Sunday, 30 May 2010

Follow Your Dreams Until You Die – Part 2

Click here to watch an inspiring interview with my aunty Noni, talking about her life and work in Sommers Bay, Tasmania. That is where my mum lives too.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Follow Your Dreams Until You Die

Cousin Ben and I are watching ‘The Stones in Exile’ on BBC iPlayer. It’s a documentary about the making of the Rolling Stones’ sleazilicious double album ‘Exile on Main Street’.

What I love about being in my own home is that I can lie on the sofa singing along to all my favourite songs – and there are many of them. Ben has the good grace to not roll his eyes. “My biggest regret in life,” I announce, as if to justify my annoying habit, “is that I wasn’t a singer.”

“Well Lily, you still can be,” says Ben, as matter-of-fact as you like. And why not? Six years ago I wasn’t a writer. But I am now. I resolve to call Daisy and recommence singing lessons.

And then I realise that there’s another life label that I gained only recently: I am now a cancer survivor.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Tough at the Top

At last the sun is out and London is at its glorious best. Royston drives the twenty yards from his house to my house to pick me up in his new Mercedes SL with the top down.

“So, what is the story?” I ask. I just know that he didn’t buy this car himself. “I got a new job,” replies Royston, “this is part of the deal.”

Next stop is to collect our friend Lizzie. After binging all her teenage sons and their friends out to inspect the car, she leaps joyfully into the back. “This is great. I can get a suntan,” cries Lizzie. She hitches up her dress and stretches out her legs. We cruise through the leafy streets of Notting Hill, Royston smoking, Lizzie sunbathing in the back seat and me with my bare feet propped on the dash. In deference to Sunday morning Royston has foregone the AC/DC CD in favour of some groovy Latin Jazz.

“I’m so glad you got this car Royston,” I murmur - and then I feel that maybe I should feign a bit more interest in the new job that has bestowed such a comfort upon us all. “So,” I ask brightly, “do you have to, er, go somewhere to do this job?” “Yes,” laughs Royston, “it’s called an office, Lily. It’s a novel concept but apparently civilians have been going there for years.”

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Where There is Smoke

Samantha and I are talking on the phone. Skype is a techno-evolution too far for Samantha. “Are you smoking?” she asks. “The cigarettes are in the bin,” I reply with a self-satisfied air. 
“And have you taken the bin out?”

After I’ve caught up with the news of Lyla, Lily, Lola and Felix I hang up. Then I race out the front door, tear open the rubbish bag and fish out the three putrid Camel Lights. The front door slams. I am locked out. No phone. No coat. No lighter.

This might teach me a lesson.

With admirable prescience I have bought a flat that is fifty yards from a fire station. I trip round there and tell the officer in charge my sorry tale. “We’re not meant to do that,” he informs me. I bat my newly grown eyelashes and simper. “Oh, go home,” he says, kindly.

Two minutes later a shiny red fire engine pulls into the driveway. One minute after that four burly firemen pile up the stairs. They insert a flimsy square of plastic into my doorjamb and wiggle it. Five seconds later the door pops open.

I am in equal parts relieved, grateful and horrified at how easy it is to break into my home.

p.s. No, I'm not telling you where I live.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Chemo Chic Needs You!

Chemo Chic is to be a book! Not a monologue about the perils of Canalily but a practical book about surviving cancer with style. In order to make Chemo Chic -the book as useful and comprehensive as possible I want YOUR input. Everything from your experience with wigs and bras to recipes to make-up tips or brushes with crazy cancer cures. If you have a story to share please email me: Your experience will make all the difference to someone else who is yet to face the trauma and triumph of becoming totally Chemo Chic.

How to Stop Smoking

A reader asks: "Lily, what is your secret?"

Here, I can reveal how it is done: Smoke until you’re almost sick. Throw the remaining cigarettes in the bin and cover them with the pulp from the juice extractor. Pace around the flat. Pick the soggy fags out of the bin and smoke them. Apply a nicotine patch. After a few hours rip the patch off because it brings you out in itchy hives. Don’t smoke – one minute at a time. Go to bed on the couch. Read a book. Pace around. Sleep some more.  Put yourself through a really stressful situation such as having a mammogram and ultrasound scan to see if you have cancer or not. Get fantastic news and become overwhelmed with emotion. Apply another nicotine patch. Fall asleep with it on and have nightmares. Ring up Nick in Australia and scream at him. Celebrate not having cancer by relapsing with 10 Camel Lights. Stop again, one minute at a time...

You may take these steps in any order, so long as you do the last one last.

Allen Carr made a fortune in this arena. I too may write a book: “The Stupid Way to Stop Smoking”.

All Clear!

I’m still processing yesterday’s huge events. Iris came with me to the hospital. If you’re not sure who your friends are here is a clue: they are the people who are prepared to spend half a day sitting around in stuffy waiting rooms reading dreary magazines and just... waiting... whilst you try to look all breezy and unconcerned and they try to mentally devise what they are going to say or do if you happen to receive the worst news of your life in the next ten minutes. Iris, it has to be said, made the best of the situation. “I just love drinks machines,” she enthused, “I could stay here all day zipping these little plastic capsules into the slot and watching the coffee come out.”

The receptionist raises a wary eyebrow.

Vanessa, a pretty radiographer, calls my name. “Come with me Iris,” I whisper. We process down the hall, Iris clutching her coffee and magazine. Vanessa bars her at the door. “You can’t come in here. It’s an x-ray room.” Oh. I enter alone. I remember the drill from the first time I had a mammogram. Strip to the waist. Get prodded, poked and pulled into a position that would probably land one a leading role in some kind of gymnastic-porno movie. Have right breast squashed flat between a metal plate and a plastic paddle. So far so good. Then the left breast, the one that had the cancer, the surgery and the radiotherapy. I twist and turn. The paddle descends. The squashing commences. I scream uncontrollably. “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry,” gulps Vanessa and releases the vice. Gasping for air I leap across the floor and pull my jumper on. “Just two more images to do,” says Vanessa. Trembling, I disrobe again and step back up to the plate.

A few excruciating minutes later we exit the room. Iris is loitering outside the door. “Was that you yelling?” she asks and rolls her eyes.

Then it’s down to the labyrinth where the ultrasound lurks. I lie on the bench in a blue patterned hospital gown. Iris flicks the pages of Elle. Dr Teo bustles in. “Your mammogram looks fine,” he announces. Here is something I’ve learned about medical professionals. If everything is fine they tell you straight away. If it’s not fine they stay tight-lipped. “So, are you worried about anything?” the doctor asks. I tell him about all my worries: feeling lumps in my armpit; stabbing pains under and around my breast; anxiety; shortness of breath; the continued swelling in my back. I consider adding in my fear of losing my home and dying alone or the earth being swallowed up by a black hole. Dr Teo interrupts quickly, “Ok, let’s have a look.” He runs the magic wand over my breasts as I stare wildly about the room. Very soon he is reassuring me. “Nothing to worry about here.”

In the pit of my stomach I feel that feeling that one feels when they finally let you off the giant Ferris wheel, only better.

Next stop: Mr Hadjiminas. He is all smiles. I hand him the mammogram films and he clips them to the light box. “These look perfect.” The image of my left breast is peppered with tiny white shapes, like arrowheads. “What are those?” I exclaim. “Oh, titanium staples,” replies Mr H. Life is full of little surprises. Mr H is equally happy with the ultrasound scans. “Now, let’s have a look at your back.”

Behind the screen, Mr Hadjiminas inspects the wobbly cushion of fluid in my back. “Hmm. This seems to have got worse. I think it might need more surgery.” He looks at the scar that runs down my side. “It will be tricky.” I gulp. “For me, not for you” he adds hastily. Well I should hope so. I will be unconscious. “Let’s give it to the end of the summer.” Fine by me.

“So, next time,” I ask, “can I not have the mammogram, just the ultrasound scan?” Mr H almost snorts. “Do you think we are giving you these mammograms just for fun? Of course you have to have the mammogram.” Well it was worth a try.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Better than Winning the Lottery

I had two scans this afternoon, a mammogram and an ultrasound. They are both clear.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

I Have Stopped Smoking

Again. I haven't done it simply to disappoint Royston.

Friday, 14 May 2010

You Gotta Have Friends

What do I love about London? The freezing cold weather in the middle of May? The £185 gas bill? The honest and fair mortgage lenders who have increased my repayments by THREE percentage points to ensure their continued ability to profiteer? The slippery mechanics who swear on their Grannie’s bones that my car needs a new petrol tank at a cost of just £1,300? The dog excrement that festoons the footpaths? The exciting new Con-Lib coalition government? No, I love the people.

Sheldon and Doug met me at Heathrow. I was overjoyed to see them.

When I was a little girl I lived with my mother, father and sister on a tiny island off the north coast of New Guinea. My father, Julian, was a con-man of magnificent grandiosity. He was also a relentless womaniser. Starting to ring any bells? When he moved his mistress into our house my mother walked out and went back to Sydney, taking my baby sister Miranda with her. The deal was that my mum would find a house for us to get settled in and then my father would send me on to join her and my sister. But he didn’t do that. Instead he spirited me off to the highlands of New Guinea. There I travelled from place to place with my father’s mistress, sometimes staying in a remote village, sometimes in a motel, sometimes at someone's house. Unbeknown to me, he was sending telegrams to my mother, telling her that I would be arriving on this or that flight. I did not arrive on those flights. Eventually, he and the mistress gave me a fake birthday party, told me I was six (I think I was four years old), and sent me unaccompanied on a flight to Sydney. Only this time he neglected to send a telegram to my mother. When I arrived there was nobody there to meet me. I can still remember kicking my heels on one of those high desks, the lone stewardess waiting along with me and the vast, shiny floor of the empty terminal. Throughout my life I have experienced a level of anxiety when arriving at airports, especially Sydney airport.

The last time that I knew happiness was as I passed through the exit doors at Sydney airport last Boxing Day with my luggage piled high on a wobbly trolley. Two minutes later I knew that Nick was not there.

Sheldon and Doug were determined to meet me when I landed at Heathrow. It is in these small acts that we are truly shown love.

My car is off the road. BMW Park Lane alleges that it needs a new petrol tank. It will just have to stay off the road until things like new petrol tanks make their way to the top of my list of priorities. Another thing I love about London is that I can just walk down to the bus stop and, a minute or two later, a bus comes along.

Another friend, Royston, lives across the road from me. You may recall how he didn’t come to water the plants when I was having chemotherapy. Tonight he offers me a lift home from South Kensington. I am glad to accept. “What I love about you Lily is that you’ve completed your cancer treatment and you’re smoking. It shows commitment to the cause,” says Royston.

The last time I saw Royston, only a few months ago, he could not afford to get his old banger insured. But in true gutter-to-penthouse form, this evening he pulls up in a convertible Mercedes SL. “Where did you get this?” I gape. “It’s a long story, hop in,” replies Royston. He does not tell me the long story, instead he asks me a rhetorical question: “Do you know what is the most fun about this car?” He cranks the sound system up to rocket launcher level. My eardrums tremble. “AC/DC” I exclaim.

“Yes and that’s not the best part,” he flips open the glove-box, “look at the note that someone left under my windscreen.” He passes me a torn piece of notebook paper scrawled with a message in angry black felt-tip:


Royston looks proud enough to burst. “An utter cunt!” he crows, “That person has no idea how much they have made my day.”

Get With the Programme

Storm clouds by cjohnson7 
Fear of having my first follow-up scans is haunting my mind. If I could run down to Harley Street and have them RIGHT NOW, I would (it’s 2 a.m.). I want them out of the way so I can get on with my life. And if the news is not good... well I would rather know than not. But my appointment is scheduled for Monday so I have a long weekend in prospect.

I have lost a lot of weight. I tell myself that could be caused by emotional distress and smoking. I wake up sweating in the night. Fear? A side effect of Tamoxien? I find myself fingering a lump under my arm. Mr Hargreaves said it is just scar tissue.

In all likelihood I am well and clear of cancer. My chances are excellent. But am I jinxing myself by saying that? ...and so the obsessive thoughts go around.

I try not to worry. How, exactly, does one do that?

In the rehab I met a hilarious woman called Vic. She has a great technique. We named it ‘The Vic Flick’. Whenever a self-defeating thought crosses her mind Vic says, “thanks for the information” and flicks a finger, like a windscreen wiper, across her forehead.

My forehead is becoming a touch chafed.

I guess that the best thing that I can do is renew my commitment to positive daily action.

So I have devised the official Canalily weight gain diet:

  1. Stop smoking
  2. Eat lots

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Jet Lag

Is like bad acid

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Smoking in Limbo

I am drawn to any kind of depravity. Airport smoking rooms hold a particular fascination for me. They are totally disgusting. I step into the smoking room in the Korean Airlines lounge. The carpet is stained. The couch upholstery has holes in it. The ashtrays are inexplicably filled with used coffee grounds. Grey men ignore one another and stare at Korean golfing lessons on the TV. There’s no need to waste money by actually smoking, one can simply absorb the atmosphere. 

Monday, 10 May 2010

Sitting in Limbo

I’m holed up at the Hyatt Regency Incheon airport, Seoul. The flight to London is not direct so Korean Air put their passengers up in a hotel overnight. It’s a terrific way to do the arduous Sydney to London trip: two daytime flights with a good kip in between to ease the fatigue. The last time I made this journey they took us to a hotel right in the centre of Seoul. It’s a mad town, full of noises, smells, flashing lights and people, people, people. But this time they’ve plonked us at an airport hotel. There’s not much to do. My cases have been checked all the way through to London so it’s hand luggage only. I didn’t think to stuff my bikini into my handbag so I can’t relax in the pool like the brochure guests. My room has a great view of the runway. Watching planes taking off and landing can be rather therapeutic.

The last twenty-four hours have been strange. I called Nick to say goodbye. You might think that was a love addict thing to do. You may be right. I didn’t want to depart from Australia leaving behind only a memory of bitter emptiness. Imagine how surprised I was when Nick suggested that he take me out to dinner. It took me a moment to comprehend what he was saying.

So on Sunday night, full of nerves, I wrapped my new hair in a pink skull headscarf and headed off into a balmy Sydney night in Samantha’s 1976 Alfa Spyder, with the top down. I stopped for two young women at a zebra crossing. As they passed in front of the car one of them shouted: “You look fabulous.” That gave my self-esteem a boost. 

I met Nick at Fish Face in Darlinghurst, one of my favourite Sydney restaurants, apart from Tetsuya’s, of course. As the name suggests, Fish Face serves fish: fresh and imaginatively prepared.

Nick was nervous too. Our conversation was bumpy. I cried. At one point it seemed that Nick was going to get up and leave. But we both managed to drag ourselves back from the brink of anger or emotional disintegration and navigate back into calmer water. Then another surprise: Nick offered to take me to the airport. I gratefully accepted.

Back at Watson’s Bay, Lyla was still up, packing. Tomorrow is a big day for her too. She’s off to camp. “Camp is just unhygienic,” declared Lyla. We all had a chamomile tea and turned in.

A few fitful hours later I creaked out of bed to do my final bit of packing in the dark. At 5.15 a.m. the doorbell rang. Nick was as good as his word. As Nick loaded my suitcases into his car Samantha and her eleven-year old daughter Lily arose and made cups of tea. Lyla managed a brief appearance at her bedroom door, “Goodbye Lily. Love you,” before tumbling back into her sleepy nest. She is thirteen after all. Lily handed me a homemade card. Inside it was a touching poem that she had composed herself. With welling eyes we all hugged. I will miss Samantha and her family a great deal. They have been unwaveringly kind and generous to me in one of the most difficult periods of my life.

In the car I read Lily’s poem aloud to Nick. Tears streamed down my face.

Checking in was the usual bustle. Nick and I had a final coffee. I smoked a last cigarette outside and then it was time. Unexpectedly, Nick grabbed my hand and held it. And I felt relaxed, walking across the concourse hand-in-hand with Nick, the man I have hated. At the security gate I turned, “Well goodbye...” I started, then stopped. Nick was crying. In that moment all my pain, anger and hurt of the last months evaporated. Standing before me I saw the real Nick, who I have loved so much. I held him in my arms and he wept.


I landed in Australia four months ago full of joy at the prospect of camping, swimming and languid days of love. I ended up broken in a rehab. Yet I feel like the lucky one. I’m still here and I still have dreams for my life. First I must get the cancer tests out of the way. Then I’ve got work to do, writing Chemo Chic – the book. I still plan to move back to Sydney, my childhood home. And I hope that one day I will meet a man to love and be loved by, to share the beauty, the terror and the wonderful adventure of being alive.


Lily’s Poem

Dear Lily,
We don’t want you to go,
You make our household glow
We’ll miss your smile and laugh.

We love you so much,
You have a very special touch
Felix and Lola will miss you too,
Goodness Lily we’ll miss you.

We hope you have a good time in London,
Being with you has been lots of fun,
We really enjoyed the swimming,
Good luck with your fabulous writing.

So thank you again for staying with us,
And thank you for your kindness,
We’ll miss you and hope you have a good time,
We’ll see you again soon but to us it will feel like a longtime.

All the love in the world from Lily, Samantha, Lyla, Felix and Lola xoxoxoxox
We love you and miss you!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

London Calling

I am flying to London tomorrow morning. Sheldon and Doug will be there to meet me at Heathrow. I’m grateful for that. It will be good to see their smiling faces again. Yet I am also filled with dread. I know that my relationship with Nick is over. But leaving Sydney will be finally shutting the door on all of my dreams. I am flying away from something that I wanted so much. And I am flying back to something that I don’t want at all – namely my first round of scans and tests to find out if I am clear of cancer.

They say that home is where the heart is. My heart is in two places. I will miss Samantha, Lyla, Lily, Mandy and Tony, Marcus and all the new friends that I have made in Sydney. And I will be overjoyed to see all of my friends in London.

It is going to be hard to go to the airport and get on the plane alone.

But it is also time for me to allow the possibility of new dreams. And one of them is coming true already. An Australian publisher has asked me to turn Chemo Chic into a book.

All I can do is pray and try to live in the moment. Tomorrow is tomorrow. Right now it’s a warm Sydney Sunday morning. Samantha and I are off for one last swim at Bondi.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

What a Nice Surprise

Chemo Chic has been mentioned in the Times article "40 Bloggers Who Really Count".

I'm so proud.