Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Chemo 2 and other treats

This was some result: after only three injections with fab hormone G-CSF, by Friday 29 October 2010 my depleted neutrophils were up from their all-time low of 0.31 to 4.33. These counts represent (unless I am mistaken) the number of neutrophils per 10 billionths of a litre of blood (we are talking American billionths here; we are also talking MY blood). I cannot (can you?) really visualise such numbers – and the fact that we talk about visualising numbers at all is an interesting insight into the way our minds work – but I was relieved that my immune system had recovered sufficiently for me to have the second round of chemo treatment. You will remember that treatments were scheduled to be administered every 21 days and that by the third week of each cycle the chemo drugs would be expected to have bashed my neutrophils down. By the way, a neutrophil count of 2.0 flims per togglebumph is the lower end of normal, while 7 is the upper limit, so I was pretty much Mr Average again: for once, a nice place to be.

My brother – a retired GP, not phased by the micro-numbers – simply gave a gasp of astonishment when I told him the news the next day.

As for the chemo itself, it all went into my veins (or in the case of the prednisolone tablets, down the hatch) reasonably easily, the only odd sensation being that the drug administered last, cyclophosphamide, caused, as it had in the first session three weeks before, an instant feeling of faintness and a burning, sinusy sensation in my lower forehead – or was it the bridge of my nose? The nurses responded instantly and raised the foot of the rather splendid adjustable chair provided so that blood could get back to my brain and keep me conscious.

My wife had taken time off work to ferry me to the hospital and, once I was safely in the Day Unit and hooked up to the chemicals, gone off to meet a friend in the nearby town and scout out a place where we could all have lunch later on. So it was that, my treatment done and the scouting expedition satisfactorily concluded, the three of us sat down in the Sorrento Cafe, a mother-and-son operation, to home-made minestrone, carrot cake and very good coffee, not forgetting the obligatory mineral water. The cafe was clean and inviting and my appetite not so spoiled by the meds that I could not appreciate the other edible goodies on display. Some other time, I promised myself, although the promise has yet to be fulfilled.

Nausea was well kept at bay by the excellent ondansetron and the rest of the day passed peacefully.

Sorrento (the real one in Southern Italy) - famous for limoncello, a digestif made from lemon rinds, alcohol, water and sugar.

For some time I had been wondering whether I would be well enough to attend an event fixed for Saturday 30 October: a day conference for the residents of Twickenham to explore in – what seemed at least – an open-ended way the options for the redevelopment, improvement and general waking up of Twickenham Town Centre, surely one of the most unsatisfactory riverside environments in the whole of London, if not the world, the universe, space etc. I am thinking mainly in terms of the way the town interacts with the River Thames, or, more to the point…well, doesn’t.

Over two decades of control of the Council by one particular party were ended at the last London Borough elections, since when the party currently in control have made obvious efforts to consult the people of Twickenham until at last there is some sense of positive movement. The conference addressed a number of issues of local concern, but all focussed around the uninspiring state of the current town centre and the rotten state of the railway station.

One of the major stakeholders in Twickenham is, not surprisingly, The Rugby Football Union, whose stadium brings 82,000 supporters plus goodness knows how many corporate entertainers, extra police, fast food vendors and purveyors of rugby paraphernalia (scarves, silly hats, mascots and the like) into the town on major match days. This vast influx is made possible by The RFU's having in recent years completed the development of its ground, once market garden, to include two new, enlarged stands together with an arts venue, hotel, conference facility, gym and shop – have I forgotten anything? This investment involved in all this building, coupled with the fact that it is a significant donor to a number of community projects and organisations, notably schools, means that The RFU has considerable clout as a driver for town centre development, not least for the improvement of the station in time for the Rugby World Cup in 2015. No axe to grind there, then…

A sculpture of rugby players in a line-out.
This is to be found outside the new stadium buildings in Twickenham.
All the massive figures have immaculate socks, apart from one chap whose elastic is not playing the game (not visible in this pic).
On this particular Saturday an encouraging number of local residents, politicians and business people assembled in the new conference centre to explore some of the planning challenges facing the town. 

You have been patient enough and I will not detain you with the details of the day, least of all the unpopular scheme cooked up by Network Rail and its chosen development partner for creating a high-rise complex at the station, but will just mention a couple of things I observed.

First, I was impressed that the Leader of the Council, a man of tweedy aspect and extremely good manners, was sitting on the floor at one point to observe one of the platform discussions. Perhaps I don’t get out enough, but this struck me as unusually unpompous.

Second, I was less impressed by the schoolboyish guffaws with which a row of veteran councillors (some of them ex-councillors) just in front of me greeted a proposal from one resident to build a pedestrian bridge over the Thames to link Twickenham with Ham. Now, it is true that this resident is a friend of mine and follows this blog, as I follow his, but what really got up my nose was the sheer dismissiveness and idle complacence of the older men. Surely there is no harm in listening to a view, even if you end up disagreeing with it? That is simple courtesy.

I managed to stay for most of the event, feeling quite well throughout (apart from the above incident). I emerged into a pleasant autumn day: the glorious colours seemed to have lasted longer than in some previous years, absence of heavy rain and storms having allowed the leaves to remain on the trees for longer.

Autumn colours within a stone's throw (except that you shouldn't) of Twickenham Stadium, as they appeared on 30 October 2010
On Sunday 31 October my wife felt unwell and rested for most of the day. I went shopping in Tesco. Has anyone counted up the number of ours we spend in supermarkets? This particular branch is enormous and sells everything, with the possible exception of live dromedaries, and it is impossible to escape from it in less than an hour. One of these days I will get myself a step counter and see how many miles I cover pacing the aisles in an average trip.

There was a pleasant surprise when my cousin called in for tea on the way to see one of her daughters, who lives quite near us and who was due to have her first baby in the next few weeks (the little girl arrived safely in December). My cousin brought two of her other daughter’s children with her. One of these was called Hope and never was a child more aptly named, so peaceful was her expression and demeanour.

My cousin and I talked, as we often do, of family history, into which both she and I have carried out only some modest research, genealogy being an absorbing, but time-consuming and potentially expensive pastime. She lives in Somerset, our paternal grandmother’s native county. If you go down that way and meet people called Symons, Lock, Badger or Laver, they may be kin of mine.

The Symons family of Bridgwater were brick and tile makers in the late 19th/early 20th century.
Not sure if they made the type of highly ornamental clay work you see on this building, 84 Wimpole Street, London W1
(where I worked as a solicitor for nine years).

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