No 7 on the List for Living

7) Go to Paris by Eurostar just for lunch

It seemed like such an extravagant thing to do – going all the way to the French capital just for a meal. But then, that was the whole point.

I never would have chosen to have this killer disease but being forced to think about your own mortality makes you stop and consider what’s really important. This may sound odd but knowing that your time is short is quite life affirming. You appreciate so much more.

My List for Living is about doing the kind of things I wouldn’t normally do or the stuff I’ve always wanted to do but hadn’t quite got round to. The focus is on having fun and spending time with the people who mean the most to me.

It felt amazing to be heading to Paris with a big group of friends. What a way to start my List for Living. This may not be number 1 but this is a great thing to tick off first. Also the ones higher up the list are so much harder to do.

As we’d travelled abroad for lunch, it had to be somewhere special.

We went to one of the oldest brassieres in Paris, the beautiful Bofinger. It’s famous for its glass domed ceiling and art deco style. Luckily my rubbish French managed to secure us one of the best tables in the place – we dined under the dome.

Lovely ladies who lunch…in Paris.
(L-R) Jenny, me, Kath, Anna, Colette, Tamsin and Nicola.

After more than three hours we were the last to leave. Now that’s the way to do lunch!

The plan was then to explore Paris but after a short walk we spotted a bar which seemed too good to pass.  On the menu was a ‘foxy lady’ cocktail. Tamsin, my friend who kindly offers to pinch me at hospital, insisted that I couldn’t pass on that either.

Later, a couple from Australia started chatting to me as I squeezed past their table. The pair had recently retired and were traveling their way around Europe.

“Hey – you girls sound like you’re having a great time. What are you celebrating?” the woman asked me with a smile.

Oh. What could I say? We’d had a boozy lunch and now it was cocktails o’clock, my brain couldn’t think of what to say other than the truth. So I told them I had cancer and I was doing something fun with friends. The woman looked shocked and held my hand. I tried to reassure her, saying this really wasn’t a sad occasion.

It was an uncomfortable situation more for her then me however I’m glad she struck up the conversation. It made me realise that I felt so alive, I was making the most of life, and yes, we were celebrating.

Considering it was only a couple of days after my last chemo I felt surprisingly well. I’m sure that if I wasn’t doing much at home I wouldn’t have felt quite so good. A big occasion always gives me a boost. Another reason why I’ m already loving the list.

The day was brilliant. I had a great time with friends. It meant that thoughts and fears about cancer drifted into the background.

The only thing we had to worry about was whether the multi-coloured macaroons we’d bought would get crushed. They did. And would we make it back to the train station in time. We did, just. We caught the Eurostar home with a couple of minutes to spare.

It was a perfect start to my List for Living. Popping to Paris proved that my disease won’t stop me from enjoying the precious time I have left.

Good cold, bad cold

If you had to pick a time of year to have a chemocation then I suppose autumn/winter is perfect. A chemocation is rather like a staycation. Only this is no holiday at home but chemo enforced time off. And I can’t wait for it to be over.

Thanks to my incredible tiredness I’m still mostly stuck indoors. One of the perks of an A/W chemocation though is being able to have quality time by the log fire at my parents’ house. There are worst ways to spend an autumn afternoon.

But really I’d rather not be stuck indoors. Slowly I’m building up my stamina so that I can spend more time outdoors getting cold and wet.

The chilly weather means that when I do go out I can easily wear a hat over my shaved head and it doesn’t look out of place. I like my new number 3 hair cut but I’m not going to be showing it off in public anytime soon. That would just take too much energy. It’s less stressful to just blend in.

Raquel, Candice and very occasionally Barbarella are also helping keep me warm. I quite enjoy wearing my wigs. They still itch like crazy but over heating is no longer such a problem.

Ten years ago when cancer last made my hair fall out, it was all very different. Back then I told hardly anyone, I was so embarrassed. I didn’t even have a name for my wig. It was identical to my old hair. I didn’t like wearing it and I never realised how handy it would be on my travels.

I’d just moved to Moscow for the BBC and it was the very start of winter.

Snowy sunset from the BBC Moscow Bureau

Russia was properly freezing, exactly how you’d imagine that it should be. I’d wake up every day hoping that it had snowed overnight and often I was excited to find that it had. At times just being outside was painful; as you breathed in, the icy air would scratch your throat and made your lungs feel like they were on fire.

One Sunday afternoon, not long after arriving, I ventured out to a market on the edge of the capital. It was next to one of the furthest stops on the metro. On the way there I sat opposite a pensioner. The woman with dyed red hair was dressed in fur from head to toe. She eyed me suspiciously and then gave me a right telling off.

My crime? Not wearing a hat.

As way of an apology I said that I was English. I didn’t feel like revealing my lack of hair to a random stranger. However she was right to chastise me. It was so arctic outside that within minutes of getting off the metro, my mobile phone had frozen.

Yet my wig was brilliant. My fake brown bob kept my head beautifully warm.

These days I tend to wear hats a whole lot more, even when I’m inside. It turns out that my internal temperature gauge has bust.

I am officially cold.

All those evil chemocation cocktails are to blame. My body thinks that I should be around 35c. Unless I’m in a swelteringly hot room I tend to spend much of the time shivering. According to my hospital handbook, my temperature is a code red and I should alert the on-call oncologist straight away.

Ever since my cancer operation my feet have been a bit numb and never that warm. Now they are like blocks of ice. It’s like I’ve just come in from the cold after a day braving the elements in Moscow. So I wear thick ski socks at all times and I have a selection of hot water bottles which get a lot of use. Sometimes I sit in the living room wrapped in a duvet next to the fire.

But apparently my low temperature is nothing to worry about. The problem should just improve all by itself. In the meantime I’ve been told to wear lots of thermals. Here’s some freaky logic. It may be warmer inside but I tend to shiver less when I’m outside.

Maybe this is my body’s way of saying that I need to get out more as the chemocation is coming to an end.

A perfect ten

Dolphins. How I dread those hospital dolphins.

They swim along the corridor on the way to the chemotherapy unit. Even the ceiling has been painted to make it seem as if you’re under the sea. It may look tranquil but just seeing the dolphins made me feel completely drained.

There might as well be a neon sign that says CANCER? COME THIS WAY….

As if that wasn’t bad enough, towards the end of the corridor it starts to slope upwards. It takes every last bit of your energy to walk the last part of it. Mum had come with me. My arm was through hers as we slowly made our way up the corridor.

It’s been a month since my chemo ended. I was there for a final check-up to find out for sure that the toxic treatment had been successful.

This is where I was told I had cancer. More than six months later I was back in the same room and in the same chair. Mum was next to me, also in the same seat as before. I felt so sick that I thought I might have to run out of the room.

However I was so focused on what we were about to be told that I felt compelled to stay. As far as big moments go, this was pretty massive.

If I got the all clear, then I’d be done with the disease, the doctors and the dolphins.

But if I didn’t, then it would mean that those evil chemo cocktails hadn’t worked. We’d have to try again. Jump through more hoops. Worse still, it could suggest that the cancer was terminal and that putting any amount of poison into my veins wouldn’t kill it.

At the hospital there’s a team of people involved in my care. For this appointment I was seeing a consultant who I’ve known for years, ever since the first cancer. She’s never had to break any bad news to me. She is the Good Doctor. Surely this must be a positive sign?

I know that the treatment has already gone really well. All the tumours have been removed and my blood test results are back to normal. But you don’t know what could happen next.

The blood test is known as a CA 125. Basically I needed to get a low number. Anything higher than thirty could mean the cancer had come back.

After chatting for a few minutes it was down to business. My consultant looked at my notes, at my records on the computer screen and then back at me as she said the magic number.

I’d scored a ten. A perfect ten.

The Good Doctor quickly revealed that there was also nothing nasty on my scan. It was a stunning set of results. She brought up a different screen on the computer.

“See, your organs look lovely, don’t they?” I had to take her word for it. All I could make out was a moving black and white image of my insides.

She pointed out various bits and pieces. It was a cross section of a healthy body. My healthy body.

“Hooray! It’s all gone!” The Good Doctor threw her arms in the air. We all grinned and punched the air. My sickness went; it was replaced with pure relief.

That’s it. Finally it’s all over.

The treatment has officially been successful. I won’t have another check-up for months.

After lunch in the hospital canteen, oh yes my celebrations are not always Kylie and cocktails, we got a lift home from the flower girl.

It ended where it all began, outside my house with my friend, Chantal in her big flower van. This is how I started out on my cancer journey when she took me to hospital for what turned out to be a life saving operation.

Back then I had no idea just how hard it would all be or whether I’d even be able to defeat the disease. That’s why I originally called this blog – beating cancer, again, hopefully.

I never realised quite how important the blog would become to me. I’ve been blown away by the love and support that I’ve received. I’ve appreciated every comment even though I may not have been able to reply to all of them.

So, thank you.

I’m now cancer free and there will be no more horrendous treatment but I’m still going to continue with this blog.

I’ve been given another second chance at life. Or maybe that makes it a third chance? Whatever it is, I hope that you’ll be joining me as I blog about life after cancer.

From chemo cocktails to cosmopolitans

Could there be a more perfect way to celebrate?

After so many evil chemo cocktails in hospital, it seemed only right to mark the end of my cancer ordeal with some real drinks in an actual bar.

I know I’ve had a few celebrations already but quite frankly I’m going to be very greedy and I’ll be having a whole load more. Don’t worry though I won’t be writing about every single one!

It’s been a few weeks since my last ever chemotherapy and I finally felt well enough to go out with friends. We arranged to meet at a bar in Chelsea. My long blond WAG wig that I like to call Candice was all ready for an occasion just like this.

This was the first time that I’d worn Candice for a night out.

And what a difference it made. Suddenly I’d gone from almost bald to really blond. Putting on the wig not only transformed the way I looked but somehow made me feel better too, almost like a different person.

Lately I’ve been living in headscarves. I find them easier to wear than wigs although they have a certain cancer chic about them. I think I look more like someone who is sick when I have a headscarf on.  

As me and Candice rocked up at the bar I nervously checked out my reflection in the window next to the entrance. Surprised at what I saw, I smiled back. Something special had happened, I realised that I looked totally normal and I haven’t felt like that for ages.

I knew that both my friends, Kath and Anna were going to be late so I ordered myself something. Seconds later, a man at the bar started to chat me up. Really it was just seconds, my drink hadn’t even been poured!

Wow was that down to me or Candice?! Whatever the reason it was my welcome back to single life in London.

I didn’t have to wait too long for my friends, just enough time for the French banker to give me his number. Normally I would have been happy to stand at the bar but there was no way that I could manage that right now so we found a table.

Drinking Cosmopolitans, Bellini’s and the odd Strawberry Mule, it could have almost been a scene from Sex and the City where the girls meet for drinks and gossip in a glamorous bar.

Only, there were three of us. We were English and this wasn’t New York. Although Kath and I have eaten cupcakes from the Magnolia bakery made famous by the TV series. If that counts…no, thought not.

Anyway that was ten years ago. We were in New York to celebrate me beating cancer the first time round. While we were there we came up with a plan about how I could do some some of the things on my list for living. During chemo I’d come up with this crazy list of things I wanted to do when I was well. Within weeks of that holiday I’d moved to Moscow.

Now here we were celebrating again.

Just like back then we talked about the future and it felt good that I can now get on with living.

Before, the most exciting thing I’ve had to look forward to was my next trip to hospital. The chemo has taken place every three weeks. If that had continued then I should have had another session a few days ago.

Knowing that around this time I’d normally be feeling incredibly ill thanks to the evil chemo cocktail, made the drinks taste even better. Compared to the toxic treatment, the side effects were far more pleasant too.