HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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My first proper haircut in four and a half years!

I don’t have many cancer milestones or hurdles these days and for that I am very grateful. But the one area that was still hanging around that I couldn’t quite bring myself to deal with was my hair.

In 2012 I had chemotherapy and lost all my hair, every last strand of it. Before the chemo started my hair was really really long and thick but even so when I was told that my hair would most likely all fall out with the chemo, I was surprisingly calm and not too fussed about it. To me it seemed like a small price to pay for a much better shot at long-term survival.

After my chemo started I decided I didn’t want to wait for all this long hair to fall out for various reasons, the main two being that I found the hair falling out physically quite uncomfortable and even painful and also emotionally it was hard.  I particularly hated how every time my baby son grabbed onto my hair a handful of it came out in his hand, and so I decided it had to go.

So in a fit of enthusiasm,  I went all GI Jane and got a buzz cut (without a guard on the shaver so it was really really short!) To be honest I slightly regretted going quite so short as my head was like Velcro, which made sleeping difficult as I just stuck to the pillow and in the end it actually took quite a few weeks for my hair to fall out entirely (I definitely should have just gone for a pixie cut, but you live and learn!).

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(Me in my hat and wig)

About five months later my hair had started to grow back (sort of) so I gave up on the hats and wigs (which I hated by that point) and once again sported the military look. The first time I went out with no hat/wig it was to a barbecue with about 80 people, most of whom I knew. I had just had a mastectomy and was feeling pretty awful. It took all the courage I could muster to not wear a hat/wig but I didn’t want to hide anymore so I just went for it.

I think I was looking pretty terrible and although everyone was really kind, no one mentioned my hair which was disappointing because to me it was a really big deal. About halfway through the party one friend came up to me and whispered, “You look beautiful” in my ear. I blatantly did not look beautiful. My skin was grey and I couldn’t move one arm after my recent surgery. I had gained so much weight from all the steroids and I basically had no hair or eyelashes. But in that moment, I felt seen by my friend and I felt so loved and I was so grateful to her for her kindness.

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(Hair just growing back)

Since then, I have never had a proper haircut, just a trim every now and then to make sure my hair didn’t look too 80s (which, I have discovered, will happen if you are growing your hair out from zero). Every time I went to the hairdressers I would be sure to clarify that I didn’t want them to cut anything more than absolutely necessary off. And so my hair has been getting longer and longer and longer.

Fast forward four and a bit years and my hair was once again really, really long and really really thick and to be honest it was driving me nuts. It was this frustration with my hair, rather than some deep philosophical revelation that made me realise it was time for it to go. So on Friday I had about five inches cut off and am now sporting a new look.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to the point of being ready to cut it off and I don’t know why up until now it was the one thing that I couldn’t seem to let go of. Maybe it was vanity. Maybe it was something to do with feeling like growing my hair was part of my recovery and so if I cut it my recovery must be over.  Maybe it was because I wanted it to get to the point that it was at before it all fell out. To be honest, I’m still not really sure and I still haven’t had any deep philosophical revelation about my hair and its length!

But, what I am sure of is this. I am so glad that I have finally felt ready to let go of another of the legacies of cancer and to take one more step towards normality. I am so thankful that cancer is part of fewer and fewer of my key milestones and life choices. I am so thankful for every day of good health and of course, I am so glad to have options with what to do with my hair!

Thank you to all of you who have supported us through all of my hair lengths. We love you and couldn’t have gotten to this point without you. Here’s a shot of the new hairdo (excuse the shiny nose!!) X

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How pausing changed my life

Yesterday, the morning dawned bright and early with a little boy who did not want to go to school anymore and a baby who was cross for no discernible reason. My big boy had decided that he only wanted to attend school on the first and last day of each term and my little boy had just decided that he would be cross and so cross he was! The house was a total disaster area and as I woke up still tired after a full on few days the day loomed long and hot and sticky before me. Joel was due to be working late and I was only expecting him home at about 10pm and so as the day began I felt the misery levels rise at the prospect of a day filled with housework and crying children. Especially the crying children! They are hard to deal with for a whole day.

As I said goodbye to Joel I very ungraciously bemoaned to him what I expected my day to look like. I was angling for some sympathy and did receive some but not the bucket loads I felt I deserved! I begrudgingly waved him off at the tube station and trudged home muttering to myself about how lucky he was to be leaving the mess and the crying for a whole day.

As I got home from the school run I realised that I needed to make a choice about how this day was going to go down. I knew that I wouldn’t get through the day in any manner of which I would be proud without a reality check and an attitude adjustment. I seriously needed some perspective.

There is only one way that I know that consistently helps me find perspective and so I parked all the chores and stopped, sat and let my heart be still.

For me what that looks like is turning on some music (United Pursuit is my choice of the moment – I have put a link to my favourite of their songs below), reading some scripture and pouring my heart out in my journal or just sitting quietly and praying or letting the music wash over me.

So this is what I did. I sat on the floor, in amongst the baby biscuit crumbs and Happyland people with a small little guy crawling around and using my legs and a climbing frame and I paused. I rested and poured my heart out and let beautiful music wash over me and I read some truth and it began to restore my soul and melt my hardened heart. As I wrote and thought and prayed my perspective began to be realigned.

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I was able to give thanks for the mess in the house as it was mostly generated preparing for the funeral of Joel’s lovely Nan who passed away last week at the age of 95. Her funeral and celebration of her life had been the day before and as part of the celebration we all baked the food that she had been renowned for. The mess was as a result of honouring the life of a wonderful woman and I think that is a mess worth having!

As I paused I had some really special time with my little guy, playing next to me on the floor. And I was more able to enjoy his clinginess as it meant extra cuddles (which I don’t get as many of anymore now that he can crawl).

As I rested and stilled my heart I was able to give thanks for our lovely home and that it is filled with love and laughter.  

My perspective was truly realigned. What a sweet gift!

These times of pause are always sweet but it they are never perfect and are frequently interrupted. Most often, at this point in my life, these times happen on the floor. Sometimes they are cut short with a knock at the door or a baby that cries. Sometimes they are very short and sometimes I get the luxury of a longer pause.

But in spite of their imperfections these times are sweet and sacred and vital and they are without a doubt a completely key part of my day

I have learnt to embrace the mess and the imperfection of these times and not to worry about them. In the past I would only have “quiet time” if I felt that I had enough time, could go somewhere quiet, had the correct pens for my journal etc etc. The list of restrictions I put on myself were extensive and as a result the times I had were limited and I felt frustrated if they weren’t quite right.

These days if I imposed any of these sorts of restrictions it would mean that these times would literally never happen. I now snatch them on my own or with my little ones at my feet. The housework can wait 10 minutes. It will still be there, believe me!!!

Yesterday, more than ever I was reminded of the huge value of coming away from the frenetic pace of life and pausing for a few minutes with God. It is a beautiful, humbling and perspective altering choice and it can truly transform the shape and trajectory of each day.

What a beautiful thing to begin the day with a thankful heart and a peaceful soul and it is my prayer that even in the chaos and mess of life that we all make moments to be still, to allow our souls to be restored and to rest with Him each day.

 

 


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Why we have moved house AGAIN: choosing to participate in the adventure!

Recently I have been working through a course called Storyline with a group of friends and together we’ve been looking at the story of our lives so far, the ups and downs, the themes as well as looking for the redemptive perspective – the gold that comes as a result of the bad stuff in our lives.

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(Storyline ladies on a recent night out)

It has been really interesting to reflect on what has happened but also to think about how do I live a great story going forward? How are the choices that I make building into this story or am I always choosing the safe option, the easy way out? Would my choices and my life make the most boring book known to mankind or would there be some good stuff in there; some adventure, some conflict that was overcome, some struggle, some fantastic relationships?

 This slight shift in the way I think about my own life and decision making has really helped me to deal with some of the huge change and upheaval that have come in the past few months and as I have sought to live a great story courage has risen within me in a surprising way. 

When I wrote my last blog post 5 months ago (I really don’t know how it has been five months already!!) I wrote about feeling a call to be brave. It was such a strong sense at the time and the message was everywhere I looked. But when I wrote that blog post I honestly had no idea what that would look like at that point in my life. What would being brave at home with two little people actually mean as my life didn’t contain anything that required much bravery at all?

A week or two after I wrote the post, an opportunity came up for Joel workwise which would mean a new everything… New job for him, new house, new school for Jonty, new community. Not only this but this opportunity also meant that all of this would be temporary and that we would most likely be moving again next summer (which we were always due to be doing anyway). So it meant an additional house move, an additional new community, an additional mountain of hassle and admin tasks for me! It was quite honestly not that appealing a prospect!

This was not what I had in mind when I was feeling that I needed to be brave! I was thinking something a lot more low key and involving a lot less paperwork and time spent on hold sorting out bills and direct debits (and I now seriously wish the council would get something other than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as their hold music!!) 

But this was an amazing opportunity and very quickly we realised we had a choice to make: Do we participate in the adventure or don’t we? Do we move with where we feel God calling us, embracing all the upheaval that it entails or do we stay put where it is safe and comfortable? 

At the end of the day, I don’t think that it was really all that much of a difficult decision because I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to miss out on the adventure or the blessing or the calling because I was afraid or because I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle.  

I want to be part of the adventure. I want to live a great story with God!  

So, I put my big girl pants, got out my book of lists on and we just got on with it!

We moved just over a month ago, from the suburbs of London back in towards the city, which seems to surprise everyone we meet. We always get the same response, “Oh! Why have you done that? Everyone at your stage of life always moves out, not in!” But we have moved in because it felt like the right thing to do, because it was all part of the adventure!

We have been blessed with a wonderful house in a great spot (and I discovered recently that it is five doors down from the house where my great-great grandparents lived over 100 years ago! How strange!). Last week Jonty got into an amazing local school and he started Reception there on Friday. Joel began his new job on Monday and so the new season has well and truly begun.

(First day of school fun)

So, the story continues. The adventure continues and I am excited to be part of it!

It is my prayer for myself and for us all that we never get stuck, that we never pass the adventure over because we are afraid or we think it will be too hard or we can’t be bothered with the hassle of change.

Let’s embrace the adventure and may our lives always tell a great story! 


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Ordinary Joy

This morning whilst I was scrolling through Instagram and listening to the ‘We will not be shaken’ album by Bethel, I saw this image, a lovely painting of a Brene Brown quotation:

Every day joy

It reads:

Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out when we get too busy chasing the extraordinary.

I thought it was beautiful. And so true.

I loved the caption that the lady that did the painting, Brianna Showalter, posted below… In case you can’t read it in the photo it says:

Sticky fingers. Loud sibling play. Countless dirty dishes. Rain boots scattered by the front door. Ordinary moments that represent the joy I can choose to grab. What are your ordinary joy moments?

What a great question!

Sometimes I think that we think that we can only know full joy when things are perfect, when they are extraordinary, like on an amazing holiday or after the perfect Christmas meal. But I have found that this is such a lie and that this belief steals so much from us. Joy is so much easier to find than those few moments when all the planets align and everything seems just perfect.

Rather, the potential for joy is all around.

For me it is in deep breaths of fresh air, watching the leaves swirl around in this very gusty weather. It is in the quiet of a solitary place but also in the laughter of friends and the chatter of my son. It is everywhere.

A friend posted this photo on Instagram this morning.

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(Photo credit: Hannah Carter)

It is of the River Thames, just down the road from where we live, and it was taken on her walk to work this morning. I love this view and walking over the Thames on a crisp morning is one of my favourite things and is a real point of exhale for me. When I do this walk and see this view it is almost as if I can feel my soul rise and my heart sing. It is a very ordinary moment, but nevertheless a moment of deep joy.

However often with everyday joy, we can miss it. As easy as it is to find, it is perhaps just as easy to miss.

Sometimes we just choose not to see it. Sometimes we become so overwhelmed and life seems so heavy that finding any sort of joy in our day seems an impossibility. The pain facing the world looms too large or we are facing what seem like insurmountable obstacles that finding simple joy seems at best frivolous and at worst just plain wrong.

But yet it is still there to be grabbed. Recognising the ordinary joys of the everyday can coexist comfortably with the larger struggles that we may face and recognising these joys is one way of fighting darkness and of not allowing it to win. It is a great way of keeping perspective and of making a place for a thankful heart.

At the moment, I am just a few weeks away from my baby’s due date. Increasingly I am finding my mind turning to what happened when I had my son, Jonty almost four years ago… Let’s just say that the labour and birth didn’t go very well and I have recently come to the realisation that this experience was actually quite traumatic and as a result I have found myself becoming quite fearful about what could happen this time round.

This has been a real struggle over the past few weeks as I have been aware of some of the joy of this miraculous pregnancy being stolen and replaced by the fear of labour. I have found that recognising and enjoying the everyday joys of this pregnancy is one effective way (there are others too!) that I can fight this fear and so I am doing that consciously and I am choosing joy over fear.

Because I don’t want to allow this to happen. I don’t want my ordinary, everyday joy to be robbed by fear. I want to experience every last drop of joy that I can know.

Because I know that not just choosing joy, but grabbing the ordinary, everyday joys with all that I have is the most wonderful way to live.

I hope that you find some beautiful, ordinary joy moments in your day today. I would love to hear about them!


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June – madness or fun? Sometimes it’s hard to tell!

They say that time waits for no man, and as June has rolled around – and almost ended – once more I have been reflecting on the huge changes that our family has seen over the past few Junes.

Here’s a brief snapshot:

June 2011: We were living just outside of Bath, I was expecting Jonty and we were both working full-time. We found out towards the end of the month that Joel had been accepted for full-time training for vicar school.

June 2012: We had moved and were living in Cambridge. Jonty was four months old. I had been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in April and by June was half-way through a gruelling season of chemotherapy.

June 2013: We had moved house again and were living in a village just outside of Cambridge. I had finished my active treatment and we were celebrating with a six week road trip around Europe. On this exact date I think we were busy enjoying sunny Spain!

June 2014: Joel finished his ordination training mid-June and we moved (again!) this time to leafy South West London. Joel was ordained a deacon in St Paul’s Cathedral and started his current job.

June 2015: We didn’t move house!!!! Joel was ordained a priest last weekend. There are so many exciting things in the pipeline at the moment and we can’t wait to see how the next year will unfold.

I feel exhausted just looking back on these Junes – what a whirlwind few years! What a total rollercoaster!

When I look back on these Junes written down like this the first thing that stands out is, boy have we moved house A LOT (there were another two house moves in the couple of years preceding the years I have outlined that I haven’t even included)!!

I was so pleased to write that we didn’t move this year, although Jonty does keep asking when we are moving house again. He says that he doesn’t like the shower at this house and would like to move to Jericho!! Thankfully, at 3 years of age, it is not his decision to make, especially as I am particularly fond of the shower at this house!

Aside from all the moving, the key thing that stands out for me when looking back is both how crazy it has been but also how blessed we have been through all this craziness. The blessing and the grace that we have known have come in so many different forms and I am so thankful for all of it. Here are just a few:

In each place we have lived, we have very quickly found ourselves surrounded by communities that have loved us, have both wept and celebrated with us and that have encouraged and challenged us to be our best selves.

We have always had access to brilliant healthcare, particularly at the time when we needed it most.

In our season in Cambridge, in particular, we were given the space and time to grieve for what was lost through cancer, but also to celebrate life and all its blessings.

We have added to our family and have gained a beautiful, completely hilarious character of a son.

Through it all we have known the peace and joy that only God can give. He has been our bedrock, our very present help in times of trouble. This is what has made sure we haven’t been taken out by each curveball that has come our way in all these crazy Junes.

So here’s to many more Junes! I am excited to see what the next few hold! Fingers crossed for lots more amazing adventures and not too many house moves!

Here are a few snaps from this June. It’s been a good month!

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Crabbing with Oupa

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Joel’s priesting

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#phantomselfie


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New seasons – from Cambridge to London!

It has been a very long time since I wrote anything on this blog, and for good reason. In my mind, this blog was about cancer, my treatment and how I coped with all of the physical and emotional effects of cancer. Since my active treatment finished just over a year ago, cancer has played a smaller and smaller part in my everyday life. I am EXTREMELY grateful for this, but it also meant I didn’t have too much to say on the topic, hence my silence. 🙂

Anyway, so much has changed since I last wrote that I thought it was seriously about time for a little update on what team Sales are up to!

Just over two weeks ago we left Cambridge (*sobs*) and moved down to London (*cheers*) as Joel had finished his degree. On Saturday Joel was ordained in St Paul’s Cathedral, which was amazing, and he is now a Rev (major proud wife moment!!) Yeaterday he started work as a curate in a fantastic church in South West London.

And so, the next chapter of our life has begun.

Leaving Cambridge was bittersweet for me. Cambridge was for us, to misquote Dickens, both the best of times and the worst of times. It was where my beautiful son was born, it was a place where we forged deep friendships and where we were privileged to be part of an amazing community. But it was also the place where I had all of my cancer treatment, where I grappled with my own mortality and fallibility. Spiritually it was both rich and desolate, full of joy and sorrow… So leaving all of that behind has stirred up a mixture of emotions.

Similarly, starting over in a new place is a bittersweet experience. I have no doubt in my mind that we are in the right place for us as a family, and I am excited for what I am going to see God doing here. Yet, I am mourning the rhythms of my old life, the familiar places and people, not just for myself, but for little Jonty too. He is missing his little friends! 😦

But…in this bittersweet time, I remain so thankful! I am thankful that I am still here! I am thankful for my beautiful family and precious friends. I am thankful for the kindness of the Lord and for his provision!

I am thankful that I am well, so well in fact that I have (in a moment of madness probably) joined a group that is trekking to Machu Picchu in Peru in September for the charity CoppaFeel! (the breast cancer awareness charity that I volunteer for – CoppaFeel.org).

This is SUCH a huge milestone for me, as two years ago I was so poorly I could barely walk around the block. Then a multi-day trek would have seemed like an impossible reality! But, my training has begun and I am walking up any hill I can find!! Who would have thought I would be thankful to walk up hills! 😉 (Should you want to sponsor me, I would so appreciate it. You can do so by clicking here )

In all of it, God continues to restore me and my hope for the future! The future is bright and I am so excited to see what is in store!

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Some of the Machu Picchu team!