Category Archives: family

The Bad Fairy

A couple of months ago I discovered a blog called Ramblings of a Bad Fairy. I thought it was wonderful – brave, funny, honest, inspiring, incredibly moving and beautifully written. I have looked forward to reading it ever since, and have never read a post without feeling awed and humbled afterwards.

Tonight when I went to check out the latest Bad Fairy doings I found out that she had died. She was 40 years old, with a husband and two young children.

I never knew you, Bad Fairy, but I wish I had.

Rest in peace.

Counting my blessings and other cliches

Today I am two-thirds of the way through radiotherapy.

It’s a slightly strange experience. Not painful, but uncomfortable: lying with your arm at a bit of an odd angle for 15 mins or so pulls on muscles that are already sore from surgery and general prodding and poking, so afterwards everything feels slightly stretched.

The inside of my arm and a part of my breast are numb from the surgery. The rest of my breast is tender, and itches like mad from the “sunburn” the high-energy radiotherapy rays causes. You are supposed to use aqueous cream to help with this but I have to admit I am not very good at it: at first I didn’t want to touch my breast because it was sore. But if I’m honest it was also because I’ve felt angry with my body for letting me down (ridiculous I know) and have not wanted to look at, or look after, that part of it.

I am still struggling a bit with what my breast now looks like. I’ve been fortunate in needing a lumpectomy (a wide local excision to give it its proper name), rather than a mastectomy, which means that literally a biggish ‘lump’ of tumour and surrounding tissue has been removed.

I have three scars: a small crescent-shaped tumour biopsy scar to the right of my nipple; a 3cm scar near my armpit from the lymph node biopsy and a 2cm scar that curves around the top my nipple where the tumour was cut out.

I also have a sizeable dent (the surgeons call it a dimple) where the tissue’s been removed.

It does not look terrible – a bit angry and inflamed at present, but that will go. Topless modelling is probably out but I think I can live with that. I am very fortunate: I did not have to have chemotherapy and my prognosis is good.

There have been many days when I have not felt fortunate (and rightly so: discovering on the ninth anniversary of your son’s death that you are pregnant, finding out three days later you have cancer, and then having a termination are very difficult to cope with, and it is hard not to feel at times that fate has it in for you). But I do feel fortunate today.

I feel fortunate because the cancer was discovered early (almost by chance) and was therefore very treatable. I am fortunate that I live somewhere with access to fantastic medical care and treatment that isn’t dependent on whether you can afford it.

I feel fortunate to have family and friends who have looked after and supported me even when I have been (ok – still am) a complete nightmare to be around.

I’m fortunate because today I got to sit in a beautiful London square in the autumn sunshine, and at that moment it seemed quite enough just to be there, and much more than some people ever have.

Canadian smocking

When I was at primary school the good girls got to make really kitsch pleated cushions (it was the ’70s); I am not sure what the bad girls got to make.

Being a good girl, I’ve decided to have another go at the RKPCs as a) I’m convinced they must be in vogue once again (or will be soon), and b) it’ll stop me spending quite so much time thinking about cancer.

Scarily, I can remember almost word for word Sister Basil’s instructions for making the RKPCs (one of the many benefits of attending a convent school). Apart, that is, from how much bloody fabric you need to make the things. As a result I will end up with something that looks rather more like a bolster (or possibly a fat draught excluder) than the sumptuous boudoir cushion I had in mind.

It’s been quite enjoyable though, not least because I got to discover The Cloth House in Berwick Street. I also spent a happy hour Googling the real name for RKPCs and came across both some wonderful 1970s sewing patterns and the correct term for Sister Basil’s sewing technique: Canadian Smocking.

Here’s what my handiwork looks like so far. Unfortunately the pic doesn’t do justice to the beautiful turquoise velvet it’s made from….

What happened next

I had a termination.

I had a termination to give myself the best chance of overcoming cancer, for the sake of my family. But it was one of the hardest, most distressing and painful decisions that I have ever had to make.

It has brought back many, many difficult emotions and memories of the death of my son nine years ago. This is another, extraordinarily painful, loss. The pain may not last as long this time, but it is as excruciating.

I have been grief-stricken, and tormented by guilt and “what ifs” about the decision I took, even though the sane and rational part of me knows I didn’t have much of a choice and that I made it for sound reasons.  

Some people have said it was a brave and selfless thing to do; right now it doesn’t seem like that.

On being a bitch to live with

I think I’ve done fairly well at being reasonable since the weekend. I have shouted at the children only as much as I normally would (less, probably, as I’ve been tucked up in bed for much of the time); I’ve only behaved childishly once (phone call to my mum and I am going to apologise).

It’s a huge relief not to feel as angry as I did a week or so ago (though I’m not stupid enough to think I won’t feel the same way again over the coming months). It’s a very long time since I have experienced such an overwhelming surge of destructive energy, the desire to smash and hurt (fortunately not literally).

I’m sure I was a nightmare to live with for a good few days: periods of shouting and stomping around the house screaming about the utter unfairness of it all alternating with hours of deep depression when I refused to speak to anyone, or at least to say anything reasonable or positive. All completely understandable (and I daresay normal) responses, but horrible all the same. I’ve been there before and I don’t like it. I don’t want to be that wretched, unhinged woman.

I feel isolated too. It’s like being on the opposite side of the road to everyone else and not being able to cross back. My experience is suddenly different to all of theirs, and nothing will ever be the same again. I’ve been there before too and I hate it.

I just want things to be normal – I don’t want to have to deal with breast cancer and pregnancy at the same time, to have to contemplate awful decisions, to think about my own mortality. I just want to get on with my life.