It’s over! YAY! And a few words from my daddy…

Well, I did it. A whole four weeks of daily radiotherapy is finished! At 11am I walked out of the St Luke’s Cancer Centre after the last of my 20 zappings, feeling rather odd. The last of the three big chunks of treatment – chemo, surgery and radio ga ga – is over.

I don't have to do this EVER AGAIN!

I don’t think it’ll hit me for some time that life doesn’t revolve around treatment anymore, that it’s not all about cancer now. Me and DH celebrated by taking the kids with us for pink fizz and amazingly good slabs of grass-fed beef at the new Argentinian steakhouse in town. (I didn’t get my small children drunk, obvs. They had juice and burgers.)

It’s not completely over, of course. I had the eleventh of 17 herceptin drips yesterday, and will continue to have those every three weeks until 1 December. And in three weeks I’ll probably be going back on the tamoxifen for five years (and hopefully I won’t feel like I’m going to kill someone this time).

And there’s the small matter of the breast reduction op to even the old knockers up, which will be Novemberish. But all the really big stuff, the actual hardcore caaancer fucking, is pretty much done and dusted. Go me! Whoop whoop!

Ouch. I just whooped too hard and bashed the boob. It’s sore, you know. After 15 whole breast radiotherapy treatments and five targeted boosters where the tumours were, The Tit In Question is pretty red and uncomfortable. The skin hasn’t broken, yet, although the radiation will continue working for another week or so and it’ll get worse before it starts healing. It’s like very bad sunburn, really. Or like I’ve dipped that most tender bit of me in a vat of hot oil.

The New Nipple looks particularly odd. It’s dark, swollen, shiny (WTF?) and looks a bit depressed. As would you if you’d been battered by radiation for days on end, I suppose. Still, it should all settle down and perk up (literally, I hope) in the next few weeks. I’m using calendula lotion and Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream on it, which helps enormously (this is not an NHS recommendation, you won’t be surprised to hear, but it was developed for burns before becoming a beauty must-have, and is my Top Tip for dealing with your tits being zapped).

Anyway, I’m sure plenty of champers will be imbibed this weekend, not just to celebrate the end of the bad things, but also my beautiful nieces’ first and fourth birthdays, and my darling daughter’s fifth. So I will get to see all of my family, and most of my friends, over the next few days, and I’m sure there will be plenty of tears, hugs and toasts all round.

There’s other stuff afoot, too: I bought my first ever laptop, a shiny red Dell number, and have started writing The Novel. I don’t hang about, you know. I’ve got a great idea (I think. I hope)  although I’m starting to realise I’ve set myself quite a tricky task with the premise of the story. I was inspired to just get on with writing the damn thing by Stephen King’s On Writing, quite the most brilliant, clever, funny, true book on creating popular fiction, which you must read if you have ever even considered writing a novel. And me and DH have a little house project bubbling away on the back burner, which I will tell you about another time.

I’ve just picked up an email. My wonderful Pops, whose birthday we will be celebrating on the very day of my last herceptin treatment, has written down his own thoughts about what it’s been like for him since I was diagnosed last October, to join my mummy’s guest post. It made me cry, of course, and I thought you’d like to see it:

‘What it’s been like being Pops.

I’m sorry it’s taken so long. It’s not easy you know, writing – not for me, anyway. Takes ages to start, just like my old banger. My old banger and I have a lot in common; it regularly suffers from a flat battery and I suffer from a flat brain. It could be a state of abalienation. Just from time to time both of us need fustigating. Also the worry is does anyone give a shit what you have to say anyway.

Shocking does not describe it. It can’t. That unspeakably awful word CANCER. The word no one wants to hear. Not if it concerns you. But my beautiful darling daughter had to.
Stressed out about your job? Stressed out about your car? Stressed out about your neighbours? Stressed out about your kids? Well, I can’t take you seriously. Welcome to the world of cancer (and you will need the courage to meet it).

MajMaj had the courage to meet it. Her indomitable spirit, her cheerfulness, a cheerfulness that took me by surprise sometimes. I had to remind myself that she was suffering from cancer. But then that is our daughter.

The initial thought is, of course, why? Why my daughter. It’s not fair, she’s got two lovely children and a loving husband and she’s so young. It’s just not fair. But since when has life always been fair? I don’t want to say what my lovely wife has already covered and anyway she describes it better than I ever could.

When I first heard the news my first thought was that I just wished I could swap places. I could not bear to think of my darling daughter having to go through the months of treatment.

At times like these MajMaj needed a lot of support from family and friends and she is lucky to have so many wonderful friends. I know some of them and apologies for not knowing all of your names (but you know who you are). My special thanks would have to go to J and S, MajMaj’s truly dear friends. I wish I had friends like that. So a huge thanks to you all for your support. At times like these people’s kindness restores one’s faith in human nature.

And now it is almost over. Maja will be alright.’

My darling Pops is right, of course. I am truly blessed with an amazing family and bloody fantastic friends. Thank you all for holding my hand during this arduous process of giving cancer the finger. And now, if you don’t mind, some champagne is demanding my attention. Na zdrowie!

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The end of the first school year

Today is the end of term. The last day of DD’s first year at school. I know time speeds up as you get older, but this is ridiculous: it seems like a matter of weeks since I left her at the door of her reception classroom for her first full day and then cried all the way back to the car. Mind you, there was the slight inconvenience of the Big C: when I was diagnosed in October we’d barely got into the rhythm of being a schoolgirl and a school mum, and the months since have been a whirlwind of scans and new shoes, chemo and uniform, surgery and learning to read, packed lunches and radiotherapy.

All of which could have had a disastrous effect on such a sensitive soul (DD and me both, ha!) but we got her first report yesterday and I could have died of pride reading it. In the face of all that upheaval and worry (and being the youngest in the school), my extraordinary daughter has done astonishingly well by anyone’s standards. I knew she was a bright cookie and a very lovely small human, but it’s very good to know that her teachers can see everything I see in her.

All I wanted was for her to make friends, enjoy herself, love reading, and have fun, and she’s done that in spades while being ‘A PLEASURE TO TEACH’. Fab. Her teachers have been fantastically supportive all year, dishing out cuddles and, literally and metaphorically, holding DD’s hand as she took her first steps on the school journey. I’ve sent DD in this morning with some very well deserved thank you pressies.

The long-serving, warm, lovely head teacher is retiring today, too, and she will be missed. She knows the name of every child in the primary school, is always ready with a cuddle and praise, and is one of those teachers who you know genuinely loves children. So next school year will be interesting in lots of ways: my treatment will be over by Christmas, there will be a new head teacher in January, and we will be filling in school application forms for my licious DS, unbelievably. He’s not even three until the last week of August, so he’ll be starting when he is four and a week, bless his skinny little knees.

He’s settling into pre-school at his nursery beautifully, though, and will be fine. I’ve always thought that having babies in August or September is particularly tricky: the young ones just seem too little to start school, and September babies often seem bored and more than ready by the time they are finally allowed to start (not to mention that extra year of pre-school fees).

We’ve got plenty of fun lined up this summer: DD’s social diary is already looking pretty packed, including a couple of mummy days out while DS is on his full nursery days. I’ve always taken a day off to see the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, and last year took DD with me for the first time. She adored it, so we’re going again this year together (and then to ‘a little Italian place for carbonara’ as she always requests in London, bless her mini-cosmopolitan soul). And we’ve got tickets to see Kate’s wedding dress at Buck Palace, hurrah!

What DD doesn’t quite know yet is that the summer hols festivities won’t actually start for me until next Friday, when I finally finish The Month of Radio Ga Ga. Next week she’s having quite a few playdates when I’ll be at the hospital for a stupid week of five rads, two consultant appointment, one heart scan and one herceptin drip. Pfft. DD knows none of this. She doesn’t need to. As far as she’s concerned my bad booby is better, because it is. Still, we will be celebrating next Friday night: DD’s asked if we can all go out for a curry, en famille.

In other news, hot off the press (and this will possibly be TMI if you are a bloke), MY PERIODS HAVE RETURNED!! This may not seem like something to celebrate, but there was a general suspicion in medical quarters that the ‘chemopause’ – your lady bits basically going into hibernation for the duration of the treatment – may have turned into full-on menopause. And I’m not even 38 yet, so that did feel too young. I didn’t want any more children anyway, but there is something about that choice being taken away from you that is deeply upsetting. But no! Two weeks ago I felt a familiar twinge in my ovaries, and exactly 14 days later, the mother of all menstruations arrived. I actually think it’s been eight months’ worth all at once: it’s like a particularly grisly scene from the Sopranos every morning, and for the first three days it felt like wolves were ripping out my womb. But I am so bloody pleased that my body is working again, I don’t care. DH was quite emotional when I told him: the idea of having a menopausal wife evidently wasn’t high on his ‘must have’ list this year, on top of everything else.

I was feeling a bit down yesterday, probably because after the novelty of being fertile again wore off, I remembered how tedious periods are, but I have perked up considerably today, not least because I am finally officially a size 12 again and am rocking my new  black skinny jeans. Yay! (Thank you W for introducing me to Tim Ferriss and his Four Hour Body regime – I’ll do a post on this soon).

Today, the sun is shining for the first time in weeks, and after this morning’s session I will be three quarters of the way through the radiotherapy. Whoop! This last big chunk of caaancer-f*cking is almost over!

Butterflies and books

I had a vision last week. No, not Rebekah Brooks’ face appearing in a slice of toast, sadly. It happened during a Health Kinesiology session with my wonderful friend E, who is training to be a practitioner. I’m one of her guinea pigs, which is more than fine with me – I’ve used HK on and off for many years and she’s already one of the best, most intuitive practitioners I’ve worked with.

Kinesiology is one of those complementary therapies that divides people. There’s absolutely no scientific evidence that it works. It’s properly holistic: either you ‘get’ the premise that your body has infinite wisdom and a skilled practitioner can interpret its weaknesses, blocks, and imbalances, and then help to resolve physical, emotional and spiritual issues, or you don’t. I’m very into all branches of ‘energy medicine’, which includes acupuncture, so HK has been, for me, a crucial aspect of my treatment since the day of my breast cancer diagnosis. It helps that E knows me extremely well, and sometimes one of the ‘things’ that comes up, that my body and soul is urgently requesting, is as simple as a big belly laugh or a massive squeezy hug.

Anyway, after balancing all my energy points last week, the ‘thing’ that came up, bizarrely, (an HK session is frequently an open-minded adventure into the unknown, even if you think you know what you’re there for) was the apparently random word ‘ridding’. E held various points on my head, while I had to focus on the word ‘ridding’ and let the context of what it meant just sort of come to me.

I concentrated on ridding. Ridding ridding ridding. The first thing that came to mind, obviously, was being rid of f*cking caancer. Then ridding myself of cancer treatment. Focusing on these two things, I felt hot tears streaming down my cheeks as I felt very deeply all over again the full horror of having cancer and going through all the treatment. Then, after a few minutes, something weird happened. The tears stopped. In my head there was a pause, a moment of immense, bottomless calm. And then I had the vision.

It was me, or rather, The New Me. Pinchy, version two point zero. Like a butterfly stepping out of its chrysalis, I saw myself, in technicolour, striding forward, with cancer and its treatment fully behind me in the monochrome distance. I had a huge smile on my face. My hair was long, red and glossy again. I walked tall, my head high (I was also very slim, wearing tight white jeans and looked a bit like Elle McPherson on the school run, but hey, it’s MY VISION, OK?).

Pinchy on the school run. Liderally in my dreams.

It wasn’t just cancer behind me – it was all the old aspects of myself that no longer serve me: anxiety, depression, fear, that extra stone of weight, anger, lack, guilt, a desperate need for love and approval – all the crap stuff that has been my own personal albatross around my neck almost since I was a child.

And what was I moving forward to? Quite spontaneously, in the vision it was utterly normal, and inevitable, that I was a successful novelist. I am cringing slightly writing this, because it sounds a bit arrogant. Also, my loved ones have listened to me saying for practically decades that what I have always really, really wanted to do is write fiction, and then watched me do precisely bugger all about it. Writing novels – good, intelligent, funny, best-selling, award-winning ones, naturally – is what I have always thought of as simultaneously my purpose on this planet, and waaaay too scary to even start. I have a couple of dusty first chapters tucked away, but I’ve never embarked on a serious attempt to crack out my first literary baby. I’ve always been too scared. But there’s something about cancer that makes you laugh in the face of the things you once feared. Because the really scary thing happened, and I got through it.

So that simple, slightly clunky word, ‘ridding’, was exactly right. Focusing on it and watching the subsequent slideshow in my head was an intense experience. After the session had ended, I felt quite drained, but full of quiet, nameless purpose. I didn’t really go into detail with E, or DH, or anyone else about what I had seen. I didn’t analyse it. I needed to let my subconscious chew it over for a few days. Then this week, during a coaching session with the pretty darn brilliant Amanda Alexander, I spilled the beans. As always, Amanda’s sessions are a ‘safe’ place to articulate things you haven’t really said, to yourself or anyone else, and then suddenly you’ve taken the first step from turning a dream into reality. Started to put some flesh on those bones. Telling her about my vision brought it more fully to life. It was extraordinary, like I’d actually seen the future.

Even more interestingly (to me, anyway, I am well aware there are fewer things duller than hearing other people’s dreams, but bear with me), I don’t feel any sense of rush or urgency to get started. I know what I need to do right now, now I’ve put this picture out into the universe, is to just wait patiently until the right idea for my first novel comes to me. I have a sense that writing it will be effortless, like channelling the story, rather than grinding it out. I’ve never suffered from writer’s block, professionally, but I do tend to end up sailing quite close to deadlines because I’m waiting for my muse to land on my shoulder. I say it jokingly, but that’s exactly what happens. When the time is right to write, and my head is in the right space, the writing just happens, in perfect flow, with no force required.

In the meantime, I could read a few more books about the novel form, get stuck into Julia Cameron’s ‘Artist’s Way’ again (stream-of-consciousness writing every morning, as an exercise in disciplined creativity), and maybe find myself some sort of mentor in this area. But there’s plenty of time.

So now I’ve said it, out loud. I really am going to write a novel, quite soon. And you can hold me to that. Let’s just get the remaining 11 radio ga ga sessions out of the way first.

*Thanks so much to everyone who has voted for me in the Loved By Parents Blogger of the Year awards! The deadline for votes is now 5 August, so if you haven’t done so yet, please please please go to the website and put a tick next to Pinchypants. I thank you, my lovely comrades.

Radiotherapy kicks off…and I need your vote!

I’m a quarter of the way there! After a week where I basically spent the bulk of each day at the hospital, I have completed five of my 20 radiotherapy sessions. Oh yes. We are motoring. I’ve also seen an oncology consultant, had my Herceptin chemo drip, and an ECG. I am on first name terms with a scarily large number of the staff of the St Luke’s Cancer Centre, now I’m there so much.

And do you know what? It’s fine, really it is. Everyone who’s been through similar says the radio ga ga is a walk in the park compared with Big Bad Chemo, and they are right. It’s painless. It doesn’t make you feel like you’re dying, or make you vom for days on end, for a start. The worst bit is the logistics, and the relentlessness of it.

Every weekday, after nursery and school drop off, I get to the hospital, park, check in, get the attractive rear-fastening (ie not concealing in any way) robe on, wait for between ten and 60 minutes, get called into the rads room, get my right boob out while chatting about the weather, lie on my back on a platform with my right arm in a very awkward position above my head, and get drawn on. Two radiotherapists line the machine up, muttering numbers at each other while bright green beams criss-cross my torso. Then I lie very still for a few minutes while the radiation thing emits a high-pitched apocalyptic sort of noise and rotates around me to ensure all the scar tissue is zapped. (Just in case there is a pesky cancer cell hiding in there, waiting to pounce.) And then it’s all over. Simples.

I haven’t had any skin soreness yet (my mummy sent me loads of very gentle calendula stuff from Weleda as I can’t use perfume or shower gel or lotions or deodorant or anything around the breast and armpit), although I am starting to feel a tad fatigued. I’m doing a great visualisation: when The Noise starts, I imagine one of those little silver indoor sparklers, like a mini magic wand, just sort of having a bit of a dust round but leaving all healthy tissue alone. Like Nanny Plum from Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom. Or something.

The consultant I saw originally had listened to my request for appointments that fitted in with the kiddies, and they are all at around 10.20am. I’m really glad I opted out of work this month because there honestly is no time to do anything other than the most basic laundry/food/dishwasher admin before and after the appointments, what with nursery and school runs.

It was all a bit crap on day one, Monday, for a bit, as I asked for a later appointment on Tuesday so I could go to DD’s first sports day. The only other appointment they could offer was 2.30 – ie about the time I need to be thinking about heading for school pick-up. I said I couldn’t do either. They said it had to be one or the other. I was anxious and resistant anyway, and was reduced to tears. A lunchtime appointment magically appeared.

So on Tuesday morning, me and DH sat on primary school benches on a sunny school field, watching DD and the rest of reception, year one and year two, dressed in the colours of their respective house teams, running their tiny socks off. DD, who has a bit of a reputation for bursting into tears at school events (which makes me feel a curious mixture of distress, dismay, empathy, annoyance and guilt), did the egg and spoon race rather hampered by holding her ever-patient teacher’s hand, but by the obstacle race she was confident enough to just run alongside her teacher.

Me and DH also took part in the parents’ races. We were both in the latter half of the field (which will come as far from a total shock to anyone who has admired my built-for-comfort form, of course), and much to my surprise I was quite disappointed. There’s something about school which brings out a hitherto-hidden competitive streak in me. I really wanted to win, and I really wanted DD’s house to win. DH was a particularly poor loser, saying afterwards regarding his fellow ‘athletes’: ‘Most of this lot are probably used to scarpering from a stolen car, away from the police and over a six foot hedge.’ Dreadful slander, but if you knew DD’s school, you’d just nod and agree, frankly.

Anyway, it was great to feel healthy and cheerful enough to do another Normal Mum thing like being at and taking part in sports day. And another really lovely thing has, rather more unexpectedly, happened this week, too: I’ve been shortlisted for another blogging award! Yay!

This time it’s the Blogger of the Year category in the Lovedbyparents‘ 2011 awards, sponsored by Virgin Hot Air Balloons. (The hot air reference is in no way a hint as to the quality of the blogs, natch.) I’m one of ten finalists chosen by this fab parenting website, and I know from reading many of the others that competition is seriously stiff. So PLEASE vote for me!!! And do feel free to spread the word to family and friends and colleagues. Voting is only open for one week, from today (8 July) to Friday 15th July, so get your skates on, Team Pinchy!

In the meantime, we’re off to see Take That at Wembley tomorrow night, along with the entire female thirtysomething population of the country. (Seriously, practically everyone I know has gone/knows someone who has/is going, including the ECG guy today, which was a bit weird, having a chat about Gary Barlow while topless). I gather many of the yummy mummies in the audience have been drinking PINTS OF WINE, and then flashing their boobs at Robbie et all. I obviously won’t be doing this, because it will quite literally stop the show, but I might treat myself to a half pint of sauvignon to celebrate a Good Week. Bottoms up.

Hola! We’re back from sunny Spain.

Oh, that was a lovely holiday. A week of glorious sunshine in Espana, in a huge villa on the La Manga resort in Murcia, with great friends, a private pool full of inflatables and laughing children, and a fridge full of San Miguel and Fanta Limon.

We ate, we drank plenty of Rioja, we laughed, we chilled out, we forgot about running our lives by the clock. And we all had plenty of playtime: the three older kiddies were in kids’ club for five mornings and loved every second of it, from crazy golf and dance competitions to colouring and making masks; the menfolk played a round on each of La Manga’s three stunning golf courses, (resulting in comedy ‘golf tans’ with very brown forearms and very pasty beer bellies) and me and my beautiful, tall, brown, bikini-clad friend S had a couple of truly blissful mornings in the spa.

We had one session of a sauna, steam and Vitamin C facial, and another of a full body treatment including exfoliation (S declined the offer of her tits being done; I said my therapist could polish up the big one but leave the little scarred one alone, ta), body wrap, herbal bubble bath (with a shoulder massage and a drink by our side – we were both feeling a bit smug at this point) and then a massage. Mine was a hot stone massage, which involved being drizzled with hot oil and then hot pebbles being used to rub away every ounce of tension. I cannot tell you how relaxed we were afterwards – we could barely speak.

The children were AMAZING from start to finish. You never know how planes, travelling and being out of routine are going to go with little ones – it could have been a disaster, and we’ve had a couple of crap journeys before. But they were all brilliant in both directions, and very quickly settled into a routine of siestas and eating late with us in the evenings, either a BBQ at the villa (with Spanish Mystery Meats) or in one of the resort’s many eateries. They played really nicely together all week, and our family afternoons splashing in the pool with armbands, boats and lilos were really fun, happy hours. The girls’ swimming lessons paid off with lots of confidence and I was so proud to see DD earnestly padding her way across the pool with her woggle under her arms. DS made endless requests for a ‘drink and a snaaaaack’, usually in the form of those lovely biscuits you only get on holiday that are like two rich teas with choccy in the middle. Nom nom nom.

Me and S were pleasantly surprised how much downtime we got – there were periods when all the children were asleep in the afternoon when the grown-ups could ACTUALLY SUNBATHE AND READ by the pool (I got through When God Was a Rabbit, Michael McIntyre’s Life and Laughing, and halfway through Caitlin Moran’s brillantly funny How to Be a Woman). Can you imagine such a thing? As a mummy who is always always rushing round and juggling kiddies and work and domestic stuff, and always on a deadline, this was beyond luxe, frankly, and made it a far more relaxing holiday than I dared to expect. We even managed some eyeing up of the ripped pool guy (which led to J declaring his wife was a ‘visual slag’). And the whole mastectomy swimsuit/dressing-up-booby thing was fine, honestly, you would never know it was Tits v1.5 software under there.

I had treated myself to a few new dresses, mainly from Phase Eight, mainly in VERY bright colours, and spent the entire week in flip flops, apart from Date Night. Both couples had a night out with the other two babysitting, which we spent in the restaurant and the piano bar of La Manga’s hotel. I wore my astonishingly high new tan wedges, which I fell off, Naomi Campbell-stylee, on several occasions, firstly slipping on a wet floor on my entrance to the restaurant (pride dented as much as knee, obvs) and then on the walk home, which was entirely the fault of the three margaritas I drank while we played rummy and watched the sharking action in the piano bar. Crowds of golfers in their 30s, 40s and 50s who may or may not have been married were eyeing up the very slim pickings of girls in the bar. Tres funny.

I’ve even come back with as much of a tan as I ever get – I’m now a pale biscuity colour and my freckles are starting to join up. I look pretty healthy, actually, although my hair is a dry, frizzy mess and I long to have my long, shiny locks back.

But all good things must come to an end. I was surprised to find myself in tears as we drove out of the resort and headed back to Alicante (incidental note to everyone: NEVER follow me and DH into a strange foreign city. We WILL fail to navigate the one way system, get lost, panic and have a row).

When we booked the holiday, in February, I was only halfway through my chemo and S and J’s DS was just getting over his latest op. It seemed like a long way away for all of us, something to look forward to and keep us going, but I think we all felt there was a possibility we might not actually get there. It seemed like a bit of a dream after such a long, shitty time for both families. And then we were there, in the hot, blinding, Spanish light at the end of the tunnel, and it was really, really special. A week of newly minted, happy memories to replace the nightmarish quality of the past many months.

I usually love getting back to home sweet home after a holiday, but this time it was a shade less great being back in our cosy house, in our own beds. Because after a week of heaven, I have come back to Earth with a bump. It’s not just post-holiday blues. In about an hour, I will be having my first of 20 radiotherapy sessions, every week day for four weeks. DH is coming with me for the first one, because although I am sure it will be fine, I am scared, and resistant, and tired after two sleepless nights, and fed up of this caaancer-fucking, and just want my sodding life back.

I just have to remind myself that being zapped will give me a far greater likelihood of many more fun family holidays. And I need something else to look forward to. Roll on Disneyland Paris on 2 August… I’ll let you know how the radio ga ga goes.