Follow me on Twitter: @janemcintyre12



I'm Jane McIntyre, a voiceover and writer, formerly an award-winning BBC radio newsreader and producer. My blog covers life, love and loss; travel, coffee and chocolate; with some heartfelt pieces in the mix about my late dad, who had dementia. Just a click away, I'm half of the team behind - two empty nesters who whizzed round the world in 57 days.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Big decisions: my blog; your six, great stories.

So there we were: mother and daughter; standing in a field; having skidded halfway across it. Should we carry on, through more mud, (which, frankly, had looked like grass from a distance ) and trash our trainers, but get home faster? Or turn back and retrace our squelchy steps?

We stood there for a couple of minutes, rooted to the spot, both sinking ever so slightly deeper into the mud, feeling cold, crotchety, and rather stupid, before deciding to head home along the route we`d already walked....down the dry, smooth, Tarmac covered lanes.

 Hardly one of life`s biggest choices. But it got us talking on the way home about decision making, especially when you have major issues to consider--on really life changing issues. I threw the question out on Twitter this week and heard some amazing, inspirational stories. Thank you for all of them.


Hana works in the media, in London. She had to decide whether to tell colleagues about her depression when she started her current job. She`d lived with it for most of her life, and was proud of what she`d achieved so, as Hana put it, `why hide it ?`

"I was signed off last year due to a bad bout," she told me."While I'd say it was handled pretty sketchily by work, and I'd never have been treated the way I was if it had been physical, I know I'd have been in a worse position if it were not on the record as a disability, as mercifully there are laws about such things."

Hana said it took her `a good while` to get back on her feet.

"Bouts like that may only mean 3 months or so out of action but in reality, wipe out the best part of a year," she said. So-- was her decision to be open about her depression, the right one?

"I had great support from some colleagues," said Hana. "However, the pressure I felt under to be OK on my return, and being told what had gone wrong (precious little, particularly in the circumstances) on a couple of projects, as proof of my not being on top of work and my being responsible for getting ill... well, I will be very cautious about being so open again."

And Hana had this to add about attitudes to depression: "
While people say they have sympathy and understand it's an illness, when they have to actively deal with someone who has severe depression - a very alienating and frightening illness - it all too often causes them to blur the personal and medical. Understandable, perhaps, but very stigmatising."


Andrew`s in Shropshire. His big decision came after getting a wake up call about his weight. He was 23, six foot tall, and weighed 20 stone. 

"I`d just got too big through stress," he told me. "The doctor said I had the blood pressure of an 80 year old, that my heart was already showing signs of strain.

 "He said I would have a heart attack if I carried on like that, " remembers Andrew. "  And at 23, that`s not what you want at all."

Andrew decided to start exercising, rather than dieting. First, by walking for an hour a night, four times a week. He lost two stone.....then four more. And the walks turned to running. Five years on from his doctor`s warning, he clocks up 20-25 miles a week in his four regular runs.

"I feel brilliant now,", he said, "and am almost at full fitness.". What`s more, he`s encouraging others to get fit. He started the Lawley Running Group last October--an intermediate group that welcomes beginners.


The `big decision` facing Gill and her family in west Wales was also, potentially, a matter of life and death. 

Gill`s daughter was 22 and had battled with uncontrolled type one diabetes and other problems since she was 12.

 Gill told me: "We have been through self harming, blood clots on lungs and DKA-- a diabetic condition where the organs start to fail. She hates hospitals with a passion. "

"On this particular occasion it was in the evening and we took her into A&E. It was just before one shift went off duty and they had offered her a bed for the night as they were still waiting for test results. She did not want to stay at all and the doctor just lost his patience and told us that if we didn't make her stay she would suffer a heart attack and would not survive."

"You have to understand  that this was a stressful situation for everyone, " said Gill, whose family had discussed possible outcomes many times. " Our daughter had been in a coma on a previous occasion, and was not frightened of dying."

Above all, Gill`s daughter was 22, and wanted to be at home. So, in spite of being told that taking their daughter out of hospital that night could, ultimately, lead to her death, home they went. And she survived.

 Gill said: "We still have bad times but we have some jolly good ones as well. 
She now has an insulin pump instead of five injections a day. Diabetes is not a
condition to be taken lightly--there are so many hidden agendas-- but hopefully she
will improve as technology gets better."


Brigid and Scott are hale and hearty. But they both decided on life-changing decisions which would impact heavily on their friends and families.

Scott, who`s in Shropshire, joined the Navy a week after leaving school. His 27 year career took him all over the world--there was the Gulf, Karachi, Mombasa, Belize, the former Yugoslavia...and some shouty square bashing back in Blighty, too--all part of preparing the next generation of Naval officers for action.

And then: office work. Important, significant, sometimes secret office work...but Scott wanted out. Especially at the end of weekend leave.

 "On Mondays," he said, "I had a nice routine and would catch the 0655 out of Shrewsbury, to arrive back in Plymouth shortly before lunch. It sounds OK, but as the train made its way south west, I usually felt sick to the pit of my stomach."

Sadly for Scott, redundancy wasn`t an option--but he`d discussed it fully with his wife and family and decided to `jump ship` anyway.

 "I think it was fifteen clicks to freedom," he told me, " and it was done. I sent my wife a text, put it on Facebook, and told the office. I sat back in my chair and felt I`d done the right thing for all concerned. In the office there was blatant shock. But for me, it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders."

And now? Well Scott`s had to adjust to life without his uniform, that pacestick (!) and his well rewarded, well earned, respected military status. He knew he didn`t want to work for anyone else, or face anything `complicated or stressful`. So Scott`s Snackshack (at Wickes in Shrewsbury if you`re passing...!) keeps him ticking over. And being home, and closer to his wife and family is, he says `the best place of all to be`.


Brigid, from North Wales, is part of the sandwich generation with grown up sons and an elderly father. After a successful career in sales; she faced redundancy, and decided it was time for action.

It wasn`t just work, but seeing several loved ones die `too early`. Within weeks of making her decision, she was flying to Spain.

And smiling? Not quite.

"The airport experience was surreal," she told me. "As the plane took off, I looked at green fields. England has the greenest fields, even in winter. I had a window seat, and broke my heart. You know, proper, shoulder-shaking sobs. When you`re in the air, you are truly "in limbo"--and that`s exactly how I felt--neither here, nor there."

Spain`s not a world away, but leaving her dad and her "remarkable, sensitive, supportive" sons and their partners was still tough, even though her boys had urged her to `go for it`. 

Accommodation was sorted-- Brigid owns a property in the Murcia region. But as for work--well--she`s considering the options that have been `brewing` in her head--for both business and pleasure.

"The internet makes the world a small place in terms of communication, so jobwise, I could do anything," she said."I`m also learning Spanish, and exercising more, enjoying blue skies and sea breezes...." 

 "There`s no point being stuck in a rut," Brigid said. "When I look back on my life, I want my grandchildren to think I`m the grandma who has stories to tell........the one who had adventures." 

And finally, back to Helen`s story. You might have read about Helen, aka "Lucy" in my blog last year. She was facing one of the biggest, most sensitive and emotional decisions any woman can face. Removing both breasts to eliminate the risk of breast cancer--a significant risk in Helen`s family. Here`s a reminder of what Helen--a nurse from Kent-- had to weigh up at that time. And an update on how she`s doing now.

Helen said :"Having my annual check ups was always an interrupted night's sleep and that absolute breath holding moment until the doctor said everything was clear. I knew this was my breast cancer prevention. Then a month before my annual check I dreamt that I had a breast lump, I even dreamt the location. It was one of those dreams that when you wake up for a split second you think it may be real life. I was so disturbed by my dream that I checked myself...and there it was. It wasn't an easy find, and the consultant couldn't believe I'd found it as it was right against my rib cage." 

"So all in that one afternoon I had mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsy and a diagnosis of a grade 3 invasive tumour. It absolutely blew my mind. I like to feel I am Mrs Together but I could never have imagined how that diagnosis would have reacted with me. I instantly felt like my breast was filled with a growing dog poo or some filthy alien that had to be removed at all costs.When my biopsy results came back that it wasn't cancer, I actually felt little relief. The diagnosis was still affecting me greatly. After my lumpectomy and subsequent all clear I knew that I never ever wanted to go through that experience again, and  I knew I didn't want to have to tell my husband, my children, my sister, my mum that I had breast cancer ever again. 

"It was then a year of research, finding my dream team of surgeons, choosing my surgery type, the best support network and counselling, that I had my preventative bilateral mastectomies."

"I was emotionally and physically ready. I had every piece of information to hand, I had logistics sorted. It wasn't until I was recovering from my surgery that it really hit me how BIG it was. Nothing can prepare you for that. Immediately after the surgery you live for the minute, the absolute helplessness of the days after major surgery are overpowering but you have to just get on with it as the deed is done and you don't have an option but to do anything else. It was tough, really tough. I went through times of feeling like a freak show, being a medical display mannequin! 

"Now, 9 months on and all surgery (bar one mini tweak in April as I have a perfectionist reconstructive surgeon) I am back to life as normal. The relief of no more scans, no more 'back of your mind' fears is more than I could have hoped for. Knowing my risk is now about 1% is a fantastic feeling." 


Thanks again to Hana, Gill, Andrew, Scott, Brigid and Helen for sharing their stories. If you`ve got a `big decision` story of your own to add--please get in touch! Either click on `comment` or email: 
The timing of this topic is pretty significant for me, by the way--it`s coming up to a year since I left a job I loved. It was my choice to `ask for the money and run`. A big decision for me. But an easy one, in the end...for a couple of reasons. More next week..... 


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