Thursday, 12 May 2016

An unusual birthday

This week I celebrated my birthday. Now, my usual 'modus operandi' is to engage in as many social occasions as possible and extend my birthday for as long as it is seemly/practical to do so. I love everything about the day* from the birthday cards and presents through to the Facebook greetings.

*week and a half if I can get away with it

This birthday was, as you would expect, a little unusual. I was away for a start. This gave me the sensation of doing things differently to usual; the weather was lovely and we enjoyed a couple of nights away. There was little time for reflection and lots of time for hotel breakfasts, seaside walks and lots of laughs.

But there was also the awareness that this, according to expert medical opinion, would be my last birthday. It's hard to imagine this as generally I feel pretty well (apart from an irritating cold over the last few days). I'm still suffering from forgetfulness, seizures (although these are under control with medication), mental impairment and my confidence in a Samson-stylee seems to have been lost with my hair. *HAIR UPDATE* Quite frankly it looks hideous. It's an inch and a half long, you can see my scalp through it and it curls up into mousey brown frizz if I am in contact with any type of moisture. Plus my cheeks are in overdrive to compensate.

However, I genuinely feel like I'm going to make it to my next birthday. If I don't then that's OK. I've been blessed beyond belief. But many of my fellow cancer chums are still in the game, so as long as I keep opening my eyes each morning, then that's got to be a good thing.


Embrace the wrinkles, others would be delighted to have them

Friday, 6 May 2016

Support Groups

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is more often than not (personally speaking) a complete bolt out of the blue and can trigger a strong emotional response. Some people experience shock, anger, and disbelief. Others may feel intense sadness, fear, and a sense of loss. Even the most supportive family members and friends cannot understand exactly how it feels to have cancer. This can lead to loneliness and isolation.
Support groups allow people to talk about their experiences with others who are living with cancer or who have come out of the other side after finishing treatment for cancer. Group members can share feelings and experiences that may seem too strange or too difficult to share with family and friends. And the group dynamics often create a sense of belonging that helps each person feel more understood and less alone.
Support group members may also discuss practical information. This may include what to expect during treatment, how to manage pain and other side effects of treatment, and how to communicate with health care providers and family members. Exchanging information and advice may provide a sense of control and reduce feelings of helplessness.
Groups may also be designed for specific audiences, including:
·         All individuals with cancer
·         People with one type of cancer, such as breast cancer or prostate cancer
·         People of a certain age group
·         People who have a specific stage of cancer
·         Caregivers, such as family members and friends

You may not be interested in joining a support group or find that support groups are not helpful for you. I did not want to join a support group when I was going through my treatment, I wanted to get my treatment over and done with and didn’t feel like I wanted to talk to people I didn’t know. For me personally, the best support was talking to people I already knew who had been through a cancer diagnosis. And of cause, my very best support came from Amanda. She was always at the end of the phone whenever I needed her and I was for her too, even if it was to just have a moan (which we did often).

It was only through meeting another lady through a mutual friend, who had also had breast cancer that I started to think about a support group. The lady in question decided to set up a breast cancer support group which is incidentally, the only one of its kind in the area that Amanda and I live. 
Breast cancer survivors bring personal experience to support groups they organize. For example, a cancer survivor can help those who are newly diagnosed know what to expect. But because many breast cancer survivors have not had support group skill training, they may not always know how to respond to difficult group situations. At the same time, even without official training, people who've had breast cancer often have enough life experience.
The meetings I now attend are once a month and I have met a wonderful group of ladies who are at all different stages since being diagnosed with breast cancer. Some ladies are a few years down the road, some are still having treatment and some only needed an operation and no follow on treatment. Sadly, some now have a secondary cancer diagnosis and some now have terminal cancer.One thing we all have in common though is that we were all diagnosed with breast cancer.
For me, this support group is now a place where I can go and we can chat about our hopes and our fears because once you’ve finished your treatment and started to make the slow recovery to your ‘new normal’, most people will find that family members and friends very rarely mention your ‘cancer time’ yet for us who’ve been through it, we still live with it every day. The group of ladies who I meet up with every month all know exactly how I feel because we’ve all been through the same experience and no matter how good friends and family are, they will never know or be able to fully understand how we feel.
The support group that I go to also has something going on every time we meet. For instance, we have had representatives from the Douglas Macmillan Hospice, we have had a doctor giving a talk on mammograms and how they determine who is recalled etc. We have also had ladies there who offer massages and therapeutic treatments so every monthly meeting is different. The one constant at every meeting is that we have tea and cakes so that's got to be worth going for...

If you’re still having treatment and don’t really want to consider joining a support group just yet, then consider these other sources of support:
·         Talk with a friend.
·         Get individual counselling
·         Ask a doctor or nurse specific questions.
·         Participate in activities that you enjoy and that allow you to connect with friends or family.

Whichever form of support you decide to choose, it will be what is right for you.

For more information on the support group available in Stoke on Trent: