Killing Snails

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“When I hear that crunch I know I’ve done it again.  I get out the car, it’s dark and I can’t see them but there’s the cracking sound and I know I crushed another snail. I walk upstairs feeling sad and guilty.  I just ended its life.”

My son said this recently while we were talking about his evening job, the fact that the nights are starting to close in even though we haven’t reached the end of August and it’s dark when he gets home.  Until he said it I hadn’t realised he felt so strongly about the right to life and his thoughts on the subject aren’t limited to snails. My health issues and treatment have not been easy for him to reconcile; he’s been forced to confront the realisation that ‘good’ people don’t necessarily get a ‘fair’ deal in life.  I suppose we all come to know this at some stage, whether it’s through the death of  those we hold dear, being abandoned by those we loved and placed our trust in or through difficulties at school, college or work.

My son’s thoughts reflect my own. I hate killing snails too.  When I was a child I never did it deliberately and if I trod on them by accident my heart sank.  I still avoid treading on them because I don’t like killing things unnecessarily and the fact that they aren’t cute doesn’t exclude them from being spared my clumsiness.   The strange thing is that I don’t ever remember telling my son to avoid stepping on snails, or that he should feel sad or guilty if he accidentally crushed one.  I do remember telling him when he was very young that all life is precious, the natural world is important and other creatures deserve as much respect as we do.

I wonder how many people in today’s world might stop to consider their impact on the life of something as small as a snail?  I’m afraid I have encountered one or two who would either ignore it or consider it an inconvenience to have crushed one.  The sad thing is that I doubt their attitudes will change and that makes my heart sink as much for them as it does for the unlucky snail.

Been there, done it, will have the scars to prove it.

Yesterday was a long day. Out of the house at 6.50am, returning at almost 10.00pm.

The good news is that surgery went well and I’ve exchanged a pair of ovaries and Fallopian tubes for a bloated abdomen and four wound dressings. I’m tempted to draw lines between the dressings forming an X. At the intersection a small sign reading “No probe zone… NHS beat you to it” could be tattooed as a means to deter any passing aliens who might decide to abduct me and commence experimentation. I have news for aliens with those kinds of ideas. I already participated in clinical trials and research programmes so if high-quality abductee material is what you’re after you won’t find it here. (You’re also all out of luck with sex and human-alien hybridisation programmes).

Despite many attempts to be helpful when it comes to veins, drips, cannulas and the like – I live in here, I know this body – the anaesthetist was sure he’d raise a good vein at the base of my left thumb. Hah! They all got burned with chemo. He did manage to insert the cannula in a reasonably painless manner, then the vein immediately collapsed. My pre-op notes say ‘POOR VENOUS ACCESS LEFT SIDE.’  As “I tried to save you wasted effort” went through my mind, Mr Sleepy said “let’s try the other side, get you to sleep and sort the rest out later.” A few minutes later I was, thankfully, asleep.

A couple of hours later I came round in the theatre antechamber. Someone was tugging at my foot while Mr C the surgeon smiled and said “good job.” I hadn’t really come round at that point but soon realised my friend the anaesthetist had made at least two more attempts at veins on the underside of my left wrist and half way up my left arm. Those had obviously – unsurprisingly – failed and were covered in surgical tape and teal-green swab material. It’s exactly the shade I had in mind for new curtains but I’m reconsidering my options having seen it firmly taped to various bits of me. It’s a shame because I like the colour but constant reminders of another trip to theatre might prove just a little off-putting.

By around 1pm I discovered the tugging at my left foot was someone changing a saline drip. It came to light when recovery nurse S looked at me in a very puzzled way and said “where on earth have they connected that?!” Beneath four layers of cellular blankets (anaesthetic makes me shiver uncontrollably for the first hour after surgery) she uncovered the truth… The chemo-scarred veins in my left arm had beaten Mr Sleepy who had resorted to a dorsal digital vein. Is nowhere to spared I wonder?

All was going well with recovery until my blood pressure dropped to 86 over 44. Nurse S decided to lay me out flat and tilt the bed backwards at a 30 degree angle. I spent the next two hours in semi-headstand position wishing I could have something to eat and drink. By that point it had been around 24 hours since my last meal and 14 since my last sip of water but health and safety law says patients cannot be fed/watered if lying upside-down. Damned Eurocrats. When the blood pressure stubbornly resisted any reading above 94/60 they took the cuff off, turned me right-way-up and decided a cup of tea and some biscuits might prove more helpful. From my point of view it was certainly more enjoyable than dangling head-down while the machine went ‘beep.’ Being in hospital is the only time I eat biscuits these days.

There was a danger I might have to stay overnight and although the rooms at KTC are very nice they aren’t nice enough to make me stay when another option is available. I came home with more  cocodamol and some extra wound dressings.

Today the wounds are sore and I feel like someone used my stomach as a punchbag but I’ve only had two cocodomol so it’s not that bad. Reading around it seems this surgery can make a tangible difference. “In high-risk women (that’s me) and mutation carriers, cohort studies of risk-reducing surgeries (mastectomy and salpingo-oophorectomy) showed substantially reduced risks for breast or ovarian cancer, with breast cancer reduced by 85% to 100% with mastectomy and by 37% to 100% with oophorectomy, and ovarian cancer reduced by 69% to 100% with oophorectomy or salpingo-oophorectomy” – Cancer Research UK. Meanwhile the current challenge, aside from recovery, is to keep off cocodamol. Being restless and irritable doesn’t suit me.

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Thoughts among the flowers

I love flowers.  All colours, all species, scented or unscented.  It makes me happy when I see buds on the plants outside the window because I know in a short time the garden will be awash with blooms.  I was lucky enough to receive some beautiful flowers recently so the house is surrounded by blossoms inside and out.  Flowers buoy my spirits simply by looking serene and picture-perfect, the work of Mother Nature at her very best.  If they smell nice that’s a bonus and the bouquets in the house smell delicious.

Though I am far from picture-perfect (and definitely not delicious) I remain reasonably tranquil, so much so that the newly qualified nurse who carried out my pre-op assessment was amazed at my lack of concern regarding tomorrow’s surgery.  She was a nice person, kind and empathic.  She frowned about my experiences, they corrupted her sense of right and wrong.  This happens to too many good people she said.  I reminded her cancer doesn’t stop to consider whether you’re good, bad or indifferent, it just happens and we have to get on with it.  My way of dealing with it has been to generate some space, a gap between the me who exists today and the me who went through all that crap.  The little distance I’ve created – as much as a completely different life, 4″ scar, bad joints, skin, nails and hair allow – is enough to categorise that as past.  She was inspired by my positivity and resolve.  I smiled.  I never had any other choice.

She asked if I was worried about another operation… how did I feel about a further invasion of femininity after enduring numerous procedures, major surgery and follow-up treatment for months on end.  I smiled again and laughed. At this point she might have considered I was a little insane, shrugging my shoulders like an unruly child who is yet to gain a sense of mortality and would pay it no heed when she did.  No, I am not worried and I won’t be a quivering wreck in the morning.  After all the things that have happened  there’s nothing much left to fear.

I know I should probably be just a tiny bit concerned.  Reason tells me so because there are always risks with general anaesthetic, infection and such. Surgery doesn’t bother me though – like breathing it will happen and I’ll know nothing much about it. As for femininity, it doesn’t feature as highly on my list of priorities as avoiding cancer, keeping clear of more chemo, or facing an imminent death.  With those things on my priority list femininity gets demoted into the ‘nice to have but not essential’ category.  I always knew there’d come a point in my life when my aptitude for logic and unerring pragmatism would prove useful.  Looks like I’ve finally found it.

 

Sometimes…

Sailing Away

Sometimes I’m not good with words. Or rather I can’t string them together in the way I’d like so that I say what I really want to say. 

Sometimes I’d like to say THANK YOU in a way that isn’t just the ‘I’m grateful, you’ve made me very happy, I feel so lucky, thank you’ kind of way.  I’d like to say it in a way that conveys what’s really going on, without sounding fawning. How do you speak those two simple words as if the best firework display, most beautiful rainbow or a perfect day is dawning in your heart? I don’t have the answer so instead I send my usual heart-felt thank you’s for making this year’s birthday special and memorable, you know who you are and I appreciate it so much.

Fortunately try as it might there are some things chemobrain won’t be able to wipe away and that’s useful because it has succeeded in scrambling many of my previous memories and cognitive functions. Usually it sees me going to the fridge at least three times when one trip would’ve been sufficient if only I could remember why I went to the fridge in the first place!  Cooking can also be dangerous.  I’m an auto-pilot cook. I abandoned following recipes long ago and have sufficient culinary experience to know which flavours go together, how best to combine them and how to cook things long enough to prevent food poisoning. As long as I’m left to cook in peace all will go well… interrupt my train of thought and there’s every likelihood some essential ingredient will be omitted from the meal.  Multitasking is something of a conundrum for me these days; I find I swear at myself (audibly) at least twice a day – ongoing knee problems a fridge or cookery incident will usually be the culprit.  It sounds silly but it’s incredibly frustrating.

I was recently asked to provide some insight to the breast cancer experience for a magazine article.  What useful advice or information was I able to offer those who are newly diagnosed to help with their treatment and recovery?  I entirely forgot that chemobrain can present a number of challenges!  I did mention that the process from diagnosis to treatment may be complex and fraught due to false starts, incomplete information and new revelations every time some extra scan or tissue analysis takes place.   I also mentioned that I felt it was important everyone recovers at their own pace since there are many misconceptions about how soon we should be ‘over it’ and of course it is never really over, the scars don’t disappear (physically or metaphorically).  My other pearl of wisdom was blogging; the ability to connect with people all over the world who are willing to share insights, offer support or find ways to make us seem less alone with the nightmare.  The blogging community has been invaluable to me as a source of inspiration, knowledge, encouragement and experience so I’d like to thank  all of you too in my clunky but deeply sincere manner. 

On the day I took the photograph in this post it was supposed to rain, the day-long clothes-drenching kind of hard cold rain that makes even the most upbeat people thoroughly miserable. I decided to go out without a coat or umbrella and take my chances, after all, what could a bit of rain do that cancer, surgery, chemo and a bunch of other chemicals haven’t already achieved?

Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way we think it will. Sometimes it does.

Sometimes it surpasses all our expectations.  Thank you 🙂

 

Anniversaries & birthdays

Oxford, England. There's something beautiful around every corner.

Oxford, England. There’s something beautiful around every corner.

August is a month I always have cause to remember.  Aside from the potential for some good, warm summer days and spectacular sunsets it’s a month of anniversaries and birthdays.

Truth be told I would rather forget the anniversaries but they’re indelibly part of me so erasing them won’t ever be possible.  1st August 2012 was the date of my cancer surgery. Since then there’s been no escape from the scar or the events that followed over the course of the next 11 months.   On 13th August 2013 I’ll be creating a new surgery anniversary when I go for a salpingo-oophorectomy in another attempt to reduce future cancer risk.  I’m told this surgery is less challenging than the mastectomy operation but either way my mind was made up over six months ago so I just want to get on with it and put it behind me.

The birthdays in August hold happier memories.  It’s my brother’s birthday today.  He’s 1 year and 364 day’s younger than me and I can still remember him as a young child; all blonde hair, hazel eyes and covered in grass, mud or blackberry stains! Having our birthdays one day apart must have been such a headache for our parents but we always had a good time.    My Great Aunt’s birthday is in three days time.  She is such a sweet lady, in her mid eighties and one of the most lovely people I’ve ever known.  Like me she had one child, my cousin Glenys.  Glen didn’t have an easy life and died far too young, I can only imagine how difficult the loss of her only child must have been for my Aunt.

My birthday is tomorrow and my recollections of myself as a child are missing in action.  I do remember my 21st birthday, a meal with family who were very dear to me. Sadly most are no longer here but the memories that remain are happy ones.  My 24th birthday stays in my mind because it was just a few weeks after my son was born and I really was that proud new mother who idolised her child and spent every day wishing the most perfect and positive future for him.  I still spend every day with the same hopes for him and his future.   I recall being 29 – I’d moved cities and made new friends so was lucky to have some very special people to celebrate with at that point too. Some have gone on to become long-term friends and I’m very fond of them. My 40th birthday didn’t turn out quite as expected, it holds some bitter-sweet memories as things have changed dramatically since then and some of the people who made it special no longer share this life with me.

Last year I was simply happy to be alive and at home; I’d expected to be in hospital recovering from surgery.  Other than being dead, being in hospital is next on my list of least favourite things to do. This year I’ll be at home and in spite of everything cancer treatment has thrown at me I’m doing pretty well.  More surgery is looming but at least this time its my choice to go ahead with the operation and it’s happening after my birthday so there’s no danger I’ll be somewhere I don’t want to be on the day 🙂  I’ll be a year older tomorrow but I feel 20 years older and 200 years wiser if that’s even possible.

By this time next year I’m aiming to feel something like my real age with some light-hearted insights to life, the universe and everything created through happier times and positive experiences… instead of situations I’ve had no choice in – cancer treatment, absent friends and life-changing events.  Creating some new, happy memories started on 1st August with a visit to the dreaming spires of Oxford and an evening with some special friends. Tonight my son’s coming home, I’ll cook for him and tomorrow we’ll spend time together just enjoying each others company while we have the chance.

Peace begins with a letter

PEACE!

PEACE! (Photo credit: snapies_gi)

This month’s Bloggers for Peace (B4Peace) challenge encourages us to write a letter for peace and send it out into the universe.  Like Kozo I love the art of letter-writing, the convergence of emotions, thoughts and spirit that turn a collection of words on paper into snippets of hopes and dreams, tales of love and friendship or convivial greetings from afar.  Times have changed; anytime, anyplace, (almost) anywhere connectivity coupled with short-form communication such as SMS, IM, snapchat and the like seem to have condemned the writing and sending of letters to a bygone era.  I think that’s a shame. Letters convey so much more than clipped comments or c u l8r type abbreviations and when it comes to peace I’m sure clear and meaningful communication is key when conveying understanding, respect and camaraderie…

Dear Universe,

A few days ago I saw a young man with many, many IV tracks
on his arms. I wondered what had happened to him, how he
had come to have so many scars. I wondered how much pain
the young man had endured and why. Some people turned to
stare. Others glanced and whispered to each other.
On seeing him everyone made up their own story about the
type of man he was and the kind of company he kept.

I smiled at him. Whatever had happened, the young man
had experienced trauma. I understand trauma. 
I noticed he was younger than I'd thought, perhaps 
22 or 23. He caught my smile and smiled in return,
pleased that someone might see his humanity instead
of gawking at the maze of scars. The man and his
companion came to sit nearby and I knew then how he
had come by his wounds. He had no legs. Metal
prostheses began somewhere near his hips. 

The back of my nose tingled, a sign that tears might
ensue even though I'd never met this man before and
knew nothing of his plight. Compassion is a gift, it 
may be given freely between humans even when they're
complete strangers. I learned that the man was back
at home. The remains of his legs were somewhere in
Afghanistan.

I wonder, dear Universe, whether you might now hear
this call for change, for the furthering of compassion
and the end of conflict and strife. Humanity has been
here long enough to accept that there are no winners
in any war. Death, disfigurement and despair are all
that come from fighting.

I wonder, dear Universe, if it might at last be
possible for peace to prevail? Sufficient time has
passed and more than enough blood has been shed. I 
would very much like it if no more young men or women
face a life without limbs. No more families are ripped
apart by grief and no more pointless deaths arise
because we continually fail to live in harmony as one
human race. It is surely not that difficult or 
beyond the collective wit of all humanity?

Although I can be idealistic I suspect I am not
alone in this thought. I wonder, therefore, 
if now might be the time to give peace a chance?

With love and hope