Once Upon A Time

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What if I read you a story, starting;

‘Once Upon A Time’

And you realised that it was your life,

Spelt out on every line,

Would you hear my voice with wonder,

As it brushed across each word,

And pray my arms had strength to hold,

The truth about your world,

Would your view on life be different,

And would it shock you most to find,

That the things you thought defined you,

Could be summed up in just two lines.

And all the ones you took for granted,

The ins and outs of everyday,

Play a bigger part in who you are,

Than you’d ever dared to say,

Would you wonder at the pages left,

And all the places that they’d lead,

Then vow to make each moment,

One that you’d be proud to read,

Because there is a story of your life,

But it’s you that holds the pen,

And I hope you fill the pages right,

Before you reach the end.

imagePoem by Erin Hanson

 

The C Word – the bits and bobs

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There is nothing that can compare to hearing those few words confirming that you have cancer – the C Word.  You may have already known deep down or it could have come as a sudden shock.

One thing is for certain though, one thing I am absolutely sure of;

Cancer Scares People

Those words are delivered with such force that they take your breath away.  An impact like no other hits you to your very core.

A friend of mine recently described the feeling so aptly, when she explained

“It is like standing at the edge of the sea, as the waves keep rolling in and over you”.

It is that.  Exactly that.

One minute you are there in the room, the next minute you are elsewhere – as the haze descends.

And so, there are a few things that I have learned over this past year that I thought I might share.

I have sifted through the endless information that I have been bombarded with (and bombarded myself with).  I have learned some things the hard way, I have used the powerful tool of hindsight, and I have rounded on 5 valuable things.

These things are just ‘bits and bobs’ that may perhaps help someone else to get through the haze to wherever they need to be, or perhaps even help friends & family to understand that little bit more.

They are positive things that you can do or that family and friends can perhaps help with.  And most importantly they are things that you can control – in amongst all the things you can’t control.

The 5 things that I have learned..

#1 Do it your own way

Everyone is different, each diagnosis is different, every treatment plan unique.

Have a voice.  If you disagree with a method or perhaps just need it explaining in a different way, just say.  My breast care nurse has often said to me that there is no ‘normal’ way of doing things, everyone is individual and how true that is.

#2 Be kind to yourself

Admittedly, I am not very good at this one.

You experience a whole range of emotions from anger, to fear, anxiety and upset – perhaps even some sort of guilt.  Use anything you can to distract from what can feel like a never-ending cycle.  I use heat mainly, but music or massage or meditation can also help to relieve the build up of everyday pressures.

#3 Find an outlet (any outlet)

Having a cuppa and a chat can work wonders.

You may not want to talk, for whatever reason – perhaps writing a diary or a blog, or even an email would be better.

You could try exercise, just a walk for some fresh air or perhaps running for a charity to give you something to focus on. Swimming is also very relaxing.

#4 Surround yourself with those who care

Family and friends want to help.

You don’t need to be strong for someone, you just need to be there and being there is what really counts.

Sometimes you need a strong armour for those who say the ‘wrong thing’ – but on the whole people just care.  Sometimes just knowing that you have someone to lean on gives you that little bit of strength that you need.

#5 Cherish the small things

There will be good days & bad days. That is a certainty.

All of a sudden life will be brought into sharp focus – the small things that you once took for granted, you will hold dear.  Kind words, a touch of a hand, an old memory, a favourite song, and even the ever so precious element of time.

Cherish the small things.  Every single moment.

Find joy in the ordinary.

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*Quote from the lovely Rosemary Albone at http://www.cystaract.wordpress.com

A Random Act of Kindness

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I am just a mum, an ordinary mum of two.

There are thousands of mums just like me.  Mums who try to juggle family life as best they can.

A year ago I found out that I had breast cancer.  ‘Mums do not have time to get ill’, I had always thought.

It is hard to believe that just a few months ago I was midway through a course of chemotherapy.

I think it is fair to say that my treatment got harder and harder.  Perhaps it was the cumulative effect, I don’t know.

All I do know is that the more it went on, the more difficult I found it.

I started to struggle to stay strong and that positive mindset I had in the beginning, began to disappear.

Then all of a sudden, a random act of kindness saved me.  The hand of friendship.  All of a sudden, a tiny glimmer of belief reminded me of something.

I was reminded that there are things that I love to do, and I held on to it.  I found my outlet – my bit of space to explain my story, and my little world.

Whenever coffee mornings and play dates had come around they always made me nervous.

And yet, I find myself sharing my breast cancer diary – my very personal thoughts – for all to see.

There is a reason, a very good reason, why I choose to tell my story.

To raise awareness of the illness that has tried to take me, and many others before me.

And so, if just one other mum remembers to check herself – then it will all be worth it one thousand times over.

The thing is, that random act of kindness was not shown to me by another mum in my neighbourhood, but by one who lives hundreds of miles away.

Someone I have never met, yet I am proud to call a friend.

A random act of kindness.  

Pass it on.

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Scared is not enough – catch 22

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Sometimes things happen in life that you take in your stride.

Sometimes things happen that knock you sideways, but you dust yourself off.

Sometimes, just sometimes, things happen which are out of your control.

Just when you feel that everything is getting back to normal, all of a sudden  cancer catches up with you – it taps you on the shoulder, just to check if you had forgotten that it was once there.

It all began one day with a niggling feeling and then slowly I realised that it had been weeks, not days. The pain was still there and the numbness in my foot had not gone away.  A few weeks of back pain, ongoing aches, paracetamol, and then.

Then it hit me.  A small reminder of something that I once read.

I vaguely remembered Lisa Lynch describing the daily use of paracetamol, and all of a sudden a thought dawned on me please no, it couldn’t be.  I desperately searched for the book I had once read called ‘The C Word’ written by Lisa Lynch, looking for an answer that really wasn’t there.

When did she know? When did she realise it had come back?

It played on my mind & it just wouldn’t leave, and in the end I knew that I would have to say it out loud.  I knew I would have to explain my fears to my specialist, even though I would look a fool if my fears were misplaced.   Once again I reasoned with myself that to look a fool would be the best case scenario, especially when you are staring ‘down the barrel’ at the alternative.  Once again I trusted my own instincts because really what else do we have?

What followed were all the normal obligatory tests.  The ‘belt & braces’ approach, for which I was most thankful.

What followed emotionally for me, was not so normal.  You see, I am unsure as to how to explain my feelings surrounding this except to say that ‘scared’ is not quite enough.  Scared implies a little fearful – and yet this feeling was so much stronger.  I had never felt anything quite like this, the physical grip of something that you can’t quite shake – almost like being frozen.

I had known deep down that it had been lingering for a while.  A bad feeling.  It was there but I almost did not want to admit it, to face it, to say it out loud, because to say it out loud would have meant that it was real. Secondary cancer cannot be cured.

And so the appointment came and I went along to the hospital at the crack of dawn, driving through the empty streets.  I listened to the radio to take my mind off it and I concentrated unnecessarily hard on the road ahead.  Once there I was scanned and then I waited.  We waited, for what seemed like forever.  We waited for the results.  Again.

In only a matter of hours the results came through (it seemed like an eternity).  They were clear.  Thank god.  The waves of relief came flooding over me at very random times for the rest of the day and I let the tears fall, I could not stop them.  Afterwards I felt foolish and naïve, like a silly girl – and yet it was something that I just could not ignore.

At times cancer can make you feel very small.

And so it seems that the inevitable poor health has begun to take hold, perhaps sooner than I ever imagined.  Chemotherapy seems to have made everything that little bit weaker and even small things are now causing unforeseen problems.

Catch 22 for me it seems will now and forever be to get on with life and to live it.  To ignore those aches and pains or to voice them, only to be proved wrong.  I would happily be proved wrong all day long I have decided.

Once again there were tears and sleepless nights and worrying, whilst everything else around me stayed the same.  And yet, I seem to have come out of the other side by some small miracle.

I know in my heart of hearts that it is time to move on and to accept that ‘whatever will be, will be’ I guess. Acceptance is a tricky thing.

Catch 22.  To be the fool who mentions something, or to be the one who does not?

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This Time Last Year – Advent dreams

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.. and so it begins, the countdown to Christmas.

The children are beside themselves with excitement.  They can barely sleep just thinking about waking up to open the first door of their advent calendars.  It is the build up, the suspense and the magic that they love (that and the chocolate).

We are Catholic, so the school that my little boy goes to practise a mixture of traditional carols with more modern songs.  The children go to assembly each week and learn about Advent and the story of Christmas, along with rehearsing for their Christmas plays.  I often smile to myself just listening to them singing the songs that they have learned with each other – sometimes getting the words wrong – and exchanging them for hilarious alternatives.

I have always loved Christmas, it is a day of celebration and happiness.  A glimpse of warmth and sparkle within the gloomy Winter days.  It makes people wrap up warm to go for walks, and stop to take some time out from the busy hustle and bustle of work/ home life to spend quality time with family and friends.

This year I am all too aware that Christmas can be a difficult time for some, and that we need to try to remember the important things in our lives.  Not everyone can afford lavish expensive gifts, not everyone has their health and to some it is a time of great sadness.

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For me, this year, the countdown to Christmas is a reminder of the time my life changed forever. 

This time last year I was doing much the same as I am today.  Rushing around between the school run and work.  Making lists, preparing Nativity costumes and having a good old moan about the cold weather.  How naïve I was.  How lucky I was – that they were my only worries in life.  Already I find myself taking some things for granted when I promised myself that I would never do so again.

I find that the days are all merging into one and that I am desperate to make them count.   But perhaps making them count means to take the value out of the every day bits, and not necessarily to make exaggerated statements in life?

So I have decided that I am going to treat this Christmas as if it were my last.  I unwittingly did the same thing last year – through all the unknown and the fear, both myself and my husband were adamant that illness would not spoil our family time together.  We wound it all right back to take the stress out of those things that tend to strip the joy out of the fun things.  Instead of visiting everybody else we invited family to us.  We did many things in advance to make life easier, the tree, the food and the wrapping.  Where we would normally be panicking and trying to do all of those things, we instead made time for each other and for a glass (or two) of wine of an evening.

This year the children have surprised me as they have not really responded to the usual questions about what Santa may bring them with any real enthusiasm.  Of course they are excited about Santa Claus coming and the idea that their letters will magically disappear up the chimney, and even the presents that he may bring – but at the moment they are much more interested in their Christmas concerts.  I jokingly suggested that we should perhaps go away for Christmas on holiday, to relax in the sunshine, and my son was not at all impressed.  I can already tell that he is a ‘home bird’.  For him Christmas is about home and family.  Both children are very keen for both of us to make their concerts, and they will be so excited & shy & proud to sing for us.  Those are the things that mean the most to them.

Of course I would be lying if I said that the run up to the anniversary of my diagnosis was not on my mind.  It is, every single day.  I keep on thinking this time last year and I remember very clearly fighting back the tears at those same concerts, whilst smiling back at the beaming faces seeking my approval.

I have thought about it a lot, and no doubt it will stir up some strong emotions – but I have decided the best way to deal with it all will be to follow my children’s lead and focus on the things that really matter.

I am treating this Christmas time as if it were my last. 

I am going to look forward, not backwards.  I am going to do something positive on that particular day and I intend to spend as much time with my family and friends as I possibly can.

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