hair, happiness, health.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Stop The World! I have to get back on.

"Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled About the centre of the silent Word." ~ T.S Eliot

All too soon, my six week appointment comes around.  Oh, I'm not dreading the news, my lovely surgeon telephoned three weeks after the operation and gave me the fantastic news that it had been a success, there were no nasty tumours in my womb, (did she really have to be taken out?  Can I really afford to think about that?) and that the surgery was the conclusion to my treatment.

"Come and see me in three weeks time, we'll see that you've healed up, and we can sign you off and you can get on with your life"

He has a slight Aussie accent and a cheery disposition and dresses like any male consultant gynaecologist I ever scrubbed for or have been examined by.

I am no stranger to cancer.  I nursed many sufferers, my mum died in my arms of this's horrible, so cruel to so many, so why was I not quite ready for my journey to end?

I had not felt fear during any of this, it was debilitating and did not allow me to carry on my normal life.  Perhaps that's why I loved it so.  It was a big hand, held up just for me,

"Stop the world," it's voice said,"this woman needs to get off."

I've been saying the same myself, for years, but no-one listened.  Dave and I talked, argued, cried, all in the allotted time between waking and him driving to the office, but when he had to go, he had to go.  I would pick myself up from the floor, the callousness of his walking away, listening for him to return to comfort me, part of me praying that he would not.  He never did.

We discussed the weight of his work some time back.  It comes first, it always has.  It pays the bills and feeds the kids, I can't argue with it.  When he admitted that it was his life, he was his work, I felt relieved, and excused of some of my failings, realising that I had been alone much of the time.  I feel at my most lonely when I'm with him, and his BlackBerry.  However much 'making time for ourselves' I engineered, I never managed to get his attention.

Cancer got his attention.  It made time for ourselves.  Dave looked at me and I could feel him seeing me.  The world no longer whirled, it slowed, and there we were in the moment, laughing at something silly.  I wasn't afraid of it ( I was genuinely more afraid of the dental treatment I had to have in preparation for possible chemotherapy)  and he admired my courage, my brave and positive approach.  He said as much, to me and to other people where usually, he ignores me, or goes into a jokey routine about how awful I am.

And now, all too soon, we're sitting in the waiting room, me knowing that I'm going to be signed off (consigned back) and him emailing, on his BlackBerry.

Postscript: I do not think of my lack of fear as courage.  I view it as a slightly worrying, if useful, detachment from reality. And of course we never go back, only forward.  I am happy to report that Dave still sees me.  Out of bad comes good.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Same Sky

I came out of it all right, the hysterectomy.  The same fields where I had wept goodbye to my reproductive system in the dark on a murky Sunday night dog walk were waiting for me when I managed the  same walk six weeks later, shyly showing off their very early spring green clothes.  The fields and I, we'd both had a long winter.

I feel like the land is there for me more than people (Dave excluded)  probably because I didn't let them in on this, and journeyed alone, as is my silly way.  I see this land every day; it knows my secret heart.

As for the rest of it, I'm glad I made hay whilst the sun shone.
The surgical menopause into which I have been plunged, headlong, is not so bad either.  There are night sweats, a headache here and there, and hot flushes as I drop off or wake up, or get hungry or anxious, but that's all.  Hormonally I've always been on a storm-tossed sea. There have been exciting adventures, glorious sunsets, thrilling beautiful and terrifying storms, dark cold and lonely drowning, but now its as though my vessel has finally landed in a calm safe cove.  The water is rich with the mystery of the deep, there are cliffs and rocks, sand and caves, mountains beyond, and I have all the time in the world to explore.

 Dave has been there for me, he would die for me, I know that.  He's relieved that I don't need him to be around as much as we had both feared in my recovery because he is his work, it is his life, there's not room for too much else.

That's where I am this Mothering Sunday morning, as the yellow sun peeps over the neighbour's roof and I wait for my children to come, with their children, and cook.  Let's just hope they wash up.

Monday, 20 January 2014

The Horror Stories

This picture isn't relevant in any way to the post...but sometimes you just need a pretty picture
If you’re reading this before your operation…know that you are facing going through something that you probably haven’t got much choice over.  You want to be well.  You’re trusting your surgeon and your caregivers. Choose to trust them and the Universe to take care of you.  Surround yourself with positive stories and people. You may well encounter folk like the one I’m describing below, because people are bloomin thoughtless.  They just are.  Shut your ears, and know that you’ll be OK. I was, and still am, amazed at how far surgical technique has advanced since my days as a nurse, and how easy and honest to Goddess painless my post-op period was.

“You are not going to be able to do anything after this op, for a long time. We looked after my mother’s friend after and it was awful, she was in complete agony.”

O well cheers for that.  Inexplicably (for I have been stoic before) I feel a sliding earthquake-like shifting of my centre, a sense of panic.  I’m standing in the clinic at work, where I have waited for the last mum and baby to leave before explaining to my colleagues that I’m going to be away for a while. I struggle to respond to her words.  What does she want me to do, or say to that? Trying to sound upbeat and positive still, I say,

“My surgeon says I might be able to get keyhole, so that would be an easier recovery…”

Too late, I remember this person’s keyhole surgery stories come in a selection which she flicks through like a Roladex at any given time and recites word perfectly every time keyhole surgery comes up.  I swear I heard that thing whirring and she stopped it on the card marked ‘the worst things you can think of’, none of which were a surprise to me as I am, after all, a trained nurse.  But then she hit on the jackpot.  The horror story that fit straight into my worst horror;  waking up mid-operation.
Many, many years ago, before advances in anaesthetic drugs and technique, as part of my training I accompanied a nice woman into theatre and was allowed to watch her surgery.  It was a quick procedure and once it was over she seemed to wake, just a few seconds before we got her out of the stirrups and into recovery, she sat up and yanked out her breathing tube…it looked horrific but she didn't remember anything about it when I carefully questioned her on the ward afterwards.  It was a long time ago, but I was young, new to operating theatres, and it kinda stuck with me.

I couldn't listen to her story again. I simply got up and walked out of the room, into the other room with the coffee machine and all the health visitors.  They looked at me, puzzled, whilst I fiddled with the machine and ended up drinking water out of one of the coffee cups whilst reading a list on the wall.

It took me a while before I realised that I actually know the horror stories pertaining to this cancer and the operation I’m facing, because I lived them once. It was a long while ago and I was a young woman, pregnant with my fourth baby and full of hope and sadness.  My lovely sweet mum, my children’s nana, had this cancer, and she died.  So I know.  I know in my heart and belly and head how wrong this could go and how that might look, in fact, at the moment I’m having a hard time seeing it from any other angle.

I crumpled the cup and walked back in to clinic, where the conversation had progressed to other matters.  What can you say to someone like that?  Really, I mean I actually think she wanted a reaction so I decided to not give it to her.  I just took her little gift home, and tried my best to un-hear it all.

I spoke to my surgeon during my consultation about my fears and feelings and what I had seen.  He listened, and heard me, and urged me to speak to the booking nurse, and the anaesthetist on the day of surgery, at length, about my fears of anaesthetic. This is such a common fear, and these folk were all so lovely, amazingly reassuring and understanding of me.  The anaesthetist didn’t just brush my fears away, he really listened and spoke at length to reassure me, and later on he remembered our conversation when I met him in the anaesthetic room right before surgery.  So if you have these fears too, please, please don’t do that ‘I’m fine’ stoical thing before hand, just be honest and speak to your caregivers about it. I know my words might sound hollow to you in the middle of your fears, but my experience of vaginal hysterectomy and the surgical menopause that followed were just amazingly positive. On a work related forum, as I explained my break from doulaing, a kindly soul kept trying to get me to grieve for my loss, and maybe I'll get around to it sometime, but so far the subsequent three years since this happened have just been full of the best health I've ever enjoyed in my life so I'm busy enjoying that. 

How have things been for you?

Friday, 17 January 2014


I saw the gynaecological oncologist and there were no surprises.  Hysterectomy.  Ovaries and tubes and cervix to go.  Heavy on the relish.  Sorry for my awful taste in jokes, its just that despite Dave being incredibly wonderful and supportive, and the gynae chap being very confident and approachable, its still just so surreal to be discussing my interior like this. There's lots to process, but I do feel unbelievably positive about it all, and I feel excited to see the person I will be after this operation.

 I am sorry to lose my womb, and awed that she is sacrificing herself for my well being, having contained the cancer and warned me loud and clear that something was wrong.  She has been the repository for all my feelings of self-loathing and fear, all my unworthiness, resentment and guilt.  She has protected me from myself by containing my worst and most self-destructive forces, and now she is to be taken from me. And Mr Gynae will think about it but he can't really see me being allowed to take her home to be buried under my tree in the garden along with most of the placentas that she managed to nurture.

On the down side, I'm utterly shit-scared of the anaesthetic, and the after-effects of it.  I'm also apprehensive of the sudden removal of the organs secreting what hormones I had left...I will be thrust straight into a surgical menopause.  What will that look like?  (On the forums it looks like 23 separate threads all with the word 'meltdown' in the titles)
That's another thing, how will sex be afterwards?  I recall fondly Dave and I, just a month or two ago.  I want to do it one last time with all my bits in place still, but there's pain and tenderness and something dark and not well...I don't know.

I'm not too worried.  Things could be a whole load worse, and face it, I'm like a rat in a trap, there's nowhere else to go with this...there's no point in adding worry to the pot.  All will be well.  All is well. All manner of thing shall be well. Said Juliana of Norwich.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014


It's quiet and cold at home, and I have plenty to be getting on with, but it feels like I'm waiting for something.  I'm up to date with the doctors, and on a new round of pills, and she has confirmed that she can't find a reason for my constant nagging back pain.  I must have just strained it, doing all this laying about.

She read out my biopsy result: 'atypical hyperplasia'.   The GP said she didn't know what that meant, the consultant would explain, and that an appointment should be through soon, so I left it at that.

The dog and I went for a walk across the farmland in brilliant winter sunshine and the air was as cold as a steel knife.  We made it a long walk, and as I put my key in the door and picked up the letter laying on the mat, I thought of hot tea.  Boots off, kettle on, letter open.  Come and discuss your biopsy results with the gynaecological oncology team.  Oh.  Ok. That tells me quite a bit about how the next few months might go.  I guess I need to Google 'atypical hyperplasia', which must be cancerous or pre-cancerous cells, as the oncology team are now taking care of me.  Standing in my arctic kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil, I let the unwritten but certain knowledge sink in that I was going to lose my womb to a hysterectomy.

I know this sounds mad, but after the initial shock came relief.  My body relaxed, knowing that finally, someone had heard and understood its cries for help.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Invisible Woman

This is a snippet from my diary in 2013 in the months before my hysterectomy, whilst I was bleeding constantly due to endometrial hyperplasia,  and also beginning my menopausal transformation.  I don't view it as a negative experience at all, although reading it was tough at times.   I descended to the underworld alone and came back with treasures. I feel whole, and healed, a crone now with a life of riches and excitement still.  This was my transition year, my journey.   I found that it took a lot of energy to be a menstrual person as I got older.  The glorious energies of my dreams and vibrancy of my life faded with my hormones as they tipped out of balance.  A beautiful but heart-breaking dream of a sailing ship departing my home on a deep red sea foretold the end of my menstrual life.  A combination of pathology and normal aging in my case I feel. I share this because it's a normal story of an ordinary woman's life, and women's stories should be shared.  

I am truly in a wilderness, an inhospitable place like a barren desert.  I'm lost.  Just outside my peripheral vision, on line and in real life, I can see people getting on with their lives and activities, stuff I was once part of until I just couldn't face people any more. 

Gradually over the last year, I have faded from their vision and from their minds.  Hell, I seem to have faded from my own vision, and my own mind.  I can't connect with anyone emotionally ( I can't even go next door for a cuppa when she asks me, and I really really like her) and I seem to have rendered myself invisible, even when I'm right in the middle of the action.

After 15 years of school runs, school plays, school concerts, school friends, school gossip and school everything, suddenly no-one goes to school any more.  I couldn't wait to be free of the place, but in becoming so, I realise that it was an anchor to my life.  As was the presence of my offspring at home...working or at college, they needed lifts here and there all day and then feeding at the end of it.  Now  there's only one left, and one occasional returnee.

I should feel so free.  I don't even drum anymore...the group I performed with split, and the new splinter implored me to join.  The group I belonged to before them said 'come back...come to a rehearsal...just come out for fun...any time...' And a fourth group offered, actually approached me and offered.  I was so flattered, but said I was taking a break.  How could I explain that I can't even drum anymore because I can't locate my own heartbeat at the moment...I've lost my rhythm.

I went to Church!  ME!  Mrs irreverent, smoking, tattooed, drinking, swearing, pagan biker actually went to my local church to the utter bewilderment of my family, and sang hymns and listened to a preacher.  I prayed with my community, and took tea and biscuits among the octogenarian population of my village most of whom were more vital, fit, engaged and involved than I.  The people were very kind even though I couldn't connect with it at all. There was nothing there for me but I appreciated their welcome.

I spent a Saturday sobbing in my car in the little car park which served the woodlands next to which was my childhood home.  Thank Goddess it was raining so no-one saw me, although some sodden dog walkers hovered near my car momentarily. I couldn't interrupt my tears, and part of me prayed that they wouldn't see me whilst the other part desperately wanted them to.  Over Christmas my forester son had come home and we had walked these woods, me telling him of my childhood camps there, and he identifying wild service trees, and Douglas firs, and Jew's ear fungus.  With my boy gone back to his home, I looked through steamy car windows into my forest and in the absence of my long departed parents and the other families who lived around the woods whilst I  was growing up,  it seemed to contain my essence.

Down the road was the big supermarket where mum and I shopped and drank coffee every Thursday of her final year.  I drove there from the forest car park when I had finally run dry of tears (around six hours)  and got a cup of water for my pills.  I sat there, like a bag lady, alone and invisible to myself whilst the rest of the world buzzed around me.  It would be nice to work here, the women behind the counter seem very cheery.

I need a break, I need help, I need a life, I need to give, and to receive, and probably not take the whole thing so seriously.

Very soon after this, I collapsed from the loss of so much blood over the months, and received with so much gratitude, four units of someone's blood, along with their real and vital life essence, or so it felt.  A biopsy revealed that endometrial cancer was a very strong possibility along with endometrial hyperplasia caused by an ovarian problem.  That diagnosis, and the care I received during my illness, was the key to my healing,  which felt like it began in the moment of receiving my diagnosis. The pain of everything else was past, and I returned to the gym renewed from the  blood transfusions and despite my continued blood loss, to prepare for surgery, healing and re-entering life.  I have never looked back.  I honoured my womb's sacrifice, and grieved her, but not for too long because she remains in spirit, and I remain in love and life.
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