Month: September 2014


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Australia. It’s also the month in which I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. It hadn’t occurred to me until my husband pointed it out, that the end of the year, and October in particular, generally tends to be a pretty shit time for us. Upon reflection, he is absolutely right:

October 2006 – miscarriage #1

October 2007 – incredibly traumatic, non-stop bleeding during first trimester of Hugh’s pregnancy. During that month, I had no fewer than eight internal ultrasounds (or dildo-cams as we call them in the business). My uterus could’ve started its own youtube channel.

October 2008 –  the exception that proves the rule

October 2009 – miscarriage #3

October 2010 – diagnosed with secondary infertility

October 2011 – miscarriage #4 and Dave’s grandmother died

October 2012 – diagnosed with breast cancer

If I was a superstitious type I’d be starting a petition to have October officially removed from the calendar. But rather than giving into the instinct that makes me want to curl up in a ball and hide for the entire month, I am taking back October. I’m going to be sharing stories on this blog from some amazing, interesting and funny women who’ve also had to deal with bastard breast cancer. I’m also going to be sharing my own story in person, at my first ever speaking gig at the Colour of Change luncheon in Toowoomba, in front of around 200 people [gulp], to raise money for BreastScreen Queensland. I’m going to host a morning tea at my workplace, and guilt my long-suffering colleagues into donating money to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, because I am living, breathing evidence that research saves lives. And on 28 October, even though I will be so full of fear that it will take me several minutes to convince myself to get out of my car and walk into the breast clinic, I’m going to have my annual mammogram and ultrasound, because early detection saves lives.

Here’s to you, October.


Taking Stock

As you probably know by now, I have a very large soft spot for Mrs Woog from Woogsworld, primarily because I think she’s hilarious, but also because she gave me a chance and published something I wrote on her blog, which resulted in me starting this blog. Mrs Woog has taken up the challenge from another blogger (Pip from Meet Me at Mikes) to do some personal stock-taking, and then challenged others to do the same. I do love a challenge that doesn’t require me to shift my substantial arse off my comfy chair. The challenge involves being given a set of words, which you then apply to what’s going on in your life so it becomes a stock-take of sorts. Possibly not the kind of stock-take I am normally attracted to because the word ‘sale’ is missing, but let’s give it a crack.


Making: Plans for all my guest posters to share their stories for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. There’s still time to put your hand up to be involved.

Drinking:  To my shame, a glass of diet fruit cup cordial with dinner every night. During chemo I developed a complete and utter distaste for water (it tasted like vinegar – apparently quite common) so I started drinking cordial to stay hydrated. Cue unshakeable addiction to a drink universally loved by 3 year olds. I don’t frequent bars, but I do love a kid’s birthday party.

Reading: I read alllllll day for work – plans, reports, studies, emails. What have I learned from all this reading? People don’t understand how to use apostrophe’s. (See what I did there? It hurt me.)

Wanting: A week off to sleep. I am tired.

Looking: At caravans. I have long-held a desire to own a caravan, park it at Coolum Beach, and live there for the summer.

Playing: Words with Friends. I win some, I lose some.

Deciding: Whether or not wanting a caravan makes me a dyed brown but actually grey nomad.

Wishing: That I could bottle how I felt during my amazing birtholiday in Sydney, so I could crack it open and take a little sip whenever I start to get the shits with the daily grind.

Enjoying: Taking my boy for a hot chocolate at the deli after his swimming lesson every Saturday morning. It’s become our little ritual, they know us by name and always put Hugh’s marshmallows on the side because otherwise he’ll dig them out of his drink with his fingers.

Waiting: For the next season of The Walking Dead to start. It’s so bad that it’s good.

Liking: The fact that today is Friday, and on Fridays a little guy called Bob spends the day at my workplace.



Wondering: How my mammogram and ultrasound will go in October. Oh, and whether my ‘so do I get it half price?’ gag will get a better response at the breast clinic this year than it did last year.

Loving: These two. I honestly never knew that such love was possible, until I was lucky enough to experience it.

dave and hugh

Pondering: What to talk about when I do my first ever guest speaker gig at a breast cancer fundraiser in October. Any suggestions?

Considering: What shoes to wear to above-mentioned first speaking gig, then realising that if people have noticed what shoes I’m wearing, this may also be my last guest speaker gig.

Watching: Utopia on the ABC.  Advertised as a comedy, but if you’ve ever worked in a government department, it’s more like a documentary.

Hoping: That Hugh’s multiple ‘melted poos’ that commenced at 4am are the result of a dodgy chicken nugget and not some dreadful contagion.

Marvelling: At the interesting, clever, hilarious and loving human being Dave and I created. He can be a little shit too (quite literally today), which is considerably less marvellous, but on the whole, he is a mighty, mighty kid.

Needing: These earrings, in multiple colours. Perfect for those of us with super short hair. 10 bucks from Lovisa.

Hoping to start a trend of ear selfies. #eresmyear

Smelling: Coco Chanel. I’ve worn this for nearly 20 years, and never tire of it.

Wearing: Sensible shoes. Pair those with my caravan love, and it’s painting a pretty sexy picture, am I right?

Noticing: How long my hair is getting. I’ll be seeing my fabulous friend and hairdresser Tracy next week to get the greys and the length sorted. I want to stop for a moment and tell you about Tracy. She was so kind to me when I was diagnosed, spent lots of time cutting my hair gradually shorter and shorter (and would never take any money for it) and then when my hair came back grey and crazy with a mixture of curls and spikes, she told me I looked like a stylish Parisian which was just about the best thing you can say to someone who’s been bald for seven months. A few weeks after Tracy gave me that compliment, I sent her this photo of my hair first thing in the morning. I still can’t believe she didn’t want to use this on her website.

crazy hair photo

Chemo hair, what chemo hair?

Knowing: That one day I will regret posting that ^^ photo on the Internet.

Thinking: About my friend Deb, who had her first visit from the palliative care team yesterday. No words Deb, but so much love.

Admiring: My ability to keep going with this challenge, despite the fact that I thought it would be easy but it’s actually quite hard.

Sorting: Stuff in my mind.

Cooking: A cake for a work colleague’s baby shower. What do you think?


Buying: Well it was going to be hot chips for lunch. But suddenly I’m not hungry, and especially not for cake.

Getting: Excited that it’s 58 days until we go to Thailand for a holiday. Not that I’m counting.

Bookmarking: My friend Julia’s brand new blog.

Disliking: The size of our electricity bill, and the fact that a single provider has a monopoly on our suburb, so will continue to shaft us royally for the foreseeable future.

Opening: My mouth at lunch time to shove those hot chips in.

Giggling: At Hugh’s use of the term ‘melted poo’ to describe diarrhoea.

Feeling: So pleased that I have my online cancer support group. Before becoming a part of this group, I had no idea that online friendships could be so real. But they are real, and honest, and incredibly meaningful.

From the Jeff Fenech lolly collection.

From the Jeff Fenech lolly collection.

Snacking: I purposely didn’t buy any chocolate when I went to the supermarket, so I could not be tempted to snack on it after dinner. Cue last night’s frantic search through the cupboard for anything resembling chocolate, followed by Dave and I eating half a packet of white chocolate melts.

Helping: Myself by starting a gentle exercise plan. My joints are so sore from the anastrozole, but I need to do it. Slowly, slowly.

Hearing: And loving the new Megan Washington album – There, There. Did you see Megan on Australian Story? Fabulous, courageous young Australian artist.




Wishing: I was too cool to admit coveting a caravan.

Anyone else up to the challenge? Caravan porn totally optional.

Looking Forward

Happiness is pretty simple: someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to.

I saw this posted on twitter last week, and because it came from someone who I admire, I didn’t respond with my first thought, which was  that’s bullshit. I’m a bit sycophantic like that. I didn’t respond, but I did ruminate for a long while on what it is about that quote (which, incidentally has been incorrectly attributed to about 400 different people, including Elvis Presley and Immanuel Kant) that irks me.

It’s true that those three things are pretty awesome, and I have written about many of them here. I have lots of someones to love – husband, boy, extended family, friends, my dog Roy, George Clooney, and I have plenty to do including a full-time day job, this blog, and binge-watching tv series from the US.

Having something to look forward to is where I get a bit stuck. There was a time, before cancer, where I constantly thought about the future and what my plans were. I had short-term plans for things like my boy starting school, my husband finishing his degree and me taking long service leave from my work and maybe doing some creative writing. I was also looking forward and laying plans for the longer term, for things like where Hugh would go to high school, whether we might move for Dave’s job, preferred destinations for overseas holidays, and whether when we retired we should buy a caravan and do the ginger and grey nomad thing. In the before, I was all about looking forward.

Then came cancer, and suddenly I felt that there was nothing to look forward to, absolutely fucking nothing. Initially, my feelings were based solely on fear, and then when I sat down with the medical oncologist who delivered my prognosis, my feelings about having nothing to look forward to became more solidly based in medical evidence. My chance of living five years past this diagnosis was exactly the same as my chance of dying within that five years.  Think about how many trashy movies and tv shows you’ve seen where some handsome doctor in a white coat tells the assembled family that the patient (who is usually in a coma) has a 50/50 chance of pulling through. The wife faints and the children all sob uncontrollably. Now imagine having same conversation, except in real life. The doctor isn’t wearing a white coat (although he is quite handsome) and he’s not talking about someone in a coma, he’s talking about you. He’s telling you that your chances for five-year survival are 50/50. Then try to marry that up with the idea of having something to look forward to.

I could write pages and pages about what it feels like to live under the shadow of a diagnosis like that. How you mentally make sense of 50/50 being bloody fantastic odds if you’re talking about winning the lottery, and shatteringly terrible odds if you’re talking about still being alive in 2018. How you learn to care about trivial things like what’s on tv, and the cost of petrol, and how much of a dick Christopher Pyne is when you have a stabbing pain in your ribs that has no explanation. I could write pages, but I’m not going to, because I’ve discovered that giving those fears and paranoias oxygen just makes them grow, and they are far more easily managed if they’re kept locked away in the dark.


I can honestly say that these days, I don’t think too much about my diagnosis and prognosis. I obviously think a lot about it when I’m writing these blog posts, and that just serves to confirm my theory that blogging is very cheap therapy. But here I am, 23 months on from being told I have breast cancer, and I am again able to look forward with hope. It’s true that I no longer think about my retirement plans, but I have become confident again at making plans in the short-term.

One of my current short-term plans is to use this blog to host a series of guest posts during October, which in Australia is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I was diagnosed during this month two years ago, and I have been thinking about the ways I can mark the significance. Breast cancer is still the most common cancer amongst Australian women, but every single story is different. Lumpectomies, mastectomies, axilla removals, oestrogen positive, BRCA1/2, triple negative, herceptin, radiation, reconstruction, devastation, triumph, loss, love. There are endless permutations and combinations; for every woman who gets the diagnosis there is an individual story. I’ve put the call out on the Boob in a Box Facebook page, and I’m putting it out here again. If you’re a breast cancer person, I want to share your story. You can be out and proud, or you can be anonymous. If you’re not a confident writer, I’m happy to help. All you need to do is email me at or message me via the Facebook page.

As for the quote that started this post, well to be honest I think I found it annoying because, for me at least, it rings true. Cancer couldn’t take away my somebodies to love or my somethings to do (and in fact it gave me a big something – this blog), but it did take away many, many of the things to which I used to look forward. I’m slowly rebuilding my trust in the future; of course that trust is built on the shakiest of ground because the future is a guarantee for no-one, and particularly not for those of us in remission. I’m doing it though – planning for next month’s blog, booking a holiday to Thailand, talking about Christmas plans, thinking about how embarrassingly loudly I’ll hoot at Dave’s graduation ceremony next year, and wondering about what will happen on the new season of The Walking Dead.

walking dead meme


I Will Survive

My boy lost his first tooth yesterday. He’s almost 6 and a half, and his friends started losing their teeth at the start of last year, so he has spent a long time waiting and hoping, pressing at his teeth with his fingers to see if any of them were loose. Finally, on the weekend he pressed at a tooth and it did wiggle, and he worked and worked on it until last night, when he bravely grabbed a tissue and yanked that sucker right on out. The tooth fairy left him $3.50 in coins (because she knows he feels like a millionaire if he has lots of coins) which made him declare that ‘this is the best day of my life’.

Hugh tooth

He has lots of best days of his life as is the way of six year olds who want for nothing in terms of love, time, attention and care. He loses a tooth and his parents laugh and clap, and the little red and white speck is gathered up in a tissue and placed in a special box. He has his photo taken. He speaks to his grandparents on the phone, telling each of them in turn his big news. The milestones of his life, however insignificant they may be in the grand scheme of things, are celebrated with great joy. It is a charmed life.

However this child is also growing up in the shadow of his mother’s cancer diagnosis and ongoing struggle to stay alive. Mostly, he is happy and carefree, but if I have a day off work sick with a cold, he looks at me with fear in his eyes and asks me repeatedly if I am feeling better – it is not really a question, more a bleak search for reassurance. The medication that is, we hope, keeping me cancer-free also makes me sore and cranky and sometimes just totally fucking fed up, and he is attuned to this, trying too hard to be chirpy, wanting to sit close to me, kiss me and hold me. I wonder if sub-consciously he thinks that if he is holding on to me, then he won’t lose me. When he was four, and I was in the middle of chemo, he asked me if I was going to die. I told him no (a lie then of course, and still quite possibly a lie) but I felt sure – because I wanted so very much to be sure – that he believed me. But sometimes when I look into his eyes (which are the exact colour of cool, bush creek where we once camped) I see that maybe he knew I was lying, and just pretended to believe me because that was easier for both of us.

As well as constantly looking for signs that the cancer has returned (headache = brain tumour), I also look for signs that I am going to be one of the ones who gets to survive. The problem with cancer, is that despite all the percentages and numbers and formulas that the medical teams use to come up with your chances of long-term survival, sometimes those who are given a good chance end up dying, and those who are given little or no chance survive. Cancer is unpredictable; that’s its great power and its great mystery, and why the search for a cure goes on. For every three patients whose cancer behaves in the way doctors predict it will, there is one whose cancer does whatever the fuck it pleases, with absolutely no acknowledgement of the millions dollars and hours that have gone into research.

Sometimes I see survival signs within myself – I am happy, I am annoyed, I am laughing, I am snoring. These are all things people who don’t have cancer are and do, so sometimes the mere fact that I am just a bloody average human being makes me sure I will survive. Other times, the signs are around me – my elderly parents increasingly needing my care, my husband so close to taking off in his new career direction, my friend relying on me to help her through her divorce. I must survive to take care of these people, to be the person they need in their life, to show them my particular love.  I must survive to see all those baby teeth fall out and the big teeth grow down, and to earn the money to pay the orthodontist bills, because man my kid has some crazy teeth!

Today, I did the ‘Which song was written about you’ quiz on Facebook, the quality of which is attested to by the fact that the word ‘chocolate’ was misspelt in one of the questions. I answered all ten questions with complete honestly (because everyone knows that these things are only accurate if you are truthful), and waited with bated breath as dozens of highly-trained psychologists worked on analysing my responses. And then, before my eyes, appeared the name of my song. Fuck you cancer, I got my sign.


As I may have mentioned (in my entire post dedicated to it), I turned 45 last Friday. This was my second birthday since the cancer diagnosis, and like last year I made sure I had a fat time (and I mean that literally – thanks to Cafe Sydney, Mr Wong, Balla, Danjee and Red Lantern amongst other amazing Sydney restaurants).

The celebrations involved a fantastic couple of days in a fancy hotel in Sydney with my two dearest friends from high school, followed by another couple of wonderful days with my two boys. Here is a photographic summary of what I have christened my birtholiday (patent pending).

sydney photo 1 sydney photo 2 sydney photo 3sydney photo 5  pants too tightsydney photo 7  sydney photo 8

Even though we are home and back to reality, enhanced by the bone-shaking cough Hugh apparently bought back as his Luna Park souvenir,  I was still flying high on the joy of my birtholiday today when I was brought crashing right back down to earth. I got a reminder about an appointment I have on Monday. It’s my regular 3-monthly check-up with my oncologist. As soon as I read the reminder, I felt sick. Hot. Cold. Weak at the knees. Teary. Panicky. Worried. Terrified.

I don’t want to go. I don’t want to walk into the Cancer Care Centre ever again. I don’t want to sit in the waiting room, desperately trying not to make eye contact with anyone. Concentrating on not noticing how pretty much everyone else is bald, and that those that do have hair are either in the process of losing it. I don’t want to go into my standard ‘visit with the oncologist mode’, where I do my best impression of the world’s happiest person who will surely stave off cancer with the sheer force of her bubbly personality, whilst internally my fear and anxiety is so bad that I am only just able to swallow down the vomit that is creeping up my throat. I don’t want to take off my jacket, and my top, and my bra, and sit there feigning nonchalance whilst the oncologist does a physical exam. I don’t want to be unable to breathe the whole time her hands are on me, listening to the cancer demons screaming in the back of my mind, trying to convince me that her hands just slowed and that must mean she can feel something. Convinced for the minutes of silence that constitute her exam that I am about to be hurled, again but this time with no chance of escape, into cancer.

I read that appointment reminder and I was immediately taken back to morning in October 2012 when I was diagnosed. I am there, in my lounge room, wearing my bathrobe and saying ‘oh shit’ over and over and over as the doctor delivered the news. I am staring at the faces of my husband and mother who have overheard my side of the call but are waiting, with faces full of blind hope, their eyes pleading with me to say that they have somehow misunderstood, and that I am fine. I am saying those words for the very first time ‘I have breast cancer’. I am sobbing as I look at my four year old, tow-haired boy. I am marvelling to my husband about getting an appointment within my GP within the hour, when it normally takes two days to get a slot, until the reality of why I am now at the front of the queue hits me fair in the chest as we are ushered through the waiting room without a pause and delivered straight to the doctor by the gloomy faced receptionist. That was also the first time I observed what I call ‘cancer face’ – a look that many people (probably quite unwittingly) give you when they find out you have cancer.  Cancer face is a cross between pity (for me), fear (of one day being like me), relief (that they’re not me) and denial (both that  I may die and they may ever be in the same position as me). Cancer face is very similar to this:

I'm sad you have cancer, but at the same time i really fucking relieved that I don't. Also, tell me it's genetic because if it's not that means it could happen to anyone, and that would be really scary for me.

I’m sad you have cancer, but at the same time I’m really fucking relieved that I don’t. Also, tell me it’s genetic because if it’s not that means it could happen to anyone, and that would be really scary for me.

Every time I think I’ve made such great progress, I am dragged right back. Whole days go by, when I don’t think about cancer. I go to work, get caught up in problems that need to be solved and people who need to be helped, and I am worker Julie. I come home and have conversations with my husband about whether we should buy a new dishwasher and when new series of The Walking Dead starts, and I am wife Julie. I help my son with his homework, and almost burst with pride at his reading ability, and I am mother Julie. Whole days and no sign of cancer Julie. And then, bang, BANG:

A reminder that your next appointment at the Cancer Care Centre is scheduled for Monday, 8 September at 4:20pm. Please bring with you the results of any scans you have had in preparation for this appointment. 

and I am right back there, on the ground.

see saw