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My First Blog Post

Have I really agreed to this?

So this is my very first blog and, my first venture into the world of blogging so if I ramble on or don’t say enough – please tell me!

As all good stories go, I had better start at the beginning…..

In 2004 I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma on my left leg, located just on my knee. It was a mole on my leg that had always been there and then one summer’s day in 2003, after a holiday in Greece, I noticed it had started to bleed.

I can’t say I rushed to the GP or that I was immediately terrified – I’m not sure I actually do ‘terrified’. But I did take my self off to my GP who referred me through to a plastic surgeon in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. This was August 2003. The letter arrived from the hospital pretty swiftly but the consultant appointment was for September 2004!

The 2019 me would have picked up the phone and started creating a noise about the waiting time, but 2003 me just thought that if they weren’t in a hurry, then I shouldn’t worry.

When September 2004 actually did roll around, things moved pretty swiftly. The consultant diagnosed the mole visually but obviously a biopsy was required. This was done within a week. Again, completely oblivious to the seriousness of the situation, I headed over to the UK on a girl’s weekend. Only when I received a call from a nurse in St Vincent’s telling me that the bed was ready for me in the ward and I needed to be back that night, did a small light bulb go off in my head that maybe this was not panning out so great for me.

The melanoma was 3mm under my skin which was extremely serious at the time. My sentinel node was removed in my groin to check where else the melanoma had spread. Not if, but where.

Times were different and there was less of a rush to move patients back home then. I was bandaged completely on both legs as a skin graft had been taken from my right thigh for the wound site. I stayed in hospital for three weeks. I was blessed with incredible friends who crossed the city to visit me every day.

Finally the oncologist came to see me in the ward. As he pulled the curtain around my bed, it finally sunk in that I was in deep trouble – I know, I can be slow on the uptake!

However, as it turned out the oncologist announced I was the luckiest person he had ever met. The melanoma had not spread. Whilst I would be monitored for the next five years, I would require no further treatment. When he left the ward, the nurses crowded around me and said they thought I hadn’t understood the consequences of malignant melanoma – they were probably right.

I spent the next month on crutches due to the location of the wound site, but I was home and I was cancer free!

During the next five years, I never once expected any of my follow up appointments to be anything other than routine and once that last appointment was done I can truly say it never occurred to me that the melanoma might return.

And yet, here I am in 2019. I will continue on my next blog……..

Waterville, Co Kerry. The Wild Atlantic Way

Scanxiety, checkpoints & results

Here in Ireland we are still in full lockdown and will be for quite a few more weeks yet. This means we are not supposed to travel outside of our own county apart from essential travel. A PET scan is, thankfully, considered essential and I set off on Monday, armed with my hospital letter should I get stopped anywhere.

And stopped I was! Three Garda checkpoints later, I can confirm that each of the Garda were efficient but also polite & completely charming (you know I love a uniform).

Of course, it was never going to be without incident. First checkpoint I turned off my music, popped on my mask and got my letter ready. I’m off to CUH, I said. No further details required and wished a safe journey.

Second checkpoint, music turned down, mask on. ‘I love the Go Faster Stripes on your car’, said the Garda. Obviously, I made the obvious joke – ‘Oh, still within the speed limit officer’. Ha-de-ha. Garda, with a twinkle in his eye but a dead straight face ‘you need a heavier shoe’ !!

Third checkpoint. I can see other cars being waived through. Only just plugged in my phone to charge it, so music not doing anything anyway, don’t bother with the mask, figuring the previous two checkpoints must be communicating which cars have a valid reason to be travelling. I fully appreciate this was not taking into account that I’m driving a very noticeable car with a Kerry reg in a stream of Cork reg cars. Garda waves me out of the queue of slowly moving traffic. I’m fiddling with my mask and trying to push the button for the window at the same time. As I pull up next to the Garda, my phone blasts into action and as I go to give my ‘I’m off to CUH’ explanation, David Coverdale (Whitesnake) blasts out Are you ready for some Satin Sheet Action!!!!!! He – the Garda, not the beautiful David – is about 12 years old, prob never heard of Whitesnake. Thankfully, for all concerned, he chose to ignore it and wished me a safe journey. Bet he told his colleague he thought he’d been propositioned by some old bird!

So onto the PET Scan. Again, such huge admiration for the medical staff doing their jobs through Covid. Everything must be so much more difficult. As usual, my veins were particularly awkward and disappeared at the first sign of a needle. After the first radiologist could not get a vein, a second guy was sent in. A man on a mission. He wasn’t taking any nonsense from my attention seeking veins and jabbed that needle into my arm before we were formally introduced.

You then have to lie in a darkened room for 45mins while the radioactive dye runs round your body.

The scan itself was pretty straightforward other than at the end they put me back in for another look at my knee. Obviously this sends your head off in 10,000 different directions. What had they seen? Realistically I had probably moved slightly but who thinks of that??

Because my veins had held everything up, by the time I was coming out it was 4pm and all the other rooms were empty. I’d not eaten since 10pm on Sunday, so the 3 cuddy creams & carton of orange juice were practically inhaled.

I’ll cut straight to the chase. Friday morning’s appointment was changed to a phone appointment due to Covid. I was awake early, half watching Netflix, but basically just waiting for the phone to ring.

Sooooo, ‘largely good news’ was the phrase. Essentially the scan showed no growth anywhere – amazing! They had a small concern about something the scan picked up one one toe. But I have no other symptoms and it could just be an old trauma (I refrained from saying maybe a drunken comedy injury). If I was happy, which I am, they would be happy to leave it until my next appointment in three months and they’ll have a look in person.

Truthfully, I had a little cry when the call was over. I don’t know if it was relief or was it frustration – will I always be on the merry go round of checking what might show up on a scan? But when I pulled myself together, I knew that, yet again, I have been so lucky.

If you’re going through treatment right now. Please know, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

OH said I could go wherever I wanted to celebrate. I chose here. What a day to be alive!

Scanxiety & International Women’s Day

Apologies it’s been so long since I’ve updated you – I worry I might bore you! But I had a few messages this week asking why I hadn’t blogged about International Women’s Day (IWD). So here I am!

If you’ve ever worked with me or been stuck with me for a while, you will know that I love IWD. Not because I’m a feminist or I’m anti men – far from it. But because I know how incredibly lucky we are to live in a part of the world where women can achieve so much. So many women in the world do not have that luxury – they have to hide their intelligence or their ambition. Every year I say the same, I am in awe of mothers – you are ALL amazing. I would’ve been a TERRIBLE mother! If you know how spoilt the two ginger kittens are, and the Ginger Prince before them, you will know I would’ve produced a ridiculously spoiled brood – but my love for my nieces, nephews, godchildren and friends’ children is unlimited.

So many of my friends fight a battle quietly every day – friends who are fighting for the right education for their child, friends who juggle front line work shifts with child care, friends with anxiety issues, friends with ongoing medical conditions, friends desperate to be pregnant – the list is endless – but each one of those amazing women always have time for a giggle with me or a listening ear. Without those women, I would be lost.

If you’re reading this and I’ve been remiss in contacting you – send me a kick up the backside text. It won’t be that I’ve not thought of you. Just life taking over and filling the spaces. But when you need me, I am here.

From a health point of view I am currently in the scanxiety zone. Next Monday I am off to CUH for a PET Scan. Regular readers will remember this is the one where I am radioactive afterwards. My brother maintains if I don’t glow in the dark after this one, I should demand a refund!

This scan should’ve happened in January and when I heard nothing I assumed there was a delay because of Covid. By February I thought I’d better check. Just as well I did as it transpired VHI had asked for further details but due to change in doctors, nobody had picked this up. After quite a bit of chasing up, I finally got the scan sorted. I tell you this, not as a criticism, but just to remind you that if something hasn’t happened that you know should have, please chase it up. Don’t assume it will come eventually, it might not. Keep chasing.

So it’s a PET Scan on Monday and a meeting with Guardian Angel Nurse on Friday. I’ve always been honest with you, dear reader, and apart from being occasionally exhausted, I think I’m pretty healthy. But on the run up to this scan, I can’t help but imagine all kinds of things – does this hurt, is that a new lump – all those helpful 2am thoughts.

My lymphoedema continues to give me a swollen lower left leg. In comparison to many people, it’s really not that bad, but a Prettiest Ankle competition is out of the question sadly. I am too much of a wimp to swim in the Atlantic in the freezing cold and I know this is affecting my leg. Keep your fingers crossed for some mild weather soon. I have a brave – or mad – friend who swims in the North Sea several times a week. The cold isn’t stopping her. I will try to channel her bravery soon.

I will tell you next week how the scan goes. Any suggestions for my two & a half hour concert-in-car set are always welcome – make them good singalongs please.

Finally, if you are struggling with anything this week, give yourself a massive pat on the back. You are amazing.

Waterville Beach – so lucky to live here

The Return of the Guardian Angel Nurse

I was going to save writing my update until Christmas Eve but I figured you might be looking for some cheering up after more Covid restriction announcements yesterday in the UK.

You may recall I finished my immunotherapy meds in September and on my last oncology visit they referred me back to the fabulous Prof Redmond’s surgical team for ongoing check ups for the next five years.

Last Friday Gordon (the car) & I headed off to Cork for the first of those check ups. There was a brief mumbling from OH about coming with me – I soon knocked that on the head. I’ve been cooped up for far too long to miss out on the opportunity of a two & a half hour personal concert in the car. Also, it’s now completely acceptable to play Christmas tunes for the whole journey – what’s not to love about that? Just for the record my favourite is still Meghan Trainor’s ‘I’ll Be Home’ and you can really belt it out in the car.

Years ago when I was previously in the merry go round of post melanoma check ups in England they were a bit of a perfunctory glance over my leg and a few questions on my overall health. I knew this would be more than that so I did wear my fancy sporty looking undies just in case.

I was greeted by a new lady doctor on the team who began by examining the site of the original melanoma back in 2004 – the knee on my left leg. It’s so strange – I used to be so self conscious about that scar on my knee yet now if anyone asks about it, I’m taken aback because I’ve forgotten it’s there. The scar where my lymph nodes were removed in August last year has totally taken over in my mind. As if there was a Top of the Pops scar table and that one is number one.

‘Oh that was ages ago’ I said to the doc, figuring she thought that was the most recent site. She then explained that would be one of the more likely places for recurrence. The voice inside my head said Don’t Tell Me That!!!! I already imagine all kinds of non existent lumps and bumps without giving me another area to check! But all was well thankfully.

The door then opened and who entered? Only the completely fabulous Guardian Angel Nurse, Katrina. Frankly I’m surprised she doesn’t come in on a shaft of light with heavenly music playing. She was delighted with the improvement in my leg from the lymphoedema side of things. There is practically no swelling on my ankle now and just a small part on my thigh. I know I’ve been incredibly lucky with this, but I’ve also worked hard at it with the sea swimming and the trampolining. I know that some people suffer terribly but if you are suffering slightly with lymphoedema, please don’t give up on the exercise – it’s honestly worth it.

There has been a mark on my back which has been worrying me. I’ve tried taking photos of it – usually ending up with a photo of my thumb or my bra strap. I mentioned this to the doc. For this they used a derma-scope which is a clever little microscope machine they place on your skin and it shows a magnified picture up on the screen. Katrina showed me the screen – it looked like a map of the solar system to me! Thankfully it meant a lot more to the two clever ladies and they reassured me everything was fine.

They checked my whole body over, with the occasional stop where I have been savaged by two ginger ninja kittens – clean bill of health given. Yet again, there’s that feeling of exhaling when you haven’t been aware you were holding your breath. Will those moments of worry ever disappear? Probably not.

Next step will be another PET scan which will happen in January. As I now work from home permanently, nobody will mind me being radioactive this time.

As I drove home iTunes decided to play me some random Christmas list with weird cover versions. I find with cover versions you hear the words to songs you’ve been singing all your life so much clearer. Miley Cyrus started singing John & Yoko’s Happy Christmas, War is Over. As I tootled along the mountain road home I had to pull over and have a little teary moment. The words ‘let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fears’ were suddenly so poignant.

I haven’t seen my family since last Christmas and I won’t see them this one. It’s been even longer since I’ve seen my friends in the UK. OH & I haven’t spent a Christmas ‘just the two of us’ for 20 years.

And yet even in that I still know how lucky I am. I’m not alone as so many will have to spend Christmas alone – including one of my brothers who is having to isolate in Wales – and I will force OH into doing all the things we would normally do when there is 6 of us.

Nobody’s Christmas is going to be the same this year and we can only hope & pray that this vaccine does bring us back to ‘normal’ at some point in 2021. I know I cannot wait to hug my family & friends, I can’t wait to be clinking glasses with them again and play stupid board games & endless games of cards.

When I ordered my turkey for two people the lady suggested I’d be better with a chicken – puhlease, lady! OH would leave me if I gave him chicken on Christmas Day! As I’m a vegetarian, let’s hope the kittens really like turkey!

My mountain route to hospital. ‘Let’s hope it’s a good year, without any fears’

Hello November

I’ve not posted for a while but I’ve had some questions about side effects since the immunotherapy finished so I thought it was time to catch up.

One of the side effects of the now famous Mr M & Mr T was supposed to be new skin tags/rashes. I didn’t have any throughout the 12 months and that’s the way I liked it. Mr M & Mr T were clearly not impressed with this and their parting gift to me was a HEAP of skin tags all over the damn place. Add skin tags and gingers kittens with claws like needles and you have a problem – a bloody one!

Thankfully they do seem to be calming down – the skin tags, not the kittens – but there was one unfortunate incident on a work zoom call. I hadn’t noticed I was bleeding on my neck until I switched the camera on and then it was too late to leave the meeting. Spent the whole meeting with my hand clamped to my neck, trying to make it look like I was casually leaning on it!

That brings me to tell you about starting work. For various reasons I won’t bore you with, I’ve not gone back to my old job and have actually started a brand new job which is based purely working from home. The reason I tell you this is I think it’s important for anyone going through this to remember that not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, but also that cancer (whatever type) doesn’t define you. It doesn’t have to dominate every conversation you have or rule your life. My new work colleagues are blissfully unaware that I was ever poorly or that I’ve not worked for a year during my treatment.

I love that my friends know and that I can confide in them that I am flippin exhausted at the end of a work day. But I also like that my new work people don’t treat me any differently & when they ask ‘how are you?’ it’s just a pleasantry, not out of genuine concern.

Working again has been exhausting, but I do like being back in the real world again, albeit a new one that we are all having to get used to. It does mess with my regular viewing of Homes Under the Hammer, but I think I’ve seen them all now and I know the guy from the jungle always wants to knock down the kitchen wall!

The other delightful addition to post treatment side effects is that it appears to have brought on the menopause. Yeah, thanks for that. So I join millions of ladies in hot flushes that come out of nowhere and make you look like a beetroot – the hits just keep on coming.

So there’s all the bad stuff. Here’s the good stuff. I don’t take a single tablet now! Not a BP med, nothing, nowt, nada and it feels amazing.

The lymphoedema in my leg is reduced so much, I think it’s really only me that can see it. It pains me occasionally but do you know what? I think of that a bit like my scars – a reminder of how far I’ve come since this time last year.

I won’t lie to you – each new bump or blemish I find freaks me out for a while and my poor nurse friend has to read yet another message from me or look at yet another photo from me of some weird angle of my body! BUT the angst is short lived and I remind myself I’ve fought it and kicked it’s ass.

Sea swimming is still happening but a lot less regularly as I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to turning blue in the Atlantic. But wet suits are being investigated and I promise to update you – I really hope I don’t end up in A&E with a comedy injury trying to get in or out of it!!!

I know that some of my lovely readers are really struggling mentally with yet another lockdown. I’ve shed some tears myself that I won’t be with my family this Christmas. But we will all come through this and maybe it will force us to be more appreciative of our friends & family. Appreciate how lucky we are when we can travel again. Of course, we will forget, we’re fallible, but for now that’s what’s getting me through this. That when we do get to meet again or when we are allowed to explore new places again, that we will take a moment to really savour it all and be thankful.

I leave you with a video of my beach walk this week. No filters, just Mother Nature being amazing

A question for you on this momentous week

This Friday – September 25 – will be the first day of NO MEDS! More on that later, let me bring you up to date for those of you lucky enough not to follow me on Faceback.

As you know, my scan had come back clear which only left a trip to the oncologist for confirmation of when Mr T & Mr M could leave my life.

Originally I was due to see him this week but this got moved forward several weeks. Imagine if I hadn’t had the scan results? I would’ve been in total panic mode. In reality I guess the quicker oncology could sign me off, the better it is for them.

So off I trundled to CUH where they are dealing with the problems of Covid & social distancing incredibly well. There is a tiny upside to Covid – it’s super easy to park in CUH now, even for a non reverser like me & Gordon (the car). Downside is you can’t lurk in the coffee shop pretending you look intelligent and that you’re secretly a doctor….maybe that’s just me!

My appointment was at 4pm but as soon as I arrived I could see something wasn’t quite running smoothly. The minimal, spaced out chairs were all occupied in comparison to my last visit where it was only me and another patient. By the time my temperature had been taken and we had gone through the Covid questions, a chair had become vacant across from a lady who told me she had been waiting over an hour. Even in ‘normal’ times this was unusual for this clinic.

A nurse was phoning different wards to check on bed availability when a couple were ushered into an office. Time ticked on, a porter arrived with a wheelchair, a hushed conversation ensued. Finally the office door opened where an elderly lady, the couple and the oncologist were clearly making arrangements. Bad news had obviously been given & an emergency admission was presumably the reason for the delays.

As I sat there I felt so sad for this lady and her family. Who knows what kind of hard road they had ahead of them. But I also felt so lucky. I don’t fool myself that there wasn’t a different outcome possibility out there for me and I am so thankful to be writing this as I come to the end of my treatment feeling healthy.

As I drove to CUH I had told myself I would insist on seeing the oncologist rather than one of his team (who I am well aware are perfectly qualified and all that but, you know, top man for me please). After this reality check, when a new doctor called my name I didn’t quibble.

As it turned out we had a lovely chat and he examined me to ensure no new lumps or bumps. There was a small swelling on my right ankle but he put that down to – urghhh – age! He clearly did not receive the memo where we never say OLD and we certainly never say FAT. The words are mature and curvy.

The only question was whether I could finish the meds that week or do another month. The oncologist was required for this. As I suspected would happen, another month had to be taken. But, hey, there really was an end coming up in four weeks. He congratulated me on sticking with the treatment rigidly and doing everything they had advised. I wonder does he realise the power he wields? If he told me to stand on my head everyday for two hours, I would’ve done it.

And that was it! We said our goodbyes, made the joke he probably hears all the time about hoping to never see him again, and we were done. The lovely oncology nurse said she hoped to see me in a pub some time – can’t imagine why she thought I would drink!

Which brings us up to this week where every day has been a countdown – 5 days left, 4 days left etc. It’s hard to imagine going back to a normal breakfast routine.

With that in mind dear reader, here is my question to you. What should I do on Friday to celebrate? What should I treat myself to on Friday morning for breakfast? Don’t forget we live in a remote part of Ireland and we are sticking to the Covid rules. So massive party, champagne flowing and bare chested waiters is probably out of the question. But I really want to hear your suggestions please.

I will let you know what I do. In the meantime, I am still regularly swimming in the Atlantic and the thing I always assumed was a myth – that the water is warmer in September – does appear to be true so far.

I’ll look forward to hearing your suggestions!

The Wild Atlantic Way at tea time

12 months on and scan results

You know when you come back from your holiday (not this year obviously) and you sit at work for at least a week saying ‘this time yesterday’ and ‘this time last week’? Well, this time last year I was just coming round from my operation in CUH, having had the offending lymph nodes removed.

The melanoma had spread through them and was on a fast track of destruction like a Keanu Reeves film.

Thankfully, the incredible team in CUH removed them all and all I had to do was just go through a bit of pain, a bit of treatment and all would be well…….

It’s been a hell of a 12 months. I remember the incredible relief when they told me I wouldn’t have to have chemotherapy. I wouldn’t lose my hair. I’d have this new fabulous treatment called immunotherapy.

I still feel incredibly lucky that I didn’t have to have chemo, but there has been times in the last year that immunotherapy has not felt that fabulous. I’ve wanted to ignore Mr M and Mr T. when I’ve missed out on important events and had a cry on my own.

Let’s be honest, having OH have to help me in the shower has not been one of the highest points in our relationship. For the record, his hair washing skills are not that great.

But here’s the thing. If you are reading this and just starting out on this journey – always try to find the humour, not the misery. Play that damn cancer card if you want to watch a film that OH is literally going to hate – you deserve it.

The other thing is – be good to yourself. Have fun when you can, but also do the right things. Eat the fruit and veg and get yourself out walking in the fresh air. It’s been a hard slog, but most days I walk 11,000 steps now which is about 5 miles. If that seems unreachable to you, just break it up into a few shorter walks throughout the day. And trampoline! I’m telling you – it’s the future! However, always do this without the aid of two ginger kittens – more on them later. Don’t get me wrong – my new found love of pink gin is still very much on the menu!

So that brings us up to last week where I had my CT scan. There is a word amongst cancer patients – scanxiety. I’m a pretty optimistic person, but as you’re sitting in the X Ray department, drinking that weird squash before your scan, all kinds of thoughts race through your head. And that’s not even mentioning what you can imagine in the middle of the night while you’re waiting for the results.

Let me cut to the chase. My results came through and they are completely clear!!!! The oncologist rang to say he knew I’d been worried about the scan – you will recall I wanted the scan in June – so wanted to give me the results as quickly as possible. When the call was over, I sat and had a cry. Over all the bad news, I barely cried. Here was some amazing news and I was sobbing.

As I said to my friend later, I don’t think I’d realised how long I had been holding my breath.

Of course, as I started to text my family & friends, I sobbed some more, just reading their reactions.

Losing Rog, the Ginger Prince, earlier this year hurt so much and I really didn’t know if I would love a new kitty as much. But the house has been empty without him. It wasn’t an easy decision but when two baby gingers became available for adoption, it was basically fate in action.

When we first got Rog, the vet told us having a ginger cat was not like any other cat. She was right. So of course, it made total sense to double that madness this time round! Please meet Butch and Sundance.

They have brought joy back into the house and the scan results have sealed that joy today.

I have to see the meds through to the end, which is a few weeks yet. I will see the oncologist in September who will hand me back over to the wonderful surgical team. They will then monitor me for the next five years.

I will still blog about my ongoing scans and tests but I want to say thank you to everyone who has sent me such fabulous messages in the last twelve months. Every single message has helped me beat this damn thing.

Finally let me tell you that sea swimming has become a regular fixture in my life and each swim still makes me feel so alive and exhilarated. If you’re in any way able to try it – give it a go. OH goes as well now and we roar with laughter. It’s an amazing release where you forget all your troubles just for a while.

A hospital visit during a pandemic and when good news is a bit confusing

Living in a pretty remote part of Ireland means that lockdown and general pandemic chaos really hasn’t been so bad. Truth be told, it’s been very peaceful. The beach has been empty, so safe for me to venture out and OH has done all the shopping. Of course, there’s been down sides – yet more missed visits with friends I’ve already missed from last year & I’ve not seen the rest of the family since Christmas. But we’ve not experienced the empty shelves or the queuing outside of supermarkets and, more importantly, we’ve not had anyone close to us contract Covid.

I tell you this so that you will take pity on me as I appear to have become incapable of reading large yellow signs on windows & doors.

As you know, I don’t allow OH to accompany me to CUH as I prefer a little concert in the car instead. So obstacle number one on the way to my first face to face appointment since February was the petrol station. Having not experienced any shops since lockdown I wasn’t aware I might have to wait outside depending on how many people were already in there. In fact the two gents by the door, did give me a strange look as I sailed past them, but I assumed it was because I was wearing a mask. I did hear someone shout something from the cash desk, but it couldn’t be at me, could it? I then wondered round the shop to look for sweets. Did I notice the yellow arrows on the floor? Errrm, no. Only once I realised I was corralled & couldn’t reach the cash desk, did it occur to me there might be a problem. Having retraced my steps, the cashier gave me a stern talking to and hadn’t I read the sign on the door? I paid up and hurried on my way. Did I learn my lesson?

Well I wish I could say yes. I had two appointments in CUH, the lymphedema clinic and the oncology consultant. They were both being held in the Orchid Centre which is off the main hospital entrance so I wouldn’t have to go into any other departments. I’m an old hand at these appointments now so I just waltzed on in to the lady at the desk. She stared at me like I was from another planet. Did you not see the large sign on the door? I know, you see the pattern. She dispatched me back to the outer door of the clinic to wait for a nurse. The nurse took my temperature, ensured I’d not been poorly in the last week etc and showed me how to use hand sanitiser. I was then allowed in where the lady at the desk ignored me for a while. In truth, it’s what I would’ve done as well.

The lymphedema clinic was a big success. I’ve lost a couple of inches on my leg and she was delighted to hear about my sea swimming and trampolining.

The next appointment was supposed to be with the oncology consultant but I was called in by one of his team. He examined me – checked over where any scary lumps might be – all good. He then said that he would book my scan for August. Hang on a minute! August? I wasn’t happy. I had been told July. This might seem like a matter of weeks, but when you’re waiting for a certain reassurance, another 4/6 weeks is a long time.

I think this is where my mask came in handy. He could only see my eyes, no accompanying smile. He decided he wasn’t prepared to argue the point with me and trundled off to get the consultant.

I’m a pretty optimistic person and I know that outlook has got me through all of this, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t the occasional dark thought. Any strange pain can be imagined into all kinds of things at 4 in the morning.

The oncologist arrived, no doubt having been told some awkward bird was waiting for him. He was, as ever, kind and charming. He explained the scan would be in August as then there would only be one more month of treatment left. I told him how it was hanging over my head. Of course, what can he say? Only that the treatment is going well & that because I am lucky enough to get this treatment I am 50% less likely that the melanoma will return. There is no arguing with that, so August it is. He said that all my bloods are excellent so he wasn’t worried at all. As a friend said to me later – if there’s nothing to worry about, why have the scan at all??

Here’s the good news that messed with my head a little. Come the end of September my meds will finish. Mr T & Mr M will be no more. So having bombarded my body with this poison – life saving & incredibly expensive, clever poison – for 12 months, one day I just stop. No weaning off them, no bells, lights & whistles, just stop. Having lived this regulated life around them – drugs that you can over dose on – that’s it, last tablet done, it’s over.

I know that this is MASSIVELY good news. Don’t get me wrong. I know that, yet again, I have been blessed to have been in Ireland and to have all the right things fall into place that I could get this treatment. I just feel so weird about it finishing. Our lives have changed so much around the operation and the treatment. Actually the nurse at my GPs described it as similar to a bereavement. That you are almost grieving for the person you were before all of this happened.

Come September, I will be handed back to the surgical team who will start with regular check ups – pretty much back where I was in 2009 when I merrily rang my friend in Dublin to say my check ups were over, I was cancer free.

Sometimes when I start to write my blog, I surprise myself at what comes out. This was one of those days! Life is good, OH swims in the sea with me, I’m walking 5 miles a day and I can venture into the village shop (masked up obv) to choose my own wine!!

How could you not swim in that? Bliss!

Me and the Ocean on World Ocean Day

Today is World Ocean Day. Those of you that have the dubious pleasure of working with me will know I love to mark a specific day – my fave still being International Women’s Day. But I’m quite happy to celebrate Pie Day, St David’s Day and Yorkshire Day – I’d merrily celebrate Martini Day but it doesn’t exist…yet.

My family have all been drawn to the coast in various parts of the world so I guess it must’ve been in our blood somewhere along the line.

Over the years I’ve had various tangles with the sea, probably the most notable was the incident I alluded to previously when on holiday in Portugal.

It was my first foreign holiday with OH back in 1998. We already lived together so it wasn’t as if he didn’t know I was a bit of a wuss when it came to outdoor activities, but he was Mr Super Fit so I may have exaggerated my swimming skills to make it look like I at least did some form of exercise.

We stayed in Montechoro which was a pretty new resort at the time, just down the coast from Alvor and Albufeira. It was late September so the weather was perfect for my pale skin but also meant the sea could be quite rough.

I had swum in the sea most days so my confidence was high. The tide was erratic and often a big wave would hit the beach unexpectedly, sending sun worshipers scurrying for all their belongings before they got swept away.

This particular day we were both in the sea but OH was actually further in than me. We were jumping the waves as they came in. Suddenly a huge wave came out of nowhere and over OH’s head. He is 6ft. I remember him turning towards me and in that split second I decided, stupidly, that I would try to leap the wave!!

Of course, that meant my feet were no longer on the ground and I was part of the wave. I would love to tell you I looked like I was surfing the wave. Actually the wave picked me up, smashed me onto the sea bed, picked me back up and deposited me back on the beach.

It was over in seconds. OH ran out of the sea to find me sitting on the beach, covered in shingle, legs bleeding and bikini half off. I also couldn’t hear a damn thing in one ear. I wanted to cry – OH probably wanted to laugh looking at the state of me. We hobbled up the beach, packed up and went back to the apartment.

It soon became apparent – when my ear started to bleed – that all was not well and a few cocktails was not actually the cure. We found a doctor who prescribed Tramal. I figured I’d had Tramil before so it would be fine. Wrong! He advised me to take them straight away with some water and get some sleep. We headed back to our pool, got into a shady spot under a parasol and I went to sleep.

As if the day had not already been mortifying enough, there was more to come. I had a VERY bad reaction to the drugs. We were still poolside and I needed to throw up quickly. I knew I couldn’t make it to our apartment so I had to go to the pool bar toilets. In I went only to discover two girls in there touching up their already perfect make up. I was pouring with sweat and probably green. They stared at me with outright disgust. I rushed into the loo and threw up a weeks worth of Portuguese dinners.

It gets worse. I heard them saying to each other ‘she’s had far too much to drink’ and ‘you think she’d know better’. Honestly, I don’t know which was worse – the fact they thought I couldn’t hold my drink or that they thought I was clearly older than them and should know better.

All of that said, I still adore the sea and the fact that I now live next to the Atlantic Ocean is a constant source of joy to me.

Our move to Ireland has not been as we had hoped. My melanoma diagnosis, the subsequent ongoing treatment, losing the Ginger Prince and then Covid. But here’s the thing, in amongst all of that I have made some wonderful new friends, reconnected with old friends, told friends how much I love them AND discovered that I am brave enough to swim in the ocean when it’s 11 degrees and chucking it down with rain.

My next step is the consultant and another scan. My blood pressure is down and, even though I am exhausted some days, my leg is less swollen, I do 10,000 steps every day and I’ve not killed myself on the trampoline.

Always find the little triumphs every day.

Words I never thought I’d say

Apologies yet again for the lack of blogs. I’d merrily write every day but I suspect you don’t want to hear about my daily TV viewing, my current crush on Boxer in White Lines, or what I’ve cooked for tea whilst trying to resist drinking wine every night.

However, I do think you want to know about THE TRAMPOLINE. Yes, said fancy trampoline arrived and OH literally could not wait to assemble it. I’m sure he was looking forward to hysterical laughing fits over the various comedy injuries I was about to sustain.

For those of you wondering why I would want to put myself through this, it is apparently incredibly good for moving fluid through your lymph system. Because so many of my lymph nodes have been removed due to the melanoma, I have developed lymphedema in my left leg. That means that my leg swells at a fairly alarming rate every day. Cast your minds back to when we were allowed to fly and sometimes your ankles would swell on the flight (or in the heat of the holiday after too much alcohol – so I hear!!). My left leg does this every day and can become really quite sore as the skin stretches. It’s also tiring as it feels so damn heavy.

So that’s the joy of lymphedema & I have basically decided I will do everything I can to alleviate it.

Just to be clear – me & exercise are not close buddies, we’re not even acquaintances. I had a brief spell of visiting a gym when I was single in my 30s. But that was more about putting on the leggings, prancing about for a while and then lounging in the sauna. I soon packed it in when OH suggested we might want to attend the gym together! There was even talk of me picking up weights! He didn’t know me back then.

Anyhoo, I digress. There are different exercises that can be done on the trampoline. You can go hell for leather, bouncing for a solid 20 minutes. I recommend this is done in private. A beetroot face and sweat pouring off you is never a good look. You can also do a more gentle exercise where you place your hands over different areas of your body – your spleen, your liver, your heart & notably your lymph system. Again this takes about 20 minutes of gentle bouncing, but you really do feel refreshed after it.

I know the answer you all want to know. Has there been any accidents – either of the injury variety OR the embarrassing type. Well I am happy to report that, other than discovering you must wear a sports bra, no injuries have been sustained and no embarrassing mishaps either.

The next thing I’m going to tell you is probably the most shocking. I have been swimming in the sea! Even though swimming is about the only vaguely sporty thing I can do, I would never have thought I would have the confidence to swim in the sea.

I mean the sea – actually it’s the Atlantic Ocean – it’s huge, it’s magnificent, it’s a little bit terrifying. But, again, I have been told it will do wonders for my lymphedema. The actual lapping of the water against your skin encourages the lymphatic fluid to move.

With that goal, we trotted off to the beach on Saturday. Here in Kerry we’ve not been blessed with the amazing weather a lot of you have been having, but I’d made up my mind I was doing this. OH had already said he wouldn’t be doing it so he was like I usually am at a funfair – left with the coats & bags. I had decided I would wear my swimming costume and a t-shirt as I only intended to go waist deep. I also thought I would freeze, turn blue, die of hypothermia- you know, nothing too dramatic.

It turned out that the minute I was in, I wished I’d left the t-shirt behind. It was AMAZING! It is so exhilarating. The waves roll at you and slap you on your body. Even though it’s loud it’s both exciting and peaceful at the same time.

When I came out, not only was I not cold or blue or hypothermic, I was buzzing. I didn’t need the thick fleece I’d brought with me. I felt alive.

The following day the sun decided to visit Co Kerry and we headed to the beach again. This time I didn’t bother with the t-shirt, straight in with just my cossie. The water was actually warm. I don’t mean just in random places where someone might have had a tinkle – come on, we’ve all done it (although OH insists he never has) – this was actually bliss on my skin.

I have no idea if all of this is having the desired result. I’m only just starting out. But I do know that whilst Mr T & Mr M are still kicking my ass every now & then, I finally feel like I am taking back control of my body.

OH is being pretty smug about the whole exercise thing being good for me – he’s about a millimetre away from saying I told you so. Time is ticking on and June will be here soon when it will be scan time to make sure nothing else has spread anywhere.

I can totally see how people become addicted to sea swimming. The sea has always been a magnet for me so maybe it was just waiting for me to discover it properly.

Here are a few snaps OH took. Probably not my most glamorous look but I hope they capture my joy

As an added bonus, I won €20 on the euro millions on Saturday – put that positivity out to the Universe and it responds. Obviously, a couple of extra zeros on the end would’ve helped but a win is a win!!! Stay safe.

Good days, bad days and tribulations of the sea

Haven’t put ‘pen to paper’ for a few weeks & I thought I’d better catch up with you all. I’ve always tried to make this blog as positive and upbeat as possible but I am aware that a Pollyanna attitude can be annoying if you’re having a bad day. With that in mind I thought I’d just share a little snippet of what OH has to put up with – obviously this is EXTREMELY rare….!

As you know, since my op I have suffered with lymphedema in my left leg which means I have to wear a very attractive compression garment to keep the swelling under control and make my leg feel less like a lead weight.

As I’ve started to feel so much better in myself, I’ve equally started to resent this garment and try to go a couple of days without wearing it in the hope that all this damn exercise (more on that later) will prove a miracle cure & I can throw the damn thing away.

Anyhoo, it’s a bit of a palaver to squeeze yourself into it each morning, especially if you’ve lolled around in your pjs for a couple of hours before getting dressed – no judging please, I know you’re all doing the same in lockdown life.

Swimming, or even just being in the water, is a great help towards easing lymphedema. As pools are closed, that’s out of the question but we do happen to have the Atlantic Ocean on our doorstep. The beach – any beach – is my favourite place to be. OH isn’t that keen, he prefers woods and mountains, but he has long given up that fight.

Probably because he is sick of me moaning about ‘my fat leg’ he is keen to get me in the sea. Or he could be planning an ‘accidental’ drowning. So we have been heading down to our deserted beach for a paddle which he knows I love. In my defence, we generally go every other day and do a different walk in between (can you already tell I’m making excuses for my bad behaviour?).

We had been to the beach the previous day so this particular morning I had already squeezed myself into my garment of torture & was dressed, ready to walk. OH waltzes out in his shorts, towel under his arm, geared up for a paddle. It was a waltz too far. As I stood in my odd socks (one foot has a sock, the other a compression) and a muffin top (garment pushes everything up), ‘why couldn’t you tell me that was the plan today’ (we never really have a plan) & ‘you’re so thoughtless’ (he so isn’t) followed by ‘I’m sick of looking like this’ (he always says I look lovely). He then made the fatal mistake of ‘but you loved it yesterday’ – well that was yesterday pal (I didn’t actually say that out loud) !!

Did I climb down off my high horse and apologise? Was OH left wondering where he went wrong by offering to take me to my favourite place? What do you think? Or did OH end up apologising for something he has no power over whatsoever??

My point is, we all have bad days and days we are way too hard on ourselves which sometimes manifests itself as being bad tempered, moody and snappy with others – usually the ones we love the most. I think the important thing is, is to examine what’s brought it on and then remind yourself how much better you are than a few weeks or months ago. It’s probably to apologise as well, but hey ho…

In amongst all of that, I have paddled in the sea and dug my feet (both feet) in the sand for the first time since last July and it was absolute bliss. I am seriously considering buying a wetsuit and going all the way in! My health is improving each day and my BP has gone to a fabulous 135/78. Mr M & Mr T still make themselves known with a smash of nausea here & there for no apparent reason, maybe just to remind me not to get too complacent.

I had intended to tell you a story of an unfortunate incident in then sea in Portugal but I’ve babbled on enough, so another time! Next week is bloods and ECGs again.

Keep safe, not just from the virus but out in the sun. Please don’t burn for the sake of a tan. It is really not worth it.

First paddle since July 2019