My 5th cancerversary

The 5th cancerversary is a big milestone for survivors. And 5 is a big number, definitely. Sadly it doesn’t mean that it will never come back. Cancer can hide in your cells, even spread to many parts of your body, even decades after treatment for the primary cancer has finished. But, of course I am grateful to be well now, and happy to have been around for those extra years with my family.

This year, the whole world decided to join in with the chemo feelings of social isolation; loneliness; possible loss of income or job; fear of being really sick and dying; lack of control; and general inconvenience. Doesn’t feel great does it?

Strangely, this isolation caused by covid 19 has helped me to feel less isolated. Because we are all in this situation together, my family has not been singled out for a change. That feels much more manageable. We’ve got it a lot easier in fact, than many people do. We are not NHS or key workers. All we have to do is stay home. Thankfully, so far none of my friends or family has caught the virus.

When I received the unexpected shielding letter from my hospital last week, I was not as relaxed about it. I have had a few random health problems over the last few years, including an awful cough and breathing problems caused by a chest infection that didn’t heal for 6 months. But I suppose that it’s the chemo that got me on the list.

So, once again, the shadow of cancer hangs over me, meaning that I am again seen as a vulnerable person. I have been put into the ‘poorly person’ box  again, and I don’t like it at all. I think that the biggest problem is one of identity. I am Alex. I am not a cancer victim. I am not my illness. I needed to remind myself that the letter doesn’t change this. They are, in fact, looking out for me. That’s a good thing, that the NHS cares about little old me.

The other issue is one of control. I have been in uncontrollable  situations many times, so have learned this lesson before. But I guess it’s a lesson that needs to be learned again. Strangely, there is so much strength from admitting weakness, by realising that there are very few situations where you are actually fully in control. Nobody is always strong.

That’s the advantage of having faith in a God so much stronger and wiser than me. I don’t need to pretend to myself and others that I am god of my own life. Because I’m not. I didn’t choose when or how I was born, and I won’t choose when or how I die. I have found a peace in that.

For now, I am enjoying my lovely house; garden full of new life; and family who I get to spend more time with.

I will never be grateful that I had cancer, but I am here, I got through it. And if that isn’t a good reason to eat chocolate cake, I don’t know what is.

 

 

 

 

Covid19 diary week 1: 22-29 March

I first heard of the latest coronavirus in late December: it was far away in China then. Since named Covid 19, it is now the subject of 90% of all conversations, and traditional and social media outlets.

I decided to keep an online journal, so that I can look back on this ‘unprecedented’ time in a few years. If the zombie apocalypse hasn’t hit by then, of course. I cannot promise to make it interesting, but it will be honest.

The govt shut down schools (except for children who are at risk, disabled, or have parents who are key workers) on Friday 20 March. So for most parents in the UK, the 20th was the last normal day is what could be a long time.

Dropping my daughter Bethany off at school that morning, it all felt so normal. Only one child was crying, and everyone else seemed pretty calm.

I went into work that day, (I work in a college), also for the last time in a while, and besides it being very busy, it also felt normal. Although there was an odd feeling in the air, a sense of being on the edge of an invisible cliff.

That Friday night, I started thinking about how the following week would look for us as a family. Although we don’t have to homeschool, sitting the kids in front of the TV for 8 hours a day seems a little lax, so I made a list, and blogged about it, of things to do with kids when at home. We have already done some of those things, so it wasn’t a waste of time.

School at home ideas

It turns out that I didn’t really need to plan home schooling, as my kids’ schools both send work through online every morning. It only takes a couple of hours to complete, but combined with home learning stuff, I reckon that’s plenty. I had ordered text books for Maths and English online for both Connor and Bethany the previous week, so they do a little of that most days too. Also, Bethany has chosen to do a self-directed project on amphibians, salamanders specifically. So we have some books, and I have found online resources about that too.

Anyway, we have a rough plan every day, that gets written up on Bethany’s blackboard; of registration, English, break, PE, maths, lunch, playing/ garden/project/ art or baking. We don’t always follow the plan, and sometimes leave out PE (although we do go for a long walk/ scoot every day, which is PE I guess.)

Sometimes we video call friends or family. I am aware how difficult this is going to be for younger kids, who can’t just text or Watsapp their friends  like my son does. I think that when life goes back to normal one day, many of us will have forgotten how to do small talk. Hopefully, it won’t make us all even more self obsessed too. It doesn’t look that way, if the NHS volunteers and kindness that I see on social media is anything to go by.

Anyway, thankfully my kids have a good attitude to learning, and just get on with it every morning, without having to be asked. I do keep checking in, but it’s proving to be much easier than expected so far.

I have some work to do too; as well as never ending housework and keeping in touch with some elderly and vulnerable people that I am looking out for. I am also focussing on my mental health, by walking, exercising at home, getting into to the garden when it’s sunny, reading books, and art.

To be honest, at the moment it feels more like a strange holiday than anything that is particularly dangerous. That said, we are all following government advice, not doing any food shopping except when necessary, and only going out once per day. Plus the ubiquitous hand-washing.

I went for a long walk today, and it was so quiet. The sun was shining and the birds sounded  very pleased with themselves. I expect that the levels of air pollution have dropped so quickly, that this year nature is going to amaze us. It’s good that the plants and animals are going to get a much-needed respite from some of the human destruction. It’s like the Earth is telling us to slow down.

Most people are being more sociable now that they are less busy and not seeing nearly as many people. Dog walkers are generally the friendliest (and I already recognise a few of them from my regular walks and chats about their pets: I love dogs); but young and older people are saying hello as we walk past each other, much more than usual. Connor has asked a couple of times whether I know this or that person, but no, I don’t know most of them. We do always keep 2 metres away, I hasten to add, before anyone criticises me.

It is sad to see the playgrounds taped off with warning signs, but we wouldn’t be using them now anyway. It’s just sad.

I didn’t know that I could ramble so much…

Monday: speech marks, maths with Connor, #DrawwithRob

Draw with Rob Biddulph

Tuesday: Joe Wicks PE, baking cookies and nerf fight.

Wednesday: signs of spring and spring craft, also clothes in the apple tree.

Thursday: scoot in the Park, NHS rainbow drawings in window, clap for the NHS at 8pm with people around the UK.

Clap for the NHS

Friday: set up the piano, minibeast count in garden, sing to Nanny.

Saturday: guinea-pigs play in their new run in the garden. Blisters from too much walking. Monopoly.

Sunday (today): write to Grandma and friend, online church x 2, chilling.

I saw some friends while out today: we had a nice shouted conversation to each other from across the road. They have a dog. I wish I had a dog now, more than ever. The guinea-pigs are lovely, but it’s not the same.

Boris went down with a mild form of covid 19 this week. It’s no surprise, but it does show that nobody is immune. The deputy chief medical officer today announced that we might be in lockdown for the next 6 months! The mind boggles. It’s so hard to imagine living life this for half a year. But it doesn’t scare me. It’s just so surreal. My husband Mike says that this is probably all a dream of his. I don’t believe so. If it is  he had better wake up quickly.

BBC news

Have you noticed that when you watch TV or read a book, when they talk about hugging or going out for a meal, you tsk at them and feel morally superior? Maybe it’s just me. It’s quite incredible how quickly our minds can adjust to massive changes. Makes you wonder what other social rules we have grown up with and therefore see as normal, that other cultures would find offensive.

I am tired of thinking now. Goodnight.

Why I am not as afraid of Covid19 as I probably should be.

Everyone is understandably feeling anxious right now. This is a world pandemic. Many people are ill and have died. Many more fall ill and die. It’s a scary time.

I want to say thank you to every NHS and front line worker. Thank you so much for all that you do for us.
I can’t imagine how hard this is for you.
But I look at the levels of panic, and honestly, I just don’t feel it. Is there something wrong with me?
I do worry for elderly and vulnerable family and friends, so I know that I am not heartless. I understand why people are afraid, but I don’t understand why I am not. This all feels so distant from me: I know that it’s serious, I follow all Govt rules in staying at home, social distancing and hand washing. I know that it’s real. But I just don’t feel afraid. I know that I might get ill: in fact I am at higher risk than many people of my age, so I definitely do not feel immune.
And yet. I have done social isolation, not being able to go I to work, and facing my own mortality, thanks to cancer. I am used to fear, sickness, reduced income (my husband is self-employed), and not seeing friends. I have faced the death of a loved one: my son died in my arms last year, due to a congenital heart defect.
What I am not used to is other people being in the same boat as me and my family. I am used to other people’s lives being busy and happy and successful while we get left in the dust. So, I quite like that we’re not alone in this latest disaster. It feels like we are all one family now, looking out for each other. Sharing home schooling and exercise from home tips. Volunteering to help others, and being kind. Talking about our fears, rather than having to pretend that everything is ok because other people can’t handle our pain. Because everyone is in pain, it feels a lot less lonely.
I feel grateful for the little things: sitting in the sunshine in my garden; spending days learning, baking, playing and being creative with my kids; being grateful when there is milk in the shop. Others must be feeling this too?
A couple of months ago, I remember wishing that life could just be put on pause for a while. I was too busy and too tired. I needed a break, but couldn’t see how I would get one. Even in holidays, I rush around, planning trips and visits without taking much time to rest, or just enjoy my family and home. Now I can do that.
My cancerversary is coming up in April, and my son Samuel’s birthday and anniversary of his death in May. I won’t have to keep going during these, powering on through, because the world has crashed. My family’s lives crashed last May when Samuel died. It feels nice that we aren’t so alone now. It’s ironic that when we are most physically alone, I feel the least lonely.
Please forgive me if I sound unsympathetic. I do know how awful and unfair this virus is, especially for the vulnerable and the poor. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I stand with those who mourn.
But is this really the first time that some people have realised that they are mortal? We are all going to die. It’s no use pretending otherwise. Maybe you should think about what you believe in what happens to you after death now, rather than pushing your fear of death to the back of your mind. Write a will if you don’t have one. Stop living like your time isn’t the most precious thing.
Yes, this virus is unfair, but then so is life. Time to face up to that. Take the time to play with your kids; read a book and look at the flowers in the garden. Message your friends to check in on them. Volunteer if you can.
Soon crazy busy normal life will return, but hopefully we will be kinder for this shared disaster.