Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Starch - or not?

It's certainly not fashionable. I don't think that my daughters ever do it. My hubby certainly never does it. But I actually like ironing. There's something about taking a piece of fabric which is unkempt, creased and rather sad, then rendering it beautifully straight, smooth and crisp. So it is without regret that I plug in my iron and set about the pile of very very damp (because that's the only way to do them) tablecloths and napkins.

I do remember having very vivid almost-asleep dreams when I was a child and teenager. They were of a vast open space of nothingness, a veritable infinity of deep-coloured dark space without limit. Into this space would come a stream of ribbon moving horizontally - quite flat and smooth. But then there would be a kink in the ribbon and I would have to will the entire length to crumple up and go to bottom right hand corner of the space so that the another stream of completely unkinked and smooth ribbon could take its place. But there was always a kink in the ribbon. I always had to crumple it up and move it to what I now recognize as a "recycle bin"! Could it be that from this dream I get my love of tablecloth ironing I wonder?

The big question is: to starch or not to starch? Starch makes for messy ironing as the iron has a habit of sticking. I gave up washing the tablecloths and napkins when the children were small and turned instead to a commercial laundry. But though it appeared the items had been starched, they'd all been badly folded before ironing. I ended up having to dampen everything down and re-iron it all, which was a bit much when I'd paid a very large bill for the service.

Since then I've occasionally used spray-on starch but mainly I've relied on what has been left in the fabric. Now everything's getting quite floppy again. I guess I can leave it for now, but next time I think I'm going to have to do the job properly. The last time I tried to find starch I don't think I could but thank goodness for the internet; there's even a web site for it Starch Supplies.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

For which much thanks

Here's wishing you all as wonderful a Christmas as I'm going to have. My family is about to gather and with neighbours and extended family members, we'll be sitting down to lunch with seventeen people around the table. I'm well; I even sang descants at last night's midnight mass.

I'm so incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped me get to where I now am: to all the medical staff - nurses, doctors, oncologists, radiologists, registrars, surgeons, the people who bring round magazines, the catering staff, the cleaning staff, my hubby, all my family - by birth or by marriage, my friends - close and distant, my alternative therapy practitioners, my nutritionist, the hundreds of contributors to online information, and to all my blog readers for your support and messages of encouragement. It's been a difficult year but not a bad one, for it is the year in which I've conquered cancer. On 25th of December 2010 I never imagined that I'd be where I am now - bright, bubbly, slim and incredibly well and adorned in my new purple velvet dress (bought new!) and preparing for a wonderful Christmas day.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Thursday, 22 December 2011


I've just completed my patient exit survey - that's the second one I've done in a week. One of the things on which I fed back on was the notice behind my bed in the ambulatory care unit where I was looked after following my surgery. I'll tell you the whole story because you couldn't really make it up. This is what happened.

On Monday morning I entered the hospital via a ward in which there were no beds, just chairs. I was seen by a nurse; I was asked all the usual questions; I was seen by an anaesthetist (some of the same questions repeated!) and in that same ward I changed into a gown, dressing gown and slippers. Everything else I'd brought with me was left in my overnight bag to be conveyed to the ward in which I would be recovering.

I walked down to the theatre, was anaesthetised and came round in a special ward for that purpose. I was then transferred (if I remember rightly and I don't remember much about this bit) into the ambulatory care unit to be nursed for the following 24 hours.

I could see that behind my bed in this ward there was a notice. It was headed: "After your operation". I could at least read that much from across the ward. I could see that the same notice was behind all of the beds but I couldn't read any more of it as it was too far away. What important message was this, I wondered? I was sure it was important and that I should know but having had surgery to my neck I wasn't about to turn sideways, hang over the side and crane my sore neck to find out. The only way to have read the notice safely would have been to have got out of the bed to do so. So instead I asked the nurse for the content.

Yup, you've probably guessed. It told me I shouldn't get out of bed until a nurse had given me permission!!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Just one of a crowd

Can you believe it? There were three other people I knew in the ACU (Ambulatory Care Unit - which means you can walk in and out) yesterday at the local hospital. So once I'd come round and had lunch I went visiting. Our next door neighbour was actually on the other side of the wall from me in the men's section of the same bay and opposite him someone else I knew. I popped round the corner to see them at just the time the consultant was doing his post surgery rounds so had my consultation standing in the middle of the gent's bay! A very old friend occupied a single room over the other side. I was so long gossiping with her at the end of the ward that they missed me when it was time for obs. I should have left a note!

As usual I had an enormous high after the anaesthetic. That is now wearing off so I expect to be feeling a little less hyper tomorrow. Stitches come out at a clinic at the hospital on Boxing Day and then there's a consultation with histology results in a couple of weeks. The surgeon said that it looked like a normal thyroid gland, but that tells you nothing. However he said the nodule was quite large - I wonder which one; there were two. "Could that have affected my singing voice?" I asked. "Hm, possibly."

Anyway the speech is fine if a little hoarse. I have a slight sore throat and when I swallow I'm aware that someone has done something to my throat. But as is my norm, I feel no pain. I wasn't going to take any pain relief but have decided to take the Ibuprofen three times as day as prescribed because it will reduce swelling. I do tend to swell when injured and bearing in mind it's my throat that could swell, taking something to alleviate that seems a sensible thing to do.

I asked the surgeon if a little singing around Christmas would be OK and he saw no reason why not. I reckon I might be able to join the choir for midnight mass after all.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

All prepared and ready

Tomorrow's procedure should be relatively quick and I would have thought, not particularly painful. The surgery I've had so far has been so incredibly well managed that I've had no pain, so I'm not banking on any this time. I wonder if it's because I rarely take painkillers? I have this theory that if your body doesn't get used to drugs then when you really need them they are much more effective. I don't know if I delude myself or whether it's really true - but it does seem to be the case with me anyway.

Remember my endorphins and how the chemo had affected the rate at which they kicked in when I stubbed my toes? My body appears to have reverted to the normal timescale again; about ten seconds after I've done an injury they simply take away the pain. It's nice to be back to normal.

The peripheral neuropathy - the lack of feeling in the fingers and toes - that's improving daily. The fingers are almost back to normal, well at least I've stopped dropping things like pins and needles when I'm sewing. And the lack of sensation which started at the toe tips and had reached as far as the middle of the soles of my feet, is receding.

Apart from that I'm right back to rude health taking nothing more toxic that the synthethic thyroxine which I've been on for years. This is just how I wanted it in preparation for surgery - to have my body in the best possible order. Even the old digestive system has slipped back to normal after the challenges of chemo, anaesthetics, anti-biotics, beta-blockers - all of which took their effect - and just in time for it all to be mucked up again! Never mind, I have stocked up with active bacterial food supplements ready to mitigate the toxic intrusions.

Everything is ready for Christmas and today all I have to do it pack my bag and prepare to be at the hospital tomorrow by 7.15 am. What a time! I've re-read every leaflet - four of them, several duplicating advice, some of it conflicting. The good old NHS eh. I suppose it's better to have more advice than you want than none at all.

It's interesting to note the differences in the way things are done between our local hospital and the one where I had the lung op. Soap had to be liquid there, no towels or flannels permitted. Everything was provided by the hospital and bathing before the op was done at the hospital - not at home - with NHS-provided anti-bacterial liquid soap. I remember chosing not to use my hair-brush after washing my hair on the basis that it would probably just reintroduce bacteria to my tresses. I combed it with my fingers before plaiting my hair to make it easy for the theatre staff. I shall follow that practice at home early tomorrow morning on the basis that it's in my own interest to present myself as clinical clean as I possibly can.

I'm anticipating being incommunicado for a day or so. One of the leaflets says no mobile phones though I gather everyone tends to ignore such instructions these days. I'll take my old Nokia and if my stay is any longer than 24 hours I'll get hubby to bring my smartphone in so that I can update you myself. Normal service on this blog will be resumed as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

All OK

My follow-up appointment with the respiratory consultant that I saw right at the beginning of my lung cancer episode took place this morning. I had a list of questions for him.

I wanted to know if the whole shadow on my lung had been cancerous, as opposed to some of it being scar tissue from infection. The answer was 100% cancer, which means that if only 5% cancer remained then the chemo was 95% effective. Impressive eh?!

I told him the tale of my disobedience regarding the beta blocker; he listened to my heart and agreed with me that I didn't need them. Phew - much relief there as I didn't want the surgery delayed.

He was quite impressed with my appearance, weight loss and attitude - and had the presence of mind to thank my hubby for his support which I thought was a nice touch. The Macmillan nurse said several times how wonderful I looked - she was clearly quite surprised at the outcome also. I told him that I'd given up sugar and alcohol and I got the impression he was pleased with that. But apart from discussion about my weight there were no other questions about what I'd done and whether or not that had helped my case. Incredible. If it were me (being the consultant that is) I'd be so incredibly curious. I don't think I'd be able to stop myself from asking even if it wasn't the norm to do so.

I will undergo a chest Xray every six months for the next three years and he'll review it each time. And basically that's it - as far as the lung is concerned.

Monday, 12 December 2011

A week to go

I'll admit to being jittery about the prospect of more surgery. It's not really the whole surgery thing, it's the build up that's stressful. However the good news is that my withdrawal from the beta blockers and asprins seems to have gone to plan.

I'm not sure if I explained it all, but I've been on beta blockers since the hospital gave them to me, with asprin, in order to discharge me after the lung surgery. They said that palpitations (atrial fibrilation - or AF as it's known) are common after my sort of surgery and it does make sense. They were operating very close to my heart after all - just a few centimetres.

My GP has been persistently relunctant to take me off these drugs. He always has a rather non-specific reason for not doing so. "Let's leave it until you've seen the surgeon and oncologist"; then "let's leave it a bit longer"; "let's leave it until after you've seen the ENT consultant". The side effects were getting me down - I worked out I had at least six of them, albeit most mildly. In any case, the beta blocker didn't stop the AF as I had two tiny incidents after I'd got home and been put on them. So given that the medication didn't stop AF, that it hadn't happened for three months, the GP hadn't referred me to a cardiac specialist, I decided to wean myself off them.

I have a friend who knows a lot about the particularly beta blocker I'm on and she said it should be done slowly. So I started on half a dose and gave that ten days; then I stopped taking them, nearly a week ago. Since that time I've taken been very aware of my heart and it's behaved perfectly. I've taken my pulse on many occasions and it's steady as a rock.

Of course none of this has gone down well with the medical profession. I informed my doctor what I was doing and he said it wasn't the best time. When I went for my preassessment for surgery last week, the admissions nurse said it wasn't the best time. So I said: "well I've only not taken them for the first time this morning; I could easily go back on half a dose if that makes things easier for you and the anaesthetist". But she wouldn't recommend that - I suppose because if she did she could be interpreted to have prescribed for me. She's spoken to the anaesthetist who wants me to get the opinion of the chest physician, the consultant I first started with since he'll know more about the surgery I've had, who I will be seeing on Wednesday. Talk about pass the buck!

I can well see how people end up with a portfolio of medication much of which they don't need. My rule is, if you don't need it don't take it. Mother nature in her infinite wisdom has balanced life so finely that any messing with it is going to cause problems even if they are tiny changes.

Have I noticed any difference since coming off the beta blockers? Well I think I have; it's very subtle but it's more that I notice what's not happening more than what is. I feel a little bit more alive and by that I mean alive to emotional sensations which I suppose makes a lot of sense because beta blockers do what it says on the tin. They block something. I'm not sniffing now like I have a coke habit and the occasional dizzyness that used to put the wind up me has gone.(I had vestibular neuritis where you feel all dizzy a few years back and that was horrid.) I'm sleeping like a baby and having no more of the horrendously confused and memorable dreams that were making me depressed. So it's all good news. Fingers crossed that the thoracic physician agrees with me that I've done the right thing otherwise I'll be back on them on Wednesday and surgery could potentially be delayed.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Grazing in the sunshine

The sun shone in a cloudless sky until about 10 minutes ago and although it was blowing a gale at the back of the house, my bench at the front was the perfect place to catch a few rays. Sunshine is not the enemy that we've been brought up to believe; indeed science is now showing that Vitamin D is a defence from many ailments, including cancer!

Being seated there at that time of day is a good place to catch not only the sun, but the postman. And hooray! Today he brought my Graze box. I discovered Graze a few months ago and for the life of me I can't remember if I told you all about it then. If I have I apologise and if not, here goes.

Graze is a very expensive way of buying nuts and dried fruit as well as other nibbles. The reason I want to mention it is that as an example of marketing brilliance, it ticks all the boxes and I'm fascinated by the way they do things.

It's incredibly viral because every Graze box recipient gets tokens or a web link which if used by a friend to order a freee Graze box, gives tokens to the existing member. Its presentation is immaculate. A lovely cardboard box in recycled materials contains four little containers of mixtures of nuts, dried fruit, seeds, even chocolate drops, or olives or savoury snacks. When mine arrives it feels as if I've received a wonderfully presented gift - even though I've paid for it and ordered it; it gladdens my heart.

Once your box has arrived you receive an email asking you to rate the contents. So, for instance, I can say what mixtures I like or want occasionally, or hate. That way I don't receive things I don't like or want (I abstain for instance from anything containing glucose) while receiving more of what I do want. It's just terribly clever and I so much admire the people who dreamed it up.

So today I got quite excited when the postman arrived with my Graze box because it meant I could nibble through a portion while soaking up the sun. Inside this box was a lovely little pop out and construct - though I haven't done it yet - snowman. Just made from one sheet of (no doubt recycled) thin card; but such a nice thing to pop in the box. Graze boxes are ideal for people at work. I think that's the real concept they had in mind. And I can imagine that their will be loads of little card snowmen on desks all over the country, all bearing their little Graze boxes; so the marketing continues. Here I shall place my snowman on the window cill where the sun's rays will catch it every day.

P.S. I braved the GP's surgery today; told him I'd reduced my beta blockers by half for the past ten days and that I was quitting altogether from today. I have my pre-assessment for surgery this afternoon.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

That was quick

I've spent the rest of the day - since the news of the thyroid surgery - with my hubby, collecting Christmas trees and unloading logs, basically to take my mind off it.

We arrived home, I put the kettle on and the phone rang. It was the consultant's secretary telling me that they would do a pre-assessment of me tomorrow afternoon and then surgery on 19th December. It should necessitate merely an overnight stay, sometimes two she said. This will all take place at the hospital just 10 minutes away from us.

Singing carols this Christmas might be a bit of a tall order, and yes, there's a risk to my vocal chords, but hey, I'll be shot of whatever it is or is not by the big day itself and able to enjoy the festive season with all the family and with no worries. Hip hip hurray!

As expected

Just got back from the ENT consultant. The biopsy on my thyroid was inconclusive and he thinks the evidence for the possibility of cancer in the right lobe of my thyoid is such that it should come out. I don't know when yet but if it's before Christmas I'll go for it on the basis that it's best not to have cancerous cells running round your body for any longer than necessary.

Nice consultant - very amenable. Said that he reckons all the nice people get cancer so he's taking steps to avoid it!

I know that this outcome has been hanging over me for a year, but like the death of someone who you are waiting to die, when the eventuality comes, it's still a shock. A bit of hyperventilating and a glassy eye manifest themselves this morning. Never mind - I have to take the view that once this is over, that's it. And even if it doesn't turn out to be cancer after all, I have removed that possibility which is far better than waiting around to see what happens.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Being alive

I've realised from the reactions of several people that I haven't seen for months, or a year in some cases, that they are really shocked by my appearance. It's not that they aren't delighted to see me looking so well; it's just that with the diagnosis I had, they anticipate that I will now be well on my way to meet my maker - to use one of the many euphemisms for death, all of which I rather dislike. Have you noticed these are getting far more common; even the BBC has difficulty with the word "died" sometimes.

My father in particular hated the dumbing down of death. He never said "passed away" instead of "died". In fact, because of that the day that he died I committed a faux pas. I'd gone over to my parents' house and a friend of his knocked at the door to enquire how he was. My father had been fine up until he'd tried to shovel snow earlier in the day. I responded, without a thought for the friend's wellbeing, with: "he's dead". As you can imagine, the friend was so shocked that I thought he was going to collapse too. I learnt then that a precusor to bad news is always a good idea.

Anyway, back to death and seeing people I haven't seen for a long time. I can tell that the question on their minds when they see me is along the lines of: "goodness, aren't you nearly dead yet?" It's quite clear that I'm nowhere near dying, hence the slight confusion until they get used to the idea that I've been spared (this time round anyway).

News of cancer spreads like a cancer itself. My bad news went spinning round in no time at all. What hasn't happened is the dissemination of the good news that I've beaten the lung cancer. So if you do know anyone who knows me and you told about my original diagnosis, I'd be really grateful if you could let them know that I'm hale and hearty. I've been spared; I'm not dead yet, I'm not even dying (well, not any more than we all are every day) at the moment. Thanks.