Chemo holiday holiday!

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Hello again. I know it’s been a while. I’ve been on holiday. Yes, an actual, proper holiday during my chemo holiday! If you’re not seriously ill then you’ll probably find it hard to appreciate just what a huge deal this is.

For a start planning ahead is hard. I never know how I’m going to how I’m going to feel tomorrow let alone in a few weeks. You have to be relatively well to get on a plane. Your immune system needs to be strong enough to deal with a cabin full of other people’s germs. Then you worry that when you get there you might get ill.

Dreaming of a holiday got me through the last lot of chemo and the worst of the recovery period. I didn’t mind where I went I just wanted somewhere warm with good hospitals.

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And it was great. I went to Muscat and Dubai with Chantal, my friend the flower girl. All the photos of our lovely holiday were taken by her.

I was able to forget about all the cancer nonsense. It was hot, relaxing and I didn’t get ill at all. While I was away I was able to tick a few more things of my List for Living! More of that in a later post.

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Apart from the holiday I haven’t done too much else. I’ve just been concentrating on recovering.

If you imagine that each course of chemo is like running a marathon. You focus on finishing. It takes all your strength just to get round the course. You want that medal around your neck and a nice hot bath. But each time you cross the finishing line it seems that you barely enough time to catch your breath before you have to run another one. There’s no choice, you have to run to stay alive. Each marathon is harder than the last. That’s why the recover has seemed tougher than ever.

Some of the side effects, like the sickness and the nausea, faded quite quickly. But the fatigue has been worse than ever. The problem is that the chemo made me so ill that I lost what little fitness I had. Anything that doesn’t involve lying down is such an effort.

A few days ago I was talking my coat off. As I took my arm out of the coat sleeve, my arm accidentally slipped out of my cardigan. For a few seconds I felt like I didn’t have enough energy to put my arm into the cardigan sleeve. I did manage it of course. But it’s tiny things which make you realise how far you still have to go.

It’s relentless. You think that you’re making progress and then the next day you’re needing a sleep in the middle of the afternoon. It’s so very frustrating. But finally I am getting better. I’m beginning to feel like myself again and that feels good. 

When you have cancer and body goes through such ongoing trauma you need to be mentally strong. To get round the chemo marathons and to keep going during the recovery. Such a big part of coping with this disease is dealing with the difficult thoughts that come with it.

Every few weeks I see a cancer counsellor. It’s an opportunity to talk frankly. The best part is that I can get upset but he doesn’t. It’s kind of like chemo for the nasty thoughts caused by the disease. They are blasted away. Only with this talking treatment I always walk out feeling much better. The counsellor often gives me a new perspective on my problems.

The hardest thing to come to terms with is that my life will be cut short. We were chatting about this during my last session and my counsellor told me that he thinks of me like a butterfly. They might not be alive for long but flutter about and seem to have a great time.

One of my favourite places to sit and rest is in my garden. I watch the birds and occasionally the neighbours cats but I’d never seen a butterfly there before. Since seeing my counsellor I’ve noticed lots of them. It makes me so happy when I see these bright, beautiful creatures. Now they seem to be everywhere.

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Chemo holiday!

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It’s a Tuesday and normally I’d be having chemo today. Thats been my routine almost every Tuesday since July. I’m at hospital as usual but I’m only having a magnesium drip. No toxic drugs. I’m very happy to say that my treatment has finished!!!

You have no idea how glad I am to be on a chemo holiday. I dreaded each Tuesday more and more. As I traipsed to hospital, I’d often be in a foul mood.

This has been the hardest chemo with chronic vomiting and crippling tiredness. The side effects have been horrific but whats been more difficult to deal with is the relentless nature of going through treatment. At it’s worst, it seemed like there was no end in sight. 

My last treatment was chemo number 59. That’s in total since my first ever toxic cocktail more than a decade ago. It’s a score that I think is horrific and yet somehow impressive at the same time.

For this last treatment I was on a clinical trial. This means it wasn’t one of the standard chemos that’s offered to cancer patients. Part of the reason for the research is to determine the best dose for this new drug. I started off on a high dose and then it was reduced. There is no point of being on a low level of the stuff which does nothing. I was really ill until we found the right dose for me.

This was a phase one clinical trial so I was one of the first group of humans to test the drug. Plenty more patients will take part in trials before it could potentially become available as a standard treatment option. But that could take a while. The whole research process is far far longer than most people realise. 

I feel privileged to have had access to this new drug. It’s exciting to be part of something thats so cutting edge and could help many people in the future. Like a lot of women with ovarian cancer, I’ve become resistant to the most common chemo thats used to treat the disease.

The best thing is that the new treatment has worked. My tumours have shrunk and my cancer is stable. This is the first chemo which has managed to shrink the tumours. There is also a chance that it’s made my clever cancer become more stupid. The result has made all the sickness and exhaustion worth it.

I’m going to make the most of this time. I’ll be ticking some more things off my List for Living. Right now I’m recovering. With the chemo and steroids slowly leaving my body, I’m able to start eating more healthily. I’m also trying to build up my stamina. As someone who often has to sit down to clean my teeth, thats going to take a while.

Hopefully I will now have several months, maybe more before I have to face chemo number 60. Please don’t tell me to be positive and that it might be considerably longer. I’m positive but I’m also pragmatic.

Each time I’ve finished chemo I’ve desperately dreamed that I could have years without needing another toxic cocktail. But my chemo holiday never lasts more than a few months. When you get that news, the disappointment is crushing.

To try to ease some of that next time, I’m prepared for just a short break. I’d like to be proved wrong.

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!

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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.

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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…..be 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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/10832932/What-to-say-to-a-35-year-old-mother-dying-of-cancer.html

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Spoonfulness

Wow it’s been a while. So hello again!

I haven’t been writing for the past few weeks or so as I’ve just been incredibly tired. I’m still short of magnesium. Stupid, stupid magnesium. Ever since January when chemo ended I’ve been having a weekly IV drip of the stuff. Hours of being hooked up to a machine on the chemo ward. There’s been no escaping that place!

I’ve gone from having almost non-existent levels of magnesium to having half what is considered normal. Thats where it’s stopped. For ages my levels have refused to budge. Here’s the irony….having chemo depleted my stores of magnesium so I need more but because of the chemo my kidneys can’t retain it.

It’s so very frustrating. Plus on top of the exhaustion, it also causes muscle weakness and cramps.

With limited energy I have to be quite selective about what I do and how I spend my spoons. I’ve mentioned the spoons before. When you have such fatigue it helps to think of what energy you do have as something tangible like spoons. You only get so many spoons a day. Sometimes none at all. There has been a severe spoon shortage just lately and so I’ve been using them sparingly.

I have used some spoons on exciting things. Hopefully soon I will blog about what done from my List for Living but have been too tired to write about!

No 21 on the List for Living

21) Hold an exhibition of my cow photographs

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved taking photographs of cattle. Growing up on a farm in Gloucestershire meant they were always in the fields around us. With a gentle and curious nature, I think they are wonderful animals.

I’d always fancied having an exhibition of my pictures but never thought much more about it until I came up with my List for Living. My friend Gill, who runs the Garden Tea Rooms in Worcestershire offered to display my work. Over coffee, cake and chemo, we planned the exhibition – ‘Have I got MOOs for you’.

Many of the images that I selected were taken while I was going through cancer treatment. There are not only cows in my collection but also plenty of steers. In other words both girls and boys.

Taking pictures of these big, beautiful beasts has helped to get my through the difficult times. Over the past couple of years my parents have looked after me as I recovered from major surgery and relentless chemo. Being in the countryside was a tonic in itself, plus taking photos of the cattle over the garden fence took my mind off things.

Now once again I’m trying to recuperate from chemo. I’m still ridiculously exhausted but putting this together has given me something lovely to focus on while not moving far from the sofa.

The exhibition opened this weekend. It was good to feel nervous about something which didn’t involve blood tests or scans. We arrived early in the morning to get it ready. There were 15 pictures to put on display. This is my favourite, it features a pair of cheeky brothers.

I should say that it was my friend Rache who worked out how to put up the hooks on the walls. That nervous excitement meant I wasn’t much use. She also took these photographs of my photographs. Really all I did was stand back and decide where to put them!

It was a great feeling, such a sense of satisfaction, to finally see my pictures on the walls in their own exhibition. With the cattle grazing around us, there was only one thing left to do and that was to celebrate with a cream tea.

‘Have I got MOOS for you’ runs until the end of the month at the Garden Tea Rooms which is next to Witley Court in Great Witley, Worcestershire.

http://www.witleytearooms.co.uk

Special thanks to Gill Edmonds – Making People Happy With Cake!

Happy Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday, two years ago, it felt like I was barely alive. I was stuck in hospital. But it was thanks to my mum that I wasn’t dead. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express just how grateful I am to her.

I hadn’t long been out of intensive care. I was rushed there the day after my massive cancer-removing, life-saving operation. While I was recovering from the surgery, I slept pretty much all the time, but suddenly without warning I quietly stopped breathing. It was my mum, who’d been sitting beside my bed, realised that something was badly wrong and raised the alarm. She saved my life. For the second time.

The first time was much less dramatic. A month or so previously I’d had some worrying symptoms. The severe pain had been dismissed by a couple of medical professionals. They’d said it was probably nothing to worry about. My mum wasn’t convinced and made sure that I went for some proper tests. She was right to make me see my consultants. She ensured that I survived.

 

Then…

That Mothering Sunday in hospital in 2012 I felt so incredibly ill. I’d lost a huge amount of weight and could hardly walk. I didn’t realise how frail I was at the time. Mum and dad visited that afternoon. It wasn’t your usual Mothering Sunday. We chatted in the ward’s television room. I got there with the help of a walking frame. For the past couple of weeks I hadn’t been able to sit in a chair without collapsing so for me these were big achievements. We celebrated that I’d made it through the worse.

I’ve been thinking about this recently as I accidentally came across some photos a few days ago from that Mothering Sunday. To be honest I can’t really remember them being taken. My cancer treatment over the past two years seems so much of a blur. Perhaps it’s easier to forget many things. Last Mothering Sunday I was bang in the middle of more chemo.

But this year is so different.

The chemo cocktails are finished. Hopefully it’ll be a long while before I need any more. I don’t feel ill, I feel brilliant. I’m still very tired but I just have to pace myself.

 

…now

I haven’t been able to do too much lately other than concentrate on recovering and getting my normal life back. Plus I’ve been planning a few more things from my List for Living. I’m now settled in my own home in the countryside. I’m very much enjoying number 1 and 2 on my bucket list!

Compared to the past couple of years, I feel so much better. But there is something else that makes this Mothering Sunday so special. While you read this I could well be baking or boiling or maybe burning. This year, for the first time since getting cancer, I’m cooking a family lunch for Mothering Sunday. It’s a very small way of saying thank you. However lunch turns out, this will be a very happy Mothering Sunday.