Friday, July 12, 2019

Fundraisers are human too

The cause is what counts

A while back a major giving fundraiser told me that one of his contacts had passed away. There was real grief in his voice and he said ‘I think I spent more time with him than some of my best friends’ – said in humour but a touch of truth there.  Building relationships is not just about ‘eyes on the prize’ for fundraisers, it’s about making a human connection.

The bereaved partner knew that it was more than just ‘money hunting’ and kindly phoned him directly when her husband died, and invited him to the funeral.

Remember, fundraisers are human too. We really do care about the people we meet and work with who support our work, not just the beneficiaries.

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Photo (C) Carolyn Sheppard

Monday, June 10, 2019

How life changes

These will be cheeseboards
Apart from the things I have learned because of Sheena's cancer (see 'new skills'), I thought it might be an idea to add some of the other things I've learned/experienced over the past 18 months.  Why share this? Because I think it demonstrates that you are never too old to learn, and it's never too late to end up doing things you always thought you might enjoy, but haven't had the opportunity (or even bravery) to try.

1. Using a chain saw

Using a chain saw is a dangerous thing!  Well of course, but crossing the road and drinking vodka are dangerous things too, so it's a matter of perspective.  Like any power tool, knowing how to use it, using it properly and taking the right safety precautions are sensible steps.  Over-confidence is the danger zone!  I mostly use a small electric chain saw for cutting logs.  It's not too heavy, not too powerful, but it chops up logs and pallets quickly and with so much less effort.

2. Using an axe and a log splitter

Table decoration to be
I may have weilded an axe in the past, but not with such purpose before. Those logs needed chopping and splitting - our log burner is hungry in the winter and it's darn cold in the woods sometimes.  The axe is great for some woods, but for the stubborn ones the log splitter - a sort of hammer-shaped axe, is king. Whack! And (if you hit it right) the log cleaves in two.  It depends on the wood of course, but sycamore is like butter - so easy to split. It will need plenty of time to season though before we can burn it.

3. Using power sanders

OK, a basic DIY tool, but I never used one before. Now I've sanded about 200 ends of wood for my
daughter's wedding table decorations, and used the bench sander (oh, what a lovely machine!) too.  Making the cheeseboards out of large sycamore slices that had been chopped with the chainsaw is the hardest though - takes three lots of sanding (and next stage is applying the mineral oil) to get the right finish.

 Axle trying out the unfinished log store
4. A passion for pallets

I've discovered how much fun pallets can be - not only for providing some great kindling (using chain saw, then small machete), but also making things. So I can now build wood stores - made two so far.  Next project is a cover for the other wood stores we already have. Yes, we use a lot of wood.

5. Living in the woods

Of course this has been an absolute delight, with woodpeckers, marsh tits and siskin gracing our bird feeder along with the usual suspects. Oh, and some very destructive squirrels too.  Living in a house in the woods is just amazing, even when it rains or snows. The ever changing colours, sounds and smells mean every day is different.

6. Being a grandma

Well this deserves more than one post, and more than just a mention, but any grandparent out there will know exactly why this was one of the most fantastic things that happened recently. Being a grandma required no effort or bravery from me, admittedly, but I am sure it will be keeping me busy over the coming years.

7. Mowing the lawn

A ride-on tractor mower, which is amazing fun.  The lawn is large, and I have to check it for doggy 'land mines' before mowing, or ...

8. Dog agility

I'm terrible at it, and I confuse the poor dog who is a veteran of agility displays, but I do enjoy it when I get the chance to run him.  Next year I will be commentating at shows, that's going to be fun

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A typical English village
Georgia on my mind

Photos (C) Carolyn Sheppard

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Kindness is a strength

I originally published a shorter version of this as 'Voyage of Discovery'.  I added a bit and shared it on our work intranet as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.  Here's the blog again - but read the comments at the end please. 
I thought this was going to be hard to write because it's a very personal voyage. But it turned out to be easy:

Let me take you back just a few years to when I was a depressed, unhappy wife to a man I loved but who didn't love me. This poorest version of me was a lost soul at sea who had abandoned her hopes and dreams. I only held on for the kids.  I saw myself as a failure, as the reason for his infidelity, as not being worth anything, not deserving. There is low and there is suicidal, and between these two is where I placed my self-esteem.
Can you picture it? A sad, middle aged woman with haunted eyes.  Even so, there was some part of me that was still strong, still struggled to be my normal self despite the voice in my head that said "You failed. You aren't worth it. It's your fault."  (My mantra was "old, fat and ugly".) This voice, that we maybe all have, was a voice bequeathed me by my parents, peers friends and my husband. Yes, this destructive self-talk was prompted by those around me. 
helime.jpgSo jump to now – see me strong, confident, knowing it's OK to not be OK, knowing that I may have failed sometimes but I am not a failure. You see the voice in your head is just a script, handed down page by page throughout your life. It can't be unwritten or even edited, but it can be recognised for what it is – not the enemy, not something to be cured or fixed or forgotten, but understood and put in context.  No matter what the script says, it is just a voice – a thought. It is not your true identity, just a role you play.  You are not the sum of the things that have happened to you or what people say about you. That's your 'script', it is not your true identity.
I've been on lots of self-development courses, but none of them helped me much. They showed me more faults, more things I should be doing, more reasons why I was not succeeding at life. So I did something that did change my life.
My voyage was painful one, but I was not alone. I spent five days with people who understood my state, sympathised and empathised, and who had turmoil of their own; feeling suicidal, been abused, struggled with drug addiction, feelings of worthlessness, physical and mental abuse...  and yet we all shared equally.  Our voyage together turned us from eight random strangers into a strong crew who believe the best of each other. That is a rare and precious thing.  Each of us told our intimate stories and – we realised - that these shaped how we saw ourselves. We were always surprised that each of us carried such distorted identities in our heads.  Seven friendly voices reflected back the truth they saw, shouted down the script and helped us to find and be our true selves. To love ourselves again.
There's so much more I could explain, but for now I'll just say that after years and years of self-dislike I am very happy in my own skin. I also feel happier than I have ever been (even with all that has been happening to my amazing partner). 
It's never too late to be good to yourself.  You do deserve it. You are worth it. I know I am.
I am happy to share my epxeriences in more detail if it may help someone. Ignore the negative voice in your head, you are amazing - you work here after all!
Here are the comments I got from my colleagues, after posting this - it shows the power of sharing.
Colleague 1: I love this Carolyn. Thank you so much for sharing.

2: Amazing, Carolyn. Thank you for sharing this.

3: This is so incredible, Carolyn. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us and giving hope and inspiration to those who may also feel they are on their own. Xx

4: You are a lovely and very brave woman, thank you for sharing your journey

My boss; You are a very brave and kind woman Carolyn. And Kindness is a true strength, a true asset and an absolute must in managing people. Keep being you, love from me. x

CEO: I got a lump in my throat reading this or should I say hearing this - your voice came through loud and clear in telling your story. Thank you.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Magic words

Not abracadabra or open sesame, but 'cancer free'.  When we went to the hospital on Tuesday, those magic words were spoken.

It's not over yet though - we've won the main battle, but the war is not over. Chemotherapy and surgery have removed all traces of cancer from Sheena - but we still have to make sure it doesn't come back. So radiotherapy and herceptin injections still ahead.  It will take us up to the anniversary of when she was first diagnosed.

As we sat in the office with the consultant radiologist, we heard the bell ring and a round of applause. Someone in the clinic had finished their treatment and were celebrating.  We are a way from this still, but the anticipation of ringing that bell, and the feeling you get when you hear it, is wonderful. 

Sheena's hair is starting to grow back, and she is slowly beginning to feel more herself again. We know it will knock her back again when radiotherapy starts and the tiredness and other potential side effects kick in, but for now we are enjoying that precious moment knowing that the treatment so far has worked, and worked well.

Our admiration and respect for the NHS staff is unbounded - our determination to see this through to the end and celebrate in style is unlimited.

It seems like cancer has been the subject of all my blogs recently, but it does kind of impinge on all areas of your life.  More blogs, with different subjects, will follow.  But in the meantime I am going to ask you all once again:

Have those scans/tests that you need
Check yourself regularly
Don't ignore any symptoms that you don't understand

Check your breasts
Breast cancer in men
Ipswich Blossom Appeal

Coming soon...

Where I live, I love. Life in the woods.
My amazing grandson. Of course, he's the most perfect child in the world.
My amazing daughter and her wedding.  It will be beautiful and perfect.
Our amazing holidays - oh soon please!

Friday, March 08, 2019

Attitude and examination

Every third Wednesday we go out for the day. We drink tea, eat biscuits, have lunch, play board games and often laugh quite a bit.  We meet some lovely people and chat about all sorts of things. 

A pleasant outdoor area at the hospital
And during all of this, Sheena is having her chemotherapy.  The side-effects vary, and sometimes the treatments for the side-effects have side-effects, but as you can imagine it is not a pleasant process.

But we make the best of it. I’m not having chemo – this poison is not being pumped into my blood – but we share the experience to an extent. I always go with her.  Some folks turn up and sit for the day on their own, no one to accompany them during their treatment.  We often share our stash of sweets, I offer to make tea, or just chat. Some folks just sleep, some leave with huge smiles, knowing it is their last day of treatment. Some wander past as they are shown round and are fearful of the unknown. We were like that just a few months ago. And then it becomes normal.

Attitude is key. I cannot express enough how Sheena’s positive attitude makes the day - and the treatment - bearable. For her it is the start of feeling really bad for two weeks and feeling fine again just in time for the next treatment and a repeat of the whole cycle again. For me it is seeing what effects the chemo has on her, and how it changes our lives – for now.  Even at her lowest, she can see through to the future and to when this is all over.

The good news is that there are just two more left – one next week and then one in April. After that there are other treatment regimes to come but reaching the end of chemotherapy is a most welcome destination that is now almost in sight.   

The staff at the hospital are amazing. Their positivity and kindness – the nurses and the support staff – goes a long way. 

At the start of her treatment Sheena posted on social media about her condition and what lay ahead. She also encouraged friends to do those self-examinations that so often can lead to a diagnosis that enables life-saving treatment. To my knowledge, at least three people ended up needing to be referred due to something that they found. Her willingness to share and be open about her cancer has probably saved more lives.  Cancer Research UK say one in two of us will experience cancer, so please give yourself the best chance you can. Do the self-exams, go to your screening appointments, and if you have any worrying symptoms go see your doctor.


·        Breast cancer care
·        CRUK cancer checks
·        Prostate cancer

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·        Learning new skills
·        Too busy to blog
·        First Aid

Photo: Carolyn Sheppard

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Learning new skills

I’ve chosen that title because it is one of the things that has happened since my partner Sheena was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018.  She went for her regular mammogram on 28 October – by 28 November she was receiving her first chemotherapy treatment.

The NHS moved quickly and efficiently and have been brilliant all the way along so far. We are at treatment two and the third will be in a couple of weeks.  I use ‘we’ because that’s how it feels, we are going through this together, but it’s a hell of a lot easier for me than for her.

Sheena and I only met in February 2018, so this has been quite a test I guess, but maybe that’s what February was for (see ‘The Gift of Snow'), making sure we were both up for what lay ahead! 
There has been a whole range of emotions, but both of us feel amazingly confident – we know this is curable and have complete faith that this time next year we will be celebrating. 

From long hair to....
In the meantime, we know we have a very tough year ahead – with the first stage (hair loss) happening as predicted (Sheena couldn’t wear a cold cap, it gave her a headache), I learned my first new skill – hair cutting!  Admittedly the job I did would not provide me with suitable credentials for a career change, but (beyond using a head razor in the past) it was my first attempt at a haircut.  

Watching the chemo go in – and it takes about an hour – is a difficult process. The first time I noted that two of the syringes looked like they were full of Vimto (her favourite tipple), and she talked non-stop to our lovely nurse.

Before the second chemo, Sheena's white blood cells were down and her immune system not at ‘ideal’ for chemo – but given that her cancer is a nasty little bugger, it was deemed that chemo should go ahead but with additional support.  The extra help was a series of injections for five days following the chemo.  This time we played Scrabble as the chemo went it, with some help from the nurse of course.

Sheena is an ex-auxiliary nurse herself and has given more injections than I’ve had Chinese takeaways, but day one she did not do a great job on herself, with some of the medicine flying in the air.  The syringes are easy to use and have a fantastic self-retracting needle, but you still have to poke them into yourself. Day two she stabbed herself like she was throwing for 120 in a darts final!  That was enough – my turn to take over. Oh dear, I’m not a lover of needles to say the least.   A paramedic friend showed me how to do the injection and I had a turn – not great but an improvement on days one and two.  I finished the course for her, injecting Sheena (reasonably painlessly) and I am now confident that, should it be needed again, I can do it.  A new skill I never thought I’d acquire.

We both have a very positive attitude towards this horrible disease and know that we can beat it together.   The moral of the story is please do not miss out on any of your regular scans, screenings or check ups.  The earlier any cancer or other disease is detected, the better are your chances of recovery.

Happy New Year.

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Baptism (of fire)


Ipswich Hospital Blossom Appeal
Breast Cancer Care

Friday, December 28, 2018

Too busy to blog

I got an email with that title, and it gave me a sharp reminder that I’ve not done a blog recently.
The email was a nice round up with links to their recent blogs, but I’m ‘too busy to read blogs’, and I didn’t read the email.  At this time of year the good old ‘round robin’ messages are circulating in emails or letters – and even social media. They seem impersonal but serve a purpose.

Last year my ex-husband’s cousin sent a letter with her Christmas card and told us of a serious family health issue – I felt guilt at not having contacted her during the year (but we never do keep in contact except at Christmas and funerals).  

So what about this blog, that I’m too busy to do? Because I’m working, because I’m doing this that and the other?  Well, this blog is just going to be really short because there’s a humdinger in the making, and I don’t want to trivialize it.

I just want to wish you all the very best for this festive season, whatever your faith (or lack of), and hope that the year has been good to you and that next year is the best year of your life.