Mind the gap; that ubiquitous phrase that we hear on the London Tube reminds us that the space between where we are and where we are intending to be holds an element of challenge and a need to be mindful. This is so relevant once you have a cancer diagnosis because your intended destination is always some way off in the distance and the (dare I use the word?) ‘journey’ to get there takes as much brainspace and planning as arriving and settling in.
The subject of gaps, their purpose, unfairness, containers of hope and size has of course been on my mind specifically this past two weeks. Our planned trip to The Gambia was able to go ahead and we’ve spent a whirlwind fortnight making connections with old and new friends, teaching, constructing, sharing and learning. It’s been a wonderful time. However the gaps in terms of life chances and opportunities were acute and explicit at all times.
It’s hard not to feel guilty when you think about your own context and how lucky you’ve been to get the treatment that you needed and know that you’ll get it. Medical services in The Gambia are a world away from the UK and I couldn’t help but ponder on the fact that had I been Gambian, my diagnosis, treatment options and life chances with Breast Cancer would be hugely different. I’m also aware of the gap in treatments and support for primary and secondary cancers not only here in the UK, but worldwide. Globally, we have a lot to do.
Of course health is only a part of the picture; education, housing, job opportunities, the political context, wealth generation and possessions are all factors that impact how people can or want to live their lives. When you visit nursery schools who only have chairs and tables and that’s it- no paint on the walls, no glass in the windows, no toys, books, games, teaching resources, no nothing, you abruptly realise the width of the gap and the mindless ignorance that many of us don’t realise that we are living with.
Been to Starbucks or Costa this morning whilst Christmas shopping? (other brands are available of course) That coffee/latte/ hot chocolate or cupcake you handed over money for could also have paid for a child to attend nursery, their uniform, teachers’ salaries, lunch and resources for a month. Sobering isn’t it? I’m not saying don’t do those things, please enjoy them but just be mindful that we could all make small sacrifices that could make a big difference. So here’s my plug for one way of helping to close this gap. We’ve launched the 200 Club where we are attempting to get 200 people to sign up to a donation of £5 per month, many lovely people have already joined us and we’re so grateful to them. 200 people doing this would secure the sustainability of a nursery school, the education and care of the children and the employment prospects for the teachers. Just let me know if you’d like more info. Every single penny goes directly to the nursery.
Being in such a unique environment and at times overcome with all of the experiences and events that were happening, I had a few times where I considered that I’d made the trip too soon after treatment. A combination of travel tiredness, the heat (average 36°C each day), the intensity of interactions and medication side effects all seemed to abruptly remind me that I’m not quite as resilient and strong as I was on my last visit and I had some very low moments where I felt physically unwell . However I was so lucky to have Steve with me who not only was a complete trooper throughout the whole visit as he got stuck in with building, painting and repairs, teaching mapping workshops, helping to facilitate teacher training, list making extraordinaire, children’s entertainer and general great person to have around but he was also #TeamPositive Health Watch Monitor. He made sure that I didn’t step out of the house without being covered in sun block, a scarf, hat, mossie repellent, malaria tablets, water supplies and medication. During our full on busy days visiting nurseries, families and meetings Steve consistently made sure that I was ok whilst not diminishing our experience and I in turn had the benefit of by proxy seeing the people of Gunjur and the village take Steve to their hearts. Magical and just what we needed; a shared positive event that we have some control over as we try and make a difference.
This picture warms my heart- it’s Steve and Fatou, the Headteacher of one of the nurseries. He’d just finished painting the garden walls and she thanked me for ‘Lending him to her and the whole community’.
And so we’re back and adjusting to the cold, but unseasonably mild weather here in the UK. The weather is doing nothing to help me figure out that Christmas is next week and I’m not even remotely tuned in despite the constant advertising that surrounds us for more and more of everything. It makes me shudder. I noticed that one supermarket is proudly advertising a range of Christmas dinners for dogs……………*sighs deeply and resists the urge to scream*. I know that it’s all about perspective but talk about #firstworldproblems!
Bit by bit I’m conscious that my ability to emotionally feel things is returning, albeit that it seems to be only at both ends of the continuum, so either happy or decidedly the other end of the scale. But it’s a start. And health wise, I’m about to have my second Prostap injection this week in preparation for the 6 monthly Zometa infusions which will probably start next month. These have given me more hot flushes to add to the Tamoxifen induced ones and some tenderness, hopefully its not cumulative and I can get a handle on these side effects before I’m blamed single handedly for global warming. I’m guessing that some of the mood swings may also be bundled in with this too. Hey ho, or should that be ho ho ho.
Wherever you are in the world- wishing you a Happy and Healthy Christmas with much gratitude