Monday, 28 September 2015

Our Garden's Now Gone

Gardeners Lament

We cleared out the garden today:
it really was time
as the weather was fine
and the grass was looking like hay.

The Roses were all overgrown:
while the Dandelion weeds
had spread all their seeds
among the Potatoes we’d sown.

The Slugs and Snails had a rave:
they all gobbled through
every plant they could chew.
There wasn't that much left to save.

And so we built a bonfire:
chucked everything on,
our gardens now gone.
One allotment, half acre, for hire!

Slight exaggeration, Our garden is much tinier than half an acre! But most of it has gone. Now it's autumn, the plants were getting a bit leggy, very chewed up by slugs and snails and looking more like a jungle than a traditional pocket handkerchief suburban garden. I don't actually have any photos of our almost empty garden, so here are some photos of other gardens. 

This garden is associated with the Bloomsbury Group

Roses and Lavender, a classic combination

For me, the Delphiniums are the highlight of this garden

A walkway leading to a relaxing seating area looks very inviting

Bright colours massed together to provide a delightful display

Mixed planting among grasses with an enticing view of the house beyond

A traditional cottage with a lush lawn and planting - lovely

You can almost smell the blossoms and feel the sun's heat in this view

An unusual Japanese style garden

I hope these lovely photos have fed your imagination with ideas for next year's planting.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Into Every Life A Little Rain Must Fall

This is a shorter post, but rather sad.

In 2012 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. After surgery, I needed a course of chemotherapy. I joined an online forum on the Breast Cancer Care website. There were about 26 members all together. As we all started treatment in or around February 2013, we thought it appropriate to call ourselves the February Valentines. We are still in touch, on Facebook, we have a secret, closed group, so nobody can read what we talk about on there.

Most of us are quite well and cancer free. But sadly, four of our number developed secondary or metastatic cancer. That is, their primary cancer has spread to other areas of their bodies such as bones, liver, lungs or brain. Three of those have succumbed to the disease. The first was Sandra, whose cancer spread to her brain. The second was Annabelle who had bone and brain metastases. This Monday, 14th September 2015, Kim passed peacefully away with her family around her. Naturally we are all very sad, and it has brought back the fear of something like this happening to any one of us. It's not impossible, as my poem below (written one year after my treatment) highlights.


One year ago we met. 
Just one year - and yet, 
How can I ever forget! 

Sometimes I catch your shadow, 
Sneaking down an alley, 
just around a corner, 
in the darkest recess of my brain. 
Stalking me - 
the ghost of what once was
and what might be again. 

I thought I had expunged you, 
drove you from my head 
in the halcyon days when poisons 
in my blood rid me of your threats. 
I believed you would be gone for good! 
But here you are, my stalker, 
waiting, while fear of your return fills my mind. 

Oh Cancer, why are you so unkind? 


The fourth member has secondary breast cancer in her spine, but is responding well to treatment. She will never be cured, but we are hoping she has a good few years yet. I obviously can't post any photos of these beautiful ladies. It wouldn't be appropriate,and I'd have to check with their families which would take time. So here are a few of myself when undergoing treatment, and just after.

About to begin my second treatment

No hair, eyebrows or eyelashes! In fact the only scraps of hair I had left were little patches on my shins.

New hair sprouting

Now you're talking

Cheer up, you have hair!

Wild woman of Sawley

Blimey, it's gone mad!

I keep it shorter now, easier to manage and look at those gorgeous eyebrows. They used to resemble giant caterpillars!

None of the Valentines will ever forget Sandra, Annabelle or Kim. 

My Wish

Cancer 'ain't gonna get me.
Cancer you dirty swine.
No, cancer 'ain't gonna take away
another Valentine.

First you took our Sandra,
then lovely Annabelle
and now you've taken Kim.
Cancer - go to f*^#!%$ hell!!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

My Crappy Lungs

I can't remember the exact date, but some time during the 1990s I was diagnosed with Bronchiectasis. No, not Bronchitis - look at the word again. It's pronounced bronk-ee-ecktassis. Here is a brief explanation:

"Bronchiectasis is a long-term condition that affects
the lungs. It is defined by inflamed, permanently and
irreversibly damaged airways. Common symptoms
of bronchiectasis include a chronic cough, producing
sputum (phlegm), recurrent chest infections, fatigue
and breathlessness. Bronchiectasis is not to be 
confused with bronchitis and, unlike chronic 
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it is not related
to smoking. However, it is not advisable to smoke."

Now for the technical stuff:

Bronchiectasis is a long-term condition which affects your lungs. It is defined by inflamed, permanently and irreversibly damaged airways. Common symptoms of bronchiectasis include a chronic cough, coughing up sputum (phlegm), recurrent respiratory tract (chest) infections, fatigue and breathlessness.

In bronchiectasis two things happen:

Damage to an airway – making it unable to clear mucus
Infection of the mucus in the blocked airway
Process of damage to airways
Process of damage to airways
Process of damage to airways
In bronchiectasis parts of some airways become damaged and widen.
The areas are permanently / irreversibly damaged by inflammation and produce excessive mucus.
The airways lose some or all of their ability to clear mucus. Mucus gathers in the damaged airways, creating an environment where bacteria can grow. This can lead to repeated chest infections and as a result your airways become scarred and more inflamed and produce even more mucus.
Sometimes the airway becomes blocked or ‘plugged’, affecting airflow. Surrounding lung tissues and airways can also become affected.
The damage to the airways can be thought of as a ‘vicious circle’. In order to manage bronchiectasis the circle has to be broken.

Causes of bronchiectasis
In bronchiectasis the damage to the airways is usually caused by infection such as:

Previous pneumonia
Whooping cough
Tuberculosis (TB)
Other causes can include:

Obstruction or blockage in the airways: this can be due to a growth / tumour or something that has been inhaled, e.g. a peanut
Autoimmune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE))
Inflammatory bowel disease (e.g. crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
Cystic fibrosis
Disorders that affect the function of the cilia
Immune deficiencies
Chronic asthma
Alpha 1 / antitrypsin deficiency
Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA): this is an allergic reaction to a fungus called aspergillus (usually in people with asthma or cystic fibrosis)
In about 50% of people with bronchiectasis no cause is identified.

Common symptoms include:

Chronic productive cough
Coughing up sputum: this can vary in colour and quantity
Recurrent chest infections: this is due to bacteria growing in the damaged airways
Fatigue: this is often a result of coughing frequently during day and / or night as well as fighting off infections
Breathlessness / wheezing: this is due to the inflammation / blockage of the airways
Symptoms may vary from day to day and will depend on the severity of your disease. It is likely that you will have ‘good’ periods (when you feel well) and periods when your condition deteriorates and your symptoms increase. This is known as an ‘exacerbation’.

An exacerbation is when your condition deteriorates and your symptoms increase. When this happens you need to access medical advice as soon as possible as you may need antibiotics and / or further treatment.

Changes to look out for include:

Increased coughing
Increased amount / consistency of sputum
Darker colour sputum
Fever or chills
Aches and pains
Blood in sputum (haemoptysis)

Sounds nice, doesn't it. I have had Pneumonia, and I've had Pseudomonas. I've also had Pneumonia and Pseudomonas together. Friendly little souls these bugs. I just wish they weren't so friendly with me. So, I usually end up with a temperature of about 39-40 degrees 'c' and blood pressure right off the scale. Unable to function, or understand what is happening to me, struggling to breathe. The only treatment is 14 days on intravenous antibiotics. I usually have Tazocin, or Meropenem. Stop me if I'm boring you - oh you can't, not unless you stop reading. 

Normal treatment is inhalers. Here are the ones I use:


You put one of the capsules in the device, press the button to crush the capsule, then take one puff as the lovely lady in the next photo is doing. I take this once, in the morning.

Fostair Inhaler

Ventolin Inhaler

Due to treatments for various other condition, my veins are shot! Cannulas have to be replaced every 36 hours, so they gave me a PICC Line, or Peripherally inserted central catheter. A PICC line is a long, thin, flexible tube known as a catheter. It is inserted into one of the large veins of the arm near the bend of the elbow. It is then threaded into the vein until the tip sits in a large vein just above the heart. 

Where it fits

In situ

As my oxygen levels were lower than 88% I also needed oxygen for 10 days. 

To make it easier to eat, drink and speak, I used nasal Cannulae most of the time

Four times a day, I also used a nebulizer for saline. I still used this once a day at home.

And I also use a salt pipe now. This performs the same thing as the nebulizer, but is portable, quiet, and rather pleasant.

I also take tablets. Two Carbocysteine every morning and two every evening. These are to keep my sputum runny. Then on Monday, Wednesday and Friday I take one Azithromycin. This is a prophylactic antibiotic, to try and prevent any chest infections.

Now for my room. It was lovely being on my own, because I didn't feel as though I had to join in anybody elses conversation, and my phone calls were also more private.

All the comforts of home

And the view from my garden

One of my chemotherapy group, Yvonne, sent me this lovely balloon as a get well gift.

This was my third visit to the hospital for treatment. The second time, I was trained how to do my own antibiotics, which meant I could go home after five days and do the treatment there. This last time though, I was far too ill, and on oxygen therapy too, so I had to stay in for 15 days in total. Not looking forward to that again!!