Saturday, 31 July 2010

Life Lessons

“Everything happens for a reason.” How many times have you heard that glib phrase slip from the lips of a well-meaning friend at a time of difficulty? But if you question your friend about what it actually means, they will mumble something about ‘life-lessons’. Pressed further they will admit that really, they haven’t got a clue.

Are we are all naughty schoolgirls who somehow need to be taught our lessons?

I mean what possible reason could there be for getting cancer, losing all of one’s income and then being dumped by one’s boyfriend? When those things happened to me I felt that I had been abandoned by God. The emotional pain was so great that I ended up seeking refuge in a psychiatric hospital.

And people started saying “everything happens for a reason.” I wanted to smack them. I do not believe that in some karmic way I deserved to have cancer or to meet a man like Nick. I cannot accept the notion of an interventionist God sitting up above, moving the chess pieces around, pronouncing: “she has to get sick so that she will learn patience.” 


Yet the more I have thought about it the more I have come to the conclusion that everything does happen for a reason.

Here is how I interpret “everything happens for a reason”: things happen but the reason is not pre-ordained. The reason is what we make it. Every situation in life has a positive aspect. It is up to us to examine our difficulty and draw the gift from it.

Most eastern martial arts apply the principle of redirecting your opponent’s energy and using it to your own advantage. So, if someone runs at you, you can block him and suffer the full force of the blow. Or you can sidestep and then give him a push, using his own velocity to unbalance him. So it is with a time of adversity. We can stand still and absorb the punches, or we can turn it on its head and see what we can gain from what has gone down.

Here are the things that I have gained in the last year: I have realised how many wonderful, loving friends I have; I have learned how to ask for help, even in small ways; I have discovered that there are people who will step in to support me financially; I have written a successful blog; I have found the courage to go out and get myself a book deal; I have been told that I have a ‘good shaped head’ and can get away with very little hair; I have made new friends in faraway places; I have found that I can endure extreme emotions - the fear of death, the anxiety of financial insecurity and the agony of betrayal - without needing the crutches of drugs and alcohol.

All of these gains will be advantageous to me in my future life and, believe it or not, my experience has also helped other people. I’m sure there will be more entries on the pro side of the balance sheet before this is all over.

I cannot change what has happened but I still have a choice: to gain some benefit from it – or not.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Elastic Fantastic

I’m back at the hospital, again.

Honoria has returned! Whilst I was away she gave birth to a baby boy, Francis. He is six months old already. Honoria’s face lights up when she sees me. I feel the same way. “Did you have a lovely holiday in Australia?” she asks. 

Mr H cuts me out of yesterday’s bandages. I’m free. But not for long. He produces a strip of soft pink elasticated fabric about 30cm wide. It has velcro fastenings on each end. “What’s that?” I ask. “You know when people have abdominal surgery?” says Mr Hadjiminas. I nod. “When it bursts, this is what we use.” Having planted that hideous image in my mind he then gets a giant needle and injects some kind of steroid into my back. Mr H and Honoria each take an end of the big pink binding. “I don’t think we’re going to get her into it,” says Honoria. “Oh, yes we will,” ripostes Mr H. Mental note: must cast these two in the Chemo Chic Christmas Panto. They pull and stretch it tightly around my entire upper torso. My breasts are squashed flat and, if that wasn’t bad enough, my stomach is forced downward creating a wobbly muffin top. Chemo Chic this thing definitely is not.

“We may have to do another steroid injection but keep this on for a week and see how it goes.”

Back at home it’s already beginning to irritate. Ben has come round for dinner. “Can you just unzip my dress and try to pull the velcro so that it’s not rubbing on my skin?” Ben obliges. He is like my brother but I can’t be asking every passer by to adjust my surgical appliances. And I still haven’t solved the problem of how to have a shower.

Provençal Tomatoes



This dish is very evocative of the 1980s - as is this photograph.


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Put a couple of slices of wholemeal bread in a food processor with two or three cloves of garlic, a big pinch of salt, a few sprigs of thyme or marjoram  and a couple of fistfuls of flat leaf parsley. Process it all into fine crumbs. Tip the garlicky crumbs into a bowl and mix in about a third of a cup of olive oil.

Cut about 1cm off the tops of six big ripe tomatoes. Using a teaspoon, scoop out some of the seeds. Pile the crumbs onto the hollow tomatoes, mounding them up generously on top. Put the crumbed tomatoes in a baking dish and cook until the tomatoes are soft and the topping is crispy (25-30 minutes)


As always, use as many organic ingredients as you can and organic cold-pressed virgin olive oil.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Pharmacy

So I’m at the pharmacy in the basement of St Mary’s. I hand over my prescription at the ‘in’ window. The receptionist hands me a raffle ticket. “Come back in an hour.” “An hour? Can’t you do it any quicker than that?” I ask. “Come back in 40 minutes,” she says, giving me a sour look. I go and view some algae and plastic bags floating in the canal. That pretty much wraps up the sights of Paddington. After 40 minutes I head back to the pharmacy. There is nobody manning the ‘out’ window so I join the queue at the ‘in’ window. After another five minutes I reach the front of the queue and hold up my raffle ticket, like I’m hoping I might have won a prize. The receptionist looks at me blankly. “Is my prescription ready?” I ask. “No.” she replies. “Do you know when it might be ready?” I ask. “Maybe five minutes.”

I take a seat in the tiny, crowded waiting area. Another woman stands and approaches the ‘in’ window. “When will my prescription be ready?” she asks. “Maybe five minutes,” replies the receptionist. “You keep saying that and I’ve been here for over an hour. I’ve got my mother here waiting in a wheelchair.” “They don’t care about that,” shouts the man sitting opposite me. Murmurs of agreement run through the waiting area. I can feel a rebellion building. “I’ve been here for an hour too,” says the lady sitting next to me. Another man nods in the corner. The woman standing at the counter senses that she has the attention of the entire waiting area now and turns, as if to address her audience. Just then a piercing shriek rings out from the woman next to me. “Oh my god...” I look to where she is pointing. A large cockroach with an egg sac hanging half out of its posterior is marching slowly across the middle of the waiting area. “Kill it!” “No, don’t kill it. It will lay eggs.” “Cover it with a newspaper and stomp on it!” “Let’s get out of here.” We all vacate our seats and charge towards the exit. It feels like this gang might turn riotous at any moment now. I’m at the front of the evacuating rush and as we near the pharmacy counter I hold up my raffle ticket in a desperate last bid. A hand protrudes from the ‘out’ window holding a paper bag with my prescription in it. I grab it and scarper.

Shivers

I drop in to collect a prescription from the pharmacy at St Mary’s Hospital. It’s in the basement of the old Victorian part of the hospital (as opposed to the new ‘Carbuncle’ wing and the many ‘prefab steel box’ annexes). I always have a shudder on entering this building. As I pass beneath the blue plaque that tells how Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin right on this spot I remember being here in a wheelchair. I was twenty-five years old. I was just beginning to recover from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, an illness that had rendered me totally paralysed. Having not eaten food for two months I had developed some kind of digestive problem. The super-boffins at the National Neurological Hospital, Queen’s Square couldn’t deal with it. Those brain-the-size-of-the-Albert-Hall types only trouble themselves with mysterious or incurable neurological syndromes. So they transferred me over to St Mary’s for a little inter-hospital holiday to get sorted out. It turned out to be the holiday from hell.

I was housed in a ward in that old Victorian building. It was back before they built the Carbuncle wing. The ward was a long dingy corridor with a series of tiny rooms leading off it. Everything: the floor, the walls and the curtains, was a grey-green colour. The linoleum had a streaky swirl motif and the walls were decorated with a kind of spatter pattern. The gruesome practicality of the decor was obvious. There was a TV room where last-gaspers with livid faces sat around hanging onto their drip stands for dear life and smoking. The whole place smelt of Dettol, ashtrays and boiled kippers.

They put me into a little room that was designed for one or maybe two people but now accommodated three beds arranged in a U shape. I was in bed number one. I couldn’t walk or get out of bed on my own. In bed number two was a malingering old woman who was afraid to go home. She whinged and whimpered a lot. In bed number three was Val. Val was dying of cancer. Her skin was peeling off in huge flakes. She was in terrible pain and she often cried out. The beds were so close together that we could all reach out and touch one another. The nurses pretty much just left us to get on with it together as best we could. The cleaners felt that it was completely beneath them to actually clean anything. Whoever cooked the food had obviously been brought by special appointment from a lunatic asylum in Belarus.

It wasn’t so awful for me, a young woman looking forward to recovering and getting back to her life. The experience of being paralysed had already taught me to relax and accept what is. In other words I was able to put up with situations that might otherwise be intolerable. But I could not comprehend how anyone could think it was OK to take care of Val in surroundings so devoid of dignity, joy or comfort. I prayed that that room would not be the last place that Val ever saw on this big, beautiful planet of ours.

After a few days of treatment my stomach problem had cleared up and I anticipated returning to the peaceful, leafy environs of Queen’s Square. There is always a gift in every situation: by this point I was actually looking forward to being taken by ambulance to an acute neurological hospital. Only some ridiculous NHS transport logistics related bureau-bungle meant that I couldn’t be moved. I ended up being stuck in that room for two weeks. On the positive side, I did take my first steps during my stay at St Mary’s. I think my motivation was turbo-charged by desperation to get the hell out of there. If I could've run, I would've.

I swore to myself then and there that I will never die of cancer in St Mary’s Hospital. 

Eventually I made a full recovery from the Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Not long after that I bought myself private health insurance, even though I couldn’t afford it.

All Wrapped Up and Nowhere to Go

                                         La buena fama durmiendo ©Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Right-o that’s the bandages applied good and proper, I can hardly breathe. But at the same time there’s something comforting about being wrapped up all tight like a baby in swaddling.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

It Feels So Old A Pain

I’m a bit down today. This afternoon I went to see Mr Hadjiminas for a check-up following last week’s surgery. I've had high hopes that my back will soon be smooth and healed. But it has started to fill up with fluid again. First Mr H removes all the sticky dressings as carefully as he can. It is just not possible to get those buggers off without a certain amount of theatrical wincing and ouching. He then drains the fluid with a big needle. That does hurt.

“I’m trying not to be despondent,” I say with a despondent sigh. “Good. It’s early days yet,” says Mr H. He wants me to go back tomorrow so that he can rig up some kind of pressure bandage. But it seems that I won’t be able to wash without removing it. “Do you have anyone at home who can help you to put it on nice and tight?” Well no, I don’t. Suddenly I get quite upset. I just want all this to be over and it’s not. I don’t want a visible reminder that I’ve had breast cancer. I don’t want to live with a constant low-level of pain and discomfort. I don’t want to struggle on my own and not be able to wash because there’s nobody to help me put my bandages on. I hate Nick for leaving me alone. I’m so disappointed that I allowed him to take the place in my heart and in my life that should have been reserved for someone decent who might have loved and cherished me.

A Life for Living

It’s been a while since I thought about it but today as I was doing some filing I came across the figures from the Adjuvant! Online (why the exclamation mark?!) database that Suzy Cleator gave me back when we first embarked on chemotherapy. As I’ve explained in the past, the medics can’t give a prognosis for any individual cancer patient, but they can give one the survival statistics for people whose circumstances are similar to one’s own.

Taking into account the type, grade and size of my tumour, my age and the treatments that I have had (surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and tamoxifen), the statistics are as follows:

81.6% of people are alive, without relapse, after ten years.
87.6% are alive after ten years.
16.6% will have relapsed within ten years.
11.6% will have died of cancer within ten years.
1.8% will have died of other causes within ten years.

So my chances are good. Taking care of my diet and keeping fit can only make them better. On the down side, I have been through some severe emotional trauma and depression both of which can have a negative effect. Not to mention six months of smoking.

It seems wise to be aware of all possibilities. I figure that if I have a five-year plan for my life then I won’t be disappointed. The truth is none of us know how long we’ve got. I’m lucky that the life I’ve had up until now has been rich and varied. I’ve been paralysed. I’ve been homeless. I’ve had troubles with drugs and alcohol. I’ve travelled all over the world. I’ve done glamorous jobs and met famous people. I’ve had wonderful friends and terrible boyfriends. As in the words of the Spooks song: "You won't believe the things I've seen Far beyond your wildest dreams I've seen chaos and order reign supreme..." Life certainly has not been boring. With the diagnosis of cancer, I have been given a perfect excuse to live my life to the full and be happy, right now.

So, I’ve started a list of things that I want to do in the next five years (in no particular order):

Move to Sydney – but keep my ties with the UK

Visit London at least once a year

Write a bestseller, in my own name

Do a big fundraiser for the Breast Cancer Haven

Learn to scuba dive

Go scuba diving in New Guinea and the Great Barrier Reef

Have a holiday in Iceland

Love the people who love me – and don’t waste time on those who don’t

Sing on stage in a glamorous, long dress

Ride the Ghan railway from Adelaide to Darwin

Go camping

Repay all my debts

Spend time with Miranda and Eloise

Organise a family holiday in Goa with Ben and Amazon-Rainforest

Earn enough money to take care of my mum

Make a film

Grow vegetables

Catch mud crabs and cook them on the beach

Have a big party and invite all of my friends


Fly a helicopter


Sleep in the desert

Buy a flat in Sydney and do it up

Buy a beach shack

Have a bum lift

Fall in love - and have a partner to do all these wonderful things with

Get married

Be well

Be happy

I’m going to pin my list in the sidebar of this blog so that I can always see it. I will update it from time to time.


p.s. Although I have provided a link to Adjuvant! Online, I don't recommend that you use it on your own. The information can be confusing and might be emotionally overwhelming. I suggest that you refer to this database with the help and support of your consultant surgeon or oncologist.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Chemo Curls

Nurse Lottie did warn me: “Your hair might grow back curly.” It makes me think that the chemo must get into one’s very DNA.

I have been hoping that, as my hair grows longer, it might straighten out of its own accord. It is about three inches long now. Today I washed it and applied three different products: Paul Yacomine Micro Treatment Oils; Trevor Sorbie Straigthening Addic Smoothing Balm and PACT Impact Fiber Styling Cream (no I haven’t bothered to gen up on the ingredients). But my hair is still just a big curly bouffe.

Well, I regard this as a high class problem.

...and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks...

The more I sleep and sleep the more I never want to get out of bed again. “Just another half an hour,” I think and sink back amongst the pillows. The pull of oblivion gets stronger.

So it’s good that there has been someone every day to disengage me from the arms of Morpheus. On Friday Ben brought a curry and stayed the night. On Saturday Sheldon came over. We went for a walk and then had dinner. On Sunday Iris and I went to the movies. On Monday Anton came over and we went down the road to the Persian Café for lunch. Today Tom is coming to take me to Sainsbury’s. Tomorrow I have an appointment with Mr Hadjiminas so I have to get out of bed for that. Justin is going to drive me to Harley Street and back.


But afterwards I suspect I will be longing for my bed.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

Product: Nude Cleansing Facial Oil (100ml £22)

This divine, light oil is one of those products that tempt me to imagine that I might have been royalty in a former life. Every night I pump two squirts into my palms then massage it all over my face and neck (I pat it onto my eyes as well). I leave it to soak in for a minute whilst I inhale the gorgeous scent of lilies. Then I sprinkle a cotton wool pad with rosewater and wipe it off. All my make-up, including mascara, eye pencil and matte lipstick, just melts away. This facial oil makes my face cleansing routine something that I look forward to, rather than an end-of-the-day chore.

Nude claims that its products are “Beautiful without parabens, sulphates, PEGs, TEA, DEA, propylene glycol, phthalates, GMO, mineral oil and silicones.” What a shame that they have not left out a few other dodgy substances: benzyl benzoatelinalool and eugenol

INGREDIENTS: glycine soja (soybean) oil, polyglyceryl-4-oleate (vegetable oil), squalene (olive oil), tocopherol acetate (plant sources), natural fragrance (parfum), benzyl benzoate (essential oil), linalool (essential oil), eugenol (essential oil)

Je t'aime... moi non plus.

                                                                photo thanks to: intermezzo.typepad.com
Friday morning.
Text to Iris:
Would you like to see Gainsbourg on Sunday morning at the Electric?

Text from Iris:
God brilliant finally a reason to live

Sunday morning.
Text from Iris:
J’arrive. Jus sui va au café plant

Text to Iris:
Dix minutes.

Text from Iris:
D’accord

I love going to the Electric for their Sunday morning screenings. It’s like an extension of one’s own living room, except way more comfortable and posh. John who works there always makes me feel welcome and at home. We stock up on coffee and croissants then settle into the big leather chairs, kick our shoes off and put our feet up on the footstools. “So how are you feeling?” asks Iris. “As if I’ve been trampled by a horse,” I reply. “How big is the scar?” she enquires. “About that big,” I say, holding my hands six inches apart and then indicating a straight line running down my side under my left arm. “Like a zipper,” observes Iris.

Iris tells me about her day as a trainee volunteer with the Friends of Highgate Cemetery. She tagged along on all the tours to learn the history of this famous burial ground. “That must have been interesting” say I. “Not half as interesting as the history they don’t tell you,” says Iris, her eyes ablaze. “Like for instance it fell into decay in the 1960’s and was inhabited by a nasty vampire. By the 1970’s its original owners, the London Cemetery Company, abandoned it completely. The dilapidated necropolis became a top spot for Satanic worship and at one point the graves were desecrated. Bones were strewn about all over the place and a woman’s corpse was dragged out and staked on the path.”

“Really?” I ask, my eyes wide with horror. “Really,” says Iris with a sombre nod, “And they don’t say a thing about it on the tours.”*

The lights go down and the film begins. Yay, we have two hours of snuggling into our seats, real life being subsumed by a stylish simulacrum of Paris between the 1940’s and 1970’s. And it is stylish. “Now we have to move to Paris and paint all our walls black,” Iris declares, “it just doesn’t work in a London council flat.”

The cast is excellent. Eric Elmosnino as Gainsbourg is convincingly charming, self-pitying and sleazy. Furthermore he looks just like the man. But I’m afraid that I cannot warm to Serge Gainsbourg even though he is a committed smoker and an alcoholic. “What I’ve just seen,” I tell Iris, “is the story of a narcissist who, as a small boy, was rejected by a small girl because he was ugly. He spends his whole life trying to get over the fact that he was born with a large nose by having sex with loads of beautiful women. He then tries to make himself feel like a bigger man by being unkind to them.” As a child, Gainsbourg (then Lucien Ginsburg) is portrayed as funny and clever but by the time he is in his twenties he has become bitter and cruel. Throughout the entire film he is completely self-interested, showing neither love nor empathy for any of his wives, girlfriends or children. Put simply, he is using them to punish and take revenge on all beautiful women everywhere.

“A bit close to the bone for you right now,” says Iris. I suppose so. But then again, Gainsbourg is marginally redeemed by having had a molecule of creative talent.

The French hero-worship Serge Gainsbourg. His songs were mediocre, gaining cachet by virtue of the fact that they were dressed up as poetry. His biggest hit Je t’aime... moi non plus (I love you... neither do I) is, I admit, very funny. Yet it is hardly a love song. Whatever sweetness the song manages to evoke evaporates for me when I learn that he wrote it for one girlfriend (Brigitte Bardot) and then recorded it with his subsequent girlfriend (Jane Birkin). Totally mercenary.

I suspect that Gainsbourg is held in high regard simply because, in France, they do not have the likes of Keith Richard, John Lennon, Dusty Springfield, Ray Davies, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, The Sex Pistols, Ian Curtis, Jarvis Cocker and Amy Winehouse, talents that Britain seems to produce on a regular basis.

*I may have got this all a bit muddled, what with the painkillers and the general anaesthetic. I suggest that you keep up with the latest graveyard news and gossip on Iris’s blog.

I'm on the Case

Since I am laid up at home recovering from surgery I have decided to conduct a forensic investigation of all of the beauty products in my bathroom. I feel like that policeman in The Daughter of TimeThere are rather a lot of them so I’m starting with those that I use on a daily basis.


I bought this cleanser in Australia. Since I’ve been home its place has been usurped by my favourite Nude Facial Oil. But I keep the Sukin as a back-up for travel.

Sukin bills itself as ‘Organic Australian Skincare’, ‘SLS and Paraben Free.’ Sounds good. The ingredients (see below) read like the contents of a physic garden, until, that is, I notice Phenoxyethanol and Benzyl Alcohol. These ingredients are not heinous but the Cosmetics Safety Database rates both of them as ‘moderate hazard’ with concerns in the areas of cancer and neurotoxicty.

Why not just leave them out?

Ingredients: Aqua, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol (and) Ceteareth-20, Glycerin, Rosa Canina Fruit Oil (Rose Hip), Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Butter, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Equisetum Arvense Extract (Horsetail), Arctium Lappa Extract (Burdock), Urtica Dioica Extract (Nettle), Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Citrus Tangerina (Tangerine) Peel Oil, Citrus Nobilis (Mandarin Orange) Peel Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Vanilla Planifolia Extract, Linalool,* Limonene.* 
* Natural component of essential oils.



‘Flouride-free formula. This product does not contain saccharin; artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colours, or flavours; or animal ingredients. Tom’s of Maine is against animal testing.’

I love the taste of this toothpaste and have used it for years. So I am very disappointed to learn that it contains Sodium Lauryl Sufate.

Ingredients: Calcium Carbonate, aqua, glycerin, xylitol, Chondrus crispus, sodium lauryl sulfate, natural flavour (aroma), d-Limonene, Commiphora myrrha, Propolis cera.



Ingredients: Aqua, Dicaprylyl Malete, Octyl Methoxycinnamate, Butyl Methoxydibenzolmethane, Benzophenone-3, Dimethicone, Octyldodecyl Neopentanoate, Polyglyceryl-3 Methylglucose Distearate, Acrylates/Octylacrylamide, Copolymer, Polysorbate 20, Butylene Glycol, Alcohol Denat., Phenoxyethanol, C18-36 Acid Glycol Ester, Parfum, Triethanolemine, Tocopheryl Acetate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Acrylates/Vinyl Isodecanoate Crosspolymer, Propylene Glycol, Sorbitol, Camellia Sinensis, Sodium Hydroxide, Theobroma Cacao, BHT, Methyldibromo Glutaronotirile, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Butylparaben, Isobutylparaben.

Bin, immediately.


Product: Sisley Eye Contour Mask


This incredibly expensive eye cream really does "reduce fine lines and puffiness" so I would be sorry to see the it go. However, I can find no indication of what is in it, either on the tube or on the Sisley website


Dear Sir or Madam, Would you be so kind as to send me a list of the ingredients contained in your Sisley Eye Contour Mask? With best regards, Cannalily.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Recovering, With Love

I slept for most of yesterday and most of today.

Friends are kind. Sheldon has just left. We went for a walk along the canal and drank sage tea at Maramia, the Palestinian café on Golborne Road. The late afternoon was warm and still. It felt good to be out in the world for the first time in three days. Back at home we had my favourite dinner of baked organic salmon with brown rice, cucumber and seaweed salad (recipes are elsewhere on this blog). Then we watched the brilliant but disturbing Badlands with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Another film about a charming sociopath type! Anyway, I’ve decided that for the time being I need to give psychologically messed up movies a miss. Stick to comedies and light romance.

Jamie picked me up from the hospital yesterday morning. My stay there was unsettling. Apart from the fact of having a general anaesthetic and being cut open, never at the top of my list of fun things to do, it was strange to be back in a place that held so many memories. I felt a longing for my life before I ever knew about the cancer. I was a happy then.

Nurse Tiziana cared for me a year ago. She was genuinely pleased to see me again and to hear that I am all clear. Ben, Iris and Sheldon took turns visiting so the time flew by.

I was glad to leave, although a little afraid of going home alone. Ben came over, brought a curry and stayed the night. In the morning I thanked him. “I didn’t do anything Lily,” he protested. But his just being there was all I needed.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Home, Again

The surgery went well. I am very relieved. Back at home now. Sleeping a lot. Let's catch up tomorrow...

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Back, again

Summer is here but the swelling in my back has not improved. I’m finding it impossibly uncomfortable to sit in a chair or lie on my side in bed. Like Mr Hadjiminas said, it is time to deal with it. Tomorrow I am returning to the Harley Street Clinic for surgery. Wish me luck.

Magic Soap


The popular convention amongst bloggers seems to be: find a niche subject and then stick to it like Araldite. That is to say, prepare a recipe from some old cookbook every day of one’s life or spend a year chronicling one’s addiction to collecting Hello Kitty figurines.
You may have noticed that I’m not very good at that. My tendency is to wander away from the matter in hand quite quickly. I will start out talking about wigs and make-up and pretty soon find myself discussing funerals, drugs or depression. It's a morbid habit, I know. But I feel that I may achieve a temporary consistency with my beauty product reviews. Why? I just love beauty products.

Anyway, this will make it two in a row, so I’m on a roll.

Mum sent me a bottle of this soap when I was having chemotherapy. First of all, I love the label. Its claims put me in mind of the kind of thing that might have tripped from the lips of some snake-oil salesman out of Huckleberry Finn. Here are just a few extracts: Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Teach the Moral ABC that unites all mankind free.’... ‘100% VEGAN. HEALTH IS OUR GREATEST WEALTH.’... ‘Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 1606: “Act well your part, complete the great full-truth task, there all the honour lies".'... ‘Enjoy only 2 cosmetics, enough sleep & Dr Bronner’s ‘Magic Soap’ to clean body-mind-soul-spirit instantly uniting One!’... ‘All-One! All-One! Exceptions eternally? Absolutely none!’

The soap itself feels silky on the body. It is liquid, rather than gel. A little goes a long way, an 8oz / 236ml bottle has lasted me several months. It does not froth up like many shower gels that contain foaming agents but it rinses off easily and leaves my skin feeling fresh and alive. The peppermint oil gives a lovely tingle.

Even after studying the label at length I still have not figured out what all the 18 possible uses might be but those that I did read include: washing the body; a face pack; cleaning teeth; washing hair; a body rub; shaving; baby bath; washing silks and woollens and washing the car.

So far I’ve used Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap primarily for washing my body and shaving my armpits. For both of those applications I highly recommend it.

Ingredients (from the Dr Bronner’s website): Water, Organic Coconut Oil*, Potassium Hydroxide**, Organic Olive Oil*, Mentha Arvensis*, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Peppermint Oil*, Citric Acid, Tocopherol
* CERTIFIED FAIR TRADE INGREDIENTS ** None remains after saponifying oils into soap and glycerin

Monday, 19 July 2010

Heavenly Rose Oil


In past posts I have touched on the debate about harmful ingredients in cosmetics and beauty products. I say ‘touched on’ because this is still not something that I feel I can discuss with any confidence. Every time I try to gen up on the subject I find myself being sucked into a labyrinth of complex chemical names, difficult to read research papers, claims and counter claims. Whenever I pick up a bottle in the chemist or department store I first fish around in my handbag for my spectacles then pretend to study the lengthy list of ingredients written in ant-writing. At that point it becomes apparent that I have no idea what any of them are nor can I remember which ones I am meant to steer clear of. Generally I end up either A: buying it anyway and then not using it because I later discover that it is chock full of of mutoid toxic waste that will shortly have me sprouting an extra head, or B: putting it back in confusion and then going home to take a couple of Asprin and lie down in a darkened room.

Chemo Chic is all about maintaining one's feminine identity in the face of the physical and emotional ravages of breast cancer. I know that most beauty products are overpriced and probably ineffective. But they're fun and they make me feel lovely. I recoil from the idea of living out my days as a hemp-clad, sweat-stained, bare-faced troll. Yet neither do I wish to be blasé about factors that may encourage the growth of malignant tumours. I genuinely want to learn how to avoid loading my body with possible carcinogens and endocrine disruptors such as: Parabens; Phthalates; Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and 1,4-Dioxane, to name but a few.

Of course most of us lack the wherewithal to race out and buy a whole new stock of these expensive goodies. I have put in place a regime of replacing them over time. So whenever I run out of, say, body lotion or shower gel, I look around for a more innocuous product to take its place on my bathroom shelf.

I have come to the conclusion that the best approach is to keep it simple. Now I look for products that contain only natural substances (whatever that actually means).
In the hope that my endeavours may save you some time and energy I will begin reviewing some of the beauty products that I have tried.

Product: REN Rose 012 Ultra-Moisture Serum (30ml £40)

REN state that their products contain ‘NO Petrochemicals, Sulfates, Parabens, Synthetic fragrance, Synthetic colours, T.E.A., DEA, Glycols, Silicones, PEGS.’ So that’s a good starting point. Then again, neither does fish paste but I wouldn’t necessarily put it on my face.
This luxurious facial oil is light and absorbs into my skin without leaving any sticky or oily residue. It leaves my face feeling soft and wonderfully hydrated. I’ve been using it for six months now and can honestly say that my skin looks bright and supple. Best of all it smells utterly divine.

Ingredients (as listed on the REN website): Oryza Sativa (Rice) Germ Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Oil, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (Source Coconut Oil), Camellia Oleifera Seed Oil, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Macademia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Ximenia Americana Seed Oil, Rosa Canina Fruit Oil, Rosa Damascena Flower Oil, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Oil, Citronellol, Geraniol, Eugenol, Linalool, Citral, Farnesol, Limonene, Phospholipid (source Soybean), Oryzanol (Source Rice), Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Seed Oil, Hippophae Rhamnoides (Seabuckthorn) Berry Oil, Omega 6 Ceramide (source Carthame), Tocopherol (Vitamin E).

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Oh, Magnificent Moth

Look who I found on my front doorstep.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Lily’s Stress Reduction Programme: Day 2

Fitness: I went to Siobhan’s wonderful yoga class and stood on my head for a while.

Friends: Watched football with Ben.

Flaking: Had an afternoon nap.

Things I got for free today: A cup of tea and a biscuit after yoga class. As I was paying for my organic veggies the manager of Daylesford’s Organics asked me “do you like mustard?” When I replied, “yes, I love mustard” he presented me with three jars of posh mustard, for free.