A year ago today…

It’s just popped up on my FB page that a year ago today was my last chemo session.

This was the photo I took before I set off to the hospital. Do you know, I think I quite suit a turban! After this, I still had 6 weeks of radiotherapy to get through, but that wasn’t quite so tiring or debilitating. If you would like to read more about my cancer “journey” just click on the “tag link” below labelled “Bastardcancer” That should take you to most of the posts I made during the treatment..

It was a difficult year, last year, but I can say that I am (almost) grateful I had cancer: I learned a lot about myself, I grew closer to God, I made a new friend, and I learned how valuable my other friends are – as well as how much of a rock Mr FD can be, and how much I love him. Unfortunately for him, he is still having to show rock-like qualities, as I am suffering from mood swings and depression, thanks to the hormone therapy, but he’s managing to do it.

I keep in my prayers Charlotte, Ana, Emma, Ross, Susan, G. – all people I’ve met or become closer to through my encounter with breast cancer. And of course, I remember too those who have lost their lives to this bastard disease.

This wasn’t the post I thopught I’d be writing today, but there you go!

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Alive!

I’d like to introduce you to a song…It’s being very helpful to me, at the moment.

You see, my hormone therapy medication causes panic attacks, increased anxiety and such like, which isn’t much fun. I am taking (more) medication to reduce the anxiety, but I don’t really want to be on a cycle of medication to reduce the effects of the medication, so I’m trying to find other ways to deal with the negativity and anxiety that follow me around.

I watched a BBC documentary recently, where Nadiya Hussain, of Great British Bake Off success, talked about her anxiety disorder. She sought professional help and CBT which has started to help her. My anxiety is nothing like as bad as hers, but she talked about her coping methods, what she does to keep anxiety at bay, how it makes her feel etc. Her therapist encouraged her to say “What’s the worst that can happen?”, to acknowledge the anxiety, rather than to block it out…I’ve not explained it well, I’m afraid, but if you search online, or go to the BBC catch up, you could find the documentary.

At the moment though, I have a song which I listen to which is – for me, at least – uplifting enough to shake me from the grey. Here it is: “Alive” by Big Big Train

40ACTS2019 :: 35, 36 :: I-Spy, Compassion…& Notre Dame

Firstly, I feel I need to say something about the tragedy in Paris. Not, thank goodness, a tragedy involving loss of life – although reports are that one firefighter has been seriously injured – but rather the tragedy of the fire blazing through Notre Dame last night

Suggestions are that the start of the fire might be linked to the restoration work going on – rather ironic, one can’t help feeling. I wonder what exactly : a faulty extension lead, a spark from a welder’s tool, a cigarette butt from a sneaky cigarette smoked behind a gargoyle… I ask myself if there is one workman (or many) who is thinking “Could it have been me that started it…?”

But the building is still standing – although the spire has collapsed – and Macron is pledging that it will be rebuilt. I hope that it is still structurally sound, and that at least some of the many treasures within have been saved. It looks as though the stained glass windows have mostly survived – the Rose window seemed to be still intact when shown on the news.

It is a tragedy, yes, but it could have been so much worse…

ACT 35: I-SPY

PROMPT: By now you’ve probably caught on – a startling amount of living generously is simply noticing people. We often only realise people are lonely when they actually tell us. But there are plenty of lonely people who never say a word. Today, put those people-watching skills to good use.

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Green: Watch for lonely people this week. At church, look for those at the sidelines. At work, look for those who eat lunch alone.

Amber: Make a point of connecting with someone you know, but have avoided spending time with because they’re a bit socially awkward.

Red: Strike up a chat with someone you don’t know – at the bus stop or café maybe – who looks a little sad.

When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’” (Luke 13:12 NIV)

 

For reasons I don’t need to go into 40 Acts was off the table yesterday. And possibly today too… I’m not sure how engaged I’m going to be able to be this last week, due to personal circumstances.

But I will try and bear it in mind for future reference AND I’m not excusing myself from acts of generosity, however small. (I did the washing up at work – over 20 cups & mugs needed washing!!)  It’s just that I might not be able to manage the big ones that 40 Acts is ramping up to.

 

ACT 36: COMPASSION

PROMPT: The word ‘compassion’ simply means coming alongside suffering – co-suffering with someone. That can sound a bit daunting, but when you think about it, what a gift to be able to offer someone your presence and the feeling that you’re with them.

REFLECTION: Link here

ACTS: Think of areas where you’ve suffered in the past, and find a way to share time with someone who’s suffering similarly today.

When I first opened this act on my email, I’m sure there were 3 options of Acts…Now there’s only one. How bizarre.

I suppose this is another time I use my “wiggle room” card, the one that says “I’ve already done this” or “I’m doing this”. We’re already supporting someone through the loss of her husband. Due to her dependency problems, it’s a bit of a hard slog, and there are times when, quite frankly, I could do without it. But there you go.

But there is also the Challenge (that I was sure was there earlier!) which is to commit to pray for those who are suffering – my boss has just lost her mother, my friend has lost her husband, other friends going through cancer treatment…I will continue to hold these people, and others, in the living, loving light that is God.

 

 

The original text…

As you might know, I was asked to write a reflection for 40 Acts. I was asked to write about 300-400 words, but as you may also know I am nothing if not a bit wordy at times! So I had to be careful what I wrote! Finally, I decided to write what I wanted to say, and then to pare it down to the correct length. This is the original text:

FROM YOUR SEAT

In November 2017 I was lucky enough to go to a Vocational Discernment weekend in Budapest – the aim of which was to try to discern where God was leading us. It was led by Revd Canon Mark Oakley, who took us through some amazing poetry, and talked about what can help us hear the voice of God. I came away, sure that God was about to call me to face something big – was he going to call me to ordination? Was I going to be asked to take a larger role in my home church? Was it a new job?

At the beginning of December, I discovered what it was God was going to ask me to face: I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I want to state now that I am only able to talk about my cancer, my reactions, my experience. If you are dealing with cancer, or any other disease, your reactions, your emotions may well be very different. And that is OK. We are all deal with things in different ways and I have no right to tell you how you should be feeling.

From the very beginning I decided that I was never going to ask “Why me?” One could just as easily ask “Why not me?” One in eight women suffer from breast cancer – the odds are high. And cancer is, in some bizarre way, natural: it is caused when cells mutate. Mutations happen in nature; that’s how things evolve. If I believe that God created nature in all its wonder and intricacy, then, in some way, my cancer was a part of that creation. Lord knows, I don’t understand it, but I have to trust that fact. That was how I was determined to view this.

I have followed 40 Acts for about three years now and blogged about my failures and my little successes. By the time Lent rolled around in 2018 – very soon after Christmas, it seemed! – I had already had my lumpectomy and had recovered enough for chemotherapy to begin. “Why should I get involved in 40 Acts this year? “I thought. “I’ve just got to be kind to myself. I’m ill…” The first sentences in the first act reminded me why: in the most extraordinary act of generosity the world will ever know, God offered His son, Jesus, as a gift to all. We need only say thank you. 

God is good. God is loving. I believed that before my cancer diagnosis. I believed it no less after it. But how could I repay that generosity to others in my situation – going back and forth to hospital, spending a week in bed and two weeks feeling fairly lousy again before the chemo appointment rolled round?

In a beautiful coincidence, God had given me the verse from Isaiah 41:13: I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says “Do not fear. I will help you” This verse was – and still is – my touchstone. He used this verse throughout my treatment to remind me that he is always there, to hold my hand when I reach for him. And to help me be generous. I learned that being generous can sometimes mean not beating yourself up if you have missed an act: asking God to remind you of the challenge another day is fine – and I can assure you, he won’t forget! Being generous can mean holding others before God, even through your own pain, and being thankful for modern medicine and hospital staff. Being generous can mean placing a hand written, encouraging note in the hospital waiting room for someone to find, or passing on a bar of chocolate to the nurse who comes to change your dressings. Being generous can just mean not focussing on yourself completely and trying to ease others – even if it was only not complaining to the district nurses who found it unbelievably difficult to get any blood out of my veins for the weekly blood test!

Even from your chair, or bed, God will help you to be generous; if nothing else, holding others in prayer when you yourself feel like shit is one of the most generous gifts you can give. And he will honour that.

Walking “progress”

Hey ho. I started March all full of enthusiasm, and completed a couple of 3.2 km days, courtesy of Lesley

Then on Wednesday my back decided to play a few mean tricks on me, and I ended up being able to hobble from one place to another.

Never mind…I  am becoming less hopeful of completing 600 km by the end of October, but I will continue to increase my walking. I won’t say that I won’t complete it, but I’m doubtful that I will!

Back-wise, it’s still painful, but the strong painkillers help to make it bearable. The pain now is mostly focussed in one place, rather than the dull ache of before, and this is something that I’m used to. I’ve got the TENS machine going which helps as well.

Now…back to that sermon!

An emotional week

It’s been an emotional week this week, and it looks set to continue…

Last Saturday, as I told you, was Michel’s funeral.

On Sunday, driving to church I came across a dead cat in the road. I couldn’t leave it just to get squished by passing traffic – if it had been our cat, I would have liked someone to move it. So I stopped the car (well, actually drove past, continued for about 500m and decided I couldn’t leave it there so I turned round…) and moved him/her to the side of the road. S/he had obviously been hit full on, and had died instantly, but it was still a sad thing. The body was already a little stiff as I picked it up. As I drove on, the emotions of the past few days caught up with me, and I bawled my eyes out – not necessarily the best thing to do on the motorway! When I reached church, someone asked me if I was OK, and I just started crying again!

In the afternoon, I popped across the road to see Monique – it wasn’t for long, but she and I had another weep together.

On Tuesday I had an MRI scan and a scintigraph, to see if we could get to the bottom of my rib/breast pain. The MRI was clear, and the scintigraph showed broken ribs. Which was a relief! It just means I have to wait for it to heal. The scintigraph involved being injected with some sort of radioactive product, waiting for a couple of hours and then going into a huge scanner thing. I spent my two hours going round Noz…(of course!) Then I had a three hour wait before the MRI scan – I took my book and went to MacDonalds for a coffee. I sat there for a good two hours, picking up my empty-save-for-some-milk-froth cup everytime a member of staff walked by – just looking as though I hadn’t quite finished yet! Waiting for tests – and their results – can be exhausting! The MRI scan was uncomfortable and noisy, but not as scary as I had anticipated.

Yesterday evening, Monique asked Mr FD if he would scan and print out some photos of Michel. I think she wants to send them to people. One is a lovely picture of him, that she has in a frame on her table. She’d asked MrFD if she could have it back ASAP, so I took it across to her. I then sat with her for about an hour – talking about “Poulou” and about believing in God, and how she wanted a sign that God was there…So difficult to know what to say in English, never mind in French! We laughed a little, smiled a little, wept a lot. She told me some shocking things I can’t share in the public domain, and we cried some more about how unfair life seems to be… She was glad to have the photo back, so she could look at it while she had her meals…

And now we are looking towards our Rector and his wife leaving. Tonight there’s a get-together in Clermont. Mr FD is coming with me, which I’m glad about. On Sunday there’s a goodbye lunch, and then next Sunday will be their last day.  The two of them and their dog will be leaving to drive to Rome straight after the service (to which the dog is coming!) It will be an emotional time. We are looking forward to the coming months, and discovering how we can pull together as a Church, and what the laity can do, but it is sad to be losing Rob and Caireen who have done so much for Christ Church. They will be sorely missed.

 

My ears feel a little flattened at the moment!

Changing attitudes…

It struck me, as I sat waiting for my mammogram results, how events can change attitudes. I know this is really quite obvious, when you think about it, and I suppose I knew it on an intellectual level, but I hadn’t really thought about it before.

Before November 2017, I had no problems going for my bienniel* mammograms. Being tall enough to reach the plates without standing on tippy-toes, and being (cough) large on top, I found them uncomfortable, but not painful. Waiting for the results was just a formality.

On Wednesday, I had a mammogram & ultra sound; the first since the tumour was discovered (and removed!) And my attitude was so different! Before I hadn’t considered that they might actually find anything wrong; even when the doctor said that there was something “odd” and I needed to go back for an ultrasound (sorry, they couldn’t fit me in that day, but in a fortnight would be fine!) I scarcely imagined that it might be cancer. This time, I was worried before the mammogram, I was worried during, and I was worried after! It wasn’t until – immediately after the ultrasound – the doctor said “It’s fine. It’s all clear” that I was able to relax. And even have a bit of a weep!

I can’t go back now to that carefree attitude. Every mammogram is going to be the same: holding my breath until I get the all clear. But it’s so important. Don’t hold back. If you are offered a breast check then take it! Having mine caught the cancer early enough to stop it in its tracks.

Now I need to go and have a frottis!!

* I had to look this word up. I got bi-annual (twice a year) mixed up with bienniel (once every two years)