Kate's Blog

Follow me if you will as I try to navigate through the ups and downs of my world.

I'm writing this blog to help me make sense of all that has happened - from my diagnosis with non-Hodgkins lymphoma while pregnant with my third child in May 2008
, through to my reflections on chaotic family life as I try to pick up the pieces of my life again.

The kids are so small, and I'm working hard to keep us all safe and to stay in remission.

Stay with me - it won't be all doom and gloom I promise!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Cloud Atlas

Finally, finally, finally I've finished David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas". It has taken me weeks, in between everything else, and I have to say that at times it was hard going enough to make me consider giving up. As you will have gathered, I did not find it an easy read.... but in the end I decided it was a truly amazing one.

The plot is convoluted - six different narratives scroll through the book and connect together at the end. But it takes a leap of faith to believe that such different voices and such different stories can connect in any meaningful way. They do, though. He plays with the way that language has been used in literary narrative over the past two hundred years: some parts of the book are pure pastiche, while the whole book is something quite original indeed.

It's an intellectual read - a funny and at times an annoying read - but certainly a challenging read.

As I read it mostly late at night once I was finally bed, I'd often fall asleep while reading it. And several nights it infiltrated my dreams in unsettling ways. I feel really bereft now I've finished it - which is a testament to how consumed by the book I felt. And I've spent much time pondering the complex messages and themes which Mitchell is exploring.

Have you read this incredible book? If not, I'd recommend it to you. Let me know!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Tiger Mother? I'm Growling like a Kitten

Thanks everyone for your lovely and supportive comments after my last post. I haven't got the results yet - and I'm guessing no news is good news. As I said, it was a routine scan - but my reactions really surprised me. Clearly something inside me wasn't feeling routine.

Now, I'm grappling with a new and different issue. Have you heard about the 'tiger mother'? You must have done. It's the name given to pushy parenting, or maybe more accurately to parenting in a more traditional way. So it's making your kids practice their reading, maths and musical instruments everyday whether they want to or not. It's about not praising your children for every move they make, instead one might ask them to try harder before you praise.

Some time ago I read 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' by Amy Chua. It caused a big controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. I thought it was quite funny and I thought that much of it was written tongue in cheek. The controversy I thought came, largely, from a collective sense of humour failure.

However, undeniably Amy Chua presents herself as a pushy mother. Very different from me and my parenting style. But after I read it I thought I'd try an experiment.

Both Ed and Martha play the cello and violin respectively. I encourage them to practice but if I'm honest the time seems to fly between lessons, and sometimes - what with everything else - the practice can fall by the wayside. We pay for these lessons, the kids enjoy playing and I want them to stick at it. But I'm guilty of letting the practice slide sometimes.

So, I decided that for a while I'd make them practice for 15 minutes a day. And I decided that I'd be just a tad more critical. I wouldn't just say, 'That's lovely, Ed', if it actually wasn't. Instead I resolved to ask him to do it again and do it better. Just a bit, a teensy bit of Chua style parenting! The kids were quite surprised. And a little bit outraged it has to be said.

But..... their music has improved and they are enjoying playing so much more. With the practice - properly focused and a just a little bit demanding - has come a leap ahead in terms of achievement. They're doing better, they play better and they're having fun.

Interesting, really. I guess it's certainly so - that if I'm half-hearted about something, even accidentally half-hearted, that doesn't help them to succeed.

Right - on with the Latin then.

Only joking.....

Monday, 13 June 2011

Rage Against the Machine

On Thursday I went for a scan on my spine. It was an MMR scan and although ordered by my oncology consultant, I was not too worried as it was meant to be checking out a long-term lower back problem which actually pre-dates the cancer. Not too worried in theory - but in reality any scan makes me sick that something horrendous will be found.

And because I was not worried, I took myself off on my own. My friend was looking after Hattie and the kids were at school. To be honest it didn't really occur to get Rog or my mum to come with me. I've had enough hospital appointments to know what I'm dealing with. Or so I thought.

Walking through the oncology department where I have my check-ups, where I had my radiotherapy; walking behind a nurse who looked after me when I was at my illest during my bone marrow transplant, who didn't recognise me - that was all ok.

It was when I was sitting in the waiting room for the scan that things began not to be ok. In the small, cramped room were people waiting for CT scans and MMR scans. Mostly old people as they always are, needing scans for all sorts of reasons. Chattering and nattering away - seemingly entertained by the novelty of a hospital appointment: for some one can't help but wonder if having something worthy of an appointment is almost an event to celebrate. But opposite me was a woman - younger than me. She had no hair; was thin, pale, crying and was retching as she tried to swallow the liquid which one has to drink for the CT scans. She was hanging onto her boyfriend who was trying to shield her a little and give her some privacy from the prattling around her.

And I knew. I knew how ill she felt. I knew how scared and angry she felt. Because three years ago I had many scans when I too was sitting, holding onto Roger and trying to hide my vomiting. I remember being petrified about the results - my whole life hanging suspended, waiting for the call to tell me what the machine had revealed.

I wanted to say to her that I had been where she was now and that my prognosis had been so terrifyingly poor. I wanted to say, "look at me now!". But of course I didn't. Instead I concentrated on hiding my tears of horror and stared down at the blurred page of my book.

Called into my scan - I burst into tears as the surprised technician sat down to take me through the details of my test.
"Couldn't you find that poor girl somewhere else more private to wait?" I sobbed. "Can't you see how ill and scared she is?"

And then I lay down in the jaws of a machine which resembled a tube as claustrophobic as a coffin. I've only ever had an MMR scan on my leg, so I didn't have to lie right inside. I've had plenty of CT scans which are unpleasant and scary but quick nevertheless.

I hadn't read the information which came with the appointment booking. I hadn't realised that I would be inside this contraption for up to 50 minutes, wearing headphones to try to block out the horrendous clanking, grinding and scraping.

I was pushed into the tube, lying on my back, my nose a few inches from the top, my hands on my stomach holding an emergency buzzer if things became too much, my arms pinned to my side. And the scan began.

I started to cry. Lying alone, deep inside the machine, the tears fell straight down my neck into my hair. I couldn't move my arms to wipe them away.

I think it was a kind of panic attack. I don't do panic attacks. I'm quite a down to earth person by and large. But I had terrible flashbacks in that machine to my radiotherapy. I hadn't thought about the radiotherapy, I don't think, since I finished it. But all of a sudden I could picture the way the little cogs wouuld move and change above me to emit the damaging radiation deep inside my chest.

I tried to calm down, telling myself that apart from anything else if I buzzed for them to take me out, the whole thing would just last for longer - and if I refused to have the scan, there would be that uncertainty and worry at the back of my mind: what if there was something to find after all?

So I summoned up all that I had and took some deep breaths. I closed my eyes and pictured a walk I love step by meticulous step. From time to time I looked up at the top of the inside of the scanner and focused on a tiny dot in the plastic. The roof was so close to my eyes that it was hard for my eyes to focus and the dot kept dividing into two. How many others had done the same thing?

After 20 minutes they pulled me out and injected some contrast dye into my arm. I'd managed to surreptitiously wipe away the tears by then. I wasn't ashamed of crying - I just couldn't deal with talking about it at that moment at all. And back I slid into the depths.

The second half of the scan was easier. The shock at the strength of my feelings had passed. And now I knew how claustrophobic the scanner was. I spent the rest of the time thinking how I was going to make the kids' hyena costumes for their performance (almost as stressful as a scan for un-artistic me, and certainly distracting!!!!), and picturing my drive home to fetch Harriet. I was relatively calm by the time all was finished - but felt absolutely washed out and exhausted for the rest of the day, and was really shaky on the drive home.

I don't know why I'm surprised really - but I am nevertheless - at the degree to which my traumatic memories can come up and grab me by my throat in dreams, or sometimes still in my everyday existence.

I haven't had the results yet.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The River Tyne

This morning we went for walk. But instead of heading out of the city as we usually do, we decided to explore much closer to home. And alongside the Tyne, heading under the famous bridges, out of the light, and hugging the muddy water-line like a shadow, was a path.

Walking down this path felt ridiculously intrepid and exciting. All these years I've lived here and I've never known of this path's existence. Have I never been curious enough to wonder if it's possible to walk beside the river, towards the horizon, past the glamorous quayside with its galleries, cafes and restaurants?

The Tyne is a romantic sort of river, but away from the centre of the city it is mysterious and a little formidable. The life which surrounds this part of the river is much more private; strange objects tossed into the shore-line quagmire speak of adventures, games and sometimes things more sinister. A bike entirely submerged apart from its pedals made me wonder why someone would come this far to dispose of junk in such a dramatic way. While we found a place to turn around, the path headed onwards destined for the Tyne Valley, destined to leave even the dregs of the city far behind. Along this path you can walk or cycle coast to coast - I'm taking my blue bike along there one day soon.

But on the way back we turned directly up the steep riverbank, trying to take a shortcut home, and followed a narrowing path into the depths beneath the foundations of the train bridge. In the rusting, shadowy iron hollows which form the giant girders of the looming bridge lay pools of strange and rotting detritus. As the undergrowth closed around us, now I urgently wanted to get away back to the civilisation which we could hear around us but could not see. It didn't feel a good place to be with the kids - discarded clothing lay around as well as other pieces of 'equipment' which we recognised but thankfully the kids did not. A padlocked clearing, covered with barbed wire and rickety corrugated iron to keep out intruders, looked threatening and dangerous. Quickly, we retraced our steps back down to the muddy riverside and walked back along the path we'd left, once more hearing the echoing bridges far above us.

Back at home, realising that this derelict and forbidding place awash with the reverberations of the city is only a moment away, has made me feel disorientated. I feel as if I have newly arrived here - all that seems familiar is for the moment superimposed on top of my new sense of the river, winding nearby and possessively keeping safe its secrets.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


Martha is staying on her own at her grandma's. It's just a night but it has been organised with all the seriousness and gravitas which preparations for a royal visit might entail. Those pajamas, those clothes for tomorrow and that book for tonight.

I unpacked her toothbrush when we arrived and called her into the bathroom.

"There's your toothbrush and there's the toothpaste", I said, nonchalantly waving a hand in the general direction of the sink. "I'm telling you now, so you know where they are for later."

There was a pause.

"I think I'd better move them, Mummy", she said with firmness and something close to sympathy for my cavalier clumsiness.

And oh so carefully she moved the toothbrush and the toothpaste just a tiny bit: straightened them up and aligned them exactly.

"There", she said with satisfaction. "That's much better."

And I'm not sure that I've ever loved her more than at that moment.

"Much better", I agreed.