Tag Archives: cancer

Thoughts on Chronic Illness

Daughter fall asleep waiting her mother in hospital

Recently a friend told me that she might have cancer.

Two lumps had appeared, one small, one big. The doctor immediately sent her for a biopsy. The cells were abnormal and treatment is needed.

The doctor was worried because she used to be a heavy smoker and overweight, two known risk factors.

She said the worse part was the torment of not knowing.

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Once she has a diagnosis, she can plan, but for now she has to wait, thoughts churning around about the future.

We discussed how she could manage it and even speculated as to what the result might be. I tried to reassure her, but there isn’t much I can say or do, other than telling her that I will be there for her, no matter what. She was experiencing an emotional storm of frustration, anger, sorrow and fear. She is a strong woman both mentally and physically, but nothing can prepare you for the shock of being told you have a long-term illness.

My friend is courageously dealing with an uncertain future. She said that her illness had helped her gain more focus and she will now attack her bucket list with a renewed vigour.

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In times of difficulty we need the courage to draw on our inner resources and access support networks. We may need to evaluate our perspective. In Buddhist philosophy, adversity is seen as the best teacher, a chance to learn from experience and emerge a stronger, wiser person.

So what have I learnt from the experience of my friends?

Firstly, the importance of living in the moment.

No one has a crystal ball. If we speculate about the future we only create fear and worry. This destabilises us and prevents us from being fully present to support friends in need. Everything is easier if we take a moment, slow down and just float on the river of life, wherever it takes us. Not accepting our reality is like trying to swim against the current; it wastes our energy and is futile.

Secondly, I need to be grateful.

We spend so much time focussing on what we do not have. We are constantly unhappy with the present and want more. We forget just how lucky we are. There is so much suffering in the world and, whilst we all experience peaks and troughs, somehow we escape the worst of it.

I would like you to take a moment to be grateful.

Be thankful for all the people in your life who guide and support you, your cheerleaders. Be thankful that you have mental and/or physical good health. But most of all, be thankful for the love and kindness of family and friends. Against all odds, love conquers all.

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Hunger Day

As I write this there’s a constant feeling of hunger in the background…today I haven’t eaten anything since dawn.

It all started after doing a 10K charity run for Cancer Research. I wasn’t going to do another charity event this year, after raising £187 for a Multiple Sclerosis rehab centre.

But then my friend’s dad, who has myeloma (bone marrow cancer) asked me to do a 10K. The money goes towards research he is participating in at Hammersmith Hospital in London. If you would like to help me out with a donation our link is here. 

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I asked some Muslim colleagues to help out and they said they’d sponsor me double if I did a day of Ramadan with them. Fasting has lots of health benefits, among them lowering cholesterol, levels of stress hormones in the blood and boosting brain cell production. So I thought it’s only a day, I’ll give it a go.

I’d never fasted before except two days when I was eight and travelling and got ill from the flight food. We’d gone to New Zealand on a non-stop 36-hour flight and if I wasn’t suffering from food-poisoning it was travel-sickness. We stopped in Abu Dhabi and I remember we were told not to eat anything at the airport as it was Ramadan, but I was so ill I didn’t want to. I remembered the hungry eyes of the turbaned wrinkled man sitting on the tiled bench there.

The closest I’ve come to not eating in more recent times was the 5:2 diet, which I followed for a few weeks (two days of eating 400 calories), but then I could drink as much water as I wanted. I had been inspired by Mike Mosley and lost 2kg. I was doing it to improve memory and alertness. I didn’t notice a change in either, but maybe I didn’t try it for long enough.

Ramadan is really strict. No water, no food and because it’s summer, you have to do that for 18 and a half hours.

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The only time I haven’t appreciated the sun

I thought that it started at sunrise, so I excitedly got up and finished my toast and cereal breakfast for 4.40am for sunrise at 4.41am. I was reminded of the days of midnight feasts. I thought eating that close to the time was really smooth until I went to work and was told that they stop eating two hours earlier for morning prayers. This is intense.

The hardest part was at lunch. I was acutely aware of people eating, so I spent my time checking out local takeaways planning dinner (I’d be too weak to cook and I needed to have something to look forward to). I also normally snack at 10am, so I got hunger pains then. As I have IBS I was also belching and burping quite a bit at work which was really embarrassing.

After about 1pm, the hunger feeling faded to background noise and was easier to deal with. By the end of the day I was getting quite distracted. Seeing food or hearing about it did not make me hungry, the smell did. It was like part of my brain was disassociating itself for self-protection.

I felt weak and a little like I was floating when I walked. But apart from a slight ache in the belly I was fine. I had expected to have a drier mouth.

I wouldn’t do it again unless I had a similar charity deal. I’d rather appreciate those who have less than myself by enjoying what I do have.

It’s getting harder as it gets later. I started counting down the hours at 6pm.

Now I can’t wait to break this horrendous hunger with a buy-one-get-one-free pizza deal. Veggie and fish of course so I don’t eat non-Halal meat…

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My First Blood Donation

Why don’t you start the year by saving lives regularly? Not just those of others but perhaps even your own.

January is the most popular month for donations but continuing to give blood is important.

Not only does blood improve the health of the patient, it also helps the donor – a study from Finland indicated that those aged 43 to 61 had an 88% reduced risk of heart attacks donating six months than those who didn’t. What’s more, it burns hundreds of calories.

As I previously struggled with a needle phobia I was quite anxious about my appointment. I usually saw stars and had clammy hands, so I wasn’t going alone. This is one of the biggest barriers to donation – with 58% of recipients saying this was a factor in my questionnaire.

My friend, who donates for the Interval Study every eight weeks, told me he was going and said I was welcome to join him. I’d had a few in the pub and said alright then, I’d give it a go.

In 2012 Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, talked of the need to “reduce blood use in hospitals” so that blood demand could be met in the future. We are an essential part in ensuring that people receive the life-saving treatment they need.

The Interval Study is research being carried out to see whether people can donate sooner than is currently allowed in England. In Europe people can already donate at 8 weeks. I was previously working on the phone line booking people in for these appointments. Currently 7,500 more donors are needed to participate. Here women can donate every 12 weeks if you are male and every 16 weeks if you are female. This is because women do not have the same levels of stored iron as men. From experience working on the Interval Study booking line I found that the majority of donors were retired and  research shows there has been a drop in young people donating. I think this is due to time – we lead increasingly busy lives and I am surprised that our city’s main blood centre is not open on weekends or very late in the evenings. I think the other main factor to donating is also convenience and with the number of blood vans vastly diminished many people don’t have the opportunity or time to make a special trip.

An Australian statistic on their blood service website.

Only 5% of eligible England donate, although almost all of my friends do. British hospitals use an average of 7,000 units of blood a day. I asked everyone I knew and the only reason people didn’t  were for medical reasons, except one gay friend – I noticed on the questionnaire that same sex intercourse in a period of less than 12 months was one of the “red” yes questions where they would enquire further. He told me he doesn’t mind at all as he is also quite squeamish. In the U.S donation is banned entirely for homosexuals but there is much protest and perhaps this will change in the near future, especially as researchers have pointed out that this standing is scientifically unsound.

When I called I was surprised to find that there weren’t any appointments available for a month. There had clearly been a surge in goodwill over the festive period. But I may be able to get an appointment on the day. So I rang up, expecting it to be full. I was told to book online.

This was quick and easy. I called again, half hoping it would be full now, so I’d have a valid excuse. No there was one slot free, just at the time my friend was going. Must be fate.

I grudgingly booked. Maybe something else would disqualify me. I couldn’t believe I was going through with it. I saw people lying serenely on the donor chairs but I still wanted to run a mile. Every inch of me wanted to escape but I wasn’t going to let fear win. I just wouldn’t look at the needle, it would be fine, I told myself.

I was assigned a motherly lady in a navy uniform. She was one as well, complaining about her daughter calling throughout her assessment.

Did I have this? Did I have that? Where had I been in Turkey and when and for how long? Not many questions really, she just checked the main ones and asked for a little more detail in some areas. The interview was in a closed room with a window to the donor area. I didn’t really want to see what was going to happen to me next. But maybe that helped me to face it better. She had two small bottles filled with florescent blue and green liquid. She pricked my finger with a needle, but I didn’t see the needle as it was hidden in white plastic tubing. I explained that I was trying to confront a phobia of them so she explained everything she was doing with a smile and a calming manner. She said that if my haemoglobin was at an acceptable level, my blood from the pin prick would sink. I willed it not too. It did, leaving a little red vapour trail through the green liquid.

Australian statistics again – I will try to get a picture for the English ones, which are quite similar. Thank you to blonde ambition at http://blondeambition.com.au/2012/11/19/today-i-saved-three-lives/ for this.

I had assumed local anaesthetic was given as standard and asked about that.

“Oh no”, she said,

“we only give a local if you ask for it. Would you like to request a local? It’s not problem”

I’d passed the 10 minute chat now. I didn’t want to be the only one not tough enough to do it without anaesthetic. The boys would almost certainly not ask for that. I asked her how much it would hurt “well it depends how sensitive you are” she said. That didn’t really help. I panicked but then I saw my friend Tom in one of the chairs. It was too late to run out. I’d lose face with my boyfriend too, who had come for moral support. There were no appointments but they managed to squeeze him in too.

Image URL copied from sptimes.com – cancer patient receiving blood donation

I deep breathed to prepare myself for the worst and the lady laughed. “Try to remember to do the exercises” she said and handed me a card detailing slowly clenching and unclenching the buttocks and crossing and uncrossing my legs as good ways of ensuring you didn’t faint at the end of the donation.

“It’s not that bad” she said. I wondered how much they’d take and how I’d feel afterwards. Had I drunk enough water? Would I remember to do the exercises? Maybe I should have eaten healthier, maybe my blood wasn’t healthy enough? Would it hurt all the way through? Would I feel the blood being sucked out of my veins by the vampire machine?

My friend had already finished. Well at least it wouldn’t take long.

I got quite comfy in the ergonomic chair and the lady adjusted it until I was lying back comfortably. I looked away as she rubbed my arm briskly and I tensed as I felt a sharp prick and small stab of pain in my arm for a matter of seconds and that was it. I couldn’t feel the blood leaving my body. When I looked back down there was a bit of blue plastic tubing around the needle edge so all I could see was a little bit of the metal going in before a long bit of tubing. There was just the one needle. All the same, I have Raynauds so my hands went cold with the anxiety. I told a kind technician and she held my hand in her warm ones. That made the experience more relaxing.

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I was still feeling a little on edge and was grimacing at my friend taking pictures until I saw my boyfriend appear on the chair opposite. Seeing him more nervous than me (and it was his ninth time) made me relax and was quite amusing. He drew breath sharply when it went in and then twitched about, smiling but looking a bit frenetic. Looking at me didn’t seem to calm him down either. He explained later that he was just trying to keep his blood pressure up.

I followed the tubing down to the blood bag. It was underneath a little table. I was fascinated by watching the blood run into the bag. It was so dark, and looked quite thick as it ran slowly and steadily into it. The contraption holding the bag was interesting – it was moving it about up, swinging slightly from left to right, so it looked like it was moving with the blood going into it. There were one or two technicians around and I asked them why it was moving. It was apparently a bag that weighed the donation and cut off when the bag had the required mass. I crossed and uncrossed my legs once and did the buttock exercise once. After about 15 minutes the machine beeped we were done. My boyfriend was done just before me – apparently guys give blood faster due to their physical structure.

After it they put a plaster on and then a small cotton wad for pressure and some medical tape. Two days later my boyfriend went for a 10k run (they recommend rest for 48 hours) and said although he went a little slower it was fine. They brought me upright gradually and asked me how I was. I felt a bit light-headed so I told them. They immediately put the chair back so I was lying with my feet in the air. I was kept like this for about five minutes until they lowered me and asked me if I was OK repeatedly until I was allowed to sit at the treat table (all the biscuits, chocolate and orange juice you want).

I was so triumphant I said “I wanna do platelet donation!“. There is even greater need for platelet donors as these only have a shelf life of seven days and like blood donors, there are not enough. In 2012 they made up a mere 0.03% of the English population. But the technician looked at my veins and said sympathetically “no…I think you should stick to whole donations love”.

I didn’t suffer any bruising as I avoided using my donor arm for a day or so and kept the pressure wad on for a full day. All I could see was a milimetre red dot. I had joined the 12% of donors who were doing it for the first time.

I don’t intend to stop going, although sadly statistics indicate that of those who have donated, 72% haven’t done so for two years or more. Today I went in to find out what blood type I was. You can find out after two days and it appears online. I wanted to find out my haemoglobin level was as well, but apparently they don’t take statistics for that. I had to present photo ID and then I was told I was O positive. This was a bit of a disappointment to me as O positive is the most common blood type (37% of us are this) and I could see from the National Blood Service website stats that their stocks of that were plentiful. It was the rare types they really needed, AB and suchlike. They told me O negative was really useful, as anyone (except someone who is O positive) can receive O negative blood. But the plus side of being O positive is that anyone who is O positive or even just “Rhesus positive” can receive my blood, and that’s a massive 83% of people. I got a little key-ring with it on which will surely help if I have an accident.

Of course, some people will not be eligible to give blood but if you can I think you should. Around 1 in 3 of us will need it in our lifetime. As my medic student sister said “we all expect to receive blood if we needed it, and I think if we expect it we should give it as well.”

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The Scourge of Sitting

Today at work I felt my legs buzzing after 11 hours of being sedentary. This is caused by electrical activity in the leg muscles shutting off, according to this worrying infographic.

A fellow blogger’s post gives tips on getting more exercise out of lazy habits such as watching TV.  The shocking statistics in the infographic revealed that sitting for 8 or more hours a day makes you more than 40% likely to die within 15 years compared to someone that sits less than three. There was also an alarming article on the subject in today’s Metro, which reported that earlier this year a study found sitting just four hours a day increases risk of heart disease and cancer, and this bore no relation to the amount of exercise done around this time. I always take the stairs at work but most people take the lift. I have managed to persuade some colleagues to follow me and when they struggle I remind them of the benefits. I make herbal tea instead of drinking from a bottle. It requires me to get up regularly and go to the kitchen. But I need to do more.gov worker

I want to cycle into work. I also enjoy going for a run afterwards, but research shows that exercise has no impact on the statistics, it is the reduced time sitting that will. I feel so much better after a workout. When I come home and do nothing my body is so sluggish, weak and achy. That is how I feel today, as I have done such long shifts this week that I do not have time to anything when I come home.

A picture at my favourite gym, PureGym! I will join once the weather gets worse.

A picture at my favourite gym, PureGym! I will join once the weather gets worse.

I try not to do cardio after 7, as studies have shown that exercising in the evening interferes with sleep due to the adrenaline, something I experienced lying awake with a pounding heart, 2 hours after returning from a 20 mile cycle.

For more tips on increasing activity in the workplace, check out this post.

Unfortunately the printer and floor’s lunch station are right next to my desk. Next week I’ll get the bike out…

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The Gift of Giving

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In the break between posting I have accepted two jobs which I heard about through networking, constantly posting the woes of unemployment on Facebook. My Facebook friends probably offered me jobs they knew about just to free up their newsfeed! I currently work in the Blood Service. I was surprised at the amount of people calling in to book appointments.

Ironically I have a needle phobia, like a third of young people surveyed by the NHS Blood and Transplant Service and so I have not donated. I am looking for someone to go with me and hold my hand, as last time I had a blood test I nearly fainted. Phobias are strange, you know it’s irrational, and yet when you’re in that situation the object of fear seems magnified and the irrational thoughts seem all too real. Like arachnophobia, where the spider seems bigger in your mind’s eye and you imagine it crawling on you, when that is the last thing it would do.

Anyway, back to beneficence. Some people book time off work, some travel by train and one man even booked in early on the morning of his birthday. Around the office there was a photo of a little girl and her drawing of herself when she had leukaemia. The note below said she had required 20 blood donations to recover. I want to give to help cases such as this and I am also curious to see what my blood group is.  There is a shortage of regular blood donors with only 4% of eligible donors giving blood. Just 14% of those who donate regularly are aged below 30 and there has been a 20% drop in donations from 17-24 year olds in the past 10 years. It was explained that in my parents’ generation it was seen as a duty to donate and indeed most of the donors I hear from are around 50 or 60. I think donations would increase from my generation if some places opened in the evenings and on Saturdays, as some already do.

A study is being conducted to see if people can give blood more regularly – perhaps a month sooner than they would normally be allowed to. This is already the case in some other countries and donors are monitored at each attendance. If I can face my fear and give blood maybe I will join it. You can ask about it and sign up until June if you attend a static centre as the study does not run from mobile vans and you must be 18 or over.

Have you given blood? What was it like?

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