Saturday, 13 July 2019

What do Goldilocks and breast cancer have in common?

I’ve had breast cancer 4 times, each a separate cancer ( I have the BRACA2 gene mutation) and this time is the first time I’ve had a mastectomy. I’ve had two wide local excisions and a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction but this time I knew I couldn’t handle that. A long operation on top of still recovering from spinal surgery last year was not wise.
So I opted for a mastectomy. The surgeon did an amazing job, using a  «Goldilocks » technique which creates the shape of a breast with your own tissue and allows a good ( ish) cosmetic look with a form to help keep a prosthesis in place. And it’s worked apart from dealing with an infection currently that’s got a good grip on my breast and my wellbeing.

I’ve treated it a bit like a small child; called it my booblet even which is my current fond term. So it’s some inanimate object, like a teddy bear I need to care for. I have found many forms of denial over the years, this has to be my best one. But like all forms of denial the bubble gets burst eventually. This week was when I caught a glance of myself in the mirror and felt shock go through me. Where’s my breast gone was my sudden, heart stopping thought. Just as quickly I recalibrated and remembered. But the shock remained in my body. I don’t want to hide from mirrors and I know in time I will accept more fully how I look ( will I?). I’d prefer a symetrical look but further surgery to my left breast with no guarantee of a good outcome ( because of previous reconstruction) is just not an option. So here we are, Goldilocks and me and a whole new story to write. Goldilocks and the three antibiotics maybe? Goldilocks and the four cancers? All I know is three bears takes on a whole new meaning here, so here I am with a mythical teddy bears, baring my soul in this blog but very reluctant to bare my body-even to myself.



Friday, 12 July 2019

Fat shaming and cancer?

I was asked to write this blog for the Health and Social Care Academy, which is a programme focussed on transformational change and is part of the ALLIANCE. It’s about weight stigma but not only I cancer. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. 

https://www.alliance-scotland.org.uk/blog/opinion/challenging-weight-stigma/

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Exploring guilt and cancer

Since my first diagnosis of breast cancer guilt has stalked me. Even when I’ve thought I’d put that beast to rest, up it pops in various guises. My guilt as a parent for causing my family to suffer has been a long term one. But it’s probably speaking to them now as adults that has helped me let go that burden. And in many ways seeing them as kind and sensitive people people i realise dealing with difficult times and illness has contributed to who they are. Carrying the BRCA2 gene tipped me again into a spiral of grief and guilt but somehow staying with that and recognising that for what it is has helped me move through it. I didn’t choose this any more than my father did. And what I learned years ago was that we can’t protect our children from everything all we can do is love them and help them to navigate it as best we can. And I’ve just had to relearn that one with my BRCA2  diagnosis.
Survivor guilt is another layer again. As I’ve lost friends and colleagues to breast cancer I’ve grieved for them with an added complexity. What made the difference? Why did I survive and not them? In some ways I’m embarrassed I’m still here, four diagnosis later. I mean, WTF? 
I’ve just had my results post mastectomy and I’ve no lymph node involvement and my margins were clear so there would be little benefit with chemotherapy and no radiotherapy needed. I remain on endocrine therapy of course and also to have some preventive treatment for my bones. That’s all! In any other context that would be a lot. But not if it’s cancer, I’ve got off lightly and I know it- and yes you guessed I’m feeling a bit guilty too, compared to others who are having to deal with so much. 
It’s a form of madness to feel guilty you haven’t died, to feel guilty your treatment isn’t as bad as others, to feel guilty you’ve survived more than 20 years since your first diagnosis. I know it makes no sense but it’s easy to carry guilt along with everything else. But it serves no purpose and is fuelled by a media that feeds a view of the cancer experience which is unrealistic, overly simplistic and laden with judgment. You’ve got to fight it, you’ve got to be brave, you’ve got to protect others from your pain, you’ve got to hide your baldness under a pretty scarf, you’ve even got to walk through the night in your bra to evoke sympathy. ITS EXHAUSTING!
When the practice nurse dressed my woundthis week, we discussed our shared  experience of breast cancer. It’s tough, we agreed. So let’s leave that there. The truth is it’s tough, let’s stop imposing expectations on everyone who walks this path. They need to find their own way, they need to be kind to themselves, they need compassion from all of us and they need to celebrate when they can count the years from their treatment and feel well. Guilt is when we carry the « shoulds » of others expectations. Let’s just stop and have a compassion for all who travel the journey imposed by a breast cancer diagnosis and grieve for those we lose and celebrate the life of those who recover. It’s simple, isn’t it?



Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Cancer- you are not me

I am the breath

Coming back to the breath
creates a cradle for my pain
I rock and the rhythm soothes
The breath knows its healing gift
Pain and suffering are not the same
With each breath I accept the pain
that’s here and is to come
I breathe with the fear of the cancer
I know you, I feel you
But you are not me
I am the breath moving
with the light of life
sustaining me in love and kindness

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Reflections from a hospital bed





My Prime Minister has gone
with a catch in her throat
tears for a legacy that was a fantasy
tears for a career that exposed
her as a leader who didn’t lead.

But no tears for the food banks
so needed in our communities.
No tears for Grenfell and communities like them.
No tears for Windrush generation and their families.
No tears for the racism and inequality so many suffer.

And who will choose the next one?
Not the country, nor the Parliament.
The final choice is the Conservative party members
And really the Daily Mail  who tell us it’s Boris,
And so probably they will make it so.

But here from my window
On my hospital bed I see the stunning outline
Of my capital city, Edinburgh.
And I grieve deeply for Britain.
But we need our different choices to be honoured!

Mrs May said now is not the time.
Maybe she was right then?
But in this time when our votes
are ignored and our voices unheard.
Scotland- this is the time! 



Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Mastectomy blues and PTSD

So tomorrow was to be my day for surgery but now it’s delayed until Tuesday next week. It’s not long I know but I’d had so many conversations and hugs wishing me well, I had packed my bag, I had packed my Wonder Woman pants
for safe measure, I had hugged my grandson especially close. And now I have days free I didn’t expect; a sort of stay of execution and I’m feeling rather lost if I’m honest. Even the fact I’m home for thé Eurovision song contest isnt enough to ease the situation. Part of me wants to sleep until next Tuesday. It’s the impact of this surgery I’m dreading so I’ve another few days with two boobs. I will be able to hold my grandson for a little longer, until surgery makes it too painful for a while.

 Strange how the worries shift as I age. I would have been devastated to need a mastectomy in my thirties ( and my greatest fear was not to be there for my children) when I was first diagnosed and I do still feel a large element of that loss. But now it’s less about body image and fear of dying and more about how I can be the best Wife, Mum and Grandparent in this time I have, as well as Sister, Aunt, and friend . A bit cheesy maybe but honestly it’s all about time with those you love and I’m blessed by good people who have helped me put one foot in front of the other this last year.
 I said towards the end of last year that I thought I had post traumatic stress disorder. I recognised the signs https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/treatment/ , mostly feeling sick and trembling if I thought of my time in intensive care.https://www.health.org.uk/improvement-projects/inspire-–-intensive-care-syndrome-promoting-independence-and-return-toArticle on support after intensive care . Mostly I’ve locked it away and hidden the key but I know it’s there. I’m noticing the signs again in myself as I prepare for surgery next week. Practicing mindfulness regularly is helping but I suspect it’s not enough. Talking therapies feel almost too exhausting just now. Distraction is great for the pain i hold; be it physical or emotional but I also need to rest and sit with how I am. 
Writing is helpful and since I was a wee girl and went each week to the library with my Mum, I’ve always wanted to write a book. I absorbed the whole children’s section and took my love of libraries and books into adulthood. So far as well as writing my blog, I’ve a draft memoir half done, I’ve an idea for a children’s book and another on wellbeing with long term illness. Maybe one of these days I will find the energy to complete them? But meantime I’ve got writing this blog, so thanks for reading and being on the journey with me. I will keep you posted. 


https://www.health.org.uk/improvement-projects/inspire-–-intensive-care-syndrome-promoting-independence-and-return-to

Sunday, 5 May 2019

If ever there was

Inspired by the What matters to you retreat in 
Old Lathrisk, Freuchie April 2019 

If ever there was a place to 
have a retreat it would be here
Old Lathrisk in spring

There’s a calmness even in the birds
Mostly they sing
Or chat amicably
Just occasionally there
Is the p’wee of the buzzard
An unforgiving warning
disguised as innocent cries 

And the writers
hardly making a ripple in the peace
We capture a small part in
a season reflecting ourselves
And once we leave 
Perhaps leaving a whisper of our conversations
But then the waves of this old house
cover our paths as if we were never here

Ah yes if ever there was a place 

to have a retreat it was here.