Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Owning my story

I wish I had a pound for every time someone has told me I'm strong in the last few weeks. And I know I am-in the sense they mean- but sometimes it's used in a way that makes me want to ask for permission not to be strong sometimes!
"Strong" evokes an impression of rippling muscles and a stiff upper lip. And anyone who knows me knows that's not me! Definitely not the rippling muscles sadly and I'm the person who can't watch sad films or even adverts. I bubble at a sad story at the best of times. Show me an emotion and I'm in it! OK it may be true that when I was nursing, I could hold it together to provide care and support in the moment but when I got home the slightest sad story and all my withheld emotions would flow. I have cried reading out poetry and I have moved others and myself to tears speaking at events in Scottish parliament even; so I'm an old hand at emotion. More and more I'm willing to show my vulnerabilities at times and that feels like a strength rather than a weakness. In some ways my blog has helped me with that.

 “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Brené Brown

I have really enjoyed a family time over Christmas and felt truly blessed and I have also had to make space for the maelstrom of emotions I'm working through. I have dreamed of breast feeding a baby from the breast I'm about to lose. I awakened with a deep sense of sadness and loss. It's a preparation for loss and I'm recognising the importance of that. It seems loss isn't always predictable, after all I haven't fed a baby for several decades but it was precious time for me as a mother. I have a date for surgery a little earlier than I had thought which has brought it into sharp focus. Seeing the reality reflected on others faces, especially my children has left me tearful. Leaving family after Christmas has been hard, I want to hug them close.
I haven't told my Mum about my new diagnosis, she won't retain the information because of her short term memory and I can spare her that pain. So saying to my Mum, "I will see you in a few weeks", when my reality is somewhat different, was tough, to say the least. There are so many emotions to unpick with that one. I have shed a good few tears this last week and I have also had a truly special time. Leaving space for sadness, leaves space too for joy.
So am I strong, yes to be sure I am, but maybe a less laden word would be resilient.
Resilient means you can withstand and recover from difficult conditions. I have learned to be better at that, it's one of the things cancer diagnoses have taught me. I don't doubt I will learn some more things along the way with this diagnosis too. I will keep you posted....

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas thoughts and empowerment pants!

It's Christmas Eve and I'm writing this in the early hours with a storm making its presence felt outside. But I write from a place of peacefulness despite all that this month has brought. Because with the news that I have breast cancer again has brought some very lovely messages of love and support, some truly special time with family and friends and more to come. I'm feeling very blessed.
I know this is a hard time of year for so many; mid-winter weather, the awakening of loss, the media stoked expectations of a perfect Christmas which is rarely reality and all of life's pressures and illnesses that somehow seem inflamed by a date on a calendar. I was reminded of this sitting in the breast clinic this week when the nurse assistant said to me , it doesn't feel Christmassy yet does it?  After sitting in the waiting room where fear is omnipresent, tension is palpable and the Christmas tree in the corner seems wanly overworked, I couldn't imagine feeling less Christmassy. In that moment I felt for the team who knew more than most that cancer doesn't have a Christmas break and that the impact  feels all the more potent with a backdrop of tinsel. 
Strangely maybe I'm feeling calmer about Christmas than usual, maybe it's because I'm not cooking or maybe it's that sense of perspective these times bring....probably a bit of both! A group of us went to see "A Wonderful Life" this week and not only did it provide a welcome emotional release for me ( yes I had a good cry!)but also it was that very timely reminder of what makes us rich.
So my Christmas wish to you all is to find that place of peace in yourself, to know what makes you rich and treasure it and whatever life is challenging you with try to approach it with love in your heart.
And I leave you with this fabulous gift a friend delivered to me yesterday: empowerment pants...great gift with an even better message for a Christmas Eve. 

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Scanner

I wrote this to express my anger at poor practice but the process has really made me think about whether being kind is just a bit of icing on the cake or whether its actually a core skill. I found myself defending the person, saying maybe they had a bad day, it was busy, you know how it goes. But the truth is this attitude stood out as it was so different from the care and compassion I expereince with the breast team. There is such fear around in those experiences, that kindness and soothing are as important as knowing how the machine works. The lady following me had sat with me at lunch and she cried almost constantly; her fear so present about what was ahead of her. Yes the scan was a small part of her journey but any bump in the road with leave you bruised and fearful for the next stage.
So please anyone reading this, my plea is just be kind, it's not just's part of our healing.

The Scanner 

Put your things there
Climb up onto the platform
The machine looks on
And so do you
A smile might help
I think as I sit down
I swing my legs over
I hear my heart beat quicken 
 I steady my breathing

Can I have a cushion under my knees?
You oblige and secure my hands
For comfort you tell me
The machine comes closer
It won't touch you just
Keep still for 15 minutes
You say as cold as the steel
You turn and leave the room
Alone- me and the scanner 
Left to do its soulless job

I keep my eyes closed as it comes near
I stay still
I breath, I calm my thoughts
It scans me -mercilessly thorough
It does its job
You come back
You move the machine
 I stay still- I ask anxious questions
Another 12 minutes you say
I breath, I calm my thoughts

You return to release the machine
And I step down, head spinning
Steady you say
But now you see I'm angry
I have scanned your every move too
I have scanned for a smile of comfort
I have scanned for a sign of warmth
A sign to steady my fear
Just like your machine I'm programmed 
But I look for humanity

Sadly in you - like the machine- I saw none

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Its how the light gets in....again

I started writing this blog in 2011 when I was diagnosed for the second time in my life with breast cancer. And as I sit down to write this I find myself poised to write about something I didn't expect to at all. Perhaps I should have.
 I wanted to write a blog then for a few reasons "I suppose for me this is also about finding my voice in this fairly unique situation I find myself in and using that voice to share and shed my own burdens. And also the love and laughter that these times can evoke."
Blogging has been in some ways quite life changing. I rediscovered a joy of writing, I have connected with fellow bloggers across the world; laughed with them, raged with them, grieved for them too. And as my health improved and the cancer receded, I have blogged about many other things, enjoying the freedom to explore my thoughts around person centred care, about leadership, even about politics.
But this weeks news is bringing the blog right back to its original subject; breast cancer. I have been diagnosed this week for the third time with a primary breast cancer. I'm still making sense of that news, if there is sense to made. I'm working out the practical logistics as I plan for surgery in the new year. I'm working and making space for tests, appointments and the impact of results. I'm summoning up the energy to tell people ....I had forgotten how exhausting that is. And I'm feeling the love of my family and friends as they take in the news and reach out with their warmth and care.
It's a familiar world in many ways which helps minimise the sense of shock but I really didn't expect to be here...yet. But here I am and if I'm honest I'm pissed off more than upset! You know the lovely quote about "it's not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's learning to dance in the rain" well that's not quite where I am yet. The storms have been real this last week here in Scotland and rather than dancing in them instead I want to stamp in the puddles.
I really laughed with Helen Mirren when she said she wishes she had told more people to "fuck off" in the past. But it's less about people for me ( although Donald Trump would be first in the list) and more about cancer.
You know I think maybe I've been a bit too polite with it in the past; let it sneak into my life unannounced and rob me of my wellbeing. I have accepted its intrusion and although I have fought the impact, I was the one I punished in the process. I pushed myself to show it hadn't beaten me, I have worked too hard to make up for lost time, I have smiled when I've wanted to weep. I have said I'm fine, way too many times for it to be true.
So there are two things I want to say as my life is invaded yet again.
1.    I am going to be kind to myself by saying yes to any kind and loving offer, by paying attention to my needs, by enjoying all the wonderful people and things I have in my life, by nurturing my recovery.......and
2.    I hear you, cancer, but whatever the outcome of this stage of the journey- you aren't the boss-that's my job.
so here is the wonderful Mr Cohen with a very timely reminder- The Anthem  ....And breathe.....

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

"The ways of truth and love have always won". Gandhi

" We need a systematic approach to foster humanistic values, of oneness and harmony. If we start doing it now, there is hope that this century will be different from the previous one. It is in everybody's interest. So let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments." Dalai Lama

It's been hard this last few weeks to have the words to describe the myriad of emotions that have affected me. In some ways I envy those who purport to have certainty in what should be done to respond to the terrorism we see affecting so much of our world. And of course it had an impact on me because as a European, terror came very close to home.

I have no easy answers to share, no wise idioms to make it all ok. I understand some the complexity of the factors that have brought us to where we are now; I know that we in the UK have played our own role in that, like so many others in the West. I know too that some powerful global companies, not least the arms traders will always benefit from war. 

I see the hypocrisy of our relationships in the Middle East. We have all played our part in creating the monster of the so-called IS. And it's monstrous behaviour is hard to believe. This film from channel 4 news shockingly shows its behaviour within Syria towards children And we wonder why there is a tide of humanity washing across Europe? 

But still I'm reminded of how compassion and care for others can transform the human experience. How even where people have witnessed the unimaginable, the impact of  nurture, safety and the love of strangers can bring life back into eyes and an inner flourishing that was previously unimaginable. I hope that is already happening for the refugees who arrived in Scotland last week.

Sadly last week we also witnessed those who welcomed the Syrian refugees to our country this week, themselves attacked by disgusting racism. The shameful anti-Muslim behaviour we have seen here in Scotland and more widely is to be deplored and we should all challenge it wherever we see it. What has led us to this?

Our focus on individuality in recent times has impacted on empathy and compassion but what I do know is we can change that again. We can learn to be more compassionate, to show more empathy, to understand that through care and connection we can all thrive given the right conditions. We can learn that what helps a community flourish is not self-interest but it's investing in what helps everyone thrive. And for those of you who fear we are too far gone to be different let's remember that even where it seems evil behaviours have triumphed, there will always be the signs of goodness too.

Out of the devastation of the Second World War, the welfare state emerged. It took only 10 days after Hiroshima was flattened by the A bomb for flowers to grow. Cumbria in a different way seemed forever changed after the foot and mouth disease a few years ago,but the lack of sheep grazing meant the flowers bloomed again and the ospreys returned. We are programmed to flower, to bloom in the right conditions. We can flourish as a community if we create the right conditions. But a flourishing community or country is not one that turns against others, it's one that shows love and compassion to others, especially when they are vulnerable. The best way to challenge the profoundly immoral is to demonstrate  moral courage.

I started this blog owning my sense of powerlessness and  distress given the recent events. But I also know that change can only start with ourselves. One person at a time we can change how we are in the world. So ultimately we hold the difference -each and everyone of us-not powerless after all.