MarySmith’sPlace ~ So much to tell you! Cancer Diary #36

Isle of Lewis

Tuesday, 20 July: When I took my blogging break at the beginning of June I expected it to be for two weeks. Yet, here we are: over six weeks later and I’m only now getting myself together to write an update. It’s a long one, but I’ll put in some nice pics to break it up a bit.

I’d decided to take a break from blogging and social media partly because I was heading off for our first holiday since 2019 with the DH, our son and his partner and partly because for the first time ever, writing wasn’t helping me to process what I was feeling about my cancer and what was happening in my life. Although there was the really good news the cancer was under control for now, I was worried about my cough and breathlessness, which the oncologist seemed to think wasn’t likely to get much better. The research I did about my radiation-induced fibrosis was also pretty disheartening.

We went to the Isle of Lewis and Harris, the main island of the Outer Hebrides. It is stunningly beautiful from moorland to mountain, from lochs to beaches with miles of white sand and the amazing Calanais Standing Stones. Visiting them has been on my must-see list for a long time and was also partly a pilgrimage in Sue’s name as she was there two years before.

Social distancing was not an issue on such beaches
Calanais Stones, Lewis – older even than Stonehenge

I have to say, though, the edge was taken off my enjoyment because of my fears about the fibrosis. At the back of my mind was a constant niggle about how I’ve been left with worse health issues than before I started treatment. Alive, yes, which I wouldn’t have been without treatment, but … It’s hard to explain without sounding totally ungrateful for the treatment which has kept me alive – though it has scarred my lung, left me breathless and unable to enjoy the walking which was so much a part of my life and has even given talking to friends on the phone a nightmarish quality as I have to keep pausing to cough. Getting dressed has me puffing and panting. There are books I want to write, and poems, but my brain isn’t functioning at that level and I fear it might never again. That’s before the weight gain which I hate. It’s taken me less than a year to put on two stone (28 pounds but you’ll have to work out the kilos if that’s your thing) and it will take about two years to lose it again – do I really want to spend that amount of time counting calories and trying to exercise more. Back we come to the breathlessness on exertion.

Got to get a lamb in somehow!

Once back home I continued to try to find out more about pulmonary fibrosis. I asked the specialist nurse to ask the oncologist what, if anything can be done to alleviate the symptoms – because, of course, I can’t ask directly. When I meet the oncologist I always have my list of questions ready but other questions arise depending on the responses and sometimes it’s after the meeting ends I work out what I need to ask.

I had another telephone consultation with the lung physio who previously provided me with various techniques to suppress my cough – though this was before we knew about the fibrosis. She spent time explaining that my fibrosis is not the progressive kind and now that the cause – radiation – has been removed it should not become worse. She also said she’d ask the respiratory consultant to speak to me – which she did the same day in the evening. If only I’d had such detailed explanations earlier I would have enjoyed my holiday so much more.

I find it puzzling how some people in the medical profession are excellent at understanding how the patient feels and at communicating in a clear, understandable way – and, best of all, don’t seem to mind the questions – yet others seem so totally focussed on the treatments they lose sight of the patient’s need to know and understand what’s going on.

The conversations with these two people made me feel much more positive, not least because the consultant explained the tiredness from treatment was likely, in her experience, to continue for about a year and I shouldn’t be despondent about not returning immediately to my past fitness levels.

I was planning to re-join the blogosphere – when the DH went down with Covid. He has been super-cautious since my cancer diagnosis last summer when the oncologist warned me if I contracted Covid it would kill me as the chemotherapy would destroy my immune system. He never left the house without a mask, kept his distance from people and had been double-vaccinated.

I was rather chuffed with my lupins this year – and so grateful I had a garden in which to potter while self-isolating

I received a text telling me to get tested and to self-isolate. This was easy enough when the DH was in hospital but when he was discharged and we have to continue the self-isolation under one roof it was a bit trickier – thank goodness we have a large flat and we have a garden. Anyone thinking it would be a mild dose as he’d been vaccinated should hope they don’t get to find out what a mild dose is really like. I hate to think what it would have been like had he not been vaccinated because his cough was horrific. For a while, it was far worse than mine. He couldn’t even record a message on the answering machine to say he would be off work for a week and not responding to calls or texts without having paroxysms of coughing. It didn’t stop someone leaving a message practically the next day asking him to order equipment but on the whole his clients were patient and supportive.

How I didn’t get it, I don’t know. I can only assume my immune system has bucked up since I finished chemo and radiotherapy and have been eating well and taking a liquid iron supplement and getting out whenever I can.

I could fill several blog posts on the absolute nightmare of trying to find a venue in Dumfries & Galloway where the personnel on duty will actually carry out the Covid test rather than supervise people doing it themselves. I do not believe I am the only person in the region who is too much of a wimp to stick an extra-long cotton bud down to her tonsils and so far up her nose her brain cells start to explode. I can just about cope when a qualified person is carrying out the test as long as I have something to hang on to and twist!  I spent a day online and ringing round and finally a wonderful person on the NHS feedback phone line said she’d see what she could do and turned up trumps by getting me an appointment where a nurse would do the test.

I’ve managed to get out for walks but whereas a couple of months ago this walk round the Threave Castle osprey walk would have taken 40 minutes (if I didn’t stop to talk) I now have to stop a couple of times to rest.
Lovely Belted Galloway cattle – poor sods can hardly pause in their munching because the nutrition levels in this field are practically zero because the farmer isn’t allowed to fertilise the field.

The DH is slowly recovering – his cough is not quite as bad as mine now – and so I thought again about getting back to my blog. Then, I found a strange lump on my neck which I’d not noticed before. The GP thought it might be an enlarged lymph node, took bloods to check for any infection and as there was no sign of any, contacted the oncologist’s secretary. The specialist nurse called to tell me he was going to arrange a CT scan. When I asked where, he said in the local hospital. I said I meant where on me, which bit of me was to be scanned? He said chest and abdomen. I pointed out the lump was on my neck.

Someone called the next day to say I’d been booked in for an ultrasound. If it shows up anything suspicious I’ll have a biopsy done. Specialist nurse had gone to the radiology department to explain the situation (and my comment about the lump being on my neck) and it had been suggested an ultrasound would be a better first step than a CT scan. I’m just so glad I made a point of mentioning the lump is in my neck.

The ultrasound is tomorrow, Wednesday 21 July. I looked at last year’s diary and I had my PET scan on 29 July. I’m hoping it might be nothing more than an indication I have had an infection recently – maybe I was the one who got Covid and recovered! But, I have to be honest and admit I’m very nervous about what might be found. And, it is far too hot here to wear the kick ass boots!   

Anyway, this must be the longest update I’ve written done which I suppose serves me right for not keeping up to date with things.

I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has been checking up on me, whether directly or through mutual friends and bloggers. I truly appreciate your concern and kind thoughts.  

I want to go back to Lewis & Harris

MarySmith’sPlace ~ CancerDiary#35 Goodbye to cancer, hello to fibrosis!

Going for my CT scan and enjoying my few moments playing an extra in Holby City

Wednesday, 02 June: I met with the oncologist on Monday 31 May to hear the result of the CT scan, which was done on Thursday 27 May.

I won’t keep you in suspense. The cancer, it seems, is under control for now. Talking us through the scan showing on her screen, the oncologist said: “We can still see there is a bit of a lump there. But the hope is … that’s dead tissue. But can I say that every single cancer cell has been killed? No, I can’t.  But this is as positive a result as we could possibly have hoped for.

“No signs of any growth, no signs of any progression, no signs of any spread and the disease that is there has responded and the hope is it’s dead tissue. Realistically the only way we know that for sure is with time.”

We’ll meet again in three months to see how things are going.

I should have been shouting joyously from the rooftops but when I asked the consultant about my shortness of breath she said that realistically things might be as good as they are going to get. She didn’t mention lung fibrosis but on my copy of the scan report I read: “Resolution of the radiation induced pneumonitis, now prominent radiation induced fibrosis.”  

Radiation-induced fibrosis is a long-term side effect of external beam radiation therapy, which results in many symptoms, including shortness of breath, that have a significant impact on quality of life. It’s progressive. Average life expectancy from the time of diagnosis is between three and five years.

You can understand why my delight at being – at least for now – seemingly free of cancer is tempered by despair at what else I have to cope with.

I said to someone a few weeks ago that every time I feel I’m making progress something takes the feet out from under me and I have to scramble back up again. I do wonder how many times I’m going to be able to scramble back up again.

I will get my head round this but I am going to take a complete blogging break for the next couple of weeks. I will be back.

MarySmith’sPlace~CancerDiary#34

My next scan is coming up soon!

Thursday, May 13: Well, the ‘blip’ proved to be a bit more ‘blippier’ than anticipated. I did all the things everyone advised me to do and rested completely over the Bank Holiday weekend. The weather was pretty awful so it wasn’t too hard to stay inside with a well-stocked kindle. Unfortunately, it didn’t make any difference to the cough.

On May 05, I spoke to the Specialist Nurse (SN) who sounded disappointed about the downturn. We talked about the possible reasons for the breathlessness and the cough. It came back to what I suspected: either scar tissue in my throat from the radiotherapy targeting the lymph nodes above my collarbone or too big a reduction in the steroids. Specialist Nurse said it wouldn’t be problem to increase the dose.

Might not be a problem for SN who isn’t the one with swollen ankles, fluid-filled lumps which can be squished from front to back of my shoulders (when Sue told me her swollen bits moved around her body I wasn’t sure what she meant – now I know), a neck so swollen it would look good on a Galloway bull and puffy eyelids. On Friday when SN called to check on me I said things were much the same so there would be a discussion on Monday between SN and oncologist and SN would call me either on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

See the neck on this very lovely Belted Galloway!

I did briefly think about making the radical suggestion the oncologist could phone me directly.

I reduced my steroids from 15mg a day to 10mg on Friday and felt OK when speaking to the SN. Friends came round later, bringing lunch for us to eat in the sunshine (real proper warm sunshine which had us taking off jackets) in the garden and I still felt fine and so happy to see them.

Saturday, however, was a rubbish day. It’s hard to describe how different everything felt. I spent most of it asleep, occasionally waking up to read for 20 minutes before dozing off again. The DH cooked our evening meal. The DH has done quite a lot of cooking over the last 10 months. It hasn’t improved and after coming home from my last spell in hospital I’ve cooked. I like cooking but on Saturday I couldn’t have boiled an egg.

On Sunday I had a lazy morning, going back to bed after breakfast, dozing rather than falling soundly asleep and in the afternoon the DH and I went to a garden centre. I felt a bit more like myself. I cooked. The next day was a better day and I spent a bit of time in the garden.

Then on Tuesday, SN called to say the oncologist had agreed that I should increase the steroids and review the situation in another week.

We had a brief negotiation session during which I admitted I’d had a really rubbish day on Saturday, the day after my steroid dose reduction, but had rallied on Sunday. I suggested, as I was now over half way through the 10mg week, instead of increasing the dose, I stayed on the same dose for the remainder of the week and for following week. This was deemed acceptable. I suspect I might have gone ahead with this strategy regardless because I really, really don’t want to increase my steroid dose and be on them the drug for any longer than absolutely necessary – wonder drug that it is.

I was starting to feel well enough to spend some time in the garden (pottering rather than full on gardening) and start walking again. Short walks.

Mrs Duck really did not want to be in the same picture as Mr Duck!

The other thing which happened on Tuesday was a telephone consultation with the pulmonary rehab team leader about my breathlessness and coughing issues. This is partly why I didn’t suggest the oncologist phoned me herself because the SN was instrumental in this consultation taking place – though only because I asked.

Top Tip – ask! If there’s anything you need to know or something you feel might be available to help, then ask. I asked so many times over several months about exercises to help my breathing. To start with, I got nowhere. This was partly my fault for not making clear what I was asking for. People heard ‘exercises’ and thought I meant running or cycling or other kinds of physical exercise when I meant breathing exercises and partly the fault of everyone involved in my lung cancer care who didn’t think about the benefit of breathing exercises. I didn’t even know a pulmonary rehabilitation person existed.

Finally, my new SN appeared on the scene, understood what I was asking and talked to the lung physio about it. I was sent an initial handout with some exercises and one, simple, brilliant method to control short of breath breathing. That alone endeared me to both of them! By the end of the phone consultation with the pulmonary rehab person on Tuesday I was convinced I could learn how to control this cough (it might even have become a habitual cough and there are strategies to deal with it) and what is described as ‘dysfunctional breathing’.

Today, I received in the post from my lung physio more handouts with exercises and strategies, a relaxation CD and a follow-up appointment and I’m wondering what happens to lung cancer patients who don’t ask for this kind of help because they don’t know it exists. Why the lack of communication? The lack of joined up thinking?

Also, today I received the appointment letter for my CT scan. This is the one which will tell how effective the cancer treatment has been. It’s at 10.30 on May 27 and I’m practically counting the hours, which is daft because the day of the scan tells me nothing (it does let me don scrubs and feel as though I have a walk on part in Holby City, which is the most fun part of it all) and I won’t know the result until Monday, May 31 when I meet the oncologist.

I’m in a strange space at the moment. There’s no point in crossing fingers and toes because the work of the treatment, both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, is done, so whatever it has achieved (or not) has happened. It’s still hard, though, not to cross fingers and hope.    

Until then, I’m not going to post an update. You’re probably as fed up as I am about the wait for concrete news – though do let me know if you want more information on how to correct a habitual cough (it includes sharp sniffs and effortful swallowing) and dysfunctional breathing.

Our walk this evening – all calm and quiet at the castle
Looking in the other direction and wondering if we’d make it back before those clouds dumped the rain on us. We didn’t! But, hey ho! it has been good to be out and about again.

#Bookreview: Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni

I’m delighted to share a wonderful review of Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni by author, poet and blogger Liz Gauffreau. It’s the kind of review which makes a writer grin from ear to ear, do a wee happy dance around the desk and decide that writing books is worthwhile after all.

Elizabeth Gauffreau

Photograph shows author Mary Smith handing a certificate of completion of a healthcare course to an Afghan woman.Author Mary Smith Presenting a Graduation Certificate

My Review

The image shows the front cover of Mary Smith's book Drunk Chickens & Drunk Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women.Click on the book cover to purchase from Amazon.

Mary Smith’s Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real stories of Afghan women surprised me. Going into it, I expected the memoir to be interesting, as its focus is on a part of the world I know very little about. What I did not expect was that it would be so compelling.

For three years in the 1990s, Smith and her partner Jon worked in Afghanistan for a nonprofit to provide healthcare and health education for women in Mazar-i-Sharif. Poverty, hygiene practices that led to disease, cultural myths, and reluctance to discuss gynecological problems with male doctors were all challenges Smith was faced with addressing.

She did it by establishing the Female Health Volunteer training project, whereby Afghan women would be trained to provide health education to the women in their villages, focusing…

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MarySmith’sPlace ~ Cancer Diary#33 – a bit of a blip

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since I posted a cancer diary update. I was feeling a lot better thanks to the steroids and the weather was good (bright and sunny, if still cold) so I was able to go out most days for walks.

The walks became longer until I was managing two to three miles on the level and my step count, adding in time working in the garden, was reaching 10,000 a day. I even managed a couple of walks round Doach Woods which is a bit steeper. Yes, I was out of breath on anything steeper than flat but my pulse rate soon dropped down again, I was hardly coughing and really thought the pneumonitis was on its way out.   

On Monday, with Covid-19 restrictions finally beginning to lift a friend came to visit from Glasgow and we had a lovely time walking and talking. On Tuesday, my son and his partner arrived and again we walked and talked and talked and talked. I did feel I was becoming slightly more breathless but dismissed it as I really did talk an awful lot more than usual over the two days. When the DH and I go walking together we don’t talk to each other much – we can do that round the kitchen table.

By Wednesday evening I was feeling pretty flat – my visitors gone and although we hope to meet again soon who knows these days what might happen. There could be another lockdown just around the corner. I’ve been becoming more breathless and coughing more and feeling tired in a way I haven’t for weeks.

The DH thinks it’s probably just a blip after doing a bit too much walking and talking and a couple of days rest will put things right again. Or, it could be my body decided the last weekly drop in my steroid dose was too much? I really don’t want to start taking a higher dose again.

Of course, it’s a Bank Holiday weekend so no specialist nurse or GP to ask. I really have rested today – step count under 2,000! – and I’ll do the same tomorrow and Monday (the weather forecast is pretty rubbish, anyway) and see how things are on Tuesday.

In the meantime I’ll try to keep thinking it is just a “too-much-talking” blip and not start imaging worst case scenarios – is the tumour starting to grow again now the radiation has finished working? This I can’t know until the last week (possibly the last day) of this month and I don’t want to cope with almost a month of scanxiety.

Positive thinking – altogether now: ‘It’s just a blip – don’t talk so much!’

MarySmith’sPlace – Cancer Diary#32 #earring #lost&found

Sunday, 18 April: I recently told the world how devastated I was when I lost one of a pair of earrings gifted by my friend Sue Vincent. As always, the response was overwhelming with many people sharing heart-warming stories of treasures lost and found, hopes, wishes, prayers and practical tips for finding the earring.

One friend, jeweller Amanda Hunter, said she’d try to make a replacement for me if I sent her the remaining earring and another, retired farmer (they never actually do retire, though!) John Nelson said he’d bring his metal detector round.

Around 4.30pm on Friday John appeared with the metal detector. Until I lost a tiny earring I’ve always thought of my garden as being small but it suddenly looked dauntingly enormous.

I showed John where I’d been mainly working the day the earring was lost and I’d even kept two black sacks of grubbed up things instead of putting it all in the compost bin. I was convinced if the earring was going to be found it would be in one of those black sacks. It wasn’t.

It wasn’t to be found on the lawn though there were lots of bleeps but much further down than the earring would have got.

It was much later when John said he’d do one last sweep along a gravel path. I couldn’t believe it when he said: “There it is.” And there it was, just lying on top of the gravel. I’d walked over the path several times since I lost the earring and I’d sat on the tree stump (old apple tree that had honey fungus), scarcely a foot from where John found it, drinking my coffee and didn’t spot it.

The tree stump which provides a sunny seat for late morning coffee – hardly a foot from where the earring lay

In normal circumstances, I’d have hugged him – in pandemic mode I could only repeat my thanks over and over while remaining socially distanced. Something like this really brings home how strange the world in which we live has become.

So tiny – so much of a miracle it has been found. I still tear up.

Both earrings are sitting on my desk as I type this. I can still hardly believe the lost one is back again. What were the odds of finding it? I really have no idea. I think it was pretty miraculous (but don’t want John to get big-headed!).

Was Sue up to mischievous tricks as some blog followers (who knew her well) suggested? I don’t know but the red kite which has been appearing over my garden every evening around 6pm for several days failed to put in an appearance on Friday.  

I know it’s a bit soon for another cancer diary update but I’m fairly sure everyone would want to share in the fantastic news about my earring.

MarySmith’sPlace – Cancerdiary#31 #randomthoughts #randomphotos

Friday 16 April: This is going to be a brief update (do I hear sighs of relief all round????) and I’m aware I’m a couple of days late if this is a weekly update.

My breathlessness and coughing continued to lessen and I felt better, both physically and emotionally (as long as I didn’t/don’t think about the next scan and its result). On Wednesday, the Lung Specialist Nurse, and as I don’t name names on this blog I really ought to pin down what his title is, called to see how I was doing.

I was doing fine. I hardly coughed during our conversation. When I asked about my last blood tests he said the CRP (C – reactive protein), that marker of infection or inflammation was within the normal range. Wow! After only a week the steroids had got on top of the pneumonitis. Chuffed!

He said I sounded well and positive and elated and before I started to backtrack and say things like ‘well, today things seem fine but…’ or ‘we don’t know if this is really an upturn’ or … I remembered a comment from Kim Ayres on my last update: “Not allowing our optimism now, will in no way prepare us, or cushion the blow if negative news comes along. It’s too big. So if it happens, we wasted those chances to feel good.” I decided I wanted to agree with the Specialist Nurse – I was feeling decidedly better than when we last met and he could tell the oncologist so and that I was not sounding as grumpy and bad-tempered as usual.

Bought this at Tesco last year – have no idea what it is. It looks like it’s going to be huge,

Wednesday was also when I was doing my talk in the evening for Aberdeen City Library on routes to publication and selling your book once it’s out there. I think the title of the talk was a bit snappier than that. I did my prep. I think the talk went well. The organiser has been in touch and said the feedback has been excellent, which is very pleasing. It makes me feel I can get back to this kind of work – helping and encouraging other writers. Despite a cancer diagnosis it is possible to carry on with ‘normal’ creative practices.

What did annoy me, however, was the number of ‘no shows’. The talk was fully booked with a waiting list. On the day of the talk, a few people contacted the organiser to cancel and she was able to give places to people on the waiting list. Three people were still on the waiting list a few minutes before we went live but did not get the chance to join despite several people not showing up for the talk. Perhaps some, to give them the benefit of the doubt, had technical problems but not all. I have to say I feel signing up for events online and not turning up without sending timely apologies is disrespectful to the organisers of the event who put in huge amounts of time and energy, to the guest speaker and to other potential audience members who could not attend because the event was fully booked and over-subscribed.

Please, please, don’t regard online events as something to sign up to even though you know you might not (probably won’t) attend. Signing up should be a commitment in the same way as buying a ticket for a literature festival event or a concert.

From the organiser of several library events: “The British Library has found it beneficial to charge for their events. Consider people obviously attach more value to something they have paid for – even if just a very small amount.  It is something we are considering.”

Part of the ‘osprey walk’ at Threave Castle

I did enjoy doing the talk though at the end of the official part of it I felt we should be sitting together having a really good blether, preferably with a glass of wine in hand (looking at you John Nelson) about writing, publishing, the ridiculous behaviour of publishers instead of saying a stilted goodbye.

What has any of this to do with lung cancer and not knowing what the next scan will show? Absolutely nothing and absolutely everything.

Random photos will have appeared throughout this blog. I haven’t been to see any new lambs but have managed a couple of visits to the garden (mainly thinking about how small my garden is until I’ve lost a precious earring and then it seems to be enormous), the osprey walk.

Oh, and I’ve had my second Covid vaccination and should be fully protected by the time I do the next update. And if all of this (brief? Yeah right,) update seems a bit disjointed and a bit rambling it’s because I’ve drunk a lot of red wine (apologies to non-drinkers) – and I’m still alive.

MarySmith’sPlace ~ CancerDiary#30 #thinking aloud

Wednesday 07, April:  A week and a day since my last update and it has been a strange week of ups and downs and mixed emotions. Missing Sue terribly yet sometimes forgetting she’s not still here. I find myself thinking, “Oh, I must tell Sue …” and then remember. I read her posts being re-blogged on franceandvincent and laugh and cry and relish the sheer joy she felt exploring her native Yorkshire moors.

And today, I’m devastated because while in the garden I lost one of the earrings she gifted me. I’ve searched and the DH has searched but so far no luck in finding it. I’ll keep on looking, though needle in a haystack comes to mind.

When the weather has been good I’ve spent time in the garden, well wrapped up (I don’t cast clouts until May is out and have still been wearing my thermal vest) mainly reading and gazing at the daffodils.

Bandit and I enjoying the sunshine – and oh my god, those thighs. It’s the steroids, honest!

A friend came one day for coffee in the garden – we last saw each other sometime in the summer of 2020 – so that was pretty special.

Also, on Easter Sunday, Wee-sis came round. The weather had changed by then so we sat freezing for an hour but it was worth it. Last time we were together, socially distanced, was back in February when we went for a walk at Rockcliffe and saw the shell tree, which was the day my cough started.

Wee-sis adds a shell to the tree on our last walk together – we’ll be back.

I’m pleased to say I am coughing less than I was a week ago though I am impatient to be rid of it all together and to stop being so breathless on any exertion – perhaps my expectations of how quickly the steroids would work were too high. I remember when Dad was put on a course of steroids and to our astonishment he managed to get out of his wheelchair (he’d lost all mobility months earlier) and take a few steps. Fortunately, the DH was there to catch him before he hit the floor. I was expecting to be skipping around like a lamb after a week on steroids.

I did manage to walk maybe about a mile to and from the osprey viewing platform at Threave and take a photo of the osprey on the nest. I was ridiculously pleased knowing the ospreys had returned and I was here to see them. I also felt quite chuffed at managing the walk. Next day I was tired but thought it was maybe to be expected. The day after, though, I was coughing a lot more again and feeling very fed up with life. Lesson learned – don’t push, don’t try to do too much.

Good to see the ospreys back on their nest

Since then, I’ve limited my walking to short strolls in the park. I’m ashamed to admit we drive there. I can’t quite believe it has come to this. It’s only a few weeks since a friend and I walked from my house to and around the park and back home – under two miles – and now I can’t even do that. Yet. I will, though, I will.

Swans at Carlingwark Loch, Castle Douglas.

From time to time the fact my tumour is reducing in size makes me feel astonishingly joyful, though I quickly resume my usual yes, but, we don’t know for sure what’s happening, don’t tempt fate, wait for the next scan … I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be an optimist.

I am, however, beginning to feel human again: not yet a fully formed human but getting there. I’m doing things. I have the talk for Aberdeen Libraries next week (fully booked with a waiting list, which is good to hear), I took part in the Society of Authors in Scotland inaugural Zoom meeting of non-fiction writers and I’m – almost – beginning to write again.

It has been so long. When we went into lockdown last year I stopped writing. Oh, I was always going to get on with it, but there was something about not actually having to do it which let me off the hook. Fortunately, before my writing muscle totally atrophied I took part in the Writedown project, in which 22 people recorded their reactions to what was happening in lockdown. When, as we were emerging from the restrictions, I was told I was not likely to live more than seven months if I did not go for treatment for lung cancer other writing projects were abandoned. Well, apart from this cancer diary and some very rough draft poems.

The voice whispering in my ear was saying: “Wait and see what the treatment achieves. No point spending time editing the My Dad’s a Goldfish memoir if I’m not going to be around to finish it.” Maybe treatment would grant me more time, enough time even to finish the book. Now, I’ve had the treatment. I know the tumour has been shrinking but won’t have a more definitive (is there such a thing in cancer?) result for another seven/eight weeks. How much time might I have? Will I want to spend it working on a book I may not finish? Would I rather spend my time exploring Scotland (Covid restrictions allowing) or making a final attempt to clear out the attic and my dad’s books?

I feel so wishy washy compared to Sue. When told she had probably ‘three to six decent months’ she worked her socks off editing and re-publishing the books she and Stuart France had previously published plus editing and publishing some new books of her own as well as writing blog posts. It turned out her time was much less than estimated but even when told it was going to be ‘days into weeks’ she didn’t sit back, put her feet up, cuddle Ani and let those days drift by but carried on working, despite the pain she was in, to create a legacy for her family and for all of us.

And so, I salute and thank you, Sue for giving me a much-needed nudge and I will pick up my red editing pen tomorrow and get cracking. First, though, I’ll be out in the garden doing a forensic fingertip search for my lost earring.

I leave you with an image of a full-throated song of joy.