop and the continually interrupted book I'm working on does not. Never mind. Concentrate, old lady. Back to work.

May 24th

Return to piglets swallows rural ?bliss (despite non-stop roar of M40 a few fields away) for holiday weekend. P celebrates by leaving wallet and travel card on bus - fortunately travellers on the Oxford Tube seem to be an honest lot and wallet reappears at bus station, to be retrieved easily enough, despite dire Oxford parking problems. Dog celebrates by eating the sleeve of one of her favourite sweaters - for the second week in succession. (Memo to self, leave clothes too high for dog to reach.) Sky celebrates by dumping water on us, pigs, dog old Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Have suitable clothing for it- how not in rural England. 

Don't spend too much time thinking of nine days ahead (ah the countdown) except to reflect on weird fact of being flat-fronted thereafter for the first time since I was 12. Can choose any shape I like then - could go Jayne Mansfield - ie large - if I wanted. Probably not. Also reflect how this present experience of the dread lurgy lacks the intensity of the first times round; of course it does - and not just because I'm so much older. The first encounter with my mortality generated feelings as sharp-edged and vital as those of an adolescent - or so I remember them. Over that Christmas we were in another part of the country, West Somerset, and, amid all the fear, as we walked on Boxing Day on the hills above the farm I suddenly had the nearest thing to a religious experience I've felt in my life before or since; a huge sense of benign love emanating from those wonderfully female hills - lividly green in the sharp winter light - and totally enveloping me. I've never forgotten either that mental, physical warmth, how could I, or the dream a few days post surgery of lying with a huge weight like a universe crushing down on me, down and down, which suddenly, slowly lifted, leaving only lightness and light; I woke knowing the alien was gone and lay there, sore as I was in blissful release: all right with the world. For now; for then. Thirty-five years ago. It was downhill from there, what with scans, what with treatment; what having purple lines drawn all over the injured breast to direct the lethal rays of the radiotherapy machine. What with those lethal rays themselves, dragging me and my feelings down.

Yet though it never came back I did have still have the dearest memory of that double benign release. Doubt if it will return this time - certainly traipsing round Oxfordshire mud, serenaded by engine noise it doesn't appear. Too old, cynical, world-weary for that, me, these days, I suspect. Maybe. Though I could hope not.