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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Old Me

Today I wake up and realise there is something important to celebrate.

It's exactly 31 months since diagnosis.

I know, it's an odd month to suddenly sit up and notice how far I have come, but hey, I am essentially odd, so screw it.

This week has been pretty hairy.  My sister Fiona had a problem with one of her implants and found herself in hospital for observation.

She has been working pretty hard setting up her language school, completing her phD, fiddling around with a novel she's writing, while also managing a home of currently four children, one husband, a dog and a large garden.

It doesn't take a genius to deduce she has been doing too much.

I must admit, hearing she was sick sent me into a bit of a spin.  You start contemplating all those 'what ifs'.  And I realise that there is no greater fear than imagining someone you love might one day not be here.

As it turns out and much to our family's relief, Fiona responded well to the antibiotics and was, in true Vander Poorten style, back to her stoic self in no time.

But at least this speed bump gives Fiona and I another chance to talk about the thing that connects us even more profoundly than our sisterly genes.

We talk about breast cancer and the emotional fall-out it leaves.  I know I have alluded to it in one way or another over the duration of these chronicles.  But truly, regardless of how things may appear from the outside, I would guess that most, if not all, women who have dealt with breast cancer must  confront some fairly dark emotions from time to time.

Even 31 months after diagnosis, I know that those emotions can flare at any time.  The key trigger for me is fatigue.  I know that if I do too much and reach a certain state of exhaustion, I will feel a surge of a familiar beast, lurking like a monster under the otherwise still waters of the loch.

Indeed studies have found that as many as 50% of women who have a breast cancer diagnosis suffer from some form of depression and anxiety up to one year after diagnosis.  But I daresay, there are many for whom the spectre lurks possibly for much longer - as it does for me.

So perhaps the odd 'mood' is here to stay for a while.  We shall see.

Other than that, regular readers will recall how, in the early days, I noted how the smallest physical dysfunction would have me thinking that cancer had returned.   Still, all these months later, the most benign occurrences - a raised lymph gland, a headache, a feeling of exhaustion or even a mere cramp in my scar - can have me panicking - albeit for a millisecond - and wondering if my number is shortly to be up.

Actually, I think about the 'D' word quite routinely, in fact, each time I hear about someone carking it thanks to the 'C' word.  I think about who will give my eulogy, the music I'll play, and the awesome poem I'll write so that everyone weeps so profusely, truck loads of Kleenex will be used up for the purpose.  I think about my final days and fantasise about George Clooney appearing in a Tuxedo in his private helicopter to have a cup of tea with me on my death bed.

But of course, I jest a little.  Thinking about being a die-er, doesn't mean things are dire.  They're not.

I find that 31 months on, there are also many things to celebrate.  Or at least, there are compensations.

Physically, it's true that there are many things the old Bronwyn could do that the new one cannot.

For example, arthritic fingers mean I can no longer open jars without the assistance of one of my blokes.  (That or slamming the offending jar lid fruitlessly against a door jamb, in the hope that it will loosen).

I used to be able to do 50 push-ups in a row.  Now, I am lucky to do 10.

I used to love the gym.  Now I hate it as it is really a gallingly unsatisfying pursuit.   Who can be motivated when you cannot see results?   Post-chemo and into menopause, I can report that it is quite difficult to build muscle.  So I've given up.  Who cares.  Anyway, you don't find too many women who are built like Arnold Schwarzenegger in nursing homes - although I have seen a few in nurses' uniforms (hahaha).

Additionally, I am still unable to run, owing to permanent damage to my ligaments.  This has put paid to any dreams I might have had of becoming a small time thief, as chances are I would not be able to make a speedy getaway.

Not to be deterred, at 24 months since diagnosis, I joined a rowing club as you will know.  Now three mornings a week, I join my crew of eight or my doubles partner and now very good friend, Cath, for a session on the Brisbane River.    I love it but, I have to sadly admit, not as much as running.  However, I do think I would love it more if I had my own personal Nepalese Sherpa to carry my boat into and out of  the water.  It's the most onerous part of this sport.  That, and being confronted in the early mornings by the sight of 60 year old gentlemen in tight-fitting zooties.  (I say Jeeves, has anyone seen the family jewels?)

I try really hard to keep active.  On most Mondays, I walk 10 kilometres with Lee, and do shorter walks when I can with Spunky.  As Al and I are now located in the CBD of Brisbane, I've been enjoying discovering the sights and sounds of the inner city.

On Sundays I still referee and am making a slow graduation to the Senior League where I now more routinely share a pokey dressing room with a bunch of cocky grown men - as opposed to cocky young boys.

Next week, I am going back to golf now the weather is cooler.

Yes, my feet are still painful in the mornings, but I have developed ways to focus on the bits that don't hurt and it actually works a treat!

Yes, I do have dodgy joints and terrible arthritis in my fingers but if I don't think about it, it's amazing how it simply ceases to be an issue.   But I also take a daily pharmacopeia of supplements to cope, after consulting the Arthritis Australia website:  fish oil, magnesium,  Boswalia (an Ayurvedic herb), this amazing mineral called SAMe, calcium and Vitamin D.   And alcohol.  Actually, that's not for arthritis.  That's just because I am a fan of a nice sauvignon blanc.

Yes, my hair is thinner and coarser and more unruly than it once was, but I am now used to it and besides - you would be amazed at how much time you save when all you need to 'do' your hair is towel dry it and run your fingers through it.

All in all, I am chugging ahead like the Little Red Train.  I sincerely believe that "if you think you can, you can" and Dr Poh See was right from the start.  It is always mind over matter.

But that's not what I really wanted to celebrate.

Mentally I think I'm doing okay.  What I am most proud of is the fact that my memory has returned - and I keep working on it.  I do small, easy things.  I practice remembering shopping lists and recipes without writing them down.  I play Scrabble.  I do the odd crossword.  I am teaching myself Spanish.  I am addicted to quizzes.  I drive down new roads if I can as I believe this is good for the brain.  I try not to lose things (easier said than done).  

Emotionally, as I have said, things can be a bit up and down.  But I take supplements such as Selenium and SAMe (which is also supposed to also assist mood) and, importantly, I work hard on not doing too much because I do fatigue much more easily these days. In other words, while being constructive in the vertical position, I also believe the horizontal has much to commend it - especially if it includes a good book.

Finally, spiritually, perhaps I don't fondle my rosary beads so regularly.  But I do sometimes send short prayers of thanks heavenwards, discounting of course my frequent usage of the phrase 'Oh My God' and perhaps just the very occasional 'Thank Fucking Christ' (with apologies to any judgemental Christians out there).

All joking aside though,  it is my deep and profound belief that I would not have survived my cancer ordeal if it had not been for my faith in the fact that, at the very least, Jesus was a good bloke with some pretty decent suggestions on how to get through the Shit that is Life.   You can pooh-pooh (if not Eeyore-Eeyore) religion if you like, but there is something about believing in a kind of penultimate goodness that is the buoy we need when the going really gets tough.

But that is not what I really wanted to celebrate.

What I want to celebrate is this.

Yesterday I found a pair of black pants in Harry's cupboard that clearly looked too small for him.  A Size 8 pair of Country Road pants.  As I know for a fact that my son is not a cross-dresser, I believe that the garment was most likely to be mine and had mysteriously slipped past my post-cancer cull.

You see, I thought I had given away all my Size 8 clothes.  (My beloved collection of dresses and trousers are probably now most adorning the wardrobe of a svelte Sudanese refugee somewhere in the arse end of Logan).

So what to do but try on this rogue pair.  Would I fit?  First one leg then the other, then up to the zip and will it?  Will it?

Yes it will!  The trousers fit!

To celebrate PRESS THIS LINK!

So stuff the depression and the arthritis and all that other crap, man.  Who cares?

I fit back into my jeans!

Because you know what that means?

It means the old me is still here!

That's really something to celebrate, don't you think?

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