Monday, 23 April 2012

One year, three days and 26.2 miles later..... I am, wearing an oversized t-shirt which proclaims to the world that I am a 2012 Virgin London Marathon finisher. Yes, I did it! Yesterday I completed the London Marathon (note that I do not say that I ran it, because there wasn't a huge amount of running involved!). Given that only a few months ago, even getting to the end of my road (and that's in a downhill direction) was a struggle, this is an incredible demonstration of the amazing recuperative powers of the human body. And, perhaps, it is a demonstration of how I can be a determined little bugger when I need to be :-)

How can I describe the day? I am not sure I can find the words to describe the days leading up to Marathon day and the day itself, but here goes!

First of all, I was apprehensive - was I going to be able to get around the distance? I know I did 18 miles walking on the Downs a couple of weeks ago, but this was almost half the distance again. I didn't want to start the day thinking I wouldn't get round, or would struggle, but part of me kept thinking that it wasn't that long since I had started having enough energy and stamina to return to exercise. Had I taken on too much? This is where it really helped to know that I would be going round the course with two friends. We could all help each other when it got tough.

As the day got nearer, I became more and more excited. I went to the Expo on Friday afternoon and met up with some running friends; some of them were running but some were going to be carrying out the very valuable role of Mile 17 supporter, making sure there would be some champagne left for me when I finally got there. Expo always makes the marathon seem so much more real, somehow - the atmosphere is buzzing, there are runners who look confident, apprehensive and some plain scared! It does bring it home to everyone just what lies ahead, I think.

 On Saturday evening, I set out everything I needed, replacing the white laces in my trainers with the red ones all the marathon runners are given, lacing the timing chip onto those cheerful red laces, setting out my Alice in Wonderland costume (including rather cute little blue hairband), packing my kit bag to leave on the baggage lorry, preparing my nutrition for the day...this was nothing sophisticated, believe me! Some fruit jellies decanted into a sandwich bag and a Jordan's trail bar were the sum total of it. I also packed some co-codamol in case any bits of me started to hurt, some aspirin (still the best thing to give anyone if they collapse with a heart attack), some pain relief gel and some blister plasters. I had more medical supplies than I had food!

I set the alarm for 6.45 on Sunday morning. My lovely husband had offered to drive me up to Blackheath, since our trains don't start running early enough on a Sunday morning for me to get up to Croydon to catch a train up towards London, which is how I normally travel to Greenwich/Blackheath. It was a great relief to know I could just sit in the car and be taken all the way there, rather than having to struggle to get a seat on a crowded train, along with several hundreds of runners and supporters! Up, porridge made and eaten, plenty pain relief applied in the necessary places as a precaution and then I donned my Alice costume, did a final check that I had my runner's number with me (plus the required number of safety pins) and that my timing chip really was securely tied on and then off we set.

At Blackheath, I met up with my running mates and Neil took some photos of the three of us. I look freezing in them and that would be because actually, I was! It was a chilly old morning. My friend Deb had created a magnificent Mad Hatter outfit (Johnny Depp incarnation) and looked absolutely brilliant, complete with white false eyelashes, bobbins strung across her body and a bright orange fright wig. Sublime. Neil left us to go home, leave the car and then come up on the train to support later in the day and the three of us went to our respective start points (Phil at the red start and Deb and me at the blue start) where I met up with another running friend, Derek, to say hello and wish him luck. Lots of people wanted to take photos of Alice and the Mad Hatter, including some runners from an Italian running club - of course, we were only too happy to pose!

We started near the back, with the other slow people. What can I say about the race? It was hot, it was unbelievably noisy because of the tremendous support all the way round, it was fun. We high-fived the children (and adults too!), danced about to the music when we passed live bands, waved, accepted jelly babies and other sweeties and generally smiled our way round. Neil and Amy, plus a few of Amy's friends, turned up at seven points along the route, including after the finish line, and seeing them gave me such a boost! I also saw another running friend, totally unexpectedly, just after the start - she was taking photos and we spotted each other at the same time and had a quick hug and chat. At Mile 17, I had my mandatory glass of champagne from the wonderful Runners World support crew - that was emotional! I don't think I was the only one in tears at that point - to get to Mile 17 was a milestone (pardon the pun!) for me; last time I was at Mile 17, I was on the other side of the barrier, supporting runners, little knowing the difficult time that lay ahead of me. Was that really only a year ago?

From Mile 13, I had been craving a cup of tea and at Mile 25, just after the heavens opened, there were Neil and Amy, with a cup of tea for me. It tasted sublime - stuff your energy drinks, it's tea that revives me every time!

I had wanted to keep something in reserve so that I could be confident I could cross the finish line running, rather than walking. I can't begin to do justice to a description of the range of emotions coursing through me as we trotted those last few hundred yards - utter elation at having done it, sadness at what my poor family have had to put up with over the past year and yes, a personal sadness, a feeling sorry for myself moment at all I have gone through. Most of all, though, I felt a sheer rush of pride at having done what I wanted to do - blow a big fat raspberry at the evil that is cancer. Crossing that finish line was the clearest way I could show that I wasn't going to let having been ill stop me doing the things I love. So what if my smile is wonky? I still smiled at all the supporters the whole way round. So what if I had to walk most of it? I did it. I got the same medal and oversized t-shirt as the much faster runners.

I couldn't hold the tears in at the end. It did get me some nice hugs from the marshalls, though! By this time, I was cold, wet and quite shaky - I had felt a bit dizzy when I stopped to drink my tea at Mile 25, so I had to get some sugar into me quickly. I think (can't quite remember!) I ate something from the goody bag we were all given. I know that one of the marshalls had to get my foil blanket out of my bag and wrap it round me, because I was just shaking with cold and emotion. Meeting up with Neil and Amy at the end just about finished me and I "proper cried", as the youngsters would say.

I know, looking back at the day, that I didn't take enough nutrition on board during the day, which is why I was seriously wobbly at the end. We found somewhere for me to change (I had packed trackie bottoms, a long-sleeved top and - most importantly - my Crocs, so that I could get out of my trainers). Amy had to help me by untying my laces (fingers too cold and shivery), removing my shoes and socks - which revealed the massive blister on the side of my heel! Why didn't I stop and put one of my plasters on it?? - and helping me get dressed again into my warm, dry clothes. Meanwhile, Neil got me some tea and a sandwich to accompany the chocolate he had brought for me and after about half an hour, I finally warmed up. Amy and her friend Jane went off to meet up with some friends and Neil and I popped into the Chandos pub, off Trafalgar Square, to say a quick hello to the Runners World people - it's where we go every year. I didn't want even to stay for one drink, as I felt seriously cold and tired by now.

Wearing my medal and foil blanket, Neil and I came home to Oxted and I hobbled up the road to our house. Collapsed on the sofa, ate some food (no pasta!!) and drank lots of tea. Today has, strangely, been a lot more emotional than yesterday and I have found myself a bit tearful at times. Maybe it's because the Marathon was such an important milestone for me and now I have crossed it off my list.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped me get to the start line. The support yesterday was immensely important, so thank you to all the dedicated people who spend all day lining the route to cheer and encourage us - especially to the Macmillan support teams, the Mile 17 crew and, of course, my lovely husband and daughter for turning up so often - I heard them before I saw them, largely due to Amy doing her foghorn impression and yelling my name, which of course made other people start shouting my name.I felt like a celebrity at times! I'd also like to thank Neil, Amy and Adam for their staunch belief in me, that I could do this marathon. They knew (especially Neil) how very important it was for me to do it, as a mark of my recovery and to prove the benefits of exercise when you've been seriously ill. They have had to listen to my doubts and worries and excitement about it all for months now! I'd also like to thank Natalie for her part in this - she knows what I mean! Finally, thank you for all the generous donations to my chosen charity, Macmillan Cancer Support - I have exceeded my target amount by over 100%. Superb!

I am a 2012 Virgin London Marathon finisher!!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

What a difference a year makes...

It's a strange kind of day for me today, because it's exactly a year to the day, and pretty much to the hour, since I was given my cancer diagnosis. I was told the news sympathetically, caringly and professionally by my consultant and Macmillan nurse, who must have given this news scores, hundreds of times and yet who still made it personal to me, not making me feel as if I were one more person on this conveyor belt of cancer patients.

I remember it was a beautifully sunny day. When we drove home, in shock I think, I was able to justify putting on my sunglasses to hide my weeping eyes. They're weeping now as I recall the shock, fear and then numbness I felt when I heard the words coming out of the consultant's mouth and saw the understanding in his eyes as he saw my face change.

Neil and I sat in the garden all afternoon, not really talking about it, each of us trying to process the news in our own ways and coming together for a hug and a few tears as we tried to make sense of this world, our new world that had tilted on its axis. How to tell the children was uppermost on our minds....our daughter was travelling in South America and communication was patchy and dependent on phone signals and internet cafes. How could we ruin her trip that she had worked so hard to achieve Our son was at work but would be home later - how could we tell him this news and tilt his world as well?  In the end, we decided to wait until we had both assimilated the news and then tell each of them at a time we felt was ...not "right" - how could there ever be a "right time" to give this kind of news? - but a time when we felt we would be strong enough to cope with any reaction from them and when we knew a bit more about treatment and outcomes.

Since then - well, you all know what's happened if you've been reading my blog. I look out of the window today and it's raining (weather that, ironically, would have been much better suited to the news I got last year! The pathetic fallacy clearly isn't always alive and well....). Neil has gone to work, our son is off at uni, our daughter is back home from her travels and off at work. I'm here, alive, in remission, enjoying life and going for my monthly check-up tomorrow, which I hope and pray will continue to show no signs of cancer. I'm glad that today is so different, both in weather and in terms of who is at home, than last year. I don't want a re-run any more than I am already replaying it in my mind, although I did say to Neil that in a way, it would have been good to have him at home today and just be the two of us, but that might have ended up being a bit too introspective and brought us both down.

Instead, I shall celebrate the fact that a year ago, I thought my world was crashing down around my ears. Today, my world has been built back up again, on the firm foundation of family, friends, faith and the medical profession (couldn't find another word beginning with "f"!). It's a slightly different world, but it's a great world. Neil, Amy, Adam and I together have dealt with our family being diverted from its usual course and onto a different path. We're walking this new path together, arms linked, me the smallest as usual, leaving our shadows behind.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Dahling, how lovely to see you!

Have you ever walked down a street, or sat on a train, or been in a department store and seen someone you recognise? You think it's a friend of yours, but can't quite recall their name, so you smile, say "Hello", have a wee chat with them and only once you've walked away do you realise that it was an actor whose face is beamed into your sitting-room through the television screen - you think you "know" them, because they look so familiar!

I had this experience on a huge scale last night, when I was at the Olivier Awards at the Royal Opera House. My lovely friend, Fin, had invited me to accompany him to the awards ceremony and after-party - you'll remember the story of my posh frock shopping trip from an earlier blog!

I'll start the story of the day with arriving at Fin's apartment  (it's far too gorgeous to call it a flat). I had been in Cambridge on a training course for my church - I think this means that I can now claim to have studied at Cambridge, don't you? Post-graduate course, obviously.....The course itself was really useful but it was pretty tiring, as there was a lot of information to assimilate and we did a lot of group work so the level of engagement required was quite high. The other delegates were from URCs across the UK and we had some time to socialise as well and a couple of hours to look around the beautiful city of Cambridge. I went for a run early on Saturday morning and running along the banks of the Cam, seeing the punts bobbing gently, the sun filtering through the trees and the peaceful start to the day as Cambridge came to life was a bit of a bonus (and helped counter-act the effects of the rather large amounts of food I consumed over the three days!).

I left Cambridge on Sunday morning, part-way through the morning sessions, so that I could arrive at Fin's for 1 pm. Thanks to the marvellously punctual FirstCapitalConnect train service and London Transport, I did actually appear on Fin's doorstep at about 2 minutes to 1 - how's that for timing?? After a quick catch-up, we both disappeared to our respective rooms to get ready. I put into practice the tips I had learned at my Look Good, Feel Better workshop at the Royal Marsden a few weeks ago and finally was ready to slip into my new frock. Gentle readers, I am delighted to say that I felt fabulous in it! Combined with the make-up and a very simple hairstyle, the dress made me feel that I looked the best I have since I had my surgery last year. Fin was in the kilt, a wonderfully unique red kilt with thistles incorporated into the panels. Which tartan? MacFlamboyant, I think :-) There's something about a  man in a kilt that seems to appeal to people, because I lost count of the number of people who came up to us over the next twelve hours and commented on how fantastic Fin looked - and he did look fantastic! We felt quite the Beautiful Couple in our finery. We took a couple of photos in Fin's apartment and then went down to get our car to the Criterion restaurant, where Fin had booked a table for us to have lunch. It's a gorgeous restaurant, very opulent and glamorous and the staff all said how wonderful we looked, so my head was beginning to swell a bit!

I bet it's no surprise to you to learn that my very delicious meal was accompanied by champagne - oh yes! We started the day as we meant to go on - in style and with lots of bubbles! When it was time to leave for the pre-show drinks at the Waldorf (the glamour continues!), we realised that the rain was pouring down outside, scuppering our plans to walk from the Criterion to the Waldorf. We had been hoping that we might get mistaken for celebrities by tourists, because who else would be in full Highland dress and a floor-length silk dress in daylight?! However, since we didn't want to arrive in rain-spattered clothes and with frizzy hair (in my case!), Fin arranged for us to be picked up and driven to the Waldorf. We did get some appreciative comments and compliments from the groups of people outside the restaurant as we left and some Japanese/Korean tourists smiled and said something which we think might have been complimentary!

At the Waldorf, we were having pre-awards drinks with the group from Ghost - the Musical (the more sharp of memory amongst you will remember that Fin took me and two other uni friends to see this in January). The production was up for several awards, so our group was a mix of actors, producers, publicity, etc. Fin is one of the producers - the show is in preview stage on Broadway, so he will be going over for Press Night next week. If there's any justice in the world, it will be as phenomenally popular over there as it has been over here. I had several people comment on my frock, which made me feel good, as you can imagine.

Fin had forwarded me the email with details of the arrangements for the awards, in which we were advised that the only access to the Royal Opera House was via the red carpet...I've never been on a red carpet before! And this was no short, thin strip of CarpetRight - this was a long, very wide carpet, with barriers on either side, crowds of people lined up to watch everyone arrive, cameras flashing and people calling out the names of the various celebrities. Just walking up the red carpet, I walked past Natascha McElhone, James McAvoy, Anne-Marie Duff, Jack Davenport and Zoe Wanamaker. I was feeling a bit star-struck already! I took a photo of Fin with Zoe Wanamaker and with Jack Davenport and sneaked a few phone photos of the others on the red carpet.

We had fantastic seats in the ROH - front stalls, near the front. Patrick Stewart and Lenny Henry were two rows in front, Kara Tointon two rows behind, James McAvoy and Anne-Marie Duff one row in front, Zoe Wanamaker three rows in front, and June Brown (Dot Cotton from EastEnders) about five seats away from me. Phyllida Law (mother of Emma and Sophie Thompson) was almost right in front of me. Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball were hosting the awards for the second time, I think, and I thought they were really good - as with all of these events, you get blips and when the show is broadcast live, there's the potential for awkward silences and embarrassed throat clearing, but on the very small number of occasions where links or mics didn't work, they coped brilliantly - great ad-libbing, relaxed approach and humour. I hadn't expected or realised that during the awards ceremony, we would also be entertained by dancers, singers and performers on stage - Sarah Lancashire sang, we had performances from South Pacific, Singing in the Rain, Matilda,  Crazy for You and the Wizard of Oz. We also had a stunning duet from the Royal Ballet and, when Sir Tim Rice was given a special asward, we had a real treat: a rendition of I Know Him So Well by Maria Friedman and another singer whose name I can't remember, an impeccable, emotionally soaring performance of Don't Cry for Me, Argentina by Elaine Paige, who spoke very movingly about Tim Rice. He was very humble in his response - he came across as a total gentleman and looked like the kind of person who would be very happy and entertaining just having a couple of glasses of wine in the pub! For me, one of the highlights of the day was the unexpected (by me!) end to the ceremony: in honour of Tim Rice, we had a performance of the opening number from The Lion King, complete with the magnificent animals processing down the aisles. I could feel myself welling up - I just remembered how overwhelmed I was when Neil and I went to see the show in January and I found myself crying as the curtains opened! What a magnificent end to the awards ceremony itself!

This wasn't the end, though - oh no! We were invited to the after-show party, so we moved upstairs with the other lucky invitees and started mingling. I tell you, it was wall-to-wall celebrity! I shall try and list those people I spoke to or saw: (deep breath)
Babs Windsor
Jim Carter
Imelda Staunton
Eric Pollard from Emmerdale
Sir Trevor Nunn
Jonny Lee Miller
Ruth Wilson
Gillian Bevan
Celia Imrie
Katherine Kelly (Becky from Corrie)
Lesley Manville
Kimberley Walsh
Ronan Keating
Sandra Dickinson
Michael Landon (Dempsey from Dempsey and Makepeace)
..and that's over and above the ones we saw on the red carpet!!

We spent some time chatting with Katherine Kelly, Celia Imrie, Gillian Bevan and Lesley Manville and I had a brief chat with Ronan Keating. Amy (daughter) had texted me to say that I was to ask Ronan Keating for his phone number, so I told him this and he laughed and said "Sure", but I didn't think this was a serious request or answer, so I just got my photo taken with him instead and sent it to Amy to make her feel jealous :-D (It worked!).

Without exception, all the people we met - actors, directors, producers, other guests - were charming, friendly and very happy to chat. I had a complete and utter blast! Lesley Manville even commented on my dress, yay! It was a totally fantastic evening and came to an end just before 1 a.m - Fin and I went back to his apartment and had a cup of tea (perfect end to a perfect day). By the time we finished chatting, it was nearly three in the morning - the latest night I have had in over a year! Well worth staying up so late, as I just had the most glorious time. Fin had said he hoped that going to this event would be good for my confidence and he was absolutely right - not once did I think about my face, but what I did think about was that actually, I looked pretty good in my frock and could hold my head up and talk to people without feeling I need to apologise or explain about how I look.

<unfolds piece of paper, adjusts microphone, clears throat>

I'd like to thank the following people:
My wonderful husband, Neil, for encouraging me to have the confidence to go out and enjoy myself without worrying about how I look and for telling me all the time how beautiful I am. Also for being so happy for me to be invited to such a prestigious event while he did the gardening and food shopping :-);
My children, for doing the same and for helping me choose my dress;
My amazing friends, for their encouragement and kind comments on Facebook about my dress
and finally, to my lovely friend Fin, for thinking of me and giving me the chance to be part of the wonderful world of London Theatre.

I might have introduced the above paragraph in a flippant way, but the sentiments are heartfelt and genuine. I feel very blessed.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Just over half of Seven Sisters....

It's been a fairly quiet week since my last blog. That's not a bad thing, actually, since I was pretty busy the previous week, with shopping, wedding, gym etc and this week is starting to get more filled, so it was probably good to have a bit of a lull.

I took my glam frock to be altered so that I don't trip over it when I am at the Olivier Awards (oh, have I mentioned I am going to those? I'm sure I must have, a few times at least.....!). The rest of the week was spent doing domestic stuff, chatting to Adam about uni and just pottering around. I have discovered a great talent for pottering around over the last few months. I can while away most of the day doing a bit of tidying here, some cleaning there, a little light dusting over there, a bit of reading, catching up with missed episodes of Corrie - it's easy to fill the time!

The only thing we had planned for Easter was to go walking on Saturday with our friend Jonathan. We have done a lot of walks with him over the years (he climbed Kili with us and has climbed various other big hills with Neil) and had arranged this a few weeks ago. We drove down to his house and then on to Seaford, where we started our walk. We did 18 miles (a bit more distance once you factor in the elevations), including four of the Seven Sisters - hence the title of this post! We had to take off our boots and socks and roll up our trouser legs to cross the river. I believe the water was what you would call "bracing" - we called it flipping freezing (one of those words may have been sanitised for public consumption....).

Our walk included a pub lunch, a cup of tea in Alfriston and coffee and a hot cross bun back at Jonathan's house, so we were in no danger of going thirsty or hungry. Back home by about 9 o'clock and both of us were pretty tired by our day. I also had a little blister on the pad of my big toe - this is officially Not Good, as I need to get rid of it before VLM day, so I had to prick it (apologies to those of you with needle phobias, but sometimes it's the only thing to be done!).

On Sunday, I was reading at church and had also arranged to make an announcement before the start of the service asking for sponsorship for VLM. People were so generous and I raised another few hundred pounds, so I am able to pass over a respectable amount of money to Macmillan Cancer Support. I am humbled and thankful for the generosity of so many people, not just in terms of financial support for Macmillan, but for practical and emotional support over the past year and continuing now, as I start to gear up for the start of work on my face, beginning with my first Botox treatment next month. I tell you, I am going to end up looking younger than my peers :-)

I arrived home from church and my baby brother had arrived - he is visiting us for a few days. We don't get many opportunities to spend time together, so it's great having some time to chat or just sit watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which is what we're doing right now! We had a traditional Easter roast and were joined by the young lad whom our son is working 1-2-1 with this week. He is non-verbal autistic and an absolutely beautiful, delightful boy, even if he is very tiring and demanding to care for. It was good to have our family all together again for a meal, with the addition of my baby brother and this young lad.

We didn't really do anything on Easter Monday - weather pretty shabby, so a walk or bike ride were out of the question. We called round to see our friends, played with their puppy (no, not a euphemism) and then came home for a Quiet Night In.

Today, back to exercise - I have missed it over the past couple of days and, because I hadn't done a lot last week, was feeling a bit lardy. So, today I have been to the gym, a Zumba class and Pilates this evening. I feel much better for it too.

And so to now, and we are about to watch a programme on BBC2 about the Royal Marsden Hospital, where I was so well cared for last year. I'm not sure how easy the programme will be to watch, whether it will remind me of a difficult and distressing time, but I do feel it's important to watch it. They do wonderful work and it's good that people know about them.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The one with the posh frocks and the wedding....

I'm sitting in the conservatory, sunshine streaming through the glass and warming me up. Lady Sybil (cat) is asleep on the other armchair, basking in the heat and dreaming feline dreams.

My positive, happy streak continues. On Friday afternoon, Amy and I drove through to Tunbridge Wells to look for a glamorous frock for me to wear to the VIP event I have been lucky enough to be invited to by my old friend from uni, Fin. He has invited me to be his guest at the Olivier Awards at the Royal Opera House and at the after-show party as well, so I shall be engaging in some major celebrity spotting, probably looking completely star-struck as I recognise faces that have been on my tv or film screen over the years.....I shall try to preserve some air of sophistication, an attempt to be very cool about the fact that I am breathing in the same air as the elite of London's theatres, but I can't imagine I will be very successful! Anyway, as you can imagine, a glittering evening demands a suitable dress. While I have some lovely posh frocks, they are all too big for me now and it's important to feel you're looking your best, isn't it? I was recommended a vintage clothes shop in T Wells, so off we went to have a look at it.

It's strange how calling something "vintage" somehow makes it sound less like second-hand, which is, after all, what it is! It's not much different from buying clothes in a charity shop, just a different price range and designer labels rather than high street names. The woman who runs the shop was really helpful - we explained what the occasion was and she asked me what kind of dress I wanted and then picked out several dresses for me to try on. I had gone in thinking that I would get something quietly under-stated and subtle (no point in trying to compete with people who are given gowns for the evening by designers desperate to have their creations featured on the red carpet, I feel!) but in the end, I came out with something quite the opposite! As soon as I put it on, I knew it was the one to get and Amy and the shop owner agreed. It capitalises on the fact that I am slimmer than I've ever been and just makes me feel like a million dollars. It needs to be shortened, as at the moment I trip over the hem, being a bit of a shorty! It's been worn once, for a photo-shoot for a magazine feature, so the model would have been typical model height and considerably taller than I am! I also need a couple of stitches to protect my modesty, as it presents a certain corsetry challenge, shall we say?? It's a beautiful dress and needs very little accessorising, so no need for lots of jewellery. I've got the perfect shoes and bag to go with it, so I just need to work out how I shall wear my hair and do the other various grooming routines. I'm so glad I had my make-up session at the Marsden last week, as I definitely feel more confident when I have made up my face.

Amy got a beautiful dress, which she shared with everyone on Facebook - a great bargain, as it is a David Emanual (of Princess Diana's wedding dress fame) with the tag still attached and we got it for a phenomenally low price. She wore it to the wedding we went to on Saturday, when Neil's oldest nephew got married. That was a lovely occasion - seeing two people making that commitment to each other and being part of their very special day is such a privilege. It was great to catch up with Neil's family too, who had gathered in Luton (bride's home town) from their homes in Devon, Suffolk and Hampshire. Amy and Adam were a great credit to us and we were very proud of them - Adam spent a long time talking to the bridegroom's grandma (no blood relation to us), who didn't really know anyone except for her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren and he really looked after her and afterwards said  how much fun he'd had chatting to her. Meanwhile, Amy got her cousins up onto the dance floor and was the leader of the energetic dancing! Adam got up to join her and it was so lovely to see the two of them laughing together and having fun with their cousins. Adam had only got home from uni at about half eleven the previous night, so we were delighted to have him back again and have our little family unit complete once more, even if he's only home for two weeks.

I had volunteered to drive us home from Luton, since Neil doesn't often get the chance to spend time with his family and he spent all of last year ferrying me around, so I felt that he should have the chance to have a couple of beers if he wanted and not have to take the responsibility of driving us home. I did start to flag at about half nine but it took another three quarters of an hour to get our children off the dance floor, as they were having such a good time, leaping around and "busting their moves", as I believe the young people say nowadays <old gimmer emoticon>.... The drive home was fine and was the farthest I've driven in over a year, so that's another milestone achieved.

Quiet day on Sunday, church and then lounging about reading the Sunday papers and cooking a roast dinner - how lovely it was to be sitting all together round the table again! Adam went out in the evening to catch up with his friends (he is working all over Easter at Disability Challengers playscheme and also doing 1-2-1 work with a young boy with severe autism, whom he and Amy have worked with for several years now, so won't have that much free time to see his mates) and Amy, Neil and I played a board game.

Today, I've been round to my friend Sally's for tea and birthday cake, as it's her birthday today. I absolutely love my life right now - I feel healthy, I have my lovely family and friends around me, I am starting to give something back by helping out at Orpheus and I feel altogether more positive about things than I have done in a long time. Yes, it's sobering to remember that a year ago yesterday, I had my biopsy and, looking back, the fact that the doctor went straight for a biopsy rather than a fine needle sample should have started some alarm bells ringing, but that's what hindsight does for you! Four months ago, I couldn't see that I would ever have any energy again, yet now I am exercising on a regular basis and finding more stamina every week.

I'm alive and I'm grateful.