Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The final word on fat

C grew up in the good old days. The summers were longer, the days golden and the long drive to Blenheim for the holidays was shared with two adults smoking in the front seat with the windows up the whole way. No one at the time suggested it was child abuse. Driving home from the pub after a couple of jugs was normal and if someone was killed by a drunk driver the coroner declared the death 'accidental'.

But as society learnt more about the harm caused by cigarettes and drunk drivers our laws, and eventually our attitudes, changed.

It doesn't matter where you sit on the political, philosophical, or religious spectrum, being fat by which I mean obese, makes no sense. And I'm not afraid of saying so. With my very own real name attached to the opinion.

Not all smokers die of smoking related illnesses. Not every fat person is unhealthy. The evidence, however is unequivocal. Forget about the politics of body image, and the beauty debate. Ignore for a minute the gender issues of the impossibility of the ideal female form, versus the margin of 'error' afforded to men. Just consider where you live. I believe that first and foremost we live in our bodies. Our souls, spirits, personalities, egos, brains - the things that make us uniquely us - live in a physical form. Before our homes, villages and cities, we live in our bodies. And take it from me, that when our primary residences are in disrepair life is more challenging.

Creationists believe that we are created in the image of God and that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Scientists believe that we evolved and that the strongest, fittest and smartest of our species will outlast the others. Creationist scientists should be lawyers. The ducking and diving in their literature could be an Olympic sport. Even taking the crude view that humans are no more than a form of machine you can't escape from the harsh truth. Being too fat is bad for us. Being too skinny is bad for us as well but no-one's rushing to defend anorexics in the way that fat people evoke sympathy.

Being overweight is a key factor in a whole host of diseases, illnesses, syndromes, and disorders. The reason people get fat? We eat more energy than we expend. Imagine your car tank being full of petrol and asking the attendant to pour petrol into the back seat because there's no more room in the tank. What about taking a shitty form of energy like diesel and mixing that in with your petrol? Car wouldn't get far. But still people clamour for more refined sugar, more empty carbohydrates, more crap food to make them feel better. Poured maple syrup into your stereo lately? Not designed to run on maple syrup right? Our bodies are not designed, created, evolved - whatever - to run on the modern diet of junk food and jelly beans.

And just for a second, imagine owning a piece of equipment that never got used. A sofa never sat on. A book never read. A body never walked.

I should know. Since I began chemo I have put on 7 kilos. Of fat. Why? My taste buds are shot, my nausea overwhelming and my energy levels at all time lows. I have eaten as I have pleased to get me through the day. I have not exercised with any real intensity. I have stayed in bed.

I have disrespected the temple of my spirit. And in January I will suffer twice over. Firstly because I will begin the painful process of expelling the fat from my body by walking and running around the streets of my village, going to Les Mills for the world's best fitness classes, and lifting weights. And secondly because I will have to deal with C & T & P moaning their arses off (if only this were literally possible!) about the delicious semi-vegan nutrition plan our whole family will enjoy. There will be two options for every meal - take it or leave it. More raw carrots with your grilled tofu darling?

I do sincerely believe that fat people, smokers, climate change sceptics must try harder in 2010. The unfairness in this unholy triumvirate is that only one of these groups can be easily identified by others. If you're a healthy weight and feeling pretty smug right now - grow up. There are undoubtedly things in your own life that wouldn't look too flash on display for all to see. Be thankful that sneaking looks at internet porn while your wife is out doesn't instantly turn your hair permanently purple, or that speeding through a school zone doesn't set off flashing lights spelling IDIOT all around your car.

Me, I'm just pleased that when you're one-boobed and bald no one bothers to check out your bum.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hotpicks from 2009

What a bloody change. After ten days of feeling fabulous, my last FEC (Wednesday 9/12) has sat me firmly back on my bottom...or rather, back on my back. Lying in bed, with great rolling waves of sickness coursing up and down my body I've been reflecting on 2009. My most comfortable position is one that I imagine a dying dog assumes, head hanging over limp paws just waiting for the breath to run out. I'm not dying of course and feel mentally as tough as ever but the release that comes from physically relinquishing a fight is immense.

The great news is that my last FEC was my last chemo treatment and all I need to do now is rest up for a few weeks, have five weeks of radiation in January/Feb, then 3 weekly Herceptin for a further 9 months and then I can get off this cancer carousel and back into life as I used to know it...but with a few more pills, and raw beetroot juices.

So...to my lists. I don't know where you lot have all been over the past few months but I have been staggered by how few of my friends are in touch with the very coolest things in the world. Help yourself to my hotpicks from the year that's just been:

1. www.ted.com - if you weren't raised with an oral tradition you'll take some convincing but if you've spent any time in church, or at university you should find something to squeal your wheels. My favourite talks are: Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame on Creativity. Sir Ken Robinson on How Schools Kill Creativity, Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice and Benjamin Zander on Classical Music. OK, some of these are older than 2009 but it was my year to discover them.

2. Louis CK - the comedian is filthy - if you are remotely upset by foul language and adult themes avoid it all - except his piece on the Conran show about 'Everything is Awesome and Nobody's Happy.' www.youtube.com

3. Catherine Tate does Lauren Cooper. "Am I bovered?" www.youtube.com

4. The Time Travellers Wife - perhaps facing death makes mushy movies about time travelling more appealing than they otherwise would be - I cried. A lot. All the way home. Only go if you've read the book. Lazy, lazy, lazy if you don't.

5. Susan Boyle. Go on. Give your inner cynic the day off. Buy the CD. Play Wild Horses in the car and remind yourself of her first appearance where the entire audience was sneering and gagging to bring her down, until she opened her lips and started to sing.

6. The All Whites. I couldn't watch the last 10 minutes. My heart rate was climbing to a rate way too high for a chemo cocktail boffer like me. Bring on the Italians in South Africa.

7. The idea that entrepreneurs and not politicians create massive social change. Are the wrong people in Copenhagen? Check out the tweets from the Thought Leaders Conference 2009 for more - not my original thought but one that has really got me thinking. For an easy read try Fighting Globesity by Dr Jackie and Phillip Mills. www.lesmills.com (In the interests of transparency you ought to know I'm mentioned - nothing like good old self-promotion.)

Must try harder:

1. Freedom Furniture. Had cash, ready to pay for light shade for the great white elephant, which incidentally is looking more and more like my dream home every day. Who knew that concrete would be comfy? "Sorry, you can't buy it today because I have to count it." There I was thinking they were in business to sell items of furniture and associated household trinkets. Wrong. They are in the business of counting them, and keeping them. "Why don't you pay for it now and come back and pick it up tomorrow when I've finished counting it?" There's a winning pitch if ever I heard one. "Why don't you," this is me talking now, "stick the light shade up your jacksie, plug it in, turn it on and blow yourself up."

2. Tiger Woods. Should he blame the guy who always yells 'get in the hole'? What's worse? Being such a schmuck or being so arrogant to expect to get away with it? Mobile phones? Security cameras? Waitresses? Porn stars? Brain explosion. I don't judge his morality just his stupidity and hypocrisy. No wonder he craved privacy.

3. Mark Sainsbury. If Richie McCaw could be trained to stop saying 'you know' surely MS could ditch the 'now, look.' Tell me I'm wrong.

4. Smokers. Fat people. Polluters. Climate change sceptics. Mark Hoitchin. Give it up already.

5. Me. More to say, do, be, see.....after a wee snooze.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Good advice

Pirates Women's Rugby 1997

It seemed like such a good idea. I knew such a lot about rugby, had watched so many games, dated so many players, chatted with top coaches and was certainly fit and strong. For a 46kg chick that is. You can tell from the photo that women's rugby is not weight restricted, and that our fabulous captain, who played for the Black Ferns was close to twice my size.
So was the woman who sat on me in a ruck and broke my collar bone. The last thing I heard before the tackle was our coach yelling 'way to run it up Sach'. The first thing she said as I staggered to the sideline with my left arm dangling helplessly by my side was 'no-one comes off until I say'. "Yes chief, that's an excellent point you raise, but in my defense I have suffered minor concussion and can't be expected to remember all the finer points of your particular brand of masochistic coaching."
Hospital staff mistook me for a 12 year old and I sailed through A&E. Another winger (you didn't think I played prop did you?) from another club had broken his collar bone too. Strong, strapping, 100kg of Fijian muscle sat next to me during the wait for x-rays. Tears rolled silently down his cheeks. I gave him my most sincere smile, leaned in really close and told him to harden up. What kind of pathetic excuse for a player was he? Crying? Come on.
My first game back after an extensive rehabilitation period involved Pirates and Varsity A. I was put on at half time and I'm certain the rousing half time speech was primarily for my benefit. "They might be up by 20, but they will not cross our line again. We will be a fortress, our line will be defended at all costs. Are you ready to lay your body on the line? From the smallest amongst us ...." I tuned out. I'd always been attracted to the way that famous rugby nation, Spain, structured their defense. So when Annaleah Rush, Black Fern and sister of All Black Xavier but blessed with more size and skill with ball in hand than he, ran towards the try line with only me in her way, I did what any decent matador would do. I simply stepped aside and waved her on through. I did ask if she would mind stopping to sign my jersey on her way past but I'm not sure she could even see me without a magnifying glass.
The only try I scored that season, or any other season for that matter, was on the day my Mum was visiting from Auckland. Sensibly, she'd advised against playing rugby. Sensibly, I'd ignored her. She came to watch, somewhat reluctantly. Not many sheep hang round for the whole lambs to the slaughter thing. About 5 minutes into the game a schoolteacherly (w.o.t.w) voice could be heard throughout the wider Dunedin region. "Get in there Pirates. Smash them. Hit them hard girls. Chase it Sach. Where's your guide dog Ref?" Once a sports fan, always a sports fan.
The only award I was nominated for, I didn't win. Club Personality of the Year. It turned out that having a witty turn of phrase and winning grin was no match for the Senior Men's nominee who had performed indecencies on a goat, a sheep, the captain's fiance and was otherwise just such a decent bloke.
It is blindingly obvious with the benefit of hindsight that rugby wasn't going to be my game. My good friend A.R. Baldwin, a fellow student burgling his way through law school summed it up best in a song he wrote to avoid studying the finer points of Wills and Trusts;
"But it seems I didn't listen to myself. All my good advice seems to go to someone else."
Each of us already has the answers to the problems in life that puzzle us the most. We could all advise our best friends what to do in any given tricky situation. We're just not brave enough to take our own advice.
Which is why I've sometimes skipped my injections, my daily mouthwashes, and the forty pills a day regime. It's hard, it's boring, it hurts, and I hate it. Thinking about chemo makes me spontaneously vomit and there are days where doing the right thing feels impossibly difficult.
But like every tough thing thrown at us, this too passes. Today, was a great day and there's every probability that tomorrow will be even better.

What advice of your own are you ignoring?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Yuck yuck spew spew

It is a truth universally acknowledged that certain shades of limelight can wreck a girl's complexion. I'll send $20 cold hard cash (NZD) to the first of you who can name the authors and titles of the books from whence the opening sentence first appeared. The literazzi among you will immediately know that two phrases have been stitched together. Hurry now. If you resort to google, I will have no way of knowing, and will honour my part of the bargain. But you will have to live with your cheating self for the rest of your life.

Finding new ways of saying the same old thing is challenging, and there aren't that many new things to say. Every self-help book has familiar themes, all crime thrillers employ the same devices to ratchet up the tension and despite an exhaustive research project I have been unable to find a description of the effects of chemotherapy that significantly differs from this one:

yuck, yuck, spew, spew, chunder, chunder, queasy, queasy, pukey taste, pukey taste, hot flush, hot flush, lie down, nausea, nausea, nausea, nausea, wouldn't a great big vomit feel good?

Lloyd Morrison, Infratil's founder is back from 9 months in Seattle getting blasted with chemo and describes it as 'a struggle to get to the end of the day, let alone think.' He's bound to be getting a nastier dose of poison than me, on a more relentless roster, but he's telling fibs about the thinking. It turns out that he's about to revolutionize the health and education sector, shake up the economy and spend his last years making a material contribution.

Me, I've been thinking about mental preparedness. Does knowing something potentially nasty is on the horizon make it easier or worse to deal with? Does it make the moments leading into the event better or worse? Would you rather know or not know what's in store?

I like knowing. Always have. But I'm beginning to appreciate the joys of willful ignorance. The subtle change of pace that comes from having each day unfold. The blissful state of having not a clue who will win the $20.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Easy rider

It's a long way to Tiparere. But it's takes even longer to drive from Auckland to Kaitaia. Especially when you've only just got your license and haven't spent any time at 100km/h on the open road. Double the danger by lying to Mum about going to school (I might have even dressed in my uniform before she left the house), and triple her likely disappointment when she finds out it was all Dad's idea.

As a parent it fascinates me to watch my kids in action and wonder which of their little quirks and characteristics we will look back on, and with the glorious 20/20 vision of hindsight say 'oh, yes, he's always been..... (insert words of choice)....good with his hands, useless with money, one to skive off, quick to spy a chance, nosy, helpful, ambitious, laid back, fascinated with fire, in love with knives, nasty to animals, certain to be incarcerated.

My Dad has always been a trader with a nose for a bargain. Stories from his childhood are laced with deals, schemes, rip-offs and rorts. His older teenage years were punctuated with adventures straight out of that famous Boy's Own Annual 'How stupid can you be and get away with it?'

One awful day when other mad surfers would have just committed suicide after a week of flat seas at Mt Maunganui, Dad signed up at the Port of Tauranga to crew on a Korean freighter. Up to communist North Korea they went and miraculously a few weeks later, back they came. It's not exactly exploring the world when the commies won't let you past the gate of the dock.

Incidentally, this particular trip gave Dad the best line he's ever used in raising me, notwithstanding the important daily proclamations of unconditional love. I, aged 11, had written a note to the boys in my class. Clearly playing hard to get I wrote, 'the boys are fucken wankers, bloody bastards, stupid c*@s, and useless shitheads'. The boys, not be outdone had returned it to me, surreptitiously (w.o.t.w) and simply crossed out 'the boys' and replaced it with 'the girls'. Clever eh? I went one better and accidentally left the note in the top pocket of my school uniform and Mum found it on its way into the washing machine.
I found her in bed weeping when I got home from school the next day. How could her little girl know and use such filthy language? Dad sat me down for a heart to heart, and as his concern moved to disgust out come the pearler: "I've worked on ships with Norwegian seamen who didn't use language like that!" Norway has been somewhat tarnished for me ever since. And whenever Dad says something less than born-again happy-clappy like 'Shit', I patiently remind him of the fine example those Nordic sailors set him.

Telling the skipper of a yacht sailing up to Tahiti that he had off-shore experience was another dodgy move. Dad didn't realise that sitting out the back on your surfboard was not the true meaning of off shore experience. But crewing on a yacht to a Pacific island where all the women were tanned and topless sounded like fun. What's a weeny white lie? As they left Auckland Dad started chundering and didn't stop for a couple of days. The skipper threatened to throw him overboard but decided it was worse for Dad to stay alive and endure more rough seas.

With that background you'll now appreciate why Dad thought it was a good idea for me to lie to Mum, wag school and drive nearly 5 hours with him to Kaitaia. He let me have a turn at driving on the open road - for experience - and he was wise enough not to enquire about my soul. The purpose of the trip to the Far North? A deal. And what a deal it was.

In the '80's the import tariffs on laptop computers was horrendous. So Dad used to fly up to the States, buy a computer there, bring it home and declare it for personal use, use it personally for a week or two to appease his conscience and the IRD, and then sell it using a cheap classified ad in the Herald. His profit after taking out the cost of flights etc... a cool $2,000.

But this time, he was going one better. Some poor sod was willing to trade his pride and joy, his beauty, his love, for a Toshiba laptop from my Dad. So after five hours of shared driving we all spent 15 minutes in a dingy old garage sealing the trade and then set off for the even longer, slower journey back to Auckland. Me, 16, driving the family sedan and Dad cruising on his new Honda Goldwing touring motorbike. Did he have touring bike experience? Had he ever handled 1500c.c of power on 2 wheels? Had it been more than 10 years since he had ridden any kind of motorbike? No, No and Yes.

Our biggest dilemma was who should go in front. If he crashed I could park my car to stop oncoming motorists damaging the bike. If I crashed Dad could decide whether Tahiti or North Korea would be the best bolthole to escape Mum's wrath. Like most tales of adventure the end was an anti-climax. We made it home safely. And after two or three rides as pillion passenger Mum declared that she would not be travelling to the end of the street with Dad let alone touring the South Island as he had planned. The bike had to go. Something to do with Dad not quite being able to reach the ground with his stubby little legs when they stopped at the lights, and the certainty Mum had that her long, lithe leg would be crushed when the bike tipped over.

Trader Dad made another cool couple of thou' when he sold it and we do have some lovely photos of Mum and Dad sitting on the bike. In the driveway, ignition firmly off.

Stories of our adventures give me hope. Lying here on Day 2 of my fifth round of chemo, riding the waves of nausea I can be thankful for two things. Firstly that my parents were so adventurous and included us in their travels, and secondly that I have a family of my own and we will write new chapters in that soon to be famous holiday guide "3 star holidays for suburban softies".

Monday, November 16, 2009

The paradox of surrender

Once upon a time I was a little girl auditioning for the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company. I had already danced with them in Coppelia and like about a hundred other girls from the Waikato / Bay of Plenty region was now dancing my feet off to be one of nine to take part in The Nutcracker. Looking back, the commitment of my mother was extraordinary. Rehearsals were over 100kms away in Hamilton and every Sunday we'd pile into the car and make the round trip. Driving duties were shared with other similarly committed mums.

The auditions would have made fantastic reality TV. I wonder if they run in the same ruthless way these days - now that telling kids they suck is practically illegal. How many rejected Idol contestants say that their family told them they have a beautiful voice? Yeah, but your family is pig ignorant about pitch, tone, melody and rhythm. Back in'82 the casting director simply taught a dance and all the contenders performed it a few times in lines of about 7 and if you didn't pick it up fast enough they sent you home. If you were fat, they sent you home. Ugly? Home. Crying? Home. I, of course, was not sent home but I had a nerve wracking time making the cut.

Eight girls ranging in age from 8-12 had already been selected and 6 were left in the possibles pool. Everyone else? Home already. The casting director looked at the 6 of us waiting to dance again and said something encouraging, totally appropriate given our tender years, like: "one last time girls, I'm looking for one more dancer and the rest of you can piss off home and forget ever dancing with the RNZBC again."

Up til that point I had been concentrating really hard on remembering the steps and smiling. But I knew, even at 9, that my strategy was clearly all wrong. My Coppelia friends were already through - I was the only one still dancing for my life. I decided, and despite no longer being able to remember simple things like what I'm doing at the dairy I remember this with absolute clarity; I decided to change my approach.

'Just dance.' A little voice inside my heart said 'Just dance. Don't worry about the steps, just feel the music, let go and just dance.'

And dance I did. "We'll take you," said the casting director pointing at me.

Sometimes we are most powerful when we let go, and allow the flow.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Changing fortunes

Oh the cruel vicissitudes of fate. I am often asked what's the worst thing about having cancer. Chemo? Being bald? Losing strength in my right arm? Scars? Breastlessness? Fatigue? Probable early dried up pruneness? Oh that it were that simple.

Schipol, Chicago, Heathrow, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Arlanda - I love airports. Full of possibility and the promise of things to come, travelling through the world's big airports is one of my favourite things to do. The little kiwi in me always feels like busting out a song and dance routine to thrill the captive crowds. "Look at me, I'm Sacha C, all the way from New Zealeeeeeee". I'm not cool enough to be over the multi-cultural buzz of international gateways, the allure of duty-free and the electronic displays that read like the answers to a geography quiz. Istanbul? What is the capital of Turkey? Rome? Where didn't Sacha visit on her O.E because she was lovestruck and came home after 21 days? Lisbon? Where did Sach take P when she was 4 months old? Germany? What country did the moaning shitheads sharing Business Class with Sacha and the baby come from?

In the last 18 months I've been to Fiji, Sydney, Gold Coast, Aspen, Stockholm, Bad Nauheim, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Los Angeles (3x) and travelled between Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington too many times to count. This mileage is nothing compared to the global commutes of my friends at Les Mills International but for me, it was heaven in an over sized skybus. But most important of all I earned enough points to become an Air New Zealand Gold frequent flyer. Oh, the sweet taste of status. "Come this way Madam, anything you say my Queen. 75 bags to check in? No problem your highness. Extra socks for your tootsies my love? Have some more champagne. Do. Go on. You deserve it. You're Gold."

You know the wankers who attach their frequent flyer name tags to their luggage? Check. That was me. Shiny gold ones with my very own name printed on them. Sucker Coburn. Apart from the wee spelling error I loved them. You've all seen the arseholes who effortlessly saunter past the lengthy queue of (I feel dirty just typing the word) economy class passengers waiting to check in? Tick. I'm not a total snob. From time to time I would smile ever-so-graciously at them as I redistributed my body position to ensure that not one of their grubby children touched any part of my golden self. Oh, the hypocrisy. One of my earliest international airport experiences involved being delayed in LA and having no money for food. I contemplated eating the leftovers on the plates left behind in the cafe where I waited. My mother stopped me. I was seven. Dad, of course would have encouraged this sort of carry-on and rightly so. He's an opportunist, like me. Mum's an Anglican. Say no more.

My status points are sadly going to expire. Before cancer I had a number of international trips planned and then...well, you know how this story ends. Air New Zealand, in their wisdom, didn't buy my argument that I ought to be allowed to keep my status points so I'm on my way back down to silver. If I drop to jade, I'll kill myself. What point in living? They did allow me to carry over my complimentary upgrades which C and I will no doubt use when we travel together as soon as my treatment is over. It will be a honeymoon of sorts, 15 months after the first one. Oh, the anticipation.

The very worst thing about cancer is that it forces redefinition of who you are and where you fit in the world. Good luck to those who go all Buddhist and want world peace and a simple life growing veges and raising kids. Well done to those who soul-search and find new meaning in their life. Me, I just want the freedom to travel again. I want to experience the crush of the crowds, the rush to a tight connection and the pressure of explaining my hotel address to a driver who's even further from his homeland than me.
I want my Gold status back.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Mental as anything

Patrick Jane is mine. Hands off, all you other sad and lonely women who live for Monday nights. The Mentalist is a perplexing hit and I, with direct access to its star, understand why. Australian Simon Baker plays Patrick Jane, a fake psychic with a tragic past seeking redemption by helping hapless cops find the killer. Jane is able to 'intuit' what's happened by making a series of observations and engaging in some pretty basic pop-psychology.

The reason he's so popular? Are you kidding? He is gorgeous, smart, damaged, cocky, vulnerable....everything women look for in men. But more than that, he is knowing. He knows people. He looks right into their eyes and tells them truths about themselves. Every Monday night I wait for him to turn and see me through the tv screen and 'know' me.

"Sacha, you're struggling to understand why your life has taken an unexpected turn. You're a disappointment to yourself having failed to achieve anything much of note and you're longing to get a second chance to use your talents for a greater purpose. You adore your husband and family but would run away with me if only I said the word."

Well, of course I wouldn't. But you couldn't blame him for asking. John Eales used to regularly appear in my dreams begging to marry me, and George Gregan also carried a torch for me during REM but once I met C these subconscious fantasies subsided.

What is it about us that longs to be known without the effort of communication? Like most women I wish the men in my life just 'knew' what I needed at any given moment. How hard can it be, right? Am spewing, need lemonade. Am lying in bed, need cold flannel and hand holding. Am gorgeous, need telling so. We expect that these things are so self-evident they don't need communication and that if men had any respect, love, or hope of sex, they'd get these simple things right.

Which is why we love Patrick Jane. Whenever C offers to do whatever I need, if I'll only ask, he makes the comment 'I'm not a mind-reader' whereas Patrick would never say that, because of course he is. A mind-reader.

And it's not just husbands and partners who suffer from lack of insight disease. My Dad, so wise about so many matters, was particularly slow to realise that one of his parenting stratagems was never going to work. K and I used to get rides to school with Dad and dread them. "So Sach," he'd say, trying desperately for a casual tone, "How is your soul? Talk to me darling, open up." Yip, that's going to happen. Better chance of Bishop Tamaki steering his Harley Davidson collection through the eye of his own diamond-crusted needle.

This criticism, or insight as I prefer to label it, of men who don't 'know' stuff is for the most part completely unfounded. The desire for Patrick Jane to see into my heart of hearts is a school girl selfish indulgence. Why should another person anticipate our every need if we are incapable of expressing it ourselves, as in words actually said out loud to the exact human being we wish would fill that need?

Each time I hear myself saying to a girlfriend 'oh I wish C would just....' I ask myself if I've given him the courtesy of telling him first. And then I challenge myself to add up the number of his needs I've 'intuited' or 'known without asking' in the last week.

The principle works exactly the same with the fantastic team I work with. Sometimes I get frustrated that someone isn't doing something exactly the way I had envisaged it would be done - but if I hadn't bothered to communicate that, discuss it, negotiate it, and agree it, where do I get off being bothered that it's not to my liking?

Patrick Jane is perfect for Monday nights on the post-chemo couch. But we live in a world where everything doesn't get nicely wrapped up in 48 minutes. It is lovely when an unexpressed need or desire is met unexpectedly by people we love, who love us. But going mental when it doesn't happen is dumb. If you want to win lotto, at the very least you have to buy a ticket. And hope that Patrick turns up in your dreams to tell you the winning numbers before you do.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Urgent Memo

To: K.M
From: Sacha C
Date: Friday 30 October 2009
Re: Updating my blog re the fecking fec

Hi K
I need you to do me a favour and update my blog. Wednesday was a total nightmare and I can't possibly get it together to type and think and make sense so just take what you can from the following notes and whatever you do, try to make me sound sexy. And strong.

Don't tell them that I left my anti-nausea drugs at home. I didn't want to delay my first f.e.c chemo so I winked at the nurse and crossed my fingers when I told her I had taken the two little yellow pills. Liar.

Leave out the bit about me crying as she sat beside me and injected the first of the three FEC drugs. F is fluorouracil which is red and makes your void (nurses fancy word for wee) bright pink. 5 out of 10 people treated report soreness of the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. E is epirubicin which can slightly increase your risk of leukaemia and C is for cyclophosphamide which pretty much destroys fertility and associated functionality for the female form. I've finished my family but always thought I'd be a great surrogate or egg donor and a few of my dearest friends might need my help. And now the chances of me being of any use to any of them are practically zero. Tears didn't flow, they just gently rolled down my cheeks while the three people sitting less than 2 metres away from me pretended not to notice that the positivity poster child was falling apart.

Do mention that the beautiful woman sitting directly opposite me let me know that I looked much fatter on TV than I do in real life. "The camera really packs it on doesn't it?" I was chuffed because after watching my clip for the 32nd time I too was begining to notice the extra fat.

Tell everyone that C and I had a delicious lunch at Sala Sala, which I followed with an excellent piano lesson, after which I picked T up from school and then chundered every 25 minutes between 4pm and midnight. Don't go on about how I was unable to move or read or talk for long without a trip to the loo - it will sound self-indulgent - but you can relay this fabulous chat I had with P while I was leaning over the bowl.

P: Mum, what are you doing?
S: Being sick, my love.
P: Why?
S: Because I went to hospital to have some more medicine today.
P: Why?
S: To make me better.
P: Then why are you being sick Mummy?
S: Excellent question my precious princess. The medicine makes me sick and then it makes me better.
P: (long pause) Okay. Can we play memory when you've finished? And can I shut the door cos it's really smelly?

Tell everyone that I'm much better now; and able to eat, drink and drive as well as any pregnant women carrying septuplets. That's my best approximation of the nausea.

Please ask people not to share their best anti-nausea tips. Ginger, I know, diet lemonade, I know, don't get cancer, I know, eat the new Fonterra ice-cream, I know. Poor souls who get the placebo in that double blind trial. New meaning to empty calories.

Let them know I'm a bit over advice at the mo'. Here's what the back of my Clinique face wash advised in the bath tonight: Avoid contact with eyes. If product does get in eyes, rinse and consult your opthamologist. Yip, 'cause we all have one of those on call on Friday nights don't we? It's enough to make you sick.

Thanks babe. Should be up to writing an update myself next week. Remember, sexy and strong.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Have more, be more?

Help me. I've just escaped from Harvey Norman. If the sight of all that hideous furniture in one place doesn't make you puke, the smell of the sales people rubbing their sweaty sausage-fingered hands together at the thought of their commission cheques certainly will. A long line of mild mannered types waited for their turn with the magic credit lady who either would or wouldn't extend them four! years! credit! interest free!

I tried really hard to find something to buy. And it's not as if I don't need anything. The kids are getting new beds; our first ever joint asset - a funky purple vacuum cleaner- is on its last legs, and I'm in the market for any number of miscellaneous feel good purchases - vases, towels, duvet covers and best of all, cushions. Is it possible girls to ever have too many cushions?

As a wild stab, and based on the most recent New Zealand census data, I'm picking that out of the 72,000 people who were at Harvey's at the same time as me, two of them had been to church this morning.

Everyone else probably reads my blog when they feel like being preached at. How pompous am I? "I read intelligent books" - "I never give up" - "I'm a little ray of sunshine bobbing along a sea of gloom". If I were you, I'd hate me.

I left the big box shop feeling pretty glum about our shared belief systems. So many people buying so many things they didn't need with money they didn't have. For what? And where do all the old washing machines go to die?

Having new things is nice. For me, having nice things is new. I've always allowed myself trinkets and classy table mats, but for the longest time we've been 'renting' or 'building' and now that I've got good reason to go nuts in the sales, it feels a bit, well, extravagant.

My sense of self-worth, mercifully, hasn't ever been based on what I've owned or where I've lived. I did cry a lot for a few days when I was 8 because the boys at my new school teased me about our pink house. Dad speed-painted the cladding a gentle off-white and drew me a diagram to explain life. He sketched a wedge of Chesdale cheese and pinpointed a dot at the thin edge of the wedge. "This is you," he said solemnly. 'Right now, the boys teasing you hurts your feelings. You miss your friends in Auckland. You hate living in the country (damn right I did), and you blame Mum and I for bringing you here." Yes, yes I did. "But this," he indicated the ever increasing width of the wedge, "is the rest of your life, where you have so many wonderful things to look forward to and experience. I promise that you will look back on this day of tears as just one tiny dot in the big scheme of the amazing life you will have." And then he lifted his gaze to the window and stared out into the overgrown paddock he'd dragged us to and continued, "as your father I want the very best for you. I predict you will be a lawyer, not a very good one, but nevertheless, you will be a lawyer and you will marry a man called Chris and together you will work very hard and make enough money to buy me a boat." And then because he was the best kind of fundamentalist, he concluded with a hearty "amen".

It's easy to acknowledge that having more won't make us a better person or make us happier but unfortunately even the idea of 'being more' is fraught. There is increasing pressure to self-actualise. Live your best life! Fulfill your destiny! Kick mediocrity into touch! These days I subscribe to a patchwork quilt of philosophies and if I can be so bold as to recommend tips for better living they can be best summarised thus:

1. An excellent day is one where you did less than you did the day before.
2. Give one thing you own away every day for a year. On day 365, your house will still be cluttered but the thought of the misery that your excess junk is causing the people you gave it to will cheer you up. Guilt-free schadenfreude.
3. If someone asks you to do something you don't want to do, just say "I'm sorry, my dear friend Sacha has cancer and so I won't be able to." Offer no further explanation. Hang up. Go to bed. For days.
4. Read intelligent books and watch dumb films.
5. Sing in a group. It's a universal truth that singing with others instantly lifts your spirits and creates unique bonds. It is a religious experience without the condemnation and incense.

Shopping for things you need with money you have is still an undoubted pleasure. Which is why I'm off to Borders to buy 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest'.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fictitious fairies

"Muuuuuum," an exasperated voice woke me this morning. "Can you email or text the tooth fairy again; she still hasn't been." T was not impressed. I'd already explained that the tooth fairy only did Sumner once a week but I had promised to remind her. My mum doesn't think this is fair. Apparently it's about time I told him that the tooth fairy is made-up, a story we believe because it feels good.

I used to believe in the God of the fundamentalists, the chap who would have us burn in hell for our unconfessed transgressions. Now I prefer to spend Sunday mornings reading the paper.

In the week between my mammogram and biopsy I went to a party in Auckland, and bumped into an old friend from those pentecostal days. "How is your relationship with God?" he asked. No expressed interest in my children, my husband, my business, my study. Just intense fascination with whether or not I could be re-saved. I was assured right near the end of our conversation that while I might have forgotten God, he hadn't forgotten me and that within the next week he would make himself known to me anew. Which as we all know, he did. Cancer must be God's new way of saying hi.

Serious illness affects people's faith in different ways. Some find religion, others question what they've always believed. I'm tackling this issue as I face any. I'm reading every intelligent book I can get my hands on and evaluating the pros and cons of every viewpoint. But like falling in love, faith is ultimately a matter of heart not head and I'm hoping for moments of peace when calm contemplation will reveal a quiet voice.

With a bit of luck this voice will remind me to put $5 (overdue payment fees included) under T's pillow. And while my own faith is in limbo I'm not too proud to receive the loving kindness of whoever or whatever you believe in.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The gift of cancer

Not exactly the title I'd hoped for, blazoned over the two page spread in Thursday's Press. Totally offensive to those dying of cancer and pretty hard for my loved ones who I'm sure witness my journey with less enthusiasm than me.

There's not a lot that I know alot about. I'm one of those shallow all rounders who know just enough about a whole range of things to get by - all surface, little depth. I appear to be much smarter than I am. But I do know about how adults learn and what gets in the way of personal development. I didn't ask for cancer but now that it's popped in for a visit I'm going to take every opportunity to learn as much as I can from the experience of beating it into smithereens before I show it the door.

Adults, in general, make terrible learners. In fact, if there's one thing we learn as we move from childhood through adolescence to being grown ups, it's how to stop learning. We buy into a bunch of lies about who we are that constrains us from taking the necessary steps outside of our comfort zone to really learn new things. 'I'm not good at that' we tell ourselves and so don't try anything new, or we try something once, and give up when it doesn't work out. Pathetic.

Have you ever met a parent that gave up on the possibility that their toddler would learn to walk? The kid falls over time and time again but no mother says "oh sweetheart I don't think walking is your thing, best we investigate other options".

I used to teach sales people how to improve their performance. One guy, who was making 5 out of 10 sales reported back after his first day trying the new way. "Yeah, well I did it with the lady I saw this morning and it didn't work so I went back to my old way." That would be the old 5/10 way. I calmly asked him to come closer so I could use my compass and ballpoint pen in the old fashioned way and tattoo 'loser' on his forehead.

Not all learning requires us to be uncomfortable. But it does require the flexibility to consider things from a fresh perspective.
Have you called Telecom 018 recently? I have wondered more than once if this is what has caused my cancer. Folks in the Philippines who have no idea about the geography of New Zealand and speak English as perhaps their third language have attempted, unsuccessfully, to find the most obvious of phone numbers. And then, the other night, I watched a documentary about a woman from Bangladesh who had been hideously burnt by her husband in an acid attack. She was brave, and strong and rebuilt her life as an independent, single woman. She had her own apartment and in a situation very unique in her culture, lived alone and supported herself with money from her job. In a call centre.

Sense the shift? My perspective totally altered and now I laugh my way through the interminable blunders and fumbles of the off-shore helpers. Perhaps they are working their way through University; maybe they are supporting hundreds of children. The Philippines is predominantly Catholic after all. They are still, almost without exception, hopeless but I choose to believe that they are doing the best they can with what they've got. And that's good enough for me. My beef ought not be with the workers but with the tosspots at Telecom New Zealand who transferred the business in the first place.

Every time something 'bad' happens to me, I choose to thank the circumstance, the universe, whatever, for caring enough about me to teach me new stuff.

The fastest way to learn as an adult? Make a mistake. The dumbest thing to do as an adult? Make the same mistake over and over again.

Where are your opportunities to learn and grow from the 'gift' of life not going exactly to plan?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The price of fame

Let me tell you something else for free. Being a famous celebrity is exhausting. By the time I'd spoken to Jase the Ace, Paulo Henry and the Leightsmesiter last Friday I was fully ready for a cup of tea and a lie down.

C and I were meeting with the builders to discuss minor things like which of the three children we should sell to pay for the final cost of our house. "Make it snappy" I snapped. "The Press are here in 15 minutes to take my photo." Sure enough, 15 minutes later the photographer from the local daily arrived to snap me. Nervous laughs from the lads. "We thought you were joking." Oh Pulease. When did you last meet a famous celebrity with a sense of humour? Would I joke about such a thing?

I'm not complaining. Raising awareness of breast cancer and the need for early detection is important to me, but not quite as important as my new main role in life. Looking 'not a day over 27' is very challenging when you're 36 but the pressure to live up to media expectations is immense and I can't but feel a responsibility to my public. The last thing I need on top of cancer is to hear muted snickering on the way to the dairy; "There's that lady from the breakfast show. Jeepers, she looks a bit rough. Way older than 28. Paul needs new glasses. Shh, here she comes." And so, I'm taking particular care of what little there is to groom. And being disciplined about wearing shoes, and not just pyjamas to the supermarket.

Fortunately not one of us can ever remember the names, faces, or even the most basic facts of the stories we see on TV and I am now just a clip languishing in the wasteland of cyberspace. For a day Shane Cameron and I shared the MSN homepage, but now only an extensive google search will dredge up the footage of me and the kids casually making carrot juice without any of the usual squawking about who gets to press the buttons on the juicer first. I am, thankfully, not famous.

Three special moments before we fade to a black out:

1) An older couple perched on the bench seats at Coffee Culture Durham St about half an hour after the broadcast, both wearing pink ribbons. They motioned for me to come over and here's what they had to say:

"We saw you and recognised the shop and had to come down straight away. We like coming here anyway but today you gave us an extra reason and we're so glad you did."

2) My Dad listened to his favourite radio host Leighton Smith, interview me from Auckland and here's what Dad had to say:

"Wow, Sach, that was cool. Like Cosmic. Leighton talking to you. So proud of you darling. All I could think was 'shine on you crazy diamond'."

3) The fantastic makeup woman for TVNZ had to deal with my chemo chameleon features - bright red one minute, green and yellow the next. Here's what she had to say:

"That's it. You're done. Finished. Oh no, hang on. Wait, I'm going to have to paint foundation all over your ears."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

15 seconds of fame

Tomorrow morning, Kim Vinnell from TVNZ's Breakfast programme is coming to my house to film me in my own home looking natural, relaxing on the couch and chatting amicably about fighting breast cancer with humour and hard nosed pragmatism.


As you might imagine I am slightly spooked. First of all, I've been on the tele before. I look like the moon and sound like the nasally voice of the cold and flu advertisements. However, at least this time (and the irony has not escaped me) I will not have to spend ages doing my hair. Joy.

Obviously I won't be looking my best. Mum and I will be staying up all night rearranging the couch to find the ideal position in our rented lounge. Flowers have been purchased - unfortunately one lot have already died - and everything resembling the normal debris of family life has been exiled to the hallway cupboard. I am regretting the decision to keep the bachelor couch right up until we move into the white elephant. Isn't it funny how I don't care a fig what people think of me and yet I'm embarrassed of C's old, yet very comfy and lovable, navy, puffy, leather suite? This must mean one of two things: I'm a shallow wannabe or I'm human. Perhaps it means both.

I volunteered to speak about my experience with breast cancer for two reasons. The first is because those who can't, won't. So those who can, should and must. I don't mind sharing my personal life with those New Zealanders who watch the Breakfast show on TV1 7am - 9am Friday 9th October. I think such a huge part of the cancer scare factor is that we tend to talk about cancer as though it deserves a capital 'c'. It gets its power from the hushed tones we adopt when we speak its name and like Lord Voldemort it feeds on our fear. I hope that women who are nervous about having their check ups might see me and think, 'she's a one-boob wonder, bald AND short and yet she's up for a laugh and getting on with life - cancer can't be so bad'. Because it's not so bad. Catching it early massively increases your chances of surviving it.

And the second reason is because I want to promote Coffee Culture's contribution to Pink Ribbon Day. On Friday 9th October all Coffee Culture stores in New Zealand (there are 12, www.coffeeculture.co.nz) are giving 50c from every hot drink we sell to benefit the programmes and initiatives of the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation. I've asked our loyal guests to match our contribution and if even half of them do, we'll raise some serious funds to help New Zealand women.

I'd love you to join me on Friday in raising awareness and funds for the NZBCF. After all, those who can't, won't; so those who can, should.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Vigilance and other v words

You can never be too careful. I've been a victim of two scams in two hours. On Thursday some moaning old sow hacked into my blog and wrote some boring shite about feeling miserable. She sounds a bit like some of the breast cancer experts who are parading their views through the media to raise awareness for their various charitable trusts. I'm on the band wagon too but more on that later.

All of the advice is no doubt well intentioned but it so often treats women as though they are fragile glass ornaments for whom the news of a cancer diagnosis and the rigours of treatment might just cause them to break into a million tiny pieces. And this for a disease which most women, the vast majority in fact, survive. "Don't tell them about other people who have cancer, don't ask if it's in the family, don't this, don't that...she might faint and need a lie down." Here's what I think. If a woman can't cope with one of her well meaning friends saying the 'wrong' thing she's certainly not going to cope with the surgery, and other treatments that are ahead. Women, and men for that matter, need strengthening from the inside out so that it doesn't matter what they face, they'll have the internal courage to continue.

Continuing is constant theme in life. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Key word? Walk. Not stop. Not get stuck. Not wallow or collapse. Walk. One foot in front of the other, moving towards a better place, never, ever giving in. Changing course? Sure. Knowing when to quit? Absolutely. But even changing your mind requires an altering of your direction and the ability to keep walking, one lousy step at a time towards your new destination.

It didn't take me long to rise above the quagmire of self-pity that enveloped me the other day. Giving myself permission to go soft is an important part of my experience but jeepers it must be draining to live like that every day.

The second scam was not quite as close and personal and I'm sure I got the last laugh. Visa International contacted me to let me know that my card had been potentially compromised and that I ought to cancel it and order a new one. Poor thieves. I have a strict policy of always being just over my credit limit. That way if my card gets stolen, the unlucky crooks can't use it. Clever eh? Visa only charge about 19% interest for this service and I reckon that's not bad value for money. Of course, I can't use it either but that saves me money too doesn't it?

I rang the 28-digit number provided by Visa and was helped by really friendly ASB call centre staff who would not, absolutely not, definitely not, give me a clue about my password that would enable them to order my new card. "Yes, it is your grandmother's maiden name, but that's not all." I begged them to tell me how many more letters, or numbers I needed but nup, they gave me nothing. Which if you think about it, is a good thing. Fortunately, because C and I are building a house right now, we owe the bank the GDP of a small African nation and thus, several of their high-ranking loan sharks take my personal calls. It's who you know isn't it? H recognised the cancer in my voice and spilled the password faster than I could say 'chemo brain'... and hey presto, a new card is on the way.

Vigilance, victim, Visa....very well spotted v words. If you were hoping for something more tantalising you've forgotten that I'm half the titillator I used to be. Boom boom.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


In the interests of truthful blogging I confess the following:

1) I pick my nose. A lot. During a second date 100 years ago in Dunedin, Mr X asked me to stop picking my nose. No subtle hint or joke to disguise his bald command. "Stop picking your nose" he said. If I knew then that he would ditch me two days before Christmas I might have told him to stick his cheap offer to split the bill up his jacksie and flicked my booger at him as I stomped away. But of course, I didn't know, so I murmured something timid like 'sorry, it won't ever happen again, please don't go, I'm a really lovely person, honest'.

I get that nose picking is socially unacceptable. Nobody does it on the bus. Some people try it in their cars. Difficult on a bicycle, impossible on a scooter. Trouble is, it's such a pleasure. Tell me I'm wrong.

2) I interrupt people when they are talking. A lot. Trouble is, most times what I want to say is much much more important and interesting than the boring thing they are taking too long to say. Which doesn't make it okay. But it does explain why I had to keep interrupting the lovely doctor I saw today. "First, when treating cancer, we need to address your nutrition and supplementation and Sue (Levin, my potions guru) has that sorted for you. Second, you need to address your emotional issues. When you're ready you might like to think about unresolved conflict, stress, anger and built up resentment that might have caused your body to turn on itself. Thirdly we need to rebuild your immune system. Ask yourself, why your body has failed you by letting the cancer grow. Consider environmental factors. And lastly, you might not be ready for it yet but you might like to think about some one on one movement therapy whereby you are taken through a series of movements that can heal your organs and internal systems." Guess where I was ready to interrupt? Emotional issues? Moi? If I didn't before, I do now. Movement therapy? Only one of us would make it out of the room alive.

3) I am just a teensy bit tired of this. Not a lot. Just a teensy teensy tiny bit. Trouble is, I know it makes better reading when I'm SuperSach taking on the world but the truth is this afternoon I had a Memphis Meltdown. You see, after the doctor I went to the wig place and chose my new hairdo, I went to the fake boob shop and bought a fake boob and fake boob bra and fake boob togs and as I drove away a brand new thought struck me. Like a bolt from blue it pierced my consciousness and once it was in, it got stuck on repeat. I will never be the same again. I will never be the same again, I will never be the same again.

I know that my life will be better. I'll be stronger mentally and physically and I'm truly lucky to be experiencing the support and love of a wonderful community of family and friends. But I really loved my old life and the only thing I'm afraid of is not getting it back.

How long will it be before I'm not that 'lady who had cancer'? I don't care about the cosmetics; they are just manifestations of the internal carnage. But what if the good Doctor is right? What if my way of coping with life, which I thought was serving me so well, has contributed to my illness?

Two fabulous things came out of my meltdown. As I was lying in bed late this afternoon with tears rolling down my cheeks, I waited for C to comfort me with words of wisdom.

Me: "I haven't been on holiday, everyone else is going on holiday, I didn't get to go to Holland and San Francisco with M and V, I'm not going to Raglan for Christmas, I'll never be the same again, I miss our children, where's my Mum?, I killed that poor little mouse right here beside my bed, the poor little mouse whose cousins died for my Herceptin......"

C: "Shall I go and get us some fish and chips then?"
You may think I'm taking the piss. But this approach is what I love so much about my husband. He knew that words are trite and useless, whereas action and crumbed blue cod are often the answer to life's problems.

And the second wonderful source of encouragement and hope came from the girls in my book club. I told them about the good doctor and his thoughts around the reasons and causes for cancer. Two of my friends thought he might be on to something and three said 'bollocks, what a load of shit'. Perfect. We had a rational debate, with plenty of 'on the one hand' and 'furthermore's, followed by lots of laughter washed down by delicious burnt cake and red wine for them and Earl Grey tea for me.

I'd like to pick my nose right now. Chemo makes it bleed all the time, and my entire right nostril, like my tongue and uvula (sounds ruder than it is - it's safe to google Grandpop!) is covered in ulcer like sores. But for now, I won't. I mean you're here, aren't you? And I don't want you to dump me two days before Christmas.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mistletoe and whine

I'm about to start a course of mistletoe to complement the yew tree I've already had. Toxic when injected directly into the bloodstream, mistletoe will be implanted under my skin to work its magic. Already taken by 60-70% of cancer patients in Europe, mistletoe treatment in Germany is covered by health insurers. Could millions of Germans be wrong?:)
Conventional medicine prides itself on the rigorous science behind its lotions and potions but I'm less convinced than ever. Docetaxel, the chemo drug I'm currently on, was originally extracted from the yew tree and yet many in the medical community scoff at the idea that the kissing tree may be beneficial in the fight against cancer. "My tree good, your tree bad" seems to sum up the debate.

This last round of Docetaxel has been much easier on my body; partly because I know more about how I respond and adjusted my anti-nausea drugs to suit, and partly because the dosage was lower. In between my first and second injections the international treatment protocol changed. Researchers now believe that pre-menopausal women need a little less of the drug. So last time I had more poison than is now thought to be necessary. Bugger.

Chemo drugs remind me of Maxwell Smart -the world's dumbest secret agent. Cruising through the corridors of my body Docetaxel just takes aim at everything: "Oops, sorry, there goes another good guy, pow,pow, dang! another one of ours is gunned down. Oh look, there's a cancer cell - zap!" Collateral damage everywhere you look.

I've asked the complementary experts why so many of their proponents are crackpots. Like God, they can't chose their followers and sometimes the disciples give their masters a bad name. Nearly every website I've visited to research the clinical efficacy of Vitamin C, mistletoe and other natural healers details the wonders of these treatments and then goes on to rail against other evils: the conspiracy of the fake moon landing, babies being ripped from their mothers wombs by the CIA in the middle of the night for lab experiments, and my personal favourite - the decline of democracy as evidenced by the election of Obama. Who are these people and how do they get their three brain cells to stay in alignment long enough to type?

The source of medicine, whether complementary or conventional is fascinating. Herceptin is stolen from innocent mice and sometimes Chinese hamsters. Given that nearly all medicine is tested on animals, what do vegetarians take for cancer? Perhaps eating all those leafy greens prevents them getting it in the first place.

I've posted a photo so you'll recognise me next time we pass in the street. If you feel the urge to kiss me, it's not just because I'm such a foxy baldy - it'll be the mistletoe.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Warts and all

More stitches this week, more docetaxel, more herceptin, more laxatives, more anti-naus. and more proof that lego is Danish for love.

Thursday morning, bright and early Mum, P and I pootled over to Burwood Hospital to have the suspicious lesion on my back checked out. Mr Plastic Surgeon was delighted to tell me that it looks totally benign, 'common in elderly people, not usually seen in someone as young as you - we call them senile warts'.

In my old life it was really easy to catalogue the awful things that have been said to me, but these days it takes something truly morbid to even get my attention. When you're having chemo your internal radar gets recalibrated. It's hard to summons the energy to care about anything except that which really matters. Life continues as before but in shades of grey. So being told I had a senile wart? Zero impact. Being confused for Ruth Dyson? Immaterial. Compare me with Ruth Richardson for all I care.

All that has really mattered this weekend is lego. T and I have reorganised the H family lego collection and in the process have rediscovered unique skills that I don't believe get appropriate recognition. No one would think of including them on their CV and yet I think they have what modern career wankers would call 'great cross-over'.

I am the world's undisputed best piece finder. T just has to say 'I need a dark grey 12'er two high with a nobbly jubbly to plug the waga daga into' and bang! I'm there. Surely this is a marketable skill. The ability to see through the mass of plastic and quickly identify the one piece that will do the trick. T is an excellent planner. If the piece we're looking for turns out to have been a casualty of one of the many natural disasters that have befallen us, he can work out whether it's critical or not. 'Don't worry Mum, I've looked ahead, and it won't matter if we use a blue 6er three times with a yellow pole rather than a green 18'. Hire him now.

I've stayed in bed and he has piled the pieces around me and together we've lego'd our way through the weekend. Sorting the pieces into individual colour piles has been strangely calming and provides welcome distraction from the competing internal complaints of chemo.

Next week I'll find out if the other plastics man was right - senile wart or something more sinister? If it's something worse than expected, I'm not afraid. I have three new pirate ships, a Starfighter and two fire-throwing, horse-drawn carriages on my side.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dear Kylie

OMG! You are so lucky - lucky, lucky, lucky - that you are receiving this letter from me. I mean, we are practically identical twins. Same height, same great teeth, same cute face, you've got a great voice, I've got a terrific voice, you got breast cancer and snap - me too! You're older than me so we can't really be twins but probably we were meant to be sisters but there was some mix-up at the hospital. My real younger sister's name is Kyla, which I'm sure you'll agree, is quite like Kylie so maybe my Mum and Dad were trying to hint at something.

Did you have to have a mastectomy? I can't see any evidence of the scar in the gorgeous photos of you on your website. How lucky, lucky, lucky are you to have your own website? www.kylie.com. Unfortunately www.sacha.com is already taken by an Austrian reporter who looks heaps like Borat but you can look me up and see our total sisterness on www.sachacoburn.com.

Did I mention that I'm a really good dancer as well. You're probably just a little bit sexier than me when you dance but I am very good at keeping in time and smiling a lot. I read in a women's mag - great articles - that you experienced chemo brain. Same!! The other day I said to my daughter (OMG Kymo, you're an Aunty!), "Remind me to take the ball to get pumped up at the...." and I couldn't remember the word for the place where we take the car to get petrol. It's the same word we use for the buildings on the sides and fronts of houses where people store their golf clubs and tennis rackets which leaves room for only the big car. How was I going to remember to go to that place if I couldn't remember what it was called?

Anyway, you've written a song about it already and it perfectly describes this hazy fuzz of trying to find the word - 'Can't get you out of my head' - the word is in there somewhere but I just can't get it out. See how before you were even diagnosed you were writing songs that would help me? Thanks a mill.

I heard that during your chemo you had a personal chef. That must have been really cool. I understand better than most how hard it is to stay trim during treatment. Did you put on weight? I have got really heavy. Our neighbour wolf whistled at my Mum today thinking it was me in a new white blonde wig. I bet you get quite a few wolf whistles. I guess it runs in our family. It seems rude to write to you and rub in how great my life is compared to yours but I think as we're practically sisters you'll understand that honesty is best and I hope you'll be happy for me. You see K-meister, I have 7 personal chefs. I know, I can hardly believe it myself. This week, every night, a different chef from my local community is knocking up tea for me and my family so I can get some rest during this second cycle of chemo. I am truly blessed. It's a shame that people in Paris where you live in your petit-borgeois apartmente are so French.

Another thing that proves our unbreakable bond is that we are both magnets for hot European men. I don't mean to be mean but I've probably done a bit better than you here because I am actually married. My husband C, is of Italian heritage and his name is Greek. So totally Euro just like Olivier and your new guy.

It's really sad that I didn't have a musical career like you. It hasn't seemed to work out for your other sister Dannii either. But I have been blessed to have 3 wonderful children in my life. I know that you want to have kids too, partly so your kids can say they are my kids cousins. I'm okay with that, because I think anything that helps us survivors survive is good.

OMG - great idea! Why don't you come and live here for a while and get to know my children and I could fill in for you on your latest tour. Your fans wouldn't notice if we went for dim lighting, and my children love all the small creatures of Australia.

I'm spinning around already at the thought.

Mad love, your younger twin


PS The word is garage.

Friday, September 11, 2009

For girls eyes only

The greatest injustice of chemo has been apparent this week. Strand by strand this week my hair has been coming out. Every time I absentmindedly brushed my fringe out of my eyes, bits of my fringe fell out into my hand. And yet, every morning despite some vigorous yanking, the little black buggers pointing the way to glory hung on for dear life.

Until 9.30am this morning I was fugly. Benjamin Button at his worst. Remember the old caps hairdressers used to put on us before bleaching highlights into our hair - I looked like I had one of those on with only 25 individual strands pulled through. Classy.

But then this morning I grew some balls, paid $15 for a haircut and had a number one. Shortest haircut ever both in duration and length of hair remaining.

Now I look like a monk.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

You give me fever

By Friday I had withdrawal. Wednesday had been Herceptin in the MDU, Thursday the Portacath in DOSA and Friday was proving to be just another boring day. Trying on wigs, lunch with friends and bits and pieces of work in between. By the time I'd picked T up from school, done the groceries and prepared for tea I was feeling a little hollow. No injections, no monitoring machines, no-one fussing over me. If you're ever in the same boat and need to induce a fever that is sure to see you rushed into hospital and kept in protective isolation for the next four nights, follow this simple checklist.

1. Reflect on all your failures. My top five are: a) failed a ballet exam when I was 13. Mum, my beloved sister K and I were all in bed together when we opened the mail. We all cried. And cried. b) I wasn't the Head Girl or Dux of my high school. c) I left my run a bit late and didn't make it in the Honours program for Law. d) I've never saved more than about $500 in a savings account. e) I was the keynote speaker at a conference in Sweden. Perhaps 1/5 of the audience listened to me while the rest just chatted amongst themselves. In Swedish. Flurgen klurgen murgen skul.

Reflecting on our failures usually always induces a physiological response. My heart rate goes up. I get a sick feeling of dread in my tummy. When you're trying to manufacture a fever this is all good stuff.

2. Reflect on your most embarrassing moments. My top three are a) singing Tracy Chapman's 'Baby Can I Hold you Tonight?" at my 6th form talent quest wearing an ankle length full circle skirt. b) introducing two of my friends to each other by highlighting that they both enjoyed marijuana and waiting for the conversation to take off from there. c) running a training session for Les Mills Auckland personal trainers that started badly and got worse with ever word I spoke.

Even as I type these I get flushed, the hairs of my arms stand up and I would give anything to be able to relive those moments and make different choices. Temperature rising nicely.

3. Reflect on your biggest regrets. My top 3 are: a) I can think of 2 specific instances in my childhood when I knew I was about to be unkind and I kept on going with my hurtful words. b) I wasted way too much time in relationships with guys who just weren't that into me c) I have spent too much time talking and not enough time listening

As you think about your regrets you should really start to churn. A few tears perhaps. Shooting pains and aching joints should begin to manifest. Right about now would be a good time to take your blood pressure and temperature and visit your GP.

For chemo quaffers like me, a temperature of 38 or above means a trip to A & E, so on Friday night to stave off my CDHB withdrawal pains C rushed me in.

What fascinates me though is that if all that negativity and cataloguing of woes can influence the way we feel, and our physiology, then the converse must be true. The NLP crowd and the Tony Robbins disciples are onto something.

Brave, courageous, positive - all words that people have kindly used to describe me in the last few weeks and months. But the first two aren't true. Being brave and courageous is about acting despite fear, and of course I'm not afraid so no valour required. Positive I'll live with but I prefer optimism.

Positivists say 'don't worry, everything will be fine.' Optimists say 'everything will not necessarily be fine. But if I apply all I know and believe about my ability to overcome and tackle each new challenge with a mindset of hope, then I will give myself the best possible chance of success.' I choose everyday to adopt a mindset of hope but the last few days have tested this to its limit.

Of course I didn't induce my fever. It came courtesy of the asymptomatic pneumonia that was lurking undetected in my chest which either came from the aforementioned (w.o.t.w) old geezer, or Ish and Ian and the coughing crowds in the cafe where we had lunch. When your white blood cells get really low (as they do between day 7-10 of any chemo cycle) your body no longer fights disease and so doesn't produce any symptoms of illness to let you know you're unwell. I didn't have a cough, or runny nose, or breathlessness - nada. Just a slight spike in temperature. Normally a person has a neutraphil (white blood cell) count of around 2.0. Being neutrapenic means your count is below 0.5. With chemo this indicates that you've reached your lowest point for immunity, are at your most vulnerable but can look forward to increases every day as your white blood count improves.

When I arrived at A & E they immediately started intravenous antibiotics, took a chest xray and blood tests to check my neutraphils. The results were rushed back - 0.0. Yip, no white blood cells - at all. And so Saturday, Sunday, Monday and half of today were spent in Ward 27 in protective isolation to keep everyone else's potential nasties away from me. I was allowed out of my room to shower in a special bathroom and had to wear a mask to make this 15 metre trip down the corridor. I was on top shelf IV antibiotics. After each dose I had a blood test taken to make sure they hadn't given me too much - these drugs are toxic in high volumes. The area around my portacath, which if you remember has been in less than a week, was swollen and very bruised, the nurses woke me several times through each night to check my vitals, and by this morning I had been injected with needles 17 times since Wednesday.

I don't share this to garner sympathy but so you know that I understand that the hope mindset is sometimes hard to access. On Saturday morning when C brought the children in to see me I wept when they left. "Take me home," I pleaded. "I just want to come home." I couldn't imagine ever having the energy for the things that bring me the greatest joy. My children, singing cheesy songs badly in inappropriate clothes, watching too much golf on TV with C. It all felt too hard. The only thing that enabled me to go beyond the claustrophobic intensity of that little room was a mindset of gratitude. All around me on the ward were people far worse off than me.

Hope, gratitude - whatever it takes. And of course, the heaviness passed. It always does. And now I have another thing to add to my long, long, long list of great achievements. This is my checklist for summoning a fever of self-belief and optimism:

1. Reflect on your achievements. I have far too many to list here now :), but I'm adding 'surviving 4 nights in protective isolation'.

Notice your physiology change. Feel good hormones are released, tension decreases in your pressure zones and you start to smile.

2. Reflect on your most embarrassing moments. Stop taking yourself so seriously and laugh about the ridiculous person you were when those cringe making moments took place. Make a mental note of whether you are still alive. If you are, then these sorry sagas didn't kill you did they?

You should be standing just that little bit taller, shoulders back and ready to roll.

3. Reflect on how lucky you are compared to me. Have you ever been mistaken for Ruth Dyson?

Just after lunch today, Dr Indian Spunkyfeatures from The Far Pavilions gave me the all clear to come home. Mum drove black beauty at the breakneck speed of 50km per hour and whilst looking at the sign that says Sumner, drove me into the curb as we made a left turn. That's 2/2 for rough trips home!

You needn't worry about my hospital withdrawal though. I'm back at MDU at 9am in the morning for my third dose of weekly Herceptin. We'll try the Portacath for the first time and I'll be modelling appropriate infusion fashion. I do hope Santa takes note.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Veins for vampires

Last Thursday Mr David Lewis inserted a Portacath into the top right hand corner of my left boob (he has a more technical description of its location) and ran a tiny tube from there up under my skin to my neck where the end of tube is inserted into a big mambo vein. All the needling will soon end and this permanent sealed -under -the-surface entry plug will allow injections in and out with minimum fuss.

Mr Lewis: "I'll run the line from the port over the subclavicular bone around the neckosaurus minor and drop it back into the Kournikovical. I'll have to make an incision on your very large(well compared to the thin red line masquerading on the right) left breast that will leave a permanent scar of about three centimetres. I have two choices of where to make the incision around your neck. This is a mere nick, a bagatelle of a scalpel mark if you will. I can either use your claviconimiscus vein or..."

Me: (silently to self only) I know how this is going to end.

Mr Lewis: ...."I can go for the jugular!"

Drum roll please. How delicious is our language? Poor Mr Lewis had toothache the night before the op. and wasn't up for my lengthy exploration of whether this use was indeed from whence the expression arose. n.t.w I was delighted. The jugular indeed.

I got to have my surgery earlier than planned thanks to some old geezer having pneumonia and being sent home. C picked me up at 4.30 still a bit groggy but at least nicely satiated with roast beef sandwiches, cheese and pineapple sandwiches, 1 bran muffin and a tub of post-op yoghurt.

C is most excellent driver and has most excellent car/truck with turbo and everything. Golly, it goes fast around corners. Has most excellent doors that open very quickly when passenger arrives home and must run inside to donate to the environment, via the local wastewater plant the aforementioned (w.o.t.w) roast beef sandwiches, cheese and pineapple sandwiches, 1 bran muffin and a tub of post-op yoghurt.

'Come up what may' might have been a better song choice.

Clean, green, and filthy

C and I took P to Korea when she was 9 months old. Not as a rite of passage but scoping opportunities to expand the empire. We were guests of a potential investor who met with us several times before our trip. For most of these visits he brought an interpreter with him but occasionally he came on his own. We all smiled our way through these meetings with limited understanding of what each other was saying but it was all very polite and C and I were, as usual, professional to a fault. He, the Managing Director and me the Brand Manager/In-house legal. All very proper.

So much so, that when we arrived in Seoul it transpired that P and I had been booked the Royal Suite of our hotel and C was booked in the King's Suite next door. There was much surprise on the face of our host as he discovered that 'you are baby's mother and he is baby's father!' and that consequently we'd rather hoped to sleep in the same suite.

Korea is a big, smoggy city that is immaculately clean, and full of beautifully groomed women and neatly tucked -in men. Culture shock for us hit on return to Auckland Airport. We live in a clean, green beautiful country that is filthy and full of slobalobs mooching around in trackies and baggy sweatshirts. I was embarrassed to be home.

And embarrassed again on Wednesday, when I popped in for my second dose of Herceptin. It gets injected at the Medical Day Unit of Christchurch Hospital along with a raft of other potions, drugs, and blood products, so it's not solely a cancer treatment centre.

The unit is modern thanks to a recent refit and the staff are friendly and efficient. So far, so good. Unfortunately for me, other patients get to go there too. Imagine an oversize living room with all four walls lined with large navy blue leather lazy-boy recliners. Each chair has a coat stand contraption alongside on which the nurses hang the infusions and a small pump device that monitors the dose. When you arrive you simply choose which of the chairs you want to use that day and voila - that's your spot.

For me, this is a nightmare. It means choosing between the loonies you know and the loonies you don't. If you sit next to someone halfway normal you might have to endure their inane conversation or burping or farting or bad breath or lengthy explanations of their particular condition BUT if you decide to gamble and instead sit somewhere else leaving a seat empty beside you, the very next escaped psychonoid that arrives might just pop themselves right next door. The pressure to choose the right chair is immense.

On Wednesday I nearly sat opposite a man with straggly long white hair, missing teeth and a woolly beard. Where's my compassion? He was wearing old trackpants and a black singlet that slung low enough to reveal both nipples, saggy man boobs and a tangled mess of black and white hair growing in every possible direction. Where's my empathy? He started making life difficult for the nurse who was putting his line in. "Take it like a man" she joked. "I'm not a man, I'm just a great big baby" he replied in a pathetic attempt at falsetto. Where's my kindness?

I picked up my bag and chose the spot that was as far away from everyone else as possible. The lady reading 'Everyday with Jesus', the teenager in a terrible state (compassion restored), the 66 year old who regaled the room with stories of how 'everyone tells me I look so much younger than I am. I've just been blessed with good skin'. Good for you honey. The extra weight is helping you too. I have no beef with any of these people. Everyone is just trying to get through, but the sight of Mr Santa's-had-a-bad-decade was not only too much for me. It was way too much for the frail, immaculately groomed Korean women who was wheeled in by her daughter. Why should she, or anyone of us, have had to deal with semi-naked slob features in addition to the stress of the treatment?

This week's dose of Herceptin took only 30 minutes to infuse, after the 45 minutes of trying to find a vein. Two staff members tried it, and after 5 needles in 5 different spots - success.

Pin cushion Coburn, they call me. Portacath, here I come.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The write of reply

D. The solitary pen mark, black and permanently fixed in the top right hand corner of my assignment. Not the start to law school I'd imagined.

The question was apparently straightforward.

Steve was seen stealing a bicycle. The Police seek your advice on whether or not they can use the following section of the (make believe) Crimes Act to charge him:
Theft of a vehicle. It is an offence to steal a car, boat, train, motorbike, yacht or any other vehicle.
Pretty simple huh? My answer went something like this:
Duh! Of course. Yes they can. Any idiot can see that. C'mon, I hope the next assignment will be more challenging. Love from Sacha.

It turned out that we were supposed to bone on for pages and pages espousing all the possible ways of interpreting this piece of pretend legislation. Parliament's intention was to be inferred, mention of 'on the one hand' was compulsory and polysyllabic words evaluating the strengths of one interpretation weighted against another would guarantee a better grade than 'D'. As I had always been prone to do, I'd gone directly past discussion and straight to judgement.

That's why I think everyone should have to do some basic legal training. It teaches you to think. You learn how to evaluate opposing views and consider all the angles of an issue. And you learn pretty quickly how to firmly express an alternative view to the prevailing wisdom. Which is where the 'comments' part of this blog comes in. If you disagree with anything I write, you have the right of reply. Except if you're a technophobe and haven't worked out how to post a comment yet.

Every week I get emails asking for clarifications, disputing points of fact and begging for inclusion. All of these correspondents could comment anytime they wish but in the interests of balanced blogging here's a summary of their feedback:

1. J, from Auckland, who sounds suspiciously like my mother, thinks 'Song to Live by' is misleading. 'You make it seem like all you ever had were failed relationships.' Well, yes, that's because all I ever had were failed relationships. The fact I'm no longer in them is testament to their failure. 'But so many good decent men were always after you Sach.' Well, yes, but when were good and decent men attractive to bad and indecent women like me? Besides which, it's redundant to discuss my dating history. I've been going out with C for 10 years now although lately it's been more staying in.

2. J, from Auckland, who is my father has written almost daily asking for inclusion. 'Some people won't know you even have a father.' Well, yes, they will. Everyone has a dad. While I was at Hotel St. G. Dad was battling his own life-threatening illness and ended up being rushed to Auckland Hospital. His condition is associated with childhood; very rare in adults. His Peter Pan-esque approach to life is inspiring and I promise to share more stories from our many adventures together.

3. A,B,C,D are all former flatmates requesting that I out the 'Everybody Hurts' girl so suspicion can be removed from them. One wrote:
"I read your blog with the girls in my office and we all get a good laugh and even our boss has offered to do our breast exams for us and we had to tell him that jokes like that aren't funny anymore but then we remembered that you want us to laugh so we let him say it and I think one of the girls actually let him do it but I didn't because he already had at last year's Christmas party and he's not my type because he's short. Anyway, I had told hem how we used to flat together and now they all think it was me that played REM all the time but it wasn't because I wasn't even going out with anyone then, let alone breaking up with anyone then, so if you could please just write on your blog that it wasn't me they might stop singing it all the time and telling people who ring up for me that I am just off in the loo having a cry."

4. M, an old friend from my days in Dunedin is scared that his filthy comments will be removed my me. He is right to be afraid. This is a (largely) family show.

5. G,B et al have sent various reports scavenged from dubious sources disputing the links between smoking, obesity and cancer and other illnesses. I sent them back some UFO pictures, and a photo of me and Elvis taken last year.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Songs to live by

One of my flatmates once played 'Everybody Hurts' by REM on repeat 24/7. I learnt to play Michael Bolton's "How am I supposed to live without you?" on the piano and tortured my family with tearful renditions for most of 1989. 'Black' by Pearl Jam signified the end of yet another going nowhere relationship at university; Whitney Houston's version of 'I will always love you' was presented on a cassette when my high school love decayed into nothingness, and Radiohead's 'Fake plastic trees' has alternated with Bonnie Raitt's 'I can't make you love me' for every relationship since then.

Popular music taps the rich vein of everyman in each of us that enables and empowers us to sing along as though the lyrics were the purest expression of our individual souls. "Oh, we're halfway there....." The cheesier the words, the more anthemic the melody, the more likely it is that I'll be singing along with great gusto, just waiting for the bridge into the key change before the third chorus.

When C and I got married last year I suggested the simplest of songs for the stroll down the aisle:

Come what may
I will love you until my dying day

Was it tempting fate do you think? Inviting the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis and the challenge of treatment? Or just a song that gives voice to the plaintive cry of my heart?

I need a new song now. A popular song that we can all understand and relate to that adequately describes the abject horror of Day 5 of Docetaxel. A song that makes us weep and laugh in equal measure, has a catchy tune and fills us with hope. Here goes:

Docetaxel by Mozart and Coburn
(tune: twinkle twinkle little star)

Docetaxel you're the best
Dealing with my cancer guest
Thank you for the runny poos
Hundreds of trips to our only loo
The aches and pains are really fun
Luckily, it's just begun

Docetaxel you're my friend
When will the constipation end?
Feeling like I might explode
Anything, please, to ease the load
Sweaty palms, a new bald patch
I am really quite a catch

Docetaxel, time to talk
I can barely move or walk
Nobody will believe my scene
Years of being a drama queen
Pounding head, thump, thump, thump
thump, spew, poo, chuck, thump, thump, thump

Docetaxel, you're making me sick
Find the cancer, kill it quick
I welcome you into my house
I want to live, if nothing else
To write another song someday
All about love, come what may.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More boring 'c' facts

The natural drugs do work - I feel great. Next time you're considering chemo, get your very own appointment with Dr. Sue and see if you too will be allowed and advised to have 30+ tabs a day of the finest nature has to offer:

Supportive care 1 and 2 for Oncology Patients
Ultra Flora Immune
Meta Indole-3-Carbinal
Bio Q 150

These aren't designed to kill cancer, although there's some encouraging quasi -science that says some of them might: they're to boost my immune system and they consist of massive of doses of vitmains and other goodies. The % of daily recommended vaules are astonishing:

1000% Vitamin A
500% Vitamin D
4000% Vitamin E
16,666% Vitamin B12

Add these to the new regime of anti-nausea drugs and it's getting up to 40 tabs per day. I know, it's nothing compared to what some are swallowing every day, but I'm used to spouting forth not slurping down.

Walking cliches

I've become a caricature of myself. Like every business person responsible for systems, high standards and service delivery who spends more than an hour at Christchurch Hospital, I am now ready to revolutionize the Public Health System.

So far, I've met fabulous people doing their very best to work within in a 'system' that seems to have been designed in the dark. It's early days so I'll tread very lightly but let's just say that the appointment note I plucked from the mail box today at 4.30pm advising me that chemo starts tomorrow at 10.30am doesn't meet minimum service expectations. Not because it's late notice of a change, but because I have to start steroids 24 hours before the appointment. Do the maths.

Fortunately, for me, my middle name is agitator and on Monday I made a reconnaissance (the surname I was given at birth was Bourne - spot the spy connection) and staked out the two clinics I was due to visit. After going back and forth between the Medical Day Ward and the Oncology Day Ward, heeding the recommendations about which coloured-haired receptionist to bother to direct my enquiries to, I got to the bottom of my chemo and herceptin schedule for this week. When I asked how I would have found out about the changes if I hadn't Jason'ed my way around the building I was told 'everyone gets sent appointment notices in the mail'.

N.t.w - as I write, I'm 'roided up and ready to go!

Wednesday is Docetaxel, and Thursday Herceptin. In the last week I've already had an echocardiogram and E.C.G to establish my normal heart function. If the H starts to damage my heart we'll know by comparing new tests to the baseline. I've had blood tests, been to the dentist and am awaiting an appointment to get a cancerous looking mole taken off my back by the Plastics team. My goal is to visit every hospital department I can.

I saw another walking cliche while waiting for my E.C.G. A man, 45 perhaps, in his hospital pyjamas with pants rolled up to his knees, sports shoes and shoes on when everyone else was barefoot or slippered. An orderly came to take him back to his ward in a wheelchair. "I could run there", the man protested. "It's policy," he was told. I wanted to offer him my 'IN DENIAL' tee shirt I'm planning to wear when I jog to my September tennis lessons.

And so to my most important decision for tomorrow: what to wear? Every combination I think of screams cliche.

Business suit - career bitch who brought it on herself through stress - in denial
Sloppy tracksuit - overworked mother who didn't take care of herself - her fault she got sick
Smart Les Mills gear - fitness freak who obsesses about health - in denial, ha ha
Cocktail dress - drama queen creating a fuss - stick the needle in harder and jiggle it a bit for fun
Fairy ballerina dress - someone call the psych ward!

I've never cared much for how others perceive me. I'm just not sure who I want to be. I've never had to play a chemo patient before.