Cat woman (almost) makes her return

Newton defies gravity

Newton defies gravity

In August I adopted two blue cats.  The photo above is Newton (he’s named after Sir Isaac Newton because I never got over being the gangly science-geek girl with ginger hair… except I have no hair now, just peach fuzz.)  His brother is called Casper.  My timing was bad because no sooner had we become friends than I had to stop being quite so friendly with them due to impending chemo.  Fortunately they’ve forgiven me and my standoffishness and in a few weeks I hope to have them sitting on my lap purring and cuddling-up again.  Stroking pets, cats or dogs, is meant to be a good way to alleviate stress and remain centred – some hospitals now use this approach to help people through difficult situations or as an aid to recovery.  I’m an animal lover and particularly fond of cats so if they help relieve stress or induce healing I’m all for it.

Newton and Casper were banished to the conservatory because I took a risk conscious approach to my treatment. I’d seen my mother succumb to chemo induced infections part way through 1996 and it’s a memory that hasn’t evaporated with time.  I have so many lovely recollections of my Mum yet sometimes the only ones that seem to surface are those from the dark days. Into the 17th year after her death and they still have the power to make me feel sad if I let them.

My own experience has been different and for that I am grateful because the thought of chemo initially scared me senseless. Aside from a little incident with temperature fluctuation in December I’ve only had to deal with nausea, ulcers, vein and skin issues and GI tract dysfunction. I’ll write-up a side effects page at some point in case it’s of use to others faced with a situation like this. (For everyone else, I’d avoid that page – there are some things we don’t need to know in detail unless we have to deal with them).

On the whole I consider myself to have been very lucky though I know I’m far from being ‘fit as a fiddle’ again.  Chemo takes a toll but yesterday I started self-administering GCSF injections (interesting but not painful), tomorrow I finish steroids and also begin the preventative antibiotics.  I noticed amongst other things that I’m not allowed to drive while taking antibiotics – 11 days worth. As we’re still blanketed in snow driving isn’t an option anyway but I’m hoping to be re-energised enough to take a small walk if it isn’t too cold/slippery. I’d like to capture some photos of the Shropshire hills and Welsh mountains, they look stunning at this time of year.

This morning I didn’t expect to find Newton sitting in the cherry tree outside my window.  He was in full cat-instinct mode without a cat in hells chance of capturing a passing bird.   The birds were far too wary and he couldn’t resist whipping his head around in all directions alerting them to his presence. The birds also seemed to realise cats climb up trees very easily but climbing down is far from graceful.  It made for a farcical scene. Birds having quite a party down on the ground while a not so stealthy cat perched precariously on a cold, snow-covered branch.  Eventually Newton realised what goes up must come down, possibly prompted by the fact that sitting in snow is a sure-fire way to get a very cold, very soggy backside!

Unlike Newton, Casper has taken to staying indoors as much as possible and instead occupies himself by playing with the tag on my Olive tree (currently in the conservatory because I don’t want it to freeze).  Here he is, bright-eyed and playful because he was sensible enough to avoid the perils of frozen paws and a snow encrusted rear-end!

As for me, knowing cat woman is almost back is a good thing and I’m looking forward to welcoming my furry, purring friends with open arms again 🙂

Casper considers the Olive branch

Casper considers the Olive branch




Today has been a GOOD day :-)

Here are some things that might have happened to me today…. but didn’t:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Pain
  • Flushing
  • Temperature
  • Hospitalisation

A minor thing that did happen but is no big deal:

  • Tiny ruptured blood vessels in my left eye

Some great things that made my day:

  • Chris writing a poem just for me – thank you so much Chris.
  • Tina nominating me for an award, sending me lovely messages of support & hope. You’re an angel.
  • My Dad sending me a card (he sends one each time) to celebrate another chemo over and done with, giving me love, hope and buckets of hugs that are so very appreciated.
  • Sunshine all day and a crispy crunchy frost sparkling on the lawn and the hedgerows. We live on a beautiful planet.
  • My dear cats (who have been poorly too) getting well again – come on you cats 🙂
  • Receiving notification of a 2:1 in my degree in spite of this year’s extra challenges. Hurrah!
  • One of my  friends-who-is-more-my-big-brother  arranging to visit with a small posse of  dearest friends so we will see each other right before Christmas.
  • Having some beautiful visitors to my garden – I’ve shared them below for you to see too.

Today has been a GOOD day!

Collared Dove, Goldfinches, Blue Tit & Chaffinch
Collared Dove, Goldfinches, Blue Tit & Chaffinch


Preserved: my pickled walnut!

My brain is…. a walnut!

One of the only parts of my body that hasn’t been poked, prodded, examined or scanned is my head.  Personally I think it ought to be examined but the medics say there’s no need…. they would think very differently if they could see what goes on in there. I think my brain looks something like this photo (courtesy of Flickr).  It’s wrinkly, has two hemispheres and lots of nooks and crannies where a multitude of random thoughts and chaotic images sulk around waiting for the most inappropriate moment to come to light.

Like the image of the sun shining brightly outside my bedroom window that caused me to wake up just before 3am this morning. I’m short-sighted so couldn’t see the time, I could barely find my way out of bed across the room to open the curtains. Once I’d established my bearings it didn’t take long to discover the sun does not shine at 3am, birds do not contemplate the dawn chorus and anyone without a walnut for a brain is still sound asleep.

Having returned to the safety of my duvet for a while I woke up a couple of hours later to find myself participating in another of the walnut’s favourite games…. the What have I done with  ________?  game.    Recently the ______ has included:  my mobile phone, the cats’ breakfast, my contact lenses, the laundry basket full of clean laundry, my notebook, my walking boots and the toothpaste.  Everything except my contact lenses has been safely recovered but my cats remain to be convinced of my trustworthiness when it comes to their food.  Fortunately the walnut managed to prevent me eating the cats’ breakfast; Kitekat megamix fish in jelly doesn’t really go with green tea and a banana first thing in the morning.   My stomach would definitely offer feedback if I tried that combination.

I believe it’s possible that my brain has always been a walnut, but I think it’s shrivelled appearance and slightly dodgy colour is more than likely a result of FEC.  I can’t swear categorically that all its deviant behaviour is due to chemical infiltration because the truth is, it used to do some very strange things without so much as a hint of drugs or alcohol. But I can report that it’s a whole heap stranger today than it was a few months ago and it would easily beat a barrel of eels in a ‘Guinness book of slipperiness’ contest.

For all its imperfections, my walnut brain has managed to see me through completion of the final two modules of my degree course this year.  The first module was pre-FEC but covered the period from my diagnosis through to surgery options.  Overall the walnut coped reasonably well, I managed a good pass in both the coursework and the exam.  The second module (that dictates the honours class for the degree), spanned the period from just before surgery through to FEC2. With a bit of extra effort and an extension for one of the coursework assignments my little walnut managed to keep going in spite of distractions – such as teaching my left arm to take over when my right side was temporarily dysfunctional in the summer.

I was, however, concerned about the exam for the final module.  By the time FEC2 came and went the walnut had a significant amount of extra work to do, not least of which was keeping my physical body alive and operational during several episodes of what can only be described as the medical equivalent of arsenic poisoning.  I suspected the What have I done with _____? game might have taken its toll on my ability to put forward a coherent, reasoned argument in 3500 words complete with citations and references.  

Whether it was luck, sheer bloody-mindedness, the raw power of walnut or a combination of the three I do not know.  But I learned today that I successfully passed the exam for my final module and was only 5 marks off a first in spite of all the chemical chaos.  With any luck this means my Christmas present is an upper second class honours degree to mark the culmination of three years part-time study on top of a more than full-time job.   Not bad for someone whose brain is a pickled walnut!

Cat woman on the hill

My son calls me the cat woman on the hill, it’s a term of endearment as well as factually accurate. We live on a high hill overlooking seven counties.  It’s a breath-taking vista on a clear day if you enjoy rural landscapes.  On misty/rainy days we’re up in the clouds so can’t see further than 100 metres, sometimes less. Anything remaining visible looks supernatural and eerie, jutting at random from the murky greyness. In the winter we get snow, often whole drifts wrapping the countryside in a pristine blanket of loveliness. It’s a great place to live with plenty to be inspired by as the seasons change. I love it here.

We (well mostly I) also have cats.  I once joked that I would be happy living with a cat of every colour.  I’ve made a reasonable attempt at this objective, adopting strays, re-homing unwanted kittens and purchasing a Norwegian Forest cat. My ‘official’ cats include tortoiseshell, white, ginger, blue, dark brown, black and grey/white/ginger mix.  As well as official residents, there are unofficial residents including a fat marmalade cat, fluffy tortoiseshell and big black with bushy tail. I’ve no idea who they belong to but they seem to enjoy visiting.  Because I’m happy adopting cats of unknown origin my son sometimes calls me the mad cat woman on the hill; it’s still a term of endearment. And anyone who has ever lived in a rural area will know cats are essential when it comes to keeping rats and mice at bay. These little critters do a lot of damage to garden sheds, garages and car engines. I don’t like the cats killing them and finding bits of rat is not my favourite past-time, but it’s more natural than using poison. And mice/rats can smell cats so tend not to come too near.

It’s sometimes said that cats are unfriendly, capricious and detached.  I like them because they’re curious, affectionate (mine would rather have human attention than food) and graceful.  They’re also engaging, playful and they cuddle up to you in a knowing kind of way when you’re feeling a bit ropey.  One of the downsides of my current situation is that they can’t cuddle up to me because I can’t afford to pick up an accidental scratch.  So my cats and I gaze at each other through the conservatory doors and touch paws either side of the glass.  I’m sure it’s as confusing for them as it is for me. Fortunately they seem pretty tolerant and it looks as though they’ll wait around for playtime until I’m well again. In the interim they have Zub to keep them amused (though he doesn’t enjoy rat clean-up duty either).

I’m not sure I ever intended to be the cat woman on the hill – mad or otherwise – but I’m glad I am. I’m glad I’ve given a warm home to these fascinating felines.  They ask very little of me but provide a good deal of comfort, pleasure and amusement albeit with the occasional unwanted rat-tail thrown in for good measure. I can’t wait until we’re on the same side of the glass again 🙂

Cat woman/mad cat woman/winter here

Image credits:,,