It is a dark Malaysian night, punctuated by a full moon and bright head torches. A small group of us sets out, swathed in shawls against the night chill. We are looking for tarantulas.
It’s been non-stop visitors since we got back, in case you were wondering what had become of me! First Cindy and Guy from Mumbai, then Louise’s best friend Lulu dropped in after doing some extraordinary free diving to create an underwater apsara installation to celebrate reef protection in Bali, and now Christine and Diego are here for a week before we set off for Burma next weekend. Continue reading
This week I have been exploring alternative therapies. Started with devouring David Servan-Schreiber’s Anti-Cancer book from cover to cover and found it put a lot of what I do every day into a good and helpful perspective, while contextualising the scientific background – lots of mice and rat experiments I’m afraid – with some good case studies.
The main take-aways are:
|Inhibits immunity/influences inflammation||Activates immunity/influences inflammation|
|Traditional western diet||Mediterranean diet, Indian, Asian cuisine|
|Stress, anger, depression (unmanaged)||Serenity, joy, laughter|
|Social isolation||Support from family and friends|
|Denial of one’s true identity||Acceptance of self with one’s values and past history|
|Sedentary lifestyle||Regular physical activity (at least 20 mins per day)|
|Domestic pollutants||Clean environment|
The big change in diet argument goes something like this: our consumption of sugar and foods with high glycemic index (e.g. white flour) stimulate not only the growth of cancer cells but their capacity to invade other cells. I won’t go into the science here, you can read it for yourselves, but for instance those who eat low-sugar Asian diets tend to have 5-10 times fewer hormonally-driven cancers than those with diets high in sugar and refined food. Green tea is a well-known suppressor of growth of the new blood vessels required by cancer cells to grow and explains why in Japan the incidence of aggressive breast and prostate tumours is so much lower than in the West.
Then there’s the recent imbalance of the Omega 3s (which we had in abundance until after the 2nd World War; in those days we relied on grass- and naturally-fed cattle, pigs and chickens) with the prevalence of Omega 6 in our diet. This is largely fuelled by the feeding of livestock on corn, soya and wheat, all of which transform our food chain from being Omega 3-rich to being Omega 6-high. This imbalance, along with the enormous increase in trans fats found in biscuits, cakes and processed foods – all of which are more inflammatory than Omega 6 in its natural state – are also linked to the development of cancer. Not only does the destruction of swathes of forest and other agricultural land for livestock feed destroy the planet, it is also aiding our own demise simultaneously. So go organic and, as I am now, avoid all meat and dairy products. A bit extreme I know, but as I need to re-build my immune system it is probably worth it until I have some good news.
Given that I have always lived eaten like an Asian (no carbs, no trans fats or processed foods, although I have not been organic) and kept very fit, it is obvious to me that both Ross’s prostate cancer of two years ago, and my current sarcoma have been brought on by the numerous stresses in our lives, paramount being that of losing Louise, but in my case both my parents as well. Servan-Schreiber describes both experiments and case studies where the feelings of helplessness induced by depression and despair have contributed to cancer, and how steps taken to alleviate such feelings can lead to longer life and health. He also stresses that its good to be realistic without being negative; something I feel I do. ‘I’ve found that realistic attitude in almost all of the people who have survived their cancer well beyond the statistics they were given.’
Some people are skeptical, I am afraid, as I sip my green tea and insist on soya milk/yoghurt with my home-made granola, juice my beets, carrots, cruciform veg, with ginger, fresh turmeric (only works with black pepper), garlic and apple to sweeten. I tried spirulina once and was almost sick, so not sure how I can combine this healthy immunity-building algae! I make Ross drink it too, as he needs to keep his health up. I’m not sure he’s convinced – well poor chap got the spirulina concoction on day 1! But it keeps me busy and thinking positively and I hope gives you, my friends, something to laugh about.
* * *
Monday 24 Feb finds me going back to the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) shop where the helper was so cynical when I dropped by to get some Chinese herbs for cooking. ‘Do you really believe in this stuff,’ asks the young man incredulously, his hip little ponytail wagging away. ‘Why not? I’ve got cancer and so long as it’s not poisonous, I’m willing to try anything. Anyway it’s in my Chinese cancer cookbook. And [auntie voice] do you think you should be saying such things if you work here?’ ‘Oh’ says he, ‘the boss is out so I can say what I like’.
I have an appointment with Dr Feng, who is my age exactly. I have come for acupuncture but you cannot consult a Chinese doctor without having the once-over. She takes my pulse, asks various questions, and says my kidney and liver functions are weak and therefore allowing the cancer to grow, my yin is out and I must stop drinking coffee and alcohol immediately! She also refines the eating list that Anti-Cancer has bestowed upon me – no curry or chilli; no meat or dairy at all and various other things like peanuts and coconut – all too ‘hot’ (this chimes with my Ayurvedic profile, given after Louise died, so rings true). Oh no, can I really do this?
Dr Feng is rather attractive and has been here 22 years (Helena Bonham Carter comes here once a month); she owns the practice with her ex, and her two girls went to Cambridge, then one to Harvard and the other to Goldman Sachs! She is very matter of fact as she tells me to lie on the couch as I need treatment ‘front and back’. She starts on the back of the neck, it feels like she is using a blow dart to insert the needles (later I check it out and indeed it is similar to a staple gun) as she pings them in: quick swab of white spirit and zap! In it goes; some are more painful than others especially over the kidney area (she says this is because the unblocking required is severe).
After leaving me like a pincushion under a hot lamp, she disappears for 10 minutes; the pain in my back is really severe, a dull ache rather than searing. Is this doing me good I wonder, as I practise my breathing skills. Now, she says on return, we do some cupping! Yikes, I recoil as I remember Gwynnie’s back after she extolled its virtues. And crikey are they hot! She pops them on with a huge squelch, at least ten or twelve of them …I am reeling from the physicality of the treatment so far but all I can do is shut my eyes and breathe deeply!
Back she comes, phew it’s over, think I…but, no, ‘lie on front now’! Then she applies more deathly needles to my legs including on my shins, ankles and front of foot…aaargh! The pain on my bad leg is sudden and quick, I feel a lightening jolt running down and then it is gone. This is the unblocking she explains – kindly? Several more minutes pass as I lie on my back now with my pink cardi draped over my feet; there is a whispered consultation going on next door, the poor man is having terrible nightmares; she tutts sympathetically.
Then she comes in and starts to massage my bad leg, to reduce the fluid which has been building up and which Prof is threatening to syringe. ‘No need, we get rid of it naturally,’ she opines gaily. But it’s very sore indeed as she digs in round the ankle and passes her hands in smooth circles up my calf. ‘You very stiff, here, bend your knee back, move your ankles. You must do lots of exercise, yoga good!’ Ow, ow, ow is all I can splutter in response.
At last she deftly removes the remaining needles – oh no, she says wait a minute, some blood here! Dab, dab. Then I get dressed and go upstairs for my daily tea mix (see photo), which I have to soak overnight and brew the next day. ‘Might taste bad,’ she warns. I imagine it must be foul if she says this now! Plus some sachets of mushroom powders to be taken twice a day, some funny brown pills (Liu Wei Di Huang Wan to treat yin deficiency – good for weak kidneys, menopause and diabetes and combatting low immunity) and my diet sheet. Nearly everything is marked X in the BAD column – see picture, on left. Oi vey. I whinge about giving up the alcohol, although I drink very little these days. ‘But surely you want to get better? Your kidneys very weak, kidney pulse very weak, only now getting better after one session. You come twice a week until you return Singapore, we make you better.’
For the record the mushroom powders taste like dust, and the tea smells and tastes absolutely rank. It’s hard to keep it down, I have to drink it in one (mixed with the mushroom powder).
In other news, I am half way through the radiotherapy. The leg is beginning to get stiff and a bit sore, but Dr Miah assures me this is normal. My buddies come and go – said goodbye to a brave woman in her late 60s who has a sarcoma like mine but in the thigh – it was so large they had a ‘guess the weight’ at the staff Christmas party (it was 2.5kgs!). She is also under Prof Thomas; the Sir Lankan lady is almost done and my new friend from Oxford with a benign brain tumour also on the home straight.
My stick seems to attract the attention of other unfortunates: the two elderly drunks with a pit-bull lurching round South End Green, greeting me warmly, ‘Hiya, how are you love? Have a lovely day’; and Joe – we are on first name terms now – the Big Issue seller, who always tells me I’m his first customer as he wishes me well too. The only exception was an old sourpuss at Belsize Park tube station who berated me for going up the ‘wrong staircase’. I shook my stick at her and said, ‘I am disabled and have cancer. This way saves me a long walk’. She looked at me in disbelief.
Well, it takes all sorts as they say, and even the grumpies of this world cannot take way from my determination to travel hopefully.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
In this post we welcome old friends to stay in our new apartment and celebrate my birthday…
After almost 9 months here on and off, we feel we can show people round, and at least know where to go to eat! Ross was away in Basel for the first few days, so we enjoyed the vibrancy of the Naitonal Orchid Garden in sunshine; followed by a delicious lunch in the nearby restaurant, only to be interrupted by massive thunderstorm. Poor old Mr and Mrs B had forgotten their umbrellas so got very wet indeed!
Dodging showers and trying to find taxis seemed to be the biggest challenges of this visit; nevertheless we areyet again stunned by the Gardens on the Bay; lunch in one of the Supertrees affords a sumptuous view. Not as good as the viewing platform at Marina Bay Sands which had to be done despite black clouds all around.
Chinatown is also a must-see in SIngapore, poking round the tat stalls nevertheless affords good bargains while, at the higher end, the intricacies of a specialist tea shop delight. Here Clare bought a dead ringer for the Hare with the Amber Eyes teapot…My more prosaic larger elephant teapot is perfect for more than two people! Thanks Clare!
It has to be done, that famous Singapore Sling. So off to Raffles with some of Mr B’s visiting friends – far too sweet for me and, I gather, all pre-made so a bit of a production line. But the Long Bar is a fun place, even if rather full or tourists, like us! Afterwards to a real find, specialist Peranakan/Straits Malay restaurant, Blue Ginger, where we let the waiter do the ordering and we eat greedily and with gusto.
And so the the birthday: preceding night dinner we feast on chilli crab at Jumbo Seafoods in Boat Quay; then Sunday lunch at one of our favourites, Din Tai Fung, the Taiwanese dumpling house (not as good as the original one in Taipei, but still yummy); and then 20 or so new-found friends, plus one or two older ones from university days, for drinks. As it was Diwali, I ordered samosas, bhajis and pakoras, promptly delivered by Omar Shariff (I wish it was really he, that would have been the best birthday present ever!), and Mr and Mrs B made a few blinis, while Lucie G brought a delicious cake! (see picture up top)
But not all play, dear readers: Mr B had lots of meetings and went out clad in a suit, much to our amusement; while Mrs B, aka Clare Cooper of Art First, and I had a Board meeting and strategy summit on my sofa while I rested my leg on a hot water bottle.
Don’t laugh, you hear me right – I have a large haemotoma on my calf which means I can’t walk or stand for long. A challenge for Monday’s induction meeting at the Tanglin Club which involved a lot of standing about…and even more of a challenge for next weekend’s visit to Mumbai, for our diving in Sulawesi the following week…and the ski season. Painful physio and ultrasound on the menu to try and get my leg back…
I will keep you updated!
This week finds us in Champery to brief our Swiss team for our up-coming trip to Zimbabwe and Kenya. Like the rest of Europe Switzerland has been basking in warm sunshine and the mountains are heavenly – clear blue skies, a hint of morning chill in the air, and a heavy due on the grass. Our tubs have survived the summer and the geraniums and petunias are a blaze of red, pink and purple.
Saturday finds us venturing into a new area for walking: we drive over to Les Mosses on the other side of the Rhone, near Leysin and Les Diablerets, and choose a steep path which takes us up a steep path for 600m, levelling out at 2000m before dropping down again to the lake and lunch.
Just before we find the path we come across a traditional farmhouse where a smoking chimney in high summer indicates they are making cheese. Inside the barn nothing has changed for centuries as the friendly farmer boils up his milk in a huge brass cauldron and turns his large alpage. We buy some; it is delicious, fresh, salty and tangy.
The views are stunning, and we are surprised to find a herd of Llamas on the trail, my curious admirer a gorgeous chestnut colour with eyelashes to die for.
All that remains is for the Sunday BBQ on our little garden terrace to brief the team; another gorgeous day, beef satays to show off my Singapore skills and jerk chicken.
The Swiss team of Christine, Diego, Annie, Tim, Nick Diane, Jean, Catherine and Michael debate the merits of malaria prophylaxis over many glasses of the finest reds and we animatedly anticipate our close encounters with elephants and lions in just over two weeks time.
Roll on Mana Pools! The next blog will relate our adventures but won’t be for at least 2-3 weeks as internet will be hard to find!
In an earlier post you will have seen my new wok; well, I realised that this was not good enough so went and bought a ceramic one with a lid. Thus prepared and armed with a local cookery book and the internet, I unleashed my inventiveness.
Meat is very expensive here, so I have concentrated on seafood and chicken dishes. Most Thai and Malaysian dishes have a curry paste as a base, and I ALWAYS make my own. Even local websites say ‘3 tbsp of red/green/chill paste’ and sometimes even ‘3 tbsp of tomato ketchup’. Such recipes are rejected.
5 star dishes
Beef rendang – cooked lovingly for over 4 hours after several hours of marinating the meat. Melt-in-your-mouth or what! Here with Chinese broccoli.
Tom yam soup – it’s critical to make your own fish broth, out of the prawn shells and heads in this case. I also used oyster and shitake mushrooms, and local fish balls.
Thai red chicken curry; I used turmeric root as well as galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, tamarind,cumin, coriander, paprika, black pepper and, of course, coriander root; a little Thai basil and fresh coriander at the end. I like to add veg to a curry to create a one-pot meal. Yum! This is in fact adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe – the local ones were some of the worst offenders in off-the-shelf ingredients.
Four star dishes
Isaan stye grilled chicken and Nyonya-style bean curd salad, with bean sprouts and snow peas. The salad has a delicious roasted cashew nut and tamarind dressing, while the chicken is marinated in lemon grass, ginger and fish sauce. The bean curd is fried to a golden crisp on the outside and melts when you bite it. Marks lost for presentation, not taste: should have had the dressing on the side and then it wouldn’t have looked so brown!
Sri Owen Khmer grilled chicken with baby pak choi: I also used the other half of the marinade to bbq some pork fillet which was delicious too. Marks lost for too much soy sauce on the garlic stir fry pak choi
Blackened local white fish, with confit lentils and green salad. Decided we wanted to be less Oriental one night – so much lemon grass and fish sauce otherwise. The fish was delicious and one of the cheapest on sale.
Other efforts – unclassified, usually taste excellent but dont look as good as they might! Masterchef, help!
My first attempt at Vietnamese fresh spring rolls. Couldn’t get the rolling-up knack, but later found a video which told me how it should be done…a la prochaine! They tasted as they should, however.
Stir fried squid Malay style, with lots of blachan (fermented prawn/anchovy paste). Too much garnish and too much sauce, it all looks a bit monochrome. but it was sure tasty! I adore squid…
Have struggled with local heroine chef Sylvia Tan, where nothing seems to taste of much; anyway I made her mushrooms and white fungus (couldn’t get black) with seared flank steak and it was Ok; other dishes such as Peranakhan favourite ayam (chicken) tempura have been underwhelming.
Some memorable delicacies eaten out…
First the top dim sum place, Din Tai Fung, popular for Saturday brunch. We are going to Taiwan in May so will check out its alma mater…
You can also get other stuff – Ross has spaghetti-like noodles with a spicy pork sauce; I had hot and sour soup, and we shared the broccoli
Next week’s blog will come from BALI; I am taking a quick break while husband is travelling; an unaccompanied spouse in fact! I shall be visiting one of Louise’s friends and then going to a dive centre in the north and do some scuba. Good opportunity to see the island.