Month: April 2015

The Cancerpreneur

There’s a big cancer-related fraud that’s making headlines in Australia right now, with a woman called Belle Gibson who blogged about curing cancer via eating well (have a look here if you don’t know what I’m talking about), and it’s created quite a lot of controversy. All the media outlets which helped her pedal her complex web of lies and deceit, by accepting her wildly outrageous claims without any effort whatsoever to check even the most basic of facts, are now whipping up a frenzy of ‘how dare she’ headlines. Meanwhile, the Australian Women’s Weekly magazine is publishing an interview with this woman, where she very clearly demonstrates that she has not one iota of insight into her own behaviour or its impact on vulnerable people. Again, she is being enabled by the media to trot out tales of her twisted reality, supported by retouched images of her which one can only assume are to make us wonder how such a young and attractive woman could behave in such a wicked way.

The media has built Belle Gibson, and now they are knocking her down. The lies and deceit are all her own, but thus far it appears that not once did any of the media outlets who were telling (and selling) her story, was she questioned about the validity of her claims. Much of what she said was farcical or facile or both, yet her fame grew, her followers amassed, and her power grew. It’s the power she was given, by every journalist who gushingly accepted the information provided to them by her PR company, and editor who overlooked the outrageousness of the claims, that has enabled sick, vulnerable and misguided people to be hurt.

Cancer, in reality, is not attractive. Tumours are ugly, whether seen or unseen. They can cause your breasts to be cut off, you anus to be sewn up, or half the skin on your face to be replaced by a flap of tissue from your belly. They make your organs stop working, which makes you thin, or fat, or sallow or grey. The treatment – and by this I mean surgery and chemotherapy and radiation and stem cell transplants and hormonal therapy – is uglier still. It poisons your cells, makes your hair fall out, gives your diarrhoea or maybe makes you vomit diarrhea out your mouth, causes unmitigating bone and nerve pain, headaches, sensitivity to cold, sensitivity to heat, burns you, makes you barren, brings you to your knees and then takes them out from under you.

All this ugliness is not really what the media wants to hear about. That it’s the truth of cancer and how cancer is best treated, is irrelevant. That cancer makes you look sick, and that the treatment makes you look even sicker before it can begin to make you look better, is not going to make the front cover of a glossy magazine. Tubby, one-breasted 45-year-old women with burn scars and post-menopausal slack skin don’t become media darlings, with thousands of followers hanging off every word – I find it best to eat my porridge at 10am, because that’s when the reflux meds kick in and I can risk eating without revisiting my breakfast for the remainder of the day – is not the sort of morning mantra that’s going to cut it with the Instagram devotees, when much of society seems obsessed with beauty and youth and demands, absolutely demands, simple answers to really fucking complicated questions. As abhorrent as Belle Gibson’s behaviour has been,  rather than questioning why she did what she did, I think we need to question how she was able to get away with it in the first place.

The State We’re In

On the weekend, we went to a food festival. We love food, and we love a festival, so it’s an ideal way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday in our regional city. As we walked towards the festival, my son spied a make-shift sign directing us to the entry. He read the sign, then stopped dead in his tracks, looked at me wide-eyed with worry and said ‘Islamic Food Festival? We can’t go in there, Mummy, they are our mortal enemies!’

He’s a six-year-old with a passion for Star Wars, so I wasn’t surprised by his turn of phrase, but absolutely horrified by the context in which he used it. In fact, the shock of his words took my breath away. I bent down and asked him what he meant – ‘I saw on the news about Islamic State, Mum. They’re going to kill everyone.’ I explained, as best I could whilst kneeling down in front of the doors of the venue with people walking by, that ‘Islamic’ and ‘Islamic State’ are two vastly different things, that Islam is a religion and that the festival was all about celebrating the food and culture of the wide variety of people who are Islamic.

He was relieved by my answer, and was happy to continue into the festival. We first did a reconnoitre of all the food stalls to see what was on offer – Bangladeshi pakoras, Indian curries and chicken from the tandoor, Iraqi tagines, Indonesian satay and rendang, Turkish delight and baklava and Bosnian lamb cufte – and then each decided on what we’d have. The stall holders were all so proud of their food, and were happy to share with Dave some rendang and some tandoori chicken, Hugh some chicken satays and baklava, and me some pakoras followed by Turkish delight. The venue, a gymnasium which had been hastily set up to host the festival, was packed with people, so in between courses we were joined by another family, which included a young mum and a couple of toddlers. I gave up my seat so she could sit and feed her children, but I was only standing for a few seconds before a stranger brought me over a chair, gave me a big smile, and urged me to be comfortable.

Once we’d eaten, we spent a few minutes watching some people observing midday prayers, before we ventured outside to explore the jumping castle, the henna artistry, and the police community liaison information stand, which is a usual presence at all local community and sporting events. There were quite a few police there interacting with excited kids urging them to turn on the siren and then all shrieking and laughing at the noise, but no doubt there were many more officers in attendance at the crime scene just down the road, where the local mosque had been seriously damaged by arson two days before.

When I first heard the news of the fire, I’d felt a mixture of anger and shame that such an act had occurred (and for the second time) in my city. That such violent and destructive intolerance had been acted out in this community, in the dead of night in such a cowardly way, made me so sad and disheartened. I continued to feel angry, sad and ashamed, right up until my son expressed his fear to me outside that food festival. I realised then and there, that his fear, like the fear of those who attack, both in words and actions, the Muslim community, is based on ignorance and misunderstanding. People post hateful vitriol online, and verbally attack others in the streets and on public transport, and set fire to places of worship, because to them Islam is an unknown, and therefore to be feared. My son is only six years old, and so his lack of knowledge is understandable (although, for me as his parent, regrettable), but these other people – the haters, attackers and arsonists – are adults who choose to remain ignorant. They choose to continue to believe that Islamic State represents all of Islam, that extremist Muslims speak for all members of that faith, and that therefore their ignorance and hatred is justifiable. It is not, and will never will be, in any society which considers itself open and democratic.

Since the food festival, I have had a couple of conversations with my boy, about freedom and tolerance and acceptance. We’ve talked about how what we see on our television – whether it is footage of murderous terrorists in far-flung places or arsonists burning mosques only a few kilometres from our home – must not be accepted as our reality. Reality is walking out into the world, shaking people’s hands, sharing food, offering a seat, listening to stories, learning. The world is sometimes a shocking place, but as a parent I am determined to ensure that my beautiful boy has every opportunity to understand that our reality is the one we build, not the one we imagine.

The Afterthought

1969 was a massive year in human history, as on July 20 Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon, uttering the immortal words ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. My mother was 35 weeks pregnant with me at the time, and I imagine she was taking lots of small steps, most of them in the direction of the toilet, as she suffered with something called hyperemesis gravidarum (constant, untreatable nausea, vomiting and dehydration) throughout the entire pregnancy. She was still vomiting in the car on the way to the hospital, madly driven by my aunt through red lights because I was Mum’s third baby and she’d decided to stay at home until serious labour started, which turned out to be a bit difficult to judge with any accuracy. I was born less than an hour after she arrived at the maternity ward, whereupon the vomiting stopped and I imagine my mother lit up one of her customary cigarettes and mentally high-fived herself for giving birth to a nine pound baby despite having eaten nothing except lemons and aniseed balls for the preceding 40 weeks.

Mum and Dad only ever intended to have two kids (well to be perfectly frank I think both of those were accidents too but let’s not get too caught up in details), but when my brothers were 10 and 9, she went to the doctor because she felt so crap, and said to the doctor that if she didn’t know any better, she’d say she was pregnant [insert my mother’s high-pitched nervous laugh here]. The good doctor decided that it would be best to check, so blood was taken and sent away (no peeing on a magic stick back in ’69) and lo and behold, a couple of weeks later my mother found out that she was indeed pregnant with what my grandmother always referred to as the family’s ‘afterthought’. Because I was the precious youngest grandchild, feted and fawned over by my brothers and cousins, I always felt that being the ‘afterthought’ was pretty special, and so wore the title with flamboyant pride. You could take your eldests, your middles, your twins and your favourites; I was the afterthought, and nothing short of another accidental pregnancy whilst using contraception could take that away from me. And fortunately for me, and my mother, I remained the only afterthought of that generation.

I think my status as the much-loved afterthought has played a significant part in me having what can only be described as excellent self-esteem. I’m now 45, one-breasted, greying, with thunder thighs and reflux, but now, perhaps more than ever, I can see very clearly what I have to offer the world. I love to talk, and I love to write, and I love to do both about myself. So over the coming four weeks, I have three breast cancer-related public speaking gigs and a sponsored post for the Cancer Council. I’ll be talking and writing about how cancer has affected my life, how sometimes adversity breeds a little bit of beauty in amongst all the darkness, and how it’s the little steps, taken every day by researchers, that will enable us to make the giant leap towards finding a cure for cancer.

If you are interested in the events I’m speaking at, you can find more information here about the Mother’s Day Classic Walk/Run (they’re being held all over Australia so get your arse out of bed and your feet on the pavement on May 10) and here about the I Believe in Pink High Tea (which is being held in Toowoomba on May 9). I am also going to be walking (slowly, and probably puffing a bit on the hills) in the Mother’s Day Classic, so if you would like to sponsor me (all donations go directly to cancer research), you can find my sponsorship page here. I’m also going to be writing soon about the work of the Cancer Council, so stay tuned.

Here’s me doing a happy dance in anticipation of your support. Dance monkey, dance.

julie happy

The Last Hurrah

The Boob’s blogging birthday has been a beauty! Thank you for reading along. I hope I’ll still be here, and still blogging, in another year’s time.

This post is one of my personal favourites – bloody hard to write, but to my own mind and heart, these words remain very true. This post was about The Gift of Now.

mastectomy cake


Fading Scars

It wouldn’t be a birthday party without someone lifting up their top and showing us their tits. Or in this case, the place where the tit used to be. This post from the archives doesn’t leave anything to the imagination, so if you’re squeamish it might be best if you click away now and go and look at pictures of kittens on Pinterest. If not, come on in and have a look at my Scars.

mastectomy cake

And Still We Wait

Boob in a Box is still out on the turps celebrating the one year blogging anniversary. It’s amazing how many tequila slammers a prosthetic breast can knock over during happy hour. So here’s another post from the deep, dark recesses of 2014 – it’s a follow-on to yesterday’s post, about waiting for the wait to be over – The Wait’s End.

mastectomy cake

Right Here Waiting

Because a birthday should be celebrated for longer than just one day, here’s another flashback to one of my earlier posts. This one is about one of the main ways in which cancer can torture you – the constant fucking waiting. Almost a year down the track and I’m not required to do as much waiting, because I don’t have so many medical appointments. But there’s still the invisible, but heavy drag of the endless marking of time – The Weight of the Wait.

mastectomy cake

Happy Birthday, Dear Boobie

Happy Birthday to you! Hip, hip …..

Today, Boob in a Box turns one. When I posted my very first post on 7 April 2014, I wasn’t sure how long I’d stick at this, or who (if anyone) would read it, but I decided to give it a crack and press the publish button. I’m so bloody glad that I did. During this year, so much has happened, and the cheap therapy that writing provides has been invaluable.

The absolute best thing about this whole blogging caper has been your comments, emails and tweets. In the words of the famous Australian orator Jeff Fenech – I love youse all.

To mark the first birthday of Boob in a Box, I’m going to republish some of my favourite posts. Many are from early on when my only readers where me and one of my dogs (the other one just wasn’t that interested). So for some of you, these stories will be new, and for others it will be a trip down memory lane from way back in the olden days of 2014.

One post that struck a chord in my own heart, because it was the first time I’d put what had happened to me into words (well words other than FUCK, SHIT and OH MY GOD), was this one about what happens when you find a lump in your breast – When I Think About You.

mastectomy cake