Whitby

The ‘C’ Word

English people are quite bad at recognising that their country of origin is very beautiful. I know this because I am an English person and I frequently undervalue the appeal of my homeland. When it comes to holidays, we usually favour taking advantage of cheap flights into Europe to get better guarantees of good weather (and usually cheaper alcohol too, depending on where you’re going). After all, the English have a terrible reputation to uphold overseas. We’ll be damned if any travelling Englishman tries to improve it by learning some of the local language or by not drinking 8 pints at the airport pre-7am flight. But navigating airports is a pain in the bottom, and I need to see more of the wonderful English seaside. I only made it to Dorset for the first time last year and I was absolutely stunned at how beautiful it is. So, I thought I’d try my hand at some domestic holidaying this weekend. That’s why Anna, Lucy and I booked a little Airbnb in Whitby, a picturesque English town situated on the Yorkshire coast in North England. It is really worth a visit.

I didn’t know a lot about Whitby before visiting it. To be honest, I still don’t know loads about it, but I certainly know more. There is an astounding demand for fish and chips. Usually, you cannot walk for 5 minutes in an English town without seeing another pub, which is true of Whitby too. The difference in Whitby is that the pub will have a huge banner outside it stating that they serve the best fish and chips in the country, whilst being sandwiched in-between two other places which also, somehow, serve the country’s best fish and chips. I’m not sure if there is a recorded statistic on how many individual chips are sold in Whitby per year, but I bet it exceeds the total number of ants estimated to exist in the world. And who gets to eat all of the chips that don’t make it into the stomachs of tourists? The fucking seagulls.

Before I start on this topic – yes, I know seagulls aren’t only in Whitby. I even know that the seagulls in Whitby aren’t the worst in the country… that award goes to the Brighton seagulls, who are absolute thugs. Take the worst animal on the planet and give them the diplomacy of a Londoner being told that they have to wait an entire FIVE minutes before the next tube will arrive, and the result is the scum which is a Brighton seagull. The audacity of these things is off the chart. I saw a Brighton seagull divebomb into a young girl’s portion of chips which were in her hand, knock them on the floor and then proceed to eat the chips as her entire family chased it around in circles. The family abandoned the operation when the rest of its gang all flew in to obtain some of the loot. The girl was off crying to the side by this point… I think she had lost her appetite.

I do have a particular bone to pick with the seagulls of Whitby, though. I’ve been woken up by seagulls every single day at 5am. I’m pretty sure no sentient being would make the noises these birds do at this time if they weren’t also aware of how INFURIATING it is. Waking up to songbirds is one of life’s greatest pleasures and I am lucky enough to experience it frequently at my parent’s house in Cheshire, where I currently live. They have a nice sized garden which contains a lot of bushes and bird feeders, the perfect combination for attracting birds. The nice kind of birds. Seagulls, however, seem to have learnt their morning call from someone who hasn’t stopped drinking for an entire year and has now forgotten how to communicate. In lieu of real words, they have resorted to simply making whatever noise they feel they can vocalise the loudest to disturb the most number of people, in hope that one of them understands what they are actually trying to say. “GAH… GAH… GAH,” they call to each other over their morning coffee (which they probably fished out of the ocean). I know that a neighbouring dog also hates the seagulls because it proceeds to bark incredibly loudly back at them all morning. I can only assume the owners of this dog are deaf because they make no attempt at stopping it from doing so. The dog is on my side, though, so I shouldn’t be getting annoyed at it. It’s the seagull’s fault, Dan. Remember that. Seagulls are the most obnoxious animals ON THIS PLANET. If I had been starved of food for an entire month and someone offered me a plate of seagull, I’d throw the meat straight into the ocean and proceed to eat the plate itself.

Despite being a walking zombie due to lack of sleep, I managed to pull my walking socks up and do a beautiful 7-mile walk along the coast on Saturday morning. We got the bus to a place called Robin Hood’s Bay and embarked on the walk back to Whitby. The weather started out a little cool, making us both panic that we had under-dressed as we got off the bus. That theory lasted about 30 minutes before we realised that we were absolutely boiling already and that it was only getting warmer. Anna tied her coat around her waist but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It just looks so weird. I opted to carry mine for the best part of 5 miles.

Lucy absolutely loved it. For such a small dog, she really can walk a long way. I doubted that she would be able to see the walk through and suspected that we’d have to carry her some of the way. We didn’t! There were a few firsts along the way too; the first time she met a lamb up close, the first time she stepped onto a beach, and the first time that she saw the sea. She did not like any of them. At one point, we encountered a lamb which had managed to get through a fence and was on the walkway. It seemed quite distressed and (what I assume was) its family were on the other side, also panicking. They weren’t doing a good job of helping it resolve the issue. As we approached and decided we needed to assist, Lucy went into meltdown mode. She had no idea what it was, but she wanted Anna and I to know that she was not happy about it being there. Lucy has met sheep before, but they have always been far away or on the other side of the fence. I didn’t realise that she took confidence from fences separating her from other threatening animals – it actually makes me think that she’s smarter than I give her credit. I had to pick her up and turn away from the lamb to try and stop her barking and crying whilst Anna opened a metal fence and encouraged the lamb through. The lamb did so and then the entire herd ran as far away from us as possible. We like to think that we earnt ourselves some good karma from it. A couple walking slightly ahead of us totally ignored its plight.

Lucy On the Run – ft Terrible Australian Accents

The walk ended in Whitby. There are the remains of an abbey on a hill overlooking the town. It’s called Whitby Abbey, for some reason. Next to it is a brewery that serves pizza. We decided to call into it and have a pint and a pizza to celebrate. It had just turned 13:00 and we felt accomplished. The second we sat down, Lucy passed out and wouldn’t be stirred (other than when there was pizza on the table – you could get her heart to start beating again by waving food in front of her nose). It made for quite a cute sight and a few people came over to chat to us about her. She couldn’t have cared less and would only briefly open her eyes to give us ‘the stare’ if we were moving her too much or being too loud. The brewery is lovely – I’d really recommend doing the coastal walk and finishing in there. We didn’t go into the ruins of the abbey; It cost £10 to enter the site and we could see it from our table in the brewery anyway.

Another thing I’ve learnt about Whitby is that apparently, it has an association with Dracula. I haven’t read the book or seen any of the films which I assume exist, so I’ve only read what the relationship is about on Google. There are 199 steps up to the Abbey that he walks up in the novel, and they are now famous because of it. I didn’t count the steps myself but I’m willing to concede to what the legend says. There is Dracula merchandise in all of the gift shops and a museum called The Dracula Experience. People go Dracula mad in Whitby. Anna told me to strike a Dracula pose as we descended the stairs from the abbey. The one day that I didn’t wear my cape and fangs to go out walking – how frustrating. I didn’t manage the most convincing image and I’m pretty sure no one would ever guess I’m trying to be Dracula from what I am doing. If I’d just had chemotherapy it would have been better as the process seems to wipe any colour from my face for a day or two.

Dracula Dan Climbing the 199 Stairs

On Sunday we decided to drive to Newcastle as neither of us had ever been there. It’s another hour and a half north of Whitby. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. After spending the morning Googling ‘what to do in Newcastle’, I established that the main things were to walk the various bridges over the river and enjoy the quayside. Ok, not really, but that’s what someone suggested on a random forum when someone asked ‘what can I do with a few hours in Newcastle’. We decided to park South of the river and walk over one of the bridges, then find somewhere to eat.

As we made our way over The Tyne bridge, I suspected that we had over-anticipated just how good walking over a bridge could be. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t groundbreaking either. It is essentially a dual-carriageway with a pavement next to it but elevated from the ground. You did get a nice view down the river and into the city, but it wasn’t amazing. In Philadelphia, I used to regularly run over The Benjamin Franklin Bridge. That bridge was much higher, and pedestrians had their own separate walkway which went above the level of the traffic – a much cooler bridge experience. I always did my hill repeats on it.

As we approached the north side of the bridge, I noticed something laying on the ground. Lucy ran towards it with purpose so I assumed it was food. I pulled her back to inspect it closer. To my surprise, it was a used tampon. I didn’t see it on TripAdvisor, so I’m assuming it wasn’t a piece of shock art or a historical artefact. We took the executive decision to not let Lucy anywhere near it and proceeded to the quayside. Quite an introduction to the city. I’ve never seen Geordie Shore, but I assume it is a result of that show somehow.

We spent our few hours there walking around and getting a feel for the city. Neither of us ate breakfast, so we wanted to find a nice cafe quickly. The one we chose didn’t end up being very good. Hunger defeated logic. All of the food was overpriced and the quality was poor. I’m not going to name it as I’m not writing the blog to critique restaurants. Lucy seemed to enjoy herself, though. After incessantly crying because she was on the floor, I decided to pick her up and have her on my lap. She’s well behaved usually but she had been sitting in a car all morning, so I think she was a bit restless. We hadn’t walked around very much at this point. I was eating a cheese and tomato croissant when all of a sudden, Lucy lunged and ripped the top half of the croissant off and wolfed it down. The table next to us were in disbelief and couldn’t stop laughing. A woman on another table just looked horrified, but she looked that way before Lucy nicked the croissant; she didn’t seem too enamoured by the small amount of space inside, the pushy waiting staff or the large, overambitious menu options. Inside my mind I agreed with her, but I doubled down and ordered plenty of food just so I didn’t leave hungry AND disappointed. I had nothing but admiration for the move from Lucy. The croissant was quite average so it wasn’t a huge loss. I also wouldn’t usually order a filled croissant – why mess with something that is already perfect? I think Lucy wanted to teach me a lesson. Lesson learnt. We left feeling full but disappointed. The rest of our time was spent walking around parks and looking at some of the local sights. The only time we recorded anything was when we saw The Angel of the North from the motorway on the way home. It isn’t as big as I thought it’d be, but it was still cool.

Wow – The Angel of the North!

We got back to Whitby at about 17:00 and chilled out for an hour at the Airbnb. The sun was fully out now but it was still a bit cold. As it is our last night here, we wanted to go into the town for a while. We headed back out and went to a dog-friendly beach by Whitby harbour. We figured out how to make Lucy like beaches – show her that you can dig in the sand without consequence. Lucy is a big fan of digging. My dad, however, is not a fan of her digging. He is forever shouting at her for ruining the flower beds and digging up bulbs to chew on. Of course, knowing that she isn’t meant to do it only makes her enjoy it more, comme stealing croissants or trying to eat tampons off the street. Once Anna encouraged Lucy to dig and she realised it wouldn’t get her in trouble, she fell in love with the beach.

Lucy Finally Digging the Beach

So, I’m finishing this blog post off whilst sitting in the Airbnb on our final night here. My family got me a voucher for Airbnb my birthday – what a lovely and thoughtful present from them. We tried to book a few different weekends away but had to cancel, either because I felt too ill or because other medical issues got in the way. It is nice to post all of these pictures and videos and reflect on the past few days, knowing that I’ve successfully got out of my bubble. I like my bubble, but it is so beneficial to break out of it occasionally. We’ll spend a bit of time walking around the town tomorrow morning and give Lucy another run around on the beach, then we’ll make the two and a half-hour drive back to Cheshire before the evening rush hour hits. It’s been great, Whitby. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again in the future.

Betrayed by My Own Blood

The Chemotherapy Diaries

Lucy and I Enjoying Our Sleep

I’ve spent the last week of this cycle dodging covid. Someone somewhere seems to have struck a deal with the disease and it has been hot on my tail ever since. The most hurtful detail is that the people hired to carry out the job include my own fiancee, one of my best friends and members of my own family. I’m still winning so far… I would estimate that I have done 10 lateral flow tests and a single PCR this week, and all have come back negative. It’s been close, though.

The first attempt on my life came on Tuesday. Anna and I have been feeling a bit under the weather, both of us waking up with dry throats and feeling more tired than usual. None of the symptoms were too bad, but Anna woke up feeling slightly worse that day so wanted to make sure it wasn’t covid. This was all going on upstairs, unbeknown to my mum and me who were downstairs watching trash tv (Come Dine With Me – the only trash TV worth watching), blissfully ignorant of the situation unfolding upstairs.

“Daaaaaan,” I heard from upstairs, there was obvious concern in the tone. “I’ve just tested positive. It’s only a really faint line but there’s definitely one there.” Mum and I ran into the hallway to find Anna standing at the top of the stairs, worry in her eyes. She showed us the test. There was a faint impression of a line. She did another test, which confusingly came back negative. No sign of a line whatsoever. We thought we’d take a final punt, a decider test. It came back negative again… not a great reflection on the lateral flow tests that everyone is relying on (which we are going to be charged extortionate amounts of money for in England from April 1st). We agreed to keep our distance and sleep in different beds until we could get a PCR to provide a more reliable result, which we got on Wednesday. It came back negative for both of us.

The next hired gun came in the form of my friend Drew. Well, his girlfriend Em was delivering the bullet, but I’m sure he was getting a cut. Tuesday was his 29th birthday, and we had agreed to hang out that night so I could give him his present and the sponge cake that I had baked for him. Pure unadulterated love went into the baking of that cake, and he still tried to take me down with covid. You can’t trust anyone these days. He called me at about 17:00 informing me that Em had just tested positive. I told him about Anna, as this was pre PCR test. Seeing as both of us felt equally at risk of being days away from testing positive, we decided to meet and have a distanced cup of tea. I drove over to his place and stood in the kitchen for an hour, catching up with him and his parents and eating a slice of the cake. It was delicious, if I may say so.

Drew’s Birthday Cake

The last attempt came from my own blood. My mum and I went to Nottingham to drop off some stuff for my brother, Alfie. We took puppy Lucy along for the ride. Once there, we decided to take Lucy on a walk around the local area, Beeston. Beeston is where my dad grew up and all of his siblings still live locally. Alfie is doing his PhD at The University of Nottingham, so he has lived there for a while, eventually settling very near to where my dad grew up, and where his siblings mainly still live. Whilst on our walk, we were going past my aunty Jane’s house. We decided to try our luck and knock on the door to see if Jane and her husband, Roy, were in. At first, we thought they weren’t as no one seemed to be responding to our knocks. We then noticed Jane’s figure peering out of the window, gesticulating at us. She then came to the door and informed us that Roy had just tested positive for covid. “Oh, what a coincidence,” I thought to myself, knowing full well that they were part of this ploy to infect me with covid. We stood talking to her for a while outside the door before Roy came outside and joined us. I’m not scared of no covid; that’s what I was showing them. It’s a dog eat dog world, you can’t cower away from these situations.

My immune system seems to have proven too strong for these weasels and I’m still testing negative at the time of writing. I did hit a roadblock today, though. It wasn’t covid who had the last laugh, but my blood. My own blood betraying me, and I’m not talking metaphorically about my family this time. My actual blood, in my actual veins.

I had my blood test scheduled for today at 11:05. As always, I arrived at The Christie 5 minutes early to ensure that I get through the covid questions at the main entrance, and can check into the relevant department in time for my appointment. Punctuality is my middle name, although my actual middle name is James, which is far less interesting. All was going well. I sat down in the waiting area, armed with my novel. These days I know the drill, and I know that these blood appointments never happen when they are scheduled to. Me and my book had a score to settle, as I’ve been ignoring reading lately. The book was feeling lonely, and I was actually excited to spend some time with it. Four minutes into waiting, at approximately 11:09, my name flashes up on the screen. I’ve barely read 2 pages. How things continue to go so well for me, in such a strange way, I don’t know. I reluctantly closed the book and stood up. “What else can go so well for me this week?” I thought to myself as I made my way across the hospital floor and into the bloods office, begrudging their lack of lateness for once.

The nurse who did my test was sneaky. She immediately started chatting to me about whether I had plans for the weekend. I told her that I have treatment the next day so my plans were pretty limited. Just as she was telling me about how she was planning a quiet weekend, she said “sharp scratch” mid-sentence, at the exact time that the needle pierced my skin. I almost jumped out of the seat. It was fantastic. I didn’t have time to do my normal routine of dramatically looking away and saying something pathetic like “oh I don’t like to watch!”. 30 seconds later, I was putting my jacket back on and thanking her. It all just happened so quickly – the waiting time, the extraction and now I was taking my leave. I felt like I’d been given back an hour of my life, on the same weekend as the clocks go forward in the UK, marking the start of British Summer Time. Everything was coming up roses. I had gained an hour back on the weekend where we frustratingly lose an hour in Britain. Covid was failing at hunting me down and now I was leaving the hospital early. Perfect.

I decided to try my luck and track down a nurse to ask whether my oncology team had managed to write a report on my health. I’ve previously mentioned some difficulties with returning to work. Essentially, my employer would not accept a plan I put together for me returning to work without Occupational Health (OH) getting involved first. OH did a phone interview with me where they asked me some fairly basic questions about my condition and the status of my treatment. From a purely medical point of view, the situation looks quite bleak. I’m on chemotherapy that is considered extremely toxic, with a cancer that has an extremely high mortality rate and I am currently classed as inoperable. The report they produced essentially warned any employer to run as far away from me as they can. At one point, the report actually states that I may need to be considered for ill-health retirement… What on earth would the point of that be? I’ve been paying into a pension fund for 5 years max, the first 3 of them with serious reluctance. The only reason I paid into it at that time was to keep my dad happy, who is pension-mad and manages to force them into any conversation about anything. Seriously, try it with him. Talk to him about ANYTHING, and I guarantee within 7 minutes of engaging he’ll be telling you about how important pensions are.

Anyway, to counter this OH report, I agreed with my line manager that I would get a written report from my oncology team. This report would support all of the things I suggested in my return to work plan. Not an unreasonable ask. Getting my oncology team’s time to create this report is difficult, though. Now, I’m not complaining per se, these people are doing incredible work to save people’s lives, including my own. The nurse who told me that they would do this, however, made it sound like an easy task. 2 emails, 3 voicemails to the specialist’s secretary and 3 weeks no luck in getting any contact would disagree.

I stumbled around the oncology department’s corridors looking intentionally lost. A nurse spotted me and came over to ask if I was Ok. Boom, the plan was working. “I’m looking for a member of my specialist’s team. I haven’t been able to work for half a year and want to return to work, but need a report from the oncology team to help my argument that I am healthy enough to return,” she then cut me off. “This is the breast cancer unit. I imagine you’re in the wrong place,” she smirked; I already liked her. After I explained that I have pancreatic cancer and gave her my specialist’s name, she said that his team were in today. She offered to track them down and speak to them and asked me to go back and wait in the waiting room. 5 minutes later she emerged again, recommending that I contact the secretary again, but giving me the details of the 2 head nurses in case I still didn’t get a response. A bit frustrating, but it’s progress. I counted it as a win and left the hospital with my head held high. Things were doing well, until about 17:00.

I was back home when I got a phone call from ‘No Caller ID’. Nothing ever good usually comes from these calls. What you quickly learn if you are being treated at The Christie is that these calls are almost always from the hospital. The other 20% of the time, however, they are from Carphone Warehouse and they’re trying to convince you that they can better your current phone deal. Luckily, this was the former. I honestly would choose a cold call from The Christie, the contents of which could be quite literally anything regarding my cancer, to having to speak to the random call centre operative from Carphone Warehouse. I’m 99% sure it is a scam anyway.

“Hi is that Daniel?” Not a great start. Who doesn’t know that I am, indeed, Daniel? My ego was already bruised. “Yes, speaking,” I heard someone say this on the tube once and have imitated them ever since. It feels so cool. “It’s one of the nurses at The Christie. Unfortunately, your platelets are too low to go ahead with treatment tomorrow. The bottom limit is 75 and yours are 72. We’re going to have to delay treatment by another week.” Well, that’s annoying. Anna and I had planned to go to Dorset next weekend, then I was going to spend a few days the following week in London before my next treatment. Chemotherapy is king, though, and I know I’m lucky to be getting the treatment I am, so I’m trying not to dwell on the minute details of how my plans need to shift slightly to make way for my potentially life-saving treatment. I can be a little frustrated though, right?

It is strange as after a tough few days initially, this has been the best cycle I’ve experienced by a long way. I’ve had very few side effects, I’ve been running a lot and doing some good times, and I’ve barely felt ill at all. It’s almost tempting to say I have managed to forget I have cancer at times, apart from the constant quips I manage to force into most conversations about having cancer. “Dan, can I watch this programme that I’ve been looking forward to for weeks?” an innocent bystander in my house may ask me. “I’VE ALREADY GOT CANCER AND NOW I CAN’T EVEN WATCH COME DINE WITH ME FOR NINE HOURS A DAY,” I respond, tears streaming down my face. I may as well milk it seeing as it is happening to me whether I do or not.

More seriously, though, I have been cooking and baking a lot again this week. One of the major benefits I’ve found of having cancer has been that I can go about doing things I enjoy, like cooking, running and baking, and people look at me with admiration for doing them. “It’s amazing what you’re managing to do considering what you’re going through,” people say. I have to feign some sort of achievement as I respond saying that I’m only human. The honest truth is that I love doing all of those things. I’d rather be doing them than sitting around feeling miserable. I also have a constant sous chef now as my mum is retired and has a vested interest in my cooking endeavours – she gets to indulge in the final products (unless they have chocolate in, as she gave this up for lent; why on earth someone would do this to themselves is a mystery to me). This allows me to summon my inner Gordan Ramsey. “IT’S FUCKING RAW,” I shout at her as she hands me the chopped carrots. It’s fun for both of us, honest.

Whilst discussing my mum, I have a funny little story from this week. We were out walking the dogs together on Wednesday. The sun was out and it was a clear day, so she decided to take her binoculars to indulge in a spot of bird watching (she isn’t eating chocolate so what else is there to indulge in?). At one point, she was looking through the binoculars whilst holding a bag of dog excrement. I’m not sure if she had forgotten it was in her hand or just didn’t care, but it was hanging right next to her face. I tried to get a picture, but she had just lowered the binoculars by the time I had my camera out. I was do disappointed to not have captured the key moment, but I got pretty close.

A Level of Commitment to Birdwatching That is Unparalleled

Anyway, back to my low platelets… with this being such a good cycle, I do find it strange that it is also the one where my platelets have fallen by so much. The nurse told me it means that my body is still working through the chemotherapy drugs and that it may be doing so at a slower rate because of the accumulation of drugs in my system. The result of the platelets dropping is that my blood doesn’t clot well. It helps to explain why when I removed the cotton bud after my blood test yesterday, it was covered in blood, and why it has left the below mark ever since. Gross.

Low Platelet Bruises Don’t Mess Around

So, although chemotherapy takes the overall victory this round, I do get another week of feeling good. Better just crack on and enjoy it, even if I won’t be able to go to the beautiful Dorset coast for a little bit longer. Lucy and I have been on a few road trips recently. The below picture was taken as we went to see my best friend Luke in Huddersfield. She really is a little heartbreaker.

Lucy Raring to Go to Huddersfield

I hope everyone has a lovely weekend. Here is a vibey song that reminds me of dancing in the sun at Glastonbury in 2019, before I had ever heard of Covid and when I would have bet every penny I owned that I wouldn’t be fighting cancer before the age of 30!

Days Away

The Chemotherapy Diaries

It’s been years with the hope kept close to my chest
That what I’ll get will be better than what I have
So I’ll stay inside and try to sleep my days away

Days Away – Pentimento

Picture from my 29th Birthday Gathering

It’s been a strange cycle so far. With the last one being 3 weeks long instead of 2, I got a taste of normality. The extra week did me a world of a good and it certainly helped my mouth settle down after ulcer-gate. I had actually forgotten what it was like to have a relatively normal amount of energy, but had not realised that I had forgotten, if that makes sense. The months on chemotherapy shifts what the standard is in your mind of what is ‘normal’. It is hard for me to truly remember what my energy levels were like before I started treatment now, but I also had another month-worth of time where I was very ill before starting treatment. This was when I was in and out of the hospital, trying to establish what was wrong with me. It means that I haven’t felt at full strength for over 5 months now. That third week I was given off chemotherapy is probably the best I have felt since before I even fell ill. I got quite caught up in it. My runs were faster, I was up earlier each day and life wasn’t fatiguing me anywhere near as much. It was easier to go to restaurants, laugh with friends and enjoy myself. I was also really happy with the few blog posts I did that week, and wish I had spent time writing more. The whole experience has made me yearn for a return to a similar state of normality. Perhaps that helps explain the last week I have had with cycle 8.

There isn’t a lot to complain about, per se. Physically, in terms of symptoms, it hasn’t been a particularly bad cycle. My nurse during treatment warned me about cycle 8. “A lot of people find this one the hardest. The accumulation of drugs and mental fatigue can take its toll. Let us know if you need a break. Your oncology team can give you a month off if you’re feeling run down by it all.” She had a lovely Geordie accent; I could have sat listening to her speak all day. She was also extremely complimentary about my baking and kept coming over to chat to me about restaurants that she recommends that were nearby in Manchester. It always makes the session go quicker when you have a friendly nurse who likes to chat – although, almost all of them are like this at The Christie. By the time I left the hospital, she had already eaten 3 slices of the victoria sponge cake. I was impressed she was so skinny – it must be those laps around the chemotherapy ward, turning off all the alarms on the machines and chatting to the patients.

The problems with this cycle have been more subtle for me. I’ve felt extremely disconnected, unmotivated and absent. For the first 4 days of the cycle, I really didn’t know what was going on, what I had done, when I had fallen asleep and when I had just been sitting there doing nothing. The world seemed to be happening in spite of me, as opposed to me participating in anything that was going on. When I finally got myself motivated to go running on Thursday, it didn’t feel like my brain was controlling my feet. There was a disconnect between the 2. I felt myself running along but didn’t feel like I had any autonomy over the situation. My body knew I was running and was doing it, but my brain wasn’t interested enough to be involved. It is this apathy that is hitting other areas of my life.

It is a strange phenomenon really. I can’t quite sum it up in a way that even makes sense to me. The lyrics quoted at the start of the blog post stand out at the minute because it feels that they describe the situation well. On Wednesday, I was trying to reflect back on the past few days but I genuinely couldn’t recall what I had done. I barely knew how often I had been awake or asleep. Everything had blurred into one elongated memory of me just sitting around the house, occasionally cooking, occasionally walking. My mum and I went and visited friends together on Tuesday which was really nice. I even drove there and back as mum doesn’t like the motorway, something which I am not usually able to do that soon after treatment because my fingers cramp up badly. It only lasts about 5 days, but I try and avoid driving during this time in case it happens and I suddenly can’t grip the wheel. This is what I mean about the cycle not really being as bad in terms of physical symptoms, though. My hands only cramped for a day or 2 this time. All of the shortcomings of the cycle feel relatively indescribable and intangible. After having such a good extra week in the last cycle, I now feel like I am holding onto hope that I will be able to feel like that permanently, but am condemned to continue with the hard miles for now; sleeping away the time if necessary, just trying to get through it.

There is nothing worse in life than wishing time away, though, even if I am on chemotherapy. I’ve managed to make the most of the past 4 months and I shouldn’t be stopping that attitude now. The amount I am baking has settled down, but I am cooking a lot. My mum and I just started getting an organic veg box delivered to our house from a local company. It is quite ridiculous that I’ve never had to wash dirt off vegetables before eating them in my entire life, considering vegetables are grown in the ground. The modern world is so disconnected from the reality of food. Whilst watching Come Dine With Me earlier in the week (a TV show that I am watching far too much of these days), a bunch of guests criticised their host for bringing out the different cuts of steak and explaining to them about their relative qualities. The host of the dinner party was a butcher, so he had a keen interest in this type of thing. Considering all of the guests expressed excitement at seeing steak on the menu, I was surprised that 3 of 4 of them then started to tell him that he had done something wrong by bringing out the different cuts of meat whilst they’re having a dinner party. What do these people think they are eating? This man is explaining to you why different types of steaks taste differently before offering to cut you off a fresh piece of it and cook it to your liking – how is this not your ideal situation if you claim to love steak?! One of them said that they don’t like to see the meat raw unless it is in a packet. It is absolutely baffalling. Well, now I am getting in touch with the origins of my vegetables; I am scrubbing them clean like they are my own offspring, then cooking them with love, which is an unusual place to take this considering what I just said about my offspring.

The vegetable box also presents culinary challenges. So far in my culinary adventures, I have grown accustom to finding a recipe, getting the ingredients from the shop and then making said recipe. It is a pretty straightforward process and I haven’t seen anything wrong with it up to now (other than wasting ingredients more than I would like as I only need them for a single type of recipe). The veg box presents weird and wonderful vegetables that I wouldn’t usually use, however, such as swedes, as well as not giving you all of the exact ingredients you would need to make a particular recipe. That means either going rogue and trying to make something not from a recipe (gasp! gawk!), or going and buying more vegetables from the shop, which feels like you’ve failed at being a good veg box samaritan. Its my first taste of the Masterchef challenge, another TV show where the contestants are offered a large range of ingredients to choose from, then given a brief to cook to – ‘A journey through your childhood’, for example. My brief to myself is simply ‘use things from the veg box and try to make an edible meal’. It isn’t quite as ambitious. Whereas those contestants are incredibly talented chefs who make amazingly innovative meals up on the spot, I make honey roasted swede and carrot. I wanted to see if I can taste the difference between the organic veg and what I’d usually get from the shop, so kept it quite simple. Not too inspiring. The veg was really good, though.

The one thing I have been baking, though, is this Jammy Blackberry and Almond Crumble Cake. I cannot stress enough how good it is. It is SO DAMN NICE. I found it as I was looking for things to do with some almond flour that I was given as part of my amazing birthday present from my amazing best friend Luke. He got me a 6 month subscription to a service which send you 6 unique and unusual ingredients every month. I substituted the ground almonds for the almond flour and cannot believe how nice it turned out. If you’re looking for something to occupy you on this sunny Sunday, I wholeheartedly recommend taking an hour to throw this cake together. It is delicious.

The cycle is easing off now and I am feeling more with it. My challenge to myself is to enjoy the next week as much as possible before I am back to treatment on Saturday. I’m not sure why I have had such a hard time with the blog recently, but I have. The last post didn’t feel cathartic or encouraging, it just felt like I was airing out a lot of dirty laundry and not getting any release from it. I hope it didn’t come across that way. I decided to post it because I thought the things that I was complaining about will likely effect others in my situation, and the ‘cancer experience’ is a key part of this blog, so I felt like I should put those frustrations out into the world. I also want to try and write when I am in a jarring and frustrated mood because, again, that is a reality of having cancer. You can’t always expect yourself to stay afloat when facing such adversity. I’m glad to say that I have enjoyed writing this post a lot more. It feels good to just mindlessly speak about things and not try too hard to be funny, to be interesting, or to write well. Sometimes it is just as good to write whatever is on your mind, in whatever tone you feel comes naturally. Hopefully it is still enjoyable to read.

My friend Charl took the below picture of Lucy yesterday and it is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. Her new favourite spot to sleep is on the top of the back of the sofa in the lounge, where the sun hits for the majority of the day. She can lay there sleeping for hours. I’ve witnessed her fall over the back 3 times now, usually because she is twitching in a dream. The drop is extremely big considering her size and the first time I was very worried about her. I was sitting on the other sofa when I saw something in the corner of my eye. I looked over and it was Lucy’s 2 front paws clumbsily trying to grab onto something as her bottom half had already disappeared behind the back of the sofa. Her eyes were fully opened as she tried to comprehend what was happening to her. She was looking me dead in the eyes as if it was my fault as she finally succumbed to the inevitability of the situation and fell to the floor. All I heard was a large (and fairly comical) thud! I ran over to see if she was ok. She had already got to her feet and was shaking off the embarrassment (I assume this is what she was doing as she wasn’t wet). She then enthusiastically pottered around to the front of the sofa, jumped onto it, climbed onto the arm, made her way up to the summit and went straight back to sleep in the same spot. We could learn a lot from dogs if we really wanted to, couldn’t we? If only humans were that resilient.

Lucy’s Perch on Top of the Sofa

Friends & Family

This morning my mum and I received a surprise visit from a family friend bearing flowers. We spoke briefly at the door, and some tears were shed. It perfectly demonstrated to me how a bad situation can bring out the best form of humanity in people. I felt immediately inspired to write.

The experience with cancer has been traumatic in so many ways and reliving some of the most painful moments on The Road to Diagnosis series has been hard. What shocks me is the incredible response from people to these stories. We have an amazing ability to empathise with each other’s struggles, and I get to experience the best part of this human trait daily through your heartfelt words.

It feels like the right time to name and shame some of the actions of my friends and family over the past few weeks. These fiends have made it their sole objective to do everything possible to make me feel so lucky, in such an un-lucky situation. Many of these situations have resulted in me becoming a babbling mess and falling into the ever-so-annoying “you shouldn’t have” and “I can’t accept this” tropes. It can be hard to accept the generosity of others, even when those people are your family and closest friends. The least I can do is recognise some of these actions, and I hope you enjoy a positivity-filled blog post for a change.

Firstly, I would like to introduce you to Lucy. She is a 12-week-old Miniature Dachshund and the newest member of me and Anna’s family. I first met Lucy when Anna walked into my bedroom on Wednesday 24th November and asked me if I could come downstairs to help with ‘something’. This should have perhaps aroused a level of suspicion in me, but my mind was elsewhere. Chemotherapy was starting on the coming Saturday and my mind was racing. In response to the anxiety, I had decided to sit down on my own and try to write about how I was diagnosed to alleviate some of the negativity that I was feeling mentally. It was the inception of the blog, and those words would eventually morph into the first Road to Diagnosis entry.

I followed Anna downstairs, entirely in my own head and reliving some of the tough parts of the cancer journey thus far. To my surprise, my brother Alfie and his girlfriend Kat were sitting in the front room when I walked in. My dad was also sitting there. Everyone was looking at me expectantly. “Is this an intervention? Do these people think I’ve been diagnosed with alcoholism?” I thought. As I took another step, I realised there was a small box on the floor. As I looked down, I saw beautiful little Lucy plotting her escape. I think the video speaks clearer than any words I could write from this point.

I haven’t watched the video as I cannot stand the sound of my voice, but I have seen the still images of my dad laughing to high heaven. He processes emotion in a different way to the rest of us if you couldn’t tell. Lucy was organised by my wonderfully thoughtful sister Becky and paid for by the whole family and some very close family friends. She was to be my chemotherapy companion, and she does a fantastic job of sitting and looking cute in the car when I am picked up from the hospital. I have shown the nurses pictures of her and threatened to sneak her onto the ward in my bag. They reluctantly encourage me not to. I still think they’d let her stay if I did though.

The next group of people in the spotlight are my incredible friends. Upon learning about a difficult financial situation with work, whereby I would only be receiving full sick pay for 4 weeks (the diagnosis alone took 5 weeks), my friend Finch organised a collection. They were trying to take away some of the external stresses that come with a cancer diagnosis; the things that you would hope could be put to the back of the mind in this scenario. Unfortunately, financial problems quickly become a hot topic with such a diagnosis, but that is an entirely different article.

I needed to use the money to buy something significant, as I felt so uncomfortable accepting such a gesture and spending it on something benign. So, the money bought a ring which Anna now wears on a rather significant finger on her left hand… It will forever remind us of the kindness of a group of people who have always been there for me, and who I love with all my heart.

My friends then organised a sort-of-surprise engagement meal for me and Anna, which was lovely. It was on Monday 22nd November, the same day that we packed up our lives in London to move back home with my parents for me to undergo treatment at The Christie. We had only recently purchased our flat in London and had enjoyed decorating it and making it our home. We were sad to leave it behind and packing away our things so soon after moving them in felt wrong. It emphasised the fact that our lives were changing, suddenly and drastically. The meal provided another perspective on the situation; that we had the support of people we loved around us, and that we were closer to those people for a while (as many of them aren’t hip Londoners like Anna and I).

Although cancer is a destructive and horrible thing, I have it to thank for all the above and far more. Whether it kills me or doesn’t, it has provided me with an opportunity to gain such a valuable perspective on the world that will remain with me forever. The way I interact with people has irreversibly changed. But you shouldn’t need a cancer diagnosis to gain such a perspective. If you feel gratitude for a friend, tell them. When you know someone is going through a hard time, set a reminder on your phone to message them each day and tell them something about them you love. Be the person that you would want other people to be for you.