Wednesday. 9:38pm. I arrive home from photography class and Tim is home.
I hadn’t seen him since Sunday night – he’d left for Sydney at 5:00am on Monday and being a bad wife I hadn’t woken up to say goodbye.
He says, not as soon as I walk in the door you must realise, ‘you have an appointment with your breast surgeon on Monday’.
My hands start to pick at non-existent fluff on the couch and I feel my insides begin to wobble like a poorly set jelly.
Are you okay, Tim asks.
I am discombobulated, I reply.
I don’t know the dictionary definition of that word but it feels like it fits. Discomforted, uneasy, thrown for a loop (is that even an expression?), discomposed.
I’d obviously made the appointment some time ago, but had forgotten. And in the being reminded of it I felt discombobulated.
Is it a check-up, Tim asks.
Yep, I reply.
Yep. It’s a check up. But it’s also a reminder, one I obviously hadn’t prepared myself for, of cancer. Of having had breast cancer earlier this year. Of having had surgery and radiotherapy treatment, and of being horrified that this had happened to me.
Yes, my breast is still discoloured and there’s a bruise-like stain where the lump was removed, and under my arm is still numb, and my breast hurts when I walk, so yes, there’s the constant reminders. But I can/have disassociated them from having had cancer. They’re just part of life now.
But seeing the breast surgeon – the reminder of that – is different somehow.
It’s not over.
This cancer – and I really don’t want to call it a journey – but this cancer thing isn’t over. No, it’s more than that. The fear is there because it happened in the first place. And more than fear, there’s a horror that it happened at all.
The fear/horror lurks somewhere and I’m never sure when it’s going to make itself known.
Driving to photography class for the first class back after the break, it made itself known. I’d continued attending class all through my treatment and I hadn’t realised there was an association in my head/body/gut between class and treatment, but anxiety crept over me as I headed to class that first day back. I was stuck in traffic and couldn’t pull over to settle myself, so I called my sister instead. She provided a good distraction.
I couldn’t go to work on Thursday – couldn’t settle, the fear again making itself known as I thought about the appointment with the breast surgeon. Deb noticed I was home and called me. Was I okay?
I called the surgeon’s office on Friday to ask if the appointment was real – although I didn’t ask that particular question – and I was assured it was.
It’s a post about ideas … or maybe not ideas so much as thoughts.
Or threads, but not of the clothes variety.
As an introvert I have a very quiet outer world – I’m not the ‘greeter’ – you know the one, the person who exuberantly says hello to everyone in the office each morning, or the one who bounces up to each person at a party to welcome them even if they aren’t the host.
I’m going out on a limb there you realise. I’m such an introvert that I don’t go to parties – apart from the one I’m going to today. But that’s different because that’s my eldest granddaughter’s birthday party and the only other people there will be my children and grandchildren. Maybe an odd friend or extended family member as well, but ostensibly a family party.
Family parties, when everyone there is an introvert, are interesting, particularly when there’s so much family.
Only three of my five children will be there, but between the three of them they have 10 children, plus four steps. It makes for a lot of people – who, yes, are all related, but who have more conversations going on in their heads than from their mouths.
I’m making it sound as though we stand aroung not talking, and that’s not the case at all. We talk non-stop. We’re just all so worn out at the end of it from talking so much that we need alone time to recharge.
But I digress.
My sister wrote a comment on my previous blog post along the lines of ‘you have so many ideas’ and she also wrote, in her own blog, ‘I might look like I’m doing nothing, but in my head I’m very busy!’
I completly resonate with that sentiment – it’s a hallmark of an introvert – the quiet on the outside but busy on the inside thing.
And that called to mind this image I saw on social media a while ago.
I love those opportunities to have deep conversation with someone in which the scramble of thoughts/threads gets unscrambled.
I usually pay for those conversations, but that’s okay because the person I’m paying knows how to take the tangle and unravel it a little. Or maybe it’s because they listen so that I do the untangling myself, just by getting the threads out of my head and therefore out of the ravel.
[If you can unravel something, does that mean you can ravel it?]
When my students didn’t know where to begin in writing a university assignment, I’d tell them to just start, to put something down on the page and keep tugging gently at the idea/thought/thread through writing, so that eventually there are lots of ideas on the page and you can re-arrange them as required, throw some out, develop some further, add new ones, so that eventually you have a piece of writing that is as clear and unscrambled as you’d want a university assignment to be.
[Unlike that paragraph, which had too many ‘so that eventuallys’ in it. I could edit it but I like the forceful movement forward it implies.]
Deb’s right. I do have lots of ideas/thoughts and I’m getting much better at recognising when they’re in a tangle and knowing how I might go about untangling them.
It’s exhausting. But ultimately far less exhausting than having the thoughts continually scrambling around my mind.
If you want some clarity – talk to someone trained to listen.
An unscrambled mind is so much less exhausting and far less heavy to carry around.
I click on the ‘add new post’ button and a blank page opens, with the blinking cursor sitting in the ‘Title’ box.
The word ‘confluence’ pops into my mind, so I type it in, then quickly check the dictionary definition to make sure it’s the right word for what I want to say.
A title is important. It helps synthesise our ideas in a way that suggests there’s a core idea the author wants to communicate and the author knows, at the start of the writing process, what that idea is.
Sometimes when I start writing a blog post I have no idea of the core idea I want to communicate, and so I leave the title blank. The act of writing helps distill my idea and it’s at that point a title emerges.
But not this time. In this moment, as I sit writing, I know the core idea I want to communicate and so the title is easy. Plus, I’ve been thinking about this for over a week now and that thinking has acted as a distillery.
Over a week ago I saw this on my Facebook feed.
I remember being struck by the sentiment because we mostly hear ‘you only live once’ as an exhortation to make the most of things.
I’m currently, with lots of support from others, developing an ethics unit and am constantly on the lookout for case studies, resources, stories of ethical misconduct in the financial services sector (which is not hard to find at the moment), but when you search online for something, you enter into a rabbit warren of ideas and perspectives and views and things the internet believes you might be interested in.
One of those things was an interview Charles Wooley did earlier this year for 60 Minutes. I don’t ever watch 60 Minutes, but on this occasion, when the video was in my ‘Up next’ menu in YouTube, I decided to watch it because I was interested in who Charles Wooley was interviewing: Ricky Gervais.
The interview opened with them both walking through a cemetery and at one point, Gervais says something like, “you don’t exist for billions of years, and then for 70 or 80 years you do, and then you don’t”.
It’s a cosmic view of life – a long-range look – one that perhaps brings a different perspective to our lives.
And as I sat thinking about his comment, Carl Sagan’s video ‘Pale Blue Dot’ sprang into my mind.
Consider that dot … on it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives … on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. ~ Carl Sagan
I could feel the confluence starting – ideas beginning to merge.
The idea that we don’t only live once, we live every day of our lives.
The idea that we’re here for such a small part of all time.
The idea that we’re all together, on this one tiny planet.
How am I living each day? How am I making the most of the opportunities my being here allows? How am I caring for others and for the only planet we can currently call home?
I don’t have answers; I rarely do.
But the questions are a starting point.
A confluence has to start somewhere and it may as well be here, as I sit, musing from the cold.
I finished the workshop (I’d like to say to wild applause but that would be an inaccurate representation. It was ‘polite’ rather than ‘wild’ but I’ll take polite any day), packed up my things, and could see that one of the participants wanted to speak with me.
We stepped out of the seminar room, and he spoke to me about his Plan B for teaching in the upcoming trimester. I assured him that ‘talking more’ was not necessarily the best Plan B for an unresponsive class. Allow the silence to linger I said, and then our silence lingered as he physically squirmed at the idea of allowing silence to pervade the classroom.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that many teachers don’t like the silence. They ask a question, seem to expect an immediate response from students, and if isn’t forthcoming they jump in to provide one.
This particular workshop participant is going to be teaching into the unit I’ve just been appointed Unit Chair of. A unit of around 700 students, 100 of whom will be online. I have warned the tutors that the teaching will possibly be different from what they’re used to, but I’m not sure how ready they are for how different it’s really going to be.
I’m also not sure of how ready I am for the challenge of convincing these tutors that teaching differently is a worthwhile endeavour.
They’ll be pushed, I’ve been reliably informed by a number of reliable sources, that they’ll feel out of their comfort zone.
I know something about being out of a comfort zone.
In the last month I’ve had two men push me further out of my comfort zone than I’ve been pushed in some time.
Both men put their hands on me.
Neither of them are my husband, my personal trainer or my physiotherapist or my doctor or anything to do with my health and wellbeing.
It’s okay for Tim, my husband, to put his hands on me because … well, because he’s my husband.
It’s okay for Tom, my personal trainer, to put his hands on me because he helps ensure my shoulders are in the right position for whatever exercise I’m doing.
It’s okay for Rob, my physiotherapist to do some manipulations of my shoulder or neck or knee or whatever body part is currently undergoing some issue that needs manipulation of some sort.
I don’t have any males on my medical/oncology team, so that’s not something I have to deal with.
In the last month though, two men, both alike in age and in not formerly knowing me in any way at all, felt it was okay to put their hands on me.
Now, I seem to be suggesting that they touched me inappropriately. If by ‘inappropriately’ we mean sexually, then that’s not what I mean at all.
There was no sexually inappropriate touching. Nor, I hasten to add, was there any sexually appropriate touching because I don’t know that there is such a thing between work colleagues.
From the outside, it could be seen as benign. One patted me on the shoulder a number of times, the other hugged me from the side.
Man A walked into my office for our second meeting and told me I had a lovely smile. He even told me that he’d thought that when he saw my profile photo (you know the one that shows up when you send or receive an email from a colleague?).
It might have looked benign, but it felt yukky. I didn’t ask either of them to touch me, I didn’t give any signals that touching me was okay, I didn’t touch them.
Did I invite their touch? Did I somehow give a signal that it was okay?
Is it okay to touch a colleague you’ve just met? To pat them, tell them they have a lovely smile, hug them?
It might be for some people, but my body is a no-touch zone.
I’m not for one moment suggesting they were doing something sordid or out of line.
Except it crossed a line for me.
I’m conflicted about this.
They were two well-meaning men who show their gratitude or appreciation in small, physical ways. They are exuberant characters and this sort of touching, much like a handshake, is part of who they are.
But it isn’t like a handshake, is it?
A handshake seems to be more equal somehow. If Man A had shaken my hand as an expression of his appreciation for the support I’d provided (for doing my job, basically), would I have felt/thought differently about it?
Yes, I believe I would. It would have seemed to have given a different message. A shoulder pat while saying ‘you’ve done a great job’ seems a bit off. I felt like I haven’t felt in a long while, and that’s like ‘the little woman’.
It brought to mind an incident that happened many years ago. I was at a dairy industry dinner (in the time I was married to Kim who worked in the dairy industry) and the man sitting next to me asked me in that horribly patronising tone some men spoke to women in those days: ‘And how much did you spend today Sharon?’
You see, while the men had been discussing important dairy industry things at a conference, the women (the wives) had been encouraged to spend the day shopping, or whatever wives did in those days. I hadn’t spent my time with any of the other wives, and I certainly hadn’t spent my day shopping. We had four young children and only one wage and shopping wasn’t something I did a lot of (apart, of course, from food shopping and I certainly wasn’t going to do that while I was away from the children for a day or two).
I had, on that day, actually made about 50c. Someone who had parked behind me asked if I had change for the parking meter. I did and so he gave me one dollar (it may even have been a note) while I handed over my 50 cents in a mix of coins so that he could feed his meter. I could have just given him the 50 cents, but he insisted on giving me a dollar.
I told my somewhat underwhelming story, while thinking ‘condescending pig’ (which I may have thought a bit too loudly), and my dinner companion soon found someone else to talk to.
But I had thought that between 1987 and now things had changed; that women weren’t ‘the little woman’ any longer. Yet that’s exactly how I felt.
And, quite frankly, I don’t need a man hugging me, even if that is from the side, and telling me how much he’d enjoyed the seminar.
Actually, tell me you enjoyed the seminar, but keep your hands to yourself while doing so.
We are asked to introduce ourselves. Most people give their name, title and something about the work they do. It’s my turn and I say ‘Hi, I’m Sharon. I do stuff.’
People laugh and then the next person introduces himself, gives his title, says something about what he does, and that continues around the table.
But … what?
Why did I respond in that way? Why didn’t I give my title and say something about what I do? Particularly as the people around the table are my colleagues. Most of them – if not all of them – know my title and what I do.
Even weirder, now that I think about it some more in the cold hard light of day. And when I say ‘cold’ I mean freezing. It’s so cold today I’m sitting inside with a woolen hat on, a buff (a scarf without ends) around my neck, a warm cardigan, while the heater dribbles out heat in the background.
I went to see Cornelia (not her real name) yesterday afternoon. Cornelia is my onc-psych (yes, apparently there is such a thing) and I told her about this because I thought it was interesting and it fitted in with other things we were talking about.
Cornelia challenged me to describe what I do and the value of what I do to an imaginary audience of Grade 5 kids. Or Prep kids. Or people who aren’t in the same industry as me.
So here I am. I’m sure she didn’t mean for me to do this on my blog, but as you’re my audience and might be good enough to give me your time and possibly some feedback, I thought I may as well describe what I do and the value of what I do to you – a real, rather than an imagined audience.
Or perhaps you are an imagined audience. I’ll imagine you’re out there, sitting in the warmth, scrolling through your emails, finding one from Musings on the Cold, and saying to yourself ‘what the heck. I may as well see what Sharon has to say today.’ And here you are.
Grab a cuppa, this is a seriously long read.
What do I do in my professional life and what is its value?
I’m a Senior Lecturer (Student Engagement) in the Faculty of Business and Law at Deakin University.
I work with academic staff (those who teach undergraduate and postgraduate students) to help further develop their teaching practice. I also work with those who work with academic staff to help them further develop the work they do in working with academic staff in further developing their teaching practice.
That sounds a little convoluted, even to me. Hopefully, it will become a bit more clear as (if) you read on.
Academics have three main parts to their role:
Research (that includes writing grant applications, conducting research – writing ethics applications, designing surveys/questionnaires/interview schedules, gathering and analysing data, writing peer reviewed journal articles …)
Service (engage in committees that make decisions about important initiatives, take on leaderships roles …)
Teach (prepare unit guides, design the structure of an 11 week unit/subject so that it has a coherent thread, design assessment tasks, record lectures and podcasts and be animated and lively as you do it, align assessment with learning outcomes, develop learning resources to scaffold student learning, determine ways of engaging students and tapping into their personal motivations and interest for studying this subject, liaise with library staff about library resources, liaise with language and literacy advisers on the best way to support students’ academic development, liaise with the work integrated learning team to determine how to incorporate some employability education into the unit, ensure compliance with the Higher Education Standards Framework in terms of discipline knowledge and also how to teach and assess, present information, meet with those teaching into their units to ensure there’s consistency in the information provided to students and in the ways students are being taught, respond to student requests for extensions, comply with standards for online learning (accessibility, etc), respond to student requests for information that was in the Week 3 notes but that the student hadn’t accessed, respond to student queries about whether this particular nugget of information will be in the exam, wonder why many students don’t turn up to class, mark student assignments, give feedback to students saying the same thing over and over ‘your work could be strengthened if you accessed the materials and attended more regularly’, conduct moderation meetings to ensure all markers are marking consistently and are providing positive and constructive feedback, write a unit review at the end of the semester to justify the high fail rates, ensure there’s a spread of grades consistent with a bell curve even though we do criterion-referenced assessment to which bell curves don’t apply, read student evaluations that often say hurtful things of a personal nature (Sharon is fat, Sharon has no sense of humour, Sharon’s hair is ridiculous), respond to student enquiries within 48 hours, ensure the unit is inclusive of those from rural and regional areas, those from a low socio-economic demographic, those who have a disability, those who work, those who have children and elderly parents, those who don’t really want to be in this subject, this course, this university, this country but they have to because their parents’ expectations are high, engage students in active learning, teach them about teamwork and self management and critical thinking and problem solving and global citizenship as well as disciplinary-specific content knowledge, be familiar with a range of technologies, pretend you can do all this … and more …).
A ‘balanced’ workload is 40/40/20. That is, an academic will have 40% of their workload allocation devoted to research, 40% to teaching and 20% to service.
Many academics come to universities as experts in their field. They are expert accountants, or financial planners, or foreign exchange traders. They are keen to undertake research. Research builds your profile nationally and internationally. Research builds a university’s profile nationally and internationally. There are university rankings and all universities want to be at or close to the top. You get close to the top primarily through research, although teaching evaluations from students plus success and retention rates are also part of the equation. But research is important.
Most academics have a PhD and so come to the academy knowing how to do research. Once at the university, they often get onto research teams and are mentored and supported by more experienced others in how to write grant applications, how to write ethics applications, how to write journal articles, how to get published (or they mentor and support those who are newer to academia). They publish in teams and so an academic might have their name on a dozen papers, along with a dozen other academics, all of whom contributed in some way to the research, although not necessarily to the writing of the paper. It’s very important to have your name on the paper. It’s how you and the university builds a national and international profile.
Not many academics come to universities knowing how to teach. They’ve been in school, they’ve spent time in universities as students, but just as going to the dentist regularly doesn’t mean you know how to dentist, being a student doesn’t mean you know how to teach. Teaching is often something that is done individually. A unit chair will do much of the work I mentioned in point 3 above. On their own. Often with limited time, particularly in the initial stages of unit design and development.
Many academics come to teaching with the idea that teaching is about telling students what they need to know and then testing them on that at the end of the trimester to see how much they’ve ‘learnt’. Not many academics build their national or international profile through teaching. Not many universities get to the top of the league tables through teaching.
Teaching is often evaluated on the basis of what students have to say and when what they have to say is unhelpful (Sharon is fat. Sharon has no sense of humour. Sharon’s hair is ridiculous) then it’s difficult to know how to improve. Teaching tends not to be a team activity. There’s little mentoring and support from more experienced others. Research into your own teaching is called ‘scholarship of teaching and learning’ rather than research and isn’t valued as highly as ‘real’ research, even though there are grant applications to write, ethics applications to develop, data to be gathered and analysed, writing of a journal article that will be peer reviewed … it’s just like research but it’s called scholarship and so doesn’t count as much.
So for the academic who comes to university primarily to engage in research, teaching can be an uncomfortable space. An often unsupported space.
Universities provide support for the technological aspects of teaching: how to record a lecture (as in, which buttons to push) but not so many resources on how to record a lecture (as in, how to engage students in the ways you present information, the structure of the lecture, ways to be your authentic self in front of the camera); how to develop a rubric (as in, which buttons to click to ensure it’s in the right place within the learning management system and that the numbers add up accurately) but there are fewer people employed to support academics in how to develop a rubric (as in, how do you develop criteria that align with the learning outcomes, what language do you use to differentiate between someone’s capacity to communicate at a Distinction level rather than a High Distinction level; how to assess quality rather than quantity – how well the references were used to suppport the writer’s argument or analysis rather than how many were used).
I am a teacher. I’ve been a qualified teacher since 1997. I’ve spent over 22 years in classrooms of one sort or another and/or supporting those who teach. I started out teaching English and Drama to senior secondary students. English teaching (and preparing to be an English teacher) meant that I learnt about language and purpose and audience and structure and communicating in writing as well as verbally. It taught me about nuances in language and about the formalities of language – about register and tone and semiotics and syntax. And about deliberate communicative structures and when it’s okay to break rules and why apostrophes are important.
Drama teaching (and preparing to be a Drama teacher) taught me about embodied learning, about authentic learning, about experiential learning, about giving feedback, about being in the moment, about jumping in and doing rather than sitting back and thinking, about experiences and ways of communicating them through real and imagined events, about emotionality and how to make a scream with your body rather than your voice, and about experimentation and trying things out, about flexible and creative thinking, about the importance of reflection to the learning process, and the importance of breath and movement and of voice – of using it and supporting it.
And for many years I worked in radio. Working in radio taught me about time – time management, time use, how to fill it, how to structure it. It taught me about audience – communicating with the audience, listening to the audience, speaking to one person rather than to many, imagining your listener and speaking directly to that person. It taught me about structure, how to use music to carry the program through an hour of ups and downs, of melodies and rhythms; how to use pace, when to speed up and when to slow down; how to edit an interview and to structure it to make it flow; how to present information, how to ask open questions, how to encourage people to tell their story, how to build relationships quickly, how to use humour to add light and shade to an interview (Sharon has no sense of humour), how a smile warms up your voice. It also taught me the importance of preparation, whether that’s preparing for a music program, a talk program, a panel interview, an interview with a member of parliament, for talkback with Peter Cundall, for dealing with technical issues in a dignified way on air and ensuring your microphone is off before you fall to pieces.
For many years I was a teacher educator, teaching those preparing to become primary and secondary school teachers. Teaching and learning, assessment and planning, curriculum and pedagogy were what I taught – they were my disciplines. I was teaching people about teaching – asking them endless questions about the role of schools in society, the role of teachers, the reason we teach what we teach in schools. I encouraged students to think about who they were as teachers, why they were teaching, why they were teaching in the way they were teaching, encouraging them to think about how they use their time, how they structure it in the classroom, how they plan for learning, how they know that learning has happened. I was also teaching about self-management – about planning, monitoring and evaluating your own learning, critical thinking, communicating to diverse audiences, working as a member of a team, ethical practice. In addition, I taught Drama and Literacy and encouraged students to keep their teaching real and authentic and embodied and experiential. I developed as a teacher-educator over time, just as, years before, I had developed as a teacher over time.
And so now I know something about teaching and learning and engagement and assessment. About how to structure the presentation of information, how to communicate with an audience you’re not in front of, how to ask questions that elicit responses that go beyond yes/no answers. I know about unit design for oncampus and online teaching and learning; I know what strategies will encourage active learning; I can use language effectively in the development of rubrics; I know how to design a unit to encourage intellectual engagement as well as professional and academic engagement. I have written articles and conference papers about teaching and learning, I have developed my knowledge and understanding and practice from a myriad of authors who engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning. I attend conferences and listen to how others enact their teaching and how they encourage students to engage in learning. My ideas about teaching are built on experience and reflection and scholarship and research and reading and interacting with others. And, if I’m honest, my ideas about teaching are also built on my experience as an educational leader.
And so, I do more than ‘stuff’. I work with academic staff (those involved in teaching) to further develop their teaching practice. I encourage them to reconsider the ‘teaching as telling’ approach; to think about teaching as an embodied, experiential, authentic endeavour that leads to students being more effective communicators and critical thinkers and team members and problem solvers.
And I work with those others in the team (colleagues employed as learning designers or educational technologists or educational developers or project managers) who also work with academic staff, to further my colleagues’ understanding of teaching and learning and how best to work with academics in helping them further develop their practice.
As well as the many failures I’ve had, I’ve also had some successes. My office is littered with Teaching Merit Certificates from my years at the University of Tasmania. Last year I was awarded Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. HEA Fellowship ‘demonstrates a personal and institutional commitment to professionalism in learning and teaching in higher education’. Senior Fellows need to provide evidence of a sustained record of effectiveness in relation to teaching and learning, and so it was an honour to be successful in my application.
Most recently, I was part of a team awarded an Australian Award for University Teaching (AAUT) ‘Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning’. Only 30 were awarded across Australia and again, I felt very honoured to have been part of a successful team.
So perhaps I need to acknowledge that I do know stuff, and that it’s quite valuable stuff to know, and that I can add value to others’ practice and ultimately to the student experience.
I tend to think I lost the Prep audience some time ago, and possibly the Grade 5 audience too.
But what about you? Did you make it this far?
If so, do you consider what I do to have value?
Any comments are most welcome, apart from the ‘Sharon’s hair is ridiculous’ type 🙂
I stopped listening to Enya some time ago, without making a conscious decision to do so. I guess I just didn’t need her anymore. Her music had seen me through a few challenging and difficult months, but I’m through them now and so no longer need the calming effect she had on me.
I woke up on Monday morning two weeks ago and immediately felt a different sort of energy in my body. It was a really interesting experience; I just knew that something had changed. My breast was still discoloured and peeling but the fatigue I’d been experiencing was gone. Just like that.
Then it was Easter and I had 10 days off work, travelled to Tumbarumba to visit family, then came home and faffed around home for the rest of the week. It was fabulous. Lots of time spent taking photos and deciding which ones to include in my developing portfolio; lots of time talking photography with Tim, discovering, then almost obsessively watching, Sean Tucker’s videos on YouTube; seeking out others’ work to draw inspiration from; doubting my own capacity as a photographer then coming across an image that causes me to catch my breath and think that maybe I am okay at this, then doubting myself again.
I went back to work on Monday and just about every colleague I ran into said how well I was looking. Many of them also commented on how fabulous my hair was looking, with one woman telling me I looked 400 years younger! All because I was wearing it down, rather than tied up to keep it off my face. There’s less grey when it’s down!
So spending time with Tim, my mother, sister, brother, uncle, neice, nephew and great neice over Easter, spending time at home in the week after Easter, realising I don’t need to listen to Enya anymore, and being complimented on how good I’m looking has meant the last two weeks have been great.
Much, much greater though is the fact that I’m a grandmother again. Yes, grandson number 9 (aka Byron) is now 9 days old and I’m heading north at the end of the week to introduce myself to him. I’m feeling as excited as I did when my first grandson was born just over 20 years ago (and just in case you didn’t know me then, that’s VERY excited).
Tim and I had been talking just days before about how we have so many grandchildren, yet there are no double ups with birthdays. That is, until now. Byron was born on Tim’s birthday, making it an extra special day! At least I think that’s the way Tim’s viewing it.
The year so far has been difficult and challenging and confronting, but I feel like I’ve reached the end of the tunnel and I’m happy to announce that the light at the end of it isn’t the headlight of an oncoming train!
I’ve learnt to listen to my body, to rest when I needed to, to exercise when I can and not push myself too hard, to not be too bothered about what I eat, to give myself a break and know that if I didn’t get to something one day, I’d get to it another day. I’ve learnt to not feel guilty about taking the time I needed to get well, to let my body and mind recover from the trauma of surgery and treatment, and the fears and uncertainties that come with a cancer diagnosis.
And I’ve had reinforced for me how fortunate I am to be surrounded by incredibly generous family and friends who have done all they could to support me.
I am indeed blessed.
All I need to do now is sort out the pain in my chest caused by the scar tissue. Any ideas for how to do that?
Here are some of the photos I’ve been taking over the last few weeks … most of them are a long way out of my comfort zone, photographically speaking, but I’m enjoying the challenge.
I finished my radio therapy treatment on Thursday last week. The final four treatments were ‘booster’ treatments, which I found quite terrifying. No goggles, no holding my breath, just a really big machine zapping a very targeted part of me at close quarters. I almost asked for the goggles back, then realised I could just shut my eyes to avoid being confronted by the bigness, closeness and scariness of the machine.
Each treatment was over quickly though and Emma would drive me home while I felt a little more shell shocked each time. I have no idea what I would’ve done without her.
I’d somehow forgotten about, or perhaps thought I was immune to, the side-effects though. Apart, of course, from fatigue.
I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Karen, my radio oncologist, told me about the potential for them, as did the breast care nurses, and others I’ve spoken with who have gone through similar treatment. I even wrote about them on this very blog a few weeks ago, yet I was still caught off-guard.
A sunburn type response.
I wrote in that earlier post: ‘I might get all of these, some of them, or none.’
I got the jackpot – all of them.
The good news is that they probably won’t last more than a week or two (or maybe three or four).
And the other good news is that I’ve had company since halfway through my treatment – others to share my daily annoyances with. Probably not good news for them, but I’ve appreciated having Emma (who stayed an extra week with me) and now Deb to whinge to.
I also had the foresight to take some sick leave and I’m very pleased I did. I couldn’t have coped with going to work on top of everything.
But this is getting boring now. And if I’m bored by it all, I’m sure you are too. So I’m not going to write anymore about it.
On Sunday, Alison (aka Number 6) decided to spend the day with us, celebrating ‘me’ – my birthday earlier in the month and the end of my treatment.
Alison knows that I love to photograph flowers and so we went to the Queen Vic Market and bought loads: carnations, daisies, bluegum leaves, wheat that had been spray painted, and others I have no names for.
The outside table was strewn with flowers and leaves and twine and special scissors for cutting the stems and ribbon; palings from a fallen-down fence were put to good use as a backdrop and a surface; a tabletop was perched on the backs of kitchen chairs so we could shoot against the white wall under the clothes line; a shiny black tile and a sheet of black cardboard was set up in the kitchen as a different kind of photographic space … in amongst this chaotic space Alison managed to create a beautiful bouquet, and a delicious dinner.
It was a fabulous way to spend an afternoon!
These are just some of the shots I took – and if the wind stops I might take even more.
I’ve had fifteen radiotherapy treatments so far and fatigue has hit me hard.
It’s a feeling of total energy loss and of heaviness in my body. Apparently, fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer and cancer treatment and can stick around for weeks and months after treatment.
It doesn’t affect me all the time – at the moment, for instance, I have some energy (mind you, I just ate dinner) – but at other times of the day it hits and I’m left feeling empty and almost unable to move.
It’s weird though because resting doesn’t always help, so it’s not like I should quit doing exercise or should start laying around all day watching Netflix – as enticing as that sometimes sounds. In fact, that might make it worse. In the spirit of not resting too much, I walked the 1km to the local shops yesterday morning and found it very difficult to walk the 1km home. It was a very slow trip back.
Fatigue hasn’t only affected me physically. I’ve found it’s taken its toll on me emotionally and mentally as well. I’m exhausted after an hour and a half at work, I can’t concentrate on tasks that would normally be unproblematic, I’m more short-tempered than usual, and I’ve been having trouble sleeping. So much so that my GP prescribed sleeping tablets. I’m so desperate for a good night’s sleep I’m even taking them.
Fatigue isn’t the only side effect of my radiotherapy treatment but it’s certainly the one having the most impact on me at the moment.
Information the Cancer Council’s published on coping with fatigue tells me to exercise if I can, and if I’m already used to exercise, to take it easier than normal.
My GP told me on Thursday to only go to the gym if I find it enjoyable, to not push myself, and only ‘do nurturing things’ there. I made sure to tell Tom, my trainer, that that’s what my GP had said, and on Friday I had a very nurturing workout. No deadlifts, all weights reduced, and I didn’t have to go as fast on the bike or cross-trainer as usual. I have to say, I did feel better afterwards.
The Cancer Council information also advises to ‘do the things you need and want to do. If you have people around you who are able and willing, let them take on some of your usual activities’. As I have no family in Melbourne (apart from Alison), this seemed to be an impossibility. That’s not to say Tim isn’t fantastic, but I can’t rely on him for everything.
Fortunately for me, Emma, my youngest daughter, John, her husband, and Lincoln, their 3 year old son were prepared to come to Melbourne to help us out. Emma has driven around Melbourne like she’s done it all her life – driving me to work, to treatment, to the class I’m taking two nights a week in the city and wherever else I’ve needed to go. Between her and John they’ve made endless cups of tea, packed and unpacked the dishwasher countless times, vacuumed, put washing on the line and taken it in, replaced the battery in Tim’s scooter, gardened, been on bin and recycling duty: in general, been a huge support.
I have to admit to being worried about having an energetic 3 year old around, but Lincoln has been a true delight. He’s such a sweet boy and loves stories, telling them and reading them. His new favourite is Pete the Cat, but he’s also partial to Russell the Sheep and Giraffes can’t Dance. We read stories in my bed the other evening before dinner and he fell asleep to the soothing sound of my voice.
John and Lincoln went home to Tassie yesterday, while Emma decided to stay for another week to continuing supporting me in my final week of treatment.
Yes, only one week to go and then I’m done with radiotherapy!
It’s been a confronting, challenging journey but I’m blessed to have so much support.
I don’t usually get this visually visible on my blog, but I saw a post by my cousin Jen this morning on Facebook where she told her friends that I was ‘awesome’. It made me stop and think why someone would say that about me. Seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes can be a useful exercise and I suddenly felt proud of myself for continuing with my personal training sessions while going through radiotherapy treatment. And so I asked Tom (my personal trainer) to take a photo of me this morning because I wanted a record of this.
Plus it’s an interesting looking contraption!
Apart from being my birthday, it’s also International Women’s Day today and as I celebrate I feel blessed to have so many awesome women in my life. They continually inspire me and support me and I know my life would be less rich without them.
Thanks to Tom, my trainer, for taking the photos.
Just one note Tom. Josh gave me flowers on my birthday last year. Just sayin’ …
Arrive. Hand over your patient card with a smile. Fine thanks, you reply to the smiling friendly receptionist who asks, somewhat unnecessarily you think, how you are. You take a seat as directed and wait for your name to be called by one of the radiotherapists.
Through the glass sliding door into the change room. Dress/top off. Bra off. Gown on. Stuff clothes into the green bag.
Carry it into the treatment room and put it on the chair. Hi. Good thanks. Name, date of birth, address.
On to the hard cold bed of the machine. Whoops, forgot to take your arms out of the gown again. Off the bed. Arms out, clutching the gown around you as you try to retain some control over exposing your body to strangers. Give that up and climb back on the cold hard bed of the machine with the gown unwrapped underneath you.
Whoops, forgot to take your glasses off. Off the bed, drop glasses into the green bag while clutching at your gown to hold it up. Back onto the bed.
Goggles on. Arms above your head and hold the bar. Legs up as they put the red cushion beneath your knees. Feeling thankful to have been doing abdominal exercises with Tom lately.
Lying there unable to see what’s going on, listening to the numbers flying between the two radiotherapists, feeling them mark your body, the cold of the tracing making you feel more exposed. Lie heavy as we move you Sharon. Left arm lifted into position, left hip shifted, ribs moved.
The cube is taped to your stomach – although you only know it’s a cube because you’ve heard them mention it. You can’t see anything because of the goggles.
The bed goes up and up – to shoulder height. You can’t see it because of the goggles but you can feel it from the way they make their final adjustments.
Sleeves of the gown are draped over your breasts.
All good Sharon. We’re out now.
A pause and you lie there watching the white square in the goggles.
A voice over the intercom. When you’re ready, a slow breath in for a short one. The yellow bar floats into the blue box and turns green. And breathe normally.
When you’re ready, another slow breath in for a short one.
Great. Breathe normally.
The machine whirs and clicks like a cicada, the bed jolts into position and you see your spine and ribs on the screen in the goggles. The word pug seems to be repeated down your spine and you wonder what that’s about.
Okay Sharon. When you’re ready, a slow breath in for a long one.
The yellow bar turns green and you concentrate on keeping it there, only barely aware of the machine’s high pitched squeal.
Wondering if you can hold any longer. The green bar wobbles, bounces up and down gently within the blue box, and you clench your jaw with the effort of holding your breath.
Just when you think you can’t hold anymore, ‘And breathe normally’.
You can tell you’re struggling to bring your breathing under control by the way the yellow bar bounces around. You breathe out, all the way out, and hold. Your breath swoops into your body and the yellow bar flies up the screen. Hold. Breathe out. Just as you get your breathing under control ‘when you’re ready Sharon, a slow breath in for a long one’.
The machine whirs and spins, or at least that’s what you imagine is happening from the noises you can hear. You can’t see anything because of the goggles.
The green bar wobbles. You concentrate hard to keep it there.
You want to close your eyes but you can’t because the green bar might turn yellow. You think about how good you are at breathing. You remind yourself of your years of practice. That makes you want to laugh and the green bar wobbles and you get the giggles and it wobbles some more. You clench your jaw even tighter but some giggles escape along with some breath. Luckily the blue box is just wide enough to contain it. You tell yourself this is no time for jokes but then your other self tells you that if now isn’t a time for jokes then when is? And you argue with yourself while the machine squeals its high pitched squeal and your arms tingle from holding the bar above your head and the green bar bounces gently and ‘breathe normally Sharon’.
The screen in the goggles turns back into a white square. You lower your arms gently because they’re really hurting now and remove the goggles. I’ll take those says the radiotherapist as he comes back into the room. He lowers the bed and you sit up, lifting your legs over the red knee cushions, clutching your gown around you as you stand, stuffing your arms into the sleeves and covering your body to counteract the feeling of exposure. A too-late gesture that nevertheless makes you feel somewhat in control.
You put your glasses back on, pick up your bag, yes see you tomorrow and smile as you head to the change room. You rub MooGoo udder cream into your left breast, dress, unlock the change room door, push the green button to open the sliding glass door, wave at the receptionist, go through one more glass sliding door into the hospital corridor, turn left and make your way to the car for the 32 minute drive to work in peak hour traffic.