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Friday, December 23, 2011

The Gifts you Give

It’s December 23 today, exactly three months since my initial diagnosis.

With Christmas just two days away, I suppose I should be looking forward to Sunday and the exchanging of gifts.

Al has asked me what I want. It’s cheesy but true. “The only thing I want is my health back,” I have said.

The fact is though, there is nothing that is left for me to want.

Over the past few weeks, I have been inundated with gifts of every kind from family, friends, acquaintances and even strangers.

Of course, the first gifts I began to receive were flowers and soon, there was a collusion of scents in my bedroom. I haven't managed to photograph absolutely all of them, but here is what they looked like:

Sure there have also been the material things, the small ways people have found to express their concern for me through things they can make or buy. Now gifts are, as they say, my own 'language of love' and I was overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness of people, some who I have come to know only virtually.

Facebook friends, Clodagh, knitted a beanie and posted it to me all the way from Ireland. Lutje sent me a little key tag from Belgium, Patty all the way from the other side of BRISBANE sent me a CD of original compositions by a friend of hers, autographed and everything.

Just look at the booty I have collected (and I forgot to include a couple of other little things). I think this says it all.

But there are other gifts I cannot photograph and they are beyond any valuation.

Firstly there are the gifts of service not only from family (Ethel still arrives religiously to help me with my laundry and to change my bedsheets), but also from friends and strangers.

They are the ones who have cooked for me, an endeavour taking both time and effort. I love cooking and I know what is involved. Strangers have taken the time to buy produce, to plan recipes, to prepare, cook and arrange delivery. How can you put a value on that?

Secondly, there is the gift of time.

My friends who have held my hand through chemotherapy or have physically made the effort to visit me have given that gift that cannot be replaced. That time could have been spent in another form, somewhere else, with someone else. Surely this gift is priceless.

Others have spent time regularly telephoning me (Janet, Chris, Nim, Ness, Louise, Mark) or my parents or Al’s parents. (A friend of my mum's just rang this morning!)

Thirdly, there is the gift of knowledge and advice that has come from my fellow breast cancer sufferers and from people I have met and will continue to meet along the way. This tale is long and no doubt, there will be many more experiences that will be shared with me.

Fourthly, there is the gift of words of encouragement – from you, my blog readers, from Facebook friends, from a universe of people I am quickly losing count of.

Via card, email, or text message, these words are more important than you realise to someone who is a writer. I rarely use words lightly. They mean the world to me.

But lastly – and perhaps most importantly - I have received that gift that only illness can deliver.

That is the gift of revelation.

Already, just three months down the track, I have discovered that illness has a wisdom of its own which is revealed like slivers of light through a forest canopy.

And here is the revelation so far that I believe has already transformed me.

Don’t be afraid to tell your family and your friends you love them, or even better, show them.

Tomorrow might be too late, so do it now.

You might not think that’s particularly mind blowing but it is to me.

Because I am not a ‘hearts and flowers’ kind of person (Valentine Cards are a bit like, well, Dettol and Alpha Keri Oil to me – they make me gag) .

Because, until this illness, I was uncomfortable with all of that – verbal expressions of, well, ‘that lovey dovey shit’.

Since September 23 I have learned that being able to tell a friend you love them opens up a channel.

What is the point of going through life, spouting knowledge and wisdom and facts, carting cynicism and judgement.

At the end of the day when we all go to meet our maker, your life here will not be measured by the things you accomplished, the possessions you had, your job description, your fabulous attributes. No one will care about your petty vanities - your wealth, your beauty, your titles, the legacies you left.

Your life here will be measured by one thing: the love you gave, and the love you received.

What gift could be greater than that?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Demon Days 3

Day 2: I wake to a houseful of teenagers, feeling surprisingly good. Al is still asleep so I can't help myself. The kitchen is littered with the usual detritus of a party. I start tidying up but soon Harry and his friends are lending a hand.

For the first time in months, I take Al a cup of tea in bed. I'm very lucky because I have been used to breakfast in bed for ages, long before I got sick. It's long been the quid pro quo in our house. Al does brekky and lunch, I do dinner. Seems fair, right?

Today I have to go to the school as Ben is changing uniforms next year and this is the last day for arranging some things. By the time I return home I'm exhausted and have a wee nap, fully clothed, on top of my bed.

Unfortunately, today Lee is away and I have had to arrange an appointment at my doctor's. So I drag myself from bed. There is some stuffing around as staff are away so I find myself chatting to the nurse while things are sorted.

She tells me her mother had breast cancer. She got it in the 1950s when things were rather rough. Without the benefit of the knowledge we have today, ALL her lymph glands were removed, she had radiation, and then a complete hysterectomy including the removal of her ovaries. She was 37 and had two kids aged 3 and 7. She died of a heart attack at 63. Apparently a weakened heart is a side effect of a complete hysterectomy. Not for the first time, I think about how shitty it is to be a woman.

The injection she gives hurts for hours. I miss Lee's gentle technique.

In the early afternoon, I go for a 6 km walk. I spot a fox on the run on my way home and wonder what significance that might have. (We Sri Lankans are terribly superstitious.)

The nausea starts in the evening. It is so bad I keep the bucket by my bed. I take a sleeping pill in the hope it will write-over the nausea. But it doesn't. I am doped up but I am aware of feeling sick all night.

Day 3: I wake feeling positively vile. I have to get up early to go back to Greenslopes hospital for an 8 am appointment. I am to have a saline drip and another nausea injection. On the way I make an emergency call to my mum...I am nauseous and need your spicy fish balls!

When I get there, the hospital is operating with a skeleton staff and the Cyril Gilbert wing is partly suffused in darkness. There are 4 people sitting in the waiting room. The cheerful lady across from me says this unusual. I find out she has a Saturday appointment every 2 weeks and has been having chemo for 12 months! OMG. How awful would that be? Later I find out she has bowel cancer. So everyone, if you want to avoid her fate, check your bums!

Eventually I find myself back in the chemo chair. My nurse is called Bronwyn. That's got to be lucky! She is gentle, kind and efficient. The procedure goes off without a hitch but yep, it hurts like crap. It is in fact a very long hour. Al and me, sitting quietly in a half-empty cancer ward. I realize more than ever how I value the friends who usually keep me company... Lindar, Janet, Tracey and Nim.

Unfortunately,the whole procedure proves to be a waste of time. I feel sick all the way home. I put myself miserably to bed.

At lunch time my mum arrives bearing fish balls, vadays (a spicy Sri Lankan savory bite) and some curry meat rolls. How is that for service. We end up playing Ipad Scrabble on the bed. My Mum is computer illiterate - once I tried to teach her how to turn on a computer, yes, just turn it on, and gave up after half an hour - so this is a minor feat. She is like a Polynesian Indian with beads, mesmerised.

I am in bed still when my sister Nicky, dogs and kids arrive for the walk I had promised her. Nearly 6 kilometers we walk, chatting amicably. I feel sick but the fresh air and cool afternoon are therapeutic.

When I get home, Al has made a Thai chicken curry,integrating my own super hot Jalopeno chillies. It's delicious and I manage to keep it down.

Harry has gone to his girlfriend's place for her father's 50th birthday party. Al and Ben are watching 'The Green Lantern' in bed next to me. Up the road, the neighbours are partying at the annual community Christmas Party. Miles away in Ashgrove, Tracey is having our annual Christmas get together with Janet and Lindar. And Vlad is at the Roar game he offered to take me to. Life goes on.

I take a sleeping pill and drift off to sleep.

Day 4: I lie in bed all morning like a beached limpet. Thankfully it is a cool day. Harry is away nearly all day. Al bustles around, taking Ben to tennis next door. Later we play iPad Scrabble - he thrashes me with two early 50 word scores. Afterwards, he takes Ben to golf. Nim texts and offers to drop off some food. Maddy texts to see how I am.

My mouth tastes disgusting. I feel greener than Bob Brown. Thank god for my mum's little bites which I rely on to stop retching.

In the early afternoon, Louisa comes over. I have a shower and change. Then we lie in bed, watching 'Prom' on Foxtel - movie I swore I'd never watch.

Later, I find myself sitting at the kitchen table with Louisa, Gabby her daughter, David and Craig. (Craig had a knee operation just a few days ago - I can't believe he's walking). They have a glass of wine and I have a glass of lime juice and water (good for nausea).

After they leave, Chucky, Nim's husband, drops off the food she has cooked. He looks tanned and well. I eat a little then decide to attempt my ritual stroll.

These days, I walk so slowly I have to let Spunky off the leash. He is often way ahead of em. This time, I manage nearly 3 km but I am aching in a different way. My body is sore to the touch. I put myself straight to bed and am vaguely aware of other visitors.

Later, I am lying there when Harry comes in, on his way to gym. He wants to know when my chemo will be over, when I will be feeling good again. I say, I don't know, maybe April. He says he wants to do a fun run with me when I am better. The way I feel, he may as well be asking me to sing the Greek National Anthem (all 158 verses).

I ask Al to make me a salad. I eat in bed. We watch 'Mr Popper's Penguins.'. I take a sleeping pill and fall asleep.

Day 5: I ache like a bastard and wake at 5.30 am. I ask Al to find me the Panadeine Forte. He rustles through a growing pile of boxes on my side table, bleary eyed, but can't locate it so in the end, I satisfy myself with Panadol. My eyes feel strange, kind of sore, and I am still green around the gills. My mouth tastes like mud.

I lie there feeling god awful. I say to Al: "If this wasn't the effects of chemo, if this is what it feels like to die a slow, horrible death, I'd take a cyanide pill." It's true.

The day warms up and I stay in bed until the early afternoon watching one B-Grade Movie after another. "It Takes Two", "Baby's Big Day Out". If I were Margaret Pomeranz, I'd be taking that pill around now I think.

In the afternoon I am feeling a bit better so I get up to clean the kitchen which looks like the aftermath of a night with Matthew Newton. It actually feels good to be doing something vaguely constructive.

Margot, the real estate agent comes around as we are listing our place on the market. I lie like Lady Muck in bed in a surreal situation: a relative stranger in my bedroom and me blithely bald as a badger. (Who is Lady Muck BTW? And I thought badgers had hair).

By the evening, I am still green around the gills but at least I'm no longer sore. I opt not to walk today as I feel a little dodgy.

I watch 'The Big Lebowski', cack myself. I decide to try and weather the night without a sleeping pill. It's not that bad. I wake up in the middle of the night feeling bilious but take an anti nausea to drift off again.

Day 6: I'm feeling vomitish still, but it's a lovely morning. I feel quite compos mentis so do a tiny bit of writing work in the morning.

In the afternoon, Janet and the kids come by, bearing a freshly baked quiche, salad and Georgia's fantastic banana cream pie. We pass a couple of pleasant hours on the back deck, enjoying the brisk afternoon breeze.

I go for a 4 km stroll, tempted to aim for 5 but I can feel that edge of exhaustion. For the first time in my life, I have a concept of 'overdoing it'. I don't know if this is good or bad. Rightly or wrongly, I've never been a person with a concept of limits to what I could or could not do. Already I can see that I have changed.

Al brings me a light soup and goes to tennis. I have a long chat with Karen on the phone. I put Ben to bed.

At 11.15pm I am wide awake, still feeling green. I Google 'anti nausea'. I opt to take my rescue remedy homeopathic drops and drift off into an unsatisfying sleep.

Today is Day 7. I'll tell you what I've discovered. Every person's illness smells different. Mine is some combination of Dettol and the Alpha Keri Oil Chris sent me - to moisten my increasingly dry skin. It makes me gag just thinking about it.

It's fairly still and muggy in the morning. Al coaxes me - even offers to drive me - to my breathing and meditation class. I go half heartedly and find it difficult to concentrate as I'm still gagging a bit.

Later I have to load up my car with some boxes to drop off at a local printer (finishing off a last-minute job).

I play Christmas carols in the car. When my favourite, "The Little Drummer Boy" starts, inexplicably, I find myself crying, not buckets. But I feel sad.

In the paper this morning, there was a story about the 28 year old 2000 Miss Venezuela who has just died after a long battle with breast cancer.

What is there to say? These demon days, they are a small price to pay in the greater scheme of things.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chemo 3

The half-way mark for my chemo sessions arrive and today Al and I wake to a rain sodden world where the loud thuds of rain have been unrelenting through the night.

I wake several times, partly because of the large water intake that is recommended the day before chemo - you'd think I had prostrate problems! - and partly because I'm an easily disturbed sleeped and the rain drops on our wooden roof can sound like crazy marsupials on the chase.

Consequently I'm unrefreshed when I awake at 5.30 am, much earlier than I have been waking more recently. I'm not feeling afraid today. Earlier this week I had an epiphany. I decided that the only way to get through the shitty bits of life is to replace fear or anger or denial... with curiosity. If this is a 'journey', the true adventurer goes forth with a desire to know how it will be, how it all turns out, and importantly, what story I will have told when I reach the end. That final full stop. Fear on the other hand, achieves nothing.

While my fatigue is not a great start to the day, it's also not auspicious that last night, just before I went to sleep, my little laptop threw a hissy fit. In the morning Al gives me the bad news that my hard disc is unretrievable. We need the Mac doctor! So my machine, with my life's creative and professional outpourings of late also need medical attention. We are both off for some professional troubleshooting today. Hope the news is good for both of us...

Today the two boys, Harry and Ben are coming with us, the three of them to continue onto the man pad in town where hopefully further progress will be made on the tardiest refurbishment project we've had. With any luck it'll be finished in time for his new Uni year.

We leave a little later as intended and in the car, Nim texts to say she's already arrived. You see, today, my little entourage of supporters has increased by one to 4. So my special new friend is to meet my special old besties. Given the squeeziness of the booth, Janet offers to ditch if space is an issue. But its not! We can make space.

After I arrive, Lindar and Tracey arrive early too so the whole team including Al, and the boys chaperone us to the tiny cubicle. I think the nursing team are relieved that 7 are not to be squeezed in. Maybe we could arrange a Guinness Book of World Records session one time. Just to push the envelope? Anyone in?

Once again, Lindar and Tracey give me a gift (Soap and perfume!), and Nim has already delivered a store of her famous Baklava for the staff. Janet will arrive a little later, also bearing gifts. She will give me some lovely lotions but especially, she will give me a medallion dipped in the waters of Lourdes and was given to her years ago by a kind lady found Janet feeling sad about some events in her life. She had said that it had served her well, and gave it to Janet with the words that 'whatever her problems were would disappear' and that 'one day she would pass it on to someone else in who needed its helping powers'. So you see, even before we learned the words 'pay if forward', this is exactly how the kind and the humane have worked among us. Paying forward their good fortune, their answered prayers, the support they had. How good are my friends! I chide them and say they will be banned from my next chemo session if they keep bringing me these presents. I think my threat falls on deaf ears. But boy! I'm getting lots of presents!

Once I am seated, I am immediatley approached by a lovely nurse, Mel, who started nursing in 1968 and seems confident and professional. The cannula is inserted almost painlessly (after 2 goes). She is calm, positive, soothing. She demonstrates her caring nature immediately when she lugs 2 additional chairs for my friends. (That's all that can fit, so one must use a stool). I apologise for the clan but she says they welcome visitors.

Mel wastes little time in getting down to business.

This time when the Adramyacin enters my veins I start to feel a bit teary. I'm remembering the negativity and depression I briefly encountered in this phase last time. It is not a space I want to return to but what to do? I am reliably informed that emotional health is a lot less resilient than physical health. Joy.

After the Taxotere, I realise I'm feeling nauseous. I am told that, since I was one of those pathetic suckers who endured NINE MONTHS of non-stop morning sickness, this is quite a common scenario.

A call is made up to my oncologist and voila! Two pills (desolved under the tongue) and one injection are produced.

I am also told I will now have to come back on Saturday for another injection and some saline. Later Dr Choo will explain that this is to break the brain's association of the treatment with nausea. Apparently, it can be mind over matter, with the sneaky inclusion of some drug therapy.

All the while my four beautiful friends cover a litany of subjects that may exhaust the unprepared. Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Celebrity Apprentice and that cow Deni Hynes, pet dragon lizards who are loyal and loving we're told, pet mice who bite, why my best attributes are my nice bald head, and my very large uterus (but I don't like to boast). We talk about casesarians and the relationship to large fatherly heads, births, deaths and marriages. We discuss my mum and dad's latest invention: a silicon steamer. We discuss Metropole, Goerge Orwell, and Leni Riefenstahl. We talk about travelling. We talk about how people can be surprising. We discuss cross cultural communication: Nim's mother who had no word for 'collander' but managed to get what she wanted by saying: "Round thing take water away, spaghetti stays" and was less successful when she wanted that Lamb Leg and slapped her hind quarter to indicate said meaty cut followed by a gesture that may been construed as 'How much you got'. Instead she scored a wolf whistle and an appraisal of her assets.

And I shared the time when my sister Nicky, me and a friend Sue, spent a couple of weeks in Andros, in Greece, where Sue had some evil intentions with her newly discoverd beau - er hem - Adonis. (I later hung out with Hercules and Sophocles). We found a dinky little pharmacopia where first Sue attempted somewhat pathetically to indicate she wanted some condoms. "Condoms' Con-Doms" she attempted uselessly varying pitch and tone. It wasn't until Nicky went to work that cut-through was achieved. She adopted the lascivious pose of a dirty old man and proceeded to demonstrate 'Man' - a left finger thrusted energetically in a right finger hooked in a ring to indicate a hole which she labelled 'Woman' - a move that left so little to the imagination, I had to scream, "No Nicky, it's too much". At which point the little old storekeeper, foraged among his stores of several products past their use-by-date - produced a small packet and yelled. "Aah! Prophylacticos!" Further embarrassment was therefore avoided as the next stage in this interaction was surely going to be me taking the missionary position on top of Nicky in a bid to furhter dramatise the normal situation for the product we so desperately wanted, Sue by now slinking outside so mortified we did feel a little mollified. But only a little.

Our tales draw peals of laughter when one nurse pops her head into ask what we've put in our coffees, as they want some :)) Not quite "Harry Met Sally" but real laugher is better than those fake orgasms, Sally. Yes, yes, yes! It is!

So next time, I'm going to take my guitar and Janet and I will give them a rendition of the only song we can sing together, that old chestnt, "Wooden Heart". Perhaps I can convince Nim to rock on her smooth bellydancing moves. Just you watch out nursies, you ain't seen nothing yet :)

The nausea abates after I eat some (hospital supplied) sandwiches and have a ginger ale. I wonder of the wisdom of these choices until I finally realise I do feel much better.

Later I go off for my ritual meeting with Dr Choo who is heading back to Penang for a family holiday and will miss my next chemo session. I'll have to see her again afterwards so she can check my neutrophils (apparently a little low today).

And so in this way my day concludes, in much the way as did my last chemo session. Good friends taking my mind off the bits I really hate about it all. The needles, the drugs and what they will do to me in the next 10 days.

And again, there is that mysterious alchemy, of how bad experiences are transformed, by the people you choose to have around you, their attitudes affecting mine, and just being comfortable enough with them - all four - to be able cry if I need to, knowing one if not all will hold my hand at some stage because they know that under my jokes and humour, I am now anxious about the next 10 days when I will be largely horizontal, bored, retching, angry, fatigued and alone.

Al and the boys pick Nim and I up from the Hospital. I find myself drifting off to sleep on Nim's shoulder as one of the drugs causes drowsyness.

It is just a good thing that I have made the most of the good days behind me.

I'll be focussing on those bright spots I have mentioned before.

For they are the things that illuminate my way forward: these are the things I focus on - a normal life, the support of my friends and family, walks with my dog, a nice home cooked meal and those thing I have been grateful for all my life: how lucky I am to be me! I won the lottery the day I was born - and with all the shit and pain and disappointment and struggle, all the closed doors, the near misses, the death defying moments, the cul-de sacs, the bad decisions, the losses and humiliations - how great it's been, all of it.

And this evening, another bright spot sparkles. Harry has invited 20 mates over for his own Christmas do. This means my children are living a normal, social life. It's another thing to be grateful for: healthy, happy, confident kids who can host a party like their Mumsy on a whim. That's the spirit!

Already I'm a winner, so chemo - do your best - you won't bring me down.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Bright Side

Nine days after the end of my demon days, and I must say, I'm feeling rather good. I feel most guilty that I appear to have bounced back quite nicely and wonder if this will be the norm.

So far, I have been schooled in the fact that successive cycles will lead to increasing depletion, worsening side effects, and some grim times ahead.

For now I am, I have to say, kind of perky.

In fact, in the week that's passed, you'd be forgiven in believing I'm in the rudest of health, bald head and missing breast notwithstanding.

Life has seemed to be fairly normal through my immunity period.

I've worked out that people don't have to be perennially contagious and have ventured out of home.

I go shopping, I go next door to work on a jigsaw puzzle with Lyndal. On Monday, Al and I even go away (for one night, at our beach house at the now empty and defunct resort, Couran Cove).

Despite fairly persistent rain, I go walking a few times. Once I go with Nicky and she sees my bald head for the first time.

"You look like a Belsen survivor," she jokes.

"Yeh, don't give me striped pyjamas for Christmas," I say.

At home, I manage to behave like someone perfectly well. I get halfway through a new painting; I bake my first ever Christmas cake (I must say, it looks a treat); I put up the Christmas Tree and even buy AND wrap all of my Christmas presents.

On one night, I cook dinner - my first liver curry because my platelets are so low I am in need of iron. It gets the thumbs up from the family. No, it isn't that offal after all.

We go to trivia - and win! (I just KNEW Bette Midler had never won an Academy Award :)

Who says a battle with cancer has to be a sorry tale?

There are other bright spots in the week: I notice that I no longer have hair under my armpits, in my nose or on my legs. As previously alluded to, Antarctica too is barren (alas, in more ways than one). Like most women I detest body hair. This is definitely a plus!

Yesterday, Friday, I have my six week check-up with Dr Lambley. In case you're wondering, here's a picture I took of him a few weeks ago. I won't be seeing him again for another three months.

Dr Lambley checks my progress and advises that I am right as rain and ready to return to normal activity. I can even consider going back to golf. Yay! Another bright spot!

He tells me that he prefers me to be as active as possible so everyone who's telling me to take it easy, pay heed. I'm allowed to walk 10 kms if I want to. (Okay, admittedly, I then need to sleep for 400 hours, but who cares!)

But I suppose, there's always that undertow - of grimmer tidings.

I discuss some of my concerns about the extent of my treatment. I find myself bargaining - if I have chemo and radiation, do I have to have the drugs?

I've been told that the drug, Tamoxifen is likely to be prescribed. Did you know it's been around for 30 years? Unfortunately, in my research I've discovered that, of the known side effects, one is uterine cancer. Fantastic!

Dr Lambley confirms that there's a 1:700 chance of uterine cancer in Tamoxifen users. I observe that that seems somewhat high. He agrees and says that's why doctors like to keep a close eye on these patients.

Next, our discussion focuses on what will happen down the track as far as my breast reconstruction goes.

I will explain the details when the time comes but for now, let me just say that reconstruction MAY require a surgical procedure involving the use of my stomach fat. If I'm to have a decent 'C' cup or even a 'B', I need to work on a more Danny De Vitoesque physique.

Now, many of my wonderful friends, my sister included, have kindly offered to donate their stores of belly lard to the cause. But sadly, I am unable to accept their selfless gestures.

I must, it seems, farm adequate fat OF MY OWN for this procedure.

This will take some effort. All the usual fatty things I love like chocolate and donuts taste positively vile. I am managing ice cream and there are exceptions, like Nim's baklava, that taste pretty damn good.

But overall, I am being careful with what I eat - not because I care about weight gain, but because things do taste different.

To Dr Lambley, I mourn the fact that, apart from pregnancy and its after effects, I have been pretty much the same size all my adult life. I have dresses I still wear that are 20 years old!

Now I must face the fact that, for at least 12 months, I must aim for Fatty Boombah-hood and frankly, I'm not impressed. I think about all the Fatists I know - it riles me, but it's a reality. I'm already feeling unattractive. Who needs belly rolls as well? And besides, who's going to wear all my lovely dresses, damn it!

Dr Lambley says that this is not a good time to consider calorie counting.

It seems I should unleash the hogs.

"Can you tell me how much more fat I'll need for a B cup?" I ask.

He kindly comes round his desk and squeezes the roll on my stomach. No go. I do have a little fat but hardly enough for an 'A' cup.

When I leave Dr Lambley, I have a referral to a plastic surgeon. I'll meet with him or her early in the New Year to determine the best strategy forward.

Hey! If I'm to be fatter, I want to know exactly what the donut:lettuce ratio is to be. I don't want to end up as big as a five storey condominium if I'm only required to be as big as a sizeable duplex. Do you understand?

In the afternoon, my sister Fiona, drops by. It's really nice to see her as she lives way over the north side.

We have a lovely chat on the back deck, and repeatedly, Fiona comments on my healthy appearance.

Later in the afternoon, I bump into my friend Helen. Once again, she comments on my healthy appearance.

If there's a stereotype of a 'cancer victim', I'm thinking I'm not it.

That evening, I find myself at Elysium with my wig on. I wonder if my hair is screaming WIG! But no one laughs and points so I guess all is well.

Most of the usual gang are there and I find I am having a good time, as though all is normal and all is right with the world.

But all the while, my eyes seek out the various bosoms spread around the room. Is that a 'B'? Is that an 'A'? Short of groping these strangers, I find myself assessing cleavages, sizing up the potential. (I must say, most Aussie women are flat as pancakes! It's no wonder Nicky and Paris were such starlets in their day!)

I am planning ahead. I am imagining my fatty boom bah body with some pathetic size A's clinging like half-formed meat patties to my chest.

This afternoon, my friend Mary and her parter Jo visit. Guess what? They comment on how well I look too!

Mary battled advanced cancer four years ago. After a mammogram found a lump of 1.5cm, the doctors told her not to worry about it. 13 months elapsed before she realised the lump had grown to 8 cm, it was right through her lymph glands and had invaded her breast tissue.

Interestingly, as it was already too late, she had the option of avoiding the mastectomy and was put on the same regime as I'm on, TAC.

Here is something I learn today. Not everyone has the same amount of lymph nodes under their arms! Some have a few, others have, well, an armful. I bet you didn't know that!

I also learn that I am handling this a lot better than Mary did. (She was really, really sick). It's the first real case I've found for why early detection is optimal: it just means that your body is a little healthier and up a little more to the challenge.

At least that's what I'm hoping if my general perkiness right now is anything to go by.

All in all, if this is a roller coaster ride, at the moment my cart is cresting a small hill.

There's no doubt there'll be plenty of spewing and screaming round the last wild corner, but for now, hey! I'm looking on the bright side.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Missing Out

It's a glorious Saturday morning and as I wake to greet the day, the first thing that pops into my mind is what I'll be missing out on today.

Yesterday, Al and I should have been on a plane to Newcastle. We should have been on our way to the wedding of my best man-friend Tim. A bachelor since I first met him at the tender age of 18, Tim has finally met the girl of his dreams, Amanda. She's much younger but what is age? She's tall, slender, beautiful. She's highly intelligent and interesting. But none of that is important. What is important is that she loves Tim and Tim loves her.

And today, they are walking down the aisle at a function centre in Maitland, where Amanda's family have a farm.

In the arc of my development from young adult to old crone, Tim has been a constant in my life, the older brother I never had who has always been there to lean on.

As far as friends go, he is the 'Gold Star' variety, a boy who didn't suddenly peel away from me when I was 'with man', who has taken an interest in my life, no matter what.

And over the years, I've got to know his wider family, including an eclectic collection of hugely talented relatives whose combined personalities could power a small city, such is their energy.

You can imagine how I have felt over the years, knowing Tim is probably the nicest, kindest guy I know, and seeing him SINGLE! What is wrong with women, I've thought over the years. Why can't they see what I see?

I mean, come on! This man is a genius at Scrabble. Surely that speaks for itself! He's also tall, slim, looks half his age and he can sing, god damn it.

As he approached his 50th birthday, I have to admit I had all but given up. I imagined Tim as a cranky old bachelor with hair growing out of his ears, sitting on a rocking chair with only a blind, farting dog for company and maybe bellowing at the neighbours to turn down their blasted music.

Or I imagined he might meet his soul mate in a nursing home, where he would pull out a beaten up guitar and so impress Mavis, Ethel or Kitty with his vocals that one of them might want to shag him. Never give up, right?

Then almost out of the blue, my patience - and the patience of all of Tim's friends - was rewarded. Tim met Amanda. Cue some Lionel Richie song. No, actually, that's rude. Cue a really cool jazzy love tune, with lyrics possibly involving the prolific use of the word 'baby'.

You'll understand my excitement when Tim announced his engagement earlier this year and I was so eager, I couldn't wait for the invitation. Long before the majority knew the details, I had early intelligence of the date and venue and Al and I duly set about booking airfares and sorting out accommodation.

When the invitation finally did arrive, the dress was described as "Vintage Floral" and I got to choosing my dress straight away, researching countless internet sites until I found something appropriate.

In fact, it was the first dress I ever purchased on-line, bought from a store in the UK for a song.

When it arrived, sometime in July (I'm sad to say), I found it was a little tight across the bust.

This is what is funny in hindsight. I recall at the time thinking, "Oh, it's a bit tight but I'll starve myself for a couple of days so that Paris and Nicky aren't completely asphyxiated."

You see, I was convinced I could lose a few inches across the bust with some mindful dieting.

I am laughing now, thinking how The Universe must have been grinning with sly mockery. Foolish woman. Little do you realise. Lose a few inches? Ha Ha Haaah. Try 715 grams.

Because as things would have it, I am not, in fact, to wear the dress - now so tight I can't even do up the zip.

I am not to be in Newcastle, excitedly getting ready for what would have to be one of the most important weddings in my life.

I am not to catch up with the suite of Tim's family and friends who I've lost touch with over the years and I was so looking forward to seeing again.

I am in my very low immunity period and it is simply unsafe for me to be on an aeroplane as I am so susceptible to germs.

There's been a whooping cough outbreak in Melbourne. All it takes is one cough.

I've discussed it with Dr Choo. I've talked it over at length with my friends.

Instead, I have sent a telegram that I hope will be read out with some feeling by Mark, Tim's best man.

Instead, today Al and I will go down the Coast for an outing away from the Redlands - my first in over two months - for lunch on a balcony in Burleigh (safely away from the stinking, bacteria-carrying, germ infested crowds). Yes, even you, Miranda Kerr!

Instead, tonight, I shall content myself as I toast Tim and Amanda with my heartfelt wish that their love will withstand the test of time. (Shit! I wish I withstand the test of time!)

Because I realise that this is part of what illness is about.

It is about dealing with disappointment and missing out as cherished plans are overwritten.

It is about letting go of opportunities and consoling yourself with an alternative - "Oh well, I can always watch the video".

It is about waiting for hours in your party gear for the bus, full of happy, drunken passengers on their way to the Biggest Event of the Century, only to see it whoosh past, missing your stop and leaving you gagging in the fumes of its exhaust.

What can I do but sit down, compose myself, and wait.

Surely, another one must be along soon.