Category Archives: Survive Be Alive Blog

Incremental changes for big gains….

You have the power to change your life. You can change your thought process. You can change how you deal with things. You can take control of how you feel about things. You can take a monumental hardcore time in your life and get through it. With adapting the way you think about things. You can!

When something in life is so crazily overwhelming and gives you the feeling that you are completely losing control in the most magnificent way. When you’re gasping for breath because of anxiety, fear, dread, grief. There comes a time when you have to take stock and deal with the barrage of shit that’s been presented to you. I’ve been there. We all have.

You and only you can make changes. And only you know when the time is right to do so. There’s no one size fits all. How you do this though is another question. Because it is hard. We are not robots. Instead we have a myriad of psychological responses to life’s events. Daily pressures, a plethora of emotions, unexpected events, trauma, illness and even some of the best occasions ever in our lives can cause an overwhelming feeling. The feeling that you are not coping and that things are too much. We have a wealth of experiences that make us feel and act certain ways. This makes us so unique but yet can present obstacles and barriers in our lives too.

I remember a time over recent years, albeit briefly and in spurts where I had the feeling that my life was completely flooded with emotion and overwhelmed beyond measure at life. There were some days where I felt like all I did was cry. Laying in bed paralysed by the shit storm that is cancer. I wasn’t crying all day. But I felt like I was. Because it was all too much. Things were so far off the Richter scale that I felt there was no way to salvage the situation or that things could ever get better. That feeling of ultimate dread was something I just dealt with. It was an acceptance that I would deal with anything that came my way. I chose my mindset that this was not going to destroy me. Looking back I was surrounded with so much love and happiness and wonderful positive events with and from those close to me, that I was able to manage those feelings. That positivity in my life helped massively. But I do still know that feeling of when something just feels ‘too much’.

I had to learn very quickly how to adapt, to put things into perspective and acknowledge that I did have the power to get through everything. And so many others have done the same. To their advantage. How incredibly hard that is though. Some days it felt like an impossible task. It requires such discipline and self belief to persevere through life’s crappy dealings. But we can all do it. If you’re going through something major right now, know that you can do it. You will be ok and you will get through it. Do not compare yourself to others and their lives. Focus on you.

Throughout my diagnosis I must admit, every now and again I was grief stricken at the scale of what was happening to me. I thought I couldn’t cope. Thankfully this feeling wasn’t constant but it still reared its ugly head when I least expected it. It was just too much. I learnt over time that I couldn’t approach my life with that thought process. I had to make changes.

To get by and cope I looked at every single part of my treatment and recovery as smaller scenarios. Little bite sizes of one-by-one ticking off the list. Day-by-day depositing another appointment letter to my file. Every individual meeting, drug, treatment, recovery plan, pain was dealt with individually. Some days it felt like it was all happening at once. And that was because it was. But it was still tackled one by one. I celebrated when each part was over. Ready to move onto the next part. I wanted to win. To succeed in getting better. To survive. I celebrate milestones to this day of individual victories in my life.

Breaking things down into smaller doses definitely helps with dealing with something so bonkers. It makes things more realistic. It gives you a sense of achievement when you’ve completed or got through something. It gives a satisfaction when you shout those mighty words ‘I’ve got this’. The next piece has been put in place ready to move onto the next part of the jigsaw. As the saying goes marginal gains can result in the biggest of wins.

This process can be applied to all aspects of life. Whether it’s professionally or privately. With family, friends, with a project or an event. In the corporate world the Kaizen approach is often used. A Japanese concept of ‘changing for the better’. It’s all about continuous improvement. It’s a really powerful way to approach work and to get maximum benefit out of your daily and weekly routine. It allows you to take what you want to achieve and make it more believable. It helps with personal growth and development. I think a superb tool for building confidence. This approach can also be applied to getting through personal trauma, illness or difficulty.

The notion of continuous growth and development for the greater good or changing to make a moment in time better is so powerful. It’s something we can all adopt to get maximum benefits out of living. There have been many times over the past few years where breaking things down has meant success. In getting better and getting through treatment. It has also helped massively with taking on big events or challenges. For example conquering marathon running whilst still in active treatment. At first, that was a silly mammoth idea that, although I knew I could do it, was just completely nuts. But with some careful planning and breaking the training down into achievable segments, it worked.

This way of thinking has also helped with many other aspects of my life. Every time something is presented to me that I consider to be too much I always try to break it down into sections. I very rarely look at a big task now and think I can’t do it. Not to say it doesn’t happen ever but for the vast majority of cases it starts off with a ‘can-do’ approach. This attitude is something we can all adopt. To help with all areas of our lives.

Some key areas where this way of thinking has helped and it can for you too is; My fitness, completing events, my body image, my hair, my nutrition, my overall health, my strength, my learnings/education, my professional life, my house, my relationships. At some point all of these areas have required dealing with it on a smaller scale to benefit in the bigger win. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been so very hard. But it can make such a difference to your life.

See about breaking that problem down into sections. Smaller more easy to deal with doses. It could be making things a daily task rather than weekly. It could be blocking out time to plan. It could be giving yourself smaller targets. For example if you know you want to lose 5 inches from your waist, don’t keep thinking of the end goal. Break it down into 1/2 inch targets. If you want to learn to run. Don’t feel like you have to run 10km on the first day. Gradual, building up with smaller distances. If you want to run a 10km and have never run before break it down into smaller targets. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about how good this approach feels. It will give you far more achievements and successes than not.

The most important thing is that you look after yourself. That you are kind to yourself. That you are an individual and things may take time. You are not the same as the next person. What have you got in your life that is just too much and seems like it is taking over your life?

Try breaking that down into smaller marginal gains. Give it a try.


Power in perseverance

Who knew that being diagnosed with cancer twice and having the prospect of having a baby ripped away and going through years of treatment could be such a powerful tool in being able to deal with a global pandemic?!!! You never know how strong you are until you’re tested hey.

I didn’t realise how equipped I was until now. To look at our current situation of the mad explosion that is Covid. What a nightmare for so many. I decided when it all kicked off that I would tackle it head on and turn it into a positive. Or at least try to. It wasn’t easy at first but a look at what I could do rather than what I couldn’t soon helped get things into perspective.

To be able to deal with the repercussions of the magnitude of Covid and be in a place where I could take a really bad situation and turn it on it’s head was a good feeling. I’m bloody lucky. I know that much. But when the privilege of being alive is there, my philosophy is to always seize the day. So I did some crazy events at home including running a marathon in my garden and completing the Three Peaks Challenge on my stairs. Why? Because I can.

Back in the early days of my diagnosis, I knew from the offset that I would have to draw on every single morsel of strength and energy to get through my treatment. Most of the time I was in autopilot mode getting through each day at a time. A floating sensation done in a mechanical way moving me between meetings and appointments. Between hospital beds and wards. Between various different medical professionals. Calling on my inner Braveheart to deal with the catastrophic impact both mentally and physically of surgery and drugs. I was determined and fired up from the start.

Even when I felt blimin awful. The yuckiest of the yuck, the shittiest of the shit, I still felt fired up. I had purpose and meaning. The little voice always telling me to be strong, to look forward and to persevere. I wanted to succeed in getting better. My mind, body and soul doing their utmost to be in tune with each other.

Perseverance is an interesting concept. So many of us have this power and potential. We have the array of qualities needed to mastermind this approach. We don’t realise how focussed and strategic our minds can be until we have no choice but to aim for success. To survive. To dream and believe and achieve. Be resilient because we have no choice.

But what drives that persevering nature? What hooks us into wanting to overcome difficulties and trauma? What gives us that passion of being so driven and alive with such fierce like a towering inferno lapping away. For a lot of us it’s in our makeup to want to confront things and be able to get out the other side. A survival instinct to power us through.

There have been times where I have felt defeated. I’d be lying if I said the last seven years has been a breeze. It so hasn’t been the case. But even when I started having negative thought processes there was something there, almost in a spirit form, re-energising and re-focussing me. It was that desire to get better, to overcome adversity and to live my best life.

Which brings me back to the start of this post. The thought of how going through cancer helped with dealing with lockdown. There’s lots of similarities. But I think the most ‘stand out’ ones for me is that notion of having things taken away from you. The sense of losing control of a situation. Being dictated to. Listening to advice and guidance and rules. Being restricted with movement. Missing out of your ‘normal’ activities. Being in a situation where you feel like you can’t see the wood for the trees and when things will ever go back to normal. To a certain extent a bit of fear and worry and will everything be ok. The most amazing feeling when things do start to change and a ‘new normal’ is adopted.

And then there’s the realisation that you can’t control the future and what will be will be. To adapt and make use of time instead of fretting. To grab an opportunity to make change. Having to be resilient to the max. To put a positive spin on things and to persevere.

This link to Forbes has a great piece on perseverance. I like it because I think it applies to all aspects of life. Whether professionally or privately. It, to me, highlights that perseverance is a mindset that we can all get to in order to better our lives and tackle all obstacles that are ever out in our way. To bounce back.

‘My experience of the C word’ by Hannah Mills

My name is Hannah and I got diagnosed with breast cancer on 25 July 2015 when I was 25 which to many people is young but the C word has no favourites. When I got told I went numb and didn’t hear a lot else. My mum cried, but my words were “I’ll be ok mum don’t worry” and from that moment of being told what needed to happen I was like, right I am going to kick this and beat it! I was told I needed a lumpectomy at first in my right breast just behind my nipple, so I thought its been caught early yay. But after an MRI I was called back in to hear that it had spread very quickly all in my right breast and I needed a mastectomy and the nipple was being taken away too. So on the 13 August I went down to surgery at Ipswich Hospital ( that I’m afraid to say I’m no stranger to anyway) for my right breast to be removed and reconstruction at the same time. I had one of the top surgeons. She was outstanding from the beginning and through the post op process. I stayed in hospital overnight and was then able to go home. I had a drain still attached which was hard to deal with at first and I did try to keep smiling and laugh through the recovery of all of this. This was the start of a two week supposedly of my summer holiday as I work in a school.

I have a passion for fitness and zumba and swimming and baking and dancing. Well as i needed help with the simplest of tasks like getting dressed or going down stairs I started to find things very tough as I realised I was stuck on the sofa for weeks and I hated it. I was assigned a cancer nurse. She was amazing and always smiling and upbeat. Even when she told me the drain couldn’t come out after the two weeks she was there because i wanted to cry. The day the drain came out I felt free and even though it was hard to walk how I used to and still do basic things I was smiling again. I felt awesome! To celebrate this event I went to zumba. I watched of course but I felt normal even though I could not move my right side of my upper body. I was happy to be where i loved!

Chemo was next. It sounds scary. I had to have chemo for six months, plus a year of herceptin injections in my leg and five years of tamoxifen {another hormonal drug} on top of that. The cancer nurses were amazing and always smiled and there was lots of laughter. Which helped as it was a scary time. I Started my first chemo on the 25th September at 3pm. My aim was just to deal with it but I knew it would involve a cannula, and that for me was the hardest part of the chemo. I have been a pin cushion since I was born, so needles were my enemy. But my nurse was brilliant and made me feel calm and relaxed as she put the needle on my hand. She then had to give me 5 syringes of medication. The one I remember was a huge syringe with red liquid in which was the main chemo drug. I was given anti sickness and hair loss syringes. We chatted about what I loved doing and what I did. This often took a good few hours but I didn’t mind, I was happy. Odd, I know.

I started to make treats for the nurses each time I went up for my chemo. Which they loved and soon enough as the months ticked by, even though it was getting harder to put a needle in, I kept smiling. Yes, there were tears every time the needle went in, but i was fine after that. Soon enough January 8th arrived. It was my last chemo. I was so happy to have finished. However, the treatment was not over as the herceptin and tamoxifen started next.

The injections in my leg each month was not the hard part. The hard part was realising that my periods got worse and I ended up needing to have exploratory surgery to make sure I didn’t have cervical cancer. I was lucky and they could not see anything. I was sent to a place in Colchester to see about freezing my eggs ready for when my treatment had finished. I was told it was the easiest way to make sure I could have children. But it was not to be. I was given the news that i was going through early menopause which was triggered by my diabetes and the chemo. That had finished my chance of having children. I felt cross and frustrated and I hated my body. I thought I’m 26 years old and I can’t have children. This really does suck! Over time I got used to it. My herceptin had not worked so my amazing nurse specialist put me on zoladex for two years. It was in my tummy every month so when i thought i had seen the last of the cancer unit, i was back again. The two years went very quickly and it was working as the hot flushes and sweating started with a vengeance! March 22nd my last injection I made a cake for the nurses. It was a mixture of feelings as I had built friendships up over the last three years. I was sad to leave them but so happy to finish the injections.

With the side effects I was very lucky. I didn’t get many and I could eat just about normally. The chemo did affect me the second week each month. My skin was sore and I started to lose my hair. Just after the second round of chemo I knew I would. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen that fast. So my lovely hairdresser Dawn came to my house and shaved my head. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror for a while. After one comment i decided to get some wigs and head scarves and I got used to it very quickly. I was able to zumba still and I loved it. If I could not zumba Gabi my zumba instructor told me to do it on a chair which was easier. This was for when I felt more tired and not able to stand for long.

July 25th 2016 a year since I was told I had the C word is now celebrated for a different reason. I was matched with my first guide dog Joy. She made all the injections and hospital visits and blood tests a lot easier. By this time my hair was growing back and I was getting my strength back so I was back to swimming competitively and zumba for a full session without using a chair all the time. I was nearly back to my full fitness yippee!!! In October 2019 I was told by the lovely nurse specialist that i should not have come off zoladex and tamoxifen so November I was given my first of five more years worth.

Now in 2020 the injections continue but I am a lot fitter more than i have ever been before. I had the C word, so I have embarked on a new fitness journey where I am now helping others become fitter and stronger and healthier in themselves. Plus my usual passion for ((Bounce)) and zumba continue with laughter and fun and full on gusto. Yes i still have five years left of treatment but I am able to do what I like. I am working full time and having a fun filled life and also looking into becoming a foster carer. Being told you can’t have children can be tough but there are other ways of having a child even if it isn’t naturally.

I do have days where I don’t want the hot flushes or the night sweats or just the fact that I still have treatment to have until I am thirty six. But that’s ok and normal too. I have an amazing family and awesome friends who are always there for me when I need them. I am so lucky! I hope that this will give someone the confidence to keep going with treatment or know that it’s ok to have a down or off day.

My story…..

Last night I finalised a page on my website called ‘My Story’. It’s taken a few days to complete as the vast array of emotions, experiences and events come back to the forefront of my mind. There’s been a lot to write down.

So many emotions I’d buried. Not always intentionally but rather more out of necessity and moving on with life. And I can honestly say it’s been a really cathartic experience. I’ve enjoyed writing down the catastrophic impact of what happened. It’s been like a therapy putting pen to paper or rather fingers to keyboard to capture my thoughts.

A real mixture of emotions as I write recalling vivid memories, remembering things that had faded over time. Expressing the rawness of pain and upset that such a thing causes. How it has changed my life.

But all whilst writing, a sense of unbelievable pride. Pride of what has been achieved. The craziness of my life over the past seven years. I’m not one for doing things by half and bringing my story to this site has highlighted that. I go all out and I love it. But I know I am lucky to be able to do so. And I am always grateful for everything that life brings. Every single day is a gift. Like the moon and the sunrise.

Whilst I write this though, although I have humour, love to laugh and have had a wonderful time, I never ever ever have a blasé approach to it all. It cuts like a knife when I think of gorgeous people that I have met along my way that are no longer with us. Some of the most precious people ever. It’s thinking of how scared they would have been and their beautiful families left with the shock, pain and suffering. That gets me. It cuts like a knife when I think of what my family and friends have gone through with me.

I still cry at random little things but I am super bloody strong. I’ve learnt that crying is not a weakness. Neither is being emotional. Quite the opposite. I have a resilience that I think I could take on the strongest of the strong. Any situation can be dealt with. I have determination like nothing can get in my way. In fact a lot of survivors I’ve met have this mentality. That kickarse attitude. And I love it. I love to listen to people more than ever before. I suppose this is because I feel I’ve had quite a lot of time in the limelight of late. Or that’s how it feels anyway. I’ve celebrated quite publicly my achievements and I’m super blimin proud of it all.

My story is one of many. I write from the heart because I am so grateful to still be here. I love my life.

#mystory #survivor #survivebealive #livethelifeyouaspiretolive

‘The Enemy Within’ by Lynne Ainge

It was November 2009. I had been studying for my MastersDegree in Health and Safety with Loughborough University, supported by my employer at the time. I was working as the Lead Health and Safety Advisor at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

I had decided to take some time out after my work and study on a Saturday and go to Ickworth House to make a Christmas wreath from vegetation from the grounds with a lovely group of people. I came home to Brome with my wreath, of which I was very proud. Very grubby from handling moss, holly and a few snails I leapt straight in the shower……….my life changed right there.

I have always kept a check on my breasts as per guidance and at 48 years old was too young for being part of the NHS mammogram programme. Soap on my hands, running them down my breasts and there it was. A small but definite lump. I was in shock and my brain went into overdrive. I kept feeling the lump but it was definitely not going away.

I finished washing, dried myself and can remember going downstairs and my late husband, Pete, knew immediately something was wrong. He was always someone who had the philosophy that worrying was not going to help and calmly said I would need to make an appointment for the GP when I told him and showed him what I had found. Not much sleep that night.

Lynne with her late husband Pete

Next day I booked the appointment and got to see the doctor straight away. He found that the lump was moving slightly and tried to reassure me and say that it could be a cyst as it was moving. He advised waiting until my menstrual cycle was over again as it can be linked to the hormones.

A couple of weeks later and I was back, the lump was still there and I was referred to the NNUH one stop breast clinic the following week. Simon Pain, my consultant, did the first check, I had a mammogram and because these were not conclusive, I had a biopsy of the lump. Anxious time then waiting.

Lynne with her consultant Simon

The next day I was at my desk in the H&S office at the NNUH, my phone rang, it was Simon, who said “can you come across and have a chat about your results Lynne”. That was the moment I knew that my cancer journey had begun.

Everyone was so kind and thoughtful but my husband was at home and I couldn’t ring him to tell him the diagnosis as I was sobbing at this point. Simon made the call. A close work colleague called Maxine came to be with me and we had to go back to the office and tell my colleagues. It was all a bit of a blur from there and to be honest I can’t remember the journey home except knowing that Pete was waiting for me at the door and we just hugged and cried together.

Not much sleep again but we talked and that helped. We knew that it would not be long before the operation to remove the lump but there were a few more scans, blood tests, lots of needles and poking and prodding before then.

I also had to go to my Graduation Ceremony at Loughborough University and was proud to receive my MSc in front of my husband and my Dad, however ‘my enemy within’ as I had called my lump, was the unwelcome guest at the graduation.

I had stopped the tears very quickly and requested that everybody treated me as normal. I didn’t want sympathy. My work colleagues were excellent and the in- house banter and jokes resumed. I quickly decided that Google searches about my cancer were banned and just used the expertise of the raft of specialists that were supporting me on my journey. The Breast Care Nurse team were really supportive and always responded if I had a question.

Each visit to the various departments for tests became a ‘moment’ My MRI scan was my ‘Madonna Moment’ as I dropped my breasts into what looked like top hats (rather than cones!)

My full body scan was my ‘beach moment’ as I imagined seagulls and the waves rather than clanking machinery. I had my ‘hot moment’ when radioactive fluid was injected for another scan.

Positivity was my way of coping, anyone that said something negative or said ‘well my friend had what you have and she did/felt/said……….. was politely asked to go away.

Everyone has a different cancer journey and whilst support from others who had been through a similar journey was goodI was not going to do something on the basis that somebody else did.

Christmas came and into 2010 and my date was set to remove the enemy within. My husband was very helpful in keeping my spirits up and insisted on waving a mars bar under my nose while I had been fasting since midnight and only on water!!

I walked to the operating theatre, was given my gown, my paper knickers and my surgical stockings. That was such an attractive look and being 5’2” and Simon, the Consultant, being 6’7” was in stitches as I was standing next to him, laughing and saying I was never going to forgive him for the humiliation!

After the counting backwards for the anaesthetic to work the next thing I remember was coming round and finding no drains fitted so I knew the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes. Thankfully there was the option to remove the sentinel node at Norwich while I was under the anaesthetic and if clear then they did not have remove the others.

When Simon came to see me on the ward he told me that my doctor was right, there was a cyst, but it was above the malignant tumour. However, the tumour itself was small and he had taken it all away. My enemy within had become my enemy without! However bearing in mind it was January and very cold I think the pain from my nipple being taped down was worse at the time than the scar.

That night I was listening to my Josh Groban You are Loved (Don’t Give Up)  and You Raise me Up through my headphones and planning my escape from the hospital. I was determined that I wasn’t going to be a patient laying around in my bedclothes. I had bought a front buttoning cardigan that would allow the nurse access to see the wound, I was putting mascara on at 7am and had the requisite toast and tea and was not sick and had the necessary pee before discharge could commence.

All was good regarding the wound, I had take-out medication and could go home to recover in my own bed. From here on I kept up the attitude that I was now a cancer survivor not a cancer sufferer and was lucky as working in the hospital meant my appointments could be fitted around my working day.

I was then in the position of deciding if I wanted chemotherapy. I was not in the group were it would be definitely recommended and was not in the group where it would be deemed unnecessary. I saw this as another positive, I was back in control, not the cancer.

I weighed up the pros and cons, wrote it all down and decided that I would not have it. I was definitely having radiotherapy and my 17 session treatment plan was built up. Next step was the 3 tattoo dots to line me up. Also, the joy of knowing I had to stay the same size for the duration, diet on hold for nowafter a bit of comfort eating!

I had the early morning slot for which I will be forever grateful as you can’t use perfumes, soaps or deodorant when having radiotherapy. Lifting my arm to adopt the position for the ‘zap’ was not as bad in the morning for the radiotherapist as it would have been after a day at work!!

I had my treatment and then to enable me to make the transition from patient to staff member before heading back to the office I went to the Big C Centre. Ironically, I had been part of the design when the centre was built due to my job,and here I was using it as a patient. This was particularly helpful and the staff there made my journey through treatment so much better.

Thankfully, I am now 10 years cancer free. I have regular checks and of course I continue my self-checking in the shower. Without that in the beginning my story may not have been so positive.

Raising vital funds for The Big C

I continue to stay positive, do fundraising for different charities related to my journey, I am a Pink Lady on the Ladies Pink Tractor Road Run every year and am part of a breast cancer support group in Ireland too, where I have a holiday home.

Ready to start the Pink Ladies Tractor Run

Lynne July 2020

This Girl Can update…….

I have been a This Girl Can Ambassador for over two years. I’m hoping to do a lot more with them over the coming years. Especially as I now have Survive Be Alive and I think this fits in nicely with what they are about. Locally TGC is overseen by Active Suffolk and this week I got to share with them what I’d been working on. It’s a project that’s been bubbling away for years and now in a position to share to the masses. Because now I feel in a strong place and I have lots to share.

The feedback from the TGC team has been so positive. Some really wonderful comments that have made my day. I’m so chuffed. Even more so when they said they had shared it on the Active Suffolk website. It’s moments like this that make me so proud. The last seven years of trauma and heartache mixed with some of the best days of my life and how I used activity to get through it all, is now all coming to fruition. It’s very exciting.

I am incredibly honoured to be involved with the This Girl Can movement. To be one of a really inspirational and awesome group of women that are all there to support each other, empower, motivate and promote everything to do with women being strong, fit and active means so much.

Survive Be Alive encapsulates all that This Girl Can represents. The values that exercise and movement can be for anyone and everyone irrelevant of shape, size or ability. To go out there with the spirit that anything is achievable. I love the fact that it promotes doing any activity is awesome. Because it is. I love, too, the way it brings to the forefront that activity for a lot of women and girls is hard; whether there are time constraints or they are lacking in confidence or perhaps feeling like they are being judged.

The This Girl Can movement showcases to the world that women and girls can do their own thing and it doesn’t matter what the activity is, how often they do it and what time it takes. All activity is amazing and doing this amongst our very busy lives is all that matters. Keeping fit, active and moving is at the very heart of it. Which relates heavily to what Survive Be Alive is about. A massive part of my project is about how I juggled activity with cancer and full time work and how I used activity to get physically and mentally better.

Please take a look at the Active Suffolk website. It has an amazing amount of info on their website all about keeping active and all aspects of physical health and wellbeing. They are the Active Partnership for Suffolk, one of 43 Active Partnerships across England dedicated to increasing the number of people taking part in sport and physical activity. So it’s really great to have their support too.

I’m so looking forward to the next part of this journey.

#survivebealive #thisgirlcan #livethelifeyouaspiretolive #activesuffolk

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