Month: October 2015

Touch My Titty Tuesday

Today is Touch My Titty Tuesday. It’s an annual event, where I turn up at various medical centres, and allow a mix of people I’ve never met before and some that I have, touch my left breast. They also don’t mind having a good hard look at the place where my right breast used to be.

On Touch My Titty Tuesday, I like to pretend that I’m both brave and inspirational as I sit smiling in the waiting room. An hour before I’d been dry-retching with fear in the bathroom at home, but there I sit with a magazine, watching The Morning Show, and wondering if Stone Dine cookware is really all that it’s cracked up to be.

On Touch My Titty Tuesday I first see a doctor who examines my breast and what’s left, then wait a bit, then have a mammogram, then wait a bit, then have an ultrasound. Then I see the doctor again, and walking into the room I am reading her face, scanning, scouring, searching for a sign. She smiles. SHE SMILES. When it’s going to be bad news, they don’t smile. Ask me how I know. But she smiled. She smiled.

On Touch My Titty Tuesday, my next stop is the medical oncologist. When we first met, this guy was serious. Very serious, actually, but that is probably the only way to be when you have to tell someone that their five-year prognosis is 50/50. But as time has gone on, and my tests have been clear and I’ve continued to feel well (apart from the hideous side effects but for the purposes of a short and sweet blog post, let’s not dwell on those) and to live my new normal life, the seriousness has eased and I feel like maybe he’s not so worried about me. Perhaps that’s just me projecting, because I’m not so worried about myself, but that’s certainly not a bad thing, is it? In any case, these days our meetings are far easier (for both of us, I suspect) and he smiles – really smiles – and makes a joke about not wasting my time, given how well I am, and says see you in a year.

On Touch My Titty Tuesday, the doctor who used to need to see me fortnightly, and then monthly, and then three monthly, tells me he now needs to see me only yearly. I think to myself that my titty will feel unloved without its regular outings, but decide not to share that joke with him – we might be more comfortable with each other now, but really, we’re not quite at that point yet (and let’s face it, probably never will be). I leave, smiling, really smiling.

On Touch My Titty Tuesday, I begin my fourth year in remission. It’s been three years since I felt like I was on the precipice of losing everything, and here I am, hopeful, optimistic, fortunate.

On Touch My Titty Tuesday, I’m feeling good.


Three Years

Three years ago today, I had my right breast and lymph nodes removed because I had stage 3C, oestrogen positive, invasive ductal cell carcinoma with spread to 12 of 16 lymph nodes. For a while, that sentence was a sentence, and it defined me and how I existed. I wasn’t really living my life then, but rather just existing while I endured surgeries and chemo and radiation.

In the months after treatment finished I sometimes felt like a stranger in my own life – on the outside looking in. I went through the motions in two ways – with no emotion or with too much. I felt nothing or I felt everything. I thought about what the world would be like when I died, and had my funeral planned in minute detail. Cancer had sucked the life out of me, but there I was, still alive. The Walking Dead.

But then things started to change, slowly but surely. I connected with a group of other cancer people. Cancerians? (Like Rotarians but without the community spirit and sausage sizzles.) And I started to disconnect from the hospital, and the treatment, and moved out from under the cloud. Holy shit, there’s sunshine, there’s Vanuatu, there’s me with my George Clooney hair looking like I belong in an my happily average life.Julie an Dave

Soon after I started feeling like being at work made sense again, and that sending my son to after school care would not be the catalyst to make my cancer return. I started a blog, started speaking about my experiences, and started realising that everything – and I mean everything – that I had experienced was normal. I was not unique, special or crazy. I didn’t deserve cancer, I didn’t invite cancer, but I got it anyway.

Cancer will always be part of my narrative, but three years on it’s no longer the central theme of my life story. It doesn’t define me, or degrade me, or deny me. Remission three years on feels good. It suits me. I think I’ll keep it.julie


It’s October, which means it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It also means that about a week’s time, it’ll be three years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three years. I know I should be moved to wax lyrical, but all I can think is holy fuck, three years. Three. Years. Such a short time; such a long time. Such a hard time; such a good time. So much fear; so much grace.

The fact that it’s October pretty much passed me by until about ten minutes ago. That’s because this year September pulled out the big guns to take all of October’s shitty limelight, and wrested the crown of most bullshit month ever.

September started out really well, with Dave’s university graduation and Father’s Day celebrated with a hangover. I then felt a bit sad, as September 9 is my Dad’s birthday, and the first without him here. He was a cranky old shit who would let you know in no uncertain terms if the present you had so thoughtfully chosen was not really going to work for him ‘what am I supposed to do with this?‘, but he was my Dad, and he’s gone.

Moving on from that momentary melancholy, was the high point of the month, with Tony Abbott getting unceremoniously arseholed by the silver fox that is Malcolm Turnbull.


Source: @textsfrommalcolm on Instagram

We then rolled into the last two weeks of school, winding down towards a few days at the Gold Coast and then on to our long-awaited and militarily planned camping trip with our usual camping buddies. Firewood was gathered and packed, water bladders filled, menus decided upon and food purchased, tents and sleeping bags and toilet paper all packed.

And then, dear reader, it all went to shit. We arrived at the Gold Coast, and we got about 45 minutes at the beach with my beautiful friend Antoinette and her husband and kids before Hugh took ill. Hugh basically never takes ill, so I was completely unprepared for the onslaught of crazily high fevers, vomiting and diarrhoea. We headed home, cancelled the camping trip, unpacked all the wood, and the water, and the tents and the sleeping bags and the toilet paper, and waited, despite Dave’s suggestion that we should take him to the doctor, for him to get better. Except he didn’t get better, and by Thursday night we were in Emergency being told that he had pneumonia, and would have to be admitted.

It won’t surprise you to know, that after miscarriages, and cancer and the whole thing with my Dad dying earlier this year, hospitals freak me out.  I stood watching as my 7-year-old had a chest x-ray, thinking about the ultrasound I’d had in the same place four years ago, which showed our miracle pregnancy was no longer a miracle. I sat looking at my 7-year-old lying listless on a gurney in Emergency thinking about how my Dad had looked on a very similar gurney when he was close to death in February. And when the doctor put the chest x-ray on the light box to show us our boy’s congested lungs, I remembered, so clearly that I could smell the smells and taste the fear, of the anaesthetist showing me the x-ray of my lungs before I went into surgery. My lungs were clear but my right breast looked like a giant white cloud of cancer.

I sat for four days in a chair next to my boy’s bed as the oxygen, antibiotics and fluids worked to fix his poor, sick little body. I felt so cold the whole time, but especially that first night, full of my own fear, combined with a decent dose of guilt that I had not realised how sick my child was, even as his lungs were struggling to work. Had I let my own anxiety about doctors prevent me from seeking help sooner? I don’t think so, because I truly thought he had a virus that would pass, as viruses do, but, I have to be honest and say … maybe. Maybe.

So here I sit, with my big, fat maybe. Hugh is out of hospital, and doing well. He’s had the shittiest school holidays ever, but has been rewarded with about as much Pokemon paraphernalia as a boy can handle. He’s a robust and otherwise healthy child, so he’ll bounce back and no doubt be regaling his school mates with stories of x-rays and drips and wheelchair rides. My boy is going to be just fine, and I am utterly relieved and thankful, but also shaken by the notion that maybe I’m not as just fine as I thought I was. I’m going to let the dust settle on this, and then I’m going to have my annual mammogram and my three-year post-diagnosis review, and I’m going to talk to my doctor about where I’m at.

Maybe I’m at where I should be. Maybe it’s normal. Maybe nothing’s ever going to be normal again.

Maybe. Maybe.