Thursday, December 02, 2010

What to make of it all

2 months exactly.

You never ring. You don't write. Are you still alive?

Does the person who wished I'd gone to New York and stayed there even care?

My cancer treatment has finished. My life goes on, without the check-ups, the poking and prodding. No more needles, or drugs. Less appointments, less fuss.

My family life has become increasingly complicated but those stories are not mine to tell. And so I say nothing. My legal battles have increased and the courts prevent the sharing of those stories, and so I say nothing. My workload has increased, the output expanded, the throughput improved, the capacity extended, and so I say nothing. I use up all my words by about 8pm most days and so my husband and I sit in companionable silence on our new couch in our new house and wonder what the fuck happened to us over the last 18months.

What's left to say?

At the Canterbury Primary School Athletic Champs earlier in the week I sat high in the stands and huddled into myself to escape the bite of the not-so-summery breeze. The kids ran hard and fast; some won, some didn't. It meant everything and nothing depending on who your parents were, and how much they needed your success to polish their own.

I saw a woman nursing a newborn. One of her other children had drowned in her swimming pool just a few summers ago. I'd have chemo everyday for the rest of my life if the deal spared my children.

T went surfing on his own. Without our permission. He didn't drown. I love the chutzpah, the confidence, the bravado. His ignorance is staggering, as if the universe is benignly serving up perfect sets of seven waves. The deception, the lies are harder for him to bear. Being disappointing is so much harder than being disappointed. How to tell the children that death is scary without scaring them to death?

I'm not going to rebuild my right breast, at least not anytime soon. The process is complex, taking a portion of my back muscle and keeping all the blood vessels intact relocating it to the front of my chest wall. It'll be scarred and won't match the other side and won't have feeling and won't feed anyone. It'll mean more rehab, more hospitals, more recovery, more time away from my real life. I've made another Faustian deal. No boob but more botox. The numbers are absolutely are my side. Adverse surgical outcomes are massive compared to the botox risks. I can have botox every 3 months for the next 5 years and still be ahead financially. I just won't be able to look excited about it. Mildly pleased is the closest to joy Nicole Kidman gets these days.

Seth Godin didn't want me to come to his course in New York. That's okay. New York is lousy this time of year. Lucky for me, two of my eight readers didn't even know who he is. The other six are on the course.


Despite being uncertain about almost everything, I know these things to be true:

1) When you sing, whatever is troubling you, whatever is bringing you down, gets better. But not if you sing 'Everybody Hurts' or any song by The Cure.
2) When you dance you open your heart to the possibility of feeling alive and free. People who point and laugh at you should focus less on you and more on whether the mustard really is in aisle 4.
3)When you sit comfortably in companionable silence whether on a new couch, or old, with husband or friend, you increase your capacity to love and be loved. No punch line. No joke. Just love.

Whatever you make of what has happened to you, and what will happen in the future, love's a great place to start if you're looking for a way home.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Hi Seth

There are no less than 77 remarkable things about me, 77 reasons that you should pick me to come to New York and spend 3 days with you and 11 other entrepreneurs who are women. Business with boobs I call it. Will you let me in with only one boob?

1) I live in New Zealand. Do the math. As a percentage of the global population we are remarkable. Only 0.03% of the people in the world are women from New Zealand. If we were truffles, you'd have to pay a lot of money to eat us.

2) In my city, Christchurch, there are more than 400,000 people and 4 Starbucks stores. Coffee Culture, a local coffee store started 15 years ago, has 12 stores. This is remarkable. I created a chunk of this brand. If we were truffles, we wouldn't be very hard to find.

3) People pay me to talk. This is remarkable. For most of my life everyone around me, including my parents and now my husband, would pay money to have me shut up. If I was a truffle, you would hear me long before you smelt me.

4) When I talk with people, they are sometimes moved to change their lives in powerful ways. This is remarkable. My message of being fearless, in the face of both opportunity and certain failure resonates deep within and inspires people to be set free from the good opinion of others. My advice is like a truffle. Hard to swallow all at once but so good in tasty bite-sized morsels.

5) Within my business, our key female staff outnumber males by more than 3-1. This is remarkable. We are creating opportunities for young women with no formal qualifications to develop business and leadership skills that enable them to bust out of dead-end expectations for their performance and pay. We create an environment that enables linchpins to flourish. If our staff were truffles no male pig would stand a chance of throwing his weight around.

6) I never give up. This is remarkable. In as much as people remark on it. "Don't you ever give up? Do you ever stop? Doesn't the public humiliation of your latest failure cause you excruciating embarrassment?" No, no and no. I never give up. Except when the truffle metaphor runs out of steam.

7) Now might be my only chance. This is remarkable. In the past 12 months I have had a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and 12 months of intravenous targeted drug therapy in an attempt to rid my body of breast cancer. While I have every confidence that I will live to be 100, what if I don't? What if I don't make 40? My last years will be best spent doing what I know best:

*creating business opportunities that improve the planet
* sharing my journey in ways that inspire others to continue on their own path
*role modelling for my children that playing small does nothing for nobody

There are 70 other remarkable things about me. You'll get to see them when we meet.

Arohanui - the world needs more aroha


Sunday, September 05, 2010

All shook up

Reducing weeks of my life to a series of bullet points seems like a lazy way to spend a Sunday afternoon. But if sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, brevity is the highest form of truth. While some are prone to drama, hyperbole and lengthy explorations of the meaning of every nuance, I currently prefer the bald facts.

1. I have been to Fiji with my husband and without our children. It was very hot and very nice. I am very brown. My husband is very hot and very nice. He is not very brown.

2. My Dad has started his ride around the coast of New Zealand to raise awareness of Prostate Cancer. His blog is Dad is very funky, fun and forgetful. Most days when he leaves for work you can set your watch by the 10 minutes it takes before he returns to collect his office keys, phone, wallet, sunglasses, diary, or other miscellaneous item inadvertently left behind. Mum and I had a bet to see how long it would be during his one month mission before he set off in the morning without his bike. I won. She gave him a week, me just the first 48 hours. He left his cell phone in Cape Reinga on the second night and due to his exhausting schedule the courier company can't meet up with him until Palmerston North on Thursday.

3. My friend R was very impressed with Dad's ride until he found out it was on a Harley. "What?" he exclaimed. "I thought he was doing it on a push bike."

4. I have been to the Disputes Tribunal to explain my actions regarding the fence. I was in the waiting room. Patient. Nervous. In strolls neighbour with a support person. I felt supported, by the chair I was sitting in. Wee hobbit lady, just a bit taller than me pops out of the wee rooms and explains that every case is running late, there's no referees, she's terribly sorry, Gandalf's on his way, but alas, we won't possibly be able to slug it out today. "What do I do now?" asks neighbour as supporting man supports her. Wait til we get sent a new notice with a new date for a new hearing. I support myself by standing on my own legs and graciously allow neighbour to exit before me. Less graciously I am tempted to yell after her ' justice delayed is justice denied' but realise she feels this more sorely than me.

5. Christchurch has been shaken by an 7.1 earthquake. Go to for pictures of the devastation. The central city and some suburbs will take a long time to recover. It's hard to comprehend the scale when our sleepy seaside village is almost unscathed. The quake itself happened in slow motion. As if inside a washing machine on spin, the house shook and vibrated and rattled and hummed. The noise was powerful, going from fast asleep to wide awake in a heartbeat was a rush and the ride down the stairs to be with the children was treacherous. C bruised his ribs. He's not brown but he's tough. "I can't feel a thing."

6. The aftershocks are now strangely normal and it's hard to remember which of the many civily minded actions to take. There are exhortations to save water. I was composing a post about this while I showered. 10 minutes later I'd finished my blog update,in my head, but was still in the shower. When we heard that the water might be cut off for a period of time, we rushed to bath the kids, get the dishwashers on and do a load of washing.

7. School is closed for the next two days. P has already written a story about how her heart slept during the earthquake because she was scared. Another dear friend had a panic attack during the quake and couldn't breathe. Stranded on his bed like an upside-down starfish he thought he would die, not from the quake but from his seeming inability to get air into his lungs.

8. In Fiji I read 7 books including Margaret Attwood's Year of the Flood, winner of the Commonwealth Prize - The Slap, and my personal favourite Christopher Hitchens' memoir 'Hitch-22'. It contained the first literary reference I've come across to a 'one-titted woman'. Just for a minute, imagine my delight. It was found in a letter from Kingsley Amis to someone else famous and wordsy wordsy.

9. In Fiji I read that Christopher Hitchens has cancer, likely terminal. And that's a shame. My favourite Vanity Fair columnist writes so well about so many things, he's a million zillion times cleverer than me, almost as tall and so now I'll probably never mention cancer again. He is chanelling me and transforming my thoughts into his words. I understand the arrogance of such a comparison but his two most recent posts at suggest he has a direct line to me. I've been thinking for a while about the language of death and death notices. People apparently 'lose their battle' with cancer but not with heart disease, dementia, obesity, or diabetes. If cancer kills me it won't be because I lost the battle. CH will tell you all about it. He goes on to explain how he, one of the world's most vocal atheists, deals with the news that people are praying for him. I've been troubled for a while now by 24 hour prayer chains established to support women with breast cancer. I'm not sure we need more tired mums setting their alarms for 3am to pray for their friends. What kind of God would decide not to cure someone because their mate slept through the 5am shift?

10. And so to the significance of the quake? Guests of the planet, Mother Nature has forcefully reminded us of her potency. There will be weeks of literal and figurative muddiness as the city struggles back to life. Tomorrow I am due to further my own revolt against MN and her forces with a preliminary visit to the plastic surgeon to discuss rebuilding my twin towers. This is one area where my account will outstrip Hitch every day of the week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Successfulness of Resiliency

It's not fast food when the guy in front can't get his eft-pos card to work and you wait and wait and wait and wait for the three people behind the counter all speaking differently accented versions of English to come up with a solution.

Me: "I'll just pay for it. How much does it come to?" I have the story all worked out you see. He's a part-time Dad, earnest, struggling to pay the bills, treating his kids to McDonalds on a Friday night. I'm a part-time Mum, slack as, treating my kids and now his kids to McDonalds on a Friday night.

It takes about 8 minutes to work through all this and in the end his card is accepted and so is mine. Upstairs in the play area I see him sitting with two clean-cut boys and an older woman. Nana. Where was she when the bill needed paying?

He:"Finish up boys and then we'll go downstairs and you can empty your bladders." What? one of his kids yelled back at him. "We'll go downstairs to empty your bladders." He actually said it, out loud, twice.

I mentally revoked my offer of kindness - this chap was clearly a Class A tool. What is it with language? At a training night earlier in the week I'd heard about the value of resiliency, and just yesterday read about measuring the successfulness of a project.

Where's the harm you ask? We all know what the speakers and writers mean.

Am I wrong to want to hold on to the rules? Is my inableness to look furtherer than the words being spoken creating interferenceness with my comprehendibility of the communicative message being conveyered at me?

Or am I a lone bastion, along with my good friend V, of proper bloody English?

Or am I simply getting old?

The thing with resilience as Seth Godin points out in his book The Dip is understanding the difference between the positive qualities of perseverance and resilience, and their negative aspects of inflexibility, dogmatism, and worst of all, failure to give up when giving up is the right thing to do. We don't berate a battered wife for giving up on her marriage, or frown on an investor who cuts their losses before the fatal haemorrhaging kicks in. How do we teach ourselves and our children to discern the difference between wisely digging deep and stupidly digging in?

Beating cancer is a juggle. Knowing that stress in some of its forms is unhelpful to my immune system I have to choose, and it is a choice, which of life's frustrations to allow in. My mother chooses to care about what she wears to the coffee shop, 'I can't go in this old thing'. C chooses to care about things being tidy. P doesn't care at all about being late for school but certainly doesn't have low ponytails anymore - 'only high ones now Mum'.

I don't care about many of the things that burden others. What people think of me counts for almost naught, I'm certainly not concerned with the fashion of my clothing, and I know that my car is not an outward expression of my inner worth. I don't care about your sexual preferences, your bank balance or what school you went to. But I do care about things, that in a bid to live, I'm learning to let go of: muddy thinking, awful spelling and incorrect use of my mother tongue.

I'm learning to be patient - that can't happen soon enough, and trying to find new ways every day to be less of a know-it-all. I'm hoping to show successfulness in this area and I'm sure the resiliency I have drawn on during my treatment will stead me in good stand for this.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

What to think

It's a crazy old world when little old me just doesn't know what to think anymore. Thinking, and being certain are two things I excel at - go on, ask me anything! But this past week has been discombobulating and disconcerting. I've become one of those mental folk who pace up and down the footpath outside their houses staring wildly and gesticulating at the children going past on their way to school. Nothing makes sense:

After weeks of trying on clothes at Christchurch's loveliest shops I ventured into the black hole of the $2 recycled clothing warehouse in Ferrymead. It stinks, the clothes are musty and third hand. They are also $2. I tried on 9 items, they fit me, I look hot, I got $2 change from my twenty bucks. I don't think you can even park in town for less than $20. Saba, Helen Cherry and DKNY were just three of the high fashion brands I rescued from that cold dark dungeon. Please don't go there. I like to think it's my secret.

I was trying to email J in the States using his facebook site, and accidentally stumbled upon a chap with a similar name whose bio said: "Know I'm not a stud but don't consider myself to be too bad looking." Que? His photo was up for all 400 million facebook users to see and form their own judgements. While I'm no fan of Sharia law I felt like draping myself in an old black sheet for my next profile photo - when will this obsession with how we all look end?

The Pope (and this is hardly surprising) has declared that the ordination of women is as offensive to God and the Catholic Church as paedophilia. You need me to explain what I'm certain I think about this?

T & P are studying Tikanga Maori at school and had trips to the museum to learn about the history of settlement in New Zealand and the old tribal way of life. P reported that she now knows that "Maori are people" and T's trip was summarised by the following piece of news:

Museum teacher: The Maori at this time were very clever. They kept coming up with new and ingenious ways of killing each other. They were clever at other things too, but the ways they killed each other were amazing.

I was a parent helper on that trip and rued the missed opportunities. The boys in the car on the way in had no understanding of the timeline of history in terms of what else was happening in the world at the time New Zealand was settled and knew almost nothing about the land wars and the historical injustices that give rise to the tensions of today. I know that I shouldn't expect too much from such a short visit but when I asked the boys on the way home if they enjoyed the trip, one of them noted it was exactly the same trip, talk and museum teacher they'd had the year before. Now that's preparing our children for a constantly changing world. We talk about wanting our kids to appreciate cultural differences and the museum teacher takes them straight to a stereotype about killing and cannabilism. I'd like to have been able to share with my children a similar European history about Vikings and torture and slavery to provide some balance to the savage stories they were being spun as though exclusive to Maori. But my own knowledge of history is embarrassingly brief and the best I could come up with was some vague reference to Henry the 8th cutting off his wife's head because he thought she'd had sex with her brother...and well, you'll appreciate that 9 and 10 year olds don't need that sort of history either.

P wants to marry T and I've explained that she can't and will have to marry some other boy or girl. "Girls can't marry girls." Not in New Zealand, I explained, but they can be civilly unioned and have property rights just like everyone else except nuns and priests. "No they can't, X told me that boys kissing boys is gross." And so it's begun. The beginning of the prejudice and bigotry. My own voice of reason is drowned out by the loudest voice in her class of 5 year olds.

Coca-Cola has been taken to court in the United States for the blatantly false claims about its Vitamin-Water which can also be bought here in Christchurch. It's promoted as being a healthy drink. It actually has 33 gm of sugar in it and has about 1 cents worth of synthetic vitamins added. Coca-Cola's lawyers have argued that they are not breaching fair trading laws because no reasonable person would be misled by the advertising claims. No reasonable person, they stress, would actually believe that a drink called VitaminWater and advertised as being healthy was good for you! Everyone knows, they say, that advertisers make outrageous claims that aren't ever expected to be true. No VitaminWater drinker, says Coke, believes they are drinking water with vitamins even though the label insists they are. Consumers know that they are actually drinking sugar and food colouring.

If I sound tired and overwhelmed by the absurdity of it all, it's because I am. I want to escape to a tropical paradise, read books all day, swim with little coloured fish, and sip mock-alcoholic beverages with umbrellas poking out the top. Fortunately, that's what I'm going to do after 10 more sleeps. Imagine the updates when I get back:

1. It all makes sense! Coburn reveals a unified theory of everything.
2. Sell the lot! Coburn reveals a fresh approach to your summer wardrobe dilemmas.
3. Culture for children! Coburn unveils a new curriculum for teaching children about their place in the world. It involves cupboards and on the 'release' days, costumes. See my previous post about sack cloth fashion.
4. Religion for girls! Coburn shares a new approach to women's roles inside the church. It involves being outside. With placards.
5. What next! Coburn shares her plans for the next, most exciting 12 months of her life.

I'm certain I'll be thinking more clearly when I get back.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The needle and the damage done

I'm so pleased to have a nasty bruise to show for my afternoon's work. On Wednesday I rocked up to the hospital for my three-weekly dose of Herceptin. Usually a quick in and out, the fates intervened to teach me a lesson. Access to my port was denied despite the lovely nurse J trying three times to get the mosquito needle into the right place. Veins in my arm are like clothes that fit - hard to come by, and after two or three attempts and one collapsed vein later we opted for the best, most uncomfortable option. Sticking a needle into the big old M1 of my wrist was the only way Herceptin was going to get in, and get in it did. Jeepers, it stung. And throbbed. And stung. And throbbed. When the 45 minutes were up and the needle pulled out, there was a tiny little bruise. Stinkbum.

I had been hoping for a spectular patchwork quilt of colour that screamed 'Poor me. Behold my affliction.'

Earlier that day I'd been to have my hair dyed. "Let me know if it hurts," said the kind wee thing that was bleaching me with nuclear strength ammonia. "It can sting." That's the wonder of perspective. It did sting but I didn't feel any pain. The endorphin rush of knowing that within 60 minutes I'd no longer look like a mongrel dog masked any physical burning sensation. And yet, just a few hours later, despite now looking like a cross between Billy Idol and Ellen deGeneres, the tiniest sting was really, really, really, hurting.

Thankfully, the bruise got bigger and more purple and yellow and black and dark green as the week wore on. It now looks really painful. Which it isn't. Irony. Paradox. Go figure.

Being blonde is awesome. I am already having more awesome fun. Not being mistaken for my husband's twin sister is awesome as well.

The kids were initially surprised.

T: Mum, um, what did you do to your hair?

P: Mum, you are C-R-A-Z-Y.

When I first showed T my little bruise on Wednesday he was appropriately disinterested. This morning, as I waved the new 3D sci-fi horror version of it in front of his face, he responded as only 9 year olds can. 'Mum, that is awesome."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Book me

Everyone has a book in them right? And while I personally believe that life's too short to bother with Jodi Picault and Robert Ludlam, most people disagree with me. So help me out. Which one of the following 15 books I have in me should I write first? If I die soon, which I won't, but if I did, which one would you most like to have read? Which one would you buy? Which one would you buy for your friends? I'm sure you know that you must never give gifts that suggest the need for self-improvement so some of the titles might have to be just for you:

1. What Would Sacha Do? (an exhaustive list of how to behave in any new and potentially scary situation. Most examples premised around the simple idea of take over, talk lots, leave early, send an invoice.)
2. Cucumber. You too can be cool like me. One word titles are pretty BIG right now.
3. Dogs Bite. Not really a book, more of a complete and well reasoned theory for why you shouldn't ever keep one at home with your children.
4. Cats Wee. As above at number 4.
5. The Paradox of Success. How to be enormously popular, confident, wealthy and skinny but still have nothing to wear, nowhere to go and no money for milk every day-before-pay-day.
6. Lads I've Loved. Not a very long book, but sort of a documentary coffee table book. The boy from the dairy next door, aged 5, Paul Drew, blond and so cute, aged get the idea.
7. Lads Who've Loved Me. A companion to number 6 but with a few less entries.
8. Places I Could've Been to If I'd Tried a Bit Harder. I'm thinking a pictorial book with all the classic places like Gisborne, Cape Reinga, Feilding, Masterton, Otorohanga and Wanganui.
9. Natural Beauty. A lay woman's guide to looking your best everyday. Simple step by step photoshop tools to take your headshot and transpose it onto photos of Helen Mirren, Angelina Jolie and for the intellectually able Angela Merkel. Slightly more complex tools for printing out 15 A4 sheets and sellotaping them all around you so that only an experienced eye will notice the joins.
10. Wig-a-rama. A personal favourite. My face with lots of different hair styles. It would be an interactive book. I'm thinking of giving away free crayons to colour in bows and ribbons and including scissors to scratch my eyes out.
11. Neat Freak. Capitalising on the fad for home cleaning and organising and tidying and buying storage stuff that doesn't quite fit on your existing shelves. It will obviously be a fiction title as I have no actual real life, true life, experience of the actual, real, true topic.
12. Awaken the Little Person Within. I am often likened to Tony Robbins except that he is quite a bit taller and manlier and successfuller than I am. I do have whiter teeth than him and in the motivational speaker world this counts for almost as much as having good content and being motivational. He has probably never been to Masterton either.
13. Awaken the Dog Within. This would really just be a personal note for P who has just come home from school singing "who let the dogs out? who? who?"
14. Lost in Time. This would really just be a personal note for whoever taught P such an old song. Like, it is soooo three years ago. Whatever. Not even. Shame.
15. Bargain. Again capitalizing on the one word title and keeping in mind that bookstore owners have to buy the books before the readers do. Think how much they'll save on promotional signs.

Wait, now I've got it. The best title yet:

16. Bargain, $.99c.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Surrounded by idiots...

and feeling quite at home.

I have been living through a bureaucratic nightmare. I tried to book a mammogram. The 12 -month-after-you-were-first-told-you-had-cancer-check-up. The one-year-to-see-if-we-got-it-all-the-first-time-we-cut-your-breast-off-check-up. The don't-let-the-ones-you-love-miss-an-appointment-check-up.

I'm still too traumatised to recount the conversation with the receptionist but I'm happy to share its low point that occured about half-way into a 10 minute attempt to get an appointment time this side of Christmas 2014.

She: What's your date of birth?

Me: 24/6/1973

She:, are you sure you've been here before?

Me: Great question. Thanks for checking. I'm not sure. No, not sure at all. Perhaps the 5 times I've been to your offices in the last 12 months for the following reasons - to be prodded and pricked to test for cancer, to sit with my husband and be told I have cancer, to be given a little cottonwool filled mini-pillow to stuff my bra with after the operation to remove the whole of my right breast, to check that the disgusting scar that replaces the aforementioned boob was healing, and then to hear about what other poisons and burning would be recommended to prevent cancer returning - perhaps, just perhaps I made all that up.

Patience, lovingkindness and empathy for my fellow travellers seem to have disappeared from within me and been replaced by intolerance, frustration, pride (unjustified feelings of superiority), and worst of all snip-snappiness.

What do you think? Is it too much to ask of the people around me that they at least learn to argue properly, do their jobs with just a smidgeon of common sense, grow a brain cell in their left hemisphere to complement the lonely figure in their right????

1) A contractor is sending me letters quoting a piece of legislation that is expressly inapplicable to our situation. Not arugably inapplicable. Not a grey area worth discussing. Expressly inapplicable. Is it my job to do his job and help him find the appropriate section of the particular Act that he can use to sue me?

2) I have a new pain on the right hand side of my chest - most likely a muscle pulled while I writhed on the floor in disbelief at the latest idiot piece of mail that arrived last week - but who'd want to take chances? The hospital won't let me see any of the seven oncologists I already know and love. They want me to go back to my GP, get a referral, book a test at Canterbury breastcare, see para 1 above, and then just before I die, see one of the seven so they can wish me luck on the other side.

3) A lawyer helping me with another matter (ever since I blogged about not needing food stamps I have become a magnet for the disaffected clamouring for cash) left a message for me at 4.50pm on Friday. I returned her call at 4.52pm - she'd left 'for the day'. I rang the following Monday to be told she'd gone for that week. Agreeing to leave a message with her PA I received a message informing me that the PA was away until Wednesday. I called the main reception desk again - is anybody from your firm intending to work ever again? They're called the School Holidays, not the Everyone Sacha Might Need this Week Holidays.

Do I think I'm going to die? Not at all. Do I wish for a few hours of respite from consciousness? Heck yes.

Me feeling at home amongst the idiots comes from the unnerving reflection that I am as stupid as them. In fact, I'm worse. I know enough about human falibility to know that not everyone is on top of their game all of the time. Mistakes get made, the wrong options presented, inappropriate decisions taken. Let's imagine what my 'idiots' might be going through? Divorce, threat of redundancy, sick children, financial pressure, lack of self-actualisation, nothing to wear, uncertainty about what on earth to cook for tea, falling out with co-workers, bit of 'flu, winter blues, stiffling bullshit bureaucratic rules, chillblains, parking tickets, missed the last episode of Glee regret, and/or general malaise.

J.K Rowling makes a compelling case for imagination as a vital life skill in the Commencement address she made at Harvard one year. If you haven't watched it yet, you should, and let me know that you hadn't so that I can refill my glass of unjustified superiority. Google 'J K Rowling Harvard speech'. Perhaps my lovingkindness is returning - those instructions were for my mother's friends who pop into visit this 'blogsite' - it's a BLOG - from time to time.

Her thrust is that imagination is not only a rich source of Muggles, and Quidditch, and morality tales, but is indeed the foundation of all empathy. The ability to imagine the world from another's perspective is the door into understanding what it might be to live in their shoes. Or in their barefeet.

The temptation when I feel set upon by the morons of this world is to wallow in despair and rail against the hopelessness of it all. But if I force myself to spend 10 minutes with J K Rowling and Elizabeth Gilbert (as you know her TED talk on creativity is an all time favourite of mine) and Seth Godin and Awul Gawande and (not for the faint-hearted) the Hyberbole and a Half blog of Allie, I find my mental game lifted and persepctive returning.

I am thankful that I am surrounded, not by idiots, but surrounded by people, just people doing their best with what they have on any given day; and that for the most part, I feel quite at home.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Signs & Wonders

Headline in the Christchurch Press just last week: Sacha lifts her game. I knew it! Sacha Jones, the teenage tennis sensation was back to her best and I was basking in the associated glory. Reading the article shattered those hopes. Some old nag, purchased for a mere $10,000 was coming good at last for her owners and won the group D half a mile around the back strait and over the gallops at the Wayawayfromanywhere racetrack on dole day Tuesday. I just can't get excited about horseracing but I wondered if the headline was a sign. Time to lift my game?Require a bit more of myself? Hmmm.

The other item that caught my attention introduced me to the idea of transition societies. Whether you follow the Mayan calendar or believe 99% of the world's scientists doesn't really matter - our planet is on its way to being poked. Transition societies teach all the old crafts like stone masonry, black smithing, milling flour and other medieval type activities we would need to draw on if the global production economy collapsed. Everyone has a role to play in ye olde village and as I read through the list of jobs there were only two that I could even begin to fulfill. Useless at cooking, cleaning, sewing, handicrafts, and not busty enough to work at ye olde public bar I settled on being the town crier (big mouth) or the village idiot (I am often the dumbest person I know).

Our surnames used to tell all about our role in the village. The Taylors, the Millers, the Arrowsmiths and Cooks. I put it to my dear friend that his was a heritage of entertainment but Mr Morris was having none of that. My surname indicates that my forebears lit the fires that burnt the witches at the stake - I'm not sure who invented the torture that gave rise to those who spell their Coburns with an extra c.k. And as for my new friend Mr Hygate I can only suppose that it's simply a matter of perspective.

My dad is planning to ride a motorbike around the perimeter of New Zealand during September to promote awareness of prostate cancer. He has Harley Davidson luggage, badges and belts and won't hear of any suggestion that he's an aging cliche. He's jacking up sponsorship and will be in a town near you with a bunch of other bikies with blue buckets. I mention this momentus challenge (both the biking and the buckets) not so much as evidence of a sign, but more because it's a wonder.

I wonder a bit these days. I wonder what colour to dye my hair, and how the war in Afghanistan will go without McChrystal's influence on local decision makers. One of the journalists I follow on twitter provided live updates from the Apsen Institute Security Forum and while I most wanted to know if she was going to have botox while she was there, SachaZ (not a racehorse or a tennis player) instead totally got me thinking about the challenges facing the planet. Forget the massive advances in medicine, technology, the industrial revolution, Madonna, and donuts - the primary difference between our society now and ye olde village is the vast array of information we have at our disposal to process and evaluate. What is most important? Saving the planet? World peace? Self-actualisation? Checking your balls for evidence of what you might have otherwise happily died of? Making sure your jeans are the right cut for this season?

I envy the villagers of times past. Unless they travelled they didn't know that no-one in the next village was still wearing brown sacks for dresses. Rabbit was always fashionable in a stew and there was no awful judgement about whether or not you'd had an epidural.

For the record, in deference to Rome I had two c-sections. Too posh to push. Send your condemnation to

I checked the newspaper again this morning for a sign and perhaps not surprisingly given a readership in excess of 100,000 there didn't seem to be any messages specifically for me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Secrets of Success

Despite my willingness to embrace the creative side of life, I remain in my heart of hearts deeply conservative. I'm attracted to the four hour working week, and a passive investment portfolio of high yield slum flats but I can't quite get past the feeling that it's cheating.
I've been slack at updating this blog lately because I've been so busy working. I love working. I love working hard. Late nights, bright lights, big ideas, long sentences, churning through the list of things to do, power up, power on, power to the people.

So much has been written about working smarter, work life balance, and the importance of following your bliss. Finding ways to really engage with life and connect with your life's purpose are undoubtedly important but at the risk of sounding like my grandmother I can't believe how many people have forgotten or never learned to work hard.

When people ask me for advice on how they can improve their jobs, their relationships, and their financial situation (I know. Asking me for advice about money. What are ya? Stupid?) I always start at the same place. Work harder. Give more to your boss, your spouse and your savings account. Come back in a month and if things haven't improved we'll dig a bit deeper. You'd be amazed at how many problems dissolve with the application of effort.

Look at anybody who has enjoyed long term success in any area of their lives. Sure, they probably had some talent, a bit of opportunity and maybe even a lucky break. But I bet my left boobie they also invested heavily in some old fashioned hard work.

Stop wasting time reading this, and start scrubbing.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sex in the Sydney

You would have thought that the blondinis strutting their way through lunchtime on Wednesday had never seen a fabulous creature like moi. I've not been stared at like that for a long time. At first I thought it was my really short hair. The suitcase I was wheeling behind me perhaps? Nope. It was the grey. Apparently au naturel is not de rigeur downunder. And whereas the plebs pounding the pavements of Christchurch don't bother to look twice at the grey and white haired short woman with no boobs striding out with a silly grin, the fashionistas of central Sydney were horrified.

I braved the Myers sale and squeezed my way in and out of no less than 22 pairs of jeans in search of the holy grail of denim, a pair that fits, but eventually gave up in a huff. I've lost 4.5 kilos since Christmas but the size 'short and stubby with a narrowish waist' doesn't exist and so I'll need to lose another 4.5kg to get near my pre-cancer weight and Mr. Strauss.

Which if it were not challenge enough leads to a different problem all together. Reconciling the obvious need to inject botulism into my forehead if I'm ever going to be hot again with the fundamental belief I have that women, or men, for that matter shouldn't inject poison into their bodies in order to look like a startled small animal 24/7.

I've tried botox before of course. Hello, I'm not all cyber geek you know. I've been to Rome and when in Rome.....well actually, I haven't ever been to Rome. I planned a massive three month O.E when I was 19 to traipse through Europe but I was in love with a manchild in Dunedin and the Mona Lisa didn't seem so special when I gazed upon her whilst upon my own. So after spending three weeks in Paris and London mostly writing airmail letters back to said mc, I flew home.

My first night in London revealed one unique skill that I've savoured ever since - the ability to get into ridiculous situations, laugh about them and make up totally believable absolute lies about the terrible thing that just happened as though I was the victim of some awful calamity, rather than the author of my misfortune. I'd met two lads from New York by a fountain bathed in rare capital sun and we thought it was a grand idea to go underground to a wee bar in Soho and buy 15 pound alcoholic smoothies that were served in massive blenders with straws. The three of us raced each other to the bottom of these vessels and thus within about 2 and a half minutes I was toast. Always one to keep my wits about me, I wrote on the back of a piece of paper "If I am lost, please return me to Shepherd's Bush" and popped it into my top pocket. They were gentler times, those early 90's. Anyway, after what seemed like hours of fun, I ventured back up the staircase to ground level and stepped out into glaringly broad daylight. Like the Narnia wardrobe, there was some strange portal vibe going down - I had evidently been gone only a few minutes. Too long to be able to prevent myself from chundering on the tube on the way back to SB. I tried so hard to contain it, and eventually found a way to fill the hand I had cupped over my mouth and guide it down the sleeve of my chambray shirt. I was rather indignant by this stage. Strawberry daiquiri spew running down my arm wasn't what I'd planned. I got off the train, hailed a black cab, unbuttoned my shirt and sold the driver the same story I shopped to my friend who was surprised to open her door at 6.30pm to find me, semi-clad and covered in sick. "Can you imagine? My very first night in London and some cheap drunk girl in a bar vomits all over me? Some girls shouldn't be allowed out. They don't know how to handle their booze. I imagined that London was more sophisticated than this!"

The point, hidden I'll grant you, is that I'm not all suburban and homely all the time. Which is why I had botox when C and I honeymooned in Aspen. It just seemed like what you do apres ski and who was I to argue with the prevailing wisdom? It did make a big difference to the crease that runs down the centre of my forehead. I did look younger. Was I sexier? Is that possible?

Is botox so different from moisturiser or lipstick? Yes, I hear you scream, it's poisonous. Well so is bloody chemo and I've had a bunch of that, can't I have a teensy bit of pleasure poison? The doses are tiny. But the principle is huge. Try explaining to your daughter that when she is older, in order to look good and feel good she will need to inject small doses of disease into her face so that men will find her attractive and her girlfriends will continue to be jealous of her effortless youth and good fortune with wrinkles and want to stay her friend. Mention that the men in her life, at best, might go to the gym and will sometimes wear sunblock. She will be too young to appreciate that no female leads of Clint Eastwood's age are considered sexy. Those who throw up (n.p.i) Meryl Streep as an example are deluded. There's 20 years between Clint and Meryl and if Meryl's husband was as comparatively young as Eastwood's wife he'd be 25 years old to her 60. That'd be something to share with your daughter.

Some of my friends have had botox but no-one talks about it. Only when I asked them directly, did they admit it. Who are we kidding here girls? What is it all about?

As I sat on the ferry to Manly (more on my money saving tips later) I repeated my mantra, "it's what's inside me that's important, beauty is temporary, brains are for life." Please don't post a comment about how radiant I am, and how short hair suits me - my self-esteem is concrete. My rejection of botox is not so solid. The temptation fascinates me and I don't fully understand my attraction to the dark side. I am certain that being unsexy in Sydney may have acted as a trigger. What has happened to you lately that has lead you down a path you know is not right for you, but is oh so alluring? And please, tell me how you resisted.

P.S If, on the other hand, you've found an intelligent feminist defending or advocating the use of botox I'd be ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTED to hear about it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Constancy, consistency and the wisdom of youth

The neighbour has not moved out, or moved on. I've been summonsed to the Disputes Tribunal and seeing as it's only a quasi-judicial arena I can bone on about it without fear of such matters being sub-judice and off limits for public consumption. Except that it bores me. Prone to exaggeration and not one to ever let the truth interfere with a dramatic retelling of a perfectly mundane event, I shouldn't complain. But when the neighbour writes that for a year she has 'consistently and constantly' asked me to replace her plants I get a little bit cross. How many times would she have to have spoken to me to qualify for the c&c tag? More than once I'm picking.

Dr John Gottman became famous for his ability to spend 10 minutes listening to a couple talk and predict with amazing success (somewhere near 90%) whether they would still be married in a few years time. One of the death knells? Universality of judgemental criticism. 'You ALWAYS interrupt me. EVERY time I try to tell you how I feel you walk away. You NEVER hold me.' If any of these statements were true, the couples should get divorced. But of course, that's not how it works. In emotional situations we overstate, exaggerate, and sometimes tell lies that feel true but aren't. I frequently sign cards 'all my love' which isn't true. Nor is 'you are always in my thoughts'. Let's start a Truthful Communication in Card -Writing Club. "I thought of you today, for the first time in ages, and while you are not even in my top ten list of best friends, there was a time when we were close and I would like to stay at your bach next time I'm in Raglan so hopefully this card will do the trick."

T has missed something reasonably important from his science unit at school this week. The point. I have missed the point of parenting too in the subsequent fall out but I'm not sure I could behave any better the next time around:

T: We're doing a Science Fair at school Mum and X is my partner and we've decided what our project is. A wooden toaster.


You see, I wisely said nothing. Just waited.

T: We're going to get four bits of wood and make a toaster. The question we are asking is 'what would happen if there was no electricity?' And our answer is, 'we'd just have to eat raw food.'


You see. Can't speak. On kitchen floor exploding with laughter, tears rolling down face.

Somewhere the point of experimentation and figuring things out has been lost. Instead my boy, of whom I am enormously proud, has solved the problem by showing all the qualities that have been drummed into him from birth. Resilience, make the best of every situation, deal with what's in front of you without complaint. Eat your raw onions and be thankful. Plenty of people have NEVER had a raw onion for dinner and you don't hear them moaning about it do you?

Once he'd got over the meanness of me laughing at his idea he explained that their project was going to consist of the aforementioned wooden toaster with a wire running from the wood to the wall. This would illustrate to everyone what would happen if there was no electricity. Nothing. Nothing would happen. The bread would stay bread and there'd be no peanut butter on toast for breakfast. Just peanut butter on bread. Maybe he's on to something. Maybe not every problem needs a new fix. Maybe it's not even a problem.

P, on the other hand is preparing for school. She was very slowly doing an alphabet matching game today, finding the lower case and upper case letters and pairing them up. Jeepers, thought my mum who was on nana duty, what's taking her so long? "I'm doing it backwards Nana. Starting at Z." Go on, try it. Say the alphabet backwards. Can't do it can you? You have to go forwards before you can go backwards. Why is that? And what's the metaphorical takeout?

At her last kindy visit our family, except J who's in the States, will be there to celebrate her last day. My mum and dad, C and T, and Lesley who's been our Nanny for 8 years. I've asked P what happens and she's explained in great detail who sits where and the whole rigmarole. The best part she says happens near the end. "Then I get sunged to." How cool is that? When was the last time you were sunged to?

My wish for my family today is that they will be consistently and constantly loved all their lives, and for this to be true, not greeting card true, but truly true. And I wish that whenever they are without power both physically and metaphorically they have people who will sing with them while they peel their onions.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dying....but of what?

I've been thinking about dying a lot this week, but nothing to do with cancer. C has been away on a course in Australia. Four courses actually. One each day, 18 holes each. Say no more.

P has slept with me in his absence and three nights ago I woke up to find that she was lying sideways right across the bed with her head on my tummy. I looked down at her straggly hair, bubblegum cheeks and Jolie lips and thought I might just die, right then, of happiness. I'm not prone to emotional waves of such strength, other than righteous anger when some bastard steals my car park space, so I just lay there and tried happiness on for size. I am an extra large. An extra largely happy.

Earlier in the week I'd been worried that I might die of embarrassment. I, rightly or wrongly, threw my name into the hat for the Board of Trustees at the kids' school. I know I'm supposed to be taking on less, and focusing on breathing and sprouts but I thought I could let the universal consciousness decide my fate. If it's meant to be, I'll be elected. If I don't make it, that's a message. Always looking for a sign, me. Or so I thought. Once the election papers were distributed to voters with each candidate's statement attached I realised the enormity of my mistake. Thirteen very capable people are vying for seven spots. Holy shitcakes batman, not only might I not be elected, I might come last. And then I knew that cancer wouldn't kill me; shame, humiliation and embarrassment would get me first.
I've never been prone to embarrassment. Witness my potted history of talent quest entries:

1) Singing "oh I do like to be beside the seaside" and doing a wee dance at the same time at the Raglan camping ground. I suspect I won on the strength of my costume. My brother J had cut up the Sampler Biscuit box we'd got for Christmas, turned it inside out, coloured the dull grey cardboard oceanic blue with his Christmas crayons and made me a top hat.

2) While I'm loathe to mention beauty competitions in the same breath as talent quests, I entered the Junior Miss Raglan the same year. 32 girls paraded around in their bikinis and 10 were recalled for the final. Me and the other 21 who missed the cut couldn't believe that the chubby girl with ringlets won.

3) The following year I entered only the talent section and won hands-down with a barefoot ballet dance and a self-choreographed jazz number to the pop song of the year 'Fame'.
4) I've already told you about the disaster that was my high school talent quest entry. Long skirt, skivvy under a jumper singing (a flattering description of the sound) Tracy Chapman 'Baby can I hold you tonight?'
5) Another year my friend R and I made up a cute rap/dance/singing combo about Jesus. We both now have/had breast cancer. Go figure.
So you'd think that I'd be more than up for some embarrassment.
At law school we studied the issue of consent in sexual offending. A male radiographer had been telling women that he needed to examine their ovaries externally and internally so all the patients merrily said yes. Turns out he was a crazy perv. and the internal exam was something he'd just made up on a lonely Tuesday night and had nothing to do with their condition. Split decision in the appeal court - the sicko got off. "The women consented," the old wig-heads announced from on high. "I bet those law lords would have decided differently if he'd stuck his bloody prodder up their arses" some vulgar feminist in the class yelled out. And then people started staring at me. Turns out, I'd said it. So you'd think that looking pretty foolish in front of my peers wouldn't be a new sensation for me.
Why then the dismay and sense of dread? Am I getting proud in my old age? That can't be true. I still have to talk very sternly to myself to avoid repeats of going to the supermarket in my jammies and slippers.
I like to think it's just evidence of my recovery. It's normal to feel anxious about an election. I've just not felt normal for a while. I haven't trifled with smaller emotions because I've been busy with more pressing life and death issues. Perhaps it's a sign that my perspective is returning. Since I'm no longer concerned about dying, I can concern myself with less important matters like school elections.
Monday is results day. If I'm elected I might kick off the first meeting with a wee song and dance and a sparkly costume and if I come last how about I video the same routine and share it with you all. Proof that when they cut out the cancer they didn't take away my precious capacity to laugh at myself at the same time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The elegance of ideas

Every few months I sit down with the Medical Director of the Cancer Society of New Zealand who happens to be one of my oncologists and we chew the fat on what might or might not prevent my cancer from returning. It's a very special time for me as I test my latest theories and internet rumours against a backdrop of sound medical double blind studies. Dr C patiently listens and we explore the contradictions in the research and find a way to agree on the best way forward for me. We agree on the role of exercise in prevention, agree to disagree about sugar, and are both hopeful about experimental theories that might yet prove valid like testing individual tumours for their responses to varying forms of chemo before the treatment regime begins. "Nothing to date shows this has an impact of survival rates", he notes (improved survival rates are the gold standard for any new intervention) "but it's a very elegant idea."

His softly spoken calm expression of this simple phrase has stayed with me for weeks now. The elegance of an idea.The idea that an idea has a physical presence; might dance, or float or command attention as it enters the room.

I've always been seduced by ideas. The notion that the world doesn't have to be how it is now, that change is possible, that girls can do anything, and that we should make love not war. Sometimes the most simple ideas are the most powerful. And also the most dangerous.

Not eating seems to be a great solution for weight loss. But it's not an elegant idea is it? The most compelling ideas are those that are easy enough to understand but have a profound depth that challenges us to think differently, or act with more purpose.

I remember the first time I read Steven Covey explaining that between stimulus and response there is a gap and that each of us can choose how we respond to any given situation. We can choose to find the good in a person or hold on to the bitterness caused by hurt and rejection. The idea changed me and changed my life.

The idea that two people could hold equally valid, rational and totally opposing views on a topic was revolutionary for me. To reach an understanding that my opinion is not always right has been a long and painful journey. Particularly for anyone not so blessed to work with me.

Parents appreciate the idea that having more children multiplies your love rather than divides it, and that your children can be the very best and the most challenging people you'll ever meet.

Clifford the Big Red Dog has big ideas. Share. Be kind. Play fair.

My big idea for today is 'it doesn't matter'. Whatever is troubling you the most right now probably won't matter in the long run. Not much does. Eat well. Exercise. Shower the people you love with love. Do your best with what you've got. Nothing much else matters. The deadlines, the clock, your child's low test score, the weeds, the mess, the unsent thank you cards.

Find the elegance in your own big idea for today. Allow it to dance into the empty chambers of your mind and sweep you up in its potential power.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Legislating morality


My sleepy little village has been in the news lately (google Sumner and donkey) and while I've been doing my best to lay low, a number of people have called and asked me to comment on the recent events. It seems that my forthright views on the right for parliament to legislate morality have been remembered from the dark and distant past. I have declined the opportunity to share those views in the wider media (who wants to be known as the animal sex lady?) but for those who care about the rights of every oppressed individual or group of people here are the risks as I see them of continuing to have a law that prohibits sexual acts between animals and people.

To set the scene, imagine this. It is the Civil Liberties class of 1997 and we are grappling with the issue of balancing the rights of the individual against the rights of the state and of community interest. Young, sharp minds, excited to be away from home, take up arms against the perceived interference of the state and almost without exception everyone agrees that the state should have very little to say about how people spend their spare time in the privacy of their own homes. Provided there is no physical harm to others, this room full of tomorrow's leaders would loosen restrictions on pornography, allow unfettered access to recreational drugs and remove the hate speech restrictions on freedom of expression. The prevailing view was that parliament shouldn't legislate morality. Healthcare and roading = good. Dictating what you could and couldn't do on a Friday night = bad.

And so I presented a compelling case for the decriminalisation of having sex with animals. There are no valid reasons for these acts to be illegal. Lack of consent? Often the animals do consent and we certainly don't ask their permission before we kill them and eat them. They might prefer to be sex slaves than tomorrow night's dinner. Cruelty? The existing laws are sufficient to deal with anyone who hurts an animal. Indecency laws cover those who like to be seen out and about. What about the fact that it's really gross? That's the best point my classmates could come up with. 'We think it's sick and should therefore be illegal'. The class were adamant that bestiality should remain a criminal offence because it was such perverted behaviour. I felt very clever. I had tricked them into exposing the fallacy of their liberal views. My classmates could not see that many freedoms we now take for granted had in their time been thought perverse. Women vote? Maori play rugby in South Africa? Gay kindy teachers? The class were certain that parliament shouldn't legislate morality - but only when it suited their moral compass. I had won the argument hands-down. I firmly believed back in 1997 that parliament should legislate morality. Banning sex with animals was a great idea. If parliament also banned sex for the first three months after childbirth that would be okay with me too. In fact, after 10pm, anytime my mother is visiting, whenever I'm reading a good book.....politicians ought to be servants of the prevailing wisdom of the times.

But now I realise I was wrong. After years of listening to Winston Peters and George W. Bush you realise the awful truth about democracy. The system is inherently flawed because everyone gets a vote. Even morons. I'm not the first to notice this. But knowing that bigoted, red-neck, women-hating, homophobes can provide a mandate to a government to turn back the clock on the hard fought concessions that have essentially disseminated power away from white, middle-class men - well, that's a much scarier thought than the idea that someone, somewhere is expressing their animal instincts differently to the way you and I might choose to express ours. In New Zealand we have no written constitution that guarantees equality under the law, our Bill of Rights can be legislated into oblivion by the government of the day, and so if there is a trend to leave matters of morality up to an individual, I'm all for it.

In the Netherlands, that bizarre mix of totally conservative regions with the capital for the 'free world' smack in the middle, sex with animals that causes no harm has been legal for years. In February this year this freedom has been overturned. While that sits fine with my personal views on the matter I'm nervous about other inroads they may seek to make. Islamic rule shows only too clearly how the insidious creep of state intervention in private affairs can destroy societies.

I know there are no easy answers, and most of us wouldn't want our children to become zoophiles but consider the much greater harm caused by legal activities - smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol (there's no law against getting absolutely smashed), gambling, overeating, free credit card offers, and ask yourself whether we might not be criminalising the wrong things.

What does this have to do with cancer? Nothing, but the fact that I've got the energy to explore this topic once more, and the presence of pimples on my face, means that mentally and physically, I'm on my way back. Look out.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Unfinished business

Right next to the purveyor of the finest raw energy salad in all of Sumner is a hospice shop. A hospice shop with two convenient carparks, strictly for the use of bargain hunters only, right outside. The last three times I have needed a raw energy salad I have parked in one of the handy spots and begun a ridiculous charade. First, I pretend to browse in the hospice shop for that little something that might just be perfect for that little somewhere I might sometime get invited. I feel bad the whole time. And transparent. As if everyone in the shop knows I'm incorrectly parked and just pretending to be interested in the second hand clothes. So to prove my interest I select a garment and try it on before regretfully handing it to the tireless volunteers ('it's not quite what I'm after') and slinking out the front door. I have even pretended to walk towards my car and almost as if in the grip of an afterthought, have turned on my heels back to the cafe of my original intention. What's that all about?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who likes to be seen to do the right thing. Here's the paradox for the first time cancer patient working hard on preventing the return of the cells which won't die: worry too much about the details of life, the petty rules of social engagement and arbritrary measures of success and you'll get stressed - this is bad. Care not enough about the same things and life loses all meaning - this is bad.

I am a brilliant starter. If you want to get a project off the ground, energize the troops, share the vision, move mountains - I'm your girl. But if you're after someone who will grind out the details and drive hard towards completion...well......we can't be brilliant at everything can we?

I have a long list of unfinished business and I'm in two minds about how to approach it. Bin it and get on with life without the burden of living up to expectations I put on myself. Or, show some mettle and finish, which might just lift the burden and release cancer killing endorphins better than any drugs.

Consider the top 5 on my list and tell me what you think:

1. Thank you notes for our wedding gifts. Most are written, some are addressed, all are heartfelt. We have been married two years. Is it too late?
2. My masters degree. I read that universities are sheltered workshops for the abled. Nearly everything I have studied is useless in applicability to life. The research too narrow and guarded to have any general value and too laden in academic bullshit to be of any specific value. But I do rather like the cut and thrust of socratic debate. I'm about half way through.
3. Grade 8 piano. My fabulous piano teacher graciously allows me to attend each week in the Arts Centre - it's like Dead Poet's Society - without practising. No doubt it's therapy for me of the most beneficial kind but the need for an exam pass? In the interests of honest blogging you should know I currently play at about Grade 2 level.
4. Tidying my room. This is a carry over from when I was 13. Not likely to nail anytime soon.
5. My next bestseller. My first solo stage show. My broadway debut. My radio chat show. My run at the Mayoralty. Mrs New Zealand. The last one is a sure thing.

I am brave enough to attempt another letter to the editor and I'm going back to adult ballet classes now that the Arts Centre has been reinforced for earthquakes and other structure-stressing events like my spring-points and pas-de-chats.

Do you have unfinished business that needs pruning from the list or shall we go together to buy harden up pills? I hope they have parking right outside the door.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

True stories

Writing good fiction is all about noticing. Separating the tiniest detail from the broad brush stroke approach we take to life. While people engaged in real life are living, fiction writers sit back and notice. The cock of the wrist, the flash of anger, the species of plant and the blue of the sky. I could never write fiction. The imagination required is way beyond my bird brain. But take a look at the true stories from my last two weeks and marvel at the absurdity of the truth.

1. I received an email from Brazil describing an exciting project. "The path we have chosen is a dead end." I found the original document in Portuguese and translated it back it English. "The road is a road of no return." Easy enough mistake to make.

2. P has told me that she's really pleased I don't have to have any more of the medicine that makes me sick. "Do you remember the name of mummy's disease," I asked. "It starts with can..." Her eyes lit up. 'Canterbury' she replied.

3. The neighbour has sent another typed couriered letter in response to my latest handwritten hand-delivered note. "I do not believe you have grasped the seriousness of the matter." She is, on this count alone, right. When you are doing all you can to boost your odds of not dying a slow debilitating death (I've been researching what happens, it's not pretty) in the next 24 months, it's hard to get worked up about the $15 she claims I owe her for a packet of grass seed. The best thing is I am getting a wee lesson in the New Zealand quasi-judicial system. "There is a vehicle that provides a solution. It is called the Small Claims Court. It is set up to solve disputes such as this." I am now drafting another handwritten note to hand-deliver later. It's like an RSVP to a party. "Dear B, Look forward to seeing you there. Love from S.x" I'll likely lose in the Small Claims Court. Its decisions are usually based on a coin toss, or fall in favour of she who cries the loudest and longest. Walk away? Not fighting for the principles at stake will more likely be more stressful than fronting up.

4. I have discovered where I've gone wrong. 'The Secret" advises that for full health to be restored one must 'not acknowledge or speak of your disease or illness with anyone'. Kind of makes doctor's visits tricky.

5. I am living in the middle of a Sopranos episode. Someone (I.h.m.s) is doing burnouts outside our house to intimidate us. Through the grapevine I've heard that Black Power has been asked to intervene. I am practising my scared face. I understand that having no fear is dangerous, but c'mon. Burnouts? Black Power?I wish they'd just follow the example of my next door neighbour and courier a letter outlining their concerns and describing the legal process to me. In fact I wish all this drama had happened while I was at law school. All the plain English explanations of the system might have come in handy.

6. I have cyber-stalked an old friend from Varsity and she is reported to have been at a cocktail party to celebrate her Rhodes scholarship and someone asked her 'do you think it's Mountbatten's fault that India was partitioned so poorly?' I love this. The most commonly asked question of me at any function, after I mention that I work with Les Mills International is: 'are you an instructor?'

And the very last true story from a bizarre two weeks. My best friend in the whole wide suburb has recently separated from her partner and had a bet with herself about how long it would take for his best friend in the whole wide world to text her and offer a consoling shoulder, and a quiet drink. The subtext is sex, as it inevitably is for men of a certain age whose lives are less than they had hoped for. Incidentally, as Tiger Woods, JFK, Shane Warne, and Bill Clinton have proven, the subtext is sex for men of almost any age whose lives are everything they ever dreamed they could be and more. Anyway, when's it okay to make your move? Two weeks? Two months? Turns out, poor fellow waited exactly 7 weeks before penning the offending text.

I suggested she courier a response in Portuguese about his chances and let him guess at which of the possibilities was most probable:
a) over my dead body (and that's a bit kinky),
b) only when you are the last man alive and even then only after 7 years of psyching myself up,
c) never ; or the least likely
d) when Sacha wins in the Small Claims Court.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Money money money, must be funny.....

My phone has been disconnected. Again. Not the first time and probably won't be the last. I've never been good with money but the reasons are sound. I am an eternal optimist. I am only ever one big contract away from the financial big time. Only ever one paycheque away from being wealthy beyond measure for another few days.

When we found out that I was somewhat unexpectantly pregnant with T, C was instantly pragmatic. "We'll have to move to Woolston you know. We won't be able to stay living in Sumner." Riveria of the South that it is, we managed to hang on and though I had to sell my car and bus everywhere with my newborn baby I was only ever one big contract away from the big time. There were days when C would be on his way home for lunch and I'd tip all the cushions off the couch searching for enough coins to catch the bus and buy two slithers of ham at the local deli. Sometimes I couldn't afford the bus ride home.

You'd think C would have been a better provider. But in fact, he was. I had a debt that he didn't know about and so every week I would squirrel away housekeeping money to pay the lender and stretch the remaining food money to its absolute limit. Why didn't I just tell him? I was too proud. Too full of my own cleverness to admit to being so dumb. The only bill in our house I had to pay? The phone. And to this day, despite the increasing deposits in my bank account I never seem to have enough money for Telecom on the days they want it. Organise conferences? No problem. Speak in front of 1000 people? Piece of cake. Pay a lousy phone bill on time? Not so much.

It's got me thinking about money and the financial stresses of being unwell. Please be very clear, I am blessed beyond all blessedness and don't need your food parcels or postage stamps. But there must be people all around me who are not buffered in the way I am from the exhausting burden of making ends meet when times are tough. All the cancer books I've read suggest offering to help with meals and a cup of tea and that's all well and good but I think for some people what they most need is cold hard cash to pay the power bill.

So I've come up with a little solution. Rather than wait for the bad times to fall we should all contribute a percentage of our income into a central pot so that money can be allocated to those who need it most for basic things like food, clothing, education, and healthcare. And voila! Just like that, I'm a socialist.

The generosity of my friends has been overwhelming. About 50 people from the Sumner Theatre Group put on a Cabaret show giving up a Thursday night when nights off were most precious and performed for 170 locals who each paid $30 a ticket to watch the show. All the proceeds were given to my Mum to help pay for her flights back and forth from Auckland during my treatment. My first ever, and favourite, stalker (m.o.t.l) was given a suitcase full of $20 notes totalling $6,000 from her community in Timaru when she was first diagnosed.

So what stops us giving more freely of our money and asking for financial help when we need it? I think some of us have puritanical attitudes to money that if applied to other areas of our lives we would be ashamed of. I'm already on record for rather selfishly agreeing to pay whatever school fees necessary if it means I don't have to use my valuable time selling bloody bars of chocolate or attending fundraising committee meetings. No one would like to be thought of as inflexible in their parenting, or ironclad in their attitude to sexuality, or even too dogmatic politically. And yet some of us are still okay about being tight-fisted bastards when it comes to sharing our loot. I helped to organise a fundraiser for our local Plunket when T was a tiddler. $15 for a glass of wine and a dessert plate of nibbly nibble things. The Plunket made $4 on each ticket and a number of women complained that $15 was a bit much for just the one glass of wine. "Piss off you silly cow" I said to one, and "Piss off you silly cow" I said to the other. I am no longer involved with that group.

We're not much better at asking for financial help either. Pride. Potential rejection. Humiliation. Scaredy-catness.

I once borrowed $10,000 from a work colleague who on one level I barely knew and on another had known deeply ever since we first met. It was the single biggest kindness I can remember of my entire life. Not just because it's a shitload of money but because of the willingness with which it was lent. I have, of course, paid it back in full. He believes lending it gave him greater pleasure than it did for me to receive it. About this, he is wrong.

I don't advocate lending your friends large sums of money. I may have become a socialist for this blog update but I'll be a hard headed capitalist by the time the next one rolls around. I advocate giving it to them.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Playing a card

When is it okay to play a card? Not your trump card. Not the joker, not the ace of hearts. I'm thinking the two of spades. The card that says "please excuse me right now, I'm suffering and deserve to be treated differently. Normal rules are suspended because I'm (insert relevant disaster). "

On Tuesday morning P interupted my shower with a proclamation. "There's a man at the door and he needs a sign." Don't we all? I thought and hurriedly wrapped myself into a towel and padded down to meet the courier. I do love couriers. Bearers of presents and trademe purchases. Bringers of glad tidings of great joy.

He: "It's from your neighbour. Your next door neighbour."
Me: "Can't be good news then?"
He: "Probably not."

And sure enough, he was right. Our neighbour had gone to the expense and trouble of having a letter couriered from her house to ours. The details are boring, the claims against us pedestrian. But the sentence that really stuck in my throat was the one that suggested that we were taking advantage of her as a single mother. What does that mean?

In property disputes about whose water is flooding whose garden does being a single mother give you greater rights and less responsibilities than being married? Since when was being a single mother a bad thing? Is it a new category of social status that means the rules are changed? I've never thought that marital or parental status was a card that could be played. Am I wrong? Which of the many attributes, charateristics and events that shape us entitle us to expect sympathy? Being short? Being poor? Being prone to foot-in-mouth disease?

It's made me think about how often I've played the cancer card in the last 7 months. I withdrew from university and received a partial refund of fees. I was slow to respond to one of our landlords and blamed chemo. I've stopped wearing a seatbelt and have prepared a cancer burn excuse but am yet to try it on a real life officer. Perhaps I've played it so infrequently because I haven't needed to. My community has wrapped me in lovingkindness and support and has not asked me to pull my weight where it might otherwise be expected. And this is how it should be. We should care for each other enough that paid up members of card carrying societies don't have to pull out their two of spades to get the help they need.

I have been useless at this in the past, arrogantly considering myself more of a global helper than a local hands-on person. My cooked meals won't be appreciated but I'm sure that I can do more for those in need around me. The examples set by others in our community have shamed me into quiet reflection.

Where do we draw the line? What constitutes a disaster card and which mindsets lock people into victimhood? I know better than most what it feels like to have days where the world seems set against you. Yesterday I lost my car key, tripped off my scooter, burnt my mouth on hot coffee, ran low on gas, left my moneycard at home, looked like an old, grey, fat spinster, oozed more goo from a massive burn under my arm and finished my book and had nothing to read and absolutely nothing to wear, so take me now because I am done with Thursdays.

I also woke up in a gorgeous new home with my two healthy delightful children sleeping peacefully downstairs. My step-son is living his dream at college in the States. My husband had already left for work so he could start at 7.15am as he has done at least 5 days a week for the 10 years we have been together, to faithfully provide for our family. I had the choice of three different cereals for breakfast and 295 albums to listen to through my inbuilt surround sound stereo system. I am blessed with a body that functions so well that despite the assault of cancer treatment I was able to scooter with my daughter to kindy and play mixed doubles tennis with C in the evening. I have a nearly brand new car which I love and money in the bank to buy petrol. I am a cuddly, sexy grey-haired minx who now attracts the attention of both hetero- and homosexuals. My burn is healing and my bookshelves are full of generous gifts from friends that I'm yet to open. Every day above ground is a good day.

I still have nothing to wear.

If my neighbour could meet my eye I'd say this:

"Cards on the table. We all get dealt the occasional dud. Sometimes an entire hand of rubbish. Having cancer doesn't give me the right to flood your garden. Being a single mother doesn't give you the right to flood mine. Call off the couriers and won't you please accept my home-made lasagne cooked with love and instructions from the Kids Can Cook book."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ouch, ouch

I finished radiation therapy on Tuesday and was pretty damned pleased with myself. I'd just sent off a fantastic letter to the editor of the Christchurch Press lambasting the stupidity of men in general but particularly men who whine about wanting money for breast cancer awareness for men. In New Zealand 20 men each year are diagnosed compared to 2500 women. Bad luck to those chaps but I can't get excited about spending precious health funding dollars to alert men to fondle their breasts more often. It's hard enough getting them to the doctor to feel their balls and men are much more likely to have trouble 'down below' than in their man boobs.

I'd also got through radiation pretty much unscathed. Some redness, tightness of skin, a little tiredness, that's it. I told the girls I'd have radiation every day if it meant not ever having chemo again. And then they told me some cold hard truths. "The burning will get worse before it gets better, and the pain should peak in about seven days time. But then you'll start to heal."

By Wednesday I was starting to have the odd throbbing pain, a some stiffness under the arm but was buoyed by the triumph of my writing. My letter still hadn't been published and this could only mean one thing - it had been selected for the Letter of the Week. Surely now my days as a part-time blogger were over. This would be the start of something big. You've seen Julie and Julia? I know that Sacha and Kylie doesn't have quite the same ring to it. But think of the spin offs. Miniature one-boobed barbies would surely be the next Happy Meal toy, all the A-listers would shave their locks, and Alison Holst could take a break from having her Favourite Muffins at the top of our best seller lists.

Thursday wasn't such a good day. Armpit getting decidedly ugly. More skin left on sheets than on body and the only thing that's remotely comfy to wear is nothing. Oh, and I got an email from Bruce Rennie regretfully informing me that The Press can't publish all letters it receives and that some good letters get left out.

Good? What sort of messed up wishy-washy adjective is that? My previously trusted bridesmaid F once introduced me to her new boyfriend and after a dazzling display of verbal gymnastics which included hilarious commentary of the day's events, insightful remarks about local body politics and a very accurate piss-take of Ruth Dyson I left to go home and put the spuds on. F asked this new boyfriend what he thought of me. "Oh, she seems nice enough." Needless to say, but mentioned for those who thought Kylie Minogue really was a friend of mine, he didn't last long and I'm not sure Bruce Rennie should sleep easy in his job either. Fancy missing the obvious brilliance that is me in full flight. Okay, I was a little over the word limit. I was perhaps a little strident in the expression of my opinion. But still. You want to read some of the crap they do print.

In hindsight perhaps my emotions were ahead of my body. Now I look how my letter sounded. I am raw, oozy and suffering. If you want to see for yourself, find me on facebook. You have been warned.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Look good, feel better

That's the promise of the charity funded by the cosmetics and toiletries industry. Women with cancer are invited to a workshop to learn about make-up and hair care. The idea is great. Slap on some lippy and bingo! you look good and feel better for it.

I was reluctant to go. Why mess with perfection? But I met a fabulous cancer warrior at the local supermarket and she pushed all the right buttons. "You get hundreds of dollars worth of free stuff." I rang and booked as soon as I got home.

I don't do group anything very well so I gave myself a really serious talking to all the way up the Cancer Society stairs. "You're not running the show; these women are probably warm blooded and have feelings so shut up about what you really think; breathe; two ears, one mouth; focus on the free stuff."

It was awful in all the expected ways, "we won't go around and introduce ourselves, I know how nervous that makes you" and wonderful in unexpected ways that humbled me. So many volunteers giving up time to bless women in need. So many delicious freebies from my favourite cosmetic giants. There's the rub. Partly why having cancer is such a shitty disease is because as a society we are bombarded with misinformation about how a person's value should be measured. Images of 'beautiful' women are everywhere and they're not often bald, with eyebrows falling off. The whole concept of the make-up morning rubbed up against what I believe makes people beautiful. The confidence that comes from being certain of your place in the world, the joy of living a life you've chosen and created, the peace that passes all understanding and allows us to graciously accept that bad things happen to good people. I couldn't help but think that two hours of sharing and celebrating each other's triumphs through the trials of cancer treatment might have had a more permanent beneficial effect. But perhaps that's what the support groups the Cancer Society offers are for. We all certainly laughed and enjoyed the attention of the wonderful volunteers who could not be faulted. Their love and warmth was uplifting. And total surprise - colouring in my eyebrows was fun. "Lots of little strokes."

Truthfully, I left looking like a drag queen. Lots of eye-shadow, caked on foundation, and a pukey peach lipstick. Still, I had wonderful gifts of cleanser and makeup remover to rub it all off.

Back at work, the girls in the cafe underneath my office immediately commented on how nice I looked. Crap. C arrived at his desk. Did I know that my cheek was sparkling? And by the way honey, you look great. Shit. I hauled my spare 9 kilos up 79 steps to visit Frosty F, my chief bridesmaid. She, of all people, would respond appropriately and offer me a flannel and some soap.

"Oh my goodness Sach. Where have you been? You look a-m-a-z-i-n-g. That colour on your lips is gorgeous." Fuck.

I had to laugh. It took nearly two hours to get the goo on and where am I going to get that kind of time on a daily basis? The best advice I got from the workshop was to invest in a head wrap to wear at night to keep my head warm. The lovely expert slipped one onto my head to show the other girls how easy they are to pop on one's pate. It has the added benefit, I quipped, of being a contraceptive device.

So here for your viewing pleasure is me, the evening of the event. The light doesn't do the thickness of the goop justice or show just how dark grey my hair is. But hopefully, at the very least, the joy and peace I have about the lucky life I lead shows through.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Old dog, old tricks

And so it came to pass. On the seventh day, when all the other creatures were resting their weary bones, my Dad aged 67, was riding his new Honda Shadow motorbike from Christchurch to Auckland.

He bought it through TradeMe a few days ago and has spent the last 36 hours practising his slow turns and stopping on the relatively quiet streets of Sumner. So far he's lost his gloves off the roof of my car, lost his glasses off the roof of my car, found the glasses 10 minutes later unscathed in the middle of the road - 'it's a miracle', and made two trips into town to buy accessories that he forgot the first, and second time he went to the bike shop. Of course he looks cool. While he's riding. Watching him get off is pure comedy. Lacking the flexibility to lift his leg over the seat he leans forward and rolls off, just like the high jumpers at the Berlin Olympics. And just like the high jump bar, sometimes the bike comes down too. Another wee thing to practise.

It's my fault. If I hadn't reminded him of the Honda Goldwing he would never have remembered that riding a motorbike around the perimeter of New Zealand was on his bucket list. Up til then he was obsessing about a motorhome, his boat, and a bicycle built for two.

But there are worse things he could be doing. Gardening. Giving up. Acting his age. Genealogy. Bowls. Reunions. Better to burn out than to rust. Go Poppa Bear. If it all gets too hard and for the second time in 20 years he has to sell a motorbike within a couple of weeks of buying it, where's the harm?

I'm planning my own adventure now. Despite my daily sunbeds (when you're having radiation therapy every day is a Friday) which have burnt a red patch the size of a dinner plate onto my chest and halfway round to my back, I crave the sun and the warmth of a tropical breeze. After 6 more treatments I will be free. The only hospital visits between me and Christmas will be check-ups, 3-weekly Herceptin, and surgery to rebuild the twin towers. But even that can wait.

I was thinking about doing a road trip. Perhaps I could follow that old guy who keeps rolling off his bike at the road side cafes. Have you heard of him?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Silence on a Sunday

Everyone breaches the Fair Trading Act when they're dating. C and I went rollerblading on our first date and haven't been since. I probably told lies "I like nothing better than cooking five lamb chops, mashed spuds and boiling up some frozen peas - heaven!" And worst of all, he pretended to be interested when I read him snippets from the Sunday paper.

Sharing or not sharing fascinating tidbits from the Sunday paper is the simplest way of describing, defining and dividing people. Male, female, gay, straight, old, young - all stale and irrelevant classifications. Either you read aloud from the paper or you don't. I do, C doesn't. Dad does, Mum doesn't. The non- readers hate being read to, the readers hate not being listened to. It's a miracle that relationships between what are essentially different species survive.

Just this morning, I made a new vow (one I break and re-make most Sundays) not to disturb C by sharing the paper. I made it all the way to the entertainment section. That, for a speed reader like me, is a good 5 minutes of silent, non-sharing. Practically a lifetime. Then I saw ads for at least 3 concerts I want to go to and I could contain myself no longer:

Me: "James Taylor, The Winery Tour of Bic Runga, Dave Dobbyn and Tim Finn, Dianna Krall - why so many concerts I want to go to when my priority has to be saving for a clothesline?"
He: Hmmph.
Me: "I'm so proud of the way I'm controlling my spending and saving. I'm really starting to grow up and mature into a truly responsible person."
He: Mmm.

And then I turned the page. Full page ad. One Night Only. Whitney Houston. Live in New Plymouth. OMG. I have to go. Screw the clothesline.

I'm especially fond of New Plymouth given our last concert experience there. Full page ad. One Night Only. Elton John. Live in New Plymouth.

I booked the seats late and flew direct so the cost was horrendous - about $1500 bucks. Upgraded to good seats - $300+ each. Accommodation, taxis, dinner, babysitter - all up, it was looking like a $2500 24 hour mini-break. But Elton John? Come on - the man's a musical genius and so many sparkly costumes - heaven!

Until it rained. And rained, and rained. New Plymouth was absolutely freezing. From the moment we arrived and the mountain was ominously shrouded in cloud I knew bad things were ahead.

Me: "Good thing I brought my jacket."
He: "Won't the stadium be warm anyway? I didn't think I'd need one."
Me: "It's an outside concert darling. Remember me telling you that on Sunday morning as I read the details aloud from the paper?"

A visit to Kathmandu to purchase $2 ponchos didn't help matters. Town was teeming with older folk (EJ's target market) in every manner of ski suits, oilskins, and wet weather gear.

He: "It's very cold isn't it? And wet."

We called a taxi and, dressed in everything we had packed, ventured out into the storm. While we waited C hesitantly suggested that as he didn't really do wet and cold and didn't really like Elton John that much and wouldn't be such great company perhaps he should stay in our hotel room and watch Coronation Street. "Why don't you come along, and if it gets too cold you can always come back early?" As we climb into the taxi, united together as only people engaged to be married with three children between them can be, C suddenly stops and declares, "I can't do it."

I remarked to the people around me at the Bowl of Brooklands, "I know who the empty seat on my right belongs to, my brave and fearless fiance, but who owns the one on my left?" "Our friend Natasha" the couple one seat over said. "She's just getting hot chocolates." And then I saw her. Possibly the largest woman New Plymouth has ever seen was making her way up the aisle towards me. I'd like to say she sat next to me but in truth she sat on me. Her legs spilled over her seat, her arms spilled over her seat - her flesh was one with mine. God Bless Her. By half time, at -1 degrees we had become firm friends. I nestled into her snuggly buggly warmth and asked her if she would mind me reading aloud to her from the paper on Sunday mornings.

Was I angry with C with my friends wanted to know. Absolutely not. I love people who know their minds, who don't put themselves in positions they know they'll hate just to please others. That kind of carry-on might just cause cancer. Which is why, if I do go to Whitney Houston, I'll be pleasing myself and going alone.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let your little light shine

Radiation Diary

Day 1: It's no wonder the treatment is carried out in bunkers - the waiting rooms look like bomb sites. There are tatty signs about the place saying sorry for the mess and the delays but no one apologises for the old men sitting about in blue booties. I'd refuse to wear them. Sloop John B is playing on the stereo and is immediately followed by California Dreaming. This is a sign. Two significant songs, just for me. "Don't forget to bring your ID card with you tomorrow" a helpful technician shouts as I leave.

Day 2: "Did your bring your ID card?" No, and I won't be bringing it ever. I know my name, my date of birth, my hospital number and can recite all three in less than 5 seconds. If some crazy fool pretends to be me and goes to the trouble of shaving their head and slicing their boob off to look the part, let them have some radiation. It might just fix what's ailing them. "Which problem does me carrying my ID card solve?" I politely ask. Okay, it wasn't exactly polite but I didn't snarl. Apparently the old chaps in the blue booties sometimes stand up when any name is called and as ( I swear this is as close to a direct quote you'll get without a tape recorder) 'the men are the same age and look the same' occasionally someone gets the wrong dose to the wrong body part. "What if I promise to not let anyone else get up when you call my name? What if before you begin you ask me my name? What if you look at the great big bloody photo of me inside the folder with my name on it and compare it to the person you're about to radiate?" Do you know what she was thinking? "Why don't you, stroppy tart, just bring your ID card like everyone else?" Why not indeed?

Day 3: "I've made you a new ID card." I didn't think it was quite the right time to share my B.N.I but I'll share it with you now. At the start of every radiation session I take off my top and walk bare chested, naked from the waist up, from the little changing cubicle across to the treatment table where a sheet is draped across me for a few seconds before it is removed. The technicians, male and female, then place their hands gently on my naked flesh at either side of my body and wriggle me into position. They are uniformly kind and professional and I actually don't mind the contact. But, despite the best efforts of the sheet draper person I am inevitably topless for much of the time. I would be more comfortable if they were all topless too. That's my B.N.I. Improve patient comfort by disproportionately increasing the discomfort of the staff.

Day 4: Sloop John B and California Dreaming are playing again. It is not a sign. It is the Forrest Gump soundtrack. "What are the men in booties having?" I ask. Much squirming and verbal wriggling follows. Feet in stocks, it turns out they are having their 'groin' area nuked. They are allowed the decency of pulling down their pants whilst under the sheet. More evidence of the comfort of staff coming first, and fair enough. What young woman wants to look at old geezers bits? It might solve the ID problem though. While faces are the same, my somewhat limited experiences lead me to believe that prostates and their surrounds are very different.

Day 5: Further advances to the B.N I. The males that fondle me must be naked from the waist down for their discomfort levels to be sufficiently high to offset mine. Mum commented the other day that I didn't seem to miss my boob. She's right. I've always been offended by the notion that women shouldn't go topless on the beach but men can. I have never come across sensible rationale for this discrimination. If the male radiographers were topless like us sheilas they'd just preen. If their bottom-half bits responded to the cold of the radiation table in a similar way to my lone nipple we'd all have a good laugh at the absurdity of what is taking place.

None of my chemo nurses had received chemo and none of the surgeons I've had bothered to have similar surgery. I no longer listen to their approximations of the pain, side effects, possible adverse outcomes. They know jack.

Yesterday I had an appointment with my oncologist Associate Professor Bridget Robinson. I had the following questions prepared:

1) Given that I've started menstruating again, in your years of experience, does this mean I am not going to experience early menopause as expected or does it mean nothing of significance yet?
2) Might my eggs have survived chemo and be useful for my friends and family who are having challenges conceiving?
3) Will any fertility hormone drugs I might contemplate having reactivate the cancer?
4) In your twenty plus years of treating cancer what do you think are the most significant lifestyle changes to make in order to prevent its return?
5) The biggest cause of stress in my life is my family. Should I leave them all and stay alive miserably on my own in a cave? Or stay with them and get cancer again? What are your suggestions for finding the middle ground?
6) Seeing as how I hate being fat, and am (so far) useless at being disciplined around food and exercise, can you prescribe some wicked form of medical 'speed' that will deal to the fat?
7) In your professional opinion should I still drink alcohol?
8) Since beginning radiation my scar is tighter than before. I am the defending runner-up of the following prestigious titles: Sumner Tennis Club Mixed Doubles Plate, Women's Singles plate, Women's Doubles Plate - should I continue playing tennis in the 2010 championship and work through the pain or take stronger drugs?
9) Do you have the results of my echo cardiogram? Shall I continue with Herceptin or have I already sustained damage to my most important muscle?
10) Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?

Bridget didn't leave her office to see me. Her daughter or maybe her great niece - anyway, some child posing as a registrar popped in to the consulting room instead. All terribly nice, but barely out of med. school.

She: How's it all going?
Me: Great.
She: Any questions?
Me: No.
She: Worries?
Me: No
She: Concerns?
Me: No
She: Are you sure you don't have any questions?
Me: Nothing I can think of other than why did nobody tell me that you were going to be here.

I know experience has to be gained at sometime but so far every time I've bothered to ask one of the teenagers a question they've had to 'ask around' and get back to me. At least Dr Indian Spunkyfeatures has Indian Spunkyfeatures. Perhaps he'd like to take part in my B.N.I.

Anyway, I promised all 30+ of my Facebook friends that I was going to shine like a bottle of plutonium during radiation just like the boss. Check him out anytime you need a lift.