Friday, October 12, 2012

Secrets, lies and sideways solutions

Everybody has their own idea of how to handle bad news like mine.

In one corner of the ring are people like me, who just shrug their shoulders and tell people what's going on. It requires a certain level of confidence in others' ability to cope. It requires a certain amount of thought about how you'll drop the bombshell. But to me, it's the cleaner and less complicated course.

I like the truth. Life would be so much simpler if people just said what they meant, said what was really happening, and stopped trying to screw around with the truth to make it fit their agenda.

(You've probably worked out that I'm a Julian Assange fan.)

I mean, it's not like it's a crime to have breast cancer. It's just what happened to me (and about twenty nine other Australian women) last Wednesday. There was about a one in eight chance of it happening to me at some stage, and I drew the short straw. So did my grandmother. So did my cousin's wife.

No criminals here.

In the other corner of the ring are those who think that cancer and other dark subjects are private. You keep your cancer close to you. You tell only those who need to know.

That's not right for me, because I know what it feels like to be left on the outside of big issues which have affected people I care about. I've had people evade answering questions, I've had people cite confidentiality. I've had people straight-out lie to me about things they deemed too private for me to share. I'm telling you, it didn't feel good.

I felt like I'd been judged and found wanting. In their eyes, I didn't deserve the truth.

When people behave like that, cancer becomes something with which the sufferer can hurt people. Just because I'm the focus of everyone's attention, just because people are telling me to look after my own needs, doesn't mean I have a licence to decide from afar that someone can't cope with this news, or will react in a way that's less than ideal. I didn't just get elected judge and jury of my peers' character.

Maybe there's more to it than that. I think sometimes sufferers feel like they're somehow responsible for their cancer, or that they're diminished by it. Perhaps they feel that they just don't want to make others uncomfortable by talking about it.

Well, bugger that for a joke. Who am I to be ashamed of my cancer?

And you over there- the one squirming- stop pretending that it won't happen to you. It's the luck of the draw, and I'm not going to let you off the hook by shutting myself down.

I want the air to be clear around me, so I'm not walking through a haze of half-truths. I don't care if people want to talk about my cancer. No, more than that- I actually want people to talk about my cancer.

If you're talking about cancer happening to me, you might just figure out that if it can happen to me, it can also happen to you. You might decide it's time you had your breasts slammed between two glass plates again, or for the gentlemen, time you submitted to a strange finger where the sun don't shine- despite the discomfort and embarrassment- TODAY.

And that, my friend, might just save your life.


It's been an interesting sort of a day. At the beginning of it I was realising what a very long time it seemed to have been since I first felt that lump, and getting anxious about how long it was taking to do anything about it. I don't see the specialist till next Wednesday, and it's a long way from seeing a specialist to actually getting the chop.

By nightfall I'd managed a solution of sorts to that, survived some moments of complete knee-wobbling fear that struck me without warning and decided, with my son's help, that my strategy of writing a blog about my illness was a damn fine idea.

It unfolded the other way around, starting with a rather wonderful email from my son. Like all the rest of you, he's getting his updates right here on the blog.

You're bloody brilliant at writing, always have been (and you know it), and right now that's a big deal, because from where I'm standing, it makes a huge difference not to be left guessing and wondering.  Wondering whether to call.  Wondering how you're going.  Wondering what you're worried about, guessing what to ask, worrying that it'll somehow be the wrong thing.  Wondering if I should avoid the C-word.  Et cetera.  Instead we at least have some idea on which to base our judgement.  Damn good thing for you to do for all of us who aren't in your living room.

I want you to know that I'm trying to listen hard to find out what you (yes, you - I know you'll always worry about everyone else) want/need.  Plus, I'll be coming up soon, so we can spend some time in person.  If nothing else, this whole thing has reminded me of how long it's been since I came up on my own and we spent some time together.

I may have shed a little tear or two over that. The good tears, not the hopeless ones. Some friends have wondered if I'm raving mad, making all this so public (see above), and I guess this answered the question for once and for all. And honestly, my son's hugs are like no other hugs, and I can't wait to get one.

Then of course, there was the question of breakfast. More bloody decisions. I hate decisions, and the decisions I hate the most heartily involve limiting my choices of food.

My neighbour- yes, the one with the grazable herb garden- had lent me his herbal 'bible' and a handy supply of turmeric, herb Robert and various other useful greens (thank you Jimmy), and I'd read up big and imbibed various concoctions the previous night in the hope of doing something- ANYTHING- to help myself while I waited for my first appointment with the specialist. I kept feeling the lump nervously, expecting it to be enlarging by the moment. How big was it when I first felt it? I couldn't really remember. What should I be eating? What shouldn't I be eating? Could I live on herbs and turmeric? (Would I rather die?)

Trying to devise your own cancer-limiting diet is not something I'd recommend to anyone with existing eating issues. In the end I got in my car, which had to be taken in for repairs (cue 'normal life' music), and drove to town without any breakfast at all (cue 'idiot' music).

The car delivered, I walked half-sideways to the shops wondering if I had a brain tumour as well (cue 'knee-wobbling terror') before realising that I was actually staggering because I was weak from hunger. Fool. I decided that the decision about food was too big for me and headed into Traditional Medicinals for some anti-oxidants and advice.

About half an hour later I emerged with my anxiety neatly bottled and a fully-formed intention in my head to raid my favourite cafe for a suitable breakfast. "Avoid all sugar and limit wheat, especially in the morning, because those things are what tumours thrive on," the naturopath had said; it sounded like good, simple advice to me. I didn't care whether it was right or not. I wasn't going on an internet hunt for the four bazillion pieces of conflicting information on the subject. I just wanted a healthy eating path to follow that didn't sound too much like it was completely raving bonkers.

One plate of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and English spinach later (hold the toast, pass on the coffee), I was feeling much saner. Also, I could walk straight. Also, it was delicious.

Car duly fixed, I headed to the GP to ask the secretary (without a lot of hope) if there was any chance of her administering some pressure to hurry up the specialist's appointment, given that so much time had passed since I found the lump. Dammit, I want to get rid of this thing!

Heaven bless Dr Rosie, the other GP in our local practice, who suggested I come in without such a thing as an 'appointment' (yes, the waiting room was well-populated) for a chat. What a treasure she is. We sat there and talked about lumps that grow so fast you feel like they're changing as you watch, and why the hurry wasn't as great as I might believe (my Freeloader doesn't seem to have changed that much, which is good news in terms of metastases).

We talked about sentinel node biopsies, and whether they could be done in Lismore (possibly). And in case you wanted to know what the hell I'm talking about, that means injecting dye to see which lymph nodes are draining the area of the tumour. If you can pick the right ones you can avoid taking all the lymph nodes out, as that can cause the affected arm to swell up like something out of the Michelin advertisement.

Hey, diversion- how lucky am I to have a very best friend who's a doctor? The information my beloved Jools has given me, including the heads-up about sentinel nodes, is worth its weight in gold. Another hug for that lady! You'll have to go to Melbourne to administer it, though. No- better idea- bring that lady here and I'll do it! There are very few exceptions to my don't-ring-me rule, but she's one of them.

But back to Dr Rosie. We talked about strategies for coping with anxiety.

"Do you believe in God?" she asked, with no obvious agenda.

"I think the fact that my partner is a good, kind man who is now devastated by having to cope with breast cancer for the third time might just preclude that," I replied. Possibly a little tartly.

It's a funny one, the God thing. When somebody says they're praying for me, I do truly appreciate it. It indicates a really sincere desire to help me, I know, and that's beautiful. But if there's a God, all I can say is He's got a bloody funny sense of justice.

(What was that I said about the five stages of grieving? All my anger is directed at whatever idiot life force decided that my partner would have to suffer this again. I don't actually feel any anger about myself at all. Why me? Don't be silly. One in eight. Why not me?)

In the end we decided that time out in nature is my best cure for anxiety and stress. I knew that already at some level, but it was good to have Dr Rosie affirm that it would actually do me good.

We talked some more about my poor Bear, and how hard he was finding all this. To say it's knocked him for six is something of an understatement. He's been hit all the way out of the ground and landed on the railway tracks next door. That's when the tears finally got to me; injustice gets me every time. Fuck, I'm angry. And miserable. It's almost unbelievable that he could be required to go through this again in the name of love. It's not fair.

So I was given the gift of a free meltdown in safe company today. That was great. I needed that. But the greatest gift Dr Rosie gave me was by thinking sideways. She's given me referrals in advance for two of the tests that the surgeon will want me to undergo, so they can be done on Monday and the results will be on his desk when he sees me on Wednesday.

Clever lady. That does save time.

So on Monday I'll be going to Transylvania for an encounter with Sullivan-Nicolaides Vampire Services (that would be a blood test), followed by a session pretending to be an extra in an episode of House (that would be a cat scan at the hospital).

The Bear's right. It's the waiting that kills you, long before the cancer gets anywhere near doing so.


  1. Hi Aunt Annie,
    I'll skip the "I'm so sorry" bit because your amazing attitude totally makes it redundant. Read your posts and the turmeric thing jumped out at me. Have a relative who is a store house of knowledge on Indian herbs and Ayurveda and the tip she gives for cancer remedy is- soak about one heaped teaspoon of pure turmeric powder( if using the root, crush about 1inch of it, as finely as you can) in a tall glass of water, overnight. Drink it first thing in the morning, even before you brush your teeth. Give it about 20 min before you brush or eat anything. D this everyday.
    Diet- avoid potatoes and starchy veggies. Eat lots of greens. And she also says to avoid eating out. Home cooked meals as far as possible.
    You'll fight this and win. The cancer doesn't stand a chance.
    Oh, and I am the 'anonymous' mom of a 3 year old gifted boy who's a regular on your childcare blog.

    1. Love your first sentence! LOL!

      Thanks for the tip. I might get some good quality turmeric powder next time I'm in town. Oh and I never eat out! And I've been reducing my intake of starch for a while now.

      How's the 3-yr-old, anyway? :)

  2. Well, lets just say he is being a great 3 year old- not quite the preschooler yet but not really the toddler anymore, along with all the 'gifted ness' that completes the picture for me. Hang on, I meant!
    Anyway, having found your blog was the best thing to have happened to me with regards to understanding my son. I can never thank you enough.
    I know you don't believe in them, but sending prayers and energy your way.

    1. Thanks, Poornima. All energies and prayers gratefully accepted.

  3. Turmeric becomes more bio available in the presence of fats... so salad dressings, coconut milk... that kind of thing.
    Here's my 'Good Health' salad dressing...

    Crush one fat, luscious clove of good Australian garlic with some rock salt...
    Finely grate turmeric root (or add one teaspoon dried turmeric) - add to garlic.
    Pour in about 2 tblspoons good olive oil. Mix well until salt is dissolved.
    Add in some apple cider vinegar to taste(preferably the cloudy organic stuff)... and whisk with a small whisk until amalgamated.
    Put a fat grate of black pepper in.
    Pour over salad.
    Keep rest in fridge... the next day is even better and it actually TASTES, according to my good friend Rich, who is battling his own cancer atm.