And just like that…

it’s over.

I had my last radiotherapy session on Wednesday. I lay on the bed and the machine whirred around me and then the disembodied voice floated through and said “you’re done” and I was. I was truly, properly done.

The operations are over. The chemo is over. The radiotherapy is over. I’ll have a sore breast for a few weeks and I’ll be dealing with the side effects of Tamoxifen for the next five years, but the really, truly horrible bits are over. I hope.

There is no full stop to this journey. Just like there was no definitive start, but rather a drifting of perhapses and maybes and probablys, there is a similar vagueness here. I don’t get a final scan to confirm the cancer is gone – we just assume that it hasn’t grown back because it’s received such a blasting. I’ll get annual mammograms to check, and I’ll see my oncologist in July to get properly signed off, but that’s all. Not a bang or even a whimper – more a “move along please, there’s nothing to see here”.

I’d been warned, right back at the beginning, that this state of limbo would feel odd. Apparently, this is when lots of women pick up the phone and get back in touch with their breast nurse, uncertain about how to handle this sudden transition. Medical intervention has been a part of my life for so many months now, it feels like a crutch has been taken away. Don’t get me wrong – I hated every bit of it. But I suspect I have a slight case of Stockholm Syndrome – I have come to rely on my captor.

It will, of course, get easier. I will learn not to be afraid, not to see every minor ache and pain as a sign of something more sinister. And I will regain my hair, lose my extra weight, find tops which hide my scar. I will become me again – just maybe a different me to who I was before.

Part of that process will be, I think, stepping back from this blog for a bit. I have found it such a therapeutic tool, but it is time to channel my thoughts into something new. I realise that I have been hopeless at replying to those people who have been kind enough to leave comments – this is due to my technological incompetence more than anything else. I do hope those who have commented know how much I have appreciated their words – they have buoyed me up and made me feel like I’m not just screaming into the void.

And, at the risk of this sounding like some kind of macabre Oscars speech, thank you so much to all the friends and family who have supported me, R and H over the last few months. There has been a steady stream of flowers, chocolates, cards, letters, meals, gifts, messages and – most overwhelmingly – love. The paradox of this experience is that I have never felt more lucky at a time when I have been at my most unlucky.

So. I’ve come to what I hope is the end of this particular story. I am hoping there will not be a sequel.

After all, I have other things to write.

Getting Zapped

Over the last six months, I have developed a wariness about hospitals. Nothing to do with the staff – they have all been lovely – but more to do with what happens when I’m in the building. I have had quite enough of prodding and poking and pain.

All of which is why I approached radiotherapy with some trepidation. My first session was last Wednesday and it’s fair to say I wasn’t looking forward to it. But I shouldn’t have worried, because of all the treatments I’ve had so far, radio is by far the most pleasant.

I’m very lucky, because I know for some people this isn’t the case. Depending on the type of cancer you have, radiotherapy experiences can differ widely. But for my particular type of breast cancer, the procedure is simple.

I arrive in the room and strip off my top half, before lying on a bench, semi-supine. At the head of the bench is an enormous machine with a flat, round piece a couple of feet in diameter. This is the bit which emits the radiation. It has a mirror at its centre, so I can see my torso as I lie flat. Behind this mirror is the zapper (highly technical term) and a lead lining which has been minutely shaped to my body’s specification, so the radiation is targeted at the offending area and nowhere else.

Three green laser beams are emitted by the machine, and three radiotherapists use these as guidelines to place me precisely on the bench. With my arms in the stirrup-things above my head, I go as limp as I can, and they manhandle me into position. They roll and heave and ply my shoulders and breast until they are perfectly in place, all the while giving each other strange instructions: “two ant” or “three point five supe”. They decorate my torso with pen marks, delicately following the green laser beams on my skin.

Then, I breathe in and hold my breath for twenty seconds. They do yet more positioning checks. Finally, I am ready, and they leave the room.

This is my favourite bit.

I lie on the bench and the machine above me whirs and rotates around my body. A disembodied voice floats through to me, telling me when to hold my breath and when to let go. It is surprisingly peaceful. Ten minutes a day, lying down and deep breathing: it’s actually quite relaxing. I close my eyes and have a little think and try not to fall asleep.

Of course, there’s a trade off. The sessions themselves are painless, but repeated exposure to radiation is not great for your skin, so I have developed light burns on my chest and armpit area. I have to moisturise with a special cream three to four times daily, and use a special wash in the shower. At night the area is particularly uncomfortable, so the nurses have given me a cold wound pad to wear over it, which helps. It’s essentially a bad case of sunburn, without the mitigating factor of a beach holiday.

I’m also told that I will start to get very tired. I’m already feeling a bit knackered, but this is probably due to the horrible journey over to Coventry every day, and the horrors of the hospital car park (I can rant long and hard about the travesty that is hospital car parks – which is another reason why I am best avoided at parties). But I believe the real fatigue will come towards the end of the treatment. It’s nice to have something to look forward to.

And so, I have nine more days of this, and then I am done. I am so close, I can almost touch it. I am trying not to get ahead of myself, but I am ready to finish. It has been a long-old journey.

Tattoos

About twelve years ago, I got my first tattoo. It’s part of a Shakespeare quote that R and I love. Over the next few years, we both had two more sections from the quote tattooed. Those three pieces of text are all in unobtrusive places that you wouldn’t get to see unless you know me quite intimately (or you’re a cancer medical professional in Warwickshire – in which case, you’ve probably had the pleasure at some point over the past few months). But tattoos are addictive, and a few years later I got a fourth in a more public place – this time a Penny Farthing tattooed on my wrist. And then, last week, I got three more in one go, as part of my radiotherapy treatment.

So, now I have seven tattoos!

My appointment was called a “booking in appointment” which is something of a misnomer because I wasn’t “booked in” at all – I still have no idea when my first radiotherapy session is, other than some time in 3-4 weeks. Instead, it was an opportunity to mark me up so that the radiation can be delivered precisely when the time comes.

The treatment will all take place at the Arden Cancer Centre at Coventry Hospital. Just like Stratford’s Rigby Unit, it’s a modern, well furnished building which has clearly been decorated to be as comfortable as possible for those visiting. Throughout my cancer experience I’ve been really impressed by the units I’ve visited – they have a different feel to the rest of the hospitals they’re located in. They’re friendlier, somehow.

Anyway: the appointment. I was shown to a room with a CT scanner, and asked to remove my clothes from my top half. Then, I lay on the bench with my arms above me in stirrups (not dissimilar to those used in operation theatres during child birth – only obviously at the other end).

The two radiographers then got out an extremely hi-tech piece of equipment – a felt tip pen – and proceeded to draw markers on my torso. Interestingly, they drew them by my left breast (the problematic one), my right breast and on my sternum. I’m assuming this is so they can triangulate the signal, so to speak.

Once this was done, I was asked to start my Deep Inspirational Breath Hold (DIBH). This sounds like a self-help technique practised by Insta-luvvies but is in fact just a deep breath with your hands above your head. The idea is that it creates space inside your chest and therefore reduces the impact of the radiotherapy on your heart. Because swapping cancer for heart failure isn’t a great trade.

The idea is, you have a few practice breaths, then breathe in and hold for twenty seconds, taking care that the breath fills your lungs and you don’t arch your back. Of all the procedures I’ve been through so far, this was one I was looking forward to. At drama school I spent hours lying on the floor breathing in and out as part of voice classes. I was trained for this! I am an expert! Savouring my big moment, I proudly held my breath like a giant balloon, while the radiographers once more scribbled marks on my torso.

Once my chest area resembled a toddler’s artwork, I was ready to go into the machine. The radiographers disappeared into their booth, and my bench started to move in and out of the tube. On their signal, I started my DIBH again. This time, it felt like I was holding my breath for considerably longer than twenty seconds – but the mind is a funny thing, and the combination of the lack of oxygen with the whirring and clicking of the tube might have distorted my perception somewhat.

Finally, I was out of the tube and all that remained was for the radiographers to immortalise their markings in permanent ink. And so, they tattooed a very small blue dot on my left side, right side and sternum. The dots are minute – in fact, they said that sometimes they struggle to locate them because they are so small – but they are permanent and I am therefore claiming them as part of my tattoo collection. I feel I’ve earned them.

So, now I start the waiting game again. My radiotherapy will last three weeks. I will need to go to the Arden Centre every day for those three weeks and hold my breath in twenty second bouts while I get zapped. This is the braces part of the belt-and-braces approach to seeing off the cancer for good. The hope is that after this, the cancerous cells won’t dare to return. So for all that it is inconvenient and uncomfortable, it is definitely worth doing. And the plus side is, I get to use my acting training. Every cloud, and all that.

Walking Down The Stairs

The Rigby Unit at Stratford Hospital is on the second floor. This means that if you’re lucky enough to sit by the window in the chemo suite, you have a lovely view of the courtyard below. It also means that you have to climb four short staircases to get there.

Of course, there are lifts available. But at one of my earliest visits I made a promise to myself that I would climb the stairs up to chemo each time. And I would walk back down again. They’re not steep, and they’re not long, but sometimes those flights of stairs have seemed unending.

But on Friday, I had my last chemo, took my bag of medication to see me through the next week, and I waved goodbye to all the lovely nurses who have seen me through this leg of my journey. Then I walked down the stairs for the final time.

As I did it, the enormity of this particular milestone hit me, and I started to weep. Luckily, I was wearing a mask and a low slung bandana, so I don’t think anyone noticed my tears as I walked through the area at the foot of the stairs and out to the car where R and H were waiting.

It’s been a hell of a journey so far. Two operations, six chemo cycles (three of which have been postponed), two PICC fittings and a liver scare. I now face radiotherapy and hormone treatment, but not for a month. I have 31 days to rally and gather myself and rest and reflect. I am very tired.

But despite that tiredness, there is a song bouncing around the back of my head – The Final Chemo (sung along to the tune of Europe’s Final Countdown). It’s a bit of a fist-pumper, because there’s an element of triumph in my tiredness: I am making my way down those stairs.

Writing It Out

Thirteen years ago, my father died. I was based in London at the time, trying to earn a living as an actor, and times were tough. I had a temp job while ‘resting’ so I couldn’t afford time off work. My mum called me with the news in the early hours of the Friday morning; I hightailed it back to Warwickshire on an early train and spent the next few days engulfed in grief and funeral arrangements. On the Sunday night, I returned to Wood Green. On the Monday, I went to work as usual.

In the office, I vaguely remember everyone being very kind. But my main memory is one of incredulity. This momentous, life-changing event was happening, but people were going about their daily business. I was supposed to go about my daily business. The shift in my world was so huge that I felt like MY FATHER HAS JUST DIED should be tattooed on my forehead. I wanted everyone to know.

This desire to share, to make sure everyone knows what I’m going through, is, I think, what drives this blog. I started it with the aim of keeping people informed, to save myself from having to repeat the same details over and over – but I think if I am honest, it does more than that. It is also driven by a selfish need to share the pain of my experience with others. It’s the written equivalent of a toddler pulling on your coat sleeve, asking you to pay attention.

There is, of course, a danger with this: that of oversharing. A lot of what I write about is necessarily quite intimate, and I know there is a chance that in years to come I could regret telling everyone about my breast being squashed into a mammogram machine. But I’ve weighed it up, and I think the freedom of being honest about it all is worth the potential embarrassment. Writing this down is like attaching a balloon to my shoulders; it makes me lighter, somehow.

Which leads me to the other reason I write: there is a therapeutic outcome from committing my experiences to virtual paper. A wise friend commented recently that I was ‘taking control of the narrative’ which I hadn’t thought of before. But she is right – by describing what is happening to me, I am able to process it, somehow.

That’s not to say I am delusional about all this: I am acutely aware of the reality of my situation. I know that I can’t write myself a happy ending or a spectacular plot twist (‘We’ve made a terrible mistake – it turns out you didn’t have cancer after all!’), but I can frame it how I want, and I can choose to focus on the moments which are important to me. At the risk of sounding like a twee meme, I can be the author of my own story.

All of which is slightly ironic, because I am supposed to be trying to be an author: I have an agent, and I was writing a book before cancer came to call. But my fiction writing is always fuelled by my reading, and I am finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on reading novels. This additional piece of cancer collateral damage is incredibly upsetting – reading has been a solace throughout my life and to lose it at a time when I need it most is hard. I am hoping that this loss is temporary, and my ability to read (and subsequently, my ability to make up stories) will return to me.

And so, at the moment, I am stuck with writing about reality. Of course, I would far rather write about a different world than the one I am currently inhabiting. But for the time being, I’ll take this strange new world of writing – I would far rather this, than no writing at all.

Waiting By The Phone

There are only three people who ring our landline: my mum, the hospital, and scam merchants. The former is lovely to hear from but her calls are becoming increasingly rare – since lockdown started she is much more of a techno whizz and we usually chat over Portal. The latter, I have become much better at just hanging up on. The middle one… well, those are the calls which I have come to dread a little bit.

I had my bloods taken on Wednesday, and from that moment on I was waiting for the phone to ring. If my bloods are fine, I hear nothing at all: I just know I have to turn up on Friday for chemo. If the hospital calls, then it is likely to be bad news.

And so it was that on Thursday morning the phone rang and before I had even heard the nurse’s voice on the other end, I knew chemo was cancelled. Sure enough, she reported that my liver function still isn’t up to par. Therefore, I need to wait another week for my final chemo. It’s not entirely unexpected, but it is still frustrating.

The good news is that my liver is improving, albeit slowly. The number (I’m not entirely sure what this refers to – I have decided that it’s best to approach this on a Need to Know basis, and I don’t Need to Know) last week was 127. This week, it’s 67. To contemplate chemo, my consultant has decreed that the number needs to be between 5 and 38. So I’m getting there. It’s just at a snail’s pace.

So, we go through this dance again next week. Bloods on Wednesday, waiting for the phone to ring on Thursday. If I’m not better by then? Well, I have an ultrasound of my liver on 19th, so they might try to bring that forward to see what’s going on. But with any luck, that won’t be necessary.

There are many, many irritating things about all this. The delay has a knock-on effect: it means radiotherapy will now definitely last into June; it means returning to work is a little further off; it means I won’t be able to do the school run the first week after the Easter holidays. It also means that I can’t have a bloody drink: I had given up alcohol for Lent and although I hadn’t really drunk much before that anyway (chemo definitely limits my taste for alcohol), I was looking forward to raising a glass of bubbly at the end of this treatment phase.

And so I, never the most patient of people, must be patient for another week. It is for the best, I know – I have no desire to trash my liver by injecting it with poison when it’s not ready – but it is a blow, nevertheless. I will just have to pray that next week, the phone doesn’t ring.

Dominoes

It has been one of those weeks. Since calling the cancer unit to discuss my chest pain last Friday, I feel like I have been stuck in a line of falling dominoes. One thing has piled on top of the other, until here I am, facing the fact that I will not be having my last chemo tomorrow, after all.

Botheration.

As I posted in my last blog, I spent Friday in hospital having various tests. I was sent home with blood thinners to inject into my stomach over the weekend, and the promise of a CT appointment for Monday.

On Saturday, I was called to say my heart function test had come back fine. Hooray! I was also called with the CT appointment time: 10am on Monday to have a cannula fitted; 10.30am to have the CT.

On Monday I showed up at the Ambulatory Emergency Care department at Warwick Hospital to have the cannula fitted. Long story short, it was extremely difficult. A nurse tried and failed to find a suitable vein. A doctor was summoned and tried and failed. An ultrasound machine was located and eventually, with its help, a viable vein was located in my wrist. This took so long that they had to reschedule my CT. It was not pleasant.

I had the CT (it’s the one where they inject contrast dye into your cannula which gives you the sensation that you’ve wet yourself – which is actually very weird but kind of funny in a dark way) and hung around for a couple of hours for the results. Good news: I don’t have blood clots. Bad news: my liver is enlarged and so I am being referred back to my oncologist.

On Wednesday, I saw Dr I, my oncologist, at the Rigby Unit. Originally, the meeting was scheduled to talk about the next stages of my treatment, which I’ll deal with in another blog because, frankly, I don’t have the mental energy to address it at the moment. Dr I compared the CT I had before treatment started in November, and the CT I had on Monday, and said that my liver has changed since starting chemo. He ordered an ultrasound but told me not to worry too much.

While at the Rigby Unit, I also had my PICC care and pre-chemo bloods. At 6pm that night, I got a call to tell me to go in for another blood test as my liver function is out so needed to be double-checked.

So, this morning I turned up for my fourth blood test of the week. The nurse called me through and explained that she would be taking my blood via needle, as no-one trained to take it via the PICC was available. I looked down at the yellow bruises covering the network of veins in my hands and wrists. I remembered the trauma on Friday and Monday of various medical professionals puncturing my veins repeatedly in an attempt to get blood out of me. I said no.

It is the first time in this whole saga that I have refused to be compliant with treatment, but I just couldn’t do it. I haven’t been through all these attempts at PICC fitting for my line not to be used. I can’t face having more needles stuck in my bruised and battered arms.

And so, I waited 40 minutes and they found a nurse who was trained in PICCs and she managed to get something out of me – although even then it was sluggish and I had to wiggle my arm for her to coax my blood out. I think my body has gone into Resistance Mode – it’s fed up with being poked and prodded and is refusing to play ball any more.

And now it is Thursday afternoon and I have just had a call to say those blood test results are back and my liver function is indeed impaired and so I can’t have my final chemo tomorrow.

Everyone is eager to tell me everything is ok. Impaired liver function isn’t unknown on chemo – the liver’s job is to filter all the crap out of your body, so chemo drugs really put it through its paces. Hopefully, a week’s rest will bring it back up to par. They say there’s nothing to worry about. But I am remembering that time, six months ago, when everyone told me the lump in my breast was nothing to worry about. Until it was.

Also, I am ridiculously disappointed that I am adding a week to all this. It’s only a week, I know, but in my head I was finishing. I had made it. Easter is all about new beginnings, and it felt fitting that I would emerge from the Easter weekend having vanquished that phase of my treatment.

All this will pass. I know it will. I am very lucky – my cancer is treatable, my odds are good, the delay is minor. But right now, I feel like that final domino in the line – flattened by the weight of it all.

Jump Scares

You know that bit at the end of a horror film where the protagonist is celebrating their victory, and suddenly the villain comes back to life and makes a last-ditch attempt to kill them? It’s the final jump scare of the film. Well, that’s very much how this week has felt.

My final chemo is on Good Friday, and I am now crawling towards the finish line on my hands and knees. Cycle five was hard work and I was exhausted for the first week after treatment. To compound the delight, H’s school bubble burst, meaning that I spent my chemo nadir contending with his remote learning. He was, of course, a brilliant little dude, but both of us breathed a sigh of relief when school reopened on Monday.

But the quiet life didn’t last for long, because on Friday I found myself in hospital again.

I’d been getting chest pains and trying very hard to ignore them. But eventually I had to succumb to the inevitable and call the chemo team. Which, of course, resulted in me going into hospital. “You’ve raised a few red flags,” said the nurse on the other end of the phone, “I’m really sorry, but we do need to see you.”

And so it was that at 9.30 in the morning I turned up at Warwick’s Ambulatory Emergency Care. I was given an ECG (all fine) a chest X-ray (all fine) and blood tests (not all fine). Despite having my PICC back in, blood can only be taken through it by trained staff with the appropriate equipment. None of which was available in the AEC. So they tried extracting blood from my arms, and then the back of my hands. No joy. Eventually, I asked to be allowed to walk to the cancer unit on site, where they would be able to do it via my PICC. The nurses took pity on me, as did the lovely staff at the Aylesford unit when I turned up unannounced and basically begged them to take my blood. I was thoroughly fed up of being a pin cushion.

Several hours later, I was back in the AEC waiting for my results. By this time, it had filled up considerably. As if the crowding wasn’t bad enough, there was a television tuned to ITV. I sat through Good Morning, Loose Women and Judge Rinder. By the time I reached the latter, I was rocking slightly and muttering to myself. If I wasn’t ill before, I certainly was now.

It all proved too much for an elderly gentleman who had shown up at the same time as me. “I’m sorry,” he said to the receptionist, “but I just can’t take it any more. I need to be at home. I’m really not feeling right.” A doctor was fetched to explain he was signing himself out of medical care, but he was adamant. After four hours of sitting in a crowded waiting room packed with ill people being anaesthetised with vacuous daytime TV, he preferred to take his chances at home. I didn’t blame him.

Fortunately, soon after this, a doctor came to fetch me. Sitting me down in the consultation room, she explained there were two areas of concern in my bloods: firstly, it appears that there is a chance that I may have a blood clot. They need to check my lungs, but there’s no CT slots until Monday (because, in case my four-and-a-half hour wait hadn’t hammered the point home: the NHS is on its knees). So, until then I have to inject myself nightly with a drug to stave off a pulmonary embolism, “just in case”. Yay. I’d been missing the treat of sticking needles in my stomach.

Secondly, my markers for heart function seem to be a little off. The test for this is simple: two blood tests, four hours apart. Luckily, by this time it was four hours since they’d taken blood from my PICC so – you guessed it – I had the delight of yet another blood test. I was starting to feel a bit like Tony Hancock: “why, that’s very nearly an armful!”.

So, after more than five hours of tests and waiting around, I’ve been sent home to wait some more. At some point someone will call to tell me if my heart is conking out. And on Monday, they’ll check that there isn’t a blood clot lurking in my lungs. It’s perfectly possible that I am fine, but given that both heart failure and blood clots are known side effects of my treatment, I’m not feeling great about the whole business. I have been focusing so hard on chemo cycle six – I don’t need any more jump scares before I get there.

Mothers’ Day

On Mothers’ Day, 2020, I was laid up in bed with what turned out to be Covid 19. I felt awful: feverish, achey, completely exhausted. H and R usually make a big deal of the occasion, but celebrations were necessarily muted. Next year, we promised ourselves, we’ll really go to town.

But like so much of the past twelve months, unpredictable events took over. And so it was that on Mothers’ Day, 2021, I found myself feeling distinctly shabby for a different reason: cycle five of chemo.

Despite my lethargy and occasional nausea, we had a lovely day. You don’t really need anything to make Mothers’ Day special other than your child(ren), and this year I was especially aware of how lucky I am to have H. In my darkest hours of the past few months, I have clung to the thought of him. Of how much I love him, of how happy he makes me, and of how I must concentrate on survival for his sake. I do not want my son to be without a mother.

When we first visited Dr I and spoke about survival rates, he gave everything in five year terms. But, I pointed out to him, that only took us up to H being 13. That wasn’t good enough: I want to see him into adulthood. I need ten years, minimum. That’s my goal: see him through those years when he most needs me. I stand a very good chance of being able to do that, thanks to the treatment plan I’m on. It’s a good focus to have when fighting off waves of nausea in the middle of the night.

Of course, no-one wants to put their child through the trauma of their parent having cancer, but in some ways I think I am lucky. Because I would far, far rather have this myself than have H get ill. I know people whose children have had cancer – my amazing nephew had been through two chemotherapy cycles before he was ten – and it is far more horrific than anything which is happening to me. Of course, I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a child with cancer. And to be a mother watching your child suffer is a special kind of hell which I thank God I have not experienced.

In the beautiful novel The End of The Affair by Graham Greene, a woman makes a bargain with God: she will stop her affair if her lover is saved from death. Either way she experiences pain, but this way the person she loves most is saved. I haven’t made a bargain with God, but I do feel that somehow my cancer is insurance against H getting ill. If I can suffer this and get through it, than maybe fate will avoid my son. And maybe, if I’m really lucky, I’ll get to have many more Mothers’ Days.

Anger

It’s been a week of medical appointments for me, culminating in my fifth (and penultimate) round of chemo on Friday. The old brain is a bit fuzzy and I’m feeling on-and-off nauseous, but I’m crawling towards the finish line.

So, a brief breakdown of this week’s cancer treatment smorgasbord:

On Monday, I had a Covid test over at Warwick. This was to ensure I was virus-free for my PICC line insertion on Thursday (yes, I decided to have another go).

On Tuesday, I had a call from Dr I, my consultant, which lasted about five minutes. He seems generally pleased with my progress – in a recent letter to my GP he said I am “tolerating the regime well” – which I guess is positive. In three weeks I’ll talk to him again about the next phases: radiotherapy and hormone treatment.

On Tuesday I also had my first meeting with G, who is a fitness instructor. I have been accepted onto a trial called SafeFit , which helps people recovering from or currently undergoing cancer treatment to improve their physical and emotional well-being. I am getting increasingly low about my body image – I currently look like a potato on legs – so I’m hoping this will help me to get fit again in a sustainable and safe way.

On Wednesday I went into the Rigby Unit for a blood test and yet another Covid test (this time as prep for Friday’s chemo). It took two nurses and several failed pricks (guffaw), to get blood out of my veins – all of which confirmed to me that I had made the right choice about trying again for the PICC line.

On Thursday I pottered over to the Aylesford Unit for my PICC line insertion. Very pleased to report it was a success! They tried higher up my arm, as they think the veins from my previous insertion might be a bit scarred. It went in like a dream and the brilliant nurses were calm and professional all the way through. Apparently I am a “bleeder” though (which is somewhat ironic given my experience with the previous day’s blood test). When they were done I turned my head towards my arm to discover pools of blood in the pillow and dripping off the trolley. These nurses have very strong stomachs.

Finally, on Friday (after an exhausting but satisfying SafeFit session) I had my fifth round of chemo. The unit was rushed off its feet – I’d never seen it so full. But the staff were, as always, kindness itself. They were careful, attentive and utterly professional. They made a horrid experience bearable. and despite the fact that they were clearly busy, they treated me with kindness and compassion throughout.

All of which leads me to the crux of this blog: nurses’ pay. I’ve tried very hard not to be political on here as it’s not what it’s for. But you’ll have to forgive me for a quick diversion – feel free to stop reading now if you’d rather not listen to me rant.

Every single medical procedure I went through this week was administered by a nurse. I haven’t laid eyes on a doctor or consultant. Yes, I got five minutes on the phone with Dr I, but the vast, vast majority of my care has come from nursing staff. They have swabbed and jabbed and cut me open and threaded wires towards my heart. They have cleaned wounds and administered highly toxic drugs which could potentially kill me if they make a mistake. And they have done every single one of these things with smiles and kindness and unflustered competence.

The nurse who was in charge of my chemo yesterday was working her last day in the unit. The long hours, incessant demands and the trauma of this last year had finished her off. She was desperately sad to be going – but that morning she had heard the comments from Nadine Dorries MP on Women’s Hour, about how nurses were happy to have poor wages to support their husbands’ furlough – and she realised she had made the right decision. She was not valued by the government. After a year of horrific trauma, our politicians think a hand clap and a paltry “pay rise” which in real terms amounts to a pay cut, is enough.

I know we live in dire economic times. And I know there is no “magic money tree”. But I resent the fact that one seems to sprout up when wealthy friends of Tory MPs want to head up multi-billion-pound contracts. Track and Trace doesn’t work? Never mind – pocket the cash anyway.

I’m angry. I’m angry that the people who do so much, who work ten hour shifts in a cancer unit performing life-saving treatment – all while keeping a smile on their face – are valued so poorly. I had hoped that Boris Johnson’s brief sojourn in hospital when he had Coronavirus might have made him realise just how wonderful our nursing staff are. But apparently not. He has a very short memory.

A few nurses now have said to me that they feel as a profession they have “managed their image” wrong. Because they are known to be kind and caring, they have been devalued – their kindness has somehow masked their years of training, their experience, their incredible skills. What a sad indictment of our society – that kindness is seen as worthless.

Of course, the other thing that nurses have is the ability to care for people no matter who they are or what their background is. Their compassion is impartial. I know that if Boris Johnson ended up in hospital again he would still be treated with kindness and professionalism. Despite the fact that he has treated the nurses helping him with utter contempt. Because they have more moral fibre than he could ever dream of.