Thursday, 6 October 2016

145. Flashbacks

We have emerged from the surgeon's knife. It was fine.

The hardest, perhaps, was the nausea (courtesy of a bright blue drip needed to light up the glands for the surgeon's benefit). It's so mild, it's hardly worth writing about - but it reminded me unpleasantly of the vile coloured chemo liquids poured into my vein, not helped by having the needle stuck into that very same hand.

Come to think of it, even the drip with normal fluids made me feel queasy with flashbacks. That was unexpected. I begged the doctor to take it down, promising to drink and drink.

But overall, we're doing ok. And following in Owl's footsteps, Ostrich has made himself very popular with the nurses. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

144. When Ostrich Had Hyperparathyroidism...

...doesn't have quite the same ring to it as When Owl Had Cancer, so we won't give him his own blog, but allow him to post on Owl's.

Once you put a spotlight onto your inner workings, you start finding things you would never have guessed. In my case, too much calcium in my blood. If you've had breast cancer, that sort of things rings alarm bells in doctors' minds. Oh dear, has the cancer spread to her bones from where it is merrily releasing too much calcium, leaving those bones aching and prone to breaking? When breast cancer goes travelling, it's bones, brains and lungs that are top of the destination list.

But no: the explanation turned out to be far more innocent. Nothing to do with cancer. It's one of my parathyroids that's grown out of control. It is taking its job (which is: taking calcium out of my bones into my blood) far too seriously. Will it kill me? Certainly not, but left to its own devises, it will cause brittle bones prone to falling apart.

But not to worry, Doctor said: they will just do a "little operation" and take the offending article out. I'll still have three left.

All this has taken the best part of a year to figure out, involving numerous scanners, blood tests and discussions. And now here I am, on a tropically hot surgical ward wearing those silly tight stockings and listening to the nurses doing nursy things at the nurse's station a few meters away. No doors on this ward, and therefore not much sleep either, I reckon.

"Is Owl coming?" my daughter asked. But thankfully for him, he is fine. It's Ostrich, we thought, who needs the neck surgery (which is where parathyroids live). Daughter made him several years ago and has noticed that his neck is a bit wonky. Nice to have company.

I've been rather looking forward to it. Now that I've learned how to be a patient, it's quite appealing to give myself over to that role without the worry of, well, dying.

No cooking. No work emails.

I'm a bit surprised by what it involves though. Little operation? Bigger than the mastectomy, it seems. Then, I just turned up in the morning and was home in no time, carrying my drain. Now, they want me here the night before (so here I am, fit as a fiddle but looking like a patient), keep me in for several days, and keep me off work for a month. 

It's midnight and the bleeps are sounding left, right and centre; I'd forgotten about that. And about the tropical temperatures. I'm guessing that tomorrow, the appeal of being a patient will have faded somewhat. But worried? 

"Oh dear," said friend after colleague after friend, "you must be so worried."

Don't worry. This, my friends, is a walk in the park compared with what Owl had to go through. I'll let you know how it went.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

143. The communal changing room

I used to quite like communal changing rooms in swimming pools.

Rooms marked Women. Put a bunch of naked females together and that's what they are, WOMEN, simple and straightforward. Ladies is for places where females can be discreet, like toilets and one-person shower cubicles. 

Women can shower with abandon, but should ladies leave their dress on...?
Stripped of the clothing that could have given you clues about who they aim to be, women in communal showers are sisters. The older they are, the more sisterly they become. It's the young and sleek ones with the skimpy bottom-baring bikinis who are the most anxious to cover their nakedness beneath complicated towel arrangements whilst trying to get their pants back on. They keep themselves to themselves. But once the flesh expands and wrinkles and heads southward, most women (at least the ones that get up in the early morning to clock up a few lanes in the pool) seem happy enough to let it all hang out whilst merrily chatting about this and that.

Such acceptance of women's bodies, whatever their shape or size, has always appealed to me.

But my local swimming pool doesn't have communal changing rooms, and I had got used to being a lady.

Female patients are ladies.

I've got a stack of correspondence to prove it, as nowadays you get copied in when doctors send each other letters about you. I'm quite a nice lady, apparently.

"Dear GP, I reviewed this very pleasant 50 year old lady today in clinic..."
"Thank you for referring this nice lady..."
"Dear GP, I saw this lovely lady..."

Etc etc. (Would they ever write, "I wish you hadn't referred this grumpy gentleman"?)

I have sometimes wondered to what extent my theoretical embracing of the we-all-accept-our-bodies-and-let-it-all-hang-out philosophy would hold up. It's all good and well in the privacy of my own home, but baring my non-breast in public is yet another hurdle. You'd have thought that two years post-mastectomy, most hurdles have been taken, but this was one I had yet to jump. 

I jumped yesterday, when I went to Brockwell Lido in Brixton.

There they were, the showering women, merrily displaying the effects of childbearing and decades worth of gravity. I've seen most things in such changing rooms. Old, not-so-old, wobbly, large, skinny, missing limb. But come to think of it, never a missing breast, or even a fake breast. Do women not swim in lidos after breast cancer? Is it against the etiquette?

It took a bit of deep breathing and talking to myself, but in the end, I just stripped off like everyone else. For many reasons.

Practicality. (I mean, who keeps on their pants when showering at home? Exactly.)
Not drawing attention to myself. (Trying to wriggle beneath a towel would do precisely that.)
Principle. (Repeat after me: I. ACCEPT. MYSELF. THE. WAY. I. AM.)
Setting an example to other women, who might one day face these issues themselves. (Don't worry! There is life after a mastectomy!)

And, fundamentally, freedom. Who cares, and all that.

The thing is, after all that emotional effort, I don't think anybody noticed.

I dressed my bottom half first and left my bra till last, just to make the point. Come on sisters, I'm making a statement here! But it seemed that I was making the point to myself and myself alone.

It was almost disappointing.

Monday, 22 August 2016

142. In a tight spot

With my growing enthusiasm for sea swimming comes the thought that perhaps a thicker layer would be a good idea.

I've got gloves and socks to stop my extremities falling off, but some extra core warmth might allow me to stay in the water a little longer. At least, it might stop my kidneys from shriveling with cold and me shriveling with them.

An internet search leads to the arrival of a kind of sleeveless costume made of wetsuit material. I like the idea of sleeveless. I've got a long-legs-long-arms affair for winter months, but the joy of summer swimming is the feeling of flowing water.

It's no good. Too baggy around the crotch; too tight across the shoulder. Another make perhaps, or another size? I puzzle over the "check your size" charts. Nothing measures up to my measurements, so I ring up one of the wetsuit suppliers who claim to be able to advise customers with non-standard shapes.

The woman on the phone is equally puzzled.

Her computer tells her that with my height, I need a size 16. I almost laugh. "SIXTEEN?! Are you sure? I usually take a size 12, or 14 at the most."

Hips? Hm. Waist? Hm. Chest? Hmmm.... Yes, she agrees that the size 16 expects rather more filling in those areas.

"What bra cup size are you?" she asks, perhaps hoping for the DD cup that would satisfy her charts.

Well, there's a question. "Uhm..." I mumble something about A and B cups, adding "but I've only got one of those."

Sometimes, you stumble across unexpected hazards like this. She is as taken aback by my answer as I am by her question. Soon, she gives up.

"It's probably best," she decides, "to go to a shop and try them on."

I locate a wetsuit shop in central London and hop on my bike.

The shop's sale assistants are all young, fit-looking and male. I explain my quest. Short legs, no sleeves, like to feel the water but must keep my core warm, etc. They don't have such a garment, but perhaps I could try on a vest and shorts? Good idea.

"They should be as tight as possible," young Mr Fitness instructs. "Try a size 10 or 12. I'll just be round the corner if you need any help."

I can just about squeeze my way into the size 12 vest. It feels quite nice, but Mr Fitness is not impressed. "I can see some room at the back!" he says. Yes, he's right. (I can also see some room on the right side of my chest, but he just points out the roomy back. Perhaps he hasn't noticed.) Why not try a size 10?

There are no zips or other fastenings. I need to take my glasses off in order to get in. Once I've peeled down the waist, I admire the vest's breast-banishing tightness. No cold water slopping around empty spaces in this thing. 

I emerge from the changing room to show Mr Fitness. "Yes," he approves, "that's better."

But oh dear. How to get out of the wretched thing?

There I am, quite literally helpless in the changing cubicle. I've managed to pull the vest up above my winking wonky chest, but no further. In the mirror, I can just see my red face looking anxiously over the rim of the inside-out garment that is now wrapped around my neck, holding me tight, trapping my arms against my ears. No amount of tugging or contortions will release me from its grip. I can't pull it back down either. Several minutes later, my chest is weeping tears of sweat. If keeping you warm is this garment's main purpose, it is Mission Accomplished.

But what to do? Can I ask Mr Fitness to help pull, hoping he'll ignore my somewhat unconventional appearance? There's not quite the same ambiance here as in the Mastectomy Bra Shop, where an understanding woman shop assistant remained within discreet earshot of the changing cubicles. In this large wetsuit shop, I'll have to wander out of the cubicle and into the racks of sporty clothing to catch Mr Fitness' attention. My current bare-chested hands-up appearance would not do much for sales.

Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Finally, with a desperate tug, I manage to free half an arm. Then a whole arm. Then my head. Then, easier at last, another arm.

I go home with a proper shortie. And just in case you're interested: size 10 was OK, but in order to banish all empty spaces, I have ended up with an unprecedented size 8. Perhaps I should ring that woman back and tell her.

Yes, it has sleeves. But gloriously, it also has a zip.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

141. Breastless on the beach

I try to stick to the principle that this blog is about breast cancer. Which is why I haven't blogged for months. After all, cancer no longer affects my life. At all. Does it?

Doesn't it?

I suppose I've got used to being a cancer patient, or, as I should probably say now, a cancer survivor (although that makes it sound a bit like I've been in a nuclear war). It is two years since we sat in the doctor's office, listening with trepidation as she displayed her chemical weapons of cell destruction. Since then, almost imperceptibly, cancer has been normalised.

I nod my head knowingly when I read articles or books about the debilitating impact of chemotherapy. Yep. Been there.

I put novel items on my holiday packing list. Pills. Swimming softie.

Ah, yes, the swimming softie. Trying to cool down from the heat of southern France earlier this month, dashing in and out of the Mediterranean Sea, it did strike me that perhaps my lack of concern about a missing breast is worth noting. In answer to the questions I asked myself in July 2014 (should I wear a softie in the pool? should I wear a swimming cap when I'm bald?): Yes, I do wear the softie, in the same way as I wear a fake breast in my bra, to balance my outfit. It's just part of what my bras and swimming costumes are like these days, top-heavy on one side. Who cares. Perhaps my tops are not as low cut as they used to be, but I don't feel limited by this, and feel no less comfortable in the heat.

I thought I'd tell you this, just in case there is someone out there, reading this blog, facing a mastectomy and worrying about future scar-filled summers. Of course we are all different in the way we cope and live with what life throws at us, but I am truly unbothered by my single-breast status.

So, thankfully, is my family. I don't hide anything when dashing in and out of the shower. (Not much left to hide! Ha!)

One day, when playing Ticket To Ride and placing my train carriages in Eastern France, one daughter exclaimed: "I know which route mum has! Brest to Petrograd! She only has one brest, that's why she wants to go there!" We all howled with laughter. I thought it was genuinely funny, but I was also rather moved, because when your children can joke about your mastectomy, then you know that life is back to normal.

There was one other moment, during those few weeks in France, that I felt the aftermath of cancer treatment. There we were, in one of those huge supermarché's that seem to be designed for a family day out. I had been hot and bothered by my hair. It was too long, too outgrown, and inconvenient if you're swimming three times a day. It had (alas) started to grow straight again, and my attempts to hang on to my lovely curls were increasingly futile. I mean, look at it. Too much like a regretted perm.

June 2016
So, when the others were stocking up on sirop de pamplemousse, I spotted a scissor-wielding man idling in a place that had the word COIFFURE on it. I ran in and whipped out my iPhone to show him a picture on my blog. (Useful things, blogs.)

July 2014: Comme ça
"Comme ça!" I said, stabbing at the picture. And, for good measure, making snip-snipping movements close to my skull, "Très très courte!", in case le coiffeur was in any doubt about my desire for a complete change of image.

It was the first time I was aware that I actually missed something about my cancer treatments. The convenience, ease and summer comfort of very short hair. And if that dreadful year of treatment has taught me anything, it's that none of it really matters. Not the number of breasts you have, nor the length of your hair.

So, here we are. Happy holidays.

July 2016: Voilà

Sunday, 24 April 2016

140. Brave battles

Cancer has been in the news far too often in 2016. One famous person after another seems to have died of it, starting with David Bowie at the beginning of January. Victoria Wood has just been added to the sorry list.

It's not just dying of cancer that's the common thread here.

All of these famous people fought brave battles.

At least that's how their deaths were announced by their families or publicists. They died after...

"...a courageous 18 month battle with cancer" (David Bowie)
"...a short but brave battle with cancer" (Terry Wogan)
"...a short but brave battle with cancer"  (Victoria Wood) (well spotted: exactly the same wording)

Even if the initial announcement is devoid of any warfare or bravery, the newspapers quickly provide the missing words. Alan Rickman's family simply stated that he "has died from cancer at the age of 69." Media reports announced "his secret battle with cancer", "he bravely battled cancer".

All this makes me wonder what the alternative is. A cowardly surrender?

What, exactly, does a brave battle with cancer look like? As far as I can imagine, being confronted with terminal cancer is like this.

  1. You get the cancer diagnosis. You are probably going to die of it.
  2. You are shocked and terrified.
  3. You get to the end of each day and wake up at the start of each new one. Somehow. Simply because there is no alternative.
You cope in the only way you can. Perhaps you try not to think about it. Carry on as if nothing has happened. Don't even tell anyone, except perhaps your nearest and dearest - certainly not the Daily Mirror. (Is that brave? It'll certainly be a batlle.)

Or you focus on it. Talk about it. You may even inflict a cancer blog on the unsuspecting public. (Is that brave? No less of a battle, probably.)

I'm not sure what "a battle with cancer" is, anyway. Throwing as much treatment at it as your body can take? (Fight until the bitter end! Die fighting! Even if the enemy has machine guns and nuclear bombs, and all you have is a catapult.)

How about accepting that nothing can be done to ward off death, or deciding that the extra months you might live if you have more chemotherapy are not worth the misery of side effects? No less of a battle, I'd say, if you're into that kind of vocabulary.

I'm just trying to visualise what a cowardly cancer patient looks like. 

So I looked it up in the dictionary.

BRAVE: to face and endure pain or difficulty without showing fear
COWARD: a person who is not brave and who is too eager to avoid danger, difficulty or pain 

Now, of course I never knew David Bowie or Victoria Wood or any of the other famous people who have died of cancer in recent months, but I think I can be pretty sure about one thing: all of them must have felt fear. (See above, number 2: "shocked and frightened".) I think I can also put a safe bet on the proposition that each one of them was rather eager to avoid danger, difficulty and pain.

Because who could face suffering and death without feeling any fear? Even Jesus wasn't immune to a bit of courage failure (Take this cup away from me; Father, why have You forsaken me?), but you wouldn't call Him a coward, exactly.

In fact, I have just read that of all the concerns that cancer patients have, WORRY, FEAR and ANXIETY comes top. Well above PAIN (which comes fourth).

The crucial words in the definitions of bravery and courage are without showing fear.

So perhaps this is what cowardly cancer patients looks like:

  • they cry a lot
  • they lie awake at night
  • they find themselves physically shaking

Looking back at my own cancer year, I can tick all those boxes. Coward? Ah, no, because I usually DIDN'T SHOW IT. (Not until I started blogging about it. And when I did own up to a spot of weeping, you were all so alarmed that from then on, I tried to keep things a bit more cheerful, at least in cyberspace.)

Being with people in distress or despair or terror is terribly, terribly difficult. It is unbearable, in fact. They make you realise that there is nothing you can do. (All you can do is "be there", and that is painfully difficult.) They also make you think about your own fears and pain.

No wonder we'd rather have brave cancer patients who don't share their worries with us. If I were a celebrity, I bet I wouldn't have shared it either. Having cancer is bad enough without being cheered on to fight battles with it. As if you had the energy to be a David in the face of a cancerous Goliath.

The dictionary definitions lead me to the following conclusion:

A true coward is someone who is eager (determined, in fact) to avoid cancer altogether. 

Well, I've had enough of that particular "battle", so from henceforth,  you can count me in with the cowards. Either that, or stop calling us all "brave".

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

139. Time is elastic

My son turns 18 today.

I am now the * mother of an adult.

*The word "elderly" springs to mind here, fitting in well with the creaking bones and the grey hair. (Oops, sorry, I forgot I wasn't going to mention the hair again.)

I am not sure how it happened. One day you fiddle with socks like finger puppets and you sort out their playground troubles; the next you trip over shoes like ships and they sort out your computer problems. One day you nurse them through the misery of inocculations; the next they fetch you drinks whilst you're hooked up to the chemotherapy drip.

There must have been days in-between, but they are a bit of a blur. And it certainly cannot be true that there were over six and a half thousand days between his birth day and today, his 18th birthday.

The thing is, when you are looking ahead at an unimaginable future moment, time stretches like elastic.

The road from here to there looks like a tightrope, and off you go, looking at your feet because otherwise you'll fall off. The end of the elastic is nowhere in sight.

But when you look back, time can suddenly concertina towards you. Sometimes it still stretches and you cannot quite remember the person you once were. (The one who spent all day covered in goo, singing nursery rhymes to a fretful baby. The one who thought she was invincible, healthy and strong until the day she'd die in a bicycle crash, aged 107.)

Occasionally, it is as if someone has let go and that far-off past moment pings you in the face. But mostly, the elastic sits on the floor behind you in a messy heap. That's when you realise it wasn't half as long as you thought.

I'll keep that in mind when I look at the nine years of hormone treatment I've got left. I'll try to remember how impossible it seemed that my tiny baby would one day be a man. How long it seemed, having to go through an entire year of cancer treatments and another year (or two, or nine) of trying to wobble back to normal. Now, I look back and the time seems to have collapsed with a gentle twang.

It's both frightening and reassuring. Frightening, because I like to think that the time still ahead of me stretches on and on; but today is one of those days when it suddenly hits me how deluded that thought is.

Reassuring, because last night I sat down and looked back at those 18 years, picking up the pieces of slack time on the floor and remembering. There was something peaceful and happy about that. Something hopeful, too. Somehow I have ended up with a charming young man, despite all that wobbling on tightropes.

And if, one day in the future, there is not much going forward, then that will somehow be OK too, because I shall enjoy looking back.

Now, if you'll excuse me. There is a case of vintage wine in the cellar that has been waiting for this very day. Let me go and get the glasses ready.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

138. In the hair and now

My Hairy Situation has happily stopped us from having to talk about the weather for roughly a year and a half. 

That glamorous I-wouldn't-dare-to-go-that-short look, but doesn't it suit you!
Those curls that have, quite literally, come out of nowhere.

The hair loss has made me cry (once or twice) and laugh (countless times), and has provided all of us with plenty of entertainment.

But this is the end of that era. My friends, I have paid a visit to Andrew the hairdresser. (Remember him?)

About, oh, once a month or so, I would look in the mirror and decide that something had to be done at last. Too wild! Too strange!

But I never dialled Andrew's number, because I was too intrigued. What would happen to the curls? Would it suit me to wear it a bit longer? I decided to leave it uncut for exactly one year after it started growing.

This was quite a safe thing to do. I have discovered that no-one, but NO-ONE, will dare to criticise the hairdo of a recovering cancer patient. However outrageous it might look, I could safely predict that people would fall over themselves to compliment me on it. With relief in their eyes, because frankly, they couldn't really compliment me on the bald look. They tried, and many of you sounded reasonably convincing, but really: looking at the photo gallery below, you will have to admit that you wouldn't pick the first one out of Andrew's catalogue of options.

But now the year is over. I finished my treatment at the end of January 2015 and stopped shaving the miserly stubble there and then. A year on, it had grown exactly 12 centimetres.

This is what 12 centimetres looks like.

The wild hair, untamed

Welcome back to the 1980s. It's not an era you'd like to recommend to your stylist.

Andrew was booked in.

Cries of protests erupted from friends and even from daughters.
NOOOO!!! It looks lovely, so thick and luscious and amazing etc etc.
Don't cut it, was the consensus instruction.

I sort of agreed and almost cancelled Andrew, but not having seen him for so long, I thought I'd go anyway and ask his opinion. He cheered me into the salon, took one look and said, "It doesn't need cutting."

He sat me down and ran his fingers through the curls, marvelling. We stared in the mirror.

The wild hair, tamed
"Why change it?" he asked. "You like it. It suits you. It's not offending me in any way. Not the back, not the longer bits on the top. I can tidy it up, but you'll walk out of here looking pretty much the same."

So whilst catching up on a year and a half of news, he made me look less like Wild Woman of Cancerland, more like someone with a choice. For good measure, and on the spur of the moment, I went straight from the hair chair to an eyebrow chair. I have never, ever had my eyebrows plucked (I confess that until fairly recently, I didn't even know that eyebrow chairs existed).

I discovered the effect of organised eyebrows when I had none and occasionally painted them on - and on those fake-brow-days, I would miraculously get multiple comments on how well and glamorous I looked.

(Don't be fooled by people looking well and glamorous. It's war paint, mostly.)

Nobody has noticed either the hair cut or the tidy brows.

The only person in our household who usually does notice such things is in bed with a fever. But who cares?

Having gone through a wide range of diverse looks, I now know with great clarity and certainty that your looks truly don't matter beyond fleeting first impressions (which your friends don't need, as they are impressed already). But strangely, simultaneously, looks DO matter.

Because you might not notice my tamed locks, but I notice. That's what matters. 

So here I am, in the Hair And Now.

I leave you with a gallery of the past year.

These selfies were taken at monthly intervals. And that is the final word on my hair. I'm afraid we'll now have to go back to discussing the weather. Did you hear about the havoc caused by storm Gertrude?
January 2015 (0 cm)

February 2015 (1 cm)

March 2015 (2 cm)

April 2015 (3 cm)

May 2015 (4 cm)

June 2015 (5 cm)

July 2015 (6 cm)

August 2015 (7 cm)

September 2015 (8 cm)

October 2015 (9 cm)

November 2015 (10 cm)

December 2015 (11 cm)

January 2016.  (12 cm. The end)

Friday, 8 January 2016

137. Taking each day

This is the fourth time I have sat down at my computer to write a blog post.

First of all, there was the Happy Christmas one.
Then the Happy New Year one.
Then the "Hope you've all had a lovely Christmas/New Year" one.

Each of these drafts was deleted. I'd envisaged something Meaningful and Profound, along the lines of I've looked back on my year / forward to the next year / reflected on my colourful cancer experiences / learned so much / let me tell you all about it.

Christmas, then New Year, seemed auspicious times to write such profundities. Nothing profound was forthcoming.

Alas, I thought. Tomorrow perhaps. But now, it seems to me that you've had a lucky escape. Who wants to hear about someone else's deep and meaningful thoughts? You'd only compare them to your own thoughts (the ones about chocolate and shopping and the latest whodunnit) and find yourself wanting.

And what cancer patient wants to hear about the life lessons other cancer patients have learnt? You'd only sit down exhausted and find yourself wanting even more.

The trouble is, life's lessons are alarmingly easy to forget.

I'm not sure I've learnt anything new during the past few years; it's just that some things become blindingly obvious when you are ill, because you don't have the energy to rush around and Do Stuff.

The absolute need for the support of family and friends, even if you've always pretended to be Superwoman; and the deeply life-affirming discovery that such family and friends really are there.

The joy that can be found in the smallest of things (well, you don't have a choice, because the big things have been cancelled).

The need to take each day as it comes.

That last one is nothing new either. I've even written about it, well before my cancer diagnosis, in one of my books:

"People with cancer need to find ways of living with the knowledge that life may change in a way that is unimaginable and devastating. One way of coping is to learn to ‘take each day as it comes’. It is not unusual to hear a cancer patient say, ‘I am living much more in the moment now. I try and enjoy every day, because you never know what will happen next.’"

(The point I went on to make was that many people with learning disabilities are rather good at living in the moment, and therefore have an advantage when it comes to coping with cancer.)

So, I'd like to be able to say "Right folks! I've cracked it! I'm taking each day as it comes!"

No such luck. With each bit of new energy comes a new expectation. Aha! I can do full working days again! Let me plan a new project, cook dinner, do the shopping and then clear out the garden at the weekend. Oh, and write that deep and meaningful blog post."

The trouble is, when you're physically and mentally healthy, life actually involves planning and looking forward to things. The trouble is in knowing how healthy and able you are. Personally, I haven't yet figured it out.

So, with each new expectation comes frustration. Because A doesn't necessarily lead to B. Swimming 40 lengths one day doesn't mean I can swim 50 the next (in fact it usually means I can swim none the next). It's hard to take that next day as it comes.

New year's resolution: I'm cancelling my swim membership this month. Yes, I'll still swim, but no more than once a week (it used to be three or four times a week), because instead of invigorating me as it did in the past, now it just exhausts me. Cue failed expectation, cue frustration. I've kept the swimming going all through my treatment, but I've taken so many days as they came (and they came without the 50 lengths) that I'm admitting defeat. Or, if I'm into rephrasing things positively, focusing my energies elsewhere.

There's one small triumph though.

Just before my cancer diagnosis, I started practicing for my first ever music exam. I'd been learning the cello for three years - fiendishly difficult; being able to play other instruments (guitar, recorder, piano accordion) was no help. I wanted to set myself a target, plus, I hoped it would give my efforts a bit of gravitas in the eyes of my children, who have worked through many such exams.

It was all put on hold. I didn't play for a whole year. I tried a few times, but I discovered that playing instruments (and singing, for that matter) is physically rather exhausting.

But last summer, I picked up my cello again. And just before Christmas, I appeared before the examiner.

Readers, I passed my grade 3 cello exam with distinction. This is an unashamed boast. It involved hours and hours and hours of practice, and I'm rather proud of it.

Have I learned any lessons from having breast cancer?

Perhaps this: if you have a choice, then focus on the things that give you pleasure and energy. I missed playing my cello when I was ill, but enjoyed Escape To The Country. I don't have time for Escape To The Country now. There's a cello to play.

Who knows? One day, I might not have time to play my cello, because there is the daily swim to fit in. I'm trying not to plan for it though.

There are 357 days of 2016 left. I doubt I will take each one as it comes, but I'll try. Wish me luck.

Happy new year.