So I’m back at Peter Mac, and in some ways, it’s like I never left. The scent of the antiseptic hand soap smacks of familiarity, the food is just as dismally unappetising as ever and as if things have gone full circle, I have ended up in the bed (good old 10C, my old friend) in which I began my Peter Mac journey. But while some things don’t seem to change around here, things are still definitely different this time around.
This time I’ve come fresh off a month-long breather. And what have I done with my four weeks off? Oh, not much really … just three awesome road trips (one interstate), a music festival, a wedding, several reunions with old, amazing friends, making new friends, some bad TV - Geordie Shore (don’t judge me), a three-night hotel stay in my own city and a lot of laughing, dancing and much more.
The holiday was slowly savoured from start to finish, like a big meal after a period of fasting. The first bite was a Golden Plains for the ages (see last post) and last but not least, the treat at the end was the equally epic event of Tim and Ange’s wedding (I could say wedding of the year, but that would be unfair on the other two I have attended this year). Packed between these two cataclysmic events, were three road trips: Bendigo, Merimbula and Mornington Peninsula; some visits to some old Melbourne haunts, reunions with many old friends (uni and high school), and a three-night stay in a hotel stay at Albert Park, which was filled with more tuba players than you could poke a conductor’s wand at (every brass player in Australia seemed to be at that hotel – band convention?).
The highlights: Bendigo to visit Sam, which was lots of fun; even the part where Jacqui and I got hit with a tirade of verbal abuse from a carful of ‘bush pigs’ who alluded in less than subtle terms to our presumed preference for the same sex (not true, by the way, boys). We drove loops around Bendigo, raiding the town’s gold mine of vintage and op shops, enjoyed ambient beer gardens at historic hotels, made people watching an Olympic sport at the only bar we could get let into and just enjoying the old-style change of scenery and good company.
|Bendigo beer gardens|
After Bendigo, I had to go to Peter Mac to get some tests done (pre-transplant checks including kidney function, dental health, bloods) and get briefed in some more detail by my nursing co-ordinator Trish on what the stem cell transplant would entail. One of the tests required a 24-hour urine collection, which unfortunately meant on my final day in Bendigo, I had to collect all my pee into the one bottle. This bottle had to come with me to Melbourne, and as I was carrying it as stealthily as I could to the car, Jacqui eyed off my plastic bag and asked, “Is that juice?” Her query was met with disbelief as I had just warned her the day before that my bodily fluids would be accompanying us on the trip home. Luckily the bottle stayed firmly between my feet and there were no embarrassing mishaps. But it was rather funny really.
Coming back to Merimbula was like reuniting with a former lover, minus the awkwardness. And so luckily for us, this reunion was full of sunshine and good times. My sister, her friend Ash and I hit the road, stopping at Lakes Entrance on the way for some fish and chips and unexpected seal spotting. We spent the weekend at the leafy retreat of my aunt and uncle’s Nethercote property, enjoying nibblies on their veranda, guitar sing-alongs, fresh air, games, wonderful home-cooked meals (Caz and Brian can cook!) and jokes. We shopped at Candelo market, buying all sorts of nick nacks and treasures including some ‘so bad that they’re good’ records (including Mrs Mills Non-Stop Honky-Tonk Party –straight to the pool room).
|$1.50 - bargain|
In Merimbula town, I spent two nights with some of my favourite people, Jasmine and Kelvin and their four gorgeous children who filled my days with laughter. Their children were so full of energy but in such a great way. I am going to sound clucky as hell by saying this, but children are such special people and we can learn so much from them. It was also wonderful to see their little girl Pearl doing so unbelievably well after her own battle with leukemia. Life after cancer isn’t easy either; outsiders tend to overlook the monthly ritual of check-ups, the niggling anxiety that the cancer will return, the inability to use the word ‘cured’, because being cured and being in remission are two different things. But Pearl and her family are doing so well; I hope they all realise how inspiring they all are to me, and how much I enjoyed spending time with them again.
I also got to visit some of my favourite beaches (I may be biased, but to me they are some of the most beautiful beaches in Australia, and the world, particularly because of their ‘untouched’ nature) and even had a couple of swims. The gods were smiling.
I also went to visit my former boss, Liz, who I found out had been trying to contact me by phone since she had heard the news. I surprised her at the office, and when she saw me, her face was filled with enough joy to bring tears to the eyes. She stood up, gave me a hug, and held my hands for a long time. Liz was like a mother to me during my years living in Merimbula, and I knew it meant a lot to her to see me, and to see me doing so well.
|Stopover at Lakes on the way home|
Another special thing about this time off and well, the time since I have arrived back in Australia, is the reunions I have had with old friends – from university and high school. Highlights include sitting on the veranda with Suzanne and her daughter Lavinia, sipping vegetable soup while watching the rain fall over her Yinnar property (once again opening my eyes to the beauty of my own local area), J-Plo, Fleur and I reverting to our former uni selves terrorising Melbourne, sharing endless laughs with old high school friend Andrew, lunch with Nicole which stretched on for hours because we did more talking than ordering, and all the others I have bumped into along the way – people I have had little to do with over the last 8-10 years, but have wished me all the best. The kindness of all these people I know, after all these years, is truly touching. I hope that I can do the same for others one day, because I now know how special these seemingly small tokens of kindness can be.
On Easter Saturday a group of us did a day trip to Tyabb, where we indulged in some more vintage and op-shopping, a stroll along the beach (where a friend almost got caught in quicksand - quite dramatic), a half-arsed bush walk, oysters and wine at Arthurs Seat overlooking the twinkling lights Peninsula. A drive back through Mornington, then pizza at the hotel in Melbourne. Another fantastic day.
Luckily just before going back into hospital I got to attend Tim and Ange’s wedding, which was so much fun I think I was piling into a cab at 4am. I think the best thing is that Ange and Tim are such wonderful people who are nuts about each other. So glad I got to spend this special day with them. I still have sparkles in my wig from the reception … part of me doesn’t want to brush them out. :)
|Another awesome wedding ...|
Finally I got that little taste, that wonderful window of what my life used to be. I had strength, freedom, no responsibility and an amazing country to explore and amazing people to visit.
For a while there I was enjoying myself so much that I didn’t want my break to end. With my strength returning in full force, and along with it my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, it was hard to even believe that another hospital stay loomed ominously in the not too distant future, and “the big one” – the stem cell transplant. I didn’t want to think about it, and I didn’t. I totally lived in the now and loved every minute of it. But as admission day grew closer, I began to grow anxious in a different way: anxious to get it over and done with. I’m as physically and psychologically ready for this as I will ever be. Bring it on; let me hit the final and most excruciating lap of my journey, to collapse at the end, giddy and woozy with victory.
I think the last four weeks will be etched in my memory. When you have cancer, every emotion is amplified; time seems to go slowly; the highs are memorably high. You don’t take anything for granted anymore. Even a simple pleasure such as sitting out in the sunshine and enjoying a meal with some friends is seen as a privilege, not a given, because there were so many times you were too sick to do so. You learn to value things so much more, and I think this quality will be with me for life. I heard footballer Jimmy Stynes (R.I.P) in his documentary talk about how having cancer made you realise what the important things in life were, which to him, was his family. As a result, Jimmy grew closer than he could have imagined to his wife and children, and he was able to showed them exactly how much he loved them. I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, and even though I am deeply saddened that we lost someone like Jimmy, I have no doubt he was able to fill those two-and-a-half years from his diagnosis to his death with so much love, a quantity that many would not realise in a much longer life.
Having been in hospital a week now, I am starting to feel the weight of what I am about to face. But I have to put my head down, get this done, and get to my final goal: a cure. Bring on the victory lap.