Beating the odds and Bicycles

From today’s Metro: “1 in 10 bowel cancer victims dies within a month of being diagnosed, a new report reveals. Three in five only find out they have the illness once being admitted to hospital, while more than half are aged over 80.”

Reading this article brings a few thoughts to my mind. First of all, I’m glad I’m not that 1 in 10 –¬†it’s a good couple of months since my diagnosis and I’m still fine and dandy ūüôā

Secondly, I’m not at all surprised that so many bowel cancer victims only¬†realise out what’s going on so late in the day. My own personal aliens did a very good ‘cloak and dagger’ job of keeping themselves under the radar. All those symptoms that are supposed to warn you of impending cancer doom, not a sausage! That’s the scariest thing about the disease – it can be virtually symptomless, letting you carry on happy as larry with no idea that this evil interloper¬†is growing inside you.

But thirdly, and most importantly, I fee l incredibly lucky and grateful to have had a great GP, superhero Richard Baskerville, who jumped on my symptoms and moved heaven & earth to get me scanned and diagnosed before the alien had a chance to kick me into that 1 in 10 bucket.

And continuing the positive theme, this week it got warm ūüôā This is especially signficant for me because once the temperature tips past the magic 13 degrees or so, the pins & needles/ cramp in my face, hands and wrists caused by the chemo disappear. Which means getting out on my bike becomes a much more attractive possibility. So I did it in style, going for a fabulous ride to Chipping Norton with Richard Baskerville taking the wind for me and then treating me to cake on Tuesday (I told you he was a superhero!) and then more of the same on Thursday.

And then more of the same on the weekend. Sam’s mate Dave has been kind enough to lend us the keys to his flat in Bristol, where we spent a lovely weekend in the sunshine. We decided to hire bicycles so as to best explore the city and I somehow managed to squeeze (or should that be extruded) myself onto a men’s large hybrid (the only steed they had left in stock), taking care not to skewer myself on the crossbar everytime we came to a standstill.

This is a hire helmet, hence the boat-like aesthetics. But those of you familiar with just how many times I've managed to catapult myself onto my head whilst on a bike will appreciate that for me, an intact skull always wins over looking like a gimp.

Further highlights of the weekend included spending time with the wonderful Shutt guys at Bespoked Bristol, a lot of chilling out in cool Bristol cafés with Sam and doing a bit of Banksy spotting.

And so finished yet another wonderful week, with another one beginning.¬†British summertime has officially begun and in just over a week I’ll be halfway through my chemo.

La vita e bella


Tortuous paths

Today’s edition comes to you¬†courtesy¬†of Starbucks Oxford wifi as our home internet has died. This morning I spent a fairly torturous hour and a half on the phone to various departments of¬†BT, each involving their own unique series of farcical conversations.

(After a painful 20 minutes of faffing and putting me on hold while they performed technical checks)

BT – Our checks confirm your line is fine

Me – That’s¬†all well and good¬†but my internet still doesn’t work

BT –¬†Well in that case we suggest we send out an engineer out to check your hub. Since it¬†dates from 2007 it is out of warranty so the engineer call out will be at a cost of ¬£100.

Me – And if the engineer confirms the hub is no longer fit for purpose, a new one will cost…

BT Р£99.99

Me РSo can you tell me why on earth I would want to wait a week to pay £100 for an engineer to tell me my 2007 hub is knackered and pay £99 for another one when I could just switch provider or indeed just open a new contract with BT and start again from scratch with a brand new hub for free?!

BT – Perhaps it would be helpful if I transferred you to another department…

Half an hour of hideous ‘elevator’ music and 2 BT departments later, I finally reach a resolution whereby, in exchange for renewing our contract, we get a ¬£6 monthly reduction on our bills and a commitment that a brand new hub will be dispatched to arrive tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

I got there eventually, but the experience did get me thinking though how many times in life we end up having to take these crazy circuitous paths to get to what should be a simple, straightforward end point. Fortunately, the same can’t be said – at least¬†based¬†on¬†my experience so far – of the slick and efficient way in which my Cancer treatment has progressed. From the word go, we’ve known where we’re going, how we’re going to get there and what the key milestones will be. Right now the key date for¬†us is the 19th April when we get the results from the scans I’ll have after my fourth chemo cycle. Once again, fingers crossed!

Chemo cycle 3


A weekend away

This weekend just gone, Sam and I went back to our little enclave in the Brecon Beacons. For a part of the country supposedly characterised by “weather that is often cloudy, wet and windy but mild”, we seem to have had a remarkably good run of it on our visits. This picture was taken enjoying breakfast on the balcony on Sunday!

We decided to amuse ourselves on day 1 with a walk in the hills around Brecon. Thankfully the man in the tourist office on this occasion was far more helpful than the lady who last time announced to a forlorn Sam that “there is no road cycling in the Beacons”. (A patent “I can’t be bothered to help you” lie.) The walk was delightful, incorporating woodland paths¬†meandering alongside¬†the river, a stiff climb up to a trig point with spectacular views and fields of newborn lambs merrily hopping and skipping about.

Another highlight of the walk was a further unexpected pleasure – we finally worked out how to use the garmin!¬†¬†Anyone that’s¬†had¬†the pleasure of investing in the Garmin Oregon will appreciate that it’s not the most user-friendly of devices. Add to this a pair as technically challenged and generally incapable of any form of successful navigation as Sam and I, and you don’t have a match made in heaven. However,¬†good karma,¬†like the weather, appeared to be on our side that day.

Sam smiling - is it the beautiful scenery or the fact that the man vs GPS battle has finally been won?!

Day 2 and time to test out my cycling legs. The nice man in the bike shop had given us a ‘flat route’ to amuse ourselves with the promise of a great caf√©¬†at the start/ finish point, Trecastle. Although it turned out that the famed caf√© was shut and there is patently no such thing as a flat route in the Brecon Beacons, we had lovely spin taking in the splendid vistas that the¬†area has in ample supply. The photo below doesn’t do the scenery justice but you can see from my smile how much I’m enjoying myself.

With our original cafe¬†plans foiled, there was only one thing for it. We packed our bikes up in the car and the afternoon was rounded off with a pot of tea and a couple of fine carrot cakes in one of the national park visitors centre. This was however¬†no ordinary visitors centre. It happens to be located just by¬†a certain spot where a certain gentleman popped a certain question two months’ past. With the CDs generously compiled by Emily and Les, now referred as the “soundtracks to our wedding”, playing on the car stereo we¬†sat enjoying¬†the beauty of the¬†views and the moment before we made our merry way back to Brecon. This excellent day was rounded off with the best fish and chips we’ve ever sampled (slowly but surely I’m getting into this low fibre diet thing!) and a roaring fire back at the cottage.

Day 3 and it was time for a new activity. We hired a canoe and spent our day paddling down the river¬†from the unfortunately named “Three Cocks” village¬†(yes we may be in our thirties but we still found¬†this rather amusing!)¬†to¬†the very twee¬†Hay on Wye. The current was such that we could enjoy a picnic lunch whilst drifting effortlessly a good mile or so¬†down the river. Another great day, made all the more special by the exceptionally balmy weather. Roll on spring, yippee!

Continuing the theme of ‘threes’, today was my third chemo drip session and the start of my third cycle. The good news is that I’m going to get scanned after the fourth, so we’re eagerly awaiting April 19 when we find out how the aliens are faring after twelve weeks of the “good poisons”. Hopefully they are cowering in their wake. Certainly with the swelling having gone down so much¬†Sam, myself and the consultant are feeling positie¬†I’ll most likely have eight cycles of chemo¬†in total, so a way to go yet, but I’m almost halfway now. Getting there, slowly but surely, or indeed – to quote part of our wedding vows – “with strength and happiness”.

Another gratuitous wedding photo!

In the beginning there was cake…

Thank you Bryony!

Wow, what an amazing week! Strictly speaking, it didn’t start with cake although this was definitely a running theme for the week. It began with a most enjoyable trip with good mate Polly to Sojos – the best Chinese in Oxford. No doubt the awesome staff in there, who know our regular order off by heart, suspect I’m suffering from some kind of eating disorder given both the regular order and the regular customer appear to have halved in size since¬†the last visit. Most enjoyable nonetheless though. A great day got even better when Bryony arrived in the evening with not only a cake stand but some delicious brownies to go inside. I think the smile speaks for itself.

The week continued in this spendid vein, with visits from Roberta and Owen on Wednesday and then Richard on Thursday (naturally involving more tea and cake, displayed in pride of place in new cake stand).

And then my second wonderful surprise of the week arrived…

Thank you Peter, Matt and Lauren from Shutt Velo

Thank you so much Shutt Velo, you are stars! Needless to say, the new toy was instantly broken in with some close-run tournaments between Richard, Sam and myself. A late entrant to the competition emerged in the form of Bailey the cat, who sat with head whipping from left to right as the mini-cyclists whizzed past, before finally spoiling the party with a well-timed paw swipe.

The amazing¬†week then met its climax with Sam and myself tying the knot on Saturday. It sounds like a clich√©, but it really was the most perfect day from start to finish – everything we could have hoped for and more. It brings a huge smile to my face just thinking about it. That’s¬†not to say there weren’t¬†some¬†quality¬†comedy moments – the bride and groom nearly¬†crossing paths pre-ceremony in the outdoor toilet (a crisis narrowly averted by the bride dashing round the back of the outbuilding as her husband-to-be emerged) – the bride comprehensively failing to ‘make a slow and considered entrance’ as instructed, but rather bounding down the aisle like¬†a hyper-active¬†labrador puppy. What can I say? I couldn’t restrain my excitement, seeing my beautiful boy there, ready and waiting for me!

This most special day and indeed the week closed with yet more cake, this time furnished by my sister in law Lucy and my sister Jess. I can assure you, both tasted as good as they look!

For the family members that shared our special day with us – thank you so much for the parts you played in making the day so memorable¬†–¬†everyone else, watch this space for an invite to a big ol’ knees up in the summer, aka Wedding¬†Celebration b)¬†¬†when my treatment is over.

Talking of which,¬†the treatment seems to be¬†continuing to go remarkably well. Cycle 3 starts next Tuesday but something positive is clearly happening because the swelling has all but disappeared now. When Sam and I played ‘spot the alien’ this morning, we could barely make it out.

The week began and ended with cake. I started as Miss Anderson; I finished as Mrs Hemmant. A truly amazing week, I think you’ll agree.

Courtesy of Will Hayter, photographer extraordinaire