Saturday, September 7, 2013

Message in a bottle

Nothing like telling everyone I'll be blogging less to make me feel like blogging more.

I've always been a little contrary.


The port-a-cath came out yesterday, as promised. It's a milestone, sure, matching the milestone of one year tomorrow since I found the Freeloader- but I told you that already. I'm not repeating myself; it's just that a few interesting things happened on the way to the operating table that bear recording here.

Significant things. Thought-provoking things that are worth bottling and throwing out on the ocean of the internet, in the hope that they'll wash up on someone else's shore at a useful moment.


The first significant thing that happened to me yesterday was that the nurse weighed me. Whoopee. I love the scales the way only a human with various learned maladaptations around food can do.

I love them when they whisper that I'm lighter. I hate them when they scream that I'm a lump of lard. They can affect my mood for days, or weeks, and they can completely drown out the voice of reason. I've been anorexic, and I've been borderline obese, and the bloody scales have contributed to those problems rather than helping me solve them.

There's a photograph floating around somewhere of my friend Renata dropping our scales off the first floor balcony of our share house. I was waiting down the bottom to record the moment of freedom for posterity. Those fucking scales were driving us nuts. It's an occasion we savour and cherish to this day. Since then I've tried to avoid weighing devices, because I know that they're dangerous. They do bad shit to my head.

And of course, these fucking scales told me loud and clear that I was three and a half kilos heavier than last time I weighed in about a fortnight ago on the Wii. WTF? Here I am, watching what I eat and exercising like my life depends on it-

....oh wait...

So I was, of course, monumentally pissed off.

And then something odd happened. I got sent off to change into my Versace fashion garment, AKA the humiliatingly equalising surgical robe that makes everyone look like the same carelessly-packed bag of Pontiacs.

(The spuds, not the motor vehicles. I wouldn't mind so much looking like a bag of luxury cars.)

The dressing room was thoughtfully equipped with a delightful full-length mirror, just so the side of beef on the way to the carvery could get the full effect of their transformation to lumpy carbohydrate status. Perhaps depression makes one easier to anaesthetise.

But wait. First I had to undress, and there was no way to avoid catching a glimpse in the mirror.

I did a double-take.

Because you know, that woman in the mirror didn't look half bad. All that exercise had made a difference. The waist was, yes, a waist. The legs and upper arms were toned, rather than flapping in the breeze like last week's washing. Even with the missing boob, I actually liked what I was seeing.


People. Significant moment. Follow my lead and toss those bloody scales off the nearest cliff. Muscle must weigh more than fat, and numbers can lie. Stop visiting the bathroom every morning for your daily fix of bullshit, and start finding some sort of movement that you enjoy and can sustain instead.

According to my BMI, I am still significantly overweight. Screw that. I'm on the right road, and I'm liking what I see, and I refuse to be overruled by numbers, formulae and faceless statistics.


The next interesting thing that happened was that the nurse asked me if I'd like my jewellery taped. I elected to take it all off.

It was hot today... can you tell... makes those hot flushes even more fun...
At this point, my jewellery seemed to decide it had a mind of its own. I took off two necklaces, completely forgetting the Buddha on a chain that Christine had lent to me at the very beginning of my fight with the Freeloader. The only time it's left my neck has been during surgery and radiotherapy treatments. I'm not a Buddhist, but that necklace is a symbol of the unfailing support of my friends and neighbours. 

I took off my loopy, eye-catching earrings, completely forgetting
I do like these little studs... but I came close to giving them away.

the little studs above them which are the last remnant of my previous relationship. I wear them to remind myself how resilient I am, that I survived that terrible ending, that it will always be part of me- not to be denied, but rather learned from.

And then, having been gently reminded to remove the pieces that are so much a part of me I no longer think of them as decoration, I got to the rings.

Gentle reader, when I first changed my rings from my left to my right hand for fear of developing lymphoedema and having to have them cut off, I was at least five kilos heavier than I am now. They came off easily then, and they went on my right ring finger just as easily.

Like I said- hot today, so the finger is a bit swollen. It wasn't yesterday. But you can sort of see that the gold ring is larger.
Now, listen. I always wore them on the same finger so the amber and silver dress ring, which I bought for that finger to remind me not to get married again (long story which culminates in Renata and I making a pact to appear at the other's nuptials with a shotgun and intent to kill show just cause if we were ever so silly again), would keep the much larger gold wedding band in place- it was far too big for me, no matter what hand I wore it on.

Yesterday, my friends, the amber ring came off quite easily again- but that gold wedding band would not come off. Yep, the one that the amber ring was keeping in place.

It's not mine, that wedding band. It was my mother's, and it's the only piece of her jewellery I have; the rest was stolen when my house was robbed just after she died (yes, you can cry right there- I did).

Her hands were much larger than mine. I have my fine-boned grandmother's tiny hands. But yesterday, despite the facts that I was five kilos lighter than when I put it on and had suffered five dehydrating hours of nil-by-mouth, that ring- the one that was about three sizes too big for me to start with- was not coming off.

"My mother appears determined to come into theatre with me," I told the nurse, somewhat wryly. "You'd better tape it up."

So she did, and I was left thinking about the power of symbols, and messages in bottles.


How do we explain the inexplicable?

I am not religious- not at all. I don't believe in the merciful god that gives comfort to many cancer patients (if there is one, he's got a damn lot of explaining to do about the way my good, kind and funny mother died after a year of living hell). I don't believe in guardian angels. I don't believe in ghosts.

I acknowledge there are sometimes presences. I've felt the presence of people who are no longer here in the flesh, whether that's through a twist in time or a peculiarity of memory or some sort of physics we don't understand yet.

But I can't explain how a gold wedding ring can shrink.


So I just accept that somehow my mother managed to make sure I knew she was with me yesterday. In the same way, I was reminded of my strong support base of friends and my own strength in adversity. I was nervous about having surgery again- I'll admit it now. But all those symbols somehow found a way to remind me that I wasn't alone.

You can't do cancer on your own. Don't even try. That's the message in that particular bottle.


Tomorrow night, by complete chance, I'll be dining with Christine. Christine was the first person I told about finding the Freeloader, and here I am joining her for a meal a year to the day afterwards. I shall take Buddha with me. I think it's time to return him to his rightful owner. I feel like his work here is done.

There's a bottle I have to take with me tomorrow night, too. It's an '88 Henschke Hill of Grace which I've been sitting on since I bought it, the year after my mother died. It ties things together rather well. I don't drink wine much any more- it stopped agreeing with me when got pregnant all those years ago. Except for Henschke reds. Henschke reds have always agreed with me. I helped drink this bottle's twin at my son's wedding.

It seems right to open that special last bottle now. People keep encouraging me to celebrate- well, I'm the type who lets things unfold rather than planning them. With all my thoughts about symbols and messages in bottles as I took the dogs out walking this morning- the only realistic exercise I could attempt the day after surgery- that particular bottle came to mind.

So tomorrow I shall open it, to mark the end of this crazy year of dancing with death. Whether it's really the end of my fight with the Freeloader- well, who knows. That message is not contained in this particular bottle, or in any other.

But there's no question that it's been a crazy, crazy year.

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