The Ride 2012

Forget the Tour de France and the Olympics, this year’s big cycling event is happening on Saturday the 4th August and you’re all invited.

On August 4th join my sister Jess and my superhero husband Sam as they board our geriatric tandem to ride the 70 mile journey from our Olympic capital to the spires of Oxford to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Whether you’re on a bike, a tandem or even a unicycle, anyone can join and are welcome. It really is a case of the more the merrier, and there is plenty of time to train, every rider who signs-on gets an event t-shirt as a thank you. If wheels aren’t your thing, but you’d still like to support then you can donate on the Just Giving page, or buy one of our ‘The Ride’ t-shirts which we hope to be able to put on sale soon.

Whether you show your support by joining The Ride, through a donation to sponsor the cyclists or just simply wishing us luck it will be so appreciated. Please email or if you have any queries or if you would like to join The Ride.


A well-timed treat

This post is dedicated to the wonderful Sarah Egan who whisked Sam and myself away to Whatley Manor for the most beautiful and memorable weekend away.

Sarah and I met in the most unlikely of circumstances. I’d turned up for an Oxford tri ride – a very rare occurrence – and when I arrived at the meeting point there were two other riders there – Sarah and a guy on the blingest most expensive shiny over-the-top piece of machinery imaginable. Said guy looked distinctly horrified at the prospect of having his precious training ride ruined by two female tagger-oners and cut straight to the chase: “What type of ride did you have in mind because I was planning on long, hard and fast?” Attempting to stifle our giggles we released Mr Bling to do his own thing and ended up having a lovely ride together to Henley. And the rest is history.

Outside in one of the gorgeous gardens

So thanks to Sarah’s extraordinary generosity we were treated to the best weekend away ever. Words cannot describe how beautiful the hotel was – there were tastefully decorated multiple drawing rooms complete with plush cushions and chaise longues to chill out in, the beds to quote Sarah “felt like whipped cream”, the surrounding gardens were simply spectacular.

And it just got better – Sarah had hired out the 40 seater hotel cinema so on Saturday afternoon we had the pleasure of an exclusive viewing of  ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, complete with popcorn. This whirlwind pleasure train continued into the evening with a meal at the hotel brasserie. Sadly the chemo has done very strange things to my taste buds so I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the food but I gather it was very good! Typical, the first time I get to sample truffle oil and I can’t even taste it. (Very odd stuff this chemo business – I actually found myself craving a McDonalds hamburger & fries on the way home. Having given the golden arches a wide berth for the best part of 20 years this was a very odd sensation!)

And so the paradise weekend continued on Sunday with a lazy morning complete with paper and tea tray in bed followed by a suitably decadent breakfast. And what better way to finish a perfect weekend than spending a few hours chilling out in the spa. Because I can’t get the arm with the pic line wet, my sojourn into the jacuzzi no doubt looked a little odd to the bystanders, with my left arm raised, army style to keep it dry. But it was very pleasant all the same.

Sadly all good things have to come to an end. Thank you so much Sarah for making our weekend, month, year – it really meant so much to us both and the timing couldn’t have been better.




The hair and the tortoise

Another week spent largely at the hospital although thankfully not as an inpatient this time. Having dutifully given yet another blood sample on Sunday ready for chemo, I was somewhat shocked to receive a phone call on Monday calling us back to the hospital to give yet another set of samples as apparently the first lot were underfillled. The farce continued when we rocked up on Tuesday and it turned out that the second round of blood samples were also unusable because they hadn’t been labelled properly. So three rounds of blood samples down and finally I was ready to go. It was a longhaul day but made immeasurably better by the fantastic company provided by my parents as well was Polly, Claire and Roberta who dropped by to visit.On Wednesday Mum and I got a real treat courtesy of a ‘Wig Fitting Workshop’ organised by the Maggie’s centre. There was a professional hairdresser on hand to give tips on the perfect hair style for your face shape and how to customise wigs to your liking. As a cancer patient you’re entitled to a subsidised wig on the NHS so my order is in!

My natural hair would never do this in real life!

There were a couple of ladies on hand to give tips on false eyelash and eyebrow application and some truly beautiful headscarves to try out. Having been initially resistant to the idea of a scarf for fear it screams ‘cancer patient’, I was actually quite pleasantly surprised and ended up buying 3!

Thursday back to the hospital again to get my 2 day chemo pump unplugged (I’m sure my parents were sick of ferrying me to the hospital by now!) but we did at least have a Churchill free day on Friday. Little sister Jess came to visit and we continued the girlie themed week with a highly successful jewellery hunting expedition in the Oxford covered market.

Although I’m still very bloated with fluid and generally very weak (even getting up a couple of stairs is a bit of mission), having had such fantastic company and support has really made a difference. And once again I’ve been touched by the amount of suppport that is made available to cancer patients – free workshops, a loan of a wheelchair courtesey of the red cross…

Losing my hair feels like no big deal in the general scheme of things and hopefully the chemo will kick in soon, the bloating will go down and I’ll be able to graduate from my tortoise walking pace and get shot of the maternity clothes I’ve had to resort to, to cover this massive distended belly. Maybe even get back on the bike at some point in the distant future. In the meantime, must work on those wheelchair wheelies!

Hotel Churchill

Apologies for the leave of absence lately but as it turns out, this week has been even crazier than the last ones.

On Sunday after a lovely little trip with Sam to Stowe gardens, my cycling mates came round and I was treated to a ‘night in extravaganza’ – the Muppets movie on DVD complete with smoothies, brownies and ice cream. Unfortunately all good things come to an end and this was one ‘end’ and a half. Once the guests had left my temperature rocketed beyond 38 degrees and we had to pack ourselves off to the Churchill hospital.

On Monday I was horrified as I woke up to discover that I’d doubled in size with fluid again. This was only to get worse as the week went on, with a gain of 3kg of fluid every day until I was 10kg over my usual body weight. However, because my blood counts were so low (turns out the 1st dose of new chemo was a little too strong for me) and I was fighting an infection, getting all the beastly fluid drained off was out of the question until things improved. So it’s been a week of antibiotics, magnesium infusions, phosphate tablets, vitamin k injections…. all in a bid to try and get my system back into shape.

It turned out that the PICC line in my arm was the source of the infection so that got hoiked out – all well and good until it turned out that I needed more drips so we were back to playing ‘Naomi the human pin cushion’. On Thursday night I managed an all time record of 3 nurses and 1 doctor all trying their luck at finding a vein and I’m now notorious on the ward for being ‘the girl with the evil veins’.

Yesterday after an agonising wait of 8 hours, my wish for a ‘good and proper draining’ finally came true. In fact I’m still at it now – a good 3 or 4 litres of fluid have been ejected so far and still going strong. My stomach has gone down a lot but I still have an impressive pair of thunder thighs to deflate.

Unfortunately my yo-yo-ing temperature and some weird blood culture results mean I’m probably going to be in hospital until Tuesday when I’m due for my next chemo session. That said, I’m so happy to finally be returning to something- vaguely resembling my normal size (thanks to the drain), I don’t really mind that much. The care at the hospital is fantastic – I get 3 meals a day and regular tea & biscuit trolley visits, protein milkshakes twice a day, my own private room with ensuite. Granted the timetable is a little evil – blood tests at 6 am, breakfast at 7.30 and dinner at 5pm (I don’t think I’ve had dinner that early since I was a toddler) coupled with intravenous drips through the night, but I really can’t complain.

That said, the food options on offer can be somewhat amusing. Here for example are Tuesday’s menu options: Faggots & gravy; Pilchard salad; Corned Beef Hash; Cheese & Pickle sandwich; Tapioca Pudding; Strawberry Whip. They pop a little heart by the ‘healthy’ menu options and on this particular day only the tapioca pudding was bestowed with this honour. Ah well, fortunately I have super Sam to fill in the gaps and bring me some more palatable options.

Such has been my life for the past week, enlivened no end by the generosity once again of my family and friends. Thank you Anita, Emily, Clare, Claire, Polly and Tam for the fab ‘home cinema’ night. Thank you Stephanie, Jess, Emily, Anita, Polly, Isabel, Bryony, Colin, Aleksandra, Richard, Ann, Les and Tom for coming to visit me bearing gifts. Thank you Gareth and Isabel for welcoming Sam back for supper. And of course the biggest thanks of all go to Sam for being at my side and bedside through all of this madness.

Being ‘strong’

Up until now, I had always associated being ‘strong’ principally with physical strength. Being a cyclist I have numerous friends that epitomise what I’d characterise as ‘being strong’ – Tamina and Claire G tearing up the fields in national road races and TTs, Emily battling her way through feats of endurance like the Magnificat, Sam and I pitting ourselves against adversity during the Transalps. But recent events have made me start to expand my perspective a little.

Hope you don’t mind me borrowing this from your blog Charlie

My dear friend Charlie, who is unlucky enough to be going through a similar experience as me – in her case breast cancer – is a case in point. Truly inspirational, she has tackled her own aliens head on with true fighting spirit. When she found out that I’d likely be losing my hair thanks to the latest chemo concotion her immediate reaction was to send me 3 beautiful LMNH cycling caps so funky I’m in no mood to wait for the hair to drop out to start flashing them!

Another thing I’ve learned is that true strength is being able to separate the physical from the emotional. Having had over 5 litres of fluid drained from my belly over the past week and 7 chemo sessions down, I’d be lying if I said I’ve been feeling anything but a shadow of my former self (if that isn’t an oxymoron bearing in mind my grossly distended form!). For someone who used to cast disdain over those that chose the lift over the stairs, it’s been quite humbling to count a slow shuffle to the village shop as an achievement. Much as I love it, getting on a bike has been totally out of the question. But the second the fluid started to go I could feel my mood instantly lift. This morning I managed to get my jeans on for the first time in 10 days and how awesome did that feel?! (Thanks to the 7 month ‘alien’ pregnancy belly, my attire of late has tended towards to the ‘slummy mummy’ look: Sportsdirect trackie bottoms and hoodies all the way, perfectly complimented by my clip on chemo bottle which my mate Nathalie pointed out probably looks worryingly like a whisky hipflask.)

 But hey, hopefully this particular chapter of my life will be short-lived, the new chemo will kick in and I can add ‘recognising my own body’ to my list of things to be thankful for. So go on cancer and chemo, throw what you can at me because I ain’t giving up yet.

I want to close with a quote from Charlie’s blog because it touched me so much. “Our best asset is inside and not even chemotherapy can burn it out of you.”

For better for worse, in sickness & in health

This edition is dedicated to my beloved, guardian angel, Sam.

Apologies for having been a bit slack on the blog front but it’s been a pretty crazy, torrid couple of weeks since my last entry. So if you’re expecting heart-lifting tales of epic cycle rides, diy disasters and walks in the wilderness I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. We’ve had some bad news – my last scan showed my liver tumours have stopped responding to the chemo and started to grow again, possibly my bowel too but we’re not 100% sure at this stage.

As of last Friday I started on a new chemo concoction which will hopefully prove more effective. There will be 12 cycles of 2 weeks in total so basically 24 weeks more of treatment. I will in all likelihood lose my hair and no doubt experience all sorts of other weird and wonderful side effects. I’m taking a leaf out of my dear friend’s Charlie’s book and getting it cut short this week in preparation.

Never one to do things by halves, it seems my liver has decided to pack up completely, the resulting effect being a horror film-esque doubling of size overnight thanks to fluid retention of truly ridiculous proportions. Basically I’ve quite literally become 6 months ‘pregnant with alien’ in a couple of days, lost my ankles – quite literally, feet are so swollen you can’t make the bones out, not that I can really see them, masked as they are by the mountain of my enormous belly – and developed very stange shaped legs.

I’d be lying if we said all this is easy to bear. Another 5-6 months of being poisoned is not an attractive prospect and it’s hugely disappointing to hear I’ve started going backwards. But hopefully the new cocktail will do its stuff and I’ll have better news further down the line. My cancer is currently being tested to see if it has the right receptors to respond to a third drug in the chemo armoury and we have all our fingers and toes crossed that it will. Having an action plan does makes things easier, even if it does stretch ahead a bl**dy long way into the future.

I’m hugely indebted to Roberta who has moved heaven and earth to help me get me a fluid draining appointment tomorrow. Whilst it’s not a magic bullet, it’ll hopefully make me feel a bit more comfortable in the short term while I wait for the drugs to kick in.

In the meantime, guardian angel Sam is doing his best to make me as comfortable as possible, waiting on me hand and foot, giving me regular massages, coming to the hospital with me and generally doing all that he can to keep my pecker up. I really don’t know what I’d do without him, I can’t imagine what it must be like for people to face these things alone.

Thank you Sam and to everyone that has sent me such kind messages and gestures of support and encouragement – they really touch me and give me the strength to carry on.


Everything but the kitchen sink

6 days of hard toil on behalf of the Hemmant brigade, 4 trips to the tip, 1 enormous pile of open cardboard boxes, a similarly large mound of used tea bags, 2 chocolate cakes, 3 packets of biscuits, 1 pack of brownies, 6 cans of baked beans, 2 electrician visits and 1 plumber visit later and the Ikea kitchen is almost in situ.

The end result is looking lovely (I’ll upload some more pictures when I’m done with the grouting) but man it’s been hard work. The fun and games started when Ann and Les, Sam’s long suffering parents, arrived on Friday and we started ripping out the old kitchen. Refitting the kitchen had been something we’d been meaning to do since moving in 5 years ago, but had somehow failed to get round to it. However when the tiles started dropping off the wall in droves and the temperature gauge of our £50 2nd-hand oven parted company with the dial (reducing the oven settings to blacken, burn or nuke), the matter became more pressing. As such, destroying the old kitchen proved to be quite therapeutic – if only the same could be said of the rest of the job.

Our first stumbling block was the construction of an array of Ikea branded flat pack cabinets, christened with nice logical sounding names such as Faktum, Stat, Rationale, Perfekt. If only. The pictoral instruction booklets proved to be far from rational or indeed perfect. However, we learnt to our peril that he who fails to follow the Ikea instruction booklet to the letter and in precisely the stated order, comes thoroughly unstuck. Cue frenzied removal of misplaced twisty screws, jammed drawers and considerable swearing/ weeping with frustration. What we’d hoped to accomplish in one day spilled into three. Ann and I went to the village shop to stock up on sugar-coated goodies to fuel us through the next few days – we were going to need it!

On Sunday, Sam’s brother Tom, wife Lucy and nephew Finn entered the madhouse. Being chased by a 1 year old baby was the final straw for Bailey the cat – already traumatised by the transformation of his stomping ground into a maze of cardboard boxes, unfamiliar people and noxious pastes and putties. The cat spent the next 3 days watching balefully from under a bush in the garden. Meanwhile, Tom and Lucy were quick to earn their places alongside Ann and Les on the wall of kitchen fame.Tom took on the incredibly fiddly job of fashioning the worktops with Sam while Lucy accompanied me to the tip.

The next stumbling block emerged in the form of the kitchen sink. For some unknown reason, Ikea supply their sinks without housing for the tap which leaves you with the delightful task of either hoiking back to the store to purchase a £10 ‘tap puncher’ kit or drilling a hole in the damn thing yourself. To add insult to injury, we were unable to isolate the water supply for the kitchen sink specifically, which meant in order to disconnect the old sink we had to sacrifice the water supply to the whole house until we could get a plumber in to connect the whole lot back up. Cue a day and a half of drinking from 4 litre vats of bottled water, ‘flushing’ the toilet with jugs filled from the reservoir we’d collected in the bath, washing up at the village shop and no showers. This, coupled with our reliance on takeaway/ the microwave as a food preparation device…. and our transformation into ‘trailer trash’ was complete.

Sunday rolled into Monday into Tuesday and two new nemesis emerged – the laying of the floor and the extractor fan. Turned out it would have been much easier to lay the floor before the cabinets went down but having devoted the best part of 24 hours to building and bolting the bl**dy things together, there was no chance we were going to move them now. The so-called ‘extractor fan’ cabinet turned out to need extensive holes cut out of it to function as per its designed purpose and the wiring looked hideously complicated. We decided that, rather than waste a day faffing around with this evil bit of kit, it would be prudent to pack it back into its box and return it to Ikea. Then we ran out of tiles and possibly also the will to live.

But, against all the odds, 6 days on, the kitchen is almost complete and looking rather fine. Granted, we still have bits and bobs to take care of – attaching door knobs, grouting the newly laid tiles, straightening the doors up and so on, but we’re pretty much there. Huge thanks go out to Ann and Les who have slogged away at the beast for 6 solid days and also to Lucy and Tom for injecting fresh blood, skill and enthusiasm into the mix, and of course Sam. Who needs the transalps when you can create this level of epic challenge on your home turf eh?