Monday, 29 June 2009

Looking at some of the causes of my lymphoma

No one knows exactly what causes lymphoma but certain conditions and situations make it worse - including stress, particularly where you have no control about the outcomes.  When some of us lost our jobs when our school closed in such sad circumstances, trying to build our lives again was difficult.

My colleague and I gradually built up part time work but it took her five years and me six years to get back into full-time employment.  As I had slightly younger children at independent schools this was a financially stressful time.


I often wonder how my health would have been if I had ignored the invitation to attend a mobile breast screening service about which my GP was very enthusiastic.  Nowadays radical operations are not usually performed for in situ ductile carcenoma but then surgeons were very keen on 19th century solutions to 20th century diagnoses.  The surgery also significantly involved the removal of lymph glands and two reconstructive operations after which I suffered from MRSA on both occasions.


I had been fit and well before the diagnosis; nothing was wrong.  Because I did not want the reconstruction operations filmed by TV, I was unable to have these under the National Health – another story – and paying for surgery and the doubling of my life insurance added another financial burden but I do wonder whether the surgery and infections had a part to play in my later lymphoma.



Thursday, 25 June 2009

Stress from the past

It's been wonderful to relax over the past few days in the sunny weather, with lots of animals and birds sunning themselves on the back lawn.  By contrast I've been thinking about things which have caused me stress in the past which might have affected my lymphoma.

The way in which a school where I was happily working was closed really hurt us all.  It was devastating particularly for those trying to obtain new jobs.  Staff aged over 50 were less worried as they qualified for their pensions.  Some teachers already had part-time jobs in other schools so were less affected. 

Just three of us full-timers needed jobs but found we were obstructed at every turn.  One made a decision to return to France which left two of us.  Although we were experienced and successful we found we were making the shortlists, only not getting interviews.  We found that either references were not being sent or said things like “keeps her desk tidy”! 

We had a term to find new jobs but with no success.  Proper references were only written during our last week of employment in July.  Schools would not be recruiting again until employment for January the following year.

 During our last term before the closure of the convent school we teachers even got a complaint that some of the nuns thought we were ignoring them and not smiling as normal.  We had to explain that we were worried about our mortgages and family commitments. 

Part of the stress was caused by the fact that we could not show our anxiety and had to maintain a front of professionalism for the girls to make sure they passed their exams and had a good last term at their school as they saw their fellow pupils disappearing off to new schools.  The loss of friendship amongst girls and staff was very sad.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

I am waiting to see if my blood count is high enough for my next treatment.  I need to keep on track if I am to get into remission and have a transplant.  Perhaps, naturally, I am trying to see how I got into this - I live healthily and I'm a non-smoker.  If it's not genetic is it caused or worsened by stress and how we have to cope with it?  I've started to look at some of the most stressful times in the past few years.  The first was when the convent school I was working in closed and we were left without jobs.

When I went for my interview at the convent school I went to the main door of the convent – there was no reception area for the school!  No one answered the door so I found a door to the kitchen in the basement and was taken up into the main convent.  I found out later that a deaf nun was put in charge of answering the door.  Similarly the school secretary was someone to whom administration/typing was comparatively new and this seemed to be the philosophy behind job allocation for the non-teaching staff.

It gradually became obvious that the school was also being run down.  Partly this was because the nuns were growing older but every difficulty was met with a withdrawal of services, e.g. hot lunches and ending of boarding for girls rather than finding a better way to continue offering good service.

Although the convent had been offered amalgamation with a local boys independent school, this was turned down and only 18 months later, staff learned of closure of the senior school.  The lowest redundancy terms were initially offered despite the loyalty of staff, many of whom had been there for years.  The most disturbing aspect was how we were to find new jobs.  We had expected help but actually met with discouragement – not something we had expected.



Saturday, 20 June 2009

Midsummer - looking back

It’s very strange how when life seems very challenging, unexpected things happen and out of the blue people offer to help in ways we don’t anticipate.  I find it difficult to be down for long because of this.

I don’t think stress alone causes cancer but it can be a trigger – not necessarily the stress itself but how we have to deal with it and how long it goes on.  Like most people I had some stressful periods earlier in my life with bereavement, relationships and money or lack of it.  However, sometimes the most stressful things are those where you feel powerless to act.

Perhaps the first of these in recent years was when the closure of a school where I was happily working was handled very, very badly.  A convent school should be a good place to work and the one in which I taught was old-fashioned and quirky.  The teaching staff were mainly lay people of a high calibre and hard-working.

The convent itself was gradually running down and the school had been at some stage an orphanage.  It should have been a warning to us the way the institution had metamorphosed over the years but we enjoyed our work and thought the nuns genuinely cared about the girls and that the future would be secure. We were wrong.
















Thursday, 18 June 2009


Very early in the morning yesterday we saw a doe and a very, very young fawn in the garden - probably about two days old.  They are shy creatures but often seem to emerge when we are having problems, when I am ill or when my husband has concerns.  Yesterday we went to see his barrister about the accident he suffered nearly three years ago.  It was obviously a good portent as the meeting really went well.

I am hoping that the case does not coincide with the time when I will be in The Bubble as I think he needs support from all of us.  At the moment everything about the future is uncertain but before I have the transplant I am going to investigate a number of things including my past and the possible causes of my illness.

The information I have on this is sparse.  I know there could be environmental causes as the condition is increasing.  It could be genetic but mantle cell lymphoma is rare in men and even rarer in women.  How I’d love to have something dead common into which there had been more research and a greater chance of survival!  

I’m left with the possible causes being previous surgery for cancer or infection plus – and this comes from personal observation and reading other people’s blogs – stress as a contributory factor.  So that is where I am going to start looking


Monday, 15 June 2009


Over the weekend it has been hot and sticky.  Most mornings fox cubs come and play on the lawns in our back garden.  Usually at the first real flash of sunlight over the trees they disappear but their companionship and love of life is a source of real joy.


At the moment I am having a chemo drug called bendaMUSTine developed by the East Germans in the 1960s.  This drug has a strange history and may actually be related to the mustard gas used by the Germans in World War I.  Can’t I just have a nice drug made from organic plants!

It might then seem more comforting to look back to my past for certainties.  Perhaps if I knew more about myself, my background and how I came to have this illness I might be better equipped to face the future.  Some facts which I discovered earlier this year have actually meant that the past is beginning to unravel and is not providing the comfort I thought it might.  I’m now engaged in a detective story of my own to find some answers and last week I had a DNA sample taken.  Until I find out more about my background, I’m going to have to start with why I think I have this illness and what I can do to make it go away.


Thursday, 11 June 2009


In the next few months I must make a journey into "The Bubble".  I shall go into it with one DNA and come out of it with a new one and possibly a new blood group.  Recently I have heard that people who have transplants - mine is new bone marrow - can take on aspects of the donor's personality.  In some ways this is scary but if someone is good enough to donate bone marrow, I think I can trust them to have a good personality.  I have no choice.  If I can get into remission this is my only chance.

But this is not the only strange thing that may happen to me this year.  On March 20th 2009 I found out that I was not who I thought I was.  I may not even be English.  Over the next few weeks and months I shall find out more about who I think I am - perhaps to have all that change if I survive the bubble.