Friday, 13 January 2012

Great day out - then back to earth with a bump - or rather lump!

I posted on Facebook that I would blog about my Big Day Out yesterday so, as promised, here is the story of My Trip to London.

My friend from uni, Fin, had very generously invited me, along with two other uni friends, Gill and Ron, to go to a matinee performance of Ghost - the Musical and then for a Chinese meal. We arranged to meet in a pub near the theatre. I don't often go up to London for social events, although I have worked in London most of my working life, so I always feel a bit like the country mouse come to town when I go. I also hadn't been to London on my own since the summer, when I had to go to two hospital appointments in London. I've been up twice in the evenings for social events, both times with Neil, so this was going to be my first time using public transport late at night on my own. Even earlier this week, I balked at the thought and indeed, I cancelled going to a meeting in London on Monday early evening, largely because I still felt uneasy at the thought of being on a train with loads of people. However, my trip to Bluewater gave my confidence a boost and I felt perfectly able to cope.

The journey to London was fine; I negotiated the train and tube and found the pub without too much difficulty, despite my inability to look at a map and figure out which way I need to go. I was the first to get to the pub, although Fin arrived about two minutes after I did! Ron arrived later and Gill couldn't get away from work until a bit later, so Fin and I had the chance for a wee catch-up. His lovely wife Anne, who was also at uni with us, died of cancer just over nine years ago, so he is sadly familiar with what it feels like to be riding the cancer train and we shared some experiences and feelings. I found it really helpful to talk to someone who's been there and knows about the uncertainties and worries.

However, the day was about old friends getting together for a good blether, so we didn't dwell on it and didn't get maudlin. This was a day for reminiscing and enjoying each others' company. It was strange (in an amazingly happy way) how the years rolled away and suddenly it felt as if we were all 19 again, learning how to be independent, form our own opinions rather than reflect our parents', making mistakes and having fun. Isn't it great when that happens and you pick up from where you left off so easily?

We met Gill at the theatre and Fin arranged for us to have a glass of champagne before the start of the performance - I love the way you can get plastic champagne flutes now and can take your drink into the auditorium, because just as we sat down to sip our drink, the five minute bell rang! In we trotted and took our seats - and what great seats they were! We had a perfect view of the stage, close enough to see everything but without having to crane our necks upwards. The show was amazing - if you've seen the film Ghost, you will know the story - and the musical is faithful to the story but obviously injects a lot of song into it. And what songs! - the music is superb and the singing was excellent. The two young leads were completely convincing (the male lead, Richard Fleeshman, had played Craig Harris, Rosie's goth boyfriend, when he was but a lad) and the Oda Mae Brown/Rita Miller character was brilliant. The special effects were incredible - the sets changed quickly, taking you from the loft apartment to a busy banking office, to the New York subway, to a city street, with the most effective lighting. All in all, a wonderful production which had me laughing one minute and in tears the next. There was a standing ovation for the leads, who were doing their last two London performances yesterday before transferring to Broadway.

Fin had arranged for champagne during the interval (we had to use plastic flutes again as we didn't finish it before the second half bell rang and we were determined not to leave any in the bottle!) and, as if all this weren't enough, he also arranged for us to go backstage after the performance and meet the cast leads. They were so friendly and happy to chat to us for a few minutes, even though they had an evening performance to prepare for.

This day out was turning out to be pretty amazing! We adjourned to the Criterion restaurant where we had a bottle of Bollinger - I felt like Patsy from AbFab but without the beehive and drug habit. Oh, and minus about eight inches in height! So actually, not that much like her, now I come to think of it! The Criterion was an oasis of calm in the midst of the bustle of London - in fact, it reminded me of being in a place like Cafe Florian in Venice, or a traditional coffee-house in Salzburg. Then off to the Chinese restaurant for a veritable feast. I stuffed my little belly to the brim - and yes, there was more champagne!

We had a great catch-up: lots of "whatever happened to....?" and a bit of Google searching to try and find out! With all four of us being Scottish, we had a good old grumble about declining standards of spelling and grammar - oh yes, our inner pedants were proudly outed!

Last trains beckoned and we had to bring the evening to a close and make our ways home. Arm in arm, we trotted down to Embankment station and said our farewells (Ron and Gill are married, so set off together on their long journey home, Fin lives within walking distance of Embankment and I had to get to Victoria and catch my train)with promises to meet up again soon. My lovely husband Neil came and met me at the station so I didn't have to walk up the road on my own in the dark (I've done it loads of times on my own before but there's still a bit of self-confidence I need to refind).

Our friend Fin literally treated us to the whole day and wouldn't let any of us even buy a drink - thank you, Fin, for your wonderful kindness and generosity. Being with old friends from those formative and special years was a real privilege and we've decided we need to start putting dates in the diary for us to meet again so we actually meet on a more regular basis.

After such a positive two days, I woke up this morning feeling pretty good. I had my usual monthly check-up at the Marsden and was anticipating that everything would be fine, as it has been the past several visits. When I was making the appointment in December, the receptionist asked if I was okay with it being Friday the 13th... "Yes, of course," I replied. Cue a hollow laugh.....

First off, Adam was supposed to come with me and then we were going to do a bit of shopping. He had gone down to his friend's place in Brighton yesterday and was driving back this morning in time to come with me to the Marsden. At half nine, he called to say he was on the motorway with a flat tyre and no jack! Luckily he is in the AA and was able to get them to sort him out, but he wasn't back in time to go with me to hospital so I had to go on my own - which, under normal circumstances, would have been fine. I was planning on going to Ikea afterwards to check out some wardrobes for Amy's room, so my day was pretty much planned.

I saw my consultant, told him I was feeling good, was back at the gym, planning on doing the London marathon, etc etc. I wanted him to check that there wasn't any inflammation hanging around that might compromise my PET CT scan next month, so he had a look inside my mouth, under my tongue, down my throat etc., and pronounced that everything was looking good. Then he did an external physical examination and pushed and prodded my neck. Then he pushed and prodded a bit more...and a bit more.....and then said "Hmmm, there's a lymph node there that feels a bit soft. I think we'll get that looked at so let's just arrange an ultrasound scan, today if we can. No need to worry." How often have I heard those words since I first noticed those lumps on my jaw last March? Far too often. And do I believe them? Actually, no. Experience teaches me that there is usually every reason to worry.

I was slotted in as an urgent ultrasound, which meant waiting for a couple of hours until the radiologist had an opportunity to see me in between patients with booked appointments. I really appreciate the doctor making the time available to see me (being a polite little person, I did tell him this). The consultant had said that the radiologist would take a tissue sample if he thought there was anything to be concerned about and that, in any case, the ultrasound would be discussed at the MDT next Wednesday, so I had to make an appointment to go back next week, which feels like - and indeed, is - a backward step, going back to weekly check-ups.

You can imagine the state of nervousness and anxiety as I lay on the bed, watching the radiologist peering intently at the screen as he moved the probe over my neck. "Turn your head this way, please." "Now this way." "Now this way again, please". Just as I was waiting for his next words to be "I need to take a fine needle aspiration now", he said the sweetest words I could have heard - "I can't see any mass, so no need to take a sample. It all looks fine to me." You can imagine the sense of relief I felt.

I left the hospital and phoned Neil as I walked to the car park to let him know what had gone on and that's when it hit me. I got a bit weepy, largely out of relief but also the sad recognition that this is what it's going to be like from now on...any lump, unexpected bump or ache and it will have to be checked out, with that constant feeling of dread that it's going to turn out to be bad news. There's no real escape from this disease - it may recede to the back of my mind, but it's always there, worming its way to the front from time to time.

I think that it hit me harder today because the past couple of days have been so positive and forward-looking. However, I coped with being at the hospital on my own, waiting for the scan on my own, hearing the doctor's opinion on my own, so I'm stronger than I maybe thought I was. I'm not sure I would have coped with it a month or two ago without getting worked up and upset immediately the consultant spotted something a bit unusual.

So, back to the reality of living with a cancer dx. There it is, whispering away in its nasty, evil, sibilant way.... "Just when you think it's all going your way, just remember I'm sitting here in the background and I might just come back for another little visit." Well, nasty cancer, you can just stay away from me because I don't want you back!


  1. Crumbs Ali I was anxious and weepy just reading it - you are amazing I am just sorry that you have had to show it so much xxx

  2. hugs ali xxxx glad lumpy was given the all clear and you had a lovely time with your friends as well, Loonicles xxxx

  3. What a horrible bump down to earth after such a lovely day. Dwell on your day in London. Sounds fantastic :-) xx