This is usually the page where I post latest news of upcoming theatre events etc. but there is only one item of significance in my life now, and that is Emma’s breast cancer. As is the way with these things, her diagnosis came completely out of the blue and with devastating effect. Of course she is far from alone: up to 60,000 women are diagnosed with the disease every year. But when it hits your own little world, it turns it upside down.
My work is on semi-hold, and the BBC has been brilliant in allowing me to commentate as and when I am able to, just as Emma is now on leave to give this everything. She is a remarkable woman, known on social media by many of you who will also be familiar with the blogs she writes while abroad touring with me. It doesn’t surprise me at all that she wants to write about this very different experience – not every day or even every week: just when she feels like it. I hope that it proves cathartic for her and I pray that she will come through this.
Four months ago to the day, the lives of the Agnew’s changed forever. Yes, I know he’s usually the dramatic one, but it really did. My cancer diagnosis – on July 18th – meant our life of the past 21 years had to stop revolving around Latest, and instead became all about me. At that point it seemed unthinkable that Jonathan would be able to head to Australia for that cricketing highlight of the Ashes. A million questions crowded in; had the pernicious little bugger already spread anywhere? Was it treatable? How would I cope with the intensive 24 weeks of my new best friend Mr Keemo Therapee? What operations would be needed? It was a frightening and unknown world out there, and frankly cricket seemed absolutely immaterial. Even the Ashes. But somehow, tonight, Jonathan is flying out for the first Test Match. An amazingly early diagnosis of an aggressive cancer (forever indebted to the BBC breast nurse who always advised me to “ look as well as feel”. My fantastic GP Dr Griffiths who trusted my instincts; the incomparable diagnostic team at Leicester’s Glenfield hospital breast cancer unit and of course the brilliance of the consultants and drugs into whose hands I placed my life. So now he’s all yours for three weeks.
Unbelievably, halfway through my “ pink poison” of chemotherapy, the tumour has disappeared. My oncologists face was one big smile as he announced it “Gone – no trace”. Latest allowed tears to pour down his little chubby cheeks. I think I just sat there looking gormless and unable to take in what he had said. It was just halfway through my chemotherapy regime and, while the medics hoped it would shrink the tumour, no one had prepared us for this level of positive news. Amid all the euphoria, we completely understand there is no room for complacency. While the original tumour has gone, my treatment plan remains the same. Another 12 weekly doses of chemotherapy combined with hormone blocking drugs. Then there will be surgery in the New Year and finally radiotherapy, so still a long way to go.
But that day we took a deep breath, and dared to wonder if he could go to Australia. It took about 15 seconds. Jonathan loves his job – and he’s a brilliant broadcaster. While I’m on the subject of compliments (I can blame the drugs) he has been simply amazing, and I think he deserves a break from me! Its not easy watching someone you love fight for her life. He has had black moments and needed professional help to cope with a strong willed, independent fiery patient. That’s me, by the way. My great fortune in being one of the tiny minority of people who tolerate chemo without any side effects (other than complete baldness) means I have an insatiable appetite to get on with life. Jonathan has likened me to a recalcitrant child on reins who has needed hauling in on a number of occasions. He’s religiously made me green sludge to drink, cooked meals (some were even quite edible) and forced me to rest. But most of all, he’s fought for my health like a lion defending his pride against a young imposter. For everything, I thank him from the bottom of my heart.
So off he goes. I will be getting some peace and quiet. Tino the cocker spaniel will be keeping his side of the bed warm, and you will be hearing him on the radio. He will also be catching up in Adelaide with our youngest, Thomas, who has had to cope with all this drama via FaceTime and texts. He’s been out there since April playing hockey and working. Meanwhile daughter, Charlotte, and I will be keeping the home fires burning at Agnew Towers. When Jonathan returns home in early December, we already have everything to celebrate. But being 2 nil up in the Ashes would just be the icing on the Christmas cake.
*12 weeks since I was diagnosed with that inconvenient little bugger, breast cancer
*9 weeks since my new best friend Mr Keemo Therapee came into my life
*6 weeks since my hairdressing bills disappeared for the time being
*4 weeks since Jonathan learnt to cook
That’s a lot of life changing milestones. And its been a month since I last sat and wrote on this blog.
Cooking: I blame his mother and myself a little bit. We have both indulged him over the years. Frankly, I can’t bear the mess left behind in the kitchen, so it’s always been easier to do it myself. But, out of the blue, a fantastic bunch of lads from London heard Jonathan moaning about his lack of culinary skills on Test Match Special and offered to come up and help! I nearly bit their hands off, probably from hunger!
You know how men say irritating things like: “Oh, let’s just BBQ” by which they mean, you scrub down the BBQ from the last time it was used in 2016 , buy all the food and prepare all the salads etc etc… and they just stand there and burn a couple of sausages…?
Well, Paul, Paddy and Eammon arrived from the Sunshine Garden Centre with a white van, three gas BBQ’s and enough food to feed the whole village. Presenting Jonathan with an apron, they set about showing him how to marinade pork fillet, stuff a beer can up a chickens backside and roast sirloin, potatoes and even Geoffrey Boycott untraditional Yorkshire puddings. All on the BBQ.
It was a brilliant afternoon and a supreme act of kindness and generosity, and one of many we have been so very fortunate to have received over the past few weeks. More importantly, it gave Jonathan a very positive role at home – something he has really struggled with since my diagnosis.
You may have noticed he missed the first day of the Lords Test Match. This was particularly significant because it marked the end of Henry Blofeld’s illustrious broadcasting career, and Jonathan, who adores Blowers, was due to lead the tributes.
Most people assumed it was because I was unwell. In truth, there’s been another patient at home too. Balancing his work, worrying about me, a feeling of total helplessness, lying awake in the early hours trying to fight those darkest of fears and wondering whether he should go to Australia or not to cover the Ashes were all taking their toll on Jonathan. He finally admitted he needed professional help and went to the doctor. Some short-term use of diazepam and longer term counselling will, we hope, help us both through the next few months. When I heard him back behind the microphone, I wondered what the Prime Minister would have said if she knew he was on Valium when he interviewed her.
And finally the Ashes. The players set off later this month. Jonathan was due to be away for nearly 3 months and clearly that’s not a viable option for us at the moment.
However, I had a mid-term scan last week. As those of you who have been through this will understand, it’s a sleepless night beforehand and a fear of “what if” waiting for results. It’s was just total elation for us this weekend when we were told the little so and so has responded well to the treatment, and it is shrinking rapidly.
I still have a further 12 week course of chemotherapy to go, then surgery and radiotherapy BUT I’m feeling really fit and strong and tolerating the drugs very well. I’ve been told I am in the amazingly fortunate 2% of chemo patients who don’t suffer any of the nasty side effects (apart from hair loss) I’ve just had a massively positive scan so we have therefore taken the decision that Jonathan WILL head out for the first two test matches. I know he really wants to go. I think it’s positive proof that I’m doing well so far and I’m not sure the BBC’s coverage would be quite the same without him. Gosh, I must be ill – that’s almost a compliment. So, keeping everything crossed, Jonathan will be welcoming everyone to The Gabba on 23rd November, and I’ll have a tidy house and control of the kitchen once again.
September; how did that happen ? Now I’m officially a lady of leisure for a few months, I’m sitting in the sunshine reflecting what an ” interesting” week it’s been.
Last week I passed the prison warden’s (aka Jonathan/Latest) fitness test and was deemed well enough to drive to Leeds for the celebrity cricket match marking 60 years of Test Match Special. Clearly, he is too ancient to actually play in it, so he and Geoffrey Boycott coached the teams led by Tuffers and Vaughan. It was a great afternoon in the sunshine, and I was once again so moved by all those people who came to talk to me and offer encouragement. It really helps keep my spirits high.
On Monday, a very close friend, who also has this inconvenient wretched disease, had a silver wedding party. Imagine my horror when, washing my hair for said event, it sort of melted into a huge matt and no amount of combing would sort it out. Lovely Jade gave me an elfin chop, but there was no disguising it and, with half an hour to go, it was “thank God for Monika” all ready and waiting in the spare room. I’m so glad I had her – I suspect I might have retired under the duvet all night weeping if I hadn’t, but on she went, on went the pink dress and matching lipstick, and Cinders went off to the party to join my two friends also at various stages of fighting this illness.
By Tuesday, I was sporting a comb over. Guys, it’s seriously NOT a good look and it doesn’t fool anyone. So it was off to the wonderful Neil, with whom I made a plan immediately after my diagnosis. I’d provide the champagne and he’d do the clipping. And you know, it really wasn’t as traumatic as I thought. Or was that just the pink fizz?
From pink fizz to pink poison number 2 on Wednesday and my new best friend Mr Keemo Therapee. Apart from expelling my hair (and hopefully that blinking tumour) I seem to be tolerating him pretty well with limited side effects so far. Lucky me. Obviously Latest told my specialist that it was down to his nursing, the daily green sludge and culinary delights/disasters. I just smiled indulgently.
So, back to the beginning of September (definitely NOT end of summer/ beginning of autumn in my book) Just under two months ago I walked into my super GP practice (we one of the lucky ones with village doctors who work early mornings, evenings and Saturdays) My mammogram in February this year was clear but I had noticed a slight “dimple” on my right breast. I couldn’t feel a lump and neither could my doctor, but (and this is the vital bit) she said because I knew it was a CHANGE, she’d send me off to the hospital “just to check it out and be sure”. Thank goodness she wasn’t dismissive or sent me away to keep an eye on it. So lucky in many ways.
Ten years ago, a local Leicestershire rider Claire Lomas, was paralysed in an accident. She achieved international fame when she completed the 2012 London marathon in 17 days wearing a bionic suit. One of her sayings is: “Smile and laugh. You often start to feel how you behave”. Thanks Claire. It is great advice.
August 17th 2017
What I have quickly come to realise about this inconvenient cancer is that it’s not simply my diagnosis. It really hits around you. Family, friends and complete strangers have been overwhelmingly kind and encouraging and have got us through this first shocking month.
From the moment those words “breast cancer” were uttered in hospital, and Latest Husband fought desperately hard not to be sick and collapse on the floor, it’s been his cancer as much as mine. He’s been to all my appointments, sat waiting in corridors while I’ve been scanned, examined and operated on. He’s squeezed the blood out of my hand as we waited to hear whether it had spread or not and most recently whiled away the hours while the pink poison of chemo was pumped into my veins.
In these situations you have to find humour in the small things; I’m currently thinking it’s highly amusing that Jonathan hates needles. And trust me, at the moment there are a lot of needles going on in my life! So every time someone appears with a sharp implement, he shuffles like an embarrassed schoolboy and makes a swift exit muttering about “fresh air.”
It may also surprise you to know that he’s been a totally indulged and spoilt husband for the past 21 years; rarely being pressed into any form of domestic service – particularly of the kitchen variety. However, since my first chemo last week, it’s been a steep learning curve for us both, and he’s tackled the cooking with some trepidation and a huge dollop of gusto!
But showing his typically competitive streak, not for him the simple basics, he’s leapt in with risotto, chicken with roasted Mediterranean vegetables and fennel, and beef stir fry. I’ve refrained from commenting on the fact that he’s used every single kitchen utensil in the house. Or that the washing up has to be surreptitiously redone as it’s not quite up to my standards of cleanliness. And that he went to the electrical department looking for a “bulb of fennel.” I’m actually very grateful to be able to just collapse on the sofa on a diet of afternoon television (Come Dine With Me/Escape to the Country etc etc) and then just eat what is presented. He’s also researched all sorts of foods that are good for me, and our fridge looks like an allotment: full of every green thing known to man. Latest has force-fed me buckets full of green stuff from a blender every morning. There’s also a ‘guess the mystery ingredient’ competition element. This morning it was a tomato. Yesterday it was a chilli beetroot: you get my drift!
He’s also acted as a prison warden, allowing me limited amounts of fresh air and leg stretching in the morning, then frog arching me back to bed for an afternoon sleep when he deems I’ve had enough. He’s run errands, acted as chauffeur, discovered supermarkets (yes, he really was sheltered!) intercepted phone calls and dealt with necessary admin.
But now it really is time for him to go back to work before we start falling out. I’ve been lucky; this first cycle seems to have gone very smoothly. I was fit and healthy when I started it and I just didn’t know how I would be affected. Yes, I’ve been tired and slept a lot. And when I haven’t slept, I’ve rested. I haven’t been sick at all, and taken all my anti sickness drugs religiously, so they seem to have worked their magic. AND I haven’t lost my hair yet, so no need to employ Monika (my trusty wig who’s waiting for me in our spare room). So, all things being equal, he will be back on the radio for the first West Indies test match from Birmingham. It’s a day/night test, so I’m hoping he’ll be able to bring me breakfast in bed before he goes (fat chance) but it seems rather timely that this is the first Test match to be played with a pink ball in this country. And given pink is the colour of the breast cancer charity, I’m hoping it’s a good omen for the weeks ahead.
August 9th 2017
Last Saturday I went shopping. I was supposed to be topping up my admittedly already rather extensive stock of bikinis. I had a couple of weekends in Portugal planned to escape a) the English ‘summer’ and b) the cricket!! I had also just booked to fly to Australia this winter to join Latest (husband) who will be covering the Ashes for the BBC. Instead, I found myself shopping for wigs.
Not the fancy dress variety you understand. No, just 18 days earlier I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The description of a roller coaster doesn’t really do it justice. From my fantastic GP to the phenomenal professionalism of Leicester Glenfield Hospital’s breast unit, our feet have hardly touched the ground. And there is no ” softly softly” approach with this lot – after two hours of investigations they told us kindly but without mincing their words.
“You have a breast cancer. Do you understand”?
Well yes I do but I’m a bit too busy for this; the cricket season is in full swing and Jonathan is all over the country…I also have a full on job for the BBC. There’s the small matter of those holidays I was looking forward to; the equestrian competition season is at its height and number 1 son is playing hockey on the other side of the world. Sorry, it’s rather inconvenient!
The next two weeks became an intricate pattern of hospital appointments, work and deceipt as we struggled to make sense of what was going to happen. Had it spread? No (bizarrely it felt like we had won the lottery and we went out to celebrate!!). What treatment would I need? Turns out to be 24 weeks of chemotherapy, then surgery then radiotherapy. How on earth would we break the news to my two children who lost their father some years ago to Motor Neurone Disease?
So I wrote a list. I’m a great list maker – it’s the only way anything gets done at Agnew Towers. Pretty much top of that list was ‘ sort wig’. And that inevitably meant a shopping trip!! Hurrah, there was something to look forward to. Hairdressing friends told me the sort of thing I needed to look for; lace fronts, comfort caps; hand or machine weave, natural or synthetic hair. I became quite an expert overnight! And armed with a girlfriend and a credit card I found myself on Saturday afternoon in the very capable hands of Martin.
Now I’m a girl who can spend. A lot actually. And quite a lot on her hair with cuts and highlights and blow dries. So when Martin reasoned with me that the amount I spent on a wig would soon be recouped by NOT going the to the hairdressers, I knew we were going to get along famously. Don’t get me wrong….I can’t even bear to think about losing my blonde ( ish) tresses. I might sound shallow but I have heard women say over and over again that it’s been the worst point in their cancer treatment. I will be exactly the same. My gorgeous friend Neil has already promised to come armed with champagne and his clippers and finish the job off once my hair starts going. He says he will do Jonathan too ( he only has a few strands anyway!)
So I literally waltzed out of the shop wearing Monika (pictured). She’s named after one of my brilliant team of specialists who, along with my pink poison (aka my chemo) are going to save my life. There’s going to be a fair saving on my hairdressing bills too…..
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CLASSIC TMS AUDIO
A classic View: Hugh Cornwell – lead singer of the Stranglers
Manchester United and England’s Gary Neville reflects brilliantly on the impact cricket has made on his life:
Strictly Come Dancing judge, Len Goodman: a great story-teller
The legendary broadcaster/DJ Annie Nightingale. What a character!
Downton Abbey’s Mr Carson, and Hampstead CC Chairman, Jim Carter
Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter, on his 18th birthday
Days after the 2011 riots I interview the Prime Minister David Cameron at the Oval
Leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband meets his childhood hero
One of my favourites – chatting to Elton John on his piano stool
Eric Clapton brightens up a rainy morning at Lord’s with his stories about Ian Botham
Rugby legend Gareth Edwards is my entertaining guest at Cardiff
England are moments away from winning the Ashes in 2005, and Hugh Grant pops in for tea
Great fun with Aussie comedian Adam Hills
Lesley Garrett is quickly into full flow at Lord’s
The interview everyone still talks about: pop star Lily Allen
Two years later, Lily returns for tea with a husband, a cake and a bump
Mark Webber takes us into the cockpit of his F1 racing car
A perfect guest for lunch at Cardiff – Max Boyce
Lunch with the ageless Nicholas Parsons
A lovely session with Richie Benaud as he bows out of British TV
Tea with England football coach Roy Hodgson
The match referee’s cousin pays a visit to Lord’s: Russell Crowe
John (Boycie) Challis takes an extended View from the Boundary at Edgbaston
My favourite piece of commentary. Kerry O’ Keeffe and I watch Steve Waugh’s 100 in Sydney 2003
Keane’s Tom Chaplin sings a beautiful solo at Old Trafford
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Cricket: A Modern Anthology
In this wide-ranging and beautifully-produced anthology, I have chosen a wide variety of writings on the sport that has consumed my life, from the 1932/33 Ashes (Bodyline) series right up to the present day. In a series of carefully considered, thematically organised reflections, I examine the importance of their contribution to our understanding and appreciation of cricket. With input from several eminent cricketing historians, including the librarian at Lord’s, the book contains a fascinating range of material, from renowned classics to books that have hardly seen the light of day in the United Kingdom (e.g. The Hanse Cronje Story by Garth King); from overseas fiction to modern day autobiographies (Marcus Trescothick, Simon Hughes, Mike Brearley etc.) that have attained classic status. With 75 seminal cricket images, original line drawings and a comprehensive index, this book is a must-have for any self-respecting cricket fan.
For more information or to buy, CLICK HERE
Thanks, Johnners: An Affectionate Tribute to a Broadcasting Legend
Thanks Johnners is a warm tribute to my mentor Brian Johnston and his time at the helm of Test Match Special.
The on-air incident, in which my comment on Ian Botham’s attempt to avoid stepping on his stumps – “He just couldn’t quite get his leg over” provoking prolonged fits of giggles – most notably from Johnners – has been voted the greatest piece of sporting commentary ever. The friendship between myself and Brian became immortalised through that broadcasting classic, but there was a deeper bond between us, as this book reveals.
For more information and to buy, CLICK HERE
This is in effect my personal diary of my experiences in Australia in 2010/2011 – when England finally won the Ashes in Australia for the first time in 24 years. With additional contributions from the best BBC cricket bloggers and the resident TMS statistician, Aggers’ Ashes is the only companion you will need to relive those wonderful days when history was made Down Under.
For more information and to buy, CLICK HERE
Over to You, Aggers
The world of cricket has seen many ups and downs since my autobiography was first published back in 1997. This substantially updated edition of the book features my thoughts on the Cronje bribery scandal; the loss of the BBC televised coverage to Channel 4; England’s failures at the 1999 World Cup, in South Africa and against the Australians in 2001; and their successes against the West Indies and Pakistan. This book takes the reader on an odyssey around the cricketing world.
For more information and to buy, CLICK HERE
8 Days a Week: Diary of a Professional Cricketer
An honest but entertaining account of a county cricketer’s life on the road.
For more information and to buy, CLICK HERE
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