New Year – Old List

I know it’s the time of year for New Years resolutions. But I’ve updated my blog with a few things that I did from my List for Living last year. From the sunshine, the lack of hair and the wigs you can tell it was many months ago. Not long afterwards I was back on the chemo and all that vomiting fatigue awfulness. I’m still on the treatment but now it’s just normal horrific. Looking at these pictures and posts makes me so happy. Fabulous memories. Thats what my List for Living is all about.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick!

No 8 on the List for Living!

8) Visit Pompeii and drive along the Amalfi coast 

It’s funny how one road trip can lead to another. A few years ago I was traveling across Italy with my friend and colleague Sean. We’d just finished a long work trip. As we drove towards Rome, Sean told me all about the beauty of the Amalfi coast. I’d never been there but it sounded so wonderful that I was determined to visit one day. I’d also wanted to go to Pompeii for a long time. To wander through its ancient streets. So I decided to put them together on my List for Living. When my friend Kath saw this she was delighted. This is one of her favourite parts in the world. Many years ago we were flatmates and since then we’ve traveled loads together. Kath has visited me in every single country I’ve lived in, sometime more than once. We’ve had some brilliant adventures around the world! Visiting Pompeii and the Amalfi coast was even more incredible than I imagined. It was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had.





























No 17 on the List for Living!

17) Go into space

Yes, I’m really being sent on a mission into space!! I’ve got myself a round trip ride on to the asteroid Bennu. I will be on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx space craft. Okay, I’m not actually becoming an astronaut but my name is going into space!

I’m going to get an intergalactic adventure, sort of, without any of the dangers. My name will soon be up in the solar system with the stars. In tiny little letters, it’s going to be etched onto a microchip which will be taken aboard a spacecraft which is jetting off to the asteroid Bennu.

As far as I’m concerned this means I can tick off number 17 from my List for Living!

It’s not just me going. Last year NASA and The Planetary Society invited anyone to submit their name. Our microchip will travel into space in 2016. The robotic mission will then spend a couple of years there before returning home.


It’s going to be cosmic!

No 9 on the List for Living!

9) Explore the ancient ruins in Rome

Rome is one of the most wonderful cities in the world. I loved it from the first time that I visited as a teenage backpacker. I’ve been back several times and on every single occasion I have somehow managed to fail to go inside the Coliseum or the Roman Forum despite my best efforts. Last year my friends Ruth, Lynne, Lisa, AK and Carolyn helped me to put this right. Although on the first day we didn’t make it! But we tried again. Thank you girls for getting up really, really early so we could beat the queues. It was brilliant to finally see these fantastic sights and tick it off my List for Living however it was even better to have a trip away with special friends.























Christmas cheer

I blame Christmas. Thats why there hasn’t been a blog from me for ages. The chemo is still really tiring but when I’m feeling well, the best thing in the world is just enjoying doing ordinary stuff. I’ve even made my own Christmas pudding vodka!

Xmas vodka!

Okay, it’s not just Christmas thats got in the way. I also had an emergency stay in hospital. A little while ago I suddenly became very ill in the middle of the night. It wasn’t long after a session of chemo. I had hours of severe pain and then I started vomiting. Sorry this is another blog post about being sick!

I couldn’t even get out of bed. Instead I was using the plastic bin in my bedroom. I’d actually bought it thinking that one day it may have an alternative use.

As I’ve had so much of this, I knew it was different this time. This was something much worse that the normal awful. Speaking to one of my consultants on the phone it was clear I would have to go into A and E. The moment when being ill turns into an unexpected hospital visit is scary. You get used to coping with being poorly but when you need proper medical help, it turns the situation into something much more stressful.

30 hours later and I was still vomiting. By this point the only thing coming out was bile. I was too ill to sit up in my uncomfortable hospital bed. Moving made things worse. Instead I was lying on my side, resting my head on a cardboard sick bowl, in place of a pillow. When I needed to throw up I just had to turn my face into the bowl. This is genius, I thought to myself, as I filled another bowl.

Genius??? It was only a few days afterwards when I’d stopped vomiting that I realised just how bad I must have been to think something like that. Drips and drugs helped me to improve. My parents brought in some of my post so I managed to make my stack of sick bowls look a little bit festive.

Christmas cheer

Almost a week later and I was out of hospital. No one was quite sure what exactly made me so ill but it wasn’t anything serious thankfully. As a veteran of getting bad news, I can’t tell you just how relived I was.

The problem was probably something to do with my stomach lining becoming inflamed. Apparently the correct medical term for my horrific sickness is that it was….”just one of those things.” Excellent.

Since getting out of hospital, I’ve had another dose of chemo and I’m fine. I managed to make the Christmas pudding vodka above. It wasn’t that which put me in hospital!

I have all the usual nonsense that goes with chemo of course. But that’s alright. That’s more than alright. I’m alive and feeling (relatively) well. I’m so looking forward to celebrating another Christmas with the people I love.

Pains and needles

Here’s a tip. If you’re at hospital, about to have a medical procedure and someone asks you what your pain threshold is… careful what you say. As I found out, this question means that what’s going to happen next will hurt. A lot. And it involves needles.

I never used to be too bothered about needles. But the pain seems to get worse and worse as times goes on.

When the cancer came back almost three years, I had chemo through a vein in my hand. Each time a new needle would have to be used for the treatment and then taken out when it was finished.

The problem is that the more chemo you have, the harder it is to find a vein. They vanish from the surface of your skin. If I was one of my chemo veins I’d do a disappearing act too. It gets really painful hunting down a vein that can be used. Sometimes they even seem to dry up as soon as the needle goes in.

Then I graduated to a PICC line. Much easier. There is a small operation but after that there are no needles. The PICC line is basically a clear plastic tube which goes into your upper arm, it travels up a vein which ends up in the chest. There’s a short part of the line which sticks out of your arm and thats where the chemo goes into.

However my experimental drug seems to keep blocking the PICC line so I needed something more serious to enable me to continue with the chemo. It was time to say hello to the port. Or to give it the proper name – the port system for continuos vascular access.

The port is small device which is put under the skin in the upper chest on the right hand side. A tube is attached to the port and goes into a vein. The tube does a semi circle and ends kinda above the heart. Everything is buried under the skin. As you can’t see a thing, I was even given a wristband to wear in case of an emergency so paramedics would know I had a port.


You may be wondering you do you get the chemo into the tube? This is the gruesome bit. Basically every week a nurse has to stab your chest with a needle, go through the skin and into the port. Uggggh. At least the awful sickness and tiredness that I’ve having for months have eased up a bit.

So back to the question about my pain threshold. I was sat in a flimsy hospital gown waiting to go into the operating theatre with my friend Sally when I was asked about it. The procedure was explained and it didn’t seem too bad. I said I could handle quite a lot of pain. Haha big mistake.

Inside the operating theatre I was prepared for surgery. An orange liquid was spread over my right shoulder and chest to make it sterile. The stuff was cold, it stank and it was being rubbed into my skin, really hard. I must have looked upset as a nurse asked what was wrong. I could only reply “all of it.” I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be cut open. I didn’t want any of this. How do you explain all that when you feel so emotional that you can hardly talk?

Thankfully I was given some sedative. To get this port under my skin in the first place I needed a local anaesthetic. The first needle hurt, as did the second and the third and then I stopped counting. It was clear very quickly that I needed some painkiller after all.

My eyes were firmly shut to stop the tears so I couldn’t see the nurse who took my hand. Such a kind, compassionate gesture. She told me to squeeze her hand when I felt pain. The needles were bad but it was even worse when the anaesthetic had to be firmly massaged into my body. Finally the medication kicked in and the squeezing could stop.

It was only 11am by the time I became the proud owner of a new port. It felt like enough had already happened for one day. But I still had the weekly dose of chemo to go. Just to illustrate the seriousness of the op, I wasn’t allowed to walk instead I had to be wheeled to the ward on a hospital trolley.

The rest of the day was fine. Just a normal, horrible day at hospital.

Things picked up on the way home. While waiting for the train home, we were randomly offered some free cocktails. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed any alcohol straight after treatment but after what had happened, I just didn’t really care. We said yes. It was the best cocktail I’d ever had on a chemo day!


Sickness and in health

The last few months have been some of the worst of my life. I’ve never ever been so ill for such a long period. I started my current chemotherapy in July and it’s been horrific. I’ve had plenty of this kind of toxic treatment before. Almost 50 sessions when I last counted. But this weekly chemo is by far the hardest to cope with.

Imagine what it’s like to wake up with a bad hangover and the flu, pretty much every day. That has been my life for almost four months now.


The tiredness has been chronic. There have been days when walking from one room to the next has been almost impossible. I’ve clocked up some serious sofa time. Lying down of course, as sitting up is too exhausting. I often feel really dizzy when I do stand up. Even just bending down makes me feel faint. Most of the time, reading or looking at a computer is too much effort. Yet despite not doing anything all day, I still need a huge amount of sleep at night. Bad days feel incredibly bleak. The never ending fatigue is debilitating.

And so too is the sickness. Mostly it’s just nausea. Ha, I say just nausea, but it’s ridiculous. (It’s perhaps best not to read on if you are feeling a bit queazy.) Generally I have about three days a week of actually being sick. Here’s how I cope: I lie on the sofa, take a variety of tablets and stare at the TV trying not to think about it. Willing myself not to throw up. I concentrate on the screen and the sickness seems to pass eventually. This doesn’t always work. Sometimes it’s best to get it over with. It doesn’t hurt that much but these days I always seem to have tears rolling down my face as I vomit. It’s not that I’m particularly upset so I’m not sure why it makes me cry.

This nausea taints so much of my daily life. I have a long list of food and drink that I can’t bear. Most of the nausea is associated with hospital visits. It reaches a peak a couple of days before chemo. Just thinking about my treatment can send me rushing to the bathroom. A few weeks ago, a friend who was coming to chemo with me sent me a text. We were arranging where to meet. But just reading the text made me throw up!

Must of the time I haven’t been able to eat much, which is no bad thing, although not eating doesn’t stop me being sick. It’s a strange sensation when it’s just cold water that comes out. But thats much better than bile. I often wake up early in the morning and my first thought is that I’m going to be sick NOW and before I can say to myself, you’ve got to be kidding, it’s started again.

I should explain that this is not a standard chemo, I’m on a clinical trial. The weekly infusion only takes 15 mins and as it slips into my veins I get the taste of almonds in the back of my throat. Something else for my banned food list. This is experimental stuff and so it’s taken a while to establish the right dose for me. My chemo cocktail has been reduced a couple of times. This has eased the symptoms, a bit. It means more sitting on the sofa and less lying down. It’s still really tough though and I have many more weeks to go.

But there are a couple of things which are getting me through all the horribleness and make it all worthwhile. My tumours are shrinking and I am happy to still be alive.

On repeat

My life seems to be stuck on repeat.

Get cancer, have treatment, recover. Get cancer again, have treatment, start to recover. Get cancer again, have treatment, start to recover. Get cancer again, have treatment, start to recover. Get cancer again…

Yes, it’s back. The disease is active once more.

The wonderful drugs I started taking last October as part of a clinical trial, had managed to keep it under control. They shrunk the tumours. These clumps of evil cells are still dormant.

But cancer is clever. It morphs and mutates. It learns how to beat whatever gets thrown at it. So I now have new spots of the cancer near to the shrunken, old tumours. Tiny bits of worrying shadows have shown up on my scans.

My consultant described them as flecks. I think of them as like gold flecks in a beautiful Turkish carpet. When you roll out the carpet, they are so small that you hardly see them but they are there and they change everything.

I’ve stopped taking the no-longer-so-wonder-drugs. Looking on the positive side I am now allowed to eat Seville oranges and grapefruit which had been banned. But, thats it.

I feel weary and frustrated that my body is such a successful cancer making machine. It means yet more toxic treatment. Once again I’m back at hospital and ready for danger. My identity wristband is red in case of an emergency. It should alert medical staff not to give me a drug that almost killed me in the past.


Today, Wednesday 2nd July, I am having chemo cocktail no 36. Just writing that makes me cry.

You may try to imagine how I’m dealing with all this but don’t. Unless you’ve had far too many cycles of chemo it’s impossible to comprehend what I’m feeling. Mostly I’m fine.  I’ve pretty much come to terms with this. I can cope with writing this blog but as for talking about it, I’d rather not. I mean, what is there left to say? It’s awful.

You might be wondering what you can do or to say to me, or to someone in a similar situation. Here’s a link to a brilliant article you should read.

The new tumours are very small. They are not causing me pain. This latest development is a cruel blow – another treatment has stopped working however I still have options. I know that my amazing doctors will never give up on me.

My advanced cancer has advanced again but this is not game over. Not by a long way. I am certainly not dying. I am not terminally ill. Worrying about the future is a waste of my precious energy. I just want to enjoy now.

Lets get this new treatment started.

No 13 on the List for Living!

13) See the Northern Lights

It wasn’t the best of starts. I was on my own in the Arctic Circle. It was cloudy and raining. There was zero chance of seeing the northern lights and and I was stuck on a fishing boat with a bunch of strangers.

The plan had been to meet my friend, Vicky in Oslo. We were supposed to travel to Tromso together. But to be in with a chance of experiencing the aurora borealis we needed to get out of the urban area. To somewhere that the sky is properly dark at night so we’d arranged to go out on the boat. But Vicky had a few plane problems and she was stuck in Oslo. It was a disappointing first night all round.

This is something I’d wanted to do for years. But it was arranged last minute. A few months ago.  We did this trip back in the winter but since then I’ve been too tired to finish writing this.

Anyway back to the story. As we’d left it so late it was a nightmare finding a hotel. We ended up booking an austere place near the airport. It reminded me of a Soviet hotel. This was very fitting. Vicky and I became friends when we both worked in Moscow more than a decade ago.

The next morning, me and the hotel’s stuffed polar bear waited for Vicky to arrive. I sat in the unnaturally dark cafe and checked the weather forecast. To see the northern lights you need clear skies. Yet while we were in Norway all we had to look forward to was snow and more rain. It felt so frustrating. After more delays Vicky finally arrived. Now our quest could properly begin.

Tromso is the most northerly city in Norway. It’s location makes it one of the best places in Europe to see the aurora. That night we had decided to turn to an expert for help. The Aurora Chaser, Kjetil Skogli. He takes you out for the evening in his big car and drives you to the place with the best chance of seeing it.

As we left it was snowing heavily. After an hour or so Kjetil stopped the car. We sat in darkness and starred at the sky. It seemed a bit like ghost hunting, trying to make out shapes in the gloomy light. Your eyes played tricks as you peered into the night.

Eventually there was something…a break in the clouds. It was like someone had slashed the sky and aurora was oouzing out. It was very subtle. Hardly visible to the naked eye. But my camera could see it. Did this count? Could we say we’d seen them? Technically yes. But we didn’t really think so.

The chase continued late into the night. We’d been told to bring our passports and we ended up near the Finnish border. The sky was so dark that the stars were magnificent. Thousands of them. So bright, they didn’t just twinkle, they seem to fizz against the inky backdrop. We’d stopped as there was a very faint smear of northern lights on the horizon. Just above a line of trees. On the other side of us was a mountain range. As we watched and took pictures, our guide laid on a midnight feast of hot tea and biscuits in the dark.

Suddenly a wide beam of white light appeared overhead. It was like a rainbow only without any colour. It was amost as if it was coming from a gigantic torch. It rose from behind the mountains and arched through the sky disappearing behind the trees. It was good but to be honest seeing a sky full of stars was much more impressive. It made you appreciate just how incredible the universe is.

The cameras were picking up amazing sights that the human eye couldn’t really see. It was a brilliant night but we wondered, was this it?

When we were planning this trip to Norway we didn’t want it to just be about the northern lights in case they didn’t appear. The next day we set off into the middle of snowy nowhere for a reindeer sleigh ride. I felt very ill but determined not to miss out. After a few hours sleep on the journey wrapped in my duvet-like coat I’d recovered.

When I woke up we were out in the wilderness. By the time we met our reindeers it was late afternoon and already dark. The snow that covered the countryside seemed to glow as our animals ambled across fields and valleys. It was such a tranqil experience.

And then there it was. Right above our heads was the aurora borealis!!

It was like a thick line of sand in the sky. It was quite straight, bright white, almost iridescent. We had to lie on our backs on the sleighs. The reindeers didn’t take much notice and just plodded on. We stared above us as the line of light changed. Slowly shifting, it formed a V shape. A kind of squiggle and then went into the pattern of waves across the dark sky. It lasted for maybe 30 seconds.

It felt very special to witness this. I was so happy that we’d seen the northern lights especially on a night when we weren’t even looking for them.

That night we slept out in a communal wood cabin, only heated with a log burner. It was quite basic with no electricity or indoor toilet. Outside it sounded like there was a pack of wolves. But they were just huskies. The following day they were going to be part of our next adventure – dog sledding.

I was worried that I wasn’t fit enough to drive the sled so Vicky stood on the back while I sat back on the contraption. It was properly cold but we had special thermal suits, blue overalls made us look like plumbers! Even more snow had fallen overnight so there were untouched deep drifts. The huskies couldn’t wait to start. They sounded as excited as I felt.

Racing through the snow, up and down hills, we whizzed through Christmassy scenes of snow covered fir trees. I didn’t care about being out of shape I really wanted a go at driving. Halfway through we had the chance to swap. Most of the time our huskies easily whisked us though the snowy course but I did have to do some pushing when we got stuck in the deep snow. When we got up speed it felt exhilarating and slightly scary. I loved it.

It was quite physically demanding but worth the effort and the aching afterwards. It made me remember than this is the real me. That I will, hopefully, be able to do more active things in the future. I felt truly felt alive. Life isn’t about a diagnosis, it’s about the right now.

Happy, we headed back to Tromso. For our last night in Norway we’d a booked a good hotel. But we were only there for an hour or so before we were back on the road, chasing the northern lights one last time. More boiler suits, high vis waistcoats and a load of strangers all united by the hope of seeing something. This time we were on the Marianne’s Heaven on Earth Aurora Chaser Tour. We set out at 5pm. Already dark, it was freezing and only going to get colder .

I know I wasn’t the only one who felt like we must be slightly crazy to go to such lengths. As we drove the snow fall was so heavy that it pelted the windscreen. I wondered why we were bothering.

Our first stop was in a lay-by. We’d driven so far that we’d left the snowstorm behind. Our sights were set on a mountain which overlooked a traditional wooden cottage. It had smoke twirling out the chimney with a slight aurora plume behind it.

Yay it was the northern lights! It was great but not too impressive. I wanted more than just smudges which seemed like a hint of something and nothing. As the evening turned into night, we pulled off the main road next to a fjord. Mountains surrounded the water. But I didn’t notice the sound of the waves all I heard was one of guides shouting at us.

“Quick, get out! They’re here, they’re right above our heads.”

And sure enough, there they were! On the last night of our trip we’d got to see the full glory of the northern lights.


It was spectacular to watch the aurora dance for us. The glowing lights weaved and morphed, you could see shapes and delicate patterns. The white light, with hints of pink and green became stripes in the sky. The lines turned and twisted. Sometimes melting into waves.

At one point I was transfixed by what seemed like a jagged cloud of aurora dripping light, almost like a shower of stars, then it seemed like someone had turned a light on behind me. This was another northern lights show starting and it was so bright it lit up much of the sky.


This is what I imagined when I was writing my List for Living.

It was just glorious and went on for about an hour, Vicky and I had time to pose for photos, laughing at our safety first outfits.


I took many pictures but I didn’t just snap away. Some of the time I stood and smiled at the show.

What we experienced was more than just ticking something off a bucket list. It was about appreciating the incredible beauty of nature. While I may never beat the cancer it made me feel so alive and filled with joy.


Now that all would have been a fantastic and we would have gone home delighted. However the people leading the group were very passionate. They were convinced there was much more to see.

Before heading any further though we had a midnight BBQ near to a forest. Yep, we sat around a campfire in the snow. The northern lights streaked above us in ghostly white shapes. Swirling in the freezing air as we huddled near to the flames.


And so our travels continued and we were rewarded with such wonderful scenes. We saw the aurora again and again. Every time we stopped there was a different dance. At one point majestic jets of lights formed white rainbows from one mountain peak.

Then there was the most impressive sight of all. By this point it was the early hours of the morning and the temperature had dropped to -15c. Vicky and practically everyone else were too cold to leave the minibus but I made Vicky get out for this one.

It was almost like there was a volcanic eruption of light. What looked like bright clouds rushed down the edge of steep, snowy slopes across a lake from us. When they reached the ground the northern light sprang back up into the air. Creating mesmerising circular shapes in the sky. This was one of the most amazing moments of my life.


It was around 4am when we got back to our hotel. Exhausted but so exhilarated that I could hardly sleep. The northern lights seemed to be imprinted on my eyes. Even when I closed them I could still see the glow of the aurora dancing away.