12 things I learnt in 2018

It's been a long time since I posted on this blog, for many reasons, all of which revolve around the fact that my mum passed away in March 2018.  But the other day, for no other reason, other than the fact that time is a great healer, I started to think about writing again and I started to think about the blog posts that I had written on this blog.  Of all the blog posts I've written and I have to be honest, not all of them are great, I don't love them all, there is one that I remember I really, really enjoyed writing and loved reading and that's the 12 things I learnt in 2017 blog post.  I can't believe it has been a year since I wrote that blog post, not for all the normal reasons people say such as "I can't believe how time flies etc"  but because there was a time when I could not imagine a year without my mum.  A week after she passed away, I was shocked that I had been able to sustain a week without speaking to her, and then 2 weeks and a month.  Don't even get me started on the feelings of 6 months.  And now a year.  If 2017 was the hardest year of my life, 2018 was the slowest year of my life.


In January, we were still fresh from the news that there was no evidence of cancerous cells in my mother's body, the treatment and her surgery was successful.  In her final treatment appointment with the oncologist, there was confirmation from the final scans that there was no disease to be seen.  We were emotionally battered, exhausted and accustomed to this new way of life, we won.

In January, I learnt that life after cancer is still difficult, there are still medical appointments, symptoms to look out for and that fear in the pit of your stomach that cancer will jump out at you when you least expect it, when you allow yourself to be happy, is still there.  My favourite quote of Elizabeth Gaskell's from North and South sums it up perfectly "Try as we might.  Happy as we were.  We can't go back"


Celebrations to me, are no longer about gifts or 'great things to watch on tv' or even dare I say it, food.  I love whipping my camera out when my family are together celebrating an occasion because I like to make memories.  I like the thought of capturing a moment and being able to look back on it and remembering a time we all came together in each other's company.  In February, we celebrated Chinese New Year away, we braved a few days away from home and dared to do something for ourselves' now that there was more no more disease.  When we got home, my mum was tired, exhausted and not well at all and after a terrifying night at home was admitted into hospital.

In February, we looked cancer in the face and faced it head on.  In February, we were brave.


This month is mostly a blur to me.  I took a few weeks' off work compassionate leave.  I remember being exhausted, very, very tired all the time and sleeping a lot.  In March, I learnt nothing about myself and wanted to learn nothing.


In April, I went back to work.  A few days after my mum passed away, I had already decided that I wanted to go back to work full time.  My role as a carer was over and I knew that my mum would want me go to back to work.  I threw myself wholeheartedly into my work.  Last year, I felt so guilty because though my work was very accommodating and allowed me to work part time, even when I was there, I was so distracted by thoughts of how my mum was doing at home, that I wasn't invested in my work at all.  I didn't enjoy my job, I felt like it was keeping me from precious time with my mum and I resented having to be there but knowing aswell that I needed to be there for the money.  Going back to work full time, I finally found the enjoyment in my work as I strived to make up for lost time, proving that I was capable.

A month after my mum had passed away and it felt like an eternity since I had last spoken to her, I was still waking up every morning and getting dressed and going into work and distracting myself as much as possible.  Such basic tasks and I was doing them still.  I learnt that life goes on, whether you like it or not.


I am a firm believer in fate and that things happen for a reason at certain times in your life.  A  month after my mum passed away, I was given several opportunities to help raise awareness for carers' and those affected by cancer.

To celebrate the NHS 70th birthday, Theresa May pledged an additional £20bn a year by 2023.  It's vital that investment be made into cancer care and as such, Macmillan interviewed 6 people affected by cancer and conducted research to write a report providing guidance on what the future of cancer care in the NHS should look like.  This impactful 'One Size Doesn't Fit All' report comprised of real life experiences and statistics is available to read here and recommends 7 positive steps that the NHS should focus on in the long term plan for the benefit of those affected by cancer.

Across the UK today, 6.5 million people are carers, during Carers' Week 2018, Macmillan invited myself and others to a Parliamentary reception in which I raised awareness by representing carers, advising Parliament on how they can assist carers at Westminster.

Also during Carers' week, My Weekly Special printed an article in their magazine focusing on 'caring for carers' for which I was featured, demonstrating how I used my passion for photography to help me relax.  

In May, I gave back to the community, channeling my experiences in a positive way.  Unexpectedly, I was given these opportunities at a time when I needed it the most.  In May, I mended my broken heart, just a little bit.


Linda Rodebaugh and colleagues described 4 stages of grief in an October 1999 article in the journal "Nursing.", these were described as:
  1. Reeling - this first stage is the initial shock of the loss that literally leaves you reeling, shocked and in disbelief, denial also falls within this stage.  A loss commonly leaves you stunned and reeling, especially when the loss happens suddenly.
  2. Feeling - after the initial shock of the loss, as the reality of the situation sinks in, a host of emotions are felt such as anger, deep sadness and loneliness.
  3. Dealing - the dealing stage of grief involves thoughts and actions to help you cope with and adapt to your loss, both mentally and practically.
  4. Healing - this stage involves integrating your loss as part of your life journey and moving forward. For many people, this entails reengaging more actively in daily life, often in new or different ways.
It's important to note that there is no formula to grief, the above may not happen in the order stipulated or the way described and unfortunately, some people can even jump back, repeating stages, unable to move on.  For example in June, I was still very much in denial that my mum had gone believing that she was on holiday or had gone away and that she would come back from holiday and I would be able to tell her everything that had happened.  I hated the idea that life kept carrying on and that things were still happening because it meant she was slipping further and further away.  Things were happening in my life that she didn't know about which was alien, because I told her everything.  


I have always enjoyed the outdoors and the sunshine.  Being able to distract yourself is a survival mechanism not to be underestimated.  I re-kindled friendships that I had ignored the last year.  I spent a lot of time going outside, walking and re-visiting places I hadn't been for a long time.  Desperately trying to re-connect that feeling.  I spoke to relatives that I hadn't spoken to in a long time because my mum had pushed to many people away when she was diagnosed.


During the summer, I spent a lot of time with my nieces and nephews'.  I finally allowed myself to have fun, doing things that I wanted to do for myself.  I still felt guilty and did not feel like myself but I allowed myself to laugh, tentatively seeing what that would feel like. 


During September, I tried not just a digital detox but a cancer detox.  I ignored everything cancer related, I stopped looking at Twitter, I let myself forget about the blog and tried to reboot.  Sometimes, less information is more.


One day, a friend and I sat down for a chat and she asked me if I felt like I was back to normal again and I instinctively replied that I didn't think I would ever be normal again because after everything that had happened, I don't think I will ever be the same person as the person that I was, before cancer affected my life.  I'll never look at things the same way, feel things in the same way, be the same ever again.  Not bad, not good - just different.  


With the cold nights drawing in, I dedicated a lot of time in November to self care.  I went to sleep early and woke up early, I made healthy and nutritious foods.  Most of all, I started running again, slowly gearing up to 2 miles a day again.  The feeling after a run allowed me to be less lethargic and 
generally feel better about myself physically and emotionally.  My mind felt clearer and stronger after a good run.  


Christmas is a very difficult time when you are used to traditions and occasions which have a lot of meaning to you and your family.  I dreaded Christmas and was surprised to learn that other family members were finding it just as difficult.  Christmas was still about family and relationships but not in the way that I was used to.  In December, I learnt that new traditions have to be made to honour those we have lost.

So I made it through 2018, one day at a time, allowing the months to go past.  There is though, no lesson to grief at the end of this blog post, no magic answer or formula that teaches you to move on, makes it hurt less, other than, I guess time.  Time really is a great healer.  


  1. You are an amazing daughter and your mom was Very lucky to have you by her side. Bless you,


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