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.

and then there were two

Such a busy few weeks.

As I mentioned in my last post we returned to Cheltenham last weekend. This year we only managed 13th (although in a higher section) but I was pleased that being back somewhere which had such strong associations to chemo didn’t mess with my head..

Last Wednesday my eldest returned to uni ….

Saturday the youngest’s boyfriend moved to his uni house …

yesterday my baby went to uni for her first year.

For the first time in nearly 21 years there are just the two of us in the house.

Three years ago today however was my first chemo session. My appointment was for 2pm so we agreed that the kids would go for coffee after school choir and we would pick them up around 5pm. How naïve were we! Still in the waiting room at 4 my husband sent them a message “Delayed at hospital, get the bus to N”. He didn’t bother to tell them that as at that point nothing had been done so they of course started to panic.

By the time they tried to get a canula in me for the FEC I was in pieces – more worried about my kids than what was going to happen to me. I nearly decided against the cold cap as I was worried that it would delay my already delayed treatment but was persuaded to go with it.

We had tickets for a concert that night but I had decided not to go, not knowing how I would react to the drugs. Once the treatment was eventually over we dashed home and husband went straight back out to meet the kids at the theatre. By then my youngest was completely distraught. Luckily some members of our band were also at the concert and I shall be forever grateful to them for looking after the kids.

So there I was, at home, on my own, after just having had my first chemo. Luckily no immediate side affects although took some anti-sickness medication before bed.

So now rather than my daughter worrying about me it is how it should be, me worrying about her. Hope she made it to her 9 am this morning!

September – A New year

I think a lot of parents of school age children see September as the start of a new year. I usually buy an academic diary and start afresh in September rather than January.imagesSo 1 September 2015 I first met my oncologist. He talked me through the treatment path. 8 sessions of chemo to try and shrink the tumour then radiotherapy then a single mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

Me, being me, I was back at work the next day. Some people I have met since stopped work on the day they were diagnosed. Whilst that might have been good for them I don’t think that would have worked for me. I needed my normal routine. I didn’t feel ill so why not go to work.

A week later and I was feeling frustrated waiting for a date to start the chemo.

Waiting again at the moment – this time to see whether my eldest will be returning to uni after doing a resit. Whilst the youngest is happily buying stuff for her first year he is in limbo not knowing what is going on. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

On a sad note one of the friends I met through a breast cancer forum has been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer and another is waiting for results following biopsies after an annual mammogram. We have already lost two friends from our group of 27 due to secondary cancer. Secondary breast cancer kills 1,000 women a month. Secondary breast cancer is not curable. Secondary breast cancer does not receive the research funding it should. DmJrpBoXgAMrsCIThanks to Jo Taylor of abcdiagnosis for this fantastic info sheet

Results – getting on with life

Robin Hood Half Marathon 2004

So whilst waiting for the next lot of results I continued life “as normal”. Decorating my daughter’s bedroom, depping for various brass bands, cleaning out the summer house and going back to work.

As far as most of my colleagues were concerned I had just been on holiday. I has only missed two days before my holiday (I was working 2 days a week during school holidays) and, due to cutting the holiday short, was back on the designated day. I had a few “handover” meetings and some chats with some colleagues to let them know what was going on. Then, feeling rebellious, bought purple hair dye on the way home. If I was going to loose my hair why not have some fun first!

So on 25 August 2015 it was confirmed that I had breast cancer. Treatment path to be 8 sessions of chemotherapy, radiotherapy then surgery. Appointment made to meet the oncologist next week.

Life goes on though – birthday party to organise for my daughter (hence the clearing out of the summer house). This turned out to be an excellent thing to do as it stayed tidy and has turned into our office – I am sat in it at the moment typing and spent many hours in here during treatment so I could continue to work remotely. It however it has transformed from “party shed” to “man cave”. My other half has installed a TV, speakers and various shed art. Latest installations are recent holiday purchases and he is going to be installing a weather station so he can see what the weather is doing – whilst sat in a shed in the garden!

A week of medical appointments followed – blood test for my finger, dentist for a pre-chemo check up (and filling) and opticians.

The birthday party went well. It was great to see my daughter singing and dancing in the garden with her mates.

This last weekend she was, I assume, singing and dancing again – this time at Reading Festival. Her first festival. Must admit I was somewhat jealous until the rain started! I, in the meantime, have started the “C25K” programme – couch to 5K. Whilst I used to run a lot – half marathons, 10ks, etc, due to first injury and then the cancer I have not run regularly for 6 years! So far so good – although only done 2 days so far.

 

Oh and we’ve booked a holiday – just the two of us – a long weekend near Carcassonne – one of my favourite places. I have been there a few times on my own and it will be great to share it with my other half.

More biopsies

So we are back from our holiday in Seattle had a great time but jag lack is the pitts.

Back to 2015 and our holiday in France. Whilst away my son received his AS results. We had planning on going out to eat that night but the results were not good so we were all in a bit of a funk. My finger reached a crazy size so my husband had to cut off my wedding ring. Unfortunately it still kept getting bigger and meant that riding the bike was painful. The day before we were due to leave our gite (a few days earlier than originally planned) I phoned my doctors for an appointment and, amazingly, got offered one for the next day. Had to explain that I would still be in France then so could I come on the Thursday. Arrived home late on the Wednesday night.

Doctors first thing on the Thursday. Appointment was with a newly qualified doctor who didn’t have any idea what was wrong so she called in a colleague – it was the doctor who originally referred me to the breast clinic. He was apologising for the fact that I had cancer, he was convinced it was a cyst. I was just thankful that he referred me when he did. A few tears were shed at this point. No further forwards on the finger though.

Back to the hospital in the afternoon. Still nothing concrete. Biopsies of both breasts were inconclusive but they wanted to re-do the right side with a right handed doctor (the last one was left handed!). They did however discuss likely course of treatment.

Before holiday it was suggested I would have operation then hormone treatment, now they have decided on chemo, operation and radiotherapy but still not found the source of the cancer. Another wait for the outcome of the biopsies.

This year’s holiday was definitely not the normal for us. Usually we load up our estate car with fishing kit, bikes and musical instruments (yes we have been known to take cornet, French horn and euphonium on holiday) and stay in a gite in rural France for a few weeks. This year we flew to the USA and stayed in a house under the SeaTac flight path. Rather than relaxing (which you can do on a 3 week holiday) we spent every day off doing stuff. The weather in Seattle has been hot – we chose to go there as it wouldn’t be too hot. Walking at altitude in Mount Rainier park was hard work – the most exhausted I have been for years. Also visited Snoqalmie falls and North Bend where they filmed Twin Peaks.

As for the jet lag …. never realised it was so debilitating. I thought it was just being tired, not feeling sick as well. Anyway home in time for the youngest’s A level results – she is off to her first choice university next month.

 

 

 

 

Mammogram time

So Monday 20 July 2015 I attended the Breast Clinic at City Hospital in Nottingham.

First a physical exam. The doctor thought she had found a lump but wasn’t sure. She was surprised that she could see my ribs – I was skinny then!

No-one warned me about the mammogram. I’m not very big and they don’t half squish you. You have to be a bit of a contortionist as well.

Back to the waiting room then biopsy time. I had two biopsies of the lymph nodes. Again not pleasant but a very nice nurse held my hand tightly throughout. The first of what was going to be many needles.

I arranged to go back for the results on Friday 24th. I could have had them the day before  but I insisted I had to be at work that day. Waiting a day won’t make a difference, I was fine after all wasn’t I?

One the way home I popped into my office – I needed a wee. The girls asked me how it went. Fine, I say, but the biopsies hurt a bit. There was some surprise at that point, out of all my work colleagues who had routine or referred mammograms none had had a biopsy as well. Was I worried? I didn’t think so but apparently I was distracted at work the next couple of days. Luckily it was school holidays so I was only working 2 days a week.

Back to 2012 and we spent 21 July watching Bradley Wiggins win the penultimate stage of the Tour de France. As was our normal at the time there were 6 of us were on holiday in France, me, my husband, 2 kids, my mum and her partner – along with our bikes, fishing rods and musical instruments! My son, husband and myself went to see the tour whilst the others watched it on the tv. The day3032100438 ended with a trip to the local chemist as my son had been led on the grass taking photos and both arms came up in an allergic reaction.

 

Unfortunately no trip to France planned for this year so keeping up with the Tour on the tv his year.

First Appointment

As I mentioned in my last blog I was starting to get a bit twitchy about waiting for my doctor’s appointment so I phoned for a “48 hour access” appointment. Luckily I managed to get this with the doctor who specialised in skin cancer.

So I go to see the doctor and ask him to check an itchy mole on my left breast. He took one look and declared that there was nothing wrong there. Hooray.

Then I asked, while I’m here can you just check these funny bumps in my armpit”

He did.

“I don’t think it is anything to worry about. I am sure they are just cysts but I will make an appointment with the breast clinic just to make sure”

While he typed into the computer to send off my details we chatted about our kids and schools. Quite civilised.

So that was the Monday. The next day at work I had a call from the breast clinic making an appointment for me to attend an appointment 2 weeks later. Bit surprised it was that quick (I didn’t know then about the 2 week rule). I mentioned it to my boss – “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about but I have to go to hospital for a mammogram” Turns out I am probably the only girl in our group who hadn’t had one. Apparently it is nothing to worry about.

Back at the doctors again next week. In order to see a particular doctor I made the appointment a month ago! It’s not urgent so I am not complaining. My surgery have always been very good if you have the need to see someone quickly, you just don’t necessarily get the choice of who.

At this point I would just like to remind all you ladies and gents to check for bumps and lumps and, if you find something out of the ordinary, please make that appointment with the doctors. Early detection is key.

 

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.

Exam Time

Exam time is stressful. Unfortunately for my two kids my cancer diagnosis was at the beginning of two very important academic years, GCESs and A Levels.

We were very open with the kids about my diagnosis (more abut this in future weeks). In fact I think I probably discussed reconstruction options with my son (then 18) a bit too much. I was however worried about them possibly being compromised by outside factors during their exams.

509430532We contacted the school in advance of their exams and explained the situation. They were great. From a pastoral point of view they would keep an eye on the kids in case they had a melt down and they would let the examination boards know that during the exam period I was undergoing radiotherapy.

Whether or not they were given an uplift in their grades we don’t know (and don’t want to know) that is not why we disclosed the information. It was more that during such a stressful time for them at school that those who care for them at school were aware.

Two years on and the eldest has just finished his second year uni exams and will shortly be home for the summer. Unfortunately the youngest still has 6 exams to go over this week and next – but at least this time I am around and able to support her.

Schools and universities need to know if a parent or other relative is going through cancer treatment. There is no point in saying after an exam that their preparation/concentration was affected by external factors. They will be supportive and, if necessary, contact exam boards.

Good luck to everyone taking exams.

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!