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Thursday, August 16, 2012


In one week it will be exactly 11 months since my diagnosis and I find myself not simply taking stock of my progress so far but, for once, celebrating a rather positive state of mind.

My mood is helped by the fact that Brisbane has been celebrating a string of perfectly beautiful days with their trademark crisp, clear skies and gentle coolness.

Who could not feel blessed to be alive under these conditions?

My frame of mind is further assisted by an unusual peace that has descended on what has been a building site for the past few days.

Today, the house is quiet with Ben at school and Alan away for a few days in Thailand where, lucky man, he'll be playing on a golf course regarded by Tiger Woods as one of the best in the world. (He's taking a well-deserved break as the stress around his various business interests has been chronic of late).

In this environment, I have found that it has been a little easier to be motivated in that way that seems to have eluded me in more recent months.

Pet projects that have languished in the archives of my computer have been revived and I've been making the most of some rare ambition.

Firstly, the novel I slaved over for the better part of 10 years, and which I had discarded, was dusted off and a quick editor's eye passed over it for the last time. I spent days reading up on e-publishing, then reformatted it for publishing on Kindle. In a few short hours today, the book will be uploaded as a product on Kindle's bookstore.

In case you are curious about my capacities as a fiction writer, here is the link.

Feel free to part with your $3.99 if you feel inclined but my no means feel pressured.

This novel was in some ways an indulgence, written in between the long months that can sometime straddle the projects of a freelance operative, and morphed through so many stages of rewriting and restructuring that it nearly drove me to drink.

I feel relieved to have thrown it from the nest. If it flies or falls is of no consequence to me. I am just happy if somebody reads it. Anybody!

Secondly, at long last I have started the process of distributing a small gift book Al and I created some years ago. Featuring an original poem (by moi) and printed by a friend, boxes of the bloody things had been sitting in my garage for years.

Now moved into the house, the boxes have been a cruel reminder of my long list of 'coulda beens'.

But good feedback from people I've gifted the book to recently has motivated me to find SOME way of distributing them, and I have enlisted the help of my dear friend Craig (who could sell lamb chops to a vegetarian, I swear).

I can owe the revival of these projects entirely to cancer.

Because one of the things that my ordeal so far has taught me is that the single most important thing in life is people.

Without people - my family and friends - I have no idea how I would have survived so far.

And now, post-chemo, I find it easier to ask people for help - in other ways.

I have no idea why many people find it so hard to do so. Do they think it is an admission of weakness? Of failure?

To that I say: "Horsefeathers!" (not to mention "Balderdash!", "Codswallop!" and "Fiddle-Faddle")

Lately I have been reminded of the mantra I consistently conveyed to my children. "If you don't ask, you don't get" (this, mostly in the context of help from their teachers).

I reminded myself of what I learned years ago, when I turned 10 years old. That birthday, my Dad asked me what I would like for a present and thinking 'no way could my parents afford that', I asked for a guitar.

My parents were never flush with cash in those days. In fact, it was financially always a huge struggle with both Mum and Dad working dead end jobs to help keep their heads above water.

But still, Dad managed to buy me that guitar and, to this day, I remember the exhilarating moment when I realised that if you ASK, sometimes you GET. Because I got that guitar!

I don't know where that feeling went. Over the years as I dealt with a string of disappointments - the many jobs I didn't get, the pitches I didn't win, the doors that slammed in my face as I peddled my various creative wares - I think I became fearful of asking.

What I've told my kids to do, I found harder and harder to do.

But thanks to cancer, that youthful belief has resurfaced: that there is no harm in asking. All they can say is 'no'.

My revived novel and gift book are a small testament to that.

In the meantime, I have maintained the rage against my decrepit body and continue to find time to exercise 6 out of 7 days.

I have no idea what has come over me. These days the less I want to do something, the harder I work to MAKE myself do it.

I think back to that fifth chemo session, when I was terrified of going and kept arguing that surely, missing the last two would make no difference to the end result. I MADE myself go.

Is this one certain way in which cancer has transformed me? This bloody-minded conviction that no matter how detestful the activity, if it's good for me I will do it? If I've made a commitment I'll rally on?

I don't think so.

I am reminded of that fateful year in 2010 when I joined the Capalaba Division 5 soccer team and found myself under the control of an arrogant, bombastic bully of a coach. He had me in tears on several occasions and left me on the bench for around 70% of that season.

That was the season where I passed endless minutes of the game sitting next to the Coach's wife, his manager, a woman with the personality of a toenail.

It was also the year my team won the Grand Final (on my birthday!) and when, after kitting up and driving for an hour to get to the field, I was left on the bench for the duration. Can I repeat: On my birthday!

You know, they say life is not a dress rehearsal. But I disagree.

Some parts of your life ARE a dress rehearsal - for how you'll cope for that day that comes for all of us, when things will be harder. When life won't be so easy. When everything - even getting out of bed - is a challenge.

My dress rehearsal was that soccer season of 2010 when I discovered that I had staying power. That I would not quit - no matter what. That, despite the tears, I would carry on.

After that grand final match, I did not stay for the team photograph. I despatched my friend Emily to get our medals as I snivelled in the car.

As we drove off, I threw those medals out of the car window. They were meaningless to me.

And that is how I imagine myself putting all of this behind me one day. Giving cancer the finger. Throwing away that gold medal I might get - the Five-Year All Clear! - because that's not what really matters is it?

In the end, it's not whether I live or die that's important. It's what I brought to the fight that's important.

It's not the end that matters. It's the journey.

Has cancer transformed me so far?

No, it hasn't.

What it has done is revive me, and it has reminded me of the potential I've always had: To be brave and to ask for help if I need it; To stay the distance and make myself keep going.

Is cancer about transformation at all?

Of a sort.

In the end it's about the transformation of a day: how a bad day is transformed into a good day - how being unable to get out of bed of a morning ends with a 10 km run.

It's about how feeling vulnerable can be reinterpreted into a feeling that somehow, everything will work out in the end.

It's about how my devastation at not being allowed to play that Gold Medal match was transformed into a finger in the air ...

...And Emily and I laughing at that fat, ignorant, bullying nothing of a coach as we drove home.

That's how I'll be driving away not just from my cancer match - but all those strings of disappointments and road blocks and cul de sacs I have yet to encounter.

Because it's never, ever, ever about winning the game. It will always, always be about how you play it.

Now, someone, pass me the ball!