Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Thursday Roundup

I don’t care if it’s cold. It’s sunshine that gives my heart its zing. And today is just the kind of beautiful autumnal day that makes me want to skip to the hospital.

But it is chilly. I really feel for the first time that my head is very cold. Even though I’m wearing a headscarf. It just goes to show how much protection our hair provides.

Standing at the bus stop, tears suddenly spring from my eyes. Lots of tears. But I’m not really crying. It’s an automatic mechanism that kicks in because I’ve got insufficient lashes to protect my eyeballs. I jam on my sunglasses and make a mental note not to leave home without them from now on. Then my nose starts to run freely. This is because all the hairs have fallen out from inside my nostrils. I fish for a crumpled tissue in my handbag. It is all covered in snotty blood. At this point I notice that the girl who was standing next to me at the bus stop has moved away.

I’m trying my best to be Chemo Chic but I have to tell you it’s a challenge sometimes.

I pop in to the Harley Street Clinic. Sister Lottie takes my blood then I skip off down to Marylebone High Street to meet Iris and Flossie at the Providores.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time singing the praises of this New World Tapas bar. The food is innovative, healthy, interesting and delicious. But one has to order carefully. Some of the dishes really overstep the mark when it comes to the price : quantity ratio.

Iris is a big fan of food fads. Recently she was a Vegan but now she is on the Atkins diet. She chooses her eating plans according to a carefully formulated scientific method: whatever is likely to be most irritating to her nearest and dearest. Not wanting to be outdone I mention that I have just taken delivery of a book called The New Raw Energy by Leslie Kenton. “I’ll give you a week,” says Iris, “I mean it’s all very well when one is trawling the internet eating Green & Blacks at one in the morning. But really, these regimes are just impossible.” Deep in my heart I know she’s right. Iris looks at Flossie. “You should go to the Mayer Clinic in Austria,” she opines, “you’ll definitely lose weight. They give you loads of colonics and no food.” “That sounds awful,” says Flossie. “Yes, but it would be a laff,” whoops Iris, exploding in raucous laughter at the very idea.

Iris orders Tuna Tataki. It turns out to be four tiny pieces of tuna, about an inch-and-a-half square and a quarter of an inch thick, with a few bits of pickled daikon, half a teaspoon of fish roe and some minute cubes of beetroot jelly scattered about the edges. It is exquisite but you’d have to have at least fifteen of them to constitute a meal. At £10.50 a plate it has to be said, they’re taking the piss. Flossie and I do not fare much better. We order Laksa. I envisage a big steaming bowl of noodles in coconut broth piled up with fresh vegetables and seafood. What we get is a small pudding bowl, not full of soup. It’s very tasty but contains only a spoonful of noodles and a few wafer thin slices of squid. It’s a meal for a macrobiotic fairy. £9.80! If you want a proper, big as your head Singapore Laksa, I suggest you try the Makan under the Westway on Portobello Road.

“What was the soup of the day?” asks Flossie, wondering what might have been. “Mushroom and tarragon,” replies the waiter. “Yuk!” exclaims Iris, “I only like beetroot soup.” “I will make you beetroot soup,” I offer. Iris crinkles her nose and looks at me as though I’ve just offered her a bowlful of dog excrement. Now I may not be perfect in every respect – yet, but I do regard myself as something of a goddess when it comes to cooking. “Oh, you are a faithless friend,” I inform her. Iris laughs uproariously. She looks mightily pleased with my assessment of her character.

On the way back to the hospital I pick up my ritual chocolate éclair from Paul. That never disappoints.

Today I’m being tended by Nurse Lindy and Sister Lottie. There’s a whole new gang of cancer sufferers at the hospital. This, I am told, is because everyone is on different cycles. Some come every two or three weeks, some less often. There seems to be one other lady that is here every week, like me. She is persevering with the ice hat, poor love, and seems to be having a pretty miserable time of it.

Two chairs along from me lounges a man. I would judge him to be in his late fifties. His throat is wrapped in a silk cravat. He puffs away on an electric cigarette and blows smoke rings.

Smoking in the Chemo Unit! I am reminded of Marla Singer in Fight Club who always smoked in the cancer support group. What panache. If I weren’t totally bald I would take my hat off to him.

Sister Lottie tells me that she has worked here for more than three years. This is an aeon in nursing careers. It must be a good place to work. She also worked in the NHS. “How does it compare?” I ask. A sad, resigned expression comes across sister Lottie’s face. “It’s really a shame,” she says “Comparing public healthcare in Australia with public healthcare here, it’s much better in Australia.” “That’s very disappointing to hear,” I say, “why do you think that is. They obviously have a lot more money here than they do in Australia.” “Yes, they do,” says Lottie, “but they don’t have the equipment. Everything is in short supply. And they don’t allow treatment with the best drugs. I mean, this weekly Taxol you’re having, you wouldn’t be allowed to have that on the NHS.” This comes as a surprise to me. I have always held the belief that the NHS offers the best treatments and takes care of everybody. Sister Lottie adds that my oncologist and my surgeon are two of the best breast specialists in the UK. Suddenly I feel very privileged and slightly guilty.

Synchronicity is at work. A couple of minutes later Suzy Cleator drops by the Chemo unit. “Did you get my email about the eyelash growing treatments?’ I ask. “Oh, yes,” she replies, “that will be fine. You can go ahead and use them.” I will get onto it pronto.