It’s not quite what you expect to see but there to greet us at the entrance to the chemo unit was a bird of prey. It wasn’t long after lunch and the kestrel had just killed a vole in the hospital car park.

Like the bird, I was about to do something pretty violent, in my own way, in order to survive.

Rather than feeling squeamish, I enjoyed seeing such a powerful creature. It seemed like an inspiring sight just before chemo#7. I didn’t realise why until I did a little research while waiting for my chemo cocktail to be mixed up.

Some people apparently see the kestrel as a warrior or a warlike symbol and in battle they use its image believing that it gives them prowess. The bird represent success, victory and rising above a situation.

Wow – I’ll take all of that thank you very much.

The skill of the kestrel is to hover in the air, locate its target and then choose the right moment to strike. According to a mystic on the internet, they are all about focus. When you see one it’s a sign that you should focus on your goals and do what’s necessary to make your desires become a reality.

The bird’s timing was perfect. I’m now entering probably the hardest part of my treatment. The side effects are getting worse and yet it seems like there’s no end in sight to the chemo sessions. Still 11 to go after this one. Even if none of the kestrel stuff is true, it was lovely to see something so special.

It was almost a relief to get back to the business of fighting cancer. This week has been a nightmare thanks to the actions of one person. I don’t even know if they are a man or a woman but The Idiot has caused me lots of trouble. And yes, they know that I have cancer.

I have wasted hours worrying. I even spent a whole day of my precious life just crying in bed. This big stressful thing has come along just when I really don’t need it. I won’t go into details as it’s complicated and I’ve had to explain it far too many times.

The day before chemo I didn’t put on much make-up as I knew I’d probably end up in tears. Ahead I had some horrible hospital tests and the prospect of throwing away huge chunks of time on the phone because of that big stressful thing.

I decided to base myself at Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre. It’s a place offering coffee and support. It’s right next to a hospital but it doesn’t look or smell like one. There are a number of Maggie’s Centres around the country, mine is a beautiful oasis, designed by a famous architect. I was hoping for some friendly words of advice and perhaps some cake. I got that and much more.

make upI was already on my phone talking about the actions of The Idiot when I walked into Maggie’s. I could see that one of the staff wanted a word with me. Once I’d finished my call, I was asked if I wanted my make-up done by a professional. Oh, let me think about that for a few seconds.

The make-up session at Maggie’s was only interrupted twice by my mobile and that big stressful thing. However getting some smokey eyes certainly relaxed me.

Later when I ended up sitting in a hospital corridor with only a couple of cotton gowns to cover my dignity, I looked a lot more glam than usual. I continued to take yet more phone calls relating to The Idiot but I felt stronger. Thanks to some very lovely people, hopefully it’s being sorted now.

From the random make-over to the magnificent bird of prey, life didn’t seem quite so bad. Then during treatment I got an upgrade from chemo club class. I didn’t have to sit in a big pink chair; I had a proper bed in an en-suite room.

Perhaps I got the side room as I was living dangerously. Once again I had opted to cut my steroids. Now I’m on a quarter of a dose. Reducing them before didn’t give me any problems. Mum and my friend Chantal, the flower girl, kept an eagle eye on me. But it was fine. I just slept in the comfy bed covered by a thin blanket.

I dreamed of the kestrel. My warrior bird of prey hovering in the sky, waiting for the perfect opportunity to swoop on my tumour. Attacking it and killing the cancer.

Normally I focus on 007 doing my dirty work. Could it now be a case of move over James Bond there’s a new bird in town?


It’s not even Valentine’s Day but already I’ve been struck by chemo’s very own Cupid’s arrow. There’s now something very close to my heart. I’m the proud owner of a PICC line. For a cancer fighter like me I’m going to get a whole lot more pleasure from it than a dozen red roses.

It’s become just too painful to have needles forced into my hand every week. The veins on my hand are difficult to find at the best of times and the chemo is making them worse. To solve this problem I’ve had a permanent line put into my upper arm where the veins are a lot more juicy.

I went to get the PICC line the day before treatment. Simple, I thought. I had to go into a side room of the chemo ward and it would soon be sorted.

Wearing a beautiful silk blouse, the hospital’s vein expert arrived for the small op. As she was wearing such a lovely purple top, how bad could it be? When she put on a blue surgical gown, I realised I’d lulled myself into a false sense of security. Even then I didn’t quite realise how gruesome it was going to be.

The consultant selected a big vein on the inside of my right arm. After some local anaesthetic she made an incision. A thin plastic cable more than 40cm long was inserted and gently eased into the vein in my arm. Bleugggh!

The tiny tube travelled through the vein up my arm, across my shoulder and then down until the tip was pointing right at my heart. There it will stay for months, until the chemo is over. The other end of the cable now pokes out of my arm but most of it is covered with a clear dressing.

It means that I can’t play netball, swim or have a proper bath. I can carefully shower but I won’t be able to have long hot showers. That’s a real shame. Showers are the perfect place for a good cry. Although I don’t seem to have so many emotional showers these days. I still get upset but I have far less of the raw grief that seems unstoppable. I guess that I’m coming to terms with my new reality.

The restrictions of this chemo Cupid’s arrow are a small price to pay. It’s lovely to say goodbye to the needles plus there’s no need for any more friendly threats to pinch me. The PICC line will be used for chemo to go in and blood for tests to come out. If I get an infection like before and have to go into hospital in an emergency, it can also be used for an antibiotic drip.

The next day and chemo#4 was a breeze. It didn’t hurt at all. Just like last time, I only had half a dose of steroids. It seems I’m not the only one who gets a rush from this medication.

I had a comment on my last blog post from a woman called Janice whose husband who was being treated for tongue cancer, telling me how the day after hospital he’d be out in the garden from 6am wielding a powerful petrol strimmer. She said he was as high as a kite and worked like a dog for two days and nights. Their garden had never looked so good!

The past week has been much better. No steroid high, followed by a crash and burn. Instead I felt good but incredibly tired. I was wiped out. Now I’ve lowered the dose my mood feels more stable.

As always once the drip started the chemo cocktail virtually knocked me out. My consultant, The Professor was visiting the ward. I saw him walking towards me but I didn’t recognise him until he spoke to me and gave me a hug.

I wasn’t much company for mum and dad who were with me for this week’s chemo. As always I couldn’t stop myself drifting off. As I fall into a deep sleep I love to imagine my tumour getting a good battering from James Bond.

On the way to my parent’s home I dozed on the train, again I visualised Daniel Craig, I have to admit it got quite violent. I think of the chemo as 007 licensed to kill my cancer. Normally he has the biggest, baddest gun. On this occasion he took me by surprise as he turned up with a rocket launcher! Good work Mr Bond.

Almost home and I woke up, still woozy from the drugs. On the opposite seat – someone joined me for the journey. I’m sure he wasn’t there before I went to sleep. There was something familiar about him and I did manage to recognise this man.

Kindness of strangers

So what’s the best thing to do the next night after going to the James Bond premiere?

Go to see the film again?

Yes, 24 hours after watching Skyfall at the Royal Albert Hall, I was at the cinema for more 007 action!

It was thanks to my friend Rache. When not organising fancy dress themed nights out, she loves to enter competitions. She’s very good at winning and has bagged some incredible prizes.

Rache, me and Barbarella

For months Rache had been trying to win tickets for the Skyfall premiere for me. She wasn’t alone in doing this.

She’s part of an online forum for fellow compers. Many of them also did what they could by entering quizzes and competitions for me. These were people I’d never met before, they only knew me from this blog, yet they put in lots of effort into doing something lovely for me.

And they came up trumps!

A man who goes by the online name of Greatbigrobot won tickets to a VIP advanced screening of the movie for me the night after the premiere. I was delighted. Then a couple of days later the charity, the Willow Foundation managed to get me invited to the premiere.

The tickets for the advanced screening were non-transferable so I ended up with a double dose of 007.  Well, you can never have too much Bond in your life.

Anna, Bond girl for the night

My friend Anna came with me to the advance screening. It was a really great night and another fabulous excuse to wear Candice and a posh dress. You wait for months for something like this to come along and then you have two big nights out in a row. Not that I’m complaining.

Before the film we were served champagne by handsome waiters, played roulette and met men in tuxedos. Surely this is what it must be like to be a Bond girl?!

Although I don’t imagine that Bond girls normally drink champagne from plastic glasses.

Watch out Daniel Craig!

I was really touched that someone won the prize for me. But this wasn’t the first random act of kindness. Since being diagnosed, people that I don’t know have sent me presents.

When I went into hospital I received a care package which included tissues for tears and a notebook for ideas. During chemo I received a handbag in the post to help me look forward to happier times. Just a few days ago a Twitter friend sent me a teal green hat and earrings. Her gifts were to help make my bald look better and feel warmer.

I’ve also had cards from people who explain that we’ve not met but they know me through someone.

I’ve had so much love on Twitter too and from everyone that’s left comments on this blog.

Of course, the support I’ve had from family and friends has been wonderful but I didn’t expect so much good will from strangers. Knowing that lots of people, including many I’ve not met in real life, are cheering you on is an incredible feeling. It always gives me a boost and has been more help than I could have imagined.

So, thank you.

Never for a second would I have chosen to have cancer. It may be the worst of times but it’s also shown me the best of so many people.

James Bond is back!

It wasn’t so long ago, that just like today, I woke up stupidly early. Back then a heady combination of steroids and nervous energy meant that I couldn’t sleep. That was the morning back in May when I started chemotherapy.

I knew it was going to be horrendous but I was also well aware of just how important it was. All the tumours had been removed but I needed this to get rid of any teeny tiny cancery cells that might still be hanging around.

As I lay awake in the dark I thought about how the chemo was going to work. I’d been told how cancer fighters often come up with unusual ways of thinking about the treatment to try to take away some of the terror.

This is what I wrote in my blog post, Licence to Kill:

“I tried to think about what it would be like when the drugs went in. I turned every drop from the drip into a killing machine. A kinda James Bond. I imagined my own microscopic army of special agents. Just in case you’re wondering, I’m thinking Daniel Craig as James Bond….

…Anyway, I’m picturing my troops being launched into the killing zone with charm, cunning and a wry smile. Their mission is to destroy any rogue cancer cells.”

A few hours later when the toxic cocktail began to seep into my veins and poison my body, that’s what I focused on. It was the violent visualisation that I used during all the other sessions of chemo too. Whenever I was worried that potentially evil cells may be lurking inside me, I also thought about this fully loaded 007 army. They helped to shoot away my fears.

After six sessions of chemo it was mission accomplished. I got the all clear – the best news ever! The James Bonds had done the business. Of course, along with the drugs and the doctors etc etc. Since then the test results have been great.

So, back to this morning.

It’s a few months on from that first day of chemo; again I’ve woken up all excited and jittery and thinking about James Bond.

This time I’m not imagining gun-toting-cancer-killing-secret-agents blasting away at killer cells. No, I’m picturing 007 on a big screen. A mahoosive big screen. Daniel Craig is sat in the audience, all dressed up in black tie, surrounded by his co-stars. I’m there too. We’re all watching the latest movie. The difference is, this isn’t something else that I’ve just dreamt up; soon this will be for real.

You see, tonight I have a date with James Bond – I’ve been invited to the world premiere of Skyfall!!

The timing is brilliant. I’m finally feeling better than I have done in ages and now I’m off to a red carpet event in London featuring the very character that I thought of so much during the chemo.

It’s all thanks to the Willow Foundation. The charity was set up by Arsenal legend Bob Wilson and his wife Megs in memory of their daughter Anna who died from cancer at the age of 31. It aims to help young adults dealing with serious illnesses by arranging something amazing for them.

Already it feels special. Yesterday a man on a motorbike turned up at my house. Tall with broad shoulders, he was dressed all in black. As I opened the door, he gave me a wry smile and a large plain white envelope.

“Skyfall tickets,” he said.

“Yes,” I nodded.

“I’ve been expecting you…”

Soldiering on

I thought I had it all sorted.

I have the chemo; James Bond kills the remaining cancer cells. I’m slowly poisoned as I imagine my own personal army of special agents blasting away at the enemy inside me. I try to carry on as much as normal while I visualise the 007s carrying out this covert operation for me.

But it turns out that I’m at war too.

Following my scary setback last week I had to see The Professor. Despite being totally exhausted, it wasn’t quite as awful as I felt during my emergency stay in hospital. With the infection launching a full on assault, my immune system dropped so low it was almost non-existent. Even he had to admit that it was impressively bad.

As I chatted to my consultant in a small clinical looking room I could hardly think straight. I was so shattered. It was such an effort just to sit on the plastic chair. Really I wanted to have a nice lie down on the medical couch that I could see behind a flimsy curtain. It was so inviting.

I had the appointment with The Professor at my usual hospital yesterday as I’m due to have chemo today. I had to convince him that I was ready to take the battering that you get from the drip of dangerous drugs.

Luckily the blood tests confimed that I was well enough. I’m so glad that it’ll continue as planned even though I still feel shockingly ill.

This will be my fifth session of chemo. After today, I’ll have just one more to go before it’s all over. The Professor reassured me that what I’m going is awful but nothing out of the ordinary. I’m not sure why but having someone else acknowledge just how horrendous things are somehow makes you feel a bit better. It was a welcome boost.

It’s not that I’ve been feeling down. It’s just that I have little energy to do much more than focus on finishing my cancer treatment.

It’s incredibly traumatic, it’s as if I’m in a warzone, my consultant explained to me. For six months now I’ve been under attack both physically and mentally. There’s the pain, the fatigue and the fear. You’re not sure if you’ll make it out alive. The last time I was anywhere near a warzone as a BBC foreign correspondent it was pretty stressful and I was only there for a week or so.

It makes sense – this is a fight for my very survival. While I think of myself as battling this killer disease, I’ve never seen myself as an actual soldier on the frontline. I’ve left that part to my gun-toting troop of James Bonds.

To be honest the fog of tiredness has meant I’ve considered myself to be more like a zombie but I must change that.

It’s much more positive to imagine myself as a solider and a successful one at that. The Professor took great delight in telling me that according to the very latest test results I’m still clear of cancer. So I’m already winning the war!