Monday, 21 January 2013

Hospital 1, hospital 2 and hospital 3...

As I write this, there's snow on the ground. Not a lot of snow, but enough to disrupt the transport system, it would seem. I don't remember my school closing because of snow when I was growing up (in a place much colder and with harsher winters than the South-East of England) - am I viewing the past through the rosy lenses of nostalgia? Were the summers endlessly long, always sunny and full of laughter? Maybe not, but perhaps my old school friends might remember if our school stayed open whatever the weather - I seem to recall the only days the school was closed was when the teachers went on strike!!

The snow started falling on Friday, as I was driving to the Marsden for my three-monthly check-up. Anxious enough about the check-up, as always, the anticipation of poor weather and difficult driving conditions heightened my nerves. The hospital car park was pretty empty and I did wonder if my check-up would go ahead or whether the doctors would have struggled to get in and I might be told to return another day - not a prospect I relished, as I still have to psyche myself up before the appointment and I would have to go through that process all over again. Luckily for me, however, the Head and Neck clinic doctors had managed to get in, although a lot of patients were phoning in to say they couldn't travel to hospital and the waiting room was much emptier than usual!

Of course, the important thing is how the check-up went, not whether the waiting room was empty. After the usual physical examination of  my head and neck and a look inside my mouth, the registrar pronounced that everything is fine - phew! All it means is that I remain in remission and there is no sign of the cancer returning in that area, but to be honest, that's as good as I can expect and hope for at this stage. It doesn't mean the medics are prepared to give me an all clear and state categorically that I am free of cancer, but it means that I am now a year in remission - pretty bloody good when I think of how I felt for most of 2011 and the thought of being alive in 2013 seemed like an impossible dream.  I can't stop cancer by willpower - if we could, how wonderful would that be? - but I can give myself the best possible chance of remaining healthy by taking responsibility for my health and eating sensibly, exercising, resting and avoiding risk factors. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy life - quite the reverse. It just means I am giving myself the best chance of being able to deal with any health problems that come my way.

The other side of my cancer coin is the facial palsy. On January 3rd, I went to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead to have my gold weight (aka "eyelid bling") repositioned and my eyelid lift. I had to be there for half seven in the moring, which meant waking my lovely children in time to drive me there (neither of them was working that day, so they volunteered to take me - good children!). The surgeon came to talk to me before the operation and - to my pleasure - he said he thought I didn't need the gold weight any more and was going to remove it. Yay! He also thought I was a bit allergic to the gold (oh, I am so precious!) so it made sense to remove it. The important thing was whether I would be able to close my eye fully after the weight was removed and if I couldn't, then the next stage would be a platimun chain inserted into the eyelid - rising up the precious metal scale!

Now, nearly three weeks after the surgery, my eye looks much more like it used to BC. While it's not exactly as it was, and not exactly like my unaffected eye, it is far less noticeably different. This is progress. This helps me feel that I look more like everyone else and a bit more like I used to look. It also reminds me that it doesn't have to be all about oncology. A part of me also thinks that the NHS wouldn't be investing all this time and money in addressing my facial palsy if they thought that I was going to be ill again - perhaps this is naive, but it makes me feel better anyway :-) In a flurry of January medical appointment, I also had some Botox around my mouth, so I am all procedured-up.

Part of me feels a bit sad that my year has started with so many medical appointments, all of them necessary because of having had cancer. What a nasty, far-reaching disease it is! But another part of me rejoices that I am still here and enjoying life, that I have so many wonderful, supportive friends around me, that my family continues to be a constant joy to me and that the world contunues to turn. There's much to be thankful for. I am thankful.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

And so it's 2013....

January 1st. A new month, a new year.

Last year, I wanted to draw a line under 2011 and forget - or at least try to forget - all the horrible experiences of the year. My little family and I had suffered much over the previous 8 months and I hoped that going to bed (before midnight) and waking up in a brand new year would mean we could leave all that nasty stuff behind us. Well, we all know that there were some ups and downs during 2012, don't we? - starting off with the scare in January (yes, I couldn't even manage one month without experiencing that sinking feeling when the consultant finds something that makes him worried and I trundle down the path of scan - wait -result). Thankfully, it was just a scare, but it did make me realise a bit more emphatically that I can't relax and assume that my body is now behaving properly.

February brought my PET CT scan and confirmation that I appear to be in remission - usual caveats applied, obviously! That took a while to sink in, as I was out of the habit of dealing with good news about my health....however, finally I accepted it and felt that I could move on to focus on dealing with the facial palsy resulting from my surgery.

Good friends helped greatly during the year - Fin, my old university friend, really helped my confidence by taking me on a star-studded extravaganza with a night at the Olivier Awards ceremony. Who doesn't love a chance to dress up in a posh frock and sip with people you are used to seeing on the television, stage or pages of a newspaper? My local and church friends, my running friends, my wonderful school friends, other friends - all gave unstintingly of their time, support and advice to help me adjust to being in remission and learning to be confident again, bit by bit, sometimes one step forward and two steps back. And of course - my little family. Neil, Amy and Adam continued to help me every day, in small and big ways. Whether it's been taking me to hospital for my eye surgery and further check-ups, coming shopping with me, planning and taking me on wonderful holidays or making me cups of tea - they've done it all, quietly and for no other reason than that they care for me and want me to be well and happy.

So I start 2013 feeling and looking much better than at this time last year. I have been out for a run this morning, as part of my plan to be as fit and healthy as I can be. When I think how scrawny and lacking in energy I was this time last year, I can see how much progress I've made. My face has improved and (hopefully) will continue to do so, although it's all very marginal. I have more eye surgery in two days' time, on the 3rd, when I shall have my eyelid bling repositioned and an eyelid lift, no less! I shall have a fortnight of looking as if I have gone several rounds with a prize heavyweight boxer, with bruising, swelling and those little strip stitches that fall off before they're supposed to. This will all be accompanied by some pain and discomfort, but hopefully by the time all the swelling has gone down, my eye won't look so heavy and it will be more like my right eye. Fingers crossed, anyway!

I've still got a raft of appointments in store. My next oncology check-up will be in just over a fortnight and I can feel the stirrings of anxiety as I get closer to the date. I try to tell myself that it's silly to feel like this and that there's no reason to think that the oncologist will find anything wrong, but there's still that nagging doubt and worry. I can sometimes go whole days without actually thinking about having had cancer, but I'm not yet at the stage where enough time and distance have passed that I can relax about it. It still hovers in the back of my mind, waiting to sneak up and catch me when I don't expect it. I'm sure this will get better but not quite yet.

And finally, on this day, I remember Anne, a friend from university who was married to another friend, Fin. A lovely, kind, intelligent, funny and beautiful girl, who died of cancer exactly 10 years ago today. I know Fin misses her every day. Spare a thought for her and for Fin.

Here's to 2013 - may it bring you all  you wish yourself.