Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Stress

It's funny thinking that not that long ago I couldn't even deal with the stress of renewing my car insurance without a glass of vino to take the edge off, and yet now, several times a year, I have to cope with check ups to see if there's any sign of my cancer coming back stone cold sober.

Yesterday I had a meeting with my oncologist to go through the results of my blood tests. The key thing they check for is 'tumour markers'.

Their main concern is that some pesky breast cancer cells may have escaped last year's slash and burn procedure and have taken up residence somewhere else - like my bones, brain or lungs. If this happens (which is, in my case, statistically unlikely, thank heavens) I am buggered.

I'm getting better at dealing with these appointments. On previous occasions I've started to freak out several days in advance and have had to take a friend or relative with me to hold me up.

Yesterday I only started falling to bits that morning and I decided to (wo)man up and go on my own.

I love my oncologist. He's all antipodean and twinkly and frightfully clever. If you have to have someone use the words terminal in front of you (apart from an airline operative), then he's the one you'd choose.

"So," he says, after giving me a bear hug, "how are you doing?"

"Good," I reply while thinking just tell me about the tumour markers. Are my children going to be motherless?

"How's the Tamoxifen? You don't look like you've put on any weight." (I bet he says that to all the girls) "Hot flushes?"

"I get a bit warm sometimes, but at least it saves on heating." I'm trying to read my incomprehensible blood test results up-side down.

"Well," he says, moving his finger painfully slowly down my print-out, "immune system fine...." tumour markers??? "Vitamin D levels normal," what about the tumour markers? "liver function good" ha ha, "cholesterol good" spit it out! "tumour markers normal."

Hurrah ! Hurrah! Hurrah! Looks like I'm going to be around for the immediately foreseeable future, which is great as I have a lot to do.

We move onto the 'manual examination' phase. I have had my breasts fondled more in the last fourteen months than over the entirety of my teenage years. And my boobs were a completely different kettle of fish back then.

(Can one describe one's boobs as a kettle of fish?)

While the Prof is copping a feel I take the opportunity to tell him about the book.

"I thought you should know that I'm writing a book..... and you're kind of in it."

"Really? What's it about?"

"It's about quitting booze, with a little foray into the whole breast cancer thing. I know it sounds dreadfully worthy, but it's actually a black comedy."

The Prof looks rather chuffed and asks for a signed copy.

"How much were you drinking?" He asks.

"Around a bottle of wine a day," I reply. The first time in my life I've been honest about my drinking to a member of the medical establishment.

He looks a little shocked, but rallies quickly. "I'm sure lots of my patients drink that much," he says. Bless him.

He signs me off for a whole year (although I still have appointments for mammograms and ultrasounds).

I skipped out of the cancer clinic feeling like an escapee from death row.

In the old days I'd have gone straight to a bar. Now, without the masking effects of booze, I realise the real impact that huge stress followed by release has on the body: I felt utterly exhausted.

I picked the kids up from school and, as early as possible, we all piled into my bed, read Harry Potter and went to sleep... at 8.30pm. Result.

Love to you all,

SM x

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Sober Drinks

One of the issues with giving up booze is knowing what on earth to drink.

Most non-alcoholic options are either super unhealthy (Coca-Cola, for example), or make you feel like a child or a geriatric (orange juice/elderflower cordial). It feels as if all 'adult' drinks are alcoholic.

Plus, we have programmed our brains over a period of decades, to equate a 'grown up' drink with winding down at the end of the day, de-stressing, celebrating and so on, so a good alcohol free replacement really helps to fool our brains into doing the same thing.

The trick is to find an alcohol free drink that is enough like the real thing to do the job, but not so much like your favourite tipple that it just triggers all your old thought patterns.

My go-to solution is Becks Blue beer, because I was never a beer drinker. I'm not sure I could have got through my first year without my Becks Blue. During the whole cancer thing I was drinking around six per day! (Now I'm down to around four a week).

Over Christmas I found a half decent alcohol free wine in Sainsbury (for only £2.99). At first this seemed like a really good idea, but within days I was feeling utterly dependant on my AF wine. I drank a whole bottle of the stuff on Christmas day and started to panic about my supplies running out.

Needless to say, I've come to the conclusion (again) that AF wine is just too close to the bone for me.

My latest find (and huge thanks to Dr C for the recommendation) is Seedlip (described as 'the world's first non-alcoholic spirits)They are properly distilled drinks with botanical flavours and taste very much like gin. I drink it with Fever Tree tonic or in mocktails.

(Here's a link to their website)

So, I'm gradually solving the 'what on earth to drink at 'wine-o-clock' dilemma, but it's often still really tough when you're not at home.

More and more pubs are serving AF beer (a recent study showed that one in ten women drink AF beer on a weekly basis, and 31% of people have tried it), but little else for the sober lady out and about other than 'children's drinks' and mixers.

Which is why my old drinking buddy (now sober for nine years), Jamie Walker, is a hero.

Jamie, and his childhood friend Tertia Bailey, are about to open an alcohol free pop-up bar in Edinburgh called DRY. It's in Stockbridge, at 15 North West Circus Place, until the end of February.

DRY will be open all day, serving food (provided by local pop-up food stalls), artisan teas and coffees and a whole host of craft AF beers, AF wines (not for me!) and mocktails. (I did check, by the way, and they are selling Seedlip).

Not only that, but to prove that sober venues are way cooler, more vibrant and more interesting than drunk ones, there's a host of entertainment planned, from cooking demos, poker and ping-pong, to quiz nights, guest speakers, teenage parties and burlesque lessons.

Jamie's even doing a 'silent disco' in the basement, where everyone wears headphones, so can limber up to the best DJs without disturbing the neighbours.

So, if you're anywhere near Edinburgh (I'm thinking of you, Edinburgh Housewife), then please support Jamie and Tertia by taking all your friends to DRY. If it's successful enough it'll hopefully keep trading past February and even roll out country-wide.

Vive la Revolution!

SM x

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Run For Your Life

If you can't fly then run; if you can't run then walk; if you can't walk then crawl; but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

MARTIN LUTHER KING

One of the things that really helped me when I first quit drinking, and has now become the mainstay of my daily routine, is walking.

I did flirt briefly with running (see my posts: Strong Women Don't Drink and Running and Insomnia), but came to the realisation that I am not built for speed, and a brisk walk suits me better.

I found that walking, preferably amongst green stuff - in parks and along rivers, not only got me away from the fridge and all the wine associations, but lifted my mood and helped me to see things more clearly.

(I know I'm not alone in this. Many former addicts talk about how crucial running - or walking - was to their recovery, Lucy Rocca, the founder of Soberistas, for example and Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild).

I'd take the terrier with me and, over time, built up a squad of dog owning friends who'd join in. I found that the conversations we'd have during an hour long walk were way more wide ranging and life enhancing than any drunken ramblings at parties, and the quality of my friendships improved immeasurably.

This is why I love the book just published by Penguin: Run For Your Life by William Pullen. William is an incredible psychotherapist, is terribly fit and also happens to be rather gorgeous. (Plus he's an old friend of mine).

William's book is all about Dynamic Running Therapy which is inspired by mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

William explains how and why running (or walking!), and being outdoors in nature, positively impact on our mental wellbeing and he shows how you can harness this power, either on your own or with a friend, to solve problems, deal with stress or anxiety and make changes.

It's incredible how the solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem can come to you when you're out walking or running.

This is, William argues, because the act of movement helps us to connect with feelings hidden deep inside and can lead to incredible moments of illumination.

Interestingly, many authors talk about walking to relieve 'writer's block'. They find that it helps to unleash creativity in a way that sitting, staring at a screen, can never do.

It's also much easier to discuss your problems with a friend when you are both moving (and therefore avoiding eye contact) than it is when you're sitting staring at each other, which is why William's book includes therapeutic exercises you can try in pairs as well as on your own.

So do check out William's book by clicking here, or his free App here, and get moving. It really can change your life.

Love SM x