Breast Cancer and Me.

Just over a month ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

When the consultant told me, it was as if all the noise had been sucked out of the room. I knew I had a lump, so I got it checked and half-convinced myself that everything would be fine. But instead, on a beautiful summer’s day, I was told that the lump in my breast was cancerous.

I remember few things in that initial blur except my mum’s shock and the consultant saying the cancer was treatable – I clung to that word like a person at sea clinging to a rubber ring.

My mind went blank after that bombshell, until I went into another room with my mum and one of the nurses and cried my eyes out. A few minutes later, I had to have another biopsy, this time to check whether my lymph nodes were affected. I cried throughout – not because it hurt, but because I was in shock. Mum reassured me that whatever happened we would get through it, but I was in a daze.

Telling my family and friends was hard – every time I told someone close to me, I ended up tearful. My dad had no idea because I did not want to worry him until I knew the results. When I told him, he gave me a huge hug and tried to hold his emotions in check. I told my brother and sister later that day and there were lots of tears, hugs and some laughter, which was what I needed in a heavy situation like that.

The whole week leading up to the second biopsy result was awful. Everyone I know sees me as a positive person but I constantly worried that the consultant would have more bad news for me. When I went back, I discovered that my lymph nodes were also affected which was not great but, weirdly, I felt relieved knowing because waiting for results when diagnosed with breast cancer (or any cancer) is the pits.

I have had many health issues throughout my life, mainly concerning my heart. Countless operations, check-ups, a heart valve replacement – I’ve had them all. You could say I’m a veteran, but that makes me sound old (I prefer to be called unique, thanks). But this was something else. All my operations took place when I was younger and – if I’m honest – I did not understand the enormity and complexity of what I was going through. Whereas now, I’m older and wiser and understand what I’m facing.

Also when I had my heart operations, they were usually the last thing and once I got over that, I was on the road to recovery. With breast cancer, the operation felt like the beginning.

My operation was due to take place within ten days of my diagnosis but was postponed (with good reason) until a week later. I had a lumpectomy and axillary node clearance, but have to undergo another (minor) operation. I’m not as worried about that because nothing compares to the nerves I felt before my first op. After that, it’s all about what comes next: radiotherapy, chemotherapy or both? I’m steeling myself to undergo both treatments.

Physically, I feel ok. Although my wound is still sore and tight, it is healing well and feeling steady. I’m mainly thinking positive and trying to be good to myself. I have had so much love from my family and friends – but it is not always easy. I wish I could magic the cancer away. I wish I could go to the gym and (if I exercise hard enough) all this would disappear, but it does not work like that. So I distract myself by writing, drawing, watching TV and scrolling through Twitter.

My cancer situation has triggered a whole load of emotions. When I got the initial diagnosis, I was very upset and surprised at how angry I was. My other health issues had calmed down so I was looking forward to a lovely summer, going out and enjoying life. Now, all that was on hold and I didn’t know how long for.

Also, this is happening during the hottest summer Britain has had in decades. Bar the torrential downpour that came a couple of weeks ago, London has had no rain since May, just wall-to-wall blue skies and sunshine. It is both amazing and unbearable.

Now, ladies (and gentlemen), I cannot stress enough how important it is to check your breasts. If you feel awkward doing so then you need to start getting acquainted with your body. If you think something feels a bit odd but not enough for you to go to the doctor – DO IT ANYWAY. Too many people choose to ignore things instead. Don’t do this. Check yourself and get checked out. ❤️

©️ G. Holder 2018

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Korean Skincare Cleansing Routine: My Verdict.

I tried the Korean 10-step skincare routine that has revolutionised the beauty world. Here are my thoughts on how it went…

Why?

I am a sucker for beauty products and love trying and buying new skincare items and finding different ways to get great skin. Although my skincare routine prior to this made my face flawless, I had been wearing more make-up recently and was keen to try out Korean-style cleansing, so I threw caution to the wind and went for it.

The method.

The 10 steps to glorious skin Korean-style are laid out below:

To start with, I cleansed my face with extra virgin olive oil almost everyday, smothering it all over my boat-race with abandon before wiping it off with a hot(ish) cloth. I then used my soap-free face wash (from a well-known brand) or my cleansing lotion to complete the double cleanse.

After that, it was onto the toner, then I gave the essence a swerve. I will freely admit that I sort of skipped that part because I am a cheap bitch and did not fancy paying over £60 for something that may or may not have aggravated my dry and sensitive skin. I am a high-street kinda girl – nothing wrong with more expensive items but high-street stores have upped their game when it comes to skincare.

Also, facial essence is quite a highbrow product and I could not find many on the high street, only online at ridiculous prices. So I used a Vitamin C skin booster as an inexpensive alternative to the essence and mixed it with my facial serum. But the strong scent of the skin booster triggered a reaction (the serum was not fragranced) so I had to stay away from that as well.

I finished off with the final three steps (eye cream, Shea butter and cocoa butter) and went on my merry way.

The result.

I was so enthusiastic when I started adopting the Korean skincare routine. It may have ten steps but it was not as long-winded as I thought it would be. I enjoyed the self-care element of it, as you couldn’t really rush yourself. You had to give yourself a bit of time to devote to your face and that practice was nice.

But I soon realised that double cleansing literally meant over-cleansing. Yes, the routine removed every last bit of makeup from my face, but a few days after I started, several dreadful dark patches rocked up on my face. I’ve had these patches many times before and now they are on my forehead and all over my cheeks and around my mouth. The irony is my face felt good and not dried out or dehydrated, but the dark areas showed up to a party they were not invited to, along with a load of blemishes and have scarred my face.

The Koreans are all about looking after their skin with more than a face wipe and, while I understand that this is beneficial, there is such a thing as over-cleansing. The whole ten-step routine proved too much for me. The glowing skin that I had a fortnight ago had gone and it was all because I over-cleansed. My skin was telling me, ‘Leave it, Gill,’ and I did not notice until it was too late.

I still think oil cleansing is a good way to cleanse your skin, especially if you have been wearing make-up all day. It purged all traces of foundation and concealer, but it also dried my skin out and gave me an uneven skintone. However, I will continue using this method, but not so often – once or twice a week rather than everyday. After all, less is more. People with oily skin would more than likely find double cleansing to be a real boost to their skincare regime but for me, doing that on a daily basis was problematic.

So now I’m going back to basics to restore my face to its former glory. Bish, bash, bosh.

Overall, I’m glad I tried the routine by I realised that a lot of these skincare trends aren’t for me. Ten steps to flawless skin is not happening via this method. I’m keeping it simple from now on.

Beggars Belief.

Another day, another example of a council showing their callous disregard for those in their region. Fresh from councils putting spikes in doorways and weirdly shaped steel straps on benches to deter homeless people from sleeping rough, now Poole council are to start fining beggars £100 for bedding down in their city centre. Where these beggars are going to find the money to pay off said debt is another matter.

In this day and age where many people are one missed payment away from ending up on the streets, this is a pretty shitty idea. The price of everything is going up but people’s salaries are often not enough to cover their rent or bills and many are constantly teetering on the edge. Whatever happened to helping residents? Because let’s be honest, that is what these homeless people are. They barely have much so how are you, dear council, planning to collect the money from them? Prise the pennies out of their cold hands?

There must be a better alternative than enforcing fines that will not be paid. How the hell are they going to pay? They have no fixed abode yet will miraculously have the funds to cough up £100 each time they are caught sleeping in a car park. It will be like a bar tab that is not resolved – and what happens then? Will that person continue to accumulate more fines until it reaches a level where it will be written off? If that is the case, surely it will be a pointless exercise and a failure for the council to add to their list.

Various people have been vocal in their criticism of the plan (which was originally put off due to the anger against it) and more than 3,500 people have signed a petition to get this new plan shelved. But it’s to no avail, as this fining fiasco is to go ahead next month. It does not seem like they will differentiate between ‘professional’ beggars and those that are genuinely in hard times either – it’s a one size fits all policy, which makes things worse and makes absolutely no sense.

Nobody wants to see homeless people sleeping rough but this is not the solution most had in mind. The government must do more than pay lip service for those in need. It should not be left to the likes of Shelter to always step in and help the homeless – this is a nationwide issue, after all.

What about helping the homeless to not be in such a situation? Give them the means to find other accommodation or something. Perhaps open up a soup kitchen for the whole year, instead of the odd one at Christmas that can barely hold the total number of homeless in your borough? Anything must be better than treating them like an empty cash machine?

I don’t know what Poole council hope to achieve from this but it is likely they will target those that actually need their help rather than this nonsense. Good luck to them trying to enforce this – maybe some good will come out of this but judging by the way it will be implemented, I doubt that very much.

Grateful.

I was sitting on the train this morning in a bit of a mood. The same old feeling of comparing myself to other people plus not getting enough sleep combined to put me in a funk. But then I suddenly thought that this is bullshit and started thinking about all the things that I should grateful for. I must admit, I’ve seen those ‘gratitude list’ ideas and was sceptical about them as I would make a list and be pissed off about something else ten minutes later- so bang goes my gratitude. But I might as well give it another go and see if it snaps me out of this funk I’m in…so here goes:

I’m alive.

It’s a beautiful sunny day- a little chilly but glorious.

It’s Friday!

I’m wearing my bright pink nail polish and red lipstick. Now this made me wonder- does this fall under the category of being ‘grateful’? Then I thought, yes it does. In some countries or in the past, I wouldn’t be allowed to rock my red lipstick or such fluorescent fingernails- I’d be branded a Jezebel or worse, so thank goodness I live in a country and a city where I could wear glitter on my lips if I wanted to…just not necessarily to work.

I got a seat on the train. Always got to be grateful for such a thing. I’ve seen people fight for a seat and it’s not pretty. Now I’ve got one, I can have a nap or read a book or observe other passengers and imagine what kind of lives they lead once they step off the train.

I’ve got a job (and a decent one at that).

Got a roof over my head. My heart breaks think for all the people in Texas and Louisiana who are battling Hurricane Harvey as I type, wading in horrific levels of water just to find shelter. People who have lost everything and have nothing but the clothes on their backs. Or closer to home, those people who are homeless in this country, so I’ll be forever grateful for such small mercies.

My family and friends. They’re all here and present, as mad as ever but that’s how I like it.

Once my bleary-eyed self has fully woken up in the morning, I usually do feel a sense of gratitude. I’m not the type who awakens with a spring in their step singing ‘Joy to the World’ but being vexed on a beautiful morning like this when there is no need to be is something that needs to be nipped in the bud. So here’s to trying to be more grateful for all the good things in my life.

Bolt Gone In A Flash.

Well, that was awkward.

Usain Bolt lost the 100 metres final at the World Championships to the one man everybody did not want to beat him: Justin Gatlin.

The American and two-time drug cheat won the race in 9.94 seconds, while Bolt came third behind Christian Coleman. Bolt settling for bronze- when was the last time that happened?

And of course, the world was shooketh.

The atmosphere was like a morgue at London's Olympic Stadium, a marked contrast to the hype and noise beforehand, with pyrotechnics accompanying each athlete as they stepped out onto the main stage. Bolt was cheered to the rafters, Gatlin booed like George Osborne hilariously was at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

I was so busy paying attention to Bolt and Coleman that I did not notice Gatlin storming through to win. I can't say I'm surprised Bolt lost because he's looked rusty in the run-up to the final. He came second to Coleman in his semi-final and had a shocking start in the final, almost lumbering out of the blocks. Normally he has sluggish starts but makes up the pace and eats up the track, but not tonight. Plus, announcing that this would be his last individual race ever must have heaped a shedload of pressure on his shoulders. He wasn't the world beater we know and love. Everyone saw him as immortal and unbeatable (or as close as). He is a Legend of the track- yes, with a capital L -so to see him lose was a deflating way to end his incredible career.

If Bolt lost to Coleman I would not have minded because Coleman is a talent, but Gatlin is always looked at with suspicion because of his past misdemeanours. He had to be Scar to Bolt's Mufasa, didn't he.

But even as Gatlin wallowed in his victory and commentators openly seethed over his win, who was the man on everyone's lips? Bolt. The man was on the mic immediately after the race discussing what happened, what went wrong and what is next after he retires. He was the only one anyone gave a damn about, which was unfair to Gatlin because he ran a brilliant race but nobody was checking for him in the aftermath.

We all know athletics will be poorer without Bolt- the man who single-handedly transformed and saved the sport after it was (and still is) tarnished by endless drug cheats and doping allegations. He may run for Jamaica but let's be honest, every West Indian claimed him as their own whenever he competed. It was as if he represented the entire West Indies because he is such a huge name, a one-man walking billboard, a phenomenon. Everyone was willing him on.

Whatever he does next, I wish him well. It's a shame he did not get the fairytale ending we all hoped for, but at least he didn't have a false start. And we will be waiting and watching for his next move.

© 5th August 2017

Preference or Prejudice?

I watched a programme today called Is Love Racist?: The Dating Game. As someone who has dabbled with online dating, I knew how this show would turn out the minute I saw the title (i.e.: not very well) and I'm not going to lie, I wanted to slap everyone involved by the first commercial break. 

I didn't really need this documentary to show me that Black and Asian women get a raw deal when it comes to online dating. It seems that if you do not look like one of the babes off Instagram or a supermodel and instead look decent but average- i.e: me -you get nowhere. Believe me, I tried and all it did was crush my self-esteem. The rest of us are fucked… but not literally. 

I get the whole preference issue. Everyone has a particular type regarding what they look for in a lover or partner, whether they prefer blondes, brunettes or redheads. Nobody likes everything- imagine if we did!  What a weird world that would be. 

That said, there were some unbelievable comments during this programme. The stereotypes came thick and fast: the White guy who said he preferred Asian women because 'they're more submissive'. He wants someone who will answer to his beck and call and call him master, right? I hope the woman you find ends up being anything but submissive when she waves your bollocks in your face.


The woman who said she did not like the look of a black guy because 'his nose is flared… he looks angry.' This stereotype is so basic. She is probably the type who clutches her bag close to her chest whenever a Black man (young or old) sits next to her. 
The unconscious, automatic reaction of the participants in visualising someone described as 'classically handsome' as a White man- while the phrase, 'lover, not a fighter' immediately made them think of a Black man.

Not forgetting the man who said that he liked and slept with mixed race women, but would not exactly take them home to mother (though he was an absolute pillock so I disregarded most things he said). 

As I said before, I don't think there's anything wrong with having a preference, per se. It's when it goes to extremes that it's gets problematic, such as fetishism or negative stereotyping. Some people fetishise particular racial groups and that is when problems begin. Black men are seen as 'well-endowed', Asian women are 'submissive', Black women are either 'exotic, like a bird' and/or 'sexually aggressive', apparently in manner and appearance. Like we are a sexual trend to be consumed when we are 'in fashion' and discarded at all other times; seen as trophies to be paraded on the arms of men, instead of being afforded the courtesy to be seen as people. 


Then you have the instances of stereotyping, made worse when it's your own kind criticising you and your fellow women- then proclaiming, 'It's my preference!' when they are called out on it. I have seen and heard men of different races (including Black men) slate Black women about all manner of things and the crass dog-whistle comments and blatant disrespect ('she would be hotter if she wasn't so dark', 'you all are so angry') never ceases to amaze me. I don't care what anyone says- when other races hear Black men dissing their own, it enables and emboldens them to do the same towards us. No wonder Black women are treated shabbily when it comes to dating in general. It is a thin line between preference and prejudice and this programme proved that. 

© 19th July 2017

Grenfell Tower and the Dignity Debate.

It is almost two weeks since the Grenfell Tower tragedy occurred, a horrific incident that shocked the nation and dominated the news headlines. But ever since this disaster happened, a weird kind of narrative has begun to rear its ugly head. The narrative of ‘respectability politics.’

Some people started commenting on the behaviour of the survivors and the families of those affected, saying that they were not showing enough ‘dignity’. Oh, where do I begin with this…

This is not a time for people to engage in the social and political football of respectability politics. These people are angry, in shock and devastated beyond belief. They have lost their families (entire generations in some cases), their friends, neighbours, everything that they worked for, everything they own including their identities because their passports or ID were destroyed in the blaze. I heard people say that the people affected should ‘think logically’. I have never heard such nonsense in my life. All these people judging the survivors and demanding that they show dignity and be rational while they watch sitting on their sofas is downright insulting. 

Not everything in life requires a dignified response

People use the word ‘dignity’ as a way to patronise and guilt-trip others so that they tone down their reaction, as if they are less worthy of notice if they shout. Dignity is a good thing in certain circumstances, but who are these armchair commentators to tell those who have lost loved ones and everything they know and care about how to exercise self-control? 

The desire to be dignified causes people to react in different ways. It often hinders their natural response because they feel like they have to show that they calm and collected, almost professional. There seems to be a shift over recent years where you cannot show anger about something (even when that reaction is more than justified) as it demonstrates a lack of self-control. Since when did we become robots? 

Furthermore, people from certain backgrounds or demographics have to be careful as anger might get them killed- look at what happened to Eric Garner or Philando Castile. 

I’m tired of the opinion that, in order to be heard or taken seriously, you have to look and behave a certain way. Sometimes, people approach situations with dignity and respect and still get patronised and ignored in equal measure. When the community around Grenfell Tower marched down to Kensington Town Hall the Friday after the fire, some commentators muttered disapprovingly at their actions. Those people need their heads checked to see where their empathy disappeared to (up their backsides, maybe?).

Imagine seeing your whole life reduced to a smoking shell. All your family and friends gone. All you own are the clothes on your back. You look at what used to be your home and are haunted by the events that preceded it. You’re suffering from ‘survivor’s guilt’, traumatised and weary and wanting to burst into tears at any moment but you can’t because you need to keep hoping that all is not lost. And in the aftermath, not one council member came to visit or provide assistance until much, much later. Everything is being done through voluntary and community outlets, not the actual council that hoovers up their council tax every month without fail. Communication is key. Talk to those directly affected face-to-face, not via a carefully-worded statement on BBC News. Don’t do what Theresa May did. 


Yes, they could have been sorting accommodation- but then these are the same people who still have not put together a list of residents who lived in Grenfell Tower. Nearly a fortnight after the fire and the official word is that 79 people died- but there is still no definitive residents list. Despite being told there are no more survivors, people are still desperately hoping to find their loved ones alive. But it is highly unlikely and what’s worse, it is like they never existed. Ironically, they are given no dignity in death because the powers that be are not acknowledging their existence. But some armchair commentators will continue to carry on telling people how to grieve and how to behave. It needs to stop.