Tag Archives: cancer

Dying Diva…Friday Fictioneers: 2nd Feb, 2018.

“They’re not getting these!” Grandma  snapped, clinging to her diamond earrings. “Chopping away at me like I’m some sort of bonsai… Enough is enough!”

Catherine was determined to keep her ear lobes, and she sometimes wondered if that’s all she’d have left after the docs had finished chopping away. The virulent melanoma had spread its poisonous ugliness through almost every vein, artery and cell. There wasn’t much left of her anymore.

Yet, she hadn’t forgotten who she was… Madame Butterfly. She might not be able to walk anymore, but she still had her wings and she knew how to fly.

This has been a contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted b y Rochelle Wishoff Fields. We are required to write a 100 words in response to a photo prompt. This week’s photo is © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.

Have you ever been in a difficult spot where you felt everything was being taken away, but you took a stand. Drew a line in the sand, which you wouldn’t cross? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Back in my 20s, I refused additional brain surgery, largely out of concerns about losing my hair. They’d already hacked hair off the back of my head and this time, they wanted to put a probe in the front and shave more off. I’d had enough. Lucilly, I recovered without the additional surgery and ended up with a full head of hair.

xx Rowena

Wrestling With Adversity.

As much as I appreciate inspirational encouragement, it can also be more than a bit annoying and downright depressing when you’re dealing with a situation which isn’t going to change. When no amount of positive thinking is going to turn back the clock and undo what has happened.

“I can do anything? Hello!!!!! Who are you trying to kid? I know I’m never going to Climb Everest and I’d be lucky to climb up those stairs so don’t give me that !@#$!!”

There are some things that no amount of motivational hype are ever going to change. These take you down a very different path where you’re living or more likely, wrestling, with adversity. You’re neither winning nor losing but the two of you are engaged in an incredibly heated battle. It’s such an intense, close fight where it takes everything you’ve got just to stay put. Nobody has any idea how this battle is going to play out. Who is going to win and who is going to lose. It’s neck and neck.

This is what I call wrestling with adversity. While it is possible to overcome your struggles and setbacks, that’s not to say that it’s easy or a one way journey. It’s more a case of wresting back and forwards with your opponent. However, through this process you not only become a stronger and more strategic fighter, you also come to appreciate who or what you’re fighting for. What is most important to you and how to embrace and hang on to that despite your adverse situation.

So, ironically, that thing which all but kills us, also ultimately I believe, helps us appreciate life more in the longer run. Faced with losing our life, we see things so clearly, almost illuminated, and we know what matters. Maybe, I shouldn’t talk in the plural here and only speak for myself but read books like Tuesdays With Morrie, it soon becomes apparent that I’m not the only one who sees things this way.

So, when it comes to adversity, you end up with something of a double-edged sword. The very same thing which cuts you down and almost destroys you, seemingly slices off the dead wood and helps you live life more fully. I wouldn’t go so far as saying we’re better for our struggles because some losses are just too awful but there’s something powerful in it that we don’t always appreciate or understand.

I have been wrestling with my auto-immune disease again this week. Yet again, I was reminded about just how comprehensively this disease has moved in and taken over my body. Quite frankly, I was angry. Pissed off. Wanted to tell it to take a hike, which, of course, I can’t. I could’ve told it a hell of a lot more too. Instead, I poured that angst into my pen and carved my frustrations into the page. Catharsis…It’s such a wonderful thing. You feel so free once you’ve released all that toxic junk.

I wrote  this poem while I was on the train. It’s quite a long trip to my dentist, who is located in Kirribilli in the shadows on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and an ambitious stone’s throw from the Sydney Opera House.

Right from when I was first diagnosed, I viewed this illness as a possessive stalker. However, in this most recent poem, I pushed the analogy right over the edge describing a forced, violent marriage where there is no escape but then just as suddenly as he appears, he is gone without any explanation and no idea if or when he’s coming back.

You see, like other auto-immune diseases, dermatomyositis has flares and goes into remission and isn’t a constant. Indeed, is anything but. It’s like living on a shifting carpet and nothing is predictable.

This is true of so many medical and other issues we face. Just when we think they’re gone and problem solved, they’re back with a vengeance as if to remind us that no matter how far we run or how well we hide, there is no escape. They will be back.

However, no matter what we are going through and how unique our situation might be, we must remember that we are not alone. That while each of us has our own journey and some of us well and truly take the road not travelled, that there are overarching commonalities which bind us together. Once I realised I wasn’t alone, half of the battle was won…especially once I appreciated that just because bad things happen to us which aren’t going away, that we don’t always have to feel bad. Rather, we can still appreciate the good which survives alongside the bad and that it is just as much a matter of where we focus our gaze as what happens to us. It might be a cliche but it’s not just a matter of what happens to us but also how we respond. For one person a set back is perceived as a challenge but for someone else it’s the end of the world.

This has been a difficult place for me to reach.

I know what it’s like to fall straight down. Land in the mud and keep sinking and how hard it is to swim through that same mud, desperately trying to get back to the surface. I also know what it’s like to stop fighting and feel myself drowning but someone has always helped me get back to the top. That might be by physically bailing me out but most of the time, it was their love which saved me. Mostly, that’s been the love of my family and my friends but I’ve also been very deeply touched by the Love of A Stranger.

Perhaps, you’re still floundering around in that mud not knowing if or when you’re ever going to get out. If so, I’ll throw you a life buoy and encourage you to keep fighting. I have been there. Been cynical. Lived with a disease which stubbornly refused to give in to treatment and things weren’t looking good but 9 years since my diagnosis, I am not only still here, I am making the most of a different sort of life. Not what I’d planned but I love and am loved. While I’ve always had my writing and photography which are fantastic outlets for dealing with adversity, I now have this online blogging world I can access from home and I have become a citizen of the world.

Heart Hands red heart

If you are struggling, know that I hold your heart in my hand and wish you well. Please keep putting one foot in front of the other and even if you only change course by a few degrees, as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will indeed end up somewhere else. You will be in a different place.

I also encourage you to find out more about neuro-plasticity and how even changing what and how you think actually changes the very structure of your brain. This isn’t wishy-washy hype but actual science. Well-respected Canadian Psychiatrist Dr Norman Doidge addresses it in his two books: The Brain Which Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing.

Things may not be the same but please never, ever give up! Keep trying to find your way out.

Love & God Bless,

Rowena

 

 

 

 

 

The Masked Intruder.

You creep…
a foul, odorous gas
permeating
my each and every cell,
even creeping in between
the fibres of my bones.
Splitting my very atoms
to build your sovereign shrine
within each cell…
a nest to lay your poisonous eggs.

Catastrophization turned real,
blasted invader!
You can’t even leave
the smallest little part of me
alone.
Penetrating deep within my DNA,
you lurk beyond the microscope.
No one else can see you
but I know that you’re there.
A Machiavellian villain
purring like a cat
toying with its prey,
you enjoy my pain
and laugh.
You bastard!

What am I supposed
to call you?
How can I figure out
quite who or what you are?
You might have a name.
Be something out of a textbook.
Of course, Google knows
exactly who you are.
Yet, even they can’t explain
why you came.
Or,why you came to me.
After all,
why didn’t you go next door?
Find someone else to be
your magnificent host?
I’m not going to blame
my God of love
for all your hate…
my pain.

Yet,
the earth has turned
round and round
and I still don’t know
why you came.
I didn’t offer you tea,
let alone cake.
Yet, you stayed.
Now, you are I are bound
together as one.
I am the bride.
You are the groom.
A forced union,
I had no say in it.
No say in it at all.
I never vowed a thing.

So,
how can I break through
the chains which bind us?
Bind us together as one.
Until death do us part.
There is no divorce.
No escape.
We are fused.
Melted together.
This is forever.

Or,
So I thought.

Suddenly,
You were gone.

Your ring’s still on my finger
but your hands are no longer
wrapped around my throat,
squeezing out my very last breath
until my face turns blue, corpse-grey
while you somehow kept me alive
but only just.

Dare I ask you why you left?
Or, if you’ll return?
No. There’s no time to stop,
reflect or introspect.
I’ve changed all the locks.
Carpe diem seize the day.
I’ve finally reached
the other side of the rainbow,
basking alone in the sun
where even your shadow is gone.

I live inspite of you
but maybe even
because.

Rowena Newton
3rd February, 2016.

Written on the train to and from a dentist appointment at Kirribilli. I was fuming because it seemed that the dermatomysitis had affected my teeth. Not hugely but was playing silly buggers. Grrr!!! It set off yet another round of cannonfire.

 

David Bowie: Palliative Care Doctor Writes Letter

So much has been said about David Bowie since his recent death, that I didn’t think I had anything to add. While I certainly loved his music and associate Heroes, Ziggy Stardust and Space Oddity with my inimitable years at university, there were people who lived and breathed his music and philosophies far, far more than I. I was more of a by-stander simply listening to his music in the bar.

However, I been intrigued by how people have reacted to David Bowie’s death and how the death of a 69 year old man who has lead an incredible life could be perceived as a tragic loss, when sooner or later we all die. No one is immortal, not even Bowie. That said,  I am starting to wonder about HRH Queen Elizabeth. I’m sure the not so young Prince Charles must be wondering as well.

Anyway, in my usual manner of meandering through Google late at night like a blindfolded goat eternally sipping on that last cup of decaf tea, I stumbled across a tweet by Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son. Duncan didn’t comment directly, but retweeted a link posted by the Marie Curie organisation to a letter from Dr. Mark Taubert, who wrote about how Bowie’s private cancer battle helped him ease the concerns of a dying patient.

A thank you letter to David Bowie from a palliative care doctor. http://bit.ly/1J73U4d  – thanks for sharing @DrMarkTaubert

 

Here’s a link to the letter.

For anyone living with a chronic or terminal illness, this letter raises some pertinent issues and gets you thinking.Then again, life has been described as a terminal disease and these issues are something for everyone to consider.

I didn’t know David Bowie personally or even from the perspective of analyzing and internalising his music and the meaning of his lyrics. I haven’t listened  to his last album either but it does sound like an effort to help people face their own deaths with less fear. He will be with them through to their very end, as well as his own.

Who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to die? Is there eternal life or do we suddenly stop…reach the end? I can’t imagine being nothing. Not existing. Can’t really imagine being a spirit either although I’d rather fancy being an angel so I could park myself back in my old chair at home and watch over the family. I might even be more use as an angel. Who knows?

Well, now Bowie does. He’s “up there floating in his tin can, far above the world”.

We’ve always known that he’s had the answers and I guess that’s why so many of us lament his passing. We still have too many questions without answers and now that the great Ziggy Stardust has gone, who is going to answer them?

Who knows?

As much as people lament Bowie’s passing, it won’t take long for someone to fill his shoes.

Anyway, I’m going to leave the last word to astronaut Chris Hadfield who sang a variation of  Space Oddity on the Mir Space Station:

Something to think about…

xx Rowena

My Greatest Fear: The Proust Questionnaire Continued.

To be perfectly honest, asking me to narrow down my swag of fears to my one, greatest fear was rather challenging.

Indeed, I even had to include myself on the list.

I understand that this might seem the ultimate in paranoia but if you were me, you’d also be afraid.

Make that very, very afraid.

Who hasn't shot themselves in the foot?!!

Who hasn’t shot themselves in the foot?!!

However, before you shoot me down in flames for delusional, low-self-esteemed thinking, who isn’t afraid of themselves…even just a little bit? After all, who hasn’t shot themselves in the foot often enough to know that you can be your own worst enemy?!! Certainly for me, this is no figure of speech or exaggeration but the hard core truth. My feet look like Swiss cheese, covered in bullet holes but I’m still smiling. If you can’t laugh at yourself, that’s when you really need to be afraid.

Anyway, aside from being incredibly afraid of myself, after much peering through the microscope over the last week, I’ve finally identified my greatest fear of all.

A family photo Mother's Day 2007...6 months before my diagnosis.

A family photo Mother’s Day 2007…6 months before my diagnosis.

That is that my children or those close to me will undergo extreme suffering.

As much as I thought death would top my list, in actual fact, it doesn’t. While dying certainly scares me and at times absolutely terrifies the begeebers out of me, extended anguish seems so much worse.  As much as we know life has it’s challenges and these lead to growth, there are what we would all consider extremes which we wouldn’t wish on anybody, especially our nearest and dearest. That doesn’t mean that I support euthanasia but what I’m saying is there are some things worse than death.

Our family at Yoda celebrating my birthday in July, 2014

Our family at Yoda celebrating my birthday in July, 2014

At the same time, I am terribly concerned about dying before my children are independent and that they’ll fall in a screaming heap. This is a very real consideration given my ongoing battles with a severe auto-immune disease and a complication, which causes fibrosis in my lungs. I have been fighting this even since my daughter was born almost ten years ago and there have been some very grim times when the worst seemed imminent.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Some days I even feel like Wonder Woman!

Some days I even feel like Wonder Woman!

However, I’ve now had so many threats and survived, that I am starting to feel strangely invincible.  I really shouldn’t be here and yet I’m still standing and I’m thankful for every year, every special moment we’ve had. My children are now 11 and 9 and are becoming independent. I need them to be independent and able to stand on their own two feet, even though they have their Dad, family and community support and I am determined to make sure they have me too. I have learned how to fight and have become a mighty warrior but we’d be foolish not to be prepared.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

The darker the shadow, the brighter the light.

It has been a terrible thing to live with this threat hanging over our heads all these years, our very own sword of Damocles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damocles

However, it has also meant that we have tried to seize the day and squeeze the juice out each and every moment. Not everybody has this gift. We don’t always succeed and being the frog in the saucepan, is incredibly stressful and frequently the wheels fall off and even putting one foot after the other becomes incredibly difficult both on a physical and psychological level. Yet, somehow we seem to survive the storm and the sun comes out again…along with a rainbow!

So, you would think that living with this ongoing uncertainty and its implications for the family would have killed off all my other fears. I should be walking on water, instead of expecting to sink and I’d no longer be afraid of driving and where to park my car. I should be happy to see my daughter head off riding her bike and gaining confidence and independence instead of worrying about her falling off (she had another stack yesterday and I had to pick up the girl with two grazed knees and the bike in the car.). I should just wave my son off when he starts high school next year, instead of running through my A-Z of worries yet again BUT…

I ‘m still human.

That said, all this thinking about fear has highlighted quite a few patterns of avoidance and I might just make a list and start knocking a few things off.

Have a go!

If you’re game, please share your greatest fear and a link to any posts.

xx Rowena

Old Self…New Year: Beware of the Big Bad Wolf!

If you, like me, decided NOT to make any  resolutions at all on NYE, you could also be in for a rude shock. Just because you objected, that doesn’t mean those resolutions won’t come running after you. Now, that NYE is almost a full week behind us and we’ve almost been lulled into a dream, it’s just the right time for the Big Bad Wolf to come knocking on your door when you least expect it:

“Little pig. Little pig! Let me in”.

That’s right. The Big Bad Wolf will huff, puff and blow your house down. That is, if you refuse to respond and open the door to constructive change.

I have to admit that I’d seen the Big Bad Wolf out on the horizon but thought I’d got a step ahead by taking up the One Word Challenge: http://myoneword.org/.

Love...my word for 2015.

Love…my word for 2015.

Indeed, you might have read that I have chosen “Love” as my word for 2015https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/new-year-my-one-word-for-2015-and-why-i-cant-leave-2014-behind/

“Love” seemed the only choice for me after the week of horror which took place just before Christmas. After all that hate in one week along with the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 earlier in the year, I really felt we all needed to come together in love to cleanse our world of hate.

In order to do this, we somehow needed to learn to “love our neighbour as ourselves”.

Not just our neighbour either.

We also need to treat our nearest and dearest the way we would like to be treated. Or, better still, by having the empathy to treat them the way they would like to be treated. This is so much more than a platitude. I take this word extremely seriously and see this as no warm, fuzzy, soft option. Indeed, the decision, the commitment, to love is a serious undertaking and also involves a word that I’m seriously not good at…”patience”. I failed patience a long, long time ago.

It also involves stopping, which is another concept I’m not that good at. Stop writing and being busy and spend some quality time with those I love…so easy in theory but surprisingly difficult in practice. We all lead busy lives but eventually that excuse wears thin.

With love as my over-arching word for 2015, I already knew that I had my work cut out for me. That love was a sufficient challenge, goal, personal development project for 2015.

Ha! Like so many of us who make plans and goals, these soon get dashed on the rocks. Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t given up on love. It’s just that resolutions for the New Year are slowly but surely finding me and they’re being very insistent. I don’t think I have any choice about doing any of this. It’s sink or swim time and of course, I and the rest of the family are wanting to swim. We don’t want to drown.

So once again, I’m left quoting John Lennon:

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

So while New Year’s Eve has been and gone, we are still on school holidays in Australia and my real NYE will be the 27th January…the night before the kids go back to school. By then, I’ll have to overcome my sins of the past 12 months. I must… especially if I love my kids and I truly want them to reach their true potential. Grow up into themselves, without being stunted. I want my kids to grow up into mighty oaks or even eucalypts… not being constantly cut back and cut back into some imprisoned bonsai which never grows up to reach the sun!

Our daughter growing into a mighty eucalypt or "gum" tree.

Our daughter growing into a mighty eucalypt or “gum” tree.

Sure, I was pretty crook last year. You know my story  or can read it here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/about/.

While I can justifiably blame the chemo for screwing up my already challenged organisation, I can only blame chemo for so long before I need to act. Do something. As I said, we don’t want to sink…especially in a sea of miscellaneous paperwork and school notes. We want to swim. Be in  the race…not drown.

Improving my health is another non-negotiable this year. This really is something I can’t mess around with.

Now, I’m needing to develop the infrastructure or scaffolding to keep us on track until the chemo brain wears off. These are the sort of tedious changes that eventually get thrust upon you when there is no other choice ie when the Big Bad Wolf has all but gobbled up the sweet little pig.

So while I am also making big plans for my writing, my blog and work in 2015, I’ve also been force to accept these New Year’s nasties:

  1. Develop a detailed schedule and routine to improve organisation and arrive on time.
  2. Keep better track of upcoming events using diary, planner and wall chart.
  3. Lose 10 kilos. This will improve my breathing, reduce the worsening heartburn and improve my general health.
  4. Exercise 3 x per week. This reduces the risk of a respiratory infection…the greatest risk to my health. It will also help to keep me mobile and improve muscle strength.
  5. Declutter the house for an hour a day. I cleaned my desk up recently and I felt so much better. Need to extend those open spaces.

Despite my best intentions, this list of nasties seems to be growing too.

Of course, it goes without saying that I will still be writing, writing, writing. “Working” on my blog and even though my camera is suffering from chronic over-use, I can’t see it sitting home alone either!!

Out Taking Photos

Out Taking Photos

That said, even though I’ve taken these resolutions onboard under duress, that doesn’t mean I have to love them…even if that’s my word for 2015.

Even this ambitious little pig who is building her house out of brick, has to be prepared.

How are things looking for you in the New Year ahead? If you are struggling with it all, how about you listen to this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPtlSF4TlJE

Try

Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You’ve gotta get up and try, and try, and try
Gotta get up and try, and try, and try
You gotta get up and try, and try, and try
Gotta get up and try, and try, and try
Gotta get up and try, and try, and try
You gotta get up and try, and try, and try
Gotta get up and try, and try, and try
[1]

 

All the best with the best laid plans of mice and men and of course, it goes without saying, beware of the Big Bad Wolf!

xx Rowena

[1] Writer(s): Michael Busbee, Michael Ford Busbee, Benjamin West
Copyright: BMG Platinum Songs Us, Hello I Love You Music, Legitimate Efforts Music, Jam Writers Group

 

 

Sydney Pakistan Cairns: the Bumpy Road Ahead.

A few days ago I read a post about the siege in Martin Place which I’ve reblogged called: Still Our Sydney.

Among the comments, I found a detailed message from Petrea King, author and speaker who is the CEO of the Quest For Life program which runs courses to help people living with cancer and chronic illness. She has written a number of intelligently written and compassionate books dealing with when the going gets tough including: Your Life Matters (which I’m in the process of reading) and Sometimes Your Heart Has to Break.

Petrea’s words really touched me. Not just in the aftermath of what I’ll simply call: “Sydney Pakistan Cairns” but also as a means of getting through and emerging from our own traumas. This is golden advice. The sort of stuff we all need to have up our sleeve not only for when our own lives are shattered and challenged but also to know how to be there for a friend or even a complete stranger. This is something to print out and keep on file.

I hope Petrea doesn’t mind me posting her words on my blog but right now, I’d like to fly them from the roof top. These are very important life skills and we need to know how to respond to the bad and even the traumatic instead of just even moving forward pursuing happiness without so much as a backwards glance.

Thank you Petrea:

“Kaz, you’ve captured beautifully the mood of many. Thank you.

If I could share a few thoughts from having worked with many thousands of traumatised people…and because I’ve had more than a few myself…

We have all been deeply shocked by what has happened. We are confronted with the precariousness of life and how randomly and quickly it can change – change profoundly, irrevocably, instantly, tragically. We are confronted by our mortality and what the death of our, or our loved one’s life means to us.

Such shocking events don’t have intrinsic meaning. If we are to find a peaceful pathway forward, one that allows us to collectively heal from the trauma we have experienced, then we need to acknowledge and embrace the pain and anguish – as has been demonstrated by so many publicly and all of us privately. Through the laying of flowers, we honour Katrina’s and Tori’s sacrifice and the awful tragedy and trauma of it all and, at the same time, we affirm our commitment to a peaceful, compassionate society that refuses to be enslaved by fear, prejudice and judgment – all of which lead to disunity. We demonstrate collectively our commitment to tolerance, compassion, connection and love.

We can then further honour Katrina’s and Tori’s lives and the trauma everyone has suffered by how we choose to live ours. We can choose to respond with courage, creativity and with a commitment to establishing peace within ourselves so that we can have peace wiithin our communities. Imagine if we all responded to this atrocity by consciously choosing to create some act of peace within ourselves, our family, our community, our nation?

Right now we are meant to feel numb, dumfounded, bewildered, distressed, angry, fearful or whatever it is that we feel moment to moment. Sometimes it will be a mish mash of feelings. Confusion, spacinesss, dislocated, despairing – all these feelings are normal and it’s fine to feel anything. It’s what we DO with our feelings that is important. Do your best to witness these feelings without judging or resisting them. Recognise that feelings come and go. You are more than your feelings because you’re able to witness them.

Avoid reacting from challenging feelings as you may say or do things you later regret. If you’re feeling really distressed then reach out for help. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are not entitled to the feelings you may be experiencing because you weren’t directly involved. Your were directly involved whether you work in Martin Place or you watched the nightmare unfolding on television, through tweets, FB or other media. You may feel traumatised. That’s because you have a good and compassionate heart and you have been deeply disturbed by what has happened. You may have felt great fear and a sense of helplessness. Why wouldn’t we be feeling distresssed? If these feelings are overwhelming you may find it helpful to find someone to talk with that you trust. Your GP? A relative, friend, counsellor?

Be with people you can be ‘real’ with; people who will listen to you and allow you to ‘have’ the feelings you’re experiencing without judging you or trying to ‘fix you up’. Perhaps, if you feel retraumatised by talking about what happened then put some clear boundaries in place by telling people that you would prefer not to discuss it. Others may find it useful to limit how long they are going to talk it. Do what you need to do to stay emotionally healthy.

The Storm

The Storm. Painting: Rowena Newton.

People who are feeling overly anxious or already dealing with grief, depression or other trauma may find their experiences heightened at present so it is important that we are all as gentle and respectful of one another as possible. It would be good to cut each other a bit of slack at present and recognise that everyone is feeling upset or traumatised and that some may be having a hard time managing their feelings or are finding them overwhelming. Some may benefit from attending a retreat to regain their inner equilibrium, make meaning of their experience and find a pathway forward. Our retreat, Healing Your Life is designed for people who have experienced trauma and are having difficulty integrating their experience and who want to move forward, feeling more empowered to live their life. The program is supported by NSW Health and the Quest for Life Foundation and we endeavour to turn no one away on financial grounds. Info can be found at questforlife.com.au.

Take extra care to do the things that nourish and replenish you in these days and weeks ahead. Perhaps it’s exercise or solitude, time with a hobby or sport, doing the things you love, being with people you love, sleep, making or listening to music, being in nature, ritual, prayer, yoga, meditation, playfulness, soaking baths…whatever brings you to the moment where you will reconnect with a more stable and grounded part of yourself. Exercise is particularly good as it shifts the chemicals of stress out of the body. Eating fresh, whole foods is helpful. Go gently with alcohol and don’t use it to suppress your feelings. Find someone to talk to instead. Avoid isolating yourself but make sure you have time for solitude if that is your resting place.

There is no one way forward. If we are ever to find peace beyond this then we need to do as we are doing. We are taking on the enormity of what has happened. We have gathered to overcome violence and difference, with a show of unity and love. We have affirmed that collectively, we are the beating heart of Sydney. From this foundation we can grow.

In time, it might be useful for us all to create an act of peace within ourself, our family or our community as a way of consciously honouring the suffering while making a commitment to creating more peace in our lives, individually and collectively.”

Petrea King

December 18, 2014 at 12:19 am

http://www.questforlife.com.au/

I hope you have found this as helpful as I have.

xx Rowena

Ever during the most violent of storms, never lose sight of hope. It takes sun and rain to make a rainbow.

Even during the most violent of storms, never lose sight of hope. It takes sun and rain to make a rainbow. Painting: Rowena Newton.

Life Lessons from the Cupcake Catastrophe.

A few days ago, I survived the Orange Cake Catastrophe (see previous post). As you may recall, the mixture spiraled out of the bowl and splattered all over the kitchen. The poor dog, who usually hovers around while I’m cooking, even ended up with a Rorschach-like splat painting on the back of her head. A seeming miracle, I somehow patched it all up and the results were perfect. The cake even had an even texture which any show cook would be proud of and the squeeze of orange juice in the chocolate icing was inspired. I was very proud of my Choc-Orange Cupcakes and my ability to recover from yet another catastrophe in the kitchen.

What a waste of good mixture...Attack of the Killer Orange Cake Mix.

What a waste of good mixture…Attack of the Killer Orange Cake Mix.

It was confirmation that “all’s well that ends well” and not to get too upset about the bumps along the road even though they might feel like the end of the world at the time.

Since becoming a parent and slipping out of the full-time workforce, I have become more and more aware of the intelligence, the life lessons that we pick up on the road. That life can’t simply be learned through a book. As a well-educated and avid reader who has devoured a smorgasbord of philosophy and instructional books,this change has been a cosmic shift. After all, Kahlil Gibran’s: The Prophet is my favourite book and Malcolm Gladwell’s: Outliers has been a serious life changer as well. The thing is that no matter how inspiring and life-changing these books might be, we still need to experience the practical and everyday so we don’t trip over both feet and not know how to get up.

There is also a risk that by worshiping the big name intellectuals and speakers, we can miss those small but equally essential life lessons which are learned in the school of hard knocks.”A man gazing at the stars is proverbially at the mercy of the puddles in the road” (Alexander Smith) and the image of the astronomer walking at night stumbling into an open well while looking at the stars, goes back to the ancient Greeks.
Yet, do we adjust our focus as we walk along the road with all of its obstacles and bumps while gazing at the sky at our visions and dreams? Do we manage to observe and process all aspects of the picture…both the big and small? Or, are we too focused on the bright lights to look where we’re actually walking..at our feet?

I must admit that I’ve had more than my share of scraped knees and sprained ankles caused by too many cracks in the footpaths…or perhaps the problem has really been chasing too many clouds in the sky!

Eight years ago, I read a wonderful book called: Letters to Sam by Daniel Gottlieb. Gottlieb, a psychologist, became a quadriplegic through a car accident. Due to his health, Gottlieb doesn’t know if he will be around to see his grandson grow up and decides to write him a book of life lessons. He naturally wants to share the benefits of his experience. As the book unfolds, Sam is diagnosed with a form of autism and Gottlieb addresses what it means to live with a disability. What I also like, is Gottlieb’s Jewish cultural references which add a lot of depth and character to the story.

Inspired by Letters to Sam, I started writing my own book of life lessons for my kids and wrote about 50,000 words which I’ve never revisited (must get back to that. I can be my own worst critic.)

Anyway, when I found out I was having chemo to treat my auto-immune disease just before Christmas last year, all my memoir activities notched up several levels. I only had three days before chemo began and what if instead of saving my life the chemo took me out instead? In that case, I potentially didn’t have time to record anything…just tie up a few loose ends and it would simply be: “Game Over”.

Sometimes, we run out of coins before we know it.

Sometimes, we run out of coins before we know it.

What was something really, really important that my kids needed to know which I could teach them quickly in less than ideal circumstances? My kids were spending weekdays with my parents at the time so I wasn’t even going to be seeing a lot of them either.

In this is pressure cooker environment, I decided to teach my kids how to cook. This wasn’t intended to be some lofty, philosophical project. It was practical. My family needed to eat and I might not be there to do it. Their Dad can cook and reminds me that he wasn’t starving during the 10 plus years he lived out of home before we got married but I figured the kids could be useful. That they could extend themselves beyond cyber-reality on Minecraft and do some real chores.Nothing more annoying than seeing them feeding the dog on Minecraft and forgetting to feed the dog in real life.

The Abominable Doughman

The Abominable Doughman

What I didn’t consider when I launched into this project. was that you actually learn a lot of valuable life skills through cooking. Moreover, after surviving the ravages of chemo and chemo brain, these were important skills for me to develop as well. After all, while the chemo had “fixed” my auto-immune disease, it had destroyed all sense of time and I really struggled to multi-task. Even just by cooking your basic roast, you are learning to juggle tasks and manage your time. After all, you want the meat and veggies to be ready at the same time and this is not as easy as it looks.

I also enrolled the kids in Sea Scouts for some outdoor activities but that’s another story.

Coming back to my cupcake fiasco, I’ve learned that baking a cake while making dinner may not be the best idea, especially when I’m using a new and unfamiliar recipe.

Do one thing at a time. Seriously, who really can multitask well anyway?!!

I’ve also learned that as much as we would like to get it right the first time, that there are often mistakes along the road and we need to learn how to address and overcome these hurdles to achieve success…not just fall in a screaming heap when the going gets tough. I turned the beaters back on, finished the cake and kept going.Oh yes, I also cleaned up the mess!

The epitomy of  perfection: my Choc Orange Cupcake.

The epitomy of perfection: my Choc Orange Cupcake.

Also, that when we look at the achievements of others, we often put them up on a pedestal thinking they’re perfect, their lives are perfect and being only too aware of our own faults, feel like we’ve failed. We’re losers, inept. But we don’t know what they’ve been through to get where they are now. You would bite into my sweet little orange cupcake with the scrumptious chocolate icing with that expert squeeze of orange juice and tell me they’re perfect. You’d be overflowing with praise. “Have you considered selling these? You could certainly sell them to a cafe!” Nobody eating the cupcake would have any idea of the catastrophe along the way. That these cupcakes really were what you’d classify as a disaster.

Never look at other people and think their lives are perfect and they get everything right the first time. Once you scratch the surface, you usually find they also have feet of clay. Everybody makes mistakes!!

I was also encouraged by my fellow bloggers to believe in myself. While I hadn’t made something fancy like Duck a L’orange I’d intended with my stash of oranges and had almost botched up a simple quick mix cake, they still praised my efforts. I could have just cut the oranges up or even left them in the fridge until they were bin fodder. We all know that we can be our own worst critics but the challenge comes in how to be more accepting of ourselves.

Even when we do some crazy, weird and zany stuff and cake mixture splats in our face, we are still valued, precious human beings and these so called catastrophes really are insignificant in the overall scheme of things. Or, they live on as funny stories. That’s what I like to do with my disasters.

I would love to hear any stories you’ve had about overcoming similar “disasters”.

Have a Great Day!

xx Rowena

Cooking: creativity in action!

Cooking: creativity in action!

Funny Friday: An Afternoon With Australian Actor-Author William McInnes

Last Friday, I was booked into an author talk with two-times Logie-winning Australian actor and author, William McInnes. However, after a huge day on Thursday, I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d make it. There was the trip down to Sydney and the emotionally confronting brain MRI but 5 minutes before my MRI, I also heard the dreadful news that Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes had passed away. Having survived brain surgery myself in the past, his death was pretty confronting. I wasn’t in good shape after all of this and more in the mood for deep hibernation. Yet, I was particularly keen to meet William McInnes and hear his story. There are many, many layers to this man.

Exhausted, sombre and dazed, I arrived at Woy Woy Library and sat in the front row where I could literally reach out and touch him. This was a delightfully small and intimate venue where you’re really up close and personal with the author. I was in seventh heaven!! Here I was inhaling the same air as William McInnes for a precious few hours and you never know quite what impact that will have. If you’ve heard his wild and wacky stories, you’ll know what I mean.

Fisherman's Wharf, Woy Woy, North of Sydney. The pelican perch on the roof waiting for fish from any possible source.

Fisherman’s Wharf, Woy Woy, North of Sydney. The pelican perch on the roof waiting for fish from any possible source.

Fisherman's Wharf, Woy Woy.

Fisherman’s Wharf, Woy Woy.

If you’re not Australian, you might not realise that Woy Woy is a bit of an unlikely location for an author talk of any sort let alone by a two-times Logie-winning actor and best-selling author. Although Graeme Simsion author of the Rosie Project recently spoke up here, Woy Woy is better known as being home to Spike Milligan’s Mum, having the best fish & chips and for its flocks of hungry, aggressive pelicans self-educated in the fine art of food theft. They’ll snatch your bag of fish & chips straight out of your hand without so much as an apology. That said, there has been quite an influx of refugees from Sydney and Woy Woy is becoming more eclectic.

It is no understatement that McInnes literally burst into the room converting this humble space into a stage…his stage. This man has presence…serious presence. There was gag after gag after gag.

William McInnes in uniform in the hit Australian TV series Blue Heelers.

William McInnes in uniform in the hit Australian TV series Blue Heelers.

After watching McInnes for years on the hit TV cop series, Blue Heelers, I at least thought I knew how he looked. However, the man who entered the room didn’t match up. His reddish hair was grey. He was exceptionally tall and he was casually dressed. I think I’m used to seeing him in uniform. Police uniform, that is. While he cracked jokes about his middle-aged spread, he still has the physique of the male lead and has been cast opposite glamorous beauties including actresses Sigrid Thornton and Claudia Karvan.

Actor and author William McInnes.

Actor and author William McInnes.

McInnes was there to promote his new book Holidays. I was there not only because of his professional credentials but also because he has publicly spoken and written about his wife, Sarah Watts’ heroic battle with breast cancer, which finally claimed her life around 3 years ago. They co-wrote a book: Worse Things Happen At Sea. I haven’t read this book yet because I needed a bit of a laugh after the last few weeks. Instead, I’m reading: A Man’s Got to Have A Hobby. I was told this book was hilarious, as is McInnes.

Indeed, I found him too funny. We all know about the clown and the tear and I’ve noticed in my own writing that the worse it gets, the funnier I become. When someone is exceptionally funny, I think you’re almost obligated to look for the scar tissue. More than likely, it won’t even be concealed beneath the surface. You’ll see it. Hear it. Even feel its pulse.

However, according to his wife, McInnes has always had a gift for comedy and after seeing him in action, I have no doubt that he’d even do well in that bear pit of stand-up.

While some author talks can get a little dry, McInnes rolled off tale after hilarious tale about his childhood growing up in Queensland’s Redcliffe, a popular beach suburb and on various family holidays. Much of this humour revolves around his father who makes your average embarrassing Dad look like a boring pussy cat.

1970s Barber shop: home of the short back and sides.

1970s Barber shop: home of the short back and sides.

One of my favourite stories was about when he went to get a haircut which, of course, turned out to be no ordinary haircut. If you lived through the 70s, you’ll know that the generational gap wasn’t just about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. It was also about hair. Usually his mum gave him a haircut but she was busy so she sent him down to the local barber’s with the presumption that he’d return with the usual mandatory, short back and sides. However, it transpired that the barber shop had recently been re-birthed as a unisex hair salon, a new and intriguing development back in the 1970s when getting your haircut was like going to the toilet. There was the men’s, the ladies’ and nothing in between. Definitely no fraternization!

Anyway, McInnes goes into the salon and spots this hot girl he’d seen at the local rollerskating rink. At this point, all sense and reason evaporate and he’s putty in her precious, manicured hands. “Would you like a perm?” She asks. Being a little naive and nothing of a fashion plate, McInnes didn’t know what a perm was but swooning in her orbit, he agrees. Looking something like Goldilocks, with fear and trepidation, he headed home.

Now, you can just imagine how his father, who is renowned for his colourful vernacular, responds to this development. A WWII ex-serviceman, he was far from impressed. He tells him: “When I was your age, I was jumping out of planes chasing Germans”. The kids at school screamed: “Let’s get Horshack” (a character from this his 1970s series Welcome Back Cotter with an afro) There was also a hilarious run in with one of his school priests which I can’t even begin to relate. A bloke having a perm was beyond the pale! The whole experience was even too weird for McInnes. He soon shaved it off and his Dad was happy: “That’s a real man’s haircut”.

His memoir: A Man’s Got to Have A Hobby is full of such stories. The funniest I’ve come across so far, relates about  when he needed to go to the toilet on the way to his football match. They pulled into the service station and Dad reminds him to watch his mouth. After all, back in the day, it wasn’t polite to say you needed to go to the toilet. Oh no! Like many families, they used a swag of euphemisms instead. Out of respect to his mother’s sensitivities, at home they called it: “going goggers”, which in the great tradition of Australian speech, was abbreviated to: “I go gogg goggs.” You can just imagine why the poor petrol station attendant was so confused! He continues:

“Dad must have seen me having trouble from the lime-green ute and flung open the door. He tried to make things clearer. “For Christ’s sake…the boy wants to go goggers.. Goggers…gog…gogs…”

Still no comprehension from the attendant… ‘Listen, chief, the boy has to back out a mullet…Oh, Jesus wept, he wants to strangle one’…Still the attendant stared, …I whispered, ‘I have to poo. Can I use your toilet, please?’My father poked me with a finger. The attendant gave me a key. Dad growled. ‘Don’t let your mother hear you talk like that.”[1]

Let me reassure you that this is not how the average Australian speaks. We usually ask for “the throne” although we’re quite capable of using the word “toilet” in public these days. After all, it’s only natural!

As you can imagine, after all these laughs, I was not longer feeling lugubrious and had cheered up. Humour really does work magic.

While it really is impossible to separate William McInnes actor and author from the William McInnes husband and father who lost his wife,  this journey requires further work and consideration. I don’t want to do a rush job but give their story the time it deserves. It is a journey that our family is potentially walking although I seem to have more lives than a proverbial cat. I seem to be doing pretty well.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

xx Rowena

[1] McInnes, William; A Man’s Got to Have A Hobby, Hodder Australia, Sydney, 2006 pp 38-39.

Death to the Christmas Tree

When it comes to getting the kids ready for the start of the new school year tomorrow, I only had one goal.

That was to get rid of the Christmas tree.

Anything else would be a bonus. I could send the kids to school in their pyjamas or even without any lunch. The school would sort that out…particularly when Mum is having chemo. However, no one else could save us from the dreaded Christmas Tree Curse. Only we could save ourselves!

No doubt you’ve heard about the Christmas Tree Curse, although if you are anything like me at all, you can’t remember how many days after Christmas you are supposed to pull your Christmas tree down either. That’s right. There’s a particular day you’re supposed to pull your Christmas tree down or you’ll have a bad year or experience what I have coined “The Christmas Tree Curse.”

Now, I’m not superstitious or anything silly like that but when your luck has been down, turned around and is currently behaving its self, are you prepared to take a chance? That Christmas tree might have looked all sweetness and light at Christmas time all decked out with baby Jesus, Santas, stars, angels, tinsel and flashing lights but all that might well change if you don’t watch out. That innocent looking Christmas tree  could well be out to get you!

However, the Christmas tree curse wasn’t why I was rushing to get my Christmas tree down before school goes back. Well, considering it’s almost February, you’d be right in thinking that I haven’t been rushing to get our Christmas tree down at all. Indeed, it is now more than a month after Christmas and at the rate I’m going, perhaps I should just leave the tree up for next Christmas. I’m sure Santa and his elves along with many kids are already counting down. However, our Christmas tree won’t be hanging around. We have a real tree each year and while it’s always been technically dead, now that it’s turned brown and the needles are crunchy, its more than official.

We’ve been away and as Geoff not so subtly pointed out, you can’t take your Christmas tree down if you’re not home.

That’s very true but we still need to be ready for the new school year…organised!

The start of the new school year is just like the start of the year itself although instead of being called “resolutions”, these good intentions are set in a bit more concrete and are actually called goals. This makes them feel much more real almost like places on a map than castles in the air.

This year, I’m particularly keen to start off on something of a high note because I know it’s a rapid slippery slide down hill. Instead of falling srig and perhaps if you start further up the hill this year, you might not end up face down in the mud at the very bottom of the hill by the end of term. Knowing that I’ll be having chemo fortnightly throughout first term, I’ve actually felt more motivated to get my act together and perhaps be anally organised just to have a hope of getting my kids to and from school on time and their basic homework done. I’m not talking about becoming a Supermum or anything that radical. I’m just looking for a pass…your standard C.

That leaves me with one rather desiccated Christmas tree to get down.  Those decorations need to be packed up and Christmas needs to go to bed. Good night.

However, I’m not sure if I can get the Christmas tree down or should get it down. Ever since the kids were babies, we have elevated our Christmas tree and set it up on top of our combustion heater about a metre above the floor. At this point, I’ll just remind you that I have muscle weakness, poor coordination and I am currently on chemo. This is not the sort of body that’s in any fit state to go climbing Christmas trees. I need to keep my dodgy feet on terra firma. Behave myself. Look after number 1 and apparently that means me. I don’t know if you have ever read any of the Hairy McLairy Series of books but there is a delightful Christmas book where Slinky Malinky the svelte black cat climbs up the Christmas tree. Well, you can be sure that I am no Slinky Malinky. I am Mummy McClunky who goes bang and bumpy. I trip over the smallest crack in the footpath with sometimes disastrous consequences. I shouldn’t even be thinking about climbing up that Christmas tree but I want that tree gone and I want this family organised for the new school year whatever it takes. I mean whatever it takes!

That means getting rid of that tree this very instant!

Now, it’s time to put my thinking cap on top of my battling chemo brain. Can I find a way?

Is there some way, I could get that tree down without climbing anything? I have two more than capable assistants. So as much as maybe we should wait for Geoff to get home, you always knew we were going tackle this tree and get it down and out. I must admit that it’s this cavalier type of thinking that keeps Geoff very busy sorting our Rowie-made disasters! There’s always some small detail which I manage to overlook. However, it’s usually not such a small detail after all. More like a huge gaping hole and I’ve inflicted major damage as a result.

I am off to survey the damage now. Plan our attack. It’s going to be a bit like felling a tree inside our house…timber! I can see that tree falling down….falling down with our violin angel still sitting at the top and I have to make sure she comes down safely. Doesn’t break. She’s very, very precious. Need to do this carefully and think like Geoff instead of my usual impetuous self. Plan ahead, look out for the risks.

Perhaps, I should’ve checked the tree out before I went all psycho and catastrophosed the whole thing. Now, that I’ve assessed the tree, the jolly thing has shrunk considerably. I don’t need to climb anything. I can just reach out and snip the string and grab the tree. Way too easy peasy for a chronic catastrophiser like myself.

So once again, I have managed to inflate a surmountable problem into a huge inflatable monster. You know like one of those advertising inflatables which you see on top of car yards and the like. They’re so big that you can see them a suburb away. Well, I’ve done that again and I’ve gone through this whole drama about how I can’t do things because of my muscles disease and that I shouldn’t take the risk of climbing up the tree when I didn’t need to climb anything at all. I could handle the situation without all that need for drama and self-doubt. I could do it.

What I do need to do is beat myself up with a stick because I can do it. I really can do it and I’m going to get rid of that tree right now as soon as I’ve photographed it for posterity….the biggest Christmas tree in history.

Several hours later, I think we’re all ready for school. The kids made pizza again for dinner tonight and their skills are improving and I just need to stop myself from taking over. I’ve even made them some somewhat healthy biscuits for morning tea and they’re taking left over pizza for lunch. We’ve had no luck betting them to eat their sandwiches so hopefully this will work.

Anyway, what I really needed tonight was what always eludes me…an early night!!

Goodnight.

Xx Ro