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Friday, September 7, 2012

No Guarantees

It's a beautiful, breezy Friday morning, the kind of day when it's just bloody brilliant to be alive.

The good residents of Brisbane have enjoyed the driest August on record and, as we move into September and Spring, it's easy to feel blessed that I live in such a fantastic place.

50 weeks since diagnosis and physically I am feeling pretty good right now. My cold has dissipated and along with it the trail of tissues I've been leaving behind. I've simply been rejoicing in the simple pleasure of breathing unencumbered. (Olive Leaf Extract I love you!)

I've also been sleeping better. It's only since I've been sick that I have truly realised the marvellous medicinal properties of a good kip.

In other exciting news, my eyebrows have thickened and, in the absence of the 'meno' which has been well and truly 'paused', I am even getting a little colour to my lips.

As well, my armpit hairs haven't grown back apart from the teensiest tiniest tips of follicles. That's got to be a good thing!

What's not exciting is that my hair is so curly I've been told there is something 'reggae' about me. Certainly, I seem to have a strange desire to limbo under low furniture and I can't get the 'Banana Boat Song' out of my head. (Somebody pass me the bongos).

Meanwhile, my sessions with Dr Cam at the Wesley also ended this week. I've lost 2 kilos of fat and gained 1 kg of muscle in 7 weeks since undertaking his program and am continuing to be (mostly) virtuous about nutrition and exercise. Well, it's virtuous by MY usual standards, at least. If you don't count the odd Freddo Frog. Or scone with cream and jam.

Physically it's all been pretty good. I can run 10 kilometres again (albeit slowly) even though my bones and joints ache all the way.

I am improving at tennis with my Tuesday night fixture providing a pleasant social outlet.

In odd weeks I manage 9 holes of golf: it's always good for the soul, wandering over pristine green meadows, breathing the fresh air and testing out a choice expletive or two when you can't find your fucking ball.

But mentally, it's been a different story altogether and, I have to report that, over the last three weeks I've been visiting a counsellor at the Cancer Council. (The phrase 'Cancer Council Counsellor' surely leaving 'She sells seashells' for dead in the tongue-twister department).

I did so on the recommendation of my fellow breast cancer friend, Kerrie.

We in Australia are lucky to receive up to 5 free counselling sessions through this wonderful charity and so, with my mood sometimes wavering toward the slightly dismal side, I figured that there was no harm in talking to someone impartial about my thoughts.

As a result of the process so far,the one thing I've determined is that my moods are very closely geared to my level of physical or mental activity.

I need a sense of purpose in order to feel worthwhile and unfortunately, watching repeats of 'The Bold and the Beautiful' just doesn't cut it.

It also doesn't help that I've wallowed at home 'in between projects'. The recent turn of events - the election ending, work drying up, Harry leaving home - certainly doesn't help the cancer fighter's doldrums.

No wonder I have had days when I've felt as if I've been floundering in a vacuum - a joyless, airless (and partially hairless) place that has been devoid of motivation, of need and desire. Aah, those 'moments'.

The worst of these episodes seems to strike in the face of what I perceive to be a disappointment: when things don't turn out the way I had expected.

For example, a few weeks ago I applied for a job at the local Council - foolishly believing that all the work I've done for Karen (you know, the MAYOR) may actually have assisted my position. Besides which, my newly minted CV was assessed by my good friend, Nic, who is also a Doctor of Marketing. (You'd think she knows something: last night she dined with the Director of Marketing at Disney Corp; she speaks 4 languages; she's brilliant in fact).

How stupid was I? The coveted job went to some second rate bureaucrat ousted from the State Government department she'd been gathering dust in for the past 20 something years. A career bureaucrat.

Yes, I am not even as good as The Fish that John West Rejected.

So off I went. On a spin. Off to my 'moment'. And, thankfully, off to the counsellor.

As a result, over the last three weeks, I've really gained a much closer understanding of the mental game you need to survive cancer.

When we talk about the 'cancer battle' it's not about the chemotherapy or the radiation. The battle isn't about the nasty ongoing side effects. It's not about hot flashes or insomnia or aching.

That's not the real battle. We humans have equipped ourselves fantastically to deal with physical problems. Pain? Try pain killers. Can't Sleep? Sleeping pills. Crippled? Go the wheelchair.

But where the mental or emotional game is concerned, it's a whole different story.

There, inside your head, is where the real battle is fought and it begins in earnest post treatment. (There's something I could not have predicted).

Post cancer treatment you feel more alone than ever.

Post cancer treatment it seems some of the support network peels away as your friends move onto other projects.

Post cancer treatment all the surface cues point to recovery. A collective sigh of relief is released. And everyone moves on.

Or so it seems.

The reality, as I've discovered, is that many cancer survivors tend to put on the mask that says: "I'm moving on. I'm coping fantastically. It is all fucking awesome, man."

But things are not as they seem.

At last, Chris has come clean about her own dark feelings.

I can see through Mary's persistent attempts at perkiness.

I know Sharon still seems side swiped by it all, waking up to find her lithe and limber 40-something body replaced by someone older, even crankier.

When Cathy made a speech at her 50th birthday celebration, she burst into tears.

It is that sleight of hand I alluded to in one of my earliest blogs, as I dealt with my preconceived ideas of chemotherapy. You might recall I described it as passing through a sliding door, into an alternative reality.

I do believe it is exactly the way I imagined it.

Over the past couple of months I have come to more intimately know many cancer survivors. In fact, during Daffodil Day last month, I bought a bunch of daffodils that, eerily, comprised 13 blooms, one each for every person touched by breast cancer that I had come to know so far this year. (Since then, sadly, I will need at least two extra blooms).

There is something that all of these women have in common and I sense it with my writer's eye: the way that, whatever stage they are in, they have the look of that person spat out onto the beach by one of those huge dumping waves.

You know how you emerge swimming costume askew, possibly one large boob dislodged from the pathetic confines of the skimpy lycra, hair a-tangle, and disoriented?

Yes, that's the look. Right there. The "Holy Shit! How did I get here!" look.

I also sense that, just like me, they bring to this new life, upended on that strange beach, a new awareness.

No, not some lesson in how to be "Amazing" or "Inspirational" (gag). Not of a higher purpose, some fantastic revelation that is somehow life-changing (puke). Not of someone who knows the "Things That Are Really Important." Like that doozy: "Living in the Moment". Oh Puh-lease!

We have a new awareness, yes. And it is of this.

That palpating at the peripheries of our vision is the Ghost of Chemos Past. It is the ghost that tells us that Nothing is Forever. Not cancer. Not its side effects. And especially, not this thing called Living.

It is the ghost that tells us to keep walking, steadily but warily.

Because no one knows what's around the corner.

No matter who you are, or how well you live, or how noble may be your way of life, your intentions or how great your Sense of Purpose, we are none of safe from the Hand of Fate. Not even Miranda Kerr.

There is the Universe, that Great Pitcher, gathering that hard, round ball in his hand, feeling the seam of it, and sizing up the path along which he will send it curving toward you, so perfectly bowled that you will never see it coming as it knocks you to the ground. That Foul Ball.

We who fight the cancer fight, are more than ever aware at how much our destinies are beyond our control.

They really are.

There are simply no guarantees. So why do we live that way?

Why, as I write, are so many of you dreaming about your retirement? How you'll spend your superannuation?

Why are so many of you sitting there telling yourself that "One Day, I'll..." (insert Bucket List Item Number 1578000).

So here is an exercise I want you to complete. Write down one thing you might have been planning to do 'One Day' and work out a plan for how you might make it happen sooner.

Please don't leave things until it's too late. Call that friend. Sign up for that course. Visit that relative. Take up golf. Join that club.

But, in the meantime, keep walking. Keep moving.

Seize the Day but make sure you stop from time to have a good look around.

It's a beautiful, breezy Friday morning, the kind of day when it's just bloody brilliant to be alive.

But I suppose you've noticed.


  1. Bronnie, so good to see you yesterday. Reading your blogs is sad because as you say you don't know what's around the corner and your plans for the future are a little grey. From the moment I met you when Harry and Callum started school, you had energy. Your face would light up a room and even your frown wasn't that threatening (going back to you growling at the boys and they just continued doing what they were doing). You always dreamed of writing and this blog is a true work of art. It's confronting, saddening, heartwrenching and heartfelt. Your feelings put everything into perspective as to someone who hasn't been struck by this has the right to complain about anything! When we spoke yesterday I mentioned you running and sweating it out as that's what I'd do. Fitness is a huge part of our lives and when I was pregnant I was beside myself that I couldn't do my 10km runs so can't imagine your personal torture not getting your daily fix. You have been introduced to a world that you probably never imagined. Travelled that road we dread and along the way met some fantastic people. You say it is a mental game and knowing you for all this time I would imagine a person with the confidence you ooozzzed will somehow get your head into a space that can cope. Catch up SOON and continue to look at those sunrises and sunsets and enjoy. I do that every day. Love Melissa x

    1. Thanks Melissa. It was rather lovely to chat with you yesterday, too. Thank you for you words of encouragement. I really appreciate the fact you did look up my blog :) x