The award shortlist

I started this blog twenty-seven days after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember testing out the idea in a conversation with my mum, before I knew I was going to do it. ‘Some people write a blog about it all,’ I said. Mum said she thought I should. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, and it makes sense to me to process things by putting them down on paper. I considered just writing it for myself, to keep a record, to remember the small details, but I decided quite quickly to make it public. It might help someone, I told myself. But I’m not convinced that was why I did it. I think I needed the support. And I got it, in waves.

So many brilliant things have come out of me blogging. Like me staying sane. Like a friend of a friend telling me about Mummy’s Star and Younger Breast Cancer Network. Like meeting other women in the same (bigger than I thought it was) boat. Like being told I’ve made people feel less alone. Any one of these things would have made it all worthwhile. All of them together make it a decision I’m thankful for every day.

Yesterday, I found out that my blog is a finalist in the BritMums Brilliance in Blogging Awards 2017, in the Inspire category. I found out in a strange way, after a fellow blogger announced her finalist status and I checked the link she’d posted. I had received an email to tell me the news, but it had gone to my junk and I hadn’t seen it. I’m not sure whether it’s because of that or because I feel so out of my depth in this world of professional bloggers, but I’m completely astonished to have been shortlisted.

Breast Cancer and Baby is up against seven other blogs, all of which look a hundred times more professional than mine and are full of great images and slick navigation. I’ve been sent a voting button to add to my blog, but my package is too basic to accommodate it. If nothing else, this nomination has given me the kick I needed to give my blog a bit more love and attention.

I realise the following is going to sound a little like a winner’s speech. That’s because I feel like I’ve won to get to this stage. I want to say thank you to everyone who’s read my blog, shared my posts and got in touch with kind words of support and love. A handful of times, someone has said to me that their sister’s friend or their friend’s sister or someone else who is impossibly young has got breast cancer and that they’ve passed on the link to my blog. That makes me so proud, and I wish all of those women well. I hope some of them are reading this post, and I hope they’re winning the fight.

If you want to vote for me to win this award, you can do so here (I’m shortlisted in the Inspire category). Thank you.

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The first birthday

Elodie turned one this week, and my nephew, Jay, will turn one next week, so at the weekend we had our family over, ate some cake and opened some presents. Rachel came. She’s been coming home for short visits on Saturdays for a few weeks, but this was the first time she’d been to our house. She was in good spirits, and it was wonderful to have her there.

And then on Elodie’s actual birthday, we drove up to Sheffield, where she spent her first couple of weeks of life in an intensive care unit. It was Paul’s idea, and as soon as he suggested it, it seemed like the right thing to do. On the drive up, Elodie slept and I asked Joseph what he was going to say to the nurses. ‘Thank you for looking after our Elodie,’ he said. He spotted car transporters and diggers out of the window, and I was overcome with memories. A year ago, Elodie made this journey in an ambulance in the middle of the night, a dedicated doctor and a nurse on hand to look after her. And then Paul followed a few hours later, and stayed in Sheffield until she was well enough to come back to Leicester. I made the trip several times, with my parents and with Paul’s. I couldn’t stay up there with her, because we had Joseph at home and because I had to start my chemo.

We parked in the tight multi-storey car park where we once spotted Jarvis Cocker and made our way to the neonatal unit. We saw a few nurses who remembered us, and we thanked them, our voices cracking. They made a fuss of Joseph and said how great Elodie was looking and asked whether I was well. A full year later, they remembered our story. But then they went back to their work. An impossibly small baby was wheeled by, and they had to go to it. It was a strange moment, as I realised that, though their impact on our lives has been huge, our impact on theirs was tiny. They saved our baby’s life. But it’s just what they do. Every single day. It’s what they were doing then, and how could we possibly keep them from it? We couldn’t. We wouldn’t.

On one of my visits to Sheffield last year, I saw a mother say goodbye to her baby. I was holding Elodie, mindful of the tubes that connected her to various machines, and I noticed this woman having a long talk with a man who I now presume was the chaplain. She wasn’t allowed to hold her baby; it was too ill. But that day, the nurses took the baby from the incubator and gave it to the mother to hold. They drew a curtain around its cot. Suddenly, I knew what was happening, and I told Paul that we had to leave the ward, had to give this family some privacy. When we went back later, the cot was empty, the mother gone. It’s haunted me ever since, that memory. How easily our places could have been reversed. How Elodie’s birthday could be something else entirely, for us. I wonder whether that mother had another child at home, or whether she’ll go on to have another. I wonder how she remembers to breathe.

We left the hospital and walked to the park where we took Elodie for her first walk outside. It was near the end of her time there. The hospital staff lent us a huge old-fashioned Silver Cross pram, and we wrapped our little girl in layer upon layer of clothes and blankets, despite the mild June weather. And then we took her to the park. Such an ordinary thing to do. Such a privilege. This time, we sat on a bench under some trees and looked at the ducks on the pond. Joseph took his Paw Patrol figures from his rucksack and played for a minute or two. Elodie sat in her pushchair, contentedly shaking a rattle. We took some photos of the four of us, went to a pub for some lunch, and set off for home.

Having heard me say it many times, Joseph likes to ask me whether I’m a lucky mummy. I tell him that I am, because I have him and I have Elodie. He says that Elodie’s lucky because she has him, that he is lucky because he has her. He knows nothing of the recent terrorist attacks or the Grenfell Tower fire in London. He knows nothing of how close we came to losing Elodie in those days after she was born. Lucky is just a word to him. Our family has been extraordinarily unlucky in some ways and overwhelmed with luck in others. I am godless, but I whisper something like prayers to no-one in particular, thankful for what we have.

The gift of new bras

I’ve had more downs than ups recently. I’ve had tonsillitis, an upset stomach and an ear infection in two weeks; my immune system hasn’t recovered, it seems. I’m not sleeping well. Sometimes it’s the kids, sometimes it’s not. I lie awake for long stretches in the night, thinking about what I need to do the following day and how tough it will be on so little sleep.

A couple of weeks ago, dosed up on antibiotics, I went to London for a friend’s baby shower. It was an afternoon tea, and I sat next to my friend Sarah, who’s recently had her second son. We talked about our children, and then about breasts. Pregnancy ones, breastfeeding ones, post-surgery ones. How you can feel a little bit less than yourself when you don’t recognise your own body. How that can wear you down.

The following day, I received an email with a £200 gift voucher for Bravissimo, a bra shop I’d never stepped inside. I’d told Sarah that I have a drawer full of bras that don’t fit me, but that I’m putting off buying new ones in case I end up having further surgery. In the message that accompanied the voucher, she informed me that this was ‘fun money’ and that I must spend it without thinking about what might happen further down the line. I thanked her. I booked an appointment for a fitting.

I was a little nervous about the experience. I hate the way my implants look and feel, and I’m still unsure about whether I’ll go under the knife again because of that. It’s hard to take your clothes off in front of a stranger when you don’t have any confidence. It’s hard to say you’ve had a double mastectomy, by way of a warning. People don’t expect it, when you’re still relatively young. But the woman who measured me was totally unfazed by it. She just brought in bras, and helped me fasten them, and talked to me about different styles and colours and fits. I chose four bras and left feeling a little more upbeat, a little more normal.

It’s been a few days now, and the bag is still sitting on my bedroom floor with my new bras carefully wrapped inside. Out of habit, I’m still reaching for the bras that don’t fit (today, I’m wearing a 40A, and I was measured as a 36D). I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been ill and have spent quite a bit of time in bed. Perhaps it’s because I’m a creature of habit. It takes me a while to make a change. But I will. I will go through my drawer and pull out the bras from before I had my children, when I was pregnant, when I was breastfeeding, when I was swollen from surgery, because they’re not doing me any favours as I try to adjust to my new self. I’ve found a charity that sends bras to women in developing countries. I like the idea of them being of use to someone else, now they’re no use to me.

I’m so grateful to my friend for knowing just what I needed before I did. Once again, generosity and kindness have made everything I’m facing that bit easier. Joseph is forever telling me what is kind and what isn’t, and I love the fact that kindness is important to him. When I was three, it was probably important to me, too. I think I lost sight of its value for a while, as an adult, but I know what it’s worth now. And I don’t intend to forget again.