Tag Archives: OTW

Charity Cut

Whenever I write my blog, I am always conscious of not wanting to focus on any one emotion more than another, particularly when life seems pretty bleak to us. Yes, sometimes things feel overwhelming, but I know that in the grand scale of things life could be so much worse and I’m truly grateful that it isn’t. However, this is one occasion when I’m not going to apologise for shouting from the rooftops about just how fantastic both my children are in my eyes. They’ve both had brilliant end of year school reports and Stagecoach reports, which is a real testament to how hard they’ve worked this year, but this post is about something so much more than that and something of which Mike and I are incredibly proud.

In May, as part of National Eosinophil Awareness Week, M wrote to his Headteacher to ask if he could hold a “Dress as your Hero” day at school. Unbeknownst to me, M was invited to speak at one of the whole school assemblies about why he was running this fundraiser and took this opportunity completely in his stride. Both his class teacher and the Head have told me that he spoke confidently and with great articulation, able to clearly explain who Over The Wall are, what they do and the importance of these camps to him and to G. The school responded in amazing fashion and M’s hopes of raising around £100 proved to be a woeful underestimate of the final total.

Back at the start of the year, I wrote about our family’s New Year Resolutions  and mentioned that G had set herself a resolution that would be revealed in the fullness of time. It’s a real privilege to now share that resolution with you all. My gorgeous girlie decided that she wanted to cut her beautiful long hair before we travel abroad this summer and was keen to do it for charity if at all possible. So, for the past 7 months as G has been growing her hair as long as she could get it, she has been researching just how she could support a charity by doing so.

Two weeks ago, G faced her charity cut and had over 10 inches cut off to benefit 2 amazing charities. The 10-inch plait has been sent to the Little Princess Trust, who will use it to make real hair wigs for children across the UK who have lost their hair due to intensive medical treatments. Not content to leave it at that, G decided to join M in his fundraising efforts for OTW and asked family and friends for any sponsorship they were willing to give her to support her in her efforts. Regardless of any lingering nerves or uncertainties, G was excited to see her final look and I’ll be honest enough to say that we now have a teenage daughter that looks stunning and even more grown up than she did before. She really is rocking her new style:

Working together with this shared purpose, G and M have succeeded in raising more than a phenomenal £760  for Over The Wall, the charity that provides free camps for children with serious health challenges, their siblings and their families. As you’ll have read more than once on here, G and M have both benefited hugely from attending the Over The Wall camps and as a family we have chosen to support the work of this charity in every way we can. This really is a proud Mummy moment for me, seeing G and M be determined to raise awareness and financial support so that OTW can keep creating the magic they do every day at camp.

We are, of course, more than happy to keep collecting for this fantastic cause and you can add to the hard work of both children over the last couple of months by donating via our Virgin Giving website here. Thank you

Bitter disappointment

Two years ago, M and I waved goodbye to G as she trekked off on the adventure that is Year 6 Camp and, as he had his NG-tube in place, we chatted about whether Year 6 camp was a possibility for him. I reassured him that Mike and I were both keen for him to go and would work hard with the school to ensure that his every need – medical, dietary or otherwise – was met as he needed, whether the feeding tube was still in place or not. Despite never having spent a night away from family, M wanted to go, to try out new activities and to challenge himself as opportunity offered.

One year ago, as I manoeuvred M’s wheelchair through the back gates of school and across the school field to his classroom, we breathed a sigh of relief that it was during Year 5 that he had spectacularly broken his left leg and not in the weeks leading up to the Year 6 camp. The slow reintroduction of foods following the removal of his feeding tube would not hold him back and once again I found myself reassuring him that, if needs be, I would bake a batch of M-friendly cakes or cookies to accompany him on the trip and that we would ensure that the camp kitchen could safely cater for whatever his food requirements were when he went. His week away at Over The Wall built his self-confidence as he realised that he could tackle anything he put his mind to and succeed.

For the last 2 years, M has been looking forward to this rite of passage, this week of school camp and practically counting down the days until it was finally his time to go. He has been in discussion with G about the different activities he might get to do and planning all that he would need to make the week the success he so desperately wanted it to be. I met with the school to talk over the arrangements for meal-times and sleep that would need to be in place and was confident that they would do everything in their power to make it a week to remember for him and all his class-mates.

And then 2 weeks ago, M had to make what has been, without a doubt, one of the hardest decisions in his life so far. The past 4 months of food challenges have taken their toll and when that was added to the stresses of SATS, we saw an unwelcome decline in his health that we weren’t sure could be overcome easily. Despite our best efforts and hard work since mid-May, M has decided that going away to Year 6 camp is not the right thing for him to do at the moment. To say that my boy is bitterly disappointed would be an understatement. For 2 years of longing and planning to come to nothing is heartbreaking for us all and has been a bitter pill to swallow. For M, life has just seemed incredibly unfair once again.

M is frustrated that he can’t go, but he has based his decisions on the health struggles he is currently facing and knows that ultimately it is the right choice for him. He has tried to remain cheerful in school and has been an active participant in the tasks set to his class as they have researched where they’re going and what they’ll be doing. Mike and I met with his teachers and arranged for Mike to take him to the camp today for a half-day*, so that he can join in an activity of his choice and not feel that he is missing out completely. What has made it even harder to bear is that he currently doesn’t have a place on this year’s OTW Health Challenges Camp and is instead on the waiting list, with his fingers tightly crossed that a place might become unexpectedly available.

I know that in the long-run, M will pick himself up and dust himself off and keep going, just as he always does, but it’s hard to comfort him when he’s railing against just how unfair life can be because, in all honesty, right now I agree with him and it’s hard to find the positive and that silver lining we so desperately need to cling to.

*I’m delighted to share that today’s morning has turned into a full day at camp with his friends. M enjoyed the mud assault course so much that he felt confident to stay on and try his hand at abseiling and anything else he could find the time to do.

NEAW 2017 – Wings to fly

As a parent, one of the biggest challenges you face is helping your child grow in self-confidence, develop independence and to ultimately give them the wings they need to fly away from the security of the family home. There are so many obstacles to overcome along the way and when a chronic illness is thrown into the mix, it can feel almost impossible to let your child take those first steps on their own. Our determination to not let EGID define either child means that every day is an opportunity to let go of our own anxieties and concerns, and encourage them to make their own decisions regardless of the limitations that health, medicine and diet place on them. Of course, much as we work to equip G and M with the skills they’ll need as they grow up, I know that they need to learn so much more than what Mike and I can teach them on our own and so we always look for any opportunity to develop their learning from experiences that are beyond our ability to give.

That’s why once again this year, I completed the application forms for both G and M to attend the fantastic camps offered by charity, Over The Wall, knowing that their respective weeks away from home will be all about friendship and understanding and being amongst equals and building self-esteem and so, so much more. When G came home from the South Siblings Camp last year, she was a different child to the one who had left us just 5 days before. The time spent with others who have a similar home life to her was invaluable as she realised that her life experiences didn’t isolate her in those circumstances; and the focus on her and making sure that she had the best time she could helped G to find a self-worth that she had been struggling to develop at home and at school. Likewise, M had what could only be described as the best week ever as he was able to spend a week away from home without family for the first time in his life. He tried his hand at activities that had terrified him before and he too found great comfort in the realisation that he is not on his own in his health challenges.

We were all delighted when G heard she had a place at this year’s Siblings Camp and we couldn’t wait to hear all about her adventures there as a Green Girl. From the moment I dropped her off with some familiar faces, including the unexpected, but much welcome presence of G’s buddy from the GOSH YPF who was volunteering for the very first time, I knew that she was destined for another great week. Their unfailing attention to detail and care for the young people they were responsible for during the camp was impressive. We received a phone-call on the second night to say that whilst G was having an amazing time, she was struggling with the “fancy” gluten- and dairy-free food that the chefs were lovingly preparing for her and wasn’t really eating as much as they would like.  A quick catch-up to understand G’s food preferences and the reassurance that they would continue to keep an eye on her was all I needed to be certain that their care was absolutely everything I could want it to be.

M, Mike and I were all able to make the journey to pick G up at the end of her week away and were all immersed in the joy that is the camp bubble of OTW for the short time that we were there. Our Green Girl had tried her hand at most things, exceeded her own limitations and came away with a much-deserved pride in her achievements. This photo of a beaming G at the top of the climbing wall reflects her determination to overcome her self-proclaimed fear of heights and the pride she felt when she surpassed what she managed last year to achieve: more than she had ever believed herself capable of doing. Unlike the previous year, when she had been reluctant to take part in the Talent show, this time round, she went prepared with a routine she’s been working on during her school dance club and performed with a confidence and grace that reaped an impressive number of compliments as well as moving her YPF buddy to tears with her passion for her dance. G became good friends with several in her team and has been keeping in contact with them in the weeks following camp. She has developed a confidence and willingness to take on new challenges, knowing that, with a little bit of self-belief and perseverance, no mountain is too big for her to conquer.

It is thanks to Over The Wall that my children are becoming all that they can be and are learning that chronic illness doesn’t have to be a hurdle to anything they want to do. Over The Wall truly gives both our children wings to fly and our thanks just don’t seem to be enough.

This year we have decided to continue our support of the amazing charity, Over The Wall and their camps. If you’re able to donate even a very small amount, please follow this link to my Virgin Money Giving Page where your donation will help more children living with chronic illness like G and M by giving them and their families a chance to enjoy some much-needed time away from it all.

 

NEAW 2017 – His illness does not define him

Our life experiences influence our view of the world that surrounds us. Good or bad, everything we do or see or hear or learn will affect our outlook on life, on whether we become individuals who see that hypothetical glass as being half-full or half-empty and how we react to our interpretation of that reality. When you’re growing up with a chronic illness as your one constant companion, it can come as no surprise that that condition begins to shape the person you become and the relationships you have with the rest of the world.

Rightly or wrongly, I have encouraged M to embrace his EGID diagnosis and become an advocate for himself and others living with it. M is, without a doubt, so much more than this disease and yet it is an integral part of the young man he is growing up to be. Our local gastro team are keen that M doesn’t view himself as a “sick kid”, that he doesn’t let his diagnosis stop him doing whatever he wants to do or being what he wants to be and those aims sit well with our approach to helping him cope with it all. However, I can’t and won’t agree to ignoring the reality of his life – the numerous hospital appointments, admissions and procedures; the daily medicines; the restricted diet and 12 months with a NG-tube mean that he is not like his friends, like other kids his age. In the last year alone, M has been seen at our local hospital over a dozen times and that does not make him the same as the rest of his classmates. Despite everyone’s best efforts, 2 and a half years after that first feeding tube was placed, M still only eats 6 safe foods on a regular basis and that makes him stand out from the crowd, not just at school, but at every activity or event he attends. He is, in all truth, a “sick kid”, but that label does not sum up who he is as an individual.

No matter what the medics suggest, I can’t pretend that all those experiences didn’t happen to him, to us as a family, but I will endeavour to make sure that M’s illness is not all that defines him.

Yes, he’s a child who cannot eat the same as his friends; but he can eat out and enjoy food with them.

Yes, he’s a child who lives with constant pain; but he has learned to ignore it and overcome it and achieve despite it.

Yes, he’s a child who spends too much time in hospital at medical appointments; but he is developing a confidence to question and understand and advocate for himself.

Yes, he’s had experiences that most adults I know would struggle with; but he has developed tremendous courage and an increasing self-worth in who he is as an individual.

The truth is that, just as my 30+ years with T1D has shaped the woman I’ve grown up to be, M’s life has been, and will continue to be, affected by his EGID diagnosis. We cannot pretend that the difficult times haven’t happened, we can’t airbrush them out of our family history and it would be doing a disservice to the fortitude and bravery of both my children if we tried to do so. They are so much more than the sum of their parts and whilst EGID has an unquestionable influence on the individuals G and M are becoming, it absolutely does not define either of them in their entirety, and nor will we ever let it.

This year we have decided to continue our support of the amazing charity, Over The Wall and their camps. If you’re able to donate even a very small amount, please follow this link to my Virgin Money Giving Page where your donation will help more children living with chronic illness like G and M by giving them and their families a chance to enjoy some much-needed time away from it all.

OTW Siblings #Take Two

This time last year, this happened:

and since the start of February, when the email finally arrived in my inbox confirming that G would once again be heading off to the depths of Dorset for the fabulous Over The Wall South Siblings Camp, the clock has been counting down. I’m surrounded by reminders of this amazing organisation wherever I look, from the screen saver on my phone to the calendar on my desk at work and it’s reflected every time I hear G or M, or sometimes both, bursting into a song from their time away at camp.

The next 5 days are going to be busy ones as I wash, iron, sort and pack G’s clothes for next week. We need to make sure she has enough for every eventuality – sunny days, wet weather, swimming, archery, arts and crafts, the talent show and the all important disco. Unlike last year, when she refused to even consider being part of the talent evening until she got there and then taught her team, the totally epic Purple Girls, a dance routine to Omi’s “Cheerleader” track; this year G is torn about which talent in particular she wants to perform. It could be a clarinet solo, which M would love her to do, or it might be a new dance routine, this time with costume. I’ve told her she really needs to have made her decision by the weekend, so I can ensure she’s got everything she wants with her when we set out on Monday. We’re so thrilled that G has the opportunity to benefit once again from the fantastic work done to support siblings of children with health challenges and I can’t wait to hear all about this year’s week away from home with OTW.

You may remember that since G’s adventures with Over The Wall last year, we have been raising awareness and funds for this incredible cause and I created this video to show our reasons for supporting them:

Beating the Blues

Today is Blue Monday, the day predicted to be the gloomiest day of the year due to bad weather, the stark reality of our Christmas over-indulgence now affecting our dwindling bank accounts, the post-Christmas buzz that has completely disappeared from the horizon and our well-meant resolutions that are proving far harder to keep than we ever imagined. There are some New Year resolutions that you know will be difficult to keep beyond the first few days – abstinence springs instantly to mind – and then there are those that will never, could never be a challenge, but rather are an absolute pleasure to complete. Last year gave our family 2 amazing opportunities, experiences that were so life-changing, so extraordinary for both children and so liberating for us all that I knew that one resolution that I would not fail to meet was to write a post to not only recapture what are amongst my most favourite memories of 2016, but to also encourage others to get involved with what is a truly inspirational organisation.

9a78a65173e2885ea3a8c8b9d3ccd1acThanks to the amazing charity, Over The Wall, last year both G and M were able to escape from the reality that is their life at home coping with chronic illness and find a world where nothing could hold them back or stop them from achieving what might have previously seemed to have been impossible. G discovered a group of friends who could understand completely what life can be like when you have a sibling with serious health issues, but who got to know the unique, kind-hearted, gentle-spirited and passionate girl she can be in her own right and not simply as “M’s big sister“. Her confidence grew as she responded to the love, focus and encouragement that was given to her throughout her week away and she found a new and irreplaceable identity as a valuable member of last year’s Purple Girls at the South Siblings camp. Likewise, just a few months later, M was able to experience, for the first time ever, a week away from family, where he got to be as carefree a child as his school-mates are and could try out a whole host of new activities, confident and safe in the knowledge that his medical needs were being well-managed by the volunteer team surrounding him and he just needed to concentrate on having fun. Their time away from home taught them both that there is more to them than EGID and food allergies: Over The Wall truly gave my children wings to help them soar.

So, why write once again about the extraordinary adventure that is Over The Wall? Well, with a New Year comes new opportunities and you don’t have to have a child living with a chronic illness to be able to become involved with this organisation:

  • Application forms are currently open for places on the 2017 camps and be it the Siblings, Health Challenges or Family camp that meets your needs, now is the time to register your interest and find out if you can secure a place. Both children are glad to know that their forms have been completed and sent off, and it’s just a case of waiting to see if they’re back to the camp bubble this year
  • These camps depend heavily on the huge amount of time given to them by their team of dedicated volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering your time and helping make a difference to young people impacted by health problems, volunteer applications are also now open. The medical team who willingly give their time are unquestionably invaluable, but whatever your skills, know that your presence will undoubtedly make a difference to the children that are there
  • OTW offer these camps free to those families who attend and to be able to keep doing what they do and successfully reach out to even more young people, they need your help in raising funds. As a family we decided to focus our fundraising efforts last year on OTW and will continue to do so for 2017. Thank you so much if you helped us make a difference in 2016. Cake sales, sky-diving, shaving your head or running a marathon – whatever your interest, please consider supporting this charity by raising sponsorship or making a donation

And just in case you needed a reason to support and spread the news about Over The Wall, here’s a few photos that capture the magic that transformed the lives of G and M in unimaginable ways in 2016.

Summer Bakes

tumblr_static_wendy2The first 3 weeks of the summer holidays were filled with clubs and camps and activities and I needed to create some M-friendly bakes that could be packed into a lunch-box or, in the case of
Over The Wall, included as a bedtime snack to share during the evening cabin chat session with the rest of his team. With M’s tally of safe foods still stuck at 5, I wanted to bake something new, something we hadn’t tried before, and where better to start than a quick search using my trusty internet search engine. There are not many recipes out there that incorporate those safe ingredients only, so I looked for some vegan and gluten-free suggestions and decided to do the rest of the tweaking myself where necessary.

The first recipe I found was for Pear blondies, a vanilla version of the ever-popular chocolate brownie without, rather obviously, the chocolate and I was intrigued to see if this could be made for M. Using apple purée as my egg replacer, I stirred my mix and then kept my fingers crossed as the small cakes went into the oven. The smell as they baked was amazing and, as always, a certain young gentleman appeared alongside me as I pulled the final product out, ready to cool. The quantity was enough to make a dozen bitesize blondies, which were perfect as a snack during his busy days. Both children enjoyed the blondies, with IMG_0762[1]M particularly keen on the small chunks of pear that had become melt-in-the-mouth and golden as they baked in the sponge mix.

My second new baking venture were Pear and Ginger cookies, which seemed to me to be a perfect combination of sweet and spice, something I was sure M would love. This was another easy recipe to whip up, made from the staples stored in my kitchen cupboards. The dough made an impressive 18 cookies and within minutes of them hitting my cooling rack, my hopeful duo found something important to do in the kitchen in the hope they might be successful in picking up a stray biscuit as they passed. However, whilst they were tempted to taste one straight from the oven, the lure of the lemon icing to be drizzled when the cookies were finally cooled was enough to gain me around 20 minutes extra before my store started to be depleted. These were an amazingly good bake as the rice flour didn’t make the cookies taste granular at all and the ginger was subtle enough to give a little extra heat without overpowering the sweetness of the pear. The children were both big fans of this bake too and I was intrigued to see which one M would settle on as his final choice for taking to OTW camp. In the end, much as he loved both of these new treats, he decided the pear and ginger cookies would be his cabin chat snack of choice and the empty pot returning from camp was all the proof I needed that they had been a success.

Over The Wall

It was last summer when I first heard about Over The Wall and the amazing camps they run across the UK for children with serious health problems. M’s GOSH and EGID friend, R and his big sister, I otwwere fortunate to go to one and the photos and comments about it posted by their Mum, Annie left me determined to find out more and see whether M might similarly qualify for a place.

Over the Wall is a UK-based charity that is part of the international SeriousFun Children’s Network, which is based on an original idea set up by actor Paul Newman in the 1980s. He identified that the popular US summer camps attended by thousands of American school children every year often left out children living with chronic health conditions because of the inability of camp volunteers to cope with the often complex medical needs. His vision was to open up that opportunity to every child, regardless of their health needs, and he helped to provide full support for every child whilst they were away from home. These children got the full “camp” experience as they were unaccompanied by parents or carers and were able to enjoy a touch of “normal” in their otherwise complicated lives. From that simple starting point, one camp spread across the US and into countries across the world and soon followed the realisation that not only did the sick child miss out, but so, all too often, did their siblings and the idea for a separate siblings camp was formed.

I was delighted to learn about the siblings camp and, feeling that this was another great opportunity for G to escape the constraints of a sick sibling and be surrounded and supported by others in the same situation, duly applied; and so it was that a couple of weeks ago, G headed off to deepest, darkest Dorset for a week of serious fun. Just as her Young Carers group gives her the opportunity to have time away from M with other local youngsters in similar supporting roles, G spent the week with other 8-17 year olds from across the South of England and Wales, who all have 1 thing in a common: a brother or sister living with a chronic health problem. IMG_2504It was a week to be herself, not defined or viewed in her role as M’s big sister, and encouraged to take time to focus on herself without worrying about M and how he would feel.

The children who attend are split into 8 groups: 4 colours determined by their age, with orange for the youngest and blue for the oldest; and then each colour split into separate boys and girls teams. Volunteers are a key part of the camps and their numbers match camper numbers, so for the 60+ children on the 2016 South Siblings Camp, there were 60+ volunteers supporting them, encouraging them and making sure they had fun. During the week the teams participate in a number of activities, from swimming to archery and from climbing to arts and crafts and much, much more. Their days are carefully planned with breaks and an after lunch rest hour, which G tells me was strictly adhered to, as well as a cabin chat every evening, where the teams reflect on their days and every member is awarded a bead to recognise what they’ve achieved. IMG_2589Discos, team games, inter-team challenges, morning singsongs, new activities, skills learned, old favourites and even a talent show sum up G’s week away.

G’s enthusiasm about her time on camp has been wonderful to hear and she was keen to teach M the camp songs and share so many snippets of everything she got up to whilst there. I love the fact that there was little or no discussion about their chronically ill siblings, but instead the focus was well and truly where it needed to be – on these children who all too frequently miss out. I was impressed with the array of meaningful mementoes that G brought home with her, as impressed as she was delighted. More than just her purple OTW t-shirt and a black one for M, but also a carefully crafted wooden bird-box, team and camp photos, a hand-print card holding the reflections of the team – both peers and volunteers – on who G is as a person and why they appreciated her, and that precious collection of beads reflecting her achievements during the week, recognised by her team volunteers and accompanied by a written record of why they felt she had earned them. All of these things have built up her self-confidence in those few days away and have helped her feel even more valued within this new group of friends.

For us, it was an unnaturally quiet week in the household and there was a definite sense of something missing from our every activity. IMG_3019M was reluctant to admit to missing having G around to play with and torment, but his move to sleep in her bed every night she was away revealed the depth of those feelings he didn’t want to show.

As a parent, you know you’re on to a good thing when you child asks for more and G has already asked if we can apply for her to go again next year if at all possible. Her enthusiasm about her experience has bubbled over and infected the whole family with M now having everything firmly crossed that his application for a place on the August Health Challenges Camp is successful. That would see him having those same opportunities to enjoy as G in an environment that we can be confident will be safe for him as there are medical volunteers and 1-to-1 support for the chronically ill children. Even better, the children have decided to make OTW the focus of their fundraising efforts during National Eosinophil Awareness Week this May. The one thing I haven’t mentioned is that these camps are offered completely free to those children who attend, making them truly accessible to all, which is a really fantastic part of this charity. Any funds that G and M can raise will help make a huge difference to others like them and if you’d like to make a small donation, you can do so via this link or the button on the right, with our thanks.

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