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Sunday, 19 October 2014

It's been a shitty summer

I decided it was best to explain what was going on with my health and why I won't be able to blog as often as I have been. I left my last post with an ambiguous paragraph at the end and had a message from a friend wondering what was going on. So I may as well clear the air and then get back to posting my nature photos!

One of my blogger friends (you know who you are! xx) suggested that I may feel better in myself by mentioning my problems here, and I've already opened up on facebook to a select group of friends which has made me feel a whole lot happier - as I'm a private person I don't like talking about these things but sometimes it's better out than in. 

It's hard to know where to start but I have in fact actually, unknowingly, had two things going wrong with me this summer at the same time - a total coincidence. Even the first was a shock to the system as the worst illness I can remember having was gastric flu in my early twenties, and glandular fever as a teenager; other than that sick to me means having a cold or the flu.

So I was a bit worried when I started losing weight rapidly around June. I was already on the skinny side of slim (and had been taking advantage by eating cake whenever I felt like it, as you do....) but losing half a stone (about 3.5kg/7 lbs) left me looking skeletal. During this time I started getting screwed up guts and was running to the toilet a lot. Of course I realised something was wrong so off I went to the doctor who ordered blood tests, none of which came back showing anything wrong. So he sent me off to a Gastro-enterologist who could find nothing wrong initially but suggested having a colonoscopy "because of your age" (oh, cheers) and then ordered more blood tests for things that can cause upset stomach and by this time, uncomfortable bloating. One of the tests was for thyroid function and this is the one that came back showing where the problem lay. So the colonoscopy was cancelled and I had to go back to my medecin (GP) who ordered a whole lot more blood tests related to thyroid and said to get an appointment asap with an Endocrinologist. 

I should point out that this was all happening during 'les vacances' in France, July and August, where half of France including all medical staff go on holiday, so the wheels ground very, very slowly.

Eventually I got diagnosed with Graves disease (known as Basedow on this side of the channel) which is an auto-immune disease and one of the most common causes of hyperthyroidism, which is an overactive thyroid gland. At this point I was not feeling well and was often tired and my heart was racing and beating erratically. I was still bloated and running to the toilet umpteen times a day even though I had some tablets to help with the bloating. I couldn't go out anywhere unless I knew there was a loo nearby, so going out for walks was pretty much out of the question. I did (thank god) manage a few trips to the coast this summer but only because I knew there were toilets where I was going!

So I started on my medication but was warned it wouldn't start working straight away. Eventually I started to notice an improvement; however at the same time I was feeling pretty awful because of something else which was getting worse. I thought I had a bad case of piles (haemorrhoids) brought on by the constant running to the loo for several months. This got more and more painful and I decided to go and see a Proctologist. She examined me and proclaimed there was something 'up there' she didn't like the look of and booked me in for a colonoscopy a week later. I was happy about this because I'd always felt there was something else wrong.

Here in France they give you a general anaesthetic for a colonoscopy, unlike in the UK so I wasn't bothered about that, but the 3 days of low fibre diet was bloody horrible. No fruit or veg, no milk in my coffee and basically just vile dry food like grilled chicken and dry cooked pasta or rice - any more days of that and I'd have lost the will to live! (I love my food....). Yet being France I was allowed cheese.... :-)

So I had that done on the Monday a couple of weeks ago and afterwards when I was back in my room my Proctologist came to see me, starting her words with "It's not good news. You have a tumour. I've taken a biopsy and I'm rushing it through urgently so come to see me on Thursday". 

I still wasn't too bothered because she'd already forewarned me about something 'up there'. And when I was home and googled anal tumours, all that came back was anal cancer. There don't seem to be benign tumours in that region. So at the next meeting starting again with the words "It's not good news" followed by "You have cancer" I was not surprised at all as I was expecting it.

Thankfully we are now out of the holiday period and things are working fast. I have been allocated a surgeon who will lead my team which as far as I understand includes the Proctologist and an Oncologist who I've yet to meet. The surgeon instilled tons of confidence in me and came across as someone who actually understands how the human body works, unlike some of these specialists who seem to only care about their one little speciality and seem to know nothing about anything else (or pretend to).

I had a PETscan on Thursday but I was not able to have iodine contrast die injected in me due to the thyroid condition (it took a week of emails and phone calls and yet more emails to get the ruddy Endocrinologist to respond to whether I could have this done, as nobody, neither the surgeon nor the doctor in charge of the PETscan could make this decision. Only the Endocrinologist. Eventually she said no). 

So now I await hearing back from them as to how large the tumour is, and if it has spread, but I know I'm in for about 5 weeks of chemo and radiotherapy to try to shrink the tumour as much as possible, and then surgery after that but with a break of about 8-10 weeks in between the two. Worst case is a permanent colostomy bag but I'm not worried about that one bit. Well obviously there's a worst case worse than this but I am not going there..... :-p The tumour is an adenocarcinoma which is rare in the anus so is counted as, and treated as, rectal cancer, although from my perusings of the internet I can't actually see any difference between the two.

It's going to be tough and I want to just get on with the treatment as soon as possible, obviously!

Here's a pic of me taken with OH's phone before going in to my colonoscopy (which here they call a coloscopie) - don't you just love my paper hat and slippers? I even got given paper knickers - thank god for that as I hate hospital gowns that leave your bum on display! :-)

I'm not burying my head in the sand as I see little point - I'm feeling positive - my bum hurts a lot of the time but I have loads of pain killers and sometimes sitting at my typing chair is uncomfortable so I have asked my doc for a prescription for a rubber ring type of thingy to make it more comfy to sit. And when my body say rest, I rest and read or sleep. I have put back the weight that I lost due to the thyroid condition so I am happy about that - I have never been so happy to see my love handles return and being able to pinch an inch again. I can tell you that at 53 you really don't want or need to see your hip bones protruding like I did when I was a teenager. Bring on the middle aged spread!

So hopefully I'll get a more normal post up soon, back to the bugs and critters, because on my good days I'm still getting out there with my camera and watching the wildlife. And harvesting bloody courgettes!!! :-)

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Bugs, birds and butterflies from the last few weeks

It's been wet the last few days although there has been some sun in between, and still I see bees and butterflies make the most of those intermittent dry spells. Our garden sorely needed rain and it looked like it was really set in, but you only have to look at the weather forecast the next day to see it change completely, so for the next week it looks like sun is back and reasonably warm weather. This of course is after all thoughts had turned to winter duvets, electric blankets and the wood burner!

I've taken a few autumnal looking shots but will save those for later on, as for the most part the garden and countryside still look very green - it was more the trees with shallow roots which dry out (too) quickly like poplars and silver birch which were turning colour and dropping leaves and now, cross fingers, we should get a good showing of autumn colour now there is some moisture in the soil.

My only garden picture here showing my poor Yucca with the white flowers,
which collapsed under the weight of five, yes five, flower stalks all out of one branch
which has semi-snapped at the base. What a shame.

Now I'm going back to the end of September and some better photos that I managed to get of the Western Willow Spreadwing damselfly.

Western Willow Spreadwing (Lestes viridis).

Western Willow Spreadwing (Lestes viridis) again.

End of Sept and here's a Nursery Web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) sunning herself
(or awaiting prey to land) on a fading rudbeckia flower.

This is Misumena vatia, my favourite crab spider. This poor thing only has 6 legs and I have
never seen one with a wrinkled abdomen before, which I hope doesn't mean that it is starving
due to the lack of limbs and perhaps agility when it comes to hunting.

It's the time of year for Crane Flies but I've never seen them mating before. This is on a water butt.

And Hoorah! I saw another female Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) and this one was pristine.
I spent about 20 mins following her around the lawn as she was being very flitty
(and you can see how brown the grass was looking then).

Female Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus).

There's never a shortage of Speckled Woods (Pararge aegeria) in my garden though
and this one posed for me on a bramble leaf.

And now to a few birds......

My only two captures of Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita) - these are warblers and are
very flitty little things and the 2nd photo was taken through double glazing
in my Oleander just outside the living room window.

Mr Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) enjoying the Sunflower seedheads.

Mrs Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). Chaffinches are common garden birds all year round here.

Due to the mild weather I saw some lovely colour in the fields today where green manure has been sown and which is flowering beautifully. Lots of fields of phacelia and a yellow mustard which I assume is green manure rather than autumn rape, although they do look identical. I bet those fields are buzzing with bees on a sunny day. No chance of a photo as (1) I didn't have a camera with me (we were going to the supermarket!) and (2), you can't always just stop on a main road to take a photo!

From now on blogging from me will be sporadic, due to 'stuff' going on in my life and I will endeavour to catch up with your blogs, although I may be behind or miss some of your posts. Without going into details I am not in the best of health and have a lot of hospital tests/specialist appointments right now. But I am telling you because I don't want to feel pressure to keep up my blog during times when I am not feeling well. I am sure you will understand. Take care. xx

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Mummy's little helpers

Sometimes you need a bit of help with the harvest - other times you don't but you get it anyway whether you like it or not! First up was the rogue pumpkin that had grown on the other side of the perimeter fence. To save my OH having to get out stepladders and climb over the fence, he went and got a net which made more sense. But something had crawled into the barn and thought it would be a good thing to pupate on!

Hang on, what's this attached to the net?

I'm pretty sure it's a Large White chrysalis (Pieris brassicae)! We turned the net inside out
and no future butterflies were harmed in the harvesting of this pumpkin.

Will you hurry up and come and cut the pumpkin vine instead of taking photos?!
(That pile of brown stuff is well rotted horse manure courtesy of my
horsey neighbours to be dug in later - have loads more of it).

All that just for this (courgette has nothing to do with it....).
But I've only three Potimarrons total so it was important!

And over in the orchard..... he's 6 foot 4" (195cm) so comes in very handy -
so does that harvesting net on a long pole.

Pathetic apple harvest this year - that's the total from our two best trees for eating apples
(as opposed to those best suited for cooking, which totalled even less). But you can't have it all
every year and this is just the start of the walnut harvest from my earliest tree (we have 3)!

Back in the veg patch it was time to collect coriander seed for sowing next year.

But Bertie decided he'd come along and 'help'.

This is his idea of helping, that's after snotting all over me when I was squatting down
with the camera and risking smearing my lens.....

I have to say, it was nice to be cool enough to get back in my wellies!
And please ignore the weeds...... ;-)

I love you, Mummy.

Needless to say, I gave up with the harvesting at this point!
All that greenery around the coriander is self seeded physalis, by the way.
To think I BOUGHT a plant this year! Now I know better as it's self seeded everywhere.

There's very little in the veg patch that is still in neat rows apart from the winter veg -
here the purple curly kale is growing really well and the PSB on the right is coming
along too. Those eggs from the Ornate Shield Bug on the kale just
completely disappeared though - I guess a bird or something ate them all!

I've got a vole gone beserk in here too, and has tunnelled under all my most
recently sown young veggies. :-(

I've no idea if Bertie caught it but later I found the soil dug out and all over
the place; the only good thing is that he didn't poo in the middle of it!!!

And finally - we have a lawn! It's greened up even more in the two days since I took this photo.
A bit of rain has helped enormously.

I have a load more photos to sort through from this last week but I just don't know where the time goes - I'm always meaning to try to blog more often than once a week!! Will try to get the others up over the weekend.