Eyes For You

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Eyeliner is tricky to put on while you’re wearing glasses, but it’s even harder when your eyesight is so poor when you take them off.  I do a strange manoeuvre with glasses low down on the nose whilst I access from the side. Even then I make a hash of it.

My eyes used to be great; I needed no make-up, no glasses They were a simple greeny-grey window on the world. I could read posters across the street, the small print in documents and best of all I could recognise people.

Thirty years on and I fumble about first thing in the morning for the specs, but I still squint if the writing is small or I don’t know who’s walking towards me.

And the vanity of it! I tried contact lenses years ago, believing that I looked better without glasses, but I just couldn’t bear it and was unable to get them out. In photographs I sometimes take off the glasses to look like my old persona, but then have to put them back on to view the image. It’s the same at the opticians when trying to choose new frames. I try on a sample pair with the plain glass in them and I just look blurry. Can you really trust the views of family members?

 

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Recovering from cancer treatment – two years on

article-0-1a9a672b000005dc-23_964x576A year ago I wrote a post about how great it was to have survived cancer and to go back to the normal everyday things. When I now read my last post I struggle to remember how that felt because now it’s two years on and everything seems so different.

I guess I thought that everything would be changed; that I would see the true purpose of life, I would make the effort to do wonderful things, not waste time, and have amazing adventures. How I wish…

But it hasn’t. I’ve slipped back into old habits, worries and that dull comfort zone which probably contributed to the disease in the first place. I think it’s a common problem; your friends, family and work colleagues give you lovely treatment in the aftermath of bereavement, divorce or serious illness. This helps you on the road to recovery, and soon everything seems fine, but these are all long processes.

Two years on and I’m still thinking about cancer every day; every glass of wine, every chocolate bar, every hour spent on the sofa, every stressy work day, every funeral, every glimpse of the scar. I’m not feeling sorry for myself; I am cross with myself that the post cancer wonder-world I experienced hasn’t lasted, and that I still have exactly the same faults that I had before this whole shebang started.

Not to mention the poor old NHS.

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Recovering from cancer treatment – one year on

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It’s about a year ago when I was diagnosed with lobular breast cancer. Since then I’ve had two operations, six rounds of chemotherapy, and 15 sessions of radiotherapy. I’ll be on luxury tablets for five years but have been given the all-clear in the meantime. How strange it was; like a Narnia experience where time has a different value and yet I’m now thrown back into normal life.

I am now so enthusiastic about my everyday experiences – I have to hold back when people moan about Monday mornings or difficult situations that annoy them. It’s just great to have got through treatment and be allowed to have ordinariness back again.

What is hard is to cope with is when people have a worse cancer prognosis than me and know they have a much more limited time; I feel that it’s not fair. Or the women who tell you that breast cancer always comes back eventually; that’s understandable anger but please don’t.

In conclusion, my time in treatment has resulted in me enjoying the ordinary things in life, not getting stressed about stuff and wanting to help other people who are suffering.

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Side effects of cancer treatment: financial problems

One Million Pounds Sterling

You know how you can never leave a lottery syndicate, because the week after you stop paying up, the syndicate will win a multi-million pound jackpot? Well, for the same reason I made two huge financial mistakes before cancer.

This will have to be be my last post on this paid-for blog site. I’ve simply got to save money and pay off my debts.

Back in the early ’90s, there was a trend for ‘critical illness’ insurance policies. My husband at the time and I were quite enjoying playing at being grown-ups and had excess money to spend on men with laptops who came round your house for various reasons. In our 30s, we both took out critical illness policies just in case we developed diseases, disabilities or had freak accidents at the seaside. I think we paid over £6,000 into these policies and didn’t manage to break even a leg.

A few years later, there was bad press for some of these policies as the later ones had too many exclusions and were refusing to pay out, so, in order to cope with the costs of divorce, I cancelled the policies and decided I would just have to look after my own health, take exercise and not do anything too risky at the seaside.

When I had to extend the mortgage on the house, I also decided to do away with the payment protection insurance. PPI had also had bad press; I could see why a self-employed person might need it, but I worked for a County Council and had superb employee protection – they even offered me a subsidised bicycle so I had no fear of losing my job or needed help with the mortgage.

My two financial decisions saved me about £80 per month, which was fine until I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I should have continued to pay out or at least put money aside, because worrying about money when you are having cancer treatment adds to the difficulties.

My employers paid me for 100 days and then sent me standard letters that go to malingerers with sore knees rather than someone having chemotherapy. My pay would be halved and then zeroed. Friends in the private sector were mostly unsympathetic; I’d been lucky to get anything. The cancer charities do a great job to help people who end up on sickness benefits, but I still earned enough to feed my children, just not enough to pay for the expensive hobbies that they take for granted.

So I rushed back to work full-time as soon as the treatment finished; I enjoy it, but I particularly enjoy the thought of eventually paying off my overdraft and having normal health and normal finances. And that will include a ‘rainy day’ fund.

Rainy-Day-Fund

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Side Effects of Chemotherapy – Nail Trouble

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One of the most irritating long-term effects of cancer treatment is revolting finger and toe nails. The gnarly look of them is bad enough, but it’s so frustrating not to be able to peel a sticker off or lift the ring on a drinks can. The chemotherapy drug Taxotere (also called Docetaxel) is the second part of the FEC-T chemotherapy for breast cancer and it sees off your extremities with no mercy. Just like the bark rings on a tree show droughts and polluted air, so your nails start to have ridges that show you’ve been poisoned. And it takes months for this to grow out.

My fingernails also fractured into thin layers and split apart every time I touched something. It didn’t hurt; they were just a bit numb. This numbness is called ‘peripheral neuropathy’ and I seem to have been left with it particularly in my toes.

Some people are rightfully squeamish about other people’s feet so I won’t go into detail. But three months after my last chemo session, I can still find toenails that have completely fallen off in my bed. They seem to grow back and fall off like snakeskin, but I can’t feel a thing – especially in my big toes. I have got used to a very weird feeling in my feet. I can’t feel my socks or shoes when I wiggle my toes and it feels like my feet are infinitely big with no end to them.

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I was never great at finger-picking on the guitar, but now I do have a good excuse for my fumbling and mis-twanging.

Hospital Car Parking – A Proposed Triage System

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People are angry about NHS funding, but in general they are more angry about hospital car parking. There are not enough spaces, there are too many queues and it costs too much.

At my local hospital, drivers seem to enjoy the drama of a long queue for the car park. They can drop the patient off for the asthma check-up or to have a plaster cast removed at the hospital front door and then join the car park queue. It makes a really good anecdote for later if the hospital appointment is completed before the driver is actually in the car park.

As it’s a city hospital, there are other car parks nearby – some of them fairly empty and most have similar prices. Or you can park in the supermarket car park, pop in for a chocolate bar and then walk back to the car via the hospital. But most people seem fixated on the hospital car park as their right as a patient or visitor.

In Accident and Emergency, there is a way of allocating medical help to those whose need is most urgent, called the triage system. My proposal is for a parking triage system for hospital visitors so that those who need the spaces can beat the queues.

1 Immediate parking allocation
Anyone visiting a patient whose life is in danger or with hours left to live.
2 Very urgent.
Anyone with mobility problems who has a timed out-patient appointment.
3 Urgent.
Other outpatients with timed appointments.
4 Standard.
Anyone visiting a child or vulnerable adult in hospital.
5 Non-urgent.
General hospital visitors who don’t know any other car parks and can’t come by bus; bringing a spare nightie in for mum, returning a pair of crutches, visiting father-in-law, collecting a letter or those who just like to have a cuppa in the WRVS tea shop.

The WRVS Cafe in the Grounds of St James's Hospital, which is being closed down by the NHS trust, against the wishes of the volunteers and its many customers. Pictured serving volunteer Jean Batty.

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Radiotherapy – Like being in Star Trek

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The idea of radiotherapy to treat cancer goes back to 1934. I’m halfway through my treatment and there’s no particular problems; I just think it’s weird.

For three weeks I have to turn up daily for a 10-minute experience that is pure 1970s Star Trek. I’ve been told that the breast surgery, the chemotherapy and the other lot of surgery have already cleared my body of cancer and so this radiotherapy is just to be totally sure.

The principle seems to be to get my body in exactly the same position every day and then send x-ray type beams to attack the cells near the original site of the tumours. I am now very good at lying completely still and zoning out while a person each side pushes my naked fat overspill around and chants numbers and measurements. With my eyes closed, I appreciate the tone, accent and sound poetry that accompany this science. The best day was when I had a Welshman speaking on my right and an Irishman on my left. Once you are positioned correctly, they leave the room while you get zapped by the machine, which looks like an upside-down round glass and metal Habitat table.

My radiotherapists have been lovely; I was surprised that most so far have been men. The male professionalism that treats a half-naked female body in a detached, matter of fact way whilst at the same time talking warmly to you as a person is great and makes me feel happy. Like a crazy patient in love with her psychotherapist, I have wanted to take a cute radiotherapist home with me on more than one occasion.

Today, though was a really weird radiotherapy session. A different radiographer had put on a CD which played throughout the session. I’m all for using music to relax patients; a bit of Chinese music or Indonesian gamelan does the job, Mozart or Bach maybe or, at a pinch, some light jazz-funk instrumentals.

But the CD in question was ‘Love Ballads’. I lay there with my naked top half exposed, lights off and the machine buzzing and clicking whilst a couple of sexy anthems played. I think it might have been ‘Nights in White Satin’ and I was certainly glad when it reached an end. Afterwards, I got dressed to ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ by the Righteous Brothers. Too right, I have lost that feeling; I’ve got one breast, a sad excuse for hair and virtually no energy, so, however lovely the radiotherapy men are, nights in white satin are out of the question.

Satinsheets