Tuesday 27 April 2010

walking and talking

There's been much walking and talking in recent days....

The walking took us to Hampshire, where I walked the Hangers Way with Sarah whilst Steve revisited Winchester. We trekked some 21 miles over two days, traveling to Alton on Friday morning in the car with Steve, then home on the train on Saturday afternoon.  

Saturday evening was spent talking (and eating and drinking) with friends Roli and Eva, at their house warming not far from where we live. 

Sunday evening was spent talking to Jon and Sally, out for a meal to celebrate Sally's birthday.  More eating and drinking, and a chance to catch up on news! 

Monday morning we were in London, talking to the consultant who is signing Steve's medical report for the damages claim, after yet another set of X-rays. It wasn't a long session. A brief run through Steve's medical and employment history, a listen to Steve's chest, and some words of advice about treatment options.  I assume he will look at the X-rays at some point!

He didn't recommend surgery, even though it's now part of the national guidelines for mesothelioma treatment in the USA, as the benefits do not outweigh the risks in his opinion.  He did think that the standard chemo treatment was worth having when needed, but combining Alimta with carboplatin rather than cisplatin, as the former has fewer side effects - important given Steve's problems with peripheral neuropathy (numbness and tingles) and is just as effective.  He also gave us the name of a new chemo drug, which seems to be getting good results as a second line treatment. 

It was all over by 11 a.m so we took ourselves off to Regents Park for a coffee and cake, then on to London Zoo to see the major changes that have taken place since we were last there - Steve as a teenager, me as a school kid! Lubetkin's penguin pool is still there, although the penguins have moved on.  

The Mappin terraces where I remember seeing a polar bear pacing up and down are now "Down under" with emus and wallabies.  Casson's pavilion which used to be the elephant house is now home to an assortment of pigmy hippos and camels and other creatures.  There are new Lion terraces, a world of difference to the old cages that I remember, plus lots of walk through enclosures.  We walked our feet off, took loads of photos, forgot about Leo and just had fun!  

There was a lovely surprise waiting for us when we arrived home, exhausted but happy - a card from the West Oxford Community Association to say thank you to Steve for his time as editor of the WOCA newsletter, with some money to treat himself to a meal out!  

Other good news - our friend and neighbour Felix was well enough to come home from hospital for one night, before going back into hospital for physio tomorrow. On the wall of the room where he had been staying was one of Steve's images which had been selected for the West Wing art programme.  That made Steve glow with pleasure! It was my turn to glow this morning, after a phone call asking for permission to show a DVD of my allotment project photos in August at the Wantage County Museum to complement the Oxford Textile Workshop's exhibition "Allotments in stitch."  

It's another week until I go back to work for a few days, and the sun is still shining.  Happy days :-))

Wednesday 21 April 2010

moving on

Suddenly it feels like we are about to move on.  My big report has been sent into the office, admin has been finished and the work computer is now shut down until after the May Bank Holiday.  The skies have reopened to air traffic and stranded people will soon be able to reach their destinations.  It was quite novel to look up and see vapour trails once more over the London skyline today.  

After a complete break last year, I'm about to resume long distance walking with a promise of fine weather to help me and my friend and walking partner Sarah get back into the trekking habit. I feel more comfortable about leaving Steve to his own devices for one night than I have done for many, many months.  

A long walk will help work up an appetite for a meal out with friends on Sunday - a birthday treat for Sally and a small thank you for all the supportive e-mails, practical help and treats to cheer us up and keep us going over these last 10 months.

We have an appointment in London next week to see a mesothelioma specialist who will prepare Steve's medical report for the damages claim, and then we'll be free to give some thought about how to celebrate wedding anniversary No 38 on May Day.  We've even started to think very tentatively about my significant birthday which is coming up in July - but that's a bit too far into the future at the moment to make any promises in our current circumstances.  

That's one of the problems about living with a time bomb - everything is fine whilst it's stable, but it's lethal when detonated. So you just stay calm, quiet and sleepy Leo and let us enjoy some quality time together, especially now that spring has well and truly arrived and the world is greening up nicely!

Saturday 17 April 2010

Perfect day

The wind has dropped, the sun is shining, the sky is blue without a hint of cloud (or a vapour trail for that matter).  We were whisked away to lunch at one our our favourite riverside pubs in Oxford by Ian, visiting from Vietnam.  The company was as entertaining and delightful as ever, the food delicious and the chocolate martinis (which sound bizarre) turned out to be a great way to finish a wonderful meal.  Thank you so much Ian, and Happy Birthday for tomorrow, wherever you are - volcanic ash being the determining factor!

We were dropped off in town and walked back home through a city centre thronged with musicians and dancers at every corner and on every patch of open space - Morris dancers, clog dancers, and all sorts of other dancers tapping their feet, waving hankies and sticks, and everybody with a smile on their face. 

Unless you are an air traveler or working inside, this has been a perfect day.  Here's to many more!  

It's been a while since I ended the blog with a quote, but today's is perfect:

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

And I think to my self:
"What a wonderful world!"

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying "How do you do."
Thay really say: "I love you!"

I hear babies crying I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself:
"What a wonderful world!"
Yes, I think to myself:
"What a wonderful world!" 

Oh yeah!

Friday 16 April 2010

ten months on and life is good (all things considered....)

It's ten calender months to the day since Steve was diagnosed with mesothelioma and - at the risk of tempting fate - life is good, all things considered. When last assessed in March, Leo the tumour was still stable and nothing has happened since then it suggest that he is flexing his muscles.  The numbness and tingling in Steve's hands which is a side effect of the chemo is not really noticeable now, and the problem with his toes really does seem to be improving (either that or he's getting used to it...) No cough.  No pain. Just the usual creaky bits of a sixty something with the best part of a lifetime of arthritis.

That's not to say that we have forgotten Leo, or can ignore the inevitable.  Every morning without fail, Steve wakes up and thinks to himself how am I?  Can I feel anything different?  Every time he coughs, or feels tired or not hungry, I wonder - is the cancer flaring up?  Malcolm McClaren's recent death as a result of mesothelioma was a horrible reminder of how aggressive this cancer can be - MMcC went from being active in New York at the end of February to dying in Switzerland in early April.......a very sobering thought. 

However, we are almost at the point where we can make the most of this time whilst Steve is feeling good.  By the middle of next week, I shall be logging off from work and, bar a few days here and there, will be relatively footloose and fancy free.  The appointment with the specialist in London has come through - we'll be seeing Dr Rudd the week after next, so will have the chance, I hope, to sound him out about treatment options.  The damages claim is progressing under someone else's guiding hand, so nothing for us to worry about.  

We've been sociable - a meal out last night with friends from my old work days at the City Council, including Richard, Alison and Clare on a visit from France where they now live.  A get together tomorrow with Ian, another old friend, over from Vietnam...may be for longer than he anticipated, given the effects of the volcanic ash from Iceland on air movements into and out of the UK...

We had a lovely thank you note from the allotment association to say thank you for the picture show at their meeting last week - we are now honorary guests at all future AGMs!  The garden is a jungle of star-like, white clematis flowers, the birds are singling beautifully and the sun has been shining.  

What more can you ask for, apart from a cure for this awful disease? 

Friday 9 April 2010

comings and goings.....

It's been good to have Katie at home, even for a few days, and especially so last night when she cooked us a meal!  

Apart from Katie's brief visit, it's been a quiet week, both of us fully occupied one way or another.  We took some time out on Wednesday night to go to the AGM of the local allotment association - not because we are members, but to say thank you for allowing me to do my photography project there last year and to give a presentation of some of the resulting images, including the RHS competition winner. People were very complementary (which was nice!).  Those who know about Steve's illness were delighted to see how well he is looking, nearly ten months after mesothelioma was diagnosed.  

It came home to me this morning just how fortunate we are in this respect, when I read about Malcolm McClaren.  He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in October 2009, was very active until the end of February when his tumour became very aggressive.  Over the next six weeks or so his health deteriorated rapidly, and he died yesterday, aged 64. Our thoughts are with his family and friends, as they are with all other victims of this awful disease, regardless of whether their deaths are reported in the national and international media.  

It has brought home to me again how precious time is - not that I need much reminding - and how important it is to make the most of every day, especially whilst Steve is still able to enjoy it.  Must finish my report as soon as possible, so we can spend lots of quality time together!

In the meantime, it's a relief to know that someone else is pursuing the damages claim on Steve's behalf, although that has raised an interesting issue about responsibility for exposing Steve to asbestos - is it the City Council as education authority at the time Steve was involved in demolishing partitions in 1971 when he was a student at what was then Oxford Polytechnic; is it the County County who took over the role of education authority in 1974 when local government was reorganised, or is it the establishment itself which became an independent statutory corporation in 1989 a year after it became Oxford Brookes University.  The claim has already been passed from the City Council to the County Council.  It will be interesting to see where the buck finally stops and who takes responsibility.....

Sunday 4 April 2010

Easter nostalgia

If my memory serves me right, when our son Jack was small he was given a cardboard Easter egg, probably full of little chocolate eggs.  There are some little artificial yellow hens and chicks dating from around the same period, not to mention chicken-shaped egg cups.  Although well past their best before date, this motley collection of bits and bobs have decorated the table on Easter morning ever since.  

Both Jack and Katie have long since left home.  However, we continued the tradition this morning, with our soft boiled eggs, each hand-decorated with silly pencil drawings, sitting in the hen egg cups on a table covered by a blue table cloth with a bright yellow tulip in a vase (very Ikea!) and the toy chicks and cardboard egg taking in pride of place in the middle.  What a couple of softies we have become!  

I have to confess, I came over all nostalgic - it brought back memories of Easters past.  For some reason, we often seemed to be re-decorating this time of the year, eating simnel cake in the front room as a refuge from the chaos everywhere  else in the house, or visiting our dear friends Henry and Maggie in Cornwall, where we would gather flowers from the garden, orchard and hedgerows to decorate Katie's Easter bonnet.  

Our house is in dire need of redecorating again, but it's not a top priority this year.  We no longer make the trip to Cornwall since Henry and Maggie died within six weeks of each other in 2002, but the memories of those happy times are still as vivid as ever.  Although Steve has been diagnosed with an incurable cancer, our day-to-day lives are pretty normal at the moment, so we count ourselves lucky compared to other friends and neighbours who are no longer with us, some of whom died a much younger age, and celebrate others who have been through similar traumatic illnesses, but are thankfully still alive to tell the tale.  

Our thoughts go out in particular to Felix, who is making a slow but sure recovery in hospital as I write, and to Sam and Janine, who has found herself writing progress reports to concerned family and friends, not unlike this blog. It's tough, but somehow we get through these times, with a little help from our family and friends.

Wallow in nostalgia over. Inspired by last week's walk in the Peak District, we set out again today, this time following the river south to Folly Bridge and Christchurch Meadow, with a short detour to the college boat houses (never mind Oxford, better luck in the Boat Race, next year) then on to the Botanic Gardens, which are in the process of being transformed, before winding our way home through the back turnings, feet aching more than last weekend!

Katie will be home tomorrow night for a few days, extending the Easter break for a bit longer.  Enjoy the rest of the bank holiday, wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Promise to try to be a bit more forward looking next time.....

Friday 2 April 2010

Can't get away from it....

There we were, back virtually in the early 80s, enjoying the first episode of the latest series of Ashes to Ashes and, suddenly, we are confronted by the nasty stuff...The police breaking through the wall of a factory building to rescue a missing child, dust everywhere....And the heroine (transported back in time from the present day) telling everyone to hold their breath as they ran through the cloud of asbestos....

....just can't get away from the stuff....

This time last week, we were bracing ourselves for a longish walk in the Peak District. Today, Andy tells us that Kinder (which we looked at whilst having our picnic) is covered in snow and looks more like Glencoe than Derbyshire. Not a day for an al fresco lunch, I think!

Hope you have enjoyed your hot cross buns....Chocolate rabbits/eggs still to come!  

Happy Easter everyone!

Thursday 1 April 2010

over the hill, but far from down and out

It's official.  Steve's gone over the hill.  Not just any old hill, but Lantern Pike in the Peak District, which is just a tad bigger than most of the hills round here. He was not alone - we were traveling an enthusiastic group of walkers all out to help our friend Andy over the hill of reaching the young age of 60!  It wasn't just a climb, but an 8 mile walk across the moors, with a picnic lunch overlooking Kinder Reservoir in a bracing wind (but thankfully, no rain!).  We were amongst the diminishing band of those who made it all the way round.

I'm very proud of Steve, and delighted that he decided to take part - only the weekend before he had been complaining about the continuing tingling and numbness in his toes. But that seems to have improved a little, so we decided to go for it!  Not only did he do the walk....The day before he had driven from Oxford to Bristol to deliver me to a meeting in the office, while he did the return trip to Bath to collect and deliver prints to the RPS headquarters. A brief pit stop at son Jack's house for lunch after my meeting was over, then braving horrendous traffic on the road to Huddersfield, where we spent the night.  

That gave us an opportunity to meet up with daughter Katie and her partner George, and go out for a meal Friday evening, and have a much shorter trip the next day to the Peak District for Andy's birthday walk.  Andy and Dave did us proud with an excellent birthday buffet tea, which set us up well for the journey back to Oxford on Saturday night. What a lot to pack in to two days! Be sure to let us know when the grand child arrives, Andy!

It's been relatively quiet since then, by comparison.  I've had my head down working very hard on a report, which is due to be submitted later in April. Steve has been busy catching up with cataloguing a HUGE backlog of photos. 

However, there's been more good news on the photography front. A picture has been selected as a "notable" image in an American photography contest. If you are anywhere near Sacramento June 2010 - May 2011, visit the California Railroad Museum and see whether you can spot the tracks at Didcot Railway Centre in the exhibition "Beyond the Locomotive"!  If you are in Oxford on the weekend of 5-7 June, drop into Carluccio's where we'll have some prints exhibited as part of Oxford Castle's 1st Garden and Flower Festival. The following weekend, the pictures will go up to the Nuffield Hospital, where they'll be on show until mid-August.

Easter is just around the corner, so I expect it will be snowing again soon!  Enjoy the long break and take care. With so much chocolate in the offing and lots to celebrate, I think we'll have to do quite a bit of walking to burn off all those calories....