So, life is very different to how it was when I last posted a Blog. I think it might be time to pick this up again. But not tonight, I have had a busy day and it’s time to sleep.
It is over a month since I last wrote, there has been a lot happening at home, our son was offered, and has started a new job, this is his first full time employment contract since leaving school. His other jobs have been zero hour contracts and agency work. We are delighted for him and he is enjoying it, he has spent the last few weeks training, working in all the sections of the factory and will be working in the quality control department once he has completed his familiarisation training.
Our daughter has moved out, she has lived away from home before and has returned but she says that at 26, she thinks that this will now be permanent. She is sharing a flat in North Greenwich, it is a purpose built 1970’s flat, the views from their second floor windows are fabulous. They can see Greenwich Observatory to the left, Greenwich Power Station (almost identical to Battersea Power Station) directly in front, and the Shard to the right. The flat is 5 minutes walk to the Thames and the Cutty Sark. We spent a busy and tiring day transporting all her things from our home to her new one.
I also have job news, I have a new job and will be starting in just over a week to work for a UK charity that changes young lives through taking children with a serious illness or disability, without their parents, on the holiday of a lifetime to Orlando, Florida. I am delighted! During my first week, their offices are moving to the town where I live and it will take me 17 minutes to walk there (according to Google Maps). I feel privileged to be able to contribute to such a worthwhile cause and the staff are all lovely.
I am prompted to write today as I saw a post at lunch-time by ‘Mind’ on Facebook that Sally Brampton has died. I read her book ‘Shoot the Damn Dog’ earlier this year when I was at a particularly low point, it was immensely helpful. I am so sad to hear this news, thinking of Sally’s family. I must admit the news shook me, I am not one to cry but today I did, I suppose I thought that as Sally was well enough to have written the book and had also written others, that she was managing well and was unlikely to relapse to such a severe degree, but it seems the ‘Black Dog’ returned to nip at her heals and it is this which scares me.
I have been doing really well since the dark days earlier this year, and with the supervision of my GP have come off the anti-depressants. I have also received the diagnosis of having an under-active thyroid, something which I have long suspected so it didn’t come a surprise, and am two weeks in to taking the initial dose of thyroxine. Low thyroid levels can be a factor in low mood and depression, I wonder if this may have been a contributory factor in my problems this winter.
What happened to Sally scares me because it reminds me that we are all vulnerable to relapse, I worry that it will happen to me too. But I am aware that to some extent, I can take charge of my mental health, there may be times when things get out of control but I hope that I have the strength to get through the bad times. I am practising self help as much as I possibly can, my new job will give me a new challenge, which may be stressful to start with but will I feel be offset by working for such a worthwhile cause and with such lovely colleagues. Being able to walk to and from work will give me more exercise which I really need, and will get me out in the fresh air, also a benefit. So I am hopeful that these things will be a positive contribution to maintaining good mental health. I am continuing with crafting and have several fairs over the next few weeks.
Although over recent weeks I have been unable to meet up with friends due to work commitments, this will settle down soon and I will make time for coffees and catch ups.
So having spent most of today in the garden working on restyling various things and making a large size dreamcatcher for my stall, I have enjoyed a tasty dinner cooked by my husband, and am now enjoying a glass of red wine before toddling off to bed. Here is the next instalment of my life story:
Chapter One – Part Two, Geoffrey’s Back-story.
My Paternal Grandfather, Robert, was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1897, he and his family moved to the UK at some point before his youngest brother was born in Camberwell in 1899. My Paternal Grandmother, Elsie, was born in Dartford, Kent in 1898, she was a secretary before they married in 1924.
Granddad Saunders second from left, Nana Saunders third from left:
My Grandfather served in the Army during the First World War and sustained a severe head wound but was able to return to the front after recovery. During the Second World War he served with the Kent Fire Service.
Granddad was an accountant in business with his brothers but they all fell out at some stage, after which he worked for a company called Patchell & Boobyer until his retirement. My grandad made news in the local paper a few times for having car accidents, after having so many crashes, no one would give him insurance. I think he was a bit of a daredevil!
Dad was born on 10 March 1929, his oldest brother, Donald, was born in 1925, then came Brian and Patricia (Twins) born in 1927. Sadly Patricia was either stillborn or died as an infant, we are not sure of the exact circumstances. Then came my Dad, he was born in a nursing home on 10th March 1929. A as a young child thought him being born in a nursing home meant that he had been adopted. Finally came Doreen, born in 1932.
At around age 7, Donald contracted Measles and suffered complications, we do not know which, but it was most likely meningitis – an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, or encephalitis – an infection of the brain itself. As a result he suffered epilepsy, development delay & violent episodes. The family had a Nursery Nurse or ‘help’ for some time to assist with the care of the children and the home.
I remember hearing that there was an incident where Donald had an aggressive eposode and injured Brian, after this he went to live at The Stoke Park Colony for Mentally Defective Children, near Stapleton, Bristol:
The family lived in a detached bungalow, Glendon, 17, York Road, Dartford, Kent. The children attended St Albans Infants School and then York Road Primary School which was next door to their home, so no excuses for being late!
They seem to have had a quite privileged childhood, there were tales of building sailing boats to sail on ponds, go-karts and several holidays to the coast.
A holiday snap:
My Dad was apprenticed (maybe at age 14?) to Everards at Greenhithe, working on Thames Sailing Barges.
Dad and my Uncle Brian played basketball for Dartford, Basil Fanshawe Jagger (known to everybody as Joe) – Mick Jagger’s dad, was his coach. Dad remembered Mick going along to watch the team training and to matches.
Between age 17-21 (another unknown), Dad was called up to do his two years National Service. He worked as a mechanical engineer in the RAF for some of this time, based at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
Mum & Dad met at a fun-fair, they were engaged while Dad was still doing his National Service and after Dad was demobbed he returned to work for Everards.
Mum & Dad were married on 4th June 1952. Their first home was in Stone, near Dartford, they then moved to 10 Starboard Avenue, Greenhithe, in housing built for Everards employees and naval staff.
My eldest sister Sharon was born on 3rd September 1953 and middle sister Nicola on 31st January 1958.
Mum was ambitious for my Dad and encouraged him when he decided to study to become a Building Control Officer. When Dad was studying the dining room, my mum would lock the door so that my sisters couldn’t disturb him. He achieved his ONC in Building Control, progressing to HNC and then HND.
I will be writing more about my early years in a later chapter, today I am reflecting on more recent thoughts and feelings.
I recently read: 19 Things People Wish Their Friends Knew About Depression
Today I am considering the first of the nineteen:
I have a few friend with whom I will talk about how I am feeling, my husband Ray is my person of choice to talk to with about it. My children are both in their twenties, but I still resist being honest with them, I don’t want them worrying about me. My mothering ‘protection instincts’ kick in, I just don’t go there. This may be counter-productive, they can probably see that I’m not doing great, but it is not easy for me to talk to them about it, so in a way I’m treating depression like a stigma too.
But what about others? If you ask me how I am in a polite, conversation starter sort of way, my response will not be genuine. I, along with many depressives, will respond that I am fine, I am unwilling to bare my true self to people who are acquaintances, or to work colleagues. I would not want to risk the possibility of a true and frank conversation about the state of my mental health for fear of their reaction. I am an expert at deception when it comes to my mental health, most people I meet are probably totally unaware of my depression.
There are many people who I have begun a conversation with, who just don’t ‘get it’, they have no real conception of what depression is, and that it often does not happen for a definable reason. I have had experience of being advised to see a Psychiatrist (tried that), getting Psychotherapy (tried that too), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (doesn’t do much for me), and various holistic/alternative treatments, none of which have ‘cured’ me.
If depression were an illness for which one ‘outbreak’ produced antibodies to prevent it happening again, like Chicken Pox, or one which had an available vaccine like Measles, then yes, once you have recovered/had the jab, chances are it would never affect you again. Sadly this is far from the fact. For those of you that have suffered depression just once, or for those of you for whom it is almost a permanent state of being, the truth is that it is an individual illness, the range of suffering both in terms of severity and duration is enormous. It is as unique as your personality, which is what depression can mess with, temporarily or otherwise.
So how am I feeling? Over the past four weeks I have, under supervision from my GP, been reducing the dose of my medication. I have been taking 200 mg (the maximum allowed), for the past two years. It had been working for me until very recently. I will be on week five of gradual withdrawal tomorrow, down to 50 mg for the next two weeks and then back to my GP to discuss what to do next. Either try a different drug or see how I get on without.
January and February are always risky months for me, by the end of February phases of low mood were becoming more frequent and prolonged.
I knew I needed to see my doctor on the day I had the worst ‘black dog’ moment ever. In the past I have had thoughts of having ‘just a little accident’, some mishap that would mean I was confined to the house, giving me a justifiable reason to escape from the effort of trying to function normally, and making this effort is exhausting, really exhausting. I have never carried this through, preferring to take sick leave instead. But on this day, my thoughts were more extreme, they came out of nowhere, and were scaring me.
I thought about tablets, no, I’m too cowardly for this, what if I didn’t take enough? Using a kitchen knife, I hate the sight of blood, it makes my legs go wobbly and I get light headed and in danger of passing out, also I am seriously knife-phobic. I’m OK using a sharp knife myself, but if I’m in the room when someone is using knives or when Ray is sharpening our kitchen knives, I have to get out of there, it gives me the jitters.
I was home alone, working in my craft shed so what caused me to feel this way? I certainly didn’t choose these thoughts, I was in the middle of doing something I enjoy, but still the bad thoughts rose up and made their presence felt. I considered my options, I really had no wish to end my life despite what the depressive thoughts were trying to suggest. So, should I phone Ray (he was over an hour’s drive away), go and knock on a neighbour’s door, phone 111 or the Samaritans. I sat doing nothing for a long time, immobilised by my thoughts, eventually I decided to pick a physical task to immerse myself in. I had a mirror frame, one of the first things I had decorated, that I had never been entirely satisfied with, so dug this out to work on. I spent over an hour stripping off the decoupage and paint, I was able to totally focus on the task to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
When I had stripped the frame back to bare wood, I had got over it, the suicidal thoughts had retreated. To pick myself back up, I looked through ‘Pinterest’ for inspiration and began working on a completely different design. By the time I had completed the new design, it was as if the destructive thoughts had never happened. This is it:
It has been months since I wrote and the reason I have been prompted to write today is that both my nieces have started their own blogs this month and reading what they have written has motivated me to write.
So, an update – I had the first of my five annual Mammogram screenings and check-up appointment in November. I am delighted to announce that the result of my mammogram shows NED – No Evidence of Disease. So I am now officially in remission, fabulous news!
However, despite being pleased, I admit that I wasn’t as excited about the news as you might expect, not because I am not grateful, for I certainly am. It is more that it felt more like the next step along the way to healing both physically and emotionally.
Looking back, my last proper blog was written on 2nd May 2015, it had just been agreed that I could reduce my working hours and I have been working three days a week since then, this has been significant in me feeling well enough to keep working, both at my paid employment and craft work.
There have been days recently where I have felt very low, the feelings were very familiar, anxiety and low mood hit me unexpectedly in early January, there were days I so wanted to stay home with a soft, fleecy blanket to snuggle under and my kindle. But I managed to grit my teeth and get myself to work, it took a lot of effort and at times I sat at my desk, anxiety twisting in my stomach and tears threatening when I would have picked up my things and walked out of the office. January has been a difficult month for me for many years, I probably have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but having not been formally diagnosed, I can only suppose this to be the case. I have a Light box on my desk at work and have started using it again, I think it is helping, I am beginning to feel more ‘me’.
On the 12th January, I posted on Facebook: ‘Two years ago today I was at the beginnings of another occurrence of depression. Today I am fearful because despite still being on maximum dose anti-depressants, I am heading downwards again. Those familiar feelings of despair and panic are re-surfacing. The wish to hide away somewhere warm and dark with a blanket and my kindle is just about all I feel I want to do. A re-assessment of life might be worth considering, perhaps it is time to make changes?’ I understand that some may not approve of putting such personal and negative sentiments on to social media, but I am blessed with some wise and caring friends who have supported me through this medium for many years and their comments and good wishes pick me up.
A dear friend commented:-
“”The wish to hide away somewhere warm and dark with a blanket and my kindle is just about all I feel I want to do.”
I understand those sentiments Dee, I’ve been somewhere similar myself. I am not sure what to say to you, as everyone’s situation is very different. If I could find a positive uplifting message that would make a difference, I’d write it, but the part of your post that did give me a lift was “A re-assessment of life might be worth considering, perhaps it is time to make changes?”
Quite possibly yes. I would caution you not to make them all at once, as that too can be overwhelming. One step at a time Dee. You and your family have had a lot going on in the last couple of years.
I know you’ll also have heard this, a lot, but please make sure you speak to someone in person about this – whether it’s Ray, a counsellor, your GP, someone.
I won’t say “it’ll be alright”, I don’t know that, and can’t say, but what I can say is that I hope and pray that you can follow through on the final words in your post, and take first steps in clearing your way through the miasma of depression ❤
For her words I am thankful, this lady can be relied upon to give advice is relevant and thoughtful and for that I am grateful. Yes, the last few years have had many challenges, I wonder whether staying strong through it all has left me emotionally exhausted with depression as the resultant fall-out.
So, one year on from the traumas Ray and I experienced at the hands of Bi-lateral Breast Cancer and Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) do still affect our day to day lives. Ray has days where he struggles to make it through work and will go to lay down when he gets home, just last week he went to do the grocery shopping and had to call me to go and pick him up as he felt too ill to drive home safely.
I have radiation damage to my left shoulder and upper arm, I am learning to live with nagging aches and on bad days, noticeable pain. It is better to keep the area warm but the hot flushes get so bad some days I need to put a fan on, which makes it cold and painful.
But I am grateful to be alive and well, to have my family around me, and for all the good things I am blessed with. Life has sent challenges, but I’m still standing!
Last time I wrote, I was about to go for an Ultrasound scan, physically, it was bearable, I did have an aspiration of the fluid, it was a little painful but not too bad. The fluid was sent for analysis and I heard today that it is nothing to worry about, apparently, the right side lumpiness at the excision site is caused by a thick-walled cyst and the fluid is as would be expected, so nothing to worry about. The area of discomfort away from the operation site showed nothing abnormal and is most likely a side effect of healing from Radiotherapy.
The emotional effects of having the ultrasound were further reaching, and this is why I have taken so long to write another blog. This is the only appointment I have gone to alone, as it was such short notice, Ray wasn’t able to get the time off to go with me.
Sitting waiting to be called, I looked around the busy waiting area, it was fairly easy to speculate by the expressions on their and their companions’ faces whether the women waiting were on their first call back, waiting to get biopsy results, for post-op or post treatment check-ups,. There was only one other woman on her own, I didn’t mind being alone, I kind of felt like a senior student observing the ‘newbies’ and more experienced students on the first day of the academic year.
I did not anticipate how I would feel having the ultrasound. I was totally fixated on the screen trying to see if the images were anything like those I saw when I went for the biopsies last September. The nursing staff assured me that there was nothing suspicious to see, but would aspirate the fluid to relieve the pressure. It was a little painful, rather like having a blood test, the nursing staff are so kind and compassionate, and they really took care to treat me kindly.
During the afternoon and evening I could feel myself sinking, having the ultrasound brought back all those feelings from when I was tested and diagnosed with Bi-Lateral Breast Cancer. It really knocked me sideways for the rest of last week.
The low mood was pervasive, I could not seem to shake it off and it made me doubt and question decisions I have made recently and unusually for me, to regret one of them in particular.
Josh’s girlfriend Liza, passed her driving test on Thursday, I was so pleased for her, we took them out for dinner to celebrate, I kicked myself up the bum and put on a happy attitude for the evening. But on Friday I felt just as low.
The weekend was good, Megan and I went to art journaling class on Saturday, I put all my feelings in to my journal, it was very therapeutic. On Sunday Ray cut the grass for the first time this year, the garden looks lovely now. I did some weeding between the patio stones and cleaned out and re-filled the bird feeders, something which I have been meaning to do for weeks. Being outside in the sunshine did me the power of good and I am feeling better now.
I have started to make a list each day of what I am grateful for after reading this post on Sue Fitzmaurice’s Facebook page:
Today I am grateful for a beautiful warm day, for a productive short-day at work, the colours of daffodils ranging from white to deep yellow and the tree blossom from white to cerise, for it being warm enough to have all my car windows open on the drive home, the smell of a bonfire, bringing back good memories of times in the garden where I grew up tending a fire of garden waste with my Dad, and also the scent of fresh mown grass, one of my most favourite smells and guaranteed to raise my mood.
On Monday I met with my manager to discuss my working hours for the next few weeks. I explained about my difficulties with fatigue and we agreed that I would work 22 ½ hours over four days with one day being a full day and the other three being reduced hours. This has made a big difference to my energy levels, I have had more energy and enthusiasm and my mood is more stable.
I have completed the tray I started several weeks ago and am happy with the finished work. In my lunch breaks I have tried to spend time outside, only retreating indoors when I felt too cold. I have been cutting out designs for decoupage, it is very therapeutic, one of my colleagues sat with me one lunch time, and remarked that watching me cutting out the shapes is very relaxing.
I saw my GP on Friday and have a certificate for another four weeks at reduced hours, I am hopeful that I will soon be able to increase my hours soon but will just have to see how I am feeling. I will be pressing my employers to let me work part time permanently, I really want this so will be persistent!
I have been so grateful to be feeling better this week, the previous weekend had been hard going, Ray remarked that I was very down and this was making him feel sad too. There have been some mild days this week and I have become what my sister Nicola would call ‘a fresh air freak’ by taking every opportunity to have the windows open in the office, the kitchen door open at home and the sunroof and windows open in my car driving between the two.
Seeing the daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses opening, cherry blossom on the trees, and lots of other signs that spring is here, make my heart sing. We didn’t get to see the Eclipse as it was very cloudy and missed seeing the super-moon for the same reason, but it is the Spring Equinox, the clocks leap forward next weekend and the days are lengthening, wonderful!
This a photo my daughter Megan posted on Facebook today, taken when she was taking Shadow for his walk, lovely blue skies!
Ray and I are having our first weekend away since June last year, we have travelled to Kent to stay with my Sister Sharon and her husband Mike in their beautiful thatched cottage. The journey was relaxed, we didn’t need to rush and the weather was dry. On Saturday evening the Lions Group which Sharon and Mike belong to were having a musically biased quiz night, the four of us were joined by friends of Sharon and Mike to make a team of six. We didn’t expect to do well but after a fun evening with lots of laughs, and a sausage and chips supper, we came third out of nine teams, an excellent result we thought!
This was also mine and Ray’s first social night out since last September, we really enjoyed the evening but fatigue hits suddenly and hard, we were both very pleased when it was time for bed.
This morning Ray and I went to visit our Nephew Andrew, his wife Hannah and their three boys, it is many months since we saw them and the boys have all grown, the twins had their seventh birthday earlier this month, their dad says they are already getting in to adolescent defiance and argumentativeness! The ‘Baby’ is now two and four months, he was very premature and had lost of struggles and complications but has pulled through it, he has the expected developmental delays of a prem baby but is now doing well and has made leaps in progression over the last few weeks. It was lovely to see them all, especially as it we don’t get to see them often.
Ray and I left in time to meet Sharon and Mike for a pub lunch and then we all spent the afternoon reading and dozing, the perfect Sunday afternoon!
Tomorrow Ray and I will be going to visit the newest member of our family who was born last September and his parents, our niece Sophie and her husband Toby. We haven’t met the baby yet as he was born just before I had my Breast Cancer Diagnosis, I’m really looking forward to meeting him, and seeing his parents too of course!
After working part time for two weeks, this week I returned to working full days. Knowing that this would probably be too much for me I have booked one day each week as leave for the next few weeks.
Monday was not too bad, I managed to stay awake until bed time, Tuesday Ray and I should have gone to our Mindfulness Meditation Class but we were both feeling too weary to go out. Wednesday I went straight to bed and to sleep when I got home from work, I got up for dinner but really wasn’t up to much more than sitting in front of the TV until bedtime. Thursday was much the same.
Friday was my day off, being aware that exercise is beneficial for combating fatigue, and although still feeling rough, I made the effort to get out to the park with Shadow. We had a good walk, it was mild enough to go without a coat. When we got back home, I didn’t feel much better but gave myself a talking to and ventured out to Artys Art Shop to buy some more acrylics for my up-cycling projects. The afternoon was spent sleeping again, I did feel better for it and was lively enough to cook dinner for the first time this week.
I didn’t expect to feel this bad, I have had operations before and was able to bounce back to normal fairly quickly, last year I was off work sick for a couple of months with depression and was able to get back to work without too much trouble. This time it is very different, but then I suppose Cancer Treatment is a whole different ball game.
Earlier this week, I read Sharon Green’s latest blog in which she discusses ‘Collateral Damage’, the untreatable side effects of Breast Cancer Treatment.
“Dr. Susan Love published an interview on Medscape last week on the “collateral damage” of breast cancer treatments as reported by 3200 actual patients and not their doctors. She noted that doctors and patients often view things differently. For doctors, a living patient is the major sign of successful treatment. They don’t want to hear about treatment side effects that they can’t treat and cure, she says.
The patients and survivors are also happy to be alive but their quality of life may be severely impaired by chemo brain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, neuropathy, and hot flashes. She calls this collateral damage rather than side effects as often these symptoms are permanent, not temporary.”
In reading about the experiences of other women, I am beginning to understand that the long term effects of treatment can be with us for years or in some cases, permanently.
Although it is early days for me in terms of recovery, I am beginning to re-evaluate my life. I understand that all being well, the fatigue will improve, and my energy levels should increase, right now I feel that I am living to work, with very little energy to do much else.
I am keeping up with the post-op exercises but despite this, my shoulders and arms are getting stiffer, making some of the movements uncomfortable. I can manage the stairs at home, but there are more of them at work, my bones ache and I am short of breath when I reach the top. Weight gain is also an issue.
This weekend I have reverted to taking an afternoon nap, I have been plagued with a constant headache which may or may not be Tamoxifen related.
This blog is developing in to a moan fest, I feel that the impact of having cancer, and treatment for it has just started to hit home. As other women have found, I have been so caught up with the treatment process, now that this is complete, and my life is starting to return to what is was pre-diagnosis, I feel thrown adrift. Despite already being on anti-depressants, I am feeling low, attempts to lift my mood have not lasted. I wonder for how long this will go on.
I am fortunate to have two adult children, today I have read many posts concerning women who have not been able to have children and feel for them on this day that is so focussed on Mothers, Marie’s post ‘WHEN MOTHER’S DAY HURTS’ expresses how it is for her and for many other women.
On a happier note, today has been better, for Mother’s Day, Megan, Josh and Liza gave me a beautiful bouquet, and three charms for my bracelet, Megan’s card was handmade and she had written lovely words inside. Today is also Ray’s birthday, we gave him a new driver and an electric golf trolley, he has just started playing golf again but is only playing nine holes, hopefully he will soon be able to manage a full round.
I had the house to myself for a few hours today, so did some more work on a tray I started two weeks ago. I have painted in flowers and glued on the decoupage design, I have still to add gold paint to the rim and then varnish it, I am pleased with how it has turned out.
Now it is time to get organised for bed, tomorrow is a working day and I need to get up at 6 am.