Raindrops and Roses

Why does the weather always turn crap in my chemo week? Obviously being a stoical Brit I should be used to the weather by now but when you have a post-drip week of weird and wonderful symptoms that disappear when the themometer tips above 13 degrees, you kind of appreciate these things a bit more.

Today the conditions were so disgusting that I shelved my epic walk plans and treated myself to a ‘plus bus’ addition to my train ticket into town. The guys at the ticket gates clearly know me far too well as I was greeted with a chorus of ‘Where’s your bike then?’ as I passed through. As I exited the station, a number 5 bus to Cowley, my first destination of the day, was waiting in the wings. However, as I approached said bus, the driver promptly slammed the doors shut and accelerated off, with a visible smirk erupting across his own face as he did so. After such a blatant declaration of open warfare, I was determined this driver was not going to have the upper hand. Cue a frenzied sprint to the next bus stop, hitting every pedestrian crossing button in sight to thwart the passage of my rival. The plan succeeded and I smugly boarded the bus at the next stop, if a little out of breath and bedraggled from my efforts.

Lady luck has been somewhat lacking this week. Yesterday was chemo session 5 and although it was great to score another milestone on the journey, it would have been nice if the actual chemo part hadn’t been preceded by a 1h30 treasure hunt for a usable vein. After 5 needle insertion attempts and a lot of painful wiggling, my left arm had had its fill of impromptu acupuncture, as had the nurse wielding the instruments of torture. Her superior was called in with the ultrasound machine and it was promptly announced that the vein in my left arm had thrombosed, aka was knackered and in no mood for further chemo. Onto the right arm, which proved similarly challenging (apparently I have very thin veins that like to play hide and seek) but we got there in the end. However by this point the nurses and me were at the end of our tethers and so when they suggested that a central line be put in (basically a tube that runs internally from your heart and pops out of our arm that they use for drug adminstration and something I’ve actively resisted til now) I admitted defeat and conceded this would be a good idea.

The chemo adminstration part itself was fine but Lady Luck had one final trick to play on us. By this point in time it was 13:45 and I sent Sam, who had been waiting dutifully at my side during the pin cushion fun and games, off to get himself some lunch. Sadly the League of Friends cafe had sold out of their superior fodder by this juncture and he was forced to make do with a couple of slightly dubious cheese and egg rolls and I, shock horror, was deprived of my Belgian bun. To top it all off, one of the other chemo patients was stockpiling all the nice varieties of free biscuits (I counted at least 5 packets tucked into her medecine bag)  so the best we could get hold of was a pack of plain digestive numbers. Ah well, you live and learn!

But the overarching good news – the rosy part – is I’ve now got 5 sessions under my belt with only 3 to go, the last one being the 28th June and lots of nice stuff planned between now and then, starting with a week in the lakes in May. Bring on the summer I say!

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Life is sweet

Today’s blog is brought to you by the Belgian bun. For what reason am I bestowing this honour upon this humble concoction of bread, sultanas and icing? Well it has become tradition (I blame Claire Galloway for setting this addiction in motion) for every visit to the Churchill hospital to be accompanied by a trip to the League of Friends café and the purchase of a Belgian bun. Whilst a visit to the hospital tends to be accompanied by less pleasant occupations such as giving blood samples, drinking litres of contrast fluid, having my body pumped full of poison for 3 odd hours etc., the consumption of the Belgian bun is a highlight, something I actively look forward to – a glacier-cherry topped bundle of sunshine in amongst the rain clouds.

The Belgian bun was on stand-by yesterday when Sam and I hit the Churchill for the long-awaited appointment with the consultant to go through my scan results. Waiting for the appointment to come around was hard enough; it was then made harder still by an excruciatingly long wait in the waiting room. After an hour and five minutes (which we attemped to kill by feigning interest in the Guardian food supplement and various trashy magazines) the receptionist sidled up and wrote in big letters on a whiteboard “Dr Weaver running 1 hour late”. No really, we would never have guessed! Another ten minutes later and we finally made it into the consultation room, by this point on the brink of nervous exhaustion.

The news, thank god, was that we’d been anxiously hoping for – the chemo is working and the tumour in my bowel has shrunk ‘significantly’ (words of the consultant). The tumours in my liver have reduced, although not as impressively as the ones in the bowel. The plan of action remains the same – another 4 cycles of chemo to keep on nuking the b*ggers. We were initally a little disheartened to learn that – at least for now – there is no plan to operate at the end of the chemo cycles, which means whatever is left at the end of the chemo will stay in situ. In our naivety, it felt like we were being denied the closure of cutting all the little b*stards out; the idea of having to spend the rest of my life with the aliens still inside, living forever in the shadow of the aliens coming back to life was/ is scary. Facing up to your own mortality is never easy.

However, one Belgian Bun and two very constructive phone calls later (one with Richard Baskerville, super GP, and one with Sam’s mum Ann, who’s gone through the cancer ordeal twice now) we were starting to recalibrate. Whether you get chemotherapied, radio therapied or sliced open as part of your cancer treatment, there will always be alien hanger-oners. Whilst in an ideal world you could just get the hoover out and spring clean all your innards and be done with it, it just doesn’t work like that. The end-game is reducing the cancer cells to a level your body can stay on top of. And hopefully it will continue to do so for a nice long chunk of time – giving you plenty of opportunities to get run over by a bus, fall off a mountain-top, accidently set light to yourself…

Recovering our sense of perspective, we were able to appreciate we’d received the best news we could have hoped for – I am a ‘positive responder’; the chemo is doing its job; the aliens are on the retreat – cause for celebration surely. Unfortunately by this point we were too mentally and physically exhausted to do much besides limp home and collapse.

This morning the sun was shining and despite the fairly horrendous weather prognosis (sadly the BBC weatherman doesn’t share my perennial optimism) I decided to make the most of it. Armed with a double chocolate chip confection from Nash’s bakery, I headed out on my bike to see Peter and Lauren at Shutt Velo and had a thoroughly good ride and natter over coffee and cake.

La vita e bella – life is beautiful and the alien, for all its faults, has taught me to make the most of it. I can say, without irony, this is the happiest I’ve ever been.

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Playing the waiting game

Tomorrow we have our appointment with the consultant to go through my mid-chemo scan results. It feels wrong to be wishing time away but the waiting is agony! Have the aliens bowed under the pressure of 4 rounds of poison? Are we winning?

All the signs point to some degree of positive news: the swelling has all but disappeared;  I can eat bigger portion sizes; I’ve been able to start to eat more ‘real’ fruit and veg… but I’m wary of getting my hopes up too much. After all, I’m only halfway through the treatment and there’s a fair way to go still.

I am very fortunate however in having an amazing support network of friends and family to help me pass the time and fatten me up with coffee, cake and other goodies. This week is dedicated to the letter ‘P’. ‘P’ for pies – apple pie with Richard in Chipping Norton and a fab trip to Pieminster with Roberta and Owen; ‘P’ for party with a long overdue celebration of Sam and my birthdays at Sojo’s tonight; ‘P’ for pouring rain (Nice to know that Oxford bus drivers are as inconsiderate to pedestrians as they are to cyclists. Thank you no.5 for flooring your vehicle on the approach to an enormous puddle and soaking me to the skin.)

One day to go…

“All human wisdom is summed up in two words – wait and hope” Alexandre Dumas

“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience” Anon

An Easter trip to Dieppe

In the spirit of making the most of our free time together, Sam and I decided to revisit one of our favourite haunts, Dieppe in Normandy, taking the ferry over the Easter break. It’s a place quite dear to our hearts, first discovered it on a 2 week tandem tour of the region and since revisited whenever we feel like a good dose of seafood and cycling.

The trip started on a slightly awkward tack when, fresh off the ferry, we knocked on the big cast iron door of our tried and tested B&B, only to discover that they had no record of our reservation.  Rechecking emails it emerged that – in a fit of what I can only attribute to ‘chemo brain’ – I had inadvertently managed to book not our familiar B&B but a completely different one, a few kilometres out of town, one that we’d never set foot in no less. Ten minutes later and we were knocking on the door of B&B no 2, Villa Florida, with a small degree of trepidation as to what we’d let ourselves in for – fears that weren’t fully allayed when we found ourselves being welcomed into an entrance hall decorated in a style best described as ‘colonial’ and containing a large bulldog. As it turned out, our stay in B&B no 2 was actually fantastic. We had the annexe accommodation which, although the featuring a little heavily on the varnished wood side (it took a few days for Sam to be convinced we were free of significant fumigation risks), afforded fantastic privacy, peace and quiet.

Thanks to the rural tranquility of the location, not to mention a truly awesome set of window shutters, Sam and I managed to completely oversleep on the first day, missing our requested breakfast slot by a good hour and a half. We shuffled with embarrassment into the breakfast room to discover that – tardy as we were – we’d actually managed to beat the other guests – the ‘Unabashedly Antisocial couple’ and the ‘Good Mow-ning’ couple to it. ‘Unabashedly Antisocial’ couple being so described because, clearly traumatised by the mere suggestion of joining the scary ‘Anglais’ at the nice main table with the garden view, chose rather to breakfast in the darkest corner of the room, as far away from us as humanly possible. The ‘Good Mow-ning’ couple, on the other hand, made a little more of an effort to integrate.True anyway of the female half of the pairing whose conversation, whilst principally centering around an exhaustive list of all the canals she and her husband had holidayed on, was at least enthusiastic in its origins. Her husband in contrast felt that greeting us with a booming ‘Good Mow-ning’ – which Sam delighted in countering with a similarly ear-splitting ‘Bonjour’ –  was sufficient to cover off his social duties for the morning.

Our first full day in Dieppe was market day and a feast for all the senses, with stalls resplendent with startling arrays of fresh produce. Sam was in seventh heaven, as we stocked up, not just on delicious materials for a lunchtime picnic, but also on a truly bargainous and extensive range of lettuce and brassica seedlings to furnish the allotment back home. A nice gentle cycle ride along the coast and then back inland in the afternoon and we’d just about generated enough appetite to attack the mighty 3 course seafood menus on offer in the evening.

Day 2, Easter Sunday, and we decided to be a little more ambitious in our cycling aspirations. Despite the spitting rain we set off merrily on the Avenue Verte, a custom built cycle route formed of beautiful smooth tarmac that runs from Dieppe to Neufchatel en Bray. A couple of hours later, a little damp and weary, we arrived in Neufchatel to discover, as we’d feared, that yup pretty much everything in France shuts down on Easter Sunday. The rain got heavier; the chain fell off my bike in protest; we began to grimly contemplate the prospect of about-turning on empty stomachs and then Sam made the winning discovery – a bar/ restaurant that was not only open but doing a roaring trade in good old rustic French lunchtime food. Two amazing salads, 1 cod and vegetable casserole, 1 steak frites and 2 scarily decadent chocolate mousses later we were grimly contemplating the prospect of hauling our overburdened (yet very contented) stomachs back on the bikes and crawling up the hill out of Neufchatel. Somehow though we managed to make it back and a few hours later found ourselves sitting in another restaurant doing battle with yet another 3 course meal. On this occasion though we managed to exercise some restraint with some cunning menu substitutions – for example salad instead of the super-rich starter options, I’ll pass on the cheese course thank you – which no doubt consolidated the French view that the English are crazy food philistines but at least spared us a night of chronic indigestion. On that note, if asking for a glass of warm water gets funny looks in England, just try asking for a ‘verre d’eau tiede’ in France and see what reception you get! Oh the delights of chemo-induced cold water intolerance.

Easter Monday and the rain was clearly there for the duration. With damp kit from the day before still drying on the radiator (the room now scented with a rather disconcerting blend of wood varnish and wet dog smell), another ride was not a particularly tempting prospect. We decided instead to choose a place at random on the map with a suitably large number of symbols on it and drive there for a day trip. And so we found ourselves in ‘Forges Les Eaux’, where we went for a nice walk around the park and lakes and visited a great little museum dedicated to ‘La Résistance’.  In danger by this point of sufffering ‘death by Moules Frites and 3 course meal’, we were pleased to find a cool little Moroccan place for lunch and a truly amazing Turkish place for dinner.

Tuesday, and sadly the last day of the holiday. Tradition has it that on the last day of their holiday in Dieppe Sam and Naomi cycle to a town along the coast called ‘Le Tréport’. Tradition also has it that this ride inevitably turns into an epic, involving ridiculously strong headwinds on the return leg, exhaustion, dehydration and generally a race against time to make it back for the evening ferry crossing. Call us gluttons for punishment but the lure of ‘Le Tréport’ was too great to resist and it becomes our destination for the day. We did at least have the good sense this time to bag the first part of the route in the car to give ourselves a headstart. The ride was beautiful as always – a delightfully quiet route with lots of little orange cycle signs negating the need for a map. We resisted the temptation to drop down into Le Tréport itself (the climb back out is monstruous and tends to be punctuated by multiple repeats of whatever lunch fodder you’ve knocked back) and dined instead at a café on the top of the cliffs above the town. Time to turn and face the return leg and sure enough, the wind had cranked up to warp speed and we were faced with a stonking headwind the whole way back to the car. However, the sun had at least had the decency to come out so instead of near-hypothermia as per Sunday’s return leg we got glorious sunshine on our backs, albeit accompanied by a hefty dose of wind and sun-burn. And in case you were wondering, on this occasion we made it back to the car with ample time to catch the ferry although – as with all great holidays – we were kind of disappointed that fate hadn’t dictated that we stay on a little longer.

The return to the UK – as we knew it would be – has been a bit of a rude awakening. Not least because yesterday started with an 8am appointment at the Churchill for a series of CT scans. If getting to the hospital for 8am when your ferry only docked at Newhaven at 11pm the night before wasn’t bad enough, I also had the pleasure of having to down a litre of barium(?) fluid for  my breakfast whilst being subjected to ‘hunt the vein’ as the CT guys tried, in vain (pun unintended) to find one suitable for pumping full of contrast liquid. But it’s all for a good cause – on the 19th April we go through the scans with the consultant and find out the status of the aliens after 4 rounds of chemotherapy. It’s going to be tough waiting 8 days for the results but I have lots of nice activities lined up for the next few days so hopefully the time will fly. Fingers crossed…

“Put me back on my bike”

Yesterday something strange and rather exciting happened. For the first time in a long time I actually felt like I had an eensy weensy bit of power in my legs. There were of course many positive contributing factors: it was my week off the chemo drugs; the sun was shining; I was out with a great bunch of people on the Shutt Sunday ride; I’d taken the plunge and taken my best bike – the beautiful titanium Sabbath – off the garage wall and was riding it instead of my workhorse commuter bike. And boy, it felt good 🙂 I think I may even be starting to grow back those bionic leg muscles now I’m off those dreaded steroids as my lycra isn’t as baggy as it was (baggy lycra being trumped only by see-through lycra in terms of heinous clothing crimes against humanity).

The Shutt Sunday ride topped off a great week of spins – with of course the obligatory cake stops – in the sunshine. On Thursday I had the pleasure of an afternoon jaunt with Colin, complete with exciting new tearoom discovery, out to Woodstock. On Saturday Emily, Sam and I went for a delightful ride out towards Chipping Norton that not even an inconsiderate headwind (normally we get to battle the headwind on the way out, eat lots of cake and then get blown home but this time it had the audacity to blow the other way) could spoil. Three great rides, three great slabs of carrot cake and great company – what more could a girl ask for?

Other highlights of the week included catching up with my sisters, involving a tour of the House of Parliament and some yummy food – turns out the addiction to ice cream is genetic – and a cream tea with Gen and Roberta. With 3 slices of carrot cakes, 2 belgian buns and 2 scones & a heft dose of ice cream to my name this past week, I’m clearly getting into this junk food diet thing 😉

Tomorrow is chemo session 4, which means I’m halfway through. Thought I’m not exactly looking forward to having my arm pumped full of ‘good poison’ and all the weird and wonderful side-effects that go with that, it will be nice to bag that milestone. Onwards and upwards and bring on the summer.