Clare Wise

IMG_1779I feel like I have landed in an Edward Lear story. I have never heard of a ‘chaste’ tree…somehow I never expected trees to be rampant sexually or priapic (apart from in appearance). Anyway this tree is apparently Vitex Agnus Castus – which in its homeopathic form takes away any sexual desire – its an anaphrodisiac. Laughingly it is also prescribed to menopausal women…like we need anything to persuade us against sex at this time. The drongo is a big black fork tailed bird with a lovely song. Named by a ‘drongeur’ – of course the word has different pejorative meanings especially in Australia.

I am sorry I haven’t been posting but weirdly I have been busy. I know that sounds odd especially as I am at a clinic doing mild yoga and having treatments but it really has been time consuming.

Arriving here was very funny. We were met off the plane by 4 young men, each immaculately turned out with pomaded hair and clean pressed shirts and ties, proudly sporting lanyards. It seems nowadays that you aren’t anyone unless you have a lanyard. I see people wearing them on the tube as if to say ‘yes I have a job that needs a lanyard’…I would rather die than wear a lanyard outside of conferences/film festivals where it was mandatory. But back to our welcoming party. They were as keen as mustard and reminded me of the students I see on ‘University Challenge’ here in India. Its a hugely popular show and the students wear ties and take it very very seriously.

Having picked up our bags we emerged into the cold foggy Bangalore early morning when I young lady rushed at us with a bunch of red roses. Poor E I thought, even here she can’t just blend in…but as it turned out they were for me. So there I am in my wheelchair with 4 attendants and a posy on my lap having my photo taken. I felt very strange.

Soukya is on the edge of Bangalore, the fastest growing city in India. It wasn’t on the edge of the city when Dr Mathai established it 15 years ago. Then it was surrounded by fields and farms. Now everyday the city is creeping closer. There’s a railway line that runs along the compound. When they started building the clinic there was a freight train every other day and the odd passenger train. Now the trains clatter past at all hours of the day (and night), hooting their horns vigorously. At first I thought it might be to put two fingers up to the pampered rich folk in the clinic who are supposedly observing silence in meditative states but actually it is because people walk along the train tracks and also sleep on them. The hooting is to wake them up! It certainly wakes me up. At first it felt like the trains were about to come hurtling through my room and my dreams were of ‘Eraserhead’, but now I am getting very fond of them.

The actual compound is an oasis of tranquility and beauty and is full of birds and exquisite flowers. There are also animals and all the vegetables cooked here are grown here. It is really very paradisal (or maybe slightly cultish as the patients walk around in cream silk pjs for yoga???).

On our second day a baby goat was born. I saw it minutes after it was born still covered in goo. A ¬†couple of hours later I took E to see it and it was still covered in goo and by itself in the pen. All the grown up goats had been taken out for grazing. In typical Western (urbanised) way both E and I were appalled and rushed to reception to complain about animal cruelty. To say that the receptionist was gobsmacked by our demands that the farmer return the mother immediately, would be an understatement. We definitely looked like two hysterical middle aged “Hyacinth Bouquets” (reference to a TV show about a middle aged fuss pot). A few hours later the farmer looking rather non plussed showed us the baby goat clean and happy…phew.

However a short while later I was walking past and the baby seemed immobile and I rushed at the farmer again…but it was only asleep. So henceforth the goat born on day 2 here has been called Lazarus.

Later that same day E and I were walking the compound when we came across a bird caught in the netting for the grapes. We came back to the room and grabbed nail scissors (and rather inexplicably also tweezers, what was I going to do pluck it free?) and also gloves. E pointedly out rather sadly that the gloves were less than useless against the bird’s sharp beak and claws. Funnily enough I had not packed gardening gloves or my Hawking leather ones!!! We managed to cut her free and she limped off. She was a magnificent raptor called a Koel. So even though we had been stupid about the goat we could congratulate ourselves on the bird rescue.

Apart from wildlife duties – which include me feeding the squirrels and the birds and also hiding from large snakes- most of the day is taken up with treatments. This is my first experience of Ayurveda. ‘Ayur’ means life and ‘veda’ means science and it is quite literally that ‘the science or knowledge of life’. It has been practiced in India and especially in the south for 4000 years. Of course the British Raj banned it along with naturopathy, homeopathy and anything that smelt vaguely unscientific to them. But actually it is scientific and taken very seriously. The Drs here have formal medical qualifications and are constantly doing research into different aspects of it. So this is not just massage with some weird smelling oils (although it does rather boil down to that in the end).

The basic idea is that in order to heal we need to detoxify and purify (its called Panchakarma – pancha means five and karma means therapeutic.) The massages, enemas and other purgations including washing out the nose and eyes are part of that process. Because I am rather broken and also taking chemo and morphine the detoxification process has mainly been hands on massages. I don’t have to do daily enemas. Phew.

Once the body is detoxified it is ready to heal emotionally and physically.  According to ayurveda everyone is made up of energies or doshas. When they are out of alignment we get sick. There are three doshas РVata, Pitta and Kapha and they have to be in harmonious balance for us to be fit and well. They correspond to body type as well as mental strengths etc. I am Vata-Pitta which is normal for a middle aged woman. So all the treatments given and the herbs used correspond to re calibrating the balance of the doshas (which my spell check wants to put as dossiers!).

As well as the treatments we are expected to practice yoga and especially yogic breathing and meditation. The Dr who teaches yoga has a very sing song voice and asks us to feel the ‘wibrations’ so I have nicknamed him Brian (after the Beach Boys of course). The Dr in charge of Ayurveda has a wonderful way of shortening syllables and ends every sentence with ‘correct’ but not as 2 syllables – it’s just one ‘crrect’. I like Dr Correct and he spends his consultation time with me telling me to be patient.

I have to go off now for more treatment but will continue blog later.

Keep breathing

To India and Beyond

The funny thing about being in a wheelchair at an airport is that the minute you sit down you clearly also don your cloak of invisibility. No one actually talks to you. They talk to the person pushing you (who unless it is a family member is a stranger you have met 5 mins before) ‘can she walk up steps?’…for example was what one personal service person asked the man pushing me. “I am here and reasonably coherent and can answer for myself” I wanted to shout but of course being the good english patient I didn’t scream at the top of my voice or even yell. I merely waited for him to look down and ask me. Have I bought into the helpless cripple routine already?

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A new design and almost a new me

Sorry it has taken me so long to update but I am a computer idiot and so had to be retrained in how to use my website. As Homer Simpson would say ‘Duhh”.

Anyway everything is almost ticketyboo. If it weren’t for the cancer I would be really well. I feel pretty good – have a new trendy pixie hair cut (courtesy of my sis in law) and have managed to make it through another birthday – 51 is such an ugly number – a horrid prime that is neither attractive nor useful. All it means is that I have made it into my 50s so I guess I should be grateful for small mercies.

I am now in a regular cycle of 2 weeks oral chemo and a week off and am about to start my 8th round. No idea how long this will all last – I guess until my body gets too used to it all. I am pretty mobile but hate the cold damp English Autumn weather. When people say they feel the cold in their bones I now fully understand the saying. My bones feel cold and that doesn’t seem to go away no matter how much I heat my flat. In an ideal world I would be a winter bird – flying off to warmer climes the moment the temperature wavered around single digits and arrive back here in time for the beautiful late Spring.

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new fab design

Karen McDonald and Grant Lee very kindly brought me into the 21st century by creating this new website for me. Its something I have been meaning to do for ages (like sorting out my filing…Greg!, and learning Hindi and writing a book) but here’s to a new start…onwards and upwards.


Went to the Royal Neurological Hospital yesterday to meet with an onco-neurologist, ostensibly to talk about my skull tumours and fractures in my spine. Thank goodness Greg was with me, otherwise I would have thought it was a bad comedy show and would have been looking for the hidden camera.

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Accentuate the positive

laughterA miilion years ago (figure of speech of couse as this is not an anthropological posting) Rose gave me a mixed tape. It was very much something we all did – if there was a boy you fancied you might do him one, or vice versa and each song always ended with the familiar clunk of the pause button on an old tape recorder. But they were very special. On one such tape Rose chose the Bing Crosby version of ‘Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative’ with the Andrew Sisters as Bing’s backing group. The song has been covered hundreds of times by popstars – most recently I gather by Paul McCartney. Anyway if you you tube the Bing version – there’s a very dodgy clip from the film “Here Comes the Waves’ where Bing is blacked up to sing it….that reminds me of when I introduced my Rwandan nephew to the fact that we were brought up watching Saturday night TV which included The Black and White Minstrels show…we thought it was normal for white men to black up to sing jazz songs! I can’t believe that this still happened in the 1970s in Britain. My nephew was both appalled and amused by clips on you tube from that show.

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What the oncologist said

My bones are looking a lot better – although the CT scan is very difficult to interpret as most of my tumours were ‘lytic lesions’ (holy…not God fearing but like Emmenthal cheese) which means that the bone looks like it has been eaten away. The chemo has made them sclerotic which means denser. They are easier to see and much less painful.

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Brain scan

brainI hadn’t really thought about my skull but as it is mostly bone I guess it is inevitable that there would be tumours there as well. And guess what … There are!

on Monday 5th October, I was called in for a brain MRI. There are some word combinations that excite you…’upgrade to first class’, ‘sunny and warm’ etc and some that are horrid combos…’spinal surgery’ – already mentioned to me a few times and ‘brain scan’…yikes.

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Bones like lace

bones-like-laceso what is secondary bone cancer…well apparently I still have breast cancer (primary) but i now have bone metasteses (secondary cancer)…. A lot of bloody tumours in the bones basically. The cancer moves through blood or lymph nodes into the bones. Bones are constantly growing and shrinking…osteoclasts grow new cells and structures and osteoblasts keep them in check so that they don’t grow too much or fracture if the casts don’t meet them. As I understand it the tumours confuse the blasts and casts and they stop doing their jobs, lay down tools and pathological fractures occur. They also make the bones lacey, hence the orthopods wanting to fix more metal to my fraying bones.

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12 inches

12One of the advantages of not having surgery on the 3rd…apart from being able to eat and not being in hospital, was that I could spend time with my friend Sabrina who had just arrived from LA. She had invited me on another yacht to cruise around the Amalfi coast and when she heard that I was in danger of fracturing – she spent a long time fantasising about getting me a Michelin suit or lots of cushions where I could lay prone on the deck. In the end she decided on getting an avatar – a vintage Barbie with red hair, so she became BC (Barbie Clare) and I could have my holiday vicariously through her. This is a photo of us just after I came out of hospital. BC is the smaller of the two titian haired dolls…if you want to see what she/I got up to on holiday look at her website

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