Fertility Friday: Lemons and Lemonade

In 2016, I ran a series of posts called Fertility Friday. They were guest posts from friends, readers and other bloggers  about fertility, and how families are made, lost and sometimes made anew. They were stories of hope and sadness; real stories from real women, whose strength and courage defies what we often think is humanly possible. At the time, I asked my friend Rochelle to write her story, but she was knee-deep in cancer treatment and parenting, and didn’t quite get there. Two years later, and Rochelle is no longer having treatment, but rather having her pain managed whilst she faces the progression of the disease which will inevitably kill her. I have known a lot of strong women in my life but Rochelle is next level. As her friend, I bow down to her strength, courage, honesty, resilience and humour. 

They say being a parent is the hardest job in the world. It certainly isn’t easy. For some of us, that job is made virtually impossible.

My name is Rochelle. I am 35 years old and I’m currently under the care of my local palliative team because I have metastatic, stage 4 breast cancer. I’m also a mum to two young boys.

I was 27 years old and my son Corin was 11 months old when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. So while I was raising a baby and celebrating his first birthday and milestones such as walking and talking, I was also undergoing surgeries, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, scans, blood tests and more doctors’ appointments than imaginable.

We waded our way through that year of shit and emerged out the other side ready to get back to normal. We discussed having another baby and were told that it wasn’t an unreasonable expectation. We knew the chances of me getting pregnant again were very slim with all the cancer treatment I’d had. We were so grateful to have the child we had and if a second happened it would be amazing; if not we would be content with the one.

Surprisingly, we got pregnant within a few months with baby number two. It was an exhausting pregnancy. I had underestimated the toll all the cancer treatment had taken on my body. But we soldiered on and welcomed our second son, Beau. Life was busy, exhausting and ‘normal’. He was a baby who barely slept until about a week before his first birthday, but he was bloody cute.

When he was about 10 months old I started experiencing some unexplained chest pains. Ultrasounds and mammograms couldn’t find anything. Eventually I had an MRI. The day before Beau’s first birthday I got the results which said the cancer had returned, but this time it had adhered to my sternum which meant that the cancer had spread and while we could try to manage it, I would never be cured. This was 4 years and 9 months ago. The cancer has progressed and has spread to my bones, lungs and liver. During this time there have been more surgeries, radiotherapy, blood tests, scans, hospital stays and up until a month ago I had non-stop chemo. All of this while trying to manage a normal life for my kids.

Juggling doctors’ appointments and chemo side effects with school events and general life has been so bloody hard. We are living in rural NSW and all our family is in New Zealand. I have amazing support with a couple of friends and neighbours and they have made all the difference.

All I wanted in life was to create the loving, caring, supportive family that I never had growing up. I wanted to create confident children who knew they were loved and who felt safe, secure and wanted. I wanted to experience life with my children and see the wonder and amazement as they learn. Although I have given it my all and I’ve done an amazing job, I still feel like cancer hasn’t allowed me to reach the goals I wanted. It makes me sad that I have to sit on the sideline and watch them because I don’t have the physical capability to join in. I can’t always read stories to them because I’m too exhausted to talk. There isn’t the energy for big days out at parks or events, because although my spirit is willing, my body is just not able.

I have been asked if I feel like a normal mum. Sadly I don’t know what normal is, because cancer is my normal. I haven’t had the option to parent any other way. It breaks my heart that this is all my children know as a mother. That’s not fair on any child. But I have hope that it has set them up with more compassion for others, understanding, determination and resilience. They are amazing boys and I’m so proud of them. They are both so intelligent, clever and both have the most amazing sense of humour which will hopefully serve them well through their tough times.

Keeping my sense of humour has definitely been my saving grace. In saying that I still get hated like regular mums. I get told that they hate me, that they don’t want to be my friend, I’ve been told that they wished I was dead so they can get a nicer mum who lets them have whatever they want. That stings far worse for me than it does for regular mums, obviously. But I know they don’t mean it, I just hope they don’t remember saying it later on. They’re too young to really understand how tough things have been for all of us but I hope that as they grow they can look back with more appreciation and understanding and really be grateful at how hard it was for me and that I never gave up and I did everything I could for them.

I got to meet some important milestones like getting them both to school for their first days, and each birthday and Christmas has been an amazing achievement. We’ve had some amazing holiday experiences like going to Fiji, and my first time at the snow was with my boys. We also all have great memories of seeing our beloved All Blacks play live.

Cancer has taught me a lot. A lot about myself. I’m stronger than I ever imagined I could be. I have learned who I want to be as a person, and it is a very different person to the one I was raised and conditioned to be. I see the world through my own eyes, not the way I was taught to see it.

I have learned a lot about other people. The people who should have your back, often don’t, and it’s not about you, it’s about them. I was conditioned to tolerate a lot of shit from people because they’re family, that’s what you do. You forgive and move on. Sorry, no. Because often that same shit repeats itself. If people are causing you distress through their actions, words and treatment then you don’t have to continue that relationship because you’re ‘family’. Family still has to earn respect just like everybody else. I have had to sever a relationship that should never have even been a consideration. It was hard. I copped a lot of hate and flack for it. But I stand by my decision. It was the best decision I have ever made for myself and my mental health. And sadly, I would do it all over again if I had to.

I have learned so much about life. Given everything I’ve been through I should be bitter and miserable. I’m not. I’m still a really happy person. I enjoy spending time with my friends and trying to feel ‘normal’. That doesn’t mean I’m not angry, or disappointed. It doesn’t mean that I don’t cry about things. I am angry that this has happened to me and to my kids. I’m disappointed that I deserved better in life and should have done more with my life before I got sick. But I think we are all guilty of taking life for granted. I think we get so used to just treading water and getting through each day that we easily forget about the bigger picture. I cry. A lot. Mostly because nothing in my life will ever be better and there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t dwell on it. I have to be grateful for what I have and for every new day I’m given with my boys. I remind myself all the time that there is always someone worse off than me. It sounds cheesy but it’s true.

Every day I wish my life could have been different. If I could talk to my teenage self I would tell her that her feelings, thoughts and emotions are valid and worthy. That she is more intelligent than people give her credit for. That the steely exterior she had to create to protect herself isn’t who she truly is. That it’s ok to be herself, to go against the grain and create the life you want rather than the life everyone else wants and expects of you. Then I remind myself that it has all made me who I am. And I have to be proud of taking those lemons and making the best fucking lemonade I could.

_____________________________________________

Rochelle, my dear, dear friend, I have no doubt this was written about you:

“She made broken look beautiful
and strong look invincible.
She walked with the Universe
on her shoulders and made it
look like a pair of wings.” 

 

A Long Game

Since October last year, when I was declared five years cancer free with nil evidence of disease and discharged by my oncologist, things have been going along swimmingly. There’s been no literal swimming, as that would first require a bodily deforestation akin to the complete obliteration of the Amazonian rain forest, but there’s been lots of gently breast-stroking (singular) through life’s currently churn-free waters. My new job is proving equal parts challenging and rewarding, Dave is one week away from heading to Nepal to climb to Everest Base Camp, and Hugh is busy being almost 10 years old, loving computer games, playing piano like Liberace on crack, and teaching himself to draw cartoons.

My new office with the Charles Blackman on the wall feels a bit more lived in now I’ve been in it for a few weeks. Most days I go home with a brain that’s either fried from dealing with multiple competing priorities, or buzzing with possibilities for new projects and concepts. I’ve had some wins and made some mistakes, but given that nobody dies if I bugger something up, it’s all chalked up to experience. Given I didn’t work a single day for eight months through multiple surgeries, chemo and radiation, and then worked part-time for almost a year, I feel incredibly fortunate – and also very proud – to be sitting where I am, doing what I do.

The Everest Base Camp trek has been planned since Dave turned 50 last year – in fact it was my birthday present to him. He is going with a mate, and has steadily worked on his fitness over the past 9 months, to the point where he is trim, fit and ready to go. It is a massive physical and mental challenge, but knowing Dave as I do, I have no concerns about his ability to complete the trek. Of course altitude sickness is the big unknown that can bring Everest trekkers unstuck, and I will no doubt worry incessantly for the 16 days he is away, but I am so incredibly proud that he is going to give this his best shot.

Hugh is in year 5 and is still, for the most part, an utter joy. Most people comment on his smarts, politeness and his easy-going nature, whilst other people (specifically his mother) comment on his disorganisation, eye-rolling and distaste for vegetables. But he is a good kid with a cracking sense of humour, who is growing into the sort of person you’d genuinely like to hang out with, and that makes me incredibly happy.

He was four when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and will soon turn 10. He doesn’t talk about my illness, and to the naked eye would appear to be completely unscathed by it. Then, yesterday, his teacher sends home his English assessment – the first chapter of a fantasy novel. It’s really good – interesting, well-written and punctuated within an inch of its life (apple meet tree). I start reading it and my heart starts filling up, for I do love words and images and the power of story-telling. And then, bang, I’m hit and can’t catch my breath and suddenly need to lean against the kitchen bench as my eyes trace over and over these words:

Hugh story

Cancer is a bastard. It is insidious, inveigling, and continues to whisper its own name, over and over, into the ears of people with whom it has no business. I had forgotten that for a while, but have been roundly and soundly reminded.

It’s a long game.

A very fucking long game.

Where Am I? Where I Am.

It’s been two months since I posted here. First there was Christmas, then the fog of days that run over each other between Christmas and New Year, and then I was back to work on January 2. I have a new job, and whilst I don’t talk about my professional life in any detail here, I can say that it is crazily busy, incredibly challenging, and entirely life-affirming. I had forgotten how good I can be under pressure: thinking fast, scanning, deciding, knowing my stuff. I had also forgotten how it feels to feel unsure of myself, to have the flicker of ‘but I’m just the daughter of blue-collar workers who didn’t graduate high school and who didn’t know inside toilets existed until I visited a neighbour’s house when I was 7’ run through my mind when I am given sole responsibility for an incredibly important project. That fleeting flicker of doubt isn’t a wholly bad thing, as it makes me stop and recognise that I am who I am, because of where I came from, not in spite of it.

I am that girl from a poor family, with parents working casual jobs and a father with a gambling problem, living in a run-down rented house with an outside toilet and no power points in my bedroom which was actually a converted verandah.

I am that bright kid at the state school whose Mum spent money she didn’t have buying me project kits at the newsagent so I could do my lecturette about the Egyptians and get an A+.

I am the high schooler who got her poetry published in an actual book but whose Mum and Dad couldn’t come to the launch because they were casual workers who had to work.

I am that regional university student who had the marks to get into the fanciest of fancy sandstone city universities, but who didn’t even contemplate applying because a free pre-HECS higher education gotten whilst living at home was what I had coming to me.

I am that graduate, then postgraduate with a talent for teaching others who became an academic at that same regional university. I am that young woman earning more money than my parents could ever have imagined, working in a place they could not understand, talking and writing about things that are irrelevant when you have spent your life living on the bones of your arse.

I am that woman who worked her way up through administration and management, and who is nearing 50 and sitting in a big office with an original painting on the wall done by Charles Blackman, whose Alice in Wonderland series was the subject of one of my undergraduate university essays, written on a second-hand typewriter with an overhead light powered by an extension lead from another room.

I am also wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, foe and she of the single remaining breast.

I am all that. Right here, where I am.

 

2017 In Review

2017 went a little something like this:

Hugh broken arm.

Cat bitten by brown snake.

Julie broken arm.

Julie arm surgery.

Mum almost dies.

Hugh second broken arm.

Dog tears ACL.

Done.

In between all of the shit and disaster, were moments of absolute delight and phenomenally good news, specifically:

Mum recovered.

I was declared five-years cancer free, taken off my hideous medication and discharged by my oncologist.

Those two things go a very long way towards redeeming 2017. I will probably still kick it in the goolies, but maybe not quite as hard.

Actually, now that I think about it, there were many other highlights. I was interviewed for the Her Words Series and I won a Queensland Writers Centre competition and had my 8 word story published on electronic billboards across Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Dave turned 50 and was surprised with the gift of a trip to Nepal to climb to Everest Base Camp in April next year. Hugh thrived at school and achieved in the top 10% in Australia in a spelling exam, and developed an interest in soccer (despite it being the cause of his second broken arm). The cat didn’t die (much to Dave’s disappointment) and my beautiful old dog Roy has almost fully recovered from his ACL repair surgery. He and Mum have struck up the most beautiful friendship since he’s been staying with her, and he has gone from being my cancer dog to her heart dog. I got to meet a couple of my lovely readers (including the fabulous Kay – hi Kay!), and spent face-to-face time with several of my online friends, as well as my fabulous real life friends. Speaking of whom, we finally achieved marriage equality in this country. Of course none of my bloody gay friends actually want to get married which sucks because to paraphrase Muriel, I wanna be a bridesmaid!

And now, here we are, just a few days before Christmas, with the end of the year looming. This is my favourite time of the year; everything that was and wasn’t is behind us, and everything that is possible is still to come. We have boy who, really, truly and quite magically, still believes in Santa, so the sense of anticipation is palpable, despite this being his 9th Christmas.

Baby Hugh Christmas

To all of you who have read my posts this year, chatted with me on Facebook and email and Instagram and Twitter, thank you. You’ve given me both an ear and a voice, and I continue to be amazed by the power of all my imaginary Internet friends.

Merry Christmas, and here’s to a 2018 where bones, hearts and pets remain intact, and family and friends remain.

Cheers.

 

 

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

On October 10, my oncologist broke up with me after five years. It wasn’t him, it wasn’t me, it was NED. Thank God for NED – full name Nil Evidence of Disease – for coming between us. As nice as my oncologist is, that relationship was going nowhere.

While I’d been sitting waiting for my appointment to see the good doctor, I’d come across the Queensland Writers Centre #8WordStory competition on Twitter. As the hashtag would suggest, the challenge was to tell a story via Twitter using only eight words. The best entries – as judged by writers such as Nick Earls and Benjamin Law – would be published on electronic billboards on major roads in Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

After my doctor told me about NED, I knew immediately what my story would be. I sat in my car in the cancer unit car park and tapped out my entry, and four weeks later I got a message telling me that from over 6,000 entries, mine had been picked for publication! Here’s my story in its electronic glory on the Inner City Bypass at Bowen Hills in Brisbane:

8wordstory

Coinciding with my final oncologist appointment, was his decision to take me off the dreaded Anastrozole. This drug provides a 25% increase in survival in the first 5 years post-diagnosis, but it has the most hideous side-effects, the key one for me in the end being osteoporosis which caused my arm to be smashed into tiny pieces after a minor fall in April this year, resulting in major surgery to turn my limb into Frankenarm.

I had hated Anastrozole with a passion for nigh-on five years, but the moment my oncologist told me I could stop taking it, I was worried. Since the day of my mastectomy in 2012, I have been having some sort of treatment for cancer. Was Anastrozole the only thing keeping it at bay? Wouldn’t it be better to keep taking it just in case? Surely I could just wear my bubble-wrap outfit forever to keep my bones in one piece.

bubble wrap

And you thought I was joking about having a bubble-wrap outfit.

But as part of his final pep talk, my oncologist told me that Anastrozole had done its job, and could do no more. ‘You do not need a security blanket, Julie.’ where his exact words. And like he had been about so many things – ‘Yes, we are giving you enough chemotherapy, not everyone gets the vomits’ – he was right. I don’t need a security blanket. I need to move on, carefully gather my fragile bones, and get the fuck on with life completely outside the hideous but reassuring grip of cancer treatment.

That doesn’t mean I will (or could) forget about cancer. Thanks to those of you who donated online, plus my ever-generous work colleagues, we raised over $800 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, who will put this money directly into research. With donations like ours, a cure will one day be found and this blog and its tales of cancer will become like the Egyptian pyramid texts – so completely other-wordly that they will need a specialist to decipher them. Especially the sweary bits.

Dying to Live: Metastatic Breast Cancer

Today is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. Metastatic breast cancer is when cancer cells have spread from the original cancer site in the breast to more distant parts of the body. Terms such as advanced breast cancer, secondary breast cancer, secondary cancers, metastases and secondaries are all different ways of describing metastatic breast cancer, but they all mean the same thing.

There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, but fundraising this October by the various breast cancer organisations will go towards much-needed research into new treatments, and a possible cure. My love and respect goes out today to those living with this bastard disease, including my beautiful friend Rochelle, who has allowed me to share her story.

I don’t talk much about my cancer. It’s something I choose not to dwell on. When I do mention things, I get private messages from people saying that they didn’t realise I was still sick, sick again, or sick at all. So as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month, and in particular with today being Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, I find it fitting that I put this out there today.

I am living with Metastatic Breast Cancer. If you’re not sure what ‘Metastatic’ is, it means my cancer has spread from the initial point to other parts of my body. This can also be referred to as secondary or advanced. Call it what you like, it’s incurable. It is terminal.

7 years ago I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I was a 27 year old, with an almost 1 year old. Life changed. After surgeries, chemo and radiation I was given the clear and tried to get back to ‘normal’. We had another baby. Then 4 years ago, the day before my second son’s first birthday, they told me the cancer was back. They told me it had adhered to my sternum but during surgery they tried to scrape as much of it away as they could. They gave me chemo to mop up anything left. The chances of it spreading were almost guaranteed but they believed we had caught it early enough to give me a good amount of time before it would show up anywhere else. 12 months later it was in my bones and my lungs. Now it is also in my liver.

I am 34, trying to raise my sons as normally as possible, yet I do this every day with the knowledge that our life is anything but normal. I have had more surgeries, chemo, complications, blood tests, appointments and medications than I care to recall. And I am dying. I am realistic about this, I am not in denial. It is what it is. That doesn’t mean I don’t have hope. I have hope new drugs will be found to keep me here a bit longer. I have hope that research and technology with reduce this suffering for others in the future. And I have hope that my children will grow into amazing, productive, kind, happy men.

You can help by educating yourselves, donating and raising money for research and support services for those in need. Provide physical and practical help for those fighting and their families. Make food, fold their washing, help with their kids, take them to appointments, and just spend time with them!

Not just for breast cancer but all cancers.

rochelle

#fuckcancer

If you want to help my funny, smart, fabulous (and not to mention hot, I mean c’mon have a look at her!) friend and thousands of other people in her situation, please consider making a donation to fund research.

Options for donating:

Cancer Council NSW (where Rochelle lives): https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/ways-to-donate/

My fundraising site (all funds go to metastatic breast cancer research): https://pinkribbonbreakfast.gofundraise.com.au/page/JulieShinners0

 

 

High Five!

Five years ago, I was, entirely without my permission, parachuted (minus the parachute) into Cancer Land.

Shit place to visit, nobody lives there.

Today, I got asked to leave. Unceremoniously told that my presence is no longer required.

I really, really want to write an eloquent post about how this feels (And then have it shared a million times by people who then tell me I’m an inspiration. Because if there’s one thing that’s great about having survived cancer, it’s being an inspiration to those who have won the health lottery and have been lucky enough not to get it. )

Instead, I sit here in shock. Five years ago I was told I had less than 50% chance of being alive enough to sit here in shock . But here I sit, having just seen my oncologist, to be told my results are again all clear, and as such he is discharging me from his care.

I asked him to be in a selfie with me to mark the occasion. He said he wished he’d worn a tie, and I said not to worry I’d photoshop one in.

Dr Vasey.png

I lied. Sorry Dr Vasey, I don’t know how to photoshop stuff in or out, and if I did my priority wouldn’t be your tie, it’d be reinstating your forehead and fixing my crazy, crazy eyes.

Seriously though, how good do I look as someone excitedly on the verge of tears because five years passed by and my oncologist broke up with me?

There is no cure for cancer, but for me, today, there is complete remission with NED – Nil Evidence of Disease.

That’ll do pig, that’ll do.

 

 

 

Vulnerability

Earlier this year, I was asked by the her words team if I would be part of their interview series. At the time, I really didn’t know what they wanted to talk to me about, but I knew they’d read my blog so wouldn’t expect me to talk about rainbows and unicorns, so I jumped at the chance to have a chat in front of the camera. I’ve never met a public speaking opportunity I didn’t like. Same goes for cake.

The interview took place in Melbourne, on a ridiculously hot summer’s day in a trendy inner-city warehouse apartment that made me feel like the sweating rather than glowing middle-aged suburbanite that I am. The women from her words are quite amazing –  earnest, smart, and driven to help women of all sorts to tell their stories. They also managed to film me so I don’t look sweaty, for which they get copious bonus points.

My interview took place over a couple of hours, and I think the fact that the interviewer and production staff were all incredibly young and enthusiastic made me feel more determined than ever to tell my story. As a young woman in my 20s, I didn’t have the confidence I needed to feel comfortable wanting to build my career when mostly everyone else was marrying and having children. Instead, I  built a facade of not giving a damn, whilst secretly yearning to be just like everyone else. In many ways, I was walking on a treadmill, always moving but never actually getting anywhere. I did things – bought a house, travelled a bit, built my career – but I never knew why or to what end. It has only been in the last five years that I have realised that opening up about who I am and how I feel means that I no longer yearn for anything (other than a cure for cancer, a couple more kids and a Snickers bar every now and then.)

The theme of my interview was vulnerability. Losing  four babies and then getting cancer in the space of just a few years made me incredibly vulnerable, but at the time I didn’t openly acknowledge that, and instead tried to persist with my facade. If I didn’t look at the words ‘Cancer Centre’ on the side of the building I went to for chemo, then I could go through eight months of treatment without shedding a tear. If I pretended to be happy, relieved even, to only have one child, then I could tough out conversations about my small family. If I could pretend my heart was hard, then I could get through all this unscathed. Except, of course, for all the scars.

Then I started writing this blog, growing gradually more game to reveal my feelings to the anonymity of the Internet. But the Internet is far from anonymous, especially when you post photos of yourself without your top on, but quite remarkably instead of people judging me for telling my truths, they joined in, telling me theirs, letting me know that I was far from alone. And so it began, a kind of mid-life rebirth of the non-hippy kind, with me learning one of the greatest lessons of my life – that by opening ourselves up to others, we open ourselves up to ourselves.

A couple of months after this interview was recorded, I broke my arm in six places, and learned that extreme physical pain, pain that cannot be accurately expressed in words, tears a hole in your soul and lets everything pour out. I was no longer the acquiescent patient, smiling my way through chemo like some balding nut-job. I was broken, smashed and wailing. The level of vulnerability I felt then, and at certain moments still, was acutely terrifying, and caused what the doctors call situational depression and post-traumatic anxiety. It is hard for me to write that down here, pains me to show you that new vulnerability, but bugger it, I am here tell my truth. I broke my arm and it kind of broke me, but I am being treated, being mindful, going easy, and am thankfully feeling good again.

So here is my interview with her words. The bitchy resting face sure gets a good showing, and my husband things I sound a little bit like Judith Lucy (which in my books is not a bad thing), and I’m proud as punch of myself. Oh and I did actually talk about unicorns …

Ask My Mum

It was my birthday yesterday. I nailed it as far as birthdays go, making myself a brown butter cake with lemon curd and white chocolate cream, scoring some awesome presents, and going out for Chinese for dinner where I completely dominated a plate of honey king prawns. I did offer them around the table, but my friends and family aren’t stupid.

At the restaurant, I sat across from my 81 year old Mum. She nearly died about a month ago, but there she was, tucking in with gusto to satay chicken, beef and black bean and fried rice. As I looked over at her smiling face, I was taken back to the critical care ward, where my brother and I sat and listened while the specialist consultant spoke to Mum about her end of life wishes. She’d had a minor heart attack initially, but had a rare reaction to one of the standard drugs used to treat it, and had gone into acute kidney failure. Her body was shutting down, blood pressure getting lower and lower, breath gasping despite the oxygen mask, skin waxy white. Her eyes were closed, but she heard every word he said, and confirmed what we already knew. She did not want to be resuscitated, or kept alive by machines. If things were at an end, she would go on her own terms.

The consultant told us later, out of Mum’s earshot, that he thought she would only live another couple of days. We stayed by her bed, alternating breaks for coffee and loo, regularly joined by family and friends who had come to say goodbye.

That night, my brother asleep in our spare room, we waited for the dreaded phone call to come, like it had when Dad died. But it didn’t, and that morning when we arrived at the hospital Mum was sitting up on the side of the bed, and then moved to sit in a chair. She hadn’t eaten for days, but suddenly decided she wanted a vanilla ice-cream in a cone. I sent my brother to fetch it (pulling the little sister with a broken shoulder card because it was cold outside) and when he came back with a Cornetto, Mum proceeded to eat it in about five bites. Anyone who knows my mother knows she is not a fan of sweet things and watches her diet like a hawk, so we were both amused and bemused. Someone told us that those who are dying often seem to rally just before they pass, so we thought that perhaps this was Mum’s final hurrah.

But it wasn’t. Gradually, she got better. Her kidney function improved and rapidly returned to almost normal, her blood pressure normalised and they weaned her off the oxygen. And as she left critical care for the general ward, she gave the consultant a hot tip, and recommended he introduce Cornetto therapy to all his patients.

After dinner last night, my Mum gave me a birthday card, and I went a bit misty-eyed when I read the front:

card-1.jpg

And then I pissed myself laughing when I read what was inside:

card-2.jpg

I am regularly asked how I am able to laugh in the face of really tough stuff. And I always say, you should probably ask my Mum.