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, 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.