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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

Happier New Year

This may seem a bit late but pretty much most of Christmas and the New Year has passed me by. There were some lovely moments however far too much of the last few weeks have been a blur of illness, aches and a throat full of the most painful mouth ulcers.

When it gets this bad you have to pause your life. Most of the stuff you want to do just doesn’t happen. You have a constant exhaustion. Meanwhile it seems like everything around you just carries on as normal. Recently there have been some wonderful comments on my blog. Thank you. I’m sorry that I don’t have the energy to reply right now but they’re all read and apperciated.

The three weeks recovery time after chemo no 5 are always the worst because it’s the penultimate load of drugs. The build up of toxic chemicals is horrific. There is no real chance to recover before the final session. Somehow chemo no 6 doesn’t seem quite so awful as you know that the treatment is over. At least for the time being.

So it was on Christmas Eve that I had chemo no 5. This was exactly a year after being told that the disease I’d thought I’d fought off was advanced and would kill me someday soon. What is it about my cancer that ensures I spend Christmas Eve at hospital??

This year there were no mince pies as we waited. It didn’t matter as I’m not allowed to eat on the morning of my chemo anyway. But there was some Christmas cheer on the ward. Especially as my friend Chantal brought along some festive flowers.

I saw the same lovely consultant as the year before. I’ve been her patient for so long. We have shared some Incredible highs….she gave me the all clear from my ever first lot of cancer. And more recently, some terrible lows…on Christmas Eve 2012 she explained that I may only have months to live.

But Christmas Eve 2013 seemed so much more positive. The latest test results were encouraging and showed that the chemo was giving my latest tumour a good kicking. Most importantly I was still alive! Still able to sit in that small, bright room and talk about my future. On the way out I gave my consultant a hug. I thanked her for helping to prolong my life. There’s not many people you can say that to!

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It wasn’t great being in hospital at that time of year. But at least we were all able to leave at the end of the day. There was a unique feeling that we had something special waiting for us when the treatment finished. Normally all you have to look forward to is projectile vomiting and a chemo hangover.

Even my bag of drugs had a Christmassy look. As they slipped into my veins I had a dreamless doze under a thin, blue blanket. When I woke up it was time for Christmas.

That night, when we got back, I slept in my own home. I’ve now properly moved to the countryside. Thats no 1 and 2 that I’ve been able to tick off my List for Living! It means I’ve stayed alive long enough to do the most important on my list. As I fell asleep I was happy that this Christmas Eve was much better than the last one.

No 50 on the List for Living


50) Drink champagne in one of the best bars in the world just before Christmas to celebrate still being alive.

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It’s exactly a year since I was told I may only have six months to live!! And here I am, very much alive.

I marked the special day with a festive chemo cocktail at hospital. But I’ve also had some proper celebrations. If you keep beating the odds what else can you do but drink a glass or two of champagne.

Happy Christmas! x

20 on the List for Living

20) Present a BBC Radio 4 programme

Yay! I’ve done something else on my List for Living. Last Sunday I presented the BBC Radio 4 programme, Pick of the Week. It was a very special moment and a privilege to have this opportunity.

This is something that I’d wanted to do for years. When I returned back to Britain from being a foreign correspondent, I enjoyed doing some presenting for the BBC World Service. From time to time I’d front the World Briefing programme. I also wanted to become a presenter at Radio 4. It’s a station which I love reporting for and listening to. But when the cancer returned last year, I had to put that dream on hold.

Writing my List for Living made me realise that it was something I still wanted to do. I applied to join the mentoring scheme run by the Sound Women development group for women working in radio. I was successful and the Radio 4 presenter Martha Kearney became my mentor. With her help and brilliant encouragement I started to try again.

It was an incredible feeling to finally be able to present a show on Radio 4.

I would really like to write more about this but I had more chemo a few days ago. I’m feeling horribly ill. It’s as if I’m in the middle of the worst ever hangover. I can barely stand up. My whole body hurts. Oh and just to make everything seem even worse, almost all my hair has fallen out.

So instead of saying anything more, here is my Pick of the Week and my debut as a Radio 4 presenter!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03df77g

(You’ll have to be quick though as this is only available until Sunday evening.)

28 on the List for Living

28) Zoom down a zip wire

Really, what was I thinking?? Why did I want to dangle in the air, held only by a few ropes? Fly across a quarry so deep that it’s used as a diving centre? I had ages to wonder as we waited for our turn on the zip wire.

I had been lulled into a false sense of security. When we got to The Wire in Chepstow there was a picture of a woman doing to zip wire and she had a seat. It kinda looked like she was on a swing. Great, that’s what I’ll do. But do you think my friends would let me take the easy option? Of course not!

There big of group of us. Rache, my friend who loves fancy dress, organised the day. Thankfully without any fancy outfits although she did point out to us that she’d seen a video of Batman and Robin riding the wire.

This is billed as one of the longest, tallest and fastest zip slides in the UK. It reaches speeds of up to 40 miles an hour.

To get to the start of the ride you have to walk around the quarry that you will zoom over. That certainly gets your heart pumping. It makes you realise just how far you are going to go.

At the top of the quarry, on the edge of the cliff, is a high platform with a ramp that you have to walk up. You have to then climb up a small stop ladder. From there the only way is down. And over the water. Very fast.

I lined up with Denise, one of my oldest friends from school. We were both strapped in and petrified. She went first. I had to wait and watch as she zipped off and away. The man in charge pointed out the Severn Bridge in the misty distance. My legs were turning to jelly.

Finally, it was my turn. I’d like to say I took a leap of faith. But actually it was more of a tentative step. Then whoosh. The feeling was incredible. I was flying through the air. After a few seconds of sheer terror, it felt peaceful being above the water. I loved zooming on the zip wire.

Doing something like this makes you understand that fear is only a feeling. It doesn’t mean you can’t do something. What I really enjoy about doing my List for Living is that it’s such a great excuse to have fun with friends. We laughed, we screamed and we all survived.

You may have heard those screams in my BBC World Service documentary, The Bucket List. If you missed it, here’s a link to the programme.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p01j9ghq/The_Documentary_The_Bucket_List/

Now we are looking forward to our next adventure. This time it does involve fancy dress. The thing that will be the most frightening will be what we are wearing!

The Bucket List

You’ve read about the things that I’ve done on my List for Living. Zooming down a zip wire, glass blowing and being driven fast around a race track in a sports car. Well, now you’re going to be able to hear me doing them!

My radio documentary, The Bucket List, is on the BBC World Service tomorrow (Monday) at 9am and again at 8pm. I’m so excited; I can’t wait to hear it being broadcast.

It’s not just my programme. The Bucket List has been produced by Rebecca Maxted, the award winning maker of beautiful radio. I have to admit that she did all the hard work.

It all started off with a chance compliment about my hair. Only I had no hair. I was wearing Raquel, my short blond wig at the time. Now, many months later, our documentary all ready to be aired. It’s about much more than just my List for Living. I interviewed some amazing people. Just a warning though, it may make you cry.

Ahead of the documentary being broadcast, you may have seen an article I wrote for the BBC News magazine.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24477163

If that’s how you found my blog, then a big hello and welcome along!

There’s been an incredible response to the piece. So many lovely, heart-warming comments. Also I’ve had many offers of help for my List for Living including two marriage proposals!

Thank you.