Friday, 13 November 2015

We are your Junior Doctors: 6 minutes to save the NHS

Thank you for watching this short video.

Twenty years ago, my husband was a junior doctor in the NHS. He worked hard and was trained well. He specialised as a cardiologist and today he is a consultant.

Medicine is not an easy career path to follow. Sick patients and their families depend on caring, skilled doctors, nurses and support staff. We have missed Christmasses, Birthdays, funerals, weddings in order that my husband provides a service to his patients. This is the right and proper thing to do.

Now, as the NHS faces a crisis in staffing and funding, my husband will stand on the front line, in support of his junior colleagues.

You can show your support too, by sharing this video and by signing the petition.

Thank you.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

What to expect when someone important to you is dying

Since becoming an advocate fro Dying Matters, I have had many conversations with strangers about death and dying. It isn't as morbid as it sounds. A good death can be a very uplifting event. In our family, Mom's death, although expected, changed our lives forever. Thankfully, we had good advice and great support and it made a very difficult day more bearable, to know that Mom had passed away peacefully in her own bed, at home, with no intervention. It is this simple act of kindness from a stranger, helping us through that day, that makes me want to share with other families.

I had a conversation with a professional acquaintance today. After our business was concluded we chatted for a while over coffee, and she told me that her mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer and her mother in law died recently, suddenly, from a brain haemorrhage. These two seemingly unconnected events have rocked her family and called into question whether it is better to die suddenly or to have time to plan for death.

Rather selfishly, I was very grateful for the few months my mother was given. We got to know each other again, and we made plans for the future, a future without Mom but with happiness. This was important for both of us.

I recall that several friends and family wanted to see Mom in her final days. As a family we asked them to keep their visits short and not to bring cakes. Mom didn't need much food, just a few sips of water and finally just sucking on a soft, wet toothbrush. People feel awkward around death and the dying and brought cakes regardless, because it made them feel better. We were grateful for their visits, but it wasn't helpful for Mom, especially when they left in floods of tears.

I do wonder how we would have felt if Mom had gone suddenly. It was, after all, medical intervention which saved her life, only to diagnose her with lung cancer within days of Christmas five years ago.

On the day Mom died, the community nurse pulled the sheet back and quietly pointed out the colour on Mom's foot. It was the first sign, she said, that the dying process had started. She spoke quietly, because hearing is the last sense to go and actually becomes quite acute before death. The tumours had taken Mom's sight, and her eyes were opaque, but she could hear us and feel our gentle touches. The nurse asked if we wanted Mom catheterised. We decided against it. She wasn't eating and only sucking on the toothbrush so we didn't feel there would be much need. A TENA pad would do.

Mom's foot was pale grey, with a very weak pulse. She couldn't speak, just a rasping gurgle came from her lips. My brother phoned from Australia and we held the phone to her ear while he said his goodbyes. Mom needed no pain relief that day - the pain receptors along with most other functions had already ceased their activity. Afterwards, I helped the nurse bathe Mom and change her into a lovely clean nightdress. I picked some flowers from the garden and placed them on her chest. Everything was very quiet. The oxygen machine had been turned off and we were lost in our own thoughts.


This was our experience. If you would like to know more, a new guide has been published by the National Council for Palliative Care. 'What to expect when someone important to you is dying' is available from and costs £2.50.

Beware, dognappers!

You cannot have failed to notice the flurry of news stories about dog thefts and attempted dog thefts in our area recently. The stories are heartbreaking and I'm sure all dog owners would be devastated if one of their precious furry friends were to be taken. What I can't fathom, is why this is happening? Money, breeding, sport?

I suppose one can understand puppy theft, after all puppies are a valuable commodity, easily saleable. But who would buy a mature dog out of the back of a car? There doesn't seem to be a preference for, or insider knowledge of, specialist pedigree stud dogs, although there is some evidence of the villains scoping out potential dogs in local parks and woods.

And is the market for dog fighting or blood sports such as hare coursing so great that pet dogs must be taken to satisfy a bloodlust?

Fortunately, the use of social media in alerting local people to dog thefts and people arousing suspicion has resulted in several happy-ever-after stories, of stolen dogs, too hot to handle, reunited with their owners. Don't be afraid to circulate the information quickly and as widely as possible.

The advice from the police is to have your dog microchipped and to keep the contact details up to date, to make sure your dog wears a collar with your contact details but NOT the name of the dog on the disc, and to take photographs of your dog which clearly show identifying markings.

As always, be vigilant on your dog walks, for your own personal safety and that of your pet pals. In the gloomy days and dark evenings, why not put a fluorescent coat or flashing light on your dog? Make sure of your dog's recall in public spaces, and if your precious one would happily follow someone with a juicy steak, keep him on a lead, or at least in your sight. It does mean that walks may sometimes be curtailed, but rather be safe than sorry.

Technology can help too. GPS trackers are becoming more common. An expensive option, I agree, but if your pedigree pooch cost upwards of £500, it might be well worth it.

At home, be cautious about who befriends your dog. That friendly workman might mention your dog to a friend of a friend, but he wouldn't be a friend of yours.

And finally, boarding kennels. Make sure you know who is taking care of your dog while you are away. Ask about security after hours, and check that 'visitors' cannot wander around unaccompanied.

Happy, safe dog walking!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Boxer dog health: can you help with this research?

 Help improve the health of the Boxer breed.
I am writing to you on behalf of the staff at the Animal Health Trust (AHT). Their letter below informs Boxerowners of important research investigating cancer in the breed and how they can contribute.

The Kennel Club strongly encourages you to contribute to this project because the information that it generates will be of great value to the breed.

Kind regards,

Bonnie-Marie Abhayaratne
Health and Breeder Research Assistant
The Kennel Club

The Animal Health Trust (AHT) in Newmarket would like to invite you to take part in studies being carried out on 3 types of cancer that affect Boxers. You have been sent this letter by the Kennel Club, on behalf of the AHT, because you are the registered owner of a Boxer. However, please note that the fact that you have been sent this letter in no way implies that we believe your dog will become affected by any of the cancers that we are studying. We sincerely hope that you will be able to participate in these studies as they may help future generations of dogs. However, if you have already contributed to any of our studies thank you for your help.

At the AHT we are undertaking research that is seeking to address the issue that pedigree dogs develop cancer more frequently than people. We hope that this research will eventually lead to both a reduction i n the numbers of dogs affected by common cancers, and the development of new treatments for these cancers.

We would like your help with research studies that are attempting to identify inherited ‘genetic alterations’ that cause Boxers to have a higher risk (than most other pedigree dog breeds) of developing gliomas (brain tumours), lymphoma and mast cell tumours, respectively. In the long term, we hope that the research will lead to the development of ‘DNA tests’ to identify Boxers that carry the genetic alterations that cause the increased risk. Such tests will be invaluable for vets as they will identify dogs who may benefit from careful monitoring for early detection of cancer (enabling early treatment), and it will also help breeders to reduce the incidence of Boxers affected by these cancers. Significantly, the research will increase understanding of how the 3 cancers develop, promoting the development of new therapies.

Research progress to date
The study on mast cell tumours began in 2010. In the last 5 years we have analysed DNA samples from 139 Boxers with mast cell tumours and 117 Boxers (of middle-old age), searching for genetic markers (called ‘SNPs’) that are present much more frequently in the DNA of Boxers with mast cell tumours. Such SNPs would identify parts of the DNA that contain genetic alterations that cause an increased risk of developing mast cell tumours. Unfortunately, the results obtained so far are inconclusive, and so we need to analyse additional DNA samples from both Boxers with mast cell tumours and unaffected dogs, and continually re-analyse the data until we obtain definite results.
Please could you help us with our studies? 
Taking part is easy. 
If your dog has been diagnosed with either glioma, lymphoma, or a mast cell tumour, or is at least 10 years of age and has never been affected by any type of cancer, we would like to hear from you.
Simply E-mail, or telephone 01638 751000 Ext. 1214, to request a cheek swab kit. Each kit is supplied with x 3 swabs, full instructions, a sample submission form and a reply envelope. Unfortunately, as a charity we are unable to pay for the swabs to be returned to us, but a ‘large letter’ first class or second class stamp will cover the return postage. If your dog is currently affected by either glioma, lymphoma, or a mast cell tumour we will also ask you if it is possible for you to ask your vet to retain (in a special preservative that we will provide) for our research a small piece of any tumour biopsy that is surgically removed.

The more samples that we receive the more likely it is that we will be able to identify inherited genetic alterations that cause Boxers to have a higher risk of developing the 3 types of cancer. If you submit a sample, all informat ion relating to you and your dog will remain strictly confidential.

If you have any questions about taking part in the study, please contact Victoria Pilfold-Wilkie by E-mail or by telephoning 01638 751000 ext 1214. Further information about the work that we do at the Animal Health Trust can be found on our website here
Yours Faithfully
Dr Mike Starkey
Molecular Oncology Research Group Leader 
Victoria Pilfold-Wilkie
Sample and Data Curator

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

All kinds of life in the garden today

Araneus diadematus (garden spider) - with prey

Bluebelle - large hen, lays lots of eggs, always wants a treat

Lavatera (tree mallow) - flowers in late summer

Patty pan (summer squash) - last of the flowers, excellent crop

Thirsty bee - with reflection

Thirsty dog - shares the birdbath with the bees

Late summer crops - Golden Sunrise tomatoes are my favourite

Thursday, 13 August 2015

My dog has a fat ear!

He does. I felt it. I googled it. I panicked.

The vet says it isn't a blue light condition but maybe he does need surgery. Oh dear. This is Brin, who is very suspicious of most things, even buttered toast. How will he cope with a surgical collar, wound dressing and sutures. How on earth will I cope?

Brin, of course, is on best behaviour at the vet, which isn't always the case. He seems to have mellowed since his prostate problem (more on that in a future post). His ear is inspected. 

The vet is very solemn.

'I don't think we'll do anything. Let's just wait and see'. Chicken.

But, I'm pleased about that. It isn't bothering him, he isn't constantly scratching his ear. And he isn't holding his head to one side, so even though I know he has a fat ear*, he doesn't.

* For the veterinary record, the fat ear I refer to is actually aural haematoma. It occurs when the ear is damaged, usually by vigorous head shaking, but in this case most likely due to Zozi attack. The small blood vessels in the ear leak blood into the ear flap, making it swell. It can take just a few hours to swell, but in Brin's case, it was quite slow to develop. A quick relief is to lance it, but not recommended for house dogs who will most likely leak blood everywhere. The surgery is simple but does leave sutures or buttons in the ear for 2 weeks, necessitating the use of the collar. I don't think Brin would last 2 hours before the collar was destroyed. So, we have decided to let the haematoma resolve naturally over a few weeks. I've been warned that it will leave him with a crinkly ear, but that won't spoil his good looks.

If in doubt, please consult your vet.