Month: April 2014

What’s Cooking?

As you would know from my previous post about being a feeder, I love cooking. Sometimes I love it more in theory than in practice, as by the end of a long working week my head might be saying a homemade scallop and roasted pumpkin risotto would be lovely but my fingers will be dialling up for takeaway Thai, seemingly of their own volition.

I read somewhere recently that cooking shows, recipe books and food-related websites are the new porn. We ooh and aah over beautifully-plated dishes which feature ingredients we don’t even know how to pronounce properly, and techniques we have no hope of ever replicating. So, pretty much exactly like porn. There is also the massive trend on social media to take photos of the food you have created or been served, and post them online for all your friends to admire – kind of like the equivalent of  the readers’ wives section of dodgy men’s magazines. Some food, like amazing cakes and pastries, is very photogenic indeed, but other things – well they are best left unphotographed.

This photo was tweeted by Martha Stewart. And no, it was not something she was served up while she was in jail.

This photo was tweeted by Martha Stewart. And no, it was not something she was served up while she was in jail. Apparently it is iceberg salad with Russian dressing, but it looks suspiciously like something my cat once vomited up.

I am a sucker for a beautiful recipe book, I will often stop in a bookstore and leaf through, salivating at the gorgeous photos and imagining myself serving up these amazing dishes to my appropriately enthused family. Then the reality of having a five year old with very limited tastes, a husband with coeliac disease and me with my own food allergy sets in, and I put the book back on the shelf. I do allow myself to trawl through recipe websites on a regular basis, as the gratification is instant and free. And there’s that porn reference again.

Talking about recipes and food and cooking is also something that gives me great pleasure; the giving and receiving of little tidbits of advice creates an reinforces a sense of shared identity with friends and workmates. In the staffroom at my place of employment, lunchtime chatter often turns to food and recipes and new types of ingredients, and in my mind it is the modern-day version of chatting at the market or over the back fence.

With this notion of sharing in mind, I thought it would be nice to share some ideas and recipes here, in the hope that you might respond with some of your favourites.

Leftover Roast Meat Pie

I discovered this Perfect Meat Pie recipe recently, when I was searching for something to do with a big chunk of leftover roast beef. In our family we have a roast pretty much every Sunday night for dinner, but then the uneaten meat tends to sit sadly in the fridge until at the end of the week I feed it to the dogs. So I gave this recipe a try, and it was absolutely delicious – it was also easy and relatively quick to make, I managed it after work one evening. I used a gluten free frozen puff pastry that I found at Woolies, and it has been a revelation – tastes almost as good as the normal stuff and very easy to work with.

Indian Street Kitchen Curries

I’m not normally a fan of sauces and meal bases that come out of a packet or jar, as they tend to be full of artificial stuff and taste like crap. But sometimes it is really handy to have something in the pantry that you can just chuck in a pan with some diced meat and veges and have on the table quickly, so I am always on the lookout for decent pre-made stuff. Over the last few weeks I’ve tried two different curry bases from the Indian Street Kitchen range, and they have been absolutely delicious. Each pack contains a sachet of marinade, a sachet of spices to get the curry started, and a sachet of paste to finish off. The ingredients are all natural, exactly the same stuff I would use if I was taking the time to make the curry from scratch, so I feel vastly superior to anyone serving up Chicken Tonight. And for we mothers, it’s all about being able to feel superior. We had the Bengali Beef last night and it was really tasty. Two thumbs up.

No, I am am not being paid by Passage Foods to plug their curries. But I would definitely like to be.

No, I am am not being paid by Passage Foods to plug their curries. But I would definitely like to be.

So, tell me what’s your best recipe? Or your favourite supermarket cheat for those nights when a packet of unlabelled meat from the back of the freezer and some flaccid carrots are the only other alternative?


That’s Bullshit

My husband has a lovely turn of phrase. It was actually one of the first things that drew me to him – that and the red hair – I have always had a predilection for gingers. Cats and blokes. Anyway, Dave is originally from a very small town in country Victoria, which seems to be a linguistic melting pot of quaint English turns of phrase and pronunciations such as ‘going down the street’ when heading out to the shops and the best of rural Australian-isms like ‘freezing your tits off’.

Over our years together, I have picked up some of this phraseology, one of which has in turn been passed on to my friends and colleagues and is now in wide use in my social and professional circles. I think of it as a verbal allen key, a phrase which works no matter what the context, and irrespective of what it is you’re trying to communicate. Ladies and gentlemen of the Internet, I give you:

That’s bullshit.

The uses of that’s bullshit are many and varied.

Yes, I am aware this is starting to sound like an Infomerical.

Yes, I am aware this is starting to sound like an Infomerical.

It works to express disbelief – Me: ‘It’s out of toner again? Colleague: ‘That’s bullshit!‘.

It shows when you are sympathetic – Friend: ‘Someone backed into my car at the supermarket and left a false number’. Me: ‘That’s bullshit!

It allows the emotional cripples amongst us to express feelings which would otherwise remain unspoken. Me: ‘I won season tickets to the footy/ironed all your clothes/decided I really do like eating chicken’. Someone else: ‘That’s bullshit!

Possibly best of all, it gives us words when nothing else seems appropriate. When I received the phone call telling me I had breast cancer, the first words out of my husband’s mouth were that’s bullshit! Which, indeed, it was.

Apparently that’s bullshit is also becoming hip with the young people. And I mean the really young people. Not that long ago we were driving back from a weekend away, with our five year old amusing himself in the back seat watching Youtube videos on his iPad. The route we chose ended up taking us through some rugged country where it soon became apparent the Internet reception was dodgy. ‘Mummy, mummy, why won’t my iPad work?’ was the plaintive cry from the back seat. I calmly explained that the road we were on was out of range, which meant we could not access the Internet, so he wouldn’t be able to watch his videos for a while. (My calm was very much faked, and I suddenly understood why my mother chain-smoked during our family road trips in the 70s.) There was quiet from the backseat for few seconds as this news was digested, and then: ‘No Internet, Mummy?? That’s bullshit!

Proud as punch at our boy’s sophisticated and nuanced linguistic stylings, I immediately started envisaging the new family crest, complete with Latin motto: id est, vitulum mauris. I don’t think I need to translate that for you.

Having family polo shirts made up with this on the pocket.

Seriously contemplating having family polo shirts made up with this on the pocket. Would be ideal for our bowling league team, should we decide to start one up.

So tell me, are you keen to get on board the that’s bullshit trend that I predict is about to sweep the nation? With your help, we could make it 2014’s answer to planking. If you are worried about the vulgar language aspect, I hope you will be reassured by this quote from Mel Brooks, who is obviously already on the bandwagon:

I’ve been accused of vulgarity. I say that’s bullshit.


‘As seen on TV’ image sourced from here

The Wait’s End

This is the sequel to my previous post The Weight of the Wait. It’s like the Hangover 2, except nobody goes to Thailand. Although all this bloody waiting would no doubt be much more pleasant done on Nai Harn Beach with a Margarita in one hand and a crab cake in the other …

There will be a short break in programming whilst we all imagine being on this beach ...

There will be a short break in programming whilst we all imagine being on this beach …

So in my previous post we got up to the bit where I found out that my cancer wasn’t terminal. Maybe I should’ve waited until now to reveal that part – I could have done a cliffhanger ending, Neighbours style. Maybe next time (little cancer joke there, for non-cancer people I’ll explain THERE IS NO NEXT TIME). Anyway, once I found out that the cancer wasn’t stage 4 (which is terminal) but stage 3C (which is the final station before the terminal), I embarked on what ended up being eight months of treatment. And a shitload of waiting.

The wait between surgery and the start of chemotherapy is usually 4-6 weeks, and in my case it was five weeks. I recovered really well from the surgery, and was allowed to drive again 10 days afterwards. Of course I still had a boob missing, and a massive hole in my armpit out through which they’d dragged my lymph nodes, but to the casual observer I looked completely normal. I spent my days catching up with friends, cooking extravagant meals for my family (creme brulee anyone?), and napping on the couch. It was like being on holidays, except that I had bastard cancer and pretty much all I thought about in every waking moment was bastard cancer. I socialised a lot during this time, as a way of trying to avoid the giant fucking elephant in the room, but instead I developed the uncanny ability to participate fully in a completely mundane conversation whilst still thinking about cancer. I’ve made some cancer friends of late via Facebook (big shout out to the Cancer Clique) and they have confirmed that the ability to behave totally normally whilst slowly going out of your skull with worry is something that we’ve all experienced.

Finally, it was time for my first round of chemo. Seems insane that you’d be keen to get started on some cytotoxic poisoning, but it meant that the wait for this next step was over. I stood out like a sore thumb in the chemo waiting room on that first day. I was young (the average age of cancer diagnosis in Australia is 65.4 years), I looked healthy (because for all intents and purposes I was – breast cancer does not normally make you ill until it moves to Stage 4), and I had a full-head of thick, lustrous hair (but not for long!). Finally, after what seemed like yet another eternity, my name was called, and with my husband I entered into the chemotherapy ward for the first time.

Chemotherapy itself is comprised pretty much of waiting, with the occasional antihisthamine-induced hallucination thrown in just to keep things interesting. When you arrive at your allotted time you are weighed (despite what telemovies would have you believe, the steroids that you are given during chemo for breast cancer often cause women to gain weight) so that your drug calculations can be done. You are then hooked up to bags of IV fluids, steroids and anti-nausea drugs, before they move onto the real deal. You know it’s serious gear that’s being pumped through your veins when the nurses are wearing full gowns and masks whenever they are in your vicinity. The time taken to infuse the drugs depends on the type of chemo being used. Mine took between three and six hours, which represents a lot of waiting. You can’t wander off to the cafeteria because you’re hooked up to the drug pumping machine, so apart from going to the loo every three minutes (because you are having so many IV fluids) you are stuck in a ward with nought to do, except think about cancer and wonder just how sick this stuff is going to make you.

I was lucky to have a family member or friend come with me to all of my eight chemotherapy rounds, so I had lots of distraction, with the added bonus of having someone to do my bidding at the cafeteria. Chemotherapy didn’t ever make me nauseous – I did lose my taste for some things and suffer with indigestion – but mostly I remained, as I have always been, which is very good on the tooth. If I hadn’t had a bald head by week two of treatment, and been minus all other body hair by week eight, you would never have known by looking at me just what was being done to my body.

As well as the waiting at each chemotherapy treatment, there is the waiting in between each one. My wait was two weeks, as I had a treatment every second Tuesday. The first week after chemo would pass in a haze of fatigue, steroid mania, searing indigestion and excruciating bone pain. Then the next week things would improve physically, but I would start to be filled with an almost all-consuming dread about what was coming next. The day before my final chemotherapy session, I had a meltdown of spectacular proportions, where I cried pretty much uncontrollably for hours on end. To me this represents the nadir – the absolute low point – of my treatment. My body had been pushed almost beyond its limits – I was severely anaemic and suffering constant bone pain so severe that morphine had little impact – and the tenuous control that I had left over my mind was rapidly slipping away. But like every chemotherapy patient does, I fronted up to the cancer centre the next day with a smile on my totally hairless dial, and got on with the business of living.

Chemo is over, so surely that’s the end of the waiting? Nope. I got a four-week break to get over the anaemia, before starting 25 days of radiotherapy. During that four weeks I pretty much just slept and wondered what the fuck had really happened to me. Radiotherapy is a total doddle once you’ve done chemo, except if you are one of the few people who has severe skin reactions to the radiation. I was one of those people, so by week five of radiotherapy my skin was peeling off in sheets, I was constantly dehydrated because of the amount of fluid I was losing from my burns, and I was again pushed to my absolute limits.

The waiting for treatment to be over happened on 2 May, 2013 which was also my little boy’s 5th birthday. Organising his party got me through a lot of the waiting during radiotherapy, and also gave me not one but two desirable outcomes – I’d finished active treatment and my baby was having his first proper birthday party, with 25 of his closest buddies. I think I will always look back on that party as one of highlights of my life. I suspect there may have been many parents cursing me afterwards, as my joie de vivre was expressed in party loot bags so heavily laden with lollies and chocolates that the plastic handles were stretched to breaking point.

I’m now 19 months into what I can only hope is the final wait of my cancer journey. To be given the all clear, I have to make it to five years post-surgery without a recurrence. 41 more months. I am getting through this wait one day at a time, concentrating on my desirable outcome (to be cured!) and distracting myself with interesting things while I wait. This blog is one of those things. I plan to do a fair bit of my waiting in here, so hopefully you will join me and help pass the time.

I can’t resist ending this post with another song about waiting. I haven’t heard this one on the radio for a very long time, but those of the same vintage as me will appreciate my revival of the glorious flowing mullet of one Mr Richard Marx:

The Weight of the Wait

I had a lot of time on my hands yesterday to think about the subject of waiting, as my 20 minute tyre repair turned into a two-hour ordeal trapped in the rubber stink and decade-old magazine hell that is the tyre repair shop’s waiting area. According to researchers, we are more likely to tolerate having to wait for something if what we are waiting for is desirable, and we have something interesting (or at least distracting) to do whilst we wait.  Clearly Bob Jane has not been keeping up with the research.

We spend a lot of life waiting. Fifteen minutes for our prawn chow mein and special fried rice on a Friday night, 30 minutes because the dentist is performing a particularly tricky root canal (the sound of which will never leave me), 10 minutes in a queue for movie tickets. Most of this waiting is done without much thought or attention – we check Facebook on our phone or read a New Idea from 2003 – and next thing we know our number’s been called and we’re on our way.

Then comes cancer. Cancer is all about the waiting. And the waiting is fraught and excruciating and ongoing. My first wait was less than 24 hours – I had a biopsy done at 2pm on a Thursday and by 10am the next morning the call came through. My next wait was from seeing the surgeon to having the surgery – only a day but one where my mind buzzed pretty much non-stop. The wait in the pre-operative waiting room was so sad, my husband by my side listening to my incessant small-talk which I seemed unable to stop. Anything to avoid the silence. Then, once I was on the operating table, I had to wait whilst they set up the IV lines on my left arm. They normally use the right side but that was where the surgeon needed to stand to remove my breast and lymph nodes. As I waited, I placed my hand over my right breast, and remembered how my infant son had fed pretty much exclusively from that side from day one, he was always fussy on the left but comfortable on the right. That wait ended as the anaesthetic took over. I often wonder if my hand was still on my breast when they started the surgery, and if it is what all women undergoing a mastectomy do as a natural, protective reflex.

Once I awoke from the surgery, I started waiting for the nausea to stop. Oh, the nausea. I vomited so much that I wet myself, which was when I discovered that not one but both of the nurses looking after me in recovery where in my senior class at high school. I hadn’t seen either of them in 25 years, yet here we all were. If it was part of a movie plot you would think to yourself ‘oh bullshit, as if that would happen’ but it did. Rachael and Rowena. They stayed with me for hours as they worked with the doctors to try to get my nausea under control. That waiting was made so much more tolerable by that double blast from the past, and I will be eternally grateful for the set of cosmic coincidences that made it happen.

My next wait was for the surgeon to come and give me the news on my pathology the following afternoon. I cried that night (once the pethidine high had finally worn off) in terror of the unknown, and then again the next afternoon when the surgeon delivered his news – the cancer was all through my lymph nodes, it was as aggressive as it gets, and – he drew breath at this point and the wait, although only a few seconds, seemed eternal – he suspected that the cancer had probably already spread elsewhere. And that’s when the hardest wait of all started.

To find out if the cancer had spread I had to have a CT scan and a bone scan. Because of the various dyes used in the tests, and because I had just been through a massive surgery, the tests had to be done on separate days. It was now Friday evening and the first test would be done Monday, and the second Tuesday. And then I would see the surgeon Tuesday at 5pm. A full four-day wait to find out if I had terminal cancer. Maniacs, despots, psychopaths and crazies of the world take note – if you want to torture someone (and those close to them), tell them they definitely have cancer, but then make them wait four days to find out if it’s terminal.

I spent those four days pretty much non-stop in the company of my husband, whose unwavering love and support were literally the only things keeping me afloat. For 96 hours I waited. To pass the time I cried, raged, mentally planned my funeral, had horrendously difficult conversations with friends and family, and wondered if perhaps this would all be easier if I wasn’t an atheist. And when, finally, it was 5pm Tuesday, I sat in the surgeon’s office waiting for him to deliver my fate. He came straight from a day of surgery to our appointment, so was just reading my test results as he walked in the door. Time was suspended – again – whilst I searched his face for a clue about what he was reading. Then, the words: ‘Tests are all clear’, at which point I started crying and laughing and would have probably also peed my pants except that Rachael and Rowena weren’t there to help me change my undies.

That was the end of the worst wait, but little did I know about how much more waiting there was to come. In fact, so much waiting that it will need a whole other post, for which you’ll have to wait.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this. As I was driving to work this morning, soaking up my 15 minutes of daily thinking time, this post was forming in my head. As the ideas tumbled around in my brain, I realised that this song was playing on the radio:

Five Things I Hate About Cancer

Today I had to pick up a prescription at the cancer centre at the hospital where I was treated. Walking into that place, almost a year since my last day of treatment, brought it all rushing back. I actually had to take a couple of deep breaths and physically steel myself to walk up the stairs and go into the waiting room. At 12:15 on a Wednesday afternoon a couple of days before Easter, it was standing room only in there. It is not a small waiting room. So many people sitting silently, apart from an ocassional cough, waiting to do whatever they are told that they have to do. Despite what the cheesy telemovies would have you believe, oncology waiting rooms are not (in my experience at least) full of jovial head-scarf wearers who are firing up for another 12 rounds where they will no doubt triumph over nasty old cancer. People sit silently, avoid eye contact with each other, and jump like startled rabbits when their name is called.

Going back there today, combined with some very sad news about a family friend, has reminded me about how much I hate cancer. There are many, many reasons, but in the spirit of a man who looks like he’s wearing a bad wig even though it’s his own hair, I’ve limited this post to listing my Richard Wilkins-style top 5:

1. Being asked by my 4 year old if I was going to die

We did our best to protect our son from the worst of my diagnosis and treatment, and certainly we never discussed death or dying with him. But children are of course incredibly perceptive, although I didn’t realise quite how perceptive until one night when I was in the middle of chemo. I was putting my boy to bed, and after we’d read a story and I was adjusting his blankets, he stared at me thoughtfully for a while, and then said ‘Mummy, are you going to die? Because if you die, then it will just be Daddy and me’.

2. Filling in forms

Insurance forms which ask you to tick the box if your cancer is terminal and you’re likely to be dead within the next 12 months are a special kind of torture to the cancer patient. No, I am not terminal at this point in time, so I’ll tick the other box. Well now you’ve ticked the other box, we’re going to need a letter from your doctor telling us what % chance you have of still being alive in five years time. Thank you, oh faceless insurance actuary so much for the reminder, I’d almost forgotten how completely shit this whole situation was and will continue to be.

3. Seeing every event as a possible ‘last’

Will this Christmas where I’m bald and too fatigued to even wrap a single present be my last? Should I throw my kid a huge birthday party this year like I did last year because what if there’s no next year? New York for my 50th birthday, or this year even though we can’t afford it because I might not make it to 50. Living in the now never felt so bloody awful.

4. Having no tolerance for bullshit

Anxious and upset about having to move from your current office to a very similar one on a different floor of the same building? Get a real fucking problem and get back to me. As I wrote this one, I suddenly thought, is this actually a thing to hate or a thing to love about cancer?

5. Knowing no doctor will ever again say to you ‘you’re going to be fine’

When I was diagnosed, I just wanted a doctor, any doctor, to say those magic words. Of course none of them did, and they never will again. As a result, I imagine EVERY SINGLE ache, pain, cough, twinge, lump or bump is the cancer coming back to finally take me out. It can be so tiring. (Oh, and then I start imaging that the tiredness is the cancer coming back).

Richard Wilkins

But on the upside, he looks worse with his own hair than I did bald.

Cancer people, what’s on your list? Non-cancer people, what do you reckon about number 4 on my list? Has cancer turned me into a nasty bitch, or someone you’d like to have a drink with?

The Feeder and the Fixer

There’s a self-help book out there that talks about being able to categorise people by the main way they show love. I’ve heard of it but never read it. I’ve only read one self-help book in my life, and it made me feel so manifestly inadequate that I swore I’d never read another. I know these types of books own a fairly significant corner of the publishing market, but when a book has chapter titles like ‘Getting the Best Value Out of Your Personal Relationships’ it doesn’t make me want to improve myself, it makes me want to take a couple of friends on a trip to the local DFO.

So without the benefit of any self-help manuals from which to research, I have come up with my own theory based on a sample of two. It is thus: I am a feeder and I’m married to a fixer. Put simply, I show love by cooking, and my husband shows love by fixing things. I come from a long line of feeders – women who find deep pleasure in preparing food to share with loved ones. My brother once noted that it didn’t require a heart specialist to work out why the men from my mother’s side of the family all died from dodgy tickers. One only needed to look at the morning tea table laden with sponge cakes with fresh cream, the standard lunch which involved two different types of roasted meat, or the light afternoon tea where the chocolate eclairs were still a touch warm from the oven to know what had caused these blokes to drop like flies (albeit with contented smiles on their faces).

When I met my husband Dave he was a bachelor of long-standing (although ever the follower of fashion, he’d had one of those trendy starter marriages in his 20s). Anyway, as a hard-working bloke with no interest in cooking but a reasonable interest in eating after a long day on the tools, he had a standard set of go-to recipes like apricot chicken done entirely in the microwave. At that point he was a man in his late 30s who was still wearing the same size pants that he had at 18 – he was lean and possibly even a little hungry-looking. I suspect it was that look that called to the feeder in me … plaintive cries of please, for the love of god, no more microwave apricot chicken …

Our romance was of the whirlwind kind, so within six weeks we were living together and I was doing all the cooking. Slowly his cheeks started filling out, and as we settled into our comfortable bliss, he started to notice that his pants were feeling a little tighter around the waist. When a man’s been in 30 inch waist gear since he was a teenager, his first thought is not: geez I’d better lay of the cream puffs, but rather: why are my pants all shrinking? By the time he worked out that it wasn’t his pants that were getting smaller but his mid-section that was getting larger, it was too late – he was hooked.

When Dave met me, I was a bachelorette without even a starter marriage to show for myself, and had lived alone in my cute little inner-city cottage for a few years. Did you notice my use of bachelorette there, rather than spinster? That was entirely on purpose. And I lied when I said I lived alone. I had a cat. Anyway, I am what one might kindly describe as challenged in the area of practical skills, so meeting this man who could turn his hand to fixing, building or making anything was like coming home to a beautifully renovated and maintained place that I never knew existed.

Over the years he has undertaken massive projects like single-handedly renovating an entire house in time to bring our baby home to it, to making a palatial cat run to keep my beloved moggie safe near a busy road, to smaller projects like making a chair and matching footstool out of branches cut down from a tree in our yard.


No, you are not the only one who was thinking this.

But the fixer’s best fix to date has been the installation into our kitchen of The Falcon. No, not the car my parents were driving when I was a kid, but rather a fancy schmancy stove from England (that probably cost more than the aforementioned family vehicle). Since moving into our house five years ago, I have been using the bottom half of a crappy 1970s double oven (because the top half conveniently stopped working a week after we moved in) and a stove top which had only two of five elements working. It made expressing my love difficult, and often resulted in offerings which were charred around the edges and raw in the middle. That is not how love is meant to be, but we had decided that as we couldn’t afford to reno the whole kitchen, we would live with what we had. We did that for five years, until a sudden rush of blood to the head saw us at the appliance shop hungrily eyeing off the stoves on offer. It was pretty much like Oliver Twist meets The Block.

Anyway, having sold three of our combined four kidneys to buy the Falcon, it was up to Macgyver Dave to use half-price tile oddments from Bunnings and bits of secondhand timber from the shed to remodel our shitty old kitchen to fit it in. It was hot, dirty and difficult work involving crawling around in our roof cavity on a 40 degree day. But finally, with my gorgeous new stove installed, I was able to finally and absolutely say that I know what love looks like:


Yes, this photo would’ve had much more impact with a before shot for comparative purposes.

And every time I cook dinner for my family, I see love and I create love. The feeder and the fixer, perfect symbiosis since 2005.

I would love some feedback!! So, tell me dear reader, are you a fixer, or a feeder or something else entirely? Share please!

When I Think About You …

I found my breast cancer through self-examination. I was preparing to have a shower one evening, and was enjoying that delicious moment when you first take your bra off after a long day. I normally did my self-checks in the shower, but for some unknown reason this day I did it standing in the walk-in robe, next to the clothes hamper. I still had my bra in my hand. I remember every single detail of that moment, because as soon as my left hand touched the lump in my right breast, I knew. It did not feel normal, it did not feel right. I was 42 and had always had lumpy breasts. I had actually had a harmless cyst removed from my left breast when I was 15, so from a young age I’d been hyper aware of what normal felt like when it came to my boobs. Through years of trying to conceive I’d become very familiar with how my breasts reacted to hormonal fluctuations, as one of the first signs of pregnancy for me was breasts so tender I would start walking around with my elbows pointing out like I was about to take flight.

Finding that lump in September 2012 kicked off a period of time in my life that I look back on and think, how the hell did I actually get through that? How did I go to the GP and ask him about the lump? How did I answer that phone call from the doctor and remain standing whilst she said ‘There is no easy way to say this: you have breast cancer’? How did I sit in the surgeon’s office and hear that my right breast would need to be removed the next day, and not run screaming from the room? How did I wake up from that surgery to be told the cancer was also in my lymph nodes, and may have spread further, and not completely lose my mind? How did I get through 16 weeks of chemotherapy, with bone pain so bad that morphine did not even take the edge off, and then voluntarily line up for six weeks radiation which made my skin literally peel off in sheets? How? How?

I’ll tell you how – it is the exact same thing that made the rock-climbing bloke who literally got caught between a rock and a hard place saw his own arm off with a pocket knife. It is the essence of human spirit that pares us back to the core of our being and leaves us with only our pain and our courage left. Even when we think we are dying, we are making decisions about how we are going to live. Checking my breasts regularly was never done with the thought in mind that I might actually find cancer. We do these things blithely, we’re told to do it and like good citizens we do, and once it’s done we move on into our lives. Except that the reason we do it, is that we might find something. Because finding something, and having to face scary, dreadful, awful treatment after treatment is way better than not checking, not finding anything until it’s way too late, not being able to be treated, and dying.

I got lucky in October 2012. I was treatable and potentially curable. The word potentially was, and still is, the key. Until I reach five years post-surgery (11 October 2017 – not that I’m counting) I am not considered cured, but I have made the choice to live now like I am. There are moments of fear, but they are now seldom, and I don’t mentally plan my funeral as often as I used to. So, SO lucky. And I mean that without a hint of sarcasm.

Chrissie Amphlett was not one of the lucky ones. Breast cancer claimed her life on April 21, 2013. When Chrissy developed breast cancer,  she wanted her famous song about the power of female sexuality I Touch Myself to become an anthem for spreading awareness about the importance of touching ourselves for early detection of the disease. According to the I Touch Myself Project, as a tribute, Chrissy’s family and friends, her husband Charley Drayton, fellow songwriters, Cancer Council NSW and supporters from around the globe have come together to make sure Chrissy’s legacy lives on to remind women to be in touch with their bodies, and if something’s not right, see their doctor.

Please, know your body, touch it regularly, and go straight to the doctor if something is troubling you. Breast cancer is really bloody scary, but dying is worse.

I Have a Dream

I dreamt the other night that I had invented something quite revolutionary. Everyone was immediately on board with the idea, as it clearly filled a need in many people’s lives. My invention really was a gift to society.

I dreamt that I invented a chiko roll warmer. It was knitted, like a sock. Well actually to be perfectly accurate, it was like an argyle condom.

picture of a chiko roll

Fact: No-one with a French manicure has ever actually eaten a chiko roll.

Obviously chiko rolls already have standard packaging, which is pretty iconic in this country. But clearly my subconscious doesn’t give two hoots about icons, in fact it seems hell-bent on tearing them down and rebuilding them, knit one by purl one.

Right now you are thinking, gee this woman must really love a chiko roll to be dreaming about them and how they can be kept at that perfect lukewarm temperature for extended periods outside of the hotbox. But the fact is I haven’t eaten a chiko roll in years. If my memory serves me correctly (no, you’re right, that phrase has no place in the blog of someone who has had chemo) the last time I had a chiko roll I was watching a movie at the drive-in. For the young folk playing along, a drive-in was a place in the olden days where we would watch a movie whilst sitting in our car with a whole bunch of other people who were also sitting in their cars. Yes, I’m serious. Google it.

So why, if I’ve not eaten a chiko roll in years, and I don’t work in a roadhouse, am I dreaming about them? Well, curious about my dream (and in search of an appropriate patent law for my invention), I did some reading about Sigmund Freud, who has been described as the most influential figure in psychology, and who also apparently really liked slips, reckoned that dreams were a reflection of the person’s subconscious. He broke dreams down into two parts – the manifest and the latent content. The manifest bit is the stuff you remember – so the chiko roll in its little cover made from Cleakheaton’s finest – and the latent is the actual true meaning of the dream, which Freud said where the dreamer’s forbidden thoughts and unconscious desires. Oh yes, that’s right, Freud would have it that the cardigan-wearing deep-fried snack is actually a symbol of something similar looking which was apparently the actual focus of my dream. According to Freud, dreaming about anything elongated is symbolic of an erect male member.

Apologies to those of you who will never quite look at a takeaway shop bain marie in the same way ever again, but let me tell you I was shocked too. I am now mentally reworking my invention based on what my subconscious was really trying to tell me – that there are a lot of politicians out there standing around feeling the cold. You’ll be pleased to know that I’ll be collaborating with the ladies from the CWA to see if we can come up with a one-size-fits-all pattern to keep all those dicks warm.

Getting Pissy With It

pciture of car for sale

I used to have a pretty awesome memory. I could tell you the telephone numbers of kids I went to school with 30 years ago, and I never missed a trick with the bazillion excursions, incursions, dress-up days and appointments when my son was in daycare. In fact I became the president of the centre’s management committee on my shining ability to never miss a trick. That and the fact that no-one else nominated. But I digress ….

My husband (let’s call him Dave, because that’s his name) has a self-confessed shithouse memory, so our relationship has always been the perfect yin and yang of me remembering everything and him not having to bother to even try. I made us both look super-organised, with the added bonus of me being able to feel superior about it. Marriage perfection right there.

Then I had chemotherapy. They tell you up front that the drugs they pump into you may leave you with something called Post-Chemotherapy Cognitive Impairment (PCCI), which is better known as chemo brain. Chemo brain affects visual and semantic memory, which basically means that you have difficulty multitasking, comprehending what you read, following the thread of a conversation, and retrieving words. But of course when you are tossing up your options, and they are chemo brain or death, you gladly sign yourself up for chemo brain.

During treatment it doesn’t really matter if you have impaired cognitive function – in fact it’s an advantage as you live through your days in a shrunken world of injections and baldness and fear. But then you come out the other end of treatment, and are launched like a cannonball (literally – see earlier comment about baldness) back into the world. You go back to work, you cook meals and go grocery shopping, pay bills, plan holidays, organise playdates. And you soon realise that the old grey matter, well she ain’t what she used to be. People casually invite you to dinner on the second weekend in May and you say sure, that sounds great whilst you internally struggle to remember what year it is. When you are asked at the bank during a security check for your husband’s date of birth, you stand there blankly, staring awkwardly at the teller whilst you try to calculate backwards from this year based on his age, but then give up when you realise you might be able to work out the year but you haven’t a clue about the day or the month.

My most recent chemo brain moment happened this morning. Last week, I had dutifully contacted the local dealership to organise for my car to have its 80,000km service today. Because I work full-time, the exercise of putting my car in for a service requires a bit of planning as I have to drop the car off before work, borrow a car from the dealership for the day, get to work on time and then at the end of the day do the whole process in reverse, and all before 5pm which is when the dealer shuts up shop. So this morning I dropped my car off, collected my loaner – which had $9995 written in white paint across the windscreen (cos there really is no such thing as a free ride) – and drove to work. I mentally patted myself on the back for arriving at something fairly close to my starting time, made a coffee, and settled in at my desk. At that point I noticed I had a voicemail message: Hello Julie, it’s Carly from the dealership. Umm, your car had its 80,000km service in January, so really there’s not ummm anything we can ummm do to help you today. Feel free to come and pick it up anytime. I swear to God I have no memory, NONE, of taking my car in for a service in January. That, dear reader, is chemo brain right there. Or maybe I should call it by its acronym PCCI – because pissy is how this whole chemo brain situation is making me feel.

My Boy Roy

This is my dog Roy.

roy photo

Theoretically he belongs to us as a family, but he is my dog. During the eight long months that constituted my cancer treatment – through three surgeries, 16 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, Roy was right there, beside me. Just to clarify, dogs aren’t allowed into chemo wards (although seriously, they should be). But every moment that I was at home, feeling like I was dying (because, you know, I was actually being poisoned by chemicals and then irradiated), feeling sad and desperate and at the absolute end of my tether, Roy was there. If I was in bed, he was under it, lying there silently. Some days he seemed to sense that I needed more and would quietly hop into bed next to me while I was asleep. I would wake to him lying next to me, head on paws, keeping watch. If I went to the loo (and I did that a lot), he would sit outside and wait patiently, then follow me to wherever I was going next, which was usually the bed or the couch. If I was on the couch he would settle himself next to me, occasionally nuzzling my hand but never demanding anything.

Roy came to our family when I was six months pregnant with our son. We wanted some company for our other little dog, Miffy who I love dearly too, but because she’s a dog and not a kid I can freely admit that I love Roy more. (If she could read I probably wouldn’t be so comfortable with such an admission). Anyway, one ridiculously hot Saturday in February we went to the local RSPCA to see if they had any small dogs who might be a good friend for Miffy. Roy was sitting quietly in a cage next to a shi-tzu with the most gigantic underbite, who yapped and drooled incessantly. That shit-zu really needed some pointers on getting liberated from the slammer. Anyway, silent, thoughtful Roy, who at that point was going by the dreadful moniker Moodle Poodle (the name given to him by his carers at the shelter) made easy friends with Miffy, and came home with us that day.

We don’t know how old Roy is, as he was a stray picked up by the RSPCA, and on death row when we met him. Vets can tell a fair bit from a dog’s teeth, and ours estimated Roy was five when we got him. He was collarless and unchipped when found by the RSPCA, and his life before us is a complete mystery. I often look into his eyes and wonder who he used to live with, and how on earth he ended up a stray. I wonder if he loves me so much because he’d had love, then lost it, then found it again in us, or had he never had love at all in those unknown five years? Sometimes it makes me very sad to think that I missed out on five years of Roy – he is 11 now and although not showing any signs of slowing down yet, I know he won’t live for too many years longer. But the fact that I’ve had any time at all with Roy makes me happy, and when I look into those eyes I know he feels the same way.