Why I Support Cannabis Law Reform

It shocks a lot of people, given my previous employment as a NSW Police Superintendent, to learn that I support law reform in relation to Cannabis. There’s an assumption that all police oppose drug law reform. This is incorrect. Police see first hand the consequences of ‘the war on drugs’ and the futility of an enforcement based approach. Many wonder if we shouldn’t have the same kind of shift that happened many years ago with alcohol. Remember when ‘drunks’ used to get locked up for the night? Now excess alcohol consumption is considered a health issue.

In July last year I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. It’s more aggressive that other forms of breast cancer and has a worse prognosis.

As a consequence of my diagnosis I’ve been researching medical cannabis. I’ve discovered that breast cancer, particularly triple negative breast cancer, might respond to treatment with cannabis.

I’ve spent many hours watching YouTube videos of people claiming their cancer was completely cured using cannabis oil (also called ‘Rick Simpson Oil’) and I’ve waded through several dozen research papers. I think those claiming that cannabis kills cancer need to modify their claim to ‘cannabis kills some cancers’ and I do wish they didn’t feel the need to completely denigrate all forms of mainstream treatment, but it’s very clear that there’s a growing body of evidence to support their claims.

If you’d like a short film on the subject then google ‘Run From the Cure’ or ‘Cannabis and Cancer’. If you’d like a quick summary from a reputable source, including plenty of research citations, then have a look at this: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/healthprofessional/page4

I support any reforms to our legislation that will make cannabis available for medical use.

You will appreciate that given my background and my long history of opposing illegal drug use, I have not come easily to this decision. The evidence is compelling. Cannabis, in some circumstances, kills some cancers. It also helps people cope with the side effects of chemotherapy and provides better palliative pain relief for some people than the alternatives.

I’ve been following, with interest, the work of the parliamentary committee into medical cannabis use. The Police Force, via The Commander of the NSW Police Drug Squad, Detective Superintendent Nick Bingham, expressed concerns that making cannabis medically available would increase illegal drug use. Their concerned that it will ‘leak’ into the community.

In spite of police force opposition, the committee unanimously recommended that cannabis should be made legally available to terminally ill people. Unfortunately, the State Government rejected the committee’s recommendations. There’s a bucket of words they used to defend their decision but it’s just pollie-speak so  I won’t insult your intelligence or waste your time quoting it. After appointing a committee to wade through the mountains of evidence and listen to patients, doctors, advocates and detractors the committee did what they were supposed to do and made evidence-based recommendations. For political reasons their recommendations were rejected.

I know that these changes would only have been of benefit to me if (when) I am close to death but having seen my father’s reaction to morphine (paranoia, anorexia and feeling like he had insects crawling under his skin) prior to his death from cancer, I know that would be a big improvement on what’s currently available in palliative care.

Here’s my best argument in support of legal medical use:

I do not dispute that cannabis is abused but the evidence is clear that it provides some people a better and safer form of pain relief than commercially available drugs. It has less side effects and is better tolerated.

Medically available pain killers are also the subject of wide spread abuse, but we do not make them illegal on that basis. These drugs are stronger and more dangerous that cannabis, and overdose can be fatal.

It seems unreasonable to deny terminally ill patients a safe form of medication because of the abuse by some people, when drugs that are far more dangerous are legally available in spite of abuse. It also demonstrates a chronic lack of compassion.

Prohibition does not prevent drug abuse (or we wouldn’t need a drug squad). Legalisation for a specific section of the community does not undermine enforcement. As an example, consider steroids.  They are widely abused by body builders but their benefits to sick people mean that we can still get them on prescription. They are not banned just because some people misuse them.

I would argue that the same ‘greater good’ standard should apply with regard to medical cannabis. The benefits of cannabis to critically ill people outweigh the risks associated with illegal use.

I would add that cannabis abuse, unlike pharmaceutical abuse, is never fatal.

Here is my best argument in response to Commander Nick Bingham’s concerns expressed to the committee: That there is a danger of ‘leakage’ into the community and an increase in cannabis use:

The current legislation is not preventing sick people from using cannabis. Spend some time in the waiting room of any oncologist and it isn’t long before people are telling you about how they purchased their vaporiser or where they get their cannabis. In my case, these people are middle-aged women with breast cancer and no previous history of drug abuse. Some of them talk about how they almost gave up chemotherapy and then found cannabis relieved their chronic nausea.

Go online and it’s not too difficult to locate people in other jurisdictions that are happy to offer you cannabis products, and happy to send them into this jurisdiction. There are several sites promoting ‘Rick Simpson’s Oil’ and several more extolling the virtues of cannabis for curing everything from multiple sclerosis to epilepsy. There is information on making your own cannabis oil and advice on how to locate suppliers.

For those unencumbered by a twenty year police history and the accompanying respect for the rule of law, cannabis and cannabis products are easily obtained. Many of the people involved in the production and distribution of cannabis products do so out of compassion. Some of them don’t even ask for payment. There’s a cluster of different communities out there, all sharing names, advice and precautions. If you wanted to obtain cannabis oil to treat cancer you could probably do so within a week, just by roaming Facebook and asking politely. Assuming you couldn’t get it locally.

In spite of my background, I’ve had three different friends offer to supply me with cannabis (much to my surprise). It turns out that it is widely used as a recreation drug by people not usually associated with drug abuse. You wouldn’t pick any of these people as ‘dope smokers’. I was fortunate. I did not have nausea with my chemotherapy. If I had been so ill that I couldn’t eat and cannabis relieved this, would I have used it? Absolutely.

Cannabis seed is also easy to find and easy to import. The internet has all of the information you need to successfully grow your own, or to find someone to supply you. There’s even ‘medical seeds’ available, with lower THC (the stuff that gets you high) and higher CBD. Contrary to some people’s views, those using medical cannabis generally want to avoid the recreational effects.

Ask any high school teacher about the availability of cannabis for recreational use. Do you know what they’ll tell you? Kids have no trouble getting it if they want it.

So my strongest argument against Nick’s claim is this: the legislation is unlikely to cause ‘leakage’ into the community because cannabis is already so widely available that the change in legislation will have little impact upon supply. What it will change is the criminalisation of patients and their carers.

I appreciate that this is not a politically palatable response but it is the truth.

Of course, not all of the people offering cannabis oil or cannabis products are genuine. Because people wishing to use cannabis oil need to break the law to do it they are easy prey for criminals. Fortunately, the Facebook community groups are very good at naming and exposing fraudulent sellers, but you need to be a member of those groups to access that information. A lot of people searching for cannabis oil on the internet are desperate. They don’t have time to join forums or conduct research. Some of them have forked out thousands for industrial hemp oil worth a few dollars. Others send money and never receive any product. It’s risky, and financially draining, at a time when people least need this kind of stress. Legislation would undermine the criminals.

There’s plenty of information available about how to make your own cannabis oil. It’s not difficult, but it is dangerous as it involves using highly flammable solvents. People have been seriously injured when a spark ignites the whole lot and a fireball engulfs them. Legislation would allow for safe manufacture.

People will continue to buy cannabis oil, or make it, and use it, in spite of it being illegal. It surprises me that people in positions of power have so little empathy. If they had terminal cancer, or someone they loved had terminal cancer, and they knew cannabis would ease their pain more effectively than prescription drugs wouldn’t they break the law to get some? How about this question; if you or someone you loved was diagnosed with cancer and you formed the opinion, based on your research, that cannabis oil might actually cure that cancer would you use it?

This debate is less about whether or not sick people will use cannabis and more about the conditions under which they will use it.

At present, people choosing to use cannabis have the additional stress of worrying about where they will obtain a regular supply and what will happen if they are arrested. At a time when these families already have so much to be anxious about, making cannabis legally available to them would be an act of compassion.

There’s a flip side to the current legislation. Many people who would benefit from cannabis are not even prepared to try it while it remains illegal. In some cases this means giving up chemotherapy early because of nausea. In others it means enduring unnecessary pain and distress. If cannabis is conclusively proven to cure some cancers then there are people dying right now that might have been saved.

As an additional supporting argument I offer the observation that many of the cannabis forums include stories of police officers acting compassionately when they detect cannabis possession by seriously ill people. These officers find themselves in a position where they judge the law to be bad law, and choose not to enforce it. They place themselves at professional risk by doing so.

There are those that argue that cannabis has serious side effects for some people. Psychosis is the most often cited. Morphine causes acute paranoia in some people and it’s also highly addictive. We don’t ban it. We make sure it’s only available on prescription and that its use is monitored by medical professionals. Why not do the same for cannabis.

There are also those that argue that legalising cannabis will be ‘the thin edge of the wedge’. They worry that legalising cannabis for medical use will somehow naturally lead to legalisation for recreational use. Just about the only thing that has ever been the thin edge of a wedge is the actual edge of an actual wedge. This argument is a fallacy. Things don’t just somehow magically get incorporated into legislation. It needs to go through parliament. That’s why we make our laws that way.

I’d add that in Colorado the first measurable impact of their broad legalisation of cannabis has been a significant drop in youth suicide. It’s early days and I’m watching that state with interest. They might just change my mind about recreational legislation.

There are those that worry about the lung cancer risk associated with smoking cannabis. It’s fair to say that smoking anything is bad for you. That’s why people using medical cannabis usually use a vaporiser or ingest the oil. There’s no need to smoke it. And, of course, if you’re terminally ill you’re probably not too worried about the long term side effects of anything.

I hope my arguments have given you a basis on which you can lend your support to the availability of medical cannabis. I know that a large part of the obstacle to this legislation is public perception. Politicians are concerned over being seen to ‘go soft’ on illegal drugs. In this regard, I think pointing out that we don’t deny morphine to terminally ill people just because some people abuse morphine is, perhaps, the best response.

It is my fervent hope that we see a change in legislation and that it will open the way for much needed research into the potential benefits of this plant. It may well hold the cure for many cancers and is already being used overseas to treat children with epilepsy and Dravetts syndrome. It is unlikely that there is sufficient time for any of this research to be of direct benefit to me but cancer is hereditary and I have a daughter.

PS: Alcohol is a group one carcinogen, proven to cause a whole raft of cancers. That’s not a reason to legalise cannabis. It’s just hypocritical to have alcohol so freely available when it’s of no possible benefit to anyone while cannabis remains illegal.

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The Long Journey Home

When you recover from the flu there’s that glorious moment when you realise you’re well again. The bins are emptied of used tissues, the chest rub goes back into the medicine cabinet and the sun comes out.

Cancer isn’t like that.

When I reached the end of treatment I think some part of me expected to wake up feeling well. I would jump out of bed and head back into my huge garden to spend the day happily carting mulch and pulling weeds. The fact that chemotherapy finished in December of 2013 and here it is almost May of 2014 and I’m still dealing with the after effects should have been a hint. It’s a long journey back to being as well as I can be.

My difficulties are compounded by everyone’s expectation that I’ve recovered. My hair and eyebrows are back and I look pretty much the same as I did when I was diagnosed. Treatment is over and my friends and family are glad to be free of the worry that my cancer imposed. Everyone tells me how well I look. It seems selfish to respond with the truth. I feel like a ran a marathon and got beaten up at the finish line.

It almost seems ungrateful to complain about side effects. No doubt about it, the chemotherapy, the surgery and the radiation saved my life. Most of the serious side effects associated with each of these have passed. I’ve even gained some unexpected bonuses. My hair, always baby fine and fly away, seems to have found my father’s genetic heritage and is growing back thick and wavy. The genetic propensity  for cancer comes from his side of the family so this seems only fair. I’m also now the proud owner of matched breasts and the scar on one of them sits neatly below my swimmers. My previously fragile finger nails are now strong and my skin looks so great even the doctor at the skin clinic couldn’t believe it.

Then there’s the down side. The most noticeable problem is persistent pain in my pelvis and lower back. Massage and three trips to the physio haven’t helped. I think it’s either the notorious bone pain that comes with chemotherapy or a consequence of walking strangely on my nerve-damaged feet for several months. My feet are much better than they were but the back pain is bad enough to make standing or walking for longer than about an hour reasonably painful.

My hands are also sore, particularly first thing in the morning when I can’t make a fist. They improve throughout the day but never lose that pins-and-needles sensation or the feeling that I’ve forgotten to remove a pair of latex gloves. While they’ve been numb I’ve managed to wrench the left thumb and overwork my right elbow. My grip is unreliable. I drop things. I need to be very deliberate with anything hot.

My taste buds are still registering most savoury foods as metallic. If I could live on ice-cream and apples this wouldn’t be a problem. Of course the reduction in appetite does mean that the weight gain caused by the steroids is a thing of the past but I miss sitting down to a favourite meal and knowing what it will taste like.  I’m finding that very bland foods are best, like steamed corn cobs and pumpkin. Most things don’t taste the way my brain thinks they should taste and with very few exceptions this is not a good thing.

The fatigue is pervasive. Enervating. I haven’t been this tired since my daughter was a baby. I need to be flexible about the gap between what I plan to do and what I can reasonably achieve. The trick is to push just a little bit beyond the fatigue, but not so much that it’s counterproductive.

I don’t mean to complain. I mean, I know I am complaining but it seems mean spirited. I’m alive, after all. Lots of people come through treatment with a much longer list of far more serious side effects, including the impact of a mastectomy which I’ve managed to avoid by the skin of my teeth and the skill of my doctors. I don’t feel entitled to complain.

I’m not fatalistic. I’m aware that at this point a lot of people throw up their hands and just accept that their health has been permanently compromised. Here’s my mantra:

THERE IS NO UPPER LIMIT TO HOW WELL I CAN BE

I wasn’t expecting recovery to be such hard work. Most of the information on breast cancer focuses on getting through treatment. There’s a bit of discussion about ‘your new normal’ and some advice about how you’ll be different emotionally, but not a lot of practical information on how to recover from the side effects of treatment. I’ve had to develop my own recovery plan. Here’s a summary:

1. Food
It worries me how obsessed we all seem to have become about food. Every week there’s a new warning on something we used to enjoy and a new ‘super food’ that we’re all supposed to rush out and buy. This week it’s fermented vegetables and the paleo diet (although I’m pretty sure paleolithic man did not eat lamb skewers with chimichurri sauce). Last week it was goji berries and gluten free. My diet is based on the wise advice of my good friend, Cat; cook most of your food from scratch, avoid processed stuff, buy organic where you can, and, most importantly, figure out what works for your body. For me that includes A2 milk and yoghurt, grass fed organic meat and loads of vegetables and fruit. I might do a more detailed blog on my diet one day but it will still carry this caveat; what works for me may not work for you.

2. Drink
Water, water and more water. I still need to work at drinking enough of it. I know I feel much better when I do. I also have two cups of coffee in the morning (no more and none later or I’m staring at the ceiling when I should be sleeping) and sometimes a herbal tea in the afternoon. I don’t drink alcohol any more. I have allowed myself the option of having one drink every month to cover big events where there’s a toast or the occasional dinner out when I may have a single glass with dinner. Mostly this is a way of giving up without feeling deprived. I might not actually have that glass of wine.

3. Exercise
I practice yoga every morning or later in the day if life means I have to skip my regular time on the mat. Yoga has played a big part in my ability to cope with treatment. In the depths of chemotherapy when I didn’t feel like I had the energy to even get down on all fours, let alone move through a sun salute, I would remember my husband’s advice; The days you least feel like yoga are the days you most need yoga. Half a dozen cat stretches later and I would feel my energy start to rise. My beautiful yoga teacher, Emma, encouraged me to start practicing at home, every day, in addition to my weekly class. What a gift her advice has been. She told me that even five minutes a day would make a difference. Some days it really has been only five minutes but most days I start with the intention of doing five minutes and half an hour or an hour later I’m enjoying that glowing, peaceful relaxation that I can only achieve with yoga. I’m also walking. It’s too soon for anything more strenuous but I am interested in high intensity training and it’s potentially cancer combating properties.

4. Relationships
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return. Cancer makes you acutely aware of the finite and fragile nature of life. Spending time with the people I love is an important part of my recovery. So is being grateful and thankful. I am kinder and happier because of this illness. It’s probably cancer’s greatest gift.

5. Detox
Not the fad kind of detox where you drink lemon juice for a week or fast until your gut aches but a whole-of-life detox that involves shedding everything potentially toxic or even just no longer useful. To give you an idea of the scope of this endeavour, it includes the cupboard under the sink, my makeup collection, the pantry, my bookshelves, the DVD collection, my TV viewing choices, my wardrobe and my Facebook ‘friends’. This is a slow process and I’ll probably do an out of season spring clean as I feel up to it. This part of my recovery is about removing chemicals and foods that are potentially toxic and it’s also about simplifying my life, reducing what I own to what I really need and love and enjoying the sense of accomplishment that comes with doing that. I find this kind of housework very therapeutic. It’s also going to involve an emotional detox as I jettison unhealthy thinking, clarify my values and decide what’s going to matter to me from now on.

6. Giving back
Part of my recovery will include giving something back. I’d like to volunteer at Breastscreen or with some other charity that supports people with cancer. I know I’m not quite strong enough yet, but I’m getting there. I like helping people.

7. Meditation
It boosts the immune function, calms the mind and generally makes anyone with a regular mediation habit a happier person. Just ten minutes a day so why is it so hard to find the time? I think if I add it in at the end of yoga that will work.

I’m not sure if this blog will continue to be part of my recovery. In some ways, I feel like it’s reached a natural conclusion. I certainly hope that I never have reason to write about a relapse and I’m not sure recovery is interesting enough or compelling enough to be the subject of a blog. I’ll see how I feel. Perhaps there’s still some things to write about being happy and staying positive even when you don’t have cancer.

Meanwhile I’m going to focus on my recovery. Way back at the beginning of all this, a good friend likened cancer to climbing a mountain. I forgot that once I’d climbed it I’d need to find my way back down again. Let the long journey home begin.

 

 

Digging a Hole with my Brain

This is not unexpected. Just about everyone that finishes treatment has head noise that sounds something like this:

“I want to celebrate but I don’t feel like it. I’m still recovering from treatment. There’s the sweats and metal mouth and the peripheral neuropathy thanks to the chemotherapy, there’s the scar and the numbness and the strange electric-like pulses through my breast thanks to the surgery, and there’s the skin damage and fatigue caused by the radiation. But it’s more than that.

There’s a sense of not being sure who I am any more. Cancer walks into the middle of your game and throws everything up in the air. It steals the board and kicks the table over. There’s no point trying to pick up where you left off. It’s going to take a new game.

I want to celebrate but some part of me whispers caution.

What if it comes back?

What if it’s already back and I don’t know it yet? Does thinking that mean it’s true? Is that my intuition talking and warning me that it’s back?

Does even having the thought that it might come back mean that I’ve reduced my chances of staying well? Can I think myself sick?

Isn’t it the case that, with hindsight, I recognised something was wrong in the months before I was diagnosed. Makes sense. It’s my body. I live in it. If something is wrong with it then some part of me must know that. Right?

Right?

Maybe I should have a scan. Just to be sure. Just to be safe. But then I’ll be right back here in a couple of weeks, still uncertain. There really is a limit to how many scans you can safely have.

I want to celebrate but celebration means letting go of all the really good things associated with being a cancer patient. It’s not a great way to be the centre of attention and the focus of so much love, but there you go. It is. The people that love me have gone out of their way to take really good care of me. I have largely been relieved of any regular chores. It’s been lovely….well, apart from the cancer and the side effects.

I want to celebrate but maybe this is just the calm before the storm. Maybe this is just the support act for the main event. Maybe this was just to get me ready for the highly aggressive metastasising cancer that is yet to come. …”

And so on….

I call this ‘digging a hole with my brain’. You can see why. Here’s what I do about it. I write it down and then I rewrite it. Here’s what I get:

“Everyone has cancer all the time. I know that now. We don’t all have terminal cancer, or even tumours, but we all have the mutated cells with the potential to become cancer swimming around in our bodies all the time. Will I get cancer again? I already have it. (I know this doesn’t sound very positive to some people but it’s strangely reassuring to me). The question is whether any of those cells will trick my body into providing a blood supply. I know that there are lots of things I can do to help prevent that from happening. They include eating a diet that focuses on lots of organic fruit and vegetables with some organic meat and a lot less processed food. I can also maintain my commitment to not drinking, manage my stress, keep up my yoga and increase my meditation. I can focus on being happy as a genuine strategy for improving my health because I know it’s not just about my mental health but my physical health as well; happy people have better immune systems, longer lives and lives worth living.

Concerns about the cancer returning are normal and expected. I don’t need to focus on them. I can acknowledge them in the same way that I notice the weather. It is what it is. Work with it. Don’t define it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ it’s just weather. So when the doom and gloom hits me I should just look at it like a passing storm cloud and let it float away.

Yes, I’m not sure who I am any more but there’s good in that. I’ve broken some old habits. I’ve lost some not-so-good friends and found some new ones. I’ve sat quietly with death, holding hands, until we were comfortable with each other. This is a great opportunity to redefine who I am, what I value and what’s going to be important for me as I head into the future. I’ve had great help from the psychologist at the Oncology Clinic and I now feel very clear about what kind of life I want, what really matters to me and what sorts of activities I want to be involved in.

It is hard to let go of being the centre of attention but it’s also great to let someone else take the spotlight and to be the one doing the caring for a change. My husband has surgery coming up. It’s an elective treatment designed to reduce his snoring and apnea and he postponed it when I was diagnosed. It will be an opportunity for me to return a fraction of the care he’s shown me. This is how families work. This is how close relationships work. We take turns. I’ve had mine and now it’s going to be great to help other people. I know from the work I’ve done on what I value that I really enjoy helping people. It’s a big part of who I am.

When it comes right down to it I need to face the possibility that the cancer might come back and that it’s okay to have that thought. For all the fans of ‘The Secret’ and other beliefs around manifesting what you imagine, there is absolutely no basis for believing that my attitude or my beliefs will either prevent or cause cancer. This dangerous school of thinking essentially blames everyone for their own diseases. I know that a positive attitude helps my immune system and makes me nicer to be around, but it won’t prevent cancer, any more than having a negative thought will cause it. For proof, just ask people that work with cancer patients. The truth is that some relentlessly positive people die while some depressingly pessimistic people recover. This is good news. It means I don’t need to beat myself up, ever, over anything, and particularly not over whether or not my thinking might kill me. It won’t.

Yes, the cancer might come back, and it might not. It’s not true that there’s nothing I can do about that and I’m going to do what I can to improve and preserve my health, but it might come back anyway. If that happens I will have the comfort of knowing I did what I could to prevent it (and this was a big part of giving up drinking) and the knowledge that I’ve put my body in the best possible position to fight it again. I don’t want to fight it again. I will if I have to. I also won’t worry about that because worry is just using what might be to suck the joy out of what might be!

This is life. Unpredictable. Chaotic. Messy and wonderful. Life. It sure beats the alternative.”

And so on…..

I’ve decided that it’s okay to move into recovery without a big celebration. While it is a transition from active treatment to recovery, the journey to good health isn’t over. I’m going to need some time to rebuild my strength and to recover from treatment. I’m going to feel better as time slides past and I reach the two year mark, and the three year mark, and the five year mark.

I like the idea of declaring myself well at some point in the future and celebrating then. When I’m feeling strong and vital and healthy again I’m going to feel like a party. It’s okay not to feel like one now.

Instead I’m going to focus on resting. One week of serious resting and then I start to slowly, slowly rebuild. This is the new version of me. In some ways very like the old version of me and in other ways completely and utterly changed. I am stronger than I knew. I am wiser for the experience. I am greatly loved.

I am alive.

 

 

The Difference Between Grateful and Thankful

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If you’ve been following this blog for a while you already know I’m a fan of gratitude. Having some kind of habit associated with being regularly grateful is an excellent way for me to stay positive, to improve my state of mind and to break old and negative thinking patterns.

I have two more radiation treatments and then that’s it. The months and months of treatment will be over. I will still need time to recover from the impact of the treatment but my focus will shift to being as well as I can be, rather than dealing with chemotherapy, surgery or radiation.

I’ve been spending some time thinking about he difference between being grateful and being thankful.

Gratefulness folds inwards. When I take time each week to list seven things I’m grateful for, the people that rate a mention don’t necessarily know anything about it. The circumstances and events of the week become something I contemplate and reflect upon. Taking time to express my weekly gratitude has, over time, resulted in a permanent shift in my perspective. I am much more likely to see the good. I am happy with what I have. Gratitude is the precursor to contentment.

Thankfulness blossoms outwards. It’s the active expression of gratitude. It involves taking the time to sincerely express my appreciation to other people. Thankfulness reminds me that we cannot achieve anything on our own. It keeps me humble. It provides the mechanism for taking a portion of the love and care that others have extended to me during my illness and turning it around.

I’ve done some of this as I went along. Cards, appropriate gifts, and just taking the time to let people know how much I appreciate what they’ve done for me have all been part of dealing with cancer.

The transition from treatment into recovery is something most cancer patients find challenging. Time to discover ‘my new normal’. Time to move away from the safety net of constant medical attention and back into the big, unprotected world again. Time to let go of ‘cancer patient’ as a defining label and just be myself again. Time to put together a plan for recovering from side effects and rebuilding my health. Surrender. Acceptance.

I think that part of dealing with this transition will involve a lot of thankfulness. I enjoy taking the time to really let people know how much I appreciate all of their love and support.

I learnt the power of thankfulness a few years back when I wrote to my favourite author. It occurred to me that I had been reading her work since I was fourteen and she must therefore be getting very old. I wanted to let her know how important her books had been to me. I wanted to pass on the best quote I’d ever heard about her work (I wish I’d said it first), “Sheri S Tepper writes the kind of books that reshape your thinking so effectively that you can’t go back to the way you used to think, even if you try.”  I wanted to let her know that my daughter had also read her work and that it had helped to shape her views on everything from religion to social justice to the rights of women. Pretty good work for a fiction writer.

I didn’t expect an answer.

I was delighted when Sheri wrote back to me. She told me she’d been feeling a bit down because she’d been unwell and her publishers had often told her she was ‘too polemic’ and that she could have been a bestselling author if she’d been more like this author or that author. She’d been wondering if her life’s work had achieved anything at all and then my letter arrived.

That’s one of the best things about thankfulness. The impact it can have on people usually outweighs the effort you put in. A simple letter or a card or a well chosen gift can make an enormous difference in someone’s life.

A couple of weeks back we took the friend that filled our freezer out for a really great dinner with her husband. After all the meals she’s made us it seemed only fair to shout her one in return. Of course she’s the kind of person that’s always helping other people, often without any thanks, so she was surprised and just a bit delighted.

I found the softest dressing gown in the world and bought it for my Mum. I hope it makes her feel like she’s wrapped in a big, warm hug. That’s how I’ve felt being around her. She’s had an amazing knack of turning up when I’m at my lowest, often just for a cup of tea and a chat. She also took me away to Norfolk Island for a break after chemotherapy. Thanks Mum. You’re amazing.

I’m seeing another friend tomorrow for lunch. She’s kept us in home made biscuits for the duration, ensuring we had something nice to offer guests as well as a treat for ourselves. I’ve found a present she’ll really like and I’m looking forward to her reaction.

When Buddhists meditate on gratitude they include all of the people that invented, developed, manufactured and distributed everything around us. They are grateful for the people responsible for the roof over their heads, the cups in the kitchen, the water that comes out of the tap.

It would be impossible to thank all of those people but I really like the idea of taking time to look at everything around me and asking “Who do I have to thank for that?”

Some time this week I’ll make a list of all the people that I want to thank, just to make sure I haven’t missed anyone. I won’t be publishing that list. I think most people prefer to be thanked privately and the risk of a list is that you’ll leave someone off, or offend those that did a great deal by including them on a list with those that did just a little.

At the top of that list will be the Breastscreen service in Gosford. Without them I would almost certainly be dead. They picked up tumours that usually go undetected at a time when my full recovery from cancer was possible. I know they use volunteers to help out on the days when women get their call back for further tests. Nine out of ten of these women won’t have cancer and they make a point of telling you that when you get the call back. Of course, this statistic means that one out of ten will have cancer. It can be reassuring for people in this situation to meet someone that has beaten breast cancer. I’m hoping that’s me.

I want to say, “That’s me. I’ve beaten cancer” but I really need to wait a couple of years before I can say that with confidence. Triple negative has a high rate of recurrence and a high rate of metastasis (spreading through the body). Once I’m two years cancer free my risk drops considerably. At five years cancer free my risk is about the same as the general population. My radiation oncologist tells me that my cancer is unusual because as well as being triple negative it is also ‘node negative’. He’s hoping this means it hasn’t developed the ability to trick my body into thinking it’s healthy cells. Me too.

I also want to find a way to let my husband know how thankful I am for all of his love and support. Having a partner with cancer is only very slightly better than having cancer yourself. Some people find themselves abandoned after diagnosis, or left to get on with treatment without much support. Graham’s been wonderful. I’ve insisted on him continuing with all of the things he enjoys, including playing in two bands and volunteering with the local fire brigade. He’s insisted on making me the centre of attention.

Being thankful always results in me feeling very loved and well cared for. Gratitude bounces.

So this week will be my ‘thankful week’. I’ll be taking time to sincerely thank everyone that’s contributed to my recovery. You might like to join me. Think of five people that have made a positive contribution to your life. Say ‘thank you’. See what happens.