Surviving Breast Cancer: More Reading, Listening and Sharing

Breast cancer re-aligns your priorities. The importance of family, friends and time to be with them and do things you enjoy become paramount.

I was glad of the opportunity to re-read Bill Bryson’s “Made in America” The book is reviewed here: https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/made-in-america-by-bill-bryson/. The text is an entertaining compendium of possible and less possible word origins. Does “okay” come from Martin Van Buren’s nickname, Old Kinderhook? Or from the fact that Andrew Jackson was reported to write “oll korrect”? Or is it from the Greek ollakalla(all good)? Bryson offers a cogent discussion of sexism in the language, and there’s a lot of orthography, etymology, and toponymy. But this isn’t just a book about language. It’s also a bestiary of American pop culture, many of whose stereotypes Bryson debunks (a back-formation from Buncombe County, N.C., of course): Ellis Island, in its original splendor, wasn’t half bad; the Puritans enjoyed a good time just like the rest of us; and Ray Kroc hadn’t the inventiveness of the Brothers MacDonald, after all. Bryson tells us a lot we surely never thought about. There’s the cost of sending a letter by Postal Express and the reason for the bump on the fuselage of the Boeing 747. “Debugging” of computers began, we are told, on the day 50 years ago when a moth entered a Navy computer. There are, however, some facts that aren’t facts. Bryson places the Polish-born British writer Joseph Conrad among the group of Americans whose names were changed from awkward foreignness. And, surprisingly for a lexicographer, he indulges in the popular confusion of the 18th-century “long s” and the modern “f.” This offering won’t replace the popular works by Flexner, much less the majestic Mencken, but the style is engaging and the narrative diverting. An index is appended, but there is no useful list of words and phrases.

If, as Winston Churchill has it, England and America are two countries divided by a common language, here’s some disarming help sent by a Yank from the other side of the pond.

Gerry McGrath’s first collection of poetry is published in his book “A to B”. It is reviewed here: https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/from-a-to-b-by-gerry-mcgrath/. He read from this when he came to visit a meeting of wkwriters. 

As well as being a highly visually stimulating poet, Gerry McGrath is also a poet concerned with humanity, with nature, with love and loss and how the prosaic and the poetic interact in day to day life.  The use of unconventional metaphors and similes gave many pleasant surprises as I saw things expressed in a way in which made perfect and beautiful sense however strange. Gerry McGrath describes ‘Untamed Lightning, Knees like Emaciated skulls, the sky…clean-shaven, Drowsy sail-cloth of your skin, Gossamer rain, Zany Butterflies, Pastry Roofs and Nicotine Grass.’ These are just a few examples of the arresting imagery which runs through this poetry collection. Some of the poems are as delicate as the ‘gossamer rain’ described by McGrath in the poem Sycamores. His poem Elegy appears in full here: https://survivingbreastcancernow.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/time-to-recover-watching-reading-listening-sharing/

I liked the later poems in this collection more than the earlier ones, although I do not know whether this was because they carried more depth of feeling or because by the time I reached them (I was more accustomed to and in tune with the poet’s tone of voice. The poems Secrets and Gift, which explore the art of writing poetry, struck me as particularly interesting as the creative process is highly individual to all writers and it is always interesting to be given a glimpse at how a poet writes. In Secrets he refers to a poet beginning with nothing and holding it ‘until it bleeds a secret’ a metaphor I found at once eerie and beautiful. In the poem Gift he refers to the way in which poets have the gift to observe ‘tiny immensities’, a gift which Gerry McGrath certainly has.

I think that ‘Tiny Immensities’ is such a beautiful and truthful phrase that it would make a good name for this collection of poetry, better than the current title A to B, which I found slightly off-putting. I understand that the collection was called A to B as it represents a journey, yet I feel that this title does not do the work as a whole any justice. The poem A to B from which I guess the title was taken, is my least favourite poem in the entire collection. In the poem McGrath tells us about butterflies, red-backed beetles and a dead marten but ends with ‘But let me tell you about the butterflies.’ While I realise that this premature ending was intentional I didn’t like it and felt let down that the poem did not go on to tell us about the butterflies as it seemingly promised to do. It only occurred to me later that this might refer to the other poems in the collection, some of which are as vulnerable and glorious as butterflies.

Some of the poems, particularly in the latter third of the book, were not so much poems, but snapshots of incidents, told in prose as precise as poetry. This was most apparent in the poems Busy, Currency, A Milky Sunlight, Two Friends, Mint Tea, Blue Light and Basics. I liked these almost poems best of all for the simplicity and honesty with which they were laid out and the way in which they all told an entire story in a snap shot. The scarcity of the language meant that by using fewer words McGrath was actually able to say more by imbuing his words with a deeper sense of meaning. The poem busy portrays someone cutting the poets hair while hearing about her Grandmother’s worsening condition. The combination of the prosaic ‘hair-clippings went flying out’ with the tragic ‘age, infirmity, depression, were all getting the better of her, pulling her down’ creates a beautiful sense of pathos, which runs on through the poems in this collection.

Every day is precious. Sometimes, in this blog, I may sound ungrateful. I am not. I know how lucky I am that my disease was found and treated early. I just do not like some of the results of my treatment. Still, it has made me slow down and given me time to spend time with those I love. Reading new books and some old favourites, sharing these with my family and friends and listening to all their views.

Valerie Penny

Advertisements

Friends and Flowers

I have never believed anybody who claims to have hundreds of friends. Friends are a treasure to be valued high above rubies and true, loyal friends are a very rare commodity. It is when times get tough that you really realise who your friends are. After the operation, word of my breast cancer spread amongst those I know quickly. I was truly overcome by the kindness, love, affection and support shown to me. The cards, flowers and chocolates given to me were lovely. Even more overwhelming were the phone calls, texts and visits.

When all of a sudden frailty struck and I had to accept the possibility of my own mortality, it was rather nice to know that there are those who care.

I received many lovely cards too. The living room of the house was so finely decorated by all these lovely things that the flowers given to me by friends at my book group and the local poetry group were displayed in the bedroom window.

There was only one problem. My disease had been found early in a scan. I had not had any symptoms. I had never felt ill, indeed, I was not aware I was ill. So I felt completely unworthy of all the good wishes I was receiving. I felt like a complete fraud. .

My sister and brother-in-law even came drove across the country to have lunch with my husband and me. Both their cars were out of action so they had to hire a car to spend time with us. What dedication to duty! How generous and kind!  We met for lunch at The Rowan Tree Restaurant, Ardrossan, Scotland. Have a look st a review of that restaurant: https://hotelandrestaurantreviews.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/the-rowan-tree…ossan-scotland/It was a lovely lunch.

The Rowan Tree offers an excellent choice of food at very reasonable prices. My sister and brother-in-law joined my husband and me for Sunday Lunch. We had a choice of the Roast of Pork as well as the regular menu. Service was unobtrusive, the meal was freshly cooked and tasty and the coffee very smooth. I always enjoy a visit to The Rowan Tree Restaurant. This visit was no exception. 

So much kindness: it all seemed too much. I was amazed how even just going to lunch made me so bone achingly tired. Exhaustion makes me miserable, but the love of friends and family is wonderful.

Valerie Penny

Freaky Breast Cancer Friday

I was amazed when the hospital arranged an appointment for me to meet with my surgeon, Mr Osman on Friday, just two days after I got my diagnosis of the tumour. All of a sudden every thing seemed to be moving. In a few days I had gone from feeling fine, to having a battery of tests and then being told that I had a potentially fatal disease. It was too much to take in. I could not believe how fast everything was happening. Looking back, I am ashamed to say tat I simply had not recognised the discharge from my nipple nor my extreme tiredness as signs of breast cancer.

I called my friend across the road and told her. She asked me the name of my surgeon.  I had slightly misheard his name and told her it was Mr Osmond. I joked that I hoped it was Donny Osmond!donny osmond My friend disillusioned me by telling me that her surgeon was the same person, it was Mr Osman and certainly not a American entertainer! She also told me Mr.Osman is delightful and very helpful.

My appointment was for 11.30 on the Friday morning. but I was not seen until after 1pm. By this time, as I had arrived stressed, I was almost climbing the walls and had read almost all the magazines in the waiting room. It did not help that there was a man in the waiting room who chatted loudly and personally to many of the others there. Maybe it was his way of dealing with his own stress, but I found him intimidating and was glad to have my husband with me.  My Husband is a big guy, needless to say the man with the verbal diarrhea came nowhere near us. However, by the time I went into the consulting room I was up to high doe.

So to the embarrassment of my long suffering man, I asked the nurse who took me into the consulting room why my appointment had been made for 11.30 if I was not being seen until nearly 2 hours later. She explained that the clinics were very busy, but that did not answer the question as to why appointment were, apparently, made too close together if patients regularly overran their allotted time. She said I would need to take it up with Mr Osman. I agreed to do this. However, this became unnecessary, as my cancer care nurse came in to see me and calm me down. cancer care nurse I think my husband was even more glad about this than anyone, but I did get him to agree that I had not been rude and that the long wait had made a stressful situation worse.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Osman can in. He explained to me that the biopsy had shown the tumour to be malignant and that it needed to be removed. He also informed me that the tumour was found to be related to the fact that I had been taking HRT for many years. He told me I should stop taking that drug immediately.  I asked him about this because I had understood from my GP that the evidence of this was ambivalent. Maybe I had misunderstood him. Mr Osman smiled and said that the studies were not clear for those who had been taking HRT for 5 years or less. However, he said that for those who had been taking the drug for ten years or more. He noted that I fell squarely into this latter group as I had been taking HRT tablets for at least 12 years.  Mr Osman was, therefore very clear in his advice, I must stop the HRT now.

Then he asked me about when I thought my operation would take place. My friend had told me the time-lag was usually 2-3 weeks so I mentioned this to Mr Osman, but also said I appreciated this would largely depend on his schedules and work load. his kindly face broke into a wide smile. 2-3 weeks would be no problem. I returned his smile and smiled at my husband as Mr Osman went on to tell us that he had only that day negotiated an extra theatre day and he wondered if I was free on Monday.

Monday! This Monday, two days time. I gasped and grinned at my husband. I could not think of anything more pressing I had to do on Monday, or any other day. The thought of getting rid of the cancerous tumour so quickly was wonderful. I felt a bit ashamed that I had complained about the wait in the waiting room and was thrilled that the surgery would take place so quickly.

I was told to be at the hospital for 7.00am and that I would go for the various tests and scans before surgery in the afternoon.   Although the surgery s classed as day surgery, I would be required to stay in hospital overnight. I would be having a general anesthetic and the hospital wanted to keep an eye on me overnight.

We left the hospital in shock. Happy shock, but shock never the less.

Valerie Penny

The Longest Week: Waiting for Breast Cancer Screening Results

When it finally trickled down into my consciousness that, in fact, breast cancer maybe could happen to me, and perhaps the highly qualified radiographers might not have made a mistake, my life, all of a sudden,became quite tense.  Imagine how surprised I was when my husband and I pulled up at home after that morning in the hospital to meet one of our close friends and neighbour. I had not seen her for a few days. When I asked after her health and she told us she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, my blood ran cold. It was as if a hand cold from the ice-box had gripped my heart. This was all too real.

house

My husband and I decided not to tell anybody else about the investigations that were being carried out for me as we did not yet know whether the tumour was benign or cancerous. There seemed to be no reason to worry anybody when there might be nothing to worry about.

So I hugged my friend and tried to say all the right things. True to form she brushed my concerns aside telling me that it had been a bit of a shock but she would just have to get on with it. Her main concern seemed to be that she would not be able to join her cousin and his wife on a cruise in the Mediterranean they had planned. Her husband joined us. He looked sick. When my husband and I crossed the road to go home he said to me that he felt that way too.

I think waiting for the news was one of the longest weeks of my life. I spent the time hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. It was advice my Uncle had given me many years previously at another stressful time. The advice stood me in good stead then and did again now. My husband and I fretted individually, but we rarely spoke about the elephant in the room. My temper grew short. He withdrew into himself.

Eventually we had to talk. We hugged and cried and spoke about the fact that we may be worrying about nothing. Whatever happened we knew the tumour had been found early during a screening. I had no symptoms that I was aware of. I got tired easily and had a little discharge from my right nipple, but I felt fine. If I had even a basic knowledge of the signs of breast cancer, I would have realized these were classic signs of the disease. We would find out soon enough, the following Wednesday, whether or not there was anything to worry about. In the meantime we tried to be calm but that week seemed to last forever.  tumor_sizes[2]_tcm8-79578
Valerie Penny

%d bloggers like this: