Volunteering….. The Unpaid Workforce

As many of you know I gained my Nursing Degree a few weeks before Rory was born! Single parenting,  followed by a Breast Cancer diagnosis, followed by an unsuccessful return to nursing last year, means that I am currently in the ‘unemployed’ category.

I volunteer as a patient leader at my local cancer hospital, but just recently I have been thinking about the amount of unpaid labour I have been involved with. I have sat in board meetings with highly paid medical professionals and software developers. I have been asked to attend to give a much needed different and realistic patient perspective at these meetings. Every person around the table is paid, except for me.

No one else around the table has had cancer, but yet they are paid to make the decisions regarding the care given to people with cancer. I give examples of poor care. I assist in developing future care pathways. I stress the importance of knowing individuals and incorporating shared decision making from the very beginning of a cancer diagnosis. I have spoken about my unsatisfactory cancer experience at various conferences and health care events. And up until recently, I have been involved with the development of a new artificial intelligence tool which I strongly believe will transform the lives of cancer patients by empowering them with information at the touch of a button.

My involvement is incredibly emotionally draining, but I was passionate about the cause and ultimately the end results: Better Patient Care.

Do organisations take advantage of volunteers? Yes I think they do.

With financial cuts in most industries, people are having to take on the work load that would have previously been shared between two or three other employees. I see volunteers being asked to take on roles to free the workload from the paid employees. When did this become acceptable? When did this become ethical?

I carried on giving my time because I truly thought I could make a difference and influence much needed change. I thought I was a valued member of a team that would be pivotal in transforming cancer care services, especially for single parents and the younger person going through cancer. But I was wrong.

It really worries me that in today’s employment society, people are being replaced by robots. How on earth are people supposed to get back into work. Paid labour is being replaced by volunteers. Fantastic volunteers. Volunteers who devote their time, energy and emotional wellbeing for the good of others. But with so much unemployment in our country, which is only going to get worse, should we be paying our volunteers?

How different might it be, that instead of introducing myself as a patient leader, I called myself an “unemployed single mum doing everything for free whilst everyone else gets paid”?

I understand that there are thousands of retired volunteers who make such a difference to today’s society, but there are also so many volunteers that undertake tasks that they should be paid for.

I don’t know what the answer is. But what I do know is that after all of the blood, sweat and tears I have invested in my volunteering role, I asked for one small thing that was important to me. Something that would include me as a valued member of the volunteering team. Something that would not have affected anyone else but it would have made a huge difference to me. Not only was it denied, it was denied with bullshit and lies! I do not tolerate that.

I have seen how a hospital makes its decisions. I have witnessed behind the scenes day to day operations. The only people who know what it is actually like to have cancer are the patients themselves. There is not one patient, former patient, or patient advocate on any of the boards. I have been questioned as to why I was even present at a meeting! The wrong decisions are being made continually.

I am a strong, independent, nurse trained, unemployed, single parent, former cancer patient with a wealth of knowledge and expertise. One way or another, I will find a way to make positive changes for people and their families living through cancer. In a paid capacity. Because the people who are paid to do it at the moment, are failing and it is just not good enough.






Me, My Body and I

Its the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. The Mental Health Foundation are focusing their attention and raising awareness around Body Image, with the hashtag #BeBodyKind, so naturally, I felt compelled to write!

I was shocked to read this morning that “1 out of 8 adults have experienced suicidal thoughts or emotions because of concerns about their body image”.

Now without sounding too weird, before I had a bath this morning, I stood in front of my full-length mirror fully naked and asked myself what I saw. I saw my obese frame. My cellulite thighs. My wobbly tummy. My protruding tummy. My even wobblier bum! My flat chest. My surgical scars. My bruised legs. Flabby arms. Hairy legs. Sad looking feet with fragile toenails. A body that looks alien to me. Is that body really mine? I felt sad looking at my own body. My own body that has endured so much over the years and miraculously, still works!

So I asked myself another question. “What would my friends say about my body”? (Again, perhaps this sounds a bit weird. Not many, if any of my friends have seen me completely naked!).

I doubt anyone would call me obese. If anything, I’m pretty sure my friends would say its not too bad a body for a 43 year old! Most people have cellulite. My tummy expanded to be able to grow an amazing human being. It was stretched and stretched so that my healthy baby could grow to the weight he needed to be before entering the world. My tummy is a reflection of my biggest achievement in life. The greatest gift I have ever been given. I am thankful for my wobbly tummy!

Most of everything else I see on my body is a result of my treatment for Breast Cancer. My surgical scars where my breasts were removed. The permanent radiotherapy tattoos. The exit wounds of multiple surgical drain sites. The flabby arms where muscle has been removed due to invasive cancer cells. The remains of battered veins, destroyed by toxic chemotherapy drugs. My body is quick to acquire bruises due to the medication I take to keep cancer at bay. My hairy legs and bedraggled hair remind me of how far I have come from my cancer days. There was a time I didn’t have a single hair on my body. For some body parts that was ok! But for others it was actually painful, the loss of eyelashes and nasal hair in particular. And don’t get me started on the horrific sight of toenails coming off.

So I look at my body, my tired and achy body, knowing that it has been through some very heavy shit in its time! Yes, I would very much like to be 3 stone lighter, toned and radiating youthfulness. But realistically, that is not going to happen!

My son does not care what I look like. I am his protector. His advocate. His guide through life. My appearance is never going to affect that. My son accepts me for who I am, not what I look like. I don’t hide my body from him. But I have only just stopped hiding my body from other people. I used to pretend my body was something it wasn’t. And now I want to celebrate it. To give it the credit it deserves for getting me out of bed every morning and enjoying life with my little boy.

To have a positive relationship with your own body is very difficult. I want my son to grow up knowing everyone is different. Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes. I want to remove the words ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ from his vocabulary. He is noticing changes in his own body and has started to compare himself to others. His father has a very physical job and this shows in his physique. My son is wanting to be ‘strong’ like his Dad and often asks me if I can see his six pack. He is just 7 years old. I just want him to be happy in his own skin. I want to be happy in my own skin.

In two weeks, my boy and I will be relaxing by the pool in sunnier climates. He won’t have a care in the world apart from how many ice lollies he can eat before lunch time! This no breasted, overweight mummy, will be taking a leaf out of his book. My bikini and I will be singing from the rooftops “THIS IS ME”!

Be Kind to yourselves.

Be Body Kind.



Go on, say it: “Cancer is SHIT”

If any of you watch the TV series Cold Feet, you will know where i’m coming from. Jenny tells her best friend Karen that she has Breast Cancer. Karen doesn’t know what to say. Jenny says NOT to tell her that everything is going to be ok. Of course it’s not going to be ok. She has cancer. Jenny tells Karen to tell her that having Cancer is going to be shit.

With tears streaming down my face, it took me back to the time I had to tell my loved ones I had cancer. But more recently when my lovely Dad told me he had cancer. My Dad and I shared many things in common, but the one thing I wished we didn’t, was our cancer diagnosis.

My telephone conversation with my parents was very matter of fact with no emotion. It went similar to this: “I’ve been for a breast check and they’ve found pre-cancerous cells. It’s ok though as I only need a single mastectomy followed by reconstruction and everything will be ok and back to normal as quickly as possible”.

From the very beginning of my cancer diagnosis, the giving of information to my loved ones was going to be done in a very protective manner. To protect them from emotional distress. To try to protect them from the inconvenience my cancer diagnosis was going to create. But ultimately, to try to protect them from how very scared I was.

“It’s only a breast”. “It’s only a mastectomy”. “I’m OK. “I’m fine”. “I’m lucky”. These are MY words I said about MY diagnosis to other people. Having the need to underrate this life changing event. Once again to protect the people I love the most. Would I say these words to someone else who had the same diagnosis as me? Absolutely not. I would never say “Its only a breast” to someone who was about to have theirs surgically removed. Why did I think it was ok for me to say these things about myself?

Why did I not think that it was OK to shout out that it was unfair and cruel and shit to have cancer? Especially when I found out my cancer had spread and I needed the full works: Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy, more surgery, targeted therapy and hormonal therapy. That was well and truly shit to be fair.

“Stay positive”. “Be strong”. “You’ve got this”. “You are a warrior”. “It chose you because you can get through it”. “You are a survivor”. “You are so brave”. “Your hair will grow back”. “You got cancer for a reason”. “You are a fighter“. These are words people tell you. Words people think are helpful at the time.

I used to have many messages from distant friends, that got back in touch when they heard I had cancer. They offered lovely words of support very similar and including those I have just mentioned. I appreciated the messages so much and am grateful for people taking the time for doing so. Those messages of support got me through some of my darkest times.

But did I feel like a fighter? No.

Did I feel strong? No.

Did I feel brave? Hell no.

My body was falling apart and I had no control over it. I didn’t fight. The chemotherapy drugs attacked my cancer cells and every other living cell in my body. I didn’t fight to stay alive, the drugs did what they were supposed to do to hopefully keep me alive.

For 12 days following my chemotherapy, I took to my bed unable to function. I had no strength physically or emotionally. I was not strong.

I definitely did not feel brave. I felt scared. I felt a failure. A failure who had let everyone down.

Every message that I received asking how I was, I would always reply “I’m ok thank you. Thank you so much for asking”. But if my cancer was to come back, I would like my friends to write their future messages of support similar to the following:

Please tick the following that applies to you today:

(a) I’m feeling shit

(b) I’m feeling really shit

(c) I’m feeling shittier that I’ve ever felt in my life.

(d) So fucking shit, can you check in on my family to see if they are ok.

That is the reality. Cancer is shit and we pretend it’s not.

My Dad phoned me to tell me he had this ‘thing’ called ‘Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia’ and had just started oral chemotherapy. ‘I’m fine, I’m good at the moment‘ were his words that he always said to me right up until he died. But he knew that I knew differently. He knew that I felt his secret emotional pain and guilt. We both knew that it was fucking shit. Words were not necessary between us. However, a few words occasionally came out when we used to have Dad/Daughter time putting the world to right over a few San Miguel’s in the kitchen!

Did I think my Dad fought a battle? Every waking moment. My Dad fought tooth and nail to stay with us for longer.

Did I think my Dad was strong? Stronger than anyone I have ever known.

Did I think my Dad was brave? Without a shadow of a doubt. My Dad was so incredibly brave.

So I guess my point is this. Its Ok to not know what to say when someone tells you they have cancer. Its OK to use any words that you can find. And if you can’t find any words, that is ok too. Words can be forgotten and forgiven. What matters is that you are there. Showing your support when someone is going through the most difficult time of their lives. They need you. Having cancer is shit. But please remember, we have a sense of humour too. A much-needed sense of humour and a very dark sense of humour! It really is ok to say having cancer is shit!




Grief: The Beginning

No one talks to you about grief. No one prepares you for grieving.

It’s been 6 weeks since my Dad died. 6 weeks since I held my Dad’s hand and cuddled him with my Mum, as the greatest man in our life took his last breath. These are my thoughts only. This is my experience so far of losing my Dad.

  • The pain is unbelievable. I cannot pinpoint the pain, but it is there every waking moment.
  • Tears flow down my cheeks constantly.
  • I wake up every morning, if I have managed to sleep that is, and hope it has all been a nightmare and my Dad is still here with us.
  • Every day, I want to phone my Dad.
  • I find it very difficult to be around people who knew my dad and knew how much I loved him. Know how much I still love him. Know that I will always love him.
  • Writing about my Dad in the past tense is so very wrong and I hate it.
  • I am becoming ever more jealous of people who believe in God.
  • I miss my family in New Zealand so much more.
  • My Mum is the strongest woman I know.
  • Some days, breathing is all I can manage to do.
  • My tolerance of people is at an all time low.
  • I lose patience quickly.
  • I’m sure stupid people cross my path just to see how I will cope and react. I wish they didn’t.
  • I am angry.
  • I am very sad.
  • There is a huge waiting list for bereavement counselling.
  • My request for support in school for Rory, should he need it, was initially met with sympathy. Followed by a “Do Nothing” approach. I hate the school.
  • I wanted more time with my Dad.
  • I would give anything for more time with my Dad.
  • I am saving for my own funeral.
  • I thought that telling my Dad I had Cancer was the worst thing I have ever had to do. It turns out, my Dad telling me he had Cancer, was by far the worst thing ever.
  • My Dad was the fittest, healthiest looking terminally ill patient. I thought he would outlive us all.
  • I relive the night he died over and over again.
  • My dad hugged me in a dream and said it was all ok.
  • I didn’t think it would, or I would be able to, but life carries on immediately.
  • I hate that life carries on immediately.
  • You do things because “Dad would have wanted you to”. It is not easy to do.
  • Any memory is a painful one.
  • I feel guilty for laughing. I feel guilty for carrying on. I don’t want to be happy. I just want my Dad.
  • I talk to my Dad.
  • I plead with him to come back.
  • My son and I always talk about Dad/Grandad. We love talking about him even if I do cry.
  • I cry a lot. My son hasn’t cried once.
  • There is more pain now than when he first died.
  • I need my Dad’s favourite things around me: Chocolate eclairs, fry’s crème bars, San Miguel, Brut aftershave, his FUGS t-shirts.
  • Looking at his photos make me sad and yet I look at them all of the time.
  • If I was to die, I wouldn’t be scared. I would be back with my Dad, having a beer and putting the world to right.
  • Life goes on.
  • Life has to go on.
  • You manage the pain.
  • You get up in the morning and carry on just the same as before.
  • You make plans.
  • You live.
  • Grief is unimaginable unless you experience it for yourself.
  • I will never stop missing my Dad.





The Stepmother ………

The thought of another woman ‘mothering’ my little boy has always filled me with dread and fear. A woman I know absolutely nothing about, a woman playing ‘happy families’ with my son and his father, taking over from me. My son not wanting to come home because he has a ‘mother and a father’ at his dad’s house. I am my son’s mother. He doesn’t need another mother.

But what does it actually mean to be a step parent? Do we automatically think of step-parents in a negative light? Cinderella and the wicked stepmother immediately comes to my mind!

According to history, the word ‘step’ was to be used when orphaned children went to live with their relatives or guardians. They would become ‘stepchildren’ due to bereavement. Only many years later did ‘stepmother’ and ‘stepfather’ begin being used due to the large increase in marital divorce and family situations becoming more diverse. With blended families becoming more and more popular in today’s society, do we need to think of a more appropriate title, a more up to date title to describe different parenting roles in different families?

Which brings me back to my original question of ‘What is a step-parent’?
Some of the most brilliant people I know in my life are step parents themselves. What is it like to be a step-parent? From what I understand, it can be very difficult indeed. So from a fear perspective, parents and step-parents probably share a lot in common.

When you have had a traumatic parental relationship like mine and my son’s father, introducing new partners was always going to be difficult. In an ideal world, both parents would be involved, working together to make sure that adding another significant person into the family equation would be done with sensitivity and care, at a child appropriate pace. So when you are your child’s primary carer and your every waking hour is spent making sure his every need is met, being kept in the dark about a new family partnership that will have a direct impact on your entire world, is hurtful. Hearing the disappointment in his words when talking about his ‘Daddy days’. Daddy days that are no longer exclusive to son and father. If only we could all work together. But it is not as simple as that though.

For two years I was led to believe that my son’s father had a female ‘lodger’. A lodger who shared his dad’s bed. A lodger who went away with my son and his dad. A lodger who was always there, always with them. This lodger/woman/stepmother person enjoys being with my son. She made him a birthday cake. They do fun things together as a family. She cares about my son. Why would I resent that? I don’t resent it now but I used to. And it seems ridiculous to say out loud that I resented a person that cared for my little boy. How lucky are my son and I to have another person in his life that cares a great deal about him?

In two years, the step mum and I have corresponded twice, briefly. Instigated both times by myself. I bought her a Christmas present from my son to say thank you for her input into my son’s life. It has taken a long time for me to heal and to be able to get to this point. The point where I am grateful to this person for enriching my son’s life. My son said yesterday that he hated her.

For a long time, I didn’t want this person in my son’s life. But to hear him say those words shocked me. Hate is such a strong word and not a word we use at home. I don’t want my son to hate anyone, least of all a kind woman who wants to be part of his life. It turns out that my son just wants to be with his dad. Understandably so. But that is no reason to hate. I’m not really sure how to progress with this. Any advice gratefully received! I can only imagine how hurtful it would be to hear these words said about you.

Have any of you seen the film ‘Stepmom’ starring Meryl Streep (the mother) and Julia Roberts (the stepmom)? This film resonates with me so much as I was diagnosed with breast cancer when my son was two years old. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of what will happen to my son if my cancer comes back and I die. I want my son to be around people who love him. I want him to get comfort from both the men and women in his life. I must try harder at letting go of the past and the trauma my son’s father and I inflicted upon each other. Rory has two loving homes. Two loving families. We are all very lucky. The day will come when I am ready to introduce a new partner to my son. Will I speak to my son’s father about it first? Will I proceed as I wished my son’s father would have done with me? I would like to say yes but I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that my son’s father will be heartbroken by another man being a ‘stepfather’ figure to his son. If I become a ‘stepmother’, will I do all of the things I hoped Rory’s stepmother would have done? Unlikely!

So to all of you step parents out there, I owe you an apology. Until I had a conversation with my wonderful Aunt recently, I never stopped to think about what step parenting a child meant. My son will only have one mother, but there is more than enough room in both of our lives for anyone else that loves my boy. To help with his upbringing. To soothe his upset. To enrich his life. To guide him on the right paths. But most of all, to be there for him when he needs it.

Everyone says you have to do what’s right for the children. I would do absolutely anything for my child. But when hurt and devastating pain is involved, judgements can become cloudy. It has taken me two years to get to this point! I have never spoken ill about Rory’s stepmother, but I have not spoken highly of her either. I am Rory’s ultimate role model. I will try harder.

GYM, not Gin!

A well known health club has given me a 2 week trial membership for £16! I have just been for my tour, paid my fee and from today I can use all of their facilities including the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, jacuzzi, sauna, gym and any fitness classes I wish to book on. I am really excited!

What would you like to get out of your trial with us Miss Murphy?” said the lovely employee showing me around. I suddenly went into dream world and pictured me chatting to a gorgeous man with protruding biceps, running effortlessly on the machine next to me. People do say the gym is a good place to meet people! However, the reality would be me pressing all of the wrong buttons on the gym equipment, pressing faster instead of slower. Trying to yell ‘help’ as my legs are about to buckle under me. Pouring with sweat and a face as red as a beetroot! Not to mention clenching my pelvic floor muscles within an inch of their life so as not to pee! This has all happened to me before by the way, but I wont let an embarrassing past history stop me from my mission of starting to get into shape!

Anyway, I’m not going to the gym to meet a man! I’m going to build my body strength. To tone my very flabby muscles. I’m not going there to consciously lose weight. I am very aware I need to shed a couple of stone but it is not my purpose in these 2 weeks. My cancer treatment has left me with a very tired body. The medication I continue to use, makes me feel like a person twice my age. Don’t get me wrong, I do physical activities. I’m a single mum to a very active young boy. We go on lots of adventures. But my body is still very tired. I need to wake it back up and this 2 week membership is hopefully going to give me the kick start I need.

I’m going to try a spin class. I’m going to do an introduction to Pilates. I’m going to do aqua aerobics. I’m going to row, cycle and dance my fluorescent leg warmers off! The empty, mirrored dance studio looked so appealing. I might even do a ‘Debbie special solo routine’ to the Flashdance soundtrack! I’m going to ache all over! But I do anyway, so bring it on!

I remember seeing a meme doing the rounds on social media that went something like “I might be slow, but I’m lapping everyone on the couch”. It used to upset me as I was that person on the couch. But I was doing what my body needed me to do and that was rest and recover. I think we get shamed into not doing what we think we should. We have to be ready and able to take those first steps and that is where I am now.

Well actually I’ve already taken the first step by joining the health club. I celebrated by eating my own weight in cheese! But hey, I’m going to work it all off in the gym tomorrow! The next step is booking onto a class for tomorrow morning. I also have to find my lycra that has been hiding away since the 1980’s!

I will keep you posted about my progress and no doubt embarrassing happenings! Wish me luck …………!


Housing Discrimination, The Reality …….

This morning I woke up telepathic!

Over the past couple of days I have been looking at hundreds of rental properties online. I have wanted to move house for years, but the reality of being able to do so is very bleak. As a single parent in receipt of housing benefit, rental agencies will not even give you the time of day. It is an incredibly humiliating experience. I have often thought about the disgrace of  what is pure and simple discrimination and how to challenge it. So you can imagine my joy when turning on the national news this morning to see the reporting of this very unfair issue.

The lead up to fleeing an unhealthy relationship with a tiny baby was a very traumatic time. I was financially dependent on the man I was living with and had no money of my own. I had no experience of the benefit system before that time and my meetings with benefit advisors were conducted in secret. Once my claim for housing benefit was approved I had to begin the holy hell of finding a safe home for me and my little baby.

Holy hell is an understatement. “Sorry, no DSS”. “No housing benefit accepted”. I spent all the hours of the day phoning rental agencies and private landlords, pleading with them to hear me out. To just give me a chance. I just needed a home for my baby and then I would be able to get back to work as a Nurse. I would be off the housing benefit in no time. But no one wanted to know. Patronising voices on the other end of the phone didn’t stop me from begging. I was desperate.

The cost of private rentals are in excess of the amount of housing benefit allocated. The only properties that the amount of housing benefit would cover were those classed as ‘Social Housing’. I was placed on the ‘Common Housing Register’ and the average waiting time for a property in my area was 6 years! 6 years!!!!!! However, I was told that a quicker option would be to present homeless, go into a hostel/refuge from anything up to a year. My baby was 10 weeks old. My life was not supposed to be like that. Everything had gone so drastically wrong. I had no idea where to go or what to do.

So I lied. I lied to the next agency that had a property available which we could move into almost immediately. I got away with it and when my son was 6 months old we moved into our new home. However, the relief was short lived. The agency must have seen me coming a mile away. A vulnerable single mother who was so desperate to have a home! Within 3 months, the wall paper had all peeled off showing the extent of the damp at the property. The ceiling fell in in the living room. Fortunately, it was in the middle of the night otherwise I dread to think of what the outcome could have been. Debris was all over Rory’s toys.

Once again we were homeless and I was in despair. I was broken.

What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. A private landlady was sympathetic of our situation and agreed for us to rent her property. I cried and cried. It was in an area I didn’t know but it was a lovely little home, just right for Rory and I. It had a drive. It had a garden. I felt like I had won the lottery! Ironically, the person I wanted to be free from ended up becoming a guarantor for the property.  One day I will be totally free though. I cannot wait for that day.

In 5 years, I have not missed one single rental payment. I look after the property as if I owned it myself. I organise all of my bills and pay everything on time. I have an excellent credit score. I work as a full time mum. I manage all of the household, a child and voluntary work. I work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My rent is guaranteed by the council and a guarantor and yet, I am still not worthy of a home for my son and I by most people.

Single parents are resilient. Single parents have unbelievable strength. Single parents manage the world and beyond! There is nothing a single parent cannot do.

Give us the same opportunities as everyone else.

Imagine you are sitting in the comfort of your home, with a rental property available. A mother phones enquiring about a potential home for her and her child. You immediately dismiss her because she is on housing benefit. That mother is in an abusive relationship and has taken the first steps to leave. Has gained the strength to leave. She has a lifeline and you have destroyed that due to your discrimination. And if it is a condition of your mortgage terms not to accept housing benefit, challenge your mortgage provider. Because at some point, if you don’t, then the law will. And thank god for that.

Some people just need the chance to get back on their feet without judgement. Without feeling that they are at the bottom of a scrap heap. If you are lucky enough to have more than one home, and have always said no to housing benefit tenants, let me know your reasons and I will try to change your mind. Please don’t discriminate.

I would love nothing more than to return to my homeland where my friends and family are. To support my parents through ill health. To have support for myself to return to work. To pursue training and leisure activities. But even though we are incredibly lucky to have a roof over our heads, we are trapped. I need to work to get a home. I need to move home before I can get work.

There is no doubt that single parents on housing benefit are discriminated against. You can all close your eyes to it because it doesn’t affect you. You can all have your opinion about how people shouldn’t just be given something for free. How everyone should work. Why should we give handouts etc. You can judge all you like but until you are in a situation where you are desperate for help, you will never understand.

Becoming a single parent and then a single parent with cancer has been horrendously challenging. But there has been nothing more devastating than not being able to provide my son with a home. Please help make housing accessible for people who need it.

Thanks for reading xxx