…to say the least! (Warning – a long post!)
At each year’s end, I write a summary of the year just gone by on my blog, summarising what has happened, and the various art projects I have undertaken. At the end of these posts I like to make a short forecast of my plans for the coming year, most of which don’t come about, but it’s fun to dream! I did this at the end of last year as usual, not realising that in less than three weeks’ time, my life would be turned upside down and nothing would be the same again.
On 19th January I had a colonoscopy to see how my ulcerative colitis was progressing after eighteen months’ treatment with medication, and to check that all was well because I’d been warned that with an inflammatory bowel disease, I was more at risk of developing cancer. This was the last thing on my mind so it came as a huge shock to be told that I had indeed developed colon cancer – quite a large tumour which proved to be highly aggressive, and which greatly surprised the doctors because it had developed so quickly.
Over the next few months I underwent various tests and had numerous appointments with the MDT (multi-disciplinary team) which was set up for my care. After two postponements, I eventually had my surgery at the end of March, when the whole of my colon and rectum were removed, and a permanent ileostomy created, and from that moment I became a gutless bag lady for the rest of my life.
I made a good recovery from the surgery and after the normal teething problems learning to manage the stoma (which were not pleasant), things settled down well and I made good progress. Once I was sufficiently recovered, I began six months of fairly intensive chemotherapy which was the most unpleasant part of the whole journey, with very unpleasant side-effects, some of which are still with me and may remain, but these, and the presence of the stoma, are a constant reminder of what has been done for me, in order to save my life, for which I shall be eternally grateful.
It has been quite an emotional rollercoaster, and I have probably laughed and cried a lot more than in normal years! The laughter has won out, though, and it is amazing how much fun I have had.
The positives have far outweighed the negatives. First of all, I have experienced the most wonderful care and attention, given with dedication and even love. I cannot sing praises of the hospital staff highly enough and I shall be forever grateful to everyone who has made my journey so much easier than it might otherwise have been.
I also made two new friends – two others who shared a very similar experience to me who happened to be on the same ward with me. We had so much fun together and so many laughs, and soon the nurses were joining in. The three of us have kept up since we were discharged, and meet up occasionally, and email each other frequently. This shared experience has brought us together – three people who would otherwise probably never have met.
I have had the most amazing support and encouragement from my family and friends, and above all from my wonderful hubby, without whom I doubt if I’d have come through this as well as I have, if at all. Not only did he take on the cooking and shopping and other things that I would normally have been doing, but his constant support and love have kept my head above water – he even learnt along with me how to manage the stoma bag, so that he could help me should I need it. He has driven me to every hospital appointment, and apart from the chemo sessions (which would have involved him sitting around idly for over four hours each time) he has been with me during all my appointments.
Throughout the year I have been keeping a Cancer Diary on my blog, giving a detailed account of what has happened to me. During the year I also started my Gutless Bag Lady blog which gives an account of my life with an ileostomy, and contains details of products, diet, humour, etc. etc.
Looking back over the past year, so much good has come from this. After a difficult time with my mum under the same roof as us, she eventually agreed to go into residential care so that my hubby could dedicate himself to caring for me and not have to worry about her – she was needing increasing care and attention and he was already very tied, and couldn’t possibly have managed to give us both the level of care required. Things have been a lot easier at home in her absence, sad though it is to say. I have also learnt a great deal through this journey, and have gained in understanding about many things, such as stomas and cancer – I never in a million years expected either to happen to me – and have re-evaluated my life, realising what is important and what is not.
Throughout, my Christian faith has sustained and guided me. From the outset I prayed that I would be a good witness for Jesus, and that I would behave as well as possible and not cause anyone (especially my hubby) any extra grief! I know from what people have told me over the months, that prayer has gone up for me from six of the seven continents (unless there’s a penguin in Antarctica with me on his prayer list) and I have been carried along on a tide of answered prayer. I have managed to keep a positive attitude and above all a sense of humour, both of which are highly beneficial towards a successful outcome!
I count my blessings constantly. I am alive. I am surrounded by those who love and care for me. I have had the best treatment possible, all under the NHS. We live in a beautiful area, in a lovely house, not too far from the hospital and other local amenities. I have a very accommodating and amenable stoma by the name of Kermit, who enjoys all the foods I enjoy – I have very few restrictions on my diet. I have had superb help and support from the stoma nurses at the hospital and have been under their care since before my surgery, right through until when they thought I was managing fine on my own, athough I can call on them any time I need. Our hospital is high on the national league table for cancer care and for colo-rectal care and gastro-enterology, and has won the Hospital of the Year award for excellence across the board. I am a member of a stoma board on the Inspire medical forum, where I have received the most amazing amount of helpful advice and support, as well as a huge amount of fun, and this has helped me hugely, to adjust to my new gutless bag lady status. I now prefer this way of life to the old one which was a compete pain with the colitis – now I feel in control of my body! Because I have experienced so many blessings during the year, I can now look forward with confidence to the rest of my life, altered though it may be, and looking back, I can honestly say that given my time again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Looking back over the past year, I am amazed that I have achieved any art at all… I have actually produced quite a bit, despite my creative mojo going walkabout twice during the year, the first time at the beginning of my journey until the result of my first scan came back, indicating that the cancer had not spread, and the second one starting when I was awaiting the result of the second scan, which indicated that the cancer was gone – unfortunately I am still in limbo as far as my creativity is concerned, and at the moment I simply cannot be bothered to do anything – it’s probably a reaction to everything that has happened, and I am going through a period of adjustment as my life gradually returns to normal again. I am not too worried – it will return in due course, I am sure, because it is so much a part of who I am and what makes me function.
I can share with you the projects that I have managed to accomplish, though! Here is a month-by-month summary, including some details of my cancer journey. For full details, please click the relevant month and individual blog posts in my Blog Archive in the left-hand side-bar of this blog.
Despite my mojo being pretty well absent at this time, I did manage to do a bit of embroidery, resurrecting a very old project to make some decorations for the half-tester over the bed.
I only managed one piece for the bed:
During this month, Shaz and her hubby Doug came to visit us while they were in our area. Shaz has also undergone surgery for cancer this year. She was incredibly helpful and supportive throughout my journey, having experienced so many of the same things, and when they visited, she gave me a lot of help and advice about stomas and alleviated a lot of the fears I had. It was so lovely to see them!
After my operation was postponed at the end of February, we had the whole of March to ourselves and were able to have some lovely outings and treats – my hubby made it a very special time for me. One of the things we did was to go to the zoo and wow the tigers!
We also got my new lightweight buggy during this month, to enable us to go further afield on our outings, as it will go in the car. Here it is on its first outing, to Brunel Woods.
I finally had my operation on 27th March. Here I am the day after the operation, back on the ward, with Nursie Bear to look after me.
I spent 12 days in hospital. Here is the last picture taken of me, not long before I was discharged, looking a lot better!
The day I came home, my friend from school arrived – she stayed that first week to help look after us both, and we had a lot of fun.
I started to get creative again during this month! My first effort was an ATC I made for a friend: a Zentangle seahorse done in sepia on a teabag stain.
I also made cards for my hubby, for his birthday, and for our wedding anniversary.
In the second half of May, I had my port-a-cath inserted and began my chemo.
I decided to make little gifts for my fellow chemo-ites, and was hoping to continue with this, but the effects of the chemo were cumulative and I felt less well as time went on, and not able to keep up with that level of work or commitment. I did manage to make quite a collection of lavender sachets, though, and little one-piece boxes for them, and they were very much appreciated. Here is a selection.
I started to make angels to give them, too, but this project bit the dust, unfortunately. I am hoping to resurrect it next year, as long as my creative mojo returns!
I started making angel wings, from Friendly Plastic pellets:
and from silk clay.
I also bought some metal wings from Etsy, and I used some of these to make moulds with.
I made a masterboard with gold seahorses, which was used for several projects during the year.
Finally in June, I started what I call my “brainless knitting” – a multicoloured striped scarf, which also has not made it to completion! I unrealistically thought I could knit loads of these while having my chemo, to give to my fellow chemo-ites… This is how far it’s got to date.
Continuing on the angel theme, I practised drawing some doll faces.
I did some experiments using moulds for angel wings, which were a total failure! Never mind, one lives and learns, and one learns from one’s mistakes. I had fun, though!
I made another masterboard, this time of faux leather.
I made an anniversary card for a friend, using the gold seahorses masterboard.
Using Friendly Plastic pellets, I made some wing embellishments.
For Shaz’s hubby’s birthday I made this steampunk card, which had some Friendly Plastic embellishments on it, and the background was made from the faux leather masterboard.
For Shaz, I made this birthday card, using the gold seahorses masterboard.
During this time, I also made a number of things to pack up and send to Shaz, who was preparing for her major surgery, so that she would have some things to play with when she came home and started to feel better. Too many to show individually here, but they are all there on my blog for the month of August.
I also drew a few Zentangles on ATC-sized cards for my Zentangle pattern album.
I was approached by someone with a commission to do a drawing for her Zentangle book which will be published next year, and I used my own pattern, Y-Ful Power, in a drawing depicting my cancer journey, entitled “Rising Towards the Light.”
During this month I discovered the joys of adult colouring, and downloaded some drawings to colour. Here are two examples.
I made a collection of purple goodies for our neighbour.
I also made her some soap. I put all the little gifts in this basket that I made, together with a bunch of fresh lavender.
While I was still in purple mode, I made an embossed and mixed media birthday card complete with tag.
I also made a mixed media get-well card for Shaz during this time:
and also another birthday card, experimenting with different embossing and die-cutting ideas.
I received two lovely gifts during September. The first was this Florabunda drawing book, which I won in a blog give-away.
The second was a joint birthday/Christmas present from my hubby, which he bought for me at an art exhibition we went to – a stunning fabric box with applique kitties.
During October I got down to my Card Factory in earnest and was very productive! Too many photos to show here, but here are a few examples, starting with some Florabunda designs.
Some cards I made using a tree stamp and Brushos.
Some cards using Zentangle designs.
All my Florabunda and Zentangle drawings are scanned into the computer and can be printed out to make as many cards as I want. They can then be coloured if necessary.
Finally, some bee cards.
I am very glad I got so many done, because my stash was pretty well empty, and with the departure of my creative mojo I could have been left high and dry!
I also wanted to make a lot more cards than I needed for my own use, because my plan is to take them in to the chemo unit so that they can sell them to raise funds.
In the middle of October, I completed my chemotherapy.
During November I completed the Florabunda alphabet set I had started. Here are some examples.
This was when my creative mojo started to wane.
In mid-November I had my CT scan, and at the end of the month I got the all-clear scan result, which left me with a complex raft of emotions and I am needing time to adjust to my new status as a cancer survivor. I have been extremely tired, which is probably a reaction to all that has happened, so I am just going with the flow (as I have tried to do throughout this year) and rest, and hopefully my desire to make art will return in due course.
During this month I have created nothing… apart from doing the cooking! Since taking back the cooking and other domestic tasks from my hubby after my chemo was complete, I have enjoyed experimenting with new recipes, and feel a lot more “normal” now I am back in the driving seat in the kitchen again! I actually managed to make some mince pies before Christmas.
New Stash and Materials Acquired During the Year
I bought several new stamps:
I also did a bit of foiling and bought a starter kit:
I went halves with a set of Brushos with my friend Lucy, and labelled my own containers for them:
I got a set of Dylusions paints which I have had fun experimenting with:
I bought a small craft iron which is brilliant – so much better than the little travel iron that it replaced, and also the heat-proof ironing mat that it is resting on in this photo.
I also acquired a light panel from Ebay, which came into its own with my Zentangle commission.
Beatrice, now 15, is doing well – she is on the Hill’s Prescription diet for bladder health, which is also good for her food intolerances – with ordinary cat food she throws up. After suffering recurrent UTIs, the vet has now got her permanently on antibiotics and she remains well. She gets days when she won’t eat, and suffers a bit from fur balls which prevent her eating on the odd day. We feed her little and often and she is maintaining a healthy weight now. When I came out of hospital she wouldn’t give me the time of day for ages, probably because I smelt different with the stoma bag. As soon as she got used to the new me, she rejected me again once I started my chemo, and then started to lose her fur, which the vet said was due to stress. With Feliway plug-ins, she is doing better now.
Phoebe (12) has been very well and as usual we have had no worries about her health, until just recently when she had a grand mal seizure which scared me half to death. The vet has seen her and all her bloods are normal, and we just have to monitor her for now.
Both kitties continue to delight us with their endless love and affection, and their very different personalities. Our two babies!
So – a real rollercoaster of a year! When it began, I had absolutely no idea of what lay ahead, which is probably a good thing. I am glad that this journey has been contained between the bookends of January and December, and I can now look forward to a fresh start in so many ways, as we launch into 2016.
What are my plans for the coming year? After what has happened, I am loath to put words to screen! In general terms, though, my hubby and I are hoping to have more outings and adventures, now that we’ve got the new buggy. He is also hoping to be less busy (he has been helping out in a church that has been without a vicar for most of this year). Now that we do not have Mum in the house, we will be a lot freer to get out and about, too, and hopefully from now on we can really start to enjoy his retirement.
On the creative front, my plan at the end of last year to branch out more into textile art still stands – I have saved hundreds of teabags which I want to start using, and I really need to get to grips with my new sewing machine. I want to continue with the card factory and get as many cards over to the hospital as possible. I would also like to complete various projects which remain unfinished – the large album I started making some time ago, about my dad, and my angel project, and also the bed decorations. I would like to do some more knitting, too.
A very happy New Year to all my followers and visitors. Let’s all hope for a happy, healthy and prosperous year with many blessings with our families and friends, lots of creativity, and plenty of opportunities to make our own little patch of this world a better place, and to help others when we can. Continuing to count my blessings!