Monthly Archives: July 2007


I’m being kept in Cookridge because of a high temperature. (Chris is typing this for me.) The drain has just been taken out. If my temperature remains high overnight, they will probably want to keep me in tomorrow. Anyone who could visit would be most welcome, but please check if I am still here. (0113 2673411, Rutherford Ward) Visiting hours ar from 2-8 pm.

If you’ve got to be in hospital, this is th best one I have been in. The staff are very friendly and warm. There are views of trees out of the window and it is far quieter than other hospitals, with reasonable food.

Here’s a quote from “Cancer Ward” by Solzhenitsyn (pub 1968) which I’ve just enjoyed reading: “They all longed to find some miracle-doctor, or some medicine the doctors here didn’t know about. Whether they admitted as much or denied it, they all without exception in the depths of their hearts believed there was a doctor, or a herbalist, or some old witch of a woman somewhere, whom you only had to find and get that medicine from to be saved.” In the mid-1950s, Solzhenitsyn went from concentration camp to cancer ward, recovered and is still alive.

More setbacks

Elaine is back in hospital – Cookridge this time. Yesterday, she was diagnosed with ascites which is is an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen caused by the cancer. She will have to stay in for a day or two while it is drained. This ascites could also have been aggravating the nausea and loss of appetite. Since having the line out last week, her mental vitality has returned – she has spent a lot of time on the phone and has really enjoyed talking with visitors. Previously, I was having to turn people away.

However, physically she seems to have no strength, finding it hard to walk or climb stairs. Today at the hospital, for the first time, she had to use the wheelchair to move between sections. On Tuesday, after her trip to the hospice, she went to bed around five and slept right through.

We also received the results of the scan – bad news. The report referred to innumerable metatases in the liver. Given that the current regime of chemo is apparently no longer working, it will now cease. However, there is another form of chemo which she will probably start in August – and this one involves hair loss. It apparently has a fifty per cent chance of holding back the progression of the cancer for a while.

So we have plenty to think about, but at the moment. Elaine is really looking forward to having the fluid drained as it has been causing her serious discomfort over the past day or so. I am hoping that this might also be the source of her loss of energy. She has hardly eaten over the past few weeks so if she can recover her appetite I hope that will help.

At the hospice

Elaine wrote this yesterday:

Today I went for my day at the hospice for the first time since May 15th. It’s a very cheery place and it’s good to be with so many different types of people all in the same position of having incurable diseases.

One of them K. made me feel particularly humble and grateful for the life I have had. Only 31 and with an 18 month old son, she developed MS when she was 25 after a life which seemed until then very successful. She done a Maths degree at Manchester University and then became an insurance actuary, a job which she obviously loved and found very fulfilling. Her MS has taken some frightening forms including 6 months of blindness from which she has now recovered. She discussed her situation very matter of factly without a trace of bitterness or whinging. She can’t walk without a stick, has to have bath aids and has had several falls luckily when her little boy has been at his nursery. She took such pride in her son who she even managed to breast feed.

We shared stories of the horrors of peripheral neuropathy which is one of the symptoms of MS and a side effect of the drug oxaliplatin which I have been given & our fears about becoming a burden. But it felt so wrong for me to be having this conversation with someone of my daughter’s age rather than my own or older.

If self pity creeps up on me I am going to try to remember K.

Lighting another candle

Just when things were looking very bleak, something happens to re-ignite our hope.

Elaine has been seriously ill for the past 3-4 weeks, although she has rallied a little this week. We began noticing a connection with something the district nurses were doing. Each time they flushed Elaine’s Hickman line, within half an hour, she got another attack of the rigor (pronounced rye-gore – involuntary shivering). It happened again yesterday morning for the third time and we talked about bringing it to the attention of Dr A.

By chance, yesterday afternoon we finally had a visit from a MacMillan nurse. We could immediately see why everyone raves about them if Nurse A was typical. She was caring and intelligent and unlike the other nurses, involved me in the discussion nearly as much as Elaine. We just wish it hadn’t taken so long for Elaine to see one – we first asked last summer.

We described the correlation we had noticed between the district nurses flushing Elaine’s line and the attacks of rigor. A great knowing big smile came over her face. “It’s an infected Hickman line. It’s the classic symptom.” She explained that she had spent five years working on an oncology ward and had seen it many times. This was fantastic news! It could mean that Elaine’s recent illness was not directly because of the cancer (as she was thinking) but because of an infection. Over the past two weeks, Elaine had seen at least ten different doctors, either GPs or more specialist at Calderdale Royal. None had made this diagnosis.

This morning, we saw Dr A, the consultant at Cookridge. and he confirmed Nurse A’s diagnosis. He explained that they could treat the infection with antibiotics, but in his experience only a minority responded. It was agreed to have the line removed next Wednesday when she attends Cookridge for the re-arranged scan.

Elaine is now sleeping, totally exhausted after our trip to Cookridge – her recent illness has taken away much of her normal vitality. But we drove back really happy at the prospect that she may get much stronger after the line is taken out.

The decision about resuming chemo will be made when the results of next week’s scan are known.

Living my dying

Listen to Elaine speak this entry.

I probably have a year to live. This time last year I had two years to live. This time next year I might be in the ground or frailly existing a yellow, swollen bellied skeleton, literally a shadow of my former self. “Living and yet not living, dying and yet not dying.”

Though the worst of the anger has subsided, I haven’t and still can’t accept it. Everyone thinks I am being so brave but they don’t know I’m still screaming internally at the injustice of it all. It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair.

Apart from my maternal grandmother who died tragically young at the age of 37 from breast cancer and my parents who died unnecessarily of suicide and manslaughter at the ages of 38 and 37; at 55 I shall be the youngest person in my extended family to die so young. Why even 21 stone Uncle Cyril, with his 40 a day habit, 6 pints night and penchant for fried food at every meal lived until he was 67. Whereas never smoking, vegetarian, 40 laps of the swimming pool daily isn’t even going to live as long as the average Glaswegian male.

I am trying to die “gracefully” I can’t help these waves of anger and injustice which engulf me whenever I see a smoker or a person I know who’s lived a dissolute life.

Hospital – day three

Nothing is certain till it happens. Cookridge got too busy to take Elaine – there were no beds available. So she is still at Calderdale Royal. But she seemed much better. And is now eating small amounts of food quite regularly, without the nausea. We feel that there is a chance she might be able to come home tomorrow or Sunday. But nothing is certain . . . .

One of the doctors she saw introduced himself as Dr Stalin. Elaine had to ask. It seemed that the southern part of India where he came from was, in the 30s, full of communists. Many people named their children Stalin, and it has remained a popular name in the area.

Hospital – day two

Elaine is still very poorly but this evening says she thinks there has been some improvement. She has managed to hold down a yoghurt at lunchtime and an ice-cream (!) this evening – only the second day she has eaten anything in the past week. Her nausea has subsided for the moment.

Tomorrow morning, they are moving her to Cookridge. She was given a choice but we felt that Cookridge would give her better treatment – and she said the consultant who did the round at her ward at Calderdale Royal was a Lancelot Sprat type creature.

Hospitalised again

In spite of the best efforts of the district nurses and Dr H, and their lines and anti-sickness jabs, Elaine had yet another distressed night, and was feeling terrible this morning. A further attack of rigor with vomiting and diarrhea meant we called the doctors again.

She has been taken by ambulance to the Medical Assessment Ward of Calderdale Royal.

And so it goes

Elaine didn’t really recover from what precipitated the rigor two weeks ago. Since a further attack of rigor on Friday, she has been feeling terrible and has barely eaten. Things finally seem to have swung in action. We had the doctor yet again this morning who arranged for anti-sickness drugs to go in by a line attached to a machine – one that does go “ping” if it gets blocked. Elaine seems to be feeling a little better – enough to quip “I’ve lines to the right of me, lines to the left of me . . . “

We’re so grateful to our friend Jane who used to be a doctor and lives on our street. Just at the points where we don’t know where to turn next, she comes and sits and chats and gives us great advice and anecdotes about teaching bare foot doctors in Africa. And thanks to Julie who comes round and chats and supports and brings us tasty dishes like the quiche yesterday which I greedily ate most of.

I wrote the account below to try and make sure all the doctors and medical practioners realised just what was going on.

Wednesday,13th June Cookridge pre-assessment – urinary tract infection diagnosed. Antibiotics prescribed.

Thursday, 14th June Cookridge: chemo oxalyplatin plus cetuximab
– with hindsight this might have been delayed given Elaine was unwell.

Saturday, 16th June – up all night vomiting. In bed all day Sunday and Monday. Not eating.

Tuesday, 19th June, frightening attack of rigor. 999 call.
Admitted to Calderdale Royal. Extensive tests.

Wednesday, 20th June – discharged from Calderdale Royal.

Thursday, 21st June – consultation with Dr A at Cookridge.
Scan to be brought forward because of increase in tumour markers.

Friday, 22nd June – Dr Anthony phones at 5.30 to say they have found pneumonia bacteria in the bloods. Antibiotics changed.

Elaine continues to feel unwell, mostly bed bound and eating very little.

Monday, 26th June, phoned surgery for home visit. Dr O came.

Thursday, 28th June. Too poorly to go for chemo at Cookridge.
Bucks up a little and we go out for a meal to celebrate Morgan finishing A levels.

Friday, 29th June. Another attack of rigor. Elaine rides this one out.

Weekend of 30th June/1st July – feeling very ill most of the time. Regular vomiting.

Monday, 2nd July. Does not eat anything until Monday morning, and then only some stewed apples, a biscuit, and some of Julie’s soup. Dr W visits in the morning. Elaine is feeling a little better at this stage. By the afternoon, Elaine is vomiting regularly even though there is nothing to bring up. Complains of back pain. Jane (a non practising doctor neighbour) comes and feels her back and feels the pain is in the kidney area. We call the out of hours service. The doctor prescribes a different antiobiotic, one intended for the urinary infection. He gives an anti-sickness injection. Elaine sleeps for a couple of hours but is still up most of the night trying to vomit.

Tuesday morning, 3rd July – feeling terrible, still trying to vomit at 20 minute intervals. Dr H prescribes the line.

Temperature has varied from 36.4 to 39, sometimes in the course of a day.