Thursday, May 8, 2008

Osage Oranges in Victoria, Australia

At this time of year, autumn in the southern hemisphere, I love to walk around town. It's a small town, just outside the fringes of metropolitan Melbourne, and while much of the housing, especially the newer estates, crawl up the escarpments which ring a rich river valley, the heart of the town really is down near one of the two rivers. I say 'rivers' advisedly. 'Ponds' is more accurate in these days of drought.

My favourite walk takes in an old oast house which features on postcards. As does the famous and revered Avenue of Honour. From the freeway, this old entrance to the town is invitingly green, shady, and this month, adrift with leaves. The avenue has hundreds of approximately 80 year old elms, many of which are showing the stress of drought. Nevertheless, they look better than they feel. And the turning leaves flurry through the tunnel created by these gracious trees like confetti.

Back to my favourite walk: not through the Avenue of Honour, but round past the oast house and down by the five 'groves' or 'rows' of Osage Orange trees. At this time of year, they are also covered in yellowing leafage and the ground is littered around them with green balls variously called 'mock orange', 'hedge-apple', horse-apple, 'monkey brain', in the USA. Inedible, but currently being researched as mosquito-repellent oils. So I found out on my return from the invigorating walk, clutching four of the fallen fruit, inhaling their tangy orange fruit perfume. I looked up Wikipedia. Printed off the fascinating material there. Will put it in my Creative Memories Album for 2008, with the photos I took.

But here's a problem: under Distribution, in Wikipedia, there's no mention of occurrences outside the USA, except one sentence stating there are 4 or 5 trees in Croatia, planter unknown. I tried to create a username so I could add to the data, but obviously the millions before me have used all the common language, and I gave up in frustration. So I'm telling you now, if you're reading this, that there are numerous Osage Orange trees in my small town here in western Victoria, Australia, southern hemisphere, and they were planted in the 1860's by a Mr A.C. Simon, one of the earliest orchardists in our town, who brought the seeds from America. The timber is used locally for wood turning and the shavings are used for fabric dye.

We also have a stallholder in the Avenue of Honour whose barrows of pumpkins are a photographer's delight. If you'd like to know more, leave a comment.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Give us this day our daily poem!

24 March

Thunder running to and fro through cloud.

Light firing back on brick, stone, clothesline's lines.

Joy! - the vege garden's getting wet without

tank water, or me lifting slopping buckets

with only my right hand.

Images of Queen Vic, the square behind, or

Breacan, the volunteers,

or what? What's there? Here, thunder like

a crackling breath and I without fear.

25 March

Its calm eye completes a third

of a revolution from my left

to my right. Now. I can see.

It has an oblong pupil which

groans. Gets under my skin.

Starts talking. Yes! There are

voices in there, talking excitedly.

The Radiology Staff don't know

they let loose each day this crowd,

this voluble society of starers.

What are they saying about me?

I tried to tell the staff. I said,

"What are those voices?"

They laughed nervously.

My boob, all through, brazenly bared,

moves not one jot under this intense scrutiny,

says nothing in response to the babble.

My armpit, reaching above my head,

simply aches, endures ...

26 March

So tired.

Not going to work.



Sift through photos of November:

remember? the election.

Next day, a sunny run to Greendale,

Pykes Creek.

Was I any different then?

27 March

I've made November beautiful

in its Album, Volume 4, 2007,

the colour they call 'Sky'.

The month started with RAIN

gushing and flooding, running amok.

December? I'm not sure of it.

Nervous. A small anxious frown

as I scan photos filed and labelled

"December Fun".

The nineteenth wasn't. The day

I got the call, the recall call.

The day clouds hid the sun.

That wasn't fun. Nor was there

any rain, not then.

Monday 18 Feb
4:50 am

Yesterday on our way to “Wade in the Water”
I said to Mary, stepping down those inland sea-floor
stone steps at Federation Square, I said,
“I feel LUCKY! How lucky I am to be able to
choose what to do with this day, a whole month
after learning I have a chronic disease whose treatment
will disrupt my life. Lucky!” I think I may have skipped
a step.
The heat this morning a blanket.
I haven’t slept long or deeply.
My body’s ruse to use each moment for something
worth breathing for? I will say so, and make this early rising
somehow lucky. By having it to write about.

* "Wade in the Water" is the title of a DVD which was being launched,
about the singing group called South of the River and their founder who
had breast cancer and sung her way through the treatment phase and
is hale and hearty five years on.


No tumbling trucks on the freeway,
no starry night jumbo jets heading west.
And yet – not the silence of eternity.
I hear a sound like slumber, thought waves,
a susurration in my garden
as it wheels and deals in rapid growth.

I’m just not going to die if it hurts my loves.
It’s not my turn
And yet – this eternity of being awake,
waiting for the alarm clock’s seven am news.
Is this my mind’s trick to prolong life itself?

The trucks begin sorting out the night air, pushing
into it, barging through now, forming tunnels
of continuous roaring echoes,
each one from its grim lips.
Around them the insistent silence
attends to dew and stretching roots, tendrils
reaching up and out, entwinement.

Today, Mum goes to Bingo with friends,
Mikaela walks to school with friends,
I make and keep appointments
with doctors, new friends of my healthy self.
Tuesday 19 Feb

Standing on the brink
of a blue-sky day,
I run the shower
gently; scars have
stopped flinching,
I can touch the blue
dyed spot, forget to
ask what it is (not bruise).
she’ll know, in-my-plan
Jan, sit-on-the-floor-
in-my-ward, listening-
for-cancer, breasts,
drains, drips or scans –
Sitting on the edge
of my purple-spread
bed at home, not yet
ready for work, lucky
to be alive and loved

Wednesday 20 Feb

I’m having a Bad Night.
No sleep now, cold, and
the scar tissue pulling sharply,
aching as if to say,
“Don’t relax. Fight. Let’s get
back to the Good Times,
before...” And I’m not relaxing.

Can’t you see, scar, how
my jaw locks, my breath
shortens, how I am stiff,
hugging Zonta’s pink pillow,
my whole upper body
trying to have a Good Night.
I promise you scar, you’ll
feel Much Better in the morning.
Now, sleep.

Thursday 21 Feb

Exercise creates energy, they say,
so I walked, and lethargy
(that good ol’ enemy)
just rolled away.
I think it saw the wild paddocks
down Grey Street and cut loose,
or flew a coop.
Anyway, I had enough energy,
Then, to relax.
A poem without facts!

Friday 22 Feb
Turner Street Medical Centre

Waiting room – purple and maroon.
Or aubergine and plum? Chairs, that is.
A cheap brown formica table with
brown steel legs. Untidy magazines.
A child urging mother, tones –
not words – communicating.
Cricket on the P.A. system. Words
indistinguishable, but tones tell us
the batsman almost got caught out!
Interrupted by Doctor Singh and her
song: making sure I understand
every word.

Saturday 23 Feb

The aches.
The pains.
Hear about it
every night
on that TV News.
Aggressive terms
for nerve ends
Good Pain!

Sunday 24 Feb

White cockatoos careering across
newly forested back yards
of estate housing.

I’ve been lying here, planning
furniture buying, shifting, removal
to make way for new styles
of life and work.

Thoughts like white cockatoos,
followed by chirruping wrens,
plaintive crows, magpie solos,
others ...
And their wings.

Sunday 2 March
2:24 am

I danced!!!
Oohhhhh!! I danced!
The music was me and was in me
and I was the music, my legs, my arms, my body, my eyes and ears
and something internal – my heart was in it; and this all
was the music. It danced through me.

Re:Pugsley Buzzard jazz piano night at Bacchus Hill Winery with Mary, Anne, Elizabeth, Heth, Carolyn, Phillip, Marc, Vicki, Peter. Sat 1 Mar.

Friday 7 March

These two carcases or torsos
That once pressed tight,
Demanded rights, hurt,
Too close, now both cut.
Bad shit removed, intruders.

Always in each others’ way,
Unwelcome interruptions,
Now cell-mates, skin souls,
Two human beings with faulty
Wiring, and a son, can think now,
All creatures are truly one.

Wednesday 12 March, very early

Jennie, you cannot
Start regretting choices
Just because
You’re awake early
And there’s nothing
To do, nothing
To distract you!

Wednesday 12 March, later
Walking the Lerderderg Loop, High Noon.
Words as Camera.

Cypress hedge has a faint aroma
even when squeezed by a hot hand.
Beyond, unseen, a tractor
sizzles as it works. What work is this?
To my right, creamy matt apples
and massed berry canes are
chaotic, not ripe for the picking.
Rounding the Cool Store: I come upon
a forklift driver, hanky tight
over nose and mouth, red and white
scarf wrapped from skull to chin,
and over all, the conical hat of straw.

Back on the river side of the walk,
I noted two men leaning forward
from a truck’s tray, plucking sickly
red lettuce seedlings from
new-sown rows.
Now, on a carpet of emerald,
two gangs of twenty-five crouch,
one gang orange, the other lime,
harvesting mature soft green lettuce.

They are all so professional – the workers,
the driver, the gear, the machines
sticking seedlings in earth precisely.
This earth gives and gives, no longer
the province of swamp and bog; for
one hundred and thirty years
it’s yielded to incessant tillage.
Rivers receded, sank, now form puddles
between batches of reed or fallen trees.

This alluvial treasure plain
soaks up our voices. I hear
nothing as I walk, except
my crunching soles, a magpie,
urgent trucks with their
double-barrelled containers,
and the sneaky sound
of warmer winds. I’m now
hot and sweaty, and I haven’t
pulled one lettuce out of
this generous ground!

Monday, March 10, 2008

10 March, Labour Day

Two things: 1. What I did on the 10th January before the long drive home - as North Western Breastscreen is in Royal Park, near the Melbourne Zoo, I dropped in to the zoo. I even told the woman who sold my entry ticket, "I've just found out I have breast cancer. I'm here to get used to the idea." I don't know why I told her, I think because she said something about the day being too hot for a tour of the zoo. She was so warm and loving, I carried her love with me through the gates. I looked at the empty archaic cages. I remembered coming here as a child, down from the country, the hot sheep and wheat country, the country of forest that was felled to lay rail tracks in India. (If I went there, would anyone be able to tell me which were our railway sleepers?) I remembered watching the lone tiger pace. I remembered seeing the bored gorilla sprawling, delicately placing peanut shells between his lips and biting down, swallowing the peanuts and tossing the shells with apathetic indolence. Those days are gone. We do things differently. Much study and a shift in the way we see life on earth has resulted in these empty cages. The victims are no longer imprisoned, constrained. And nor am I. I visit the elephants in their new home and playground. So much space and yet they stick together. As I walk the zoo's pathways, I settle. I'm a speck in a blanket of specks that surrounds a lump of restless rock. So what if a bit of this speck has a wrong speck in it? Much study and a shift in the way we view variations in our physicalness has resulted in medical strategies I feel I can trust. I've been given a lot of simple, straightforward information. OK, this is what I have right now to deal with.

The second thing: surgery (partial mastectomy with sentinel node removal) is scheduled already for the Friday immediately after Monday's session with a) Breastscreen and b) the surgeon. I have brought my sister with me on the Monday, for an extra pair of ears, and for her heart.

I'm jumping all over the place here. On Saturday, between The News and The Confirmation, I worked only half the day. In the afternoon, met Mum, Heather and Mikaela at the National Gallery to look at the British Art. Mum in a wheelchair, Mikaela pushing. Funny, I don't remember many of the pictures/sculptures individually, just a sense of the amazing continuity of humanness, and the lightness we created as a family, doing something so unnecessary.

Before Thursday, when I will have something injected in the breast in order to identify which lymph node is the sentinel node, I talk to my boss and others whom I know will feed me a diet of power and self-determination. I get a lot of support, and one thing that becomes clear to me is: the lump has settled in very nicely, thank you, and is feeling pretty cosy and in fact considering an expansion soon, if I don't mind. And my natural way of dealing with that kind of intrusion, I realise, is to say please leave. But really, how there is to be about it is: well, no, you can't have this space, it's actually mine. If you don't GO, lump, I'm going to kill you. It takes something to say it plain like that. I practice between Tuesday and Thursday: If you don't leave, lump, I'm going to kill you. You haven't left yet, lump. You know that means we're going to cut you out and throw you away. That's right, you'll die. We're going to kill you.

By the time I'm in the operating theatre, I'm able to say to the assistant surgeon, who has a wonderful way of holding my hand, that I'm looking forward to getting this done, let's get on with it. In the past, I've been apprehensive as an anaesthetic has been administered. This time, I'm keen to get on with it. See, the other thing I found out when I talked about my situation is that any fear I was experiencing is actually part of the cancer. Cancer isn't just cancer to most of us; it's still the big C word. I know I've thought about possibly getting or having cancer and not gone for tests. Too scared. That's cancer. For me, cancer was actually a lump or unusual growth PLUS fear. In confronting that, I took a stand that this invader was not going to rule my life with fear.

I come out of some operations badly, I've discovered. Extreme pain, yes please use all that pethedine; crying involuntarily, probably shock; blethering on ... on the other hand, it wasn't long before I was pulling the tray of light food towards me eagerly, and wolfing down every morsel on it.

After the surgery, I feel completely fearless, if sore and dopey. I leave next morning, (Saturday) and by Monday am at work again, albeit on reduced hours. My boss and I decide the cancer isn't going any further, and tell it so, and we turn our attention to more pressing issues.

For the sentinel node, however, our message is too late. On Tuesday evening the surgeon rings to say there is micro metastase in that node and thus we should remove more nodes to ascertain the spread/scatter/invasion. Drat! I hate it when things don't go the way I WANT them to go. Too bad, says my smarter self. You can only deal with what's so. All else is fantasy.

to be continued
Thanks to Jenny Adamthwaite's From the Living Room blog via Rosemary Nissen-Wade for this one.

Four jobs I've held: Secondary School Teacher in the state of Victoria; Geography Co-ordinator,Kasama Girls' Secondary College, Zambia; Writer in Residence in several districts in Victoria and Western Australia; TAB Clerk in the days when TAB's were independent of pubs, and tickets were handwritten!

Four movies I've watched over and over again- none. Once is always enough.

Four places I've been (only 4?!!!): Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania; New York for a day; Kings Canyon, Central Australia; through the middle of New Zealand's North Island past Mt Ruapehu covered in snow in the middle of winter in a car with no heating.

Four places I've lived: Copenhagen; Wellington; Barmah Forest; Dromana on the Mornington Peninsula, sort of part of Melbourne's Metropolian Area, so I include here many parts of Melbourne.

Four TV shows I watch: until this year, I would have said none. Now I spend evenings at home, I watch The Einstein Factor; Kurt Wallander; Unit One; the current series of documentaries on Soul Music in the USA.

Four radio shows I listen to: no particular shows, only ABC-FM for classical music, Radio National for World Music; Radio 774 if there's cricket on; any other radio station that I hit on and which would be a mistake and hastily corrected.

Four things I look forward to: the next part of my treatment for breast cancer; opening my email program each day; opportunities to watch my son Adam play cricket; talking Creative Memories album-making with my sister Heather.

Four favourite foods: green salad; fresh salmon, lightly seared and steamed; anything grown in my own garden; good fair trade plunger coffee.

Four places I'd rather be: Utopia, where water flows and caresses the land; Scandinavia and the Balkans, travelling; in a coffee shop writing mad short pieces quickly with Rosemary Nissen-Wade and Leah Loeffler; on a train, I don't care which one.

Four people I email : Rosemary Nissen-Wade; Leah Loeffler; Mary Thorney; Anne Forden

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

10th January continued
I'm calm as the ultrasound head glides over and around. Still calm as the man holding it stops and says matter-of-factly: "You have a cancerous lump there. We'll take a biopsy to make doubly sure, and you can discuss matters with the surgeon before you leave." "Today?" I say.
"Oh yes, it's definitely cancerous, although no sign of that in the lymph nodes." Suddenly today is a weird kind of day. I sit in the waiting room looking at the other women (there are lots of us here). I'm the one? I'm the one? OK, I'm the one. So much for everybody else I've ever known saying, "I went for a second visit, but it was nothing."

There follows an excruciating core biopsy. Made all the more so by the utter sense of vulnerability I experience, giving up all attempts at "holding it all together". I don't intend ever having another one, but if I do I'm going to insist on being sedated.

The surgeon draws crazy diagrams and key words on a small white sheet of paper, which I like, and it turns out he's one of the best in this field, so I agree to come back on the next Monday for confirmation of results and, given surgery is highly likely, I'm sure we'll meet again. While I wait for somebody to do something (I'm starting to get vague now), I meet three other women in the Waiting Room - two awaiting biopsy procedures, and the other here for confirmation of results of hers, which was done on that last day they were open before Christmas! She has waited three weeks for this! I thank my lucky stars I didn't come then; I really enjoyed my birthday lunch, free of the knowledge I now have.

I call my boss and tell her I'm not going in to work and why. I am upset, talking about it. But by the time we finish talking about it, the upset's gone. For now. On the long road home I decide this is a situation that requires sisterhood. I visit my sister first, get her reaction out of the way, and together we go home to tell my mother and daughter.

What I love about my mother.
My mother is 82 years old this year. She is bent with osteoporosis, and is unsteady enough on her feet to need a walking stick, but not wobbly enough to require a walking frame. Ever since she and I began sharing a home, about three years ago, we've gone for lots of drives and excursions, mostly further out into the country. We also go to movies in Carlton or at Highpoint. And if we go somewhere very challenging, like the Melbourne Show, in September last year, we hire a wheelchair. One of my favourite photos is of Mum holding up her Garfield showbag and laughing her head off while my daughter and sister droop on the seat beside her, exhausted from all our walking.
So first of all what I love about my mother is that she is my mother. And the second thing is that Mum is undauntable. And when I tell her I found out I have a breast cancer she looks shocked long enough that I know this was not welcome news. Then she says, "Well, that's not a death sentence these days. Look at H.: diagnosed 30 years ago and still going great guns at 93!" Other friends of hers also have survived 'for years'. She lists them all.

After that, it's hard to settle at anything. What is there to do? The whole world has changed shape, texture, character ... how do I now relate to it? to myself? to my little family? to all the structures I have built and maintained for years?

to be continued

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Having slept on it, I find myself a little perplexed. To write a blog, to keep a blog site surely implies readers, not just me the writer. But who and why? Am I really talking to myself, which is fairly boring, or does this technology have the potential to make a difference? reach someone? I used to keep a diary, talk to myself all the time. It was a good way to clear out bothersome if not downright upsetting thoughts and feelings. Really useful before gigs like Valentimes Day at David Jones. But I gave up diaries years ago. I haven't had time to record life, random thoughts. I've been Action Woman - someone should make one of those little plastic figures of her. (JF, you're so out of touch with things childish - they probably have!)

The idea for this site was mooted by friends because of the cancer thing. Well, let me not disappoint. I'll start with that and then see what happens.

(Are you all sitty cuftorbold on your botty? Then I'll begin. [Small Faces:Ogdens Nutgone Flake side 2])

September 14, 2007
I'm pretty sure this lump in my breast is one of those tiresome comings and goings a girl has to put up with. Although ... I am 58, and never had a mammo-thingo, so ... ho hum, best to check it out. This doctor agrees, and she also agrees with me that it's not terribly pronounced. But hey, get it checked out.

A week later, I call the local imaging company. The cost makes my hair stand on end. A week later I get around to calling Breastscreen and make an appointment at the Royal Women's clinic for 30th October early morning, as I can deviate from my normal V-line, metlink and tram journey to work, and easily get to work from where the Royal Women's is.

30th October, 2007
Hey! I never had a mammogram before because I heard it was so painful. I'm someone who screamed when I had an amniocentesis during my second pregnancy, and "everyone" is surprised. What's painful about a thin needle through your abdominal wall and into the uterus? Unsaid: no-one else complains, you're over-sensitive. So: if others complain about mammograms, I just know it'll be 90 million times worse for me. I'm braced for something worse than I can imagine. BUT IT DOESN'T HURT. Oh boy, sometimes life is absurd. (Sometimes?????)

19th December, 2007
My brother and kids have been here for 4 days from Western Australia for early Christmas family time, so I haven't had much time to think. But twice I do think: when will I hear back from Breastscreen? The literature says I'll get a note in the mail within 6 weeks. It's ... 7 weeks now? (counts back on calendar: yep). Ah well, no news is good news as the old saying goes. (Is it a wartime thing?)
Anyway, my annual leave week ends today. Back to work tomorrow, act like the centre manager as the real one is taking her leave. Courses coming up on 4 Jan, and FOUR of them in Feb, so we're pretty busy (more than usual).

Later ... Hello, my name's Sally, I'm a counsellor here at Western Breastscreen, the doctors would just like to see you again. Can you come tomorrow?
Not really, I've got to take over the running of our very busy office tomorrow. What did you say your name was?
Sally. The doctors would really like to see you. Tomorrow's our last day open for the year. We'll be closed until 10 Jan.
[Oh, good, that's after the course on 4 Jan, which is also my birthday, son coming for birthday lunch on the 5th, staff meetings to create a game for this quarter ... we're soooooo busy ...] 10th Jan would suit me fine. What time?
Are you sure you can't come tomorrow?
[crikey! no explanation as to the time it's taken to get back to me, and now she expects me to drop everything??? she must be kidding!] OK, I'll call my boss, see if it'll work.
{Boss and I agree, it's not good. We need to meet to handover. January's fine.}
It's not going to work tomorrow. 10th Jan please.
(sigh) Very well then. 8:30 am Thursday 10th January.
(irate) Look, if you said to me I'll die in the next few weeks if I don't come in, of course I'd drop everything!
(stiff) Well, of course I can't say that. It's just that the doctors are very keen to see you.
I see. OK, well, January's going to have to do. Thanks.

I put down the phone feeling upset and annoyed. I'm afraid. The fear stays with me, in the background, for two weeks. I talk to myself: very keen doesn't necessarily mean ... how dare she leave you worried over Christmas ... don't say anything, you'll only spoil the peaceful family time ... it doesn't mean anything ... in fact, it doesn't mean anything ... no point in worrying until you know something for sure ... blah blah blah. The voices of fear. Point the finger. Justify. Reassure. Imagine the worst. Fear, slitherng from cell to cell, leaving a droplet of poison in each one. Fear, always just out of sight, at the edge of vision. Until it has the power of a wave, breaking over your carefully constructed constraint. Usually in the dark, when no-one else can talk, interrupt, distract ... Fear as panic.

{Panic attacks on boats on rough water ... get out the rescue remedy, 4 drops under the tongue, close your eyes, breathe ... }

In bed, in the dark, no rescue remedy handy, just breathe ... breathe ... breathe ... this too will pass ... wait until you know what's so; begone, fear!

10th January, 2008
I've stopped worrying, but the lump is painful. (Doesn't that mean it can't be cancer? I'm sure I've heard or read that somewhere, sometime in the last 50 years!) Also, I've started checking in the mirror. When I lift my left arm, the nipple and aureola sort of flatten, or even: suck back in. That doesn't happen with my right side. (OK, so doesn't that mean the lump is cancer? I'm sure I've heard or read about that, somewhere, sometime in the last 50 years!) I bolster my confidence in a happy future by reminding myself that when the very large lump was removed from my right breast some 40 years ago, the doctors told me that was a good sign: a benign lump = a cancer-free future
:-) It was, after all, simply brought on by taking an early contraceptive pill with too-high hormone levels. Change your pill, no probs now. Or later. Thanks. (She skips into a bright unthreatened longlife story, to travel, love and find good people and work, happy forever after).

to be continued