MarySmith’sPlace ~ End of treatment – Cancer diary #20

Wednesday, 20 January: I find it quite mind-boggling it is twenty weeks since I started posting these cancer diary updates. That’s almost five months. When I posted the first one it was with the knowledge I would have maybe seven months to live if I chose not to have treatment. Without treatment I’d have maybe a couple of months left – but I don’t know how many more the treatment may have bought me. Cancer and uncertainty go hand in had.

When I posted my update last Monday I had only six more radiotherapy sessions left. Even as I crossed each one off the printed schedule the final session never seemed any closer.

Before heading off for radiotherapy last Tuesday morning, a quick look at my blog post had me in tears at the messages of support and good wishes and love from so many people from all around the world. After my radiation session I had my weekly consultation with the specialist nurse. I thought I’d pulled myself together by then but she immediately picked up on my emotional fragility. I admitted as it became tougher to deal with the side effects, it became harder to ignore the elephant in the room, which was the uncertainty of what result the radiotherapy, and the chemo before it, was going to bring. It’s going to be at least six weeks before I have a scan to see what’s happened – to learn if the treatment has bought a few extra months or a couple of years. Most of the time, I can consciously put that concern on one side with pragmatic me accepting there’s no point in worrying over something I can’t control – that, however, doesn’t stop my subconscious from dwelling on the questions – how much time? Will it be worth it? Will I be fit again or will I be an invalid for whatever amount of time has been bought?

The nurse said: “Because of Covid, I can’t give you the hug you need but I can cry with you.” As you can imagine, that almost did for me entirely but I wiped away the tears and suggested she get on with the checklist of questions about side effects. She said: “It is worse when someone’s nice, isn’t it?” I agreed and proceeded to tell her the pain on swallowing is worse and the tiredness. I showed her the pouch of fluid. She said she’d mention it to the doctor.

Fortunately, before Tuesday became a total soggy weep-fest I had something enjoyable to do in afternoon lined up. Last week, I wrote about the woman who was prompted to have a breast lump checked out after reading my blog. I wasn’t sure if she wished to remain anonymous but she said she didn’t mind so I can call her by her name – Sarah. After we met in Maggie’s last week we arranged to walk in the Botanical Gardens and it really boosted my spirits and, I hope, Sarah’s.

Grey Squirrel

It was a bright, crisp afternoon and I’m sure the gardens looked lovely. I remember we paused to look at a tulip tree and to mutter darkly about the presence of grey squirrels but mostly we talked, sharing family history stories and finding links between two families who are not connected – of course, we find a link – Clydesdale horses. It was so good to spend time with someone non-medical, just doing an ordinary non-cancer, non-Covid (apart from wearing masks and keeping two metres distance) thing. And if Matt Hancock wants to make any snide remarks about socialising rather than exercising I can show him the 14,000 steps I clocked up that day.  

Winter sunshine

On Wednesday I had an unexpected consultation with my oncologist who wanted to check out the fluid pouch. It seems to be a bit of soft tissue inflammation caused by the radiation and not anything particularly worrying – one of those ‘keep an eye on it’ things. She prescribed a different antacid as the one I’ve been taking is no longer available and she also prescribed an oral morphine for the pain. She said she thought I was tolerating the radiotherapy well – my skin showed little redness, my energy levels were good and I’d been managing the swallowing and heartburn. I’m hoping it means I’ve escaped the need for a feeding tube, even if the side effects continue to worsen for a couple of weeks after the end of treatment. Just in case I became too blasé, she reminded me of the risk of inflammation in the lungs four to six weeks after the end of radiotherapy, which can – rarely – be life threatening.

Me and Sarah after our walk

It’s probably no wonder after the emotional tensions of Tuesday and Wednesday plus the long walk in the Gardens I was pretty tired by the end of the week. The DH came to the Village hotel to collect me on Saturday. As I was leaving the receptionist presented me with a lovely pot plant, saying how much she would miss me and our brief chats at reception. Tears again – they seem never to be far away.

I slept most of the weekend and then it was Monday and the day of my last radiotherapy session. We made good time up the road and I was in and out in less than twenty minutes. It felt very strange –none of the expected feeling of jubilation that it was all over – just a very flat feeling. I walked out of the hospital carrying my mask and met the DH in Maggie’s as I wanted to say goodbye to the staff there and thank them for their support.

My radiotherapy schedule – as I’m the patient, I’m ignoring the need for patient confidentiality!

Back at home, I crawled into bed and was asleep within moments, only waking when the throat pain became too bad and I’d to dose myself with the morphine and the antacid. I’m mostly worried about not drinking enough and becoming dehydrated. Yesterday was spent mostly asleep. When I woke I tried to drink and eat and to cool down the skin on my chest. It looks like I have been sitting for hours in hot sunshine with no protection. A cold flannel feels soothing for a few minutes then the heat from my skin makes it become warm.

This morning when I took the morphine I promptly threw up. When the nurse called to see how I was doing, she wasn’t concerned about my vomiting and said I should try again to take it, maybe after eating something. I did and it stayed down.

I went to the dentist this afternoon and she sorted the dodgy tooth which had lost the temporary filling she put in the evening before I started chemo. She suggested putting the flannel in the freezer (though not to put it directly on my skin) and I tried that and it was wonderfully cooling.

I’ve been awake for longer today – possibly because I have taken less morphine – and I’ve found the energy to write this update, and I ate a big bowl of mashed potato oozing butter and grated cheese, which slipped down smoothly. I know, though, I’m skirting round the issue of whether or not this treatment will have been worthwhile and six weeks is a long time to push it out of my mind.

My mask – planter? art work? lamp? hide it in the attic?

MarySmith’sPlace ~ Cancer Diary #19

LA6 – Linear Accelerator

Monday 11, January 2021: Back in Edinburgh for another set of six radiotherapy treatments. I’m confusing myself by starting my diary update with today’s date and writing it up retrospectively. Right now, I’m easily confused and very, very tired so I’m going to do this update – and probably others – chronologically.

Tuesday 05, January: I had my meeting with the specialist nurse after my treatment today. She went through the check list of symptoms. I admitted some solid foods were more difficult to swallow – especially bread. She checked how much of the antacid with Oxetacaine I’d been prescribed as apparently there’s a problem with supply. We chatted for a while about lockdown and how different it is when stuck in a hotel on your own in a city that’s closed than being stuck at home under lockdown. It wasn’t until I’d left the hospital I remembered the questions I’d written down and forgotten to ask.

Wednesday 06, January: There was a warm Danish pastry in my breakfast bag this morning but as soon as I took a bite I regretted it – swallowing it was so painful but I had no choice but to get it down.

After my treatment I mentioned to one of the radiographers I’d forgotten to ask some questions when I met the nurse – do I need to continue taking folic acid, when is it OK to have dental treatment and could I get clarification on the instruction about leaving one to two hours either side of the antacid with Oxetacaine before taking other medication?

No problem – we’d go and find a nurse to ask. It kind of got complicated after that!

Questions one and two would have to be put to the doctor. OK, no problem. The nurse asked some of her colleagues about the timing of other medications with the Oxetacaine – no one had heard of this. Where had I heard this? I explained it was outlined in the letters the pharmacist had put in with my bottles of medication – one for my GP and one for my community pharmacist. Finally, she asked if I would mind going back to the pharmacist to ask him to clarify things. I have a feeling she thought I’d made it up or was confused.  

Before going to speak to the pharmacist I went to Maggie’s to meet a friend. I mentioned some weeks ago that someone reading my blog was prompted to have a breast lump checked out. Now, she is also attending the Cancer Centre in Edinburgh for radiotherapy. It felt really good to meet up for a coffee and a chat – it felt like bringing a little bit of normality into our lives. Of course, we talked about cancer – our own, in particular – I guess this is our normal for now.

When she went off for her treatment I spoke to the pharmacist about the Oxetacaine. He confirmed there should be the one to two hour gap for any other medications – even paracetamol. I asked if I could take a copy of the letter to GPs to the nurses who prescribe this medication without knowing about the problem of absorbency of other drugs.

One of my oncologist’s registrars phoned later, to say I don’t need to continue with folic acid and as long as my dentist is aware of my medical history and medication it’s fine to undergo dental work. Goodness knows when that can ever happen – I’m only home on Sunday for now. Just hope I don’t wake up one morning to find the tooth has completely crumbled away. I was a bit taken aback that she thought I was still on injections to prevent blood clots when it was changed to oral medication months ago. Maybe she’ll update my notes.

Covid cases and deaths increasing here and riots in the US Capitol Building. It’s been a full on day.

Sculpture of Maggie Jencks outside the Maggie’s Centre, Edinburgh

Thursday 07, January: For some reason my appointment was very early today – 8.30. I did make it on time, but I hadn’t had a shower or brushed my teeth. The radiologist laughed, saying: “It’s OK, we wear masks.”

I took the letter to the nurse – of course, the one I saw yesterday wasn’t there. I did feel a bit reluctant to hand over the letter to someone who probably knew nothing about the discussion so she had to hear me out while I explained and showed her the relevant part of the letter. She said: “This will be useful because we prescribe this medication to a lot of patients.” I don’t know why the information isn’t widely known – but I feel I’ve done my bit.

Swallowing is becoming increasingly painful. Solid food is difficult – who knew I’d be tempted by Pot Noodles? Slide down nicely, once cool enough.

Friday 08, January: After today’s treatment I asked the radiologist how much worse my throat was likely to get. I suppose what I wanted to know was how far away from the feeding tube am I? I just needed a bit of reassurance. She told me stronger pain relief could be prescribed if it becomes worse but not to expect it to go away as soon as the treatment is finished because the radiation carries on working for a few weeks. She suggested I went to Maggie’s instead of going straight back to the hotel. It was a good idea – just to relax and read in lovely surroundings.

Saturday 09, January: I admitted to the radiologists this morning I was beginning to lose confidence in my ability to cope with the treatment and its side effects – the throat pain, the fatigue and now some interesting little pouches of fluid appearing on my neck. They said to keep an eye on the fluid pouch, reassured me, again, stronger pain relief is available and said I should rest as much as possible. I shouldn’t feel guilty if I fall asleep whenever I sit down.

The DH brought me home, made the mushroom soup I had a fancy for and told me he had recorded Holby City, for which I managed to stay awake.

Monday 11, January: Back to where I started this post. I had a lazy Sunday before reluctantly re-packing my suitcasefor Edinburgh. Today’streatment was number 14 – only six more to go. Throat pain still manageable – take the Oxetacaine 15 minutes before eating and two paracetamol an hour later plus dozens of strong mints.

To assist my body in its attempts to recover from the onslaught of radiation I’m going to take a break from social media for a week. I’ll check in to reply to comments. This post has taken me ages to write. I hope it isn’t terribly boring.

The inconvenient walking dead… III #COVID #cancer #carers #lockdown

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Image of cartoon Angry bird about to blow Artwork by deviantART artist Scooterek

Following on from posts One and Two:

“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free

to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?”

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

Last spring when we went into lockdown and we were encouraged not to burden our doctors, I did not take my concerns to the surgery… and lost six months of potentially treating a now untreatable cancer. Now we are back in lockdown again, with the unconvincing prospect of everything being alright again once the vaccine has been fully distributed. We might, suggest the government, if enough people have the vaccine, even be able to begin lifting restrictions in mid-March.

At my last appointment on New Year’s Eve, the oncologist gave me three to six months. It is, I know, just a ‘guesstimate’ based on experience. He could be wrong, it might be longer… but it…

View original post 1,061 more words

MarySmith’sPlace ~ Radiographers Rock! Cancer diary#18

Monday 05, January 2021: I fully intended writing this update yesterday – fully intended doing a Zoom Pilates, class, too, and had packed my mat and the baggiest tee shirt I could find – but by the time I was checked into the hotel, and the DH left, I was done in. Leant back on the pillows and woke up too late for Pilates.

Last week I came up for three treatments, staying for two nights. I had my weekly meeting with the specialist nurse – a different from the previous week. Basically, they go through a check list of side effects from nausea to tiredness, from skin problems to appetite problems. So far, I’m glad to say I can say no to almost everything – except that the heartburn has returned. I was prescribed an antacid with Oxetacaine, a local anaesthetic – which I was assured would be helpful in easing the pain when my throat gets worse. It is described as peppermint flavour, a description written by someone who has clearly not swallowed it.

By then, tighter restrictions were in place and the hotel restaurant was closed, though they did offer a reduced room service menu. On my first night I received a call from an NHS Manager to apologise for how things were at the hotel. I said it was fine but she said someone had complained the previous night about the room service food and she was going to try to find alternative accommodation. I said I was happy with the location as I can walk to and from the hospital easily and didn’t really want to move so far away taxis would be involved – or, worse – be admitted to a ward. That last might not have been a terribly diplomatic thing to say to a hospital manager.  

I did try the room service food and it was horrible. Next day, I went to the filling station across the road which has a small but well-stocked Waitrose and filled a basket with lots of lovely tasty things for a picnic in my room.

I was asked to report to a different room and machine on Thursday because a paediatric patient who had to be under anaesthetic needed my room. My first thought was for the child’s mother who wouldn’t be able to stay in the room and must surely be beside herself with worry.

When I arrived for my radiotherapy on Thursday, a message came through from an NHS manager (a different one) to say on Monday I’d to report to the hospital and not check in at the hotel. This was on Hogmanay and I couldn’t imagine how alternative accommodation could be found over the New Year holiday weekend. I went home wondering and worrying about where I’d lay my head when I next went up for treatment.

Yesterday – Monday – the DH drove me back to Edinburgh for an 11am treatment session. A paper with a booking for a self-catering studio room was in the changing room. After the session – first time I’ve met a male radiographer! – the DH and I went to take a look. It’s in a very central location – central for the sights of Edinburgh, that is, but a long way from the hospital. If I was here on holiday and everything was open it would be perfect but it would take about an hour to walk to the hospital so I would need to depend on a taxi picking me up and taking me back. Now we are in full lockdown and this new strain of the Covid virus seems to be so much more virulent, I don’t fancy getting in taxis. Well, I could walk one way but I think a two-way walk might be too much, especially if it’s raining. And, Edinburgh is cold.

Fortunately, The Village was very happy to welcome me back. I feel bad the NHS never got in touch with them to explain why they had not made any bookings for patients this week. Perhaps if they had explained about the problems with the food, the staff could have done something to address them? They are certainly very happy to do anything they can – including installing an extra heater in my room. Did I say Edinburgh is very cold?

I’ve now had nine radiation treatments. Tomorrow I’ll reach the halfway mark. I’m still in awe of the technology. When I said I’d been watching YouTube videos because I couldn’t visualise how the machine revolved, the radiographer picked up the remote control and demonstrated how it revolves round me and under the table. Their patience and willingness to answer my questions is a delight. I think it’s because they are so proud of their work and their skills, they are keen to share their knowledge and give people a better insight into how radiotherapy works. Whatever, it is – as far as I’m concerned radiographers rock!

MarySmith’sPlace – Walking off the mince pies#04

Happy New Year!

It’s becoming a New Year tradition to walk off the mince pies, though the first one took place between Christmas and New Year and was my first blog post, which you can read here. The following years, we walked on New Year’s Day itself and you can read those posts here and here.

This year, I was determined to walk (I may not have eaten many mince pies but the cheese and chocolate pounds definitely need to be shifted) but knew I couldn’t tackle hills like I did on previous years. Lung cancer, breathlessness on exertion, and depleted energy levels has rather put the kibosh on climbing hills.

We felt most of our usual short walks would probably be hoaching with folk, making social distancing difficult,  as January 01 was a glorious day after a hard frost. We – the DH, Wee-sis and I – finally decided on Cairnsmore National Nature Reserve, a few miles from Gatehouse of Fleet. Described as one of the wildest places in south-west Scotland it’s a great place for walkers of all levels of ability from those who want to tackle Cairnsmore of Fleet’s 2,331ft or walk to Loch Grannoch or any one of a number of walks including the Clints of Dromore.

We, however, were going to do the in-bye walk below the craggy Clints of Dromore. It’s a circular walk of less than two miles, along the old railway track, across moorland, some of which has a boardwalk over the boggiest parts and it’s relatively flat.

We parked in the Visitor Centre car park and headed off towards the Big Water of Fleet viaduct, a remarkable twenty-arch railway viaduct built in 1861 as part of the Portpatrick Railway. At 900 feet long and 70 feet high it is pretty impressive. It was closed in 1965 and the army wanted to blow it up, as they had the smaller viaduct over the Little Water of Fleet.

Cars were parked all over the place, people were everywhere. Thank goodness we didn’t choose a popular walk as even out in the wilds of Galloway it was difficult to remain socially distant, at least at the start of our walk.

Way back in 2007 I was commissioned to work on a project with sculptor Matt Baker and wrote five poems to complement Matt’s five sculptures hidden around the reserve. I insisted on a slight detour to find Heart in the remains of Little Cullendoch. The stone face is hard to find and is now much weathered.


Further along the old railway route we came to Ocean, made of slices of greywacke, the rock cut through for the creation of railway – rock that once would have been on the ocean floor.


Once, there was a test tube filled with sea water but that seems to have disappeared. I thought it would be good to climb up onto the Clints to find a third sculpture called Hush.

Mistake! I knew the sculpture wasn’t on the first summit reached by the sign-posted path. Last time Wee-sis and I did the climb we found ourselves climbing up and down over several summits. This time, I knew we shouldn’t go up the first path but make our way on the level until we reached the end of a fence, and then go up. However, I lost confidence in my idea and we ended up climbing up at the wrong point. While I had a rest, Wee-sis carried on and was soon lost to view. I had to give up, not least because the DH was chuntering in my ear about not overdoing things, it wasn’t safe, the sun was starting to go down…

Wee-sis and the DH

As it was, Wee-sis didn’t find Hush at the top. I knew we had to go further before we started climbing – next time. I was bitterly disappointed at not making it to the top, even if it was the wrong top – though the energy expended mush have counted for half a pound of Brie and a couple of roast potatoes. I hope.

I still think we should have followed the fence on the left before starting to climb

Looking down on the viaduct – made me feel I did manage a bit of a climb

Next day, I was able to enjoy another walk, this time with no fear of meeting anyone – thanks to a very generous offer from a friend. John and Margaret have been very supportive over the months since my diagnosis but John’s offer of a field for me to walk in was pretty exceptional.

It is all on the level so easy walking borders the River Dee and has stunning views – and no people. Perfect. Indeed, the grazing geese were rather shocked to see humans heading their way and protested loudly before taking flight.

Looking across the river to the snowy hills.

Thank you, John. It was perfect.

MarySmith’sPlace ~ As 2020 ends, some points to ponder

My friend Lynn emailed the following to me. I don’t know where the points originated so can’t credit who wrote the original but thought they were well worth stealing and passing on. We need a wee smile at the end of this particularly crappy year, don’t we?

10 Points to Ponder as 2020 draws to a close …

1. The dumbest thing I ever bought was a 2020 planner.

2. 2019: Stay away from negative people. 2020: Stay away from positive people.

3. The world has turned upside down. Old folks are sneaking out of the house & their kids are yelling at them to stay indoors!

4. This morning I saw a neighbour talking to her cat. It was obvious she thought her cat understood her. I came to my house & told my dog…. We had a good laugh.

5. Every few days try your jeans on just to make sure they fit. Pyjamas will have you believe all is well in the kingdom.

6. Does anyone know if we can take showers yet or should we just keep washing our hands?

7. I never thought the comment, “I wouldn’t touch him/her with a 6-foot pole” would become a national policy, but here we are!

8. I need to practice social-distancing ….from the refrigerator.

9. I hope the weather is good tomorrow for my trip out to the bins!

10. Never in a million years could I have imagined I would go into a bank with a mask on and ask for money.

MarySmith’sPlace ~ Cancer Diary#17 What happens in the radiotherapy room

Monday, December 28: I’m about to pack my case for the next trip to the Edinburgh Cancer Centre tomorrow (actually, that’s rubbish I’ll be throwing things in the case at the last minute tomorrow morning!). Now I’ve had four treatments and know what to expect I’m less nervous than I was last week. Although, after five days of stuffing my face with Christmas fare. I’m a bit concerned my mask won’t fit me anymore.  

I seem to be the only person worried about the amount of weight I’ve gained – and am still gaining – since my diagnosis. Everyone else tells me it’s good because my body needs the calories to repair itself from the radiotherapy – plus, I may yet become unable to eat because of a very sore throat. My walk from hotel to hospital and back isn’t really going to do much for weight loss, nor is the food in the hotel. It is pub grub: burgers (which don’t come singly but in a ‘stack’ of two, chicken wings, wraps, fries – thin fries, lattice fries, sweet potato fries (are they less fattening?) and all in large portions. I chose a ‘super salad’ one night and it was enormous packed with quinoa, peas, broccoli, avocado and goodness knows what else.

I’ve only two nights there this week but after New Year I’ll be staying for five nights a week for two weeks. I have to do something or I’ll be the size of a bus. The receptionist did say the kitchen staff would be very accommodating if I wanted to request something different. A bowl of homemade soup would be welcome.

I know some of you already know about radiotherapy, having experienced it, but for those who aren’t sure what happens there’s an explanation on the Macmillan website here. I asked if I could take a photo of the machine. I have to stop myself from using expressions like sci-fi because, of course, this isn’t science fiction but science fact.

My mask waiting for on the table under the radiotherapy machine. The black objects on the mask are the screws.

Once I lie down, with my little bit of kitchen towel to protect my modesty, the radiographers fit my mask and fasten me into place – this sometimes takes a bit of faffing around to get it right but it doesn’t feel so bad now. The table I’m lying on is then raised. By then I have my eyes shut. And my mouth, though they assure me I can open my mouth. I haven’t tried it yet though on the last treatment my lips did twitch slightly in a smile. This was because, although I know there isn’t one, the machine makes a noise, which in my imagination sounds like a little robot on tiny metal feet scurrying from one side of the table, behind me to the other side to direct the next beam of radiation before scurrying back again. In fact the machine rotates.

They put the light out so I could capture the infrared beams which criss cross me – but I failed. Did get a close up of those screws!

Two YouTube videos show exactly how it works. The first one is short; the second one is longer and shows how different kinds of cancer are treated. Both give you the idea of how the machine works – though the second one is my favourite with its dramatic soundtrack. You only need to see the first couple of minutes to get the idea.

I also took a photo of my tumour – or, at least, the area which is being treated – reflected from inside the head of the machine on the floor.

The area they treat reflected on the floor. And you can see one of the infrared beams.

Then, I took one directly up into the head of the machine and got this image. The radiographer explained lead leaves fit round the treatment area and can move when the machine moves around me, shaping the beam of radiation to the tumour. It means the cancer cells in the tumour receive a high dose and normal healthy cells nearby receive a much lower dose. I think that was the explanation. I was so excited at the image I’d captured I’m not sure if I took in all she was telling me. The wonderful thing about the radiographers is they will explain it to me again and answer any other questions even though they must have answered them all countless times.

Isn’t that incredible? How can something so beautiful be trying to kill me?

It’s strange to think it will be 2021 when I write my next update. A few months ago, I wasn’t sure I’d see Christmas this year and now I’m looking forward to spring (hope I’m not tempting fate) and seeing the bulbs I planted in bloom and meeting Sue in April and Barb and welcoming a great niece into the world.

Wishing everyone all the best for 2021 – we all so much deserve a better year.

MarySmith’sPlace – What Katy Did was mine – what was yours? #children’sbooks

Who doesn’t love finding some new books under the Christmas tree? This year I gave my book wish list to my son – then the latest Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t meet up after all so I’ll have to wait until – well who knows when?

For some reason, thoughts about the books I’m looking forward to receiving triggered memories of books I loved as a child.

Amongst my favourites was What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. I also loved What Katy Did at School – remember the game of rivers in the schoolroom? – though What Katy Did Next didn’t capture my imagination in the same way. I remember once snapping shut What Katy Did saying, “Thank goodness, I’ve finished.”

My mother asked if I hadn’t enjoyed it. And when I assured her I had, asked, “So why are you pleased you’ve finished it?”

“So I can read it again,” I said. And I did, many times. The number 23 resonates but I couldn’t have read it 23 times, could I?

What was the allure of What Katy Did and what she did at school? I decided to find out by re-reading. It was like bumping into an old, much-loved friend. As soon as I began I remembered everything, could almost recite parts of it. While there are some things with which my adult self takes issue – the message that disabled people should be good and kind and sweet-natured – I understand why as a child I loved Katy so much. She was real. She tried to be good but, like most children, she usually failed. She wrote stories, she and her brothers and sisters played daft games and wreaked havoc.

And the narrator took Katy’s side most of the time, which I suspect was unusual in those days. When Katy disobeyed Aunt Lizzie and used the swing in the barn the narrator points out although she was wrong to ignore her aunt, it was also wrong of the aunt to expect unquestioning obedience. I must have relished a grown up person (as the narrator is) taking the child’s side – perhaps that when my need for explanations was born! 

I was a voracious reader throughout my childhood – unlike my younger sister who, having read a Hardy Boys novel declared it was the best book she’d ever read and refused to read another book for several years because, she insisted, “It won’t be as good as that one.” I’m pleased to say she did return to reading and enjoyed many other books just as much.

Johanna Spyri’s Heidi was a great favourite; though I have a feeling re-reading it now would probably tarnish my glowing memory of it – another of those ‘disabled people are good and sweet’ books. And I now know from experience I do not like goat’s milk.

Found my copy in the attic.

I’m sure I’m not alone in listing Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series and The Famous Five as well-loved, often-read books. More and more memories of happy reading flooded back: the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton or The Chalet School series by Elinor Brent-Dyer let me enter a different world of boarding school, tuck boxes and midnight feasts in the dorm. The nearest I came to a midnight feast was when my friend who was visiting her grandparents next door agreed to meet in my garden shed at midnight. We climbed out of our respective windows but when she cut her finger trying to open a tin of corned beef she ran home, blood dripping down her granny’s nightdress.

The Pullein-Thompson sisters allowed me to live in a world of ponies and I loved Pat Smythe’s Three Jays series.

When I was older, and still pony less (my parents said we couldn’t afford one as they cost a lot to feed – although Dad was always complaining about having to cut the grass) my absolute heroine was Pat Smythe. I was so shocked when I learned Pat’s horses were chosen for the Olympics but she wasn’t allowed to ride them because women weren’t allowed to compete against men until 1956 (I was only two then. I read about it later). For a while, I became a horse, jumping clear rounds at White City: a series of homemade jumps around the garden. Played havoc with Dad’s grass cutting.

I’ve missed out so many: The Secret Garden – and a very odd book called The Nabob’s Garden – The Borrowers, my list of well-remembered and much loved books could be endless!

Little Women – who didn’t want Jo March for a best friend?

What were your favourite childhood books?

MarySmith’sPlace #Giant pylons will ruin iconic landscape

From time to time on this blog I have shared some of the glorious countryside we have here in Dumfries & Galloway in South West Scotland.

Unfortunately, a huge area of this is now at risk of being ruined by Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN) which has put a planning application in to the Scottish Government to erect 118 giant pylons (up to 39 metres tall) from Glenlee, near New Galloway to Tongland in the south near Kirkcudbright.

Stroan Loch, courtesy PhilMcMenemy

The route goes over or close to iconic Galloway countryside including, the Queens Way (the road from New Galloway to Newton Stewart), Raiders Road, Stroan Loch and the Otter Pool. Laurieston Forest and the Kenick Burn will also be impacted, along with an avenue of beech trees by the burn’s picnic area. The route also goes over the C13 road from Laurieston to Gatehouse of Fleet, a road beloved by everyone – locals and visitors alike.

The amount of traffic on the roads over the five years of construction work will be horrendous. Our narrow roads will become dangerous, noisy and all pleasure in driving will be destroyed – not to mention the huge inconvenience and health issues for the people living in the villages affected.

Photographer and owner of The Gallery in Laurieston, Phil McMenemy has been working flat out to raise awareness of this issue in time for people to put in their objections to the pylon scheme. He says: “This is our patch – this is my inspiration. I have to fight this – and I hope you can help.

“I would be very grateful if you could help us in our quest to get the project undergrounded, as occurs in many tourist-sensitive areas. It is going to be difficult but the more objections that are sent in the more chance we have. Objections from tourists would be a massive help because the Galloway economy is so reliant on tourism and the construction project will last a minimum of five years, probably commencing in 2023. Representations have to be sent to the Energy Consents Unit by the 13th November 2020.”

The pylons will endanger raptors in the area such as eagle, red kite and goshawk as well as endangered species such woodcock, cuckoo, willow tit, wood warbler, grasshopper warbler, song thrush, mistle thrush, spotted flycatcher, pied flycatcher, whinchat, grey wagtail, tree pipit, linnet, lesser redpoll. Lesser endangered species are red grouse, stock dove, tawny owl, house martin, willow warbler, dipper, meadow pipit, bullfinch, reed bunting. All of these species are at risk in Galloway and they all occur in the area of the proposed overhead line project. Laurieston Forest is the major stronghold for nightjars in Scotland.

Imagine a line of 39-metres tall pylons marching over this. Courtesy Phil McMenemy

Breeding grounds for otter, red squirrel, pine martin and great crested newt will be damaged.

It doesn’t have to be this way. An Underground Cable Study has already been carried out SPEN’s conclusion was that: “It is acknowledged by SPEN that the underground option is, in each case, technically feasible and, on balance, environmentally preferable having regard to landscape and visual as well as forestry impacts.”

Nevertheless, SPEN, who costed the underground route, have decided to go overground.

If you know this wonderful part of Scotland (even if only through my blog) and would like to object to the pylons being erected over ground you can send objections – by November 13, 2020 to the Scottish Government. By e-mail: or by post: Scottish Government, Energy Consents Unit, 4th Floor, 5 Atlantic Quay, 150 Broomielaw, Glasgow, G2 8LU. Whether by email or post Quote Application Ref. ECU00002128. Glenlee to Tongland 132kV Reinforcement Project. Including your name (block capitals) and your address.

Phil says: “I would be so grateful if you could help us. This is about all the villages here and all the businesses reliant on tourism – and about protecting something special and speaking up for the ecological diversity we possess and the beautiful landscape that simply cannot speak up for itself.”

These trees could face being destroyed if the pylons go overground instead of under. Courtesy Phil McMenemy

Useful site for more information here.

MarySmith’sPlace – Cancer Diary #04

Monday September 21: I have never experienced such excruciatingly painful constipation in my life. If you are squeamish about bodily functions you should skip this and move on down the post – it does get better. I don’t know if the chemo drugs caused it or one of the other drugs I have to take at various times including steroids and anti-emetics.

I’ve been devouring liquorice – vast quantities of the stuff. While out walking yesterday – walking is an excellent way to get the bowels activated – I had to find some suitable shrubbery to squat behind leaving my son to stand guard. I crouched and strained and struggled, eventually producing something about the size of a rabbit pellet. Re-emerged, not exactly triumphant, onto the path and noted a farm pick-up further ahead, parked directly in line of sight. I was very relieved to find, when we approached, it was empty. Walked on, worrying about the damage my toxic waste would do to the environment.

Today was worse, despite the liquorice consumed. I rushed to the loo so many times full of hope only to emerge later without having accomplished much more than the painful expulsion of another rabbit pellet or two. Miss Pilates class.

Tuesday September 22: I leave a message asking the cancer specialist nurse to call and when I ask which of my cocktail of drugs is the likely culprit she tells me it is most probably the anti-emetic. “Didn’t they give you a laxative to take home?” When I say no, she asks if I need something and what have I done to manage it. I explain about the liquorice. She offers to write a prescription for a laxative for my next chemo session but I tell her I’ll add stewed dried apricots and other high fibre foods to my diet and we’re laughing and joking – then I mention Sue and am in floods of tears over the phone and feel silly, but somehow better when I say I have to go and rescue my stewed apricots.

I think about the drug they give me to stop the nausea from the chemo combination and the ensuing agony (I really can’t emphasise enough how very, very painful) of the constipation and wonder just how bad the nausea would be without the anti-emetic. Am I brave enough to try? Or should I just make sure I have huge stocks of liquorice?

I’m tired and not sleeping well.

Wednesday September 23: Try to book in at health centre for my next pre-chemo blood tests on October 07 – but the booking system can’t work so far ahead so I’ve to try again next week. For some reason, it is the little things like this I find stressful. Manage to book an appointment to have my ear syringed – having a problem with ear wax on top of lung cancer seems a bit unnecessary, doesn’t it?

I drive to Cairn Holy and my son and I walk up from the bottom car park. It’s only half a mile, but it’s uphill. Watching a red squirrel playing in the branches provides a welcome pause. We’re almost at the top when I have to ‘go’ and dive off the path to crouch amongst the trees. I thought the constipation had gone, but clearly not. It takes ages to cover the evidence as I’m teetering on a very steep slope. I take some pictures to send to Sue Vincent. I find it extraordinary we both get lung cancer at the same time.

Thursday September 24: The most difficult question to answer these days is: “How are you feeling?” If it means how are you feeling physically now you’ve had your first treatment, I can say I’m all right, a bit tired but so far so good. If the question is referring to my emotions, then I have no way to answer it. I just don’t know. There is still some kind of disconnect which allows me to function without consciously thinking about having cancer and what it means. Let’s me go off to have toxic drugs pumped into my veins without thinking of all the implications. I thought of all the implications when the tumour was first spotted but seem to have left that thinking behind for now. I guess it is some kind of defence mechanism – like humour – to blunt the edges. Until I go to bed and can’t sleep and when I do I have strange vivid dreams.  

Friday September 25: I managed to get to Pilates this morning where the instructor and class had turned out wearing kick-ass boots. Shona read out the following:
Our Pilates lasses & lads stick together
We’re flexible, strong, tough as leather
Let’s use our boots with some humour
And kick hell out of Mary’s tumour! It made me cry – in a good way. As did the packet of Liquorice Allsorts posted through the letterbox.

Son and I had a lovely walk in the afternoon on a new (to us) path from Mossdale. For the first time since this all began, I almost achieved my 10,000 steps. Once upon a time, I’d have run up and down the stairs to gain the few hundred steps needed.

Saturday September 26: The DH collected the spring bulbs I’d ordered from the garden centre – planting them will be tomorrow’s task. Will I see them in flower? I daren’t say I think so but I hope so.

Sunday September 27: I had to start taking antibiotics on Friday for the two weeks up to my next chemo. Perhaps the constipation creating anti-emetic I will take then will counteract the diarrhoea the antibiotics is causing – or maybe I’ve eaten too much liquorice.