A blog about me and my adventure as an ex-pat.
Because someone told me to... Thank you Gaby.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

kid fun

Just wanted to remember a couple of things...
Charlotte calls her back-pack a hap-pack.
At 21 months old, Toby has learnt a few new words including "No", "More" and "Cheese"!

The big 'C'

Watching films and tv, I always wondered how I would feel when I was told that I or one of my family had cancer. How would I react? How could I possibly cope? Well this year cancer has played a big role in my life.

A good friend of mine had cancer. Had it since he was 12. Someone asked him how he felt having a disease that was terminal and he simply replied, I don't know any different. Unfortunately he was taken from us far too early. When we were saying our goodbyes at the beginning of the year, Gaby was really poorly. He had stopped responding to his treatment for the past 2 years and it was really taking hold of him. He was in so much pain that he couldn't get out of bed until he had taken a dozen painkillers in the morning. I'm sure it was much worse but he wasn't one to openly complain.
So when we said goodbye to him in March I knew I might not see him again. I was able to say goodbye and tell him how much he meant to me, what an amazing person he was. When do you say goodbye to a friend who has cancer. Each time you see them you know it might be the last but you have to stay positive. I felt lucky that I had the chance to say what I wanted to. 6 weeks later, I received the news that he had passed away. I was devastated. Even though I knew it was for the best, that his suffering had ended, it didn't seem fair that someone so young, someone so amazing, was taken from us all. I felt for his wife. Could not believe how strong she was, could not imagine how she could cope with the loss of her husband.
I was able to fly back to the UK and attend his funeral. It was great to be around friends and to be there with everyone. A friend from London was surprised to see me at the funeral and said to me " You came back!" to which I burst into tears and said "Of course I did!"

A couple of weeks after my return, I received a phone call from my Mum. I knew straight away that something was wrong. She told me, very calmly, that at age 60, she'd had a mammogram and they had found a tumour. It had been tested and it was cancer. I had so many emotions running through me. I was angry. Why hadn't she told me earlier (obviously there was no point worrying me but it made me feel much further away). Why did she have breast cancer? When I was 18 she had had a heart attack and ended up needing a heart bypass at age 40. Ever since, when the phone rang, I thought maybe it was bad news, that she'd had another heart attack or that she needed another bypass. My Mum has heart problems, she isn't supposed to get cancer. Everyone I know who gets cancer, dies (I have said goodbye to 3 people over the last few years, taken by cancer). But she said they had caught it early so that was good news and she was to start chemo straight away.
Around the same time, a new friend in the US was also diagnosed with breast cancer. She has been an amazing support to me, always asking me how my Mum is, answering my questions and offering to talk if I ever need someone. She is such a strong woman. She is going through cancer herself but wants to be there for me. Bless her!

So I am dealing with the second blow in one year and just getting my head round those two when it strikes again.

Jeremy had been having some trouble since we moved to the US and thought he had kidney stones or a bladder infection. He had some tests and went off to see the Urologist whilst I went about my day as usual. I was at Toby's gym when the phone rang. Jeremy was on the phone asking if I was sitting down and if I could talk. The doctor had found a tumour. Jeremy was gutted and had a million questions going round in his head. The doctor told him he was too young for it to be cancer but we would have to have the tumour removed and wait for the pathologist results. I was very calm and just told him it would all be ok. The doctor said he was too young and I believed him. We started to look up bladder cancer on the Internet and that is when I started to panic. When you see the survival rates and that some bladder cancer can be terminal.
I went through every emotion of being strong for Jeremy, to planning what I would say at his funeral. Wondering if I could be as strong as Gaby's wife. Wondering how on earth I could live my life without him. What about the kids?!

So we had to stay positive and believe it was something else.
He had surgery to remove the tumour a couple of weeks later. My neighbour had our kids so I could be at the hospital. I was given a pager and cried when I saw the message that he was in surgery. You feel so helpless just sitting in a canteen, waiting. My husband was lying on a bed, with a tube down his throat, undergoing surgery.
A couple of hours later, the doctor came to see me. It wasn't cancer! Yippee! It looked like his prostrate had grown into his bladder. Sounds awful but it wasn't cancer. I remember thinking, are you really going to tell me bad news in front of everyone in the crowded waiting room? But he wasn't, he was telling me he was sure it was ok BUT we still needed to wait for path results. I was feeling so blessed and that everything would be ok.

So I was in complete shock 2 weeks later, when we sat in the doctor's office and he read out the path results. Cancer. They had found cancer cells in the tumour. Wow! How did I feel? Well I couldn't take it all in. I was in shock. Calm but kept thinking, it will be ok. Jeremy cried briefly but we just had a big hug and decided to head home to talk about it. The doctor said it was a very unusual type of cancer and he did not know what it was and how to move forward so was going to refer us to a bladder cancer specialist at another hospital. Everything felt surreal.

And that is how we ended up walking through the doors of the cancer building at the University of Michigan hospital. I could not believe we were there. We had joined a sector of society that I had always dreaded joining. My husband had cancer but no point in panicking, just go and see the doctor and find out what we were dealing with.

He wanted to do another op on Jeremy, to take more samples and see the bladder for himself. He too thought Jeremy was too young but was also wondering if he had colon cancer which had grown into his bladder.

So we were left waiting for another op, more test results, hoping and praying for the best but also imagining the worst. Colon cancer that had grown into his bladder would have to be pretty advanced. How unfair given that for the last 7 years Jeremy had been having regular colonoscopies for his colitis. We knew he was likely to get colon cancer at some point but they should catch it early. We had so many of those what if days.

A couple of weeks later, Jeremy went back to the hospital with a friend for another op. I stayed at home as the kids had been really unsettled and I wanted to keep things as normal as possible. It was so hard to not be there but he was with a good friend who kept in touch with me throughout the morning. Yet again I was at Toby's gym class when the phone rang. This time it was the doctor. I answered the phone and listened whilst he told me the surgery had gone well, Jeremy was doing well but it was cancer. It was cancer. Well I just lost it. I started to cry and couldn't concentrate to ask the right questions. All I heard was it's cancer and it's bad. He needed to take Jeremy's bladder out in the next few weeks, sooner rather than later. I managed to get Toby into the car and rang Jeremy's Dad. He was so good and told me it would all be ok. But how was I going to tell Jeremy when he got home. I should have been there. I should have gone to hold his hand when he got the news. Well it turned out the doctor had told him and he was so brave. When he got home we talked about it, about how he would cope without a bladder. How he was lucky that they could cure it with surgery and that he might not have to go through the hell that is Chemo. Jeremy's calm demeanour and bravery was amazing!

Friends and family were so supportive, on email, on the phone. Praying for us all over the world. People we had only just got to know and those we hadn't even met. We have been so touched by everyone's love and support.

And I have to say the prayers worked. We went back again to the hospital and the doctor said, much to his shock and surprise, the cancer had not spread. They had caught it early and it was confined to the tumour. The tissue he thought was riddled with cancer was just inflammation. He still didn't understand what type of cancer it was, that it is the type of cancer that is normally found in the colon but we have the gift of time. No immediate surgery, just a lot more tests and research to work out a long term plan. He has never seen a case like it and he wants to confer with other doctors across America but for now we could return to the UK and enjoy our trip.

So now we are here, enjoying our home leave. Jeremy has to undergo another op when we get back from the UK, to take more samples but if all is well, he will be tested every 3 months and time will tell.

We are sure he will have to have his bladder removed at some point and his colitis needs to get under control again. They think maybe the two are linked. So maybe Jeremy will end up in a magazine as a test case. A rare cancer caused by colon tissue in the bladder. Fame at last!!

But for now, I am just happy that I still have my husband, in one piece.

Our lives have changed so much over the last year and it will never be the same again. Always looking over his shoulder, wondering if the ache or pain is something to be worried about. Will the cancer have grown back again, how soon, how severely? But we are taking one day at a time. Today we are enjoying seeing our nieces and nephew. The surgery can wait until we get back.

So time for another cup of tea I think and a cuddle with my gorgeous family.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

the Harpers have landed

We are on our first 'home leave' trip since moving to the US. So far the highlights have been seeing family and eating bacon butties and Roses chocolates. Unfortunately the jet lag has hit us all hard. The kids are struggling to sleep at night. Toby woke up at 11pm the first night after only 3 hours sleep and didn't settle until 2am! Charlotte woke up too but soon fell asleep again. We had to put him in with us in the end. Last night he woke up again around 11 and took until 1:30 to settle, again in our room. Tonight he seems ok but Charlotte was wide awake until gone 11pm. It's gone midnight and we are still wide awake. At least of we stay like this it will be easier to readjust when we go back to Michigan time!

So far we have seen Jeremy's folks and my brother and his family. Being at his parents' house feels like we have never been away. They have always lived a few hours away so we are used to being here with suitcases! My Brother's kids have grown up so much in 9 months!! The baby is almost walking, the toddler is talking and almost potty trained, the second boy has started school and the oldest boy has an unbelievable grasp of grammar - he knows way more than me and the language he uses is so grown up!! Where did the babies go?! So good to hold them, talk to them, watch my kids play with them and just spend time getting to know them again.

So what happened when we first landed at London Heathrow?! ... I thought all of the airline crew were putting on posh English accents until I realised I just hadn't heard a London accent in such a long time! I thought the pedestrian crossing with the black and white poles with the yellow flashing beacons on were just for show - fake like a set! I had not seen one for so long they seemed unreal!! I thought all of the cars in the car park seemed really small and the licence plates looked really old fashioned.
All in all it was quite a weird 30 minutes!
I have yet to go to a supermarket, a shopping mall or a restaurant... Places which will make me realise I am truly back in England!

We have lots more people to see and places to go so I will post again soon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


So I thought I had made a breakthrough... When I ask Toby what my name is he has started saying Mummy, pronounced beautifully! I was very pleased with myself until today, having asked the usual question and got the answer I was looking for, I asked "What is your name?" to which Toby very proudly said "Mummy". D'oh! Oh well I am still proud of him for learning another word even if he doesn't know what it means! Love you gorgeous boy x x

Thursday, November 10, 2011

put your hands up

Ok two quick cute things about Toby at the moment...

When I go into Charlotte in the morning, she is like a grumpy teenager, moaning that it's too bright, that she doesn't want to get up etc etc.

However when I go into Toby he jumps up, squints from the light and starts waving his hands about to tell me that he wants me to pick him up out of his cot. I am making the most of this because, even though he is quite the Mummy's boy, I'm sure it won't last for too much longer!

The other cute (if slightly annoying) thing is his insistence that I am called Daddy! I ask him "Toby, what is my name?" and he replies "Daddeee" every single time! I get the same excited, jumping around, hands waving reaction with the obligatory "Daddeee" if I go to the mail box at the end of the drive or if I leave him for 3 hours! It's funny how they have no sense of time.
So I am working on Mummy but for now just loving his energy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

coming home...

We are getting ready to fly back to the UK for our first home leave trip and I am not sure how I feel about it.

I am so excited to see people, I cannot even put it into words.

I have got used to not seeing friends and family every day or week. I am just about used to the time difference and knowing everyone in the UK is in bed when I am relaxing in the evening (though it is a nice surprise when I see someone on facebook!). I feel we are settling into life here even though it has been a rollercoaster of emotions over the last few months.

7 months! We moved here over 7 months ago! In some ways it feels like a lifetime... My niece was just a few months old when we left so I barely know her. What a contrast to her brother, my first born nephew, who I got to know so well over the last 6 years. Babies have been born that I haven't met yet and hopefully one more before we land next week! Our children have grown up so much since we left, Toby was only crawling and now is climbing onto and into everything, opening doors and escaping into the garden!
And yet in some ways I can't believe we are going next week! I can't believe I am going to see everyone, be able to hold babies, stroke pregnant bellies, cuddle toddlers and admire the bigger ones!

But what else am I looking forward to? Food? TV? Weather? English accents?

Food - yes there are some things I am looking forward to though we've been lucky to have plenty of visitors who have kept us in supply of tea bags and cadbury's chocolate. I really want sausages, juicy tasty Lincolnshire sausages with mash and gravy. I want to walk into a supermarket and know that I only have to choose what I fancy, not have to check every label to see how much salt, how many preservatives, artificial colours and flavours to mention just a few of the things they put in food over here (and that's just the chicken!).

I have to say that food has been one of the hardest changes and the least expected. I'd been told about the staggering choice of milk (non fat, 1%, 2%, whole, vit d, omega 3, half & half, non-fat dairy creamer...), about the cheese (now there is another thing I am looking forward to - decent cheese in every shop including the co-op and not having to go to the one specific shop who has imported french brie and don't even ask what squirty cheese is!) but I was not prepared for the high salt levels, the additives, the strong flavours and the lack of choice. We can't get everything we want in one supermarket so the 'friday night big shop' has become a week long quest for foods that we are used to, tastes we have grown up with, ingredients needed for the recipes in my English cookbooks. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of new and exciting foods to try (my waistline is testament to that!) but I have had to get used to the food and shopping here.

TV. Have I missed British TV? Not really. I wish I hadn't found out about the ending of Spooks on facebook but the show had run it's course I think and I was starting to lose interest (or had we been planning this move for so long that as a self defence mechanism I talked myself into not liking it anymore?!).
We are still able to watch the F1 on Speed and are used to the way it's presented but I do miss Jake and the team.
And we have found new tv programmes for the kids (Diego, US version of Chuggington and Peppa Pig is aired here, with English accents!) and can still watch our favourites like CSI NY, House, HIMYM as well as discovering shows like Modern Family.
I do watch some shows on BBC America and am always surprised when the American ads come on and I remember I am not in the UK!
I missed my lunch time soaps at first but more because I used to laugh about them with a friend and miss that interaction. The other soaps seem ridiculous when you find out what has happened since you left.

I have stopped hearing the American accent as different and think I will be shocked when I hear Charlotte talking to our friends' kids. She sounds so different to me but the neighbours still think she sounds English! I'm not sure what will happen when she tells Grandma she needs to go pottie... I have a feeling my Mum will panic as they don't have a potty and then laugh when she sees Charlotte taking herself off to the toilet (she was still in nappies when we left).

I am very excited to rediscover the UK, to see all of our friends and family but also a bit nervous. I have forgotten how to drive a manual car, how to drive on the left hand side of the road and hope I go the right way round the roundabouts! I am nervous how we will feel being back 'home' when really home is where the heart is and we are building a new home here (however temporary). Will I realise how much we have left behind and not want to come back to America? Or will everything have changed so much, everyone moved on so much that we feel like aliens in the UK?

So much to rediscover, lots of which I have probably forgotten about or put out of my mind as self preservation. We have thrown ourselves into life here to make the most of it. I am embracing life here and making lots of great friends along the way. There is no point worrying about how long we are here for, where we will end up and when but life here will go on hold for a few weeks whilst we rediscover England and all of those who we have left there. We have not forgotten any of you and can't wait to see you all again!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

speaking of which...

The clocks 'fell back' last night and our kids managed to stay in bed until 7:30. Sounds good but they are still adjusting!

I am not sure what has got into Charlotte but she has not stopped talking since she got up. Which has made me think about our accents. Although I think I still have an English accent I know I have adopted many American words or phrases. It is just easier to say trash can, stroller, yard, shopping cart and so on. If you don't then people just do not understand what you are talking about... With some hilarious consequences! Jeremy was talking about getting ourselves ready for bad weather and having supplies in the basement. He told our neighbour that he had stashed a torch within easy reach. Well that had our neighbours imagining that we had shipped some sort of prehistoric flame device from England until they realised he meant a flashlight!

I find myself trying to remember which is the English pronunciation and dropping words in without even thinking about it.

But the biggest change is Charlotte. She goes to school 3 days a week and watches American kids' tv like Diego and Chuggington. And after being here for 7 months, listening to her non stop commentary this morning, she sounds so different to us. Her accent has changed so much and to me she sounds so American now. I love listening to her talk and find myself copying some of the things she says.

It will be really interesting to see what people think of her accent when we head back to the UK in a few weeks. I know there is one person who will be correcting me and that makes me smile.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bonfire night

So it's bonfire night in the UK but we didn't miss out completely as our neighbours set out 2 fire pits and a load of furniture on their driveway. 3 sets of neighbours hung out there tonight, eating s'mores, drinking beer (or in my case a cup of tea!) whilst the kids played out in the street or in the back yard.

I love impromptu nights like this one and love that we moved into such a friendly neighbourhood.

Friday, November 4, 2011

soft touch

Toby is stood in front of the television, with his thumb in his mouth, tenderly fiddling with a label on his pyjama bottoms which he found on the floor.

He is so cute when he does this. He can be happily playing, running around, laughing, but as soon as he spots a label poking out, he stops in his tracks and goes into a trance as the thumb goes in and he is in heaven as he feels the material on the label.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pyjama party

Charlotte's friend Mia has pyjama day at her preschool once a month which often coincides with our weekly play date. When she arrived at ours one week, dressed in her pjs the girls took themselves off upstairs to play. After a little while we went upstairs to check and Charlotte had undressed and got into her pjs, complete with her princess night time pull up pants! This has continued pretty much every week since and now Charlotte packs a bag with pants and pjs to take over to her friend's house. It is very cute to see them playing together, especially in bright pink pjs!