What’s it like?

Someone asked me recently what it felt like. She meant to have cancer. I said a few words – terrifying, devastating, frightening – but I don’t think she really got it.

I’ve been thinking about how to describe it. Maybe this helps.

Imagine your life as like a long, wide, gently flowing river. Sometimes it flows slowly and smoothly. Other times the flow gathers apace and life gets quite exciting. At times the river gets a bit choppy and you bump along for a while. It may be uncomfortable, or scary or even dangerous but the river generally becomes calm again.

Then you have to go to the doctor, so you paddle over to the riverbank, feeling a bit apprehensive. But it will be ok, you think, you’ve been here before. He’ll say it’s nothing.

But then he doesn’t, and you have to paddle over to the far shore, against the current, for tests. But it will be ok, you think, because you’ve been there before as well. And even if it’s bad news, well, you’ll deal with it.

But then you get the news and it’s so much worse than you could possibly have imagined and the river takes your kayak and smashes it into rocks and splits it in two.

You are thrown into the rapids, hitting rocks and tree branches. Your foot gets caught in something under the water, but you make it back to the surface.

The river takes you and you can only just keep your head above the water. You keep hitting rocks and you’re getting so, so tired. Your foot gets caught on something under the water again and you think, maybe I’ll just stay down here, and not fight to get back to the surface for air, because this is too hard.

But somehow you make it back to the surface and you swim and swim, against the current, but you seem to get nowhere and you’re fucking exhausted. But now you know you just have to keep swimming.

That’s a bit what it’s like. But also nothing like it.

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Spoke too soon

Fuck it.

That is all for now.


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2015 – infinitely better than last year

Oh hi! It’s me!

If you’ve been a regular reader of this regularly updated blog (sarcasm, the lowest form of wit, if we can even call that wit), you’ll know that the name Plan B is very a propos to my current situation. Plan B? More like Plan ZZ if we go by an excel spreadsheet in numbering. Really really as far away from Plan A as you can get, cancer is. Though I’ve never been much of a planner, it was definitely not on the plan.

This year so far has been about getting back on track, or getting back to some sort of normality. It’s a slowly, slowly approach, the only way I can handle it.

Towards the end of last year, I posted a facebook status along the lines of “9 days till the end of the year, let’s see if I can make without further mishap.” It turned out that the Fates thought that was hilarious, and they set out to fuck me over again.

(In November, after having been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, spreading to my bones and liver, after falling over and breaking my kneecap in half, I was then diagnosed with a brain tumour. In fact several. At the end of November I had one surgically removed, then the others treated in February with cyberknife radiation.)

On Christmas Day I noticed the surgical wound on my head had started to seep goo. The next day I consulted my neighbour who is a nurse. She said get thee to a doctor today. So we rang around every doctor in a 5km radius to find one open on Boxing Day, because I really didn’t want to go to Emergency. Anyway, found a doc, had to go back every day to have the infected wound cleaned and redressed, then went to see my radiation oncologist, who took one look at it and checked me into hospital. So that was 8 January. When I had already said to the Universe, ok, see ya later 2014, you’ve been fucked. Nothing bad is going to happen in 2015! Yeah!

I had more surgery, during which the neurosurgeon took out a piece of my skull and did not put it back (I now have a hole in my head, literally). In hospital for 5 days. Miserable. Really miserable. It hurt. Quite a lot. I was OVER it.

However – after that little detour, 2015 is definitely back on track. I see that episode as a hangover from 2014, because it started with the infection, which started last year.

2015 – infinitely better than last year.

And so it will continue. This week i had another round of scans – head, bones, organs. Results in the next few weeks. I feel super healthy. I AM super healthy.

I’m back at work, I can drive, I go out a bit, I have a few drinks every now and then. I eat really healthy food. I feel good. I am good. Back on track.

Still a bit more to go – I still have not had any surgery on the breast. I am still not in remission. But I will be.

2015 – infinitely better than last year.


Filed under breast cancer, cancer

So retro

Mercury (the planet that is) is so retro, but not in a good way. Apparently, according to astrologer-types, mercury’s retrograde periods can cause our plans to go awry. It’s been in retrograde since 21 January and it goes back to being modern tomorrow, 11 February.

I don’t know too much about astrology, except that I’m a Virgo, which is of course the best sign. Virgos are apparently earthy perfectionists which seems like a contradiction in terms, but is actually quite apt for me. That’s pretty much all I know about astrology but this Mercury thing seems to have legs.

Mercury goes retrograde three to four times a year they say. Well I would say it’s been in retrograde for a whole year. A whole year my friends. I was diagnosed with cancer on 17 January 2014, then the full shitstorm (which is how I prefer to refer to it ) was revealed on 23 January. My plans have most definitely gone awry over the past year.

Last week I had a call from the hospital regarding my next round of treatment – one cyber knife treatment to my head to deal with the left-over tumours. It was supposed to be today, but it’s had to be postponed because a part on the machine has broken and has to be replaced (mercury in retrograde much?). It’s next week instead.

I’ve even got too much Mercury in my body, thanks to a mouthful of amalgam fillings I got as a child from my uncle the dentist. That’s the gift that keeps on giving. Now I have to get them removed – mercury’s a carcinogen. Awesome.

At least the troublesome planet will be back in whatever the opposite of retrograde is tomorrow. Maybe I’ll be back on track then too!

If you’re interested or need to make plans, Mercury will be in retrograde again from 19 May until 11 June, then again from 17 September until 9 October.


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I start the day…

Port Beach, Friday morning

The air smells of smoke, from the bush fires burning more than 300 km away. There’s a smokey haze on the horizon.

The sound of heavy industry drones behind me – trucks, brakes squealing, gears changing, are carrying sea containers, metal clashes against metal, beep beep beep sounds from what exactly I don’t know.

These sounds mingle with small waves rolling and crashing onto the sand, some sounding like small explosions; the squeal of small children; snatches of conversation brought on the breeze as people walk by. Occasionally I hear the slap of hands and arms hitting the water as swimmers glide by, some metres out.

So much for my morning routine, which I was trying unsuccessfully to write about yesterday. Today I got up, fed the cat, pulled my bathers on and headed to the beach.

A swim, a walk and a chat with a stranger are nevertheless a pretty good way to start the day. My morning routine comes later this morning.

(By the way I think I may have somehow hit post waaay too early when only a few sad letters were sitting on the page, so apologies)

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Making the whole trip

I made two commitments to myself today – to go for a swim and to write for an hour.

So, there I was at the beach this morning after a swim, scribbling in my little notebook.

The swim was a challenge – every day this week it’s been about 30 degrees by 8.30am; today it’s only 22 degrees and overcast. But one of my life mottos is you never regret a swim, and I didn’t.

A flat, calm ocean – perhaps a little murky and “sharky” – didn’t put off swimmers, kayakers, hundreds of nippers, old blokes, young blokes, old gals, young gals, people frolicking about like me or those putting in serious strokes.

I’m at Port Beach, close to Fremantle, and I’ve never swum here before. But it’s a Western Australian beach and therefore wild and beautiful.  This is despite – or maybe even because of – its proximity to the Port of Fremantle and its backdrop of sea containers stacked up like multi-coloured bricks. Container ships idle in the distance off the coast and on a clear day you can see the island of Rottnest 18 kilometres off the coast. Today it merges with the horizon.


Today is the first day of my writing challenge – to write for an hour a day for a month – and it being February I have a few days less to commit to.

Yesterday I went to a writing masterclass with the writer and comedian Catherine Deveny, who threw down this challenge and I’ve taken it up because I want this year to be about getting back to normal and moving forward after the horrors of the past year. Moving forward. Getting on with life after the stagnation and feeling of being in suspension of the most fucked year of my life.

Breast cancer, metastasised; broken kneecap; then more metastases to my freaking brain; chemo; radiation, to my spine and to my boob; surgery on my knee; surgery on my brain, and then again because the wound got infected. Every time some new shit appeared, I thought – ok, this is it now, this is the last of the shit. But each time I was wrong. It felt like every time I got back up, someone would come and pull the rug out from under me and I would come crashing down again.

Not now though. It’s a new year – 2015! I’ve got a writing challenge (note I didn’t say publishing challenge), I’m moving ahead, living in the now with an eye to the future.

E.L Doctorow said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I would say that life is like that too, you just have to keep going even when you can only see a few steps in front of you.


Filed under breast cancer, cancer, writing

Plan B looks like it’s gone AWOL too

Oh I know, it’s been a while, 18 March 2013 to be exact, since I wrote a post on this blog (except for this post on this other blog).

A lot has been going on, and I feel like it might be a good idea to get it down in writing, for my sake as much as for your reading pleasure.

So, since the last post:

I decide to leave Sydney and return to Perth.

I quit my job.

I drive from Sydney to Perth (a post on the epic 5,000 km road trip later)

I get a nice job in communications as soon as I arrive in Perth.

I house sit for while – no rent!

I start going out with that old boyfriend of 20-odd years ago from this earlier post.

(Sounding good right!)

I hurt my back and end up in hospital just before New Year.

My back seems to slowly start to get better.

I think I’d better go to the doctor to get my boobs checked – one is a bit weird.

I have a mammogram and ultrasound.

I am diagnosed with breast cancer.

Wait – WHAT?

(Even now, 9 months later, I have to do a double-take – ME? Cancer?)

Because the lymph nodes are involved, I have a CT scan and a full body bone scan.

I am diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer – it’s spread to my bones.

(It was really hard to write that last sentence – still makes me cry).

My back starts to really hurt again.

The cancer is 100% oestrogen-receptor positive, so the oncologist puts me on the drug Tamoxifen. No chemo? Maybe not, says the oncologist. Really? No chemo? I keep asking, though I’m pretty happy about not having chemo.

I have 5 days of radiation for my back, because it turns out that soreness? It’s actually the cancer and I’ve fractured a vertebra. No wonder it’s so freaking sore.

I have a follow-up scan in April. It’s spread to my liver now. Better start chemo straight away. You bet we’d better. Isn’t that what I’ve been fucking asking for?

Despite all this, I feel really healthy. Traumatised, devastated, shocked, grieving, deeply, deeply sad, a whole lot of other things, but physically healthy.

I have 6 rounds of chemo, 3 weeks apart. I’m terrified, but it’s not nearly as awful as I anticipated. Like having one of those hangovers where you just can’t get up off the sofa. Of course there was the hair loss and traumatic as that was, I got over it pretty quickly. Hair grows back.

Chemo finished, hair starts to sprout again, looking forward to really starting to feel 100% healthy again, then. I fall over in my courtyard at home and break my freaking kneecap. Surgery and 4 days in hospital.

Universe – WHAT THE HELL?

Ok, ok, I GET IT. I’m not resting enough. Now I can nothing but. I can’t drive, can’t leave the house unassisted, so I have to rest.

Start 5 weeks of radiation on my naughty boob. Surgery later in the year.

Phew. More later.



Filed under breast cancer, cancer, ER+

Oh fudge

So yeah, I know I can’t even keep this blog updated with regular posts… but I’ve started another one!

This one is for my journalism course and it’s about yoga and how to integrate it into life.

It’s called Yoga Fudge and you can find it here:


Go on, go and have a read!

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Just a little light reading for you

Totally off-topic (what, this blog has a topic?), I thought I’d share a few little pieces I wrote for one of my uni classes. I’m actually withdrawing from the subject, to be completed at another time. But I’m a writer (apparently) and I need an audience apart from my lecturer, so, would you like to read them?

They are little vignettes of a place and a face. Here you go:

BBQ King, Chinatown 

“You like Coke? Coca-Cola? Coca-Cola?” three waiters in red polo shirts chime in rounds to a well-dressed Asian lady. She rummages in her – possibly fake – Louis Vuitton handbag for her phone. She nods. It’s all she orders.

The waiters hover around the utilitarian front counter, and idle round the formica tables and vinyl and metal chairs. Behind the counter, a two-tier fish tank holds crouching lobsters. They are listless, as if resigned to their fate. Do they know? Or is that just what lobsters do?  

Two Aussie blokes in the window are getting busy with the Peking duck, gesticulating with chopsticks. Their conversation is punctuated by shouts of laughter. A waiter brings plate of rice with a peg inexplicably attached to it.

On the walls, the obligatory landscape of the Great Wall, a scroll of Chinese characters – what, no commemorative print of Tiananmen Square? An 80s fashion shot shows leggy pan-Asian beauties leaning up against – yes – the fish tank, its occupants long since digested.

Inner west ticket ninja

The light rail ninja conductor stands to attention before each commuter, brandishing his ticket machine.

“Yes, are you ok?” he says in a sub-Continental accent. “Yes, $4.50 please.”

He taps his machine, writes a hieroglyph on the flimsy paper, presents it with a flourish.

Slight, but slightly paunchy, he’s middle-aged, whatever that means these days. He looks like he takes his job seriously. It’s not a very busy tram, this one, only about 12 passengers, and stops go by and no-one get on – nothing to do. But when they do get on, he’s there at their side.

With a brisk but kindly air he asks again, “Yes, are you ok?”

He’s on to every passenger, alert, attentive, polite. He doesn’t even insist on payment when an elderly Asian lady gives him an expired ticket.

Doors open; doors close; no-one gets on. He sits down because why not? You can’t stand your whole shift.

We arrive at Rozelle Bay, my stop, I’m off. 



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Try something different; surrender*

Surrender, acceptance, change.

These are difficult concepts for so many of us. Just saying the word surrender aloud makes my heart start to flutter and beat a little harder. It makes me feel like I might hyperventilate. It’s something I struggle with, constantly.

Rosemary Laing, Bulletproof Glass, image from smh.com.au

Rosemary Laing, Bulletproof Glass, image from smh.com.au

Why is that? It’s a beautiful concept – to surrender, to let go, to go with the flow. Say it to yourself and feel it. Surrender. Can you feel it? It’s like softening, letting go, dropping into something … easier and then being lifted by it (if you can just get past the hyperventilating).

This past week or so, I’ve been surrendering, I think. Or something like it.

Sometimes things just seem to come to me unbidden. A thought appears – “I might do this” I think, a thing I’ve thought before and always, always rejected. No no no no no.

Then the thought appears again and there it is – acceptance. It feels right. Just… right. I don’t need to write a for-and-against argument, or go through all the buts and what-ifs and the I-can’t-becauses.

Now, all of a sudden, I surrender to the thought. And accept it.

There’s a beautiful story in the Mahabharata, the ancient Sanskrit epic, about Draupadi, a queen. Whether you believe in God, Buddha, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or nothing at all, it’s a beautiful story about how surrendering can save you.

The story goes that Draupadi was a woman famed for her beauty, virtue and generosity, as well as her strength. Her husband (well, one of them, she had five – need strength, much?), bet everything he owned, including Draupadi, in a game of dice against his enemies. He lost, of course.

To humiliate her, the men who had won her started to strip her of her sari, as a prelude to rape. As they pulled at her sari, she beseeched them to stop. She pleaded to her five husbands to help her. She begged the emperor, the prime minister and the priests who were in attendance. No-one came to her aid.

She cried out in fear, and nothing happened. She cried out in desperate need, and nothing happened.

Finally she let go of the sari that was covering her and raised her arms and eyes to heaven. She let go. She surrendered. And then her sari became endless, an endless piece of cloth wrapped around her body. The men pulled at the sari, and Draupadi kept spinning, round and round as they pulled, but remaining covered.

She let go of being in control. She surrendered unconditionally.

This story always makes me cry, because surrendering is so, so hard.

You can fight, and hold on, and be rigid, and cling to your old way of doing things. And sometimes that works. But sometimes you need to give up all that, and just let go. Surrender.

Oh yes, it’s hard.

This week I downloaded a song that wasn’t in my collection, because for some reason it jumped into my head and I thought, must download that. I’ve secretly loved this song for ages. I only ever knew one version, and since I don’t generally listen to commercial radio I don’t hear it very often. It’s “Landslide” by the Dixie Chicks. I love it. I just never knew it was actually a Fleetwood Mac song. Don’t judge me!

But it’s occurred to me that it’s kind of an apt song for right now. I’m not thinking about love and a relationship, but it’s about change…

“Can I sail thru the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing…”

To change you’ve got to surrender something, let something go.

Coincidence? Well, who knows?

(Late edit – Honorable mention needs to go to Ben Lee too for this song about surrender, called…Surrender)

*That’s a line from Rumi.


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