Thursday, 30 September 2010

Hi Ho, Hi Ho...

...Its Off to Work We Go...

I have declared myself 'fit' and 'ready for work,' and today, the nice occupational health lady was very pleased to see the transformation from pale, washed-out, eyebrow-less, tired, gaunt, cancer person to bouncy, bright-eyed, fat, mohican-haired person - ready to join the workforce once more.

She has put me on a 'phased return' so that I will be working only mornings for the first couple of weeks followed by a mixture of full days/half days for the next 2 weeks, followed by my normal full days. Marvellous.

One of the advantages of going back to work will be to get rid of the need to claim employment and support allowance - something I have been very grateful to receive for the last couple of months.

It has been a very interesting experience dealing with this whole new world of being 'on the sick.'

On Monday, I was summoned for a medical examination by the Department of Work and Pensions to prove that I really, really had been ill all along, and that it wasn't just some amazing little scam that I had managed to pull off for the last 2 months. I had to take my passport along to prove it was me, and not some sickly wifey I'd found on the way.

My appointment was at 9am and I was there in good time. I managed to park right outside the door. The door was locked, so I took shelter from the lashing down rain in my car. Whilst I was waiting, several people turned up for their appointments too.

There was an enormously massive lady who struggled to walk up the ramp to the door. She kept leaning on the handrail for a rest, and I could even hear her wheezing. She must have set off on Friday, I thought, just to get here in time.
She was soon overtaken by a small, hunched man covered in tattoos, with a tatty old donkey jacket on. He limped past her, sucking the last remaining bit of his cigarette, and as he did so, his face looked like nothing but a skull - hollow and pallid.

The security man opened the door and everyone piled in, with me in tow. At the reception desk when it was my turn, the receptionist didn't even look up.

'Name.' she barked.

I gave her my name.

'Got any ID?'

I handed her my passport. I have long, curly, highlighted, wild hair on my passport. If she'd bothered to look up, she would have seen that all that had gone and there was a grey-haired mohican lady looking at her instead. I smiled and said, 'that was when I had some hair,' but she ignored me, handed me a piece of paper to sign, and said - 'just take a!'

I sat down in the waiting room which smelled of stale smoke from donkey-jacket man. He was wringing his hands, craving his next cigarette. He looked like he needed a good plate of mince and tetties followed by steamed pudding and custard. I could hear the big wheezing lady struggling to breathe behind me.

Finally, a young doctor appeared and called my name. She seemed nervous, drained.

'Nothing to be worried about,' she said kindly.

'So why do you look so worried?' I thought.

Seven minutes later, I was out.

'I'm going back to work next week,' I'd said, before she'd had a chance to open her mouth. 'I'm fine.'

'Oh good!' she'd exclaimed. It was strange. She seemed genuinely relieved. Positively ecstatic. Maybe they get a bonus when someone says 'Yeh ok, I'll go back to work.' Or maybe she just hadn't heard anyone say that for a while.

All in all, it was a pretty depressing place really - for all those souls who had to go there, and for the poor buggers who have to work there. 

As I left, my experience made me realise even more than ever that I am one of the lucky ones. I have a good job to go back to, I was in good health before, I'm back to good health now...and I fully intend to do everything I can to try and keep it that way.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Please Come and Waste My Time

I heard some really crap news about a friend today. Another case of breast cancer. She's only 32. So I thought I'd have a rant.

I wasn't clever enough to be a doctor.

I wasn't bad at physics, but my chemistry and biology results were bloody awful, so I decided to become an arty, farty, sporty person instead.

But, you know, I have a theory. Sometimes you don't have to be clever to save lives.

The surgeon who carried out my operations last year was an extremely clever doctor. He knew what he was doing. I had enormous confidence in him. I'm extremely grateful to him. He was my lifesaver - literally.

At every appointment with this consultant, I had a Macmillan nurse sitting in. She also has a list of qualifications the length of her arm, but her most important qualification in my eyes was as 'interpreter,' and 'communicator.'

They were a fantastic double act, the pair of them. The consultant delivered his 'this is what you've got' announcement, followed by his 'and this is what we're going to do about it' speech. He would then leave the room, and allow me and my husband to have time with the nurse who put everything into 'Shents-speak.'

With her in the team, the consultant was allowed to be as clever as he liked. He didn't have to bother much about how I felt about things - my fabulous nurse took care of that. I was in safe hands. I felt cared for, confident, safe, listened to, understood....

To get to this stage, I had to pass an audition with the GP.  They are like medical sieves. They have to be clever enough to recognise the patients who are genuinely ill, and smile politely to the people who aren't. All in 10 minutes. Fortunately, this time, I didn't get washed down the plughole and I successfully sailed through to the next round...

To get to my audition at the GP surgery, though, I had to pick up the phone and make an appointment.

Some of us are reluctant to do this. Last time you visited the GP, you may have left the surgery feeling slightly silly. Slightly embarrassed. you'd wasted their time. You didn't mean to do're really won't do it again... when we reach for the phone, we're not necessarily reluctant to see our doctor because we're afraid of the diagnosis. Perhaps we are more frightened of being labelled a 'time waster.'

We are constantly reminded that we should see a pharmacist, take a paracetamol, catch it, bin it, kill it...anything but see a GP.

Is this the right message to be sending out? Posters, leaflets, campaigns - and even our own GP's - giving us that 'look' - the one that says 'you've wasted my time.'
To some - maybe - yes. But not to all.

GP's. You are clever people. Very clever people, and we respect and value what you do. But did you know that you can also save lives without being that clever?
I think it used to be called 'bedside manner...'

The following is taken from an article by 'PalMD'  - entitled 'Why are you Wasting My Time?' (click link for full article) 

It is important for all of us who are physicians to remember that there is no such thing as a stupid appointment.  If nothing else, the time can be spent getting to know someone new----misanthropy is not a good trait for a clinician.  And building that rapport can lead to more gravid revelations in the future.  Once you get a complete stranger to trust you, you start to experience "door-knobbing", where a patient, holding the doorknob on the way out says, "By the way doc...". That "by the way" is often the most significant part of the visit.  The cold they came in for becomes the mole on their leg that is getting bigger, or the heart burn that only bugs them when they climb the stairs.  
Once you have decided that a visit is a waste of time, the patient will share that conclusion, and will have no reason to tell you anything of consequence.  And that's not good medicine.

I wonder how many lives could be saved if not some (and I know there are fantastic GP's out there!), but every GP adopted this approach.

Thursday, 23 September 2010


A friend has just sent me this link to a really great song - its especially for all those people who go up the stairs, then forget what the hell they were going for!...

She was telling me about it the other day at football training - but couldn't remember who sang it!!

I hope it makes you smile.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Elvis is in the Building!

I remember that awful day during chemo that I looked in the mirror and thought - 'Bloody Hell, I look like Steptoe!'
14 wispy hairs clinging to my head, gaunt little pale face....

Then after chemo, my hair soon started to make a comeback...

...And today, I looked in the mirror and thought - 'Bloody Hell, I look like Elvis!'
Obviously, I wasn't wearing a big white, sparkly suit. I'd washed  my hair with Johnson's Baby shampoo, gave it a rub with the towel, a 1 minute shoosh with the hairdryer - and look what happened!

I'm all shook up, uh huh huh...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A GREAT North Day

It was my birthday on Wednesday, and so to make up for completely forgetting about it, my hubby organised crowds of people, celebrities, TV cameras, an interview with the Newcastle Journal and even a fly past by the Red Arrows!
The Red Arrows - just for me!

Well ok, it wasn't really for my birthday. It was actually all for the Junior and the Mini Great North Run.
But I was interviewed by the Journal, I did get on the telly, and I did see some great athletes in the 'sideshow' City Games.

The 6 year old and the 9 year old were competing for the first time. The little one's race was a mile long, and the biggun had to run about 2.5 miles. Everything took place down on the quayside in Newcastle and Gateshead on the most beautiful Autumn day.

The BIG Great North Run is today of course. It was first started in 1981, and I have run it 5 times. I even raised money for breast cancer one year when I was about 15. Little did I know!
Its a wonderful day, and so too was the Junior GNR yesterday. Seeing all those little faces taking part, raising money for various causes was truly inspiring. The biggest cheer of the day came for a young lad with cerebral palsy who was bringing up the rear in the 9 year olds race. His smile was infectious and he really worked the crowd - whipping them up into a frenzy of cheers.

'A wonderful family day, showing the north-east off in all its glory...' my quote for the Journal!....

2 little runners
Andy from Blue Peter in his pole vault challenge!
The 6 year old at the start...
...and at the finish
The 9 year old at the start (white shorts, gold trainers)
and at the finish (he came 12th out of 340 in his section!)
I took the last photo during the City Games bit of the day. I was standing right beside the mat on the pole vault and got this shot which I'm really pleased with! You can click on it to make it bigger.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

I Do Believe in Fairies, I Do, I Do

Last time the 6 year old lost a tooth, the tooth fairy dropped it on the tooth-coloured carpet whilst she was exchanging it for a pound coin. She had to hunt for it on her hands and knees for an hour before finding it under the chest of drawers.

This time, the fairy wasn't so careless, and even wrapped the coin in silver paper, with the tooth, because she knew that the 6 year old wanted to keep her little pearl to show everyone at school.

'But how will she know?' asked the 6 year old.

'She just will,' I explained., 'The tooth fairy is extremely clever.'

And so, this morning, a delighted little face appeared at my bedside with the pound, the silver paper and the tooth.

'I love the tooth fairy,' she grinned, the new gap making her talk shlightly shtrangely.

'I love you too,' I smiled.

She looked at me suspiciously.

'And as for the tooth fairy...well, she must love you too because she left you your tooth to take to school.'

She smiled. Reassured. A big gappy grin.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

I Have a Thousand Things To Do!...

...These were the last words uttered by Lord Beveridge, architect of the National Health Service, before he died in 1963. I have a lot to thank him for.

So I was amazed when I stumbled across his grave, today, on a 'blowing the cobwebs away' walk in the Northumberland hills.
Thockrington Church behind me

I decided to get off my backside and get some fresh air this morning. Flask of tea, a Rington's chocolate mallow and a map was all I required as I set off to find Thockrington Church in the middle of nowhere...'the wilds of Wanney' as we say here!

I nearly blew away with the cobwebs - it is so windy today - good job I don't have the wig to contend with anymore - it would have ended up in Scotland.

The church sits on top of an outcrop of the Whin Sill - a quartz dolerite stone ridge that runs the width of the country. (Hadrian's Wall is built on it, and Bamburgh Castle)
The church stands alone - the only building left of Thockrington village which was destroyed after all the villagers were wiped out by 'the plague' - kindly brought home by a sailor from the Crimean War.

The wind whipped and howled around me as I admired this lovely old building, so I took shelter inside for a moment. It was quiet in there. Peaceful. I even had a word with Mr God while I was there, and thanked him for looking after me.
The sky kept changing colour. I was about to get wet!

A little information leaflet told me about my pal Lord Beveridge, so I braved the wind once more to search for his grave. I found it easily. I thanked him too - for looking after me, in a round about way.
Lord Beveridge's grave

When I was in the church I bought a little handmade postcard. It had a lovely pen and ink sketch of the church on the front by Linda France, but it was the little poem accompanying the drawing that caught my eye:-

This old stone ark
moored on the hump back of the Whin Sill,
is rock,
is rainbow,
is anchor
Buttressed against weather,
like hands arched in prayer,
it saves all we know of the past
and all we don't of its future, our own.

I blew back over the fields and followed the track back to my little expedition reminded me...I have a thousand things to do.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Not Washed Out....Just a Bit Washed Up

Life is returning to its busy, busy norm. The 9 year old had a fantastic time at the cricket international at Durham. He turned up in a Pakistan shirt and bright green wig. He likes to be controversial.

His little footy team had their first match on Saturday and played out of their skins. In an end to end thriller, they won 4-3. The rival team have pinched our super-striker from last year, so the victory was all the more brilliant. It was great to see the lads with smiles on their faces with a victory so early in the season.

Still sweating, we bundled him into the car and dropped him off with his pal, who's dad was taking them to St.James' Park to see Newcastle v Blackpool. Fortunately, he doesn't have a Blackpool shirt and sensibly decided to wear a Newcastle shirt. Not sure the 'toon' fans would be that amused with a kid joining the black and white army in a Blackpool shirt. He's only been to see Newcastle a couple of times and never seen them win...nothing's changed - they were hammered 2-0.

Saturday evening was spent at the village hall quiz. What a turn out! Everyone in the village crawled out of the woodwork and joined in the fun. There were only 20 questions in the quiz - but they seemed to pass everyone by as we tucked into the supper and beer....not sure it should be advertised as a quiz next time - maybe 'a great night out with 3p' would be more appropriate - pies, peas and plonk...with a couple of questions thrown in. as you can see, life is returning to normal. Weirdly, despite all the fun and action, though, I have to admit that I feel a little flat. People are commenting on how good I look. Everyone was stroking my lovely 'rabbit fur' hair on Saturday. I feel healthy, I feel great, but I think I'm almost, dare I say it, feeling sorry for myself! I thought this might happen. I have been riding on the crest of a wave for a few months now...and I feel like finally, the wave has hoyed me up onto the beach...high and dry....guess I just need to get out of the wetsuit, empty the sand out of my shoes, head inland, and embrace normality again.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Art of Shopping

Yesterday, I thought I'd go into town to do a bit of clothes shopping. I don't really need any new clothes, but I'm back to work in a couple of weeks, so I thought I'd get a few new things to make me feel good.

My elfin hairstyle is easy to manage, but I'm conscious that it makes me look a little 'boy-ish!'
A delivery man knocked at the door the other day. We have a little window in the front door so he was looking through it when I came to answer his knocks. When I opened the door, he looked surprised.

'I thought it was a kid coming to the door!' he exclaimed, without thinking. I think he thought I was a young lad through the window. 'Sorry!' He blushed the colour of the blackberry jam I made the other day.

So in town, I trooped through John Lewis, Fenwicks, Monsoon, Debenhams, Next, bored, and went to the art shop.

I came home with the following items -

6 graphite sticks
12 coloured pencils
A box of charcoal
An A4 sketch pad
A putty rubber
A pencil sharpener
A smudging stick
A nice leather pencil holder pouch-thing that holds everything and rolls up into a neat, portable case.

I can't wear any of it, but at least I might do a bit of art and clart. Something I haven't done in a while...
I decided to try and draw the little old elf I see in the mirror every morning with my new graphite sticks - I've never used them before. I prefer to work with colour. Last time I drew this elf, she was in the 6th form at school with masses of brown curly hair! There were a few more lines to draw in this time, and a lot less hair!

Bloody hell! - I'm out of practice! I look like something from Cell BlockH!

The 6 year old has just seen it.

'Who's that boy, mum?' she asked.

Maybe I'll have a go with the coloured pencils tomorrow!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Swap Shop

I'm so glad I took a picture of my handsome, smart, clean little lad yesterday...BEFORE he went to school.

I couldn't wait for him to get home to tell me all about his day. At 4pm I stood waiting at the window for him. He sauntered up the drive, dragging his new bag behind him, trailing his sweatshirt along the ground with his neatly pressed Marks and Spencer's man-shirt hanging out of his grass-stained trousers.

'Good day?' I beamed.

He dumped his stuff in a heap on the floor and trudged in. Even his little sister came to greet him enthusiastically. She'd missed him at First School.

'Did it rain at your place?' she asked.

'His' place is about 100 yards down the road from 'her' place.

'Yeh,' he smiled, 'Poured.'

'So?' I said, 'What was it like?'

'Oh...really good,' he replied. 'I need a packed lunch though - the dinner's are awful. And its far too long a day. I'd like to learn the keyboard, and the sweatshirt covered my shirt in fluffy little balls so I took it off.'

'Well at least you've brought it home!' I smiled, remembering the 6 sweatshirts I retrieved one day from lost property at First School. I picked up the sweatshirt. It had a big blue ink stain down the front. It looked old and worn, the cuffs were frayed and threads hung off it. It was age wasn't his.
Somewhere, a kid was returning home with a tight, but sparkling new sweatshirt - hundreds of maroon bobbles clinging to his shirt....

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A New Chapter...

'Find a clean page, write the date and the heading...'

My kids will be writing about their 6 week summer holiday adventure this morning. We haven't been anywhere fancy, but we've had the most wonderful few weeks...playing on the beach, a week in Suffolk, a trip to London, playing cricket, late nights, seeing the cousins, meeting friends, fresh air, sunshine, more fresh air, more sunshine...

The 6 year old is starting in Year 2. She has grown about 12 inches over the holidays - everyone keeps saying 'Blimey! Look at you! You've shot up!' Even I can see she's grown, despite the fact that I've seen her every waking second over the holidays. She's losing her baby face, and she's turning into a gorgeous young girl.

The 9 year old has also grown over the holidays, and not just when he had his mohican hair cut.
He has one of those 'high rise' loft bed things. Back in the spring, he could walk under his bed no problem. Now, if he doesn't duck, he bashes his head.
He's starting at the Middle School today. He looked great in his new uniform. Grown up. Handsome. Clean!

He wanted me to take him to school on the first day. It was hoying down with rain, and I left him at the front doors of his big new school. He didn't look back, but I did notice that he had a grin from ear to ear. I wished I could go in with him. I'm going to miss my 2 little pals today.

Our 2 beautiful children are growing up, and they're starting a clean page today.

And so am I.

I have another couple of weeks off, and then I'm back to work. I think I'll be ready by then. I haven't had much of a chance to think about things much. I finished the radiotherapy, and then the kids broke up from school, so these couple of weeks are my chance to rest, recuperate, regroup, reflect...and then?...a new chapter awaits.