With Woofstock UK about to enter its 4th year I found myself deep in a telephone conversation this week explaining how this barking mad festival came about! What brought me to Woofstock and what craziness made we wake one day and say “let’s do a festival for dogs”? One day, one moment in time that changed my life forever………..
Firstly, my name is Heather. I am lovingly referred to as “The Boss”. In 2012, well to be precise the 31st March 2012 and my reason for being so precise will become clear in a moment, my life changed forever. On the surface it was a normal day. A Saturday. A dry sunny spring morning. The dogs had been out early in the morning and I had been having a well-deserved lie in after working a very long week. I had my own business which was 5 years in the making with employees and offices. It was hard work but very enjoyable and we had taken on a last minute job on the Friday which had meant a lot of driving for me and one of my team but it was work.
At about 8:30 on the 31st I dragged myself out of bed. I felt a bit heavy headed, but thought nothing of it just assumed too much sleep. Who would have ever thought it was possible to have too much sleep! Anyway, I went downstairs to the kitchen with crazy bed head and heard the patter of 8 paws heading my way as Harry and Maggie ran to greet me with their normal bounce. But they stopped dead before they reached me. Not only that they sat down and stared at me. Blimey I thought I am not that scary looking! I know I probably looked a bit rough but surely not enough to stop two lively dogs in their tracks. As the kettle was boiling I went into the hall and looked at myself in the mirror as you do just to make sure you look as rough as you feel! Harry and Maggie sat and stared. They did not move they did not take their eyes of me they stared. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought “not a great look” but then I noticed something. On the right Side of my neck there were small purple blue marks. Like bruises or a friction rash. I looked at it and thought I must have scratched myself in the night.
I went back into the kitchen and finished making the tea. I took it into the sitting room and Harry and Maggie followed. Maggie sat down next to me and Harry stood and stared. I was starting to feel uneasy by their behaviour at this point. Neither had greeted me. Neither had run up to me and smothered me with licks. They sat and stared. It was quite unsettling. My head was pounding by this point, but I did the usual and had breakfast. I thought to myself some fresh air will do the trick so decided to take the dogs out for a walk however, the dogs would not let me walk no more than a few steps before they would sit in front of me to block my way. I was starting to get cross with them at this point. I was scared if the truth be known.
The bruising had spread by now and I called my mum who lived 10 minutes away. I also called NHS direct and the on call GP. Mum arrived whilst I was on hold and looked at me. The strange bruise rash had spread to my ears and hairline. NHS direct came on the phone and said go to hospital to be on safe side. The on call GP said it was nothing to worry about. We listened to NHS direct and my mum took me to A&E.
We arrived at Addenbrooks hospital and prepared ourselves for a long Saturday wait. Thinking that there would be the usual DIY injuries or footballers. At the entrance was the triage nurse. The rash was noticeable now and the nurse took one look and me pointed at some chairs away from everyone else and said book in and wait there” I remember thinking how precise she had been. No sooner had my bum hit the chair than I was asked to follow another nurse and was put in a private room with my mum. A few minutes later another nurse came in told me to get on the bed and she put a line in my arm. Then another nurse came in and took bloods. Scared? I was terrified. After taking my blood pressure there were lots of bruises left. A Dr came in and asked me some questions about how I felt etc. I felt a bit poorly with a heavy head but nothing more than that. The Dr said she would be back when the bloods came back. Mum said she would go and get a paper and a sandwich as it was lunchtime.
About 40 minutes later a very worried Dr came into the room. I have never seen a worried Dr, but this lady was positively panicking. She said they needed to run my bloods again as they thought the results must be wrong. She said my platelets were 12000 they should be 250000. I did not know what she was going on about but then it hit me. Leukemia. They took more blood but I was bruising everywhere at this stage. About 30 mins later I was really not very well. I was losing concentration not entirely all there if honest. The Dr came back with a nurse. “We are admitting you immediately; we need to take you for a brain scan and chest x-Ray now.
The next few hours are a blur but I got taken for an MRI scan and then x-Ray and then to a ward. The oncology ward. I was still fully clothed. My body was covered in bruises. Deep dark purple bruises. They did not hurt. There was a flurry of activity. It was dark outside and they hooked me up to a bag of platelets to try and stabilise me. My platelets went up to 13000 but within 30 minutes had plummeted to 2000 as my body continued to attack itself. I had started bleeding from my nose too and I could hear the nurse outside on phone to the blood bank saying get blood here she is bleeding out. I knew it was me. The fact was I was dying. I was undressed and put in clean pyjamas while they tried to make me comfortable. My left eye had also haemorrhaged at this point. I guess I looked a mess! Two Drs came to see me and said the bruising was my body haemorrhaging, my body was attacking itself they did not know why. They wanted to take bone marrow and whilst there was a great risk in me bleeding they thought it was worth the risk. The pressure in my head was unbelievable and I was really at the mercy of what needed to be done. They tried for 2 hours to get bone marrow. I went into shock and they stopped. I had sung throughout the procedure, first was “I am forever blowing bubbles” and then I had sung “oh happy day”. I have no idea why they popped into my head. One of the Drs talked about my beloved Harry as I had mentioned him earlier. As I lay there I could see his beautiful face.
I lay there my life in the balance. Not being given much chance of living but not knowing that at the time. I was checked every 15 minutes. I lay there until a nurse stuck her head around the door and said it was April fool’s day. That made me smile and I remember saying is this all a joke then. She came over stroked my hair and said “unfortunately not sweetheart” I will never forget her kindness.
I watched the sun rise hooked up to drips and machines. Whilst I could not see out of my left eye, I was in awe of the sunrise and grateful for being given the good fortune to see it again. To this day I do not sleep with curtains closed for I am grateful for each day I wake and see the glorious sunrise or rain. The Dr came to see me and said she had not expected to have seen me still here. She said I had them all very worried. They still did not have a reason for why I was so ill but they believed I had something called ITP. My body was basically killing itself and my immune system was seeing my blood and platelets as foreign. Basically my autoimmune system was playing space invaders with my body. They did not rule out another attempt at bone marrow something which causes me fear to this day. I was far from out of the woods but the fact I was alive was a step forward. They needed to suppress my immune system so I was started on 60mg of steroids as well as tablets to stop me bleeding and pain killers I was on 18 tablets a day.
Because my body was in crises it became increasingly difficult for them to take blood. They ended up taking blood from very strange and painful places but even then they were running out of options having started to look for veins on my feet. They could not even change the line in my arm for fear of them not being able to stop the bleeding. As bruises formed patterns in my legs I did wonder if I joined the dogs would I get the winning lottery numbers! I was weak, tired and pretty beat up but one thing I sat and stared at was a picture of my beloved Harry and Maggie. There was to be a further cruel twist in my illness. My lips turned black and my mouth filled with blood blisters. I could not eat or drink hot drinks. The nurses made me ice chocolate smoothies and the tea lady made me tea and left it to go cool before bringing to me. To say I was well looked after was an understatement. My mum would sit with me during the day as I drifted in and out of consciousness and she would tell me about Harry and Maggie.
At night it was lonely. I would watch the staff working and on a couple of occasions I would watch them wheel out a trolley heading for the mortuary as another cancer patient had lost their battle. I remember thinking I would never leave the hospital alive. After a couple of days in hospital a PAT dog was brought into the ward. That visit from a canine lifted my spirits. I cannot even begin to describe the joy I felt seeing a pooch. What an amazing thing these dogs do for people. After a week in hospital and a few bags of platelets pumped into me I was allowed home. I left in a wheelchair and sobbed my thank you sniffles to the staff. I could not believe I was leaving alive, still ill, but alive. My life had changed forever.
I arrived home and Harry and Maggie had been contained in the boot room. I desperately wanted to see them but I knew that I could not afford to cut or injure myself. I walked into the kitchen, well more of a shuffle if honest, and saw them they looked beautiful. Harry drooped his ears and had such a soft face and Maggie wagged her tail furiously. They were calm and gentle and loving and I cried into Harry’s fur and thanked them both for protecting me and alerting me to the fact I was seriously ill. They had both sensed how ill I was and whilst it was confusing and annoying at the time, those two amazing dogs had tried their best to stop me coming into harm’s way by shepherding me around the house and protecting me things. Over the weeks of recovery my moods were not good. The tablets had bad side effects and I would frequently go between good moods and being furious and angry. Yet through this and despite me shouting at the dogs they came and sat with me and Harry would snuggle up to me on the sofa with a face saying “it’s ok boss I am here” our bond deepened we became inseparable.
One day I thought to myself “I wonder how many dogs are on twitter” I had a twitter account for my business already with a couple of thousand followers but the idea of Harry tweeting intrigued me. I checked and was amazed at how many there were. I set about getting Harry tweeting and soon he made friends with lots of amazing dogs, cats and people. Some of who are friends to this very day yet do not know the journey I have been on. I always laugh with people and say it was my drug induced state that lead us to twitter and in a way that is absolutely true. On my road to recovery we decided to write a blog and then a book and all the while Harry’s popularity grew. In my mind I wanted to celebrate this beautiful dog and his sisfur who had given me so much love and hope in my darkest times. I wanted to show the world this beautiful animal that had saved my life not medically but spiritually. He was there with me always no matter what mood I was in.
However, Harry had developed a limp on his back leg. He had torn his cruciate ligament. In May 2012 he underwent an op. It was my turn to care for him even though I was still ill myself. I stayed up with him and helped him recover. Together we helped each other heal. It was another chance for us to bond. We simply had an understanding. In September 2012 I was forced to realise that I was not going to be the same Heather with the same energy as I once had so we decided that we would shut up the company and move to Devon. It broke my heart but I knew it was for the best. We set our date to move, November 2012.
This brings me up to Woofstock UK. A lot of people think I am crazy to have set up a festival. “Why did you plan Woofstock?” I am often asked.
Now there is a question! I sometimes ask myself the same thing. Simple answer, I love dogs, I love my dogs and I want to thank all the dogs out there for being the most amazing creatures on this earth. Sure I loved my dogs before I got ill, but when they stepped up that day and protected me the penny finally dropped that dogs are beings in their own right. Sad answer, I don’t know what I will be like this time next year. I could be the same I could be worse I know I won’t be better. My memory and ability to do things could get progressively worse. Hey, when your consultant says he is astounded that you are still working and you have a significant disability you kind of think to yourself wow, that serious? Then you do what I do and forget that moment and how it felt and how scared you were. My brain injury is a blessing and a curse. So I wanted to make an impact and do something crazy and amazing, meaningful and important. A legacy to honour my best friend Harry and all he has done for me. To give people an opportunity to come together and meet new friends, old friends and people they have never met but have tweeted with and face booked with for years. I want to look back for as long as I can and say “I did that, we did that”. Who knows what tomorrow may bring. I very nearly did not have a tomorrow.
These days with the support of my partner, soon to be wife for yes we are getting married the day after Woofstock this year, I live my life to the fullest I can. Life has trundled along for us the last 6 years. I am still under the hospital, I have new problems and am currently undergoing hospital tests. My best friend Mandi makes me cry with laughter as she constantly points out that the hospital may get confused as my brain is half dog. My brain is not what it was before 31st March 2012. The original illness has had a significant impact on my day to day ability particularly remembering things and being able to verbalise. I have good days, I have great days, I have bad days but, I have days, something I very nearly didn’t have. I don’t know what the future holds but I do know that I intend to live everyday with positivity.
As for Harry, he is my rock. People who do not have animals will probably not “get” this blog. For those of you who do, hug your animals a little tighter, tell them you love them for they are miracles I certainly will cherish Harry, Maggie and now Jake for as long as I am privileged to have them as part of my life.
So come and join us to celebrate on 4th August 2018 for our 4th year. Come and celebrate your life, your animals and the joy they give you. We look forward to seeing you there so be sure to come and find me and Harry and brace yourself for a massive hug. People may arrive at Woofstock UK as strangers, but they always leave as friends.