Prioritising Self Care

Many people have remarked on how well I’m coping with all the setbacks I’ve faced in my life, especially this year. Developing resilience doesn’t come naturally, it needs to be learned and nurtured. I thought I’d share some of the ways I incorporate self care into my daily routine, and hopefully inspire others to develop their own resilience.

Until I prioritised my own self care needs, I was a bundle of nerves to the point of social anxiety. I had difficulty enforcing my boundaries so that I was a punching bag for others’ abuse. My self esteem was so low that I had absolutely no confidence. If I did speak up I was knocked back down so I built up barriers and sunk into my shell.

I went to therapists and they helped to some extent but I still lacked confidence. Getting really fit helped with my self image but I was still lacking in self esteem. Even though my external appearance was the best it had been for years, my inner self was struggling with self doubt and negativity. I was rushing around trying to fit all my responsibilities into my daily routine, which left little time for myself.

The real change came last year, when I finally lost a lot of weight. I had a coach for my weight loss program who rang me every three weeks, not only to set goals with me, but also to give me positive feedback about my progress. Having that regular contact helped me lose over 17kg and graduate early from the program.

That success gave me so much confidence. The changes I had made included regular exercise, a new healthy diet with lots more vegetables and the joy of cooking and gardening. With it came the realisation that I had to prioritise self care.

My top tips for self care are:

  • Get outdoors daily. Natural light is better for you
  • Ladies wear makeup (even just tinted moisturiser and mascara) even when you’re not going out, and men shave. You feel better about yourself when you’re groomed. It goes without saying, but shower and brush your teeth too. You’d be surprised how many people don’t, as a nurse you see it all. Wear clothes that make you feel good, and that make you look good too.
  • Exercise daily, even just a walk. You will get natural endorphins.
  • Eat healthy food and drink plenty of water. Eating junk food depletes your energy and will have long-term repercussions if you base your diet around it.
  • Listen to your body. If you’re tired, rest.
  • Have regular massages, beautician visits or manicures purely for the enjoyment of it. If this is outside your budget, you can do at-home spa sessions . My favourite routine is a soak in a bubble bath with a face mask on, and lovely soft music playing, followed by beautiful scented body lotion. I definitely make time and room in my budget for regular professional massages though because it helps me manage my chronic back pain.
  • Listen to the sound of water. We have a pond with a fountain and the sound is so relaxing. You can get the same effect from white noise apps or a small water feature. Bubble baths, swims in the ocean and looking at waves lap on the shore are also calming.
Tips for prioritising self care collage
Tips for self care
  • Practice gratitude. Regularly write down a list of all the things you’re grateful for. Thank other people too, it goes a long way.
  • Spend time with your pets and loved ones. If you have young children or grandchildren play with them. Being around pets and children allows you to see things from a different perspective. Play games with them and their laughter will cheer you up.
  • Hug someone! Social distancing laws made this impossible and a lot of people struggled with not being able to have physical contact with their loved ones. I really missed not being able to hug my best friend and relatives that didn’t live with us.
  • Do something creative for example drawing, painting, baking, music or writing. I found a great colour-by-numbers App, very similar to the paint-by-numbers paintings we did as children. It’s so relaxing. Jigsaws are also calming.
  • Write in a journal daily – my article Journalling as a Self Care Activity has free printable journal prompts to get you started.
  • Use your brain – do crosswords, puzzles or Sudoko. Learn something new like a language or skill.
  • Read books written by people who are inspiring in some way. I’ve read a lot of books by people who have faced the worst adversities and come through them. That gives me confidence to tackle anything that comes my way.
  • Have less screen time. Avoid reality TV especially – it’s just trash. Only watch news from trustworthy sources – don’t get all your knowledge from Facebook and Instagram. Knowledge is power, so don’t get sucked into believing everything you read or hear.
  • If you’re sick stay home. I know we’ve heard that constantly this year but I’m shocked by how many people go to work and school when they are sick. By resting and recuperating your body has a chance to heal. If you’re working and mixing with other people, it takes a lot longer to fully recover and you’re passing it on to other people. Those people may have compromised immunity or other health issues which would lead them to develop much worse illnesses than you.
  • Most important – reach out to someone if you are not coping. There are resources there to help you. Avoid people who suck your energy from you or make you feel worse. These are some help lines available in Australia:
Australian Help lines for people struggling mentally
Help lines in Australia for people struggling

Once you start prioritising self care, it will become part of your daily routine. It will be easier for you to assert your boundaries and say no to people. Your confidence will grow, and you’ll feel so much better within yourself. You will be more resilient when life throws unexpected stresses and crises your way.

Go on, you deserve it.

Please share if you enjoyed my article. I would love to hear what your tips for self care are in the comments below.

Please note: I am not a registered mental health practitioner. The information provided in this article is for general informational and educational purposes only and should not replace information provided by your own mental health practitioner. Please refer to my Disclaimer

https://www.denysewhelan.com.au/denyse-blogs/share-your-snaps-5-25-51-lifethisweek-50-2020/

Midlife Share the Love party

Shared at the above Link-up parties

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Staying positive despite setbacks

Updates on Midlifestylist

It’s five weeks since my bilateral mastectomies and in that time there have been triumphs and setbacks. First the triumphs:

  • Midlifestylist is now officially a business! I registered the business name on the Australian Business Register and applied for an ABN (Australian Business Number). It’s exciting to see my business name on official documents. I first thought of the name seven years ago and bought a domain name but didn’t officially start my blog until October 2019. If I ever start earning money through my website I’ll need to pay tax so I thought it would be worth registering the name officially.
  • While I’ve been at home healing I completed a legal course for my website. I knew I’d need to get the legal side of things done before my website grew any further but I haven’t had the time to sit down and tackle it until now. The course was very beneficial and included all the templates for Terms and Conditions, Disclosures, Privacy Policy and Disclaimers. A blogger that I follow had her blog plagiarised by a B-grade celebrity who made thousands of dollars off a book that she compiled from 4 or 5 bloggers’ work. The course I did covers copyright and what to do if your work is plagiarised. I recommend this course and if you’re interested, click the link highlighted. The basic course is free but if you buy one of the other courses I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you because I’m affiliated with the course conveners. Read the full disclosure here.
  • My niece Ally, her friend Coralee and I raised over $1000 for breast cancer research by taking part in the GO PINK campaign. We dyed our hair pink and did a live feed which was a lot of fun.
  • My husband and I baked bread for the first time. He did all the mixing and kneading because I’m still not able to do anything strenuous and we ate 3/4 of the loaf with some homemade vegetable soup because it was so moreish. We have a bread-maker on order but it won’t come until July because it looks like everyone else had the same idea when there were shortages of everything in the shops.
  • Our vegetable garden is thriving and we’re already eating produce from it. Every year it improves because with trial and error we’re finding the best ways to do things. The weather has been perfect for growing too with lovely sunny days and plenty of rain. Winter really is the perfect time of the year in Queensland.
  • I’ve been collaborating with other bloggers on some projects which are new and exciting. One of the best things about blogging is the community of like-minded individuals that you meet online. Reading their blogs gives you another perspective as well.
Freshly baked bread

Now the setbacks:

  • I still have a lot of swelling and the wound is taking a long time to heal because of the massive post-op bleed I had on the left side. I had to have another course of antibiotics and I’ve been very restricted in what I’m allowed to do. I’m supposed to start back at work on Monday but I’m not up to that because nursing is a very active job and I’m not allowed to lift anything or do strenuous work yet. I was referred to a haematologist to try to get to the bottom of why I bled so much and it may be genetic because I’ve had a few other instances in my life of unexplained bleeding. I’ve had days when it all gets too much and I’ll be very down in the dumps and cry, but I’m able to bounce back and am in a positive frame of mind most of the time. I’ve had a lot of support so that definitely helps.
  • Because my mobility has been restricted I’ve been very tired at times. The worst week was when my husband went back to work after looking after me for 3 weeks. I wasn’t allowed to drive so was catching the bus and tram which meant catching 2 buses to get to my doctors’ appointments and 2 home, plus walking. I can drive short distances now and that’s been a huge improvement. I hired dog walkers so that my dog didn’t miss out on his walk and now that I can drive I can take him to a dog park where I can park so close that he can jump out of the car and go straight onto the off-leash area so I don’t have to hold his lead. He’s a big boy and at the moment I’m not up to him pulling on his lead.

The social distancing laws are gradually easing in Australia which is a big relief. The border between Queensland and New South Wales will open in a couple of weeks so I’ll finally be able to visit my brother who lives an hour away. We have a camping trip planned for the last weekend in August which has been delayed twice before. We’re really hoping we’ll be able to go this time. My sister-in-law’s 50th birthday party can finally go ahead as well – she was waiting for restrictions to ease. It has an Alice in Wonderland theme so I’ve been making a costume – watch this space as I may be brave enough to publish photos!

I hope all my readers are staying well and coping with whatever restrictions are on in your part of the world. This year has certainly put a lot of stress on to people and we’re all having to cope with current events. There’s still a lot of unrest from the Black Lives Matter movement, which I wrote about in my last post. I hope that this year’s events bring about lasting change for the better. The world has now woken up and it would be awesome if we all learnt the lessons that are available to us.

While recovering from surgery there are triumphs and setbacks. It’s important to stay positive and look to the future as this period in my life won’t last forever. I don’t regret making the decision to do risk-reducing surgery as it means my chances of getting cancer are reduced almost to zero. No matter how hard things seem right now, it is important to focus on the bigger picture. I’ve been through much worse than this in the past and I know I have the inner strength to get through this as well.

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Our own shameful statistics on Black Deaths in Custody

The news coming out of the US after George Floyd’s death in custody was incredibly disturbing. What followed was shocking to witness. I heard again and again “It’s disgusting what’s happening in America”. The reality is, however, Australia is no better than America. We have our own shameful statistics of black deaths in custody. I’m writing this because I don’t want to stay silent. As Meghan Markle said “the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing.” If we want change, we have to speak up.

Some Background on my own Situation

I grew up in New Zealand, where my life was stable and lacking in exposure to prejudice and racism. We grew up very close to our Maori and Pacific Islander friends and relatives. I honestly never thought about race in context of who to make friends with when I was a child. We learnt Maori language at school and learning New Zealand history included learning Maori history and folklore which was an integral aspect of our culture. We all learned Maori songs, crafts and art – it was as part of our education as maths and English were. I don’t remember ever witnessing racism during my childhood. That’s not to say it wasn’t there, but it was not something I ever thought about.

It wasn’t until I moved to Australia in the 80’s as a 19 year old that I ever had prejudism focused on me. Australia in the ’80s was very different to today. Kiwis were allowed to emigrate to Australia without any barriers and we had a bad name for coming here and going straight on the dole. We were allowed immediate access to Australia’s welfare system and it was very easy to become a permanent resident and citizen. Consequently we were not always welcome here. I had a very hard time applying for jobs and frequently had the phone slammed in my ear as soon as they heard my Kiwi accent. We were regarded as bludgers and probably deserved it due to many of my fellow Kiwis taking advantage of the system.

I eventually did get a job, but not until I applied for a Government department that advertised their policy of equal opportunity no matter what race, sex, religion or sexuality you were. I pointed out the policy in my interview, and I like to think that my cheekiness had something to do with why I got that job. These days it is much easier to be accepted by employers but equal opportunity in those days was a new concept. Now it is in legislature, and rightly so. While I did experience some discrimination because of being a New Zealander, this was in no way comparable to the level of racism and discrimination that is facing by people of colour here and throughout the world.

I had a bit of a naivity in those days. My nursing career began in 1987 in a public hospital in Brisbane. It opened my eyes to the health issues facing new migrants and Aboriginals. Seeing how their health outcomes were so much worse than the general population was disturbing. I wanted to do something to help – I thought that I could make a difference if I worked in a small community with a large Aboriginal population. Feeling driven to do something to help, I took a job in a small outback hospital in the Northern Territory.

I was in for a major culture shock. I soon realised that the problems facing Aboriginal communities were way more complex and ingrained than what I had anticipated. This naive 30 year old nurse was pretty useless, especially when trying to assess Aboriginals who were living very traditionally. My questions were met by amusement many times because of the cultural divide between myself and them. My ignorance was the problem. They are beautiful people who are proud and self sufficient – even when they are extremely sick they will still make their own way to the bathroom rather than have someone help them. Even though I’m disappointed that I really didn’t do much to change their health outcomes, I learnt more from my year in the Northern Territory than I did in 10 years in the city.

Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

The statistics on black deaths in custody are appalling, and not just in the US. In 1991 there was a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. The key finding of the royal commission was that Aboriginal people are more likely to die in custody because they are arrested and jailed at disproportionate rates. That remains as true in 2020 as it was in 1991. In 1991, 14.3% of the male prison population in Australia was Indigenous. In March 2020 it was 28.6%. According to data released by Australian Bureau of Statistics this month, 4.7% of all Indigenous men are in jail compared with just 0.3% of all non-Indigenous men.

At the time of the Royal Commission, as now, non-Indigenous people died in greater numbers, and at a greater rate, in custody than Indigenous people. But then, as now, Indigenous people made up just 3% of the total population. That means more Aboriginal people are imprisoned and dying as a proportion of their total population.

“The conclusions are clear,” royal commissioner Elliott Johnston QC wrote in 1991. “Aboriginal people die in custody at a rate relative to the proportion of the whole population which is totally unacceptable and which would not be tolerated if it occurred in the non-Aboriginal community. But this occurs … because the Aboriginal population is grossly over-represented in custody. Too many Aboriginal people are in custody too often.”

Source: Aboriginal deaths in custody: Black Lives Matter protests referred to our count of 432 deaths. It’s now 437, The Guardian, 9 June 2020

What is the Solution to the statistics on black deaths in custody?

There’s no easy solution, and it would be easy to put blame on the Government and politicians for these appalling figures. Prosecuting law enforcers as in the US in the case of George Floyd is definitely a step in the right direction. Police brutality in America has been in the headlines lately, but unfortunately Australian police have been guilty of excessive force as well, with a record including fatal shootings, excessive taser use and overly rough treatment during arrests. Despite evidence in some cases of excessive force or neglect by police or prison officers, there has never been a criminal conviction for a death in custody in Australia. Chris Hurley, the police officer accused of killing an Aboriginal man on Palm Island in 2004, was acquitted of manslaughter. Two police officers are currently facing murder charges for the deaths of Kumanjayi Walker in the Northern Territory and Joyce Clarke in Western Australia, and both have indicated they will plead not guilty. The police have the power to use force, but only within the conditions set out in the legislation of their state. Stronger guidelines around what constitutes excessive force by law enforcement, and more awareness of citizens’ rights needs to be in place. Source: Shine Lawyers

How can we help the Black Lives Matter movement?

How can we help empower black people within our communities? Ask them what they need. Listen to their concerns. They have been dealing with inequalities and injustices for centuries. It’s clear that in 2020 they’re frustrated – they shouldn’t have to fight to be heard, or criticised for attending the Black Lives Matter protests. We need to be woken up! Wotna Moris, a Papua New Guinean lawyer and political analyst, wrote a very inspiring piece on how the collective voices of black people around the world combine in this one voice that is the Black Lives Matter protests.

Systemic racial discrimination is a worldwide problem that black people have combated since slavery and colonisation. And in that battle, every step taken by one of us, towards equality, is a step taken by all of us and has always been.

Wotna Moris, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/09/australias-pacific-minister-called-black-lives-matter-protests-self-indulgent-he-couldnt-be-more-wrong

Meyne Wyatt told us exactly what he wants in his powerful monologue on the ABC’s Q&A programme. His moving speech grabs at your guts and makes you sit up and take notice. They’re angry. Angry after more than two centuries of racism and prejudism. That anger is fueling the Black Lives Matter protests in Australia and around the world. I understand it, and I want to help! The best way to help is to listen to what they are telling us.

Meyne Wyatt on racism

Educate yourself about culture

Educate yourselves with regards to their culture. This is what I noticed with the difference between my education in NZ and my Australian counterparts. We were immersed in the Maori culture. We didn’t regard it as separate from ourselves. It was part of us. My Australian friends knew very little about Aboriginal culture, whereas we knew a lot. Education brings tolerance. If I had done my nursing training in New Zealand there would have been a requirement to learn so much of the language and have cultural understanding before I was registered. That goes a long way towards tolerance and respect of their cultural differences.

Children aren’t born with cultural biases – it is learned. Education needs to start very young.

In Respect of the Traditional Aboriginal Owners of my own City

In saying this, I realised I do not know anything about the traditional owners of the city in which I live. I need to educate myself so that I can show appropriate respect for the land on which I live. Aboriginal culture is very much entwined with the land. They were the original environmentalists who knew how to respect their land, and receive nourishment from it without stripping it of resources. Australian landscapes can be harsh but they found enough food to sustain them during drought, often traveling vast distances to achieve it. They know how to regenerate the land after bushfire and other natural disasters, all too common in Australia.

I live in the Gold Coast, a very glitzy city which caters for tourists – it is well known for Surfers Paradise, the theme parks and beaches. What isn’t as well known is that it is the traditional home of the Yugambeh people. The Yugambeh language people are the traditional custodians of the land located in south-east Queensland and north-east New South Wales, now within the Logan City, Gold Coast, Scenic Rim, and Tweed City regions whose ancestors all spoke one or more dialects of the Yugambeh Language. 

We acknowledge and pay respect to the land and the traditional families of the Yugambeh region of South East Queensland, including the Kombumerri, Mununjali, Wangerriburra and others, and their Elders past present and emerging.

https://www.yugambeh.com/faq

One of the most popular beaches in the Gold Coast is Burleigh. Burleigh was the ancestral home of the Kombumerri Tribe known as “The Salt Water People”. It is believed they lived in the area for thousands of years until around 1936 when they ceased holding their ceremonies there but many of the people remained at Burleigh Heads. The Aboriginal name for Big Burleigh is Jellurgul; Little Burleigh is Jebbribillum or the Waddy of Jebreen. Jellurgul meaning sugar bag or bee’s nest. Other reports from later say Big Burleigh was Jayling (black) and Gumbelmoy (rock), named after the volcanic black basalt rock of the headland. There is a cultural centre in Burleigh called Jellurgal where it is possible to learn more about Aboriginal culture. Source: https://www.burleigh.com.au/history.html

Burleigh Beach, Gold Coast, Australia

Moving forwards …

As a final note, I urge you to stand up to racism and prejudism when you see it. Be aware of your own biases, as we all have them. Speak up if you see someone being intolerant of anyone else. We must stand up for those who do not have a voice, those who have been pushed down their whole lives. I do not know what it is like to live in fear every time I step out my door because of the colour of my skin. I acknowledge my own white privilege. It’s only by standing together that we can overcome this problem in our society.

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Women of Courage Guest Post

Some time ago I was asked by Denyse Whelan to write a guest post for her Women of Courage series. I’ve been following her series every week and have been inspired by all the other guests so it was an honour to be included. Denyse is someone I admire because she has had her own battles with cancer. I look after people going through this type of cancer after they have surgery and it’s a huge deal – head and neck cancer is incredibly challenging but Denyse survived this and has gone on to write very inspirational blogs about this and many other subjects.

Since I wrote this guest post, I have had four surgeries – two planned and two unplanned. I had the surgeries with the intention of removing the organs that were targets for cancer – my ovaries and breasts. I have BRCA2 gene mutation which gives me a very high chance of breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer, and melanoma. I have written about it here, and about my surgeries here.

The link to my guest post on Denyse’s blog is here. Please read it and some of Denyse’s other blogs.

https://www.denysewhelan.com.au/denyse-blogs/women-of-courage-series-43-christina-henry-47-2020/
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We Went PINK for Breast Cancer Research

As an update to my last blog, I am raising money for breast cancer research by taking part in the GO PINK campaign for the National Breast Cancer Foundation of Australia. GO PINK encourages people to dye or shave their hair, wear pink or hold events in order to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation

“National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) is Australia’s leading national body funding game-changing breast cancer research with money raised entirely by the Australian public. We receive no government funding. What we do, would not be possible without the support and generosity of people and organisations like YOU. Our mission is simple: stop deaths from breast cancer. How? By identifying, funding and championing world-class research – research that will help us detect tumours earlier, improve treatment outcomes, and ultimately – save lives. Since NBCF’s inception in 1994, the five-year survival rates for breast cancer has increased from 76% to 91%. It’s proof our strategy is working. More than ever, NBCF is focusing keenly on how we can do more with less in order to achieve great outcomes that will impact the longevity and quality of life for patients with breast cancer.  For us, this means identifying new and effective models of funding and ensuring that we don’t stand alone but work collaboratively and creatively to achieve our mission of zero deaths from breast cancer by 2030.” Source: https://fundraise.nbcf.org.au/event/go-pink/why-we-need-you

Our team, The Tough Titties

My niece Ally, her friend Coralee, and I are the Tough Titties! We had our dye day on Friday and we went live on Instagram, so that our followers could watch us dye our hair pink. We also explained why raising money for breast cancer research is so important to us. We have raised $754 so far – our aim is $1000. If you would like to donate, here is a link to our fundraising page:

https://fundraise.nbcf.org.au/fundraisers/thetoughtitties

As promised, I am posting photos of our big day!

Breast Cancer Research

I have written about why I am raising money for breast cancer research in this blog post. I am passionate about raising money for research into breast cancer, and other cancers, particularly cancers that have a genetic link. I have the BRCA2 gene mutation that increases my risk of breast cancer to 60-80% and ovarian cancer to 20-40%, as well as other cancers as I have outlined previously. Both my parents died of cancer and my son, brother and sister have all had a melanoma. Ally’s grandmother also passed away from cancer before she was born, and her other grandmother (my mother-in-law) is suffering from lung cancer so in our family alone, cancer has had a huge impact.

I am recovering at home after my bilateral prophylactic mastectomies that I had done on 13 May 2020. (Read about in in this post). Recovery hasn’t been as straightforward as I would have liked due to complications after my surgery. My wound is healing slowly and I still have a lot of swelling and bruising. I’m seeing a haematologist now, to try to uncover why I had a large post-operative bleed. Even with all the complications I have had and how much this has impacted my life, I do not regret having surgery to remove my ovaries and breasts. With my high risk of cancer, I could be going through these surgeries with cancer which would have been so much worse.

Doing something positive like raising money for breast cancer research has given me something to do other than feel sorry for myself. I’m not saying I haven’t had days where I’ve been very emotional – I’ve had some days where I’ve been very upset. But having something to focus on has been really positive and helped me to focus on something during this time. I’ve also had some really great support in the way of lovely messages and kind words – that’s the sort of impetus I need to get me through.

Having our dye day was so much fun, especially with Banjo as our mascot. Here is a collage of photos from our photo shoot with him, which was hilarious!

We went pink for the GO PINK campaign to raise money for breast cancer research
Banjo our mascot – photo shoot
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I will GO PINK for Cancer Research

GO PINK for Cancer Research

I do some strange things while scrolling through my phone at night. My insomnia keeps me awake for hours sometimes with only my screen for company. I wake up the next day with buyer’s remorse, usually because I’ve bought shoes or clothes that never fit me, or an appliance that never gets used. But this time I woke up with a sinking feeling in my gut because I had signed up to GO PINK, and agreed to dye my hair pink for breast cancer research.

I’m pretty conservative and have never dyed my hair any shade that could be considered flamboyant or radical. As an introvert I hate to stand out in a crowd. The thought of it makes me blush so I’ll probably end up looking like a flamingo with cheeks to match my hair. I needed some courage and that came in the form of my beautiful niece Ally who LOVES to stand out in a crowd and possesses such a lively spirit that she’ll boost my confidence when I need it the most. Ally has been a wonderful support to me over the last few months. She was the person I turned to when I knew I was having my mastectomies because she’s been through breast surgeries herself. Having someone to talk to who has been through this has been a blessing.

Ally and I. She’s been a wonderful support to me over the last few months

I’m doing this challenge because it’s to fundraise for a cause that is very special to me. I have written about my genetic disorder BRCA2 which increases my risk of breast, ovarian, pancreatic and renal cancers and melanoma. I inherited it from dad who died from prostate and pancreatic cancer (both caused by BRCA2). I’m at home recovering from bilateral prophylactic mastectomies, which is a risk reducing surgery along with the removal of my ovaries which I had done in March.

The very fact that I could have risk reducing surgeries is entirely due to the discovery of BRCA2 in the mid 1990’s. Before that, entire families were devastated by breast and ovarian cancer striking again and again through multiple generations. It’s now commonplace for family members to be tested for genetic conditions when there appears to be a genetic link there. Discovering this gene mutation in 1995 was a game-changer for breast cancer research.  It allowed people like me to discover their inherited risk for cancer and do something about it.  Increased screening, prophylactic surgery and medications to reduce the risk are all possible now thanks to breast cancer research.

In my case there were few cases of breast cancer in my family so that alone prevented me from being tested ten years ago. It’s not as well known that men can have the genetic mutation too. Prostate cancer and melanoma have cropped up in our family through multiple generations, including my 24 year old son who had a melanoma. My cousin was diagnosed with BRCA2 about 10 years ago, and because of that I could be tested for free. The cost used to be extremely high but improved testing methods mean that more people can now be tested for it under Medicare. My sons and any other close relatives are also eligible for free testing.

I am passionate about research into genetic causes for cancer and other diseases. That is why I signed up to the GO PINK campaign because it raises funds for breast cancer research by the National Breast Cancer Foundation. If dying my hair pink raises awareness and funds, then I’ll do it even though I’m feeling anxious about looking weird with pink hair! The big day is this Friday and if you would like to donate to this cause via our team The Tough Titties (Ally’s idea, because people who have cancer have to be tough) the link is below.

https://fundraise.nbcf.org.au/fundraisers/thetoughtitties

https://fundraise.nbcf.org.au/fundraisers/thetoughtitties

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The Simple Joy of Gardening

How to Start a Garden from Scratch

One day’s harvest from our garden last year

There’s nothing better than eating fresh produce that you have grown yourself. Knowing that it’s been grown without the use of pesticides or other dubious additives and has only been handled by yourself adds to the pleasure of eating fruit and vegetables that haven’t been transported many kilometers or stored for months.

My husband and I usually grow our crops between Autumn and Spring because the Summers in Queensland are far too hot. Temperatures are mild here, rarely dropping to frosty levels, and there are fewer bugs around to eat everything before we do. Be sure to check locally to find out when the best time to grow is. If you’re lucky, you may live in an area where you can grow crops all year around.

This is last year’s garden in it’s prime with many of the vegetables ready to harvest.

Start with the Basics

Start With The Basics – the requirements for a healthy garden:

  • Soil that is well drained, full of nutrients and has loose texture
  • Few weeds and bugs
  • Water
  • At least a few hours of sunlight

If you live in an area without ideal conditions like us, you need to create it. That is why we use raised garden beds. Our soil is very sandy and of poor quality so we fill the raised garden bed with the following:

Cow manure – you can buy by the bag like this. You can use any manure as long as it has been mixed with soil and allowed to settle
Organic garden soil – you can buy it by the bag like this or have a truck load delivered if your garden is large enough
This compost is ready to be used. It has composted down to half the depth it was at the beginning, and there are very few large pieces of uncomposted material.

These ingredients are added to the garden bed and stirred and turned over with a garden fork.

Mixing the compost, soil and cow manure with a garden fork

My husband does all the heavy work because I suffer from arthritis in my back, but once the plants have started to produce, I can look after them.

We generally plant seedlings to save time. You can also raise seeds yourself and then plant them out when they’re mature. Instructions are on the seed package or seedling tags as to what favourable conditions to grow them in. Our beans grow from last year’s crop – we save some of the last beans to dry out then just plant the seeds straight in the ground.

We have also grown cherry tomatoes using seeds taken from the previous crop. Our pumpkins grew wild from the compost. It’s interesting to see what crops up each year from our compost!

My husband planting the seedlings. They will come with instructions on how far apart they need to be planted, and other requirements

Daily Garden Tasks

Daily watering is a must except if you have really rainy days. A daily routine would include picking out weeds and squashing bugs before they get out of hand. Remove plants that have died or gone to seed because they attract bugs and disease.

Regularly fertilise your garden. We use our own liquid fertiliser that we make from our worm farm. Read about it in this post. Alternatively choose a commercial product that uses organic ingredients only.

Pick plants as soon as they are ready to eat. Living them to die in the garden only attracts bugs and weeds to take over. You will find that fresh vegetables will keep much longer than store bought ones because they haven’t been stored and transported for weeks or months.

What if you don’t own a garden?

Two garden beds is enough for our needs. If you don’t have a backyard, you can grow most vegetables and fruit in containers. My brother lives on a houseboat and has an impressive array of vegetables and herbs in containers. Another alternative is to grow sprouts in jars. I have easy directions here.

What to Grow

Your choice of what to grow should be based on what crops grow best in your area. Your local landscape supplier or garden supplier should stock a good range of seedlings. Have a conversation with the staff – they are usually very willing to give you local know-how on what the best plants to grow are. Other than that it’s trial and error. In general, don’t grow anything that you don’t enjoy eating!

This year we are growing beans, snow peas, bok choy, baby spinach, parsley, onions, Kent pumpkin, beetroot and cos lettuce. My husband made trellises for the beans and snowpeas and you may need stakes for some of the taller plants. We also have a chilli plant and cherry tomatoes and a range of herbs.

Times vary from when you start the garden to harvest, but generally we’re eating our produce within a few weeks. One of my favourite pass-times is picking the ripe vegetables and making them into beautiful fresh meals.

Three weeks after initial planting. We have added a few more seedlings to ensure a continuous supply of our favourite vegetables
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Being a patient in the midst of a pandemic

As I wrote in my previous post, I have been in and out of hospital since March, pretty much the whole time Australia has been in lockdown. Going through health issues during this time has been challenging to say the least. I was lucky to have my surgeries at all because elective surgeries were put on hold to make way for an influx of Covid-19 patients.

Getting through the door of a hospital is like running the gauntlet as you are met by staff who screen you for signs of a fever and ask questions about your recent exposure risks as you enter the building. Visitors are limited which is difficult when you’re going through surgery.

On the 13th of May I had bilateral prophylactic mastectomies because my risk of getting breast cancer was 60-80% due to having the BRCA2 gene mutation. The surgery went well. The following morning I developed severe swelling in the left breast and my Hb dropped very low due to bleeding.

post operative complication after a mastectomy
Post-operative complications: My Hb was 63 (normally 120) so I’m extremely pale. My left upper chest is swollen up to my shoulder, compared to my right shoulder where you can clearly see my clavicle. The surgeon operated again to drain 600ml of blood. Not the prettiest photo of myself but it’s true to life

I had emergency surgery to drain the haematoma but continued to bleed into the drain. I lost over 1.2 litres of blood and needed 4 units of blood transfusion. It was extremely scary to go through, and I felt like I’d made a huge mistake to have the mastectomies done.

My recovery has been slow because of this setback. I was in hospital for 6 days, waiting for my blood count to get high enough. I’ve had some really low periods during the last couple of weeks, days where I’ve been really emotional and cried many times. I guess many women undergoing mastectomies would be emotional, but my own low mood is affected by the fact that my surgeries have had complications.

I have been extremely lucky to be in the position where I can have surgery during the pandemic. If I was a public patient my operations wouldn’t have gone ahead at all. I’ve always had private insurance, but that doesn’t cover all the costs so I’m lucky I had funds set aside for emergency as I am thousands of dollars out of pocket.

In Australia, hospitals have been very quiet because of elective surgery being cancelled. This has worked in my favour because I have been able to have a nice quiet atmosphere to recover. As a nurse I am well aware of how busy hospitals usually are so it was nice to see the nurses looking relaxed and not stressed.

I received outstanding care from the nurses and doctors during my admissions to hospital. I felt very well looked after especially when I had the post-operative bleed. If the nurses hadn’t been so on-the-ball my outcome might not have been so great.

I’m now recuperating at home, which will take time because of the complications. I’m very limited in what I can do and need to rest as much as I can. I’m typing this on my mobile phone because I need to limit my arm movements. I’ve never been so reliant on other people for my needs

I have deep appreciation for my husband who has been taking very good care of me. He’s had to shower me and wash and dry my hair as well as do all the household tasks. My heart swells with gratitude for how he has cared for me and I feel more in love with him for the way he does everything for me so lovingly. He has been my rock through so many things in the past.

I have felt loved and supported by so many people in the last few months. Even though we’ve had social distancing laws and can’t always be together, I’ve had many messages of support which have uplifted me when I need it the most. Social distancing hasn’t prevented them from caring.

My boss has been incredibly supportive as well, allowing me to have time off to have these operations and medical appointments. I am really grateful to her for caring and empathising with my situation. It has made a huge impact on my morale going through all my health issues to know my job is secure.

I’m through all my surgeries now, and on the way to recovery. I’m looking forward to gaining some independence back because it’s hard relying on other people. I’m very bruised and I still have drains in. I can’t do much except rest as I’m not able to raise my arms above my shoulders or even go for a walk. I’m really looking forward to the day I can walk the dog.

This year has made me aware of what truly matters in life. It’s not possessions or expensive holidays that count. The things I value now are my health, my loved ones and my independence. I feel very loved by many people and that is the ultimate outcome of a year which has brought unprecedented change to everyone worldwide.

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