Archive | April, 2013

Gravity, fear and friendship

22 Apr

in the air‘I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I’m free
Oh, Lord, through the revolution’
Steve Miller, Fly Like an Eagle

in the air 2in air 3 

with canopy IMG_2937     coming in to landlandingOMG .. we really did it!  Niki and I threw ourselves out of a plane and found friendship. I am counting my blessings that Niki stepped up to my twitter cry for help and offered to skydive with me. With the benefit of hindsight I don’t know how I’d have managed without her.

Niki and Dave

Niki and Dave

What can I tell you about Niki? Well clearly she’s amazing.  One of the warmest, bubbliest and most lovely people I’ve ever met.  She has done a series of fundraising challenges, including running the Edinburgh marathon and trekking the Great Wall of China to raise money for Bowel Cancer UK.  She started this after her friend James died of bowel cancer aged 28.  Her remarkable support is a moving reminder that cancer affects more than just the patient.  Having met on twitter (you can find her @nikinom) a year earlier, I felt instantly blessed to have her and her boyfriend Dave with me along with my husband and daughter. What made it easy was that she understood and shared my motivation to take action.  We also shared misgivings about what we were embarking upon.

The whole skydiving experience was incredibly emotional right from the outset.  It was a perfect beautiful sunny day but I was reduced to tears by messages of support from patients and those who have lost loved ones and whose grief is still so raw.  My dear friend Lesley’s comment (Laura’s mum) on this blog quite frankly finished me off but it also made me even more determined.

We can do this!

We CAN do this!

Niki and I met at the airfield which was in a beautiful countryside location just outside Swindon.  We signed all the relevant disclaimer forms and then waited until we were called for training!   The training was brief but we chuckled our way through it, lying on your tummy in a field practising free fall positions is a bit random after all.

Practising my free fall position with Matt

Practising my free fall position with Matt

Niki looking glam!

Niki looking glam!

We laughed as we struggled into our ‘boiler’ suits and at our deeply unflattering hats and eventually just held hands as we climbed to 10,000 feet in a plane that felt too small to be in the air.

Quite frankly everything felt wrong… being in a plane with 5 blokes (the pilot, two tandem partners and two cameramen) telling unrepeatable jokes full of sexual innuendo whilst strapped to one of them and eventually sitting on their knee, with another resting in-between our knees was certainly ‘cosy’.  Add that we were preparing to jump out of a perfectly (well reasonably) good plane as well, then it definitely felt counter-intuitive to all we had learnt about safety during our lifetimes!   Yet my tandem partners repeated checking of my harness and calm words about what was going to happen next were oh so welcome.  As we climbed higher and higher so did the butterflies in my stomach…  Deep breath, tightly hold Niki’s hand and put on presentation face… I can do this, I CAN do this….

Niki jumped first – seeing her terror and hearing her fearful cry of ‘this is so scary’ as she dangled on the edge of the plane in free fall position and then a scream as she fell (was pushed) was mortifying and then it was my turn…. We jumped from 10,000 feet, that’s two miles up – yikes!  You free fall for the first 5,000 feet at 120 miles an hour.  The first few seconds of the free fall were quite frankly horrific to a non-adrenalin junkie wimp like me. The speed and spinning until the instructor gets it all under control was way way outside of my comfort zone.  Actually, for a few seconds I literally felt total panic, but then gave myself a stern talking to and determinedly opened my eyes and controlled my fear.  After all, people had kept telling me, I was going to love it – the least I could do was try.  But most importantly I was doing this for a reason.  I didn’t want to let everyone cheering me on across the twitter waves and my colleagues down.

I suddenly remembered the cameraman and tried to look at the views and smile as if this was what I did all the time. Trust me, it’s tough to smile at those speeds with your cheeks flapping attractively! Then, suddenly, a big jolt and the parachute is open pulling you upwards… unexpected serious feelings of nausea ensued but I controlled it and realised how wonderful it felt that we had slowed so much.  Finally it felt under control. The quiet under the parachute canopy is amazing after the loud noise of the wind at 120 miles per hour and the views were clear and spectacular over beautiful countryside.  If I hadn’t felt nauseous at every turn it would probably even have been enjoyable… It was most certainly awesome.

Never Too Young bowel cancer patients

Never Too Young bowel cancer patients

As we ‘floated’ down from 5,000 feet I talked to my instructor about why I was doing it. I told him about Laura and Lesley all the other young patients and their families I know and care about. I told him that even though this absolutely wasn’t my thing I was proud to be facing my fears and doing something.  That I hoped by taking action and raising funds I could make a difference.  I told him how the stories of loss and grief hurt and how moved and humbled I felt by all the support I’d received.  So many people I care about were on that jump with me.   Poor bloke – he was probably expecting small talk about the view and I’m telling him about death, late diagnosis, grief and why it has to stop.  It’s silly but it makes me well up just thinking about it because as I looked out over the beautiful countryside repressing my fear, I wasn’t alone.

Landing is remarkably controlled but I still felt alarmed as the ground got closer and closer and I couldn’t get my legs up – my face in the pics is comical, my anxiety clear for all to see!

Yah! I did it.

Yah! I did it.

Even though I jumped second we were down first and then I had to wait for Niki.  Bless her she was white as a sheet and I felt terrible guilt having persuaded her to sign up.

Relief...

Relief…

I think it’s fair to say we both felt rather emotional, shell shocked and in disbelief about what we had just done.

Did we really just do that?

Did we really just do that?

As we watched someone else land we realised we’d just done something pretty darn amazing… entirely foolish but amazing…

I so want to tell you I loved every minute of skydiving – I feel a bit of a failure that I didn’t. It was genuinely an amazing experience which will always stay with me, but I can’t claim to have ‘enjoyed’ it in a traditional sense of enjoyment.  However as well as the wonderful donations for Bowel Cancer UK, I have gained a lot.  I have a lovely new friend in Niki and a deep sense of pride that together we faced our fears, held our nerves and took action for younger bowel cancer patients.

Neither Niki nor I longed to go up and do it again straight away as we were told we might, yet I would absolutely do it again in a heartbeat if it would make a real difference and help save lives.

Niki & Deborah

PS

Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me… If you haven’t don’t worry you still can!  Justgiving.com/Deborah-Alsina

If you are  new to my blog and would like to find out why I’m taking action by fundraising for younger bowel cancer patients, do visit Bowel Cancer UK’s Never Too Young campaign website pages or simply read the posts in my blog archives.

Finding Hope….

9 Apr

sping flowers“Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”

Emily Dickinson

laura 6

I cried this week – tears of sorrow and anger.  Beautiful Laura passed away. She was taken from her family and friends far too young, a month after her wedding day. It was a day I’d been dreading for some time.   It’s simply not right and it makes me angry because her untimely death could and SHOULD have been prevented.  Bowel cancer is after all really a good news story… it is preventable, treatable and curable.  This blog is dedicated to her.

Star of hopeWelcoming Ben Richards…

ben_richards

I hope Laura would have been pleased to hear that 40 year old actor Ben Richards became a patron of Bowel Cancer UK this last week. He is living proof that you can survive bowel cancer.    I was particularly delighted because I’m rather tired, if I’m honest, of simply hearing how embarrassing bowel cancer is.  I can’t help but wonder if by endlessly repeating that, if it doesn’t make it become so.  I know it’s hard for us British/English/Welsh/Scots/Irish* (*delete as appropriate or add your own!) lot to talk about the symptoms.  After all blood in your poo, a change of bowel habit, pain in your tummy aren’t everyone’s hot topic of conversation but my goodness surely it’s far worse to die by not doing so.

Star of hopeLove your bowel

love your gut

I’ve a long-held belief that we need to move the debate about bowel cancer on – we need to take a fresh look at the way we image and talk about the disease in order to find a way to mainstream it.  The word bowel is one of the barriers as people don’t really understand where or what it is compared to say the heart and lungs and think it’s all a bit unpleasant.  I believe we need to change this and educate people about what their bowel is and why it is so vital for our digestive health.

One thing I’m certain about is that many of those without some part, or all, of that question mark shaped internal organ, would testify that life is easier with it than without it.

Star of hope  Giving hope 

I find it terribly frustrating that some cancers are considered ‘sexier’ than others.  If you are a celebrity that has had a ‘sexy’ cancer it seems absolutely acceptable to share your story and even those with no connection to the disease are happy to be associated with it.  Celebrity support certainly gets media attention and that can be positive.  So why should it be any different for bowel cancer?  After all, no cancer is sexy and every cancer patient is as important as another.  I firmly believe that bowel cancer patients deserve the same support as others.  So come on all you ‘celebs’ out there… we need you to stop perpetuating the myth that this cancer is ‘embarrassing’ and talk about it instead.  Please step up, share your stories, show your support, raise awareness – give hope.  You can make a difference.

I can’t help but wonder if Laura had read such a story in a magazine or found it on the internet – maybe, just maybe, she would have known how important those symptoms she was experiencing were and insisted she was checked properly.  Maybe that would have meant her family wouldn’t have been burying her tomorrow and that they wouldn’t have been left absolutely shattered, empty and heartbroken by her loss.

Star of hopeA bright future

Laura’s passing rocked many of my patient friends on Twitter – particularly those with advanced disease – it seemed to give wings to those awful fears lurking beneath the surface and to at least temporarily take away their confidence and hope.  So I want to finish this by sharing one story that should give hope.

Hayley and AutumnHayley was diagnosed at 32 after her baby girl Autumn, was born prematurely at 27 weeks and sadly passed away a few short weeks later because Hayley’s bowel tumour had stopped her growing.  Hayley blogs  incredibly movingly about how Autumn saved her life, as this led to her diagnosis of stage 3 bowel cancer.  Via the wonders of social media, I walked alongside Hayley throughout her treatment and helplessly watched her struggle with chemo and regular emergency visits back to the hospital with infections and high temperatures.  After all that, she also had to deal with radiotherapy too.  It was tough, physically and emotionally and on top of everything else she was grieving for her baby.  Wonderfully, she is now cancer free and her blog describes the future she sees ahead of her.

‘Until recently, I couldn’t see past the treatment – now all I can see is holidays away with Paul, having fun with family and friends and having our family we have always wished for. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our daughter’s gift to me than having a little brother or sister (or both) to whom we can share our wonderful story of their big sister, Autumn.’

Hayley has a bright future ahead of her but it is very different from the one she expected.  She shared her story for Bowel Cancer UK’s Never Too Young campaign. You can watch it here.

Star of hopeTake action

We launched our Never Too Young campaign because of younger bowel cancer patient’s experiences and to seek positive solutions so that younger patients could be identified and diagnosed more quickly.  I want to be part of stopping this senseless loss of life, I want there to be real reasons for hope.  I’m fundraising because this all costs money and the charity doesn’t have enough.

My tandem Skydive was delayed due to the snow (just a brief reprieve!) but it is looming again, re-scheduled for the 20th April.  When I’m doing it and conquering my very real fear, I am going to think about Laura and remember that she should have enjoyed her future too,  surrounded by her loving family and friends.

Please sponsor me and take action to make positive change by joining Bowel Cancer UK’s  Never Too Young campaign.

 

RIP Laura

Do not stand at my grave and weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep;

I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

 

When you awaken in the morning’s hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry:

I am not there. I did not die.

Mary Frye

To sponsor me please go to  www.justgiving.com/deborah-alsina

For Bowel Cancer information please visit www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk

To find out more about the bowel please follow this link to our interactive diagram

To find out how you can ‘love your bowel’ please click here.

If you have concerns or questions about any aspect of Bowel Cancer, please contact our specialist nurses on Freephone 080 8 40 35 40 or email them on support@bowelcanceruk.org.uk

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