Monday, 29 March 2010

Control Z

I often speak about my friend Adam and often boast about how clever he is. Clever and quite a cheeky monkey too. As I mentioned in my last blog, he has a way of knowing when I am pretending to not know how to do something and will send me an email containing detailed instructions on how to do this. Mind you, this Electrical Engineer and his equally electrically engineered friend Dave, once had to cook me dinner in Cape Town. Neither had cooked before and I came home to a precision-cut, absolutely recipe-perfect meal. Every last detail had been observed, every last ounce carefully measured and indeed, it was a lovely meal. I have been sent emails on how to create folders, sub-folders, how to label them and file them away, how to create text boxes and numerous other things. Anything on the computer, Adam can not only do it, but he can write a manual on how to do it. Something he did do for me on two occasions (without leaving me to attempt on my own), was to format my Masters and PhD theses, although he did insert a comment on one page of my PhD: “Angus fell asleep at this point”. Fortunately, he was kind enough to remove it before we submitted the thesis for examination! The reason I have mentioned all of this is because while I was speaking about how my lovely EEE PC randomly deletes paragraphs and whole pages of text because of an overexcited mousepad, Adam casually says “control z, it undoes what you’ve just done.” Just like sommer! I mean, I’ve known this guy for years and he waits til now to say “control z”...does he know how many emails and documents I have re-typed because they disappeared from my screen and there wasn’t the undo arrow-thingy at the top for me to click and he now tells me, “control z”? I mean, yeah, I am very grateful for the knowledge and have been control z-ding all week...just would’ve been nice to know this for the last 2 years at least! Eish! But thanks, Adam, you are indeed a clever boy (not to mention a great friend) and I am sure I still have a lot to learn from you.

One of the things I’ve been doing since I found out that I am ill, is making peace - not only with myself - but with people I might have fallen out with years ago or with people with whom I’ve not been in touch in years. I guess that I have been control z-ding. It made me think of times I sent a text I wish I hadn’t, or written a letter I wish I hadn’t, or said or done something I wish I hadn’ would have been so nice if I could have just pressed control-z and it all would have been undone. But, what I am discovering is that many people have a huge capacity to forgive and forget. That is a quality that I wish I were born with: although I seldom hold grudges now, I was very good at it before; I could harbour disappointment and anger for months, sometimes years, letting it fester inside me while the other person had already moved on with their life. It was through constant love that I received in return for the anger that taught me that I was not doing myself any favours, that my method was just plain and simply wrong. I know two people who are “not getting on” and I also know other people who have not spoken to each other for years and who feel that this issue will never be resolved. This makes me think, I wonder if you were told that you will probably die within a year, would you make peace with your enemies or your ex-friends? I love saying that...”my ex-friend”. I often say to someone, tell my ex-friend Kerwin (or John or whomever) that I said hello (usually because the person hasn’t called or replied to a text) and I always get a response within hours. Emotional blackmail (I think I invented it but that’s for another blog).

Getting back to “enemies”, I have no more room in my life for them. I want them back as friends or even just plain acquaintances. I recently, through sending him a birthday message every year for the last 3 years, got a lovely text from a French friend who declared himself my sworn enemy because I refused to back down (rightly so, in this case) over his unacceptable behaviour. I missed his friendship because through all the bad, there was so much more good than bad, but he would not respond to any peace-making attempts on my part (so much for the entente cordiale that Britain signed with France). However, this year (and I know that it is only because a mutual friend tipped him off), he responded to my birthday message with a lovely text and now we can move on. Do I feel that our reconciliation is less genuine just because he knows that I have cancer? No. Do I care? No. I am just glad that I have laid that demon to rest.

We waste so much of our energy wondering what someone is thinking, analysing arguments (replaying them over and over in our heads), trying to win our arguments, and going round in circles. Some nights ago, I spent 40 minutes crawling around my room looking for something calming yet inspiring to read before I went to sleep. It won’t surprise you to know that I would spend 40 minutes crawling around my room peering into dusty bookshelves as you all know that I am medically certifiable (my psychiatrist friend Tony will confirm this quite happily). After realising that my knees were now orange (I love my Ikea orange carpet), I settled on The 48 Laws of Power (Robert Greene...thanks Garth!), and decided on Law no. 9: Win through your actions, never through argument. The judgement is: “Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic (?wassat?) victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.”

Since leaving school, I have developed a thirst for knowledge. I love studying and learning new things (friends have suggested I collect stamps or butterflies instead of degrees particularly as I have my beedy eye on a MSc...). At the moment, I am thinking just how blessed I am to be receiving such amazing lessons in life. I couldn’t have learned any of this through books, or through someone else. In order to lose my selfishness, to lose my desire and need to be reassured that life was fair, that people did love me and all those terrible emotions we put ourselves through based on insecurity, I needed this life-threatening illness to bring me up to date. I have said to a several people, “if this does not make me a better person, then nothing will.” I am still learning, I am still working on my character, I am still growing as a person and it is great, every step of the way. Even when I am lying on my bed and thinking, I can’t take this nausea any more (and hearing Adam say: yes you can) or when I am sitting receiving chemo and I get that feeling that I am going to be sick, not for physical reasons but because mentally I don’t want to be there, I don’t want that toxic waste going into my arm, then I stop and remind myself that this is a lesson in life, that I should stop fighting and shut up and learn. Knowing when to shut up and learn from a situation has never been my strength but you know how you manage to not “lose your temper” when the other person is much bigger than you? Well, I am learning that sometimes, the treatment for this illness is bigger than me so I’d best just “hou my bek” (shut up) and “take my medicine”.

This week, the nausea hasn’t been great but it also hasn’t been constant. It has come in waves and I find that as long as I keep eating, I don’t feel it. Of course, I cannot stuff myself all day but what I can do is stagger my eating by eating several small portions (although I’m eating big, rather than small portions). My taste and cravings have gone completely haywire and to be honest, I display symptoms of a pregnant woman (although one of my couchsurfers did suggest I was pre-menstrual the other day – cheeky lad, his rent is going up by a fiver! When I was his age such insolence was dealt with through public stoning!). The problem is that I have all the stages of pregnancy (including the lower back pain of labour) in one. But it all goes away if I stuff my face.

In general, my health has improved drastically. I think, ladies and gentlemen, that I am going to be a cancer survivor. And if I’m wrong, it is still great seeing how well my body is responding to chemotherapy and to your (and my) positive thoughts and prayers. I don’t look or sound ill (except for that annoying cough) and I can now practically run up the escalator (okay, I run halfway and walk the rest). So, thank you and thank you all yet again for the love, support and positive energy that you send in waves to me. I feel it all and it is what keeps me going day to day.

Thank you for reading.

Your barely cooked but well basted and glistening,

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

End of Cycle 3

Hello fellow bloggers. Sorry that I haven’t written for a particular reason other than I only want to write when I’m inspired rather than bore you all silly.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was an awesome day. I had to coach 3 clients at a certain TV Channel and each one brought something new and exciting to the table. One of them said to me, “we’re having so much fun, do you actually get paid to do this?” It is great to be able to do something you love. Coaching is very similar to teaching in that it is about helping people to build on what is already there (although I must admit that with some students, there is nothing there to start off with), to think big, to think Grand Designs, to turn something average into something outstanding.
Many years ago, I decided to try my hand at property development. Most people who have no DIY skills would buy a flat that required a coat of paint and some new handles on the cupboard doors. Not I! I had to go out and buy the most run-down dump in North East London you could imagine. The Estate Agent plumped up her perky breasts and hiked up her skirt and while this helped make the sale go through, what really did it was the absolute decay and squatter-camp look and feel of the place. She was in shock and asked several times, are you sure about this? We’ve had it on the market for years and most people get as far as the entrance hall before walking out again. I was sure, and yes, I bought it. For ages, I kept it hidden from curious family and friends, including the one investor, Adam, whose trust in me must have been stretched to the limits on this occasion. Well, I bought all the DIY gadgets that could fit in the back of the mini and attacked the Thamesmead flat in frenzy every Saturday after school. There were highs, and there were lows but in the end, I produced a beautiful and show-room style flat which I sold some months later. As a teacher, I always gave extra help to those who were struggling...when most people had written off a pupil, I somehow became more determined help him or her to achieve more. This did not make me a saint by any means, but it is indicative of my desire to build, to create something new, to turn something ugly into something beautiful, but for ages, I only saw this potential beauty in others, not in myself.

Working with someone in life coaching, I started to tell this person why he should like himself more (then remembered to stop telling people what to do). When thinking about it, I remembered a certain person who spent most of his life not liking himself, no matter what people said to him...and yes, that person was me. It didn’t matter what I achieved or how much people loved or liked me, I always found fault and pushed myself harder. Now, thankfully, I have learnt to love and like myself and this has had a positive impact on my relationships with others. It is also what has given me the determination and courage to fight this cancer. Today, I spoke to someone whom I’d seen having her first chemo a few weeks ago, and it was so rewarding being able to encourage her, to tell her that she CAN do this. Sometimes, my best buddy shows tough love and he says things like, “you’ll get over it” or if you say “I can’t do this”, he will say “yes you can!” And you know what? You can and you do. The lady today was being brave, she had lost all her hair after her first treatment, but both she and her daughter were strong and it touched me just how many real and positive contacts I have made in that room full of people receiving the same treatment.

Today (Wednesday), I almost threw one of my hissy fits when I got to chemo to find that my blood count was too low again for them to give me treatment. What this means is that you have to go up to 3rd floor for re-testing and if the platelets count goes above 1 then they will treat you. If not, the answer is no. I begged the phlebotomist to put some of her own blood in there to up the count but she refused (unsurprisingly). Fortunately, I passed the test and went to order my chemo. Today’s babysitter was Jake, poor lad, thought he was in it for just over an hour, but only got to leave at 2pm! It was nice spending more time with him, getting to know him better (by the way, Jake is someone I know from Bishop’s Stortford College...I don’t just go out into the street and ask some random guy selling the Big Issue if he’d like to sit through chemo with me LOL), but we’d not really spoken much before so it was kind of him to come along and also a great opportunity to talk more. My nurse was Zimbabwean and after we’d exchanged the usual Shona/Ndebele insults (she’s Shona, I ‘m Ndebele), she chose her vein and got to work. I fell asleep once the chemo bag was attached and Jake assures me that I did NOT snore (mind you, Jake is so polite, he probably wouldn’t tell me if I did). I didn’t get my favourite salmon (which tastes like tuna) sandwich but I got some “just chicken chunks” sandwich instead. I wasn’t hungry so I just ate the chunky chicken bits (I was hoping that Jake would turn into a playground bully and grab my lunch away from me and eat it). That reminded me of when I was a very thin, very skinny kid and was declared undernourished by the ever-so-caring Rhodesian government. I weighed something like 20kg and although my parents were both teachers, it was decided that I came from a disadvantaged background and was undernourished. I admit that I used to only eat the filling of my sandwiches and nothing else (leaving the bread in my school bag for days on end) but then came these huge seeded brown buns filled with stale grated cheese that had to be eaten under supervision. On some occasions, we had to all take a foul-tasting tonic from a communal teaspoon (for the whole school) and a bottle of warm milk. Well, it became a daily challenge with me sometimes being locked in a classroom to drink the milk and eat the bun and almost always ended up with me being sick. What fun!

Got home around 3pm to find that we still did not have any water (they’ve been digging and drilling in our street for a couple of weeks now). Had a nap then went to Sainsbury’s to use their toilets (and no, I ‘m not going to say if it was no. 1 or no. 2...mind your own business!). I discovered that my house was the only house in the street without water. I rang Thameswater who put me in touch with a plumber who promptly insulted me by suggesting that my stopcock was too old to take the water pressure???? Um, hello, I’m only 42 and I can still pee in the toilet unassisted! He came over later and charmingly pointed out to me that “if you look ‘ere, mate, they ‘aint drilled you a man’ole. All them other flats have them a man’ole but you ‘aint got one!” When I asked if, when and how I could get a “man’ole”, he said “first fing in the morning, guv, they’ll be rand to drill a man’ole”. My compensation for not having water connected to my flat? 12 bottles of still water (I asked for sparkling and almost got slapped...he didn’t appreciate my comment about a bottle of sparkling water being better for a bubble bath). Can a litre of still water flush a loo? I’ve told my couchsurfers that they can have one bottle each to wash their bits and the rest is in case we don’t get our “man’ole” “first fing in the morning”.

So I guess that I shall sign off now, go to bed, and dream sweet dreams about the promised “man’ole” (does the song “Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream” come to mind?) and celebrate the fact that I don’t have hiccoughs. Yet! By the way, although it puts the end back by another week, I found out that I will have 2 weeks break from chemotherapy due to the forthcoming Easter holidays.

Thank you all for reading once again.

Always yours

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Cycle 3 and musicians

Well, despite all the mental preparation I was still a little snappy the night before chemo (ask Bart and Remi) about it when I heard them playing football in the street at 23h35!)...The next day, I made peace with Remi and he went with me to sit through the first half of the chemo. At the delightful Rosenheim building, the first vein rejected the needle (after it had been put in for a while) so I had to have another one in the other arm. Still, it was fine. Saw Marco, the guy who was there when I had my first chemo. He told me the great news that almost all of his cancer cells were “dead”. We exchanged stories about our aches and pains, each trying to outdo the other (I think I won)! And then Adam arrived, back from his well-deserved break in South Africa. It was great to have him back to listen to my crazy thoughts and to witness the nurse rip the needle and tape from my arm. Adam flinched as much as I!

After chemo I went to stay at Morse’s flat near Liverpool St. His flatmates, John and Richard are quite nice too but I only go there for Morse (the parrot) (oh dear, I feel some retribution coming my way!). Mind you, John made a delicious beef casserole with broccoli-filled carrot rings (we came up with a French name for them so they would sound more exotique). Kept waking up with hiccoughs which are still here but I’m not going to let them drive me crazy. Instead, I am using them as a scare-technique for walk up to someone who is deep in thought and you just hiccough right next to them. They always jump! Walking to Sainsbury's has never been such fun before! I am also using the hiccoughs to keep my couchsurfers entertained. The nausea is much better tonight so that might be a combination of the different medication or my attitude.

Managed to play some piano today...wish I had some technique left but therein lies another exciting challenge. Speaking about music, I have been inspired by a few budding musicians...Bart teaching himself the Moonlight Sonata, Remi learning the 1st Bach Prelude and composing his own material (both are self-taught on the piano and both have realised that I am NOT a good beginner’s teacher), then there is someone new and very interesting whom I met recently: Joe Robbins.

Some weeks ago, Brandon Prevost (pronounced Preh-voh, NOT prehvusst LOL...make you think of Mrs. Bucket pronounced Bouquet/Boo-kay?), manager of Plush (led by Rory Elliot), asked me to pop in to an open-mic gig at a pub to listen to someone new whom he was managing. I was impressed by Joe’s current skill and future potential. Joe came over on Tuesday and we had a singing-coaching lesson (it was so informal that I hesitate to claim it was a lesson). Joe writes great songs, plays a mean piano and has been described by a few of us as “having potential” or “needing polish”. However, the more I listened to him sing, play and chat about his musical aspirations, I started to ask myself, does Joe really know who is he and what his voice is like or what his song-writing was like? (Strangely, tonight I am finding it hard to express myself fluently). What I was asking myself is this: here we sit, Brandon (his manager), a successful music producer (whose name I forget) who has shown a keen interest in working with Joe, myself and others, all of us with experience and advice, saying this “stuff” to Joe; but I wasn’t hearing what Joe was saying about himself, other than that he wants to learn, that he wants to improve, that he wants to succeed. I asked Joe, "what does your voice sound like? Have you ever sung in front of a mirror? Have you ever taken a good look at yourself in the mirror and looked deep inside? Have you recorded yourself singing?"

I remember when I decided some years ago to practise the ‘cello again in order to give a final recital. Working full time, I would wake up at 04h30 every morning to practise. The Bishop Stortford swimmers used to tap on the music department window around 5am and wave hello. The cleaner would always pop in for an early morning chat and coffee. Apart from patience and slow repetition, my biggest tool in improving my playing was a disc-recorder. This little gadget had a powerful and sensitive microphone which could pick up the slightest change in bow speed, pressure etc. It told me exactly what the audience would be hearing, not what I would like the audience to hear. Notes slightly or very out of tune, scratches, bad phrasing, and much more. These daily recordings told me everything about my playing, about the actual sound I was producing, not the sound I thought or hoped I was producing. Sometimes it was cringe-worthy, other times remarkable.

Back to Joe...Joe spent 3 hours in my loft sitting around the piano, singing, playing and speaking (and eating cake, of course). At one point I asked Joe: "who are you?" As if Joe didn’t have enough to think about, I had to go and throw this question at him . He didn’t quite have an answer (I must admit, I am still a little concerned that I might have given him too much food for thought). However, I believe that this is an important question: in order to succeed at anything, you need to know who you are and also, you need to be able to evaluate how good you are in order to filter all the advice and “wisdom” that people cannot resist throwing at you. This is what I love about coaching (yes, I keep banging on about it). The simple reason is that in coaching, we don’t give advice. So when I was sitting there with my years of musical experience, having worked with amateur and professional musicians, and found myself dispensing advice to Joe, I stopped and thought, hang on, he needs to become an authority on himself. In order for Joe’s performances or songs to mean anything, he needs to become authentiic. Yes, sometimes advice can be good, but the recipient of this advice also needs to know the difference between good advice and bad advice, and also know when to hold up his/her hand and say “stop, this is the path I am taking because it is the right one for me. I know where I am going and I believe in my ability to get there." Joe is talented, humble, super-model material; in every way he is a package album deal, and I have no doubt he will do well in the music business. I suggested that he sing at a Junior or Secondary school in order to get some real feedback. Children are honest, teachers are desperate for someone to come and "do" their assembly for them, and I think he will get a positive response.

Last Friday, we had an impromptu musical event (post dinner) in the loft where Joe sang for us (and Rob danced for us). I will let those of you who are local know next time we do this as it would be good for you to hear him sing and play (not to mention some of us other mere earthlings who have a bash at the piano, under duress, of course).

The hiccoughs have gone thanks to Bart’s prescription of downing a glass of coca-cola. Alternative medicine? If it works...but now they’re back...Thanks Dr. Bart...between Remi's self-taught reiki and Bart's medical advice based on the money he gets from Coca-cola for boosting sales and consumption, I'm not sure which will kill me first!

Thanks once again for reading what has turned out to be a rather long blog. If anyone can post some advice on how others can post comments on the blog, please do as quite a few friends have told me that they cannot publish their comments on the blog.

Always with you,
Le goose

PS...Despite suggesting we shouldn’t give out too much advice, here’s some from me: do not brush your teeth with germolene (an antiseptic cream): the bubble-gum smell does not translate into bubble-gum taste and it will take at least 3 or 4 brushes with proper toothpaste to get the germonele off your teeth and gums! Reminds me of the time my younger brother and I drank dish-washer instead of raspberry cooldrink many many years ago... yuck!

Monday, 15 March 2010


Having lost a huge paragraph of the blog due to an over-enthusiastic mouse-pad on my EEE PC, I decided to do what I should have done in the first place: write this in word and then copy and paste!

I was going to have a moan about how long I had to wait to see my oncologist but in view of the news he gave me, I think I shall learn from today’s experience and not waste energy getting worked up about waiting. For my next appointment I shall read a book, take a friend along, or write hand-written letters to people who don’t have email.

The good news: the cancerous cells have shrunk remarkably in response to the chemotherapy, the cancer has not spread elsewhere, my liver is fine despite taking a battering from the chemo, my blood counts are all fine, my cough has reduced a lot, and in general, I am feeling a lot better. I know that I shall not feel this way after the chemotherapy on Wednesday but I am now feeling encouraged and braver to face the next cycle knowing that it is helping me. The oncologist has decided to do another scan after the next cycle as he is keen to see if any further progress has been made.

This brings me to some of the supportive emails I’ve received as well as conversations I have had with numerous people. There are many people out there who suggest that oncologists and chemotherapy are akin to devil’s spawn, but I think that at the end of the day, this is an entirely personal opinion. I have been reading a blog that a French person sent me in which he talks about the nurses and doctors “forcing” him to accept treatment (admittedly, he is writing about when he had cancer as an child/adolescent). Personally, I don’t see the doctors and nurses as believing they have all the answers. The suggestion that doctors think they know everything has come up often. If anything, I have found quite the opposite. From the very start, my doctor stated clearly that he didn’t know what was going to happen other than what he has witnessed in the past, he stated clearly that everyone reacted differently to treatment, he also gave me the clear choice of chemotherapy or nothing at all. And he has been consistent in this. Even today, he reiterated that they are filling my body with “poison” and that I had the choice to decide which route to take. He has encouraged a positive mental attitude pointing out that medical intervention was only half the job done. The nurses have been great, using a combination of caring with a firm approach. We all have the potential to be drama queens and I have found the nurses very good at keeping me “earthed”, whether it is when they’re taking blood or giving me my chemotherapy. I have chosen to combine traditional medicine with alternative approaches but also bearing in mind that my mental and emotional attitude would be of the utmost importance. And this is the part on which I have worked the most. As part of alternative treatment, I have access to Reiki as part of the NHS service, something which has helped me enormously in terms of my mental and emotional well-being. My next challenge is to embrace this treatment, to use my mind to reduce the discomfort of the reduce the effect of association which is impacting upon how I feel. I believe that I can do this, particularly as I now know that the chemotherapy has had a positive effect on my cancer. The doctor and the pharmacist have both spent long periods discussing how to ease the nausea and I will get through it. I have been told, however, that the hiccoughs are just going to have to be accepted. Then again, when you think that it is for about 3 days every 3 weeks, then surely I can cope with it no matter how uncomfortable it gets?

In coaching, we always focus on the future. I need to look beyond the present and visualise how good it is going to feel when the cancerous cells have less impact on my body and hence my life. Let’s be realistic, I am not being cured in the true meaning of the word. I am buying time but you know what? I’m happy with that. I am just glad that I have not let this illness become me or let it take over my life and that thanks to the treatment I will be able to extend my life-span. There is so much more I still want to do and I intend doing it! For example, there is an MSc waiting in the wings!

I return to work tomorrow, starting with my first clients at C4. I’m really excited about working again, particularly as I love what I do. If any of you still don’t know what I do, please look at my website

Thank you all once again for reading. I will blog again either Wednesday or Thursday.

Stay well and keep smiling.


Thursday, 11 March 2010

The cough

Okay, let me start with a moan then I will get to the good stuff! Last Saturday, I rang UCH to push them into giving me a date for my CT scan. They said the 18th, I said no, my oncology appointment is on the 15th and I want to know if the chemo has been working or not. The receptionist said okay, the only time we can fit you in is 08h30 on Thursday 11th. I accepted. This morning, I woke up at 06h35, caught a peak time train on peak time fare, and got to UCH at 08h15. Surprise, I’m not booked in at all...instead I am told that it is tomorrow at 09h00. I said no, I won’t be in London tomorrow I must have it today. To cut a long story short, I had my scan done at 11h30 and left UCT at 12h20. Anyway, let's all put our collective strength towards positive results on Monday afternoon.

I had intended to be in Witney, Oxfordshire by lunchtime but only got there around 15h00. However, it was nice to sit and chat with my 2 nieces and nephew (3 of the 10 I have) before having my afternoon nap.

Now, I smell a rat...the power of mind over matter. I had to walk through the chemotherapy rooms this morning and within minutes of being there, I felt extremely nauseas, and felt this for the rest of the day. What does that say? I think that by association, I am increasing my levels of nausea. I felt 100% fine the day before, so why the nausea today? It might have been the dye that they inject into you for the scan (I might have mentally connected that to chemotherapy)...or it just might be my good memory of what it feels after a dose of the stuff. Anyway, what I am taking from that is a stronger mindset next week Wednesday. One of my doctor friends suggested that it must be working if I feel so sick after having it! I shall therefore focus on that aspect, and hit this nausea thing where it hurts. That will be my challenge and prayers, thoughts and energy requests for next week.

Which brings me to...yes, the cough which this week, has been slowly reducing. Yesterday, not much at all, today quite good until late this evening. I do find that it gets bad in the evening and late night. But it has been much better, so all our collective energy this week, is working. Thank you all for that.

It has been a nice last few days as I have felt more human and have had some great moments. I attended the launch of a joint leadership programme between BBC and C4 and enjoyed visiting the Channel 4 building for the first time. It was a great moment to network and I am looking forward to working with my 3 clients at C4 starting next week. I will be working for a few hours only, Mondays and Tuesdays. A small start but I have to take this slowly. So, some nice projects coming up.
Before I sign out, I must apologise to people who haven’t yet received replies to texts or emails or facebook messages. I am trying to keep up but somehow still seem behind. I will catch up eventually.

Here’s to a great weekend.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


It is 3am and I have woken up for the strangest of reasons, and not at all negative. There had been something missing all evening and I woke up realising what it was. Since Sunday evening I have not felt any pain at all on the left side of my body where before, I was using prescribed pain killers to control the lower back pain or any other pain where the chemotherapy chose to strike. I went to sleep with no pain and have woken up with none. Now, only I would wake up in the middle of the night to celebrate this, which I have just done with a few mouthfuls of biltong and a few bites of chunky kitkat (let’s not go overboard, okay?)!

I am reading a book that an ex colleague and friend Maria kindly sent me. It is called The Secret and is not too unlike the book The 48 Laws of Power that Garth had recommended last year. Something that both books support is the power of positive thinking. The Secret suggests, in some places, that you stop talking about your illness, that you focus more on your healing. The 48 Laws of Power has similar advice and like The Secret, also advises you to avoid people who focus on their problems as they will just bring you down with them. What my sudden healing from pain (which could easily be explained medically and which is probably only temporary but who cares?) has taught me, is that I don’t like moaning about the pain, if I feel it, it is my fault for not taking preventative medication on time so I needn’t bang on about it when the solution involves simply swallowing a couple of pills. It also taught me that I need to celebrate little moments like this. Now, my healing could be a result of my own positive thinking, it could be the result of all your prayers and meditation from your different faith groups (Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, Christian etc...I am blessed with multi-faith friends and family), it could be the zillions of positive thoughts and energy my radar is picking up every day from all over the world, it might even be that candle that I know will burn every night in a very special person’s kitchen in Cape Town as she cooks dinner. Let me quote her directly:

“I shall light our kitchen table candle, which I do every night when I start preparing dinner, and I shall light that flame now for you, and you only, every night. I shall commit you to my God every night (I do anyway, but I am now going to do it with that act of spreading light in our kitchen - the heart of our home), and I shall ask Him to pour, in abundance, only grace and courage into your heart and soul - every night, I promise.”

I cannot attribute the exact source of my healing of pain, but I want to celebrate it more, and I want you to celebrate it too, even if it returns sooner rather than later. I almost feel like getting out from under my goose-down duvet and stirring the pot to Vulindlela. Yebo gogo, let’s open the gates to this night free of pain and bad health. I wish I knew how to write that wonderful sound we make in South Africa when we are stunned: Yoh/Joj...if you know a Saffa, ask them to do it for you. That’s what I want to say right now: Yaw! In Zimbabawe we used to say: Maibabo (badly spelt)!

I have been too afraid to ask myself one question: do I believe that I will be healed? At present, I am looking at options regarding my home (should I sell?) and making plans that do not involve me being here in 5 or more years’ time. Part of me feels that I should do the sensible thing, believe in the power of prolonging my life beyond the initial Doctor’s conservative estimate, but then part of me says: you will be healed, you will be will have to get wrinkles and hanging bits like everyone else and wear incontinence pants one day. This is a question which I’m not prepared to deal with yet, call it lack of courage (I hate failing) or call it being realistic. I’m just not ready to challenge myself to answering that question. Many friends have told me that they believe that I shall be healed (cured)...The Secret says: Disease cannot exist in a body that is in a healthy emotional state (Bob Proctor)...Remove physiological stress from the body and the body does what it is designed to do: heal itself (Dr Ben Johnson)...I respect and welcome your optimism regarding my healing, but I am just not ready to entertain that idea just yet.

Several years ago, I was being besieged by yet another chest infection or indigestion-related pain in my chest (to be honest, I am not surprised that disease struck my chest) and was experiencing acute discomfort and pain and I asked my friend Adam to just put his hand on my chest and heal me. I didn’t doubt his ability to do it, he was my best mate and best mates make you feel better, right? And he did...of course Adam attributes this to his faith in God as it was to Him that he prayed when I asked him to heal me. Niggling at the back of my mind is this sneaky little deal I’ve thinking from time to time, if there is a God, let Him heal me and I will believe in Him again. However, it doesn’t work that way. And while we’re on that note, thank you, friends and family for being willing to share your beliefs with me without forcing me to choose the path you’ve chosen, I really appreciate the way in which you all gently encourage me to believe in your own special ways without making me feel uncomfortable.

So, my healing at present must come from within myself and from you, the amazing family and the amazing friends with whom I have been so blessed. I know some success stories out there: I have a past student whose mother was in a deep coma and wasn’t expected to come out of it, who has now been moved to a rehabilitation hospital after making much progress. Her health improvements (against all odds) might be due to Blacky’s sister’s new found faith in God, or it could just be that killer smile he flashes at everyone? Who knows?

I am ready to sleep again...It is 04h15 (I can actually hear some cheeky birds chirping outside)...I feel that wonderful feeling of peace that cannot really be described. Thank you all for sending me peace in return after my last blog (Cry me a river). This week, can we all please focus our energies, prayers and thoughts on helping me to reduce my is destroying my voice and makes it so difficult to spend quality time with people and will certainly have some impact on my ability to coach...I believe I can get it to go away, if not entirely, then a lot more than now. Let’s see what positive thinking can do this week.

A la prochaine, mes chers paysans :)

Le megga-goose

P.S. I have a CT Scan on Thursday and I am looking forward to hearing some good news about how well the chemo is working. Good news it shall be!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Cry me a river

Okay, so the tears flowed tonight like the rivers of Babylon. I cried for my mother, I cried for my father, I cried for my brothers and I cried for my sister. I cried for my sister-in-laws, I cried for my brother-in-law, I cried for my 8 nieces and 2 nephews, some of whom I will not see turn 21. I cried for my cousins, for my aunts and uncles, spread far and wide. But mostly, and selfishly, I cried for me, myself and I. I cried for the back-pain, I cried for the chest infection, the runny nose, the hideous cough that tears my throat and chest apart, and the endless nausea that follows me around like a bad smell 24/7. And I didn’t hold back...I let it all out, letting the hot tears wash away the pain and the damn injustice of it all. I cried out the frustration at not being able to walk back from the supermarket with more than one backpack and bag of groceries, I cried for the fact that I want to go to Brussels next week but have to wait to see if I can have a CT scan instead. And you know what, if we give ourselves the time of day, boy can we find a lot of things to cry about. I could’ve cried all night if I wanted, and maybe I will...after all, these are the first tears in over 4 weeks.

And as I write, I am blinded by the tears that are still flowing. But the strange thing is, these new tears are not tears of sadness, anger or frustration. They are tears in recognition of you, the family for whom I started crying tonight, for you, the friends who surround me daily in thought, prayers, texts/sms, emails, messages on facebook and comments on my blog. I’m also crying because right now I don’t want to be a hero, I don’t want to be strong, I just want to acknowledge, accept and come to terms with the fact that yes, I can be weak too. No-one wants me to be a superhero, no-one wants me to pretend that everything is always okay, you all just want me to be ME and that, sometimes, is going to mean being weak and shedding a tear, or two, or a river of Babylon-full.

So I’ve decided to share this with you tonight...not wait until the sun comes out in the morning and I wake up and say “what was that all about”? Because I know that I will wake up tomorrow and feel brighter, better, and stronger, and so will you.
To all of you, friends, family and any “random” person who reads this blog...I wish you peace. The most beautiful greeting in the world has to be Salaam alaikum and it is with that greeting, that I leave you to find my own inner peace tonight.


Thursday, 4 March 2010


We didn't come from a family of fact, I think it was Paul Milligan and his family who taught me about hugging. This is not a criticism of my own family, we just tended to kiss all the female relatives (on the lips unless you wanted to be rude) or gave a manly handshake to the men. I remember one great Aunt (Aunty Jane) who gave the wettest kisses ever. We dreaded her smackers which she aimed so carefully, never missing our lips even if we tried to wind up the car window early). However, we put up with them because she also gave us baby chickens (I once vomited because my baby chicken poohed on my leg) and a tikki (2 and a half pence, I think?) for school.

Why am I speaking about hugging? Yesterday, while waiting for my chemo, there was an older lady who was being cannulated (might be cannulised) and it was very painful for her and also, she had obviously just had enough of all this therapy. She started to cry, her daughter held her hand, the nurse patted her hand, and I sat there furious at my inability to get up and give her the HUG she so clearly needed. I was rooted to the spot through my "britishness" (please don't take this as criticism), over-riding my African tendancy to touch people to reassure them of my presence, love and friendship. I have many British friends who give the best hugs ever, but in today's climate of health and safety, child protection, law-suits etc...we seem so afraid to reach out and touch someone. I made excuses like "she's had a tracheotomy"..."I might be infectious, my own immune system is compromised", etc etc, all while this little (but strong and brave) lady cried for a short while. Both Alex (who accompanied me yesterday) and I were deeply moved by this. We made up for it by reassuring another lovely lady with a tan from Benidorm (Selina, you could learn something...)that chemo wasn't that bad (it was her first time). However, afterwards, I think I kinda lied to her as while it is not bad going in, 24 hours later you will wish you hadn't had it done! Still, I can only hope that she suffers few side-effects.

So, back to hugging. Paul and his family would hug every time they passed each other in the passage, never needing an excuse to kiss or hug. I used to love going round just for the hugs, let alone the huge pot of tea and chocolate cake (although once, when I asked him what time tea was, he said “around 11 but could you come at 10 because that is when the maid has her’s”...sorry, it might sound like an unpleasant joke but it was funny at the time and directed at me, not the maid). My own family is well into the hugging scene now, and that is great. One of my couchsurfers, Rémi, remarked the other day that I hug all of my friends (and kiss most) hello and goodbye (he'd noted the number of times Brandon, Rory and I hugged while attending an open mic evening in London)...he said, “in France, we don't do that” (okay, he said “zat” :)). Rémi is not alone is wondering about all this hugging; there are many people from different nationalities that find it strange hugging and kissing hello and goodbye or “just because” (net somer, as the Afrikaaners say so nicely, hope that's right)...I remember a close friend once telling me once about God's love for me and I replied along the lines that "that's great, but sometimes all I want is a pair of human arms around me". If you’re not into hugging, there's no rule saying you must get into hugging. But at least try it...and don’t just nervously put your arms around someone, GET IN THERE lol...have a genuine squeeze and men, please, don’t spoil it by doing that manly thumping thing on the other person’s back...we all know you’re NOT gay (if you’re not) so just hug, don’t turn it into some display of male dominance (my thump’s harder than your thump, so there!). Practise on your pillow if you have to. :) (most of us learned to kiss that way).

Yesterday, I wasn’t that keen on chemo despite the happy pill the doctors gave me for the night before. This wasn’t helped by the fact that when I got there, I was told I had to re-do blood tests because one of my counts had been too low and if it hadn’t risen overnight, they wouldn’t do the chemo. Having looked forward to my 2 week break in chemo, I was desperate for the chemo to happen yesterday. Fortunately, after emergency blood tests, they got the go-ahead to order my bag of chemo. Alex and I gave Fernando, my flamboyant Filipino chemo-nurse, lots of trouble. Alex asked him why the bag-coverings were blue and Fernando snapped back: “because we don’t have them in pink” :) When I told him that he was the height of fashion in his plastic gown with matching plastic sleeves, he told me “it’s Gok” (if you don’t know who Gok is, don’t bother...meow!). He was really nice and kept us entertained and more importantly, in our place! I went off for some Reiki before the chemo arrived and fell asleep a few times in it. The Reiki lady (I must catch her name next fact, I need to start learning names as everyone who works there seems to know mine because I am quite a cheeky patient :)) gave me some stuff for my blocked nose as I snorted a few times! I fell asleep during chemo which is good because then you don’t stress about it. I also slept the entire afternoon once I got back to Rob and Alex’s place after chemo. I ate my usual packet of salt and vinegar crisps, refusing to eat a banana (we were in public!) and also had one of their “salmon” (clearly tuna) NHS sandwiches which are quite nice, actually.

Slept well last night (after eating a huge kitkat – thanks Alex - and a few pieces of biltong – thanks little bro and famdangily) but woke myself up several times with loud snoring...quite impressive really! I was dreaming that I was eating a kitkat, biltong and salt and vinegar crisps while watching a huge male lion roaring away and it was getting louder and louder, then I realised it was yours truly snoring away. Poor Rob and Alex obviously didn’t get much sleep thanks to my manly lion mating sounds! A few near-misses with the hose-pipe dream where you’re increasing the water pressure before you wake and have to run to the loo and I made it through the night unscathed!

Home now, finding the new combination of medicines somewhat better but it’s a bit early to tell. But you know what? I don’t care what I go through over the next few days because I don’t have to go through chemo until the 17th so I will feel great for a while. My Polish brunch was oce again well served and much appreciated...wonder what is for dinner and who will be cooking France, peut-être?

One more thing...I read the letter my oncologist wrote to my GP...”Dear Dr usual, it was a delight to see and review Dr. Margerison in surgery today...” What does this guy smoke? Haha, I think he is a great oncologist and if he is really happy to see his cancer patients, then like teaching, he is following a vocation, not a career! We need more like him. Well done thus far, NHS (but sort out your reception and your pharmacy)!

Thanks for reading once again...hope you get a hug or two today! I’m hoping too...

Monday, 1 March 2010

How to get a couchsurfer off the couch!

Ha! This was quite something: one couchsurfer lying on the couch, legs up, book in hand, listening longingly for the sound of the kettle boiling and instead: MOI with a hoover (vacuum cleaner) in hand. Plug it in, full revs, fling the shake'n'vac wildly in the air, accidentally getting some in his hair, and hoover!!! He did a backflip off the sofa and ran upstairs so fast I didn't even see the shake'n'vac dust! Ha!

Woke up to a brilliant sunny morning. Had some honey-oats, coffee, did some emails and texting and then, yes, I can't believe I'm going to say this: had my first pooh in 3 days! LOL...sorry, I won't go into the details but it did remind me of an "epidemic" that hit Falcon College in Zimbabwe years ago. Most of the staff and pupils were affected by the water and I recall one teacher (Mike Renehan, aka "Sturdy" or "Thunder Thighs") saying: the day I produce a solid one, I am going to pick it up and admire it!

Anyway, enough of that.

I went to have my hair cut which is always fun because the Kurdish guy who cuts my hair (Adam) always gossips about his brother (Evan) (who actually owns the shop). Evan is always getting into fights over girls and taking "health" products to cope with all his lady friends and just as Adam was telling me one particular story, Evan came in through the back. It was so funny seeing Adam's face as he tried to change the subject. I was pleased to note that despite the chemo, my hair is not thinning or disappearing. It's amazing how good you feel after a haircut, provided you insist on the hairdresser doing what YOU want.

Had brunch made for me by my Polish couchsurfer (Bart) (the one lounging on the sofa shall remain unamed!), before he went off to work. Then a rest as I kinda tried to do too much today. Walking back from Sainsbury's I was annoyed to find that if I try to carry more than two bags, I have to stop to pant every few metres. Pathetic, but I will get my strength back with time. Patience has not always been one of my virtues but I am certainly learning it now. Part of the reason for the breathlessness is the fact that I have a slight cold/chest infection which is to be expected considering that my immune system is taking a battering.

Right, I'm waiting for Storme (my very first piano student zillions of years ago) to pop in. She just might be bearing a chocolate cake (she makes great cakes) in which case I shall intercept her arrival and hide the cake under the stairs for later when the couchsurfers are asleep. :-)

Thanks again for reading....if you have any questions, feel free to write them in the comments and I will answer as honestly as possible.