My Masectomy Experience By Kelly Grehan

Kelly Grehan is the Co- Founder of The Avenger UK. Today marks the 3 month anniversary of her double masectomy. To mark how far she has come we are publishing a blog she wrote soon after the operation.

By Kelly Grehan 

I’m going to digress from my usual blogging about natural living today and report about my recent stay in hospital for a bilateral mastectomy and diep reconstruction.

My story begins two and a half years ago when, following my mum’s diagnoses with what would be terminal ovarian cancer I found that she was a carrier for a defective brca 1 gene.

The brca gene is usually a tumour suppressor but when defective gives women an around 80% chance of breast cancer and 50% chance of ovarian cancer.

My family history meant I could have the test on the ‘NHS. I decided to do this: for me it was no big decision, I am a believer in knowledge so I went along to Guys Hospital for genetic counselling and testing. Two weeks later I received a personalised letter confirming I was indeed in possession of a defective brca 1 gene.

Never having really been ill, and obviously feeling fine I found it a strange experience to suddenly be thrust into a medicalised system of yearly MRI scans and blood tests.

I attended a brca awareness day at Guys and listened to the various options available to me and then went home and continued with my life.

In that time I lost my mum, started studying counselling and generally developed a ‘live life to the full’ attitude. I don’t recall ever making a decision to have a mastectomy: it was just something I kind of drifted towards.
I did waiver from this at points, but, for me, I felt it was best for my family. 

Every time I would hear of anyone suffering or dying of breast cancer I felt a responsibility to take the opportunity I had, not given to many, to take control of my health and save my children from the ordeal of a sick mum. The question then was when. 

I went for June as it gave me the summer to recover, in between courses.
I’m not a very vain person, but I will be honest and say that , ironically, the part of me I’ve probably been most proud of has been my boobs. I’ve always liked the shape and size (34D). 
Before the operation I had photos taken by my friend Kirsty (http://www.photographybykirsty.co.uk/) which I’ll put up when they are ready. I rationalised that they had had their use: I’d breast fed and my youthful wonder-bra days seemed over.
All the friends and family I spoke to, including my husband were eager I put my health first.

What makes the decision easier is that the team at Guys and St Thomas’ really do treat you as an individual and so you can make your decision in your own way and reassure you that if you are unhappy with the finished result they will make changes until you are.


What does take more getting used to is standing around wearing just knickers while the doctors examine and advise on options in accordance with your physique. Still, I suppose it is good practice for what comes later!

I decided on a diep flap reconstruction. This basically means the surgeon takes skin, fat, and muscle (a flap) from another part of your body , in my case the stomach, and made it into a breast shape. 

The flap needs a good blood supply or the tissue will die so the surgeon cut the blood vessels and reconnected them to blood vessels in the chest wall. My original nipples were kept.
I went into St Thomas hospital at 7am on 27th June 2017. I had an 8 hour operation led by two teams: first the breast team and then the plastics team.
I woke up in the recovery room where a doctor was checking my new breasts. I was instantly relieved to see that they looked normal – lovely and round! On the side of each are two scars with thinner skin, and every hour here-on-in someone would check the vein was working with a doppler.  

I also won’t deny that I had a quick smile upon seeing my newly flat stomach.

The night was then spent with my lovely nurse checking my blood pressure and the breasts every hour. I was in no pain at all, although I could have done without the (compulsory) heated blanket. 

I also must comment on my lovely hospital room, over looking Big Ben and The London Eye.
The next day was another story. I was given the task of getting from the bed to the chair, along with my four drains. A task which proved beyond me, on the first attempt as I became nauseous and proceeded to be sick. Every movement also caused horrific pain along my stomach wound, which is more or less the length of my stomach. The good news is that by the next day I was able to walk to the bathroom for a shower, albeit bent over.
I’m home now, it’s 7 days post-op. I need to swear a sports bra all day and night and in the shower. I cannot bath or wear deodorant and I’ve yet to walk further than the street alone. The last drain came out yesterday. I’m just about walking upright.

Apart from this I feel great. I honestly say I’ve had not one moment of regret yet. The gauze tape remains on my scars. The stomach scar does not bother me. It will be covered by clothing and ironically I think, moving forward, I’ll be confident in a bikini as my stomach is so much flatter than before and the scar will be hidden! I love the shape of my boobs, and do not feel as though they are not mine. 

In a few months later I can have day surgery to tidy up the scars and can have further tissue put in if I want a bigger size. I’m undecided because I reckon they are a C at present so will see how I feel when the swelling goes down.

There is not a single time in the process – from the test to when I left hospital that I have experienced anything less than great treatment from the NHS.
 

I am aware in the US I would have been at the mercy of my insurance company and that my decision may have been influenced by my policy options.

The operation would cost somewhere in the region of $200,000 there. I feel so grateful to have had this choice and to now be able to live without the shadow of breast cancer over me.

In the future I will decide about having a hysterectomy to eliminate my ovarian cancer risk too, but I will worry about that in about a decade (I’m 37).
I also want to say how lovely it was to be able to donate my discarded tissue and skin to further research and to take part in medical trials. It helped my give back to something to the NHS and medical research communities.
So that’s it. I’ll put up some pictures (clothed!!) in a few weeks. I just wanted to tell my story and thank everyone involved. Now to continue to live!

Kelly also has her own personal blog which you can read here for more of her masectomy diary:

https://adventuresinnaturallivingblog.wordpress.com/

13 and Autistic: How Sensory Overload Feels For Me and Some Helpful Tips By Nathan Hillman

By Nathan Hillman

What is it like having autism? 

Well, what is autism? 

Autism is a spectrum condition that can make people hear and see the world differently to others without autism. 

Everyone has struggles in their daily life and autistic people especially struggle. I have autism and so do my two cousins (who will remain anonymous).

I can definitely say it does have its’ downsides. But not everything is bad about autism.

How do I feel in busy places with autism? 

Autism can affect people’s sensory processing and not everyone with autism are the same. 

Here is how it feels for me. “It feels like my head is going to explode” “My heart starts racing” and “My ear drums feel like they will pop.” My ears are very sensitive so I cannot stand it when my mum puts the hoover on. Autistic people can seem like they are being disrespectful but they are not, They can have meltdowns sometimes because of sensory overload.
Autism is just another word for ‘little sh** syndrome’… I have heard people say this but IT IS NOT! I hate it when people say that!! 

People with autism can have meltdowns but they cannot help it. I’m sorry but it is just the way they are, there is no cure but there are coping strategies that I would like to share:

Focus on your big toe. Sounds strange doesn’t it? Nope, when you focus and move you right toe, you are concentrating so hard on your toe that you cannot focus on your anxiety anymore.
Count to 10 and breathe. This is a common one, this does help a lot.

Exercise more often. It has been proven that exercise can release happy chemicals in your body, so do some yoga or go for a run!

Meditating. This is the second easiest one (as counting to 10 is the easiest) get a meditation CD or look up meditation music on youtube and just lay or sit up straight, and breathe…. easy right?

Eat a healthy and balanced diet. This can help with mood swings and depression as well.

I hope some of these help you!

There are certain materials I do not like and this is common with most autistic people. There are a lot of parents that get worried about their child having autism and the best advice I can give is to research autism and go see your GP for advice. 

Now onto the good things! 

Autistic people are very clever, I think that autistic people should follow their dreams and do what they want when they grow up. I want to help people, that’s why I am am writing this.

I hope I have helped some of you! 


For more information on autism please visit :

http://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/asd.aspx

Family Court Decisions Are Breaking My Child By The Masked Avenger

Author Anonymous 

Children in the UK are struggling with emotions and left voiceless whilst their parents fight it out in front of a judge in family court. 

My experience is children’s wishes and wellbeing are actually ignored in favour of the child having a relationship with both parents. 

Don’t get me wrong I am all for children having a relationship with both parents but when it distresses, upsets and harms our children where do we turn to?

Until they reach age 10 a child is practically voiceless in a family court. 

The court will and does disregard the child and discredit any emotions the child shows just because the judge feels they know best. They do not. 

In my experience the child was left needing a lot of therapy,  very withdrawn and distressed. The child spoke to me time and time again begging, crying, saying “why won’t they listen to me?”

That’s a good question. We are all human and we all are supposed to have ‘human rights ‘ yet a court is willing to destroy a child because they believe it is best for a child to have the contact which they grant everyday. They go home to their comfortable lives and what about the child? They are left crying, with questions that the parent cannot answer, they are left emotionally harmed with nightmares and being packed off to the other parent . 

The suffering that a child goes through is immense. We are in a world where we are dictated to enough without our children being forced to have contact. I have had a child crying on the floor, sobbing because they do not want to leave and all I can do is say  ” I know you don’t want to go, I know this is upsetting you but you must go”.

I fought for a few years in family court for my child to have their voice heard. Nobody heard them and I am the one who picks them up everyday when their emotions are all over the place. I am the one who comforts and tries to make the best of a bad situation.
I feel that the courts need to ‘judge’ each case individually and actually listen to the children. I’m all for a balanced view and equal relationship with both parents if the child is happy with that. 

Why are we breaking the children of the UK?

Why do we dismiss them?

Childhood is a precious time meant for building up a child not breaking them down.

Children’s mental health is so important and I’m not saying let a child have their own way but when a child tells you time and time again they do not want to have contact; we the parent are pretty powerless because the court does not listen.

We are at risk of having a lot of children with self esteem issues and anxiety because the one who holds the power is a judge who despite reports by many will disregard them in an instant. 

We need to listen to the children because they grow up and we don’t need any more damaged adults on the hands of an already stretched mental health services.


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Family Life, Support and Judgement By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

Yesterday I attended an event organised by Mums4Corbyn at The World Transformed.

It was clear that women have a lot to offer each other in terms of support. One issue that came up was that of breast feeding. The problem, in Britain at least is that the feeding of babies can often feel an issue of division rather than unification.  

The UK has the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world.
About 80% of women try breastfeeding at birth but by the end of the first week half have given up.  
Lots of new mums speak about feeling pressure to breastfeed and experiencing guilt about ‘failing.’ 
In recent decades a newer pressure has emerged, for babies to be in a sleeping and eating routine as quickly as possible and this is largely incompatible with breastfeeding and not good for milk production. Mothers are now experiencing a sense of failure if their children are not complying with this picture-perfect experience of motherhood.

To be clear if women chose not to breastfeed this is absolutely fine, what concerns me is a society that tells women to breastfeed, fails to support them to do so and then instills guilt into them for the failure.  

I’m passionate about more support and understanding for new mums, partly because of my own experience. My first child struggled to latch on, was losing weight, not sleeping. He is 10 now, but I’ve never forgotten the awful sense of failure that overtook me. It later transpired I had a tongue tie which made it hard for him to latch on. I fed half breast milk and half formula for four months, before giving up completely. Anytime I met anyone who talked of finding feeding easy or of having fed for long periods I felt jealous and the sense of disappointment hit me.  
Three years later my second one fed without any issues immediately after birth and I breastfed him for over a year. My previous guilt and anxiety about breastfeeding melted away.

What the experience of having two such polar opposite experiences of breastfeeding I have been able to observe the divisive nature many conversations about breastfeeding take, with it often causing conflict, defensiveness and separation between mothers. 

Then of course other issues start to take on the form of division and competition between mothers – weaning, childcare, controlled crying, discipline, clothing, diets, going back to work – discussions around all these things often feel like they end in judgement rather than support.

Is there something about our approach as a society that is unsupportive towards parenting and parents in general?

Well research confirms that if women receive support – whether it be from a friend or family member, a health professional, or volunteer breastfeeding supporter – they are likely to breastfeed for longer. 

Yet, Peer Support and Drop in sessions for breastfeeding services are being cut all over the country. 

In Kent where I live, the County Council was proposing to absorb the support into the health visiting service make a saving of £404,000 a year.

This week the consultation was suddenly halted until September so we await news of what will happen next. Sadly, I think we all know health visitors are too overstretched to offer the help needed.

It is a similar picture with other parenting issues. Up to 20% of women experiencing mental health problems in pregnancy or the first 12 months after birth. A Mental Health Alliance study in 2014 report found significant gaps in the detection of mental health problems in the period before and after birth, only an estimated 40% are diagnosed, with just 3% of women experiencing a full recovery. 

Costs of perinatal mental illness in the UK are estimated at £8.1bn per year, or almost £10,000 per birth. Yet fewer than 15% of areas provide effective specialist perinatal services for women with severe or complex conditions, and almost half provide no service at all.
Sure Start appeared to be making some progress with a culture change, but more than 350 Sure Start children’s centres have closed in England since 2010, with only eight new centres opening over that period. Spending on the centres in the 2015-16 financial year was 47% less in real terms than in 2010.

Childcare remains a deeply expensive and stressful thing for many parents, as work and money compete with family pressures compete, causing terrible stress and anxiety for parents. 

There is nothing I can find to indicate any progress has been made in aiding parents with this.  

It seems that family life, feels very unsupported in this country.
Judgement and pressure reign and support is hard to access and what is available is diminishing.

I think this culture is damaging family life and impacting upon the happiness of parents, children and everyone else. 

 The lack of support undoubtedly impacts on emotional well being across the board. We need better services, but we also need to look at our attitudes towards each other and to create more supportive dialogues and attitudes. 
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The return of the far right in Germany by Helen Hill

By Helen Hill

Today, Sunday 24th September, a general election takes place in Germany.

Whilst we have seen the right wing rise in America and come close to parliamentary success in many European counties in recent elections (notably France) the country that I would have thought we were least likely to ever see this happen is Germany. 

84 years ago in 1933 – Germany elected a far right wing Nationalist party, this led to some of the worst atrocities in modern history and ultimately World War 2.

Ever since then, the Germans have kept the far right out of their Parliament and no far right wing party has ever held a single seat since. I doubt that fact would surprise anyone given the scale of what went on there and less than a century later with some of the people who endured it still around to remind us of the danger that the far right wing can present, it is almost a given! 

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that the polls suggest that for the first time since World War 2 a far right wing party are looking likely to win seats in the German parliament today.

The party in question are called the AfD or “Alternative for Germany” and when I say they are anti immigration, I mean it. 
Their election campaign has centred around anti Muslim rhetoric and the campaign posters are well…. not dissimilar to the hate spilling and divisive ones produced by the Nazi party 84 years ago. 

“New Germans? We Will Make Our Own”

“Tourists Welcome, we will deport bogus asylum seekers and Islamists!”

“Burqa’s? We prefer Bikinis!”

They later pulled a poster from their campaign that read “Islam does not fit with our cuisine!” displaying a picture of a piglet, but not for reasons you might think. 

They did not pull it because they realised it was racist, they pulled it because they realised it was not having the desired effect because people felt sorry for the pig! 

They were worried it would put children off from voting for them in the future because the children would view them as the party who are cruel to pigs! (Yes, not a race of human beings – pigs!)

More worrying still, this party do not look set to win just a couple of seats from misguided protest votes that would give them little influence, they are looking as though they will win many and could actually become the official opposition. 

So, what has changed? Why are German people now looking to a far right wing party to represent them after shutting them out for so long? 

Well, it would appear it is down to Merkel and her parties policy on refugees. There appears to be huge division in opinion among citizens on this particular policy. Some German people are proud of it and see it as something to celebrate, others see it as irresponsible, a drain on resources and a danger to homeland security. None of the other mainstream parties seem to be offering anything much different in terms of their stance on immigration and as a result, people are turning to the far right. 
Merkel looks set to stay in power for an impressive fourth term, not by a majority win but rather a coalition government and who that will be formed with remains to be seen, but I think given the vast difference in stance on immigration alone it will not be the that AfD she chooses to share power with. 

Whether the pundits are correct and the AfD will do as well as is being suggested will become clear this evening when the ballots close and if they do I think this raises some questions for the left wing all over Europe – if the right can even rise in Germany after what they did there, is anywhere safe? 



Helen Hill is also the Editor at:

https://www.facebook.com/thesocialiteuk/

UK Politics Has Changed Forever By Lisa Mulholland 

By Lisa Mulholland 

As I stood in the crowd waiting for Jeremy Corbyn to adddress us at the ‘Eve of Conference rally’ I felt like I was at a festival.

I had just finished listening to some inspiring talks at The World Transformed event about Childcare, Housing and Feminism. 

The atmosphere was a mix of excitement and anticipation, happiness and unity.
You could almost forget that it was September . You could almost forget that you were waiting for a politician to speak. 

You could almost forget the 7 years of drudgery that the tories have caused us with the mainstream media spinning their cycle of misery and lies.

It reminded me of my younger days, waiting for a gig to start. When you look next to the stranger standing next to you and you smile. You feel at home because you know the person standing next to you gets it.

But this time it wasn’t music taste. This time it was something much much more important. They have the same values as you at a time when values don’t actually have much ‘value’.

When Jeremy Corbyn and the other speakers came to the stage, people were cheering and clapping and singing “Ohhhh Jeremy Corbyn ” and everyone was smiling and dancing; it felt surreal 

This was not a concert and there was no band.

It seemed so far removed from the politics I used to know. The politics I studied in the dusty University library. Watching men and women arguing  and jeering at each other in a stuffy old room. Talking in jargon that no one wanted to listen to. Boring.

But this. This was something else. 
The atmosphere was electric. Everyone was cheering and clapping when Jeremy and the other speakers mentioned words like ‘equality’ , human rights’ and ‘peace’

The perfect antidote to the news displaying Donald Trump and Kim Jong Uns’ pissing contest. Or Theresa May’s pathetic speeches. Or the right wing media blaming immigrants for global warming or something just as ridiculous.

I looked around me . There were teenagers, young adults, elderly, middle aged . All races.

This is not a young people’s populist leader, Jeremy Corbyn is more than that. This is a man that’s words resonate with all of us. Here in the flesh. without the mainstream media spin. I was listening to the full story in real time . One that hadn’t been edited or cut here and there by the media desperate to keep this man from power.


We all enjoyed every minute. And we all could envisage a future beyond neoliberal capitalist greed that thrives on inequality.

Those old enough to remember the times before Thatcher when her ideology was not the only way. They got it.

For my generation who was born under a Thatcher government who have only ever known this way in politics. We got it.

And for the younger generation born in the digital age, young adults, teenagers and young children. They got it too.

He speaks for all of us because now is a time for change and I came away inspired, believing that any of us can achieve if we believe in ourselves and here is a potential government that will create the social conditions for us to do so.

More importantly I saw that it doesn’t really matter when he gets into power because this man is igniting a fire within us all:

The little boy on his dad’s shoulders will remember this day. 

The teenager next to me. She will see a new future with hope and a different vision and maybe true equality.

The old couple dancing to the music, hugging each other, perhaps they are reminded of a golden age that they can see re emerging.

We were all there because we believe In change, and in a fair and just society.

Whatever happens, whenever it happens Jeremy Corbyns legacy has already been set in motion for generations to come. And he hasn’t even reached Number 10…yet.

For the first time in a very very long time I have hope for the world that my children will grow up in.


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Grenfell : Neglect, Shock and the Idea Some Lives Are Worth More Than Others By Grehan

By Kelly Grehan 

It is now 100 days since the Grenfell fire.

In the days following the tragedy the emotion that overwhelmed me was anger that this had happened, and that although maybe the fire was not preventable, the loss of life was compounded by decisions taken in the name of austerity, deregulation, outsourcing and a general disregard for the economically poorer members of the community.  
As London Mayor Sadiq Khan said at the time “There is a feeling from the community that they’ve been treated badly because some of them are poor, some of them may come from deprived backgrounds, some of them may be asylum-seekers and refugees.”
As is now well known Grenfell Action Group warned the council and the estate management company of multiple fire hazards within the building including failing alarms, a lack of sprinklers and of faulty electrical wiring causing frequent power surges and small fires. They warned that the wholly cosmetic refurbishment of the building was a serious fire risk. 

Rather than heed these warnings the council responded with legal action against the group. 

For several decades now a denouncement of regulation has taken place. Phrases like ‘health and safety gone mad’ and ‘red tape’ are common. Free market think-tanks, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies and property developers lobby government against regulation.
In recent years it has become apparent that poorer people are no longer welcome in the Capital.

For example the demolition of social housing estates, such as the Heygate estate in Southwark, has made way for luxury flats with many bought by super-rich investors. Plots are often sold abroad in Asia or the Middle East prior to domestic sales.

The £83.7 million of cuts in Kensington since 2010 have disproportionately impacted servicers relied upon by poorer people. 

This includes closure of nurseries, of homelessness prevention schemes, of local A&E departments and in a move that says it all to me, there is an attempt to sell a public Library to a nearby fee-paying Prep School.

I can only conclude that the safety, health and quality of life of those in rented accommodation is seen as a secondary concern to profit. 

Last year, an amendment to the Housing Act tabled by Labour to introduce a legal requirement for landlords to ensure their homes are fit and safe for human habitation was voted down by Tory MPs including 71 who were themselves private landlords.



So the catastrophe that has occurred in Kensington causing, death, destruction, injury, trauma and displacement should not be dismissed as an accident. 

It is the culmination of policy and neglect aimed at those whose lives are regarded as less valuable. 

This is seen as unbelievable by those unfamiliar with being on the receiving end of policies designed to ‘punish’ those who are not high earners or wealth accumulators. But the circumstances and outcome of Grenfall are repeated throughout the world in places where neoliberalism rules. 

One such example is Hurricane Katrina which occurred, causing mass flooding in New Orleans in August 2005. It is easy to see it as a natural disaster, but that is to ignore the neglect in maintenance of the flood defences which should have protected the city from what was actually a tropical storm by the time it reached New Orleans. Despite previous repeated warnings the Army Corp of Engineers allowed the defences to fall into disrepair. 

This happened in the context of a neglect of infrastructure throughout America as neoliberal policies gained control. But is also relevant that the homes left the most vulnerable by the failure to fix the levees were those occupied by economically poor black people.  

After the storm it took five days to get water and food to people sheltering in the Superdome. In common with Grenfell people did what they could to help each other but, again in common with Grenfell the state failed. 

Divisions formed along class and racial lines. Healthy people of means were able to leave the city – others – vulnerable by nature of being unable to leave – stayed. 

As people began looting to survive, news outlets used the opportunity to paint the black residents as dangerous. A war zone atmosphere emerged as vigilantes and private security guards ‘’controlled’’ the streets. Survivors of Grenfell now speak of being let down by the council, living in transit in crowded hotel rooms, some without hot water.  

My concern in Kensington now is what happens next: Milton Friedman once said ‘Only a crisis-actual or perceived- produces real change.’ 

In New Orleans , with residents dispersed across the country and schools and homes in ruins; Friedman described this as an ‘opportunity’. Public housing, including that which was undamaged was demolished and replaced with housing far out of the price reach of those who had previously lived there. 

Mike Pence (now Us Vice president) chaired a meeting 14 days post disaster to look at ‘Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina.’ New Orleans quickly became the place with the most privately run schools.  



There must be real concern that Grenfell residents and those living in surrounding blocks are able to remain in the area in suitable accommodation. 

Any suggestion that people should be grateful for what they are offered should not be tolerated. 

Counselling and therapy services need to be offered as standard to anyone in the area impacted by what has occurred. Let us not forget many witnessed horrendous scenes and have lost friends.  
History, though leads to concerns that enquiries and cover ups can go on for decades. There is something about this situation which feels like Hillsborough to me, a feeling that the fight for justice here will not be easy and that nothing will change without a real fight.  

Indeed lessons could have been learnt after the Lakanal Tower block Fire in Southwark in 2009 which killed 6. 

Recommendations followed in 2013 but were never implemented, including one to fit sprinkler systems in all tower blocks. 

Lessons about outsourcing, which leads to responsibility and ultimately blame being diluted must be examined. But more than anything I hope we see a change in this attitude that some lives are worth more than others and that profit is worth endangering life for.

Everyone needs to stand up for this for us to have any hope of change.
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