Seven years from Easter to Easter

It’s possible that Easter 2016 will mark the end of a journey. There is no doubt that Easter 2009 marked its beginning. It was the Tuesday night before Easter 2009 that my brain haemorrhage struck, and Good Friday that I awoke from the resultant coma. I’d love to say that I arose on Easter Sunday. However, there is only one truth and I won’t attempt to bend it.

Today is also Good Friday, seven years on, and Sarah has just been released from hospital for the last time in relation to her dreadful cancer episode. I use the word “dreadful” loosely. On the contrary, both of our illnesses have arguably been the best experiences of our lives. We have been lucky, of course – luckier than most who suffer such grave illnesses. Surviving with barely any significant disabilities, we are better off than millions who suffer chronic conditions that decimate their lives, but who receive little in the way of appreciation or attention to their plight.

When people say things like, “You never know what’s around the corner”, in an attempt to wisely advise someone to live for the moment and not to put things off, their perception of where this corner is often differs from ours. To most people, the “corner” is somewhere over there in the unforeseeable future, but to us it is potentially imminent. I need to use the word “potentially”, because we still plan to live to the age of 100, but as we have seen it first hand, to us the corner is somewhere closer to the “here and now”. We have looked down the barrel of its shotgun and brushed it aside with the aid of a mixture of good luck and the expertise of our wonderful National Health Service.

With these experiences carved into our psyche, we have a constant driving force at the back of our minds that never goes away – a motivational push to live our lives in ways that we never would have previously imagined. It also makes us happier people, knowing that without such good fortune our lives would be so much different now and we therefore appreciate little things that many cannot.

Sarah’s last operation was yesterday. It had nothing to do with cure or prevention of any illness, but a cosmetic reconstruction after the lumpectomy to remove her breast cancer. She has always wanted to have a “boob job” but would never have done so had all this not happened. There are many things that we wouldn’t have done had our illness not happened – like driving across America (Route 66), learning to dance and publishing a book. Remarkably, after what was fairly major surgery (although I still maintain that she is a lightweight because at least they put her to sleep for her operations – unlike my brain surgery operations!), she has been released after only 24 hours, with no pain whatsoever and without needing painkillers. I’m still scratching my head over that one! As I write this, she’s sleeping like a baby – the effects of the general anaesthetic cannot be overcome in such a short period of time by even the hardiest of people like Sarah.

Our seven years from Easter 2009 to Easter 2016 have been more than interesting. They have been unimaginably eventful. We haven’t just been on a journey – we have weaved, turned and skidded sideways down the highway. Our highs and lows have been as extreme as are humanly possible. We have fought demons and dragons, and won our own version of the lottery jackpot. We wouldn’t have it any other way and would never turn back the clock if we had the opportunity.

All is good in the Pritchard household.

If you like our story, do us a favour and go and check for lumps. You know where your bits are!


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How Sarah reversed her lymphedema

At a recent lymphedema clinic appointment, the medical staff were impressed with the fact that Sarah has completely reversed her lymphedema. Since Sarah had her lumpectomy and removal of the lymph nodes under her left arm, it is a condition to which she is now susceptible.

Her treatment, which included the aforementioned operations, four months of chemotherapy and three weeks of radiotherapy ended in February 2014. Later in the year she had some lymphedema swelling in her left arm, which measured 8.5% bigger in circumference than her right arm. We had previously bought a multi-gym which is set up in the spare room to help her build up her strength after the chemotherapy. Because of the lymphedema we bought a vibro-plate – a stand-on machine that vibrates your whole body. The vibrations are known to help the lymph fluid to drain out of the swollen areas. “I’m just going upstairs for a wobble,” she tells me.

In October 2014 we took up 1950s-style dancing, including jive, lindy hop and swing dance. In January 2015, she took control of the reins in the kitchen (I have problems with portion control) and decided to embark upon a new healthy-eating lifestyle, cutting out alcohol, sugar, carbohydrates and processed foods. After ten months, she had lost three stone and is now down to a more or less ideal weight. We dance two or three times per week, which keeps her arms on the move. At the lymphedema clinic appointment, they found that her lymphedema had completely reversed – her left arm having reduced in size from 8.5% bigger to 6.5% smaller than her right arm! She was told that such a recovery was rare. Someone told me that they didn’t realise that this was even possible.

I have no idea what all the fuss is about, yet all this fuss is being made. Could the combination of weight loss, proper cleaneating, the vibro-plate, sugar and alcohol abstinence have contributed to the unlikely (bordering on impossible, apparently) reversal of her lymphedema?

I’d love to hear from people who know more about this than I do.

Sarah’s stylish lindy hop 50th birthday dance, December 2015:

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What is it like to receive a cancer diagnosis?

Nobody has ever asked me what it is like to be given the news of a cancer diagnosis. I’ve never really been expecting people to ask the question, but something happened recently that made me draw a comparison. It’s the most unlikely of comparisons that doesn’t tell the complete picture, but I figured that it was worth writing a little about it.

Of course, I’ve never been diagnosed with cancer, but I was with Sarah the moment the consultant delivered the news to her in his office. I won’t mention the obvious kinds of words to express the fear and horror etc. as these would be nothing new to speak of and would do nothing to make the reader do anything than other than to think, “Oh yes, I can just imagine – it’s what I would expect.” There is no mileage in my doing that. But recently, I was invited to do a live interview on BBC Radio Wales. I have done live radio and live TV before, and there is a strange feeling that occurs the moment you go “live”. When you walk into the studio, you start chatting to the presenter and other technical staff “off-air” and everything seems normal. You then reach a point where, although nothing tangible has changed, you know that the presenter is now talking to thousands or even millions of people, and once you open your mouth to talk, you will be talking to all of these people too.

Nothing around you has changed – but it has.

You have slipped unnoticeably into another dimension where reality as you have previously known it no longer exists. All that has happened is that someone in the studio has pressed a button (or, more likely these days, touched a screen or something), yet your whole world has taken on a new colour. Your mind hits self-preservation mode and focuses right through to the core of your surroundings and your own thoughts, you get locked like a missile onto a target and before you know it, the presenter is saying thank you to you for joining him. Music begins to play and you slip unnoticeably back into your familiar, casual world as the team around you continue chatting as if nothing had ever happened.

If you are taken to hospital with an injury, you know that something has happened. You can feel it and you can probably see it. You don’t need to try to get your mind around what is happening. It is real and it is there for people to see. However, when you are given a cancer diagnosis, nothing tangible has changed. You walk into the consultant’s office, sit down and begin chatting. Without anything physically happening, the words from the consultant (a little like the sound engineer pressing the button or touching the screen) take your life into a completely new dimension, but with all of those words of fear and horror that I promised that I wouldn’t mention. The difference now is that you don’t know how long you’ll be in this new world or even if you’ll ever escape it. You walk in; you walk out. You now have to find a way to get your head around everything. You are then indiscriminately hurled, spinning into a new world with unimaginable insecurities. It’s a much darker world than the thrill of the live broadcasting. There is no sun to see or to feel. You have a mountain placed in front of you and you have no option but to climb. Your mind then hits self-preservation mode and focuses as it did in the studio. You get on with it.

Some make it. Some don’t. That is the reality.

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Cancer likes sugar!

Cancer likes sugar and cancer likes obesity. If you wean yourself off sugar in tea and coffee (15 calories per LEVEL teaspoon – who ever puts a LEVEL teaspoonful in? – so let’s call it 20 calories), at 5 cups per day with one sugar, that equals 100 calories per day – or 36,500 per year. I don’t know what that equates to in pounds of fat, but it must be a lot.

You may take two sugars or drink more than 5 cups of tea or coffee so you can do your own sums.

I weaned myself off it many years ago. I can’t face a cup of tea or coffee with sugar as a result of doing so. Sarah has done it recently without any problem at all. It’s not even a hardship. Seriously, what is the point of NOT doing it?

Don’t say you haven’t been told.

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As it comes

Sarah tells me that I make the best cup of tea that she has ever tasted. “I need a Markie Tea,” she’ll tell me. I’ve experimented to see what she likes and what she doesn’t like, and I’ve come up with the correct formula. It helps that she has her tea similar to mine, but even if she didn’t, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been hard for me to learn to make it the right way.

If I ever make you a cup of tea or coffee, I will always ask, “How do you like it?” I’m a very tolerant person, but woe betides any guest who replies with, “Oh, as it comes.”

“No, no, no!” I reply. “I don’t do ‘as it comes’, how do you actually like it?” Tea and coffee are like people’s names – you should show people enough respect to make an effort to get them right.

“Do you like it strong? Weak? Milky?” Maybe it stems from my abhorrence of weak milky tea, and my insistence upon “Just a tiny drop of milk,” if I’m ever asked the same question. It’s not a big ask for the tea maker to make an effort to tailor a drink exclusively for the individual. Sometimes people say, “If someone is kind enough to make me a cup of tea, I’m happy to accept however it’s made.” Well, if someone is kind enough to offer you a lift to Cardiff you wouldn’t be happy if they dropped you off at Aberdare.

Now here’s one that is even worse. “Would you prefer a tea or a coffee?”

“Oh, I’ll have whatever you’re making.”

“No, no, no! You’re missing the point! I’m making it for you.” I’m probably only boiling the kettle because I have a guest, and it makes no difference to me whether I have tea, coffee or even nothing at all. My tea bag jar stands next to my coffee jar, and the time difference between making two drinks the same and making two separate drinks is mere seconds – possibly quicker than the amount of time that I may spend trying to second guess my guest’s real choice of drink.

Let’s look at it another way – if someone asks if you take sugar, you don’t respond with, “Oh, however much you take please.”

“Would you like it in a cup, beer glass or fruit bowl?”

“Oh, whatever you’re having yours in will do fine.”

They could end up having a weak coffee with three sugars in a fruit bowl when all that they really wanted was a nice strong cup of tea without sugar.

A good host will find pleasure in serving guests the perfect drink, so make your preference known – especially if I’m making it.

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