22 + 1

It’s our first wedding anniversary!

After 22 years together, Alan and I surprised everyone by getting married. Some of our family and friends had assumed we would never get round to it, others thought we were already wed.

We had planned to return to the Botanist − who looked after us so well on the day − for a celebration meal, but obviously that will have to wait, so there’s a takeaway and a bottle of wine planned. Cheers!

lois-alan   2021-02-20 13.40.54   2021-02-20 13.44.08

Letting go

Woke up this morning (no, this isn’t a blues song) and felt like myself for the first time in ages. I feel relaxed and calm and it’s made me realise just how wound up I’ve been in recent months.

I started 2020 feeling worried about my diagnosis and treatment. I was starting chemo-immunotherapy and having doubts. Will it work? Will there be side effects? Will I get ill? I knew that my prognosis was good, but I couldn’t quite banish my fears.

Then coronavirus and lockdown brought stress and fear for everyone. At first, I struggled with practicalities – being told to shield but unable to get a grocery delivery was worrying – but friends offered to help and gradually we got into a new way of living.

I am lucky. Although my work has been cancelled, I have savings we can live on, so I’m in a much better position than many people. Also, I’m not on my own, I have Mr TLC with me. I don’t know how I would have coped without him.

There have still been more than a few times in recent months when I’ve had to make an effort to calm down and put my anxious thoughts back in their box. Not good, but I still thought I was coping pretty well with life, lockdown and everything.

Then something magic happened.

First, we spent a wonderful weekend in the virtual company of the lovely #CampEd20 people. We talked, baked, made things, completed fun and silly activities. We laughed, drank gin and even had a special performance from Samantics.

Then I spent Monday in my garden, enjoying the sunshine and the virtual Folk on Foot Front Room Festival. I put the headphones on and spent a few hours in my own little bubble, floating along with the music. I loved it.

I didn’t realise how tense I felt until I let go and relaxed. Thank you to the wonderful friends and musicians who helped me to unwind and feel like myself again, that’s a precious gift and I truly appreciate it. Thank you to Mr TLC, whose patience and love has been unwavering.

Now to keep this going. I need to spend more time relaxing (virtually) with friends, listening to music and doing pointless but fun stuff. I won’t be learning an amazing new skill, discovering gravity or writing King Lear, but I will be living my best life, virtually. And that’s enough.

Spanner, meet works

2020-03-24-coronavirusSometimes the best plans don’t survive contact with reality, especially when reality decides to shift. But I’m counting our blessings. We’re in decent health (aside from a touch of lymphoma, which is improving.) We have savings that we can manage to live off for a surprisingly long time – which is good, because all of the work that I had booked in for the next few months has now been cancelled, and as a recently self-employed person, I fall through the cracks in the government help schemes. And let’s be honest, staying at home is not so bad when you have a house and a garden.

So, what’s going well?

My treatment for follicular lymphoma is on schedule and the signs are good: the swellings are dramatically reduced, Dr M is happy with my progress and amazingly, given the current circumstances, my treatments are still going ahead as scheduled.

As scheduled, but not quite as normal. My next blood tests will be at a drive through centre in the Sheffield Arena car park. Drive in, roll the window down, stick my arm out, bloods taken. All very sensible. All very dystopian. Going to the hospital for chemo-immunotherapy is equally strange. It’s weirdly deserted and the ward where I have my treatments has literally shrunk – most of it is blocked off and those of us still being treated are all in a much smaller area, which is nevertheless half empty.

I’m simultaneously worried about being at the hospital and delighted that I’m still being treated. I’ve now done 5 out 6 treatments, so the end of phase one is in sight. Then more tests and scans to establish how much of the cancer is gone and I’ll find out exactly what the next phase of treatment looks like.

And what’s not going so well?

As our world shrank, our planned adventures stumbled to a halt.

We’ve been social distancing since I was diagnosed in December. Lymphoma affects the immune system and so does the treatment. I was advised to avoid foreign travel and crowded places, but we could still go out. The pub quiz was off (too crowded, too great a risk of picking up random infections), but we managed a mid-afternoon pub lunch at a table well away from other people. We went to the cinema, but avoided new releases and went in the mornings or early afternoon when it was quiet and sat away from everyone else. We walked for miles, which was lovely, and my Walk 1000 Miles challenge was shaping up nicely.

Then coronavirus arrived and turned everyone’s lives upside down. We stayed home more, avoided the pub and the cinema, but we still went out and walked, picking quiet times and routes that are rarely busy. Our world shrank a little, but it was fine.

Then my letter telling me that I was ‘extremely vulnerable’ and must ‘shield’ arrived. I knew it was coming, but I hadn’t realised how tight the restrictions would be. No going out to get shopping, no going out for exercise, no going out for anything except medical appointments. Bollox. In fact, I was supposed to stay 2m away from Mr TLC and live in a separate room, but we decided that was a non-starter. The letter said this was for 3 months, but barring a Hollywood movie type of miracle, it’s going to be 18 months or so before there is a vaccine. The prospect of 18 months on my own in a room with no chance of exercise didn’t bear thinking about, so we’re both staying at home and shielding together. Mr MTM is shrinking his world to keep me safe.

This means some changes. We are very lucky to have friends and family who have rallied round and helped with shopping. My Walk 1000 miles challenge had to be abandoned, but Mr MTM fitted my bike to his old static trainer, so I can pedal away in the cellar. And I cannot tell you how happy I was when Dr M said gardening is allowed. We still need to be careful – our garden is narrow, and we can’t go near the neighbours – but I can get outside. Wonderful.

So what’s the plan?

Since I won’t be doing any of the things I had planned for this year, I’m finding some new projects to occupy me. I’m sure there will still be some exciting things to do, but they’ll probably be micro rather than mini adventures. For a start there will be a cellar cycling challenge to try in lieu of walking. It’s also high time I sorted through the countless photographs I’ve taken over the last few years, so I might do some time travelling, back to more carefree times and post a few of them here. Grand Tour of Scotland 2019 anyone?

In summary:

We’re as well as can be expected, we’re settling in for an 18-month staycation and some new adventures await. Bring it on.

And now it’s over to you:

How are you? Are you coping?

Image credit: from https://coronavirusresources.phe.gov.uk/stay-home-save-lives/resources/social-media-resources/ accessed 21/04/2020

03 of 52 mini-adventures: reader, I married him

I’m making 2020 a year of 52 mini-adventures. These might be new experiences, fun things to do or challenges to complete. Will I reach my goal of 52? I hope so, but the most important thing is to have an interesting time trying new things.

lois-alan A mere 22 years after Mr TLC and I went our first date, we decided to get married. Well, you can’t rush these things.

Neither of us wanted a huge, fussy and expensive wedding, so we kept it simple: I made a dress, we invited our immediate families and closest friends to a ceremony at the town hall, followed by a few photos (taken by family and friends), then off to The Botanist for a very nice lunch, a glass or two of fizz, conversation and laughter. All in all, a lovely day. We had fun planning it and we really enjoyed sharing it with our families – who surprised us by being far more excited about it than we would have believed possible.

We’re left with some lovely memories and some amazing photos, including an interesting set from Granddaughter A in which Mr TLC’s appearance has been transformed in a variety of alarming ways (for reasons unknown, she has only applied this special treatment to Mr TLC, I appear as my own normal self.) However, you’ll just have to imagine Granddaughter A’s photos, we’ve decide to share this one from my sister instead. It sums up an excellent day: the two of us are relaxed and happy. We still are. Long may it continue.

Photo © Beth Lindemann

More mini-adventures:

02 of 52 mini-adventures: I become radioactive! For science!

I’m making 2020 a year of 52 mini-adventures. These might be new experiences, fun things to do or challenges to complete. Will I reach my goal of 52? I hope so, but the most important thing is to have an interesting time trying new things.

love-NHSTo be honest, this wasn’t on my bucket list. This wouldn’t be on anyone’s bucket list. But it is undeniably an adventure.

A few weeks ago, I went to see my GP because my neck was sore and swollen. I thought I had overdone the gardening. I certainly didn’t think it was anything serious, because apart from having a literal pain in the neck, I felt really well, better than I’ve felt for ages.

It turns out that my GP is astoundingly good. Unfortunately he did not subscribe to the Overdid the Gardening Theory of Sore Necks, instead he explained that the rather large swelling on my neck was a lymph node. Various possible causes were considered, including the need to check for – and hopefully rule out – lymphoma, which is a form of cancer. I left the appointment with the forms for a raft of blood tests, an urgent appointment at the haematology clinic, a small knot of fear in my stomach and a reminder to call the surgery straight away if things got worse.

The NHS worked amazingly fast, but that wait, wondering whether or not I had cancer, was one of the worst things I have ever endured. I kept busy and kept working. I hoped for the best. Actually, I hoped for glandular fever, or mumps, because they really were the best-case scenarios.  After the first set of blood tests ruled out a lot of possibilities but didn’t show up anything definite, more blood tests, a CT scan and a biopsy followed. Then – huzzah! – the swelling on my neck started to reduce visibly. We slowly stopped worrying as we realised it was probably just a virus.

Except it wasn’t. I now know that lymphoma does that – and in fact the swelling is growing again. Just before Christmas, I got a call from the hospital asking me to come in. Bugger. Diagnosis day had arrived.

Just 3 weeks after that first GP appointment I was told that I have follicular lymphoma. It’s a low grade lymphoma, so it is slow-growing and in many cases immediate treatment isn’t necessary. However, I’m definitely at the stage where treatment is needed. Chemotherapy, antibody treatment and lots of steroids await. Damn, that’ll mess up my chances of running in the Olympics! There is no cure for follicular lymphoma, but this treatment should put it into remission, hopefully for the next 6 years or so. After that, the uninvited guest is likely to return, at which point I will undergo a new round of treatment, but life expectancy is good.

This is not the news I wanted, but it isn’t a disaster either. Initially, I felt completely taken aback by all of this, but to be honest it’s not that bad, because the NHS is taking amazingly good care of me and my prognosis is good. I’m taking the attitude that I’ll worry about the aspects of my health that I can do something about (that’ll be sleep, diet and exercise) and I’ll leave the medical staff to worry about the rest. Mr TLC seems calm, but I suspect he is taking the attitude that he will quietly panic when no one is looking. I’m more worried about him than me.

In fact, I’ve probably had follicular lymphoma for a while. Over the last couple of years I’ve been experiencing night sweats and itchy skin. Of course, these are also classic symptoms of peri-menopause, so I wasn’t worried by them. Other symptoms include tiredness – well yes, I’ve had overwhelming tiredness but I thought that was down to teaching – and a tendency to succumb to infections. I think I have almost a full house of lymphoma symptoms – the only one I didn’t experience was loss of weight.

The NHS are undertaking a clinical trial investigating the treatment for follicular lymphoma, so I’ve agreed to sign up. I get the same initial treatment (chemotherapy, antibody therapy and steroids) as if I wasn’t part of the trial, but the maintenance treatment that follows will either be exactly the same, or somewhat different, depending on which half of the randomised selection I land in.

Trials want data, which means more scans and tests for me over the next week to give a baseline before I start treatment. After years of obsessively guarding my privacy and opting out of data sharing, I sat signing a form agreeing to share all of my data, because I really think this trial is the right thing to do.

The first treat was a PET-CT scan, which sounded very dramatic, but basically involved being injected with a sugar that contains a radio-tracer before doing a great deal of lying down. I lay down waiting for the injection, I lay down for an hour whilst the sugar was absorbed, then I lay down for another 20 minutes in a blooming great tube whilst a scanner took pictures of my insides. Then I came home, still somewhat radioactive and advised to keep away from children and pregnant women. Radioactive, but not a spider or mystery insect in sight. No superpower for me then. Oh well.

Image based on the NHS logo © National Health Service

More mini-adventures:

01 of 52 mini-adventures: I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more

I’m making 2020 a year of 52 mini-adventures. These might be new experiences, fun things to do or challenges to complete. Will I reach my goal of 52? Hopefully, but the most important thing is to have an interesting time trying new things.

Country Walking magazine 'walk 100 miles 2020' badgeCountry Walking magazine’s Walk 1000 Miles challenge is a brilliant idea. The idea is simple: clock up 1000 miles on foot during 2020, either in 366 very short walks or any combination of shorter and longer walks. Walking, the chance to be outside, hopefully improving my level of fitness and a manageable challenge seems a great combination to me, so I’ve decided to try it.

I’m really lucky, I live on the edge of the Peak District, a place so gorgeous that large numbers of tourists come here on holiday. I love walking and we get out to walk regularly, but I am certain that I did not come close to covering 1000 miles last year, so this will be a challenge.

Every walker has a favourite place, an area that they return to again and again, re-walking the same paths and enjoying it even more than the first time. For us, that place is the area around Longshaw and White Edge in the Peak District. It has everything: dramatic views, lots of wildlife to spot and some surprisingly varied terrain for such a small area. We love it, so what better place to start our journey of 1000 miles? We joined the Bank Holiday hordes and headed out to complete a chilly lap of Longshaw. Our 1000 mile challenge has started. Now we just need to keep going.

Badge image © Country Walking magazine/Bauer media


More mini-adventures:

Outset day

Today did not start with an alarm and an INSET Day breakfast. My day began with a self-indulgent lie in, followed by a leisurely coffee and a croissant whilst enjoying the sunshine in the garden.

No-one told me what the big priorities for the year are, nor did I listen to a speech about exam results, Ofsted and how it’s going to be a hard year. (Let’s be honest, it’s always a hard year.) Instead, I decided on a few priorities of my own, resulting in a splendidly long list of interesting things to do during September and October.

I didn’t experience any presentations about evidence-free zombie ideas that I am expected to implement. No-one showed a slide of that bl**dy pyramid of learning in a lecture about how people don’t remember lectures.  There was no mention of learning styles, no discussion about coloured paper. I did get the chance to relax and read, which was rather lovely.

There was no lasagne for lunch. In lieu of that INSET day classic, I made a tuna sandwich – but forgot to put the tuna in. Bit worrying that. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I’m not going back to work just yet.

I’m really enjoying taking some time out. I have some (non-teaching) work lined up for late September onwards, but for now I’m enjoying the chance to continue unwinding. Welcome to the After Math! It’s bliss.

Also posted on my professional blog http://www.morethanmaths.com/teacher/2019/09/02/outset-day/

30 Days Wild: Day 01

imageIt’s June, so the Wildlife Trusts are challenging us to do something wild every day. That’s 30 simple, fun and exciting Random Acts of Wildness. However June is exam season and is often a distinctly sedentary time for me, so I’ve yet to manage a full 30 Days Wild. Maybe this year?

I had completely forgotten about 30 days wild, so a simple start today:

    Working with the office window open and trying to pick out some individual birdsongs. I spotted Kevin the Blackbird and the woodpigeon. Maybe I could use June to learn what one or two of the other birds who visit sound like?

    Watching the bees. We’ve always gardened with wildlife in mind and even though things are running a little late this year, so far we’ve managed a continuous run of bee-friendly blooms. Interestingly, it’s not always the same bees. The enormous ones have gone elsewhere now that the pulmonaria has finished, but I’m sure they’ll be back once the unidentified – but very pretty – self-seeded something-or-another starts flowering. Apparently the largest bees like the smallest flowers.

    Re-booting the compost. We’re trying bio-degradable compost caddy liners and have ben adding to the bins for a couple of weeks. Too soon to say whether the liners actually degrade – but the National Trust’s new corn-starch packing for the magazine seems to have vanished without a trace, so I’m hopeful. However, after a bit of neglect late last summer and an astoundingly cold spell this winter, the wormeries are rather lacking in worms. I did try digging some up – there are plenty of escapees in the garden – but I just ended up standing aside whilst our rather tame blackbirds and robin had a good feed.  A quick order from Wiggly Wigglers should help top up the population in the compost boxes.

      Now, just time for a quick walk before the daylight fades. I wonder if we’ll meet any urban bats?

      Picture credit: The 30 Days Wild Logo is the property of The Wildlife Trusts.

      I’m dreaming of a white Easter

      Snowy garden on Easter Monday

      A tad more snow than I was expecting this morning, but it looks beautiful.
      Think my plans for the garden may be on hold for a day or two though.

      30 Days Wild: Having a rotten time

      Being of a childish deposition, when asked to participate in icebreaker type activities, it used to amuse me to say, “Hi, I’m Lois and I have worms.” It was even true, I did have worms, hundreds of them, munching away at the assorted vegetable waste that went into the compost boxes at the end of the garden.

      Sadly, although for a variety of good reasons, the compost boxes had become a bit neglected and needed reviving. That seemed like a good ‘wild’ project for today. Surprisingly, lifting the lids revealed some actual compost and a good number of worms wriggling about, so after a bit of cleaning up and removal of compost, we’re back in business. I even found a couple of squash plants growing in there that had sprouted from some discarded seeds. No idea whether they’ll produce anything edible, but I’ve stuck them in a pot, so we’ll see what happens.

      Although any vegetable peelings, trimmings or waste will get composted, worms definitely have favourite foods: onion skins, tea bags and coffee grounds disappear amazingly quickly. I obviously shoved some garden clippings in there last year, but they seem remarkably intact. Better stick to shredding those!

      Anyway, home composting systems are now revived and we can officially have a rotten time this summer. And did I mention that I have worms?