Tag Archives: Scottish Community Drama

The Fat Lady Has Taken A Breath.

No, not me!   I’m alluding to the saying “It’s not all over until the fat lady sings” because for my cancer journey it appears that the end is nigh, but not quite here.

I had my urological stent removed on Thursday 21st July and, to my immense relief, was able to discuss other concerns with the doctor carrying out the procedure. She reassured me regarding recent bladder symptoms so I can stop wondering about another cancer, (in that organ anyway). After it was removed the nurse asked if I would like to see the stent, and of course I did. It was much longer and thicker than I had imagined. See images. I remember the end which had been in my kidney as being a much finer wire than that shown in the diagram, but the end which was in my bladder was just like this. No wonder my bladder complained so much! Anyway, since then there has been no sign of blood and not one iota of discomfort – what a relief!

Stent connecting kidney to bladder. Mine was on my right side

Stent connecting kidney to bladder. Mine was on my right side

Images copied from http://www.kidneystoners.org/treatments/stents/ and http://www.shergillurology.com/

The end which was in the bladder.

The end which was in the bladder.

I am to have a scan in a few weeks time to see how my kidney is coping without help from the stent in my ureter then, if all is well, that will be that! Done and dusted, all gone, journey’s end, caput, finis. It will be the end of August/ early September by then, a complete year since I had the bleed which led to a diagnosis of cancer of the uterus. Some journey I tells ya!

As I’ve wittered on about in other blogs, I was very lucky to have very few side-effects from my chemotherapy, and my main concern then was, and still is now, the ‘energy crashing’ business. Many folk experience these crashes, it isn’t limited to those undergoing chemo. Other conditions like M.E., Lupus and Depression are some of many illnesses that cause it too – but I only know about chemo/post chemo. Strangely enough, there seems to be a considerable amount of sympathy for those of us experiencing this as a result of having had cancer treatment, but I get the impression that there is not the same amount of leeway given for folk with the other conditions. I want to try to record how these crashes feel because I am notorious for forgetting what it was like to be me at various stages of my life, and it might just help explain things for others too. Though I admit my main reason is the purely selfish former.

It’s not just being tired. Prior to last August I was a hillwalker so I know what it is like to experience tired muscles. I’ve even been in the situation where I’ve tried to stand and my legs have collapsed under me because the muscles had simply had enough – it is different. It’s not over-doing things either. I used to ‘meet myself coming back’ and filled every day as much as I could and unfortunately, despite warnings from friends, I did fall foul of this both-ends-candle-burning scenario occasionally; but tiredness or feeling weary because of taking on too much is different too. With energy loss your body’s batteries start running down – kind of like the computer ‘not responding’ – it’s still functioning with the wee circle spinning on the surface, but not actually succeeding in doing anything. Even thinking becomes more difficult. Then the batteries are simply empty and there’s no umph left.

I hasten to add, I’m not claiming it’s like being paralysed, if a wild boar had suddenly appeared when I crashed, I could still have escaped. I don’t refer to paralysis lightly either – I am fully aware what it is like because I used to have Grand Mal epileptic seizures, the result of which was that I literally – (in the correct use of the word ) – could not move a muscle, or even speak, for a good number of hours, or even days. However, these crashes are still debilitating physically, as well as mentally and emotionally .

So anyway, that’s it – you find there’s nothing there, empty tank, no fuel, no charge. There’s simply no choice, you have to stop and rest to re-charge. Sometimes for me the recovery is quick and a 10min sit-down is enough for me to carry on. At other times a 30min doze, still others a night’s sleep, then occasionally a day or days in bed! There is no knowing what each one is going to be like. I use the present tense here because I complacently thought I’d finished with them as my energy levels definitely increased, but a week ago Monday I had another big crash, so I am no longer as cocky about their putative demise. As with all the other aspects, this too will pass, so one just has to hang on in there and adapt to the limitations being imposed by the body in its attempts to recover and rebuild.

It really has been one heck of a journey, but thankfully due to masses of support from my friends, especially my fellow librarian who has taken on so much more work to cover for me, and to my partner, who has endured the main brunt of my bumpy travelling – I’ve come through the tunnel to the light at the other side. It’s been twelve months of a wild roller-coaster of emotions which now will lead to a nice wee toddlers’ ride I hope. I also hope that recording my journey with cancer will help others, in the same way as the advice given to me by those who travelled the road before me,  made such a difference for me.
The Fat Lady is starting her final song now.

The Fat Lady starting her final song.

The Fat Lady starting her final song.

This Too Will Pass

“This too will pass” has been a phrase rattling around in my brain for ages – in fact every time I have felt, or do feel, miserable about yet another event in my life or the effects of my treatment, it makes itself heard. My whole reason for starting to blog about the cancer journey was so that I could have a record of how it felt to be me as I travelled it, because my memory alone would not be reliable.

I occasionally used to be aware of days that felt like weeks and others that passed in a few hours, but in the past few months this time-disconnection has been so exaggerated. Perception of time has been more weird than usual since August 2015 when I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. That month was the worst, because it was after diagnosis but prior to surgery in mid September, and waiting for appointments or results seemed excruciatingly slow.

The rest of September and beginning of October wasn’t too bad while I coped with all the trauma of the operation whoospie which resulted in further surgeries and complications, but the latter part of October and early November dragged again until I started chemotherapy. The period from mid November to mid April was even weirder because during each chemo cycle the time was stretched out, yet the six of them seemed to have passed quite quickly once they were finished, despite a hospital admission delaying the final one.  I moved to live with my partner in September and started getting my own flat ready to be rented out – this lasted until March.   Admittedly it perhaps wasn’t the least stressful thing to do while having cancer surgery and chemotherapy but was necessary all the same – I don’t think I could have coped if I had still been living alone.

Through all those months, whenever I was lying there hating the kidney drain, or sitting watching poison being dripped into my veins, or feeling as though every ounce of energy had deserted me, or seeing every hair on my body disappear, or being driven scatty with issues in my flat,  I kept telling myself “This too will pass” and it did.  Since mid April time has rocketed by, and this week I had my three month check since the last chemo. I could hardly believe it had been that long.

Undergoing the treatment didn’t stop my activities although it did curtail them a bit. In February and April I organised and administered one-act drama festivals but I didn’t start back volunteering at The Scottish Community Drama National Script Library  until May.  In December I finally got around to getting two children’s stories I had written many years ago  on Kindle, then this last week also published them as hard copies.   I used to design my own knitting patterns but hadn’t knitted for 20 years, however, last week I started to learning to crochet and this week have been making a jacket in rainbow-coloured wool to my own pattern (how successfully is so far unknown!)  My partner has re-kindled his model railway plans after 15 years so I have been lined up to help with modelling the scenery – another totally new project to add to the great tapestry of life.

At this moment in time – the day before my 69th birthday – I do occasionally have a crash of energy, I still get frustrated by my toes paining, my eyes spontaneously weeping or my peeing bloodied urine, but I console myself knowing it is temporary.   My hair is growing back, my energy levels are much better, and the chemo-brain business has stopped (still have senior moments but it’s different to chemo-brain). I still have at least one more surgery to go through and there continues to be uncertainty about how successfully my damaged uterer will have been mended, but it will all be over soon. Although my perception of ‘soon’ might be different from one day to the next, I know all I have to do is to hang on in there and let the time-perception-distortion machine do its trick.

Above all, distorted as my perception of time might be, I am grateful to have plenty of it spreading out before me.   Others on the cancer journey have not been so lucky.

Feeding the Soul – Drama

You may recall from my first blog I mentioned that one of my other interests is  Amateur Drama. I am involved both front and back stage with a couple of drama groups but my main involvement is as Edinburgh District Secretary for  Scottish Community Drama  (SCDA) an umbrella group supporting amateur drama across Scotland.  In fact my partner has often commented that he has never yet figured out how I could fit work into my life, as since I retired he has seen less of me than when I was working (cheeky so and so).

To explain the background a little: as part of the Cultural Olympics, the Royal Shakespeare Company has been running the ‘Open Stages’ project to work with amateur companies all over the UK and SCDA has been involved from its inception.  Many SCDA clubs participated during 2011 & 2012 and a representative of the National Theatre Of Scotland attended all the productions on behalf of the RSC .  RSC/NTS also provided workshops to support the groups.  The goal was to be invited to take their production to the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.  You must admit – that was some goal!

I had seen Edinburgh Theatre Arts’ (ETA) production of ‘Macbeth In Scots’ when they performed it in May at their tiny venue, St Ninians, and was highly impressed by it, so it came as no surprise when they were chosen.  Can you imagine the excitement?  Performing Shakespeare at the RSC is far beyond most professional actors’ dreams and amateurs have never before had this opportunity. It was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I had planned to go to Stratford under my own steam to support them so was  thrilled to be invited to travel with them. Hence I found myself on Friday 13th July on a coach with the ETA cast, crew and other ‘groupies’  on our way to Stratford.  ETA were not due to perform until 9.30pm on the Saturday so I knew I would have a fair amount of time to explore and photograph the area but, to my camera-mad partner’s dischuffment,  I didn’t take my ‘proper’ Canon camera with me – just my Kodak point-and-shoot.  Och, it’d daefine.

We started off at 9am  but, thanks to a massive hold-up on the M6, we didn’t arrive until 6.15pm – just in time to dump our stuff at the Premier Inn and hurry along to the Courtyard Theatre for a wee reception before attending ‘Baba Shakespeare’ – the play being performed that evening by a group from Islington, England.  ‘Baba Shakespeare’ was based on the Kendal family’s theatrical group touring  Shakespeare plays in India in the sixties.  It was extremely well acted and well worthy of being there, but some of the scenes could have benefitted from being cut a bit and the “millions” of scene changes were unecessary, especially when they were for scenes lasting no more than a couple of minutes.  It was a smashing introduction to the venue and expectations were very high for the following day.

Imagine the thrill of seeing your own show advertised in massive posters outside the RSC!

ETA’s cast and crew were due at the theatre for technical rehearsals and a run-through the following morning so after breakfast some other ‘groupies’ and  I went on a bus tour.  They got off at one of the first stops but I wanted to take the full tour before deciding where to go next, so stayed on.   I decided against taking photos from the bus because the driver didn’t slow down enough – preferring instead to wait until I walked around later. However, this is one shot taken on the move – of the back of Shakespeare’s birthplace.The next photo was taken out in the countryside when the bus had stopped because the driver thought he had a water problem (or the bus had!) and is where the Forest of Arden used to be.  Apparently the forest covered miles but was all chopped down to make houses, furniture and ships. They reckon it took 2000 oak trees to make one ship!  No wonder it is so barren and bleak now.

Eventually the bus made its way back into town.  I still had lots of time to explore and I took the opportunity to wander around the town, like many other tourists and devotees of the Bard.  Like so many places, Stratford is very tourist orientated nowadays but one can still allow oneself mentally to time-travel and wonder about what the world was like for the first folk to walk these streets. Here, in what was a large village in Elizabethan times, was born one who would change the world with his insights into human nature and leave such a marvellous legacy to the world of theatre, where words have power and powerful words can move an audience to tears, laughter, horror and joy. His stories are often far-fetched, (especially when it comes to mistaken identity plots), but the language is beautiful and he invented so much of it too.  For ‘Macbeth In Scots’ Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English has been translated into the Old Scots language – but the beauty of the words is still there. To quote the publicity tagline ‘The Scottish Play has come home’

Images of Stratford

The front of Shakespeare’s birthplace.

So many of the buildings are ancient.

This claims to have been newly built  in 1595.

This in 1490…

The next one is Shrieve’s House, the oldest inhabited building in Stratford, and claims to have been a house on the site since 1190.  It is now home to “Tudor World”  (I looked down the side of the building but didn’t go in.)

I loved the little  Holy Trinity Church  where Shakespeare was christened, married and buried.  According to the sign, there’s been a church on this site since 713.

Shakespeare’s grave complete with the curse he added in his will.  Other members of his family are buried alongside him inside the church.

The curse is the Bard trying to protect himself against being moved – he succeeded then eh?!

This alabaster bust was erected while Shakespeare’s family were still alive, and apparently his wife approved of it, so it is assumed to be a good likeness.

While on my walk I came across a young (14 to 21) group from Liverpool just about to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a free show in the RSC garden .  The youngsters struggled to cope against the noise of a helicopter and traffic but all in all did well.

They handed out rugs for the audience to sit on too – which was a very nice touch.

I walked along the riverside twice – once from the RSC garden down to the canal (which joins the river), then back on the other side, which was starting to be flooded.

I loved the weeping willows.

My anticipated trip across the river using the ferry was cancelled due to too much water. (sic!)

Holy Trinity Church seen from across the river.

The river invading the land and starting to cover the paths as well.

Holy Trinity Church again (second time around).

The weather stayed fine all day and I had a lovely time snapping away.

I went back to the hotel for a wee rest before geting showered and changed for the evening.  My room mate and I had a nice meal then proceeded to the theatre.

The first play was from Northern Ireland and was Julius Caesar set in the Shankhill Road in modern times. The young cast had very strong NI accents and spoke Shakespeare’s lines at one heck of a pace at first, but the storytelling was very strong, the main characters clearly understood and the violence horribly realistic. I was extremely impressed and another groupie who had attended the RSC’s ‘Tempest’ (the professional production) the previous evening said she far preferred the Julius Caesar.

Then it was ‘our’ turn. I’m not kidding – I was only in the audience but the adrenaline was pumping!  ETA were amazing and seemed totally unfazed by appearing in this prestigious place.   They raised their game by so many notches and it was tremendous to start with!  They used the large thrust stage to great advantage (which is something the other two teams had not done) and had the audience in the palms of their hands.  There was not a single weak link – I cannot find anything to criticise. They could be heard clearly and although it was a strange language to most of the audience (being old Scots) their storytelling was so strong they held the audience spellbound. The acting was superb and the direction inspired – I so wished I could have bottled the experience!

Lady Macbeth sleepwalking.  (publicity image – I didn’t take any in the theatre)

The death of Macbeth and The Weirds

(Taken from ETA’s Facebook page. )

We were all buzzing afterwards and initially went to the Black Swan pub, aka The Dirty Duck, but eventually most of us decanted to the Premier Inn’s bar instead to finish off the evening by reliving the experience.

I was honoured to be made so welcome by the team and so immensely proud of them. As the posters inside and outside the Courtyard Theatre and the Open Stages programme all declared – ‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Performances’.  Definitely feeding the drama soul.