Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Visit - - and a photo - -

Yes, I know.  It's been a while.

I've had SUCH a busy Spring - - rushing all over the place teaching and doing medical roleplay and I have loved every moment of it.

There have been many enjoyable moments in this work but I think my favourite was working with a medical student who'd been struggling to reach an acceptable standard and who said to me at the end of the session, "Thank you for bearing with me, and for staying enthusiastic - I know I was really difficult to work with at the beginning."

I went out walking on air!

When I haven't been working, I have been mostly spending time with my Mum.  She was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer in December.  The cancer marker in the blood, which should be below 35 in someone who doesn't have cancer, was 6,900 at diagnosis, which speaks for itself as to how ill she was.

They weren't sure whether chemotherapy would help, as she was so frail and her weight had dropped to six and a half stone from her usual seven and a half (fourteen pounds in a stone, if you're American and don't do stones!)

The first chemo made her very sleepy but she tolerated it well otherwise.  Just before the second chemo, four weeks later, the cancer marker had dropped to 2,600 and she was quite a lot better - - walking with a stick, but walking.

Just before the third chemo they measured the marker again.  It was 253.

And just before the fourth chemo (of six) which she had last week, it was 82.

Since I work with doctors a lot, some of whom are cancer specialists, I haven't been able to resist hustling them into corners and asking "Is this as amazing as it seems to us?"

Everyone, including the doctors looking after Mum, agrees that it is.  "Right at the very top of anything we might expect" seems to be the verdict.

My private theory - and I've no proof of course - is that her previous astonishing level of fitness has helped her to  do so well.  Tremendously athletic in her youth, she's been out gardening for several hours a day ever since her retirement.

Mum has not so much fought cancer as ignored the whole thing completely.  "When do I have to go to the hospital again?" is about all we get from her about it.  Meanwhile, she's been out helping her gentleman friend (who has looked after her wonderfully well) build a snowman.  She can walk without a stick and is almost back to how she was before she got ill last October.

She'll be eighty-nine on April 20th and I feel so privileged to have had this extra time with her.  The Bexley Wing at St James's Hospital where she's being treated is a model of good practice.  Wonderful.

Some of our lovely Lancashire relatives came over to visit Mum, and us, today - they had been planning to come in January but couldn't because of the snow.  This visit was nearly snowed off too, but thank goodness they got here and it was really lovely to see them.  Very many thanks to Dorothy and John for coming and to Claire, John's daughter, who drove them here.

They brought some old photos and in amongst them was one which absolutely astonished me.  It was a photo of the Communist and my mother on their wedding day.  I'm not sure whether this was in 1949 or 1950 - they were never clear about it themselves - but they both always insisted that no such photo existed.  "All the photos were terrible," they said.  "We threw them away."

But this one's great!  I don't know why they didn't like it.

 My mother - age about 24 in the photo - looks delightful and is instantly recognisable.  The Communist looks like a mad professor and is already losing his hair, at 25.

It is so lovely to have it, and so very, very strange to see it after all these years.  The doctors back in December were pretty convinced that my mother would be dead by now, so I'm delighted to have the photo whilst she's still alive and enjoying herself so much.