Sunday, 31 January 2016

I'm making memories



I had plans for this year. They were a bit vague but essentially around celebrating the year I become 60. Its another decade that, at one stage in my life, ( after my first cancer diagnosis in my 30's) that I didn't believe I would see, so celebration feels right. Of course my year has started differently, I'm still recovering from major breast cancer surgery and this weeks ups and downs have reminded me of that. The biggest up was confirming no need for chemotherapy although somewhat tempered by the expectation of 10 years of letrozole and following on with tamoxifen. But I thought ok ,10 years, I will take that!

My birthday is this week and yet again I'm reminded that I share my birthday with something else. It's world cancer day. OK, that's what I call rubbing it in! Every year it's the same of course, and I have ranted about this before but I kinda hoped they would give me a break for my 60th. Maybe like Easter it could be different each year? Since my first diagnosis I've worked hard to not let it define me, just to accept its impact as part of me and what I bring. But I don't need reminders. I just want to get on with living. So I won't be supporting any campaigns, I will be focussing on another watershed. If I have a birthday wish its pretty much could I get shot of the bra I have had to wear morning and night since my op. a simple but as yet unavailable request.Women readers will recognise that I'm currently missing the moment of bliss we look forward to every day....the point at which the bra comes off. When that day returns you will hear the sigh in Glasgow!

So for me this week will be a quiet birthday, with plans for time with loved ones the following week too. It's giving me much needed things to look forward to and I plan to enjoy it all as much as I am able to just now. This year will be about making nice memories and confining some to the bin ( along with the bra). I'm beginning to look forward to that again...must be feeling stronger, eh?

PS here is a link to World Cancer Day if you wish to know more.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Love with its work boots on




I'm puggled I told the GP this morning. She Irish and I'm thinking she's still trying to find out what it means. Although perhaps my presence said it all. Don't get me wrong I know to expect to be puggled just now given I'm only 12 days post-op but I'm also breathless and needed to check for a chest infection...on which the jury is still out and I'm watching a box of amoxycillin  with suspicion. 
It's been strange time; I know I'm progressing, wounds healing and I'm a teeny bit stronger but also life is passing me by and whats noticeable is I'm ok with that. I've finally stopped thinking that somehow I should feel guilty about having needed this treatment. I'm not sure why that's taken its toll, maybe it's some presbyterian guilt about costing the NHS money? Analyse that! But I recognise its deeper too. I've had to tell myself that a mastectomy without reconstruction would have been painful in so many other ways and that my choice to have an immediate reconstruction was the best , worst option.   Maybe there is a fear in me of that decision being seen as vanity. I'm vane, I dye my hair and wear make up of course I am and I'm ok with that being part of me. But actually it's much more core than that, it's about feeling complete. And so I may be bruised and swollen beyond words and feel sore and stiff and puggled but the miracle worked by the surgeons is my road back to feeling restored. And I'm deeply grateful for that and to the whole team ( and team Birt) who have played their part in that.
My care has been faultless, expert, skilled, kind and compassionate. I'm blown away by the service that has supported me so well. I couldn't be more grateful to the NHS for providing excellent care and giving me all the options I need just now. This is the same week where our Chief Nursing Officer has been criticised for calling out poor care. I for one applaud her. She also gave praise where it was due and credited most nurses with doing an excellent job but I know-as she does-that's not the reality everywhere. It's no coincidence my care is excellent, breast cancer care attracts the best staff and I'm a well informed, middle class, relatively healthy woman with good family support.   
As ever my experience has made me wonder how it would be for an older or less well off woman who lived alone, someone with cognitive impairment like dementia or someone who will not be tempted back to health with good food and love. We need our care services to care for all, whoever we are with the skills and kindness I have been shown. We all deserve no less than that. The team who looked after me could not have been busier, the ward and theatres were hectic day and night but I was always given the message that no request was too much, no effort spared. Ok I know in the hallowed halls of health care they are well respected, valued for what they do. Can we say the same for the staff in a care home or similar? Perhaps if we valued them too, we would see less poor practice? Staff deserve to be treated with humanity and respect and the depth of skills and compassion needed to care for someone in their home, with complex needs and little family support is no less than those needed to care for someone like me. Let's find a way to invest in our care teams, the returns will be worth it.
And finally i want to say thank you to all of you who have supported me and continue to do so. I feel loved and cared for and that's helping me feel confident of recovery and even make plans for the year as it unfolds. I write this blog with love and gratitude to my family, my friends and to those who are caring for me.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

A wee song thank you



Just a quick message before I have surgery tomorrow. I'm packed, I even have the empowerment pants and wonder woman pants at the ready!!! I'm all organised I hope and now just needing to get on with it and I'm very optimistic about the future. I'm feeling very cared for. My friends and my family have helped lift me up and I feel very cherished. It helps so very much. Thank you all for all you have done and for all your messages of love and support. 
I suspect my soundtrack will be Leonard Cohen ( ok I know but he cheers me up...honestly) and especially this song which I dedicate to everyone who has kept me going this past few weeks.  You've got me singing.....


Monday, 4 January 2016

A guid new year to a'




I'm a Scot so New Year has always had a special significance for us. When my mother moved to Scotland 65 years ago she was shocked that my father didn't have Christmas Day off work. It was Hogmanay that was celebrated and as a child I remember it being a special time of community, of friendship, of fun, of music and of course there would be drink taken. The house would be cleaned from top to bottom so the new year could be welcomed a fresh. A chorus of Auld Lang Syne, the traditional song of the New Year, can still always move me to tears. The first day of the year aye had a quiet start, with soup the traditional hangover cure and steak pie and haggis to be looked forward to in guid time.
This year has been a predictable mixture of emotions. With surgery now just round the corner, a happy new year is hard to imagine. But the winter solstice has passed, there is more light and after winter, there will  always be spring. A key message of this time of year too. The first time I had cancer and at the same time lost my father to the same disease, there was a time it felt too big to see past and a wise GP said to me; don't worry Audrey there will be better times. His words soothed me in a way that no others had at that time and he was right. He was right. I'm remembering those words just now and hope they provide comfort to others who are struggling too.

So this year at "the bells" we went with good friends to watch the fireworks in our wonderful city. Edinburgh does it in style and as the castle changed its colours to welcome in the New Year of 2016, the fireworks filled the sky with wonder. It was magical and joyful. This year we noticed a higher level of security and I can only imagine the pressure for those seeking to keep our community safe as it celebrated and I'm so grateful to them. Later that day we went to a special screening of " The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black,Black Oil" play in the Filmhouse Cinema. It's a storming play about the fundamental influences in recent centuries on the face of working class Scotland. The play is by John McGrath and was a film of the play performed by the 7:84 theatre company that he formed from the 1970s.  We chatted later about how little Scottish History we learned in school; how little Scottish culture was part of our education. Our culture of course will change and shape over time but if we are to make informed decisions about our future, how can we do that without understanding our past?
What a strange few weeks this has been, with a new diagnosis that blindsided me initially. When waits for scan results ( thanks fully clear of secondary disease) gave me an anxiety laden place to think about what mattered most to me. Yes it was pretty much all time with family and those I love that mattered more than anything but also still for me a chance to go on doing the work I love. And also -and this was maybe surprisingly even for me ( unionist look away now)- I found myself longing to still be here to see Scotland be an autonomous country again. interesting what becomes clear at these times.
So 2016 I await you and as ever I hope for better things for all of us, whatever challenges you face and whatever joys are just around the corner. A guid new year to one an a'...

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Owning my story





I wish I had a pound for every time someone has told me I'm strong in the last few weeks. And I know I am-in the sense they mean- but sometimes it's used in a way that makes me want to ask for permission not to be strong sometimes!
"Strong" evokes an impression of rippling muscles and a stiff upper lip. And anyone who knows me knows that's not me! Definitely not the rippling muscles sadly and I'm the person who can't watch sad films or even adverts. I bubble at a sad story at the best of times. Show me an emotion and I'm in it! OK it may be true that when I was nursing, I could hold it together to provide care and support in the moment but when I got home the slightest sad story and all my withheld emotions would flow. I have cried reading out poetry and I have moved others and myself to tears speaking at events in Scottish parliament even; so I'm an old hand at emotion. More and more I'm willing to show my vulnerabilities at times and that feels like a strength rather than a weakness. In some ways my blog has helped me with that.

 “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Brené Brown

I have really enjoyed a family time over Christmas and felt truly blessed and I have also had to make space for the maelstrom of emotions I'm working through. I have dreamed of breast feeding a baby from the breast I'm about to lose. I awakened with a deep sense of sadness and loss. It's a preparation for loss and I'm recognising the importance of that. It seems loss isn't always predictable, after all I haven't fed a baby for several decades but it was precious time for me as a mother. I have a date for surgery a little earlier than I had thought which has brought it into sharp focus. Seeing the reality reflected on others faces, especially my children has left me tearful. Leaving family after Christmas has been hard, I want to hug them close.
I haven't told my Mum about my new diagnosis, she won't retain the information because of her short term memory and I can spare her that pain. So saying to my Mum, "I will see you in a few weeks", when my reality is somewhat different, was tough, to say the least. There are so many emotions to unpick with that one. I have shed a good few tears this last week and I have also had a truly special time. Leaving space for sadness, leaves space too for joy.
So am I strong, yes to be sure I am, but maybe a less laden word would be resilient.
Resilient means you can withstand and recover from difficult conditions. I have learned to be better at that, it's one of the things cancer diagnoses have taught me. I don't doubt I will learn some more things along the way with this diagnosis too. I will keep you posted....

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas thoughts and empowerment pants!





It's Christmas Eve and I'm writing this in the early hours with a storm making its presence felt outside. But I write from a place of peacefulness despite all that this month has brought. Because with the news that I have breast cancer again has brought some very lovely messages of love and support, some truly special time with family and friends and more to come. I'm feeling very blessed.
I know this is a hard time of year for so many; mid-winter weather, the awakening of loss, the media stoked expectations of a perfect Christmas which is rarely reality and all of life's pressures and illnesses that somehow seem inflamed by a date on a calendar. I was reminded of this sitting in the breast clinic this week when the nurse assistant said to me , it doesn't feel Christmassy yet does it?  After sitting in the waiting room where fear is omnipresent, tension is palpable and the Christmas tree in the corner seems wanly overworked, I couldn't imagine feeling less Christmassy. In that moment I felt for the team who knew more than most that cancer doesn't have a Christmas break and that the impact  feels all the more potent with a backdrop of tinsel. 
Strangely maybe I'm feeling calmer about Christmas than usual, maybe it's because I'm not cooking or maybe it's that sense of perspective these times bring....probably a bit of both! A group of us went to see "A Wonderful Life" this week and not only did it provide a welcome emotional release for me ( yes I had a good cry!)but also it was that very timely reminder of what makes us rich.
So my Christmas wish to you all is to find that place of peace in yourself, to know what makes you rich and treasure it and whatever life is challenging you with try to approach it with love in your heart.
And I leave you with this fabulous gift a friend delivered to me yesterday: empowerment pants...great gift with an even better message for a Christmas Eve.