Learning to Run and Letting my Mind Wander

I am running. Yes, I am running.  Not very fast, not very elegantly, but I am running.

I often forget to breathe, have a constant runny nose and it probably looks like I may well collapse at any moment.

But I am running.

I am also starting to enjoy running.  At the beginning, I dreaded everything about it; my stinky trainers, the kit and the faff with the phone/app/headphones combination.  Now I can’t wait to go out again.  This change of mindset only happened this week, week 5 of the Couch to 5K programme because I must be getting fitter.  I now accept that every metre I run is progress and more than I did the day before.  I don’t care that I am still working towards running 5K because I know I will get there.  Whilst my mindset change is a huge motivator, the Couch to 5K programme is brilliantly effective.  It’s design means that you really cannot fail and therefore the success that it generates drives you towards your next run.

I was initially motivated by the Heads Together Campaign and the courage and determination shown by runners such as Rhian BurkeJake Tyler and Poppy Farrugia and now my family are my motivation.  I had a place in the London Marathon 2017 to run for Children with Cancer but the unpredictability of my 11-year-old son’s leukaemia meant that regular training was virtually impossible.  I would start a training programme and then we would be faced with an emergency hospital admission or a period of intense chemotherapy which required 24 hour care.  It all felt futile.  I lost my momentum.  My place was deferred until 2018 and I’m now determined to make my family proud.

Now we are in the maintenance phase of treatment so things are much more predictable and I have been able to establish a running regime.  This regime has provided me with much-needed solitude and head space.  I literally forget everything when I’m running, partly because I’m concentrating so much on not falling over and remembering to breathe but also it allows my mind to wander.  Allowing my mind to wander used to take me back to my son’s diagnosis and the tough days which is why blogging and starting my own business became a necessary distraction.  What has been liberating about running is that I am now able to allow my mind to wander without the risk of it delving into the deep, dark places that it used to go.

So, this is the thing.  If you have been thinking of starting running, go do it!  Download the Couch to 5K app, put your kit on, faff with your phone/headphones and get out there.  It will be tough, you will feel a mess but it will be worth it.  You will get to a place where you can enjoy being able to let your thoughts run as freely as your feet.

 

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Why I hate SATs testing – a note from an oncology Mum

My son will sit his SATs next week along with his friends.  I am so proud and grateful for this because in January 2016 he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia and will continue to be in treatment until 2019.  I have watched him as he has maturely and determinedly prepared for the SATs by attending additional classes after school and completing reams of work at home without a fuss.

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Daily chemotherapy regime

I know he finds it hard.  It breaks my heart as I watch him trying to remember how to answer a maths problem or to apply the concentration that he needs.  It breaks my heart to know that when the results come out in July they will not recognise how hard it has been for him and many others because of the personal battles they face.  I know he will be ranked and judged against his peers who have been able to attend, focus and engage with education without interference.

When the results come out in July I will explain the following to him:

  • Government policy dictates that schools must objectively assess children at the end of each Key Stage to show how much progress you and your friends have made
  • The school will be judged on how much progress you and your friends have made
  • Your teacher will be judged on how much progress you and your friends have made
  • Your next school will be given your SATs results and you and your friends are likely to be given GCSE target grade based on these results
  • You and your friends are unlikely to ever be asked what you got in your Year 6 SATs
  • Your SATs results will not mention that you have and are fighting cancer

I will also explain to him that because of his bravery and courage he was able to prepare for his SATS despite the huge trauma he has been through in the last 16 months.    I will tell him that his results will differ from his friends because:

  • he had 6 months off school in Year 5 but attended school whenever he could despite being bloated on steroids, bald through chemotherapy and in constant pain.  
  • he has endured over 450 days of chemotherapy involving many general anaesthetics, surgical procedures and IV treatments 
  • he has taken so many medicines that we have lost count but included morphine for pain, anti-sickness and antibiotics
  • he has spent long periods of time in hospital separated from his Mum, his Dad, his brother and his sister
  • he has been so weak at times he couldn’t even get up the stairs
  • he has experienced the significant effects of steroids with changes in mood and increases in appetite
  • he has seen, heard and experienced pain, distress and fear which no child should

I will then go on to say that the following is far more important to us than his SATs results:

  • You are the most kind, caring and loving boy despite everything you have been through
  • You have never once said, “it’s not fair” or questioned “why me?”
  • When you were in hospital, you did your very best to try to keep other poorly children happy and entertained
  • During the darkest of times you turned cancer on its head and raised thousands of pounds for charity
  • You continue to face the daily challenges of being diagnosed with cancer with positivity, humour and humility
  • You are an absolute star in our eyes; we couldn’t be more proud

Next week he will stand tall and face the SATs with the determination and positivity that he has faced cancer with.  I only wish that he didn’t have to do them,  I know I could withdraw him but having been excluded from so many things already because of his diagnosis he wants to be ‘normal’; he wants to do everything that his mates do.

All I want is the government to stand up and recognise that children are not all the same, they are diverse and wonderful.  Many children fight daily battles whether medical, social or emotional ones which impact on how they can prepare for the SATs, how they cope and the outcome.

By testing them in this way you are only highlighting their difference not embracing it.

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I will run it next year…I know I said that last year! 

Good luck to everyone running the #LondonMarathon today. 
This was me back in 2007 with my good buddy Sarah. We aimed to finish before they opened the roads again and we did! We made a pact to run it again 10 year later to celebrate the passing of time and prove that aging is no barrier.  I was honoured to be offered a place to run for Children with Cancer and Sarah for Cancer Research UK. Despite numerous attempts to get our training off the ground it just didn’t happen.  The uncertainty of Felix’s treatment and starting my business just did not make the routine of running easy.  Fortuitously, our charities allowed us to defer our place for 2018. 
Needless to say we have beat ourselves up about our lack of determination and grit. Felix has been sorely disappointed that I couldn’t get my butt of the ground to train.  I now need to put my commitment and ambition into action.  I have been totally inspired by the #headstogether campaign and I am now even more determined to make it happen! Watch this space. 
#LondonMarathon #headstogether #childrenwithcancer

Survival of the fittest – welcome to the school holidays

Here we go, two weeks of unadulterated bliss.  No get ups, no lunches, no routine.  I love school holidays … after the initial 24 hours that is.

The first 24 hours of any weekend or holiday in our house is full of bickering and sniping between my 8, 11 and 12-year-old.  There are the constant put downs, ganging up on each other and sly accusations.  They will then move on to stomping around not knowing where to go, what to do, or who to be with.

I have put this down to them purely needing to reestablish the pecking order.  As in any species, the pecking order is sacred and there is a constant challenge for the top position.  For my children, a return to the family structure at weekends and holidays sees a return to the sibling hierarchy.  Whilst they are at school they know their place amongst their friends, peers and other students.  At school, my 11-year-old is Year 6 and thus ‘top’ of the school yet within the family hierarchy he has to readjust at weekends and in the holidays to being second to the first-born who has always asserted herself as top dog because of her age.  My youngest in Year 3 is one of the eldest amongst his peers being September baby, has a lot of confidence being the third born and also one of the tallest.  At home he has to accept that as the youngest, he is at the bottom of the pecking order which can be a huge adjustment for him.  My daughter, the eldest, is now adept at subtly ‘pecking’ the boys to make sure they know their place; whilst she is in the house, she is alpha sibling no question about it.  Sometimes, this tussle to re-establish their place can only last a couple of hours and they are able to co-exist together again.  However, on other occasions, it can take 48 even 72 hours for the struggle to result in the acceptable hierarchical outcome.  If this is over a weekend, then I am happily waving them off to school on a Monday.

I am intrigued by why children behave as they do.  The conflict at the start of weekends or holidays could just be because of their irritability and tiredness but for me that’s far too simple an explanation.  In my mind’s eye, my children are taking part in a battle of ‘survival of the fittest’ every time they break from school.  Dramatic yes, but makes dealing with these conflicts and battles far more meaningful and interesting!

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How to survive SATs Season – a guide for Parents and Carers

There are families and children up and down the country getting into a real pickle about the up and coming Primary SATs tests.  I am currently taking at least 3 calls per day from anxious parents and carers worried about how their children are going to perform in these assessments and what they should do to help.  All of these families are saying that they are worried that they are not doing enough to help their children and want to know what more they can do to.  There are lots of things that you can do to help your child but none of it should cause stress or anxiety for either them or you!

Children will most probably be spending the majority of their time in school on uninspiring SATs questions focussing on content, question type and exam techniques.  They may also be expected to attend booster sessions and complete further papers at home as a means of making sure they reach their target grade.  This is more than enough in my mind.

SATs tests have no real importance in the real world for your child or their future.

Therefore, in order to minimise any stress relating to these assessments I would recommend the following:

  • Praise hard work and effort  When you see your child trying their hardest, particularly in subjects they find tough, praise their determination and effort above any grades or scores they achieve.  This will help them develop a mindset that encourages them believe that they can get smarter.
  • Encourage a love of learning and exploration If these assessments have unleashed a desire to study and revise then you may want to invest in a quality tutor to satisfy your child’s ambition.  This is also the opportunity to develop a regular study regime in preparation for the transition to secondary school.  It is also   an excellent opportunity to introduce a wider range of subjects for your child to explore as any additional learning will expand vocabulary and critical thinking.
  • Cherish and promote play time Whilst schools and teachers will be encouraging your child to become an independent learner in preparation for the SATs they are still a kid.  Let them be kids, have fun and play.

And above all:

  • Limit SATs talk Unless there is an absolute need to mention SATs then don’t.  Keep the whole thing as low-key and stress free as you can.

Whilst many within the educational profession oppose SATs our children still have to sit them.  As parents and carers, it is our job to protect our children from the unnecessary pressure and stress and avoid the politically motivated furore surrounding them.

Of course, encourage your child to try hard and do well but more importantly let them have fun and play.  Their mental health, happiness and well-being is far more important that any SATs result.

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Normal days and cancer stuff

I feel as though I need to apologise for my lack of commitment lately.  I haven’t blogged for a month which is a sure sign that life is returning to some sense of normal with a bit of crazy stuff thrown in!

A year ago or even six months ago I could not have envisaged us having ‘normal’ days.  You know, those days which on the surface are completely unremarkable.  Those days which seem like an endless list of jobs:  birthday present buying for a family event we are ALL attending that evening, haircuts without needing explanations, picking up and dropping off three kids from various locations at various times.  Then there are the precious moments of joy: spontaneous drinks in the garden with close friends, booking a hotel room or hearing a glass smash in the garden which has been hit by a football.  This is us now.  We are planning again and we are looking forward.  These moments may seem unremarkable, but to us they are highly significant.

With these ‘normal’ days and our excitement about the future, we are still looking over our shoulders.  The recent crash in Felix’s bloods put us back on red alert.  He was to so close to needing a transfusion which would mean a cannula (I can hear his scream already) and an instantaneous time hop to the past.  It’s hard to think that last year I was so worried about his levels of anxiety and his constant fear that I sought help and advice from a psychiatrist.  I don’t want him to be teleported back to that point.  There was also his recent three-day wipe out which sent ripples of panic through every vein of my body.  He had a similar wipe out just weeks before he was diagnosed.  See this is the thing, whilst he looks every part a tower of strength, positivity and hope I know that there is a chance he could relapse.  When all the ducks are in line, this chance stays firmly in its box and doesn’t trouble me at all.  All it takes is one of those little ducklings to go on a little wander and that’s it – the lid springs off and all sorts of thoughts and feelings rush to the surface.

But hey, that’s the cancer stuff, let’s have more of the crazy normal stuff.

The craziest thing has to be being whisked off for a whirlwind 48 hours in Madrid where Felix got to meet his idol, Christiano Ronaldo.  It was truly something else, for all of us!  My business is booming and affording me the flexibility to be available for all the children when they need me.  It is also giving me the opportunity to help families and children reach their potential and solve problems which are proving to be a hurdle in their lives.  We are going away again for days and weekends and whilst I have the details of the nearest Children’s Oncology Unit close to hand, we are getting out and about.  This freedom is quite exhilarating.

From a parenting point of view, I am still trying to get the boys to actually wash their armpits and my beautiful daughter to stop leaving wet towels in her room.  The boys still insist on coming down in the morning half-dressed and then throwing their socks in all corners of the room when they come home.  I am still totally ‘cringey’ as far as my kids are concerned and I think this will be the case for at least another 8 years.  As for every day married life stuff, we managed to go ‘out, out’ the other night and are learning to leave Felix with family and friends again – it feels like he is a new-born again!  Life has moved from planning hospital trips and visits back to who’s picking and dropping the kids off again which is brilliant.  We don’t really talk about the cancer stuff – we’ll leave that for another day!

So in our crazy little #teambrown world life is full of normal days again.  There are snippets of cancer stuff here and there but more there than here which is just how we like it.

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What’s with the swearing?

Since when did it become OK to swear so readily?  Why has our use of language become such that it is deemed to be acceptable to profoundly swear when writing about everyday occurrences?  I am by no means innocent when it comes to swearing.  I love a good old swear every now and again but I carefully choose my audience.

Now it seems acceptable in writing to swear with reference to our children, our family or strangers on the street.  Why has our gift of language been devalued to the extent that we can no longer find words to describe our feelings, our surroundings or our thoughts without succumbing to using foul language.  I may be described as prudish or out of touch but I cannot and will not use swear words in my writing, whether a blog post or social media update.  The main reason for this is I know that my parents read them.  At the ripe age of 44 and a half I still do not want to upset of offend my parents or anyone else who stumbles across my writing.  Our use of language has evolved to the extent that I don’t think we should have to resort to expletives to demonstrate how we feel about something.  If we cannot construct a sentence that truly conveys our sentiment, there are plenty of resources online to help generate vocabulary and ideas.

Is this prudish?  Yes, it probably is but something that is important to me.  People are still offended by swearing and whilst, as I said before, I enjoy a bit of effing and jeffing in the right company, I would not do so about people, things or institutions I respect.  With this in mind I wonder how people can so easily swear about their children.  I fear that my views may warrant a backlash or a comparison to the legendary Mary Whitehouse of the 1980s but I don’t understand how people can, or want to be derogatory about their children through the language they use.  I mulled this over with a friend today; since when did it become OK to swear profusely about children?  Since when did it become OK to be derogatory about children using the guise of humour?  I do get that it’s a humour thing and that maybe I’m taking it too seriously but it makes me feel really uncomfortable when such abusive language is used to describe the behaviour, appearance or the personality of a child.  Using insulting language towards anyone, let alone children, shows a lack of respect.  The definition of respect includes a due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.  I understand that the writing is often exaggerated or fictional but for anyone reading it, adult or child, there is an underlying tone of disrespect.

I would like to see this current trend of normalising swearing fade away and instead a return to a consideration of purpose and audience.  When we are writing about children for example, does the purpose of humour trump the fact that this language could be viewed as abusive and emotionally damaging?  When a statement relates to “f**king children” do we perceive that to mean all children, my children, your children?  Does it really matter?  Maybe it doesn’t in the whole scheme of things. Yes, I don’t have to read it and to be fair I don’t but I do wonder what the impact of this accepted language of disrespect is having on our world view and the way we relate to each other.

This is purely a pondering, it is not a criticism of any platform, person or viewpoint.  I appreciate that we all have our own morals and values and that we promote these through the language that we use.  I just wanted to put the theme of swearing within a context of respect for others, particularly children.  Or, do I just need to get a grip and accept that I’m just not ‘edgy’ or cool enough for this day and age and stick with my suburban life and romantic novels?

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