Saturday, 19 November 2016

Cold comfort...

It's been a funny old week.
Ever since this whole cancer shmancer 'thing' started all those years ago it only ever takes me feeling a bit below par for my mood to plummet and so when I found myself laid low and bed bound on Tuesday it wasn't long before the gremlins were out in full force.
I hate being ill. Hate what it does to my spirit not to mention my state of mind.  Just a cold, you say? To me, it's another reason to lie awake at night thinking the darkest of thoughts and wondering if my body is trying to tell me something.  Measly mouth ulcers? Chemotherapy reminders, more like.
Nothing is simple anymore when it comes to my body and how it's behaving.
'Oh, there's so much going round at the moment,' friends and colleauges say reassuringly.  Is there? Really?  Do you promise?  And, for a moment, I let myself exhale and the internal anxiety subsides. For a moment.
I should ban myself from social media, TV, newspaper headlines and the outside world in general when I'm like this. I seem to attract the gloom.  Turn on the radio and yep, there's an advert for funeral cover.  Even an innocent episode of First Dates sent me sobbing into the bathroom the other night. Picture a lovely scene of marital contentment - hubby and me snuggled up in bed, eating a few cheeky maltesers, watching our guilty pleasure and high fiving each other with relief that our dating days are over.   Our munching stopped as we watched a bright eyed, gorgeous young woman calmly inform her dinner date that she had terminal cancer and had no idea what her future held. I did that thing I do when I'm not in a good place.  Leapt out of bed like a crazy person, put my fingers in my ears and hid in the bathroom until it was safe to come back out.  I put my fingers in my ears a lot when it comes to cancer.  I need to stop.  The woman on First Dates was amazing.  She's out there and she's truly living despite a prognosis that might not be the best.  I've had a cold this week.  A cold. I need to get a grip.
It's not helped that I'm about to hit 'anniversary' season.  This time two years ago I was flying high and then everything crumbled.  Again. Hmmm. I suppose I can let myself off the hook for being scared of a cold. Can't I?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Life, interrupted.

I  needed something to drag me out of my writing slump.  A call from Cancer Research UK asking me to write a new blog post to read at the launch of the Selfish Mother #GoodTees for Stand UP To Cancer 2016 was just the jolt I needed.
So, here it is.  Feels good to be back.

It was all going so well.  Life had well and truly turned that mythical corner and I really thought I'd done it.
'IT' being surviving the first five years of life as a single mum to triplets and their big brother.
'IT' being moving on, finally, from a toxic relationship with their dad.
And 'IT' being beating breast cancer.
The magical five year all clear was well within touching distance and I felt great.  Actually, scrap that. I felt bloody brilliant.  The kids were happy, settled and finally at school.  I was writing daily, full of ambition and focus.  Our life together as a family of five was noisy, chaotic but bursting with love.  There was even the glimmer of a new, healthy, sane romantic love on the horizon.
I felt the healthiest I'd ever been been both physically and emotionally and had also, impressively, found the perfect balance between wheatgrass and white wine, kettle chips and kale.  The painful dramas were behind us and there was everything to look forward to. You get the gist - it was all looking really, really good for me and my four.

And then everything fell apart. For the second time.  The second time.  Secondary. I can barely say the word let alone write it.  The shock was immense.  I was blindsided.  How could it be back so silently and without warning.
It was definitely back.  Forget the 'all clear' - it had clearly never gone away.  Too scared to ask questions I just numbly stumbled through the biopsies, blood tests and scans and pretended to listen as the brutal side effects of chemotherapy were explained to me.  Unnecessarily.  I ran my fingers through my hair and counted my eyelashes.  Not again.  Please not again.

Once the initial shock had worn off I felt confident that I'd be able to continue writing, blogging and chronicling this difficult chapter - this 'blip' as described it.  I would write inspirational words about rising to this latest challenge and I would move my few loyal readers to tears with my tragic yet touching posts.
Yeah, right.  I became blocked over night.  The thing I'd prided myself on - writing with complete truth now felt impossible and far too terrifying.  So, eighteen months ago I shut the lid on my laptop and that was it.  I was a writer no more.

It felt so easy to start blogging all those years ago when the babies were tiny and I'd just come through treatment.  Single mum, triplets, cancer -  wow, look at me!  Look at how much I've had to deal with, look at how honestly and openly I write about how it really is.  No filters, no crafts or cupcakes, just the realities of life. This time, the reality was too painful.

And now, I suppose there is some kind of weird acceptance to my...situation.  Life has a strange, new normality to it.
I'm fully back in mum mode and as far as I know, right now, the cancer that lurks has gone into hibernation.  It's not currently 'active' -  another hideous word that makes me shudder.
I feel as fit as a fiddle but apparently I'm not.  Or am I?  I'm confused but not courageous enough to ask for clarification.
If it wasn't for the three weekly trips to the Royal Marsden for a dose of magic juice and the monthly injections into my stomach that keeps the hormones at bay and the nightly pill I pop to add another layer of oomph to my treatment -  well, I could almost convince myself that nothing was wrong.
IS anything wrong?  Maybe, just maybe, 'it' might stay inactive forever.  Am I in denial?  Is it so bad to be in denial?
Or, do I owe it to myself, to my kids and wonderful new husband to ask the scariest question of all - does secondary always mean terminal?
There. I've said it. And written it.  Maybe I can do this.  Maybe I can share my experiences once more, my darkest thoughts and fears with whoever wants to listen.  And, if no one does, it really doesn't matter -  at least I've taken the first step towards sharing them with myself.

Getting the call from the lovely team at Cancer Research UK and being asked to help raise awareness by giving a talk in support of Stand Up To Cancer came at just at the right time.   I've wanted so much to try and find my voice again.  I've wanted so much to believe that my future isn't so limited that it's not worth the effort.  I want so much to be one of the success stories.
And, let's be honest.  I really wanted one of those gorgeous t-shirts...

I'm supporting Stand Up To Cancer, a joint national fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4 to accelerate new cancer treatments to patients and save more lives. To get involved this October and help beat cancer sooner, visit standuptocancer.org.uk 





Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Somewhere between a rock and a better place...

And so I've hit the half way mark.  Three cycles of chemo down, three more to go.  I'm sitting on the top of the mountain, catching my breath and hoping the descent will feel a whole lot easier than the climb.  I'm doing well, according to my wonderful oncologist.  The chemo is doing what it's supposed to do and I can see the visible proof.  I'm saying 'thank you' quietly a thousand times a day.
Still got my hair. Yay. Well, most of it.  This is a very nice, much apprecaited bonus.  It's shedding but slowly and I'm just hoping and praying that I don't wake one morning looking like Bill Bailey - shiny scalp and long straggly ends.  Sorry Bill -  you wear it well but I just know I couldn't carry it off.
And yes, we've fallen fairly comfortably into our new routine.  My amazing four seem to have adjusted to mummy's good and bad days without too much upset and the usual band of angels in my life are rallying around as I knew they would.  I feel blessed. Knackered but blessed.
Something else is different too, this time round. Something completely unexpected but rather wonderful.   There's a hand holding mine in the chemo ward.  There's someone making me giggle uncontrollably as the hideous cold cap is being suctioned onto my head and I feel like I want to be sick, cry and scream all at once.
Chemotherapy and laughter were alien last time round.  It was the loneliest feeling in the world.  I've laughed more in the last three months than in the last decade. Who would have thought it?  Definitely not me...
I've never had a rock before.  Always cringed slightly at the word. Jealousy probably, or maybe more a feeling of not being able to relate at all to the idea of being able to lean into someone and exhale.  I've had, I've got other rocks, plenty of them.  A super sister shaped rock, a giant dad rock that's more like a boulder and more huge, shiny, rock like friends than one woman deserves.  But this particular type of rock is a first.  And it's making everything better. 
We don't talk much about cancer.  He doesn't think of me as ill and therefore I don't think of me as ill.  Best approach, don't you think?  Sitting in our corner of the chemo ward eating maltesers and making plans is actually a pretty pleasant way to pass the time. 
There's no doubt about it, cancer is rubbish but it could be worse, a whole lot worse and hey, spring is in the air.  I plan to have a good spring.  Let's all have a good spring. We deserve it, don't you think?









Sunday, 4 January 2015

An unexpected blip...


Ella, Louis and Theo are thriving.  Just turned five and quite possibly at the pinnacle of cuteness.  They run into school each day smiling and happy and emerge a few hours later smiling and happy. They get home and they scream, they shout and it’s still utter mayhem but it’s our life and it’s all been okay, we’ve managed to stay on track in recent months without too much casting a shadow. In fact we've had the sunniest of spells in years.
So, about now, I should be high fiving myself for making it through.  About now, I should be quietly celebrating my fifth of year of being cancer free. 
Turns out that I wasn’t quite as free as I thought.  And so, for the second time in my babies little lives I’m embarking on the joyous journey that is chemotherapy.  I’m bracing myself for three little horrified faces when they see me without hair for the first time.  I’m preparing myself for six months of stepping back into the very much unwanted identity of an ill person, for a freezer full of lasagnes and kind gestures and, heartbreakingly, for my children to inevitably look at me in a different way.
Jake, my big handsome boy is quietly shattered and struggling with the memories of last time, knowing what lies ahead. The little ones will simply be cross that very soon I won’t look like mummy.  I know this because of their reaction to the odd photo they’ve seen of that challenging time.  The bald me of four and a half years ago – clutching my beautiful babies and smiling at the camera, attempting to appear like everything is tickety boo when really it was just rubbish. Really rubbish.
'I don’t want that mummy.’ said Ella a while ago as she studied the one picture of that time I have displayed at home.
I don’t want to be that mummy either, darling.  I’m so sorry, my angel.  Do you know how much I love you?
Deep breath then and off we go.  Another chapter for me and my four.  And as usual, they’ll probably show me the way.  They’ll teach me how to ‘be’- how to handle this latest set back.  This was not part of the plan but I know there'll be some magic in it. There already has been.  I know that we’ll emerge from this even stronger and more resilient, even more full of love and appreciation for what we have as a family.   I’ll eventually accept that actually I look pretty damn good with a pixie cut and that when it comes down to it, nothing really matters other than the five of us being together with me being ‘mum’. 
The thing I moan about, the thing I struggle with, the very thing that has felt so draining at times is now the very thing that will get me through, again.  Being mum.  The biggest motivator of all. 
So come on then cancer.  I’m really trying not to take this personally.  Let’s make this latest visit of yours a quick one, okay?    If that’s alright with you?  You can come in but please don’t make yourself at home.  There are five of us here with big, crazy plans and you’re kind of getting in the way.

 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A marvellous mini break...

 Don't you just love it when things come together?  I've always found it very handy that my best friend lives up north.  It means that every few months I simply have no choice but to gather together every scrap of available childcare and make a solo trip up to see her in Harrogate. It would be rude of me not to and I just know the kids wouldn't appreciate our endless chatting and wine slurping.  Scrap that - the truth is I wouldn't appreciate them interrupting our endless chatting and wine slurping. Bad, bad mummy.
So, receiving an invitation to review Ox Pasture Hall Hotel just outside of sunny Scarborough was a no brainer.  Would I and a guest care to enjoy a complimentary overnight stay in one of their luxury suites with dinner and breakfast included...er, yes please thank you very much ever so kind of you don't mind if I do was my cool, I'll just have to check my schedule reply.
It took us about two hours to drive from Harrogate to Scarborough. Mel at the wheel and me trying to ignore my pathetic passenger induced queasiness we arrived at our destination a little weary and definitely ready to relax.
We received the warmest of welcomes and were shown to our enormous suite -  the honeymoon suite, in fact. There was more space than we knew what to do with,  the rooms were tastefully designed and cosy with a huge bathroom that had the funkiest taps I've ever seen. 
Tummies dictating the timetable as always, we wasted no time in heading to the lounge where  a glorious, pre ordered, afternoon tea awaited us.  Glad that we'd purposefully missed lunch we polished off freshly baked scones, sandwiches and cakes and took in our cosy surroundings whilst enjoying the heat from the wood burning stove.


Set in seventeen picturesque acres Ox Pasture Hall is widely regarded as one of the most romantic hotels in Yorkshire and based on location alone I can see why.  Hmm. I could have got grumpy about the fact that I wasn't there with a significant other eager to help me test out the King size bed but that would have just been silly so I didn't.
It was a cold, wet day and being a pair of lazy bones we chose not to venture out for a hearty walk after our mouth watering cake and sandwich fest. We did, however, jump back in the car and take a five minute drive down to Scarborough's rugged North Beach.  We took the obligatory deep breaths and spent a moment or two having our own private, wistful thoughts -  essential when staring out to sea on a winter's day, don't you think?  That done we wasted no time in nipping back to the hotel, happy at the prospect of a luxurious night ahead.
We decided to eat early, blaming our voracious appetites on three and a half minutes of blustery sea air. We enjoyed a drink back in the lounge area while we perused the lengthy menu and agonised over what to have - always my favourite kind of dilemma  though on this occasion my infamous indecision was just ridiculous such were the choices on offer.
Dinner was, by far, the highlight of our stay.  We ate in the Courtyard restaurant and quite simply oohed and aahed our way though three stunning courses and a gorgeous bottle of wine. The food was outstanding.  It would have been lovely to see more guests enjoying the work of such a talented chef and maybe adding a little more atmosphere to the evening but really, we were quite happy in our own little bubble of decadence and excess.
Back in our room we flopped on the sofa and watched a bit of TV before bed.  The Wi-Fi signal wasn't the best  which wasn't a big problem for us during a short stay but probably worth a mention.
We slept extremely well -  though I'm now wondering if it was actually a food induced coma that had us snoring sweetly for nearly nine hours. Either way, we woke up refreshed and after the most powerful of showers, ready for the day.
Breakfast was easily on a par with our meal the night before.  Mel and I rose admirably to the challenge set before us and somehow found a way to devour the most delicious full English we'd had in a long time.  All locally sourced and once again cooked to perfection we savoured every mouthful feeling thoroughly spoilt and indulged.
And sadly, that was it. Time to pack our bags, say our goodbyes and wend our way home. All too short a stay but a very, very lovely one.  Thank you Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, you went above and beyond.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Six minute segments of love...

I played with the children yesterday.  Monsters.  I turned the lights off upstairs and chased them.  All five of us ended up in a pile on my bed.  Theo reached such a level of hysteria that at one point I wasn't sure whether he was going to be sick, wet himself or simply punch me round the face.  It was fun. Really good fun.
The whole little episode probably lasted for about six minutes before we headed back downstairs. They took up their default positions on the sofa and I headed into the kitchen to find a gold star to give myself for being the kind of mum I want to be.  Even if it was just for six minutes.
Earlier that day I'd also cooked.  A lot. It's called batch cooking, don't you know. I didn't.
Hearty stews, crumbles and casseroles now fill my freezer. This is a very big deal. We ate hotpot for dinner.  Hotpot.  And it wasn't Betty's it was mine.
As Louis and Jake fought over the last helping and I scraped the crunchy bits of potato from around the side of dish for Missy Ella - well, I felt like Olivia Walton and the lovely Lynda Bellingham rolled into one. I literally bustled around the room as I cleared the plates away and made a mental note to buy myself a pinny and a rolling pin. 
So, this is what being a good mum feels like.  I'd kind of forgotten.  It's felt like a monumental task lately, one I've not felt up to.  Too exhausting, too demanding, too much of everything. 
Yesterday, I realised that I don't need to get it right all of the time. I just need to try a bit harder for some of the time.  I'm never going to be that mum who gets rid of the telly and throws away the biscuit tin in favour of home schooling and a sugar free diet.   There will always be bad days and days when I feel lazy and resentful and like I want somebody else's life.  And that's allowed, sometimes...don't you think?
Power parenting, I think I'll call it.  Short, intense little bursts of one hundred percent focus on my four.  That's got to be better than the painful, sloppy, what's the minimum I can get away with type of approach I've had of late. 
It's definitely a learning curve this raising a family thing.  Shame I can't get together with Olivia and Lynda for a coffee. They'd sort me out.












Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Where my head's at....



I’m torn.  My three are hurtling towards five with grubby knees from the school playground, a million priceless questions and spaghetti sauce down their jumpers. Jake has started secondary school and is on the brink of a whole new chapter.  They are all still the centre of my universe and I theirs and for that I’m truly grateful but…there’s a but and I’m trying to figure out what it is.
I’m mum, mummy and sometimes mumma and I love it.    Occasionally Louis refers to me as ‘stupid lady’ but that’s only when he’s really cross.
They need me as much as ever and I most certainly need them.  But something is missing.  The balance has gone awry. 
Is it wrong to admit that there’s an increasingly large part of me that’s fighting for some airtime?  A part of me that wants to not just be mummy and remember what it’s like to be Em?
As my trio are growing, I think I am too.  Or changing or… something. 
But how do I make room for something more?  Is it wrong to even want something more?  Shouldn’t being ‘mum’ be enough?
The choir I sing in once a week is great for my spirits and a lovely break from the routine.  The friends I adore keep me going and make sense of the world when all I see is chaos.
My health is good, I remain cancer free and am no longer dealing with constant drama from a certain person.  Life is good.  I believe life can be great.  I’m just a little restless, wondering what the final piece of the jigsaw might be.
I sometimes look at Ella, Louis and Theo and wonder how they got here.  I mean, really…how is it that these three high spirited imps have taken root so firmly in my heart but continue to challenge me like nothing else.  What a different parenting experience to any that I’ve known so far with Jake.  These three are wild and strong and noisy and yep, challenging.  Really, really challenging.
Ours is not a calm and ordered home though I used to think I was calm and fairly ordered.  Emotions are expressed at top volume, objects are thrown and tears are shed.  Every single day.
I spend a lot of time thinking I’m getting it all so terribly wrong but then I look at them rolling around like lion cubs, falling off the sofa and into fits of giggles. I look at Ella reaching out to comfort Louis or Theo in a rare moment of softness.  I look at Jake being the most incredible big brother and how much they all idolise him. 
‘I like you, mummy,’ says Theo at least once a day and I breath a sigh of relief.
I like you too, Theo.  I like all of you.
I guess we're doing okay....