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"

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What Happened

After a blissful two week holiday in Spain I returned to London to photograph my old friend Kerrry’s 65th birthday party at the Connaught Hotel, and, two days later, on September 6th, I dressed comfortably in dark blue stretch pants and navy tee shirt with “Domani” on it in white letters - the name of my late father’s boat. I had had this t-shirt for over 30 years – it having been made by Captain Watts in Albermarle Street and built to last, and I hadn’t worn it for several years, so it’s strange that I should have chosen that t- shirt, that morning, that had such a close link to my father as I was about to have an even closer one a couple of hours later.

I drove to the Royal Marsden Hospital, where I had an appointment at the Breast Unit, with a book and without anxiety. After all the pain in my right breast, “I knew”, was a cyst that had just got a bit bigger than usual and was taking its time to go down again.

I remember waving happily to Amica and baby Imogene in the pram (my beautiful new little goddaughter), as I drove out of Fulham Broadway applying my lipstick (without looking) as usual, en route. After all, I had had cysts in my boobs for years and had come to believe, after a few scares and check ups, that “If it hurts and is moveable it was most likely a cyst and nothing more sinister. Cancer is normally a hard unmoveable lump and painless. “I expect they will have to stick a needle in this one and draw off some liquid to reduce the pressure” I thought to myself.

After a short wait I was called for a mammogram. I told the nurse it would probably be a waste of time having this because as my breast tissue was so dense nothing was likely to show up on the x-ray and that an ultrasound would be of more use. I was hoping to get out of this undignified procedure. She said that they were going to do both anyway. I didn’t even bother to look at the X-ray as I was sure there would be nothing to see. Had I done so I would have seen a white blob with feathery edges in the top half of the right one. Blissfully unaware I settled down again with my book and waited to be called for the ultra sound.

The lady in charge of the ultrasound was brusk and rather dramatic. She showed me the “lump” on the ultrasound screen and I heard her say the word “abnormal”. At the same moment the nurse helping her took my hand and squeezed it and looked at me in a way that I now know is reserved for people with serious illnesses and which I have seen a lot of on a lot of different faces since, and I realised that they were trying to tell me something. Now I could see the mammogram X-rays on the screen across the room and yes there was a white lump on it. “It doesn’t mean its cancer or anything” does it?” I said, hopefully. “Well we won’t know until we have the results back from the biopsy we will give you, but it’s definitely not normal and there are three of them” she said

Having had a local injection to numb my frightened boob, she then proceeded to insert a long needle into the two smaller lumps and draw off some liquid (Needle aspiration) and I was told to go back to the waiting room and wait to be given a core biopsy of the larger lump. This involved another mammogram where I was again squashed completely flat, then a camera located the lump and a sort of gun was positioned accurately over the top of it. “You will hear a sound like a gunshot” the nurse informed me. Sure enough the gun went off loudly, a prong shot into me, and a thin sliver of cells and tissue was collected for analysis.

I was then sent back again to the waiting room to wait for an hour for the results of the needle aspiration. The core biopsy would take longer – about 10 days.

Reading was now out of the question and the hour passed very slowly.

“We have found cancerous cells in the two smaller lumps and we expect to find the same in the large one when the core biopsy comes back with more information about the nature of them” the doctor said matter-of-factly. “You will need a mastectomy” as the cancer is multi-focal and three lumpectomy’s are not feasible. I was then introduced to “Audrey” my breast nurse who gave me the same look as the nurse had in ultrasound. I was to call her about any concerns and she would phone me with the appointment details with my surgeon Mr Gui in 10 days time.

I found my way out of the hospital and back to the car in a daze. “I have cancer” “I have cancer” I said to myself disbelievingly. There was a missed call on my mobile from my recently widowed cousin Christopher who was over in Twickenham packing up his home and I returned it as I drove. “How did it go?” “Are you OK?” he said. “No I’m not” I said as the tears came. “I’ll come straight over” he said. “See you back at the house in half an hour”. Back at the house I sobbed in Christopher’s arms and the 10 day terror began.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

How it was bc (before cancer)

May has always been my favourite month. When tree and leaf, grass and flower are lusciously on their way to their annual peak of existence. The perfection of fresh unsullied beauty, saturated colour and richness of texture – just before it all goes over the top and slides through June into the dry and hazy dustiness of July and August.

This year, on one particularly perfect and beautiful May morning, I wound slowly northwards through Hyde Park and across the Serpentine, past the huge trunked oaks with thickly fresh green leaves and marvelled at the moment. It felt as though the whole of the park and indeed the whole of London, this Spring, was preparing, with me, for Aimi’s wedding.

A year earlier Massimo had taken her to Venice for the weekend. I said, teasingly, "Good place for a proposal – it’s very romantic". Don’t hold your breath Mum said Aimi with slight annoyance.

Two days later, an excited international phone call announced the engagement!!. Massimo had gone down on one knee in a Gondala (very tricky I understand) and popped the question. It was slightly dark, and Aimi who hadn’t a clue what was coming, and who thought he was larking about had said "Get up dipstick". "Is that a yes or a no?" said Masimimo producing the sparkling solitaire diamond ring he had had made at Hatton Garden three months earlier.

The year had followed at a fairly measured pace, mainly due to the fact that my daughter is mature beyond her years(and mine) and an efficient and organised young woman who knows exactly what she wants and finds a way to get it without apparent effort.

I was placed in no doubt that my role as Mother of the Bride was not as organiser, but as helper and supporter, and the more I agreed with everything and learned to keep my mouth zipped up, the smoother the journey became.

It was the most beautiful wedding (I suppose every mum says that) and the happiest day of my life. Old friends had come from afar. Dr John Hughes who had delivered Aimi at the Red Cross Hospital, Taplow came with his stunning wife Lynn. Beppie, our first au pair when Aimi was two came with her husband Bunno from Holland. Godparents Leapy Lee and Jenny Lee-Wright (Benny Hill Show) came from Majorca and Cobham and so many of our most treasured friends and relatives mingled under the same roofs for a few blissful hours. I felt as if I had gone to the cinema to see a romantic love story and suddenly realised I was in it!

I was in peak form having lost weight at weight watchers, excercised to firm fitness with the new Power Plate system and had a dazzling new smile having had my front teeth re –done. I read the first reading, took most of the photographs and made a speech at the reception thanking John for bringing Aimi "safely into the world and into our lives" and I thanked Massimo and his parents for the happiness they had brought into our family.

Life was good. I felt really well. I had no worries and my daughter was happily married to a loving and hard working husband who would take care of her and my darling granddaughter Mia who adored him.

Of course there was the anti-climax after the wedding. For a few weeks I felt rather directionless and off track but I fixed my feelings, as usual, with business and a flurry of activity, spinning plates that didn’t really need spinning; hours on the internet lead me from Google site to Google site like flotsam on a river. In retrospect these times are not wasted. I remember the late astrologer, Patrick Walker telling me that the barren or depressed times in ones life when nothing seems to be happening and one feels stripped of all colour, creativity, and direction, were really the most important times because, as with the fallow field, the best crop follows the barrenness and in fact, the soil is being fertilised under the surface and prepared for new growth.

And so, as in nature, I had, blossomed and peaked and was now lying fallow and being prepared for the next chapter.

They say that 90% of what you worry about never happens and I believe it may even be 99%. But watch out because, it seems to me, that that 10% happens out of the blue when you are not looking and not worrying.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Cancer Card

I want to introduce this weblog. I am Sylvan Mason and I am a professional photographer, and my website is here. This is just an explanation of the title of my diary.

Most people are horrified by the words chemotherapy and breast cancer and imagine you go into a black hole from which you may never return. This diary is intended to be a positive and, I hope, lighthearted 'romp' through my personal experience by which I would like to help others in the same situation. The "cancer card" is one of the many benefits that you receive with cancer. It can be "pulled out" to parking attendants; people you don't want to have dinner with (as in "I'm not quite up to it today); cinema attendants (as in "I'm afraid I can't stand in that queue, I'm on week one of chemotherapy") and direct debits to things like the NUJ and the BIPP. (Would you mind if I was let off my subscription for the next six months as I've got breast cancer? I'm on chemo and I'm not able to work until the spring".) They say yes, and let you keep the benefits.

Then you get to get up when you like, eat when you like, play with your computer toys all day long. You don't have to work. You can spend hours on the phone to your friends each day, which I never had time to do before. People drop round with sandwiches and soup for lunch and never expect you to pay in restaurants. Your children suddenly recognise your value and worth. They cannot do enough for you. For the first time in years, they look at you lovingly, instead of raising their eyes to the ceiling whenever you speak.

I will continue this diary shortly, if the chemo or the cancer doesn't kill me first. Meanwhile, thank you to my friend Ruth Gledhill for getting me started.