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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Prosthesis

If my friend Chrissy hadn't sent me her own prosthesis (I've nicknamed it 'Dolly') for my use, it's likely I will never have got around to it. I've been making do with Dolly and, when lazy, I have to admit to making do with a rolled up bedrock - or a bunch of tissues as I did when caught short recently.

But today, I take myself to the Women's Wellbeing Centre in Greenslopes where I have an appointment with a lady called Carol Martin.

A former Occupational Therapist, Carol specialises in post-mastectomy fittings of prostheses and bras.

Having lost any real interest in the shape or presentation of my tits of late, the truth is I wouldn't have bothered except for the fact that I have a voucher from the Chicks in Pink entitling me to two bras up to the value of $160. Who can walk past a freebie I ask you?

There's also the fact that Chrissy's bras have done some heavy duty boulder holding, so they're a little the worse for wear. That, and I'm not sure if they're the right size. (From an overhead point of view, it's difficult to gauge).

My appointment's at 12.30 pm and right on time, I overshoot Carol's shop on my first attempt as it's located on Logan Road, so close to the intersection with a side street that it's easy to overlook.

In the end, a little hot and bothered, I do get there and find her office is located in a small centre.

I'm not really sure what to expect and find myself sitting in a nicely appointed professional suite.

I thumb vaguely through a 'Madison' magazine but have forgotten my glasses so that's useless. I wonder around the small space flicking through some brochures. (Hmm, 'Exercises for Arthritis'. I wonder if that's the next fabulous thing on my future health agenda).

A short while later, Carol comes out to greet me and I am met by a voluptuous lady dressed in a hot pink dress and with lovely shoulder-length blonde hair. (Any hair is lovely to me these days. Even Donald Trump's rug).

I follow her into a small room where I see a range of boxes containing prostheses I realise, and some bras displayed on a small rack.

When Carol asks me to take off my top, I somewhat embarrassedly confess that I have been using a second-hand prosthesis as I reveal one of Chris's old bras.

(As it turns out, I will walk out of here with the same bra but in my size and doing a better job of containing Paris who seems intent on popping out of nearly all the bras I try on. Ooh, she's a wild one alright).

First up, Carol attempts to find a matching prosthesis and part of my brain realises this was not on my agenda. Dolly's been doing me fine and these bastards are not exactly cheap.

Still, in Australia, Medicare provides a rebate of $400 for a breast prosthesis which means I will be out of pocket by only a few dollars (relatively speaking) if at all. So why not! (Besides, I'm too ashamed to admit I'm a cheapskate. It's that hair. It's so damn glamorous.)

Then Carol gets to work. She puts a lovely cream-coloured bra on me then produces a prosthesis that is, she says, very pert and sticks up a little. However, it seems smaller an a bit too perky next to Paris. Not a great match.

I am allowed to handle a couple of different varieties and note that they are substantially lighter than Dolly. (She's climate-controlling but so heavy I'm sure she'd be a rather fine bludgeoning tool).

Throughout this process, Carol comments on my buxom shape enough times so I gather it's noteworthy. (Inwardly, I sigh. How many times have I heard these kinds of comments. Okay, I get it. I have BIG BOOBS).

In the end, I select a Size 8 which is lighter than Dolly (a size 7) although it doesn't have her thermal properties.

Next it's onto the bras.

I can report that the process of fitting a bra onto a lopsided chest is an onerous task, requiring substantial wiggling as it is so important to properly centre the garment.

At some stage, one is also required to grab the remaining boob and kind of shake it, much as, say, a dog might worry a bone, so that it sits correctly inside the bra cup.

I can also report that on insertion of a prosthesis, the remaining breast is thrown into relief, its oozing fattiness emphasised. My cup really does overfloweth.

As well, it's a trap for the unwary that a missing breast can create an unsightly 'cleavage' that most post-mastectomy women strive desperately to hide. So some bras are quite unsuitable because when you bend over, it's not exactly your 'Swimsuit Illustrated' look.

That's why, we mastectomised mummas rely on the overall sizzle of the bra to divert one's eyes away from the all too obvious thing that stares you in the eye - this girl is titless.

And so, after parting with $435 of which $400 will be returned, courtesy of the exorbitant taxes I pay, I leave Carol Martin with a new breast in place.

To the untrained eye, to all intents and purpose, I am a whole, not a half where the Boobsie Twins are concerned.

The ghost of Nicky has risen in a triangle of silicon that's shoved inside my bra and sits tamed as the real Nicky would not have allowed herself to be tamed.

This one sits where it's put and refuses to budge. It comes out when I require it too. It does not sag or wobble. There is nothing 'come hither' about this baby. At least, I don't think so.

I should be glad but a bit part of me is missing Nicky.

She may have made an unsightly boob of herself from time to time but really, that girl had personality.

I don't get it you know. Why so many women seek that silicone enhancement.

Who could possibly want plastic, this dead and lifeless shape, when you have the real thing?

Love what you have, ladies. You might think it's not much but from here, even your pancakes are looking pretty fine to me.

Remember, a beautiful chest is a cancer-free chest.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Demon Days 6

It's the last of my demon days and I'm off to a poor start.

Day 2: I wake to a sunny morning. I am utterly exhausted after waking at 3 am. I was startled awake by a noise outside my bedroom.

I am woken by Al with some bad news. My friend, Jossy has taken her own life. You know how it is? When your whole body is so unwell you actually don't compute some things?

Jossy is my age. We went to Uni together. I can't get my head around the fact that this beautiful, vibrant and interesting girl has done the unthinkable.

It's the great conundrum isn't it? Me fighting for my life; she ending it. I feel a little angry. Here is one of the few good pictures I have of her and me:


Today I have arranged to go to see what I suspect will be a fairly awful movie with Lee. We go to see "A Few Best Men" and don't laugh once. It stereotypes men behaving badly we reckon, and we can't work out why Olivia Newton John would have wanted to do a movie where she snorts cocaine and gets totally plastered.

Afterwards, and perhaps in keeping with the generally tawdry tone of the movie, we go into the toilets to 'shoot up'. It's novel I must say. It's not quite a scene from 'Trainspotters' but Lee gives me my injection and we cheer the last prick. You know, it barely hurts these days.

Then we go to Harvest to have some lunch. It's about now I notice I have the start of a sniffle.

When I get home I find a home-cooked meal delivered by Pam, Craig's sister. I really appreciate this timely gesture because it's been a hectic day for Al and he gets home late. (George is at the Wesley Hospital for some tests).

Janet rings as usual to check on me. People are still being so kind.

Day 3: Last night was again, terrible, I woke at 1.30 am after taking my knock-me-out anti nausea. I had terrible heartburn and thanked God I'd got Al to get me some Quick Eze. It works so I was able to doze off.

It is a warm, humid day today and I wake suffused in the funny pains I've described before - where my skin hurts to touch.

We have an inspection at 12.30 pm and though I feel vile, I get up, make my bed and before you know it, I'm vacuuming the house. Mind over matter I suppose.

I drop Ben at golf and go to the shops to cool down. When I get home, Al and I go for a short walk. He has to pull me up the hill as I'm barely coping.

I know the symptoms have hit harder and faster this time.

After Ben gets home we all go for a swim. I know I shouldn't because it's supposed to make you vulnerable to bugs. But it's so bloody hot.

In the evening, we order take away. I'm feeling pretty vile so I take my knock-me out anti nausea.

Day 4: I wake relatively early to another hot day. In fact, it's blistering I reach for the anti nauseas first thing.

Today, once again, we have an inspection so I don't have the luxury of lolling in bed.

I find I am physically gagging. It helps to keep moving I think.

In the afternoon we go to my Mum's for lunch. My Aunty Ethel is heading back to Sri Lanka on Friday and Mum has invited my sisters and I over to say our farewells.

After we get home, I notice I'm gagging again. I am also lathered in sweat so I can report, it is entirely unpleasant.

I lie in bed. Al snoozes on the couch. The afternoon has cooled a little and it's not quite so bad.

I text Dr Choo to ask her if I should be concerned. She replies that if a fever develops I'll need antibiotics.

In the late afternoon Jan and Dave pop by. Jan is bearing four little pink-iced 'boobie cakes', left over from a cancer fundraiser she was involved. That, and a memoir written by a local guy who was kidnapped in Somalia. They are such a lovely couple.

We discuss the side effects of my drugs and Dave says: "What a shame the side effects are always so bad. Why can't they be something, like, multiple orgasms." A friend of mine sent me an email to that effect, I say. Why isn't one side effect extreme sexiness?

Craig pops by. (He's poisoning our weeds for us as well and I must say, has done an amazing job. It looks like the aftermath of the Apocalypse in the mess that is our back garden).

After our guests leave, I prepare the surface for my art lesson on Tuesday. I do a drawing. My sniffle has worsened. In fact I can't breathe.

I take a sleeping pill and an anti nausea this evening. I'm feeling miserable.

Al brings me dinner and I vaguely remember eating it but just roll over into a dead sleep.

Day 5: It's sweltering and today I find myself at home alone. Al and Harry have gone to work in town, Ben is at school. My nose is runny and it seems I have developed a cough.

In fact, I feel quite unwell. I lie in bed, suffused in aches, blowing my nose and hacking.

I feel very sorry for myself. I think about all my friends who are at work and off doing things that are important or interesting.

I ponder the fact that, this time, as I enter the home strait of my chemo sessions, people seem to have lost interest in my plight. Alas.

I ring Louisa and leave a message.

I have a headache and I do think I have a temperature too which is over 37 degrees but take some Panadol to control it. I can't remember at what temperature I'm supposed to ring the hospital, but I feel so vile, I can't be bothered getting up to find the booklet where it tells you everything. That's my first mistake.

The good thing at least is that the nausea seems to have abated though the foul taste has settled in my mouth once again.

I spend the entire day in bed, dozing intermittently. The fan whirrs at full speed. I think this is the sickest I can remember ever feeling. In my life. Ever!

I try to watch TV but my head is throbbing, I'm sweating like a pig and I have difficulty concentrating.

When I take my temperature, it's over 38 degrees so I take two more Panadol. That's my second mistake.

In the late evening I feel better so I get up to work on a script for Karen. Mark sends me a message to alert me of Jossy's funeral. It's on Thursday. I hope I am well enough to go.

Through the night I ache and sweat. I take two Panadol sometime in the early morning.

Day 6: It's pouring with rain early in the morning. Al jumps up just before 4 am and says he has to waterproof the Manpad. He'll be back at 7am he says.

When I wake I have a headache but I don't want to take any more Panadol in case I poison myself. I wait until 9 o'clock.

Al comes home and leaves for his tennis cardio session and I'm alone again (naturally). The rain has cleared.

I think about ringing Lee and asking her whether I should go to the doctor but I don't. I know she's at work and I don't want to bother her.

About mid-morning Louisa comes over. I lie in bed, flicking at the TV. I am blowing my nose and hacking phlegm (sorry!).

We converse in a desultory fashion. I tell her that I have been reliving the experience of having injections in my skin all morning.

"I think I'll get some hypnotherapy to overwrite that association," I tell her.

I ask her if I should go to the doctor. (Louisa is an EEN. She should know.) Louisa says it would make her happy if I went. I'm thinking I'll just get a script for antibiotics just in case I need them.

Louisa will drive me, she says, and tells me to have a shower and get dressed.

So I get up and I feel kind of okay. After getting into some shorts and a thin top (it's bloody hot and I seem to be sweating profusely), I ring my local GP and make an appointment.

As we are about to exit, Al arrives home.

"You can't just get any antibiotics. Shouldn't you see Poh See?" he says. "I'm happy to drive you."

I'm a bit annoyed, to be honest. I was all primed for this outing with Louisa! But after some argy bargy, I ring Greenslopes Hospital and explain the situation.

They say I have to go in to have my blood checked. How inconvenient! I'm thinking they'll give me some oral antibiotics at the Hospital. Such a long way to go. Such a nuisance.

And so Al, Louisa and I drive to the Hospital. (Al is keen as there is still a lot to do at the Manpad). I feel quite okay and think, briefly, that this is all a bit of a waste of time.

At Greenslopes, I am a bit wary when the concierge directs us to the Cyril Gilbert Ward. A girl call Jessica is behind the counter and I gaily advise her I'm here for my antibiotics script.

When she gives me the same sort of paperwork as she does before a chemo session, I'm on alert.

"What's going to happen to me do you think?" I ask her.

"You'll be taken to a chair and they'll put you on a drip," she says. I'm horrified.

"No! No more needles, surely they can just give me some tablets," I say, thinking 'what would this silly girl know, she's only the receptionist'.

Actually, she knows a lot.

I am greeted by Ursula, my favourite nurse and taken to a back room where there's a trolley bed suffused in that blinding neon light.

Ursula directs me to lie in the bed and as the temperature of the air conditioner has been set to "Eskimo", Louisa throws a towel she has found onto my bald head to try and keep me warm. I'm shivering, she's shivering.

Ursula tells us the story of an aged care ward she once worked at. They used to put pillowcases on the bald heads to keep them warm. So they looked like the Ku Klux Klan.

A blanket is procured for Louisa. As I relate the story of my fever and the Panadol, Ursula makes notes. Then I get a lecture about forgetting my initial instructions which SHE gave to me.

She explains I could have got septicaemia, how once you hit rock bottom after chemo it's very hard to get back up, about how by taking the Panadol I may have gone to sleep and never woken up. She makes cooing noises about how I'm in the right place. (Later I discover, really, Ursula is a bit of a hypocrite because SHE got pneumonia when she had breast cancer. So there).

Still, I feel sheepish. I grab Louisa's hand and say: "Oh, so I guess you may have saved my life."

Ursula explains I'm to be on IV antibiotics. Yes, another cannula. That's all I need to hear because it's like a button has been switched. All that retained memory. Immediately, I am gagging like a seal, spitting into a sick bag and saying "excuse me" in between.

At one stage I miss the sickbag entirely. It's so disgusting, phlegm everywhere, I'm actually laughing.

"You'll never be jealous of me again, Louisa," I say. (Because I know, sometimes she is). Gag. Hack.

But before the IV I need a chest x-ray.

A man arrives with a wheelchair and for some unknown reason, he makes me put on a hospital gown that seems designed for a 7 foot Samoan footballer. As I am wheeled away in fact the gown keeps getting caught in the wheels. I take my sick bag with me,

After the x-ray, I am returned to Ursuala's care. I jump in the bed with the gown still on and there's the towel on my head again with the sick bag at the ready.

"What's that you've got on!" says Ursula. "You look like the flying nun."

"But it's keeping me warm," I say, "I'm freezing." I dutifully get out of my Samoan's gown and get back into bed. Two blankets is barely enough.

And so, eventually, after I've provided samples of sputum and pee, another cannula is inserted into my hand, and okay, it does go in at the first attempt. It doesn't really hurt but it doesn't matter. My stomach churns. I feel really sick now.

Blood samples are taken. Before I'm seen by the registrar, Ursula has started me on fluids. My hand hurts badly. Gagging. Spitting.

Al and Louisa leave at 3 pm. I tell Al to let my Mum and Dad know where I am.

The registrar comes and asks me a hundred questions not including "What is the capital of Colombia". I'm told my chest x-ray is clear, no pneumonia. Hooray.

Ursula wheels me up to Ward 31C, the cancer ward.

I am in room 22 which has a nice view of the City and is really a rather huge room.

My nurse this evening is a lovely looking black man called 'Robbie'.

After a disgusting dinner with enough inedible food to feed two people, I watch TV. I try to sleep. I throw up. Violently.

Then I request a sleeping pill and fall into a dead sleep.

Day 7: I wake to the most horrible experience of my life. At 5.30 am someone barges into my room and switches on the light. She barks that I'm to have my bloods done. I blearily open my eyes as, within minutes, a strange woman from the pathology lab bustles around me, finds a vein, tells me she can't see and she'll need the spotlight.

Bang. I'm blinded by a light and then she's jabbed one vein, then another.

"It's no good. I'm a taker, you have to be a giver," this stranger says loudly. "I'll have to get Kathleen."

It's like being woken by a kind of shorter, chubbieir, curly haired version of 'Bea' from Prisoner. Shit. It's like being in the Gulag!

And then, another softer, kinder lady arrives, "Kathleen". Seeing as Bea has had two goes, only one go is left and the only vein presenting itself is on my hand.

"Unfortunately, this is going to hurt," says Kathleen. Well, that's an understatement.

Cue sound of muffled scream as the hapless prisoner bites on her blanket.

No go. In the end, the blood has to be squeezed from a prick in my finger into some teensy tiny vials.

I watch the news of Kevin Rudd resigning as Foreign Minister.

Al rings and I give him instructions as to what I need. Like pyjamas!

My nurse today is I discover a Russian called Tatiana. Actually she's from Siberia and when I practice a sentence of my chemo-brained Russian on her, she gives me a look that says 'deluded fool'.

I don't have a mobile phone and I can't ring a mobile phone from the hospital, and I only know a few numbers off by heart. I have to tell Al when to come. In the end I ring my Dad who knows I'm in hospital but guess what? He hasn't told my mum! (Well, why would he? I'm only in hospital, Dad!!)

The nurse comes in and says I need an injection of anti-coagulant. But I refuse because frankly (as the prostitute said to the bishop) I've had enough pricks for one day.

Mum rings and I can sense some panic in her voice. She's coming to visit.

I watch an old episode of 'Green Acres' and crack myself when Lisa, Eva Gabor's character discusses 'reincarceration' with Oliver ('reincarceration' as in you come back as someone else'. "You mean reincarnation," says Oliver. "No dear, that's when you come back as a flower.")

Dr Choo arrives and tells me it's not good. My blood counts are low. She emphasises the point with a sweep of her palms toward the floor. It looks very dramatic and for the first time since we started our relationship, she's not smiling. She says I'll have to stay until "at least" Friday. It's "too dangerous" to send me home."

Al rings and I'm able to give him the news.

When he visits he brings everything I told him to bring including my Kindle. I tell him about my Gulag experience and when he leaves, I ask him to make a complaint to the Registrar. (I'll get you, Bea!)

Mum visits bearing magazines and vadays. Almost at once I see she is trying to stop herself bursting into tears so I rally myself. My parents are worried. She tells me Aunty Una has been trying to ring and brings me some fruitcake and Love Cake Aunty has despatched especially for me. (Una is 94 and has glaucoma). I eat a vaday because I know the sight of anyone eating her food is all Mum needs to feel one with the world. We have quite a good conversation.

After she leaves, I read my magazines. There's a story in "Who" about a Channel 9 entertainment reporter who had breast cancer and went through chemo twice in eight months. And she had a 4-month old baby. I count my blessings.

Al must have put out some information about me because I receive more texts and a couple of phone calls.

In my head I devise a game called "Nationality Bingo" for hospital patients.

Nim arrives in the afternoon bearing lychees, blueberries and raspberries. Unfortunately, the timing of her visit coincides with Tatiana's bed check. Tatiana glares icily at Nim. We are told I can't eat any food that isn't hospital grade.

That's because I'm officially 'neutrapoenic'. Cancer patients who hit rock bottom can become seriously ill from even the smallest paper cut. (They can get even sicker from watching too many close ups of Kevin Rudd licking his lips.)

I can't believe I can't eat this fruit and then remember the vaday I ate. Eek! I hope I don't end up a corpse by 6 o'clock.

When Nim leaves I tell her that if I die, we can blame the fucking lychees.

I send a long text to Mark about Jossy. (It's hard work as I am doing everything with my left hand.) Her funeral is tomorrow. I want to share a couple of stories about her just in case there's an opportunity for other people to contribute.

Craig rings.

Lee texts me to say she's on her way, do I need anything. I ask her to bring a small notebook (it ends up being minuscule, designed less for 'War and Peace' (like this blog!!!) and more for, I don't know, alphabet practice? Well, she's a nurse!). She arrives quite late and I wait up until she arrives. We have a long talk.

My nurse in the evening is Mari who is Finnish.

I'm so hyper after all the visitors today I have a terrible night's sleep. All night I think and I think. I think about how people live their lives, the shit they worry about. I think what would happen if I die. I think about the friends who have stood closest to my side through all of this, so far. I think. I think about thinking. I think.

Eventually I must sleep, but not much.

Day 8. I'm woken by Bea again but she seems quieter. She takes one look at me and says she'll go directly to Kathleen. Kathleen fails twice so says she'll fetch Nadine. Nadine does strike it lucky with one vein but unfortunately it coagulates because it takes so long to come out. In other words, it's unuseable. It's like getting blood out of a stone, yet again, and once more, I have to have my fingers milked.

I've had a headache all night. I start imagining I've got brain cancer too.

When I'm offered the needle, at first I say no. But after I ring Lee to see what she thinks, and thinking about my headache and the coagulating blood this morning, I relent.

My nurse this morning is from the Cook Islands. She thinks giving the needle slowly is better but I think it's worse. It stings like crap and buggery all rolled into one. In fact, it stings afterwards for HOURS! From this I think I could never be a spy. If anyone caught me and threatened to torture me, I'd just spill the beans. No, have the damn secrets!

Fiona visits in the morning. I know she's upset but especially because she only found out I was here from some passing Facebook exchange. My family sucks at communication.

Shortly afterwards, Al also arrives so we all have a good chat.

Through the day Lyndal rings, Lindar rings, Tracey rings, Janet texts, Karen texts.

I pass the rest of the time reading, playing 'Chicktionary' on my phone, playing brain training games. Shit, what did hospital patients do before iPhone? It's a shame my Facebook App does not work.

I find out the cleaner is from Brazil (she's very fair!) and she will be starting her MBA in June.

In the afternoon, I call Mark. Jossy's funeral should be over. I find out that she hung herself. Last Wednesday. Such a waste.

I'm so bored I look for the Gideon's bible which is cling-wrapped for cancer patients. (The sheets are also changed daily in the cancer ward. We humans really are putrid).

I watch American Idol. I get into Keith Richard's "Life".

Dr Choo arrives late with the registrar in tow. She says that she will allow blood to be taken from my other arm if it's done by an experience phlebotomist. She says if we don't have blood, I can't go home. She says I should be able to go home on Saturday.

Day 9. My nurse in the morning is from Korea. The blood is taken first time from my good arm with no pain by Bea.

My nurse this morning is Indian.

Linda rings.

Not long after breakfast Dr Choo comes down and tells me I can go home today. I have oral antibiotics for the next few days.

When the cannula is taken out it gushes and spurts (thank you anticoagulant). In fact it bleeds so much I briefly wonder if I could bleed to death. It takes a good two minutes of pressure to stem the flow.

I shower, dress and leave the room so quickly, I know how inmates must feel when they're released. That, or trapped ferrets.

Harry picks me up from the lobby and Al drives us home through the thickening traffic.

When I get home there is one freshly washed and fluffy individual who is ecstatic to see me. Spunkeeeeeeeee.

I jump straight into bed. My own!

Aah. I'm glad to be home.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chemo 6

Today I wake at 3 am initially, feeling my stomach complaining and unsettled. I feel mildly nauseous and note that I didn't even make it to morning before the ingrained memory in my brain began its usual storytelling.

Al and I wake at 6 am because we have to be at the hospital by 8 am for my last chemo! Hooray!

After all the fear I acknowledged yesterday, I'm feeling relatively calm. I can't say I'm too excited, but. If this whole ordeal is a race, then I'm a third of the way through in my journey to reconstruction.

I'm late when I arrive at the Hospital and my three buddies, Janet, Tracey and Nim are already there. All they can say is "It's the last one!" As predicted, Tracey gives me a lovely present - earrings and a motivational book; Janet has given me a bottle of Pommeroy for Al and I to celebrate at home when I'm able to drink; Nim places a bangle on my arm: a pretty Turkish amulet to ward off the evil eye. Now nothing can touch me. Guys, you didn't have to!

As I sign in at the front desk, I ask if it is possible to request an older nurse. I am pleased when I realise Mel, a nurse I've met previously will be attending to me.

After signing the paperwork we are led to a suite. The nurse we're following makes a comment about the bag Nim is carrying containing food and fruit salads for us to enjoy.

"You should seek what they're carrying up their anuses," I tell her. "They're my moles - no wait, they're my mules? Amazing how comfortable they look, isn't it?

After I am weighed (I'm 5 kilos heavier than I was 18 weeks ago), we make ourselves comfortable, heaping ourselves to the chairs, later asking for a blanket for my legs because I'm cold. We feel like we own this joint, by now.

i have a younger nurse, a Level 2 RN for the cannula insertion and this time, she is confident and managers to insert the device in one go. However, it'a located in my hand and is really rather painful. I receive my antinauseants.

I'm able to chat quite jovially with the troops while this part of things gets underway. We talk about vaginal dryness and intimacy. You can shut your eyes here if you like but seriously, menopause is rather rough on a woman's sexual proclivities.

I'm flat out playing porn star wife at the best of times but really, vats of lubricant, patience and a sense of humour are strongly recommended in the event couples must wend their way back to even a rudimentary intimacy. Let me just say I have come to rely on hand-holding to indicate my love for Al, occasional hugs and often, words of endearment. I just think it's important to make the effort.

Add a bald head and a disfigured body to the equation and you'll understand that most women in my position find it's a rare occasion indeed when the drilling rig can move in, so alternatives are needed to maintain any mining rights.

As if to illustrate, at this point Nim proudly delves into her cooler bag an procures a rather large cucumber. She proceeds to explain how she'd watched a Greek Movie last night involving a glad-wrapped cucumber, a horny cook and, the salad that it made after the cook had satisfied her carnal needs.

And I promise, Janet, I won't mention anything about the role of origami in romantic titillation.

Come on ladies, what's the point of being shy? We all need intimacy with our partners and be thrown headfirst in hot flushes, mood swings and the melted glacier of Antarctica is not exactly the stuff of Body Heat.

Suck it up and deal with i say... and of course, now I think perhaps that was a poor choice of words.

And now it's time for the Adramycin and Janet holds my hand and Nim strokes my leg because they know I'm anxious about this one. Janet says look at me and I try to make conversation so I ask Nim what she thought of the Book Club book we both read recently, but we're both losing our thread of thought.

It burns like hell and so I have to ask the nurse Mel and the younger nurse to check the cannula again. They back flush it and apparently, it's perfectly positioned. They say they might have to reinsert it at which point my spirit sags. But it's working well, you said? The cold veins and the cold medication mean that my tiny veins are traumatised by the invasion of toxins. THey put some hot packs onto soothe the vein and it seems to feel better, thank goodness.

And so the procedure is completed and it's time for the taxotere. This is the one that gives me heartburn and nausea and half way through, I ams Nim to feed me some of her roll as my hands are in the ice gloves. She alternates delicious chicken role with homegrown chillies.

But I can't eat too much, I'm feeling sick.

THe girl note how the colour leaves me face so I ask for another anti nausea - the Atavan that has been so successful in the past.

Janet has written new lyrics to our favourite party song, "Wooden Heart" and I wanted her to sing it - but I'm fading I know.

Tracey takes a call from her husband Dave, who has telephoned in part to wish me well. what a lovey guy he is.

I doze off and only wake after I discover the Chrorophosphomide has already been introduced.

Wow! That's one way to get through this! Totally doped.

And then, it's finished! Cue Cowbells, Harps, Ukuleles and Zithers.

It's really finished. I kiss Janet and Tracey goodbye and give them a warm hug.

I couldn't have got through this without the three of them who have rearranged schedules, wangled days off and rallied through the chemo chambers with me.

I go upstairs with Nim to see Dr Choo who says everything's well. My blood results had been fantastic.

I am to return to see her toward the end of my radiation - that's in about 9 weeks time.

Then we will discuss what drug regime I'll be put onto. It all depends on whether menopause has been achieved.

Dr Choo says that if my hair grew slowly before (it did) it could be as much as another four months before I have a passable fuzz. C'est la vie.

Nim and I have a cup of tea in the foyer while we wait for Al to pick us up. She holds onto my arm because she says I'm swaying.

When All arrives, we hop in the back of the car and immediately I think, I conk out and miss the part where they drop Nim home.

I wake briefly when the boys stop at Victoria Point. I wake briefly again when we get home.

I lumber to my bed and fall into a dead sleep.

At 7 pm, Al wakes me with dinner but I wish I hadn't eaten. I am feeling nauseous again. I'm not feeling well.

Al is off at his tennis fixtures. Harry has gone out to play with his mates. Ben is watching Spongebog Squarepants and eating porridge next to me.

Outside a fairly strong wind is sheaving the trees.

I'm glad today is over.

Goodbye Cyril GIlbert Centre - thanks for everything but I hope I never see you again.

Goodbye Chemo drugs.

Now just, here's hoping, the next 10 days aren't too diabolical.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On bravery and fear

Tomorrow is my chemo and today is my last blood test, at least for a while I hope, and I'm shit scared.

I work all morning on various projects I have on the go.

Yesterday I received some hopeful news from one of Australia's two largest independent publishers. I recently sent a rather half thought-through email to them thinking: "Oh well, they'll either like it or they won't. It is what it is."

And apparently, they like the first blog and want me to send the rest!

This news has boosted my self confidence a little because, as most writers will tell you, the path to glory is a thorny one, full of pot holes, cul de sacs, and muggings in the dead of night.

In fact, I've developed a fairly thick skin over the years and, once the manuscript is considered, if it's rejected then, you know what? It certainly won't be the first time!

Rejection, humiliation, some condescension, and eating humble pie are part and parcel of being a writer. Or kidding yourself that you are one, I can reliably report.

So this morning, enthused and reinvigorated, I get into my latest fiction writing project. In fact, I've added 6,000 words since yesterday. It just goes to show what a boost to one's self esteem can do for output.

(I must try this with my youngest, Ben. It would be a novel approach, so to speak, as I do seem to be overly critical of him. Why oh why oh why is this child not perfect like me?)

The morning passes in a flurry of political back-biting (the part I hate), a quick trip to the chiropractor (a lopsided chest is bad for the spine), and more writing.

Through the morning I drink lots of water which is a must do for those being constantly pierced by needles. This plumps up your veins - or at least, in the best case scenario, it should so any vampires out there, take note: make sure your victims are well hydrated if you want a good meal.

And so it's time.

The thing is this. As I wheel my car out of the driveway for the second time today, I am overwhelmed by a strange feeling. I'm anticipating, story telling, hyperventilating!

I can feel my breath shortening and my heart pumping.

I realise that this is what fear is.

I know I've told you before, of some of the hair raising adventures I've had in my day. Really, I'm not the kind of girl who screams on a roller coaster.

I find the Giant Drop in Dreamworld really rather boring and never really know what the fuss is about.

The first time I went skydiving I have to confess I actually thought: "Is this it?"

Once, I was followed home in the dead of night by a potential rapist (it was 11 pm and I was walking home from my school after a school formal, ball gown and all) and even then, I kept calmly walking home. I just wasn't afraid.

Sure, as a mum, we all experience the usual anxiety when our children are briefly missing in a shopping centre or a crowded street. But is that fear? That's concern for someone else's welfare I think. It's different. It's unselfish.

Throughout my battle so far, my friends near and far have lauded me for my apparent bravery, but how can you be brave if you don't have fear?

But today, perhaps for the first time, I acknowledge that I have been scared, perhaps even a little terrified.

Not of death or dying.

Not even of the aftermath of my death or dying. (My children will be fine in that event and I will certainly not go to my maker wishing I had done anything differently. I've lived a full and rich life, oozing with fun and passion. Suck on that Grim Reaper!).

What I HAVE been scared of are those things that go into the process to keep me from that final destination.

It's the needles and cannulas and drugs vented into my system that have had me, by George I do believe, scared!

Tomorrow is my very last chemo treatment (if I have to have any more, I won't do it, I just won't).

It's taken me 18 weeks to finally know what it is to be scared, and it happened today.

If only they had a way of doing these things without touching my veins, I would have been fine.

As it is, the lady at Cleveland has one attempt and fails and is so nervous about my tiny veins, she sends me to Capalaba.

There, a very professional, calm and kind lady does things perfectly and only one more attempt is needed. Success!

By now, my fear has receded but at least I can recognise the symptoms of it.

And, I'm afraid to say I'm going to add it to the arsenal of useless emotions because what does it achieve?

Being afraid is the last reason anyone should be stopped from doing anything (unless of course it involves placing your tongue on an electrified train line: that really did happen to some eejit once).

Healthy fear is what stops us from doing stupid things. But this? This fear that wants me to turn the car around, to reject the last blood test, to avoid the last chemo. It's stupid.

In for a penny, in for a pound, Al always says. I guess once the die is cast, what is there to do but go all the way?

So tomorrow, while I'm being pierced and poisoned, at long last, I'll understand what it is when my friends tell me I'm brave.

Perhaps I am!

Who knew?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Radiation Oncologist 2

This morning Al drives me to South Brisbane where I have my planning meeting at Southern Radiation Oncology Services.

I had a deep but unfulfilling sleep last night and wake feeling very dizzy.

In the car, I realise I am exhausted and wonder how I am going to get through the rest of the day. I'm meeting my sisters later, for a movie, maybe lunch but I feel disoriented and I'm having difficulty keeping my eyes open.

We arrive on the dot and Al drops me off as there is no point him being there.

This place is to become very familiar to me over coming weeks and is located in a street where roadworks are in progress so it all looks a bit crazy.

People receiving treatment and their taxi services receive free parking as part of the deal so I suppose that is one good thing.

I present myself at the front counter and am directed downstairs to Level c where treatment facilities are located.

At another counter, I'm given some paperwork to fill in and ask the lady how long I'll be. To my dismay, she says 'one to two hours'.

I repeat "One to TWO HOURS!!" and she clarifies, "Just over an hour." Okay that's better.

Then I'm directed to the nurse named Bronwyn who obviously doesn't remember me (I'm just another bald head in the crowd) and says exactly the same thing she said last time: "Bronwyn, spelt the same... there aren't a lot of us around."

She's lovely and friendly and, to be honest, a little disheveled like a lot of these wonderful hard working nurses I meet. She is hard not to like.

I'm handed another form and dutifully go and sit in the waiting room. I make myself a cup of tea and fill in the paperwork. I've brought my Kindle so bury myself in Keith's life story.

About 40 minutes since I arrive, I am called in and am taken through a sliding door immediately abutting the waiting room. I have no idea what to expect.

There are two nurses who lead me through, an older one called 'Mary' and another whose name tag I can't read, but she's young and pretty.

They are friendly and engaging and lead me into a room where there's a huge machine. I'm told I'm to have a CT Scan, something I've never had before but I think Harry had one years ago when he had a bad infection.

The first thing they do is produce a small digital camera and they take a picture of me.

Next I have to undress. I'm wearing a dress which is the wrong thing to wear as the bit they need to scan, obviously, is my chest.

There's some argy bargy as I learn there are no changing rooms here so they just hold up a sheet while I disrobe and take of my bra. It really feels odd because I'm standing in a room with two strangers under an unforgiving neon light.

Part of the CT Machine is a bench on which is a white sheet. As I'll discover, the sheet assists the nurses in making the small adjustments they need in positioning you correctly.

I lie down and I have to say, it's really quite uncomfortable as my neck is arched over this hard bit and my bum is wedged against another hard bit to stop me sliding down.

I have to take off my gold necklace but can leave my gold earrings in.

All through the process, the nurses do a good job of telling me exactly what is happening, although I have to ask questions to find out why.

Once I am properly positioned, they go to either side of the machine and read out some measurements indicating, I suppose, where the geographical positioning of my torso.

As if by magic, my radiation oncologist, Dr Cox materialises. I give her a warm greeting but there's no small talk as a green marker is produced and I feel her making some marks on my chest. She draws a dotted line marking a parallelogram, ending with a flourish.

Just as quickly as she materialised, she dematerialises and then the younger nurse is placing a piece of clear plastic over the area. I'm told they are tracing the marking.

I ask why and it's explained that this provides a templated outline for some gel material that's to be fabricated and will be placed over that area so it matches the shape.

Then the nurses place stickers on the area, marking entry and exit points I guess.

There's a lull in the activity as we're waiting for this gel stuff it seems, so I ask Mary what the difference is between "radium" treatment and radiotherapy as I hear a lot of older cancer patients talk about this "radium".

While we wait, Mary explains that radium used to be the treatment they used in the old days. They were part of what was known as 'live materials' treatment involving either radium or cobalt. She says it used to be very laborious and time consuming for the ladies, especially when the substances were approaching the end of their half-lives. Interesting.

A few minutes later, the said gel material is brought in from a room I can't see - it's like magic, abracadabra! - and it's placed over the area that Dr Cox has marked out. Mary shows it to me and I see the shape is quite thin.

Now I'm ready to be scanned and the bench moves slowly under the white arch of the machine.

"You must work with some large women," I observe.

"Oh yes, and some big men. You're a lightweight by comparison," the younger nurse says.

"Has anyone ever got wedged here?" I joke and Mary says she did. We have a laugh over that one.

Now I'm all set and the two nurses leave the room, telling me not to move and that the procedure will only take a few second.

They're right. It does actually only take maybe one, maybe two minutes.

The bench I'm lying on moves slowly back and forth under the white semi-circle that arches over me. There's a kind of glass strip on the edge and it looks like little laser lights are chasing each other over this.

Unlike the MRI scanner, the machine is quiet.

"All done!" I hear as the nurses re-enter.

The last step in this process is that I am to be tattooed! Mary says I'll feel four pin pricks

"Can you tattoo a heart saying Mum?"

"No, I'm not that artistic," says Mary. "Now the first one will hurt the most because it's near your sternum."

She's not kidding! I feel four sharp jabs.

"I can't believe people put themselves through this on purpose." I say. "The only tattoo worth getting is the one you regret."

And so it is done. Another plastic drawing is made of the area and I can now get changed.

Soon I am speaking to Dr Cox in the waiting room (Yes, it's odd isn't it? She'd discussing my medical details in a public place.)

My first radiation zap will be on March 19th.

She goes through the kind of cancer I have (multi centric, lobular - she describes it as "the insidious kind")

She goes through all the side effects I can expect - in my case mainly skin irritation and fatigue.

At this point I receive one piece of good news. I thought I would be radiated from the front, but Dr Cox says she's going in from each side (sounds like a battle manoeuvre doesn't it?)

This means that my heart will not be affected.

Dr Cox also says that, as I have a small frame, the treatment will not be as toxic to me (a smaller area is involved) So you see, there's another good thing about being on the slimmer side.

Because I'm not that fat, it means she can get access to the area without affecting my ticker. It also means I don't get wedged in CT Scanners!

I ask her if it's likely I'll be able to undertake any sport during treatment and explain my desire to return to refereeing.

And now I get the second piece of good news. She strongly encourages me to get back to my normal routine as quickly as possible and, if that involves activity, all the better.

After Dr Cox, I am then lead into another room by a lady called Narelle who has to tee up my appointments. I have to pick a timeframe, rather than a specific time slot. The mornings are not available as they're left for ambulance, Gold Coast and other entries. So after some discussion, I choose the 12 noon to 3 pm time slot.

Keep in mind, I have to drive in EVERY day, for treatment that goes for 15 minutes and allowing some time for sitting around.

It's kind of depressing, the way this treatment will suck time. But I suppose, I am giving time so I can buy some time. That's one way of looking at things.

Now I'm all done! My sister, Nicky picks me up and we drive to the Dendy Cinema at Portside.

We have to wait for Fiona who has gone to the wrong cinema so we buy ourselves some groovy shoes that are on sale.

My sister Fiona joins us and we end up just going out to lunch. It's one of life's pleasures going out with my sisters. Really, we can talk about anything.

So by the end of the day I have pepped up because, at the back of my mind, I'm focusing on the positives.

My heart will not be affected! I can referee!

Really, how much better can it get?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pity Party

It's 7 am on day 11 and I awake with searing heartburn after a terrible night.

This is the first time (and I am assuming it won't be my last) that I have a pity session and, as I observe myself from a third-person vantage point, I tell myself I'm pathetic.

But I realise now, it's how the day set me up.

Here is how it starts.

I wake up feeling queasy and all day my stomach churns and, while I finish my writing project I'm aware at how tired I feel. I am so fatigued that I think: "Shit, I'm really not well."

I explain the tiredness by my activity the day before. I had gone for a swim in my pool, I had played 9 holes of golf with Ben and Al, then I had taken my dog for a short stroll in the evening (maybe 2 kilometres).

On the scale of calorie burning activities these were pretty lame, but you would think I had done a stint with Bear Grilles. I feel completely wrung out.

It's not good because it's this feeling I associate with the period leading up to be discovery of Cancer. In other words, it scares me a little.

Maybe this idea is bubbling somewhere in my subconscious as the day progresses. That I'm really unwell. I should be feeling better by now but I still feel like crap.

It doesn't help that, in the shower, I notice what I had thought was a pimple - very unusual - just above my left armpit. It should have retreated by now but it's still quite a noticeable protrusion.

And so, as you do, I start panicking and thinking maybe it's not on my arm, maybe it's part of a lymph node, maybe they missed something. Maybe I'm going to die after all. I make a mental note to ask Dr Choo to check it out for me.

This undercurrent of disturbance doesn't go away. It's there at the bottom of the pond, stirring the muck.

It's nearly 3 o'clock by the time I finish and because I'm feeling so awful, I think maybe an outing to the shops might revive me.

I get myself a coffee chilla from 'Wendy's' and sit down to write a short story because I've had what I think is a pretty interesting idea. I write for an hour and go home to let Ben into the house.

In the late afternoon I throw up.

Al and Harry have been at the Manpad again and when we all finally home, we go to Ethel and George's for dinner.

George is in bed when we arrive. He is battling the effects of emphysema - the product of a smoking habit - and is increasingly frail.

Ethel has made her famous fish pie and a fabulous fruit salad including a delicious red papaya. I eat cautiously wondering if I will keep it down.

As I eat, Ethel intimates that George has been writing his memories down. She says he can barely hold the pen and she's offered to type out his notes for him. For some reason, this makes me feel unutterably sad.

And so that is the set up when finally I go to bed. I take an anti-nausea.

I don't feel sleepy so as Al snores beside me, I open my Kindle and become immersed in the autobiography I've started, "Life" by Keith Richards. (It's bloody good).

Maybe this is what sets me off. I think about Keith and his life as a mega-rich superstar. Then I think about Madonna, flaunting herself at the Superbowl opening.

I think about the people who seem to have had a blessed life.

I don't know if the two are connected but my stomach really feels bad. So once again, I throw up.

And then it starts: The Pity Party,

Now folks, this is not a place I've been invited to much in the past and I'm glad.

It's the worst party you could go to, the kind of party where they only play One-Hit wonders like "Spirit in the Sky" (shudder), "Turning Japanese" and "Believe it or Not" (Come on, have you ever tried dancing to that crap?) and the guests are like zombies. And the only person you can find who will have a go at conservation... no contraception... no, aah, CONVERSATION only wants to talk about herself or her bloody kids or her bad marriage and her life story is fucking boring. And they only serve cheezels, party pies and cheerios. And they make you bring everything, even your own chair. And you have to sit on some shitty lawn or some shitty garage under neon lights while some mangy dog keeps trying to sniff your crotch or hump your leg. Oh, and I usually have an allergic reaction to something: usually a cat.

You know the kind of party? When from the moment you arrive you're if you might channel one of those 'Star Trek' guys and dematerialise on another planet as far away as possible from this miserable collection of D-Listers.

Yep. That kind of party.

Normally, I don't 'get' pity. I don't want it. I don't seek it. It's like the hideous, 18DDDD Hestia monstrosity left in the "Sale" bin at the lingerie shop. It's the one I don't want!

But here is how it unfolds at the party.

"Why am I going through this? What have I done to deserve it? God must hate me? I have to feel like crap because I am crap? Why hasn't my life been easy? Boo Hoo. Why wasn't I born tall and pretty? Why wasn't I ever popular at school? Why do I always get picked last? Why have I never won anything? How come Madonna gets to be rich and famous and dance at the Superbowl in front of a billion admiring fans while I get to puke in a bucket? Why did my dad get diabetes? He already lost his Dad, you think that would be enough shit in his life? Why did I have to lose my boob? Why is everything so fucking hard for me?"

And then it ends with me sitting on the toilet and crying because I don't want to wake Al up.

When I get back to bed, my nose is a little stuffed up and I realise there is no way I'm going to sleep. And I think about the pity party. And I think what a waste of time it is. What a boring and unattractive place it is to go to.

Self pity achieves nothing! It's the most useless process you can ever go through, next to, for me at least, maybe getting a spray tan). It's just unproductive.

Come on. What do you expect? If life is a box of chocolates, some poor bastard has to get the hard one with the nut in the centre that breaks his tooth. And some even poorer bastard gets to be Forrest Gump. Okay?

You think you're the only one, feeling gypped? Hard done by?

Get a grip. Think of the poor villagers in Bulgaria who froze to death this week because they didn't have central heating.

Think of the people in Sudan and Iraq and Pakistan who don't know what it feels like to feel completely safe?

Think of that woman who had her face eaten by the pet orang-utan (although I must say, that would have to be just a tiny bit the product of gross stupidity).

In general, life has a bit of shit for each of us. I don't know what Madonna's shit is but I have it on good authority her latest song (LUV Madonna) is pretty close TO shit.

I'm learning a bit more about Keith Richard's shit and I think, in the main, he was either smoking it or injecting it.

What is there to self-piteious me other than:

Get over it, lady. And get on with it.

You get no brownie points for being pathetic.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Demon Days 5

Day 2: It's the first time through my treatment that I've managed to take my medicines in the right way so I wake feeling quite normal.

It's raining, with my own forecast: lightly squeamish with a chance of hot flushes.

It's a bleak kind of day, so I opt to stay in bed all day. Motivation is a bit low.

I get up when I hear Lee at the door, my angel bearing her caring nursey touch. The injection doesn't hurt much at all these days. I really must have got used to it.

Lee and I sit on the couch with a cup of tea and a piece of love cake. We talk about our trip to India, Nepal and Tibet. We are booking the first part of this on Tuesday. It's something to look forward to although I guess it's a bit of a bet. We are planning to go in October later this year and who knows what my story will be by then? Still, what is life without dreams.

After Lee leaves, Janet rings to see how I am. Nim phones too.

I go back to bed and watch "One Day" on Foxtel; Al and I play iPad Scrabble; We watch "Mean Girls 2" of all things. I take my medications and fall asleep.

Day 3: We have our house on the market and there's an inspection today. So I don't really have an option. I have to get up. It's raining on and off outside.

I tidy up what I can but I must say, it's a lot of effort for just half an hour. Two families look through.

Afterwards, Al and I decide to go to see the movie 'Hugo'. I meet Louisa there. The theatre is packed and all the while, my stomach is churning.

The nausea is pretty chronic today and frankly, I feel pretty vile.

I nearly doze of during the film which has some incredible sets but it's a bit like watching a very nice piece of paint dry, in my opinion - Moulin Rouge without the music.

Louisa comes home with me for a catch up. She's basically my 'regular hang-out buddy': someone I can be myself with without worrying about being particularly anything much. Someone I can be honest with and happily be completely unconstructive with. While we chat, I have a cup of hot 'rasam, a traditional Ceylonese tonic made from herbs and spices. My mum has recommended it to me to help tame the nausea. Alas, it's only a temporary relief.

What's different this time, seeing I'm upright, is that I actually cook dinner. I'm sure it's tasty but not for me.

I lie in bed afterwards watching the Nadal v Djokovic tennis final. But I am disinterested. I just want to sleep.

I drift off but am woken by Al offering me a banana and strawberry smoothie. I imagine it's nutritious and slowly sip it but it's a bad move as soon, I'm battling some bad heartburn.

Bugger. Still, with some effort, it settles and I drift off into a dreamless sleep.

Day 4: It's still overcast and I wonder if this is affecting my mood. I don't know how to explain it. I feel 'reduced'. There are bleak thoughts running around my head as I lounge in bed in the morning.

What gets me up is the gift I've made for Clodagh, my Facebook friend who lives in Dublin. I want to post it to her before the project gets completely old.

I go to the post office with a parcel that involved enough bubble wrap and sticky tape to satisfy a bondage queen's ultimate fantasy. I send it off with a prayer that it will arrive in one piece.

Then I go to the shops to buy a dress I saw for Karen. We are more or less the same size (my widening girth not withstanding) so if it looks good on me, I figure it'll look good on her. It was on special and I can imagine her wearing it. I also buy myself a couple of things. I know it's naughty but these days I keep thinking too often, that life is short. I've always thought that, actually. But somehow, these days, there's an element of truth to that idea.

Today I just keep thinking: "I just don't know. Whether any of this shit is really working. Who knows when my number's going to be up?" Maybe it's the weather? Maybe I'm just really tired of it all. Already. And I'm not even half way through the whole onerous process of what this seemingly endless treatment entails.

What to do but go for a walk. I walk for 8.5 kilometres, enjoying the fact that the sky is clearing and with it, my mood.

In the evening, Harry invites his girlfriend, Robyn, over for dinner and what's more, he cooks! We take the meal (san soy boy) to Ethel and George's to share. We have to make an effort to eat as a family these days, especially as George is so unwell.

Day 5: One thing I've decided with this illness is that I won't let it entirely shape my days. So today, I'm off to an art lesson. I'm really into my mixed media work and art has become a therapy for me.

My lesson is held at the local gallery, Yurara and on my way, I'm daydreaming so I overshoot the turnoff and have to hang a youie. It's typical these days. Planet La-La is the land I seem to frequent.

I spend a pleasant morning, preparing a canvass. I discover that my teacher, Gloria, had breast cancer 20 years before. She just had a one centimetre lump, discovered by accident, and had four perfectly good lymph nodes ripped out for no good reason. She suffered with lymph oedema for three years she said, and still has no feeling on one side of that arm. Cruel isn't it?

I leave a bit early because Janet comes down to visit. We have a simple chicken and salad on the back deck but I admit, it tastes a bit like eating packaging. The sun is out. There's a little breeze and Janet and I pass a lovely couple of hours.

It's actually really great because I learn some things about Janet's youth that I didn't know before. I have at least this to thank my illness for: that I am unpeeling some heretofore undiscovered layers in the people who so genuinely care about me that they will give me that most precious, wonderful thing that is 'time'.

Let me emphasise this. Janet lives in Bellbowrie. It's a good hour and a half by car in traffic I reckon. You know someone loves you when they will take the time, make the time.

As some guy called Syrus once said: "Prosperity makes friends, adversity tries them." It's true.

Not for the first time, I think about Chrissy and Jan and my other friends who have battled or ceded to disease and illness and how crap I was at it: being the friend they needed.

My friends are showing me how to express my compassion in ways that go beyond the words I so easily (perhaps too easily?) wield. It's never too late to learn.

When she leaves, I'm feeling quite squeamish so I lie down under the fan. I realise that my heart rate is quite rapid and I notice that the bruise from my episode on Friday is still quite dark on my arm.

I feel very green and there's that dark mood, palpating on the edges of my consciousness, like that rogue ember in the woodpile.

I rouse myself and go for a 6 km walk. I can't say it lifts my mood. People who know me well will be surprised at the kind of thoughts I have. Once again, I think about curling up in a ball. In fact, half way through the walk, I feel tired and I just want to sit down and cry.

But I don't.

I miss my old body. I miss feeling well.

In the evening I start a Rosamunde Pilcher novel I picked up from the Op Shop but my eyes have become quite bad with this treatment so I find it hard to actually physically read.

Ben comes in and watches 'Spongebob Squarepants' next to me and ends up falling asleep.

I feel sick so, once I get him off to bed, I take an anti nausea and go to bed early. Hey, I'm living the high life!

Day 6: It's humid today and my mouth tastes utterly disgusting still. When Al asks me what I want for breakfast, I order my usual scrambled eggs but ask him to season it heavily so I can taste something. No joy. It's tasteless!

Afterwards, I am rewarded with more heartburn. Is there no end to my pleasures.

Everyone leaves the house today, Al and Harry off to work on the Manpad in town, Ben off to school.

I know I have some work to do and make a half hearted start on the corporate profile I'm writing. But it's hard work in my condition.

I lie in bed and watch a bit of 'Red Dog' on Foxtel. But it's really bad. Dear God. Tell me that "Australian Comedy" hasn't become an irretrievable oxymoron.

Louisa rings and I decide to abort the movie. We go out for a coffee and cake at 'Harvest'. (Fuck it, life is short). It turns into a good outing because we bump into Lyndal and Maria.

Afterwards, let me come clean with my dirty little secret... Louisa and I go and see 'The Muppets' because that's the only thing she hasn't seen. (The girl lives at the movies). It's lame, okay I admit it, but it's so innocent, it's strangely uplifting.

In fact, 'The Muppets' is the first and only movie I ever watched on my own (back in the days when the Regent Theatre was still around). I figure that if there was ever a metaphor for LOSER it has to be someone watching 'The Muppets' on their own. Except maybe, watching reruns on 'Baywatch', in slow motion, on your own.

It's today that I start thinking about the big 'what if'... what if I skip the final treatment and wing it?

I don't know if it's the bruise on my arm, but I feel sick about going back to the Cyril Gilbert Centre. It's as if my experiences so far have so graphically informed my memory that I still feel the needle in my arm.

It's like not being able to wake up from a bad dream.

In the late afternoon, though I'm tired and a bit over it, I coax myself to go for a walk and am surprised to find myself completing 6km.

On the way, there's a sun shower and strangely, the smell of the rain on the hot pavement makes me feel better. Maybe it's because it makes me feel as if I'm still a part of it. This life.

Day 7: Would you believe I'm still feeling quite sickly and green? I've had a few tiny pains too but nothing I would complain about.

It's actually a lovely morning with a pleasant cool breeze wafting through my house. From my window I can see the bay. It looks a little murky and choppy out there.

This morning I have a meeting with Karen. I'm helping her with her Mayoral Campaign and things have got pretty nasty of late.

I don't know if it's the fact that I'm ill, but these days I'm very sensitive to nastiness and venom which, unfortunately, seems to be part of the territory when you're even tangentially involved in politics. It's an environment that doesn't offer the best perspective on human nature.

I'm not kidding you. Some of the people I've encountered so far are like cancer on legs: destructive; life sucking. I often wonder these days how they can find it so important: to live their lives day to day as angry, nasty, vindictive, derogatory, contemptuous, mean, racist and aggressive, bloated with their own self-importance to boot!

Maybe everyone should have an illness. Maybe everyone needs to ponder their mortality. Mostly, it's a good way to learn how to treat other people.

This afternoon we have an inspection so I can't really lie in bed. Later I will go for another walk I'm sure.

Experience so far tells me that I will probably be about 90% by Sunday.

In the meantime I'll rally on.

The only way to go is forward.