Sunday, 31 July 2011

Number Thirty Six: The Fug

This morning was the first time I woke up with ideas swimming around in my tiny brain… the first wake up in ages where I felt like writing.
Before this whole thing happened; if anyone asked me if I liked writing I’d have laughed (and spat out my drink) ‘No!’ Whilst a student, I spent four years of my life trying to avoid writing essays (not the way to earn a degree it turns out!) and when I had to write I always calculated the exact minimum amount of words needed to scrape by. (Can’t understand why I didn’t get a 1st really!) But now, it turns out that I can enjoy writing- in fact it’s the first sign after treatment that I’m creeping back towards being my normal self.
Some of the chemotherapy side affects are well known (nausea) and others are obvious (hair loss) but there’s a secret symptom that you really didn’t know about before… the fug. The fug stops you being able to think, remember, understand and even read! Yep, the other day my husband laughed at my attempts to read a picture book to my 3 year old- I did sound like the ‘Slow Readers Group’ poem from ‘Please Mrs Butler’. I am also rendered utterly useless when trying to follow a film plot. We have to keep pausing for Rob to explain- I don’t even have to ask anymore- he just periodically pauses when he thinks something slightly complicated might have just passed me by. Maybe it’s my glazed expression?
This fug just seems to interfere with your ability to concentrate meaning I can happily spend hours gazing into space. I’ll have a book or magazine in the vicinity but I won’t be looking right at it!
I’ve said before that many of the symptoms of this treatment are similar to pregnancy- extreme pregnancy and then some! Sickness, heartburn, aching, constipation and yep- baby brain!
I’m recovering from the fifth of six cycles of chemotherapy… the end is right there- within a fortnight it’ll be done and I’ll be recovering for the last time! I was incredibly blasé about this before I started. I remember my mum breezing through her treatment (we both agree now we remembered that time with incredibly rose tinted glasses) and I just thought ‘I’m young and healthy, I’ll be fine- chemo won’t touch me!’ Hilariously I still think to myself, ‘I’m not an ill person.’ I still associate being an ill person with being a lazy, work shy skiver! This does not help with the feelings of guilt, ‘I should be at work, I should tidy up, I should really do the boys’ bathtime myself tonight.’ And I’m realising that you actively need to rest and recuperate not plough on as normal. Difficult when you feel like you’re always missing out! So I should have respected chemo from the start- I should have known it’d knock me for six and I should have realised that taking time out to recover would have made the recovery all the more effective! In short it’s just been way harder than I’d hoped. A horrid experience I’d not wish on my worst enemy (you know who you are!) Each time it has got harder, my positivity is being chipped away at, my resilience is worn and my ability to fight has really been drained to the final dregs. I know this because at the ‘Race for Life’ I saw one of those pink squares on a girl’s back and it said… ‘In celebration of Myself- I’ve beaten it… twice.’ The thought of it coming back and doing this all over again makes me instantly burst into tears. It’s just too hard.
During the week following treatment you feel so awful and it really is difficult to imagine feeling well again. It can actually take you by surprise when the day arrives that you don’t feel like rolling over and covering your head with the duvet. For me, waking with the enthusiasm to ‘blog’ is a really good sign! The fug is lifting!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Number Thirty Five: The Summer

Well let’s hope we can call it a summer! (I have my doubts) You never can tell with British weather but my hopes are high! The summer holidays are looming- a ridiculous amount of facebook statuses were about the 5 day countdown to 6 weeks freedom when I logged on this morning.
For me this summer means a few important things… firstly we are looking forward to regaining a little consistency for our boys- having been pushed from pillar to post for the last few months (loving pillars and warm, caring posts I must add!) they will finally get some family time… bike riding, swimming, kite flying and parks! This will do wonders for the boys and could not have come at a better time- once confident and carefree; my 3 year old is, at the moment, a little wary. A year ago he’d jump at the chance to stay with Nana or Nana and Grandpa Chickens but now he’s taken to sobbing and saying he wants to stay with us- it’s just not like him and is clearly a downside to the beast breast fiasco. The one yr old looks at me in terror if I hand him to be held by anyone else. I hear him thinking ‘Don’t take me away!’ it breaks my heart. So summer starts this weekend with a trip to the bike shop to buy a big boy’s bike with tyres and peddles and everything- HUGE excitement in the Morley household! The second most exciting event will be Cars 2; we love Disney’s Cars in our house even if the James Taylor song does make me cry! So the cinema will be our first rainy day choice!

The house- summer project number two. We hope to regain some control over the shabby, broken mess that is our pitiful dwelling! Walls will be painted, cupboards sorted and if we’re really lucky we’ll get round to phoning SKY and letting them know that our house phone is yet again NOT WORKING! The sofa war rages on- I want to buy a new one- Rob wants to wait until the boys stop spilling and dribbling over the current dribbly stained one! I’ll keep you posted about the sofa saga! (I don’t really think I stand a chance though.)

The ‘catch up’- summer project number three- A little trip down memory lane now… do indulge me! When I was four years old we moved back to Milton Keynes- my fourth house in four years! On my first day in my new school I was paired up with Claire to be shown around the school. She went home and told her mum, ‘I like Erin, She’s naughty.’ Twenty Seven years later she is still my best friend and this Friday she returns from Bangkok where she has been teaching for the past year- so this summer will also be about catching up with all her adventures! Can not wait! Sadly, she’ll then return to Bangkok for another year!

Of course this summer will also largely be about hospital appointments- I have 5 in the next 5 days! The introduction of Herceptin this week increases the amount of time I’ll spend to-ing and fro-ing between Milton Keynes and Northampton. Two more chemos and then radiotherapy to round off the summer- what fun! But by mid September the bulk of the nasty treatments will be behind me- Hurrah!

Then there’s the ‘usband- he’s moving to year two! We’ve both always taught upper key stage two- our lives revolving around SATs, residentials and transition to secondary school but this summer sees the leap to key stage one for Rob. He’s really excited- I’d be more nervous but nothing fazes him. So, we’ll spend a good bit of our summer thinking about Newt Class- I’m happy to design classroom displays while Rob sorts out his actual newts- he just loves a bit of wildlife in the classroom that boy!
So we’ll be a busy little family for the next six weeks. We’ll also be trying to avoid divorce proceedings as I’m sure you can imagine- 6 weeks together non-stop is enough to test any marriage- especially when your husband so infuriatingly says ‘Oh really? But you never get on my nerves.’ UGH!!!

So even though I’m not at work I’m still counting down to the summer- let’s hope it’s a sunny one!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Number Thirty Four: The Good

This morning I read this…
I immediately thought ‘Oh God that’s me!’ Always harping on about positivity! Ugh! Well, this has certainly been the week that has tested my positivity the absolute MOST! It’s been a three T rottter of a week! I’m just about back on track but My Skidderz has given me an extra boost with the following ‘guest post’ she gets V emotional and totally over exaggerates but I believe it’s from the heart- she’s makes a very good point- the beast breast has definitely changed our friendship group for good… Over to Skidderz…

For Good...
“I’ve heard it said, that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them and we help them in return.’

Those who know me, know I’m certainly not the kind of person to ever be lost for words; quite the opposite actually! So then, I have to ask myself, why have I found writing this for My Rogers so difficult?  Being asked by one of your very best friends to write a post for the blog they have used to document their ‘breast cancer journey’ is somewhat overwhelming and something being a perfectionist I don’t want to get wrong.  So, after putting it off for weeks and being ready with my copious amounts of notes, I have decided to speak utterly from my heart and sod the sarky comments I will have to inevitably endure for being too emotional-something Honest Rogers has told me I am once or twice!
One text can change your life.  It did mine.  I will always remember the precise moment I read that Rogers had cancer.  I’d been worried all day, unable to concentrate on anything and crying sporadically, and had texted and spoken to other members of ‘The Core’ to see if they’d heard anything.   So you know, ‘The Core, are the closest group of friends you could ever hope to have in your life who would do anything for each other. When it arrived, I just kept reading and re-reading the text, through tear brimmed eyes.  The shock was immense as the girls had all been together the night before, convincing Rogers that of course she didn’t have cancer, of course she couldn’t have cancer, of course she was going to be ok.  Maybe we were trying to convince ourselves.  I remember how calm she was that evening; she says she knew then.  Seeing it in writing made it more definite somehow.  Lots of questions immediately raced through my mind; mainly how the hell was Rogers going to cope?  I can remember blubbing like a baby onto a friend’s shoulder but promising myself I would never cry in front of Rogers, something to this day I have stuck to.  My wonderful friend Leanne called and was equally in a state of shock and we agreed that I’d go round to hers that evening to be together.  I’d expected an evening of blubbering.  Another lovely friend, Kirsty, came round and both of them said they’d spoken to Rogers and had felt much better after they had (meaning they too had been crying on and off and this was the only thing that had made it stop).  I was so nervous ringing her, ridiculous I know, as I was so worried I’d say the wrong thing or I’d get upset on the phone.  Instead Inspirational Rogers was aboard her Train of Positivity....there was never going to be any other way and ‘Team Rogers’ were certainly not going to let her down.....even if she was cross with us that we’d had a Cancer Conference without inviting her!
I first heard of Teacher Rogers from my mum, who taught at the same school when she started as a Newly Qualified Teacher many years ago. “There’s such a lovely girl who’s started at Olney, Em,” I got told whilst I was at university.  “You’d get on great, you are so similar – smiley, silly and talk a lot!” Little did I know then that Teacher Rogers was going to become one of my best friends and she would consider me to be a Honourary Sister.  We immediately got on well; we share the same sense of humour even though admittedly mine is far more rank (she is the creator of my nickname ‘Skidderz’).  Laughing and being silly come naturally. Our singing talents are questionable but we definitely share the same gusto when singing songs from musicals!  I then started teaching at Olney myself and we became good friends.  I often think how lucky I was to work at that school as it has given me such important people in my life; Erin, Leanne and Rob. 
Erin is a wonderful teacher and was a real inspiration to me whilst I was training. One of My Rogers’  faults (she doesn’t have many) is that she doesn’t see how good she actually is at things; teacher, mummy, wife, friend, sister, daughter, singing partner (no one else gets ‘Wicked’ like you we do HUN).  In those early days of my career I observed her natural relationship with the children; people gravitate towards Erin as she is so friendly, cheerful and chatty.  Another inspiration was her classroom – it was amazing!  She is so artistic and creative and apparently I was her only threat to Best Classroom Award - hers was always still much better than mine though (and she knows it)! 
Over the years she has been there for me in every way possible. She’s shopped with me (one word – tutu), she’s listened to me, she’s been brutally honest with me, she’s been a shoulder to cry on, she’s given me very honest advice, she’s laughed with me, she’s been proud of me. I’ve gone round to her then flat and now house at times of real upset and real happiness and I always find an open door, where I usually start making everyone tea and help bathing her gorgeous boys.  I always feel welcome and love spending time with her and her family.  So many memories she’s given me but my faves are...the lasting memory of me waking up to the sound of her breast pump whilst sharing a bed with her on a friend’s hen weekend, the image of her dressed as plumber coming into my lesson during my NQT year for no reason whatsoever other than to TRY to be funny and the ‘Aaron look’ only achieved by the pink hair gunk found at our favourite Whittlebury Hall Spa whilst wearing a robe and towel round your neck!  Seeing as she is SO much older than me, I look up to her in many ways.  I often say to her that one day I hope to be the same kind of mum that she is and feel honoured to be a part of Ben and, my godson, Harry’s lives.  She has found ‘her Rob’ and if anyone needs a definition for true love they need look no further than those two. 
I like to consider myself a dependable friend, someone that people know they can turn whenever they may need me.  I’m not going to lie that Rogers has definitely tested that in 2011!  At times myself and the rest of ‘The Core’ have felt completely helpless, wishing there was something we could do for her, to help her, to support her and Rob more, to take it all away.  The night before her first operation Erin text me to say that her husband was being very ill. With hindsight, this operation was nothing compared to her mastectomy but at the time it was an incredibly big deal.  Then another text arrived saying he was getting worse and then another to say she was worried about staying at home that evening.  Then a phone call to ask could she stay and if Rob was still poorly, would I go with her the following morning. I always try to make people feel welcome in my house, something Erin has taken full advantage of, even turning up with her PJs in her bag at times and suddenly announcing she was staying! All of this texting and calling happened in the space of about twenty minutes and before I knew it, I was in my car going to pick her up (after a little cry as I was scared I wouldn’t be the right person to go with her).  We stayed up talking until midnight when she then made me feel her lump saying it was my last chance before it went.  I obliged (she is very persuasive at times) and it hit me again what we were doing tomorrow.  I think she got more sleep than I did that night.
That morning little did I know what that day was going to bring.  We sang Wicked on the way to hospital and convinced ourselves that Andrew Lloyd Webber would be impressed!  We sat in the waiting room and commented how Erin was the most attractive patient in there by far (we were whispering, obviously!) and we were having a such a good time even though that sounds absolutely ridiculous given the severity of the situation.  But laughter is a must to get you through such situations.  As Betty Rollins, a breast cancer survivor and author of ‘First You Cry’ wrote: “Cancer won’t bestow a sense of humour on someone who doesn’t have it, but a sense of humour can sure get you through the experience.” We stuck to that strategy throughout the day, and have tried to throughout her treatment. It also allowed me to cover up my real feelings; I’ve learnt I can be a REALLY good actress when I need to for the sake of others.  Hearing patients’ names being called out like a school register and the stern nurses refusing to allow any loved ones or visitors to go with them make my heart sink. There was no way I could let Erin go through this on her own, especially as her Rob couldn’t be there.  The feeling of absolute joy when we were allowed to stay together is something I’ll always remember. I, however try to forget the whooping and air punches we did whilst we celebrated before realising that we were the only ones to be allowed to stay together.  The next few hours were real fun, weird to say but they were. I lost count of the amount of times we explained how Rob was very sick to ensure no one thought we were lesbians!  We laughed at the loudest ticking clock ever, took pictures of Brave Rogers in her gown and bed socks, found our new best friend Liz (the NICEST lady you could ever meet and perfect to work with cancer patients), got asked to pass our positivity on to other patients who were incredibly scared and withdrawn etc.  Even though we both were aware of what Brave Rogers would be going through, we had such a special morning and one I know has made my friendship bond with her stronger.  Five minutes before we walked down to theatre together, her consultant told us that Erin had got in fact two lumps in her breast not one.  I kept in what I felt and told Erin it was great she was having her operation now and that it could be sorted.  We didn’t know then that in fact she would need eventually a mastectomy. You deal with what you are presented with. Near theatre, after hugging her, kissing her cheek and telling her I loved her, I walked away telling myself not to look back.  I just couldn’t (even though she was having a memorable time with Dr Love!).  I turned the corner and the moment I knew that she couldn’t see me, I was overwhelmed with emotion.  I’m not ashamed to say I cried like a baby, suddenly unable to breathe, knowing I’d have to ring Rob. I couldn’t remember how to get back to her ‘private suite’ and luckily Liz found me, hugged me, swept me up and took me back, with me sobbing and apologising to strangers in the lift and in the corridors.  I called Rob (not an easy phone call) and set about buying her some treats and basically arguing with the receptionist to let me back in.  I’m a girl who likes to get her own way.....and usually does!! I’d been gone about an hour and a half and then I crept back into the room when no one was looking (in case nasty, evil receptionist saw me) and waited for another hour and a half before she came back. When I saw her she looked very tired and strangely quiet.  She was smiling, still smiling, and immediately asked me how I was and commented on how I’d changed my clothes! It then became Piccadilly Circus in her room and after half an hour of nurses, doctors, consultants and THE TV man coming in and not leaving us alone, she started to weep, but only a little. That’s the only time I’ve seen her cry throughout finding out about the C word and throughout her treatment. I know she has.  I know she has a lot, but never again in my presence.  I held her hand and told her she was doing so well.  We looked together at ‘the damage’ and were surprised with how ‘normal’ it looked.
That day changed everything for me.  That and a chemo lesson. And seeing Erin without hair for the first time. And seeing her scar for the first time after her mastectomy.  Basically Rogers having cancer has changed me, and I know it has for ‘The Core’ too.  My perspective on life has been changed ‘for good’.  What is important in life, above all other things, is love, honesty, family and friendship. With that, anything is possible.  ‘Team Rogers’ and ‘The Core’ shall always be friends. Before this we were good friends, now we are best friends.  We see each other a lot more - a silver lining, as Rogers likes to refer to it as.  Some friends come and go in life; these friends shall remain the tight knit group we are forever.  We have, and continue, to go through a lot (as a group we have all had our fair share of crap) but Rogers having cancer has made us all realise life is precious and should not be wasted and we should not take anything for granted.  The bravery, determination and inspirational attitude of Rogers continues to astonish me. If there was a way I could obtain and wave a magic wand so all her pain and discomfort, and ultimately cancer, could disappear I’d buy it, whatever the cost, and wave it as frantically as I could! But I know she’ll kick C’s butt ‘for good’.  Between all of us who love her and her positivity, strength and optimism, those cancer cells don’t stand a chance.  I picture the girls from ‘The Core’ as old, silver haired ladies still laughing our heads off together and drinking tea. 
I have been changed ‘for good’. 
Love you Rogers,
Your Girl Skidderz xxx

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Number Thirty Three: The Fabulous Normal

I’ve always been a ‘get carried away’, ‘bit too excited for my own good’ ‘feet first-think later’ kind of a girl. But something I can tell you for sure is that there is nothing like a half a year of feeling poorly, waiting to get better and back to feeling yourself to get you inspired for ‘normal life’. To me the prospect of normal life is a fabulous and tantalising thing- for normal do not read mundane read fabulous!
I am officially ridiculously excited about the prospect of ‘normal’! Back to healthy, back to being an active mummy, back to work, back to thinking about something other than chemotherapy symptoms. I think reaching the half way point in the tough part of the treatment has been a real mental weight lifted- I’m on the home straight! (if we put a pin in the radiotherapy, forget the herceptin for a min, oh and rudely ignore tamoxifen) In five weeks time I will be recovering from the final chemo, time always goes so fast so this is amazing news.
I am currently being inspired by everything- I see people exercising and think- that’ll be me! (It won’t… I’ve always loathed exercise- I’ve had breast cancer not a personality transplant!) But to see people with energy is something I’m currently jealous of so I do wonder if cancer was the shock I needed to begin living a more healthy lifestyle. I’m so so pathetically, sadly, geekily looking forward to getting back to work- this for me will really symbolise the end of this dreadful period of 2011. I’ve even been inspired by my brother-in-law! He’s a very important head of PE at a local secondary school and I went to watch his sports presentation award afternoon last week- it was brilliant! I left feeling like I not only wanted to pursue ‘From Playground to Podium’ in my own school but was wanting to take up a sport myself AND quite fancied having a re-run at secondary school (just need a time machine then!) I’d forgotten what fun being a carefree teenager had been- life’s got a bit serious of late!
I am still determined to believe that the whole cancer experience will have an overall more positive than negative affect on me and my family- the downsides are obvious but the good things that are to come out of it are becoming more apparent too. 2011 has been quite rubbish for a few people I know- this led to a dinner table discussion with ‘usband about whether or not our 2011 had been the worst. Despite everything… operations, wall punching, tears, fatigue and constipation, we agreed that we still had it pretty good. Brace yourself for the most romantic quote of the decade from the ‘usband… ‘I still can’t help thinking that we were really lucky to find each other in this world full of dicks!’ Hopeless romantic that one! Truth is we are sickenly happy together and thanks to cancer will treasure our time together rather than speeding all blasé through our lives.
The prolonged timeout of work has given me great new perspective and renewed energy for the job… it’s tough to feel enthusiastic about returning to work following maternity leave- feeling guilty about leaving a young baby but double that timeout and you’re raring to go! I think everyone would benefit from a little timeout every ten years!
The other thing that inspires me is the longer term future- those of you that know us will know that we’re not exactly planners- our life is a little more organic than that- we kind of bob along wondering what to do with this afternoon rather than where we’ll be in five years time. Not anymore! Now I’m planning holidays, house moves and skiing trips- grabbing the future and enjoying it! I feel that now is a good time to confess that yesterday I bought my three yr old an aged 5-6yrs ski jacket- impulse buy? No no no! Absolute bargainous necessity and perfectly sensible purchase! I’m so excited when I look at it and imagine my little family of four atop a snowy, silent mountain. Can NOT wait!
So, getting back to normal is my summer holiday target- on my down days I could be heard moaning that it was unfair that all I had to look forward to was ‘normal’ but now I can assure you that normal would be lovely, perfect and fabulous! In the words of Davina… ‘Normal, I’m coming to get ‘cha!’