The end of the journey for a much-loved family member

sunset and clouds with a flock of birds flying

I am back after a break from blogging over the last few weeks.  My much loved mother-in-law passed away after a battle with lung cancer.  I took a break to spend time with my family during her last few weeks and until after her Celebration of Life.

I have written about my incredibly strong mother-in-law before.  Gwen was given 18 months when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She far outlived any of the doctors’ predictions and lasted 3 ½ years.  Most of that time she was living independently at home with her 90 year old husband, driving, and still continuing to enjoy social outings to bingo and lunch with her friends.

From Easter onwards we noticed a decline in her condition.  She lost her energy, became very short of breath on mild exertion, and started to get more pain.  We tried hard to persuade her to take her medication to help with her symptoms but she was reluctant to take too much of it.  Her appetite had been poor since she lost her sense of taste so she was losing quite a lot of weight as well.

She had reached many milestones over the last few months – her own 86th birthday in December, Christmas, my father-in-law’s 90th and their 65th wedding anniversary in March.  There was only one last milestone to reach – a family reunion with her siblings and their families on the first weekend in May.

A Decline in Condition Leads to a Trip to the Hospital

On the 24th of April she woke in a lot of pain and could barely move due to the breathlessness.  We called an ambulance and she was admitted to hospital.  Scans showed that her cancer had progressed and she had a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in her lung).  She was now to have oxygen permanently.  During the whole course of her cancer she had not wanted treatment and was adamant about that.  We all supported her in that decision because she was very clear about her wishes.

At the beginning of her hospital stay we thought she may be able to return home so we organised home oxygen, a wheelchair, shower chair and wheely walker.  Over the next few days it became more apparent that she would be too unwell to leave the hospital.  Her family’s reunion came to her!  Quite a few much loved family members visited her in hospital.

Joy in the Palliative Care Ward

It’s not often that a palliative care ward has much joy but Gwen’s room did.  There was laughter and tears, as we all tried to make her last few days as positive as we could.  Her room radiated with love – our love for her and her love for all of us.  Even though we were well prepared, we still felt like we didn’t have enough time when she passed away.

She deteriorated so quickly on her last day we barely had time to make it to the hospital.  Most of us were there to hold her hand while she peacefully took her last breaths.  We were all heartbroken because we didn’t feel ready for her to be taken from us.  

A Celebration of Life

Gwen had been very clear about what she wanted. There was to be no morbid funeral.  Instead, she wanted to be cremated privately and a celebration of life was to be held afterwards.  She had chosen songs and told us all how she wanted to be remembered.  This made it so easy to plan her final celebration of life and I highly recommend that everyone do it.  I have now lost both parents, a sister and my mother-in-law and because Gwen had outlined everything she wanted it made it so much easier than the other deaths to plan for her funeral.

The whole family were involved in Gwen’s Celebration of Life.  It was held at my brother- and sister-in-law’s home.  My brother-in-law gave a lovely eulogy then we had a video with photos of Gwen through the years, and each of us had recorded a short piece saying our memories of Gwen. My niece created a beautiful tribute video to showcase Gwen’s life.  

Gwen and her mother on her wedding day
Gwen and her mother on her wedding day

We had a few of the things that Gwen loved on display – her bingo trophy, her favourite drinks Baileys and Scotch, and many family photos with all of her loved ones.  The video was a very moving tribute to our much loved matriarch.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place, especially from her loving husband and family.

Grieving the Loss of Someone Special

Once the funeral was over we all felt a sense of relief.  We still grieve every day because we miss her so much.  It didn’t really sink in for me until Mothers’ Day.  Our usual family gathering was very subdued and quiet without her.  She always prepared the food and without her there it just seemed strange.

We have all rallied around my father-in-law and make sure we visit and give him the odd meal.  Luckily he can cook and he had been helping Gwen with household chores while her health declined.  He had a bad fall last year and ended up having a long stay in hospital so we suggested a personal alarm for him.  He already has services like housekeeping and lawn mowing set up for him.

Supporting Each Other Through Grief

The one positive of having 11 months off work was that I was able to spend much more time with my in-laws.  Seeing everyone come together at this very sad time and emerge from such a sad event is a testament to how strong my husband’s family is.  Comparing it to my own family it is obvious to see that some families grow stronger at times like this, and others fall apart like mine.  Any cracks that were there before can deepen into chasms if there is dysfunction in a family.

Communication and empathy are the key.  We had deep discussions as a family during this period.  Being respectful of each other, and showing kindness and compassion can help.  Everyone experiences grief differently and just being aware of that can prevent misunderstandings. 

Continuing Family Traditions

We aim to continue having family traditions like our Sunday gatherings.  Even though it’s not the same without her, those get-togethers will be an important way of supporting each other as time goes on.  My own mother passed away thirty years ago so I know that losing your mum is arguably the hardest death to get over.  Having experienced the loss of three close members of my family has given me the ability to help others through the experience.  Each loss is very different from the next but hopefully I can be the kind of support for others in the family that I know I needed while I was grieving.  It’s not a time for isolation – grieving is easier with a shoulder to cry on and a kind ear to listen.  It helps me as well.  Often a hug and a cry is what we all need and the shared experience can uplift us when we are having a bad day.

With time the deep sorrow does ease.  Some things will still trigger emotions, and anniversaries of important dates will still be hard to get through.  She will always be in our hearts, nothing will ever change that.  Her legacy is her family and our strong bond with each other. May Gwen Rest in Peace.

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s blog and Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog

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Introducing My New Resource Page and Podcast

A cell phone, diary and cup of coffee

Introducing My New Resource Page and Podcast for BRCA Gene Mutation and Cancer Awareness 

This week I launched my new resource page and podcast for BRCA Gene Mutation and Cancer Awareness.   BRCA 1 and 2 genes mutations increase the risk of several types of cancer in their carriers.  Because I have a BRCA 2 gene mutation I have an interest in this subject.

The resource page contains information about BRCA gene mutations and the cancers we are most at risk of: breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate and melanoma.   It covers my own personal journey since being diagnosed in February 2020.  

There are links to good sources of information including websites, books, documentaries and support groups.

My next project will be a podcast about BRCA gene mutations.  I am working on this currently and created a trailer which you can listen to here.  

The resource page and podcast are not only of interest to BRCA gene mutation carriers.  There is also information on regular health checks everyone should do, and being aware of your own risk of cancer and other diseases.

I would love you to take a look and tell me what you think.

https://midlifestylist.com/brca-gene-mutation-and-cancer-awareness/

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s blog and Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s Blog

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Reaching a Goal and Setting New Goals

3 hooks with colourful tags hanging

I Reached My Goal of Returning to Work

Some of you have already seen my latest update on social media so it will come as no surprise that I finally reached my goal. A goal that seemed impossible to reach a few months ago. I started back at work this week after nearly 11 months of sick leave.

I thought I would be nervous and anxious because I suffer from anxiety, but I was calm and relaxed. Too relaxed perhaps because I was nearly late on my first day! I had forgotten what the traffic was like at that time of day. My employer is supporting me during this transition period. I have started back at two shifts per week, non consecutive days and am building up to my usual 7 shifts per fortnight.

A Gradual Return to My Job

My first day was primarily a training day to do my yearly mandatory competencies on the computer. I felt a bit brain dead by the end of the day. I’m so glad I continued to use my brain during my sick leave, to write this blog and complete a course. It has helped me to keep the grey matter from being neglected!

My second day I was looking after patients with one of my colleagues as a buddy alongside me. Having her there to ask questions was so helpful. We use computers for all of our documentation and I had always found the computer difficult to use. I prefer the old school way of nursing because I feel that the computers take you away from the patients. But they are here to stay. Most of my questions related to the computer – the nursing came easily (once a nurse always a nurse!). I was happy that I didn’t feel as rusty as I expected.

It felt so good to look after patients again. I really missed this role while I was off work. It’s great to feel like a productive member of society again. Catching up with my colleagues was also lovely. There have been 3 pregnancies amongst the staff while I’ve been away. I enjoyed being welcomed back to the team.

While many of my colleagues are aware of the reason for my prolonged absence, very few know how hard I had to work to be fit enough for my job. I will never take my job for granted again. I used to think it would be nice to not have to work, but when I was in that position the only thing I could think of was returning to work. Nursing is such a rewarding career and it’s all I know. I couldn’t think of doing anything else.

Returning to work after long term sick leave as a nurse.  Image:  the author Christina Henry in scrubs on her first day back at work in nearly 11 months

Staying Fit and Strong in the Future

My goal is to keep up the exercise program that I have been doing. I used to have so much pain, especially in my lower back. The Exercise Physiologist has helped me to build up my strength so that I am using the correct muscles for lifting and performing tasks. I don’t want to lose that strength by sliding into bad habits again. I have never felt healthier and my back has never felt so strong.

Some of my daily routines will be different to before my sick leave. I used to cook a meal for my family no matter which shift I was on. We have become empty nesters in the past few months so I no longer need to do this. Freezing the excess has become a new habit and it will come in handy to have meals for my work days.

Many of my regular readers have encouraged me as I struggled with my journey to wellness. Thank you to everyone who has written such supportive comments. I feel overwhelmed sometimes by the kindness given to me. Every one of those comments meant a lot to me and helped me, especially when my spirits were low.

My New Project

For the last few weeks I have started working on a new project. I am creating a resource page for BRCA genetic mutations and cancer awareness. It is something that I feel drawn to because I have learned so much through my own journey. I am writing the script for a podcast on the same subject. This is a side project to my current blog, and will be attached to Midlifestylist.com. You may see the odd blog post on this subject in the future.

Lack of time will always be a factor. I wish I had more time to do everything that I want to do! But my blog has kept me motivated and busy for the entire time I was off work so I intend to keep going with it. Writing has always been my passion and it has given me purpose.

I will try to continue my weekly blog posts but as life returns to normal I may not have time to post a blog every week. I will try to continue sharing to my favourite Linkups but may have to reduce it to fortnightly in the future. Returning to work was my goal and after finally reaching it, my new goal is to stay fit and healthy so that has to remain my priority.

If you would like to read more of my story, you may enjoy these:

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s blog and Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog

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An Easter Celebration With My Family

A white bowl of vegan choc-nut balls on a wooden table.

This post includes a recipe for Vegan Choc-Nut Balls

Easter is a special occasion in my family.  It is a celebration.  This year I will spend Good Friday with my in-laws and Easter Sunday with my sons.  Even though I don’t go to church any more, it is hard to break away from family traditions.  My children appreciate the effort I make to create a joyous atmosphere.

Easter Traditions – Good Friday  

I grew up in a household where Roman Catholic traditions were honoured.  Therefore, we fasted during Lent and did not eat meat on Fridays.  We went to church nearly every day during Lent. Good Friday was a solemn occasion of prayer and fasting to reflect that Jesus died for our sins on the cross.

Traditionally Good Friday is the one day of the year that all the shops are closed in Australia. Many Australians keep to the tradition of eating fish on Good Friday, even when they are not Catholic.  My in-laws have their main Easter celebration on Good Friday. They don’t exactly fast though – there will be prawns and salmon on the menu! 

Easter Sunday Celebration

Easter Sunday was the main day for celebration in my family.  This was to reflect Jesus rising from the dead.  My parents would stop at the corner shop on the way to church and buy us one Easter egg each.  These days the shops are full of every kind of chocolate Easter egg and people spend a fortune on them.  It has become more commercialised like Christmas.

I have always enjoyed creating a special Easter for my family. I love cooking their favourite food, and hiding mini easter eggs for them to find.  My husband and I are empty nesters so these family gatherings are very special to us.

Making Vegan Easter Food

My son’s girlfriend is vegan and one of my sons is vegetarian.  I have been searching for vegan recipes so that I can make some easter treats for them.  I like to be inclusive and try to make everything vegan so that everyone can eat it.  It gets a bit tricky at times.  

There are some dishes that can’t be adjusted to make vegan versions, like pavlova.  But I have found some chocolate recipes that I can make or adapt, including the recipe below.  We will have  roast chicken, and I’ll make a roast cauliflower for them. I’ll bake vegan bread and have almond milk, vegan margarine and vegan snacks on hand.

A white bowl containing vegan choc-nut balls on a grey bench.  Easy healthy recipe to have at your Easter Celebration
An easy healthy recipe for vegan choc-nut balls. May be adapted if you are not vegan.
A white bowl containing vegan choc-nut balls on a grey bench

Vegan Choc-Nut Balls

These vegan choc-nut balls are so delicious the whole family will enjoy them. They contain lots of protein so have them after work-outs.
Prep Time 10 mins
Refrigeration time 10 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Snack
Cuisine Healthy, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings 40 balls
Calories 66 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 1/2 cup Rolled Oats
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup chocolate protein powder
  • 1 cup vegan nut butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 45 grams vegan chocolate chips Chop up small bar of vegan chocolate

Instructions
 

  • Stir together the oats, cocoa powder and protein powder in a large bowl.  Stir in the nut butter, maple syrup, and vanilla.  Stir until combined.  A food processor may be used. Add the chocolate chips and stir through.
  • Line a flat container with kitchen greaseproof papers.  Use a small cookie scoop to form balls.  Roll in between hands.  
  • Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.  May be frozen.

Notes

If you are making a non-vegan recipe honey may be substituted for maple syrup.
Keyword Healthy, Snack, Vegan, Vegetarian

Covid-19 continues to disrupt plans

The one concern this year is that a sudden lockdown could be on the cards which would prevent us from being together.  My son lives in Brisbane, where there has been an outbreak of Covid-19 cases.  My other son was going to go on a road trip to Sydney and Melbourne but the borders have closed again.  

Once again travel arrangements are up in the air and the local tourist industry is suffering.  It will be so good to see an end to this pandemic as the continual disruptions to normal life are getting beyond a joke. Meanwhile we wait to see if further restrictions will affect our Easter celebration. I hope not.

How do you celebrate Easter? Do any of your family have dietary needs that affect what you serve at special occasions? If you enjoyed this post, you may like to read:

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Achieving Goals By Being Self Motivated

Pink and Blue Clouds with caption: Achieving goals by being self motivated

Is Self Motivation Intrinsic or Learned?

Is self motivation a characteristic that we are born with or is it one that develops with maturity? I believe it is partly a characteristic we are born with, but it can be developed. Being self motivated helps you to reach your goals. It is part of being resilient and not giving up when the going gets tough.

I have always been self motivated.   Even when my upbringing did not support that.  I wasn’t particularly intelligent like my brother who could get straight As without too much effort.  My success in my education came from hard work and self motivation. My parents did not support me when I wanted to go to university.  Because I’m female they said it would be a waste of time because I would get married and wouldn’t use it. I always had a desire to earn a degree so I achieved it on my own, while I was working and looking after my young children. 

No-one needs to push me to do something,  my drive comes from inside of me.  I have never understood someone who doesn’t exercise unless they have someone else to exercise with. I have always had this characteristic, it is an intrinsic trait I was born with. Can someone who isn’t self motivated by nature develop that trait?  I believe they can.

Quote:  "Being self motivated helps you to reach your goals.  It is part of being resilient and not giving up when the going gets tough" Christina Henry, Midlifestylist.com
Being Self Motivated quote

My tips for becoming self motivated are:

Set deadlines for yourself. 

This works well if you tend to procrastinate.   For example my course officially finishes in May but I wanted to complete it before I go back to work in April so I worked on it for a minimum of an hour a day to reach my deadline. 

Routines are important.  

I wake up early so that I can walk my dog in the morning. I have improved my sleeping patterns so much just by going to bed at the same time.  If you have a set routine for your day, healthy habits become second nature.

Make appointments with yourself. 

This might sound crazy but if you schedule time in your week for exercise, meditation or self care activities you are more likely to achieve them. Make your goals a priority and they will be easier to achieve.

Get the support of others. 

I have never understood someone who won’t exercise unless they have a friend with them.  But for many people this makes the difference between doing it or not.  Just make sure your exercise partner is as enthusiastic as you or it might backfire.

Enlist the help of professionals. 

This has helped me enormously in two areas of my life.  I was successful in losing 19kg because I went to a dietician.  The Exercise Physiologist is training me to build up my strength after losing so much condition.   Neither of those goals would have been achievable without professional help. 

Invest in yourself.  

I admit there would have been times when I would have thrown in the towel during my immunisation course.  The only thing motivating me to keep going was the amount of money I invested in it.  You’re more likely to stick at something if you paid for it. 

A hand holding a piece of paper with the words "I can't do it". Scissors cutting the t off can't so that it reads "I can do it".  Underneath are the words I achieved my goals by being self motivated.  Hard work pays off.  Midlifestylist.com
I achieved my goals by being self motivated. Hard work pays off

How being self motivated has helped me

My big news is that I am about to reach my goal of returning to my job as a Registered Nurse. Those of you who have been regular followers know that I had complications after surgery last year. I had a haemorrhage after a bilateral mastectomy which resulted in two further surgeries and a long recovery. To be able to return to work I needed to be able to fulfil all the job requirements including being able to do CPR and heavy patient cares.

I have been seeing an Exercise Physiologist since November to work on my upper body strength because I was so deconditioned after not being able to exercise for six months. It was slow progress at first because I had so much pain from using muscles that had been neglected. This year I have really turned the corner and I am seeing great results from my hard work. My Exercise Physiologist timed me doing CPR and I was able to do it for 2 minutes without any problems at all. I also needed to lift 3kg above my head and do modified push ups which I have been able to do for the last few weeks.

Achieving My Goals By Being Self Motivated

My boss is supporting me to return to work gradually, starting at 2 days per week after Easter. I am so excited at the prospect of being able to work again! I used to think it would be great to not have to work but now that I’ve been forced into that position, all I have wanted to do is get back there! There’s more to work than making a living. It’s feeling fulfilled and making a contribution to society. Nursing is a very rewarding career.

My other achievement this week is that I completed my Immunisation course. This was my Plan B in case I couldn’t return to my job. It helped me to switch on my nursing brain, and I realised that I still have it! I still think like a nurse, and I am still capable of being able to use my 35 years of experience in a positive way. It gave me a lot of confidence in my own abilities.

My word of the year is resilience. Hard work definitely does pay off. Don’t give up!

The sense of achievement when you finally reach goals that have been incredibly challenging is like no other. These other articles may be of interest if you would like some motivation to reach your goals:

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share on Natalie the Explorer’s blog and Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog

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Celebrating my Irish Heritage on Saint Patrick’s Day

Celebrating my Irish Heritage on Saint Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick’s Day Holds Special Significance For My Family

Saint Patrick’s Day has always been important for my family because of our Irish heritage.  My mother’s maiden name was Geraghty.  My other hobby is genealogy.  I have traced our family tree back to our European roots – Irish, English, Welsh and Scottish on my mother’s side and English and Polish on my father’s.  I have another blog about our family history called This is Who We Are.

My Irish Family’s Emigration to New Zealand

My Irish ancestors emigrated from County Cavan to New Zealand in 1865 on board the Ganges.  Patrick and Bridget Geraghty (nee Brady) had an eventful journey as she gave birth to a son, naming him Bartholemew Ganges Geraghty after the ship.  There were 56 deaths on board the Ganges from bronchitis and whooping cough.

Patrick and Bridget emigrated to New Zealand because of the chance to own their own land.  The potato famine had caused 1.5 million deaths in Ireland, and led to mass emigration to New Zealand, America and other parts of the world.  They had another 11 children.  One of their children died at the age of 2, another at 16.  

The Early Settlers Had a Tough Life

Life was very tough for the Irish settlers as they were housed in rough conditions then moved to a small town in the Waikato, Tuakau.  The New Zealand wars were fought in the area.  The Alexander Redoubt was built by the British troops and it was here that the wars with the Maori took place.  The result was that land was confiscated from the Maori to be used for farming for the settlers.  This caused  a lot of tension between the settlers and the Maori in the area.

The family became flax farmers as they had been allocated a 10 acre block.  The demand for flax fibre for ropes was high, and there were numerous flax mills in the area.  The Geraghty family have made their mark in Tuakau. There are a couple of roads named after them, and the cemetary in Tuakau has many of the descendants of Patrick and Bridget. They are buried in a large grave with an impressive monument to the Geraghty name along with several of their children. They began what is now a huge number of descendants who bear the Geraghty name in their family tree.  

Treasured Memories of my Irish Grandfather

My grandparents on their 50th wedding anniversary.  Saint Patrick's Day is a day to remember my Irish heritage.
My grandparents on their 50th wedding anniversary. I love this photo as they both look so happy

My grandfather was a third generation New Zealander.  He moved north to Dargaville after he married my English grandmother.  My grandfather wore a green jumper frequently.  He was a gentle, kind man but also tough.  His whole back yard was a potato garden.  The potato famine must have impacted the family through the generations.

St. Patrick’s Day Is Bittersweet

My family always celebrated St. Patricks Day but it holds bittersweet memories for me.  It is also the anniversary of my mother’s death.  Mum passed away from cancer in 1991, 30 years ago today.

My mother Diana (nee Geraghty) and the author, Christina Henry.  Taken in 1990 six months before Diana passed away
My mother and I in 1990, approximately six months before she died

Her passing was quite sudden.  This photo was taken of her on my hen’s night approximately 6 months before her death.  She was completely fine then and we had no inkling that cancer was metastasizing inside her.  In January she came to stay with me and my sister and I noticed that she wasn’t herself.  She seemed vague and not sprightly, and wandered off during a walk.

A Heart-breaking Diagnosis

I took her to my GP who ordered a CT Scan of her brain.  Being a nurse, my curiosity overcame me and I looked at the results.  The shock of reading that she had multiple metastases in her brain will always stay with me.  Having to phone dad and my brothers was incredibly hard.

We never did find out what her primary cancer was, but it was probably lung cancer.  The only treatment available in those days was radiotherapy which would have taken weeks to administer, and only extended her life for a few more weeks.  We decided to take mum home and make the most of the time we had left.

She had a burning desire to see her family so we took her to Sydney and Melbourne on the train to visit them.  Her brother, sister and nephew flew from New Zealand to meet up with us there.  My sister decided to take mum back to New Zealand to visit her other family members there.  Unfortunately mum took a sudden turn for the worse and passed away in her hometown, Dargaville.

Remembering my Mother on St. Patrick’s Day

Mum’s family looked after us all so well.  Her brother arranged the funeral and she is buried with her mum in Auckland.  Every time I go to New Zealand it is the first place I visit.  We have also buried a small portion of my dad’s and sister’s ashes with mum so that they can be together in spirit.

Mum was buried on my 25th birthday.  It just seems so weird to think she’s been gone for 30 years.  She was my age – 54 when she died.  Far too young to die.  I can’t imagine dying at my age.  She definitely wasn’t ready to go.  She wanted to see grandchildren but none of her four children had had kids yet.

Saint Patrick’s Day Today

I keep in contact with her family as they are such lovely people.  I visit them when I go to New Zealand.  Over the years my celebration of my Irish heritage has become more subdued.  I used to go to an Irish pub to eat Guinness pie and enjoy the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities.  On her 10th anniversary my father, brother and I enjoyed a fantastic day in Auckland at the Irish pubs.  I just don’t enjoy it anymore.  I decided that I would have a quiet day of reflection instead.

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Shared on Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share Linkup and Denyse Whelan’s Life This Week Linkup

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Sympathy vs Empathy: Which one is better?

Sympathy vs empathy Which one is better?

How do sympathy and empathy differ, and which one helps someone feel truly supported in their time of need?

The thought came into my head this morning as I was contemplating the support I have received, especially in the last year.  The comfort I have received in some instances was just what I needed in my time of need.

The difference between Sympathy and Empathy:

Sympathy vs empathy: what’s the difference?

The term sympathy is largely used to convey commiseration, pity, or feelings of sorrow for someone else who is experiencing misfortune. You feel bad for them … but you don’t know what it is like to be in their shoes.

The term empathy is most often used to refer to the capacity or ability to imagine oneself in the situation of another, experiencing the emotions, ideas, or opinions of that person.

Expressing Sympathy vs Empathy

Some people mean well, but they don’t always give me what I need in that moment.  They are expressing sympathy at my situation usually by giving me advice:  “Why don’t you look for another job?”  They express pity for me: “Oh you poor thing”.

I don’t want to be pitied as I feel sorry for myself enough!  But at the same time I realise my situation is unique and it would be unusual to meet anyone who has gone through what I have. 

I feel like the people who really make the difference don’t try and give me advice.  They listen and then when they do say something,  they are empathising with me.  “It must be so frustrating to go through that.  I would find it hard too”.  

People who empathise can put themselves in your shoes and imagine what it would be like to go through the same situation.   They don’t try to fix things, or offer advice.  They let you vent and really listen.

Thank You to my Blogging Community For the Support

The theme for Denyse Whelan’s Life This Week Linkup is floral.  I want to offer a virtual bouquet of flowers to the blogging community to which I belong.  This is because I am so grateful for the support I have received from you all.  Being stuck at home can be lonely, but through my blog I have met so many lovely people. 

I have used my blog to promote a healthy lifestyle.   But also to share my journey as I recover from complications of surgery.  Whenever I write about my struggles the comments I receive are so lovely, warm and full of empathy that I often cry. I appreciate the words of comfort that feel like they come from a place of genuine caring.

I feel like I am among friends as I can relate to a lot of you as I read your blogs.  It helps being in the same stage of life, or slightly behind.  I look forward to reading your blogs and what you’re up to.  I am inspired as well.  I’m grateful to belong to a community of amazing people. 

Empathy offers genuine support

To conclude, there is nothing wrong with offering a sympathetic ear to someone in their time of need.  Empathy takes it one step further and helps the person feel truly heard and supported. While I appreciate advice, often I just need someone to listen and acknowledge my feelings. Being part of the blogging community allows me to express myself and feel supported by people who genuinely care.

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Shared on Natalie The Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share Linkup

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Time for my Covid-19 Vaccine

Time for my Covid-19 vaccine

Why I’ll Be Happy to Have My Covid-19 Vaccine

I received the text message on my phone yesterday.   It’s my turn to have the Covid-19 vaccine.  I did a little happy dance as I have been eagerly waiting for this.  Because I’m a nurse I am in stage 1b of the Covid rollout.

Although Australia hasn’t had high numbers of cases, and Queensland has escaped the worst of the restrictions and lockdowns, I have been extremely worried about catching Covid-19.   I have several comorbidities and am already dealing with enough health issues as it is.  

I’ve become a bit of a hermit in the last year, social distancing to the extreme.  My trips to the grocery store, chemist and for medical appointments are my only outings, apart from visiting close friends and family. The opportunity to be vaccinated means I can return to life as I knew it pre-pandemic.  My elderly unwell parents-in-law can too.  

Image of a vaccine being injected into the upper arm.  Text: Time for my Covid-19 Vaccine.  Read to discover Why I am happy to have it
Time for my Covid-19 vaccine. Read to discover: Why I am happy to have it.

Worldwide Effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic

Not everyone will agree with me. A number of people are concerned about the vaccine despite the education campaigns.  Being a new vaccine for a new disease, we don’t have all the answers yet.  There is so much we don’t know about the long-term effects of Covid-19,  and why some people have virtually no symptoms and some people become very sick or die.

A pandemic has never taken a toll on the worldwide population as this one has.  The numbers are staggering and the toll on life as we know it is unprecedented.   In over 30 years of nursing I’ve never seen anything like it.

This is Not the First New Vaccine for a Vaccine Preventable Disease

I have nursed people extremely unwell from vaccine preventable deaths.  We have occasional outbreaks of measles, pertussis (whooping cough) and other diseases.   Shingles caused by the varicella virus continues to make life miserable for elderly people.

Vaccines have drastically reduced the death and morbidity toll of many diseases worldwide.  Numbers of almost fully vaccinated children are very high in Australia, because we have funding for most of them via the National Immunisation Program. 

Even in my children’s time there have been advances in the development of vaccines.  Rotavirus had my son hospitalised at 8 months.  Babies are vaccinated against it now.  Likewise HPV – a virus that leads to cervical cancer.  Hopefully my kids’ generation won’t have to go through that.  

Vaccines have almost completely eradicated some diseases.  I have only nursed two patients with tetanus in my career.  Both were extremely ill, requiring intensive care.  They call it “lockjaw” for a reason – it causes severe muscular spasms and can lead to death.  Complacency with being vaccinated has led to increasing rates of diseases such as measles.  This may be due to people not witnessing the diseases and believing that they have no chance of contracting them.

My Training as a Nurse Immuniser

I am currently doing an Immunisation Practitioner course.  As a Registered Nurse I have been able to give vaccines my whole career.  This course will allow me to administer vaccines independently in clinics or other healthcare settings.

The course is extensive and very thorough.  Most of it requires a 100% pass mark.  Following this I will need to do a separate course for the Covid vaccine which is just as comprehensive.   Be reassured: the staff administering the vaccine will be well trained.  

There was an unfortunate incident where a doctor administered four times the dose to residents of a nursing home.  If he had actually done the training he would have known that the vaccine comes in a multi-dose vial and needs to be diluted.  Swift action by a nurse brought it to the attention of health authorities. The patients were monitored in hospital and they suffered nil ill effects.  

This is a poster I designed for my Immunisation Course.  Pneumococcal Vaccines are now on the National Immunisation Schedule in Australia
This is a poster I designed for my Immunisation Course. Pneumococcal Vaccines are now on the National Immunisation Schedule in Australia

Ensuring the Vaccine Is Safe and Effective

The vaccine has been through clinical trials to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (similar to the FDA in the US).   Any side effects experienced by vaccine recipients will be reported to the TGA. The effectiveness of the vaccine will be closely monitored as well to ensure that it is not only safe, but has led to immunity from Covid-19.

Despite this, there will still be people concerned about getting the vaccine, and some will straight out refuse.  My suggestion would be to talk to your GP especially if you have health issues or have had reactions to other vaccines, medications or substances. 

Side Effects of Vaccines

Any vaccine (or medication) will have side effects.  The side effects are usually mild in most cases but there is always the potential for an anaphylactic reaction. 

A healthcare worker unfortunately had an anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine yesterday.  She had a history of anaphylaxis after vaccines so she had this vaccine in the safest environment possible – in a tertiary hospital with the facilities to monitor and treat her.  She was almost certainly given adrenaline and monitored for four hours afterward, which is the standard procedure.  By last night she was back home.  

All immunisation services need to carry adrenaline and have protocols around monitoring people following vaccination.  There are strict requirements for the storage of vaccines, and this ensures the vaccine is not only safe, but is effective as well.

Do Your Research

Do your research, using trusted sources before you have the vaccine.  The Covid-19 vaccine is not compulsory in Australia.  It is free.  These are some links to reliable sources of information:

You may also enjoy the following blog posts:

This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. Please refer to the disclaimer.

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s Blog, and Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog

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Update on Resilience, My Word of the Year

Update on Resilience - My Word of the Year

Improving my Resilience is My Goal for the Year

My word of the year is resilience.  I thought I would update my readers on how my goal of improving my resilience is going.  Resilience means to keep trying despite setbacks, to never give up.  I chose this as my word of the year to inspire me even when I feel like giving up.  

One Year After Being Diagnosed with BRCA2 Genetic Mutation

It is one year since I was diagnosed with BRCA2, a genetic mutation that increases your risk of cancer.  Since I was diagnosed with BRCA2 my life has been altered dramatically.  A year ago I was a productive member of society with a job, and pretty good health.  As soon as I got that diagnosis I knew that I wanted prophylactic surgery.  There was no doubt in my mind.  I have looked after patients with ovarian and breast cancer my entire career and I always had in the back of my mind that I would take any steps to avoid either of them.

What is BRCA2?

Because BRCA2 increases your risk of cancer by so much, and if you do get cancer it’s usually the most aggressive kind, the best treatment is to avoid it.  I had been screening yearly for 10 years leading up to this, and there’s almost a feeling of inevitability about it.  You’re waiting for them to tell you that one of the areas they’ve been watching has become cancerous.  So there was really no decision to make – I was going to have prophylactic surgery.

BRCA2 Mutation Cancer Risk infographic.  For women, the cancer risk is 40-84% of developing breast cancer, 11-27% ovarian cancer and 2-7% pancreatic cancer.  Source: Ovarcome
BRCA2 Mutation Cancer Risk infographic. For women, the cancer risk is 40-84% of developing breast cancer, 11-27% ovarian cancer and 2-7% pancreatic cancer. Source: Ovarcome

I expected both surgeries to go well.  You never consider that there could be complications, the only thing on your mind is getting rid of the offending organs that could give you cancer.  First cab off the rank was my ovaries – a relatively low risk, minimally invasive operation because I had already had a hysterectomy.

Suffering Surgical Complications 

The complication from this relatively small, keyhole operation is rare, but has changed my life.  I went into bladder retention – my bladder was stretched beyond capacity and has not sprung back into shape.  I have an atonic bladder now – it doesn’t work.  It’s probably permanent because the nerves were damaged and the muscle fibres stretched beyond their limits.  Even corrective surgery by a urologist hasn’t made any difference.

There is one positive – because I’m a nurse I can self cathetarise so I don’t need an indwelling catheter.  To be able to pass urine I need to insert a cathetar.  I get really upset about this because at 54 years old, I don’t want to think my bladder is completely stuffed.  But the reality is that it IS stuffed.

More Surgical Complications Post Mastectomies

The complication after the bilateral mastectomies was also rare.  This was another life-changing complication that I’m still dealing with.  I haemorrhaged on the left side post-operatively.  My blood count dropped really low and I needed several blood transfusions and emergency surgery to locate the bleeding area.  The swelling remained for months afterwards.  I needed even more surgery to wash out the cavity and treat  the area for infection.

Lifetime BRCA1 and BRCA2 Cancer Risks for Men.  Many people do not realise that BRCA1 and 2 affects men as well.  Prostate cancer runs in my family with my grandfather, father and brother having it.  Dad also had pancreatic cancer.  Melanoma also runs in my family - brother, sister and son.  Source:  Basser Research Centre for BRCA
Lifetime BRCA1 and BRCA2 Cancer Risks for Men. Many people do not realise that BRCA1 and 2 affects men as well. Prostate cancer runs in my family with my grandfather, father and brother having it. Dad also had pancreatic cancer. Melanoma also runs in my family – brother, sister and son. Source: Basser Research Centre for BRCA

The Physical and Mental Affects of a Prolonged Recovery

My recovery has been prolonged because I wasn’t allowed to do any exercise apart from walking until the swelling subsided.  That meant six months without using my upper body for anything more strenuous than lifting a cup.  When I was finally allowed to do yoga, my muscles went into spasm and I was in severe agony.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to improve my upper body strength without professional help.  My GP was very understanding and supportive and has much more insight into patients returning to work after injury or surgery.  He referred me to an exercise physiologist to build up my physical strength.  Because I was struggling with the emotional fall-out from all of this, he referred me to a psychologist as well.

Improving Mentally and Physically

It’s approximately 3 months since then.  Emotionally and mentally I’m so much stronger.  My psychologist helps me to look at things from a different point of view, and has given me strategies to deal with the grief and stress.  She doesn’t pat me on the hand and tell me it’s going to be alright.  I need more than that.  I need to work through the emotions that have come up from these surgical complications.

Physically, it’s been a hard slog.  The exercise physiologist can’t increase my exercises too quickly because it can result in severe muscle pain.  I do an hour long program that she gives me, three times a week.  I see her once a week to ensure I’m doing the exercises with the correct technique, and to learn new exercises.

The ultimate goal other than improving my resilience, is to return to work.  My boss has offered to reduce my hours to two shifts a week which will at least enable me to return to my job.  She has been incredibly supportive throughout the whole ordeal.  I couldn’t wish for a better boss.  If I continue to improve at my current rate, I will return to work in April.

Lack of Understanding From My Surgeon

Today I had a post operative visit with my breast surgeon.  There is always a little bit of anxiety leading up to these appointments because I’ve had so many occasions where I felt really upset.  Usually his first question is  “Are you back at work yet?”.  Despite me explaining that my employer won’t let me go back until I am back to 100% capacity and able to do CPR and heavy manual handling, he never understood.   I always felt like he was judging me for it – as if I didn’t want to work.  He even asked me straight out a few times if I wanted to work.  

Not once has he ever taken the blame for what happened to me.  In his opinion, my post-op haemorrhage couldn’t possibly be his fault.  He tried to shift the blame, even sent me to see a haematologist to find out if I had a bleeding disorder.  

Post-operative Complications Can and Do Happen

As a nurse, I know that post-op complications can happen.  When they consent you for any procedure large or small, part of the consent process is to discuss the complications that may happen.  I’ve only seen a haemorrhage after breast surgery once in my career and it was as dramatic as mine.  

I’ve been unlucky to suffer a few complications post surgery previously so I have a better understanding than most people.  That is why I’ve never blamed the haemorrhage on my surgeon.  But the fact that he tries to shift the blame to me has worn thin.  I’m not contemplating getting compensation for this, or suing him, but a lot of people would. 

The Cost of a Prolonged Recovery 

This has cost me a massive amount of money in lost wages and medical expenses and I’m just lucky I had income protection insurance through my superannuation fund.  I don’t live my life with regrets usually but there have been times when I’m really depressed because of the way my life has changed in the last year.  

BRCA and cancer - BRCA1 and 2 increase the risk of cancer for both men and women.  Source: Penn Medicine's Basser Research Centre for BRCA
BRCA and cancer – BRCA1 and 2 increase the risk of cancer for both men and women. Source: Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Centre for BRCA

Even though the last year has been difficult, and my quality of life has changed, I’m still able to be positive about the future.  I wasn’t willing to accept that I would not be able to work again.  At times I have wondered why I try so hard.  Then I count my blessings.  My parents both died of cancer, and it looks like my brother will too (he has advanced prostate cancer).  I have beaten cancer and don’t have that hanging over my head.

Being Resilient and Looking to the Future

Even when things seemed hopeless, I still had the power to change direction.  I wasn’t willing to let fate decide that I would never be well enough to work again.  I sought help.  And I continue to work hard to get back to the person I was, changed in many ways but the old me.  That’s what resilience has meant to me in the last year.

If you would like more information on BRCA genetic mutation and cancer risk, these are the other posts I have written:

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s blog, Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog and Senior Salon Linkup on Esme Salon’s blog

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A Weekend in the Lamington National Park

The Lamington National Park, Gold Coast, Australia

Exploring the Beautiful Gold Coast Hinterland

My husband had two weeks off recently due to an infected cat bite on his thumb.  We had some time on our hands and, because we hadn’t been away since last March, we decided to make the most of it.  Luckily we live in one of the most beautiful areas in Australia.  We often have a staycation – a short trip within an hour of home.  Right on our doorstep is the beautiful Gold Coast hinterland, so we had a night away there, at Lamington National Park.

The sun sets over O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park, Canungra, Queensland, Australia
The sun sets over O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park, Canungra, Queensland, Australia

The Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia

The Gold Coast is known as the glitter strip because it has all the glitz and glamour of high-rises right along one of the most pristine beaches in the world.  Our most famous beach is Surfers Paradise.  It is a tourist mecca, with many attractions like theme parks and night life.

I rarely go to that part of the city, however.  I much prefer the natural environment that can be found in the Gold Coast Hinterland, also known as the Green Behind the Gold.  There are waterfalls, rainforest and a diverse collection of wildlife.  Away from the crowded beaches, up in the hills is where my heart sings.  That is where I feel at peace.

One of the beautiful native birds at O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat
One of the beautiful native birds at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat

O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat

We decided to visit O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat.  I had only been once before, and my husband not at all.  I took a youth group camping up there the first time, an experience I will never forget.  Many of the teenagers had never stayed overnight outside their family home so it was a huge eye opener for them.

To get to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat is quite an experience.  The road is narrow and windy and the trip takes 90minutes through Canungra, up the mountain to the World Heritage listed Lamington National Park.  The views are stunning of farm land in the valley below and the mountains of the McPherson and Darlington Ranges.

View over the valley towards Beaudesert from the Lamington National Park
View over the valley towards Beaudesert from the Lamington National Park

O’Reilly’s has an interesting history.  It started over 100 years ago as a settlement for the O’Reilly family who cleared the land for cattle farming.  Over time they began to receive guests who had made an arduous journey to get there.  That is how the guest house began, in 1926.  Over time it has grown and is now a large operation of several types of different accommodation options, a restaurant, bar, day spa and winery.

View over the pool area, towards the south at O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, in the Lamington National Park
View over the pool area, towards the south at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat

Another interesting historical fact is that in 1937 Bernard O’Reilly trekked through the rainforest to rescue survivors of the Stinson Plane Crash. There is a replica of the plane at O’Reilly’s. His knowledge of the local area was vital in locating the wreck, and during the rescue effort.

Replica of the Stinson Plane that crashed in the Lamington National Park in 1937.  The survivors were rescued by Bernard O'Reilly who knew the area well.
Replica of the Stinson Plane that crashed in 1937. The survivers were rescued by Bernard O’Reilly who knew the area well.

The Wildlife and Rainforest

Part of the attraction for us was the wildlife.  Very experienced guides are available to lead the guests on a number of different guided walks, educational talks and hikes through the Lamington National Park.  We took part in two guided walks, and also viewed a documentary of the wildlife in their cinema.

Feeding one of the many birds during the guided bird walk.  Some of the paths are suitable for people with reduced mobility, like this one.
Feeding one of the many birds during the guided bird walk. Some of the paths are suitable for people with reduced mobility, like this one.

There is also a treetop walk – a series of suspension bridges up to 15 metres above ground that allow you to walk amongst the tops of the forest.  Because I get severe vertigo with heights I was very nervous at the slight swinging of the bridges but I made it across by not daring to look down.  My husband even climbed up the 30 metre high ladder to a platform where he could view 360 degrees across the top of the rainforest. 

One of the suspension bridges on the Treetop Walk at O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, where you can walk amongst the treetops in Lamington National Park
One of the suspension bridges on the Treetop Walk at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, where you can walk amongst the treetops in Lamington National Park

The Glow Worm Tour

Without a doubt my favourite part of the weekend was the nighttime glow worm tour.  The guide took us for a short drive from the resort. We then hiked through the bush to a stream where thousands of glowworms sparkled like stars along the bank.  The stream was flowing gently, so that the glow worms reflected in the water.  When you looked up through the trees, the milky way glittered brightly above us.  It was incredibly beautiful.

Two ringtailed possums in the top of the tree in Lamington National Park
Two ringtailed possums in the top of the tree

Matt our guide helped us to spot many native animals and plants along the path.  His knowledge and enthusiasm for the wildlife enhanced the experience.  One of the more interesting creatures was a bright blue crayfish which can walk 2km away from water!  This was a feisty little crustacean who snapped its claws at us.  He has a mean bite we were told.

The bright blue coloured crayfish on the rainforest floor in Lamington National Park
The bright blue coloured crayfish on the rainforest floor

We encountered two types of possums, many different varieties of birds and insects, lizards and spiders.  I would have just walked straight past many of the creatures but Matt had a way of finding these elusive animals in the dark.  

Matt the guide pointing out a native frog.  One of the wild animals in Lamington National Park
Matt the guide pointing out a native frog

Hand Feeding the Birds

The early morning bird walk was just as interesting.  Being able to hand feed the wild birds was a beautiful experience.  The rainforest is home to a huge variety of birds.  The most colourful are the parrots that you can hand feed. Many of the walking tracks are suitable for all types of fitness levels, with two being suitable for wheelchairs..  

The more adventurous can take a segway safari tour, or try the flying fox.  There are guided walks through the Lamington National Park, or there are many tracks that you can do on your own without being a paying guest.  Maps are available from the National Parks Information Centre or O’Reilly’s reception.  

Hand feeding one of the native parrots that live in the rainforest
Hand feeding one of the native parrots that live in the rainforest

If you are ever in our part of the world, pay a visit to the hinterland.  The experience will stay with you much longer than a day at Sea World.  There is so much more to the Gold Coast than the glitter strip and Surfers Paradise.

Hand feeding the birds at O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat
Hand feeding the birds at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat

If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy:

Shared on #WeekendCoffeeShare Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s blog, #Lifethisweek Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog

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