my journey to health and well being via exotic destinations

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A Champery Christmas & New Year in the mountains


Enjoying the glorious weather with cousin Diego Oyarzun Reyes, Dents Blanches in teh background

Christmas was Louise’s favourite time of year and, after my mother died, all four of us would decamp to the mountains to ski and enjoy ourselves. My main job – after cooking – has always been to ‘do’ the stocking for my three dependents…then in the early hours Santa delivers them to the foot of the respective beds. Continue reading

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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 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….