Like Ms Jolie my mother died of cancer (technically a secondary cancer that spread from the original breast cancer). She was a few days shy of her 46th birthday when she died after 4 or 5 years of fighting the illness.
I know that because of this statistically my chances of contracting cancer are approximately double that of the rest of the population but I have never been tested for the faulty gene that Ms Jolie carries. Partly, this is because I’m neither very old nor a mother and partly its because my mother is the only member of my family to have had such an early onset cancer.
Her elder sister has fairly recently been diagnosed with breast cancer much later in life [this probably means that despite the location it was an entirely different type of cancer] and my Father’s aunt also has cancer but of a different type.
Nonetheless, I have been thinking about what a genetic risk of cancer means for me and what I might do about it. After my step-mother was also recently diagnosed with breast cancer and with my 30th birthday fast approaching my father has recently asked me to talk to my Doctor about screening. It seems a big step to consider what options the NHS might have for me with regard to earlier and more frequent tests (not normally offered to lower risk younger women) and an even bigger step to consider both genetic testing and a mastectomy. Yet, I want to be responsible and to think about the impact of my health on the people I care about – if I could prevent my loved ones watching me go through debilitating treatments and potentially dying 20 odd years before my time should I do it..?
My immediate answer must be yes. I wouldn’t wish my childhood experiences of cancer on anyone. But..
(You knew there was a but right?)
I’m not quite 30 and I don’t have children. At this stage in my life the idea of having children and possibly breast-feeding them is still more important than a statistical chance. I don’t think my breasts are the arbiter of my femininity or that I am less me without them (though I imagine it would be a shock to the system) and I don’t think that breast-feeding is a sign of true motherhood but I do think that personally I’d rather try for kids before messing with the status quo. Furthermore, I’m not ready to deal with the potential hormonal and emotional repercussions of such testing and surgery whilst kids are still a possibility. If (like Jolie) I already had children perhaps I would be more concerned with their future and how much time I could offer them but right now I am well aware that the knowledge of genetic issues combined with the physical effects of mastectomy might be enough to stop me from ever having children and I don’t want that to be the reason for our choice.
If I have a mastectomy I want it to be after we have children – and if I test positive for the gene, removal of the ovaries is also a consideration – but after kids.
Maybe that is selfish. Maybe its naive. But the fear of not being enough of a mother because I don’t have one to guide me can’t be enough of a reason to cut out a part of the mother I want to be. I would – will – actively protect my family through surgery if necessary but I can’t give up on making the family stronger because I am afraid of statistics.
Another year another CAMRA beer festival
A somewhat rearranged and controversial affair this year, it was at least blessed with some sunshine.
For me though it was mostly a reminder that I am older and more broken than I once was.
It seems rather frighteningly that I have been volunteering at this festival for almost ten years. I have done my time at the bar, sat behind membership and at products (kind of a CAMRA gift stall that also does soft drinks); I have run backwards and forwards on traditional pub games, shouting and hustling for all I was worth; I have hefted scaffolding, built bars and lugged firkins; I have worked for a number of years on the cellar team and for plenty of that time I have also worked at the pub.
Double shifts are exhausting.
Somehow every year I forget just how exhausting.
The last couple of years have really taken their toll on me. The new type of breakdown and subsequent anti-depressants reduced the amount of exercise I was taking and helped me pile on the weight [In the c. 4 months I took Mirtazapine I put on over a stone & the same in the 6 months I took prozac before that]. Worse, the last 2 and a half (plus) years of shoulder pain and 9 months of knee issues have left me constantly exhausted and unable to do a fair number of my normal activities.
Some days I notice how much movement, strength and energy I have lost.
Physically and Mentally.
On a related but very different note – I think I get more pissed off every year at the self-righteousness of CAMRA members and volunteers about how much better They could run the festival.
Let me start by saying I applaud the current UNICEF campaign encouraging people who are coping to try living below the poverty line and practice some hardcore reality checking…
I may have mentioned before that I am comparatively financially comfortable and I think I have also pointed out that we as a family constantly have to manage our budget to keep it that way. So what I want to have a bit of a whinge about is the proliferation of articles demonstrating the numerous recipes and ways you too could feed yourself for under a pound a day (UK £) from a very practical level.
What I have a problem with is the unrealistic shopping experiences necessary for these meals. Not only is shopping at a variety of different shops to find the best possible bargains time-consuming (which is obviously not a problem while you are on the dole you scrounger *sigh* cos obviously taking your kids with you and applying for jobs at the same time is a doddle especially if you have mobility problems) but it is often expensive – the best deals are usually in out of town hypermarkets and who can afford a car… so do you stump up for expensive public transport or heft your rucksack through the rain to carry back your bulk buys? Because believe me things are only that cheap if you buy a lot at once. Sure 1 egg costs 9p but you have to buy 30 to get that price and to get your 3p 50g of rice you need to buy a kilo. Now rice lasts a while but eggs are a bit more limited, likewise once you have opened your tin of value kidney beans you have to use it up. Don’t get me wrong bulk buying works but its also hard to keep interest and variety in your meals and that is a pressure when you know that the twenty quid you scraped together and spent on those bulk buys in one go had better not go to waste with rotting food. We are regularly told how much healthier fresh food is, but the reality is that actually on a budget you have to go for longer-life stuff – its often not the end of the world nutritionally speaking but it is easy to end up with added sugar and salt (great cheap preservatives) to compensate for the lower cost. If you want the fresh stuff, it has to be from the ends/just about to go out of date sections but that means only getting whats available and being flexible re-writing your menus – good luck creativity!
Yes, you can eat cheaply and moderately heatlthily on quite a small budget but posts highlighting one person’s week and the many meals they managed with lots of ingredients fails to really show the effort and planning it takes to organise those menus for several people for possibly a week or more at a time – a feat that I struggle with even using a calculator and a crib sheet suggesting nutritional values for portion sizes and I have a Maths A-level and nearly a doctorate to my name.
Its not impossible but it is very hard and time-consuming and sometimes demeaning, surely that is the point?
How do you put your hands up to those things that allow you better access to social respect and activities in the environment that you live in without whinging about the aspects where you struggle? How do you go one step further and use those privileges in a positive fashion?
Its really easy to qualify your positives by enunciating the negatives but how do you manage the interfaces?
I happen to be:
- White [in a neighbourhood & country where not only is that is that the majority but it is the historical norm]
- Culturally average in proportion (height, weight, shape ratios)
- In possession of all my limbs and able to use them to carry out basic daily functions
- My chosen gender presentation matches the genitalia I was born with
- Sighted & Hearing
- Not living with a neurological condition
- Brought up without fear of deprivation (hunger, cold, loss of home etc.)
- Brought up broadly safe from the threat of violence (not in a civil-war zone, social area with widely respected rule of law)
- Given a regular education, not at odds with social norms and enabling developmental progression
- Competent in the achievement of local educational goals
- Financially solvent [and educated in such a way as to comprehend local financial practices - e.g. taxes, credit-systems, wages etc] enough to maintain adult independence
And probably a whole load of other things I haven’t even thought about.
I am trying to work out the way I can notice and demonstrate that the things that I sometimes take for granted are not straightforward and use my position to help changes happen.
My key thought-process at the moment revolves around education – my knowledge and ability to critically analyse the world is a privilege like no other in that it allows me to dissect other issues; it has given me an awareness of so many things outside of my experience, encouraged-no forced- me to take uncomfortable viewpoints and just plain thrown hard truths at me. So I’m going to spend a little time thinking about the parts of my education that really matter and why.
I’ll get back to you on this topic.. I hope.
I really like my bed.
I really like sleeping.
I enjoy curling up in bed beside W.
I enjoy curling up in bed beside B.
The trouble is some of these things are mutually exclusive…
Not only is it inappropriate for me to share a bed with both of them despite the comfort I get from lying beside my loves and knowing they are warm and safe I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I tend to get better sleep when I am in bed alone. This is further complicated by the fact that they both get mopey if they spend too long without the opportunity to fall asleep and wake up at my side.
There is no easier way to protect and comfort someone than to be physically close. In a world of uncertainty and often of pain I can think of nothing I would rather do than keep my loved ones close – but on the other hand I have to deal with the fact that my pain problems and general mood often make sleep difficult or disturbed and without plenty of sleep I can help no one.
I don’t think anyone ever told me that this was going to be something to worry about when I was growing up… thank the gods for ‘first world problems’…
A friend of mine recently commented about her resistance to changing her name when she wed and shared a link to this article.
As a woman in the “Western World” it is still usually assumed that you will take on your husband’s surname and yet as civil partnerships become more common and people who have delayed marriage til later in life find that their professional life is dominated by the name they built up this must surely be becoming as much a practical issue as it is a gender politics one.
Personally I feel no more strongly about changing your name if you get married than I do about keeping the name assigned to you by your parents – neither is automatically your identity so much as they are about your family and your connections. Sharing your surname with your parents or your children marks out a sense of belonging (in both a negative & positive sense) and builds up history. A similar trend must surely be seen in the continuing desire for many people to give their children the same names as their parents or grandparents (even if it is often relegated to a middle name).For some this is a burden and for others a sense of joy.
Whether you feel more strongly connected to the past in your own parents, desire a connection to the family who you marry into or wish to forge a new family bond and new name must surely be a personal choice in this day and age…
More importantly I feel that we should not question an individuals relationship with their name – for some it is a torture (be that through bullying at school or the gender assumptions it carries) for others it is an intensely personal point of pride. What is interesting, socially speaking, is the expectations we put on people:
- That women will change their name at least once in their lives [and those who don't are spinsters, lesbians or uber-feminists (which may because they are both of the first two of course)]
- That men won’t change their’s [and those that do are milksops to their wives or hiding something]
- Hypenation is an ugly postmodern cop-out that suggests you are a bit too right-on
- If one half of a homosexual couple changes their surname to match their partner’s they are the more feminine party
- That wanting to change your name substantially marks you out as odd
- That children having a different surname to the main adults in their life is undesirable
I think that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about how tied we are to a traditional family structure despite the number of possible variations currently experienced…
Food for thought.
On a completely personal level – I have no desire to change the name my parents gave me (indeed with the exception of my online persona and the pet name my wife uses for me I have never settled into any nicknames); I never expected to change my name even as a child despite the attitudes of most of my schoolfriends; my name is my brand academically speaking and is even more so for my wife; we are all (all 3 of us?) slightly attached to the connection to the history and continuation of our families as represented in our names; we have not been able to settle on what surname we would give any children but agreed that something new is the best choice/compromise for our blended family….
Although I talk about my academic work on this blog I wouldn’t categorise this as a research blog and because I talk about my personal life in quite a lot of detail I am not necessarily keen for people searching for me on a professional level to find this before they get to know me – Although a detailed search for some of the topics of my research will probably bring you here eventually.
[I am also not necessarily hugely keen for the people I interact with on a day-to-day basis and my in-laws/family to be find this easily]
However, as the modern digital world becomes more a part of my(possible) professional life it becomes increasingly clear that I should build myself a website/blog to showcase myself on an academic level. I need my name to be visible and associated with my work and I need to enthuse other people on my subject if I want to have even the vaguest of hopes of landing a job.
Also I really really need to publish something!
Which is why not only am I going to email people with the notes for my conference paper but as soon as my thesis page refs are done and my next paper is outlined I am going to turn it into a real journal article. I am also going to start writing a book proposal for my thesis.
So I have started a few posts and failed to finish them recently..
Partly this has been the result of having to fight the depression and anxiety off with a big stick and partly because ya know life..
- Changing of the guard at work has required shifting patterns & bank holidays take up time
- Family death and illness has required attention and emotional support
- My shoulder is giving me hell and wrecking my sleep
- I have a conference paper and research proposal to write – by the end of the week
- I’m still finishing up my thesis edits (just pg nos to go!)
- I have some new things to research for the museum..
So just wanted to say: I’m still here, I’m not doing too badly, I have plenty of projects going on and I have some stuff I want to talk about here. Bear with me.
Head demons tell us lies.
Brain says pointless, useless, horrible trouble-maker – you ruin the world around you.
Evidence shows nothing.
Mind imposes doubt, worry, insecurity. Head suggests everything we have ever done was a fraud, every person who ever cared was patronising, pretending and pained by our existence.The world and our lovers offer nothing but compassion and hope.
Why do you suppose it is easier to believe the lies of our own demons?
Apparently its March already.
This means I have less than a month to finish researching and writing my first conference paper of the year.
The abstract was submitted months ago and I did start my research in between submission and viva but prepping for viva and doing corrections have completely distracted me from actually fleshing out this paper – an especially annoying scenario since I am determined that it will form the basis of something to be submitted for publication. I really want to get some of my work actually out into the world and can’t keep going over the thesis material even if I do publish it eventually..So tonight as a way of treating myself for doing lots of work on the thesis I am going to go back over some of my research and find some more material. I am also going to commit over the course of this week to making a skeleton slide outline to work round.
- Susan Cooper uses Classical knowledge to signify education and to a lesser extent superiority.
- Section on Romans in Britain emphasises series themes of displacement, duty and connection to one’s land
- Contrast practical/factual/educational Classics with mythic/emotional Celtic & Saxon imagery
- Is this a recognisable trend in children’s fantasy?
- Is this a trend in 50s/60s/70s lit.?
Gonna do me some real research.. gonna enjoy it!