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Day 3 – Orisson to Roncesvalles – 17.4 kms


Early Mornings

It’s an early start on the Camino and we woke about 6am.  Early, but worth it to catch sight of the beautiful sunrise.  We were staying at the Roncesvalles Monastery next, and as we didn’t have it booked, we wanted to get there as early as we could.   We were advised it gets very busy from late afternoon and we wanted to avoid the long queues of pilgrims checking in.

I managed to get dressed for the day without leaving my bunk.  It pays to organise whatever you need for the following morning the night before.  It also means you are less noisy getting ready, especially as there may be other pilgrims still sleeping.  And in the case of our group, we’ve been told to be quiet more than enough so far on this trip – and it’s only three days in.

He who would travel happily must travel light.    Antoine de Saint-Exupery

My routine on the Camino was to wash what I wore after a day’s walk, and change into what I would wear the following day. The weather was hot, so there was no problem getting clothes dried on the line.  Sometimes  I wore my shorts to bed to speed up time the following morning.  It’s not a fashion show on the Camino and no one cares what you look like.  I also organised my tee-shirt and socks on the bottom of my bed for handiness to change into.  This meant I was more or less ready before I’d even put a foot on the floor.   Everything I had in my bed could be rolled up into my sleeping bag liner and easily transferred into my rucksack.

Comfy knickers makes it all better!

Breakfast in the Orisson was basic compared to the dinner we had the night before.   We had hoped for cereal when we saw bowls on the tables, but no such luck.  The bowls were for drinking our coffee/tea from.  Unusual, but as the saying goes, “when in Rome”.  Of course for the coffee lovers among us, it was a dream come true.

When in Rome, live as the Romans do; when elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere.  St Ambrose

So after a bowlful of coffee and bread and jam, we filled our water bottles/camel packs and started out on the 16 km walk to Roncesvalles.

Roncesvalles here we come!

Rucksack

To carry or not to carry?

Most of us, again, decided not to carry our big rucksacks, and sent them on to Roncesvalles. The girl on reception at Orisson gave us an envelope on which we wrote our next destination.  We placed the fee of 8 euro (the fee became cheaper when we crossed the border into Spain) for this service in the same envelope and attached it to our rucksacks. Our bags were left in the reception area to be picked up and transferred to Roncesvalles.  Hopefully to arrive before we would!  Obviously, the important stuff, like passports and money we kept with us in our daypacks.

And hats off to Sharon and Fiona –  here they are bringing up the rear and soldiering on with their big rucksacks.

There is great information on sending rucksacks ahead on www.theroadtosantiago.com/sending-your-backpack-ahead.html

Stunning Views along the way – channelling Stretch Armstrong

Sometime after leaving Orisson,  we could hear the sound of a folk song wafting through the air to greet us, as we reached Biakorre at a height of 1095 metres.  A group of pilgrims were playing guitars and singing, (even Max had got involved with his ukuele and we couldn’t help noticing Ga Ga was still with him.)   Maybe a romance was on the cards?  Or maybe, the cynic inside me thought, the poor girl  just couldn’t shake him!  He was stuck to her like a barnacle to the bottom of a boat.

A statue of the Vierge de Biakorri (Virgin Mary) stands here and many pilgrims adorn it with rosary beads, memory cards and other mementoes.  There is a touch of sadness when you read the memory cards and get a glimpse of the sadness behind another’s walk.

With the stunning views all around, and the sound of sheep bells tinkling, we felt like we were in a scene from The Sound of Music.  So much so, Oonagh,  broke out into her version of Edelwiss!  It became something of anthem for the rest of our trip.  Yes, we could’ve picked any song, but that’s middle-aged women for you.

Like all good Catholic women we said our prayers to Our Lady, (please no blisters), and then bade her adieu as we continued on.  We walked across open pasture, passing sheep grazing on each side.  In the middle of nowhere we were able to buy coffee, tea, hot chocolate and snacks from a food truck set up on the side of the path.   This was also the last point in France where we got our Camino passport stamped.  We continued up to Col Lepoeder at 1430 metres, which was the highest point of our entire trip.  From here Roncesvalles and the region of Navarra came into view.

Battle of Roncesvalles 1813

As we began our descent to Roncesvalles we had a choice of two routes; a steep incline through the forest or take the trail to the right which was easier, but 800 metres longer along a tarmac road.  We decided to take the forest trail as the weather was good, and we thought it would be more interesting.  If it had been raining, we would probably have chosen the safer option.

Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker  Garth Nix

The path we chose was very steep and stony at the start, and hard on the old knees.  We were extra careful, as we were heart afraid of a twisted ankle or a broken bone bringing our Camino adventure to an end.  A couple of us did end up on our bums on the way down, but we women are made of strong stuff and a bruised ass wasn’t going to stop us.

The Camino is like a metaphor for life; we get weary, we fall down, but we get back up and keep putting up foot in front of the other to get where we need to be.  And in the end perseverance wins out.

The walk through the forest was nothing short of magical….the photograph can show you in a way no words can.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.   Robert Frost

Roncesvalles Monastery just around the corner!

Fotografía del Albergue de peregrinos de Roncesvalles

We had a few worries about rolling off the edge of the bed, especially after a couple of glasses of vino!

The monastery was beautiful and it only cost 10 euro to stay here for the night.  Excellent value for money.  We managed to get beds in the new renovated part which once used to house the old youth hostel.  It was very clean and comfortable, and although we were sharing a dormitory with over 60 people, the bunks were organised into sections of four, which means it was more private than you would imagine.  But still noisy!

Each pilgrim has a locker with key and power outlet.  Our rucksacks were waiting for us and after getting showered and changed we took a wander around the area.  We were glad we had arrived early as on our way out we could see the queues of pilgrims beginning to form.

For information on staying here you can email them at : info@alberguederoncesvalles.com

Getting organised

A couple of us bumped into Daniel from the Orisson and we went with him to the pilgrim mass in the Colegiata de Santia Maria.   In the cool, serene surroundings of the church, as the boys’ choir sang like angels, (when puberty kicks in those angelic voices will be lost forever), we had a chance to sit back and be still.  At the end of the mass, the priest bestowed on us a pilgrim blessing which was very special.  After all, we need all the help we can get!   And it didn’t matter that the mass was in a language we didn’t understand.  It just added to the uniqueness of the experience.

I was so glad I didn’t miss this, which is more than can be said for the pilgrim meal!

Real Colegiata de Santa Maria de Roncesvalles per dins Rafel Miro via Compfight

We ate our pilgrim meal in the café/restaurant across the way from the monastery.  It cost 12 euro for a three course dinner.  Of course, it included wine and thank God for that, as it was the only good thing about this particular dining experience!

The place was chaotic and crowded with pilgrims.  We were there for the first sitting and the staff made no secret of the fact that they were in a rush to get us out in time for the second sitting of pilgrims.  The meal was average and the waiter told us there was no time to serve us dessert.  Well as strong, confident women, we weren’t prepared to accept that. We complained we weren’t leaving without the apple crumble which was on the menu.  Off the waiter went and we congratulated ourselves on being assertive and getting what we paid for.   Two minutes later, the waiter came back, and with a charming smile, sat a bowl of apples on our table.  He told us we  could take it or leave it…..we left it.

OK, we may not have had dessert, but at least we did have a good laugh!  And that beats taking ourselves too seriously.

The person who knows how to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused                                                Shirley McLaine

That’s another thing you need to pack for the Camino, a sense of humour, you are going to need it.

Girls….lights out!!!

Lights out in the monastery was at 10pm, but we were more than ready for bed at that stage.  This was a strict policy here and if you weren’t in,  you were locked out.  As we prepared for bed, an irate German man roared from across the dormitory at someone to shut up…..he couldn’t have meant us, could he??

On another note, I had thermal long johns with me (because I am the type of person who would be freezing in the Sahara), and I was glad of them in the monastery.  It became very cold in the middle of the night, even though it was summer.  So it is something you may want to throw into your rucksack.  Yes, I know, thermal long johns in the the middle of July, I’m a sad case!

Another piece of advice; forget about plastic bags for separating your luggage.  There was nothing worse than a bag rustler at 3am!  I swear to God the noise of it can pierce the eardrums as good as a fire alarm.  Earplugs are top of my shopping list for walking the Camino next year.

And for all you bag rustlers out there, (no names, but you know who you are) – you can buy cloth travel drawstring bag sets on Amazon and Ebay for less than £6.  And I have to say a gag would also have been useful for the whisperers in the middle of the night!

As for breakfast, I would advise you to forget about it here.  We had to queue and the service and food didn’t improve from the night before.  We would have been better off walking on to a café at the next village.

Not worth the wait!

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.                                                                   Virginia Woolf

Zubiri here we come!

 

 

 

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Day Two: St Jean Pied de Port to Orisson Refuge

                                               St Jean Pied de Port to Orisson – 8 kilometres

Climbing the Pass

We woke to a gorgeous sunny morning.  Most of us had slept OK, beds were comfy and there wasn’t too much snoring.  Unless you are a deep sleeper, earplugs are a must on the Camino, and not the cheap ones I had with me.  They were useless and blocked nothing out.  Some people sounded like Mount Vesuvius erupting!  (Of course, I’m not referring to any of my companions!)  I would advise anyone planning on doing this trip to invest in a good pair.  They will be worth their weight in sleep.

After having breakfast in a small patisserie we set off about 9am to walk to Orisson Refuge.  We had been warned walking the pass from St Jean Pied de Port in France through the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles in Spain would be the steepest and most difficult of our journey.   Not wanting to kill ourselves we decided to split the journey and stay at the Orisson.  We booked it a few months in advance of our trip as it does not hold a huge capacity and we wanted to be sure of a place.  Only two brave souls from our group, Pauline and Fiona, decided they would carry their rucksacks.  The rest of us weaker (and wiser!) souls decided to send them on to the Orisson.  This cost roughly 5 euro and for me, personally, I thought it was well worth it.  I had a smaller day rucksack to carry the essentials for the day.

Stunning Views

Taking a moment to breathe!

The pass was very steep but we were walking on tarmac country roads so the terrain was not difficult.  We took our time and kept reminding ourselves that this was not a race and we would get there when we got there.  We also had the added luxury of knowing we were sure of a bed at the Orisson.   Our legs ached from climbing the steep inclines but on the plus side we were rewarded with stunning views unfurling beneath us.  My guide-book describes it as Paradise…. it is.   There is nothing but valleys of green fields and mountains rolling out for miles below us.   Every few steps we stopped to take photographs, as each view seemed nicer than the last, but no photograph could do justice to the stunning scenery.

No strangers here, only friends

Joonho, a 21-year-old South Korean boy, (I say boy when technically he is a man but he looked all of sixteen,) who hoped to walk the entire 769 km in 40 days, walked with us until the Orisson.  After his trip he was going home to do national service.  He looked so young to be out there on his own, never mind to go into an army.  I couldn’t help thinking of my own sons and the freedom they take for granted.

Up and Up!

We stopped after a couple of hours and sat on a grassy verge to eat our lunch of crusty bread, Parma ham and water.  This also gave us a chance to get our shoes and socks off and let our feet breathe.  The food was simple, but eating it in such beautiful surroundings, with the sun shining down on us, it tasted nicer than any gourmet meal served up in a fancy restaurant.  And we had the privilege of sharing our lunch with a young lad from the other side of the world.  Despite the language barrier, (and that was our fault, not his, as he had some English, whereas we didn’t have any Korean), we chatted about his family, and what he hoped to do when his national service was over; teaching as it happens.

“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”  Ibn Battuta

This is the beauty of the Camino, regardless of  differences in age, gender, nationality, we all have the common bond of being a pilgrim on this journey.  It connects us to people we wouldn’t normally get to have a conversation with.  And everyone has a story to share.

Orisson Refuge

Orisson Refuge

We were relieved to see the Orisson come into view, because although we had only walked about 8km to get there, it had been a strenuous climb to reach it.  We were even more relieved to see it was as quaint and charming in reality as it looked in photographs.   We loved it!  It was converted from an ancient shepherd’s house in 2004 and it has a capacity of 28 beds in dormitories of 6 and 10 beds.  Bed, breakfast and three course dinner with wine costs 36 euro.  The priciest of all the places we stayed but worth it. They will also pack you a lunch the next morning before you leave for 4 or 5 euro.

We wished Joonho good luck and said goodbye as he continued on to Roncesvalles.  I think he had been glad of our company for this part of his journey.  Or maybe I am deluded and he was glad to see the back of us! Either way, I felt he struck a lonely figure as he walked on, but maybe that was just the Irish mammy in me being over protective.

“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.”  Francis Bacon

We had arrived quite early and everyone had a chance to disperse and do their own thing. Showers work on a coin system which allows you five minutes to wash.  This was to ensure that despite the limited availability of hot water in the mountains, there was sufficient water for everyone and no one hogged the cubicle!  I’ve read complaints on Trip Advisor about this system, but I thought it was fine.  After all, we were not staying in a five-star hotel and I didn’t expect luxury.  The Camino is about doing with less, not having more.  We washed out our clothes and hung them to dry on the clothes line in the garden of the refuge.  That is the advantage of travelling during summer, as there is no problem in getting gear dried.

 “Don’t listen to what they say.  Go see.”         Chinese Proverb

We ate our three course pilgrim meal around 6pm with the entire group of people staying at the Orisson.  They had come from the four corners of the globe to walk the Camino;   Heather from England who has lived in Greece for the last 30 years, (in fact she lives on the island where the movie Mama Mia was made, apparently Pearse Brosnan was the friendliest of the lot),   Ga Ga from China, (yes, that was her real name), Max from Germany who played the ukulele (he definitely fancied  Gaga), grandparents Debbie and Mike from Texas who were walking their second Camino, grandfather and granddaughter duo, Tom and Brianna from Pennsylvania, Tammy and Oshie from Japan and lovely Daniel from Quebec.  They are just some of the names which spring to mind.  But there were others from South America, Chile and New York.

Yes the wine was that good!

We were the only Irish contingent there.  The food was delicious and homemade wine was included.  I have never tasted wine like it before or since.  I tell you the Orisson is worth staying at if only to taste the wine.  We had also asked for water but we were told we could have one or the other….strange!  Well, what can I say; we had no choice but to choose the wine.

“Wine is food, and food is life, and life is about the connections we make.”  Evan Dawson 

The bar man encouraged each of us to stand up and say where we were from and why we were doing the Camino.   I usually hate doing that sort of thing but in the spirit of this place it didn’t seem so daunting.  Or maybe, the wine had loosened my inhibitions.  (I swear I am not a raging alcoholic in case all the references to wine makes me appear so.)

Of course, being Irish it wasn’t long before one of our group started to sing.  Obviously not myself, as I think people would prefer snoring to my singing!  But no such worries for our friend, Fiona.  Coming from a long line of traditional Irish musicians, she broke out into a ‘diddley aye’ piece called, ‘Loving Hannah’.  I have never heard it before, nor indeed, have I ever heard her sing before, so it was an experience all of itself.  It kick started a sing-song and before we knew everyone was singing a party piece.  It was a brilliant atmosphere of relaxation and friendliness.

“Where words fail, music speaks.”  Hans Christian Anderson

And you know the saying….one drink is one too many and ten is not enough.  OK, we didn’t go that far but we did enjoy the wine and we asked the bar man to sell us another bottle.   He did, reluctantly, but told us to take it outside and to keep the noise down, as most people were retiring to bed.   And it is worth pointing out that most of the hostels and alburgues do not allow any noise after 10/11pm.

So we took our glasses of red outside, and wrapped up against the evening chill, we sat in the fading light, having the craic.  What more could you want on a beautiful evening in France?    I’m afraid to say the bar man did have to tell us to quieten down, (we thought we were whispering) and then he got quite rude.  Maybe our laughs did get a bit too loud.  So we gathered ourselves up and were tucked up in our bunk-beds before 11pm.  Ga Ga was sound asleep by the time we got in.  No night owls here.  Hopefully she had good ear plugs!

For me staying at the Orisson was one of the highlights of the trip.  Some pilgrims walk the whole way from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, without stopping, but I think they are missing out on a unique experience.  We felt a great sense of camaraderie and it was a lovely way to get to know everyone.  The  connections made with fellow pilgrims in the Orisson helped us to feel we were part of a community.  And hopefully we would bump into them again along our route.

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Holy Orders for a stress free life

14.12.27 :: Day Four, Jimbaran, Bali [BD2014] Angga Santoso via Compfight

Would you like to be stress free?  Maybe Annie Phillip’s advice from her book, ‘Assertiveness and the Manager’s Job’, can help us get there.  It applies to us all regardless of our role in life.  Anyway, aren’t we all managers of our own lives?

  1. Thou shalt not try to be all things to all people

  2. Thou shalt not be perfect or even try

  3. Thou shalt leave things undone that ought to be done

  4. Thou shalt not spread thyself too thin

  5. Thou shalt learn to say no

  6. Thou shalt schedule time for thyself and thy supportive network

  7. Thou shalt switch off and do nothing regularly

  8. Thou shalt be boring, inelegant, untidy and unattractive at times

  9. Thou shalt not feel guilty

  10. Thou shalt not be thine own worst enemy

 

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Songs to listen to when you are going through chemotherapy

   Orfeo & Majnun ¬ 20161126.0305

Lieven SOETE via Compfight

Check out the www.thewritingshed.org.uk – they’ve posted this on their blog for their #Playlist Thursday!   Thanks Daniela Pesconi-Arthur! 🙂

(I’ve revised it slightly, as I’ve left out my all time  favourite,  Proud Mary; who better to kick ass than Tina Turner?!)

Strong Songs

When I was going through chemotherapy I had a playlist of what I called my ‘strong songs’ which helped me to feel, just that – strong!

At a time in my life when I felt weak and afraid, I needed something to help me feel empowered and stronger than the cancer I was fighting. I needed to feel less of a victim and more of a warrior taking on the bad guys.

So I would crank up the volume and listen to the powerful voices singing to me of hope, strength and survival.

I would try to find the ‘hero inside myself’ just as Heather Small from M People said I should. And it felt like Kelly Clarkson’s message of ‘what doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger’, was written especially for me. As for Rachel Platten’s ‘Fight Song’; it became my personal anthem.

All of the songs on the playlist were like ten motivational coaches willing me on and promising me brighter days were ahead!

And every time I heard Lionel Richie I felt strong enough to dance on that damn ceiling!

 

 

 

 

 

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Being Grateful – An Easy Way To Remember!

I’ve decided to forget about making a list of New Year Resolutions this year. Let’s face it they are usually broken before the ink is dry on the paper.  No, this year I am making things easier for myself and I am making just one resolution; to be grateful.

I like to think I am already grateful for all I have.  But, if I’m honest, when plans go array or a new worry crops up, it is tempting to feel that life is all about taking one step forward and three back.  Before I know it I am feeling disillusioned and unhappy.   On those days it  is easy to forget about the simple blessings I should have gratitude for.  So my resolution is not to just pay lip service to being grateful, but rather to be mindful and more active about it.

I used to have a gratitude journal which I would write in with a list of ten things I was grateful for.  But, because I left it to last thing at night, I would forget to write in it. When I would remember,  half asleep and tucked up in bed,  I would resent the fact I had to get out of bed to do it.  And if I didn’t, I would feel bad.  Madness!! It slowly became just another task for me to add to the already long list of things I did. Completely the opposite of what I wanted a gratitude journal to achieve.  It  fell by the wayside like so many of my resolutions.

But recently I read about  the idea of a gratitude jar. I don’t know who came up with it, but it is a brilliant idea.   Simple and ingenious.  And perfect for someone like me, who is big on ideas, but short on time.

Without going to any expense I washed out an old beetroot jar, (bigger than a jam jar and therefore I can cram in more things to be grateful for), and stuck a label on it with the word gratitude in bright red capital letters.   I had help from my eleven year old daughter who decorated it, with bits and bobs, from the pound shop. She had fun doing it and it looks a lot funkier than a plain old beetroot jar.

I’ve sat it on top of a block of Post-It notes with a pen beside it. It’s positioned on the window sill in my kitchen (the place where I spend the most time), and when something I’m grateful for pops into my head, I jot it down on the Post-It note and put it into the jar.

Easy!

As it sits within my line of vision, I’m more inclined to think of all the things I’m grateful for every day.  It is also something the whole family can be part of.  Even teenagers can find something to be grateful for in the midst of their angst ridden lives.

This one small resolution is already having a positive effect on my life. I feel in a better frame of mind and I am generally more positive and optimistic.  I am more inclined to tackle tasks head on and get things done. I actually feel lucky.  And I’m hoping, like any good self-fulfilling prophecy, the luckier I feel, the luckier I’ll be!

If I feel any negativity creeping in, then I can unscrew the lid and pick a Post-It out at random, to remind myself of all the things I am thankful for.

And at the end of the year, I’ll empty the jar, and remember how good I had it in 2017!

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The Elf on the Shelf!

 

A little visitor arrived at our house a couple of weeks ago.  Yes it’s that time of year again and the Elf on the Shelf has arrived.  Over the past couple of years she, (I say she as our elf is a girl called Pixie) has become as much a part of Christmas as Santa Claus.

From reading posts on Facebook it would seem everyone knows about the phenomenon which is, ‘Elf on the Shelf’.  To be honest our family have come late to the party as we only heard of it last year.  And let me tell you there’s quite a bit of commitment to hosting one of Santa’s little helpers.

For anyone out there who isn’t familiar with Elf on the Shelf, it is a little scout elf which arrives in your home before Christmas to keep an eye on those naughty or nice kids.  Each night the elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa Claus about the children’s behaviour.  The next morning the elf returns to rest in a new and different place in your home.  Children then have the fun of trying to find out its new position.

Believe me this is a serious business and it takes a little bit of planning!

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve woken in the middle of the night to realize I’ve forgotten to move Pixie.  I have to drag myself out of a warm bed to find her a new resting place.  Who knew Christmas would become so complicated?

Last year we thought it would be great craic if Pixie wrote a note to our daughter every night.  Of course it had to be in teeny tiny writing because an elf has teeny tiny hands.   Our older daughter volunteered herself for this task but after three weeks she soon became sick to the eye teeth of writing to an elf every night!  And then the task fell to me!  So if I wasn’t moving an elf around in the middle of the night, I was writing notes to her at 2am.

And Pixie isn’t that well-behaved herself.  She has made huge inroads into the big box of teacakes I was keeping for Christmas.  Four layers of biscuits and apparently Pixie has ate her way down to the last layer!

This is the last year for Santa to come to our house.  Another door closes and it only seems like yesterday I was starting out with my family.  So many Christmases have come and gone, all the planning and presents, making sure Santa brought everyone what they wanted.   I hate to see the magic of believing in Santa leave our house.

We are lucky this year in that my eleven year old daughter truly believes in Santa Claus.  As I write this she is tracking him on Google Maps.  Last time I looked he was in Fiji!

I want to hold on to her belief for as long as I can.  I’m reluctant to tell her the truth but by summer I will have to.  She transfers to secondary school next September and I can’t let her into the pit of precocious teenagers still believing in Santa.

Of course, Christmas will still come next year with all of the glitz and glitter but it won’t be the same.  A little bit of the shine will have been lost.

So I’m not going to complain about dragging myself out of bed at 2am ; this is the stuff memories are made of and I’m going to miss these crazy antics next year!

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Opportunity Lies in Difficulty

I stopped writing on my blog last year.  I left it at point where I felt like I had won the lottery because I had been given the news my chest and bone scans were clear.  But I still had to face chemotherapy and between it, the busyness of family life and my doubts about writing a blog in the first place, I found it too difficult to keep up.

I felt my writing wasn’t good enough and who would want to read it anyway!   As time moved on and I settled back into ‘normal’ life, (whatever that is), I did not want to revisit those painful few months.  It was behind me and I just wanted to live in the here and now and not think of the past. I certainly did not want to write about it.  But I hate leaving things unfinished and so here I am again. My goal today, before I hit the parent teacher meetings for my daughter, is to finish this bloody blog post and update you on how things have been.

I’ve been through four cycles of chemotherapy which involved two drugs called Taxotere and Cyclophosphamide.  I couldn’t believe it when a nurse told me one of the drugs was originally derived from mustard gas used in the First World War. Ironic isn’t it, something which was used to kill, is now part of a treatment to cure?  But as Albert Einstein said, ‘in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.’  And how fitting the connection with war, because I felt like a soldier going into battle, scared, but ready to fight and praying to God I’d stay alive.

The toxic nature of the drugs terrified the hell out of me but I was lucky enough to receive a piece of advice from a very wise lady who told me, “Don’t dread the chemotherapy as your body will respond to your thoughts, making the whole experience more difficult.  Rather imagine it as a wonderful medicine flowing through your veins to heal you.”   As I sat on the Parker Knoll chair every third Tuesday over the course of four months, I tried to remember her words.

It is interesting, though, how everyone is an expert.  I was told by someone, who incidentally was in excellent health themselves, I was mad to go through with chemotherapy.  Easy to say when you are not in the situation.  I know the arguments against chemo, but would you go it alone unless you had a proven alternative?  I wasn’t willing to take the risk.  I thought of my family and I would do anything to stay alive for them.  Another person asked me, ‘why has your soul invited this cancer in again? On some level you must want to experience this.”  Yeah right, this was definitely on my bucket list!

I love alternative medicine and I think it can complement conventional cancer treatment.  Reflexology, meditation, yoga; I love them all.  Unfortunately, because I had to have the chemotherapy administered through a PICC line, I had to give up yoga as any sudden movements may have dislodged it.  For any medical nerds out there, PICC stands for peripherally inserted central catheter.  It stayed in my body for the duration of my treatment.  It was necessary as the veins in my left arm were so fed up of the last dalliance with Mr Chemo, they gave up the ghost and refused to do the dance with any more needles.

In the end I didn’t mind the PICC; it meant I was spared the torture of nurses poking and prodding me like a pin cushion to find a compliant vein every time I went for treatment.  One nurse suggested I had a phobia of needles.  I don’t.   I do have a phobia of nurses who don’t have that magic touch when it comes to stubborn veins.  Also, an added advantage of having the PICC line meant the district nurse had to call every Monday to check it.  I liked the comfort of those visits.  We would chat as they worked and she would address any worries I had.  I did have a male nurse who called once, but for the most part it was female nurses.  They were my lifeline through those months.

I’m sure you’ve heard it said, if the cancer doesn’t kill you, then the treatment will.  The fear of chemotherapy is almost as bad as the fear of cancer itself.  It is impossible to go through it without side effects.  Fortunately I wasn’t sick and although, I had muscular aches and pains, they were not as severe as I had expected.  But everything I ate tasted like cardboard, so I loaded all my food with salt and spices to give it a kick.  I drenched salads in lemon juice and olive oil and spicy Chinese food was heaven.  Hardly a healthy diet but a gal has got to eat!

The steroids they gave me for the first two days would put me on such a high, I felt like I could have taken on Kilimanjaro! My mistake, by the third day I crashed and burned.  I very quickly learnt to conserve my energy.  I also made the mistake of taking the steroids too late one evening, which left me wired all night.  I could’ve taken on a nightclub and danced til dawn.

I think the fatigue was the hardest to bear.  It was more than feeling tired.  It muddled my brain and I struggled to make decisions on the simplest things, but my God, why are there two hundred types of bread?

Of course, the most visual side effect was losing my hair; for the second time in my life.  But, come on, at least this time, I knew what to expect?  Or did I? I felt I was resigned about losing it; if the treatment was going to keep me alive, then it was a small price to pay.

I was calm and composed.  Or so I thought.  But my calm composure melted away, in the words of my mother, ‘like snow of a ditch’.  I hated my wig.  I didn’t have the courage to tell the wig lady I didn’t like the way she had styled it.  To me, I was a dead ringer of Garth from Wayne’s World, but far less attractive!

I cried, in a way I hadn’t done, since receiving my  diagnosis.  I felt so angry,  disappointed, sad and then angry again that this cancer bitch had come back and I had to go through all this again.  The wall I’d carefully constructed to keep everything under control, was hit by a bulldozer of emotions and I couldn’t keep the mask on any longer.  But by the miracles of the universe, my best friend happened to call in the middle of my melt down.  Sometimes, we need someone else to be our strength.  She called the wig shop and asked for a restyle.  The wig looked better but I never got over the feeling I looked like an extra from Wayne’s World; from then on the wig was christened Garth.  In the end I just felt more comfortable in a scarf and although I did not forgo the wig altogether, more times than enough it lay curled up like a cat on the couch.  And if I was dressing up for a meal out, a big plus was the fact I could sit the wig on my knee and see from every angle how it looked as I styled it.

Garth did provide some laughs.  My children would take turns trying it on and we would all laugh about how daft they looked.  Then there was the night I came home from town feeling very sweaty, hot and itchy.  I just wanted to be free of the fecking thing.  I burst through my back door pulling Garth off my head, while simultaneously shouting freedom to what I believed would be an empty kitchen.   I realised my mistake as I faced my son and his friends and my daughter’s boyfriend all staring open mouthed at the wannabe WilliamWallace!  I will never live that one down!

I feel well.  I feel healthy.  I feel glad to be alive.  But I also have times when I feel depressed, sad and afraid.  The fear of the cancer returning pops its obnoxious little head up every so often.  Hearing news of someone who hasn’t survived can trigger it.  An advertisement for Cancer Research; showing the obligatory patient with bald head panning across the TV screen, can also invite it in.  Cancer is a lonely place, as the advertisement professes, but the adverts usually make me feel lonelier.  Nowadays, I hit the off button.   I’ve also learnt that on the days when fear walks in my door, puts its feet up and makes its menacing ass comfortable, I get my walking shoes on and walk out. Some days it follows and falls in step beside me, filling my head with dark thoughts, but I keep walking.  I am glad to say there are more days when I am steps ahead and it can’t keep up.

Those are the days I feel invincible.

 

 

 

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