The waiting is over; the MRI and chest x-rays were done on Monday and on Wednesday, after an hour of relaxing yoga to de-stress me, I am back seeing professor Thomas. The past few days have been almost unendurable with anxiety, punctuated by treats to try and keep an even keel. So on Saturday we went to Garsington opera with Tommy and his girlfriend Olivia, who prepared a most delicious picnic which we ate while sipping champagne by the lake; Sunday we had some dear friends round for a Thai feast in the garden. Both days were glorious and bathed in sunshine. Continue reading
Went to get an HRT prescription last week, and thought it worth mentioning to the Doc that I was feeling exhausted, and a bit dizzy plus I am losing weight (a kg fell off since I returned from China, now 53 kgs). She took some blood tests to rule out a number of things including under-active thyroid, mycoplasma (a form of pneumonia prevalent in Singapore) and Vitamin B 12 deficiency.
Believe it or not it’s been nine months since we have had a proper holiday (in Malapascua – https://vickygoestravelling.com/2013/08/13/in-which-we-dive-with-thresher-sharks-and-sea-horses/): our last one to Wakotobi was cancelled on the day of departure by my admission to hospital, so we felt we deserved a mini-break to relax and chill. I know many people might think my life is one long holiday, living in the tropics and swimming every day, or tagging along to Ross’s exotic work destinations but, believe me, living with cancer is hard work. Continue reading
Easter week in Switzerland is drawing to a close. Tommy and his two friends – all Thomases too – depart today, and we tomorrow. Continue reading
Cyprus sojourn a great success from the moment I was wheeled off the plane. Despite the weather being less than kind – only two out five days sunny and warm – we had a lovely time. One day we went up into the mountains and found an eccentric tavern hidden down a side street which had a huge display of whisky bottles and where we feasted on delicious moussaka, watched by a funny little dog.
On another we braved the inappropriately-named Malindi Beach Bar for oysters and the grilled squid with the Chief of Staff of the Cyprus Peackeeping Forces, an old chum of Penny and Mike’s. A rainy day even found us in Zara buying sweaters!
Penny and Mike are perfect hosts, from the kettle in room and four varieties of tea, healthy breakfasts and lunches made from the freshest of Cyprus fruit and veg, the roaring fire and a fine array of champagne and wine. Their house is set in the hills, just outside Limassol, which is a grey and messy sea-side strip of a town, rather down-at-heel at this time of year. The Russians are all gone, apart from in the Four Seasons, where we went for dinner one night. Friends Roma and Mariana had stayed there a few years back – was reminded of this as they cooked me a wonderful supper the night before I left. The girlfriends are rallying round!
Before I left, we celebrated two other significant events, Tommy’s 26th birthday in the heavenly Singapore Gardens, and a visit to Little Lou’s Bench with her dear friend Cara.
The week was full of coincidences: on the way out at Terminal 5 I bumped into an old friend Roger Hooper, a wildlife photographer who had been with us to Mana Pools. He was a useful and charming bag-carrier. On the return flight I sat next to a woman and we got chatting, as you do. Turns out she was half Chinese, brought up in Malaysia, had lived in Barbados, now lives in Cyprus, but had worked in Deloitte, her daughter had worked for the previous Black Rod (as was Mike), her husband and family are Jewish but, most strangely of all, she was in recovery from lymphoma and as going to London for treatment. We had a lot to discuss! To cap it all, yesterday as I waited for my abortive – yes, see below – radiotherapy treatment, the man next to me had a brother living in Pyrgos, which is the very same village in Cyprus where Penny and Mike live.
I come back refreshed and revived and ready for the start of the six-and-a-half week slog. To take my mind off it, and because my juicer and Riverford veg boxes had arrived the previous day, complete with Seville oranges, I spent the morning making marmalade. I had only just bottled the last jar when the taxi came…
As usual everyone at the Marsden nice and kind. After my start-of-treatment briefing, I waited and waited (hence the conversation with my neighbour, also waiting. The most common question seems to be ‘what time is your appointment?’ I was asked this three times…I have decided I am going to fill this time profitably: I have re-ordered my daily Guardian to be home–delivered; and I am going to suss out who all the people are being treated. Very little English was being spoken, which I thought was interesting, as this is the NHS, not a private hospital. Although there are one or two private patients – not the norm – such as myself.
By the time I am invited into the room, we are running 40 minutes late. I put my leg in the cast and Kirsty and Anisha explain that they will align everything, test the machine’s movement radius (it has to go round and under my leg to zap it from several angles) take some photos and then ping! The treatment itself is 7-10 minutes. Sounds OK, think I. How wrong could I be? After admiring my pedicure, we make small talk including, Me: ‘How many leg sarcomas do you see?’ Answer: ‘This unit only deal with limb sarcomas so we see many, from all over the country’.
So an hour later, I am wondering if they have ever seen anyone with two legs before, as they cannot work out what to do with my good leg – we try the spongey mats (no good as they can’t align the machines through them properly), next two different stirrups, which remind me of visiting the gynaecologist, and then senior radiographer supervisor Mary is called into consult. Whisper, whisper, whisper…meanwhile my leg is firmly clamped into the vice-like cast and I am trying every variety of yogic breathing I can recall: ‘observe your breath’ I keep saying to myself, ‘in 1,2,3,4,5; out 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10’. To no avail. My leg is on fire. Glad I took the tramadol, even though it doesn’t seem to have worked!
Finally they admit defeat and I am asked to wait outside while they consider the options, while not lessening the efficacy. This includes re-planning the whole treatment. ‘How long will that take? I’m booked to go to Singapore on 21 MArch,’ I wail. Nadir.
Mary re-appears after 15 minutes, having seen Dr Aisha, who said ‘She has a flight to Singapore’. Phew – we are on the same page! It is now 5.15, two hours after my appointment time. In fact the treatment plan does have a Plan B (why they couldn’t find it on the system is a mystery), which involves zapping me from a different trajectory so the good leg is avoided. They will do this tomorrow at 3pm in order to get time to re-calculate everything. So bang goes physio and probably my weekend pre rush-hour escape from London to Doctor Fi’s for the weekend.
All I can think of in my frustration and misery is the large G&T waiting for me when I get home. But joy of joys, there is the added bonus of a gorgeous bouquet from friends Anthony and Carrie – she has had radiotherapy too (and the rest) – but now well and happy, and knows what a girl needs to cheer her up! The evening only gets better; other friend Philly and Sandra arrive with a four-course meal: home-made soup and smoked salmon, followed by cod with spicy lentils and a Pavlova! They announce a competition to see what you need to do to get a blog mention. Well done Ladies!
New Year’s Day
I greet 2014 with renewed hope and vigour! 2013 played a very curved ball in injury time as up until November it had been a great year for us with the move to Singapore and all the travelling to exotic oriental places.
Only a few days left of mountain magic and then back to London, histology results and radiotherapy. Wah! And Ross departs for Singapore so I will throw myself on the mercy of all my dear friends to accompany me to physio and radio. A roster has been suggested. Volunteers please!
On the plus side the wound looks good. New Year’s eve saw me tackling the cable car and lunch at the restaurant panoramique at the top with the Mitchell family; not only great to see them but to get two consultations for the price of one: David is one of Britain’s top vascular surgeons and knows the Prof, while Anne is a GP, so lots of comfort about how the pain will be bad, it’s normal, and then healing will take up to two months. A peek at my leg in full view of the sunbathing crowds causes some raised eyebrows!
However, this little expedition knocked me out and I had to retire to bed for a couple of hours; so exhausted that was fearful that I would not see in the New Year, which kicked off with apero for 25 or so chez nous…champagne and canapés, foie gras and sauternes, all brought by friends – Fenwicks, Poolers, Serikoffs, Huguette et al. My brother and his girlfriend who is having a little boy in May, are also here, and it has been wonderful getting to know Melanie and see how happy they are. New life for a new year.
We tottered up to cousin Christine’s for main course: Diego and Diane have prepared hams, and Tommy and Olivia have made sweetcorn and courgette gratins, all delicious. It is a beautiful clear night and we stream out on to the balcony on the chimes of midnight as the sky explodes in a flurry of brilliant fireworks, which illuminate the Dents and rain down green, purple and red over the village. The beacons atop the peaks are lit and dominate the skyline as red dots. The sky is full of lanterns bobbing upwards.
Then Ross, Tommy and Tom Pooler light our own Chinese lanterns, which soar up, up and away in an orange glow to meet Louise whose spirit is with us this night, in the mountain air and in the effervescent glow that lights up the sky. The stars twinkle down on us as we stand, me in my bare feet (kills the pain I say when told I’m mad), and exchange New Year hugs, kisses and warm embraces of dear friends willing this to be the year that I regain my health. If the power of positive thinking and vibes could cure cancer then I would be clear! So much love is humbling and I thank you, all my friends, for it and the support over the past couple of months and for those yet to come.
I am sorry that the last blog sounded so bleak, but writing is part of my therapy, and like an exorcism…once captured in black and white the negativity is out of my system, leaving room for happier thoughts.
Let’s hope that 2014 is a year of health and healing for all of us, filled with the love of friends and family.
6 January – Histology Day
Finally the dreaded day arrives, and Dr Fi and I assemble to see the Prof. The past few weeks have been rather unnerving, not quite knowing, yet fearing, today’s meeting.
Dr Fi is in fine form: the Prof has been busy writing for the Daily Mail on why he believes the NHS should stop training women doctors (they go part-time and it results in fewer doctors etc etc). Red rag to a bull, but she promises to zip up as the meeting is about me…
The good news is that the Prof got the clearance, as in margin, on the tumours, ie better than he expected. However, he confirms what both Fi and I already suspected, that it is a stage 3 and – here he brings his chair round the table and sits next to me, boy this IS serious – they found the tumour within a ‘large vein’.
Gently he explains this means it may have already travelled as tumour cells migrate via the blood. However, there is no point in doing anything until a scan in April as new sites will not show up until the cells have grown enough to be visible. As Dr Khong said, the cells are so microscopic at this stage, they are impossible to identify. So it is going to be a long haul. But I think I knew all of this even if I didn’t share the anxiety, so I don’t feel shocked, weak at the knees or nauseated. Just resigned and even more determined to live life to the full. As Prof says, we just have to hope that I will be lucky.
On the other hand, I am hugely cheered by his admiration of my mobility. Him: ‘You can start going up stairs properly now.’
Me: ‘I’ve been doing that for 2 weeks already.’ I am doing far better than he expected. But he gives me a stern talk on being too ambitious as a fall downstairs (which I can’t manage yet, one foot after the other) would be dangerous.
Him: ‘Have we finished the medical bit now?’ Cue for media discussion; we always end our sessions talking about journalism.
Him: ‘ Did you see I had two articles in the Mail last week?’
Me: ‘No – these are the ones on female doctors I assume. I bet you’ve had some interesting feedback. I’ll read them and give you mine if you like, but I am a feminist you know!’
He gets all excited and writes out how to find them online; he slides the paper towards me, then deftly removes the duplicate and gives it to Fi: ‘Would you like to read it too?’
Fi: ‘No thanks. I promised Vicky I wouldn’t say anything as I am here in friend, not doctor, capacity, but I have read them and I disagree completely.’ There follows a lively exchange of views, friendly yet feisty as only Fi can be… Finally he asks Fi, ‘Do you know Penny? (another of the monstrous regiment of fierce women…and a good mutual friend of all of ours). This confirms that the Prof likes women like us, despite what he writes. He wants to keep me on as his patient: ‘I keep the ones I like’.
And now home, cat on knee, contemplating the long road ahead of living with cancer. Next stop: radiotherapy, first appointment Friday.
Just to say hello and here I am minus an awful lot of calf muscle. Pain excruciating but didn’t feel a thing and surgeon seems pleased (last night). From what I can recall. I won’t bore you with gory details. Call Ross later for updates.
Hello Singapore, goodbye 34th floor Great World City, and welcome to 11th floor in Holland Hill!
First thing we did after we got off the plane (one night in a hotel before the big move) was to rush off to Jumbo seafoods for some proper Chinese cooking. Calamari, BBQ tilapia and some delicious steamed kai lan (a kind of spring cabbage) with garlic. Too disoriented to take photos I’m afraid!
Next morning, bright and early – 8 am to be precise – found us outside the Ministry of Manpower to register for residency and work permits. We had no appointment, but were through in 15 minutes. Singapore never ceases to surprise at its efficiency, and politeness.
Then off to Parivs apartments to meet Glenn our relocation manager and – ta-da – we enter our new abode. Much better than I remembered, marble floors and white walls throughout and devoid of other people’s ghastly furniture.
Within minutes the air-freight has arrived (bedding, hoover and iron – domestic goddesses never travel without, don’t you know – and of course desk-top computer, TV, and dvd player). Quickly followed by the cable man who installs wi fi etc in a trice; the IKEA delivery of two beds – but heavens – we have no water, electricity or gas, and the stuff we left in Singapore has not arrived either, plates, kives, forks and glasses…so Ross has to zoom down to nearby store for lunch and cold beers! After lunch the electricity and water are switched on at precisely 2 pm as requested, and my two lovely Burmese chairs arrive, followed by the balcony furniture. Only the Gas Man cometh not till Friday…so luckily no way I can cook until then!
In fact the gas was the only low point of this care-free move. Man came at appointed hour on Friday, stayed all of 7 minutes, turned everything on, showed me how to switch it off when we go away. Come evening and first gourmet meal ready to go in the wok – Thai red fish curry (paste hand-made of course), with Chinese broccoli – and no gas!
Several phone calls to afore-mentioned Glenn and two gas men arrive within 15 minutes! Can you believe that in between the man turning us on, another man had come and taken our meter away altogether. Wah!
But all is not lost, these two lovely men have one in their van, it is duly fitted and we are eating by 9.30. It really is efficient here, even when there’s a glitch
Off to sample the victuals in Holland Village, first night a rather mediocre meal in Crystal Jade (Cantonese, rather than Shanghai, so no noodles or dumplings), but the second night a really delicious curry at Kinara – house special chicken, Kerala fish curry, okra and black dhal.
Meanwhile Ross has been back at work and I have been exploring the local shops – bought some fine new cushions, some lovely Egyptian cotton sheets (all the ones I bought did not fit as Ross bought beds larger than instructed!).
No move is complete without the mandatory trip to IKEA and we fill the numerous gaps left in my meagre transportation of goods from England – which of course are yet to arrive – guest duvet (bed now too big!), laundry baskets, loo brushes, rubbish bins, lamps – bedside and living room – etc etc. It was really not too bad; as it’s open till 11pm I think people don’t all come at once.
Our balcony is stinking hot in the middle of the day, so Saturday finds us back in Great World City buying a floor fan (sorry English people, they are abundant here, can I get one for you?); a printer/scanner as I have found someone in London to transcribe my mother’s letters, which I plan to edit into book form; and a must-have for here – a rice cooker!
Meanwhile the new lap pool is 60 m long and I have started my daily 1 km workout, pre-ceded by the gym. Ross – who for those who haven’t picked up on this – has become addicted to swimming and has started lessons with a local TI (Total Immersion) teacher. Whatever keeps him happy – although he looks ridiculous ploughing up the pool in his swimming snorkel.
And tomorrow we are off to Shanghai, me for a week, Ross for a bit longer. Louise’s dear friend Jess lives there so we are looking forward to a more local experience of the sights, and some gastronomic adventures.
It’s hard to remember that only two days ago I was standing on top of Great Gable in bright sunshine admiring the Lakeland vistas from one of its highest peaks.
As I sit here on a grizzly June afternoon on the train from Durham to Kings Cross I try to recall the past two weeks of my return to the green green grass of home.
Leaving Singapore to return to England for a four-week foray has been fun – meeting old friends and family for lunches and suppers; celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary; doing the first cut on our newly laid lawn; the first balmy al fresco supper – on Midsummer’s Day, the anniversary of Louise’s memorial, so always a special day, and one of her favourites. I show off my Tom Yum Goong to Son and friends. Also doing the not so fun – deciding what to take to Singapore for the next few years, what to leave, fighting with John Lewis deliveries and directing the packing.
A little mental titivation at Cambridge University in between, with old chum Fi, to hear Professor David Spiegelhalter, speak engagingly and fascinatingly on hazard ratios (he is a statistician!) and its effect on us: encouraging that as a woman I am going to live longer than men, less so that my life chances decrease by 9% per annum between the ages of 25 and 80, but on the positive side, its only the first 20 minutes of exercise that do any good, the next 40 are a waste of time…phew!
And so to continue on my very English odyssey by way of several days in the Lake District. Dear friends John and Hilary Pooler have pretty cottage in Grasmere (Glen View can be booked via http://www.lakelovers.co.uk/) and are local experts. We had two great days walking in fine weather – a Great Gable circuit, starting at Honister Pass and ending at Seatoller; and then the Helm Crag circuit, descending via Far Easedale; and two more normal Lakeland days, meandering about at lower levels in the on/off drizzle.
In another life, when I worked for Heinemann Educational Books (1979 -1993), our founder and my mentor, the old man of Lakes Alan Hill, used to organise an annual, what would now be called ‘teambuilding’, trip to Borrowdale, where Heinemann owned a share in Seatoller House, a charming B&B. The Lake District Trip, as it was known, was a great leveller, with 30 plus of us at all stages of fitness and fatness chugging up and down dale and hill in the day, and repairing to hostelries of an evening (always the same rotation: the Bridge at the Scafell Hotel, the Fishes in Buttermere, and the final night party at Alan’s Rossthwaite house); finishing by playing charades and parlour games – squeak piggy squeak and wink murder were favourites.
Great Gable from Honister Pass brought so many memories flooding back: Alan and I leading the slow group – re-named on two occasions as the ’pregnant cripples’ to reflect our respective statuses; banana and honey sandwiches, crisps and Just Juice forming the perfect picnic; baking hot days and stripping off to undies to swim in the tarns and pools – such as Sour Milk Gill; the time our new and reviled MD dropped a pack of condoms out of his wallet (he never recovered form the ignominy); sharing a double bed in the ‘family room’ at Seatoller House with female colleagues. These were indeed the times of our lives.
Thinking of Alan, long since dead, reminded me of the times I used to take him round Africa to help decide on company strategy. So eccentric was he that he packed two identical suitcases – lest one got lost! He was renowned for always wanting to change his room, wherever he stayed and for being professorially absent-minded. On every departure I had to check to see what he had forgotten – shirts, underpants and his medications – always at least one – and scoop them up! He loved to regale people of our adventures (and we had many) – always embroidering the tale to make it funnier.
The Lakes also reminded me of family holidays with our son, then aged three, rampaging up the fells and our beloved Louise, in a back pack. And later, with the Pooler family again, the children in their teens, girls rock climbing, boys desperately trying to follow the World Cup in Japan, even resorting to taking a portable TV up the fells.
Happy memories of happy times. Tinged with sadness.
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.