Monday, 24 April 2017

Heads Together

There has been much in the press this week about the campaign 'Heads Together' spearheaded by the royals, Prince William, his wife Kate and Prince Harry. The Princes have spoken out about the mental anguish of bereavement and Kate on the feelings and anxieties faced when becoming a brand new mum, using their own personal experiences. 

There are many facets of mental health, thousands of different scenarios and concepts and many that we can relate to through our own experiences and feelings. There's been both praise and criticism about the royals speaking out, but without any doubt it's brought mental health into the spotlight and that can only be a good thing.

For me, as a patient who has been through the diagnosis of a terminal illness and survived it by eventually undergoing a life threatening heart and double lung transplant, mental and emotional well being is of paramount importance. It has been key to keeping myself physically strong and in optimum health over many years now and during the highs and lows of this transplant journey, which brings with it a whole new set of health challenges. 

When you're first facing a difficult diagnosis and ongoing health problems, it can be extremely daunting and no-one can really tell you how to cope mentally and emotionally, as we're all different in how we cope anyway, and when there are life threatening issues at stake, then the focus by the medical staff is on keeping you alive and tackling the physical issues. Often your mind and your emotions are left playing 'catch up' later after all the physical stuff has been dealt with. Patients are often left to cope on their own with the mental and emotional side of things and it can have quite an impact on their progress to be left unsupported. 

I count myself as being extremely lucky, as from the very outset of my illness, I had very solid emotional support from my close family and friends. Soon after diagnosis of Pulmonary Hypertension, I came across the PHAUK charity, which helped me find whole network of support and develop friendships with other PH sufferers. Those friendships meant I wasn't alone any more in what I was dealing with and going through. I also had support from my hospital and started going to the Papworth PH Matters Support Group, where again I made more friends and found a place where we could all help each other. 

Then 'Transplant' stepped into my life and I already had friends from the PH community who were going through similar journeys, so I wasn't ever on my own. Between us, we supported each other and found some very supportive transplant groups, which in turn extended our network of support and developed even more meaningful friendships. I also found solace in things I've always enjoyed like reading, writing, travelling, wildlife, gardening, nature, photography, exploring the outdoors and volunteering. 

One of the main reasons I started my blog and wrote my first book 'Life Is For The Living' was to help both order and express my emotions about those thoughts and feelings that beseige you when you face life changing events that you have little control over. I hoped it may help others who face similiar traumas in their life and show them that they aren't alone in what they go tnrough. I think it's so important to share our experiences so we can help each other. 

Last year we brought Ted, our cocker spaniel puppy home. Ted was a very deliberate ploy to bring some routine and stability after all the upheaval of illness and transplant. He was something for me to look after, love and nurture after everyone had been looking after me; something brand new in my life that had nothing to do with the past life I'd been forced to put behind me, my previous illness or my transplant. Ted suddenly became an integral part of my emotional and mental wellbeing, especially as when he actually arrived home I was back in hospital struggling with my first serious post transplant crisis. My latest book is all about my first year with Ted after arriving back home from hospital. It's a story of learning to grow and love together - a story for dog and animal lovers, but also a story for those interested in the importance of emotional and mental wellbeing when facing physical and debiliating health difficulties.  

Unfortunately, I haven't quite finished the first draft as I'd planned due to more recent health setbacks, but I'm well on my way and it won't be too long before that important first step is reached and then the serious business of editing and redrafting will begin. My writing spurs me on and I shall keep you posted how things are going. Watch this space! 

All in all it's been a great week for raising awareness of the importance of sharing experiences for emotional and mental health. 

Feedback from Amazon readers on 'Life Is For The Living'

'So moving, honest and inspirational. The reader lives the challenging journey of Kathryn's deterioration, diagnosis and dream coming true with the transplant. The impact on Kathryn personally, her career and her amazing family are frankly shared , as well as her husband Rob' s often humourous and ironic reflections about the situations they heroically face together. Kathryn's wonderful style and amazing tale engage the reader's heart and mind be prepared not to put this book down!'

'An emotional read, I could not put it down. Like other readers, I laughed, I cried and felt all emotions in between. Most importantly I am determined to always look forward and live life to the full.'

                                                                  Purchase Book - All Proceeds To Charity

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Small Steps

It's been a little while since my last blog and that's just because I've had a blip with my health again. I literally just picked up a cold to start with, but having very little immune system due to my transplant, unfortunately I wasn't able to fight it off. My transplanted lungs were already left quite fragile from the acute rejection episodes I'd experienced before Christmas, so infection took a hold in my lungs and I ended up being blue lighted to my local hospital.

Our NHS is constantly being criticised, but I have nothing but praise for the care I was given - I had the NHS at its best. I had an emergency home visit from the GP within less than an hour of phoning and was immediately ambulanced to the Lister Hospital in Stevenage. The GP, paramedics and the staff at the Lister couldn't do too much and it helped make me feel safe and secure. I was in quite a state physically, and mentally a bit more than worried about what was going on with my lungs. I already had a bronchoscopy and biopsy with my transplant team booked for the following week because my lung function had been dropping again and had never recovered back to where it had been since the rejections.

By late afternoon I'd been transferred to Papworth and was diagnosed with a severe chest infection and started on IV antibiotic treatment. Further investigations showed I'd picked up a strain of influenza too, so I was moved into isolation and given extra treatment for that. I think it's demonstrated to me just how serious infection can be with transplanted lungs and being immunosuppressed or if you are vulnerable due to other health issues or your age. I've always known it and have gone out of my way to try and avoid infection, but there is nothing like actually experiencing it to bring it home what a life threatening experience just catching a simple infection can become. 

A few weeks in hospital and now home again, it's taking small steps and time to recover. I hadn't been able to do much for myself because of my poor breathing and lack of strength and Rob automatically went into 'carer' mode yet again. It's been difficult to measure progress on a daily basis as it's slow, but over a week we can see signs of improvement that are encouraging. I've actually managed to start eating more, which will help build me up a bit I hope. My Sats have improved, although my breathing is still a struggle. I think this is very encouraging and hopefully I will feel the difference soon. It seems to take me forever but I've been able to wash, dress and bathe independently in the last few days, which again, feels like a huge step forward. 

My consultant did say this will take a few months to recover from, so it really is small steps, but I've done this before, probably many times now over this last seven years, so I am confident that if I keep on pushing myself, I will keep on progressing forwards. Hopefully things will be onwards and upwards from here. 

I'm looking forward to a quiet and relaxing Easter weekend with my family and just want to say a massive thanks for all the messages of support, love and good wishes you have sent us. It really does make a difference when things feel like they're a struggle. Wishing you all a very happy and peaceful Easter weekend. Enjoy.