Thursday, December 11, 2008


The debate on assisted suicide rumbles on. Some have suggested that Sky Real Lives’ decision to show the death of Motor Neurone disease sufferer Craig Ewert was a bid for ratings. I didn’t see the documentary, I was out. I didn’t want to see it because I don’t personally agree with broadcasting someone’s death. I didn’t need to see this documentary either, because my father had MND so I am very well aware of how the disease affects its sufferers.
Bid for ratings or not, I am glad the show was aired. Even if people were drawn to watch Mr Ewert’s last moments through morbid curiosity, hopefully the result will be a heightened awareness of the disease, and more donations to related charities.
Assisted suicide is a very contentious issue. I do recognise fears that if it were legal in this country there could be rare abuses and that checks could be difficult to police. However possible rare cases of abuse do not seem to me to be adequate justification for denying a substantial section of intelligent human society an escape from suffering which we afford our pets.
Unwilling to endure further deterioration, fear, suffering, humiliation and frustration followed by a slow but certain death my father chose a more humane route to the same ultimate destination. Unprepared to risk making his family and friends liable for a charge of murder he was forced to end his life completely alone, and at an earlier stage than he would have chosen, simply because he needed to be physically able to do it.
The fact that the Mark and Julie James and most in their position aren’t facing prosecution reassures me that while euthanasia remains illegal here, the law does have a human face, and common sense and compassion tend to prevail in these cases. Nevertheless the fact that people in my father’s position have to choose between a lonely, unnecessarily early death, a slow, distressing, death, or potentially making criminals of the people they love is completely unacceptable.
Legalising euthanasia would undeniably require faultless planning to avoid abuse of the system. However there can be no rational, compassionate human being who truly believes that sustaining the “life” we have been given outweighs the human right to make a personal choice to end unbearable suffering which we would not allow an animal to endure.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Slow down Kate, you're making me feel old

I recently caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window of a passing bus. Caught unawares, viewing myself from an unconventional angle, I was horrified to recognise the gormless expression that my dad used to adopt while daydreaming.

I have also, I am embarrassed to admit, recently taken to making occasional use off that age old granny-wear, the shower cap. Like my mum. Well they're practical! Added to which, yes, I do now think that (some) kids today "don't know they're born".

Perhaps even more depressing is that at the age of thirty two, like my parents, I now have a "golden era" of music- and it was over 15 years ago. While my mum's music collection consists of 95% Stones, Beatles etc, and only 5% "newer material" such as Glenn Medeiros, James Blunt and Katherine Jenkins, I have a tendency to wet my pants in an uncontrollable wave of nostalgia whenever The Stone Roses, old Rage Against the Machine, Leftfield or even EMF is played.

As Kate Moss and friends edge towards forty their stamina for their seemingly nightly benders can only be explained by flexible working hours, thousands of pounds to spend on beauty products and abstinence from that eternal energy drain known as London Transport. Aside from the fact that we could never afford to to keep up with them, their resilience and their ability to look good on all that partying is enough to make a mere mortal feel positively middle aged.

Nowadays 70% of the time I would choose bar over club, pub over bar, and- if I'm completely honest- often CSI on the sofa over the pub. When I do actually go out it's not unusual to find myself wishing they'd turn the music down "so you can have a proper conversation".

On the up side though, when lamenting the demise of my former comparatively hardcore lifestyle I get a resounding Monica Geller-esque chorus of "III know!" from my friends. A 26 year old male friend of mine who shall remain nameless just today admitted to me that he has become addicted to Easy Living magazine for 35-45 year old women (which is actually quite a good read). It is comforting to realise that as I slow the pace a little and gradually morph in to my parents, the best part of a generation does so with me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Give Our Troops Some Credit

As the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan hits 100, more photos of the men and boys we have lost appear in the daily papers. It is absolutely fitting that the public should get to see the roll of honour, however it is a shame that the press don’t tell us about the good things these people are doing while they are still alive. It seems the only way for the troops to get any kind of recognition is to be kidnapped or killed, or to commit a hideous war crime.

Last October one of my boyfriend’s friends prevented a suicide bomber from taking out more civilians than he would have otherwise, while saving the lives of many of his army colleges in Afghanistan. I scanned the press for reports of this incredible act. Three months later it was finally reported, but that was only because the outstanding person in question became a member of the roll of honour himself whilst saving another life.

Many of us felt we shouldn’t have been involved in these conflicts in the first place- I was at demonstrations in both London and New York against the war in Iraq- but now we are involved. The vast majority of the troops are not killing innocent civilians or beating up prisoners; they genuinely want to make things better for the people in these countries- and in many areas they are.

We moan about our sweaty tube journeys but we get to shower when we get home, our troops in Afghanistan bake in sweat and sand and sometimes get to shower and shave every two weeks. Teenagers here who see ASBOs as a badge of honour get more column inches than teenagers who are earning true badges of honour everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whatever our politics I’m sure the majority of the British public would like to be told more about the everyday acts of courage and kindness. But I suppose good news doesn’t sell papers.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Little Brother takes the plunge tomorrow....

Grey grey grey grey grey grey grey ,
Grey London again and its sodding May!
Won't let it perturb me,
It doesn't disturb me,
Cause tomorrow I'm going to a wedding that's Gay!

Actually the fact that it's a civil partnership is of no relevance whatsoever, it just rhymes.

Much more exciting is the fact that it's my little brother- who actually isn't really, but is, but that's a long story.

I've known Si for years, I used to babysit for him! We have both been through many events since then, together and separately, bad and good. Although we lost touch over certain periods as everyone does, a chance meeting involving a post box and the kind of small dog which frequents the handbags of the Hollywood's "elite" brought us back together about 18 months ago. I am immensely happy that it did!

I am so proud if him! Is that patronising? It's not meant to be, I say that about lots of my older friends, and I don't even feel as though he's younger than me at all anymore anyway.

I'm not proud of him because he's getting married, any idiot can do that (although from our brief meeting I think he has made a good selection of life partner). I am proud of him because the little seven year old who I introduced to Kylie and Madonna, and with whom I used play role-play type mummy and daddy type games (not in a rude way!), has grown in to a fantastic bloke who's doing pretty darn well career wise! Interestingly our time together seems to have influenced both of our career choices- I'm and actor and he interviews iconic pop stars and TV stars- as well as some F listers who are camp enough to be in Bent magazine.

From the moment I read his "Simon Says" agony column I was impressed with what a mature, intelligent, talented individual he had become, and I've since enjoyed his interviews with John Barrowman and the like. Si has even interviewed the Spice Girls, and been sent to Philadelphia to review the city!

Anyway enough of this arse kissing.

Tomorrow promises to be an emotional day, but also one of Savidge (excuse the pun) partying. I can't wait to meet all Si's friends, and especially to see his mum, who was my Classics A-Level teacher! His sister too who I last met when she was a baby at Louise's wedding, and Si's brother who I have never met at all.

Si has even managed to arrange the wedding for Eurovison night, which could have been by stereotypically camp intention. But never one to be a cliche he has just told me he hasn't really liked the contest since the 90's. Bollocks to that, I love it!

I can't wait to see another dear friend, my only sibling, get hitched, and to get p***ed with a bunch of good people.

Right. must look on the Angels website for a mask....

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why is bad news good news for the British press? (The names have been changed to protect the guilty)

I remember in 1987, at the age of eleven, being told by my mum that "The Sin" had won the General Election for the Tories.

Seven years on I was astonished to see a peaceful anti Poll Tax demonstration I had been on portrayed as a violent, anarchistic crusty- fest.

Fast forward another 12 years and I have a boyfriend who is in the army. It has finally dawned on me that it's not just that the press have more right wing views than myself, they actually seem to have an aversion to the truth!

When he was in Iraq my boyfriend called one night asking if I'd seen "Stratosphere News". Apparently there had been a bit of a scuffle that day but the Iraqi Army had got things under control with no need for the Brits to get involved at all. This was a real breakthrough. The reporter however had managed to find the one smoldering car in the area and film the same small group of people running around in a circle (probably because they wanted to be on the telly), and make it in to some huge incident.

Whatever we feel about the current conflicts, our forces are making small achievements all the time which we are rarely told about. One of my boyfriends mates (who is unfortunately no longer with us) was part of a group last October in Afghanistan who were the first soldiers out there to stop a suicide bomber before he was able to kill and mame a lot of other soldier and civilians. I scanned the media and the net but found no trace of this.

So what agenda does the media have? Presumably to sell more papers and get higher viewing figures by making everything more dramatic. Either that or to impose the views of their owners upon their readers.

So what are we mere mortals meant to do to discover the truth, to be told the facts if everyone has an agenda?

I am quite honestly at a loss.

One thing that I do know is that I will be steering well clear of "The Daily Post" and the "The Daily Fast Train" (not that I was exactly drawn to them before). I picked up a copy of "The Daily Post" where I was temping the other day and was horrified at what can only be described as the blatant propaganda about the 20 week abortion bill issue. Now I don't know every detail involved in that debate but they picked the facts that suited them and preached like crazy evangelicals! Shocking! I thought the press were meant to have some degree of neutrality but apparently not.

The distressing thing is that some people actually believe what they read in the papers, I have seen proof of this in some of the places where I've worked:

"OOOh Maureen did you see what that (insert minor celebrity's name) has been up to with (insert dumb footballers name)!!!"

"I know Debbie, I know, I read it in "The Sin". Well they were photographed together so it must be true. Disgusting! Disgusting!"

So a lot of people who read "The Daily Fast Train" today probably genuinely believe that Gordon Brown (him personally you understand) is trying to rip them off. No mention of the human rights issue that he is trying to ban the use of cluster bombs by the British Armed Forces. Maybe readers of "The Daily Fast Train" couldn't give a toss about that, perhaps they're more worried about Gordon Brown (personally you understand) ripping them off with fuel tax than people being blown up by accident somewhere else.

Or perhaps it's just that the owners of those papers have already decided that their readers are too stupid to look beyond the end of their own nose.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cheer up London, it Might Never Happen

It always annoyed me when my mum met my teenaged traumas like disfiguringly bad spots (as I genuinely saw them then) with comments like:
“There are starving children in the world”.
As I’ve grown older, and to some extent wiser, I’ve come to realise that on the subject of appreciating how lucky we are, and, irritatingly, on the majority of other subjects, my mum is right.
I’ve lived in London for 10 years now and I have to say that compared with the residents of New York and Manchester- the other two cities where I’ve lived- we Londoners really are a miserable bunch.
It’s not that we’re deliberately miserable. Whenever someone makes a witty comment in an overcrowded carriage, or you get the funny tube driver on the Piccadilly Line it’s like being in a scene from Shaun of the Dead played backwards, the un-dead become human. We just need the occasional reminder that being moody isn’t an essential part of London life.
Now being told, “Cheer up darlin’, it might never happen” is annoying at the best of times, and if something really is wrong it makes you want to punch the unoriginal, un-amusing tw*t’s lights out.
The fact is, though, the majority of Londoners aren’t starving (with the exception of the odd individual on a misguided quest for perfection). Whether or not we like our government it is a privilege to have the democratic right to vote for or against them. We don’t have too many cyclones, earthquakes or tsunamis here either!
Although our tubes are hot and crowded we get to wash at the end of the day unlike our sweaty, sandy, knackered service men and women risking their lives abroad. If we’re healthy enough to be able to climb the stairs to get out of the station then there’s another bonus.
The thing is when something genuinely bad happens you realise how lucky you were when your biggest worry was being stuck on a hot tube, late for your rubbish job, getting involuntarily intimate with someone with both halitosis and B.O.
Of course life sucks sometimes, everything’s so expensive and public transport can be a nightmare; but last week, as I felt my blood boiling when my train arrived with half the carriages missing AGAIN, I forced myself to ask,
“Does it really matter love?”
And once I realised it didn’t my day improved. I started smiling and one or two people even smiled back.

November 1st 2007- The Day of Reckoning

I realise that I should round this off. Hopefully for good. Since it was a while ago and my memory seems to be a bit shot to pieces since this all happened this should be shorter than most previous entries (everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief).

Obviously the weeks between the operation and the results were a bit shite as I'm sure you will have gleaned from the last entry.

After a surprisingly reasonable night of sleep, Keith and I drove to St Thomas's and mum caught the train. By the time she arrived to meet us in the cafe I had started to get nervous. Our wait in the "waiting corridor"- not a room really- was a long one. When we finally got seen it was an hour later than our appointment was supposed to be. It was really really horrible waiting, that hour seemed to take days. I was getting more and more nervous, worked up and paranoid.

I took Keith (or was it mum?) down the corridor to show him the great view of the Thames. On the way back I passed my doctor and smiled and she didn't smile back. Even then my rational mind knew that they probably aren't meant to smile incase it gives the wrong indication to someone as to whether they are OK or not, but in my state of paranoia I just thought "My god, she's not smiling because it's spread and she knows that she can't get my hopes up".

Eventually, probably just to pacify us and give us a change of scene after the long wait, we were transferred in to a small room containing a bed and one chair. This didn't passify me at all. Everything seemed to bode badly. When I was initially told that I had Melanoma they had taken me in to a room with a bed when I'd got upset. This time the bed was already here, I thought, in preparation for me going in to shock again. The long wait also worried me, I had been left till last for my original results too, presumably because they knew I would get upset and it would take ages, and now they were doing the same, I thought.

On the wall there was a plaque saying something like "god is with you whatever happens" or similar. MY GOD! They brought people to this room to give them bad news and the plaque was meant to be of comfort! By now I was lying on the bed in panic, crying and almost hyperventilating. I had been pretty calm when we had arrived on time, ready for my appointment, but that extra hour of waiting, being permanently in a heightened state of anxiety had turned me in to an irrational, paranoid wreck.

Eventually, FINALLY, a junior doctor came in and said,

"Right you can dry your eyes because you are going to be fine"

I think I started laughing, then kept crying and laughing. I don't really remember what she said, but I know that my bloods were clear, my Lymph node was clear and the big chunk of flesh they had taken had had no cancerous cells in it. So they actually got it all in August, I could have done the Germany tour. That was obviously a tad gutting but the main thing was that I was OK, it hadn't spread! I wasn't going to die! At least not from this, not yet anyway. I couldn't stop smiling as I left holding hands with mum and Keith. They pointed out something which I had forgotten in my relief, but won't ever really forget. They suggested maybe I should contain my joy just a touch as some of the people in that corridor may not have had the same news.

I was in a haze. Mum and Keith took me to a Mediterraneane restaurant they had discovered on the day of my operation. In a bizarre and extremely rarely witnessed occurence I wasn't hungry. The wine was going down amazingly well though. I sat very unsociably going through my whole phone book texting everyone the news, which took the whole length of the meal. I just wanted to tell the whole world!

Apparently 1 in 3 people get some kind of Cancer at some point in their life. If this was mine then I have gotten off mighty lightly! My words of wisdom after my little episode would not be so much to give up your unhealthy vices- although it would probably be a good idea! All I would say is that if you have any suspicion that something might be a bit wierd health wise for goodness sake get it checked out, not waiting too long could save your life.

I am one very lucky lady. When I find myself getting irritated by the superficial things in life, moody tossers on the tube, etc- I will try to remind myself that it REALLY isn't a big deal!

October 24th 2007- The Scariest Halloween of my Life

When I started this blog I said I wanted it to be honest, and it has been. I haven’t changed anything or even exaggerated anything, what would be the point? It’s my diary. I also said that it would be rarely depressing, and I have to say that except for a few blips along the way I genuinely haven’t been too depressed, stressed or worried. I took every step as it came, concentrating on that step and not the ones further down the line. Each step was hopefully a step towards getting better, in fact maybe even an unnecessary, cautionary step- they may have got it with the original mole exhition they did.

Now there are no more steps until I get my results next Thursday, there is nothing to do but wait. The hospital was much much easier than this. I am really really scared. As I said I am incredible lucky to have a 90% chance of this thing not having spread. But the fear of the 10% is a powerful one. If it has spread there is no cure and let’s just say it’s very likely that I would miss finding out if life really DOES begin at forty by a few years. The odds of things being fine are good, but having been sure the mole wouldn’t need to be cut out, and then having been sure that it wasn’t cancer I just feel that I need to at least entertain the possibility of the worst happening- partly to prepare myself for the potential blow and partly so as not to tempt fate by being positive to the extent of cockyness.

The last week has been the hardest since dad was sick, but looking at it positively I’m waiting to find out if I’m going to die early (hopefully and probably not), whereas with him we were waiting for when. Things are getting better as I become more mobile. The more busy I am and the less I’m alone, the less I think about things, it’s quite logical really! Today I went to work at my acting co op and hardly thought about it all day, tomorrow I am temping, then I’ll be with Keith for the weekend. After that I have more normal, busy everyday life things planned. Friends have been so incredibly supportive, checking on me regularly and taking my mind off things and people who were formerly acquaintances have proved themselves to be very good friends.

The fact that it would be Halloween the night before I got my results didn’t register in a big way when I was given the date last month. Now it seems quite appropriate and faintly amusing. Not only will I be terrified about the appointment the next day, but I will also be watching scary films looking like the bride of Frankenstein myself, with my big triangular scar! Actually it’s healing fantastically and is smaller than I expected. It’s still something that children would point at in the street, people would deliberately look away from and dogs would sniff intently; but if what has happened so far is as bad as it gets I really couldn’t give a flying foof about this scar!
I know the dye was cast quite a while ago, but please keep the good vibes coming- sorry to be depressing when I said I wouldn’t, but I’m f***ing terrified!

Ps: Keith has just told me that his lovely friend Daz who is in Afghanistan was just in the first jeep of soldiers who managed to kill a suicide bomber before he got close enough to kill them. They still killed two civilians. Daz and the blokes got blown up, but not killed and Daz walked away with cuts and presumably shock. No comfort for the civilians’ families, but such a relief that Daz was lucky. Hopefully luck is finally back in the air.

October 10th and 11th 2007- The NHS Rocks!- Britney Stockings and Dirty Knickers

As hospital negligence and disease hit the headlines again I have to say that I was quite sad to leave St Thomas’. I feel like I’ve been wrenched out of a rather nice, free hotel.

At 7 on Wednesday morning Keith and I drove past the visitors parking entrance more times than a bank robber casing a bank. The signposting was crap (in the dark anyway) and it didn’t get any better inside- the layout naturally led you to the staff multi storey which only TOLD you it was for staff only once you were blocked between the queue of cars behind and the barrier in front. Great start.

Up in the checking in area we only had a couple of minutes to admire the view of the river and the London Eye before I was whisked off to an ex ward further down the corridor to talk to a registrar, Debbie. She drew shapes and arrows on me (like in Nip Tuck!) and explained the procedures and risks again before I signed my consent form. She called Keith in and he stayed while a nurse checked my blood pressure again and I was asked more questions that I’d already answered- they’re very thorough! The nurses left and Keith watched as I got in to my fetching hospital robe, disposable pants, anti blood clot stockings (v Britney according to Keith) and lovely disposable foam slippers. The anaesthetist lady came and asked more questions. I’m so glad Keith was there. He cuddled me and stroked my hand at regular intervals. I was a bit nervous. I know it sounds woosey; I’ve just never had a “proper” operation with general before.

A lady from the dermatology department who was nothing to do with my op then arrived just before they whisked me off. She wanted to me to sign sheets saying they could use any discarded good skin for research. Of course I was more than happy to say yes, but I couldn’t help thinking that she could have picked a better time to ask me to sign a bunch of forms.
Another suited guy led me through the hospital in all my glamour, along with a nurse and a guy in his 70s who was also gowned and “Britneyed”. He looked more distressed than I felt. My disposable slippers were a nicer colour than his, maybe he was jealous.

After walking through corridors in a frightened daze we arrived at the reception area for the operating theatres where we were given the number of mine- 7. The people behind the desk smiled reassuringly at us wide eyed, frightened, gowned people. As me and my man-in-a-suit walked down another corridor I peered through the windows of the doors. Each layout seemed to be anaesthetic room, then a door through to the operating theatre.

People with those doctors’ shower caps and scrubs on peered out expectantly in case I was their patient. At no 7 we went in and the friendly anaesthetist lady and a lovely nurse were there, then Debbie came in (now in Scrubs) with Dr Healy, the main man, still in a suit. He didn’t say much and seemed a bit aloof, typically middle aged, middle class and very self assured. That didn’t bother me though, it actually comforted me. His job was to slice me and sew me correctly, not to be nice. He went off and as the anaesthetist put a needle in my hand I looked through to the theatre where I recognised him, now in Scrubs. I remember thinking that there were loads of people in there which reassured me- all that just for me!

The anaesthetist chatted to me and said I might feel a bit woozy. I rambled away and felt that slightly losing control, dizzy/floaty feeling that I imagine you might feel when coming up on a pill. Then I woke up in the middle of a dream where I had to go and get something for newsreader Moira Stewart.

It was all done. I looked around, still slightly worried that I hadn’t got whatever it was I was getting for Moira. I was in a long row of beds where everyone else seemed to be asleep, and nurses seemed to be literally running around making sure everyone was alright. I felt very happy because it was all done and I’d woken up and I didn’t need to be scared any more, for now at least.

“You’re awake!”

Said a slightly surprised nurse. I said hello and that I was hungry. Another nurse greeted me with a smile and welcomed me back. My jovial mood was temporarily shattered as the second, male nurse picked up a ripped, stained pair of disposable knickers and asked the first nurse where they’d come from. With horror I reached down to find that I had none on. Oh my GOD! Not only was I temporarily an invalid, I’d humiliatingly shat myself on the operating table! But I hadn’t. They explained that the yellowy brown staining was a fluid they used during the op, and obviously my groin/ upper thigh op was right near my pants which had had to come off. The relief was almost as great as the relief of waking up. My pride was still intact.

Maia, a nurse from Alan Apley, my ward, and a huge porter who looked like he should be a body guard to a Hollywood star wheeled me up to the ward. I jabbered happily away to them and they politely listened. I was wheeled in to my little 6 bed section where Thaiwoo in the next bed and Margaret in the bed opposite greeted me.

“You look perky!”

Said Margaret, also surprised.

I had the window bay! I was over the moon! I could see the river facing west, Lambeth Bridge and whatever the next one down is called. Further round a bend Battersea Power Station poked its chimneys out from behind non-descript buildings and I could see a little bit of the Houses of Parliament. I couldn’t believe my luck! Margaret advised me on what was good on the menu and we chatted for a while. I was impressed that 3 different people came to do cleaning within 4 hours of my arrival in Alan Apley ward.

Shortly after I was wheeled up to the ward an old lady called Nora also came up from recovery. Within minutes she was trying to get out of bed saying she had to do something- maybe she was getting something for Moira Stewart too! She got out of bed on to her broken leg and was very confused. All the nursing staff had to get her in to a bed with sides on it so that she couldn’t escape and do any more damage to her leg in her confusion.

I was disappointed that Keith and my mum weren’t there, but a cup of tea and 2 rich tea (slightly disappointing biscuit choice), shortly followed by lunch helped me to overcome my disappointment- for a while. I’d been awake for 3 hours, with nurses asking if they could call anyone to come and see me, when they finally arrived with flowers, cards and chocolates. It had clearly been a case of crossed wires as they’d been waiting to see me for three hours. They’d called and been told absolutely no visitors were allowed until 2pm.

Keith worked out how to make the overhead TV/radio/internet/phone work (mum had kindly paid for a 3 day all inclusive package). The sun streamed in through the window, Keith and I held hands and had a brief nap and mum did a lovely watercolour of the view. At one point a guy came in to see if anyone wanted to go to the hospital cinema that night. I said I’d love to, but couldn’t get up, he said no problem. We spent a happy, lazy afternoon in the sunny ward, punctuated by me hauling myself off the bed on to a commode to do green wees (from the blue dye they injected to confirm the Nuclear Medicine Department’s findings on which lymph to take out). Other highlights include Amy, an elderly patient who looked a bit like Morgan Freeman, loudly telling a nurse about her bowel movements. I giggled and Keith squirmed. Mum watched Neighbours on my overhead thing before heading home to mine to beat the dark- she’s not entirely comfortable with London.

Keith stayed for another hour and a half before his long drive back to Wiltshire. The volunteers arrived to wheel me to the “Medi-cinema”. It was very amusing being pushed to the other side of the hospital in my bed, this time through very public corridors which I’d been walking down earlier that day.

When knackered at the end of a night out, with a long night-bus ride or two ahead I have dreamed of a magic bed coming to take me home. This was the closest I’d ever come to that magic bed. I felt slightly guilty as a woman, clearly in her 60s, dragged me through the halls, but there was a girl in her 20’s bringing up the rear so that made it seem more acceptable.

Keith and I had to fight the urge to have him take a photo of the sight that met us as we entered the cinema. It was a cinema like any other, with people sitting on the raked seating. In front of that seating, though, was a large gap, and in that gap were a bunch of wheel chairs and three beds! It was very surreal and very funny! They pushed me over to join the row of beds, I hid my bloody tubes and my drains under my sheet for the public good, and a second nurse came to check I was OK. Then I lay back and watched the Bourne Ultimatum again, in a cinema, in my BED!

The lovely volunteers pushed me back, shortly followed by Pascal, another lady from my ward who was very smiley and friendly. When we got back from the film her consultants came to talk to her about her surgery the next day. She seemed like an ultra happy, positive person; but the news of there being a possibility that she might wake up without her leg knocked the stuffing out of her. I felt lucky. I still don’t know what happened as she wasn’t back from surgery when I left the next day.

After a bad night’s sleep it was confirmed that since I was so sprightly and my drainage was almost non -existent I could go home later that morning. Physio gave me a stick, a nurse removed my drains, I had lunch, said goodbye to Margaret, Thaiwoo and Morgan Freeman and we were off. There was a departure lounge where you could wait for a cab. Two nurses made mum and I so welcome, got us drinks, then wheeled me out to the cab.

I really had a good time in hospital. The NHS has been getting some bad press of late, but I have to say the treatment and care that I received was unbeatable. It was all free too, a free hotel on the banks of the Thames with a cinema; where they make you better and waiters serve you food in bed!

Touch wood both my op bits are healing more quickly each day, stitches out on Monday, then the big one on November 1st - results. Keep the good vibes coming, they have worked wonders so far, thank you

Oct 9th 2007- St Thomas's. Too much coffee, scans, I'm radioactive!

Mum came to St Thomas' with me today for my pre op scans. I am really doing the tour of this hospital. Today we were in another wing at the Nuclear Medicine Department.

In contrast to the moody cows who "greeted" us at Dermatology reception a few weeks ago we were welcomed in to this department like old friends,

"Oh yes! Holly Berry, I spoke to you on the phone didn't I?!"

That was weeks ago, must be the name, either that or the fact that once again I was about the only person there under the age of 50 or 60. After a bit of a wait (we were early) a nurse/ nucleographer or what ever you would call someone in this department, came to take me away. Apparently they're not radiographers, that's different. She was very nice as well. I got changed in to the gown that she gave me. I didn't like that, it made me feel like an ill person who was in hospital, but I tried to ignore it by chatting about nothing at all to her.

I lay on the thing- not a bed really- and the nice man who I'd spoken to on the phone came in and did 4 injections of some kind of nuclear matter around my wound. Again it was like the injections at the dentists- the needle going in is fine but it stings a bit when you feel the liquid going in. He had an Irish accent which was quite nice and soothing. He chatted away to me about how I had noticed the offending Melanoma, in order to take my mind off the injections (errm, yes, great choice of subject, but at least he was trying to distract me from the present discomfort I suppose!). My platform/ bed then slid under what I can only describe as a large upside down hanging photo copier. It felt like I was sliding off behind the curtain at a crematorium as my little platform slowly glided along at exactly that speed.

Luckily no curtains closed behind me and my head and feet still stuck out from under the photocopier as Tom's do when Jerry drops a piano on him. The photocopier took a photo of the progress of the nuclear matter once every minute as I read my Rupert Everett book and tried to ignore the fact that the morning cup of coffee had clearly been a bad move.

I asked the nurse/ nucleologist (?) lady what was happening on the screen and she pointed out the lymph node that was shining like a beacon on the screen. I was slightly alarmed at how big it looked but she reassure me (well, in a way) saying it was just that the injected stuff was so powerful- I'm assuming she meant relatively speaking as it is radioactive!

"There's your bladder"

she said, pointing to the only other noticeably lit up point. Yes, the coffee had definitely been a mistake, even the photocopier could tell.

Apparently it all worked very quickly and the guy came back in and zoomed out on the diagram on the screen. I could see my hips and thighs,

"That's me!"

I said excitedly, like an extra seeing them self behind Matt Damon for a split second. It was really quite interesting. They measured and marked with a metal pen where the potentially offending node is, on the outside of my thigh- much lower down than I expected. Damn. There goes my hope of my totally relaxing last bath for the next 4 weeks; I have to keep the pen mark dry.

And that was it for today. Mum and I pottered back to Crystal Palace where she treated me to a Thai meal and expressed her usual delight at the root vegetables that they decoratively cut in to flower shapes. Thanks for lunch mum!

So we arrive back at plastic surgery at 7 bloody 30 am tomorrow, although they may not operate till hours later. If anyone is in town on Thursday or Friday and fancies coming to see me that would really cheer me up. I'm sure my blog about the ward has probably put you off doing that but if you can bear it the opening hours are basically anytime that isn't late at night. I will be in one of the plastic surgery wards on the 11th floor, but presumably the information desk at the main entrance will be able to tell people where exactly once they put me in a ward.

Wish me luck!

October 6th 2007- Review- Jo and Pab's Wedding

So this is obviously my version of events, but I’m sure Jo and Pablo will share theirs with you on Saturday. Between being in a daze after the whole emotion of the event and also having had a bevy or two I may have forgotten something!

The day started as it was to go on (excellently!). We arrived at the hotel to be greeted by Chalky the hotel doggy. He ran up to the car as we pulled in to the driveway and then trotted along behind us until we parked, then he let us pet him. Keith was thrilled. It was as if Chalky had a dogdar for detecting people who adore animals, as Emma and Nick (Jo’s sister and her husband) didn’t get this service when they arrived.

After a quick change in our lovely room where Jo and Pabs had left us a flower bulb in a pot painted with their wedding symbol and date, beautifully wrapped, we headed down to the bar. As we came down we saw Pablo outside ‘avin a faaag, still dressed in his normal clothes and already quite nervous. He’d been expecting Jo at 3 but someone at the hotel had just told him it would be 2 which I confirmed by calling Jo. Pablo shot off to get changed and out of the room before Jo arrived.

She arrived soon after and was dispatched to her room after Dave, her dad, had checked the coast was clear. Jo had been doing excellently on the nerves front, she’d slept better than just about everyone else, and had been totally calm all morning. Once she’d had her hair done (which looked amazing, like a Botticelli painting, or something from a period drama) there were no more definite appointments until her wedding interview, and that’s when she said the nerves kicked in. Jo went upstairs with her mum and I didn’t want to interfere so Keith and I retired to the bar as he was desperate to watch the Rugby. Luckily the elderly folk who were having lunch at the table under the TV didn’t mind and moved shortly after it started.

Emma and Nick arrived looking beautifully tanned from their 10 days in Antigua. Emma sent me off to Jo’s room with some false nails- which I was clueless about what to do with- in case she herself wasn’t ready in time to do them. Jo was nervous but just getting underway with make- up application. I was also having sympathy funny tummy. We reminisced about the dodgy guts we used to get from nervous excitement when we were younger before going clubbing etc. Ahh those were the days...

But this was also “The Day”. Jo cracked open some sparkling wine she’d been given at work and I dithered about which size order the fake nails went in. Chris, Jo’s mum came in and after I’d done stockings and suspender attaching duty (yes, yes) she helped her on with the dress. Jo just looked absolutely beautiful, so stunning, and I shed my first of many tears that day. You will see on Saturday and you will see the photos, I can’t describe how amazing she looked. Keith can confirm this as he kept saying later over and over

“Jo looks so beautiful”

Had I been in any way insecure about our relationship I would have started to worry! He was spot on though.

It seemed one minute Jo had an hour to get ready and the next she had 10 minutes and the nails still weren’t on! Emma came to the rescue and I scuttled off to leave the real Hanley girls for their last few minutes with a singleton among them. My Bloody Mary was on the bar where I had left it (don’t do this at a public bar ladies- or gents) and the rugby, which even I have to admit had looked very exciting earlier, was just reaching fever pitch excitement as Dave hassled us in to “Holly’s Restaurant”- excellent choice- for the service.

We sat on the bride’s side before realising that by doing so we would prevent actual family members from sitting there! But I’m glad we did because it meant that for a while we got to talk to Pablo who was now really bricking it a bit (god I would be!). We talked about nothing really, festivals and a few other things. I’ve never been standing waiting for my bride to walk down the aisle, but I have been in the position of wanting to calm the nerves –for example when having hospital procedures. Having the nurses talk to me really helps so much, whether it be about The X Factor which I don’t even watch, my job or the weather even. I’m not comparing marrying Jo to having an unpleasant or uncomfortable procedure; I just thought chatting might help Pablo (and me) to relax a bit. So Keith and I jabbered away to Paul as we waited, hopefully it helped, helped me anyway! If he was trying to quietly get in the zone or anything he took our interruption very well!

We moved to Pablo’s family’s side and Aunty Barbara and Jo’s Nan moved forward from the chairs at the back of the room where they’d been sitting all along. It wasn’t that Keith and I had “bagsied” two of the only six chairs on the bride’s side, they’d already chosen the naughty-chair-looking chairs at the back. I think they were doing that classic old person thing of “not wanting to be any trouble” and putting themselves in the corner, which was very sweet, but very silly! In fact if anyone should have done that it should have been Keith and I, but there was plenty of room on the other side of the aisle.

Jo eventually finished her interview and it all started. I don’t think I stopped blubbing from that moment on, and I could see tears in her eyes as she walked down the aisle. I can’t even begin to express how perfect the service was. It was a civil ceremony which started by acknowledging three very special family members who couldn’t be there. No, not Aunty Beryl in New Zealand- Shambles, Ziggy and Gipsy the doggies! There was a mirror at the front of the room and Jo said she saw her brother in law, Nick roll his eyes and shake his head at that point.

They had written their own vows which were very funny and very sweet. Both of their voices quaked with emotion at certain points. I know Jo’s quake well having been to the cinema to see Titanic with her about 10 years ago. We expected to find it a bunch of Hollywood cheesy schmaltz, which it was really, the Celine Dion theme alone was enough to put you off. At the end though, swallowing hard and trying to BE hard one of us, can’t remember which, quaked,

“That was really good wasn’t iiiiit?”,

“Yeeeees” wailed the other. Then we sobbed and pissed ourselves laughing at the same time for a few minutes until everyone had left the wee-wee- scented cinema, before creeping covertly out on to Turnpike Lane with our heads down.

Jo had nothing to be embarrassed about this time, everyone was at it. All the women were off the minute Jo walked in, her dad got teary about half way through (nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that England were playing Australia and he was missing it, really!) and even Keith had tears in his eyes by the end- though he denies this. I can’t remember a huge amount; just that it was amazingly sincere and emotional. I’ve been to a few weddings, but only four where it has been my friends getting married. Of those none has been so intimate that I could see their expressions and hear their quakes. Keith said it was the most emotional wedding he’s ever been to, and believe me he has been to a LOT of weddings! They signed the register and we clapped them out of the room and went in to the next room for champagne and to be handed confetti to throw when they came in. They had to come in twice for the photos.

Then we did photos outside and chatted and Emma (thanks for the rolling pin Emma!), Chris and I gave Jo a silver rolling pin, a silver Boot and some mini boxing gloves which baffled Jo and I. Tradition apparently. When I saw the photos I wished I’d gone to sort my face out after all the waterworks. Blotchy and piggy eyed, excellent! At least I didn’t spoil too many of the official ones, cunningly avoiding the photographer

There was a wonderful meal and I got to eat lots of extra food that Keith and Aunty Barbara didn’t want. Poor Jo had to pick carefully through her starter after Dave accidentally smashed a glass. Maybe he was trying to break the ice? (Baa boom) It was quite quiet round the table, unsurprisingly. I was exhausted from the emotion of the day so I’m sure everyone else was. Pablo’s sister Carol was excellent at trying to bring a bit of energy to the group. At one point Pablo’s granny almost choked and his mum had to take her off to the loo for a bit to recover. Both Dave and Pablo did such wonderful heartfelt speeches, and set lots of us off again.

We retired to the private bar and did a boys v girls quiz which Jo’s Nan rocked at. I think I got slightly tipsy after that because a lot of time passed but I don’t remember many of the specifics. I remember chatting to Jo’s dad and Keith for a bit, and Jo’s mum and Emma for a bit. I remember Jo and Pablo did a first dance to “All the Time in the World” from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I remember feeling bad about not making more of an effort to talk to Pab’s niece, April. I remember playing with Chalky for a bit. I remember everyone gradually going to bed, grannies first.

What a day! For two people who were originally less bothered about getting married than anyone I’ve ever seen get married, they seemed (maybe because I was close enough to see) to mean it in a very very big way! Seeing them making their vows, and feeling like part of the family was one of the happiest days of my life.

October 2nd, 2007- St Thomas's- Pre-admission, Brian the Nurse, the perenium and other stories

Today I returned to St Thomas’ for my pre admission health check. I’ve actually been back once since my last entry as I accidently neglected to have blood tests done (dippy cow), but we all know what bloody test are like so I won’t bore you with that – plenty of other stuff to bore you with.

Today was basically to check that I am fit enough to cope with the operation next week, which despite the efforts of the tens of randomers who have coughed or sneezed their stinking germs on me in the last week I appear to be (touch wood).

After a long wait for the lift I arrived at the plastic surgery department on the 11th floor. “Plastic Surgery Department” had previously conjured up images of Christian and Thingy’s offices on Nip Tuck, but oh how wrong I was. The NHS reality was somewhat different.

I’ve been doing a great job of pushing all this "illness" stuff to the back of my mind where it belongs, and I really have been just carrying on as usual. This weekend I began to get a bit nervous as things are becoming more imminent. Stumbling on one of the wards where I may be staying (which was actually where my directions appeared to tell me to go!) didn’t help.

Everyone looked so damned ILL! They looked quite grubby too- washing isn’t easy when you have to keep a wound dry. Great, I’m going to stink too!

“Plastic surgery” invokes images of “perfection”; perky boobs, lush pouts, unfeasible beauty and svelte bodies. Admittedly, thanks to Heat Magazine etc, botched boob jobs, deforming lipo and trout pouts also spring to mind, but that’s for someone else’s blog. Today I saw (as well of lots of grannies for some reason?!) the people who really needed plastic surgery. By that I don’t mean pig ugly people, I mean people whose bodies had suddenly been attacked by a formerly dormant little monster like a silent, invisible version of the thing in “Alien”. The monster has to be chopped out, but it leaves a hole that needs fixing. Some of the people looked as though the alien had sucked out a some of their body before it left, they looked gaunt and weak and a couple of them didn’t have a lot of hair. I’d forgotten. These were real cancer patients, which hopefully (the stats are on my side, and so is a lot of positive thinking/ prayer) I am not going to become.

I really don’t want to count my chickens, and I really REALLY don’t want to tempt fate as I won’t know for sure if this has spread or not until November 1st; but being in that ward today made me feel so incredible lucky to have had my health so far in life. I have to say, though, I’ve always been pretty aware of and grateful for that anyway.

Rather than just sympathy and dread I also felt incredible admiration for the ghostly looking people. In the search for pre assessment I followed an exhausted lady down a corridor. She looked as if she’d fall over in a gust of wind. She reminded me of the starving urchin boys you see in old black and white films set in LAAAndon in the Oliver/Jack the Ripper era. I was at least 10 meters behind her but she stood holding the door open for me till I got there. Although she was clearly weak, drained, totally knackered and very ill she still had manners. Many people in good health would shove you out the way as soon as look at you!

As for the Nip Tuck-esque decor my visions couldn’t have been more of a fantasy. From my brief glimpse I don’t think hospital wards have changed that much since I went to see my adoptive granny, Mrs Denton at Savernake Hospital when I was five.

Back in the waiting area (where I was meant to be) I was greeted by one of the campest men in his 60’s I have ever met! The lovely Brian took me off to the pre-admission room to ask me lots of questions I’d already answered about booze, fags etc.

I would have assumed that nurses would have been hardened to these things, but either his age, sex or inclination caused him struggle to hide a grimace as he asked when my last menstrual cycle had ended. It also appeared that the idea of me in my bra was too much to bear. When my sleeve wouldn’t roll high enough up my arm to get the blood pressure thing on (excellent planning ahead on my part as always) he took the reading through my shirt rather than have me take my top off!

“I’m sure you’ve seen it all before”, I said casually. The silence suggested that the answer was probably not if it was at all avoidable.

They also had to check if I was unwittingly carrying MRSA. After throat and nose swabs (my pride remained temporarily intact when I pulled the nose cotton wool bud out with no London bogies on it) I was handed another swab-in-a-tube. This was for the perineum swab. Brian asked if I knew what the perineum was, and seemed to delight in my description (which maybe reminded him of his holidays),

“The bit between the front and back exit?”

Au Renoir pride! Oh well, at least I got to go to the loo and do it myself. I’m sure Brian was mighty relieved about that too.

September 20th- TV review- Murder She Wrote

Murder She wrote was fantastic today! It was set in a big old house on an island in a thunder storm. My favourite! A Blake Carrington type had called his family together to tell them he'd changed his will and (since they were the typical greedy, ungrateful families that are always waiting for their old rich relatives to die in films and TV) play a trick on them.

Of course the lights went out- not an entirely bad thing with some of the crusty, solid boufants in the house- because of the storm (or was it something more sinister?). Blake got shot and they all argued about the will. In the morning the screaming maid (CLASSIC murder mystery body discoverer, I love it!) found another body. Jessica went looking for the Seth- substitue doctor (not in Cabot Cove today) and found Blake who wasn't really dead- it was all a trick to see which of his relatives was worthy of inheriting when he really DID die! But this test only succeeded in alienating his only faithful relative, his granddaughter. But then it turned out that it was her who did the other murder anyway. Them's the breaks......

September 16th-St Thomas's A topless photo session, plastic surgeons and a bit more news

So mum came down on Wednesday and off we went to St Thomas’s on Thursday morning. It wasn’t the horrible, scary experience of going in to a hospital that I had expected. It was more like going through the main entrance in to an airport terminal or a posh shopping centre- a scattering of shops in an airy, modern lobby.

Although I knew that we were just meant to be being re told things we already knew and setting dates I was still a little nervous. The dermatology receptionists were the least friendly people I have met on any of my hospital visits, ever. I beamed at them and was polite and friendly and they looked blankly at us and were miserable and unfriendly. I know being a receptionist is not always the most exciting job, but when I do it I really appreciated it when people are nice because it brightens my dull as arse day. Also, when people or “guests” are nervous or scared- which presumably many people with Melanoma are- it would be nice for them not to have two moody witches as their first port of call when they arrive!

But from then on everyone was very welcoming. We were 40 minutes early and waited in the waiting room (well, waiting corridor really), now in an older, more hospital- like section of the building. It still wasn’t too depressing though, and if you walked to the end of the corridor there was a window which looked out over the river and the Houses of Parliament. Later, when we were in with the plastic surgery department we asked about the possibility of a room with a great view for after my op. Apparently it will be the 11th floor so the view will be good anyway, but I’m definitely hoping for a river view!

As I looked at the other people waiting I was surprised how many young people there were. At least 1/3 seemed to be my age or younger. There was one girl who looked early to mid 20s and mum said in a typically mother like way “why don’t you go and talk to her” as if because we were both young and female we would want to- like when you’re a kid- “go and play with so and so” because they are a kid as well. In fact mum probably didn’t mean it like that at all, and she was right, I was actually thinking of talking to the girl. I already felt some bizarre bond with those people who were sitting with me in that corridor simply because we were all going through the same thing. But I didn’t talk to her in the end because when I looked over and smiled I saw that she looked as if she was about to cry, and she turned away. She got called in soon after that anyway.

As we sat waiting the fire alarm went off. It was REALLY loud! A nurse told us not to move unless someone came and told us to. It wasn’t one of those bell fire alarms from school days, it was a high pitched, electronic, loud, squealing one which went on for about 15- 20 minutes, and just when you thought it had stopped it would start again. You kind of got used to it after a while. A few minutes in to the alarm a very old lady was wheeled in to our waiting area by a nurse. She looked as though she’d got to the point where everything had stopped working properly and simply being alive was probably a bit of an effort. She still had enough energy to have an opinion, be annoyed, and have a bit of a moan though, because each time the alarm started up again she would pipe up with something like “’aaaaa many times?!!” she reminded me a bit of the offensive granny from the Catherine Tate Show, but she wasn’t as mobile.

We went in to see the doctor pretty much on time which was quite refreshing after the long wait Keith and I had had on our last visit. I stripped down to underwear (I was meant to) and she did a detailed check of all the moles on my body.

“You’ve got quite a few funny shaped ones haven’t you?” She commented, before pulling out a special mini telescope- looking thing and dabbing lube-like clear stuff on the end, placing it over individual moles and peering at them. “Yes?” I replied thinking how some of the tools of the trade weren’t dissimilar to those used in the colposcopy (cervix related) department. We then had another formal chat about the situation, details etc. Mum sat and took in the details which she hadn’t heard first hand before.

The main note worthy new pieces of information we gained from this conversation were the following:

They had re measured the depth of the cancer below the skin surface (what I thought they’d measured before was the sticky outness above the surface, but I got that totally wrong, it’s below) and rather than the 1.7 or 1.4 millimetres that they/ Orpington had measured before they now thought it was 1.1 which was great news because that puts my chances of it NOT having spread at 90%, not 80% as I had previously been told. This is especially good news because the other piece of information which we managed to clarify slightly was that:

Basically, as far as I can understand, if it has spread I am fairly screwed. In the haze of the results meeting on August 22nd I vaguely got that impression when they spoke of not using chemo or radiotherapy, but some drug they were testing. I think they were just playing the down the lack of treatment as being told you’ve had the c word is enough bad news for one day. The lymph node biopsy I’m having will show if it’s spread. If it has spread no one is totally sure if it then first spreads to the other lymph nodes or if it trundles straight off randomly round the body to whatever organ/s it fancies. So the treatment, if I wanted it, would be to remove all the other lymph nodes in my groin (but no one knows if that would help or not), and to try the test drug -which the doctor didn’t seem too enthusiastic about. Other than that you have chemo/ radiotherapy once it’s picked its next destination, to treat the cancer there, and then possibly elsewhere when it spreads again etc.

It has to be said that this piece of news made my mum and I feel pretty crap for a couple of days, but as of yesterday I am totally happy and pretty confident about my chances of being in the 90% - positive thinking and all that! Any additional praying/ chanting/ good vibrations over the next few weeks till Nov 1st when I get my results would be much appreciated though!

After the doctor we saw the plastic surgery department, who were very nice. Unfortunately it sounds as though my scar will be a lot larger than I expected, but in the big scheme of things that’s not really what’s important is it? I managed to resist the burning temptation to ask if they could do some lipo while they’re in there- I’m sure they get that all the time and do their best fake laughs every time.

They gave me dates, which is great news! Surgery on the October 10th, in hospital for 2-3 days, then results on November 1st. It’s a real bummer that I will miss seeing everyone at Jo and Pab’s wedding reception party, but I am also just relieved to be getting on with it all.

The registrar guy started doing a Dictaphone of a letter for the doctor that would be doing the procedure. In keeping with the law of sod which seems to be a close companion of mine at the moment, the tickly cough which has turned up with (hopefully) the end of the nasty cold I’ve had for the last 2 weeks kicked off just as he started to dictate this letter. No matter how hard I tried to hold it in, eyes and cheeks bulging, it just kept on coming.

It emerged that the registrar had the very same tickly cough after the very same 2 weeks of the very same ........... “flu”. AHAAAA! One more classic example of the term ‘Man Flu’! He he!!!

After a topless photo session to map every mole on my body, and a quick check with the grumpy cows on reception that I was all done; mum and I were allowed to go. It had all ran satisfyingly to schedule and having been warned I might be there all day we were out of there at 12. The typical misfortune continued as the Thai Silk where I wanted us to go for a lunch special had closed down. We ended up having a wonderful moules- frites lunch on the terrace of the Young Vic, so it all worked out rather well really. Once back in the mecca of shopping that is Swindon mum treated me to some retail therapy at the Primark sale- dresses for £1!!!!! Mums are great! Not that I appreciate the clothes any more than the moral support!

Keith cooked us a great dinner and we watched Hot Fuzz. I didn’t laugh out loud as much as I had in the cinema but I think that had to do with knowing what was going to happen and the latest little shockwave of news. It’s still one of my all time favourites though, must do one of my mini DVD reviews...

I didn’t really sleep Thursday or Friday nights, but last night I was out like a light and now that I’ve processed the new information in my head it’s back to every day happiness and hyper optimism!

Keith and mum have just got me a laptop as an early birthday present so that I can still write this and do stuff when I can’t sit up at the computer for long periods during my recovery time. I am writing this from his sofa! It also means that when he is skydiving or on his computer (like now) in the future I can do my work and e-mails and generally be Mrs Efficient. Excellent!

Not sure what to do about my birthday this year because all of this is happening over the birthday period. How do people feel about a Halloweenish thing towards the end of October when I will hopefully be a bit more mobile?

Ps- there has been life between this entry and the last which I will no doubt report in thrilling, rambling detail soon, I just thought I should write down the latest hospital info while I still remember it.

September 12th 2007- Spain II, The Sequel- A bit gnarly in parts

On the Saturday night we went to our (well my anyway) favourite bar/ restaurant, The Orange Kiwi for dinner.The place hadn't changed at all since we'd been there 7 months earlier, but one of the bar men seemed to have aged 10 years. Maybe he'd just had a really heavy one the night before. In January we'd ran in to him in the Captain's Cabin (another bar which we love which has the interior of an old wooden ship- very cosy) after he'd finished work and he seemed to be hammering the charlie, possible every night since had been the same. Whatever it was he'd gotten a lot more worn since we'd last seen him... As we sat on the terrace I was once again unbelievably relaxed and happy. We retired early so that Keith could be up to get plenty of jumping in.

On Sunday pm Keith came to the beach with me, we got a cab. Mannel, the local cab driver must think we are the laziest b*****ds on the planet. Last time we got cabs everywhere because Keith was injured, and we did it this time too, but with no real excuse!

After some gorgeous frozen yoghurt cones which had the crapest design I have ever seen- a ruffle effect around the top of the cone which causes the melted liquid to flow over the grooves all the way round the cone like a sticky white waterfall- I went for another swim in the sea. Keith had no trunks with him so it was just me and the fishes. There were loads! I stood still as they just swam right next to me, all around me, they seemed to be sunbathing (sunblock I hope). It was so cool! Suddenly a French father and son would approach and all as one the fishes would flip their tales and change direction to get away, sometimes causing a little splash on the surface. I'd go and find them again and float around with them.

When I did eventually get out we re dressed my wound. You see when they cut the mole out they stitched the wound up. I should (until the next ops) have been left with a thin white scar.... However a week after the op I went out with some of you at London Bridge, and on the way home (at a fairly decent hour for a change), a little tipsy, I fell for the second time in 2 weeks on some clear, overhead projector style thin plastic sheeting. It appeared on the earlier occasion to have been deliberately positioned by local kids to slip people up. Last time I fell backwards and bruised all up one side of my body. This time it was a smaller piece, left over, and a more minor fall, but it did rip my stitches open. After an hour waiting for NHS direct to call me back I spent the night in Casualty in Croydon. They couldn't stitch it up because it could get infected, the nurse just picked some black stuff out of the gaping wound and used some glue to stick it up.

However the day after we got my results, the evening before we left for Spain, it re opened and another walk in clinic nurse explained I'd have to resign myself to a larger scar. Fine. The only thing I really minded about this ugly, gaping, weeping wound, (which I thought looked a bit like a ladies bits on a very bad day) was that having to re dress it and see it was a constant, visual reminder that something was wrong when I was trying to be happy and mobile before the next operations.

As I sat on the beach peering at the wound I noticed with horror that whatever that black stuff had been that the nurse had picked out at Croydon (I'd thought it was wierd at the time as with a bandage on no dirt could get it) was back. This time I KNEW no dirt could have got in. I tried to tell myself that it was some kind of scab forming as it started to heal. But it wasn't scabby, it was gungy, like the other flesh, but black. I was terrified that it was the cancer growing back at a frightening pace.

We tried to call Orpington Hospital over and over before we realised it was Sunday, and that the next day would be a bank holiday.There was nothing we could do till we got back on Tuesday.I knew that I was probably being paranoid and that it was probably nothing, but until sommeone tells you that you can't truly relax and forget it. I felt so bad for putting a downer on our holiday for Keith. He said he was sure it was nothing, but clearly he was a bit worried too. We went to The Orange Kiwi and I drank Sangria and Green tea (antioxidants). I couldn't hold it in, I just cried openly, in public on the terrace of the bar.

I was really scared. All I needed was for a doctor to tell me it wasn't cancer and I would be my usual cheerful self, but that couldn't happen for 2 more days. Keith was lovely and I got the crying out of my system. We went to sit outside The Captains Cabin where they had football on so that perked me up a bit. I drank more sangria and lots of rough Spanish wine which tasted of Sherry, then we went for dinner.

When we got back to the hotel there was the most wonderfully kitch old guy doing "My Way" and "The Girl from Ipanema" and other such classics, with a keyboard, I say WITH, not playing. Despite having had a few drinks we quickly deduced that it was in fact backing tracks, and he wasn't actually playing his keyboard at all, just pretending to. He couldn't really sing very well either, but he was very sweet and stepped from foot to foot with his knees slightly bent "dancing" as he "sang". He reminded me of "It is I, Le Clerk" from Allo Allo. He had drawn quite a crowd to the tables by the pool, and one couple danced. I thought he was fantastic!!!

September 10th 2007- Film Review, The Bourne Ultimatum

If you haven't seen this film yet, go. It's great! Ideally go having watched the first two, in the right order shortly beforehand. I watched the second one a week before, shortly followed by the second half of the first one and was still a bit confused at certain points. This is also advisable because when you do recognise/ make a connection with an earlier film it makes you feel nicely smug even though you are meant to and everyone else does.

How could I not love these films? They have the exotic locations of a Bond film, but with a much more intricate plot line and generally better action sequences. Though it has to be said they lack the cheese element, fabulous villains and the henchmen in boiler suits and hard hats that make Bond films so reassuringly familiar.

Having mentioned loving the exotic locations, part of the reason that this is my favourite film of the three is that there are so many FAMILIAR places in it. In the London sequence who wasn't saying/ thinking 'I'VE been in that offy in Waterloo Station!' ? Everyone loves seeing places they know in films, and since this one is largely set in New York (much to Keith's annoyance as I jumped up and down in my seat a little as I saw "my bridge" etc) and London I really REALLY loved it.

September 8th 2007- Spain August 24-28

I don't think I've ever had a better timed holiday. We got my results on the Wednesday and had already booked our flights to Spain for Friday. Thursday was spent in a bit of a daze, and I got my hair cut to cheer me up.

On Friday afternoon, after spending 10 minutes trying to find a parking space we entered Bournemouth International Airport (he he!) which is basically a collection of mobile classrooms where the same person checks your baggage in, and then checks your boarding pass at the gate. I was half expecting him to be the steward on our flight too.

Keith saw someone he knew. It seemed quite appropriate that last time they?d met they were in a tent in Iraq and now they were in a hut. We arrived safely and had a luxurious, expensive cab ride to Empuriabrava. Last time we had caught 2 buses and a train from Girona Airport, so this really was a treat in comparison! The reason we were going to Empuriabrava is that there is a drop zone there and Keith skydives, he was generous enough to take me to Spain with him!

Empuriabrava is on the coast about 20 miles from the French border. The scenery around the town is wonderfully barren and the outer edges of the Pyrenees lazily slide down to the clear blue sea. The town is a collection of white buildings with terracotta roofs built along one main road about 2 miles long that stretches from the drop zone to the beach. Perhaps the most special thing about Empuria though, is that it has a tiny touch of Venice about it, tens of tiny canals dividing rows of houses almost as commonly as roads.

It is definitely a tourist resort, but not in a horrendous English way. The few English people there seem to be skydivers who aren't generally your stereotypical yob type, most people who have holiday flats there are German, French or Spanish. They must be pretty well off too- the canals are so that people can keep their yachts somewhere. Don't get me wrong, it's not St Tropez, there are just some boats there.

Having dumped our stuff in the hotel we went for dinner at a fairly local German run restaurant which we knew from last time. We sat on the terrace, drank wine, ate good garlicy food, and for the first time in probably the four years since I got back from New York I really truly relaxed.

On our first full day Keith got lots of jumps in, I sat at the drop zone in the sun (absolutely submerged in factor 30, don't worry) watching him land and reading. The Spanish and French people who came to watch their relatives doing tandums are very different from those at English drop zones.

At Netheravon everyone brings a bunch of people from granny, to a bunch of screaming kids (today there are lots). They politely wait for a break in the clouds so that its worth the plane even going up in the air. Often this doesn't happen and they have driven for hours for absolutely nothing. They sit eating the boring sandwiches they have brought with them as the tantalizing bacon aroma whafts at them from the kitchen. If their relative is lucky enough to actually jump they quietly take photos and clap.

In Spain the French stag groups and Spanish families screech, cheer and yell support through megaphones and arrive and leave within an hour. After lunch I walked to the beach and swam in the sea which was excitingly rough- unusually so for the med. I walked back to the drop zone invigorated by my swim, with a smile on my face, and (I discovered hours later when I finally looked in a mirror) a little beard of salt residue on my chin.

September 7th 2007- What is going to happen next...

You may already know this, but between us Keith and I managed to retain the following information: There is an 80% chance that it hasn’t spread. Good. As I said to Jo “I laugh in the face of 20%”.

I have to go to St Thomas’s for a chat (I now know that’s next Thursday, 13th, my mum is coming down). I’ll meet surgeons and a plastic surgeon and they’ll talk though what Dr Munn told us in more detail and set a date for the next stage which is…. 2 or 3 days in St Thomas’s where they will remove a larger area of my leg around the scar to make sure they have definitely got all the cells. They will also inject some dye in to the area where the mole was which will show which lymph gland the cancer would have spread to first if it has spread. That will tell them which lymph node to remove the next day to do the biopsy on to see if it has spread. Hopefully it hasn’t.

Because the bits they’re removing are on my leg near my knee and the lymph node is in my groin area (oooh loov!) it will all take a while to heal so I may be laid up for a bit. If it has spread the treatment won’t be chemotherapy or radiotherapy, but some new drug they are testing which doesn’t have side effects of nausea, puking and hair loss. That’s a bonus, but hopefully it won’t come to that anyway. You actually don’t have to have the lymph node biopsy, but they advise you do. Really just for your peace of mind (hopefully) to know that it hasn’t spread.

Wedesday August 22nd- Results (Hopefully the most depressing this will all get)

Keith had come down the night before, I had made a curry from scratch (a rather impressive one) and he re-installed the operating system on my computer. My god, we sound like we take on the stereotypical male/ female roles- the only thing more comedy would be if Keith had been putting up shelves!

After a brief trip to April and Matt's for cat sitting and door opening training we called it a night. Wednesday August 22nd, 2007 is probably a date that I will remember forever. It started well. As Keith toiled on at my pc and I made bacon sandwiches (the domestic bliss continues) IML, my co op (agency) called. Anne told me I had an audition for the English Speaking Theatre of Vienna for Elvira in Blithe Spirit- one of my dream roles. She tried to persuade me that it would be more recognisable to other employers on my CV than the job touring Germany and Switzerland which I had already agreed to. I said that I had agreed to the Germany job months before and didn't want to back out on it, and that although perhaps on a CV it wasn't as instantly recognisable to casting directors as the Vienna company it was actually a better job in more 'prestigious' venues.

It was a suitably grey day as we set off. After a brief diversion to PC World we arrived at Orpington Hospital. As we walked away from the ticket machine in the car park a lady was cursing because she didn’t have the 10p she needed for the machine, so I went over and gave her one (10p). Maybe the lady had a friend or relative at the hospital that she was worried about because she seemed to be acting slightly strangely-emotionally- and she thanked me profusely over and over. “You’ll go to heaven”, she said. “Not yet” I hoped.

As we were early we went for a cup of tea and some jammy dodgers in the little café. Then we sat in the waiting room for about an hour. Keith read something relatively intelligent like Time Magazine. I read some crap or other as a treat rather than learning lines.

I still really wasn’t worried that it would be bad news- it had been fine a year ago. I did start to feel a bit light headed and need some water at one point, but that was probably because it was 4 o clock and I’d only eaten a bacon sandwich and 2 jammy dodgers all day. NOT ENOUGH! At one point I saw Dr Munn and a nurse go in to a room with a patient and I assumed she was doing the same operation I’d had two weeks earlier. It took much longer though and when they finally did come out a man in his 50s was with them. He was saying how it had just been a bit of a shock, and I overheard Dr Munn saying the word “biopsy”. Then I did start to feel a little nervous.

When we finally went in to that room it all happened very quickly. It must have been Dr Munn’s consulting office. There were no windows and it seemed very small, possibly because there were 5 of us in there. Dr Munn introduced me to the nurse, Lindsay, and some registrar man who was sitting in. (I now realise that he was obviously sitting in as some kind of training exercise in giving bad news!) Keith sat behind me next to the registrar- the only place he could sit, I sat at Dr Munn’s desk opposite her and poor Lindsay had to stand.

I don’t really remember exactly what she said, but she got straight on with it. Why beat about the bush I suppose. It was something along the lines of “Two weeks ago we removed a mole because it appeared to have changed. Well we were right to do so because the mole was cancerous…..” and on she went.

I took some of it in, some of it I didn’t. I couldn’t hold Keith’s hand because he’d had to sit behind me next to the ‘breaking the news’ trainee. I think I was just sitting there and nodding, trying to hold it together. Dr Munn and Lindsay kept asking if I was alright in between the pieces of information they were giving us. After being asked a few times I decided I might want some water, and they turned a fan on as I felt dizzy, and opened a window somewhere in an adjoining room.

The only other things I particularly remember are asking if I could still do my Germany tour job (no), seeing my left hand gripping the right arm of my chair tightly, and the moment when in the blur of words I heard the word “survive” or “survivor”. “You mean this could really kill me?” She explained that Melanoma can be a killer, but when caught early it generally isn’t. Since I was stage 1b (they measure the sticky outness of the mole in millimetres and mine was 1.7 which make it 1b) there were 80% odds that it hadn’t spread.

At some point my teeth started chattering and I started shaking and the nurse took me in to the adjoining (even smaller) room. As I walked out of the consulting room I finally let the holding it together thing go. She laid me down on the examination bed and covered me with a blanket. I liked the fact that there was a window; the other room had been very claustrophobic. I remember saying over and over through my chattering teeth and slightly hyperventilating breath “sorry” and that I would be fine in a minute.

Lindsay was an angel and held my hand and said why the hell should I be, this was a massive shock, but she perfectly balanced things by reiterating what Dr Munn said about the odds being good. Keith came in and cuddled me and held my hand. He’d been talking to Dr Munn while Lindsay was looking after me. I was so so glad he was there. Besides the support and comfort the whole point of him being there was to be another brain to remember all the information. Apparently when people go in to shock they switch off to some extent. When my mum called to tell me that dad was dead I got back to my flat days later to find that I’d put a saucepan full of boiling carrots in the fridge (which surprisingly survived the experience). I suppose that’s switching off, though Keith would probably argue that it wouldn’t be entirely out of character for me anyway!

What we managed to remember between us is in the “What will happen next” entry.

Aaaaanyway. When Keith had comforted me a bit and they’d given us a cup of tea and rich tea biscuits, (a bit of a disappointment after the Hob Nobs on my last visit) which instantly perked me up, we said goodbye to the lovely Dr Munn and Lindsay. It’s hysterically British but a cup of tea really does make everything slightly more bearable!

As we drove round the M25 and I turned my phone on I kept getting messages from my mum asking how it had gone. I was really dreading having to tell her. In the past 10 years she has lost her sister, her father and her ex husband, survived breast cancer herself, and now I had to tell her that her daughter was about to start treatment for skin cancer. When I was talking to mum more recently she said something about how it’s amazing how crap things seem to happen to the same people over and over. I thought that maybe that wasn’t an entirely terrible thing as at least those people have already been toughened up ready for the next battle of endurance!

I spoke to mum and she took it like the Amazon that she is, well at least when she was on the phone to me she did. As we came over the peak of a hill on the M4 on the approach to Swindon I’ve never seen it look so beautiful. (yes, really, Swindon!) An absolutely breathtaking sunset was the backdrop to the silhouette of the town. Even that hideous tower looked good! I had started the day with one definite great acting job and the potential option of another great acting job, and ended it as a “cancer patient” with no acting job. But at least I was with Keith, we were about to go to Spain, I knew I would have the support of the best friends and family in the world and I had a damn fine sunset that made even Swindon look hot!

September 4th, 2007- TV Review, Bergerac, 4pm, my sitting room

One for the mums today- at one point Jim was wearing shorts and a vest when he came back from a run. There were a bunch of deprived teenagers from Laandon on the island who were meant to be unruly youths, but by today's standards they were the kind of kids you'd be delighted to meet down a dark alley and might even invite home for tea! There was an American couple who were blatantly British actors as their accents were very ropey, they were "doing Charley over" for a few grand which I predicted from the beginning. Makes me feel so clever. Love it!

Wednesday August 8th 2007- Local Anaesthetic, Shower Caps and Tennants Super

A year ago in June I had the offending mole checked. It was fine. They took a polaroid, gave it to me and told me to come straight back if it changed within the year. It changed, but it took a couple of other people to notice the change before I managed to find the time to do anything about it. On a July day when I hadn't managed to get any temping work (common) I went to see my wonderful god of a GP, Doctor Mohammed. He said it was probably nothing, but if I was his sister or his wife he would want me referred, so he referred me again (annoyingly because I'd left it just over a year since the last visit I no longer had my VIP pass to just go straight back).

I'm ashamed to say that since temping work is quite hard to come by, having been offered three days work in a row, when the hospital swiftly came back to me with an appointment for the next week I put it off till they could next fit me in 2 weeks later in order to take the work. Please don't do things like that people. I'm sure it can't have made the world of difference, but I do feel a bit of a twat in retrospect...

When I did make it to Orpington Hospital- a place I'm quite familiar with after my cervical adventures last year, I'm a regular now!- I met Dr Munn again. She seemed a bit cross with me for not bringing the photo back, but said that she could tell just from her notes from last time that it had changed, so it should come off straight away.

Continuing with my slightly warped sense of priority I asked if it really did have to come off now as I was doing a play in Oct/ Nov in which I would be wearing a bikini. Again she seemed a little brusque and said it was more important for the mole to come off. (Keith says that she told him at the next appointment that she had been fairly certain at this stage that it was cancerous, which helps to explain why people kept suggesting so strongly that I bring someone with me for my next visit!).

As I read the disclaimer and waited for my minor surgery I started to feel a tad nervous, but I really still just assumed it was a precaution. While the shower cap- like covers they gave me to put on my feet amused me they also slightly worried me. Was it to protect my shoes as the blood spurted out when they made the first incision? They were only flip flops though (very old ones). The nurse laughed and told me it was just for cleanliness in the operating theatre. It's never particularly nice having bits of you chopped out, however small the bits are and however much you know it's for your own good.

As with my ops last year, though, the doctors and nurses did all they could to make it less distressing. At least this time I wasn't in a humiliating legs akimbo position with a doctor, a nurse and a trainee doctor peering at me nethers. It wasn't actually that I found this op particularly upsetting, it was more the fact that it was starting to dawn on me that it could possibly be the start of something more. After the shower cap question I felt like a bit of an idiot for asking, but I had to for my own peace of mind. "Have you ever had to cut anyone's leg off?" Their laughter instantly relaxed me. They hadn't. Well, with breast cancer sometimes the whole boob has to come off, it's not that ridiculous!

The doctor was businesslike but friendly, the nurse held my hand and talked to me to distract me from the procedure. Those people are amazing. I even got a cup of tea and 2 Hobnobs afterwards! So it was done. I still really wasn't that worried at all. I mean a year ago it had been fine! The odds were always going to be that it was nothing as far as I was concerned.

As I hobbled down to the bus stop I knew that the journey back to Crystal Palace was never going to be fun. It was one of those hot afternoons where bus windows have a greenhouse effect (not the environmental kind, the sauna-to-make-your-tomato plant-grow kind). In addition to this, as I limped down the 358 a pugent whiff of warm Tenants Super hit my nose at around the time the slurry estuary racist comments hit my ears. I had no choice but to sit down and keep my leg straight as instructed, but the only available seat was just across the aisle from the kind of fellow passengers normally found on the N29 circa 3am.

Apparently it was alright for the three pointy featured stereotype South East London/ Kent border arseholes to be deeply racially offensive to the guy they were with because he was their mate. Lucky guy. He himself could hardly talk, and kept announcing loudly that he wanted pussy (hopefully the old couple nearby assumed he missed his cat). Pressumably, 30 seconds later he had forgotten this proclamation to the entire bus as he seemed genuinly surprised when I pointedly stared out the window at the stunning Bromley scenery, ignoring him, while he slurred, " SShhore bjootifwwww, sshhoe've got verrr mosht elgant ffffeeech aahh've ever shhheeen". Luckily they got off soon after, not a minute too soon. I went home and treated myself to a flake ice cream and some carrot and swede mash!

Aug 29 2007- Hmmm, A blog vaguely related to Cancer- that should be fun!

It's very strange for me not to have lines to learn or a play to read -just incase I get an audition for it- there is always something I could be doing to raise my chances of getting the next job. Except now there isn't anything that I can do that will be directly useful, because I can't apply for the next job because I don't know for sure when I will be fit to audition again.

The past few days have been bizarre in that I have genuinely relaxed in terms of acting stuff. Normally I have to be at a computer or on a phone at 2ish to apply for Castnet jobs before they are over subscribed for the day, and check my e mails every day for "any Takers" jobs from my co op IML.

It's actually nice not to be in a permanent state of heightened energy, preparing for or applying for the next potential job! But what to do now? What do I do on train rides, on holiday, at any moment of time I have free? On reception desks when the phone's not ringing, in hospital waiting rooms, or when I'm at home after the operation and sick of watching TV, wanting to do something creative?

The last time I took a break from acting was when I moved to New York, "You have to write a diary" said my friend Paul, "This is such a special time in your life, and most people won't ever experience what you're about to do." Well, this is also a special time in my life, although unfortunately I think it's about 1/3 of us that will do what I'm about to do now, and quite possibly in a much more unpleasant way. Chances are I'm already totally cancer free, the operations I'm going to have are just to check it hasn't spread. Even if it has and I do need further treatment it won't be chemo, it will be a drug they're testing which doesn't have nausea or hair loss as a side effect. So touch wood it should be quite an easy ride relatively speaking!

Hopefully, if you can be bothered to read (I believe that since my New York ramblings it's been given a name) my "blog", it will help us all to realise that the c word isn't necessarily as scary as we all know it can sometimes be. It can simply be an annoying setback which forces you to take time out and not do quite as many fun things as you'd like. (Hmmm, we'll have to see about that one). We all know people who have had this in some way shape or form, but thankfully I think so far in my inner inner circle I'm the first (as with getting boobies and having my parents get divorced at the time when those dramatic events took place), so I may as well write it down as a guide to the fact that it doesn't need to be a biggy. Blimey, hope I'm not tempting fate!

People seemed to quite enjoy the New York e mails. Hopefully this blog should be honest but rarely depressing, sometimes funny, often rambling (you know me!) and often uneventful- I suspect that Jessica Fletcher and Jim Bergerac will be the main characters besides myself. If you don't want to read it or don't have time, then don't. Like the NY e mails it just gives me more of a reason to do it if it's not just for me. So get ready for a few months of DVD, book and Murder She Wrote reviews!

Holly xxx