Forget Me Not – a generation thing

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My grandma is my best friend.

My grandma’s name is Mary Theresa.  She loves music and reading, and the colour pink.

Many years ago she fell in love with a handsome boy named Patrick and they travelled together from Ireland, across the seas to begin a new life together.  They had little money but they worked bloody hard and made a good honest home for themselves and their family.

My grandma is a nurse, through and through  – in the real traditional sense of the word.

She cares about people, she looks after people, and it is the very essence of who she is.  If you are ever poorly she is always there with warm drinks, comfort foods and a stroke of the hand.  No medicine needed -because the instant feeling of warmth covers over you like a blanket..

My grandma is a baker – a bloody fantastic baker.  Not a modern day, fancy, flirty cook who messes with things until they are ruined – but a wholesome, honest baker who uses love as her main ingredient.  Specialities to name but a few are her famous Apple pie, her Scones, those Trifles and the famous Chocolate cake that have been fought over many a time over the years.  No measuring or weighing, it is all second nature – a talent that you can’t really teach.

Everything my grandma is she gets from my great grandma, her own mother, who she held with such high regard.

Without a shadow of a doubt the hardest person for me to tell of my illness was my grandma.  How do you tell someone something that you think might upset them so much it could actually make them ill?

I should have known better .  My grandma is a nurse – through and through.

The woman isn’t the matriarch of our family without good reason.  She has lived through many years of hardship, and experienced many highs and lows.  When I told her on that day – she didn’t fall apart, she didn’t cry, she didn’t shake.  She listened, very carefully and then, when I had finished speaking she said;

‘If only it could have been me’.  ‘I have lived my life, it should have been me’.

Those words really took me aback – what a selfless and genuine reaction to such news.

The following months she did everything she could to help me through.  She leant me a library book that she had taken out in order to read more about what I was going through  & how to help.  She sent me cards after every, single, chemotherapy session -reminding me of how brave she thought I was & that I would get through no matter what because I was a ‘chip off the old block’.  She called me each week to check on the nausea & when I was able to visit her again she always asked about each part of my treatment and my progress.

Oh how hard to be so close to someone that you might very well lose one day.  Someone who has been the constant in your life the whole way through and helped bring you up to be the person that you are today.

– but also what an honour.

What an honour to know someone so well that they share your sense of humour, your likes & dislikes and they know you probably better than you know yourself.

A wise lady once said;

‘..people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

Well, if that is true there will be an awful lot of memories of this lady in years to come.  A mother, a grandmother, a true friend.

Four children, ten grandchildren, ten great grandchildren (and counting) and an awful lot of chocolate cake…

Mary Theresa.

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Cherish the special things – belonging

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I am doing a lot of reminiscing lately, about the past few years that I have been a mummy.  I guess when you come face-to-face with a serious illness, you cannot help but to look back at the years that you’ve had.

I can honestly say that they have truly been the best years of my life – mainly because of the staggering highs and lows that being a parent has presented to me.

From the very first moment I discovered I was pregnant all those years ago, I felt a whole range of emotions – from joy to fear, to happiness, and right back to fear again.

The fear and worry of just not being able to do it.

I remember a friend telling me to get used to the feeling of worry, because it is all part & parcel of becoming a mother.  You will worry about that little person from the moment they are a sparkle in your eye – right up until the time that they are fully grown (and then some).

It seems so silly to admit to, but I worried before each and every scan.  I worried that they would tell me it had all been a big mistake and that the heartbeat I so wished to hear was in fact not there.  Then would come the wave of emotions – relief, joy, and elation that there was in fact something there and I had not just dreamt it all.

It was in fact very real.

The main reason that I did not believe it all in the beginning was because I felt everything was just ‘too good to be true’. You see I had married the love of my life, travelled, experienced my ambition of living ‘down South’, and finally we had tried to start a little family of our own.

Then as soon as you have that baby you are thrown in at the deep end – it is almost like nature is testing you to see if you will ‘sink or swim’.

In a way I wish I could go back and talk to that girl who panicked that she couldn’t look after such a precious gift.  Of course this is not possible – but if I could, I would say ‘don’t listen’.  Please don’t listen to all of those books that you try to read proclaiming to give you the ‘best’ advice.  There is not a book in the world that will prepare you for the journey that you are about to begin.

Being a parent is about finding your own way, and the more you try to be the perfect mum the more you will fail – because there is not such thing.  It truly doesn’t matter if you choose breast or bottle, if your baby sleeps or not, how long it takes to reach certain milestones or what others are doing around you.

What matters is happiness and cuddles and above all being brave enough to admit if you are struggling.

It is not easy – in fact it is bloody hard work at times.  Your own children push you far beyond any limits you ever thought you had.  In fact, I have witnessed my husband (who is the most calm person I know) completely lose it courtesy of prolonged lack of sleep.  No one will ever win the who’s more tired argument and it is far easier to admit that the little person you created is outfoxing you both at the same time.

The one thing that I have learned over the past five years is to cherish the small things.  If I could write a book explaining this to other parents I would do – but even that would be impossible because each and every small thing is unique to your own family.

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My small thing, my treasured moment that ‘gets me through’ happens every now and then – contrary to all of the parenting books and ‘best advice’.

My special moment happens once in a while, in the very early hours when no one is awake, not even the birds.

One of the children wakes up cold or scared or unsure and they wander into our room, they get into our bed and they snuggle up close and they instantly relax.  We all do, because it is just the way it is supposed to be.  It just is.

Eventually an hour or so later the second child wanders in and makes a little space, the space that they know is theirs, and we all doze.  It doesn’t last long, it usually ends in someone hanging off the edge of the bed (this tends to be me) or being kicked, or even a random question being asked before either myself or my husband have fully woken up.

But it is our special thing and it is so special, and do you know what?  If I had taken those books to their very literal meaning – all the ‘advice’ about everyone knowing their own place and staying in their own rooms, I would have never have experienced such an amazing feeling of belonging to my family.

Cherish those special things because one day they might have disappeared, and you will wish dearly that you had savoured every moment.

‘Welcome to the world Millicent Hazel Eames’

[Guest Post] Radiotherapy – zapping the little buggers

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See for me it was always the chemo that was the most scary bit about having breast cancer.

I never really worried about the longer term prognosis, I always presumed (and still do) that I would get better and carry on living my life to the full – but the idea of having chemo and flooding my body full of  poison (albeit well meaning) just scared the bejeezus out of me.

So when it turned out that I also had aplastic anaemia (where your bone marrow fails to produce enough blood cells) as well as breast cancer and because of this I couldn’t have chemo, I was in some ways relieved.

When I came to having Radiotherapy I wasn’t that concerned about it.  A friend of mine had been through it and mentioned how it was quite tiring and that she got some ‘sunburn’ like marks – but despite this she had managed to work throughout it all.  To her it was just another step towards the end of treatment.  Another friend who is a radiotherapist, gave me some good tips on creams to use and explained how it was all done.

It was suggested that I should have 25 fractions (blasts) as I hadn’t had chemo – to try and make sure the treatment would get rid of any rogue cancer cells that might be lurking around.  It was also decided that the first 20 fractions would be with a ‘bolus’ (or bling bolus as my radiotherapists called it!). This is a sheet of what looks like chain mail (think of those tops you sometimes see girls wearing on a night out) that sits over your skin and makes the radiotherapy more concentrated.

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The treatment meant that I would need to attend the radiotherapy centre daily for 5 weeks (with weekends off for good behaviour!). The centre was newly built and heading down there for my set up appointment I was nervous but also happy to get on with it. The staff were lovely and talked through the entire process with me. It took a while to get the machines lined up properly (the radiation blasts have to be very precise) and then they had to give me 3 permanent black marks (kinda like a tiny tattoo) to enable them to line up the machine properly each time.  Now I have quite a lot of tattoos so this wasn’t a problem but it is still strange to have a mark from treatment that will always remind me of what I’ve been through.

After the ‘set up’ I had to wait a few weeks to start treatment. Patience has never been a great virtue of mine and so when the day finally came to get going I was ready for it.  My wonderful mum had come to look after my daughter and I for the period of treatment as we didn’t know how I was going to feel. This was a great weight off my mind as it gave me a chance to focus on myself, something which doesn’t come easily.

I met a friend for coffee on the morning of the first blast and made lots of plans for the next few weeks to help her out with fundraising and all sorts of other stuff, not realising how I would react to the treatment..

Being an avid photographer I’d been taking lots of hospital selfies and other photos to document my treatment. They kept me amused and I thought it would be interesting to look back on one day when I’m old and grey.   So on went my gown, a selfie was taken, and I went into the room for my first blast.

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The radiographers were incredibly friendly and helped put me at ease. I found that the setup of the radiotherapy, getting you in the right position etc, was much longer than the actual blast!  I was soon finished and off home. Within a few hours I started to feel quite hot around the area where the radiation had been directed but nothing too severe.  I had already been on hormone suppressants for a month and was in the full swing of hot flushes so this wasn’t anything new!

After about 5 sessions of radiation my skin started to get very sore.

They give you some great creams to combat the soreness and a good friend of mine had also sent me some aloe vera gel that was working a treat.

I was also getting very tired.

They call it fatigue, and to be honest before the radiotherapy I had never really experienced it before. I am a busy mum, and my daughter (now nearly 7) hardly slept until she was well over 1, so I know tired!  I understand sleep deprivation, and how your body and mind still just about function on no sleep – but this was different. Fatigue is like being incredibly tired for no valid reason, your legs feel like they are made out of lead – almost as if you are walking through treacle. Your head is foggy and you are operating on minimum capacity – yet you haven’t done anything.

Over the next few weeks it was a mighty battle of wills to get myself up, dressed, out and to that hospital over and over again. My mind and body were confused, ‘but this doesn’t feel right, and it hurts and we don’t want to go again!’ but I had to keep going. I knew that as long as I kept turning up, getting blasted, using the cream, getting looked after by people I loved and trying to sleep as much as I could, then it would soon be over.

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Luckily I had the support of those around me to be able to keep going. 

Throughout all of my treatment I have felt an overwhelming sense of love and support from people in my life and while undergoing radiotherapy that was no different. Friends and family sent flowers, chocolates and even gin! My cousin sent me a daily joke/pun and virtual hugs each day and a goody bag for when I finished. My mum and boyfriend were on hand at home to look after me – and most importantly my daughter.  I found that all of these things really helped me to stay positive and to get through each day.

Out of the 25 sessions, I only missed one, but soon enough the radiotherapy was over.  I had some pretty bad burns over my left chest area, so much so that it looked like I had been branded with a square flat iron, but I continued to use the cream and slowly started to get my energy back.  By Christmas time (a month after my radiotherapy finished) I felt well enough to enjoy the day with my wonderful family and looked forward to the New Year.

The radiation marks are still there. They have caused me some complications with regards to a reconstruction, but apart from that they just add to the many changes, scars, and marks that have become part my treatment & my story.

My scars remind me daily to look after my body, to love those around me, and to take every opportunity to experience joy and happiness and to minimise stress.  I would say that whether you are reading this as someone who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer or as a friend or family member looking to give support just remember that things do get better.

No matter how dark the night may seem, the sun will always rise again.

written by Sarah McLoughlin

Taking Time Out – the forever guilt

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One of the very rare things that you do as a mummy is to take time away.

Time away from the precious family moments, time away from the hustle and bustle, the tears and laughter, time away from the cuddles and slobbery kisses.

It is the most difficult thing in the world to describe – to need some time out.  Why would you need or want time away from the people who love you the most in the world?  Why would you want to be away from the those who depend on you so much? Why would you try to take ‘time off’ when you could have less time than you thought you had?

Nevertheless – there it is.  Everyone needs time away, if for nothing else than to gain a little perspective.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder – and boy does it.

Months ago mid-treatment my friend asked if I would like to join her in booking a meal at a Michelin star restaurant.  Now in time gone by I would have said ‘sorry I can’t afford it’ (the prices would make your eyes water) or perhaps ‘I can’t take the time out from family life’ – but something strange has happened to me over this last year.

I have been given a jolt.

A wake up call if you like.  I have realised that I have a lot less time than I thought I had.  Even on the best prognosis – my life span is somewhat shorter now than it once was & so I decided to say ‘yes’, why the hell not?

So that is exactly what we did.  We travelled first class on a train down to London.  Three friends who have known each other for so long.   We relaxed, and we chatted and we laughed, and somehow the tough times disappeared away because we were all there for that moment.  We reminisced, we talked about the hard things, but deep down I think we knew that the time away was sorely needed for each and every one of us.

Childhood friends, no longer kids.  All of a sudden if felt like the full depth of real life had hit us. We had experienced the loss of loved ones, heartache and illness – mixed with knowing true happiness and learning to cherish the small things – and yet we were all still sitting there.  Still hanging on.

When we arrived we walked around London on that beautiful Autumn day, taking in the sights and sounds of the City.  We took the underground, visited art galleries, drank cocktails and thoroughly enjoyed every single moment.

As the evening crept in we returned to our hotel to get ready for our much anticipated meal.  Listening to music, trying on our dresses and actually having some precious time to add a touch of makeup.  We sipped champagne and awaited our taxi.  Arriving at the restaurant – we were not to be disappointed.  Treated like royalty, every detail taken care of, and yet we were still able to relax in comfort & enjoy the full fine dining experience.

Midway through the meal a family sat down to eat with two young children.  I watched with intrigue at the behaviour of those children in amongst such an experience – impeccably behaved (where my own children would have been under the table or perhaps on top of it), and then the pangs of motherly guilt came – would my own have liked the taste of this or that?  Would they have gotten ‘overtired’ and sleepy in their chair too?  I pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind, as I was 100% sure that this was not the place for my little ones.

All in all it was a wonderful experience & one that I would recommend to any ‘foodie’.  The evening had been rounded off with the most perfect meal, washed down with the lightest wine and finished with slightly worn Louboutins (not mine).

Three tired friends who had set off with worn down emotions had returned rejuvenated, and happy, with slightly uplifted spirits.

On my way home I had some very rare time to kill and so I found myself in a bookshop wandering around.  I had forgotten how much I love book shops.  After quite sometime I chose some special books to take home to my little ones, bedtime stories written by the very best – and I could barely wait to share them.

Time away is a valuable thing, especially when you are a mother – but going home is the best feeling in the world.

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Somewhere Over a Rainbow

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Recently my children have discovered musicals, and I just love this.

Both of my sister’s girls adore the musical Annie and they know the original film word perfect.  So much so, that my second niece was almost named Annie, and she would have suited the name down to a tee I think – as she is bright as a button.

In our house though, the old favourites have always been Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz.  I love that these films feature some of the all time greats such as Dick Van Dyke and Judy Garland, real actors telling a real story of adventure and mystery.

We have only just recorded Annie and so the children are studiously learning the words to the songs (the music is on repeat).  I watch them performing ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ in amusement as they make up their own words to the songs and dancing around laughing in glee – and then it suddenly occurs to me that they will probably never really know what it means to live a ‘hard knock life’.

There are some instances in the news at the moment that make you realise how lucky we all are to live in a country without being in constant fear for our lives and that of our loved ones.

Whilst I have been busy worrying about creating lovely memories for my children just lately (in case the worst should happen), there are some mothers who are worrying about being able to provide food for their children, or whether they will even make it to shore alive.

I have been starkly reminded as to how fortunate am I to be able to provide for my children, to buy them lovely things and even to be privileged enough to tuck them into bed each night knowing that they are safe and sound.

Therein lies another life lesson that I have realised I would like to pass on to them both if I can.  It is very important to me that I teach them how lucky they are, and that there are people in the world less fortunate than themselves.  As I say all of this I can almost feel myself turning into my own mother, when she used to remind us that ‘there are children in the world who don’t have any food’ (and so to finish that dinner) and whilst this is all very true – perhaps what I mean is something more simple than this.

just the idea of giving to others

Admittedly, this will probably take some work as my daughter noticed a bag of old teddies recently (destined for the charity shop) and promptly straddled it exclaiming that she did not want to help ‘the other children’.  However, I am sure that when she realises one day that one of her unloved toys might make a real difference to someone else’s life she will change her mind..

As children they just love music, pretty much in any shape or form.  Often when we are driving to school and nursery I try to hum or sing along to a song that I know we all like in the hope that they will join in too.  I know that I will most likely be told to ‘be quiet’, but then I just smile to myself as I listen to them sing along to themselves for the rest of the journey.

I would like to think that they will always have music to go to – especially in difficult times, and especially if I am not around.

Music gives you a lift, it cheers you up, it reminds you of certain times of your life. Sometimes it makes you smile and sometimes it makes you cry, but it is laced with memories and that is something special to be enjoyed.

This lines up perfectly for a new chapter in our lives that I have been looking forward to.  I really want to start taking the children to the theatre and I think musical versions of plays are perhaps the best way to introduce them to live performing.  We are not rich by any means and so it will not be a regular occurrence, more likely a treat or a special occasion.

But an evening spent as a family, enjoying something different will be a little bit special I would like to think.
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But Not Me – Could’ve. Would’ve. Should’ve

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So sad to hear.

Somebody else’s news,

but it would not happen to me.

Someone else’s mother, someone else’s daughter,

but it could not happen to me.

One day when, in the future.

Perhaps by chance?

but probably not to me.

‘I can only imagine’. ‘You poor thing’,

but it would not happen to me.

‘Of course I will check’, tomorrow.  Or the next day,

but it could not happen to me.

I am young, I am healthy.  I am busy,

but it should not happen to me.

Could’ve. Would’ve.  Should’ve.

just may be too late.

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For all those who lost the fight