Category Archives: Natural world

Sarah’s Hands and Gloves

A letter from Sarah, introduced by Ronnie.

Have you ever known anyone whose fingers were gradually curling up into the palms of their hands, couldn’t be fully straightened out and were getting worse over time? If you have they might have a disease called Dupuytrens Contracture. Actor Bill Nighy does, you may have noticed from his films, and so do a good many people over the age of 50, including, until recently, Sarah Horton. Here’s the story of her hands and what’s been happening to them.

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Everyone likes a happy ending and some good news. So I’m delighted to tell you that I’ve now completed treatment – on the NHS – for my Dupuytrens Contracture, or DUPS (a benign but frustrating hand problem, which is often hereditary, as it is in my case).

This week I had my follow up appointment with my NHS Consultant Dr Syndikus and we both agreed that I have had a good result. Good news. It was not so easily achieved though.

This week I’ve been here in the Linda McCartney building, the cancer treatment building in Liverpool. I spent many hours of my life here between 2007 and 2010, and a few since, but mostly in those early years when I became a breast cancer patient.

In February this year I wrote a post on here called ‘Ten Years’. Ten years since my diagnosis of breast cancer, reflecting on the anniversary, and also because I was trying to get access to treatment for my hand condition, and was meeting some substantial barriers to that.

My GP, true to his word, followed up my request to access treatment, and spoke to Liverpool’s most respected hand surgeon, Mr Brown.

(Note – this was a surgeon I couldn’t get an appointment with as an NHS patient, as the not-a-doctor ‘decision maker’ had decided I wasn’t eligible for treatment until my condition got considerably worse, and required surgery. Whereas in early cases of DUPS radiotherapy is now considered a very effective treatment, especially beneficial for the patient as it avoids having surgery, as recurrence rates of DUPS after surgery are significant – about 40% after four years.)

Anyway my GP got in touch Mr Brown, who then advised my GP him I should be referred to Dr Syndikus at Clatterbridge Hospital on the Wirral. She’s an oncologist, and one of her tools is radiotherapy.

I was at first told that I wasn’t a priority and may have to wait to see her – but Dr Syndikus and her team worked swiftly, and by mid May I’ve seen her and most of the team at the radiotherapy department in Clatterbridge. They have very expertly made moulds of both of my hands, and by the end of June I’ve had my two sets of treatment, two series of five sessions of daily radiotherapy at Clatterbridge. All of this was arranged in a most patient-centred way, and allowed me to continue my work as a self-employed funeral celebrant.

I cannot speak highly enough of the whole process and everyone in the NHS teams who looked after me. An extra bonus by the way, and in contrast to all of my years of breast cancer treatment, is they also have a free car park at Clatterbridge for all patients. Proper and caring like.

After my treatment things happens without me noticing why. Continue reading

The Meaning of Life: Change and Decay

I know I keep talking about the meaning of life on this blog. The preciousness of all of our times here on earth, including my own as I enter my autumnal days.

Today has been more of this, particularly reflective for me as I’ve spent much of it on Sarah’s autumnal allotment, itself changing and gently decaying now, long past the summer’s end as the year’s light declines.

In through the Secret Gate.

The light this afternoon being that particularly sharp, low in the sky light, that comes on sunny days just before we turn the clocks back.

Dogwood in the autumn light.

Bonfires of the summer’s growth all around us.

All the colours sharp like they’ve been turned up to maximum on some celestial control. Continue reading

Exploring the littoral: On Sarah’s Birthday

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“Although I am always happy to recognise that I have lived another year of my life (and there were times in the last decade when that was not always to be taken for granted), birthdays have now become a reminder of the ‘missing years’ as I now think of those years of treatment. And, I still find, I am surprised at my age, as most of those ten years seem to have simply vanished – some to treatment, some to depression. I am not ungrateful that I am still well, or for the treatment and care I received during that time, but the shadows of those days remain. The recovery was long and the impact on our lives lasted for years, for both me and Ronnie in so many ways.”

Sarah, on her birthday, 2017

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I like it here, in the littoral zone. Always have. On childhood holidays the beach always had a special lure, a pull, whatever the weather. Whether it was paddling barefoot, swimming or exploring rock pools. I have always been happy in the littoral.

No surprise then to find that decades later I am still exploring rock pools and the shore, endlessly fascinated by what I can find here. One of the delights of my sea kayaking adventure is how close it brings me to nature, to the watery delights of the littoral. For my birthday weekend I am spending two days on a ‘Sea Kayak Sea Life’ course with Dr Lou Luddington (marine biologist) and Jonny Eldridge (sea kayaker and coach).

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I am welcomed to my temporary home in Anglesey by my AirBnB host Caroline, staying in Menai Bridge this time.

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Our group of nine meet on Saturday morning and spend some time discussing the littoral and strand line, and being in the marine environment. Lou also introduces us to her ‘top ten’ marine things, which is fascinating. She encourages us to think about our own ‘top ten’ after we’ve spent some more time exploring.

We then go down to the beach, at Porth Dafarch. Continue reading

To get to here: Knoydart and the Hebrides

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“But really, I thought, to even want to do this? To get to here….”

A guest post with reflections, by Sarah, on her wilderness walking last week.

“‘Walking’ is an understatement I feel. To get to places like this”

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As I sat on the shore of Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye, some 450 miles from home, having my lunch, I thought, ‘How long did it take to get to here?’ Loch Coruisk sits in heart of the Black Cuillin, it is surrounded by 22 peaks. It’s only accessible from the sea by boat, or on foot from two villages, both about eight miles away.

Today, the 15th of September 2017, it took nearly four hours from Doune on the Knoydart peninsula to get here. But including travel from home, more like two days. But really, I thought, to even want to do this? To get to here…. Continue reading

Seals and swell

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Sarah returns to Anglesey for some serious sea kayaking,  including dealing with some very big swells and only mildly interested seals!

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I’m back in Anglesey – at last – for a few days, for my next immersion in sea kayaking. First up, two days on an improvers course, with Steve Miles, running this for my regular coach James Stevenson. We begin our first day up at Bull Bay.

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With our boats ready to go – Steve, me, Neil and Rhys.

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I’ve done this trip a few times now, so it’s along this fairly familiar north coast… stopping along the way to go into this cave. (I came here on my very first day in a sea kayak last May). Continue reading

Over the top: Walking to Leeds Section 12

The morning after our Leeds Liverpool Canal walk brings us to Barnoldswick we set off from there and begin our walk over the highest point of the canal and into Yorkshire.

Beginning by the former cotton mill that’s long been a Rolls Royce aero engine factory.

Sarah immediately encounters some canoeists.

And has an intense ‘on the water’ conversation. Kayaks are mentioned.

Continue reading

From Nelson to Barnoldswick: Walking to Leeds Section 11

All will be revealed later.

After a few dog days, sorry about that, I’m glad to get back to canal walking, returning to our Barnoldswick base that we’re using to cover the highest sections of the Leeds Liverpool Canal, through East Lancashire into West Yorkshire. Over this weekend it’s our intention to cross over the top of the Pennines and begin our descent into West Yorkshire and Leeds. Let’s go.

Getting the M1 bus back to Nelson where we left off a fortnight ago. The chimney the only thing left standing of this particular mill.

Through the pleasantly terraced streets of town.

Arriving back at ‘our’ canal.

Where Sarah helpfully points out today’s route.

Continue reading