Month: November 2015

I’m Growing a Beard Downstairs for Christmas

I’m growing a beard downstairs for Christmas. It’s been a long-term project, started about two years ago. At this point, I can hear 1970 calling, asking for its hippy free-lovin’ bush back.

I have several dear friends with bowel cancer. No, I don’t exclusively hang out with people with cancer (because, let’s face it, some people with cancer are absolute arseholes), but through a support group for people with the dreaded big C, I’ve met some bloody amazing women with this fucking awful disease.

At this point you are wondering why I started off talking about my pubes and then segued into bowel cancer. Stay with me friends, and it will all become clear (unlike my downstairs department).

The fabulous Australian musician Kate Miller-Heidke (who is basically related to me because 20 years ago the young bloke who eventually became her husband was in a university class I was teaching) has done a Christmas duet with a band called The Beards. Being middle-aged, suburban, and incredibly un-hip, I cannot claim to have ever heard of The Beards until today, but as the lover of a man with a mighty ginger beard, I can say without a doubt that they must be a great bunch of blokes.

Plenty of musicians put out Christmas songs, and let’s be frank most of them are shite. But this one from Kate (cos we’re totally on first name terms) and The Beards is not shite, it’s bloody hilarious, and the kicker is that all proceeds from download sales will go directly to Bowel Cancer Australia. So, it’s a Christmas song that’s not shite, but it’s dedicated to raising money to stop the shite (literal and figurative) that bowel cancer causes in so many people’s lives.

So please, get on board. The pink cancer gets so much attention (for which I am forever endlessly fucking grateful), but it’d be great to see the less glamorous brown cancer get some attention and some money for research and support. You can preview the song here on Kate’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/katemillerheidke/videos/10153264876293730/ and then you can pay to download the song and thereby donate money to Bowel Cancer Australia by going here:  http://www.decembeard.org.au/ChristmasSingle

pubes

Media Tart

In my previous post, I talked about how a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of being one of the guest speakers at a day-long forum for breast cancer patients. It was a day of revelations, epiphanies and really delicious chocolate slice.

At the same venue as the forum, the ABC was wrapping up a week of broadcasting from my home town, with live broadcasts of its morning tv and radio shows. I was enormously excited to see the ABC Queensland newsreader Karina Carvalho in the flesh. I do believe that as well as being an incredibly talented journalist, she is also the most beautiful human being I’ve ever laid eyes on. Jimmy Giggle was also there, apparently he is a bit of a thing in the pre-school mums set, but I could never get past that high-pitched voice and the annoying owl side-kick. Anyway, I digress.

During the forum lunch break, I was approached by a bloke in an official-looking ABC polo shirt, and asked if I was Julie from Boob in a Box. Before I could answer, my fellow guest speaker Susie excitedly told the bloke, who turned out to be ABC Southern Queensland’s breakfast radio host David Iliffe, that she likes to wake up with him every morning. Realising that my fifteen minutes of fame may be rapidly dwindling, I interrupted that particular love fest to assure David that I was in fact Julie. He then asked if I’d be willing to be interviewed for his show. It took me about four milliseconds to agree.

I have always held a deep desire to be a radio announcer. Given that I don’t have a journalism degree, or want to drive a black thunder and give away icy cold cans of coke, or hold rabidly right-wing views about refugees or dole bludgers or single mums, that particular dream is highly unlikely to ever become a reality. So the next best thing is to be interviewed on the radio by someone who asked such interesting questions that I pretty much instantly felt like we were just two people having a chat (apart from the giant fuzzy microphone that is).

I was very excited when David told me that my interview would be played at 7:15am the following Monday morning, but considerably less excited when at 7:20 the following Monday morning I realised that instead of listening to the radio I was arguing with Hugh about whether he should eat the rest of his breakfast or not. He thought not, I thought otherwise, and I missed hearing my own dulcet tones on the radio. Other people heard it, and told me I didn’t sound like a total dickhead, but until I heard it myself I wasn’t convinced.

David kindly sent me the link this morning. I don’t sound like a dickhead, but boy do I have the rising intonation at the end of sentences thing nailed. David assured me that half the population do this, and that he hadn’t noticed until I pointed it out, at which point I realised why my friend Susie liked waking up with him every morning.

If you’d like to hear me talk about cancer, and this blog, and you my lovely readers, in my frighteningly Strayan accent, here’s the link: https://soundcloud.com/abc-southern-qld/how-the-boob-in-a-box-blog-has-helped-woman-with-breast-cancer

Moving In

On Friday night, Dave and I went and saw the comedian Lawrence Mooney do his live show at the Brisbane Powerhouse. It was a superb show – equal parts hilarious, clever, thought-provoking, inappropriate and downright rude. The underlying premise of the show is about Mooney and his brothers travelling to England to bury their uncle and settle his affairs. Early on in the set, he made the observation that whilst our bodies are amazingly good at sending pain signals to our brain as soon as we stub our toe or paper cut our finger, they are totally shit at giving us even the slightest hint that we have a golf ball sized tumour growing in one of our kidneys. The audience laughed – most of them a bit reservedly (because: cancer) and then he came in with the killer (pardon the pun) part of the story. I’m paraphrasing here, but something along the lines of given the stats, and how our bodies seem so focussed on stubbed toes and paper cuts rather than serious ailments, he pointed out that there was likely to be at least one, if not more, people sitting in the audience with terminal cancer who didn’t know it yet. He put it out there, and let it sit. Most people laughed, but that sort of nervous titter that quiets off very quickly, whereas I had a good, deep belly laugh. Because he’s right, and because I had my check-up last week, and so as far as medical science and I know, that person sitting in the audience with undiagnosed terminal cancer was not me.

But listening and looking around and people laughing so hesitantly and nervously about cancer really tickled my fancy. Cancer is a club that nobody wants to join, and people are so fearful of it (rightly so, it’s fucking terrifying) that they dare not tempt fate by laughing too fulsomely at a cancer joke. The week before I’d been a guest speaker at a day-long forum for people with breast cancer. Looking out into the audience full of bald heads, scarves and wigs, I was struck by a distinct feeling of belonging, of knowing and of connection. I didn’t need to explain or contextualise my story for these people, because it was each of their story too. I didn’t have to use analogies to try to describe the emotional pain of diagnosis, I could just go right in and talk about that pain, and how I came out the other end of it. I didn’t need to detail how the fear at the beginning was so all-consuming, because they too had been consumed by that same demon; in fact some of them were still being ruminated in the belly of the best, not yet regurgitated out in a form barely resembling their previous self. So I talked, and I talked, told jokes about missing breasts and being high on pethidine, and they laughed big, jolly, guttural laughs. I connected with these people, because they are my tribe.

It was an epiphany of sorts to realise that these people, mostly women whose breasts once delivered pleasure and joy and sustenance for babies, but who had subsequently been chopped and poisoned and burned, are now my people. What’s between us is unspoken – a knowing. After my speech I stood in line to grab a coffee at morning tea, and had the most raw conversation with Trish, whose wig looked so bloody good that I was totally fooled, and whose taste buds are so destroyed that she didn’t care what sort of cake she had with her coffee. She wanted cake though, because it’s cake and she’d made the huge effort to be out and about when her body was screaming at her give in and get into bed and not get out until her next chemo treatment. I told her the chocolate one looked dodgy and she should definitely have the pecan, mostly because I have working taste buds and wanted the chocolate one. Later I talked to Ros, who couldn’t work out how to use her bloody iPhone so I typed the URL of this blog into Safari for her and set up a bookmark. I didn’t wonder why a grown woman couldn’t use her own phone. During chemo I crashed my car into a fence because my brain simply forgot how to drive.

The theme of my speech at the forum was ‘moving on’. I prepared a whole presentation on the subject beforehand, but it wasn’t until I stood there on that day, in front of all the cancer peeps, that I realised that finding a good head space after cancer is actually more about moving in than moving on. Moving on implies that you can leave cancer behind, without a backward glance. I don’t think that’s possible – it’s just too big a thing to pop in a cupboard along with your ab crunch machine and cake pop maker. Instead, I think you need to move in to the tribe, the been there, done that, still doing it, have the missing bits to prove it gang, and find your peace. Look around and see your common pain, and know that you aren’t alone, and you will never be alone in your experience. Admitting that what happened to you actually fucking happened, and to varying degrees is still happening, and that you now belong in this group, you will always belong in this group, is about moving in, in order to move on.

Two days after speaking at the forum, I opened a bank account so that we can save for a trip to Europe in 2017. That’s the year Dave will turn 50, and I will reach the holy grail of cancer – five years in remission. Before the forum, before I had my public epiphany, I would not have suggested to Dave we plan such a trip, let alone open a bank account specifically to fund it. But by accepting that I am a cancer person, and that I’ll always be part of the tribe, I have taken a big step towards moving in, and thereby moving on.

move in