This is Ruby’s chair. Ruby is one of the regulars at the chemo cocktail bar. Like many of the others, she’s twice my age.

I’m calling her Ruby although this isn’t actually her real name. I don’t want to identify her but I wanted to write about something she said.

After the drama of my last visit, my chemo treatment has now become almost an all-day affair. While I always have a friend or two on hand to keep me company- this week it was Kath and Chantal – Ruby is often alone. But don’t go thinking that Ruby is a helpless old lady.

This week hospital was the busiest I’ve ever seen it. It was late morning when we arrived. There wasn’t a spare chair in the place.I was given a bed that was free on one of the main chemo wards. Everyone around me had more miles on the clock and seemed much sicker or sleepier. I offered the bed to the patients who had chairs in case anyone else fancied it. I had no takers.

The bed proved to be a perfect picnic table. We laid out our lunch on the white sheets. Ruby had also come prepared. She too preferred not to eat the hospital food. With one arm attached to an IV drip she wasted no time in calling Kath over to help get her lunch out of her bag. My friend arranged it on the table in front of Ruby.

“Can you get me a coffee now please?” She then said to Kath.

It wasn’t a question. Ruby asked in way that was friendly but also confident and assertive. She didn’t apologise or prefix it with a “hope you don’t mind”, or “can you do me a big favour”. She knew it wasn’t too much to ask. Ruby was hooked up to the drip which was plugged into an electricity socket at the wall. She had toxic drugs dancing through her veins. While Kath was fit, healthy and just visiting.

I’ve known Ruby for a while. She has absolutely no problem in asking anyone who’s passing to get her a coffee – milk, three sugars – from the trolley in the corridor.

It might seem like such a small thing but having this sort of no nonsense approach is so important when it comes to your health. I’d been thinking about this a lot after a woman had left a comment on the blog to say that she was about to get tested for ovarian cancer. Her husband had heard an interview I’d done on the radio and recognised some of the symptoms she was having.

In case you’re wondering some of the main ones are bloating, eating less but feeling fuller and abdominal pain.

The problem is that these symptoms are so vague. It can mean it’s difficult to get diagnosed. You need to be determined especially when you suspect something is seriously wrong.

Last month I met an inspirational woman who had ovarian cancer a while ago. When she first had the symptoms, she went to her GP. He said she’d probably pulled a muscle and wouldn’t need any tests. She told him that he was talking rubbish or words to that effect!

Soon after the cancer was discovered. She had a better chance of surviving because she didn’t accept what her GP had said. It just shows how powerful it can be, not taking no for an answer. It’s the kind of attitude that could help to save your life.

11 thoughts on “Chemo#12

  1. Although I have colon cancer, it was the metasis to my ovary that was what caught it. My abdomen swelled up so much within one week that I went from a size 8 to a size 12. They saw on the ct a large mass on my ovary, but even at the time of surgery said they still thought it would be non cancerous, until they opened me up and saw it all.
    If you cannot take the approach to be no-nonsense, make sure you have a family member or friend who will fight the battle for you. Let’s face it, sometimes we just are too tired when fighting this disease.

    • Zcher, I’m really sorry to hear what you’ve been going through. Yes that’s a very good point. Sometimes you need someone else to fight your corner. Also I find that having someone with me helps me stand up for myself more.

  2. Every time I read your blog I feel urged to write a comment ,but worry that my well meaning thoughts will distract from the poignant messages you write so, well, poignantly as once again shown today…..

    We all wish you more of the strength and determination you have shown over the years and remain in our thoughts x

  3. My turn tomorrow, you could be describing the oncology ward in Edinburgh, full of the same inspirational people. Not right though that Mum’s come along to keep their daughters’ company.

    Maureen Lowrie

  4. Hello Helen,
    It is so helpful to tell of ‘Ruby’s’ straight forward approach. I went to my GP with severe stomach pain, and was told it was nothing to worry about, just something passing… how careless in hindsight to have accepted that view. Just 10 months later, after forcing him to refer me to a specialist, I was diagnosed as the carrier of a now enormous tumour (15 cm) which had become malignant. I have always wondered what I lost in those 10 crucial months. As it happens my condition is a rare genetic damage, and I am scanned from neck to knee every 12 weeks to map the recurrence. I am sure this could all have been avoided if I had been diagnosed correctly with no delay. Please encourage your readers to follow their intuition, never to wait, never to just accept but to test every diagnosis for its truth.
    Good luck with your journey and list of must-do experiences. You are completely right in this. Never waste a day, not even a moment. Love and your creative imagination will keep you happy and safe. May your courage be rewarded. xx

    • Hi Jon,
      Thank you so much. What a nightmare, I’m so sorry to hear about what you’ve been through. The first ever time I went to see my GP with symptoms I was told it was nothing serious and I too accepted that. It wasnt until months later that I was properly diagnosed. I know what you mean about hindsight. It’s a beautiful thing. I hope that you have plenty of love and wonderful moments. xx

  5. What an interesting post. Tell Ruby for me that although I’m far across the pond, I’m already very fond of her, and I’m sure we would be great friends if we met.

    I cannot believe the GP’s response to the bloating & other abdominal complaints. So many serious diseases & conditions have those symptoms. Ovarian cancer. CML. Tumors. IBS. Crohns. Celiac. How cavalier this doctor was….

  6. Hi Helen, its me again, I have become a regular follower of your blog. I remember listening to a recording of the interview my husband heard; and Vanessa Felkes saying often people are misdiagnosed as having “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” which is what the practise nurse told me. I think it is also iportant to know that GPs have a little knowledge about a lot of subjects but a unless they specialise in this field, they cannot be sure. Once again thank you for making a postive difference in my life and so many others, you are a blessing to us all.

  7. Hi, I read your blog with such passion and empathy. Having beated Liposarcoma twice in the past 5 years I know how hard cancer can be, and the uncertainty it brings. I admit not to knowing how chemo can feel, as I was very fortunate not to need it on both cancer diagnosis.
    I have built up a great deal of friends, some even family in some ways with my diagnosis, whom I wouldnt have met or had the pleasure of sharing life with if it wasnt for my cancers.
    Your post today regarding assertiveness struck a chord with me, as I am also an ambassador for MNINC. What is this I hear you ask. MNINC – My Name Is NOT Cancer, is an organisation (not a charity) that helps and supports people affected by cancer (and other illness) and encourages you in various ways via their publication.
    I wondered if you would be able to find the time to read the publication, and web info via
    It would also be GREAT to have you on board, and also any friends, aquaintances, followers, family and others for MNINC IDENTITY DAY 4TH MAY 2013 –
    ( )
    by wearing a butterfly on MNINC Identity Day on 4th May 2013. This is your chance to celebrate the individual and to not focus on cancer!

    I will continue to look forward to your posts, and events especially your list accomplishments.

    Kind regards

    Kate H

  8. This week’s blog is a wise reminder that us older guys should also listen to our bodies and get regular checks rather than running from the Dr. I must get my personal MOT done as I am now at an age when things can and do go wrong.

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