My gaze is on John's right hand. I know his hands so well. During our 33 years together, his hands have often held mine.
They first rocked our children, then our grandchildren. They have maintained our house and our garden. Now his hand rests on the large, sloppy head of our dog Angela. He is stretched out on the couch and she is in her favorite position next to him.
She looks up at him admiringly, while he cuts his fingers through her fur with a satisfying scratch. The television offers another pointless round. Nothing has changed.
Everything has changed.
Two years ago we collected a sweet, winding, protesting puppy from her hometown in Derbyshire and brought her home. We both grew up with dogs and as a former presenter of Blue Peter I was used to spending time with them. You were never far from fur or feathers in the Blue Peter studio!
Two years ago we collected a sweet, winding, protesting puppy from her hometown in Derbyshire and brought her home. We both grew up with dogs and as a former presenter of Blue Peter I was used to spending time with them. You were never far from fur or feathers in the Blue Peter studio! Pictured: Janet Ellis with her dog
Angela is our second Italian Spinone. Our first, Nancy, had died not long before, in February 2017, at the not so great age of 12, leaving us distraught.
John was diagnosed with stage 1 cancer of the tonsils during the last days of Nancy and, to be honest, neither of them would mind exchanging long walks for afternoon rest. He had to rehabilitate daily radiotherapy after six weeks and she loved the company.
Her death, which left a huge dog-shaped gap in our lives (Spinones are not small dogs, both in size and in temperament), coincided with positive news about John's recovery – a clear scan.
We went in search of a puppy with heart and soul and, although they are no ordinary breed, the news about a litter came exactly when we needed it.
We went to choose our new puppy just for a cherished vacation to Japan. At least we thought we made the decision, but she made her feelings clear by immediately settling down on my lap and admiring her brothers and sisters. & # 39; This then, & # 39; we agreed.
The puppy sighed loudly and went back to sleep. When we went to pick her up a few weeks later, we were refreshed after a wonderful journey and ready for the inevitable weeks of chewing, meowing and mess. Puppies are hard work!
We called her Angela, immediately loved her and were approaching her and constantly calling, no matter how much we promised ourselves that we would be strict. Her large brown eyes were disarming and her appetite for life and adventure was contagious.
Janet & # 39; s husband John with their beloved dog Angela. She says: Angela is our second Italian Spinone. Our first, Nancy, had died not long before, in February 2017, at the not so great age of 12, leaving us distraught.
It wasn't long before she felt like one of the family. We participated in puppy training lessons, replaced another destroyed dog bed and found an excellent walker for when we needed it. So far known.
John was to undergo a final scan before being effectively deregistered and promoted to attend annual checks and tell stories about the victory over cancer.
His last scan had been good and our recent vacation had been very active, including hiking and climbing in the Japanese Kiso valley.
Of course we have withheld some of our optimism in case we heard bad news, but we felt positive. When we entered the doctor's office, we were almost convinced that this was a formality. It didn't go that way. I don't know if you've ever met someone who speaks your language and tells you something important, but what they say is so terrible that their words seem confused and impossible to understand. When you have done that, you know how terrible it is.
Speaking of Angela, Janet said: “It wasn't long before she felt like one of the family. We participated in puppy training lessons, replaced another destroyed dog bed and found an excellent walker for when we needed it. So far, so famous & # 39;
Ironically, we received the results of his scan on the way to the opening of Maggie's new cancer center at St Bart & # 39; s in London – I have been a patron of Maggie for years.
& # 39; I'm afraid we've found something, & # 39; his doctor said. & # 39; In one lung. & # 39; And we sat, smartly dressed, where we had only considered a few moments to celebrate another fantastic, necessary Maggie's Center, when the realization began to dawn that the worst had happened.
The inexplicable, unfair, bewildering reality was that my beautiful husband – my best friend, my champion, my love, the best person I have ever known – had stage 4 of secondary cancer.
I am jumping a bit forward, because biopsies and scans and tests would come to confirm what the doctors suspected, but we really knew it.
We knew at the time that everything would be different. Those plans would always come up with conditions (& # 39; if we can; all is well; treatment allowed; fingers crossed & # 39;). That our children, friends and families should deal with this situation in all kinds of unprepared ways.
Janet Ellis, pictured in 1983, with one of the dogs from the show
We should all learn the grammar of treatment, results, and protocols. We would get to know his doctors and the hospital, the appointments and the regimes. We would anticipate or deal with the side effects and complications.
In the early days, which coincided with the depths of winter, it was easy to believe that everything was gloomy. The temptation to hibernate, to exclude the world, was overwhelming. Our dog, Angela, had other ideas.
The first time we saw her again – broken and bewildered coming home from the doctor's office – the way she moved toward us demonstrated that we were exactly the same for her. What was important to her was that we loved her, cared for her and entertained her, and she couldn't see any reason why that would stop.
Of course, on occasion, she made me cry and rage. She allowed me to hug her, even when she became wet with tears, without retreating or pulling away. But then she reminded me that there was a world outside the window. For her it was full of different sounds and sights and smells (especially smells), each more enchanting than the last.
During what felt like a winter of Siberian intensity, as John recovered from brutal treatments and examinations, I put on sturdy boots and thick coats and went for a walk with Angela. Day after day I trudged on while she ran and sniffed, and ran back to sniffing.
I was angry and resentful, knotted with fear and sorrow. Angela was running ahead anyway, as if she was just waiting for me to catch up. I finally did that literally and figuratively.
There is also a lot of friendliness. My puppy greeted everyone as if they were a potential friend. Her charm and lack of inhibitions (she really doesn't care who you are) forced me into conversations that I eventually enjoyed
I finally admitted that I could no longer resist her enthusiasm for life. It wasn't so much that she ignored my pain, she just showed me how to live next to it. Yes, she seemed to say, there is a lot going on. Unknowable, frightening things happen. But look! There is joy in the details, in the little things that you cannot see if you assume that everything is terrible.
There is also a lot of friendliness. My puppy greeted everyone as if they were a potential friend. Her charm and lack of inhibitions (she really doesn't care who you are) forced me into conversations that I eventually enjoyed.
She was delighted to see a squirrel and tried to play with every dog she met, fearless in rejection. She usually trotted the exact same route, but still found new places to explore and different sticks to wear.
I slowly began to look past the mud and puddles and marvel at new, green shoots and buds on the trees. I began to believe in the promise of a future that might not have been the one John and I promised each other when we met, but it was still, wonderfully, ours. John was initially vulnerable after a few false starts in treatment. His first chemotherapy regimen in March last year was a weekly infusion in the hospital, followed by five days with a portable dose at home. These were delivered, via a port implant in his chest, from a plastic bottle that was worn around his waist.
Unfortunately this gave him – quickly – chronic mucositis. For the uninitiated it is like mouth ulcers up to a hundred, including ulcers in his throat. It does not begin to describe painfully.
He was then assessed to be eligible for that new, big white hope of cancer treatment, immunotherapy. A weekly injection with minimal side effects (although a long, scary list of possible complications) promised a lot.
At first it seemed to thrive, but unfortunately immunotherapy is not for everyone. In John's case, it aggravated his symptoms and enlarged the tumors.
His oncologist persisted with care and insight until she found a chemotherapy cocktail that worked. He visits the hospital every three weeks for a one-day infusion. There is a reasonably predictable, stable recovery rate between doses.
Janet Ellis and Sophie Ellis-Bextor attend the Red Women Of The Year Awards at Skylon Grill on October 12, 2015
Angela and I could not hide our joy when John decided he was ready for our constitutional morning. She is a big dog who needs a big walk, so our route takes us almost eight kilometers along the towpath of the River Thames. It is not – literally – a walk in the park.
Slowly he became stronger. And while we walked, we talked. It is much easier to be open and honest under the sky instead of a ceiling, and to discuss difficult things side by side, instead of facing each other. Nothing has remained unspoken. Angela of course heard it all – and she doesn't tell.
But don't imagine for a moment that I am the only one working on her. In fact, John especially loves her.
He is the person with her photo as his screensaver. He examines new toys and treats, and prepares her food with special care. His first name is on his lips when he comes home. More often than not, he comes home from his TV production company, because his chemistry regime allows so many good, productive weeks.
He is treated fantastically at Charing Cross Hospital, which is local to us. We are particularly happy that John's oncologist, Dr. Sarah Partridge, is not only super qualified, but also an (expert) proponent of self-hypnosis. John listens to a band daily. Although it certainly gives him great support, it is also an opportunity for Angela to lie by his side undisturbed.
Portrait of & # 39; Blue Peter & # 39; presenter Janet Ellis with the resident dog & # 39; Goldie & # 39; in 1983
After all, dogs are creatures of habit and she learned this routine much quicker than any lesson about remembering or not eating waste. It may not surprise you that she is still not very good in the last two, but her skills are lying while the master has his eyes closed & # 39; are excellent. Our lives, like that of the thousands affected every year by this diagnosis, have shifted to meet this new standard.
In many ways we consider ourselves blessed. Everyone who knows us well does not know that our children, their partners and our five grandchildren are absolutely central to our lives. Our friends are also irreplaceable.
Everyone has responded well to John's diagnosis, with generosity and lots of necessary humor. We have the gift of more time together, albeit in a very unexpected way.
I am now writing novels and the publication of my second book has recently shown me that I can start a new career at any time – despite what fate brings us.
Janet, photographed in 2014. She says: & Every day is the only thing that matters. This hour is the one that counts. & # 39;
Much is as normal as it once was. We can still complain about trivial ailments and minor annoyances. Cancer makes us absolutely no saints. We can also celebrate small triumphs and good times.
Secondary cancers are rarely curable. John's is a constant state without a date-stamped end point. There is no struggle here to wage and win. We learn to live with it, and Angela is the greatest teacher we can have.
Without realizing it, she has taught both of us to live our lives fully encompassing his illness, not just during treatment breaks.
Our sometimes ridiculous, often naughty, always loyal dog gives us unconditional love. She tolerates our state of mind and pretends she does not notice it when our attention is somewhere else. Her insistence on routine has often anchored us, when everything seemed chaotic.
But more than that, she reminds us that measuring time is a fruitless exercise. Who knows how long it will take? Why worry about an unpredictable future or a trail against an unchanging past?
Every new day is the only one that matters. This hour counts.
Angela is happy while there may be cats to hunt or cookies to lust. It is hard to feel blue when you are confronted with your dog offering you a toy with a happy face and wagging tail.
She asks us so little in return. She is satisfied as long as there is the promise of a long walk, a full bowl on her return and a familiar hand ready to caress her patient, tousled, most loved head.
- How It Was by Janet Ellis is now available (£ 16.99, Two Roads)
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