Friday, 30 August 2013

All is Rosie.....

3 am is the witching hour; when once again I find myself curled on the sofa listening to the chirrup of crickets, who seem blissfully unaware they are soon to be a dragon's breakfast.
My joints ache, and the Tamoxifen induced night sweats make me a restless bedfellow.

There is something strangely soothing about cricket song, an evocative sound that instantly transports me back to the endless summer days of childhood; when the sun always shone and we were free to roam to the forest or beach, with strict instructions to be home before tea.

 We roamed as a pack, we neighbourhood kids; safety in numbers, eldest looking out for youngest.... and sibling rivalries, for the most part, kept for home. Our days were spent cycling through winding country lanes, to picnic by cool forest streams where sticklebacks and water boatmen darted through the shallows; or to the beach to mould our bodies into the warm shingle, drowsy and hypnotised by the gentle shush of waves .

I like to think it was like this... but was it really?  We all edit our lives as if to play out on the big screen; boredom, pain and conflict removed; a past viewed through a filtered lens. We recall with fondness those uncomplicated moments when friends could be relied upon and the world was a forgiving place; choosing to omit the dark days, the dull days, the difficult times that also shaped who we are.

How will I edit my life at present? I'm not sure.... Perhaps it should stay as a first rush, the good, the bad and the ugly in brilliant high definition; and not a soft focus lens in sight.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

New broom...

When the frustrations of my life get too much, I clean.

The sharp scent of ammonia and bleach bite at  my nostrils as I spray, scrub and wipe; the steady drone of the Hoover quieting the noise of the tumbling thoughts in my head.

Steamy hot water, foam on porcelain ; the squeak of the cloth as it scours away the dirt, grime and sense of failure.

Fingers prune, joints ache, a thin bead of sweat trickles down my spine .....
but my surroundings are transformed, order restored, and for a short while there is the quiet glow of satisfaction at a job well done.

This is my therapy

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Food for thought

I love how the garden smells after the rain; how everything looks so much greener and fresher. It's the best time to gather tomatoes, when the cool of the rain has released that scent of earth and promise, and the warmth of the sun has coloured the skins just enough to be seen amidst the tangle of leaves and vines. My small harvest is added to the mixture of tomatoes, chillies and peppers that have already found their way into the bowl on the side to finish ripening at their leisure; ready to be transformed into something delicious, or simply rubbed onto ciabatta with a drizzle of oil and sprinkling of salt. The simple act of eating something home grown, an echo of childhood.

When I was young I used to long for neat sandwiches made from shop brought bread, with pale crusts and uniform slices; filled with pink processed ham or squares of rubbery cheese and cut into even triangles; dainty and precise. I wanted so much to belong to the 'pristine lunchbox brigade' with their plastic bread and hermetically sealed cakes.

 Instead we ate 'real food' - home grown vegetables, freshly baked bread, cakes, biscuits and jams. No pre packed 'mothers pride' for us; rather the soft feel of dough beneath our hands, the ritual pull and push of the kneading  and  tang of yeast in the air; then later the first slice, still warm from the oven, spread with butter and the sweet amber promise of homemade jam.
The kitchen was ours (if we so chose)to chop, whisk, mix, stir and sprinkle; to fight over the last scrapings in the mixing bowl and to argue over whose turn it was to wash, and whose to dry.  The only rule being to clean up after ourselves.

My packed lunch sandwiches; crumbly and delicious, filled with last night's cold meat loaf and a dollop of ketchup, or slathered with marmite and stuffed with lettuce; used to be infused with the slight tinge of shame I felt upon comparing them with the pristine white squares and triangles of my fellow diners.....but this was secondary school, where standing out, even in small ways such as this, triggered a maelstrom of teenage angst.

Nowadays I find myself repeating  the rituals of childhood,  making my own raggedy sandwiches bursting with the fillings that taste of home.... jealously guarding jars of jam and marmalade from my mother's pantry shelves, and longing for a slice of warm fruit cake. Real food, prepared with love, with a taste that lingers in the memory long after it has been consumed.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Dreaming of sleep

I love the sound of rain hitting window panes; especially at night, in the still of the house, when the dark surrounds me like a warm blanket, and the soft breathing of the cat adds a rhythm of its own.
It makes me feel safe, secure in the shelter of my home.

On nights like these, when insomnia strikes, I curl up on the sofa with a warm mug of chocolate and let my mind drift in the darkness. I miss sleep; my body craves it, but my mind pulls me back,and I know that until I clear the jumble in my head I will twist and turn in a tangle of sheets and limbs until the first streaks of light appear through slatted blinds.

As a child I had nightmares  so vivid  I can still recall them today. One recurring dream made my heart thud in terror; and often sent me scurrying to the comfort of my mother's bed...... There was a man in it, with empty eyes ; menacing and very real. He appeared out of no-where, a presence in the corner of my eye, coming steadily closer; turning my dreams into something very dark and dangerous. I was always afraid that should he catch me, I might never wake up.

This dream terrified me to such an extent, that I could never truly explain it; and then one day something happened........ I saw him, in the flesh; on a hot summers day at the beach.
 I was in a friend's beach hut, salty from the sea, wrapped in a towel and gathering clothes to change into when something made me look up. The door was pegged back, and as I stared out to the rolling waves, a man walked past carrying a blue crash helmet. He glanced through the open door  and met my gaze. It was him, it was definitely him! For a split second I remember not being able to breathe or move, waiting for whatever may come...... then relief flooding through my whole being as he turned his eyes back to the sea and walked away.

I have no idea who he was; some poor innocent bloke off for a stroll by the sea, no doubt; but for that split second he was the embodiment of all my fears..... and oddly enough he was also my saviour; as after that brief encounter, I never had that particular dream again.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Flushed away.......

When I was little my sisters persuaded me to flush a rather fetching pair of my red knickers down the loo; their argument being that dad would pick them up mid ocean , and bring them home again next shore leave. Exactly how this would have been possible I have no idea; but to my young mind it seemed an infinitely reasonable suggestion........ a view definitely not shared by my exasperated mother.

I have always  believed in the 'infinitely reasonable'; trusting rather than questioning  people's underlying motives..... although I am rapidly coming to the  conclusion that 'trust no one' would be a more enlightened path to take.

My surgeon was a case in point; promising 'a few stitches under local anaesthetic'  to repair two small sections of my stomach wound in order for it to successfully heal pre chemo.
In reality I lay on an operating table for the best part of an hour, whilst he carefully reopened a 6cm section to the depth of my first finger joint; then stitched it together again in three layers, using different sutures as he went. It was fascinating; if not vaguely surreal.... but 'a few stitches' it certainly wasn't!

Why then, when it was decided I needed a Hickman line, did I fall for the ' easily done under local anaesthetic' spiel?
I quickly learnt that "you will feel a little pressure" is a veiled euphemism for " this is going to be excruciatingly painful". So when the Hickman failed and had to be removed, you won't be surprised to hear that this too was billed as ' a straightforward procedure, no need for general anaesthetic' .......did I cease to believe, stamp my feet and demand to be fully sedated? No, but I sorely wish I had!
I will spare the gruesome details; save to say the theatre sister, mid procedure, firmly requested I was given more anaesthetic ; and at one point,  I swear the surgeon was leaning heavily on the table; pressing on my chest in order to yank the tube out.

Despite all the pain and discomfort, I was of course right to put my trust in the surgeons; yet in my working life, I wish I had trusted less, questioned more; and yes, even stamped my feet a little!
Part of me still wants to continue to believe that trust between people is all you need; that  'infinitely reasonable' suggestions are what they claim to be, and that everyone is working together for the common good...... Alas my cynicism has finally kicked in, and that blind trust, like my red knickers, has been all but 'flushed away'.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Sweating the small stuff....

I always believed I was a little fish swimming with the tide; an amenable, adaptable 'go with the flow' type of now appears I am a secret control freak!

I could blame cancer of course; as ultimately, when you are diagnosed, you take  that leap of faith and put your life in the capable hands of specialists. ... But actually I think it is definitely 'third child syndrome'.

I left the chemo unit after my first cycle of FEC ( 'fecking chemo', as it came to be known as) thinking ' that wasn't so bad, I can do this'; and eating sushi in the car on the trip home .... 5 hours later I was throwing up constantly, unable to keep down the back up anti sickness meds.
 Vomiting  first rice and fish, then water, and finally bright green bile for 10 hours straight is an edifying experience for all the wrong reasons. Looking back we refer to it as my 'Exorcist' moment, but in reality it was terrifying. Your body is no longer your own, and for all the bravado and 'Tank Girl' exterior in the face of an extremely worried husband and shell shocked son, all you really want to do is curl up and die quietly in a corner. I didn't, of course; the wonderful staff at A and E rehydrated me; finding the one vein in my arm that hadn't been burnt out, and sent me on my way still queazy, but with anti sickness meds that stood the test.

When you lose control in such a spectacular fashion, you fight to regain it in other ways; choosing when to have your head shaved, learning to inject yourself , eating healthy nutritious food and most of all ignoring the pain, nausea and fatigue to ensure a veneer of normality is maintained.
It becomes second nature to hold things together, keep things close and  become all things to all people. Without realising it, you begin to 'sweat the small stuff' and it becomes harder to let go.

Walking away from my job is scary; in doing so I have relinquished control, and am floundering, like Alice down the rabbit hole; trying to make sense of the new order of things. Do I need to 'sweat the small stuff' or is this a chance to be like the little fish I always imagined myself to be? Like Alice, only time will tell......

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

In at the deep end

When I was 3, I learnt to swim by default.

It was one of those rare, blistering hot summer days of salt kissed skin and ice cream on the beach. I was too hot in my armbands, and my sisters had no use for them; I wanted so much to be free to dive the waves. So, according to memory, I stripped them off and marched into the rolling surf.

In my minds eye I can recall being surprised when the first wave knocked me off my feet;spinning me under the wall of water. Indignant and determined I spat out half an ocean, and had another attempt, feet off floor, arms paddling like mad, waves buffeting rolling , relentlessly pushing against me..... But I swam, because not to swim never entered my mind.

Nowadays I swim in cool, blue pools, chlorinated, temperature controlled; safe and sterile. My mind can drift as I cut through the water...breathe in, breathe out.... A meditation to clear the jumble. Perhaps it has become too safe, and I need to sharpen my wits against the crashing waves and foam.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Step on a crack.......

When I was small, we used to play the pavement game.... you know, the one where you are not allowed to step on the cracks between paving stones, or some dreaded unmentionable thing would happen.
Somewhere along the line, I must have stepped on a huge crack, and fallen straight through; finding myself, after 14 years working in a place I loved, suddenly 'between jobs' .

When I lost a breast, there was no sense of shame; of having somehow become a non person; of having let everyone down. It needed to go and that was that. Losing my job, however, has wiped away my identity; rendering me paralysed and causing me to doubt my own worth.

'Take time out' is the constant message from lovely friends and family.... ' find something new; something you really want to do' .... sage advice I'm sure. So I make new routines, go swimming, watch movies , read the books on the pile that has grown by my bed; or put the ipod on shuffle and rediscover those long lost tracks whose haunting beauty had all but faded from memory. Yet all the while I am quietly grieving for what I have lost , and for who I used to be.

When I was undergoing chemo, my well used phrase in  dark moments  such as  these, was 'What would Tank Girl Do?' ...... Well, short of snogging a genetically engineered kangaroo; or driving a tank through my former employers' office; I am open to suggestions .

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Alex in Wonderland

My life at present is seemingly following Alice's path into Wonderland; complete with 'Duchess' who handed over something that was not as it seemed, and a 'Queen of Hearts' who is busy removing heads left, right and centre!

I, like Alice, am all at once left floundering at the bottom of a very dark rabbit hole; with the key just out of reach.

I would go and drink tea with the Mad Hatter; or seek advice from the Cheshire Cat; but as with all things, the Hatter is otherwise engaged and the Cheshire Cat has completely vanished.

There is no mushroom to restore equilibrium; just a toadstool, red and inviting.....but deadly.

Anyone know the whereabouts of a reliable white rabbit??

Friday, 9 August 2013

Bragging rights, scars and sibling competition

I drove home for a family lunch yesterday; and by home, I mean of course to the place where I grew up. It took 3 hours, but the iPod on shuffle kept me sane; as did the idle chatter of small son.

As I sat across from my eldest sister, a scar on her shoulder caught my eye. I knew of course that it was there, but it struck me that this was the first time I had actually seen it.

Scars are funny things; the physical manifestation of times of your life  that will never be forgotten, simply because they act as a permanent reminder.
 Childhood  mishaps, such as my 'spectacular skateboarding spill' and the long since forgotten feel of grit in an angry wound, have now faded to thin white hatch lines on a suntanned knee. Other scars remain fresh, however much they fade.

In my family we do scars incredibly well. Not your 'run of the mill, this is where I put my hand on broken glass' scars; but the deeper, darker scars of personal battles against our genetic inheritance. My eldest sister claimed first bragging rights..... A cut-throat scar; a hermetically sealed room; and much to our amusement, a Geiger counter in the bathroom! More scars followed, each surgery adding to her rights.

As with all things familial, we went in order from there; my second sister and I succumbing  to the  same diagnosis and operation within two years of each other. We were now the true Amazonians of braggers rights.
My sister's experience guided my choices, allowing me to be fearless ; and to  ultimately transform into her mirror image... hip to hip scars, my left to her right.
Through her experience,I knew what to expect and how to fight; she however was the brave pioneer with courage in spades.
When it was my turn to undertake what she had not; to watch bright red poison collapse my veins , to shave my head  and have tubes pushed deep into my chest; I learnt how to be brave in my own right.
Now every morning when I look at my scars; secretly, and in a way only those with siblings will understand, I think to myself ' I am the queen of the bragging rights '

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Making connections

I went to see Visions of the Universe at the Greenwich Maritime museum today, and as I sat transfixed at incredible views of crab nebulas, and the beauty of exploded stars; I became aware of a repeated phrase of background music; just a couple of chords really, but enough to send my mind into a frantic tailspin, desperately searching for where I had heard them before. It has just come to me now; 'Les Revenants,' a French series freshly aired on TV... Not the same music; but those same chords ....

Back at the museum, I was also drawn to the panoramic of mars..... Because at a certain point it brought memories of the Atlas Mountains to mind. ...... Well I did say I had a butterfly brain!

Monday, 5 August 2013

The art of giving....

I enjoy buying gifts; it's truly a selfish act, however; and probably brings me greater joy than the poor recipient! Perhaps it's because I believe I find just the thing... A book, a piece of clothing, a quirky mug, a film.... And then, in the cold light of day, I realise what I am really doing is foisting my eclectic tastes upon unsuspecting friends and family!

My latest offering ( and to my shame, I have given this to multiple recipients) is 'The book of human skin' by Michelle Lovric.
It is a sumptuous delight; shocking at times, yet humorous and compulsive reading. I'm not sure what my mother will make of it!
In my defence, I balanced out my gift by also giving her Tan Twang Eng's 'The garden of Evening Mists'  beautifully written, with an elegance of style which ensured I went scurrying straight back to the bookshop and bought 'The gift of rain'

..... And that's another thing, although Amazon and I are best of friends; nothing quite beats a good bookshop on a rainy afternoon.... The scent of new books, the feel and weight of the pages ; the way time seems to slow as your eyes scan for that special book that you simply must have..... even if you have no idea what exactly it is you came in for.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

How to begin

A friend once told me I had a butterfly mind; and I daresay they were correct. 
Random thoughts scatter, triggered by an image, the scent of something familiar , a piece of music, the feel of fabric, a turn of phrase.... twisting and linking together to make connections. 
If I were creative I would harness these; channel them into something special, something meaningful...... I always mean to; but as with all butterfly minds, something new grabs my attention and off I ramble once more......