Grief and Gratitude

This week my family lost a very gentle, beloved soul quite unexpectedly. This beautiful young woman, who went to bed on Monday night and didn’t wake up on Tuesday, was someone I shared my childhood with and who I really didn’t expect to lose at such a young age. She will be greatly, greatly missed.

Yet, in the midst of grief, there is so much gratitude.

For her life, shorter than it could have been, but well lived none-the-less. For the many lives she touched and for the happiness that she felt from being with people.

For the childhood memories of companionship and family, of girlhoods full of barbies and teen years full of chick flicks.

For drinking glasses of water and writing lists of chores and playing in the yard. For vitamins and room redecorating and trips to McDonald’s. For the phase she went through when we were little and she wanted to be like my sister and I so much that she stopped calling her parents Mum and Dad and started calling them by their names, because that’s what we called them!

For her love of music, for her eagerness to perform and for the many times we sang together.

For the many Christmases and Easters we spent together in our Grandparents’ home. For the family celebrations and traditions that we shared.

For the hours we spent shopping, playing The Sims and chatting on the phone.

For her love of purple and Jatz biscuits and crafting.

For the joy that filled her face whenever I saw her. She was truly such a happy soul. Life was not easy for her but my memory is filled with her bubbling joy and contagious excitement for simple things.

For the efforts she took to make even simple occasions memorable events. She loved parties and coming up with a theme and getting dressed up. She put so much thought into decorating tables and planning menus and creating outfits. She took such pleasure in hospitality and getting her hair done. She really knew how to savour every last bit of anticipation for an occasion.

For her love of travel. For the tales she could tell about her much anticipated and then warmly remembered trips to Disneyland and Far North Queensland and to visit family and friends near and far.

For all the things she taught me and all the love she gave me and everyone around her.

For her deep compassion and caring for others, especially those less fortunate than herself. For her faith and love of God, for her eagerness to encourage everyone around her to participate and have faith and help others.

For her eagerness to capture moments in time on film, even when I sometimes felt she was too trigger happy with the camera. How glad I am now that she always wanted to take photos.

For how much she loved those soft toys that have a recording device in their hand, so when you squeeze it and talk into them, they repeat back whatever you say in a chipmunk voice. For her laugh and the way she’d kind of not quite get my Dad’s jokes but would chide him for being irreverent.

For the too-few lunch dates we shared and for her love of Sizzler and other good buffet restaurants. For the times she would ring up out of the blue and chatter away for hours if I let her. For her eagerness to get the family together, for her memory and recognition of important dates, for how proud she always was of any and all family achievements, no matter how small.

For the memories I have that I will cherish forever. For the fact that whenever I think of her, the words I think of are ‘love’ and ‘joy’ and ‘fun’.

For 26 years on the same planet as such a beautiful soul.


What thyroid cancer taught me: Part 1

July has turned into a fairly pensive month for me these last 5 years or so. It’s winter in Australia so the days are shorter and more time is spent inside, so there are more opportunities for thinking, for a start. There are always holidays mid-year, whether from school or uni, so I often have the gift of a little extra time, too.

But without a doubt, the main reason July prompts so much reflection is because major things in my life always seem to happen in July. I climbed Mount Fuji in July 2013, which was a huge achievement. I moved away from my hometown for work in July 2011.

And in July 2010 I had thyroid cancer. In March of that year I read a magazine article about a woman with thyroid cancer that possibly saved my life. It prompted me to ask my doctor about the lump on my throat. Then I had an ultra-sound, which revealed that there were several smaller lumps behind the bigger, palpable lump in the right lobe of my thyroid. The doctor wanted me to have a biopsy but I had whooping cough at the time and couldn’t breathe without coughing, so there was no way I would be able to lie still enough for the biopsy. Besides, thyroid lumps are so often benign that it didn’t seem urgent to follow up so we waited a few months until I was all better from the whooping cough.

June 29, 2010 I had a biopsy. I took my Mum with me because I was scared of the needle and that I might faint and not be able to drive myself home. That was the scariest thing about the whole thing for me at that point. Little did I know that I was going to get very good at getting needles in the months that followed. I had googled ‘thyroid lumps’ and of course cancer was high in the list of Dr Google’s diagnoses. My boyfriend and I actually joked about it because I knew that Dr Google pretty much says that about everything. I mentioned it in the biopsy room and the man that took the biopsy said reassuring things like, “Oh females grow things in their thyroid all the time. You have about a 2% chance that it’s cancer. If you were a man we’d be worried.”

My doctor had asked me to make an appointment for 3 days later as that was how long it would take the tests to come back. So it was a surprise when I got a phone call the next day, on Wednesday the 30th June 2010 at about midday. It was and still remains the scariest day of my life. The doctor rang and said she needed to see me immediately. I explained that I had an appointment on Friday but she said to come in straight away. Like, right now. She’ll squeeze me in between other patients. About 30 seconds after I hung up the phone and as I began to tell my little sister what she said (we were both home as it was uni holidays) the phone rang again and it was the doctor telling me not to drive myself, to bring someone, preferably my Mum.

You don’t get a phone call like that, after having been told how routine the tests are and how likely it is that the whole thing will turn out to be simple and benign, and not know immediately that something is wrong. We tried to ring Mum a few times and she didn’t answer, so I left a message. No idea what I said but I am pretty sure I would have sounded freaked out. My sister said she would drive me if need be, and we were getting ready to go when Mum finally rang back. I think she was in a meeting or something, but she had left and was on her way home to take me to the doctor’s surgery.

Thank goodness that doctor had the good sense to ask me to bring someone with me. I don’t really remember the rest of that day. I don’t remember driving to the surgery or anything she said really. I just remember sitting in her little consulting room bawling my eyes out. Mum asked a lot of questions and took some notes I think. My mother is an incredible woman for many reasons (more on that another day) and I am so, so grateful for her calm presence that day. I imagine it must have been very scary for Mum, hearing that her already not-very-well daughter probably had cancer. But she has had lots of experience of dealing with heavy, emotional stuff and crisis situations with her work, and I’m sure she realised that it wouldn’t help if we were both big balls of tears. Somebody had to remember what the doctor actually said, after all.

So the biopsy had come back suspicious for thyroid cancer and the only way to find out for sure was surgery. So two weeks later, on Tuesday, July 13, I had a right thyroid lobectomy. In the previous two weeks I’d had to deal with heaps of doctors’ visits, the agony of not actually knowing what was wrong, fear for my future, our house getting broken into, my sister’s car getting stolen, putting my entire life on hold, my parents having to suddenly find several thousand dollars (as I was a broke uni student without health insurance) and my relationship going from ‘fun little fling’ to ‘holy sh*t, this suddenly got heavy’. I was scared. I’d never had surgery before and I didn’t like needles. So that in itself was scary, let alone dealing with the topic of cancer, and the unlikely possibility that my vocal chords could be damaged in the operation.

Fortunately, I had a great surgeon, and the surgery went very well. The evening before the surgery, my boyfriend picked me up and we bought cheesecake and ate it at a local lookout around dusk. I am sure we talked about the operation, but mostly I remember him having a big chat to this old couple at the lookout (tourists from Canberra…why do I remember that!?) and just holding my hand while I watched the sunset. I fell in love with him a lot that evening, because he was a ‘grown up who can talk to people’ (unlike previous boyfriends) but mostly because he didn’t run away in my time of need. He was just there, and he didn’t say much, but he didn’t avoid the topic either. I know he wanted to get me out of the house, take my mind off the scariness of the next day but he didn’t pretend like it wasn’t happening either. And he just held my hand and let me sit and think. No pressure. A steady and calm presence in my life that I am still so grateful for every single day. And it’s funny looking back now because we were still so new then and I was so unsure of us.

It’s funny/wonderful how so much happiness and certainty can bloom out of a time of deep fear and uncertainty.

So the first thing I learnt is that crisis can be a time of deep bonding. My strongest memories of those few scary weeks are of my amazing parents, my beautiful little sister, my cuddly cat and my steadfast boyfriend. Their constant love and support, their presence in the scary times, the bonding that occurred because of the fear and uncertainty in the situation.

Love really can be a source of deep comfort and help drive out fear. 

Procrastination, indecision and getting things done

So once again I’ve managed to go weeks and weeks between blog posts. There are many reasons for this but basically it all comes down to procrastination and self doubt. After Easter there were some major things happening in my life and I made a conscious decision to leave the blog alone for a while. But this time? I just kept putting off writing blog posts. I have had a lot of great ideas about what to write but I guess I was feeling like they weren’t good enough and/or that I needed more.

But the perfect is the enemy of the good and it seems instead of writing something, anything, even if it wasn’t perfect, I wrote nothing. Good job, self. I notice you, little voice in my head, telling me that it isn’t good enough. But the truth is that I already decided that I, in fact, AM enough, already and always.

This has been an interesting month for me, project wise. I have had a huge number of ideas and have taken some big steps towards starting a few things. But it seems like every step I take to start something, yet another idea pops up. I set some big goals for myself and then get sidetracked with other equally-amazing ideas. I am writing a blog, I am writing two books, I am writing some music, I am studying some new and really awesome stuff in a course I’m doing and I have two day jobs. There is actually so much to do and there are so many ‘first steps’ to take (one for each project) that I get caught in this web of indecision. Instead of taking action I am paralysed by the number of actions I COULD take.

My partner said something interesting to me the other day. I was telling him about yet another idea I have and he basically said this: “You keep talking about all these things you are going to do but you aren’t actually doing any of them.”

Ouch. Burn. That hurt.

Initially I felt defensive, which is probably only natural. Coming from someone so close, it hurt to  be called out on my stuff. But the truth is I have been avoiding taking action. Partly I believe that was because I was a bit burnt-out, but that project ended at the end of May. It’s now mid-July. The time for ‘rest and recover’ is over. It is time to move forward. He is right, I have been talking a lot about my ideas but not actioning many of them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve done nothing at all. I’ve done dribs and drabs on most of the projects. But nothing is really getting me very far.

So it’s time to get started. Time to take action. Make a list of the ‘next steps’ to take for each project and do one every day or every week (depending on the project). This is a strategy from Dave Allen’s “Getting Things Done” program. The idea is that you must always know the ‘next step’ for every project so that you can keep moving on it. So I w