Category Archives: Uncategorized

In memory of Suzette Biggs.

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I was extremely saddened to learn today of the death of my friend and neighour, Suzette Biggs who passed away at home last Friday aged just 52.

Like me, Suzette had breast cancer and unfortunately when she found out about hers, it had already reached stage four. Suzette had other health issues too, for years she suffered from chronic fibromyalgia which affected her mobility and was sometimes terribly painful.  In spite of this, Suzette had an incredibly cheerful disposition and was always there to help others out or just to share a cuppa and a chat with a friend.

When she learned that I had breast cancer, she was one of the first people to come and see me and ask if there was anything she could do. She was reassuring and positive and I cannot really put into words how helpful and kind of her that was and how much it meant to me.  We took the opportunity with our time together to have a good old chin wag over many cups of tea and we always ended up laughing about something or other, or someone but not in a horrible way for Suzette did not have a malicious bone in her body.

She and I became quite close and even went for bra fittings together once all our cancer treatment was finished.  In the warm weather, Suzette could  often be found wrapped up in her lovely fleecy dressing gown, carrying her beautiful bosom before her, leaning over the front garden wall to chat to her friends and neighbours passing by.

Suzette was very fond of (my ex) Tony and I would sometimes come home from an outing and she would call me in to the kitchen to see her giving him a huge hug.  She thought it was very funny because Tony is so rotund but Suzette could still wrap her long arms around him as she was a tall woman. She was extremely close to her family and often spoke to me about them with immense pride, love and affection, especially about her daughters.  Suzette was a bright and bubbly spark of loveliness in what can sometimes be a dull old world and I shall miss her very much.

Suzette Biggs.  1966 – 2017

 

 

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Taking back the power.

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I`ve been feeling rather emotional this past week, a bit weepy, a bit low and not really registering why. Then it struck me this morning as I was walking with my dog, it will be a year on Wednesday since I was diagnosed with cancer, so the light bulb came on.

In my case, after my treatment had finished and the doctor spoke to me those lovely words, “you have the all clear,” for a brief, heady few days, I felt an incredible high. It didn`t last and as I gradually came back down to earth I realised that cancer never really leaves us. I have a long way to go (five years) before I can relax a little and know I am in remission and even then, it may return. I feel sad because cancer has impacted on me so massively, I have spent so much time trying to manage my feelings, remain positive, productive, engaged with the people who I love, I don`t think I`ve given myself time to mourn the loss of who I was before this diagnosis and feel the feelings of sadness and rage for how much cancer has taken from me.

Well here`s the thing cancer; I`m taking it back.

Yesterday I was reading a post my daughter had put up on social media, I think she put it up there for me to see because it was all about those people who feel selfish when they are coping with an awfulness in their life, after all, there are so many people out there who have it so much worse. This describes exactly how I feel, it`s as though surviving cancer so far somehow means I have less right to my myriad of feelings because at least I am still here to tell the tale. The piece goes on to say, “don’t buy into it, because it’s nonsense. It doesn’t matter if someone else had it ‘worse.’ Every person who experiences a trauma deserves to get the attention and care they need to heal from it.”

So I rang Macmillan Cancer Care (love, love, love them) and they told me that they are working jointly with Relate to offer people who have had cancer some free counselling sessions. You may think of Relate as working with people who have a troubled marriage (they used to be called Marriage Guidance, do you remember?) However, Relate recognises that cancer affects all of our relationships including the one we have with our self. So I`ve booked me in for some `me` time with Relate and an opportunity to work my way through some of this shitty stuff that`s stopping me from getting on with my life in the present. I am looking forward to it and to letting go of some of this negativity, it is so unlike me.

And to my friends and family who are fighting to keep their head above the waves, not waving but feeling like they are drowning. I will get back to me and then I can give you that hand up once again as so many have offered to me over this past, really difficult year.

I would like to end on a high note so here you are, it`s a  middle C.

🙂

Do they eat them Jack?

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I have been thinking about my aunty Muriel, my mother`s older sister, who died many years ago. I think Mu would have been about seventy when she died, which is remarkable given the enormous challenges she faced throughout her life. It is testimony to the marvellous care that Muriel received from both my parents and particularly my mother, that she enjoyed such longevity.

Mu was born with (I believe) cerebral palsy and had a learning disability. We would have called her spastic back in those days before the term was recognised as derogatory. When I was older, my mother Bess explained to me that Mu`s disability may have been caused by my grandmother attempting to abort her pregnancy.  Unsuccessful in the attempt, she may have damaged Muriel before she was born. I don`t know if this is possible, I think there may be some truth in the tale as my mum was not a person who made things up but in any event, Muriel was meant to be born so she arrived on earth and grew up in the early nineteen hundreds, on my grandmother`s farm in Birmingham.

Children can be very cruel and of course Mu was “different” so she had to be accompanied to school and home again as sometimes the other children would call her names, she was often protected from being bullied by her brother Seba and my mother.

As Muriel grew up, the main carer for her was my aunt Lillian who loved her very much. My grandmother was not at all maternal so it`s a good job someone was. They became constant companions and when Lillian was an old lady, they moved to live together in a small cottage in Knowle, near to my mum and dad who kept an eye on them both. When Lillian died, ancient and frail when I was about 4, Muriel came to live with us.

Mu`s disability affected her mobility quite considerably. She had difficulty with her breathing, she often dribbled which left her with a wet patch on her chest. She had difficulty with her speech and couldn`t do anything in a hurry. She needed help sometimes with buttons and zips, we had to cut her food up for her, everything Mu did was done in slow motion but her situation did not prevent her from having friends and family who loved her a lot. As a child, I didn`t think I loved my aunty Mu. As an adult I realise I did, I just didn`t know how to express my love to her. Being hugged by Mu was like being hugged by a bear!  I think as a child I was slightly embarrassed by her, I am ashamed of my childish self now of course and if I could meet Mu in the present, I would throw my arms around her and cry and ask her to forgive me.

Mu had a passion for photography and liked to take pictures of us as children. We would pose for what seemed like hours as Mu fiddled away trying to get the position of her camera just so. Even now, if I take my time taking a photograph, my family refer to it as “doing a Muriel” and it makes us smile.

She had a great sense of humour and if she started to laugh at something that had tickled her, her huge shoulders would heave up and down and her throaty laugh would continue until she could compose herself again. I have a memory of being in a church at a relative`s wedding I think. A child started to fidget and make a noise, then I heard a smack, and the child immediately began to cry. Muriel began to laugh, so did I, it was like a domino effect.

Another time, I recall Mu threading peanuts on to a wire for the birds (I may have told this tale in another, long ago blog.) It took her forever and as she sat in my parents` kitchen completing the task, she asked my dad, “Do they eat them Jack?” “No Muriel,” my father replied, “They shove them up their arseholes.” More, uncontrollable laughter from aunty Mu, I remember it vividly, it was especially funny for me as a child because my dad rarely used swear words.

When I was 12, dad bought me a guitar and my brother`s friend Rod taught me how to play it. Mu loved to hear me sing and her favourite song was one of my favourites too, Plaisir D`amour, made famous by Joan Baez. I would sit on the kitchen table, my guitar perched on my lap and sing and Mu would listen to me and cry, she could be a very emotional woman. I had a very pure voice as a young person and did a lot of public singing and I have already heard the joke about why she was crying. Many times!

So there you are, a little snippet of life with Muriel. If I could speak to her now I would say thank you, for enriching my life so much, even though I wasn`t aware of it at the time. I am absolutely certain it is my experience growing up with someone with a significant disability which steered me towards the fantastic career path I have enjoyed so much.

Thank you aunty Mu, you were a star.

Treat yourself with kindness…..

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It is a funny old thing cancer.  Just when you think it is safe to get back in the water – BOOM!

In spite of being given the “all clear” last August, I find myself feeling absolutely rubbish at the moment, I feel terribly dispirited and I am struggling not to burst into tears at the drop of a hat, which is exactly what I did this morning when I rang the helpline at MacMillan Cancer Care. As has been my previous experience, the woman on the other end of the line was totally wonderful and instantly “got” what I was blabbing about. I think I have tried so hard to remain positive not just for me, but also for my family and friends, that a huge build up of anxiety and miserable-ness is sitting in my head which sometimes overwhelms me. I forget how recent my diagnosis was, how challenging the journey and how raw my emotions still feel. After the all clear I think I just expected to spring back to being the old Helen, and it doesn`t work like that!  The fear of breast cancer returning lingers in the background for large chunks of my thinking time and I am told by fellow survivors that this will not leave me but it is something I can learn to manage. 

When I was going through cancer treatment, it felt like I was doing something really positive and to some extent that gave me a sense of being in control.  When my treatment finished, I experienced an anti-climax and it is partly this that makes me feel so low.

The MacMillan volunteer said that it might help me to go and get some counselling, so that is what I`m going to do. I`ve been told of a group in Solihull, near me. They are called Breast Friends (Ha ha.) I`m going to ask for some support because I deserve it, we all deserve a helping hand when the going gets tough.

Once upon a time a year ago, I was a robust, generally happy, buoyant human being. Cancer has changed me completely and as the woman at MacMillan said to me today, I am still on my journey, I am still finding my way.  So if I seem a little down, give me a hug. If I seem a bit snappy, make me a cuppa, send me a virtual smile, it will be most welcome.

Have a happy Christmas and the best of New Years, I know I am going to.

My idiosyncratic father….

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My father Jack Pitt was born in nineteen hundred and eleven. One of nine siblings, two of his sisters died very young and are buried close to my grandfather Edward Pitt, in St. Mary`s churchyard in Acocks Green. My grandfather was a greengrocer and owned Pitts the greengrocers shop which was situated in Acocks Green village.

My mother Bess was born a mile up the road. A few months younger than dad, she was raised on Pinfold Farm in Yardley and when they were ten, both she and dad attended the same junior school. This is how they met.

In those days the boys and girls` playgrounds at Acocks Green Junior School were separated by a tall brick wall, so when my father was eleven he let my mother know of his love for her by writing “I love you” in Quink ink on a piece of orange peel and tossed it to her, over the wall. Thus began their enduring love affair which spanned almost eighty years.

It wasn`t all hearts and roses. Their love was often fraught with insecurity, petty jealousies and cold silences.  As one of their four children, I recall these could span several days. I didn`t really get to know my father until he was very old. I knew him on a superficial level because mum was a true matriarch and had she allowed my father to get close to us, it would have meant her losing her position and control in the family. In spite of this I loved them both very much and I think of them often.

I was talking with my granddaughter Mimi the other day, about her great grandfather and recalling some of the things he did which used to make us laugh when we were children. Dad used to make apple pie beds and for those of you who are uninitiated, this consisted of him tiptoeing into my room before bed time and placing all my childish belongings under the sheets at the foot of my bed. I`d snuggle down later in the evening to find my books, my china ornaments of which I had many, anything uncomfortable or lumpy he could find he would put down the bed. He found it hilarious, he loved slap stick humour.

When my own children were born, my daughter Rebecca was given a life sized doll which she named Sally. Sally never had a very good start in life as Rebecca found it necessary to cut off all her hair. To be honest, we all found Sally a bit creepy and none of us really bonded with her but I did dress her, in Rebecca`s old clothes if only to make her appear a bit more attractive and cared for, her glassy eyes so motionless, her bald scalp so prickly. One of the things father did to amuse my children when they were small, was to place Sally sitting on the toilet, her tights around her plastic ankles, a toilet roll clasped in her plastic hand, dad thought it very funny to hear their screams of dubious laughter when they went to the loo, only to find Sally had arrived before them.

My parents lived in a large flat above the shop until my father died in 1993 and mum went to live with my brother and his wife. My daughter recalls us emptying the flat almost a year after dad had died only to find Sally sitting in one of the rooms, all alone. No-one wanted to take her so she came to live with us again and I cannot recollect now, what happened to her.

Dad taught me many of his old army songs from World War Two which I still occasionally sing while preparing vegetables for Sunday dinner, just as I did with my father, all those years ago…….  After dinner, a few glasses of wine under his belt, my father would hold me close to his chest and dance a waltz with me in the large kitchen at the flat and then we would wash up and give my mother the afternoon off.  He always smelled of cigarettes and Old Spice and sometimes embarrassed me with his affection, I was too young to appreciate how much he loved me, loved us all. I thought he was a funny, loving, silly old man who I had a huge amount of affection for.

All my life my father woke me every morning with a cup of tea, until I left home at twenty three, pregnant with my first child.  I miss that………

my-father

Jack Colin Pitt.  22/11/1911  until  3/3/1994

Happy birthday dad. xxx

More rumblings about job discrimination…..

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I am sorry to keep banging on about discrimination in the job market however, extensive global research which is easily available to read on the internet confirms I have been served a double whammy in the `least likely to be offered a job` stakes since a) I am a woman and b) I am nearly sixty three. Age discrimination in the workplace seems to set in big time once an individual has reached the age of forty so when you hit your sixties, the chances of obtaining an interview are really very slim.

I have been away from the workplace since February having treatment for cancer. Now I have been given the all clear (thank you God) I am raring to go back to work. It is very evident from the comments of some of my family and friends that they think I am bonkers but there you are, I have some valuable skills and a wealth of knowledge that I wish to use to support people who are less fortunate than I and I hope to continue working until the fat lady sings. Since my diagnosis, I have filled out eleven job applications, each one taking up lots of hours and two to three days of my time.

The law states that it is discriminatory to exclude someone from an interview on account of their age. Most applications have a monitoring form which prospective employers assure prospective employees, is detached from paperwork so that no-one is aware of your age. This is a daft way to go about the business of fairness however because most employers also ask for an extensive work resume going back through time to the individuals first job. In my case this spans nearly forty five years and many different roles so it doesn`t take a mathematical genius to work it out.

It is ironic that all of the jobs I have applied for are within the caring sector and all of them focus on people who are marginalised, disadvantaged or treated unfairly in some way. The Equality Act 2010 defines cancer as a disability and for this reason alone I should reasonably expect to be afforded a guaranteed interview. Current legislation does not address this point however, it is simply good practice.The Act further states that my prospective employers should not ask questions about my health. Instead what occurs is that application forms ask you to explain any breaks in your work profile. In my case it is nine months so what am I supposed to do? Lie? I have generally stated I was receiving treatment and I am now well because employment law states that I must not mislead my prospective employer. Talk about a Catch 22!

I did have an interview with one notable charity who rang me four days later to say the following;

“We were all so impressed with your interview, the service users really liked you too, you are eminently employable so……… we`ve given it to somebody else.”

Another charity offered me an interview the day that I received my diagnosis. I was in no fit state to attend so I cancelled. They were very kind and encouraged me to apply for any opportunities in the future. So I did, twice and received no further invites. It seemed such a waste of my time which is even more precious to me now than previously. Mostly though, I just don`t hear back from my applications.  The many millions of people all over the world who, like me are genuinely seeking fulfilling employment already understand how incredibly disheartening this can be. There are examples on the internet of people who have taken a case to court where they feel they have been discriminated against in the work application process, failing to achieve an interview. It is almost impossible to evidence this and it is not a path I want to tread.

My Employment Support Allowance finishes this week and now I am well, I must sign on for Job Seekers Allowance. I have to evidence that I am genuinely seeking employment because if I don`t, the allowance stops. I hope I can find work as a care worker or a support worker with the client group I love to work with, people with physical disabilities, mental health issues, learning disabilities or older adults. My point is that regardless of age, my gender and the fact that I have had cancer, I rather hoped that my accrued skills and experience would be recognised, valued and employed to their fullest extent. I also have a theory that because older people are far less likely to be offered interviews for work they can accomplish, we are forced to look for employment we know we are likely to have more success in obtaining i.e. work which pays far less money. You can call me cynical and I write this with massive respect for all of those people who are working incredibly hard for very little money.

On a lighter note to conclude; I am currently being spot purchased (which is a bit like a zero hours contract) to do some advocacy work, usually a few hours a week, via a wonderful advocacy charity who have been my employers in the past. Unlike the other charities I have recently applied to they remain incredibly supportive of me and my current circumstances, they are absolutely stunning in their policy to be positive about disadvantaged people. They evidence all the time, that they genuinely care and most importantly, they do not discriminate.

If you think I am bitter or deluding myself, I`m not. In the past I have generally walked into jobs, I have been head hunted on three occasions. I am saddened and disappointed.

So rock on. Rant over. I think I am going to open up a house of ill repute……..

A Request for Action to Support Standing Rock Water Protectors — Voices from the Margins

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Carol A. Hand My heart is heavy with the news coming from Standing Rock, ND today. It’s led me to do something I rarely do. I’m posting a request for the help of all of those who follow this blog. For the sake of the health of our earth and future generations, I ask you […]

via A Request for Action to Support Standing Rock Water Protectors — Voices from the Margins

Chewing it over.

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The other day I was recalling the time when I worked as an advocate for parents with learning disabilities. I often accompanied families to court as almost all of them were heavily embroiled in child protection proceedings.  Over time I got to know many of the judges and some of them had a fearsome and quite deserved reputation.  Some of them were lovely characters and warm, one in particular liked the barristers and me to bring in home made cup cakes and sausage rolls to court and she would enjoy them in her private rooms.

One day I turned up and all the courts were full, they were spilling over actually so this particular hearing was held in some rooms at the back of the building. As is my habit, I was chewing on some Wrigleys that morning, you can sometimes sit about for hours waiting to be heard and my mouth gets so dry. I don`t know what made me think it was ok to keep my Wrigleys in my mouth when we were called in but that is what I did. I took a seat at the back of the court and looked at the judge. I had not met her before.  To put it politely, she was a very large lady and she had the most enormous bosom I have ever seen in my life. Her breasts were at least twice the size of her head and were swathed in her very capacious black silks.  As she moved about shuffling papers around, her enormous boobs hung and swung like big, soft pendulums, over the polished wood of her desk. So mesmerised was I by this fascinating site, when she asked me for my name I quite forgot where I was and answered her quite naturally with a smile.

It all happened so quickly, for a moment I was confused as to exactly what was unfolding. Raising her billowy arm and pointing at me with a great, long finger nail, her deep voice boomed out over the court room, “ARE YOU CHEWING GUM?”

I immediately turned into a quivering five year old and meekly replied in a tiny voice which is most unlike me, “Yes m`am.”

“WELL GET OUT OF MY COURT AND DON`T COME BACK UNTIL YOU HAVE DISPOSED OF IT!” She yelled at me.

Red faced I got up to make my way to the door when suddenly, all hell was let loose.  The court alarm started to ring out in an even more deafening fashion than the judge`s voice.  It all became a bit shambolic, barristers ran hither and thither, security people with worried expressions appeared as if from nowhere and other people in the room did not know what to do.  When it had quietened down and everyone was settled again and I had disposed of the offending gum, I was told that in raising her arm to oust me, one of the judge`s enormous mammaries had hit the court alarm button, situated on the top of her desk.

I don`t think I have laughed so much in ages. Discreetly. With no chewing gum!

 

 

 

 

Beating the Banana.

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I decided to put all my breast cancer blogs together in one book-ette. It will be available on Kindle in the next week or so. Isn`t the cover fantastic!  Thanks to my editor/publisher, Andrew Sparke for his encouragement and support.