Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Spurge a cure for skin cancer

A friend sent me this link to a bbc story about the petty spurge - Euphorbia peplis which, as a gardener, I come across often. It is apparently successful in treating non-melanoma skin cancer such as Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC). I wish I had known about this 12 years ago when I was diagnosed with a BCC. I had to have surgery to remove it which was painful and required me to be off work for a couple of weeks while I healed. I still have the scar now. According to the article on

the skin lesions show complete remission in 41/48 (85%) of cases. If this was a drug it would be hailed as the next big thing and marketed for all it's worth. However, a natural plant or a compound derived from it cannot be patented so the pharma industry will not be interested. I will certainly keep an eye out for this now. I always knew these plants could cause a skin reaction as the milky sap they exude often causes a rash but how interesting that if used in the right conditions it can be beneficial. Homeopaths have a term for that; 'The law of similars'. Dosage is everything of course and the article specifically warns people about trying this for themselves. However, if I developed another I think I would give it a go. I have been using castor oil applied topically to any skin lesion (warts, dry skin) whatever, and find it very helpful. A lot of these old wives tales have some basis after all.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Finally, a date for my surgery

After weeks and months of waiting, interminable appointments and tests, I have a date for my procedure of the 1st March. Whilst I am not looking forward to going into hospital (it is the first time since I was 7 nearly 40 years ago), I am relieved finally that something is to be done. It is truly a weight off my mind as I hadn't realised how much uncertainty brings you down. It is a few weeks away now, but at least I now and, somehow that makes dealing with the discomfort easier.
The results of my MRI showed multiple fibroids, 3 of which are large and pressing on other organs which would explain the discomfort. According to my consultant this is not unusual they are often found in groups. He is confident they will all be treated at the same time with the embolisation and should shrink to 50% within 3 months. This would be a great relief and might mean i can get into my jeans for the first time in a while. Currently it feels like being a couple of months pregnant and unfortunately this means everything is a bit of a squeeze.
I was shown a diagram of the procedure and given plenty of time to ask questions. I cannot fault the team at Southampton General Hospital, they were kind, courteous and efficient as much as it is possible within a system that creaks at the hinges. Embolisation is not common, they only do 2 a week (I suspect as many women opt for hysterectomy not realising how debilitating this is and what the long-term effects may be - not just infertility but early menopause, and decreased sexual response). I wanted to remain intact if at all possible and have chosen this method as I will be able to return to work in 2 weeks rather than the 3 months recommended for hysterectomy. Interesting.

It is not the best timing, I was hoping for a February appointment but my consultant is away at the end of the  month as it's half term and I suspect he's taking a holiday. I will possibly miss my next module of the Nutritional Medicine course which is annoying as it's one I missed 2 years ago as it was oversubscribed and I will have to wait another 2 years for it to come round. I am still hoping for an earlier cancellation however so we'll see.

Life goes on, it's remarkable how many different phases I have been through in the last few months. It's like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grief. Denial, anger, resignation etc. I am at peace for  the first time in months. Something is going to be done, they don't think there'll be a problem and I am perfectly healthy apart from this (blood pressure, oxygen saturation all good). So, we'll see, in the meantime I have to prepare my body with plenty of green juices and superfoods, rest and relaxation. I will also need to support myself in the healing afterwards with vitamins and minerals.

It's definitely been a learning curve.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

musings on gardening

I took the advantage of a break in the generally rainy weather to get out in the garden and do some much-needed tidying up. My virginia creeper (parthenocissus tricuspidata - 3 points on the leaf) although pretty in autumn when the colours turn, was rapidly creeping over my shed and coming in the door and windows. Time for a drastic prune so I got out there with the secateurs and trimmed it back to a sensible starting point for the new season. It will undoubtedly make up the difference within the year so in order to keep it to the desired spread I must do this every year.

While there I also cut my herbs back - the ornamental sage and camomile which has suffered the snows and subsequent floods with equinimity are now looking decidedly folorn so I set to and trimmed them to a mere shadow of their former selves. Cutting back hard at this time of year (except for lavenders and rosemary - don't do it they hate it) is generally a good thing as it gives the plant the suggestion that spring is on its way and new buds form further down the stem (in fact they had already begun to do so which shows me that the timing is spot on). My camomile were carefully planted in the gravel garden that separates the stone terrace from the wooden deck. Over the summer they were a riot of unruly colour but they also needed taking back now. The bergamot that had self-seeded just needed pulling and the old leaves came away leaving the new to take over. As I was doing this minimal intervention I began to think of Derek Jarman and his beautiful beach garden on the shores of Dungeness (one of my favourite books is his record of that garden) and how, though on a much reduced scale, I hope it has something of its beauty in the unexpected and unplanned nature of this sort of garden. I know some people look at it and think 'it's a mess why has she got weeds growing through he gravel'. These are usually 'tidy' people, the sort of gardeners who like nice gaps between plants and nothing that grows over anything else. They are not my sort of person, and it is definitely not my sort of garden.

Last summer I went with a friend to visit two local gardens open to the public as part of the NGS Yellow book scheme. They couldn't have been more different. The first was an exercise in control. Everything was perfect. Even the shed looked like a TV stylist had been at it. We gasped in incredulity and amazement. There must have been hours/days spent arranging this so it looked as good as it did. But still I was not moved by it. I suspect this was a man's garden, and I'm sorry if I'm going to sound sexist but I can usually tell. It's the orderliness which gives it away. A sort of extension of the 'man and his lawn' syndrome.

The second garden was completely different, everything fended for itself but was artfully placed with loving care. I immediately relaxed as this was a garden I could relate to. Where the other had made us all feel guilty and ashamed of our slovenliness here was a garden that suggested ease and contentment. When I met the owner I was not surprised gardening had been in her family for a few generations (like mine) and she 'blitzed it' twice a year then maintained the lawn and edges during the summer. That was it. It made me smile as it so encapsulates two different approaches to living. Some of us make hard work for ourselves - we struggle to 'fit it all in', always feeling guilty that we're not doing more but making ourselves stressed in the process. For others (not me, though I am trying) life seems easy, they take it in their stride and c'est la vie, que sera, sera to mix my metaphors. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the book of the armchair gardener, do what is needed when it is most useful and then just let things take their course. I try to remember this when the back door jams, I drop something and it chips the sideboard and damages the floor, and I can't file my tax return because the IR website is frozen (as all happened yesterday). I wanted to scream and then I realised that you can't solve everything. Take one thing at a time and remember to breathe.

So, this is a big week for me, with another scan and consultant appointments. I hope the news is good. I hope I get a date for my procedure as I am in quite a lot of discomfort now which makes doing things a slog. Most of all I want to feel me again, this 'thing' seems to have taken me over.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


I had my first MRI scan today. I was wholly unprepared. I even went on my bike which was ok but when they sat me down and explained what was about to happen I remember thinking 'I hope I'm able to cycle home!' What I hadn't realised is that they were to insert a canula in my arm to be able to flush contrast medium through my blood so they could image the blood supply to the fibroid. I am quite a baby when it comes to needles so I felt a wave of anxiety and nausea and asked if I could lie down while that was being done. They were very kind to me and said of course but then I had to be physically wheeled into the machine room, strapped down and this huge metal cage put over my abdomen. My arms were raised above my head and then with a gentle motion pulled inside the huge doughnut loop of the machine so that I was completely enclosed. They had given me headphones playing classical music to dim out the loud whirring and clicking of the machine and at various points during the next half hour they communicated to me what was going on. It was still a weird, surreal and disembodying experience. And, apparently I have to have another couple, 1 after the procedure and 1 3 months later. I guess the subsequent ones won't be as bad as I'll know what to expect. I had to really try not to open my eyes as when I did it was a bit scary. There is only the 2 strip lights above your head within the body of the machine to illuminate your surroundings, and if you are at all claustrophobic I imagine you would struggle. They give you a bulb to squeezee if you need to attract attention. Certainly they would not hear you if you shouted as they are in another room. The whole thing took about 45 minutes. I will now wait to see what the results of that are at my consultant appointment in 2 weeks time. The wheels grind slowly on..

I am so glad to be out, so grateful for fresh air and sunshine (not that there is any at the moment). My thoughts turn to people I know who've had to go through this and there hasn't been a happy outcome, where perhaps it confirmed a terminal diagnosis. I feel very sad and contemplative therefore. I am also very tired, the stress is exhausting! I don't doubt that I'm in a good hospital, I've worked there, it's a large teaching hospital and know we are very lucky to have free medical care via the NHS. The treatment I'm having would probably have cost best part of £20,000 if I was paying privately. That would have cleared me out completely and I would be like many people in the States who have no insurance. Again, a reason to be glad.