Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Swimming in the Rain

Black clouds are gathering. As Deirdre, Eddy and I arrive at Bondi Beach, thunder rolls. Deirdre walks Eddy along the promenade, guiding him with both hands. Mother and son's white-blonde hair glows in the weird yellow stormlight. At age nearly two Eddy has had to have surgery to realign his hips. The dear little boy has spent the last three months constricted inside a waist-to-ankle plaster cast. Yet he manages to toddle about, Charlie Chaplin style, with his legs sticking out sideways and at right angles. He just smiles and laughs as if it is all a great game. But he must be kept away from sand and water.

I gaze longingly at the surf. “Go on Lily,” Deirdre encourages. The beach is all but deserted. Lightning is flashing around the bay. I strip off. No need to wear the rashie in such gloomy conditions. Striding across the sand I reflect that swimming in the rain is an ill-advised pursuit. Apparently fish come in close to shore to feed on the storm run-off and, following in their wake come sharks.

With the way my luck is running I probably shouldn’t risk it.

I dive in. The water is warm. Large drops of rain begin to fall as I backstroke out through the waves. This is utterly exhilarating. This is living!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Busy, Busy, Busy

“I’ve lived here for 49 years,” says Samantha, “and I don’t get invited out every day and night of the week.” It’s true. I have been on a mad social whirl. No doubt things will quieten down once my presence loses its novelty value. I’m enjoying the attention whilst it lasts.

This morning, I am invited sailing by Angeline and her husband Mike. Traditionally, Australia day is when everything that floats goes out on Sydney harbour. Whether one owns a gin palace, a sleek Ketch, a tin dinghy or an inflatable crocodile, there is a place for you in this waterborne extravaganza.

The morning is humid and overcast with barely a stirring of breeze. Mike, Angeline, their friends Alex, Nathan, Rodrigo and I pile into a yacht at Double Bay Jetty. We start her up and motor out into the melee. Our proposed destination is the Sydney Fish Markets where we will have brunch. Pretty soon we enter an area that resembles a floating car park. Just off the tip of Garden Island a flotilla is congregating for the start of the great ferry race. It is here that our motor begins to cut out. With patience and diligence Mike gets it going again. We putter in circles for a while. Ten minutes later, the brand new motor fails again. Mike revives it once more.

A klaxon blares and the ferries are off, charging towards the heads. Since we are there, we join a stampeding herd of boats following the race. And then our motor cuts out once more. With no wind, sailing is not possible. We are adrift, out of control as a motorway of craft of all sizes bears down upon us, some of them terrifyingly huge. After a few tense moments Mike coaxes the motor back to life. “I think we are going to have to abort the mission,” says Mike. “Right-o captain,” I say. That is the most sailorly thing I have done during the entire expedition.

Plan B: Angeline and I drive to the fish markets, pick up three kilos of the giantest, reddest prawns this side of Chernobyl and head back to meet the other ex-sailors at Parsley Bay. Parsley Bay is a secluded little finger of turquoise water with steep rocks and shady trees on all sides. It is shark-netted, so safe for swimming. After a refreshing dip we lie under the trees stuffing down prawns until it is time for me to say goodbye to my shipmates and skip to my next engagement.

I drive to Centennial Park, one of the glories of Sydney. This enormous park contains grasslands, a Paperbark swamp, numerous ponds and reservoirs, playing fields and trees of awe-inspiring magnificence. I park in the shade of a gargantuan Moreton Bay Fig. These cathedral-like trees can grow up to 200 feet tall. Mandy and Tony meet me by a lake populated with flocks of black swans and cormorants. Together we process to a glade of Casuarina trees where we join a bunch of their friends. We spread out our rugs and picnic provisions then spend a lazy afternoon lying in the shade, chatting.

I take a moment to myself. Lying on my blanket with my hat on my face I can just see Mandy and Tony in the sliver of vision beneath the hat bream. They are laughing and touching one another, smiling flirtatiously, their eyes flashing. I am so happy that they are to be married. And I am utterly sad that the story of Lily and Nick just petered out so pointlessly. Don’t get me wrong. I had no intention of getting married to Nick. I just enjoyed his company. I do not long for an all-consuming, anguished enmeshment. I grieve for the small, private moments of togetherness: cooking and eating meals; Nick teaching me how to snorkel; chatting about the day; sharing the bathroom; buying clothes with him... simple stuff really.

When Nick and I were blessed by an eagle’s feather falling from the sky I took it as an augur of far sight and longevity. Later, I made a decision to love Nick for who he was. I would stick with him. I thought that love and commitment would get us through. Of course I never factored in a devastating illness.

Now, every time I see a camper van, my heart turns over. I eat in amazing restaurants and only think “Nick would love this.” I go swimming with amusing people and I wish he were there to enjoy it too.

Mandy senses my sadness and comes over to talk to me. “You are such a gorgeous, beautiful, sexy woman Lily. You know that man is not good enough for you. Everyone knows that. I have no doubt that an incredible future is in store for you. You just can’t see it yet.” She’s right: I cannot see it. But I do know that I am exceptionally fortunate to have such caring and supportive friends.

As the sun sinks we pack up the blankets and make arrangements for further get-togethers later in the week.

Next, I’m off to Vaucluse, enclave of Sydney’s moneyed folk, to meet Samantha and her daughters at the home of Samantha’s friend Tania. The gate buzzes open and I climb up Japanese-style slab steps, cross some stepping-stones through a pebbled water feature and enter a breathtaking modern house. The site has been blasted out of a sandstone cliff face. The house is like a three-storey pavilion built around a central open space containing a swimming pool. All the rooms on the ground floor open on to this space through full-height folding doors. At the rear of the house, huge glass panels expose the rock face. Floating wooden staircases lead to the upper rooms, all overlooking the central garden and pool. The furnishings and fittings are immaculate. Tania turns out to be bubbly and hospitable. I enjoy having tea and chatting with her about her life and mine. “I know just the man that you should meet,” she says, “he’s very successful and funny. Perfect for you...” Tania goes on outlining to me the virtues of some mystery bloke but all the while I can’t help absolutely gawping at her astonishing house.

Samantha, the girls and I finally drag ourselves away from all this luxury. I really must get some sleep if I’m going to be in any shape for my lunch and dinner dates tomorrow.

This relentless social schedule is keeping me distracted. It is great medicine. Yet I cannot seem to fully enjoy myself. A part of me is always elsewhere. Nick has shown himself to be self-serving and unfaithful. But I still miss him. And, after all our shared experiences, I love him. Is that wrong?

Monday, 25 January 2010

Who Am I?

Here is a simple and very effective method for putting one’s life in proper perspective.

Before going to bed, take a small notebook and open it to a double page. Write the day and date at the top of the spread.

On the left hand page write the title: Fear.

On the right hand page write the title: Love.

Now, briefly note down all your actions that day, attributing their motivation to either Fear or Love.  No need to write about your thoughts or feelings, only what you actually did.

Just as a mountain is made up of a gazillion grains of dust, so our lives are composed of what we do in each moment. What we do is who we are. When it’s all boiled down, all of our actions are motivated either by fear, or by love. A clue: if it ain't love, then it's probably fear. If you’re still not sure about the motivation behind a particular action, write it on both pages.

Do this every day for a week. Let me know what happens.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Front Row Seats

In Samantha’s house live two lovely girls: Lyla, aged thirteen, and Lily, aged eleven. They are Samantha’s daughters, so of course they are both bright, funny and creative.

Tonight, for a select, private audience of two, the girls have arranged a special event: a fashion show. Lyla and Lily, along with their friend Charlotte, have spent all afternoon preparing.

Samantha and I take our seats. A pink satin runway stretches before us, the length of the living room. A boom-boom beat builds. The first model sashays out wearing a dramatic column of red silk wrapped from shoulder to ankle. Then, a pause, and a lot of whispering coming from backstage. The MC, Lily, makes an appearance. It seems that a vital garment has been misplaced. It seems that the show is on the brink of being cancelled. “No!” cries the audience. More whispers, followed by the sounds of a bedroom being dismembered. The top is unearthed. The show is back on.

What follows is fabulous entertainment. Splendid ensembles are modelled by the three swaggering girls, each one in turn striding forward, dropping her hip to pose for photographs and then turning on her heel.

Here are the highlights: a yellow PVC raincoat with a wide, waist-cinching white belt, worn with a white feather boa; a plum coloured velvet, embroidered top worn with a length of wine-red Shantung, wrapped as a skirt and fashioned into a bustle and train; and a purple ballet tutu worn as a poncho, teamed with a mini-skirt, rainbow over-the-knee socks and ballet pumps.

Friday, 22 January 2010


When Nick dumped me, so suddenly and unexpectedly, I was catapulted into a time of shock and panic. Here I was in Sydney with limited resources, nowhere to stay and few friends. In London I rely heavily on my infrastructure of friends for support, conversation, company and love.

Tess was on the phone immediately, calling up the long-distance reinforcements. “You must ring my friends Bernadette and Nigel and Madge.” I called Bernadette and we went out for dinner and a long, heartfelt chat. "What a bastard," concluded Bernadette. I called Nigel. We met for coffee. “What did you expect?” said Nigel, “all my friends are getting divorced. I don’t like Nick anyway.” Hey girl, what’s your problem?

I didn’t ring Madge straight away. She lives in Byron Bay, about 400 miles north of Sydney. I felt it would seem a bit odd to her to receive a phone call from a stranger in far away Sydney, looking for emotional support. But then again, I call people in London and lean on them almost daily. So this morning I decided to make contact with Madge.

“Hello,” I announce awkwardly, “this is Lily speaking, I’m a friend of Tess' from London.” “Oh yes!” Madge practically screams, “Tess has told me all about you.” “Well I know you’re in Byron Bay...” I begin. “But I’m not,” Madge cuts in, “I’m in Sydney today. Come to dinner. I’m meeting some friends.” “Oh,” say I, “I would love to but I’ve already made a date to go to the movies.” “What a shame” Madge replies and then motors on, “anyway, London! Do you know Adrian B?, “ “Yes I do,” I answer. We chat about Adrian B for a moment. “And do you know Janet C?” asks Madge. “Of course,” I say, “I know her quite well.” The conversation continues in this vein. It turns out that I happen to know most of the people that Madge cares to mention.

“Ok,” I say, “How about this? I’m looking for a friend of mine in Sydney. I’ve lost her number and email address. Her name is Mandy P.” “That’s who I’m having dinner with tonight!” exclaims Madge, “You have to come.”

I collect Deirdre from her home. We kiss and cuddle her angelic two-year-old Eddy. Deirdre finally tears herself away from Eddy’s cute charms, waving goodbye as he squirms in the arms of his father. “Phew, that’s a relief,” says Deirdre as she buckles her seat-belt. This is Deirdre’s big night off, a whole two hours of freedom. To make the most of it she has booked us ‘Gold Class’ seats at a cinema in Bondi Junction’s Westfield shopping mall. A seventeen-year-old concierge greets us, issues our tickets and hands us menus. We order salt-and-pepper squid, wine for Dierdre (large glass) and San Pellegrino for me. The cinema is small and furnished exclusively with pairs of large, wine-red, reclining armchairs with extendible footrests. A wave of melancholy jolts me. They are just like the chairs in the chemo unit at Harley Street.

As the lights dim, a waiter serves our refreshments and we settle in to watch Up In the Air. This turns out to be a marvellously quirky and insightful movie about relationships: with lovers, with friends and with family. That it stars the delectable George Clooney is an added bonus.

After dropping Deirdre home I call Madge. “We’re in a restaurant in Paddington,” she informs me, “come over. I won’t tell Mandy that you’re coming.

Ten minutes later I walk in to a crowded pizza joint. The table goes quiet. Then Mandy nearly eats her napkin. “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Lily!” she eventually utters.

Mandy and I have been traveling on parallel, but, as you will see, ultimately different, paths. She has been dating a gorgeous man, Tony, who lives in London. By chance, I am also independently acquainted with Tony. So in the course of the past year, Mandy and I have crossed paths several times, first in Sydney and then whenever she visited London to be with Tony. On each occasion Mandy and I had got together to have lunch and gossip about our lovely men.

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

Carrot Salad

Grate up two nice big organic carrots, using the large holes on the cheese grater.
Toast a fistful of sesame seeds on a dry frying pan.
Dress the carrots with sushi vinegar, olive oil (about one part vinegar to four parts oil). Add the sesame seeds and mix all together.

This is deliciously sweet and nutty. You can add it to a mixed or green salad or simply eat it on its own.

About Love

I have been thinking a lot lately, about love.

In the introduction to Chemo Chic I write that I “fell head over heels” with Nick. But I now acknowledge that as a lazy kind of shorthand to describe our early infatuation. I don’t believe that people “fall” in love, as one might fall down a hole in the road. There is a feeling, familiar to you as well as to me,  that one will surely die if one cannot immediately and utterly possess the person who is the object of one’s desire. As Samantha puts it: "climb into their stomach and live there." That feeling, I can confidently say, is not love.

So what is love?

Here is my current perspective on the matter. First of all, one must be prepared to take a risk. Love is not a feeling; it is an action. Sheldon and I often have long talks on the telephone. Such conversations are often called ‘heart-to-hearts’. Think about it. “Love is time,” says Sheldon. I agree with him. Love is time; it is intimacy; it is desire; it is trust; it is courage; it is commitment; it is tolerance; it is respect. Above all, love is kindness. And it takes two people. Love is not something that just happens to us, rather it is something that we do.

I walked into love, with my eyes open. And now, I am walking back out of love.

But not away from it: I have the love of my friends and my family always. And I trust that I will take a risk on romantic love again. Maybe tomorrow? Maybe one day.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Fabulous Developments

1. My eyelashes are now longer and thicker than they were B.C. As I glanced in the mirror I am sure that Liza Minnelli winked back at me.

2. Today I wore a bikini top for the first time. Admittedly, it was under a kaftan. But as I stripped off on the beach I felt like a total babe for a moment before covering up with the all-enveloping rashie.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

I am continually delighted at how life changes from moment to moment. One minute one’s boyfriend does a runner, leaving one marooned and devastated on the other side of the world, the next, new people appear, like angels, to help one pick up the pieces. That has been my experience anyway.

I was in touch with Lulu, a friend with whom I went to school! She lives in Armidale, a university town far away in the northwest of New South Wales. Lulu got on the phone to Samantha, another friend from school. “Come and stay with me,” said Samantha, without a moment's hesitation. I am at Samantha’s house now, in Watson’s Bay, one of Sydney’s loveliest harbour-side locations.

The phone rings: “Hi, this is Mike, Angeline’s husband.” Angeline is the sister of Deirdre, a friend of mine from London. “I may know of a room to rent,” Mike continues. I tell him thanks, but I am fine for now. “Well I must get you together with my friend Jack,” says Mike, “he’s great fun and he’ll take you out for lunch.” Accommodation and a lunch date, wow.

Tess emails: “Please call my friend Bernadette. I’ve told her all about you. She wants to meet up.” I do so. Bernadette and I have a great chat and arrange to meet.

Mr P calls: “Lunch and a movie on Monday?” You bet.

A text. It’s from Deirdre. “Come over. Let’s go to the beach.” I scoot round to Bellevue Hill. A short while later, Deirdre, her gorgeous son Eddy and I are promenading at Bondi. I go in for my first proper swim. How I have missed the luxury of bathing in the Pacific Ocean. The water is warm. The surf is gentle. There are plenty of waves to catch but it’s calm enough for swimming too. My body feels alive, at home in the sea.

An email arrives. It’s from Desmond, another friend from school: “Are you in Sydney? Come and stay with me.” We go out for dinner instead and we chat, chat, chat. The phone rings. “It’s Nick,” I gasp. “Who is Nick?” replies Desmond.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Alone Again

I am in Sydney now, staying at the home of a friend of a friend, who has been kind enough to put me up. So I am wandering around a big, beautiful, empty house, alone.

But I honestly don’t know what I am doing here. I feel more desolate now than I have at any time in the last year.

I have read back over the many hundreds of comments that readers have left, both on this blog and on facebook, since Chemo Chic began. It is bittersweet to read about how much fun we all had, laughing in the face of cancer. And it breaks my heart to be reminded of the hope that I held for the future. As I read, I re-live that joyous anticipation, for a moment. Then reality punches me in the stomach. I now know how misplaced my hope was.

Thank you, everyone, for all your comments. Please keep them coming. They mean a lot to me.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Another Country

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.

I once wondered what had become of him. Now I know. He moved to Darwin and became an outstanding writer. An Englishman, Nicolas Rothwell writes about Australia with expressive clarity and a deep, emotional understanding of this land that is a joy to read. Another Country stirs my heart. It excites my mind. The stories make me yearn to travel in this ancient place as much I can in the short time that I am to be here. I want to find a partner to participate in the adventure to come. Who might I meet in Sydney?

If nothing else, Nick has been instrumental in my coming home to Australia. I thank him for that.

My recent experiences have left me shaken but not broken. I am determined not to allow myself to become bitter or untrusting in the future. I don’t yet know who my new lover will be. But I do know two things for certain: that he will be a man who knows himself and that he will have a connection with my country.

A Natural Approach

You may have noticed from previous posts that I am somewhat conflicted about taking Tamoxifen. As I have made a decision to hold off for now, mum thinks that I should get some input from somebody she trusts. We drive down the Tasman peninsula to see a naturopath, Ree van Galen.

Ree is a very open and welcoming person who speaks in no-nonsense terms. She does not offer advice on whether of not I should take Tamoxifen. That decision is for me alone. She does, however, give me some very useful information to aid me with my decision.

Here is my somewhat simplistic interpretation of what I learned. This post is a touch on the long side but you may find it helpful if you are in a similar quandary. It will certainly help me to refer back to it in the future.

First she builds up a picture of how my body has produced and handled oestrogen in the past. She asks all about my history. Was I ever on the pill? What were my periods like? Did I ever have PMT? Pregnancies? Based on my answers she ascertains that I have not been over-producing oestrogen.

She explains that there are different types of oestrogens, those that we manufacture in our body and those that we ingest from other sources. Tamoxifen blocks the uptake of all oestrogen. Unfortunately it inhibits uptake throughout the body, not just in the breast tumour. I have never been able to quite get past the idea that the rest of my body must need that oestrogen for some important purpose.

If I am not taking Tamoxifen, Ree explains, then I must do two things: reduce any oestrogen from outside sources and also ensure that my liver converts enough ‘good’ oestrogen to occupy the receptor sites, thereby blocking the uptake of the ‘bad’ oestrogen.

So she asks questions about my liver. Have I had hepatitis? Do I drink alcohol? Take drugs? Were my liver function tests at the hospital ok?

Having established that my liver is up to the job Ree tells me the most common sources of ‘bad’ oestrogens: plastics and pesticides. The substances released by plastics and pesticides are not real oestrogen but the human body does not have receptors for plastics and pesticides, yet, so it treats them as strange oestrogen and sends them to the same places.

“Avoid all soft plastic and non-food grade plastic,” says Ree, “especially if the plastic is heated in any way.” What I understand this to mean is: don’t wrap food in cling-film or plastic bags, don’t drink water out of plastic bottles and never eat food that has been microwaved in plastic. “And don’t eat food out of tins that have that white lining. It is plastic and they heat the tins to seal them. That stuff has already been banned in many European countries.” “Not in the UK,” I tell her. She suggests that I contact the manufacturers of my plastic water filter jug to ask them if the plastic that they use is food grade, which means that it does not leach PVC molecules. I have already replaced my plastic water bottle with a glass lemonade bottle that I refill from the tap. “Tupperware is food grade,” says Ree, “but don’t put it in the microwave.” I visualise the shelves of my local Sainsbury’s. Every single edible item is enveloped in a sheath of soft plastic. Avoiding plastic is going to be difficult.

Next, pesticide. That is more straightforward. Eat organic food wherever possible. I have already done so ever since I was diagnosed. The shame of it is that it has precluded shopping for lovely fresh veggies on Portobello market and forced me into the supermarkets where all the produce is sheathed in plastic. If organic is not available, she advises me to reduce my intake of meat, chicken and dairy. “I have already cut out dairy,” I tell her about Jane Plant’s book. “That sounds good,” says Ree, “but you must get your protein. Eat fish and organic meats along with lots of vegetables and whole grains. The most important vegetables for you are brassicas. Make sure that you eat either cabbage, broccoli, pak choy, brussels sprouts or cauliflower every day of your life.” Apparently brassicas contain a substance that is sold as a very expensive supplement called IC3. It helps one’s to liver convert human and animal oestrogen into a quasi-phyto-oestrogen.

Ree tells me to include some soy products in my diet each week, such as tofu. “But don’t go overboard on the tofu and soy milk.” Also to make a mixture called LSA. This involves milling equal amounts of linseed, raw almonds and sunflower seeds in a coffee grinder and adding a teaspoon each morning to my muesli or porridge. “Make it fresh once a week and keep it in the fridge, otherwise it will turn rancid.” I am also advised to add a teaspoon of lecithin granules daily to my cereal. For B vitamins I should eat oats, brown rice, eggs and nuts.

I have lugged my extensive array of supplements along with me. “Which of these can I live without?” I ask with a pleading eye. I find it tedious to force all those pills down my throat each morning. The supplements that she recommends for me are: selenium (200 ug daily) and omega 3 fish oils. I have been taking an expensive high dose co-enzyme Q10 capsule. “That was important to protect your heart whilst you were having chemo,” she says, “but you could reduce it now. Resveratrol is a powerful anti-oxidant. You should definitely continue that as long as you are smoking.” She gives me an oral test to check my levels of zinc. “Medium to low,” she pronounces. “Keep taking the zinc but do one month on and one month off. Have you had your vitamin D levels measured? You will get plenty of sunshine in Australia but you’ll need to top it up if your levels are low.” I recall that Dr Coulter did request a blood test for vitamin D3 before I left but in amongst all the activity I don’t remember if we ever discussed the results.” I promise to call the hospital and check up on that. “Magnesium is important too,” Ree continues, "but there are two good sources for that: Brazil nuts and a twenty-minute soak in a bath with half a cup of Epsom Salts." How hard can that be?

Finally, Ree wants to inspect the fluid build-up in my back. I take my top off. The way that other medical professionals universally celebrate Mr Hadjiminas’ handiwork is a source of continuing delight to me. “Oh my,” gasps Ree, “that is the most beautiful surgery I have ever seen.” She continues, “it takes time for your lymph vessels to re-establish after surgery. The white pith of citrus fruit helps in the strengthening process.” I am pleased to hear this. I regularly chuck half a lemon, with the skin on, into my juice extractor along with the carrots. She suggests lymphatic drainage massage. “They do it in all the breast clinics,” she remarks. “Not in the UK they don’t,” I reply. “Well in any case, apply some calendula cream but don’t rub hard. Too much pressure disrupts the healing lymph vessels. Just lightly stroke it on in a direction away from the scar.”

On the drive home mum and I stop at several roadside stalls. People in Tasmania just grow everything and then sell it from outside their house or the back of their ute. We buy cherries, sylvan berries, pink-eye potatoes, onions, snow peas and carrots. Every single thing is organic and plastic-bagless.

Stopping Smoking...

isn’t going quite as smoothly as I had hoped. Whatever does, I would like to know?

But I don’t want to turn this into a tedious quit smoking blog. I will let you know when I have stopped for three months.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Check Out the View

from mum's house...

Monday, 11 January 2010

Toning Up

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?

Just Like Life

Smoking Sucks

I have stopped today.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Just Say No

All this emotional distress is not good for my recovery. I have made a decision. I’m not going to take the Tamoxifen. Not never, but not now. Amongst its side effects, Tamoxifen is known to cause depression. I don’t think that I can face being alone in Sydney, feeling sick, with a drug-induced depression on top of everything else.

Nothing Much Happens

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

Life’s Too Short

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

Where There is Life There is Hope

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's Manicure

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

Gone Fishing

I am standing on the front verandah looking down on a sparkling Sommers Bay. The water is so lucid that I can see a large stingray gliding across the sand beneath the surface. The tide is full and there's not a murmur of wind.

“Great day for fishing,” says aunty Noni, “get your gear on.”

We tow Noni’s hand-built wooden rowing boat down to the water’s edge and slide her in. After dropping my camera, tissues and ciggies in the drink I take the oars and start nudging us out to deeper water. It feels so long since I’ve had any proper exercise. Rowing is pleasing and enlivening to my body. After a few minutes Noni starts the silent electric motor and we gather speed.

A few hundred metres offshore Noni says: “This looks like a good spot." They all look the same to me. We drop the fishing lines “Just let it run until you feel the bottom,” says Noni. I let my line play out until it goes slack and immediately I feel a tug. Seconds later I’m hauling in a big, glistening Flathead. I drop it into our bucket where it flaps around like a lunatic until Noni stabs it through the head.

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

Latest Tips

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.

Fine Dining

From the kitchen window I can see a group of people in Aunty Noni’s driveway. They are loading a large, flat box into their car. The box is marked ‘Samsung’. “Mum,” I beckon, “do you think those people are stealing Aunty Noni’s flat screen telly?” Mum peers from the window. “Noni doesn’t have a telly,” she informs me then thinks for a moment, “I think that they must have bought a painting.” Mum has always been good at seeing what lies beneath the surface.

We rush over to the gallery where Aunty Noni is brimming with good news. Not only has she sold a painting but she has also sold five sculptures this weekend, including one of Mum’s. It seems that the World Economic Crisis has skipped Sommers Bay.

The past two days have been very windy so we are trapped indoors. Mum feels uplifted by her sculpture sale. “Why don't you drive down to Pirate’s Bay and have lunch at the Du Vin” suggests cousin Fay. “Wow” I think, “first Tetsuya’s and now some fancy French restaurant.”

We head out down the Tasman Peninsula, crossing the ‘dog line’ at Eaglehawk Neck. Eaglehawk Neck is a slim strip of land that joins the far end of the Tasman Peninsula to the mainland. Beyond lies the notorious Port Arthur, where, in convict days, the worst of the worst were sent to rot. There was no escape from Port Arthur. It is surrounded on all sides by rough, freezing and shark-infested seas. The narrow neck joining it to the mainland was guarded by a string of ravenous dogs, the ‘dog line’. Port Arthur is doubly ill-famed for being the site of a gruesome massacre in the eighties, when some maniac went wild with a rifle and shot thirty or forty people. It is now a museum site with a visitor centre selling tea towels and all the usual crapola. I have no desire to see it again.

We swing off to the left at the first junction and are soon passing through Dootown. Here all the houses have names involving puns on the word Doo. I notice Doo Me, Doo Nix, Rum Doo and, more subtle, Xanandu. At the end of the road we swing into an ashphalt car park. There are signs pointing towards trails to local attractions ‘The Blowhole’ and ‘The Jetty’. In the corner of the car park is a caravan, with a couple of umbrella’d tables in front of it. People are queuing at the caravan. “Here we are,” says mum. It turns out that the Doo Van is a mobile fish and chip shop.

The fish is fresh, locally caught and cooked to order. The chips are light and crispy. We munch our lunch from paper cones under an umbrella in the Dootown car park. This is far better than any poncey French cuisine.

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”

Hello Yellow Brick Road

I can’t believe that I’ve been in Australia only seven days. The outlook of my life has changed so dramatically.

I came here for three months with a plan to see mum, catch up with old friends and mostly to spend time with Nick having a long, lazy, lovely holiday. I had looked forward to a time of sun, good food and love - getting strong and back on my feet physically and emotionally.

Then I found myself D.O.A. – Dumped on Arrival!

Since then there have been tears, both on my part and on Nick’s, two a.m. phone calls to friends, sadness and anger on the part of my family. Mr P took me out to lunch and kindly offered to batter Nick with a baseball bat. “You can watch Lily. Then you can comfort him afterwards,” he said with a wry laugh. I spent a tense few days sleeping on Nick’s sofa-bed, then I flew to Hobart.

Mum whisked me up to her idyllic waterfront home where I was greeted by Aunty Noni, who lives next door, and cousin Fay, who lives next door to Aunty Noni. The whole place is an eccentrically gorgeous artists' compound. Apart from the three houses there are various studios and a gallery. The gardens merge into one another and are populated with sculptures by mum, Noni and Fay, dotted amongst the gum trees and native shrubs. Parrots and cockatoos abound, squawking and carrying on in the branches overhead. Wallabies bound across the lawns. Echidnas occasionally stomp out of a hedge. Exquisite lizards sun themselves on rocks. And there is wild samphire growing at the edge of the pristine turquoise bay that lies only a few metres from our door.

After ending our relationship Nick changed his mind. I agreed that he should join me in Tasmania, albeit a week later than planned, and we would see what could be salvaged between us. I know that his behaviour has kicked off International Despise Nick Week but I also try to understand his difficulty in having a girlfriend who lives half a world away and has gone through cancer. The camper van had been cancelled but we could still go fishing, swim in the bay, explore the locality, laze about and eat fresh vegetables from the garden. Mum was most magnanimous about it all. She was pleased for me and started making revised plans to welcome Nick into her home. I was happy to have hope. I was looking forward to seeing him again.

This morning Nick rang and told me that he has changed his mind yet again. He won’t be coming. “Lily I don’t want to hurt you anymore,” said Nick. What a walking cliché.

“OK Nick, well that’s that,” was about all I could muster. At this stage I am exhausted, wrung out and I feel sick. It's as if a big elephant has come along and sat, splat on my dreams.

So, the coming three months is going to be a surprise, a new adventure: Footloose and Fabulous in Oz. Who knows what wonderful developments lie in store along the Yellow Brick Road?

It is mid-winter in London, bitterly cold, dark and economically depressed. No thanks. I’m staying here. If you happen to know of a reasonably priced, centrally located short-let apartment in Sydney (with harbour view) please let me know. No harm in asking, it is a blue moon after all.

Anyway I just wanted to get all that off my chest. Now I don’t have to keep going on about it. This, I remind myself, is a blog about Chemo Chic not a romantic melodrama – which could be endless...

Maybe I will start another blog called: My Boyfriend is a Weak-minded Faithless Prick and half the world can contribute their stories to it!