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.

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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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Mood Boosting Playlist for Midlifers

Mood Boosting Playlist for Midlifers

Music Affects Our Emotions

Music has a positive affect on our emotions.  I have always used music as a tool to uplift my mood.  Spotify sent me my list of songs I listen to the most, and it’s too good not to share.  I have dubbed my playlist the Mood Boosting Song List for Midlifers because listening to these songs never failed to uplift me this year.

Music Evokes Pleasant Memories

Music evokes memories of growing up in a very creative family.  My parents met because dad spotted mum singing in the Church choir.My parents loved music and we were brought up loving a variety of genres from classical music to rock.  My mother was a beautiful singer and I learned to harmonise by singing along to Eagles, Simon and Garfunkel and Fleetwood Mac. At Christmas we would stand around the piano while mum played Christmas Carols, and we’d sing along.  Mum would also entertain by playing the ukelele and singing fun folk songs.

Our family’s love of music goes back generations.  Dad’s father played the piano while silent movies played at the cinema.  Dad had 8 brothers and sisters and they all learned to play an instrument.  As a group they would play on stage to entertain a gathering. Some of the extended family became accomplished musicians.  My cousin played viola for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. 

Mum playing Christmas Carols on the piano while everyone sings along.
Mum playing Christmas Carols on the piano while everyone sings along.

Passing My Love Of Music On

Both my sons both inherited the music gene and can play multiple instruments.  My elder son has played the drums in several bands and has a Diploma of Music.  He has made a business out of creating band tour videos and music videos. My love for music extended to singing in the choir. I taught my younger son to cook while playing our favourite tracks in the background. He is a content writer, but the first expressive material he wrote was song lyrics.

Starting them young - My sons at age four and one
Starting them young – My sons at age four and one

So you could say that music is in my blood. I have used music a lot this year to uplift my soul as it has been a really tough year. Music never fails to improve my mood.

Here is my Mood Busting Playlist for Midlifers:

Mood Boosting Playlist for Midlifers

What music do you use to uplift your mood? Please share in the comments.

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The Roles We Have Help Form Our Self Identity

The Roles We Have Help Define Our Self Image

Our self identity is what defines us

Our self identity is what defines us.  Self identity is formed in childhood, largely by our parents.  It develops over time, much of it stemming from the roles we take on.  These roles may be chosen by ourselves, or inflicted on us by chance.  The roles we identify with most strongly are what makes us who we are, and form our self identity. My roles as a nurse, mother and wife are the ones I identify with the most.

One of my roles – My 30 years as a Registered Nurse

This month marks 30 years since I graduated as a Registered Nurse.  I was one of the last hospital trained nurses to graduate from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane.  Nursing has been an incredibly rewarding career, and it forms a large part of my self identity.

On my graduation day, August 1990. I graduated from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane, as a Registered Nurse
On my graduation day, August 1990. I graduated from the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital in Brisbane, as a Registered Nurse

My nursing career has taken me to the Northern Territory where I spent a year in a tiny 10 bed remote hospital.  We did everything there – Accident and Emergency, Theatre, and nursing paediatrics and adults.  I even assisted the midwives deliver babies which was amazing.  We had our own plane and pilot so we did retrievals to remote outback areas, and down to Alice Springs.

Most of my career has been in surgical nursing in hospitals.  I did a stint in palliative care but got really burnt out – I’m not cut out for that kind of nursing and really admire those that are.  It’s a rewarding job but incredibly taxing on your body, especially the type of nursing I do.

Collage of photos of my time nursing in the Northern Territory, Australia in 1997.  My role as a Registered Nurse has given me 30 years of extremely rewarding work.
Collage of photos of my time nursing in the Northern Territory, Australia in 1997.
My role as a Registered Nurse has given me 30 years of extremely rewarding work.

What happens when a role that we identify with, disappears one day?

I’ve been unable to return to work for over three months, since my bilateral mastectomies.  Because of the demanding nature of my job, I can’t return to work until I’m able to perform CPR and all the requirements of working as a nurse.  While I’m glad I’m not pushed back to work before I’m ready, I’m finding it incredibly hard to wait patiently while my body heals.

Because I haemorrhaged the day after my mastectomies, I still have residual swelling and pain on the left side.  Even a small amount of activity like light housework and shopping, causes more pain and swelling.  There’s no way to tell how long it will be like this.  

Missing my role as a nurse

I was expecting to be able to return to week six weeks after my surgery.  It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know I’d be off this long as I would have seriously considered delaying the surgery.  That delay could have been detrimental to my well-being as my chances of getting breast cancer were so high.

I’m able to fill my days with other activities like writing (thank God for my blog!), and cooking, but I miss working.  Nursing is so much a part of me – a strong aspect of my identity – it feels like part of me is missing.  Nursing is such a fulfilling career.  There’s nothing better than being able to make someone more comfortable, and assist them to heal. 

I miss my colleagues too.  Nurses have a real camaraderie.  We can laugh and cry together, knowing that our job will make us feel so many emotions, usually all in one shift.  I know there are many healthcare workers working incredibly hard under stressful conditions at the moment because of all the extra precautions we have to take due to Covid-19.  To be stuck on the sidelines while my colleagues are struggling is frustrating.  I just want to help out!

Over the last few years my health has taken several blows and I’ve struggled with the workload and shiftwork.  Physically I’m struggling to cope with the demands of my job, but I still feel I have a lot left to give.  I really don’t know what the future holds but I know if I can’t return to work as a nurse in some capacity I will really miss it.

The roles we identify with may be learned from our parents

I’ve written about identity in the past, and I feel my strongest roles that I identify with are being a mother and a nurse.  This month also marks 28 years since I became a mother.  Being a mother has been incredibly rewarding.  I had a strong role model in my own mum, and I have tried to emulate her.  There is no way anyone could come up to her standard!  Our mothering styles differed somewhat – she was a stay at home mum for one thing.  I don’t know if she would have approved of me working throughout my kids’ lives (apart from 4 months’ maternity leave for each of them).  She passed away before she became a grandmother.

My husband and I will soon be empty nesters because my son is finally moving out!  I loved having them live at home but they’re well and truly old enough to spread their wings.  Because I left home for good at 19 so it’s extraordinary that my sons lived at home till they were 24 and 28.  I must have made it too easy for them!

My sons and I in 1997, Alice Springs.  Motherhood has been one of my most rewarding roles.
My sons and I in 1997. Motherhood has been one of my most rewarding roles.

Merging two families can cause conflict

My husband came into our lives when my sons were in their late teens.  He doesn’t have kids of his own.  He took the right approach and didn’t try to be their father, which wouldn’t have gone down well at all.  We’ve all lived together for about 6 ½ years so it’ll be nice for the two of us to finally have the house to ourselves.  We’re looking forward to it.

My husband and I on our wedding day, 2014.  Being a wife is one of the roles I strongly identify with.
My husband and I on our wedding day in 2014. Being a wife is one of the roles I strongly identify with.

Merging two families didn’t go smoothly all the time.  My parenting style was different to my in-laws’ parenting style. I was used to being independent and not having family around to help out.  My kids were very independent as well.  Phil’s family live 5 minutes from each other and spend a lot of time together.  I can go months without seeing my family (especially with the border closures at the moment) but Phil sees or speaks to his family nearly every day.

There have been rocky patches, particularly between his mother and I.  She couldn’t understand what I was going through when I was grieving my dad.  My husband was working away for days at a time, week after week and it was very hard.  I had a fall out with her that lasted a couple of years.

I sensed real concern for me this year when I was going through my surgeries, and that has helped smooth things over between us.  I’m so glad we’ve been able to patch things up because it put a strain on the whole family.  We’re having them over for Father’s Day brunch which will be the first time in a few years that they all come here.  

My relationship with the rest of his family has been much better. I gained his parents, brother, sister-in-law, two nieces and a nephew when I married my husband. I’m so happy to have a close bond with them because I no longer have my parents and sister, and I don’t see my brothers and nephews much (especially since the border closed between my state and theirs).

When one of our roles disappears, our self identity suffers

Mother, daughter, nurse, wife, sister, auntie, friend – many of my roles in life, and a strong part of my identity.  These roles have shaped who I am and when one of the roles is absent, I feel lost.  I’m able to compensate by spending more time in the other roles.  It’s been lovely having more time to spend with my loved ones, and not be constantly tired from shift work. The challenge now is to accept that I am still me, even though I’m not working at the moment. I can channel my desire to help people into this blog, and still feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.

My role as a mother is changing with my sons leaving home. I’m still their mother though! That will never change. I’ve done my part – they’re fully functioning adults. Now I can enjoy my role as a wife more. We’ll have more quality time to spend together without the distraction of young people around. It’s something I look forward to, as I want to grow old together with my husband.

The roles we have help form our identity. When one of those roles disappears or changes, it can affect our self identity. We can compensate by spending more time on our other roles, and adjusting the way we think of ourselves.

My sons and I in 2001,  Auckland New Zealand.  My role as their mother is changing now that they are adults, but I am still a mother.
My sons and I in 2001. My role as their mother is changing now that they are adults, but I am still a mother.

What roles do you identify with?  If one role disappeared, would you feel like part of you was missing?

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2020 – My Unpredictable Year

2020 My Unpredictable Year

2020: The Year That Changed Everything

Who could have predicted how 2020 would pan out?  This has been my most unpredictable year to date, and that’s saying something.  It feels like the rug’s been pulled out from under me, and I’m not alone in feeling that way. It has been an unpredictable year for many reasons, both personal and external. Change and uncertainty can add to the emotional burden of the other world events such as the pandemic.

“Life is What Happens To Us When We’re Making Other Plans”

Allen Saunders, 1957

At the dawn of the New Year I wrote a post Don’t Hold Back.  Full of optimism and excitement for the year ahead, I planned to learn new skills and apply for positions that would take my career into a new direction.  My older son, inspired by my enthusiasm, planned to travel and push his music career to new levels.  We often talk about how our year has not panned out in the way we planned it.

My son had to put his music on hold while we were in lockdown – he couldn’t drive to Brisbane to practice with his band, and gigs were cancelled for months while venues were closed.  He was extremely frustrated – musicians need to perform.  When their creativity is put on hold a major part of themselves is affected.  Travel is also out of the question.

"Life is What Happens to Us When We're Making Other Plans" Allen Saunders.  Fits with this article on how unpredictable 2020 has been.
“Life is What Happens to Us When We’re Making Other Plans” Allen Saunders. Fits with this article on how unpredictable 2020 has been.

Changes in the Family Home

The first shock of the year came when my other son decided to move out.  The Half Empty Nest is the post I wrote at the time when I was going through a grieving process as I came to terms with it.  As it turns out, I’ve coped very well with my son moving out and very soon my other son is leaving too, then I’ll be an empty nester for the first time in 28 years!  It’s wonderful to see my sons “adulting” – they need to move out for their own personal growth.

BRCA2 and its Impact on my Health

The next shock, in February, was my diagnosis of a genetic mutation, BRCA2, which increases my risk of cancer.  At the beginning of this year I would not have believed that I would have four operations, two of them to fix complications from the other two, and that I would have most of this year off work.  My recovery has been prolonged, and at this stage I’m looking at even more time off work. 

 As a Registered Nurse in a busy surgical ward, I am unable to return until I can complete my role 100%, including performing CPR and patient handling.  The loss of that role has been extremely upsetting to me.  I’ve been a nurse for over 30 years and it’s part of my identity.  It’s taking me a while to come to terms with that.  The impact of the surgeries and complications has also taken a toll.  My body is different now, and I have new issues to deal with that will remain with me for life.

Pandemic Pandemonium

March saw the Pandemic drive us all into lockdown.  I doubt if anyone in the world has not been affected in some way from Covid-19.  I’ve been isolated from some of my family since then, and unable to spend time with some of my closest loved ones.  Not being able to travel to be with family during life-changing events like a death in the family, has taken its toll on many of us.  

I’ve now been at home recovering since mid-May, and had time off prior to that for my first operation.  The only positive is that I’ve been able to spend time on my blog, and work on my website to get it the way I want.  I really don’t know how I would have coped without this to do.  I would have gone crazy with boredom!

New Home for Midlifestylist

In the last two weeks I have moved my website from WordPress.com to a different platform.  I’ve been busy trying to get my website back up and functioning.  In the transfer process the last seven blog posts did not migrate to the new host, so I’ve been republishing them.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.  

I am so glad I took the plunge and transferred my website.  The potential is amazing – I have lots of ideas on which direction I want to take Midlifestylist, so watch this space!

Ongoing Health Issues and the Emotional Toll 

In order to cope with massive life changing events and my health issues, my ability to cope emotionally has been under strain.  I’m not coping as well as I was a few weeks ago when I thought that my life would be back to normal by now.  I reached out and I’m going to talk to a counselor to help me to adjust.

I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting that you need counseling.  When your sleep is getting affected, and you’re crying at the drop of a hat, it’s time.  I’ll be looking into other ways to assist as well, like meditation and mindfulness.  Being proactive with your mental health is a sign of strength, not weakness.

I hope this resonates with some of my readers, and they find comfort in the fact that they are not alone in feeling stressed by the unpredictable events of this year.  Our ability to cope with all that 2020 has given us has been pushed to the limit.  Seek help if you’re not coping.  Don’t struggle through on your own.

I need to follow my own advice and take time for self care.  Read my two articles If you’re feeling stressed – Prioritising Self Care and Journalling as a Self Care Activity.

Please share – someone may need to read this today.

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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. I’ve been trying to stay positive even though things have not gone as planned, and my recovery has been slow. I’ve been filling my time to help deal with my recovery time at home.

First the triumphs:

Midlifestylist News:

  • 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 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 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. If you buy one of the other courses I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Read the full disclosure here.

Personal news:

  • 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. 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. 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 - learning new skills and trying new recipes have been some of the ways I have filled my time
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. It may be genetic because I’ve had a few other instances in my life of unexplained bleeding. There have been 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. We 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 Pandemic and Social Distancing

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.

Taking my dog for a walk daily has been one of my favourite activities while recovering from surgery
Taking my dog for a walk daily has been one of my favourite activities while recovering from surgery

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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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. Previous posts were 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. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this guest post for the Women of Courage Series.

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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! Our dye day was on Friday. We went live on Instagram, so that our followers could watch us dye our hair pink. During the live feed we 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 and other cancers, particularly cancers that have a genetic link. Unfortunately 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. In our family alone, cancer has had a huge impact.

Update on my Bilateral Prophylactic Mastectomies

I am recovering at home after my bilateral prophylactic mastectomies that I had done on 13 May 2020. (Read about it 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 for the GO PINK campaign.
GO PINK raises funds for breast cancer research. It is organised by the National Breast Cancer Foundation
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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.

My Niece Ally and I.  We will be fundraising together for the GO PINK for cancer research event.  Ally has been a wonderful support for me
My niece Ally and I. We will be fundraising together for the GO PINK for cancer research event. She’s been a wonderful support to me over the last few months

Why Breast Cancer Research is Important to Me

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 prostate 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. It 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. 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.

My Family History of Cancer and BRCA2 Gene Mutation

In my case there were few cases of breast cancer in my family. 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. Because of that I could be tested for free. The cost used to be extremely high. Improved testing methods mean that more people can now be tested 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. 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. If you would like to donate to this cause via our team The Tough Titties the link is below. (The name is Ally’s idea, because people who have cancer have to be tough).

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

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

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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. Being a patient in a pandemic has increased the stressful experience a massive amount. I was lucky to have my surgeries at all. 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 enter the building you are met by staff who screen you for signs of a fever and ask questions about your recent exposure risks. Visitors are limited which is difficult when you’re going through surgery.

My Recovery From Bilateral Prophylactic Mastectomies

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. My haemoglobin dropped very low due to bleeding.

I experience a post operative complication after my bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.  In this photo I am severely anaemic.  I had a haemorrhage in my left breast.  The swelling is visible in this photo.
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.

A Prolonged Recovery Due to Complications

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 to be discharged. 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. 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. I’m lucky I had funds set aside for emergency as I am thousands of dollars out of pocket.

The Cancellation of Elective Surgeries

Hospitals have been very quiet in Australia 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.

Limited Movement Post Mastectomy

I’m now recuperating at home, which will take time because of the complications. I am 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 and 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.

Emotional Support For Mastectomy Patients

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.

Looking Forward To My Recovery

I’m through all my surgeries now, and on the way to recovery. I am 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.

Being a Patient in the Midst of a Pandemic.  How the pandemic impacts your experience of healthcare.  I had a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy in May 2020.  This is an account of how my surgery was impacted due to being a patient in the midst of a pandemic.

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