Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

travel, interiors, photography, home, crafts, personal style

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3 Oct 2019

Amara IBA Interior Blog Awards 2019

After five years of being nominated I finally made the shortlist of the Amara IBA Awards - 'Best Use Of Photography". I never thought it would happen and I'm over the moon because this year it is more significant than ever. Cancer takes away everything that you are, it certainly is a leveller, it shows no discretion, and it makes you feel that you are just a statistic. To feel recognised by your peers and your friends for something you love is just unbelievable.

I've documented quite thoroughly just how gruesome the treatment is and to get my head into the right space I just approached it like it's a job that will last about a year, it won't be enjoyable but it's essential to get that job done and out of the way, because unless you do you can't continue with the things that make you tick. And, of course, what makes me tick and has done since at age 18 my Dad bought me my first SLR Pentax camera ... photography. I think he would be very proud of me being shortlisted.

I'm now at month eight of solid treatment and now that chemo is over and I've started to recover from that and the shingles, and the infections. My taste is coming back, I'm sleeping better and I'm managing to take more photos. The latter of which makes me really happy. So to be recognised for my photography in a year when I've been struggling to lift the camera, well, that means everything. At age 60 I never want to stop learning about this art and my next mission will be to see if compact cameras can work for me.

With the return of some energy this week I've been changing the house over to a more autumnal look and for me I just love to style with nature. The open fire has been an enormous comfort so I styled up a log pile as best I could (I really wanted a fire this week) and I've made an 'autumn forest' theme on the mantlepiece. In the kitchen there are still a few geraniums flowering but my favourite decoration this time of year is pumpkins.

The Amara awards are Interiors based and while I'm not blogging about that in every post, it is never far from my mind while recovering at home. I felt that to go through cancer treatment and not blog about all the emotions tied in with that would not sit with my ethos of honest blogging and my approach which attempts to be non preachy and non superior. This nomination has made me think more about how photography ties in with the home and here's my thoughts about that ... it's all about the light. 

My house is timber framed, six hundred years old and so there's a lot of wood around. The downward beams in the walls (there's a special name for these which I can't remember) create a huge styling challenge which I'm gradually getting used to. I love the look of them but you really have to re-think your normal decorating techniques. I've had to hang a lot less pictures and keep colours to a white palette to counteract the amount of brown wood everywhere. You can't help but go rustic in style with all that wood so I've tried to balance that with French pieces of faded glamour adding as much glass as I can to add an opposite texture. I've found that glass objects not only reflect light but also add a balancing surface. 

I tend to think of balance in the home in terms of Air, Fire, Water and Earth. I studied Feng Shui a fair bit in the 90's and really think it speaks a lot of sense in terms of energy and balance. For instance, it's not good to decorate your bathroom with a Sea/Water theme because there's already a lot of water in that room. Instead add plants and greenery (some plants thrive on the steam), botanical prints will bring an earth element to all that water.

If you have a lot of wood then add glass items (as I have done), if you have a lot of brick add fabrics in curtains and textured cushions. This is all about the feel of the space. 

When the Amara IBA's first launched in 2014 I was drawn to it because the wonderful Jeska of 'Lobster and Swan' was a winner and her style is exceptional and very inspirational to me, to see someone working with reclaimed materials and a lifestyle with an ethos. By the following year I had already been spotted by paint company Annie Sloan who asked me to showcase the colours in her range and I had become her very first Painter in Residence. My first nominations at the Amara Interior Awards was in Colour Inspiration as at that time I had the style of property that needed a personality adding to it with colours and textures. The house was characterless and the addition of the right colours made it a much more interesting space. 

Over the years I've been in a few different categories of the awards, but finally I've found the one that fits me as during the last five years I've been concentrating more on my photography. I've upgraded my cameras several times to find the one that does what I need it to - shoot in low light. I never want to use lighting and I don't have a flash, but I do want to be able to take photos using a low natural window light and approach photography from the same viewpoint as the old masters of oil paintings, the Dutch ones particularly who were fascinated with painting the light from windows and how it falls onto surfaces. 

This aesthetic also transpires to interior spaces. When I stayed and photographed at the Welsh House for Reclaim magazine the light from the windows is key to the atmosphere of the cottage and so while electric light and interesting lampshades are imperative to an interior scheme, so is working with the natural light that you've been given. 

Not all looks work in all properties, it's very important to decorate for the space that you have and be flexible in your approach and I often find that you need to live somewhere for a year to really work out how to decorate and use the rooms you have. With old properties it's too much to keep it all in the time period of the building, (hey my house wouldn't have had bathrooms or electricity!) So you need to feel your way with what works and keep a balance. Old houses with low ceilings also make it very difficult to hang lighting so you need to be inventive. 

The wood panelling behind the fireplace was a new addition to the sitting room by previous owners but it was yet another different coloured wood to all the other wood in the room, so I painted it in two colours and added a big scaffolding plank shelf. By taking away the natural wood colour of the panelling it broke up the wood in the ceiling and floor as well as providing a contained area to style.

For the dark background photos where I really just want the light to do the talking,I don't have any flat clear walls so I just pin a black linen tablecloth to the front of my big French cupboard in the lounge, this helps to focus on the objects in the frame and working in aperture mode, I view with the touch screen on my Canon 5D Mkiv and shoot on very slow speed with the camera on a tripod. 

Dark walls work in the same way, they are perfect at showcasing interesting objects and decorators pieces, however, you must consider the size of windows and amount of natural light if you are going to brave the black and please don't forget what a nightmare it is to paint over when you want to change it. Rooms with high ceilings and big windows look amazing with dark deep rich colours on the walls and I often think of these colours as being like velvet to balance other areas of glass, brick or tiles. 

In the kitchen I shoot against the ancient wooden doors and brickwork while placing the table by the window. I've usually got something decorating the kitchen table and this week, well you've guessed it, it's pumpkins in all their different shapes and forms. If they are still in good condition in a few weeks they will probably go outside the front door for Halloween. I keep my fruit and veg on display in the kitchen and the addition of greenery is another way to break up the earth tones. 

Photography for me is a way to see the world through different eyes, it makes you focus, see the small stuff, notice what's in the background, place objects in a pleasing manner, create scenes and looks and most of all, shines a light on interior designs. I recently visited the home of a fantastic interior designer and I just wanted to get my camera out as I was seeing great shots everywhere.  Her use of lighting was incredible and her ceilings were high enough to take big oversized shades, I was well jealous. I may have to do a few shots of her house to show you how she has cleverly bought mid-century furniture for a Tudor property and how that balance just works. My bench mark of how much I love a house is whether I want to get my camera out, beautiful spaces make me excited - It's all about the balance of texture. 

So now, please let me thank you again for all the votes, particularly the huge turn out of my husbands facebook friends after he finally got round to telling them about my blog! (it took him long enough).

I have to admit that I don't look at a lot of other blogs and not because I don't like them but these days I'm afraid to be influenced by others content and style, as you can see, I'm not a follower of trends. There are more and more great ones starting every year and then there's the ones by friends who I've met during this blogging life that I just adore like Tamsyn Morgan's Villa On Mount Pleasant, Emma Harris's A Quiet Style, Jeska Hearnes Lobster and Swan, Suzi Grant's Alternative Ageing, all of whom produce exceptional content that I'm in awe of. 

Here I'm just trying to share information that others might find useful about all aspects of life, I try to keep it casual in approach and always brutally honest. It's hard not to feel vulnerable about sharing personal stuff but since I start to talk honestly about what's been happening this last year I've had so many messages from people in similar situations who have just been  thankful to hear that someone else has been going through it. 

Since my last post I have been flooded with personal messages from people who in their darkest hours have had no support from their own families and just thanked me for highlighting this. Many people have said it made them address how they communicate and kicked them into visiting sick friends and neighbours. Some have written to ask me how to speak to a friend with cancer, others have just started chemo and had questions about that. So my leap into the unknown of sharing has at least made some difference and I guess that's all I can expect at the end of the day. 

To be recognised whether by it's individuals or by the people at Amara IBA's - it's all amazing. To read more about the Amara Awards go to www.amara.com/content/interior-blog-awards 

I will of course let you know how I get on.  Coming soon I'm talking to Suzi Grant about nutrition for thinning hair. 


16 Sep 2019

when did we all become so self centred?

I've been following the tweets of @DeborahJaneOrr who is an author who has terminal cancer and today she was saying about the amount of messages she's had saying 'good luck'. Although I have only recently discovered Deborah I am following her because it puts into perspective for me that I could be a lot worse off, also to prepare in case my situation changes and to hear the uncensored words from someone else who is also incredibly pissed off and not scared to say it. 

Her exact tweet today says "people are saying this a lot to me so there's obviously widespread belief in the efficacy and general chill of the phrase. So I'm sharing further "Good luck with the terminal cancer"!!!   It goes "

I love the use of 'efficacy' which for the uninitiated means 'produce the desired result'. And in one short but bitter tweet Deborah has summed up something eating away at me. When did we all become so self centred?

I'm amazed at the ignorance surrounding what is the most common and life threatening disease in our society at present. On the tv I heard the quote 'one in two of us will have cancer', and so why are we so ill informed about what this will entail until it's right on top of us, and even then it seems that many people around you will treat it like you've got a cold - take the drugs and you will be better (meaning "I don't want to deal with your suffering, so let's avoid it"). Maybe because it's so common that we've become blase as a society ... oh dear another one bites the dust, I had better send them a few words of encouragement.  

I recently had tests back from the Oncologist to show that at present there are no cancer cells in the biopsies taken. While this is good news for now there are several reasons that I'm not jumping for joy. 

Firstly the treatment is by no means over, there is still so much more to do and secondly, who's to say this won't return, it's such a lottery that I don't feel it will ever be far from my mind as my damaged body will keep telling, me - life will never be the same again. 

Not only will life ever be the same again, but you are likely to find that your relationships with everyone else will also never be the same. People will fall into two categories - those who helped and supported and those who didn't. 

There's so much stuff that happens to you on a daily basis while going through treatment that unless people bother to properly engage they will have no idea of the months of suffering for you and your carer. Perhaps you have to be in the same situation to know just how much support you need. None of us really want to ask, so the offer of practical help is absolutely invaluable and it's in very short supply it seems. And during all this you are desperately trying not to be too self centred about it and keep an eye on others who still need your support, for what that's worth.

A friend of mine who is terminal was saying the same thing, and I wonder if it's our pride that stops us asking, or the denial of those around us that you are no longer capable. 

The small jobs around the house like cooking, cleaning, washing your clothes or hair, putting clothes back in the wardrobe, fixing something broken, changing the bedding, gardening,  trips to the hospital, it all mounts up when you are sick. And perhaps you shouldn't have to ask, perhaps the people who call themselves friends and family should consider this on a more urgent level because all these small things affect your quality of life. The simplest help can make all the difference, so if you want to know how to really help your friend or family member, then just get over to see them and go through these jobs. A visit in person and a physical practical effort is worth a million. 

Where are we then? Well it started in December last year, there's diagnosis, tests, waiting for test results, more tests, more waiting for test results (and over Christmas this was so slow, I mean a month of waiting for the scan and getting the results to say how far the cancer has spread). 

Then chemotherapy starts, but it's not just sitting in a chair for a few hours of IV drugs every three weeks, it's the blood test two days before, the steroids for three days, the anti-sickness for many days and then the side effects. It's many trips back to the emergency department or the treatment centre to get your blood tested yet again to see how low your white cells are, have you picked up an infection, the injections to stimulate your bone marrow and all the pills to deal with ; sore throat, awful taste in your mouth, food not tasting the same, sore twitching dry eyes, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps, nausea, insomnia, spots, dry skin, sores in mouth, finger nails crumbling, hair loss, forgetfulness, sore joints, weakness, high temperature, ruptured veins, fatigue ....  I've forgotten half of it I'm sure, that'll be chemo-brain. 

Mid way through chemotherapy I had an operation to remove the tumours and my lymph nodes. (The operation timing seems to vary from person to person in the order of things, I don't know why this is). So then we get all the complications of that - infection, abcess, cellulitis, pain, problems moving the left arm, lymphodema, backaches, shingles and more hair loss. 

Several weeks after the operation we are back for the second onslaught of chemotherapy, different drugs this time, same side effects pretty much. Another three months of all that again (even if the biopsies show no cancer cells you still have to keep blasting away in case the cancer is present on a micro level).   Then the three weekly injections of herceptin for one year and the 28 days of radiotheraphy, which is every single weekday for one month at a hospital over an hour away. 

This will take me to a full round year of treatment. 

Recovery from chemo and radiotherapy is different for everyone but one can expect three months or more of side effects before you start to regain normal function. 

During all this, if you are lucky, you will have someone who drops everything to become your carer, to help you in and out of the bath, to rush you to hospital at 4am, to help you get dressed, to apply creams, bring you drinks, change your sheets, take your temperature and so on  .... 

The strain your carer will be under trying to keep all the balls in the air is horrible, and there's bound to be some areas where they also need help. My husband is not just a rock he's a mountain but,(sorry love), he's a terrible cook. And I'm lucky that we are in a situation where he's been able to drop everything to look after me, many people still have to try and go to work while their partner is going through this. My husband also has to look after his father who is a five hour drive away and so on the few days each month where I don't feel too ill, we get stocked up on microwave meals so he can go and care for his Dad for a few days. During these days my good friends have been feeding me and running me to hospital appointments etc.

And we are the lucky ones, because we don't have small children who need things to be normal, or careers that can't be dropped or a million and one other things that could be worse. 

The word 'remission' had no meaning for me. This is far from being over, with many more months of needles, hospital waiting rooms, time spent in queues for tests, days of not being able to get out of the house. My body is not functioning as it was, my physical fitness and my physical looks have all taken a massive toll. 

I'm making a point here. I'm saying this publicly for all those who are also thinking the same. We don't expect everyone we know to drop everything, we understand that people have their own lives, but if you want to support someone with cancer there's a ton of stuff you can do, and maybe just maybe, this is the time when you put other people before yourself. 

Back to Deborah's tweet about 'good luck with your cancer' ..
Seriously!! what is wrong with how we have decided to communicate with each other these days. Not only does it seem that 'instant messenger' has replaced getting off ones arse and visiting a sick person, but the words sent in the 'instant message' have been condensed down to a few cliche phrases.  

Whatever happened to actually just writing what you actually think and feel. When did it become ok to dismiss someone's life threatening illness with 'good luck', 'stay positive', 'be strong' ..... or 'sorry I'm too busy'.

It's probably not cool to be so pissed off so publicly. We cancer sufferers are supposed to suffer in silence it seems, be graceful and thankful for every tiny cliched mantra trotted out at us. Accept the utter bollocks of everyone having an opinion about what you should eat ... because obviously you only get cancer by something you've brought on yourself. 

Generally speaking I'm writing this for two reasons, if you want to support someone with cancer then consider what I've said above, if you can do something in person then no effort is too small. If you can only write a message then make it personal and thoughtful and your own words. 

Let's not become a society affected by Twitter (and the like) where our only engagement with other people's lives is a short phrase, copy and pasted, press send then ... well, that's them dealt with. 

Has our new way of communicating made us so detached? I believe it has. While there are many times when I'm in such a bad place I can't speak to people, I too prefer to write. However, let's have a look at that. It's not the writing that's at fault but it's the thought behind the words that I have a problem with. I've had some beautifully written messages and cards which truly show that these people love, care and admire me and they really want me to hang around for some time to come.

But then there's the equivalent of Deborah's "good luck" messages and worse still there's the silence, the all consuming self centred silence of people who's priorities are somewhere else. Don't be that person. 

Photos are from last year as I'm currently having problems lifting my camera ...


7 Sep 2019

Reclaimed Summerhouse - part two

I've desperately been trying to get some lovely photos of the summerhouse but I went and got Shingles! Chemotherapy affects your immune system so it's fairly common to get infections and such, so a cold swiftly morphed into shingles and it's set back my last chemo session.  I feel bad for posting so infrequently, but I know my readers are bearing with me and I hope that the things I'm sharing can resonate with anyone else in this situation. Trying to do a bit of what you would normally do helps you to hang onto who you are, so I've cobbled together a few more photos of what's happening in my 'she shed'.

Since the last post I've been bringing things over from the house, and changing a few things. I tracked down some pottery boards to use as shelves, so the first shelf we put up just didn't work and has been swapped for this lovely old pottery board. These boards came out of a Stoke On Trent pottery, and they are beautifully worn with a patina of old clay.

There's still a few gaps to fill on the pallet wall but we are so happy with it and because these pallets had weathered in our garden for a while, they give a lovely rustic feel. It was important to have some organic elements in here, to bring the outside in, so every time I come here I snip a few dahlias for the jug.

To continue with the organic rustic look we used tree branches as curtain poles. These came in a big bundle from a coppiced woodland locally and were fairly straight, having been cut for use in the garden, I knew they would make good curtain poles. I dug out some old french crochet laced curtains which make a good fly screen when the doors are open.

Our feature wall is now finished, the wallpaper is from Cabbages and Roses and I've hung this old frame over it to add interest and texture. I've been layering up the bed with old throws, and just a big old pile of miss-matched pillows and cushions. I thought a wallpaper wall would bring a touch of faded glamour to the room and because we can't use wallpaper in the house (as we have too many beams). I like the contrast between the antique/glamorous and the rustic/natural.  

Some of our Moroccan finds have made their way over as I like to mix up different styles.  The rugs and the wedding blanket throw came from our trips to Essaouira from the little square and shops just round the corner from the Villa Maroc (which is always an inspiration for me since I first discovered it over twenty years ago). 

The coffee table came out of a skip, we repaired and painted it and it's been in various locations, including the garden. The Lloyd loom chairs have been with me since my very first flat and I've just got a soft spot for them, having changed the cushion pad covers many times, they make great occasional/conservatory chairs, not too bulky they are just handy to have, sometimes in the office sometimes in the spare room, they've moved around.

As we move into Autumn I've brought a small heater in here to keep it cozy and I expect that this space will continue to morph in it's use and look, so I will continue to snap away whenever I can muster up the energy to lift my heavy camera.  

My last chemo session is next week and then I begin a month of radiotherapy which I will be documenting on this blog and on instagram. All I know about is that it makes you very tired, so I know where I will be taking lots of afternoon naps ....


24 Aug 2019

Chemo hair and other such tips

A huge thanks for your continued votes in the Amara IBA awards - (https://www.interiorblogawards.com/best-use-of-photography-blog-2019/janice-issitt-life-style/) best use of photography.  It's blog posts like this where I have to blend photos that don't illustrate the words, and visa versa ... I am therefore very pleased that during my current situation of fighting cancer, I can still be nominated in the 'Interior Blog Awards' with the photos that are giving me pleasure to take. 

I'm struggling to move around, my arms aren't working, the chemo side effects are doing their thing and setting up a room shot is really hard, so taking some fine art style flower portraits can at least help me keep my hand in and give me some personal joy when I'm unable to do room styling. 

I'm sorry that I've felt the need to share on instagram some bad experiences I've been having at the hospital. I have to be honest, and if my truth helps anyone to feel less alone, more prepared and better informed then it's job done. I've never wanted to be put in the situation where I have to talk about our precious NHS in a bad light, but you need to be prepared for your treatment to maybe not go smoothly, maybe not be well organised, maybe add to your stress and discomfort and for mistakes to be made.  

So apart from this being a place to vent my opinions, I also want to share my experience of the Paxman cold cap and how I've been trying to hang on to some hair during chemo, and here again, I really don't want to illustrate that with photos of my head, so if you aren't interested in the cancer then perhaps just look at the pictures as a separate entity ...

Let's talk about the hair loss progression during chemotherapy. For the first (heavy duty) four rounds I really didn't loose very much hair at all, but towards the fourth round I did see some shedding but overall it didn't look too different. I limit the amount of times I wash it to maybe once a week as more hair does seem to come out when it's wet and you are trying to get the tangles out. I switched to very very mild shampoos (Burt's Bees do a nice one) and very intensive conditioners to stop it tangling (I tried Coco and Eve). Most recently I found a hairbrush (made by Manta) that was designed by a guy whose wife was having chemo. The hairbrush is available on Amazon and I think it's very good, I wish I'd had it from the start. Luckily I just happened to see a tv show about new inventions where he was talking about re-thinking the hairbrush and making it more flexible so that it doesn't pull the hair. 

I stopped using permanent dye on my hair and switched to a wash-in one from Superdrug (just to tone down the new growth) and after a few months I trimmed a few inches off the ends so it doesn't tangle so much. 

Weirdly the big hair loss seemed to come immediately after my operation, I have no idea why then, although a friend of mine who knows a lot about hair loss says that the anaesthetic sends a message to the hair follicle to shed and become dormant. Now my hair is about half it's thickness and very fine like baby hair, it's very fly-away and I'm trying to find something to deal with that, nothing discovered thus far but I can keep this updated if I find something great.

Whether my new soft fine thin hair is because I stopped using permanent dye, stopped using a hair dryer, or because its the result of the chemo on the hair follicle I'm not sure, maybe several contributing factors.  I don't have any completely bald patches so the Paxman Cold Cap has at least left me with a fine even coverage that is no worse that just baby hair. Having this thinner type of hair is better than no hair at all and where the choice is this or be bald, I'm going to be thankful for small mercies. 

As I only now have one more chemo to go I've bought some shampoos and conditioners that boost hair growth and see if these do anything at all. My head doesn't feel like my own, it's a very strange sensation. I wonder if these thickening shampoos will work, I can but try.  I try not to rub it at all so I've also bought a silk cap to wear in bed at night but to be honest this didn't last long as it drove me bonkers. 

A few people have suggested that taking gelatin and silica gel strengthens and thickens hair and that certain foods also help (high in protein). Interestingly my friend who has attended a clinic for hair loss, said that you should wash it daily so that the roots aren't clogged up. I think that perhaps there's more investigation to do once chemo is out of the way so that I can boost my hair re-growth and as I discover things that work I will update this blog post accordingly.

Many thanks everyone for your continued support. All photos on this blog are my own and must not be used without permission. 


18 Aug 2019

Reclaimed Summerhouse - part one

If you follow me on instagram then you will be more than aware that my husband has been building me a Summerhouse. Several reasons really, not that I need them, but because I've been on chemotherapy I have to keep out of the sun, and months spent just laying around, one does need a change of scene during the day.

Working on a budget and trying to use free and old stuff as much as possible I had a cunning plan ....

Husband had already started an area of decking overlooking the rather large pond and while it was a beautiful scene to sit and take in, I simply couldn't sit outside for too long. Standing there one day I had the brainwave that what I needed was a sheltered area, somewhere to relax and potter, take photos, sewing projects, that kind of thing. 

And so the idea for 'Church End' - the 'She Shed' came to being. 

in the process of hanging pictures and putting up some shelves

car boot finds and things dug out of the attic are being put to use here

I haven't finished decorating yet, and I've thrown together the styling just so I could get some photos to illustrate this post. I'm struggling to take photos right now, moving around and using my arms is quite an issue, so bear with me on the rough and ready shots.

We started searching for the cheapest 'summerhouse' we could find. I'm saying it like that because it is a really basic shed in actuality. I thought a rough frame to start with would help get a structure in place which we could add to in layers, to strengthen, reinforce and make look timeworn.

I won't be saying where it came from for a few reasons, the quality is terrible, husbands foot went through the thin floor on day one, there were parts missing, and other parts spare and it didn't arrive on the promised day.  When we tried to phone the UK company we could never speak to anyone in the UK, but rather a call centre in Indonesia who were never able to answer our questions. I am still absolutely baffled as to why a UK company needs their phones answering in Indonesia regarding the delivery of the item that is only a few hours away. Anyway, I knew if you buy cheap you must unfortunately expect this sort of nonsense. 

we ran out of wallpaper, more is on order !!!

Ok, so cheap crappy shed thing arrives, but it's proportions are exactly what I want, there are windows in the right places and the flimsy construction does make it easy to alter and chop about, so job done on getting a framework to start off with. It comes with instructions and Ian managed somehow to build most of it on his own with a bit of help getting the roofing felt nailed down. I'm not suggesting this is a one man job however, I would say if you are a normal human being then it's probably a two person job at least. 

First thing to add to it was another floor, I wanted a wooden floor to paint white so we called up a few local wood merchants and got a good price on some 'tongue & groove' flooring to fix on top of the existing crappy one.  

As you can see, inside and outside the end wall has been layered up with a lot of reclaimed materials. The chippy bits of wood boards came from a barn renovation our friend is doing. We basically dropped round to see him every few days and took away all his discarded materials. The arched window, still its original colour came from a reclamation yard called Womacks, just outside Norwich. We think it came from a posh Wendy House originally.

Once the floor was down we started to line the walls with insulation material, its a stiff foam sheet backed with a silver foil and the back wall definitely needed this as you could see daylight through all the panels. After covering in insulation sheets, which are easy to cut to size, we boarded over them with hardboard.

we've made curtain poles out of tree branches and I plan to make curtains soon

We added extra windows on two sides, the arched one and the small one in the back. This small one was fixed in place before the insulation and hardboard went up. I found it on ebay from a local guy who was knocking down an old outbuilding. Luckily my husband had learned how to fix windows into walls when building our cartlodge but this really is the first thing he has ever built on his own. I just had to make sure he had good tools, circular saws, etc.  

For some time now we've been scrounging pallets where we find them and from Facebook marketplace where you can often find free ones. I really should have bought a special tool for pulling these apart as it was back-breaking for my one man pallet destroying husband. 

As the hardboard walls wouldn't sustain being drilled into or take any weight for shelves and such he had a go at a pallet wall.  We might give it a wash of chalk paint sometime, we haven't decided yet. 

I keep seeing bits that need painting. There's still more finishing off to do. 
More next week about the extra touches, the decorating and the dressing of the summerhouse. I spotted a fabulous mid-century sofa bed in a charity shop and we might just have to go back and have a look at it, so watch this space. I haven't completely decided on how the wallpaper end wall will look, for now I have an old iron bed but this look is still developing as I dig out old things from the attic. 

The flowers came from a 'pick your own' morning that Southwold Flower Company had this week. I thought they would be a quick fix in terms of cheering up these photos as bare walls are a bit boring in photographs aren't they? Keep your eyes peeled for more news about Southwold Flower Company as there are very interesting plans ahead for them which, I hope, to contribute to in some small way. Just need to get myself fitter when all the treatments are over so I can start to collaborate again on beautiful projects. 


18 Jul 2019

Here I go Again - FEC chemo starts this week

Hi there y'all, well if you haven't guessed it I'm back on steroids and therefore I'm blogging in the middle of the night. Finally yesterday after a series of problems, I started this next round of chemo.  It's called FEC which just makes me think of the Father Ted character who shouted Feck all the time, well, imagine him, and that's me. FEC are the initials of the three drugs and these three are completely different to the last three (one of which was herceptin). I will continue to receive herceptin but it can't be given at the same time as the FEC trio so that will be another joyful trawl to the hospital every three weeks involving needles no doubt. 

FEC is a follow-up cocktail I believe, a less invasive dose supposedly, well we shall see,  I will keep you posted here on how that differs from my first four rounds. 

It still involves the thing that by far more makes me worse than anything and that's the steroids. I feel like I never recover from the interrupted sleep even when not taking it and I'm sure it adds to my daily fatigue. I've had to resort to some opioids and see if I can get a few more hours on those, including cbd oil.

Having a few weeks to get over the infection in my breast and a break from chemo, (which I had to insist on as they hospital says it was against protocol)  I can see that my creative needs do return, I just needed to access that bit of my brain that guides my style and have a serious word with it. Worried that I would never have the energy again for full photo shoots with my really heavy equipment, I decided to pair it down to a tripod and a black background so that I could photograph the flowers currently going hell for leather in my garden. A lovely way to record my achievements just outside the front door. Planting a country cottage flower border at the front has made the whole place smile, it has changed it such a lot. On the areas where there is gravel I have taken tips from a good friend and bought some wicked galvanized planters.

My friend Rachel visited and helped me with a few small girly jobs that needed a womans touch, sorting out my wardrobes, making a cover for a chair, and cutting my hair which was long overdue but I didn't trust anyone else so I've got rid of the tangled ends in a hope this will make brushing less of a big deal. My hair is thinning but not so bad that I couldn't do a style to disguise it. Keeping some length helps with that. I met another lady doing the cold cap yesterday who also has long hair and like me, she trimmed the ends so you don't have to pull when brushing but keeping the length for styling and disguising any bald patches. I don't seem to have any bald patches, just a bit thinner that's all. 

My summerhouse is coming along a treat and when we've finished I will do a full blog about creating the 'she' shed with all my special needs in mind. It's incorporating lots of reclaimed materials which will act as cladding to thicken the walls and old windows found at junk yards and on ebay. 

On Chemo you need to keep out of the sun so a shady space where you can lie down is a great way to get out of the bedroom, I can have a few hours appreciating the garden and the pond that is teeming with birds. I've even got a rescue wild rabbit which I'm fattening up for release away from the cat that brought him to me.

The 'She Shed' will enable myself and local companies to use it as a backdrop for photos, and if you can bring your products to me and help with the styling then we could be on the road to getting me back to work. I have to see what the light is like but I have the feeling that it could work as a lovely backdrop for mood photos.

The AMARA IBA awards have been in touch (although I'm not sure I qualify anymore) but if you think that 'lifestyle' includes the downside of dealing with cancer, then perhaps they can find a space for me in the 'Best use of photography" section as I try to incorporate and illustrate inside and outside my home, during this period of transition. Creating the best recovery space when you are ill is probably one of the most important bits of decorating you will every do. You will spend lots of time staring at those walls and life will feel very harsh, so the warmth and comfort of a beautiful space is vital and shouldn't be underestimated. 

I will put up a link when I have one for voting.

In the meantime, my ideas for the summerhouse/ she shed, continue to keep keep me perky, and the husband is building a palace fit for a queen out there. Painting starts this week so once that's done inside we can try out the furniture.  I am toying with a feature wall of wallpaper at one end, currently on the look out for the right thing I've ended up pretty much 'glued' to a company called Woodchip & Magnolia but also harking back to Cabbages and Roses and Sanderson, I just can't decide. It needs to look very faded like it's been there for years.

Hope to see you next week with more flower portraits and more news about the summerhouse. Oh and to let you know how the FECKING FEC is going with my usual honest tips on how I'm coping with it. But whatever it is you are all doing with your prayers and your wishes and your thought and kind words, it's working to fill the void of love that I just couldn't find to give myself and a very dark time.  

All the best Janice


7 Jun 2019

Breast Cancer - a message of hope

I'm writing this as a message to anyone who has had a recent diagnosis of breast cancer or for friends and family of those affected.  I want people to know that it is possible to rid your body of cancer and there's no special herbal, holistic or whatever, remedy or any 'special' positive thinking required, just submit yourself to the health care professionals and let them do their job.

I say this because I feel that the recommendations and instructions by well meaning bystanders, aren't in my opinion always helpful. I've read a few other people say this. The idea that you can 'fight' it or 'battle' with it actually gives you the guilt that unless you are prepared to become this guru of 'positivity', you won't be helping yourself and you will let the cancer 'win'.  

This is such utter rubbish, I'm sorry, but please trust me fellow cancer person, you really musn't be made to feel like you should take control and dig for the energy to do some miracle working. All you need to do is turn up at your appointments and do what your specialist team tells you. Try not to over complicate with over thinking. I didn't even hate my cancer, it was just a bit of my body that went wrong. You just need to move your mind-set and try to relax into the process and learn to go with the new flow.

I can honestly say that from day one I've not been positive, the only thing I've been is honest. I've not put a brave face on it, I've just dragged myself through every day, often grumpy, often rude and mostly really angry. I can't really be angry at getting cancer anymore, it's taken a while but as time ticks on you realise that this happens to so so many people and no-one is exempt from the lottery I'm afraid. 

I've been mostly angry for no reason other than that I feel like shit from the drugs or the operation and I see the jobs round the house mounting up, the frustration that the garden needs weeding, there's decorating to be done and there's washing in the basket from last summer. My husband does as much as he can and kind friends have often fed us as he is no great cook.  

I think it's ok to feel angry, however it manifests just go with it.  The most important thing is cope with it in your own way and if you don't feel positive then join the club, because why should you? 

For a lot of people getting a breast cancer diagnosis they won't really have been feeling ill or in pain before, it comes as a shock because you don't often get any warning signs, it's just wham suddenly it's there, or it's been there a while and you hadn't noticed. I found a large lump when I got a twinge lying down in bed one day, I was between the three year scans which I've always gone to.  The lump was 4cm and the cancer cells had spread to the lymph nodes already, so this was fairly advanced right?  

Now here's the thing. From what I can tell speaking to other people, the doctors often give you the worst case scenario, they won't want to give you any 'positive' spin like 'oh but the type you have is the sort that doesn't recur' or 'the position of your tumour makes surgery very easy' etc. These are the things you will have to try and glean for yourself if you can, but my advice is try not to scare yourself shitless. Denial I think can be a great way to control the panic so actually, the less you have to panic about the better.

The best advice I can give is just submit yourself to the process. In fact - stop fighting (whatever that is), I'm not really certain anyone can actually tell you what 'fighting it' involves because there is bugger all you can do except go to the appointments and take the medicines. Everyone has a different treatment plan and this can change depending on how you respond to the drugs. So here's a rough idea of mine.

After all the relevant scans, biopsy, echo, bone density, MRI etc. your team should be armed with all the information they need to prescribe the drugs and the order the treatment is given. Some people have an operation early on, but mine plan was to shrink the lump so that there would be less breast to remove.

To shrink the lump I went for a full day of drugs through intravenous drip every three weeks. These were one chemotherapy drug and two other drugs, one of which is herceptin and the other another type of biological immunotherapy drug. During the administering of these I would sit in a comfy chair at the hospital and plugged into the Scalp Cooling machine to prevent my hair falling out (Which as you know totally worked one hundred per cent). 

Usually for the first couple of days after chemo you don't feel too bad then the side effects start to kick in and during the months these tend to get worse. Deal with these in whatever way you can. Eat what you fancy, stay in bed if you want to, just don't push yourself to do anything you don't feel like doing. Any small pleasures just take them and so if healthy eating goes out the window, then so be it. Just don't push yourself. 

The drugs are the cure but the cure will make you feel pretty terrible. So ironically, having not even felt ill before the treatment you begin the process of just letting the drugs do their thing which unfortunately will take it's toll on your entire body. Here's the thing though, they work so just stick with them. After one round of chemo I started to realise I couldn't feel my lump anymore and after three rounds of chemo neither could the professionals, in fact they couldn't even see it on ultrasound because it had shrunk so much. At this point they realised that much less of my breast could be removed so after having prepared myself for half of my breast being cut away, I ended up with only  a small portion of it taken.  As I type I'm still in pain from the operation because they also have to remove your lymph nodes (mine are the ones in my armpit), so it's pretty sore but despite the swelling etc. I can see that my breast won't look too different to before. So much time worrying about something that didn't happen! Originally the plan would have meant that my breast would be so different to the other one that I might want to have the other healthy breast reduced in size to match (which I probably would have done). 

This week I went for the appointment to get the results from the operation. The surgeon says that it is extremely unusual to find no trace of cancer in the surrounding tissue but in my case there was nothing, not a single cancer cell to be found in the tissue taken from my breast or from my lymph node. 

I'm waiting now for my oncologist appointment to find out what treatment I need next. This isn't the end, it doesn't just stop here because the cancer is gone.  So while I don't completely understand why, I do know there is possibly more chemotherapy, radiotherapy and ongoing medication. 

Now it's just time passing and the process being finished over the coming months, then the recovery again after that. But for now I don't have to think about having cancer. I just need to deal with the physical side effects as they come. 

I never once thought I would definitely be clear of the cancer, certainly not this quickly, because I didn't want to let myself down  and I think this is where positive thinking doesn't work. If you continually tell yourself it's going to be great and it isn't then you have that horrible disappointment every time it doesn't go to your plan. While I appreciate that positive thinking means different things to different people, it's never made any sense to me and I just want to say that if it doesn't make sense to you either, then you shouldn't feel bad about that too. God there's enough to feel bad about already! Learn to re-adjust, perhaps give in to the fact that things will be different after. Life doesn't have to be less enjoyable it might just be different, and hey, maybe you needed a change anyway. 

Try to believe that for most people the drugs do work so just hang on to that. 

This blog post is here to tell you, it might not be as bad as it first appears. Until you take the medicines you won't know how you react to them, or how well they will work but I do believe the trained professionals know their stuff because I'm proof that what they prescribed did work. 

If you have received this diagnosis try to find a thought process somewhere between panic and delusion. Sounds hilarious I know. I think it's fairly natural to go to the worst case scenario and maybe you do need to explore all the eventualities of what could happen. But even the doctors don't really know how it will go for you so just try and go along with all they can offer, don't get too angry with their lack of information or encouragement because knowing less and keeping an open mind is probably more helpful for your own sanity anyway.

Distract yourself as much as is humanly possible, this is the best tonic. It will take your mind away from the scary thoughts and the harsh realities. So to do this don't let your mind have too much time on it's hands, fill it up with anything and everything. If I even think about meditation I panic at what my mind will do so for me it was read, watch tv, knit, learn a new language, do crosswords. Think of this as one big long waiting room queue and on the days when you feel a bit better go for a drive and explore, go to the beach or a museum, just fill the time while the drugs work on your body. 

The time it takes will be different for everyone so try to take a break from your busy life and learn to become a patient patient. Again, my best advice is submit to the process, stop fighting for the life you had and the things your would normally do, just go with the flow for now if you can. Maybe you can pick up where you left off afterwards and maybe you won't. And just maybe, you will see things differently anyway, but who knows? Just do what you can to take the pressure off.  

See it as a learning curve perhaps if learning is something you enjoy. Learning how to be another kind of human to one you've been before, or possibly not letting it change anything. Whichever, just try and take a break from the future.

Things will change for a while and like having days off sick from school, see it as a long sick day, watch all that crap daytime tv, binge on netflix, watch all 8 seasons of Game of Thrones three times and knit a lot of jumpers. Remember the fondness we all have for taking a sick day from work, perhaps this time, on reflection, will be like an exaggerated version of that. Find your niche and don't feel under pressure to be anything or anyone you don't want to be. After it's over a new attitude for living in the now, seizing the day may change how you see everything but for me until I feel physically better I'm not going to make plans, I'm just going to wait and try to be the patient patient. 

Right now I can't find the energy or impetus to do my oil painting or photography but that will happen at some point, I just don't know when. For now I will continue to trust the doctors and take the medicines for however long they feel necessary knowing that it works and I hope this can give you some hope to do the same. 

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