Monday, 26 January 2009


An eighty-four year old woman from the South East has been knitting breasts to help new mothers learn how to feed their babies (BBC report). There could well be an application here for women who have had mastectomies, the knitted boobs being far cosier (and, strangely, more comforting) than the 'comfie' given out in hospitals post op. When I got my 'comfie' (this being the interim padding women are given before they are able to wear the custom-fitted silicone breastform), I was told I would have to weight it down with dried peas or shells (!) to match the hang of the remaining breast.

But I wonder if the knitted boob could be therapeutic - a way of coming to terms with the inevitable? Before my daughter was born, I spent hours on the sofa (with my late lamented labrador bitch), crocheting cot blankets and shawls (although these turned out to be somewhat redundant since the baby slept with me as I was breastfeeding her...). Had I known about the knitted boob pattern, I'd have adapted it for my own needs prior to the mastectomy. It might have proved a talking point at least!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Home run....

On the clearway now to 50, and feeling marvellous! My nurse, Sarah, said it's the Time of the Crone: a stage where women can begin to be free of cultural crap like looking good to attract or please men (although I don't quite feel ready to let myself go along the frizzy hair and hairy armpits tack - not just yet) and confident in their exchanges, with an assurance that comes from life experience and wisdom. That's not to say there won't be plenty of stupid fifty year old women (what will Jordan-Boob-Jobs be like at fifty, I wonder? She's raddled enough at thirty...Look at Madonna, described by her latest ex husband as a piece of gristle). I'm grateful, simply, to be where I am: an Amazonian matron who has survived 4 years on palliative treatment for advanced breast cancer. To have seen my daughter mature into her teens in these difficult years and achieve a scholarship to one of the best schools in this country (and certainly the noblest) is quite enough. That is a life IN FULL. (And I have published 3 novels, with another on the way, and run a successful education business and - so I'm told - helped countless students along the way.) Not used to blowing my own trumpet. But this is what counts, surely, the legacy one leaves - not a major party with a load of freeloading guests who may or may not be good friends? Blowing money on immaterial (though expensive) ephemeral 'milestones' - like stupid white wedding jamborees - has always been a complete nonsense for me. It's not that I'm mean or that I don't celebrate my friends. On the contrary: I am deeply grateful to all my friends, especially to those who (unlike my mean-spirited family) came forward to support and comfort me when I was on my own and facing chemo for the first time; and I do try to show it whenever I can (I hope) - not just on my birthday. I hope my friends know how much I appreciate them. They know who they are. So if they don't get an invitation to a 50th birthday party from me in a month's time, I hope they will understand that I am celebrating quietly, just glad to have made it this far.

Best of all, yes, best of all: at 50, finally, I can liberate myself from the curse of my indifferent mother and from all those, in the now thankfully distant past, who have sought to undermine me or hold me back in some undefinable way. You won't be reading this, of course, so I could freely name you - but I can't be arsed any more! Yippee!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009


A great big Boo to the idiot policy makers who decided to allow the free use of mobile phones in NHS hospitals (with the exception of scanner and other high tech rooms, of course). As far as I'm concerned, this will make the prospect of a hospital stay - or even a clinic visit -even more unbearable, not to mention the fear of being happy-snapped by some fuckwit with a cameraphone ('I'm at the hospital....See this woman with her breast removed.... Cop this pic of the crash trolley...') It is usually visitors, in my experience, not the patients themselves, who are guilty of crass behaviour in hospital. This could be to do with fear, or a sort of superiority - a drive to prove they're not physically sick (though often mentally retarded). Whatever it is, they're a nuisance, and the use of cellphones is going to turn this nuisance into a downright menace - to other patients (who don't want this kind of chirpy intimacy and unwanted intrusion into other - banal - lives) and to staff, who are harassed enough by all the other beeping and alarms and twittering and whingeing that goes on.

Cancer patients, of course, are amongst the most vulnerable of all. I think we should join together to get this daft policy reversed. I'm all for designated phone areas FOR PATIENTS ONLY- but not a go-anywhere roving menace. That's asking for trouble.


This will be the fourth year of my palliative treatment, and the second of Herceptin at Home, which has proved not only beneficial to my health, but a pleasure in the company of the excellent team of nurses who come to sit with me throughout the infusions. I can make my own hot water bottle and sit in my own arcmchair as the drip goes in; and, with these nurses; it goes in first time - in fact, they managed to get through the whole of 2008 using the same vein. How differerent to the procedure at the Haem clinic at the hospital where those nurses, too, were unfailingly pleasant and patient, but harassed and overworked beyond their call of duty. Cannulations there took several attempts; and I rapidly became known as 'the woman with no veins', which doesn't exactly boost the morale of those designated to give the needle - not least to say my own morale (or amour propre). Anyway, the only clinics I have been to in the last 12 months were the Consultant's check-ups; and even in those, I managed to get away without being jabbed. In fact, the last cannulation attempt on me at the hospital was at the CT scanner, when even the doctor they called in to assist gave up when he saw my 'veinless' hands.

So Herceptin at Home it is, when I go straight from the piano (get the circulation in the hands and arms to work) to the chair. Nurses arrive when they say they will arrive and leave within 2 hours. This is private treatment, of course, although I receive it on the NHS, thanks to some deal between the Hospital Trust, Roche Pharmeceuticals (who manufacture the drug), and the healthcare company. Each dose of this drug costs at least twelve hundred pounds; and once the costs of the nurse and the equipment (cannulas, saline, etc) are factored in, that's a lot of cost! But it has saved my life. And I feel blessed and grateful for it.

Thank you.