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

Guest Blog ‘Book Review: 100 Stories edited by Helena Traill’ by @Coldethyl2

‘Book review: 100 Stories edited by Helena Traill

I’d like to thank J at Welliesandseaweed for inviting me to contribute this review to her blog.

100 Stories is a collection of cancer stories and images collated by Helena Traill and self- published through a Kickstarter project appeal. Starting life as a final year piece for her degree at Central St Martins, the book is an attempt to harness the power of design and story telling, in order to help normalise the experience of, and conversations around, a diagnosis of cancer. Contributors were recruited via social media platforms and asked to narrate their cancer story, focussing on how social media has helped them as they live with and beyond diagnosis.

Each participant in the project was asked to provide a portrait photograph of themselves which Helena digitised using the symbol that forms the logo of cancer charity, Cancer on board, who are one of the supporters of the project. These images accompany the stories in the book and form a moving adjunct to the narrative, making the accounts both seem more direct and personal through their obvious connection to “real” people, while simultaneously conveying the sense of separation and loneliness that a diagnosis brings through the emotional distance that using a pixellated image creates.

I was familiar with some but not all of the contributors through my own use of social media, but it was interesting to read their accounts in a less fragmented format than is the norm on the likes of Twitter or Instagram, particularly the extended accounts towards the end of the book. It was refreshing also to hear from some of the lesser known online contributors rather than the usual “cancer celebrities” that now dominate the various social media platforms, and in this book, Helena has given those people a voice along with another medium to share what it is like to live with a cancer diagnosis on an a everyday basis, rather than in the false glow of a heavily curated virtual reality.

As with its online counterparts, the contributors are predominately females with breast cancer, but one can hope that the common ground of many of the experiences shared in this book will help open up the dialogue around living with a cancer diagnosis, regardless of sex, gender or race. With 1 in 2 of us likely to experience cancer at some point in our lives, the common threads of resilience, hope and finding joy in living shared by this book’s contributors are ones that should encourage anyone beginning their own cancer story. Cancer can feel very isolating, but as this book shows, there are others out there who understand our experiences and social media communities that can offer the necessary support that sadly our healthcare systems all too often cannot.

I ordered my copy from Amazon for £20 including p &p and it arrived promptly and nicely packaged. It is a beautifully presented book and I would recommend it for those with cancer themselves, as well as a suitable gift for anyone touched by the disease.

© Coldethyl2′

(When I was writing my blog about my involvement in 100 Stories I thought it would be interesting to have some feedback about the book from someone who has been affected by cancer but who was not involved in the project. I knew D, who tweets as @Coldethyl2, was already reading the book so sent her a message to ask if she’d consider writing a guest review for my blog. She kindly said yes and has shared her thoughts in this brilliant and thoughtful review, which covers some salient points. Many thanks D!)

Advent

It’s the beginning of Advent. I’ve been thinking about what the season means to me.

First of all the memories. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s watching the presenters make the Blue Peter Advent Crown every year was a childhood tradition.

Another tradition was the card Advent calendars. I found it exciting to see what lay behind each window in the lead up to Christmas, the pictures of beach balls, teddy bears and toy cars. Then came the chocolate Advent calendars, hmm chocolate! Now you can buy Advent calendars filled with different treats, Lego, cosmetics, perfume, skincare, candles, beer, wine, spirits, breakfast cereal, chutney, popcorn … Of course you can also make your own.

One of the things I like about social media is the sharing of ideas. One of the ideas that has gained traction in the last few years is the Reverse Advent Calendar which involves filling an empty cardboard box with one item everyday during Advent and donating it to a local food bank.

Since my cancer diagnosis and treatment Advent has become more meaningful for me as a time of both reflection and expectation, intentionally being in the present and waiting as I reflect on my faith and hope.