Thursday, December 28, 2006

Boxing Day and Serenity

The first 3 or 4 days after chemo is like having a dreadful bout of flu for 4 days which knocks you so much for six that you can hardly lift your arm off the duvet, plus you feel nauseous and have a nasty taste in the mouth, but then, unlike flu, it suddenly lifts as the poison leaves your body and you are once again let out of prison - the sky is blue and life is precious and sparkling again.

It’s Boxing Day, and I’m on the upswing! Still very tired as yesterday was day three, and therefore, quite a strain. I had to push myself through it on adrenaline, but I did manage to, and to stay up from 11.00am onwards and join in the fun.

We had a very happy Christmas Day with our motley crew! A magnificent meal of turkey and goose with all the trimmings served hot and moist and cooked to perfection was served up by Aimi and Mass in the kitchen at my house. They really surpassed themselves and the table was groaning with good food, candles and crackers, and even though eleven of us were a bit squashed in, everyone said they had a lovely time and there were no rows!

Mia’s squeaks of delight as she opened a mountain of presents added to thepleasure. She got all the presents she wanted on her fairly modest list for Santa and a few others she hadn’t thought of. Potts had sent her a disguisekit complete with huge pink ears, a bald head cap (!), selection of moustaches, hideous teeth and glasses with nose attached and she put the lot on and ran around startling everyone. There was an alka seltzer bomb thing for Massimo; a grow your own sheep by adding water thing for Aimi, and for me, a purple teeshirt on the front of which the words “Approaching Magnificence” were printed, which I will probably wear for the next session at the Marsden!

At the risk of making a few people jealous, I can honestly say that I have never had such a “joyful” Christmas Day. It’s not the one I would have chosen. That would have included His Naughtiness, of course - Christmas on duty in Intensive Care put paid to that dream! However, in spite of everything, it was still wonderful.

If I didn’t truly believe that I have already beaten this very curable illness, and that the odds are truly excellent against its return, I would be feeling quite anxious that those around me know something that I don’t. Instead of the normal pile of pot pourri, bars of soap and the odd book I usually find myself, slightly resentfully, left with from under the tree, after I have spent a fortune on everyone else - this year I have been deluged with thoughtful and/or expensive gifts which include... a 14” carved wooden owl from Christopher and Lisa to add to my owl collection; a very smart working girl’s go cup for tea and hot drinks to take in the car; a pashmina scarf from Barry; a very pretty jewellery box and a large white candle of carved roses from Avril and Winston; a really beautiful purple wild silk Lavender bag with silk violets on it to make a room smell nice from Deborah; a very stylish silver pepper and salt set from Mass’s brother Aldo; a flowered all in one hammer with a set of screwdrivers in the handle from Jenny; cashmere bed socks from Maureen; 3 moleskine ruled journal books for my midnight scriblings; a Dalai Lama calendar/notepad and a “therapist in a box” kit with stress buster toy which “won’t go away in August” from Mary and Allan; DVD of the film ‘Amelie’ from my young tenant Flavien; set of three white candles in pretty pots from Sue, several boxes of chocs, and two books - ‘The Polar Bear Waltz’ of photographs, and a book by Lesley Garner called ‘Everything I’ve Ever Learned About Love’ signed by the author. WOW!!!!

I said quietly to Aimi, after opening this lot “I’ve got a funny feeling that some people may not be expecting to see me around next year”!

In addition to this bounty, I have also had tender loving phone calls from no less than 5 old beau’s over the last 3 days! One is offering to fly me to Nantucket in June, another to take me on a cruise to speed my recovery and a third has offered his apartment in Marbella for some sunshine in the Spring, and today my Polish 87 year old, older man has invited me for our annual lunch. 2007 should be a fun year with plenty of travel by the sounds of it. The only trouble with all this is that my heart is firmly entrenched in Aberdeen! Is all this sudden attention because I am now viewed as vulnerable, I wonder? My oldest friend, Annie, used to say that I had “vulnerable” tattooed on my forehead, but I have certainly toughened up under the slings and arrows over the past few years.

On top of all this TLC, I had been ordered to do zilch towards the holiday preparations and to just “sit there and rest” throughout the entire festivities, thought I did manage to put up some decorations and a tree and have the children decorate it.

Today, I have been back on the sofa 'recovering' with a rug and a cuppa and am watching a hysterically funny cooking programme with Anthony Worrall and Oz someody – both suffering from the most unimaginable and visual hangovers. They looked absolutely dreadful and could hardly string words together at the beginning of the show; got all the ingredients wrong and dropped things, but have now had a Bloody Mary each with at least 50% Vodka and some other “left over booze” cocktails and are picking up and getting silly and quite tetchy with each other.

If I get the energy by lunchtime I am going to use their recipe for a turkey curry risotto, which looks delicious, and feed Aimi and Co when they arrive to dismantle the tables as they are a bit jaded today having been to the pub till late last night This will be my little offering for the day.

There have been several phone calls from friends who are disappointed with their Christmas in some way. The general theme seemed to be that loved ones had not done enough or shown enough love, appreciation, helpfulness, etc., and that they were now exhausted and resentful towards their ungrateful kin.

Not so for me!. My cup runneth over with gratitude and I am in danger of getting used to this and becoming a smug b….h! However, I don't expect that Christmas will ever be like this again! (If it is I will be very worried!)

I am strangely and inexplicably happy today. I don’t have “what I want” but I “accept and am content with “what I have” with a grateful heart, and believe that I am indeed getting “what I need” from Good Orderly Direction, and that yet another exciting chapter in my life lies ahead next year.

“I read this passage this morning”

Words to Consider

“Although all men share a common destiny, each individual also has to work out his personal salvation for himself. We can help each other find the meaning of life, but in the last analysis, each is responsible for finding himself.” (Thomas Merton)

One of the great spiritual truths is that each person must work out his or her own personal salvation. When a person you care about is in trouble, you can reach out to support his or her healing, but past a certain point you can do no more. No matter now much you love, you cannot carry another person’s burdens.

What can you do when someone you love is in pain? First, affirm that there is a purpose behind the experience. Know that the soul has some important lesson to learn that will be of great value to him or her.

Second, although you cannot directly intervene, you’re positive thoughts and prayers do make a difference. Visualize your friend surrounded by light and love. This type of healing acts directly on the soul level and does not encounter resistance from the conscious mind.

Finally, know that Divine protection is present. The forces of light are always available to the person who requests help. Ultimately, no soul can be lost; as all who ask will be guided to the safety of their spiritual home.”

Nice eh?

Tonight I’m going over to Aimi’s to play Monopoly and listen to Mia singing with her new Karaoke machine (I think she has an eye on the X Factor – Heaven help us!!!), tomorrow night we are going Ice Skating at Somerset House – or rather they are going skating and I am going to watch! A broken wrist or leg would not be a sensible thing to accommodate under present circumstances, and on Thursday we are all off to inspect my cousin Christopher’s new love nest in Kenilworth and stay the night with a visit to my lovely ancient Auntie Amy in Oxford en route, and now for another mince pie!!!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve - 3 Down - 3 To Go


Its Christmas Eve. I had my third chemo yesterday so I’m nearly half way through the 6 cycles. Frances Topp collected me at 9.00 and spent the morning with me at the Marsden whilst I had blood tests taken, was weighed and saw the Doctor to be pronounced fit enough to be nuked again. The chemicals are then made up according to your bodyweight and there is then at least an hour's a wait for them to be made up so that they are fresh.

Frances is someone I have known since my "Music Week" days. Her husband Rodney Burbeck, used to be the Editor and she is a brilliant picture researcher who was working at the BBC when I ran into her again in 1994 just before she was diagnosed herself with the same ductile type of cancer and was successfully treated with the same FEC chemo that I am being zapped with. That was nine years ago and she looked a picture of health and energy yesterday which was most encouraging. It is so helpful to compare notes with someone who has trod this path before and it seems that the side effects have been improved greatly in the years since she had treatment.

I am really beginning to enjoy these two hour – fairly uninterrupted chats with friends whilst sitting in the cheerful waiting room at the Marsden. I have got to know a lot more about them and it is a very bonding experience that they seem to enjoy too.

Mary Morris arrived at 12 noon to spend the afternoon session with me.
The Staff had organised a little Christmas treat for us with a trolly full of wine (last thing that would have been good for me but Frances enjoyed a tipple) sandwiches and crisps and biscuits and sweets. Then the freezing cold cap was put on and the six syringes of chemicals went in, and Mary and I had a good long chat too. The canula went in smoothly first time, but the only thing I was slightly nervous about was that the nurses were clearly suffering from lack of sleep due to their Christmas party taking place the evening before and most of them had had only three hours sleep. They would not admit to hangovers, but when I got to see the doctor another patient’s notes had been brought in by mistake, however, due to the extremely careful checking system “What is your date of birth”, the error was rectified immediately. I am getting to know a few faces in the room who are on the same three week schedule as me and we wished each other a Happy Christmas as I left with Mary.

Since then I have been feeling pretty well and have been able to complete my last minute shopping and errands fairly easily. Wrapped up the last presents this evening and then the tired grey cloud descended and I have been asleep on the sofa since the final of Strictly Come Dancing which I just missed the result of but expect that Mark and partner won.

A big load of cards arrived this morning – all with especially loving messages this year. A funny cartoon one from my ex, and there was even one from Roger – my last disastrous experiment with hope over experience. He was sorry to hear I have a serious illness and said that in spite of our acrimonious break up six years ago, he had been very fond of me, which was really nice of him and any left over resentment has now gone. He also apologised for his part in things. I hope I never forget how powerful a sincere apology can be and I shall now return the compliment and we can at least be on nodding terms again if we bump into each other one day

This was a funny message on another card that came today:

There have been many, many times in 2006 when I may have
Disturbed you …
Troubled you …
Pestered you …
Irritated you …
Bugged you …

But today I just want to tell you that in 2007


Brilliant!!! I might put that on mine next year!

It’s now 2.31am on Christmas Ever and I shall go to bed in a minute and expect to be pretty out of it tomorrow and Monday I but don’t have to and am not expected do a thing, thank goodness. Aimi and co will come over and prepare the Christmas table for about 12 now – two more lonely souls have been added, so it’s time to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a Healthy New Year and hit the sack.

3 down – 3 to go!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas & Chemo Looms

Two days left of feeling good. And I really do feel good. Plenty of energy and happy today especially as Naughtiness called this morning. He is to be transferred to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary – Gynaecology department - and will be working over the Christmas period but will try and phone when he can.

Got all my cards done today and went to Sue’s for a massage. Deborah joined us to exchange Christmas presents and stayed for a cuppa. Then Sue and I to Mia’s school carol concert at St John’s. Mrs M, the headmistress very kindly rushed to give me her chair and I accepted politely though I am probably fitter than most in the church. I wore my aubergine turban with a glittering brooch at the side and after when we gathered for coffee and mince pies, everyone said it was most fetching and I kept hearing the words ‘Diva’ and ‘Norma Desmond’!!! Supper with Chris and Lisa at home and a fairly early night.

Last night our good friend Verena Wilson treated the family to a performance of The Wintershall (real experience) Nativity Play at Wintershall Hall in Bramley near Guildford. It was a magical experience. We wrapped up warmly and took sandwiches and a flask of hot chocolate and drove for an hour in the dark. We arrived at the big house which had one of those drives that takes half an hour to get anywhere, over cattle grids and through a forest, and parked in a muddy field. From the car park there was a 200 yard climb up a steep path through the roots of huge trees lit by flaming torches and with speakers playing gentle carols all the way. I saw Verena talking in to a chap in that confidential way that I have come to recognise, and shortly after, a motorised cart was produced to take us up the hill. “You have pulled the cancer card haven’t you” I said. “Yes” she said. “I’d beat any of you up that hill you know” I said, getting in the front of this funny contraption with a handsome young man. Aimi, Verena and Mia sat in the three seats which faced outwards at the back of the uncovered cart and Mass climbed into the box part which looked like it was used for hay or leaves or grass etc. and we all bounced up the hill. At the top we alighted outside a huge barn. The straw clad path was now illuminated for us by bearded characters in robes and headgear with bare feet in sandals (Jesus creepers) holding oil filled lanterns. “Welcome to Bethlehem”, they said quietly and undramatically and we filed past a field of donkeys into the barn and took out seats on tiered benches.

At the far end of the barn there was a raised stage on which was a real manger filled with straw. To one side was a straw filled pen with a mother sheep and young lamb grazing. Behind that we could see a large black cow, and further left was the choir and an organist hidden by a rush screen.

Mary and Joseph made their entrance through the central aisle of the seats – the grown up and saintly looking Mary riding on a real donkey and went up to the manger and the Nativity was played out with the most beautiful choir and popular carols. A real baby was produced which squeaked a bit but not hysterically and was laid in the manger in between bouncing it up and down to pacify it. The Shepherds arrived to adore, and one of them lifted the baby lamb out of the pen and carried to the children’s area in the front to let them stroke it. The mother sheep was very concerned about this and complained pitifully and was visually relieved when it was taken back to her.

The three Kings arrived down the same aisle riding on horseback with beautiful robes and saddle cloths. The not unpleasant smell of straw and cow and horse manure added to the authenticity of the scene.
Herod arrived on a magnificent black steed and his henchmen were quite terrifying and after decreeing that all children under two must be killed, went to look in the children’s area to see if they could find any under two which caused quite a bit of consternation amongst the young ones and giggles from us!

After it was over we filed out of the barn past all the actors who were lined up as if in a Royal Variety Performance, and who wished us a Merry Christmas in a quite delightful way. Mia held my hand and I said to Joseph who was standing with Mary and her baby (It really was Mary’s baby – a little girl with blue eyes) “Are you the father?” “No he said” “Oh, silly me, of course not I said and pointed to the heavens”. “Boooooooo” we said to the nasty Herod, then left the barn and made our way down the hill again – this time on foot because I wanted to walk! And sat in the car eating our sandwiches before driving home to London.

It was a truly wonderful and spiritual evening and I have come away with some new ideas for interesting headgear!! The only small criticism I have in all that back-in-time reality and other world feeling was that the tiny baby Jesus was dressed in a Mothercare white boiler suit with a furry hood. I know it was very very cold, but surely three lots of swaddling shawls and a small concealed hot water bottle would have done the job a bit more realistically!

Anyway, if you want a delightful and magical Christmassy evening, I cannot recommend it highly enough and it is well worth the drive.

Monday, December 18, 2006

“Hair, There and Everywhere”

My hair is definitely disappearing! During the first week of this 2nd chemo cycle it thinned to approximately half its previous crowning glory volume and for the first time ever, I now have ”thin” hair instead of a thick mane.

There are hairs all over my bedroom. It has blown on to my pillow via the hairdryer and there are hairs on my white dressing table. There are hairs on my laptop keyboard. My pressurized canister of air normally reserved for cleaning my cameras has come in handy here.

Everybody, but everybody assures me that my hair will return quickly, even thicker and possibly wavy after treatment ends so I am not unduly worried about this experience (hopefully! – of course I could just be the only one that it doesn’t come back for!) and looking forward to trying some new hairstyles as it grows back.

I was already up and about the other day, when my cousin Christopher brought me my now customary 9am cuppa and breakfast tray (Oh how I love it!). “Look at this”, I said and showed him my hair brush from which I was pulling out a handful of hair. “I get two of these handfuls a day now”! After a slight awkward silence whilst, I imagine, Chris was searching for something positive to say, he said quietly and gently “Would you like to make a little cushion out of it?” “Definitely not!” I said and we both burst into peals of laughter.

On Thursday I had it cut shorter which helped a bit but, at this rate, I’ll be lucky to see the other side of Christmas with a decent amount.

So now I am preparing for the next challenge – the “Follicle Challenge!” After the overcoming of this, I shall be in the home straight for bursting out of this cocoon, and starting to bloom again in the Spring of 2007 – double 007 – a fitting year to bring out Robert Sellers’ book “The Battle for Bond” on the story of my Dad’s involvement with Thunderball which is gaining much interest already and may involve Book tours and signings with Robert – another new experience.

Yesterday Sue came with me to Notting Hill Gate, and after a delicious Italian lunch in Hillgate Place, we went to Trendco – the trendy wig and hairpiece specialists at the top of Church Street, for a fitting. The first wig I saw was the one for me, and is very realistic indeed. It is now sitting on my dressing table on a white polystyrene head waiting for me” I shall wear it when I am working or don’t want to have to explain it all to strangers. I also bought a pink lacy ‘sleep cap’. But the thing I will feel most comfortable in is a rather glamorous turban in a browny aubergine colour which is my winter colour, and which is reminiscent of old movie divas who are having a bad hair day. I remember seeing Debbie Reynolds in one in the Hilton coffee bar (or perhaps she was going through chemo – who knows), and I am going to add some glittery brooches or silk flowers at the side to tart it up a bit, and if the whole barnet goes, I have also bought a little fringe which can be stuck under a scarf or turban with Velcro.

My old friend Bill Potts from the NBC Sports Wimbledon days, has sent me 6 fluorescent wigs – shocking pink, purple, lime green, electric blue, orange and yellow which, we are planning to don tomorrow morning if everyone gets up in time for a slightly different family Christmas photo! Mia has chosen the electric blue – Aimi the green, Mass - orange and I am in the shocking pink one! May have left it a bit late for sending cards out before this Christmas though, so they may have to be the first ones for next year!

Several people have had fun trying them on for me. In fact, I have yet to have a visitor, who, on spying the box of wigs & hats blonde and vari-coloured, has not had a go!

Potts has also sent me a cutting from a New York paper on a revolutionary new cure for baldness entitled:

“Ever Seen a Bald Dog?”

from which I include excerpts:

“Exciting scientific correspondence comes from William B Yancey, M.D., a medical Doctor. He has written about an observation that he made regarding his Labrador retriever, who is named Refrigerator. Refrigerator recently underwent hip surgery; in preparation for the operation, the veterinarian shaved his hindquarters and Refrigerator thus had all the hair removed from his rear end.

If you know anything about dogs, you know how Refrigerator spent his recuperation period: He licked himself pretty much full time. Dogs are very big believers in the healing power of “licking”. If dogs operated a hospital here’s how it would work: A patient would arrive in the Emergency Room, and a team of doctor dogs would gather around to conduct an examination, which would consist of thoroughly sniffing the patient. Then the doctor dogs would hold a conference, and whatever the patient’s symptoms were – coughing, lack of pulse, a spear passing all the way through the patient’s head – the doctor dogs would agree that the best course of treatment was: licking! And we’re talking about a LOT of licking. Not just the patient licking himself; but also the doctors licking the patient, licking themselves, and licking the other doctors. This is state-of-the-art medical care for dogs. Their equivalent of a CAT scan machine would be a big tube filled with tongues.

So anyway, after his operation, Refrigerator was performing medical care on himself, and Dr Yancey made a scientific observation: namely, that Refrigerator’s hair “has grown fastest in the areas where he has spent significant time licking himself.

Using this observation, Dr Yancey was able to form a scientific hypothesis which is this: Dog spit grows hair! The important implication is that dog spit could be a revolutionary new hair-growth treatment for balding men (or women on chemotherapy), and I believe that it is time to go past the research phase and go directly to the phase where we unleash the power of this amazing discovery to benefit humanity, to make the world a better place, and most importantly – to make money!

Specifically, what I am thinking of is a franchised line of hair-growth salons with a sophisticated name such as ’La Spitte du Chien’. Upon arriving at a salon, a client would undergo a pre-treatment interview, during which he would be asked a series of scientific questions such as “Do you have money?” and “How much?” The client would then be ushered into the Preparation Area, where his scalp would be coated with a scientifically-designed, nutrition-enhanced, precision-balanced formulation consisting of Skippy brand peanut butter.

Finally the client would enter the Treatment Area, where he would be instructed to lie down on the floor with his arms at his sides. A door would then be opened, and a professional 'Hair Growth Technician', barking loudly, would sprint into the room at upwards of 400 miles per hour, skid to a stop, and begin enthusiastically treating the client’s scalp. All of the technicians at ‘La Spitte Du Chien’ would be carefully selected on the basis of friendliness, professionalism, and not peeing on the clients.

I grant you that this procedure has a few wrinkles that need to be worked out, such as the issue of smooth versus chunky, but basically I think it makes as much sense as the baldness cures you see in the magazines. If any government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration have any questions, well they can send their inspectors over to meet with our Board of Directors, Big Boy and Fang. They LOVE inspectors. It’s their favourite meal!”

Thanks Potts – most helpful! Hmnnnn!!!!!!!

Five days to go to the next chemo which will be three days before Christmas Day. As days 2 and 3 are the days I am polaxed and pretty unable to even sit up, it does not bode well for a jolly Christmas lunch, however, on Christmas Day I am planning to take the first cycle medication – the demomethasine which is a stimulant and gives me a lift but stops me sleeping so that I can totter downstairs and sit upright at the table for 10 that my darling Aimi is organising at my house.

Five days left of feeling well; to pack everything into that I want to get done, and to enjoy life.

Yesterday I went ice skating with Mia and we joined Ruth Gledhill and my five year old Godson Arthur at the Kew Gardens rink. It was a beautiful sunny wintry day and we had a great time skating and drinking hot chocolate and feeding the real Reindeers in the gardens. A joint birthday tea afterwards back at Ruth’s (we are both Saggitarians) with poetry from her very talented husband Alan and songs and harmonies on his guitar in their cosy home.

Today my friend Willy is coming over to supervise Mia and her friends Megan and AnnaMay decorating my Christmas tree.

Tomorrow we are all going to a Nativity Play in the country where a real Mary on a real donkey and Joseph walk up the hill to a real stable with real animals, Shepherds and Wise Men and produce a real baby Jesus by candlelight.

On Tuesday there is another Carol Service at Mia’s School Church. On Wednesday I am photographing a one year old. On Thursday a party thrown by Lesley McCormack Gathy, the late Mark McCormack’s daughter, in Barnes, and on Friday ZAP! – they will hit me again with the third dose of chemo after which I will be half way through the treatment.

Bring it on!!!! Sock it to me baby!!! Hair today – gone tomorrow. Anyone got a dog I can borrow for a few days?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Muse Returns

The muse is back and it’s time to write again. I have been spurred on by an email I received from a teacher saying how grateful he was because, having read my blog, he was able to help a young student who’s mother was going through chemo.

My phone line has been down for a few days and so I’ve been offline. It’s been quite nice to have a break from phone calls and the addictive pull of the computer. I get about ten phone calls a day from friends wanting up-to-date bulletins, and although I love to hear from people, it has, in fact, been quite peaceful and I actually managed to read a book which I haven’t had time to do for a while!

Note to friends of chemo patients – If you are not immediate family or very closely involved, one call a week is plenty and very much appreciated!

I’m now half way through my 2nd Chemo cycle and, in many ways, it has been an easier ride than the first one. Due to several factors, I believe.

1. Change of medication for nausea

Having told the doctors at the Marsden about the 3 day high I got on dexymethasone causing insomnia and upset stomach etc followed by an exhausted crash on the fifth day, they have changed the prescription for the three days of nausea. This new drug does not have the stimulant effect and is much easier on the stomach.

2. I have been taking the Medicinal Herbs

Two lots of 4 tablets and capsules twice a day and a pot of herb tea which were made up specially to suit my FEC chemo by the Haven’s Alex Haig who assured me that these healing and detoxifying herbs would help my body heal and get rid of the chemicals and I believe that has happened as my tongue is now nice and pink again after a week on them this time.

This has resulted in a different but better sequence of events in that without the previous chemical “high” I felt pretty ghastly on days two and three after the injections this time. Sort of like a ton of grey concrete has been poured into you. Pinning you to the bed with its weight causing nausea and coating your mouth with unpleasant saliva and great thirst. I also slept and slept and slept as there was no stimulant effect. But by day four, was well enough to totter out to lunch with my friend Diana and have a jolly time with 6 others. I was also able on day 1 to go out with the family to celebrate my birthday and eat well at our favourite Thai restaurant, the Blue Elephant at Fulham Broadway before the chemo cloud descended.

Since then I have had a very enjoyable few days feeling pretty well.

In addition to the change of medication and the continuing love & support of my family and friends, His Naughtiness has poured some loving midnight oil on my wounds via phone calls from the hospital. His total acceptance of me in this condition is so very healing and helpful.

The ongoing outpouring of love from just about everyone I know, continues to amaze me. I was trying to explain this to my friend Sue before the Carol concert in the beautiful chapel at the newly renovated Fulham Palace last night. She couldn’t understand why I was so surprised. I guess, as usual, the misconception that I am unlovable unless I am healthy; looking attractive and being successful originated in childhood.

My parents, God bless them both, did the very best they could and were as loving as they were able to be, however, the damage incurred by two albeit glamorous and charismatic alcoholic parents vis a vis lack of support, trust, being there emotionally and the total absorption in each others’s “bad” behaviour does not instill confidence and self worth in children, and has taken a lifetime to shift. I don’t ever remember witnessing much care for other’s welfare. I don’t remember my parents ever visiting someone ill in hospital; People were rarely invited for supper at my house – only to grand parties once in a while . If I complained of feeling nervous or anxious, I was immediately medicated. I was given valium to take my driving test! And speed to keep me awake at the theatre. Brandy was the favourite for shock. We didn’t talk about or explore our feelings, and my mother’s mental illnesses were kept behind closed doors and hidden. Acceptable, to me meant you had to be viewed as beautiful or talented – preferably both – and rich and successful to boot. But the fact is that even though I was born to beautiful, rich, successful parents who managed to christen me in Westminster Abbey, and who lived a life that most people would envy alongside the likes of Ian Fleming and movie stars of the day, never gave me an iota of self worth, in fact the opposite applied because I could not seem to live up to the ideal

The paradox and gift that I am receiving now, is that even minus one boob, not working and with hair that is half its normal volume (which is leaving the scene as we speak), I have never felt so loved, accepted and needed by the people around me and this is treasure indeed! Gifts and cards continue to arrive on a daily basis from friends who have just heard and messages come from people like Florence, my dentists’ lovely receptionist and the girls at the beauty shop in Munster Road. Today I was taken to my 12th step meeting by Mary and then to lunch at the Baker and Oven off Walton Street with Mary and Deborah, and yet again, was firmly not allowed to pay!

I did pull out the cancer card last night. There were drinks and nibbles in the new great hall at Fulham Palace for an hour before the concert and not a chair in sight. “Would it be possible to have a chair please – I’m not very well and can’t stand for long?” I said to the lady organiser who was whizzing about in a stressed sort of way. “We don’t really have any extra chairs” she started to say “Only I’m on chemotherapy” I continued. A chair was produced in 30 seconds flat!!

I have to be very careful not to get an infection for the next four days as my white blood cells are being zapped and I would not be able to fight it, so if I do go out, I try not to touch door handles and rails and, as Connie keeps banging on “Please don’t touch your nose mouth or eyes, honey, promise me” as that and the breath are the germ vehicles. It’s a good idea to carry antiseptic wipes with you and I also put some Lavender aromatherapy oil on a hanky and hold it to my nose it I think someone looks a bit fluey.

Had a lovely conversation with my gynaecologist Mr Lyndsay McMillan this morning, who was responsible for the almost immaculate conception, although of course Robin is unmistakably the father, of the triplets born to his wife Jenny after many years of infertility. Lyndsay said that I must remember that all cases of breast cancer – at whatever stage; whether early or advanced; with or without lymph node invasion, carry an 86% chance of being healthy and well after five years.

I asked him what he thought my chances were and he said that they will probably have to take a contract out on me at 95!!! Seriously, my chances then start at 86% and rise because of no lymph node invasion. I also asked him if, because of my condition, and because I have a fibroid in my womb, whether they was an increased chance of this turning nasty and he mentioned something about Rocking Horse manure and we had a really good laugh.

Went to a beautiful carol service tonight at the Wetlands animal centre. Outdoors with candles and sheep and Mia’s school choir which she is in, singing two carols on the balcony. Feel very Christmassy this year. More so than usual, and so grateful for everything and everyone.

Friday, December 1, 2006

R.I.P Kevin McClory

Yesterday was the last day of the 1st cycle and I was feeling as well as I’m going to feel physically, but anxious because I had taken on a photographic assignment in the evening that involved 7 hours on my feet wielding cameras, and rushing about. I am 2 months out of hospital for major surgery, currently undergoing chemotherapy and a pensioner! The event was the Elior Awards of Excellence. Elior is a Catering company par magnificence. I have worked with them for nearly 20 years. First, when they were ‘High Table’, then when they were taken over by ‘Avenance’ and now as ‘Elior’. They run the in-house catering for the head offices of companies such as Deutsche Bank in the City and Marks and Spencers and a multitude of others and I didn’t want to risk losing their business and need some money for Christmas presents so I took the booking.

HN suggested that I rest all day so I put my feet up and ‘received’ several phone calls from Barry Fitzgerald (Edison Lighthouse original member of the group;) Caroline Upton; Lisa; Jenny about the triplets’ annual Christmas card, Caroline Hollingrake about her baby’s Christmas pix, Zelda about her computer (have put her on to Winston) Avril, Connie and Henry to wish me good luck for tomorrow; an invitation to Lesley McCormack’s Christmas party on 21st December; a royalty cheque from EMI for £150 for “We Don’t Belong”, and sadly, emails from Graham Rye (Double-O-Seven magazine) and Andrew Lycett (Ian Fleming biographer) announcing the news of Kevin McClory’s death on November 20th.

McCLORY, Kevin Nov. 21, 2006, (peacefully), surrounded by his family. He will be remembered for his love and larger than life presence in the lives of his family and friends. Cremation Service has taken place privately. A celebration of Kevin's life will take place at a later date. As Ned Kelly always said “Such is Life”!

It’s strange to think that Jon, my brother, and I are now the only survivors who were present when the first James Bond screenplay was being created in 1959. In spite of our differences with Kevin - he was a rogue but a charming one, and someone you couldn’t help being fond of in spite of all our grievances on behalf of Dad. May he Rest In Peace now.

Mass and I set off for the awards in a cab at 4.30 and arrived at The Tower of London an hour later. The Ceremony was in a massive marquee erected inside the Moat on the north side of the Tower. I felt a bit unsteady to begin with and my eyes were still a bit watery, but gathered speed and strength once we got going and could have gone on to the after party but, sensibly, came home at midnight to get some sleep before tomorrow when the 2nd cycle begins!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

When you do what you're doing

Barry - my ex, came to see me in hospital the day after my operation. He sat by my bed in tears having read my little book of condolences (nice things written by kind friends) that Avril had given me. We hadn't spoken for several years but he had been kind enough to phone me and send flowers after diagnosis, and I was pleased to see him.

We talked about the breakup of our marriage several years ago, and he said he had been devasted when we split up. "I didn't think you liked me very much" I said. "I didn't know how I felt till you left me” he said.

I still have my guitar. It is hanging on my wall and I must start playing it again now that I have the time. It was given to me by an American called Bunky Knudsen CEO of General Motors who we visited in Detroit when we went over to see John DeLaurion who was then his right hand man and prodigy. John was about to get married again and asked Barry and I to write a song about his bride Kelly which we did. He arranged for us to record "I Love You Kelly" at one of the huge Tamla Motown studios. There was just me and my guitar in a tiny corner of this vast studio with a microphone putting down the music and then Barry and I sang harmonies on it.It was sung at John and Kelly's wedding.

This video clip was recorded in 1969 and features me and Barry singing When You Do What You're Doing which was released on MCA records.

We had had a row in the dressing room just before we recorded this video and it was hard to look lovingly at each other! I think I did better than Barry!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Chemo Cycle



(For those who want to know what it is like)

FRIDAY 10th November 1st CHEMO SESSION
7.30am Woken with a loving phone call from Stonehaven by ‘His Naughtiness’ to wish me courage and good luck! Felt very touched as I know he was on a late shift at the hospital last night and had made a special effort to call and I really appreciated it.

Spent the day at the Marsden with Aimi and Chris 9.30 – 4.30pm. The first Chemo session was not too bad – the worst thing was the canula which took four attempts to get into my vein. (See full report of day at hospital separately)

When it was all over, felt able to collect Mia from swimming and do a few things. Didn’t sleep much at night due to the dexymethasone for anti-nausea being a stimulant. Saw colours much brighter and was definitely speeding and had motor mouth. First legal drugs for 22 years!!! Hooray!!!

SATURDAY 11TH November – Day 1 after Chemo
No problem getting up and getting on with things – feel on a bit of a high and clear headed. The body, though, feels it should be very tired and resting, but the mind overrides it. Went to the movies and Zim Zam Thai restaurant with Sue and Christopher. Saw an excellent film – ‘Breaking and Entering’ with Jude Law which had been panned by Time Magazine, however, I loveD it. It was a story about survival and love in complicated circumstances and had a strong message of hope.

SUNDAY 12th November – Day 2
Spent day on Aimi’s sofa. Nothing else to report!!!

MONDAY 13th November – Day 3
Better today. Woke up feeling quite good. Mary collected me and took me to my 12 Step Meeting and I shared. Home and had a sleep and did a little shopping. Supper Aimi’s. Felt delicate but everyone else drinking wine so the patient had to drive Chris home!!! – Phone calls from Andi and Stephen Blomfield.

TUESDAY 14th November – Day 4

Frances Topp came to see me today. She brought Carrot and Corriander soup and I made a salad and I had some cheese. Francis shared her experience of this illness 9 years ago. She has had exactly the same ductile type of tumour as me (80% are ductile) except that hers was slightly more advanced having gone into the lymph nodes. She was also treated with FEC chemo chemicals and has made a great recovery and looks wonderful. She said that the worst moment for her was finding all her body hair floating on the surface of her bath after the second session. I have that to look forward to!!!! Much less energy today and sick feeling in stomach. Heartburn and indigestion. Extremely tired in evening but didn’t sleep will 1.30am because my mind was still active.

WEDNESDAY 15th November – Day 5
Slept till 3pm. Absolutely shattered.. Run over by a truck feeling. Inside collapsed – head pressure – nil energy and didn’t want to move a muscle but, thank God, stil lnot depressed.. Took phone calls from Carol Stockham; Irene; Bill; Willy; Sue; Aimi; Shirley and Karine. Lovely supportive loving calls. Couldn’t talk on phone for long but they understood. Took the calls for five minutes and, in between, went back to sleep. Got up at 3pm and ate healthily and well. Then feet up on sofa for the rest of the day and evening. Chris and Lisa did everything around me and for me. Had supper on a tray prepared by Lisa.

Christopher leaves to move furniture to his new house tomorrow and will be back on Sunday. Nervous about being alone but kind Americans in house, Aimi round the corner, and plenty of food in fridge so should be OK.

THURSDAY 16th November – Day 6
Very slightly better. Got up mid morning. Skin in mouth very dry; indigestion; heartburn; ropy tummy. Didn’t do much. Phone calls from Aimi; Henry; Rosalind; Deborah; and ‘His Naughtiness’ in Scotland which cheered me up no end.

FRIDAY 17th November – Day 7
Much better today. Out and about. Phone calls from Bill; Sue; Deborah; Mary; HN; Rober and Ann.

SATURDAY 18th November 2006 – Day 8
Better today but quite windy!! Got up at 9am. Pottered all day. Got a chemical low at 6pm and a crampy stomach and watery eyes and felt unsteady but managed to go to the Formosa Chinese Restaurant for meal with Sue and Maureen and Chris. Aimi & Mass joined us. They had been to the Erotica Exhibition at Olympia and had brought me a pink willy lollipop on a stick (just what you need on chemo!!!) and a boobies lollipop for Chris. And then we went to see the new Bond Movie, Casino Royale at the Fulham Vue where I pulled out the ‘Cancer Card’ as in “I’m awfully sorry but I can’t stand in that long line as I’m on week one of chemotherapy” which resulted in the four of us being ushered straight into the theatre ahead of the queue!!.

It was strange sitting there and being the only person in the cinema and one of only two in the world who was actually there at the very beginning of the whole movie series in 1959 when no one believed they would work. I was 15 and tiptoeing around my father who was working with Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory, the then "intended" Producer, to write the screenplay of Thunderball which was originally meant to be the first one but was held up by subsequent court cases.

See my website

My father died a few years after Ian Fleming’s death. Peter Carter-Ruck the lawyer who I nursed through his last four months died two years ago. The news of Kevin McClory's death at 80 years old, reached me this week via Graham Rye/"007 Magazine" and Andrew Lycett - main Ian Fleming biographer. If I outlive my early stage breast cancer which I am undergoing treatment for, I will be the only person left who was at the scene of creation of this epic genre and the trial that followed.

Robert Sellers has written a new book all about it from my personal files and court case papers which I was able to retrieve from Peter Carter-Ruck and it will be out in the Spring to coincide with the DVD of "Casino Royale". It is called Battle for Bond and contains original material never seen before.

I loved the new film. Pure escapism. Breathtakingly wonderful stunts. A believable tough non middle-class secret agent Bond. This is how, I believe, he was intended to be. Congratulations to Barbara Broccoli and team.

CBn Interviews Jack Whittingham's heirs.Sylvan Whittingham Mason and Jonathan Whittingham on Thunderball, the swinging '60s, and the unmade Ian Fleming biography film.

SUNDAY 19th November 2006 – Day 9
His Naughtiness has encouraged me to keep a diary of my experience during this episode in my life in case it would help others. I had heard about blogs from my friend Ruth Gledhill and I phoned her to see how I could get started. “What are you doing for lunch” she said “Come over and have some chicken with Alan and I, and I will get you started”.

The first page of The Cancer Card was up and running by the evening! Phone calls from Nick and Fiona Carter and Sarah Wooldridge.

MONDAY 20th November – Day 10
Feet freezing cold and tingly but drove myself to the meeting. Wore my pink fluffy bedsocks with the pink pig faces attached at each ankle. Another benefit – you can go out in your bedsocks and people think it’s cute! Felt quite a bit better and inspired by the new Blog. Collected Mia from school and walked there and back. Interviewed Flavien at 5pm – young 20 yr old French boy who is coming to rent a room from me for six months from 1st December. Told him about my condition and that there might be some weeks when I was not very well but that there would be others here who would stand in for me if I couldn’t cope, and he took it on the chin and it didn’t seem to phase him. Mia and her eight year old friend Isadora thought he was “cute” and got all silly. He seems quite shy and easy going. I am lucky to get such a long booking especially over Christmas.

TUESDAY 21st November – Day 11
Watery eyes and coldish feet but feeling steadily better with more energy and I walked to the Haven for my second free session with Alex who is an expert in Medicinal Herbs at 11.30am. She prescribed a herbal tea and two lots of tablets and capsules that I have to take 4 of twice a day before food. These herbs will help my body to heal from the chemicals. They are designed to detoxify me and build up my immune system. They are calming and will help with things like digestion and absorbtion etc. and will also help me sleep. The Slippery Elm tablets will coat my alimentary track which is targeted because of its fast growing cells. The Haven lives up to its name. It is the most beautiful calming and serene space in a converted church. The Charity was formed to help people like me with breast cancer to get through it. They give you 12 completely free private sessions with a professional specialising in Reflexology,; Massage; Yoga; Mind and Body Emotional Freedom Techniques; Counselling; Medicinal Herbs; Acupuncture; Alexander Technique; Healing; Reiki; Homeopathy; Shiatsu and more. You can also go to the weekly classes on Art therapy, bra fitting; hair and makeup workshops; meditation and support groups for a nominal payment of £4! There is an organic cafeteria where you can get very inexpensive good food if you’re not up to cooking for yourself and there is a peaceful library room with a pretty water fountain where you can read and help yourself to tea and coffee etc.

Then a girly lunch at Sue Coles house with Mary and Deborah who I had to sit away from as she had a slight cold which she warned me of in advance. Between day 10- 14 my blood count and immune system is at its lowest and it is dangerous for me to pick up an infection. Mary and Deborah spied the box of 6 fluorescent wigs that my old friend Bill Potts had sent from America and we had lots of giggles trying them on.

WEDNESDAY 22nd November – Day 12
Watery eyes but much better in general and no indigestion. Stomach fine; Mouth lining soft again. More energy. Walked to Amica’s for a cuppa and helped to bath Imogene.

THURSDAY 23rd November – Day 13
Felt very down & tearful today. This is probably my lowest point bloodcount wise. Practised deep breathing and ‘welcoming’ the feelings of sadness. Went to the Haven for an ear acupuncture class and wept silent tears for an hour with my eyes closed and six needles sticking out of each ear. This is the first down day in the cycle. I’m bound to feel like this from time to time. Sue gave me a massage at 2.30 and cheered me up.

FRIDAY 24th November – Day 14
Better today – picking up – lots of energy – WARM FEET!!! – eyes still a bit watery, sore tongue and lip. Slept well.

SATURDAY 25th November – Day 15
FEEL NORMAL except for watery eyes. Claire came to give me refelexology in the morning. I’m sure this is helping tremendously and is my one big treat per week. She is also a healer and gives me healing and a meditation while she is working on my feet. I always feel calm and energised after the sessions. This week Claire had done my astrology chart and numerology numbers. To get your numerological number you add your date of birth together as a sum 1943 at the top, 12 under the 43 and 2 under the 3 like a sum, and then you add all the numbers together on the bottom line until It boils down to one digit. However the numbers 11 and 22 are not boiled down to 2 and 4 because they are special in some way. (more next week) (link to Numerology site) My Life Path number is a 22 which is a very rare number. (I love it!!) She says I have chosen this difficult life path for a reason and she says I have come here to teach. I was thrilled to discover that I share this very rare life path, not only with my very closest special friend, but none other than Elvis Presley, the King, himself. He chose a difficult life path and a spiritual search too which involved a route through addictions and drugs, however, very sadly for us all, he was not able to overcome them and we are deprived of the teacher he might have one day become. Nothing on at the movies this week and I’m still prone to infection so Sue and Maureen came here for supper. We had Shepherds Pie and leeks and watched the Freddy Finton “Dinner For One” DVD very funny video and all – including the dog - had hysterics trying on the flourescent wigs.

SUNDAY 26th November – Day 16
Tired today due to staying up till 3.30am writing my diary. To Aimi’s flat for tea and TV (X Factor). Eyes much better. Wrote Diary in evening.

MONDAY 27th November – Day 17

Physical symptoms gone but felt muzzy headed and slow today. Made the mistake (which Aimi had warned me against) of looking up stuff on the Internet without someone to check it out with. I still had this question mark as to why I was to be given Herceptin and I found a site that informed me that Herceptin was given to people with HER2 receptor tumours, and I came across the words ‘fast growing cancers with a poor prognosis’. Into shock again. Solar Plexus in spasm. I felt that all my positivity and optimism was just me not facing the truth. Suddenly I had a death sentence again. Called Chris in Dubai for his brother in law, Bobby Gumpet’s number who is a retired breast surgeon – affectionately know as “God” in his medical circles, but Bobby was out for the evening and I would have to wait till the next day to talk to him and ask him how much time I might have left!

In a daze, I fixed myself some fresh vegetable soup and sat down on the sofa to try and relax.

At 8.30 the phone went. “It’s Nicky” said the voice at the other end “Hallo Nicky” I said in a delighted to hear from you sort of way, followed by “Oh my God” “O My God Nicky”. “Have you forgotten” he said. “Yes” I said. I had been expected for supper with him and wife Fiona at 7.30 and in the panic it had completely gone out of my mind. “Can I still come” I whimpered “Yes” he said “Get here as quick as you can”. I shot over to Eel Brook common and arrived at the door with no make up on (clean hair thank goodness) and in my pink piggy bedsocks in a flurried anxious state. Fiona couldn’t have been more gracious and understanding, and I managed to eat the smoked salmon and prawns starter and some cheese and home-made quince cheese but was excused the main course as I had already had supper!

TUESDAY 28th November – Day 18
Still a bit muzzy headed. I don’t think I’m giving myself enough rest. Noticed in the bath that my bodily hair is beginning to leave the scene, but hair on head still firmly rooted and nothing in hair brush. Perhaps the cold cap is working? Phoned Bobby mid morning and he reassured me about Herceptin. I am very lucky to be having it. He said that at his hospital grade 2 tumours were not even tested for HER2 because they wouldn’t have the resources to provide it to the patients. Only grade 3 tumours were tested for HER2 and these were the facts I had read which didn’t apply to me. There is no evidence whatsoever that I have any spread and that the fact that my lymph nodes were clear and that I am responsive to Tamoxifan make my prognosis very ‘favourable’. “So its not a death sentence” I said. “No, he said laughing” There’s every reason to believe you will still be with us in 20 years. I collected Mia and Isadora from school at 4.30 and we all went round to Fiona’s with more apologies, a bunch of flowers and a pair of pink piggy socks which she had said she admired. Hope she mean’t it!

Back at the house for half an hour before ballet and a huge box arrived by Parcel Force. The girls helped me to open it. Inside the box was a large aquamarine hat box on which was written “Fortnum and Mason” in gold letters and which was tied with a thick satin ribbon. It was filled with F & M chocolate of every description. A box of little squares of chocolates in various flavours. Several thick square bars of different species of chocolate; Chocolate after dinner mints. A pink box of trufles and a jar of Fortnum’s finest Hazelnut Chocolate Spread,. It was from Cynthia Rogers, whose family I normally photograph every Thanksgiving to say that she was thinking of me and so were the children. Mia and Isadora had Hazelnut chocolate spread on a toasted muffin and between squeals of delight said it was the best they had ever tasted.

I am yet again overwhelmed with the generosity and kindness of the people in my life.

WEDNESDAY 29th November 2006
Today is two days before the next session of chemo. I have survived this one well. It has not been nearly as bad as a really bad case of flu, or giving up drinking, getting divorced or a period of clinical depression and I will survive the next one more easily by referring to this diary. It’s the unknown that is always so terrifying. Now I know what to expect and the reality is never as bad as I think it will be.

Today I am preparing for the Elinor Awards of Excellence ceremony which takes place tomorrow night at a huge marquee on the north side of Tower Bridge. I have a photography schedule which will keep me busy for 5 hours and I believe I am up to it and I need to earn some money to buy Christmas presents. My son in law Massimo is coming with me and he could take over if I get too tired. Hopefully I will get through that and then first thing on Friday…………………they will zap me with the chemical concoctions again!!!! Hey ho!



Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ten Day Terror AD (After diagnosis)

The next 10 days are a bit of a blur but I will attempt to recall the main features of this period of time between the shock of the first diagnosis and the fear of the analysis of the cells a week and a half later.

Having arrived back at the house and having had a good cry with my cousin Christopher, we sat in my patio as the weather was still very warm in September and I tried to think.

My first thought was “How am I going to tell Aimi?”, the second “How am I going to tell Mia?”. The suggestion that I should wait for 10 days for the results before I said anything was not an option. Even if I had kept quiet, I would be hopeless at concealing my mood and Aimi would have known that something was terribly wrong. I decided to tell her that evening after work and I phoned her and said that it was nothing to worry about but I needed to tell her something and I would be over at 6pm.

Aimi took the news calmly and we both said lots of positive things to each other but neither were really convinced that there was nothing to worry about. She put her arms round me when I was leaving and gave me a hug. That hadn’t happened for a while and it felt good. After I left, I knew there would be a few tears.

I was due to go out for dinner with Chris and Lisa, his lady, to the Blue Elephant Thai restaurant in Fulham that night and was talked into keeping the date. Chris and Lisa were wonderfully supportive and boosted me up between tearful phases. I had been so looking forward to going back to Majorca with them and had my suitcase packed and ready. Now I knew this would now be out of the question and I felt terribly sad about it.

I don’t remember much about the next two days except that I have never felt fear like it before. I was in a panic state from the moment I opened my eyes to the moment I was able to finally sleep. Getting out of bed in the morning was almost impossible – so was lying there contemplating my fate. It dawned on me that I would not be able to work for quite a while. Whilst I could probably scrape by without my photography income, I was gripped with the fear that my lettings income would dry up to as who would want to come and rent a room in a house with someone who was ill and couldn’t cope? That fear lead to the next horror thought. If the lettings dry up as well, how will I pay the mortgage? How will I live? A large chunk of my savings had gone on Aimi’s wedding. I then envisaged the scenario of having to sell my house whilst battling this illness; everything being cut off, and the depression that would be sure to descend on me.

I spent most of the days that followed on the phone to people closest to me.

My cousin Irene, a very talented artist, had had a lumpectomy with radiotherapy a couple of years ago was amazingly wonderful and said she would come down from Penryth and go to the Marsden with me and Aimi to hear the results. She would bring a notebook and write it all down for me. She gave me a list of questions to ask the surgeon and tried to calm me down.

My dear friend Sue Coles who had been a tower of strength during Aimi’s wedding, came straight over to support me that first afternoon. She is a friend of the Haven Breast cancer charity in Fulham and raises money for their wonderful work.

Sue, I believe has called me every day since to see if I was ok and to offer support and practical help and Chilli Pepper her PAT (Pets as therapy) healing dog always cheers me up.

Connie Callander, my word game and rude email mate had sent me a beautiful email (for a change!) It was a Kinkade flowing water picture which she noted was very soothing and I replied

Need soothing right now Connie. Have got a lump in my boob which is not good. Going to get treatment options on Friday. Say a prayer for me. Sylvan”. Connie emailed straight back with cheerful support and strength.

“I promise you... all will be well... they are right on top of lumps in the breast the owner of several lumps I know this and more than a few of my friends, also people you know J R and C B...have had various treatments... all with you, I know, will not be any different....However on you instructions I will say a prayer for you. If I didn't have a 99 year dependent on me I would be there with you on Friday.....we could have lunch, get tipsy, flirt a little and buy some outrageous clothes....alas I can only be with you in thought. Don't worry I know all will be well.

ps will continue to send funny stuff because I know all will be well.

Connie also looked up my surgeon, Mr Gui, for me on the internet and sent his details to me in a link. I immediately liked what I saw in his face and eyes, and good vibes came through. There was no need for a second opinion. I intuitively knew I could trust this man and that I was in the best possible hands and would accept gratefully his experience and skills.

As news spread amongst my friends, phone calls started to come in. Everyone it seemed had a story to tell me about a friend who had beaten cancer and was now feeling fine. “Will I ever be happy again?” I wailed. “Of course you will” they said. Christopher put a picture of me happy and laughing in Spain on my table to remind me that I would be like this again. I was quite overwhelmed with the amount of love and support shown to me by my friends. Bouquets of flowers began to arrive and cards with loving messages in them. People arrived with plants and bath oils and books came in the post for me to read whilst I recovered.

Sleeping and getting out of bed were the main problems during this period that, everyone who had experienced the same, said would be the worst bit. As a reformed drinker and off the sauce for the past 22 years, the balm of alcohol was not an option. Neither were sleeping pills that I as an addictive person could not take. The only thing I had to calm me was Tranquillity tea, deep breathing and a Buddhist chant that I learned during a previous period of depression “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” I chanted over and over to clear my mind as I tried to sleep with the horses hoof pressing on my solar plexus and a brain fizzing with fear.

One morning, just before I woke up I heard a higher voice within me say “Do you want to live?" And I heard my little voice saying “Yes”. I decided to fight.

After my 9.00 cuppa and morning chat with Christopher (who was now fortuitously renting my loft studio) sitting on my bed, I got out my emergency collection of self help books. The first one I dived into was “Self Help for Your Nerves” by Dr Claire Weekes. In my opinion this is one of the best books ever written on panic attacks and nervous sufferings. It had helped me on many occasions in the past. “Face, Accept & Float past panic” she advised. 22 years ago I had been through a terrifying anxiety state with daily panic attacks that I had lived in fear of. Instead of trying to push away the waves of panic, Dorothy advised me to sit in a chair, relax to the best of my ability and try to ‘increase’ the feelings of panic. This was almost impossible to contemplate; however, when I finally managed to do it, a strange thing happened. The panic did not get worse, in fact, I suddenly found myself thinking of other things and that was the way ahead.

Acceptance. God Grant me the Serenity to Accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference
Well I could not change the fact that I had cancer so I would have to accept that. What things could I change?

I decided to change my words. “I am well”, I said out loud, “I am strong”, “I can handle it”. “I have limitless courage” “Thank You for my complete healing” (thank you Caroline Upton for the latter two) These words gave me a little strength and I started to put one foot in front of the other and get through the day as best I could even though I felt I was walking through treacle and it was hard to breathe as my chest muscles were so tight. I decided to do the basic things no matter how I was feeling Getting out of bed; having a bath; eating; little walks; a little work in hand; and I read my spiritual daily reading books and talked to friends. All these things ‘helped’ but didn’t take away the pain.

At night I pretended that this terrible grey strangulating feeling in my heart and chest was my strength. I said to the pain – this is how strong my strength is. This is my courage, a few sips of tranquillity tea, deep breathing and the Budhist mantra. I reminded myself of what Claire Weekes had said “these terrifying feelings have no medical significance” and “Let time pass”. I put my arms round my pillow, and sleep would eventually come.

The next person to tell was my eight year old granddaughter Mia. This was especially difficult because she had been through a phase of worrying about me getting old and dying. “That’s not going to happen for a very, very long time, I had always reassured her”. I went round to Aimi’s flat and, as luck would have it, Kylie Minogue's positive and uplifting interview post cancer had been recorded by her on Sky Plus. We decided to watch it together with Mia. Kylie looked very pretty and very well and happy and after it was over, I took Mia into the bedroom and sat on the bed and said “You know that programme we just watched? Well it’s nothing to worry about, but I have got the same thing as Kylie” “Breast cancer?” Mia said “Yes” I said, “I’ve got to have some unpleasant treatment, but I will be fine afterwards just like Kylie – you mustn’t worry ok?” “OK” she said. We went back to Aimi and Mia needed a hug and some tears came. “Mama is going to be fine” Aimi said and we both tried to be cheerful.

On the Saturday after diagnosis, my Saturday night movie girls, Sue and Maureen took me to a film called Volver which was a film about survival which was designed to take my mind off things. It was a good film and I might have enjoyed it, but as it turned out one of the characters unfortunately developed terminal cancer and there were several death bed scenes! Just what I needed – even the ads were all about being kind to your boobs because one day they might not be there. I could feel Sue and Maureen’s discomfort on my behalf but it wasn’t their fault and I squirmed through the rest of the movie.

I said some serious prayers that week and asked for courage. And they were answered. The next book which was already heavily highlighted all the way through from a previous ‘growth period’ was my worn copy of “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” This book too talks about accepting the feelings and taking action and moving ahead in spite of being sh..t scared and out of one's comfort zone. Boy was I out of it!

The next person I had to tell was my old Auntie Amy now 98 and a half and living in St Luke’s nursing home near Oxford. She is my last remaining Aunt and a very special one and I didn’t want her to hear it from anyone else. When I am very frightened all my energy seems to go and everything normally done with ease seems heavy and difficult, but somehow I made the drive to Headington and broke the news gently to Amy. Tears came to her beautiful blue eyes and rolled down her cheeks. I reassured her that everything was going to be alright and all she had to do was concentrate on getting to 100 and I would be there to throw the party! I would be out of action for a bit but whenever I was well enough I would come and play scabble with her and hopefully beat her – she usually wins! She is quite frail on her legs but her mind is a sharp as ever, having been head librarian to the Home Office and awarded an MBE for it. She would win the weakest link if she were fit enough to get there. Her parting words of wisdom on that Wednesday were “Let it Happen” and “Count your mercies” which were two of the phrases that kept me going along with countless others that friends passed on to me.

That evening I felt calm for the first time in 5 days.

The hardest day of all was Thursday September 14th. The day before the appointment for the results of the core biopsy which I was being dragged towards. I unpacked the suitcase that had been waiting to go back to Spain and surrendered to the pain of that abandoned plan.

Then everything that could possibly go wrong in my house did so. “How could this be happening now?” I railed at “Good Orderly Direction” (GOD). One of my electricity circuits started tripping off. Only the most essential items in the house happened to be on it! They were the central heating; the phones; the computer; the television; the kettle; the fridge; the freezer; the washing machine; the dryer. You name it and it was gone. At first it had been tripping off once a day and could be put right immediately with a trip (pun) to the basement to push in the button that had popped out. This would restore everything to normal again. But by Thursday, it was tripping out every 2 hours including during the night. Every time it did this, the phone would make a gurgle as it switched off and I would wake up and go down to the basement to re-set it as the tenants, who I was sure would abandon me once they knew about my diagnosis, must have hot water to wash in, and I couldn’t let the fridge and freezer go off. An electrician had been and had not been able to locate the fault. One by one I went through the process of elimination with each piece of plugged in equipment, by unplugging it and seeing if the thing tripped without it thereby, hopefully, I would identify the faulty item. No such luck, with practically everything unplugged in the whole area, it still tripped off and I was despairing of ever finding a solution. That afternoon Mia and her friend Anna Mae came back after school and were amusing themselves running about in and out of the kitchen. There was a loud bang. “Mama, something’s wrong with the cupboard door”. I went through to the kitchen to find the cupboard door over the kettle (which wasn't working) hanging off and about to fall. Two minutes later, another crash, and a forlorn looking Mia came in to tell me that she had used my little blue painted bench in the patio as a “stage” and one of the slats had broken in two. There was now a gaping hole in my bench and I was planning to find comfort sitting there when recovering from my operation. This was my very lowest point. I felt I was descending into chaos and I shook my fists at Good Orderly Direction. I sat with my head in my hands for about five minutes but there was nowhere to go. Somehow I stumbled into the kitchen and found a screwdriver and decided to tackle the cupboard door. As luck would have it, a screw had simply come lose from the inside hinge bracket thing and after manipulating the door back into position, I was able to screw it back in and the door was mended. Next I tackled the bench. I was able to unscrew the back slat and move it forward so that at least there was an area for my bottom to sit on without a gap. However there was now a big gap at the back and it still looked broken. Something made me go and look for something in the basement that I would be able to use to stick or tie the two pieces of wood together. Miraculously, I came across a piece of wood that was the exact length and width of the broken slat and with some nails which I removed from telephone cable holders, I managed to make a splint for the broken slat; hammered in the nails all along its length; turned it over and screwed it back in to the back of the bench which was now restored. Hallellullia that felt good. Then came a voice from 'upstairs again'. “Things can be fixed” it said, and I knew now that this was a message and yes, things could be fixed – cancer too!

Irene arrived that evening and we had supper together in the kitchen. It felt good to be with someone who had been through this and out the other end and I had a good evening and that night, for the first time since diagnosis I slept well.

Ten day Terror suggested resources:

‘Self Help for you Nerves’
or any books by Dr Claire Weekes (35 used and new from £3 on Amazon at current date)

‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” by Susan Jeffers (plenty on Amazon)

‘You Are the Key’ - Sean de Warren (8 available on Amazon at date of posting)

"Each Day a New Beginning" Hazleden (new or used Amazon)

Talk Talk line rental Free, yes absolutely FREE local and national phone
calls to landlines for £20 per month–includes free International calls to landlines including Europe and USA & Canada. You dial a 5 digit prefix and can talk for 69 minutes absolutely free. If you want more time than this, you hang up and dial again for another 69 minutes.

Friends and Family – you can’t have enough of them. Write down the phone numbers, email address etc in a book of all those who have offered support and use them – they want to help. Be with people as much as you can. Don’t isolate.

Tranquility tea, Camomile tea, Fennel tea etc. If you can’t take alcohol or sedatives (lucky you, if you can! – “count your mercies”).

Make a list of what has to be done per day to refer to and do it. i.e Get out of bed, bath, dress, eat, walk, one piece of work etc.

Be careful what films you watch

Start to look gently on the internet for information about your surgeon and breast cancer This will take courage at first.

Pray for Courage God Grant me the Serenity to Accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference. (AA)

Chant "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo"

Affirmations “I AM strong” “I AM well” “I CAN handle it” “I HAVE limitless courage” “THANKYOU for this gift"