Dear Everyone – The right kind of Slackness

When I had cancer people said the most outrageous things to me. Theses included such wisdom as ‘Oh its Karma‘ and ‘I know exactly what you’re going through because my 94 year old father has cancer‘ and ‘Good things will come out of this‘. Worse and less was said to me. And because none of us know what to say to people in difficult situations like death or cancer these efforts to be supportive were not what I needed

There is nothing good in cancer. I don’t believe in Karma or evil people wouldn’t continuously get away with doing evil things and because your 94 year old father has cancer that doesn’t mean you understand what its like to be 40, with young children and being told you may have 3 months to live.

But none of the people who said these things said them with the intention to hurt me. In fact the opposite was true. All these things were said in love, with the intent to be helpful, to empathise and to be supportive.

So I learnt it is not what people say that should be judged but their intent. I could choose to be offended or I could choose to look at the real meaning which was usually an effort to be kind.

So now I try not to hold unrealistic expectations of others. I try not to judge their words but their intent and I try to cut other people some slack.

Of course I fail often and then I emotionally beat myself up and my husband Pete says, ‘Hey Robbi cut yourself some slack.’

Dear Everyone – Happiness only exists because of Sadness

In my last letter I said that I was starting Day 1 on my road to happiness.

Somehow I got stuck at Day 1 and didn’t get to Day 2 for a long time.

And when I got to Day 2 I didn’t realise I’d got there until I was looking back and was able to say ‘Oh yeah things have got better.’

So have I found happiness on Day 2?

Maybe.

Nothing has really got better – not in a practical sense. I am still struggling to pay my bills. I am still 57. I am still invisible when I go out unless my uber cute 19 year old daughter is with me and then some of the shine on her settles on me just because I am standing within her shine zone. My body is still ravaged by cancer and makes me cry and I still pester my gorgeous doctor Gavin with irrational fears of cancer in my left little toe nail. I still feel crap almost every day from the affects of the treatment. There are still crap drivers on the road that make me use language I tell my kids off for using. Alcohol still makes me fat. Avocados, chocolate, bubble tea and cheesecake still make me fat. In fact anything I really like to eat makes me fat.

But we look for Happiness in all the wrong places.

Because Happiness is not to be looked for. Happiness is not to be found – it’s to be made.

And it can’t be made for an entire life time.

Happiness is only happiness in contrast to Sadness. Otherwise it’s nothing.

Happiness, (and its only taken me 50 years to realise this) is made of moments, some are fleeting moments, some last the length of a holiday.

It is still moments of happiness that fill a life.

The rest of the time we rail and struggle against whatever life sends us just trying to survive and trying to find one or two other people who will bare themselves to us so they can stand beside us as we rail and struggle together.

And then the moments of happiness remind us that life is not just struggle and railing and swearing but it is something else, something we can’t put our finger on that we call spiritual or meaningful or …..happiness.

I have realised that for me my true happiness comes from the moments of connection and sharing life and food and celebrations that I have with those I love, my kids, my husband and my friends or even people I don’t know who drop a line to say they are standing beside me.

And no matter what shit happens to me – those moments keep happening.

So I do have happiness.

Dear Daughters and Sons on Day 2. To be Happy Put Your Head in the Sand

Dear Daughters, Sisters and Sons

This is what I always do.

In my mind I line up all the wonderful women I know, admire and love and then I focus on how far short I fall of them.

This is not a good idea.

But I’m not going to stop doing it, so instead what I am going to do is ignore the short fall.

Ignoring stuff is a really useful life skill and tool.

I have found it to be a most useful tool in having a successful marriage. Anything that can be ignored should be. Only make an issue of stuff that is a deal breaker and ignore every thing else that niggles at you and I promise your marriage will be far less fraught with tension.

So I am going to ignore the fact that I can’t paint as beautifully as my friend Maryanne, or that I don’t have the social skills that make people feel warm and happy like Julie and Jenuarrie, nor am I as kind, compassionate and funny as my friend Louise manages or be, nor am I as beautiful inside and out as my friend Linda, nor do write as well as Kate, nor cook as well as Maggie and I certainly don’t look as sexy in the kitchen as Rachel. I even look at my daughters and think how much more together they are, than I was at their age.

Basically I can look at any other female and immediately identify all the ways in which I fall short in comparison. And I don’t manage to manage my friendships well because I assume that underneath my friends are going to feel about me the way I feel about me which isn’t that great.

So on day 2. Of changing my life, in the pursuit of happiness I have decided to ignore the fact that I don’t do any of these things as well as the clever, wonderful women I know.

I’m going to ignore this and I’m just gonna get on in there and do this stuff anyway ignoring the fact that I might not be doing it very well – just like those kids that apply for Australia’s got talent, who sing like cats but are convinced they are the next Amy Winehouse and don’t hesitate to tell the judges how brilliant they are.

I’m going to try some blindness to my own failings and see if it works. I’m going to do the three things I love doing most regardless of how well I do them or how well anyone else does them, cooking, painting, writing and then even if I am a wailing cat I am going to inflict them on the rest of the world.

So last night I created a new recipe and put it on my recipe blog, I wrote on this blog and I started a new painting.

I admit I had to force myself to do these things as the despair was biting at my heels.

And I admit that after I did them I did in fact feel better in my mind and body. So maybe the stiff upper lip the British always stood by has some merit – along with putting your head in the sand.

Dear Sisters, on day 1. make your own happiness

Dear Sisters,

I have not written for a long time. This is because I am a mess.

When I was in my 30’s people in their 50s told me that your 50s is the best time of your life. For me this has not been true.

When I look back, the best time of my life was my 30s. I was slim; I had great sex with men wherever the passion took me and was old enough and mature enough to manage it with reasonable aplomb and only a few bad choices. I had two of my kids in my 30s, I found “the one” and got married in my 30s and most importantly I felt I had my whole life ahead of me.

Little did I know that life ahead of me was going to mean spending my 40s fighting cancer and then the after effects of cancer. And spending my 50’s being a mess.

I have not found this wonderful place I was promised of finally being happy in my own skin. In my 50’s I have fallen apart.

Astronomically and sensationally fallen apart.

A couple of things have happened to trigger this slide into despair.

The cancer was life threatening and life changing and I never really got over its damage. The psychological damage from cancer is massive and underrated. Even if you survive and don’t get me wrong I am so, so grateful for surviving but I don’t look the same, I don’t feel the same, so many parts of me that made up me were ravaged and killed by the cancer. I lost my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes, my cervix, my uterus, my ovaries, my breasts and what I got was a whole pile of chemically induced weight. I was left with a shell emotionally and physically. My hair was the only thing to grow back and it grew back resentfully in tiny thin wisps that weren’t even a reminder of the enormous curly long locks I had pre-cancer.

When I told my oncologist I felt bad after the cancer, that I had trouble getting out of bed each day he said, ‘but your cured for the time being – you should feel good.’ And that is the attitude that is most expressed, once you have survived you should pick yourself up and get on, because after all there is all those people who are still being diagnosed or not surviving. This is true but doesn’t address the nightmares, the change to your personality and looks, the exhaustion from the treatment, the constant worry that every little thing wrong with you is the cancer back. I would happily have a permanent weekly spot in my doctor’s appointment book to check the ache in my little finger and the new freckle spot on my toe.

So I took this cancer baggage with me into my 50’s and in my 50s’ further trauma struck. I was monumentally wronged by a woman who sued me for something I didn’t do and when we were just getting back on our feet from the cancer this cost me a huge amount of money and emotional stress to defend myself against her allegations. The lawyers won out. I spent many days in tears worried about my ability to emotionally and financially survive.

But again I survived and was just getting back on my feet again when I was attacked in my workplace, by a massive bloke, who punched me in the head and tried to kill me with a 25cm pair of scissors. I truly thought I was going to die in that moment. So this was the second time in a decade or so that I faced imminent death.
I stood there as he plunged at me with the scissors, aiming for my heart and I thought this is the place I die – this is what my life amounts to – dying here at the hands of an idiot.

I lost my job because the threat to my life continued and I was no longer safe in my workplace. And he got a one month suspended sentence and I became a mess again.

I know this all spells Post traumatic Stress.

Is Post Traumatic Stress real? Insurance companies think not and it’s hard to prove you have it.

How do I explain what it feels like to not be able to walk out my front door or if I do walk out the front door its even harder to come home again. How do I explain that I spend most of my waking time thinking about how I could kill myself in a way that seems natural and won’t destroy my family or that most days I can’t answer my phone or look at my emails because I expect it to be bad news of a catastrophic type. How do I explain that I am constantly shaking inside, a shaking that just never stops. And what can be done about it anyway?

On top of all of this I am in my 50s’s. This means I have become invisible. I get served last in shops and the sales people don’t bother to make eye contact with me, men don’t see me at all, younger women have started calling me love and darling and speaking to me as if I am an idiot, the clothes shops are not for me, the advertisements are not for me, the world is not for me.

I have reached the age where people make jokes about people my age having sex or passion and make ooh sounds that are of the oooh gross type rather than the oooh sexy type.

I am a woman who is 50 therefore I question if I have value in the world.

So what to do? I have long believed we are responsible for our own happiness. So I think the answer is obvious and practical. I need to change my life. I need to ignore the fact I am in my 50s. I need to find that place that I was told about where I don’t care for the gazes of men or the recognition and approval of others.
I need to get physically healthy and mentally sound. I need to take responsibility for my own happiness. Today is day 1.

Idiots who tried to cure my Cancer

Dear Sons and Daughters,

10 years ago I had cancer. You can believe me because I have the scars to prove it.

Every idiot knew how to cure me.

I was told red cordial, meditation, drinking grass juice, drinking my own urine, eating only vegetables, having my chakra aligned, never touching coffee, tea, alcohol, cows milk, doing yoga, doing pilates, becoming a buddhist, eating spoonfuls of flaxseed, gulping bottles of antioxidants, staying off antioxidants, going to Mexico and eating cyanide infused apricot kernels by the handful would all cure me.

Chemotherapy and Radiation would definitely kill me, they said.

I couldn’t do all these things. I hate meditation, I hate it so much it really stresses me out. I was never giving up my morning pot of Darjeeling and I couldn’t afford to go to Mexico.

My cancer was nasty, it was aggressive. As much as I thought my oncologist was great I wanted a second opinion and trundled off to the Peter Mac Cancer Hospital where as soon as my husband left the room, I said to the sympathetic young doctor, ‘Really what are my chances of survival?’
‘You want a figure – something concrete?’
‘Yeah,’ I said. She didn’t flinch, she must have been used to this question and she said without blinking, ‘You have a 20% chance of surviving the next three months.’

I went home clinging to the 20 percent.

People with cancer are desperate and vulnerable and will cling to any hope, any cure.

Enter all the idiots with their wellness blogs and cures, some who have had cancer, some who are pretending – though why you would want to pretend you had cancer is beyond me.

Yes some people have chemotherapy and radiation and they die anyway. Yes some people follow some of these bloggers advice, stay off the chemo and they die too.

My mum had cancer at the same time as me. She ate the apricot kernels by the handfuls, refused the chemotherapy and trusted God to cure her.

Tragically he didn’t.

Thats the thing about cancer – there are no guarantees, some people die and some people have amazing fantastical miracle cures from weird things like red sugar filled cordial or beetroot and brussel-sprout juice – go figure.

But every time I read of some young person with cancer following some wellness bloggers advice and staying off chemotherapy I feel immensely sad. I do not think medicine is the be-all and end-all, but I do think when your life is at risk you should take every opportunity to save it.
Don’t restrict yourself.
Do it all.
Medicine has years of research behind it and medicine and other options are not mutually exclusive.

I ate the flaxseeds and the antioxidants and was a vegetarian while I had cancer – do I think these things cured me? No, in honesty I don’t – but I don’t think they hurt and I think they probably helped. But I did also have the chemo, the radiation and the surgeries.

I figured that when my life was at risk why put all my eggs in one basket?

I thought, I’m going for life.

So I recon if you want to drink your own urine or only eat organic grass – fine – but have the chemo as well, do it all and give yourself the best chance!