Book review – A Henchman’s Honor, by Dennis M Young


12208677_858811600901862_7183188653730796681_nWow. Seriously. It’s rare that a book will make that much of an impression on me that it prompts me to write a review such as this. “A Henchman’s Honor” by Dennis M Young, based on his true story, is on a different level.

I have just finished the last chapter; my heart is pounding from the emotional stress, my eyes are puffy from the tears, and my head is reeling from trying to process the implications of what I’ve just learned. I am overwhelmed and just don’t know what to say. I am completely drained. I think I need to go and lie down in a dark room somewhere and really reflect on the many things I’d previously been told were a part of reality and that I’d been led to believe were true.

That may sound crazy, over the top even, and I know I’m prone to drama on occasion, but even I had no idea of the power that Dennis’ words would have, or their effect on my psyche. Given the subject matter it’s not something that I would naturally be interested in. Quite by accident  Dennis and I became friends on social media, and I discovered that he’d written a book, so immediately downloaded it on to my Kindle. Having never previously read anything with a military background I wasn’t too sure how I’d find it, but by the end of the first page it’d had such a profound effect on me that I had to put it down and take it in – the truly shocking beginning, and the fact that it was about someone I’d conversed with surprised me with the inability to come to terms with what ‘could’ have happened. From that point on I knew I was in for a revealing discovery, not only of Dennis’ mindset during the many years that his book covers, but of the often distressing situations he found himself in, and of the knowledge revealed towards the end.

From his early life on a farm in Canada to his time in Bosnia, and everything in between, the depth of Dennis’ book means you will be riveted from start to finish. His ability to write honestly and openly, and often with much humour, keeps the story flowing from one experience to the next. I cannot stress enough how passionate I am about it – his story needs to be told. There are two books I’ve read that have actually made a difference to me. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is one of them. A Henchman’s Honor is the other. Dennis, it is MY honour to know something of you, in however limited a capacity. Thank you, sincerely, for your bravery and resolve, in the past and for the future.

Newark Book Festival

Confirmed today, I will be at Newark Book Festival this coming Saturday 8th August. It’s the town’s very first festival, and will take place in the stunning setting of the 12th century castle alongside the River Trent. There’ll be many authors present, as well as activities and talks – see you there!


Daily Mail article

We’re in the Daily Mail today!

“Greatest gift of all from the bank of mum and dad: It’s a VERY modern trend – the parents who help fund the cost of their own IVF grandchildren

  • At 33, Tru Spencer wanted to start a family with her husband, James, 41 

  • Unfortunately they found out that James’ sperm count was too low

  • Tru’s parents, Pat and Alex, paid half of the £15,000 bill for Tru’s IVF”

Click on the photo below to read the article by Alice Smellie!



Fertility Specialist Mr Paul Serhal on ITV’s This Morning

Here’s a link to an appearance by Mr Serhal of The Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health (formerly the Assisted Conception Unit at University College Hospital) on ITV’s This Morning programme on Thursday 16th October 2014.

Mr Serhal and the team feature in my book – if it wasn’t for them it wouldn’t exist!


Twin Stars reviewed by a medical professional

Twins and multiple births

A very short note to say I am thrilled to receive a fab review by Dr Carol Cooper – author of Twins & Multiple Births: The Essential Parenting Guide from Pregnancy to Adulthood, medical journalist, TV & radio medical expert. Here’s what she says:

“This lovely book spans nearly four years, during which Tru Spencer and her husband put normal life on hold in their quest for parenthood.

Most of their bumpy IVF journey is written as a diary, so it’s a detailed personal account of their ups and downs, some of which are frankly harrowing. While assisted fertility is routine for those providing it, it’s anything but to those going through treatment. If you read this book, you soon realise you’re not alone in having to cope with stress, hope, despair, spiralling expense, the effect on the rest of the family (including your own parents), the impact on your work, and above all the helplessness that comes with the process.

Making babies is a gamble for anyone, but especially for those having fertility treatment. By the time they get to IVF, most people are well-established in their careers and used to being in control. It’s hard to lose this and face the unknown, as the author explains so well.

This book would be most useful for anyone having fertility treatment. In fact they should probably know something about the emotional fallout before they embark on treatment. As a doctor, I think it would also be a useful resource for health care professionals and medical students.

It’s not a medical book but there are a few helpful references. Just one note of caution: don’t assume that everything Tru went through will happen to you (though it may, because life’s like that).

One minor quibble: Tru glosses over the difficulties of moving house at 15 weeks. I always found it an ordeal, even when not pregnant. Maybe I should use her removal company next time.

Like the rest of the book, the end is hair-raising but left me with a warm glow. I love a happy ending!”

So a huge thank you to Dr Cooper. Getting a review like that gives me a warm glow too!
Click to read this review on Amazon


An A to Z of IVF, Part 7 (X to Z)

As it’s Sunday 3rd November and the last day of Infertility Awareness Week, and also that of The Fertility Show in London, here’s the last part of the A to Z of IVF feature. I hope the article has been informative. Look out for more posts in the future not only about IVF, but also on pregnancy and life with twins.

X     Xylitol
A sugar alternative – it looks and taste just like it, but is much, much healthier, not just for your teeth but for your hormones too. Found in small amounts naturally in our bodies, it is commercially available from plants, usually birch or more often corn cobs. A study in May 2013 showed that there may be a benefit in a lower sugar, higher protein diet for patients going through IVF[i]. It’s only one small change but it might be worth considering.

Y     Yourself
Not always easy, but do try to be extra kind to yourself. You are still a person, not just a baby-making machine, and with your mind so preoccupied with all thoughts of IVF and your eyes on the prize at the end, it is very easy to lose your sense of self. You still have all your other hopes and dreams, they’ve just taken a back seat for the time being.

Z     Zoo
You’ll probably feel as though you’re living in one, what with all the probing and poking by doctors and medical staff at what seems like countless hospital or clinic appointments. You may also feel as though your whole life is on display too, and that you’re being judged by people you don’t even know. Rest assured this is not the case – at least not from the medical professionals’ point of view. Whilst the IVF experience is highly personal to each couple going through it, it isn’t always conveyed that way by the doctors and nurses involved in the process. With regard to friends, family or even strangers, try not to take it personally, especially when you hear comments from others voicing their opinion on IVF when they have no knowledge or experience of the subject. Practically you could also give meditation a go: if you’re lucky enough that your head allows it, it’s the ultimate method of attaining a calm and peaceful mind. If it all sounds a bit too ‘New Age’ for you, do it anyway. If it works that’s a bonus, if it doesn’t you haven’t lost anything. Try to live in the moment as far as you can, and experience every aspect of your treatment as and when it happens. Keep optimistic, but stay realistic.

[i] Low-Carb Diet Improves In Vitro Fertilization. Medscape. May08, 2013

An A to Z of IVF, Part 6 (U to W)

U     Understanding
On your part, understanding the treatment cycle, what it involves and some of the technical and medical jargon and procedures behind it can help you to feel slightly more in control of your destiny than you would otherwise. On the part of your partner, family and friends, they need to understand that you’ll require as much support and consideration they can give, for as long as you need it. Don’t be afraid of telling them that – the onus is on them to be concerned about you, not the other way around.

V     Visualisation
As well as taking time to visualise yourself being pregnant, and ultimately holding and being with your baby, it also helps to envisage each step of the treatment cycle too. Think about what’s happening to your body when you take the hormonal suppression drugs, picture the follicles producing the eggs when you’re on the stimulation phase, and during the two week wait visualise the embryo implanting and growing inside your womb. There are special CDs that can facilitate this if you find it difficult to do. Try the cliché of visualising yourself on a desert island surrounded by gently lapping waves when you find yourself on the treatment table before egg collection and transfer. It’s cheesy, but it can work.

W     Waiting
You’ll feel as if your whole life has turned into one long wait. You seem to spend your time just waiting for this that or the other to happen, then when it does it’ll be replaced by another version of the same. Know and accept that it will be a part of your life for quite some time, especially the dreaded ‘two week wait’. Implement your plan for relaxation whenever you know there’s a defined period of waiting approaching – or make a point of keeping your mind occupied. It makes everything go by much, much quicker.

Last day tomorrow . . . X to Z

An A to Z of IVF, Part 5 (Q to T)

Q     Questions
There will be an awful lot of these, both of the medical profession, and of yourself. You can never have too many so don’t be put off by asking whatever you like. You may feel as though you’re being a burden, especially where your clinic or doctor is concerned. Don’t worry about that – it’s exactly what they’re there for. If you feel more comfortable log on to on of the fertility support forums – Fertility Friends is a good one. There’ll always be someone there to answer your queries, no matter how trivial you feel they may be.

R     Relaxation
I know, everyone tells you to ‘just relax’ when you’re going through IVF, as if that alone means the treatment will work. It is incredibly annoying at the very least being told that all the time, and I’m the last person to advocate such a simplistic solution. However, what it can do is aid the release of stress which not only gives your mind a break but your body too, so it’s worth keeping in mind. Try not to whizz about so much – if you work, when you come home just switch off and forget the chores for a while. It doesn’t matter if the house isn’t tidy all of the time. Read a book, go for a walk, meet your friends. Relaxation CDs can be useful too giving you a way to escape for a while. Do whatever works for you, and never feel guilty if that means just vegging out in front of the TV.

S     Support
From your partner, your family, your friends. Tell as many or as few people as you wish. If you can’t handle everyone knowing what you’re going through then tell only a select few who you know you can trust. On the other hand, if you cope better having a wide pool of friends you can call on in times of stress, go for it. Do ensure, however, that those you tell are accepting and supportive of you, your partner, and your decision to go through with IVF. The last thing you need is insensitive comments and probing questions.

T     Therapy
You may feel like talking or you may feel like you’re the only person who’s ever been where you are now and want to curl up and disappear for the duration. Professional, outside help can be a good idea – your clinic may be able to put you in touch with a counsellor to help you through it. I was given the chance and initially didn’t take it, but after some thought I realised that it could be of benefit so I took the offer. Offloading your emotions to someone neutral to your situation really can work – they aren’t going to judge you or make assumptions, and can offer a clear and rational opinion and suggest ways to cope. Therapy could also mean of the stress-reducing kind, so if you have time and the finances allow it why not try a gentle head massage, facial or acupuncture too?

Tomorrow . . . U to W

An A to Z of IVF, Part 4 (M to P)

M    Music
Uplifting or relaxing, music can play a large part in your IVF treatment cycle. If you’re feeling stressed the right music can take you away to a place where you can forget about everything going on around you, at least temporarily. Music therapy has been used for years to help improve mood and restore energy, and soothing rhythms can calm your mind, regulate your heart rate and help you to breathe easier. I found it an invaluable tool in coping with the stress of IVF.

N     Nutrition
Eating well is an absolute must. That’s not to say you can’t afford yourself the odd treat – we’re humans not saints after all! It’s important to remember though that what we put in our bodies really does affect us physically, mentally and even emotionally. It’s probably a good idea to avoid too much junk food in general, but a burger every now and then isn’t going to make any difference whatsoever, especially if you make one yourself at home using organic meat if possible. It goes without saying that the bulk of your diet should come from the usual suspects – vegetables, fruit and grains. Don’t forget a small amount of dairy too. It’s never a good idea to omit complete food groups – just go for moderation. If cooking isn’t usually your thing why not buy a cookbook with easy and quick to make recipes? You’ll have fun putting ingredients together and maybe learn a new skill too, and that’s always a good thing.

O     Optimism
In the beginning you’ll probably be full of positivity and optimism hoping that your very first cycle will be successful. Often it is, and the emotional risk of multiple treatments is minimised. If, however, your first cycle is negative you may find that optimism starts to wane, just a little. The longer it takes and the more treatment you have, the harder it can get to remain in a positive frame of mind. Whilst cautious optimism is recommended, try to also be a realist. Your chances do increase with each cycle i.e. the more you do, the greater the odds of success. Keep that in mind and it will help to balance your view when you’re feeling low.

P      Plan B
It’s a good idea to make alternative plans for if your treatment doesn’t work and you find yourself unable to carry on with further cycles for whatever reason. Hopefully you won’t need one, but having something else to focus on so that you know there is something new and exciting in your future regardless is a huge help. Try and make a plan that involves something you wouldn’t normally do otherwise, but that is still achievable. If your treatment is successful that’s fantastic, but if not having something alternative to work towards can be beneficial.

Tomorrow … Q to T

An A to Z of IVF, Part 2 (E to H)

E   Exercise
Not only will exercise release those feel-good endorphins, it will also force you to concentrate on something else for a while. If you’re really active it might be wise to take it down a notch though – moderate exercise is probably best i.e. avoid that trampoline in the garden for the time being. Walking is a great exercise and if you can do it for an hour or so every day that’s great. Do, however, make sure your body has time to rest – IVF is physically very demanding.

F   Faith (in the process)
When you’re in the driving seat of the IVF process you really are in ‘last chance saloon’. It is usually the last resort in a bid to become a biological parent, and whilst it is easy to have unrealistic expectations it is equally as easy to get lost in the very real possibility of having to remain childless. What you really must have though is faith in the process itself. Look at the statistics for your age range and circumstances, weigh up your odds based on how many cycles you think you may be able to go through. Visit as many clinics as you can and base your decision on which to choose on the environment and how comfortable you feel, as well as their success rates. When you’ve made that decision, put your trust in the doctors – they will do everything they can to help you achieve a positive outcome. Probably most of all have faith in you.

G   God
If religion plays a large part in a person’s life they may struggle with the decision of IVF in the first place, never mind the worry of how they may be judged by others. If the moral and ethical questions have been considered and still the path has been chosen, then for some, their beliefs keep them strong during the process.  For others, they may choose to find their strength in alternative ways. It doesn’t matter what you do – the important thing is that you’re comfortable with your decision.  No-one will be judging or deciding whether treatment is to be successful or not; the outcome is purely down to science.

H   Hope – and its opposite, hopelessness
You will, I guarantee, find yourself flitting between the two extremes of hope and hopelessness more times than you ever thought possible. You will be full of excitement and positivity one minute then come crashing down with sheer desperation the next. This is completely normal, and it will pass. Hope will not guarantee anything but it will keep you going when you thought all was lost. Don’t lose sight of that, and never give up.