A couple of days before Christmas, I took Wee P and Chris’s grown up daughter, B,  to the beautiful production of “Cinderella” by Scottish Ballet.  It was a sparkly, festive evening, which, naturally, saw our gal, Cinders getting her man, ably assisted by her fairy godmother.

I’ve always had a liking for fairy godmothers (apart from their strict “home by midnight” policy, which flies against all that I believe in, and is certainly not conducive to copping off with handsome princes.  Seriously, scarcely time to down enough inhibition-loosening cava to dare to sneak in a cheeky wee snog!)  Fun-denying clockwatching aside, their plump figures, penchant for glitter and slightly hapless good intentions remind me of, well, me.

Recently, I’ve been pondering what I would do with magical fairy powers and the gifts I would impart with such skills and I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the most  important gifts I could give would be the Gift of Not Giving a Shit  (NB.  Inevitably, I would be expelled from the College of Benevolent Sorcery for being a bit uncouth and potty-mouthed.)  Of course, I don’t mean not giving a shit in a not-caring about other people, being ruthless and uncompassionate way, more in a “dance like nobody’s watching” (boke!) way.

Over the last two years I have had an abundance of opportunity for reflection thrust upon me and on the whole, I’d say that so far, stoopid cancer aside, I’m pretty happy with the way my life is and has been.  I’ve travelled a bit, lived abroad, have a truly happy marriage and wonderful family and an active social life.   One of my biggest regrets though, is the ridiculous amount of time I have wasted worrying about what other people think of me, whether I’m being judged harshly and whether I’m conforming to what’s expected of me.    I’m quite  embarrassed to think that it took me nearly 40 years to realise that life would be so much freer and happier if I wasn’t fretting over whether people would think badly of me or pity me for living in a rented house, for never quite establishing myself in any career in spite of my education, for being a bit scruffier than most of the other mums at school and for maintaining an, at best, shambolic household.   Worrying about this nonsense is inhibiting and serves no positive purpose.

At long last, I have realised that most people probably don’t care about any of this crap and that if they do, well, it doesn’t actually impact upon me (or reflect well on them), anyway!   It’s very liberating and in many ways, I am so much happier than I have ever been, in spite of the unwelcome squatter, hell-bent on destruction, that has taken up residence in my innards.  When time ceases to seem infinite, contentment seems like a good enough goal.

Maybe you are truly laid back and confident and are reading this thinking “well DUH!”  But maybe somebody reading is just like I was, and am trying not to be, and therefore, as your self-appointed fairy godmother I am drenching you in mystical fairy dust (ok, cheap glitter from Home Bargains) and telling you that it REALLY doesn’t matter if your pumpkin comes from Lidl, not Waitrose (you can put the money you save towards spangly crystal footwear) or your gown is from Primark not Harvey Nicks, what matters is having a ball at the Ball.  And you can stay out as late as you flippin’ well like too!



How it all began. Or “Oh Shit!”

In September 2013, during a wonderful family holiday in the Charente- Maritime, I began to have slightly inconvenient reactions to alcohol, absolutely not what you want to experience when you’re relaxing in wine country.  Every time I had a glass though, I experienced sharp pains, so I enjoyed a more or less teetotal  holiday and thought little of it.

A month or so later, I started to experience these sharp pains more frequently and was also suffering heartburn regularly.  I decided it was all caused by my coil and had it removed.  My doctor diagnosed a stomach ulcer and gave me a prescription for this.  For a couple of weeks this seemed to lessen the symptoms but soon I was suffering from a frequent upset stomach, I was exhausted  and occasionally vomitting. The uphill walk to collect Wee P from school had gone from taking me 10-15 minutes to feeling like a mountaineering challenge.  And the stabbing pains persisted.  I began to be sent home from work on a regular basis.  By December I had been to the GP (not my usual doctor) several times, had a few different bloods and stool tests (yeuch!)  done and although my blood count was low but iron levels not depleted (I’ve since learned this is a very strong indicator of cancer) and my liver function was off, she didn’t seem too concerned.  When I complained that the pain was sometimes excruciating, I was advised to take paractamol.  (I am still very bitter about this!)  Eventually, I was given a non-urgent referral to a gastroenterologist just before Christmas.  It would take 12 weeks to get an appointment.   The symptoms persisted and I had a painful and agitated Christmas.  At some point, Chris, my husband asked if I had been tested for cancer.  I exploded.  I couldn’t believe he would consider such a thing and put such a worry in my head.  But on Christmas Day I had flashes of concern and a weird feeling that this would be my last festive season.

On Hogmanay, after a trip to the museum and a bus journey home that felt like an endurance test that I was failing, I had one sip of a kir royale and promptly threw up.

Eventually, a few days later, Chris frogmarched me back to the surgery , where I felt like I should be getting some sort of loyalty bonus, and insisted on coming in with me.  We saw a different GP, who finally  showed some real concern and was keen to tackle the pain first, something I felt that the previous doctor has dismissed as me making a fuss about nothing.  He also thought that I should see a consultant as soon as possible. Fortunately, Chris has private medical insurance as a job perk and we decided to go private as it was going to take several weeks for an appointment with an NHS consultant, so the next morning saw me having a telescope shoved up my bum by a rather attractive man I had met mere minutes before, while discussing my daughter’s tap lessons and his childhood hatred for having to endure his sister’s dance shows. Just a typical Saturday morning then.   He had a prod at my stomach (poor man!) and pretty much immediately identified a lump which he said was probably a fibroid.

I was promptly sent for a scan where a woman I had met mere minutes before blew a balloon up in my back passage.  (It was an eventful few days for my poor wee rectum).  So a week or so later  I had an appointment with the consultant, skipped breezily in thinking my mind was about to be set at ease, whereupon he switched on his laptop and showed me a lovely picture of my innards, including a whopping great tumour in my caecum.  (the tumour would soon be christened “The Motherfucker”, much to my own very polite mother’s horror).  Quite the shock!  Chris was with me, luckily, but telling my mum was probably the hardest thing I had ever had to do until that point. (There have been other harder things since, but I’m sure I’ll get to them in the fullness of time).

Anyway, I was fast-tracked for surgery and given follow up chemo intended to zap any remaining bad cells, as pathology showed that there had been spread to some lymph nodes as the tumour itself was advanced, having broken the bowel wall and attached to an ovary, which also had to be removed.  I was fortunate that my bowel was resected without need for a stoma (although my Facebook targetted ads frequently try to tempt me with ileostomy products. Thanks.)

I had four cycles of Capecitabine and Oxaliplatin chemotherapy before being scanned.  At this point, I  was given the completely unexpected (I had genuinely never considered the possibility) and horrific news that the chemo was not working and that a small mark that they had identified on my lung during the initial scan  which had been assumed to be asthma scarring had grown and been joined by a few more spots (motherfuckerlets). Cancer.  More bloody cancer.

My chemo regime was changed to Folfiri, a palliative programme, but with the reassurance that with eventual lung surgery there was still the possibility of a curative outcome.  After 10 more chemo cycles, the lung mark remained the same and was assumed to be dead.  The tumour markers in my blood were at the same level as a cancer-free non-smoker and things were looking promising.  And so after an epic slog of a year,  I ended 2014 on a chemo-free high.

To be continued (if you haven’t all expired from boredom already!)


The Good, the Bad and the Ugg-ly

Not entirely uncharacteristically, I am a bit late to the party when it comes to Aussie sheepskin footwear.  In fact, “late” is a bit of an understatement.  The party is well and truly over, the hangover is fading and even the paranoia has dissipated (“aaaaaaaargh, what did I SAY? Can I ever face these people again?” The Fear! The Fear!) .  In short, Uggs are very definitely out of fashion.  I never had a pair because, frankly, I thought they were pretty hideous and definitely Not My Thing.  Fast forward to winter 2015 and the beginning of a new treatment regime, Regorafenib, a very common side effect of which is Palmar-Plantar syndrome, which causes hot, sore and often ulcerated feet which can become so painful that it’s hard, if not impossible, to walk.  Well, I do not like the sound of this one little bit, and have been moisturising like fury with Udderly cream, a potion with a disturbingly high urea content, originally used for soothing cow’s udders.  (A while back I coined my own slogan: “Udderly Cream – making chemo feet as soft as a cow’s teat”.  Amazingly, I was headhunted by not one single advertising agency, showing a spectacular lack of foresight on their part, I say.)  My hands and feet are checked on a regular basis as part of my assessments by the oncology team and after a foray into town in my lovely, but slightly stiff, new Camper boots, bought direct from the factory in Inca, Mallorca, it appeared that, despite the cow pee cream, my tootsies were starting to peel and were red and hot.  “Wear really comfy warm shoes”, I was told.  So, against my better fashion judgement I found myself ordering some Uggs.  WELL, those babies are AMAZING – like having your feet lovingly hugged by obliging little lambs!  I’m wistfully regretting all the winters that I foolishly let go by without having my plates encased in their woolly goodness, all because I didn’t want to look like an off-duty Katie Price.

In short, if you don’t have some, buy them now. Your feet will thank you.  And so will I as I will no longer be the only tool stomping around town like some saddo paying homage to the fashions of 2006.  Do it for you… and do it for me!

Ringing in the Changes

New Year is of course traditionally a time of merriment and horrendous hangovers followed by positive change or at least really, really good intentions thereof.  (I am a champion in the art of unrealised resolutions, but, hey, it’s the thought that counts!)

Last Hogmanay saw me in a pretty emotional state, delighted to bid an extremely unfond farewell to the absolute bawbag of a year that was 2014 at last, and filled with optimism and hope for a brighter, better 2015.  And, in its own strange way, 2015 was an improvement on its thoroughly shitey predecessor but the good times have come with shocking disappointments and setbacks and a growing acceptance that what we now consider “good news” in the Shooter household is far removed from anything that we ever imagined could be considered uplifting.

Revelations such as “your lung nodule has only grown a mm” are received as news worthy of popping the champagne.  A year ago, a traumatised and much more naive me thought that that lung nodule would be long gone by now, expertly excised by a surgeon who would provide my passport to a “normal” cancer- free life and that I would be forging forward, a fair bit wiser, perhaps occasionally reflecting on That Shitty Year I had Cancer.  Filled with life’s possibilities, I welcomed 2015 as a kind of saviour. A proper fresh start.  Instead, I end the year on the last possible licensed drug available to me, with a smattering of growths fresh since the innocence of last New Year’s Day.

So now I broach 2016 with trepidation.  In theory, it’s a year which looms ominously.  My overwhelming instinct is to crawl into bed around 9pm on Hogmanay, switch out the lights and coccoon myself away until mid-January, when I will emerge (a beautiful butterfly?) and pretend that I am still plodding through 2015 (this glorious year that the medical experts didn’t think I would cark it in.)

But, but, but… in the midst of the fear (and I can’t lie, sometimes it’s overwhelming), I have felt a welcome burst of renewed hope and optimism.  So what, the prognosis doesn’t look good? Actually, I am in no different a state health wise than I was in the summer.  I’m strong, my hair is shining, my cheeks are rosy and when I’m not in a medication-induced fug of exhaustion, I’m having a bloody great time, thank you very much.  There’s scarcely, probably never, a day goes by when I don’t have a good old raucous laugh, I have an amazing pair of gorgeous children who drive me insane and subsume my heart with utter joy in more or less equal measure (often simultaneously) and a husband who continues to astound me with his support, love and excellent and prolific tea-making skills.  My parents love me.  I have a much-treasured extended family, including a beautiful newborn niece, who I plan on getting to know (and corrupt with my devious Auntie ways. Watch out Alasdair and Mel! ).  My friends are a hoot and distraction when needed and a collection of lovely shoulders to cry on when things seem, well, just too much.   I’ve got tickets for the Manics and Neil Young mid-year and a hankering to revisit Kendal Calling. Beavering away in their labs around the country, researchers are coming up with more and more inventive and effective ways of treating this horrible disease and I have a good feeling that when the time comes, I’ll find myself on an amazing trial. One that may be “The Cure”.

I’ve got feck all reason to leave. And so this Hogmanay, you’ll find me in an unflattering party hat,  glass aloft, probably a wee tear in my eye, ringing in the new.  Yup, 2016, I say to you: BRING IT ON!