Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dragonflies and dreams

Afterwards, with flowers from the Bear and his mate

Treatment number five, done and dusted. The end feels like it's in sight, even if the tunnel is sixty miles long and has to be traversed on hands and knees.

I can do this. I can do this.

Of course I exaggerate. The tunnel is twenty one days long to my last chemo session, and probably another thirty days long after that till I start to feel vaguely like my normal self again.

That's only fifty one miles, right? (Not that I'm counting or anything.)

I'm guessing. I have no idea how long it'll be till I can, for example, reclaim my poor destroyed taste buds (oh for the ability to do more than fantasise about flavours!), chew meat (oh texture, how I miss thee!) and gently release Ferdinand back into the wild.

Go well, Ferdi. It may not have always been a pleasure, but you've taught me some much-needed life lessons- not the least of which has been to stop eating based on how my stomach feels, rather than what my eye or personal neediness craves.

(I digress, again. As usual.)

I have no idea how long it will be after March 28th till I get my energy back, but given that I start radiotherapy a mere 33 days after that last chemo, I guess I'll never know; apparently the radio is going to knock me flat too.

Sigh. There goes yet another six weeks of my life, sitting on my backside living vicariously though Facebook and the blog. (When I'm not attempting to flog myself on the Wii or the bike, that is.) But if the Freeloader leaves hand in hand with those lost six weeks... I guess that's fine by me.

And shut the door behind you, you arsehole.


Getting to that fifth chemo session was always going to be tricky. We were flooded in again- for an unprecedented third time this year (no, no, there's no such thing as climate change)- and I was anxiously watching the skies and the Bureau of Meteorology website for any hints on whether the water would have a chance to recede in time for (a) my blood test and appointment with Dr Mellow, scheduled for Wednesday, and (b) my second-last poisoning session on Thursday.

Thank the lord for social networking; my son's friend Cat flourished the phone number of the SES at me on Facebook, with assurances that her sister was a member and they did this stuff All The Time. (That's the State Emergency Services, for my foreign readers. They're mostly volunteers giving their time, energy and sometimes lives to help people in dire straights during and after natural disasters and the like.)

It was remarkably easy. I made the call, and once they heard I couldn't get to chemo it was pretty much a matter of 'when would you like the chopper and where? One way or two way?'

Truly. It was that easy. I was gobsmacked.

Heaven bless the SES. (Hey, there's a song lyric in that.)

And so on Wednesday morning I turned up down at Jarvis and Christine's place, where there's a big enough clearing for a landing zone, just as the helicopter landed. People, I was feeling pretty shocking still from the antibiotics, but when I saw that chopper...

I LOVE HELICOPTERS. I say LOVE. In my next life, I am so a helicopter pilot.

Do I look like I feel sick? No, I forgot about that. Totally.

Helicopter stories 1. New Zealand, around 1977. Glass-fronted heli-tour of- god knows where, I can't remember. All I remember is that I was flying like in my dreams, straight up and then away, with a full unimpeded view of the ground streaming away beneath me.

Seriously. In my dreams, I fly by rotating my upper body like a helicoptor rotor, rising above the reach of my tormentors and then moving away. I have done since I was a tiny child. Here I was wide awake, in a dream. The dream existed.

One for the bucket list? Get my helicopter pilot's license. Why not?

(Shh. Don't tell me how much it costs.)

Helicopter stories 2. Bungawalbin, around 2009. Driving along our road before the trees close in and the tar ends, I see a cropduster at work on the sugar cane. But it's not a plane. It's the tiniest helicopter in the world, like a dragonfly seen under a magnifying glass, delicate and fragile and beautiful. Straight up it goes, zooming along the rows, zinging around and returning.

It's magic. I want one. THAT would solve our flooded-in problems.

(I said SHHH! DON'T tell me how much it costs!! Let me dream a little longer!)


The Northern Rivers in flood is quite a sight. Taking pictures was tricky with the vibration and my el-cheapo digital camera, but this is what it looked like pretty much all the way. I was just gob-smacked by the amount of water lying around, and I live here, for heaven's sake.

Cancer? What cancer? I was overwhelmed by the joy of the experience and the power of nature.

That's not the river. Those are people's farms.

Closer to Lismore it's mostly dried out. But we live in a wetland.


And you know, the pilot didn't just push me out the door at Lismore Airport and take off. He landed first at the private aircraft terminal, saw that nobody was waiting for me and took off again for the main terminal. The co-pilot then escorted me all the way to the terminal doors to make sure someone was there to meet me, and reminded me that if we needed a lift back all I had to do was call.


No need for him to worry on the first count; Jools was waiting for me with open arms. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to see her again. (There may have been some tears.) We sat down and just talked in the deserted terminal for- oh, ages. Caught up. It's been too long. We haven't been face to face since before I started chemo.

There wasn't another human being there; it was, as Jools pointed out, like being on the Marie Celeste. A full carpark, yet not a soul in sight. Bizarre.

We didn't care.


First stop after that was the blood test, cheerily and efficiently taken by a sweet-natured vampire; second stop was finding somewhere in town to stay. Sadly, the hospital accommodation was as full as a goog; we did a Google tour of the local motels, then a drive-by assessment, and settled on the Dawson Motor Inn on Dawson Street- well away from the highway and visually appealing. (No pun intended, but the nightly pealing of the bells at Trinity Church across the way was part of the allure. I happened to know about it, because I used to work at the childcare centre on the other side of the block.)

And that motel? Good choice. GOOD choice. You come to Lismore from out of town for the hot-diggity breast cancer treatment we have here? You stay there. They have been bloody wonderful. Nothing is too much trouble. Even the food is edible (the cook apparently cried when I sent her one of my little notes of appreciation- she's only been back at work for a month after six years out of the trade. See, you can do so much good in the world by praising where it's due instead of just whining when something's bad.)

And folks- it's CHEAP.


And so to the oncology appointment. Dr Mellow was a little flustered when we were eventually called in. A five minute search for my file (largely conducted in frantic stage whispers to the receptionists) had failed, and he was noteless. Maybe it was just a Bermuda Triangle sort of day; earlier we'd dropped into Specsavers to pick up my new glasses, and they hadn't been able to find them either (until they canvassed the possibility that one of their employees couldn't spell my name- guilty as charged).

I am an excellent eavesdropper. It's a skill most writers develop early. I grinned at the somewhat bemused medic as I passed him in the doorway and noted cheekily (and possibly a little loudly) that he was noteless, and the tension broke at once.

No way was I enduring another dose of Dr Mumbles. Back in the closet, you! Remember the acid bath!

That obstacle hurdled, we cut to the chase. The good news from the blood test was that my white cell count had returned to an acceptable level, despite the fact that I'm still not convinced the chest infection's been nailed and my underarm infection is most certainly still maintaining a certain level of havoc. The less good news, mildly inconveniencing rather than alarming, was a lowish red cell count (AKA anaemia, a renowned cause of excessive fatigue).

Well, that also explains how flat I've been. Apparently it can also cause breathlessness (guilty as charged).

I'd eat more meat- truly I would- if only I could chew the damned stuff.

The rest of it- high cholesterol, meh. Normal side effect of chemo. All good.

He gave me a very thorough check-over- chest listened to, armpit inspected, other boob checked. All good enough for him to cancel the order for a side order of intravenous antibiotics with my chemo.

"We'll just breed a superbug if we go on like this," he commented after I'd reeled off the list of antibiotics I'd been ingesting for the last six weeks or so. And I couldn't agree more.

So we moved on to where we go next. He was confident enough about how my body's handling things to make the next appointment for after my last session rather than before (yay for me). We talked some more about the radiotherapy, and I told him I'd decided to go with the full Monty- armpit and all; he seemed to think that was a good decision.

Every so often, Dr Mumbles would attempt to resurrect. The gaze would drop. The rambling-to-the-knee would start. And then Jools or I would interrupt him, usually with a pointedly relevant and/or completely irreverent remark, and Mellow would wake up, shove Mumbles back under the desk (or wherever), make eye contact and grin. And get back to being a pleasant, personable and yes, slightly hot professional.

Ladies. Gentlemen. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO INTERRUPT YOUR DOCTOR, especially if he's rambling or if he's lost you completely. SPEAK UP. They are not gods. You are paying them a lot of money for their expertise. Get your money's worth!!

We talked about the hormone therapy some more, too. He just reinforced what I already told you- he doesn't know how it'll affect me. Statistics don't tell him how any individual will react. But joint pain is a possibility, in which case it's onto the glucosamine for me. Flashback to menopause is a possibility, in which case it's off to the Chinese medicine for me (with Mellow's supervision, of course).  Oh, there are heaps of other horrible possibilities- of course there are when you stick chemicals into your body. But we'll sort it when we get there, now I know what to watch out for.

Jools asked about the recent research suggestion that ten year courses worked better than five, and he explained that that referred to Tamoxifen, which wasn't what he wants to use with me. He's got me lined up for Arimidex, which is still too new for the ten-year results to be in.

"Ask me when you've been on it for five years, and I'll be able to give you an accurate answer. At this stage Arimidex looks like having better results for you."

Fair enough.

I asked him if I should be avoiding all soy products, given that I have an oestrogen-loving Freeloader. Ferdi had asked for miso soup with his sushi for lunch, and I'd realised after purchasing it that it mightn't have been the greatest idea.

"Look, if you're eating a concentrate regularly- something like soy lecithin- or if you're guzzling soy milk all the time, that's probably counter-productive. But the odd bowl of miso? Nah. Go for it."

Another Facebook meme bites the dust. Check them out, people, with someone who has the research in their hand. If I had a dollar for every Facebook meme, comment or email that's landed on my desktop to help me out by gently suggesting (or sometimes even laying down the law) on how to cure or kill myself using only food to address my cancer problems, I could probably buy that little dragonfly helicopter outright.


And so to the supermarket to pick up a few necessities for Ferdinand. Rice pudding. Fruit Tingles and Wizz Fizz pops (YES they do work to get that icky taste out of your mouth). Yoghurt. Pink grapefruit juice.

Back to the motel and a lovely room-service dinner- tempura barramundi and a seafood basket (Ferdi craved prawn cutlets), nothing fancy, but beautifully cooked. Ferdi was a happy lad, and I had a peaceful night's sleep- once I finally settled down my buzzing, flying, joyous head.


And this morning I woke up feeling GOOD. We even took a short walk together- SO good to go outside without being carried off by squadrons of biting things- SO good to be up to exercising. I was puffed and wobbly by the time we got back, but hell, I'm so glad I could at least set one foot in front of the other.

The chemo ward was buzzing when we arrived. I greeted the delightful Donna, who raved again about the Megwig and how young I looked- how young we both looked! What was our secret?

"Do something you love," I replied. And told her how much I loved teaching, and how Jools had made a decision to cut her anaesthetics hours and start her own business as a Pilates instructor in her 50's.

"I love my job," said Donna. And it shows, honey. It really shows.

Then I grabbed one of the last chairs and off we went, smooth as silk. Jools was, again, delighted by the intimacy of the place- the willingness of the staff and volunteers to stop and chat on a really personal level whenever there was a break in the crazy pace of the place. Our find-of-the-day was 17-year-old volunteer Meleah, who as well as looking after all our food and beverage needs (and everybody else's) promptly and efficiently, showed us some of her art on her iPhone- spectacular photo-realist portraits done entirely in B pencil. (Have a look over here if you're intrigued- Meleah's Artwork ).

I mean, what is a 17-year-old- a 17-YEAR-OLD- doing volunteering in a cancer ward? You tell me whether that's a sign of someone worth watching. Hats off to you, Meleah, and may you go far.


A surprise visit from my Bear, who'd managed to get out of our river-road (finally!) in his 4WD to pick up a mate from the airport as promised, was a total bonus. (The fact that they were bearing a beautiful bunch of flowers from them both had, of course, NO impact on their entrance. LOL.)

And the fact that Jools had the entire last season of 'So You Think You Can Dance', which I totally missed, on her flash drive for us to watch while I got poisoned was another boon. (I love that show, even if Mary Moore does have the voice and self-control of a semi-strangled cat with Tourette's Syndrome. Thank god for the mute button.)

She's a funny girl, my Jools. By the end of the session she'd spruiked this blog to the whole staff of the ward and given the address to Donna, because she's tired of me not blowing my own trumpet loudly enough.

"You're depriving other people of the benefit of reading it," she roused. And told me about her recently-diagnosed nurse friend whom she'd directed here, and who'd subsequently raved about it (in a good way) and spread the word herself.

I stopped protesting. The second function of writing this, after keeping everyone I love informed, is to try to help others through the experience. I can't do that by being shy, can I?


The hours flew. Back to the motel to lie down, start blogging and... book a helicopter home. Because believe it or not, more rain is expected- another tropical cyclone coming our way- and the road is still under water even at the good end, and absolutely trashed where the water's rushed over it too many times. The Bear says there's no way that Jools' hire car has a high enough wheel base to get in, and the water could come up again at any time. He was anxious to get home himself by then, because he drove through water to get out.

(The things men do for their mates. Kind of touching, in a carelessly self-destructive kind of way.)

So tomorrow morning we do a flood shop for groceries, and tomorrow afternoon we abandon the hire car at the airport and fly home.

I can't wait. My kingdom for a dragonfly all my own.


  1. Hi Candy, just wanted to thank you for your blog. I am the nurse Jools told you about, and I LOVE your blog. You are inspirational, honest, amusing, lively, moving, confronting, and lots of other verbs and adjectives that escape me right now. Tonight I'm tired, as I've managed to work 7 hours, and been to the gym, but I look forward to commenting more when I'm less pooped. I have been trying for weeks to figure out how to comment, and have just figured it out, but need to rest now. Keep your chin up, amazing lady, and we'll talk soon

    1. Lovely to have you here, Viv. If you're on Facebook, you can 'like' my Fighting the Freeloader page at and it'll let you know in your feed when there's a new post up- and also, we can talk without the hassle of the comment stream here. It's friendly over there and you'll meet some other interesting people- the conversations can be more than two-way and that can be great. Cheers!

      And thank you for all the beautiful compliments. :)