This post is a little late, but better late than never they say!
Phil and I have spent a lot of time since Christmas, making sure his elderly mum is safe and well provided for. Joyce is almost ninety one years of age and up until Christmas this year she has been living fully independently in a bungalow in Holsworthy, going out most days on her mobility scooter and using the “Ring and Ride “ bus in Holsworthy, to Bude, Launceston and Okehampton. We live near Launceston about thirty minutes away from Joyce`s. Joyce`s health has gradually worsened since then and more rapidly in the past two weeks. After many discourses with a variety of GPs at her surgery, with written concerns about her symptoms that were placed in her medical records, we at last, on the Monday after we returned from the Patient`s Day on the weekend, have managed to get Joyce an appointment with a Gastroenterologist at Barnstaple Hospital this Thursday evening. We have also decided that she would be better staying with us and the GP agreed, such is her frailty and immobility now. So we`ve made a bedroom for Joyce in the front sitting room.
However the main vein of this post was to report back about the Beating Bowel Cancer Patients` Day in London on the 18th April, held at The Royal College of Surgeons in Holborn.
Firstly I had to cajole Phil in agreeing to go. Both Phil and I had been to London once in our lives before, at the age of around sixteen years, me to a visit to the Tate Gallery with the art group from secondary school and Phil to a Building exhibition at Olympia! We both had not been on a train for at least forty five years, so it was a large undertaking for both of us.
Both of us dislike big cities, and how much bigger can you get in the UK than London! Phil had concerns about travelling on the underground tube after a bad experience on his prior visit, so I said we`ll use taxis. So with everything booked, rail travel and accommodation, through an excellent travel agent in Launceston, on Friday we drove along the A30 towards Exeter to catch our train.
Even through the weather was fairly dreary and cheerless with episodes of fine rain, along the way, we sung along to the Bee Gees and the Mamas and Papas on the radio. We noticed the flowering pussy willows and blackthorn blooming in the suntraps and masses of delicate primroses were wedged in the roadside banks, effortlessly beautiful. Trees and shrubs had begun to green up nicely and the scrubby fields of that part of Devon were filled with dark, spikey sedges. Pheasants strutted over empty landscapes. Sheep munched nonchalantly. Friesian cows cropped on lustrous fresh grass, so pleased to be let out of their winter compounds, enjoying the freedom, fresh food and fresh air. There were Ramson leaves and flowers (wild garlic) in evidence beneath the shady glades and numerous flocks of swans gathered in flat fields by waterways crossing the landscape. We noted glimpses of wild birds, heron, coot and a great crested crane.
The streamline train stealthily passed allotments, houses of differing fabric - pale rough stone, red brick, and thatched, trading estates, railway sidings and neat parks. We passed a gigantic “White Horse “etched on the side of the landscape. Fields of rape seed crops spread over many acres, and where the sun had burned the fiercest and best, there shone a shimmering glow across the landscape. The train took us to Taunton in Somerset and then we think, Wiltshire, Kent and Berkshire, then on to London. It was such a high speed train that the station names were all but a blur, we didn`t know where we had been, or what we were approaching! The train journey took two and a half hours and was very entertaining and comfortable, with hardly anyone else in the carriage.
We arrived at Paddington Station on time and alighted to join the hordes of passengers on the platform, them looking completely confident about where they were going next! Not a bit like us! However we followed the sign for “Taxis” and found just outside the station a cavalcade of taxis awaiting for people just like us. “How brilliant!” we sighed with relief, the taxi took us to the hotel five minutes away.
The hotel was quite grand on the ground floor reception and bar area, all “Greek”style Ionic columns, marble style flooring and giant mirrors, chandeliers and comfy seats.
The bedroom was very clean, but fairly basic, no bad surprises there then, we were quite weary though, as I have continued to have chemo throughout a good space of time since last September, so we rested and then had a meal in the hotel restaurant, it was very good!
Saturday morning arrived and we were on our marks for an early start, we wanted to arrive at the gathering early. Having a breakfast (everything you could think of was there, including cereals, porridge, yogurt, fresh fruit, apricots, prunes, cheeses, hams, full English, freshly baked bread, even curry and rice dishes, the chefs were Malaysian) it all looked delicious!
We didn’t know whether we would have to telephone for a taxi, but on looking out from the hotel reception to the street, several taxis were waiting outside in readiness.
We were taken by taxi, as if by some of the names on the Monopoly board! We went via Euston road, but later in the afternoon we returned via the Strand, past Nelson`s column, the City of Westminster with a glimpse of Big Ben, then along The Mall, past Buckingham Palace, up Constitution Hill, around Hyde Park corner, and back to Bayswater Road and Lancaster Gate, many of the names we recognised, the buildings and architecture were without doubt outstanding, everywhere screamed Money!! Many people, a real cosmopolitan mish-mash, traversed each street and road we passed.
On arrival at the Royal College of Surgeons which was a spectacular building with huge Greek Columns we approached the reception hall where we were given badges with our names on, and then walked straight into Candy.
In the hall were many volunteers of the Beating Bowel Cancer Charity, who were very welcoming.
We went straight through to a huge, high ceilinged hall where tables with tea, coffee, and water were beautifully laid out, with a multitude of waiters to help serve.
Around the room were exhibition stands of various kinds, “Cuiwear” a company which produces the UK`s most innovative Hernia and Ostomy support garments and products. A representative will come to your home to help with fittings and choice of products. You can get these items paid by NHS prescription, (an agent comes to Cornwall a couple of times a week from London). I have asked for a visit because of pain through adhesions. On the internet they are www.cuiwear.com.
There were Colostomy stands, Holistic Massage, Pelvic Radiation Disease Association, The Chemo Cookery Club Dietary and Nutritional Guidance, Coloplast, Macmillan Financial Guidance, Genetic Counselling, Biokult, and iMedicare, who deal with help with Erectile Dysfunction. The Pelvic Radiation Disease Association stand was very interesting. This assists patients who have been cured of cancer but suffer from the debilitating effects of the treatment, which can be gastro intestinal symptoms, or urinary or sexual problems.
At ten o`clock there was an opening greeting from Mark Flanagan, the Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, who appears to be a genuinely good egg. This was followed by a bowel cancer patient who told his story to us. A true survivor, named Paul Muscovitch. His experience was loudly applauded.
Straight after this, there was a refreshment break, with tea, coffee and water on freely on offer, plus biscuits and fruit.
A choice of “Workshops” followed, where the patient took part in which ever subject that they felt most important to them. Phil and I and Candy went to a lecture theatre where a talk was given by an eminent liver surgeon Mr Myrddin (Merv) Rees, from the Hampshire Trust, giving a talk on “The Advances in treatment options for liver metastases.” It was very good and there was time for questions at the end where the audience put forward questions.
Following this lecture came lunch. There were hot dishes of chicken and smoked haddock with lovely vegetables, or a vegetarian pie or quiche and salad. Pudding was served too, mine was a lemon tart type affair which was sumptuous. This again was all feely provided.
The other workshops were for Carers and Family and Friends, Rectal Cancer Treatment Options and Clinical Trials, Mindfulness and Meditation, Regaining Bowel Control- Practical Tips, Advances in Bowel Surgery, and Complimentary Therapies.
There was also one to one consultations with specialist nurses.
In the afternoon we attended a lecture on Colonoscopy and the management of Bowel Cancer.
After this there was another refreshment break. Then we joined Wendy and Stuart for a Get Fit, Live Better workshop. It was a keep fit class where we all tried to do some simple exercises. Wendy was volunteer at one point to show us how things are done! The married couple taking the class were like Fannie and Johnny Craddock, with “Rupert do this exercise, show them how it`s done.”” Rupert be a plank, or be a tree!” Apparently Rupert had suffered some kind of cancer and was now as fit as a flea, which he certainly looked.
At the very end of the day Wendy, Phil and I presented the group`s cheque for one thousand pounds to Floella Benjamin of Play School fame, who was a very charming and vivacious lady, who is a Charity Patron. Her mother too, died of bowel cancer.
We found it an informative and thoroughly enjoyable day and well worth the effort and planning to attend.
We wended our way home to the hotel by a taxi which was already outside the building, feeling very, very weary. After a rest in our room, we decided to try the French restaurant which was on the lower ground floor of the hotel. This was quite unique in that all of the waiting staff were young professional opera singers. At intervals throughout the evening, they sung wonderfully, with arias and songs from La Traviata by Guiseppe Verdi. It was a memorable and lovely end to our trip.
We taxied to Paddington Station next morning and arrived home by mid-afternoon on Sunday.