Saturday 26 January 2019

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Coping with the January blues

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Coping with the January Blues 

On the day before 'blue Monday', apparently the most miserable day of the year, our weekly discussion focused on how to beat the January Blues. 

For a few of us, January is a month of peaceful hibernation, a time to rest in readiness for more active times to come, observing those hopeful harbingers of Spring: a snowdrop here, a birdsong there, catkins dangling from the still bare tree branches and blue skies which belie the chill in the air.  For others, January means it's been a long time since the before-Christmas pay day, and the cold short days and long dark nights drag on as we endeavour to keep new year's resolutions made with a brave heart and try to hold ourselves together amidst our sadness. 

Our members agreed that staying active and doing something to keep our minds occupied helps us to feel more cheerful. Sometimes the smallest of activities can lift our mood, from the satisfaction of tidying up to taking a short stroll out of doors.  

Here is a list of little cheered-uppers that our members suggested for you to pick from! 

- read a good book
- do some craft work
- bake, cook
- count your blessings 
- treat shop - a lipstick, a candle 
- browse seed catalogues 
- keep going with that challenge - dry or RED January or that healthy diet, step challenge
- potter outside
- write it down 
- see a friend for a natter 
- plan and maybe even book a holiday 
- do a puzzle 
- have a good cry - very therapeutic 
- catch some Pokemon! 
- eat indulgently - crumpets anyone?
- watch a good movie
- practice yoga, at home or find a class 
- get up a team and to a pub quiz
-  sale shopping, bag a bargain! 
- buy spring flowers for indoors, hyacinths perhaps. 
- treat hands and feet with a nice cream 
- try something new - a book group? An art class? 
- a little wine. If you're not doing dry January, obviously 
- plan days out, even a wedding for a few!
-go swimming
-de-clutter - just tidying out one small drawer can be hugely satisfying 
- if you're really struggling, get help. See your GP or seek out counselling

Having something to look forward to is a great mood lifter, although for some of our members the stress of having cancer means we don't want to look too far ahead. For those of us with anxiety about the future, finding joy in everyday small pleasures works best. One day at a time, the evenings draw out, the sun rises a little earlier and Spring is on the horizon. With the help and support of each other, we will get through.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group please send us a private message via Facebook.

Saturday 19 January 2019

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Financial cost of breast cancer

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We often talk about the emotional and physical cost of a breast cancer diagnosis. This week, in our discussion, we discussed the stark reality of the financial cost.

Having cancer incurs hidden costs that are rarely called out, and at a time when our ability to earn is reduced. We may need to extend our sick leave beyond that which our employer will support with sick pay, we may not be able to return to work at the same income level after treatment, or at all. It is common to move from full time to part time, to change careers for something less stressful. Self-employed women may be left without income for a considerable period and small businesses may suffer beyond repair. 

Our group is made up of women with both primary and secondary diagnoses. Whilst many with primary breast cancer may return to work after treatment - and a few with secondary breast cancer continue working - many of us with secondary breast cancer continue with treatment and often are unable to continue with their careers. There is often a cost for specialist treatment and palliative care if we become seriously unwell.

Returning to work and continuing to work can be fraught with problems, with some of us struggling on short phased returns with little management support. Fatigue is a long term after effect of cancer and sometimes this can be debilitating. For those who do successfully return to their old jobs,  they may no longer be wanting or have the energy for promotions or career progression.

The additional costs of having cancer include:travel costs to our treatment centre, parking costs, hats and scarves and wigs for that time without our hair during chemotherapy, pillows and pyjamas that open down the front for surgery, specialist bras for post surgery and then pocketed bras and swimwear forever (which cost more than ordinary bras and are mostly ugly to boot!). 

Exercise and eating well are key to our health, with many of us taking supplements, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be expensive. 

Travel insurance costs rocket up, particularly for women with secondary cancer, and life policies may become invalid. Getting further life cover and private medical insurance may become prohibitive. Being at home all day during treatment means heating costs go up. 

Some of us had paid for genetic testing which we were not eligible for on the NHS. This can be expensive, but so important for many wanting to understand future family risks. 

Many members had critical illness cover which was a huge help for them, with some being able to pay off mortgages. Others turned to relatives for help. Some have negotiated retirement on medical grounds, often involving a huge drop in income. Others have left stressful jobs and set up their own businesses or found less demanding work. 

Some have cashed in savings plans, including pension plans, or sold their homes to make ends meet.  ESA is available for some, and PIP, and prescriptions for all medications are free following diagnosis. 

Some used annual leave instead of sick leave for the time off work needed, but this of course left no holiday time, hardly supporting a healthy recovery. 

Macmillan helps cancer patients in financial difficulty with small grants to cover treatment travel costs. Banks offer cancer support schemes, which might freeze loans provide mortgage holidays for example, but these come with mixed reports regarding their usefulness. Claiming benefits involves completing long complicated forms and assessments which can be very stressful, and Macmillan do assist with this. Macmillan can also advise on unfair dismissal, redeployment and discrimination at work. 

Having cancer can mean a permanent drop in income and lead to a necessary change of lifestyle.  For those who get by, luxuries like travel and overseas holidays may become a thing of the past. It may take years beyond diagnosis to return to financial stability. At its worst, cancer may bring with it real financial hardship, the stress and worry of which cannot be helpful to our reduced level of health and fitness. 

If you are a woman with a breast cancer diagnosis living in the UK and you would like to join our private group, please send us a private message.

Friday 11 January 2019

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Goal setting and beginning the new year

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“New Year, New You. Are you superwoman, taking on sky-high mountain-moving feats of hard work and courage? Or do you have quieter plans, just as newsworthy but less spectacular?”

In this week’s discussion, our first for 2019, we explored our relationship with goal-setting and beginning new years.

Our challenge, we agreed, going into a New Year is in dealing with the uncertainty that a breast cancer diagnosis of primary and secondary diagnosis brings. We want to do so much, to set goals and new year's resolutions like everyone else, but we can feel nervous about our long term goals as our anxiety about the future kicks in, and we worry about meeting expectations, those of others and just as importantly, our own.

New Year, New You. Are we superwoman, taking on sky-high mountain-moving feats of hard work and courage? Or do we have quieter plans, just as newsworthy but less spectacular. Others tell us we've been blessed with a second chance, or we surely want to make the most of it, after all, we're alive or we’re getting back to normal now?

Post-holiday blues are common after Christmas, and New Year is often an emotional time. Many of us are getting back to work, others are resuming treatment after a break. For those of us diagnosed at this time of year, our holiday is forever tainted with memories of the shock of finding out we have breast cancer. Whether we have primary and secondary breast cancer, there is gratitude in spending another Christmas with family and friends and to those of us with secondary breast cancer described anxiety for what another year of living with incurable breast cancer will bring.

Each of us has our own unique story to tell, and every plan is grand in its own way. Learning not to compare ourselves to others, and learning not to compare ourselves to who we were before our diagnosis, may be key in looking forwards and managing expectations. 

A common goal for so us, unsurprisingly, is to improve our health. This may mean eating well, stepping up our exercise, losing weight. For some there might be an end in mind - feeling and looking great for a wedding, or being fit for the arrival of a grandchild, for example. Others are aiming to complete challenges such as 5 or 10ks, half or full marathons, while others have set walking challenges or are doing dry January or cutting out meat or sugar.

Some of us are feeling cautious, taking baby steps on our road to healing. Others want to take more risks and even be reckless in throwing ourselves into life. Being present in our own lives, being here in the moment, whatever we are doing, and enjoying it, is a decision many women have made. Whether we are conquering Snowdon or resting in front of the TV, fully immersing ourselves in our lives may be a perfect resolution.

Some of us have gardens we want to tend, others have plans to move house or tidy up messy relationships.  Many would like to simplify and declutter. Treating ourselves regularly is another theme. Saying no and being kind to ourselves is something we strive for, we want to spend our time doing the things that make us happy and less time on our shoulds or musts. Goals might be to travel or it might be reading 100 books. Some want to study, to finish courses or take on new ones. New jobs may also be on the horizon.

Several of us mentioned acceptance, in the sense of coming to terms with our capabilities and our limitations. Perhaps looking into what 2019 will bring involves finding a fresh perspective, a positive one but not a falsely bright one as we seek authenticity and a strong streak of realism. We want to be able to have down days, to feel and express our sadness, we seek permission (perhaps from ourselves) to grieve - for the loss around us, for our old selves. If we treat ourselves with kindness, and embrace who we are now and who we want to become, we can achieve everything we choose to aim for, and more. And let's not forget that there is no failure, only learning.

'The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.' (Marcel Proust)

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group please send us a private message via the public Facebook page.

Saturday 5 January 2019

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Were there moments in 2018 when you surprised yourself?

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Were there moments in 2018 when you surprised yourself?

This was the focus for one of two linked group discussions over the Christmas period. While some of us found touching on such moments a challenge, Naz told us that this was a worthwhile exercise with significant rewards because even if we cannot come up with a concrete example, the exercise itself turns on reward hubs in our brain which can reinforce neural connectivity boosting positivity and confidence.

Taking on challenges after a diagnosis of primary or secondary breast cancer diagnosis can weigh heavy on us - both body and mind. We are often exhausted as we end up trying even harder to manage, either to try to maintain our pre-diagnosis abilities, or, by surviving as best we can to the best of our current abilities. As we know from previous discussions, we often develop a different perspective of ourselves that can undermine our efforts to rise up to the occasion. But, just sometimes, we surprise ourselves and we manage something we didn’t think was possible. This can have significant implications for boosting our self-confidence, let alone boosting brain power.

As a group, our achievements made for inspiring reading - for some, the achievement was doing a Race for Life or  another physically demanding challenge; others had taken up a new interest or skill, say art, or writing, some shared completing MA’s or other other academic achievements. Some of us had challenged unfairness, for example discrimination in the work place or advocated for ourselves and our needs to an unsupportive manager. No less significant were what may seem, on the face of it at least, more ‘modest’ achievements - returning to work, doing an extra shift, resuming a much loved skill which we no longer found easy, a road trip, or even driving a car for the first time - all are worthy of celebration.

We learned that it does not matter if we do not always end up achieving the end point of our goal. Success is, as they say, the journey not the outcome. But, Naz told us that the challenge itself is the key ingredient of our goal. And once we make that challenge our own, taking ownership of it, no one can take it away from us, because it represents our mind-set: that we are about thriving in the face of adversity.

If you are a woman living in the UK and you have a diagnosis of breast cancer, you would be welcome to join our private group. Please message us on the public Facebook page.

Image ~ Sunset at Connel with permission from amazing Claire