Happy New Year and Brief Reflections on 2008

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First and foremost, i would like to wish you all a happy new year and i wish you health and happiness for 2009.

The last day of the year is always filled with stories and reflections on the year and this has been no different for me.

This year saw me start my blog, join twitter, encourage social media usage, support a social networking and youth participation pilot within my workplace. It also saw new connections and colleagues through the social media tools like this blog and twitter and fortunately i have been able to meet some of those connections in person, i hope to do more of that in 2009.

On a personal and family note, we got our camper van back home after 4 long years, we dealt with my wife’s thyroid cancer,we saw our kids grow and learn more every day and had huge personal and emotional growth ourselves. In the current credit crunch, it is good to know we currently have good health and we only wish and hope for more of that in 2009. Having less money has certainly been hard at times but nothing can compare to the feeling i had when i heard my wife was healthy again, that is something all the money in the world would not have been able to buy and i’m sure it would rival any feeling a lottery winner would have.

As we now look forward to 2009, we are grateful and give thanks to all those who supported us this year and we have learnt so much about ourselves as well as our friends and family.

We have some exciting things to look forward to in 2009: a family trip to Australia, Sharon will complete her NVQ 3 in Children’s care learning and development, Ewan starts school and Finley will start nursery. For me, i am looking to develop my career and hope to take new opportunities.

Finally one thing that 2008 taught me was: decluttering your life is a healthy and emotionally rewarding experience.

I raise a glass to you all and look forward to more connections and conversations in 2009 and offer this website as something to give you wonder every day (Astronomy Picture of the Day)

Speak soon, Carl.

A Personal Story – Part 4

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A short and brief update.

Sharon had an appointment today to get the results of all the scans that she went through (MRI & CAT scans) to find out whether or not this was the end of a difficult but enlightening journey for us all or the beginning of another more difficult one.

well the great news is that she has been given the all clear, so we can finally draw a line under this and be thankful that we learnt our lessons before it got any worse.

She will need to have regular check-ups for a period of time to ensure her Thyroxin levels are enough to ensure that her brain doesn’t start thinking that she needs to start growing thyroid cells again as this could cause the cancer to return. But that is something which is straight forward.

This blog was not intended for this story but it has provided me with a way to express my thoughts and concerns without burdening my wife and family. This blog has also helped me make some great contacts with people and families who have experienced or who are experiencing the same or similar challenges.

If you need any more proof that these social media and web 2.0 tool can really connect people by interest and to provide support and encouragement across in reality thousands of miles in an instant, then this story is an example of that.

To each and everyone who has read this journey, sent comments, messages, emails of support, encouragement and love to my family.

I THANK YOU

Carl :)

Back to work and feeling refreshed

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I am now just finishing my 2nd day back to work after 3 weeks off.  I actually missed writing my blog on a regular basis, something i didn’t think i would do, but i have found it to be quite relaxing and it helps me clarify my thoughts as well as getting the excellent comments or signposts from people reading.

Now before i get on to work related stuff, i want to Thank Everyone who did comment and send best wishes to me and my family over the last 3 weeks, it means a lot. Some of you i have not even met in person and yet it feels like you are friends.  I just hope that i can get to met you all in person over the coming months and years.

Back to work stuff

There is always so much to catch up on and so many emails to read and action, but i have found that i now have even more to read via rss, blogs, twitter and the like.  But it is worth it because there is so much information out there and i know i am only connected to a small amount of it.

I have been working with a couple of colleagues this afternoon putting together the final touches on our collective presentation for a conference on Friday run by the LGIU called Social Networking Sites and Youth Participation, it looks like it will be a great event and i am looking forward to listening as well as speaking.

I am hoping that tomorrow we can finalise a film of our Chief Executive talking about the benefits of Social Networking for a 3 minute video clip which i want to include into the presentation for Friday’s conference.

I will also seek approval to include via this blog as well.

A Personal Story – Part 3

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My wife Sharon has now had her radioactive iodine treatment and is safe at home reading whilst i type this blog post.  This post may shoot about a bit and i make no apologies for this.

The past 2/3 weeks has been an emotional roller coaster and one which i feel has taught me many lessons about life, love, family, friends and journeys.

Sharon went in to hospital to receive her treatment on Tuesday 2nd September at midday. We all went in to hospital including Ewan and Finley to make sure they were happy about what was happening. She came out on Saturday 13th at 3pm, about 9 days earlier than expected.

Ok, so what happened and how did we get on and what did we tell the kids and how did they manage during this difficult and emotional time?

Firstly, we decided to tell the kids everything, we decided to be open and honest about what was happening and what Sharon had – this was not our original plan but we went to a local cancer charity called “FORCE” which was amazing and humbling. It was after this we decided that the truth was the best way to go with the one exception “Mummy was staying in hospital the whole time” which in fact was not true as she only stayed in for 2 days the rest of the time she stayed at my mothers house and pretended to be at the hospital.  Sharon stayed at my mothers because of the increased levels of radiation she would have and she was not allowed near children during this period of time, hence she stayed at my mums.

We also decided to take Ewan and Finley into hospital the day before Sharon was due to go in so they could see where she was going to stay and meet the doctors and nurses who would be looking after her.  This proved to be a very good thing as it gave our eldest Ewan a visual understanding of where “mummy” was staying for the time she was not at home.

We also decided to tell Ewan that “mummy” had cancer and that it was to be removed and “chopped away” by the special drink, we did this because after reading a very good booklet, it suggested that should you tell a child that mummy has a sore neck, then it may cause them to think that the treatment she receives is what happens for sore necks, which may make them feel very anxious about that in the future, so the truth was best but told in a way that a 4 year old could understand – This also proved to be a very good thing to do.

We also spoke to the nursery head teacher about what was happening to ask for some additional support for Ewan and to help with distractions should we need it when i drop him off in the mornings, this also proved to be a great thing and we really appreciated the extra effort the whole nursery team put in to support, not just Ewan but me during the 11 days that Sharon was eventually away.

What i learnt…..

So many things, it is hard to explain and to really convey the emotional journey i found myself on, it brought back feelings i had when i was a child and doubts i have had about being a “good Dad” for my children. It also enabled me to reflect a huge amount of what is really important in life and who is important for me and my family to help us on our journey.

The doubts i had came from not feeling that my dad was really there for me and not really knowing or seeing what being a Dad was all about, I feel very let down around this but understand that my parents generation were very different and the world was a different place, however i am also aware that many of my friends growing up had “great Dad’s” and i envied what they had and tried to understand what i thought “being a great Dad was all about”. These doubts stayed with me and have held me back since becoming a father myself. The thoughts and concerns i had before sharon went in made me feel very scared about looking after the kids on my own for what was originally thought to be 3 weeks.  Now if anyone ever tells you that being a stay at home parent is not a job then they have obviously never done it. It was a very demanding job and one which i found challenging but very rewarding. The joys a 4 year old and a 2 year old can bring is unrivaled and i thank them from the bottom of my heart for helping me get through this time, as it was there funny jokes or silly dances that kept the smile on my face during the day.  I am such a proud Dad and i feel so humble to have such wonderful children, they are just pure inspiration. If only we could all keep that as adults, i am sure the world would be a different place.

The whole experience proved to me that i am a good dad, in fact i am happy to say a great dad,  although the reflections only came once sharon had come home and we were both trying to understand what we had learnt through this experience.

There were times when i would sit in the front room after putting the kids to bed and i would just cry, some of it was because i missed sharon so much some of it was because of what the boys had said during the day. Ewan would often come up to me and tell me “Daddy you are fantastic and i love you very very very very much”. It was so heart warming and it would get to me at the end of the day.

Another thing we decided to do which helped was that sharon had a phone in hospital so she phoned us up and i would put her on loudspeaker every tea time. The kids found this very funny to begin with, but after the first week Ewan got a bit tired of it and started to refuse to talk as he wanted mummy to come home. We both understood and we didn’t force him to talk, but sharon would still speak to him.  i just remembered another great thing that sharon thought of, before she went into hospital she bought the kids some books and some activity stuff and she wrapped them up and stuck old stamps on them. When sharon phoned up, she would tell them that she had asked a nurse to send the presents she had bought in the hospital shop that they saw when we went in.  This was excellent as they thought it was so cool receiving things from mummy in the post.

After the first week i had a great phone call with Sharon in the evening as i would phone her once the kids were in bed and just talk about stuff, however on one occasion i got very emotional and sharon said such wonderful things and reassured me i was doing a good job, this helped me so much and i thank her for the support she gave me whilst she was recovering.

Once sharon came home, and it was such a great feeling not just for me but for the kids to see mummy again. Sharon read me her diary and we both found that to be a very emotional experience but one which was very rewarding. Sharon is continuing her diary and she has yet to decide whether or not she will put this online or whether to write a reflective experience afterwards (more to come on this i suspect).   We spent the first 2 nights talking and trying to make sense of the whole thing and to try and give meaning to why this had happened. We always look for the positives in every situation, but it is often hard to do this whilst you are still in the process.

My lessons were unexpected in this process but we soon realised that we had both overcome the last remaining hurdles holding us back, spiritually and emotionally. We now both feel reinvigorated and we both have a huge hunger to learn and grow. We have also started to see our children as fellow explorers on lifes journey as we can learn just as much from them as we continue to grow.

The biggest thing i realised was that whilst i was going through this i didn’t feel any urge to learn, share knowledge or even speak to many people, it was almost like i went into an emotional cocoon, to emerge stronger and refreshed.

The only thing we didn’t expect to happen was our dog charm sat by the front doot for the first 4 days waiting for sharon to come back.  After all she is part of the family.

Some final thoughts in this post.

The journey has not yet ended, sharon has another scan in 3 months where we will find out if this treatment worked, but between now and then, we feel stronger, closer and ready to face anything that comes our way.

I am very proud of my family, i am very proud of my wife sharon who has been an inspiration since she found out she had Cancer and i am so happy that she is now seeing herself as i see her.

I am excited about what lays ahead, but am reminded on a saying that Master Oggway in Kung Fu Panda says. “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, that is why they call it the present”. I am reminded to live each day as it comes and everyday brings something new to learn and share with people.

This will not be the last post on this subject but it will be the last looking back.

Thank you for reading this and as previously mentioned i do not expect any replies or comments on this post.

a personal story – part 2

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Things have progressed a lot since my last post on my wife’s situation.

She has been to see her specialist who has informed us that she might not need radiotherapy which was good news, however she will require Radio iodine. This is the treatment which actually requires Sharon to stay away from the kids for up to 3 weeks, 4 days of that she will be in isolation within the hospital. The date for the treatment is 2nd September so only 4 weeks away until she goes in for her treatment.

One of the challenges this presents to us as a family is what do we tell our 4 year old son Ewan, who during the previous stages – sharon’s operation  – was affected quite badly by what was happening around him, as it was feelings he had never really encountered or felt before.

So our major priority this time round is to ensure that Ewan feels more informed about what is happening, what it means and how long mummy will be away for.  We started this communications earlier this week and he has made me so proud.

We had a plan of how and what we were going to say and Sharon started the process of talking to him on Monday.  This basically reflects the conversation from the feedback i received from Sharon:

Ewan, Mummy’s doctors have said that i have to go back into hospital

Why? Will you need a plaster on your neck again (he expressed concern and looked worried at this point)

No, mummy won’t need a plaster this time round (Ewan’s face changed to relief and started smiling) Well the doctors have said that, there maybe some very little pieces left, so small you would need a special magnifying glass to see them. Mummy will have to take a special drink, which contains a special medicine which will travel all around my body and when it finds the little baddies it chops them up like Kung Fu Panda.

Ewan then proceeded to make chopping noises and karate movements

However, it will also mean that mummy will need to stay in hospital for a long time, and will be looked after by the doctors and nurses. Mummy will even have her own room, so you could draw me pictures.

Ewan then started talking about all the different types of pictures he could draw. Ewan then said – Mummy, me and Finley (our 2 year old son) could bring our pictures into the hospital for you.

You won’t be able to come to the hospital as no one will be allowed to see me other than the doctors and nurses, BUT you could go to the post office with daddy and buy a stamp and then stick your pictures in a big envelope and then post them to me as the hospital.

Ewan’s face lit up and then got really excited about buying a stamp (Kids have the best outlook on life, i don’t think i have ever got excited about buying a stamp before)

The conversation then went on for a little while around this area, sharon mentioned that i will be staying home from work to look after him, Finley and charm (our dog) but he did not seem concerned initially about Sharon going into hospital.  We now just need to continue to the dialogue with Ewan about mummy going into hospital to ensure that the process continues.

The other interesting aspect to this whole event, is the response from friends and family.  What has been nice is to hear people asking how sharon is and how she is feeling etc. But also people are asking how i am and how i feel about the whole thing and how i am coping.

The hardest thing about this for me is the feeling of helplessness, i know i need to be strong for the kids and will be and it will actually be nice to spend some quality time with them during those 3 weeks sharon is away from home.

It is hard to really explain how i feel, but at present i just feel mentally exhausted and i feel very emotional most of the time. I often feel like crying when thinking about what sharon has gone and is going through, after all, the word cancer does trigger emotions based around loss. We are lucky that sharon has a treatable cancer. Most of all though this whole experience makes you realise the important things in life and not that sharon has been close to death, although the specialist did say something which worried me considerably. He did mention that if the cancer has spread and it could move to the lung next and that is not good. I felt like being sick when i heard that. It is a small percentage and is “unlikely” according to the specialist but they have to say these things in order to cover all bases.

On the whole though i feel grateful to still have my wife in good health and the 3 weeks she will be away will be nothing compared to the rest of our lives so it is an easy sacrifice to make.

The next 2 months will be hard and i will be sharing more, sharon has also decided to write down her thoughts and she is keen to share them through the web, perhaps via a blog or a website. Listening to her talk about how she feels and how she wants to get through this is inspiring to me and i only hope that her experiences can help someone else.