A mum of 2 trying to stay sane in an overly airbrushed world.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Computer Says No. System Failure.

1st of June 2015 the government announced plans to bring forward the additional 15 'free' childcare hours for working parents.

A statement on informed us:
The Childcare Bill, will double free childcare available for all working parents of 3 and 4 year olds to 30 hours a week – available to up to 600,000 families and worth around £5,000 a year – including the £2,500 they can already save from existing free childcare offers.
And, in a move to underline the government’s commitment to support working families with the costs of childcare, plans are being drawn up to introduce the changes for some families a year earlier than planned, with pilots in some areas offering 30 hours worth of free places from September 2016.
Sounded fabulous, and luckily by the time my eldest son turned 3 our area was part of the pilot. Our local council signed us up and we received the additional hours following the Easter holidays (April 2017). This was perfect timing for our family as I was returning to work in May following the birth of our second child and those hours really were a lifesaver in buffering the realisation and effect of a now part time wage coming from me to contribute to all those outgoings a family curtails.

Life was going well, kids all settled into their childcare, my return to work was smooth and not too heart wrenching, we were planning to move house, holidays were all booked...then I found a lump in my breast. This was in the first week of July and to cut a long story short it was cancer. The NHS have been fabulous from diagnosis to my first chemotherapy treatment all organised within a month; but getting to that point took a lot of tests, trips to the hospital, many anxious waits and a lot of trying to keep my young children's lives 'normal'. Its not been easy - it'd be fair to say from July to now (September 2017) we've had a lot of plates spinning as we've adjusted our life to the reality of cancer.

Our eldest starting pre-school has been an amazing lifeline, it means he can go somewhere regularly with his friends in our local village as I continue treatment. This was until Thursday just gone (7th September 2017) and I was asked for his DERN number to confirm his eligibility for the additional 15 hours...I'd received a letter from the local council about 8 weeks earlier asking for proof of my earnings to confirm eligibility which I'd hand delivered on the way back from one of the many trips to hospital, but heard nothing I rang to confirm all was OK and get his number for the term.

That was when the it all started to fall apart.

The council informed me that the proof I had delivered was to confirm the eligibility he had up to September, the scheme had now transferred to being handled nationally by the HMRC and I had to re-register via a government portal BUT I was too late, the deadline was 31st August 2017. In my months of focusing on having cancer and beating it I had obviously misread or totally misinterpreted the letter I had received; but I was only 7 days late - surely the humans in charge of the scheme would allow an extension based on medical grounds? This was my error but it was one I fully believe that had been made due to the amount of stress, worry and other things cancer has brought into my life. We had to cancel our family holiday due to my treatment and if a company like Ryanair can refund the cost of our flights within a day just from seeing a diagnosis letter, a national organisation to help the people of the country will have some form of flex in its schemes?!

The short and only inoffensive way I can verbalise their answer to me is NO. I spent 3 hours on the phone to various people within the department on that same day 7 days post deadline to be told:
  • The 'computer' cannot issue any further codes past the deadline day...*
  • Millions have missed the deadline for one reason or another - therefore special exception cannot be taken on the fact I have been dealing with a medical diagnosis and having life preserving/saving treatment.
* I have since found out they can and are processing further codes as they have messed up releasing them and are having to compensate millions as their costs will not be covered this month.

Talking to the call handlers I was passed between was like interacting with robots - no feelings, no empathy, no instinct to try and help a family who haven't just 'forgotten' - they've  actually had a real reason for messing up this time round. How can there be absolutely no flex in a system which so many families rely on to get out to work, to keep roofs over their heads, to have some hours of respite in amongst the other changes they may be experiencing? So much work seems to be being done to make this world more inclusive of all the different types of family there now are, but we really are falling short if the government childcare service aren't actually giving a second thought to the children involved. I can only speak for my children - but they will now need to have their routine changed, be pulled from their childcare and looked after at home with a post chemotherapy mother who cannot move some days due to the fatigue, sickness and muscle pains this treatment induces.  

There is an appeals process for school places which seems a harder bit of admin and process to reverse but nothing for this!?

Lets finish on a statement from former Prime Minister David Cameron:
My message is clear. This government is on the side of working people – helping them get on and supporting them at every stage of life.** 
That is exactly why we are pressing ahead with these reforms - so that not a moment is lost in getting on with the task - going further than ever before to help with childcare costs, helping hardworking families and giving people the opportunity to get into work.
**Just don't let these stages in life get in the way of their deadlines...when a human error occurs the computer will say no and their is no way of getting what your children are owed back. This decision has totally floored our family, it is the first time I have cried post diagnosis and as if the next few months weren't already going to be tough enough...I now dread them even more.

Total utter system failure. Shame on you HMRC.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Death is not a Dirty Word

This is not a blog about me thinking I'm going to die from this little bit of cancer inside my breast. Its merely a musing on the change to thought process when death is a realistic side effect of your current situation.

The word 'cancer' immediately evokes panic. That's the power it possesses with all its unknown characteristics. Its so common, yet so sneaky - the big C has us all on our toes with its potentially fatal edge. The truth, albeit it a sad one is that it does mark the beginning of the end for so many.

If you follow my Instagram page you will know I'm not one for bull shit, sugar coating stuff (other than food) or any sort of faffing about. Maybe it makes me cold hearted or harsh - but I do think in this day and age I think we should all be able to call a spade a spade.

My spade is that cancer could be the cause of my death.

A lot of people around me don't like me to verbalise that...but I'm not doing it to be dramatic or morbid, surely we'd all like a heads up to what it is that will eventually mark the beginning of the end? After all, merely waking up each morning opens us up to the possibility of a lot of death scenarios - no one starts their day thinking they'll have a car accident, choke on their lunch or get knocked over by a bus do they?!

Being given a bit of notice at least gives you the time to prepare and to put things in place, something which is even more important when you have young children. At 3 and 1 I have a small chance of my eldest retaining some memories of me, but my youngest wouldn't. That is the most heart-breaking thing of this whole diagnosis - my gorgeous boys having to hear from others how much I loved them and how gorgeous I consider them to be. 
My oncologist was very honest with my prognosis (I asked her to be very blunt and tell me if this would be my cause of death) she happily informed that she thought I'd be around for at least another 30 years...which is good to hear but even the best laid plans can veer off track and considering your own mortality is a totally healthy thing to consider and reflect on!

In light of my big C diagnosis I've been trying to think of things I wish had done...but I can only come up with one sensible one:
  • Taking out critical life cover with my life insurance back when we bought our house - that extra £10 a month at the time of seemed unnecessary, but that's bitten me on the arse now!

At the other end of the spectrum facing death could make me regret certain lifestyle choices...the key word being could. I don't see the point in berating myself, i'm not going to change - life's too short for that shit (terrible pun unintended)!
This is a quick list of things off the top of my (shaved) head, backed up by a quick Google of 'Things that cause cancer':
  • That night out in the 'uni years' when I smoked 40 fags...that and all the other years Richmond Superking Menthols were a loyal friend
  • Wearing underwired bras
  • Taking the contraceptive pill for years
  • Using roll on deodorant
  • Using eye-shadow
  • Using lipstick
  • Using foundation
  • Having and using a mobile phone...
I could go on but I won't; as you can see nobody has much of a clue as to the hard and fast reasons for getting cancer - yes smoking is proven to increase your chances so I'll hold my hand up to that, but it wouldn't have made me not do it. In reality I could always have been destined to get cancer if my BRCA gene test comes back showing a fault, so living a life of deprivation would have been a waste of time.

As long as you can look back and have a short list of 'things I wish I'd done' then I think you've done well - of course there are amazing experiences, life events and outlandish acts of grandeur I could add to mine...but I'm saving them for the post I write on 'bucket lists'. 😉
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