Did you know I wrote a book?

WordPress has just sent me a message telling me that this site is getting a lot of traffic right how. Hello and welcome! Please feel free to leave comments and to share anything you found useful with others. The whole purpose for keeping this blog was to help other women (or men) going through that long, dark tunnel that cancer offers us.

If you’re new here you may not know that I wrote a book about dealing with the fear of recurrence that is a common and perfectly normal consequence of recovering from cancer. I wrote it after a dear friend, who I met because of this blog, suggested it. Ricki was an amazing women who participated in as many experimental medical treatments as possible before her death, “Because I know I’m dying, Meg, but at least I can help other women before I go…”

When she got the news that there was nothing more doctors could do for her I made a trip down to Sydney to visit her. When I arrived, she was sitting up in bed, smiling and joking. I was gobsmacked! I told Ricki that I was all prepared for a weepy session and she said, “What your book taught me, Meg, is that every single day is precious. I’m alive today. I can still cherish my family for today, still be grateful for my life, still recognise how fortunate I have been compared to so many people in the world. You also taught me that I shouldn’t waste and of the precious time I have feeling sorry for my self!”

I wish I could say that the book will have this kind of impact on everyone that reads it (and what an amazing gift to the world that would be!) but I am certain that Ricki was just an exceptionally positive and giving person, and I am grateful for any part my book played in making the end of her life a little easier. Death is hard, even for joyful people and those that love them.

Ricki started following my blog soon after I started writing it, and her thoughtful and encouraging comments kept me writing when I might have given up. In a private exchange I once told her that I was feeling a bit swamped by all of the women that were contacting me to ask about dealing with that slow and creeping fear that the cancer would return. I had what I thought was good advice, but it was becoming increasingly demanding to repeat myself. “You should write a book!” she replied. So I did. Here’s the link:

Free From Fear: Living Well After Cancer

When I was choosing a title, I wondered how people like Ricki would feel. She knew by the time I had finished the book that her cancer was metastatic and considered incurable. “I like it. You’re living well after your cancer diagnosis and I’m living well after my cancer diagnosis. I don’t think you’ve excluded anyone.”

All profits I make from the book go back into charities that fund cancer research or support people with cancer.

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The Post Chemo Brain

I’ve had some interesting insights lately into what has happened to my brain since treatment. I was asked by Dan Palmer from ‘Making Permaculture Stronger’ to talk about how I apply permaculture design principles. He’s a joy to speak with, and asks the kinds of questions that stretch my mind. During the interview I talked about soft systems methodology as I understood it and Dan commented that my understanding differed from his. Following the interview I googled it. Sure enough, the articles and diagrams I found to explain soft systems bore no resemblance whatsoever to my understanding of it! What was going on? How could I be so certain about this knowledge and yet so wrong?

I think it’s something to do with chemotherapy.¬†Chemotherapy is like a wildfire that consumes a huge chunk of cognitive ability and what grows after it continues to surprise me. My brain was not commonplace to start with (and I suspect that if I had been born into this generation I may have been diagnosed as mildly autistic) so this new version seems to be some kind of unusual evolution from that.

I feel as if the chemotherapy burnt away all the detail and allowed me to see the underlying structure in things. It also seems to have fused different categories of knowledge together in unusual ways. Following treatment I had difficulty remembering my phone number and I intentionally pursued ways to rebuild my brain. That included rereading and relearning things I had known well before treatment. I enrolled in permaculture courses because I loved the subject and once understood it well, but found that post-treatment I struggled to articulate even the basic principles. Sure enough, the neural pathways started to rebuild, sometimes connecting with a flash of insight.

I pause here to apologise to the very tolerant teachers on the Milkwood permaculture courses that tolerated by often excited interruptions to their excellent training. I must have been one of the most disruptive students ever, and yet you remained empathetic. Thank you. I am deeply grateful.

It seems that like a forest after a fire I am creating something new from the devastation. It’s hard to say. I can’t return to thinking the way I used to think so I have no honest comparison. I do know that as I recovered from treatment I intentionally designed my own pathways back to health. I’m starting to suspect that I modelled the rebuild on permaculture. It seems that I may have bundled some of my previous knowledge together and developed some new and unusual connections. I feel like this evolution of my brain is a new and improved version.¬†I allow for the possibility that my thinking is actually very ordinary, but just novel to me because my cognitive function was so poor for a couple of years. I may just be a three year old discovering the joy of twirling around in circles.

In any case, it’s great fun to think and explore and design and create. I am perhaps the bird that broke its wings only to rediscover the joy of flight. I have a new appreciation that can only come from spending time unable to fly. I dip and swerve and soar for the sheer joy of it, and delight in the company of anyone that wants to play along side me. I feel like an eagle. I may be just a delusional sparrow, but this does not in any way detract from the joy of flight.

PS: Thank you to everyone that has remained interested in this blog and my apologies for not writing more frequently. I’ve been busy. If you enjoy my writing and want to read about something other than cancer I have another site here:
Smarter than crows

I’ll be copying this post to there, but everything else on that site is different to this one. It’s kind of a parking space for my new brain.