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Thursday, 22 September 2016

My Health Scare - Female Cancer Awareness

I've not written many personal posts recently. It's because I've had such an unbelievably tough year and am dealing with everything in my own way, only sharing details with my nearest and dearest. However, I had my own medical drama recently, details of which I have decided to share. This is because, whilst going through it, I found very little information about what to expect. I'd either find horror stories in support groups set up by aggrieved patients or official articles from the medical profession full of clinical facts. Not much in between. I wanted real life human stories of procedures and appointments that went to plan to give me confidence and an understanding of what I was going through. If this post puts one woman's mind at ease, then I'm glad I shared it. Apologies for any graphic, too-much-information, female anatomy driven content - if you are of a squeamish disposition leave now. And remember that this is my own experience and I am not a medical expert, I'm just a woman sharing her story.

Fibroids


I hadn't been feeling well for a while. I had a range of symptoms that I attributed to other things: the extreme tiredness I put down to the stress of  this year including my son's cancer and my daughter's meningitis; the frequent bouts of diarrhoea were put down to a flare up of the IBS I had as a teenager; the heavy bleeding and pelvic pain was put down to the perimenopause. I ignored what my body was telling me, putting on a brave face and muddling through.  It wasn't until after a rather hectic weekend celebrating my son's 7th birthday that I felt that my condition was so bad that I needed help. I rang the doctor and was immediately brought in for a blood test after explaining my symptoms over the phone. I was prescribed some super strength iron tablets (1500% of my RDA daily), tranexamic acid to stop bleeding and some tablets for my stomach.

I had made an appointment for two weeks ahead to discuss the results, but the doctor rang me up as soon as the results were back within a couple of days, informing me that my iron levels were dangerously low putting me at risk of heart failure. She was surprised I was still upright. In addition to this, a marker: CA125, was detected at high levels in my blood and I was being referred to hospital for an urgent ultrasound and to a gynaecologist.

Unsure what CA125 was, I Googled it, discovering that it was a cancer antigen, a marker to the presence of tumours. Just a suggestion of cancer throws your mind into the possibilities of a diagnosis and your mind races. However, one very valuable lesson I learned from my son's Sarcoma diagnosis was that worrying about things prematurely is a waste of energy. Conserve that energy to use when you know what you are up against. So I did my best to keep a level head.

The hospital phoned me and organised my scan within two days of speaking to my doctor, raising the severity of my issue. I also received an appointment through the post to see a gynaecological oncologist. Seeing the word oncologist on the letter made it pretty clear to me that they strongly suspected that I had cancer. Everything was moving so quickly and efficiently, which I was grateful for.

The scan appointment was made more nerve wracking because I went on my own. Ian was away with work and I needed my girls to babysit Freddy, and I didn't want to involve anyone else at this point. However, I had a lovely lady who explained everything in detail. I needed an internal scan, which wasn't at all uncomfortable. I was reassured that my ovaries looked fine which was a relief. But she did find multiple fibroids, some as big as 35mm diameter,  and observed some thickening of the epithelium. Testing wouldn't stop until all gynaecological cancers were ruled out. She explained it as putting together all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to see the whole picture, rather than stopping because they found the fibroids.

The oncologist appointment the following week was quite a shock. I didn't know what to expect, so when I was told that he was going to take biopsies from inside my uterus, I was bit taken aback. I was physically examined (he hasn't very gentle and I have a tilted uterus making it quite uncomfortable) and then had an instrument put through my cervix to get a sample of my uterus lining. I also had a smear test, which was due. The consultant wasn't very chatty and I struggled to understand what he was saying. I ended up signing a consent form for a hystereoscopy - with no idea what it was or why I needed it. Reading what I had signed afterwards was quite shocking - seeing possible (albeit very rare) complications of the procedure listed, including emergency hysterectomy, perforated bowel and chance of death.

At home I then Googled the hysteroscopy procedure and found forums of horror stories about pain worse than childbirth and resulting PTSD. There are groups campaigning for it to be banned unless done under general anaesthetic. I was proper worked up and terrified. A combination of this stress and the rough internal resulted in some nasty cramping that radiated into my back, but Ibuprofen and a few hours lying in bed helped.

After chatting to my GP and to a wonderful friend who is a midwife, I realised I needed the procedure  to see what was going on in my womb and to ascertain the position of the fibroids. The internet never tells you about the millions of women who sail through these procedures without bleeding to death! I was reassured and told to stay off the internet.

Once I got my head around the hysteroscopy and why it was necessary, I was ready to have it done. We have a wonderful new women's centre at our local hospital, which is where I was sent for it. The consultant was lovely and joked with me about my fears saying he hadn't killed anyone yet! My biopsy results from my previous appointment had come back normal which was a massive relief. My cancer fears were pretty much eliminated at this point as he told me that the fibroids had caused the elevated CA125 levels. He put me at ease and explained everything.

During the hystereoscopy, a thin camera was inserted into my uterus, which was filled with saline, and I was able to see my insides on a TV screen. It looked like a pink moonscape! Seeing how interested I was, the consultant gave me a guided tour pointing out things of interest along the way. There were two big fibroids that he could see within my uterus, but said the surrounding tissue looked healthy. The other fibroids were located in the muscle wall and so didn't pose a problem. I was told that the ones growing within the uterus needed to come out as they were responsible for the severe bleeding and clotting that had lead to my anaemia. The hysteroscopy was nowhere near as bad as I had feared. It was fine apart from a slightly embarrassing moment when my uterus full of saline gushed out when on the way to the car park - brought back memories of my waters breaking in labour seven years earlier.  Thank goodness for the hospital issue sanitary pads that are very absorbent and generous. I felt fine the next day with very slight bleeding but I overdid it and ended up with nasty cramping and kidney ache for a couple of days, but again pain killers and rest put me right.

Up until recently, fibroid removal meant an operation under general anaesthetic, but some new technology is now available allowing them to do a polypectomy with the patient fully awake. The Myosure Polypectomy procedure involves the insertion of a special instrument into the uterus through a metal tube that pulverises the fibroids and sucks out the mulch. The consultant told me to watch a video of it on YouTube. He was very enthusiastic about this new approach, likening it to Pac-Man chomping through fruit. Having it whilst awake means you stay in control, you can eat and drink as normal beforehand and the recovery time is quicker as you don't have to deal with the effects of general anaethesia. This did appeal to me, as I like to know what is going on!

The day came for this procedure and I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't the same guy who did my hysterescopy. We had a good rapport. Instead I had the lead consultant who was a bit more serious. I was booked in, had my blood pressure and heart rate taken and given painkillers. I then ended up waiting for over three hours in the waiting room, which was psychologically tough I was glad I had arranged childcare for the kids just in case. When I was called in, I got changed into a gown and then sat in the special chair with adjustable stirrups (surprisingly comfortable). I was given local anaesthetic injections in my cervix, which was a weird sensation. The tube that feeds the camera and instruments into the womb is slightly thicker than the one used in the hystereoscopy, but apart from slight discomfort it was fine. The actual fibroid removal was painless. You see them obliterated on the TV screen but there is no sensation. After the two were removed, another three could be seen hiding behind them, so they destroyed them too and shaved away my uterus lining. I had a Mirena coil fitted straight afterwards to prevent any further thickening of the womb lining. The removed tissue is being sent off for testing, the final hurdle to knowing for sure that there are no sinister cells lurking.

The entire procedure only took around 15 minutes, much quicker than opting to have it done under general anaethestic. I felt a bit more delicate afterwards and wanted to get home and lie down. I was allowed to leave once they were sure I wouldn't pass out or throw up. Similarly to the first procedure, I suffered very light bleeding for a day or two with no complications. I rested for a few days afterwards, being sure to drink plenty and take painkillers when needed. My family were great nurses and looked after me.  Now, one week on and I am fine. I have to make an appointment to check the coil position and have a follow up blood test, but then hopefully that will be it.

As a result of this health scare, I have re-evaluated my diet and lifestyle. A cancer scare is a great motivator for doing your best to stay healthy. I am so thankful to my GP and the NHS for being so efficient and thorough with my treatment. However intimate or embarrassing symptoms are, we shouldn't ignore them or self-diagnose or go into denial. I'm so relieved that my problems turned out to be relatively easy to fix, and I'm so glad I phoned the GP when I did.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Primula Cheese and Chive Oaty Biscuits for Autumnal Snacking

This autumn, Primula have challenged me to come up with a tasty autumnal snack using their famous squeezable, spreadable cheese.

My family love Primula in lots of ways, but I'd never tried using it as a baking ingredient. I really enjoy baking for my family, making healthier and higher quality alternatives to the products found on the supermarket shelves. So I decided to create my own take on the humble oat cake: a crumbly, oaty, wholemeal savoury biscuit, made using Primula Cheese with Chives, that can then be topped with some more squeezy Primula. The cheese and chives give an added richness and flavour to the oatcakes. A delicious cheesy treat for snacking.

Primula, baking, snack, recipe, vegetarian


This is such an easy recipe, using just four simple ingredients. You can quickly knock together a batch and serve them warm from the oven. Perfect for an after school treat, an evening snack or even for a grown-up cheese and wine party.

Savoury biscuits are a great alternative to sweet snacks that the whole family will enjoy. The wholemeal flour adds extra fibre and nutrients and oats are a good source of slow release energy. They will keep for a few days in an airtight tin, so will be great for the kids' lunchboxes. Just add a little pot filled with Primula for the little ones to dip their savoury biscuits in.

home baking, Primula recipe, vegetarian


Primula Cheese and Chive Oaty Biscuits Recipe

Ingredients

2 oz of Primula Cheese with Chives 
1 oz  oats
4 oz butter or margarine
6 oz wholemeal SR flour

Primula, vegetarian, baking


Method 

Cream Primula and butter together in a mixing bowl.
Add oats and flour and mix with your hands to form a dough. Bring together with a little extra flour if too sticky.
Roll out dough on a floured surface and cut into twelve equal shapes using a cookie cutter.
Cook at 180 degrees for 15 minutes.
Serve topped with Primula and garnished with tomato, cucumber, sweetcorn or any other seasonal salad vegetables for a colourful, tasty snack.

recipe, oat cakes, home baking


For a really grown up, sophisticated snack, in keeping with the Primula idea of adventurous pairings, how about topping a Primula Cheese and Chive Oaty Biscuit with a good squirt of Light Primula cheese and finished with a slice of juicy fresh pear and a twist of ground black pepper? It is a great combination of flavours and textures. 

oat cake recipe, vegetarian, Primula recipes



I am a member of the Primula Blogger Club, a paid for partnership with Primula.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Lunchbox planning for the new school year

We have completed our first few weeks of the new school year and we're just about settling into a nice routine. This includes the daily job of making lunchboxes to keep Freddy fed and watered for the school day. There has been a lot of talk recently regarding the healthiness of kids' packed lunches from home, and a recent survey commissioned by Flora concluded that only 1.6% of packed lunches are meeting food based standards for UK school meals. Only 17% of lunchboxes contain any vegetables or salad and 60% contain too many processed sweet and savoury snacks.

In response to this, Flora are investing in an initiative to inspire parents by distributing thousands of Flora lunchboxes via retailers, containing healthy lunchbox recipe planners.  They have also launched an online guide with useful tips and recipes for parents. There are some some great recipes and ideas for lunches, including a five day vegan lunch plan using Flora Dairy Free.

lunchbox


It is all too easy to fall into the habit of making a quick cheese sandwich and throwing in a bag of crisps and a chocolate biscuit for a child's lunch. We often find ourselves in a lunchbox rut, but this school year I'm determined to do better. So being organised and planning ahead is really important to keep up the motivation to provide healthy lunches with kid appeal to keep Freddy happy.

Typically, Freddy has a sandwich, a wrap, a panini or something baked like a vegetarian sausage roll or a cheese twist. He also has a portion of fruit such as strawberries, grapes or an apple, and a portion of veggies, such as cucumber or carrot sticks. A carton of fruit juice or a bottle of water complete his lunch. I know fruit juice is high in naturally occurring sugars and acid, but I prefer him having that than a sugar-free, chemical laden drink. Like Flora, I am a big advocate of the 'Powered by Plants' ideology!

lunchbox


To change things up, we sometimes bake some Quorn Chicken Style Nuggets or Linda McCartney's sausages (we pop them in the oven the night before while cooking dinner) and serve them cold with a ketchup dip. It's fun and high in protein. Add some breadsticks, fruit and veggies to the lunchbox for a balanced meal.

lunchbox


For a special treat, I make some individual pots of vegetarian jelly in little lidded tubs. They are low in calories, refreshing and Freddy loves them!  Making them yourself is so much cheaper than buying supermarket versions, and you can easily add some chopped fruit as part of their five a day quota.

lunchbox


Investing in a little flask allows them to take soups to school. Coupled with a chunky slice of wholemeal bread spread with Flora Dairy Free, it makes a lovely meal, especially as the colder weather sets in.

I firmly believe that we are what we eat. Freddy is still a bit set in his ways when it comes to food, but with encouragement he is enjoying a wider range of foods and becoming more adventurous. I aim to keep his lunchboxes varied, balanced and appealing and hope that his appetite and enthusiasm for food continues to grow!


“This post is an entry for the #FloraLunchbox Linky Challenge, sponsored by Flora. Check out their lunch planner and recipe ideas here. ”

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Cirque de Soleil's Amaluna opens at Intu Trafford Centre Manchester

Last night, the latest Cirque de Soleil show Amaluna, opened under the iconic big top in Intu Trafford Centre marking the production's first return to Manchester in six years. We were delighted to be invited to attend, rubbing shoulders with a host of soap stars and other celebrities. While waiting for the show to start we were treated to refreshments and a live DJ set from local artist Little Boots.

cirque, amaluna


We took our seats and were instantly blown away by the beautiful set and excited by what was to come. Amaluna is a show with women at its heart. The musicians and 70% of the global cast members are all female. With a story drawing on classical influences including Norse and Greek mythology, Shakespeare's The Tempest and Mozart's The Magic Flute, Amaluna is a tale of castaway love and the obstacles that the young lovers need to overcome to be together. A story beautifully and poignantly told without the need for words. The word Amaluna translates to Mother Moon, a symbol of feminity and the name of the goddess that governs the magical island where the story is set.

cirque de soleil


From the first moment, we were captivated and enthralled by the music, the performers, the costumes and the amazing displays of acrobatic excellence. It was absolutely stunning. The timing, the skill, the precision and the sheer beauty of the performance was breath taking. Blending dance, music, song, comedy, acrobatics and storytelling is what Cirque de Soleil does best. From the amazing floor shows, including the teeter totter and the uneven bars, to the death defying aerial stunts, including the hoop and straps, to the unique water bowl act, everything was performed to perfection.

cirque de soleil

acrobatics, hoops


Freddy, who is 7, sat in open mouthed amazement and clapped so hard that his hands hurt! He does both gymnastics and swimming, so the show appealed to him and his love of these elements. My eldest daughter Megan was so inspired, that she has signed up to do an aerial class taster course!  We all loved it.

Cirque de Soleil

Amaluna

Amaluna


There was a cool, edgy vibe to the production, with the live band, the cool costumes and the sheer energy of the performers. The love story was emotional and beautifully portrayed, and was humorously juxtaposed by the clowns acting out their own love story in their own funny way, with impeccable comic timing and comedy.

I cannot stress how amazing this show was, and I would highly recommend to families and couples alike. It is a magical show that will leave you breathless.

The show runs until October 9th 2016 and tickets are on sale from the website at:  www.cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna.  VIP packages are also available.

cirque de soleil






Friday, 2 September 2016

Healthy Eating with Koko dairy free yogurts and DRINKmaple Water

Koko Dairy Free Yogurts

My whole family are dedicated vegetarians, but my eldest daughter also follows a strict dairy free diet for health reasons. Over the years, I have developed a big interest in finding all the latest vegan products to hit the supermarket shelves and we enjoy lots of alternatives to dairy products, such as nut milks, soya cream and coconut spreads.

Koko Dairy Free has launched a brand new range of dairy, soya, gluten and nut free yogurts made with coconut milk and yogurt cultures in Strawberry, Peach & Passionfruit, Raspberry, Coconut & Lemon and Original Plain flavours. 

yogurt


The fruity varieties are so creamy and delicious with real fruit pieces. They come in handy 125g twin packs that are perfect for lunchboxes. They are ideal for kids who are lactose intolerant and for vegans. RRP is £1.25 with stockists including Morison's and Ocado. Koko products are stocked in supermarkets and health food stores nationwide. See the range at www.kokodairyfree.com.

dairy free, vegan yogurt




DRINKmaple Water

Staying hydrated is an important part of a healthy lifestyle with water being the best, simplest and easiest way of keeping our bodies naturally hydrated. I was very interested to learn of an exciting product on the market DRINKmaple, which is pure water taken straight from Vermont Maple trees. Nothing is added, it is just naturally fortified by Mother Nature inside the tree. I was given some to try out.

water, hydration, healthy


The Maple Water is naturally sweet and refreshing with a hint of maple. It contains 50% less natural sugar than coconut water, has natural electrolytes, antioxidants, prebiotics and minerals. It contains more manganese than a cup of  kale, is a good source of calcium and is naturally vegan and gluten free. The water is clear and refreshing, with the benefit of 46 naturally occurring nutrients. So it's like water - but naturally better!

maple water


Every morning I have a smoothie for breakfast with berries, spinach, banana and apple. I usually add water as a liquid, but I've switched to DRINKmaple Water. It adds a subtle hint of maple sweetness, and lots of replenishing nutrients, which is another great bonus.

Drinking it on its own, you can really taste the maple flavour. It is earthy and sweet, with just 8 calories per 100ml. Everytime you buy DRINKmaple, they will supply 200 gallons of clean water to countries in developing nations that have suffered drought or disaster, which is a lovely way of giving back.

Find out more at www.drinkmaple.eu and find DRINKmaple at Ocado, Wholefoods, Planet Organic and over 200 other stores, including Selfridges, Revital and Harvey Nichols. Three sizes are available: 250ml Tetra £1.99 / 355ml BPA free bottle £2.59 / 946ml Tetra £3.99.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Fun at the Num Nums Bella Italia Event

Freddy has always enjoyed playing with little collectible toys, the kind that come in mystery blind packs. This includes his latest favourites, Num Noms, the cute collection of stackable, scented toys. Now on Num Noms Series 2, there are so many different varieties and flavour combinations available, the fun just keeps growing!

We were invited to attend a Num Noms event at Bella Italia in Cheshire Oaks and we were delighted to go along and join in with the fun. Aside from a mountain of Num Noms toys to play with, Freddy had a wonderful time getting Num Noms painted onto his arm, taking part in a 'smell' challenge, designing his own Num Nom and making his own yummy pizza and ice cream sundae.

He spent a lovely few hours immersed in all things Num Noms and had a great time! The wacky craze is so cute and colourful, bringing the scents of different foods to life and Bella Italia was an awesome venue to showcase Series 2 that includes the Pizza flavoured Num Noms.

Num Noms


If you have yet to discover the world of Num Noms, prices start at just £2.99. The little toys can be mixed and matched into tonnes of wacky flavour combinations across the ranges, including brunch, cupcakes, ice cream, pizza, freezie pops, diner and fruity.  The Nums come with motorized bases or lip gloss, eraser or stamper Noms to add to the enjoyment. Play sets, starter sets and party packs are all available to add to your collection.

Find out more at numnoms.com and find them in good toy stores, Argos, Amazon and Tesco.

Doritos A or B: Two Flavours, One Winner!

There are only a few days left for Doritos fans to take part in their latest promotion and try one of the new duo of flavours  – Sizzling Salsa (Doritos A) or Ultimate Cheeseburger (Doritos B).   Be quick though, because only one flavour can stay and the other will be eliminated!

The decision lies with the public. We get the chance to enter a pretty cool competition with the chance of winning a £20, 000 prize by telling Doritos whether we want to eliminate #DoritosA or #DoritosB and then come up with an idea on how the elimination should take place. Should they be thrown into a volcano? Fed to ravenous hounds? Sent to outer space? The winner will also have their idea turned into an  animation so the funniest most creative ideas will work best.

Doritos


Doritos A is a Sizzling Salsa flavour, which packs the punch of a fresh and tangy tomato dip.  Doritos B is Ultimate Cheeseburger flavoured. For me, it's Sizzling Salsa all the way! It combines the taste of the dip with the crunchy chip. Perfect for parties, film nights and snacking.

You have until September 4th to try both before deciding which flavour you’ll eliminate, revealing your boldest idea of how the losing flavour should be obliterated.

To enter, simply tweet @DoritosUK and say whether you’d eliminate #DoritosA or #DoritosB and how it should be done.  Be bold, be funny and be sure to enter!

Doritos A and Doritos B flavours have an RRP of £1.99 for a 200g bag and are available for a limited time only alongside the existing Doritos range from stores nationwide. For more information visit www.doritos.co.uk.

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