Tuesday 31 May 2011

parties, walking, photography and a bit of culture

So much has happened since the last blog that it seems like more than nine days ago since I logged.....

....In the meantime, we've been lucky enough to go to two parties.  The first was to welcome back Emily and Nick who have recently returned to Oxford after traveling in the far east for many months. We took advantage of living within walking distance of the venue to stay late and enjoy a few drinks, as well as chatting and catching up on news into the wee small hours before successfully negotiating our way home across the park in the middle of the night....Thanks Em and Nick for a great evening!

The second was a very special 100th celebration - two of our neighbours enjoying 40th birthdays and 20 years as a couple! Everyone was asked to dress as something significant from the last 100 years. We ended up going as modern art movements - Steve as abstract expressionism i.e. he splattered a T-shirt with lots of paint to create his very own Jackson Pollock, and me kitted out completely in black and white as Op Art.  Others were far more daring - I think my favourites were a couple dressed as ice dancers Torvill and Dean, complete with gold medals from the 1984 Winter Olympics and an ice dance routine!  Good company, good food, good fun and a chance to dance to a good band - it's times like this that I have to remind myself that Steve is living with a time bomb - everyone remarks how well he is looking.  Thanks Saskie and Joss for helping us forget our worries and have such a wonderful evening!

Between parties, I confess I abandoned Steve to go walking for a couple of days with a friend, Sarah, who lives in London.  We are walking our way round the London Loop, in stretches of two days at a time. This time, to our delight, we managed 15 miles on day 1 and another 10 miles on day 2.  On previous walks we have had to stay in B&Bs, but for the Loop we based ourselves at Sarah's house and I felt like I was totally spoilt by the perfect host!

While I was way, Steve worked on prints for the ARPS assessment, now fast approaching.  I'm still lagging behind on that front.  However, yesterday I heard that two of my images were nominated in the 6th Annual Black and White Spider Awards, announced at an online Gala watched by 35,000 photography fans worldwide.  Today we delivered three pictures to the 03 Gallery at Oxford Castle, ready to be hung as part of a group exhibition which opens this weekend.

In between all this walking, partying and photography stuff, we went to see the Merchant of Venice at RSC Stratford last night, via Bristol yesterday morning to pick up Jack. Never thought I would see an Elvis impersonation in one of the bard's works but Shakespeare's words spoken with an American accent work remarkably well!  As well as watching the play, we took a trip up to the top of the theatre tower and went out for a meal, so we were pretty tired by the time we arrived home, very late.

It's been a tiring week but great fun.  Our spirits were lifted by news that a friend who was diagnosed with lymphoma last year is now in remission, following the completion of his chemo course - great news Richard!  We look forward to joining you at the Kings Arms soon.  The sad news is that two of the meso warriors from the Facebook Group lost their battles with cancer in recent days.  Our hearts go out to their families and friends.  We were also saddened to hear that our former GP, Ann McPherson, died on Saturday. Prior to her retirement in 2007, she had been our family doctor since the early 1980s, supporting us through two pregnancies and all the worries that new parents have with small children. A wonderful woman who beat breast cancer, only to succumb to pancreatic cancer. However, she battled on for the causes she believed in right to the end - a true inspiration to all who met her.

We will be remembering another friend tomorrow - Andrew, who recently died unexpectedly in his early 60s. I can feel a lump in my throat and tears welling up even as I write. If I feel like this now, I keep reminding myself how much more difficult it will be for Andrew's family tomorrow.  But your family and all your friends will be there to support you Jan, Susie and Charlie.  Andrew will live on in our hearts and many happy memories.

Sunday 22 May 2011

not the end of the world

The death of our friend Andrew last Tuesday cast a shadow over the rest of the week. We can't help asking ourselves what is worse - life coming to an end suddenly and unexpectedly, with no time to say goodbye, heal any rifts, let your family and friends know how much you love them, get your affairs in order, but not having to go through a long drawn out suffering of mind and/or body.....Or to be in Steve's position, living with an incurable illness, not knowing when it's going to flare up, how you will manage the pain, but at least having the opportunity to get yourself sorted out, make the most of the time you do have, enjoy and appreciate what remains of your life. I don't think there is an easy answer to that question. Given a choice, I think that most of us would prefer to die in our sleep at a ripe old age, having lead a fulfilling life and at peace with ourselves and the world.

With thoughts of mortality weighing heavily on our minds, we set out to the launch of the Artspool exhibition on Friday evening more out of a sense of duty than anything else. I wasn't expecting more than one or two of my pictures to have been hung and had no idea what to expect from the other exhibitors. However, as we approached what looks like an ordinary house and walked through the passageway into the studio space beyond, our spirits were lifted by the wonderful light airy space which greeted us. One whole wall was devoted entirely to my photos and more were scattered through the rest of the building, amongst an eclectic range of artwork including ceramics, glass, fashion, jewelry, paintings, sculpture, textiles and mixed media by 14 other artists.  It was great!  

please scroll down for more detail and information

The icing on the cake was bumping into two people we hadn't seen for what must be approaching ten years; the last time we had met was at a performance in the basement cafe at the Museum of Modern Art (or Modern Art Oxford as it is now called). Although almost all our friends know about Steve's mesothelioma, from time to time we bump into someone from the distant past that we have lost contact with and are then faced with the dilemma of what to say in response to the question "How are you?"  I let Steve take the lead on that....He kept it light, alluding to some major changes in the last few years, but not going into detail other than to say that things are good and we are enjoying life, which is the truth but not the whole truth.....

We found ourselves in a similar position again yesterday evening, at a party to celebrate the return of Emily and Nick who have been traveling in the far east for a year. But this time the conversation with a complete stranger who had no idea about Steve's condition went on longer and deeper, fueled no doubt by generous helpings of alcohol. When it turned to future plans, Steve explained that because of the unpredictable nature of mesothelioma we now tend to live our lives three months at a time, rarely making firm commitments beyond the next hospital assessment. The person we were talking to had recent experience of loosing a parent to cancer so knew exactly where we were coming from and the conversation flowed naturally, without embarrassment, before moving on to other things into the wee small hours.  We stumbled home at 2 am this morning, so glad that the world didn't come to an end as predicted!

So here we are today, a little bleary-eyed, but otherwise still enjoying life against all the odds, some 23 months and 6 days after Steve's diagnosis. The next hospital assessment is on 16 June - exactly two years post-diagnosis.  No doubt the tension will rise as the date approaches, but this time we will have a distraction in the form of our photographic assessments in Bath to see if the Royal Photographic Society thinks our work is of a standard worthy of an Associate distinction.  There are other things happening between then and now - a funeral, the next section of long distance walk and another exhibition opening - more of those in a future blog.  

I want to finish today's blog with a dragon fly.  If you have ever visited Debbie Brewer's website Mesothelioma and Me, you will know that the dragon fly is very special to Debbie. And any meso warrior will tell you that Debbie is a very special lady; even though she has her own battles to fight, she is always there for others. After a long period of stability, her mesothelioma is on the move. She is encouraging her tumour, Theo, to take another long vacation by getting treatment in Germany which has been so successful for her in the past.  The chemo itself isn't novel, but the way it is delivered is.  Chemoembolization is a procedure in which anti-cancer drugs are administered directly to a tumour through its feeding blood supply, which is then blocked so that the drugs do not get into the wider system but are effectively trapped in the tumour area.  This allows a higher concentration of drugs to be in contact with the tumour for a longer period of time.  Although this approach is used in the UK to treat liver cancer, it is not yet available for mesothelioma.  Those who want to see if it will work for them must self-fund the trip to Frankfurt and the cost of treatment.  Which brings me back to the dragon fly.

Debbie's daughter Siobhan has designed and produced dragon fly button badges which she is selling for £1 each to raise funds for Debbie's treatment.  You can buy these buttons by following the link on Debbie's wesite  (link on the right under We Are Not Alone ) You can track fundraising progress on "...and don't come back!" the blog for Theo's holiday fund (link on the right under Fundraising).  Please visit and buy a button or two!

Wednesday 18 May 2011

the roller coaster goes on

Since we returned from Venice, life has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.  

The high points have included a wonderful short break in Scotland for me with girlfriends Prue and Chris, including an opportunity to meet up with Rufus, a dear friend and former neighbour who now lives in Edinburgh. There has been some good news on the photography front with work selected for a mixed media show at Artspool during Artweeks which opens this Friday and for an exhibition  at the 03 Gallery Oxford Castle to be held as part of the Flower and Garden Festival in June; an acceptance in the London Salon of Photography whose centenary exhibition opens in London in late July and the arrival of my FIAP gold medal (which really is a medal - though sadly not real gold) awarded for an image selected in a Serbian international photo salon.  

The low points have included the decision to withdraw Steve's damages case on the advice of solicitors.  I may write about that in more detail in a future blog, now that I am no longer restricted by an ongoing court case. Plus, there should have been four of us on the trip to Edinburgh, but sadly Jenny couldn't make it due to her husband's ill health. We missed you Jenny and pass on our best wishes to Dick. Two of our meso friends, Debbie in Plymouth and Mavis in Kent, have both recently had news that their disease is progressing.  We know you will stay positive - we send you both our love and good wishes.

However, the lowest point we have experienced since Steve's mesothelioma diagnosis in June 2009 happened yesterday - the sudden and unexpected death of a close friend who is - was - younger than Steve. We were all students together and part of a circle that has kept in touch ever since, through marriage and children, life's traumas and happy occasions. Given Steve's condition, I thought it likely that I would be the first in the group to be widowed. The harsh reality is that no one can take life for granted.  

Our thoughts are with Jan, Susie, Charlie and sister Kay. Today's blog is dedicated to you Andrew, with much love.

Andrew - happy memories, always

Monday 9 May 2011

Buon giorno!

In 2009, we celebrated our wedding anniversary with a trip to Florence.  That was the holiday when Steve developed flu-like symptoms which were bad enough for him to the see the doctor on our return home, eventually leading to a chest X-ray, pleurodesis operation, biopsy and mesothelioma diagnosis.  It was therefore with some trepidation that we decided to celebrate our anniversary this year by returning to Italy - a bit like getting back on a bike after a fall. However, the lure of visiting Venice for the first time was strong enough to outweigh the feeling we were tempting fate.  So that's where we've been!  The ghost has been laid....we hope.....

We were based on the island of Guidecca, in an apartment converted from a former mill building, just a short stroll from the stop for the vaporetto to St Mark's Square but far enough away to escape from the madding crowds. We have sepnd a wonderful week getting lost in Venice, jumping on and off vaporetti (much more fun than a bus or train!) threading our way backwards and forwards over the Grand Canal via the four bridges and the traghetti (public gondolas which act as ferries between bridges).  

We bought fresh fish and tomatoes in the Rialto market, Prosecco from the local shop and developed a taste for Campari spritz, which most Venetians seem to enjoy between leaving work and arriving home.

Our travelcards took us out to some of the islands in the lagoon - San Giorgio famous for its church and campanile, Murano where Venetian glass is made, Burano where the buildings are brightly coloured like something out of a children's paint set and the Lido, with its long sandy beaches.

Although we walked for miles and miles, we managed to pace ourselves with siestas most days. After a rest, we were ready to go back into the historic core in the evenings, when most of the tours had retreated back to their cruise ships, and we were able to enjoy the main tourist attractions with fewer people!  

A wonderful week, worth every one of the huge amount of euros we parted with over the course of seven days...

Steve's cough (which was still a problem when we started the holiday) almost disappeared while we were away, so it was of some concern that he started coughing and wheezing again almost as soon as we returned home.  Steve's convinced that it's hay fever - so much pollen around at the moment.  I think he's probably right - using the puffer seems to bring relief. At the back of our minds however lurks the horrible thought that history may be repeating itself. However, we are trying not to let such thoughts outweigh the benefits of such a wonderful week away!

Today is special for another reason - our daughter is 22 years old!  Happy birthday Katie - hope to see you in a few weeks time!