Wednesday 29 January 2014

Blood, Blood, glorious Blood

I'm going to talk about blood – not the messy, congealed kind but the type stashed away neatly in hospital blood banks.

Before I get going, I should explain that what happened to me was an extremely rare side-effect of the surgery to remove my tumour and not to be feared if you have to undergo the same. Indeed, even when it does occur, the results are not always so dramatic – but then, I'll do anything for a good story.
Barbamama - happy to be alive!

So, after my initial surgery I suffered a burst artery which lost me lots of blood and after two transfusions and the injection of so much saline fluid I looked like Barbamama, followed by three more pints of blood in the emergency surgery which followed, I emerged happy to be here to tell the tale and oh so grateful that somebody, or some people, of my blood group, happened to give blood recently.

Thanks to a poignant donor campaign when I was a student, I'd been giving blood ever since. Every four months I'd pop along to my local mobile centre, chat with the nurses, eat all their biscuits and toddle along home feeling oh, so virtuous. For anyone who hasn't given blood or received it before, I should say that a large chunk of the 30-45 minute process is taken up with screening to limit the risk of disease spreading through your blood to a patient and the blood is rigorously checked for infection after you've given it.

When I woke up alive and well and more than a little proud of the bruise from shoulder to hip and the marvelling from staff at just how much blood I'd received for one so small, I was relieved that I'd given blood in the past. Who'd have thought that one day it would be who me who needed it?

I knew that I wouldn't be allowed to give blood anymore* and consoled myself with the fact that at least I'd given blood for the past twenty years.  And then I worked it out. Four monthly giving is the maximum allowed for women (three monthly for men) so that the donor has ample time in between to build their blood supplies back up to normal levels. So it would have taken one person twenty months of giving just to provide the amount I needed to be sitting up again. On that basis, the potential amount of people I could have helped over my entire adulthood was a paltry 12. Twelve! I was shocked.

Now, I know not everybody is going to need five pints but nonetheless, how much blood would we need in the banks if we had a natural disaster or an epidemic? Could there ever be a situation where I could have been lying there with the staff whispering, 'Hang on in there Mrs Buxton, we're just waiting for your blood to arrive from Newcastle, Edinburgh, John o' Groats…'?

There is a bright side to having cancer and that is that everyone wants to help. It's the loveliness of the human spirit; everyone wants to make it right and if they can't do that, they want to make it easier or more comfortable. Is this a good place to thank everyone for the cards, messages, flowers, chocolates, candles, moisturiser, fluffy socks and fleecy cardigans, poignant charms and pieces of jewellery, books, DVDs, writing retreats (oh yes!), magazines, cleaning, ironing, notebooks (you know how much I love my notebooks), offers of shopping, lifts, meals for my children, cake, bags of healthy cancer-fighting eating and meals-on-wheels on my doorstep and hugs and positive vibes? You're all sent from God.

But, back to blood. I've realised that there is another way that people can directly help and that is this. If you can, please would you give blood? Only 4% of the population do, I've discovered. And please, tell your friends and family. You'll be helping me because I'm not allowed to give blood anymore and you'll be helping to save lives. It's that simple. Click Here to find out more and your closest place to give.

Let's get those stocks back up, I feel I've had more than my fair share of late.

And to all of you who do regularly give blood, thank you from all of us.

*Incidentally, I've also had to take myself off the Anthony Nolan Trust donor (stem cells) list which helps people with blood cancers such as leukaemia. Would you take my place on the list? Click Here to find out more J

Monday 20 January 2014


Sometimes someone chucks a pebble onto the path we're walking and we trip before staggering slowly back to our feet.

Every time a sizeable pebble has been thrown in my direction I've sought solace in writing, either in my own in the form of a diary or in that of others -which has been more tricky. Whenever I've wanted to find real life stories of people who've faced similar pebbles and, most crucially, are walking upright again, I haven't really found them.

When my boyfriend died when he was only 17, I searched for that book but I never found it. Years later I vowed I'd write a version of my story in the hope it might comfort people in their darkest moments that there IS life after the death of a loved one – even at 16 when the world is still so gloriously black and white. But I never wrote it.

When my daughter had a stroke, only 15 small months of age, I devoured websites, support groups, non-fiction and even fiction to find an inspirational story of a baby with half a body paralysed who'd then gone on to lead a happy, fulfilled life. And even though I know the world is packed with such success stories now, my 13 year old daughter being one of them, I couldn't find the story I craved back then.

So, now I learn that I have breast cancer and the path of the next few months – and years – will be well speckled with pebbles on the route to what I pray is a full recovery.

But this time, I've decided that I am going to write it down.

I'm going to blog about the journey. But I want my posts to have purpose, not just to be cathartic for me, but with the aim of calming a few nerves for those in a similar position but who are perhaps a little further back on the road. So I will only post when I feel I have something positive to say, something I've felt or learnt which might help someone in a similar position. It won't be for everyone, already I fear my humour is lurching a little into the macabre, but if I can pass on the message that having cancer is not all bad, then I'll call that a success.

You know, it's really hard to feel down when so many people are showering you with love and caring. Love really is what makes the world go round, or should be anyway. 

Have a great week!