Bowing to the inevitable and standing back, but not standing down.

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Some of you may have spotted my Tweet on Thursday night, stating that I was ‘bowing to the inevitable’ and giving up reviewing. I felt, for several reasons, it merited a proper explanation, if only to clarify any misapprehensions that I might be ill again (I’m not). So this post is both a bookish one and also a more medical one that helps to clarify what is the reality and new normal for some cancer survivors (what exactly is the right word? – I’m not a fan of battle related epithets, although I understand why people use them).

As anyone who regularly visits my blog (for which thank you) will have been well aware, reviews have been sporadic at best, and completely absent at worst. Regular visitors will also appreciate the initial cause for that – namely an unscheduled visit by the Big C in 2017, or as we preferred to call it the Little B we christened Boris. While coming to terms with the diagnosis of breast cancer  (all revealed here) the most uttered ‘positive’ comment to make me feel better was “on the bright side, think about all the time you’ll have to read”.  Yes, all that time, and guess what? no bloody inclination to read at all. My 9 months of enforced ‘free time’ in between surgery, chemo and radiotherapy saw me reading sod all. Now I clearly can’t review what I haven’t read, so that accounted for the first lull in proceedings, but it’s the later absence that is sometimes harder to explain to others.

I know some people can’t always understand why you’re unable to read, as if it’s a choice you’ve made, or a habit you’ve got out of. Trust me, if I’d been able to read, I’d have been delighted – have you seen the size of my TBR pile (I literally won’t live long enough to read it all – and that is a logistical fact, not any morbid foreboding). The thing is, if you haven’t come across it, there’s this little thing called ‘chemo brain’ only the effect it has isn’t always that little. Here’s a handy little checklist of the most common examples:-

  • loss of short-term memory
  • finding it difficult to concentrate or think clearly
  • being unable to put thoughts into action
  • being less organised than usual
  • having trouble finding the right words or finishing sentences

While I didn’t exhibit all of those during my first stage of treatment, I certainly couldn’t concentrate. I could watch TV or mess about on my tablet, but they were pretty transient activities. I didn’t really need to focus, or remember what I’d seen or read, I was merely passing time because I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. If I picked up a book I wasn’t really reading, I was scanning down lines of words, when I’d got to the bottom I’d not really be able to say what I’d read. I just wasn’t concentrating or taking anything in. I just read back over my blog regarding my ‘first’ chemo and came across things I’d completely forgotten(non pun intended),

“Got up in time to remember to take the injection out of the fridge and take a Clarityn pill. That was about all I remembered. I’ve heard of chemo brain, but wasn’t expecting it to hit so soon. Whatever caused it, I managed to read the instructions from the steroid pills and apply it to my anti-sickness pills. Great OD’d on day one …I did try to telephone my mother using my own telephone number … realised I’d forgotten to take my steroids, which had come with a proviso, ideally take about 2pm, and no later than 6pm. I took them at 8pm”

The official term for ‘chemo-brain’ is cognitive impairment and like most things, how severe it is, or how it long it lasts varies from individual to individual. Though it appears that the delightful cocktail of chemo that they pump into breast cancer patients is recognised as being responsible for cognitive impairment in up to 75% of cases. Furthermore it might last for 6 months or longer after treatment. So, all I needed to do was wait and all would be well. Except while the chemo and radiotherapy was all done and dusted I still had my Herceptin injection to take every 3 weeks for another 9 months (my cancer was HER2+).  In addition because my Little B was also apparently ER+ I had to start taking Letrozole (aka Femara) and I was also prescribed Pregabalin to counter act the ‘peripheral neuropathy’ caused by nerve damage to my feet as a result of chemo.

Now it just so happens that Letrozole is also a culprit in causing cognitive impairment. As well as a host of other ‘gifts’ it brings, it generates menopausal symptoms (despite the fact I was already well past that joy) as it’s main function is to eradicate oestrogen. As ladies of a certain age will know, the menopause in itself can cause memory problems (as well as a long list of other problems I now ‘enjoy’). So a double whammy. But wait, what about the Pregabalin? Yay, a triple whammy, it is also a culprit in causing memory issues and problems with concentration.

So I think you get the picture, it’s not that I don’t want to do things, very often I can’t.  I can do book hauling posts, because it’s just a list I don’t really need to think about, I can do my travel/holiday posts because I’m just looking up info on the internet and putting together a coherent piece with pictures. I can do posts like this, although admittedly it takes me some time, because my spelling is now rubbish and WordPress has removed the spell check option!! I also find that while I type what I’m thinking when I go back and look I’ve left words out. But reviews, assuming I’ve actually read a book, are hard. I need to be able to remember what I’ve read, I need to be able to express my thoughts, such as they are, in some sort of logical and coherent way. I need to be able to try and get over how a book made me feel and enthuse a future reader (though not sure I ever did that anyway!). In short I need to be able to concentrate, and engage and remember and I can’t, or at least not in the way that I could. Please don’t get the impression that my memory is failing, I’m not suggesting I have memory losses. But you all know how you need to be able to think about a book, about the plot, its characters, the emotions it aroused and that for me is difficult now.

I’ve felt like this for a while and hoped that things would improve. I’ve got books that I  read just before diagnosis that I ‘owe’ reviews for, there are books I’ve received in the interim that I haven’t read but felt guilty about and there are some books I have managed to read, but just can’t remember well enough, or feel capable of doing justice to. That sense of feeling guilty I appreciate is a ‘self imposed’ pressure but it also looms over me like a cloud when I do feel like  picking up a book because I think, I’ll need to review it. Luckily, I’ve always gone under the wire with publishers, largely I suspect because I’ve never done Blog Tours, so most of the books I review are ones I’ve bought, or might have accepted for review or originate from NetGalley. I don’t have books dropping through my letter box because no-one has my address, so at least I didn’t have that adding to the pressure.

So why now? Well it was a silly thing I spotted on Twitter on Thursday, someone asking for nominations to compile a list of book influencers. Which people (predominantly, but not exclusively bloggers) would persuade you to buy a book, whose review would have you heading off to Amazon. What followed was along list of suggestions listing lots of my lovely and deserving fellow bloggers. Now please, don’t get the wrong impression here, this is not some sad tale of missing out because I wasn’t included – why should I have been, I haven’t been reviewing. What really hit home, was the fact that I never would be, because I am no longer a book reviewer. Realistically, how much longer am I going to wait for things to improve (while I’m on the medication the likelihood of that happening is nil, and the medication is not short term) so sad though it was, I think seeing that tweet made me realise that the time has come not only to admit it to myself, but to say it out loud and let it go – I am no longer a book reviewer.

That doesn’t mean I’m walking away from blogging – you don’t get away that easily. I love my little blog, and I love it even more after it’s makeover (why did I take so long to do it?). So I’ll carry on doing what I’ve been doing, Five on Friday will still be appearing, my ability to buy books like they’re going out of fashion will see my Book Haul posts and I’ve got several ideas about posts I’d like to do. But what won’t be appearing are reviews. I apologise for any reviews I owe, but hope/know you’ll understand why. I will still shout out about authors and books, but just in a different way. Just like the cancer has left a different me, the blog will also reflect those changes. While it was sad to finally admit to myself the reality of the situation, it’s also positive. I feel like a weight has been lifted, I don’t look at my bookshelves with a sense of dread or guilt. I can move forward and accept that this is my new normal. If I want to read a book I can, and that’s all I have to do, just read it and enjoy it for itself with no strings, no implications and conversely if I don’t, I don’t.

If you’re still reading this, thanks for sticking with it. I really just wanted to try and explain things properly and hope you’ll still keep visiting whatever I decide to come up with. Thanks for everything – you’re all stars and I couldn’t have got through all of the this, or felt able to make this decision without all the love and support you show me.

70 comments

  1. Completely get where you are coming from Jill and hope that some time in the future the fog clears for you. If it’s any consolation I DO review books still but no one thinks I’m an influencer either 😉 (well one person did but that was an author whose book I reviewed. As nice as that was I’m not sure I influenced her to do anything lol.)

    The best thing you can do is concentrate on being you and look forward to still seeing you around the festivals. Sharing the book love isn’t just about reviews and you do a bang up job of bringing books and authors to people’s attention. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jen, and sorry for reminding you about ‘that’ tweet. With the best will in the world, they always end up leaving people excluded. I never do the FF thing and try not to do other ‘inclusive’ posts (unless I’m tagged or I’d I feel rude). As long as I’m still accepted as a book blogger then I’m happy. While I do feel sad about having to make the decision it’s one I’ve needed to face for months. To be honest I suspect I could have carried on and said nowt and nobody would really have noticed, but I needed to say it and make it official – if only for me. Looking forward to Harrogate now, not sure how Vince is going to find it – he reads more crime than me but gets very critical – I’ve told he has to keep schtum!! See you soon hopefully and thanks for being you too xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jill we are all influencers to a degree and also not at all. That’s how these things work. Hate these kinds of lists for that very reason as they are meaningless and don’t represent anything other than a narrowly canvassed opinion. I don’t know who made the final ‘line up’ but highly doubt my greatest influencers were on it based on the fact they are probably Netgalley and Amazon lol.

        I’m looking forward to meeting Vince at Harrogate. Could make things interesting. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • *whispers* – I’m still mainly influenced by the blurb and cover. Someone or something might point me to it, but if I don’t fancy it it doesn’t matter how it’s been raved about. Harrogate could be interesting indeed 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Jill what a honest and heartfelt post, my heart goes out to you but I understand where you are coming from, I think you need to do what’s right for you. I really hope you stick around and even if you don’t post reviews I will still follow your blog lovely lady. Take care x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lorraine, I know it’s the right decision, if only for me get rid of the guilty cloud! I’ve no plans to stop, I’d be friendless if I didn’t blog! Most of the people I interact with, however badly, are online. xx ETA – at the risk of offending any more friends – I was clearly being flippant, I am not totally friendless. But I was referencing the fact that the friends I interact with daily (usually via Twitter or forums) are people I wouldn’t know without the blog (and yes I have met quite a few of them and I do count them as friends).

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  3. I’m sad that you’ve had to come to this decision Jill, but glad we’re not losing your blog. There are lots of ways you can share the book love without reviewing and I’m looking forward to seeing what you do next. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Karen, I’m looking forward too. Whenever I sat down to blog I felt the weight of books I should have read, or reviews I needed to write and it took some of the joy out of it. Now I feel free, so all is good xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I completely understand this, my sister in law has chemo brain and, although she laughs about it she also finds it so frustrating.
    The decision you have made sounds sensible and takes another stress and worry off your shoulders. This in turn will help you, looking after yourself is always priority. Take care of yourself and take the time to heal. You went through a massive treatment that knocked your body for six and then some.
    Sending you the hugest amount of love and warmest wishes, Yvonne xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Yvonne, I laugh about it most of the time too, I inhabitat a world of whatsits, thingies and “you know that word for a … it begins with D”. Half my conversations will at some stage involve the phrase – I’m sorry I can’t think of the word. I’m sad to have made the decision, but I know it’s right for me. Thanks for all your support and let your sister in law know she’s not alone (though she probably knows that) xx

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      • Haha you just reminded me that she was trying to remember someone’s name it began with a ‘S’ we went through all the names we could think of and… It was Michael! We have doodahs, oojimaflips and the notorious ‘give us a clue hand gestures’. She was lucky in some respects as she knew someone who had gone though the same thing so they could compare notes. Sharing experiences helped her and we constantly laughed about it. She said that laughing helped to take the stress out of trying to remember and getting worked up xx

        Liked by 1 person

      • That all sounds very familiar. It’s easier when people know what the problem is, but meeting someone for the first time is always a bit fraught as you’re waiting for the blank pause to come along when you can’t remember the word you want! Conversations with Vince usually involve either lots of charade like gestures or else it’s like 20 questions as we get to what I’m thinking about. Maybe I could do guess the book in 20 clues feature? Though I’d need to remember them first so maybe not. It is easier just to admit the problem and laugh, but at times you just want your old reliable brain back.

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  5. A lovely post and can totally understand all that you’ve said! Having M.E my ‘brain fog’ is one reason that I have to make notes when I’m reading now as I completely lose track of what’s been going on and who is who otherwise!

    I think I should have nominated myself after seeing that tweet the other night – I influence myself ALL the time to buy books haha!! We should start our own ‘invisible bloggers’ group! But as long as WE enjoy what we do and let our blogs post what we want then yay for us!! So glad you’ll still be posting! x

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Karen, you’ll appreciate the problem and I’m sorry you have to put up with it too. I quite like being an invisible blogger (until I see everyone else’s bookpost!). I do enjoy my blog and will enjoy it even more now without feeling guilty about reviews I could/should be writing. So Yay for us indeed – our blogs, our rules xx

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  6. That was a very moving post, Jill. So sorry to hear of your health struggles and how much it has impacted on your life. I think you need to take time out for yourself right now. There will always be books and writers. Feel no guilt. Book bloggers/reviewers/influencers are the unsung heroes of the publishing world. We are all deeply grateful for the work you all do to spread the word. You should feel only pride. I hope a naughty JRT is on the horizon for you. Goodness. I can almost hear him. LOL!! x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Marjory, feel happier for admitting the problem to myself as much as everyone else. I shall just do what I want, when I want (except of course Fridays!) I’d love a little Jack to pop it’s head round the corner. hopefully soon – for both of us!! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Dearest Jill, my soulmate!
    There comes a time when you really have to put yourself first and spend your time and energy doing things for yourself. I have been my husband’s carer for 29 years since his multiple chemo and radiotherapy treatments for leukaemia and bonemarrow transplant left him with severe ME. Mind you, for a lot of that time I have had a non functioning brain without having chemo! I wish you good health and much happiness, whatever you decide to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jill, I won’t be going anywhere – I have to keep you supplied in books. To be honest, not sure my brain wasn’t addled beforehand and this just makes a perfect excuse. Take care of yourself too, and make time for yourself if you can xx

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  8. I had no concept of this ‘chemo brain’ – it’s not one of the side effects that seems to be talked about unlike nausea, hair loss etc etc. It seems incredibly unfair that having had all those treatments and got through them, that you have this new challenge to deal with.

    But you are facing this – just as you did your treatment – with a lot of courage and honesty. Thank you for sharing this experience with us so we can better understand if any of our friends/family are in a similar situation.

    Now as to your challenge re the reviews. I’m so glad you are not going away. I wonder if instead of reviews, you could do a book journal – no need to write anything about your reaction to the book or analyse the themes etc. You just note (can even do it in bullet point format), what you read, author, what it’s about (can just use the blurb), why you read it and did it get the thumbs up/down or just ok/. Would that work or is it still too challenging?

    Liked by 1 person

    • There seems to be a lot of things that don’t get talked about and it’s not until you join the ‘breast cancer club’ you discover the reality. Still, I can’t be accused of not sharing!! The Book journal idea is a very good one and is a happy medium. There’s certainly scope to give a shout out for any book I’ve read with such option, without putting myself under pressure. That would work – thanks Karen. otherwise expect more of my eclectic posts with loosely related book lists.

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  9. Oh Jill what a tough decision to make! I had a type of ‘brain fog’ many years ago when I had labyrinthitis, an inner ear condition. I completely understand how it feels not being able to concertrate and losing words when having a conversation, it’s quite scary, very frustrating and so tiring. I’ll definitely be keeping up with your blog as I love your posts, especially your Five on Fridays and those huge book hauls. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for sharing this, Jill. As an MS patient I’m no stranger to cognitive impairment, I get where you’re coming from. I wish you all the best, I hope Big C / Little B got its arse sufficiently kicked and it’ll stay far far away from you. I’m looking forward to the other posts you have in mind 😊 Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Kelly, I think there are so many conditions that impact on memory and concentration that people don’t appreciate. We tend to talk about the condition rather than the oft overlooked effects. I’d like to give another Boris a kick up the arse, that might make me feel better! Take care yourself.xx

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  11. What a wonderful post Jill. You express the anxieties and pressures of trying to write a coherent review and keep up with book blogging without the addition of dealing with cancer and its treatment. I always enjoy your posts and I look forward to your change of direction. I bet there will be some photos here and posts I find inspiring and engaging. There always have been up to now! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Very best wishes, Jill. I love reading your posts and whether they’re book hauls, Five on Fridays or on other topics, they always get me thinking, and often point me in the direction of new authors to try too. So sorry for everything you’ve had to go through. x

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s obviously the right decision for you now, and if that ever changes you can always go back to it. I think if people know you (like me) they only need your recommendation anyway- if Jill says it’s good, that’s enough! But also the book journal idea seems a good one. Just don’t put yourself under any pressure. And keep reading! Love to you xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think we need to plan a reading retreat to get some practice in. The book journal is a good one – with no pressure on. Good excuse to by myself a nice little journal! Are you reading up for Gladfest? xx

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  14. Sounds like the right decision for you at this time, Jill, but sorry to hear it nonetheless.

    I hate lists like the one you mention too. They’re great if you make the cut but if you don’t it can leave you wondering why you bother. The chattier people who are good at socialising always do well, i.e. not me!

    Anyway, take care and I’m glad you’re not giving up the blogging completely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is Nicola and I think it was only difficult because I started as a review blog. It’s not seen one for a while really so I’m only acknowledging what’s already happening. Don’t ever question your ability of blog, look how far you’ve come since you started – you overtook me way back with regularly reviewing and posting 😊 Carry on doing your thing x

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m sorry that you’re still so affected by your treatments, it’s really hard to adjust to the symptoms that illness leaves behind, isn’t it? I know how much Pregabalin knocked my ability to think so I feel for you having to take that on top of everything else. My memory is like a sieve with my medical stuff so I can sympathise on that score. It sounds like you’re making the right decision to take the pressure off yourself over reviews, it can be such a relief to make a decision to just stop something. I’m so glad that you’re still going to be blogging and I hope to see some more book hauls on her from time to time. Sending you love and hugs xxx

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    • Thanks Hayley, I didn’t realise how ‘right’ the decision was until I’d made it. It does feel freeing and there’s nothing to stop me ‘coming ‘ back if circumstances change. No need to worry on the Book Haul score, I’m already working on that and there’s Harrogate later this Nmonth – last year that resulted in buying a new bag and getting my suitcase a lift home in its own!! xx

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  16. As I’m just coming back to blogging, I’m sorry to hear that I won’t be reading any more of your thoughtful reviews. I am, however, very happy to hear that you’ll still be here sharing other bookish things and thoughts. You are well and truly one of the greats! I know this decision must’ve been a difficult one but this is hobby for most of us after all. When the stresses start to outweigh the joys, it’s time to make a change. xx

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    • Wow , “one of the greats” – I’m framing that quote Ann Marie, than you 😘 It was a sad decision, but the right one and I feel relieved it’s been made. I can move on now – onwards and upwards and who knows the odd one might eventually creep back in. I’ve got some ideas to keep me busy and there’s always Five on Friday. On the plus side it’s good to have you back 😊😘

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  17. Sorry to hear this, Jill, though not entirely surprised following our recent conversation. Maybe you’ll be able to come back to it at some point in the future. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to catching up with you again in a couple of weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. So glad the burden has been lifted from your shoulders, Jill! Take your time, maybe you’ll get back to reviewing one day, maybe not. Nothing is as sure in this world as change. I only felt “normal” again 2 years after chemo. And as for the Femara… there are good and bad days. Keep in touch my friend. L x

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Jill
    Whilst I don’t think you necessarily needed to explain any further, other than for yourself, in doing so you have done something that I think you are so good at and that is explaining what cancer and/or cancer treatments do to those of us who have gone through it. Your excellent post has drawn attention to those issues that we are affected by due to the chemo treatment. Chemo brain, of which I do not suffer as badly as you, is frustrating and so difficult to get across to those who have not experienced it, or similar, as is the peripheral neuropathy issue from which I suffer. So I found your comments on that interesting as I have never been offered/prescribed anything since a short course of acupuncture when it first presented (almost three years now) I simply get told that it may get better but may not!
    All in all, as you say, breast cancer can have all sorts of long term effects and those suffering tend to have to work out how they are able to live with their ‘new’ selves. My breast cancer was triple negative so I do not have any tablets etc. to take. I was lucky in that the lump was found early, through a routine mammogram, and was removed surgically with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a further surgery. As of last year I was ‘all clear’ and am about to have my third annual mammogram in a weeks time.
    It has been the coming to terms and coping with these life changing issues that can often seem if not more then equally hard to deal with and you are right to make the decisions that are right for you.
    You know I love your blog and I will still look forward to reading it, especially my favourite FonF, I’m sure your new you, new Blog emphasis will still keep me reading and enjoying your travels, your book events, your book hauls and now perhaps the journaling or other items which you will enjoy and that enjoyment will resonate with all of us who enjoy reading your blog.
    Keep well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Janet, if nothing else, it gives me something to write about! I was prescribed Pregabalin by my own GP when I made an appointment to ‘sort’ out my concerns and issues. She was happy to prescribe it. It doesn’t solve the problem but takes the edge of it – I wanted mine to take at night when everything gets worse, with feet, restless legs etc. It helped me to sleep. I’ve just upped the dose because my Letrozole has a whole new set of problems which makes sleeping difficult. As they can’t give me anything else I asked for stronger dose to help me sleep through them. Peripheral Neuropathy is a pain (well a tingling numbness really) and like you no-one will say whether it will go. My opinion is, if it hasn’t improved by now it’s probably not going too. I know several people who have it after 4 years +. Anyway there’s not really a lot we can do about is there – apart from being quite insistent about getting help if there is some. Wishing you all the best for next week – let me know how you get on. My next one is due next month. Glad you’re enjoying FoF – that’s a keeper and I’m sure I’ll find other things to fill it. Let’s face it, it hasn’t been filled with reviews for months and nobody seems to have noticed!. Take care xx

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Jill. Love you dearly. So glad you are taking a step or two to simply enjoy everyday life; all the while lending such joy, strength, and beauty to ours.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. So sorry for all you’ve gone thru and now to hit reality like that and have to make that admission just hurts. I have another friend currently going thru the whole regimen and it sounds horrendous. But then to be left with all the effects and those meds to boot is a legacy you shouldn’t have to face after successfully making it thru all the steps. I’ll continue to pull for you and appreciate your checking my blog and will certainly try to keep up with yours as well. It’s been a hard journey. Blessings on your continued fight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Virginia, sadly I’m not alone, these are quite common side effects among fellow breast cancer thrivers. They are things you get used to and are far better than the alternative! It is a bit galling though to have had treatment for an ‘illness’ that didn’t make you feel ill, only to be left with ongoing problems. C’est la vie – there are people suffering far worse, so I’ll plod on. I appreciate your kind words and support – it all helps x

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