Posted in Life

The next phase

I woke this morning to Tim getting ready for a bike ride. Did I want to go? No, not today thanks. After he left, my mind and body had a bit of a tussle: get up and go for a walk! No, I don’t have enough energy.

As I’m now listening to my body I got up and went for a walk. And it felt good. It was a lovely 22C, ahead of an expected top of 39C, the sky was blue, and the sun was warm on my shoulders. My feet led me up the hill of our street and then up the slightly steeper hill of Glenferrie Rd, which isn’t the way I would’ve gone if I’d given it any thought but my body was obviously ready for a little extra challenge.

It’s been almost three weeks since my surgery and my body is healing well. The swelling has gone down, with only one isolated spot still swollen but even that is reducing each day. The numb patch under my arm is still numb but that’s not likely to change apparently, and the itching has finally (thankfully)  stopped. I’m back at the gym for my twice-weekly personal training sessions and this coming week I’ll re-introduce upper body work to my workouts. So no problems with my physical recovery.

And I was feeling good about that. Well, really, why wouldn’t I feel good? My body is recovering strength and soon I’ll be back into training for the runs I’m keen to do this year. I am, after all, a runner. So I’m feeling good physically.

Not so much emotionally it has to be said. My oncology appointments on Friday discombobulated me. They reminded me that surgery wasn’t the end of this particular life episode. I haven’t wanted this to be a big deal – I had a lump that needed to be removed, much like an appendix or gall bladder. It’s been removed and I’m recovered, as someone who’s had their appendix or gall bladder removed recovers and then goes back to their regular life.

At the moment though, it does feel like a big deal. Hopefully the bigness of the deal will decrease over time, but I’m trying to be honest here and sort through what I’m feeling and that’s like this is a big deal. Or at least a bigger deal than I wanted it to be.

Meeting my radio oncologist and my medical oncologist makes it clear that I can’t go back to my regular life – at least not just yet. If I’d had my appendix or gall bladder removed I wouldn’t have to worry about my appendix or gall bladder ever again; appendicitis isn’t ever going to pop up in another part of my body, or even in the same part. Mind you, I’ve not had my appendix out, so what would I know? 

What I do know is that the analogy I’ve been using to help keep me grounded – that this is just like having my appendix out – isn’t working for me at the moment. And so the deal is somehow bigger.

Karen, my radio oncologist, is lovely. She has extensive notes about me but asks me to tell my story in my own words. I resist the urge to start with being born in Sydney, in March 19**, the second daughter of Noel and Sheila Pittaway ….

Karen is compassionate and patient, working through the information in a structured and rational way. She explains why I need treatment, what the treatment entails, how it’s delivered and possible side effects. There are possible side effects for the short term, the medium term and the long term. She draws diagrams to help explain the ‘how’ and answers our questions. We talk dates and it’s likely my four weeks of radio therapy will start on February 18 meaning I’ll be done by mid-March. I might get red, irritated and blistered skin, my breast might swell and change colour, and I might get tired. I might get all, some or none of these side effects. If I do get any of them it’ll most likely be in the final week or two of treatment and then continue for a week or two after treatment.

I sign the consent form and Karen says she’ll see me on February 11 for the planning consultation.

Lara, my medical oncologist, is just as lovely. She’s quiet and kind and works through the information in a rational and structured way. She explains why I need endocrine (hormone) therapy, what it entails (a pill every day for five years), possible side effects, and when I should start treatment (after radio therapy). The side effects are minimal: hot flashes, hair thinning, crankiness, and joint stiffness (which exercise can help alleviate). Lara gives me a prescription and says she’ll see me six weeks after I start the medication.

I know I’m in good hands but I’m still discombobulated. My analogy is ripping apart and the bigness of this particular deal is reasserting itself into my consciousness. I try not to let it, but all I want to do when we get home is to crawl into bed and pull the blankets over my head. I resist this urge, telling myself that it isn’t such a big deal: it’s four weeks of radio therapy then five years of taking a pill every day and that’s all. That’s it.

It isn’t a big deal.

I don’t/can’t/won’t believe it. It is a big deal.

I lie on the couch in my favourite PJs and Tim lays a blanket over me. It takes over two hours for my body to warm up. I eventually emerge from my cave but my ambivalence remains.

Is it a big deal? Should it be?

At the moment it is to me.

And in this situation there are no ‘shoulds’.

Photographing flowers is good therapy

 

 

Posted in Life

Mind and body

Thursday 24 January 2019

Body and mind – mind and body. It’s a duality that’s been debated by philosophers and scientists for centuries. In many cultures the body and the mind are seen as separate entities … our bodies are public, perceptible by others whereas our minds are private and something we can choose to share. It allows for all kinds of beliefs and behaviours. I won’t go into the science or philosophy of it all, but our belief in this dualism impacts the way we live our lives. And that’s of interest to me, particularly at this point in time.

Today particularly I’ve felt in the centre of a battlefield with both my mind and my body fighting for the upper hand.

I have to admit to not having had a good day today. I stayed in bed till 5pm, only emerging because I felt sorry for Emma, who I’d left on her own all day. Enya soothed me through my headphones, and I alternatively read Richard Glover’s The land before avocado and dozed.

On Tuesday I’d had my stitches removed, and I’m not sure if it was the sticky stuff on the tape or something else, but my skin was so irritated and itchy it was driving me to distraction. The heat didn’t help and I was beyond irritated, irritating and irritable with the itchiness.

My surgeon had told me that this week would be tougher – more pain (yep), redness and swelling (yep and yep), fluid buildup (yep) and with a higher risk of infection (gosh I hope not).

I’d been doing more and more each day – walking further, staying awake longer, refusing pain killers before bed, even when I was groaning in pain. I even went to the gym yesterday – mostly to determine a plan for my return but I managed four and a half minutes on the exercise bike before my head started to spin.

My mind was insisting that my body recover as quickly as possible.

Source: https://weheartit.com/entry/66627527

 

But my body wasn’t having any of it. And so I felt caught in the middle. My mind was frustrated that I was still in pain, not back to normal, that I was sitting around having others bring me cups of tea and breakfast, lunch and dinner, and doing all the chores.

And then, early this morning I remembered what the physio and the breast care nurse had said:

Listen to your body.

My body was saying ‘stop. Just stop. I need a break’ and finally my mind listened.

I have to admit that I feel so much better for the rest. While the itchiness has subsided, the redness, swelling and pain hasn’t, but I feel I can cope so much better because I finally remembered to listen to my body.

My mind finally believed!

 

Posted in Life

An update

Monday 14 January 2019

The alarm goes off at 6am and I haul myself out of bed knowing this will be my last gym session for a while. Deb walks down to the gym with me and heads off for a half hour walk while I walk up the stairs to the studiomy glutes still hurting from Friday’s session. I hope Tom will go a bit easy on me this morning. 

He doesn’t! The single leg presses that caused my muscles to complain vociferously over the weekend were on today’s agenda as were the bench presses that caused me to know my chest muscles had been working too. Tom says the muscle ache will be a good distraction from other aches I might have after my surgery. After the stretches, we high five as usual then he gives me a hug and assures me I’ll be fine.

This afternoon I’m due to have a procedure before my surgery tomorrow – and I have to admit to not looking forward to it. We need a distraction, so head into the NGV to wander through the Escher x nendo Between Two Worlds exhibition. It’s a fabulous way to spend a few hours and provides all the distraction we need.

The procedure I have is to prepare for a sentinel node biopsy. Radioactive material is injected into my chest – it stings and then goes on hurting for a while – and after some time to allow the radioactive material to travel around a bit, a gamma camera helps identify the lymph nodes the radioactive material has travelled to. It’s so the surgeon knows which lymph nodes to remove and means she can remove fewer than if I don’t have this procedure.

It’s over in about 40 minutes and we head home to prepare for tomorrow. Not that there’s really much preparation I need to do but there’s a bag to pack, some functional fashion to talk with Deb, conversations to have with the kids, and an unexpected though completely lovely visit from my oldest friend Michelle and her daughter Grace who’d road-tripped from Sydney to be able to pop in to see me.

I sleep well, considering.

Tuesday 15 January

Tim and I arrive at the hospital at 7:20 and make our way to DOSA (Day of Surgery Admissions) on Level 2. I complete the bits of paperwork still outstanding, pay the excess fee, tie a name tag onto my bag and am invited to take a seat in the waiting area. It’s already filling up – mostly women, mostly older than me, mostly with female companions, mostly looking as though they’re trying hard to keep calm.

My name is called and Tim and I follow Wendy into the next waiting area. Wendy propels me into a cubicle, lays out knickers (the comfiest ones I’ve ever worn), socks (orange with non-slip dots), a gown (the opening at the back please), a dressing gown and a large brown paper bag to put my own clothes and shoes into. I change and Wendy puts my bag into a locker indicating there’ll be a bit more of a wait. A young pharmacist comes to ask about my medications and I feel a bit out of place as all the others waiting for surgery are handing over boxes and boxes of medications and I have none to mention, apart from Vitamin D says Tim, three each day (I am very deficient!).

Wendy returns and we follow her into an office where I mostly answer ‘no’ to her questions: diabetes? blood pressure? heart problems? stroke? liver disease? on and on …

She rolls white compression tights up my legs to my knees, wraps some tape around my wedding ring, puts a name tag on my glasses and assures me it won’t be too much longer. We head back to the waiting area and before too long Maria calls my name, suggests a visit to the loo, then leads us to a bed in a curtained cubicle.

Maria wraps stiff white ‘sequentials’ around my legs and hooks them up to a machine. They fill with air and massage my legs – one leg at a time – helping to prevent DVT. She also puts a bear hug blanket on me and hooks up the machine so it blows warm air over me. It’s good for keeping veins open and so is useful for surgery. She puts a white hat on me – the type worn in the food industry – and my outfit is complete.

Orange socks and sequentials …

I am calm, my hands crossed loosely over my tummy. Jenny, the anaesthetist’s assistant introduces herself to us, and goes through some more information, asking if I’ve eaten or drunk anything since midnight (no, but I could go a cup of tea right about now). She doesn’t offer one, just unplugs the warm air blower, tells Tim it’s time to kiss me goodbye and wheels me down white corridors until we come to a waiting room outside the operating theatre.

We chat for a while, the cold starting to creep through the blankets piled on me, and eventually Jenny heads into the theatre leaving me alone for the first time. I hear someone call out to Sage and her name is called so often I imagine they’re having trouble waking her, or that she’s waking up in a way that is not ideal. I decide I don’t want to be here.

The surgeon’s assistant comes in and introduces herself to me – the only one of the team not named Penny or Jenny – and then Jenny, the surgeon, comes in to make sure I’m clear about what’s happening. She draws on my breast, just to make sure she has the right one, and tells me it won’t be too long now. After she leaves, I suppress the urge to jump off the table and slink away. I slow my breathing and try to quiet my mind.

Finally, Penny, the anaesthetist, comes in, asks about my previous history of general anaesthetic (once, 30-something years ago), and proceeds to find a vein on the back of my right hand. The cannula goes in easily and relatively painlessly, and I’m wheeled into the operating theatre. I decide I don’t need to see what it looks like, so keep my eyes closed. I’m instructed to shimmy over to the other bed, and manage to do that while keeping my eyes mostly shut.

As I lie there I begin to shake – a combination of cold and nerves. Again, I try to slow my breathing and quieten my mind but it’s getting more and more difficult. I just want to go home.

Assistant Jenny places a mask over my mouth and nose while Penny floods my vein with something. They keep talking to me, telling me they’ll take good care of me, that it’ll be fine and I lie there thinking ‘it’s not working. I’m still awake. Please don’t start yet. I can still hear you.’

Someone gently calls my name and asks me to open my eyes so she knows I’m awake. I flutter them open, then close them again, wanting to go back to sleep. Do you have any pain? Yes, I manage, not sure if I say yes or just nod. I am heavy with sleep and lie still, wanting desperately to return to sleep. Any pain? Yes. I doze some more. Any pain? Yes. Out of 10? Eight. I swallow the pill they give me.

Time whirls past and the weight of sleep slowly eases. I am wheeled to a ward where Tim and Deb are waiting for me.

Observations are all good

I admit to not remembering much of the afternoon although I do remember Alison’s visit. She perches on the edge of the bed and makes inappropriate conversation, lightening the mood.

Nurse Charlene comes in to administer IV antibiotics. It’s more painful than anything else I’ve experienced over the last few days. Painful isn’t really the right word. Excruciating is more like it. At midnight another nurse comes in to administer the next dose. The cannula is blocked and flushing it is not a pleasant experience. Liquid runs over my hand and I’m not convinced the antibiotic makes it into my vein. She re-bandages it, and leaves me to go back to sleep.

Wednesday 16 January 

Obs. All good.

Breakfast. A bowl of porridge.

Jenny, the surgeon, checks on me and inspects my bandages. All good. Sutures will come out next Tuesday.

Nurse Charlene is back to administer the final dose of IV antibiotics. I cannot handle the pain of the flushing and she says she’ll have to move the cannula to be able to administer the antibiotic. My face screws up with the pain, and she hurries out to find the doctor. Minutes later she’s back and removes the cannula. Apparently, I don’t need the final dose.

Bronwyn, the breast care nurse, pops in to give me some information and a cushion – an important item for my recovery.

Sarah, the physio, provides me with an exercise schedule and stresses the importance of listening to my body over the next few weeks.

Tim has arrived so there’s nothing else for it but to get dressed and go home.

All that’s left to deal with this week is recovering from surgery. That’s easy with the amount of support I have. What’s tough is ensuring I go easy on myself and not rush too quickly to doing things.

Thanks for all the good wishes and messages of support. It means a lot!

Posted in Family, Life

Blessed

We’re home now from two weeks of family, warmth, generosity, laughs, fun, connections, looking out for, talking, playing, keeping calm, being distracted, trying not to worry.

I feel blessed that we could spend a week in Tasmania and then a week in NSW/Queensland, popping home to Melbourne for a few hours in between to repack our bags, process some photos, and orient ourselves to the next phase of our adventure.

Our week in Tasmania was a week of blue sky, clean air, far horizons, wide open spaces and golden light at the end of each day.

Gold at the end of the day

It was Christmas Day on Boxing Day, giving and receiving, unwrapping and gratitude, watching out for leeches in the lawn, totem tennis and bocce with the littlies, small motorbikes for the bigger kids, and bigger bikes for the biggest ones. It was going to bed early, sleeping late, following the sun around Ben’s kitchen table in the mornings, and eating endless Christmas leftovers. 

It was babysitting so my eldest daughter and her husband could celebrate their wedding anniversary without children, babysitting so my eldest son and his partner had a chance to spend some time together cheering on the Perth Scorchers, taking two of my grandsons to visit my youngest daughter and her husband and seeing the various cousins playing happily together, spending time with my second son and his wife who are preparing to welcome my youngest grandson (their first child) into the world, and celebrating another grandson’s fifth birthday.

Playing happily

It was photos, candid and not so, silly and even more so, fingers behind heads, other fingers being held under control, waving and not waving, looking and not looking, jumping and running and in the frame and not in the frame. It was chaos and patience. It was herding cats. 

Me and eight of my grandchildren!

It was a trip from Melbourne to Devonport on the Spirit of Tasmania on Christmas Eve and an even calmer return trip on New Year’s Eve with Sakye, our eight year old granddaughter in tow.

We were blessed to take Sakye to Murwillumbah to spend some time with other family. This second week was staying a few days with my mother, and Sakye seeing photos of her great-great-great grandparents, and much younger versions of many of the now older generations. It was hot, sticky days and taking Sakye to the pool I’d swum in when I’d spent summer holidays in Murwillumbah. It was gliding and duck diving and trying our hardest to sit on the bottom and breathing out through our noses when we were under water and when we did handstands. It was lame attempts at diving and then better attempts. It was watching other kids and trying out what they did. It was being convinced by the idea of a milkshake that it was time to go to the Austral cafe where her great-grandfather used to head as a 13 year old when he’d been paid for his paper round and could finally afford a milkshake and thinking it weird that Granny (great-grandmother) was drinking a lime spider. 

It was walking past the house her great-great grandparents had lived in and me telling her stories of the holidays I’d spent there as a child and of Nan and Pop who were kind and gentle and good. It was going to Wet n Wild with her cousins Hunter and Lily, and learning that Sakye and Lily have similar spirits: they’re feisty and sassy and strong.

It was heading to Redcliffe to spend a few days in the house next to my brother’s and Sakye spending time with his grandchildren – eight year old Chaylarna and six year old Johnny, cousins once removed – swimming and scooting and playing at the park, lazing about in the hammock, playing endless games of ‘what am I?’ and Mario Kart. It was being reminded of summers 20 years ago when, for a number of years, my brother and I spent time at our parents’ place with my daughter/s and his children and how they’d clicked and now our grandchildren are doing the same and it’s fabulous. I call the new crop of eight year olds their mothers’ names and they give me a look and I am reminded that they’re not children but grandchildren.

It was spending another day with grandchildren Hunter and Lily and their parents, my youngest son and his wife, playing UNO and Sequence and Quarto and What am I? and Mario Kart and watching videos on YouTube while adults talked in quiet voices and serious faces and then playing at the park and telling lame jokes and laughing and not fighting, not even once, and being called your mother’s name and thinking your grandmother is losing her marbles and eating fish and chips and there being cousins and cousins-once-removed and it was like being surrounded by friends but them all being related.

It was all new and all interesting and connections to Sakye’s own environment had to be made: do they have chickens in Queensland Grandma? Do they have horses in Queensland? Why do you have to work out ‘our’ time and ‘their’ time? Why do I have to go back to bed when it’s light outside? (Because it’s 4:40 in the morning and that’s way too early to be getting up!)

And then with more days in the heat it was sleeping in and sweating and not complaining and swimming at the beach and scooting and the skate park and more lazing in the hammock.

And then it was a day at Australia Zoo where we saw and patted all kinds of animals: kangaroos and koalas and a snake we patted and others we saw: rhinoceros which isn’t a unicorn Grandma even though there’s a horn on its head, and giraffes, and lemurs and alligators and crocodiles and a jabiru and a stork called Strike that wouldn’t get out of the way when Murray the crocodile was on the prowl. And there was Bindi and Robert Irwin and a man in the screen in the Crocoseum called Steve and there was Crikey! and enthusiasm and energy and leaping out of boats and out of cars and excitement and passion. And we stayed till the zoo closed because there was so much to see and we didn’t sleep in the car on the way back because there was a lot to talk about and digest.

At the zoo

Over the two weeks it was all five of my children, most of my (many) grandchildren, and my mother, brother, niece, great-niece, great-nephew, an uncle and aunt, and a cousin, her husband and their two children. It was a lot of people – all of them related to me in some way or other.

And now we’re home and there are no children and no grandchildren and no mother and no brother. It’s quiet and in the quiet I feel how blessed I am to have had these two weeks of family and of not quiet.

And now we’re home it’s keeping busy and being scared and trying for distraction and not to think about it and not to worry. It’s quiet and Enya calming my mind and it’s strength and positivity and knowing it’s going to be okay.

Herding cats
Posted in Life

Living though not loving the reality

I can distinctly remember a phone call I received from a close friend in late March 2012. I was on my way to Launceston to run a weekend class for my online students when my phone rang. My friend rang to tell me she’d discovered a lump in her breast and after some investigation had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

I cried all the way to Launceston and had to admit to my students that I was a bit distracted. Because my friend lived over 1500kms from me I didn’t see her live with the reality of surgery and the subsequent treatment. I saw her recently and almost seven years later she’s looking the best I’ve seen her in ages. But the intervening seven years have had their ups and downs and while she doesn’t talk much about her experience I know it wasn’t easy.

I’ve just received my own breast cancer diagnosis and the reality of the experience has hit me in a way I wasn’t at all prepared for. No one ‘expects’ to get breast cancer and I don’t imagine it’s anything but a shock to all those who hear those words but it was so far from my mind as a possibility that it’s taken a bit to be even able to say: I have breast cancer.

When I discovered the lump I decided not to tell anyone about it, not even Tim, my husband. He was going through a stressful time at work and didn’t need this added stress at home. I made an appointment to have an ultrasound but couldn’t get an appointment for four weeks. It was a long and difficult four weeks but with the help of a playlist I’d made some time earlier on Spotify – a playlist I’d called sleep songs which consisted mainly of Enya songs – I managed to keep my mind calm and my increasing stress and anxiety from Tim.

Or so I thought. He was worried about the times I’d come home from work and head upstairs to have a nap but figured that my gym sessions were wearing me out more than usual.

I went to work, tried to not think about it, not dwell on it, but every morning in the shower I was reminded of the lump’s presence. A little voice in my head told me to go to the doctor, but I was convinced the process was that you go to Breastscreen first and if they find anything a process is then put in place. Over time, the physical discomfort grew, adding to the emotional and mental discomfort I was feeling. It wasn’t pain, but the discomfort was certainly increasing.

I asked Tom, my trainer, if muscle went that low in your chest. No, he said, it doesn’t. He looked at me a moment then asked ‘are you getting it checked out?’ I nodded. ‘Have you told Tim?’ I shook my head. We talked about it sporadically at my twice-weekly sessions. It helped, but talking sporadically didn’t get it off my chest. Figuratively or literally.

Finally, the day came. I went to the Breastscreen appointment on a Friday afternoon, turning my phone off so Tim couldn’t locate me through find my friends. If you’ve already found a lump, we can’t do a mammogram I was told. You have to go to your doctor and she’ll organise a more thorough examination. Four weeks of waiting, I thought ruefully. If only I’d listened to that voice in my head.

Luckily my doctor is easy to get to see and I made an appointment for Monday afternoon. I raced out of my second meeting of the day, turned off my computer screens, grabbed my bag and headed to the appointment, pleased I have a level of independence at work that didn’t require me to account for my whereabouts every minute of the day.

My GP is quietly spoken and calm. Yes, she said. It’s a lump. I’ll make an appointment for you to have a mammogram and ultrasound. She called one imaging place. Friday? I shook my head. She called another place. Tomorrow at 9:30? Yes please. Booked.

When Tim came home that evening I told him. It was much, much harder than I thought it would be.

Next morning he finished his early morning meeting in half the allocated time – due to being super organised – and was able to come with me.

Mammogram.

Ultrasound.

She lingered for quite a while over the lump.

We were out of there by 10:30. We were quiet on the way home and waited nervously for the result, not sure how long that wait would be.

Two hours, as it turned out. My GP rang and said she was sorry but she had potentially bad news. The radiologist’s report indicated the lump was ‘suspicious’ and that further investigation was needed. She’d made an appointment with a breast specialist for Thursday – I liked that she was super organised. Take someone with you, she said. Two sets of ears are better than one.

It meant a day and a half of waiting, of excruciating uncertainty, of tears and hugs and it’ll be alrights. Of possibilities flooding my mind, of endless what ifs. None of it helpful, but all of it normal I guess.

My request for sick leave was approved and I could at least relax a little knowing I didn’t have to worry about work as well.

Off to meet Alison in the city to watch the taping of The Yearly with Charlie Pickering. It was a good distraction, but dinner afterwards was difficult. We went to our usual place, but the food tasted like sandpaper, and our dribbles of conversation always came back to what-ifs and wonderings.

Wednesday. I called Deb, my sister, in the morning. She told me she’d dreamt about me the previous night and her sleep was so disturbed she’d had to get up and read at 4am, something she never does. If I hadn’t called her, she would have called me. It’s comforting to know our connection is still so strong.

Tim found a patch of rainforest in the Otways and we packed our lunch and headed there for the day. We always find consolation in trees and these trees were particularly consoling as they were very similar to the deciduous beech trees we were so familiar with from our many years in Tasmania. Little fagus-like leaves scattered across the forest floor took me instantly back to Cradle Mountain and I felt some of the tension dissolve from my body.

We drove home via the Great Ocean Road, so I had the double delight of trees and ocean on the same day. It was beautiful, all those trees and all that ocean, but the anxiety didn’t ever go away and potential outcomes flitted through my mind all day.

Thursday. My appointment with the breast specialist was moved from 9:30 to 11:20 – not long in the scheme of things, but the delay felt much more like 24 hours than slightly less than 2. I was instantly put at ease when we met her though. She exuded confidence and compassion, and patiently answered our questions. If the result was positive, I would have surgery to remove the lump on January 15. I’d have an overnight stay in hospital, some weeks recovering, then further treatment starting six weeks later depending on the status of my receptors. A good outcome was to be oestrogen positive and HER2 negative. That would most likely mean radiotherapy but no chemo. 

But in the meantime, given the suspicious nature of the lump, I needed a biopsy – my super organised GP had organised that too, for 2pm that afternoon.

We wandered to a nearby cafe for lunch feeling more relieved than we’d felt in a few days. At least we knew what the process would be, even if we didn’t yet know the outcome. We had information – something objective and real to hold on to. And I had a glimmer of hope.

A mini-faint after the biopsy but otherwise it was a no fuss, though not at all pleasant, procedure. The nurses, Nina and Athena, were lovely. Very caring, one rubbing my ankles as the biopsy was being performed and the other noticing the pain on my face when the needle went beyond where the anaesthetic had reached. Two samples would have to do. A wet washer for my forehead, a fan to cool my body, the sheet off my feet, the blood pressure cuff wrapped around my arm, an icepack on my breast and after a few minutes all was right again. Athena went to get Tim and we went home to wait some more. The specialist had said she’d call on Monday with the result.

Friday. I stayed in bed for most of the day, Enya playing through my headphones, my mind not at all calm, but the music did help. Tim swapping the icepacks regularly – one warmed on me while the other cooled in the freezer. No phone call, no matter how desperate I was to hear. By the afternoon I’d convinced myself I was going to get the all clear.

Saturday. No run club for me this morning. No swelling or bruising from the biopsy though, so that was good. I’ve learnt to rest properly and not feel bad about spending time in bed. My two hospitalisations in the last two years have convinced me of the importance of rest for proper recovery. We had some last minute Christmas shopping to do, so slowly ambled down to the Hawthorn shops. Tim went for a coffee while I let my eyes wander over the books in Readings. My phone rang. It was the breast specialist. The report was in and she told me the result. It wasn’t what I’d wanted to hear. Did I want to come in to see her that afternoon? Yes please, I did, very much.

Again she was all compassion and confidence, answering our questions patiently. The surgery was booked in for the 15th. It meant I could still go to Tassie for Christmas, then to Queensland for the first week of January with one of my granddaughters to visit family.

I remember snatches of what she said as we drove home: my receptors are the ‘good’ ones, the lump is slow growing, it’s not life threatening, I won’t need a mastectomy, it’s treatable, I’ll have a radio oncologist and a medical oncologist, I’ll have a sentinel node biopsy meaning they put radioactive material into my chest and track it with a geiger counter to know which lymph nodes to remove, the second week of recovery will be worse than the first week, take as much time as you need/can to recover, hormone therapy, radiotherapy, possibly no chemo … if you’re going to get breast cancer, this is the one to get.

I feel fortunate.

And not.

At least I know now, the uncertainty is over. I know the process, I know that the cancer will be removed from my body, that I’ll have a good medical team providing excellent care, that I won’t lose my breast, that I may not lose my hair, that the cancer will be gone.

Fortunate.

I’m fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been in my life before, I have a tremendously supportive and capable husband, I have an excellent specialist, and I have a beautiful array of family and friends who will do what they can to care for me.

Sunday. I decide to tell the children. They all live in different states to me so that means five phone calls. It’s interesting how differently they reacted to the news. I let them know there’s a little bit of bad news but then some better news. None of them were expecting this particular piece of news. Ben makes me laugh by telling me about something he’d supposedly read in a medical journal last week. Daniel’s voice deepens with concern and I know to tell him as much information as possible. Rochelle is shocked into not being able to say very much at all. It’s hard for her to take in and she goes quiet in that way she does when she’s processing difficult information. Chase tells me he loves me through his tears. Emma offers to come over to support me through my recovery, cries when it’s time to say goodbye, and I hear ‘love you Mum’ before the phone hangs up.

I also tell Mum. It’s safe to say it came completely out of the blue for her too. She’s with my brother for Christmas and I’d warned him I was calling her with some news. He called me afterwards to let me know she’s okay and to get some more details. The telling makes it more and more real but also re-emphasises the positives. It’s not life-threatening. It’s slow growing. It’s treatable. The outcomes are good.

I am fortunate.

I am worn out by the telling and re-telling and admit to bouts of crying throughout the afternoon as my emotional energy dwindles.

It’s been a big week!

Stick with me over the coming weeks. I’m not sure if I’ll write more about this particular journey, but I just might. It might help me work through what I’m going through and it might help others too in the sense of coming to more clearly know it’s not all doom and gloom. I’m not actually sure about that part of it, but that’s my hope.

I’m fine – tired but otherwise fine – and I know I’m in good hands. I have a great medical team, good access to all the services I need, and just as importantly, if not more importantly, I’m surrounded by warm, caring and generous family and friends.

 

Posted in Flowers, Life

Time for Sunday Stills

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again. The time between when I created a post for last week’s Sunday Stills challenge and now has whizzed by!

As I have lots of other things to do – mostly marking university assignments – I thought I’d procrastinate a little longer and think about time for this week’s Sunday Stills challenge. Once again I’m inspired by my sister over at Deb’s World. Deb has a brand new granddaughter who is 7 weeks old already – and she thinks time is moving fast. My second eldest grandson turned 18 on Friday – boy oh boy, where has that time gone?

You might have noticed, if you’re a regular visitor here, that I take photos [that was weird … I was going to write “I’m a photographer”, but I felt a bit strange calling myself a photographer so wrote something slightly awkward … I wonder what that’s about??] … anyway, I take photos and one of the elements of photography is time.

Photographs stop time … they catch a moment that will never happen again. A moment in a baby’s life we look back on with fondness for ever after – the dimples around the knees, the chubby cheeks, the little hands balled into fists and, if we’re lucky, the firsts … first smile, first feed with Dad, first time nodding off on Grandma’s shoulder, first book, first Harry Potter dress. Those moments are cherished and we scroll through our photo album (no need to turn pages anymore because the photos are now locked away on our phones) to remind ourselves of the joy the little bundle brings to the whole family. 

Over the last few weekends, Tim and I have been photographing flowers. It’s Spring after all, and there are plenty around. The flowers we photographed two weeks ago won’t be there anymore and the only way we can keep them fresh for all time is through our photographs.

Photographs capture time … they freeze it. The flower and the photograph of the flower will forever be different. One fades away while the other can live on through time.

So here are a few images of flowers frozen in time. None of them look like this anymore, but I was blessed to have been able to capture them in all their glory.

The first one is especially for Deb – who loves all things orange.

Captured in time – Orange

 

Tiny, fragile and now lost to time

 

It too will fade in time

 

Time … it passes … so let’s make the most of it while we have it!

Posted in Flowers, Nature

Orange Sunday for Sunday Stills

Deb, my blogging sister extraordinaire over at Deb’s World, just responded to a weekly photo challenge.

I don’t generally do photo challenges or get involved with the blogging community … I’m not the most social person you’ll come across … but when I saw this week’s challenge was orange, I thought … why not?

So here I am.

To be honest, I don’t really know how photo challenges work – there’s info about tagging and sharing and linked-up posts and I don’t know what any of that means … but here’s the link to the Sunday Still Photo Challenge

The theme this week is Orange.

I love photographing flowers, and some of the flowers I photograph are orange:

In the garden

 

In the studio

 

I also like to do the odd conceptual photo shoot like this one, using water, washing up liquid, oil and some orange cardboard.

 

So there you have it … orange.

Sharon

Posted in Life, Running

I’m a runner. Wait … what??

A runner is someone who runs.

Apparently, I run, and that makes me a runner.

I’ve had some uncomfortable labels stuck to me in the past, but this is right up there in the uncomfortable stakes.

Why?

Well, partly because my sister Debbie is a runner, and when Debbie does something I tend to shy away from it.

Deb has always run. As a teenager I have a clear memory of Dad teaching her to run … and of the one time I decided to give it a go.

I came away with one … no, two … clear realisations.

1). I wasn’t a runner.

2). I needed to start wearing a bra.

So I left the running to Deb, and for the next 40-odd years was more than happy as a non-runner.

The other part of the reason is, of course, that a runner is someone who runs. And I don’t run. Not really. I shuffle perhaps, but I’m not serious.

Except … it seems that now I am.

In May this year I was challenged by my personal trainer to run a 7km Sri Chinmoy race. He sent me a text: ‘Hey Sharon. How about your weekly challenge be the Sri Chinmoy this Sunday? Let me know how you go.’

Without any thought, I signed up, turned up, and … well … ran.

I got 200 metres into the run and as every other runner ran past me I thought to myself ‘this is ridiculous. Why am I doing this?’ Fair question, but for some perverse reason I kept running, despite a very big part of my brain telling me to stop and just go home: ‘Look, you’re near the car. Just walk casually over to it, get in, and drive slowly away. No one will notice.’

But I didn’t. I kept running … although if you’ve seen me run I doubt you’d describe it as ‘running’. Plodding might be a better description.

I told myself I’d run, or rather run/walk, to the 5km mark (I’d done a few 5km fun runs before and knew I could make that distance), and from there I’d walk.

In October 2017 I’d run the 5.7km run as part of the Melbourne Marathon and my trainer at the time (Josh) had run that with me. He’d heard how nervous I was before the run, and despite already having run the 10km race earlier that day, he came to find me at the start line to run with me. Every time I stopped to walk, he’d tell me ‘don’t stop running. Just run more slowly.’

I have to admit to not listening to him. There were times when my breathing simply wouldn’t allow me to run any further. So I walked, and told myself that my running and walking speeds weren’t terribly different anyway. I finished that run/walk and said I’d never do another one.

But here I was, on a decidedly chilly morning in June, keeping left as every other person in the race ran past me, plodding along the banks of the Yarra hearing Josh in my head saying ‘don’t walk, just run more slowly’. I made it to the 5km mark, had a drink at the drinks station, threw my cup near the bin, and started walking the last 2 kms. Then Josh popped back into my head, so I started running again.

And as I got closer to the finish line I started to gather a bit more pace – this was exciting. People were cheering me on, someone called my name, Tim was there at the the finish line … I crossed it and stayed upright. I’d just finished a 7km run!

I felt so proud of myself for finishing … particularly for finishing by running rather than walking.

So proud, in fact that I signed up to run the 5km Run Melbourne – which I’d done in 2014 and again in 2016 – held in late July each year. I had a time to beat from 2016 – I was starting to feel a sizzle of competition. And of anxiety. What if I didn’t beat it? What if I ran more slowly?

In the end I figured that the world wouldn’t end, so just did what I could.

I beat my 2016 time by 6 minutes! That means I shaved off more than a minute per kilometre!

I felt so proud of myself for beating my previous time and setting a new PB for myself that I signed up to run the 5km De Castella run. It’s held in late August and is very (very) hilly. I had run it in 2017 and so had some inkling about how tough it was.

I was invited to go on some training runs and so at 7am in the 4C cold I met up with a group of others at the start of the course on two Sunday mornings in late July about a month out from the run.

I hadn’t ever trained before or prepared in any kind of way, but I had a time to beat. I’d done the run the year before, so not only had that time to beat, but had the Run Melbourne 5km time to beat.

Ready to Run Melbourne

Not only did I do two training runs with the group, I also did my first Park Run. I was in Canberra one weekend and thought that a 5km run around the lake at Belconnen would help my training. It was great!

I also graduated from Saturday Walk Club to Saturday Run Club – something I said I’d never do – and on my first morning at Run Club ran an 8km tempo run with Courtney, one of the trainers at the personal training studio I go to.

I was in training … I was actually getting serious about this running thing!

I’d get up early on Tuesdays morning and run for 5, 6 or 8 kms depending on how much time I had. I ran more and walked less each time. I was assured I didn’t need to run a PB each time, but I could feel myself getting faster and stronger.

In late August I completed the De Castella run. Rob De Castella ran past and I heard him telling his running companion to run more slowly rather than walk when she got tired. My time for the De Castella was a personal best for any 5km run I’d done. That was really quite amazing given how tough the course is.

I got brave and signed up for the 10km run as part of the Melbourne Marathon. The longest distance I’d run to that point was 8.5km.

The Melbourne Marathon was set for Sunday, October 14. My training was going well, Tom my new trainer put together a plan for me and I was sticking to it. I ran two-three mornings a week, did leg strengthening exercises, bought snazzy running pants … I went the whole hog.

But the pain in my lower leg wasn’t going away and so I went to see Rob, my physio. He told me to stop running for a week as I had an over-use injury. So I cycled instead – two 18km rides where I had to push myself – or in Rob’s words ‘smash it’ – to help build my leg strength. I did calf raises every time I went up the stairs, my usual strength training, and cardio to increase my fitness.

I went back to see Rob a week later and he said I could run for 1km and if it felt okay I could run for another km … I was back!

We went to Tasmania on AFL Grand Final Eve, and the next morning was glorious. Cold, it has to be said, but no wind, clear blue sky, perfect! The path around the Tamar River was fabulous, and I felt so good I decided to run into the Gorge. At the 3km mark I turned around and ran back to the hotel. I felt fabulous when I finished. My leg didn’t hurt, I finished strong, and kilometre #6 was my fastest … I felt great.

I was confident about the 10km run. I still had two weeks to go and things were looking up.

That night, on the plane on the way home to Melbourne, I became very ill and ended up in hospital for six days. On Day 4 after my discharge I still couldn’t walk more than 500 metres without needing a nap. A week after my release I could manage 2kms, but it simply wasn’t enough. My body just wasn’t going to cope with running 10kms, or even 5 for that matter, and so my plan of running my first ever 10km event had to be put on hold.

I’ve been told there are plenty of other runs … and that I’ll be back into running in no time.

Do you know what?

I can’t wait!

You know why?

Because I’m a runner!

 

 

Posted in Learning, Life

A hard reset

Tim messages me late on Thursday afternoon: We can get to Tassie for $750. Will I book it?

I thought for a nanosecond and despite not having been to Tasmania so far this year, and despite my usual ‘nothing will keep me away from Tasmania when I have a few days off’, this time something was different. I simply didn’t want to go.

Tassie is known and familiar and I wanted, desperately needed, intuitively knew I needed to be somewhere unknown and unfamiliar. And somewhere a long way away. As far as it was possible to go in the six days we had available to us. Somewhere we hadn’t been before. Somewhere where all the people were strangers and all the roads new.

I wanted to go to Broken Hill.

Tim turns to me late on Thursday night: So. What are we doing over Easter?

It’s 9pm. I mention Broken Hill for the first time. Tim doesn’t blink an eye. It’s no wonder I love this man!

By 11pm our trip is organised, accommodation booked, distances calculated.

By 9am we are on the road, bags packed, keep cups full of tea/coffee, water bottles full, lunches tucked into the cooler bag along with a rudimentary first aid kit, snacks, tea bags and a tea towel – just in case!

I drive out of Melbourne – our usual arrangement – and then over the next six days keep driving.

Photo by Tim Moss

Driving means I’m present, aware of ‘now’, focussing only on the road not on writing rubrics, determining how to publish the children’s stories I’ve written and had illustrated, responding to online discussion threads, reporting on how many law academics I’ve worked with, drafting journal articles and performance objectives, organising photo shoots, exercising, keeping up with social media …

… all left behind, all fading into the increasingly hazy distance as the road unwinds ahead of us. 

Importantly we have a bag of CDs, all compilations we put together for my radio shows over 10 years ago. It’s only on day 6 we have to replay a CD. We have music for every part of our journey, even if it means pressing pause on Damien Rice’s Eskimo until we’re out of Wentworth because it’s a song that deserves space and the open road.

I drive and am present, focussed on this moment, on seeing new landscapes, new combinations of colours, new horizons, new destinations.

I drive and keep my eyes looking forward, into the distance, into the immediate future. I shed the city like a skin by the second day and there’s only the road and the wide-open spaces to contain me. I can feel myself expanding under the warmth and width of the bluest of blue skies.

The ribbons of road shimmering into the distance are my favourite – endless horizons full of possibilities and discovery, full of newness and unfamiliarity. Roads without curves, one line on the map, taking us to the edge of the outback.

The road stretches out before us. The compass says west and then north and they’re the only directions I want to head.

Warmth, colour, distance, the unfamiliarity of the landscape … the only place I want to be.

Broken Hill sunset

Away … so far away … into the desert where the hills gently whisper, and where, right before sunset the silence is audible. The desert where the horizon sits in some distant space way, way over yonder and where time and space mean different things. The desert where my grief for Dad pales against the vastness of the landscape, and I can drop it here, knowing threads of it will return to the city with me but also knowing that it’s safe out here in the warmth and almost limitless space between the far horizons.

The dying ends of the day

It’s a hard reset on a hard start to the year – a chance to stay in the ‘now’, to not think beyond the next bend in an arrow-straight road, to simply be.

Away … so far away … and then home.

Re-evaluated.

Refreshed.

Reset.

 

 


A few days after we came home, we made a book about our journey and published it on Blurb. You can see a preview here if you’re interested. I wrote the blog post above for the book, which also features essays Tim wrote and a selection of our photos from the trip.

It was one of the most significant and important trips I’ve ever taken.

We made it!
Posted in Life

The consolation of trees (pt 2)

I started this post a few months ago … and have added a sentence here and there in the time between now and then, but for some reason it’s been difficult to put together.

I’m not quite sure why, but I’m beginning to think it’s because it’s intensely personal and I’m not sure I want to share it.

It’s also more than that. I want to skate across the top and just describe our weekend, rather than deal with what lies underneath – and I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s okay. I don’t have to deal with the underneath here, in these posts that others (some familiar, some unknown to me) may read.

And there’s more still: I feel others’ judgements – the questions and voices I can hear from some of those unknown and some of the familiar: “Why blog about something so personal?”, “Why put this out there for others to read?” – questions and voices that I can choose to ignore, particularly as they’re in my head and therefore not real, and they’re stopping me from finishing this post.

So, here I am, on a sunny Saturday morning, finishing what I started months ago.


“The forecast is for rain all weekend”, my Queensland-based students reliably informed me during a web conference in early March.

“The forecast is for a hot weekend”, my Melbourne-based husband reliably informed me the next day.

I felt torn, but my ticket to Queensland was booked. I would just have to deal with the rain. At least it wouldn’t be cold, I thought.

I was wrong.

It was freezing!

I flew into Coolangatta on a Friday morning after an early start. Mum, Debbie and I talked and ate and talked at our favourite cafe – Mervyn Roy’s at Bilinga – then after a quick detour to Robina for some shopping, we headed into the hinterland.

We found our accommodation at the end of a tiny road, surrounded by giant trees being whipped furiously by the wind.

We are not known for letting a little bit of wind (read lots of wind) deter us, so we dressed for the cold and headed out. Dressing for the cold for me meant putting on all the clothes I’d packed. Luckily one of those things was a jacket. Also luckily, it did up even though I was wearing all my other clothes. As you can see, my footwear left a little to be desired. When I got to the (very) muddy track, it become patently clear that my footwear left a lot to be desired!

The glamorous sister. Photo by Debbie Harris

Importantly, I was wearing beautiful earrings!!

We clambered (elegantly, it has to be said) down a short but very steep embankment and found our way to the proper track. It was getting dark, the wind was still whipping the trees, and it had started to rain. Undaunted, we soldiered on. We had a goal: find Purling Brook Falls before dark.

We had ten minutes before the sun set – although, to be honest, the sun wasn’t exactly on show – and nine minutes before hyperthermia set in. We dawdled as fast as we could – Mum really does need one of those hiking sticks – except Deb didn’t dawdle quite as slowly as Mum and I. You can just see her charging ahead in her red rainproof coat. I actually think the lack of rainproof coats was slowing Mum and I down.

A quick snap of the falls and we were back to the house and the roaring fire (thanks to Bernie for lighting it for us).

IMG_4184

IMG_7036

The rain continued to pelt the roof all through the night. I admit to not hearing it despite being upstairs, but Deb let me know the next morning as she’d slept in the sleep-out with its alsynite roof, not known for muffling any sound let alone the sound of continuous and heavy rain.

Despite her lack of sleep, she was up bright and early making pancakes and bacon for breakfast. Thusly fortified, we headed out into the rain and wind for another look at the falls.

We quickly realised the falls we’d seen the night before were not in fact the main attraction. We also quickly realised that we were no better prepared for the conditions than we’d been yesterday. Plus the rain was heavier.

We found the rockpools we’d bathed in many (many) years ago on a summer camping trip – and were reminded of the ‘soap incident’. When I say ‘bathed’ I mean just that. The rockpool was our bath – and so we’d taken soap and towels and worn our bathers (decorum is important in the bush, particularly when you’re 14) and gone to wash in the pools. What we hadn’t counted on was the water’s flow – it washed our soap over the edge, never to be seen (by us at least) again. I can still hear Dad yelling, “don’t follow it! Let it go.” Sound advice which I distinctly remember following.

We walked through one continuous downpour, neither Mum nor I were adequately prepared (as you can see if you watch the video).

We eventually found our way to a lovely (warm and dry) cafe, where moments later our brother Warren appeared.

Finally, we were all together.

We were all together to spend the weekend as a family celebrating what would have been Dad’s 80th birthday. It was a weekend of quiet contemplation, of reminiscing, of doing things that were slightly uncomfortable (walking on muddy tracks in the rain and cold is not something we generally do for fun) because we could hear Dad encouraging us to get out into the outdoors and enjoy them, no matter what condition the outdoors threw at us.

We spend more time in the rain – I had to take my glasses off as they were so wet I couldn’t see through them – walking through the bush, taking photos as we went so we can look back in years to come and remember how daggy we were (and how okay we are with that), how important and comforting it was to be together and how we could enjoy each other’s company even though we were all grieving. As hard as it was to acknowledge, it’s true that life really does go on.

The last time Warren and I had been to PurlingBrook Falls was a number of years ago when we were both visiting Mum and Dad over the summer – Warren from out west and me from Tasmania. For about five or six summers we’d gather at Mum and Dad’s with kids in tow and spend time in shopping centres and McDonald’s playgrounds because they were the coolest places we could find … and of course, much more time at Currumbin Creek estuary, a quick walk from where Mum and Dad lived at the time.

One year, Dad had the ‘good’ idea of taking the kids bushwalking. It’ll be fun, he said enthusiastically, but their faces remained sceptical. We headed to Purling Brook Falls and tackled the track from right of the falls to left, heading down the steep track (which is now closed for repair) one side, under the waterfall at the bottom, then up the other side. It’s a steep walk up and Emma, my youngest who was about 8 at the time, and Carly, Warren’s eldest, who was 7, complained the whole way! None of grandad’s enthusiasm or stories of the beasties lurking in the bush made an impact on their determination to hate it.

Despite the complaints, it was a lovely walk and I was sorry (kind of) that the track wasn’t open this time around, because I’m sure we’d have done the walk again. Although, really, we were being considerate of Mum – we didn’t want her struggling through the mud and rain – she’s getting on you know! 🙂

On Sunday, before heading home, we venture to the Best of All Lookout which generally has the most gorgeous views over the Tweed Valley and out to Byron Bay. Not this day though!

Not at its best today

We take the obligatory selfie, just to mark the occasion, and as there isn’t anything to see, we head back to the warmth of the car.

Even though we could barely see our hands in front of our faces let alone Mt Warning or Byron Bay, the Best of All lookout has more than views.

It also has a stand of antarctic beech trees. As soon as I walk into this short forest walk, I feel immediately at peace. It is these trees that provide me with the sense of consolation to which the title of this post refers. Each time I’ve been here, I’ve felt that same sense of consolation – the stresses of the outside world seem to slip away just a touch, my hands uncurl, my shoulders drop, and some of the tension I hadn’t known I was carrying in my body eases away.

It’s the same today. I can feel my grief loosening just a little, easing back on the tension I barely knew I was feeling.

 

Antarctic Beech – consolation right there.

 

We drive back to Mum’s the scenic way and she whips up a batch of scones for lunch in the way mothers have done for millenia: a no nonsense pragmatic approach to feeding her family. Jam, with spoons, cream, tea, a hodge-podge of plates, and the comfort of familiarity and togetherness.

We sit, as we always do, outside in the warmth and looking around I realise I’m not yet ready for Dad not to be there. I keep this in, and am convinced the others are holding their grief too, even though this weekend has been important and significant for us all. We each have our private grief, as well as the grief we share, and right now it’s still too soon to speak of it.

I know, deeply and intuitively, that while the consolation of trees soothes me, this time I need something more … this time I need wide open spaces, far-away horizons, warmth and unfamiliarity.

It was an important weekend for us all, spent in a place so rich in memory and remembrance, honouring Dad in our own way, mostly by being together.

My family’s good like that!

Warren, Debbie and I braving the conditions.

 

Keeping warm and dry.

You can read my sister Debbie’s blog post about the weekend here.