On Being Grounded

I don’t often do this but I’m going to write about something unrelated to motorhome travel. Writing this blog has been a huge part of our travels in the motorhome over the last few years and now that we can’t travel because of Covid it has become a source of comfort for us as we look back at our own travels and enjoy remembering all the new experiences we shared with all the laughter and challenges too.

In our last post we talked about our trip to Arisaig where we shared a lovely, energetic happy holiday in the sunshine. Immediately on our return Shirley and I were suddenly grounded for a reason unrelated to the Covid crisis. After a lot of thought I decided to break my own self imposed rule of not writing about personal stuff and describe what has happened.

Feeling fit in Arisaig

We got back from Arisaig in one piece and unpacked the van. I was aware that I didn’t feel well, almost as though I had eaten too much and felt a dull ache in my side. Two days later I was being seen at the GP surgery and told that I had a problem with my gut. Three days after that I was back again and being given antibiotics first for a gut infection and later for a kidney infection. After a miserable weekend of worsening pain I was rushed to hospital in agony and given morphine followed by two CT scans. Less than an hour later a young junior doctor told us the news – they had found a tumour in my kidney.

Words cannot describe that moment when she blurted it out, blushing furiously, before escaping from the room as fast as she could. Our world literally stood still. We had no idea what this could possibly mean, and worse still, they told us that I would be taken to the ward but Shirley couldn’t come with me and had to go home alone.

Later that day a more senior doctor came to see me to deliver the news – not knowing that the young doctor in A&E had already delivered it. Fortunately this time I could ask questions and was told that the treatment was a radical nephrectomy – the offending kidney would be taken out. He was kind and reassuring, telling me that I would be absolutely fine and that after the operation I would be soon back to normal. We can live easily with only one kidney. Less cheering was the news that the operation wouldn’t be for a few weeks and that I would have to go to one of the big Edinburgh hospitals as it’s a major operation performed robotically (yes I’ve been operated on by a robot!). My stay in the local hospital was to control the pain so that I could survive the wait. The Borders General Hospital is a short distance from our home and Shirley was able to book one visit a day for half an hour, due to the Covid restrictions. The shock and the sudden enforced separation was much harder on her than on me, mostly because I was by then floating on a cloud of opiate drugs. Chris, youngest son dropped everything at that point and came down to stay with her to form a support bubble. He continued to work from our dining table and, in between calls and online meetings, gave her hugs, mugs of tea and good food. “Support bubble”, a term entirely new to us until 2020, is a wonderful thing when your legs are knocked from under you.

Boo waited for me beside my sewing table

A few days later I was at home, battling pain, side effects from the medication and strange waves of sweating where water poured from my head and down into my ears and neck. It was weeks before I discovered that this is a symptom of cancer. Who knew?

Poppy cuddled in when I got home and kept me warm

On October 8th I was admitted to the Western General Hospital and had the long awaited radical nephrectomy by keyhole robotic surgery. I went in optimistic that I would be home in three days and on the road to recovery. The only person who was honest about what I could really expect was the theatre sister who prepped me for surgery. She said, “You’re going to wake up feeling as though you’ve been hit by a bus” – she was right.

I was in hospital for a week, had postoperative complications, reactions to the pain relief and also experienced the reality of a NHS that was, even then, under pressure. Not enough staff, lots of people having to stay home and self isolate and obvious exhaustion. One notable moment was when I was wheeled from the ward in my bed to get another CT scan. The porter who took me down looked tired. I asked him how he was and he told me that they were working at half capacity because one porter had caught the virus and, naturally, not knowing he was infectious, had come to work. A lot of their work is done in pairs so all those who had been in contact with him in the couple of days before he realised he was ill had to self isolate. As he wheeled me along he started to talk about social and societal issues, citing references to the things he had read. I used to teach psychology and sociology and straight away I recognised the tell tale sign of a very intelligent man with a real passion for the subject. I asked him if he had considered going to college as a mature student but he laughed, “I have a family to support” he said “and anyway, this is a job where I meet all kinds of people and I can chat to them and help them too.” When he left I thanked him and he thanked me too … “Great chat!”, he said and went on his way with a bit of a spring in his step.

It’s been three months now since the operation. Recovery has been slow and it’s hard not to feel disappointed by the fact that I can’t run around doing stuff all day as I did before. The sofa is where you can find me for a good chunk of every day, although I do walk the dogs now and sometimes go for a second walk with Shirley to try to build up stamina. Shirley has worked really hard, nursing me back to health, keeping the house in good order and cooking great meals for me. I was pretty skinny when I got back from hospital but her good food and the ravenous appetite that returned about four weeks after the operation has deposited some of those pounds back on.

Probably the hardest thing for us to cope with has been the news that the cancer they removed was an aggressive type and I have a 40 – 50% chance of it returning somewhere else. Receiving that news was a real blow and it took us both a couple of weeks to start rationalising it. I will be scanned every six months to check for any sign of a recurrence and I am told that they can see the tiniest speck and treat it quickly if it does return. In the meantime all we can do is live life to the full – even if that currently means living it at home while we wait for the vaccine to set us all free again.

The Good Bits

Even when life deals you a smack in the sore bits there can be many blessings to be found. I know this sounds a bit trite but I feel qualified to say it now, after facing my own mortality and lying whimpering in a hospital bed like an upturned tortoise, helpless and miserable.

The following does not come in order of importance to us – I’m just writing it as it comes to mind.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we’ve made some very fine friends on our travels. When news of my illness got to them they responded with love, encouragement, cards, gifts and reminders of the good times when we sat in the sun drinking cold beer and laughing. They not only gave us reminders of happy times but a very important reason to get through this. There is a lot of life to be lived and we intend to live it.

We live in an apartment. It’s a place we chose when we downsized because we love Melrose and we wanted a safe place to live and also lock up and leave when we went on our travels. It wasn’t long before we discovered that we had moved into a warm and friendly community and we knew we’d made the right decision. Within hours of the first whisper of my illness getting out to our neighbours we were overwhelmed with the full extent of the value of this lovely place. We were showered in flowers, cards, offers of help and gentle emotional support. For a while we were borrowing vases from neighbours and sitting amidst beautiful bouquets and cards on every surface. Tucked up in my corner of the sofa I needed only to look around me to know that we were surrounded by love and concern. One lady came to the door and said she had been through something similar a few years ago, offering a listening ear and, over the following few weeks, practical assistance for things she knew would help. Licorice for constipation … who knew? She did and I cannot thank her enough. Close neighbours shopped for us, walked the dogs, cooked and baked and quite simply surrounded us with care. We learned a lot from this – not just that we’re safe and well loved here but also that it’s important to say “yes please” and “thank you” just like our mothers taught us. Growing up can make us resistant to accepting help. This lesson has taught me to accept it gratefully and offer it liberally.

Our family and friends were quick to offer love and support and we felt the warmth of their concern and the knowledge that they were there for us every step of the way. So many kindnesses were offered it is impossible to list them all but special mention goes to our friends who took our two dogs in for almost two weeks when I was in hospital and just home. They sent us daily pup dates and we could relax knowing the pooches were in good hands. This was a huge gift. It isn’t easy caring for someone else’s dogs, especially when one of them is a neurotic elderly poodle on medication three times a day. Our sons and daughters in law in Edinburgh drove Shirley around, took her for food and comfort and were on hand for any practical help when I was in hospital. Without them she would have been lost (literally) – her ability to find her way around the city is seriously lacking. Family and friends at a distance wrote letters, sent cards and phoned keeping the flow of concern and comfort flowing. Even the fact that we had to ask people to phone less often when Shirley was exhausted and I was at my lowest ebb in hospital was met with understanding and kindness. When we tell people we’re thinking about them, either in words or by sending notes or phoning it means a huge amount. I used to feel helpless when someone I cared about was going through something awful and saying ‘I’m thinking about you’ didn’t feel like enough. Trust me, it means an enormous amount to know that there are people holding on to the light for you when you can’t see it yourself.

Thank you to everyone who has helped and supported us, you know who you are and you’ve got us through this.

Finally I want to say something about the Macmillan Cancer charity. I was both amazed and perhaps a little shocked when I received a letter from them enclosing a checklist asking me what my concerns were and how they could help me. At that moment I hadn’t quite added myself to the category of cancer owner and it took me a minute or two to read it and take it in. A few days later one of their workers called me and gently asked me how I was doing. I found myself telling her my worries and talking about an annoying swelling left over from the surgery. The next day she called me back to say that their physiotherapist would like to offer to teach us both how to do lymphatic drainage massage which is used to help move lymphatic fluid away from the region where the lymph nodes have been removed. We were given an appointment for two days’ time and turned up to be met by Ruth in full PPE who explained the whole process, demonstrated it on me and showed Shirley how to do it. She was kind and humorous, apologising for the fact that she wouldn’t normally do this wearing gloves and laughing with me when I giggled uncontrollably because it tickled. We left feeling encouraged and not so scared of the C word. Since then I’ve been sent leaflets, contacts for medical or emotional help and a whole lot of warmth. So, if you feel you can, I would be grateful if you could send this wonderful charity a few pennies or pounds. They bridge the gap between the overstretched NHS and the full extent of the support people with cancer need, when things are at their most challenging.

I never imagined that this would be me. This illness seems remote until it comes to visit and it can come with a speed and a stealth that takes our breath away.

Just one more thing – if you get a strange sensation in your body that you can’t explain and doesn’t go away, go and tell your GP. I hadn’t been able to lie comfortably on my left side in bed for about two years. It’s too late for ‘if onlys’ and even now I don’t know how I would have persuaded a GP to act on a strange sensation but if it ever happened again I would try my damnedest to get listened to and get a scan. A CT scan is expensive but it’s fast, comfortable and it reveals all kinds of things that can’t be seen any other way. I didn’t go to the doctor because I was afraid he or she would think I was being silly. I’m prepared to be silly now.

Walking in the snow in Melrose – there are worse places to be grounded

Here’s to a happy, fit and healthy 2021. Please go and do the things you’ve always wanted to, as long as they’re safe and legal. Don’t wait. Live now.

33 thoughts on “On Being Grounded

  1. So sad to hear your problems but glad your on the roar to recovery and have such wonderful family and friends around you. Love to you both

  2. Nice to see you posting again. Hope your well on your way to recovering now. Stay safe. Those motorhome wheels will turn again.

  3. Thank you for sharing Mags. Not what I was expecting to see in your blog. I know you have heard this hundreds of times now but I’m thinking of you and sincerely hope you have kicked the b****rd into the long grass. Keep fighting, stay positive and love to both of you. x

  4. Wow Margaret, such a powerful piece of writing…reduced me to tears and I was right there with you feeling just like an upturned tortoise!! We send you both virtual hugs which Shirley will have needed as much as you. Donation…of course and raising a glass to the day when we can meet up again in healthier and safer times. Doug and Jo xx

  5. Wow, really emotional, tears have been shed. So glad you’re on the road to recovery. Such clever people work for our NHS. Big love and hugs to you both and maybe one day we will meet on the road in our MHs. Best Julie, Nick and the girls in the big bus in Spain! ❤️????

  6. Good to hear that you’re recovering even if it is much slower than you imagined. The main thing is your positive attitude. It seems to be something which shines through with recovering patients. The patients who come on my Move More walks always amaze me this way. Sadly no walking at the moment due to Covid but hopefully it won’t be too long. I’m sure your fitness will return in the not too distant future. Take care both of you. Golf starts in a couple of months!!

  7. Glad to see your spirit is back, up and about after a long old struggle. Looking forward to sharing some fun times with you both! Keep well and stay safe – you are both very precious xxx

  8. Oh my goodness Margaret. Such an emotional read but so happy you are improving. You are so positive and it’s so nice that you have so many family and friends to help you and Shirley. I know Shirley will have been the perfect nurse. I also hope that when all this is over we will be able to meet up on our travels. Stay safe and well and big hugs to you both.xx

  9. So sorry to hear this Margaret. Hope you are now recovering well. ❤️ Love reading all your adventures, especially when we first started motorhoming a few years ago.

  10. I had no idea ud been ill in any way Margaret. I lost both my parents to Cancer so I understand a lot of what u we’re feeling emotionally at least. Please take time in ur recovery and tell Shirley to have the occasional break from things too. Even if it’s just a lazy day sitting in the couch. You r a strong woman and this has just proved it. My luv to u and Shirley. Take care and b safe both of u xx

  11. Thank you for sharing all this, and I hope in some small way it is cathartic for you to write.

    I have been wondering how you both were, and hearing what you have been through is a shock, but thank goodness for the health service that we do have. Even though I have not been lucky enough to meet you in our vans and have one of those sunset beers, I follow all your travels, and care, as I am sure many do, about you all. With very best wishes for your continued recovery. xx

  12. You had me at ‘dull ache’. So glad to hear you’re on the mend. Having worked in cancer diagnostics for 16 years dull ache is a trigger for me.
    You have an absolute star in Shirley, hope she’s being kind to herself too. Much love xx

  13. Thank you so much for that post/ blog. I’ve never met you ( mutual friend, Mary) but follow your wonderful posts , and this has left me feeling such concern for what you’ve been through, but also
    left with positive feelings about love and concern from people near and far.

    I I will watch for updates and send you the message of “ I am thinking of you both”, and hoping for your recovery now, and for your future. Fiona

  14. Third try at a reply to your wonderful , worrying, and uplifting email.
    I will certainly donate to the MacMillan Nurses and hope for the best for you now and in the future.

  15. Sorry to hear this Margaret but pleased you are on the road to recovery. I’m sure Shirley will be looking after you well. We hope you make a full and speedy recovery. Lots of love David and Lynn Rennie xx

  16. Margaret

    I didn’t know that you had been ill – and so seriously. Like others, I hope that the power of your writing will have also done you and Shirley a power of good.

    I wish you a continuing recovery from your surgery – aided by the emotional reassurance of regular checks by the NHS.

    With an enhanced awareness of what is really important in life – but not dwelling too much on thinking about such things! – I hope that 2021 will be good to you and Shirley.

    Thank you for writing this life-enhancing piece.

    Lawrence x x x

  17. Best wishes for a complete recovery Mags – you are a brave and lovely lady, and very much loved by many. Keep fighting and get well. Lots of love from Catherine & Shaughan

  18. Dear Margaret….I was somewhat stunned when I read this last night. I admire you immensely for sharing this journey with us and send all positive thoughts to you for a full recovery. Love to both of you. Ali x

  19. Dear Margaret and Shirley
    I’m reading this in tears and Dave and I (and Linnhe) are sending you our love and wishes for a speedy recovery.
    We only met you for a very brief period over 4 years ago but we have both always felt that you were people we could become close friends with and spend more time – and hoped (and still hope) our paths would cross again. Linnhe even got on with Poppy and Boo!

    Your writing skills are fantastic and your blogs are honest, informative and hilarious! You never shy away from being honest about the ‘cock ups’ we all make driving or towing our holiday homes! This blog is no different and I find it inspirational thinking about what you have been through and your positive approach to the future.

    2020 was not without its own heartbreaks for me with the death of my dad and the massive deterioration of mum’s mental health resulting in her being sectioned 2 days before Christmas. I always say I am sad about dad but can never be sorry – he had a good long life and didn’t have to witness Mum’s decline. I am finding it difficult to deal with Mum’s illness – I’m a ‘doer’ but there is nothing I can do and all decisions are out of our hands – but it’s nothing compared to your last few months and I take strength from your words.

    Thinking of you both with love and massive good wishes for the future. Keeping everything crossed we can all get back out on the road in a few months.

    Jude xx

  20. So sorry to read about your illness Mags but glad you are on the road to recovery. Keep positive and I am sure it won’t be long before you and Shirley will be making some more motorhome adventures. Sending you both lots of love and hugs. Shirley (Fllora) xx

  21. Sorry to read about whats happened to you recently Mags but your strength and positivity shine through on your blog.

    I’ve never forgotten when we met up for tea & cake & laughs when you were having the van reupholstered – your positivity really helped me through.

    Sending love and best wishes that the two of you will soon be back out and about.
    Debs xx

  22. Thank you everyone for all these wonderful responses. I’m sorry that we can’t answer each one individually but we’re absolutely blown away by all your love and support. We are truly blessed. x x

  23. Beautifully written and brave blog Margaret. You are loved by so many, including us. Really looking forward to seeing you again whenever this is possible.
    xxx

  24. Sorry to hear of your health problems Mags but glad you’re recovering with nurse Shirley looking after you. You obviously chose a lovely place to move to with those neighbours too!
    Please keep us informed of your progress and stay cheerful! xxx

  25. So glad to hear of all the support and that things have gone as well as they have. What a whirlwind. And thank you for the good advice about not worrying about feeling too silly to take a concern to the GP! And your Good Bits section. : ) Looking forward to many more of your wonderful sharings and wordsmithings Margaret. You both are cherished./ Brad xx

  26. I am so sorry to hear your news, Margaret, and wish you a steady recovery to motorhoming health. Sending big hugs to you and Shirley. xx

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