Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

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

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5 Apr 2020

Lockdown Quarantine and Long Term Illness

This is going to surprise you (unless you are a self-isolating ninja already) but certain aspects of this global pandemic lockdown quarantine is actually making the everyday better for some of us. Life has become so full again I've ended up writing a blog post after about three months!

Aside from moments of complete meltdown and panic, I'm bouncing from  the deepest depths to the highest highs on an almost hourly basis. I was handling it relatively well until I needed to visit the hospital last week for a blood test.  Whether it was the fact that I hadn't left my property for about a month, or the fact that I had to enter a high risk situation, but the trip to pathology brought back all the feelings I had when first told I had stage three breast cancer.

Receiving a diagnosis of a life threatening illness is kinda similar to the situation you are all finding yourself in now. Firstly there's the shock that this is actually happening, you are unprepared, this wasn't your story, you had a plan which now you can't follow - albeit for a short time or forever. Then there is the reality that you have to stop work.  Ok maybe there will be help from the Social Services - ha good luck with that, because maybe there won't. Shortly after you find out that your treatment will involve long periods of feeling unwell and you are likely to not be able to leave the house, also, because you have a compromised immune system you had better not go anywhere public or let anyone visit you if they have a cold or cough or anything slightly unhealthy. So - how long will this go on for, not being able to work, staying at home all the time, not seeing anyone.  Well they can't actually tell you that, it depends on many factors. 

See where I am going here. Shock and panic all ensue and it takes a long while for your mind to come to terms with 'this is the shit hitting the fan' for real. After many many months, or even years of receiving treatment you may find yourself in the lucky situation of being able to beat the illness, although the chances of you ever being completely back to normal are reduced even if the scars are only mental.

Eventually the panic dissipates, (well it has to really or you would kill yourself with shock), but of course there will always be triggers that bring back the reality and take you back to that early stage of anxiety at the confrontation of your own mortality. 
This pandemic will probably have done that to many people with long term illness even though they are well skilled by now at being on their own in the house and keeping the anxiety at bay.  Once that shit has hit the fan you are heightened to the fact that now anything can happen, that it's not always going to be happening to someone else.  

So you ask, why did I say that some aspects of life are now better. I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that it would have been great to get this much support when you found out you had a life threatening illness. We sat at home alone while everyone else was at work, too busy, on holiday, going to parties, going for days out, going to restaurants and on and on. We sat there staring at social media wondering if anyone had a bit of time to message or read our posts, or put something entertaining up online. 

And now there's never been so much to occupy us, it's the busiest and most entertained I've been in years. Theres my daily yoga sessions with Adrienne, my weekly creative writing group via Zoom with Clare, my collaboration project with Emily for Holy Week and hourly podcasts and videos from celebrities like Miranda Hart and Tom Allen. I've been sung to by so many celebrities and everyone, I mean everyone is on social media 24/7. I've got photos to take for one project, seeds to plant for a challenge and then theres the home cooking and DIY which I now get a hand with because husband is stuck here with me. By now us 'long termers' have binged watch all the tv shows, read all the books, learnt the new craft, knitted ten jumpers, and I'm not even exaggerating, so we finally have some bloody company, even if it's via Zoom or House Party. 

Because I am in a high risk 'vulnerable' category I now get priority with my shopping. Nowadays everyone is careful about spreading their germs, good God they are even wearing masks now and gloves, oh I dreamt of that when I had no white cells - the day when other people would take care not to give me their germs. I remember on so many occasions - once complaining to the woman serving me in the bakery that she had a bad cold and maybe she shouldn't be serving food. That went down like a lead balloon. After one visit for a hospital test I ended up with shingles, I suspect because a person with a cold wasn't wearing a mask or washing their hands or something of that ilk.

Things are going to change a lot after all this. In so many ways it's not possible to comprehend. I am truly gutted for all of you who have had your dreams dashed, the ones you've worked years for because I know how it feels. But one thing I do hope is that now everyone has experienced the isolation and the need for caution, that perhaps there will be more awareness for what it is like to have a long term health condition, because, dear people, there are some who do this all the time. Your 'new normal' is just 'normal' for thousands who have illness, disability, no support network or finance. 

If anything good comes out of this I hope that true empathy will now be experienced by a large number of people. I pray that the sense of community and support for fellow humans will continue. I pray that the inequality of wages between non essential jobs and those that have kept us alive (whether it's nurses, cleaners, delivery drivers, supermarket workers) will be re-evaluated and there will be a new found respect for anyone who put themselves at risk to stack the shelves, drive the bus, shop for a friend.  


9 Nov 2019

A Norfolk Country House Interiors Christmas Event

I've kicked off my Christmas build up with the most amazing and unique event at an Elizabethan Country House just south of Norwich in Saxlingham Nethergate, Norfolk. Situated just 20 minutes up the winding country roads from me you can find this stunning house set in 17 Acres of landscaped gardens, complete with a thatched summerhouse and a swimming pool and not only can you rent it but you can also visit and shop on one of the events held during the year.

Owner Janine and her family open their doors a couple of times a year for an event they call Country House Interiors (you can find them on instagram). They invite local antique and interior makers and sellers to display their goods around the vast manor house for a very atmospheric experience.  I was hoping to have lots more photos to show you but as I wasn't feeling very well I took my eye of my camera for a minute and it fell over and smashed.

Currently residing with the makers, I'm hoping my lens is fixable but it's just confirmed to me that I really need to get a lighter compact camera for this sort of occasion as my left arm still has a way to go before it works again. I actually burst into tears when I phoned the camera repair centre such is my current state of health. After over 20 treatments of radiotherapy I feel absolutely bloomin terrible and I'm looking forward to doing nothing much between now and the New Year except making my house look festive and cozy.

We found many many many things we wanted to buy but tried to keep to my shopping list of things that will work on a bedroom I'm tackling at present. Top of the list was some mounted antlers which I laid eyes on straight away from Mike of Ruby Rose Antiques who also has a large amount of Kokeshi Dolls for sale and I'm terrified that if I buy one it will start an obsession for owning every single one I see. However, Mike has plenty of other stock that I can be justified in buying, because of course antlers are an absolute essential for a country house interior design. Mike is involved with Blackdog Events around Suffolk and Norfolk too and his fathers shop in Halesworth is always worth a visit.

Norfolk Pickers owner Clare provided a lot of temptation and we were won over with a huge brass cooking pot thingy which will hold logs and coal in our enormous inglenook fireplace.  Heaven forbid we ever move to somewhere small. Clare had so many gorgeous things, lots of lovely French items like those lovely frilly edged glass lampshades, kitchenalia and home accessories. 

It was a real pleasure to also meet the lovely couple behind Massingham Antiques of Briston and are the sellers of that gigantic birdcage above, which if I had a space big enough I would absolutely love to own it but what a statement decorators piece that is; interior designers please note !! It would look incredible with a huge houseplant inside. I hope to meet up with them again next year and have a play with their stock and do some photos, meanwhile I am trying to work out how to incorporate that bird cage in my life.

There will be more photos over on my stories in Instagram as my phone had to take over after my camera broke. Those lovely little natural wreaths at the top and the decoration of the big fireplaces around the house was by Jo Flowers Official who is based in Norfolk and I'm hoping to track down her husband's reclamation yard Morways just the other side of the Thetford Forest Park.

Another of the many sellers around the house are my lovely friends James and Joanna who make so many high quality pieces for the home, from bath boards to lavender bags. I treated myself to one of their Christmas stockings which I hope to feature in some photos soon and should point out something they sell which is great for crafters. Currently they are expanding their stock of block printed items, usually in a red print onto vintage French linens, they not only sell items made with the hand printed designs, but also squares for you to incorporate in your own craft project. This is perfect for some cushions I want to make out of left over French Metis sheet scraps (after making loose covers for my chairs). I'm adding some embroidery around the block printed letter J, also in red and it's been the inspiration for many items I hope to make over Christmas. 

James and Joanna take over the 'Children's room' in the house and decorate it full of their white linen items. I also had to have their little hand made angels made from wire, lace and crystal which you can see on their instagram feed.

Other sellers worth a note are Alicia from Mrs Clarkes in Harleston who brought her Plum & Ashby range.  Sugden and Daughters had that adorable collection of white vase planters pictured above - don't they look great grouped together? Bungay shop Mouse Design also popped up with a great range of items and they can normally be found in Earsham Street (my favourite shopping street in this area), well worth a trip. 

I know I've missed out a lot of people, apologies, if you are one of the sellers who would like a mention then pop me a message on Instagram.

In the meantime, check out my stories for more shots around the Old Hall Norfolk and a big thanks to Janine for hosting it

My next event coverage will be with good friend Liz who is hosting her barn sale in Wangford on 23rd and 24th November, please be sure to put that in your diary and maybe I can see you there for a mince pie and a cuppa. 


25 Oct 2019

Radiotherapy a rough guide

At time of writing this I am just reaching the half way point of radiotherapy for breast cancer.  Here's some of my observances and a list of creams which are allowable during this procedure.  

They say that radiotherapy makes you very tired, I'm not being able to distinguish between the affects of the radiotherapy or simply just being tired from two and a half hours of driving to the hospital every day which is over an hour away. Unfortunately my normal hospital does not have these 2 million pound machines so like everyone else who attends that hospital, we all have a long drive every weekday for five weeks. Roughly speaking the average treatment regime is over 20 treatments on these enormous space age looking machines and ironically the actual application of radiation only takes a few seconds. 

 To receive the treatment you have to lay on a thin narrow hard bed thing which slides and the radiotherapy machine revolves around you.  It's like being on the star ship enterprise.  So in order to target the exact spot where you need blasting (I exaggerate because you can't feel anything at the time) they will line you up and mark your body with dots on your first planning meeting and take a record of the measurements. Then on every visit you will need to line up these dots which sometimes takes longer than others, it's totally random how well you line up when you lie down, with your head on a round puffy donut and your legs over a pyramid shaped thing. You have to relax enough for the operators to pull you about a bit to line up the marks, for breast cancer you are on your back with your arms in rests above your head. It's important that if you have an operation on your breasts and lymph nodes, that you are do your exercises so that you have enough mobility in your arms to get in the required position without too much discomfort. 

Over the course of your twenty or so treatments, you are likely to get red, pink, hot and swollen in the area being treated. You also get these twinges like electric shocks during the day, little needle jabbing sensations. For me it's in the breast, so I can't speak for anyone else as it's different for other types of cancer.

My hospital fell short of giving me any printed information about recommended creams but it's vital that you don't use anything containing metal or perfume during this time. Well I have to tell you that until very recently I didn't even realise that deodorant and creams contained metal, what the fuck. So when I was lucky enough to try the deodorant from Earth Conscious UK I realised that most big brands contain aluminium, something which is thought to cause cancer, and seeing as how my lymph nodes had cancer in them under my armpit, I decided to avoid anything with this in future. However, trying to understand the ingredients on the back of the plastic containers isn't always as clear as you'd like it to be.

So, my hospital told me not to use anything containing metal or perfume and for the first week of treatment I washed using the anti-bacterial wash given to me before my operation, WRONG !!! Oh yeah, thanks for that, apparently, because it's anti-bacterial it will contain metal. If my hospital had given out a printed leaflet like the one my friend received at Barts in London, I would have had a much better idea on the do's and dont's, so here's why I'm typing this blog, so if you like me are let down on the information front, you can do a check here for creams that are allowed.

Radiotherapy treatment can dry out your skin to the point that it cracks open, so you need to smother up with creams several times during the day. I ordered up quite a few different ones, which is handy because some are very thick, some thin and some soothing, so I tend to vary it during the day.

When you visit the hospital it will probably make everyone's life easier if you don't wear a bra. I feel too swollen to wear one and I don't want anything that rubs so I've been wearing a cotton t-shirt with a baggy top over that and this way I don't need to bother with changing in the changing room and wearing the gown of shame (with your arse hanging out), I just whip my top off in the treatment room and I'm raring to go with no faffing. 

It may be interesting for you to know that my red burning soreness was much reduced on the days I was taking ibuprofen for something else, I have no idea if this is related or not. 

I'm having quite a bad severe reaction to the Herceptin injections, and now realise that a lot of what was causing me discomfort during chemotherapy was down to the Herceptin drug, which I had been led to believe had no side effects. Huh, seriously. If you read the list of side effects that are rare, well I've got every single one of them in abundance. Worst of all a terrible pain in my 'siting bone' making sitting absolutely agony. I'm now trying to reduce this with ibuprofen during the day so that I can at least do something other than lie on my side in bed. The Herceptin is supposed to be a course of one year treatments but there's no way I can do another year in this state, so we are going to see if I can struggle to the half way mark. It really should be noted please that even when they can no longer detect cancer cells in your biopsies the treatments for micro cells continues for quite some time after, if not for life.

So for anyone about to start here's a list of the creams that are allowed during radiotherapy, given to my friend by her hospital, I can add to this list by including 'Moo Goo', which I received in a charity care box organised by Art For Cure.  I'm not sure where you can buy Moo Goo cream so I suggest you google it for online delivery. 

These creams however should be available from Boots or Superdrug in the UK;
Dr. Organic Aloe Vera Gel (it tends to make your clothes stick to you so I'd recommend using it when you can leave it to dry in the open), Boots Derma Care Daily Moisturiser, Aveeno Daily Moisturising Lotion, Simple Hydrating Light Moisturiser, Oilatum Cream, E45 Cream for dry skin and Eczema, Cetraben Cream, Weleda Baby Calendula Body Lotion. 

I would also recommend the Earth Conscious deodorant for the future but personally I wouldn't wear any deodorant while having treatment in case it causes a skin reaction. Also the packaging for Earth Conscious is not plastic, which I wish was the case for all these others. 

Hope this helps, I would suggest getting a few of these creams, you tend to use quite a lot, and if you want to buy someone a present then try and track down that Moo Goo Natural Skin Milk 'udder cream', I think you can find it on Amazon and it feels the nicest of all the ones I've so far tried. 

Roll on Christmas when I no longer have to go to hospital every day. 


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. 

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