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LOOKING FOR LOVE IN SOME VERY DODGY PLACES Part 1

Several days after Robert moved out I awoke with the sun glowing through the pale apricot curtains. Being alone in the apartment didn’t bother me. With Justin in boarding school and Robert so often away in New York I was accustomed to having all the space to myself.

I wasn’t even really sad about the break up. It seemed somehow cleaner and more hygienic to have acknowledged and amputated the toxic, festering gangrenous stump that was all that remained of my once happy marriage to the man who had swept me off my feet in 1977 and adored me for the next 20 years. Those years had given me an enviable lifestyle and inflated my sense of self worth. But there had been a steep price to pay. Facilitating the lifestyle denied me many of the things I had taken for granted all my life and somehow we had degenerated into a morass of mutual misery.

But I was not going to look backwards. Tomorrow was here and tomorrow was another day. It was essential not to wallow; to keep moving forward into my future with all flags flying. So I got up and ‘jumped into the shower’ as the phrase goes. Of course I did no such thing. I turned on the tap and let the water run until the hot came through. Then I ascended the three wide, carpeted steps up to the top of the enormous bathtub and climbed carefully down into it. The tub was slippery but I steadied myself on one of the tiled columns that lent the bathroom the air of a Greek temple.

As the hot water ran over my bald head and body, newly streamline by stress and ill health, I forced my thoughts towards the future. “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” I asked myself. There was nobody around to overhear so I spoke to myself loudly above the whoosh of water in order to, literally, hear myself think.

“What’s happening today? Well it’s nothing to write home about. Today is the day Jenna is arriving to live with Robert.

“It’s been very civilised up till now but I have a nasty feeling that that is going to change things. It’s not” I added humorously, “so much a foreboding – more a five or sixboding.”
I didn’t even chuckle at my little wordplay. It was a Robert joke originally, well worn over the years. Yet another sad thing to chuck on the pile of things superfluous to this strange new life.

“and – oh joy! – this afternoon I get to go to a fun little party near Wimbledon.”

The Easy Way To Stop Smoking session I had booked three weeks ago when everything seemed reasonably stable. I was probably smoking thirty a day now, which was a lot better than it had been. At each lurch into crisis it had risen to about 60 a day. Stopping was clearly a good idea if I planned to make old bones. Still the timing was looking a bit bleak. I had to admit I’d like to be planning something Fun if only to affirm to myself and the Universe that I was going to live and be well. That there would be a future despite what Robert and the oncologists believed. I was going to pull off a miracle if it killed me! But I couldn’t pretend that The Easy Way to Stop Smoking sounded like my idea of Fun.

“What can I do for Fun today?” I wondered aloud. And suddenly out of the blue, the answer came to me.

“I know! I’ll put an ad in the Lonely Hearts column of The Times. There is an enjoyable almost bodily throb that happens to me when I recognise an idea of genius and it happened then as the water poured over me.

Before I climbed out of the shower I’d composed my ‘ad’. I wrote it down before I flushed the lines in my chest because it seemed perfect to me and Chemo Brain wasn’t going to rob me of this ideal inspiration.

“Why not come up and see me sometime…I drawled as I wrote. (My Mae West voice expresses a certain side of myself and had become second nature to me) “when I have nothing on but Radio 4?” I chuckled again as I wrote that. It seemed to convey a sensual sense of Fun as well as the idea that I was a thinking person, a Radio 4 listener. I thought there was a good chance that a man who found that sentence provocative might be a man who I could have some fun with.

“Modesty and space forbid a catalogue of my virtues but be warned, if you are looking for a numerate, athletic partner you WILL be disappointed. If not why not reply? It could be fun.”

I phoned it in to The Times before I even went down for breakfast. The first ad would run on July 4th, Independence Day in America. That seemed apt as well but before I got my first response all the seemingly settled points of my life would have been flung up into the air again as part of the seismic shifts that were happening to me…

I was nervous (but not incontinent!) when Simon and I drove to London for the day to get the results of the MRI…

Woo Hoo!  My MRI results were another ‘All clear”!!!    

The relief was amazing because, as you may have read, I was in full grip of the Dreads of Check Up Syndrome.  I could think of every reason in the world that it would have come back and very few that supported the positive hypothesis.  I refuse to meet trouble halfway so I had resolutely refused to entertain those thoughts and had occupied my days with happy and satisfying busy-ness so that every moment was a memory to be cherished and not reviled.  But the facts remained.  I had taken myself of the anti-oestrogen medication, Letrozol, in May because the side effects were ruining my quality of life.  My hard-won experience has taught me to focus on Life and Health and that is what I do, to the best of my ability. 

This time the release of the inevitable tension took the form of endless yawning and as Simon drove us home I succumbed to irresistible sleep.  Once home I had a cup of tea, left Simon to forage some supper for himself and went to bed.  I was asleep in less than 20 minutes.

In the morning I felt miles better but began to build a head of steam in resentment at the memory of a little exchange with Mr Gui who was concerned at my abdication of Letrozole which he weirdly claimed had been responsible for getting rid of the tumours.

“I distinctly remember you saying that it could not have done the trick.” I protested.

“What else could it have been?” he asked in his reasonable way.

“All the things I was doing to regain my good health.”

“That might have played a part.” he conceded.

I said nothing but after my long sleep that was playing on my mind.  So here is the question I have come up with, 

Why do Medics insist on claiming that it MUST be their treatment that does the trick?  This is not my first experience of it and I absolutely KNOW in my case that the work I do to focus on Health and Life is effective – and more effective than anything the Medics have done for me.

It reminds me of what my sister, the nurse, said to me when I was first diagnosed, “Darling, you have to remember that there’s only one difference between doctors and God and that is that God doesn’t think he’s a doctor.

This is why I have taken a while to update my Blog.  And why the book I have spent eighteen months writing has begun to change into a whole other approach…

Check Up Syndrome

UnwellIt’s 2.42 a.m. I semi-rouse myself to go to the loo and when I return to bed I lie on the right hand side and there it is! The pain in my left breast stronger and deeper than ever!

It has been getting stronger for a while. I put my hand on the breast and breathe trying to soothe the pain and the panic. “Calm. Love. Heal” I repeat like a mantra as the stabbing sensations continue at an alarmingly uncomfortable level. I breathe and soothe for perhaps five minutes until gradually the spasms slow in frequency and the sharpness blunts. It goes but all hope of going back to sleep has flown as I face the spine-chilling possibility that the cancer is back. 

My acquaintance with cancer began in February 1992 when I was diagnosed with ‘incurable but treatable Follicular Lymphoma’.  Thus began a torrid time of gladiatorial chemotherapy, violent reactions, dramatic interventions and, on one occasion, an extraordinary return from a near death experience.  In 1997 it had become aggressive and I underwent a Stem Cell Transplant, relapsing less than a year later.  I was told that I’d had the limit of every chemo drug available except two.  I would be given the balance of those in an effort to extend my life but after that there was nothing left he could do except to promise me that he wouldn’t let me suffer. 

I decided I wasn’t ready to go and I wanted a miracle.

Cutting a long story short, my life has been blessed by an extraordinary series of unbelievable miracles and although I am still here both my oncologists and my ex-husband, who were all predicting my death, are gone.  

When you sign up for miracles you never read the small print.  The small print specifies that you also get a series of overwhelming challenges to test your commitment and facilitate your growth.   In my case these challenges included two further cancer diagnoses.  Both breast.  One Right (2014)  One Left (2017)  More miracles.

My MRI Is due. Is this just Check Up Syndrome? I identified it about eight years ago when that Lymphoma-Clinic-at-the-Marsden time of year came around. 

I hadn’t realised until I’d got the results that the tension had been ratcheting up tighter and tighter until I was strung up like a drum. So anxious I’d been, that I’d called to make my appointment before Christmas instead of in the New Year. It was all clear.  We went out for a coffee afterwards and for twenty minutes I sat and sighed compulsively. It was only then I realised that I had literally been holding my breath for weeks and, in my relief, it had just come rolling out in a series of huge sighs.

As a Health Creation Mentor with a clientele of mainly cancer patients I began to research others’ experiences and discovered that I was not alone. Many people identified strongly with Check-up Syndrome and other symptoms emerged causing many Ah-ha recognition moments, “Oh!  That’s part of it too…? Wow.”

Do you recognise Check-up Syndrome? 

Please comment on Facebook and Twitter

How does it affect you?

Amanda & Nighties

AmandaMy darling friend, Amanda, was bright, beautiful and quirky and whatever was going on in our lives our conversations always bubbled with laughter. Once, after I had been on the phone with her downstairs, I walked upstairs to where my husband was. “Were you talking to Amanda?” he asked. “Yes. How did you know?” “Oh, you always laugh a lot when you talk to her.”

One thing we agreed on was exercise-for-the-sake-of-exercise; we hated it. So we started a group based on the idea of making exercise fun. We would take an iconic dance, say the ‘You’re the One that I Want’ routine from Grease and, with a couple of key costume or prop items, get our dance instructor to teach our group the routine. So while we worked at perfecting the steps with plenty of attitude and improvisation we would all have an aerobic work-out and lots of laughter.

Soon after we started it, Amanda got pregnant with her fourth child and it came to a natural end when complications forced her to sit on the sidelines. The goal of trying to turn it into a business partnership was clearly going to have to take a backseat for a while so our laughter returned to our more natural sedentary state and she and her husband honoured me by asking me to be the baby’s Godmother.

Three months after she gave birth, Amanda had a catastrophic stroke. She was only 33 and, initially she was unable to walk or talk or do anything for herself. She was confined to hospital for months while friends and family rallied round to help her husband to cope with carrying on with the demands of working and looking after their house and four children under seven.

Each time I went to visit her in hospital it seemed I had to find her in a different place. It was a big, multi-roomed public ward and her place in it was constantly changing. She still looked the same in repose, she was still beautiful but it was hard to know how to communicate for the laughter had stopped along with the easy verbal communication we had always enjoyed. My heart broke for her; she had always been so full of life and lark-y laughter. There was never a dull moment with Amanda and her brood and I longed to be able to do something meaningful to help the arid landscape of her hospital existence.

One day I thought I would take her a nightie to wear as a day dress. I had recently bought a cheerful plaid flannel nightie for myself and I thought it might brighten up her days to wear something more vibrant than the normal hospital wear so I bought one for her too. The day I took it to her, on an impulse I took mine along too. Because her speech was so impaired it was tough to know if her understanding was too and I wanted to explain that I had one just the same. Perhaps I was conscious that I was missing my friend and the easy camaraderie we had always enjoyed so this was an opportunity to share something – even if it was only matching nighties.

When I arrived I gave her the nightie. She gave me her lop-sided smile she nodded her thanks and then indicated that she wanted to put it on. I helped her clamber into it and told her she looked beautiful in it. She nodded and tried to speak and I tried to decipher what it was she was trying to say but our communication was laboured – almost embarrassing. So I got out my own nightie and showed it to her with the kind of pantomiming one does to someone who doesn’t understand your language. This is the same as yours. This is mine. Do you understand?

She laughed. That was a sound I hadn’t heard in a long while and it seemed to refresh the stale hospital atmosphere like the chuckle of a mountain stream. The same laugh. My same friend.

“Put it on.” she mumbled.

“Put it on?” I queried in pantomime.

“Yes!” she nodded back vehemently.

All I wanted was to hear that laugh again so I did. There we were together dressed identically. She on her bed and me on the visitors’ chair beside the bed. She looked at me and I looked at her and we laughed. We laughed and laughed and laughed together. All the sadness and frustration and loneliness and lack of communication that we both felt in our different ways was laughed out in an ascending series of stepped hilarity. When the laughter slowed down, all we had to do was to look at each other and off we’d go off into peals of shared laughter again.

Into the midst of this walked her ex-husband. She was not delighted to see him. In the past he had treated her badly and they were not on good terms. But it was not just that… he was inhibiting our laughter. This laughter with which she was expressing all the stress of the past weeks and, because we were equals in perfect communication and matching nighties, it may have been the first time for weeks that she had not felt isolated and handicapped. That didn’t mean we stopped laughing because we didn’t. We kept looking at each other and dissolving into giggles.

He was uncomfortable, excluded by our laughter but also our rising tide of giggles defused the cloyingly patronising triumph of his pity for her. It was obvious that there was no way in the world she was going to be grateful for his magnanimity in coming to tell her how sorry he was for her. Finally, “Fuck off Perry.”

She said it clearly and emphatically with all the sounds and stresses in the perfect places. She made it crystal clear that no-one was going to pity her – and certainly not him! We were both surprised at the success of this unorthodox sentence and we looked at each other and laughed in a perfect accord of thrilled incredulous surprise. I don’t remember Perry leaving. One minute he was there and we were melting back into the irresistible communion of laughter and the next time I looked around, he was gone.

Later I felt sorry for him. Nothing could have prepared him for the reception he got and from his point of view I know he believed that it was big of him to visit, but Amanda was my only concern and the fact that she had not had to submit to being grateful to this man, when she was so ill and vulnerable was extraordinary. We never again achieved that same ecstasy of uncontrollable laughter but I like to believe it was a factor in her amazingly complete recovery.