The morning owl

It is generally agreed that people are either a morning person or a night owl.

I have always loved mornings.  I love the way the sky turns from inky black to a deep translucent blue as the sun approaches the horizon.  I love the way that the sky takes on a purple hue and clouds turn pink as the sun rises.  I love the soft gentle light, casting long, optimistic rays of sunshine across the landscape.  I love being a witness to morning routines in the countries I have lived in over the past few years.

It is particularly special here.  There are long lines of monks in the mornings, collecting alms as the dawn breaks.  Birds sing loudly in the garden to announce the new day.  Children make their way to school with their green and white uniforms and adults head to their place of work with their aluminum stacking lunch boxes.

Truly beautiful.

So I find it really unfair and cannot understand why I find it such a struggle to drag myself out of bed to enjoy mornings!  I go to sleep early, but still cannot part company with my comfortable bed in the morning and put off getting up until I absolutely have to.  I’m fine once I am up, but the act of opening my eyes, and actually getting out of bed, rather than pressing the snooze button on the alarm, usually defeats me until the last moment.

I wonder if the after effects of the heavy treatment contribute to this.  I understand that it takes about a year, or at least as long as the treatment lasted, to re-build properly after the cancer triathlon.  I have to remember that it is just under 6 months since I finished my triathlon so I guess that I should not be too hard on myself.  Perhaps I should consider it a special skill that I am able to sleep for 10 hours or more some nights?  I should also factor in the time that Tamoxifen keeps me awake in the night time hours, but I don’t think they add up to so many hours now.

Well, last night i went to bed with a resolution that I would not only get up early, but that I would head to the pool before breakfast!  The reason for this?  Firstly I enjoy my swim so much and Monday evening is Pilates evening.  Therefore I felt it would be a nice way to be able to factor in a swim without having to wait until Tuesday.  Secondly, Twang Arm has mounted a bit of an offensive over the past couple of weeks.  I am not sure how or why, but it has been a bit more painful and stiff and I know that swimming is helping.  Thirdly, at my Annual Check Dr W2 took great delight in telling me I had gained a kilo in weight despite my insistence at this being impossible due to my evening schedule of swimming or Pilates.  So all in all, it seemed that the time is right to crank up the exercise machine, enter a stand off with Twang Arm – and head to the pool for a pre-breakfast swim.

So this morning, after a particularly sleepless night (no idea why) I forced myself out of bed when the alarm peeped at 6 am.  The sky was a delicious pink and orange as I put on my swimsuit and the morning air misty and cool as we headed out to the pool.  I was in the pool, alongside 2 serious swimmers doing serious lengths at 6.26 am!  In the East, the sun sat heavy, large and red on the horizon as I started my gentle swim up and down the pool.  Within a few minutes the other two swimmers had completed their lengths and I was on my own, with the company of birds, little frogs, crickets and palm trees as the sun climbed in the sky, getting briighter as it rose.

I had a glorious 30 minutes swimming 30 peaceful and healing lengths and was out of the pool, showered and back home having breakfast at the time I am usually serially pressing the snooze button on the alarm.

So it was a bit of an effort but well worth it.  Let’s see if a couple of morning swims a week, in addition to the evening ones start to break Twang Arm’s spirit and help to stop the kilo gain.  And I guess all in all, it was not bad for a morning owl!!

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Post Radiation Review and Homeward Bound

Well we arrived back safely in Bangkok, no somersaults or acrobatics in Dubai Airport this time which is a bonus.  Jet lag is not too bad, although it was strange being woken in the middle of the night by hubby J chomping crisps.  Being hungry at weird times is the worst part of jet lag I think.

The first thing to do win Bangkok was to christen my new special post surgery swimsuit, one of my UK shopping acquisitions.  I have missed swimming terribly and Twang Arm is harbouring a sense of its superiority which is about to come to an end.  It was wonderful to be back in the pool, although my swim was a gentle introduction so that I can gradually sneak up on Twang Arm and before it realises, it will be vastly weakened!  Well, Twang Arm has been mean to me so it is time for revenge!

Yesterday saw my Post Radiation Review appointment with Dr C.  It is such a good feeling, having a hospital appointment in the knowledge that there are no scary procedures likely.  I was still a bit nervous as you never know for sure that needles won’t suddenly appear.  The usual checks were fine and after only a short wait, I was called to see Dr C.  He examined me and was pleased with the new skin coming through as the old, charred skin peels off.  He said that I might experience an odd sensation of……, and then found the word he was looking for – lightning!!  I know the post surgery nerve damage gave me very odd sensations in the first few months after surgery, but that has faded and so far I have not felt any lightning across my scar.  That would be a real touch of the Harry Potters if I had a Voldemort scar!

Dr C was pleased with my recovery from the radiation and the remainder of our consultation focused on fixing a date for the next review appointment in 5/6 months time.

With this appointment over, I am now FREE for nearly 2 months until I see Drs W and W2 for my 3 monthly check.  I cannot tell you what a wonderful feeling it is not to be planning my life around the next horrible treatment.  I just need to keep my fear of recurrence or spread under control and wallow in this a bit.

Our turnaround in Bangkok should be quite quick now and we hope to travel back to Yangon tomorrow.  It will be such a treat and novelty to unpack, knowing that the cases can stay in the cupboard and gather dust for a while.

The next benchmark will be a quiet return to the office on Friday, which will be 10 months to the day since I was last at my desk.  I wonder if it is still there and if much has changed!  I know I have.

The alter egos – or identity theft?

I think it is time I updated you about the alter egos who have been trying to take over the Feisty Blue Gecko!  In particular Dr Evil and Twang arm have been trying hard to take over my identity!!

Dr Evil is the look which I struggle with when I look in the mirror.  After all these weeks I still can’t get used to being bald.  Grizelda the wig is useful but I find I tend to wear scarves more and feel more comfortable that way.  Grizelda is good for travelling from Bangkok to Myanmar and I find I occasionally reach for it if heading out shopping. 

As for the Dr Evil look – even though I am still in the midst of the chemo treatments, I am finding a strange fuzz is starting to grow.  It is not like hair, but more like a down and strangely seems to be a mousey fair colour.  It could even be blonde?  I feel as if I am being transformed into a day old chick.

My other identity thief is good old Twang Arm.  For a long time after surgery, Twang Arm successfully caused more disruption, pain and anguish that the mastectomy itself.  Removal of the 15 lymph nodes caused constant pain, significant nerve damage and restricted movement and really got me down.  I started doing physiotherapy exercises but progress has been slow.  If you add to this, the days after chemo also made Twang Arm extra stiff and immobile. 

I think the turning point, or maybe the first turning point, came when I was finally able to get into a swimming pool on 25th November – quite a few weeks after surgery.  Just bobbing gently in the pool and managing a kind of breast stroke (no pun intended) across the pool a couple of times, really seemed to make a difference.  It was around that time that I was also able to straighten Twang Arm for the first time.

On return to Yangon I made a secret mark on the bathroom wall so I could monitor how far I could stretch Twang Arm.  Slowly, slowly I was able to keep my fingers reaching just a little bit further.

I think the next important turning point, was being able to get in and out of the pool in our apartment in Bangkok.  That meant that I could swim daily and this was something which I have also been able to continue with in Yangon.  It is probably bordering on obsessive now but I am well and truly hooked if so!  I swim a minimum of 5 times a week and get really grumpy if something interferes with this.  Now let’s be clear.  When I say swim and mention that I swim usually 600 – 800 metres (and have even managed a kilometre – yes I am rather proud of that!) I must be honest.  We ‘re talking about very gentle, slow lengths totally devoid of any style, and with my mouth perched as high as possible out of the water.  This prevents swallowing any water and prevents my glasses getting too splashed.  Besides I have never really be able to swim fish like and with my head under the water!

The results?  The mark on the bathroom wall shows that I can now reach considerably higher (more than 6 inches higher).  The tightly strung sensation is considerably less now and I can do the original excercise suggested to more than 3 times (the one where you run your fingers up the wall like a spider) and now I can do this easily and with no pulling sensation.  I used to get a weird shivering sensation across my shoulder which was actually painful.  Now I hardly feel this, and it is no longer painful, just a shuddery sensation which lasts only a second or so.  My left ear no longer tingles when I touch it – more signs that the nerve damage is healing.

Now, Twang Arm is still making its presence felt and I am not convinced it will ever be totally better.  It still sleeps on a pillow as if it is a precious jewel on a velvet cushion and it does feel uncomfortable most of the time.  But when I compare it with even a month after surgery, it is playing a much reduced role in my life and far more manageable.

I find this really encouraging, and I am sure that if I keep on with the gentle physiotherapy excercises, and particularly the swimming, I will ensure that it is not able to take over my life in the way I feared earlier.

Now, I have an appointment with my surgeon Dr W tomorrow, so maybe I had better see what he says too.  His expectations are always a bit higher than mine and he produces a new trick for Twang Arm whenever I show off my progress!

So between the day old chick down chasing away Dr Evil and Twang Arm being banished by persistent if gentle excercise, I can focus on the main identity thief.  That has to be the beast at the root of all this – breast cancer.  And my focus here is clear.  I am look ing towards the day when I am no longer a cancer patient – but a cancer survivor.