my journey to health and well being via exotic destinations

in which I begin the long road to recovery


Me in the botanic gardens - just because I like the picture and it might be one of the last times in a summer frock!

Me in the botanic gardens – just because I like the picture and it might be one of the last times in a summer frock!

So here I am sipping champagne in BA Club Class. My leg is supported by two large blankets and I’m feeling pretty chilled.  Before I left for the airport I gave myself the second tummy jab – piece of cake! Decided that in the scheme of things why be scared of one tiny injection? Though trying to get the needle though my extremely tough epidermis is – literally – harder than I had anticipated, but pain there is none. I am a tough old boot, remember.

Ross cannot be with me today on the first part of my journey to recovery; he comes on Tuesday. Too much to do to at work before he leaves for a month or so. It’s hard saying goodbye to him, even for a few short days. But the thought of the other man in my life, son Tommy, waiting for me at the other end, is cheering.

The worst moment is going through security when, despite my wheel chair, everything is of course scanned. My syringe is nestled snugly next to the oxycontin, a controlled drug in Singapore, and my sleeping pills, aspirin and other emergency supplies. ‘Madam, we have to check your bag.’

Here we go…but the expressionless guard pulls out my jewellery bag and peruses it carefully. It is stuffed with Omani silver necklaces, beads from Bhutan and Somali gold…I surreptitiously take my handbag with its contraband onto my lap while she does this and we sail though. Phew!

On board the Singaporean steward has been charming and solicitous. I pop half a sleeping pill after a glass of champagne and sleep like a security guard, only to wake up 3 hours later. So off I toddle to the tiny cramped loo and prime my syringe for another jab, as prescribed by the doc, take the other half of the sleeper and fall asleep immediately.

I feel very strange the day I leave Singapore. I can’t help but ponder if and when I will be back. I know ‘If’ is not positive thinking, by my leg has been so painful the past 24 hours and seems to be trying to burst out of its stocking. As I give myself a mini pedicure, and slather on the Jo Malone lime and basil, I wonder if my left leg will ever receive such a treatment again.

The last picture of me with two perfect pins (Patrick Mavros eat your heart out)

The last picture of me with two perfect pins (Patrick Mavros eat your heart out)

I look around the flat for the last time, which we have made our own with favourite pictures: a Barns Graham, an Eileen Cooper, a pair of David Prices (chosen by Louise), a Margaret Hunter sculpture and our latest additions, a couple of Indian granite Buddha and Vishnu heads. We even have mementos of Mum – her favourite Arab Chest and a pair of fine Omani copper coffee pots. The words of the song pop in to my mind: ‘When will I see you again?’

As if in sympathy, two little sunbirds visit us today, male and female. We decide to change the blog header to reflect the symbol of hope and Louise that they represent. Then, in the middle of lunch, a massive storm breaks and it pours for 5 hours, so heavy our lift lobby is flooded.  ‘Singapore weeps at my departure,’ I tweet, ‘I may be some time but unlike Scott, I will be back’.

*                      *                      *

Now back in London, it’s 2 am and, despite taking a whole sleeping tablet, I can’t sleep: yesterday the mix of drugs, the long flight and general build up of stress left me feeling queasy and exhausted. I couldn’t even stay up to watch the Strictly dance-off, a treat I have anticipating in my sojourn abroad.

Dear Tommy drops in and stays all day, cooking a delicious late lunch of cod, crispy chorizo with pea and spinach puree. How spoiled! The only bad news today is watching Liverpool lose 1-3 to Hull in a lacklustre game, which has son throwing cushions around the sitting room (he’s 25!). His girlfriend has brought me a tiny bag containing Guatemalan Worry People. The Maya Indians put this woven sachet, containing 8-10 tiny figures, under their pillow at night so that the worries transfer to them. Despite the early hour I am feeling remarkably fresh and whole lot less anxious than last night, when I felt very tearful and afraid for what today has in store.

The other highlight of the day is an exchange of email with Prof Khong. He will be amused, I tell him, that I have managed to inject myself.

He replies: ‘I was very sure you would give the injections yourself given your determination and decisiveness. You remind me of Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect. If I may, I shall keep updated through your blog as well.’

So Prof Khong if you are reading this, you made my day!

*                      *                      *

Morning brings the darling Lewins at 9 am with chicken soup, guineafowl casserole, and chocolate cake! By 11.15 Dr Fi, now taking on Auntie role, has arrived and we sally forth to the Marsden in a cab, after greedily devouring the soup.

I have a really good night’s sleep with my little worry people under my pillow and feel refreshed, though still in great pain. Of course we arrive far too early so have a cup of much needed coffee opposite.


much-needed coffee while we wait anxiously

Checking in to the Private Out Patient wing of the Lister/Marsden in the Kings Road, I realise that, in order to avoid any confusion as to my identity I need to become Victoria Cattell as per my insurance. In Singapore, I was interrogated, Gestapo-style (You Unwin or Cattell? Need to change wrist-band and sign all documents again…) while on the trolley waiting to be wheeled into the operating theatre. I’m afraid I completely lost it!

Unfortunately this completely throws Professor Thomas and we spend the first 10 minutes of this precious appointment being administrative, changing my names and numbers. Whether it’s this or a bad morning in theatre, I am disappointed that he has not read the files and reports I had sent in advance. There are two terms, he says, I need to become familiar with: the ‘powerhouse plantar-flexor muscles’, which comprise the soleus and the gastrocnemius, and it appears the cancer is in all of them, putting large amounts of muscle tissue and movement at risk; and ‘clearance’: the amount of tissue they will have to cut out to prevent spread.

It is customary for surgeons to want to do their own path and histology, and this is going to cause further delays: I had hoped that we would get on with whatever almost immediately, but no, the first offer of an operation is over a week away. Slightly horrified by the thought of further hanging around, not least because of the pain, I ask myself what DI Helen Tennison would have done, and plump for sticking my neck out at the risk of unpopularity! Fi the while has decided not to let on she is a doctor, just my PA, scribbling frantically throughout the consultation. That’s what good friends are for! As I tweeted later, she was ‘a brick’ the whole day and I don’t know what I would have done without her comforting and wise presence.

Pointing out I had hotfooted it back specially, we manage to negotiate a date for this coming Friday 6 December, provided he can get the path completed. He kindly arranges an appointment with the radiologist at the Marsden for that afternoon to speed things up, and writes a prescription for more oxycontin and anti-coagulant injections.

The prognosis is good he says. ‘What prognosis, my leg or my life?’ He laughs, ‘Oh your life should be fine, and so should the leg…that’s what I’m here for’. Although as I later learn my leg will not look the same – withered and horrid to start with – and I will always walk funny. ‘No change there then, Mum,’ quips my lovely son.

Cheered by this yet dismayed by the thought of more time-killing, we stagger out to find a stiff G&T while we wait for the radiologist. We decide to try and get the prescription in the chemist opposite the pub (the same one we went to before my father’s memorial service at the Chelsea Arts Club, just last year). Oh no, they can’t dispense oxycontin as it’s a controlled drug and he’s written it on the wrong prescription! So they suggest we try the Marsden, where we have the same problem, even though the Prof is one of their consultants. Even worse than Singapore, where they insisted Prof Khong fill in my address himself on the prescription before they gave it to me! At least that didn’t take three hours!

Dr Aisha Miah is young and petite and absolutely charming. We click immediately, and we admit that Auntie Fi is in fact Dr Fi, and we therefore have a very grown-up discussion about my leg.  She answers all the questions we forgot to ask in all the shemozzle over my split identity. Like: how long with the wound be? Several inches so they have good access; how long will I be in hospital? 4-5 days; how long in between op and radiotherapy? At least 4 weeks (Yay, maybe I can go to Champery for Christmas and New Year!); how long will the radiotherapy last? 6.5 weeks, the first five being ‘conformal’ with the last week-and-a-half being intense. This to preserve the lymphatic drainage system and prevent lymphoedema later on; how quickly will I be on my feet? He gets you up straight away – be warned! Will I need chemo? No, even if tumours elsewhere are detected later on they will be treated as localised lesions.

She also gives us some statistics: 70-80% of tumours as dealt with successfully by surgery; a further 10% respond positively to radiotherapy, leaving about 10% with a bad prognosis rate. This is very good news. She also writes out a new prescription!

However, on examining my leg, she is concerned at the position of the tumour and re-visits the advantages of radiotherapy pre-op, which means 6.5 weeks of 5 times per week. Then the burns have to heal, another 4 weeks or so before the operation. This is mainly because of the proximity to the vascular and nerve bundles, but she and Prof Thomas need to sit down together and look at all the scans properly and will tell me on Wednesday evening which route they will take.

I had hoped for more clarity by this stage and am naturally a bit frustrated I don’t know which way this is going, although I realise its crucial to get it absolutely right.

I will therefore sit at home like the Queen of Sheba, being waited on hand and foot, catching up with all the Borgen and Homeland episodes I’ve missed, and await the final decision.  The most wretched thing is that the booze and the drugs don’t go together at all – feel queasy a lot of the time – so that solace is denied. I’m not giving up that easily though…

And, horror of horrors, when I open my new pack of tummy jabs, instead of the pencil type I was expecting, I discover a whole new set of long needles to torture myself with until Friday! WAH!

those needles! they joined me in my own mile-high club!

those needles! they joined me in my own mile-high club!

Author: vickyunwin

I am a writer and traveller. Our darling daughter Louise died on 2 March 2011, aged 21 ( and I started writing as therapy. We never know how long we have on this earth, so I live for every November 2013 I was diagnosed and operated on for a malignant soft tissue sarcoma in the calf, followed by 6.5 weeks of radiotherapy, so am embarking on a different kind of journey which you can follow here. I also have another site with my blueprint for health and well-being.

7 thoughts on “in which I begin the long road to recovery

  1. Oh my poor Vicky – you had me in floods of tears reading this – grumpy security guards, the injections and then your doc not reading your file when you have flown across the world to see him. Have to admit to being a bit cross with Ross for not flying over with you but at least your lovely boy waiting at other end and your “undercover PA” at the docs with you… The admin in these situations sometimes feels like last straw – remember being at my lowest ebb during chemo treatments – had taken them ages to get their bloody needle in and then they announced could not start herceptin drip as medical aid would not authorise – took an hour of shouting from Husband before they finally turned on the tap… But news that Marsden doc is going to save your life and your leg is surely THE BEST NEWS EVER and we must focus on that – who cares if you walk funny (as Tommy says you always did although I never noticed:-) – I have a friend who is retired professor from Royal College of Art – he had a leg problem for a while so used this beautiful cane with silver handle – his leg got better but he still uses cane as he thinks it’s a cool accessory and makes him look distinguished! I am so sorry to hear that you are in pain – you must ask them to up the painkiller dose – by the way (am sure you know this) but although chemo bit of nightmare radiotherapy completely painless.. Keep watching those tv series – I have just downloaded “the hour” to see me through my recovery period… Love and hugs Janet xxxx


    • as ever dear Janet your posts are an encouragement and a tonic! I am cheerful and now going to sit pretty for a couple of days – got friends coming to visit, Tommy is constant and Ross arrives tomorrow… as it turned out it was fine him not being here. Thing about the painkillers is that they make me feel really sick so I’m trying to balance it so that it takes the edge off and is Ok so long as I’m not hanging round hospital corridors!! Yes not phased by radio at all, and have some of my Dad’s African walking sticks waiting for me! So glad you are making a good recovery and hope you are enjoying chilled sauv blanc. xxx

  2. Dear Vicky, as Janet says… the very good news is that your life and limb and in safe hands. It IS frustrating not knowing which route will be taken – I know you just want them to go in, get it out, and then start the healing…. and it is hard to think of several weeks of radiation prior to the surgery. I am glad you have some good entertainment stacked up, that Ross will be there soon, that Tommy is a Hero, and that friends and family will be constant and vigilant. If you are looking for less noir distractions (than Borgen and Homeland) I recommend that you check out MAD MEN, Think you will enjoy it. I do hope you are finding some pretty birds too although I doubt that anything like your Lulu Lemon is on your sill. Also, I hope Pickle is being compliant and happy to be cuddled for hours at a time. Keep on keeping on Vicky and love to Ross and Tommy. xoxo

  3. Dear Vicky,Wishing you all the very best during the next few days when the best way forward with your treatment is confirmed. Sounds like you are in good hands & true to form I see you are wearing your positive hat as always . Will be thinking of you .
    Lots of love x

  4. Yes “madmen” essential viewing – as is “breaking bad” – all on i-tunes… Xxxxx


  5. Hello Vicky, what a journey, your intelligence & sense of humor just blazed through me (like your papas humor, mi lap nogut tru!) So what if your physical appearance differs after you go through with all these. Every friend of yours, including myself, who love you, will cease being conscience of any physical difference, just be who you are. Everything will be OK Vicky. So happy that your son was waiting other end & that Ross will join soon. Family love is most powerful healing force and of course your family here I see responding to you. We love you & send our thoughts & prayers. Heaps & heaps of hugs & love to your. You’re such a wonderful person, am happy and proud to have you as a friend. Will keep watching your page. I shared with my family & they all send their love….xxx Mi tasol!

  6. Dear brave funny Vicky. How lucky to know you and share your new journey. Albeit a bit scary. However I l look forward to more updates and laughs. And most importantly your full recovery. All I can do is send oodles of love all the way from South Africa. Strength. Xx Mandy

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