Friday, 22 January 2016

Pillar Boxes

I have started to tidy up the many pictures that I have taken digitally over the last 10 years and one of the first folders to be set up is titled Post Office. This includes telephone boxes, documents from trips to the archive and many, many bright red (also green and blue) pillar boxes! These fabulous items of street furniture have stood on many street corners, High Streets and country lanes for over 100 years some 150 years!

Here are a few from last year and there are a few cheats  - ones taken at the British Postal Museum Archive Store, Debden. I've also been on the trail of the elusive Edward VIII post boxes around the London area and have included a few here. Despite the many letters that are sent electronically now it is always lovely to receive something 'in the post', unless it's a bill that is!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Happy New Year 2016

A very Happy New Year to everyone and I can't believe how long it has been since I wrote a post on the blog. Actually I can believe it as I have just noticed the date of the last one - 3rd August 2015. This post will be different from normal but.... normal service will be resuming shortly. As I say this post is not about a lovely wander around London and the sights I see along the way but something that happened to my son, a serious illness and its treatment.

On that date most things were going very well in my world and I was looking forward to a lovely summer. The very next day that world came crashing down with an almighty thud when my eldest son aged 24 was diagnosed with testicular cancer. We as a family do not do Cancer….we have strokes, heart problems and even meningitis but this was the start of a very new and extremely scary journey for all of us.

It was so off of our radar that James attended the first appointment at Whipps Cross Hospital on his own unaware that so much was to change a few hours later. I received a phone call from him around 5pm as I was doing some last minute shopping before heading over to Ealing to see my partner for his birthday. He was very calm and very clear about the procedure that they were going to be performing in the very near future and to be honest at this point made it sound no worse than the removal of an appendix. Chemotherapy was mentioned but only as a 'mopping up' exercise. He was so calm in fact that I still went to Ealing and he went out to see his friends. I called my sister to tell her what was happening and the following morning James and myself went to tell my parents.

The surgery was performed just over a week later and he came home afterwards sore but in good spirits. He was told to take a month off of work and in that time further blood tests and CT scans were undertaken. This was also the time that the words Fertility Department reared their heads. 

At this point appointments at St Bartholomew's Hospital (Barts) started to come through and so began four months or so of firsts that none of us wish to repeat. After initially saying that all looked fine on a scan it was decided that a stray lymph node in his abdomen was growing and after further investigation was seen to be Live Cancer. Appointments were swiftly made with the Fertility Department at Barts and Sperm Storage and the legal documentation that it involved began.

A week or so later he started a twelve week course of BEP Chemotherapy which involved three cycles of a three day In stay followed by two Wednesday afternoon 'top-ups' and then back to the beginning.

The first day on the ward involved a lot of waiting and needles...the endless blood tests are the thing that stick in my mind as well as the Markers that they showed the medical team. I left a well looking son in hospital not knowing how his body would react to the brutal regime of drugs. That first three day stay made him extremely tired, forgetful, angry and puffy but at this point he still had his hair and beard. He looked like James although a more red eyed lethargic version of himself.

Lots of antibiotics were taken as well as anti-sickness drugs that had a very similar name to Dom Perignon! He was told that by the time he came in for his second stay his hair would be gone.

It started falling out on his pillow and everywhere around the house in the week following his second 'top-up' and at first he found it an amusing party trick...pulling out clumps from his head or his face and laughing. After a few days he had it shaved down to a No1 and by the time I took him in for the second round stay he claimed the remainder was being swept off of his head by the wind in the London Underground tunnels. I think it was!

We are used to seeing bald men, we are used to seeing men with shaved heads but nothing prepares you for the first time you see someone very close to you hairless through chemotherapy. When I picked him up from the hospital on the Friday night he was completely bald and his face was swollen beyond belief through one of the chemo drugs. Luckily the swelling subsided after a few days as did the total wipe out tiredness but he remained hairless.

It was difficult during these times and conversation between the two of us became hard. All I could think of to speak to him about was his treatment, cancer or how he was feeling. Understandably he didn't want to be reminded of that at all times. My normal wasn’t his normal though and I didn’t want to remind him of that either. Life went on but a changed life for all of us. Strangely I didn't cry much at this time, yes there were days when I could be in floods but on the whole it was a case of dealing with a situation.

The last round of treatment came and went and by the middle of November chemotherapy was over...then I cried! For days I cried the tears that had been held back since August.

James had another scan booked for the first week in December and it was hoped that the lymph node would have shrunk with treatment. We found out that it hadn't and would probably require further surgery to remove it. It does NOT contain Live Cancer though. It wasn't the news that he had hoped for but on balance it is good news. Whipps Cross and Barts have been brilliant though out although quite rightly, they did focus on the cancer rather than other issues... 

He has been left with a side effect from the chemo which has overshadowed the end of a rough four months but this will hopefully be dealt with in the next few weeks or so. I hope at that point he can get back to some sort of normality and routine. He hasn't been able to go to his work and I think the isolation of that has been hard.

His hair is now growing and his beard is quite full again. The hair is very very soft. I took photos all of the way through the process which are only for us. It is good to see his hair, colour, spirit and confidence returning.

We had a chat in the kitchen while I was writing this and had a conversation which he started about how he felt during treatment. I told him that I was writing about him and he didn't seem to mind too much. I'm pretty sure that he will write about his version of events at some time in the future.

And now normal service resumes..................

***UPDATE May 2016***

After I posted this events took a bit of a turn for a few months. The minor problem after chemo became quite major and ended with an emergency procedure in early February. James also had the major surgery at Addenbrookes to remove lymph nodes from his abdomen and that required a six week recovery period. On 5th April he was pronounced cancer free and is just starting to be watched over by Barts again for regular follow ups. James is now back at work.