Summer term: reflect, review, reset

So the Easter holidays have come to an end and it’s the beginning of a new school term unlike any other.

Earlier this week as I hung out the washing I noticed how quiet it was. Normally I can hear children playing in the school playground nearby but at the moment living in lockdown means most children are at home with their parents.

As I look back and reflect and review over the last four months I am choosing to focus on the highlights, the particularly special times.

January

Early in January I went to the 100 stories book launch in West London. I hadn’t been on the train into London for four years, since my cancer diagnosis, and decided it was a perfect opportunity and reason to have an overnight city break with my husband.

While my husband was at work I spent time exploring Covent Garden and the British Museum and the area around it. In the evening we took the tube across London to go the Maggie’s Centre at Charing Cross Hospital. Maggie’s Centres provide support for people living with and beyond cancer in a ‘home’ environment. I’d never been to a Maggie’s Centre before and I was impressed. I’d never been to a book launch before either! Or written for a book…It was great to meet Helena, the author, and a few people from the cancer community who had also contributed. Like most people I’ve never wanted to be defined by my cancer experiences but in some ways it’s inevitable because it’s a part of my life, my journey and my story. The online cancer community is my tribe and one I am thankful for. Day or night there is (reciprocal) support if and when I need it.

At the end of January we had a great time when we visited family for a belated ‘Christmas/New Year’ get together.

February

Towards the end of February I went away to North Wales with one of my good friends. We had some amazing outings. The highlight was a trip on the Welsh Highland Railway through Snowdonia to Caernarfon. I love North Wales, the people and the incredible scenery; the beaches, snow covered mountains, streams, rivers and waterfalls. We also enjoyed coffees and meals out as well as evenings in around the stove with her daughter’s cats (we were cat and house sitting), the friendliest cats I’ve ever met. Bendigedig!

March

By the beginning of March it was clear that Covid19 was starting to become more widespread in the UK. I carried on with most planned activities for a while before deciding to stay at home apart from essential trips out and walks. I managed to spend some time meeting up with a few friends I hadn’t seen for a while and had mum and dad over for Sunday lunch before the lockdown. Good memories!

April

Because we couldn’t be with our family over Easter I found myself having more time to reflect on the Easter story.

We’ve adapted. Many of our regular activities are online now so we’ve been able to continue with a familiar routine and stay connected and meet with others online and on the phone. We’ve enjoyed remote meals with our family. I’m trying to ensure I’m as fit and healthy as possible by appreciating and enjoying good food and exercising (via YouTube). I am relaxing by baking, gardening, reading and writing. I am limiting how much news I expose myself to and when I expose myself to it. When I feel myself being drawn down I shift my focus. I am enjoying nature; birds, flowers, the lengthening days, warm sunshine, the moon and stars. I am thankful for those who care.

Life isn’t always easy. During these months I’ve had the usual migraines, aches and pains which are especially bad when I don’t pace myself as well as I should and also I’ve had the usual colds, infections, mishaps etc. There’s also been a lot of difficult news, and we’ve waited on tenterhooks as those known to us have been admitted to hospital. There’s been heartbreak and hope. Most people are pulling together and I’m thankful to all those who are playing their part, often quietly. Along with everyone else’s, many of our plans for this year have been cancelled or postponed: From the appointments at hospital to family celebrations and get togethers and holidays.

I find the long term and wider impact of this virus too much to think about. As it says in the Bible in Matthew 6 ‘…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’.

If you are struggling to lift your gaze at the moment perhaps have a look at your camera roll and remember some of the good times you’ve had or start taking some photos to look back at in the future.

With love x

Our daily bread

Usually we do an online order for delivery about once a week for the food and other groceries we need that are bulkier and heavier or difficult to get locally and then we top up locally. As we are physically distancing this is not an option at the moment so we’re having to plan and think much more carefully about our online order and the food we eat.

I’ve always had an ‘interesting’ relationship with food. When I was a young child my mum tried various tricks to get me to eat my food. Lamb chops eaten as ‘lollipops’ and chopped banana with icing sugar were two favourites but I was a fussy and often reluctant eater.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy baking and cooking. Mum always encouraged us to join in and over time I enjoyed eating food more. I remember doing my Hostess and Cook badges in the Brownie Guides. Rock cakes anyone? At high school the girls studied Home Economics or Needlework and I chose Home Economics which included cooking. Years later I worked back at the same high school covering lessons for absent teachers and this included teaching Food Technology with boys and girls. Those lessons were fun!

As an adult I’ve been a more adventurous eater mainly because my husband doesn’t like what he calls bland food and so he has done most of the cooking. I’ve never been a huge meat eater but I love seafood. About ten years ago I had a bout of food poisoning following a meal in a restaurant which left me with chronic diarrhoea. I had all sorts of hospital tests and when they came back clear I was told to try an elimination diet. Within a couple of weeks it was clear I had become lactose intolerant and wheat intolerant. I was fine as long as I didn’t eat anything with lactose or wheat in it!

I adapted my diet accordingly, but never got used to the hassle of checking and double checking ingredients. Eating anywhere but home where I could buy in gluten free, lactose free and dairy alternatives became more complicated. As time went on I found I could eat wheat again but not lactose.

Then several years later I had my breast cancer diagnosis and treatments including chemotherapy (chemo). The chemo I had caused nausea and vomiting. I discovered it is true that banana tastes the same coming up as it does going down (a little tip for you there!). Also because chemo causes mucositis I had terrible sores in my mouth, throat and down into my stomach. I either had awful constipation (on the days when I was taking steroids) or liquid diarrhoea. The special mouth wash helped the mouth and throat a little so I could swallow and other medications I had helped my stomach but I also had either a strong metallic taste (first three cycles of chemo) or no taste (last two cycles of chemo). Because I kept developing fevers and had severe neutropenic sepsis twice I had to have a neutropenic diet (for people with weakened immune systems) which further limited what I was able to eat and drink.

As you can imagine I didn’t want to eat at all but it was clear that I needed to eat to survive and whenever I was in hospital the specialist oncology dietician visited me every day. As I was fatigued, weak and losing weight I was given special high calorie ‘yogurts’ to eat. Imagine my husband’s horror when he realised he’d accidentally eaten one of my 700 calorie yogurts … At home I found the The Royal Marsden Cancer Cookbook a great source of inspiration with its lists of foods and recipes to help with the various side effects of chemotherapy. Thankfully I had my husband and my mum cooking for me and making sure I ate.

After I finished chemotherapy I gradually regained my ability to enjoy food. I will never take being able to eat for granted again. The chemotherapy has left collateral damage and my stomach is even more sensitive than it was before. Thankfully these days there are a lot of lactose free and vegan alternatives but I do miss my cheeses and the freedom to eat whatever I fancy.

During these last two-three weeks of thinking more about food and meals I’ve appreciated food in a new way. We’ve had to become more careful about the way we use food. How we can use what we’ve got. I’ve adapted recipes and we’ve had next to no waste. Jack Monroe’s books and website are a brilliant resource full of ideas.

It is only through this personal experience of needing to be more careful with food that I’ve realised I’ve always taken the availability of food as a given. Today we dusted down the bread-maker and we are baking a loaf of bread. It smells delicious. It has led to me reflecting on the words from Lord’s Prayer ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. More about that in a future blog.

A list of links and resources for people going through cancer treatments (which I will add to):

Healthy eating tips – Haven

Healthy Eating – Macmillan

Diet and food supplements – Macmillan

Eating problems – Macmillan

Eating well – Royal Marsden