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.

MarySmith’sPlace – a very special party

I’ve been involved, almost since its birth, with a Scottish arts organisation called conFAB, which was founded in January 2004. Over the years it has grown into a really strong, dynamic organisation, developing all kinds of new and exciting work in many different genres and art forms.

conFAB has a commitment to community and education-based work and in its productions both professional practitioners and community actors and performers work alongside each other. It is committed to inclusion and equality, providing access to the arts for everyone as audiences, as participants and as artists, and is always ready to explore new ideas.

Towards the end of 2019 the organisation celebrated its 15th year with a party in the Glad Café,  Glasgow. This is what we were celebrating:

ConFAB projects

I was delighted to be invited to read a poem which was written for a project called Hidden City.  There were several Hidden City projects, in which poets were invited to places around the city and invited to write whatever that place inspired. Almost all the places visited over the course of the project have now disappeared.

My poem, Thousands Pass Here Every Day, became the title poem in my first full collection of poetry published by Indigo Dreams – one of the many reasons I have for being grateful I am involved with conFAB.

I made a wee thank you speech at the party but totally forgot one of the things I wanted to say. I’d wanted to comment on the fact that my son had grown up with conFAB. He was thirteen when the organisation started and was dragged along to various events, then he came along willingly, and then he became involved himself in a project. He was at the celebratory party, listening to the songs and speeches – and to his mother reading a poem. I don’t think he was embarrassed!

Check out conFAB’s website here and its Facebook page here – and watch it grow and develop over the next 15 years.

And here I am reading my poem: