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.
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!
I have been neglecting my blog writing for too long, the last few weeks have been busy and stressful, and I have been concentrating my literary efforts on posting a daily gratitude diary on my Facebook page in an effort to look for all that is good in my life.
Two weeks ago I had an emotional crisis regarding work, I was tired, very tired and even though still only working 22 ½ hours each week, was too weary to do anything constructive after work. It was getting me down, our house has been getting more and more messy through my lack of energy and enthusiasm to do anything other than look at it and get more fed up that I wasn’t able to do anything to rectify the situation.
I talked with Ray about all that was bothering me, we discussed me giving up work or carrying on working part-time with an advisory certificate from my doctor. I resolved to speak to my Director and did so two weeks ago, I explained how I was feeling and that as I have no idea if, or when, I might feel that I have enough stamina to go back to full time hours, asked formally for consideration to be given to allowing me to permanently reduce my hours to three days each week.
Thankfully, he agreed to think about it and would let me know as soon as possible what had been decided. I am absolutely delighted to report that it has been agreed for me to reduce my working week to three days, and with effect from 1st May, I will work Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s. I cannot properly put in to words just how relieved I am about this, it feels like a massive weight has been lifted from my shoulders, money will be tight, but at least I will not have the constant stress of worrying about being fit to return to full time working hours.
This news gave me a real boost, so much so that I actually decided to do some housework on Saturday afternoon. I am happy to report that I cleaned our bathroom for the first time since before my operation last October. Now wait!! It has been cleaned since then, just not by me!! The lovely Megan has been taking care of it 🙂
When that was all done, I set to putting together a new cupboard for the bathroom, I got fed up with buying cheap second hand storage which doesn’t quite do the job so I splashed out on a new unit. I managed to build it all by myself, and it stores loads more than any of the other previous unsatisfactory cupboards and looks good too! All in all a productive afternoon 🙂
This week, work started on preparing the base for my Summer House/Craft Studio, in a few weeks I will be able to move all my equipment in there and we will have our dining room back!
On Thursday, for the first time since surgery for Bi-lateral Breast Cancer, I have took Shadow for a walk to Captains Wood. I particularly wanted to go there to see the Bluebells, and it was worth the effort, simply beautiful! Then I had Liza’s company on a trip to Homebase and Sainsburys. In the afternoon I sorted through a massive amount of books my dear friend Jan had given me, and also went through our bookshelves. I managed to clear some space on our bookshelves which were getting rather full and to pack up the books I didn’t want to keep ready to try to sell to a second hand book dealer and get them loaded in to the boot of my car, they were a bit too heavy really but I managed it! In the evening, Ray and I have taken our first trip to Ikea since we have been ill, the restaurant now has Lamb Shanks on the menu, and they were delicious! We got the storage boxes and replacement loo seat we went for plus some other bits and bobs. We were both very tired when we got home and pleased to get to bed.
At Homebase, I bought a large terracotta saucer from the garden centre, so that I can start putting bird seed out again, we used to sprinkle it on the pond patio but it kept getting in between the slabs and sprouting, so we stopped doing that. I covered the bottom of the saucer with bird seed and it was all gone when I got home on Friday afternoon, so I put more seed in it, and have enjoyed looking out, watching the wood pigeons and turtle doves feeding. We have one bossy wood pigeon who spends so much time trying to chase all the other pigeons away that he hardly gets to eat anything, it is very funny to see them chasing about on the lawn 🙂 The little birds used to be frequent visitors too, but seem to have not noticed that we have put food out yet, I’m sure they will return soon. There is one pigeon that Liza has nicknamed ‘Mr fatty’ because he is so large, this is a picture I took of him last summer.
Today, between Ray, Megan and I, our front room is tidy and clean for the first time in months, Ray vacuumed, Megan and I dusted, I stripped the throws off the futons, and Megan put clean ones on, I took down the net curtain for a wash, cleaned the inside of the windows, and ironed the clean curtain and put it back up. It has been so satisfying to sit in our clean and tidy front room this evening, with candles lit in the hearth, and the fairy lights switched on, ah bliss!
I’ve been very busy at work over the last two weeks as our financial year ends on 31st March and there is a lot to be done. Working 22 1/2 hours over four days is working out well for me, I would really like to continue with these hours and move to working a three day week as soon as possible. I have suggested job-share but my employers are unwilling to consider this whilst we have so much work to get through.
I have been concerned about lumpiness in my right breast where the tumour was taken, and also some pain and lumpiness in a different area of the breast. I spoke to the Breast Care Nurses about it last week and was booked in for a check-up at the breast unit on Monday. I was seen by the Nurse Practitioner, we discussed having genetic testing, and went through a computerised risk assessment which came out below the level at which I could be referred for this. I am happy with the outcome, I didn’t feel there was a genetic risk behind my Bi-lateral Breast Cancer as there is no history of it in my family, I am one of the ‘bad luck’ cases. The Nurse examined me and decided to refer me for an ultrasound scan to check my right breast. Where the tumour was taken, the lumps are probably a Seroma, if this is the case, they will drain the fluid off for me. But it might be that this is scar tissue, in which case nothing can be done, and the thickening and discomfort beyond the tumour site may be hardening of breast tissue caused by the radiotherapy. I’m just waiting for the appointment now, it should be in around three weeks.
Last week I had a General Surgery consultation appointment as I have had problems with my digestive tract which pre-dates my breast cancer diagnosis. The doctor referred me for a endoscopy for suspected irritable bowel syndrome, I was fortunate to get a quick appointment for this as another patient had cancelled, at least it will get it over with! So I am off work today to drink the horrible concoction that will clear out my digestive tract, it tastes just like diorite, not pleasant, and of course having the opposite effect! I started taking it at 11 am and I can feel things starting to rumble, but it’s now mid-afternoon and there is no action, yet!
At Mindfulness Meditation this week we discussed compassion for self and others. Ray and I now realise that we have been treating life’s setbacks and problems in a mindful way for all of our life together. We will make a decision and stick to it, if it doesn’t work out how we had hoped, then we accept it and move on, we have never been resentful or regretful when things go badly. We just get ourselves up and get on with life, never indulging in ‘what ifs’ or ‘maybe’s’. If we make mistakes, we accept them, there is nothing to be gained in denying matters of fact, the harder part is not continuing to recall errors, and still feel bad about them months or years after the event.
I have been neglecting meditation, it somehow gets forgotten about until Tuesday evening when we are asked how we are getting on with it. I think I need to try a different approach, I will meditate on it!
Last weekend being the one where we move in to British summer time, and with a desire to go swimming, was motivation enough to tackle the lawns on my legs, under arms, and lady garden. I have neglected them for months, actually, since my breast cancer op back in October. It was a mammoth operation, I started with a new blade but it was quite blunt by the time I had finished. It took so long to do, I began to smell burning as I switched off the shower, I was really worried I had blown the heating elements, luckily it wasn’t the shower at all, it was Megan burning her breakfast downstairs! It’s not a perfect job, the problem with being short sighted is that showers and glasses don’t work well together, when I put on my glasses it was apparent that more work is required, oh dear!
Last Saturday was to be the last Session of the Art Journalling course, but so many of us were keen to continue that there will be another four classes starting the weekend after Easter. I am really pleased about this as it is so enjoyable, both in being creative and having good company in class.
I have been thinking about getting organised for the craft stall I will be doing in May, I think I have almost definitely decided on calling my craft business ‘Elsie Rose’s Attic’, my style is mostly retro and by choosing this name it leaves options open to change and diversify what I make and sell.
Elsie was my paternal Grandmother’s name and Rose my maternal Grandmothers name, of whom I have been thinking of a lot just lately. Both had skill in making things, be it baking, crochet or sewing, both were two of the most gentle souls I have ever met. I still have a ‘Granny Squares’ blanket which Nana Rose made for me, it is too old and fragile to use now so it is safely stored away.
I’m looking forward to Easter, having four days off will be great, and give me time to recover from tomorrow. We are planning to do a boot fair on Sunday to get rid of things which are cluttering up the place, but if it is raining we won’t bother, I don’t fancy standing out in a cold field in the rain, that just doesn’t sound at all appealing.
Have a lovely Easter!!
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.