Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Keeping abreast of the situation.....

A Mammogram!

Last Monday I had my first ever mammogram after being selected to take part in the early screening programme for ladies under 50. I've lost a friend to breast cancer and have several other friends going through treatment or are in remission so there was no way I was missing the appointment.

Actually ironically I nearly did miss the appointment altogether due to being sent two appointments and I actually did miss my first appointment and had to rebook. A hasty phone call and a new appointment later I set off to the Breast Screening Mobile Unit based in the car park of a local leisure centre. I wasn't overly worried about the appointment and I decided to share that I was going for the appointment on Facebook to encourage other women to go. 

The actual appointment itself was very quick, if rather weird. The little unit is well kitted out and as welcoming as a mobile unit can be. I had to whip off my bra and leave it in a small cubicle and was called into the screening room with a large X-Ray machine. I then had to remove my top half and hand my body over to the Radiologist to position me in four different positions and squish my boobs onto a plate/ledge whilst another plate came down on top of the breast and pressed down. Let's just say my breasticles have never been squashed in those positions before. I was secretly grateful I'm in a chemical menopause because pre-Prostrap injections I would have wept with pain from my hormone ridden booblets. The fourth X-Ray was the most uncomfortable for me and I will admit to closing my eyes and focusing on breathing slowly and counting until it was over to distract myself. 
And that was it. I popped my clothes back on and the Radiographer explained that if they needed to see me again I would receive a letter. She said that lots of ladies are recalled the first time and often there is nothing untoward to worry about so don't be alarmed if I received a letter. I walked back to my car wondering if that was just a spiel she gave to everyone or whether she'd seen something on my film. I did a quick check of my boobs at home to see if they felt OK. Everything felt the same as usual so I put the mammogram to the back of my mind.

It turned out I could only put it to the back of my mind for a few days because a letter from the Breast Screening arrived last Thursday with a recall appointment on  the following Wednesday (today).

A nervous wait followed. I did lots of research and then did very well at distracting myself and ignoring it all until last night when fear flooded in and the nerves caught up with me. Sleep didn't come easy last night as I worried whether my oestrogen patches were causing problems. I felt anxious and stressed this morning, made worse by never-ending arguments about going to school (that's a whole other post) and I kept a brave face on whilst doing the school run. 

I decided not to take anyone with me to support me,  I know that if there was bad news I would want to take it in myself and not feel I had to make anyone else feel better.  I decided to take my iPad with me to my appointment instead and try and write this blog post as the appointment was unfolding to share step by step what happened and how I was feeling. 

I'm very much a pragmatic person. I don't really sensationalise my life. If I have cancer then it's here and it's real and I will focus on what's next. If I get the all clear I will hug my life a little closer to myself kick start all the changes to my health and diet that I've been thinking about for far too long. 

The Hospital Tests! 

I arrived at the breast screening unit and I barely had time to retrieve my iPad from my bag when I was called into a room.  I met with a nurse who told me the mammogram highlighted something on my left breast that they wanted to investigate further. Blimey! That freaked me out.  It wasn't just because I forgot I shouldn't wear deodrant for the first mammogram then?  This was real!

I was whisked away to have more X-Rays and, whilst waiting for my turn, I had a wonderfully distracting chat about the beautiful colours on my t-shirt which led to topics of colours in the home and chakras; meditation and Angels with another Radiographer which really helped me relax and keep perspective as I waited in the waiting area.

I was then called into the X-Ray room.

I had 5 new X-Ray's taken of my left breast in some different and exciting positions from the previous mammogram. There were a few eye watering moments and some muttering about 50 Shades of Grey. The Radiographer really had to get up close and personal with the girls.  I tried to relax and told her to position me where she wanted me. It all felt a little surreal if I'm honest.  How was this happening to me? I was stood there naked on my top half with a plate squeezing down on my boobs trying not to worry about what they might actually find and thinking about my friends who have been in the same position and had bad news.

Within 10 minutes I was back in the waiting room where my attempts to write were overshadowed by a far more interesting conversation about the broken radio speaker, Led Zeplin, Paul Weller and BBC Radio 2's Pop Master quiz with a couple in the waiting room. I was very relieved that the waiting room was generally quiet though and I wasn't being forced to confront what might/could be in graphic form. I'm not sure I could have handled that. Too real! I watched a few people come and go and wondered what their story was and how their visit to the unit would end as I waited for the doctor to give me my results.

I did't have to wait for long as I was called to see a lovely lady doctor and nurse. Actually I do want to say that everyone at the unit was simply lovely.  They are fantastic people doing what must be a tough job at times.  They were gentle and caring and compassionate and easy to talk to. 

The doctor showed me my X-Rays and highlighted the area that had led me to be recalled. It was quite shocking because there in my left breast was a little white circle that looked very much like a lump. The doctor said that they felt that the cause was the fact that my breasts are asymmetric and the breast tissue was denser in the left breast.  To be totally sure all was as it should be she wanted to do an ultrasound of the breast.

My experience of ultrasounds is not good.  15 years of infertility taught me that one good ultrasound was generally followed by one that broke my heart so the butterflies in my stomach soared at this development.  After getting undressed again I lay quietly on the bed on my side with a pillow behind my back and my arm above my head whilst the doctor applied the cold gel and started to scan.  I tried watching the scan to see if I could see anything obvious but it all meant nothing to me.  She seemed to be scanning for ages and I started to get twitchy. When the doctor asked me if I was OK I explained about my infertility history and my experience of ultrasounds and that, in my experience, no good comes of ultrasounds.  The doctor was very caring and talked about what she was looking at. She then explained that she had found a cyst and felt happy that it was nothing more sinister but that she wanted to drain it with a needle to be sure.  She told me that cysts rarely ever cause cancer but they wanted to ensure that's all it was.

I don't have a problem with needles.  Again 15 years of infertility and injections have left me with little fear of the sharp, pointy things.  It was a long needle thought and it was very strange having the needle wiggling around inside my breast. It didn't really hurt but every so often a disembodied internal scratch reminded me where the needle was - a bit like having an itch you can't reach.  It probably took a few minutes before the doctor aspirated the cyst and confirmed that all was fine and it was just a cyst, doing what cysts do - in this case being collapsed! This was good news!

The relief washed over me as the doctor smiled and gave me the all clear.  She reminded me to keep checking the girls and making sure nothing changes. I really don't need reminding to do that after this experience believe me!  Before I left we had a lovely chat about adoption and friends the doctor has who also have adopted children and we chit chatted about life as an adopter.

I then floated home in a daze after thanking all the staff and had a cup of Earl Grey Tea and some gluten-free shortbread.  I'm going to be really cutting back on the sugar after today but I needed a good old British fix of tea and biscuits to help me ground again.

I still feel a little spaced out if I'm honest. I can't quite believe that this happened today.  I am so relieved to have the all clear but there is a little bit of me that's aware of how it could have all been very different and my heart just breaks for everyone for whom the news was very different.

I'm counting my blessings!

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Bee Hotel.....

During the recent half term Katie, Pip and I were invited to go to the Wyevale Garden Centre in Andover, Hampshire to join in with their Busy Bee week.  We had a choice of going to the Perfect Pollinator; Buzzing Bakery or Bee Hotel. In the Perfect Pollinator children planted a Cosmos Sonata (a buzzy bees favourite plant); make a bee cut out and decorate the pot. Buzzing Bakery involved making honey biscuits and decorating a bee cupcake. After much discussion about the potential merits of each session we decided to go along to make some Bee Hotels to put into our garden to offer an hibernation point once the building work has been completed and we have a garden again.

Each of the sessions was aimed at children of a variety of ages so at 3 and 8 Katie and Pip both were able to participate equally and at 20 minutes long it was the perfect length of time to interest our own 'busy bee' Pip and my little 'butterfly' Katie.  There was a colouring activity sheet to keep the children amused as the very entertaining staff set up for the session.  The staff were very friendly and welcoming but incredibly busy as each session flowed seamlessly into the next one and we were impressed with how well they managed the sessions in such a relatively short space of time with about 8-10 children per session and how organised they were.  The two ladies running the session were clearly enjoying themselves as well and were happy to pose for a picture.  Katie, Pip and I gave them a big thumbs up!

Making the Bee Hotel was really very simple and could easily be made at home (even for an "arts and crafts phobic" like my myself).  All that was required was a sturdy cardboard tube with 8 cigarelle-type tubes to fit inside; some straw to keep all the tubes inside and provide insulation; some string to make a tie to hang the hotel up in the garden and some colouring pens and decorations.....

First Katie and Pip decorated the outside of their hotels with colouring pens and stickers.  Katie named her hotel "Lovely Bee Hotel" and wrote that on the outside of the tube. Pip did some enthusiastic mark making that I'm sure any Impressionist artist would be impressed by......

Then we fed the string through the tube and tied the string into a knot so we could hang the hotels up in the garden (the children needed a little help with this bit).....

Next we put the 8 smaller tubes inside the large tube and filled it with lots of straw to keep the tubes snug inside and to provide much needed warmth and insulation for the tiny occupants .......

And that was all there was to it! Very simple yet effective.  We can hang them up in the garden for the bees and other small insects to snuggle into and keep warm and learn lots about our new friends as they come to stay.

After we'd finished our session we had a browse around the garden centre, bought a few gluten free cakes and goodies and collected the children's pre-ordered picnic bags from the restaurant.  This was the only part of the time we spent at the garden centre that was a little problematic for us because the queue at the restaurant was a little lengthy and very slow and my children don't really do standing still and not touching anything particularly well.  I had expected the picnics would be given out as part of the session but the sandwiches are actually made to order so we were directed towards the restaurant. I was feeling quite frazzled by the time we collected our picnics (and having to explain to the member of staff on the till about the pre-order) and I suspect I wouldn't bother ordering the picnics if we went along to another of their events.  I will be keeping a close eye on the Wyevale Garden Centre's events schedule though because the children thoroughly enjoyed making their hotels and the event length was perfect for children who don't cope well with concentrating for long periods of time.  The children came home proudly carrying their bee hotels and I could tell they could confidently do this activity again.

Making the Bee Hotels reminded us all of a song called The Stump Hotel which the children used to watch over and over again on YouTube and drove Daddy and I crazy.  It's the perfect ending for this blog post though. Maybe we could think about making our own Stump Hotel next?

Here is the main events listing page for the Wyevale Garden Centres if you want to find out more about forthcoming activities. There are Wyevale Garden Centres all over the country.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

A Fine Bromance.....

I'm writing about Pip again today, partly because he's taking up a lot of my thoughts and partly because I've decided to stay in denial about Katie's current behaviour at home (a blog post for another time).  Katie takes up a lot of my focus and I think Pip needs a little of my reflection today.

Have you ever had that realisation when you think you know and  understand someone and then it turns out that you've missed something that changes how you see them and what you think they need? Well I'd say that's where I am with Pip at the moment.

If you asked me to describe Pip I'd say he's a little whirlwind of energy and smiles and the usual Threenager tantrums and control.  Pip has always been an easy child to be around and to parent.  In many ways that is still the case.  We have concerns that he is copying Katie's less than pleasant behaviour and language.  This is a real worry.  I do feel that Pip has a greater capacity to understand consequences than Katie does however so I think with careful parents he will eventually understand that he cannot model himself on his sister.  That's a hard one though because he says to me "But Katie did that" and finds it hard to currently understand that Katie shouldn't be doing it either. Pip is generally quite gregarious.  He loves other children and has always played happily with all the children in our life.  I had no worries about him starting pre-school other than whether he might miss me.

Pip likes to be close to me.  He likes to know when I'm coming home if I'm out and will always rush up to give me lots of kisses and cuddles.  A lot of his reactions are age appropriate and it can be difficult not to shout "attachment issues" at everything adoption related.  I do think he's a soul who needs that reassurance that I'm around though although he's not particularly clingy at home and will happily seek reassurance from daddy and self amuse.  He is kind to everyone and lists all the people he loves.  He likes balance in his life and hates any discord. Because he makes friends easily I wasn't concerned about that aspect of pre-school but it turns out I was wrong.

Pip has a best friend whom he has known as long as he has been with us. We are very friendly with another family from school having met them when Katie was at pre-school with their daughter. They have a son who is 2 weeks older than Pip and the boys have seen each other daily at school and forged their own friendship since they were 7 months old. Now they are older his friend comes to play at our house and we go to play-dates at their house.  They both adore each other and are "best friends".  In case we forget this point they remind us daily of their bromance.  It's lovely to see the depth of feeling between them.

Both boys go to the same pre-school but currently his friend goes on four morning where Pip only goes on three.  This has given his friend the chance to play with other children on the day Pip isn't there. On the days they are there together they are (mostly) joined at the hip however sometimes his friend will play with other children.  It's natural. They may have something different they want to do.  Pip likes to find bugs and insects in the garden and will happily do this alone.  Pip however doesn't like his friend playing with anyone else and feels very unhappy if this happens.  This is impacting on him to the point of him not wanting to go to pre-school and has really taken me by surprise because Pip is so sunny and friendly and I just assumed he would play with a variety of the other children.  The depth of his attachment to his friend has shown me that he may grow up to be a man who makes one or two very close friends and holds them close.  Obviously I don't want him feeling sad a pre-school though so we spent some time talking together about how much he loves his friend but how sometimes they can play with other children to do different things. We talked about how many friends my social butterfly daughter has and how she can play with different people if there is an argument or if they just fancy playing a different game.  I asked Pip to think of the children in his class that he likes and who he might like to play with.  Armed with a little list we talked to his teacher about encouraging him to play with other children as well as his special friend and she is helping as well.  We've had some success with this but we have to reinforce this before each pre-school session to help him open up his mind to possibilities.  I follow this up with a chat with him after school to find out who he's played with and how he was feeling to help him hold onto positive feelings about the other children.

None of this is helped by the fact that Pip is growing at a rate of knots and is very tired a lot of the time. He's mostly dropped his daytime naps now and can't get to sleep if he snoozes during the day. This is a tough year as all parents know.  It generally takes a pre-schooler about a year to get used to dropping their naps and it is challenging when they become tired and emotional.  I'm trying to give Pip the odd long car drive to have a nap at least once a week to give him a boost but he's tired and grumpy. He's either running at 100mph or he's flat out on the floor having a 30 second rest. He's arguing about everything and doesn't really know what he wants from one minute to the next.  This impacts on his emotional responses to the issue of his friend playing with other children.  He tells me he is sad every time we walk up our hill to pre-school and it breaks my heart.  I know we have to keep plugging away at it and introduce other playmates to help him branch out a bit.  When he's away from pre-school he plays happily with any other child who is in the vicinity and particularly loves the older boys in the school playground so this is definitely linked to pre-school and probably the fact that I'm not there to help him when he's feeling sad.  Possibly one way forward might be for me to stay for a morning and just be there to help him.  I often stay for 15 minutes when I drop him off to make sure he's settled but he's asked a few times for me to stay.  It's so hard when I have a million things to do before collecting him each day but I do think it might be time well spent.

I'd be very interested to hear from other parents who have had this issue with their children and how they helped them overcome it and widen their circle of friends.  Do comment below with your stories and suggestions if you're able to. I would really appreciate it.