When I was 18, in January of 2007, I found a lump in my left breast. It was about the size of a garden pea sat near to the surface of my skin. It was hard to touch and impossible to ignore. I remember the moment I found it as clearly as if it just happened yesterday. And I remember every moment after that too.

Ten years ago last week I had it removed. This is the story of me and my boobs…

When you find a lump in your boobs you might be tempted to consult Dr Google. I did. It told me that at 18 years old I probably had a cyst. It was probably hormonal. It was probably nothing to be worried about but I should go and see my GP anyway. Here’s something else I learned- when you phone up your GP and explain to the receptionist why you would like an appointment to see the Doctor, that you’ve found a lump in your breast, you don’t have to wait for an appointment. You can pretty much walk straight in.

It was a male GP, of course. I don’t know who was more nervous to be honest. I remember him summoning a female nurse into the room after explaining to me that he would need to take a feel. It was all so hushed, so gentle and so calm. He got the short straw that day having me as a patient, poor man. I remember clocking him giving the nurse a nod, and then telling me he was just going to make a quick phone call. He would need to make a written referral, he told me, to a place called The Mermaid Centre, but that he was to call them and check appointment availability and would then fax the referral through. The nurse stayed with me, asking where I was from, how long had I been in Falmouth for, what was I studying, whether I needed a glass of water. I even remember answering all of her questions, that I was in my first year but was just in the process of swapping courses, that I’d come as far away from home as possible, that my Mum – who I wanted more than anything else right at that moment – was almost 400 miles away at work. Just the normal conversations you have with hero’s of medical staff, right? Well, it was that same week I found myself at the hospital. At this Mermaid Centre the GP had mentioned. As soon I walked in it hit me- the waiting room was full of middle aged women, all looking apprehensive, all staring at the garish pink posters covering the walls telling us to check our boobs regularly. Duh. Why else would we have all been there?

I don’t remember much of this visit. I remember, having had everyone reassure me that the lump was probably just a cyst (which are very common and seemingly harmless), the medic performing the needle biopsy suggested that the lump was not a cyst. The cells didn’t scrape away from it in the way she had expected, or something. There was lots of waiting around for test results, lots of cups of tea and sympathetic looks being exchanged among the roomful of women. I remember calling my Mum, who was at work, and telling her that all I knew so far was that it wasn’t a cyst and that the Doctor’s have been asking about the medical history – breast cancer related – of my family. A topic I was absolutely clueless about as it had never crossed my mind that I might need to know. I remember Mum’s desperately optimistic “no one had breast cancer, it’s okay” at the other end of the line, when really neither of us were feeling very optimistic at all. The results were as expected- not a cyst. And as hoped for- not cancer. But I was to return in a month for repeat tests to check what the lump was doing.

When I went back a month later there were no changes. The lump hadn’t grown, it hadn’t turned into anything else, and I didn’t have any more of them. All good news, but it still needed to come out.

The operation appointment came through quickly as well, it was to happen the following month, during the Easter break. Thankfully my parents, both being in the teaching profession, were also on their Easter break and were able to come with me. I had a plastic surgeon performing the operation, the surgeon of choice for women in the region requiring mastectomies or an invasive lumpectomy, so I was in good hands. He wouldn’t butcher my boobs, which as a young woman was a pretty major concern, and the scarring would be minimal. To achieve this would mean him needing to cut along the edge of the areola, accessing the breast via the semi-removed nipple and then removing the lump via this route. The nipple would be reattached and, once healed, no one would be able to notice a thing unless they looked really, really closely. Topless sunbathing holidays in the South of France with the girls were back on the list.

When I was wheeled back to the ward after the operation I remember my Mum stroking my head and telling me I looked very grey and did I feel ok. I felt awful, but I felt relieved. My Doctor came to check on me too, adding that the lump was a lot deeper then they’d originally thought and it took longer to remove, as a result I’d lost a bit of blood and would probably feel wiped out for a while. I needed to take it easy he said. I also needed to wear a special bra to support my (very tender) breast, and avoid any lifting until I was healed. Of course I had an easy get out, because for me that would be the end of it. I would heal, I would go for a check up, and then I’d get to go and live my life like any other woman who’d just turned nineteen. What I hadn’t accounted for was the little crater where the lump used to sit. Or that on cold days the scar tissue would cause a throbbing pain, a pain that no one could see and no one but me could feel. Or, that five years later I would discover breastfeeding wouldn’t be quite so straightforward.

For a small pair of tits, they’ve managed to cause me quite a lot of trouble.

But I was lucky. So, so lucky. I checked my boobs, I saw a GP straight away, got the specialist referral and got it sorted. And that’s why I’m sharing my story. It’s one thing to be aware that it’s important to check your boobs for abnormalities, it’s quite another to actually get over your embarrassment about getting your tits out in the least appealing situation I can think of. The machines are cold and hard and the prodding and poking is intrusive. I know. But isn’t knowing so much better than not?

Check your boobs – thoroughly and regularly – and get yourself to a Doctor asap if there’s anything not quite right. PLEASE.

 

Places and people that you may find useful:

I have a breast lump

UK based charity – Coppafeel

Singapore based charity – Singapore Cancer Society Breast Cancer Campaign

(please note there are several charities and help pages online, these are just a few examples and I do not in anyway endorse the above over any others available)

 

Top image by Bett Norris

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Gardens By The Bay Singapore Tourist Attraction Review

I don’t know if it was because I had overly high hopes for this place, or because it was quite hot, or because it was Sunday and therefore teeming with other families and tourists, but for us Gardens By The Bay was a bit of a disappointment. Yes, the kiddie area is pretty good- in fact if it wasn’t for the adventure course, tree house play area and water play we would probably swear to never return here. It’s just not (in our opinion) as good as other places to go in Singapore.

Having said that, it is probably well worth a visit even if just the once. It’s a tourist must-do for good reasons- the Supertree Grove is iconic and as a (mostly) free attraction you’ve not much to lose by going. As a family we’be been completely spoiled already having moved here from South Devon in the UK, where a Sunday was spent wandering around The Eden Project. So to be honest, the domes at Gardens by the Bay were nothing special apart from the seasonal displays they have on (sorry Singapore!!!). But the Supertree’s are obviously something completely different and are definitely worthy of a cheesy photo or two (especially at night when they’re all lit up), however it’s worth mentioning that the OCBC Skyway (the walkway where the most iconic snaps have been taken) is ticketed but at $8 per adult it’s not exactly pricey (but you do basically just wander on a bridge high up, taking clichéd “Singapore” photo’s and that’s about it). Hence the tourists.

The kids area, or the Far East Organization Children’s Garden to use it’s correct title, is great though. Given that this is Singapore there’s a water play area (although not the best free water play if you ask us), a tree house themed play area (which Finn and Clara really did enjoy, see pics below for more), and (depending on the time of year you visit) special exhibitions with hands on activities. It’s fun to waste away a few hours or so, but if you really want a decent free water play head to the Palawan Pirate Ship on Sentosa (formerly the Port of Lost Wonder) – granted, it’s pricier to get there and back though – and if you’re after nature head to the Botanic Gardens (the newly opened Learning Forest looks a-mazing). But, if you’re in the vicinity of Marina Bay Sands and need to kill a few hours or so, then this is an easy win.

Sorry- not the most positive of reviews I’ve ever done, it’s not THAT bad. We were just not wow-ed by it, and I was expecting to be. We were also slightly disappointed by the food options on offer, the golden arches by the taxi drop off made my heart sink as it swarmed with tourists, setting the tone for the rest of the afternoon (in stark contrast, I can highly recommend the Bee’s Knees in the Botanic Gardens as a mid-wander stop off). I suppose ultimately I prefer a much more laid back vibe which is the polar opposite of our Gardens By The Bay experience- it had an almost theme park like frantic feel, right down to the wildly overpriced stalls and activities in the Supertree Grove. If you can hack that pace, the noise and the crowds then you’ll probably enjoy this place as it wants to be interesting, it’s just too clichéd as a Singapore destination to get it quite right.

 

 

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I know, I know. Every parent says this like they’re THE ONLY parent to ever feel this way. But honestly, kids, you need to just slow down a second. Whilst they’ve been busy absorbing the sunshine and growing like my most prized pair of weeds (I do have a collection of actual weeds to show too), I’ve been playing catch up. Or at least, trying to.

I think I’m being outrun though.

When the kiddies were little – even more little than they are now – the milestones seemed so much bigger and so longed for. The first time they could sit up unaided, the moment they finally figured out crawling and then walking, and of course their first words. All those moments that get shared on social media and invite a slew of “awwww baby’s growing up too fast” comments from friends, family, and someone you met in the bogs on a night out once who somehow is still on your friends list. The baby and toddler milestones are huge, there’s no denying that, but once those boxes have all been ticked what’s left?

My kids are still growing just as quickly, but who cares about the milestone of Finn peeing without creating a fountain other than me? And what about Clara finally accepting that she doesn’t need the pink plate to eat her dinner? As their parent these are pretty major milestones, albeit everyday ones and not so Facebook worthy. The learning curve of life with kids rather than babies is far more subtle. In fact, without reminding myself to make a mental note of the firsts these days they often go completely unnoticed, uncelebrated and overlooked. And then suddenly I look at my kids and I see less and less of the baby in them and more and more of the child they are becoming. It’s in those moments that I find myself slightly bereft for the fleeting changes that I’ve missed and lost forever. When exactly was it that Clara started saying human instead of fuman? And when did Finn stop obsessing over Paw Patrol? All these insignificant things for them are actually pretty significant for me (and not just because I’m glad to see the back of Mayor Goodway and her stupid f-ing chicken Chickaletta). They’re reminders that each day, no matter how seemingly uneventful or inconsequential it is, my kids have probably learned something new. They may not have learned something I was hoping for to be fair, but that’s a lesson in itself- more for me though.

My plea’s for Finn and Clara to stop growing up so quickly will go completely ignored of course. They have absolutely no intention whatsoever of staying as my babies, they’re carefully watching the older children they socialise with, picking up new words and mannerisms. Whilst I’m learning to parent the children they are today, they’re busy becoming the children they will be tomorrow. I can’t quite catch up with them, and I won’t for a long time. I suppose this must be how my own Mum feels when she says she can’t believe she’s got four children in their twenties, one in his thirties and two grandchildren. Just as she was catching up with us all the dynamic shifted again and she became known as Oma as well as Mum. That’s how quickly time flies when it’s measured in parenting and not in hours, days, months and years. I seem to count time by when was it that the kids last ate/had a shower/been to the toilet (very short term), when did they last have their feet measured/go for a medical appointment/see their Grandparents (medium term) and when will they go to University/leave the nest/be socially acceptable, successful young adults (very long term/ultimate goal). Somewhere in among those mental diary entries is the everyday parenting, where time flies, not much gets remembered, and they grow out of their clothes faster than the laundry fairy can keep up. Somewhere there are the moments that I want to notice but somehow rarely manage to until they’ve passed. And that kiddies, is why you two need to just give me a chance to catch up with you.

I just want one day for life to pause so I can absorb everything about you both. That’s all, just one day.

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There are several upsides to our home schooling adventure, but there are also downsides. The main one, and the one that causes me the most amount of guilt, is the lack of facilities available in our 1200 square foot apartment. We are limited by space, not surprisingly, and our “classroom” is the dining table. It’s a set up that works for the basics – spelling, reading, writing, maths etc – but doesn’t offer us much flexibility for hands on activities, especially science. Ultimately we just don’t have the space, or the storage, for everything that the kids would be exposed to in the best of schools. Whilst this isn’t a problem right now in terms of the subject matter they’re learning (what three year old needs a bunsen burner, really?!), it does leave me with the problem of not being able to expose them to a wide range of subjects and to ignite some sort of passion in them. All those early learning experiences I talked about in my last blog post, my kids won’t have. They don’t know what they’re missing out on of course, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing at all (in fact home schooling is the better option for us in Singapore), but those first memories can set a child up for their future. The guilt at knowing my kids are potentially missing out on that is…unbearable.

Fortunately for me, and for them, there is a solution (to the science part anyway).

Newton Show got in contact to let me know they were offering FREE shows at Port of Lost Wonder during the March holidays, and invited us all along to go and see what they do. Even though the shows were taking place alongside the pirate ship (for any non-Singapore based folks, the pirate ship is THE best water playground I’ve ever seen), the audience of kids were having to sit two to a seat it was so popular. Not only that, but they stayed for the duration of the almost 45 minute show despite being at the hottest point of the day and with a giant water playground right behind them. Oh, and the level of enthusiasm and engagement from the kids was the stuff of dreams for most school teachers.

It’s important to note that the work of Newton Show is pure scientific entertainment- they’re not lessons and don’t follow any particular curriculum. Also, important to note that the “Professors” are actors, however the experiments they conduct with the kids are all real. I can’t comment on the value of this for older kids, but for primary aged kiddies it’s the perfect introduction to science with just the right amount of learning through wide-eyed wonder.

As well as one off shows, Newton Show offers regular workshops, holiday camps and birthday party entertainment. We went along to one of the workshops aimed at kiddies aged between three and six years old and I have to say, it was BRILLIANT. Professor Neon had the little one’s captivated, and there was just the right amount of new information for them to take in mixed with a lot of (seriously) hands on led scientific discovery. I came home with a bag of fake snow and two children who spent the entire journey chatting about polymers. As every three and five year old does, right?!

In fact, we are so impressed by what Newton Show offer kids in terms of getting them LOVING science, we’re looking at which of the week long summer camps to send Finn to (but with a “Mad Science” camp, a “Spy” science camp, a “Detective” science camp and a “Space” science camp to choose from, we’re a bit spoiled for choice!). Clara has to wait until next year as the holiday camps are for age five plus, just going to stop any comments about getting girls into science, fairness, equality etc etc  before they start (and given that her Mum is the one with the science background, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem anyway).

For more information on what Newton Show have to offer check out their website and Facebook page

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Recently I’ve had a few people asking me about home schooling. Not in a judge-y way, I don’t think anyway, but more in a curious way. Or just a “are you a mad woman” way. Maybe both, actually. And it’s been a surprisingly tricky topic to write about, given that I am neither particularly for or against it. I’m not a stereotypical home school kind of Mum, at least I don’t think I am. At the same time, I’m not totally against the idea. I’ve just never had any inclination to find out more about the home schooling movement. Not when I was working full time in the UK and could afford an excellent early years education for my two rat bags anyway.

Singapore has changed all that though, hasn’t it?

I mean we could afford some sort of pre-school/kindergarten arrangement, for a few hours a day anyway, but we’d still be looking at paying the guts of $10k a term. For mornings only. And aside from the social side for the kids (and the peace for a few hours for me) it’s a hella lotta money for the basics. So after much thought (not very much at all) we came to the decision that we (I) would home school the kiddo’s for a year or so. It’s one of those decisions that I constantly go between feeling incredibly happy with, and very guilty about. I’m not a qualified teacher for a start, I have never shown any signs of wanting to become a teacher, and yet here I am completely thrown into a situation whereby I am now a home schooling teacher/mother hybrid. There’s been a steep learning curve as a result of this, and it’s not the children’s knowledge expanding. Oh no. It’s most definitely me.

Probably one of the most interesting things to come out of this, for me at any rate, are the memories of my own early years education being dragged out. We’ve dug out the Enid Blyton classics that Mrs Evans read to my class in Upper Infants- The Magic Wishing Chair, The Faraway Tree, The Enchanted Wood, Mr Pink Whistle…you know the one’s. And if you don’t know them, you should! A chapter or two a day is perfect wind down time (if you can get past reading aloud stories with children called Dick and Fanny without having a good snigger that is). And yesterday, as I sat with Finn, a maths worksheet and a pile of counters I had a flashback to being about six and counting out sums myself. As Finn struggled remembering to check the sign to know whether to add, subtract or multiply I felt such a strong sense of understanding. His frustration with himself was mine, but twenty something years later. We got through the worksheet together, his sense of achievement was a shared one. Would he get that level of attention in a traditional school environment? Obviously I don’t know for sure, but I somehow doubt it. And, just as Mrs Maciver gave a fruit pastille from her special drawer when we did exceptionally well (this was in Lower Infants), Finn had a fruit chewy sweet. There are some memories that are so deeply ingrained in us, and so cherished in later years, that it’s a joy to bring them back to life.

And then there’s teaching the kids to read as well as listen and enjoy a story. Phonics are the bane of my life right now. How Mrs Hurley (Kindergarten teacher) had the patience to sit and listen to years and years of stuttering kids spelling out c-a-t over and over again before looking up at her and hopefully announcing DOG, I just don’t know (I actually did this to my Mum, as she likes to remind me). Whether my children will reach adulthood fully able to read and with a mother still just on the right side of sane is yet to be determined, but at the moment it could go either way. Not to sound dramatic or anything. And I haven’t even got started on the pain that is writing, especially with my little left hander and her weird way of using a pencil! Even just watching her mark over dots blows my mind. I’m a righty, in case you hadn’t guessed. I would never ever force her to use her right hand, of course not, but at the same time I can understand why kids were put through that ordeal. Being left handed creates another level of complexity for which I am completely inexperienced and ill prepared. But you know, as with the rest of it, I’ll google the crap out of learning for left handed children and give her more one on one teaching time and more carefully adapted teaching styles than she would (probably) get in a class of thirty other kids at a regular school.

Home schooling is not my idea of fun, I’ll be totally honest. It’s been something of a slog getting to a point where I feel like we have even half an idea what we’re doing with it. But for what it offers us in terms of personalised learning (subject matter and pace), and the flexibility of no set school day (or uniforms to fret about), it simply cannot be beaten. I have no doubt there is an awful lot of stuff my kids don’t know about which they would if they were at school, but they do know a lot of other things. And most of all, they know how to be kids still. They play, and explore, and spend days in the sunshine and fresh air using their imaginations. They’re not limited by classrooms, or time tables, or keeping their uniforms neat. They’re wild and free and learning about the world in their own ways, soaking up information like sponges and taking everything in. And at their young ages that’s exactly how it should be. They have a lifetime of being defined by structure and routine ahead of them if they want it. Taking them out of the formal schooling system and completely redefining our approach to educating has been liberating, and for the most part, SO fun.

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