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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Three Years

Today marks an important anniversary.

Today is the 30th anniversary of that wonderful little TV favourite, 'Happy Days!"

Perhaps it is an omen, because today also marks another important anniversary.

Today it is actually three years to the day since I found myself sitting opposite my doctor and hearing words such as 'chemotherapy' for the first time.

It is three years since the door opened to the strange and terrifying world that is cancer.

It is only on reflection that I realise what enormous hurdles both I and my family leapt.  They were really tough days and I'm just glad I have my book to remind me what I went through.

Because it's human nature to want to cloak the distressing parts of our past with forgetting.

So I feel extremely fortunate that I have created a record of my struggle to remind me.

And I feel privileged that my story has already helped many people dealing with the same bad news. I continue to receive positive feedback from people of all ages and all walks of life.  It may only translate to a handful of people compared to the huge swathe of humanity but remember what Mother Teresa said:

Breast Cancer has totally changed my life.   Obviously.

Not only do I now have a far more stream-lined chest, thinner hair, a brain that is probably a few seconds slower to compute.

I also have endless reasons for self-pity, for anger and for the many negative emotions that can accompany a kind of trauma.

However, for not one single, solitary minute have I allowed these feelings to take dominance.  Today and every day, I work very hard to continue to be the best Bron I can be.

It's not always easy.   I still have days when I am committing at least one of the seven deadly sins:

For example, I am consumed by envy at my friends who can still run, run, run!  At my friends still playing soccer.  At my friends who can remember shit.  Like my sister, Nicky.  I swear that woman can remember the colour of the underwear she wore at her fifth birthday.

I get angry (frequently) over some things that perhaps mightn't have had me in quite such a lather once.  In fact, I have episodes of fury.  Yeah, I know you're surprised.

I even hate.  Okay, not really.  I would find that hard.  But I do continue to hate and despise cliches. For example, take the phrase  'I love you to the moon and back'.  I don't doubt the genuine affection behind this lovely thought but I have read it so many times of late that I'm thinking:  Come on folks!  How about some creativity?   How about 'I love you to Pluto and  back'? ' I love you to the Milky Way and back'?  I love you to over the Story Bridge, onto the Bruce Highway and Somewhere Past Weipa and Back?   Hmm?

Anyway, you get my drift, I am far, far, far, far, farrrrrrrrrr from being my best and sadly, have to accept that I never will be.

But that's okay because, such as it is, these are still  Happy Days!

Last week I celebrated my 51st birthday.  I am extremely happy to be alive.

People say that from this vantage point, there is only the other side of the hill.  Some sort of predictable downward slide.

I disagree.  I do not see the other side of the hill.

Instead, before me I see other hills, other shit to haul.   Because that is what life is.  In fact, I love hills!  Because they are the things that give structure, form and perhaps, even, meaning to my story.

All I know is that, three years on, I am certain that whatever other hills may reveal themselves, I can overcome them and you know, even if I don't make the top of the next one, even if I find myself felled by an avalanche half way up the next mound, it's okay.

Because at the very least, it's made for a decent story. is where you can find it.  Hey!  It's my blog.  I'm allowed to give myself a plug.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Three Tips for Dealing with Dark Days

Unless you've been living on a rock, you may have noticed that depression and it's evil sister, suicide, have been prominent in the news of late.
The world at large has been rocked by news of Robin Williams, Charlotte Dawson, L'Wrenn Scott - and yesterday, the husband of a well-known Australian radio personality.
I was just talking to my friend Trish, who has by all accounts had a tough life.  She suffers from excruciating back pain controlled only by medication; she has an intellectually disabled son; and she has had more health scares than I have had hot lunches.
But you know, Trish still rallies on.  So I wondered why others can't.  This includes our mutual friend Jocelyn who hung herself the week I had my last chemotherapy shot.  Why does it get so bad, that they can't bear the idea of continuing this wonderful thing that is breathing?
I think this is the number one question.   When people hear about someone taking their own lives - okay, let's not mince words - killing themselves  - the first question is why?
It's perplexing to most but especially to those like me - the poor bastards who have suffered being cut, burned and poisoned all for the sake of, you know, preserving life.
I wonder about the dichotomy of the two completely opposed mindsets:  one feeling so hopeless they top themselves; the other so hopeful that they will do anything, endure anything for the privilege of just being able to keep going.
Here is the thing.  
While I appreciate that suicidal feelings emanate from clinical, and possibly untreated, depression requiring good medical intervention, I do believe there are many ways in which most of us can successfully deal with dark days.
Many of you who have supported me since the start of my story will know that I speak from experience.
Dark days are like scenes of gruesome bloodbaths and incest on the show, Game of Thrones.  They are inevitable.
So how do we get through them?
Here are three of my tips - which of course, you are free to take or leave.  They may not work for everyone, but they work, in the main, for me.
Having spent many a Sunday in an often claustrophobic football referee's room with, usually, men and boys, I am greatly aware of the vast human capacity for creating distance, no matter how intimate an environment.
It seems to me that modern man is at a greater risk than ever of so completely dissociating from his fellow humans, that even intimate relationships lack true connection.
I have learned one thing from the endless hours watching men silently feeling their balls - soccer balls I mean, you know, for suitable inflation.  And I have learned the same thing from the suite of chirpy, one-sided conversations that seem to be the norm in my life.

The average person seems to have no interest in others.  It seems most people I meet want me to do all the work needed to prop up the lamest excuse for a conversation or simply an interaction!

Sometimes they will telephone me.  And the part of this so-called conversation that relates to me literally amounts to this:  "Hello.  How are ya."  That's it.  From then on, it has got to be about them or there is a vacuum: the kind of vacuum magazines like Take 5 were invented for.

These conversations are like pulling teeth ... or removing haemorrhoids if Trish is to be believed.  They are if you must know, fucking boring - akin to the feeling of poking blunt sticks into my eyes or, if you want something less cliched, perhaps tipping a tin of scorpions down my knickers.  Or bouncing on Clive Palmer's knee.
The thing is that showing an interest in someone else is a way of creating a connection.  And, by showing an interest in someone else, guess what?  You deflect your preoccupations away from your self, and instead to others.  
So if you are feeling a bit down, why not pick up the phone and call a friend and... ask about them? Show an interest in them?  ('Them?'  Them?'  I can see your eyebrows puckering now with this enormous revelation.)

But it's true.  There is a 'them'.  They're everywhere.  You know.  Other people who also have their own problems and issues and stories to tell.   You would be amazed at how it might help you out of this self absorbed cycle of despair and depression if you tried connecting with 'them' and it's as easy as a telephone call.
Please, don't ring them so you can repeat your tedious story of self-loathing, self-flagellation, misery, failure, despair, and all those other problems that you think are so interesting they are sure to attract people to you.
Because staying connected is about being unselfishly interested in others.

Try it!  Trust me it works.  There is simply no better way to forget your own problems than by focusing on someone else's and supporting 'them'.   At the very least, it may give you an excuse for a nice latte together at your local coffee shop.  So what have you got to lose?

As I was saying to Trish today, the ability to laugh is a uniquely human ability that is as natural to babies as suckling.  
Amongst the first smile and first word, what mum doesn't remember the first time she heard her baby laugh?  (It is up their with the first projectile vomit and the first run to the emergency ward).
The thing is that we can all laugh, but somewhere along the whole difficult journey through adulthood and into the nursing home, most of us seem to get grumpier and grumpier.  And not to mention, grumpier!
But it is amazing what we can laugh at if we put our minds to it.  Any situation can be ridiculed.  Because it is all really silly, isn't it?   Isn't life all one big Funniest Home Video if you really think about it?
And if you can't ridicule your own situation, find someone else's situation to ridicule.
The fact is that there are plenty of idiots out there and amongst that great ocean of stupidity is a lot of material that could make you laugh - no matter how you might be feeling today.
Look, it's very hard for me to give you an example here.  Maybe it's difficult for most people to do.  But I think you'll find that the funniest people actually have had the hardest road.
They just choose to see falling in a pothole and breaking your ankle not as a tragedy, but the funniest thing that has happened in a long time.
I suppose, it is a sort of alchemy that people with a sense of humour 'get'.  Anything can be transformed into something a little amusing at least if you just accept that life is just one big slapstick event where people get hurt.
And in laughing about those moment when you fall, you may be surprised at how easily you are able to get up!

I don't know if this is what hope is, but for me I think, this is it.
Quite simply there is nothing more exciting or motivating or inspiring than the future.
One tip I use to haul my self-pitying arse through the tougher times is, therefore, to think about all the fantastic advances humankind is yet to make.  Or the fantastic advances I as an individual might make.
Why would I want to throw myself off a bridge when I might, in the future, just manage to memorise one of  Chopin's Etudes and play it blindfolded?  Or finally wake up to find that I am actually fluent in Spanish?  Or learned to ice skate.  Or finally not come dead last in a regatta?
Why would I not want to wake up tomorrow if it is likely that it may contain news of the first Flying Car, perhaps the settlement of Mars ,the cure for Parkinson's Disease, or a world where my son, Ben, hasn't actually ended up as a ditch digger?
The thing is the future could be an exciting place, regardless of what is going on in your own life right now.  And you want to be there.
Look ahead and think about how it will feel when the sun shines on your face again.  Just think how happy you may feel, or how elated to be inhabiting that exciting country that is the future: all those fabulous things that are yet to be?

  • According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, suicide claims around 2,415 deaths per year in this country.
  • The highest age-specific suicide rate for males and females in 2012 was observed in the 80+ age group. After that, males aged 45-49 and women aged 50-59 were most likely to kill themselves.
  • In 2012, about 75% of suicides were male and 25% were females.
  • According to the Australian Institute of for Suicide Research and Prevention (based at Griffith University), there are approximately 900,000 suicides worldwide annually.
  • WHO organisation data show that suicide is now one of the three leading causes of death among people aged 14-24 years.  Males have the highest rates of suicide in Eastern Europe, while the highest rates of female suicides are in Asia.
Every suicide affects around six people including family, friends and colleagues.

In memory of Jossy, Hoody, and Numbers.