Saturday, 23 February 2013

whatever words I say…

will not help…

this post may be a bit demented. Today has been a bitch. BITCH!!

today I have been thinking about the day my friend Gaynor died. Of ovarian cancer – it simply grabbed her, shook her and didn't let go. It was like a monster. It IS a monster – but on this occasion, it was more monsterish than usual.

She fought like a tiger. And she really did; she did all the right things – green tea, the 'right' food, lots of exercise etc. She was a tiny little person with a ton of energy - she wore amazing shoes – she gave wonderful advice. She was a good friend to me in the short time we knew one another. 

What the fuck happened? Oh. Yes. Ovarian Cancer happened.

I am amazed – more than a whole year has passed since she was alive?? No. But – yes. Today was odd – I spent it thinking of her death – usually thoughts of Gaynor are of her life. She made a huge impression on me, helping me with my confidence with just one sentence.

But today my thoughts  were of death. Gaynor's death. And how unfair things can be sometimes.

louder than silence louder than bells…

Laurel – where are you my friend?

laurel and Di

Laurel with Diane :)


rock bottom Far too much rambling going on here on this blog…but I wanted to say how grateful I am for a year so far where the worst thing that happened was I have had [and still have!] a virus. Coughing my guts up! But it’s the first time for years [literally] that we’ve been able to just worry about the usual things. Like coughs and colds.

And like how we’re going to lose the 3 kilos we gained from stuffing our faces with too much cheese and biscuits at Christmas!

Anyone with cancer who is reading this – have hope. Sometimes it takes ages, but sometimes things DO turn around. But it doesn’t just happen on it’s own unfortunately. And there’s lots of battering along the way usually too. But eventually, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. I was diagnosed with stage 3B in 2008. Not a lot of hope of living more than 5 years – but I HAVE.

So far, so good.

why the hell not?

DSC_0152 I have been walking around my head a little bit this evening. Having a ‘cancery’ attack.  Feeling at once sad and happy – cross and so very, very grateful. But sad. People have asked me why I am doing yet another one of these fund raising cycles. Why? Ah…million dollar question. Firstly, why the hell not? It raises money to save lives. It forces me to get fitter [well, the FH forces me actually]. I am NOT a cyclist really. I struggle. But it’s worth it! People who have had cancer really need to try and be fit.

And. The funds go to research. For ovarian, breast and cervical cancers. Of course, the most important one to me is ovarian, not only because I had it, but because cervical and breast cancer are pretty much out there. Women KNOW about the symptoms, thanks to the massive efforts of the breast cancer girls, and certainly Jade Goody brought cervical cancer to the forefront during her battle with it. Plus there are tried and tested tests for both. NOT so for ovarian cancer.

So. Ovarian cancer? We are still struggling to get women to know the symptoms, and the treatment today is as near as damn it the same as what it was 30 years ago. Incredibly.

Another reason is the death of so many friends – killed by ovarian cancer – because we don’t know enough. We don’t know how to save them. Diane Davis Waller, Gaynor Hall, sweet Jayne Armstrong – Tammy Woodward, BJ Gallagher, Patty Higgins, Thelma Hugget, Kelly Godfrey, Jo McGowan…on and on…they live in me, but I have Survivors Guilt – a ridiculous thing! I KNOW all of them are jumping for joy for me, that I am still here to bitch and moan and laugh and cry – but still. I miss them, I miss the hilarious conversations we had, the laughs. The cries. They were my friends. So it breaks my heart that they are gone. And yes, I feel guilty that I am still alive – hence, I feel I need to pay back for that blessing. 

So I do the ride for them too. And for the women I know who are still struggling with treatment – long days of chemo, terrifying phone calls about bad results…different treatments for recurrence. Hateful. I need to do something for them.

And no, it’s not a ‘jolly’. It’s HARD. We spend over a year begging for money. We train – which is difficult to fit into busy lives. We all have jobs, kids, husbands etc. THEY are the support team. Thanks to them, we can do this.

And we cycle up bloody mountains! But the camaraderie of the other women gets us up them – the whole thing is an incredibly emotional experience. It brings one to tears when someone that you know that can’t afford it, puts five pounds into the pot. The messages on my justgiving page almost always make me cry. People are incredibly generous and kind.

So, Sceptics – I am doing this cycle because I want to. Because I want to honour my friends. Because I NEED to give something back. Because I can. And some of my friends can’t. So I’m cycling for them.

If you go to Costa for a coffee and cake, it could cost you almost £6.00 – could you have one at home, and simply donate the fiver to this amazing cause? Just once. Miss Costa for a day…it’d mean a lot! Costa don’t actually need the money – we do.

Thanks. Very much.

Please donate here if you can?

Friday, 22 February 2013

...and breathe....

cover-image-OC-month This week I am a VERY happy person. And also a slightly scared person.

Happy because 5 years ago this week, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer Stage 3B. Spread to my bowel, omentum etc etc – so I did not have the best prognosis. I was given a 70% chance of survival. And now, the Five Year Thing! I can’t believe it.

I remember when I first met Emily, and we spoke online for hours. And we were both convinced we were going to die. For me, the miracle that we are still here to do awareness articles, blog posts, TV interviews and random other stuff still amazes me.

We are so lucky. I notice this EVERY day. Particularly this week. So, GO us! We are constantly trying to raise awareness, trying to spare some unfortunate woman what we went through – hopefully. And if we're misquoted [which we ARE constantly – some journalists don’t seem to speak/understand English at all, even when it’s written down for them!], at some point, we won't be - and if we're exhausted with it all, which we are sometimes, somewhere, someone is more exhausted than we are. So it’s worth it. No matter what.

For me, really, my ‘5 years’ will be up in August though, as that is when I finished my treatment. But saying that, this week is certainly a landmark for me. Here I am. Five years down the road, still alive and kicking. Gotta be a good thing! I didn’t expect to survive this long, and I am grateful for every day. So; very happy.

The scared bit is that I have recently discovered that in stage 3 ovarian cancer of the type I had, most recurrences occur AFTER the 5 year mark. What? How is it that I didn’t know that? And now that I do , I can’t ‘unknow’ it. Which is irritating. Better I never knew! So. A bit scary. But I think I will just carry on as if I don’t know. No point worrying about it any more than I usually do!

And all of this week I've been thinking I had a melanoma on my scalp and was about to be diagnosed with a ‘New and Interesting’ type of cancer. No sleep at all. I made an appointment with my lovely GP for next Wednesday  [he is a busy man] and thought that I would be able to calmly wait it out. Unfortunately NOT!

Three sleepless nights later and yesterday I gave in to the panic attacks and made an emergency appointment with my *AMAZING* GP and [yay] it's NOT cancer...just some scabby head wart thing that apparently everyone gets? – [a worry wart?] and nothing to worry about. I was so relieved that it seemed like I was breathing pure oxygen. I was babbling. Running about in manic relief. Talking too much – being too cheerful.

I expected the worst – my cancery brain was saying that as I was diagnosed this week 5 years back, I'd be diagnosed again now – with a cancer that also kills people. Just a different one. Google – no! My brain is traitorous at times! According to my doctor, this is perfectly normal. I have spent the week with cold sweats, heart stopping moments and terrifying breathlessness. So, very happily, I bow to the knowledge of my GP. The thing on my head is benign – excellent; I can rebook my hairdressing appointment!

so, happy cancer-versary to me!
...and breathe....

Friday, 1 February 2013

Updated Cuba 400km cycle itinerary 3-11th Oct 2013


Oops! So, after cycling 400km across Kenya, I have now been press ganged into cycling 400km across Cuba!
I have to raise a minimum of £3000.00 to qualify to do the cycle.
If you would like to help me raise that for Ovarian Cancer ActionJo’s Cervical Trust and Breast Cancer Care,  please donate here - the smallest amount really does help. Thank you.

Cuba itinerary REVISED – 3rd to 11th October, 2013

See here for a map of the Cuba cycle.
Flight: London Gatwick Airport to Havana
[Jose Marti International Airport]
9 hours and 30 minutes – see customs regs here Arrive late afternoon. Transfer [approx. 1 hour] directly to the Hotel Villa Los Cocos in Jibacoa Beach. Event briefing and buffet dinner.
DAY 2 
5 hours cycling
[approximately 70km]
Jibacoa Beach to Matanzas.
Early start – 6.00 [not too bad!], bike fitting after brekkie [taking my trusty saddle!], and a warm up.
The first days riding takes us along the coast road before turning inland and UP HILL [no doubt an undulating one…], through the beautiful Yumuri Valley. The valley roads are compacted earth through tropical scenery and palm trees. We will stop to regroup before crossing the main Havana-to-Varadero road, onto the Old m
ain road, which is now a sleepy backwater. We will continue along the mostly flat valley floor, stopping for lunch at the Rancho Gaviota, a typical country restaurant.
After lunch we cycle along tarred roads to Matanzas. UP a bloody great 800 metre hill. Hoorah! The itinerary says that at the top we ‘regroup’ – read that as ‘collapse in a heap’.
Then we cycle off to René Fraga Park and enjoy spectacular views over the Bay of Matanzas. We then cycle down to the city and our final 8km stretch along the bay to our overnight accommodation at Hotel Canimao.
René Fraga Park Opening

DAY 3 
5 – 6  hours cycling
[approximately 85km]
Matanzas to the Peninsula of Zapata
Today we cycle through Matanzas and out onto the Carretera Central,  which was once the main road connecting Cuba's capital city to Santiago, which will give us a feel for what was once Havana. Then on to the Santiago Road. The road is now a secondary route and although busy by Cuban standards, it remains remarkably free of fast moving traffic. [Oh good – so we won't be hit by speeding juggernauts at any rate…]
The undulating road takes us through farming communities and we share the road with horse drawn carts, vintage American cars and vintage Soviet tractors.
We will travel through what  was once prime sugar cane land. About 20km into the ride we will reach Triumvirato, where a monument commemorates a slave uprising, reminding us that Cuba was one of the last countries to relinquish slavery.
Triumvirato, Matanzas - Carlota, leader of a slave rebellion
We trundle on through the citrus groves and stop after about 60km at Pedro Betancourt, for some lunch. Then onward for 25kms to Jaguey Grande. Here we halt for the day and transfer [+/- 1.5 hours] to Cienfuegos to stay overnight.

DAY 4 
6 - 7 hours cycling
[approximately 96km]
Cienfuegos to Trinidad
The most challenging day of the cycle. The road son begins to ‘undulate’ [we know this word of old from Kenya – it translates roughly as ‘goes up. and up. and up…forever…’]. We join the main road linking Cienfuegos to Trinidad with the Escambray Mountains on our left. This road ‘undulates’ for a further 40km. We stop for lunch at La Vega. [we fall over at La Vega]…
Then a relatively flat 30kms to Trinidad, then some short sharp hills bring us into the town. We turn off the main road and head toward La Boca, a small fishing village. The last 10kms to our hotel are along the coast.

6 hours cycling
[approximately 77km]
Early start, to ensure time to visit Trinidad. We transfer by bus for an escorted walking tour of the city [what? no bike??] We finish the tour at the Plaza Santa Ana [ah – there they are] and collect our bikes again. Today is sugar cane country. We cycle from Trinidad [woohoo – tobacco country!], one of Cuba's most charming Colonial cities. The road undulates past fields of cane, once Cuba's most important crop. Trinidad and the surrounding area was extremely wealthy in the 18th and 19th centuries, thanks to sugar production. However, once slavery was abolished, sugar production dropped and Trinidad's importance declined. It is now a sleepy provincial town full of live music and beautiful Colonial architecture.
Plaza Sant Ana
After lunch we continue on to Sancti Spíritus where we stay overnight.

6 - 7 hours cycling
[approximately 82km]
Sancti Spíritus to Santa Clara
Our last day of cycling is relatively easy compared to the previous days. We leave Sancti Spíritus and go back to Carretera Central.
More undulating roads. Hmm.
Picnic lunch along the way, sounds grand – then to Santa Clara to regroup for the final stretch. Santa Clara is famed for being the location of the most decisive battle between Batista and the Revolutionary Forces when Che Guevara and his men ambushed a train full of soldiers loyal to Batista. Che's successful ambush effectively defeated Batista's forces and resulted in the dictator fleeing Cuba the following day. A spectacular mausoleum commemorates Che's outstanding contribution to Cuba's revolution.
Our finish line will be at the Che Guevara Mausoleum.
che Guevara Mausoleum
Then: Cuba Libre time! Chuck the bikes at a random truck and run away as fast as we can to our hotel transfer bus!

DAY 7 Santa Clara to Havana
After brekkie, we drive to Havana. We have lunch in a local restaurant before taking a city tour which will include a visit to Revolution Square with the iconic images of Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and José Martí. Then we take a guided walking tour of the Old Town of Havana.
In the evening we have a celebration dinner to recall the highlights of the challenge we have [hopefully!] just completed.

Return to London, unless one has extended one’s flight.
This morning is 'free' [lots of packing and running about!] then we check out of the hotel at around midday before leaving for the airport and flying home to the UK.
From experience in Kenya, this will also be a very emotional day – many friendships are created on the cycle and it seems awful to part – but we don't really! We keep in touch – and these friendships are the kind to last a lifetime. Some of us are staying on for a few days to really ‘see’ Havana, or go to the beach resorts – I am staying on in Havana, so boot sales for raising the cash,  here I come! Too good an opportunity to miss, so I will afford it. The sad thing is that the FH won’t be there to enjoy it with me.
But he’ll be there to cheer when I get home :)
  1. Artemisa
  2. Havana
  3. Mayabeque
  4. Matanzas
  5. Cienfuegos
  6. Villa Clara
  7. Sancti Spíritus
  8. Ciego de Ávila
  9. Camagüey
  10. Las Tunas
  11. Granma
  12. Holguín
  13. Santiago de Cuba
  14. Guantánamo
  15. Isla de la JuventudCubaSubdivisions.png