Monday, February 26, 2007

The end of the tunnel is in sight!

February 22nd 2007

I’ve been feeling anxious for a couple of days and I’m not sure why. Naughtiness has not been at all well and has a chest infection, and I have, possibly, been picking up worrying vibes from Scotland, but it’s probably, also, because the end of this phase of treatment is nearly over, and I think I am feeling uncomfortable about being well again. I know this sounds very strange but, the last nearly 6 months of tremendous highs and lows have been a very, very precious 'time out'. I feel a certain safety in the treatment process and the contact with the hospital, and I think I want to stay in my cocoon a bit longer. If I thought that I only had a few months to live, I’m quite sure I would feel differently but I’m pretty confident that I’m on the mend (as are my doctors) and will make a complete recovery soon.

Being free to do as I please, and to be centre of attention, and spoilt on a daily basis. To have people say how well/pretty I am looking even if I’m not. To be taken out for dozens of meals and social events and ferried around in other people cars that seem very happy to do it is quite addictive. It’s a bit like being a small child again in a happy, safe world of lovely friends and treats.

The last few days have been especially enjoyable. Highlights have been lunch with a very old friend called Penny Tham with whom I shared a fourth floor walk-up flat in Great Cumberland Place in the early 60’s when I left my job as Copyright Chief’s secretary at Advertising Agency Foote, Cone and Belding, (affectionately know as Foot Sore and Bleeding). To be completely accurate, I got fired for taking too much time off for singing lessons and auditions. I wrote and recorded my first disc “We Don’t Belong” whilst sharing with Penny and another friend called Aline Rowley. I was responsible for the £15.00 per week rent and bills, and sublet the two other rooms for £8 per week each. Convinced that I was headed for the heady heights of stardom and financial rewards, I didn’t bother to get another job as, surely, the money would be rolling in soon, and I continued to take the rent off my two flatmates on which I lived for several months, failing to pay the rent and bills from it.

The record was released on July 28th and an appearance on ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ alongside Ken Dodd launched it. We appeared together in a photograph in one of the papers together as “Happiness” and “Tears” his record being called ‘Happiness’ and mine referred to as ‘Tears’ being of a very gloomy nature - suicidal ideation – oh dear! Another TV appearance followed on ‘Scene at 6.30’ for Granada for which I flew to the show in Manchester with the late and lovely Nico who was one of Andy Warhol’s friends and who’s record “I’m Not Sayin’” by Gordon Lightfoot is still one of my favourite recordings.

There were radio shows with Jimmy Young and a weekend marooned on Radio Caroline with the young Tony Blackburn and Dave Lee Travis and, funnily enough, Roger Gale who is now an eminent MP as a publicity stunt. All was going very well and I was climbing the charts until Auntie BBC pulled the plug on the record considering the lyrics not suitable for the public (quite right!). We had been hoping for this outcome as anything the then stuffy BBC banned shot straight up the charts having been plugged to death by the illegal pirate ships and the news being plastered all over the tabloids!

Unfortunately, a spate of unsuitable records were released that week and, duly banned by the Beeb, by others who had also worked this strategy out for themselves. Barry Maquire’s “Eve of Destruction” about nuclear chaos (strangely fitting today) was banned as was Twinkle’s song about a motor bike death and a couple of others that escape me now. All these artists were more established than me and hit the headlines first. By the time mine was banned it was not news anymore. The record company stopped printing copies and I slid into obscurity and debt. The flat had to be hurriedly packed up and poor Penny and Aline given very short notice, and I went home to my parents with my tail between my legs; a car load of belongings (this has changed a great deal!) to eat humble pie and face the wrath of my father who had to bail me out for £800 which was a lot of money in 1965.

Life is sometimes full of amazing surprises! This little record which wasn't even a one-hit wonder has been plucked from obscurity in the last five years and recorded twice on memorabilia album/cd’s. The latest, the Hat Box Collection (Girl Groups Lost and Found) which features a hat box containing 4 cd’s packaged as makeup compacts etc. and a diary book containing photos of the artists in which I am sandwiched between Dusty Springfield and Madaleine Bell (no comment!) was nominated for two Grammy Awards a week ago for Best Historical Content and Best Packaging. We did not win one on the night, but how wonderful to be a Granny with 2 Grammy nominations – yes, historical and well packaged – that’s moi.!!

Penny, who’s husband Peter is Swedish, took me to a beautiful Swedish restaurant in Barnes called Sonnys. Lovely fresh clean interior of pale wood and pale blue with red roses on the table; superb eggs Benedict and slim line French fries and we talked forever about our lives since we lost contact about 20 years ago! Penny has had a very successful career in the magazine business working for National Magazine Company where she was Beauty Editor of Vanity Fair. She is an elegant beautiful woman of a certain age who has, and has had it all plus the inevitable slings and arrows that seem to come to all of us, without losing her warmth and charm. I so enjoyed her company and after lunch we popped into a couple of shops in Barnes for some quick retail therapy.

On March 13th I attended the “Look Good Feel Better” session with 12 others at the Marsden that I wrote about in the last blog. It was a fabulous afternoon, and look at the set of gifts we each took away courtesy of Messrs Arden, Revlon, Lauder, Clinique etc's charity and the Marsden team!

Many other things to be grateful for have out shadowed the increased feelings of fatigue and a rather nasty mouth ulcer this time, such as this loving drawing by my darling Mia which she has gone to such trouble to create and is really beautiful and artistic; the Christmas cactus in full bloom after the freezing weather we had when it was covered in bubble wrap; A lovely glass owl was sent by my dear friend Cam in New York having read about my collection in my blog. Cam has been a fountain of strength and support and supplier of phone calls and very funny emails and news of his and Kate’s beloved pugs Gracie and Chloe. He recently had a bad time health wise himself and has coped magnificently. Here are the girls on holiday!!! Lunch at Bernice’s lovely new home on the river with Christopher in tow. (pic) Concert at Cadogan Hall with ex husband Barry; supper with old friend Kerry. News that Christopher and Lisa had made it safely home on the big snow night and that Christopher had celebrated after reaching home in very dangerous conditions by peeing a heart in the snow for Lisa which made me laugh out loud – now that’s love!!! Long and lovely chat with Naughtiness on night of Grammy Awards (pic;) Supper with another favourite cousin David Willoughby and Marysia up from Devon; Lunch Bernice again with Deborah and Sue; lunch at Coq D’or in the city with Cynthia Rogers and Maxine having been picked up by Cynthia’s driver, Romani who is an Egyptian Christian. We had such an interesting conversation about the Middle East conflict and it was so interesting to hear it from his perspective, and a valentine red rose in a vase from interflora with a typed note which said “From a Long Time Admirer” which kept me guessing for a few days. I even asked the postman if it was him.

Thank You for the loving kindness of my fellow Human Beings. In this troubled world there is still plenty of joy goodness all around.

One more chemo to go and Spring is around the corner!

“All is well, all is well, all manner of things are well” Julian of Norwich.

“Let It Happen” Aunty Amy 98 yrs old.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

CHEMOTHERAPY - Probably not for the squeamish!!

2nd February 2007

Five down - only one more to go!!!

Yesterday was the fifth chemotherapy session which I have been having at three weekly intervals.

I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone; that the final session will be in three weeks, and that, however strange it may seem, I have enjoyed and am still enjoying this whole life changing experience.

I thought that today, I would go through what happens when you receive chemo as it rarely seems to be talked about and therefore many fears are born in the darkness. It is certainly not the ghastly process that one imagines at all, though it’s not a picnic either!

My three weekly appointment is always at 9.30 on a Friday at the Medical Day Centre at the Royal Marsden Hospital, Fulham Road and I have been fortunate to have a close friend or family member willing to accompany me each time.

Frances Topp, my old friend from Music Week days collected me in her car and we set off at 9.15, checked in 15 minutes later and took a seat in the cheerful circular waiting room with several others, and Florence made her first appearance of the day with the free tea trolley. (Actually, the only gripe I have through this whole business is that Florence will not provide guests of patients with a cuppa and that makes my cuppa less enjoyable. I think I will take it up with the powers that be next time).

The day is divided into two parts with a two hour break in the middle.

The first thing that happens is that you are weighed. This is because the chemicals are made up very precisely and if you have gained or lost weight since the last mixture, it may have to be adjusted. Blood pressure and temperature are taken by a junior nurse, and then you are called to the oncology room to have blood samples drawn into two phials for analysis in the laboratory. This is to make sure that your red and white blood cells have repaired themselves since being blasted on the previous session. So far, mine have always been normal but, if they weren’t I would be given a blood transfusion and we would then carry on so that the treatment plan was not interrupted. The blood is taken in the oncology room, another circular cheerful room with a circle of sage coloured armchairs with leg rests and a wide arm to put a pillow on to hold the arm they are using. Alongside each chair is a drip stand.

This is the part I dislike, as my veins tend to do a runner when they see a needle approaching and it has taken the nurses up to 4 attempts to get it in. The nurses for blood tests are juniors and if they fail to reach a vein twice, must hand you over to a more senior nurse. Once the blood has been taken, it is back to the waiting room and another cup of tea while you wait to see the Doctor. My meetings with Professor Smith’s team of doctors has always been a good experience. This is the time to report back on any side effects you may have experienced so that they can vary the pills they give you to take home, and to ask any questions you may have.

I have always had a few things I wanted to know and take a notepad with questions written down. I generally see Dr Sutherland who is exceptionally courteous and caring and makes me feel that she has all the time in the world to listen and to reassure me.

Providing the blood tests have returned and are ok, the Doctor orders up the chemicals and then you are free to for two hours whilst they are being prepared. The waiting room with its friendly ambiance and all the time in the world to spend quality time with a friend or getting to know fellow sufferers and compare notes and tips on how to get through the treatment has also always been enjoyable but it’s nice to take a break from it and do a little retail therapy and have lunch. . Yesterday I learned that there is a “Look Good, Feel Good” class every two weeks in which beauticians and make up artists from various Oxford Street stores give you facials and make up lessons for a couple of hours, and send you off with a goody bag containing about £280 worth of expensive creams and makeup. The “Look Good, Feel Good” company is an American franchise which has been operating over here for about 12 years. It currently visits 42 UK Hospitals every two weeks and is adding 5 more this year. The products are supplied by top companies such as, Esther Lauder, Elizabeth Arden, Revlon etc and the make up artists from the stores or TV studios. It is an act of charity on their behalf and a fairly brilliant marketing idea too, as I imagine there must be a tax advantage plus an opportunity to introduce people to products that they might normally not buy, but could possibly do so in the future. (or am I being cynical?)

Anyway I have put my name down for the next session! There are also free massages and pedicures which I will also book for. Hooray for the National Health in this case!

Frances and I went across the road to the Crown Pub for lunch. It was quite poignant as I remembered the last time I went there about 27 years ago with my Jack, my Dad who was having radiotherapy for his throat cancer, and memories of how brave and cheerful he had been came flooding back. When not staying with us in Esher, he took a flat in Sydney Street round the corner from the hospital. He used to say that he had his first and last digs in Sydney Street. The first when he was 21 and had just arrived in London, cost him about £2.50 per week “with the landlady”!! – The last about £250 a week “without the landlady”. He had hired a little mini minor and used to drive it swigging water from a silver flask because his mouth and throat were very dry from the radio treatment. He longed to be arrested whilst doing this so that he could prove to the police that it was only water. Other memories were of “sneaking” on Dad to the hospital staff because he had smuggled sleeping pills,whisky and cigarettes in in his suitcase which were promptly confiscated, as I was worried about him as he was just about to undergo an operation to remove the lump. It left him with a temporary hole in his throat which, mercifully, did not affect his voice, but, defiant to the end, he would shock us all by blowing smoke rings through it before it healed up.

It’s a lovely pub with a conservatory restaurant at the back and a friendly and jolly young barman. We had a huge Caesar salad each and shared a large bowl of freshly made Carrot and Corriander soup.

There was just time for a little shopping and then a phone call on my mobile from the Nurses advising that the chemical concoction was ready and waiting for me and we headed back to the Oncology Room.

Now for the worst bit which is the insertion of the Canola. The Canola is a sort of valve that is inserted into a vein with a thicker and quite painful needle, then taped on to you. It receives the Saline drip in one part and the syringes of chemicals in another. It is inserted by a senior nurse with a lot of experience.

It took two attempts yesterday as the nurse wasn’t completely happy with the first one and there seemed to be a slight swelling when the drip went in. She was humming and hawing about whether to proceed. “Just carry on and bung it in” I said, I’m sure it will be alright, as I was not wanting to go through the needle insertion again. “We have to be very careful” she said. “Why is that?” I said. “Because if the vein has been nicked on the other side causing a puncture, the chemicals will leak into the surrounding tissue and kill it and the damage is irreversible. “Ah” I said, “Lets try another vein then”! Luckily, the second attempt went in smoothly and I relaxed with the worst part over.

As I have wanted to try and “keep my hair on” if at all possible I have opted to have the cold cap treatment. The cold cap looks like a jockeys hat and comes out of the freezer and is jammed onto your head tightly to freeze your scalp. Not pleasant at all, and not everyone is able to take it, but, in my case I decided to persevere. After it gets so cold you don’t think you can stand it any longer, if you endure just a moment more it starts to ease off and become bearable. The reason behind the cap is that the hair follicles which are fast growing cells are shrunk by the cold and therefore not so likely to let in the toxins that will temporarily kill them off. There is no guarantee that it will work, but I have been fortunate in keeping, albeit a fairly thinnish
covering of hair on my head, plus a good fringe so that I only need to wear little knitted hats and have not needed the two wigs I bought in advance.

I have a lot of fun tarting up my various little hats and turbans with silk flowers and costume
jewellery and I’m so glad its winter as they are nice
and warm to wear.

Now for the chemicals!!!! After the saline drip has been got going, the nurse shows you the phials of chemicals and carefully reads you the label details printed on each one. Your name; the strength of the prescription, and once again, asks you for your date of birth. This is a frequent request and is required whenever anything significant is done to you. At first I thought they were checking to see if I was compos mentis as they do when they ask mental patients “Who is the Prime Minister”? and “what day is it today?” etc. However, I soon learned that my sanity is not in question or an issue. It’s just to make absolutely sure that they are administering these toxic and dangerous chemicals to the right person and that there aren’t two patients with the same name.

After the saline drip which is to coat the vein prior to the strong stuff which follows, has started flowing, a small colourless phial of dexymethasone is introduced and injected into the canola by the nurse who will sit with me till its over. Dexymethasone is a steroid and is given as an anti-nausea drug. It tricks the mind into believing that there is nothing wrong. Without it, the stomach would reject the toxic chemicals immediately, and lunch would be smartly deposited on the floor along with the ‘poison’ which needs to stay in your body in order to do its work For about a minute this drug causes a very strange reaction which is the feeling that you have inadvertently sat on a hedgehog. Extreme prickling in the nether regions is due to the nerve ends in that areas’ reaction. It’s quite unpleasant but passes quickly. Dexymethasone is also a stimulant and will keep me flying for about 24 hours till it wears off, and once it has been given, the final stage of the insertion of the chemicals can begin.

I am having a prescription for my type of cancer called FEC which consists of three chemo drugs called Fluorouracil, Epirubicon and Cyclophosphamide. The first tube is about 8inches long, 2” round and contains cranberry red coloured fluid. It will cause me to excrete rose coloured pee for the next 24 hours! There are two tubes of this and it is followed by the other tubes which are colourless.

The only other side effect during this process is an odd feeling in the head; a prickling sensation in the nasal area and light headedness if it goes in too quickly, but this disappears once the chemicals have all been inserted. The drip continues for a few minutes and then the cold cap is removed after another 15 minutes. Then I’m free to go home once I’ve collected the tablets I need to take home with me which will control any further nausea.

Afterwards, I generally join Mia and her friend Isadora at their swimming lesson and have a drink with Amica and then go to Aimi’s for supper.

Today is Saturday and a feeling fairly normal day. I have got plenty of chores done and am going to the cinema this evening to see “Music and Words” but after that a sort of grey cloud will descend and I know that the next two days will be a write off.

For the next two days I will not want to leave my bed or the sofa except to get light food such as soup, fruit and yoghurts and plenty of water which is vital for the first 72 hours. I generally lie in bed all morning dozing between phone calls from loyal friends who know what I’m going through. I can’t talk for long but it is a comfort to receive them and then I nod off again till the next call.

At lunchtime I go down to the kitchen and get some food and take my medicinal herbs and then retire to the sofa and telly, more dozing and phone calls for the afternoon.

There is a blissful freedom in being able to sleep as long and as often as you wish; get up and go to bed when you feel like it; stay in your night clothes all day and eat when you’re hungry without a time table. All without feeling guilty! I absolutely LOVE IT! And the feeling of giving up control to the Universe and “letting it all happen” knowing there is a time limit and true to past experience, I will feel better again in a couple of days. The only thing I make myself do each day however I am feeling is to soak in a hot bath as it makes me feel better.

By Tuesday I will be able to totter out for a walk and lunch with a friend or run a couple of errands and collect Mia from school.

The following two weeks will be an upward swing. In the middle of the cycle – days 10 -14, I will have to be careful not to catch an infection as this can be quite serious when your blood count is at its lowest and the immune system not able to fight it off. I carry a thermometer in my handbag to check my temperature at this time, a card from the hospital with details of what needs to be done if I get sick, and hide my face with a scarf when out. I also avoid touching surfaces such as door handles etc. with my hands, and try and use my sleeve instead.

Connie’s advice – not to touch my eyes, nose or mouth when out has been invaluable as these are the points of entry for germs and viruses and, so far, touch wood, I have not ever had a cold during this winter period.

More soon, but I am finding that the main symptom which is fatigue is definitely accumulating with each cycle and it is getting harder to put pen to paper when I constantly feel like a nap, but I promise I will endeavour to keep this going.

By for now.

Ps All the drawings on this posting were done by my very talented little cousin Irene who stayed by and with me for the fourth chemo session and who has been a great support from day one - see her website .