Thursday, May 16, 2013

What I can't do

So- Angelina Jolie has had her breasts replaced with fakes, before the originals had a chance to kill her. It's all over the papers and the talk shows. It's all over my Facebook feed. Anyone who hasn't heard about it in the last 36 hours or so must be in a coma, sitting alone on a mountaintop in Tibet or (and?) clinically dead.

It is, apparently, huge news. And it's causing a stir.

To some, Angelina's 'brave move' is welcome high-profile support for all women with that faulty and fiendishly homicidal gene. To others, it's a heart-wrenching affront, because they simply can't afford to make that sort of decision to save their own lives and she is in a privileged position.

And to a few cretins, it's an opportunity to grab onto a catchy celebrity tag (which will get them lots of lovely online 'hits') and spruik their own rabid philosophies of natural health care, to the point of blaming the victims for thinking themselves sick.


To me, it's simply all too much.


That's not like me, to say it's too much. I've often been accused- rightly- of having an unfair abundance of things I can do (and, indeed, doing them without it ever becoming 'too much').

I can write, in almost any form and style you want to nominate. I can sing and compose music and play piano and guitar. I can direct and rehearse whole musicals pretty much on my own, I can sew and knit and create all manner of artistic things, I can teach and advise and counsel... and so, ad infinitum.

Sickening, I've been told.

But now, thanks to the Freeloader, I'm finding a multitude of things I can't do.

Like, I can't do the Angelina Jolie debate. Normally I would wade in knee-deep and start shooting off pertinent comments left, right and centre. I'm a shit-hot arguer; you'll know that if you truly know me. I can gently (or not so gently) argue the birds out of the trees on my day, and possibly make them believe they should never have been there in the first place and that wings were made for clapping.

But right now, thanks to the Freeloader, I'm simply tired of politely explaining to people why their beliefs are batshit crazy, or why they have no right to pretend expertise when they haven't been there themselves. I'm weary of telling people, diplomatically, that they're welcome to their own beliefs but those beliefs are not necessarily true for anybody else- and that it's not okay to shout down and insult anyone who disagrees with them.

Nup, I can't do it. Changing the world is hard when you're a little bit busy being changed yourself, physically, in order to survive. Two-thirds of the way through my treatment regime of being chopped up, poisoned and burned alive, I've discovered that I'm running on empty. I've lost my mojo.

Maybe the chemotherapy has killed off more cells than just the cancerous ones. Maybe tolerance is a fast-multiplying cell. Maybe patience is, too, and diplomacy.

I'm too tired. I can't be bothered thinking for half of my own little corner of the internet, and then working out a way to write a polite comment whilst raging internally, in the hope that I'll stop some naiive reader from thinking that a shyster's 'natural' health remedies are anything more than crap on a brown rice cracker.

People- think for yourselves.

And Angelina, good luck to you, but honestly- I can't find it in myself to care much, one way or the other. You're just another person coping with the Freeloader. I know hundreds of them, and some of that anonymous throng are just as deserving of starring roles on the world stage.

Or more so.


Here's another thing I can't do: bring in the wood. Just as I recover from the chemo enough to even consider carrying a load of firewood from the woodshed to the house, I discover that the left side of my chest is becoming tender from the radiotherapy. Today I couldn't wear my prosthesis to town; instead I dragged out the soft, granny-style bra that Berlei donates to women having mastectomies, took the rock (ouch) out of my soft teddy-bear tit and wore that instead.

No, I didn't even care that I looked lopsided.

My skin is still perfection to look at- maybe a little red in the armpit, but to the naked eye it's mostly unscathed. It seems to be my fate to look just fine throughout my treatment. I never got the greenish skin tone and ghoulish dark eye sockets that many associate with chemo; people kept telling me how well I looked. The temptation to reply Well, I feel like shit was sometimes almost overwhelming. But hell, why be a miserable sod? I just kept smiling if I could.

No, for me the sickness remained internal, and so far it looks like that's going to continue. The left side of my chest looks fine (apart from the notable absence of a breast), but the stinging has started as the nerve ends start to object to being char-grilled; I'll still smile at you, but I'll wince if you touch me there.

So carrying a stack of firewood clutched against what used to be my well-padded left breast is out of the question. Even holding a bundle of kindling sticks there is uncomfortable. If it doesn't fit in my hands, it doesn't come inside with me.

It's incredibly frustrating. I'm used to being able to do all that stuff, and I'm telling you, carrying in the firewood one piece at a time is a royal pain in the perineum.

It's hard for me not to try to do it anyway- but pain is a really persuasive debater for the opposition.


I can still drive myself to town and back, if I have to. Yesterday work crises besieged Tamsin, my usual Wednesday lift-giver, and so I had pity and let her stay home to work her way out from under the pile of steaming excrement that threatened to suffocate her good spirits.

The Bear had work, for once, and there was no way I was going to stand in his way by asking him to be my chauffeur. Getting out in the paddocks on a tractor and getting a little money for his trouble would do him the world of good. I decided that I could drive myself once this week without undue danger to my health and wellbeing.

Surely I could. What could possibly go wrong?

(cue theme from 'Jaws')


It was good to be out by myself, I must say. I despise this dependence crap, I really do, even while I'm eternally grateful to all those who've given their time and energy to help me out. I'm used to going where I will, when I will. It's been a sore trial to my sense of self during the whole chemo shenanigan to be too weak to call the shots and go my own way.

And so I drove myself to my Wednesday appointment with the Kraken without incident, and lay staring into his black and bottomless face till I went into my usual trance of nothingness. There's the exception to prove the rule: one thing I've never been able to do is meditate, because I simply can't still my mind, let alone empty it. I swear I have ADHD of the brain.

And now, suddenly, I can do it. I can still my mind to nothingness when I lie under that terrifying machine. I can be somewhere else where absolutely nothing is happening. No sound, no feeling, no dreams, no thoughts. Nothing. Just emptiness.

I can meditate effortlessly whilst being nuked. Wow, there's an achievement, Freeloader! You taught me to meditate!

But only when I'm being being burned alive. I did try to tap into the emptiness the other night when I couldn't sleep, but my mind was still spinning and darting like a cockroach on crack two hours later.

Methinks my radiotherapy-induced meditation skills may prove somewhat useless in real life.


I left the Kraken building feeling somewhat blank still. Emptying the mind isn't just something I can snap out of. I decided I'd better go sit down for a while and get with the program before attempting the journey home.

Have some lunch, maybe.

Life has a way of waking one up, doesn't it? As I drove over a speed hump into the shopping centre to get some Zen Sushi (how appropriate), the entire back end of my exhaust system decided that it was the perfect moment to part company with the car and descend to the shopping centre driveway with a resounding clangclatterthunk. So out-of-it was I that despite the appalling noise, I never even noticed that it was my car making the hubbub, until three delighted schoolboys approached me as I parked and informed me with ill-disguised glee that I'd left half my car back at the entrance.

These things are sent to try us.

I thanked the cackling boys sincerely for letting me know, to their even greater amusement, and went back to retrieve my muffler and the business end of the exhaust pipe.

Fuck this, I thought, stashing the evidence in the back of the ute, and went and had my disappointing mass-produced sushi anyway. (When did the term 'sushi' cease to include an implication of raw fish? Tell me that. But I digress.) Somewhat refreshed, I sought out a reputable repairman and left the car behind, then set out on foot to do my usual cheerful rounds of the CBD when I have time to kill.

I quickly discovered that my op shopping mojo had exited stage left, pursued by a bear- possibly to attend a party somewhere in the Bahamas thrown by my tolerance, diplomacy and patience.

Thank heavens for my precious local contacts. I collapsed into one of the comfy hairdresser's chairs in Shartan, where Amanda provided a very welcome hug, plied me with drinks and biscuits and set me up on a delightful machine that provided a foot massage. (Much more fun than the Kraken. And I could turn it off myself when I'd had enough.)

Some hours later, I trudged back to collect my newly-muffled vehicle and staggered home. So much for my simple trip to town.


So I guess you can say I could do that; I did get home eventually, without going to sleep or running off the road. I may not be so capable in a few weeks, when the most mystifying and unexplained side effect of radiotherapy really chips in and I feel like I'm carrying a grand piano on my back everywhere I go.

There are lots of other things I can't do. I have trouble doing up buttons, because I still can't feel my fingertips properly. I can't do the jogging activity on the Wii Fit any more, because it hurts my tender chest when I hit the floor with any impact. And my memory is randomly stuffed. I can't remember a lot of minor things that used to be second nature, like the football results from two weeks ago, or the name of the neighbour who's standing right there talking to me.

(Um, maybe that's not so minor.)

But there's no point dwelling on what I can't do, is there? Deal with it, move on, count the blessings instead. I can still write, and play, and sing. I can still rely on my friends to help me out when things get tough and I find yet another thing I can't do. And I can still sit here in comfort in front of the fire on a cold autumn night writing this for you to read, because I have a partner who's ready and willing to cut the wood and help me carry it in.

And as I take my shirt off in the warmth to apply yet more moisturiser to my invisible burns, I can do it in complete privacy. There are no paparazzi waiting at my window to snap my scars.

I'm luckier than you, Angelina.


  1. Hi Candy, I've just started radiotherapy this week, it is sort of mind numbingly meditative! Except when it moves, or it's eyes widen or close, (I think it's squinting!) I finished my chemo 3 weeks ago and find, like you, that I get mind-numbingly tired, and can't be bothered with the opinions! I wonder if that comes back!
    I have put our wood bucket on the dolly trolley, fill it and wheel it to the house cos I can drag it, can't push the barrow!
    Your solo day out sounds like a nightmare that you somehow managed and coped through, yay!Don't know what I might have done in the same position, not usually given to tears, but that may have done it.
    Keep up the great effort and your enlightening and entertaining blog, chat again soon. Cheers, Viv

    1. Yes.. I fear the barrow might be way too heavy for me. Tears? I think I've run out. (Famous last words!!) And thanks for the encouragement. :)