September – what a month

I always knew that September would be a tough month.  That basically I would have to just put my head down, keep fighting until the very end and then hopefully emerge from the other side still kicking.

Having given my notice to finish teaching at the end of the Summer, I was offered a further month of work with a bonus to help ease the transition for new members of staff within the department.  With a finish date of four weeks, after having just had the six weeks of Summer off, I decided to go ahead and accept the proposal.  The extra money I was being offered would be nice in the build up to Christmas if nothing else!

I knew it would be tougher than when I had originally returned to work back in May.  A May timetable with no year 11 or 13 and countless trips across other year groups is very different to a September timetable, when new courses are starting up and resources need creating or adapting to suit different classes.  My September timetable contained six year 11 classes and a year 10 class, amongst others, so I would also spend lunchtimes holding coursework catchup sessions for those GCSE students.

Not only would my workload be higher, but my personal life at the weekends was also looking rather full during September.  For each of the weekends my calendar was pretty jam-packed full of activities.

Week 1: Marshaling at Go Beyond Northampton Half Marathon
Week 2: At a friend’s wedding
Week 3: Round Norfolk Relay
Week 4: Ealing half marathon
Week 5: Oscar’s birthday party/christening

There wouldn’t be a lot of time for sleep, running or baby cuddles.  With my Mum very poorly I also wanted to try and fit in as many visits back to Norfolk as was practical.
As a new ambassador for Decathlon I was also really looking forward to the Decathlon blogger meet up at the end of the month, although was concerned that I would be burnt out by that point and unable to fully enjoy the activities that had been planned for us all.

As it turned out though, things didn’t really go quite to plan for September.  I had severe back pain from the second week of the month, managing to run the Round Norfolk Relay only having dosed myself up with double-strength Ibuprofen first, and then unable to run any further miles in September.  The day after the Round Norfolk Relay, my Mum was once again admitted into hospital with a serious infection and so many trips were made over to Norwich hospital for visits during the week, as well as twice-daily phone calls to help support my Dad.  Following one weekend visit and eating in the questionable hospital canteen I ended up throwing up over and over.  My Dad was also left feeling poorly that evening.  I made the difficult decision to pull from Ealing Half Marathon – I hadn’t been able to walk with a straight back for ten days by that point and also I felt it was more important to be with my family in Norfolk.

By the time I began the final week of my contract, I was really struggling.  By Wednesday lunch time my face was hot to touch – burning up, whilst my coat-clad body shivered uncontrollably from the cold.  At 3pm that day I made the decision to head for home, leaving my half-finished marking laid out on the shared office desk with a post-it note stuck to the top reading “Really sorry, – feeling totally pants this afternoon.  Will clear in the morning.”

Oscar's first birthday

That Wednesday was Oscar’s birthday, only I never saw him that day as I rang to cancel my physio appointment on the way home, before curling up into a little ball in my bed, texting Dan to ask if he would be able to pick Oscar up from nursery on his way home from work later that night instead.

The following day I couldn’t even get out of bed, and napped on and off all day, feeling very sorry for myself.  I left emailing Decathlon until the very last minute to say that I wouldn’t be able to make it that evening, just in case I perked up a little and was able to still attend.  I so wanted to attend.  I knew deep down that I would be too poorly to go though, and even if I did manage to sit through the train journey down, I would not be well enough to enjoy the activities they had planned for us once down there.

Friday, my last day at school and I was still too poorly to attend.  What a funny end to my time at the school.  I’ve been in this week to clear my desk and tidy up a few loose ends, but the end of my time there wasn’t how I imagined it to be at all.Oscar's first birthdayThe Saturday was spent opening up Oscar’s birthday presents and last minute cleaning and tidying ready for Oscar’s guests the following day.  I managed to get through the weekend somehow, although I still don’t feel 100%.

…But we did make it through the other side.

Our life will be better now.  That hard work was worthwhile, as it has put a nice pot of money into our bank which we can fall back on if necessary and I’ve been told any future reference requests will be glowing following the work I put into my role.  I’m very glad that my time in school is over now though.  Despite working full pelt, I never felt like I was totally doing my best job of being a Mum or my best job of being a teacher or a daughter or wife.  I always just felt like I was getting by – existing and doing my best to not sink in the madness that was going on around me.  The last fortnight of the month contained several days where I managed only to grab something from the petrol station for lunch, and skipped tea altogether as I knew Oscar was being looked after at nursery for food and I really needed to get on with work.

This is the start of our new chapter now.  One hopefully filled with healthy living, three meals a day, a tidy house, family fun, lots of running, a return to blogging, and a better work-life balance for us all.  I struggle with that work-life balance, as I know many do.  But at the end of the day, life is short.  {How is Oscar one year old already?!}  I don’t want to look back and feel like I missed out because I was too busy working or wishing Oscar would go to sleep so that I could get some marking done.

Now to see how the next chapter of our life turns out…

A very hot Houghton Hall Race for Life

Last Tuesday I managed to sneak out of work on time (I never manage to get away from work until late!) so that I was able to make the drive back to Norfolk and run the Houghton Hall Race for Life event with my Mum.

Houghton Hall Race4Life 2016 with Mum(I realise I look like a giant next to her here!)

We first ran the event together back in 2014 and several weeks ago now Mum asked if I would enter it with her again this year.

Tuesday was the hottest day of the year so far.  The radio announced the temperature as reaching a high of 32 degrees at one point(!)  Even though I’d been sat in a classroom all day in a loose-fitting dress with the fans on full, I just could not cool down, and being sat in a car for a further two hours in the blazing sun meant that by the time I rolled up at Tesco in Kings Lynn to get changed in the customer toilets I was sweaty and fed up of being stuck in traffic.  I was very glad to arrive at Houghton Hall and escape the heat of the car!

The event is set in lovely grounds and there were plenty of white deer grazing along the entry drive on my way in, seemingly oblivious to the scores of cars streaming past them.

Once I arrived, I realised I had no signal on my phone and from catching snippets of other conversations it appeared nobody else did either.  Unable to call my parents to arrange meeting up, I was now not sure how I was going to spot them with the thousands of other runners there and with the majority of people wearing pink!

I sat out on the boot of my car and the lady in the car next to me got out and nervously asked if I had run the event before.  She had been let down by the person who had planned to run with her and was feeling rather nervous about venturing over on her own.  I (hopefully!) reassured her that everybody had been very welcoming at the event when I had taken part a few years earlier and that there had been several people out there on their own – everyone spoke to everyone else.

In return she helped me car-watch for my parents’ bright green car!

Eventually, after about half an hour, we spotted them stood at the entrance looking for me and I wished the woman luck and we parted ways as she headed over to join in the warm up event.

Houghton Hall Race4Life 2016 with Mum and Dad

I changed into my trainers and pinned my number on the front of my pink t-shirt.  First time I’d not actually been able to see a race number due to the bump getting in the way!

29 weeks pregnant - Race for Life belly shot

There was still a warm up this year, although Mum and I didn’t partake as we were already pretty warm!  I did think it was rather silly to begin a warm up 45 minutes before the start of the event though and the warm up also started with static stretches – a pet hate of mine as this is asking for injury!

Sensibly though, the race organisers emphasised that due to the heat, all runners needed to rethink their plan for the evening, and if the initial plan had been to run the event, there was no shame in walking.  It was all about getting round safely and staying safe in the crazy heat of the day.

Mum hadn’t trained for the event this year, and so armed with a bottle of water each we sensibly decided to walk the majority of the event, with just a run towards the end on the way to the finish.Houghton Hall Race4Life 2016 with MumTo be honest, the ground was very rough going.  I had worn an old pair of road shoes and, even if I hadn’t been 29 weeks pregnant at the time I would have been concerned about tripping up.  The grass had been roughly hacked at, but was very springy and still several inches high, yet curved over the top of itself, making it hard to judge your footing in several places out on the course.

Like last time, we were directed to the start line in groups of runners, then joggers, then walkers.

Houghton Hall Race4Life 2016 with MumIt was really great that everywhere you looked all you could see was a giant sea of the colour pink and so many different women of all ages and sizes out there.

Houghton Hall Race4Life 2016 with Mum

On the way out and on the way back in we passed a large group of singers on the side who were very enthusiastically singing and keeping people moving on their way past.

Houghton Hall Race4Life 2016 with Mum

The event took us 1 hour and 19 seconds before we crossed the line at the finish and there were still hundreds of other women behind us.

We were each handed a bottle of water, a chocolate croissant and our race medal once having crossed the line and we made our way back to the cars.

I followed my parents home and enjoyed a lovely salmon salad before an early night.  I had to be back out on the road by 5am the following morning to ensure I could manage the trip back to school in Cambridgeshire to be there for 7am.

Super organised and I left on time.  What I hadn’t realised though was that I would not have enough petrol to get back to school…

Panicked driving between every petrol station I knew of along the A148 wasn’t how I had wanted to start my morning off before 5:30am!  Eventually I ended up sat in Sainsbury’s petrol station in Kings Lynn along with two other rather desperate looking motorists waiting for the magical 6am when the pumps kicked in with fuel!

Have you taken part in any of the Race4Life events?
How close do you leave it to the line before topping up your petrol?!

Cancer, we’re coming to get you.

A few months ago my Mum rang me one evening to ask if I would run the Houghton Hall Cancer Research Race for Life 5k with her and help her along the way.

This time last year Mum was in the middle of her second batch of chemo treatment and luckily the cancer hasn’t spread any more since.  It’s still there, but not currently causing any damage.

Houghton Hall Race4Life

Last night Dad drove us up for the 5k event and was our supporter for the evening.  A supporter with a camera.  It’s been a while since Dan has photographed any of my races so it was nice to capture some photographic evidence of my run, and some pictures of Mum and I together, as there seem to be hardly any of those.

We arrived pretty early so that we could donate some items to the Cancer Research tent, hear the stories from cancer survivors and join in the pre-race warmup.

Houghton Hall Race4LifeHoughton Hall Race4Life

A serious one of my parents…Houghton Hall Race4Life

And a slightly less serious one!…
Houghton Hall Race4Life

 

I never tuck my phone into my shorts pocket but I wanted to be sure to get some pictures on the way round as well.

Houghton Hall Race4Life

I joined in with a bit of the pre-race warm-up but Mum was really going for it!  I fear that I was too uncoordinated to join in properly.  Had I been there with a group of friends I would have jumped at the chance of stumbling through the moves though.  Nearly every pink-adorned lady was joining in.  We were told there were more than 2000 of us in total.  Dad and I always play the race numbers game when he joins me at a race.  We try and find the smallest race number in the crowds and the largest.  I won, as I found Race number 2!

Houghton Hall Race4Life

At 6:57pm we were asked to get behind one of three large banners.  ‘Runners’, ‘Joggers’ or ‘Walkers’.  Dad headed towards the far side of the start line to get in position to cheer us through and Mum and I lined up towards the back of the joggers as Mum wanted to jog sections of the race.

 

Houghton Hall Race4LifeHoughton Hall Race4Life

Houghton Hall Race4Life

It wasn’t long until we started and it was a very organised start as mountains of pink runners took off along the grassy course.

Houghton Hall Race4Life

Here’s us below as the ladies around us started to head over the line.  The field soon thinned out and there was an enormous mix of ladies out there.  Tall, short, small, large, with dogs, with children…A completely different experience to when I run road races or even the local parkrun.  I did choke up a few times at the messages on people’s backs about friends and family they had lost or were running for.Houghton Hall Race4Life

I ran the Norwich 10k Race4Life several years ago before I became a ‘runner’ and since then the R4L packs have also added wrist bands to wear on the run and for supporters to wear as well.
Houghton Hall Race4Life

Mum had mentioned to me at the start that she had wanted to try and run for 1 minute then walk for 2 minutes the whole way round and had said that she was glad I was wearing my Garmin.  (Of course I was…new Conquersize zones!)  Once we had gotten over the line and cleared away from the crowds a little we began our first jogging section.  Mum was amazed that she managed just under three minutes before breaking into a walk again.  This time last year she couldn’t even walk the dog without getting out of breath and feeling weak due to the treatment she was having.  I didn’t time the walking sections but I timed all of the jogging sections, all of which were at least 2.5minutes long.  Mum said she was really surprised to see the 2k marker pop up when it did as she felt she had been out hardly any time at all!Houghton Hall Race4Life

On her last jogging section she ran for just short of five minutes non-stop.  She didn’t think she would be able to do it when I first set her the challenge of running the final straight along through to the finish but I knew the crowds of support at the end would help get her there and I was right.Houghton Hall Race4LifeHoughton Hall Race4Life

True runner to the very end – there’s me checking my Garmin as I cross the line!  On this occasion though it was to tell Mum how long she had managed to run non-stop for!  You can see on her face how happy she was to cross the line.

I was curious to know if anybody had raced the event.  Dad told me that the first few people had come through in 28 minutes so not really.  I’d never seen these events as ‘races’ and I think it is such a fantastic idea to empower women and involve them in an event that is good for them and that anybody can take part in.  Cancer will affect 1 in 3 of us at some point in our lifetime.  The more research that can be done to prevent illness and deaths the better.Houghton Hall Race4Life

Here’s us with our medals back at the finish.  Chocolate croissant and water demolished!

Have you run any of the Race for Life events taking place around the country?

How cancer affects a family

Quick check-in with Janathon: I had aimed to run the speed session at club tonight, my first since returning from injury – both official club run and speedwork session.  I stayed at Mum’s last night and when I took her for her doctor’s appointment before heading home this afternoon, she was reffered to the hospital so I didn’t get away in time.  I did get in a progressive run of three miles though – starting at 10mm pace and working my way up to just under 9mm.  One of my most solid and steady runs since returning from injury and I was beaming when I returned home…Only to go and miss a step when heading downstairs and slide down onto my right foot which is now up and being iced.  Fingers crossed it’s just the ice still making it throb!  I’m determined to think positively!

I’ve not really spoken about ‘The Big C’ on here in any detail. Last January my Mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I remember the day she told me very clearly.

Dan and I had returned from our New York adventure on the 3rd January. Mum and Dad had kindly agreed to look after Bella for us while we were away so the weekend after we returned they made the trip to bring our cat home. A trip they’ve only made twice since we fully moved in three years ago.  The four hour round trip is a bit of a trek for them as unconfident drivers.  Therefore I was incredibly surprised when we got a knock on our door at 8am the following week and I answered it to my parents.  I had even told Mum on the phone the evening before that Dan and I planned on heading to Parkrun the next day.
We never made it to Parkrun.

I called Dan downstairs and like me he was equally surprised to see them but headed through to the kitchen to make some drinks for everyone.
Mum and Dad sat and Mum started to make small talk but didn’t even finish the first sentence before her voice cracked and she just held out her arms and I went over to wrap my arms around her while she cried.  After five minutes of us sat hugging and both Dad and Dan sat looking rather uncomfortable she managed to tell me that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and that the cancer was in several areas of her body, but had started out in her stomach.
For the first few weeks she was very scared.  Her doctor had left her assuming that she could die incredibly quickly and I can’t even imagine all of the things that rush through someone’s mind after hearing such news.  I speak to my Mum on the phone almost every day but our normal joking, chatty phone calls were replaced with instructions for funerals and who was to look after what when she was no longer here.  She was very tearful and incredibly scared.

When she was assigned a consultant and treatment co-ordinator at the hospital she became a little more optimisitic.  Our phone conversations became filled with success stories and news of her progress.  She discovered that ‘terminal cancer’ was just a term meaning that the cancer would always be there and that the cancer would win at some point, but that that time could be 6 months, 1 year, 5 years or even more depending on how much she fought.

She decided to sign up to a trial to help look at new ways of fighting the disease and a few months after first being diagnosed she headed for her first session of chemo.  She had already had several scans in that time, pints of blood tested and some other surgical procedures which I won’t go into on here.

She was very insistent that she didn’t want anyone to know, other than very close family.  She didn’t want people to ‘treat her differently’.  I went in with her as moral support to hand in her notice at her job.  She had worked there for eleven years.  The doctor had given her a note to cover the two weeks she had already taken off but she was very insistent that no-one but the manager were to know about her illness.  They must have guessed though and several staff tried to persuade her to stay on, that the doctor notes would cover her time away from the job but Mum said that she would feel too guilty, knowing that it was unlikely that she would be able to return.  I helped her make her getaway.

The first batches of chemo were tough.  Mum didn’t cope well with the treatment.  As she had agreed to the trial, it meant that instead of having chemo treatment every few weeks she had to have treatment every week but in smaller doses.  The hospital is 40 miles from where my parents live so Dad did the 80 mile round trip weekly, and even though Mum spent less time actually receiving the chemotherapy, it was still a full day event due to the blood tests and scans she had to have before the chemo began.

Alongside the trips to hospital for chemo she had to have her bloods taken weekly at a climic 15 miles away, in order to check her immunity levels.  Often these would be too low to receive the chemo so a nurse would come to the house several times a week to provide a jab which aimed to bring them up high enough to cope with the treatment.

As she begun to lose her hair she also began to let more and more people find out about her illness.  Talking to people helped and we were all amazed at how many people we knew who had actually had a form of cancer at some point in their lives.  Macmillan fitted her with an excellent wig.  So excellent in fact, I genuinely thought it was her natural hair!

Mum's wig

After ten sessions of treatment she was scheduled in for an operation.  The aim was to remove as much of the cancer as possible, although they had already let her know that there were some areas of her body that were too riddled to remove any substantial amount from.  The operation was a scary time.  I waited and waited for the phone call from my Dad to say that she had come through and things had gone well.  After over three hours of not being able to contact Dad I was about to get in the car and drive to Norfolk when I got through to him.  So many people had rung him that every time he had picked up the phone to call me it had answered someone else’s concerned call.

The two weeks that she was in hospital after the operation I often drove straight from my job in Cambridgeshire to my Dad’s, picked him up and then drove over to the hospital for visiting hours before taking him home and feeding him, and grabbing a few hours sleep myself before waking to my alarm at 5am and heading back to work.

My Dad became involved in everything whilst my Mum was at her worst.  He threw himself into a house he was doing up, constantly cleaned the house, set, picked and delivered vegetables from the garden to friends, fixed absolutely everything that had ever needed fixing.  He worked so hard at being the perfect husband – rushing Mum around everywhere and being there when she wanted something or just to talk.  Every time I picked him up to visit Mum he would have fallen asleep within seconds of getting in the car.  The meals I made him were probably the only actual meals he had.

My brother made himself scarce, almost like he didn’t want to know what was happening and therefore it wasn’t actually real.

My Mum’s sister had always been very close to my Mum.  She is the only remaining family on my Mum’s side and when I was younger she would frequently come and visit.  During the last five or six years she had become more distant and it had broken my Mum’s heart when she stopped coming to visit or calling.  But when Mum wrote to her to let her know about the cancer, my Aunt responded and left a voicemail message and they began to write and call regularly (due to Mum’s low immunity she barely left the house during the chemo weeks, for fear that she would not be able to continue the treatment).

I was the practical one.  I looked after my Dad, and rang him on days I couldn’t make the journey over to visit.  I made sure that he was eating and I was an ear for him to talk to.  I made sure that their dog was walked, there was food in the house, petrol in the car, the house remained clean and tidy, that people who needed to be updated on the situation, were.

I still find it very odd how everyone has different ways of coping with bad news.

Batch two of chemo came and went much quicker this time over the Summer.  Mum’s hair had even begun to grow back by the time I had my Macmillan cake stall in Holt in October.

MacMillan Cake stall - Me and Mum

At her consultation in October she was told that she had progressed very well and her case would be reviewed in six months time, although she would continue to have regular blood pressure checks and the occasional blood test to be on the safe side.

After complaining of achy joints and throbbing bones for a few days now she spoke to the nurse today, who referred her to the doctor, who sent her for bloods in the fear that the cancer has now spread to her bones.
Now?  Now, we wait again.  Mum is very strong, and incredibly determined to make my wedding in August.  She is very definitely a fighter and the cancer has not beaten her in the last twelve months, I am sure she will get through this next stage too.