Extreme Podiatry


This weekend, Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity took 32 volunteers to Calais and Dunkirk to work with organisations caring for Refugees and Migrants in and around Northern France. The volunteers had spent the previous 2 months collecting aid, including approximately 300 children’s rucksacks, filled with crayons, paper, books, bubbles, hats, gloves and scarves. Most were collected by schools, replacing shoeboxes traditionally collected at this time of year, and many had personal messages from the schoolchildren tucked inside. This aid was enough to completely fill a very large transit van.

We travelled down on Friday evening, via Eurotunnel, staying overnight in the local Youth Hostel which is excellent – if basic- and provides a free, all you can eat, breakfast. Our group includes a variety of experience, abilities, ages, and backgrounds. Inexplicably, it also includes an inordinately large percentage of Vegans. The big difference to this trip was that it will be my last, for the time being. I start Chemotherapy on December 14th, and will not be able to participate again until my immune system has recovered, and will be dependant on side effects and future health. This fact precipitated  my sister, Sally, and 3 children, Abbie, Hattie and Jacob to join our venture. One minibus came with volunteers from Thame, the second with those from Didcot and Oxford.

On Saturday morning we split into 2 groups, with half going to work with the Refugee Community Kitchen, which provides approximately 2700 hot meals a day in and around Calais and Dunkirk. Our group went to work with Clare Mosley and her team at Care4Calais. The situation on the ground changes on an almost daily basis, and though these organisations try to plan food and aid distributions, these often have to be reactive. After offloading our aid into the warehouse, Clare gave us the daily briefing. Today Help Refugees, Utopia 56 and C4C would be working together to distribute new walking boots and socks to every migrant on a single day; something that had never been done before, and which would be logistically challenging. Alongside this we would be working alongside FAST (First Aid Support Team), a group of  6 healthcare professionals from London, who would be inspecting and treating feet before the new boots were worn. We could expect to see bacterial and fungal infections, ulcers, wounds and possibly conditions like Trench Foot, because of sodden, inadequate footwear. The medics would need a volunteer to work alongside each of them, washing feet. Several of us proffered our help. The remaining volunteers would be involvein the boot distribution, which would also include taking  mobile phones and battery boosters for any migrants that already had decent walking boots. We would also make up some cake parcels from donations made the day before, and would be giving everyone a can of Coke.

The morning was taken up getting vehicles loaded and collecting and preparing items for distribution. Sally went off into Calais with my girls to collect and prepare lunch.


After eating very well, we split into our teams, which were covering 3 separate sites. Our team went across Calais to an area just to the side a roundabout. A large group of about 40 Eritrean young men and a few Afghan boys had gathered. We drew up our vehicles, and set up a tarpaulin, bench and medical kit at one end. We filled 2 flat bottomed containers with water, adding detergent to one and Dettol to the other.

After the young men received their new boots, they wandered over out of curiosity. We explained, verbally and using our hands, what we wanted to do. Those that spoke English then explained to the others. We soon had a makeshift conveyor belt of clients. The boys would remove their rotten, decaying trainers and sodden socks, then sit in the camping chair we’d set up next to the bench. One of the medics, Simon, would then inspect their feet, especially between the toes; explaining what he found, deciding if I could then wash them in the tray, or if they needed their foot wash separately, if it was something that might be easily passed on to others. I would then greet the smiling client, get them to sit on the bench and wash their feet, especially their toes. Whilst I was in the process I would then ask them questions such as ‘where have you travelled from?’, ‘where are you hoping to travel to?’ and ‘do you have family in the UK?’, or some other small talk. I would then hand them on to Dorothy, who would soak their feet in disinfectant, then hand them on to Vicky, who would dry their feet. A second medic, Tariq, would apply an appropriate, spray/ointment/dressing as required. Talc would be liberally applied, and socks and boots pulled on.

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This task, this washing of feet, should be a simple and straightforward one for a nurse. I cannot think of how many patient’s feet I have scrubbed over 35 years. But this was very different; I was on my knees, literally at the feet of people who are treated, by our Government, like insects, cockroaches and described as a ‘swarm’. Their lives have no value to many, yet here we were, doing something essential, yet so symbolic and intimate. Doing something to remind them of their humanity and dignity. It was quite an emotional experience.

However, as often happens we were quickly reminded of the reality and danger that is always present, bubbling just under the surface. The atmosphere changed in a second; in an instant a fight broke out between the Afghanis, then it was 2 fights, with several young men chasing, punching and kicking. Then we saw a knife, a long 12 inch Chef’s knife; flashing in the weak sunlight as a man charged after another, weaving in and out of volunteers and other migrants. Men intervened and just as quickly as it started, it was over. The men involved left, passing the knife between them. There was a man on the ground; we discovered he’d been pepper sprayed. The medics were attending him.

At no point did I feel vulnerable. I was angry, but this dissipated and we carried on. Our clientele started drifting away. We discovered that there were a good proportion of boys who were not prepared to swap their trainers for new, dry boots. The trainers were better for running from the Police.

The CRS are paid by us, as British Taxpayers, to maintain the border on this side of the Channel. To harass, dehumanise and humiliate men, women and children on a daily basis. To mentally and physically break their morale, to pepper spray and teargas their belongings, sleeping bags and food so that it is inedible, and unusable. To confiscate any personal belongings, and destroy any shelter. We treat our animals more humanely. 

On Sunday, we decided to take all 32 volunteers to work with Care4Calais; to distribute the children’s rucksacks in Dunkirk, where we knew there to be families. Again, the morning was spent preparing food packages, and sorting aid. After lunch we loaded the vans with a generator and phone charger board, plus the rucksacks, footballs, frisbee and other toys.


I drove the van to Dunkirk with our Care4Calais group leader Isis, who told us she was from Chile. She and her mother had left when she was 5, moving first to Ecuador, then to Spain. She remembered being dragged across the city to various lawyers and solicitors, whilst they applied for Asylum. Once they got their passports they moved on to London. She would be working in France for the next year, 6 days a week. She wasn’t sure what she would do after that, but that it would be something helping refugees and migrants, like herself.

When we got to our destination, we were informed by Isis, that the families were not where they had been on our previous visit. Less than 24 hours after we had left the site in September, the CRS had moved in, destroyed the camp, rounded everyone up, and taken them away to deportation centres in buses. Since then the families that had escaped detection, or had arrived subsequently, had moved further into the scrubland, and become more disparate. This meant, that once parked, we had to walk a lot further to find any encampment. We met lots of men walking around the parkland, but no women or children; after visiting our third empty shelter, we were told that the families had been taken to a hotel for the night, paid for by a local charity; but that they would be returning soon.

We’d left some of the food parcels in the empty tents, and were about to give up waiting, when we started seeing women and children walking toward us with suitcases. When the first reached us they confirmed that because the previous night had been so cold they had been taken to stay in a hotel. Even though we were all feeling very cold, despite our winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves, these refugees were not so well clothed; they would have to spend tonight out in the open. We gave them food parcels, and took the children to the van to receive the donated rucksacks. 

Whilst most were taken with smiles, the children were also very particular about the style or type of backpack they wanted. This was to some more important than what was inside. In this they are no different to any other child; despite the desperate circumstances they find themselves in. We didn’t have much time to play with them, the parents were desperate to get them into shelter.

IMG_9945hattie 2refugee families

We left once we had distributed all we could and the sun began to dip. On the journey home everyone talked about what they had experienced and what they would take back to family, friends and work colleagues. It does not take a hero to work here, it takes someone who refuses to walk by, someone who refuses to close their eyes to injustice. It changes you. It doesn’t make you feel good, it makes you feel worse; it makes you feel inadequate and very angry.

There is only one way to change the situation for refugees and migrants wanting to come to the UK, and that will be to change our Government for one which has an ethical foreign policy and an ethical policy on migration.

#ToriesOut #refugeeswelcome #openborders #closecampsfield



Three hats



On Monday Hattie and I went to spend the day in Bristol with my sister Sally, and her family. It was a beautifully crisp, sunny day.

I had to pick up the NutriBullet I had previously forgotten, and maybe talk to her children, Dylan and Una about my diagnosis; both are still at Primary School. Sally and Steff were concerned about how best to do this, and how the children might react. 

Although Sally was clear that both of them wanted me to talk to the children, they needed reassurance. It’s a difficult one; I have always been clear, in regard to how I talk to my children, that I would always be honest, talking in a way which was open and uncomplicated. My children have already had to deal with far more than most; they have been carers, but they have also been loved, and had security. All have become wonderfully strong, articulate and confident, whilst also remaining fragile.

We discussed the fact that most of us take a while to process information, especially bad news, with questions coming hours, and often days later.

In the afternoon, we picked the children up from school and took them into town to buy a hat. I’d decided that if I was going to lose all my hair, including eyelashes, I wanted to wear a hat, to keep my head warm, and to partially disguise my lack of facial coiffure. We had great fun trying on a variety of rather mad accoutrement. In the end I chose 3, which I could vary according to mood and occasion.

We talked after supper. I explained in a very similar way I had with my mum, my symptoms and investigations. I told them the diagnosis, and treatment; especially that I would be losing my hair and beard; that I would probably be feeling quite ill for a while. I would look different. Una told us she had a girl in her school who had no hair, because she has cancer.

Talking honestly and openly is the only way to deal with this. More than three decades of Nursing has taught me this. Watching how my patients deal with bowel, pancreatic or oral cancer working with Palliative Care teams; being at the bedside of patients whilst they die; witnessing  the variety of death, I am always humbled and inspired by the way many with terminal illness, or life changing surgery deal with it. Assisting patients to have a ‘good death’, in the presence of their family, has always been something that has given me great professional satisfaction.

A couple of days later, whilst on a dog walk with his mum, Dylan told her he had been sad at school, thinking about me, and was she sad too? Sally said yes, she was. That she had spoken to his teacher, who was happy for Dylan to visit anytime he felt down, to talk. He had lost his father when he was 13.

At school, Sally was discussing my skydive with another mother, when Una piped up loudly, ‘ and he’s doing it with cancer!’

Number one of my bucket list, the skydive, was due to take place on Wednesday. As the day drew nearer my fear manifested in two relatively sleepless nights; my mind going into overdrive. I envisioned every conceivable thing that could happen, from being so scared I vomited in mid dive, hitting the instructor full in the face, to refusing to jump and clinging to the plane like a limpet. I couldn’t think rationally and couldn’t switch off. During the day I was walking around with that dread you feel in the pit of your stomach when you’ve been sent to see the Headmaster, or about to speak in front of an auditorium full of anonymous faces.

On the day I felt calm, only slight apprehension. The sky was grey, with ominous low cloud. I called the Skydive centre; I was told the poor visibility meant that jumping was unlikely, but that I could postpone… The thought of delaying the jump was not an option, so we decided to get ourselves over to the airfield, hoping the weather would improve.

Jacob, Abbie and I arrived at Hinton Aerodrome to be told the chances had improved and the dive would probably got ahead, though a bit later than scheduled. The forms were signed and we had a short training session. 

We changed into our flight gear and waited…

The dark clouds dissipated, and lifted. We walked to the plane. There were 3 of us jumping in tandem, 2 taking video and another 6 jumping solo. The plane took off, slowly climbing to 13,000 ft, way above the clouds into bright sunshine and blue skies. Could I do this? I still felt OK. The amber light came on; the plane’s door was folded back, and the first 2 to jump prepared. The green light came on; they jumped out. Matt, my instructor and I sat on the floor and he turned us 90 degrees, also pushing me forward, until I was on the outside of the plane, hanging with my feet tucked back under it. He pushed us off…




It was fantastic… all the way down. There was no stomach flip, no nausea and no fear; just absolute joy.

Thursday morning found Abbie and I back in the Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit (EPCTU), at the Churchill Hospital, at 0830h. Vital signs, weight, urinalysis and bloods were taken; I was cannulated.  We then waited an hour (this is not a moan, just a fact). A doctor wandered in and sat down on the bed beside me. He checked through my notes, and went through diagnosis and consent for trial with me; there was no eye contact, and he seemed uninterested and distracted. He left. We waited a further 3 hours; we’d been warned the day would be long, because we had to wait for blood results. Abbie and I completed a crossword and I read her a few chapters of  ‘This is going to hurt’ by Adam Kay. Abbie lay on the bed. It was like going back 20 years, to her bedroom, with me reading her ‘The Philosophers Stone’.

After lunch the Specialist Nurses bustled in with the first of the Immunotherapy drugs prepared and run through, hanging from a drip stand. I was connected; it would take an hour to transfuse.

Nivolumab activates T cells within the immune system, allowing them to attack and kill cancer cells by blocking PD-1, which cancer cells use to avoid detection. It ‘switches off’ T cells. It is used on advanced cancers. It is not approved by NICE currently as it exceeds their limit of £30,000 per year of quality life limit; it costs £75,000 pyoql.

The transfusion finished without any side effects. There needed to be an hour gap before the second drug could be transfused. I snoozed between my vital sign checks…

The next infusion was commenced.

Tremelimumab binds to the protein CTLA-4, which is expressed on the surface of T Lymphocytes by cancer cells, ‘releasing the brakes’ and allowing T Cell activation. It is used for metastatic tumours.

Studies so far show these drugs combined having a 23% positive response. Good, but nothing to get too hung up on…


This infusion was also completed without event and we left, after thank you’s and goodbyes.

I’m not supposed to get even a little bit tipsy, so there goes the Pub Crawl we had planned…

Some lovely news is that My brother Mike, and possibly his son Oriol who is currently studying in Bologna, is flying home for a long weekend at the beginning of December. Oh, and I’ve been asked out on a date Unknown-1  x

In case you might be wondering how I am day to day, I’m pretty good. I feel well. What I can eat varies meal to meal, and it doesn’t seem to matter what it is. I can sometimes eat a normal meal, though half the size of that which I would previously; on occasions I can be eating soup and get it ‘stuck’, causing nausea and bloating. I am more flatulent than usual, and constipated, which was never an issue before.

I am losing an average of 3kg per week.




Jumping out of a plane


I’m awake. When I look my watch it’s 1am. I try to turn over, but my mind won’t switch off. Suddenly it’s full of thoughts; the main one being a realisation of what I have done. I booked a parachute jump for Jacob and I two days ago. Did I think it through? No…

It was on our Bucket List, and it needs to be done first, before I start therapy, before I get ill. So I booked it on line, just like that. Let me tell you now, my biggest fear is heights. I have walked away from Theme Park rides several times, usually when the queue has been long and I’ve had too much time to think about what I was about to do.

When I was very young, I will never forget my Mum and Dad taking us to London, and taking us to St Paul’s Cathedral. For some bizarre reason my parents decided it was a great idea to take 4 reasonably small children up to the top of the dome and out onto the roof. To get there you have to climb several hundred steps, the worst thing from my point of view, was that nearer the top these were metal with gaps in, and you could see through, right to the bottom. I made it, much of it crawling; I’ll never forget the fear.

So the thought of jumping out of a plane, even strapped to a very experienced instructor, is enough, if I think about it too much, to bring me out in a cold sweat… as could dying.

It’s all so known, but not experienced. I have never really ever been ill, well except for very brittle asthma as a child, but Ventolin pretty much sorted that out. I haven’t had an Asthma ‘attack’ since the age of 23, but I have been close to death on two occasions as a child.

The first was when I was about six. Dad had taken my brother Mike and I to the local Lido, in Birmingham somewhere. I couldn’t do any more than doggy paddle, and that badly. But as I sat on the side at the shallow end, I watched the older boys running up and throwing themselves down a slide into the water. It was too much fun to pass up, so of course, without thinking, I did the same, shooting into the water with a squeal of delight… Which turned into a watery cry as I realised I was out of my depth, surrounded by noise and bodies. For what seemed eternity I went up and down in the water, swallowing it with every breath, choking… and panic beginning to rise. But there was something else going on. I could see my body on the bottom of the pool; a big plug had been pulled out to drain it of water, and there was my body, with people stood over me. I was calm. I could see the newspaper headline… at least that is my, probably very embellished, memory of the event. It ended, probably within seconds, with me grabbing on to a boy nearby, no doubt nearly strangling him, who then delivered me to the side. No one had even noticed I was missing…

The second was when I was 15. We went on holiday to Iona, a beautiful, tiny island off Mull. We’d gone with another family, the Bakers, including Simon, who is still one of my best friends today. We’d rented a house, this house…


Iona, from Fionnphort

It had been empty for many months and the Mums spent half a day shaking off dust sheets and cleaning (it was the mid 70s). The weather was sunny, but blustery and we spent the first 2 or 3 days wandering the Island and it’s beaches. Pretty quickly my chest started to tighten. The Ventolin inhaler I had with me was ineffective and I was quickly limited to very short distances within, and outside the house. I spent long nights sat on the side of my bed, sweaty and wheezy; struggling to breathe. The days were little better. My inhaler ran out and I was taken to see a GP on Mull. Not an easy trip since, in those days, the ferry on and off was a tiny fishing boat that got thrown around on the waves.

The GP listened to my chest and prescribed some more inhalers. He may have done more, but I don’t remember. I just remember the next couple days and nights being very difficult. I was deteriorating, and semi comatose (my blood gases would have been interesting). I was bundled onto the ferry late one night, to be met by an ambulance at the port and blue lighted across Mull to another, bigger, car ferry, and on to the hospital in Oban. I recovered over the next week, but that was the end of that holiday for me.

Today it was confirmed that I met the criteria to begin the Immuno/Chemotherapy trial, starting next Thursday. This is the best news I could hope for, but I don’t want to assume anything. I’m still working on a, now, 11 month prognosis. I’m not worried by the Immunotherapy, there are no real side effects, and hopefully it will do some good. Chemotherapy on the other hand is something else. The side effects range from mild and temporary, to extreme and permanent. It is toxic, but what is the alternative? A guaranteed shorter prognosis, and though the side effects may be unpleasant I have shit to sort out before I go. I have to give the children as long as I can to get used to the idea of losing me, and build as many good memories as I can, because I’ll be a long time gone. I have to trust science and the Oncologists in the same way I will have to trust the parachute and the instructor I’m jumping with.

So back to, what is now 3.27am. I can’t promise there won’t be times of fear ahead, but there’s no choice. I’m buckled in and heading relentlessly forward, on the scariest ride of my life. I have to try to face it with my eyes open, screaming my lungs out, whilst also smiling at the thrill.

N.B The photo at the top is of my son, Jacob, and his friends from Urban Strides, performing at Sheffield arena, in front of about 12,000 people. That’s courage; that’s terrifying…

Breaking Bad News to…


…my parents and close family. Mum and Dad live up in Bollington, near my sister Fi, who is in Macclesfield. They are both frail. My Dad, despite being an active cyclist into his late 60s, had to give it up due to deteriorating eyesight and has become physically fragile. He was a teacher for much of his career; teaching very ethnically diverse, very poor children in an inner city primary school in Birmingham, then lecturing student teachers training at Oxford Poly. Mum, has Alzheimers’. She trained at Guy’s Hospital, and was a Neonatal Nurse, then Health Visitor, in Birmingham and Chalgrove.

I speak to them both, by phone, almost daily, and as my investigations progressed I kept Dad up to speed; though initially I didn’t intend telling him about the metastases or prognosis, or Mum anything until I could be with them, doing it face to face. Talking to both sisters we worked out a date when we could all meet up and be together as I told Mum. The plan was to stay overnight and be around for them both. A bonfire and fireworks party was planned for the evening.

I discussed this with Dad, who was concerned about how Mum would take the news, and the fallout once I left. I explained that Mum had to have the opportunity to hear about my cancer and treatment, that as my Mum, she had a right to get upset, and that we would be there with her, to talk and comfort her.

Before this I had decided to write something to put out on Facebook to let friends and work colleagues know what was happening, which I would wait to post until after I had spoken to the remainder of the extended family.



I called my Auntie Ann and arranged to see her, and my Uncle Bill. 

I arrived to find Ann making sandwiches in the Kitchen. I joined her, and when she asked how I was, I explained; we had a lovely hug, and we went on to talk for a long time, whilst the tuna sandwiches began to curl. I asked if she would talk to Bill, my cousins, and their families, over the weekend; I have sometimes felt exhausted with talking about me and this bloody diagnosis.

We then went into the lounge where Bill was sat, in his chair, by the window, reading his paper. Like my Mum, Bill has Alzheimers’, but had also suffered a stroke, which has affected his mobility. He was on good form though, and we had a lovely long chat about how everyone in the family are doing. I love Ann and Bill and my cousins Steve, Mark and Jenny, and their families. When we were young we spent a lot of time at weekends sleeping over; Bill would take us on local archeological hunts. The strange, ancient bottles on the window sills of their conservatory were often the treasures we dug up. We were , and are, very close.

So Sunday came; I woke very early. I sat at the computer, with a cup of coffee, doing a final edit on my Blog post. I thought I would save it, but managed to accidentally publish it, a day earlier than I’d planned. It appeared on Facebook and Twitter and was read, before I realised. Oh well, not to worry… It turned out I had an early appointment with the Research Nurse at the Churchill on Monday, so an overnight stay, with Mum and Dad, was not going to be possible. Jacob and I drove up in the van, the day was windy and cold, but lit with beautiful sunshine.

We went to Fi’s house first, collecting her and her family, and sister Sally. We had some wonderful hugs, and a quick catch up. It was the first time we had met to discuss everything face to face. We missed having Mike there with us. He’s living in Delhi.


When we got to Mum and Dad’s, Mum had put out 4 cakes. We had coffee/Tea, then everyone took Mum off for a walk so I could talk to Dad. We talked for an hour. Dad and Mum have always been there when I’ve needed support, during and after my divorce and later my redundancy, but also for the smaller issues that crop up in life. I have never not felt loved by them (except for a short period during my teenage rebellious period, and that was me, not them). That’s the hard bit, that they are still supporting me, when at this stage of our lives, it should be the other way around…

We agreed that I would talk to Mum on the walkers return, but I also explained that I would like to include Dan and Carrie, my nephew and niece, in the conversation. I would discuss that with Fi and Rich beforehand. I did, They were happy with that.

So I sat next to Mum, as the others came in and joined us in the lounge. I started by stating that I’d been having trouble swallowing, the investigations, what was diagnosed and the treatment options. I finished by explaining that currently the prognosis is poor, but not putting the time to this. During the whole conversation I was watching Mum and the children and though there were a few tears, they were ok. Mum amazed me, any concern I had at how she might react vanished as she became Nurse Bailey, and Mum again, stroking my shoulder and back as I talked; at the end she told me not to worry, they would look after me; she would care for me, just as she had when I was a boy having yet another Asthma attack. I asked the children if they had any questions; they didn’t. We all had more hugs. 

I’d asked Fi to take some photos of me whilst I was there. I wanted some nice pictures before I start treatment or get ill. We had some fun whilst doing that. Sally also said she now wanted me to talk to her two children, in the same way I’d spoken to Dan and Carrie. A lovely compliment on how I’d broken bad news. I’ve done it many, many times professionally, but it’s very different when it’s personal.

Dave high res-68_preview

Dad was very tired, but the of rest us went back to Fi’s for the fireworks, and the giant sparklers.

The following morning Hattie took me in to hospital to discuss the Clinical Trial I have been put forward for. It was an early start. I was consented, then had bloods taken (13 large vials!), my vital signs, weight and height, and an ECG. This would all be sent off to the drug company who will check if anything falls outside the parameters they set for the trial. I find out if I can start Immunotherapy on Friday. It will be 2 intravenous drugs every Thursday for 4 weeks, then a combination of Immuno and Chemotherapy in 3 week cycles for 18 weeks. Chemo over Christmas.

We then had to wait a few hours for a CT scan. I had a lovely time wandering the corridors meeting staff I’d employed years before, some as newly qualified nurses, who are now Sisters, Matrons and Specialist Nurses. When the scan came I had to drink a litre of water, then lie on the table with my jeans round my ankles. There was a hold up. I’d only had a scan 3 weeks previously and the radiographer wanted to check if a further dose of radiation was really required. After about 10 minutes of discussion with the research team I was told the scan was cancelled.

Luckily, I decided to visit the Research Nurse before going, to check that the repeat Gastroscopy I’m booked in for on Thursday was still necessary. I didn’t fancy starving for 6 hours to be told that it was also cancelled. The nurse appeared sometime later to explain that actually, I did need the scan; could I return to the department?

A few minutes later I was back on the table, with my trousers round my ankles, receiving IV contrast.

I’ve finally caught up with the reaction to my original blog. Everyone has been very generous and the messages of support and love are humbling.


The Gastroscopy with biopsies is next.

P.S Ensure is a drink concocted by someone with a bastard sense of humour… 



Breaking Bad News

It began with me downing 2 large glasses of orange juice upon returning home after a long day. I immediately felt bloated and had epigastric discomfort. Nausea began to rise and I had to run to the loo, where I retched for several minutes, only bringing up orange phlegm. Over the next few weeks the same thing happened after random meals, sometimes having only taken a couple of bites. I sometimes found it difficult to swallow.

I went to see my  GP, Kara, and a Gastroscopy was requested. It wasn’t as bad as I had expected and I started with just the throat spray. I swallowed the endoscope easily, but it touched the back of my throat and I began retching; despite my best efforts I couldn’t stop, which meant the procedure had to be halted. I was sedated and don’t remember anything until I woke up in recovery. The gastroenterologist told me he had found an area that was abnormal, irregular, and bleeding. He had taken biopsies, but that if the result came back negative, I would need the procedure to be repeated. That said it all really; right there I knew. I would also need a CT scan.

I called my GP’s secretary a few days later. They had the result, it was negative. I would need a second Gastroscopy. She gave me the number for the Gastroenterology Department Secretary, so that I could call and chase. 

I had the CT scan the day after I called. It was in a deserted Radiology department at 1930h. The Radiologist could not have been nicer; I was cannulated for the radio opaque contrast and asked to swallow a lemon flavoured powder, which would make my stomach swell. It was completed in a few minutes; the result would be written by a Consultant Radiologist within a few days. It was Thursday, maybe by Tuesday.

On Monday I called the Gastro Secretary; The result was back. I would need to see a Consultant Gastroenterologist the following morning.

Abbie, my eldest daughter, came with me to the appointment. The Consultant, told us that the scan showed an aggressive Cancer/Tumour extending the length of the Fundus and around the Gastro Oesophageal Junction…


This I kind of expected, but the ‘FUCK ME’ moment was as she went on to tell us there were multiple Liver Metastases and a peritoneal nodule. This meant that surgery would not be appropriate and treatment would be Palliative…

Silence… and a deep breath. Abbie and I hug; there are tears.

The Doctor talks on… The Lungs, Pancreas, Kidneys and Bones are clear, and I have no ascites (fluid in the abdomen). I will be referred for a repeat Gastroscopy, for further biopsies, and to see an Oncologist.

Throughout this process I have been talking to my children, siblings, close friends and the senior Nurses at work. They have all been bloody fantastic. Work could not be more supportive (I love my job), but talking can be exhausting.

The Endoscopy goes ahead without a problem; I’m heavily sedated this time. I meet the Oncologist with all three children and a Nurse Specialist (who I know, having worked alongside her on Surgical wards for 9 years). The Chemotherapy regime and side effects are explained. The hair loss (including eyelashes,eyebrows and beard), nausea, diarrhoea, peripheral nerve pain/damage and we discuss the risks associated with a drop in my immune system. A loss of memory and concentration worries the children, because they already feel this is an issue 🙂

I ask about prognosis; we already know its not good, but I want to know if I can have some idea of time. I need to plan; I’ve been a single parent for the last 11 years, we live in rented accommodation and the children are still so young; Jacob is only 19 for fuck’s sake.

The answer is ‘ If the Chemo does its job, hopefully a year…’ –  ‘FUCK ME’ moment number two

another deep breath and a group hug…

I’m given a small forest in leaflets and booklets. I’ll be contacted by the Dietician. I get a form to send off for free prescriptions. We discuss how I can best continue to work for as long as possible. The Consultant has been trying to find out if she can get me onto an Immunotherapy clinical trial; one has just closed locally, but she’s going to talk to the Professor running it to see if I can be added. She will also talk to the Royal Marsden…

Immunotherapy is potentially fantastic. The drugs given boost your immune system to fight the cancer. It has minimal side effects, the only negative being that whilst you have the therapy the cancer can continue to grow and spread.

We leave. There are more tears, but we are together. A Year… Better get a crack on.

Over the next few days the children come up with the idea of a Bucket List and we talk about what we can put on it; a parachute jump, a unique family tattoo, finishing the conversion of my van into a camper and getting out in it, going to see a favourite Band, a big family holiday next summer, in Spain, at my Brother, Mike, and Montse’s place…

The sad things that hit me are that I will be a long time gone, that I won’t get to meet whomever Hattie and Jacob choose as partners, and I won’t get to be the worst/best Grandad. I won’t be there when the children need advice and support. But I’m lucky; I have been privileged. I have a loving family surrounding me; I have several other families – my political family, my work family, my dance family – wonderful friendships. I know how I’m going to die, not as I imagined, of a stroke in 20 years or so; I have time to say goodbye, and to have those conversations we should always have.


Bringing you up to date.. I have been accepted onto a clinical trial involving a combination of Immunotherapy and Chemotherapy; I’m meeting the Research Nurse today for consent, a CT scan and bloods. I will begin 4 weeks of therapy soon after. Chemotherapy will begin in December.

I’m a Nurse, I’ve seen how fragile and random life can be, and I’ve seen death a thousand times. I haven’t had any ‘why me?’ moment, and I have no fear of death.

Why write this and put this ‘out there’? Simple, when I start to look like shit, am grumpy or short tempered, or not as active as I was, you’ll all know why, without me having to go into long, emotionally exhausting explanations.

I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go to Calais with our group taking aid to refugees and migrants, but I now can. It’s going to be great. We’re taking 2 minibuses with 29 volunteers, and my van containing aid. My Sister Sally and Jacob are coming, and that is wonderful; it may be my last.

I will work, and campaign until I can’t.

Otherwise, I’m well. No pain, and blood pressure etc are really good. Neutrophils and CRP are slightly raised on bloods. I’ve lost weight, though I only know because I’ve noticed my motorbike jacket is looser.

I love a hug, so I’m up for lots of that, but please don’t say ‘sorry’, and don’t bring God or prayers into it. I’m a Socialist and Atheist, and I’m OK. Don’t pity me, I don’t do pity. I’ve had a bloody wonderful life so far; I really have no regrets, they’re a waste of time.

Finally, some advice, if I may:

  • smile more, laugh more
  • Love more
  • Do it today, don’t wait assuming you’ll have time tomorrow

#KickouttheTories #refugeeswelcome #openborders #savetheNHS

Much love, me xxx