Sunday, February 24, 2008

Magic moments in the Melting Pot

I'm back in the Day Patients Ward at the Royal Marsden for my 17th Herceptin drip. I sit comfortably with my left arm in a long yellow bucket of hot water to bring out the vein into which they will administer this extremely expensive chemical. I am being prepared by a charming nurse from the Philippines and to my right in matching armchair, sits a young Italian woman accompanied by a friend. They are speaking Italian.

To my left is a couple from Cyprus who are resident here. The attractive 50 year old lady has had a return of her cancer after a mastectomy and full lymph node removal 7 years ago and is undergoing massive chemo treatment plus Herceptin and looks amazingly well on it! She has a devoted husband sitting opposite her. They have been happily married for 32 years and it shows in the way they sit together. Just like a pair of comfortable shoes. They are speaking gently in Greek.

After a while we discuss how lucky they are to have this blissful union and I say I have been lucky in other ways.

I was driven here by a swarthy gentleman with a wispy full beard and a back skull cap. I didn't ask where he was from, but his telephone list contained several people called 'Mohammed'. He was extremely punctual, polite and efficient and had a very clean car. The receptionist who greeted me in the Day Unit is from India, and I realise that I have not interacted with a Caucasian soul since I left home this morning!

Last week I stood in line at the huge new Oxford Street Primark pay desk with a pile of new, and very inexpensive, clothes for Mia, and observed a range of nationalities taking the money. India, Arabia, Asia, Africa stood side by side at the cash tills. All our builders seem to be from Poland nowadays . My cleaning lady is from Morocco (doing a law degree!), and my Ironing lady from Bulgaria, who can't get work there as an architect, is putting her children through University on the £8 per hour she gets from ironing sheets. This is life in London in 2008. Most popular capital city in the world! I have absolutely no problem with this cacophony of different peoples and find it easy to get on with them all. Most are better behaved than a lot of my indigenous friends. As long as people respect our customs, appreciate our ways and contribute to our coffers I, personally, can't see a problem.

However, whoever it is who has decided to tamper with Christmas has really upset me - the "Winter Holidays" like a humanist funeral - even with a jazz band, lacks, for me, the richness; strength of the ages and spiritual magic that has been handed down through 2000 years of generations in this country and what on earth is wrong with a Ba Ba Black Sheep for heaven's sake?

Talking of magic, pure magic was awaiting me at the Queensway Icebowl at 10am this Tuesday. I took Mia for her first lesson with Bo (Russian!) and she did really well. She has been catapulted into grade 2 with a certificate and badge to boot having learned the fundamentals of skating backwards (tremulously) and propelling herself for 18" on one leg. Chris had come with us and took off at once showing off like mad - mind you I caught him taking 3 tumbles on camera later! I put my skates on and stood on the ice for 3 secs before taking them straight off again. The combination of the uncut new ice first thing in the morning; not very sharp skates; lost confidence and wobbly legs put me off, and I decided it was not worth risking a broken leg and returned to watch from the comfortable cafe alongside the rink with a hot chocolate.

My heart filled with joy to watch Mia's pink excited face attempting to copy the older, more experienced 12 year old skaters' twists, turns and spins after her lesson. Every so often some romantic music would come on, coloured lights and lasers flashed and washed the scene with pink, blue, golden, green colours, and the skaters took their partners and danced together gliding and swirling round the rink, apparently effortlessly, in perfect rythym and balance. I watched, with lover's eyes, something that I would almost give my right arm to be able to do. To use my body in a swirl of coloured lights and music like that would be utter bliss, and my idea of heaven would be to spend the space between this lifetime and the next, dancing on skates and singing harmonies in union in a haze of colour in the arms of a soul mate like Russell! What am I like?!!!! No I'm not on drugs!

More magic spring moments appeared on the walk right across Hyde Park from Queensway to Piccadilly, as with frozen ears, I decided I shall happily ferry Mia to her classes and watch her do it all for me by proxy!

I am now very friendly with my neighbours in the green chairs and Peter, the man from Cyprus, is now pointing out a picture in the Daily Express of a hearse that has been clamped and wears a blue Denver Boot! Marvellous - NOT! and I discuss the nightmare scenario that exists in daily life for the motorist in London with him and Flora. I look around the room. No one looks very ill.

An English couple have sat down in the next chair, but don't look as interesting as the Italians they replaced. It is obviously the lady's first chemo session as I have just heard the nurse explaining about the tingly feeling you get in your bottom from the Epirubicon red cocktail, and she is showing her how to put on the cold cap on her still full head of blonde hair. I feel suddenly like an old pro!

There are a lot of visitors accompanying the patients today. I can see a son with a mother; husbands or partners with wives. A few of us are on our own. There is a strong looking woman with a completely bald head and huge silver hooped earings looking round the room and holding a plastic cup of liquid against her cheek. We exchange resigned smiles. Others are sleeping or reading. There is a cheerful buzz of conversation in the yellow walled room. We are bonded by our condition, and tied together with understanding, sympathy and cups of tea as the smiling nurses flit about amongst us.

My Philippino nurse has just been to make me a pot of tea on a tray and brought it with a cheese and pickle sandwich because she couldn't find the tea lady for me. As Peter on my left said earlier, "it feels like home here"!

I have made acquaintance with the new couple on my right. They are not English (of course!) but American and, in fact, very nice. I have introduced them to Peter and Flora on the left and we have given the newcomer some positive encouragement. I was given three chocolates (Belgian) when they left which was a delicious treat. The bald headed lady has just put on a medium length light brown wig with a fringe and has waved goodbye to us all. The chairs on either side of me are empty now but it's time to go home.

The bus driver on the 211 en route to Fulham was Jamaican!