Sunday, March 15, 2015

On Mothering

One of the major grieving moments for me after being diagnosed with cancer eight year's ago was the realisation that there are going to be major life moments in my kids' lives that I am going to miss should the worst happen. 

Cathal was only two when I was diagnosed and Emma was nine. I know some women who were diagnosed at the same time I was who are sadly no longer here. I think about them and their kids on a day like today. 

One of these beautiful women was recording bed time stories in her own voice so her kids would always have her voice when it was time for a bedtime story ....

It's heartbreaking to think of her having to leave her kids and to think of her kids without their Mum. 

I count myself so lucky to still be here with a 10 year old who is turning into the most handsome, confident and articulate young boy. I am so lucky too that I am getting to watch Emma blossom into the most extraordinary young woman - a gifted word smith and more beautiful inside and out than she will ever know. 

On a day like today I don't care about presents or cards .... None of that Hallmark stuff is important. 

I know that whatever happens in the future with my cancer that my kids are going to be fine .... I know they will treasure the memories we have made and the mischief we have managed. 

But in saying that, I have no intention of going anywhere anytime soon because there are lots more things I want to be here for .... Graduation days, young love, college days, travels, the publication of Emma's first novel, Cathal as Taoiseach etc 

I want to be here for all if it but .... 
I am happy to have gotten this far ... 

Everything has been beautiful and while I will never be okay with closing my eyes on it forever, I will take and savour whatever time I am given as a Mum.

Happy Mother's Day to all mums especially those battling cancer 


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Flesh and Blood Campaign encourages blood and organ donation

As someone who has received both blood and platelet transfusions as part of my treatment for cancer, I am delighted to see the Churches in Ireland engaging on such an important issue as blood and organ donation. 

Flesh and Blood Campaign  

Archbishop Richard Clarke and Archbishop Eamon Martin in front of a gift-wrapped cathedral in Armagh for the launch of the Flesh and Blood initiative

The all-Ireland campaign marks the first cross border partnership between churches and health services and it is designed to encourage church congregations and parishes to see blood and organ donation as a part of their giving. It also seeks to equip people as advocates for blood and organ donation, enabling them to raise awareness of the need for donors with their family, friends and community, potentially helping to save thousands of lives each year.
Archbishop Martin said, “The challenge of the ‘fleshandblood’ campaign – to see blood and organ donation as a part of our giving within the Church – is one I encourage us all to consider; that we might mirror God’s perfect gift to us in His Son by giving the gift of life ourselves.”
At the end of Friday’s launch, Archbishop Martin prayed for those involved in the campaign, and lit a candle in memory of all those who have given blood and organs down the years. He prayed for one of his own colleagues who has just become a live donor for his (the donor’s) brother.
The Armagh and Dublin events follow the joint 2014 Christmas Day message by the Archbishops of Armagh, which was broadcast on RTÉ television and radio, wherein they expressed their commitment to raising awareness of donation, and during which they met with blood donors and people whose lives have been transformed by organ donation.
If you have never given blood, please go to a clinic to see if you are eligible to do so. I had about 14 blood and platelet transfusions and in one six-month period in 2007 while being treated for myeloma.
If you don't carry an organ donor card - then please consider picking one up. 
Follow the conversation on Twitter @fleshandblood and on @catholicbishops.
Thanks for dropping by.

Monday, March 9, 2015

An ode to the single most relevant type of human being on the planet - the mother

This is a poem by Seamus Heaney called "While all the others were away at Mass". My 17 year old daughter Emma voted for it recently in the Poem for Ireland initiative. It's a breathtakingly beautiful poem. Have a read of it. It's very appropriate as we get near to Mother's Day. When you have read it, please have a read of the reflection on it written by my daughter - it too is breath taking and full of courage. 

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Emma's thoughts on the poem 

I had to wrench tears from my eyes as I read Heaney's bereaved stanzas, ironed out in unrepressed wistful sadness. It is a very real fear, losing one's mother and it prevails even before we have grasped what death is, in the clutch of that desperate desire for intimacy that Heaney so artfully elicits. I recall grasping at the fogginess of youth for those crystallised memories, incidents, anecdotes, monumental moments to cradle for comfort if she lost that hospital bed-bound battle and left me with a two year old to convince of her existence, once upon a time.

For as much as we might quarrel with them, cast disgruntled glances, warning shots at them across a room (in the naval battle of making tea); a mother is something precious.

For me, Heaney’s poem captured that often unstated tenderness amid the tumult of growing; the moment of mutual affection that manifests in trading a tube of Pringles, munching over dialogue, being taught the inner workings of an avocado, debating the prudence of bananas in a smoothie.

This poem spoke to me because I carry that fear of losing my mother constantly - every blip on her health radar, every hospital stay, every infection……. There’s an intimate familiarity that accompanies the word cancer, and to all the furious tears I have streaked into hoodies.

I love baking with my mother, even though she’s an utter, unabashed dictator when it comes to the precise operation of an electric whisk, because I think that I will remember those burned cookies, that delicious chocolate fudge, the joy she’d take in smashing pistachios with a rolling pin forever.

Mothers are mythical creatures, with the wisdom of Athena, the beauty of Apollo, holding the endless ire of Zeus in reserve for matters as varied as:

·         other people who dare to use the road in a less than pristine fashion,

·         lightbulbs,

·         the grubby inside of the oven,

·         carol singers,

·         bananas,

·         invading hoards of eight-legged hell hounds (also known as spiders),

·         and, most vehemently, anyone who attempts to harm the insolent beings she expended hours ushering from her womb.

For me, “While the others were away at Mass” is a worthy champion of Irish poetry, and an ode to the single most relevant type of human being on the planet – the mother!
End of Emma's thoughts
Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful Mum's out there, especially those who are battling serious illness. I hope that if you have a daughter, that you are as lucky as I am .........
Brenda xxxx










Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Permission slips

I have been signing them since she was born 
For registrations 
For injections 
And vaccinations 
For baptism 
For health insurance inclusion 

I have been signing them since she started school 
Permission to go home early 
Permission for school tours
For the annual school photo 
For trips to the library 
And the panto
For scouting trips 

I have been signing them since she moved into secondary school 
For examinations 
For school tours 
And retreats 
For work experience in TY 
For trips with the law team 
The debating team 
And the team building up a mountain team 
For cinema trips with the history and English class 
For permission to leave early 
Permission to access her locker when traffic kept us late 
And To be absent for a day 

I have been signing them for passports 
for day trips 
For college open days 
To get her a bank account 
A CAO registration form 
And permission to record for radio 
For all sorts of miscellaneous reasons 

On 4 April 2015 I will sign my last permission slip 
She turns 18 on the 5th 
She's an adult
A college student 
Free to vote 
To move out 
To find her place in the world 

I'm so proud of her as she turns 18 
And of finally being free of permission slips 
But in a way I will miss 
Signing them! 


Copyright: Brenda Drumm 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Love Can Be Enough

Guest post by Emma Tobin 

Love Can Be Enough 

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

There are tragedies in human history that cannot be captured in words, calamities that have ravaged the world in fire and bombs, evil that we can hardly comprehend stretching ghostly fingers over our sleeping homes. As humans, we are awfully flawed, but we do have some redeeming qualities, light that makes these memories feel survivable. For all that we feel compelled to kill and maim and hate one another, we have also found something called love.

The universe is filled with bright stars and things as pleasant as coffee and baths and spices, but nothing our human hands have created can ever quite amount to that moment - you feel it juddering between your ribs - when you realise that you love something, or someone, more than you could ever hate them. Oh, and love has cracks and edges, but it swallows you, like a dragon with its great lolling tongue of complications.

Love isn’t wound dressing, it doesn’t make scars fade or turn our lives into magic kingdoms complete with frolicking unicorns and confetti, but it does make a difference. When old grief comes skulking back there’s a hand to hold, a voice that holds our heart in its lilt to soothe the throbbing in our souls. We spend a lot of our time thinking about love, be it love for a person or love for the way that the stars poke through clouds to light up dark places. It’s a human affliction, and as much as it aches, it’s also the most important thing we possess.

As much as love is terrifying and sharp and potentially ruinous, without it we couldn’t have things like poetry and art and dragons. There’s a reason why George Orwell uses romance as the greatest wad of spit in the face of totalitarianism, because love is personal and powerful, and the greatest act of rebellion against an unkind universe is to love anyway, love despite scars and tragedies, love not in order to forget but to dignify the value of human life lost. Love can drive us crazy and prop us up and pull us down, and like anything important it doesn’t have to mean the same thing to everyone.

Some people find love in books, some in numbers, some in people and some in religion. Some people love coffee. The luckiest people find love in themselves. Love is smiling stupidly and hearing your heart shudder your ribs with its surety. Love is when someone says your name like they mean it, when they look at you like you’re more interesting than their shoes. When they forget that anything else exists but you.

I’ve always thought that the most important lesson we can learn from religious faith is that love prevails. I adore the uncompromising belief in children that the one definite thing that God means is love. They see God in their family and their friends and in the things they like to do. Sometimes I think we don’t need to make it more complicated than that. Capitalism has made life all about success, be it financial success or academic success, but when it comes down to it, love is more important than all of that. Love is the root of passion and belief and art.

It’s easy to forget that success does not always have to mean what the world tells you it means. It can mean finding a fantastic book to read or making a new friend or the perfect cup of tea. And love, likewise, is up to you, defined by you. Just because it isn’t drenched in dramatic overtures with sundry explosions in the background doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be the centre of the universe your eyes create. So what if you scratched the car? You have a small pet at home who greets you with wide eyes and bounteous excitement. So what if you’ve got stretch marks and tired eyes? You have peaceful sleeping and peach-scented moisturiser in your future.

The world endeavours to convince us that love is a function, like eating and sleeping, but sometimes, when nothing else makes sense, love can be enough.


 Emma Tobin 

January 2015 

Friday, January 2, 2015

What's another year?

What's another year? 

It's huge! It's a celebration of life and love. It's another milestone for me as someone who quite frankly is lucky to be still here. 

This day 8 year's ago I gave in and went to my GP. I had been really sick all over Christmas and I knew that something was wrong. Bryan forced me to go to the doc as he had watched me getting worse and stubbornly refusing to leave the kids at Christmas - Emma was 9 and Cathal was 2. 

I had been vomiting since 8 December - on and off - and was getting weaker and sicker. 

So on 2 January 2007 I took the kids and went to the GP. Bryan had gone back to work. 

The GP told me I looked ghastly and took a whole series of bloods. She have me an anti-sickness injection. I had missed the blood courier so I volunteered to drive my bloods over to Naas hospital for testing/analysis. 

We went home and I put Cathal down for a nap and Emma and I put on a Christmas movie. I fell asleep ....

I was woken an hour or two later by a phone call which went like this: 
Doc: Brenda it's Dr Ciara here. Your bloods are back from Naas. 
Me: ok - that was quick
Doc: I need you to go to hospital 
Me: What? 
Doc: I need you to go to hospital 
Me: can I go tomorrow - I'm home alone with the kids (it was about 4pm) 
Doc: no, you need to get to hospital now
Me: What's wrong? 
Doc: your creatinine is very high 
(I knew that meant kidneys were in trouble) 
Me: can I go to Naas hospital later tonight or tomorrow? 
Doc: no we need to get you to Dublin to either James's or Tallaght today, now,as soon as possible. 
Me: really? 
Doc: I am writing your referral letter now so which hospital?
Me: Tallaght? 
Doc: ok can you come in to me to get the letter. 
Me: ok

I was stunned. I knew I was sick but it was so bad I had to go to Dublin? 

I sorted the kids and drove in to get the letter. I cried all the way in. The receptionist was so sweet to me and that made me cry even more. 

The letter was sealed but I opened it and scanned the bloods. They were bad. The diagnosis was kidney failure with a question mark beside it. I put it away and rang Bryan who was stunned it was something do serious. He left his office to make the journey home. I cried all the way home at the thoughts of leaving the kids. 

I got home and made dinner for the kids. I arranged for a friend to take Cathal and told Emma to pack up some stuff. I emptied the dishwasher and did some ironing (as you do).

Bryan arrived and we packed a bag for me too in case I was kept in. 

The doctor rang to see if I was on my way! That made me even more scared. 

We dropped Cathal off and headed for Tallaght A & E which is no fun at any time of the year but on Jan 2nd it was a nightmare. 

There was a guy in a suit liaising with patients to tell us how long we had to wait. After an hour or more I wanted to scream at him to stop telling me I was a major and would be seen ..... I was really miserable.

There were time wasters and people treating it like a social club. I remember one woman who had dropped a wine bottle on her foot in NYE and she was phoning her friends telling them to come up to A & E for the Craic.

I was feeling worse by the minute. I think the anti sickness injection was wearing off because I started vomiting and having explosive diarrhoea again which in very unpleasant to manage in a  public toilet. 

The triage nurse came out and took my letter. She was back 5 mins later to tell me they were preparing a place for me. When I heard those words the passage from John's gospel flashed across my brain "there are many rooms ..." It's a popular reading at funerals! I was losing it... 

Emma chatted away and Bryan worried. I was taken through to a bay after 10pm and I was sure I was going to be home later that night. 

By 11pm I had bloods taken and vitals were assessed. There was a lot of head scrAtching. They said it was most likely a virus and asked if I had been to Africa or anywhere else like that where I might have picked something up. They mentioned rheumatic fever at one point. 

I told Bryan and Emma to go home as it was so late. I was convinced I would be calling home in the early hours trying to arrange a lift. 

I spoke to a nurse at 11.30pm and asked her did she think I would get home that night? She looked at me and said: "no Brenda, you are a very sick girl". 

I settled in for the night in the cubicle ...running to the loo every 10 minutes and vomiting into my cardboard dish in between. I was given more anti sickness meds and put on fluids.

I was told I was dangerously dehydrated. Sure I had been losing any food and drink I ate since early Dec through vomiting etc

I had a haemoglobin of 7 which is why I was breathless and weak. 

Docs were shocked by my bloods and were amazed I was able to stand. 

I saw more docs and was eventually moved away from the A & E madness into a small side room for observation overnight.

They were pursuing the sickness as a virus but could rule nothing in or out. 

I often wonder looking back and knowing what I know now about bloods - did they know it might be cancer ? 

I never for one moment thought it was cancer. 

But it was. 

Thankfully here I am on 2 January 2015 - a date I never thought I would be writing.... 

Here's to good health in 2015. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Some thoughts about mental fitness and young people

My 17 year old daughter wrote this for her school mental fitness week which began today. She read this on her school intercom system: 

This week is Mental Fitness week, which for a lot of you probably means the long an arduous process of picking out an outfit to dazzle the entire school with, but for a few of you, it might just mean a lot. Because the fact is that 1 in four people will, at some point, experience a mental health difficulty. This week is about you, and it’s here to remind you that you are most certainly not alone. 

I don’t want to bombard you with facts, so instead I’m gonna do a little speech.

I like speeches.

Sure, by itself, the world is just trees and rocks and clouds, but if there is some magic, it’s in people, as much as I would love Hogwarts to be real. You can either accept that life is an individual experience or a collective ordeal. You’re not wrong, either way, but only together can we make human life worth something. We may not feel inherently valuable, but as countless love stories have told us, we have the potential to mean everything to another person. As J.K. Rowling said, “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”

Alone, we might not really feel all that important, but if you add just one person who cares, you become as great and incalculable as the universe itself. Sure, the universe is big, but that’s only because every planet is millions upon millions of miles apart. There are seven billion of us squashed together on one insignificant blue planet floating aimlessly around a tiny star, but just look at the things we have done. Things like Christmas and the Mona Lisa and Mario Kart.

There are times when all of us feel alone, or overwhelmed, or disgusted with ourselves, but that isn’t a reason to become disillusioned with the world. Don’t be sad because your life isn’t as exciting as the books you read or the films you watch, because once you get past the tininess of the community you’re living in, there are millions of things you don’t know about the world. Watch documentaries about planet Earth and see all these things you hadn’t even thought of. Revel in the hours of fun children manage to have with the ketchup packets in restaurants. What it that even about?

There are so many things to be amazed by, so many books you’ll leave unread if you give up this stupid huge, tiny world

No matter how bad things are right now, remember that everything is temporary, and that you have the strength to be more than what you’ve done so far. You can be the things that you will do, the promises you make to yourself.

Maybe you’ll paint a masterpiece, or write a classic. Maybe you’ll write a song they’ll sing in a thousand years, or maybe you’ll discover something that will save lives. Maybe you’ll do nothing but love and be loved. The point is, unless you keep beating on, you’ll never know.

This week is for you, a little reminder that there are people who can help, and a world that aside from all its flaws is pretty cool and worth paying attention to.

Emma Tobin 

Age 17 

Read out on school intercom system for mental fitness week 6 October 2014