Tag Archives: siblings

Strictly Marvellous!

What better way to kick off the May half-term after an almost unreasonably short term 5 than heading to Cardiff with your dance-mad daughter to finally enjoy her long awaited Christmas present?

What had been planned as a perfect mother-daughter Saturday outing to the Strictly The Professionals tour was somewhat derailed by the cancellation of our “Meet and Greet” session due to the irrefutable demands of 35 nation-wide performances of 50 dance routines in each 2-hour show, but leaving the Arena with an absolutely buzzing G proved that the day itself didn’t disappoint too much in the end. Of course, her perfect view of the intricate and often fast-paced dance routines as well as of her all-time favourite, Gorka Marquez, from our upgraded front row seats might have had something to do with her enjoyment!

The performance itself was truly inspiring, especially to my young and aspiring dancer. Carefully mixed with clips from previous Strictly shows and commentary given by each of the professional dancers appearing on stage, it was a wonderfully crafted show and both G and I loved seeing some of our old favourite routines as well as the incredible new ones. It was also a lovely tribute and send-off to Pasha Kovalev, who will not be returning to the 2019 TV show and G was quickly on her feet to join the standing ovation given to recognise him and his years on the show.

Add in lunch at her restaurant of choice – Pizza Express; a brief shopping trip and a dairy-free hot chocolate before we headed back to the station and it really was the perfect day out for us both.

 

Apologies for the less than perfect photos – but they were the best we could get from our seats and considering the lighting used!

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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.

#NationalSiblingsDay

I don’t have one, whilst Mike’s the youngest of three. At the end of the day, though they might fight like cat and dog at times, the one thing I can confidently depend on being true is that, no matter what else happens, G and M always have each other’s back. They can criticise the other to their heart’s content, but woe betide anyone who thinks to express their opinion of one sibling in the other’s hearing. Even when one is trouble at home, the other can often be found defending what happened (she only did it because of something I said), offering cuddles to calm down or rushing off to find Cat (for M) or the replacement blanket (for G). Today is #NationalSiblingsDay, so I thought it only fitting to recognise the infallible bond between my 2.

World Prematurity Day 2017

Another year passed and another chance to mark World Prematurity Day. It’s hard to believe that my preemies have gone from this…

to this….

Determined to win their fight every single day!

NEAW 2017 – No man is an island

Sometimes, when you’re stuck in the midst of the relentless demands and emotional turmoil of a chronic illness, it’s difficult to see beyond your immediate reality and nearly impossible to believe that anyone else can even begin to understand how you’re feeling at that moment in time. It is no surprise that the one with the diagnosis often becomes self-centred and self-absorbed as their illness dictates every facet of their life and it can take a long time to really grasp that there are others out there who can empathise because of their own struggles and experiences. It’s all too easy for the focus of family, friends and the outside world to be focused fully on the individual and often the others affected by the diagnosis are left to struggle on their own by the wayside.

Over the years we have worked hard to try to give G the attention she deserves and it’s heartbreaking to realise that there are more times than I care to admit where we have absolutely failed to get that balance right. M’s ill-timed admissions over G’s birthday for 2 years in row were a bitter pill to swallow for us all and nothing could really make up for the disappointment of spending her 12th birthday too many miles apart. Encouraging G’s involvement with our local Young Carers group and the GOSH YPF as well as applying for her to be a part of the Over The Wall siblings camps have all been important steps in recognising the impact that M’s health challenges have had on her over the last 13 years and supporting her to find her own identity that is completely independent from him. It is an ongoing process for us and Mike and I will continue to strive everyday to support G as much as she needs, especially as the emotional roller-coaster of her teen years starts.

Just as our family is affected by M’s EGID diagnosis, so too is the community that surrounds him. I have mentioned so many times the amazing village school that both G and M have attended and everyday am grateful for their unfaltering support. Since M arrived at their gates nearly 4 years ago, they have willingly taken on the responsibility of dealing with a child with complex additional needs, not just medical but educational too. They have allowed both children, and us, to promote NEAW and their continued support with our fundraising efforts has been fantastic. I regularly read about the problems other parents with EGID children are facing in their schools around the UK and I know that we’re incredibly lucky to found this little gem. M has been able to attend school with a feeding tube, a broken leg and an extremely restricted diet and his attendance is remarkable for a child who has been through so much in so short a time. His Year 6 teacher has been fantastic at encouraging him this year when the prospect of SATS has caused him unbelievable anxiety and she has put up with a plethora of emails as I’ve tried to iron out the biggest wrinkles in a stress-filled few months. His classmates have similarly been an irrefutable source of encouragement and his move up to secondary school in September will be eased by their presence in his life.

We do not live in splendid isolation and every action we take has a ripple effect that can stretch out further than we can ever imagine, especially as a child. We are extremely lucky to have a community that works with us to help both children have the childhood that they are entitled to enjoy, one that is all too often marred by the difficult reality of chronic illness. As G and M grow older, my hope is that the realisation slowly dawns that whilst everyone’s life is unique, there are moments that teach us all lessons that can help us reach out to and empathise with others. Going to Over The Wall camps has shown both children that, despite those times when they feel isolated, there are others in the bigger world that do understand what they’re feeling, what they’re living and who can perhaps help them learn to survive even the darkest of emotions; and that when they have survived their own dark place, they can reach out to others who need to be brought back into the sun.

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 – 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.

 

Young Carers Awareness Day 2017

Today is Young Carers Awareness Day, a national day for the recognition of the estimated 700,000 Young Carers in the UK. I’ve written before about Young Carers and how G was finally recognised as one last year. She now regularly attends our local carers support group and has developed friendships with a couple of other girls who are in her year at her secondary school. Young Carers can care in a number of ways, the most obvious being giving physical help to family members, but, as we discovered with G, the emotional and psychological support given is just as important to recognise and can take just as big a toll on the young person. Organisations such as the Carers Trust, Barnados and Over The Wall all work to ensure that these young people are given the same opportunities as their friends and have time to be a child. This support is vital to ensure that G, her friends and others like them have as happy, healthy and balanced a childhood as they can.

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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.

And the money kept rolling in…

Every year when National Eosinophil Awareness Week rolls around, we start thinking about how we’re going to raise more awareness about EGID, particularly in the public eye. During that first year, our focus was all about our awareness as a family and understanding more about how his diagnosis with this rare condition was impacting on M’s everyday life. As time has passed, we’ve looked for different ways to spread the word, reaching out into the wider community and have found that our efforts have naturally evolved to encompass an element of fundraising as well. Whilst the focus of NEAW is rightly about otwmaking sure more people know about this condition and what it means to be living with it, and donations of time are as valuable, if not more so than those of money, we know that any money we can raise will make a difference to the charities we choose to support.

This year we wanted to show our appreciation for the amazing work done by Over The Wall in running camps for children with serious health challenges, their siblings and their families. The truly fantastic week away that G enjoyed at Easter made an incredible difference to her, perhaps even more than we realised at the time. During a recent conversation with G and M about the Allergy UK Hero awards, we got to discussing the reasons why we might nominate each other for an award. To my surprise G stated that my efforts at finding out about and then sorting out her week away at camp was the best example of how I had made a significant difference to her life as an allergy-sufferer and sibling to a chronically ill child. That comment, for me, sums up just how significant the opportunity to have time away from the stresses and strains of life at home with M and to just be a child really was to her.

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During May, I started to document how our fundraising efforts were going and the different opportunities I had found to raise even more for our chosen charity. We had fantastic support from M’s school, who helped him raise an incredible £81 for OTW and through stalls at local community events and generous friends and family members, we raised another £172. Even better, we still have two fundraising plans in the pipeline, both of which came as something of a surprise to me, albeit a wonderful one. The first came when we were part-way through NEAW16, when I received an unexpected phone-call from the Head of Year 7 at G’s secondary school. Thanks to the continued support from our local press and a well-timed article in the local paper, she had a proposition that overwhelmed me and almost rendered me speechless. Year 7 had an enrichment week coming up after May half-term and, as a lead-in to their week of activities, the year group would be having a non-uniform day on the previous Friday. Her suggestion was that the school would use the day to help us raise awareness of EGID and that the money collected on the day itself would be donated to OTW. indexThe reasoning behind this plan was simple and easy to understand: G and M. They wanted to show support to G as one of their own and, knowing how much she had benefitted from her week away and recognising her commitment to supporting M during NEAW, believed that this was the perfect opportunity to do it.

I was more than happy to agree to this proposal and G was soon on board too. She was asked to write a small piece about EGID, NEAW and OTW that would be shared during tutor time on the Friday morning and each tutor was asked to show their group the short film G and M had created for the week. A well-researched, well-written and fully comprehensive letter was sent out by the school to all families explaining EGID and the charity that the money given on the day would be going to.

This week a cheque was presented to G during the weekly Year 7 assembly for an amazing £280, or thereabouts. The Year 7 Head told me that there were several donations made that exceeded the suggested £1 because the funds are going to a charity that have already helped G and M – something I can’t thank my fellow parents for enough. This money will make a difference to Over The Wall and it’s great to feel that we’re giving a little back. It means that so far we’ve raised an astonishing £530, or thereabouts, which covers half the cost for a child to attend the OTW sibling camp. I don’t know what our final fundraising total for this year will be as there is still one event left to go in August, but I’m glad that we have been able to make such a success of our efforts so far.otw