Welcome to the breasts, balls and bone blood gang

We met at a Mindfulness course at the Maggie’s Centre in Nottingham. I will write separately about the course, what I got from it and how I use mindfulness in my life these days – that deserves a whole post to itself.

One thing I do want to mention now though was the burgeoning of a new support system and friendships with some of my fellow course participants and a renewed connection with the Maggie’s Centre, which I had not visited since I stopped receiving counselling last year.

Some of the course participants decided to continue meeting regularly to practice, support and encourage ourselves and each other in using mindfulness along our individual journeys of living with cancer, and when the time comes, dying too I guess. Some members of the group have advanced, secondary or terminal cancer diagnoses. Whatever name is used to describe their condition, they are facing the likelihood of death sooner than the rest of us.

Two of the group are Rebecca and Uwe (neither of whom have a terminal diagnosis). Uwe is an older German man, who is short and stocky, with large round glasses that give him a slightly gnome-like look, without the regulation beard. He has an endearing vulnerable quality, which people respond readily to, as have I. He is probably the most familiar with and most committed to mindfulness. We have become close friends from hours sat around the kitchen table at Maggie’s sharing and revolutionising. Bloody anarchists!

Rebecca is younger than me, intelligent, passionate, creative, interested in so many things, and talkative. Can you see why we might get along? She has had a very rocky journey through cancerville, which I won’t go into here, but suffice to say, we have a similar attitude to living, dying and how we experience and respond to what happens in between. She has also been leading the Maggie’s singing group, which is going from strength to strength.

Rebecca has recently suffered, along with but probably entirely separate from the many complications of cancer treatment, a slipped disc. She spent more than twelve hours in pain awaiting an air or road ambulance to take her to hospital three weeks ago.

While she was well-looked after during her nine night hospital stay, they messed her around terribly when she was ready to leave – around day seven. Again she had to wait unnecessarily, this time for a Senior Occupational Therapist to assess her needs for returning home. This whole issue also deserves its own post, but it’s not my story, so it won’t happen here.

Fed up and frustrated, she walked… with the aid of crutches and her husband, out of that damn place, and went home on Wednesday night. Well done Becca! Patients taking charge!

Meanwhile, back at home, using a borrowed bed in her living room and various OT appliances, she made herself as comfy as possible, but was getting increasingly bored. Time for Uwe and I to go visit a couple of Sundays ago.

Armed with a large bar of Cadbury’s fruit and nut chocolate, plus a Terry’s chocolate orange, we turned up to find Becca moving quite well. At one point she even went upstairs and down again, I was well-impressed.

pomander 1When I visited her in hospital a few days earlier, we had spoken about creative stuff she could do while she was stuck at home. I came up with the idea of making orange pomanders, which I make most years, but actually haven’t done so this winter, so far. So that evening, I took oranges, cloves, ribbon and little skewers and handed them out. I showed them how to get started and let them at it. Meanwhile, I knitted.

The room was cosy, the tea flowed, sometimes made by me, sometimes by Becca, there was music and ambient lighting. The atmosphere was so lovely, I felt like I’d fallen into a Victorian Christmas scene or something.

And so we chatted gently and each did our creative thing, with little pauses of quiet, then someone would speak up and we got to know each other a little bit better. It was a special time and a very unplanned period of mindfulness that just happened because we were in the right space with the right people. Thank you both for that and for allowing me tell our tale. I’m looking forward to meeting up again. Hopefully in the new year, Becca will be up and about and we can meet up at Maggie’s again and continue our mindfulness practice.

Between us, we have breast cancer, prostate cancer and myeloma… Thus breasts, balls and bone blood!