25. Seven Hells and The Real Full Monty Highland (hill climbed: Meall Fuar-mhonaidh)

This is the 25th post of a series which is introduced here.

Sunday 15 July

It feels like there is a balloon inside my head. I need to get out of my house. Rain is threatening, but I don’t care. I need to be on a heathery hillside working my way to a mountain top.

I drive and I wonder if the throbbing is due to concussion when I hit my head last week or if it’s related to the shock I had two days ago. A wave of nausea rolls in my gut. The landscape passes by to the vibrations of my car. Focus! 

I’m on autopilot and barely notice the forty-five minute journey. Pulling up I switch off the engine. Rain is now pelting onto the car windows, blurring an empty carpark. I sit for a moment then dig out waterproofs from my battered old backpack. I almost put them on then decide I’ll take off my leggings and put on my shorts instead (my indecision a symptom of stress). ‘It’s a bloody good job this place is deserted today,’ I mumble as I all the same attempt to rapidly conceal the naked bush.

Loudness of the car door slamming shut and the electronic locks clunk-clicking reverberate in my head. I set off on foot. Cloud conceals the top of my hill. Doesn’t matter. I walk and enjoy the feeling as droplets of water dampen my skin. I stop to stare, and listen to the rain; it thuds onto my jacket’s hood, it patters on the leaves of the trees and it gently plips and plops into the quiet stream.  It’s humid. I breathe in the heavy scent of earth and plants and am flooded by the wonder of life.

 

 

 

I’ve been up and down this path countless times. Not so long ago I was here with Quentin – the guy who was shooting some film to be shown on the night of the charity event I was organising for Maggie’s. I think back to that outing and how happy I was to be doing something positive, doing what I could to ‘give a bit back.’ I stop in my tracks again, this time to take paracetamol. Pain in my left breast pulses and my head is spaced out.  Conflicting thoughts do battle. My mind flashes to  Angeline – my breast care nurse – who I saw on Friday at clinic. I think about her part in my Real Full Monty Highland (RFMH).

Click play to watch as guests arrive, fizz flows and Tich McCooey hosts. Breast Care nurses Karen Daltrey and Angeline Macleod take to the stage with fake boobs; they demonstrate how to self-examine and be cancer aware.

Self-examination didn’t help me this time I think ruefully, and once again I go over the events of two days ago. It was my first annual check-up at the breast clinic. ‘Everything feels fine,’ my consultant had said cheerfully before sending me for a mammogram. Afterwards I see Angeline. We talk and laugh about the Real Full Monty Highland.

‘Shall I go and see if your mammogram results are ready?’ she says, ‘it’ll save you having to wait for a letter.’

‘Yeah, if you can, cool,’ I reply breezily. I’m not worried at all. I go to the window and gaze out. I’m still laughing inside at our Full Monty chat as the A-Team theme tune choruses through my head.

Click play to watch The Real Full Monty Highland first rehearsal.

‘Where’s the pink-haired girl gone?’ I hear a voice call.

‘I’m here!’ I shout as I walk to the open door.

‘I need to take another set of images. The doctor needs a closer look, something is showing up on your left breast.’ I’m fucking dumbstruck and follow the nurse back to the x-ray room like a scared kid. I lower my top and remove my bra again. ‘If you can just lean in to the machine for me,’ the nurse instructs. Fear seizes me. I’m sent back to the room where I wait to be called for an ultrasound. I phone my boyfriend Paul, but barely manage to squeak more than his name. He tells me he’s coming to the hospital and will be there as quickly as he can just as I hear my name being called.

It’s the same doctor who I saw last year and who, back then, did not waste time in telling me that what she’d seen on the ultrasound was suspicious. I like her, I like her straight up honesty, and I know she’ll be able to tell me if I’m about to enter seven hells territory again.

She looks at the image on screen as she rolls the probe over my skin. ‘I’d like to do a biopsy now if you are okay with that?’ she asks. I tell her to go ahead. She disappears from the room momentarily and on return produces a consent form. ‘It’s procedure now that I have to tell you all the things that could happen, sorry,’ she says. I tell her it’s fine although did feel alarm when she showed me the size of the needle and said there was a small possibility my lungs could get punctured if she slipped.

 

 

 

Still smiling.

Forty-five minutes, three local anaesthetics and a bent needle later the doctor was on the verge of defeat. ‘This has never happened to me before. I always get my samples,’ she said. Her tone made me feel sorry for her, and in her I saw a kindred spirit – a determined fucker just like me. ‘I think you’ve been through enough. I don’t want to do any more to you,’ she says (I know there’s a ‘but’ coming) ‘but I could go and get the bard,’ she suggests (and there it is!).

‘Yeah, get the bard,’ I tell her, ‘I love a good poem. That’ll get us through this.’ We laugh. She leaves the room and returns with the bigger needle which I see through slit eyes – like I’m trying not to see it.

‘You were trembling when I came in, now it’s me who’s shaking,’ the doctor said.

‘For God’s sake, don’t tell me that when you’re about to stick your giant needle into me!’ I laugh. The bard leaves holes in my breast but the doctor gets her samples. The nurse presses hard on my boob to try minimise bruising and the doctor tells me I have been extraordinary. I return the compliment. She tells me pathology should return the results next week, but that it’s likely I’ll need to have a different type of biopsy. I don’t like the uncertainty of my situation.

Paul is waiting for me and we leave. As we walk round the side of the hospital building my legs collapse and I hit the ground like a stone. I can’t breathe – everything is swimming and I’m close to passing out. Paul holds me up between his arms and tells me it’s okay. I cry convulsively into his shoulder but then pull myself together. ‘Let’s go to Maggie’s.’ I say.

I think about all of that as I walk up out of the trees and on through open moorland. I approach the deer fence and climb up over the big stile like I’ve done so many times before. Thoughts about Maggie’s and Quentin filming me here merge.

Click the image to watch a clip of how The Real Full Monty Highland came about and my wee bio.

I’m on the ridge and gaining height. Pressure is building in my head and I hope the sensation passes. It does. A cool wind blows harder that seems to help clear stresses from my mind. I power up to the summit plateau. There is no view but it is so still and the rain has stopped. I’m all alone up here. I sing the words to Fight Song and as I do I perform the full monty dance routine one more time. The song’s words seem more relevant than ever before and I do believe – I have to believe – that everything will be alright, and that I do have a lot more fight left in me.

meall fuar-mhonaid
I’VE  GOT  THIS!

Click on the video link above to watch The Real Full Monty Highland with (from left) Gina, Shelly, Moi, Shaw and Linda.

 

If you would like to watch the whole Real Full Monty Highland video click the link below:

 

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed my writing and would like to follow my story please do either following my blog or give my Facebook page a ‘like’ (click link below). Your support is important and appreciated. 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/sarahjanedouglaswriter/ 

Winner of The Scottish Wedding Awards 2018 Quentin was an absolute legend to get involved with the RFMH event. I feel privileged that he lent his skills and creativity to this project.  To find out more about what Quentin does check out his page  QS Digital Video.

FINALLY BUT IMPORTANTLY PLEASE ALL, GO NOW AND CHECK YOUR BODIES FOR ANY CHANGES. AND WOMEN, MAKE SURE YOU ATTEND MAMMOGRAM APPOINTMENTS. THE EARLIER CANCER IS CAUGHT THE BETTER YOUR CHANCES.

 

 

 

 

24. A Special Summit Camp (hill climbed: A’Mhaighdean)

24th post of series what is introduced here.

Tuesday 5 June 2018

My son Marcus and I wake early, it’s freezing in the campervan.

We are at Durnamuck in the northwest of Scotland and are organising ourselves before our road trip continues a few miles further to Poolewe where we will then set off on foot for our summit camp on A’Mhaighdean. This mountain was a favourite of Marcus’s Papa whose dying wish was that his ashes be taken to its summit and scattered.

I’d put Marcus’s Papa’s ashes into my bag the night before. They were secured in a glass jar, the sort I use to make overnight oats. I open my bag to start re-packing, I slack off the cord  and notice – to my horror – that Papa is all over the inside of my rucksack. I stare dumbly into the bag. ‘Umm, Marcus…I need to tell you something,’ I say.  ‘The lid of the jar that Pap’s ashes were in wasn’t secure. He’s gone everywhere.’ Marcus takes a look.

‘Oh man,’ he simply states.

I empty my entire bag and scoop Papa out with a measuring spoon Marcus finds on a shelf in the van. We are mortified yet giggle uncontrollably.

 

 

Our long walk takes us at first through gorse, then along coastal edges and rock. We cross farmland and walk through a forestry plantation. It is stinking hot. We pass through a tall wooden gate and begin to move through a vast expanse of green and heathery moorland. Big hill country lies ahead.

DSC_0027
Bridge at hairpin bend.

It takes us three hours to get to our next kind of landmark, a hairpin bend. We sit on a rock and relieve our backs from the weight of our packs for a few minutes – and also, having noticed a trail several hundred meters back, grumble that we’ve come further than needed.

the causeway
Passing many lochans and lochs we reach a causeway.

The climb upwards now begins.

 

 

We refill water bottles at a fast flowing stream and take five.

the gully
Wondering how the actual fuck to cross the gully.

After a bit of deliberation we cross a steep sided gully. We leave the path we’ve followed since Poolewe. Now it’s all about reading the map, the landscape and following a bearing.

DSC_0042
South of Fuar Loch Beag we scramble up over grass and rocky outcrops. 

I’m out of my comfort zone and suddenly feel scared. We are actually in the middle of fucking nowhere. I become aware of how fatigued my legs feel and internally scold myself for undertaking this – the biggest walk since all the stupid cancer business. How could I have forgotten I’ve been ill and that my body still needs time to recover? Why do I push myself so hard? I realise we will be in a whole world of trouble if anything happens. Silent dialogue is interrupted by a more immediate problem –  I hope I’m leading us up these crags the right way. I’m also aware my son is tiring rapidly, but I press on scared to look back too often in case I see that he is not there because he has toppled over the mountain’s edge.

‘I’m spent,’ Marcus says. He fuels up on a Lucozade Sport and an energy bar. Of course I know he’s burst. But we are committed to the route. We either continue – or pitch the tent where we are.

‘Do you want to give me some of the kit from your pack?’ I offer.

‘No. It’s all good,’ Marcus answers, ‘I’m just not as fit as you are. This is the first walk I’ve done in ages.’ I ponder his words. Poor kid has no idea of the fears rampaging in my mind or that I’m struggling physically too.

DSC_0048
Into the gully.

Still hoping I’m making the right choices we continue the scramble up over good, grippy rock and reach a cliff. The way ahead seems impossible and all efforts to get this far are for nothing. But back a touch and to the left we discover it is possible to drop a few meters into a steep, exposed gully. We squeeze round to our right through a gap. From here we go to the right around the base of two rock towers. We’re tired so are careful on the loose red scree. Another scramble, this time over a small boulder field, brings us to a wide grassy ridge before a last pull up to the narrow summit. Relief that all trickiness is behind us floods in.

 

We are fucking glad we make it to the top. We pitch our tents (unbeknown to me Marcus not only carried up the heavy half of my two-man, but also brought his own tent) and collapse into them temporarily.

a'mhaighdean ridge with rock towers
A short stretch along from the summit we take in the view of our route – the ridge with rock towers. 
DSC_0057
Lochans like silver ribbons.
hot chocolate on a'mhaighdean
Brew on.

I feel cold and am sorry I haven’t brought leggings, but good old Alex Supertramp has also brought his stove up the mountain too. He boils water and fills my Sigg bottle up which I cover with a sock and throw into my sleeping bag. The light is still bright, but as the sun lowers the most wonderful colours wrap around the horizon. Lochans far below shimmer and twinkle like silver ribbons. All is still and peaceful. We walk up to the summit cairn. It’s time to say goodbye. I hand the ashes of his grandfather to my son.

‘Well Papa, you old bastard. You had the last laugh getting us to come all the way up here didn’t you,’ Marcus says with fondness and humour. I watch him as he scatters the ashes and feel a huge sense of pride. We are quiet until he turns to me and says, ‘You know mum, it was bloody hard to get here but I can see why the old guy loved this place. It really is beautiful.’ We hug. We drink hot chocolate and eat some homemade blueberry brownie. The sun sinks. We are listening to James, ‘Born of Frustration’  which ends just as the sun disappears. It’s a perfect moment.

DSC_0064.jpg
Marcus.

 

DSC_0066
As the sun rises over Fisherfield, silhouetting An Teallach’s castellated ridge, Marcus scatters the remainder of his Papa’s ashes. It is a new beginning.

 

In memory of James B Kinnes.