Something to Remember

There’s a saying that “It’s the moments, not the milestones, that matter.”

21 is a significant milestone and I think it’s still worthy of a whole bouquet of memorable moments, even if it’s no longer the age of coming of age. So when we set off for our trip to London me and my son had simple aims – generate many enjoyable and memorable moments, celebrate his 21st birthday before, during and after the day itself, and create something special we’d remember for the rest of our lives.

I said in my previous post that regaining the time stolen away from us by cancer, depression and a bunch of other adverse events over the last few years was impossible. In terms of linear time, the kind measured in seconds and hours, that’s true. We cannot go back and rewrite the past.  Non-linear time is a different story because it’s measured in friendship, conversations, smiles, laughter and small kindnesses. Those things evade the confines of seconds and hours, they’re unbounded and run through our lives like invisible seams of gold. Humanity’s obsession with longevity measured by defined units of time can lead us to forget that our dearest memories are woven from the gossamer strands of innumerable moments, each of which is infinite and everlasting.

This week the moments meant we both forgot the stresses and strains of the past, the things we couldn’t do, can’t change, gave up or had to cancel. We forgot death came calling, ignored the various absurdities of our lives and created a sparkling sea of moments unfettered by time, tasks or the uninvited terrors of sentience. We rode the tube, walked the embankment, wandered around Soho and dined in China Town. We went to a couple of bars, ate birthday cake, people-watched and admired the landmarks. We received an unexpected upgrade on our theatre tickets so had the best seats on J’s 21st birthday… Thanks Palace Theatre 🙂 We talked about previous birthdays, growing up, options to make this an annual mini-holiday just for the two of us,  the places we’d like to visit and things we’d like to do.

We set off for London with a few simple aims – celebrate, enjoy, make memories and we did that. Our mission was fully accomplished in one tiny, profound moment as we walked back to our hotel along the Charing Cross Road.  “You know Mom” he said, “I’m enjoying our time so much I don’t want it to end. I wish this could last forever…”  We smiled at each other both knowing that it will.

Find what you love

And let it kill you….

This is a Charles Bukowski quote. I like it because it makes sense. Why would any of us want to be killed by something we don’t like?

I tried cancer or rather it tried me, I didn’t welcome it into my life. To date a combination of trusting instincts, taking action quickly and an oncoplastic surgeon and oncologist who both adopt a ‘take no prisoners’ approach helped ensure it had limited chances to move elsewhere. Places where it might later take the opportunity to curtail my life.

Though the treatments have been best in class I am not complacent. Suspicion is an inevitable trait when you inhabit a body that’s let you down. Striking a balance between healthy concern and paranoia is key. Anomalies, functional changes and aches and pains make me suspicious even though I know some of them predate cancer. There’s no way of knowing when the first cell went haywire and research suggests it takes 5 years for a tumour to become palpable. 5 years is quite a long time for unchecked cellular chaos to prevail.

Many cancer patients live with ongoing suspicion and significant worries about what the future might hold. I’m happy with healthy suspicion because deep down none of us really knows what lies ahead. Whether we’ve been touched by cancer or not, life is unpredictable and we could just as easily be killed in traffic accidents or freak storms. Finding something we love and letting that kill us sounds an altogether better option and even if it happens to be cancer in the end, time spent on the things we love is the most beautiful, exhilarating and fulfilling time available to any of us.

Making space for the things we love is almost like starting life anew, with a few more wrinkles and white hairs than the first time around in my case! This year for the first time in far too many years I’ve given time to the things I love, not just the things I’m obliged to do. There’s a sketch book full of drawings and paintings that I have no doubt at all will outlive me. Maybe one day they’ll be treasured by some future grandchildren 🙂 Creating something from pencil or paint and paper offers an opportunity to escape from everyday tasks into somewhere tranquil and serene. Isn’t that the way heaven is meant to be? If so then death through art sounds much more appealing than cancer!

Idle doodlings :-)

Art is my recharge mechanism especially during the long winter months when it’s too wet, cold or dark to get into the garden. When the seasons change being outside with nature is another love that seems altogether more appealing than some of the things that eat up my time.

Although we’re barely into Spring, there’s an old fashioned cottage garden that’s worth every ounce of effort that’s gone into it, a townhouse garden that seems to have relished all the thought underpinning its creation and a new season of vegetables, herbs and fruit beginning to sprout – peas, beans, tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions, chives, garlic, parsley, strawberries, loganberries, apples, green gages, rhubarb and plums to name a few. Buying organic produce is expensive, growing it is a worthwhile labour of love even if it is responsible for some of the suspicious aches and pains.

image

I have many other loves. The people who are dear to me, my darling cats who remained faithful even when I kept them away during chemo, music, travel, cooking, photography and walking.  From time to time I can even throw decorating, renovating and repairing things into the mix.

At least I know I’ll never die of boredom and I’m hopeful I won’t die of cancer though that one isn’t a given. With luck I’ll simply slip away under the cherry tree one sunny afternoon having completed my best sketch ever at an age where I can happily be called ancient and extraordinarily eccentric 🙂

Until then I’m going to do the things I love and encourage you all to do likewise.

Some time off in London

I was away last week hence my absence from FEC-THis.  Although the FEC-T part of my treatment is over the H is still ongoing and boy is it proving to be a challenge.  There are days when I contemplate cutting off my own hands and legs just to stop them being so painful.  Fortunately common sense gets the better of me and sore as they are, my hands and legs are still useful appendages.  It’s possible the inflammation flared up again not only due to herceptin but also because I walked a lot last week and climbed numerous stairs while enjoying some time in London.

J and I went to see Muse at the Emirates Stadium.  It’s the home of Arsenal FC, a team one of my best friends supports. J said the Emirates was “too posh” to be a football stadium… personally I think all football stadiums should be like Arsenal’s 🙂  Muse were excellent, they played a selection of new songs as well as some of their older material and the show included amazing lighting, chimneys that emitted flames in time with the music for certain songs (locals have been reported as thinking the stadium was on fire!) and a floating light bulb with a trapeze artist drifting above the stage.  As I haven’t been to any events for almost two years being in such a big crowd was a little daunting at first but I soon adjusted to the environment, singing and dancing along with everyone else.  As part of J’s birthday present it turned out to be a good choice of gift because he enjoyed it and was singing Muse songs throughout the week.

As Monday was a Bank Holiday we took a boat trip on the Thames from Westminster Pier to Greenwich. I’ve never visited Greenwich before (how is it that I’m over 40 and haven’t had chance to do that until now…?) and really enjoyed it. I want to make a return visit to see the Maritime Museum and Observatory.  There are some photos from the boat trip below as well as a couple from the Muse concert.

After the boat trip we just had time to change into some smarter clothes before heading off to Mama Mia at the Novello Theatre.  When I asked J a few weeks ago what he’d like to do in London for his birthday he suggested seeing Mama Mia because “it’s the ultimate feel-good musical.”  He was right. Whether you like Abba songs or not the way they’re put together in Mama Mia along with the comedy in the storyline just makes you smile, laugh and sing…. then sing some more.  The Novello is a small but beautifully decorated theatre and although drinks were a little on the pricey side, it was a good night out. We were both singing bits of Abba mixed with bits of Muse over the days that followed… anyone listening would think we were very odd 😉

Our final event in celebration of J’s 20th birthday was a trip to Wembley to see England play the Republic of Ireland.  Although it was a cold evening, the football was lively and there was a good atmosphere in the stadium.  Our seats were close enough to the pitch to be able to see the players quite well and even though it was just a friendly match, there’s something special about watching your home country.  The result was a 1-1 draw and to me that seemed fair.  After walking to and from Wembley and encountering numerous steps my knees and ankles were pretty unhappy… but I wasn’t going to let them ruin anything.

All in all the events celebrating J’s upcoming 20th birthday were a success and I’m so glad we had this precious time together. It’s not all over yet because I have another little event planned for him tomorrow lunchtime and I finally managed to finish decorating his birthday cake this afternoon ready for the big day on Monday.  I can’t post a photo of the cake because he might see it here and that would ruin the surprise!

Hope – why I saved this one for last.

In previous entries I’ve written about the Cardinal Virtues and Heavenly Graces.  As quick recap the cardinal virtues include justice, fortitude, prudence and temperance while the heavenly graces are faith, hope and charity.

I grew up in a largely Christian country but was never pressured to adopt any specific system of religious belief. I tend to consider the virtues and graces from a philosophical standpoint rather than a sacred one although I appreciate the variety and richness of the many spiritual connotations.  I’m not faithless or heathen, far from it, but I feel the absence of any pressure to conform to an exact religion during my formative years was beneficial to me. It facilitated some soul-searching and wide consideration of the merits of many different belief systems over time.  Growing up I tried to integrate the most positive aspects of the many faiths that accorded with the development of my own values and convictions – sometimes successfully and sometimes not.  As is the case with any process of complex integration in a constantly evolving system, some things work and some don’t.  My approach might be viewed as cheating – cherry picking across centuries of deeply sacred knowledge. I saw it as a means to be open to the best of the many different cultures that exist today as well as those long since lost to the mists of time.

In its archaic form hope is a feeling of trust. I trust that in being open to others, their values and beliefs, I might in turn open the door to shared understanding, compassion and generosity of spirit. I certainly hope that’s the case.  Hope in its more modern form can mean salvation, not in strictly religious terms but in common everyday terms such as recovery, escape and rescue.

In my case hope kept me going by insulting me from too much cynicism or despair following the cancer diagnosis.  As a simple human rife with a multitude of human failings there were times when I thought things looked very bleak. The tale of Chicken-Licken came to mind on more than one occasion and during those periods I did my best to maintain an alternate stream of thought. Something good would surely happen if I could manage to stay positive and ride out the storm.

In dealing with the tempest I sought to actively adjust my expectations regarding what something good meant for me.  I’ve now accepted I will never be physically perfect. I acknowledge that I may never be as physically able as I was pre-treatment.  I could chastise myself for these terrible shortcomings or instead I can treat them as ‘what’s so.’   By adopting them as ‘what’s so’ I rediscovered what really matters. I’m here and I don’t have to be this, that or the other.  I am and that is all I need to be.

The things I enjoy most don’t come with a big book of rules about how I look, how fast I can run or how quickly I can solve a puzzle. I don’t have to be an athlete, a genius or a super-model to live here. I do it just as I am, flawed, blemished and constituted of some non-human parts thanks to a skirmish with cancer, the kind donation of a pig and the wonders of silicon. Somewhere deep inside I always knew this but a busy life leads to clouded thoughts and confused priorities. I rediscovered the something good that matters most to me is very simple. Love, friendship and the beauty of nature.

It doesn’t matter how long I’m here because these things are all around me and I’m grateful to be well enough to enjoy them, in this moment and for however many moments are yet to come. Miracles are truly wonderful things and I would grant them readily if I could but in their absence I’m happy enough that my simple hopes can be realised.

This photo is courtesy of a very dear friend who continually inspires hope, gives much love and values the beauty of nature. She is an amazing lady who holds a special place in my heart.

This photo is courtesy of a very dear friend who continually inspires hope, gives much love and values the beauty of nature. She is an amazing lady who holds a special place in my heart.

Something beautiful

When I woke up this morning I found a visitor in the garden. I love these little creatures and find them very endearing.  I thought hedgehogs were nocturnal but it turns out they do forage during the day and this one was busily munching his way through seeds dropped by the birds.  We don’t have many wild mammals in the UK and the ones that remain tend to be small. They’re still beautiful.

Something beautiful has happened since I began blogging.

I wasn’t expecting it and I’ve been surprised, amazed and very touched.  The support, thoughts, encouragement and kindness of the blogging community has reached me from all over the world.  Connections have been forged that it would be impossible to create in any other way and I’ve received the most amazing gifts. People have written poetry, added heart-warming comments and given award nominations. It’s more than I ever expected from a blog designed to keep a small group of family and friends up to date with my continually evolving life during and after breast cancer treatment.

I want to say thank you, everyone, for all that you do.  The support I receive here is amazing and it sees me through the darkest of days… it’s true I’m usually optimistic but like everyone else I have the odd moments of doubt.  I now wake up every morning and like discovering the hedgehog in the garden, I find there’s something beautiful awaiting me.  A comment, a like, a new follow.  So special and so kind.

I have very little to offer you in return except my ramblings and some photos but I want you to know I appreciate your support and am glad we’ve been able to meet each other in this virtual world. Long may we be friends because friendship is something very beautiful 🙂

Peace be with you today and all days

A post inspired by Kozo and B4Peace.

Peace, or being at peace, has not always come easily for me. As a shy child I lived in a world where only those closest to me felt ‘safe’ to be with thus much of my time was spent (happily) alone in books, with nature or drawing and painting. As a teenager the harsh realities of life threatened to overwhelm me as my conscience expanded beyond my own back yard. I saw the brilliance and brutality of our world; seeing other’s pain, being unable to make it stop, has always pained me a great deal.

Whilst some might consider it a curse, now in what I hope is the middle of my life I consider this empathic nature a blessing. It’s a gift that makes kindness of paramount importance in my thoughts and deeds and by choice, because all conscious behaviour is a choice, I practice the everyday art of small kindnesses.

Small kindnesses are just that; tiny inauspicious acts that pass by largely unnoticed. The beauty is they don’t have to be noticed; their magic is subtle, quietly slipping into the recipients heart or soul when the work of the day is done. I choose to extend small kindnesses to animals and nature too, after all we wouldn’t be able to survive here without them. Some might argue what’s the point, I believe it makes a difference and that’s what I care about. Making a positive difference.

To stimulate the taste buds here are a few recipes for small kindnesses,  everyday things I like to do to brighten and lighten other’s days. They bring peace to my heart and help create harmony for those around me.

Give way: traffic in most of our cities is horrendous and driving can prove extremely stressful. It’s frustrating to be stuck in queues, unable to exit junctions or park. But we’re all stuck in the same queue and if we carry on pigheadedly it just gets bigger and bigger. When I’m crawling along at less than 2mph and see someone who wants to pull out, park or make a turn, I give way. It takes a few seconds, it doesn’t make my journey any slower and it sets the other person on their way. Small, simple, easy. I might receive a grateful smile or look of relief and that in itself makes giving way worthwhile. If you don’t drive try giving way on the side-walk or the subway, it has benefits there too.

Yield Sign

Feed the birds: I live in a rural area where there are many small birds. Most only live for around one year. In bad weather years like 2012 bird populations can be significantly impacted. Some may think so what, how does that matter to me? It matters for many reasons including the integrity of the food chain – a food chain that ultimately leads all the way to us. Many plants rely on birds for pollination, dispersion of seeds or protection from pests. Feed the birds and we help feed ourselves. They’re also pretty and it’s great to see them bring awkward, hungry fledglings to the garden in Spring knowing that I’ve lent a hand to a new generation. Small, simple, no real effort at all.

Superb fairy wrens mark 2

 

Money fairy: a while ago I noticed certain of my friends always paid for everything – drinks, food, taxis etc if a group of us went out. Its generosity beyond measure but my friends aren’t made of money and I was brought up to pay my way.  Some of these folks are very tenacious, refusing to let me or others contribute. So I become the money fairy. The money fair is slightly sneaky but wholly well-intentioned. She makes it possible to share the cost by slipping cash into her friends coat pockets, wallets or purses then exclaims surprise if they discover some extra notes and declare  ‘Oh, I wonder how that got there?’ Another money fairy favourite is to book a venue and pay in advance so there’s no bill to pick up at the end. I love my friends very much and its important to me not to take advantage. The good money fairy aims to give, not just receive…. for want of a better term she could be called a reverse-pick-pocket!

Good manners cost nothing: Two little words, please and thank you. I say them for the tiniest things. I probably drive some of the people I know mad because I can say them ten times in two sentences and they’re not just words, I say them with meaning and sentiment. At home, in shops, the hospital or out on the street I’ll be there relentlessly saying please and thank you for anything and everything I request or am grateful for. You brought me a cup of tea – thank you. I’d like orange juice please. Thank you, keep the change. Will you help me understand please? Thank you for looking after me, loving me, being my friend…..

Gratitude Journal

Give it away:

I regularly give things away to charity and I encourage my family to do likewise. Anything that hasn’t been worn for 12 months is unlikely to get worn again. We don’t need a clothing bank at home but other people need clothing, shoes, spectacles, toys. These can all be given away, found new homes instead of being hoarded in the garage or thrown away. We all end up with things we no longer need, like or fit into so why not give them away. There were times, years ago, when I went without in order to feed and clothe my own son. I don’t want others to have to live like that when I now have a simple means to help them. I can’t help the whole world but helping one other family in need is better than helping none at all.

Without money

Without money (Photo credit: Toban B.)

So that’s it, a little of my recipe for peace and contentment. The art of small kindnesses costs nothing much at all, it can be practiced everyday and I hope it helps makes our world a slightly better place. I suspect it does, it certainly can’t do any harm!

Today’s theme is charity, third of the heavenly graces

An aristocratic lady coming out from temple an...

An aristocratic lady coming out from temple and giving alms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charity: Noun.

  • The voluntary giving of help to those in need.
  • Kindness and tolerance in judging others.
  • Archaic: love of humankind

These reflections (two previous posts can be found here and here) began on Christmas day, my first Christmas undergoing cancer treatment.

When we think about charity we often think of the first definition – voluntary giving of help to those in need.  Charity organisations certainly aim to do this and many do extraordinarily good work.  I’m especially drawn to those who focus upon research, such as Breakthough Breast Cancer.

I believe the solution to the problem called find a cure for cancer lies in more research effort, more accurate tests to detect risks and improved treatments to prevent the proliferation of rogue cells.  By stopping the disease from taking hold, we would in time see an end to harsh regimes like chemo and radiotherapy.  I believe such research may also pay dividends when understanding and tackling other forms of critical and chronic disease. Today remission is the best status most cancer patients and Doctors can hope for and whilst that’s better than nothing, frankly it’s not good enough.

As with everything in life, it also pays to be a little cautious.  Charity donations such as the ribbon campaigns (for all critical and chronic illnesses) have, in some senses, become bandwagons. Take care with your £’s, $’s, ¥’s, €’s; ensure your hard-earned cash makes its way to the charity of your choice not the coffers of a commercial enterprise.  Charity cards are one of the worst examples I can think of; often less than 10% of the purchase price is donated to the charity concerned.  The same is frequently true of fashion items, accessories and jewellery.  Caveat emptor – buyer beware.

The second definition of charity, kindness and tolerance in judging others also struck a chord for me. Almost all cancers are disfiguring in some way or another; where possible surgery is used as the main weapon to ‘cure’ this insidious disease.  As anyone who has had an operation knows, surgery leaves scars.  With luck and over time the scars begin to fade but our bodies are never quite the same again.  For some people this is of little concern; they’re relieved to have a dysfunctional body part removed and see their scars as signs of conviction; a battle fought and won.  For others even when the physical scars fade the emotional and psychological wounds remain raw and painful.  We all react differently, we all have different coping mechanisms and we all have different views on body image and attractiveness.

Kindness and tolerance are essential in helping people come through their diagnosis, treatments and life beyond cancer. I don’t like to highlight this rather sorry state of affairs but self-confidence and self-worth are crucial when living in a world that has become very dog-eat-dog.  The media continue to be guilty of creating false idols; images of perfect people with bodies most of us can never aspire to when 100% fit and healthy (because they’re air-brushed, photo-shopped and in essence FUBAR). Charity, the third heavenly grace, suggests we need to be more honest.  Perfect people don’t exist in the real world; people with scars whether physical, emotional or psychological are the real world.  I urge that they should not be forsaken, made to feel less worthy, less attractive or less confident because kindness and tolerance are reserved for the few, not the many.

The archaic definition of charity, love of humankind, is my personal favourite.

This Christmas I’ve been inundated by the love of humankind and I feel very humbled.  Gifts of shawls, scarves, beautiful toiletries, candles, gloves, books, chocolate, jewellery, trinkets, food, flowers, music, love and friendship have been bestowed upon me by so many generous and wonderful people. The material gifts are beautiful, all will be cherished; but the most cherished gifts are those of love and friendship. They are priceless and irreplaceable.

I hope to extend the archaic meaning of charity, paying it forward through my love of humankind to those who are dear to me throughout the year ahead. I extend this meaning to the natural world too, the non-human animals of our planet are worthy of my love,  kindness and tolerance as are the lakes and mountains, forests and glades.  I’m not sure if heaven exists; if it does I may not qualify for entry because I’m not a perfect person. I cuss, I get frustrated and I could be more tolerant from time to time.  Even if there’s nothing beyond this life I’ll continue to practice the heavenly grace of charity. I was taught practice makes perfect; I still have time to strive for improvement as do many of the rest of our humankind.