Crikey, it’s been a fair old while since I wrote anything! Not only have I been recovering from the epic Tea (not a drop of tea in sight) Round but things got super busy with work and general life. The summer term is the busiest for us at Mini Mermaids as we have most of our 5km challenges happening and the chiblets seem to have had a billion things that they HAD to do… parties, events, end of term presents which not only have left me exhausted but also my pockets empty as everything cost a shed load of money (my kids seem to think that I have a never ending supply of cash which I only want to spend on them…. I have a feeling that this isn’t going to change…)
But here I am, sitting on a train that I could possibly run faster than, with ‘the eye’ and the other eye ravished with hay fever giving me the appearance that I am very emotional (I’m actually ecstatic at having to be away for 3 days) on my way to our Mini Mermaid strategy and planning days in Kendal, The Lake District (yes I totes had the deciding vote on where we were going!) so I thought it would be a good time to catch up with the media shizzle that has been going on with me! (that’s if I can carry on seeing through my one eye that is weeping tears as if I was watching Marley and Me…)
When ‘Eyegate’ happened, I never actually thought it would generate as much interest as it has… I mean, society tells us that if you are over 35, female, a mum and you don’t have fitness DVD out no one is that interested, and so I’m glad that my story has sparked something in people which means that I have been able to spread awareness about Ocular Melanoma.
Having worked in TV for over 10 years, I was totes comfortable with being behind the scenes, being totally in awe of those who could put themselves out there every day…. it seems however that now it was my turn to be front and centre…. cue sweaty palms and mild panic attacks…
My old (not that old) school friend Richard got in touch a few weeks after I was diagnosed and offered to write and tell my story for a national newspaper ( The Mirror) we spoke (twice in fact) and he was so gracious in giving me the time to ramble through my experience and then picked out and put together my story in such a well written way. I know that a lot of people don’t get to proof read their stories first or get a super awesome photographer to take some pictures of the family and so I am super grateful. I think the article was brilliant and I now will not respond to anything except ‘Brave mum, 38’
I was asked to film a piece for BBC Look North by the awesome Nicola Reese (I also know her through running, small world!) it was so fun to have her follow me around for a few weeks in gold mini… I felt quite lonely when she left! We travelled to Sheffield to see my Dr (the one with the fancy socks) and she spent time with my family and with me at Mini Mermaids telling my story (and letting me squidge ‘the eye’ on camera) and the response that the article had when it went out on Look North has had has meant that many more people have had their eyes checked than may have normally.
I had an emotional experience recording the Mama Fuel podcast with Anna Ferguson (who is an incredible warm and giving person and has a soft silky voice to die for!) It was the first time I had fully told my story in a recording and I was a complete mess…. I was literally a snivelling wreck and you can hear me sniffing away through the whole interview trying to hold it together! (It was also filmed and you can see me casually using my sleeve to do a snot wipe, just like my 6 yr old!) It was such a cathartic interview and helped me release so much and check into myself as I was desperately trying to understand how my life was going to be shaped from that point forward, as a mother and as a woman.
Finally, I had a beautiful interview last night with an old friend I used to work with…. a short 10 minute talk full of laughter and joy with a truly wonderful human who has been through heartache and pain and has so much grace and dignity and completely got everything I was saying….We sat in Roundhay park in the warm evening sunshine and just chatted and laughed….. this one isn’t out for a few weeks, so I’ll hold off with more details and let you know when it’s out… I think it’s worth the wait!
So it seems that I am an old pro now (I’ve still not got the rambling or talking slowly down just yet but I am working on it!) so if you are looking for a speaker at your next event, or want to fill some space in your newspapers…I’m free for funerals, weddings and Bat Mitzvah’s…
I’m off to find some ice to bath my hay fever suffering eyes….!
Two significant things have happened to me in the last week… I ran 31.8 miles over mountains for fun and I have realised that I am not a natural dog owner. The latter escapades with a friends borrowed dog have scarred me so much, I’m not sure that I am ready to write about it… lets just say it involved a dog running off, a house left wide open and a random family on holiday from Australia helping me catch it…
So lets head to my happy place for this blog… running and the Lakes..
Let’s rewind back to April and the glorious trip we took as a family for some R&R in a barn… in the middle of nowhere overlooking the awe inspiring mountain of Skiddaw. On our way back from the weekend, we stopped (as usual) in at the famous George Fisher outdoor shop which lives in the heart of Keswick. After mooching around the shop looking at all of the climbing gear and lovely shiny outdoor stuff we headed upstairs to Abrahams tea room for some light refreshment. Towards the end of our food, Mr Me-myself and eye suddenly piped up with “Oooh look, there is a Tea Round that you can do, running up all of the peaks that you can see from the tea room, fancy doing that at some point?”
Now there are two points to remember here, number 1) the children were running wick around the tea room at this point (they do not do very well inside) and number 2) Mr Me-myself and eye NEVER does anything on a whim, he is always very well planned and usually takes a zillion years to make a decision about doing anything. Taking this into consideration and glancing out of the window and seeing only about 3 peaks in view whilst trying to herd the children, I thought that it would never actually happen, and so I said “yep, sure, sounds great.”
So imagine my shock when 2 months later, both me and Mr Me-myself and eye were on the road back to Keswick with the intention of trying to complete the infamous Tea Round. Neither of us had run more that 10 miles in the last 6 months and I started wheezing like a steam train at the thought of an incline….. I had a strange feeling that this was not going to be the fun couple of days away that had been sold to me.
Billed as the younger sibling to the Bob Graham Round (which is a brutal 64 mile run around the Lakes in 24 hours) The Tea Round is a mere 30 ish miles with no time limit and the overall description of the route made it out to be a lovely gentle undulating jog around the fells and peaks of Keswick…..
As we arrived in Keswick on a picture perfect evening, we headed towards the main lake which was empty of tourists and we marvelled at the incredible views and the way that Skiddaw is always there, like your best mate, looking out for and protecting Keswick. The air was that bit fresher, the 4G signal was that bit poorer… there we were, back in our happy place.
The next day was another blooming beaut of a day as we set off from the front of George Fisher outdoor shop towards our first fell and peak of Catbells…. a mere 451 metres high. By 0740 it was already 17 degrees and I had sweat off all of the sun lotion I had so carefully applied an hour before….. it was going to be a warm old day…. I optimistically started the day ‘patch less’ wanting to challenge myself, but after the first mile I realised that this was not going to be an option as ‘the eye’ and the socket were drier than one of Ruth’s sandwiches (cheeky Tony Audenshaw, aka Bob off of Emmerdale reference there) and every time I blinked or moved ‘the eye’ it was like dragging skin over sandpaper, and so it was on with the trusty eye patch.
Catbells is a lovely fell to run up… but it has a sting in it’s tail with some pretty hard scrambling towards the top. This was the first indication to me that I was going to have problem. Not only was I breathing so hard that I thought that my lungs were going to pop out of my chest at any moment (and this was the smallest of the peaks that we were going up…) but I realised that I couldn’t actually see that well. Back in the day I would have bounded (ok, meandered at a pace) up the scrambling parts, but now I was finding it difficult to see where to put my feet and hands….. I also realised that this was on the ups….. what the hell was it going to be like on the downs….?!
I think that it is important to note here that Mr Me-myself and eye is actually a mountain goat (the children have inherited this trait) and although he probably hadn’t run in about 4 weeks, he bounded up each peak as if he had trotters on his feet and sat waiting patiently munching on a snack at the top… and bottom…. of everything.
Once I had got to the top of Catbells and revelled in the unbelievable beautiful view and made sure that I could actually see Abraham’s tea room from the top (I wanted to make sure that this was a legit route and not randomly made up) I casually asked Mr Me-myself and eye how many of these peaks we would have to do and when we would actually get a cup of tea….”oh i’m not sure, maybe about 8 or 10 peaks and you can have some tea at some point…..” errrrrr sorry what?! 8 or 10….. EIGHT OR TEN?!!! (it actually was about 12 in total) I started to curse myself for not paying more attention to when Mr Me-myself and eye was actually explaining what the route was and agreeing to do the thing in the first place. I mean what was wrong with just casually strolling up one or two of them and then grabbing an ice cream and spending the rest of the day paddling in a lake or stream?!
The following peaks of Robinson and High Stile passed in a flurry of sweaty swearing (as we had to descend back down before climbing back up nearly 800 metres each time) on paths that weren’t actual paths and with almost vertical descents where I had to turn around and scramble down backwards or run the risk of toppling over. I have to mention the brief pause at the beautiful river at the bottom of Robinson where we filled up our water pouches and dipped our caps in the water to cool off… a glimpse of what it would be like living in the wild.
The blessing after High Stile (which was a pig of a climb with a tiny, tiny overgrown path) was that there wasn’t much of a drop before heading up Red Pike, however the descent from Red Pike was bloody awful and I spent most of it on my arse sliding down (ending up with a very red bum, the rock is actually red!)….. as I was sliding down, I passed an American couple who were heading up Red Pike (woefully underprepared in their very white trainers) they asked me if it got easier the higher they got…. I didn’t want to lull them into a false sense of security so I firmly said to them “if you are prepared to spend most of the next 400 metres crying, you’ll be fine.”
I actually think that the worst part of this decsent was the fact that I could see Buttermere below me (half way) but it just was not getting any closer…. all I wanted was a pint of juice and a cheese baguette and it was so near but yet so far…..
After what seemed like a zillion years we arrived in Buttermere and refuelled with juice, baguettes and flapjack, it tasted unbelievably good. Whilst having lunch I questioned Mr Me-myself and eye over what the plan was (after seeing the bus pulling up heading back to Keswick and thinking that it was my ticket out of there) Mr Me-myself and eye said that it was only one more up and then we would be running all the peaks once we were up and we wouldn’t come back down until we were making our final descent into Keswick. I naively believed what he said…. what an idiot.
This is what we were faced within the last 18 miles of the ‘fun day out together…’
Sail and Scar Crags
*with a few more thrown in for good measure
It is true that we didn’t have to come right back down to go back up the majority of the peaks, but none of them were easy ‘lets just pop across to the next one’ type of climbs, they all involved blood, sweat, swearing and a fair few tears.
The straw that almost broke the camel back (cheeky pun) was after we had reached the top of Stoneycroft Ghyll. It was getting late and it had been a really tricky descent off of Causey Pike because it was all in the shadows and it was a proper scramble down the rocks. The wind was picking up and we had to run along a ridge to get to Stoneycroft Ghyll. There was a long, long drop to the left and right of me. Before ‘eyegate’ I would not have thought twice about running along it but now, not only was I tired, but the light was dodge which meant I couldn’t see the ground properly, and more importantly the trip hazards which left me worried that I was going to trip and fall to my death. I gingerly made my way up to Stoneycroft Ghyll and prepared myself to run off the back of it towards Keswick which was tantalisingly about 2 miles away…… until Mr Me-myself and eye piped up,
“Errrr.… so you know the ridge that we have just run along…?”
“You mean the ridge that is in shadow and I can barely see?”
“Yep that is the one…”
“Yes Mr Me-myself and eye, I can see it….why?”
“Weeelllllll, we kinda have to run back along there for a bit and then go down down down to get across to Barrow and then go up Barrow before we can head back to Keswick.”
I would love to actually write what came out of my mouth at that point, but I fear that people’s perceptions of me may change….. lets just say that I was a tad unhappy at this prospect (especially as it also meant going down an almost vertical slope of heather which is awful to run through.. you kinda have to gallop through it with your knees high) I believe I may have said (the family version) that I wasn’t going to do it and he could leave me there to die for all I cared. Mr Me-myself and eye told me to pull myself together and if I didn’t get on with it then we would have completed 28 miles of it for no reason and we would have to come back and do it again another day. That was all the boost that I needed, there was no way I was coming back to do it all again…. I had a handful of drier than dry pretzels and peanuts and stormed *limped* through the heather and up Barrow.
Arriving on the peak of Barrow, and looking across at Skiddaw, still there protecting Keswick in all of it’s glory, a flood of emotion came over me. I was alive and I was living and I was seeing the beauty in the world.
Having had my eye removed and having had cancer does not define me as a person but it certainly will shape me as I move forward in my life. I am grateful for everything that I am able to do and for the challenges that I am making myself do as a result of what has happened. I am physically and emotionally stronger and more resilent and I am forever thankful to the Lake District for helping me recover.
Yes the Tea Round nearly broke me and I am still cross that there was not a drop of tea in sight for the whole 31.8 miles (and that Abraham’s tea room was shut on our arrival back) but as we were sprinting back into Keswick to touch the door of George Fisher for our grand finish, I thought… that wasn’t so bad….. how much harder could the Bob Graham Round be….?
So in a 1980’s Top of the pops stylee, I am going to list the top 10 most frustrating and somewhat difficult things that I have found since becoming the proud owner of my new temporary eye. Hold tight folks, this is going to be exhilarating….*
*Disclaimer, I cannot be found responsible if you do not find this list exhilarating….
Dropping 5 places to 10 – Shoes being left at the bottom of the stairs, middle of the floor or even tucked In by the bottom of the kitchen cupboards. I cannot tell you how many times I have stumbled and trip over a pair of shoes. I would like to lay the blame wholly on my children but unfortunately I can’t. Mr Me-myself-and-Eye is a prime suspect and actually is particularly fond of leaving his shoes next to a small stool pushed ever so slightly and subtly into a place which is a prime trip hazard… I wonder if he has checked out our life insurance recently… I think the ONLY reasonable answer to this problem is to donate the obscene number of trainers that we have to other people… like a shoe cleanse…. I mean who actually needs 50 billion pairs of trainers?!
New in at 9 (although has been drifting around the outside of the top 10 for a while) – Being asked to look at something written or drawn really really small on a piece of paper whilst I am at one end of a room/driving/in another room and then made to pass comment on the writing/drawing…this especially happens when I’m in the car and I literally have to swivel my neck 180 degrees (Chucky stylee) to look at anything directly behind me (anyone not familiar with the character of Chucky, google it…. in the middle of the day when you are at work…. not at home when you are on your own… at night….) To be fair, this was a frustrating trait that my chiblets had before ‘eye gate’…. I mean, there is only so many ways you can say ‘ooooh great job guys… what is it?’ In a way that doesn’t crush their hopes and dreams of becoming an artist or best selling author…I particularly love it when they do this to me when I am at a Roundabout…. in the rain…. in rush hour… defs the best time to be asking…. which brings me to…
Down 2 places at 8 – Drivers…. or driving in general….I don’t know if this has always been the case but I am certainly noticing it more now that drivers are aggro! Prime example is at Roundabouts (usually when the chiblets are asking me to look at something as stated above) you pause for more than a nano second and people (usually men -just my observation and not a generalisation that all men are aggro drivers) are swerving around me to go straight on….. or god forbid I pause to let people finish crossing the road when the amber lights are flashing….and sometimes I think that people must be soooo keen to see where I am going that have to drive within about 6 inches of my back bumper so as not to lose me…. usually when I am going dead on the speed limit…. they must just be super impressed with how I maintain the speed limit whilst belting out Madonna (pre eyepatch Madonna obvs)
Staying at 7 – Steps that are the same colour as the floor. If I had a pound for the amount of times I have not seen or misjudged a step up or down, I would be about £59 richer. Usually the stumble happens and I turn it into a graceful couple of jogging steps as if to say ‘I totes meant to do that’ …. although the little squeak that precedes the jogging steps may give the game away… it’s just annoying.
A non mover at 6 – Crowds, and when I say crowds I mean anywhere with over 3 people. When I’m in the playground at school it panics me… it’s overrun by small children darting around me, appearing from the left hand side as if they have apparated like something from Harry Potter….this has actually become worse since the patch has come off because people don’t realise that I still can’t see… it makes my head fuzzy and I feel dizzy…. a bit like being drunk but without the good time before it…. it also makes sounds much louder…. It’s my new super power…. ‘bat ears….’
At 5 – Flat light, overly sunny, rain, dappled light – falling over in front of a van full of blokes, I’m just too embarrassed to expand on this one….
Staying strong at 4 – Empty toilet paper rolls, empty milk cartons in fridge, packets going back in the cupboard with 1 thing in…. again this has absolutely nothing to do with my eye or the cancer…. it’s just highly irritating…
A new entry at 3 (and nothing really to do with ‘the eye’) my mum’s new shower. Let me expand on this. My mum and dad have a new fancy pants shower that doesn’t have a trusty twisty ‘on and off’ and temp control knob, but it has a digital unit with 4 buttons numbered 1-4. Buttons numbered 1 and 2 control which shower head turns on (they are that fancy they have two) one is a regular on the wall shower head and the other is a dangerous looking silver sphere that sits above you head, just waiting….. I think that whoever created this shower contraption did it knowing full well that no one would remember which number button works which shower head unit.
Anyway, the first time I used the shower after a lovely rainy run around Harrogate (remember the run of death that Mr me-myself -and -Eye took me on on Mother’s Day?) As I was heading up to the shower my mum casually said “you know how to work the shower don’t you? Just press the button”…. famous last words. So there I was standing in the shower, faced with 4 button options. A game of Russian roulette, but the steaks are either a warm blast of water from the normal regular shower head, or an ice cold dunking from the ‘sphere of doom’ overhead. I took a deep breath, stuck my finger out and pressed button number 2. As soon as I pressed it, I realised my error. The gurgling of the water shot up the pipes and passed the normal shower head…. At that point life went into slow motion and my desperate lurch for the door was pointless (I have to point out that the shower is encased in a glass box and not that easy to see the escape hatch which made my attempt at an escape pointless) I shouted out ‘nooooooooooooooo’ and tried to blend into the glass door to avoid the inevitable artic water dump that was about to happen, but nothing could stop it. The ice cold water hit my head and engulfed me. Spluttering and swearing I reached over and pressed NUMBER 1, vowing to not only always remember to press NUMBER 1 but to always buy a shower with a twisty knob (and to bring down the company who created such a sadistic shower contraption.)
A non mover at 2 – Dogs when running…. I mean this is fairly similar to number 6 and crowds…where children dart around me…. The main difference is that dogs are at the perfect trip hazard height and give no warning they are about to stop directly in front of me or run over to have a sniff of my legs (or embarrassingly, crotch) when you are going full pelt, or suddenly turn on their trajectory right into you from the left hand side like a ninja….
And at number one, where it has stayed for the past 4 weeks -‘The eye’ falling out. On the occasions it has happened It has generally been when the chiblets have been around (except that hideous 1st time) and so I have not been able to break down in a mini meltdown before instilling the ‘deepbreath, left eyelid, shove and hope for the best’ technique to return the eye to the socket. It has a tendency to happen pre 8am, I guess as my body is waking up and so I wonder if this is a factor… to be fair, it doesn’t matter when it happens, the event will stay at number 1 until it stops happening!
So that is my top 10 folks, I hope you enjoyed it!
It’s really hard going about your ‘normal’ everyday life. Going to work, sorting the kids, making sure everyone is all right, even running, when you have something playing in the back of your mind ALL OF THE TIME without ever knowing when it might jump up and bite you.
I came across this blog post by Sherry McAllister a few weeks ago and was blown away at how she totally nailed what it feels like…. every day…. so I thought I would share her brilliant writing….
Imagine you’re going about your day, minding your own business, when someone sneaks up behind you…
You feel something press up against the back of your head, as someone whispers in your ear.
“Sssshhhhh…. don’t turn around. Just listen. I am holding a gun against the back of your head. I’m going to keep it there. I’m going to follow you around like this every day, for the rest of your life.”
“I’m going to press a bit harder, every so often, just to remind you I’m here, but you need to try your best to ignore me, to move on with your life. Act like I’m not here, but don’t you ever forget… one day I may just pull the trigger… or maybe I won’t. Isn’t this going to be a fun game?”
This is what it is like to be diagnosed with cancer. Any STAGE of cancer. Any KIND of cancer. Remission does not change the constant fear. It never truly goes away. It’s always in the back of your mind.
Please, if you have a loved one who has ever been diagnosed with cancer, remember this. They may never talk about it or they may talk about it often. Listen to them.
They aren’t asking you to make it better. They want you to sit with them in their fear… their sadness… their anger… just for the moment. That’s it.
Don’t try to talk them out of how they are feeling. That doesn’t help. It will only make them feel like what they are going through is being minimized. Don’t remind them of all the good things they still have in their life. They know. They are grateful.
But some days they are more aware of that gun pressing into the back of their head and they need to talk about it. Offer them an ear.
I haven’t been able to track Sherry McAllister down, but if i ever do I want to give her a huge hug because she has summed up so eloquently what it is like. Thank you for your words Sherry.
This wasn’t what this weeks blog was going to be about. I was going to write up a witty account of my experience of the many few media meetings that I have had recently, raising awareness of Ocular Melanoma and spreading the word to #checkyoureyes. However as ever in life, something else cropped up…..
When all of this eye cancer stuff began and s**t started to get real about losing my eye to have it replaced with a false/prosthetic one, I made a vow, a promise, a statement that I would never, ever, in a million years remove the aforementioned eye from my head for as long as there was breath in my body. The only time it would be removed was when somebody EXTREMELY qualified would do it to give me my permanent one and possibly a spit and polish once a year. And because I was soooooo sure that this would never, ever, ever, EVER happen, I think that I must have blocked out the section where Eye Lady (not her real name) told me exactly what to do if it DID happened…. I mean I was aware that there was a mini plunger involved, but I actually thought that this was given to me for comedic effect and there would be NO WAY that it would ever be used.
It’s a bit like when I was at school, I only really zoned in on the bits of lessons that I deemed I would need in the future…. In hindsight maybe knowing about the political structure of the UK would have been most use to me currently….
Anyway…. I have set the scene. The temporary eye was in…. and was NOT coming out until I saw someone with a medical degree, therefore I didn’t feel the need to listen exactly to anything that Eye lady (not her real name) said about the returning of said eye back to its flappy eyelidded socket…… Oh how wrong I could be…
I had decided (in my wisdom) that I would head to London during half term with the chiblets to see a wonderful friend who had come over all the way from California with her daughter as part of their European tour. I had roped in the Mini Mermaid UK team in London to be the hosts, cooks, entertainers and tour guides, which left me just to waltz in to join all of the fun. I took the kids so we could #makememories and they could have a little break from everything that had been going on. We made it down there with no dramas and even negotiated my nemesis ‘The Underground’ to get to where the party was happening, both eyes were in…
After a night of rose, champers, fabulous food and being introduced to the infamous S’more biscuit dessert from the States (which are basically sweet crackers with melted chocolate and melted marshmallows in -note to self, giving them to the kids at 10pm at night was not the wisest choice…) both eyes were in….
After a restless night, both eyes were in….
I remember the exact time it happened…. it was 7.23am the eldest chiblet was up and had made banana bread with our amazing host and was out at the park…. the youngest chiblet was chilling with our other host, I literally felt that I was winning at life with both chiblets occupied. I had a great big stretch and attempted some half hearted yoga moves and then whilst I was sitting down, I had a momentary lapse in concentration and gave both of my eyes a big old rub……. suddenly I heard….’bounce, bounce, skid……..’ and then silence. My heart jumped into my throat and I could feel the colour drain from my face as the realisation hit me, I didn’t even have to look in the mirror, I just knew. Dropping to my knees I scurried across the floor praying that I would find the offending item and it hadn’t dropped through any of the floorboard cracks. Spotting it under the bed, I dived for it and grabbed it…… now what? What the heck was I going to do now… I desperately tried to remember what Eye Lady (not her real name) had said about returning the eye to it’s rightful socket but in that moment I was sweating, feeling sick and panicking that I was holding an eye in the palm of my hand and my flappy eyelid was there flapping away in the wind (N/B there was no wind in the room I was in, apart from the overwhelming feeling to trump due to the sick feeling in my stomach)
‘OK Hannah. Think… Think…Think for goodness sake! What ARE YOU GOING TO DO!!!! Right, first things first, clean it.‘
Over to the sink and I saw the expensive hand soap with extra vitamins and minerals in it (and some exfoliant in to make your hands super soft) thinking that this wouldn’t be the wisest choice I spun around and found the fragranced body wash in the shower,
‘That’ll do’ I panicked. Giving ‘the eye’ a quick wash (the strangest thing in the world holding and washing an eye) I was then faced with ‘to dry, or not to dry’ dilemma…. opting for ‘to dry’ I then had to face the reality that I would have to put it back into the socket…
OK, here goes…. this is it…. I’ve go this…. do I lift the flap up first or slot it in the bottom first? Oh my god, I feel a bit sick…. I can’t do this…. I can just leave it out… no one will know… nope this eye is staying out of the socket… pull yourself together… you can do this…. deep breaths…oh jesus, it’s all skin like…. erugh, look inside… oh my god…. ok, here goes…. please just go back in….
Lift, shove, blink and it was in…… ‘
Thank f**k for that….Hold on, that feels really weird and doesn’t look quite right….oh dear lord, what if I have put it in the wrong way round? Do you know what, i’m ok with a bit of pain and it being uncomfortable and looking odd… it can just stay like that until I see a medical professional next week….
I quickly put my eye patch back on (out of sight, out of mind and all that) and that is where we are at right now. It is still uncomfortable and looks just a bit strange but it is in and I have survived the first re instalment of ‘the eye’ and I think that I handled it with grace and dignity…..I’m pretty sure that Eye Lady (not her real name) would be proud of me too….. (she would probably roll her eyes and mutter under her breath about if I had listened to her the first time I would know EXACTLY what to do, but I am sticking with the thought that she would be proud…)
Until next time folks, try and keep your eyeballs in….
I used to play this game when I was a kid and then in my rebellious years. It comprises of being in a cycle of other kids and one person says “Have you ever…?” and then thinks of something ridiculous, like “Done a poo outside?” and if you haven’t done the pointless thing that they ask you, you have to complete a forfeit (or drink/eat a concoction of rancid things put together by your ‘so called’ friends when you are a teenager.)
Any way, there is no actual point to the beginning of this blog really, apart from to say, ‘HAVE YOU EVER HAD A FALSE EYE FITTED…?’
So strangely, some of you reading may very well have had one fitted and will be able to relate to my experience. For some of you, this will be an eye opener for you…. pun very much intended….
Where do I start….?
About 6 weeks post surgery I received a letter through the post from ‘The National Artificial Eye Centre’ my first thought was that they could have maybe thought about a shorter, catchier title for the service. I don’t know, something like….’Eye Eye Centre’ or ‘Bionic Eye services’…. but I guess it says exactly what the service is. My second thought was about where the centre was going to be. I had visions of heading to Harley Street in London, wearing my best Sarah Jessica Parker (ala Sex In The City) outfit and then lunching afterwards….. Turns out the centre is in Hunslet in Leeds, approximately 5 miles from my house down Dewsbury road (one of four awesome centres in England) I have to say that I was a tad disappointed that the location wasn’t a bit more exotic.
Anyway, after I got over my upset, I set about trying to prepare for the appointment, which actually meant not really thinking about it until the night before and then panicking and feeling sick about what was going to happen ( I had joked with people that I was going to get old Barry’s eye from the bin, but now I was worried that this may actually be a reality) I had also kinda become attached to the plastic conformer that was half filling my socket, I wasn’t ready to have something that clearly wasn’t my eye act as my eye.
Arriving in Hunslet and congratulating myself on parking in a tiny car park (I had only been driving for about 3 weeks and generally parked in those spaces that no one else wants to park in as you have to then catch a bus to where you are going to) I checked in and waited. The waiting room was FULL of other people (not just with false eye issues) and I felt a little self conscious about my incredibly blingy new patch that had just arrived. Luckily my false eye person (I have no idea what her actual title is) was running on time. She collected me from the waiting room and took me into essentially a workshop (think back to your CDT lessons… but sterilised and you will get the picture)
As soon as I got into the room I broke down in tears describing how I wasn’t ready to have something that wasn’t my eye and that it wouldn’t bring back my sight and how I was worried about EVERYTHING, Eye lady (not her real name) just sat and held my hand, reassuring me and telling me that we didn’t have to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. I am so grateful that she took the time to do that, even though she was chocka with appointments all day. That 20 minutes of listening and reassurance was actually all that I needed to get my head around what was happening…..I will state AGAIN that NHS tissues are woefully inadequate (I have gone through a few and so feel like an expert)… I feel like I must start a fundraiser to supply better tissues for teary sobbing patients like me.
Anyway I digress…. Once I had pulled myself together, Eye lady (not her real name) explained what she was going to do, and then promptly stopped when she saw me turn green as she talked about removing the false eye once it was in. I assured her that there was no way on god’s earth I would ever be removing the eye until my permanent one was fitted…. even if it turned black with dirt it would be staying in the socket.
She then introduced me to ‘the case of eyes’…. in fact I think that deserves to be written in caps lock ‘THE CASE OF EYES’ This is the case that she carries around with her that houses over 600 prosthetic eyes….. I know, it gave me the heeby jeebies too. She flipped open the case and took out one of the shelves (there were about 12 shelves of eyes) and brought it over to me. After commenting that finding a match for my eye was going to be a nightmare due to the colour mixture of my eye (obvs I’m awkward) she picked out a few eyes and held them up to the remaining eye in my head and popped them to the side. This process was repeated for about 20 minutes until she had whittled it down to two eyes. What is absolutely amazing is that it was all done by eye (no pun intended there) Eye lady (not her real name) had such an eye for detail (I just can’t help myself…) and such confidence in what she was doing, it was like watching an artist at work.
After a bit of umming she finally settled on what she felt would be a good interim match before my permanent eye was fitted. It was then that the s**t got real…. this ‘eye’ was going to go into my head. Taking what looked like a mini plunger (blugh) she attached it to the eye and lifted up my sagging eye lid and just ‘popped’ it into place….. actually it wasn’t that easy as every time she approached my with the eye, I shrank back into the chair until I almost slid off it…..I was also sweating in cold fear and I swear I had sweat dripping down my forehead. Now I don’t know if this actually happened (the likelihood is that it didn’t) but after the 4 attempt of putting the eye in, I think that she body blocked me so as I wouldn’t shrink away from her any more. Then ‘THE EYE’ was in! Bloody uncomfortable and it felt like it was popping out of my head but it was in….. This was when the fun started (for Eye lady ((not her real name)), not for me…) she pulled out a black marker and started drawing all over the eye! Little marks and lines to show where it needed adjusting… She then ‘popped’ it back out of my head and set about filing and sanding it down on a HUGE industrial sized machine……Remember that I mentioned the CDT style room? I mean, if Aliens had come down to earth at that very moment and seen my with my flappy eyelid and Eye lady (not her real name) sanding and filing an eye, both of us discussing the merits of having a tortoise for a pet (we don’t have one for the record) I’m pretty sure they would turn and fly back to their planet in fear. This process lasted about 45 minutes with her installing and uninstalling the eye in my head several times before she was happy with the fit.
It was then time for me to see it, something that I was not prepared for at all. In fact, to be honest I didn’t want to see it, it made no difference to the way that I felt about not being able to see, but I then felt that I needed to see it, even to see the work and effort that Eye lady (not her real name) had put in. I took the mirror and had a look. I mean what can I say about it, it was really strange, something was in my socket that looked like an eye. A dead eye with not one ounce of expression but an eye. A flood of emotion came over me, I can’t even describe it. Grief I guess at losing something so much a part of me and then trying to replace it with something else, something false….anger at the fact that it had happened at all and gratitude that I am lucky enough to be able to have a new eye at all.
And then, just like that, the appointment was over. Eye lady (not her real name) suggested that I didn’t put my patch back on and try to walk around without it, but as soon as I left the centre, my patch went back on. 1. Because I had just bought some new fabulous ones (before Madonna showcased hers at Eurovison) and 2. I just felt really uncomfortable and I didn’t feel like me at all. It isn’t very comfortable to wear either. It is sore around the socket and gets dry very easily despite the gel drops I have and feels like something is stabbing into my socket all the time….. well that’s a nice jolly end to the blog!
I am so thankful to the NHS and to the incredible and talented Eye lady (not her real name), I just think that it is going to take a while……
There is also another slight issue with THE EYE, which may mean that my name changes from Captain Corne to Lizard Corne….
During this journey I have never wanted to shied away from sharing my highs, lows and the parts that make you question everything. It is mental health awareness week this week, where people are openly talking and sharing their stories about mental health and their own struggles to help de stigmatise the subject.
This is my story.
When you are first hear those three words ‘you have cancer’ it is like time has stopped. Everything goes into slow motion and your mind struggles to catch up. The room suddenly fills with people and you are passed woefully inadequate tissues and you can see that the Doctors are talking to you, explaining carefully all about the treatment and how successful treatment is these days but your first thought is simply ‘what if I die…. I’m not ready to leave yet….I’ve got so much left to do in this world…. what about my family.’
My first thoughts were about my children, how it was going to affect them, what could I do to protect them…. how could this be happening…. I am a dragon, fierce and protective and there to make sure that my kids grow into remarkable humans. My mission if you like… how can I do that if I was dead. How would Mr Me-Myself-And-Eye cope with everything, without me….? He didn’t know which drawer I keep their sports kits in or which socks they like to wear to school that I wash on a daily basis to make sure that they have them, how to make ‘egg in a cup,’ a staple food that they eat when nothing else will do and the little poem that I say to F before she goes to sleep every single night. You know, really stupid stuff in the grand scheme of things, but important, and stuff that only I know and I actually didn’t want him to know as they were MY things.
I remember being in a bit of a daze as they sent me for my first scan to see if it had spread to my liver…. I don’t think I really understood the implications of it if it had. It only hit home when Mr Me-Myself-and-Eye and I were sitting in the closed canteen of the Sheffield Hallam hospital surrounded by exhausted staff half eaten dinners and the sound of sad relatives comforting each other. Rhona (the Ocular cancer specialist nurse at Sheffield) rang and told me that no METS had been found on my liver, she said that she wanted to tell me straight away to put my mind at rest. Once I told my husband and he immediately broke down with tears of relief, it hit me like a brick in the face, that was a BIG deal. At that moment, I was going to be ok. The prognosis would have been a whole lot different if that phone call had had a different outcome.
I am not a religious person, but I do believe that there is something out there which influences your outcome, something bigger than we don’t know about that looks after us and helps us on our way through life. Some force greater than me made me go for my eye test on that particular day, helped me choose the optician that I went to and has allowed me to continue living.
So in that respect, this story does have a happy ending…I am still here…However, I have lost my eye, my sight and I still live with what feels like a traumatic event and with a ticking time bomb of when or if it might come back. 6 months, a year, 5 years from now, It will always be in the back of my mind.
Every person I know is dealing with their own shit, every single day, we all do it in our own way. I have chosen to share my thoughts and my story as it helps me. This isn’t the same for everybody and I get that. People are dealing with a lot worse in their lives and I get that too, people close to me are dealing with so much…..but everyone is different and just like I don’t compare my body to anyone, I also don’t compare my challenges or ways of dealing with things to anyone else, the way that we deal with everything is so personal.
I have plenty of days where I want to bury my head in the sand and I feel uncomfortable when people say I’m being brave. I feel a fraud because I don’t feel brave on the days I decided can’t take the kids to school because I don’t want to have another conversation about my patch or what has happened. I have many days where it feels like a dark cloud is hanging over my head that I just can’t shift and when I look at myself I see someone who is so so sad and the light that once shone from my eyes has dimmed and I know that I not coping. But up until now I haven’t really written that much about these moments…..because my grief is something still so raw and out of control that if I share it outside of my little world and head then it will blow up into something that I have no control over…..
So why share it now (I am literally in tears writing this) well…. I want people to know that for me, being brave isn’t all about ‘sucking it up’ and getting on with things. Yes that is a part of it, but to be honest, I don’t have much of a choice because the dragon side of me needs to fiercely protect my children and show up for them every day. Bravery for me is about showing vulnerability, being open to accepting all the emotions that happen which makes us human. The resilience that comes from crying, shouting, laughing and talking your way through something that has torn through every fibre of your being. Being truthful in your heart and soul about your feelings, not only to yourself but to those around you…. and so I guess this is why I am sharing this now…
This week is dedicated to raising awareness about mental health, but mental health issues are not confined to just a week, it’s everyday, every hour, every minute. It affects ALL of us from children to grandparents. If we as humans can be an ear for someone who needs to talk. Check in on each other. Smile and tell someone that ‘ it’s ok not to be ok’ then we are heading in the right direction to make sure that mental health issues are at the top of every bodies agenda and everybody’s issue.
For now, I am going to carry on and let my tears fall. To stop and reflect, take some deep breaths, pop my trainers on and welcome this glorious day into my life.
For anyone who is struggling at the moment, there IS help out there. The Samaritans offer a free help line, open 24 hours a day. For anyone who think their children need help, Young Minds offer help and advice and signposts for parents and children. #itsoknottobeok #itsoktotalk #mentalhealthawarenss