Thursday, 30 November 2017

My Jo's Trust support group - a vital lifeline

When I received my cancer diagnosis last August, I was given a pack containing a booklet about the operation I'd need, a detailed Macmillan leaflet about cervical cancer, and a flyer advertising Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust support groups in my area.

Although I'd heavily relied on the Jo's Trust website and online forum in the weeks leading up to my diagnosis, the thoughts of joining a support group massively stressed me out. 'There's no way I'm ever going to a support group. Why would I want to sit around and talk about my diagnosis? I don't want to talk about it ever again!' Little did I know that, nine months later, that support group would be a huge source of strength for me.

I've already blogged about my downward spiral earlier this year which started around the time of my 31st birthday. When this slump set in, my husband suggested that I signed up for the Cardiff Jo's Trust support group as he knew how isolated I felt. I made some enquiries and there happened to be a meeting in a couple of days, so I reluctantly turned up for my first meeting at the end of June. I haven't missed a meeting since!

So why has this group been such a valuable support over the last few months?

1. It's shown me that I'm not alone 

For me, the most valuable thing about my support group is learning that I'm not the only one going through this ordeal. The group is living proof that several women in the Cardiff area alone have been affected by cervical cancer over the last few years. I previously felt as if I was the only woman in the world going through it, and certainly the only woman my age going through it. Then I went along to my first support group meeting and realised that I'm not alone. There are other people (many of them my age or younger) who truly understand the lifelong impact of this disease and who I can be completely honest with. I've made some good friends through this group, and many of us keep in touch between sessions which has been a huge support during my more difficult days and weeks.

2. It's shown me that everyone's battle with cancer is different 

Before going to my support group, I was very tunnel-visioned about my cancer and I honestly thought I was in a worse situation than everyone else who'd been through the same diagnosis as me. However, the group has really opened my eyes to the huge variety of circumstances people find themselves in following their diagnosis. It's also taught me that there's no such thing as a 'worse situation'. As a lady at my very first support group jokingly said, 'It's not top trumps!' Everyone's problems are the biggest problems in their world, regardless of what those problems are.

3. It's shown me that I can use my experience to help other people 

I didn't think I was anywhere near the point where I could start supporting other people on their own journey. I thought I was too wrapped up in my own issues to help someone else with theirs. However, I've learnt that I can use my experience to help other people who aren't as far along the journey as I am, or to offer a different perspective for those who are further along the journey. Even sending a quick message to a friend from the group to find out how they're getting on after a particularly bad week makes all the difference. So, much to my surprise, my support group has very much become a place where I feel I can support others as well as feeling supported myself.

4. It's shown me that support groups don't have to be all doom and gloom 

I put off attending a support group for months because I thought it would just be a load of people crying and talking about their problems. I didn't feel as if I needed the strain of listening to that on top of my own sadness. In reality, the group isn't like that at all. We all talk about our difficulties and frustrations, and sometimes there are tears, but we also make each other laugh. And, very often, we share the same difficulties and frustrations which lifts the burden somewhat. We even go for lunch after the support group has finished which is a great way to meet in a more informal setting and to get to know each other even better.

5. It's shown me that things do get better with time 

Every time I've been to a support group meeting (I've been to 4 so far), I've felt a little better. There are ladies in the group who were diagnosed three, four, or even five years ago and, although they still have their struggles every day, they do acknowledge that things get a little easier with time. It's given me hope that, although the impact of my cancer is life-changing and I'll never fully get over it, a time will come where it doesn't infiltrate my thoughts as much as it does now.

If you've been putting off going to a support group, whatever and wherever it may be, I hope this blog post has persuaded you to reconsider. Similarly, if you've never heard of support groups but would like to meet up with people in a similar situation to you, I'd advise you to carry out some research to see if there are any support groups in your area.

I promise that talking to people who are going through a similar ordeal will have a noticeable impact and will go some way towards reconciling that crushing and overwhelming feeling of isolation.

Thank you, Jo's Trust!

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Battle of the Christmas hot chocolates

I love November. Partly because it means Halloween is over for another year, and partly because it marks the point where Christmas begins to make an appearance EVERYWHERE.

I love Christmas nearly as much as I love hot chocolate, so I obviously get extremely excited when the seasonal hot chocolates hit coffee shop menus in November.

I've tried five Christmas hot chocolates so far this year so I thought I'd give my readers a bit of a run down. Shockingly, I'm yet to sample one of these hot chocolates in a novelty Christmas cup as I haven't ordered one to take away yet... this situation definitely needs to be rectified as soon as possible. My Instagram profile demands it.

Billionaire's Hot Chocolate - Costa

Although I absolutely loved the shortbread topping on this hot chocolate,  the drink itself was a bit too sweet even for me! Still, I've had two of them (the first had a much more generous topping than this one) so it can't be too bad... 

Black Forest Hot Chocolate - Costa

I really liked this one and will definitely be ordering more of these before they get discontinued. It tasted really good, and I was particularly excited about the glitzy purple flakes scattered on top. 

Lindt Hot Chocolate - Costa 

You might remember that the Lindt hot chocolate was only available in the 'Cortado' size last year which was pretty tiny, quite frankly. It's available as a regular-sized hot chocolate this year and, although it might look a bit 'no frills' compared to the others, it's very tasty and feels like a real treat. 

Roasted Hazelnut Hot Chocolate - Caff√® Nero 

This is my favourite of the lot! Loads of flavour, oodles of thick chocolate-sprinkled cream, and not too sickly. I also like it that Caff√® Nero offer exactly the same festive flavours for both their coffees and hot chocolates, unlike Costa and Starbucks who choose to segregate. 

Fudge Hot Chocolate - Starbucks 

I didn't take a picture of this one because the lighting is terrible in my local Starbucks (#firstworldproblems). Starbucks is usually my least favourite of these three chains, but I really enjoyed my fudge hot chocolate and thought it was a definite step up from last year's Christmas range. 

What's your favourite festive hot chocolate? 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Five simple things I look forward to after a long day

It's been an insanely busy couple of weeks so it's a very quick blog post for today I'm afraid! As I'm so busy in work at the moment, I thought I'd write about five simple things I look forward to after a long day at the office.

1. Neighbours

I used to watch Neighours two or three times per day (yes, you read that correctly) when I was a student. However, when I started working full time after I graduated, I started missing the odd episode here and there and eventually stopped watching altogether. My love for Neighbours was re-ignited last October/November when I was off sick after my operation, and I consequently spent many hours on Wikipedia catching up on all the storylines from the last ten years. I now look forward to watching Neighbours on Catch Up every night when I get home!

2. Food 

'I had a big lunch so I won't be eating anything tonight.' I can promise you that I have NEVER uttered this sentence. I honestly daydream about my dinner for 75% of my commute home, whether I've had a big lunch or not.

3. A sugary snack 

Although this technically falls under the 'food' category, in my brain (and in my stomach) it has a compartment all to itself. At around 8pm, I like having a sugary snack such as an Options hot chocolate with marshmallows, a glass of milkshake, a yoghurt, or a sneaky chocolate from our Florida/Florence stash. In case you were wondering, the remaining 25% of my commute home is spent thinking about my 8pm sugary snack.

4. Bed!

My bed is my favourite place in the world. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I immediately think about what stands between me and getting back into bed that evening. I absolutely love the feeling of getting into bed after a long day, cwtching in to my duvet, and either reading my Kindle or spending some time on my Samsung Galaxy tab. I've also recently set myself a new 'I must not check my phone after I've turned the light off' rule to help me to get to sleep quicker, and it seems to be working really well so far.

5. Jessie 

I've saved the best until last. Before we had Jessie, I nearly always went to the gym after work then indulged in a bombardment of productivity for about two hours. Now, I drive home from work and go straight out for a walk with Neil and Jessie. I love the way she gets really excited when I come home and, although she might be a bit of a menace some evenings, she never fails to make me smile even on my worst days.

What are your simple pleasures after a long day?

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Florence: A visual summary

We went to Florence on holiday last week and I absolutely loved it.

Just like everywhere else we've been in Italy, it was beautiful in every way. Our hotel was perfect, the sights were spectacular and the food was amazing.

To save myself some time, I thought it would be a good idea to summarise our week in Florence (including our day in Pisa) using my favourite photographs rather than using actual words. However, this plan took a LOT longer than I thought it would due to the sheer volume of photos I took on my phone!

So, after a few hours of gazing longingly at my 'Florence 2017' photo album and trying to narrow it down, here's a visual summary of the main sights/attractions/views we enjoyed last week...

Piazza del Duomo 

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (or Il Duomo di Firenze)


View from Giotto's Campanile 

View from Piazzale Michelangelo 

Ponte Vecchio (and the view from it!)

Views alongside the Arno River

Uffizi Gallery Museum

Statue of David at Galleria Accademia 

Palazzo Pitti

Palazzo Vecchio 

Leaning Tower of Pisa 

Have you ever visited Florence? Let me know if you've published any blog posts about your trip as I'd love to read them. If you haven't visited, I'd highly recommend it! 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Reminiscing about my last few posts...

I didn't have time to blog this week as I've been away on holiday, so I thought I'd cheat a little and use this week's regular slot to promote some of my recent content. I could have just had a week off but I've become really attached to this 'posting every Thursday' malarkey, as have my regular readers (hi, Mum).

Here are my last ten blog posts - feel free to re-read, read for the first time, or pretend to read!

My five favourite pampering rituals

Afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard 

Wizarding weekend in Watford 

Restaurant Review: Etc

Celebrating our third wedding anniversary 

My bow-tiful Mickey ears

Restaurant Review: Tony's 

Celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter 

We need to talk about mental health 

Disney Pandora has arrived in the UK! 

Look out for a brand new blog post next week.