My first charity fundraising thing

Gosh, my thighs are still aching. After months of sort of enforced inactivity, I decided it was about time I did some exercise. Not randomly: me, my mum, my sis, and three friends who I met five years ago through NCT when we had our gorgeous girls (aka Team Pinchy) are doing one of the Pink Ribbon Walks this summer to raise cash for Breast Cancer Care.

There’s less than three weeks to go now until our 10 mile walk across the Sussex Downs from Petworth House on 11 June. So on Sunday morning me and my friend S left our respective broods with their jaded daddies (her DH baggy-eyed thanks to an early start from their youngest, my DH from a boys’ boozy lunch in London that lasted 10 hours. When I raised an eyebrow to the wisdom of this plan, he actually quoted my last blog post on fun back at me. Sigh.)

Anyway, we walked four and a bit miles along the river Wey from Guildford to Godalming. It was bliss. Fresh air (at times a little too fresh), sunshine, peace, beautiful views, fabulous company, being close to nature (including the paddling horned cattle that I got all excited about because I thought they were water buffalo. Idiot. I don’t think I will live that one down for a while.) We did it in under an hour and a half, so we should easily do the 10 miles in four hours – the organisers reckon it should take somewhere between three and five hours.

And we are doing brilliantly on the fundraising so far, too. We are required to raise at least £175 each to take part in the run, so our team target was £1,050. I set up a Just Giving page to make it really easy to donate, and as of today we have already raised a fantastic £1,440 – 130% of our target. Whoop whoop, girls, well done!

I’d really like to get to £2,000 (because I like nice round numbers, and because it was the year I got married), so all donations are warmly welcomed! Just go to www.justgiving.com/teampinchy. Thank you!

I’ve never done anything like this before. I always donate to the usual big charity telethons but I’ve never had a personal connection with a cause. I chose to raise money for Breast Cancer Care because the organisation, particularly through its website, has been an invaluable source of information and support since I was diagnosed. And I’m already seriously thinking about doing the charity’s Machu Picchu climb in 2012 or 2013, for which I’ll need to raise £4,000. I’ve always wanted to visit Peru, so that will be a real life goal as well as an amazing shared experience with other women who have been on the same sort of journey as me.

But first things first: don’t try and climb hills at high altitude before you stroll along the Downs etc. Now I just have to keep up the training with plenty of brisk 20 minute strolls and maybe another long walk. This neatly dovetails with my Health Creation goals: fresh air/sunshine/exercise: what’s not to like? Far better than the stinky old gym, where I cancelled my membership last week and felt a large weight of ‘shoulds’ being lifted from my shoulders.

And even though I love food and wine waaaay too much to ‘diet’, I’ve also (whisper it)  joined Weightwatchers to try and shift that final post-baby stone (2lbs off in week one, yay)! I really don’t think it matters what eating plan you sign up to: I’m just finding that tracking everything I eat is making me much more aware of unconscious snacking and portion sizes, and the impact of alcohol on my daily calorie intake (about which: eek!).

Lots of walking will also hopefully mean I feel better in my cossie when we go on holiday at the end of June. My body confidence isn’t exactly high at the moment, what with the lopsided tits and everythin’, so every little helps (At the weekend, DD asked: ‘Mummy, which is your booby that hangs down?’ Out of the mouths of babes…).

One thing that has given me a real boost this week was being included on the Race for Life dedication of someone I haven’t even met. The very lovely Kate Husbands (aka @moomi_mama), a friend of a friend, ran it in 37 minutes (a personal best, I gather) and sent me this picture of her bib.

Now, I bet her thighs are aching more than mine…

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Fundamental starts with ‘fun’

Look at the big smile on my face! I’ve just had my first session with my new Health Creation Mentor, after starting work on the Health Creation Programme. This is such an amazing resource for anyone moving on from a health crisis, or who suspects that body, mind, and spirit are not functioning in a perfectly healthy way. I’ve mentioned how useful I’ve found the Cancer Lifeline Programme from the same organisation, Health Creation, and this is the next step.

The idea is that is during the course of six months you work through a beautiful, chunky file, packed with written information, CDs, and self-assessment exercises. Each month, you fill in a booklet and answer yes or no to 90 questions in four areas: Body (Food, Exercise, Detox), Mind (Stress, Relationships, Emotions), Spirit (Being true to yourself, Energy, Spiritual connection) and Environment (Your space, Your communities, and Natural World). You add up the scores to draw your ‘Picture of Health’ to show how you are feeling about various aspects of your total health. Then, either working alone or with the help of a monthly coaching call from a Health Creation Mentor, you set monthly goals that will move your scores gradually upwards.

This is totally up my street as:

 a) I LOVE filling in forms. (The recent census was like Christmas, frankly, such is my passion for neat box-ticking. Yes, OK, very slightly OCD, possibly).

b) As I said last time, I really respond to this coaching approach where you start from where you are now, while recognising the impact of the past, then set goals and take action to move forward in a positive direction.

c) This is exactly the right amount of structured hand-holding to help me work out what I want the next phase of my long and healthy life to look like, and to take steps to make sure cancer gets the message that it is not welcome again Chez Pinchy, thank you very much.

Anyway, my mentor for the next six months of becoming a healthy person in all ways is the very lovely Kit Hammond Stapely . The moment you hear her voice, your shoulders drop and you relax. It’s like soft caramel, honestly. Our hour on the phone flew by. We talked about what I want to achieve over the course of the programme, unhealthy patterns and habits, and looked at my Picture of Health – which is like a very spiky star rather than the desired wheel, such is the variation between areas of my life which are really good (including Relationships), and areas which at the moment have a big red sticker saying ‘Equipment failure – engineer has been called’ (ie Emotions and Energy).

So now I have some health goals, including starting a daytime yoga class, cancelling my gym membership because it makes me droop whenever I think that I ‘should’ be going to the gym, walking to school twice a week to pick DD up when DS is at nursery, playing with the small people or chilling out with them in front of the telly for half an hour after school rather than rushing round doing laundry etc, and putting stuff that makes me happy and nurtures me before non-urgent and unimportant chores.

As Kit said: ‘Loving, nurturing and supporting ourselves is fundamental. And the nice thing about that word is that it starts with FUN’. She has prescribed a FUN family water fight over the coming weekend (a heatwave is predicted!). I’m going out with girlfriends this week to have FUN, and have booked a night away in Bristol with DH next weekend (where I went to uni) so we can relive a bit of our youth, sans kiddies, and start a new habit of having FUN together.

Right, off to get some vitamin D in my head via the medium of hanging washing on the line. I may sing loudly while I do it, I warn you. It’s all about fun, people, and I want you all to tell me what you’ve got lined up this week that is just for fun. Let’s get some more joy in our lives, starting right now!

Blogging about blogging

Apparently there’s some taboo about writing a blog post about blogging. I imagine it’s the same sort of thing as when novelists started experimenting with the novel form: being self-conscious or self-referential does the opposite of breaking down barriers with your readers, so they can’t forget what they are reading and lose themselves in the written universe you have created.

Nevertheless, I want to write about why I write, in this medium. As I said last time, this was one of the things that came out of my coaching session with Amanda Alexander this week. Good life coaches have a cunning way of getting you to articulate things in a way you haven’t before, to yourself or anyone else, so there are often real Eureka moments in a coaching session. Here were mine:

1. Writing this blog is my therapy. I don’t really like therapy or counselling, whether one-to-one or in groups. I’ve always preferred more positive, action-based, forward-looking approaches such as coaching, which helps to shift your thinking from ‘where you are now’ to ‘where you want to be’ without spending too much time in the past, which can lead to amazing results, extremely quickly (I’m a trained life coach myself, though I’m not practising at the moment, so I have to declare some bias here!). Nevertheless, there is stuff to get off my chest and reflect on, and this is my mechanism for doing that. I now recognise that this blog has been a critical element of my ‘treatment path’, in terms of something that is contributing to returning me to full physical and emotional health. My gut instinct in the shocked days after diagnosis was to ‘write it out’, and it has proved extraordinarily helpful.  

2. It’s helped partly because writing is absolutely my life-blood, as my friend B astutely said this morning. I’ve always found writing comes naturally, and feel very lucky to have built a career on something I am good at and enjoy. I communicate far, far better in writing than in person or on the phone. It might not seem it, even to people who know me well, but I have never found socialising easy. I can act as if I’m comfortable and we’re having a nice chat and everyone’s smiling, but I often feel self-conscious in the presence of anyone but my immediate family and very closest friends. I worry about having nothing interesting to say, about striking the wrong note, about being misunderstood, of offending, of not being funny. And most of all, I fear being dull [shudder]. When I am writing, I have none of those concerns, partly because I can pause, think, and edit my words, but also because it feels so natural I can relax and be myself, here and in emails and even texts. The written Pinchy is more articulate, clever, funny and sparkly than the flesh and blood Pinchy, I think, so ironically feels more like the ‘real me’.

3. I’m a professional journalist and copywriter, and I can’t help but bring the discipline of crafting a coherent piece of writing to every blog post. It may sometimes look like I’ve just gone ‘blahhhh’ and emptied my head, but I have always given a great deal of thought to headlines, how to begin, how to structure the post, how to make it better, and how to conclude it. And then when I’m finished, I edit my copy. In this act of ensuring I am explaining things clearly, I am also framing some quite difficult or complex ideas to myself. Often, the blog post is the first time I’ve gone into detail about something that has happened, so writing it is actually part of me ‘processing’ my treatment and my feelings about it. As I seek to find where I can inject humour, or see the positive side to what’s happening, I am not only, hopefully, making the post more readable, but also making myself feel more cheerful and putting things into perspective for me. Blogging is a place to put down (in every sense) worrisome thoughts, to package them up, and let them go. It gives me greater clarity and understanding of what I and the people I love are going through.

4. As I’ve said a million times before, the incredibly supportive and loving response to this blog in the form of comments, tweets and Facebook posts from friends, family and complete strangers has been overwhelming, and very lovely. It’s really kept my spirits up and kept me going, and I appreciate enormously that people take the time to read and respond.

5. It’s an efficient way of keeping people updated. It also means I can say ‘I’m fine, all the latest stuff is on the blog, how are you doing?, if I’m too tired or too busy to talk through what’s been going on for the umpteenth time, or want to hear other people’s news instead of talking about sodding cancer.

All of which makes me wonder why I thought it was a good idea to stop blogging. First, I was having the mother of all bad weeks, emotionally. I didn’t make a good decision all week, frankly. Second, I was genuinely worried about turning into that woman who only writes about having breast cancer, yawn yawn. My solution to this one is to get back to the original purpose of this blog, which was to write about all aspects of motherhood as I experience it. So you can expect to see more posts about parenting stuff here from now on, some of which will be inevitably related to cancer because it’s affected us as a family in so many ways. This also feels like another way to get back on the path to ‘normal’.

Third, I became conscious that so many people have very kindly said they found this blog inspiring, that it felt like a huge responsibility at a time when I was lacking in any sort of inspiration, and my silver lining detector was experiencing a bit of a malfunction. But I had so many lovely comments about not needing to feel the need to ‘be inspiring’, and understanding that this journey was always going to be, well, hilly, so that concern has been laid to rest too. So it looks like you’re going to have to put up with me for a long while yet. Thank you all for reading, and thence assisting me on my quest to f&ck caaancer! Now, to work…

The cancer party’s over

Hello [she said, in a bit of a sheepish voice]. I’m back. Evidently. I did warn you my being ‘on a break’ from blogging might be short lived. It’s been one of those ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ weeks, where immediately after resigning my post, all I wanted to do was write.

It took a coaching session with the astonishingly good Amanda Alexander (she of Coaching Mums) for me to to articulate a) what the hell is going on in my head at the moment and b) why I should be blogging more, not less. Ergo:

a) Having got through the f%cking chemo and the f%cking surgery with what I’d like to consider a certain amount of aplomb and elan, I now find myself in an unexpected and unwelcome place: that of feeling, all of a sudden, that this isn’t fair. Not having cancer per se, since I, y’know, don’t actually have cancer anymore, and I never felt that it ‘wasn’t fair’ anyway.

It’s more of a petulance at the continuing amount of treatment required, and a growing sense that the hard work starts here. The hard work, that is, of finding new ways of being and doing in the world, of ensuring my mental, physical and spiritual health, so I get to live to 120 (the age I’ve always assumed I would be when I die). I feel knackered thinking about it, frankly.

I think a couple of things are happening here. Firstly, that a crisis or big event brings out the best in us. Whether we’re talking about a wedding or a terrorist attack (or cancer, forgot that for a blissful second!) we go through The Big Thing together. We rally round, we celebrate, we rise to the occasion, we become heroes. We surf the wave. Then, there’s the comedown.

After all the energy, love and momentum that carried us through the diagnosis and the really big elements of the treatment, we find ourselves cleaning up after the party with a mahoosive hangover. The rest of the less invasive but just-as-critical treatment feels like mopping up. ‘Real life’ (which still looks a bit surreal, to be honest) kicks in, and I’m not quite willing to face the overwhelming knowledge that that there is an awful lot riding on me getting my next move, existentially, right.

As my new Health Creation Mentor, Kit Hammond Stapely, remarked today, ‘you know that story in the Bible about footsteps in the sand, and there only being one set of footsteps because God was carrying me? Well, when I got through all my cancer treatment, it felt like God had put me down’. And even though I would label myself, if absolutely required, as spiritual rather than religious, I totally got what she means.

When I was first diagnosed, I was in a bubble of absolute acceptance and understanding that cancer was a really rather valuable gift. Some people mooted that I was in shock and in denial, but that certainly wasn’t the case. In those early weeks, back in the hinterlands of 2010, I saw with absolute clarity that this was the ‘wake up call’ of legend: the Big Event that was the catalyst for changing my life. It was quite exhilarating, in a weird kind of way.

Then the chemotherapy gradually took its toll, followed by the surgery, and I stopped feeling grateful for this incredible insight and opportunity, and just felt increasingly, well, rubbish. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been feeling flat, miserable, confused, and not sure what ‘normal’ means any more. Because we’re almost back to ‘normal’ but everything has changed. It’s like waking from a very, very bad dream, where the echo of the nightmare taints the rest of your day.

And then I started on the long-dreaded tamoxifen at the beginning of last week (a large white pill I take every night for five years) and the side effects kicked in immediately: hot flushes, day and night (the Chillow my mummy bought me helps a bit), upset tummy, and mood swings like the sort of PMT you get off a murder charge for.

My action plan to deal with this ‘Twisting My Melon, Man’ state ASAFP is:

1. Find a meditation course to help me calm my head. I’ve done this, starting tonight, and have also booked on an introduction to Mindfulness (sort of a secular offshoot of Buddhist meditation) at the Fountain Centre at the Royal Surrey County Hospital. Ever your intrepid reporter, I will file my impressions.

2. Get some perspective by revisting a coaching exercise I’ve done before with Amanda called ’80 Today’ where, you guessed it, you imagine yourself at 80 and think about the life you hope you would have had: the experiences, the travels, the working life, the family life. The idea is that this will help me understand and put in context how the defining event of cancer and its successful treatment will affect the rest of my life.

To be blunt, to help me truly grasp and appreciate the fact that my life has been saved. That I will see my beautiful, funny, clever DD and DS grow and bear similarly delicious grandchildren. That when I am having my Herceptin drip every three weeks until Christmas (first one of this post-chemo batch was last Thursday), it’s not just another wasted morning, but another step closer towards being that wise, old, doting great-grandmother at 120, sitting in her lovely home surrounded by her family and shelves of novels and awards bearing her name, drinking Pol Roger and laughing her long white hair off (or something).

3. Turn my Herceptin days from a ‘tedious morning at the hospital then rushing back to work’ day, to a ‘chilling out for a bit and then treating myself’ day. In other words, create a fantastically relaxing iPod playlist, put on the headphones, put my feet up on the La-Z-Boy chairs in the chemo suite, and after it’s over (it’ll be down to a half hour session in a couple of cycles), get some really good sushi for lunch and read a book/flick through a magazine/go for a facial/have a manicure/sleep/buy a new item of clothing.

I should add here that my wonderful, long-suffering DH, who has been suffering from an equally acute post-traumatic stress thing for the past few weeks, played a blinder this weekend: he booked a surprise eyebrow shape, facial and cut and blow dry at Aveda on Saturday morning. The grey stubble on my forehead now approximates the shape of two brows, my skin is marginally less sallow, spotty and blotchy, and my hair is short and bouncy, with a surprising amount of volume considering the bald patches are only just covered with baby fluff. I have packed Sophia (the wig) away, and am enjoying the compliments, which sound genuine rather than sympathetic.

That’ll do for starters. As for b), why I need to blog, I’ll talk about that next time. If you’ll have me.

A small hiatus

D’you know what? I’m sick to death (not literally, luckily) of cancer. I’m bored of talking about cancer and thinking about cancer. I’m fed up of having cancer, going through the treatment, having the side effects of the treatment and recovering from surgery.

I may have got through chemo and more than half of the surgery, but I’m exhausted at the thought of radiotherapy, and getting quite pissed off at the amount of time having cancer is taking out of my weeks, months and year. There is so much treatment and so many scans, hospital appointments and drugs to come, and I’m over it, girlfriend.

I want my life back, and it’s becoming perfectly clear that that simply isn’t going to be possible for a while. For the first time since being diagnosed, I am feeling quite pissed off about the whole thing. Angry, even. Resentful, definitely. This doesn’t feel good.

So I’m taking a break from blogging for a while, because I’m feeling too negative and frustrated to be, as many of you have been kind enough to suggest, inspiring. I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture, and the sunny view a long way ahead, and have stalled down a muddy track trying to find my way out of the suburbs of Cancerville. I thought I’d be feeling elated at this point on my ‘journey’, but actually I’m just knackered and stroppy about this entire sodding situation.

It will probably be a ‘Stephen Fry leaves Twitter’ sort of a break, ie five minutes, because I’ve still got loads of interesting stuff I want to tell you about, not least the Pinchy family’s adventures in going dairy-free. I’ve already missed the boat on lovely, happy, family things like Easter (multiple, very quick egg hunts in tropical heat! A maxi dress instead of choccy!) and the Royal Wedding (the marvellousness of watching a princess being made with DD, and waaay too much champagne), and I don’t just want to be that woman who writes about cancer.

What DH thinks the Pinchymobile should look like...

Also, I know there’s nothing more boring than someone whingeing and wittering on about their problems, and health problems are the dullest of all (don’t get me started on hot flushes), so I’m ducking out until I’ve perked up a bit and got the old Pinchymobile revved up again.

 Au revoir, my trusty travelling companions. I’ll be back as soon as I can get out of this ditch. Shouldn’t take long.