Tag Archives: Over the Wall

Young Carers Awareness Day 2019

Today is Young Carers Awareness Day 2019 and the purpose of the day is to raise public awareness of the challenges faced by young people because of their caring role, and to campaign for greater support for young carers and their needs. Young Carers often struggle with mental health problems of their own due to the strains they can find themselves under, hence the launch of their #CareForMeToo campaign.

I was recently invited to write a blog for Over The Wall about the impact of their camps on our family and I chose to particularly focus on the importance of the siblings camps for children like G, who is recognised as a Young Carer locally. I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my thoughts here too.

 “…when one person in the family has a chronic illness, the whole family has it…”

Jamie-Lynn Sigler

When you live with chronic illness you know that it is about so much more than just the disease itself. Pain, exhaustion, medicines, appointments and hospital admissions are often accompanied by a loss of self-confidence, doubts about self-worth and mental health issues that need time, patience and understanding to come to terms with and overcome. As parents to a child with a rare illness that is little known and little understood, Mike and I have had to find a resilience and strength within ourselves to not only support M as he finds his way to understanding his condition and living his life to the fullest, but also to fight those battles that he is not yet ready to tackle himself.

For the last 8 years, since our appointment with M’s first gastro consultant, our focus has been on finding answers and researching ways to give him the best quality of life we can despite the challenges he faces. As he now heads into his teens, we are seeing the fruits of those endeavours as M begins to make his own choices about the foods he eats, knowing full well the reactions he may experience, and taking on more responsibility for his medicines.

You could say that we’re achieving what we set out to do when we got his diagnosis: to raise a young man who won’t let his illness define or constrain him and who believes that he can be successful no matter what; but we have not been alone in supporting M. Family, friends and our local community have walked every step of this journey with us, helping us in more ways than we could ever imagine was possible; but there is one person who has been there since the very beginning, without any choice and yet who loves M unconditionally and is an indisputable rock for him, even when they don’t always see eye to eye.

She is, without a shadow of a doubt, the unsung hero in our family story.

Since the day her baby brother arrived prematurely in her world, G was determined to help out whenever she could. She put up with his incessant screams from what we now realise was undiagnosed pain and looked to comfort him however she could – making him laugh, giving cuddles, reading stories or just bringing him “Cat” when nothing else would do. Like so many siblings to children diagnosed with chronic illness, G has inevitably been side-lined when that illness has dominated family life and despite our determination to make sure she doesn’t miss out because of it, I know there are times when we haven’t got that balance right and given G the attention she deserves and needs.

From the interruption of frequent hospital appointments to badly timed admissions over her birthday 2 years in a row, G has had to take the back seat to M’s illness more times than seems fair and these are not the only ways in which her life has been affected by his diagnosis. We cannot ignore the reality that having a chronically ill sibling has had a massive impact on G and her mental health too. Anxiety, panic attacks, facing fears and anger management issues are all inextricably tied up with the role of being a young person caring for another and it has been crucial we find a supportive environment for her that has taught strategies for dealing with her yo-yoing emotions and provided a safe and understanding outlet for them. Encouraging G’s involvement with our local Young Carers group as well as applying for a place at the Over The Wall Siblings camps have been important steps in recognising the impact that M’s health has had on her over the last 15 years and have helped her feel that we really do understand and appreciate all that she has had to put up with and sometimes give up too.

That time away at OTW was a week for her to be herself, not defined or viewed in her role as M’s big sister and encouraged and allowed her to take time to focus on herself without worrying about him. G came home a different child to the one who had left us, having realised that her life experiences didn’t isolate her in those circumstances and she had found a sense of self-worth that she had been struggling to develop at home and at school. G’s second camp experience saw her develop 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. OTW brought G out from the shadow of M’s ill health, helped her rediscover who she is as an independent individual and gave her her childhood back – and for that I can’t thank them enough.

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Polar Dip

Despite the assertions of some Canadian friends that it couldn’t be a “real” polar bear dip without having to break some ice, in the middle of December Mike decided to take part in our local New Year’s Day polar swim. With just a smidge over 2 weeks to prepare for this madness, you wouldn’t be blamed if you thought Mike was completely mad – believe me when I say it was something that went through my mind too – but the reason for it is actually a fantastic one.

You have all heard me talk a lot about the amazing charity, Over The Wall, who provides free therapeutic camps for children with serious health challenges as well as their siblings and families. G and M have been fortunate enough to go to these camps twice each over the last 3 years and the difference it has made to them both is incredible. Since G’s first trip to the South Siblings Camp in 2016, we have taken every opportunity we’ve been able to find to raise awareness and funds for them – from M’s presentation at school to G’s sponsored hair-cut. I’ve talked to more people than I can even begin to count about just how special this charity is and in the last year have been delighted that 2 fellow EGID Mums were successful in their applications for camps too.

2019 marks 20 years since OTW’s first camp in the UK and they are looking to mark that anniversary by being able to send 1,000 children, young people and families to one of their camps. We want to help them achieve that goal, knowing from firsthand experience just how invaluable their camps truly are, and will be spending the year finding new ways to support them just as they have supported G and M.

And that’s why Mike kicked off our fundraising year in style with his Polar swim. He chose to swim in 9° water for 20 minutes – 1 minute for every year that Over The Wall is celebrating this year – and we set a tentative target of £200. Thanks to the generosity of friends and family, Mike not only more than managed his New Year’s Day dip, but also raised a fantastic £223!

If you’re able to give even a small amount, I know that Over The Wall will make very good use of it and you will be helping enrich the lives of young people living with health challenges, just like G and M. You can donate via their special 20 years donation page here.

Welcome to 2019

It feels a little strange to be putting fingers to the keyboard and sharing news with you all once again. Since the last time I wrote, we’ve celebrated Christmas, seen in the New Year, made some big decisions about future plans and the children have headed back to school. Mike kicked off the New Year in style – something I’ll share more about in my next post – as part of our family commitment for 2019.

To be honest I was glad to see the back of 2018, which had challenged us all from almost the beginning of the year, thanks to a nasty bout of Aussie ‘flu and…well…everything else that then followed on from that. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad and there were also lots of highlights from our year to celebrate too. Unfortunately and almost unbelievably, 2018 finished in much the same way it started with the sad news that one of my Godmothers passed away just before Christmas and 2019 obviously didn’t get the memo that it needed to improve on our experiences and kicked off with further news of ill-health for both friends and family.

However, I’ve learned some important lessons in 2018 and will be taking them forward into our New Year. I have some wonderful freefrom finds to share amongst other news and I’ve no doubt there will be discoveries and adventures to write about as 2019 unfurls.

Here’s to a year of discovery and wonder for us all.

Finishing the summer in style

With Christmas now just 6 weeks away – eek, where has this year gone?! – it’s hard to believe that I still haven’t finished telling the tales of our busy summer. You’d have thought our fairly last-minute plans to fly out to Canada for 2 weeks would have been more than enough to keep us all occupied, but we had even more adventures squeezed in to the final 10 days of the summer holidays before school started back.

We had the return journey from hell with a disrupted flight thanks to a group of rowdy French exchange students, who got into arguments and near fist fights with both the airline crew and other passengers, just rows away from the seats we were sitting in. I have never been so upset on a flight and am just grateful that the children were more entertained by the films they chose to watch, than scared by the events going on around them. This behaviour continued in the Dublin airport terminal and didn’t help the stress of a delayed flight back, which meant we missed our onward flight home by mere minutes. Mike and I were tired, grumpy and so fed up by all we experienced, that we complained long and hard, which fortunately secured us a later flight home, though it was 12 hours later than originally planned, and a hotel room for the day, which gave us the chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep, something that had been impossible on the plane.

We were both back at work the following day, whilst G and M went to my Mum’s for the last 2 days of the week. We rushed through the washing and then found ourselves packing once again for a weekend in Liverpool to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition that we had missed when we visited back in April and what was, perhaps, the highlight of M’s summer holiday – a week at Over The Wall. Our weekend in Liverpool was a great success, especially as we managed a return trip to both of the fabulous freefrom restaurants we had discovered on our previous visit, something both children were desperate to do. The morning spent at the World Museum was well worth it and we all enjoyed seeing the amazing Terracotta Warriors that were on display. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 17 years since Mike and I first saw them in Xi’an, China and fantastic to introduce G and M to this incredible ancient tribute to China’s first emperor. They also insisted we explored every other part of the museum we could and given the rather miserable weather, it was a great way to entertain them whilst away from home.

From Liverpool, we headed back South, dropping M off at the Midlands OTW Health Challenges camp for what we had no doubt would be an amazing week for him again. I cannot begin to describe the incredible benefits that M gets from OTW and why this charity deserves all the support and praise we can possibly give it. Once again the camp chefs outdid our expectations and created meals for M that went beyond our wildest dreams – and yet again apparently put my attempts to shame. This year, however, I can take great solace in the fact that M shared with the chef that I put my recipes on this blog and he not only took a look at them, but also used them to help cook treats for M whilst he was at camp. Just as with his stay at the South HC camp 2 years ago, M was exhausted after a week of unbelievable fun and challenge and just about managed to survive the very final bit of our seemingly endless summer adventures.

OTW’s Midlands camp is based just minutes away from the National Memorial Arboretum near Lichfield, Staffordshire and it seemed a shame to be so close and not stop there for a relatively quick visit. The NMA is somewhere I’ve long considered visiting and we chose a beautiful day to make the trip. Both children were about studying the World Wars at school and with 2018 marking the centenary of the Armistice, it seemed fitting to spend some time walking the grounds and exploring the many memorials that are found here. It was a remarkable and moving place to visit and I’m glad we made the effort to, despite M’s reluctance and overwhelming tiredness from a week away from home.

Quick summer catch-up

So the last 6 weeks or so have been filled with these moments and memories. Lots of posts to follow to catch up on all that we’ve been up to.

#NEAW2018: D is for Donate

May 21: D is for Donate

There’s nothing I hate more than spotting a charity canvasser on the street and I’ll happily confess that I instantly become one of those individuals who speed up and drop my eyes down to avoid drawing too much attention to myself if I can help it. It’s not that I’m not prepared to donate to charity – oh how ironic this post would be if I was – but I am definitely not a fan of being pressured to sign up to an ongoing commitment to any one charity whilst out and about doing other things. Part of my problem is that I hate to say no to people and always end up feeling very disingenuous as well as guilty when I come up with a reason why I don’t want to set up a regular donation on the spot.

A cash donation can help, of course it can, but these days I don’t really know what charity to suggest when it comes specifically to making a financial contribution to support those diagnosed with EGID. There are no charities in the UK currently working on research into gastro conditions and few investing time and energy into supporting families living with the consequences of this challenging diagnosis. As long as gastrointestinal disease remains the “poor” cousin to so many other life-impacting conditions, there is little chance of much progress when it comes to finding ways to improve the day-to-day life of those living with it.

However, donation is about much more than just the money. Your time, your care and your support can make an incredible difference to a family living with chronic illness and the impact should never be underestimated. When someone takes 5 minutes to ask how M is doing, and, even more importantly, asking how G and the rest of the family are too, that effort is priceless. At the moment, we seem to be a state of status quo with M’s health which is fantastic, but there is also a sense of overwhelming ennui when it comes to our ongoing relationship with our local hospital and M’s gastro consultant. Taking the time to talk to me about life apart from M’s EGID makes a big difference and should never be seen as inconsequential. We teach M constantly that there is so much more to life than his illness and it’s important that we hold on to that truth and don’t get bogged down in the mundane.

There are, of course, a million and one charities who need financial support and it’s a challenge to choose the cause that’s not only closest to our hearts, but needs that money the most. This year we’re not actively fundraising as part of NEAW, mostly because I only changed jobs a month ago and haven’t found the time to be more organised, but thanks to M’s bold cheek, we have a small fundraiser planned for the end of June. Last year, he asked the founder of their Saturday dance school if this year’s end of year concert could be a fundraiser for the amazing Over The Wall charity and he and G are now working hard on their presentation to introduce the evening. M is thrilled to be attending an OTW Health Challenges camp again this summer and we continue to be extremely grateful for the care, support and opportunities they have given both children. Both OTW and my new role with our local air ambulance have shown me so clearly that whilst the money is important and enables both charities to continue doing their fantastic work, volunteering with them has equal value. At work our volunteers are an integral part of our workforce and the truth is, quite simply, that their daily contribution to the running of the charity cannot and should not ever be underestimated.

Easter holidays

There’s only one thing that beats going on holiday for me and that’s planning for the next one…or two…or several. After our hugely successful Greek jaunt last summer, our attentions had naturally turned to our travels for 2018 and beyond: or perhaps, more honest, my attention was drawn to the “beyond”, whilst Mike and the kids were happy to just think about the next 12 months! With G heading into the start of 2 years studying for her GCSEs, which will kick off our family’s long haul navigation through the wonderful world of exams for both children, our holiday choices will need to accommodate school deadlines and revision demands as well as giving them, and us, the chance to kick back and relax away from it all.

We have long been considering a much overdue trip back to Canada to visit our family and friends, and have decided that 2018 is the year to do it. We are still ironing out the finer details for the trip – including which time of year is going to work best for us to go allowing for term dates, weather and flight availability – but with that big holiday tentatively pencilled into our calendars, our attention turned to fitting on some other smaller adventures throughout the rest of the year. Our starting point was a holiday in Scotland, somewhere neither child had been to before as well as a place we knew we’d be able to cater for M with relative ease and minimum stress. Having heard that G didn’t have a place on this year’s South Siblings OTW camp, we decided on 10 days during the Easter holiday and set to planning with relish once Christmas was out of the way.

Unfortunately, the bout of Aussie ‘flu that hit Mike and M in January combined with the tough couple of months that followed, meant that March rolled around with, much to my discomfort, nothing booked and only a very basic sketch of our proposed route through the North of England and Scotland. We decided to involve G and M in as much as the planning as they wanted and had been informed that the key places to visit on our approximately 1,800 miles car trip included Liverpool, Glasgow, Inverness, Edinburgh and Scarborough (don’t ask!). Armed with our calendar, a list of activities in each location, a reliable internet connection to facilitate mileage, travel time and hotel bookings in each of our destinations and a glass or two of wine, Mike and I sat down one night and booked what rapidly became known as our “Premier Inn” tour of Scotland.

As ever with our family, our plans to set off early to our first stop of Liverpool didn’t quite go according to plan, when Mike managed to enthusiastically floss a filling out of one of M’s baby teeth the weekend before our start date. It was only once the emergency appointment at our dentist was complete that we finally found ourselves on our way. Despite the late start, the Wednesday afternoon traffic wasn’t too bad, albeit the week before the Easter weekend, and we arrived in Liverpool by dinner time, ready to immerse ourselves in all things Beatles before carrying on in a more Northerly direction.

#FFFA18: The Shortlist

It’s really only been a couple of weeks since I was a third-time judge at this year’s FFFA and the exciting news is that the shortlist for the Awards has already been published. I absolutely love scanning through the shortlist, even for those categories where I’ve been involved in the judging, because I find it so encouraging to discover a plethora of products, many of which I’ve never heard of before, which will make such a difference to those living with a variety of food allergies. As well as those I’ve already identified as particular highlights for me on the day, I was excited to see La Crèmerie’s rice yoghurt detailed on the Milk Product Alternatives list. I actually discovered this rice yoghurt during my visit to the Foodmatters Live conference back in November and whilst I have yet to try this with M, I know it’s something that could be a real game-changer for him and I’d love to see this do well in the overall Awards.

What has been even better for me this year than list after list of amazing foods, is the final named category: the FreeFrom Hero Award. Back in December I was asked if there was anyone I would like to nominate for this special category and it’s been really encouraging to us as a family to see our 2 nominees appear on the final shortlist. You can only imagine my delight this week as I received copies of the emails that have been sent to tell our very own heroes of their success. When you look at the list I’ve no doubt that you’ll immediately be able to identify one of the nominations I made, that of Steve Whitaker and Jason Conners, the cooks at Over The Wall. Ultimately I don’t know whether either of our suggestions will be the winners of the category, but I wanted to share my reasons for nominating this fantastic pair for special recognition at FFFA18:

Your reason for nominating them: M’s rare gastro condition, complex food allergies, restricted diet and associated problems has meant that he has never been able to stay away from home except with his Grandma. At nearly 12, he has never stayed away on a school camp or even had a sleepover with friends. In 2016, he was offered a place on the South Health Challenges Camp run by charity, Over The Wall, which meant he would be able to stay away from home for a week, fully looked after by an amazing group of volunteers who cheerfully give their time to support these children, who suffer with life-changing illnesses.

In preparation for the week, I spoke to OTW several times to discuss M’s dietary needs and at least 2 months before camp, I was sent a sample menu of the food that the chefs were planning to cook for him based on his extremely limited diet (just 5 foods plus 1 oil and sugar), which was truly amazing and that M loved the sound of. We touched base the week before camp to just check whether there were any changes and when we arrived at camp, the staff took time to meet with me to discuss all of his needs.

M ate like a king the entire week he was away and reluctantly told me that “Sorry Mummy, but their food was even better than yours!”. He was kept safe, had no allergic reactions because of their incredible awareness of the care that needed to be taken, was able to make friends with others facing similar health challenges, tried out so many experiences he’d never been able to have before and just felt like a child as his health problems firmly took a back seat to the more important job of him just having fun. As Mum, I felt confident that they knew what they needed to do to support him and have subsequently seen just how amazing their care can be when they called whilst G was away on sibling camp because they were concerned that she wasn’t eating the GF/DF food they were preparing for her.

We are hoping that he will be able to go to OTW camp again this year, but are just so grateful that he even had that opportunity to experience it once. These chefs (and all staff to be honest!) really deserve recognition for making M’s first experience of being away from home such a positive one.

The results will be announced on Twitter, on the evening of April 17th (@FFFoodAwards) and I’m hoping that we might once again be able to be there to recognise the hard work and incredible dedication of all those shortlisted finalists as well as celebrating the success stories of the worthy winners.

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