Expat life

Rotary Walk Success

748A1522“Walking Works Wonders” was the theme of this year’s Charity Walk organised by the Rotary club of Calvia International and over 350 people turned out on Saturday 21 October to make sure that it does. There were over many schoolchildren from the eight International Schools taking part as well as adults, not overlooking a large contingent of canines who joined in too.

748A1553The walk was planned by the Rotary Club with very close collaboration from the Ajuntament of Calvia, the police and an army of volunteers from the Club and other associations on the island. There was a 10km walk for the older children and the fitter adults (and the more energetic dogs) from the Sports Centre in Magaluf to the Agora School in Portals and back. The less young and children and some dog walkers did the 2km walk from the same starting point went but went down through Magaluf and back. All of those walking enjoyed the warm sunshine weather and the social atmosphere.

748A1531The aim was to raise a substantial sum of money for three charities – RANA which focuses on help to prevent child abuse of any description, JoyRon, which raises money for children in the Balearic Islands and in this case, money will go to help meet the cost of constructing and fitting out a cinema in Son Espases for children who are undergoing palliative care. Last but by no means least, money raised will also go to Association Ondine which is trying to preserve the marine environment in the Balearics for the benefit of future generations. Three very worthwhile causes.

748A1527This year too, in association with Association Ondine the Rotary Club Calvia International sought to discourage the use of single use plastic bottles and promoted the use of reusable bottles by providing free water at the start/finish and mid-point of the walk: another positive step by the Club to help others and the environment.

748A1521The International Schools are the main contributors to the walk, not only from their participation on the day of the walk itself but through the young children in the infant schools of some of the schools walking in the grounds of the Schools. Money was raised not only by the Rotary Club charging a registration fee to enter the walk (the fee included some food and refreshments on completion) but a lot of the walkers were sponsored by parents, friends and colleagues.

748A1493After the walk, everyone enjoyed the refreshments and entertainment provided by Izzy Newman and children from BIC as well as a belly dancer. Some even joined in the performance! Casa Corazon a beautiful luxury property development in Son Gual sponsored the after walk refreshments  (www.casascorazon.es), Generali, the insurance company covered the walk’s public liability insurance as they do every year (www.generali.com), Spectrum IFA (www.spectrum-ifa.com) sponsored the water, and Nice Price donated chocolately treats (www.niceprice-mallorca.com).  The Town Hall in Calvia provided their full support for the event.

748A1470Club President thanked all participants for generously giving up their time and the various sponsors for their contribution. It will take time to determine how much money has been raised, currently they have received 5000€ but it is likely that the three charities which are to benefit will not be disappointed.

 

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Halloween

It’s the spooky Halloween edition of the Grapevine. It seems like Halloween gets bigger and crazier every year on the island. This year I was asked to photograph the Pirates Adventure show which is always hugely popular. I arrived early to capture Sade and Nikki creating some very creepy makeup looks for the cast. And then roamed around taking photos of as many people as I could. The show was a mixture of the acts from the family friendly Pirates Adventure and the much more risque Reloaded with some extra special additions such as the excellent violinist who performed reworked versions of pop hits. The show was a great way to finish the season, and I hope the cast and crew enjoy their time off before they restart next year.

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After the glitter had settled at Pirates I was off into Palma for the next part of my Halloween evening which was taking photos at SoCial, a new club on the Paseo Maritimo opposite Titos. Fire breathers, contortions, dancing girls, acrobats, creepy doctors and a sword swallower entertained the big crowd of revellers. I had a quick chat with the Great Bendini (the contortionist and sword swallower). I asked him when he had realised that he could swallow swords and he looked at me as if that was the dumbest question he’d ever been asked, “I had to learn how to do it” he replied, err, yeah, Vicki, of course. Doh. He really does swallow swords, they weren’t trick ones! And they go all the way down to his stomach. Yuck!

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photographer Vicki McLeod, Mallorca

When life gives you lemons . . .

 

photographer Vicki McLeod, Mallorca

This article started as a quick follow up on something  I’d written for the Bulletin recently: Anita Vince had walked the GR221 with friends to raise money and awareness about breast cancer and I thought I’d put in an article about how to check your breasts and talk about the Cancer Support Group’s campaign to get all of us chicas checking our “lemons” (or melons, or mosquito bites, or boobs, or breasts, or whatever you’d like to call yours). I popped up a quick message on my Facebook, had any of my friends ever had breast cancer? I thought surely I’d get a reply from one or two people I knew. I wasn’t prepared for sixteen women and two men to answer me within an hour, all of whom had had breast cancer or had a loved one who had died from the disease.  I didn’t realise the extent of the problem, but I realise the power of letting people tell their own stories, so here they are.  I asked them all the same set of questions, here are their answers, in their own words.

How to check your breasts

There’s no right or wrong way to check your breasts. But it is important to know how your breasts usually look and feel. That way, you can spot any changes quickly and report them to your doctor.

Every woman’s breasts are different in terms of size, shape and consistency. It’s also possible for one breast to be larger than the other. Get used to how your breasts feel at different times of the month. This can change during your menstrual cycle. For example, some women have tender and lumpy breasts, especially near the armpit, around the time of their period. After the menopause, normal breasts feel softer, less firm and not as lumpy.

Look at your breasts and feel each breast and armpit, and up to your collarbone. You may find it easiest to do this in the shower or bath, by running a soapy hand over each breast and up under each armpit.

You can also look at your breasts in the mirror. Look with your arms by your side and also with them raised.

See your doctor if you notice any of the following changes:

  • a change in the size, outline or shape of your breast
  • a change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling
  • a new lump, thickening or bumpy area in one breast or armpit that is different from the same area on the other side
  • nipple discharge that’s not milky
  • bleeding from your nipple
  • a moist, red area on your nipple that doesn’t heal easily
  • any change in nipple position, such as your nipple being pulled in or pointing differently
  • a rash on or around your nipple
  • any discomfort or pain in one breast, particularly if it’s a new pain and doesn’t go away (although pain is only a symptom of breast cancer in rare cases)

Breast changes can happen for many reasons, and most of them aren’t serious. Lots of women have breast lumps, and nine out of 10 are not cancerous.

Get help

My thanks to all of the people that gave their time to appear in this article who had the courage to share their stories not only with me but with the Majorca Daily Bulletin readers as well.  Please get in touch with us if you would like to tell your story. If you need practical or emotional support as a person who has any type of cancer or you have a friend or loved one who has cancer then you can contact www.cancersupportmallorca.com or call their helpline on 659 887 455.

Ulrica Marshall

Photographer: Vicki McLeod

Believe that you will come through this.”

  • When did you first find out you had cancer? May 2006
  • How did you find out? I’d felt a lump for a while – maybe a month – but had dismissed it as I had two very young kids and breastfeeding plays havoc on your breasts anyway… Finally, my husband prompted me to go saying it just wasn’t right. I was still in denial holding onto that much-repeated statistic that 9 out of 10 lumps are benign. Mine, sadly, was not.
  • How did you feel when you found out? Terrified and in disbelief. I was so sure it was going to be nothing I’d brought my feisty 15-month old daughter to the biopsy. I was literally shaking when he told me that it had to come out (whatever it was) and I needed to go into surgery as soon as possible.
  • What treatment/surgery did you have? Lumpectomy – to minimise the damage to the breast – twice as there was still cancer in the margins after the first operation. 6 rounds of Chemo and 33 sessions of radiotherapy followed by 5 years of Tamoxifen. I quit after 5 years without doctors’ guidance as I was reading so many negative things about tamoxifen and I had done what I thought was enough.
  • How did it make you feel? Tired. Nauseous. Determined. Angry. Lucky – that my diagnosis was good after the operation. But mainly tired.
  • How did it affect your family? My girls were too young to really understand what was going on, though my eldest started hating cheese and refusing to eat it. I quickly gave up dairy after diagnosis and cheese was the biggest cut. So she clearly knew. My husband didn’t take it well. He was petrified. At the time of my diagnosis he had just been offered a job in Tokyo, which he’d accepted. I insisted he took it and went ahead of me – partly because he was flapping and it wasn’t helping me, but also once my 6 months of treatment hell would come to an end, I could make a fresh start in a new city (I was diagnosed in London) with no reminders of the zombie I was at that time.  
  • Tell me how you are now please…. I feel normal. In a good way. I no longer think of myself as limited by what I went through, not a victim or unlucky. It’s something that happened to me that does not define me. The experience improved my diet a lot and I remain non-dairy though I eat some meat these days – hard not to in Majorca. I exercise 4-5 times per week – but then I always did.  I try to remain positive and avoid stress and stressful situations as far as possible. I have been 10 years’ cancer free, so if it happens again it will be a new cancer. Who knows? Of course, I am still fearful before each check-up but not as much so as during the first few years.
  • Do you check your breasts regularly?  Yes but not necessarily methodically, but I am more in tune with my body now.
  • What piece of advice would you like to give to your younger self? Don’t stress so much. Otherwise, not a lot. Of course, I should have avoided dairy but it was not a unique cause of the cancer, it is just one of the few triggers that can be controlled and I did love those stuffed crust pizzas!
  • What piece of advice would you give to someone with breast cancer? Take control. I know doing so is hard in a situation where you have so little, but it helped me reading every book I came across – the one I eventually stuck with was “Your life in your hands” by Dr Jane Plant, which I referred to as my bible. Change your diet – the one area we can exert control – I firmly believe food is medicine and some foods are really helpful to aid treatment – such as eating an (organic, preferably) egg every day during radiotherapy. Finally, do fun things. Do anything to take your mind off ‘it’. I didn’t have much chance as I was taking care of two kids under 4, but that certainly left little time to dwell. Move forwards and be kind to yourself. Believe that you will come through this.

Anita Vince

 “I thought only old people had chemo!”

It was Easter and I was lying in my bed and doing a breast check and felt a small pea sized lump. Got it checked the following week as have private gynaecologist and he wasn’t concerned but said to come back in 2-3 months. Went back in June and it no longer looked like a lump with the ultrasound. It had little arms like it had developed its own blood supply. He wasn’t sure but was concerned. The next week I had a lumpectomy when he confirmed it was breast cancer. As I was relatively young and it was fast growing I’d need chemo and radio. I remember going to Mercadona after the second appointment in June when I had the op booked the following week and being devastated! I rang my husband and he wanted to know why the hell I was at the supermarket?! Go to a friends and he’d be back ASAP. I couldn’t work out why me? I ate healthily, exercised, didn’t smoke, or drink too much that often. I thought only old people had chemo ! My family were amazing. My sister and parents came to help and I had fab friends who came and did stuff when I couldn’t. My kids were obviously very worried for a while but I think we’re all stronger for it and my son in particular is extremely caring. My relationship with husband is also better. I didn’t work for a year. My hair falling out was also a big low. You appreciate the important things in life more and try to be a better person. I’ve realised we are all on our way to our graves but it’s about making the best time of while we’re here: loving relationships, family, friends, striving to do your best but taking the stress away. Life’s too short to miss opportunities and not stay positive! My advice to someone with breast cancer is to try to stay positive. Try all sorts of alternative therapies as some of them were great for me. keep open minded and try to eat super healthily when going through it

 

Leonie Thackray

“I feel blessed to have been given a third chance”

I found out two and half years ago after I’d had several mammograms ultra sounds and biopsies. I underwent my first mammogram as I wanted cosmetic implants and that’s what you have to do before they will go ahead When I found out I had it I felt very shocked and bitter as it was my third bout with cancer: I’d previously had Hodgkin lymphoma and the subsequent treatment involving radiation, chemotherapy and several invasive operations over a period of seven years starting when I was 16 and ending at 23. So I actually thought ‘why me again” selfishly. I had a double mastectomy my nipples removed and then implants . My body rejected the left implant resulting in several procedures including the removal of the tissue expander replacing implant and fat tissue from my body placed around the implants . My body rejected the implant as my chest area has radiated tissue damage from the previous Hodgkin treatments and it’s proven that it is very difficult to operate with success in that area . The operations were painful and I had to spend one summer with just one boob! But if I’m honest I felt very relieved that I didn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiation as I knew what was involved and really didn’t want to through it again . Also having one boob and no hair was not something I could imagine for me, being a little bit vain like most women if they are honest!

My family were obviously worried and concerned but equally know me and knew that I could dig in and deal with it as I had twice in the past. I feel lucky and blessed to have been given a third chance. A cat has 9 lives and all that. Do I still check my breasts?  I check underarms as I still have lymph nodes.

My advice is to step up and take control of things you can and let go of things you can’t. I believe everybody is  unique and how each individual reactS and dealS with lumps in the road along the way (no pun intended I’m not that clever) is different! It will never be as bad as that first prognosis. Be kind to yourself and also to those who choose to stand by you because it is actually harder for the people who love you than yourself at times. Take each day one at time. Good or bad. Remember you’re human and you can allow yourself to feel a bit sorry for yourself but don’t dwell there.

Lindy Tittle

“The treatment made me feel, sick, angry, furious, sad and eventually better.” 

I found out I had cancer in a dingy cubicle in hospital at queen Alexandra in Portsmouth in September 1999 , the whole process was hideous. I found the lump as I was drifting off to sleep. I was laying on my back my hands were resting in my chest and my little finger in my right hand touched a bit of chewing gum! Well it felt like chewing gum that had been chewed for a very long time and then stuck under a desk: hard really hard  So I felt it and tried to think of when I would have been in contact with a gum chewer. It was a long hard lump that went from the top of my collar bone right down to almost my nipple. I went cold and actually felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise, I knew for sure that I had breast cancer. A few days later I went to the doctor who was really angry with me for waiting, he made an appointment at “the one stop breast clinic ” for soon, he actually said make it soon! I went to the appointment, you have to bear in mind that you know you have cancer but you have to wait for the appointment. Eight days later I had the appointment, and then had to go back the next week for a biopsy, they needed to take a lump of my breast tissue and grow it. Then you go home and wait for 2 weeks for the lump to grow! Finally two weeks later they told me that I would need to have mastectomy. How did I feel when they told me? I felt relieved. I felt thank god for that, let’s put a plan together to fix me. The treatment made me feel, sick, angry, furious, sad and eventually better. I had good support: my best friend at the time had been diagnosed 6 months before me, we helped each other lots, she even picked me up from hospital after the mastectomy! But she died … I still feel very sad about that.

How did it affect my family: I was a single parent with 3 teenagers, my children pulled together and looked after me .. they would look in the Delia Smith cookbook go buy the ingredients and make food. I stayed in bed a lot .. the kids hung fairy lights around my bed ..( so I always had love hanging around) they loved me … they guarded me … and I am so very proud of them … we are a team.

Now I’m fabulous. I’m well. I also had to take Tamoxifen so to have gone on and had two more babies was very lucky. I have just finished my yearly mammograms. I do check my one remaining boob. I have since had a lump removed from it .. but I’m okay.

Piece of advice I’d give my younger self .. find my husband David and meet him sooner .. I have always eaten well .. by that I mean proper vegetables and fish and salad and meat ..I just think it was my battle .. everyone has something.. breast cancer was mine. The advice I’d give someone with breast cancer, know you will be better and eat broccoli… as much broccoli as you can. I still eat it pretty much every day.

Linda King

Photographer Vicki McLeod

“Hearing the news felt like falling through a trapdoor into a deep black abyss of devastation.”

I first found out in Oct 1995 after feeling sharp pain in my left breast and feeling some hardened tissue but not a defined lump. The hospital did a mammogram which showed no abnormality so they did an ultrasound which showed a 2.5cm lump. A needle biopsy was negative too but the surgeon decided the lump should be removed anyway. The lumpectomy was done and a week later when I went for the stitch removal I was told it was malignant. Hearing the news felt like falling through a trapdoor into a deep black abyss of devastation. It was a ductal infiltrating carcinoma so 10 days later I was admitted for a lymph clearance to check for spread. Modern surgery takes only the lymph node closest to the tumour but in 1995 the maximum number of nodes were removed (which means the lymph cannot drain properly ever again and my arm swelling). Luckily the cancer had not spread and so I only needed radiotherapy. I had to travel to hospital 40 miles away three times a week for 8 weeks, even though I was not allowed to drive myself it was exhausting.

My family were in total shock and feared for the worst outcome although my husband tried desperately to keep upbeat. I felt I was living in a pain-filled, anxious, brain-numbing bubble and losing weight. It was a very black episode in my life. However it taught me a valuable lesson – we all have plans and dreams we hope to achieve “sometime”. We decided that if I recovered we would put those plans into action ASAP! Now I am happy in my place in the sun! I now check my breasts during every shower. I would tell my younger self that stress and anxiety is often connected with developing breast cancer so try to relax.

My advice to those poor women who are currently fighting this cruel disease is that it is no longer a certain death sentence and treatment is now much more effective. Also to take care of yourself, don’t try to carry on being “wonder woman” and let your family and friends look after you for a change.

Zoe Austin York

Photographer Vicki McLeod 

“It made me worried for my daughter, for her future.”

I found out on the 2nd June, the day before my birthday last year.  As my younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in March, I was convinced that no way would it hit both of us within a few months of each other, so I went to the appointment feeling really confident and had the wind completely taken out of my sails. How did I feel? Absolutely gutted.  I’d just been through it all with my sister and now it was my turn to go through it all.

I had had a routine mamo in February which highlighted a suspicious area, microcalcifications that could become cancerous, so I was scheduled for a second mamo in August.  When I told my gynae that my sister had been diagnosed, she said we won’t wait, we’ll book you in for an MRI now.  That lead to an eco (scan) to see if they could do a biopsy by eco, it wasn’t clear enough, so I had to have an MRI biopsy which wasn’t comfortable and turned my whole boob purple. I had a lumpectomy (a week later than the surgeon wanted, but I wanted my daughter to have finished school for the summer and not be worrying about me).  As it happened, delaying was good as  my boob was still so damaged from the biopsy it was like a bloodbath when they opened me up and the surgeon wasn’t convinced he’d got it all, by then I had two tumours. My oncologist wanted me to have chemo but I refused – the statistics didn’t stack up to me.  As she put it: it doesn’t help 80% of people, for 12% it’s too late, but it saves 8%.  As mine was caught so early, I didn’t feel I was in the 12% bracket or the 8% – time will tell.  But as the surgeon thought there was a bit left on my chest wall, I had radiotherapy, every day for a month, then started on Tamoxifen which I have to take daily for the next 5-10 years.  One of the side effects of Tamoxifen is cancer.  I don’t want to take it but felt it would give me a better chance. The radiotherapy wiped me out.  I had 9 days off work to recover from the surgery then started on radio at 9.30 every day, by 2pm I was exhausted so for the duration (August) I couldn’t work full time which was frustrating.  To me it was all an inconvenience, something to stop me living my life as I was used to living.

My daughter was gutted, not only did her Auntie have cancer, but now her mummy.  My partner John was very supportive and although he’s very against all of the treatments on offer preferring natural (cannabis oil) remedies, of course he supported my decision to take the radio.  My parents were distraught.  Dad blames himself (his mother died of breast cancer when he was only 13).

How am I now? Absolutely fine.  I feel fine.  It was only recently that I could wear a bra again, and I missed that.  I am a slow healer so until only 3 weeks ago, my boob was still too sore (damaged from the radio) for me to wear a bra.  I am still undergoing tests to see if the radio caused nerve damage due to a few issues that I have, but otherwise, I am carrying on my life and reminded from time to time if I overdo things that I am still not fully healed.

Do I check my breasts regularly? Daily!  I can feel the scar tissue inside the damaged boob, so constantly feel it to see if it’s gone down but otherwise I am happy that I am being very closely monitored.  We found out two months ago that my sister carries the BRCA2 gene.  Our oncologist reckons I will have it too, I get the results of my test sometime mid-late May.  This puts us at a higher risk for not only getting cancer in the other breast, but also ovarian cancer, so we now have 6 monthly gynae check ups.

It also made me worried for my daughter, for her future.  Especially if I also carry the gene, that gives her a 50% chance of inheriting it.  With the gene we have a 60% chance of getting breast cancer, 40% chance of getting ovarian cancer (the silent killer).  So of course I am worried about having passed it on to her and at the moment, as she’s only 14, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about this.

What advice would I give my younger self? I don’t know.  I think that knowing if I have the gene will help a lot, then I won’t blame myself for drinking or smoking so heavily when I was younger but I never felt a lump, it was so small when found under MRI that I couldn’t have felt it, so I don’t worry that I should have checked my boobs more often.

What advice would I give someone with breast cancer? Pfff, that’s a hard one.  To make sure you take someone else with you to the early day appointments as it’s impossible to take it all in.  Think of the questions you want answered, all the what if’s and make sure the person you take has good listening skills! As I’d been through it all with a friend before my sister, I knew what to ask so I kind of took over her appointments as she just couldn’t take it all in, we discussed her questions beforehand, so I knew what she wanted to know and made sure we got the answers. They don’t offer information here, you have to ask for it.  So make sure you think of what questions to ask and ask them, write down the answers and consider all of your options – don’t blindly follow just because they say you should have chemo – ask how necessary it is because I feel too many people go through it at such damaging consequences to the body, without it being necessary.

 

Terry Mott, husband of Kim               

 Terry’s wife Kim                                                                                                                    

My wife, Kim, was diagnosed in April 2004. She had just turned 40 in the previous February. She had decided to clean the conservatory windows one Saturday morning. While stretching to reach the top of the window she said she felt a sore tightness in her left breast. It was as she felt the sore spot she noticed a hard lump set quite deep into her breast. It worried her immensely on that Saturday and Sunday.  We went to see her doctor directly on the Monday morning and she referred her immediately to the Nuffield Private BUPA Hospital in Brentwood. We got an appointment on the same day and went there in the afternoon. They did X-rays and a procedure there and then to remove tissue for a biopsy. They asked us to return the following evening. At our appointment the following evening, we were told that she did indeed have breast cancer. It was an aggressive, non hormonal, stage 3 cancer.

The news left us numb. That’s the only adjective I can honestly use to answer that. I remember a stunned silence from both of us. There was no crying, there was no hysterical reaction. There was just a controlled numbness and an immense feeling of shock that seemed to, almost immediately, wrap us both in cotton wool. It was only years afterwards that I actually appreciated that shock can be a wonderful thing. Especially when you begin to realise what it enables you to do during a period of immense stress.

They decided that she should have 5 courses of chemotherapy prior to a full mastectomy. During that ten week period, the oncology surgeon referred her to a plastic surgeon and suggested the possibility of a full reconstruction during the same operation because he would have to be removing the whole of her breast. They strongly suggested that one major operation instead of two would be hugely beneficial. Kim decided that would be what she wanted and the two surgeons actually performed the operation together.

At the time of the surgery, the doctor said the chemotherapy had reduced the cancer to a mere ‘ghost’ of what it was. I remember him saying that the actual cancerous tissue was about the size of a golf ball and he suggested it would have been growing for at least a year to get to that size.

One of the most important things I remember from consultations regarding the reconstructive surgery was that the skin of her original breast had to have enough flesh still attached in order to maintain a blood supply to the skin. Fortunately they were able to do that and so the mastectomy and reconstruction was carried out successfully. She actually looked amazing. She even had a ‘nipple’ tattooed onto the reconstructed breast.

A week went by and results from the operation showed that all the cancerous tissue had been removed and she was officially classed as ‘in remission’.

All was going well until six months later when she found another small lump in her armpit, on the opposite side to the mastectomy. Again, she had it removed and the results showed it to be the same type of cancer again. This was critical as it meant the cancer had entered her lymphatic system. The gateway to the rest of the body.

Over the next 12 months she underwent further courses of chemotherapy. The cancer had spread to her liver, lungs, kidneys and bowels. She spent more and more time in hospital. Then she started to complain of headaches, something Kim never had. Scans showed the cancer had now spread to her brain. She underwent a course of radiotherapy but it was too late. She passed away a couple of weeks later on 16th August 2006 aged 42.

During the entire period of her illness, I honestly felt every emotion known to man. Each one as strong as is physically possible to take. But if I think about it now, the strongest feeling I had, as her husband, her life partner and her best friend was….. frustration. Frustration like I’d never known. A level of frustration I didn’t know was possible. It tore me into pieces. I was always the person to ‘fix’ a problem. It was my job to make everything okay again and I usually did.  And now, here I was and I couldn’t do a single thing to stop it or make it go away. I had to sit, hold her hand and watch as this awful disease slowly took hold.

It brought the family together and tore it apart at the same time. What made it worse was that it didn’t just affect our family. It was her friends as well. Kim had an abundance of ‘best’ friends, but each one of them only had one ‘best’ friend. Each one of those family and friends dealt with situation in a different way and trying to understand all their reactions simultaneously whilst going through it myself was tremendously painful and hard to cope with at times.  I was seen as the go between. The guy between them and Kim. It was incredibly hard to handle that as I only wanted to be there for Kim. She was my only concern. But then, each family has its strong members and thankfully they stepped up and gave me all the support I needed when I needed it most.

There were times when Kim would say to me “I don’t want anyone to see me like this” “please ask people not to come to see me” There were some family and friends who simply couldn’t understand that, and I have to say I took some hostility after she passed for ‘not allowing’ them to see their friend. It took some time to come to terms with that.

I think that you should live your life now. Tell someone you love them every day. And, never be afraid of doing the right thing. Even if this means some people not understanding you at the time. They will eventually.

I believe that, possibly, the best thing you can own is a clear conscience. And that comes from not having any regrets. Kim and I had a fabulous relationship based on trust and honesty. All throughout her illness, she never needed to doubt I was trying to do the right thing for her. She trusted me.  It helped me to eventually find acceptance after her passing.

Breast cancer doesn’t always mean the end. Survival rates increase and get better every year. Listen to your doctors and follow their advice. Also, look into all your options. Some holistic medicines may not be for you but think about them as a complementary treatment alongside the more mainstream prescribed by your doctor. It can’t hurt and the benefits they can offer may just make you feel better in yourself which can only help.

                                                                                                                                                               

Helen Pitt

“My heart pillow was a great help to me”.

I was heading off for my summer season on board the yacht I work on. The yacht was leaving from Palma to the South of France and luckily my captain allowed me to not do the passage and instead fly to the UK to see my mother overnight and then meet the boat in the South of France. After a good evening together and night’s rest I was up and showering when I noticed a lump on my breast which wasn’t there when I left Palma the day before. As soon as my Mother’s local doctor’s surgery opened I went to see them. The doctor agreed that it was something to be looked at as soon as possible. They then said it would take me a couple of weeks to be seen even with a private appointment but I could get to see a councillor while I was waiting. Luckily I have private insurance so I could get an appointment in France when I arrived there.  It was only a few days before I got my appointment but they were the longest waiting days. Within those days the lump got bigger and a hole then started to develop next to the lump. I went to have a mammogram in France and they confirmed that I had a tumour but not if it was cancerous. Further tests were needed.

I came out from the mammogram in shock even though it was obvious that something was wrong it still didn’t seem true. I called a good friend in the UK that had had breast cancer twice and asked advice from her experience and shed a few tears. I decided that I wanted my treatment in Majorca whatever it was going to be. When I arrived in Majorca I got several different opinions but they were all the same. It needed to come out as soon as possible.

The first thing was to have a biopsy of the tumour. This was one of the most uncomfortable procedures which I didn’t like and neither did the tumour. After being shot the tumour grew and doubled in size along with the hole getting bigger. It was as if it knew we were onto it. The results came in and it was confirmed it was cancerous. I was then booked for an immediate lumpectomy. They took 1/4 of my breast with the tumour but sadly they didn’t get it all. Another operation was needed. I decided that I didn’t want the risk of it not being taken completely and having chemo or radiotherapy so that I would then have a full mastectomy instead. I think it was very important that I elected to have genetic testing on my tumour. It was sent away to California as it didn’t exist here then. Two weeks later the results came back showing that with taking Tamoxifen for 5 years there was only a 12% chance of it returning and that chemotherapy would be of no benefit. Over 50% of people have chemo unnecessarily. There is now a company called Mamoprint in Spain that can do the same test though some insurance companies still don’t cover it. The national health and private health care in the UK now do. I know at least 7 people I have told about this that have not had chemo from having the same test.

To be honest I think I was in shock for several years. I was never angry or ‘why me’ but felt guilty that I hadn’t had to go through as much as other people. The people I was meeting then were going through chemo etc and I felt that I had cheated and not had to deal with as much. The mastectomy affected my self confidence more than I expected. I couldn’t bear to look at myself and hated showering. The turning point of this was to have a beautiful butterfly tattoo done using my scars to form the wings.

My family were devastated as I was the first in my family to have breast cancer. My sister said she couldn’t believe it as she had always thought of me as being indestructible. Most of my family had the same feeling and if it could happen to me then it could happen to anyone. My sister was brilliant and gave up all her annual leave to come over and stay with me and nurse me.

But now I feel brilliant! I have my regular tests coming up and then it will be every year. There is always a bit of a build up when the tests are due just in case something is discovered. I don’t think that once cancer has entered your life that it ever totally leaves you but you learn over time how to live with it and to feel so lucky to have the opportunity to do so when others don’t. Make the most of all that you have and relish life. Look after yourself as much as possible and don’t bring in any stress that is not necessary. I know stress is a big culprit and I have allowed it in my life on too many occasions and then you realise your health is everything not all the other things in life.

If you have any doubts if there is something wrong get it checked out as soon as possible. Early detection makes the world of difference. Don’t leave it. Get as many opinions as you want to confirm the treatments are the best for you. Speak to others that have been through it. Remember though that we are all individuals so that not all cases are the same and how you deal with it will be different from someone else. If you remain focused then you will find the best way for you, do it at your own pace and don’t rush your recovery because you feel you should.

 

Sabine Rooker

“I never trust a biopsy anymore”.

It was October 2008, I was 31 and my baby daughter was just three months old. I felt a lump in my breast. It felt like it was the end of the world. I was in shock, as if it was not happening to me

They did a biopsy, and afterwards told me to open a bottle of champagne as the lab said there was no cancer. I also had a mammogram when i felt the lump: they told me to come back in 6 months as they only saw some calcification so nothing to worry about. But I decided to have the lump removed anyway as I had to get a hernia in my belly fixed. So during my hernia surgery they removed the lump, and sent it to the lab. Four days later they told me it WAS cancer after all. It was a big shock. I had a second surgery to remove more tissue. Then I had a course of chemo and radiotherapy. And since then I have been taking Tamoxifen every day as the tumor was  hormonal

I felt quite okay during chemo, not sick at all, but very lucky and very tired.

I lost my hair so I had a wig, but it looked really good. I never went outside without it and I always had makeup on. I didn’t like it when people on the street looked at me, the cancer patient, with pity. I tried to live my life as normally as possible.

My baby daughter, Naomi, of course did  not notice anything, she was too young but my partner John was really in shock on the first day. He didn’t hear a thing the doctor said. These days we appreciate the little things in life. We think you should enjoy life now when you can, and don’t wait ‘till you get older (if you are lucky enough).

I am very well at the moment. I have every 6 months a mri and echo for the rest of my life as it runs in the family (my grandma, aunt and mother had it) They did a genetic test but did not find the brca1 or brca2 gene, but it is obvious that my family is at a higher risk. I never trust a biopsy anymore. If I had decided to leave the lump this could have been a totally different story.

I would recommend every woman to see a doctor when you think there is something wrong with your breasts. And get a second opinion if you don’t trust it. Looking back I would have chosen a different contraceptive option as I don’t think the pill is a very positive thing for women.

I would advise other people with breast cancer to stay positive, try to live your life as normally as possible. Don’t sit on the sofa crying the whole time feeling sorry for yourself as it makes you feel even worse. Inject your life with positive energy, and enjoy life as much as you can. You never know when it is over.

More Help

The Healthy Breast Programme Workshops.

These are offered on the first Saturday of every month at the Ra Ma Yoga centre in Palma on Calle Despuig 51. The mission of the programme is to educate women globally in ways to reduce their risk of breast cancer and prevent its recurrence. Subjects in the workshop include getting to know the breasts and the emotions connected to optimum breast health, recommendations on screening techniques, lymphatic system, immune system, hormonal system, detoxing, environmental contamination and concerns and how our bodies are connected to mother earth, living with purpose, the power of prayer and meditation and more. You can see more about the program on www.mammalive.net. The programme is open to any woman interested in learning about prevention and support in recovery and in healing a woman’s body. The workshops are run by Jeanne Lurie (www.lifeyoga.es).

Breast cancer support groups in Majorca: Un Lazo en Movimiento (Pink Ribbon in Motion)

www.unlazoenmovimiento.org, www.aubamallorca.com and www.almohadadelcorazon.com (the Heart Pillow project)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ticket to Ride

 

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I’m stood by the side of the road. Waiting for a Guardia Civil man to issue me with a fine for having a British driving license because he says Britain is no longer in the European Union and I should have got a Spanish driving license……what?! I look at him incredulously and say “Britain is still part of the European Union”, and show him the EU flag on my driving license. He shrugs, and changes tack. “You are a resident here, you have to have a Spanish driving license.” But we’re in the European Union mate, I argue. (In hindsight, probably saying “Mate” to the Guardia wasn’t the smartest thing to do). He looks at me, I can’t tell what his eyes are doing as he’s got those scary mirrored shades on, tells me he’s going to fine me and stalks off to his jeep.

EUropean Driving Licence

He returns. By this time I’ve already posted on Facebook and started to receive messages telling me that I should have changed my license back in January of this year. But wait! Hang on I think, didn’t we already check if we needed to do it. We have EU/UK driving licenses issued in 2013 which don’t need to be renewed for another seven years. I want to be within the law. I start to feel indignant, and try my best to argue with the mirrored one who clearly isn’t interested in hearing my bleats. No, NO says my Facebook collective, you are a resident, if you have been a resident for more than two years in Spain you have to have a Spanish driving license. But we’re in the EU I argue, again, pathetically beating my metaphorical head against the wall. Okay I surrender, I will get the Spanish driving license organised asap. But still I’m issued with a fine for 100€. Then my friend Andy posted his story about going to Trafico.

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“I was told I had to replace my licence with a Spanish one. This meant getting a medical. Forty five minutes, and 60€ later, armed with a piece of paper that basically said I was able to fog a mirror, I returned to trafico. A further twenty minutes a different guy finally agreed to look at my licence again. His exact words when he did were, in English, “This is a European licence, it has an end date, you don’t have to do anything. Go home, drive your car, be happy, Bye bye.

“Even by Spanish bureaucracy standards this was shocking. A few rounds of, “I have just paid 60€ for a medical that you now say I don’t need, “*Shrug*” If I don’t need this, why was I told I did?” “Shrug*” Eventually the woman who had told me I needed it came over; they walked away and started arguing. Then a third person joined in the arguing. After five minutes of heated conversation and pointing at my original licence, he came back and started filling in forms. He was obviously angry; no-one needs to use rubber stamps that forcefully! 🙂 10 minutes and another €23.00 later it was done.”

I can’t wait. My driving license appointment is in two weeks. Another column awaits.

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Rain starts play

Tea and CDs

I often work at strange times of the night. It’s quieter then and I can get a lot done in a short period of time, and let’s face it, there’s more fun stuff to be done than working when other people are awake! I’m either an evil genius or very lucky that my job allows me to do this. I can schedule myself to produce the things I need to do when I want to do them. I’m normally accompanied at my desk by at least one cat, a cup of tea and, playing in the background, whatever TV series I am binge watching on Netflix at the moment. (You can get it in Spain now, but for quite a long time I have been using it via a VPN which can mask my whereabouts to seem as if I am in the USA or the UK or indeed anywhere around the world, handy for watching telly mainly although the company who runs the VPN would insist it’s much more for your own personal security than for enabling me to watch every season of Mad Men back to back).

When we get some funny weather (storms, high winds, heavy rain) it can affect our internet connection in our village as it is done via some kind of clever wireless system.  Then I find myself with many more cats as they are not keen on the rain, the same amount of tea, but no internet. I can still work, as it’s mainly my brain and my notes which I need to produce the articles, but boy is it lonely! Then I have to turn to old fashioned things such as CDs for company. Yes, we still have them, about a thousand of them, all collecting dust downstairs in our living room. We just had a major clear out upstairs last week and soon it will be the turn of the ground floor. Can I cast out my CDs? Is that as bad as getting rid of books, which for me are easier to hoard than shoes might be for another woman. Decades of my life are chronicled through my CDs, my choices of bands, the songs that meant something to me at the time. I may not listen to them that often anymore but they’re still important, right? I will occasionally listen again to songs on Spotify which remind me of other times, some happy and some very sad memories. My husband likes to talk about that episode of Tomorrow’s World where the presenters demonstrated the apparent indestructibility of the CD, do you remember it? They poured substances all over the disc and scratched it up, but it still played, a nice metaphor for our lives as well.  But some of my CDs have been treated with love and still refuse to work. Much like the internet this morning as I write this column. We live in a valley in the countryside after all. Despite my connectivity to the world I am still, gratefully, joyfully, living in a small village on a Mediterranean island exposed to the elements year round. It’s times like this, as I tap out these words, surrounded by furry friends and listening to some Joni Mitchell, as the rain beats on the window and I am cosy inside in my office, that I get to remember that life really is rather great.

A damp squib

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Last night I read a statement from the Mallorca Cricket Club which actually made me exclaim out loud. The Bonfire Night party which was scheduled for November 1st and had been going for twenty years has had to be cancelled due to “unforeseen and difficult circumstances”.  Over the years the event has grown and grown and has pulled in the support of some big businesses on the island and of course the helping hand of the local council, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the central government in Madrid who have clamped down on the particular requirements for any public gathering over three thousand persons. “We’ve become victims of our own success” is an understatement I think, but here’s some of the actual statement from Rob Hughes, Honorary Secretary, Frank Leavers, the Chairman, Eric George, Club Captain and Andy Diamond, the Club Treasurer.

“We were advised only last Thursday that certain a number of new ‘measures’ would have to be put in place before we would be allowed the proper certification to be granted. In all honesty, we could not comply with all of these rulings and given the huge costs of these ‘improvements,’ if implemented, it would be almost impossible to the club to financially ‘break even’ on this once a year family event. Indeed, if the weather should be against us over that weekend, it could be ruinous for the club given all the extra measures that would be needed for Bonfire Night to go ahead. Over the years we have prided ourselves on the fact that we have always kept entry prices low so that Bonfire Night was genuinely a family night out.

“Frustratingly for us at the club, we actually ‘wrote-the-manual’ that has kept everyone safe over the years and that same ‘manual’ has been copied by many other organisations looking to run community events. Nevertheless, central government has spoken and we would not be party to any attempts to ignore the rules and regulations. In short, it could be said that Bonfire Night at the Cricket Club has become a victim of its own success………but for many of us at the club this whole situation is grossly unfair”

Surely though there is an argument that this is a cultural event for the British? Just as various religious and cultural days are celebrated for other races and creeds, and are protected because of that, why couldn’t this special event have been given the same status? The “Nits de Foc” for example, are all about fires, and fireworks, and yes they are completely under control from the point of view of the Dimonis and the Fire Brigades, but they aren’t controlled as to the amount of people attending or where or how they interact with the fire. You are positively encouraged to “dance with the demons”! At the cricket club everyone is kept back from the bonfire by barriers and the controls around the detonation of the fireworks is strictly regulated.

As the overall future and new location of the Cricket Club still seems to be uncertain this event would also have brought them some precious funds for the coffers. What a shame, for them and for us, that we have probably now seen the end of an era, not go out with a bang, but fizzled out, like a damp squib.

http://www.familymattersmallorca.com

Vicki McLeod 2014

You’ve got to show up

Teatro Principal, Vicki McLeod, Mallorca, Phoenix Media,

I’ve told you before to join the Europeos Por Espana group. And here’s another example of why you should. Last Monday night, my daughter La Gidg with my husband and I accompanied a group from EPORE to the 59th presentation for the Premis de Ciutat Palma. It’s the yearly prize giving for cultural achievements in the city, and it’s quite fancy pants as it turns out.

Picture the scene in the foyer of the Teatro Principal: in piled local Mayor after Mayor after Mayor, it seemed as if every single area in Mallorca was represented that evening along with the European community (i.e. Kate Mentink and the gang from EPORE). There were plenty of “Grand Dame” looking ladies with furs (and I imagine major hairdressing bills), some blokes in suits of armour and ceremonial swords, and lots and lots of people. The local Spanish press were there in force, with TV cameras and plenty of snappers. And us.

I’d asked before if there were any particular dress code, as we have (shabby lot that we are) been caught out before when we’ve rocked up to an afternoon event in jeans only to be welcomed in by lounge suits and ball gowns. We were slightly smarter than usual in preparation for an evening at the Teatro Principal but you don’t really have to worry when you are in such a lovely building at a special event. If you haven’t had a chance to go inside and enjoy the space then do get yourself along at some point. It has been laid out to benefit the acoustics of the room, rather than the possibly more familiar theatre auditorium layout, which means there is a large open space for the sound to float through and plenty of boxes to sit in on the many levels. La Gidg saw the top of her music teacher’s head (her teacher did not believe her the next day when she told her that she had seen her, and only changed her mind when La G described exactly what she had been wearing and where she had been sitting. THAT’S how special it was to have been there).

Teatro Principal, Mallorca

It’s a privilege to be invited to these sorts of events, just after Christmas we were able to go to the Pregon at the Palma Council which was amazing as well. And it’s because we’re members of this association. It’s also vitally important that we show up. If as foreign residents of Mallorca you want to have a voice or want to be taken seriously, or want in any way to have an effect on the society that we live in then you’ve got to show up, and you’ve got to be seen to be there. Thank you to Kate and the people at EPORE for yet another chance to be there. If you want to join the association then visit www.familymattersmallorca.com for more information. I can highly recommend it.

You can find out more about joining EPORE by clicking this link.