June 28th


Oxfordshire. Rain. Headache. Good effect of free aromatherapy on Thursday by brisk and sporty lady from Dorset - and less good effect of eating lunch cooked by nice woman whose daughter had died of breast cancer aged 29 - what have I got to groan about -still alive mid 70s and with a physical age -according to medics - of early 60s and, more significantly, never having lost a child than which I can imagine nothing worse....Physical age, incidentally, may rise sharply In the near future given the outcome of the visit to the oncologist. As a result of which the gingerbread woman, made all too aware of fox''s snapping jaws has had to retreat from hubris. 

Outpatient waiting room of the Royal Marsden had something of character of genteel refugee camp on Friday. Jam-packed. Some unfortunates were told to go away and come another day. Not us fortunately. Even so Himself and I had to wait over an hour - luckily I had brought more than just the Guardian to read. We were finally ushered into our waiting cell - with apologies - it was a particularly small one and only used on such overcrowded days - knocks on door not much needed either as much of the time it was kept propped open as various functionaries came and went: including anxious girl doing a research study which since it would involve still blood tests via already over-used veins I might decline for the moment, despite her anxiety - she came three times. Apart from a plump woman with folder whose function I don't reremember....s

 Simple site complains this blog page is too long  - in consequence has chewed up my hard written entry, addiing to irritation, rain, headache  FURY. I have to move to new one, ...June-July blog , make of the picture what you will. Cheers. 

June 26th; quality versus length...

Here's a man from Portugal playing the flute - well or badly I don't remember, but he made a nice picture and music of any sort mainly lifts me up when it doesn't lay me down. And I need the lifting today, it being the day when, clutching the little piece of paper on which I've set out my stall - what I'd accept - what not - what I want to know - what I don't - I confront the experts. Paper was written yesterday, meaning I didn't spend night hours going over it - or finding myself going over it. So I slept, mostly, right into oncologist day. 2.30. Me and Himself, waiting, apprehensively in the alloted, narrow, medical cell. 

Day busy so far - full of avoidance techniques. Exercise, bath, newspaper, long stint on phone sorting out Himself's efforts to buy requested birthday tickets for one of my favourite dancers, Akram Khan, for today week. Somehow he'd gone down the wrong turning on the Sadler's Wells site and the tickets presented turned out to be for some kind of circus-dance act at the Peacock Theatre. Sadlers Wells box office obliging luckily, and tickets changed. Smart move on Himself's part it occurred to me, ensuring that I revert to being the ticket-buyer in chief again, for ever after. Ha.

Last week's avoidance technique one rainy day was going to the local Vue cinema, to a not very distinguished film which had my favourite Al Pacino in it and a whole raft of John Lennon songs, ditto - not to mention a collection of aged groupies, just like me vis-a vis Al, John etc. So it served its purpose well enough, and I enjoyed it, more or less. But, wouldn't you know, in the weird way that whatever you're currently focussed on seems to turn up round every corner, so it was here. In this case Al Pacino and his long-lost screen son, waiting in a narrow medical cell, waiting for the doctor and that medical lottery called the diagnosis - black ball or white ball or half-black-half-white ball - to appear like magic out of the medical diagnostic hat. In this case the ball looked likely to be white, though you were, somewhat left guessing, if by no means entirely, given that Hollywood always does prefer happy endings. (As do I around such matters; of course.)

Not such a lottery today, in my case; merely a balancing of options; quality of life against length of it; what is acceptable, what isn't. What are the statistics of going for one option rather than another; all the questions asked, and the conditions set out on my little piece of paper.

Let us see.

But let me add that the curious fact about last week's film, my view of ads, trailers, Al Pacino, Annette Bening -always too sane a lady to have settled for that sleeze ball Warren Beatty in my view - but what's to know - John Lennon, not to mention the aged groupies - was had in total solitude; an empty cinema. Which I guess is how, despite wonderfully loving friends and family like mine, despite the company kept in little hospital cells in the company of surgeons, oncologists, nurses and a supportive partner, you receive the information, verdict: in the part of you inhabited solely by yourself, your ex-alien, and any of the alien lurking descendents: your inevitable fate; a place where noone else can keep you company; the place where you live and die alone. 

The etiquette of such places, by the way seems the same in the US as here. The incoming doctor always knocks on the door. Does she think her patient may be making some nefarious use of the exmination bed? Hiding under it? Taking a swig of comforting alchohol - a last sniff of coke? Is this to give you time to pull your knickers up, crawl out from under, hide the drink or coke evidence, stop riflng the medical trolley or what? Suppose you shouted out 'hang on a minute..' Would she? does anyone, ever, ask the doctor to wait? Is there anyone not in fact sitting in that cell in some degree of frozen terror; silent. Confronting in advance the infinite possibilities of iife. Or death.

Thinking of which; ... Last week I read that would-be Islamic martyrs killed by female combatants, don't go to the hoped-for glory, let alone the raft of available virgins. Now that is is one piece of male chauvinism that, for all the codswallop, I will happily go along with.



24 June

more old ladies in support

...En route to nice cancer patient tending organisation in Fulham my phone produced an oncology appointment at last. Friday 2.30. Am grateful to say that nice cancer tending outfit offered me aromatherapy appointment on Thursday morning, which, with any luck will stop this old lady's brain squirrelling round and round the points to be made and asked for at said oncology meeting. Chemo will be required to have good percentage points of advantage to offset the nastiness inevitably on offer; you'd think in the 50 odd years I've observed the cancer business the destruction of so much else in the poor patient's body along with the offending cells would somehow have eased; but no. (I could be, I am, angry about this, hard as I know they've all been trying to produce alternative strategies.) Having survived so long without this particular nastiness I am also inclined to forego it on the simple grounds that the teflon-coated Penelope has shrugged off the disease perfectly well without its attentions  so far, why not again. On the other hand - memo to self - perhaps should remind myself of the Gingerbread Man - intoning 'run run run all you can, you can't catch me I'm the Gingerbread Man,' all while riding along on the nose of the very fox who next moment would be chomping him down. Hubris has a tendency to be risky, in other words; if it is hubris on my part to assume I can survive the bloody thing without the survival means inflicted on my unfortunate fellows. Let us see.

Well, some things have improved. Thirty odd years ago I was not offered free aromatherapy. The orthodox medical lot would have regarded such a luxury as entirely beside the point, not to say just as unnecessary to the well-being of a cancer patient as - for them - and subsequently, in some cases to me - the dodgy things on offer from Homeopathy, Rudolf Steiner outfits, oriental gurus, not to mention the expensive and far dodgier American clinics outsourced to Mexico to avoid falling foul of Federal drug and treatment laws; the kind of things I would become acquainted with all those years ago in my own rage at the insensitivies of the medical establishment - this was following my second encounter with the alien induced by my genetic make-up. (I'll get into all that in a later post.) Now even such orthodox establishments as the Marsden offer stuff like aromatherapy. And I am grateful for the prospect of that heavenly procedure tomorrow; it might not banish the aliens directly but will certainly make me feel good. Which is, I think, the point.  What made me feel equally good, this morning, was the input of an ex-oncology nurse called Sonia, an altogether lovely woman, set to give me an introductory interview at kindly Fulham outfit. Good. Nothing succeeds in this business like sympathetic people being nice to you, then and now.

Time now to head to meet youngest granddaughter. We're off to see Bugsy Malone at the Hammersmith Lyric. As good therapy in itself. Life goes on.


June 23

Another kind of reflective sitting ..

Brief post. Social week - too  social - in between I retire to my sofa like a much less productive Florence Nightingale. No appointment to discuss chemo or not. This does not worry  me - am not in any hurry and this will be a cost/benefit exercise with certain strict requirements: eg no drug which gives me peripheral neuropathy, making it harder to walk. During my first bout - the radiotherapy including one - I was a good little patient - mostly - apart from refusing mastectomy:  I was only 40 and a single parent, not an issue addressed  by the medical profession in the days before reconstruction a possibility,  but certainly addressed by me. A one breasted woman - except possibly among Amazons - might be off-putting for future partners, 

But that was the only rebellion I went in for, still laid too low by the diagnosis to look outside orthodox medicine.  I spent several months low and depressed and only gradually surfaced and came back to normal. It  was a year later when another alien reappeared that I started to take things into my own hands - with the help of a baffled but sympathetic GP

But that can wait for now; the sofa calls.... 


June 21st

Cheering myself up..

How it goes on. Too busy and social a day on Friday to continue here. Too tired as a result yesterday to write then either. Somewhat restored today - partly due to disappearance of rain,  to yellow roses outside window, poppies in field (I'm in Oxfordshire) and tennis on the telly. Though joy not unconfined - the old scar from previous mastectomy has decided it wants to join the fun so I am sore both sides and feeling sorry for myself now: why should I deny it - farewell Polyanna - no looking for silver linings here. 

History. Entertainment in the radiotherapy ward; its past, too, another country where they do things quite differently. I had two stays in there. During one I was confined to a side ward with a nuclear symbol pinned to the door and everyone from visitors to nurses discouraged from spending more than fifteen minutes around me. I of course had no such luck; condemned to lie alone, the offending breast pinned with an array of radio-active rods - a breast turned hedgehog does not make for easy sleeping. (Whether two or three nights I don't remember  - but certainly at least two.)

I did have the odd visitor - one at least came clearly out of duty and sat in a corner as far away from me as she could, still wearing her jacket and a disapproving beret, rigid with terror at being exposed to my evil rays. I suppose I should have relieved her and told her to go away. But oh dear brought up to be oh so obliging, I didn't know how to do it politely, let alone kindly (much less polite now - the joy of being old - I'd have no such difficulty.) I don't know which of us was more relieved when the designated minutes were done and off she went - no approaching for a farewell kiss, obviously - accompanied by her probably amused but characteristically deadpan husband, not showing it at all. Apart from that, one nurse evidently less pressured than nurses seem to be now and wholly insouciant as to my lethal rays spent a lot of the time sprawled on the bed talking to me: she was fair-haired, entertaining and I enjoyed her company is all I can say about her because I remember little else. But I do hope she ended up none the worse for the risk she took. And I was, fairly low at the time, pretty grateful to her.

The second hospital stay -  quite why this was needed I don't know - I was in the main ward, a big, old fashioned high one, full of patients, many much iller and in some cases much younger than me. This was sobering. But one aspect of my  stay there - two - three nights perhaps - was what happened every night around six. Clink clink clink went the drug trolley wheeled into the ward by the ward sister In her dark blue uniform, white sleeves, white cap all the norm back then. The clink clink clink had nothing to do with with the neat little packet or bottles of drugs atop the trolley that were duly handed out, if not to me. Having no need I was left out of that part of the proceedings - though not the next part I'm glad to say.

Back to my side came the nice and smiling sister. 

''Now what would you fancy tonight?' she'd ask. 'A beer? A glass of wine? A sherry?' hence the clinking bottles on the lower part of the trolley. 'A sherry perhaps,' I'd say, not caring at this point whether it was sweet or dry - just glad of the prospect of having it. The rationale, I suspect, was that lowering as our treatment was, the boost of alcohol was thought to lift our spririts- as it did. It did. The ward was always a more cheerful place thereafter. And never have I been more glad not to be teetotal. 

I doubt if they offer such treatment now; because of the cost, not least, let alone medical protocols. As I say this was the past, 35 years ago, and they still do things differently there.

This post took a lot time to write, Murray playing superbly distracted me. He won of course. and it was almost as effective as the shot of sherry sweet or dry. My spirits rose. The itches retreated. Let's hope they stay away.

June 18th

Some more but quite irrelevant reflections. Sorry

Let's look at history. In early 1980 when I started treatment, though investigatory tools like CT and PET scans made looking for problems easier than when my mother fell ill in 1960, histology - the investigation of the tumour itself - was still relatively primitive. Onco genes of course, years before the genome had been fully mapped had never been heard of. Oestrogen receptors ditto. HER2 -,a particular vicious form ditto. The diagnosis I had this time 'triple negative' meaning not oestrogen, progesterone, HER2 receptive was nowhere within sight. When my younger sister was diagnosed in Australia sixteen years later, they asked for and got my histology record: but all it recorded basically was that it was a vicious little thing - as genetic tumours tend to be though fortunately more receptive to treatment than many - that was about it. It was understood that some women cured more easily if oestrogen in their body was reduced - hence the treatments I encountered just over a year later. But meantime all that was on offer was that indicated by purple markers drawn on your living flesh - and even so much less accurately targeted than it is these days; radiotherapy, in other words. Which meant being let into a room marked with the radio-active symbol, laId out as for slaughter in a large white machine and, once everyone assisting had fled, observing you only through a big glass window - I think they did - left to the hum of the lethal rays first researched by Marie Curie - doing for herself in the process - which were supposed to not do for you but any alien still inhabiting you.

(Just how  lethal these rays were, of course, had not always been understood - I was of the generation whose feet were subject to the machines in any common or garden shoe shop - fascinating it was too to look down into the eerie green light within and see your bones clearly revealed. An entertainment not available to my children let alone my grandchildren: a very good thing.)

But there I was - there my fellow victims were, trudging daily in and out to be exposed to the same lethal humming rays like boys on a burning deck from which all - in their clinical coats - but we had fled. A wearisome business; weeks of the rays wore you out in every sense despite the bright smiles the rayed upon gave each other in the waiting rooms. Most of us too still in the state of devastated shock in which our diagnosis, too early and totally unexpected intimations of mortality, had left us.

I have been around such things so long I can afford to be cool about them now, relatively speaking. just how uncool I was then I was reminded only this week by meeting a more recent 40 year old sufferer who talked about the devastation she'd felt. These days of course she was offered counselling. In my day when we got to be checked out by some registrar or other  - between the endless visits to the machine, between the endless ever more uncomfortable blood tests - veins aren't designed to have quite so many needles thrust into them - how we joked about it with  the poor technicIans wrestling with this particular fleshly inadequacy but it wasn' t nice - the issues of what might be happening in our heads, let alone our feelings was not addressed. Or only in passing. Once when asked how I was - the correct answer to which would have been a brave  smile and 'oh I'm fine ' I did say. 'Very depressed.' Because I was. 'Are you REALLY? asked the registrar taking off his spectacles as if he'd never heard of such a thing, meaning that I must be spectacularly inadequate in some way, a response which left me feeling more depressed than ever. And actually. more therapeutically in retrospect, angry.

Radiotherapy did have its entertaining aspects though. More of that in my next.

June 16th

So sorry: was going to write long historical piece today. But it's been busyish - and the fact is that anything - even the 30 minute brisk, not unenjoyable walks which are supposed to energise me - they don't - leave me exhausted. 'You have to remember your age' said one friend - meaning it kindly I suppose: to which I retort that Friday's doctors did say that my chronological age was one thing but my physical age much younger. This might have been nice to hear but right now chronological age feels far more like it. Bugger it.

Just one irritated comment then about the way the colour pink has taken over breast cancer since my first encounters with the bloody disease - much as it has taken over anything to do with little girls:  when I remember the way my generation did their best to elide those kind of gender differences in our children - at the very least not to turn them into would-be Barbie dolls. (My daughter was always happy to go along with this, preferring bright colours and trousers. A visiting small boy used to appropriate the odd dress she did have - I often wondered what happened to him..) My rather differently indoctrinated granddaughters, on the other hand, all jumped onto the pink bandwagon  - until, a little older, they could be edged over to purple. This sign of maturity of course is not a possible option for the breast cancer movement; purple might be a little too funereal there...  But why pink? Even if it does suggest that breast cancer is mostly, if not entirely, a disease of women, why can't we have something more defiant? - if we must have a defining colour. Red perhaps? It'd the colour of rage not least, a useful emotion in the circumstances . All of us scarlet women in the finest sense? I could go with that. 

To which I shall add a distinctly male image from down on the farm; the farrier concerned here was appropriately named Mr Smith. Much more appropriate than the colour pink applied to all of unwillingly suffering us...

Looked at more closely, though, it does appear to be a female horse. Good.

June 14th

Wouldn't you know I only realised with the last post how to put each new one at the top so that poor readers don't have to scroll down through all the others to reach it. Just how stupid can you be? Blame it on age.

Meantime here's some birthday flowers - have always seen pinks in particular as my very own - our very own, being twins - birthday flowers:  for there they always were in mid June..the seductively spicy, far from cloying scent remains my best-loved. I like it in my bath, too; comfort me please with the smell of carnations, not apples..

Meantime, too, some breathing space illness wise....even despite the intrusion of sore arm and ongoing exhaustion. Friday's euphoria left me so high-wired I hardly slept. Going over and over conversations in the Marsden cubicle with its, in this case, unnecessary examination bed.

The final conversation was with nice, bosomy breast nurse.  What do you feel about losing a breast? - not much, not having spent ten years without the other (it's true I had taken a selfie to remind me of the about to be excised one the day before; but shuddered and binned it at once - I didn't report this) did I need counselling? - no not really - 35 years ago, maybe - had it been on offer ...How about talking to the person in charge of prostheses - fake rubber breasts - someday - well I might but a padded teenage bra would do just as well - the prothesis expert could give you a cleavage she urged - as if aged ladies like me wanted any such thing. Nice nurse concerned sported dramatic cleavage herself which was hard to take eyes off in the circumstances. Conversation descended to even lower levels when I changed this subject by asking how ongoing health could be monitored with no appendage checkable via radioactive machinery - answer somewhat vague - maybe I should train our dog?  I suggested thinking of pooches found to sniff out prostrate cancer more efficiently than expensive machinery.... And far more cheaply than the exorbitantly expensive variety  I'd encountered recently. Maybe Marsden kennels one day? Much cheaper. Rather difficult to have dogs sniffing certain parts of anatomy said nice, bosomy nurse. 

Well anyway - the writing of this at farm in Oxfordshire was disrupted by birthday phone call from dear son - given inadequate signal I had to go outside, promptly letting out as yet untrained (cancerwise) dog which demonstrated no training effective yet: slippered Himself, shoeless Penelope forced to pursue inadequately trained dog along rural lane, and into field of shorn sheep - which obligingly chased dog  back into the arms of Himself - good way of my forgetting sore arm, weariness etc especially with prospect of good birthday dinner to come, cooked by the dog catcher. Not such a bad birthday after all.. (Could 'sheep chase dog' be ovine equivalent of 'man bites dog'? Possibly.)

June 12 merriment in the Fulham Road

Day started well - black summer trouser's resurrected - oh so beautifully ironed by Indian dhobi man three months ago - prelapsarian times (I love that word prelapsarian so any excuse to use it again even if use here only means chances of said garment ever being so ironed again in the here and now - ie by me-NIL.)

Day, though, almost feels prelapsarian - coal face turned out far from arduous - if alien was what had to be mined and removed - sorry about mixed metaphors, the writer should know better - but who cares: not her, not today. Lump small: gone. 2 lymph nodes only infected: gone - along with 13 poor innocents unhoused to no purpose, except to leave a fair amount of grief (mine)  behind them, but never mind, you can't have everything. Scans clear. Radio therapy unnecessary - so no need to to write diagrams on affected body with arrows pointing to sites to be burned: only use for purple markers this time was last week to make sure surgeon removed the correct breast - (though mistake hardly likely since the wrong one has been missing for ten years already. To set to work on a virtual breast would be something out of Lewis Carroll - a nice appendix to Through the Looking Glass, at least.)

Chemo, yuk, still on offer, of course, to be discussed in a week or two. Let's see about that later... For if chosen it would not be applied for four weeks or more. Meantime, fun time; your correspondent took her fun time today by marching up the Fulham Road and having her celebration/comfort drink of choice -strong coffee, cream and hot chocolate at Carluccio's opposite The Chelsea and Westminster a hospital holding far less terrors given she's not tied to it anyway - solipsistic as ever. And thereafter encountering Fulham/Chelsea humour in bathroom shop further along - one example here of the row in the window..... And a rather less happy piece of Estate Agent speak attached to what used to be an Education College and a goodly and quite delicate piece of Victorian architecture, now being converted into two 'trophy houses' and 18 'hand-crafted apartments' ....had visions, me, of the smooth-haired agents decorating the walls with potato cuts of their own hands - wishful thinking I daresay, and no indication of the obscene prices to be asked for said hand-crafted trophies. 

Checked in thereafter to nice and so soothing place offering 10 free alternative therapies - aromatherapy? - acupuncture - whatever to lucky cancer patients. Spurned offer of taking part in seminar on making green juices.... Sic.. And returned home to the most welcome therapy of all after 10 days without it. A long hot bath.... Bliss.

But, soberly. Of all above. Yes, I am lucky. Really. Not for the lurgy - no luck there. But the rest of it. LUCKY. 

Time for the Archers. And a drink.


May 25th

A week to go. P back in London for PET scan tomorrow decides this week should be spent on things impossible next week. Seeing films; exhibitions; etc. First thing today, gym session, doesn't quite fit the happy picture - duty rather than pleasure - even when done this morning surrounded by unlikely mixture of super macho young males and middle-aged/elderly not so fit women. Better to go into all this awfulness somewhat fit, anyway, even if coming out of it still fit is unlikely

Duty done. And then much better - back to birds.... Barnes Wetland, last visited with dear visiting sister, this time all alone. Well, alone but for half-term families, buggies, babies, on the one hand, on the other pairs of eager birders, mostly elderly, with little hats, notebooks, long-lensed cameras, enormous binoculors, muttering about hopes of seeing a cetis warbler- which didn't oblige; more obliging blue tit, it seemed, was not quite what was wanted. No infant slaughter this time; not a duckling in sight. One cygnet, several goslings, balls of black fluff with moorhen parents, weird babies with orange fluff on head -newly hatched coots it turned out - all unmolested. 

There's something to be said for being ill in summer. Sun. Flowers - here's some from Oxfordshire yesterday - speedwells and buttercups -organic farms don't just grow nice vegetables - hedgerows burgeoning, everything smells of cow parsley, very sweet. Wetlands full of flowers too, where not wet. Quite a lot is not wet.

Other thing about summer is tennis..... next to birds something P is very fond of. French Open now, Wimbledon to come and whoopee - she has every excuse this year to be glued to it. (If cancer has to rear its head, definitely better than rearing it in November. (Football does NOT have the same charms...)

Definitely better day than hanging around the Marsden for five hours, radioactive, promises to be - menu for tomorrow.


My mother didn't have scans - they didn't exist in 1962. But she had things like lumbar punctures instead. Worse. More reason, I realise, to play Pollyanna - silver linings everywhere I look. Whoopee all over again. 

Serena Williams has just won her match - what a surprise -  and I am off to chop onions....


May 27th. Radioactive in the Fulham Road

yellow warning - unclean unclean.....

According to today's Guardian dungarees are the newest fashion.... Back in 1979 I had the niftiest pair of my own - also the latest fashion. How  things do repeat themselves. Been there, seen this, done that. Bit like cancer you could say, even if the scanning machinery is newer - and I don't remember there being skinny dungarees back then. As reluctant to re-experience the machinery, I daresay, as the dungarees - not I think a fashion for 70 year olds in London - I had not only mislaid scan instructions, so went without breakfast just in case, I also forgot to get off the tube and had to go back three stops. Adding to embarrassment by turfing young man off seat designed for ancients with help of another aged lady next seat along,  only to see him gather up a white stick as he got off the train. Deflated ancients eyed each other; blind not leading blind or something. Oh dear. Oh dear. 

Radioactive substance having been inserted by nice young Ghanaian called James, this unkindly ancient was set loose on Fulham Road for three hours - costly business; brisk walk to Daunts - bought two books - breakfast in Carluccio's again - plus dear friend - neither pregnant nor under five so unlikely to be damaged by the nuclear problem - who came all the way from Hammersmith to join her - cheap date fortunately; all dear friend required was one coffee -against my two, plus large plate of Eggs Florentine (delicious.) Shame hospital not in less expensive area. Or maybe not

Machine not quite so space age as last; three years old for one thing and also temporarily defunct.  Ghanaian James joined by another African engineer while radioactive party waited outside for nearly three quarters of an hour. Not wholly reassured, when she did finally get put to it by machine not being sexy and silent like the last, but groaning every time it wafted her in and out; maybe wafted not the right word  in this case- shunted might be better. This experience not the least bit sexy either. Shame.

Back home now, watching tennis. Still radioactive. If I have a bath will it irradiate the water?

June 1st

Well well - tomorrow the alien gets its marching orders along with Penelope's remaining female glory... so some would call it:  no more hope of page 3 exposure for her.  As if.  What to add for now except that she has been making hay while that sun still shines - who cares about mixing metaphors: film - Timbuktu - extraordinary: beautiful, wise, so sad.  Exhibition - Richard Diebenkorn  - culture vulture that she is - viewed along with steel band and large company of the cognoscenti making its way to the private view of the Summer Exhibition to which she, of course, had not been invited, culture vulture or not. And of course dear Middlemarch. Bliss that it is to be alive to read that all over again. Plus family and friends: she feels loved - and to prove it has large amounts of organic vegetables donated by one loving friend with which to make healthy juices, so restoring herself to health...(Friend doesn't believe in that herself, but thinks P does, which makes the gift still more generous. The juice by the way is delicious, healthy or not.)  No time to write more here. All that can be offered for now are mere shadows: of a man and his dog - take that anyway you like.... Roll on - or roll off tomorrow. The lady - not the shadows will be back.

June 2nd

Midday. And here I sit still after arriving at 10.am. Surgery not likely till 2pm. So far have been ushered into space with bed, curtains drawn round, had a red band put on my wrist and blood pressure taken - raised as you might expect.  Have also been interviewed by a young anaethetist who inspected my mouth and teeth as if ageing a horse - something to do with fitting the necessary tubes. On the bed is gown, dressing-gown, socks, a tape-measure and more wrist bands - into all of which apart from the tape measure - not sure what that's for - I will in due course be inserted. Have finished Guardian, am embarking on the London Review of Books. Don't feel quite up to Middlemarch and rather wish I'd brought in something more pulpy- detective story -eg . Ah young surgeon has just been - signed consent form to let myself be mutilated

 I'm off - sooner than expected, whoops...

And would you know it here I am back in ward with tree and passing buses eating biscuits , drinking tea and answering yet more questions..... Well documented me. Somewhat sore but that's it. Cheers. And a picture added to cheer all up. Not the slightest relevance who cares. 

June 3rd - home again.

Ah... nostalgia - and not just for India

Never imagined I would come from hospital rather more knowledgable about tattooing....

Was in same ward a few years back, done up since the famous fire  so only recognisable part was the tree opposite and the red buses busily trawling up and down the Fulham Road. A public face invading the private one of the occupants of each bed - and curiously reassuring; life continues as it will, cancer not the whole of it, as it can seem sometimes surrounded by other sufferers. Four of them, when I arrived, including me, very woozy - all of them much iller, chemo victims I suspect - not a reassuring sight;  then we were five, joined by even woozier young woman, more or less comatose in fact, plus large, bearded husband. He of the tattoos. Was that seriously Tommy Cooper plus fez on the side of one leg? It was, it was - a birthday present from his wife and kids, which took four hours to do; in Edinburgh. (Superior tattoo artist, wouldn't you know..) And on the other side, revealed next day, Corporal Jones from Dad's Army - this took six. (Didn't it hurt - more like being scratched for a long time, he said. 'More figures from my generation than yours,' I said. 'Stuff I watched all the time as a teenager,' he said. Indicates interesting geekiness, not to say obsession, I think, beard, shorts, tattoos and all.) His wife was from another BRCA family so we bonded on that when she woke up. She was doing an Angelina - prophylactic stuff; everything off. Brave girl. On the basis of 'if you can't beat it join it,' I suppose, she - a personnel worker by trade - was learning to do tattoos - main difficulty working on material that gives under the needle - namely flesh. They loved each other these two. Nice sight to see. Also reassuring. But I did wonder what he looked like naked - the tattoos?.. Which never wear out, merely shrivel with your flesh.

Ward pleasingly shambolic and efficient at the same time; stern notice about being ready to leave at 10am not applied in any way. Physio hadn't appeared to present leaflet and advice, medication ordered from the pharmacy didn't turn up till after lunch. Himself, my poor man, ricocheted between me in South Kensington and as needy dog in Shepherd's Bush, somewhat bewildered because of signal failure at Edgware Road affecting what he thought was his route; it wasn't. BRCA friend opposite listened, giggling, to his wife's long efforts to explain alternative and better means of travel.  (Not good at finding his way, my otherwise brainy man.) 

As for me; sore. Sorer still when taxi driver due to heavy traffic took back street involving many lurches over sleeping policeman. Ouch. However have strong and strong painkillers, said, possibly to lead to hallucinations. Bring them on.

Young doctor I saw this morning was cagy, but did rather indicate not much sign of the alien having spread. Underarm minimally cleared. No drains - that's something else changed since I was last here, ten years ago; things move fast in this business; more stitches instead, but that's preferable. Physio also indicated exercise a good thing, and no longer advocated never lifting anything with crook arm, hardly a practicable thing, and not something I took much notice of. Turns out that in this incidence disobedience was best practice. However admonitory leaflet does say that too long typing a bad idea. So I'll obey for once and stop.

Murray advancing more or less. Oh tennis. I watched yesterday too. Wi-fi in wards is something else that has changed; even the iller patients were consulting their smart phones.

June 7th - Bristol

Entirely irrelevant picture of fruit to illustrate this post - except possibly it reminds me that fruit good for cancer patients; though possibly, again, not raw fruit bought from the street stall in Bombay which offered such artistic arrangements of its wares. Ah India - where if the alien was lurking - it must have been - I was in blissful ignorance, and blissful all the way round in those innocent and lovely, pre-lapsarian days now seeming like another world.

Meantime, Bristol. Also bats, balloons, blackbirds, swifts, sparrows, sun, sun, salad and sweetpeas. Could be worse. All these things equally blissful in their way, despite the momentum mori of the pain in one arm and the large bruises lurking in unlikely places; also the prospect on Friday of being informed of best and worst outcomes, plus delightful prospects of treatments under offer. Meaning decisions have to be made..... hair loss anyone? - peripheral neuropathy? - brain fade? - etc etc etc - over months to come. Why does cancer treatment still have to be so utterly brutal? And is it worth it? Last night I dreamed of being in hospital waiting for consultation and some terrorists turned up and started shooting everyone in sight other than the patients who'd had their chips anyway so why waste bullets on them?

Never mind. I can't say I'm so unhappy, tended by lovely daughter and purring cat and discovering that I can almost run up stairs again already even if I can't fall into longed-for pleasure of hot bath, since crook arm makes it possible I won't be able to haul myself out of it. Which would be embarrassing.

On reflection of last week; yet again amazement of how things have changed even within ten years; no anaesthetic pre-med before op - though actually I rather missed pleasant floating wooziness while being wheeled down to surgery. This time I went fully conscious on my own two feet, clutching my robe around for decency. No drains afterwards - ie carrying around nasty little bottle of ever increasing liquids via long lead attached somewhere under my arm - though the poor prophylactic mastectomite suffered them. No days in hospital. Not much in the way of swelling.... what have they done to change it all? Shame this can't be said of miseries offered above. 

And I slept away the night there. ... Whereaas 35 years ago, I couldn't sleep and roamed the the long wooden passages outside the ward after that first op, the lumpectomy, scared and lost and lonely. Until a young nurse found me and sat me down and talked to me for a good long time. She said it was what she came into nursing for, to talk to people, comfort them like this and it was all so busy she didn't often get the opportunity. I can't remember anything that was said, although I think in the process she told me a little about herself. But it was the best therapy possible, especially at a time when orthodox medical processes did not include meeting any such needs except in passing, accidentally as it were. I've never forgotten it and often wondered what happened to that young nurse, who must be in her fifties at least now. I hope she's had a nice life.

 Well - at least I managed to drag myself away from Middlemarch and other less salubrious amusements and write this.... Have had little inclination to do so; given opportunity to be lazy have always been willing to seize it. Sorry.😥

Indeed they did... but hair and nails continue to grow. Doubt if the tree does.

We can indeed .. The medics are not alone.

I love Bristol. In this part of it, the old scruffiness and humour hangs right on in. All the way up the hill to daughter's house, little signs on everything. ('This is not just a rubbish bin - this is a Marks and Spencer bin.' And more and more.)  Developers have attempted to hoover up buildings but opposition drives them back; Tesco once trashed looks to make no money. Good. Even if constantly getting your house tagged on Friday and Saturday nights can be tiresome (this is far from high graffiti art: forget Banksy) here, unlike in most of London, local character survives - just as I intend to survive, feeling much better now  and with my legs back in action. (How's that for solipsism?? But cancer does have a tendency to pull things right back inside you. Sorry.) But, solipsism or not,  I do feel surprisingly happy - no feelings of doom anywhere, just delight when it happens, never mind the ever sore arm. Even though this does not stop the long - not to say obsessional conversations in my head about the prospects of treatment to come - acceptance or denial - what the statistics say. Long conversations with the doctors too and still longer mental cogitations thereafter will have to be had. 

The sheer nastiness of all treatment is one thing. But the long-term effects? Forget nausea, exhaustion, losing hair etc - all bad enough. What I fear more is the dulling of my brain - trying to write my India book through that. (Though listening to the far from brain-faded Lisa Jardine on Desert Island Discs talking of her illness reassured me somewhat.) As bad, for me, is the effect on my legs; something very nasty called 'peripheral neuropathy' can persist; which means walking becomes difficult and painful. Having used walking - running once - the gym - for many years to keep at bay the other dread lurgy inherited from my mother, depression - which once many many years ago came nearer to killing me than the other one ever has - I do dread that. It is not inevitable - but once again, you can't avoid entry into the health lottery - this one having nothing to do with postal districts; more to do with your own nervous system, not to say anatomy. Let's hope winning the postal district one is a good omen. No telling.

But then whoever said existance was predictable? Who would want it to be? (Well, some of the time.) And how many far worse things are out there.... many many many.

Be glad of wit, sun - which has just driven me from the sun-drowned kitchen table where I was working to a shadier sofa in the opposite room - gardens - good breakfast in typically scruffy cafe - which I must now go and work off. Then to the garden with the Guardian. Pollyanna lives, OK - just about. Heigh-ho the silver lining....heigh-ho the wonderful world - when it isn't horrible. (As often. And I'm not being solipsistic here. If I wanted to forget that far from wonderful world I would be off back to Middlemarch now, not today's Guardian.)


June 11 London

Exhausted....yesterday walked in woods with fishing boats parked in a glade - some kind of art installation related to global warming. Equivalent - beech grove parked mid ocean - a bit more difficult to arrange I suspect. Then I actually cooked - chicken with garlic and raisins: delicious all of it - especially when followed by flying display by bats  - their communications picked up click click click on an ultrasound device invented, wouldn't you know, by a physicist turned biologist acquainted to Himself. Normal life more or less, all this, beyond illness, mixture of enchantment and banality, what else. Tomorrow less so, back to the hospital coal face: verdicts; pronouncements; best; worst. Whither I go plus dear helpmate, Himself - encouraged by fact that not only i don't feel doom-ridden, my family doesn't seem to either. 

Tired on the other hand.  Risen early for drive back to London I've spent the rest of the day mostly  prone - apart from a trip to the wonderful local Syrian supermarket for dill -- with Guardian and Middlemarch for company: could be worse. Too tired to write more. Sorry.

June 12

Dear reader - just discovered I can put new posts at top of page - no need to scroll down here. look upwards therefore henceforth: And good luck.