#Teambrown & cancer, our six month anniversary.

We all like to mark occasions in hours, days, weeks, months and years.  I am acutely aware that the six month anniversary of Felix’s diagnosis is just around the corner which, of course, has triggered a period of reflection and contemplation.  I could use this time to document the intense treatment that Felix has undergone.  I know exactly how many days of chemotherapy he has had (it’s a lot), the debilitating side-effects of the steroids, the number of general anaesthetics, lumbar punctures, injections and blood draws.  I could talk about how it has affected him, our family, his brother and sister, our marriage, the grandparents, our friends, his friends, the neighbours; but I don’t want to.

When your child is diagnosed with cancer you think the world will stop, life will stop, it is the end.  But it’s not.  Life does go on and it goes on pretty much the same just with the addition of appointments, hospital stays and heaps of worry, pain and stress.  The other kids still need to go to school, people still get married, bills get paid, babies are born, shopping gets done, parties are organised, roots get done (eventually), trips to the tip take place, grass gets cut.  Life goes on and good things do still happen.

To mark the fact that we have had to welcome cancer into our lives for nearly six months, here are the weird and wonderful things that have happened to #teambrown since that day in January 2016:

  1. Mr Brown has bought a new motorbike
  2. Big Girl has introduced me to Victoria’s Secret
  3. Eddie Howe came for tea
  4. The kids feet are now enormous
  5. We have appeared on Channel 5 news
  6. We have been driven in an Aston Martin, Bentley and Dodge Charger American Police Car
  7. Felix has blogged, I have blogged
  8. Harry, Zac and Leo have been born (welcome to this mad world boys)
  9. We have featured in local and national papers and magazines
  10. We have met and kept in touch with some amazing footballers
  11. We now have Sky Media instead of BT (not so good)
  12. Mr Brown has been to work and the kids have had 100% attendance
  13. We now have a Dandy Trailer tent
  14. Our Zafira has not caught on fire
  15. We have been to friends for drinks and eats
  16. Friends have been to us for drinks and eats
  17. We’ve attended and hosted parents evening
  18. We still do our weekly shop with Tesco
  19. Myself and the kids did the Race for Life
  20. The kids still go to after-school clubs
  21. There have been lots and lots of kids sleepovers
  22. We have celebrated Valentines day, Mother’s Day, Easter, Big girls birthday, Wedding anniversary, Father’s day, Mr Brown’s birthday
  23. We all got excited and disappointed about Euro 16
  24. We shed a tear when the country voted Brexit
  25. Mr Brown still fluffs the pillows and worries about running out of petrol
  26. We still worry that we drink too much wine, don’t exercise enough and don’t spend enough quality time with our children
  27. We still ponder what the meaning of life is
  28. We still want to ‘jack it all in’ and move to France
  29. We still do the lottery
  30. We have met and been touched by so many truly wonderful and kind people
  31. We have raised over £3000 for Cancer Research UK Kids and Teens

Felix still has just under 3 years of treatment to go, but over the next six months we hope for the following:

  1. All of the above
  2. We will have some sort of holiday/mini-break
  3. We will celebrate mine, Felix’s and little brothers birthdays, Halloween, Bonfire night, Christmas and New Year
  4. We will go away in our newly purchased Dandy Trailer Tent
  5. I will go back to work
  6. The children will go back to school in Year 3, 6 and 8
  7. We will still shop at Tesco
  8. We will still pay our bills
  9. We will still entertain at ours and be entertained by others (hopefully)
  10. We will continue to meet amazing and wonderful people
  11. We will continue to raise money for Cancer Research UK Kids and Teens
  12. We will try to help others as they have helped us
  13. We will continue to try and think of weird and wonderful ways to be mortgage free
  14. We will continue to laugh, cry and love with our wonderful family and friends

Cancer does infiltrate homes without invite or warning and at the beginning it can feel like the world is going to end but it doesn’t, life does go on, just a bit differently.  Our lives won’t be the same again but we are still going to live it the best we can.

Here’s to the next six months!

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A shout out to all Oncology Mums

I’ll never forget those first couple of days following Felix’s diagnosis.  We were welcomed onto the Oncology ward with compassion and empathy but the thing that I could not get over was how cool, calm and collected the other Mums looked.  They looked at ease, at home, at one with where they were.  I, on the other hand, felt like a bumbling fool.  I couldn’t speak without crying and when I could speak I couldn’t find the words.  I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.  I clearly had lots in common with these other Mums, but at the beginning, I had no idea what.

Six months on I can now consider and reflect on life as an oncology Mum.  There are families right now who are trying their very hardest to keep it together, day in and day out for the sake of their child, for the sake of the siblings, for the sake of their partner and for the sake of their extended family and friends.  It is tough, really tough especially when your child has to spend a long time in hospital.  It is at this time when you get to know the other Mums; these Mums really are something else.  I have seen Mums fight tooth and nail for their child’s needs.  They are the experts.  They know and understand their child’s treatment plan, their blood counts, their medication regime, their fluid intake, their emotional stability.  They will demand that their child’s treatment starts despite no beds being available, they will press for the blood results which may result in discharge, they will notice unusual side – effects and responses.  There are Mums that have to administer medication throughout the night, check blood sugars, administer chemo, monitor pain and administer morphine when necessary.

I don’t know how other mums, but for me, to describe it as an emotional rollercoaster does not come close to the feelings and emotions I have felt.  I have sobbed because my child is suffering, I have cried because I was scared, I have wept because of the uncertainty.  I have somtimes been solemn because of the carefree life we have lost but hopeful for future.  Despite this I still relish the good in life and the little things that make me smile.  These things are still there and I notice them far easier because I want to, because I need to.  I am fuelled by the love and compassion from others and the love for my children.  This is where the strength comes from; love and compassion.

The mums I have met are from all walks of life.  They are your friends, your daughters, your sisters, your aunties, your cousins.  Being an Oncology Mum requires no application or interview, qualifications are irrelevant.  Once you are appointed, you are in, forever.  I feel honoured to have met the most wonderful of women on this adventure.  Women who have an abundance of passion, drive and resilience and more often than not, a wicked sense of humour.  You are amazing, end of.

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Things to be grateful for.

When the world around us seems to be spiralling out of control, we need to keep in our minds the good in our lives if we want to avoid getting dragged into the momentum of hate and violence.  In the last few days, we have woken to most shocking and saddening news from overseas and also tragedy on our doorstep.

Today the sun shines in our garden.  Our youngest has gone fishing with his granddad, the other two are hunting Pokemon together and we are sat listening to music.  A few months ago this image was the furthest thing from our minds.  We couldn’t imagine ever feeling relaxed, happy and ‘normal’ again but here we are.  When all around you feels desperate, you can still find positives even if they few and far between.

Despite the atrocities in the world, in the last 24 hours I would like to recognise and say thank you for the following:

  • Our wonderful and caring family and friends
  • My boss and colleagues wishing me a relaxing summer despite not being at work
  • Our children loving learning and that their schools  recognise their  success and achievement
  • The pure enjoyment my son gets from driving with the window open
  • Our current health meaning that we can enjoy things together as a family
  • The delight in eating fresh coffee and doughnuts
  • The sunshine

Sometimes we need to purposely put on our rose-tinted glasses to protect ourselves from the negative and soul-destroying events that seem to be happening more and more frequently.  We need to shield our eyes from the hate and violence in the world.  Who’s with me? What are you grateful for today?

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You just can’t beat that end of year feeling!

We’re going to miss it this year, Felix and I.

As a household full of kids and teachers, this time of year usually symbolises the ultimate in hysteria, panic and excitement.  As I type, I can sense the feeling of utter disbelief and euphoria as the end draws closer.  The last Monday of term, the last time I teach that class, the last duty.  For the kids it’s when the piles of work come home, and then their PE kit and then the final day arrives.  Before then presents have to be bought.  Presents and cards for colleagues who are moving on to pastures green and bottles of wine for colleagues who have supported us in the year.  Then the annual jaunt with the kids to buy their teacher something entirely unsuitable.  The year that will always make me smile was when Felix thought it was absolutely fine to buy his male teacher a fake hairy chest.  Brilliant, inspired, unique, just as presents should be!

For some, the end of term feeling may have a sense of sadness about is as the children move onwards and upwards.  It may be to a new class, a new school, a new life.  The end of the school year is most definitely a rite of passage.  The new teacher, the new classroom, the new rules but with it is often a sense of sadness and sentiment about the year that has been.  The end of the academic year seems to come around quicker and quicker each year.  I can’t believe that it was almost 20 years ago to the day when I was awarded my Qualified Teacher Status.  Twenty years ago when I moved to Bournemouth for my first teaching post.  Quick, move on before nostalgia sets in!

For us, the end of the academic year isn’t quite as celebratory as usual as we have a few more weeks of intense treatment to go and then a period of recovery.  We are all quietly and considerately recognising that the date of our cancelled holiday is imminent.  The two weeks in the South of France we work so hard for, to share with our wonderful friends, to  rejuvenate our tired souls.   We can’t talk about how much we are going to miss those two weeks of carefree indulgence watching our children relax, play and laugh in the sunshine or the warm evenings drinking the cheapest of wine with our dearest of friends.  There is no point as is it what it is.   Instead we are planning new adventures, closer to home with a different momentum.  We will still have fun, new memories will be made and we will cherish our time together recovering from the last six months.

So, as the end of term approaches, I raise my glass to you all and wish you a wonderful summer break which I hope will be full of laughter, leisure and love. Next year, Felix and I will also be swinging from the chandeliers as we welcome the summer holidays. Until then, here’s to a summer full of smiles!

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Be happy ~ is it that easy?

Whilst pottering around the other morning,  I heard a snippet of a TV programme discussing the idea that schools should be teaching children how to be happy.  I nearly spat my coffee out, I was speechless.  Really, it’s that easy, kids if you’re not happy, no fear, teachers are here.

The definition of ‘happy’ in the Oxford Dictionary is, “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment”.  So, if schools are expected to teach happiness, will children’s happiness be baselined and expected levels of progress be put in place?  Will the Oxford Dictionary’s definition be used as a lesson objective?  It’s incredulous.

I don’t believe happiness can be taught to children or adults.  For me, happiness is rooted in how safe and secure we feel.  For children and adults, if we are free from risk and secure in the world around us then happiness is achievable.  Yet there are so many areas of our life  where our safety and security may be compromised.  For children, there are many factors which prevent a child feeling safe or secure in their environment both at home and at school.  At home they may be at risk from physical or emotional harm through poverty, abusive relationships, substance misuse or neglect.  At school, children may feel insecure because of bullying or vulnerable because of their special educational needs.  Children with English as an additional language may not view school to be a safe place because they are isolated through the language barrier.  There are also many social and economic factors which may mean that children frequently feel at risk or are insecure.  Their parents may work long and unsociable hours or be faced with unemployment, there may housing or health issues which affect how safe or secure a child feels.  If a child’s basic needs are not met then happiness is hard to achieve.  It is this lack of feeling safe and secure which is the cause of unhappiness.  If these issues are not addressed then these children will not be able to experience the happiness goal despite a teachers efforts.

This sense of feeling safe and secure also extends to adults.  We seek to find happiness in so many ways; maybe through relationships, material goods or experiences.  Many people may well say that they may not feel content with their world around them because of a feeling of insecurity and vulnerability.  This may be related to relationships that have been affected by loss of love, illness or death.  There may be a sense of insecurity because of financial instability , health concerns or employment issues.  From this arises a feeling of vulnerability which hinders and restricts any sense of pleasure or contentment.

Happiness is a feeling that many of us hope to achieve, myself included.  It is not as simple as being taught how to be happy if we do not feel safe and secure.  If you are sat reading this and not quite feeling as content as you think you should be, or you are not finding pleasure in the world around you, then maybe think about how secure and safe you feel.  Think about your relationships, your employment and financial stability, your future, your health and aspirations.  If there are elements of uncertainty about any factors in your life that leave you feeling slightly insecure and unsafe, then your happiness will be affected.  Once you are able to identify where your vulnerabilities lie, then paving a way towards happiness will be easier.

That’s what I think anyway. I could be completely wrong and someone, somewhere will teach a child how to be happy despite their social and environmental situation. In a way I hope they do.  I would rather see the reasons why children feel vulnerable and insecure being tackled rather than a token gesture.  If children feel safe and secure they will experience feelings of pleasure of contentment.  They will be able to learn for themselves what it is to be happy.

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A call to all teachers – having a child with cancer

Well, this is a whole new world from a different viewpoint.  It’s that time of year when teachers are filing away their information and data for their current classes to make way for the profiles of their new children.  For me, this has always been a cathartic time of year; sentimental about those students who will be moving on and excited about those who I will be teaching.  Teachers everywhere are having meeting after meeting at the moment, transferring valuable information about the new cohort.  There will  be spreadsheets galore of information about cognition and learning, sensory and/or physical needs, social, emotional and mental health and the child’s ability to communicate and interact.  Even if your child is progressing well, without any hitches, they will still be a subject of discussion to ensure that your child gets the best start in the new academic year.

It maybe that you have a child in your class who has had cancer or maybe their brother or sister has.  You may be a SENDCo in a school who is looking to see what adjustments might need to be made for a new child starting in September.

This is an insider’s view of what a child and their family might have gone through if there has been a cancer diagnosis.  It is by no means comprehensive and only relates to my child who, at the age of 10, has a diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. In my child’s short life, he has experienced the following:

  • Unplanned and forced separation from one/both parents and siblings
  • Pain following surgery and procedures
  • A portacath inserted in his body
  • Anxiety relating to medical procedures and appointments
  • Extreme fatigue, tiredness and sickness because of the chemotherapy
  • Significantly reduced mobility
  • Emotional and mood changes because of medication
  • Significant changes in appearance leading to poor self-image and low-confidence
  • Emergency admissions to hospital because of infection
  • Restricted and controlled diet
  • Loss of dignity and control
  • Isolation from family and peers
  • Over-exposure to clinical and medical environments
  • Extensive adult company
  • Regular temperature checks and medication at home
  • Fear and distrust of adults
  • Resignation and disappointment from missing social events/holidays/sporting events

Whilst these consequences relate to a child with cancer, they also significantly affect the siblings.  If you have a child in your class whose sibling has had a cancer diagnosis, please bear the above in mind.  They may appear well-adjusted and coping well but they have witnessed their much-loved brother or sister experience possibly all of the above and more.  They may have watched their sibling sleep for days because of the chemotherapy, they may have seen their hair fall out or they may have run for the sick bowl to try to save his/her’s dignity.  No matter what their age they have probably seen their parents cry for the first time, felt frustration when their sibling gets another gift/treat and felt disappointment when their sibling and parents have to spend another night at hospital.  There is the uncertainty of who will collect them from school, cancelled plans because of risk of infection or guilt as they carry on with their everyday life. Despite this, they do not say a word as they know their siblings life is far tougher;  the siblings are quite often the unsung heroes.

As for the parents, they have tried to keep their family glued together and ticking along whilst all of the above is happening.  So, if they appear distracted or apathetic, any of the above could be at the fore-front of their mind.  At some point their child has been so sick they have been too scared to look to the future.  Their priorities have probably changed since their child was diagnosed; life looks a bit different now.  Yes, they are going to be over-protective and insistent that you know about their child’s illness because they have suffered so much already.  They will want to protect their offspring; this is the primary function of a parent.

I hope this comes across as I intended ~ I merely want to share my experience of cancer and my passion of education with the hope it will help others.  Having a child with cancer is tough for the whole family; school should be a sanctuary and safe place for them to laugh, explore and grow.  I am extremely fortunate and proud that our children have a learning environment like this; one which has an abundance of support, empathy and understanding to enable all three of our children to thrive and succeed.

Here’s a big thank you to all hero teachers and support staff; I hope you have a fabulous and well-deserved break.