Family, grief, love.

I have not posted for a while. This is a long post. Please excuse me.

Tuesday this week, marked six weeks since my Mum died. Her name was Mary Anne Millar Macleod, once she married my Dad in 1966: Macleod-McCormack. My Mum and Dad were together for 59 years since Mum was 15.

She was feisty, intelligent, quick-witted, fun, a task-master, a damn-fine teacher, a red-head, political, an historian, focused, stubborn, respected, elegant, determined, dramatic, a lover of the islands she grew up on, their traditions and culture, a lover of country music, a Christmas fanatic, outspoken, a writer, could read a book a day, demolished the newspaper, informed, she remembered every detail no matter how minuscule and could hear the grass grow.

Since that Tuesday 6 weeks ago, there has been a very acute feeling that ‘something’ is missing.

Mum was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in May 2018 and began chemotherapy treatment on June 18th, 2018 – the only path available to her – this was scheduled to finish at the end of October, it finished early June 2019.

This cancer was Mum’s second.

Mary had ovarian cancer when she was just 36. I was 11. My age and, without doubt, my parents shielded me from much of that trauma. Years later, as she coped with the various side-effects the early 80’s chemo and radiation therapy left her with, it was summed up for us that parts of Mum’s body were ’20 years older’ than the rest of her. Sadly, these ‘side-effects’ seem to have masked the onset of her new cancer. As her new treatment progressed and we encountered problems, we were informed Mum was very sensitive to chemotherapy because her bone-marrow had already taken a battering as a young woman. (The doctors did not put it like this, but you understand.)

When Mum died, she still had the four small black tattooed dots on her abdomen and back, which marked, 38 years previous, where the doctors inserted the radiation pack. After being 38 years cancer-free, it was devastating to learn of this new cancer, lots of painful memories came flooding back, but we came to terms with the news and got on with supporting her ‘fight’ against it. There was nothing else we could do.

I have read in recent times that many cancer patients dislike the term ‘cancer fight’ or ‘cancer battle.’ I understand why. What they are doing is:

living as best they can while following the path of treatment they have chosen, provided there is a path open to them.
Metaphor v Reality.

My Dad, my Auntie Margaret, close friends at home and away, our Macmillan nurses, her Consultant medical team, our GP practice doctors and nurses, hospital medical staff, the community nurses and friends within our Hebridean island community; so many lent their support, as did our neighbours and friends in our local community in Ireland. Mum threw everything into her reality. She gave everything she did in life her full attention; her reaction to her cancers was no different. Her stage 4, oesophageal cancer diagnosis meant she should have died before August 20th. Her will was always resolute. However, though she provided us more time, sadly, the outcome is still the same.

Despite all this, during the last 15 months, we have had good times. Amazing times. One, in particular, was ‘the party.’ July 27th. It was a beautiful day. We hoped to take Mum outside to join some of her closest friends; however, quickly realised we could not even get Mum out of bed so, nine friends piled into the bedroom. Noel (my husband) and I were head-chef, and sous and the stories and laughter began. Mum was always good at rising to an occasion.

I wasn’t able to work for the first six months; I could not do it. Then there came the point where I needed to sing. Singing makes me feel good; it’s mindful of me to sing. Those gigs were tough, leaving for those gigs was tough. Make-up, my curls, and clothing became a protective shield. The best thing about this time away was: I came back with tales, photos, and videos and shared them with Mum and Dad.

Regarding the work I did, I must thank:

The Chieftains and their management team for bearing with me through my turmoil, their kind emails, and calls. My road-sisters Cara Butler, Tara Breen, Triona Marshall, Niamh Ní Bhriain for the laughter and hugs. My agent in Germany Daniela Wilde for accepting the two-week tour she had booked, be reduced to two days. SHINE: for understanding, I was out of the picture. Graham Maciver from @studio27.p and Karen Maciver for supporting me through to the completion of our Iolaire centenary documentary during what was the most stressful time and the many other musicians and writers who put up with my inability to focus quite as before.

Mum was effectively bed-bound since day 1 of her treatment in 2018. In her bed, Mum was safe; she chatted away quite the thing; when Mum was out of bed, only then, were we reminded of how ill she was. Mum did not wish to die; she loved life too much, but she got her second wish, which was to die at home, with her family, on the croft where she was born. I will be eternally grateful to all the medical personnel who supported my Dad and I during this time.

I must also thank my Dad, Angus, and my husband, Noel . You have witnessed me at my best and worst.

What I am most grateful for over these difficult months, is the time I have been able to spend with Mum and Dad. My Auntie Margaret; retired Sister/Ward Manager Margaret Dobson, said I made ‘an excellent nurse’ I threw everything at that ‘role.’ Sound familiar?

What a fifteen months this has been. I am very aware that what has happened has not fully ‘hit’ me yet, it will no doubt ‘hit’ when I least expect it. Or else, over time, slowly seep in. I am also aware; I am not myself. There is a new normal; to which, somehow, I must adjust.

I have decided to ‘throw’ myself back into life. What else can you do? Life has been so different this last year, moving forward is daunting. You may find me curled-up-in-a-corner crying. I feel very vulnerable. And even so, I know, I will also be heard laughing. I am going to do my best to keep picking myself up and get on with life because that – Mum – is what you would want.

Dad and I miss you every day.


‘What you can do to prevent cancer’

It’s not a cheerful subject but cancer is something we hear about more and more. I don’t think we should shy away from it. Both my parents have had cancer. My Mum when she was 36, she is now 71, and my Dad a few years ago. Cancer has often been spoken of in our house. My parents survived, my Auntie Joan did not.

I was trawling through a local bookshop the other day, something I love to do, and I came across a book called ‘What you can do to prevent cancer’ by John McKenna he is ‘a scientist, a retired medical doctor who has been practising natural medicine for 25 years’.

Because of my parents experiences I thought I knew a good bit about what cancer is and how it ‘works’ well it turns out I need to correct some of the ideas I have and in doing so could help myself strengthen my own immune system to fight against it. It is no guarantee but now I am in my mid 40’s cancer is something I think about more regularly. I’d also like to try to help my husband stay cancer free too. So, I am reading this book and would like to pass on some things I have learned.

  • It’s a western disease – African and other non westernised countires have lower forms of cancer: cancers related to chronic infections eg hepatitus.
  • It used to be an illness of the young and elderly as their immune systems being underdeveloped or in decline.
  • We develop cancer cells everyday it is a normal process, dealt with by our immune system, it is when this system goes awry problems occur.
  • A great many cancers are ‘exogenous’ that is ‘external so can be prevented’
  • Cancer’s main source of energy is glucose so that’s refinded carbohydrates – rice, pasta, porridge, potatoes, bread and – of course – sugar.
  • ‘Genes are only a small part of the picture’lifestyle and enviroment are a bigger factor and it is the ‘interaction between our genes and enviroment that determines’ whether our genes will be triggered.
  • ‘Epigenomes are the receptors in DNA that are a major factor in determining whether cancer will develop’
  • ‘The single major enviromental influence on epigenome is diet’
  • During the 2nd world war food was scarce so agricultural chemicals were developed to boost crops, these nirtogen fertilisers weakened plants making them ‘susceptible to infection’ so pesticides were developed to ‘strenghten’ them. These chemical are still in our enviroment.
  • Agricultural chemicals have been around since 1949 younger farmers don’t necessarily know how to farm without them.
  • Antibiotics are oversubscribed which weakens the immune system.
  • We should not eat ANY processed foods.
  • We should not eat anything anything labled low fat as this = high sugar.
  • Perfumes and body products are still not properly regulated they, like plastic, contain hormones disruptors.

My husband and i live in the countryside and love where we live. We work hard for this to be our home. We are surrounded by fields and nature – agricultural fields. As we are far from the main road we have a well as our water source and the water runs off the hills surrounding us. Hills and fields that are sprayed at various times of the year. The first thing we are having done is have our water tested. I am not panicing but I would like to be better informed.

I will continue reading, learning and reporting.




What’s your medical history?

IMG_0053When I went to see the consultant charged with diagnosing me, he asked me so many questions obviously trying to narrow down what I was suffering from. He wanted to know my medical history. To be honest, I didn’t think I had much of a medical history. I’d had the mumps at some point. I had stitches in my head from being pushed by a boy in my Primary 2 class and cracking my head open on a table. (In his defence, he was my ‘boyfriend’ and I was pulling his hair – we were together on and off for 6 prepubescent years – and in my defence it was his birthday!) My tonsils were removed when I was 18. I had my wisdom teeth out at 20 (I was one of the lucky ones, I didn’t look like a hamster after that op) and a bout of German measles also in my 20’s. Other than, that I had painful periods but I didn’t even think that was worth mentioning. However, when the consultant asked about my parents’ history and I told him my Mother had had ovarian cancer when she was just 36, his ears pricked up, alarm bells started ringing, clang, clang, clang.

He wanted to know as much as I could remember. I was 11 at the time. I always thought my Mum’s op had happened in the August but chatting on the phone the other day she said it was exactly 34 years to the day on October the 24th, 1981. I remember being told Mum was going to hospital and for an operation. I also remember she’d been quite ill fairly regularly throughout the year before but had been told, as she had, that she had ‘spastic colon’ – ‘a working mother’s complaint’. What Mum didn’t tell me then was that when the time, finally, came for her operation, she was sure there was something very wrong.

She spent a long time in surgery – much longer than we thought she’d have to. What the Dr found, was a lump on her left ovary which he thought was ‘suspicious’ and whatever else he found he made the decision there and then that Mum had to have a hysterectomy. There was no time for questions. So she woke up at the tender age of 36 to be told that she could never have any more children.

The singularly most vivid thing I remember about this time happened a couple of weeks later. Mum was still in hospital recuperating and Dad and I would visit every day and every lunchtime we would take in her mail to her. My Mum has a great deal of affection for her doctor, she believes he saved her life, but what happened one lunchtime made me hate him! My Father innocently handed my Mother her mail. She opened one letter, read it but what the letter telling her was that her cancer required further treatment and not on the island. There had been a clerical error and that letter which should have gone to her gynaecologist was sent to her. There is no easy way I imagine to be told you have cancer, nor that post surgery you require further treatment, but surely there was a better way than this? Let’s not forget than in 1981, very few people even dared to mention the word ‘cancer’ nevermind talk about it. She burst into tears, as did my Father. This was the first time I had seen my Dad cry. The doctor hearing the commotion came into the room, took me by the shoulders, marched me backwards out of the room and shut the door in my face. To this day I can still see him looking down at me, over the top of his half glasses. I had no idea what was going on. I just knew it was bad. Catastrophic. Only in recent years did my mother tell me, the reason she was so upset, was because her treatment would coincide with Christmas.

As an adult I now know that the surgeon was taking care of his patient but I don’t think, with the severity of the situation, my folks realised my despair on the other side of the hospital room door. I wanted to help but I’d been shut out.

When my Dad did tell me himself what the situation was and that my Mum was really ill, he told me at the end of the school day. My Mum and Dad were both teachers till their retirement, in The Nicolson Institute in Stornoway. My Dad was a Maths and Guidance teacher and my Mum taught English and History. I was a teacher’s kid – not pet! At the end of school day I would go to where my Dad parked our car just outside the Springfield South building that way I could get a lift home. I was in 1st year. This day, I got into the back seat of the car, as usual, and Dad while sitting in the front seat told me the news. I didn’t think that was odd at the time, the news was enough to take in, but I realise he couldn’t have wanted to look at my face as he told me. It was too much for him and of course he didn’t know how I would react. I knew it was bad, I knew it was real bad but I forced myself to cry as I figured in terrible situations that’s what you do. So I cried. I realise now, that was just shock.

Mum had cancer. Things changed and fast. After chemotherapy sessions in the Lewis hospital she was sent Glasgow for radiation treatment. She lost weight. She cut her hair so it wouldn’t fall out, her beautiful auburn hair that she’d never cut short in her adult life. She wouldn’t let me hug her at the Beatson in Glasgow when we visited; she was worried about the radiation she was harbouring. There was a big radiation sign on her hospital door. On her tummy there were four black dots marking where the radiation had to be aimed, which remain to this day. Treatment for cancer was much more crude 34 years ago, as were general anaesthetics and operation scars. She regularly vomited when we visited but I guess that’s because the treatment made her sick a lot. Christmas Day that year was the worst day of my Mother’s life, she was so ill but we were ‘holidaying’ with friends and they helped us make the very best of it. I was really too young to realise that and too young to be grateful but I remain very grateful for their support. At no point did I think Mum would die but was naivety, denial and youth. She watched other women she was having treatment with die and had to live with that guilt too. Her prognosis was not good but she’s still here. Sometimes I think she’ll out live us all. She was determined not to leave her 11 year old without a Mum. She was determined to beat cancer and get her life back.

So, 19 years after all that trauma, I relate it to my consultant and find out that I am now being booked in for a laparoscopy. I ‘jumped the cue’; I was ‘fast forwarded’. Some women go undiagnosed for years; years and years and years. Though I still hadn’t been diagnosed, the doctors had an avenue they wanted to pursue. You see endometriosis has symptoms, as I said, that are very similar to other conditions but the only way doctors can diagnose it, is to see it inside you, to see it for themselves.

When life throws you a big ugly curved ball.

On the 27th of September I was shocked to see the first headline in The Guardian newspaper was: “Endometriosis: the hidden suffering of millions of women revealed” Wow! This was front page news? Most recently there had been pieces about Jeremy Corbyn which I gladly read – even the crazy allegations – or the desperate stories of migrating refugees, but this was a front page article about Endometriosis. Unheard of! I had to read on.
‘1 woman in 10 of reproductive age has endometriosis’ and approximately 176 million women around the globe may be suffering from it which are similar figures, according to this article, to the number of cases of diabetes but still very few people know Naked Cave (2)about this disease. However Endometriosis is not unheard of to me. I’ve suffered from it since 2000, well actually I’ve probably suffered it since well before then but that is when it really raised its ugly ‘freaking’ head.
I had always had painful periods. I considered it my norm. My Mum had painful periods before me and told me stories of Feminax tablets being passed to her under toilet doors as she crouched, doubled in agony. We girls compared stories in school but I just accepted that periods were painful and that you just got on with it. While growing up I don’t remember them ever being so painful that I was unable to do things – once I had pumped myself full of painkillers at worst – but then maybe I’ve blocked those instances out. I think we have a habit of blocking out physical pain, as well as emotional pain, I mean why would you ever wish to remember such things?
The path to my diagnosis was not a pretty one and began one Sunday afternoon in my, then, flat on Church St in Glasgow’s West End. I was making some food, it was early afternoon and felt that telling abdominal pain that my period was likely coming soon. That dull ache. Nothing serious, at first, but over time the pain intensified. I began to pace about the flat unsure of what to do. Sitting down didn’t help, lying down was useless. My boyfriend at the time was with me and was concerned, never having seen me like this before. I felt like an injured animal, bewildered by the pain, pacing and pacing. As it was Sunday I couldn’t just pop into the doctors which was only fifteen min walk away and by this time I was in so much pain I was obviously not thinking straight as I phoned the emergency doctor to ask how much pain you have to be in before you can go to accident and emergency. Gosh we women are strong when it comes to pain! I mean you can’t go to A&E for period pain?? I was in and out of the toilet. I wasn’t quite able to explain to my boyfriend what was happening to me. I remember he genuinely, helpfully and well meaningly told me through the toilet door at one point (this was probably after my sixth visit there in 40mins) that I ‘probably needed a good fart’ and that I shouldn’t be embarrassed. (Oh I wish that I were that genteel). You have to laugh, if you don’t laugh you’d cry….though I don’t remember crying with this pain, that day. Again another thing I may have blocked out. What I hadn’t told my boyfriend was while I was in the loo I was bleeding from both orifices – yes endometriosis is a very attractive disease! – but I didn’t tell him as I couldn’t compute it myself. The blood itself, was black.
Thankfully though I eventually figured out how much pain you need to be in before you go to A & E, that’s when you begin ‘involuntary’ projectile vomiting; which happened most spectacularly in the stairwell when I thought maybe I should begin my journey to A&E. (Actually writing this it just occurred to me did I ever clear that mess up? At the time, however, I realised the seriousness of the situation and just kept going). When I got to A & E, an aching three minute walk across the road to the Western General Hospital (and to think if it had been a weekday I’d have walked the fifteen mins to the GP’s) I was not triaged. The nurse took one look at me through the glass at reception and said the words I will never forget ‘we’re taking you in straight away, you’re grey’. I was in too much pain to care, the way I looked didn’t register with me at all, I was just relieved she said ‘straight away’.
Now when a nurse says ‘straight away’ you think: ‘Oh thank God, any minute now this will be over’ but that wasn’t to be. The symptoms of endometriosis are similar to many other illnesses such as gall stones, urinary tract problems, bowel problems, so I began a series of tests and the tests could not happen quick enough neither could the waiting for the results of the tests. I was roaring with the pain.
I am probably perceived as a fairly chatty person, who is noisy when laughing mostly, but I’m a very good patient. I become very ‘Yes, Doctor, thank you Doctor’ as I have the utmost respect for hospital staff and the job they do and don’t wish to cause them any more trouble than they may already have, but I just could not stay quiet. I felt like a thousand knives were stabbing me repeatedly in the stomach. Stabbing and twisting and ripping themselves out then entering again harder, meaner than before. It was endless. It just got worse and worse. The dull ache was long forgotten. Eventually, I don’t know how long it was but it felt like days, I was given morphine and finally, slowly, the pain began to ease. ‘Yes, Doctor, thank you Doctor’ returned and I was told to sleep. I was out for a few hours and when I woke my ‘vitals’ were taken and shortly after I was told I could go home. That was it. 3 mins back across the road. Home.
By this time it was early evening and that night I was sitting on the sofa, doing what I had always intended to do that night, watching ‘The Royle Family’ on TV. Except, this was different. I had just been through the most excruciating pain I had ever in my life experienced, a life changing pain, yet here I was sitting on my sofa pain free, as if nothing had happened. There were no external signs. I don’t think I felt dopey or anything. Everything was ‘normal’.
Yet no-one had been able to tell me what happened, why it had happened and, most importantly, if it would happen again.

Monsieur, you are spoiling us..

On this day of thanksgiving I am thankful. I am also full. Of food. Lucky me.

I was invited by our band leader Jon Coleman and his wife Jenna and Trace’s manager, JW, and wife Debra for dinner. My first American Thanksgiving and I am grateful indeed! When you are not used to having a glutenfree member in your household it’s a bit of an undertaking to have someone in for the day but I was catered for like a princess.

At half 7 this morning I got an email from JW to ask if I was allergic to pecan as he was up making a glutenfree pecan pie from a recipie left by his great grandmother. Jon C made the turkey, the taters, the green bean casserole, the cranberry sauce, and in addition to the stuffing and gravy he made for the other 7, I got my own stuffing and gravy. How could you not be thankful?

A houseful of happy folk and a two little boys running about being cute it was just the ticket for someone who, though loves her job, can feel far from home at times and the warm welcome was a blessing. I came back to my hotel and facetime’d my Hubby and told him all my news. Missing him now more than ever but from the original 46 days away we’re now down to 25. Time does fly when you’re having fun.

We’re back on the bus tonight and actually I have been missing my road family. I’m sure it’s not mutual, as they all will have been home in their own beds with their families, but I’m looking forward making some more great music with these good folks and I did buy a new dress I just have to wear…

Whatever gets you through, whatever gets you through.. 😉