Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Monday, 25 January 2010
Saturday, 23 January 2010
Friday, 22 January 2010
And now, here is Tony, sitting in the restaurant in Sydney. I take a seat next to him. “How long are you here for Lily?” enquires Tony. “I go back on the 26th of March,” I reply. “Can you change your flight?” he asks. “Why?” I look at him, puzzled. “Mandy and I are getting married on the 27th.” Tony quietly tells me.
Thursday, 21 January 2010
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Saturday, 16 January 2010
Friday, 15 January 2010
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
I am reading Another Country by Nicolas Rothwell. Strange to say I used to know Nicolas, many years ago in London. In the author photo on the back of the book he looks unchanged.
Tuesday, 12 January 2010
Monday, 11 January 2010
The day is hot, 36º, but the water is surprisingly cold. Mum and I wade in and shiver. “Swimming is not compulsory,” says mum. Instead we walk briskly through the water, halfway across the bay and then back. Boy, that works one’s legs. “Elizabeth Taylor,” mum tells me, “used to walk in thigh-deep water every day.” How does mum know these things?
Saturday, 9 January 2010
The water of the bay is shallow, lapping over white sand. I wade out fifty metres, seventy metres. The water is still only thigh deep but here there is a chilling undercurrent. The sea in Tasmania sweeps in straight from Antarctica. It always has an edge. I hesitate then dive. My head clears instantly. A lazy backstroke is good exercise for my left arm and shoulder, still creaky as a result of my surgery. I swim back towards the shore until my hands begin to strike the bottom. Then it’s a slow crocodile crawl into the shallows, dragging myself along on my elbows, my head barely peeping above the surface. I find an underwater depression in the sand. The water here is as still and warm as a bath. I float, arms and legs outstretched. “Let...” I breathe in, “go...” I breathe out. Let... go... let... go... let... go...” Breathe in... breathe out... I wish that I could stay like this for a very long time, maybe a year.
The days seem endless. Everything here is beautiful. The food is heavenly. I’m surrounded by the love of my family. But I am flat and joyless.
Mum and aunty Noni have gone to camp overnight at the Cygnet folk festival. Cousin Fay and I have stayed put. It’s a hilarious reversal. The mums are off raving, the stodgy daughters remain at home. To emphasise the point I bake a cake.
Cousin Fay drops by. “Time for your make-up lesson,” I exclaim. We gather mirrors and brushes, powder and paint. Fay is nervous at first. She has not worn make-up for decades. But pretty soon we are having fun, pulling faces, discussing make-up brands and compiling a shopping list of tools and products that Fay is to acquire for her new look. With subtle eye shadow and blusher she looks aglow. I’m always amazed at the ability of simple make-up to transform a woman’s countenance. One doesn’t need much. It’s all about enhancing the play of light and shadow, not piling on loads of slap and garish colours.
Makeover successful, Fay and Simon trip off to Port Arthur. They’re going on a night-time ghost tour. If there’s one place in Australia that has a ghoulish history, Port Arthur is it.
And I’m left alone with my own ghosts again.
Friday, 8 January 2010
Today Mum and I are off to Hobart. Shopping and then in the evening we are going to the opening of Mona Foma, Hobart’s excellent and free music festival.
I have a list of tasks, sorting out the usual hassles of being a citizen of the twenty-first century. A reciprocal health card must be obtained from a Medicare office. Cash machines reject the pin number on my debit card. My Australian SIM card isn’t working.
The joy of small cities like Hobart is that they are sparsely populated and everything is handy. I’m in and out of Medicare, Vodafone and the bank in twenty minutes flat. Next stop is the library.
Before we enter, Mum changes her mind. “Lets go to Eco Haven first to get your tincture of sage. They might be closing in a minute.” Just a few doors down the street, Eco Haven is the shop base of Michael Thomsen, the wonderful naturopath who supported me with advice and supplies of supplements throughout my chemo and radiotherapy. Michael isn’t in so we gather our supplies and then mum realises that she’s lost her credit card. She borrows my now working mobile phone to call the shop where she bought a vacuum cleaner a couple of hours previously. “I think this is going to be a long one,” mum says as she plops onto one of the Eco Haven cafe chairs. “Can you take my library card and go on up to collect my books?”
I walk back up the hill and notice that there is now an ambulance parked on the corner by the library entrance. The paramedics are tending to a man who appears to have been hit by a car. It must have happened in the few minutes that we were in Eco Haven. Not wishing to seem ghoulish I avert my eyes and walk straight into the library.
In the library I sit down at one of the computers. All day I have been dogged by the thought that my last posting on Chemo Chic was too harsh on Nick. Part of me thinks “You should write what you feel and let him just suck it up.” But the further we drive the more I feel that what I had written was, as Sheldon would put it, snide. That is to say, using inside information to do harm. Nick’s behaviour has been cruel and self-centred but spitefulness is not my style.
I delete the uncomfortable paragraph. Mum joins me in the library. “Any luck?” I ask. “Yes,” replies mum brightly, “my credit card was in my pocket.”
As we leave the library I notice that there are now two ambulances on the corner as well as two police cars. All I can see is the soles of a pair of black work boots. Paramedics are gathered around the man, one holding a drip bag aloft. “Looks bad,” I say to mum as we head into the car park that adjoins the library.
From the car park exit we have to drive back past the scene of the accident. As we pass I notice two of the paramedics packing their trolley into one of the ambulances. A third paramedic is covering the man’s face with a blanket. “The man has died.” I blurt.
We drive in silence. The image of those black work boots and then the glimpse of the paramedic covering the man’s face play through my mind like a continuously looped two-frame movie. A few long minutes go by. Then, “That poor man,” I say, “just like that!” and I snap my fingers. Then I start to cry. I can’t take any more sadness. I want to go home. I want to go to bed and sleep forever.
But I am glad now that I deleted my nasty comment about Nick. There are no points to score. There is nothing to win. Our love is already lost. I don’t want to think about him anymore. Life’s too short.
And life goes on. We head off to Mona Foma.
Thursday, 7 January 2010
Here’s what I’ve learned through having cancer: every day is special. Live life. Love what comes your way. Take your happiness wherever you find it. Sad to say, some people don’t feel truly alive unless they are enduring a painful, messed-up emotional melodrama.
I let my heart carry me off. In Nick I thought I had found a special man, one who could tolerate my foibles as well as enjoying my fabulous points. Not perfect, who would want that? But the right man for me. I don’t think that I was fooling myself. Every relationship has wobbles but on the whole Nick’s words and actions led me to believe that he genuinely loved me. I mean, for heaven's sake, he planned to introduce me to his parents and his adult children. He seemed to delight in my company, as I did in his. Our affair was drawing me back home to Australia. I followed his beckoning without fear.
And now I feel lost, foolish and betrayed. In a twist of irony I realise that the day Nick finally ended our relationship, the 2nd of January, was the anniversary of the day we met. At night I lie awake trying not to recall this time last year, when Nick and I spent our time talking and laughing, luxuriating in one another's the presence. Life seemed filled with promise.
I have come across several cruel stories of women whose husbands and partners left them whilst they were going through breast cancer. I just didn’t think it would happen to me. In my darkest hours I battle with the notion that the break-up is all my fault.
I have lost trust in my body – after all it did try to kill me. I am no longer strong and fit. My glorious red hair is gone. Then there is the looming shadow of Tamoxifen, which I must start taking soon. That will put me into early menopause. I imagine that in Nick’s eyes I am not a woman anymore.
People keep telling me, “That’s men for you.” But these are the actions of one man, a man who couldn’t or wouldn’t step up when the going got tough. It’s Nick who has let me down, not the entire male species. I don’t believe that all men are bastards any more than I believe that all women are doormats. People are unique. Each of us has the choice to be who we want to be in every moment of our lives. It requires courage and faith.
Then again, I wonder if lesbians are so quick to sprint for the exit when their partners get breast cancer?
The fear that gnaws at me is that no man will find me attractive ever again. I long to hear about women who have been through it all and gone on to find new love. If you know a good story of heartbreak and resurrection, please send it in to me.
Wednesday, 6 January 2010
Mum is showering me with T.L.C. When she’s not making me a cup of tea, she is rubbing my back with liniment or slipping hot water bottles into my bed.
Today we are off to Bream Creek to see Mum’s masseur, Debs. On the way we stop off at a roadside barrow selling organic cherries and organic apricots. I grab a bag of each, and stuff the money into the honesty tin.
Snacking on the luscious fruits we drive on through Marion Bay, a strange settlement. It is mostly shacks built by the side of salt marshes that stand behind the breathtakingly beautiful Marion Beach. There is an eerie end-of-the-world quality to this hamlet, perched between the wild, deserted sea and the strange, flat marshes.
We pass a flock of black swans. How odd they must have seemed to the first Europeans to walk in this land. By the shore there is an old cemetery with graves dating back to those early settlers.
Debs lives on a high hill with panoramic views of the coast. She is a practitioner of Ka-Huna massage, a skill, it turns out, that she learned from my aunty Lily in Queensland. Ka-Huna is a full body massage that originates in Hawaii. Debs works up and down with firm sweeping strokes of her forearms. In the past few days I have experienced the return of severe neck and shoulder pain. It is a tension that I haven’t felt since before my breast surgery. As my body relaxes I begin to cry. I just don’t know what kind of therapy can heal the sadness that I feel.
Back at home Mum offers to give me a manicure. She strips off the chipped nail varnish and then sets to work with one of those magic buffing blocks, first sanding back the ridges and then polishing with the smoother surface. Soon my nails are glowing.
Mum inspects her handiwork. “I think it works better if you do it yourself,” she says, “you can get into all the little bends.” “Probably,” I agree, “but it feels so lovely to have you do it for me.”
Monday, 4 January 2010
“Great day for fishing,” says aunty Noni, “get your gear on.”
I drop my line out again. Tug. Another one! I haul in fish after fish. Noni kills them quickly and deftly. As I land my fourth fish I realise that I can't leave all the dirty work to Aunty Noni. I must despatch it myself. I position the knife above the “map of Tassie” marking in the middle of its head. I say a quick prayer “I’m sorry little fish” and plunge the blade in. The fish is strong. It flips from side to side as I hold the knife fast. I feel my throat tightening and I swallow the tears that are brewing. I want to weep for the fish, for myself, for the world.
After an hour or so of catching fish, untangling knotted lines, stabbing myself with hooks and smoking damp fags we head back to shore with a dozen fat Flathead on board. “Not bad at $35 a kilo,” remarks Noni. At the water’s edge, Noni’s friend Dougal is waiting. “I’ve brought you some lemon verbena from my garden.”
We brew up lemon verbena tea while Noni cleans the fish. The tea is light and fragrant.
For dinner Mum fries the sweet flathead fillets and serves them up with fresh rocket salad from her garden. This has to be some kind of Paradise.
At this time of year the twilight lingers. Across the bay orange and pink slashes glow, vibrant behind black clouds. I turn my head to the east and take in the stars and the white belt of the Milky Way. I love the southern sky, the sky under which I was born. “Thump, thump,” a small, black wallaby is nosing its way across the lawn. It’s all so beautiful. I feel so miserable.
Suddenly the tears come. Mum rushes to put her arms around me. Poor mum, this is most distressing for her. I can’t speak. On the outside I just cry and cry but on the inside I’m thinking: “It’s really true. I’ve had cancer and I’ve survived it. It might come back one day. I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. All I want now is a holiday, some joy and love. Why has this happened? FUCK YOU NICK.”
Sunday, 3 January 2010
The longer Chemo Chic continues the more people get in touch with their own stories, advice and tips that I only wish I had known when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
Lorraine writes to tell me about Cancer Hair Care, a charity started by her hairdresser Jasmin Julia Gupta. This is a fabulous website packed with information on hair loss, wigs, re-growth, colouring hair and faking eyebrows and lashes.
Lorraine has posted further information on the Chemo Chic Facebook page.
Whilst on the subject I want to again mention Made for Life Days. These free pamper days are organised by the Made for Life Foundation to offer a bit of TLC to women undergoing cancer treatments.
Saturday, 2 January 2010
Mum Skypes my sister Miranda in Moscow, to catch her up on the latest twists in the saga of Lily and Nick. After mum has broken the sorry news I join the conversation.
“For your Christmas present I booked a surprise dinner for you and Nick at Tetsuya’s,” Miranda tells me. Tetsuya’s is one of Sydney’s finest restaurants. It serves modern Japanese / French fusion food of the highest order. “I’ll just have to cancel that,” she continues.
“No!” I cry, “Don’t cancel it. I’m sure I can find someone who wants to go to Tetsuya’s”