It's the same vent. I guess they're standard ones.
The radiographer explains what she's going to do. She asks Jon to hold my hand because it's going to be painful. She explains that there's no way to avoid the pain. A local anesthetic won't help the feeling of the radio active fluid travelling through my system. She inserts the needle but it falls out and she calls to her colleague, "I need another needle, the dye has just run down her boob". I guess the term 'boob' is a widely accepted term even in the medical profession, and Erin just needs to move on. She gets the second needle in and I wait. I wait for the sting and I'm ready to squeeze Jon's hand. But there's nothing. She says some people react differently than others. Jon says "oh well, at least you held my hand for a bit".
We turned up an hour late. The information that was given last night said that had to present at 9:30am. It was wrong. It was meant to be 8. I usually hate being late, but it doesn't bother me today. It meant we got to sit in the waiting room with a couple who talked about their grandkids and getting away to Batemans Bay in their van. I really hoped that they didn't ask what we were in for. I didn't want to upset them.
The radiographer starts the scans. I ask Jon "when is high tide", "3:07" he replies. And I start swimming. My mind can swim. I can breathe evenly like when I'm in the water. I can picture the bubbles and the stingrays. It's Thursday and exactly the time when I would usually be in the river with my friends. It's low tide now so we've walked across the sand bank rather than being able to swim across it. I dive under and relax into my stroke. I completely forget that I'm having a scan at all.
It's time to say goodbye to Jon. I'm so glad this situation isn't reversed. It would be much harder. I'm taken to the pre op room where I'm prepared for surgery. There's a clock on the wall that I'm looking directly at. I can subdue the panic by concentrating on the red second hand and breathing every 5 until I get to the red top. (My squad swimmers know about the red top. Sometimes I let them rest til the white 30 🤔). I'm asked to walk in to the busy theatre. I lie down and the anethesist, who's name is Liam and looks like a tradie, says "I'm just going to pop this in your arm to help you relax". Relax indeed. The circular lighting goes fuzzy and I'm out for the count.
The nausea builds when I wake and it takes me five hours to be able to keep my eyes open enough to hop into a wheel chair and get to Jon. I cry when I see him and I say "I don't feel well and my booby hurts". I don't need to be brave anymore now that I'm with him.
I'm dreading the pass. All day I've had comments about how I'd travelled all the way from Robertson and will I be staying the night? The Macquarie pass lies between me and our home and as carefully as Jon drives, the experience is horrendous. I've been up and down that mountain all my life and I've never felt like this. I manage to do a nice comfortably smooth spew with no chuncky bits in our back yard, it improves my well being immediately. I'm hurting but the nausea is gone. It's bearable. It's probably classed as discomfort rather than pain.
* * *
If you have used your time to read this, you have just helped me with large doses of pain relief. Describing my day has taken my mind of the uneasiness and away from the discomfort. I'm really very grateful that you would help me out in this way. Thank you 😊.
20th January 2021
"Mum, I don't want to sound rude, but you're much better at listening now than you ever were before".
I guess that's something. It's a big thing. And I hope it doesn't fade over time.
Today feels like the end of my life as I know it. Although, I don't pack up my desk like I'm going on extended leave this time. I leave it as if I'll be back in a week. Maybe I will be. I don't know. I don't know what post surgery recovery will be like. I don't know if I'll have to have another operation. I don't know when the chemo starts. I don't know how long treatment will be for.
"Mum, I don't want you to be sick on my birthday because I don't know how that will work".
I don't have space to be nervous about tomorrow. Tonight I'm the mum. Tonight I'm the one doing the reassuring as truthfully as I can. I can be the brave one tonight because I didn't have to think about dinner. I don't have to hold myself up because I have a profuse amount of messages from friends telling me of their support. I know that I could ask any one of them for help when I need it at any time.
I gently try to slide out of Erin's bed, hoping that she's finally fallen asleep. She hasn't. We go back to breathing exercises to try and settle her bouts of panic.
Finally I'm in the shower scrubbing myself with the pre operative wash and a brand new sponge that I've been kindly gifted today. My breast hurts to touch and the tenderness extends down my under arm. It's been thirty one days since I sat down and felt a lump. Twenty two days since I had an ultrasound and biopsy and fifteen days since I was told that I had breast cancer. I'm relieved that those days have all passed. I'm glad that I'm this far in, and I'm not starting from the beginning.
My engagement ring sparkles under the running water and I remember that I have to take my jewelry off for surgery. I dry myself off and stand in front of my wardrobe. What do I wear tomorrow? I've now got enough life experience to know that a gynecologist never even sees that you've worn your best undies, and you don't wear a dress for a mammogram. Tomorrow I'll just need to be comfy and have a button up shirt.
I'm sleepy. I managed to fill up my afternoon by cleaning my friends car that I've borrowed for the past two weeks. It gave me something to concentrate on. Something that I could see what I'd accomplished when I'd finished. I hope that the majority of the fine sand that I vacuumed up was from her kids feet rather than mine.
I'm tired. I'm not worried. I'm confident of a peaceful sleep.
Erin didn't last in her own bed. Jon tucked her into a sleeping bag on a camping mat next to our bed on the floor. She says "it's not fair. I didn't even get to tell my friends that you have cancer. They already know, and they don't say the right things".
Before she falls asleep, while I'm sqeezing her hand, I explain to her that it's very tricky for our friends to say the right thing. They care about us very much but they don't know if we feel like crying or laughing. They don't know if we feel like playing or sitting quietly. They really really want to say the right thing but the right thing for us keeps changing so it's very hard.
I think back to when I was on the other side of something like this (actually something much worse than this). I managed to say the wrong thing most of the time, but I can still clearly remember my worst offence. Zoe, at twenty two, had just lost her husband after two months of marriage, in a motorbike accident. She messaged me one night, only days later, to come and remove a huntsman spider from her ceiling. After a lot of laughter and girly squealing as it moved it's big hairy legs, we had it inside a jar. We took it outside. She said "how are we going to get rid of it" and I replied "we could put it on the road in front of oncoming traffic". I immediately was grateful that it was dark. I squeezed my eyes shut and I felt my cheeks burn in regret. Her husband had just been killed by oncoming traffic and without thinking, I had jokingly suggested the same death for the spider. Embarrassment washed over me and I hoped that she didn't realise what I'd just said.
Recently I asked her if she remembered what I said that night. She remembers the laughing and she remembers my determination to help get rid of the spider. She doesn't have any memory of my thoughtless comment.
When this is over, none of us will remember the conversation slip ups. We'll remember your presence and your willingness to help. We might even look back with laughter about something that you accidentally said. Or the text where you wished me 'bog love'. There is no right thing to say and words are rarely the important bit.
19th January 2021
I sit down and do exactly as I'm asked. It starts to get dark as I drift away. I can only see tiny little lights in rows above my head. And then my stomach drops as I fall into complete darkness.
*My general anesthetic isn't for two more days. Right now I'm on the Taipan at Jamberoo Action Park.
I reach over and hold Arkie's hand just in case she still looks as terrified as when she sat down next to me in the rubber tube. I don't know what her facial expression is now as we whizz down the big dark pipe. She's not making a noise but the rest of us are. We're laughing and squealing as we swish from side to side and get splashed in our faces. Arkie is brave, and by the end of the day she's confidently sliding down the same ride over and over without a care. I need to be like Arkie and just deal with one terrifying moment at a time.
The unknown is terrifying. Once Arkie knew what to expect, she could manage. She could cope with the darkness. She knew that there would be twists and turns that threw her body from one side to the other. She knew that if she just held on tight, it would be over and she would pop out of the tunnel. I hope I'm as brave as Arkie.
18th January 2021 I'm feeling all capable and motherly, because for the first time in days I'm preparing food for our kids (not because I haven't been able to, but because everyone else has been doing it for me).
*Okay, let's be honest. I haven't had the slightest desire to deal with catering. By 6pm, I want to go to sleep.
One of them doesn't want their egg on their toast, they want it on the side, unlike how I've 'plated it up' (thanks for your influence Masterchef Australia). Another won't even taste the fruit smoothie that I've presented in a tall sparkling clean glass. I'm just like every other mum today. It's ordinary life here. I'm sure every family is dealing with the wrestle of screen time and avoiding the need to go and buy new school shoes. Erin is "air pinching" Liam, and I'm becoming aware that although there is no contact and it causes no pain, it is more annoying than Liam can bear. It escalates into ordinary sibling behavior.
I realise that I've just cracked the egg into the compost bin instead of into the date loaf mix, my culinary skills are ordinary too.
Today is ordinary. And I'm grateful for every second of it.
And I bought school shoes online.
Photo cred: Jim Wilson
17th January 2021
The rocks are uncomfortable under my bare feet as we walk out along the breakwall. They're uneven and set in concrete that has chipped and broken away.
I put my toes on the very edge with my back to the water like I'm some kind of Olympic diver going for glory. I bend my knees to push off, throw my arms up above my head, and arch my back as I dive backwards into the harbour. The water is deep and clear. It softly catches me. I desperately still want to be the fun mum and I feel like I'm running out of days. It'll only be for a time, but I don't know if that time will be long or short. How capable will I be? How patient with our children? Will it be a tiny blip that in time everyone forgets, or will my new identity be "the mum with cancer".
A new friend suggests a race back to the sand. She also suggests that it should be butterfly. I like her already. I agree, because win or loose, I love a competition. We start and I can feel my body move through the water with rhythm and with ease. The timing of my arms and legs comes without a thought. The methodical beat of my dolphin kick propels me forwards through the salty water which is helping my buoyancy.
My boob is hurting. (Erin says that I'm not allowed to say boob. "Breast is what you're meant to call it mum. Or a bazooka").
There are times when I forget about my diagnosis. Remembering again is still a heavy blow. The pain in my breast brings it back to the front of my mind. I ease off my speed and settle into a slower rhythm, breathing every stroke instead of every second one. I slow down not because of the pain but because I'm clearly ahead. If there was still a contest, the pain would've been set to the side while I battled on.
I have a battle ahead, but I like a competition and this one is a team sport. It's me, the doctors and specialists, family and friends, and the town of Robertson verses an 18 millimetre bunch of cells. There is no way they're going to beat us.
16th January 2021
Is that cancer? The dizziness and fatigue. Or is that the normal effect of trying to fill up school holidays with fun, in an attempt to make it have as little impact as possible on our kids. I'm not one to lie down during the afternoon but I have to today. It makes me feel lazy so I get up and try and help with building the retaining wall. I move two rocks and then return to the lounge.
I sit with Callum and cover his school books. The smell of new books and plastic creates anticipation of a fresh school year, but what will I put him through this year. How much will our children suffer.
Earlier, all of us had squeezed into the five seater Lancer. We're usually able to spread out over seven seats so that no one can poke each other. Today I would rather sit in the middle of the back seat than in the front, in the hope of preventing any squabbles. It turns out to be a bonus for me, I get to enjoy the physical closeness of being squashed in between the boys. Erin is invited to sit in the front because one of her siblings had put a cicada shell in her hair and she is still recovering from the experience. Liam puts his head on me and regularly turns his head and kisses my shoulder through my t-shirt all the way home.
We've spent the morning in the bush with friends. Good friends. The ones that you don't see for more than a year but their company is easy and instantly familiar and comfortable. The Australian bush is full of new growth after last year's fires. I can't help but compare my impending experience with the burnt trees. They're a year ahead of me. Their trunks are still showing their scars but their new growth is sprouting from everywhere. It's fresh and green and alive. They're beautiful. Even though you can still see what they've been through, their determination bursts from each new leaf. They are images of hope, and in the end, will have more branches than they did before.
15th January 2021
I close the window of the excel document that I've been working on and immediately forget the next thing that I have to do. This continues to happen all day. I have a reputation for being efficient, sometimes too efficient, but today everything is taking me ages. The last time I was here was before my biopsy results came back. I'd left little post it notes on everything just in case someone else had to step in and do my job. I'm grateful for the prompts and I work through each task. Next is filling out the burials register. The book is more than one hundred years old. It looks that old too, like when you brown the paper with a tea bag for a primary school assignment, and it smells like a museum. After a funeral, I usually fill in the details and pop it back into the church cupboard. It's often with a smile and a beautiful memory of an elderly person from our town who has passed away. A few weeks ago it was Mrs Comp. She was 99 and had continued to serve up morning tea at play group until she was 96 when it got a little too much for her. I'd never thought about my name ever going into the burial register before. The thought had never crossed my mind that one day I'll be listed in a burial register. I pause and wonder if it will be this one. The one I've been filling out for the past five years. The thought doesn't make me sad, it just hits me in the stomach and I loose my breath for a bit. I don't think breast cancer is going to kill me. I don't feel like I'm dying. That's the weirdest thing. Apart from the emotional toll that this is taking, I'm fine. I don't feel sick. I'm not in pain. I'm not dying more than anyone else around me who is ageing. But I'm the one that people are making meals for. The list for ten nights of meals after my surgery date filled up with offers within a few hours. It makes me feel supported and even stronger. I'll be able to focus on recovery and Jon will be able to care for me without having to worry about dinner.
I slide my hand down under my pajama top to make sure that I haven't just imagined the whole thing. It's still there. The lump feels hard and about the size of a pea. It's close to my skin.
Somehow yesterday I got into a counselling session with our butcher. It's actually not an odd situation for anyone who lives in Robbo. Our butcher is wise and knows what's important in life. If you need to talk, you can go and see Darryl. The conversation moved to breasts and their usefulness during child bearing and that once that's done they're just a piece of meat that can be chopped off. Many people have used these terms over the past week but it has never seemed quite as confronting whilst sitting on the lounge with the butcher in the butcher's shop surrounded by chicken breast and pieces of raw lamb and beef. I find the whole situation amusing. I leave knowing that our whole community will help with our family's needs, for as long as it takes.
14th January 2021
I'm thankful for the breeze that is making the tips of my blue and purple hair sweep across my face. (It said on the packet one wash. Its now been five washes and four swims. It's not coming out. I kind of like it anyway and Erin had a lovely time putting it there). It's a muggy summers day so without the breeze, it wouldn't be as pleasant sitting on the Macdonaldtown train station. I've just seen my reflection in the train door as I waited to step off and onto the platform. What I saw was a strong young woman. She looks fit and healthy and happy. Four trains go past every minute here. Callum's enthusiasm rubs off on me. I'm looking forward to seeing the construction at Central and hoping that we get to spot something other than a Waratah. I like Waratahs but they're a very common train. Erin is at a friend's house and I've got some happy pictures of Liam on Dad's boat.
Jon is probably the most relieved of all of us, and I can hear it in his voice when I tell him that the Doctor has just called to let me know that my bone scan is all clear except for some developing arthritis. He had downloaded the scans on Friday. I couldn't bear to look at them myself. He told me that there was nothing to see. For five days he has held it together and not mentioned the dark irregularities that he could see in my elbow, knee and pinky finger. On this side of the news, I can tell him that my elbow is sore from swimming. I hurt my knee skiing in Colorado and I remember a time when I slammed my pinky in the car door. Before the phone call I would've been convinced that the scans were showing that the cancer had gone to my bones and I only had months to live. He knows me well. He knows what I need.
My swim this morning was beautiful. Callum had suggested that the best place to be on a hot day was in an air conditioned Sydney Train. I said that I'd take him, but only if I got a swim in first. He had to agree. He knows it's still a good deal. I went to take off when Wayne yelled out "hey don't cheat". We've made a new rule that you have to swim around the poles even if the tide is coming in strong. I stand back up, choose an angle, and go for it. I grit my teeth. "Come on, come on, come on". But the water is too powerful. I back up so I don't get wrapped around the oyster covered pole. I try to swim between the poles instead. But there's no beating the ocean today. Wayne backs off too. I'm laughing. At least we tried. Peter and Richard are just shaking their heads at us. Brian and Mark are already well and truly up the river. I can't escape the thoughts of my impending bone scan results. My elbow is killing me as I swim. I think about that sentence literally. We've enjoyed some dark humor recently but that one doesn't make me smile. It hurts more as we continue under the train bridge and towards the ramp. I'm glad that it's hurting more when I'm freestyling. I'm taking it as a good sign. That it's something to do with repetitive strain. I'm ready for the doctor's call.
Yesterday I was overwhelmed with my situation. Today I feel like there's not much wrong with me. Just a little lump to remove, and a bit of chemo on the side. I'm happy. I can manage today. I see the B23 Waratah as it goes past on it's way to Leppington via Strathfield and the B9 in the other direction towards the City Circle. The Silver V sets are on the far line and the XPT is due in 25.
13th January 2021
WARNING: This content may distress some readers.
No really, mum, maybe give this one a miss.
I manage to hang up the last of the socks before I kneel down under the clothesline and put my head on the grass. I've got to let it out. The tears start easily and before long there is noisy sobbing and there is snot involved. I allow myself to cry unreservedly until a little voice says "mummy, why are you crying? I don't like it when you cry". I pull her close to my chest and we cuddle until she ends up sitting on my tummy while I lay on the ground. I tell her that "I'm a bit scared and that crying sometimes makes you feel better". We've been working on decorating a cushion together. A project that we can work on, as well as something that I can hold on to when I need to be brave, I needed it today. She eventually says "Mum, go and sort yourself out. You're at least going to have to go and put some sunglasses on".
Without the guilt of thinking that I should be doing something constructive, I set up our hammock and lay there with my head resting on my new cushion, the gentle breeze quietly rocking me until I'm almost asleep.
Some of my team members turn up and do what I need them to do. I'm not doing this by myself. I can be as brave or as terrified as I like today.
12th January 2021
The water is clear and it's new goggles day. Every swimmer loves new goggles day. The day when you break open the packet, peel off the protective stickers and swim with clarity and no fog. Four kilometres later and you're back to smearing them with baby shampoo before each swim, so new goggles day is a day to be enjoyed.
It's a high 1.8m tide. The tiny fish dart away from me when I startle them. The tide is on it's way out, so I can see the weed picking up speed underneath me as I cross the river and the weed heads out towards the ocean. It's hot, and a relief to enter back into the river water after walking along the beach. Under my arm is hurting. It's a bit off putting. I'm not used to feeling any discomfort when I'm swimming. I set it aside and swim solidly alongside Wayne. I can hear the strong beat of my kick and I can see the patterns that the wispy clouds make when I turn my head to breathe. I'm comfortable again. I drop off Wayne's pace and relax until I turn towards the boat ramp and have to change gear and push hard against the tide to make it to the edge.
I'm strong in the water. I'm working on being just as strong out of it.
11th January 2021
My jaw is sore. I realise that I've been clenching it for the last little while. Mostly I'm brave. Right now I'm not. My chest feels tight and I don't feel like I can get enough air. I can't get my breath out before I need to breathe in. I try to slow it down. I don't want this. I can't do it. I want it all to go away. I want my normal future outlook back. "Jon, I can't do it". "Yes you can. Yes you can".
My body clock has somehow changed to wake up at 4am. It's been like this all week now. I don't know which bit is making me tried. The 4am starts. The strength that it takes to be brave or those tiny cancerous cells. More likely it's the extra swimming, the abseiling and staying up late in front of the camp fire.
What is normal anyway.
'Fear is an emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain or harm'. Fear keeps us safe. Fear made me go and get a referral for a mammogram. Fear makes sure I double check the anchors on an abseil. Fear makes me swim back closer to others instead of staying to play in the middle of a bait ball.
Fear gets a bad rap. It's really just trying to be helpful.
10th January 2021
I feel the barnacles scrape the bottom of my foot as I dive off the rocks over the top of an incoming wave. I hope I've timed it right. I swim away from the rocks before the next wave has a chance to push me backwards. I hope I've done it neatly because there are a lot of people watching. Simon steps up and stands on the edge and tells people when to dive. He's suggested a community swim today and far more than the usual group of Werri Point Swimmers have turned up. I'm out further than everyone else, and as I wait, I sense the water go darker underneath me. I'm treading water in a giant bait ball. Each fish is about the length of my arm. I dive down in an attempt to swim amongst them. I'm in awe of the way they move together and wonder if there is just one fish that determines their direction. I wait for more swimmers to enter the water. There is a sense of excitement from the first timers, pride from the locals, and slight concern from the surf rescue team who diligently scan their eyes from one swimmer to the next. I start to swim, and just like the bait ball, we start to swim together. We're not racing. There's no competition. Those who feel confident keep looking around and checking that everyone else around them is okay. We all swim different distances. Each of us making our own 90° turns towards the sand, which in the end, scatters us at different places along the beach. I wander back around to the starting point tempted to have another turn but alone. Instead I watch a group that have swum back to the rocks. I watch them, wanting to learn how they use the ocean to propel themselves back onto the rocks without a scatch. I'm a competent swimmer but these guys know their patch of the east coast.It's not yet 9am. Everyone disperses back to their lives and to their Sunday mornings. Thanks to the Werri Point Swimmers, we all have a memory to draw back on.
9th January 2021
I feel like a fraud.
I have no pain nor any discomfort. The shock of the diagnosis is over, and the tests are complete for now, so what do I do?
My friends are delivering meals to someone who has spent the day at the river kayaking. Tomorrow I'll swim in the Gerringong community swim off the southern end of Werri beach. And I guess I should go to work this week. How long will this good bit last? Is the hard bit already over? Am I going to get sick? Will I loose my hair? Will the surgery results be good?
He said I'd need chemotherapy. He said the cancer was grade 3 and aggressive. So I guess I just take these days and do what I please.
All day I'm caught up in what I'm doing. Most of the time I completely forget that I have cancer. Sometimes I stop to see if the lump is even still there. It is. I can feel it. I can't do anything about it today but give myself and our kids some kind of normal.
8th January 2021
I sat down in one of those big blood test chairs. The man comes over and says "I'm just going to give you a radioactive injection. It's not a dye, so it won't hurt". "Ok". "You'll need to come back in two hours for the scan".
The two hours pass quickly. I'm having the best day spending time with Jon. Until I'm not. He's not even aloud into the building because of covid. I lie down in something like a big sandwich press. He explains this test will go for fifteen minutes. He slides me under the top lid. It's just a few centremetres above my nose. I think of Callum. He gets claustrophobic in the caravan bunk bed. He would hate this. I realise that if I wanted to get up I couldn't. I tell my self over and over that I'm not claustrophobic. It's hard. I also have a mask on because of covid. I get the sensation that I might panic. So I close my eyes and imagine that I'm swimming. I'm swimming. I'm swimming. I'm swimming. I just keep saying it and picturing the river and my friends swimming alongside me. I can picture their strokes and who wears which colour cap. I breath and I keep swimming. When I settle, I open my eyes and see that the top lid of the sandwich press has moved down to my chin. I'm looking at the ceiling. It's the same air conditioning vent. The square one. This one has a dirty old piece of sticky tape flapping around. I can also see the screen and know that I have seven minutes to go. The next test is in a different room. Another square air con vent and another piece of dirty sticky tap. I guess the tape has something to do with the vent rather than being left over from holding up Christmas decorations. This test is the one you see on tv. The one in the round tube. There's a tiny little radioactive sign above my face that I can see when I slide in and out of the big circle. That can't be healthy. There's one more test with a machine that moves from side to side around me while I stay still, and then a few like xrays. The man asks me where I swim. I don't remember telling him that I swim. I must have. I say "in the river at Minnamurra", he says "aren't there sharks in there". I reply a bit bluntly "I've never seen one". He's not sure when I'll get the results from the Doctor, but says there's an app.
I've asked Jon to take me to the beach. The water is so blue. Like tropical island blue. I swim out under the waves and freestyle back and forth parallel to the sand. Everything is normal out here. The waves are strong. Their power is comforting. I like the reassurance that there are things stronger than me.
At home I'm tired. Completely emotionally exhausted and I can't think any further ahead than the next fifteen minutes. But I feel confident. Jon has downloaded the scans and reckons they look alright. I have breast cancer and that's becoming normal. I'm okay.
7th January 2021
Damn*. I forgot sunscreen. I don't want to get cancer. I use Brian's.
The river water is brown. Almost black from all the run off. No one should be putting their head under in this. We wade over to the beach hoping for something clearer to swim in. It looks like less of a sewerage system over there. I dive under a wave and pop up doing butterfly. It makes me feel strong. I settle into freestyle behind the breakers and the swell gently rocks me. It's calming. I'm completely comfortable. I'm swimming. I usually look up about every eight strokes to make sure I'm going in a straight line, but today I have no desire to reach the other end of the beach. I just want to be swimming. I can't tell if I'm moving forward, the beach is too far away and the sand on the bottom is too stirred up to tell. I smile, and when I fall off the back of a wave, I laugh. It's a stretch of beach that has a small reputation for the occasional fin. Not the fins that we saw last week, the pod of about fifty dolphins, the other kind. Today the thought of them doesn't give me any kind of fear. I have a different perspective now. We get closer to the rocks where the weed is swirling around with the sand and I can feel it make sharp scratches under my cozzies. It's a swim through churning whitewash to get back to land. As we walk back down the beach I kick up the water and it seems to fall down in small balls of frothy bubbles in slow motion. Today is odd. It's completely normal yet nothing is normal at all.
*apologies to the Canadians for the poor language. In Australia our swear words are a bit more coarse. And damn (sorry), isn't one of them.
There is a truck stuck on the pass so we have to turn around and go back up the mountain and then go back down through Jamberoo. At the hospital the lifts aren't working so there is nothing to do but wait in the foyer. Someone comes over to the lady in front of us and says she'll have to reschedule her appointment for another day. I turn to Jon "I can't do that, I can't reschedule". I'm not even sure why I'm here. The GP said I'd need bone and abdominal scans but this is an appointment with a surgeon. I found that out by googling his name. I can't do this. My stomach starts churning and the nausea makes me go to the bathroom for the second time in ten minutes. I can't do this. I sit down on the ground in the foyer and start writing about my swim. I can take myself back there. I can feel the gentle movement of the ocean and picture the sand puffing up underneath me while my arms turn over and my legs kick. Forty five minutes later the lifts are fixed. We're sitting in the waiting room. "I don't want to be here". "I know".
The doctor calls us in and starts explaining things. I'm trying my best to concentrate. He thinks my cancer is smaller than two centimetres and he thinks it's localised. He won't know until he operates and then the lump and some lymph gland will go away for testing, but he suggests a lumpectomy is our first step. I suggest a double mastectomy. I tell him "I don't want one boob. I'll have two or none. Only one would be weird and I don't want to go round in circles when I'm swimming cause I'm lop sided". He kindly tells me, although that is an option for me, it's probably a bit extreme at this stage.
My surgey will be on the 21st.
I have grade 3 aggressive cancer. It's the highest grade so he explains that this means as well as surgery, I will need chemotherapy. I ask about the further scans that I thought I had to have. He doesn't think I need them. Jon explains to him that I've had a sore elbow and the GP has told us that it's tennis elbow. "I'll send you for a bone scan tomorrow, just for peace of mind. You're from Robertson, are you farmers? Where would be the closest place for you to go?". I say "Bowral". "Bowral?!". He says it like it's on the other side of the country even though we're only in Wollongong. Coasties don't tend to come up the mountain. If they do it's for an overnight stay. "I'll book you into Shellharbour tomorrow, is that okay?". Shellharbour will be fine. Maybe I can get another swim in. I'm still trying to concentrate but it's too hard. I don't have to anyway. Jon is here.
I feel like I've been told that I'm completely fine. The relief just from having further information has eased the sickening feeling that I had before the appointment. I'm at ease. I'm happy.
Callum is getting a taco making lesson from his Uncle. There's plans for cooking a roast next time "Because Cal. It will impress the ladies". There is laughter and happiness everywhere as we sit down and eat together. I start to sink. I've got cancer. It's grade 3 aggressive cancer. I excuse myself to walk home. It's freezing in Robbo. I'm shivering but glad to be walking. Glad to be moving.
Jon gets the fire roaring. I put my head on his chest and listen to his heart until I get sleepy enough to go to bed. This is going to be hard.
29th December 2020
In the middle of the air conditioning vent is a small square. It's surrounded by six other squares with gaps in between each one. I can see the silver duct through the gaps. The room has two down lights, a smoke alarm and a small water stain. I wonder if this is going to be my life now. Looking at consultation room ceilings. I've just had a mammogram downstairs, the lady's cheerfulness disappeared the longer my examination went on. I'm now here having an ultra sound. The sonographer is trying to be positive but I can tell that he knows what he's looking at will change my life. He goes and gets another sonographer who then asks for a doctor. They keep going outside the room and coming back in so that they can speak without me listening. When they return the doctor says "the lump on your breast is suspicious. We'll need to do a biopsy. I can do it today. It will tell us what kind of oncology you'll need". I try not to shake and I reply with a small "okay". I knew this would be the outcome. Ever since the local bulk billing GP said "I don't think the lump will be anything serious". He's never been right. He told us our son's arm was definitely broken when it wasn't. On another time he told us our son's arm wasn't broken when it was. That was the moment I knew that I had breast cancer. The doctor at the ultrasound was confirming it and now I had a six day wait for biopsy results just to have my thoughts go back and forth. Is it really cancer? Maybe it's just a cyst. Do I think the worst so that when it's confirmed I'm ready to deal with it? or do I tell myself it's nothing so that during these days of waiting I haven't spent my time worrying for no reason. The biopsy room ceiling was slightly bigger but with the same air con vent, same smoke alarm but two big water stains, about the size of a puddle that I could jump in. The doctor was very matter of fact. Providing straightforward information. The assistant was gentler, giving care to the whole person who was lying there. Was it really me lying there? This is not happening to me.
4th January 2021
Erin peers through the caravan curtain and yells out "Mum. What you're doing is illegal". I consider that she's probably correct. We've broken down between Taralga and Oberon and I need a shower. I've heated up a bucket of water, stripped off and am doing just that on the side of the road. There hasn't been a car for at least fifteen minutes, but of course I hear one approach, so I duck down behind my car and shield the occupants from the sight of me.
I give Liam a hair cut, make us some lunch, deflate our inflatables and find five bucks in my pocket. Winning. The NRMA arrives with a tow truck and a hire car as it starts to storm and we make our way cautiously to Lithgow through the pounding rain. We find Callum and his friends at our intended camping spot as the rain clears and I'm served up dinner. My head doesn't have space to think about test results. I need to get us, a broken car and a caravan back to Robertson tomorrow. But I know as I lie there that this will be my last night before I have cancer.
5th January 2021
The NRMA sorts out everything. Another tow truck to Robertson for the car and van and offer me a hire car. But I know that I'm not going to be capable of driving. I know I have to face it and contact the doctor and hear my results. We leave Callum with his friends to catch the much looked forward to XPT later that night. Liam, Erin and I hop on a silver V set train with a purple interior, and plan to go from Lithgow to Central and then Moss Vale. We get to the station and I realise we need masks. They're now mandatory on public transport. They're not hard to find. Erin's anxiety about public transport is mounting so we board the train even though it won't leave for another twenty five minutes. I take a deep breath and call the Doctor. They say that they have my results but are booked out and can't fit me in for another two days. I ask, "Please. Please find someone who can do a phone consult". She agrees. We settle down into our seats when I realise that we're in a quiet carriage. We cannot be in a quiet carriage. As we weave our way past the seats and into the next carriage my phone rings and I answer. The Doctor says that I'll need to come in. "I'm on a train in Lithgow" "Do you have family with you?" I pause. I know she means a supportive adult. I look at Liam and Erin and say "yes, I'm with family". "I don't want to tell you news like this over the phone. I think you should come in". Is she serious right now? I guess this kind of lead up prepares you for the final blow. "I'm ready. Tell me". I know it's coming. I know what she's going to say, but it doesn't prevent the adrenaline from surging through me. "I'm really sorry to have to say this but you have invasive breast carcinoma". I try my best to concentrate on the sentences that follow. Further scans. Bone scans. Abdominal scans. Specialist Appointments. We hang up. "Liam and Erin. I'm really sorry, but I have breast cancer". "Noooo. No mummy. No. Nooo mummy. No. Nooooo". We cry and cuddle together until I can manage to call Jon. "I have breast cancer. Can you pick us up in Glenbrook or something? We don't want to stay on the train til Central then Moss Vale". We decide on Penrith.
I want to let people know. It's a task that has to be done and I want it done now. I have no intention of keeping this a secret. I want the love and support that I know I'll receive. I go to the notes that I've previously written in my phone. There's two. I scroll past the one that says "It's just a cyst" and I copy and paste the other one.
I think mum is in denial. My dad and my brother know it's real. I drive back to Mittagong to pick up Callum. He's filthy after three days with no shower and completely exhausted. I tell him on the way home. He's strong.