Month: May 2015

Wedded Bliss

Dave and I got married one year and five days after we first met on a blind date. I had felt a sense of something – comfort, rightness, fit – the day we met, and as it turned out, so had he, and we were engaged within months and married soon after that. When we got married, we’d never actually lived together officially, and were maintaining separate households, although we rarely spent much time apart. I changed my name in the week after we married, when we also combined our finances, and I moved my things into his house, which became our first marital home, as husband and wife.

It all sounds so picture perfect, so story-book, until the details are filled in. His family were virtual strangers to me – I met his parents for the first time when I was Dave’s girlfriend of six weeks, and for the second time when I was his wife of six days. He’d been married before. We’d already had one pregnancy and one miscarriage before our wedding day. We had four witnesses at our registry wedding, but within a matter of a few years, we’d lost contact with all but one of them.

Our first year of marriage was tough. I was (and am) strong-willed and incredibly bossy, and didn’t want to compromise on anything. We were renovating a house, trying to have a baby, and butting heads with great regularity. We fought a lot, talked of separation several times, and both, separately and silently, wondered what the fuck we’d been thinking when we’d decided to get married.

But the fact is, we were married, and that meant something – a great deal actually – to both of us, so we soldiered on, working hard at making things less like hard work. We grew together, leaned on each other, came to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and realised we were far better individuals when we had the team of us to rely on. Finally, in our third year of marriage, after flooding rivers of tears and angst and pain, we got our baby, and we became married parents, husband and wife, mummy and daddy, a united force in the face of the cyclone of change that a child brings.

Funnily enough, what we thought were the hard years turned out just to be the warm up. Early on, our marriage was all about a struggle for ascendancy; the storming before the norming. Most of our marital angst was self-perpetuating because it was all about ego, which diminished every time we made the decision to stick it out rather than walk away. Then, seemingly the moment we got to situation normal, all hell broke loose. In a litany of disasters that would have Alf from Home and Away wishing he was as stoned as the crows, in a five-year period I had a miscarriage, we tried and failed at IVF , fell naturally pregnant in a total surprise and then had another miscarriage, our house was extensively damaged in a flood which we then had to fight to have the insurer cough up for, Dave’s grandmother died, I got cancer and then my Dad died.

If I wasn’t married to the person I am, I cannot imagine how I would have survived any of these things, let alone all of them. That’s not to say that I am, as an individual, somehow a lesser person because I’m married, or that someone who isn’t married is a lesser person than I. But I was allowed to choose to be married, allowed to choose who I married, and have chosen to stay married, and that freedom to choose to define who I love and how we live has given me the ability to find the wherewithal to survive and thrive. Being bound, by my choice, to the person I love has empowered me in ways that I cannot explain, but that are demonstrated in the way we live our lives, as a partnership and as individuals, on a daily basis.

The man I chose to marry is of Irish extraction, and I chose to swap my family’s very Scottish surname for his family’s very Irish one. And in Ireland over the weekend, a referendum resulted in a resounding vote in support of same-sex marriage, so now in that country, as in many others around the world, every adult, regardless of sexual orientation has the right to choose to marry. In Australia, that isn’t the case, and I have yet to hear a single, logical, sensible argument as to why. Just as the choice of a heterosexual couple to marry, or never marry, or marry five times or for five months or for a television show has no impact on my marriage, neither would the choice of a same-sex couple to marry. I’m not interested in anyone else’s marriage. All my thoughts, effort, love and focus is on my own, because it’s the only one that matters to me, that keeps me afloat, that raises me up.

According to the polls, the majority of Australians are in favour of marriage equality, yet neither the previous nor the current government will move to a cross-party conscience vote in federal parliament on the issue. We – you and me, those of us who have the right to marry, whether we chose to or not – are the ones who must push for this. We must contact our local federal members, and let them know where we stand on the issue, and we need to show our support to organisations like Australian Marriage Equality.

What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined together to strengthen each other in all labour, to minister to each other in all sorrow, to share with each other in all gladness, to be one with each other in the silent unspoken memories? – George Eliot


Pat a Cake


When I was going through treatment for breast cancer, I let a lot of things slide because I simply didn’t have the energy or the inclination. I didn’t do any housework, I didn’t ready any books, and I was mostly unable to sustain my attention for long enough to watch an entire movie. But the one thing I held on to was my love of cooking. Cooking, especially for the people closest to me, brings a sense of happiness and fulfilment quite unlike anything else. The first time I ever attempted to make creme brulee I was in the middle of chemo, but I was determined to master it, and I did, serving it for dessert on Valentine’s Day for my two boys.

Now that I’m in remission, and life is fully in the new normal mode, cooking remains a great source of joy for me. I’m also passionate about raising funds to support people with cancer, and to find a cure for this bastard disease, so when I was asked to participate in Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea, I didn’t have to think too long or hard before I said yes. Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea (or ABMT to those of us in the biz) is being held for the 22nd year this year. The official date is Thursday 28 May, but you can host an event any time during May or June. Taking part is easy – you simply register as a host here, set a date and invite your friends or work colleagues for morning tea. If you’re like me, you’ll ask them to bring something yummy to share, because the more cakes the merrier in my experience. In return for being invited to attend your exclusive event, your guests will make a donation to the Cancer Council, so we can help support life-saving research, prevention and support programs.

Fortunately for me I work with a group of like-minded cake lovers and cancer haters, so we are going to have a bit of a nosh-up in the coming weeks. I’ll be sure to post pictures of that event, complete with me doing my special fund-raising jazz hands. And if you end up hosting a morning tea – go on, you know you want to! – then send me some photos and I’ll put them up here and you and your friends and work mates will be totes famous.

In preparation for the event, I’ve done a bit of baking as a warm-up, making a Carrot and Pineapple Cake for my friend Pat’s birthday – the recipe comes originally from here. Pat is a young, handsome bloke who’s blissfully married to my gorgeous friend Sam, but that doesn’t mean he’s not susceptible to the enticement of a cake made by a middle-aged, chestically-challenged baker.

Pat a cake, Pat a cake, baker’s one-boobed lady
Bake me a cake, for my birthday on Friday
Pat it and shape it and mark it with P
And put in the oven for my beautiful wife and me.

It is a moist cake, which is full of fruit and therefore reasonably healthy, as far as cakes go. It works well with gluten-free flour too (White Wings is the best). The recipe calls for a shitload of icing, which you could probably quite easily halve and still have enough. But this cake was for the birthday of someone who otherwise lives an exceptionally healthy life, so there was going to be no halving of icing.

If you want to give it a try, here’s what you’ll need:

2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 teaspoons bicarb soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
200ml sunflower oil
2 cups finely grated carrot
400g can crushed pineapple, drained
1.5 cups golden caster sugar
.5 cup chopped walnuts

250g unsalted butter, softened
250g cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups (yes FIVE cups) icing sugar

And here’s how you make it:

1. Preheat oven to 170 celcius. Don’t use the fan-forced setting, as it will dry the cake out. Grease a 23cm springform pan and line the base with baking paper.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a bowl. Add the eggs, oil, carrot, pineapple and sugar. Stir to combine (a wooden spoon is best for this job), then add in walnuts and stir a bit more to combine.

cake 1cake 2
3. Pour into the pan and cook for 50 minutes, or until a skewer stuck into the middle comes out clean. Leave in the pan to cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire baking rack. At this point it will probably have sunk in the middle, but don’t panic, because you’ll have plenty of icing spakfilla to sort it out.

cake 6

4. Allow the cake to cool completely before you attempt icing it. If it’s even slightly warm, the icing will slide off and it’ll be an unmitigated disaster. (Ask me how I know).

5. Place the butter, cream cheese and vanilla in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and soft.

6. Add the sifted icing sugar and beat until it’s totally smooth and fluffy looking. This may take a while – it took me more than ten minutes because the weather is cold here at the moment and the butter and cream cheese take longer to meld. Persist, as you really need the icing to be totally smooth and creamy.

cake 4
7. Cover the top and sides of the cake with icing, regularly sampling some from the bowl with your finger just to check that it tastes ok. This is a very important step and should not be left out, or the whole thing will have been pointless. I personally undertake it repeatedly, just to be sure.

cake 5
8. Present cake to birthday boy’s wife, but don’t sing her the creepy song you made up. Because that’d be … well, creepy.

cake 8

9. Receive this photo via text, and get an enormous amount of pleasure from the fact that you made someone happy with cake, for you indeed are a feeder who gets immense joy from cooking for others.

Pat cake

In the spirit of full disclosure, I think this is what they call in the business a ‘sponsored post’. I wasn’t paid to do it – because seriously who would take payment to plug a fundraising event – but I was asked by the Cancer Council to write about Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea. Considering the amount of support I, and so many other people like me, get from the Cancer Council, it’s my absolute pleasure to plug this event. Now go to the website and find out how you can get involved.

Fun Raising

I spent a good portion of the weekend just gone attending and speaking at a couple of breast cancer fundraisers.

On Saturday afternoon, it was a high tea to raise money for my local BreastScreen Queensland service. BreastScreen which provides women over 40 with free access to mammograms and other screening for breast cancer, with a focus on early detection. The event was a sell-out – I could claim that it was due to word getting out about the guest speaker, but apparently it was a sell-out last year and the year before too. In any case, I got to wear a dress for the first time since my wedding almost 9 years ago, eat some scones and clotted cream (and put leftover clotted cream onto a piece of chocolate slice, and eat that too, because I’m all class), and talk about myself, so there was nothing not to like about the whole event. Because it was the day before Mother’s Day, I talked about what it’s like to be diagnosed with cancer when have a young child, and parenting through treatment and beyond.

julie at high tea 1

The audience was interested and attentive, and I was enjoying myself to the point that the jazz hands came out, and I started to look a bit like a tv evangelist. Testify! And pass me the clotted cream.

julie at high tea 2

On Sunday morning, Dave, Hugh and I got up early and met some of our lovely friends to participate in the local Mother’s Day Classic walk/run. The Mother’s Day Classic is held all over Australia, with funds raised donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation to fund research into breast cancer prevention, treatment and cure. It was a crisp, gloriously sunny morning, but there is nothing like a sea of smiling faces and pink balloons to warm the heart of someone who’s been on the receiving end of this life-saving research.

MDC 2015

As always, every important step in my life is taken with the support of my gorgeous boys (standing front and centre to watch me speak)

MDC 2015 2

and my fabulous friends wearing pink and walking by my side

MDC 2015 4

… or being carried by someone walking by my side

MDC 2015 5

I also got to meet some real life Boob in a Box readers, which was both exciting and surreal. Big shout out to Tina her mum, to whom I awarded a best fancy dress prize before I even knew they were readers!

It’s very hard to reconcile in my mind that the shittiest of shit experiences that is cancer can also bring with it some positive things. But it can and it has – I get to meet people, share my experience, help raise some money, and spread the word about diagnosis and the efforts towards a cure.

And speaking of positive things, I’ve been nominated for an award as part of Kidspot Voices of 2015, which is a celebration of Australian online creativity. I am a tiny, tiny tadpole in the enormous ocean of blogging (whose really shit at analogies because I’m not really even sure if frogs live in the ocean), so to be nominated for these awards is very special. I have no idea who nominated me, but the fact that there is even one person out there who thinks what I do here, playing around with words in my spare time, is worth such an acknowledgement has made me a very happy one-breasted, middle-aged woman.

I don’t expect to win an award, but I’m going to say my thank yous now, anyway. Thank you anonymous nominator, thank you Tina and her Mum, thank you to the beautiful lady on Saturday who showed me she was wearing a wig and told me she felt like my words were her words. Thank you to those of you who read my posts, who help inspire my posts, who comment and email and tweet. Thank you to my husband who told a stranger on an Internet forum that I am an amazing person, and to the random bloke at the walk on Sunday who said he was glad I’m still alive. And thank you cancer, you fucking bastard of a disease that I detest with every fibre of my being, for giving me these opportunities. I wish I never had them, but I’m so glad that I’ve got them.

The Reflux

Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with reflux. Every time I say or write that word, Duran Duran’s song The Reflex immediately pops into my head. They are two quite different things though. The Reflex is a door to finding treasure in the dark, whereas The Reflux is waking up choking on your own stomach acid and then sucking it into your lungs. As I said, quite different.

The Reflex is a lonely child who’s waiting by the park, whereas The Reflux is a side-effect of the medication I’m taking for the next five years to help prevent my cancer from recurring. It started when we were on holidays in Thailand last year, and I thought it was food poisoning for a while, then the Thai version of Bali belly, and finally about a month later I decided it probably wasn’t either of those things, and raised it with my oncologist. It took me a month to ask a doctor about it because if there’s one thing all cancer patients have in common, it’s the ability to put up with things that would have someone who hasn’t had cancer presenting at emergency screaming ‘For the love of god, someone help me pleeaaaassseeeeee’. Cancer people do this for two reasons. One is because we know things could always be much worse, and the other is because we don’t necessarily want to know that things might actually be much worse.

The Reflex is watching over lucky clover, isn’t that bizarre, whereas by the time I was diagnosed with The Reflux, I was at the point of being unable to drink a glass of water without chest pain so bad I thought I was in cardiac arrest. I had lost around 12kgs in the space of three months because most of the time, I was unable to eat anything substantial. I’d cook dinner for the family, sit down to a lovely meal, take two tentative mouthfuls, and ten minutes later be in agony with the burning and contracting in my oesophagus. My oncologist immediately knew what was wrong with me, so I was prescribed a drug called a proton pump inhibitor to manage the side effect of the non-steroidal aromatase inhibitor. My inhibitor is  now apparently being inhibited, and constantly having a popular song from 1984 in my head would appear to be the least of my worries.

The Reflex is a game, he’s hiding all the cards, whereas The Reflux means that because of my inhibition issues, I need to be very careful about what I eat. Lettuce, perhaps the most innocuous of vegetables,  is now my mortal enemy, as it will bring on an horrendous attack of The Reflux if ingested. Bread is bad, pasta is bad, rice is bad, cake is bad. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m pretty sure I’m not a total fuckwit, I’d be worried that I’d started turning into Paleo Pete Evans. And although my arse and thighs look markedly better minus the extra 12kg they were sporting, I still do need to be able to ingest food at regular intervals, and if I remember correctly from my primary school history lessons, scurvy doesn’t sound like much fun. Enter the Ninja.

Every little thing The Reflex does leaves me answered with a question mark, whereas The Reflux has caused me to buy myself a Nutri Ninja. As seen on TV! The Nutri Ninja with Auto-iQ takes the guesswork out of drink making! Auto-iQ Technology features intelligent programs that combine unique, timed pulsing, blending and pausing patterns that do the work for you! Rotates at high-speed to liquefy ingredients into the smoothest nutrient juices, smoothies & purees! So many exclamation marks! It must be good! And the salesperson is going to give me $40 off! That seems reasonable! Food! Without choking! Or vomitting! Or chest pain! Where do I sign! Shouldn’t that one be a question mark! And that one! Oh dear!

This morning I made myself a drink from carrots, pineapple and kale. It looked like this:

green sludge

I’m on a ride and I want to get off
But they won’t slow down the roundabout
I sold the Renoir and TV set
Don’t wanna be around when this gets out.

Seven Years a Mother

It’s seven years today since I became a mother. Here’s what I looked like just before we went to hospital. For the record, no, I was not carrying quads. I was 38 weeks pregnant with one baby who had grown to gargantuan proportions thanks to my insatiable craving for chocolate milk.

julie pregnant

At 6:52am on Friday, 2 May 2008, my boy was born and my life changed, utterly and completely, and forever.

julie and hugh just bornjulie and hugh first chat

I could talk ad nauseam about how hard it was early on, how much I struggled with the tiredness and the sameness, the lack of stimulation and quite likely a bit of undiagnosed post-natal depression, but that is truly in the dim, dark past. I could talk about how I eventually blossomed as a parent, and reminisce fondly about how I was so determined to learned the words to the Thomas the Tank Engine theme song that I sat late one night pushing play, stop, play on Hugh’s Songs of Sodor DVD until I had all the lyrics written down and could memorise them from my cheat sheet. I could talk about how worried I was until Hugh finally started walking at the grand old age of 22 months, or how amazed I was when he started to teach himself to recognise written words when he wasn’t yet four.

julie and toddler hugh

But the fact is, none of these stories or anecdotes or memories will convey to you what it feels like, to me, to be a mother. Being a mother has changed everything about me, yet made me more myself. It has worn holes in my heart, but made also made my heart bigger, more open, and much more robust. On occasion, it has broken me down to the point that I’ve felt like I’m just fibres of being flapping in the breeze, but then steadily, and without me even realising it, motherhood has built me up into a person that I didn’t know I had the capacity to be.  I never thought I would have the chance to be a mother, and when it did happen it was almost an out-of-body experience for a long while, so to be completely and utterly charmed and affected by it continues to be a shock. I am comfortable in the role – happy and fulfilled – but still regularly feel surprised that, for real, this is me.

hugh eye roll

Oh for god’s sake Mum, stop banging on about it.

It is most definitely me. Seven years on, I regularly look at this beautiful, funny, smart and tender-hearted creature and feel such pride that he’s mine. As he grows I become more aware of how Dave and I are shaping this human being, so he can grow up and take his place in the world. He’s going to be a man one day – hopefully someone’s partner, maybe someone’s dad, definitely someone’s boss.

Hugh at 7

As well as marking my seven years as a mother, today marks two years since I finished the last day of  active treatment for breast cancer. I would never recommend cancer as a way to find out about yourself – self-help books and a meditation course would certainly be cheaper and considerably less cell- and soul-destroying – but it did offer me some incredible moments of clarity. I found out that short hair really suits me, and perhaps a little more significantly, that being a mother is a privilege that cancer denies to many. It may still deny me parenting my child into adulthood, as I wait in the limbo land that is remission.

This stark knowledge has focussed my attention on the importance of the mundane, which is, in reality, what being Hugh’s mother is all about. I make his lunch every morning, his sandwiches cut into triangles because I know he likes them better than squares. When I am walking up the stairs in front of him, I make pretend farting noises and poke my bum out, just to see him fall about in paroxysms of laughter. I lie next to him in his bed for a few minutes each night – like you did when I was a baby Mum – and he presses himself up against me, lovingly patting my hair and raining kisses on my cheeks. I trim his nails when his piano teacher sends a note home saying they are too long for accurate ivory tinkling, and then at his request paint his fingernails and toenails alternating red and blue, his school colours. He helps me make cupcakes after dinner and then I ice them when they are finally cool enough at 10:30 on a wet Thursday night, because he wants to share them with his classmates and teacher the next morning to mark the impending milestone of his birthday.

Seven years a mother. Two years a survivor. Inextricably linked. 2 May, 2015.

holding hands