Cancer - Your Story : Half A Future

cancer - your story
Picture Credit | Flickr
Editor's note: I wanted to restart the Cancer - Your Story series whilst raising funds by doing the Race For Life but it feels so intrusive asking people to write about this difficult time in their lives.  However, if you ever want a place to publish your story then please feel free to contact me.

This is Linda's story. We've been talking about her sharing her thoughts and feelings about Neil's illness for a while as we both know how cathartic, albeit difficult,  it can be to write about certain experiences.  As always with Cancer - Your Story, this is a series to show that you are not on your own but it can seem like it for such a long time during and after.

Linda is raising awareness for a trip to Africa in Neil's name.  There are more details at the bottom of the post. 

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As I waited for my hospital appointment, I could feel my stress level rising.

But it had nothing to do with my check up. Instead I was scared by a poster staring down on me. It showed a man with a cancerous mole on his back, and it looked far too much like a blemish I knew Neil had. 

I was there for something of nothing and it was soon sorted. But I knew the image on that poster would be burned on my memory. Hours later Neil was on the phone to our GP and if memory serves me right, he was sent for a consultation with a skin cancer specialist that week, possibly the very next day. 

This was 2002 and things moved quickly. Neil had cancer. It was melanoma. Crassly, we described the mole to anyone who asked as looking like a map of Africa. It was jagged and included different hues of brown and varying textures,

A few weeks later (please don't ask me how many, my memory is shot) he was in hospital having his mole removed from his back. We were assured it really wasn't much to worry about. On a scale of thickness, which these things are measured against, the mole barely registered.

Hearing Neil had cancer was devastating but we soon started to say it was "only" skin cancer. How lucky were we? All those poor families affected by this terrible disease and there we were - mole removed, job done.

Five years of check-ups always passed without cause for concern. We got on with life. We weren't being brave, or spiritual or particularly thankful even, we just thought any reason to worry had passed. We had no clue that cancer 'works' in stages. Neil was going to be okay now and that was that. We didn't research much into melanoma, our ignorance was bliss. Doctors were always upbeat and positive, it never crossed our minds that we had anything further to dwell on.

Neil was more than okay, he was an amazing partner, dad, son, brother, uncle and friend. Sometimes we fell out - mainly over money or our different approaches to spending it :) but most of the time we loved to be together, laughing, loving our girls and each other. We hurtled down slides together at cheap and cheerful UK holiday parks, spent far too much time on rollercoasters and at my mum's caravan in Wales. We went to Cannock Chase whenever we could. We were very, very happy. We talked and talked and talked, about serious stuff, politics, love, literature, history. Neil was so knowledgeable and I respected and admired his intellect. Spending time discussing such weighty matters was so very precious to me, when my more 'natural' state was so often considered sitting on my arse in front of a soap or reality TV shocker.

After years of instability in regional journalism, Neil came to work with me at our fledgling agency. We were very proud of this, and Neil was hugely supportive. But most of all we were proud of our beautiful girls. We knew we spoiled them a little really, but they never gave us any trouble. Sometimes Neil was anxious, he would ponder decisions for such a long time, asking an endless array of seemingly impossible questions, winding me up. But most of all, he was a gentle, kind, gorgeous man whom I love with all my heart.

In June 2011 Neil said he could feel a lump under his arm. He went to the doctor and this time, things didn't seem to move so swiftly. We saw this as a cause to relax, surely if it was urgent he would be seen in within days, we figured. Perhaps it was a blocked sweat gland, maybe it was a cyst. Friends and family urged us to look on the bright side, we certainly did but I also felt Neil was doing his best to keep the severity of the situation from me. He wasn't sleeping.

I've since seen correspondence between specialists and there was no doubt this was melanoma. After various scans and weeks of Neil assuring me "it could be nothing," he was booked in to hospital at Stoke for what was called an axillary clearance operation.

The surgery would take hours and was to remove lymph nodes to prevent the spread of melanoma. Again, we were as positive as we could be - this was good that they were tackling the problem, and we were told Neil would be given results to indicate if he had anything further to worry about. So we still felt removed and distant from any real danger, this operation was pretty routine in our minds, and plenty of steps away from any major impact of a disease like cancer. Writing this now I feel like we must have been in denial. But we played it down.

Apparently, once the operation was under way, the doctors would be able to see how widespread among the lymph nodes the cancer was and to determine whether it was likely to spread further. We didn't even know what lymph glands were. I'm glad we didn't, we would have been terrified.

The way Neil explained it was that they had to look at whether the melanoma was 'trying to break out' or was dormant. I'm sure this isn't a particularly good explanation compared to what the proper medical terms would be, but this is how we both understood it. 

I think we were told the operation would last four hours but in the event, it turned out much longer. It was either six or eight hours, I can't remember which. A doctor came to speak to Neil afterwards but went on his way when he saw he was asleep. 

Another doctor came and saw him to say everything had gone well, so we were delighted. Apart from that brief exchange there wasn't anything else by way of an update and we were asked to come back in a few weeks for a fuller discussion. Neil requested a chat with a specialist nurse who spoke in general terms about sun care

He had a drain fitted to help rid his body of fluid from the operation at this point. It was due to be changed by district nurses. I remember I changed it a fair few times as well, but because my memory is so poor about this stuff now, I don't know why! I hated doing it, I was worried about letting Neil down, not being as diligent as a qualified nurse in this exacting process with plasters, bandage and gauze, but he kept promising me I was doing okay. We laughed a lot actually as I tended to his dressings, sitting in the sunshine of our conservatory.

We knew Neil had to rest but we also figured a change of scene would do him good. At the end of July we headed for New Quay, West Wales, joined by my parents in their caravan for the first week and Neil's mum and dad, in a lovely bungalow, the second. 

But at the end of the first week, Neil started to complain that he felt a little sick and that he was in pain around the site of his operation scar and drain. He thought it was a good idea to call an out of hours doctor and spoke to NHS Direct to check of this was the right thing to do. Instead, they advised we should go to Cardigan Hospital, so we did. Unfortunately the doctor there said we should head for Aberystwyth, so we went to Accident and Emergency - we were fed up - Cardigan was 20 miles to the south of New Quay and Aberystwyth, 20 miles north.

I remember there was a lady next to us in who was in a lot of pain with cancer. I heard the nurses asking her to put a number to her pain, on a scale of one to ten. They told her how surprised they were that she was still in pain, and that as far as they were concerned, they would be out like a light if they had taken that many drugs which they said could fell an elephant. Charming I thought. Little did I know how many times Neil would be asked that very same question in the space of a few short months.

Neil stayed in hospital until Wednesday. It turned out his wound was infected. We had to cut our holiday short as he was sent back to Stoke. 

Despite what we saw as an inconvenience of an infected wound, everything else seemed fine by now and as ever, we just wanted to get on with life. In August Neil returned to the golf course. He felt he had built his strength back up enough and was determined to get back out there. But he came home after barely swinging his club. He said he had put his back out straight away when he picked it up - and that he was embarrassed.

We carried on as normal, both of us working and giving minimum thought to the events of recent weeks, Neil's appointment with the doctor in Stoke had what we saw as a positive outcome - the melanoma had been contained and hadn't broken out, it was described as "borderline" - it. This was a definite cause for celebration and we shed some happy tears. Life could go back to normal.

In October, as a recovered melanoma patient, Neil was invited to take part in a study to help prevent the return of melanoma, trialling a drug . This was to be at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton, led by Dr Simon Grummet. After some typical fulsome quizzing from Neil about what it would involve, he signed up. 

Agreeing to take part in the trial meant Neil would now have to have more scans, to make sure he was fully clear of any areas affected by cancer. The sequence of events is jumbled in my mind, but what I do remember is that initial tests showed tiny marks in both his liver and lung, but they were too small to determine their cause. Not for the first time we heard an assertion that "the more you look, the more you find," and that mostly, what was found was harmless. 

An appointment was made to come back on November 30 to see if these specks had grown. If they had, this would mean they were most probably melanoma and treatment options would be explored and if nothing had changed, then it was most likely nothing. I can't be sure but I think at this point Dr Grummet advised that Neil wouldn't be able to take part in the trial as it was just about to start and his results would come too late. 

Neil was full of energy, he was jogging most days, and was invited to find out more about a local six a side football side. We were invited on a review weekend in Mid Wales which would involve lots of fresh air and walking, with a touch of climbing some hills. 

We celebrated our daughters' birthday on October 22 in Wales, but Neil was in a lot of pain. His back was really troubling him and when he said he couldn't manage to climb a hill with us but would wait in the car, we knew things were serious. 

Back home, he went to the doctor to tell them about his back pain which he was putting down to a sporting injury. The doctor agreed, prescribing pain killers. I can see us there now as the doctor advised I should buy some gel and rub it in. Neil also took paracetamol and ibuprofen in maximum quantities. He was becoming withdrawn, his pain was becoming unbearable. 

I rang for an emergency GP's appointment.

This time the doctor said she would consult pain management nurses at St Giles Hospice. Forgive me for stating the obvious but this was an alarming development. We couldn't understand why the advice had gone from 'rub in some Nurofen gel' to 'I need to speak to a hospice,' in a number of days. We went home bewildered and Neil rested. 

Two days later, managing his pain as best we could, but to no visible avail, Neil was having difficulty breathing. I again rang for an emergency appointment. This time we were sent to the Emergency Assessment Unit at New Cross Hospital as it was feared he had fluid on his lung.

We waited for six hours that day and were admitted to a ward where a man in NHS-issue pyjamas was fond of yelling out at regular intervals to let everyone know his "cock was on fire." 

"Oh he doesn't look good at all," a retired builder in the bed opposite announced to nobody in particular  after taking a look at Neil. He was right, Neil was grey.

I remember the doctor asking why we were there and I explained, as Neil could hardly speak, that he was in so much pain and that it was feared he had fluid on his lung. When the doctor promised Neil he wouldn't be in pain by this time 24 hours later, we both cried tears of relief.

He stayed in hospital for five weeks.

For three of these he was banned from moving from his bed.

He was fitted with a cumbersome metal brace that took two people to get him in or out of. We joked he looked like RoboCop.

He lost all mobility. He couldn't even shift himself around the bed in case his spine collapsed.

Neil had cancer in his back, his lung, his liver, his lung and his rib. A doctor told me and Neil's mum and dad that the cancer could not be cured. I opened my mouth and said I wanted to get married. The doctor said Neil had said the same.

Afterwards, as I rang a friend to tell them the news, I collapsed in a hospital corridor. Just like the people do on a current TV advert. There was no-one there to catch me.

A week later I sat with Neil when he was told he had three months to live if he didn't respond to treatment – and "don't expect to respond to treatment." 

Radiotherapy started straight away. We had to wait and see what would happen, whether he would survive long enough to undergo chemo as well, but it was made plain this would be what was known as 'palliative chemo' to help lessen Neil's suffering as opposed to having any major effect on how long he could stay with us.

We focused on wanting to organise a wedding, but at this stage, we weren't allowed to plan where it might be. Because of uncertainty over how long Neil would live, we were warned we may have to marry over his hospital bed.

We worried ourselves sick about what to say to our girls. Neil wanted to be there to give them a cuddle. 

Things from here are a blur. I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as my brain struggles to make sense of the flashbacks and images of our time before Neil died in May 2012. I have a rage inside like I didn’t know possible. I’ve had six pages of apology from our local hospital and have spoken to the doctor who overlooked Neil’s cancer to prescribe Nurofen gel. He has apologised and said he will remember now how quickly melanoma can spread.

Neil and Linda and their daughters
We had an amazing wedding day. By this time Neil had battled his way back to walking, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the church. When he first got to his feet from his hospital bed, tears streamed down both our faces as every doctor and nurse on duty stood and applauded him.

Today I am still crying. But I am getting up every day and telling myself to be positive. Neil could not have made it clearer that he wanted us to carry on and not let losing him turn us into what he called “victims.”

That’s why we are heading to Africa in a few days’ time in his memory. We are helping children orphaned by Aids and HIV. You can read all about why and what help I would love on my blog

Thanks so much for reading.

The Fresh Prince And New Heir


Fresh Prince and New Heir


Now this is a story all about how
The monarchy got turned upside down
And I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there
I'll tell you how a newborn became a Prince and an Heir

In posh South London, born in bed
With Kay Burley outside, voice going through my head.
Will 'n' Kate expectin', acting all cool
While Harry was paddlin' in the birthing pool

Kate called for a midwife and when she came near
She said, "Have I smudged my make-up? Fetch me a mirror!
I gotta look my best, this moment is rare.
I'm about to give birth to a Prince and an Heir!"

The announcement came and just like a flood
Onlookers made crazy in the neighbourhood.
Town cryers and reporters with nowt else to say
Repeated the announcement about a Prince and an Heir

The world has gone mental, as it always does
No name has been announced, maybe it should.
Media frenzy with all of its flair
Welcomes the Fresh Prince and our new Heir

They came out of delivery around seven or eight
The hard work had started; just being Mum Kate.
They showed him his Kingdom, he was finally here
A new family member, a Prince and an Heir



Words by Paula Maher and Nickie O'Hara to celebrate the #royalbirth

Original version by DJ Jazzy Jeff & Will Smith

The Cabinet

This picture of me was taken in 1975 in the through-front-room of our house in Freckleton.  I have a vivid memory of this picture being taken because I had just become a big sister.

For me, what leaps out from the picture is not my huge smile or my tartan trousers (they were my favourites) but the cabinet which is behind me.  

This was an integral piece of family furniture for many years.  The radio and record player sat on top, the records were stacked neatly inside the drop-leaf cupboard and the portable cassette player with microphone was stored on the bottom shelf.  This was the same cassette player that my Nana recorded "Kisses For Me" by Brotherhood of Man from the television so that she could write the lyrics out for me (as mentioned in the very first Soundtrack To My Life).

It wasn't an expensive piece of furniture or a family heirloom in the traditional sense - it was veneered; think Ikea-style furniture for the 1970s - but it was a central part of our family life.  I can't remember when the cabinet was no longer part of the furniture in the house but it was replaced by a Welsh dresser which ended up in my house after Mum died.  


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The Photo Gallery theme this week is "Into The Archives" which gave me an opportunity to have a look through some old photos that I haven't used on the blog yet.   I'm now off for a look at all the other entries to wallow in some nostalgia.

What If God Was One Of Us?

tattoo, cross and wings,During my teenage years, I openly questioned my faith and the teachings of the Catholic Church.  I found it hard to take in the three ways in which my school taught about the 'beginning of the world'.  In physics we were told about The Big Bang, in biology we were taught about evolution and in religious studies we were taught about God creating man.  It's a lot for a teenager to take in.

But, in the words of the Joan Osbourne song, what if God (or Jesus) was actually here on Earth at the moment?  You know, like in the way that Morgan Freeman appears as the hobo at the end of Bruce Almighty or Chris Ecclestone in (the aptly named) The Second Coming?  If you saw today's This Morning with AJ Miller and Mary Luck who proclaim to be Jesus and Mary Magdalene there is a certain gentleness that draws you in and makes you question that if the belief was there 2000 years ago then why can't it be here now?  Of course I think it's just another cult or chancer but there are obviously plenty of people out there who believe (or want to believe).  For me it just puts more questions out there.  

And, of course, this is the modern, digital world.  We all know what would happen as soon as the Second Coming was confirmed:

  • Followers would be counted in Twitter numbers
  • Sermons would be conducted by Google Hangout
  • The Top 10 Miracles be listed on BuzzFeed
  • Magic programmes would be commissioned on the 'Watch' channel including walking on water (um...)
  • There would be an interview with the main players on This Morning (oh, hang on...)
  • Jeremy Kyle would conduct the all important DNA results on the Holy Grail
  • The Disciples would be invited to participate in a Holy version of Big Brother
  • The Pope would be looking into an unfair dismissal case

What can you add?  How do you think The Second Coming would be different?

As as aside, I'm going straight to Hell now, aren't I?



Race For Life - The Second Chapter

After taking part in the Race For Life in Blackburn in June I was approached by Scottish Power who wanted to do the same at the Race For Life being held at Heaton Park in Manchester, in exchange for a £200 donation to my existing fund-raising pot (see the end of the post for donation details).

I'd be stupid to say "no", right?

So I negotiated an extra entry (my sister-in-law, Trish) and Team O'Hara was born.  I carried on with my training - I've been power walking a great 5K route near home with the dog and for anyone thinking about taking part in the Race For Life or just wanting to get fit, the 5K is a great distance - take it from one who is now hooked!  I also had a serious think about who I was going to "Race For Life for..." because I did it for Rachel last month and there are other family members (my father-in-law, Mick, for one) and friends that I could run for but I always come back to my own thoughts about my daughter's battle with Neuroblastoma.

I race for life for... Scottish Power High 5 Challenge


This morning I wrote my sign and blinged my High 5 Challenge glove and headed down to Heaton Park.  During the car journey down to Manchester, the first song that came on the radio was a Right Said Fred number (and it's much ruder than I remember!).  Trish and myself had a bit of a giggle to ourselves.  It's a private joke that has been ongoing since for as long as we've known each other (23 years) but it was a fabulous start to the afternoon.

Me and Amy from "And 1 More Means 5"
Me and my voice twin, Amy

My Race For Life #2 

Once we were at Heaton Park, we met up with a few other bloggers who were being supported by Scottish Power and then headed off for the warm-up and the Cancer Slam Dance.  Knowing how slow the walkers start, I thought it best to begin the event with the joggers and it wasn't a bad move.  Trish is a faster runner than me so we started together and then she moved off at her own pace).  It was a HOT day and the course was much hillier than I thought it would be so my pace was a bit slower than I'd hoped.  However, I finished in 53 minutes and I'm proud of that.


Team O'Hara 2013

Here's what Trish had to say about why she was taking part in the Race For Life:

In the past few weeks I have done three things which were a 'first' for me:My first Robbie Williams concert, my first LFC v PNE match at Deepdale and then today, my first ever Race For Life.

I tend to run for fun; I'm not a good runner, I just run at my own pace. When Nickie asked me to do the Blackburn Race For Life my work commitments meant that I couldn't so when the Manchester RFL opportunity came along I couldn't wait to join in.

I have had people close to me who have passed away because of cancer - my late father-in-law, Mick, my favourite uncle, David and my uncle Leo, to name but a few.  I could have raced today in their memory but I knew that they would be in my thoughts during the run.  I  wanted to run for the survivors, including my niece, Rachel.    But mainly, I want to get men to check their boobs.  I have a dear friend, Phil, who got the all clear from male breast cancer earlier this year.

So, yes, I ran today's race for the survivors, the fighters and those who are no longer fighting because they can't.  And I will be running more Race For Life's in the future!


Emotional

It was an absolute honour to experience the day with Trish and what she hasn't told you is that she finished in a FABULOUS 29 minutes!!!  On our way home, yet another musical treat came on the radio (see below) and it was the perfect end to an emotional day.  I have some 'team' ideas that I am going to hone before next year's races as I'm hoping to participate in the Preston and Blackburn Race For Life events next year.  My own personal challenge is to improve my time and be jogging part of it.







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YOU CAN STILL DONATE!

I have to say THANK YOU  again to everyone who as already donated.  I'm continuing to collect donations for Cancer Research UK and my Just Giving page stays open until September.  By racing with Rachel in June and with Trish today and the kindness of people in my network - both in 'real life' and 'online' - I have already broke through my initial target of £500 in donations.  I would love to be able to hit £1000 before the page closes.
 
JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Text NJOH99 and your donation amount to 70070

If you're in the UK and pay tax please do not forget to hit the Gift Aid button - it doesn't cost you any more but ensures that the charity can claim the basic rate tax on every pound donated.  Read more here.  The text is free through the Vodaphone JustTextGiving service. Read more here.  You will be given the option to select Gift Aid in a follow-up text.


Cancer Research UK Race For Life
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Scottish Power paid for Team O'Hara entries for the Heaton Park Race For Life in Manchester and provided money towards travel expenses.  They also very kindly donated £200 to Cancer Research UK as part of their blogger programme.  For more, please see my disclosure page.

Over at The High Tea Cast... I've been writing a letter to the ladies of TOWIE

high tea cast logo
I know, I know... it's a bit pathetic but I had to get it off my chest so my letter to the ladies of TOWIE has been published over on The High Tea Cast.  It might not be what you think so pop on over and have a read.  It's all about power, fame and a responsibility to others.

Teaching Healthy Budget Eating Shouldn't Be An Invitation to Patronise.

It’s not often that the BBC manages to rile me with their style of reporting.  It is one of our national institutions and has become my go-to place to find an even-handed report after hearing snippets or rumours on social media channels.  However, after the last 24 hours, I have come to the conclusion that they have been taking lessons in the Daily Mail School of Journalism, i.e. create a blatantly biased article, wait for Twitter to explode with rage, experience high volumes of hits on website, get people talking.

It’s a theory I think a lot of people will back me up on.  But...

The choice of subject matters was those that I believed Auntie Beeb would have produced a more balanced approach due to the way in which our economy currently stands.  I’ll break it down for you.

To start with we had The Great British Budget Menu.  Firstly, putting “Great British” in front of a programme name appears to be the current trend with the BBC because of the success of Great British Bake Off.  MAKE IT STOP.  NOW!  (in the words of @MonkeyMin – I’m waiting for the Great British Countdown of the Greatest British, Great British shows)

Secondly, stop paying poncy chefs their inflated appearance fees to go and patronise people who are genuinely struggling with budgets and meal planning education.  Chef Richard Corrigan was told that a 10 year old boy had given up his bedroom so that he could stay over at the family home.  He immediately dissed the size of the room, commenting how small it was and he wondered how people could live in houses this size.  Chef James Martin, who was paired up with an older gentleman, went shopping with his budget spend and said to the supermarket butcher, “I’m after something for pensioners? What about chicken legs?” at which point I almost punched the screen.  Chef Angela Harnett’s ‘fix all’ appeared to be porridge and bananas for breakfast. 
All the chefs seemed shocked by the money available for food in these families and stared at their daily budget in shock in comparison to the knowledge they already had when it comes to the actual cost of food.  They then appeared to visit supermarkets galore, attempting to purchase components to cook a healthy meal for each family or participant.  The reason I’m aghast at this (I love that word – it’s so British...) is because no travel expenses or time constraints were taken into consideration.  In all seriousness, who has time to visit more than one supermarket every single day, looking for bargain and reduced foods?  How would James Martin’s pensioner manage that for a start, never mind the family who have parents that both work and have young children to collect from school, etc.   Of course I could go into the pros and cons of bulk shopping versus fresh ingredients and/or storing items in freezers but you have the rest of the post to read... 

The only good thing that has come out of this is that there is a ‘legacy’ of budget menu recipes available on the BBC website (via the link above) along with a store cupboard essentials list that can be bought for around £20. More on that in a minute though...

The We All Pay Your Benefits programme that followed reintroduced the pairing of Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford purely so that cats bum mouths, disapproving eyerolls and comments, a la The Apprentice, could be displayed.  Tax payers were paired with benefits claimants with the intention of discourse.  I have to be honest here, I didn’t watch the whole programme but caught snippets of it.  Standout viewpoints were that people on benefits shouldn’t have pets because they aren’t part of the budget, people on benefits shouldn’t have expensive gadgets (even if they were bought during less frugal times), you are lucky if you have other family members to help you out and that cheap, tinned food is BAD BAD BAD. 

The outcome of the show appeared to be a split decision; one tax payer suggested that benefit payments should be higher (but was not willing to pay more in taxes) and another suggested that benefit payments should be less (i.e. you cut the cloth you can afford, or words to that effect).  I missed the third conclusion so please feel free to add your comments and opinions because I know I missed a fair chunk of the programme.  But, as one social media commenter (@KingOfAnkh) said, “You may never know when you might need to depend on handouts yourself.  Even the best of us need help sometimes” and another (source unknown) had said something along the lines of “we are only ever one accident or illness away from needing benefits”.  I am in huge agreement that there are benefit cheats out there and people who know how to work the system to their advantage but let’s not tar everyone with the same brush, eh?

Finally, there was a report on BBC Breakfast this morning which detailed a government-commissioned review suggesting that packed lunches should be banned in school because they are less nutritious and more expensive than a school meal prepared on the premises. 

I know of many schools who have ‘healthy lunch box policies’ in place where 'C' words are banned (cake, crisps and chocolate).  School Dinner Ladies (or should I be more PC and call them ‘Lunch Time Supervisors’?) prowl the dinner hall, inspect the food provided by parents and decide whether or not it is fit for purpose. I even have it on good authority from an ex-dinner lady that many of the cooked school meals wouldn’t be considered healthy and that the portion size isn’t enough for a growing child (her personal opinion).  A few of my fellow bloggers - Pippa from A Mothers Ramblings, Caroline from Lunch Box World and Emily from A Mummy Too - put so much effort into creating interesting and practical articles about healthy lunch box contents that even just on that level makes this report laughable.  I wonder how much money went into creating the report?
But can you see the running theme through all of these articles, reports and programmes?  I believe that the lack of basic domestic education is to blame for our ‘unhealthy’ choices.  The day we took Domestic Science off the main curriculum in schools was the beginning of the end.  Whilst watching Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead on Channel 4 earlier in the week there was a little cartoon shown that explained how cavemen were hunter-gatherers and how our bodies adapted to the way in which we used and stored food.  All this was put into context when it showed that we may be eating more and live in a world where food is available but we aren’t moving around quite so much.  Couple this with basic skills in the kitchen and understanding the science of cooking from scratch, we have a pathway to healthy/healthier lifestyles and cheaper food bills.  Cooking and baking isn’t difficult but reading recipes and understanding what goes with what and how the quantities work is a SKILL that we all should have. 

I’ve recently received a set of books called The Hungry Student.  Charlotte Pike, the author, said she didn’t want a review of them and I’m not doing that but I will recommend them as a great starting point for anyone who is under-confident in the kitchen.  They are well-worded, have a store cupboard and equipment list and the recipes are easy to follow.  My 14 year old son moves into Year 10 in September and has chosen Catering as one of his GCSE options.  The chance to get a bit of practice in beforehand using these books has made him even more enthused about cooking in general.  I’m an old fashioned type of cook – I still have my mum’s Hamlyn cook book from the 1970s and very often refer to a Delia recipe or two when I’m stuck.  I have also honed my skills through trial and error.  I’m not fantastic but I’ve also not killed anyone (yet).

Processed food, tinned food and fast food is cheap and convenient but going back to basics is enjoyable and unpatronising but what should we do?  I applaud those who have the space and passion to grow their own food but that isn’t available for everyone.   There is a legacy out there and it’s in the learning process. 

We should educate ourselves first and foremost.  We have the internet at our fingertips and there are pages and pages of help out there. Buy that store cupboard essentials list and learn what to do with it.    We should also educate our children by getting them involved in the preparation of food and the science of cooking at an early age rather than rely on the odd lesson in high school.  In ye olde worlde of my high school years, domestic science classes were once a week and even that wasn't enough.  Now they are on a term-by-term rotation with other vocational subjects such as technical drawing and metalwork.  How are the next generation supposed to get enthused by that? 

And maybe, when the BBC or the Government is considering their next article, programme or report, they should ask real people with real solutions to get involved.

Make Up Your Own Title Because I'm Too Tired...

I never thought I'd see myself on a children's ward again and I am SO frigging tired that I don't think I'll catch up on my sleep for at least another week.  But it's weird how your body copes with what is thrown at it, how it reacts and then how it shuts down.

Over the past year Jake (age 14) has had a lot of time off school due to illness.  I know he hasn't been faking it - you just know with your own child, don't you?  He has spent whole weekends hanging over the toilet, weak from repeated bouts of sickness and diarrhea.  He has been sent home from school with similar symptoms and has consistently been diagnosed with a 'virus', told to 'ride it out' and been told to take paracetamol and/or ibuprofen.  He was once treated for glandular fever and three sets of blood and stool samples have come back from testing marked 'clear'.  His attendance for the school year 2012/13 stands at 80%. 

For those that know my child (or who are lucky enough to be my 'friend' on Facebook or follow me on Twitter) will know what an active person he is, plus the fact that he has ADHD.  It's not normal for an active teenager to be almost crying with pain and be completely fed up with being ill.

We had a whole weekend of it again last weekend so, on Monday morning, I booked an appointment for the doctor's again. More so that I was keeping a record of his illness in case the school decided to investigate - and having to think like this when you have a sick child beggers belief.  Over the weekend he had been up most nights, had not been able to keep any food down, was drinking only water and looked like death warmed up.  We had an evening appointment at the doctor and it was one from the team of GPs that hadn't seen Jake previously.  She went over his notes, examined him, diagnosed acute appendicitis and sent us up to the local hospital for immediate admission.  

This was at 6.45pm.  By 1am, Jake was in the operating theatre having his appendix removed.  A junior registrar suggested a scan in the morning but a couple of hours later the senior registrar recommended that he operate immediately.  It all went a bit Holby City after that.

And that, my friends, is how fucking brilliant our NHS service is.

My boy kept me amused though.  He wanted to keep his appendix (he wasn't allowed), he wanted the surgeon to film the operation, or at least take a picture of the open wound for Facebook (they wouldn't comply - 'regulations' or something - spoilsports), he was SO laid back about it all that he shocked everyone and in recovery I asked him if he wanted anything to which he replied, "black socks, no holes".  

It was during the long hours of Monday night/Tuesday morning, when sleep wouldn't/couldn't come during that limbo period, that it hit me how serious this whole situation could be.  Of course I thought about cancer again - who wouldn't after it being part of our family history already.  I learnt that it wasn't a smooth appendectomy as the appendix was swollen, sticky, ready to rupture and had tucked itself behind the small bowel.  It also makes me wonder if any of the previous year's sicknesses have been related to this situation and if we could have done anything to fix it sooner. 

This morning I rang our GP's surgery and left a message thanking the doctor that sent us up to the hospital.  The receptionist was shocked as (apparently) they don't normally receive phone calls like that.  To me, it's basic good manners that you show your appreciation where appropriate.  That doctor could have saved my son's life  And if she hadn't sent us straight up to the hospital I dread to think what would have happened.

I also had to work today due to a catalogue of circumstances where, even though I was on emergency leave (thank you, work) there was no-one to cover my sessions.  One colleague jumped in at the 11th hour on Tuesday but couldn't help out for the rest of the week due to prior arrangements. Last night I came home for some well-needed sleep, went back up to the hospital for a couple of hours this morning and then on to work.  There were 'issues' with some of our students yesterday so I put my "I'M TAKING NO SHIT" face on and dealt with it.  I think they knew not to fuck with me.  

The most coincidental thing is this week is normally the week that we go away for our annual family holiday only this year we haven't booked anything.  We were also invited to join Royal Caribbean to have a nosy round one of their ships this weekend but I had to refuse due to the amount of time that Jake has already had off school this year.  I guess some things are just left to fate?

All in all, he's doing ok.   He's tired and sore but he's home already!!  He has a 2-4 week recovery period (HELLO even lower attendance percentage at school) which is going to KILL him but he has been warned repeatedly that he has to adhere to this.  It's a cliché but he really has been a trooper! 

This is a bit of a rambling post.  I just needed to get it all down.  I have absolutely no idea what day it is but I do know that I need some more sleep before work tomorrow.  I am WOMAN, hear me snore... zzzzzzzzzzzzzz 

On The Radio

Do you remember that scene in Annie where Daddy Warbucks heads off to a radio station to put a call out for Annie's real parents to get in touch and he reads everything on the script literally, including all the studio and speech direction?  I love that scene.

Radio microphone
Image Credit |  Riemer Palstra, Flickr
There's something about the medium of radio that fascinates me.  Probably because it fits in well with my love of writing.  Anything without a visual prompt means that you have to provide extra description or put more emphasis on words to ensure that the meaning in interpreted as intended.  It's like when reading to children and you inject feeling into the story and use different voices for each character; you are moulding the use of their imagination.

From time to time I have a huge yearning for my theatre days even though I wasn't very old when performing.  The call of the stage is strong but AmDram isn't really for me as I can't sing very well.  Plus, if I added another activity onto my list of "Things I Do In My Spare Time" I think my family might send out a missing persons report.

However... and this is The Big Thing... my recent radio training (at Preston FM) has provided me with a platform to try out old familiars with a modern spin.  During discussions with fellow community radio DJ, Will, I found that we have similar ideas.  Of course I'd love to have a music based show - that goes without saying - but how do you create a show that is 'different' to everything that's already been done so that people tune in?

Last month my recording slot was cancelled at short notice and then studio time became available at even shorter notice.  So what can you do that requires a minimum amount of planning?  

First you panic.  Then you calm down and see if anyone Will is available to assist you in an hour of madness (I almost called this post "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life" but thought it was a bit OTT) and you exhale again when he says that he is.  Then you panic again and start looking for material that can be used for community radio.  And slowly, but surely, an hour of content falls into place.

Listening back, there are definite areas for improvement but I had SO MUCH FUN recording it.  At one point we looked around the studio and noticed that we'd both been doing the same *drop page* action when we'd finished reading part of the script; the floor was covered in A4 sheets of paper with scribblings and notes.  At that moment, I knew that, with some work, this notion could be taken so much further.  Have a listen and let me know what you think.


I have ideas for spoken word radio running around my head now.  An hour is a huge amount of time to fill when you consider that most Radio 4 comedy and drama shows are only 30 minutes in length and they have a full production team and script writers in place.  Community radio puts you at the heart of your show but you're also in charge of production, content creation, ensuring that your show fits the allotted time and so much more.  But that's all part of the fun!


What sort of radio show do you enjoy listening to?  
Music?  Talk?  Comedy?  A mixture of everything?   
Do you have specific shows that you listen to regularly 
(or access online at a more convenient time)?

Let me know in the comments.