Here’s to November

We start November and I feel that cringe deep inside about those long, cold winter months ahead and those shorter days and longer nights. I also have that fear of more bugs and hospital, which seem to have become a bit of a winter tradition in my life as much as Christmas is. As we move nearer to winter time, I find myself needing some motivation and inspiration to conjure up of all those good things about these darker months.

On the health front, I’ve had my flu jab and I’m on preventative measures to help my lungs over winter. I’m at clinic for checks every few weeks. I’m trying to keep fit, rest, eat well and avoid the bugs where I can. I know I’m as prepared and ready as can be, so it’s just a case of one step at a time and taking each day as it comes and fingers crossed to stay in good health.

As for the rest, the start of November has been such a pleasant surprise. It has been very cold compared to the milder temperatures we’ve had recently, but some of the days have been so glorious and sunny that we’ve wrapped up warm and been out and about in the countryside. We’ve been enjoying all what remains of the stunning autumn scenery – those golden trees and leaves against brilliant blue skies and fluffy, high clouds.

It’s scenes like this that have reminded me that the winter months can be just as much fun as those of summer and have me thinking of all the positive things to look forward to.

It’s lovely to dig out those warm winter coats and woollies, those snuggly scarves, hats and gloves in anticipation of cold, crisp walks with our dog, Ted. Those walks on a Sunday while a roast is cooking in the oven. The warm house and delicious smells when you return.

If you don’t want to cook, a country pub with a roaring log fire is hard to beat. I remember walking into a pub high up in the hills on our way back from Christmas shopping in Bowness last year. We were the first to arrive at lunch time and were given a huge welcome and told to sit by the fire – it was a perishing cold day. They piled more logs on the stove for us and we warmed ourselves while we waited for a delicious hot lunch.

Then there’s preparing hearty winter dishes for dinner, cosy dinners by candlelight and cosy nights by the fire with the curtains all drawn. The dog by my feet – or more often than not snuggled up beside me. Soft cosy clothes, socks and slippers. A cold and dark night is a great excuse to wrap up under a blanket in favourite chair and read or indulge in watching a box set or two. Of course, scented candles are a complete ‘must’ and that’s after a long pampering soak in a hot bath.

Then there are the glorious sunrises and sunsets to enjoy – the sunrises are late enough to catch a glimpse of when you wake up on a winter morning and the sun sets nice and early and well before bed time. Then the excitement of waking up to fogs, mists, heavy frost or snow – not so exciting if you have to go to work or travel – but beautiful if you can watch from inside and go about your day without the hazards to worry about.

Then there’s the glamour and glitz of ‘Strictly’ – now a recognised winter staple – the sparkly costumes, the fabulous dancing as we move through Halloween, Bonfire Night and towards Christmas.

Christmas – it’s probably the biggest most excitable thing looming as we step into November. November is the time I usually finish off buying all the presents and start the wrapping in readiness for December. I love a Winter Market or a Christmas Market. We’ve even managed to visit one already last week at Holker Hall and it was such a perfect sunny day – beautiful stalls with an assortment of wonderful goodies, warming pit fires, a live jazz band and delicious hot food and drinks.

I love the build up to Christmas – the anticipation, the preparations and then the actual festivities and day itself. Christmas shopping, Christmas carols, Christmas concerts and Christmas parties.

Well, I think I’ve found enough lovely things to think of for now to inspire and enjoy myself until January at least! What do you enjoy about the winter months?

Happy November everyone!

Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Week 2018

This week it’s Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Week. Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) is the disease I had that resulted in me having to have my heart and double lung transplant. A transplant was the only route left after having had all the end stage specialist medications available for PH.

Having my transplant has always felt like an aternative treatment for my PH – yes a drastic one and not a cure. It’s a treatment that comes with huge risks and swaps one set of medical problems for another, but it’s a treatment that’s enabled a much better quality of life for me and has given me five extra years with my family so far – years I just didn’t have when I was terminally ill and suffering with end stage disease.

PH is high blood pressures in the lungs, which eventually causes damage to both the heart and lungs. It is an incurable, life limiting and terminal disease, which impacts enormously on the quality of life of PH sufferers. It is also a very rare and complicated disease, as there are different types of PH, different causes and differing treatments according to type. Treatment is very specialised and the specialist medication can only be prescribed from one of eight specialist centres in the UK, which includes Great Ormand St childrens’ hospital, as PH affects babies, children and people of all ages.

It’s also one of those ‘invisible diseases’ in many cases – well no-one can actually see your heart and lungs like they can a broken leg can they? As it’s rare and invisible, it can be very isolating for a PH sufferer; it’s often misunderstood, often mistaken for just ‘high blood pressure’ and even most medics don’t understand it or its complex treatments. Hence there’s a great need to raise awareness.

PH can be very difficult to diagnose too, it’s often mistaken for other conditions such as asthma, it often takes a few years for a patient to be diagnosed properly. In my own case it took nearly fifteen years! I’d never even heard of PH, let alone its signs and symptoms. The signs and symptoms are listed on the poster below:

Why would anyone be bothered about understanding more about PH when it’s so rare and only 7000 people on the UK are diagnosed with it? Why would anybody even care?

Well, I wish I’d known all about it and heard of it. If only. It may have prevented me being diagnosed as being in ‘end stage’ disease and being given only a few years to live. I could have perhaps received the specialised treatments earlier. You never know what’s round the next corner and it can happen to anyone.

Also, as it’s an invisible disease, PH can be very isolating. People kept telling me how well I looked, they didn’t quite understand the real impact it was having on my heart and lungs and how severely it was affecting my daily life. Every time I ended up in a general hospital, it was terrifying too, as most medics had never heard of it or if they had, they had no proper understanding of the various types of PH and the specialised medications. Raising awareness, therefore, is so important.

PH will always be a part of my journey in life; a part of my story; a part of where and who I am today. Despite how awful and scary this disease has been, there’s been some positive things to come out of my journey with PH too. I think I’m stronger and richer for it in many ways. It’s given me a real appreciation to be mindful and live in the moment and not dwell on the past or the future, but just to live for today.

Most of all it’s brought me many new and long lasting friendships. It still does. It never stops surprising me, how many people touch my life because of PH. Then there is the kindness and goodwill of so many people that have helped and supported me to overcome so much. They still do. The medical teams that have supported me, both my PH and transplant teams have also become like second families and Royal Papworth, my hospital, is like a second home.

I always say that if raising awareness of PH helps just one person, then all the campaigning and every minute of raising awareness is worth it.

Five Years On…

I relax in the sunshine on a seat looking over the salt marshes and out to sea. I soak in the stunning view, breathe in and out deeply savouring the salty air deep down in my lungs. Those precious lungs – well precious heart and lungs, but lungs more precious and fragile than ever now as they take the brunt of every storm my body weathers since my transplant five years ago. I can feel the gentle sea breeze and mellow sunshine on my face. Birds are gathering for their journeys to warmer climates, but singing and twittering as though it’s high summer. Beautiful September sunshine on this the fifth anniversary of my heart and double lung transplant.

I remember a time I’d been here in Norfolk before, over seven years ago now. Rob pushing me in my wheelchair along board walks to the beach when I took the call to say I’d been placed on the active transplant list. We were on holiday at the time trying to make the most of life or what I might have had left of it. We were trying to make sense of a situation where I’d found myself terminally ill and been given only two years to live if I was lucky. At the same time, I’d been told I needed a heart and double lung transplant and that on average the wait for this operation takes two years. Three people a day were dying while waiting for a transplant. The odds felt against me and I had to prepare myself both ways – preparing to die and preparing to live. A confusing situation but survival was my only focus.

Then my mind flits to four years ago when we came back here again. It was the first anniversary of my heart and double lung transplant. No wheelchair this time, my health restored. I could walk for miles by now, my strength recovered. It had been an incredible first year since my transplant. Suddenly I could do all those things that everyone takes for granted – simple things like showering, pushing a trolley around the supermarket, driving and even ironing and housework. Just simple things and I would even pinch myself that it was all actually real; that ‘yes’ I had my health back and I’d been given the best gift of all – the gift of life.

Five years on now and I’m back in Norfolk with my family to celebrate this incredible milestone. As I sit here, I think of all the incredible things I’ve been able to achieve because of my donor. From first simple steps like taking a shower to living my dreams and being able to travel abroad again. I’ve visited New York and many cities across Europe, plus been on a mediterranean cruise and travelled on the Orient Express.

I’ve seen Sarah and Rose both graduate, establish their careers, then Sarah marrying and then, the best of all, the birth of my first grandchild, Freddie and now we have another grandchild on the way. This is so exciting for me, life always brings so much to look forward to. Every extra day I’ve been given is special in its own unique way.

Our plans this holiday have come unstuck a little as I’m actually struggling with parainfluenza virus and alongside that pseudonoma pneumonia that always flares and inflames my lungs when I’m fighting any illness or rejection of my new organs. With the support and help of my transplant team though, we’ve managed to make it here. I’m on intravenous anti-biotics and allowed to do them from home or where home happens to be this week, rather than being hospitalised – it’s not new to me, I’ve done this often now over these years post transplant.

Being immunosuppressed can bring its challenges. I’ve already been back to Papworth again since we’ve been here, because my longline stopped working, my veins are poor now, but they sorted things out and got me back on track to continue our special celebrations with family. I have the Transplant Team there to thank for getting me through thick and thin and being able to reach this five years post transplant mark.

While we’ve been here, we’ve already celebrated Rob’s 60th birthday and our 28th Wedding anniversary – more milestones to add to many. Every single one is special. Five years post heart and lung transplant feels a very special milestone in more ways than one. Only 50% of lung transplant patients survive five years and beyond – it’s always been my long term goal to achieve this and it feels a huge achievement given the struggles with my lungs over the last few years.

I stare out to the sea and know that I’ve been fortunate, not only to have received my transplant in the first place, but to be given all this extra time with my family and a second chance to experience so many new opportunities and challenges that life brings. The horizon spreads wide in front of me and it fills me with hope for so much more to come. Well there’s a new baby to look forward to next spring, that’s going to be amazing for a start…

There isn’t a day goes by where I don’t thank my donor and their family for my gift of life.

September

It’s difficult to have a favourite month, as every month of the year has something special to offer. There’s always something unique to anticipate as each month looms on the horizon: from the festive month of December and all the hectic preparations for Christmas, to the peace, tranquility and perhaps even snow of January; from the anticipation of lighter evenings and warmer days during those spring months and the sunshine, heat and holidays of the summer.

September has always felt special to me though. I suppose it starts back from school days and the start of the school and academic year being September. September always feels like the time for a fresh start, new learning and new beginnings even more so than January when we’re supposed to reflect on the past year and think about new resolutions for the year ahead.

September was the month when Rob and I chose to get married and the month when I received my life saving transplant, so it’s a month that culminates in celebrations for our family. If I could have chosen which month to have received my transplant, it would have been September. For me, it truly is a month of new beginnings; a month to celebrate life and all it has to offer.

I always look forward to the weather in September, it’s usually cooler after the heat of summer, but still mild enough to be out and about enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. We’re usually lucky during this month as we often have plenty of sunshine and it’s calmer and quieter after the busyness of the school holidays.

We’ve just passed the Autumn Equinox, where the astrological year is marked by the sun crossing the earth’s equator from north to south. This marks the beginning of Autumn, nights drawing in and cooler weather. The meterological year marks the beginning of September as the start of autumn. Whichever way the start of autumn is defined, September is definitely the month where summer somehow manages to gradually ease into autumn. The garden defines this: we still have plenty of summer flowers – annuals still happily flowering along until the first frosts hit, but then many flowers have turned to fruits and berries, ripe for picking and preparing for winter.

For me, September is the month that leads us to crispy autumn walks, cosy warm evenings by the fire, enjoying the last of the warmer weather and then digging out those warmer winter jumpers and clothes. The beginning of a whole new season to embrace.

Midsummer

We’ve just had the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. We’ve been enjoying some beautiful and sunny warm weather this June, which seems to have continued on from spring. It feels like summer has been here for a while now.

The garden is in full bloom, bursting with Roses, honeysuckles and an assortment of beautiful flowering perennials. Colourful annual plants are tumbling out of pots and hanging baskets.

The lovely warm weather has made it a joy to be out in the garden every day either tending and tidying plants or simply relaxing and enjoying the birds and flowers.

Lots of you have been asking about my health and I’ve deliberately kept quiet on this front, as I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’ve been feeling much better now than I have in a very long time. After all the battles with rejection, infections and pneumonias of the last year or so, somehow I’ve pushed through and things seem steadier now and I’m feeling much fitter and stronger.

The weather has certainly been a good motivation for getting out and about and increasing my exercise capacity, pushing those lungs and building back my strength. I’m so grateful for this, it really does make me appreciate life and the chance to enjoy all it offers. I’m hoping things continue like this alongside with this lovely sunshine and the summer days to come.

Spring Flowers

After all the snow, heavy rain and misty, murky weather, spring has finally arrived at long last. The garden is finally coming alive with colour and plants are finally blooming.

There’s nothing like a daffodil to brighten up a dismal day and we’ve had many of them up to now. The daffodil is a hardy plant, however, perservering through the snow, frosts and wet of late February and March, shining through with its reassurance that spring and warmer days are definitely on the horizon.

The last few weeks has seen constant rain, low and heavy cloud and a dreary mist never far away, but a garden full of bright yellow daffodils has brought some cheer and sunshine and life to the garden at long, long last.

A few days of brighter, warmer weather and suddenly the garden has been bursting into colour, the buds are opening on the trees and shrubs are beginning to flower, starting with the forsythia with its small delicate flowers making another blaze of yellow amongst the daffodils.

Now the tulips are flowering and after a beautiful day’s sunshine have opened up in full, enjoying the sun’s warmth and glow. I brought these tulips back from a visit to Amsterdam’s flower market. Our holiday to Amsterdam marked the first anniversary of my heart and double lung transplant, so when I see the tulips blooming they remind me of a very special time.

The first year these tulips bloomed, there were just five flowers and each year they’ve multiplied and multiplied. This year, despite the awful weather, they’ve bloomed and bloomed and I’ve counted thirty five flower heads so far. They have thrived, which is very symbolic to me, having planted them to mark my first transplant anniversary.

Other little snippets of colours are appearing too – the bright blue of grape hyacinths are popping up around the borders and the magnolias are full of bud and about to flower.

With a few sunny days, we’ve tidied up the summerhouse after the long winter. It’s been lovely to sit up there again with a good book and enjoy the view of the garden springing into life once more.

Ted has enjoyed playing out and getting up to mischief, while Rob has been busy mowing and tidying up after the winter months. I love the feeling of April when there’s the whole anticipation of the spring, summer and autumn ahead to enjoy life outdoors and the fresh air and beauty of the garden.

I love to have daffodils and tulips around the house too, echoing the outside in and cheering up any dismal days and adding even more colour to those bright sunny days.

Spring is such a beautiful and promising time in the garden and the flowers give much hope and anticipation for the months to come.

The weather forecast this week is promising full sunshine and warm temperatures over the next few days at long last. I think most people are looking forward to enjoying some proper springtime. I know I am.

Fundoplication Fiasco

I thought I’d be in hospital again this last weekend, as I was rescheduled to have my stomach fundoplication operation last Friday. This was following it being cancelled the previous week at the last minute just before I went down to theatre. The whole incident had felt very stressful, especially with the added stress of struggling on public transport to get to London and back in the heavy blizzards, snow and freezing temperatures. The whole incident had taken some ‘coming down’ from.

All settled in the hotel

I was contacted the day afterwards though, with many apologies and a promise of now being a ‘top priority’ and that I would be scheduled to be ‘first on’ for my next appointment. I therefore agreed to a new date of Friday for the operation to go ahead again and all the papers were sent out to me confirming it. In some ways I had reservations, as I needed to start the mental and emotional build up all over again, so soon after the big ‘come down’. It’s an operation I know I need, but don’t particularly feel very enthusiastic about.

After all the years of procedures and operations on my heart and lungs, I do feel reluctant about having other parts of me operated on. I worry it will cause more things to be monitored, more clinics and doctors to be under, more things to possibly go wrong.

It might seem that I’m ungrateful to feel like this, but I’ve had a difficult run over the last eighteen months with my lungs and I’m voluntarily going to put myself out of action for a while yet again when I’ve only just got back on my feet.

There also comes some high risks with this whole procedure being an immunosuppressed patient, a heart and lung transplant patient and a patient with poorly functioning lungs, so I’m actually quite frightened about this and quite scared of ending up in a worse state than before.

A risk of chest infection is high due to ventilation during the process. The thought of going through something like the pneumonia again, that I experienced last spring and that damaged my lungs is terrifying. There aren’t any guarantees, but the plan is that I will be looked after in intensive care and all the risks will be of high consideration throughout.

An early Mother’s Day Celebration

So why am I putting myself through all this? My lungs are struggling to work properly now, they have less than 50% capacity. There are several problems including damage from rejection, pseudonomas, damage from infection and damage from stomach acid. Lung transplant patients often suffer from the stomach problem due to the actual transplant operation and new organs displacing the stomach and the continual use of necessary steroid medication damaging the sphincter muscle. If the problem is left uncorrected then in time the lungs will continue to be damaged and reject.

All three of my transplant consultants are in agreement that the operation will help prevent this happening and basically if I don’t have it done then my lungs will continue to decline in function and reject again. This operation is therefore a needs must despite all my reservations.

Hospital view from hotel

So off we went back to London for the fourth attempt at this operation, it had had to be cancelled a couple of times previously due to my ill health too. The weather was mild and dry so we had no extra stress and hazards with the travelling like last week. We travelled down the day before the planned operation, as it was the usual 7am and ‘nil by mouth’ start on the Friday morning.

It was Mother’s Day weekend coming up and knowing I was going to be in hospital and unwell on Mother’s Day, we met up with Rose and David and had a nice dinner to celebrate early. This felt extra special, despite the impending operation the following morning, as I’d spent Mother’s Day in hospital last year. At least this year we’d had chance to organise and celebrate. We’d had to put off any celebrations with Sarah, Oli and Freddie though, because they’d all had bad colds and viruses and I hadn’t been able to see them for nearly a month or so because of the risks being immunosuppressed.

Deja vu, 7am again at UCLH

7am on Friday morning and I turned up ‘nil by mouth’ for my surgery only to find out that I wasn’t even on the surgical list for that day. I was asked to sit and wait in case the surgery might be going ahead. We waited, waited, waited, waited…

Basically no-one did anything about it, there was no-one available to see us and no-one to explain what was happening or what had happened. After we kept on chasing the receptionist, who did her best to contact the relevant people, hours later I was eventually phoned by someone from the admissions department and advised it was all my own fault and I shouldn’t have ever turned up for the appointment as it still needed to be confirmed. I think I saw red at this point, as I was sitting there holding on to all the ‘confirmation’ paperwork!

Rob took the phone and eventually the person admitted they had copies of the ‘confirming’ letters on screen and that it had all been a mistake that they’d been sent out to me. So that was that, another cancellation, another load of stress and expense of hotels and travel for nothing and to add to it all not even an apology or any proper explanation from anyone! We were advised to speak to the hospital PALS  office, which we did on leaving. We have formally complained as the whole incident, compounded with the cancelled operation the week before has left us stressed, angry and upset. We shall see what the outcome is and how they can explain what happened.

In the meantime, I have received a new date for yet another attempt at the surgery – attempt number five. Watch this space…

As the saying goes though, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and I was able to enjoy a lovely Mother’s Day weekend after all, spending loads of time with Sarah and Freddie and still being able to eat and drink normally and feeling well. A huge improvement on last year’s Mother’s Day when I was poorly in hospital and much more than I had expected for last weekend. Now I’ve time to take stock, enjoy and make the most of life for a few weeks before we try yet again.

Mother’s Day flowers