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

New Year Reflection, Review and Reset

I’m sitting outside on the penultimate morning of not only this year but this decade. It is cold so I’m wearing a coat, a hat and a scarf but the sky is a beautiful blue and the sun is shining, warming my face. My coffee cup warms my hands. I take a sip of my coffee; its rich flavour tastes good. I can hear birds singing and our neighbours saying their goodbyes to their Christmas visitors.

Right now life feels good.

I close my eyes.

It’s been about four months since I last spent time intentionally reflecting, reviewing and resetting and a lot has happened in that time. Sad times and happy times.

At the beginning of September our son had just moved in so we could care for him, and his dog, following surgery to fix a badly broken ankle. He couldn’t move much, had to keep his leg raised and was in pain. However, we got to spend precious time with him, and his girlfriend when she wasn’t working. I loved their chat, their laughter, their youthfulness. I loved getting to know their cheeky and energetic but sweet natured dog.

At the beginning of September we also heard the news of the death of a former colleague and friend of mine due to metastatic breast cancer. A couple of weeks later came the news of the decline in health of my auntie, again due to metastatic breast cancer. After everyone had visited to say goodbye she died. A few days later, at the beginning of October, another friend died. It’s hard to explain all my emotions. I’m still grieving but although it has been a time of deep heartache and grief it has also been a time of connectedness with others as we’ve celebrated and remembered our loved ones. I’m thankful for our reciprocal support. I’m also thankful for the support of relative strangers.

One day I felt overwhelmed with grief, fatigue and pain but somehow struggled to my exercise class. I knew I needed to be with other people but my body felt completely broken. Not surprisingly the others noticed and a few came over. I found myself tearing up and telling them all how much I hate cancer. They enveloped me with their care, encouraged me to do what I could and a couple of them invited me out for coffee and a sandwich. I felt loved.

After our son had been given the okay to start moving and weight bearing again he was able to return to his home. Our lives resumed their usual pattern, we caught up with friends, enjoyed a few outings and spent time with family and friends. We were able to visit our daughter and son-in-law to see them in their new (to them) home and we also visited one of our favourite places, North Norfolk.

I’m sure there is a psychological element to pain and this is one of the reasons why self care is so important to me, which includes discussing any concerns with my medical team. As the autumn progressed my migraines and pain became worse and worse. I met someone recently diagnosed with metastatic cancer who urged me to get checked, so after some procrastination I phoned my medical team who arranged a couple of scans. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long for my results. I received the latest news on Christmas Eve, four years to the day that I felt my lump, that my bone scan did not show any signs of metastatic disease. I’m so relieved (although it breaks my heart that other people have not had good news recently) …

These are just some of the things that have been going on in our lives since September. Looking back has given me a new perspective about this time. In the midst of all life’s difficulties (and I’m aware that other people have it worse) there has been fun and rejoicing for which I’m thankful.

The New Year is often a time to rest and take stock; to reflect, review and make resolutions and pray but these are things you can do at any time of the year. Any day can be the beginning of your new year.

There is need to wait if there are changes you want to make. One approach that I have found helpful to discern direction is to look back over a period of time and review everything that has happened. Then I reflect on what brings energy and what drains me and from there I am able to discern and make more space and time for the things that bring me energy.

I am not one for making New Years resolutions, but as I go forward into the new year I will continue with good habits, being grateful and practising gratitude. I will continue being open to change, new experiences and new people in my life. During the last few weeks I’ve been discerning a word for myself for the year ahead. This year my word is courage.

One step at a time

Since my breast cancer treatment I have noticed some things hinder me and some things help me as I move forward to find direction and a way to keep going. I have to remember and remind myself that I can only take one step at a time and that it’s enough to take one step at a time. I can’t run before I can walk.

What has hindered me most is the collateral damage from my treatments, the late effects, especially the fatigue, hot flushes, infections, migraines and back pain. The late effects can make me feel anxious. There are times I can’t push through and it is all I can do to be. At these times it helps me to remind myself that it’s okay to be. It helps to remind myself I am not in a competition or a race with anyone else. I’m not out to prove myself to anyone else. Neither am I in a competition or a race with myself. I don’t have to prove myself to myself.

Comparing myself with other people hinders me. It’s helpful to remind myself I am the only person who lives my life, in my body, with my background, my circumstances and my experiences. Comparing myself now with myself then isn’t helpful either. It is important to be compassionate, kind, loving and non-judgemental to myself.

It helps me to use the analogy of going for a walk. There are all sorts of things I (usually subconsciously) take into consideration before I go for a walk: How am I feeling? What is the weather forecast like? How much time do I have? What sort of walk do I want to do? Do I want to be alone or do I want company? How far do I want to go? What shall I wear? What might I need? Drink, snacks, first aid, tissues, money, phone etc? Are there any cafes or pubs on the walk? And so on.

Similarly, as I move forwards and navigate my life post primary breast cancer diagnosis and treatment there are all sorts of things I am taking into consideration.

How am I feeling, mentally, physically and spiritually? Am I getting out of kilter? Why? Is there something I need to address in my life in order to have a greater sense of equilibrium?

The forecast is uncertain and I can’t control the future but I am thankful to be alive now.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the sort of life I want. I have to take off any clothes that hold me back and put on the ones that help me go forward. Take off the heavy clothes and put on the lighter clothes. To have that sense of freedom and joy I have when I’m walking barefoot on a beach.

Self-care is not an optional extra but a necessity and a priority.

Going for a walk usually involves some kind of planning even if it’s a ‘I’ll head off in that direction and then see’ plan. I enjoy exploring and keeping my options open and I love spontaneity but I drift if I don’t have some framework, some plan. When I’m walking I keep looking forwards. If I look backwards I will lose my footing or trip and fall and I won’t get anywhere. So I set eyes on the direction I’m going in and look ahead. I might set myself smaller goals along the way. I also might stop and take a break and look around or look back and notice how far I’ve come.

When I go on walks I like to stop sometimes to take photos. Sometimes I pick up something to remind me of the walk, such as a feather, a leaf, a shell or a stone. When I was at my weakest during chemotherapy I couldn’t sit up without help. So I set myself small incremental goals. Sit up, sit up for longer, stand with help, stand by myself, walk with the help of someone else to the bathroom, walk by myself to the bathroom, walk around our home, walk around the garden, walk to the end of the road and so on. Sometimes I look back at some of the photos taken during that time. They remind me that I kept going then and I will keep going now.

It helps to have other people to help me such as close friends and family, health care professionals and counsellors. Sometimes just having someone outside the situation to chat with is invaluable. For example, earlier this year I was going somewhere unknown and I started panicking. I was worried about how I would cope with one of my late effects. When I spoke with my counsellor I was able to think through what I could do to take away some of the unknowns.

It’s not just about me. Life experience has taught me and my husband that we have to hold any plans we make loosely. During the last few years serious illnesses have led to many of my and our plans being upended but at the moment we’re moving forward with a plan that might lead to a(nother) major life change. It brings another level of uncertainty into the mix and is both scary and exciting. As I (and we) move forward into the unknown we don’t know how it’s going to turn out.

Years ago I heard someone say something along the lines of ‘we need to plan as though we are going to live forever but live each day as if it is our last’. I like that.

September reflect, review and reset

A new month, a new season, summer is ending, autumn is beginning.

For many this time of year is synonymous with the end of the school holidays and the beginning of a new school year. I don’t have school-aged children or work in a school or with school-aged children anymore but the regular activities that scaffold my life follow a term time pattern.

I can only commit to regular activities on an ‘as and when’ basis as I never know from one day to the next how my fatigue, hot flushes, migraines, pain and stomach issues will be. Recently I’ve been feeling under pressure to do more. I know there are many reasons for this, not least because women in my age group do a lot and we live in a society that equates what we do with what we’re worth. However, experience has taught me that I can only keep spinning so many plates at once and if I try to do too much they will all come crashing down and my health will be adversely affected.

So I’ve been asking myself

  • What has changed about my situation and what does that mean?
  • What is most important to me?
  • Are there any changes I want to make?
  • How will I make those changes?

My home life has changed again recently. One day I was planning a break away with my husband, the next day I was cancelling those plans as our son needs care while his broken bones recover following a fall and surgery. His girlfriend is also staying with us when she’s not working. Their dog is here. And their friends from time to time. I love them and I love having a home full of people but I’m having to adapt again to another new normal.

I know from experience how important it is to look after myself. I love spending time with others. I love the busyness of a full home but I also need my own space and time.

The most important thing to me at the moment is to look after my body, mind and soul. I cannot pour from an empty cup. I need to look after myself as well as others. From now on, when considering the activities and commitments I have a choice about, I will use the filter does this or will this activity or commitment help me look after my body, mind and soul?

In particular, I’ve been thinking about how I use social media. I find it useful for connecting with and keeping in touch with people but it is not always beneficial or edifying. I need to limit my time on social media, to log out more often. To reset.