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Wednesday 10th March. A Bad Time With Needles. A Good Time With Maggie.


Yesterday I went for a bone scan. I am very familiar with some parts of the hospital, but often quite dismayed when I have to go somewhere as a stranger. I’ve had bone scans before. They are long and droning and the department is a bit brown and boring. You have to have an injection two hours before the actual scan. A rather bluff, dull eyed doctor told me to roll up my sleeves, and I said that most of my veins were hardened and didn’t work. He didn’t listen, and poked with the needle at main veins making me jump, and failing to draw blood. I don’t know why, but when this happens it always makes me want to cry. Generally, I am quite stoical, but it was so horrid, him telling me to keep still while he made a mess of my arm, and sighing when I yelped. Then he suddenly turned away and left the room, without saying sorry or goodbye. A smiling nurse suggested I soaked my arms in hot water. Then an older, strict looking women in a white coat strutted in, obviously sent by the first man. She zoomed in with a new needle. Then, the nurse said, as if I was a dog at the vets ‘This one’s a bit of a jumper!’ and the older woman tutted and carried on with the injection. She didn’t say a word to me. It was ridiculous to get upset by this small, everyday NHS scene, but I found it absolutely humiliating. I find I keep writing letters of complaint in my head.

Today, I had a very different experience. My partner and I drove up to Edinburgh to Maggie’s Centre. My friend Jackie Kay had told me about these places set up by a woman who had died of breast cancer. They are basically information and support centres for people with cancer, where you can talk about what’s happening, and get help with things like treatment choices, nutrition, relaxation. Of course I knew about places like the Bristol Centre, but that had always struck me as being rather Laura Ashley and therapy based. I really wanted to talk to someone about the drugs I’ve been offered. Anyway, it was a lovely, calm house built of wood in hospital grounds, but completely unlike a hospital. It had gardens, and plants, and smelt of cooking cakes, and an atmosphere of quiet easiness. But it wasn’t do-goody either. We saw a very handsome cancer specialist called Andrew who sat with us as if he had all the time in the world. We talked about my options, and our whole discussion was completely led by my pre-occupations. He certainly made me feel much more hopeful. Andrew felt that I was being offered the right things, and that there was a good chance that the tamoxifen might work for a bit. He agreed that Taxol was my best bet if I have more chemotherapy. We got a clearer picture of the whole illness, and I realised that it’s not inevitable that I go downhill from here. I could easily stabilise again for a good amount of time. I felt really replenished. Actually, for the first half hour I was quite weepy as everyone was so nice, but it was the kind of place where you could weep and not feel embarrassed.

Anyway, I will return there soon, and I can phone up and talk to them any time. I feel as if I have a new ally and confidante.

Afterward we met our friend the actor Monica Gibb for lunch. Monica was in the first play I wrote about cancer called Eating The Elephant, years ago.

Otherwise, I’ve been doing a review for Mslexia Magazine about three books on writing by writers. Although I’m not a huge Atwood fan, I do think her book NEGOTIATING WITH THE DEAD is a fantastic collection of essays about what it means to be a writer. She’s witty and elegant and perceptive, and puts her finger on so many truths about writing. Also, I have just consumed Zoe Heller’s NOTES ON A SCANDAL. THis is a brilliant, gripping, almost perfect novel. Her writing is so lucid and accurate it makes me gasp.

Last night the teenagers were sitting out in the garden, on the new sycamore benches playing drums. The sound echoed all over the vale. It was lovely. The garden is filling up with growing things, frogs, new paths, newly made spaces. There’s an awful lot left to do!

And the novel. It’s time to climb back into that other, made up world.