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Thursday, 28 February 2013

Am I wasting my time?

As many of you will know I work in a college in the UK.  College here is mainly for 16 - 19 year olds who are doing A-levels or vocational courses.  I came up with the idea of a week devoted to the awareness of various health and living issues and we are going to have days devoted to different themes - health, mental issues, leisure, food and relationships.  I have been gathering some hand outs and freebies to do with some of these issues and along the way I have spent my own money on getting some items such as some mugs, T-shirts and banners printed to try and tie it all together with a uniform presentation.  This evening I am beginning to wonder why I am bothering.  I gave one of the mugs to the Principal's PA as a gift for the Principal.  I received no acknowledgement of this and as I found it abandoned in the staff kitchen today I can only assume that it is thought of as a bit of a joke.

So why am I wasting my time?  I came up with the idea not to make the college look good, or may the senior management look as though they are doing a good job, but because it matters to me that maybe one of the 3,500 students will remember something that could help them in the future, and with the Teenage Cancer Trust coming on one day, something that may even save their life, or the life of another if they recognise the symptoms in time. 

In the UK it is the perfect time to get them thinking about what they eat as something more than a collection of calories.  There are morals and ethics involved with what we consume to say nothing of the environmental impact that agriculture has on the entire world, especially when people haven't got a clue that there is such a thing as seasonal fruit and vegetables.  Riverford ( are going to let us have some healthy eating booklets to hand out and are also donating some organic fruit boxes.  I have an organic vegetable box delivered by them every week because I believe that organic food is much better than 'conventionally' farmed produce, and part of that ethos is working to enhance the soil and the environment and not to strip it of every nutrient possible as it destroys the soil and its environment.  Organisations like Riverford actually seem to understand that they are the guardians of the land and not its exploiters.

While there is a chance that the message of how we live is as important as the fact that we live I am just going to plod on and hope for the best.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Becoming a sew and sew

There used to be a time when I made most of my clothes but for some reason I stopped.  I actually gave away many of the fabrics that I had in store because I knew that I would never get round to using them ... and then ... I got the quilting bug!

I was staying in the city of Bath for a few days last week and over the weekend just gone and I wandered around the compact Georgian city searching out fabric shops.  They are few and far between these days, but Bath has some great independent shops including Country Threads which is an absolute Aladdin's Cave of material delights.  It is one of those places where it is actually really difficult to make a decision about what to buy.  There was so much in the reception area, and then you can go down a narrow passage to a large room full of bolts of materials that could make your head spin.  I especially fell in love with the Sakura Park designs by Moda.

Where do you start?  What colours to use?  What pattern to use?  Argh ... I'm melting ...

Another project that I have been volunteered for is to make a christening gown for Sophie (great niece) because Vicky (niece) wants to have her christened soon.  Evidently she had a large shawl that came with her wedding dress and is in the same fabric and Vicky wants me to make an heirloom gown that can be handed down.  So on Sunday we are going pattern hunting.  I was the last one to wear the family christening gown 53 years ago, which my mother always said she gave back to my aunt, but my aunt says she doesn't have.  Mind you my grandmother lived with my aunt towards the end of her life and she had dementia so who knows ... she once gave a diamond ring to the milkman who was honest enough to give it back to my aunt!

I don't think I will ever go back to making my own clothes, but I am determined to have some fun with the fabrics I have already gathered together ... and that is without touching the very favourite designs I kept back; though I guess I will have to hope that the moth didn't get to them first.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Sew mad!

There was a time when I made most of my own clothes.  I never learned tailoring but I could turn my sewing machine to blouses, dresses, skirts and the like.  I would have to say that I have never been a great one for being at the forefront of fashion, I just don't have the figure for that but when my sewing machine gave up, so did I.

A few months ago I got another sewing machine which will take a while to get used to because the foot pedal works the 'other' way round, and the lever to lift the sewing foot is in completely the 'wrong' place, but it is nice to have a machine again.  I bought a skirt a couple of years ago and the first time I wore it I stepped on the hem as I was going up stairs and ripped it along a seam.  I have been able to mend that and wear it again, but the main reason I got it was to be able to make some blocks for the Lost Inspiration Quilt in memory of friends who have died of Metastatic Breast Cancer.  I finished the first three blocks last weekend and posted them off to Texas on Monday because Theresa and Sheryl will be working together this weekend to start putting the blocks together.

It has been a long time since I did any patchwork quilting.  My mother and I made one in 1972 because she needed something to do, and had plenty of offcuts from dressmaking, because between February and April that year I had two operations and in between my father nearly died of the emphysema he had when I was growing up.  He died six years later.  Funnily I can still remember the clothes that she had made with the materials that we were using.  My mother made nearly all my clothes when I was growing up and before she was married she had worked for Singer's, the sewing machine people.  Mu mother was in the WRAF (Woman's Royal Air Force) during the War and was posted out to Paris in 1945.  She hoped to be de-mobbed out there because she wanted to train to be a pattern cutter, and where better to do that than Paris?  Sadly her father was dying so she had to come home and was eventually de-mobbed in the UK.

The Lost Inspiration Quilt is named because of the friends I have lost from the Inspire forum, the Inspirettes as I call them.  I feel strongly that we need to give a face to those who have died from this disease, and not just count them as another statistic.  Melissa died leaving 5 children, the youngest of which was only about 3 years old.  Lisa left four children to mourn her loss for the rest of their lives and the youngest was about 12 when she died.  If we just quite the fact that 40,000 people will die of MBC this year in the US, and 11,000 in the UK that will have a limited impact.  Tell them that Edwina, Marsha, Patsy, Maureen, Karis, Gilda, Kristine, Laurie, Barbara, Alecia, Renee, Christine, Bobby, Linda, Lisa, Ann, Deborah, Pati, Irene, Erice, Julie, Kelly, Kelly, Melissa, Wendy, Kim and Laura have died in the last four months, and that they are just the ones I know about, well somehow it makes it personal.  It makes it personal because it is personal.  They all left people who will miss them forever and a day.  We need to make sure that the day will come when there are treatments that at the very least turn this disease into a chronic disease, or better still a cure.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Quilting and a Quandery

After sleeping for about 12 hours I was up before 6am and getting ready to spend the morning waiting for a delivery.  The morning wasn't much of a loss because it was grey and I filled in the time getting some quilting done and some new blocks cut out.  It is always difficult to know which side of the house a delivery is going to come.  The back of the house actually faces out on to the street, because originally access was going to be at the front of the house, which is now facing away from the road.  Also because I live in a small terrace of houses sometimes people can't find their way up the path between two terraces to be able to find the front of the house anyway.

So; have rotary cutter and cutting mat and will cut out to my heart's content.  I am still working on the Quilt blocks for what I call the Lost Inspiration Quilt in memory of friends who have died from Metastatic Breast cancer.  The trouble is that I am not sure what to say about each of those I am doing a block for, or at least for the first friend.  What do you say about someone else?  How should I use her words to express her story?  Do I just give the bare facts that she was diagnosed as Stage 3 in 2006, and Stage 4 in 2009.  He mother and best friend died in February 2009, her sister had committed suicide at the age of 42 in 1989, her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when she was already Stage 4 and she had no support from her brother and his family.  Do I tell how lonely she was and how the only person that really gave her any support was her boss.  One co-worker had actually asked her how she had enjoyed her time off when she went back to work after one treatment break.

Hope do we portray the loneliness of a Stage 4 diagnosis?  The knowledge that we are going to be killed by this dis-ease.  Can you imagine living with that knowledge, a father with rapidly advancing Alzheimer's, the recent loss of your mother, the lack of support from your remaining sibling and the trauma of having to tell your parents over twenty years before that their elder daughter had taken her own life.  But there was also a journey to some form of self-empowerment of acceptance.  This is not a case of giving up, but of not allowing cancer the power of taking your life as well as causing your death.  This is a very individual journey, and one that in my experience has moments of complete despair, great job, peace, anger, contentment and acceptance of our own humanity on so many levels.

I have come to accept my own frailties of character and the sorrow of not having lived the kind of life that I may have, but there again what is the point of fretting about this now?  I can't go back and change anything.  I will not marry, and I will not be able to have children, but it is, what it is, so all that is left is to make the most of the time that I do have.  In some ways the present has been so much more fulfilling and complete than before.  I no longer worry about what others think of me, or of pleasing others.  I do things that have meaning to me and that I want to do.

This is what I see as the gift that cancer has given me.  It has cleared a lot of the mess out of my life, it has pared it down to what is essential like the sound of birds singing and just allowing myself to be happy.  What more could any of us want in life and I just hope my friend managed to find some of that contentment.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


So here I am at 3.35am writing a blog entry when I should be sleeping.  Remember when it was possible to sleep all night and well into the morning?  When the idea of getting up before noon seemed to be a bit of a laugh.  I have several nights in a row when I sleep very badly, and then I just zonk out on another day to try and catch up at least a little bit of the lost time.

Once the brain cell engages I know that there is no point in staying in bed because I will just toss and turn and make things worse.  So frequently I will get up and 'play' on the computer until I get tired enough to need to go back to bed.  Right now I am tired, but the brain cell is buzzing.

Tonight I forgot to put the radio on quietly to help me sleep.  Somehow having the radio buzzing away quietly in the background really helps me to sleep.  I go through phases where this helps, and others when it doesn't and I need complete silence to drift off to sleep.  It really is just a matter of finding what suits you at the time.

If I am very anxious about something I try to use visualisation techniques and Mindfulness to calm my mind down and allow the arms of Morpheus to close around me.  By distracting the mind and taking it to a place and time when I was happy and felt good I can allow the whole of my body to relax more.  A vital part of this is to concentrate on the breath; the cooler air coming in through the nostrils and then the slightly warmer air coming out.  Mix that with the visualisation of a beautiful view from a hill on the North Devon coast and ... well I think I need to go back to bed now ...

Sunday, 3 February 2013

I hate passwords

I hate passwords and sites that seem to just decide that your password is no longer valid.  I've just spent five minutes trying to log back in to this blog and I was seriously thinking on strangling the mouse!  It's ok mouse, it wasn't your fault, I know that, but you were just the first thing to hand at the time.  I don't want to be told that my password was changed 17 days ago, when I know that it wasn't, so do this and then do that and set a new password (and you are NOT allowed to use a previous password) which has to be longer that this, but shorter than that ... blah.

Mind you, wouldn't it be great if we could have a password to life that we could just reset every now and then and then carry on?  Could we do that with cancer?  Find out where things went wrong and then just change the password that was used at that point and continue on?

I have, however, reached a point where I don't think that I can imagine my life without cancer and this is partly because I didn't have much of a life before cancer.  Not a life that meant anything anyway.  I really do appreciate life far more these days, and I feel far more connected to society and the world around me.  My life has changed a lot in the last 10 years, but especially in the last 5 years.  I think I have come to value myself much more than I ever used to.  I think of myself as having a positive contribution to make, even if it is just to show that you can live with incurable cancer.

The key word there for me is with.  I probably will never get rid of the little beastie but I have learned to co-exist with it by putting it in its place which is in my life, but not at the centre of my life.  That area of my life is reserved for doing things that have meaning to me, if no one else.  The centre of my life has become about fulfilment, meaning, contributing and enjoying just being alive.  It isn't about the grand things in life, about having my photo taken in front of the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids or the Grand Canyon but it is about photos of my family and people that I meet, about places that I visit, of things that I want to do.  I no longer try to be perfect.  I no longer try to be someone that is 'acceptable' to others.  I am someone who is acceptable to me.