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.

MarySmith’sPlace ~ Writing under lockdown

I’m excited to be a contributor in a new anthology which provides a unique record of life in my Galloway, my own wee part of Scotland, during the first 12 weeks of lockdown.

Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid brings together the work of 22 writers, each with a Galloway connection. It is a collection of prose and poetry, hopefulness, hopelessness, anger, humour and quiet endurance in which the writers tell the story of a community dealing with life in unprecedented times.

The idea behind the project came from author Margaret Elphinstone, when her writing classes could no longer meet. Inspired by the Mass Observation project which encouraged ordinary people to keep wartime diaries, she invited anyone interested to contribute – 22 of us did.

Margaret said: “In times of trouble people want to be together but with lockdown people had to isolate, sometimes living alone. Writing met their need to communicate. Through our writing we entertained and supported each other, sharing fears and unexpected joys and daring to hope for a better future.

“None of our writers was on the ‘front line’ and most were aware life in Galloway was better than in many places. But there was mounting anxiety for absent friends and family, and for what would happen to our communities.”

Now, with the book in my hands, looking back to my early contributions, I’m astonished at how hopeful I felt. Not only would this lockdown bring the virus under control, stopping the cases – and the deaths – from rising – it would surely lead to a fundamental shift in how politicians worldwide treated the environment. There was a feeling of all of us pulling together, accepting the restrictions for the good of everyone. Dominic Cummings put paid to that, didn’t he?

At the beginning of lockdown, I thought I would use this huge bonus of ‘me’ time to tackle my own outstanding writing projects – starting tomorrow. Always starting tomorrow! I am so pleased I signed up to take part in Writedown because it was almost the only writing I did do over those 12 weeks.

The writers never – and still haven’t – met as a group. They come from diverse backgrounds and many were strangers to each other at the start of the project, but they shared their writing week-by-week and bonds and friendships were forged. It was to the group I turned late one night when an Afghan friend messaged me about a brutal terrorist attack on the Kabul maternity hospital in which her sister worked.

Even the editorial team met on Zoom, both as a group and in pairs as we worked on our allotted chapters. It was an interesting experience as we discovered each other’s pet hates and particular foibles. I hate the word ‘that’, others don’t mind, some even really like it. Some love commas, others don’t. Exclamation works made some shudder while others didn’t notice them. Everyone, however, was working towards the collective aim of making the book as good as it could be.

The paperback edition came out first and is available locally in many outlets. Readers from further afield will be pleased to know the ebook is now available on Amazon. Here is the universal link for anyone outside the UK : http://smarturl.it/writedown

Writedown is available for members of Rosie Amber’s fabulous review team. If you are a reader who would be interested in becoming part of Rosie’s team and sharing your reviews, all the details are here.

And here is the flyer for the paperback (I think UK sales only) if you would like the paperback:

I’ll finish with thoughts from some of the other contributors to Writedown. Cath Monk remembers how positive we all felt in the beginning, something which changed over the weeks. “All the sad stories started coming out. It’s not easy to stay upbeat. We were all missing the contacts and the hugs. At least we knew, ‘it’s not just me.'”

Leonie Ewing said: “We were united by the project – it gave us focus. We brought different life experiences and points of view. It gave us a finger on the pulse of Galloway as the pandemic took hold so we could encourage each other and uplifted.”