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.
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’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.
I was already a grandmother by the time I started teaching at university in 2000. Phil, who turned 20 earlier this week, and his brother Scott were my only grandchildren till Ronan arrived in the world eight years after Phil. Then Jordan and Hunter and Sakye – and then more and more and more!
As my list of grandchildren grew I started to think more and more about the student teachers I was teaching and I’d often say to them ‘You never know, one day you might be teaching one of my grandchildren – they’re scattered all over Australia – and that might mean me popping into your classroom to have a chat and see what the grandkids are up to’.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s come to pass. Some of my grandchildren have had the pleasure of being taught by some of the very special people I taught at university and it’s always lovely to wander into their classrooms and see them as teachers now, after seeing them as students. I don’t pretend to have any influence on who they are as teachers, but it’s lovely to see them nonetheless.
I’ve been teaching for over 20 years now. Being a teacher was something I never imagined I’d do. Debbie, my sister, had always wanted to be a teacher, but it hadn’t been on my list of career choices.
I no longer teach those preparing to be teachers in primary and high schools; rather I find myself running workshops for academic staff who are teaching university students studying for degrees in commerce and accounting and information systems and business analytics. While I know nothing about accounting and commerce and business analytics I do know something about teaching.
And, what’s more, after running six workshops in the last week I’ve been reminded that I love it. I love teaching. I love asking questions that generate thinking, I love putting ideas out there and seeing how others develop them, or consider them, or debate them, or draw insight from them.
Those who know me in person, know that I’m not a dynamic person in ordinary life, but I seem to get another sort of energy when I’m teaching and as I get older and therefore more comfortable and confident with my teaching persona I find I turn into a warm and funny and energised person who is enthusiastic and passionate and insightful.
Well, at least that’s what I’ve been told.
I’ve had a few positives in terms of my teaching and supporting teachers over the last twelve months. I (successfully) supported a team of academics in their application for a VC’s award for outstanding contributions to student learning, and on the back of that award the team was encouraged to apply for a national award.
We found out earlier in the week that we’d been successful at the national level and so, as part of a team, I now have an AAUT (Australian Award for University Teaching) citation for outstanding contributions to student learning under my belt. They only awarded 60 across the country this year, so I’m pretty chuffed with that.
Last year I was successful in applying to become a Senior Fellow of the (UK) Higher Education Academy. Being a Senior Fellow means I ‘demonstrate a thorough understanding of effective approaches to teaching and learning support as a key contribution to high quality student learning [and] impact and influence on other colleagues through, for example, responsibility for leading, managing or organising programmes, subjects and/or disciplinary areas’ (www.heaacademy.ac.uk).
It was a 6,000 word application supported by two referee statements (thanks Robyn and Sharon B) and required a lot of evidence to support my claims.
The awards are great – even though they require a lot of work and the collection of a lot of evidence from over my 20 years of teaching and are a great recognition of the work I’ve done.
But much (much) more meaningful than the awards and fellowship came in the form of a text message from one of my daughters-in-law last week.
It turns out that Jada, one of my granddaughters, is being taught this year by someone I taught at university. Here are the messages I received:
Met with Scott [teacher] for a parent-teacher meeting this evening. He may have lit up like a Christmas tree when Jada mentioned your name (we had to go through the “Do you know Grandma Sharon” *blank look* “my grandma Sharon Pittaway” dance before he twigged).
He said you were his all time favourite lecturer and that you allowed students to give their own perspective on things and that you never just read or regurgitated information from a textbook. He said this made you inspiring. He also asked for me to pass on his regards.
He ALSO said that Jada no longer needs to come to school as she is now an A+ student because she knows ‘Grandma Sharon’.
I’m glad he took the no school rule back-Jada would have run with that! I made Scott out as being kind of excited, he was more yelling “oh my god” and “really??” He was flailing his arms around a little and slapping his thighs haha. Congratulations to you on making such an impact on people and allowing them to filter their enthusiasm for learning and growing through to the next generation. I’m especially grateful they are our kids!
He said the way I taught made me inspiring.
That’s worth more (much much more) than a VC’s award or a national citation or a senior fellowship.
Not because I was hurting from falling over this morning playing scarecrows and face planting into the oval.
Not because my face hurts from my glasses bashing into my cheekbone during said face plant.
Not because my hands hurt from trying to stop my face plowing into the ground, or my hip or my knee.
I cried because I was dwelling on a couple of conversations I’ve had recently and the hurt they’ve caused me.
But I want to backtrack a little first.
On Thursday morning we made it to the oncology centre with minutes to spare before my first treatment. The traffic had been worse than we’d thought it was going to be at that time of the day.
I handed over my patient card to the receptionist who kindly acknowledged that it was my first time, then asked if I could move the time of my second treatment to later in the afternoon. That suited me better so I had no hesitation saying yes, that’s fine.
It wasn’t long before one of the radiotherapists called my name, took me on a tour of the, admittedly not huge, facility. Here’s the change room, there’s the loo, here’s the control room, and here’s the room you’ll be in to have treatment. There were red lines from the lasers all over the walls. I changed, put the blue gown on, put my clothes in the green bag that I was to bring to each treatment (along with the gown), and went back into the room with the big machine in it.
I lay on the bed, took off my glasses, put on the goggles, put my arms above my head and held onto the handlebars and then was instructed to ‘lie heavy. I need to move your arm, but let me do it’ said the radio therapist. My arm in position, my hip moved slightly to the right, numbers and positions flying between the two radio therapists, more marks on my body, a cube to measure my breathing taped to my stomach, the sleeves of the gown crossed over my breasts and it was time to start.
They left the room and I was instructed to take a long slow breath in, hold it for a moment, then out again. On the screen in my goggles appeared an x-ray of my spine and ribs. I wish I knew how to read it so I could assure myself that all was in order.
The x-ray disappeared and the yellow line and blue box reappeared. Take a long slow breath in for me Sharon and hold it. It’ll be a long one this time.
I moved the yellow line into the blue box, turning the line green, then concentrated really hard to keep it there for what felt like a really (really) long time.
And breathe normally again Sharon.
The line became yellow again as I exhaled, then ‘one more long slow deep breath Sharon and hold’.
I began to feel a little panicky the second time. It felt quite claustrophobic to be honest. What if I couldn’t hold my breath for as long as I was required to? The now green line bobbed up and down slightly as I concentrated on holding the green line within the box.
And breathe normally again Sharon. That’s it, we’re all done.
Goggles off, arms down, off the table, shoes on, glasses on, head off to the change room. The radio therapists’ friendly ‘see you tomorrow Sharon’ stopped me as I went through the curtain. Oh yes, I’ll be doing this again tomorrow … and for another 17 weekdays after that. It feels different knowing that it’s not a once off scan. This is real. This is really happening.
Friday … second treatment. Any questions? What happens if I can’t hold my breath for as long as I need to? That’s okay. The machine is clever enough to turn off and then we just pick it up where we left off when you’re ready.
Knowing that certainly eased my mind.
See you on Monday!
And now back to the real issue for me this morning: at least you’re not dying. At least you’re assured of a good outcome. At least you’re not 70 and having to hold your breath for that long. At least you don’t have to drive 200kms each day to have treatment.
I have a suggestion, perhaps even some advice.
If you have a friend or relative who’s going through cancer treatment, comparing their experience to your aunt’s cousin’s brother-in-law’s mother and starting a sentence with ‘at least’ negates the fact that your friend is going through an experience of their own. And while it might not be ‘as bad’ as someone else they know who’s going through cancer treatment, or has already gone through cancer treatment, they’re still experiencing something.
They’re still dealing with emotions and what ifs and potential side effects and uncertainty and not knowing and I know uncertainty is similar to not knowing but it’s kind of different too.
Don’t start a sentence with ‘at least …’.
Don’t tell them stories about their best friend who’s just died age 30 from bowel cancer.
Don’t tell them they’re lucky.
Don’t make out that their experience is any less than someone else’s.
It’s hurtful …
So much so that I cried in the shower this morning.