vickygoestravelling

my journey to health and well being via exotic destinations


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In which my leg improves slowly but sorely

Champery is as pretty as a picture in the snow!

Champery is as pretty as a picture in the snow!

 Woke on Christmas morning to the sound of torrential rain! Not what the doctor ordered in a ski resort…

I had spent the majority of xmas eve chopping veg, preparing stuffing, making the cabbage, prepping the bread and apple sauces, and balefully eyeing our rather small goose. The boys go off skiing and narrowly avoid getting stuck on the French side – brings back memories of that terrible day I was waiting for Louise on her third attempt to leave London [her last xmas, 2010] and they got stuck in France and were not there to calm my nerves…had I known what a narrow squeak Tommy had getting here this year, with the English storms raging, I think I would have been beside myself. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Spent a very nice xmas eve chez cousins Christine, Diego and their boys, oysters and empanadas, their Chilean tradition. We did a rather fun Stealing Santa where you can steal someone else’s secret Santa when it is your turn! Tempers got rather frayed at one point…

Tommy on xmas day

Tommy on xmas day

Christmas morning itself is always a big reminder of Louise’s absence: she adored opening her stocking at the end of our bed, just as I adored finding silly things for her. The best present in 2010 was the burka I got in Oman, which she wore at lunch in France, just after they had been banned. We were doubled up with laughter at lunch and, later, when she skied down the mountain wearing it!

Louise in her burka on xmas day

Louise in her burka on xmas day

Tommy is just as big a child and he is thrilled with the contents of his stocking. As ever we gather on our bed and open our stockings in turn. I had some lovely extravagant gifts, Jo Malone, Molton Brown, edibles – felt very spoiled. All the smellies a girl could wish for and perfect for the pampering phase of my life.

The master chef!

The master chef!

After lunch – there was plenty of everything, even the goose – with Tommy playing sous chef to shouted instructions from the sofa, charades were called for and I remembered we had a box game. When I opened it I discovered scoring sheets in Louise’s handwriting, evidence of past fun. The shock of seeing her childish, teenage scrawl brought her absence into a palpable reality and my mood never really recovered.

Ross and me exhausted by xmas; the charade box is in the foreground

Ross and me exhausted by xmas; the charade box is in the foreground

In fact I had spent most of the day feeling queasy – a mixture of grieving and reaction to drugs – and so much food and drink make me feel worse, an unusual situation for me. On top of which my leg is hurting like crazy. In the end I leave the merriment and go to bed, but cannot sleep. Feel very anxious and vulnerable; the unspoken thought which I had been trying to banish all day now creeps into my head: is this my last Christmas? I wonder if others are thinking this as well; I try to gauge the meaning of those kind words and looks.

xmas lunch with brother Sasha, George and Beth, Hannah and Charlie

xmas lunch with brother Sasha, George and Beth, Hannah and Charlie

I have been trying not to think morbidly but what with my leg swollen and throbbing, it is hard not to imagine the worst. And all this terrible tiredness; and no matter how much I eat, I am still getting thinner… Is it just the price of healing or something more sinister? Only time will tell…

*                     *                    *

Wake up at 5 am on Boxing Day to the sound of the snow plough. The rain has turned to snow and there is at least 4-6 inches outside, and it is still snowing. Good news for the skiers and I can thus spend the day in bed writing and reading with my leg up. Which is now back to normal, thank goodness. They always say things are better in the morning.

Tommy enjoying the powder on boxing day

Tommy enjoying the powder on boxing day

I am pleasantly surprised that I do not feel envy as they kit up to go skiing, even on a gorgeous day with deep powder in the offing. Instead I feel a great sense of relief that I can snuggle up at home with a good book (The Luminaries), a jigsaw and Radio 4 for company. It makes me realise how much energy it takes to heal my wounds, both mental and physical. At least six weeks…

My latest worry is whether my leg will be healed enough to start the radiotherapy in January. Despite the sudden improvement in walking – I can now flex my foot with each step rather than advance with a fixed, stiff knee joint – the pain comes winging back, a dull ache combined with a terrible tenderness where my calf used to be. I suppose this is how an amputee feels. But it’s difficult to rest the back of my leg on anything as it is so sore. And by the end of the day, my lower leg is tight and throbbing despite being elevated most of the time.

I took the dressing off yesterday, and Ross removed and replaced some of the steri-strips. Pleased to see the bruising has gone down a lot and the wound is looking good. So good I am showing it to you!

the much improved leg!

the much improved leg!

Last tummy jab administered yesterday too, thank God. Stomach a patchwork of blue, yellow and grey bruises with long lumps marking the needles’ length! Think this is a reflection not so much of my lack of skill but my loss of tummy fat, resulting in the injections going into the muscle rather than subcutaneous fat. Wah! Only wearing the DVT stocking at night now.

Another week of rest before coming back, so I am hoping that these small improvements will gain pace. Meanwhile, fret not, I love being on my own; the day is punctuated with visitors, the evenings alternate with meals in and out, Tommy’s girlfriend Olivia has arrived and the family feels complete again.

Louise, xmas 2010


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in which we finally arrive in Champéry for Christmas

The Dents du Midi on the day we arrive - glorious!

The Dents du Midi on the day we arrive – glorious!

We made it! Here I am with my boys in the mountains, getting ready for Christmas: the goose is collected, we smuggled the chipolatas and bacon through customs, the champagne is chilling, presents wrapped and last-minute instructions for shopping issued! It’s Christmas Eve and Ross and Tommy are off skiing while I am left to some retrospective musings.

The first one is of a practical nature: even if the weather is gorgeous, the snow is terrible so I don’t feel I am missing out. I had been dreading the feeling of unadulterated jealousy, listening to tales of knee-high powder and virgin slopes, instead it’s a litany of overcrowded, muddy pistes and closed runs. Sigh of relief!

This is always a very sad time for our trio: the last Christmas we spent with Louise was here in Champéry, and the memories are still so vivid: the tension and heartache when she nearly didn’t make it due to the British weather – it took four days, three cancelled planes and a £65 taxi before I scooped her up from Aigle station, her presents and possessions spilling out of broken bags (so Louise!); her garish New Look jumper; the delicious goose; the fairy-tale weather; the company of good friends – in other words, a perfect family Christmas.

Louise in her New Look jumper on Christmas Day 2010

Louise in her New Look jumper on Christmas Day 2010

Being on crutches up here evokes the time when I broke my hip three and a half years ago. Despite all the obvious downsides to such an injury (nine weeks no weight bearing followed by a further 12 on crutches), it also brought Louise and I very close. She came to look after me in Geneva while Ross was away and we had a riotous time with her wheeling me round the park and to restaurants, she so little she could barely control the chair! We then went to Barbados together for a fabulous 10 days recuperation with friends Heather and JP in their beachfront villa,  and we had a very bonding and girly time sharing a room, fuelled by fine dining and drinking. I feel so privileged to have these memories. And now Tommy is manfully filling this gap by looking after me, both here and in London, in a similar fashion. It is very special.

Putting on the Ritz in Barbados, summer 2010

Putting on the Ritz in Barbados, summer 2010. I wear Louise’s necklace every day

My lovely GP happily prescribed the forgotten painkillers – don’t know how I’d do without them…tramadol, paracetamol and anti-inflammatories. The pain is constant and aching.

My not-so-lovely leg post clip removal

My not-so-lovely leg post clip removal

I had a pedicure to cheer me up! After all my feet are on constant display!

I had a pedicure to cheer me up! After all my feet are on constant display!

The rest of my clips were painlessly removed by one of my nurses. She took a photo of the wound – not for the squeamish. It has been bleeding a bit behind the knee and it is quite bruised there. But everyday it feels a little better, though I foolishly keep forgetting to ask how long the pain will go on…perhaps not so dumb as it might only add to the vague air of anticlimactic depression that has descended. I apologise to you all, but I’m afraid it is not possible to be superwoman all the time.

A kind friend sent me a link to a book about cancer, obviously meant to give hope. However it only served to send me into deep angst about secondaries. Not knowing the histology yet (I know I said I was going to forget this for two weeks, but…) and the mitotic rate of the various tumour cells that were found, there is this faint niggle which can only be assuaged by quarterly scans for two years, and then six-monthly ones for a further three years. So it’s a long haul. I guess my status remains ‘living with cancer’.

But today I must make the bread and apple sauces, the red cabbage and do my physio. Tonight we will feast on empanadas and oysters with cousins Christine and Diego and tomorrow morning we will open our stockings, have a light but jolly lunch with friends, before tackling the goose with my brother Sasha and more friends. Tommy is donning the head chef cap.

I will enjoy this Christmas and be thankful for being with loving family and friends: three years ago it was Louise’s last, how could we have known?

Pickle enjoying the Simon's Cat video xmas card

Pickle enjoying the Simon’s Cat video xmas card

So Bonne Fête as we say here! I will raise a glass of Christmas bubbly to you all and those less fortunate than ourselves. I will especially be thinking of my friend Brigid, who is trapped in Juba having evacuated her team from Bor, the heartland of Sudan’s civil war. Just a week before this she had told me how much she was enjoying her work there…see how life is constantly balanced on a knife-edge.

Carpe diem!


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in which I have my ‘stitches’ out

my Indian amulet from sculptor Jake Harvey

my Indian amulet from sculptor Jake Harvey

I have been quiet the past few days – nothing much to report. Leg has been aching and tingly all at the same time. I am told this is all the nerve endings waving around madly trying to re-attach themselves. I am walking round the house unaided, but take crutches when I venture out, more to keep people away from me!

As well as receiving welcome visitors, I have been active: two trips to the movies (see http://www.vickyatthemovies.net for my reviews of The Hobbit and The Hunger Games); two visits to the physio – I am doing a form of Pilates to pinpoint the glutes and the thigh muscles (so painful that one exercise made me bleed behind the knee); some Christmas parties locally; and one at Art First, where the Patrons and Artists had put together a wonderful Christmas Stocking full of loving messages, original paintings, poems, an African necklace, knick-knacks,  and even a bottle of organic apple juice. All have contributed enormously to my spiritual and mental well-being.

my Xmas stocking courtesy of Art First

my Xmas stocking courtesy of Art First

However as the time draws near for my appointment with the Prof to cut the clips, I begin to feel nervous; the night before I sleep badly, worrying about the histology and whether they will find something new which might require different treatment – heaven forbid! Also about confirmation of the clearance – whether he managed to get a good margin round the tumour. Sadly there is no-one beside me to poke awake at 3 am and confide these anxieties, only Pickle as a comfort blanket.

my guardian angel

my guardian angel

As Ross is on a plane,  chum Hilary accompanies me as scribe and ears.

Disappointingly the histology is not back yet – apparently it takes longer from the Marsden but Prof is not unduly worried. He is very pleased with his handiwork – lovely, clean ‘perfect scar’ and no sign of any infection or swelling. He picks out every other clip – not quite as painless as people lead you to believe: I emit an ‘ouch’ every now and then. ‘It doesnt hurt, at all’, says he, to which I reply ‘You’re not the one having your leg attacked!’.

There are only two things that are important, he opines. One is your leg and two is my reputation. I correctly hazard a guess as to which he thinks is more important…we laugh.

On the clearance issue, he admits that, while the tumour was self-contained, it was very close to the neuro-vascular bundle and he cut as close to the surface of it as he could without damaging it and my leg permanently, thank goodness. He confirms that the gastrocnemius and soleus are completely removed and the Achilles is only attached at the bottom and not at the top. It is therefore quite remarkable that I have as much up and down flex in my foot as I have. But I must exercise this movement more if I am to walk properly. As he seems unconcerned by the histology – or lack of it – I decide I must follow his example and forget about it until January.

But the best news of all is that, once the rest of the clips are removed on Saturday, I am clear to fly. I am so thrilled I forget to ask for more painkillers –  only realise as I am floating away in a cab – and have to  try and get to the GP instead!

I will post a picture of my leg once it is restored to its pristine self.

Vicky at the movies!

Vicky at the movies! NB 3-D glasses….


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in which I receive gifts

photo 2-1Thank you visitors for keeping me cheerful.

Main point of this blog is to say

1) I am fine but leg is a bit sore as the anaesthetic wears off

2) all our mail is being forwarded to Singapore so PLEASE DONT SEND ANYTHING TO PARKHILL ROAD!

3) Physio starts today!

new necklace & earrings form Kenya and delicious meringuey things. Pickle liked them as you can see!

new necklace & earrings form Kenya and delicious meringuey things. Pickle liked them as you can see!


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in which I go home

vickyathome

Here I am at home with my little friend Pickle, who has not left my side.

I am walking well, can manage stairs, but have to rest/elevate the leg until staples come out Thursday week. We are planning on leaving for Champery on Sunday 22 and staying through the New Year. Radiotherapy will begin mid Jan.

For those who keep asking me about what I will do about the hole in my leg, I cannot even contemplate anyone cutting my leg open again. If there is no therapeutic gain then cosmetic pain is a waste of time. I wouldn’t cut my face open for the same reason.

Ready for visitors and may need help next week with getting to/from physio as Ross is going to Beijing Mon -Thursday. Volunteers? It’s only round the corner in Heath Hurst Road.

Thank you so far for the visits and the thoughtful gifts. I have a nice leg cushion,courtesy Marion, a magenta cashmere blanket  (Tommy), which I can tuck up under and lots of reading materials, flowers and tempting morsels. The chicken soup is arriving on Thursday, thank you Judy in advance!  Under my pillow I find my worry family, which is a comfort.

I am feeling very upbeat, just in case you are wondering! As far as I am concerned the tumour is excised and with it any future issues. Of course I will have to have quarterly scans to check the other soft tissues for hot spots; after two years the stats say I am 50% clear, and after five, 100%. But I don’t think like that. Now all that matters is for the leg to heal and for me to get on skis again. Not this Christmas, I hasten to add, but certainly next year. And those trips to Mana in July and Raja Ampat in October look very tenable. Carpe diem!

my Mayan worry family, given to me by Oliva

my Mayan worry family, given to me by Olivia; anxieties are transferred to them while I sleep


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in which I take one step at a time

Cartoonist Annie Tempest draws me my own personal cartoon. What an honour! more too the point, how funny. That's what it feels like when id do my tummy jabs....

Cartoonist Annie Tempest draws me my own personal cartoon. What an honour! more too the point, how funny. That’s what it feels like when id do my tummy jabs….

It is now exactly 48 hours since I went into surgery. The first 24 hours passed in a morphine-fuelled haze, interspersed with doses of paracetamol and anti-inflammatories. I recall texting like a maniac at hourly intervals as I was coming round – apologies, probably all gibberish! Then deleting all sorts of posts from well-wishers on FB as my fingers were just too fat and disobedient. I would wake from a doze and find a half finished text with random letters in the text box…as yet unsent (I hope).

Tommy and Olivia trying to cheer me up!

Tommy and Olivia trying to cheer me up!

After 24 hours of fasting a good English breakfast sets me up, but the pain is omnipresent and there are tubes sprouting from all orifices including a couple of holes in my leg. Private hospitals seem as short-staffed the NHS as I seem to wait for all sorts of things – for instance the drain removal is eventually carried out 3 hours later than scheduled and today the physio has not come at all! This is rather annoying as I have been dosing myself up with morphine in preparation for the former and so by the time it happens I am off the planet!

Tommy to greet me as I come round

Tommy to greet me as I come round

I am both fascinated and frightened when they remove the bandages prior to unplugging the drains. “This might be painful. First I will cut a couple of stitches, then count to three, and you take a deep breath and out it comes!” I breathe deeply, and feel nothing. “Is it out yet?” Happily both are removed painlessly. And when I am brave enough to admire my leg with fresh dressing on, I am amazed, despite the fact a large chunk is missing, it is neat and virtually unscathed.

my neat little leg

my neat little leg

Today, day 2, we decide to try and walk to avoid the risk of an embolism. The first attempt is terrible, the pain excruciating. However I cannot lose the catheter until I can walk to the loo, so its a vicious circle. When Tommy and Ross come in we try again and its much better. Soon I am unplugged, have made a reacquaintance with the loo, and am having a lovely shower and a clean nightie (thanks Hilary)

A few visitors pop in and out, I sleep, but the real progress is in the almost total diminution of the pain; only a slight pulling of the stitches when I walk but I think that’s to be expected. And I even took some steps on my own.

Once I’ve got the physio sorted I fully intend to be out of here…