Monday, June 14, 2021

Farewell John

During the last three years I’ve said too many tearful goodbyes to people who I have loved and who have stamped their special characters into my soul.

This week I will be saying a final farewell to John, a friend for forty years.

We spent ten years of our lives together and since then our strong friendship has moulded into an exchange of support and sharing a love of music, film and books.

In the 1980s we traveled around his much loved Spain, proudly thinking we had learned to speak Spanish at night school until challenged with trying to understand Spanish people talking!

I have stood ‘patiently’ tapping my feet while John lay on the pavement in the middle of Madrid trying to get THE photograph, and again in the Alhambra Palace in Granada and again in Andalusia and the mountains of Austria…

I sat through a horrific bull fight in Rhonda because John wanted the experience, oh yes, and the photos…

Those who knew John will know that getting up and down from the floor was no mean feat with his disabilities caused by polio when he was 4 years old.

He taught me so much about dealing with disability. As ironically I followed in his footsteps - or not so many steps as it turned out…

He showed me that grit determination mixed in with a bit of a temper, helps in rising above health challenge after health challenge which were thrown at him and subsequently me…

He rarely complained about his fate but when he did it was usually to my ears as a nurse. I understood his pain and frustration and even more so as my own health declined.

Despite his own problems he was ready with advice, compiling a cd on music we had spoken about or researching whichever electronic device I was thinking about buying…

When I decided to learn to play the ukulele during lockdown it was John I turned to for guidance... We had always been happy to entertain as a guitar playing duet - John a skilful master of the guitar, while I strummed along or sung out of tune! 

John had a strong family of friends but it is only now as we plan his funeral that I begin to understand how, like a bird collecting grass and straw, it was John who gathered people into his nest of friendship.

It is only through loss that I begin to realise how much of my friends' soul has seeped into mine…

So once again, as I sit in the garden listening to the breeze rustling through the trees and to the joyful bird song as they settle on branches, I am reminded that precious moments like this can so easily end…

Rest in Peace John xxx

Monday, February 15, 2021

And the winner is...

Love is in the air and when I wonder into the kitchen two red envelopes await. The one with my name on has a bag of heart shaped chocolates behind it!

I don’t open it as I am up early and Mr H sleeps on.

I look up from my computer screen when he wonders down the stairs and immediately asks

Do you want another coffee?

Ooh yes please I reply without a glance in his direction.

Oh, and will you read this letter for me to check that I have included everything…

The last few months I have been working harder than I ever have. My days at the computer are long, my eyes are sore but I now have a deadline to meet.

The book I have been undertaking research for and then writing over the last five years is almost ready to go to my publisher.

Yes, MY PUBLISHER… every time I say those words, I grin

I have signed a publishing contract – grin

I have been talking to my publisher – blush with pride

My book - The Last Class – The Story of the Midland Adult School Union 1845-2010, is about the history of the astonishing Adult School Movement in the Midlands. Once a flourishing organisation, it is now about to close is doors and only the last class will meet. The Rubery Class. The Class which my Mom has attended for almost sixty years. The history and memories of the last living members of some of the Birmingham Classes are woven into this book along with my own recently discovered family history. Snippets of my own life peek out from some of the pages.

I am beginning to get excited, I am however, keeping it in check with a heavy book as I try to unravel the world of copyright law for the many images to be included.

After an hour and another cup of coffee I remember it's Valentine’s Day so drag myself out of my computer chair to give Mr H a hug and his card…

This year I am convinced that my card will be the winner, appropriate for the moment depicting what has occupied almost all of my time since the start of Coronavirus…


 Mr H agrees… and I make my way back to the computer…

Sunday, October 4, 2020

I am not a Grandma

My nan uses one of those.

My grandad was told to have one but he refused as he didn’t want to be seen using it

My grandma has one

Each time I manage to squeeze the words four-wheel walker out of my reluctant mouth to share the new horror in my world, people spurt those words which make it tougher for me to acknowledge at the age of 57 I need more help with my walking.

A stick is no longer enough.

A feeling of dismay washes over me each time I glance sideways. It blocks my view of the garden so I move it under the stairs.

But it stares at me each time I walk past… whispering you are old now only the elderly use these…

If you google the words balance and falls the words older and elderly jump from every page. I have fallen too many times this year. But I am not old or elderly.

Six falls in July alone.

I tripped over my own feet, left my foot behind when I walked between rooms, I even lost my balance and fell to my knees on the moving walkway on our only visit to Tesco during this prolonged Coronavirus lockdown.

They came last week to assess me. My heart pounded and I clenched my sweaty palms, knowing I needed the review.

But I didn’t want them to come.

The nurse and physio from the Community Falls and Mobility service my GP had referred me to, stepped inside. They oozed professionalism and kindness, nodding understandingly when I burst into tears at their words.

It is unsafe to be so dependent on Mr H when you walk outside, because if you fall, you will take him down too...

It makes sense but my heart and pride don’t like the sensible option. 

They tell me the answer is a stable four-wheel walker with a bloody seat. The words I had assumed would be spoken but dreaded from the pit of my soul.

I now have new exercises to do daily to strengthen my leg muscles – maybe they will do the trick I pray – similar exercises I was doing at my weekly pre coronavirus exercise class for wobbly people, which needless to say hasn’t taken place since March.  A whole six months…

Things have gradually been getting worse over the last couple of years. It started with an increase in the number of my seizures. Making me afraid to walk alone across an open flat space for fear that one would swipe me off my feet mid-way. I started to walk close to walls – where there were any – giving me something to grab if a wobble or trip caught me out. Then a change in my epilepsy drugs which improved my seizures but I am convinced made my walking and balance worse. My Epilepsy consultant thinks not but we are tweaking my dose just in case.

In December I froze trying to get down the stairs at the cinema – something I have managed with Mr H until then. We needed the help of a third person, a kind stranger, to get me down safely as silent tears dripped off my nose while everyone there tried not to stare. My 88 year old Mum has had more stair rails installed for me. Not her!

A fall down the stairs at home followed with a visit to A&E, a CT scan of my head and a weeks’ worth of head spinning concussion smashed my confidence into smithereens.

Gentle slopes have become mountains. I feel as though I am in the front seat of a roller coaster ready to tip over the edge of a hundred metre drop before plummeting down to the ground. Vomit threatens to spurt out of my mouth when the camber of a pavement changes. I can no longer cross a road without Mr H. I grip onto his arm and stare at the ground while he checks for traffic before firmly telling me to walk. I shuffle like, yes, an old person. Fearful that stepping into the road will bring disaster. Another fall. A broken leg.

I prefer not to go out anymore. Yet I want to walk to the allotment…

The mask, apron and glove wearing Physio Assistant and Occupational Therapist come with the walker. They take time to talk to me with reassuring smiles, tweak the height of my kitchen perching stool so I no longer slip off.  With smiling eyes, the OT assesses our home to make it safer for me.  I now have appointments for walking practice outside and an order for six more grab rails to be placed around the home. A raised toilet seat, for god sake, to stop me pulling on the sink to get up and down off the loo. A step to make it easier to get into and out of the shower…

I am deteriorating. My brain is letting me down. My heart sinks each time I think about it. I don’t understand why. I want to scream and shout with sad tears running down my face.

The four-wheel walker is still there. Nausea rises each time I turn round.

I feel embarrassed. I dread the platitudes, the sympathetic looks and strained smiles as people look me up and down in surprise.

I dread more of the… my nan, grandma, grandad declarations. They DO NOT help me. I fear the jokes;

well at least you have a basket to carry the allotment produce back up the hill…

can I have a go? can I use your seat?

why don’t you just jazz it up

There are no young versions, they are all the same – metal and plastic, blue, black and grey

I need a new friendly name for my monster. It will never define me, it’s my enabler… 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Masks and Slimy Snot

It has been many years since I last wore a mask. In fact, pre-Coronavirus, I am struggling to remember when it might have been. But as soon as I realised that wearing a face covering was to become the norm in crowded spaces, where the two-metre distance was hard to maintain, I sought out my supply. I considered using a snood or scarf but felt it would be too much like hard work to wash it after each use. So, my answer came in a pretty double or optional triple layer mask, home-made by my friend Jacky.

Yesterday our neighbour took me and Mr H out to a Garden Centre. Mr H isn’t able to drive at the moment so we sat in the back of her car, face coverings on, windows open and my uncut hair wildly blowing around my face. I squealed when we realised that the café was open and we would be able to sit outside on the empty patio. Mr H ordered our drinks, while Tina and I sat grinning at each other while we waited.

Then another mask wearing couple entered the café and I watched with my mouth agape as, once seated, the man grabbed the front of his mask with both hands and scrunched it up before putting it face down onto the table.

I’ve seen this behaviour so many times. People pulling on the front of their face covering or mask, continually pressing on the bridge of their nose, pulling the covering on and off their face like they are wiping a snotty nose beneath ... The Infection Prevention and Control Nurse within me cringes every time, I want to advise, tell them to stop...

Each time this is done, hands and everything subsequently touched are covered with the virus -if present- and any other respiratory or environmental micro-organisms which have collected on the inside and outside of the face covering.

Wearing face coverings in public, often in close contact with others, also seems to give some an invincible air: I’ve got a mask on therefore the virus can’t get within a leopard’s leap of me.

Whereas, I have learnt that my mask or face covering, at best prevents me, should I be an asymptomatic carrier, from spreading any respiratory droplets which contain Coronavirus to others in close proximity. It may also have a minor effect on protecting me from some virus containing droplets in a cough or sneeze should I get close to a person who has the virus.

When I handle my mask, I imagine that it is covered in someone else’s slimy snot; not something to be grabbed with both fists and left on a table where food is to be placed:

I do not touch it until I need to remove it.
When I remove it, I unloop it from my ears, avoiding touching the front or inside before dropping it into a plastic bag which I carry with me. Then I wash or sanitise my hands.
If I need to wear it again before returning home, I only touch the loops of the mask – always maintaining the same side of the material facing outwards.
Once home, with clean hands, I remove my covering from my face or plastic bag, wash it in hot soapy water and leave to dry. Then I wash my hands again.

Personally, I don’t use a disposable mask but if anyone does and wants to re-use it, it seems sensible to keep it in the bag or hung in a suitable place away from all regularly used surfaces.

Questions about cleaning the house also tumble around in my mind. But I know that any detergent such as washing up liquid or simple soap and water are sufficient for cleaning my house.

The great thing about this virus is that it is an enveloped virus. This means, like my lockdown abdomen which has been full of cake, it has a fatty (lipid) outer wall. Here’s where we can celebrate, as this layer (membrane) makes it much easier to kill when outside of the body. Unlike my stubborn cake filled abdomen, this fragile outer layer is relatively easy to break down using soap and water and once done, results in destruction of the virus.

Bleach on surfaces will also work but as one author described it; using bleach is like using a bludgeon to swat a fly. Cleaning products, including hand sanitisers, containing at least 60% Alcohol are also effective but the Bludgeon and fly come to mind unless away from a sink in the case of keeping hands clean.

Talking about hands brings me to my final point and a man in Pink marigold gloves. I titter as I type… Gloved hands are still hands which can pick up and transfer the virus or any other micro-organisms. So, wearing gloves does not mean we will not come into contact with the virus if it is there.

There are five points worth noting here:

1.     Used appropriately gloves can reduce but won’t eradicate hand contamination and can spread micro-organisms. They are primarily and most appropriately for healthcare workers use.

2.     Hands must always be washed or sanitised after glove removal because hands are inevitably contaminated when gloves are removed.

3.     Disposable gloves are just that disposable and will not withstand ‘cleaning’ with alcohol.

4.    Used gloves, shoved into pockets will contaminate the clothing. 

     I never wear gloves in shops, instead when out, I rely on the effective use of hand sanitiser, hand washing where possible and not touching my face.

     Stay safe my friends and remember if you think of used face coverings (and gloves if you insist on using them) as being covered in someone else’s wet slimy snot it will keep you focused on their safe use.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Through Sue's Eyes

Today I am drawn to sit on our bench in the front garden. The seat is wet it’s been raining. I am sitting here to feel close to Sue. My Swimming Sue.

We met because of my brain tumour. We came face to face ten years ago as a result of Jon, a young man who I was lucky enough to connect with at a brain tumour support group. 

I needed to meet the lady who Jon was so excited to have joining him at Church during craft morning Sue told me much later.

When I turned the huge brass door handle and pushed open the heavy door to step inside St Marys Church for the first time, I scanned for Jon’s face, I’ll be doing my jigsaw he told me. He saw me and grinned. I walked towards him, my stick clicking on the floor as I went, to admire the progress he was making with his jigsaw rolled out on a mat before him.

A beautiful lady with dark curly hair approached us and with outstretched arms squealed Dawn, it is Dawn isn’t it, I have been so looking forward to meeting you; I’m Sue. As our eyes met and we hugged, I suspected that this lady was going to matter as much to me as Jon did.

To start with my contact with Sue was craft related, as recently traumatised by my need to retire from my nursing career, Sue encouraged me to join Jon at the Church craft session. I watched in awe as Sue bobbed from table to table, sharing an encouraging smile with new comers and tips on crocheting, knitting, painting and quilting with everyone there. The room positively glowed when Sue was in it. She made coffee and did the washing up while supporting and showering her love on those who were ready to receive it.

When Jon died because of his brain tumour it was Sue who walked with me around the church yard before the service. We sat on a bench under a tree and talked about life. And death. It was Sue and her husband Peter who put their arms around me when I was utterly overwhelmed by the loss of my friend.

Sue listened as I poured out the story of how, when on our Caribbean honeymoon cruise, two complete strangers had watched me sitting at the sea’s edge being swished in and out, too fearful to take the plunge. They held out their hands, enticed me in and once under water encouraged me to float and then swim a few strokes. I sobbed with joy as – for the first time in two years - the feeling of normality overwhelmed me, but I never saw those people again I told Sue. They were Angels she smiled knowingly.

Sue encouraged me to try swimming again. She took me to the local pool and spent week after week with me in the warmth of the baby pool. We giggled like kids as we raced across the pool, swimming with no leg movement to make it an equal competition! 

We swapped jars of homemade preserves, a jar of my blackberry jam for a jar of Sue’s gorgeously tangy lemon curd. Sue gently taught me that thoughtful home crafted gifts are more meaningful than those snapped up in shops.

We shared secrets on our lunch and coffee meet ups and excursions out to the Clevedon seaside which always included lunch after a stroll around our favourite high street store which was stuffed full of wool, material, threads and all things crafty. We um’d and ah’d over hats, tittering as we pulled the oddest ones onto our heads. We chose earrings and always visited the charity shops, Sue coming away with a top and me a jumper or two. We both loved bright colours, never afraid to add a splash to whatever we were wearing, our joint favourite was a deep sea-sky blue.

Sue had breast cancer. Then a year later so did I. We shared the intimacies of treatment, Sue shopped for my breast cancer bras when I was readmitted to hospital with complications after my surgery. She arrived swinging the M&S bag and we laughed as she pulled out one monstrosity after the other, deciding on the least offensive styles.

We cried on each other’s shoulders.

Hugged often.

When Sue collected me from home, we always stood in the front of our cottage to admire the tiny details in flowers. Look at the way that petal is curling Sue would exclaim; see how the water has settled on that leaf; and once cringing in surprise Dawn there’s a dead rat on your path!

Sue had an easy sense of style and on a visit to my much-loved Lyme Regis to see what it was all about she was delighted to discover the hat shop I had gushed about for so many years. In true Sue style she sent me a WhatsApp message with just a photograph of the hat she had bought. No words needed!

But Sue’s breast cancer didn’t behave the same as mine.

The last time I saw her in March we had a long coffee, once again in the leisure centre, but this time we didn’t swim. As we talked, and talked, she oozed with her now fragile beauty. She chatted about how happy she was to see her son Harry and daughter Laura settled in their relationships and about Laura’s forthcoming wedding. Sue showed me photographs snapped on her smart phone, talked about her and Peter’s strong Faith and how tired she was now feeling…

The morning the phone rang, it was a call I have been expecting yet hoping would never come.  Peter said she’s not with us anymore, and I wept selfish tears for the loss of my friend.

So, as I sit on my front garden bench where Sue and I have rested side by side so many times, I watch as a pair of Dunnocks come close. They move from branch to branch, slowly edging their way towards me, occasionally dropping onto the path by my side. I absorb their beauty, their grey chest, a rainbow of shades of browns on their backs.  As tears prick my eyes, a sense of calm rises in my soul.

Sue left me with more than the memories of our friendship, she gave me a gift. She taught me to see the world through her eyes.

With my deepest love

Dawn xx

Monday, April 13, 2020

Knotted Knees

This spring, digging, sowing seeds and harvesting our allotment produce has become the permitted daily exercise. We enjoy the benefits of a walk, or drive to the site before we open our shed and lift our spades to get our heart pumping and legs working while the early spring sunshine shines on our faces.

 During the year, Robins follow us around as we lift worms to the top of the soil. People walking along the stone walled lane - now at a safe distance – raise their hands to wave and say hello.  Butterflies and bees keep the plants growing as they move from flower to leaf. Peacocks, 

Painted Ladies and Red Admirals stop me digging when they settle nearby, while brassica eating caterpillars emerge into Small and Wood Whites which flutter like feathers amongst the plants.

The benefit of growing our own produce becomes even more important as the country tackles the rapid spread of Coronavirus. We plant more seeds than normal and seeds are swapped as those who had not placed their orders earlier in the year struggle to buy what is needed. Jokes about planting toilet roll trees resonate amongst the sweat and toil of preparing plots for this growing season. 

Mr H and I imagine that the excess produce table at the entrance to the site is going to be more popular than usual because getting an online food delivery slot is as likely as finding gold in the River Frome. Parishioner’s and community members who enjoy a walk along the river always ensure that these surplus, often organically produced stocks quickly disappear into their kitchens to feed themselves and their families. The Community spirit abounds amongst the plot holders and those who pass by clutching rhubarb and parsnips with a smile on their faces.

To keep the allotment site Coronavirus safe, we have created our own rules based on Government advice. As the secretary to our allotment association, I have compiled a list of do’s and don’ts which include wearing gloves and bringing antibacterial wipes to clean the handles of any communal equipment used. The site toilet is out of bounds so it is either a case of properly planning allotment visits or digging with knotted knees!

Keeping our plot is back aching, time consuming work and is not for those who think it’s a matter of plant and go – only returning later to pick produce – which without regular tending will have wilted amongst the ever-growing weeds. It is satisfying hard work which we tackle a ‘bit at a time’. Our reward is tasty, wholesome fresh food week after week.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Two Painted Ladies

The doors are closed but the windows are open. For now. Our normally vast world is as small as a shoe box. The sound of a cough makes my head snap round. Who, where, how far away from me was that?

It’s day one of this new surreal existence.  Social distancing, self-isolation, panic buying and stockpiling are terms which roll off the tongues of the most un-likely family and friends. Video calling my elderly – now classed as vulnerable - Mum is a daily event to ensure she is not turning red in the face with a soaring temperature or coughing more than she usually does. My phone screen time has tripled as I catch up with friends and family to discuss the bizarre world we are currently in.

I check the long list of underlying health conditions; people at an increased risk of developing severe Coronavirus symptoms, to see if my name is there.  I don’t tick a specific box but with my hotch potch of health challenges and run-down immune system I decide to have a box of my own. 

On evening number two I feel sick as a screwed-up fist like lump lodges itself in my gut. A sense of dread of the unknown. I’m not particularly scared of getting it, Mr H meanwhile is terrified of the consequences if I do. I’m more worried about Mum. Should we collect her, is it too much of a risk, the Politicians and Public Health experts are advising against it. I offer to take the risk if she will stay for the whole time but her rapid reply I want to be at home, slams that idea straight back into the box.

Isolation is not new to me. In 2008 I spent a month shut into a small cell without bars on the window. Nurses, Physiotherapists and Doctors came in and out. I was dependent on them for almost everything.  If I couldn’t reach my glass I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t get out of bed without other people’s hands and equipment as my legs no longer responded to any requests. A bedpan or commode replaced my toilet. I spent the next two months in a larger isolation room, a ward, with a group of other patients but by now I could do a slow zimmer frame walk to freedom. Closing the door on an ordinary toilet, placing a beautiful barrier between me and others was like being on a Caribbean beach!  I kept myself busy, Chris brought me easy knitting to encourage the use back into my left arm. I watched Disney films. As I began to recover, I even helped staff with their interview practice.

Like then I have a project plan for this latest self-isolation. I’m a list maker so I make a list of the jobs I want to do in my flowery list making note book. 
My headliner is writing, I can scribble contentedly hour after hour; put dusty black and white photographs into the recently bought albums for the job, clean out cupboards; the list is long and enticing. I wonder how much I will actually do.

I have a new occupation though, facetime interview practice with my friends who are applying for new jobs. This voluntary role sprung out of a couple of telephone calls and requests for help. Help is something I can do virtually from home. Supporting friends puts a tingle in my belly and lightens my spirit.

Mr H returns from a grocery shop there’s an atmosphere out there he says, it’s like the manic ness of Christmas but without any of the joy. The only full shelves were those filled with Easter Eggs which no one was buying.

As we pass day 8 the UK has accepted that Coronavirus has already infected too many people here and the rules are tightened. However, despite the new rules the fist in my stomach has melted. I now know that the advice and decisions I have been making to protect my Mum, Mr H and myself are, beyond a glitter of a doubt, correct.

We are lucky, we have our own green outdoor space. Our garden is our sanctuary, my Zen time, Mr H’s daily mindfulness practice. When the golden ball is high in the clear blue sky and throws light and warmth across our outside world, like cats, we purr with contentment.

I plonk myself down in our front garden and watch our rule abiding community take their daily exercise. Like the Queen I wave from my throne and call regular hellos to people as they pass on the pavement across the road. They are many metres away from me but the passing connections make my spirits soar as high as a buzzard.

Out of the corner of my eye I spot a flurry of orange and brown mid-air activity, a speedy acrobatic whirling of wings which my eyes struggle to follow. Two Painted Ladies I say to myself. However when I get in and check my wildlife book I realise my Painted Ladies were in fact Red Admirals. Whatever their name I am reminded that amongst this crazy Coronavirus world nature calmly carries on…

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Bag and a Half of Sugar

As I walk into SlimmingWorld today my heart will be pounding. My knees will be trembling. My palms will be so sweaty my weigh in book will be as wet as the rain pouring down the windows.

My legs are so tired I wobble more than ever as I walk. They are empty of energy. I’ve used all my battery charge up in the week.

It’s Mr H’s fault, it always is (poor man). Last week he and two ladies who joined in the same week as we did, managed to get themselves to a tipping point of one pound short of a stone weight loss. The challenge is on he declared; we will all cross the line together next week…

Meanwhile I sat beside him mulling over the fact that I was another 2lb behind them all. I needed 3lb to cross the line holding their hands. Be with them. Together. A bag and a half of sugar. 
Like the bag of sugar a heavy lump in my stomach rose up to my chest. Here I am again I mused, Nowadays I’m always behind. Never in front anymore. The last one to cross the finishing line… I walk slower, can no longer run. I think and react like a snail. All because of my damned brain tumour and epilepsy medication.

Damn them I seeth…

I come home and work on a plan. Look at the week you lost 7lb Jude suggested, what did you do then. So, I pore over my SW diary for that week. I decide that I will copy it, eat the same things; the same amounts.

But I also decide to increase my BodyMagic – in other words my exercise. I am working on a plan to achieve my Silver Fit Award in four weeks, this is week two. Last week I blew it out of the water; this week I aim to add another hour; three hours of walking, a mountains worth but, like eating chocolate, in bite sized chunks.

Now those of you who know me, understand what a challenge walking is for me. I have to think every step, lift left leg, swing foot out (so as not to trip over my lifeless foot), place it back down then repeat. If I am interrupted by a friendly hello or a car I stop thinking and trip. Walking is like taking my brain and body out on a lead.  I should give them a name; Fido or Tripper maybe…

Because I can’t drive, not allowed says the DVLA, I walk if I need to get to the shop or hairdresser in the village and for many years I have been doing a weekly exercise class for mostly elderly disabled people. I call it the Class for Wobbly People. We laugh, sing and dance as much as we exercise.

But this week will be different I say to Mr H. I am going to double my daily walks. Attempt two fifteen minute walks in the morning then another fifteen minutes later in the day.

To do this I need my third leg. It keeps my foot up, lessens the risk of trips and falls. Until recently I haven’t worn it much. Vanity gets the better of me. I can only wear flat shoes but I like pretty, smiley flat shoes. The third leg splint demands lace up shoes. 
It starts well, 40 minutes on Tuesday. Tick… the week continues as planned but I get progressively more tired…

By Monday morning I have to drag myself out of bed, my legs follow grumpily. Nooo they plead no more. I have a Dentist appointment so I deafen my ears to their complaining, force my feet and third leg into the lace up shoes. And with Mr H by my side, to catch me if the wind blows me off my feet, I struggle down the hill. The pavements are topsy turvy with pot holes and patches of sticking plaster tarmac so I walk most of the way in the road.

I couldn't have done anymore...

So, Ladies and Gents when I step on the scales today, if it doesn’t reward me with 3lb off… do not be surprised if I shed a few tears when the others cross the line without me…

Monday, January 13, 2020

Claire's Brain Tumour Recovery Journal - A Review

I had the opportunity to review an electronic version of Claire Bullimore’s Brain Tumour Recovery Journal for the purpose of writing this review.

I came into contact with Claire after my own Meningioma brain tumour diagnosis in 2008. Our journeys were also similar in that we, unknowingly, were diagnosed in the same year. 

Once I had realised, I would need some longer-term support I accessed Claire’s wonderful Aunty M Brain Tumours network through Facebook and Twitter. I also took part in a radio interview with Claire and have since contributed to her blog as a guest writer. As readers will probably know I started my own blog in 2013 as part of my journey of recovery. I continue to find writing an incredibly cathartic therapy.

When Claire asked members of her recently established Facebook group Brain Tumours Bloggers United to review her journal I jumped at the chance:

The well designed journal which is 52 pages long, is an aide memoir in diary format and a mindful prompt for people recovering from or living with a brain tumour.

The Journal costs £10.99 and is available from Amazon 

At the start two pages are dedicated to listing Important Things To Remember including medication, appointments and doctor and therapists details. This provides the opportunity to keep essential information in one place, a go to reminder.

I particularly like the next section asking the Journal keeper to list Things that have Frightened Me on My Journey. After a lot of counselling therapy, I now understand the value of writing feelings down, getting them out of my head, and can see that this simple task would help so many. I also like the balance of positivity on the page where Claire asks the journal keeper to document Things I Have Overcome And Am Proud of Myself For.

An important list is then provided to prompt self-help and how to access ongoing support. The subsequent page is a further visual aid memoir to leaving the house. Since my brain tumour I struggle with my memory and I can see myself printing or scanning this page from a hard copy and pasting it on my front and back doors. 

The Journal then provides space for a monthly planner and I recognise how using it to diarise the Things I Want To Achieve Each Month – which is something I rarely plan, would be an incredibly positive thing to do. Seven pages follow with hourly slots from 7am to 10pm providing space to plan or record events, feelings and thoughts.

The rest of the Journal is four repeats of the previous 9 pages – providing space for a months planning.  

Claire knows only too well that one of the many issues with recovery is that of memory challenges. Therefore, the journal is a dual tool which many will find useful to use. The Journal could be used as a paper diary to record appointments, social events etc, a bit like a Filofax whilst providing direction for people at any stage of a brain tumour journey. 

A Mindfulness Journal
However, I see a huge benefit in using this journal as a means to focus on emotional and mental health. I imagine that few of us regularly write down how we are feeling, or what we want to achieve. The prompts Claire provides suggest this was in her mind when she wrote it. Indeed on her website she suggests it can be used for strategy building; somewhere to write down your thoughts and feelings, a recognised mindfulness exercise to relieve stress and anxiety. By writing things down, the user would provide themselves with information and memories which they can subsequently reflect upon as they progress on their journey.

The only criticism I have is that with only a months worth of pages, it is not clear if Claire would suggest readers copy the pages for their own use on a longer-term basis or whether it is only meant to be used for a short period of time. I would also suggest that the journal would benefit from direction in its use from Claire as is included on her website. 

Claire has also been modest in the journal as she has not included information or links to her book A Brain Tumours Travel Tale, support network sites and blog which I feel would help people who have come across the Journal but know little about Claire.

I applaud Claire for writing this Journal, which, had it been around at the start of my brain tumour journey, would have helped with my focus during the early stages of my recovery.