Thankfully I shall start 2012 officially free of cancer. I think it is going to be a year of no limits!
To everyone reading this post, Happy New Year!
All dogs have their favourite toys, but unfortunately these toys are the ones whose lives are destined to be short and painful. They must endure being tugged, chewed, disemboweled and ultimately decapitated or mortally wounded. Some manage to escape into the depths of the dog’s bed or under the fridge, but even these are eventually sniffed out to meet their fate. It is never play time for a dog’s toy.
When I trained with Trudy, my Guide dog Instructor warned of the dangers of giving dogs soft toys because their inner stuffing can potentially choke a dog. Likewise if a squeaker from a toy becomes lodged in your dog’s throat it can be fatal.
I took note of my Instructor’s advice and endeavoured not to buy Trudy any soft or squeaky toys. But Trudy is a seasoned thief, and it wasn’t long before I caught her stealing my own cuddly toys from the bedroom. (Yes, I do love teddy bears, and frogs, and beanies..!). My old favourites began to lose the shine on their fur and to develop a slightly bedraggled, manky appearance. Occasionally I would discover one of them lying dead in another room. In the end I decided that I would buy Trudy a couple of soft toys to play with under supervision.
Three and a half years later I have some gruesome scenes imprinted on my memory. Last Summer for example I bought a large dog-shaped doorstop. One morning I was shocked to discover that Trudy had blinded the dog and totally defaced its snout. I have had to remove it from my lounge because it is too disturbing. Its empty eyes and ripped snout speak of dastardly deeds. Was Trudy ensuring that the doorstop dog would never take her place as my Guide dog?! Suffice to say that the motives of Labradors are not always clear-cut.
In addition to the eye-gauging incident there have been numerous spontaneous massacres resulting in limbs and heads strewn all over the floor. Wads of stuffing have appeared in the most unlikely places. Eyes, ears and tails are frequently left abandoned in the hallway. Many toys have ended their sad lives in the bin. But there are some characters which have been consigned to the Sick Room, AKA “The Invalid Box”. These are the all-time favourites which have treasured memories embedded in their remaining body parts, and which I am unable to throw away. The Invalid Box is a very macabre collection indeed. Several of Trudy’s “Invalids” are in fact headless, and many are just a torso.
Trudy’s Invalid Box is now bursting at the seams. With this in mind I have reached a momentous decision. I have decided to undertake a mammoth project to repair those Invalids which have enough body mass to tolerate a needle and thread. I am hoping that Trudy’s excitement at being reunited with some of her loved-ones will overcome her critical eye – for the truth is I cannot sew to save my life. In fact, I cannot even thread a needle. But with the help of the RNIB shop (from which I’ve purchased an automatic needle-threader), Amazon and Google, I have high hopes.
Some of the torsos may find themselves attached to different limbs from before, and some may even end up with more limbs than they started with. But Trudy (fingers crossed!) will be gobsmacked to see the return of such legends as Myrtle the Turtle (the prize she won at the Guide dog of the Year Awards 2011). Myrtle unfortunately suffered multiple organ failure in the early Autumn.
If the Invalid Project is a success, I may progress to sewing up holes in my own skirts and darning my Trudyfied socks. The days of asking friends to mend things for me could soon be a thing of the past. That would really boost my confidence. Who knows what lies ahead in the sewing sphere of 2012? Watch this crafty space!
For years I used to admire the concept of minimalism. Whenever I entered a room that was uncluttered, functional, aesthetically pleasing and devoid of “things” I longed to live in such rooms myself. I even described myself as a minimalist for a while, hoping that the label would imprint itself on my brain and change my ways. I still sigh longingly when I find myself in a minimalist environment, for I yearn for an environment in which chaos does not prevail.
Try as I might however, I cannot bend myself into the shape of a minimalist. I love “things”. Not for their material value, but for their sentimentality, their ability to ground me during times of uncertainty, their feel, their stories, their normality. Having a Labrador with a rudder-like tail means that “things” come and go, and most weeks I find myself scooping up broken pottery or glass. Although I often feel a tinge of sadness to see one of my treasures consigned to the bin, I do not set any store by it. My “things” are earth-bound, and as such they do not have intrinsic value.
The real negative when you like having curios around you is that it’s a great effort keeping your environment tidy. When I get to the point where I cannot cross the floor of my lounge without risking breaking my neck, my heart sinks and sometimes I just sit on top of the chaos for days. I’d like to blame the mess on Trudy, but in truth we’re as bad as each other. While she’s emptying her toy basket all over the floor I am hunting for an important piece of paper and in doing so strewing possessions here there and everywhere. If ever a television crew needs someone to recreate a first-class burglary scene, then I am the woman to do it!
I know when it’s time to take action because my visitors are forced to sit on foldable picnic chairs as there is nowhere to sit. (Chairs will have been turned into tables at this point). This means an emergency blitz is called for. Blitzing my flat is a necessary part of my life and I probably have to undertake this unenviable task four times a year. It can take weeks to sort through what I wish to keep and what I should have discarded three months ago. Usually the black bin bags contain papers and magazines, but occasionally I sift through my “things” and manage to fill a bag destined for the charity shop. There are some possessions which just become old hat and no longer have a place in my life.
Order is something that bothers me when I do not have it. I get annoyed when I lose things and resent wasting time searching for proverbial needles in giant haystacks. Having a sight impairment makes losing things commonplace. Here I can name and shame Trudy for her part in separating my gloves, hiding various items of clothing, walking off with keepsakes and sometimes eating up bits of paper and creating an interesting carpet Collage. But I contribute to the chaos too. My recent bout of depression necessitated the most mammoth blitzing my flat has ever seen. I stopped performing everyday tasks such as washing up, recycling junk mail and putting away laundry. So my flat quickly became a living rubbish site, which would depress the most optimistic person. It became unbearable to the point where I would find excuses to be elsewhere. I started hating my flat, and wanted nothing more than to find somewhere else to live.
At this point where chaos was not fun any more, I had to take matters in hand and regain some order in my life. In my head I had a clear vision of what I wished my environment to be like, and I began to work at creating an infrastructure which would help me maintain everyday organisation. So I bought storage boxes and bags, files and folders, and began painstakingly sorting through the heap of chaos. As the piles of papers dwindled and a path appeared in the centre of my lounge, my spirits slowly started rising. I’m trying to find a set place for everything, so that even if I have days where the burglars revisit, I can put my “things” back in their proper place once my unwanted guests have been chased away.
Some people might wonder why I don’t just get rid of all my “things” to make life simpler. Occasionally I have done so, but inevitably my environment fills up again with oddities and quirky ornaments that make me smile. Despite not being able to see colours I have a very vivid colour-based imagination, and this manifests itself in my environment. I do not worry about things matching or co-ordinating, as long as they have meaning. I do not like having “things” for the sake of having them. In fact I could name all my assortment of objects and explain what they mean to me. My environment is an expression of my life so far. I have things which were given to me as a child, souvenirs from local and far away places, as well as objects which have been loved by others before me.
Once or twice an onlooker has summed up my environment as “junk” – and it may well appear so. But as human beings we all have different likes and dislikes, and to me my junk is very precious.
So I’ve come to realise that my yearning for minimalism is actually a yearning for organisation. A tidy (albeit lived-in) environemt frees up your head and creates a healthy springboard for your day. My new infrastructure has not been tested yet, but I’m hoping it will withstand the next onslaught of burglars not to mention the everyday habits of resident human and Labrador.
though you have a voice in your head saying “Just do it”. Apathy makes it acceptable to sit back and watch. Apathy leads you away from the frontline and takes you into a world where nothing matters enough to fight for. Apathy blurs your sense of right and wrong. Apathy lets you dwindle into the everyday, and it tricks you into thinking that the mundane is momentous.
Apathy has been slowly smothering me for a while. Last night I met it face to face and saw it for what it was. Catching it off guard it had no pleasant mask to hide its ugliness, no excuses at the ready to make everything OK, and no tricks to fool me. I so nearly succumbed to it that I consider myself to have had an extremely lucky escape.
Apathy was telling me that it was fine not to go to Worcester University today. Despite having fought to get a place on the Recruitment and Selection Training Course I convinced myself that getting there was too much of an effort. I was comfortable with the idea of staying at home and pottering. The excuses came tumbling in. First it was public transport – too hard. Then it was my lack of energy – how can I get up early, negotiate trains and buses and be expected to contribute to the group? Next it was my self-esteem – they probably didn’t want me there anyway, and I’d be rubbish. And believe it or not the weather came into it. Too wet and windy. It’s far easier to snuggle up in my warm flat and stay safe. Apathy – you’re a crafty saboteur!
So why did I go? The “Should I?/ Shouldn’t I?” battle went on until the early hours of this morning. I was poised to ring in sick, but then something tripped a switch in my brain and my thinking pattern changed course. What the hell was I playing at? I’ve wanted this for a year, I know full well that completing this two-day course will open new doors for me, I have travelled to Worcester before and come back alive. Apathy – I WILL NOT LET YOU WIN! I began listening to the voice which was telling me I’d be proud of myself tonight if I forced myself to go through with it. Apathy’s voice still nagged away lying to me that it was better to stay at home and not bother.
As I pelted to the bus stop uncomfortably short of time, I could still hear Apathy piping up that if I missed the bus I should feel pleased that I’d made the effort in the first place. I might even be justified in “patting myself on the back”. Of course there was Action’s voice informing me that there was a train I could catch which would get me to Worcester in time. I arrived at the bus stop with a bedraggled Trudy (the rain was spitting on us contemptuously all the way) and we both stood there panting and feeling miserable. The dark grey sky was rationing out its beams of light so that the dismal atmosphere was intensified. The wind relentlessly thrusted rain shards into our skin. Apathy beckoned me home.
I was two minutes late, and there was no sign of any bus. Had I missed it? I secretly hoped so. I waited a further seven minutes before giving Trudy the “Forward” command to head back home. But she refused to move. Trudy had spied the bus rumbling towards us with “Adventure” billowing from its engine. I could have cried with relief. Trudy and I had beaten Apathy, and I was almost tempted to wave as we left it behind to get soaked in the rain.
As I had hoped, the Training day was incredibly worthwhile. Trudy behaved herself on and off duty and won several hearts with those Labrador eyes of hers. I felt part of the group and we had some refreshingly heated discussions about Equality and Diversity. They were the kind of discussions that thrill you and set off firework sparks in your head – the kind Apathy detests. Coming home on the train I felt truly exhausted to the point where I wondered if I would be able to walk across the platform at Hereford Railway Station. Yet with the exhaustion was a satisfaction that still has not left me, for knowing that I fought Apathy and won has given me extra strength.
I have learned today (better late than never) that surrendering to Apathy is turning your back on Adventure. Apathy might appear to be safe and neutral, but in fact it is toxic and suffocating. Apathy will snuff out the flame of life inside you and dull your identity so that you forget who are are and why you are here.
Metal Mama is the affectionate name I have given to the mammogram machine in Hereford County Hospital. Mysterious and rather noble, she maintains the throne in the X-ray room and no one has yet challenged her supremacy. She is unyielding, dispassionate and cold to the touch. She stares in stoney silence as you stand before her, watching your every move with an air of feigned patience. Then she takes your breasts in her metal hands and squashes them each in turn. Occasionally, she’ll whisper to the radiologist that you have cancer. So would you be surprised if I tell you that Metal Mama and I are as good as mates?
When I first met up with her a year ago I did not know what to expect. I did not know I had cancer, I did not know that despite Metal Mama attempting to crush my breasts I would not actually feel pain. I went in to the palatial chamber fearful and naive. Metal Mama did nothing to allay my anxieties, and in fact she may have made them more acute. She was too shiny, too perfect, too supercilious by far. And that metal gleam of hers highlighted my own mortality. The fact that I had to remove my bra and T-shirt was a huge ordeal back then. It did not occur to me that Metal Mama and her radiographer side-kicks have seen hundreds of shapes and sizes passing as women. But there was so much I didn’t know then. Almost exactly a year ago.
To be perfectly honest I was not relishing my reunion with Metal Mama today. I remembered her hard stare, her cold grasp, her chilling verdict. She held my fate in her steely hands, and she always will do. I cannot think of her without some part of me shuddering. Today I had my trusted hound Trudy with me and she accompanied me into Metal Mama’s chamber. She had a sniff around the regal feet, but decided that the bin in the corner smelt more interesting so pitter-pattered off in that direction. Thanks Trudy! I faced Metal Mama alone whilst The Hoover hoovered quietly nearby. Unlike me, Metal Mama was no different from last year. She was still iron-hard and ice-cold, no-nonsense and no-frills. Yet as she was no longer a complete stranger I felt relatively at ease. Today Metal Mama and I had an understanding.
I smiled at the fact that today I was able to stand topless before Metal Mama without blushing scarlet. When you have breast cancer, one thing you quickly learn is that you have to order your inhibitions to move aside and shut up. I have learned to forget that it is me with no T-shirt on. Me automatically goes to the back of my head when I’m in a hospital environment. Metal Mama could have told me that a year ago.
But it does not pay to be cocky. Last year each X-ray courtesy of Metal Mama was painless (albeit slightly uncomfortable). Today’s experience therefore came as a shock. When Metal Mama clamped the breast which has undergone surgery and radiotherapy, I nearly shot to the ceiling with the pain that sliced through me. But it was short-lived. Metal Mama’s hugs are never longer than about 30 seconds, thank God. Four hugs (two on each breast) and she’s usually done with you. And here came the second unwanted surprise of the day. Metal Mama took my offer of friendship literally. She spat out one of the X-ray images and called me back for one extra hug – the one that hurt most of all.
Last year I received Metal Mama’s verdict the same day, as I was seeing the Consultant straight afterwards. This time I have to wait between a week and ten days for the results. It’s quite weird knowing that Metal Mama knows already if I’m clear of cancer or not. She has my image imprinted on her mechanical brain. I’d love to be able to meet her for a drink in Wetherspoon’s and get her to divulge the results after a triple Vodka. Then Metal Mama might roll along Commercial Road spilling all her secrets throughout High Town. I have a picture of her crashed out in a metal heap, turning up for work later with a thumping hangover and being fired for breaking the code of conduct. But she’s far too professional.
Back to reality. I’m all set for an impatient ten days, wondering what Metal Mama has seen and what she will tell.
Video of a mammogram http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mammogram/MM00639
Information about mammograms and breast cancer http://cancerhelp.cancerresearchuk.org/type/breast-cancer/about/screening/mammograms-in-breast-screening
I have not tended my Blog for a while because I’ve been waiting for a decidedly dark cloud to lift from my mind. It is taking its time – so much so that I have decided to wait no longer. This time of year has always stirred up a malevolent host of demons in my world. The darkening evenings actually seem to suck the life out of me, and I feel myself sinking into hopelessness. Real sink or swim stuff. Yet here I am, still alive enough to write.
When all is well I throw myself into daily life – making plans, embarking on courses, committing to dates and appointments, acting on ideas. Then depression strikes and within days all my excitement has died. I can feel the demon’s claw seizing my spirit and attempting to strangle it. Suddenly I cannot go out, I want to shut myself away from my friends, I lose the motivation to do the simplest tasks, and slowly things begin to fall apart.
So where does Trudy fit into this? My black and white choice is to find somebody to look after her while I wallow in misery, or to stumble onwards and continue caring for her myself. Unable to part with her, I’ve chosen to keep things as they are. The upshot is that I have to continue with a daily routine for Trudy’s sake. That means getting up at the usual time to feed her and take her outside for her “busy busy”. More often than not I meet a neighbour and we spend a few minutes engaging in chit-chat. Having a bouncy Labrador makes it impossible to hide away from the outside world. Thanks to Trudy, the skeleton of my normal routine has remained intact.
I have learned to lower my expectations during times of low mood. My current goal is to survive this rather bleak period and to continue to look after Trudy – not because I have to, but because I want to. The love I have for Trudy makes me glow inside, and even when my mood is dark and I can’t feel the warmth from that glow I know it’s still there. When Trudy bounds over after I’ve popped out for a few minutes, I can feel the glow stirring, and it gives me hope. Trudy is a gift, and the bond we have is a gift. Being on the receiving end of the unconditional love which just spills out of Labradors is very precious.
One of the great things about dogs is that they are so tangible. Trudy’s warm, soft fur has an instant feel-good effect – and that’s before I get to the silky ears, and the wagging tail. Research has proved that stroking animals can increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. In addition it can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, and decrease pain. This is why there is an increasing number of Therapy dogs being assigned to hospices and retirement homes. In fact when I have visited such places myself in my capacity as a Speaker, I have witnessed the positive effects that Trudy has had on some of the patients. Trudy is synonymous with Life. Just being around her makes life livable.
Perhaps her ability to inject humour into my bleakest moments is the thing that strikes me most. If Trudy wants to play hide and seek with items from my laundry basket, she won’t take no for an answer no matter how depressed I feel! And the fast-beating thump of her tail has such an upbeat rhythm that my mouth smiles without me even thinking about it. Then there are the numerous feats of Labrador mischief that prove to me how priceless Trudy is, and before long I realise that I’m actually glad to be alive. Sometimes I surprise myself by my own spontaneous laughter – thanks to Trudy. Trudy ignites hope inside me, and hope is what stops people from drowning.
So despite the waves of gloom which permeate my days at the moment, I have the means to stay grounded, focussed and connected with other people. When I’m in the park with Trudy, fellow walkers see the hurtling Labrador before they see me. Even when they notice me and we strike up a conversation they are unaware of my inner struggle. This in itself is a true bonus. Antidepressants can set right the chemical imbalances in your brain, but having a dog like Trudy is a reason for living and thriving. Merely wanting to look after a dog takes your thoughts away from your own troubles. Actually having a dog reduces those troubles to the bare minimum. Trudy’s role as a Guide dog at this time is secondary to her therapeutic role. The very fact that she gives me so much makes me determined to do what I can for her. This has prevented me from caving in on myself.
Trudy provides me with so much more than freedom and mobility. I know she understands me as I do her, and it feels like we’re joined together by something magical. She is not just part of my life, she has become part of me.
Hetty is Britain’s first dual Guide dog and Seizure Alert dog http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/news/uks-first-dual-guide-dog-and-seizure-dog-graduates-with-new-owner/
Children with autism and OCD benefit from assistance dogs http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/11/giving/11DOGS.html?_r=2&partner=TOPIXNEWS&ei=5099
Therapy dogs in Psychiatric services http://drdeborahserani.blogspot.com/2010/10/therapy-service-dogs.html
THE HEREFORD HOWLER
November 2011 news letter for The Hereford and District Fund Raising Branch for Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Welcome to our first edition of The Hereford Howler. We are pleased to announce that our new Hereford and District Fund Raising Branch is now up and running!
Branch Members –
Our highly enthusiastic Branch Organiser is Claire Rush, who welcomes any and all fund raising ideas and can be contacted on; 01432 357416 / 07832527082, or via e-mail at; firstname.lastname@example.org
I, Suzanne, am the newly appointed Trading Secretary (paperwork pending) and I can be contacted on; 07794680479, or e-mail; email@example.com
Our Branch Treasurer (paperwork pending) is hopefully going to be Rob Bettington from Weston near Ross. Justin Griffiths is the Collection box co-ordinator responsible for collection boxes in the Kington area, and Ann-Marie Hughson assists with the Hereford collection boxes and other Branch duties.
Progress so far –
Since our official launch in August, we have gotten off to a flying start; we have so far assisted with two collections which had been organised by Sandie Cotterell (Organiser of the well established Ross-on-Wye Branch). These were held in Hereford High Town, and at Belmont Tesco, and together raised around £3,000 – a great pace maker for our fledgling Hereford branch. We have a collection of our own arranged on Friday 30th and Saturday 31st March at the Hereford Morrisons store. Anybody who could spare a couple of hours on either of these days would be gladly welcomed, particularly anybody who can bring a Guide Dog along as they are great for drawing in the crowds! If you would like to donate an hour or two of your time to help with the Morrisons collection please contact Claire.
28 collection boxes have so far been placed in and around Hereford City. If anybody knows of a suitable venue where either a small counter top box, or a life sized collection dog could be located, please contact Branch Organiser Claire, and she will arrange to get a box sent out to you. We are scouting for some more volunteers to help with the locating and maintenance of collection boxes so drop Claire a line if you may be interested in filling this role.
The Hereford Branch has also begun running a Seasonal Quiz. The Autumn Quiz proved to be hugely popular, so much so that a number of “quizzees” have already pre-paid for their winter edition. Over seventy of the Autumn quiz sheets were sold, and the winner of a huge cuddly dog is soon to be drawn. Anyone can purchase the quiz sheets for £1 either from Claire directly by sending an SAE and £1 to 47 Campbell Road, Hereford, HR1 1AD (cheques payable to Hereford Branch GDBA) or via the Fundraising Quizzes website http://sitesaver.dns-systems.net/quiz/quizzes.php The closing date for returning the Winter quiz sheet is March 1st 2012. The winner will receive a chocolate explosion.
£86.92 was raised by Claire and Annie who held a car boot sale in Madly. They are hoping to run more sales once the weather warms up. Any donations for the car boot sale would be much appreciated!
The Hereford Branch has a Just giving Page which we would love people to visit if they wish to donate on-line to Guide dogs. This can be found at http://www.justgiving.com/Claire-Rush0
I have just set up a Facebook page for our members and supporters to follow our progress and keep up to date with upcoming events. To join our page just search for us on Facebook, our page title is Hereford Fund Raising Branch for Guide Dogs. Once you’ve found our page just click “like” and you will receive any updates on our page automatically. Please feel free to post any info or photos that you would like to share on there. There is also a link to the just giving site on there.
The Foresters Friendly Society have kindly adopted Guide Dogs as their charity of the year. The Foresters are aiming to raise £5000 as part of their Name a Puppy Appeal. They are staging a Plush-puppy race at the Royal National College for the Blind on February 24th and a Santa’s Grotto at the Belmont Centre on December 10th and December 17th.
The 1st Fownhope Cubs are currently cooking up some fund raising ideas and are keen to contribute to our efforts.
The Hereford Fire Choir are also giving a concert in May in aid of Guide dogs. This will be held at Our Lady’s Church in Hereford. Details to follow in the next newsletter.
We are also assisting the Ross Golf Club in Gorsley with their fundraising. The recently inaugurated Ladies Captain, Amanda Marshall, has chosen Guide dogs as her nominated charity for 2011/2012. They also hope to raise £5000 in order to name a Guide dog puppy. Claire has visited the Golf Club with Trudy to lend support for the Name a Puppy Appeal, and is planning to give a talk there sometime next year.
More upcoming events –
There will shortly be a Guide dogs information stand in Hereford Vision Links in Widemarsh Street and the Branch looks forward to working with Mike Edwards, the chairman of the Macular Disease Society who is based at Vision Links.
We are hoping to get a branch website online shortly, this way we can keep members and supporters up to date with events and successes as we go along. This page will also contain links to the Just Giving website, and the seasonal quiz site.
On a more creative note, we are currently in the process of putting together an anthology containing amusing poems and stories written from different Guide Dogs’ perspectives. The 1st Fownhope Cubs are going to write us some poems and we are holding high hope that there will be some very entertaining submissions as they were a rather “lively” bunch when Claire and Trudy visited to give a talk to them earlier this month! Fingers crossed the anthology will be ready for sale by Easter, and all proceeds will of course be going to Guide Dogs. If you would like to submit anything to be printed in the anthology (preferably humorous work) contact me via e-mail at the address given above.
Some other events in the pipeline are;
– A Go Walkies event
– Further collections in Hereford High Town and other venues.
– A music event.
– A quiz night and sale of merchandise possibly at TGS Bowling, Hereford.
– Smaller events such as car boot sales and the Seasonal Quiz.
– Sale of Guide dogs merchandise.
– A charity football tournament
Dates for your diary –
Saturday December 10th Santa’s Grotto, Belmont Centre, Hereford (10 am – 2pm)
Saturday December 17th, Santa’s Grotto, Belmont Centre, Hereford (10 am – 2pm)
February 24th 7pm at the Royal National College for the Blind. Night at the races! The huge plush-puppy race which aims to raise at least £1000 for Guide dogs.
Friday March 30th. All-day collection at Morrisons, Hereford (volunteers needed please)
Saturday March 31st All-day collection at Morrisons, Hereford (volunteers needed please)
Finally we would like to thank everybody for their support, particularly those who have donated their time to help us get the Hereford Branch up and running, and also to all of the venues which have allowed us to place our collection boxes with them.
We hope that everybody has a wonderful Christmas and new year.
Bye for nowwwwwwwww!