Busy, busy, busy

Well my plan to update this blog weekly has gone out of the window. When did life get so busy!

November and December is always busy in our house. Lots of music with brass band contests and Christmas concerts. This year, with the kids having left school I thought we would have less concerts to attend. However they may have moved away but they are still playing in various groups – unfortunately we only managed to go and see the one (Into the Woods). My other half has, so far, only agreed to help out one other band last weekend, but it was 75 miles away!

We also thought we would have weekends to ourselves but out of the last 6 weekends we have only had 1 without visitors – and they return from uni this weekend.

3 years ago was busy too. After 4 rounds of “FEC” 17 December was my first round of Docetaxel. I had been told this would be easier than the FEC, although to be honest FEC was easier than I had expected. The first treatment went fine and two days later I was playing in our annual Christmas concert. The next day however I started to feel strange. Aches and pains all over. It felt like I had little people inside me running around and hitting me with hammers. One minute the pain was in my feet, the next in my back, etc. Sleeping was impossible.

I was due to play yet another Christmas concert on the Monday but had to cry off. It was the only engagement with the band that I missed during the whole of my treatment. It was also going to be somewhat exciting for me as, unusually, I was  going to get to play the drum kit (normally I play the timps and tuned percussion). The rest of the family went off to a concert some 25 miles away. I was left in bed.

Feeling “off” I took my temperature. It was somewhat higher than I would have liked. I phone the help line who told me to go to hospital if it reached 38 degrees. I kept monitoring my temperature and it kept going up, albeit slowly. So do I leave my bed, drive myself 12 miles to hospital a couple of days before Christmas. I stayed where I was and luckily my temperature peaked at 38 and then began to fall.

I didn’t get the opportunity to play kit with the band for a few years after that but last weekend, due to the unavailability of our kit player, I got to play at the Albert Hall. OK so it wasn’t the Albert Hall in London (one day I will play there).

Boobs & Brass

What is the connection with brass bands and breast cancer?

The answer is Boobs and Brass an all-girl brass band who came together in May 2006 for a one-off fund raising concert.

B-B-2160x1080-980x245[1]Well the one-off concert turned into 12 years of music making and fund raising and to date some £241,892 has been raised for charity – of which £206,900 has been donated to Breast Cancer Now.

My first encounter with the pink ladies was at Butlins in January 2010. Every January Skegness Butlins is “invaded” by brass bands. This time Boobs and Brass had a mass “Boob Blow” and some 370 players played together to raise money for Breast Cancer Now. My daughter, then 9, was I think one of the youngest playing that day and I also played cornet that day. I started playing with them on percussion in 2016 whilst I was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

The band’s fabulous organisers Jane and Maggie have accepted numerous awards over the years for their fundraising including in 2009 an “Outstanding Achievement” award by Breast Cancer Campaign (now Breast Cancer Now), in 2017 the BBC Music Day Brass Band Award   and this year the Northamptonshire Community Award Charity Champion Award.

Unfortunately the band may cease after a couple of final concerts – as you can imagine organising something like this takes over your life. So on Saturday 13 October some 70+ of us ladies will be performing at Lincoln Cathedral and trying to get to that £250,000 donation target.  We will also be honouring the NHS in their 70th anniversary year and joining us will be the Lincolnshire Hospitals Band.

Before anyone asks, yes we know that men get breast cancer too and for this concert we have a male conductor. We have also had male guest players in the past.

Haunted by Memories


2018 03 11_Liz_1753So I got a message from the hospital to attend my chemo briefing on 22nd. This meant I was free and able to go to the National Brass Band Championships in Cheltenham the weekend before. It’s a bit earlier this year (yes we have qualified again, this time in the 2nd section) – this weekend. I am very nervous as to how I am going to cope with returning to the same venue.

Last time it was very emotional as we didn’t know what was going to happen with the chemo, how I would feel/react, whether it would be my last time playing for a few months. After we played our conductor thanked me for being there to play (albeit a small part) and at this point tears were shed by quite a few people in the band – in fact I am welling up typing this.

This year rather than playing a small part I am playing what, in some bands, will probably be covered by 2 or even 3 people. I find it quite physically and mentally demanding. My son is helping out on percussion (he is normally a horn player) and I have told him my fears so hopefully he will keep it together and give me the hug I am sure I am going to need after playing.

Here’s hoping for good memories to replace the bad.

On an exciting note I have just bought a drum kit! We pick it up at the weekend after the contest. I am also on the count down for having the house back. I currently have my son, daughter and her boyfriend in the house – along with all their uni stuff. The boyfriend now has his uni house and is starting to move out, my son has had confirmation that he is returning and will be off next week and my daughter the week after. Peace and quiet will return – apart from the drums!untitled

Big and Little Audiences

On Sunday my band played in a bandstand in a park – well that’s what we do in the summer.

In was a beautiful day. Hot. We had a car full to get there – 5 people, 3 of whom had to nurse a suitcase and instrument on their laps – and no air conditioning. Hot and bothered we arrived and set up.

Unusually there was no audience. We had a few of our faithful followers (mums, dads, grandads, you get the picture) and around 5 people we didn’t know. Why? England were playing, and winning, a football match while we sat there playing and trying to avoid finding out the score!

Time hop back to 2012. London Olympics and the Olympic torch relay.

The band was lucky enough to be invited to play for the Olympic torch in an event at the Nottingham ice stadium, along with the Nottingham Lace City Chorus, where Torvill and Dean were skating with the torch. Audience approximately 6,000

So what has this to do with cancer. Not a lot I suppose. It shows that life does return to normal. This time 3 years ago I had got around to making an appointment with the doctors about a mole on my left breast. As I mentioned before I was prompted to do this after reading my friends blog. The appointment was not for another few weeks though and I was becoming a bit agitated about it.

Funnily enough I have another upcoming doctors appointment, well in 2 weeks time, that I booked 3 weeks ago – the first available appointment.

Luckily 3 years ago I decided not to wait but to get an “emergency” appointment – more about that next week – my upcoming one is routine so will sit and wait.

Whit Friday

I have been involved in brass bands since I was 9, I met my husband whilst playing in a brass band, my brother plays in a brass band, my kids play in brass bands but I have never been to the Whit Friday marches.

OK, so what are “the Whits?” …………….

Whit Friday is the first Friday after Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Easter. There appear to be different traditions around the country. Where I originate from we used to parade on Whit Monday. Although I walked in the parade I never got to play in the band. In the North East the Whit Walks or Parades are held on Whit Friday.

Image0042In 1870 one of the villages holding a Whit Walk combined this with a brass band contest. Gradually more villages started to do this and today there are some 23 villages holding a contest.

So what happens …. If you have ever seen the brilliant film “Brassed Off” then the Whits feature – you know the bit where they are supposed to be marching but do rather a lot of drinking.  So the bands march down a specified route then play a contest march before an adjudicator who may be in a caravan, pub, tent, etc, and cannot see the band who is performing. Bands of any DSC04096ability can enter.  Prizes vary from village to village, some are for deportment, some for playing depending on the level of the band, best youth band, most entertaining etc. They then jump on a coach and go to the next village.

Last year I had the chance to go with a fabulous organisation called “Boobs and Brass” who I will talk about a lot more another time but as you can guess by the name they are all girls and work to raise money for Breast Cancer Now.

So why didn’t I make the trip this year? Luckily it’s not my health that stopped me this year. The other members of the family are all played- in different bands – and someone needed to be at home to pick up the youngest when her coach got back – at 2 am!

Next year I will be there. Will it become my new normal? Not sure. I think it may be one of those things you want to experience, but once may be enough for me!

Where to begin

Who am I?

I’ve re-read my original post and realise I haven’t introduced myself. I am a 50 something lady living in the East Midlands of England with my husband, 20 year old son and nearly 18 year old daughter.

Around this time in 2015 life was plodding along nicely. Ourtrophy pic life revolved around music and the occasional bike ride, a bit of running and more music – OK just to warn you, this blog may turn out to be as much about music as anything else. So what changed this state of affairs – a diagnosis of breast cancer. To make my writing of this blog easier I am going to try and keep this blog on a rough timeline of the run up to my diagnosis.

Back in May 2015 our band decided to go on a road trip to Weston Super Mare. This was almost going home for my husband and myself as our first house together was in the next town up the road. We had last played in this contest some 20 years earlier and it was great to return to play with the kids. The band played well and we won the competition, had great fun playing cricket on the beach (ok the kids played and we watched), and met up with lots of old friends who we had not seen for years.

I felt fine. No idea of what was going to happen. Unusually I had been ill earlier in the year, a bought of flu (even with a flu jab courtesy of my employers) and a weird abscess on my head which I ended up going to the doctors about.

How Am I?

Jump forward to now, how am I? To be honest I am feeling better than I have for a long time.  Although my active treatment finished almost a year ago I have been suffering really bad fatigue recently which resulted in me cutting down my hours at work. A trip to the doctors, some blood tests and an intensive course of vitamin D seems to have done me good. Have read up on it, as you do, apparently my factor 50 sun cream that I now slap on my arm every day (in an attempt to stay off lymphedema) inhibits the absorption of sun and hence the manufacture of vitamin D so I am now taking vitamin D supplement. One of the ongoing joys of living after cancer.

Do I feel “normal” no, not what normal was but maybe now my new normal is starting to be defined. 

New Boob Day

P1060847And finally ….. today is “new boob day“. No P1060848I haven’t gone down the route of having reconstruction following my mastectomy but I have today picked up my new prosthesis in it’s nice pink bag. I’ve gone up a size in the last 2 years – thought I’d put on weight – and apparently a left sided boob looked better than a right sided one!