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.

IMG_2380IMG_2381

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.

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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.

x

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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:

http://yogafudge.wordpress.com

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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If at first you don’t succeed

Try, and try again.

Then give up and don’t look back.

I have been meaning to revisit the IVF story for some time, since that was this blog’s main theme, back in the day. But as you know, I am a bit slack on the old blog posts these days.

It’s been just over 12 months since my last attempt at IVF. More than 12 months since I last stuck a needle in myself. 12 months since I lay, legs splayed, with a doctor inserting fertilised embryos – that were half made of me and half of a stranger – into my uterus. Squirted hormone cream up my lady bits, wondered what every twinge in my belly and boobs was, and agonisingly waited in the limbo that is the two-week wait.

So how does it feel to get to the other side of three rounds of IVF without the prize at the end?

It feels ok. I feel ok. Most of the time (oh, except for now, when I start to write a blog post about it). Sometimes I’m grateful it didn’t succeed. Sometimes not.

Does it seem ungrateful to feel grateful I didn’t succeed? Something I put so much emotion, time, heart ache, longing into? So much wishing and hoping and thinking and praying. Planning and dreaming (thanks Dusty). Not to mention money.

But sometimes I do feel grateful, and perhaps that’s some kind of survival instinct, or self-preservation instinct, or that it just gets exhausting after a while to feel sad. I’m generally a glass-half-full kinda gal.

It helps to think of all the hardships success would have brought. Doing it all by myself. Being really, really poor for quite a while. Being housebound. Being exhausted, all the time. Being lonely. It might have been really hard on my body, given my age (have I mentioned I hate that word?). And it would have wrecked my boobs, which I’m quite fond of, despite the major cyst/minor cancer scare incident.

But then, I missed out on so much as well. Of course. Being pregnant, which would have been amazing. Birth, which would have been, probably really fucking awful actually, but incredible for it. Being a mother.

I went to a friend’s annual Christmas gathering in December. The place was over-run with small children. There were, as far as I could tell, four childless women there – me, two lesbians and another friend.

I have to admit that sometimes I shuddered at all those children, and thought – phew. Lucky escape. And there was that part of me who couldn’t be bothered moving out of the circle of childless lesbians to talk to the others gathered there, because what did I have in common with them?

I couldn’t be bothered with the expectation from strangers that my child would be somewhere in that garden, playing with the others. Then me having to say, oh no, no child. And them looking quizzically at me, wondering.

Sometimes it’s difficult, and sometimes I’m sad.

But generally I’m ok with it.

The pic is of some butterflies that fluttered around my head for ages a while back, on the pathway just down the road from my house. Such a magical thing to happen. We’ve got to be  grateful for what we’re given, don’t we?

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Oh, isn’t this lovely:

Messenger

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

– Mary Oliver

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The post of laughter and forgetting

And crying and remembering (apologies to Milan Kundera). I’ve had a very strange week – last week an old friend popped into my head, so I decided to Google him.  Google can tell you many things and haven’t we all used it to stalk, I mean – look up – past lovers or find old friends?

Last week I learnt about the death of an old, old friend and reconnected with an old, old boyfriend. Oh my.  It’s left me feeling discombobulated and all out of sorts, a feeling I haven’t been able to shake.

Should I blog about them? It seems too personal, and this is not a “Dear Diary”, but I blogged about IVF and that’s pretty personal. So here is my story about them.

Rob

I met this boy called Rob when I was 17, he 18.  Before then though, when I was 16, I knew who he was but didn’t actually know him. He went to one of the boys’ schools and I was at one of the girls’ schools in my home town of Perth.

At 16, oh boy, did I LOVE this boy. My school friend and I used to swoon whenever we saw him. Swoon and sigh and squeal in a way only 16-year-olds can. He was always tanned, with blue, blue eyes and a cheeky grin. I remember the way he walked – shoulders pulled bank, head slightly forward, with a bit of a swagger.

When I was 17, I met him on the island just of the coast of Perth called Rottnest. “Rotto”, for those of you who don’t know, is kind of a rite of passage for West Australians at the end of the school or uni year. It’s debauched, drunken, sun-soaked, sandy and ridiculous fun.

The day I met Rob I guess must have been the happiest day of my young life, since I had been so infatuated with him, except that I was probably drunk on tequila slammers so I can’t really remember. I just know that we met, and became mates, and were mates for the next eight or nine years on and off. We kind of dated a few times in the middle of that time, but nothing serious. I left Perth to travel at 25, and never really went back there to live, so lost touch with him.

Last week, I thought of him and wondered what had become of him. I did the Google search. All I could find was a death notice.

On the weekend, I went through all my old photos, looking for a photo of Rob. I thought I would find one or two, but I found lots – at parties, at Rottnest, at my house. And I guess until I saw those pictures, I had forgotten how much he was part of my life back then. Funny how you forget. It made me so sad – that I could have loved this boy so much – even saying his full name (I always called him by his full name – first name and surname) still makes me feel like a swoony 16-year-old again. And I had forgotten a lot of it and it made me so regretful.  I wish I had kept in contact.

I’ll always remember Rob. He reminds me of summer and youth and gorgeousness.

Johnnie

And there was a man, many years ago, who I loved. And who loved me, surprisingly. Let’s call him Johnnie. Because that is, in fact, his name. Of course I won’t give you any other distinguishing features, except to say that he was so, so gorgeous, and unbelievably sexy, and the first “man” I had been with – I was 25 and he was 10 years older than me –  as opposed to the boys who were generally around at the time.

I was in awe of him, and really quite intimidated by him. I wondered what he saw in me. But there were some things between us that were breathtaking.

We didn’t really break up, but I left Perth to go travelling and to work in the UK. I don’t think I ever processed that relationship; I had no-one to talk to who knew me and him together.

He was the first person to say “I love you” to me. (And there has been a pathetically short line of men in the future to say that to me). He was the person who quoted a line to me I have never, ever, forgotten; the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me. It was a line from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet that goes:

“And forget not that the earth delights in the tread of your bare feet, and the winds long to play in your hair.”

How could you not love a man who says that to you?

I stayed with him the night before I left for the UK. I got up in the middle of the night and sat on the sofa and cried. He came and found me and said, “What are you doing?” “Crying,” I said.

“Crying and sighing; sighing and crying,” he said, because he turned everything into a lyric, or a bit of poetry.

I think it was me who stopped writing, because I thought there was probably no point, and I didn’t want him to feel like he had to write to this silly girl.

I thought, probably rightly, that we would have broken up anyway had I stayed. We were so different, he was so experienced and worldly; I was so young and knew nothing. He was edgy, unconventional; I was still throwing off the vestiges of Catholic school and had a conservative side that needed to be buffed off.

When I was in London we wrote back and forth; I called him, apparently (according to a letter from him I still have). I sent him a present, probably a shirt. He sent me a tape of his songs – he was a musician and actor. But I stopped writing, because I thought he wouldn’t mind, because I didn’t really matter to him.

I thought I didn’t matter.

My mother bumped into him a few years after I left – I think at a party in Margaret River, she used to go there a bit to visit friends – and said he asked after me. She told him I had recently visited from the UK. She told me afterwards he seemed upset that I hadn’t contacted him. And I thought – Oh? Why would he be? Because I thought I didn’t matter. Despite evidence to the contrary.

I emailed Johnnie last week, then he called me, which was such a surprise, and threw me just a little. We talked a bit. Over the weekend I found his letters and photos. I looked at the photos and thought, “I left this man? Was I insane??”

I’m writing this all down here because I’d kind of like to have a conversation with this man but, really, it’s been 22 years. Why would he want to know? I guess I still think I don’t matter. What do you think?

So I’ve been hit quite hard, with remembering and feeling sad, I’m kind of surprised how hard I’ve been hit, but there you go. I’m emotional.

I think I’m also grieving about the carelessness I have shown towards the people in my past. And I don’t mean, oh I just lost their number and so lost contact. I have been angry at myself for not caring. Even though I did care. It just seems careless to discard people just because they are in the past.

I’ve spent the week crying and sighing, sighing and crying over – I don’t know what exactly – obviously mourning my old friend, but I’ve been crying about – lost youth?  Missed opportunities? Lost love? Or simply that I should have been more careful, less careless, with friendships, with my own feelings, and the feelings of others.

P.S. I contacted Rob’s brother to find out what happened to him. He died in Thailand, partying till the end. He wasn’t in a good state physically – had been “self-medicating” for a long time – he loved an illicit substance did Rob. He got an infection and then his heart and lungs failed. His was in his mid-40s.

photo-2

I opened a Pandora’s box of memories

Me and Rob, Rotto 1986

Me and Rob, Rotto 1986

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Silly Saturday

here’s a little song what I wrote:

Down dog and up dog and parsvakonasana
plank pose and cat pose and sweat trickling down my nose
chanting old mantras and feeling the zing
these are a few of my favourite things

When the dog (pose) bites, when the bee (breath) stings
when I’m feeling stiff
I simply remember my favourite things
and get back on to… the mat.

(Of course you knew to sing that to the tune of the song from the Sound of Music right?)

First time I’ve been back to yoga in ages. It was great. Made me come over all creative.

Silliness over. Normal programming will resume sometime in the next few days.

Image

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