road trip ….

At the beginning of autumn I ventured out for a 700 mile round road trip.  It felt like a big step to head off on my own, but also great that I was strong enough to travel by myself.  I drove south to Wales to attend a retirement dinner; to revisit old haunts.  I picked an eclectic mix of music to play as loud as I wanted, and drove with the windows down :-) 

The Macabees
Turin Brakes
Arctic Monkeys
The Horrors
The National

It is 24 years since I first arrived in Bangor; I thought the city would look different and in some ways it did, but so much was the same; just the trees were bigger!  It was wonderful to spend time with old friends, to walk along well known paths and discover some new things too, like Hanks - a beautiful yarn shop in Menai Bridge.

The colours of yarn on display were lovely; I couldn't resist the plum malabrigo, which I used to make some 'Not-so-tiny-slippers' (pattern is by Ysolda), I made some insoles to go in the slippers to give them a bit more structure.  It's a great pattern, quick to knit and the slippers make a great gift, I hope to make more for Christmas.


learning new words ….. omentectomy

(image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Omen)

As well as the enormity of dealing with being told you have cancer, cancer brings with it a whole new language to learn, and words to get tongue-tied with.  One of my favourite (umm not sure 'favourite' is entirely appropriate) is omentectomy, which immediately made me think of Damien and 'The Omen'.  My next thought was what the hell is an omentum and how can I have hung out with this body of mine for forty one years and have not a clue that I even had an omentum? I find medical words hard to pronounce, but they are put together like lego blocks, making their meaning slightly more easy to understand. The suffix 'ectomy' comes from the greek εκ-τομια meaning the act of cutting out or in medical terms the surgical removal of a specified body part; as in appendectomy, removal of the appendix. Wikipedia has a list of all the possible 'ectomies' that can be done - who knew there were so many body parts that can be removed - ouch! The name omentum stems from the embalming practice of the ancient Egytpians, who would assess a persons 'omens' by looking at the structure of the the organ that we now call the omentum.

So I learnt that an omentectomy was not the removal of the 'Omen' from me (but considering the nature of ovarian cancer 'The Omen' would be a suitable name for it).  Instead an omentectomy is the removal of the omentum; a sheet of tissue, or more correctly a layer of two membranes, containing  blood vessels, nerves, lymph vessels, lymph nodes and fat that lines the abdomen.  The omentum, or to give it it's correct name the greater omentum (there's a smaller one too), lines the stomach and other abdominal organs.  The omentum is not the first organ that comes to mind when you think of a body part, and in a similar vein for a long time surgeons/medics didn't give it much of a thought or have clue as to what it did or why we have one.  It is now known that the omentum acts as an abdominal bouncer or body guard; it plays a central role in defending the abdomen from infections by sealing off infected and inflamed areas; providing a rich source of leukocytes (or white blood cells), the cells that can seek out and destroy bacteria, and promoting  healing.

With ovarian cancer the omentum is removed as ovarian cancer cells have a predisposition to migrate (or to give cancer cell migration it's proper name - metastasise) to the omentum; it's removal firstly helps to stage the cancer (i.e. are there metastatic cancer cells already in the omentum) and secondly provides a therapeutic benefit as it can decrease the possibility of the cancer cells spreading from the ovaries via the omentum to other organs such as the stomach and intestines.  Removal of the whole of the greater momentum is called a supracolic omentectomy, which is ironic as I since had an awful bought of colic after my omentectomy! The long-term impact of having an omentectomy is not fully understood; reviews that I have read caution that careful consideration needs to be given before it is removed - which for me just adds to the sense of foreboding and seriousness that, as my omentum-free intestines grumble away, comes with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. 


twenty years ago today ….

One of the best decisions I've ever made!  We were so young when we married, we've grown up together.  My mister has helped me become the person I am today.  When he said in sickness and in health I don't think he realised just how much sickness he would have to deal with, but he's been by my side every step of the way.


five months into this gig …..

I saw this quote on someones wall a while ago, it comes from the poem 'A Summer Day', by the American poet Mary Oliver:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean -
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The last two lines have been floating around in my head for a while now; whenever they come to the forefront of my thoughts the only answer I've been able to come up with 'is I have no idea'.  So I decided to have a go at hand lettering and painted the above, it's a bit rough round the edges but I plan to hang it somewhere I will see it every day, in the hope that one day I'll figure it out.  Even though I don't yet have an answer, what I am acutely aware of is how precious life is.  

It's now five months (how is it possible that time can pass so slow and yet fly by at the same time) since my surgery; so I can look back and see how things have changed here's where I'm at.  In the first few weeks after surgery, while searching about recovery after a hysterectomy, I found this comment - 'after four months you will have whole days that go by in which you do not think about having had surgery' on the Hysterectomy Toolbox blog. At the time I couldn't believe it could possibly happen, everything I did or felt was dominated by the impact of the surgery; but over time I have found myself thinking less and less about the surgery and it's true whole days do go by without me giving it a thought.  In many ways my post-surgery body is back to where it was pre-surgery - I'm back running (albeit rather slowly); I'm cycling and horse riding again and I've started back at work.  I can fit into my regular clothes and the scar no longer feels sore and tender - I can wear jeans again! And yet I feel that there is an almost imperceptible vail surrounding me; from the outside I look like the same old me - but cancer has changed me - it's grip still holds me tight and it's not something I really know how to come to terms with.  The broken sleep, tiredness and fatigue still plague me as do the night sweats and other menopause symptoms that need to be managed on a daily basis; and the nagging pain that remains on the left side of my pelvis is a constant reminder that life really is precious and it is about time that I figured out what to do with the life I now have.


knitted goodness

There's something about knitting, something that goes beyond just knit and purl. Over the last couple of years I've read a few comments on blogs and instagram about knitting being good for the soul.  For me the wonderful illustrator and artist Katie Green sums up what I fell about knitting in an illustrated article in pompom quarterly Winter 2014.

Image from pompom quarterly winter 2014 - illustrations by Katie Green

Her beautifully illustrated article (called knitting saved my life) describes how knitting became a lifeline for her during a period of deep depression, that she found the familiar repetitive motion of knitting soothing and that creating something gave hope, knitting meant learning new skills, patience and learning to enjoying the process of creating.  

It's now been over six months since I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and time and time again, especially during the very dark moments, I have found myself knitting.  The rhythm of knitting calming my mind as it raced ahead as to what might be. There is so much more to write about knitting, especially how learning to knit has helped me let go of perfection! I enjoy knowing that each item I make contains some stitches that aren't in the right place and how, to me anyway, those imperfections mirror life but most importantly that it's ok that something isn't perfect, it truly is the process of creating something that is fulfilling!

Here is some of the knitted goodness I've been tinkering with over the last six months:

Lamb hat - this was a knit along by Jenny Gourdy of Wiksten, details can be found on her instagram feed, more images of lamb hats can be found at #wikstenlamhat

Puerperium cardigan - this was for my newest nephew, who was born in April, I made lamb hat for him  too and a little pixie cap to go with the cardigan.

Small cable sweater - loved this pattern, this jumper also was for my nephew, credit for the yarn/colour should go to magimix on Raverly - she knitted this jumper as a sample for her lovely shop  Be Inspired Fibres.

A second wee envelope (the variegated green above), also for my nephew but in a larger size and yet to be gifted !

Granny's favourite - for a friends daughter

And as I can never seem to settle to be a monogamous knitter, here's a list few other projects I have on the go at the moment! 



Recently I've felt absolutely floored, my get up and go has 'got up and gone'; projects like the sock above lie around the place, unfinished; ideas come and go but I can't be bothered - with anything.  Sometimes it feels so unreal that I have cancer, something so serious, I really can't believe that it true.  I feel like I've become very selfish and introspective, cancer makes me think about 'me' rather than others - I need to change my outlook stop looking into myself, and start looking around me and discover the world out there again


stepping over the line

Today she crossed over the line and was gone,
and so was her suffering and pain,
I will miss her.


chasing time …..

For a while there, I wasn't sure how much of a future I had.  But I guess none of us really knows how long our futures will be, we never get to see the 'bus' until it's about to hit us!

In the aftermath of the last three months I'm left wondering how much sand is there left in the timer?  I can't decide, after being told of my prognosis, has the timer been turned over and reset? How many more sand grains are left?

The situation is paradoxical - only time will tell if the cancer has gone or if it will return, but once that time has gone I can't get it back.   I'm left wondering what the hell do I do with my life now?  What do I do with the time I have?

Some people say you should live your life like every day is your last, and while I fully embrace living without regrets, trying to live life to the full, cramming in everything can be exhausting and I'm exhausted enough as it is right now.  I am was a day-dreamer, but for now my day-dreams have been paralysed by fear, the fear of not knowing how far I can look forward, of not knowing what is to come.  And so for now I'm not making any plans, I'm trying to breath in the moment and stop chasing time. 


on my bedside table

A few things on my bedside table making me smile; muscari from the garden (hello spring), dipped terracotta jug from Decorator's Notebook; glass dish from iittala, the rabbit light, a gift to myself; the felt covered stones I made to remind me of something I hold dear to my heart; and the lovely Alium table light is by Hannah Nunn.  I bought it from Boo Vake a few years ago, but just realised it was made by Hannah Nunn when I read an article about her work in April's Country Living. 


six weeks, sutures, scar and sleep

Six weeks have past since my last surgery, so I can look back and see progress, here are some of my thoughts and observations (sorry if the images are a bit gruesome).

The above picture is of two of the four sutures from the first surgery (there was another near my right hip and one in the pit of my belly button).  Most of the action was on the left side of my pelvis, as that is where the cyst was and where the cancer was found.

Here is the scar from the last surgery, nearly all 20 cm of it; I think it has given my belly a slightly 'upholstered' look!  

At six weeks I'm off all pain killers, the scar is itchy and very tender at times and I still can't bare the thought of any tight or restrictive material on or close to it; I miss wearing jeans!  All of the post-surgical complications, the severe vomiting that put me back into hospital and the colic/stomach cramps that meant I survived on custard and boiled rice for most of a week have gone (thank-goodness).  Now I am left learning to manage the fatigue and the evening swollen belly.  I'm walking further and longer each day and I hope to be able to swim soon; all of the muscle tone I had has gone and I am decidedly wobbly in places!  But I can now cough, sneeze and most importantly laugh without pain, hurrah!

One demon that has reared it's head is night sweats; I knew that as soon as I came round from the surgery that removed my ovaries (and the rest of my reproductive organs) I would be in a 'surgical menopause'.  For the first couple of weeks as I vomited and couldn't eat I thought I had managed to circumvent any menopause symptoms!  Ha, I should be so lucky; over the last 3 weeks the night sweats have increased in number and duration. I now wake every 1.5 - 2 hours through the night drenched in sweat - oh the irony it's almost like having a new born, ha!  I miss undisturbed sleep!  While I can cope with broken sleep, as I spend my days healing and resting I have no idea how I'm going to manage when I'm back at work. I can see that the physical symptoms of the surgery are healing and each day I feel that my body is more like the one I knew before the surgery; some of my pre-surgery fears haven't come to fruition and some I've faced head on and found that they weren't so bad after all.  However, I'm conscious that so far I've only focused on the physical side of the surgery, but there is a whole other side to cancer; the not knowing, the dark thoughts that swirl around my head, the implications and the deep dark cavern that deserves a post of its own. 


ice cream and things

Over the easter weekend my mister took me out for ice cream (mint choc-chip …. yum) and a short walk!

We sat by the harbour, there was a sea haar (mist) travelling up the river giving an eerie chill to the warmth of the sun and hiding the far river bank in it's misty cloak.  

As we wandered along the harbour edge we came across a drift of swans ….

They were so serene and effortless as they floated around in the harbour.

A couple of things on the needles; just to remind me to finish these projects before starting anything else ;-)!  Above is a half completed Opari (pattern is by Ysolda) and below is the start of wee Envelope (pattern also by Ysolda).


god daughters and easter

I have the wonder of being a god mother to two beautiful god daughters; here's one of them wearing some fairie wings I made for her, who doesn't want to be a fairie when they're seven!

I get slightly uncomfortable around this time of year, with Easter being such a celebrated time within the 'church'; as a god mother I feel I should somehow be contributing to my god daughters spiritual well being.  However, belief in anything at all should be their choice and not something I should discourage or equally foster upon them.  Last easter, after reading this article about the life and work of the Finnish artist and author Tove Jansson, I gave my god daughters Moomin Troll books.  

Tove Jansson image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tove_Jansson

In the world that Tove created in her books, the Moomin trolls live very closely to nature and embrace diversity; I think this quote from Frank Cottrell Boyce 'one of the things I really took from them was the importance of small pleasures, that life is really worth living if we're just nice to each other and make really good coffee, and the pancakes are just right - then nothing else really matters in any substantial way' perfectly sums up the Moomins and I hope my god daughters picked up on that.

This year, I decided to keep things simple and went for the standard easter imagery - bunnies!  I guess with a nod to the coming of spring, after the darkness of winter, that brings longer days and new life that reminds us of the miracle of nature.  I'm not sure if my god daughters will have picked up on that - but hopefully they got the bunny and spring connection!  

The pattern was from Mollie Makes issue 51; I added a scarf as it's still quite cold and frosty up here in the mornings!  I changed the pattern a bit for the second bunny and used a woven wool fabric instead of felt, both had Liberty Tana Lawn for their ears and tummies.


you may feel like you've wet yourself

Once the clear cell carcinoma cells had been found, the first question was have they spread? Answering this (at a certain resolution - I'll explain more about this later) started, in my case anyway, with a CT scan. The CT stands for computed tomography - a form of imaging modality in which x-rays are used. X-rays sit, well in my mind anyway, at the left hand side of the electromagnetic spectrum - they have short wavelengths and high frequencies which means they contain lots of energy. It's the energy held within the x-rays that allows then to travel far through substances, in my case skin, flesh and bone. And as the x-rays passed through my body some of their energy was absorbed by my organs and tissues attenuating the waves and creating contrast - bright areas and dark areas, so the inside of me could be seen. However, in order to truly see what was going on inside, to illuminate what was lurking within the darkness further contrast was needed in the form of iodine flushed through my veins. And that is where the peeing myself comes in! As the cannula for the iodine was being inserted I was told that I might experience the sensation of wetting myself as the liquid iodine cursed through my veins. Of course I didn't believe them - boy was I wrong! I backed out that room with my hands over my arse convinced that the 'lovely' hospital gown I had been given to wear had a seeping wet patch that was threatening to grow larger than my hands could cover! And as I surreptitiously inched my way back to the changing room with my arse firmly facing the wall, the sensation started to disappear together with the red flush of embarrassment in my cheeks. They were right it was just a feeling, but a bloody convincing one.

And finally to resolution, what can really be resolved by a CT scan. What size of tumour or network of arteries feeding a tumour can it reveal? As a microscopist my work revolves around resolution; how small an entity can be seen? I asked the same question about the CT scan - what resolution does it provide - the answer I was given - 5 mm - half a centimetre. Small, but is it small enough?



Four weeks have passed since the surgery, how time flies! While my brain seems to have returned to 'normal' (I'm not entirely sure that's the correct adjective for me), my body is taking a while to play catch up.  You get told that after major abdominal surgery (and I presume for other types of major surgery too) there will be tiredness, but I had totally underestimated how all encompassing the tiredness or fatigue is; just walking up and down the road wipes me out for hours! The fatigue leads to many hours of horizontal resting, well technically lying down ;-), which in turn leads to hours of wandering around the inter web. And that is how I came across this wonderful store Housekeeping via the equally lovely blog little birdie, written by Jen. Housekeeping evolved from a passion for simple, functional, understated design for the everyday things that we use and stocks some beautiful products.

In the last two weeks I've had two orders from Housekeeping delivered, and each time the service and products have been great.  There is a certain irony to writing about items for keeping 'the house' though, considering my current state of 'post-surgery resting'.  For the first six weeks after surgery I was told that the heaviest thing I could lift was a half-full kettle of water, and then most medical professionals I encountered backed the 'kettle-lifting' up with no hoovering, sweeping, putting the washing on, hanging the washing out, ironing, lifting heavy pans of food or bags of shopping - which left me dumb founded! Not because there were telling that I could lift anything heavy, but that they seemed to assume that I would be carrying out these house-hold chores; they never told me no DIY, painting, oil changing, firewood cutting, tree felling or coal bag moving - all of which made me clench my teeth with frustration.  Why on a gynaecological ward did the medical staff assume that their patients should only be warned against undertaking what they perceived as 'female-orientated household tasks'.  To the credit of one person, who had to endure a morphine induced rant from me about the stereotyping of the their 'no-can-do' examples, they did admit that perhaps their examples where a tad patronising!  I rest my case!


made … Riddari

Lopapeysa love! 

It feels good to have completed something in the last week, to have made something; a jumper for my mister. I cast on a week before Christmas, as I sat on a hospital bed waiting to go down to the operating theatre for surgery.  A surgery that should shave been straight forward; and in many ways it was.  The procedure went well and after a couple of nights in hospital I was able to go home to recover and take things very easy, free of the ovarian cyst that had caused so much pain and happy to be able to get on with a pain free life again.  Over the next few weeks as I worked on the jumper I had no idea of what was brewing! Ha! But this post is about making and knitting and not the other nonsense that has hijacked things, the pattern is Riddari by Védís Jónsdóttir and the yarn is Istex Létt-Lopi; I love knitting with this yarn!  It's taken a while, there was a lot to knit ;-), but now it is done; my notes can be found here on Ravelry. 

P.S. the antler coat hook is by Alexander Taylor and the fish is made by the lovely Jo Waterhouse


in the shadow of an eclipse

Last friday morning, I found myself turning on the lights as our house became dark and gloomy and shadows appeared in the garden, at strange angles and in the wrong places for the time of day.  

And as I looked out at the sky expecting to see brooding dark clouds, the sky was cloudless and blue, and then I remembered - the eclipse! As the shadows lengthened the birds stopped singing and there was an eerie silence for while and then as the moon passed out of the path of the sun, the shadows receded and the birds were once again chirping away.  

I'm not usually a great fan of metaphors, but some of the shadows that cancer has introduced into my life have also receded in the last few days; as the eclipse that ovarian cancer had become, has shifted on it's path slightly.  On Thursday I was told by my oncologist that there was no evidence that my ovarian cancer had spread beyond the site of it's origin; that for now all the evidence points to the cancer being contained and removed by the surgery.  I was given the choice of chemotherapy, but with the caveat that it would only decrease the chance of relapse by one percent.  So for now, I have chosen to watch and wait and to breath again; to take deep deep breaths and to think about life.  What path my life is going to take now, I have no idea or how heavy the burden of cancer will be; but I want to try to embrace life with all the strength I can muster.


Béal Bán Races

At the end of the 2013 summer, just as the first niggling symptoms of my cancer started to make their presence known, I was fortunate enough to go horse riding in Dingle (Co. Kerry) with a wonderful friend, someone I've been horse riding with for over 30 years.

We went trekking along the coast and beaches around Dingle for two days, it was a magical place and we galloped along the beaches at some pace!

We galloped on the beach where the Béal Bán races are held; maybe not quite as fast as the professional jockeys shown above (Photo from Bridget Flemming Fine Art www.bridgetflemming.com), but just on the edge of being out of control!

Daraugh and Cookie, were lovely horses and looked after us well! Here they are relaxing after a day on the beach!

Riding together on holiday was something we had spoken about for a while, I spent a few years dithering and wondering if I should go for it or not, I 'm glad I did…..life is for living!


making ...

There has been a distinct lack of posts about making, so to even things up a bit here is a ginger cake I made over the Christmas holidays.  Not just any old ginger cake, this was an awesome ginger cake even if I do say so myself!

The recipe was from Scandilicious Baking by Signe Johansen, a copy of the recipe can be found here


fog and flowers …..

It has been two weeks since I had surgery, a total abdominal hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, omentectomy and washings*, and now that the fog of morphine and anaesthetic has started to clear along with the incredible weariness I'm beginning to find me again, my brain is rebooting, albeit slowly and I hope that, despite the rather impressive 20 cm vertical scar I have, I am still me!

Since coming home I have been surrounded by the most beautiful flowers, bunches upon bunches bursting with colour; there are vases of flowers in every room of our house.  What has become clear, on this cancer 'journey' is just how wonderful, kind and caring our friends are.  It is such a strange feeling to ask for help, to give in and admit that this is too much to bare on own own, and as we waved our white flag of surrender our friends have stepped up to the mark, each and everyone of them.  I have been truly overwhelmed by kindness and love.

*the 'washings' makes the dark part of my sense of humour smile, I'm clean on the inside now! Though I know that really this is no laughing matter.