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.

That Was August…

The days of August have flown so quickly. I think it’s because we’ve been so busy just enjoying life and the exceptional weather.

During the first few weeks we were away in the Lake District and then we had a week in south west Scotland. We experienced a wide range of weather from thirty degrees heat, to rain and stormy winds and then very pleasant sunny and cooler weather, which I enjoy most as I can breathe better and be more active.

We really tried to ‘pack it in’ and live those long summer days to the fullest, getting out and about from morning til dusk and visiting interesting places and catching up with family and friends.

Back home again for the rest of August, the weather continued to be good and we’ve also had a few welcome downpours after the last few hot and dry months. After turning yellow and dying back, the grass is bright green once again and the plants in the garden have sprung back to life. Many of the plants are enjoying a second flush of flowers.

Since we’ve been home, we’ve carried on enjoying the lovely summer days, catching up with friends, having days out. I’ve also managed to cram in lots of medical things, various scans and tests that have been pending that have all proved very positive and a full MOT at Transplant Clinic, which was a good one. So, all is as good as it can be on the health front.

For the first time in two years, I’d been allowed to go for three whole months without a clinic visit and I wasn’t fully convinced I’d stay the course, but I managed it and have to say that I’m feeling the best I have felt in a long time. Staying free from infection for a few months has definitely helped me get back on my feet properly at last. Summer has felt great because of this, as well as the beautiful weather we’ve had.  I’ve been pinching myself at times that I’ve actually got back to some normality and fitness after too many ups and downs with infections and hospital.

I’m optimistic now that this might continue. I’ve another three months off Transplant Clinic, although I’ve been referred back to UCLH now for the stomach fundoplication, as I’m fit and well again. This may throw a spanner in the works, but at least I’m in good enough health to go ahead with it and it needs to be done while I’m feeling fit. I’m already super-organised and have booked my flu jab, just trying to stay a step ahead of the game of battling infections.

One of the loveliest things we’ve been enjoying, has been spending time with family and in particular our little grandson Freddie. It’s been a sheer joy looking after him and taking him out and about on sunny days and just to enjoy watching him play out in the garden.

I treasure these special times with him. They are particularly poignant, as I enjoy every minute with him knowing it’s only thanks to my donor and their family that these moments have been made possible. A few years  ago, I wouldn’t have dared to dream of grandchildren.

Now we’re in September, it always was my favourite month, but with the anniversary of my transplant looming it will always be special and be held dear in my heart. It’s an emotional month for me and my family and we’re making lots of plans and looking forward to it.

July Heatwave

We’re at the end of July and it’s passed so quickly. It’s been an incredible month due to the heatwave we’ve been experiencing. The beautiful weather has continued on from springtime and it’s become hotter and hotter throughout July, temperatures reaching over 30 degrees at times. There’s been little rain since May and even then, there wasn’t that much.

Many plants have been flourishing in this heat. The honeysuckle that grows over our front door is always beautiful in July and throughout summer, but this year it’s been even more stunning than ever, brimming full of flowers. The high temperatures have accentuated its strong perfume. On many a hot day and night we’ve had to have all the windows open wide and its heady scent has been noticibly wafting inside when there’s a gentle breeze. It’s just gorgeous.

We’ve been having to water our many pots and baskets every day to keep them healthy as they’ve wilted and struggled in the daily heat, but most have managed to thrive especially the geraniums, which enjoy this Mediterranean type climate. The begonias have done well too, as they are succulents and hold water.

The garden is still looking colourful with the usual July plants flowering: crocosia always give that welcome fiery look in readiness for August; lavenders thrive and are full of busy bees and butterflies; mallow pink anemones buds are opening out and dahlias are thriving with a succession of flower heads one after another, after another.

Crocosia

Anenomes opening out amongst lavenders and daphnes

Lavender borders full of bees and butterflies

Beautiful pink dahlias

The lawn is the biggest giveaway that we’re in the middle of a heatwave. I’ve never seen it so brown, yellow and parched and so early in summer too. We’ve not had to mow it for weeks, which is perhaps a bonus. Hopefully, it will grow back and come green again with some rains or if we have cooler nights and morning dew.

We’ve been trying to get out and about when it’s been cool enough. Everywhere is very dry and dusty and the fields are parched and crops are already golden and being harvested early.

The weather has been so hot and dry that seed heads have just stayed still and haven’t shed in the rain or blown away as they would normally do.

The lavender, wildflower and sunflower fields at Hitchin Lavender, where we visited recently, are thriving in the heat and are an absolutely stunning sight to see amongst the dry and dusty countryside.

I think the heatwave probably sums up July and as we end the month, we’ve had a couple of thunderstorms and some much needed showers of rain, but it’s forecast to hot up again as we head into August… We shall see, but so far it’s been a memorable summer.

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.

Misty Norfolk Morning

On a recent stay on the North Norfolk coast, we enjoyed some lovely warm weather. Each day as the tide turned though, it brought in with it rolling mists, which descended over the salt marshes.

It gave a sense of eeriness to the coastline and surrounding countryside, but also some fascination, as the views and scenery transformed dramatically before our eyes. A swift change from feeling warm sunshine to the touch of the damp and moist air.

Here are some pictures that hopefully capture some of those moments, the changing scenes, wildlife and nature.

Rannerdale Bluebells

Before we reach the end of May, the month of bluebells, here’s some more bluebell pictures…

Stepping into what’s known as this secret valley at Rannerdale when the bluebells are in bloom, is like stepping into the Garden of Eden or a Secret Garden. On a sunny day with the bluebells at their fullest, it’s a feast for all the senses – stunning views, heavenly scent and neverending sweeps and swathes of blue across the fells.

It’s a different scene to the one we would normally conjure up when thinking of bluebells – no shady woodlands or trees about to burst into leaf, just acres of English bluebells growing in profusion across the open valley and fells.

The bluebells have a story, according to local folklore, the bluebells are said to have sprung from the spilt blood of slain Norman warriors. The valley was a location where after the Norman invasion of 1066, Britons ambushed and defeated the Norman army at the Battle of Rannerdale. It’s difficult to imagine war raging in such a peaceful, beautiful and tranquil place.

Rannerdale Knotts is a stunning location, with bluebells aside, there are far reaching views over Crummock Water and towards Buttermere and Loweswater.

May Gardens

We’ve had such beautiful and sunny weather so far this May. Gardens are full of colour now and as one plant blooms and fades another starts to spring into life. There’s a continuous flow of vibrant and beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees.

The gorgeous weather has been a great excuse to get out and about with my camera and visit a few special gardens  that are local to us. There’s nothing more uplifting than a sunny day, a walk around a beautiful garden and grounds of an historic house and a little photography.

It’s been lovely to see the blossom trees and tulips of early May, followed by one of my favourites, wisteria clambering and flowering up walls together with sweeping carpets of bluebells and fields of cowslips. The new leaves on the trees and shrubs are so fresh and bright green at this time of year too.

Here’s a few pictures taken at Wrest Park and Hatfield House during May…

Wrest Park:

Hatfield House:

Blossoms and Blooms

May has arrived and along with it, some beautiful warm and hot weather. The garden has suddenly burst into full bloom and has transformed itself from a bleak winter garden to a garden rapidly filling with colour. There’s that lovely backdrop of fresh green and newly opened leaves on all the trees and shrubs too. Spring is definitely here now and I think we’ve even had a taste of the summer to come with the Bank Holiday heatwave.

The blossom trees are laden with flowers and the apple blossom tree is the fullest I’ve ever seen it. I don’t know whether it’s because of the weather conditions that it’s so laden with blossom or whether I’m just misleading myself after it’s felt such a long wait to see it after all the harsh weather and winter.

My health has taken a dip over the last month or so, with a chest infection, which then sparked organising pneumonia to flare up in my lungs again, so being on intravenous medication for a few weeks and mostly confined to home, the lovely weather we’ve had on and off has been a huge bonus. It’s been lovely to watch the garden change and come to life and hear the birds singing at their fullest.

Luckily, I managed to avoid staying in hospital and have got myself back on track again now. Attempt number five at the fundoplication operation had to be abandoned due to the pneumonia, so I’m now waiting for a new date to proceed. I just need to build my strength and fitness back up, so onwards and upwards hopefully again now.

It’s been so uplifting to enjoy some sunshine, warm weather and longer days and to be able to potter around outside and enjoy lovely barbeques and eating most meals outdoors. There’s so much blooming in the garden now: poppies, forget-me-nots, peonies, clematis, bridal wreath, phlox to mention a few. It’s hard to keep track as something new keeps appearing each day. May is such a spectacular time in the garden.

It’s still springtime too and there’s still that delicious anticipation of the whole summer stretching out ahead…

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.