HOPE OVERFLOWING

stories of grace, hope and life beyond cancer


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Hey baby!

Five weeks ago our lives once again changed forever as we welcomed another precious little boy into our family. Little Aaron Gabriel, our Christmas miracle baby arrived on 21st December! What an amazing gift he is to us!

To be honest, that he was a boy came as something of a surprise as I was absolutely convinced we were having a girl. I was so convinced that we were having a girl that I wasn’t the least bit fussed that we didn’t have any boys names picked out before going into hospital… seriously not even one. We didn’t even have a shortlist! After he was born we set ourselves a deadline to name him before his big brother arrived the following day as we thought it would be confusing to introduce 3-year old Jonty to a nameless brother! It’s amazing how a deadline focusses the mind and despite months of name debate we settled on Aaron Gabriel quite quickly.

Last week a friend told me that there was a Michael McIntyre sketch about the name Aaron so of course I had to look it up… In the clip he says that Aaron is the worst name as it is the name given to children of really lazy parents. They open the baby name book, see Aaron as the first name and say, “Yip, that will do!” close the baby name book and get on with their lives! Despite not having a name before he arrived I promise we gave it a bit more thought than that and didn’t just pick the first name we found!! 😉

Although I will spare you all the details of the birth, it was lovely (well as lovely as childbirth can be!!!) and a really redemptive experience following the trauma of Jonty’s arrival. There were so many answers to prayer, but most specifically, for me it was an experience free from fear which was a total gift.

Little Aaron arrived one day early, which was another answer to prayer as I was really hoping that he wouldn’t arrive on Christmas day… Being due on 22nd December people kept saying to me throughout my pregnancy, “Ooh, I bet the baby will come on Christmas day”, which to be honest I stopped finding amusing after perhaps the 10th time it was said to me (although I think I always managed to smile politely). When your Dad is a vicar as Joel is and always has to work on Christmas I thought sharing your birthday with Jesus might be a bit difficult growing up so was desperate for this little one to have his own day.

The last five weeks have gone by in a blur or Christmas and New Year, and all the busyness that goes with that season, late night/early morning feeds, moments of feeling total euphoria and moments feeling totally overwhelmed, Joel’s return to work, and now starting to figure out what normal looks like for us in this new chapter.

For me re-entering the realm of babies has been mostly lovely. We are so much more relaxed about everything this time around and I no longer sit holding a thermometer in the bath to check that it is the optimum temperature before popping him in (to be honest I can’t even remember what the optimum bath temperature is for a baby although I definitely knew last time around).

Already, having the opportunity to parent this little chap feels like a redemptive experience for me and so much of the trauma and the memories of pain and anxiety that I associate with the early days of Jonty’s life are beginning to be healed. In this I am reminded of the truth of Philippians 1:6 which says that he who begun a good work in you will carry it on to completion. For this, and the many other gifts that God has so graciously given us, I am so thankful and I know that this is all part of God is putting me back together one piece at a time.

Here’s a picture of our newest little guy taken yesterday. Happy (belated) new year to you all!

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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.

Thames

(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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A Christmas miracle

When I began treatment for breast cancer three and a half years ago, one of the saddest conversations I had with my oncologist was about my already begun regime of chemotherapy. He said something like,

“This treatment was developed in France.” (Great! I love France. Lots of good stuff comes from there)

“It is so strong that doctors didn’t give it to anyone for a few years as they were concerned that it may kill them instantly.” (Ummm… Ok… Less good)

“It can have all sorts of long lasting effects and we don’t know how it will affect you but it may well make you infertile.” (Whhhhaaaaaaatttttttt???)

It was that last bit that got me and sent me reeling. I wasn’t too worried about the first bit, as people had been having this treatment without instantly dropping down dead (well to my admittedly limited knowledge anyway) for some time. My heart was strong and I reckoned I could withstand the poison.

But to be told that your dreams for more children may be over, was not a curveball that I was expecting cancer to throw at me and I was so heartbroken by this idea. My oncologist said that there was no way to know now what would happen and only time would tell…

It was too much to process all at once, so we put the possible baby/no baby situation to the back of our minds, and I ploughed on with my treatment.

About six months after my diagnosis I had a mastectomy as planned. When I went to get the results from the surgery, the doctor I saw (who I had never met before) said that I was in luck! My cancer was slightly different to what they originally thought and it was actually estrogen positive. What that meant in practice was that there was another line of treatment available to me, a tablet called Tamoxifen which I now needed to take for five years. Oh, and by the way, that means that you can’t try to have another baby for the next five years. When questioned by us about this the doctor (who incidentally I never saw again) said that we shouldn’t even discuss it. That was a conversation for another day.

We left the hospital that day feeling a bit shell shocked

This was supposed to be good news, and in my head I knew that it was, as it meant another line of defence against the recurrence of cancer, it meant a better shot of survival. But somehow I couldn’t see that, all I could see was a baby that was not to be and that made me so sad.

Again, I put it to the back of my mind and carried on with treatment.

About six months later I saw on the news that the recommended course of Tamoxifen for Breast cancer patients had changed from five years to ten years. TEN years!!! I couldn’t possibly wait that long to try again…

I saw my oncologist and he confirmed this to be the case and that I was an excellent candidate to take the drug for ten years. I couldn’t believe it and was so sad at what felt like another huge blow to my future dreams.

But in end that ten year timeframe was just too long and we couldn’t accept it. It caused us to go back again and ask if they would support us in taking a break to try for a baby as I had read online that this might be possible (thank you Dr Google!). My oncology team confirmed that I could take a break and that they would support my decision to do so, but that I should be aware that it was not without some risk and I would need to take the drug for at least two years before even considering stopping.

The decision to take a break from the drugs was one that we thought and prayed long and hard about. I frequently swung between deciding yes I would stop and no, what a ridiculous suggestion. I experienced guilt over thinking of stopping, questioned myself as to whether I was being irresponsible by stopping, ran through countless possible scenarios in my head, but in the end we made the decision to go for it, to try for that much longed for baby.

And once the decision was made, I knew it was the right one for us and I had such peace about it.

We were given a very short window in which to try to conceive by my oncology team and we hoped and prayed we would be able to.

And that is where we are.

I am now 22 weeks pregnant with a much longed for, much hoped for and much loved little miracle of a baby. This baby is due just before Christmas and we are so excited and thankful for this new life. Jonty is so excited to be a big brother which only adds to the joy.

Both me and the baby are currently doing really well. Please do pray for continued health for both of us.

I can’t wait to introduce our little Christmas miracle to you all!

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(Sorry about the lack of “bump” shot! It is still quite small and I just look like I’ve been eating too many pies, which to be fair I probably have! Instead here’s a photo of me and the excited big brother whilst on holiday in France this week)


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Little man is five months

Yesterday my little boy turned five months old! The day was marked by much playing in his play gym, bouncing in his doorway bouncer and trying to get him to roll over again following his first roll on Sunday (it hasn’t happened again yet despite our best efforts!)

These last five months have undoubtedly been the most topsy turvy of my life but thinking about him and the incredible blessing that he is to us reminded me to stop and be thankful. I am so thankful for everything about him, from his fluffy hair and cheeky smile to the way he squeals with delight when you talk to him.

Often when things are tough it can be easy to let our struggles fill up our windshield and that is all that we see. I know in my own life it is easy to become overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control that I sometimes just feel like giving up. Sometimes everything just feels too hard!

But… I know in my head and am learning in my heart that it is so important to develop a thankful heart that is able to rejoice in spite of circumstances. Having a thankful heart is not saying that one’s pain doesn’t matter or that it is somehow not important, but rather it is allowing things to remain in a healthy perspective. Pain is not all there is to life. I am still blessed. I still have plenty to be thankful for. I will not allow my own heart to be robbed of joy because of my circumstances.

I do not know what is around the corner, but right here and now I am blessed and I can be thankful.

Today, as with every other day, my little lad reminds me of how blessed I am. Happy 5/12ths for yesterday super sausage! (Here is a picture of him celebrating his 5/12th birthday! I hope it makes you smile!)