cancer

I can have cancer and still be joyful

Happy new year to you all! 2014 was full of joy and also full of unexpected journeys. It’s brought me to write my thoughts about happiness. Don’t feel that I am lecturing you… I’m just sharing my thoughts for the new year.

People seem obsessed with finding happiness. If only I had… if I wasn’t with… if that person would leave me alone… if I had a different job… then I would be happy. I don’t chase happiness.

Happiness is always momentary. I am happy when I’m eating my favourite meal. Beginning a friendship or relationship with someone new can bring happiness. Seeing a pretty butterfly or flower will do the same trick. The problem with happiness is that it’s transitory. Joy, however, is deep within your soul. You can be full of joy and yet still grieve or feel sad whereas you can’t share these feelings with happiness.

By chasing happiness we are always looking for a 5 minute ‘fix’. Ultimately in the end we will return to our original feeling… unsatisfied.

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The choices we make in order to find happiness often alter our long term happy feelings. Examples:

1. I’ve been ‘happily’ married to the MOTH for almost 35 years. This is not because we are perfect or even ‘right’ for each other. It’s because we are committed to making our marriage work. We are not compatible nor do we share the same interests or even the same values (originally). We are not always happy with each other. As well as that:

  • I detest sport- He loves it
  • I am impulsive- he is cautious
  • I love possibilities- he loves to know what’s happening or going to happen
  • My mother was a lay preacher- his father was a tough prison officer (our family values are different)

I could go on and on but I don’t want to air our dirty laundry here ha ha. The bottom line is, we could easily say tough times have destroyed us but instead they have strengthened us. If we decided we weren’t happy everytime we had tough experiences we wouldn’t be here today. Seeking happiness and ‘getting rid of negatives’ isn’t a long term answer.

Happiness amongst the rubble

Happiness amongst the rubble- Blake and Shannon

2. We restored 2 very old houses while rearing 3 young children. When I say ‘we’, I mean ‘we’!! We lived in 100% shambles for the entire time we lived in them, up until the time we put them on the market. After we sold each of them we purchased houses significantly cheaper than the one we sold. So we left our ‘beautifully restored house and went to another ‘renovators delight’ and began again. We paid our house loan off by the time I was 30 years old and have never borrowed ANY money since. The fact that we are financially comfortable is not because we are ‘lucky’. It’s because we have battled for it. Our happiness hasn’t come from having more, it’s come from doing without. Living in houses which are in a constant state of renovation is tricky. We had 3 children sleeping in the loungeroom for 5 years, for example. Not to mention the ‘no bathroom for 6 months etc. Up until recently we drove old bomb cars. Remember the MOTH’s beloved Camry? In fact, we only had one car for the first 10 years of marriage.

Even now, we may be seen to be jetsetting around the place having a wonderful time, but we make the following allowances:

  • No private health insurance (hospital)
  • No pay TV
  • No excessive use of heating and cooling
  • I dye my own hair (when I have it!!!)

These choices altered our long term happiness and also gave us many adventures and happy memories.

3. The most famous question of all. How do you find time for art? Answer: I make it. I worked fulltime, went to gym at 6.30am on my way to work, reared my 3 lovely children and studied for 8 qualifications for 20 years and still found time for creativity. How? I don’t watch television and I don’t iron. These are my priorities. They probably won’t be yours but don’t spend your life saying ‘I don’t have time for…’ or ‘If I had time I would be happy’. You will find time for anything if it’s what you really want.

I won’t bore you with the long list because I know you get the point and I don’t want it to seem I am making a judgement on others. That’s not my intent.

So what is the point of all of this prattle?

It’s now 1 year since I found that dreaded golf ball sized breast lump. If I was just chasing happiness in 2014 and it was based on being healthy and getting healed I would now be a very unhappy person. Do you know what? I’ve never felt so full of joy. Life is never the same after you have cancer.  You find happiness rising from things you never did before. You overlook the faults of others. You see life through different lenses. 2 of my friends have taken up motorbike riding after having breast cancer. Woo hoo!

It’s true, I’ve been blessed in many ways but I’ve also battled through a lot of tough stuff in 2014. To be happy it would have been easier for me to stop running 15kms per week and give up. I could have sat on the couch and gone to bed very easily. What was I trying to prove? Well I was trying to prove that by sticking with something you reap the benefits. It didn’t make me happy exercising while I was sick but it certainly improved my health and mental state. My doctor called me ‘superwoman’ many times.  After 9 months of chemo I was feeling pretty OK! So I don’t seek happiness. I have joy and that is what keeps me afloat. The happiness comes from appreciating what I’ve already got and by persistence in building good foundations.

That’s my little rant over for today so that should make you all happy LOL.

Medical hoo ha

I’ve finished 3 of my 33 radiotherapy treatments. It’s a little solitary, compared to chemotherapy. Even the radiologist runs out the room to get out of the radiation. It takes 30 minutes for the treatment (not including the time it takes to get changed into a magnificent gown and back again) and car parking is easy so I drive myself. Because of my tissue expander it is a little more complex and I end up with beautiful drawings all over my chest with a marker pen. They match the tattoos very nicely. I’m sure it is going to be a piece of cake compared to chemo and surgery.

Soon I will be able to microwave my own food. I’ll just pop it in my mouth and ‘voila’! Anyone for reheated lasagne?

Strange Christmas gifts for me

All I want for Christmas is 3 tattoos and a breast inflation. Apparently that’s what I’m getting.

Yesterday I had an appointment with my new Radiotherapy specialist at Ringwood Private. He was more rapid firing than my Dr at Maroondah but seemed very thorough and in a rush to commence the program. I begin radiotherapy on the 29th of December. I was hoping to have a break and begin late January but at least I will get through the treatment sooner this way and spend some time recovering before we go to Europe in May.

On Christmas Eve I have my last ‘breast inflation’ appointment at Maroondah where Dr Grim (not his real name) will advance on me with the largest syringe on the Earth and inject 75ml into the tissue expander. That will be my last one yay! Later in the day I go to Ringwood Private to have 3 tattoos and a CT scan to prepare for the radiotherapy. I hope the tattoos are something cute. I rather fancy an owl or something. So Christmas Eve will be spent in hospitals and not preparing for Christmas day at my place!! Oops. At least I’ll have tattoos.

While they are there I could get this tattoo on the back of my head. You like? My hair is still falling out so I’m not expecting long locks for Christmas at this stage.

The doctor decided that I need 33 treatments rather than the original 25 as I have had a big gap between surgery and radiotherapy and I am high risk of the cancer spreading to the chest cavity. So that’s every day except weekends for 6 weeks or so. Ho hum. What’s a few more weeks in the scheme of things?

Oncology nurses are angels

I can’t thank the staff in the breast clinic and the oncology nurses at Maroondah enough. Having chemotherapy is frightening for many people but they made something which can be fraught with fear and anxiety, a supportive and caring place to be. They are always concerned and kind but they are also fun and friendly. They go over and above their call of duty and run their little legs off all day supporting people who can be at many stages of grief or anxiety.

I’ve heard many cancer patients find it difficult to move from this supportive environment to ‘being alone’ and I can understand why.  Having had chemo for 8-9 months now they have become a part of the family. The staff walking the journey at your side is really important and stepping away from that can be a little daunting for the patient and their partner.

To top it off, the MOTH has teased the daylights out of them for the past 8 months. Perhaps he will finance their self esteem building sessions.

Feeling unravelled

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Please don’t ask me what goes on in my brain. Col says my brain scares him. This week I did a series of 4 greyhounds who are looking rather ‘unravelled’. I sold 3 of them before they were finished. I can identify with them in that I am tired, I have various aches and pains but I’m still running towards the finish line. I am not skinny though!!! Stupid breast cancer chemo all has ‘weight gain’ as a side effect. Not to mention all the eating I’ve been doing but let’s blame the chemo.

Actually I think I am less tired but with all the Christmas celebrations I don’t feel it. This morning I actually did some RUNNING on the athletics track. It wasn’t much but enough to start getting my fitness back. Hopefully I’ll be able to get out of bed tomorrow without the resulting sore muscles.

I’ve been asked many times where people can see my artwork. At the risk of seeming self promotional…

Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/jennywoodart

Website http://jennywoodart.com/

Ah Magoo you’ve done it again

Week two after chemo I’m usually starting to feel pretty good but this week I’m full of side effects. They aren’t new… Just lasting longer. Some say ‘it’s about time’ but I say BOO HISS.

  1. I have chemo brain galore and have messed up 2 events this week… one being a very important medical appointment. I was so cross with myself for missing it and now I have to wait 3 weeks for another appointment and that will be at Peter Mac.
  2. My muscles have gone into meltdown. They even go to jelly climbing the front steps at home.
  3. I want to go to sleep all day long. I have restricted myself to 2 hours in the afternoon.
  4. My vision has gone weird. I can’t see long or short distance very well and given that I usually have perfect long vision this feels pretty strange. I hope my artwork is as good as it looks through my eyes or I will be very embarrassed. I’ve turned into Mr Magoo.
  5. I’m seeing eye floaties. They are little black puffs of smoke that look so clear and real that I keep trying to catch them. My friends at the dinner table the other night were giving me strange looks. You would think they would be used to my oddness wouldn’t you? I thought it was a cobweb coming from the ceiling. Someone’s going to put me in a straight jacket.
  6. The muscle around my left eye twitches constantly.
  7. I still have a very strong metallic taste in my mouth and food isn’t as good as it looks or smells. Usually this goes by week 2.
  8. I feel cold constantly. That could be handy when the Summer arrives.

I went and did my Les Mills Body Balance class today for the first time in 2.5 months and made it through the hour session but it was disappointing. Tomorrow is my running day with my friends so let’s see how fast I can hobble!

Hopefully week 3 will give me a break from side effects. Then, on Dec the 9th,  I have MY LAST CHEMO. Providing I remember to go. Yippee.

Sharing my story

Screenshot 29:10:2014 7:01 pmWe are off to Bargara in QLD on Saturday. After having my 17th chemo treatment this week it could be precarious but I so love a challenge. Drugs and a vomit bag if I have to… but I’m going. So far the side effects have been pretty good but it’s always day 3 onwards that I struggle. Bring on the drugs.

I managed to find a doctor who said I could go in the pool as long as I kept my face out of it. He is my best friend and I didn’t have to pay him too much.

I’ll return to Melbourne in time for my next dose of chemo all lively and refreshed.

ALSO the MOTH has un characteristically agreed to booking flights for our Europe trip next year. There are some doctors under the belief I’m having another 6 months of chemo and some say 4 months. I’m going with 4. Then I should finish radiotherapy in March which will give me time to recover before we fly out in May. So it’s pretty risky given that I won’t get insured for travel with a pre-existing illness… but I’m going. Here is our vague itinerary which we will manage ourselves because we hate tours:

We are meeting up with lots of friends all over Europe…

1. Malta with Rosie (1 week)

2. Sicily (5 days)

3. Amalfi Coast Italy (5 days)

4. Rome (a couple of days… beautiful)

5. Cinque Terre with Tony and Lorraine (1 week)

6. Tuscany with 10 other friends (1 week)

Croatia self guided walking tour with Rosie (1.5 weeks)

Greek Islands (2 weeks)

We fly back  in late July.How does that sound? Sigh.

Sharing my story

It’s so exciting for me to be sharing my story with others. It gives my journey and struggles more purpose and a reason. Apparently it inspires others as well. This week I have had 2 people approach me who have been reading my blog for some time and have either been diagnosed for the first time or have had a reoccurrence of previous breast cancer. Both of them have expressed that they are coping better from reading my blog. While I don’t take the credit for that and my heart goes out to them, if this crappy year has helped even one person I’m very glad. Just remember that everybody is different and not too be hard on yourself if you’re not managing.

Last week I had the awesome experience of sharing my story with the entire Luther College school in Croydon where I have been Artist in Residence (without residing there) for the past few months.  It was lovely to be supported by my dear friend Lorraine who sat up the back and quietly cheered and laughed at my jokes. I told some funny stories and hoped to get a laugh but it was hard work with that age group. My favourite one was when my daughter glued false eye lashes to my wig. There was a murmur of laughter which was nice in a place where youth are uncertain whether to laugh or not.

I have had many students and teachers give feedback which was positive and I hope that they understood my message: ‘life throws you curlies but you have to learn to re-direct yourself and look for the gold’.

Medical hoo ha

Today I went to see the plastic surgeon, which wasn’t terribly pleasant given that I had chemo yesterday and wasn’t feeling the best. He added more saline to the tissue expander and told me that ‘somehow’ it has been dislodged. Oops. Could that have been my over enthusiastic return to Les Mills Body balance at gym last week? No matter. As long as it doesn’t drop down to my waist or something all will be well ha ha. Before you start picturing it in your mind it doesn’t actually look any different. OK?

My hair has just started falling out for the 3rd time now. The poor fuzz… just when it starts to assert itself it’s gone again. Sophie lopped it off so I wouldn’t have to take the shaver to the beach with me. Now I just need a hat.

Think of me at the beach for the next 2 weeks and I’ll think of you all here at work;)

My thoughts on ‘being positive’

I hesitate to write this post because I understand how difficult it is for people to find words for others who are suffering. There are websites with advice on ‘what to say to cancer victims’, with bullet points on what to say and what not to say. This makes any sentiments seem contrived in my opinion. I just appreciate any support and I am not that sensitive to be offended by words, although I have had some ‘interesting’ things said to me!

me

My new ‘hair’ *wink*

I’ve been so touched by kindness, especially from those who find it difficult to express themselves. Several men in my life, have emailed me with messages saying ‘I’m not good with words in these situations but I want you to know that I care and I’m following your blog”. Knowing that they find it difficult and yet still reach out and express it is so brave. Many others have found it so difficult they haven’t contacted me at all. In saying all of that, why would I now criticise people for making the effort?

‘Be positive’ is a common thing to say to people and of course it is well intended. If a person going through bad stuff is positive it makes others feel less awkward and it helps people to see their way through tough times. We all know about ‘the power of positive thinking’ but positive people still die and bad things still happen to them. It’s not in our own hands to be as positive as possible in order to have a life with no downsides.

Is it a healthy thing for people to say ‘be positive’ to those who are experiencing deep grief, depression or health issues? Robin Williams comes to mind as an example. From a child he recognised that being funny and upbeat won people over. It made people feel good. The response when you say ‘I feel ghastly and I don’t want to live’ is very different to the response when he covered it up and behaved in a way he wasn’t feeling. Can people just ‘be positive’ like that? Can you just flick a switch like that? I don’t actually know the answer.

We all have a ‘default setting’ and mine just happens to be ‘positive’. It’s just the way I was made. I take no credit for it. I don’t try hard or make an effort to change my thoughts. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a black pit. I embrace change and pioneer change myself. I love an adventure. If I was depressed and someone said to be positive would that work?

Anyone who knows me well knows that I defuse negative things in my life with humour (usually black) but I will also plunge into very confronting reality and express my frustrations and issues if that’s where I’m at. I don’t cover how I’m feeling intentionally by making myself feel something I don’t. Joy and peace is more desirable to me than happiness and positivity. I don’t chase happiness. I just feel happy because I am.

The MOTH (Man Of The House) has a different ‘default setting’ to me. We speak an entirely different language and yet we complement each other and have grown to be more like each other over the years. Here is an example of a conversation this week…

Me: Our garden is looking amazing considering you hacked it back to bare roots only 4 weeks ago. Have you seen all the flowers coming?

MOTH: No I can’t say I have

ME: Really?

MOTH: I have noticed all the weeds that are growing through the mulch. I’ve had to pull them out all week.

Me (incredulously): You noticed the weeds but not the flowers?

That makes me sound like an airy fairy hippy and him like a realist… but you get my drift don’t you? That is his default setting. He is aware of it and he tries very hard to ‘be positive’ but his real joy and happiness doesn’t come from ‘trying hard to be positive’.

Colin’s family of origin is entirely different to mine. Although his was comparatively lacking in drama such as my own, his father was a prison officer for 40 years. Surely you can imagine his childhood without me going to great lengths to describe it.  They both loved him but their parenting style was more traditional (for our generation) than mine.

mum and dad

Mum with our knight in shining armour

On the other hand, I didn’t have an ideal childhood by any means. Life has been tough in so many ways. I lost my Dad when he was 23 years old and my Mum when she was 54. My father was a teacher in the middle of nowhere, Pyramid Hill. My mother married him when she was 19, had me at 20 and was widowed at 21. This left her homeless, penniless and in deep grief. We moved around from family home to family home until our knight in shining armour (Dad) saved us and married my mother. Mum told me this story as a small child as though it was a fairy tale. One day she told me I was the child in the story and I thought it was wonderful. That is an example of her approach of creative parenting.

They then had another 3 children in as many years… 4 daughters in 5.5 years. My new Dad was and is such a wonderful man and has always treated me as his own. I loved and still love him very dearly.

I promise I grew out of my witchcraft costume.

I promise I grew out of my witchcraft costume.

My parents weren’t perfect by any means but we were not hit or smacked as children and mostly had to ‘discuss’ our actions and figure out how to be better people when we had acted inappropriately. I would have chosen a smack any day. Being responsible for your actions is really tough. I used to stand there thinking ‘just smack me and get it over with’.

Because of this, I grew up with the ability to articulate my feelings and answer for my behaviour. I had deep love and respect for my parents through thick and thin. It hurt me more if they said they were disappointed in me than if they had hit me. There were no cop outs or easy solutions. My recollections of my childhood are all good. I don’t have any/many bad memories and no bitterness. I inherited my mothers ‘Pollyanna’ approach to life. Admittedly, this often annoys my children and The MOTH as it did me with my own mother.  Seeing things from the other persons point of view isn’t always what you want to do when you feel angry or hurt!

Mum was my best and closest friend as well as a role model in my life. She was a beautiful Christian woman with a heart of gold, a funny and mischievous nature, a mountain of wisdom and a whole pile of flaws as well. I could carry on with the list of injustices life has thrown me, just like anyone can. I have known deep suffering. I have needed to grieve like anyone else and struggled at times to see the flowers in the garden.

So does ‘being positive’ make me a hero? No. I am just being who I am. I am a result of my own upbringing and watching how my parents approached bad things happening in their life. They disciplined me with love and Mum role modelled to me her way of dealing with stuff. She talked about things a lot with a smattering of black humour. Well… more than a smattering.  We often got the giggles at the most inappropriate times. Of course I recognise that this trait for seeing the silver lining could also be an inherited personality.

My joy comes from my ‘positive default self’ but also from my faith which gives me the peace and self worth that I need to battle on with things. I have a crystal clear purpose for my life and know that whatever happens to me I will be ok. I believe I have had more positives from this illness than badness. That’s a pretty huge statement to make isn’t it?

Screenshot 17:10:2014 9:37 amThat’s why chemo, chemo and more chemo… with a little surgery and radio therapy thrown in aren’t going to knock me flat. It’s got nothing to do with trying to be positive. I worry for others who have cancer and a tendency for depression. Putting on that smile to make others happy can be very tough.

In saying all of that, I DO appreciate your sentiments very much and I would hate it if you felt too afraid to speak now. Say what you like. It’s better than saying nothing. I won’t judge anyone who says ‘be positive’. I know it’s just a way of expressing feelings and besides, I already do feel positive… except when I feel like chucking up after chemo!

Feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you think. I’m no psychiatrist!

The Wood Hood eating plan

When The Moth and I got married, my mother was 39 years old. Yes 39. When I had Shannon she was 43 and by the time she got cancer and died at 54 she had 9 grandchildren (another 2 arrived later). I’m about to turn 54 so I have one question…. Where are my grandchildren????? I have a cupboard full of toys and a heart full of love just waiting for them. I can’t see any sign.

Mum with Shannon in 1984

Mum with Shannon in 1984

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not planning to go and meet my maker for another 30+ years but I’m feeling totally ripped off all the same. I used to talk about booties and teddy bears to my daughter in law but she took a firm hold of me one day and put me straight. You know how wicked I am. Do you think I should play the ‘but I’ve got cancer’ card? I know it didn’t work for the red Ferrari but maybe…

In the meantime, there is always my dog Marley who has his endearing side but I’ve yet to find it.

By the way… please hide this from Hannah and Shannon they will kill me!

Chemo news

I began my 3rd chemo drug combo last Wednesday which consists of Carboplatin and Taxotere. That’s 6 different chemo drugs now. 9 months of chemo in total (once I finish). It just goes to prove that I’m a tough old boot. Apparently my full treatment including radiotherapy will finish next April. Given I found the lump last January that’s 15 months I’ll never get back! Breast reconstruction will be next October but I’m not counting that because it isn’t officially ‘treatment’ for cancer.

10151282_861050327252093_4097626118249710676_nMy sister arrived late in the morning chatted to me during chemo which was nice for both me and for The Moth who went and did the grocery shopping instead. I’m sure the novelty has gone off sitting in Maroondah long ago! I was there for 6.5 hours so Margie made time go fast and I managed to draw my Christmas card with the cannula in my hand. Not with the precision I like but that ‘naive’ look can be cute:)

Prior to chemo, I had another 100ml in my breast tissue expander.  I have to say… that was REALLY painful. I’m not sure about having chemo and the expansion on the same day was a good thing. Between the nausea, stomach burn, insomnia from the cortisone and the pain from the expander I’ve had a restless time. Miraculously, I did manage to do some kind of ‘hobble/run/walk’ around the athletics track yesterday. I ate part of my breakfast too which was also a miracle.

I have to confess, I took the 4 prescribed Dexamethasone the day before chemo (and had a horrendous night sleep as a result) and again in the morning before, but I didn’t take it for the next 3 days as I should have. I don’t know what’s worse, the chemo side effects or the Dex side effects. Perhaps I’ll take it next time and see for myself. I’m creating my own world now that I am so ‘experienced’ ha ha.

Having chemo in Spring is so much nicer than it was in Winter. I can go and potter outside in the sunshine and tend to my little vege garden. I’ve always hated the cold but being unwell at the same time just added to the gloom. Hooray for the sunshine.

Screenshot 12:10:2014 11:36 am3 more chemo boosts to go (3 weekly). How many countdowns have I done now? I seem to spend my life counting down to things. My hair is about to fall out again for the 3rd time and that’s something I don’t like counting. Every time it starts to grow and I get EYELASHES, they are hit by another chemo boost. MOSTLY I’m counting down to having 2 weeks in QLD in November. We haven’t had a lot of success with holidays lately so I’m praying for this one to go forward without any hiccups! I have chemo 4 days prior to flying out so that will be ‘interesting’.

Before we go to QLD I have to finish illustrating a children’s book for a publisher and complete my Artist in Residence program at Luther College.  Phew. I thought being an artist was all about dancing amongst the daisies.

The menu at The Wood Hood

My appetite after having chemo is quite odd. Something akin to being pregnant but much worse. Even when I feel hungry, I don’t feel like anything in the cupboard. So here is the list of vaguely appealing food. You will notice that they are all CARBS and have no nutrition. So much for the healthy eating plan.

1. Fried rice from the Chinese shop 15 minutes away

2. Mixed Berry muffin from Muffin Break (with cream cheese)… also 15 minutes away

3. Macaroni with grated cheese and tomato sauce on top (an old family favourite)

4. Toast… but only as a last resort

5. Costco prawn dumplings (but I’m getting tired of them)

6. Apples from Costco. WOW vitamins.

Most of the time nothing other than these items will tempt me. Hopefully tomorrow I will pick up and then I’ll have 2 weeks of dumpling and carb free eating!

Love you lots!

Thanks to you all for your continued prayers. I know it’s been a long and boring rant but I really appreciate your cares and concerns. I feel bad that I haven’t individually thanked people for cards and kind messages but please know it gives me a great boost to have you cheering along side me.

Quick update of an exciting nature

The oncology appointment this morning resulted in clear results for cancer. Another huge relief! Now to kill off all the little suckers which are smaller than pea size and don’t show up on the tests. .. if in fact there are any! Chemo should knock them off and the 25 bouts of radiotherapy will knock off the localised areas from 20% risk to 5% risk of spread.

Hooray! I can have chemo tomorrow (!). Thanks to all the prayer warriors out there xx

Given that October is breast cancer awareness month, here’s my quirky new tshirt design…

http://www.redbubble.com/people/dishmoptop/works/12747063-breast-cancer-awareness

My breast cancer awareness design for breast cancer month.

My breast cancer awareness design for breast cancer month.