Where does the time go?

It is now a week since I went back to work, I am doing half days for the remainder of this week and will be working full time from Monday. As the days go by it is getting easier, to begin with, my poorly eye suffered the most but it is now much improved and providing I remember to have frequent breaks from screen staring it does not get uncomfortable. I am tired, when I get home from work I often have an afternoon nap.

Saturday morning Megan and I went to our second Art Journalling class, this week we were working with collage, I’ve not done this since junior school and it’s not something I would think to do when I’m feeling creative. I started off with an idea in mind but as I looked through the magazines and papers, the images and words that appealed led me in a different direction. I’m not sure about the page, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous week.

 Art Journal 28 Feb

When we got home from Art Journalling, there was a lovely surprise waiting for me. My sister Nicola had seen an article on ‘The One Show’ about colouring for grown-ups, she decided to have a go at it and thought I might enjoy it too so ordered books for both of us. The book is called ‘Colour Me Calm’, the drawings are varied with plenty to choose from, I’m really pleased with it. When Ray went to the driving range on Sunday afternoon I sat with relaxing music on, my colouring book and pencils, this is my first completed page:

 Colouring

I came across this article on Huffington Post about colouring for grown-ups, the evidence confirms it is good for the soul!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/13/coloring-for-stress_n_5975832.html?ir=Parents&ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000037

Tuesday was a very busy day, I started work early as I needed to be at The Lynda Jackson Centre for an afternoon of pampering with volunteers from the charity Look Good Feel Better (http://www.lookgoodfeelbetter.co.uk/)

It was a brilliant afternoon and if any of you ladies have had or are undergoing treatment for Cancer have not yet taken part, then I recommend that you do.

There were nine women plus four volunteer make-up consultants, each of us received a bag containing enough products to start from cleansing, through to being fully made up. The volunteers demonstrated how to use the products and how to apply our make-up, they were very helpful and encouraging. When the session had finished, we all admired each other’s ‘after’ faces, it does make a difference having the full works, we were all very happy with how we looked.

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I very rarely wear wakeup, but since LGFB I have made more of an effort, it is only two days and I can’t promise to stick with it but when I do I now know how to use it properly.

In the evening Ray and I went for our first class on Zenways Mindfulness Meditation, Ray has got back in to ‘work mode’ and is having trouble relaxing again, hopefully he will overcome this with practice. We are supposed to aim for a half hour meditation each day, we didn’t manage it on Wednesday evening but I have found an App with a Body Scan Meditation which is the meditation for this week so we will be trying this out later.

Tuesday was the busiest day I have had since diagnosis and I certainly feel it, I was very tired yesterday and today I’m feeling drained.

Wednesday was our last meeting for the HOPE Course, I feel sad about this as it has been such a pleasure being able to talk with a group of women who have been through Cancer Treatment. We have found that we have similar worries and problems and throughout the six weeks have grown stronger, more positive and better able to deal with our day to day challenges. I will miss seeing the five ladies on the course and also our two facilitators, but the good news is that a monthly meeting is being arranged, so I may be able to see my HOPE friends again and also meet others who have previously done the course.

This last week has whizzed by, I have been back at work for just over a week and have done so much else that the time has gone really quickly. I hope I can battle my way through this tiredness soon.

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Time to get back to writing

I have had a short break from blogging to give my eye a chance to heal, it has been two weeks since my operation and I will be having a check-up tomorrow morning.

It may seem strange to say that these two weeks have somehow been worse to deal with than the preceding three months. I think the reason for this is that this time the recovery was for a minor operation, I have not needed the same level of focus on doing the best for my recovery since there has been less impact on my day – to – day life. Also, the possibility of having further problems with the detached retina does not register with me as being as serious as the risk of having a reocurrence of breast cancer. So, if it were a worst case scenario choice between the possibility of losing the sight in one eye, or the risk of having a high grade cancer, I really do not know which is worse.

I seem to be feeling glum today, truth is I was expecting to be back at work today but I have contracted a rather nasty cold which has been making me cough, and my throat sting to the point of getting teary eyes. And the constant nose blowing has made me look like Rudolph. I’m feeling very sorry for myself, and have spent the day hibernating.

I have recently been giving a lot of thought to what my ‘new normal’ might be, what I would like to accomplish, how can I reach a balance between necessity and desire? There are so many experiences and activities that appeal to me, selecting what I would like on my ‘Bucket List’ is a challenge in itself.

For many years I have been searching for a Spiritual path which ‘fits’ for me, after many years of Christian faith, I found that it lost its meaning, there was something missing, I didn’t ‘feel’ it in my soul. Through my searching, a strong belief in both Goddess and God has cemented for me, but I have yet to find a path which appeals, how I express my faith does not fit with established belief systems.

Snuggled up in bed this morning, browsing through Facebook, on one of the pages “The Goddess Circle” I came across this:

“”My child,” The Goddess said.  “It doesn’t matter what you call me. Throughout the ages of time I have been called a million names, and I shall be called a million more. Goddess, Divine Mother, Sacred Feminine, Maiden, Mother, Crone, Shaman, Priestess. Just as you have so many incarnations within your own flesh each with its own deep divine thread, so do I.

We have the ability to be blossoming and re-emerging constantly in this and every life we have. The flow of what we are called is the same. Ever evolving, each one a part of the vibrant thread that makes up our own vivid tapestry” ~Ara “

Wow! These words really resonated with me, does it matter that I have no ‘label’ for my belief? No, it doesn’t. And is it necessary for me to dash about adding and ticking off things on my ‘Bucket List? And do I have to decide now what the plan is for the rest of my life, who I want to be? No, I don’t.

Maybe I can embody all the parts of me that hide within, and still be ‘me’, maybe I don’t need to be just one person. Maybe I can just celebrate all the different aspects of what makes me who I am with acceptance, and gratitude. And if next year, or the year after, I find a different way of being, and then after the passing of more time, my path leads in another direction, then so be it. Life is all about learning, growth, embracing our experiences both good and bad, these things touch our hearts and enrich our souls. Good night and Goddess Bless.

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Creativity – Make A Little Birdhouse In Your Soul

Time has flown since my last blog, and I have not been sleeping well and have not felt up to writing by the time we all sit down to watch TV in the evenings. Well, to be honest, I listen and glance at it every now and then between typing, it no longer holds my attention as it used to.

Last Wednesday was the first session of the HOPE Course, myself and seven women talked about our Cancers, our feelings, our families and our jobs, the marvellous thing being that we all understood each other. Individually, we had shared the fears, pain, stress, worry in any or all combinations and more. To be able to speak and share together is tremendously healing.

For part of the session, we talked about Gratitude, and were given a sheet to complete for each day to record what we are grateful for and why. This is something I had planned to do but haven’t, I was hoping the sheet would give me the motivation to write something for each day but I’ve not managed it, but I am not going to chastise myself over it.

We also thought about setting ‘SMARTER’ goals:

Specific – Am I clear exactly what my goal is?

Measurable – How will I know when I have completed my goal? What does it look like?

Achievable – Can I really achieve this task? (Don’t set yourself up to fail!)

Relevant – Is the goal important to you?

Time-Bound – When do I want to have reached my goal?

Enjoyable – Is my goal enjoyable?

Reward – What reward will I give myself when I am successful?

Each of us chose a goal for the coming week, mine was to start and complete a small craft project, specifically to decorate a miniature MDF Birdhouse, and I am happy to report that I have achieved my goal!

This is the blank birdhouse:

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It is a first attempt, I experimented with some stamping inks which I thought were solvent based, turns out they weren’t, so when I painted the varnish over the print it ran. Fortunately, I had only used this stamp on one area and was able to wipe it off and then re-apply using the solvent based inks I had used for the remainder of the project. But I am encouraged to do more crafting, I really enjoyed the sticking, stamping, painting in the flowers and varnishing the little birdhouse.

And this is the finished project:

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Creativity is something I aspire to immerse myself in, but I seem to spend more time looking for ideas in Pinterest than actually working on a project. One of my goals for this year is to give myself time to work on crafting and sewing, I am hopeful that this is an achievable goal.

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Although still suffering from fatigue, generally speaking, I feel much more myself, more mentally alert than I have done for some time. My skin is working its way through the healing process, the redness has progressed to looking more like a dirty sun burn, and has started to peel.  The random stabbing pains in my breasts can be troublesome at times and sleeping varies from uncomfortable through to painful. If I lay awkwardly in my sleep, it can take a while for the pain to subside, sometimes I can’t find a comfortable position for my arms, this is all quite normal after treatment for breast cancer, but that doesn’t stop it being frustrating. I carried too much the other day and suffered for it during the night, a lesson learned in moderation, just when I feel I should be healed enough, my body reminds me that I am not.

Ann, who leads the relaxation classes at the Lynda Jackson Macmillan Centre is qualified in lots of therapeutic things including Yoga and is also a retired Nurse, made me feel like a naughty child last week for saying that I was planning to go back to work in a few weeks. She says I shouldn’t rush back, should give my mind and body plenty of time to come to terms with the Cancer diagnosis and treatment, this has been a recurring opinion from many of the health care team I have seen over the past few months. I told Ann it felt like I was being told off by my mum, what I didn’t say was that like my teenage self, I will do what I feel I have to do and return to work part time in two weeks’ time anyway. I will do what I can, I may surprise myself and hit the ground running, or I may struggle with lack of concentration and with fatigue, time will tell.

I do worry about the concentration issue, as with all breast cancer patients, to keep my chest, shoulder and arm muscles and tendons supple I have a thrice daily exercise routine, the practice for these is to do each exercise five times, and some to a count of ten. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but I cannot manage to count to ten and also remember how many repetitions I have done. I start off OK, I can count to ten but then my mind wanders and I forget where I am up to with the repetitions.

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Today has been a bad day, low energy and what started as a low grade headache has progressed to a full blown one, with tense shoulders and neck to go with it. I have the second session of the HOPE Course in the morning so I’m heading off to bed with some painkillers and hope for the best that it will be gone when I wake up.

The Three Principals (via Avaaz)

Avaaz is a campaigning site which organises petitions and action to give people a voice, this is what they say about themselves:

Avaaz—meaning “voice” in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages—launched in 2007 with a simple democratic mission: organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. The Avaaz community campaigns in 15 languages, served by a core team on 6 continents and thousands of volunteers. We take action — signing petitions, funding media campaigns and direct actions, emailing, calling and lobbying governments, and organizing “offline” protests and events — to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people inform the decisions that affect us all.

Recently, on their web site, they had a New Year Pledge campaign called ‘The Three Principals’ which are:

  1. Show Kindness and Respect: We will show kindness and respect towards ourselves and others whenever possible. And it’s always possible, because everyone we meet is fighting a battle we may know nothing about.
  2. Strive for Wisdom: We will seek to be wise in our decisions, listening deeply to ourselves and others, and balancing our heads, hearts and intuitions in a harmony that feels right.
  3. Practice Gratitude: We will regularly reflect on what we’re grateful for, because it brings perspective, dissolves negativity, and grounds us in what’s most important.

These are the principals by which I like to live my life so I have joined the programme and hope to maintain all three throughout this year and beyond, particularly the principal ‘Strive for Wisdom’, heaven knows, I can do with more of this!

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I covered ‘Kindness and Respect’ very briefly in my previous blog, so have been thinking about ‘Wisdom’ today.

In writing this blog I have been collecting wisdom, from the women who follow my blog I have learned a great deal about the big issues surrounding this disease and also the little issues, and the things which keep us going, that sustain us through the bad days. Reading about the experience of other women with Breast Cancer has taught me much, and for this I am grateful. Even though I am unlikely to meet any of the women in the blogging community of which I am a part, I count them among my friends, we are sharing an experience and sense of companionship during what is a difficult time in our lives. Our Cancers may be at different stages, require different treatments, but we have the same goal, to share our experiences and to hope that someone may be helped by reading about them. Most importantly, to know that there are other women out there across the world who understand how we are feeling because they are going through similar issues right now, or have ‘been there’ and made it out of the ‘chaos’.

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Over the last few years I have moved away from the Christian Church towards Earth Centred Pagan beliefs, I am not yet settled in a particular ‘Path’. I do still believe in Jesus, and God, but do not believe God was a single parent, the Goddess is very important to me and is my principal deity in all her dimensions.

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Whilst learning about Pagan ‘religions’ I have been to numerous events, courses, classes and workshops. One course was training to be a ‘Sister of Avalon’, learning to be a Priestess of the Goddess. For eight weekends over the course of a year, I travelled to Glastonbury to join my fellow trainees, we were a group of twenty, one man and the rest women. The most significant thing I learned from this experience was that sharing our troubles and difficulties within a small group was immensely healing. For a short time each weekend, we divided in to groups of four, using the ‘talking stick’ method of sharing, the Wikipedia explanation reads:

‘The talking stick, also called a speaker’s staff, is an instrument of aboriginal democracy used by many tribes, especially those of indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America.’

In practice it means that the person holding the stick (or any other symbolic item) is the only person allowed to talk. Our group sessions were structured so that each person had a set amount of time to speak whilst their three ‘sisters’ silently listened, when the time was up, a bell was rung, and the stick was passed on to the next person. The subject/question we were to talk about was given to us by our tutor, they would be quite meaty issues, the topics and the words spoken about them could challenge, and sometimes bring the speaker to tears. The ‘listeners’ were not allowed to interrupt, offer advice, ask questions or to physically comfort the ‘speaker’. We were allowed to talk more together about any issues which had come up in the session during our lunch break, or at the end of the day. By doing this, each of us had time to consider what had been said, and decide if words of advice might be worthwhile, or if a sympathetic hug was what was most needed. Often a hug was all that was needed to convey our understanding of, and respect for each other.  

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Once I got used to this system of sharing, I came to appreciate the beauty of the silent love, acceptance, and support in my group, and this is truly a wonderful thing.

We were four women with very different lives, upbringings, expectations and desires, but this made absolutely no difference to the high regard in which we held each other, a feeling which grew over the year we spent learning, sharing and working together.

There were occasions that we gathered with our ‘sisters’ to create crafts related to the Wheel of the Year, these could be ‘talking stick’ times or times for silent meditative working. There is such a sense of joy in creating with women who have become dear to you, the feeling of companionship and sisterly love grows stronger with each task. I imagine our ancestral mothers would have felt the same as they worked together, sharing skills, stories, song and wisdom.

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In our modern society, many of us have lost the companionship and support of our families and neighbours once enjoyed when we lived as members of a tribe, or small community. When we needed help with problems and challenges in our lives, we didn’t need to search the internet, all that we needed was to be found in our tribe, the wisdom of our elders was there for the asking, and their life-learned knowledge treated with respect and reverence.

Many times in my life I have found myself thinking that several trips to the doctor could have been avoided if I had the resource of experienced, older women to take my ‘women’s problems’ to. Somehow ‘Internet Forums’ don’t quite do it for me, I do now have the benefit of one wise friend who has a diverse knowledge of life and shares a similar faith, and for her I am so thankful. I also have my two sisters and friends who support me ‘virtually’ and in person and they are very precious to me too.

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I think this ‘community of women’ is a deep seated need, I have been searching for my ‘tribe’s women’ for most of my adult life, and maybe now I am finding them.

This time last year I wanted to begin a ‘Women’s Spiritual Sharing Circle’, unfortunately, I never moved from the ‘want’ to the ‘action’ stage, but then maybe the time wasn’t right, it was at this point that I developed Clinical Depression. The Circle is still ‘on the back burner’ I would love to be part of a group, if it means I have to set it up myself then bring it on! All I need is a small group of like-minded women to join me and we’d be off! Don’t worry, there will be no nudity, I just liked this photo and the text!

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In the hope that some of my local ‘readership’ might be interested, here are some links which will give you an idea about how a group could work:

http://www.essential-wisdom.com/womens_circle.html

http://awakeningwomen.com/2010/01/31/awakening-women-global-sisterhood-manifesto/

The first link is more detailed about the circle, the second contains excellent principals.

So ladies, if you would like to join, get in touch with me and we can get ourselves organised. 🙂

ACircleOfWomen

Sore Nips and Weariness

So how are things? Well much the same really, both Nipples are sore and have random spells of having sharp pains. The burning on my skin from the ‘Radiotherapy Booster’ sessions is clearly visible on my skin, both sides. You can probably see the square redness from the Booster beam in the photo.

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It is getting more itchy and flaky now which is a nuisance, but not as much of a nuisance as the hot flushes which are annoying me now, I can feel the heat building in my back as I sit writing this. I have now given in and stripped off my shirt, I seem to be spending more evenings wearing just a vest and skirt/trousers, it feels like being in the tropics!

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I have needed to have an afternoon snooze for the last few days and have slept well at night time so I must be needing it at the moment. I wonder how long this will go on for, I would like to be back at work, and I’m beginning to miss my colleagues and thinking about my work building up, so I hope this weariness goes away soon.

It is frustrating feeling so lacking in energy for a fair proportion of the time, still I will reach the two weeks post Radiotherapy point on Wednesday, so in theory I should begin to pick up, I certainly hope so.

This week I will be beginning a six week HOPE course (Help Overcoming Problems Effectively) at the Cancer Centre, one of the topics on the programme is coping with fatigue, this will be very welcome!

On Saturday we went to Hemel, Megan needed to return a bracelet we gave her for Christmas as it had a faulty clasp. When we pulled up in the car park, a man approached us asking if we could spare him some money for his bus fare to Aylesbury as his mum was ill and he wanted to visit her. He explained that he was homeless and had no spare money, I can hear the cynics shouting ‘it is a sob story, he just wants the money for booze/drugs/cigarettes’, but we all felt he was genuine, he wasn’t drunk or stoned. Ray and I agreed we would give him the money for the bus fare, someone very dear to us has been temporarily homeless and we understand how awful this can be. I feel very strongly about how many people in our communities are suffering as a result of government policies, I can get really angry about it, so I’m going to leave it there.2014-09-05 13.25.01

There are so many things I would like to do this year, I’m just waiting for sufficient energy to get started. Megan and I have enrolled on an Art Journalling Course which begins in Mid-February, I am looking forward to the course especially as Megan will be doing it too. I have all these art and craft materials stored away just waiting for me to have the motivation to make a start on something.

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Moving Forward and a Setback

This morning I had a regular appointment with my GP as my sickness certificate expired today. I felt really sore yesterday, then this morning I noticed that the skin around my nipples was blistering and also that the left side was weeping. After having a look the verdict was that the blistering is infected so my doctor prescribed antibiotic cream, an oil based cream to use instead of the E45, and antihistamine tablets to help ease the itchiness which usually starts up in the late afternoon. I also came away with another sickness certificate for the next four weeks to give the infection chance to clear up, and for my skin to recover before I return to work. I am very sore this evening, as I sit writing this my nipples feel like they are burning, it is very uncomfortable.

I am feeling sad this evening, partly because of having an infection, I have taken so much care of my skin since my operations that I am disappointed about getting it. But also because of a conversation earlier today in which my commitment to work was questioned. I have been thinking about it this afternoon and feel hurt that this person said what they did, yes, I was off work last year for several weeks with severe depression, I did not choose to be off work, I was not fit for work. As soon as the medication started to work properly and I began to be able to function, I went back to work. It took a lot of effort to get myself back in to my job, I had made so much progress over the few months, and I felt I was ‘back to normal’.

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I also did not choose to then have Bi-lateral Breast Cancer, it is not something anyone would choose is it? I would understand if I had been off with flu or toothache or something equally minor. But I have had Bi-lateral surgery, yes the Cancers have been removed, yes I have had Radiotherapy and have been prescribed Tamoxifen for the next five years to help reduce the chances of the Cancer recurring, but in medical terms I am not cured yet, I am in remission.

Cancer is not something you can just ‘bounce back’ from, it is now a part of who I am, and will continue to be part of my life for some time, in a few weeks’ I will be back to hospital for my check-up appointment with the Oncologist. Then in November I will be back to have the first of five annual Mammograms.

I hope that after five years I will be able to say that I am cured, however, I am well aware from the experience of other women that the Cancer may return, I’m not being pessimistic, I am facing a reality. My Cancer being Bi-lateral increases the chance of a recurrence, that’s just the way it is, I hope to be one of the lucky ones, but only time will tell.

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But life goes on, and tomorrow is a new day, I intend to make it a good one!

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More Downs

Saturday – the weather was lovely, Ray drove me to collect some craft bits which had been offered on Freegle, as it was so warm and sunny we stopped off in Amersham for a wander round the shops. I saw an ex-colleague who retired recently from the company I work for, it was lovely to see her and have a quick catch up. She hadn’t heard about my diagnosis and was shocked when I told her. When I talk about the cancer I don’t really feeling anything, I am wondering if/when my emotions will find their way to the surface? Just as long as they don’t get ugly!

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We didn’t do much in the afternoon, I did have a snooze, probably need to report when I manage to stay awake all day – it happens so rarely it would be more newsworthy!, had a lazy takeaway meal in the evening watching ‘Strictly’ and then Dr Who.

I had a ‘down’ spell at bed time, there is a seroma buildingup in my right arm pit again and I am growing impatient to be ‘back to normal’. It can be a struggle to stay positive and upbeat, sometimes I don’t have the energy to maintain it.

Sunday – Ray and I have to get our kitchen emptied as it is having a re-fit starting on Wednesday. Ray has done the bulk of the work, I managed some light packing up, but other than that was ‘director of operations’ for the day. I do not like feeling that I am not pulling my weight, not doing a fair share of the cooking, shopping, household chores etc, Ray has enough with his job, and not being able to help him really upsets me.

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My life has been challenging for the last two years, in the early summer of 2013, Ray’s mum was terminally ill with Metastatic Ovarian Cancer. In the midst of her final weeks I had a problem with my left eye, it transpired that I had a Detached Retina and had to have emergency surgery to save the sight in the eye. Our son had moved back home earlier in the year and on the day that Ray moved our daughter back home from Woolwich, his mum passed away.

Over last winter I developed Depression, this was the fourth time I had needed anti-depressant medication, but the black dog was reluctant to release its’ grip this time. It took building up to the strongest dose and lots of time to overcome it, it is a good thing that I will be taking anti-depressants for quite a while longer. Being told that I have cancer throws up the question ‘what next?’

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Now that the ‘flurry’ of the diagnosis and operation have passed, I find that I am beginning to have spells of dwelling on the ‘what ifs’ – what if I need Chemotherapy – what if the cancer comes back… some days are worse than others. I am grateful for days when the sun shines, the gloomy, wet days can be problematic.

But tomorrow is another day, a fresh start, I will probably need to take a trip to have the seroma aspirated again, but will work round this to give myself some time to focus on a Creativity e-course I have joined. It started on Saturday – I didn’t…. so I am behind schedule with it, but hope to catch up over the next few days. Hoping motivation and inspiration in abundance find me soon!

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