Last Cancer Blogs

ros aitken

Our  tribute to KIN writer whose courage and humour never deserted her in the cancer ward

By Alan Tristram

We pay tribute now to our columnist Ros Aitken, who died recently from cancer.

She spent her final days in the Princess Alice Hospice at Esher in Surrey, supported always by her husband Tom Aitken, who is also a columnist for KIN.

Earlier, for well over a year, Ros chronicled — with great skill and inimitable style — her visits to the cancer department at St George’s Hospital in  south London.

We plan to bring you an obituary for Ros after her funeral later this week.

And here are her last two ‘Chemo Club’ blogs —

Chemo Club Blog Fifteen

By Ros Aitken

st george's hospitalTuesday, and off to the clinic, determined to get as many facts as possible out of the doctor.  Outpatients is almost deserted, it being August and

nearly all the punters away on holiday.

Summoned in 15 minutes early, I see Big Chief Benepal’s registrar, whom I¹ve seen often before and who, in spite of looking no older than a sixth form

girl, is extremely able and also very easy to deal with.

She assures me that my next-but-one chemo session will be the last in the cycle and sets the wheels in motion for me to have a scan the following week. After that, I

shall be ‘kept under close surveillance.’ Shades of James Bond.

Pressed for information, she tells me the cancer is still there and will return, probably within months rather than years, and will need treating all over again.  Not a very jolly prospect, but on the other hand, she reminds me how well I am — ­ oh the irony!

Comparing side effects

Back in the waiting room, I see Patsy, a new acquaintance whom I met in the ‘club’ last week.  We have a brief session comparing side effects.  It is obvious that she is suffering far more than me, and being incredibly brave about it.

There is some hitch over the printing of the sacred ID label for my blood test, but, to my surprise, the jobsworth is tremendously helpful, friendly and competent. She takes my blood, and laughs when I tell her about the Tony Hancock blood donor sketch and his horror at being asked to give ‘nearly an armful.’  (She is 25, so maybe even her parents weren’t yet born when those shows were appearing on black and white TV.)

At six o¹clock on Thursday evening I am rung ­ apologetically –  to say there’s a question mark over my platelets and I’ll have to have another blood test before my 9am chemo appointment tomorrow. That will mean a horrendously long day.

When I arrive in the morning and my blood is taken, I’m told the result will be available in an hour. Not too bad, and I take my book into the sun in the

main hospital garden and pass the time pleasantly enough.

But ­ back in the treatment room, no sign of a result.  I sit forlornly in a chair for another hour, cheered only by regular reports on progress from the nurses, and a

view through the windows of a wide expanse of blue sky and white clouds.

An ‘enticing’ salad helps morale

At last the result comes through: all clear. Sadly, it is now too late for James to order my tuna in brown bread.  However, when lunchtime arrives, he

serves me first, proffering an enticing ham salad in a box.  Amazingly, there is a little packet of salt included.  So even Homer, in the person of

the NHS Salt Police, nods. I’m so excited I drop the sachet on the floor, fortunately at a retrievable distance.

I eat the salad, which is as good as it looks, hungrily but clumsily, with a fork in my left hand. (Unthinkingly, I had offered my left arm for the blood test, and regulations prevent their fitting the canula to the same arm.)

The perpetual grumbler and I wave across the room to one another and he cheerily shouts: ‘Hello, Luv! How are you?’ I think he is mellowing.

On my left is a very cross-looking lady who gets angry when the nurse checks on the pronunciation of her Christian name (Martine).  Her place is later

taken by an elegant, youngish-looking woman of ­ she says ­ 83, accompanied by her son.

She repeatedly tells the recently widowed lady on her other side that this son is the only remaining one of her 4 children.  She seems oddly proud of this, and, less oddly, of what a good son he is.

He ncertainly proves himself a dab hand at silencing unnecessary bleeps fromdrip machines.

Eventually, at 4.45, I am free to go home, and after a long 20 minute wait a bus arrives and edges into the Tooting rush hour.  At about 6.15 it finally reaches Sheen, where we are abruptly decanted between bus stops.  I don’t narrive home until 7pm, almost exactly 12 hours after setting out.

Tom is preparing to cook his favourite lamb chop recipé for our dinner. I think\I’ve earned it.


Chemo Club Blog Sixteen

By Ris Aitken

On the bus going for my blood test, a teenage girl sits next to me with loud music seeping from her ipod.

ME: Excuse me.  Could you turn your music down a bit?\


Fortunately, she gets off at the next stop.

In the Day Room I find grumbling man, who addresses me as ‘Sweetheart,’ and an assorted collection of people sharing horror stories about the hospital

transport ‘system.’

My specialist nurse didn’t like the idea of my simply turning up with an ID mlabel at the downstairs blood testing unit. That’s why I’m here, for her to

do my blood test in person, but since I have no appointment, she first has to spend some time placating the system.  She can take my blood only when my

appointment card is filled in post hoc and the date entered on the computer.

Still, I feel I have to some extent bucked the system, and grumbling man is amused.  A further sign of mellowing?

The rude businessman

Early the following morning I am waiting in a gregariously full Day Room when in comes rude businessman.  Ignoring the rest of us, he sets out his electronic gear on the table and immediately starts talking to a colleague on his mobile.

After a few minutes a nurse I have never seen before calls my name. Fearing the worst, I follow her.  My fears are indeed justified.  Cheerful and chatty, she doesn’t seem to know where anything is or how anything works andtells me she is ‘out of practice’ and ‘nervous.’  When she can’t fit the cannula (drip attachment), I summon the courage to suggest she asks one of the regular nurses to do it, and am glad when she readily agrees.

This has the happy result of alerting the few regulars on duty to the need to give her such supervision as they have the time for throughout the day. There are no senior support staff in evidence, and a general air of biting cuts.  I’m glad it¹s my last session.

Shortly, a grotesquely large female patient arrives, trundling a collapsible walking frame which, panting the while, she periodically attempts to wrestle

to the floor with her bare fists.

She is wearing a very short skirt and msits with legs wide apart, leaving little to the imagination. She has with her her husband, nearly as large, and her uncle.  She informs the room at large that the latter brought her up, her mother having died at her birth and her father ‘not wanting to ‘ave anyfink to do with me.’  All very Dickensian.

Both men prove adept at plugging and unplugging my dripstand from the mains when I go to the loo.

So too does the daughter of a sweet ninety-year old man who shakes the hand of everyone who helps him in any way.  I have earlier heard his daughter’s stories of the incompetent transport system and wish I could be a fly on the wall when she goes off to complain and sort it out in person.

She is imposingly tall, impressively articulate and a doughty fighter for her father’s needs. She will make short work of the dilatory receptionist and a host of disorganised ambulance drivers.

Courtesy of James, I have a final tuna sandwich for lunch, and a blanket to wrap myself in:  the aircon has not been adjusted to match the sudden drop in temperature in the real world outside.

After lunch I am presented with my very last ‘patient satisfaction’ survey, on an ipad.  It has the weirdest keyboard ­ looks normal, but almost everything  you type comes up with a foreign accent or a letter not in the English alphabet.  Then it corrects ­ sometimes.

In the ‘further comments’ space I take the opportunity to point out the flaws in pharmacy ­ running late again today because there is ‘no one there to do the checking.’  More

evidence of cuts, I suppose.

Touchingly, when I get away at about 3pm, as I am collecting my possessions ready to make my goodbyes and say ‘thank you,’ I am approached by a

deputation consisting of  James and the other regulars to wish me well.  We all agree in hoping I won’t be back soon!

At the bus stop, a middle-aged Asian lady asks if I am the actress Annette Crosby, whom she has seen there before.  Apparently we are the same age and mhave similar hair.

For the moment, I cannot remember if this is a compliment, but decide to feel flattered, which turns out later, after mconsultation with the internet, to be the right response.

For the first time ever, I arrive home exhausted and am actually sick.  Bang go our plans for the local tapas restaurant.

Tom has to make an expedition to Waitrose for his fallback solo dinner ­ steak – and I, like the Queen of Hearts in her parlour, eat a slice of bread and honey.

And now only a few loose ends remain: a date for a scan, the scan itself and a clinic appointment to hear the results.

Followed, of course, by the

promised ‘close surveillance.’

(Ros Aitken died not long after completing this Blog)