Sunday, 24 November 2019

An Impactful Week

Our dramatic week began with a car accident and ended with a visit to my oncologist to get the results of my latest cancer surveillance scan. T was driving home from work and stationary on the M2, queuing to get onto the Westlink in Belfast. An elderly driver whacked into the left rear of her car. She was jolted backwards and sideways, but thankfully suffered no serious injury. The elderly man got out of his badly damaged car and wandered over to her. She wound down the window but he just collapsed in floods of tears. Fearful for his safety on the motorway, she called the police.

The police arrived quickly and sorted things out very effectively. The elderly man admitted responsibility for the accident. His car was a write-off. T’s was badly damaged but just about driveable. After they made sure she was okay, she was escorted along the Westlink by two police cars with blue lights flashing. When she got home she was exhausted but unhurt. The next morning she had a sore shoulder and bruised ribs. I wanted her to go to hospital for a check-up, but she wasn’t keen.

Her car was a mess. The rear bumper was bent and hanging off. The rear side panel was badly caved in and one rear wheel looked wonky. We took photos and sent them to a mechanic friend. He said that it looked like the car had suffered structural damage and warned us that it could be written off. We were shocked because the car was only six years old. Indeed, we had just spent almost £2000 on new timing belt, water pump, radiator, tyres and shock absorbers. The work on the car had been completed the day before the accident.

The insurance company agreed to provide a courtesy car. T’s car would be taken away for assessment of the damage and the cost of repairs. We read up about write-offs and learnt that if a car is repairable but written-off because the repair costs are too high (as a proportion, possibly 50%, of the book value of the car) you can buy it back from the insurance company. But you shouldn’t go down this road without an independent professional opinion on the extent of the damage and the cost of repairs. We called the proprietor of a local body-shop and he agreed to come and check the car over the next morning. We were keen to hear his verdict, but he didn't turn up. The day after a wee man from Belfast came in a low loader. He delivered a shiny new courtesy car and T’s poor damaged car was dragged away.  

Several hours later we were sitting in the Bridgewater Suite of the Cancer Centre awaiting a different call. A nurse escorted us to the doctor’s office. It was the Registrar instead of the Consultant. This was a good sign. He began, as usual, by asking me how I felt. As I replied, I looked at the printed page he had taken from the file in front of him. The scan report was about three-quarters of a page of writing. This was a bad sign.

He smiled. Your scan report is fine, he said. We gasped with relief. He gave me a copy. The report was long and detailed, comparing my recent scan to the one done in May. It concluded with the key words - ‘stable appearances’. I had now been clear of cancer for 3 years and one month. Despite the car problem, we could go home and sleep a little more easily.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Mallorca Return

We are not long back from Mallorca. I’d never been there before, having been put off by its reputation for crowded holiday resorts. But late October is rather quiet, and you will encounter many more locals than tourists. And the weather is still good, with many days of clear blue skies and 25 degrees. Mallorca is a large island with a great variety of places and landscapes. True, there are still some big resorts, but we steered clear of them, staying in a small village in the southeast corner, about an hour’s drive from the airport.

Our rented house had a garden with a pine tree, a palm tree, a trellised walkway covered with pink flowers and a veranda. I opened the shutters each morning whilst T walked to the local shop to get our order of freshly-baked baguette and croissants. We then sat and scoffed them with greengage jam and coffee, with some papaya and melon on the side. It was a good way to start the day and entirely in keeping with the climate. At home, I would normally take porridge.

The village was built on cliffs. The houses seemed to be mainly retirement or holiday homes. The languages you most often heard were either Catalan (Mallorca is part of Catalonia) or German. Our house had satellite TV, but all the channels were German. When you walked about 100 yards to the end of our street you ended up amidst pine trees beyond which were sandy-coloured cliffs with the blue Mediterranean crashing about 100 feet below. Going the other way took you through the rest of the village and down to a wooded cove with a sheltered sandy beach that was great for swimming. The local markets were especially good. There were huge ones on each Saturday and Sunday in two nearby towns: Santanyi and Felanitx. We revelled in all the different foods there were to try, from the jujube (the odd-looking fruit of a tropical tree) to the amazing fruit and nut breads of the artisanal bakery.

I arrived in Mallorca still feeling groggy from the dose and coughing a good bit. But warmth and brightness are great healers, and by the end of the first week I was fine again. I’d brought my bike with me and I went on some great rides, whilst T sat and wrote or painted. Mallorca is set up for cycle-tourism as there is a network of back roads across the island that take you to every town avoiding traffic. You cycle between drystone walls, past small farms with sheep and goats, and orchards of fig, almond and olive trees to sleepy towns where the tallest building is the local church. On other days, I wrote as well, or just sat and thought.

We had remained here during the summer as T was studying and completing coursework. It was our delayed summer holiday and we are already looking forward to going back to Mallorca. But the return transition was very tough, for we came back to the leaden skies, cold and damp of winter. Leaving the airport, it was just one quarter of the temperature we had been in. What I noticed most of all was the dullness. Within a few days my solar powered watch had stopped. It was suffering from SAD too. And then I had to go for my cancer surveillance scan, something that would give anyone a chill.