I hope I never see you again..

I hope I never see you again,’, she said it with a smile and she meant it. The oncologist shook Noel’s hand and wished him and his cancer-free lymph nodes farewell. The day had suddenly got better by one million per cent and a major celebration was in order, preferably involving chips. I’m cheap to keep.

Of course with Bastard Cancer you can never say never, but that 20-minute conversation with Dr Cooper was as good as handing him a badge saying ‘Cancer Free’.

We had stepped into the hospital earlier with some trepidation. A phone call from the booking service on Tuesday had summoned us for a meeting two days later with no explanation as to why. Noel didn’t bat an eyelid, I had a mini meltdown.

I don’t think there’s one day since June 24 2019, when the consultant told us, ‘it’s bad news, I’m afraid’ that the word cancer hasn’t been in my thoughts or on my lips, usually preceded by ‘bastard’ and sometimes, when I was low on my swearing quota, ‘fucking bastard cancer, the bastard’.

From June until December, the journey has been about surgery, zapping and poisoning the tumour and then more surgery to remove the shrunken tumour. Now that surgery is done, we hoped that the journey would be smoother, a road to recovery, picking up running shoes, climbing harness and eventually skis, though that will have to wait until next season.

The pathologists have done their bit, scouring the homeless tumour for bad cells. Of course they found bad cells, that’s why they were cut out, but there were none where they shouldn’t have been. None. They had removed 20 lymph nodes and they were clear. CLEAR. Ha ha, take that, bastard cancer.

So the meeting was to tell us that there was no need for any more chemotherapy. I couldn’t believe my ears, I was in danger of grinning so much my head would fall off. Noel was in mortal peril of actually smiling, it doesn’t happen very often, but this merited a twitching of the corners of the mouth. Hey, make the most of it.

Even though the weather was dull when we went in and when we came out, it seemed somehow brighter. The multi-storey car park glowed inside and didn’t smell of wee. Our every turn to the exit was a pleasure. Life was good. Life is good.

Noel fancied something a little more exotic than chips, as far as I was concerned he could have what the hell he wanted, it was his day. So off we went to a favourite haunt, the Mill Kitchen at Farsley where he had cous cous (so good, they named it twice), broccoli and tomato salad with frittata, while I tucked into a power waffle with quinoa and chia seeds. Tomorrow we’re having chips. But there’s the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that……..

Hit it with sticks, bastard cancer

parkrun #300 Thanks to Julie Haddon for the photo

When the consultant asked if we had any questions, I had one. What, I wanted to know, would happen to Noel’s Bastard Cancer when he cut it out? Because I’d very much like to give it a piece of my mind.

First of all, I’d like to ask it what the hell it thought it was doing, throwing its cells around inside my husband who eats healthily, exercises, has never smoked and hardly drinks. Naturally there would be swearing and name-calling, all from me, various configurations or bastard and fucking, it wasn’t going to get a word in edgeways. The bastard.

I’m not a violent person, but in this case I would make an exception. I had well-advanced plans to hit the excised tumour with sticks. Big whippy sticks that will whoosh and swoosh as they they smash the cells. I’d knock it about a bit, knock it about a lot, smash it against the wall, scrape it off, jump on it in my massive, heavy ski boots, hear it squelch, wrap it up in a copy of the Sun and burn it in a bonfire on the allotment. The bastard. That’d learn it.

Of course, this was only playing in my head, I said no such thing to the consultant, he had better things to do with his time than listen to my rantings. He had a long day ahead and at the end of it, the bastard cancer would be gone. Cut out, thrown into the fires of the allotment, for all I care.

It was a major operation, consultants don’t mince words and they don’t sugar coat messages, thank goodness, we want reality, not fantasy. So when he said it was a Major Procedure, then we listened. It would take a full day, he gave us the details, which would have been fascinating had it not been for Noel being the subject. We met the plastic surgeon, who with the best Irish accent ever, told us what she would take from here and how it would be put to good use elsewhere. These people are amazing.

The consultant called me afterwards, late into the evening to tell me how it had gone. It had gone well and the bastard cancer was chopped as far as he could tell. There were no nasty surprises. He didn’t swear, I did it for him, at that point I told him about the hitting it with sticks thing, but it was only in my head. There was a collective sigh of relief as social media passed on this good news. So many friends were holding their breath too.

It meant Christmas this year was very different, Noel woke up in hospital on Christmas Day looking like he’s been hit with a plate of spaghetti, there were wires and tubes everywhere. His Christmas dinner was in one of those tubes, no matter, we’ll enjoy the solid, tasty version together as soon as we can.

The one thing we always look forward to doing together is running the Christmas Day parkrun. It just happened to be my 300th, so I dressed demurely, OK, so I put on as much colour as I could find, then added lights, and ran it for Noel. Afterwards, I headed over to the hospital, making sure not to trail Woodhouse Moor mud into the ward.

My Christmas dinner and entertainment (I won a prize, I like prizes!) was courtesy of one of my many parkrun friends who have been the kindest, most supportive, best of the best friends during this bastard cancer journey. The journey continues, another couple of weeks in hospital and recovery will be six months at least.

Noe’s specialist nurse is a parkrunner, she’s not done it for a while, but promises to join him on his comeback parkrun. Now that’ll be a great day, I might even make it swear-free.

A job lot of Wright’s Coal Tar soap

Thanks to Joan Cox for the photo

Me and my potty mouth. Again. And in front of 650 parkrunners. In my defence I was sorely provoked, #BastardCancer.

We were all set to celebrate a double birthday, parkrun’s 15th and our 12th here at Woodhouse Moor and free breakfast was promised down at Leeds University’s refectory where they had pre-loaded with sausages and bacon.

Then Richard appeared and asked if we could make an announcement to his fellow parkrunners, but that it wasn’t a happy announcement, in fact it was very, very sad.

His five-year-old son Matthew, who he’d brought to parkrun a couple of weeks ago to join in the celebrations for the 500th run by Roy, Richard’s clubmate, had passed away. Matthew had a brain tumour.

There’s a saying, he said. ‘Fuck cancer’. Yes, I agreed. Fuck cancer indeed, fuck it to hell. The fucker.

Richard wanted to run with us, his parkrun friends, something normal in a week that was far from normal. And we wanted to run with him, though he’s a bit nippy so not many of us would be able to keep up with him. We could content ourselves with cheering him as he lapped us.

I know I bang on a lot about parkrun, but it’s such a wonderful, caring, supporting community. We do more than run together, we share, we encourage, we listen, we always call it a run and never a race. We also don’t cuss, except when it comes to Bastard Cancer™, which as we all know is a bastardy bastard.

As Richard stood to the side, out of sight of the 650 parkrunners, I told them about Matthew, such heartbreaking news. Then in my head, I shouted ‘Fuck cancer’. Now I come to think of it, it wasn’t in my head, judging by the general agreement and covering-up of sensitive ears.

Sorry, everyone. I have dutifully washed out my mouth with Wright’s Coal Tar Soap which tasted suitably disgusting. That’ll teach me, I’ll not be such a potty mouth again.

Our parkrunners set off, those who could get anywhere near Richard gave him a pat on the back. Afterwards he was surrounded by wellwishers, including some who were on their own cancer journey. Bastard Cancer is no respecter of, well, anything or anyone really. I could hear fine use of Anglo Saxon in reference to Bastard Cancer and wondered whether I should dash off to the offy for a job lot of coal tar soap.

As he left, Richard thanked me. ‘That took balls’ he said. I’m not so sure, it’s easy enough to cuss, it’s not so easy to be on that cancer journey. Thank goodness that if you’re part of the parkrun community you don’t have to travel alone. Noel and I have a bloody great bus load of folk with us as he finishes one lot of treatment and waits for the next. They’re supporting, encouraging, helping and yes, joining in the swearfest because sometimes it helps. They’ll all be getting soap for Christmas.

We’re going to need a bigger bus

No tattoo photos, but here’s Noel with cats

Noel came back from the hospital the other day with a tattoo, actually, that’s not true, he had four of them. They aren’t anything fancy like ‘I luv Anne’ or ‘Programmers do it in code’. Just four tiny blue dots to mark the spot where the death ray will zap the Bastard Cancer ™

OK, not a death ray exactly, but a linear accelerator, which will dose that damned tumour with radiation five days a week for five weeks. Take that, Bastard Cancer.

We started the journey on June 25 with just five words from the consultant, ‘It’s bad news, I’m afraid’. It’s a journey I travelled more than 30 years ago with my mum, when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. What a contrast, then it was all about the treatment, not the patient, no flexibility, no information, it was done to you, not with you. It was a lonely, miserable, distressing, uncomfortable journey for everyone involved.

What a contrast in care and treatment today, we’re on first name terms with everyone, except the consultant of course, a bit like teachers, they don’t have first names. Yes, it’s a journey we’d rather not take, but we really feel that NHS clinicians and all the other staff are in the bus with us rather than giving our broken-down car a bit of a push.

Then there’s the support from friends and family, which has been overwhelming, but in a good way. I’ve been humbled by the kindness of others, from messages of support and sharing of experiences to offers of help and food, including broccoli soup and squash, Bastard Cancer hates brassicas. Suddenly the journey doesn’t feel as long and dark and lonely as it did, I think we’re going to have to get a bigger bus.

A hospital for introverts?

I’m an extrovert, I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but there we are. I love people, I love being with people, I get my energy from people, some say I’m a tad loud, can’t see it myself. Noel, on the other hand, is an introvert, if he spends too much time with too many people, it saps his energy, he likes his own space and a bit of peace and quiet.

He was recently in hospital and I can tell you, it’s not a place for introverts to thrive. Nothing is quiet, clatters and bangs bounce off the walls as trolleys full of tubes, plugs, cups and flasks of weak tea are pushed around and occasionally come into contact with a wall or door.

He was reclined on a squeaky bed with a cacophony of beeps and bells from the kit attached to him and his three wardmates. The loud over-enthusiastic exclamations of daytime TV was punctuated with the cheery chatter of staff as they went about their very important business of looking after patients. What’s an introvert to do?

Noel has the answer. An Introvert Ward, similar to a quiet coach on the train. Each bed would have a ‘DNT’ (Do Not Talk) sign, on threat of being transferred to the Extrovert Ward where the TV would be always turned up to 11. Equipment would be wrapped in (sterile) cotton wool , everyone would whisper, including the consultants. OK, not the consultants, they can do what they want, and food and drink would come in bamboo cups – no plastic here, we’re very sustainable on the Introvert Ward. I’m putting together my PhD proposal as I write, though I may be disqualified for being too loud.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying Noel has cancer or, to give it its full name, Bastard Cancer. We have another name for it, but it’s not for delicate ears. It was a shock and has been the worst few weeks of our lives, bastard cancer. As an introvert, he finds it draining to tell people this news, as an extrovert, I offered to blog about it.

He’s had surgery and has been home a couple of weeks under strict instructions not to drive or lift anything heavier than a full kettle. That means no digging in the allotment, as you can imagine, he’s gutted about that! He starts chemoradiotherapy soon, prior to more surgery. I’ve told him he’d better be sorted for the ski season, he says he fully intends to.

We have the best health service in the world, he has already benefited from the expertise and dedication of an amazing consultant who has overseen his (and I assume others’) care while on holiday. Noel agrees he can talk as loud as he wants, anytime. The healthcare system is very well joined up, quite simply the best and you can quote me on that. If only the hospitals had Introvert Wards.

Poems about poo to save lives

Poem - LSE CCG

We’re British, our upper lip is stiff, we don’t talk about poo or toilet-related activity, not in polite company anyway, which is fine, except when lack of poo talk could cost lives.

I’m currently working in a part of Leeds where we are bottom of the poo charts, as it were. We have high rates of bowel cancer and low rates of up-take of the screening test. The test is simple, it’s involves a little poo-collecting kit which includes a pot and a stick to do the deed in the privacy of our own loo. Thanks to the magic of computer systems that know our ages, the test is mailed directly to anyone aged 60-74 every two years.

We’ve tried our best powers of persuasion, including taking out those massive adverts on the backs of buses, which, by the way, are known as mega rears, that tickles me silly, but that’s my sense of humour. We’ve even taken kits and pots of a certain hazelnut spread to shopping centres to show how easy it is to, err, dip the stick and post the poo. Hey, we couldn’t use the real stuff.

The stats show there has been some impact, but we needed to think a bit more laterally to try persuade more people to pot their poo. You know, make it less icky, almost fun. Who better then than someone who can coin a phrase and also falls into the blessed age category? Ian McMillan, otherwise known as the Bard of Barnsley, is good at getting any message across about anything. Even poo. Let’s hope we’re flushed with success.

It’s not about the bike, it’s about the cheating

Photo: Guardian

I love people who beat the odds, especially those who take on cancer, kick where its cells multiply and bare their bottoms to it. It’s a horrible disease and has taken its toll on my friends and family, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.

Right up there with the good guys was super-cyclist Lance Armstrong, what a fighter. He had cancer, he had secondary cancer, he beat them, by gum he did. Then he went on to win the Tour de France a gazillion times and, by his own testimony, free of performance-enhancing drugs. He swore blind that was the case, and was believed. Mostly. The French never thought he could be THAT good, of course they were right.

This week’s revelations that he not only cheated, but was the King of Cheats and bullied his team into cheating have left me disappointed, disgusted and feeling cheated by a cheat. After this wonderful year of sporting triumphs in the Olympics and Paralympics, the damning report from the United States Anti Doping Agency that Lance Armstrong was ‘at the heart of a sophisticated doping ring’ was a betrayal of all honest hard-working sportspeople everywhere.

In his autobiography It’s Not About the Bike, Armstrong talks about his battle with cancer, which was very real and very serious. But by his own testimony he’d ignored the warning signs of what started out as testicular cancer. Was it fear or embarrassment? I doubt it, this man has no fear, unless it is the fear of being uncovered as a cheat. Clearly he’s not easily embarrassed or he couldn’t have faced the world and denied again and again that he had never used drugs. So he left it and the cancer spread. His treatment was invasive and aggressive, in some countries, he would not have survived, in others that level of treatment would not be available to him. He was lucky, he even had some of his sperm frozen so his partner could conceive, she did by the way, though he left her.

It’s been a sad week for sport, someone who I admired and respected for his chutzpah has feet of clay.  It’s also been a sad week for those who admired and respected another idol, the howz-about-that-then self-styled philanthropist and fixer Jimmy Saville. He was uncovered as rather nasty little man. Shame on them both.