Musings – On her last day of secondary school

My daughter Emma had her last three classes of secondary school last Friday – double History and English – her two favourite subjects. We also had her last award ceremony in school last week and she received the 6th year English award. It’s well deserved and it goes without saying that we are really proud of her.

As she got out of the car this morning I got a flash back to the little girl in her navy and green tracksuit on her very first day of primary school in September 2001. She was fiercely independent and remains so to this day.

Emma 1 Emma 2

After my cancer diagnosis I always hoped that I would get to be around to see her through primary school and it’s an understatement to say that it’s a dream come through for me to still be here on her last day of secondary school. These are little things in the grand scheme of worldly things but in the world and the life of a family they are major milestones.

I am grateful today that we have seen her through her teenage years and that she has come out the other side as a bright, brave, intelligent, gifted and very generous young woman. I am thrilled to be able to be here to catch a glimpse of the wonderful woman I know she will be.

Getting to see your children grow and mature is something that perhaps we take for granted. I know I did when I had Emma and Cathal. I just assumed I would be here for school, college, relationships, first loves, breakups, weddings and grandchildren.

Then I was diagnosed with incurable cancer and suddenly all of those life events are no longer guaranteed. That’s harsh and devastating. It’s the one element of being diagnosed with cancer that almost broke me —– the idea that I would not get to be here as Mum to Emma and Cathal and that I would miss out on all the little and large milestones.

Today I am offering a prayer of thanks to God, a prayer of thanks for advances in medicine and treatments which have allowed me 8 years. I am also thanking God that I have always been such a stubborn person and unwilling to give in to challenges.

I am offering a prayer for Emma and all the young people who are graduating this week:

May they always have love in their lives
May they have parents and other adults who are generous with their guidance and mentoring
May they always have a place to call home
May they always have friendships to sustain and support them
May they always treasure their school years
May they always have someone to listen to them
May they always have faith (even if they fall away from it for a time as young people sometimes do)
May they never take life for granted.

XX

Chapter 26 – Setback #2

We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated – Maya Angelou

The Summer of 2009 came and Ireland was in the grips of the swine flu. Swine flu is a respiratory disease, caused by a strain of the influenza type A virus known as H1N1. The first case in Ireland was confirmed by the HSE in May 2009. Those of us living with compromised immune systems were nervous – I certainly was. There were a number of deaths from swine flu and it did eventually become a global pandemic.

So, it was against this backdrop of concern and swine flu hysteria in August 2009 that my second major setback happened.

It was the first day of our family Summer holiday on 4 August 2009 and we were making plans for a trip down the country. I had a scheduled check-up in Tallaght Hospital that morning with my kidney specialist. I left home early and got through the clinic promptly so I was back at home by lunchtime. There were no concerns with the kidney team so I was happy to be free of hospital visits for another few weeks.

About an hour after getting home I was sitting on my daughter’s bed chatting to her when I developed a sharp pain in my back on the left hand side. I didn’t think much of it at first. As I sat chatting to Emma the pain got worse and I thought I might have pulled a muscle. The pain got sharper so I quietly left Emma’s room and walked into my own bedroom. I tried to take a deep breath in but found that I was restricted and the pain felt like I was being stabbed. Cathal, my son, same into the room and I asked him to go downstairs and to tell his Dad to come up to talk to me. A few minutes later Bryan came into the room. He was immediately taken aback at my colour. I explained that I was having difficulty breathing so he called the doctor. They said to come in for 3pm but he said we couldn’t wait so the receptionist said to come immediately.

We left the kids at home in the care of a friend and we drove the short distance to the clinic. The doctor saw me immediately and she was very concerned. With all the talk of swine flu in the air, precautions had to be taken because I was in respiratory distress. She gowned up and did some tests. The pain on the pain scale was over 10 at that stage. I was struggling to get a single breath in and out and I was starting to panic. She gave me morphine for the pain but it didn’t do much for it. She also put me on oxygen which didn’t help much at all as I was really struggling to breathe. All of a sudden I threw up and then passed out momemtarily, breaking my glasses as I fell over. I came around and was really struggling for breath.

My doctor left the room and I knew it was serious as she was obviously talking to someone in the hospital and she did not want me to overhear. She came back in and announced that an ambulance was on its way.

The ambulance crew arrived all gowned up because of the risk of swine flu and I was readied on a stretcher – and also gowned up. As we left the doctor’s surgery we looked like something out of a disaster movie.

I felt that Bryan should go home to be with the kids as I did not want him hanging around the hospital until we knew what was happening.

I was terrified but everything happened so quickly and before I knew it I was in the back of the ambulance with the lights and sirens screaming through the town and up to Dublin.

My doctor had mentioned the possibility of it being a pulmonary embolism and I knew that was very bad news so in a way I was hoping I had swine flu. Bryan went home and googled Pulmonary Odema and scared himself as that meant lung and heart failure.

I knew what pulmonary embolism was. I knew that my friend’s mother had died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I immediately regretted letting Bryan go home.

Here comes the science bit about pulmonary embolism:

Pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in your lungs. In most cases, pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from the legs or, rarely, other parts of the body (deep vein thrombosis).

Pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening. About one-third of people with undiagnosed and untreated pulmonary embolism don’t survive. When the condition is diagnosed and treated promptly, however, that number drops dramatically.

The most risky time for complications or death is in the first few hours after the embolism occurs. Also, there is a high risk of another PE occurring within six weeks of the first one. This is why treatment is needed immediately and is continued for about three months

The journey up seemed to take only minutes and I was terribly panicked the whole time. The paramedic was wonderful and was doing his best to calm me down but the feeling of not being able to catch your breath has to be one of the worst in the world.

We arrived at the hospital in Tallaght and while there was an urgency about getting me seen if it was a PE, there was also a strict quarantine and isolation system in place for suspected swine flu cases. I was whisked into a special room and anyone who came into see me had to have the gowns and the masks. It felt really surreal at the time.

Tests were ordered and I was whisked to the special X-ray area and had bloods taken. They erred on the side of caution and treated me with swine flu medication immediately. Then they began the tricky business of dealing with the suspected PE. I had to have a nuclear medicine scan with dye and contrast which confirmed the diagnosis of a Pulmonary Embolism. I was put on blood-thinning injections immediately.

I was really shocked and disappointed and I knew it was most likely a direct side-effect of the Thalidomide. I had been taken off my maintenance dose of Thalidomide as I was starting to lose feeling in my fingers and toes – something called peripheral neuropathy. I should not have been taken off the daily blood thinner I was on and obviously it was the build up of Thalidomide in my system that caused it. This was never confirmed to me as the scenario and I am not blaming anyone – it was just something that fell between stools.

It was another blip on the road to recovery.

At least we had the diagnosis and the treatment plan.

Unfortunately the kids weren’t allowed into see me because of concerns about swine flu and then the possible side effects to children from my being slightly nuclear after the specialist dye and scan. I felt really awful – here we go again I thought – me and my bloody illness destroying family plans and messing up the kids’ holidays. It was at times like this that I really hated being a mom who was always ill! It was hard not to feel like a burden – even though I know that’s not what they thought…… that’s what I felt like at times.

I was allowed out on day release from the hospital after the risk from swine flu and the nuclear medicine had gone and we had a lovely time at a family fun day and at the beach.

Brenda and Cathal August 2009
On day release from hospital with Cathal at family fun day

I spent just over a week in hospital and I was put on new treatment of daily injections to thin my blood. Unfortunately this would mean a new series of hospital visits for me to the Warfarin Clinic which was frustrating as I was just getting used to being a little bit more free of hospital visits.

I was discharged on daily injections which I decided I was going to manage myself, if only to give us the freedom to go and do something by way of a family break. The nurse showed me how to do the injection into my stomach – I had to alternate and go for a different side each day so as to minimize the bruising. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing to have to do as these were full needles and not the automatic ones I had used back in 2007. But you do what you have to do for the sake of freedom.

We were able to get away for a few days as a family and we had a lovely relaxing time together. We were just happy to be together again before work and school life kicked in.

Cathal on beach 2009
Cathal at Curracloe Beach in 2009
Brenda and Cathal birthday pic 2009
me and my little man at his fifth birthday party in August 2009
Cathal's fifth birthday
A very surprised Cathal on the morning of his fifth birthday in August 2009
Cathal's fifth birthday 2009
Our attempt at baking and eating a caterpillar cake for Cathal’s fifth birthday

It was only after all the active treatment had finished that I began to realise how lucky I was to have made it though something as serious as a pulmonary embolism. I was starting to feel like a cat with nine lives and I was afraid to start counting just how many of those lives I had already used up.

Cathal and Emma 2009

Chapter 25 – A Makeover and a Birthday

We were born to be real not to be perfect – Anon

An article in a health magazine caught my eye in early 2008. I had decided to start buying this magazine as I was on an er health drive. I am sure a lot of people do similar things after cancer – start buying juicing books, juicers, organic food etc. While I didn’t go madly down that route, I was trying to be more mindful of health and building up strength. So the article in the magazine was all about life makeovers. I liked the sound of a complete life makeover so I applied. There must be something about the way I write for competitions because I won the first prize again. This is what they planned for me:

  • A meeting with a life coach to discuss where I was in my career
  • A meeting with a life therapist to discuss how I was in my life
  • A session of teeth whitening with a cosmetic dentist
  • Membership of Curves gym
  • A session of non-invasive plastic surgery treatments
  • A complete makeover to include hair and make up
  • A shopping trip with a personal shopper for clothes and shoes to the value of €500
  • A photo shoot to capture all of the above for the magazine.

Now unfortunately the entirety of the package did not go to plan. I should have had all the sessions before the makeover but the magazine personnel messed me around and kept moving and changing the dates. So the only thing that happened before the makeover and shopping day was the teeth-whitening. I was thrilled with the results as my teeth had been discoloured by the chemo and the effects of vomiting.

The makeover day itself was great fun. I had my hair done first thing in a top salon in Dublin. They were all really nice and I had a photographer following all the action. You know the absolute worst time to have you picture taken is when you are half way through a hair appointment – well that’s the sort of pic that was being taken.

Makeover 9

Then it was off to Debenhams to meet a personal shopper. We walked around the shop together and she picked loads of clothes that I knew would look horrible on me, but I went with it. We took them back to the changing room and I tried them on and they were ridiculous. So, we took another walk around and this time I picked the clothes that I knew would suit me. We took them back to the changing room and they were perfect (if I do say so myself).

I also found this amazing pair of boots and my one regret was that I didn’t opt to keep them or buy them myself.

Makeover 8
These boots were made for walking

After the shopping it was time for make-up and I was taken down to a salon near the FHQ building where they worked wonders with my skin and added layers of war paint for the photos. The photographer was around for the foundation level of make-up too – again the worst time for taking pics!

Makeover 1
Getting the war paint on

Then it was time for the photo shoot which was a little nerve-wrecking as he was asking me to pose this way and that way. I am no model but I decided to just go for it and I was really thrilled with the photos. He assured me there was no need for photo-shopping. When I saw the photos as tiny thumbnail images on the screen of his camera I was amazed at how healthy I looked. It was as though the pain, trauma and stress of the last year had all melted away from my face. When I looked at the photos side by side – taken a calendar year apart – I was stunned. How had I come back from being so ill? Even today I can’t quite believe that I pulled through.

Makeover 6S/W Ver: 85.92.70R

Makeover 6

Makeover 4
Very posed
Makeover 5
A cheeky smile

I love having these photos of the makeover as a reminder to me of how far I have come in getting back to health.

As for the rest of the sessions as part of the prize:

  • I was too scared to do anything about cosmetic treatments or botox as I have enough poison from chemo in my body
  • I went to the life career coach and I left after 10 minutes.
  • I never went to the life counsellor.
  • The curves gym session was too comedic for me and I knew I would most likely kill myself running between machines, so I went back to swimming instead.

I loved the makeover and the clothes I was able to keep. I am delighted I won such a lovely prize. I bought the magazine a few more times but it ceased publication a few months later. I also bought a juicer and a juice book and I try to be more health conscious than I was before ……but I’m not a food saint at all.

From time to time I think of those boots …….

Happy 40th Birthday to Me

2008, my year of returning to work and to my life came to an end with my 40th birthday party. We had 50/60 family and friends in the house and it was wonderful. It was much more than a 40th birthday party – I had a house full of people who were there to celebrate my life…….

When everyone had left in the early hours of the morning and the house was quiet again, I sat down with a glass of bubbly and a slice of my cake and had a toast to another 40 years. I’m probably being overly ambitious but who knows…

So please save the date for my 80th birthday party on 29 November 2048!

Brenda Birthday

Brenda cake

Chapter 24 – 2008: A Concert, A Climb and A Jamboree

I celebrate myself, and sing myself. – Walt Whitman

2008 was  a year of celebrations for me. I was back at work, managing four full days each week in my job and really enjoying feeling challenged again in a different way.

My hospital routine was well established and consisted of one visit per month for bloods and review in haematology and one visit every three months to see my kidney specialist. There were a few other checks too – one to see a GI specialist to make sure that my stomach was okay after all the treatment. I also saw a dietician from time to time to make sure I was eating properly and gaining some weight. For the first time in my adult life I was under strict instructions to eat full fat everything and lots of dairy products for my bone health. Cream buns were the order of the day from time to time.

I was managing okay with the after effects of the trauma of the treatment. I still had wobbles every now and then and flashbacks to the awfulness of the treatment. This is completely normal because cancer is like a dark black rain cloud that follows you around. …. Sometimes it rains down doom and despair and sometimes I am able to forget it for a moment or two. “I have incurable cancer” is a permanent speech bubble in my head and there’s nothing I can do about it.

My favourite time of each day is the feeling just before I wake up properly when I am half awake/asleep. Then, for a brief moment I forget I have an incurable cancer. Then my reality sets in and I curse the feckin’ myeloma hovering over me.

Because I live with a life-limiting disease I have a new sense of urgency about me. I was always on the go BC but now I find myself saying yes to things I might have hesitated about before.

After spending all of 2007 being cooped up and feeling so sick, I started 2008 with all sorts of plans.

2008 was a big year for me as I was going to be turning 40 in November and I also wanted to fins a unique way of celebrating the first anniversary of my stem cell transplant on July 9th.

What I didn’t know in January 2008 was that the celebrations were going to be even more special than I realised.

The Drumm Sessions 

In June 2008 I was listening to the radio and I heard a promotion for a competition to have Brian Kennedy play a concert in someone’s house during the month of June. I thought it would be a superb way of celebrating the first anniversary of my transplant so I entered. Here’s what happened next…

(This is a piece taken from the Brian Kennedy official website)

Review by Brenda Drumm, the competition winner of the Derek Mooney Radio Competition

For one night only – in my living room!

I listen to RTE Radio One most days in work. To be honest I don’t normally pay much attention to competitions that I hear on the radio – you can never get through in time or else it’s a sporting question which I am hopeless at. When I heard them announce on the Derek Mooney Show that you could win a private concert with Brian Kennedy, I thought it was a joke. Seriously? Brian Kennedy? They said to just email in the reason why you deserve to have Brian Kennedy play a gig at your house and you could be in with a chance. Well I thought to myself – no phone number to dial, no sport question – just an email – I would give it a go.

My reason for wanting Brian to play at our house – apart from the fact that I am a HUGE fan and a private concert with Brian would be amazing – was that I was looking for a way to celebrate the first anniversary of my life-saving stem cell transplant. On January 2nd 2007 I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, something for which there is currently no cure. I was told that the best course of treatment for me was a stem cell transplant. Here comes the science bit – a stem cell transplant in my case involved the harvesting of my own stem cells from within my bone marrow – the freezing of these cells – the administration of high dose chemotherapy to kill the cancer (and unfortunately every else in my bone marrow) and then the transplantation of my own stem cells back to me. It’s cutting edge stuff! The process is very straight forward but the effects of the high dose chemotherapy are brutal – I was sick within hours of it being given to me and I continued to get sick for five weeks. I wasn’t able to eat or drink at all. I had a lot of very unpleasant side effects and it was generally just a very tough time for me and for my family.

I really wanted to celebrate one year since my transplant and I was trying to think of something other than just dinner and drinks. I entered and really never thought I would hear anything. But just in case I did, I painted the last two fence posts in the garden that I had given up on a couple of weeks before that.

Brenda Donoghue, who works on the Mooney Show, phoned me on Monday 23rd June, the day all competition entries had to be in by. She said that they liked my email and that she would call me the next day to give me a chance to record a two minute pitch as to why I deserved Brian Kennedy. She told me that they had had a huge number of entries and she along with others on the show were making the last few calls to allow people to make their pitches. She said that they would be making their final decision the next day and announcing the winner live on air.

The show runs from 3.00pm until 4.30pm each day and I had been listening to the various stories and reasons that people were giving for wanting Brian Kennedy playing in their home – all great stories and all very worthy. There was no sign of my story being played and I really thought I was out of the running. At 26 minutes past four Brenda Donoghue ‘s voice took on a very authoritative air as she said it was time to announce the winner. She said that my email when it arrived had jumped off the page, it was a life affirming story, an amazing story. Then she said the winner is ……… Brenda Drumm.

I thought I was going to faint I got such a shock. There was uproar in the office where I work. I couldn’t believe it – Brian Kennedy was coming to our house in 24 hours time. It was SURREAL! Seriously though – BRIAN KENNEDY was coming to our house. There were tears of all kinds – shock, laughter, joy – just pure emotion. My phone went crazy with text messages and my email started to beep. How on earth were we going to manage? What time was he coming at? How on earth were we going to get organised?.

Brenda Donoghue rang and said that Brian would arrive for 8pm and play for about an hour or so. She went through the other details and she said ‘Do you think you will be able to gather enough people?’. I told her that I would have trouble keeping people away once they heard!!!

I think it really hit me on the way home in the car. Brian Kennedy who I have been a fan of for years, Brian Kennedy who I had listened to on my ipod all those nights that I was sick in hospital last year, Brian Kennedy – musician, author, national treasure – was coming to play in our house in 24 hours time!

Jeepers – the house, how on earth were we going to be ready? I had a meeting and dinner out that evening and I had to go into work the following morning as I had training so really we had very little time to do anything in the house. Brenda Donoghue was arriving to our house on the Wednesday afternoon to do a live feed into the Mooney Show that day so it wasn’t until she left at 4.00pm on the day Brian was coming to play that we actually started to get the place ready. It was chaos but chaos in a very military precise way – the table was moved from the dining room to the kitchen, chairs were borrowed from neighbours and from the back garden, windows were given a quick clean, the floors were given the once-over. Invitations went out and continued to go out up to about 6.00pm on the evening of the gig. People were amazing – food and drink arrived and continued to arrive all evening.

Brian’s soundman and Anthony Drennan the amazing guitarist arrived about 50 mins before Brian did. Pat had asked me for two stools – nothing else, just two stools and a little table. He worked away setting up the speaker and the other equipment. People were arriving all the time and there were cameras everywhere. The local papers sent a photographer and there was someone there from local radio. Brenda Donoghue arrived to record everything for the Mooney Show. I remember standing back at one point before anyone had arrived and looking at the two stools at the top of the living room and thinking how crazy the whole thing was – that within a couple of hours Brian Kennedy was going to playing from the little stage area that I had set up.

There were so many genuine Brian Kennedy fans there – it was just amazing. Brian arrived about 7.35ish and I was introduced to him. We had written a short welcome message to him in chalk on the driveway – Welcome Brian, You Raise me UP! He had a laugh at that. He was so nice to talk to – really humble and genuine and so relaxed. He even had time to talk to me about my lavender plants (which are huge)! We had photos done [a lot of photos] and he and I got to chat for a bit before he was introduced to his captive audience. He spent a few minutes tuning up and then I gave a welcome speech and off we went. I was wondering how things would go and of course I was anxious and hoped that he would feel welcomed and that people wouldn’t be shy about joining in. I needn’t have worried – the atmosphere was electric. The sound was amazing, the set-up worked so well, it was as though one of our friends had just dropped in for a chat and a song.

Brian played a selection of songs from Interpretations – Gaye (stunning), Galileo (wow), Get it Right Next Time, and Let’s Stay Together mixed in with some of his back catalogue. In fact apart from the first few songs which he chose – he pretty much let us (well me really) pick the songs that I wanted him to sing. I asked and he did: Put the Message in the Box, Crazy Love, The Town I Loved So Well, Get on With Your Short Life and and Carrickfergus to name a few. I asked him to do I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You – one of my favourites and he said he would but that he normally sings it with Juliet Turner. I’m no Juliet Turner but I got up and sang with him. SERIOUSLY! I sang a duet with Brian Kennedy. It was incredible. People told me afterwards that that was the point when they couldn’t hold the tears in any more! That was one of the high points of the night for me. Just a year ago I was so ill in hospital that there were days that I couldn’t speak because it took too much energy and there I was in full flight, singing with an A list artist like Brian Kennedy. It doesn’t get much better than that.

True to his word Brian played for over an hour and of course the finale was You Raise Me Up. He had no accompaniment at all for that and he came over and stood just a couple of feet in front of me and sang You Raise Me Up. It was so emotional – I cried, I think everyone did (even some of the men who were there).

What a night. It was a once in a lifetime, never to be repeated, stored in my memories in a file called ‘miracles’ – experience. SURREAL is the only word that even gets close to describing what it felt like. Brian was so relaxed and down to earth – we had such a great laugh. There was so much laughter in our house that night and to see so many of the people that I love so happy – well it was overwhelming. Just a year ago my family and friends and indeed myself had very little to be laughing or smiling about as we all wondered if my transplant would be successful.

When he finished singing Brian stayed around for a while for more photographs and gave all the kids his autograph. I asked him to Put the Message in the …… well on the wall of the downstairs toilet, which he did.

It was an incredible way to mark my stem cell transplant. It was a fantastic way for me to thank all the people who have done so much for me throughout my illness in a unique and unforgettable way. I can never thank the Mooney Show enough for giving me such an amazing stem cell birthday present. As for Brian Kennedy – well Brian I don’t think you will ever know how much your presence in our house and how much your music means to me – You Raise Me Up Brian!

Love Brenda Drumm
9th July 2008

So that was my review written for and published on the Brian Kennedy official website. I wrote the review almost as soon as the concert had finished in the house as I wanted to remember and record every detail. We were lucky enough to have a friend video it for us so we have that to treasure and if I ever figure out how to edit video properly, then I will share it somehow.

What a way to celebrate the first anniversary of my transplant. It was going to be difficult to follow that.

Here are just a couple of the photographs from the concert – The Drumm sessions as Brian dubbed them.

the audience
Some of the audience for The Drumm Sessions
me and bryan
Me on the left with Brian Kennedy and Brenda from RTE
duet
Singing a duet with Brian Kennedy

Climb Every Mountain (well just the one) 

Later in the Summer I found myself doing two more things I had never planned to do – the first was climbing Ireland’s Holy Mountain Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo as part of the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage when up to 20,000 people make the climb and offer penance and prayers as part of the process.

Croagh Patrick’s history as a place of worship reaches back in time as far as 3,000 BC. The mountain’s popularity among religious pilgrims dates to the time of St. Patrick, who is said to have completed a forty-day Lenten ritual of fasting and penance here.

Each year, on the last Sunday in July, thousands of devotees from all around the world visit the mountain for what is known as “Reek Sunday”, a day of worship in honour of Ireland’s patron saint. Some people even climb the mountainside barefoot, as an act of penance. Outdoor Masses are held throughout the day, along with confessions at St. Patrick’s Chapel.

Croagh Patrick in Murrisk, Co Mayo
Me in the shadow of Croagh Patrick the evening before the climb
croagh patrick 2
Some of the pilgrims on the way up and others on the way down
People as dots on Croagh Patrick
I could not believe that I was going to be a dot of a person once I managed to get up that high
Emma on Croagh Patrick
Amazing Emma (10) who climbed with great determination
Brenda on top of Croagh Patrick
A very tired but triumphant me on the summit of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s Holy Mountain

I had never done the pilgrimage before and I am not sure I will be able to do it again. It took us about four hours to make the climb. For the last third of the climb we were on hands and knees almost as the slope is so steep. There were a few slips on the way up but it was worth it. We stayed on the summit for Mass and we had something to eat. A bowl or hot soup was very welcome indeed.

The journey down was almost as tough as the journey up. We spent much of the time on our bottoms as we slipped and stumbled.

When we got to a place where we could rest up, we sat and looked back up and where we had been. Emma turned to me as asked me who I had done the pilgrimage for and I said that I had offered it up as thanks and prayer that all would be well. I asked her who/what she had done it for and she said: “I did it for you Mammy”.

It was a wonderful mother/daughter moment that we still treasure eight years later. There were blisters and aches and pains but it felt great to be able to complete something so arduous just one year after being so weak and frail as a result of chemo.

A Jamboree for me 

In August 2008 I took part in something that I would never in a million years have thought of participating in. In early 2008 Emma decided to join the local scouting group. I had never been a girl guide or a scout so we had no experience whatsoever of scouting. The national and international scouting jamboree was scheduled to take place in Ireland for 9 days (and nights) from 2 – 9 August 2008. Emma really wanted to go but because there was no female scout leader in the group she wasn’t in a position to go. I was invited to join as a Scout Leaders and I said Yes. The only experience of camping I had was a one night stay in Tramore in the early 90s which was not pleasant. But in the spirit of saying yes to life and to new opportunities I said yes to becoming a scout leader.

I had a very steep learning curve of everything from tying knots and pitching tents to child protection and first aid. We also a few practice camps including a whole weekend of camping at the county shield.

I wasn’t sure what my doctors would make of me spending nine days and nights in the open at the Jamboree so I was economical with the exact details.

The Jamboree was one of the best experiences of my life and I got to share it with Emma. There was laughter, tears and an awful lot of rain. There was so much rain that the event finished a day early and saw all the leaders called to HQ tent at 1am in the morning to receive a severe weather warning.

We had to get the scouts out of their tent in the middle of the night to get out of the way of the flow of water on the field. We even had a visit from the Fire Brigade to pump out some of the water.

But we left the jamboree, tired, mucky and full of memories of a great nine days and nights.

Here are some of the pictures.

Emma at Jam
Emma at the Scouting Jamboree
Em and I at the Jam
Emma with me in our mess tent at the Jamboree
Flood again at The Jam
The extent of the flooding at the jamboree but we just got on with it
Me at the Jam
Not my finest fashion moment but needs must in an Irish Summer
Severe flooding at The Jam
More flooding beside us
The rain at the Jam
The washing machine was on the go for a week after the Jamboree trying to get rid of all the muck

There’s something about being told that you might not have as long left on earth as you would have liked that spurred me on to say yes yes yes to new opportunities placed before me after cancer. And there were even more exciting things to come but that’s for another chapter.

Chapter 23 – Meaning More Than Words

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.
– Rudyard Kipling

I have a drawer in my bureau in the spare room where I keep all the cards and letters I received from family, friends and work colleagues during my illness in 2007.

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I’m not sure I ever got around to thanking everyone who sent me a get well card, a Mass Bouquet, a letter, flowers, postcards etc. So, I am doing so now.

For those of you reading this please know how much I appreciate your kind gesture to me when I was at my lowest. There were days when your cards and letters saved my life!

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I am also glad in a way that FB and Twitter were not really around at the time and that all of the good wishes arrived to me in hand written envelopes. There’s something wondrous about receiving real post in the mail …. That someone took the time to make or choose a card and then hand wrote it and stuck a stamp in it. It’s like receiving a hug in the mail.

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So 8 years later I am saying THANK YOU to each one of you for taking the time to write to me.

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If you get the chance in the future to write to someone who is ill, under the weather or taking time out, please know how much your hand written words will mean to them.

For me, the funnier the card, the better!

I was delighted to find a new range of cards recently to send to people who are ill – cards that tell it how it is! The girl who has created them is Emily McDowell and she’s a cancer survivor too.

These are some of her honest cards. I love them.

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These are some of the other cards I received.

Thanks to all the lovely people who thought of me.

Brenda

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Chapter 22 – One Year On

A Plan B life can be just as good or better than a Plan A life. You just have to let go of that first dream and realise that God has already written the first chapter of the new life that awaits you. All you have to do is start reading! – Shannon L. Alder

I got over the shingles and slipped back into the routine of family life. While the shingles had set me back by a few weeks, overall I was doing very well and the doctors were very pleased with how I was responding.

I had my final hospital visit of 2007 in early December and everything was looking very good with my bloods and other results. I was also passed fit to return to work in January 2008. That was wonderful news to receive and it was the final hurdle for me to get over so as I could get back to my life fully. I was under strict instructions to return gradually and to take it very easy.

As a family we could look forward to Christmas and a brighter new year. I wrote a note on the very back page of my 2007 journal which simply said: “Here’s to a better New Year for all of us”.

Christmas is my favourite time of the year and we always make a huge deal of it in our house. I had hated feeling so ill the previous Christmas as it had ruined it for me and for the family. Christmas 2007 was going to be different.

We got the boxes of decorations and trees down from the attic in mid-December and as I looked at the large boxes I started to cry. Christmas 2006 had been suspended in freeze-frame for us the previous year. It was almost the end of January when I got around to putting the Christmas decorations away. As the head elf in our house, I was the one who oversaw all the decorating and tree trimming. I was also the one responsible for detangling the lights, wrapping the delicate baubles and packing everything away for another year.

When I was putting the decorations away in January 2007, I had left hand-written notes and instructions on the boxes for Bryan and the kids, because I was terrified I was not going to make it to Christmas 2007. I wanted to be sure that they would know what decorations went on each tree and where all the other Christmas trinkets and pieces went. As well as being a typical Mum and leaving practical instructions, I also wrote little messages of love to the kids and Bryan, telling them I loved them. I knew that Christmas would be difficult in the future if I wasn’t around and I thought that they would have the little messages from me as a surprising reminder each time they took down the boxes. As I read the messages written in large black writing on the outside of the boxes I was overwhelmed with emotions and a feeling of sheer joy at being around to celebrate another Christmas with Bryan and the kids.

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Christmas 2007 was a wonderful time with family and friends and I totally spoiled the kids simply because I was around to do so.

On New Year’s Eve 2007 I sat and watched the fireworks over the sky in Newbridge and I made just a few resolutions/wishes:

  • To stay well for another year
  • For as many more Christmases as possible.

It was going to hopefully be a year of going downhill for a change.