Saturday, November 17, 2012

Coming home

I live in what one might call a 'challenging' climate. Having cancer over the Bungy summer was always going to be difficult- I knew that. I just didn't expect to hit the wall the instant I came home from hospital.

But yesterday we got an early preview of February. Much as I love my home for the rest of the year, late summer is a great time to be somewhere else. Take our next-door neighbour; every summer without fail, he heads south to Melbourne, where temperatures in the high thirties will at least not be accompanied by humidity requiring a snorkel and flippers, a constant smothering doona of cloud cover and squadrons of mutant March flies lining you up for annihilation if you make a break for the dam.

Well hello, world- last time I looked it was only November, but the weather gods seem to have had a collective brain snap while I was tucked away in my air-conditioned cocoon at the hospital. Because that is a perfect description of the day Nature served up to us yesterday.

There I was, wincing as I struggled out of my narcotic coma at 5am, reaching (ouch) for an anti-emetic to combat the nauseous hangover from last night's pills, juggling my shoulder bag of drains across my lacerated body as I staggered painfully to the loo... only to discover, as my foot hit the unnaturally warm floor (yes, already), that my longed-for refuge had turned into hell to welcome me home.

Things only got better when Vi tried to get me some breakfast and discovered that the fridge had broken down. What perfect timing. I've never been a fan of luke-warm milk, particularly when accompanied by the delectably rancid scent of other perishables that didn't make it through the stinking hot night.

We couldn't even send the Bear off to get ice; he'd shot off to the cattle farm at some ridiculously early hour, anticipating a trying day of attempting to persuade reluctant cows that it was a good idea to walk for miles through the treacly air just for the awesome fun of being yarded, medicated and stabbed in the ear.

Good luck, Bear.

It would have been awfully easy at that moment to decide that the universe hates me. It's all very well to be unrelentingly positive while you're being waited on hand and foot in climate-controlled comfort, whispered a passing devil, but how are you going to go when real life takes the wheel back? 

How indeed? For a while there, it really did feel as though some malicious force was testing the power of my will to keep despair at bay. The universe at large has absolutely no respect for the fact that I Have Cancer. My Bear might call me princess and tell me I'm still, and eternally, beautiful to him, despite the chain-wired demolition site on my breast bone; my friends and relations might tie countless helium balloons to my extremities, buoying me through the many moments of desperation and heart-lurching terror with practical and verbal gestures of support.

But they can't control the weather, the failure of vital equipment  or the desperate need of my Bear to maintain some semblance of normal life, and neither can I. Cancer or no cancer, life goes unrelentingly on, with all its glitches and frustrations. All I can control is my ability to suck it up. 



Faced with too many obstacles and too few resources, I swallowed more pills to kick the pain away, ran the bath half-full of cold water to chill at least my nether regions back to a bearable temperature and hid inside a book to keep me away from the mirror.

I considered how I'd go enduring chemo when the weather was like this, and the thought wasn't pretty.

I wondered how the hell I was going to solve the fridge problem when I wasn't even up to plumping my own pillows.

That sort of thought pattern wasn't doing me any good at all, so I gave up and slept. Sometimes giving up is the best I can do; when you live in a climate like this, in a place as remote as this, you learn very quickly not to fight against Nature. Nature will always win. There will be days, and many of them, when I have to take exactly this approach to my illness- just stop kicking and screaming, and save my strength for another day.

It doesn't come naturally to me. I feel like I have to be at every gate first, waiting for the Freeloader with a bit of 4 x 2. Even then, he can shock me, as he did when I saw my remodelled chest for the first time after the surgery. How could this happen to me? How could he get this far under my defences without me knowing a thing? My instinct is always to get ahead of him, wait around every corner and beat him to death with a shovel as he sneaks by.

But some days, I know I won't be able to lift a finger- let alone a spade.


By the time I'd had yet another nanny nap, I had the sense to remember: ask for help. A single random sentence on Facebook was enough to bring my neighbour Tamsin to my door, bearing eskies full of ice for the fridge and words full of balm for my soul.

Somehow she managed to find my inner Amazon. That's what real friends do when you're sinking; they rescue you not with their own strength, but with yours. By the time she left, I'd affirmed that the Freeloader still hadn't got my spirit. I might have suffered some collateral damage to my body, I might be miserably uncomfortable, but that was all superficial; my gut was still sure that I was nowhere near hitting the canvas any time soon.

And yesterday did end, eventually; bad days always do. The Bear may have had to forget he's nearly 60 as he rode the farm bike round like a superannuated Crusty Demon, running a stray bull out from the herd as though he'd been mustering cattle all his life; but at the end he could drop his exhausted body into bed beside me and fall straight to sleep. I managed to find someone on Facebook who wanted to sell a perfect replacement fridge to me for practically nothing, and that someone was not too far away from home. I turned the fan on full bore and went to sleep too.

Bad days always end.


After the ordeal by fire yesterday, I handled today's heat better, but the challenges continued. By this evening, the hideous weather had resolved itself with a massive storm which blew down a huge gum tree by our shed. The insanely heavy rain somehow managed to find new places to get through the roof, leaving us without any lights as dusk fell and turning Vi's bedroom into a lake.

I'd have been far more upset about all that if the Bear hadn't come inside shaken to the core, telling me how he'd walked the path where the tree fell literally seconds before it came down, and then turned and watched horrified as it came towards him.

"A tree could fall on me tomorrow," he'd said. It damn nearly did.

I might have cancer, but I'm lucky, really. And so is he.

Not all of my power to hold my own as I walk through the Valley of the Shadow is blind luck, though. Some of it, I realise, is good management. Jools, the Bear, Vi, Tamsin, all the other friends and relations who know how to remind me of my own strength- they're not here by accident. They are the people I've chosen to surround me, the people I've trusted to share my life.

And it occurs to me that there's a lesson there to share. It strikes me that the best advice I can give- to protect you from fatal attacks by any Freeloader in the future- is not to give up smoking or to cut out sugar or to have your regular medical checks. The best advice I can give you is to cut the negative people out of your life.

Ditch the dead wood now, before you hit a bump and they bring you down with their banal comments and deadening sympathy. Drop those dead gum trees before they fall on you.

You don't need sympathy. You need a cheer squad for your homecoming parade. You need people who rejoice in your strengths rather than feeding your weaknesses. Because that will be the way you survive ordinary life, when you come home.


  1. Brilliant words in those last 2 paragraphs! So true. Wish I was closer to be able to come and help with more than words. xxxx

  2. What a shocking couple of days! Sometimes it is fair to think that we are being tested! Fight on Candy, don't let it get you down! xo