About Me

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London, United Kingdom
Holly Searle is a writer and an artist who was made in Soho and thereafter born in the heart of London. She has been blessed with two quite remarkable children and grandchildren whom she adores. She enjoys the company of her friends and the circus that is life, has a degree in Film and Television, and has exhibited her artwork in several exhibition.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Just when I Thought I Was Out:Chemotherapy by Holly Searle




There's that scene in The Godfather where Michael Corleone expresses his frustration his fate's inability to allow him to disassociate himself from his mob ties. "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" He rasps, fists clenched.

That was me when I started my chemotherapy post operative part of my treatment.

I had literally just learnt to walk upright again without pain and regained some energy, when they stuck another cannula into my vein and filled my battered body with a racy pink cocktail of chemo mega mix. Two for one, 4 times, every 21 days until early November.

During my first session, my vanity told me to wear the Cold Cap: a contraption invented to freeze your scalp to -4 in the hope that your blood flow, with the tasty chemo on board, avoids your hair follicles to prevent hair loss.

However great an ideal this maybe, it's really just an additional sensory overload considering the needle in your hand and the warm gel pad on your arm to keep your vein open and receptive.

Plus, I just looked like Woody Allen in Sleepers (see image at the end of this post, then google Sleepers and have a laugh on me. Not at me!)

Before and after chemo, they fill you with anti sickness drugs, and pre filled injections that are meant to help boast your immunity system, that you self inject into your stomach for 5 days after your session.

After session one, I was so sick I thought I was going to died. The sickness was awful. It took days for my stomach to settle and for me to actually find food tasty or edible again. I still ate and have puffed up as a consequence, which makes me very depressed, but I shall deal with that later.

They tell you to buy a good thermometer, as you have to take your temperature every day. They worry that you'll develop all sorts, as in the first ten days after your session, your immunity is plummeting to zero at a horrifically rapid rate and taking your temp temperature is a good rule of thumb to monitor if there is something more sinister happening.

You develop chemo brain. Which is like a fog inside your head obstructing your ability to think properly about anything.

Best to avoid busy places or people with germs.

Hard call that last one when you live in a city with population of 8 million.

After the sickness subsided, there is a limited period of time when I felt like eating food that I wanted to eat. But then when I ate, I had stomach ache. Don't even ask about the constipation. That saucy little chemo mega mix obviously has the same effect (and ingredients) on my internal organs as a bag of cement mix.

I was sourcing Senna Tablets like an addict hot for her next fix.

To pass your poo without feeling like you are shitting rock, is a pleasure I thought I would never write about. I am sure they deleted that line from The Godfather.

Then I had a series of odd little illnesses and a dry cough that lasted for a short period of time and an unrelenting need to sleep, that even Sleeping Beauty couldn't relate to.

Then it was time for my next session, before which I have to get my blood taken to make sure I am well enough to have my next chemo. I used to be a blood donor, I was always proud of how quickly my blood filled the bag at those sessions. But when I went to get my blood taken for the test, my vein had constricted that the phlebotomist couldn't even get a drop out. So he took it from my hand and I cried as it was so painful. He said "I am really sorry." I said " I can't wait for the day when no one is sticking needles in me."

Then you wait for the oncologist to tell you if your okay. I was surprisingly as I felt so shit. " Your bloods are fine, although your liver is a bit dodgy. We'll keep an eye on that."

Is it really surprising that my liver is having a mass panic? I don't even drink alcohol!

So there I was session two out of four. No Cold Cap this time as I wanted to talk to my chemo buddies and hear their stories, rather than worry about my now dead hair falling or looking like Woody Allen.

They are a nice bunch and just like me, they are just people who are going through the same crappy treatment so that they can get on with their lives.

They gave me additional anti sickness this time. That worked. I wasn't sick, but still felt sick. Smells, mention of food, the smell of smoking or perfume, all turn my stomach.

Then the chemo brain starts again. You feel like your doing everything in slow motion and have the worst hangover in the world. This time, the tiredness was just awful and I haven't been able to do as much. It's incredibly frustrating and annoying and I cried the night before my second session and it was one of the first times my repressed angry about having cancer surfaced.

I didn't want my life to be like this: but it is, for now, until it's done and dusted and this cancer is out of my bloody life and I can close the door in its face like Michael Corleone did to his estranged wife Kay.

Sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

And The Wind Cries Mary - By Holly Searle



I am not going to lie to you. I am absolutely terrified of embarking on my chemotherapy treatment. This whole cancer thing has been exhausting. I absolutely hate it. For the last five months it's been at the top of my agenda and I just wish it would stop. Sometimes I fantasize about just going away somewhere peaceful to digest it all, as it all just feels like too much at once.

The suspicion, the diagnosis, the advice, the education, the treatment plan, the operation, the recovery and now I will have to deal with the shitstorm that is the FEC-T chemotherapy treatment.

A few weeks ago, I had an appointment to see the oncologist. This was the part two if you will of my cancer narrative: they operate, then they decide the best course of follow on treatment to avoid the cancer returning within the next ten years.

So I am curious to meet with the doctor, to have this appointment and to find out what my next task will be. I wait 90 minutes passed my appointed time to see her.

When I finally hear my name called, she beckons me into her consulting room. She's no fool, as she obviously notices straightaway that my face looks like a wet weekend in Bognor, because she asks me if I am okay.

'Yes, I am fine' I tell her 'I am just a bit annoyed at having to wait an hour and a half.'

We proceed. We sit. And she asks me how long I have been dealing with cancer and if I could give her a synopsis of my cancer treatment. This tells me that she hasn't read my notes, not a great start. So I tell her the concise but detailed version aware that someone else in the waiting area has now taken my place and is checking their watch.

Mid flow, a woman enters the room. The consultant says 'This is my registrar, she wants to ask me a question about Mary.'

I pause, what now, or in a minute I wonder to myself. The registrar is silent, so I carry on talking aware of this woman now waiting to speak. There's a queue here love and if I don't say my bit, I am prone to forget all the juicy bits because the doctor hasn't read my notes.

Then the consultant starts to speak really really fast whilst illustrating the points she is making with drawings. I can't look and listen and digest it all with the added pressure of woman behind me waiting to ask about Mary.

She asks me if my hair is dyed and says that it will all probably fall out and that I need to be aware that this chemotherapy treatment can actually cause cancer to grow again in my body.

Then the desk phone starts ringing and the doctor answers it, but holds the handset in the air away from her ear and carries on talking. I think aren't both of these actions, the woman here about Mary and the person now listening about me in breach of some sort of code or something?

She takes the call and I am sure this is a set up. She hangs up and I ask her a question about the treatment she is proposing. I ask her what the percentage is of my cancer returning if you don't have this treatment. She tells me that there is a program online somewhere that explains all of this but that she really needs to speak to her registrar about Mary.

I ask her if she would like me to leave? She says no no no. I am to wait here until she comes back.

I am now alone in the room that I have waited over an hour and a half to gain access to. The phone starts ringing again. I am tempted to pick it up and tell them that she is not here and that she has left me alone during my appointment to have a meeting with her registrar about someone else.

I don't. But, I am tempted.

Then there is a knock at the door and the nice breast cancer nurse comes in. She asks me where the doctor is, so I say having a meeting with her registrar about someone else.

I am really annoyed now. 15 minutes of fast talking and diagrams, but I am not really that clear about what I am having and why I am having it. I later log a complaint and ask for another appointment with another oncologist.

Most of the information I have ascertained about the proposed treatment has been via the nurse, a booklet, my friends and the internet.

It's all pretty shit and is making this bit of the treatment a festival of anxieties for me. I don't want to me pumped full of poison that will make me sick and tired. Or have port inserted a vein next to my heart placed there via another operation. Or worry about the chemo ruining my veins with the possibility of damage to my heart or lungs. I am such a secret hypochondriac, that this is playing havoc with my nerves.

I do not want to do this. I haven't been brave, I have just got on with it, because that's the only option you have if you want to not have cancer.

But now my courage is failing as I do not want these chemicals invading my body and lowering my my immune system. I do not want to be vulnerable any more, I just want it all to stop.

I am in line to have some counselling when a therapist becomes available and I shall look forward to it as I am mentally bruised from all of this.

I used to love this book when I was a child about a bull that just like sitting under a tree and smelling flowers. One day he gets stung by a bee and jumps about and they think he is fierce and take him the Madrid the flight the Matadors in the bullring. But he just sits there smelling all the flowers in the hats of the seated ladies in the audience. So, in the end they take him back to his field, where he sits under the tree and just peacefully smells the flowers again.

That book, is the story of my cancer treatment and the way I feel about it.

Spit Spot!

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Why Having Cancer is like being a Celebrity - By Holly Searle



From the moment you are diagnosed with cancer, all of these people whom you have never met, start making a massive fuss about you. They can't do enough for you as you slowly descend into the world of all things cancerous and how to treat them.

Appointments are made with very nice people who do all they can to help you as you head towards your initial treatment. In my case, this was my big op to remove the tumour from my left breast and then to reconstruct it, by importing living tissue from my stomach.

This is just the first bit. The cosmetic surgical replacement of the familiar, that now no longer exists because they found a lump of mutated cells within your breast.

As I have had my babies, I am okay with it, as I won't be nursing any more offspring. Plus, Only I look at my boobs these days, so as long as they look okay, that's fine with me.

The replacement reconstructed breast, certainly is worth the giant Jokeresque smile that will now and forever scar my lower abdomen.

And, throughout all of this, you are at the centre of it all like some highly worshipped deity. Then, all of a sudden, in recovery, it suddenly stops as you are home alone in pain without a healthcare worker in sight.

It's positively soul destroying.

But then, the reality of your cancer starts to kick in when you realize that the operation was only the start of it and that the real kick in the teeth is the follow on treatment. That bit where they inform you of how they are going to try and eradicate the possibility of your cancer returning within the next ten years by blasting your immune system with either or chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or both.

This is the nasty bit, as one of its consequences will make my hair fall out. Call me vain, but, it's the one thing I quite like about the way I look. I have a long fat face that reminds me of that Looney Tuner Droopy the dog in addition to my funny little piggy eyes. I am no oil painting. But I have always liked my lovely sunny yellow hair. I have never once dyed it even in my advancing years. It remains to this day a beautiful blonde colour. But now it will all be going. I will probably wake up to find it on my pillow or see it waving me goodbye for now as clumps come away as I brush it in a pathetic attempt at normality.

Apparently, two weeks after my initial treatment of chemo will see all my current lovely repunzel locks gone.

For the first time since I was diagnosed with cancer, I suddenly became really angry about these constant intrusions in my life. And this one just takes the fucking biscuit.

I will have to wear a wig, or a hat or something, until my lovely locks grow back.

I am also dreading the effect that the chemo will have on my body. Apparently, having this treatment, although it's the most successful, can cause another tumour to grow.

I really hope that isn't another shitty episode I will be an extra in, I really do.

I am not a celebrity, please get me out of here as soon as possible.

In the meantime, if you see me, I will be the cartoon dog in the wig, looking forward to next spring with new hair and hopefully, no more cancer.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Ippa-dippa-dation My Operation - By Holly Searle


For Nicole and Luke.


First of all, I am glad that I am writing this blog, as at one point after my op, I honestly thought I was going to die.

However, I didn't, so let me tell you what happened.

Monday 2 July we arrive my first born and I at the designated hospital at the time requested (7.30am). We see a succession of people, all of whom will play a part in my 8 hour op.

Lara, the aesthetician was first up. She tells me that according to my body and bone scan, the cancer in localized to my breast. I cry. It's the news I had wanted to hear, especially before this op.

I feel more positive about it all, even though this 8 hour op is not something I am looking forward to. My greatest fear, is of course that I will die on the table and never wake up. I have made my will and sorted out my life insurance so that my children will find this all easier to negotiate
if I do.

My breast surgeon is next. He and I do not think the same and this often means that he says things in a a way which annoy me. His heart is in the right place, but he is a classic example of one of those highly intelligent individuals who have no people skills at all.

So when he tells me that my scans are Unremarkable and I say `Well that’s good isn’t it?` He says `It just means that there is no great mass of cancer anywhere else.` I say `You’re not filling me with positivity, I feel like going home.`To which he replys `Please don’t do that.`

I decide to flag his poor pre op exchange with the head theatre nurse as she is next. My daughter confirms our bizarre exchange and she says that she is sorry and that she will mention it and that just so I know, these surgeons ARE really the very best.

I say, please don’t mention before the op.

My daughter and I hug each other. We both cry. I am fecking terrified. We walk to the Terry Gilliam styled lift. The nurse tells my daughter she can’t come with us any further. I say `What!` I tell my daughter I love her. The lift door closes and we head inch by inch closer to my op.

In the anti chamber I again meet Lara and her colleague. They say Holly we are glad when we start the day with people like you. They place needles in veins and a mask over my face and tell me not to worry if I feel drowsy. I think this is it and then I am out and everyone else is worrying instead.


8 hours later I wake up in recovery.

The taste in my mouth is vile and I am hot. Profusely so.

I am covered in a huge bubble wrap blanket that is heating my body. To ensure the living tissue that has been taken from my tummy and used to reconstruct my new breast is kept alive. It needs to be kept warm and the blanket is there for this purpose.

I am so thirsty and the nurse says yes please try and sip and small amount of water. I try but I am sick and throw it up. I try again. It happens again. This goes on for a worrying amount of time, so much so that my transfer is delayed to ward especially after it is discovered that one of my three drains has fallen out.

I have 3 drains. One each from the post operable sites: tummy, breast, lymph nodes. The drains drain excess fluids off of wounds after the op until the dip eases up.

I have one from my lymph nodes, because the histology was borderline with regards to prognosis of further cancer in those that remind. So I took the decision to have them all taken out just in case.

The doctor checks the drain site of the one that has fallen out. She says it’s fine. However, this has delayed me by an hour. I finally transfer to the ward at 8pm.

My children are there. I am glad to see them, but still aware of the taste and my inability to drink and keep any water down.

I know that you can go for some time without food, but fluid, well that’s a different story all together. I am starting to worry.

Hospital wards run on a 24 hour rota with shift changes divided into two 12 hour shifts. These begin and run from 8am – 8pm and 8pm - 8am.

I have arrived as handover is taking place. This is where my care began to go down hill a bit.

My nurse is stressed and she has obviously NOT understood my issues. She needs to do my observations ever hour; temperature, heart rate, and the application of the ultrasound to ensure that the blood flow is strong and healthy in my new breast.

But I also have leg pumps on which mimic walking whilst I am laying down. These are to prevent a blood clot. Mine will not work. I keep telling her and they try three machines none of which work. It isn’t until the following day that this is sorted out.

I am still throwing up water literally my the bucket loads of which, at one point I have several balanced on my body whilst I wait for the nurse to return. I start to panic and at one point she says `Look I have other patients to see.` I don’t ask her for anything else after that, but I stay awake for most of the night wondering if this awful experience has been in vain. I worry that my phone will pack up as it is my only link to people who will believe me. I text two friends as I need help.

I start to cry and the nurse tells me to stop crying as I will just cause myself more issues. I don’t like her at all.

The next day the new shift begins. I am so thankful.

I am still having issues with fluids. Various doctors and people visit. At some point the nursing team try and get me out of bed and I tell them I am only to faint. I do and am put back to bed.

My friend visits with my brother. My head feels like it is full of cotton wool. I am finding it hard to focus. I explain about the previous night. I know I look terrible as I know my friend as well as I know myself. So when she says `...You’re looking...a bit, ...oh no, I think it’s the blue curtain.` She can’t fool me.

Dread increases as I head towards the 8pm shift change as I feel absolutely shit. But then she came and saved me.

Nicole is an angel. She appears and says to me `I am here to take care of you tonight. I am going to do just that.` and she does. And it’s good that she does because I slowly go downhill and the night becomes the early hours. Lack of fluid, sleep and food have all taken their toll on my body as I start to shake as much so that they worry about my heart and take all sorts of readings and blood tests.

I am in so much pain. Imagine the worst period pain ever and times it by a million, it’s that bad. I worry that I will die. I say to Nicole and Luke the night doctor `Please don’t let me die.` The pain is so bad I actually think death might be a better option as this isn’t right.

Nicole and Luke do EVERYTHING for me, and give EVERYTHING to me. They eventually give me Morphine and I sleep.

When I wake up the pain has gone and I feel human again. I have also had a drip so my fluids are better. It’s a beautiful morning and I start to feel more like myself.

That’s all the bad bits.

My blood results indicated that my heart was okay.

After five days I really wanted to come home and so I did with one drain in situ.

That’s now gone.

My pain is okay now. I can now walk, but cannot stand up straight yet. My wounds are all healing and this week I will find out what next.

The cosmetic bit has been done and the cancer removed and sent to histology. This week I will be told what grade the cancer they took away was and how they will further eradicate it.

I will keep you posted.

This is what I have learnt.

I will never take anything for granted again. I will never moan about my body. And I will ALWAYS trust my instincts.

I have also learnt how loved I am and how every text, voice mail, email, card and calls you have all sent or taken the time to make, have carried me through this.

I am so, so grateful.

Thank you all so very very much.

In order to climb a wall you need support to get over it.

Thank you, literally, forever.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Send in the Clowns By Holly Searle



Two months ago I was diagnosed with cancer. It seems like years ago now, as it's really starting to drag.

Since then, I have met and taken my clothes off for strangers, visited 3 hospitals, spent in excess of thirty hours waiting to see people or attending appointments whilst hemorrhaging lost income.

I have had blood tests, biopsies, cardiac reports, MRI's, scans, ultrasounds and one operation.

And this is just the beginning.

Because I decided on the living tissue op (boob off and reconstruction carried out in one fell swoop), it has caused a slight problem in communication between two of the hospitals that have been sharing my care.


In my post lymph nodes removal state, I still had a long list of appointments to attend prior to my big op on June 25th. These are starting to manifest themselves like some crazy most do list in my head that I need to complete as I edge closer to the big cut.

High anxiety
.

I attend my surgical appointment to discuss my up and coming op to be informed it's now a week later on July 2nd (I didn't get that letter), and then wait around for two hours to see the cancer surgeon, who within moments of finally sitting down with me, it becomes apparently clear that he has none of my information or notes.

He is obviously more than a little stressed about this. But not as stressed as I am about it. Instead of fessing up and saying Look, there's been a massive cock-up, fancy coming back on another day when there isn't, he just tries to apportion blame elsewhere, which makes him look like a clown.

To add insult to injury, he starts calling my cancer my disease. He repeats this phrase several times during the course of our meeting. Disease, disease, disease. So much so that it really starts to grate on my nerves. I haven't got the Bubonic plague, I have cancer.

Seriously. I feel like Alyssa from The End of the F***ing World.

I am furious, as I do not leave knowing anything else or what he proposes to do. I do bag a body scan and a bone scan and the knowledge that if my cancer is bigger, after asking about the histology results from my lymph nodes, that my disease may have spread.

Great.

I am so angry. I have a whole weekend to worry about all of this and if my once sex-bombed re-imagined time-bomb body is hosting further possibilities.

My disease and I send emails of despair to those who might be able to shed some light on the situation. All weekend we stress.

Monday I make calls. I am literally shouting HELP as I have lost all confidence in the support from hospital two. Finally I get some.

The incredible supportive team at hospital one rescue me with their empathy, kindness and humanity. They tell me to come and see them and to talk. Then I realise I will be able to hear my lymph nodes histology result a day earlier than anticipated. So I brace myself.

They contain micro cancer too.

Thanks disease.

I ask the doctor I trust what he thinks. He tells me that there are four types of possible cancers that they look for in lymph nodes and that I have the more positive one. He says he thinks my prognoses in his experience should be okay.

But, I probably won't have radiotherapy but chemo instead.

It's all a big top of fun.

On the day my solo exhibition was beautifully hung in Bath, I sat under the hospital atrium in the bright sun light reviewing the images and enjoying that moment of pure joy and normality at the end of an otherwise hectic and emotional day.

Don't you love farce
?

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Do the Locomotion - By Holly Searle



I am finding this cancer interruptions a bit bloody annoying. The amount of medical appointments it has generated is almost record breaking. It's a task to remember them all to be honest, especially when they keep being rearranged to accommodate yet another test. I feel like a stream train struggling to get up a steep hill.

You can do it you can do it sang the carriages.

At the end of last week, one that I had managed navigated without anything to do with cancer (forecasted appointments already bagged), I get four calls on Friday from two nurses asking me multiple questions. Had I booked my Sentinel Node Scan? No, I hadn't. Was I meant too? I can't recall this part of the conversation with the doctor the previous week. The lovely nurse says well we need to get this sorted as the timeline is decreasing as we head towards the big op on the 25th.

I also have two bagged appointments in the wrong order, so the nurse says that she will change these. Then the other nurse calls from the other hospital to run through the plan for this week and to explain about my pre op op.

What?

Then she explains that prior to my big op, they need to carry out a biopsy of my lymph lodes, by removing several, in order to determine if the cancer is living within their cells. This will in turn, determine how much addition tissue will be removed during my big op.

I am horrified as I will find out earlier than anticipated, if I have cancer in my body's motorways.

I knew it was due, but now I am being forced to deal with it before I feel ready too.

Cancer, the gift that just keeps giving.

The first nurse never does call back with a rearranged prearranged new appointment.

To be fair, I am not her only patient and I have been on the phone to the other nurse for a while.

So, I do this myself.

I also call Macmillan Cancer and speak to the welfare team there as I am starting to stress about money. My mortgage provided has agreed to give me a two-month holiday. This will be a massive help but I still need the security of knowing that I will be able to claim something. I find out that I am entitled too Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Looks like I might just stay in the red, but only just on £92.00 per week, a total drop of £700.00 per month to my income.

My Will has been made and my Life Insurance left in trust (all needed to be done anyway).

But I have lost my art mojo. This really upsets me as I have solo show coming up and even though I have some pieces, I can't seem to find my muse. She is probably as overwhelmed as I am with so many appointments and trying to balance life, work, money and bloody cancer, isn't really leaving too much time or energy for art.

I called Macmillan to have a cry and a talk as I don't want to burden my nearest and dearest too much. The man I speak too suggests I try doing something I enjoy. I think I can't at the moment as I am just too exhausted micro managing this poxy blinking cancer.

It's starting to railroad me from my life and I hate that

I decide to think about this time next year, when I will look back on all of this and be glad it's all over. I am focusing on my plans to finally leave London.

A seaside dwelling seems like just the ticket to start a new chapter in my life. So, once I am back on track, that's where I will be off too.

After all, life's a bit too short not to think about the future.

Monday, 28 May 2018

My Milkshake Brings All The Boys to the Yard - By Holly Searle





Here is the news.


After deciding on the living tissue option to reconstruct my left breast, I then had misgivings. The thought of having a ten hour operation to enable this in addition to another incision and scar on my torso, seemed quite overwhelming.

No, I thought, the best option would be to shorten the time spent on the table, and to have an implant.

But then I attended a seminar at the Maggie's center based at Charing Cross Hospital, held and given by the plastic surgeon in charge of these operations.

Go, my nurse told me, as you might change your mind.

So I did.

The seminar's are a great idea for those of us still shell shocked by having breast cancer and its consequences. A one hour gig delivered by the man who carries out these reconstruction ops, featuring before and after images of women who have been through both options.

They are a center of boob excellence here and painstakingly take their time to tell you EVERYTHING. Don't buy a white mastectomy post op bra as it will just go grey from all of the washing we are informed.

The images are quite graphic and harrowing. I try to divorce myself from their surgical mutilations and focus of the after images where you would never be able to guess what once transpired to the women who feature on this Power Point presentation.

But as I sat there, I thought to my self, do I want all of this? Who is this reconstruction for? It won't even be the final score. Oh no, that comes after they check out, what they took out. This is just the removal and replacement operation.

No one every looks at my boobs these days apart from me.

I ask myself, am I really that bothered? Then I think, yes, I bloody well am.

Who knows, maybe one day, apart from the surgeons, nurses, doctors and all the other hospital staff, that have already had the pleasure of poking and prodding my breast, to draw their diagnostic conclusions, someone else might like to inspect it for more pleasurable reasons.


But l will be bothered, as I will have to look at either an empty desolate space that will be devoid of what was once was there.

Or, l can look at a similar amalgamation that has replaced it.

But more than that, I don't really want to have this fecking cancer or have my favourite breast removed. I don't want to be sitting in a room with a group of strangers looking at images of women who have been changed so radically by cancer.

This breast fed my babies. It was always more reliable than the other one, it never let me down and now it has.

So, l have no choice but to allow its removal. Its nasty hidden contents banished to histology where my post op fate will be decided.

When the plastic surgeon explains that the living tissue op takes less time than first anticipated, and that implants will need to be replaced in 15 years (plus it won't age and I will), I decide to go with the living tissue option. This option is also what they term surface. It's literally not brain surgery.

The surgeon explains that they identify a fat profitable location of your body: inner thigh, bum or tummy (I am rich in all of these areas – who knew), remove it and relocate it to where the carcinogenic breast is/was. They then create a new breast. Later after this has settled down, you return for a second op to have both breasts aligned. Then, you return at a later date to has either a prosthetic nipple added and or tattoo.

Blimey. It's a lot to mentally digest.

And the way I deal it is by focusing on the next bit. I quite like a point of reference.

After the seminar I see the surgeon. I tell him that I would like the living tissue op. He calls a nurse in and I take my clothes off for another stranger. He measures my breasts and then checks out the fat deposit on my stomach. Phew, there is enough there.

He leaves me alone with the nurse. She's lovely. I say 'I knew there was a reason for eating all those biscuits.' She laughs.

My op is scheduled for June 25th. Before then, I will have to attend another scan to locate the blood vessels in my tum. But for now, I have a beacon to head towards.

I will be hospitalized for five days (please visit). I will then need five to six weeks to recover. I am not too sure how I am going to manage this money wise as my income pays for our life. But, Macmillan offer directional help for you in these situations. So I will call them, call my mortgage provider and get this all set in place before my op.

Six weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Early Stage Breast Cancer. Fingers crossed in five weeks time, they'll get it all out of my body. Then I will face the next bit with my head up and my sore, but replacement boob.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

You're Gonna Need a Bigger Op - By Holly Searle





So, I still have cancer, only it's bigger, 5 x bigger than they initially thought.

My doctor, a lovely human being, interrupted the already planned pre op tests and scheduled operation, by sending me off to have a Breast MRI.

I am ridiculously claustrophobic. If you are looking for an additional member for your pot holing team, please don't ask me. I hate small confined places as much as I hate the way this cancer has caused chaos in my life.

Before the MRI, I asked my GP to prescribe me something to help me get through it. But then I think about the night that follows this MRI and how I have a piece of artwork in a group exhibition in London opening that evening. I want to go, but I don't want to be off my face when I attend. So I decide to do the MRI cold turkey and it's just awful. After 20 minutes in there laying face down with my boobs in a cage, I get them to pull me out. The lady tells me not to worry as not everyone can do MRI's. I say what happens next, she says that they need to inject me with radioactive liquid and take images to see if the dye flags up any additional cancer. How long will it take I ask, my claustrophobia is manageable as long as I know EXACTLY what is happening, why and how long it will take.

I strike a deal with the guy in charge of the MRI. I ask him to let me know when there is 5 minutes left. He agrees. So with the canular inserted in my arm and pumping radioactive dye (which I taste as it passes through my body), I lay there hyperventilating with my eyes tightly shut, until he calls time.

When it's over, I cry, as I hate MRI's and the fact that having cancer has made me endure this one.

I try to brave it at the gallery that evening, but I am exhausted. When I get home, I worry that I am trying to do too much: work, be an artist, deal with cancer.


I sleep well that night and silently pat myself on the back.

The MRI reveals that the cancer is much bigger and this changes everything.

So instead of having my intended op, I have a further biopsies to determine the parameter of the newly discovered super size cancer. This involves having my left breast numbed and then having a long needle inserted and a staple gun snap when they take the sample. Five of these I don't feel, one I do and nearly pass and or throw up due to the pain.

I feel violated even though I know all these nice people are doing all of this to help me battle this nasty mutation in my body.

You're being so brave the lady tells me.

I don't feel brave, I feel like running away. I feel like screaming PLEASE STOP THIS MADNESS.

So today is the first of many High Noon days I am sure I will have to face over the coming months.

My surgeon tells me that after all these additional tests, it is bigger and that this means I will have to have a mastectomy. My oldest friend has accompanied to this appointment and I hear her sharp intake of breath from the other side of the examination curtain that divides us.

My brain swirls. Reconstruction I ask? Yes he says, we can actually do both at the same time. We discuss an implant option against the benefits of a living tissue one. With the living tissue, they take the fat off of your belly. Win win I think. New boob AND a flatter tummy. How lucky am I?

Ironically the fat on my belly is a result of the HRT, which could also have caused my cancer.

But this is a 10 hour operation. Prior to this I will have to attend a kind of lecture at Charing Cross Hospital to explain the entire cancer journey, options and out come.

I may change my mind after I have attended this. I won't know until I do.

It's all been an emotional roller coaster, one that I can only deal with by focusing on the fact that all rides must end at some point.

Everyone has been amazing. Everyday I get support and love (and tears) from family and friends.

PLEASE keep that coming. It's making this all so much easier to bare knowing that you all are.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

C is For Cancer By Holly Searle






So, I have cancer.

How scary is that word?

When the consultant told me, I didn't hear another word he said after he said that word.

My mind just went into overdrive.

Am I going to die?

Is this how I am going to die?

Really?

Is this it?

How bad is it?

CANCER?

What the fuck.

The nurse found a room for us to talk in. The first thing she said was 'Well you probably didn't hear a word he said after he said the word Cancer. BUT, I am going to run through it all with you, so you understand exactly what is going on'.

And so she did.

I have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.

It's in my left breast. It's small, early and treatable.

If you could want to choose which cancer to have, it would be this one she said.

But I was still thinking, really, cancer?

My mind works like this: the day before I was told I had cancer, I knew nothing about it, but today I do. So I just need to know what and how to proceed from this point on to resolve it. I am the same person as I was yesterday, I now just have something else to deal with.

Then, I started to think emotionally about it.

I would quite like to be really old when I die. I would like to watch my grandchildren grow-up and see them blossom. I would like to see my son graduate from University and continue to be so so proud of my daughter's incredible ambition.

I would like to travel a bit more and finally move into a house with a garden and be kissed passionately by an as yet, unknown lover.

These are all of the thoughts that are knocking on the door of the cancer space in my head. I can't let those thoughts in right now until I know I am going to get rid of this parasite that has become an unwelcome guest in my body.

My surgeon asked me if I would like to feel the lump. I didn't really want too as I would rather not acknowledge its existence in my life: by doing that, would be having to admit to it being real. But, I did and it is.

What a massive pile of crap that is.

I am just going through the motions.

Because it is small, early and treatable, the prognosis based on all the science, looks good. However, until I have my initial op and the results that follow on from it, I am still holding my mental breath. I have pacified those knocking thoughts for now by posting a note on the door that simply says ' You'll know when I do.'

I know that cancer doesn't always equal death, but I think a lot of people do draw that conclusion. I know this from the reactions I have received. But, I also think that is the reaction that they would have if they had been given the news themselves.

I have never had cancer before and I hope I never have it again. I want it gone as I have too much to do.

As I have got older I have realised that the value of time and how and I spend it is the only currency of worth in my life, and I am going to spend as little of it as I possibly can on and with this cancer. It can do one.

It has certainly made me think about the relevant and irreverent on a daily basis, so much so that I wonder why I hadn't thought like that before.

For now, the future is several appointments prior to surgery and then then more pathology results, followed by (fingers crossed) some intense radiotherapy. Then, touch wood, my surgeon tells me that it should be as though I never had it.

Small, early, treatable.

He said to me 'Someone is watching over you, not once but twice. Once because you were called back, and twice because it is so small.'

Just between us, for a man of science to tell me this, gives me hope.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

2017:Time to Breathe By Holly Searle



2016.

Wow what an arse of a year that was.

There’s a hill that ascends Highgate Cemetery that is particularly testing on the legs. But what is even more debilitating about this hill, is the fact that it just goes on and on and on. When you eventually see that the end is in slight (the entry gate to the cemetery), if you had any breath left in your body, you would probably shout "Hallelujah". Never, ever in your life, will you be so happy to finally reach your intended destination: the entrance to a graveyard (or maybe you will).

2016 was a bit like that hill. As Big Ben rung in 2017, we all collectively shouted "Hallelujah" even if it did remind us all that Leonard Cohen who both wrote and performed it, was also one of its many casualties.

It was alight wasn't it? Wasn't it? No it wasn't as people started to get hurt and it didn't seem like a good start to the year.

In response, we all stuck two fingers up at 'It' (not the clown in the Stephen King book, but just as evil) and attempted to became more human via technology in spite of it all.

But it just seemed to get worse didn't it? It didn't seem to ease-up on the misery front at all. Instead, it felt like it was raining death. Our collective mortality seemed to be up for auction at any price. Who will be next we wondered as no one appeared to be safe.

Then it all got a bit too personal for me and mine when my mum suffered a brain aneurysm. It was horrific for all of us: was she going to live or die? If she survived, how would it affect her? Would she remember her life? Would she remember us? How were we prepared for this?

It was an unrelenting nightmare that she eventually survived. As a child, when your parent becomes sick, you experience a multitude of emotional responses, one of which is a numb void of the exhaustion you constantly feel.

You develop compassion fatigue for all that is external or irrelevant to that time and space.

In a word, it was shit.

It could be worse though couldn't it?

Whilst my mum lay in the ICU, a ward of 10 beds, I was taking a break downstairs when I literally bumped into a family friend. I had been thinking I should call this friend and let her know about mum's situation. So when I saw her I asked her if my aunt had called her. I will never forget the look of realization that crossed her face as she covered her mouth with her hand. No, she didn't know about mum. She was there because her brother-in-law (another friend of ours) had also suffered a brain aneurysm and was laying in the bed opposite mum's. It was too much to process. What are those odds? He was a young healthy middle aged man. He didn't smoke or do any of those apparent bad life choices that people make. My mum however, well she was an all singing and dancing smoking drinker in her late 70's.

He never woke-up and died shortly afterwards.

Even as I type that, I still cannot believe that it happened. That poor man. The grief expelled by his family was just crucifying: and I felt terribly guilty about the fact that my mum did wake-up.

As the year progressed, life changed and with it relationships. Imagine trying to do a jigsaw puzzle with a blindfold on. That's what it was like.

Nothing seemed to make too much sense any more, whilst at the same time, it all seemed far too overwhelming to make sense of. Everyday life still had to go on: ironing and shopping still needed to be completed and done. But, it was hard to find an even keel on board a boat in a stormy sea sometimes.

As the year headed towards the festive season I lost my job and my mate. I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep and some days I did. My mum has always said that you should listen to your body and so I did.

Like all of you, as we crawled towards New Year's Eve and the conclusion of this shitty year, I was determined that 2017 would be a better destination. 2016 taught me to appreciate everything and to take nothing for granted. And time is ticking. Listen and you'll hear it. It won't wait for you to make the best use of it if you choose not too you know: it will just tick tock on and leave you standing.

Spit spot.

I spent the impending hours of 2016 in the company of my dearest friend. She is clever and wise and smart and extremely emotionally generous. I love her unreservedly. Last year she said to me 'Feel the love Holly.' And even though I felt a huge amount of sorrow for all that I lost personally and collectively in 2016, I am not going to miss a thing in 2017. I am blessed and grateful to have so many and so much on my side and that my mum is still here.

Don't get so bogged down with the big stuff, it just blows away like petulant tumble weed after a while if you ignore it: just breathe, get up every day and do what makes you happy. As long as you tick all of the boxes, you're allowed.

And if you're not happy, then ask yourself why and how you can change that. You can you know.

2017 is a new chapter waiting for you to write.

Remember that Shia LaBeouf 'Just do it.' video?

Nuff said.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Get What You Needed? By Holly Searle


Last night, before I went to bed, I wrote the following line in an email.

Sometimes what we need and what we want are separate matters.

In bed I read a little before deciding that it was getting far too late to carry on with this nightly indulgence. So I turned the light off and fell asleep.

And then I woke-up.

Eyes opened and wide awake assuming it was, as it usually is, around 6am. I check the time and discover that it is actually just after 1:30am.

Being a self confessed opportunist, I check the news feed to see what's happening in the US Presidential Elections, to discover that it's still early days with Hilary trailing to Trump.

Oh! Oh No, Oh No, Oh No, Oh No I think.

Hang on I tell myself, just calm down and try and go back to sleep. You have an interview tomorrow and you need to be rested.

So I attempt to go back to sleep.

This is proving difficult as I am starting to stress about the state of mutanity and the prospect of Trump actually, ACTUALLY, winning and how that will pan out for all of us.

Then I try to dismiss this notion and trick myself into going back to sleep by thinking about needs and wants.

What do I need? And What do I want? I ponder in the hope that a little narrative will unfold, that will eventually lead to a sounder sleep.

A new job is a definite priority Need having just been made redundant for the second time in three years. Without work I cannot earn enough money to pay for the life I have and am responsible for providing for my son.

I Need to that to happen and soon.

I lay there scrunched-up in the duvet and decide that Needs are different from Wants: as Wants are sometimes unobtainable desires like Wanting to win the lottery. In reality, I won't win the lottery, as it is more realistic to find a job and to earn money rather that fantasizing about all the things I could do (to quote ABBA) if I had a little money.

I also surmise that Needs like family, friendship, shelter, warmth, health, food and water are all givens that I have in my life. I am therefore rich. A millionaire in fact.

To Want these and to never have them, must be a lonely predicament.

I fall asleep.

Then I wake again.

Eyes open, wide awake!

It's now 4 something and I wonder if there will be a woman or a man in the White House. So I check the news feed again. It's looking grim but as yet undecided.

I tell myself that I Want a woman in the White House. I am not a religious bod, but I say a little prayer that Trump isn't the people's choice. I also decide that the global herd's woes, worries and wishes are what's interrupting my sleep.

I doze off.

When I next wake-up, I immediately check the latest. I think it must be all over and it is now, as Trump is now a Top Trump and Hilary is fast becoming yesterday's fish and chip paper.

I get up and it's dark and rainy outside. It looks like what I envisage Armageddon might look like, although really it's just after 6am on a Wednesday morning in November in 2016.

To accompany this nihilistic scene Morrissey begins singing November Spawned A Monster in my mind palace. I close the curtains and I go and make a cup of tea as I Need one.

The day unfolds. My son gets up and I just say to him 'I don't want to talk about it.' We watch the news on the black mirror in silence and he hugs me before he goes off to school.

I return to the telly. Trump, Trump, Trump.

Dess my Step dad always called farts Trumps.

I get ready for my interview whilst watching Trump making his speech. He exits to the Rolling Stones song You can't always get what you want and for a brief moment I wonder if one of his aids has forgotten to change the record in view of the result, as this sounds like a losers song. But then I realise that it is very apt, I suppose and ironic all in the same instance.You can't always get what you want.But if you try sometime you find you get what you need.

I worry that my initial speculation about that line I wrote in the email. It's somewhat eerie that I wrote it in consideration of what has transpired.

I think about my restless night's sleep and how I Wanted Hilary to be the victor of the spoils. I sigh and go off to my interview knowing I didn't Need Trump, but that others did and that the spoils maybe spoilt.


Saturday, 1 October 2016

Cue Neil Sedaka By Holly Searle



It's probably not advisable to listen to the slow version of Breaking Up Is Hard To Do by Neil Sedaka when you've just ended a relationship. The line that is guaranteed to set you off in floods of tears is the when Neil sings Remember when you held me tight. And you kissed me all through the night.

When I was a kid, I used to have one of Neil Sedaka's albums. It was called Laughter & Tears: The Best of Neil Sedaka Today. I played it to death. It was a bitter-sweet mix of melodic tunes, emotive lyrics that may well have been penned by either Burt Bacharach or Carol King: all of which were pulled together by Neil's dulcet tones and backed up for good measure with a full Vegas styled orchestral accompaniment.

I absolutely loved that album. It had something for every mood or occasion. I have no idea what became of it. But I know what became of me.

I got on with my life with other soundtracks.

When I started this relationship, I wasn't that long out of another one. One that I shouldn't have had. But as each and everyone of us knows, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I was quiet vulnerable and wanted to embrace life again. I wasn't looking to get entwined in something so soon, it just happened, and it felt good. It wasn't like anything else I had been able to establish as the person shared the same uncanny amount of personality traits and interests as me.

So why did it all go wrong?

I have a friend who ended a long term relationship. One which she may never recover from. Each time she gets it together, the other person (even though he is in another relationship) taunts her endlessly by pressing all of the buttons that he knows will hurt her the most. Whilst I realize that there are always two sides to a story, I find it unforgivable of him to keep making her suffer in this way. I have no idea what he gains from this especially having just announced his engagement to his current significant other.

Maybe his new lady doesn't fulfil a certain aspect for him that he knows he can only obtain from his prior. Whatever his motivation, I wish he would just draw a line and allow my friend to move on.

There is only one word for him and it rhythms with Emily Blunt.

Moving on is very hard, especially when you have shared so much.

Good, bad or indifferent, those are your shared memories and no one else'.

Throughout the time I was party to this relationship, we dealt with a lot; love, loss, guilt, anger, sickness, shock, insecurities and unresolved grief.

I have no idea how we managed to fit so much into the last year without going mad. But maybe we did and that's why we called it a day. In the end when the bar tender called last orders, we hadn't taken the time to plan it all out and see the bigger picture instead of trying to fit it all in when we could.

I am not going to lie to you. I envy those who stick it out and work it out. I covet their ability to keep on keeping on. I sometimes wonder why that has never been something I have yet to achieve in my life with my own significant other. I worry, as the years go by, that I never will.

It's been a rough year outside of all of this. One which has made me weep openly about events that I had no control over. I have had to deal with multiple people and emotional situations that have been very difficult to deal with. I am only one person after all, and sometimes I just needed a cuddle outside of all of that (both mentally and physically) to help me manage it all. I am far from perfect, and have my own issues to deal with. So maybe this wasn't the best year to find my happy ever after.

It's all left me reeling, as you can imagine, with a mass of insecurities and misgivings about love and life. But everything is relative.

Those days spent alone in my room with Neil playing his album on the turntable sometimes feel like that belonged to someone else.

In the end, it will all be fine because it always usually is.

But it's been harsh, hard and sad. Harder than all of the other times when I had to finishes the book I had been reading, close it and put it back on the shelf.

Think of all that we've been through.

And breaking up is hard to do


Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Long Distance Mother By Holly Searle




I have often wondered over the last three decades what it must be like to not be a single parent. After raising two children on my lonesome, it's hard to envisage what having another person there to have supported me upon this journey would have been like.

Do couples with children ever think what it must be like to raise children without their other half?

I wonder if they ever ponder the prospect except in dire circumstances.

But let me tell you this. Being a single parent is both rewarding and heartbreaking in equal measures. For the parent it means that you are alone in making all of the choices for your child. There is no one else to sound off too, or ask their opinion of. It's just you working it all out and winging it for the most part with your fingers crossed and your eyes squeezed tightly together whilst whispering a little prayer to whoever might be listening that the choices you are making are correct.

And then there is the financial implications. One wage is never enough to cover all of the bases. You struggle for years in a vain attempt to make all of the ends meet and that the provision of the basics are available. But holidays are not a reality that you can envisage. That is not a priority in your annual agenda. It is something that is just not doable.

But for the parent the most upsetting aspect is the loneliness of being an adult and not having another adult to do stuff with. To be able to secure that for yourself and balance it with your role as the parent of a child or children who come first, is almost impossible, or so it would seem.

I have tried over the years to find a mate. But the issues this raises are complex and difficult to navigate. Juxapositioning a long established relationship against a fledgling one is problematic especially if that other person either has no children of their own, or, as is more often the norm, has children who are only intermittently in their life.

Parenting happens on a daily basis. It's made up of a litany of tiny repetitive mundane domestic episodes, familiarity and an established set of routines. There is no handbook for you to refer your prospective partner too for them the gain an overview and insight of your day to day life with your kith and kin.

I love children. I am intrigued by kids and their outlook on life and what interests them. When I meet the children of friends or relatives, I bridge a communication gap with them by trying to discover what it is that makes them tick. Kids are great as they have no hidden agenda, they are just themselves. They are more honest with their feelings than adults are as they have yet to swim in the pool of life and become a little tainted in the process.

And here lies the rub: if your partner cannot establish a relationship with your child or children, then the relationship that you had hoped for may never grow.

By all means find time to do things as a couple, that is really important for both of you. As a single parent you deserve to have someone for yourself. It is a must that you find and invest time in interests outside of your parental role. One day your chicks will fly away, and when they do, and although you will still be an important part of their life, they will have their own lives to manoeuvre around and new relationships to make: and you will be left to your own devices. But if your partner wants you to make them more important than your child or children, that is never going to happen. If that person enters into a relationship with you, then they must understand that they are going to have to make relationships with you and yours.

It's the most exhausting and quite frankly heartbreaking aspect of trying to establish a relationship outside of your single parent status whilst still being a parent. It can combine joy and pain. At times you will feel as though you are trying to keep everyone apart from yourself happy. You want to have it all: the security of the relationship as well as the well-being of your offspring. It's a logistical nightmare.

To welcome someone into your life with open arms to be met with a critique of your child or children is not acceptable. As a mother you have carried that child, given birth to them and then nurtured and protected them ever since. So you are not about to stand by and entertain the input from someone who isn't their natural parent. Yes as individuals they may have their own idiosyncratic and imperfect patterns of behaviour. But can the prospective partner honestly stand on their soap box and offer their opinion on your relationship with your child or children without first wondering if they are in a position to do so?

Where is the qualifications gained for this speakers corner insight I wonder in comparison to your wealth and knowledge about your own flesh and blood?

There is no comparison. In the end it's more likely that the prospective partner has some of their own unresolved issues as well as being inflicted by a touch of the green-eyes monster when they realize to the detriment of their ego, that they have to share you with other people.

It's a shame when it doesn't all workout and your secret wish to form a new family outside of the norm fails to take root. People end up feeling left out and frustrated and you just end up feeling sad.

To enable a successful union, the best foot forward would be to acknowledge what you have and what your expectations are. It's like training for a race: you need to train and to understand that it takes time and that a period of adjustment will have to be observed before all the pieces of the puzzle fit together to form a suitable picture that you are all happy with.

To enable that, my advice to any prospective partners would be although you are having a relationship with the parent, invest heavily in the offspring. If this is going to be a long term relationship they are going to be a long term part of your life as much as you are theirs. You have secured the love of their parent, so you need to prove to them that you deserve it. You need to gain their respect and by showing them that you are a fully formed and respectable human being. Why would their parent choose you they might wonder? What do you have that makes you good enough to earn their parent's love? Are you good enough to be the person to take care of their parent? How are you going to prove to them that you the wonderful human being that you think you are?

It's like a maze I know, but so is being a single parent: and if I, and millions of others can hit the ground running and produce well rounded individuals without any prior knowledge, then so can you.

It's all about the application and the extent and quality of your participation in the end, just like life.

All relationships are hard work. They are especially so if you are a parent seeking a partner. Or a partner seeking a partner who happens to be a parent.

If you truly love and respect the parent, all the training you put in will pay off in the end.

And you'll be a winner.


Thursday, 21 July 2016

Like or Dislike: The Curious Case of Facebook




A few years ago a dear friend of mine who had move away to the seaside invited me via an email to join Facebook. I had received many invitations prior to the one she had sent me from other less salubrious people, but I had ignored all of them as I was sceptical about this virtual world with its alien reality.

What was it all about this Facebook thing?


I did begin to wonder: and because I trusted her, and as I was curious, I placed my X on the spot and signed away a good part of the last ten years.

Throughout that decade, I have found friends (not unlike Pokemon Go), as well as being found by friends. I I have shamelessly uploaded images of events in my life. I have lamented the sad passing of numerous human beings. I have been unfriended by some, as well as personally unfriending and then blocking some really special characters. I have been contacted by a murderer: and have celebrated, debated and rated issues, as well as generally sharing my life.

It's not all been bad, but it's not all been good either.

About six years ago I made a pact with myself that these virtual chums, should also be defaulted back to their reality status: and so, when I could, I made sure I met up with them in the real world sociably.

Less social media, and more social me and you (and them) I decided, was my way of being able to justify the amount of time I spent online.

Of course this lead to more sharing of images of these events ironically on Facebook. It was like a hall of mirrors at a carnival. The reality was there, but by sharing it, it was becoming an illusion of itself.

Then Twitter stepped in.

I tried both for a spell, but then drew the conclusion that whilst Facebook was like a small village where everyone knew everyone else, Twitter was like the entire world.

On Twitter you could follow all of the people that you would one day lament the passing of on Facebook. These were bizarre and surreal worlds full of virtual insanity, purpose and nothing of any real value whatsoever.

And throughout those ten years I participated like a person whose ultimate goal in life had always been to appear on It's a Knockout tirelessly filling a bucket with as much water as virtually possible, whilst silently praying for the sound of Eddie Waring's whistle.

But then something change and my mum became ill and we nearly lost her, and nothing seemed to be that important or funny any more.

I would check in from time-to-time, but social media had lost its appeal.

In the end, in early July I decide to stop checking in: and since then Facebook has taken to sending me daily emails informing me like a spurned lover, that I have a set amount of notifications. As each day passes, the number grows. I have no idea what these notifications are. In the end I came to conclude that if the people that are missing virtual me, are missing me, then they would eventually get in touch.

I have used Twitter. I have used Twitter as I am less inclined to get overcome by my unfavorable perception of the futility of the posts and comments I find there as I don't personally know a healthy majority of the people I follow.

Early in July, when I thinking about Facebook, I happened mentioned to my other half how odd this virtual existence really was when you thought about it.

'Imagine' I said to him 'that you're standing in a room with 20, 55, 350 or even 500+ people. Some you know, some you don't, not really. Some you know by association, or via an another online friend. You're standing in this room, and each of these people are coming up to you and showing you their photos or poking you. And as you try to concentrate on the person that is showing you their photos (you don't want to appear rude after all), another person (not the one poking you annoyingly in the back), is telling you that they are unwell, whilst another is telling you that they are watching a movie, whilst another one is informing you that they can't stay, as they are off to attend an event. That's what it's like.' I said.

'It's seems odd when you think of it like that, doesn't it?'

'Yes. It does'' He replied as he loves me and knows how difficult, complicated and emotional life has been for me recently.

Then whilst I was walking home from work I met an old friend. We chatted about this and that and the Facebook thing came-up.

'Yes, I know what you mean.' She said 'Dave (her bloke) calls it Two-faced Facebook as people aren't really being who they actually are on there. Their lives are always so much better than yours. If you're feeling crap about your life, some of the comments and posts won't make you feel any better, they will just make you feel worse!' She exclaimed in a physically animated way that I have never witnessed on Facebook.

Her passion, and my imagined Star Trek Holodeck room (filled with all of my Facebook Friends), just lead me to conclude that enough was enough for now: especially in light of the other real life events that have illuminated all of the reality of the virtual reality in my life.

Ten years is a long time.

And as a farewell for now, I will probably post this as a PS to all my Facebook Friends. It's not you, it's me. I just need some space to clear my head. And even though I am not there, I am here, and if you fancy checking in with me, please feel free to do so.

Liked.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Stent By Holly Searle



For AO with love from HS X



Up until the day it happened, and throughout the previous month, before it had occurred, which by the way had encompassed his fiftieth birthday: Marty Quinn had felt both psychically and emotional out of whack with his life.

In retrospect, it was possible to map the inevitability of its arrival. It was as clear as the nose on his youthful clean shaven face: the formidable and unrelenting tsunami of stress that had shattered his world, contained one last little gift for him. Happy Birthday it screamed in his ear, so loudly that it woke him up. A clear and concise message in a bottle for a survivor shipwrecked by his own emotional and genetic history.

Just like that, when he had thought that the aftershocks of his ill-conceived marriage and subsequent divorce had finally (finally), become nothing more than a miserable memory that he could hardly believe he had once been a willing participant in: his body crumbled.

Who knew?

Well he certainly hadn’t. He was absolutely clueless. Prior to the night that he had stood alone in the kitchen that belonged to the guy he was renting a room from, whilst munching on several aspirin as instructed while he contemplated the imminent arrival of the paramedics: he still assumed it was nothing more than the wear and tear of ageing. After all, hadn’t the locum he had seen at the nearest GP surgery less than 48 hours before, confidently informed him after he had explained to her that he was getting pains in his right arm and across his chest, that is was nothing more than a trapped nerve?

Yes, that is correct, Marty had thought to himself as he chewed and then swallowed the bitter tasting tablets. The first doctor I have seen since I was a child, quite clearly told me it was a trapped nerve. And that is all it is.

Who knew it was a heart attack? Who knew? The paramedic that called through to Harefield Hospital that’s who. He knew as soon as he set eyes on Marty.

Was it that bad? Obviously, from the look on his face when he look at Marty, it was.

The ride to the hospital was surreal. Heart attack. It may as well have been a shark attack it was so out of the blue. Reality bite a huge hole out of the dark void Marty now physically occupied as he lay there in the ambulance connected to a machine that was monitoring his heart.

His heart.

The ambulance raced along while its crew casually rock and swayed with its steady forward moving motion on its way towards the hospital.

Marty tried not to think about his heart. Instead he tried to focus on something else. But it was impossible. He wanted to cry. He felt like the loneliest man in the world. Why was there no significant other with him in this ambulance? Was this it? Was this the sum of his fifty years on Earth over? Was he going to die? What about his kids? Would they miss him? He could just see his how cross his ex-wife would be when the child support stopped. That wouldn’t guarantee a favourable epitaph for his memory in the years that were to follow.

He blew slow calming breaths out through his pursed lips and tried to focus on that.

“Nearly there now.” Said the paramedic, shattering Marty’s self-imposed glass train of thought.

As they pulled up to the hospital, Marty’s heart grew heavy. This was really happening.

Marty had been a man who had inhaled and exhaled stress in the same way that other people used oxygen. It had not been his intention of course to become the agent provocateur of his own well-being breakdown. On the contrary, this was absurd. His friends would laugh along with him later when he recounted the current events that were unfolding around him.

You? You had a heart attack? But you’re the most health conscious person I know!”

And as the paramedics delivered him from the womb of the ambulance and into the care of the waiting cardiology team, he wonder when Terry Gilliam would shout “Cut!” Rapidly followed by the sentence. “That’s a wrap people.” At which point Marty could return to his uneventful life and obviously not that healthy life, where this would all appear to have been nothing more than a peculiar dream.

But that wasn't what happened. What happened was that he was laid out on an operating table where morphine was immediately injected into the tiny artery via his wrist. The sensation as it made its way up his arm, reminded him of the Space Dust he'd once sprinkled on his tongue as a youth.

He had entertained that at his own pleasure. This he was enduring in order to survive.

The cardiologist explained to Marty that due to his heart attack, they were going to perform a coronary angioplasty. This he explained was an operation whereby they inserted a tiny tube called a stent into the blocked artery of his heart to enable it to flow better. The current blockage was undoubtedly the cause of the heart attack. He explained. And this, along with a few lifestyle changes, would prevent Marty from having another one.

What now?” Marty asked “You’re going to do it now?”

“Yes. Time waits for no man Mr Quinn. Would you like to watch?” Said the cardiologist as he turned a monitor in Marty’s direction.

“If you keep watching, you’ll see the stent as it travels all the way up through the now comfortable numb artery in your arm. Then I will place it just in the right spot at the cause of the blockage. Imagine Fantastic Voyage captained by one of the world’s best plumbers, and you should get a pretty good idea of what’s going on.”

Marty was enthralled as he watched the minute lifesaving piece of wire-mesh tube make its way towards his heart. He wished there was someone holding his hand that he could turn too and say “Wow! Look at that! How amazing that Proteus is on its way to mend my heart!” But there wasn’t.

With his eyes focused on the procedure and his body partially anaesthetised by drugs: Marty’s mind began to wander.

Was this it? The age and winter of his own personal discontent had now evolved into the age of health issues which would now be compounded by his woeful unrelenting loneliness. Woe woe woe is me he thought.

He had attempted to find a special someone, but it all seemed too much. Maybe he hadn’t been ready in the post-apocalyptic-post-divorce terrain of rebuilding himself from nothing with nothing. Who would be interested in someone who was obviously not relationship fodder, and who had absolutely nothing in terms of a dowry? No one that’s who.

There had been that one lady. She was nice enough, and they shared a lot of commonalities. He had liked her. But he hadn’t been emotionally ready to deal with a relationship. That wasn’t what was going to fix him. He had to do that himself. Of course now he wasn’t just emotionally void, but heartbroken as well.

He watched the stent being parked into place by the frail hair like thread.

“All done. Good good. Well done team.” Said the cardiologist.

“Mr Quinn. Don’t take this the wrong way. But I don’t want to see you again. Now go away and get better.“

“I think we’re beyond such formalities now. It’s Marty. And thank you. Thank you for letting me imagine that Raquel Welch is now and forever in my heart.”

“You’re welcome Marty. From here, you’ll be taken to a ward where we will monitor you. During that time, someone will come and explain what happens next. And what you will need to do and expect. The worst is over for now. So just try to rest and get better.”

“Cross my heart.” Said Marty.

Over the next two days Marty didn’t rest. How could he when he was attached to a monitor that would beep whenever his heart rate altered. As a consequence, he didn’t sleep. He was scared that if he did, his heart would stop working and he wouldn’t wake up. He was beyond exhausted. The only silver lining was that he was a temporary resident of the Eric Morecambe Department of Cardiology and its Intensive Care unit. That made him smile.

Then it all began, rather than ending. His blood tests showed that Marty had type two diabetes and that was the reason for his heart attack. The hospital gave him some many potions and lotions and pills, that he was overwhelmed. When he left hospital two days after his heart attack, he returned to his make shift home so exhausted that he felt as old as Methuselah both in body and mind.

Over the next few days he still found it hard to sleep. His senses now seemed to be heighten. Everything was illuminated, sharp and clear. And he could hear every single beat of his heart as the stent and Raquel continued to ensure that his blood pumped efficiently around his body.

Everything had changed. Every simple task now seemed to be monumental. He needed to visit the local shop for something and was shocked when the once five minute trip took him nearly an hour to complete. Older people, pensioners for Christ sake passed by him on his journey as if they were Olympic champions.

When he got home he was breathless and awash with fatigue. Apparently, this was all normal and something he needed to expect during the course of his recovery. And the pills. Marty hadn’t been to the doctor since he was a kid. And now he had pills for this and pills for that. Roll up roll up for the greatest pill taker on earth. The extraordinary Marty Quinn. Sit back and watch him swallow as he wallows in despair. To add insult to injury, Marty noted that an inevitable side effect of nearly all of his pills was erectile dysfunction. Excellent! What fantastic news. It just got better and better.

But Marty was getting better both mentally and physically. The tiny stent now forever embedded in his heart, it transpired was also a catalyst for his emotional well-being.

One day he decided to envisage his life laid out on his bed as if he were packing for a trip. In doing so, he could clearly see what had caused him the most stress, and what was unlikely to so if he didn’t make some changes. He could also see the benefits of reconnecting with people he had discarded to encompass all of the negative personal stressor he had had in his life. When he had mentally packed away most of the harmful culprits. He noticed that she was still there. The nice lady he had dated a few times, whom he hadn’t been ready for a year ago. Marty sat down.

I wonder what she is up to now? He thought. Be good to find out. Be good to see.

Life, after all, as Marty knew all too well, could change at a moment’s notice. And it had. His life would never be the same again. No it would be different, that’s all. And that was okay. He wanted to live and he wanted to age. And he didn’t want to be alone in the process. So he contacted the nice lady, who was welcoming and pleased to hear from him. They started a conversation as if no time had lapsed at all. She was shocked to hear about his heart attack, but not dismayed by it. Yes of courses they could meet up. And so a third date was arranged.

On the day they met, she smiled and waved at him from her side of the street, and Marty smiled and waved back.

She crossed over to his side and they hugged and said their hellos. And just like that, five weeks after his heart broke, Marty finally began to heal.

Monday, 29 February 2016

The Writing's on the Wall By Holly Searle



Every four years we all get an extra day. And although I knew this already, Facebook duly informed me of this fact this morning and advised me not to waste it. So I thought, okay I won't.

The chilly winter sun filled morning offered me several options: I could go for a walk (probably in Kew Garden's) and contemplate life. Or I could visit an exhibition or a gallery in London. But then I had a eureka moment. Hadn't I been questioning how I had been spending my working days? Hadn't I started to wish that I could find something that was more suitable for some time, something that would be more beneficial to me creatively?

Well, yes I had. I had been mentally procrastinating about that for a while. So look, I told myself, you have an extra day, use it wisely, and look into ways in which you could make some positive changes.

That settled it.

I changed the radio from Radio 2 to Radio 4 and thought about what my first move should be. Bingo, contact another writer. He might offer some direction and I could start from there.

So I text my good writer friend and ask if he knows of any websites looking for freelance editors or copywriters.

No, I don't he replies.

Oh crap I think. What now?

Although I have crashed at the first hurdle, I tell myself not to to give up and to think and focus. If you build it, they will come I hear a voice whisper in my ear.

What am I trying to archive? I am not trying to build a baseball diamond, I am just trying to find some regular writing work I tell myself. I am trying to be a square peg in a square hole and not a round one. The latter of which, has begun to feel incredibly painful in recent months.

You are trying to create some options I say out loud.

Hummmmmmmmmmm I frown and ponder.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock the clock on the wall interjects.

Then my neighbour goes out and leaves his dog alone (again) which starts to bark continuously.

This happens quite often and I wonder if perhaps I should go for a walk in Kew Gardens after all.

No. I am staying in and doing this.

Look Holly, my voice tells me. Stop being scared of the possibilities that placing one word in front of another can create.

Got it. Arsed kicked.

But before I consider further options. I call the Dog Warden and tell her that the dog is barking (again) and she tells me that she will come by to witness it.

And with that piece of annoyingly frustrating domestic whistle-blowing under my belt, I get back to the task in hand, the one that I have set my mind to for this additional day: the square peg role.

I am quite calm and Sherlock logical in my thinking now, as I hatch out a plan, which means I start with a minor interrogation of myself.

Have I ever been employed due to my writing skills?

Well yes, I have. For several years I oversaw, wrote and managed all of the copy on company website that I was employed by. I liaised (such a corporate word) with designers in order to obtain garment specifications. I then thought about what information I would like to read about the item I was viewing and translated that, into a concise, but informative stream of beautifully descriptive words.

There, I told myself. You did that. So you did write copy.

Yes, my voice starts up again. But that is hardly akin to anything that Virginia Wolf ever produced.

Well no. I reply. But that sort of thing, writing copy, requires a tenacious skill, as well as a lot of thinking outside of the box (another appalling example of corporate speak). So I am taking credit where it's due.

I had also written copy for friends and edited emails, letters and blog posts for those who had ask me to, all free of charge. I could therefore pat myself of the back for those. Nice one Searle.

And hold on a minute, I thought, I have kept my own blog up and running as well as writing stories for the past six years. Something which even my good writer friend had congratulated me on.

So I had achieved a lot. Although, at times, it felt as though I hadn't really delivered anything.

I was sitting in my Bet Lynch Gilroy leopard print dressing gown, when the buzzer sounds. I immediately think it must be the postman with my Ebay item.

Hello?” I say.

“Hi Holly it's Amy the Dog Warden. Can I come up?”

I push the entry button and await her visit, as the dog has now been barking for two hours. I then realise that even though I have been up since 6:45 this morning, I am not dressed and haven't even brushed my teeth. I also have the lank remains of coconut oil in my hair (to prevent breakage according to my hairdresser). I look in the mirror, I have the appearance of a drug addict, or that of a knackered old bird having a day off from her life on the game.

Amy arrives with Catherine. They wipe their feet and come in. I apologise for my attire, although it is my home and my day off, and I shouldn't really need to make excuses for the way I look.

They listen to the dog barking and ask me if I am sure it is coming from where it is coming from. I tell them that it is. They ask me if there are any other dogs in the building. I tell them that I have lived here for twenty five years and there is only one other dog here, and that owner takes her dog over to a sitter when she can't look after him. Two other people own cats I tell them, That barking, I tell them, trying to look like a serious person rather than one who isn't dressed, is definitely the dog next door.

“Can I open your window?” Amy asks.

She does and cocks her ear intently.

“Yes it is definitely next door.” she tells the seated Catherine.

Catherine nods.

They tell me that they will go away and raise it and assure me that they will enforce other legal stuff to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

Okay I say. And they leave. And I go back to my laptop and stare at my old Word press web page which I had decided to use to market myself on prior to their arrival. Either I have lost the plot, or the site has been changed as I can't quite find the obvious buttons to confirm or save edits i am trying to make.

The dog is still barking and I give up. Plug my laptop in to charge and decide to go and see my friend Chris in the local charity shop.

I text her whilst the bath is running.

“Are you in the shop today?”

“Yes I am. Come in and cheer me up, but not while The Archers is on.” She replies.

I look up the Radio 4 schedule. I have an hour.

I mull over this morning in the warm bath. I get out and get dressed and do my face and coconut oil free washed hair. I also brush my teeth.

I see that the neighbour has arrived back and make a note.

I get dressed and walk up the road to the charity shop. Ten minutes until The Archers I note as I look at my watch. I will look at books (all a pound, including fairly new and only once read titles), whilst Chris listens to The Archers. Then we can have a chat.

Hello love.” I say as I walk in. I tell her all about my Archers option for her and she says “Oh don't be stupid I would rather talk to you.”

Chris is the best therapy in the world. She lets me spill all of my recent happenings: family, work, love, dog.

She is brilliantly intuitive about humanity and listens to me and then tells me what she thinks. She's a tonic, the gin and tonic kind. Sparkling wit and carbonated with bubbles of knowledge and insight.

She is a diamond.

She tells me that women like her would love to be like women like me.

I say “What?!” As this is such a an out of the blue compliment coming from a woman like her. I hold her in very high esteem and think she must be on drugs and mistaken to tell me this. But I know if anything, she is a truth-speaker and I tell her that this is the nicest thing that anyone has said to me. She has made my day.

An apparent accident takes place just outside the charity shop, thereafter followed by a lone dog cocking its leg up against one of Chris' just outside the shop baskets that is full of books (not the pound ones).

I buy some phonograph albums, a cardi, some felt and pot. Chris bags the items and we hug and I thank her for the talk.

I walk home and decide that I can't be bothered with my old Word Press site.

Clear the path I think as I revert to my steadfast blog spot site on my return home.

I love it. It is where I write my uncensored thoughts and observations. I start to write this piece in an attempt to create some sort of CV writing blog that will impress writing employers so much, that they will snap me up and give me a job. I wanted to write about all of the occupations I have had. And how I envy people who trained to do something useful with their lives, rather than being cursed with the need to write.

But instead it turns into a blog about what I did on the extra day that happens once in every four years.

Dinner's on. And as the evening draws in, and work beckons tomorrow, I start to stress about having achieved absolutely nothing whatsoever today. Facebook did tell me to do something worthwhile. But then I realise that I have done quite a lot today, and it's not over yet.