Thursday, June 01, 2017

My mum died.... from lung cancer

Almost 12 years ago my mum died from lung cancer and no she did not smoke. Despite being 12 years since my mum passes the topic still emerges…. Questions like what does your mum do? Or I bet you love going out with your mum? Are still prevalent due to my young age but when people asks those questions and I respond with my mum actually passed away the next logical response is “I’m so sorry to hear that, if you don’t mind me asking how did she die?” Do I mind you asking? No, not any more but do I struggle to tell you how she died? Yes, very much so because quite simply my mum died from lung cancer and no she was not a smoker.

Non- Small Cell lung cancer is the type she had, a type of lung cancer that is not directly linked with smoking like others. She battled for 18 months through chemo, medical trials and so much more, something I should almost be proud of because through her battle with cancer my mum showed me the true meaning of life, of family and bravery, she showed me how much a person can love someone and she showed me how to be a good person. Yet it is the opposite, society almost makes me feel ashamed of my mum simply because she was unfortunate and got lung cancer, through no fault of her own.

Its almost as if society says, smoking causes lung cancer and if you get lung cancer then it is your fault, even if you have never smoked, it is very much a case of tunnel vision when it comes to lung cancer. It is almost silently accepted within society to assume that those with lung cancer have done it to themselves, that they knew the dangers and yet the continued to put themselves at risk.

Every time the topic comes up I feel obligated to inform people that while my mum did die from lung cancer she was not a smoker and her cancer was not caused by smoking. To this day I feel there is a stigma associated with lung cancer, the emphasis of lung cancer being caused by smoking all be it justified is far to great. 

Every time the topic emerges I find myself wanting to tell people what she died of when they ask but an internal dialogue breaks out and I often find myself struggling to be open and honest or risk casting shame upon my mother. The words lung and cancer are closely linked with smoking and for very good reasons but with that has come a perception that you have caused this illness yourself, leaving those left behind by someone who lost the fight against lung cancer to become consumed by the feeling of challenging the stigma or almost shame our loved ones.

So, no I don’t mind you asking how my mum died but when I say lung cancer don’t glance at me with a look of shame, don’t make me feel like my mums battle was for nothing and don’t just assume she smoked! Every time I answer the question and people look at me like my mum was not good enough, you break a piece of me too.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

How scouting has changed my life

From a young age there has always been some element of scouting in my life. When I was young it was when my dad and my brothers were off out on camping trips leaving mum and me to have some quality time together or when I myself decided to give girls guides a bash. Even when I got older I often went on hikes and to den nights with my dad, simply as an onlooker but when I turned 16 and I wanted to complete my Gaisce everything began to change. What started out as working with the beavers once a week, colouring some pictures and doing some arts and crafts soon developed into something more, programme planning, camping and outdoor activities. Starting at 16 I didn’t have much of a role, but as I got older my role change and naturally as I turned 18 it was time for me to make a decision, begin my training to become a scout leader or just be a youth member myself. I chose to begin my journey to become a scout leader.

Not quiet sure what I was getting myself into I began my training, slowly but surely learning bits and pieces about scouting. What started out as a desire to become a leader soon changed to a desire to tick the boxes, just complete all my training because quite simply I hate not finishing a project. I got through stage one, powered through stage two, got organised in stage three, got adventurous in stage four, got creative in stage five and gained a new perspective on not only scouting but also life on stage six. 

I went into my stage six programme reserved, quiet, scared, and anxious and it took two missed stage six programmes before I actually made it in the car to get there, it really was a case of third time lucky! We left on Friday afternoon and made it to Waterford by Friday evening to kick off the Yogi bear weekend with getting to know our patrols and going on a hike to find another patrol member. I hate groups so I defiantly felt like I had been thrown in the deep end but I survived my Friday and even found myself gelling with my patrol. My Saturday didn’t get off to a great start, there were tears, anxiety and the need for emergency meds but after my little wobble I survived yet again and by lunch time I was settled, having fun and finding myself having a role in my patrol…. caring for our teddy bear Timmy. By Sunday morning I was calm, relaxed and for the first time in a long time I felt free, accepted and refreshed.

It wasn’t just this weekend of training that changed me; it was a combination of everything I have experienced throughout my time in scouting. From the other scouters I engage with, their support, encouragement and acceptance to the young people I work with, their easy going nature, their ability to have fun and simply enjoy life. But it goes beyond the people I have had the pleasure and good fortune to get to know and call friends but also the skills I have had the opportunity to learn. Everything from tying knots to pitching a tent or lighting a fire (that one took a while) has allowed me to develop a greater awareness and understanding for nature and the outdoors, making me more aware and grateful for my environment and the things that I have around me. But has also allowed me to understand the peace, the value and the benefits of the outdoor and adventure for my mental health. Now I’m not saying I’m about to head off up mountains and go camping for a week but knowing that I can go out into nature, take a break from the all consuming online world and just enjoy time by myself has worked wonders for my mental health in recent months, something which I am so grateful for.

I have gone through years of therapy and indeed I still face more therapy to help me manage my OCPD and BPD more effectively but to date I can say the most beneficial thing for my mental health other than sport has been scouting. It has opened my eyes, allowed me to take a different approach to life and given me a chance to begin to identify who I am and allowed me to accept myself, something which not all people have had the opportunity to do. Scouting has not only changed my life but it has also given me an identity, one I am proud of and happy to shout about!

Monday, February 06, 2017

Loving my job makes it enough!

I love my job! I love going to work, having a laugh with my colleagues, dealing with customers, playing with children and all the opportunities which I have been given in the past three years I have worked there. I have gone from being a shy 19 year old, scared to make a mistake to a strong, independent confident 22 year old who has gone from working one day on the floor each week to working up to five days a week, being in charge of camps, working on marketing and training new staff, all things that I never thought would ever be possible. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine doing marketing but here I am and I love it.

But is it enough? That is the question I have found myself asking day in and day out, is it enough for me? Right now the answer is yes! And it's yes for a very simple reason, I'm young and I don't quite know what I want to do with my life just yet, I don't know where I see my self in five years time, I don't know what I want to go back and study in college and that's ok because I have time. And so I have accepted that. I may not be working with vulnerable young people but I'm working with people and who knows, the short interaction I have with a child could impact them in a positive way and right now that's enough for me. 

But there is something so special about my job and it's the people I work with. The owners of the company, the managers and indeed all the other employees that make me want to go to work. With everything from asking how I am to giving me a hug even though I may not want one, it's the small things that really do make a difference, but what's the best thing? The best thing is their acceptance and openness. When I first started I was ashamed of my past with mental health issues, in fact I was ashamed with my current struggles but opening up and being honest with people has made my life so much better. From laughing and joking about the little things I do because of my OCPD or indeed dealing with the overreaction of certain situations because of my BPD it is these things that have helped me to accept myself and my own struggles. 

I know that I am lucky to work with such a great group of people and for a company that has such a great understanding and openness to mental health. I know that some people still feel the need to shy away and hide mental health issues in the workplace and that needs to change but the only way that will change is by us being open which is why I am writing this post, in the hopes that other companies may follow suit and be supportive and encouraging and this May get a box of green ribbons just like Playzone did last year. Not only did they show me that I mattered, that they cared and that I am equal but they also showed me that they care about more that just business, but they also care about society, and knowing that makes working there so much more rewarding. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Accepting achievement

All my life I have been the kind of person to ignore and overlook my achievements but recently I have noticed a change within myself, one that is becoming increasingly more aware of what I have achieved in my life. What brought this on your might ask? Well this coming Thursday I will be graduating from college, that in itself is a huge achievement but for me when I took a closer look at it, it became so much more.

3 years ago I started out on what I thought was going to be the best thing in my life, I had worked hard to get through secondary school, sit my leaving cert and get onto the course I so desperately wanted to be on. 3 years ago I set out for college, anxious and uneasy but feeling like I knew where I was going, feeling like I knew exactly how my life was going to pan out but little did I know that would all change.

I started college on the community and youth work course, all ready to become a fully qualified youth worker and do what I love most- work with young people but that is not where I finished. Struggling through second year saw me make a decision I was unsure about which was to change course but became the best decision I have made yet. My perspective widened, my values changes and opportunities opened up.

It was only recently that I realised just how much I have achieved, I finished college, I faced challenges head on, I overcame daemons and I made life changes. Looking back over the last three years which comprised on one major surgery, one overdose, endless amounts of therapy, a change of college course, becoming a See Change Ambassador and speaking to hundreds of young people in the RDS I can sit here and finally say for the first time in my life that I am proud of myself and it feels fantastic to be able to say that!! When I finally accepted that I achieved something deep inside me something changed, who I am as a person has been influenced by the positive step to not only recognise my achievement but to also accept them. 


I have come a long way over the past three years and for someone who once thought should wouldn’t make it through secondary school to have finished college, have a job which is constantly presenting me with new opportunities and have a world of opportunities laying in front of me including everything from travel to going back to college I cant help but be beaming with pride and feeling like I have achieved something. Accepting these achievements has changed me, allowed me to become more optimistic and finally allowed me to see that there is a future for me, what the future holds I’m not sure but right now, for the first time this past year I can finally see a future and I have a reason to fight another day!
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