Friday, October 1

I feel like Herbert Lom (or Scrat) ...

I can tell that I am starting to look a little worn out. It is close to my nadir (low point), so 'flu like symptoms and weariness peak.Skin is pale with blotches. Hair is limp and eyebrows thin and half-missing. Arthur admitted I look like I've not been well. My eyes have been twitching like mad all day, signalling a magnesium deficiency. I've taken heaps but obviously need more. For those of you who don't know, Herbert Lom is that guy in the old Pink Panther movies whose eye twitched constantly under stress!

We are going camping - in a TENT! It appears to have given Arthur an excuse to buy new camping gear including 4 new sleeping bags (I was really daunted at the idea of being cold), a stove and a 'fridge. He's packed 50L of water, and I've packed all the food (cans and noodles, etc) and dishwash, and the list goes on. Thankfully we have found the most adorable ladies to look after our dog. They are Chinese twins who do a dog grooming service, and their garden is a zen heaven (I'm going to take pictures). I'll tell you more about the trip another day .....

Tuesday, September 28

Ups 'n' downs

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, because every day is busy and I usually end up to tired or distracted to write. Some days I feel flat and there’s nothing to express; it’s been so sad to find out a friend has a recurrence of cancer, or my ex-school friend Jess is dying from brain tumours.

I found myself dreading the last round of chemo; funny that, as it was the last of the actual chemotherapy (which interferes with cell division). I shall remain on Herceptin (an immuno-theraputic drug) for several months and the effects should mainly be ‘flu-like symptoms (with a frequently runny/itchy nose) and possible slight heart muscle deterioration (manifest as shortness of breath, etc.). That’s much less irritating than the eye-tics, photosensitivity, muscle spasm, raw mouth linings, joint aches, dizziness and exhaustion I have been feeling of late. I started off quite energetically but have found that the cumulative effects of chemotherapy have started to take their toll. I was doing relief teaching a couple of weeks ago, but have recently lost interest in schlepping 40min across town to do half a day’s work for $100.

So, back to the last chemo session ... I guess I didn’t look forward to it in the same way you’d not want to eat the same food that had made you puke a week ago. Your body seems to have a memory, and mine remembered the nausea of previous sessions – I was surprised to feel queasy two days before chemo! Perhaps I was also dreading the cardiac gated test to measure heart efficiency, as it involved two injections. Well, it all didn’t turn out to be too bad at all. I met my two lovely compatriots and their family supporters, and we all had a good natter. In fact, I would have liked a little meditation time but that didn’t work out. Funny how you spend 5.5 hours in the place and there’s never a dull moment! After speaking with Ursula, I decided to treat myself and NOT use the cold gloves this time – what a pleasure that was! Obviously I had to use the cold cap, as I don’t want my hair falling out at this stage (actually it seems quite thick on top and needs another cut, so that’s nice).

As usual, I had a sleep afterwards, but I did have enough energy to go to the Moon Lantern Festival where we met up with our friends. It was festive! We loved the large, tissue-thin lanterns of all sizes and shapes, lit from within. I had lots of energy the next day too, and no nausea thanks to the $25 pill I took (they come in an exclusive pack of two).

Thursday was the kids’ Sports Day, so I went to watch them and take photos. Though it was cloudy with a chilly wind at first, by midday it was so hot that both Fran and I got sunburnt. That’s springtime in Adelaide! Alternately nippy and sweaty – or is it my hot flushes? I’ve also developed a fairly continuous pulsing in my left ear that’s a worry.

Yesterday (Monday) I went on the first of a 12 week course run by Belle, my lovely naturopath, on how to empower yourself to heal. She showed us references to research that shows that having a positive mindset and having hope are tangible influences on a good prognosis after cancer. An important way to achieve these is through the practicing of mindfulness, or meditation. We did a meditation, but as usual I got distracted by all sorts of mind-chatter. Not surprising as I had just listened to introductions from 12 other people who mostly seem to be going through horrific cancer experiences – two were young beautiful girls with rare lymphomas. Belle has explained that fear is a natural reaction, but it’s important not to get stuck in fear (which takes courage). I was glad that I had started yoga classes, as meditation is part of these sessions too, and I can practice there as well.

Today we did housecleaning with my friend Marisha. The girls were very helpful, and we all worked very hard to make the house all sparkly and clean. As a reward we went to Maccas (McDonalds) for a chicken wrap [don’t tell the kids, but mine tasted like crap, as my taste buds have died].

Yep. Every day is a new adventure with chemotherapy. Hopefully I’ll become a little more even-keeled as the worst effects wear off. I’ve been bitchy and irritable, trying to get my family to do the right things around the house (like put dirty plates into the dishwasher, dirty socks into the laundry basket). Though some of this frustration is physiological, I wonder if part of it is a worry that if I were not around my family would consist of three computer addicts drowning in a cesspool of rotting take-away containers ……

Wednesday, September 15

Chemotherapy - every day a new adventure!

It looks like all the teaching, a late-night party and trekking around the Royal Adelaide Show have started to take their toll on me. I did relief teaching at a high school two days this week and I am done - I certainly don't have the energy I used to.

The dripping and raw nose has started to go, only to be replaced by a mouth ulcer and back pain. These are all signs of being run down, or having your platelets and red blood cells anihillated. But they are slowly coming back, I guess, and you need sleep, vitamins and exercise in order to increase their levels. It is interesting to observe the body's changes in response to chemotherapy, and it's true that it's just as you are coming right again you get zapped with more. Luckily I have one more to go. Next Wednesday, before chemotherapy, I have to have another  cardiac gated pool scan to see how my heart is holding up under Herceptin. Hopefully all will be well so that I can continue with Herceptin (immunotherapy) for the next seven months. Besides possible side effects to the heart, it should be much less of a stress on the body than the chemo.

I was dismayed to read earlier this week that wearing a bra for over 12 hours a day can contribute to breast cancer because it prevents good lymphatic drainage of the breast region. I have always worn a bra, even to bed (softer ones), but it kind of upset me that such a thing could have contributed to me getting this cancer. That, and drinking processed (non organic) milk - who would have thought milk would be bad for you?! I have tried to give up milk but it has proved to be very difficult to give up pasturised, homogenised milk in my tea, so I use it sparingly. And I'm hoping that not wearing a bra to bed will help with the lymphodema (swelling) that is starting under my arms where the lymph nodes were removed.

I have started yoga. It is fun!

Friday, September 10

Teaching (and parties)

I've been doing some relief teaching at primary schools recently, and it's been lots of fun. I have learned that Catholic primary schools are often called St Francis or St Josephs, and that they spend quite a time in the morning on the prayer and affirmations. I've been at 5 in the past few weeks, supervising from year 1s through to year 7s and it's been very interesting seeing how the curriculum and learning progresses. Some teachers have the classroom regimented and little year 3s with their sense of fairness can be well disciplined, responsible, and carry out a range of tasks. One little girl drew a picture specially for me, while in another school another little girl welcomed me with some flowers. Some year 7s are independent learners, while others don't seem to 'get the message' and struggle with organisation. But, as we know in senior school, by year 9 the wheels have fallen off for many as their hormones kick in and they have forgotten all the manners they learned in primary school. They're the guys I usually teach. Really, though, why does it have to be that way? There is a discontinuity between junior and high school that ought to be redressed, I think.

Anyway, I've struggled for a few years to get a permanent part-time position teaching high school science and maths within a 10Km radius of home (this includes many schools). Perhaps I was being too fussy. Doing relief teaching has widened my horizons, and hopefully this will help me get a satisfying yet not too pressurised job in the new year. I have a BSc and Hons, yet they say there are not enough qualified teachers in the system. Here is an article about a teacher who drew blood (WTF?!) in a strange "science" experiment. So some of us might look askance at students who do silly things, but what can we do when the teachers are doing crazy, erratic and downright dangerous things to the kids? It's a world gone mad, I tell ya!

On a different topic, we are going to an 18th birthday party this weekend, and a 50th next weekend. Looking back on my life (as I do a lot, nowadays), I realised I've been to hardly any parties. Yes, it is a bit sad. I had a disco for my 15th and a barbeque at my family home for my 21st, but I don't actually remember being invited to any school friends' parties (oh, except Sandra Sutherland's, which is a whole other story). Perhaps I have a bad memory. We didn't have a school formal and most rapidly dispersed to overseas unis after final exams. Kids these days are lucky they have a big formal and big parties; hopefully they will treasure the memories and friendships that come from them. Have you been to your fair share of parties?

Tuesday, September 7

Spring cleaning

Well, I just saw that I'd not actually published yesterday's post. How lazy can you get? I couldn't even push the "Publish Post" button!

Here's a delightful and poignant short film called "New Boy" about a Zimbabwean boy's first day in an Irish classroom:

Spring is in the air here; the smell of jasmine in the evening is lovely. My friend and I have been cleaning the house today - I've even cleaned the 'fridge and sorted out a tiny bit more of the massive mountain of 'kiddie crap' and teaching materials. Pity I don't have the same energy to devote to doing my taxes and getting paperwork ready for a medical rebate!

Click on the link to check out our Monarto Zoo Visit photos. Monarto zoo is about an hour's drive out of Adelaide, and it is a large area of land that accommodates mainly African animals. Kangaroos and emus roam freely, while the rock wallabies and other African animals were enclosed. The chimp enclosure is state-of-the-art. I couldn't get good photos of the hyenas, lions, or cheetah, because the lady driver was going too fast!

Dead cells

Monday 6 September: I've had quite a few days in bed, in the land of the 'chemo zombie'. Time to get up and about, now. The nausea hasn't quite gone away; I guess the chemicals kill all the fast-growing cells all down your digestive tract so that gets a bit inflamed. On the weekend the metallic taste started in my taste buds. Also, interestingly, the cold cap did burn the top of my right ear - I kind of thought it had, and when skin peeled off I realised it could indeed happen. I am putting zinc oxide cream on the inside of my nose to protect it, as most of the nose hairs are gone. This results in a nose that alternately drips and crusts up. "Yeah? Charming!" you say, but I bet you've always just taken your nose hairs for granted!  Just like eyebrows - you don't miss 'em till they're (almost) gone.

I've lots to do and plan for the weeks ahead, but I've very little energy to do it in. I'd better make a start.
Have a lovely day, and thank God for even the littlest things in your life - like skin cells, taste buds, hairs ....

Thursday, September 2

Feel like I've been kicked in the guts

I had so much energy yesterday evening after chemo that ran from 11am to 3pm. But I haven't been too well today at all. I decided to cut down my doses of Dexamethazone further (it is a steroid with anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory effects), so only took my dose yesterday morning before they gave me another dose just before inserting the IV. I took the anti-nausea herbal medicine but needed the other Dexamethazone this morning, along with headache pills. I have had some lymphoedema in my arm where the nodes were taken out and I've been drifting in and out of sleep all morning (something that wouldn't usually have started until late Friday/Saturday). But perhaps this is a good thing because the residual effects of the chemo might leave my body sooner! Pity I missed the dentist appointment for my daughter as a result, but then I did manage to drag my pale-faced aching body through a quick shop before getting the girls from school. Joy joined us for afternoon tea, and it's always lovely having a visitor to take your mind off your worries. My Mum and Rose have also phoned to find out how I am, and that's nice too!

So, I'm going to take it easy again tomorrow. It's lovely lying in bed being helpless - it gives you permission to duck out of life and not have to go anywhere or be anything to anyone. I've enjoyed the relief teaching but it's also nice to have a break. Some people have no choice but to work throughout chemo, whilst others are unable to work or even do exercise. I am going to keep aiming to fill my life with some work, some exercise and quite a lot of relaxing. I hope you do, too!

The Drugs Are Good

A cool poem from

I‘m the impatient patient - waiting to be seen

I’m waiting for my drugs to treat bad cells mean

It’s tense in here; you can smell the fear

Will they or won’t they come up with our gear?

I’m going in now to make a drug deal

Hope it’s good shit - 'cause I really need to heal

The drugs are good, the users keen

The pharmacist's our dealer on the PBS scheme ....

The other pill heads are after my drugs

I need to hide my meds to stop these chemo thugs

I’m a pill-popping patient; I’m dozing in my bed

I’ve finally earned the title of "The hard core chemo head"

I’m dangerous;  I’m a chemo thug ....

the pharmacist – I’d love to mug

I want every pill he can offer

I've become a total PBS drug scoffer

The pharmacist was the one who's dealing

What he said to me was quite revealing

"I’m qualified. I’m your PBS healer -

I’m the real deal; I’m your drug dealer!"

The drugs are good, the users keen

The pharmacist's our dealer on the PBS scheme ....

I’m in the dreaded Dpartment of Oncology

They’re taking a look at my mutant pathology

The scientists have some excellent technology

- they want to nuke my errant biology

It’s a matter of faith and it tests my personal theology

.... it’s massively unnerving my current psychology

I’m not trying to be a hero

I’m just trying to get through my chemo

I feel like I’m floating on the ceiling

I’m on drugs

I’m on drugs .....

Wednesday, September 1

Preoccupied with things ...........

I don't know what's kept me preoccupied. Well, actually, there have been a few things but surely not significant enough to keep me away from the blog for THREE weeks! One is preparing the medical spreadsheet in order to submit our tax return, and the other is that I have been doing some relief teaching. I've really enjoyed the four different days at four different Catholic primary schools (for a change) - littlies sure do sap your energy! I've been very impressed generally with the good work ethic and respect found in primary schools; something I think perhaps teenagers lose on the way to high school.

Physically I'm doing well. I've had a good day again at chemo today, helped along by upbeat humour from our efficient nurses and interesting chats with the bubbly younger ladies I spoke with at the last chemo session. We talked about lymphodema, and wigs and makeup, among other things. An older Italian lady gave me wise advice about keeping up hope and staying around positive people. The atmosphere at the treatment centre is very supportive; people are kind to each other and show their concern. I really like that, and try to reciprocate or pay it forward. If only we could all be like that all the time, eh? It was the same consideration and attentiveness I felt at the "Look Good, Feel Better" workshop I went to on Monday. We were given lots of free make-up (score!) and shown how to apply it (including pencilling in eyebrows if necessary). The lady from Bonnie Wigs demonstrated a number of such lovely wigs it made me want to get one even though I don't need it. I liked the short Racquel Welsh wigs with feathered neckline the best. Perhaps every woman should have a wig that represents her 'alter ego'?

I still feel guilty that I am not getting around to doing enough exercise, not juicing enough, not meditating and not sorting out the stuff in the house (spring cleaning). But I guess these things will come. They will have to, really, as I NEED to learn to balance work and my own health needs. Looks like I am on the way to lymphodema in my right upper arm if I don't start attending to it soon. Mum sent me a newspaper article explaining how a good yoga session is equivalent to going jogging. I have just found that right now I can't be bothered to get up and go to exercises, and if I teach all day I tend to forget to look after myself (drink lots of water, eat a healthy lunch, and take my vitamins). We should all be encouraged to have these moments in our day where we can recharge and re-focus ourselves, but I'm afraid I've chosen a profession that doesn't really allow for that. On a relief teaching day, in a 'lunchbreak' on usually on yard duty sipping on old cold recess coffee and making sure kids don't hurt each other! At least I do get days off here and there where I can make sure I will recuperate, and have chiropractic or a massage. How is YOUR balance of work, relaxation and family panning out?

Thank you, again, for those who are praying for me or sending positive thoughts. I pray that you will be blessed for your kindness, for which I am truly grateful ....... thank you   x x  
Laura Tew | Create your badge