When you realise you are not fit …

So, I think I am healthy, I am not obese, well maybe I carry a few extra pounds but hey what you expect when you get over 40 as our metabolism slows down.

In fact, since I had cancer two years ago, I have changed my lifestyle and whereas I still go out, I don’t drink like I did, in fact at the moment, I am almost dry.

I walk, at least 3 or 4 days a week and I can walk up to 4 or so miles but that doesn’t make me fit.  I play tennis for a couple of hours a week but again that doesn’t mean I am using all the right muscles.

I put it down to one of the joys of being 48 years old,  menopause and then add tamoxifen which I have for another 8 years and you have a middle age spread, swelling thanks to removal of some of my lymph nodes and as a result I don’t always feel great.  By that I mean, I don’t always fit into my dresses and tops which can be somewhat depressing.

So, I decided about two months ago, it was time to take this in hand and change my mind set.   I tried a slender tone after my Manual Lymphatic Drainage therapist left the hospital but that wasn’t going to make a huge difference.   So, I joined Isagenix and combine some of their products into my lifestyle and certainly have seen a difference.  But then, two weeks ago I was in my local Sainsbury’s and bumped into Basil, who was my personal trainer from David Lloyd over 15 years ago and I realised this was a sign.   A sign to what you may ask?  ‘BOOT CAMP’.

On Tuesday morning at 8.15am, I was undergoing my first session in the garden and oh dear lord I am unfit.

Ok, I had a frozen shoulder as a result of my breast cancer and the lymph nodes being removed and maybe not doing all the exercises.  But, my motto is ‘no pain no gain’ and I will get back all the movement and I will wake up my shoulders etc. and as a result my posture will improve as I have overcompensated using other parts of my upper body.

Then, came the abdominal exercises and umm, what can I say other than – OMG.  I have now found my pelvic and stomach muscles again and it has been laziness on my part so watch this space.   I now walk along the street pulling in my stomach and clenching my bum!

My legs which I thought to be a power house, well it was a question of stretching and opening up the glutes and all of this was in the comfort of my garden.

I have signed up to three months and so I hope the sun continues to shine and my aim is to feeling good about myself resulting in kicking the middle spread into touch.

Now that I have chosen to take on this challenge I need to ensure it is a ‘fun’ journey otherwise will I last …. watch this space.

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Volunteering a year on …

I have now been volunteering at the Royal Marsden Chelsea for just over a year and still loving it.   By that I mean, I enjoy it as it is my way of saying thank you and giving back.  Some of the volunteers have been helping for over 15 years, so I hope I can commit for a few more years.

I think I have done most of the roles that a volunteer can do here, but still like Meet & Greet the best.  Working alongside Karen who is the receptionist, we assist patients to make their Marsden experience stress free and to give them peace of mind that they are in a safe environment and you will hear ‘its home from home’.   More recently I have been doing reception on a Wednesday and Friday and have been happy to help.  Then, on a Thursday you can find me in Outpatients as the water monitor.  Occasionally you may see me in the shop and in fact got snapped for the Friends website.

me at RMH shop

And, then you may see as a trolley dolly on the wards or in the medical day unit serving coffee.

Over the last few weeks, I have been touched by some of the patients, from those who have come up to me and said thank you and given me a box of chocolates or a card, to finding that over a chat it transpired the patient had trained to be a hair dresser in her earlier years and only trained at Phyllis Earle in Dover Street, my family hairdressing school in the 60’s.

I suppose now that I am in remission, I forget just how the staff at the hospital when I came to appointments were part of my personal journey so, when people come up and say thank you it is really touching.

Only the other day, I only had a £10 and the café had no change but two people behind me was a gentleman who it transpired I had taken under my wing the first day of his wife’s treatment and he bought my coffee – I was so touched.    There have been many special moments over the past 15 months and I have forged relationships with many patients and become part of their journey, and nothing is better than having that moment when you hear there are also in remission and all is ok and we share a hug.   Boundaries go out of the window at times like this.

Some days I leave drained and other days on a high and I do have friends who ask ‘why’ do I volunteer at the Royal Marsden is it not depressing.  Well yes and no, I am human so I do shed a tear some days but when I was 16, I had a career valuation and one of the top jobs it stated for me was working in a cancer hospital.    So, maybe now I am finding my vocation having realised that the wedding planning was too stressful and fundraising for charities was better suited to me.  One thing is for sure that I really do enjoy helping people, following in my mother’s footsteps.

Alongside my volunteering at the Royal Marsden Chelsea, I am chairing the committee for the BADA fundraiser dinner next March for Maggie’ (http://www.badafair.com/charity-gala/charity-gala-evening.html ) .  Maggie’s is another very worthy cause that supports patients with cancer by offering them a safe haven in the form of a centre, attached to many of the NHS hospitals throughout the UK.

If you want to give back you don’t have to give up as much time as me but if you have a couple of hours once a week or just once a month then please do consider volunteering, it’s really rewarding.

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The power of the verb to LISTEN in 6 new words

Having just read a very powerful book written by a friend ‘It’s all in your mind’ living with Depression, one think I learnt was that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

But today I want to look at the power of the word ‘LISTEN’ and as a result I have broken it down into six different words that I associate with it.

Here goes –

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L = Learn.    Listening is an art and a very powerful tool in life so we all need to learn to slow down and take more notice.

I Interest.  Whether you understand or have a different opinion the art of listening is show interest.  When you show interest it may just give that person the confidence to flourish.   We all have busy lives and ‘interest’ works both ways.

S = Sympathy.   This was a hard one to match as when you listen it must be genuine and not sarcastically and if you show genuine sympathy (empathy) it is a great feel good tonic.

T = Time.    A wise person told me that you cannot give back time which is true however are we really too busy to stop and listen to a friend or a stranger in a moment of need?

E = Emotions.     Emotions are as powerful as listening and having a release is critical and a great release for stress.   Let’s face it stress eats us up and can cause all kind of problems so hell why not have a meltdown/showdown at 47 it’s a release of emotions and people will listen, it works for a child.

N = Notice.   Being alert to people’s body language and listening to their tone of voice can show you how they feel so learn to notice people as not everyone has a voice or believes they should be heard.  Engaging with someone whether it’s a smile or a gesture shows you have noticed.

One think I know for sure,  is that I certainly put the above into action when I volunteer at the Royal Marsden Chelsea  as a friend and a past patient.  I know what I wanted and so many people say it’s like been at home.   That is because we create a safe haven for everyone and we ‘listen’.

So, now I have taken on another challenge and will be acting at the Chair of the Committee for Maggie’s as the charity of the year 2019 for the BADA fair next March and really excited to have been asked.  I will be putting the above into practise to achieve the goals.

So, please we all know or, at least try to listen to our own bodies and may even have a few words with ourselves but please open your eyes and look around you as we all have a form of mental health and know someone who may just need us to listen.

If you want to read a thought provoking book then check out Karen Buckley’s ‘It’s all in your mind’ living with depression.  Available on Kindle or via Amazon.

And, if you can make a difference stop and listen and look at the six word association.

  LEARN

  INTEREST

  SYMPATHY

  TIME

E  EMOTIONS

NOTICE

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Memories and putting them to bed

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11 years ago I visited South Africa with my mother to sell the family business, Inecto (aka Rapidol Limited) to the Godrej family and say goodbye to another chapter of the family business.

 
To give you a background my parents founded the business in South Africa over 70 years ago having had an operation in the UK and a hair dressing school, Phyllis Earle in Dover Street in the 60’s. If only my family had kept those properties.

 
Anyway, as a child I had many visits to the factory in Hanwell going on the train with my father and would be put to work on the assembly line. And memories of selling my hair to my Granny to make real hair wigs. Oh such happy memories.

 
Then, aged 21 I decided to go and experience the South African business and set off for six months. However I didn’t return for six years as Africa got under my skin and you have to admit aged 21 were the best years of my life.

 
So, returning in February with my boyfriend was going to be a big deal and a roller coaster of emotions.

 
In the eleven years my Mum had tried to get us all back for her 70th birthday but it didn’t materialise and then she got sick, then I did too so this was the first chance to return.

 
I had tried to contact the factory a number of times to say I would like to visit and finally while in Mauritius got a response to say come and visit on the Friday morning.

 

It was a strange feeling I had as we drove to the factory in Pinetown from Umhlanga (another pot of memories) as the route became so familiar, nothing had changed, we still got stuck in a traffic jam however I was surprised to see that they had regulated the infamous taxis.

 
As we pulled up at the factory, the exterior was slightly different but it still had the same old awnings outside. My girlfriend, Sandra Levinson of Calabash would have had a field day with those.

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Anyway, after a small discussion with security, I was shown to the reception which was where the gent’s loo used to be and we had our show around.

 

Nothing had really changed apart from parts of the offices were closed off and another mezzanine floor had been put in. The production lines were all the same, the machinery was now working 24 hours a day as Godrej had introduced more lines. As we walked around people wondering who these strangers were suddenly I saw someone I recognised and it was a relief. He hadn’t changed a bit still cheeky and hadn’t aged! Then as we came back through to the packing line an older gentleman came over to me and said ‘Mrs Ducker, thank you for the money you gave my family 11 years ago, it put my son through school and I can’t thank you enough’ he then proceeded to ask how I was, and I had to explain I was Sarah.

 
It was a very special 45 minutes walking through and showing Hubert that part of my life and telling the new management some of the history of the business and the family as it has all been lost as nobody in the management/sales and admin team left.

 
My parents would have been really pleased to see that the business carries on and the lines are still visible in more stores from Clicks to Pick N Pay to Spar as I was checking them out. It is the leader in Ethnic Hair Colour.   And they would have been proud I went back.

 
I am so pleased that I made the effort to go and see the old factory and as the saying goes, I put memories to bed and closed off another chapter of my past life.

 

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‘Celebrate a Life’ Carols at Royal Marsden Chelsea

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On Thursday 14th December you will find me at my second home, the Royal Marsden Hospital Chelsea, however this year I will be wearing my friend’s hat and not just as a patient blending into the crowds.

So, rewind to last year when I attended this event for the first time and had a star on the tree for me.  I had been through a shit year but the end was in sight and i had come out the other side.

The service was very moving as over 200 people gathered on the steps and around the tree to ‘celebrate a life’ and across all cultures.  Everyone was so friendly, something that the Royal Marsden is known for.   So, I took my spot on the 2nd step down from the top by the revolving front door and I stood next to a couple who came every year from Eastbourne and had done for over 10 years.   Their were a few patients and nurses and then I remember one of the Volunteers (Friends), Sally, offering mulled wine and that was special.  Hubert came along as did Pamela which was to have the support and i recall we had a Thai dinner after as I went down with a cold which i hope will not be the case this year.    The service is really special, starting with the lights been turned on and lighting up the hospital and it’s amazing how people walking past or on the bus stop and stare as they know the hospital and what it stands for – its unique.  Then we sing a couple of carols, their is a choir and readings.

The concept of ‘celebrate a life’ is that you buy a star for the tree however, the chance of finding your star is slim but your name is in the programme which is good enough for me.  However, this year as I know a few of the Estates staff I am hoping that if they have my star they can put it on at least eye level but I think that may be like looking for a needle in a haystack but we will see.

This very special service only lasts for an about 45 minutes from 6pm and you will have my cheery face walking around with mulled wine and mince pies and singing along to the carols as I do love a sign along!

Christmas is a very hard time for many, as it is a time for family and someone who lost both parents, my father before Christmas 16 years ago and then losing my mother 3 years ago in September.  So, its now just my sister and I and our amazing partners and of course my friends too.

As I volunteer I have met so many amazing people who have had ‘hope’ and ‘determination’ to beat the big C and, I have met people who have fort gallantly and sadly not pulled through.   All these people touch you as I am only human and this year my star was for everyone.

So, please if you can come along next week and if you can’t, maybe walk past over the following days and think of someone who you have lost and find peace in this tree, a tree of life, a tree of reflections and a tree of tributes.

eveer a day canit be in heart

Thank you to the Royal Marsden Chelsea.

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Sir Chris Bonnington and ‘Ascent’ at Henley Literary Festival

Wow what an inspirational and motivational speak Chris Bonnington is and interviewed very well by Catherine Grainger a star in her own right, at the Henley Literary Festival to launch his new book ‘Ascent’ – a life spent climbing on the edge..

I was fortunate enough to have a good 15 minute conversation with Sir Chris prior to the talk and Hubert managed to get a good photo.

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The event was a sell-out, 300 tickets and I think he was pleasantly surprised as was his wife, Loreto.

This year sponsoring the talk it was in support of The Friends of the Royal Marsden Chelsea where I volunteer, giving back to the place that saved my life.

The hour yesterday went so fast, I think everyone could have listened to Sir Chris all day.  He was so open, honest and full of hard-won wisdom about his life.    It wasn’t an easy life by any means but he was all for adventure, from an early age and told the stories so fondly as if it was only yesterday.   From heading out on Hampstead Heath aged 6 with a girl next door to a school escapade with a few friends resulting sleeping in a tree.    His passion for climbing was so evident and he followed his heart rather than being a margarine salesmen.  He also had amazing support from his mother and Nan and then his late wife, Wendy and family.  And now after heartache of loss, he has found a new love in Loreto and now after his last expedition at 80 years old he announced his next two are on the ocean aboard a cruise ship.

What I took away from his talk was ‘Do not live in the past, live in the moment and look to the future’ – such wise words.

I have sponsored Henley Literary Festival for over 11 years now and have seen it grow and can’t thank Harriet, Tom, Sue and John Ryan for their vision.

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Dear Cancer, love Victoria (Derbyshire) and Henley Literary Festival

Last night I attended the Henley: Literary Festival to hear the talk by Victoria Derbyshire as she spoke about her book ‘Dear Cancer, love Victoria.

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I had arrived early, so I went off to the Bell Book Shop in Henley and brought two copies of the book. One for myself and one for the Friends of the Royal Marsden to put in the raffle for the forthcoming quiz night and I was going to get them both signed which I did.

I took myself off for a cup of tea as I waited for friends and started to read the book.   As I did, I realised that tears were rolling down my face not because I was sad, but because it was like reading my journey and it brought it all flooding back.  My dates were not too different as I found the lump in November 2015, operation on 15thDecember 2015 and started chemo on 23rd January 2016 and finished everything on 4th March 2017.

Some of her comments really hit home from, ‘I went to sleep with cancer and I woke up without cancer’.   Some of her experiences were similar from the importance to work when you could as normality was key.

Telling the family is not easy and telling children must be very hard, not having them myself I was touched.  However for me telling my niece who was 9 years old at the time and only 18 months earlier had lost her Granny so, the word ‘cancer’ was extremely scary for her but once she realised I was going to live and she just has to see me being bald was cool she accepted it.

Something that I also resonated too, as did my dear friend who came along with me was the fact that on being diagnosed you are almost on autopilot and go into the Mrs Efficient mode, though I have always been like that.   After the initial diagnostic, I didn’t plan a wedding or my funeral I was more concerned that they said no travelling and that I may not get to work – my response was well you may as well measure me up and put me in a box now then.   However the wobble I had a few months ago,  I planned a wedding, my funeral and my goodbye emails in the space of 24 hours of self-diagnosing,  something that with the help of massage and physio has been relieved – silly but your brain can play games.   My advice is stay off the internet and let your consultant be your guide.

I agree with Victoria when she said that the hardest part was waiting from knowing you have the Big C to having it removed and whether you will be ok.    Then once you have the operation and it is done, the amazing high you are on, ok it is partly Valium but it’s a high and the first time you are relaxed since knowing you have/had cancer.    Within an hour of coming around I was asking for marmite toast and asking to go home – my dear friend and Anoushka and Hubert hadn’t expected to be back for at least another few hours!

Scarily we were the same age when we were hit with breast cancer and the same type (estrogen) and I just love some of the comments in the book about the menopause brought on by the chemo.

I take my hat off to Victoria having a fear of needles, she self-injected the hormones for the 5 days after chemo, and I couldn’t and took myself to the hospital daily.  Something common for people with low white blood counts.

The video diary that she created has been a real inspiration to so many women and I know charities have approached Victoria as an Ambassador.   It is about ‘talking’ and not feeling you have to whisper about cancer and as she said we don’t whisper I have dementia.

The infamous ‘cold cap’ or as many people call it as it looks a cross between a racing hat and a tight swimming hat though nothing prepares you for the minus 5.   All I can say after 4 sessions I couldn’t use it, the brain freeze for the hours afterwards was too much and I started to loose my hair after chemo 1 so it was bald for me.   Victoria being in the public eye went for the wig and liked to keep the hair which hadn’t fallen out and I know she said that was the hardest part of her journey.   We all have different lows and highs and for me, I went from long hair to medium to short and then off to the barbers and bald and it was liberating.

I think everyone knows the feeling of not feeling like a women when your hair comes out as its not you and I know that I changed the day I went bald.

Victoria also shares how she really valued and absorbed all the special occasions during the treatment and still.   I think it’s only natural to soak everything up and one does occasion pinch oneself and say thank you to my surgeon and the NHS staff, as they saved our lives.

Ooh as I am sitting here reading the book,  refer to  Thursday 31st December where Victoria says she wants to do a ‘thank you’ party, so away and then do something for her local hospital.    Ditto and in September 2016 I did the thank you, I went away in February 2017 and I did the Marsden March in March (half marathon) and I know volunteer.

The wipe out days such as Sunday 10th January, oh yes I remember those putting on a brave face but it messes with your body and makes you feel like crap with a capital C.

The end of chemo was a big relief though it left a void as chair 4 in the chicken factory (my name for it) was to be no longer.

my chemo buddy 1

I wouldn’t be a stranger though as I was not giving up my pic line before I had too and I still had Herceptin.

I love the comment on Wednesday 25th May when she finishes her last treatment (radio) and says ‘it’s time to crack on with the rest of my life’.

As I finish the book which is just great, I wanted to share Victoria’s words in her book Dear Cancer, love Victoria.

“Dear Cancer, you don’t define me – you simply took over my life for 301 days (in my case 345), motivating me to talk boldly about you to anyone who would listen.  The more I shared your reality the more diminished you became.  Because talking about Cancer really can help alleviate fear and despair.”

At the back of the book are some of the most heart-warming emails that Victoria received from complete strangers.   A number of them are from people who didn’t make it and if nothing else they are worth a read but have a box of tissues close by.  Yesterday they shared the story of Peter Greenaway who lost his wife, not a dry eye.

I was not in the public eye as Victoria but I worked through my treatment to keep me sane.   But one person, a stranger who touched me was a little girl of no more than four on the bus asking her Dad why I had no hair and he was mortified.  Anyway I asked her to come and sit by her and I explained I wasn’t well and let her feel my bald head.  Then she turned around and said are you going to die like my mummy.  I didn’t expect that and didn’t know how to react, anyway I managed to stay composed and she was a light to me.  I must have seen her further four or five times on my treatment journey and it was special.  I have seen her once since I finished and I just smiled at her.

All I can say is talk and don’t be frightened to ask, whether you ask the nurses or you approach a charity you are not alone.

Their are many charities who offer support but I am biased to The Friends of Royal Marsden Chelsea.

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