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Fringe Festival 2018

August is fast approaching… HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? I know right? Seems like just yesterday we were snowed in! Let’s hope the great heatwave returns for the month to maximise our outdoor cider drinking and street food eating in time for the biggest event of the Edinburgh calendar – The Fringe! For us as a family, the Fringe has a special wee place in our hearts, as Oscar was born during our first festival that we lived in Edinburgh for, so now we try and take him to a few shows as a birthday day out as a little tradition. We’ll be doing that again this year with Scout in tow too.

For those of you that might not be familiar (maybe you live under a rock..?) the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the biggest arts festival in the world and runs alongside the Edinburgh International Festival, but don’t worry, there’s no real need to get hung up on the difference. I always thought it was just comedy, but it’s so, so much more…

Last year, for it’s 70th birthday, the Fringe featured 53,232 performances of 3,398 shows across 200 venues throughout the city – it’s kind of a big deal.

But ya know, that’s a lot of shows. This year, I picked up my Fringe guide and there are no less than 400 pages of shows – it’s a bit daunting. And so, back by popular demand (well, I did it last year, and at least 3 people told me it was helpful…) I’m doing my annual Fringe Guide – for bigs and smalls.

For The Smalls

Before I had Oscar, I had no idea how many kids shows there were at at the Fringe, but now finding the good ones is one of my favourite things to do. The atmosphere is so good throughout the city during the festival season and kids just lap it up! There is also a great kids area in Pleasance Courtyard so they can make t-shirts while you enjoy a cold cider/beer/wine/gin/whatever – that’s the dream, right?!

I’ve started my research and here’s what I’ve found so far –

Fringe for Bairns @ The Three Sisters, Cowgate

Running from 29th July – 1st August, there’s a whole load of FREE events for kids taking place in the courtyard of this Edinburgh pub! Every day is jam packed with activities from arts & crafts to magicians, face painiting, and much more, as well as a different daily theme from fairy-tales to superheros, animals to Lego! Oh, and there’s even a petting zoo on Tuesday 31st July!

There is also a kids cinema event every Sunday of the Fringe at 9am in partnership with Scottish Autism! We will be heading along to the first cinema session on Sunday 29th to see Frozen, but no doubt will be hanging around for the magician and some face painting in the afternoon! Keep an eye on my Instagram Stories! 🎈

There’s loads of info on each days activity over on their Facebook Event.

MamaBabaMe by Starcatchers and Curious Seed @ EICC Pleasance

I took Oscar to see his first ever Fringe show the day after his first birthday, and it was a show by Starcatchers… It was SO GOOD and Oscar was honestly enthralled by the mix of dance, theatre and live classical music. Even though I was a bit unsure as to what to expect, I thoroughly enjoyed it too and it was so lovely to see Oscar so engaged!

I am keen to go back this year with Scout and check out this new show as she loves music too.

Tickets can be purchased HERE

The Amazing Bubble Man @ Underbelly, George Sq.

We took Oscar to this last year and WOW it was amazing! He’d just turned two, so I’ll be honest with you, tensions were running high and we were worried about whether he’d sit through an hour long show. We needn’t have worried – he was captivated from the moment it started. The lad is the world’s leading bubbleologist afterall.

I reckon this is one we’ll go back to again this year as he’ll get even more out of it now he’s a bit older. Highly recommend you give it a shot!

Tickets can be found HERE

AnimAlphabet: The Musical @ Pleasance Dome

This one was recommended to me – apparently it’s “funny, fast-paced and bursting with witty songs” so I’m here for it! It looks like a show Oscar would love, so hopefully I’ll get to check it out and report back!

Tickets can be found HERE

For The Bigs

On first look, there seems to be a lot of shows about Brexit and Trump… there’s probably a few about Russia too – it was to be expected I suppose, but of course, there will also be a multitude of hidden gems. I usually find the best way to weed them out is to wait and let other people find them then try and get them booked for later in the festival. Although, if you’re looking at booking a big name – best to do it soon. I’ve missed out a few times over the years – notably least year when we tried to get tickets for Ian Stirling, ya know, the voice of Love Island… sob.

I’ll be updating this as I go, but here’s a few I’ve picked out that I wanna see!

Jessie Cave @ The Stand

I’m a fan. I follow Jessie on Insta and have one of her doodles, so when I saw she was doing a show about motherhood, Instagram and getting through a breakup, I was intrigued! My friend Megan of It’s The Mother also mentioned that she fancied it – so maybe we can make it a date – what d’ya say?

Tickets HERE

Adam Kay: This Is Going to Hurt (Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor) @ EICC Pleasance

I saw Adam back in 2016 with his show Fingering A Minor On The Piano (yeah, I know, bear with me…) and it was my shout out show of the year… maybe even one of the best I’ve ever seen. It was lighthearted, interspersed with witty songs and audience participation, and then BANG. The show did not end the way I expected and it genuinely left me a little bit shooketh. It was hard hitting and i’ve spoken about it countless times since. So if this show is anything like it, and Adam is wonderful, so I’m sure it will be – go see it. You’ll laugh and you may cry, but you’ll be talking about it all the way home.

I’ve just the moment realised Adam Kay is the author of the book ‘This is Going to Hurt : Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ that I’ve seen so many people talking about on social media – I’ve just ordered it! 

Show tickets are HERE

Baby Daddy @ Assembly Rooms

“Baby Daddy is a funny, rude and infectious musical account of life in your twenties with a baby in tow.” – I have a feeling this show could be one of the true hidden gems of the Fringe this year, and it’s gonna be the first ticket I buy… I’m going, even if it means I have to take Scout along for the ride (more about this later…)

Tickets are HERE, please leave a few for me.

Trainspotting Live @ Venue 150 EICC

Now, I saw a version of this last year at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. I think this show is slightly different to what I saw, but if it’s even half as good, you’ll be blown away!

“An immersive adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s classic, staged in a unique tunnel beneath Edinburgh’s streets. The audience are literally part of the action, including the notorious ‘worst toilet in Scotland’ scene”

I’d love to go see this and see what it’s like in comparison to the full length theatre version. Let me know if you’ve seen it! Would you recommend?

Top Tips

Did you know a lot of shows have a babes in arms policy’? Nope, me neither!

Until, the other month an amazing theatre producer (who is also a new mum) got in touch with me to chat about what she’s doing to make the theatre culture more accessible to parents of young children. Now, as I’ve said, there are hundreds or shows made for kids… but what about the shows made for adults? What if you’re a breastfeeding mother to a 6 month old baby and really wants to see a show?! That’s where the babes in arms policy comes in – a LOT of Fringe shows will allow a baby to come into the show free of charge as long as they’re under a certain age (often 18 months, or 2). Information on this is clearly noted on the ticket info page so watch out for it – a young baby does not mean you need to miss out on some Fringe Fun, and I’m sure their baby ears won’t be offended by anything rude, yet!

Anyway, like I said, it’s daunting sifting through 400 pages of shows, so listen out for recommendations, that’s what I’ll be doing and updating this blog as I go. If you have any, please get in touch with me, I’m always on the lookout for something to see whether it be with the family, or out with friends!

And lastly, embrace the Festival and have a ball!

Lou x

Motherhood: Levelling up in London

Taking the Plunge

This weekend I travelled down to London, solo, to see one of my dearest friends. She hadn’t had a chance to meet Scout yet, and it was proving difficult for her to find a date she was able to get back up to Scotland. So on a bit of a whim, I decided instead to book a flight down to London to see her instead.

I booked it, and told everyone that asked that I was really looking forward to it and it would all be brilliant. And I was really looking forward to it – spending time with one of my oldest friends and exploring more of a city, that previously I’d only actually been to twice… but I was also worrying a bit (maybe more than a “bit”)…

You see, I don’t think I’d ever have done this with Oscar when he was a baby. Generally, I’m not a worrier, but I’m not sure I had the confidence as a first time Mum to a six month old to take the plunge and go it alone on a solo trip. I think it would all have been just a bit too scary.

However, I’ve spoken before about how in some ways I feel like a “different mother” second time round. So I decided I’d just go for it and push myself out of my comfort zone.

As last week rolled round I did start to get a bit nervous. We went on a wee outing to pick strawberries in the week and Scout was on such poor form. Screaming in the carrier and generally just being a massive grump which gave me the FEAR. It did not bode well for our trip considering I was only planning on taking the carrier. No pram.

I think I’m a fairly relaxed person, and mostly, I feel confident in my parenting even if a vast majority of it is definitely filed under the heading “winging it”, but man, I’d be lying if I said I don’t get stressed out sometimes, especially when it comes to crying. That, coupled with the fact of be completely on my own with no one to take turns with if things turned tricky was scary.

The reality was, as ever, nowhere near as scary as I had thought! Ok, so the 4am start wasn’t ideal and as a result, Scout was a wee bit grumpy but that’s where the carrier comes into its own – for sleeping. Sitting on the runway for an hour before we took off also wasn’t ideal… but I survived. At the other end the public transport was seamless and I was sitting on Jess’ sofa by 10.30am.

Preparation was Key

I packed light… very light! I took one little Kanken rucksack. It was more than enough for two nights for both of us. I dwindled my list down to the essentials – an outfit for each day for Scout and the same for me. I wore my bulkier items of jeans and a jumper, although, turns out I definitely didn’t need them in the 32 degree heat of the Capital!

I also packed smart. I had 4 nappies and half a pack of wipes in my trusty Mutha.Hood pouch for the journey and asked my friend to buy me a small pack to use while I was down there. I also borrowed most of my toiletries – cause ya know, what are friends for?! A large muslin, ie. the most versatile baby product of all time, (this one is one of my favourites from Book of Deer) packs smaller than a changing mat, and is perfect for changing, wiping up any sick, using as a wee sun cover or blanket etc.

I also took an extra wee pouch that I kept all my travel essentials in for easy access – passport, boarding pass, phone, some cash and my card. That way I didn’t have to keep taking my backpack on and off to get stuff in and out. If I had been super duper organised I’d have actually bought a little karabiner to hook it onto the baby carrier… I thought about this at the airport on the way home, and I’m gonna get one for future use!

Wear that Baby!

The thought of navigating London transport with a pram brought me out in a sweat, so I decided to just take the carrier, but this came with it’s own worries. It was really hot in London and I was worried about Scout or me, overheating. It also didn’t seem the ideal way to be able to enjoy a meal. As with my packing though, I was keen to travel with as little stuff as possible and the carrier meant I was able to do this. I have a few carriers and I chose to take our Connecta. It was the first time I’d used it but I would highly recommend it as a holiday carrier. It’s nice and light but with good support and really easy to get on and off by yourself – even in the confines of an EasyJet plane seat!

No Pressure

Just have fun! We had ideas of stuff we could do, but it was all really relaxed and we didn’t put any pressure on ourselves to see or do loads over the two days. We stopped in parks when we needed to let Scout out the carrier and stretch, kick and feed and we stuck to the shade when we needed to.

I can be bad for piling pressure on myself sometimes when it comes to doing things. I build days out or activities up in my own head, and then feel like I’ve failed a bit if they don’t go exactly to plan, but it’s taken me a while to learn that sometimes… or even a lot of the time… things don’t always go to plan where kids are involved, and that’s ok.

Levelled Up

I ended up having the best time, I’m so glad I did it… and actually wish I’d done it sooner, or even with Oscar when he was little. I know that I’ve not scaled Everest blindfolded, but still, I’m proud of myself, and I think that’s ok!

There’s been quite a few points recently that I’ve felt a bit bogged down by everything. Parenting two littles has felt like a bit of a slog. As expected, having two has come with a whole host of new challenges, and quite often I’ve felt a bit defeated. This weekend has given me the wee confidence boost I needed. It’s left me feeling refreshed, and reassured me that maybe I’m doing alright after all.

Huge shout out to my wonderful friend for letting me stay with her and making the weekend so great – for picking Scout up when she cried, playing with her to give me some peace and most importantly, holding her while I ate my ramen! We even got to enjoy Love Island together in person rather than over WhatsApp.

I feel like I’ve levelled up and I’ve earned a new badge for my ‘parenting sash’. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this one little trip has earned me Superwoman status, you might be reading this thinking “I do that all the time, big deal!” But parenting can sometimes feel relentless and can be a thankless task and I think we should always celebrate the wins big and small because that little pick me up can set us back on the right path and remind us that we’re doing more than just surviving!

I’d love to hear about the badges that you’ve earned. Is there any feat you’ve undertaken big or small that has given you a much needed parenting boost?

I mean… even just changing a baby in a plane toilet deserves a medal – amma right?!

Lou x

Time: An Instagram Filter for Life?

Forth Trimester
Ft: Fourth Trimester Magazine

Sugarcoating Life

Last March I wrote a blog post about my experience of overcoming cancer in 2011 and my feelings towards it now when I look back. Well, recently I’ve been thinking even more about it.

However, this time I’ve been trying to remember the true reality of my situation. I can’t help but think that time somehow filters the truth, the harder aspects of an experience. Hindsight sugarcoats what was a truly terrifying time of my life.

I can only liken it to how we look back on our days with our first newborn. We remember all the love, sleepy cuddles and (in my case) the box sets, maybe over time we filter out the memories from the nights where we just couldn’t get that little baby to stop crying and settle. The 3am’s when we’d have a wee cry ourselves – purely from exhaustion… Time is basically like Instagram’s Valencia filter.

Do we do this in all aspects of our lives? Maybe it’s ultimately for the best? It enables us to move on, retain our fond memories and maintain a positive outlook. What is it they say? – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? However, I wonder if it’s sometimes worth reminding ourselves of the hard days to give ourselves some perspective, and after all, we survived them, didn’t we?

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

I’ve been thinking about how we help people that are currently in the throws of those hard days. As my friend so eloquently put it the other day – “those that are wading through treacle” – whether it be parenthood or something else – and thinking about the advice I offer them.

I have talked about the positive outlook I tried to adopt throughout my cancer treatment (I’d say “journey”, but I still kinda hate that word), but it’s not completely realistic, is it? Of course now, years down the line, I say things like “the whole experience really changed me for the better” but, in reality, life would have been a hell of a lot easier if it hadn’t happened. At the time, that positive outlook wasn’t always sustainable – it didn’t stop me worrying and feeling truly terrified of what lay ahead, whether it be weeks, months or years down the line… or in the darkest times, wondering if I’d even have years.

The people around you in your time of need always mean well, but let’s face it, there ain’t a manual. No-one knows what to say, and most of the time I didn’t know what I wanted them to say anyway. It was the blind leading the blind and unchartered territory for everyone involved.

And so, everyone meant well when they gave positive affirmations like –

“you just have to stay positive”

“knowledge is power, now you know what you’re facing, you’ll beat it”

“you’re going to be ok”

“stay strong”

… And 90% of the time that’s exactly what I needed to hear, to reinforce some positivity. However, it was not always what I needed.

Ft: Fourth Trimester Magazine

Sharing The Burden

Sometimes we need to just be sad and allow those scary feelings to creep in – and share them. Let someone else pick up even just a small piece of that burden, after all, you’re living with that as a reality. It’s the least they can do!

Same in parenthood, isn’t it? You know when things are tough that they’ll get better – “this too shall pass” and all that – but sometimes you just want to have a moan and a cry about it, and it doesn’t make you less than the next mother. Doesn’t make you less of a parent or a Negative Nancy. We’re all human.

It’s just made me think – Next time someone shares with me the experience that’s getting them down, or a struggle that they face, I will bite my tongue and fight the urge to offer a positive affirmation in the first instance. Instead, I’ll encourage them to offload some of their mental burden onto me. Tell them it’s ok not to be ok. I truly believe in the power of a positive mental attitude. I know it helped me to deal with my situation and brought me through the other side knowing that I can deal with most things life might throw at me in the future… BUT, no one can harness that positivity 24 hours a day, 100% of the time. And that’s ok.

Lou x

A Note To My Friends…

When I became a Mum, I changed and sometimes it takes me by surprise how much. Of course, for the most part the changes I see in myself are positive, and I embrace them and am immensely proud of them.

However, there have been times that I have felt like I may have lost a little bit of me, just a wee bit of Louise. And I worry – do other people see that? Do they think it too? Will I get to reclaim it as the children grow? By no means do I think I’m alone in this – I think, I hope, it’s pretty common. With such a massive change in your life, it’s bound to turn things upside down, especially when that change is as all-consuming as a child (or two).

But my friends have been there through this change and they’ve helped a mama out… massively. They may not even realise how much. So I want to say thank you –

Thank you for remembering me and still inviting me, despite me often not being able to come along it still means a lot to know that I still exist. Even more so, thank you for inviting us all and understanding that sometimes we have to come as a package.

Thank you for not holding it against me when I ask a question and get too distracted to listen to the answer. There are times I come away from seeing you and realise I’ve barely been able to actually chat due to occupying a toddler that is hell bent on touching anything that might be breakable. I know how frustrating this must be – but I promise – I care about the answer.

Thank you for wanting to spend time with us. Not just me. For holding Oscar’s hand, for sitting down to play Duplo or paint a pirate ship with him, or for holding Scout while I eat my lunch. For just sharing the load and offering a hand – it means the world.

Thank you for not rolling your eyes when Oscar reaches ‘peak toddler’ – before I had him, I had no idea how intense this phase could be. So thank you for not allowing me to apologise for him and reassuring me that it is in actual fact completely fine. He is loved.

And most of all, thank you for still asking how I am. Whenever I feel like I’ve lost a little bit of me you are all there to remind me by talking about something other than nappies and nursery forms.

Right now I repay you by forgetting to post your birthday cards, but I hope you all know that I’ll be there to hold your babies, puppies, goldfish, whatever, so that you can drink your tea while it is still hot – it’s the least I can do, because you’ve saved my sanity a hundred times over.

Thank you.

What would you say to your friends? What little things have they done to help you along the way?

Lou x

A Different Mother

A better mother second time round?

Nope. Just different…

I knew from day one that I was different. Within the first few hours with Scout being Earth-side a profound difference was obvious. But it took me by surprise.

When I became a Mother

The joy I felt when Oscar was born was immense but there was also a fear – this was a whole new world we were venturing into and one we knew nothing about. Ante-natal classes try and prepare you for the birth of your baby but what about beyond that?! I was completely ill equipped!

I remember the feeling that first night in hospital with a teeny tiny Oscar feeling totally out of my depth. He was the first baby I’d ever held never mind care for. After Robin left the hospital for the night it was just the two of us – I was learning how to hold him, how to feed him, change him and give comfort. It was scary!

But of course, we learnt. The next day I got home and together as a team of three we powered on – learning on the job. It was wonderful, but scary. We’d sometimes second guess ourselves. In the night when he cried and we thought we’d exhausted all resources we got anxious that something might be wrong, of course, there wasn’t anything wrong. Sometimes babies just cry.

Take two

Two and a half years later and we waited in anticipation for Scout’s arrival – we didn’t know yet who she would be, but I was nervous. How would it be second time? Would she take to feeding as Oscar did? Would I cope? Can you die from sleep deprivation?

Then along she came and I felt different – I was so completely at ease and content. She made life easy and took to feeding straight away and I didn’t worry about it the way I had with Oscar – I knew she was doing well, I knew I was enough. When Robin left us for the night I felt confident and enjoyed every minute just the two of us.

While I was pregnant, I had read a blog post by Steph_dontbuyherflowers about ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ (well worth a read for anyone expecting a baby regardless or whether it be first or 10th!). It talks about the pressure new mums put on themselves to ‘bounce back’ and basically to be superwoman on the school run 2 hours after giving birth. Back in the day women would spend well over a week in hospital recovering, and now, many people are out within a few hours putting pressure on themselves to get back to normal, despite their body just going through a monumental event – both physically and mentally (seriously, go read, because my summary can’t do it justice). Anyway, it rang true to me – Oscar was a summer baby and I had been so keen to get up and get out in the sunshine and show him off to anyone that cared, and even to those who didn’t! It was so important to me to get ready, do my hair and makeup and trundle on out with the pram – I think part of me was trying to prove to myself that I had my sh*t together and I was doing ok in my new role and not wanting to lose my sense of me.

However, second time round I’ve had nothing to prove – not to myself or anyone else. In those first few newborn weeks we (semi) pulled up the drawbridge – the fact it was January, Baltic & snowing, made this a lot easier. I’m glad that we spent our first weeks together just chilling on the sofa. We put no pressure on ourselves. We had visitors, we welcomed them in, but we didn’t bother apologising for the mess.

The shock to the system that inevitably comes with a first baby seems lesser with the second. I have felt more at ease with the relative surrender of freedom that comes with exclusive breastfeeding – something I struggled with first time even though I knew it was something I wanted to do, something that was important to me and something that ultimately I loved doing.

We have fed, cuddled and napped our way through our first two months as a family of four – sometimes not even changing out of our PJ’s.

Parenting Rebooted

Has this made me a better mother this time round?

Nope. I’m just different.

Free of the incessant worry that comes with your first child (the worry that ages you about 10 years in the first month of their life). We’re not worried about routines – they will fall into place sooner or later. If she cries, we pick her up, she spends her days in our arms or sleeping soundly on our chests and we are confident in the knowledge that we cannot “spoil” her in doing so. We can shrug off unsolicited advice and roll our eyes, knowing we’re making the right choices for her and our family. Honestly, it’s refreshing.

In the last two and a half years Oscar has taught us both so much – not least that the months fly in. So I’m soaking up every little detail because I know all too well how quickly each phase will end. Already I feel the end of the newborn phase is coming and with it Scout is spending more time awake and demanding more attention. It’s sad knowing this will be the last time we do it but I’m excited for what’s to come, because that’s something else Oscar’s taught us – just how brilliant it is watching a little human grow and develop their own personality.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong. That drawbridge can be up or down, just so long as you’re happy doing what you’re doing. Make sure whatever it is though, you’re doing it for you – don’t let anyone else get in the way!

Lou x

Capturing Us

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”

— Aaron Siskind

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

It can’t just be me that thinks photographs are so special. I’ve always loved them. In fact, when I was about 11, I won a regional photography competition with a picture I took of our family cat, Fifi, sitting on a bean bag – yeah, I know, just call me Annie Leibovitz…

Then, when I had kids, it all of a sudden seemed even more important to take a billion pictures. Pictures of their little hands and feet, baby eyelashes and little sleeping pouts – knowing how much they change and how quickly you forget all those little details. I still have pictures of Oscar as a little baby that we look back at and say “do you remember him looking like that?!” – And we’re genuinely surprised at how much we have forgotten, probably in a haze of sleepless nights, work, toddler tantrums and, well, just life… So I cherish every photo. And I try to print as many as possible.

I’m also lucky that Robin loves a bit of technology and “learning a new skill” (I don’t call him a serial hobby-ist for nothing) so when I got a new camera he watched about a thousand hours of YouTube tutorials (you think I’m joking…) and can now take a very decent picture, he sometimes even talks me through his ‘vision’ for a snap! He’s taken wonderful pictures of Oscar and I, and recently, some great ones of Scout too. However, what we don’t have is pictures of us all together, our family of four.

To remedy this and fill the void in our collection, I contacted the wonderful Gillian of Gillian Morton Photography having followed her on IG for a while I knew I loved her style of shots. So, on Monday before the snow hit (and man, it hit hard) we ventured out to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in -1 temperatures to meet Gillian. Continue reading

Fringe Fun 2017

#Fringe17

So, if you’re anywhere near Edinburgh right now you’ll be more than aware that the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is kicking off for its 70th year and it’s gonna be a good one. Ya know, it is only the best Festival in the world + it’s on our doorstep. I’m excited.

I have so many good memories of past Fringe Madness from before I even lived in Edinburgh, right up to the last few years when we’ve been in the thick of it. In 2015 we hit the Fringe for one last day of freedom the night before we went into hospital to have Oscar, before celebrating his birthday last year by taking him to his first show and we plan to do it all again this year.

I’ve put together a wee list of things that (hopefully, maybe) will be worth seeing and I’d love to hear your suggestions too! Continue reading

Back To Work: 1 Year On

“The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one; the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job” – Annabel Crabb

Today, the 26th April 2017, marks one year since I returned to work after 9 months maternity leave. It’s been a year of hit and missed goals, falling short of a lot of the expectations I place on myself, eternal disorganisation and a lot mixed feelings… Continue reading

That Time I Had Cancer

Your life is your story. Write well. Edit Often. 

In September 2010 I started back at uni ready to smash my 4th and final Honours year at the University of Glasgow. It kicked off the same as the years usually did, with lots of nights out, visits to The Arches and jugs of Vodka Red Bull…

A few weeks before my diagnosis

The fun however was to be cut short a few weeks into term when, after a spate of infections, breathlessness and flu like symptoms, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (alongside a rather nasty dose of pneumonia). It was a Wednesday, and by Friday I had been moved to the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow to start treatment the following Monday.

Overnight, I went from trying to pick a dissertation topic at University to being told there was a very real possibility I could die. Funnily enough, that turns your world upside down!

I remember in those first few hours of being told why I was so unwell and the treatment I would have to endure one thing rang loud in my 20 year old head – Would this mean I won’t be able to have a family? At 20 this was not something high on my agenda. Robin and I had barely been together 9 months and that relationship had been long distance as I studied in Glasgow and he was training on the South coast, but still, I knew it was something that I wanted in the future and the thought of having that choice taken away from me was such a shock. My chemotherapy was scheduled to start 5 days after my diagnosis so having eggs frozen was not an option, I didn’t have that long, my blood was useless and even a minor infection could have been fatal.

For the first few days I allowed myself to panic, to cry, to be sad, to be scared. For the hypothetical kids I may have one day had, the final year of university that I was missing and at the even darker points – the life I might lose. Then I started fresh – there was work to be done!

As someone who had never spent even a night in hospital, or had blood taken, or any real medical procedure this was all very alien to me. Being poked and prodded to within an inch of my life before having a Hickman Line fitted (a central line inserted near your collarbone and threaded into a large vein above your heart under local anesthetic). I wrote down questions, I made notes of the answers, I read every piece of literature I had and I equipped myself with as much knowledge as possible as my first round of Chemo commenced… This was followed by one of the greater milestones in a ‘cancer journey’ (eye-roll at the use of using the word journey) – the hair loss. I prepared by cutting my hair short and then when the clumps started to block the drain of my hospital room en suite I took the plunge and got it shaved off by one of my many lovely nurses. It was done and dusted and no where near as bad or emotional as I had expected. Looking back, I think I was quite shy about my wee bald noggin. I wish that I had more pictures + documented it. I may have had one or two, but due to new laptops, new phones and the lack of the wonderful Cloud… I have no idea where/if they exist. If I had them now I would flaunt them proudly because they would be a reminder of a strength in my character that I didn’t know was there.

My wig courtesy of the TCT – not sure what’s happening with my face…

As a permanent in-patient basically living on a Teenage Cancer Trust ward (they’re amazing by the way – if you ever see them fundraising and have a spare quid – chuck it in the bucket) there was ample opportunity to mope, but early on I realised that that wasn’t an option for me. Kinda like when you have a bad hangover and you feel 100 times better after a shower, I tried to keep my days as normal as I could by getting up and ready and slapping some makeup on. I would say I tried to keep active, but by that I just mean I didn’t lie in bed, instead I would watch endless episodes of 24 (to this day, that boxset is one of the best gifts Robin has ever bought me) in the TCT lounge. I actively worked to maintain a positive attitude and developed ways of coping, while focusing on the present – all of which, I’ve since found out are related to Mindfulness (I didn’t realise at the time it was a ‘thing’).

Each of my 4 rounds of chemo wiped out my immune system entirely and I was susceptible to anything and everything (Cue the time they thought I had chicken pox and was put into isolation on an infectious diseases ward – spoiler alert, it was just a spot. Or the time I had swine flu. Oh, or that time I got sepsis…) But with each I felt positive that I would achieve and maintain remission. My friends were such a massive support and visited all the time, this was a stark contrast to a young girl that I shared a room with toward the end of my treatment, and it definitely made me realise how lucky I was. Not to mention Robin, who was there every step of th way to watch ’24’ with me!

And finally, after –

  • 6 Months
  • 184 Nights (probably at least 170 of those actually in hospital)
  • 4 Rounds of Chemotherapy
  • 1 Drug Trial
  • 4 Wigs
  • 10 Bone Marrow Extractions
  • 2 Hickman lines
  • 70+ Units of A- Blood (I did try to keep track… until I lost count)
  • Countless Units of Platelets
  • 3 ‘Roommates’
  • 1 Christmas
  • 1 Birthday (my 21st)
  • 8 Seasons of ’24’

… I was released back into my natural habitat. I had a new confidence in myself and my capabilities and realised, as cliché as it sounds, that life really is too short. Sure, it would have been cool to not have had to go through 8 months of grueling treatment to find that out, but nevertheless, it changed me in so many ways. I am also glad that it happened when it did. It happened at a time when I had no responsibilities or financial obligations. I could focus entirely on myself and getting better. I would like to think if it had happened at any other time there would have been the same outcome, but I don’t know for sure. The thought of going through it again now terrifies me.

The strength that I gained from the experience I used once again when I became a Mum. On the days when I struggle to find any self-love and nothing seems to be going right (and there have been many) I remember how much my body has been battered before managing to create and grow a little human and the positive attitude that had got me through it mentally. All 3 chemotherapy drugs I was given carried “moderate to high risk of infertility” so I know we are very lucky to have Oscar. I hope we will be as lucky again, but who knows. For now I’ll just be thankful I’m here…

Ko Phi Phi Don, Thailand 🇹🇭