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Breaking Up is Hard to Do

On October 10, my oncologist broke up with me after five years. It wasn’t him, it wasn’t me, it was NED. Thank God for NED – full name Nil Evidence of Disease – for coming between us. As nice as my oncologist is, that relationship was going nowhere.

While I’d been sitting waiting for my appointment to see the good doctor, I’d come across the Queensland Writers Centre #8WordStory competition on Twitter. As the hashtag would suggest, the challenge was to tell a story via Twitter using only eight words. The best entries – as judged by writers such as Nick Earls and Benjamin Law – would be published on electronic billboards on major roads in Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

After my doctor told me about NED, I knew immediately what my story would be. I sat in my car in the cancer unit car park and tapped out my entry, and four weeks later I got a message telling me that from over 6,000 entries, mine had been picked for publication! Here’s my story in its electronic glory on the Inner City Bypass at Bowen Hills in Brisbane:

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Coinciding with my final oncologist appointment, was his decision to take me off the dreaded Anastrozole. This drug provides a 25% increase in survival in the first 5 years post-diagnosis, but it has the most hideous side-effects, the key one for me in the end being osteoporosis which caused my arm to be smashed into tiny pieces after a minor fall in April this year, resulting in major surgery to turn my limb into Frankenarm.

I had hated Anastrozole with a passion for nigh-on five years, but the moment my oncologist told me I could stop taking it, I was worried. Since the day of my mastectomy in 2012, I have been having some sort of treatment for cancer. Was Anastrozole the only thing keeping it at bay? Wouldn’t it be better to keep taking it just in case? Surely I could just wear my bubble-wrap outfit forever to keep my bones in one piece.

bubble wrap

And you thought I was joking about having a bubble-wrap outfit.

But as part of his final pep talk, my oncologist told me that Anastrozole had done its job, and could do no more. ‘You do not need a security blanket, Julie.’ where his exact words. And like he had been about so many things – ‘Yes, we are giving you enough chemotherapy, not everyone gets the vomits’ – he was right. I don’t need a security blanket. I need to move on, carefully gather my fragile bones, and get the fuck on with life completely outside the hideous but reassuring grip of cancer treatment.

That doesn’t mean I will (or could) forget about cancer. Thanks to those of you who donated online, plus my ever-generous work colleagues, we raised over $800 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, who will put this money directly into research. With donations like ours, a cure will one day be found and this blog and its tales of cancer will become like the Egyptian pyramid texts – so completely other-wordly that they will need a specialist to decipher them. Especially the sweary bits.

Dying to Live: Metastatic Breast Cancer

Today is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. Metastatic breast cancer is when cancer cells have spread from the original cancer site in the breast to more distant parts of the body. Terms such as advanced breast cancer, secondary breast cancer, secondary cancers, metastases and secondaries are all different ways of describing metastatic breast cancer, but they all mean the same thing.

There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, but fundraising this October by the various breast cancer organisations will go towards much-needed research into new treatments, and a possible cure. My love and respect goes out today to those living with this bastard disease, including my beautiful friend Rochelle, who has allowed me to share her story.

I don’t talk much about my cancer. It’s something I choose not to dwell on. When I do mention things, I get private messages from people saying that they didn’t realise I was still sick, sick again, or sick at all. So as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month, and in particular with today being Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, I find it fitting that I put this out there today.

I am living with Metastatic Breast Cancer. If you’re not sure what ‘Metastatic’ is, it means my cancer has spread from the initial point to other parts of my body. This can also be referred to as secondary or advanced. Call it what you like, it’s incurable. It is terminal.

7 years ago I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I was a 27 year old, with an almost 1 year old. Life changed. After surgeries, chemo and radiation I was given the clear and tried to get back to ‘normal’. We had another baby. Then 4 years ago, the day before my second son’s first birthday, they told me the cancer was back. They told me it had adhered to my sternum but during surgery they tried to scrape as much of it away as they could. They gave me chemo to mop up anything left. The chances of it spreading were almost guaranteed but they believed we had caught it early enough to give me a good amount of time before it would show up anywhere else. 12 months later it was in my bones and my lungs. Now it is also in my liver.

I am 34, trying to raise my sons as normally as possible, yet I do this every day with the knowledge that our life is anything but normal. I have had more surgeries, chemo, complications, blood tests, appointments and medications than I care to recall. And I am dying. I am realistic about this, I am not in denial. It is what it is. That doesn’t mean I don’t have hope. I have hope new drugs will be found to keep me here a bit longer. I have hope that research and technology with reduce this suffering for others in the future. And I have hope that my children will grow into amazing, productive, kind, happy men.

You can help by educating yourselves, donating and raising money for research and support services for those in need. Provide physical and practical help for those fighting and their families. Make food, fold their washing, help with their kids, take them to appointments, and just spend time with them!

Not just for breast cancer but all cancers.

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#fuckcancer

If you want to help my funny, smart, fabulous (and not to mention hot, I mean c’mon have a look at her!) friend and thousands of other people in her situation, please consider making a donation to fund research.

Options for donating:

Cancer Council NSW (where Rochelle lives): https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/ways-to-donate/

My fundraising site (all funds go to metastatic breast cancer research): https://pinkribbonbreakfast.gofundraise.com.au/page/JulieShinners0

 

 

High Five!

Five years ago, I was, entirely without my permission, parachuted (minus the parachute) into Cancer Land.

Shit place to visit, nobody lives there.

Today, I got asked to leave. Unceremoniously told that my presence is no longer required.

I really, really want to write an eloquent post about how this feels (And then have it shared a million times by people who then tell me I’m an inspiration. Because if there’s one thing that’s great about having survived cancer, it’s being an inspiration to those who have won the health lottery and have been lucky enough not to get it. )

Instead, I sit here in shock. Five years ago I was told I had less than 50% chance of being alive enough to sit here in shock . But here I sit, having just seen my oncologist, to be told my results are again all clear, and as such he is discharging me from his care.

I asked him to be in a selfie with me to mark the occasion. He said he wished he’d worn a tie, and I said not to worry I’d photoshop one in.

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I lied. Sorry Dr Vasey, I don’t know how to photoshop stuff in or out, and if I did my priority wouldn’t be your tie, it’d be reinstating your forehead and fixing my crazy, crazy eyes.

Seriously though, how good do I look as someone excitedly on the verge of tears because five years passed by and my oncologist broke up with me?

There is no cure for cancer, but for me, today, there is complete remission with NED – Nil Evidence of Disease.

That’ll do pig, that’ll do.

 

 

 

Vulnerability

Earlier this year, I was asked by the her words team if I would be part of their interview series. At the time, I really didn’t know what they wanted to talk to me about, but I knew they’d read my blog so wouldn’t expect me to talk about rainbows and unicorns, so I jumped at the chance to have a chat in front of the camera. I’ve never met a public speaking opportunity I didn’t like. Same goes for cake.

The interview took place in Melbourne, on a ridiculously hot summer’s day in a trendy inner-city warehouse apartment that made me feel like the sweating rather than glowing middle-aged suburbanite that I am. The women from her words are quite amazing –  earnest, smart, and driven to help women of all sorts to tell their stories. They also managed to film me so I don’t look sweaty, for which they get copious bonus points.

My interview took place over a couple of hours, and I think the fact that the interviewer and production staff were all incredibly young and enthusiastic made me feel more determined than ever to tell my story. As a young woman in my 20s, I didn’t have the confidence I needed to feel comfortable wanting to build my career when mostly everyone else was marrying and having children. Instead, I  built a facade of not giving a damn, whilst secretly yearning to be just like everyone else. In many ways, I was walking on a treadmill, always moving but never actually getting anywhere. I did things – bought a house, travelled a bit, built my career – but I never knew why or to what end. It has only been in the last five years that I have realised that opening up about who I am and how I feel means that I no longer yearn for anything (other than a cure for cancer, a couple more kids and a Snickers bar every now and then.)

The theme of my interview was vulnerability. Losing  four babies and then getting cancer in the space of just a few years made me incredibly vulnerable, but at the time I didn’t openly acknowledge that, and instead tried to persist with my facade. If I didn’t look at the words ‘Cancer Centre’ on the side of the building I went to for chemo, then I could go through eight months of treatment without shedding a tear. If I pretended to be happy, relieved even, to only have one child, then I could tough out conversations about my small family. If I could pretend my heart was hard, then I could get through all this unscathed. Except, of course, for all the scars.

Then I started writing this blog, growing gradually more game to reveal my feelings to the anonymity of the Internet. But the Internet is far from anonymous, especially when you post photos of yourself without your top on, but quite remarkably instead of people judging me for telling my truths, they joined in, telling me theirs, letting me know that I was far from alone. And so it began, a kind of mid-life rebirth of the non-hippy kind, with me learning one of the greatest lessons of my life – that by opening ourselves up to others, we open ourselves up to ourselves.

A couple of months after this interview was recorded, I broke my arm in six places, and learned that extreme physical pain, pain that cannot be accurately expressed in words, tears a hole in your soul and lets everything pour out. I was no longer the acquiescent patient, smiling my way through chemo like some balding nut-job. I was broken, smashed and wailing. The level of vulnerability I felt then, and at certain moments still, was acutely terrifying, and caused what the doctors call situational depression and post-traumatic anxiety. It is hard for me to write that down here, pains me to show you that new vulnerability, but bugger it, I am here tell my truth. I broke my arm and it kind of broke me, but I am being treated, being mindful, going easy, and am thankfully feeling good again.

So here is my interview with her words. The bitchy resting face sure gets a good showing, and my husband things I sound a little bit like Judith Lucy (which in my books is not a bad thing), and I’m proud as punch of myself. Oh and I did actually talk about unicorns …

Ask My Mum

It was my birthday yesterday. I nailed it as far as birthdays go, making myself a brown butter cake with lemon curd and white chocolate cream, scoring some awesome presents, and going out for Chinese for dinner where I completely dominated a plate of honey king prawns. I did offer them around the table, but my friends and family aren’t stupid.

At the restaurant, I sat across from my 81 year old Mum. She nearly died about a month ago, but there she was, tucking in with gusto to satay chicken, beef and black bean and fried rice. As I looked over at her smiling face, I was taken back to the critical care ward, where my brother and I sat and listened while the specialist consultant spoke to Mum about her end of life wishes. She’d had a minor heart attack initially, but had a rare reaction to one of the standard drugs used to treat it, and had gone into acute kidney failure. Her body was shutting down, blood pressure getting lower and lower, breath gasping despite the oxygen mask, skin waxy white. Her eyes were closed, but she heard every word he said, and confirmed what we already knew. She did not want to be resuscitated, or kept alive by machines. If things were at an end, she would go on her own terms.

The consultant told us later, out of Mum’s earshot, that he thought she would only live another couple of days. We stayed by her bed, alternating breaks for coffee and loo, regularly joined by family and friends who had come to say goodbye.

That night, my brother asleep in our spare room, we waited for the dreaded phone call to come, like it had when Dad died. But it didn’t, and that morning when we arrived at the hospital Mum was sitting up on the side of the bed, and then moved to sit in a chair. She hadn’t eaten for days, but suddenly decided she wanted a vanilla ice-cream in a cone. I sent my brother to fetch it (pulling the little sister with a broken shoulder card because it was cold outside) and when he came back with a Cornetto, Mum proceeded to eat it in about five bites. Anyone who knows my mother knows she is not a fan of sweet things and watches her diet like a hawk, so we were both amused and bemused. Someone told us that those who are dying often seem to rally just before they pass, so we thought that perhaps this was Mum’s final hurrah.

But it wasn’t. Gradually, she got better. Her kidney function improved and rapidly returned to almost normal, her blood pressure normalised and they weaned her off the oxygen. And as she left critical care for the general ward, she gave the consultant a hot tip, and recommended he introduce Cornetto therapy to all his patients.

After dinner last night, my Mum gave me a birthday card, and I went a bit misty-eyed when I read the front:

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And then I pissed myself laughing when I read what was inside:

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I am regularly asked how I am able to laugh in the face of really tough stuff. And I always say, you should probably ask my Mum.

When Love is Judged

It’s been almost two and a half years since I published this post about same-sex marriage. The post went viral, shared hundreds of thousands of times both in Australia and overseas, and you know what the most remarkable thing was? Not one person, not one, commented or emailed or tweeted or messaged to say they disagreed with same sex marriage. Each time a media outlet in Australia commissions a poll about same sex marriage, the results are overwhelmingly in favour, but still, here we are, caught in a mire of filthy, stinking political bullshit.

Some really terrible things have happened to me and my family this year. Hugh broke his wrist on New Year’s Day, and it all seemed to go downhill from there with my accident and resultant periods of hospitalisation, surgery and long, slow recovery. Then my Mum recently became seriously ill, and I felt the weight of the world pressing right down on top of me. But I have been absolutely blessed by the support of dear friends, in particular Shauna and Duane. They have both been there every step of the way this year, making sure Dave and Hugh and I are OK, offering reassurance, providing a listening ear and a reassuring hug through many awful days and even more awful nights.

As it happens, these two friends of mine are in same sex relationships (obviously not with each other, because that would make no sense). I feel absolutely SICK at the thought of this debate about marriage equality having a negative impact on them and their families. Love is love. Love for friends, love for family, love for partner, love for kids – every individual’s experience is unique, but in essence the same, because we are all human. I don’t love anyone better, or more meaningfully, or with any more passion because I’m a heterosexual human, and I don’t deserve any more rights than anyone else just because I was born this way.

People – my friends, people I love, people I don’t know, men, women, children – are being hurt by these debates about how they live their lives, discussions about which rights they are deserving of and which they are not, public statements so ignorant they be laughable if they were not so hateful.

Duane is strong, confident, outgoing and comfortable in his own skin. And since I have known him, he has kind of pushed on through this whole marriage equality debacle, water off a ducks back and all that. Except late last night, the water having turned into a tidal wave and his duck drowning not waving, Duane posted this on Facebook, and has given me permission to republish it here.

This is going to be my last post on the topic of marriage equality before I disengage completely from the discussion. And it’s going to be rambling and prickly as finally, I’ve had enough. I am exposing some vulnerability here (which doesn’t happen that often at my age!) by admitting that this decade of public discussion, and specifically the last few years of ‘the Australian people have a right to vote’ on the validity of my personal life, does make me feel humiliated as a person. Yep, it does.

To be clear, I’m not ashamed – not at all, I love my life and who I am. But I am constantly humiliated that something which is personal and private has become so politicized and pushed into the public arena. How did we get to a point where our entire country is being asked to (and some are demanding a right to) vote on my personal life? Without even trying, every day I hear and read all manner of comments about my private life and people’s opinions on it. And it all serves to remind me that this LNP government, and the Labor government before that, and the LNP government before that have made direct decisions which have led us to this point – a point where it seems to have become ok that my private life be open to scrutiny, judgement and commentary – and as a country we’ve let this happen.

That is what Australia has become. It’s scary and repulsive. Stop and ask yourself how violated you would feel if an element of your private life became a daily news piece for a decade – and even worse, that your government decided the whole country should vote on it. It actually does my fucking head in. And for all the back patting and congratulations that will no doubt go on in Canberra when this does eventually become law, I for one won’t forget how the last few governments have made me feel, which will make any kind of result bittersweet.

So please, if this all goes ahead make sure you are enrolled, cast your vote on my private life, do it with love – and reflect on how truly offensive it is that you are being asked to do so, and remember that feeling next election day. It goes without saying – if you vote no, we no longer have anything to talk about. Ever. Immediate unfriending. I’d say sorry for being cranky, but right now I just feel like saying fuck you. More importantly though, I do want to say thank you infinity to the many people in my life, and in the world, who make me forget about all of this ridiculousness – sincerely, thank you.

The main reason I can’t keep engaging on this topic is because, unexpectedly, thinking about this whole concept and the pressure of having your country judge and vote on your life brings back a flood of memories of homophobia across my life, and I spontaneously cry! I’m an emotionally stable person, and J and I are in a stable relationship, and it makes me worry for those other people out there in the same situation who don’t have this stability and support. So I will ask, if you do know any other gay people, reach out and check they are OK, please.

Pleasure and Pain

It has occurred to me that, almost always, any experience of true pleasure is always mediated by pain of some sort. 

My pleasure right now is gotten from the fact that my Mum has moved into her new (old) house.  She is happy as a clam, back in familiar territory with her dear neighbours around her, but in a beautiful renovated home. 

Before and after of the kitchen:


The house is unrecognisable, but the place as familiar as her own skin. She has risen to the challenge of learning to live in an almost new home, and has finally, after significant encouragement from my brother and I, started spending some of the money she got from the sale of the house. Mum grew up poor, and has never had money, so buying things simply because you like them is an utterly foreign concept to her. It has been a lesson in humility for me to watch her struggle with whether she should really by $150 worth of new pots and plants for her garden because ‘it is just so frivolous’ whilst knowing that I have eaten single dinners that have cost more.

Impacting on this pleasure has been the pain of my shattered arm, which after 11 weeks had not healed and resulted in surgery last week. 

Behold, Frankenarm!


I am doing well, the pain is controlled, and I have considerably more movement already than I’ve had since I broke it in April. But all the things I want to do, like drop into Mum’s for a coffee on the new back deck, or take her shopping for new linen, just aren’t possible right now, and it’s bloody annoying. I’m still feeling pleased, it would be impossible not to, but it’s just not exactly how I’d imagined.

Oh life, you saucy minx. Pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, blogging one-handed.

Them’s the Breaks

For those of you who don’t follow Boob in a Box on Facebook,  here’s why I’ve been quiet of late. On April 8, quite literally as we were about to head off on Easter holidays, I tripped over in the garage at home and smashed my shoulder into many pieces. I also cut my head open, but the pain of a broken humerus meant that I had no idea from where the ever-increasing pool of blood on the floor was coming. All I knew was the pain in my shoulder, which made me alternately scream and moan. I’ve had a breast cut off, chemotherapy and burns from radiation requiring daily hospital treatment, but nothing, NOTHING, comes close to the pain of a broken shoulder. When the wonderful paramedics arrived, they gave me morphine, but it seemed to do nothing. The ambulance ride to hospital was agonising and continued to scream and moan.

My left arm broken, my right arm compromised by a lack of lymph nodes,  the doctors in emergency searched my feet for a vein to give me more pain relief. They had no luck, so decided to risk going in through my right arm, and pumped me with more morphine, then something else, then something else.  I started to lose my grip on reality, but the pain was unceasing. I went for an x-ray and the pillow supporting my shoulder slipped off the side of the gurney, and I heard my own screams reverberate through the lead-lined room.

I spent three days in hospital as the orthopedic surgeon contemplated surgery and attempted to get my pain under control. The first 48 hours was spent in the clothes I’d had on when I fell, the pain too severe to risk the movement required to change me. Eventually, the pain was dampened to a dull roar, and I was sent home in a shoulder immobiliser, with five different painkillers and anti-nausea meds to counteract the painkillers.

This paragraph should be all about my slow but positive progress towards healing, interspersed with hilarious tales about sponge baths, but alas dear reader, that was not how the cookie, nor for that matter my shoulder, crumbles. Almost ten weeks on, and I have just been told that I now need surgery to put a plate into my arm to support my humerus, which has not healed properly. The surgery carries with it the risk that the nerves will be damaged and my hand paralysed, but without the surgery my entire arm is useless, so I signed the waiver this morning and will turn up to hospital again next Wednesday, with all my mustered hope clasped hard against me, and trust the surgeon to do his best.

Part of being someone who’s had cancer is when shitty things happen being grateful that they aren’t cancer. I’ve had ten weeks of awful pain, near-constant discomfort and a mindset see-sawing between sad, angry and sad about being angry, all the while with the back of mind mantra but at least it’s not cancer. That was, until today, when the orthopaedic surgeon confirmed that the break was so bad, and the healing so poor, because I have osteoporosis. At 47, my bones are brittle and fragile, thanks  to months of chemotherapy, and years of subsequent drug therapy in the form of the gift that keeps on giving, Anastrazole. The cancer’s not back, it’s not cancer, but you know what, it actually is bloody cancer because if I’d never had cancer in the first place I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this blog post with my fucking nose now, would I?

And breathe …

But at least it’s not cancer.

 

 

 

Mise en Place

Dave and I both work full-time, with Dave in particular doing very long hours, leaving home by 6am most mornings, getting home around 5pm and then spending an hour or two working after dinner. In order to maintain some order, our lives are routine-driven. I meal plan each week, we do our washing to a schedule, and stuck to the front of our fridge is a calendar detailing appointments and events, surrounded by flyers, notes, invitations and reminders. When we get home each weekday around 5pm we go into a whirlwind of making and eating dinner, unpacking lunch boxes, loading the dishwasher, feeding pets, doing homework, music practice, repacking school bags and eventually, falling into an exhausted heap in front of the TV. By the end of the week, the house is untidy, (clean) washing is piled in numerous overflowing baskets, and the weekend is spent trying to set things right again.

About eight weeks ago, my Mum Shirley moved in with us so the renovations at her house could get underway. She actually came to our house from hospital, where she’d spent a few days getting checked out for some issues. She was tired, unwell and weak, sleeping for hours, picking at her food and asking me politely (and then telling me not so politely) to stop fussing. It was actually a relief to have her with us while she recuperated, as during a normal week I am usually only able to get to Mum’s house once or maybe twice, and Dave can sometimes stop in on his way home from work. We had a routine where I would ring Mum on a Wednesday morning, and she would come to our place every Sunday afternoon and stay for dinner. But if she is ill, a phone call and a Sunday visit is not enough, caring for her becomes very difficult and I am guiltily reliant on the kindness of her friends and neighbours to pick up the slack.

Gradually though, Mum started feeling better, got her colour back, started eating properly and wasn’t nodding off every 45 seconds. She started to make her presence felt in our household, and my prediction that living with my mother for the first time in 30-odd years would not be pretty has been proven completely wrong. She provides an extra set of hands to help out, and extra set of ears to listen to Hugh’s stories, and an extra set of eyes to see where things need doing.

Every morning, I get to lie in bed for an extra 15 minutes as my Mum makes Hugh his breakfast. If I try to get up and make him breakfast, she tells me everything is under control, so I stay in bed. I can hear them chatting away happily, Hugh busily telling his completely bamboozled grandmother about various Pokemon characters, both of them laughing at her inability to correctly pronounce Pikachu. While I shower and organise myself for the day, she unpacks the dishwasher, all the while narrating her activities for the enjoyment of our two small dogs, who have come to adore the person whose lap they happily time share all day.

As Hugh and I are leaving the house, she’s firing up the Dyson and doing her daily vacuuming, all the while plumping cushions on the sofas and dusting and tidying. None of this is necessary or expected, but it is very much appreciated, and I know she loves it when we come home from work and comment about how tidy the house looks. If there’s washing to be done it’ll be hung out, brought in, folded and put in neat piles neatly on the end our beds. She’ll then settle into alternating between reading and feeding her addiction to her new love – Netflix. She’s gotten through The Fall – asking me to get on the Google and find out of Gillian Anderson’s name is pronounced with a G or a J sound – and is now onto season two of House of Cards. There are no ads! And the next episode just starts up! She has to be careful she doesn’t just sit there all day she tells me, it could become a problem you know.

Mid-afternoon, with a few episodes of the Frank and Clare show under her belt, she begins the dinner preparation. Mum used to be a professional cook, and still has the most incredible knife skills. At 82 she can dice an onion into the most mise en placeprecise, tiny pieces. Each morning before I leave we discuss plans for dinner, for which she does all the preparation. My mother knows me very well, and understands how much I enjoy cooking, but how little time I have mid-week to do dishes that involve lots of fiddly preparation. She has become my sous-chef, carefully doing all the meal preparation so that when I arrive home, all I have to do is bring the meal together. She slices, dices, grates, peels and chops all of the ingredients that I’ll need for each meal, which chefs call mise en place – everything in place.

During and after dinner we sit and chat about our days, watch Hugh practice his musical instruments (Mum applauding loudly after each mangled attempt at his latest piano or saxophone piece), and enjoy some TV together. We then all drift off to bed, another day of business and purpose done and dusted. On weekends we go food shopping – Mum loves going ahead of me at the supermarket and hunting out bargains in the meat department – and she and Hugh sometimes watch movies or sit together in amiable silence doing their own thing. We usually have a takeaway meal or go out for lunch, and Mum has developed quite the taste for Thai food.

In about four weeks, Mum’s house will be renovated and ready for her to move back in. She’s so looking forward to being back in her neighbourhood, where she knows everyone and everyone knows her, and to having all her things around her. I also know that she is feeling a tinge of sadness about leaving us behind, and as much as Dave and I are excited to see the culmination of what has been a massive undertaking of basically rebuilding my childhood home, we are also truly sorry to be losing our wonderful housemate. She’s easy to get along with, tidy, incredibly helpful, and hasn’t once brought home a random bloke.

I’m at the point of wanting to ask her to stay, but I know that it would be terribly selfish to suggest that she misses out on the wonders of her old house made new, so I won’t ask, at least not now. Maybe in a few months, when the novelty has worn off, I’ll tell her how much we miss her help and her care, and she’ll come back to live with us. And once again, we’ll have mise en place.

The Cost of Change

There’s currently a lot of discussion in the media in Australia about the ever-increasing cost of childcare. I know this cost because Hugh was in long daycare for three years. I agree that it’s hideously expensive, especially in capital cities and especially when multiple children are in care. Whilst school education in Australia can be accessed pretty close to free of charge, care for pre-school aged children can cost upwards of $200 or more per day, per child. There are government subsidies and rebates, but they are fairly limited and don’t serve to significantly reduce the cost for many families.

As much as I believe there needs to be reform of our childcare system, there is one aspect of this entire debate that is really very wrong. Most of the time the cost of childcare is discussed, especially in the media, it is discussed in terms of what percentage of the mother’s wage it takes up. We hear that some women are working for $60 per week after childcare costs are taken out, or that there is no point in women working because their wages are inconsequential because of childcare.

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The underlying assumption is that the cost of childcare is borne solely by women. Obviously they are in cases where the woman is a single parent or sole income earner for the family, but in the majority of cases, where there are two parents in a family, the cost of childcare is still always described in terms of its relationship to the mother’s income. There is no mention of men working for a pittance each week once the cost of childcare is taken out. There is no discussion of men simply deciding to stay at home because they don’t see the point in working full-time for less than $100 bucks after childcare costs are considered.

Childcare needs to be treated like all other household expenses. That is, genderless. We don’t hear discussions about how much a man’s take-home pay is reduced by the cost of his electricity bill, or how the cost of council rates really impact on a woman’s decision to return to work. That’s because we see these expenses as joint/ family/ household bills that need to be managed, they are not gendered responsibilities.

Attribution of childcare costs to women, is at its heart, sexist. Until the cost of care of children in two parent families is discussed as a family expense, until we are talking about a couple only bringing home $760 a week combined after taking out the shared cost of childcare, and until we fight this fight on the basis of childcare being too expensive for families, then I don’t believe we’ll see change.

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Given gendered rhetoric like this from our current Prime Minister, it’s clear that this change is a long way off.