Friday, 19 October 2012

Ill health...

Felled again. No, not cancer. It is what I believe is called psychiatric injury. I have been struggling for some time with panic attacks and anxiety. On Wednesday, I reached a crisis point. I could not go on being brave, coping, pretending all was well* (*delete as appropriate) How I came to this is irrelevant at present. I need to concentrate on getting well. Someone I greatly respect said 'Take your own advice' I am going to do so. So making pictures, reading, sewing for grandchildren and some cooking are all going to occupy me.

Monday, 20 August 2012

A year on.

I saw this today, and it led me to reflect on life a year on from completing treatment. The neuropathy mentioned in the article is what led me to stopping the paclitaxel part of my treatment. The neuropathical symptoms developed gradually from my first cycle of combined chemo. My fingertips first became numb, but feeling returned within about 8 days. I count myself fortunate that I told my Oncologist about this as it meant she reduced my next dose and enquired about it at my next appointment. When I reported, after cycle three, that I had tried to stand up but had fallen over as I could not feel the soles of my feet, she immediately stopped the paclitaxel.
The 4th of August marked a year since my last chemo. I reckon I'm as much over it all physically as I will ever be. I do still have enduring effects from my surgery and chemo.  I have proved I can improve my fitness and stamina this summer. I had a lovely unconsciously active holiday and have reaped the rewards in terms of strength and stamina. So what has remained affected?
The neuropathy still affects nerve endings in my bowel, my fingers and the soles of my feet.  The effect on my bowel is to affect sensation, it is very easy to become constipated unless I eat industrial quantities of fibre. Easily overcome but occasionally people look in askance at the number of dried apricots and prunes I can consume seemingly without side effects!

  Fortunately the effects on my fingers does not prevent me sewing or making my pictures. However I often discover I have repeatedly stabbed myself without always knowing I have done so.  My feet are often painful, the tingling of almost perpetual pins and needles often makes walking uncomfortable and sensible shoes a necessity. I have also been left with such bad 'restless legs syndrome' that both arms and legs are 'restless'.
I take gabapentin for the restless legs, and have been taking amitriptyline for fibromyalgia for several years. I believe that these both mitigate the effects of my neuropathy so that I am happily more free from pain than I might be.
I am and always will be extremely grateful for surviving. I am and, for the forseeable future will, live life to the full. I will also however always be living with the after effects of my treatment.
It does not end with that last chemo.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Genetic Testing.

A few months ago I had my first meeting with a Genetics specialist from Oxford at Northampton General Hospital., regarding a possible genetic link between my sister's breast cancer and my ovarian cancer. We were, she said, both 'young' to have suffered our respective cancers, I loved her immediately!  We chatted about family histories and such. There were , she said, some possible links (surprisingly to me though, no breast or ovarian cancers)  BRCA genes are tumour suppressing genes and help DNA repair, therefore when they mutate and stop doing this there is an much increased risk of cancer.

from ebeauty
I was given the rather bleak information regarding my outlook should I test positive for BRCA 1 or 2. Having already lost my ovaries did help, as my risks for breast cancer were halved, but remember I've already had ovarian cancer!  She said some women choose to have prophylactic mastectomies. I had already pondered this, and my decision was a definite NO to it. I would deal with breast cancer if it occurred. Anyway, as I had already decided I wanted to be tested, I went off and queued up at the Blood Taking clinic and dropped the sample off in outpatients for the specialist to take back to Oxford.
Today, my sister and I travelled to Northampton to get the results.
Our relief, when we were told that I did not have either BRCA gene, was enormous. I certainly felt that a weight had been lifted from me. I need no longer worry about how it might affect my daughter or my granddaughters.
Going to have genetic testing is not easy, there are many things to be considered, not least what one does with the information. I needed to know, I needed to find out.
Now I do know. The world is a wonderful place.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

On people...

I read this, yesterday. I can honestly say that this is almost revelatory. The premise is that there are no 'difficult' people, only those with different agenda to us. I must say that the idea that no-one can make us feel bad, but that our response to them is what hijacks us, is not new to me. I have been working within that philosophy for a few months. Only a few months though.
Many years of my life were deeply affected by other people. Those others caused me to doubt myself, to view myself as unworthy, ugly, undesirable, inadequate, you name it I have felt it. However I realise now, I allowed it. Not what happened in childhood though. That I could not have changed, but I'll make sure no child I deal with will ever have me making them feel so bad.

I think that one needs to have a sense of self worth before the premise of differing agendas can really work. I have worked really hard for seven years to develop my own sense of self worth. I have had to unpick my own idea of myself and rebuild it. Being so ill for so many months actually helped. Losing my hair stripped me back to absolute basics. I learned to be glad just to be alive. The counselling I received also helped beyond measure. This was where I heard, perhaps believing it for the first time, that I, alone, was responsible for my own happiness. To create our own happiness has to mean making concious effort. It does NOT mean riding rough shod over others. Thoughtfulness, consideration and empathy will always be glue to relationships, personal and professional.
One thing that has surprised me is that fulfilling my own needs; to be creative, to meet my physical needs, to tend my emotions, does not lead to the death of a relationship. I had been persuaded in an earlier time to put those I lived with before myself at all times. Obviously, as a parent, I did put the needs of infant children before myself. What I did not need to do was put the needs of my spouse always before my needs. I did this for twenty six years, until I realised that I was disappearing, as a woman, as an individual. The crisis came when his pastime took precedence over my birthday. No compromise, just that it was more important than me.
It took me several more years to move on.
Now, I have started being creative. I have overcome tall odds. I not only write, but I make beautiful things. I read. I walk.
At last, I am a secure, happy, fulfilled individual who is not afraid to take risks, to branch out, to live.
I am Alison.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Another anniversary...

One year ago today I had my first chemotherapy session. I blogged about it at the time. In some ways much of last year now feels like a dream. In other ways, the normal things I am doing, feel like it is the first time again. I REALLY enjoyed my Easter break. We did nothing extra special really. We celebrated Mr G's birthday. We saw our wider family. However, I was not sore recovering from surgery, I was not forbidden any foods, I was not at risk of dangerous infections, I was able to live a normal life. It is VERY hard to articulate to those for whom this has not happened just how good it feels. The even more amazing thing is that that wonder at living a normal life does not go away. I even find that the less lovely bits of normal life, while still upsetting do not have as much effect.
I am very cross I have not got my house deposit back, and that I face a fight to try to get it back. However, it is not the total disaster it once would have been. Yes, I've cried, but no-one is going to die over it, I am not going to die because of it, therefore it is not earth shattering.
Life, post cancer treatment, is strange. For days and weeks, I can almost forget about cancer. Then something reminds me. A check up, a glimpse of an upsetting advert, even the reminders of the Race for Life I am doing. Then I am catapulted back to thinking about cancer. I think it will always be so. Maybe the adrenaline dump will lessen. I hope so, I do not enjoy that fight or flight lurch of my heart.

I do enjoy life. I love life. The ups and downs are there, but they are infinitely preferable to the alternative.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Listen to your tummy, Ladies.

I was sent this information by email from the USA but have decided it is worth adding to my blog. If it helps ONE woman to think hard about what is going on inside her then it is worth it!

Ovarian Cancer Whispers  
- so  listen carefully ...
Watch for  -
 Pelvic or abdominal pain or discomfort;
  Vague but persistent gastrointestinal upsets such as wind, nausea, and      indigestion;
 Frequency and/or urgency of urination in the absence of an infection;
  Unexplained weight gain or weight loss;
  Pelvic and/or abdominal swelling, bloating and/or feeling of fullness quickly when   eating;
  Ongoing unusual fatigue;
  Unexplained changes in bowel habits.
If symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, ask your doctor for a 
CA-125 blood test, an internal exam and trans-vaginal ultrasound.
A smear test WILL NOT detect ovarian cancer.

I had all these symptoms but mildly. I was constipated, was peeing small amounts frequently, always totally exhausted, tummy getting bigger despite losing weight. I was having vague periody pains despite being well past the menopause. 
(I know... but at least I'm giving you the heads up!)

Ovarian Cancer is much more rare than breast cancer but creeps up silently. I would far rather you had tests that were negative, than you find out too late that you have advanced Ovarian cancer. I was lucky, that still unexplained post menopausal bleed I had saved my life. It got me to my GP who told me there and then that I would be treated as if I had cancer until it was proved otherwise.
Here I am, one year on, after surgery and treatment, fit and well.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Another fresh start...

Well, on March 2nd, it will be one year since I was told I definitely had cancer. At that particular point, the cancer had all been removed but I had loose cells in my tummy.
So, here I am, thumbing my nose at one set of statistics. I made it. I am well.
My clinical psychologist is very pleased with my progress. We have agreed I can be discharged, but her door remains open, should I need to return.
Mr G and I have moved home. We needed to get out of the 'sick' home. So we've moved to the country. This story is on Well, I never .
I needed to remake our home. At the old house, we had never properly created a home as when we moved there, my cancer, unknown to me was already making its presence felt. The utter exhaustion of the months, preceding my diagnosis, was appalling. I could barely function.
Here, in our new home, there are no bad memories. We are already building wonderful new memories.
My next check up is on 15th March. I have an appointment with the Genetics doctor from Oxford on the 19th. There is no escape from reminders of my brush with death. I am living though. Cancer does not colour my days any longer. I would be foolish to pretend that blood tests do not bother me, or that I am not apprehensive about my appointments, but they do not keep me awake at night.
I rest easy.
I am well.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Life is what you make it...

I had a counselling session this morning. I've been a bit wobbly for the last three weeks. The cause has come from many sources, all completely unrelated, but have, as a combination, resulted in the weepy Alison returning. Some of the worries are all sorted. Some are ongoing and completely beyond my control. None are to do with my physical health. It was a surprise when my counsellor said I had done very well, as I felt the weepy me was not a success. However, she said I was doing well, I was still functioning normally, so I had done well in dealing with, what she acknowledged were, serious challenges to my equanimity.

I have been practising my mindfulness. This technique involves looking at a fear or a worry, with eyes open so to speak, and then choosing to think of something else consciously.

This has not been the answer to other areas that are concerning me related to my work. I was advised this morning to practise not allowing my feelings to hijack me. Our responses to the demands of others directly affect how we feel. It was suggested that when something very stressful happens, I should mentally create space for myself. Our lives have ebbs and flows, good days and bad days, good times and bad times. It is how we respond to the difficulties that colour our emotions and our psyche.
I need to worry less for others, I need to be much less hard on my self ( this one surprised me!).  I need to learn to take a mental deep breath, and give myself processing time.

It is when things are most stressful and most demanding that the space becomes more vital.

This week, my worries and fears and the demands that had been put on me completely stopped my creative thought processes. I was stuck in a brain made traffic jam. This was causing me to panic. There is a deadline, for which I require my creative thought processes so that I can meet expectations, and I could not begin to prepare to meet it. Yet, last night, I freed up. I dreamt the creative thoughts I need. It was such a relief. I did it by giving my mind the space and sleep I needed. Our minds are wonderful things. I now understand that it is my own responses that create the unhappiness. I cannot control all of them but I can definitely mitigate the effects.

Last week, massage, this week, mind space, maybe next week I'll remember to moisturise the itchy place on my leg...

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

My first Award.

The very lovely Becky who blogs here has given me an Award. I am thrilled by this as Becky has been blogging for much longer than me. I do know that this blog is read in lots of countries. I hope it continues to inform and entertain.

Monday, 2 January 2012


I'm really glad I have an appointment with my counsellor this month. I have found the last few weeks very difficult. Hindsight tells me that a punt at a new job was probably premature. It was not the 'not getting it' that made me wobble, but the unfairness of the interview process... I am pleased I got an interview though. I am pleased I found the chutzpah to tell the person who interviewed me that I thought the way she organised the day was unfair. I also realise that I had a lucky escape! I am disappointed in myself that I felt so worried that I might be 'found out' having cancer, for goodness sake!

I found out that Christmas made me very wobbly too. I refused to be drawn into the frantic over preparation for the Feast of Christ. That refusal did not change the fact that the last couple of weeks before the Christmas holidays were tough beyond belief. Thirty hyped up children would, I realise, actually challenge anybody during that period, and many of my much younger colleagues were also on their knees. It took me the whole week before Christmas to regain my equilibrium.

My role as Mummy got a reprise this Christmas. My beloved daughter went into labour early on Christmas Day, she still had not delivered her baby by the end of Boxing Day. Every maternal nerve was twitching. I knew her husband would be, and was, her voice, advocate and help. I rested very uneasily on Boxing Night, awoke extremely worried on 27 December. I was in the shower when Mr G shouted that I was a Granny again, to a boy named Ellis William, weighing 10lb 5oz.  I wept with relief to know they were both safe. The powerful maternal emotions evoked by her suffering were hard to bear, especially as I was helpless. I suspect that the helplessness I felt was felt by others during my treatment!

As the anniversary of my first fears of cancer approaches, I'm considering my future. I'm well at the moment and am looking at my life as a well person. I would love to live a less driven life, but that means changes happening that are to some extent out of my direct control. I'm fed-up that my life is being made harder by the strictures placed upon me personally and professionally by a government I did not elect. I am trying hard not to be the grumpy woman I could so easily be.

I guess the fact that I weathered the recent trying times by wobbling and crying a bit, proves that I am regaining my resilience. I have feared that the relentless crying might return but it did not. We are all entitled to cry and go a bit wobbly. It is hard for those of us journeying with cancer to remember that everyone has down times, is anxious, cries etc. I think we often judge ourselves harshly and feel we should be above such petty issues. 2012 will feature me remembering that my spirit does not have to be invincible, nor do I have to be immune to wobbles and tears. I really hope that I can move my life on the way I want it to go. I'll tell you this, it won't be from the lack of trying :-)