Category: Opinions and rants

Friday Feeling [31] – self improvement and some help from a stranger

My cockles were warmed on multiple levels this week by this story. A man riding the New York subway, re-teaching himself fractions so he could help his son, and in turn being offered help by a stranger.

Why the multiple cockle warming, you may ask? (or you may not!)

Firstly the Dad, obvs. I have to be honest, I’ve forgotten most of what I learnt in school maths lessons (trigonometry, anyone?) but the fact that he was taking the time to get to grips with it to help his son is lovely (I know it’s basic good parenting, but I guess a lot of folks would pass the buck to someone else instead of taking the time to re-learn something from many years ago).

Secondly, public transport is a pretty inhospitable place generally, where most people go out of their way to avoid eye contact, much less be nice to someone. So the fact that the older guy acknowledged the situation is in itself a wonderful thing. But to take that a step further, and offer help, is a lovely lovely thing.

Finally, that the Dad accepted the offer of a help as a genuine kindness rather than getting all defensive or dismissive, is probably all too rare in itself these days.

Ex professor helping Dad

The kid learning fractions isn’t the only winner here. My guess is that both the Dad and the older guy went away feeling pretty good about themselves too.

What do you think? Would you accept help from a stranger?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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How speaking to your local MP can make a difference

When I went to a Dignity in Dying meeting in Parliament back in January, it was quite clear from the MPs who attended that there’s still a hell of a lot of misconception about what the charity and it’s supporters (myself included) are fighting for. On that basis it’s clear that, when there is another vote on the issue in Parliament (as there was in 2015), those MPs won’t understand what they’re voting for, which will obviously affect the outcome.

To be clear, Dignity in Dying are fighting for a change in the law that allows mentally competent, terminally ill people with less than 6 months to live, the legal right to end their life in the UK with medical assistance. Mental competence would be assessed by an independent psychiatric professional. This would end the need for people to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland or other countries and organisations where assisted dying is currently legal. It would mean that people could die at home, in comfort, surrounded by family. It would mean they didn’t have to skulk away like criminals and worry that anyone who had helped them to make the journey overseas may face prosecution.

My Dad’s wife’s MP is Tom Watson, Member for West Bromwich East and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. He didn’t vote in favour of changing the assisted dying law in the last vote three years ago. As a constituent, she and another local resident Jim, who took his partner to Dignitas because the UK law didn’t allow her to end her life in her home country, requested a meeting with him to discuss the issue. They both shared their stories and experiences with him, and presented him with the latest research from Dignity in Dying.

Mr Watson was very moved by both of their stories, and surprised at the difference in treatment at the hands of their doctors (Dad’s doctor refused to give hi the paperwork he needed to be accepted by Dignitas on legal grounds, whereas Jim’s partner’s doctor helped them to collate everything they needed. Ironically they were both under the same GP surgery). He was visibly emotional and his opinion of assisted dying changed during that meeting. He pledged to publicly declare his support.

True to his word, Mr Watson was interviewed by the Daily Mirror newspaper, and an article was published this weekend. He acknowledges that meeting with my Dad’s wife and Jim changed his opinion, and has gone on record as saying the law needs to change

You can also read the full article detailing the difference in experience of Jim and my Dad’s wife here.

I’m sharing this message to prove that you, me, all of us, can make a difference. Not just specifically to Dignity in Dying, but with anything you feel passionately about. Maybe your MP is like Tom Watson – doesn’t understand your issue or has never really given it any thought. Maybe the thing that you want changing has never been on their agenda. Maybe you’re the person to make them understand and make them think about it.

Be the change.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A grumble about charity

As I sat watching coverage of the London Marathon on Sunday, I was struck by how many people were running to raise money for charity, which is obviously an amazing thing to do. Charity is an important part of our society, supporting needy causes that don’t get public funding.

It started me thinking, again (I’ve been thinking this for a while), about how wrong it is that some needy causes have to be supported by charity. That there is no government money for them.

Look at Cancer Research UK, for example. 1 in 2 people are now expected to get cancer during their lifetime. Shouldn’t there be more government funding available for something that affects half the population? What about sight loss charities? People who are born blind often have to rely on donations in order to get adapted equipment for the home or work – how is that right?

The thing that really got my goat during the marathon though, was the firefighters running to raise money for the community affected by the Grenfell Tower fire last year. I’d heard them interviewed on the radio on Friday, and then saw more interviews on the TV coverage. 18 firefighters who attended the fire, from North Kensington and Paddington boroughs, who’ve already done so much to rescue survivors during the disaster, were running in full gear including breathing apparatus (an additional weight of approximately 30kgs per person) in order to raise funds. But millions of charity donations already exist, and sit in the hands of the UK government who haven’t fully or correctly distributed them to survivors and those affected. Huge pots of money, donated in good faith by the British public who were saddened by the tragedy, not making the difference it should to the people who need it.

It’s morally and financially wrong.

Of course, some charities themselves are not above reprehension either. CEOs on 6 figure salaries, mismanagement of resources – it starts to add up to a really badly organised use of public cash which was donated in good faith.

It’s maddening.

Not to end on a bad note though, I salute every single person who put themself through 26.2 gruelling miles of running, in the hottest London Marathon temperatures ever recorded, to raise cash for a cause they believe in. They’re all amazing. I just hope their donations get used in the proper manner.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Wise words from Stephen Hawking

I’ll be honest, I don’t know an awful lot about Stephen Hawking. I know that he was an incredibly intelligent man with a capacity for knowledge, analysis, understanding and comprehending the world and the universe that most people will never come close to. I know that he never allowed himself to be defined by his disability, and overcame physical limitations to be able to share his incredible brain power.

But, in the wake of his recent death, these are the things about Stephen Hawking that resonated and will stay with me.

Stephen Hawking quote

This. Always this. Never stop learning, questioning, reading and wanting to know more.

Stephen Hawking assisted dying

And this.

If one of the most intelligent men of our time can understand the need for assisted dying, and the need for the taboo and secrecy behind it to stop, then why can’t our government?

I would suggest that they adhere to the first quote and read more about the process, the people involved, public opinion, and the heartache of individuals and families denied the right to choose death instead of prolonged terminal suffering.

Read more about why I support UK charity Dignity in Dying and a change in the assisted dying law here.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Who am I, really?

This isn’t a confession post, where I tell you that Ive been blogging under an alias or anything! But it may strike a chord with anyone who’s been on any hormone based contraception or anti depressants for any length of time.

I’ve been thinking recently, for a while actually, that I’ve been on “potentially mood altering” prescribed drugs for so long that I don’t know who I am without them, if that makes sense?

Let me explain.

I first started taking the pill – Microgynon – when I was 17. Far from an adult (certainly in mind), not experienced in the world and not really properly mature. I was living at home with my parents, still at school studying A levels, working a Saturday job in a clothes shop. Life was pretty easy.

I was lucky with my pill, it suited me from the off. No spotting or breakthrough bleeding, no bad skin or mood swings, or any noticeable change in me. Or so I thought. But what if the hormones changed the future me? What if they blocked something in me that would have become apparent as I matured, started working, became financially independent? What if the change was subtle enough for me not to notice it, but it did make a difference somehow?

I had to change my pill a while back, because of my age (urgh), so I’m now on the mini pill which I take daily, instead of having a 7 day break (you can read what I found out about hormone based contraception as you get older here). Again there was no discernible difference. But lately I feel tired and not interested in going out. What if I’m blaming that on winter, and getting older, but really it’s the effect of the pill and I just haven’t put two and two together?

Similarly, with my anti-depressants (read my depression story here). I have come off them a couple of times, without my doctor’s supervision (don’t do that, by the way), and at those times I’ve returned to Mrs Angry-with-Everything-and-Everyone but that makes me wonder then, is that the real me? Are the anti-depressants just masking my true aggressive nature? Or did the depression make me that way and the anti Ds just put me back to my normal level headed self?

What if my pill was the trigger for my depression? What if, had I never taken the pill, I’d never have had depression and almost 20 years of being on and off medication for it?

The point is, I’ve been putting hormones and SSRIs into my body for such a long time, and from such a young age, that I don’t know who the real me is. Stripped down, no medication or contraception, me. What would I be like? Would my personality change? Would I hate myself? Would other people hate me?

And in that respect, my thoughts start to run away with me, and at times I wonder if I’m living a lie. Which is crazy!

It’s too late for me to ever find out, obviously. But I know that there are thousands, probably millions of people out there, like me, who’ve followed their doctors advice for many years and now blindly, repetitively, habitually take what they’ve been prescribed “just because”. I’m not saying that doctors have acted irresponsibly. Just that it’s something worth thinking about.

I’m too scared to take myself off my anti-depressants to find out what would happen, but at some point as I get older I won’t need the pill anymore, and it will definitely be something I take note of, to see if there are any changes in reverse that I was too young and naive to notice at 17.

I’d love your thoughts on this! Am I overthinking things? Have you seen big changes from long term medication? Leave me your comments.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Single and moaning about Valentine’s Day?

I was thinking about this yesterday morning, and then in the afternoon someone shared this on Facebook:

Valentine's Day

And it’s so true! I don’t complain about Mothers Day because I don’t have children (purely through choice!) And I try really hard not to be cynical on Fathers Day too; I’m just happy for other people who’s Dads are still around and I encourage them to make the most of their time together.

If you haven’t got a Valentine, be your own. Spend some quality time, watch your favourite TV show, cook a treat meal or get a takeaway, maybe have a glass of wine. These are all the things the husband and I will be doing for Valentine’s Day anyway, and we’ve been together for almost 13 years! Everyone knows that Valentine’s Day is a crock of commercial shit, unless you’re in a new relationship and hoping your partner will express their love publicly so all your friends know it’s serious, so letting it define your mood and behaviour is a bit daft.

Besides, bitterness is really unattractive, so if you’re hoping to snag yourself an “other half”, moaning about people who have already found theirs is quite off putting.

I think Valentine’s Day should be for everybody. Love isn’t just for couples. It’s for family, friends, your favourite work colleague or even your dog! So, even if you’re single right now, why not show someone close to you that you love them with a card, some flowers or chocolates? I guarantee they’ll appreciate it, and you’ll feel warm and squishy inside too.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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“Lady doritos?” Twit of the Day!

It’s been ages since I’ve done a Twit of the Day post – not because there aren’t any twits about; mainly because very little shocks me at the moment in terms of the amount of stupidity in the world.

But I couldn’t let this story pass without comment. The CEO of the manufacturers of Doritos – PepsiCo –  has publicly announced that they’re looking into creating “less crunchy” crisps for women, that “fit more easily into a handbag”. Apparently women don’t like to crunch too loudly in public, or get their fingers covered in flavouring and have to lick it off, or tip the almost empty bag up to filter all the last bits of tastiness out of the corners (the best bit, IMO).

I have two questions here.
1) Who are the idiot women who responded to this survey? (presuming this is based on actual research and not some hair brained idea from someone within the company)
2) How patronising are the Doritos people?

I know there are certain unspoken rules around food consumption, like don’t order spaghetti bolognese on a first date (although I say stuff that, if you want it have it – food before dudes every time! Then again it’s easy for me, as a smug married, to surmise how I would behave, when in fact the world of modern dating and it’s throw away culture scares the bejesus out of me).

But really, crisps for women?

At a time when female equality is probably receiving the most media exposure of recent years?

At a time when the UK has just marked 100 years of women being allowed to vote?

What’s worse, PepsiCo’s CEO is a woman…

I do hope they’ll be in a pink packet.

Indra Nooyi, you’re my Twit of the Day!

What are your thoughts? Are you a loud and proud eater? Or would you welcome more discreet snack options? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Prostate cancer is now the third deadliest cancer in the UK

Last week it was announced that more people in the UK are now dying from prostate cancer than breast cancer.

I find that quite shocking. Not purely because of the numbers, but because there is so little media coverage, advertising and awareness around men’s cancers in comparison to women’s.

Why is that? Perhaps women are more open about health issues, and more likely to discuss them openly (although recent figures around the decline in cervical smear tests may suggest otherwise – read my post about the importance of smear tests here).

Perhaps its because prostate cancer is seen as an old man’s illness, and not something for younger guys to worry about?

Indeed, the latest figures have been explained as resulting from an aging population where men are living longer than previous generations, and so the chances of them developing and dying from prostate cancer are higher than before. Previously, deaths resulting from prostate cancer have been more difficult to quantify, because an older man with prostate cancer may die of other causes (e.g heart attack, old age) before prostate cancer can be attributed as the cause of death.

Well, let me tell you, prostate cancer is not just an old man’s disease. And it doesn’t always have symptoms. My Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer aged 57, during a routine examination for another ailment, with no prior symptoms at all. By the time he was diagnosed it was already stage 4 and inoperable – all the NHS could do was offer life lengthening treatment. He died aged 59.

Today would have been his 7th wedding anniversary to his beautiful wife. They should have had many more anniversaries together, not just the 5 they had. They should have had many more years together; years of travelling, and eating, and enjoying life.

It’s time to stop only raising awareness of the “most popular” cancers, and time to stop an awareness bias mainly to women’s cancers. I’m not talking about funding and I’m not suggesting that women’s cancers don’t need to be highlighted. What I’m saying is that men, and the women in their lives, need to start being more open, talking about prostate cancer and proactively getting checked. Men over 50 are at risk, but aren’t offered a routine test by their doctor. It’s time to take control, ask for the test, and deal with the consequences.

Advanced prostate cancer can be treated with hormones to lower the development of testosterone which contributes to the cancer’s growth. Let me put that another way – its chemical castration. No man wants to hear those words.

Thanks as always for reading. x

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2017 highlights – my guest blog post for Nicola at pink-confetti.co.uk

At the end of last year Nicola, from pink-confetti.co.uk, asked on Twitter for people who would be happy to take part in her monthly guest blog series, which would have a different theme each month.

Pink Confetti blog header

I was lucky enough to be picked for the month of January, and the theme was 2017 highlights. Myself (and the other featured bloggers – Cat and Matt – I feel kind of bad that my name didn’t rhyme!) were asked to write about 3 blogging highlights and 3 personal highlights from last year.

I enjoy a good annual review (I didn’t do one this year, but you can read my 16 great things from 2016 here) and sometimes it’s easy to forget all the good stuff amongst the maelstrom of stress that comes with everyday life, so it was an enjoyable opportunity to look back on 365 days and take stock of the positives that 2017 brought to me.

I’d love you to have a read, and why not have a look around Nicola’s blog while you’re there?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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A visit to Parliament with Dignity in Dying

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m vocal in my support for changing the UK law to allow assisted dying. Through that support and the blog post I initially wrote around it, I’ve been in contact with Dignity in Dying, who fight tirelessly to help change the law, and last week they invited me to attend a meeting in the House of Commons where they would be presenting their latest research. I jumped at the opportunity because it’s something I feel so passionate about, and I was keen to see how their findings would be received by the meeting attendees, including research assistants and Members of Parliament.

I’ve been to the Houses of Parliament many years ago, on a school trip, although the security is (understandably) a lot tighter these days. It’s still a very impressive building, even second time around; it must be strange for somewhere so grand to be your place of work. There’s currently a lot of structural work happening as the building is showing signs of decline (not surprising, considering it’s age) but the amount of artwork, gold leaf and carved stone inside is very impressive.

The meeting was to be split into two halves – the first 30 minutes consisting presentations to the room from DiD and people who have experienced helping others with assisted dying, and the second half opened to the floor for questions and debate.

Dignity in Dying parliamentary meeting

The presentations were, for me, so compelling that I don’t see a reason why anyone would vote against changing the law to allow the choice for assistive dying. My Dad’s wife was name checked as someone who had to help a loved one deal with the implications of not being legally allowed to go to Dignitas, which of course wouldn’t be necessary if assisted dying was legal in the UK. We heard from Carole Taylor OBE who, along with her husband Mick Murray, had accompanied two friends, on two separate occasions, to Switzerland to end their life on their own terms. Friends for a number of years, they’d talked in the past about how they would help each other if the time came. First was Anne, who was diagnosed with supranuclear palsy, and then, whilst he was still grieving the loss of his wife, her husband Bob following a terminal lung cancer diagnosis. That, to me, is proof that assisted dying isn’t scary or regretful. That Bob had accompanied his wife and seen everything that was involved and still wanted to seek such an end for himself is testament to the process and the compassion of all involved, and the strength of feeling he had around the alternative, which was to suffer immeasurably.

We also heard from Dr Simon Sandberg, who had accompanied a friend of many years to an alternative facility in Switzerland. He regaled us with tales of his friend’s vivacious nature, zest for life and commitment to his business; as well as as the positive way he faced his illness and his impending death. His situation got so bad that he tried and failed to take his own life by hanging before he got to Switzerland, and also to throw himself from a bedroom window. Thankfully he was able to make the final journey and end his life by choice, doing so with a great deal of humour and self respect.

Both of these real life case studies prove to me not only that it’s not a fearful process, as I stated earlier, but that knowing that assisted dying is an option helps terminally ill people to face their final months; knowing that if everything gets too much there is an option to take control and exit with dignity. As a friend, an old friend, with years of shared memories and experiences, or a family relation, it must be a difficult decision to make to help them end their life but also an incredibly easy one – you want to end their suffering and help them achieve a dying wish. The research conducted by Dignity in Dying reveals that of those people in the general public who support the case for assisted dying, very few are put off by the potential criminal investigation that might follow. The love and support they feel towards the person asking for help far outweighs any reticence around breaking the law.

The second half of the meeting was opened up to the floor for Q&A and debate. Of course, this was always going to be a mix of opinion, by very virtue of the subject matter. Interestingly Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham, commented that he has always been against assisted dying but, having heard the panel speakers, was shifting his views – if not in favour of changing the law, then certainly to a point of being less against it and open to hearing more about personal experiences. This is the kind of response that Dignity in Dying were hoping for; to have an audience with people who may not have considered the personal effect on family and friends and explain not just the physical side, but the emotional and mental side for all involved.

Unfortunately from there, MP for Worthing West Peter Bottomley muddied the water somewhat by quoting ludicrous figures about euthanasia in the Netherlands – neither relevant or conducive to the conversation; although, when this was pointed out to him, he refused to back down and kept repeating the statistics (after telling the room how he visits dying people in his constituency every 2-3 weeks as though that makes him qualify for talking rot and wasting valuable debate time). It’s fare to say that he riled a lot of people with his mis-information and pigheadedness although he was firmly corrected by Professor Bronwyn Parry who independently conducted the research for DiD.

As the meeting came to an all too soon close, Lib Democrat leader Vince Cable asked to make a point. He’d missed the presentations due to other commitments, so wasn’t fully informed, which I think applies to many politicians who don’t agree with a change in the law. He expressed concern using his own Mother as an example, that the process was flawed and could be taken advantage of. He said his own Mother has a history of mental illness and is suffering from dementia, and some days she says she doesn’t want to live anymore, whereas others she’s quite content. Thanks goodness Baroness Molly Meacher, member of the House of Lords and chairwoman of Dignity in Dying, was able to make the closing statement. Speaking to Mr Cable, she quite clearly told him “your Mother wouldn’t even be eligible to be considered for assisted dying. Every person would undergo a psychiatric evaluation to ensure they’re mentally capable of making the decision to end their own life on their own terms. People with mental illness or dementia arent mentally capable of making their own decision.”

Well said Molly! This is the absolute key to the change in the law we’re campaigning for. Assisted dying would only be available to people with less than 6 months to live who are mentally competent. In truth, of the people it would be available to, only a small proportion would go ahead with the process. But knowing that they could choose that option if the pain and suffering became too much, without having to make travel arrangements and spend thousands of pounds and legally implicate family and friends would be of great mental comfort to them.

On a more positive note, it was great news that Noel Conway won his right to appeal an earlier decision rejecting his case for the right to die. It’s appalling that Noel had to go to court to even seek permission to appeal, but the law’s an ass and rules are rules. Dignity in Dying will continue to support Noel in his personal endeavour, which would of course have further reaching implications for other terminally ill people in the future.

How brave and inspiring of Noel to be fighting such a fight at a time when his own life expectancy is limited. And how unfeeling of the legal system to put him through what should be a personal right.

If you would like to support Dignity in dying by donating, becoming a member, or campaigning, you can find more information on their website.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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