Driving south and sensational Sydney

After our long drive to Mum and Dad’s, and Alannah’s very late night, we had a relaxing day pootling around Mum’s garden and visiting Hat Head beach. That evening, sun and sky decided to put on one of its spectacular Kinchela sunsets for us, with flocks of birds soaring above the calm Macleay river adding an extra special touch. We had planned to have a few nights in Kinchela before heading towards Sydney, stopping off to see friends at various points along the way.

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I always say the only predictable thing about kids is their unpredictability, and this was certainly the case in the early hours of the morning when it became evident Alannah was not well at all. Both Paul and Alannah had experienced the Australian medical system at good old Kempsey Medical Centre within a few days of landing as they developed matching ear infections. Alannah’s cleared up pretty quickly with ear drops (Paul’s was a bit more stubborn) but we’d been able to stick to our itinerary up to this point. Alannah was far sicker now though, and with her temperature up around 40 degrees it was off to Kempsey Hospital’s A&E we went. She was so quiet and listless, so very un-Alannah like, and ended up falling asleep while sitting in my lap in the waiting room! It was the weekend and I was dreading the wait to be seen as we drove to the hospital, but there were only a few other people there so we were seen fairly quickly. The doctor we saw couldn’t find any obvious source of infection so concluded it must be a virus. We ended up having to stay in Kinchela and cut our Sydney time short by a few days as she was just too sick to travel, but once her temperature was back to normal and she was her usual chipper self we headed south towards Sydney, with a stop in the Hunter Valley along the way.

Melinda (Ninna) is my oldest friend in the world. She has known me since birth, and lived around the corner of the one street that constitutes Kinchela village with her Mum, my lovely Godmother Aunty Julie, all through Primary and Secondary school. We even ended up going to the same university in Newcastle! Now, Ninna and her partner live in a small village in the Hunter Valley, and it was wonderful to catch up and meet their menagerie of horses and cats!

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Alannah was well and truly in her element, as she loves cats and horses. In a few hours it was time to move on to Sydney. I’d arranged to meet my friends Suzanne and Amber in a park in Ryde before heading on to Grandad Geoff and Grandma Faye’s house. Both Amber and Suzanne have had kids since I saw them last, so not only was I excited to catch up with my mates I got to meet their adorable kids too!! And there was an added bonus, Suzanne’s mum was there too! It was a perfect few hours, gloriously sunny, great mates to catch up with and new little ones to get to know. The kids were totally engaging, confident, curious, full of beans and so so funny! Those couple of hours flew by, in the way they always do when you’re fully enjoying yourself, and it was soon time to say goodbye and drive to Belmore, where we would stay with Grandad Geoff and Grandma Faye for the next few days.

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Alannah has met her Grandma and Grandad several times before, the first time she was only 3 months old, but it had been a while since she last saw them so I thought she might be a bit shy and take a while to warm up. But it was only a minute or two after she came out from her peeking-out-from-behind-my-legs position before the full force, crazy, funny, adorable Alannah we know and love was in the house! Geoff and Faye proceeded to thoroughly spoil us with delicious meals and lovely local wines, and Alannah with presents-upon-presents and treats-upon-treats! We even discovered she shares a love of squirty cream topped ice cream with her Grandad.

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The next day we headed for Darling Harbour and the Sealife Sydney Aquarium. I’d forgotten how spectacular the simple act of catching a ferry is in Sydney, the views are breathtaking every which way you turn!

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The aquarium was fab, and we spent several hours there. Alannah got a bit stuck at the beginning as she got completely absorbed in brushing away sand to ‘discover’ a fossilized dinosaur, then covering it up with sand only to rediscover it. This happened over and over and over again, and woe betide any other child who tried to discover “my dinosaur!” Eventually she began to explore the tanks around her, delighted to find Nemo and Dory. Alannah soon became curious about another section, where a microscope, with slides of small sea creatures, and others encased in resin on top of a light box, attracted her attention and time.

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I was quite fascinated by the larger creatures we saw further into the aquarium, sting rays and various types of shark (particularly the enormous shovel-nose sharks), and particularly loved the dugongs. I’ve never seen one before, and found them to be so graceful as they would glide past silently with curiously human-like facial features. I can totally see how they were mistaken for mermaids many moons ago!

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But the highlight was saved for last…a raft ride through a penguin colony! We loved it, Alannah most of all, and when it was finished she wanted to go again. Luckily the guy at the raft ride entrance heard this and ushered us back on for a second (then third and fourth!) ride through! Once we’d thoroughly explored the raft ride we went to exit the penguin area, but Alannah became entranced by a few penguins hanging out near a large viewing window. One of them would waddle off to collect little chunks of ice, then waddle back to deposit each chunk, one at a time, on top of a pile he was creating right next to the window. As he was busily working, the penguin in the foreground of the photo below would wait til his back was turned, then dart over to the pile, attempting to steal the ice chunks! The first penguin was well aware of this and was on the lookout for trouble.

Whenever the cheeky thief penguin darted towards the pile, the busy builder penguin waddled back to intercept the would-be thief quick smart, with a noise that was very clearly protesting about the attempted robbery. It was quite hilarious, and we spent ages watching them. Later we asked the keeper about the ice-collecting behavior. Apparently it is connected to nest-building. In the wild the penguins would be collecting (or stealing) small stones to make their nests. The penguins in the aquarium don’t have small rocks to do this, but the nest-building instinct is so strong they collect chunks of ice instead.

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On the way back to Geoff and Faye’s we told Alannah that she would be meeting her uncle Kevin when we get back. Paul has a brother and sister living in Australia, Kevin in Sydney and Saf in rural Victoria. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit friends and family in Victoria on this trip, so that will be a priority on the next trip. Alannah was quite curious about uncle Kevin, and asked “is he a boy and he loves me?” I think the following photos provide the answer…

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Alannah was in full-on charming and adorable mode, and I think it’s safe to say they were both positively smitten!!

The next day we were off on the train and ferry again, this time to visit Taronga Park Zoo. While on the train Alannah, with her fascination/obsession with safety notices and ‘crossed circles’ signs, soon clocked this signimage.png

and asked us what each picture means. I explained the first three, then she told me the last one means “no chess.”  So when catching a train in Sydney, be sure to leave your chess set at home!

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My lovely cousin Fiona had gifted us the tickets to Taronga (I really can’t thank you enough Fi, the zoo was one of my highlights for the whole trip!) and I was really excited as I’d not been before and had heard great things. In reality, it surpassed my expectations! Seriously, if you’ve never been, put it on your bucket list. As a zoo it is quite simply marvelous, but when you add in the amazing views of Sydney harbor….

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It is absolutely spectacular! I swear those giraffes have the best view in Sydney!

Taronga has so many different animals and keeper talks/animal shows/interactive experiences it makes for a full-on exciting day. If I documented everything we did and saw here I think it might break wordpress, so I shall just share some of our highlights.

We went to the gorilla talk, which I’m sure was very interesting but I kept drifting in and out of listening to it as I became totally absorbed in watching them interact and play in a stunningly human-like way. Before the talk began the gorillas were in another part of their enclosure, and the keepers had hidden some treats (I think it was peanut butter) in random nooks and crannies, such as inside a hole in the triangular rock in the first photo. The gorilla in front of the rock first tried to pick it out with his fingers, but it was wedged too far back. Another gorilla came over with a stick, gestured putting the stick in the hole then gave it to the first gorilla.  It used the stick like the perfect peanut-butter-scooping-implement it is and soon, with the second gorilla helping with another foraged stick, they were licking peanut butter from sticks and fingers.

The second photo is of three larrikin gorillas, who sat side by side like this the whole time we were watching. I had my camera pointed at them for ages, silently willing a hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil moment to happen. They all did the actions at one time or other…just not at the same time! It’s like the cheeky buggers knew what I was up to! One would put his hands over his mouth, the other would start eating a banana, the third would scratch his bum, that kind of thing.

The elephant tower experience was just wonderful, and we were lucky to be visiting at a time when there were lots of baby elephant calves around! The mum and dad in the photo clearly doted on their little one, seemingly tickling it mischievously with their trunks!

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The ‘Tiger Talk’ area was very interesting, for the obvious reasons but also because it provided a stunning example of one of Alannah’s quirks. She has this ability to focus intently on really tiny, minor details and miss the really big, exciting things happening right in front of her. Case in point, this enormous tiger. We’d been in this position for a good 5 mins or so, hoping to catch a glimpse of a tiger that seemed increasingly unlikely to make an appearance as time ticked by, when he decided to start prowling around a small section of bushes, over and over again, no more than 2 metres from us! The amount of detail we could see was breathtaking. Alannah was focussed on some small detail in the rocky ledge in front of her, and despite both Paul and I vociferously attempting to draw her attention to the massive carnivorous beast in front of us, selective hearing was in effect and it took a good few minutes before she clocked it!

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The seal show was really fun, full of laughs and audible-intake-of-breath moments. Like this truly enormous elephant seal, who managed to outdo the smaller, more agile seals when he unexpectedly leapt up out of the water and flipped himself around in a circle!

The spider monkey encounter was another great experience. Small groups went into their enclosure to observe them, and happily they seemed quite interested in us as they came up quite close to check us out. They are incredible movers, their agility was spectacular to see in such close proximity. They’re very social as well, with large groups seeming to form out of nowhere, voice their opinions on the topic at hand loudly and simultaneously, before swinging off in myriad directions to pursue their individual/small group agendas.

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I have to include these next few photos. Alannah’s love of sticking her head through a hole to transform into whatever is painted on the other side is the stuff of legend!

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The next day was Paul’s last day in Australia, as he had to fly back for work. Alannah and I had another 2 weeks of adventure ahead of us, which would prove to be punctuated with tongue-in-cheek cries of “poor Dadda, having to go back to work!” Still, before he left I though I’d better put him to work and we headed off to meet up with a great friend I first met in high school, Tina (bootheeeyyyy!). We met at Top Ryde shopping centre, at a little play area I immediately fell in love with. It was situated in a large open space, with plenty of varied equipment and features to keep kids thoroughly engaged for long periods of time. But the part I fell in love with… it was surrounded by low, soft barriers so parents could see what their kids were up to, had a lovely coffee/cake/snack/lunch counter right next to it and large, comfy seating all around the outside. So I got to have a fantastic, uninterrupted catch up with Teens while Paul sorted Alannah out. Pure bliss! Of course Tina and Alannah became great mates pretty much instantly, with general tomfoolery and hilarity the order of the day.

Later we went to the cinema to see Peter Rabbit with Grandma and Grandad before a quick family selfie then off to the airport to send Dadda off on his way back to London.

“Poor Dadda, having to go back to work!”

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xx

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Brisbane

So onwards to Brisbane we went, to stay with my sister Kirsty, her partner Jason and their kids Layla and Conor. We spent loads of time together when they lived here in London, and they were sorely missed when they moved back to Australia towards the end of 2016. Alannah absolutely adores Layla. She was very excited about seeing her again as we drove towards Brisbane, so much so that with about 20 minutes drive left she loudly proclaimed “I love Layla so much I’m never going to stop playing with her” They have a very sister-like relationship, with all the ups and downs that go with it. It is quite funny to sit back and watch them with my own sister as they play adorably together, giggling and cuddling one minute then becoming incredibly upset/angry/ foot-stompingly frustrated with each other as they engage in an epic and emotional battle of wills over the direction their play should take. Add a little brother, Alannah’s cousin Conor, into the mix and it’s like stepping back in time 38 years or so and watching interactions between myself, my sister and my brother!

Kirsty lives in a suburb of Brisbane called Builmba. It’s a great location, 5 mins walk to the river and very close to the city, with lots of beautiful old Queenslander style houses. One of my favourite things about our time in Brisbane was having al fresco dinner on Kirsty and Jason’s verandah every night. Bulimba has a real family-oriented community feel, and on the day after we arrived there was a pirates and princesses party by the yacht club so we all went along. As we walked towards the park where the action was Alannah commented “gosh, we are away for a long time!” We weren’t even half way through at this point! It was a bit rainy towards the of the party, but we made the most of it with lots of dancing, singing, meeting Captain Jack and Elsa, face painting, sausage sizzle, cake stalls etc. In the afternoon we caught up with my friend Katie, who was also sorely missed when she moved from London to Australia late in 2016. Layla and Alannah were absolutely delightful, chuckling together and climbing random fixtures around Carindale shopping centre.

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The next day we went to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Opened in 1927 as a refuge for sick, injured, and orphaned koalas, it is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary, and is home to many other species of Australian wildlife. So, after encountering some lizards running wild along the way, Alannah’s first encounter with Australia’s iconic animals had to be patting a koala…

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Now that was a pretty great experience, but my favourite of the day was yet to come. There is a large ‘kangaroo reserve’ area where you can hand feed kangaroos, which I knew was going to be a big hit with bub and a really special shared experience for the 3 of us. But little did I know it would be even more amazing that I could ever have hoped… there was a Mama kangaroo with a joey in her pouch, and she let Alannah feed the joey!!!! It was, quite simply, breathtakingly wonderful!

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Alannah loved the kangaroos so much she promptly turned into one, jumping around amongst some very quizzical actual kangaroos! They have lots of other Aussie animals there, and after tearing ourselves away from the gorgeous kangaroos we found emus, wombats, Tasmanian devils, lots of different kinds of Australian lizards and birds and a platypus who was so surprisingly fast I didn’t manage a single photo that wasn’t at least partly blurry. We didn’t have enough time to get to all the animal shows and encounters scheduled that day but made it to the sheepdog show, where Alannah cackled away as sheepdogs darted and bounded around at the speed of light, bouncing onto the backs of some very surprised sheep!

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Last stop on our Lone Pine agenda was the rainbow lorikeet feeding. It was hilarious!! Just imagine hundreds of these rainbow coloured, loud squawking birds descending at once to feed on what looked to be a runny porridge mixture, served in bowls attached to long sticks, which the keepers handed out to visitors. The lorikeets were obviously used to people because they did not hesitate in perching on the edge of the bowls to gobble up as much food as they could! Alannah was very hesitant at first and most definitely did not want to hold the bowl despite loads of encouragement from Mama. But once the first frenzy of feeding had subsided a bit she accepted the help of a kind young girl who encouraged Alannah to share the bowl she was holding. From that point on she became more confident and happy to hold the bowl on her own. Once she had taken possession of a near-empty bowl she walked around a little, waving her bowl slightly aloft. Paul actually snapped a photo of the first moment a lorikeet landed on a bowl she was holding without any help…the look of surprise on her face still makes me giggle!

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When we got back to Kirsty and Jason’s Layla was back from school so we went to a lovely local park on the river, 5 mins walk away. Kirsty rode her scooter while Layla and Alannah took turns on Layla’s scooter. Just after setting off Alannah told us “I will be really bored when I get back to London.” I asked why, she replied “because I’ve had lots of excitement on my holidays!” Once we got to the edge of the park Kirsty propped the scooters up on a sign and started to walk towards the playground area. Alannah lingered near the scooters, looking a bit confused. Kirsty encouraged her to follow along but Alannah remained, quizzical. Then she came out with one of my favourite quotes of the trip- “But how can we get nobody to steal them [indicating towards the scooters]?” Such a London girl! It took quite a bit of explaining too, before she accepted she could leave them there and go play. So streetwise! Layla took on a proper big sister/teacher role as she taught Alannah how to use the rope climbing equipment, encouraging her to have a try for herself but providing a little support when needed. I love the second photo…she’s using the toe of her shoe to haul Alannah up the last part of the apparatus!

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Another highlight was a ferry ride to the city to have a lunch catch up with my wonderful wuthering friend Farina, followed by an afternoon at Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. The gardens themselves are really beautiful, with lots of wildlife around, but the highlight was the playground. Really natural-looking and blended really well with its surroundings, and so many different kinds of apparatus with lots of levels of challenge, making it suitable for a wide range of ages. Alannah and I both fell in love with this double swing….

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I must say, we really do playgrounds well in Australia! You can tell you’re in a bit of an upmarket area when the playground kitchen area contains one of these….

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This ‘baby barista’ photo can also be taken as a comment on how seriously Australians take our coffee!

After an all-too-brief stay it was time to head about 40kms north of Kirsty’s to Dakabin, where we would be staying with my friend Kel (aka Kelpie). I was super excited to see Kel again because a) she’s awesome and b) I haven’t seen her for 7 years, but especially because I would get to meet her hubby and kids for the first time! She had a daughter just after I had Alannah, and has a gorgeous little toddlin boy now too. It was so lovely to relax in the backyard, chatting and chilling while the kids played.

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The next day we went to a story session at the local library, checked out a couple of fab playgrounds and had lunch together before setting off again on a rather risky drive….530kms south, with a kid, leaving early afternoon. When I plotted out an itinerary for our time in Australia before we left the UK, this is the drive that I knew could potentially be the most difficult. It would all depend on Alannah. The plan was for Alannah to fall asleep in the car around her usual time, which would fall roughly half way through the trip, then stay asleep for the rest of the trip, allowing us to transfer a still sleeping Alannah from car seat to bed once we reached my Mum and Dad’s.  In reality, she fell deeply asleep an hour after we left, slept for 2 hours (despite our insistent attempts to wake her up to prevent inability to sleep at bedtime), then was awake for the rest of the trip! We didn’t arrive until 11pm! Best laid plans eh?!

xx

 

 

From Singapore to Australia

So Alannah has developed a bit of a fixation for safety messages. Especially what she calls ‘cross circles’ (like a no smoking sign), and often insists that we tell her what they mean whenever we encounter them. On boarding the plane to Sydney it became apparent that this pre-occupation also extends to the safety information in the seat pocket of airplanes! She had studied the London-Singapore safety leaflet in great detail, but as we boarded our Sydney-bound flight we realized that this was not a one off (as it turns out, she did it on every single flight!). As soon as she got into her seat she wanted her seatbelt done up, then the very next thing she did was examine the safety information, throwing in some awkward ‘what happens if…’ questions from time to time, right up until everyone had boarded, the cabin crew had done their checks and the plane was starting to taxi down the runway!

Our flight to Sydney was an 8 hour daytime one, and Alannah took to it like a long-haul frequent flyer. It went very smoothly, and, after we’d finished our meal she was so engrossed in the ipad shows and movies we’d downloaded Paul and I even got to have a little snooze! After quite a few too many hours of ipad I suggested she have a break from it and do some drawing with me. She agreed, took her headphones off and while getting the drawing things out suddenly sat up straight, looked around the cabin with furrowed brow and, channeling her inner international jet-setter diva again, proclaimed “where is our second meal?”

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By the time we’d arrived at Sydney airport, collected our bags, got a taxi to the airport hotel and settled into our room it was midnight and, much to my horror, Alannah was still awake! She hadn’t napped during the day at all so by now she was well and truly over-tired, which led to jumping on the bed, a chorus of “I’m not tired, I’m not going to sleep” and, eventually, a meltdown. I pity the people in the rooms near us, cos when she melts down it’s like she wants as many people as possible to hear how aggrieved she is and how unfair her awful parents are! She eventually calmed down about half an hour later and nodded off, having exhausted herself (and everyone around her no doubt!).

The next morning she was utterly charming, so excited to be in Australia and soon to be boarding a small plane headed north to Port Macquarie. Just before boarding the idea of Alannah seeing the pilot and cockpit popped into my head, so I asked the flight attendant. We had to wait until the plane had landed and all the passengers had disembarked, but then Alannah and I got to meet Captain Alex. She was quite shy and I ended up having to ask all the questions she’d wanted to ask, but was very excited about it afterwards and told everyone she met over the next few days all about it!

My wonderful mum, aka Nan Nan, was waiting at the airport for us. As soon as Alannah spotted Nan Nan she ran towards her, threw herself into the air and with that one enormous leap she was cuddling Nan Nan, arms wrapped around her neck and sheer excitement and delight on her face. As long as I live I’ll never forget that look or that moment, it was truly beautiful! Eventually I got to cuddle Nan Nan too, and before long we were off in Nan Nan’s ‘cruiser,’ headed for the village where I grew up, Kinchela. I had an inkling that Alannah might enjoy countryside life when, just before arriving in Kinchela, she pointed to some cows gathered together in a paddock and shouted “look, there’s a bundle of cows!” with great excitement!

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Kinchela village is very small but very beautiful, with just one street running along the Macleay river. It’s roughly half way between Sydney and Brisbane, with a population that has varied over the years from about 20-40 people. We used to joke that the village sign should read ‘Population: You.’ We’re about 5 minutes drive from the coast and our lovely local beach Hat Head, 16kms of beautiful white sand and pristine waves. After meeting her Pop Pop for the first time Alannah set off exploring the front and back yard. Everything seemed new and exciting to her: Nan Nan’s enormous frangipani tree, finding toadstools in the lawn, the river out the back, little native blossoms and especially mum’s garden. To call it a riot of colour would be doing it a disservice! Mum is a fantastic gardener and has a well-established garden with a mixture of native and non-native flowers, succulents, shrubs and trees.

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The weather had been really hot just before we arrived, high 30’s- low 40’s, but we seemed to bring the English weather with us and it proceeded to pour for the next few days! But we carried on regardless with trips to the beach and Hat Head village, where Alannah found shells and saw kangaroos in the wild for the first time. The day we arrived Alannah found a container full of macadamia nuts in the house. I don’t think she could quite believe  the little, hard, brown “rocks” had nuts inside! She was most intrigued and keen to see Nan Nan’s nut cracking technique so mum took her to the back yard and they proceeded to whack them with a hammer until they split open to reveal their delicious centres. I’m not sure which she enjoyed more, cracking them or eating them, and she returned to this simple but fun activity many times over the course of our time at Nan Nan and Pop Pop’s!

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After a few nights in Kinchela it was time to drive North towards Lismore to visit one of my oldest friends, Izzie (we met in year 5 at Kinchela Primary School). She lives with her husband Mike on an absolutely gorgeous farm outside Lismore, where we stayed the night. Alannah loved exploring the farm and meeting all of Aunty Izzie’s animals, especially Widget (the little black dog hanging out the window of Izzie’s ute in the first photo). Feeding Barbie the sheep was another highlight.

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We explored further afield in the morning with a little walk downhill to a watering hole where dragonflies of the most beautiful, translucent, shimmering blue hues darted about, pausing briefly on a log for a photo before darting off about their business again. As we continued on, heading uphill, Izzie explained that we might not see the horses or many cows, as they’d been in the paddock earlier in the morning but had headed off up the hills just before we started our walk. But, lo and behold, as we cleared the crest of the hill they were all there. It’s like they literally lined up to meet us! We even got to pat the horses, but before long we had to head back to the house as it was time to set off for Brisbane where my sister, Kirsty, lives.

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It had been so wonderful to catch up with Izzie and Mike, and see Alannah confidently exploring a new environment and experiences. As we drove off we passed the cows and horses, who had gathered either side of the long dirt track that wound its way towards the main road. A sad Alannah said her farewells to them: “Guys, I love you so much. I’ll see you again soon. Sorry we have to go.” Next stop, Brisvegas!

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Singapore, part 2

So in the evening of the day we went to Gardens by the Bay I’d organised to catch up with a friend of mine from Uni, Jen. Paul took on the arduous task of getting Alannah to go to sleep when she’d far rather be up and playing with her bestie, while I took off to a local bar to have drinks with Jen! It was a wonderful evening, I hadn’t seen Jen for well over a decade (maybe closer to two?!?!) so we had loads to catch up on! Jen is an amazingly successful business woman extraordinaire, and has literally travelled all over the world through her job.

Now off on a tangent here, I must tell you Alannah loves cats. She has several imaginary friend ‘catties’ (cay cake, huh huh, potato and banana) as well as a whole host of soft toy cats with their own personalities (the most notable is probably Leona, who often comes wrapped in a stripy blanket because she is shy and ‘doesn’t like to be seen by men’ ?!?!). Alannah herself regularly turns into a cat, and I am often told that I, too, am a cat and must behave accordingly. Well as it turns out Jen loves cats too, and although she doesn’t have her own imaginary cats she volunteers at a home for stray, abused and dumped cats, called the cat museum (www.thecatmuseum.com.sg).It is located in an area where a few original streets survive, and it provides such an interesting contrast to the super-modern buildings around it. It runs entirely on donations and volunteer staff, so if you’d like to make a donation or, if you live in Singapore and fancy volunteering or would like to adopt a cat, you’d be  supporting a fantastic cause!

There are certain hours that the general public can visit and indulge in a bit of cat therapy, but as soon as I told Jen about Alannah’s love of cats she organized a special out-of-hours visit for us! So the next day we spent nearly 2 hours playing with cats, and it was bloody wonderful!!

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Alannah particularly loves the idea of those little bags/cages people use to transport cats, so she was utterly delighted to find a large assortment of cat bags and a loads of cats willing to play along as she packed them in, zipped them up, picked up the bag, put it back down again and unzipped the bag…

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We couldn’t have timed our visit better if we’d tried…7 days previously one of the cats had given birth to 3 kittens so Alannah got to pat them as well! They were so young they hadn’t even opened their eyes yet. So cute!!

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After a quick afternoon snack it was time to say goodbye to Aunty Jen. What follows is a series of photos I absolutely adore. Jen puts Alannah’s sunnies on. Alannah lifts her dress up. Jen, in mock-horror, says ‘oh my eyes! Put that tummy away!’ I say ‘you know what happens if I see a bare tummy…I have to tickle it!’ Alannah covers up as I lunge towards her tummy. She repeats this a few times, with her chuckles turning into cackles then into squeals of delight. Then Jen, to Alannah’s surprise and utter delight, tickles her bare tummy! It was simply hilarious!

The afternoon ended with the girls having another dip in the pool. Excitement levels were very high as the next day was Jasmine’s 4th birthday party!

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The next morning Veronika had organised for Alannah to go along to Jasmine’s ballet class! Parents don’t go into the class with the kids, but the girls must have thoroughly enjoyed it as, when I arrived to collect them, Jas and Alannah came out holding hands and grinning from ear to ear!

Then it was time to party! Matt and Veronika had organised a bouncy castle, the best balloon modeller I have ever seen (check out the balloon Elsa!!), loads of yummy food and a rainbow cake that had not only rainbow icing on the top and sides of the cake…each layer inside was a different colour too! And with the pools and water play features for the kids (and adults!) to splash about in….suffice to say the party was a rip-roaring success!

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On our last full day in Singapore we had a lovely family day out on Sentosa Island, just south of Singapore’s CBD. Sentosa basically has every kind of leisure and recreation activity you can think of…Universal Studios, golf courses, bungy jumping, swimming with dolphins, KidZania, a zipwire, Madame Tussaud’s, Segway tours, waterparks, sandy beaches, wave pools, aquariums, a casino, virtual reality experiences, day spas as well as many luxury resorts and hotels. We took a cable car over to the island, which I definitely recommend doing if you’re in Singapore, the views are pretty spectacular! It was Alannah’s first cable car ride too and, thankfully, she absolutely loved it! First stop on the island was the Palawan Pirate Ship, a huge water play area designed for 3-10 year olds. As well as a massive pirate ship there were 3 water slides of differing levels. Alannah had never been on a water slide before, but you wouldn’t have known it to look at her! She just kept going back for more, over and over and over again! After the better part of 2 hours she’d even worked up the courage to try the biggest of the 3 waterslides, one of those fully enclosed, twisty tube types. I must admit I held my breath from the second she disappeared into the tube at the top until she reappeared at the bottom, grinning from ear to ear!

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After a spot of lunch, armed with Jasmine’s sand toys, we headed for Palawan beach. The girls had a fab time playing in the sand together, and I particularly enjoyed some mummy time while Paul took Alannah for a swim. The beach itself is very picturesque, but I found it a bit surreal too, as not too far from the shore were loads and loads of tankers and cargo ships! I’d never seen one of these kinds of ships so close to a beach before, so seeing THIS many was most unusual! On the way back a storm started to make its presence felt, which made for some spectacularly dramatic views from the cable car. We’d been really lucky with the weather, with mostly hot, sunshine-y days.

There were only 2 occasions where it rained, both starting late afternoon. It tends to bucket down for a little while then return to pre-storm temperatures impressively soon after the storm has ended. It reminded me of working in Derby, way up north on the West Australian coast back in…ooooo….1998 I think it was! It was so hot the school day went from 8-2, to avoid the hottest part of the day in the mid-afternoon. Every day at 5 o’clock it would absolutely pelt down with rain for 10 minutes, then stop as abruptly as it had started. It was incredible, you could set your watch by it!

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The next day we had a 10am flight to catch to Sydney. We’d had a truly brilliant time in Singapore, it’s a wonderful, interesting city with so much to see and do, especially for kids! Enormous thanks to Matt, Veronika and Jasmine for putting us up and looking after us so thoughtfully, and to Aunty Jen, in whom Alannah has found a cat-loving, fun-loving kindred spirit. As for me, I do solemly declare that I will NOT let decades go by before we see each other again Jen, far from it!! So it is with a mixture of sadness to be leaving great friends, gratitude that we will be back in Singapore for a few days on our way back to London, and great excitement to be returning to my homeland for the first time in 6 ½ years that we head for the airport. Australia, here we come!!

xx

 

Singapore- “We’re at Singapore because the lump has all gone!”

Thinking back to this time last year when the nurses gave us the ‘Mummy’s lump’ book to explain my cancer and treatment to Alannah (where the family go on holiday at the end, when mummy’s treatment has finished and she is feeling better), I can’t quite believe I’m sitting here writing about the post-treatment holiday we just had! It simply astounds me to think that this time last year I was just about to begin chemo. What a difference a year can make!

Alannah was in fine form as we caught a packed, evening rush hour train to Gatwick on 26th February, full of excitement and enjoying the novelty of being up past her bedtime. She was wide awake and full of questions such as “is there air at the airport?” Once we got to the airport the over-tiredness started to show…she turned into a total ratbag*, running around and around various sections of the waiting area, screeching and squealing in excitement! The flight was a little delayed as they had to de-ice our snow-covered plane (it was the night that London’s big cold snap started), but Alannah was more than happy to watch all the action. She was showing no signs of tiring at 11:30pm when we boarded but started to tire towards the end of her meal. She konked out soon after the cabin crew cleared away and turned off the lights and stayed that way, curled up on top of me, for the next 6 hours! I’d packed a bag full of books, drawing, toys, snacks and an ipad, so she was well-entertained for the remainder of the trip. It’s such a relief to know that she’s fine with long haul flights

* An antipodean term of affection for a mischievous, havoc-wreaking child. ‘Got the rat in ya’ basically means the same thing.

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It was mid-evening when we arrived in Singapore. Paul and I were pretty tired (I think Alannah got more sleep than the pair of us combined!) and very grateful to spot my friend Veronika waiting for us at the airport! Before we knew it we were back at Veronika and Matt’s lovely flat, where Jasmine was waiting with much excitement to see her friend again. It’s making me smile right now, thinking of how excited and sweet they both were!

Although I’ve had many flight transfers in Singapore I’d never actually seen Singapore beyond the airport, so we began sightseeing the next day. Alannah loves open-top double decker busses, so what better way to get an overview of the city than a City Sightseeing open-top bus!

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Singapore is a very modern city. Think gleaming skyscrapers with clear, straight lines interspersed with buildings and structures of more interesting, organic looking architectural shapes and designs. And then there’s the heat! Although it was about 34 degrees most days it felt hotter due to the humidity. But there are air-conditioned shopping malls everywhere, so whenever it got too much we just ducked into the nearest one to cool off. After a loop on the open top bus we were starting to overheat a little, so stopped for a snack at Suntec City, where Alannah was delighted to find a frozen yoghurt make-your-own-sundae shop and this “colourful cow!”

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Later in the afternoon we headed back to meet Veronika and Jasmine, so the girls could go for a swim together at their apartment complex after Jasmine finished school for the day. I can’t even begin to tell you how heart-warming it was to see Jas and Alannah splashing about, having enormous fun together! Not to mention the relaxing effect of sinking into the water after an action-packed, rather sweaty day! The pool area is gorgeous- spacious, leafy and flower-filled with 4 separate pools and some water play features for the kids. This is where the title quote comes in, as Alannah joyfully proclaimed “we’re at Singapore because the lump has all gone” while splashing about with Jas.

In the evening we headed to one of the local food courts, where lots of different varieties of Asian food are available alongside delicious, fresh fruit smoothies. We even had some musical accompaniment, in the form of a keyboard player and singer, and some dancing (i.e.: Jasmine and Alannah showing off their dance moves!) to keep us entertained.

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The next day we were off to the amazing ‘Gardens by the Bay.’ It’s a huge, colourful, futuristic nature park built on reclaimed land in the heart of Singapore, by the waterfront. It reminded me of the Eden Project in Cornwall. When arriving at the gardens you are met with a most spectacular sight: three amazing ‘supertrees,’ vertical gardens growing around a tree-like metal structure. We were quite lucky at the time of our visit because, although Chinese New Year had recently ended, the gardens still had their spectacular themed displays on show, which really added to the excitement of our visit. Before we set off for the gardens Alannah had found a particularly large leaf on the ground just outside Jasmine’s apartment complex. After pretending it was an umbrella she insisted on bringing it with us, and when she spotted all the lions and dragons at the gardens she decided they were hungry and needed to be fed…with her leaf of course!

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We went to the ‘flower dome’ first. It was utterly, spectacularly beautiful! I was, of course, expecting to see some flowers, but the sheer amount and range of flower types growing there was quite amazing! The whole place is visually stunning…

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They also had some intricate, themed woodworking on display, based on Alice in Wonderland.

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So sometimes I like to pretend I’m a bit of an arty photographer. There are two things that bring this side of me out: intricate doorways/windows/frames (any aperture really, especially when there is a stunning view or something interesting framed by it) and flowers. I have no idea why it is just these two subjects that bring out my inner snap-happy artiste! Now, given there was an overabundance of the latter at Gardens by the Bay, I hope you will indulge me as I upload and copy far too many close-up photos of flowers into this post….

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Next we entered the dreamy-sounding ‘cloud forest.’ Designed to mimic a higher altitude, misty mountain environment it was much cooler than the flower dome and a welcome relief from the (well, to our London winter acclimatised bodies at least!) scorching temperatures outside! The relief was immediate as the first thing you see when entering this dome is a waterfall…

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Starting with the ‘cloud walk’ at the very top, there are a series of levels to walk through, such as the ‘crystal mountain’ and the ‘treetop walk.’ But my favourite was the ‘secret garden.’ When you first walk in it looks like a garden filled with green foliage, red flowers and a little pond, but when you look more closely….half of it is made of lego!

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There were some large flower-inspired sculptures dotted throughout the cloud forest, plus many opportunities to don my faux-photographer hat and take photos of the city and the supertrees through the apertures created by the external structure of the dome.

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Last stop on our Gardens by the Bay adventure simply had to be the ‘Children’s Garden.’ We’d heard there was a great water play area there, and boy oh boy we were not disappointed…

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I’m going to end this post now (only 2 days into the trip!), as I don’t think wordpress will be able to handle many more photos! Seriously, if you’re ever thinking of starting a blog, don’t go with wordpress! It’s quite temperamental, not particularly user-friendly and the functionality is more limited than I first thought. For example, I still haven’t found a way to reply to comments! So as I prepare to hit publish I’ve got my fingers crossed it all works!

xx

‘Cancer survivor.’ Who, me?!?

Well what a long time between posts eh?! I had every intention of keeping the blog updated at various stages of our big trip, but true to form the itinerary I planned turned out to be pretty incompatible with rest and relaxation, let alone blog updates! I hadn’t factored in (well, had forgotten really!) how exhausting long distance driving is. But I wouldn’t change a thing, it was a most wonderful, exciting, amazing holiday! I’ll start the travelogue in the next post, which is almost ready and will be uploaded in a few days.

I can’t remember if I mentioned this already but shortly after I was diagnosed they offered me some therapy sessions, which I took up. I wanted to ensure I stayed  on as much of an even keel  psychologically as possible throughout the treatment, and it would give me a chance to talk about how Alannah is experiencing my illness, and how we can best support her emotionally. My therapist is amazing, I get so much out of our sessions, even now that treatment is finished. But just after the surgery she began to refer to me as a ‘cancer survivor.’ I felt a bit uncomfortable with it because, to me, a ‘survivor’ is someone who, for example, is trapped underground after an earthquake, only to be found weeks later, near death, but somehow manages to pull through. But towards the end of radiotherapy I began to understand what she means by this.

It started when, with just a few days of radiotherapy to go, several people asked me what I was doing to celebrate the end of treatment. The question caught me by surprise because it hadn’t occurred to me, not even for a second, to celebrate the end of treatment! Then I started wondering why. I also reflected on the way I had constantly kept myself busy throughout treatment. I hadn’t planned to do so. When first diagnosed I thought I’d use the time to rest, recover and look after myself through learning new things like meditation and yoga. But that’s not what happened. Without realising I was doing it, I had various projects constantly on the go, such as learning about cancer/inflammation fighting/ immunity boosting foods, trying out loads of related healthy recipes, and of course moving flat half way through chemo was a good opportunity to further distract myself with DIY and decorating. I was like a woman possessed!

I talked to my therapist about these things during the session after radiotherapy ended. Apparently this kind of distraction technique is quite common! It’s like your body can’t process the mental and emotional enormity of having cancer while physically being bombarded with toxic chemicals and all the nasty side effects that go along with it. The mental and emotional aspects of having cancer are sort of put to one side. But that doesn’t mean they go away. My therapist said she sees a lot of women who soldier through treatment, keeping themselves busy busy busy, only to have the mental/emotional aspects catch up with them soon after treatment, or in some cases several years later. I think this is why I hadn’t given a single thought to celebrating the end of treatment. I’m realising that while treatment has ended, my experience of cancer will never end, nor will the shadow of a possible recurrence. So I think that’s what my therapist means when she refers to me as a cancer survivor- I survived cancer, the bloody thing has been eradicated from my body, but the mental and emotional scars remain and potentially take a lot longer to resolve. Maybe they never go away completely, but are something I will learn to live with.

Surprisingly, given my tendency to catastrophise, I don’t really worry or think about ‘what if it comes back’ very much, but I want to keep it in the very back of my mind as a distinct but very, very unlikely possibility. Months ago, while waiting for an oncology appointment, I overheard 2 women having a conversation about their cancer. They didn’t know each other beforehand, but their current tumours represented a recurrence of their original cancers, many years later. Both women said being diagnosed the second time around was a far bigger shock, and far more difficult to deal with. I think if I convinced myself that it’s never coming back, and then it did, I’d really struggle. So keeping it at the back of my mind is kind of like a little insurance policy!

So there’s one last little incident I want to write about before getting on to the lovely holiday stuff in the next post. It happened during one of the Herceptin injection appointments just before we flew to Singapore. I was shown into the usual room (it’s a private room, off to the side of a small chemo unit where patients have chemo meds through a cannula), the nurse checked my identity details as per usual then got on the phone and spent the next half hour trying to rearrange an appointment for another patient. I was bemused, and relieved when she finally got off the phone and left the room, presumably to get my Herceptin. Then I didn’t see her again for another half an hour. I was getting more and more agitated, frustrated and upset, as I knew if she took much longer I’d have trouble picking Alannah up from After School club before Nursery closes. Then a feeling of tightness in my chest began and before I knew it I was having trouble breathing. I knew if I didn’t have the injection soon it would spill over into a full-blown panic attack. So I left the room and searched the ward for that nurse, going back into my room to focus on yoga breathing whenever I felt too close to tipping point. I found her eventually, almost an hour and a half after my appointment time. She actually had my injection in her hand, but explained that she was on her own and was trying to find another suitably qualified nurse to double-check the medication and my details (this is standard procedure). So I returned to my room and continued yoga breathing until she returned with a colleague 10 mins later. They checked off my identity and medication details, the second nurse left and my nurse came into the room and shut the door. Pretty much instantly the tight, knotted chest feeling melted away and within a few minutes I was back to my normal self! Then I realised that shutting the door cancelled out the noise of the chemo machines (when the machines finish administering a bag of drugs they make a series of high-pitched, piercing beeps to let the staff know the patient is ready for the next lot. It doesn’t stop until a nurse comes to turn it off and hook up the next dose. In an average session of chemo your own machine might make this noise 8-10 times. When other patients’ machines start going off at the same time (which happens often) it’s like they are talking to each other. Thinking about it afterwards I realised that most of it was attributable to the noise of those machines. This is going to sound very silly, but it’s like I suddenly realised ‘that used to be me sitting in those chairs with the machine beeping at me, that used to be me who had cancer!’ What a strange time for the realisation ‘oh my god I had cancer’ to hit me!!

xx

Big news…big trip!

So here’s the big news…. we’re having a big holiday in Singapore and Australia before I go back to work! We figured there’ll never be another chance to have a holiday during school term time, and the next few months for me need to be all about resting and regaining my strength so I feel ready to go back to work on 18th April. What better place to do that than the motherland! Plus some warmer weather will hopefully work wonders health-wise. And we leave very, very soon….tomorrow!!!! We fly into Singapore where we are visiting friends from way back when Alannah started swimming lessons at 5 months old, then land in Sydney in the evening of the 5th March. After that, I’m not completely sure, I’m still trying to fine-tune some details, but we’ll be doing a great big figure of 8 drive for most of the trip (basically Kinchela-Lismore-Brisbane-Kinchela-Newcastle-Sydney-Buxton-Hunter Valley-Kinchela), then will probably fly to Brisbane for the last week, have a little surprise early 4th birthday party for Alannah at my sister’s house, then it’s off to Singapore again on the 9th April for 3 days before arriving back in London on the 12th! When I booked the trip I thought it’d be plenty of time to visit everyone, but we’ve ended up having to skip Victoria completely! Getting everything prepared and organized for the trip has been a bit of a nightmare, I think I’ve forgotton how much there is to do when you go on a trip as long as this! Plus there were a few crises along the way….

One evening about 2 weeks ago Paul applied for visas to visit Australia, a simple online process. I was planning to travel on my British passport as my Oz one expired in 2016, but when he applied for my visa it said I couldn’t get one because I’m an Australian citizen. A little digging revealed that I HAVE to use my Australian passport to enter the country! A process that normally takes 10 weeks! Just getting an appointment to go to the embassy to apply usually takes 4 weeks! I called them the next day and they offered me an ‘emergency’ appointment…for 22nd Feb, 4 days before we fly out. They do have a pricey expedited passport-making service, so I could get it in 2 working days. Meaning I would receive it the day we were due to leave! Luckily, as we were talking another emergency appointment opened up, so I grabbed that one and 4 days later had the appointment, paid the expedited fee, and a week later had a brand new shiny Australian passport. Phew!!

Little did I know, a bigger, more stressful crisis was just around the corner….on Tuesday night, 6 days before we were due to fly to Singapore, I just happened to find out, completely by chance, that all 3 of my narcolepsy medications are on Singapore’s list of prohibited substances, and I was supposed to apply for special permission to import them into the country at least 10 days before flying there!!! For a brief second I considered not doing it and taking my chances, but then remembered they have the death penalty for importing prohibited substances! The next day was spent running around like a madwoman, getting all the supporting medical info they require. By the evening I had all the forms and info required and emailed it off, 4 Singaporean working days before we were due to land. I also asked if there is any way to expedite the application. I spent the next day checking my emails like a woman possessed but to no avail! Another anxious night and day passed with no news, then on Friday I had an email saying the application had been approved! Such a relief!!

Oh, and the other big news…treatment has been completed!! I still need to have the Herceptin injections every 3 weeks until Nov/Dec, but I finished radiotherapy a few weeks ago, and have been pretty lucky with the side effects. The boob was quite sore and red for a while, and of course there was extra fatigue to deal with, but that was about it! On the last day of treatment Paul brought a surprise bunch of flowers and prosecco home to toast the occasion. The 3 of us sat around the dinner table, said cheers and clinked glasses. After taking a sip of her water Alannah’s brow suddenly furrowed and she looked mightily put out. “No, no, no, when you say cheers you have to say ‘the treatment is done!’” Which we then had to do many, many more times throughout the meal!

She had a week off Nursery for the mid-term break recently, and I had an appointment on the Friday to have my Herceptin injection so Alannah came along with me. The nurse asked if she would like to be her helper, of course bub jumped at the chance! She very gently scrubbed the injection site on my thigh with the alcohol scrubber thingy, then the nurse did the injection. It takes a few minutes, and Alannah watched for a while then rubbed my shin ever-so –gently to comfort me. But I think her favourite moment was when the nurse let her put the plaster on the injection site, her face was an absolute picture!

I’ll keep the blog updated with lots of photos and, no doubt, stories about Alannah as we make our way around Singapore and Australia. I’m a bit nervous about the flight, as Alannah has never been on a flight longer than 2 hours before! But we’ve had lots of excellent advice and tips about surviving long haul flights with kids from well-travelled friends, so hopefully that’ll see us through!

We’ve just put Alannah to bed and I was just about to hit ‘publish’ on this post when Alannah calls out “I can’t sleep, I’m too excited about tomorrow!”

I know how she feels!!

xx

Hair, glorious hair, and adventures in radiotherapy land

Hi everyone!

Wow, it’s been a long time between posts eh?! It’s been a weird, challenging few months, in a way I wasn’t expecting. It’s hard to describe, but the phrase that keeps returning to my mind is general malaise. I thought it would be a slow but steady improvement in my health and well-being, but it’s been slower than I expected and anything but steady! The back to back infections and virus’ (mostly ear/sinus related) have continued pretty much since the surgery. There have been decent/good days in amongst it, typically 2-3 in a row. I’d find myself getting all excited and thinking ‘ok, this must be it, it must be the start of the upwards arc of improving health and immunity!’ But then I’d pick up something else and go downhill again. It started to have a bit of an impact on my mental health, so whenever I have a few good days in a row now I’ve had to make a point of reminding myself not to get too excited, I might get sick again! I think subconsciously I’m chomping at the bit to feel healthier and more energetic, and to get back to normal life, so the disappointment when I go downhill can get a bit overwhelming. But the past month has had less downhill slide moments and more good days so I’m cautiously pleased about that!

The fatigue is still pretty extreme, and one of the main factors impacting my feelings of frustration about how long it’s taking to recover. About 2 months ago I started having a bit of trouble with my breathing. It feels like I can’t quite get enough oxygen into me, as if I can only get about 75% of the oxygen needed to feel like I’ve had a proper breath, the kind of normal breaths you have when you don’t even notice your breathing. I made an appointment with my GP and in the meantime puzzled about what it could be for a few days when suddenly I remembered I had the exact same sensation many years ago. Back then it turned out to be low iron levels, so my oncologist added an iron test to my routine blood tests. Turns out my red blood cell count and ferritin levels are low, indicative of anaemia. So I’m experiencing cancer treatment fatigue, narcolepsy fatigue and now anemia related fatigue….no wonder I’m so bloody tired!! Still, it was a relief to find out the breathing issue wasn’t indicative of anything more serious. The GP prescribed iron tablets 3 times a day, which I know from the first time I had this problem (my ferritin was 7 then, I have no idea how or why I remember that!) will take a few months to start having an effect.

But on a positive note I’ve started radiotherapy and it’s going really well so far! I have to go in every day for 4 ½ weeks, and I’m on day 6 at the moment. The process is absolutely painless, it’s just like having a scan. Before it started I had an appointment to lie comfortably. Yep, you read that correctly, an appointment to lie down! I had to lie on the radiotherapy table with my arms over my head, resting in 2 sets of stirrup-type things, and wriggle around until I was in a position I felt would be comfortable for up to 30 mins. Then a few radiographers took loads of super precise measurements of the exact position I was in and made 2 small tattoo dots to help with alignment. So when I go in for treatment I wait until my name appears on a screen, go in to the changing room to strip off the top half and don a fetching hospital gown, then lie on the table when they’re ready for me. They gave me a thin but strong blue mat thing I have to remember to bring in every day (if you forget they give you another one. So far I have 3!!), it goes on the table under my shoulder blades. Then the radiographers move me around a bit, sometimes pulling the blue mat, sometimes there’s a bit of light manhandling involved, calling out numbers until they are happy that I’m in the exact same position I was in at the appointment to lie down. They usually draw on me a bit then I basically lie as still as I can while different parts of the machine appear. Sometimes they stay still for a few minutes, sometimes they move slowly around me. Sometimes there’s a green laser style line, sometimes there’s a little noise, sometimes there’s nothing. Some of the parts deliver the radiotherapy, some do scans and x rays. Yesterday the main radiotherapist said there is a very small area of swelling they want to scan, so the last thing that happened was 3 of the different parts appeared at the same time, moving slowly around me and under the bed in a full circle. It was such a surreal sight I nearly burst out laughing, then remembered that literally the only thing they need me to do is lie very still, so managed to stop myself. Then it’s back to the changing room, into my clothes and off I go. The delivery of the actual radiotherapy is usually the quickest part of the whole process, which usually lasts around 6-8 minutes on average. The quickest has been just 3 minutes! When they need to do scans it takes a bit longer, 20 minutes is the longest so far, but that was the first one. I fell asleep, had myself a nice little nap! I haven’t felt any side effects yet, but my boob does feel a bit…odd. Not painful at all, but a very weird feeling unlike anything else I’ve felt. I’ve been struggling to put my finger on it, but the best I’ve come up with so far is it feels a bit heavy! The most likely side effects will be fatigue and skin irritation. It can be quite mild (a bit red and sore) or it could get very red and itchy, and blister. They say most people start experiencing these in week 2 or 3, so hopefully I’ve got a bit longer before they start.

Alannah started back at Nursery with a bit of a change in her behaviour, she’s become a bit tearful and clingy at drop off in the mornings. I figured it’s likely to be no coincidence that its happened at the start of radiotherapy, and although we’ve tried to explain it to her I think it’s a much more difficult concept to grasp than chemo, so we asked if she’d like to come to radiotherapy and of course she said yes. So Paul and bub came with me for the most recent session. As we were getting dressed and ready to go in the morning she randomly told me “I’m going to see if I can cuddle the 2 circles of your boobs” and was delighted to find she could!

The visit seemed to go well, she didn’t ask a lot of questions but watched intently as the radiologists moved me around until I was in the correct position. Paul and Alannah couldn’t stay for the actual delivery of radiotherapy, I was hoping that she could go into the little room the radiologists retreat into to see the computer screens displaying the scans and radio delivery and see mummy on the video feed, but they had to go back into the waiting room. Suffice it to say, the words ‘restricted area’ have surfaced repeatedly in her recounting of the experience! The staff were absolutely wonderful with her and gave her as much access as they possibly could. Along with a few chocolates. That part always makes an appearance in her recounting! Here’s a few photos…

  

A cuppa in the waiting room                         The radiotherapy machine

Now onto some most exciting news….my hair is growing back curly!! Well the sides are, the top is sticking up like an 80’s flat top at the moment! It’s growing like wildfire, every day I wake up and it looks a bit longer than the day before! At bedtime a few nights ago bub ran her fingers through my hair and said in amazement “wow, your hair is getting REALLY long mummy!” Ironic, considering it’s just a few centimetres long at best! But not all my hair is following its lead.

It’s like my hair overall is telling me ‘right Anderson, you’ve been pumping shit into our body for 6 months straight, holding us back, not letting us grow. A few of us got so fed up of waiting they packed their bags and left months ago. Who knows if they’ll ever come back, there’s no sign of em yet! You might have done your dash with them, but the rest of us are going for gold! Now go and look up fastest growing hair in the Guiness book of records, we’re up for a challenge!’

It’s my eyelashes who packed their bags and (most of them) left. The few stubborn ones that remain are very thin and short. There’s no sign of the deserters returning yet but I live in hope! My eyebrows were threatening to follow suit but have returned to Team Sharon with a vengeance in the past few weeks. Thankfully they never completely disappeared but became very sparse and short. When the ones that fell out started to regrow they were very slow, then seemed to get stuck at a few millimetres long, like they decided to have a sit down protest and not grow any longer for a few months. I’m happy to report their issues have been resolved now and they’re looking much more like their pre-chemo selves.

Phew! You’ve got through to the end of this marathon post! Thanks for reading folks. It won’t be so long between posts next time. If fact the next post will be in a week or two, and will contain some very exciting news indeed…..

xx

From 34 to 3.4…results time!

Well I have some excellent news to share…..the tumour margins and lymph nodes are officially free of cancer cells!! The surgeon actually said results don’t get much better than that, so I couldn’t be more pleased! He also told me that the excised tumour was 3.4mm in diameter, which means chemo had shrunk it from 34mm to 3.4 mm which is just amazing. I’ll still need to have radiotherapy, most likely every day for 4 weeks starting just after Christmas, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now. During the operation I ended up having 2 procedures done: the breast/lymph nodes and removal of an old grommet in my right ear. Unfortunately I’ve developed an ear infection called labrynthitis, but I started antibiotics yesterday so hopefully will be up and about again soon!

I’m going to take you back a few weeks now to the day of the surgery. Although I was on the afternoon surgery list I had to go in early to have a little procedure done in the Breast Imaging Unit. Using ultrasound, the doctor inserted a very thin wire into the tumour, and another one into the fibroadenoma right next to the tumour. They act as a sort of guideline so the surgeon has a direct path to cut along to get to the coils that were inserted into both lumps before chemo began. The doctor doing this was quite funny, he told me they wanted their coils back, and described chemo as weedkiller “it kills the nasty weeds (the shrunken tumour) but leaves the nice green grass (the unaffected fibroadenoma) alone!” Anyhoo, it was as if the tumour knew its hours were numbered and it was going to make the most of this last opportunity to make mischief and drama before permanent eviction procedures take place. It just would not stop bleeding! It wasn’t a lot of blood, more like a slow leak, but it took about 15-20 minutes until it had slowed enough for me to have the final part of the procedure done, a mammogram. They do this so the surgeon can see the wires have been inserted correctly. So they taped the wires to my skin, I got up off the bed and, helped by a nurse, walked a few steps into the adjacent room where the mammogram machine was. I sat in a chair while waiting for the radiographer but after a few minutes I started feeling a bit dizzy and told the doctor and nurse. While the doctor went to find a stretcher the feeling got stronger and stronger until…..I woke up in a bed! I felt disoriented and a bit unwell, and it took me a while to realize I had actually passed out. Apparently I had been unconscious for 5-10 minutes. Not the greatest start to my surgery day! After that I had to be portered around the hospital whenever I had to go anywhere, which mostly involved a lot of waiting around for someone to come and push me to my next destination! So after a while a porter pushed me in my bed to the Day Surgery Unit. They put me in recovery for a while, until I felt steady enough to get up, get changed into a hospital gown and complete the rest of the admission process. Next I had to go to the nuclear medicine department for an injection so, after a long wait, a porter pushed me there in a wheelchair and I was injected with some radioactive stuff. This is all about finding the lymph nodes to biopsy during surgery. The radioactive stuff is injected just under the skin (of my nipple- ouch!) and goes straight into the lymphatic system. When it reaches the first of the lymph nodes (called the sentinel node) some of it stays there. The next node along retains some too but not quite as much, then next node does the same and so on. During the operation the surgeon uses a special instrument sort of like a mini Geiger counter to find the sentinel and the next few nodes and remove them. In essence, they find them by listening to them, pretty cool huh?!  So, between waiting for porters and a busy nuclear medicine clinic, nearly 2 hours later I’m wheeled back to the Day Surgery Unit. I was getting a bit anxious (and hangry!) by this point, because I knew I was first on the afternoon surgery list but it was getting close to 3pm by this point and I was worried I’d missed my slot. I did not want the surgery postponed and to have to go through the fasting and injection again the next day! The staff reassured me the surgery would happen and I wouldn’t have much longer to wait. The anaesthetist came to have a chat at 4pm, and shortly after I went into a little room next to the surgical theatre where she put in a cannula, gave me some gas and knocked me out. Just over 2 hours later it was all over. I ended up having to stay the night, probably due to a combination of the late hour and the fainting episode, but woke up the next day feeling ok. Paul and Alannah arrived just before lunch, armed with coffee, a card and a drawing of “3 cats hiding behind bushes,” and I was discharged and home again a few hours later.

About a week later I noticed a lump the size of a pea in the middle of my chest, just under the skin. The following day it was at least 5 times bigger and quite sore. Luckily I had an appointment with the surgeon the next day so he had a look at it as well as taking the dressing off and checking the surgery site. He said it looks like an infected sebaceous cyst and tried to drain it, but nothing would come out! He prescribed antibiotics and sent me for an ultrasound, which confirmed his diagnosis. The really strange thing about all this is it could have happened at any point in my life, it has nothing to do with the surgery! Apparently sebaceous cysts can lie dormant for years and years then swell up totally randomly. I gotta hand it to this one, it has the most bizarre timing ever!!

Recovery was generally ok, but I had vastly overestimated how quickly I’d be up and about and able to go back to normal life! I’d made plans to see friends over the weekend that I had to cancel. This has been a bit of a pattern for me, throughout chemo as well, and I’ve had to cancel many plans with friends along the way which I hate doing! One of the things I’m looking forward to the most when I’m 100% back to my normal self is being more reliable in that respect! The wound was a bit more painful and the general anaesthetic a lot more tiring than my unrealistic expectations had predicted, but about a week after surgery I was pretty much up and about as per usual. Despite having a blue boob. Yep, there are patches of blue skin around the incision because of a dye they inject during the surgery. I was aware it would happen, it was mentioned while talking about side effects in the pre-operative assessment (I made a very serious surgeon laugh when I referred to this side effect as ‘smurfiness’), but it is a very strange thing to see! It’s not usually permanent, and mine is fading already. It also turned my wee blue for 3 days! Which reminded me of the first chemo drugs which used to make my wee red. I’m making my way through a very surreal rainbow folks!

xx

A quick update

The lump has been officially evicted!! I had the surgery yesterday (both the ear and breast procedures at the same time), all went well but I ended up having to stay overnight because I didn’t get into the operating theatre until after 4. It’s a bit more painful than I thought it would be, but I think my expectations were a bit too optimistic! It’s pretty well managed with the painkillers they’ve given me though. There is lots more to tell so I’ll write a longer post soon, but just wanted to let you all know I’m ok in the meantime.
xx