My Activity Tracking
My target 200kms
Lessons still to learn
And here we are; 31 days, 250km and $5,700 further down the track. I definitely didn’t see that coming!
It has been such a physical, creative, and at times, emotional experience - I am proud to be one of 11,144 people across Australia who moved with purpose this March. I have been utterly humbled by the number of messages, texts, calls and emails I have received from those who walked vicariously with me, through my words. It is an absolute privilege to write something for you and I feel honoured that so many would spend a few minutes of your busy lives, with my many and varied tales. Thank you for being so generous with your time, your compliments and your money.
I was pondering how to conclude this collection of writings, especially when March 31st is something of an arbitrary end point for the subject of my writing. The research, the challenges, the fundraising, the need - none of it just finishes here today. But I have learned some wonderful lessons during this process, some of which I have been taught many, many times over, others I perhaps already knew but didn’t acknowledge, and several which are new ground for me.
Let’s start with the ones I should definitely already know, though obviously, my alter ego Smug Helen doesn’t usually pay any attention to those. How about not claiming your car, with 350K km on the clock, never causes any problems? Or that tiring a puppy out in the morning, has no affect on it barking the following night? The fact that Woolworths in Geraldton does not do parcel pick up any more is a useful lesson, similarly, a spare phone battery is not helpful if you leave it on your desk next to the charger when you are out.
A very useful lesson in avoiding strangulation came just in the nick of time today: Smug Helen smugly loops the dog lead around her neck these days, ready to attach to Penny in case we come across a farm vehicle on the track. Smug Helen learned it does not end well if you have passed the lead through its own handle, before clipping to the dog, as the excited dog is then very well secured to your neck. Smug Helen’s voice is on the scratchy side this afternoon.
Lessons I perhaps don’t regularly acknowledge might be; no matter how busy the day is, there is always time for a walk - and that daily walking does not equate to a free pass to eat the kids Easter Eggs without repercussions for your waistline. Darn. I enjoyed learning that a lack of planning can sometimes make my writing better, and that I can bring enjoyment to others with my stories. Heartbreakingly, I learned that there are so many stories and situations that mirror the one unfolding in my family, and we are not at all unique. Equally, I learned that our shared experiences mean our villages build bridges between each other, stretching the network of love, understanding and solace far and wide.
The most gratifying, inspiring lessons I have learned this March, are those which surprised me. For example, learning the true definition of an introvert and an extrovert, was quite a personal revelation. Sometimes it may have been a matter of my subconscious teaching my mind through the the subliminal act of writing. Those words of advice I wrote for better ways to offer support for example, were ones I needed to be reminded of myself.
The final March lesson that arrived today, just in time to prevent my final written musings being about avoiding strangulation via dog lead. This lesson is something deeper and more fascinating and which will certainly require further consideration and miles more walking to untangle. By chance, I was listening to ABC’s Conversations podcasts, just rolling through one after another, when I came across this extraordinary explanation of Buddhism. The interview was with a Buddhist nun, Robina Courtin, and I nearly skipped past it - she spoke quickly, and abruptly and I didn’t find her all that enjoyable to listen to. But I passively let it roll past, and I’m glad I did - in the middle of the interview came this incredible concept I’d never heard before, the Buddhist concept of the bird with two wings; one is Wisdom and one is Compassion - only together can they create flight.
The concept is beautiful and complex and quite challenging to adequately translate. At its very heart I understood it to be recognising mindfulness, not as a relaxing hobby, or as an introspective process but rather a shedding of ego. If actions are derived of our own emotions, we might show empathy or sympathy - noble sentiments but still somewhat egocentric. Compassion is active, supportive and empowering for those who receive it, as it requires no reciprocal action or demand. Compassion is the epitome of service to those we love. I feel a quickening of my heart as my mind attempts to grasp at the concept and the right words around translating it. I can’t wait to explore this lesson further.
Thank you all for walking and learning with me, it has been such wonderful journey. Sending my love and prayers for all those special people you walk for too.
Love Helen x
Rose tinted hero’s
Yet another change in the weather today - anyone would think I live in Melbourne! Except for the fly aspect, and lack of fancy coffee perhaps... I’ll survey my Melbourne family who are all arriving back in WA for Easter shortly, and making their way to the farm soon after, and see if they can spot the differences. I’m sure there are barking dogs in Melbourne at least!
Logistics of hosting aside, I can’t wait for everyone to arrive. We grew up on a farm, and while I’m the only one who doesn’t now live in the city, I know they all feel the pressure in their chests, that the familiar landscape induces. It’s a visceral acknowledgment despite all the beautiful vistas we may have been lucky enough to witness, that there is something particular about the type of trees, the colour of the soil, and the space, that simply means ‘home’. At least that’s how I feel, and as my family sit at my kitchen table and look out at the view, I think they feel it too.
Today my home was turning on a beautiful treat for me on my second last walk for March Charge- blush pink rain. I forgot to take my sunglasses, so I couldn’t even assume it was merely my glasses and their ironically rose tinted lenses. (I’m not even joking about that - the ladies in the pharmacy who helped me choose them, promised they were cool, despite the sceptical look I got from the fashion police at home.)
This fleeting spectacle and my new sunglasses, got me thinking about what happens when we see things through a particular lens. The way we view ourselves is often at odds with how we might be viewed by others, and often we are our harshest critics. When we had the twins, so often other mums would shower me with love and support exclaiming with amazement that they just didn’t know how we did it. While it is such a beautiful, well intentioned sentiment, a lot of the time I felt like a fraud - it didn’t feel like I was doing anything miraculous, or impressive. Most of the time I was pretty sure I was doing it wrong, and I had no idea how we got from A to B, we just didn’t have any other choice.
I’m wondering today, if those who we are in awe of for their strength and resilience when undergoing brutal treatments and side effects, might feel a bit the same. Maybe even resent the suggestion that they are a hero. I guess in stories and legends, hero’s are rarely passive characters, and yet so much of the treatment process requires surrender - dignity, choice, plans, dreams. To be called strong for clinging to a lifeboat in a storm, when you have no other option probably feels ludicrous. What the hell else are you going to do? Then add a hefty side of guilt that even if you had the fleeting thought that you could just... let go - you can’t. The boat is full of your dearest loves and they need you to keep your head above water.
And yet they ARE heros. We all know it, we see it in them everyday. But maybe what we are doing if we never stray from that narrative, is we don’t give them an opportunity to be anything but heroic. We owe our hero’s the time and space to not hold it all together, all of the time. To be able to throw the tantrum, to wallow, to act as badly as the rubbish situation they wake up to, every. Single. Day.
We need to remember not to take it personally, and not assume we know what they are feeling. Not to paste over the ugliness of reality with a throw away cliche or repeating words that aren’t sinking in. Just be that gentle support, the strong shoulders and the heart that can hold some of the darkness. And when the time is right, you will help them see their own light is so much brighter than they realise.
Today I walked in the pink rain for our hero’s, and especially those who aren’t feeling at all heroic.
Love Helen x
Getting to the pointy end now! Only 2 days and 18km to go... you all held up your end of the bargain and we smashed the $5k target, so I’ll be trotting off in the morning to split that 18km in half. I’m starting to ponder what lessons I’ve learned during this unexpected diversion from my norm and I’ll have to plan a list!
I love lists - especially when I can cross things off them...
- get out of bed
- Drink coffee
- Brush teeth
So satisfying!! My lists this week cover a fairly wide range of topics, and random additions pop into my brain for lists I haven’t written yet:
- Find Heidis knickers again
- Buy cat food
- Replace Easter Bunny’s stash
- Pack camping chairs?
I was chipping away at items on a list I had actually written down today, hoping to clear the work slate so my brain can deal with packing and catering logistics for Easter, when my phone rang. No it wasn’t the ambulance- worse. At 2:30pm? Of course it’s the school. Darn it! It’s quite funny really, you can tell by the way our lovely office lady says “hello Helen...” she’s got a sick kid with her. Her apologetic smile comes through the little pause before she confesses what we both know she’s going to tell me. As a working mum of two young boys, she is very aware of how precious that last hour of kid free time is on a work day!
Conundrum. Drive 25km and arrive 10mins before Heidi would be getting on the school bus anyway, for the sake of getting her home 15mins earlier.... or risk her throwing up on the school bus. Obviously Option B is something of a non starter; my friends and neighbours whose children are also on the bus are reallllly not going to thank me... not to mention my poor friend who drives the bus.
So off to school I went to get Heidi, who could be sick as there’s a bit of a tummy bug going around, but could also just be tired and a teeny bit of a hypochondriac. She’s a third child after all, and I also have a vague recollection (ok, not that vague - sorry Mum) of exaggerating the persistence of an ear infection in about grade 3, as I felt rather important needing an antibiotic at lunchtime. There was also the tiniest chance that if mum got any groceries while we went to the doctor, she might suggest sharing a Milky Way... unlikely, but worth embellishing the truth a smidge.
When I picked up Heidi, I found she was one of 4 kids from her class sent home, another of her buddies sitting in the office clutching a spew bag.. ah the glamour of school life! With only a couple of days left to dedicate walks, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to walk for the incredible people who make up school life for our children. We have a gorgeous little school where our teachers are also our friends, and there is lots of confusion for kids and parents alike whether we should be using first names or titles and when. As we are walking out the gate, Heidi is called out to by no less than three members of staff, telling her they hope she feels better soon.
I just love watching these amazing people work. Their investment in each little person, and the way you can spot a teacher for who the profession in a vocation, not just a job. It’s those particular people, be they teachers, assistants, or staff, who I hope all children will get a chance to know. When tough issues touch the lives of children, both big and small, having someone who is a step or two separated from the maelstrom is so valuable. To simply check in on them without needing anything from the child in return.
I think even when we are trying our best not to let a situation impact on our children, it’s inescapable for them. We expect more when we are trying to process - be quieter, be tidier, help your siblings, don’t make a fuss, I’m busy now, I’ll help you later. Thank you to those incredible people who know our children well enough to notice when things are a bit tough. For the ones who make the time to form a connection for no other reason than to make sure they are ok. You are so, so important to our families.
So to our schools- cheers to you. Those of us who see what you do know that all the ‘holidays’ are merely a trade off for the long hours after school, the planning, the lunchtime duty, the ratbags, the vomit and the nits. Glamour, it is not.
I hope you know how much we appreciate you.
Love Helen x
P.S this is an older photo but I see it recreated each morning on our way down the drive- I love to hang back sometimes and watch them chattering together on their way to the bus. It makes my heart happy.
In case of an emergency
Wowsers that was quite a weekend! I’m perched up in bed, resisting the urge to just go to sleep - missing yesterdays post feels like a bit of a let down! Pretty sure no ones day was ruined without my daily ramblings, but when I decided I was going to commit to the March Charge properly, I set myself two goals - to walk every day and to write every day. I’m annoyed with myself!
Having said that, it was such a great weekend, and there was literally no time to sit quietly and write. Saturday was my 39th birthday! I was in the most gorgeous position of my phone running hot, and my inbox full of thoughtful messages from so many people, many of whom tell me they read these posts, so from the bottom of my heart, thank you. You made me feel so special.
Having upped our target for these last few days meant Penny, Eliza and I needed to get cracking nice and early to fit in the distance, so when Marcus left in the dark to go spraying, we weren’t far behind. Smug Helen had mentioned it was feeling like autumn here recently, so of course it’s back to thick flies and 40C temps here this week. We added 10km to our tally and collected birthday hugs from the girls before heading to Mingenew for our ambulance open day.
It was pretty quiet for visitors in town, Mingenew on a Saturday morning not exactly a bustling metropolis, but was great to feel useful, enjoy a coffee from the bakery and test our CPR skills. We have a small but awesome team of volunteers for our local ambulance; some legends who clean the subcenter, sort the garden and keep the van washed and maintained, Jill keeps our admin on track and there are 5 of us who are on road volunteers and attend call outs.
I constantly feel guilty about my ambo role - I live 25km from town, so there’s a delay for me to get there, all 5 of our on road crew have young children and husbands who work unpredictable hours and worst of all, I just HATE (yep that deserves capital letters) answering the phone when the calls come in. I can’t really explain it - I annoy myself! Being on call as a clinical vet used to turn me into an anxious, freaked out mess, and ruined watching All Saints reruns for me forever, as the mobile ring tone on the show was the same as the work phone and hearing it gave me PTSD. It’s that utter fear of what I’m going to hear on the other end, and will I be able to cope with it. Theoretically, I should be a very competent ambo, with a vet degree, and plenty of training, but I’m terrified of what would happen if I just ...freeze. Or get it wrong. Or muck it up. I definitely do not get off on adrenalin like someone who thrives in an emergency situation.
But I make myself still do it, because I don’t want the other girls to have to shoulder even more of a load than they do, and because our wise vollie Jill, constantly reminds us all that even if we only took one call a year, having an ambulance come when you called it, especially when we are a long way from hospital, really matters.
This is not the direction I thought this post was going when I started it! But in any case, I’ve decided to stay with it. Today I want to walk for those people who DO thrive on the challenge of emergency medicine - thank god for you. For the doctors, nurses and paramedics who can makes sense of utter chaos and work out where to start with fixing it. What they must see, and deal with, the lives they hold in their hands and the calls they must have to make.
Thank you for not being afraid to take the call and step into the unknown, for knowing to expect the unexpected. The very first call out I went on started with a man having a seizure in a park, and ended not with a diagnosis of chronic alcohol or drug use as many of us suspected, but confirmation of a metastatic brain tumour that had finally won. That morning in the park was the last morning that gentleman would walk to a park ever again. It has certainly stayed with me- how I took a patient in, assuming one course of action, and in fact his whole life changed in a completely different way. Emergency workers must see that kind of whiplash turn around, every single day. Thank you for being able to do something that so many of us couldn’t.
Now that I have completely wandered off on a tangent, I think I’ll go the whole hog and round it off with a call to arms for anyone who thinks they could join their local ambulance. You may not be able to attend very many calls like myself, and you may have to dig deep and conquer some fears, but especially in a regional area, on that day that someone’s life is forever changed, if you can hold their hand and deliver them to the waiting hands of the experts, you will have made a difference that matters.
To my girls whose phones ring when mine does - I swear I’ll answer it next time.
Love Helen x
P.S despite an excellent discussion this evening about how filters and selfies are warping perceptions of our young people today, there is most definitely a filter added to this pic. I received many birthday wishes in the course of the morning, so after reading the 000 story to the kids, I threw caution to the wind and asked the kids how old they thought I was... 57. Ouch.
P.S an extra call to action, if you haven’t already got them, go straight to your App Store and download 2 apps;
1. Emergency Plus - this app means you can call any emergency service at the touch of a button, and critically, it gives you the exact coordinates of where you are, saving vital minutes when it comes to help finding you.
2. St Johns App - first aid info all there in your hand, just incase you do freeze in a emergency, the next step is right there.
The Big 200!
We did it! 201km today! Tomorrow it will probably say 227km, as the internet/GPS/moons suddenly line up and record the last three days walking, duplicating what I just entered manually today... I promise I’ll delete the duplicates!
It’s quite surprising how easy it was really, in hindsight. Timing was perfect for converting frustration at my bad puppy who won’t sleep, into something a bit more useful! It was the perfect incentive to get moving, and upping the walking target was just the motivation I needed. Pity it hasn’t done anything for my waistline, especially as I discovered the Easter Bunny planned ahead to avoid going to Coles in Perth on Easter Saturday, and it appears I will be paying the price in more ways than one for my gluttony.
Today I am dedicating my walk to the pure good fortune that has resulted in being able to do it. For the fresh air in my lungs, the blood in my veins, the muscles in my legs. I’m usually being sarcastic when I claim to be #blessed, but really I’m just plain old, bloody lucky.
Thank you for keeping me company on this path and cheering me on. How far do you think we can go? Five more days... reckon we can hit 250km? I reckon I can. Think you can help me hit $5k? I reckon you can.
Let’s do it. I’ll go to bed, tell Penny not to bark (cos that always works...) and get ready to get up nice and early tomorrow. Let’s dig as deep as those we are walking for, do every single day. If they can do it, so can we.
Love Helen xx
What is a win?
Another glorious day with a hint of autumn here - few flies, no aircon, and SIX CONSECUTIVE HOURS SLEEP. By golly I almost feel human. The dogs and I pottered around our walking course, got the girls off to the bus and then discovered the wonders of my new favourite appliance... you guessed it : a you-beaut Stick Vacuum. My early birthday present is a thing of beauty, and yes I am aware how tragic and anti-feminist it may seem to accept a vacuum as a legitimate birthday gift. I have after all, been thoroughly educated in the evils of a patriarchal society since falling in love with Mrs Newman’s glorious accent and exceptional vocabulary in Year 11 English Literature. But in Marcus’ defence, I bought it myself on his behalf, so it’d be a little rough to then give him a hard time for my perceived subjugation. (FYI: That’s an excellent word to sprinkle throughout any English Lit essay you maybe writing this week).
My Kmart version was, well, pretty crap - but the concept was awesome and this thing is next level brilliant. By the time I’ve vacuumed the bugs off the dishes , they’ll be so clean I won’t even have to wash them! It passed the sand test, the moth test, the cat litter test and even made fast work of removing the evidence of Penny’s afternoon activities, which involved the careful selection and mastication of several lego pieces, essential to the construction of a Lego wheelchair. Shhh ?
Prior to my rapturous discovery of appliance gold, I was listening to a podcast conversation between Mia Freedman and Tanya Pliberseck, the current Shadow Minister for Education, and Shadow Minister for Women. It was centred around issues of gender equality (ironic, now I think about it...) and was certainly an interesting listen. Tanya is a very open and articulate conversationalist, as we should expect from a senior politician, and I particularly liked a passage of speech so much, that I went back and wrote it down, so I could quote it here for you:
“[We need to] acknowledge the battles won along the way. Not acknowledging the battles won along the way can lead to a sense of hopelessness, and can overwhelm you. [We need to] take the wins as we go, without giving up on expecting better for the future.”
While not spoken in the context of cancer or illness, I could still see how it was applicable. It took a few goes when I tried to apply it to the stories that have not had a happy ending, or are just inexplicably tragic though, until I concentrated on what I was defining as a ‘win’. The wins that Tanya was referring in the interview were not solutions or victories, but rather measurable changes in attitude, and maybe even those can be found in a cancer journey that is not marked with success, result, or cure.
Perhaps the wins we need to champion, so that we do not become overwhelmed, are so much smaller. Today I walked for those who face great loss every day, and hope that they are able to find their wins many ways; in a breeze of fresh air or the gentle touch of a loved one. In an unexpected bout of laughter, a second of forgetting or a moment of peace.
We should never let the inertia of hopelessness trick us into giving up on expecting a better future - you are winning those battles in a myriad of ways, every moment. Sometimes we just have to understand what the victories are that matter, right here, right now.
Love Helen x
P.S Penny is particularly pleased with this win - I didn’t realise that’s where she was hiding tonight!!
Noticed something quite astounding today.... when I leave home for my walk, it is usually dark, so I stuff my flynet into my pocket so I can see what I’m doing, until either the sun comes up or it’s worth the tripping risk to avoid fly induced psychosis. That’s a real thing by the way, Fly Psychosis. The fastest way to experience its mind altering affects, is to attempt to remove a bed sheet in a howling gale, that has wrapped itself around a hills hoist washing line, while flies crawl up your nose and in your eyes. Bonus points if you step on a prickle that goes through your thongs at the same time. However, today a miracle like no other occurred - I returned home from my walk with my fly net STILL IN MY POCKET. Could it be?? Has fly season finally peaked and past?? Smug Helen will not be given the opportunity to really test the theory by leaving her fly net at home, but it sure is an exciting concept.
Absence of flies and the presence of mice are about the extent of my deep,inner musings today. Essential neural pathways appear to be still functioning to some extent - I seem to have completed a few tasks as well as the the usual cleaning up after, feeding and watering of my family. But for the first day since I started writing during the March Charge campaign, there have been no phrases emerging from my occupied mind, no paragraphs forming just.... static. Wheels are spinning, lights are on, but no one is home.
And that’s probably ok, isn’t it? Different to taking quiet time to process things, it’s like sleeping with your eyes open (but hopefully still with some road sense for driving and the ability to answer work emails). I think it’s probably my brain saying ‘hush now Helen, just be quiet for a while’.
I think most of our brains must do that at some point - why else would shows like ‘Married at First Sight’ get airtime? Obviously any viewers have turned their brains off (hopefully). There are some really lovely ways to enforce brain shut down if dodgy reality tv isn’t your style (or your copilot strongly objects). Hobbies such as detailed colouring, paint by numbers and diamond art all seem very prominent on shelves and in Christmas stockings for adults and children alike these days, as the ‘mindfulness’ buzz word gains traction.
But despite my penchant for colour coded anything, craft shops and pretty pens, the most effective method of stilling my mind that I’ve found so far, was taught to me by our beautiful local yogi, Marika.
Yoga was a transformative discovery for me. With not a drop of false modesty, I am the least flexible person you have ever seen, and my interpretation of yoga is woeful- probably worse than my hockey skills. I am 100% sure Marika was being her usual lovely self, and really concentrating hard to find a shred of evidence when she said I’d improved. Still can’t reach past my shins, I do a convincing downward camel as opposed to a downward dog and my upper body strength remains pathetic. But by golly, I have the savasana pose NAILED.
It pains me to reveal the reality behind the air of mystique the word ‘savasana’ evokes, to those who have never been to a yoga class - but in the interests of maintaining integrity, I’ll confess. Savasana is literally, the ‘corpse pose’. And it is glorious.
I just googled the steps to achieving the pose, and they are quite detailed, which is probably why when Marika talks us through it at the end of a class, it’s so much more effective than just lying down at home. The key to its magic is making your mind just... stop. No chattering, no planning, no worrying. No lists, no complaints, no fear. There are so many amazing tools out there that can teach you this technique, and some will work for you better than others- but I urge you to try a few before giving up. Google, Podcasts, you tube, or any kind of audio will offer you options.
Today I’ll dedicate my walk to those beautiful people who show us the way to still our minds, in a way that works for us as individuals. It’s a skill that can be practiced by any age or gender, in any and every stage of life.
Go ahead and try it. Namaste
Love Helen x
P.S this is Penny in corpse pose... if she barks all night tonight... well...
Easter is in the air. It was gloriously crisp this morning, the sky dark that little bit longer and the air had a damp smell about it that is reminiscent of hot cross buns and coffee. After a long, hot summer, the first hints of autumn always make me feel like it’s Easter time in WA, though the weather is just as likely to change its mind and come in at 40C on Easter Sunday, just to mess with Easter Bunny’s head. Easter in WA is a dicey business - if Easter bunny goes to Coles too early, he risks melting or discovery; too late and there are only the dodgy generic brand cooking choc options that even parents don’t bother stealing from their children’s hoards. Conundrum.
Chocolate aside, it is cool and lovely and I have great company in Bec, as today we walked my farm track so I could let my very bad puppy run free. Penny is distinctly out of favour today, after barking ALL NIGHT LONG. Marcus was getting up at at 2am to go spraying, so in desperation, I slept on the couch in the lounge room, just to keep her quiet. It sure is lucky she is cute. I washed her today so she is extra silky and lovely, just to remind me of the cute factor if tonight is a repeat performance, and more so because if Marcus kicks us both out, maybe she will smell better when we share the dog house.
It is always a pleasure to walk with Bec, and today is no exception. Our conversation today meandered down the What If road. We talked of bucket lists, family, marriage, babies and future, acknowledging the different milestones in age and biology which may influence choices and decisions.
It’s had me thinking about the What If’s, the If Only’s, and the Should Of’s all day. I love inspirational quotes and memes, possibly more than the average person, but the ones that suggest we should live without regrets, really annoy me. Is anyone ever that sure? Isn’t it a bit naive to think you could really regret nothing? I feel like it could only be the truely fortunate or truly arrogant who could claim ‘Regret Nothing’ status. For surely everything comes at a cost. If I choose to invest every waking moment in my children, will I regret the loss of my career? If I choose to follow my passion, is it always worth the cost of my sacrifice? What if I’m so busy doing both, that I neglect that little niggly idea that something isn’t quite right in my body, because its probably nothing? I’m just too tired, or too busy and when I find a few #blessed moments to align my chakras and do some yoga, it’ll probably sort itself out.
Timing really is everything. If you meet the right person at the right time of your life, sure, the fairytale can happen like kids imagine. Anyone who has actively tried to plan a family, and for who that plan isn’t unfolding quite how you thought, is acutely aware of the importance of timing. And for someone who has been told that they missed all the early signs and somehow now, their future is no longer certain, time seems to be having a joke at your expense. How could you not have regrets?
Today I’m walked for the what ifs, if only’s and should haves. For the alternate reality we can picture if we’d selected option x, instead of option y or z. Like one of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I loved as a kid, when you get to the ending and think well, that sucks! And go back and sequentially change decisions until you get an ending you like. If only.
For all those who think If Only, today was for you.
P.s If Only I knew how to stop Penny barking all night, story time would be far more enjoyable...
I took a bit of risk today, planned another trip to geraldton, and attempted to restrain Smug Helen as much as possible. Penny’s barking at Marcus on the boomspray from 3am resulted in a more resigned dragging on of joggers than an inspired one, and despite an early start I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about adding a few extra kilometres to the 6km daily minimum I need to a walk each day to reach my goal. Mavis whinged the whole 6km too, so maybe she wasn’t feeling all that enthusiastic either.
It was a more subdued trip compared to last time not least as I was driving the Ute, which requires a bit more concentration. I’ve been spoilt by an automatic car for some time, occasionally forgetting about 2nd gear, plus it is longer than average, thanks to its tray, so I was a bit nervous about taking out unsuspecting neighbours in the car park. Thankfully I didn’t need to leave any notes on windscreens- plenty of random tools, pipe fittings, coins, and old hats in the Ute, but light on in the stationary department. Not too well stocked in the tissue/wipe area either I discovered, after pouring my healthy looking juice (didn’t risk thinking I could get a coffee- Smug Helen reads minds) down the front of my dress - a dress with covered shoulders, worn with sunscreen and the comfy, not as pretty shoes. Marcus did assure me there was most likely a rag under the front seat that ‘shouldn’t be too oily’ but I wasn’t brave enough to blindly stick my hand under the seat to check.
Mostly, the day went to plan thankfully, the unexpected highlight being the fruit and veg section of Coles. Who knew so much good fruit was still in season??? And so CHEAP! Keeping up quality fresh fruit and veg is tricky in a small town, where demand and supply are often out of sync, and I understand the benefits in economies of scale - though it doesn’t often stop me being frustrated when there are no potatoes, bananas or other simple things we are spoilt enough to call staples. While I was in raptures about $4 punnets of strawberries, stonefruit and divine red seedless grapes for $5/kg, I couldn’t help but overhear a lady in the next aisle complaining bitterly about the price of fennel, or asparagus or some other luxury vegetable I would never dream of seeing in my local little supermarket (not that I’d know what to do with them if I did!). It got me thinking about complainers.
I’d hazard a guess to say we all know a whinger... and that we’ve all been one from time to time. There is solidarity in a communal whinge, goodness knows anyone who is a parent can pretty easily find common ground with a strangers in the same sleep deprived position. But one-way complaining is a bit different. Sure, everyone needs to vent from time to time, just get something off their chest and move on. It’s very therapeutic with an audience who will validate your feelings, pat you on the back and send you on your way, the matter closed for both of you. But what about when your audience doesn’t actually have the energy or mental space to make room for your problem? But rather than hurt your feelings, through loyalty, love or good manners, they won’t tell you that. They simply add your burdens to theirs, gifting you lightness and bearing the cost of carrying more weight.
I know I’ve certainly had that uncomfortable feeling of coming away from a conversation with someone having a hard time, despite having gone in with the good intention of offering comfort or support, but come out of it wondering if actually I was the one receiving the comfort. When conversations are tough, sometimes it’s a reflex to offer an experience of our own, trying to find a common ground with someone who is suffering to balance the emotional scales. While it might makes us feel more comfortable, does it do the person currently experiencing an intense situation any good? Hmm. I’m squirming a bit right now.
With typical Dr Aunty wisdom, these wise ladies have introduced me to an interesting concept in recent times, one that really helps identify and highlight ways of supporting someone according to where you sit in relation to the trauma they are suffering. It’s called the ‘Ring Theory’, and I really encourage you to have a read of this link, as it explains the idea so well https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/laugh-cry-live/201809/how-respond-people-in-crisis-comfort-in-dump-out.
In a nutshell, draw a circle and fill it with concentric rings. In the centre, is the person who is the most affected; the patient, the sufferer, the afflicted. The next ring out contains their closest family, the next their true friends. Continue in a stepwise pattern outwards, adding the colleagues and acquaintances, neighbours, community, and professionals. The people filling these outer rings may still feel intense empathy and emotion, but the outcome of the situation does not directly impact on their lives.
Now the rule is, you always offer comfort inwards and you only ever dump your worries outward. Those closer to the centre than you, and especially the person at its core, should never have to make you feel better about the situation, never have to allay your fears or find space on their shoulders for your burdens - they have enough of their own. And if one of those inner people needs you to offer comfort, it’s a one way transaction - you should not extract the same from them, as they need their reserves to comfort those even closer.
Obviously we could totally over analyse who belongs in each circle, and everyone will have a slightly different perception, but really, do you want to be that person? Unless there is a glaringly obvious misconception, in which case a gentle reminder is a good idea, for everyones sake. I just really like the simplicity of the concept, and it helps me to remember when a story drawn from my own experience might be appropriate, and when it’s really not helpful. Certainly I forget, regularly, but I hope awareness is perhaps the first step in making a change.
I challenge us all to study some of the situations in our lives, and identify which ring we inhabit. My walk will be for those who have graciously accepted the times I’ve gotten it wrong, and for those of us who are working to do it better.
Let’s all try not to be an indiscriminate whinger. If you want to cook with exotic ingredients like asparagus and blueberries, sometimes you just have to suck it up and pay the price - because somewhere there would be someone who’d give anything to be in your shoes.
Love Helen x
P.s Penny and Eliza spent a bit of time waiting for Mavis and I this morning, as we did a bit of whinging down the the hill...
After yesterdays grumpy start to the day, I tried to avoid a repeat. Instead of growling at Penny for what felt like the 100th time in 10 hours, I gave up, got out of bed and went walking. Turns out my body has remembered how great the endorphins generated by exercise are, and is demanding it along with coffee as an essential antidote to being a raging psycho. Might be a good idea to give me a wide berth for a while in April, as I try to wean my brain off the volume of endorphins it is currently getting, to something more sustainable long term.
Just as well the endorphins had kicked in when I returned, as I hadn’t placated the coffee gremlins yet and there was a very loud, very physical training session of Quidditch taking place in the lounge room, cricket bats making handy substitutes for broomsticks. It’s seems my children are turning in proper, card carrying, Potterheads. (That really is the offical term Dad- same same, but very different from the ‘pothead’ term you lectured us about as kids). There are spells being chanted in the bedroom right now, an old pair of chopsticks causing fights as the are by far, the premium option for a wand and alas, I only have two.
While this imaginative play is heart warming, and lovely, and #blessed, there is a downside. You may have noticed a somewhat smug undercurrent in yesterdays post about raising readers, and probably didn’t miss the careful choice of a black and white filter on the photo. My girls looked quite angelic on the couch - photo carefully cropped to exclude the mountains of crap surrounding us, and the filter specifically chosen to disguise the filthy footprints on the wall (how do they get up there???) and grotty clothes.
It seems the universe did not miss the sneaky work of Smug Helen either, as in between Penny’s insistent barking on the hour, most hours of the night, guess how many kids work up with nightmares about dragons, goblins and bad guys? Hint: I have three children. Sigh. Welcome back, Sleep Deprivation, my old friend. Marcus and I are both less than fresh today, and the fact he is working currently is the only reason I let him win that silent battle of wills between parents who are pretending to be asleep, so they don’t have to get up to kids. I’m onto you Marcus.
(The peril of winning that battle though, is the risk of death via homicide if you forget you were pretending to be asleep, and complain you are tired ... rookie error my friend. That will NOT end well for you.)
Sleep is SO integral to function. I have been quite obsessed by it at many times in my life. Exam anxiety, followed by new graduate pressure was bad for sleep, though obviously nothing on family life, I later learned. I thought things were bad the month before I had the twins - I was so enormous thanks to their blessedly sturdy 6 pound bodies squashed inside, I couldn’t physically lie down. Ha. That was merely a taster for the 5 years or so to follow. I don’t care what the experts say, some kids simply DO NOT SLEEP. And if you can all just stay alive until they can read a book and obey a groclock, maybe, just maybe, you’ll come out the other side (all be it with a caffeine addiction, a really big iBooks debt and no recollection of the last few years of your life).
Lack of sleep, be it through children, anxiety, illness, insomnia or pain, causes real physical, psychological and emotional distress. Sleep deprivation torture is a real thing. When you sleep, your body uses the down time to repair - it releases clever little proteins called cytokines which help your body fight inflammation, infection and trauma; growth hormone is released which helps your body grow and repair. Your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight and flight response, also gets a chance to chill out and your brain busily sorts through all the information it has collected during the day, consolidating it and creating long term memories.
Sleep really, REALLY matters. My own experiences of intense sleep deprivation make me feel so sympathetic towards those who can’t sleep, and somewhat helpless - its something I can’t bake, or do for them and chemical replacements just can’t do the things that true sleep can. Today I want to walk for all those, for whatever reason will not sleep tonight (unless its by choice, in which case you are crazy).
Cancer certainly demands a hefty toll on sleep. Be it through anxiety, pain or illness - I was dumbfounded to learn of yet another cruel side effect of some treatments, which not only make sleep difficult through pain and neuropathy, but actually prevent real sleep as well. What kind of bullsh*t is that?
For those who can’t sleep, I urge you to invest in your sleep hygiene - it’s a term the Dr Aunties use readily. Reduce your screen time, do some exercise, go to bed and get up at regular times, eat well and take care of yourself. If it seems a bit like of an effort, remind yourself that some people do not have the luxury of doing some or all of these things and at least you can give yourself a fighting chance at sleep. And if you are one of those people with no chance of sleep, I’m sending love, praying for your rest, and hope you’ll treat yourself to an audio book which will take you somewhere else during the long nights.
Love Helen x
Turn the page
Ooh today was a grumpy day. No escaping it, no good reason, just... cranky. Poor family. I struggled to get out of bed this morning, missing that nice cool window for a walk, then was grumpy all day about it.
I didn’t achieve much with my bad attitude; vacuumed and washed the dishes, got rid of the 4th mouse I’d caught in 48hours and couldn’t quite suppress the shudder that mice could be our next plague. Gag.
My attitude improved a bit over the afternoon - my girls and I had finished reading the first book of the Harry Potter series, and I’d promised a movie afternoon. I was probably a bit old when Harry Potter was first published to really get into it - my younger sisters loved it, but I’d always changed the channel when we’d be subjected to one Harry Potter movie after another on Friday nights, before we discovered the genius of Netflix. The movie to me was neither here nor there - I spent the very long play time trying to figure out a couple of apps that would be useful in our farm business and my freelance work.
But watching their faces, while they watched the movie was gorgeous. We all really enjoyed the book - I’d gotten lazy in reading stories at night since they had all become so proficient and voracious in their reading appetites. It was rather lovely to go back to three, snuggled up little bodies and a good story, and I have to say, my interpretation of the voices got far more creative as the weekend drew nearer and wine was involved.
I adore books, and I’m so pleased my girls do too. I remember agonising over it when they were younger, about how to foster a love of stories, but be it nature or nurture, somehow the girls all feel the same magic in stories as I do. Today I’m walking for the creator of stories which transport us out of our everyday lives, to somewhere completely different.
I’m not a die hard, physical book kind of person- I’ll take a book in any form it comes. Reading on an iPad was nothing less than life changing when my twins were babies, and I spent more hours than I remember, patting bums in the dark, one arm through the bars of a cot and the other turning the pages of an iBook on night settings. Audio books too, are a game changer. My gorgeous Gdad (Grandad, before they were rechristened with a hip moniker) lost his vision very early in life, and all of my memories of him include a ‘talking book’. These audio books were provided by the Association of the Blind, and were Gdads passport to another world.
I’m currently listening to a novel by Kristin Hannah called ‘The Four Winds’ while I walk, and the kilometres just disappear as I immerse myself in the world of the Great Depression in America. It seems Kristen’s feature a lot in my favourite authors list, as another favourite, Kristan Higgins remains my all time favourite for emotional recalibration in tough times.
I discovered Kristan Higgins book when my twins were little, and it seemed that all the tough times in the years to come- seeding, harvest, and long stretches of solo parenting, coincided with the release of a new novel from her. I feel like I’ve grown up with her characters- I can always relate to something in them, and when I finish one of her books, I always want to hug my family, cuddle my dog and call my Gma. She doesn’t write War and Peace, but something far more relatable and precious for my soul.
Tonight as I tucked my girls into bed, Vera was quizzing me on the difference between prose and a narrative, and what role a prologue plays in story. I just know I’ll find her at her desk tomorrow, writing the same kind of earnest, drama filled story I would have written at her age, that ends suddenly when she’s forgotten where she was going, and needs to abruptly reach a conclusion.
A bit like me right now. I have enjoyed writing each day so much more than I would have guessed. Because it came about in such an unpremeditated way, so unlike most things I do, it has felt so special to receive beautiful message of support from those of you who have continued to read my posts. Once, when I was particularly moved by a blog post of Kristan Higgins, I wrote to her - and was utterly shocked when she replied. I wrote that I assumed all of her characters would must contain something of her in them, and the fact that I can relate to each one suggests to me that perhaps we ourselves might be similar. Creepy I know, dabbling in stalker territory. But Kristan to her credit, was gracious in her response, replying to my email, and being utterly lovely. I felt more than a little star struck and have never moved her email out of my inbox.
As has happened in years gone by, while this strange new period of my life is unfolding, Kristan has released a new novel - it’s about a man whose wife has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and follows their story. I was a poleaxed when I read the blurb. And while I immediately clicked the preorder button, I’m not sure whether I’ll read this one straight away.
Stories, both real and fiction are so integral to our culture, our history and our way of life, there is no escaping them. I love the ones with lyrical phrasing, beautiful characters and the ability to take us on a journey. Maybe one day I’ll write one, maybe I’ll delight in reading Vera’s, but to every author who is brave enough to commit pen to paper, thank you for taking us places we may never have dreamed of, and for giving us the opportunity to suspend our own reality, even if only for a page or two.
Love Helen X
The Simple Things
Friday’s in Mingenew during March are predominantly warm, and full of flies. The kids are getting a bit scratchy as we edge closer to the end of term, and it feels utterly ludicrous to be discussing winter sports training in a junior coaches meeting, prior to cricket training this evening. Ugh. Nothing feels very wintery today! The kids adore cricket training, mostly because the dads run it - it could be annoying, given they aren’t nearly as excited about the activities the mums run. But when several mums used the training opportunity to head off to clock some kms for March Charge, and the rest of us had a cheeky glass of wine while we bounced various babies, it didn’t seem such a big deal after all.
I was shaking my head about the different bedtime conversations for mums and dads tonight - Marcus was answering questions about car engines, the Randolph Stowe writing competition and whether he read Harry Potter at school. Isla and Vera wanted to know a minute by minute plan of what I’m doing tomorrow, and Heidi has a sore nose, dry lips and potentially a sore bottom (she just thought of that ailment). Ah the glamour.
I was hunting for the good ol’ amolin for Heidi’s various complaints when I remembered exactly who I wanted to walk for today. Before I tell you, if you don’t remember amolin from your childhood, you are missing out - amolin is affectionately known as ‘baby butt cream’ and it cures everything from nappy rash, to sore noses, to chapped lips. It’s like sudocream, except their marketing team aren’t as good, and they missed the boat when it came to putting samples in the goodie bag you get in hospital when you have a baby. Because of this oversight, it takes a while in your sleep deprived, new mum stage until you remember remember you can ditch several products and just use one tube of miracle cream for every ailment. *
*FYI for the concerned readers: I didn’t realise this would need to be specifically spelled out, but it seems my husband isn’t the only one concerned about the liberal use of baby butt cream. If you wash your hands between applications, and don’t double dip, there is actually no chance of transferring baby butt cooties to your lips after you fell asleep with your mouth open and need a lip balm alternative that soothes AND heals.
Anyway, I digress as usual. The magic of amolin lies in its simplicity. It’s not fancy or glamorous, or expensive, it just has simple ingredients that work. It was one of those strange conundrums I first noted as I watched how chemotherapy can wreak havoc on a body. We want to shower our loved ones in the most beautiful lotions and potions we can find - a little bit of luxury as a drop in the dark, unpredictable ocean of cancer.
And then the kicker is, just about all these beautiful products cause reactions, and inflame sensitive skin traumatised by chemotherapy and radiation, until the only products that work are those basic, unglamorous ordinary products we wouldn’t look at twice. It takes knowledge, experience and sensitivity to be able to offer the specific advice that will bring some relief from the myriad of unexpected, unglamorous side effects of cancer
Today I am walking for the invaluable knowledge of pharmacists, and two in particular - the beautiful pair of sisters behind the small business of Hope Cancer Care. Joanna and Naomi, sisters and pharmacists, founded this business when Naomi was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2015. They realised how hard it is to find products that really helped with the side effects of cancer and their treatments, and through experience and knowledge, and with the help of Naomis husband, Dr Tom van Hagar, a Medical Oncologist, they have curated a collection of products that work.
Hope Cancer Care was one of the first places I reached out to when I was in shock, and flailing around, not knowing how to help. Their sensitivity, support and understanding was such a beautiful balm to my confused, mind, stalled in disbelief. It’s this little business and others like it, who can make a real, practical difference in making this journey bearable.
Today I walk for pharmacists, Jo and Naomi, sisters, and the simple things in life that make a difference. For the people who really understand what can help, so we can facilitate real solutions here and now, for our loved ones. Thank you for channeling your experience into something that can help people you have never met, and using your own precious energy to create something so worthwhile.
If you have someone you love, or know, or a friend of a friend who might benefit from Naomi and Jo’s expertise, I highly recommend Hope Cancer Care. And if your lips are dry, your nose chaffed or your baby’s butt is sore - amolin is where it’s at.
Love Helen x
So close, and yet so far
It’s a much more straightforward day today. Smug Helen is keeping a low profile and we are all just going about our business. Prado was diagnosed D.O.A and Marcus is busy investigating heart transplants for it vs burial. Jury is out on that decision!
Yesterday’s adventures, despite turning out just fine and no more than an inconvenience really, brought to light a factor that can bring significant challenges in a cancer journey: Geography. Living 100km from a main center can be a nuisance at times, and for all my bug stories and Smug Helen exploits, we all adapt fairly well. It’s really not that far, and plenty of people are significantly more isolated. But how on earth do people manage even 100km, if they are nauseous, in pain, have businesses to run, children to look after, and the myriad of other commitments that don’t go away regardless of health, or lack of?
And then in 2019, COVID entered our lives and the interpretation of isolation became something different entirely. Now there are people facing the most intense, painful, distressing experiences of their lives, and there is often no way around it- loved ones simply can not be with them. It is utterly confounding.
The media has brought us so many versions of these stories in the past year, many of which are truely tragic, and today I walked for all of them. For those geographically isolated from their loved ones, be they patient, family or friend, and for who zoom, Skype or FaceTime, no matter how clever and available, is never enough.
We all have those stories and times in our lives where we feel too far away. Knowing someone we love is struggling and we can’t physically be there is tough - it is a truth in cities and countries all around the world, especially in Australia. But when the distances we can cross shrinks down to next door, that’s a whole new concept, When we can’t all just band together and get someone on a plane regardless of cost, that’s a whole new dimension of physical ache.
So it seems appropriate to be watching the lights of my neighbours at work in the paddocks today while I walk, illustrating this very concept. The closest light on the horizon is Marcus, about 10km away, the furthest light I’m not even sure- 30km away maybe? More? And yet seeing them out there is so reassuring. I feel connected in a way I can’t quite articulate.
We should all walk for them. The patients travelling vast distances for care, and isolated from loved ones while they under go treatment. The incredible services that exist with the single aim of bringing these lifesaving measures closer, and the people who fill the gaps in between; the support services, neighbours, friends, and strangers who step in where they see a need.
Thank you for playing a part in closing the distance. For stepping into the physical role of family and friends who are desperate to wrap loved ones in a hug - thank you for being our arms. May every step we walk, bring us closer together in all the ways that matter.
To my family, sorry for the tear jerker tonight - I’m feeling far away and miss you all.
Love Helen xx
Adventures of Smug Helen
Ahh today is one of those days. After going to bed earlier, I was feeling much fresher, and when Penny started barking at Marcus on the boomspray around 5am, I only dawdled til 5:30 am before I gave up and and went for a walk. It was a gorgeous morning, mild and fresh, no more flies than usual. Ah, thought Smug Helen as she looked at the pleasing 8.46km tally on the fitness app. I’m nailing this today!
And so begins the downfall of Smug Helen. This is not a new scenario, but a well documented phenomenon. It’s that little self congratulatory high five, often just before the outcome is proven, that precipitates a cascade of random and unexpected effects. ‘Ah ha!’ Smug Helen will think, ‘I remembered how to get there!’ Before needing to make a serious of u-turns, 25 point turns and eventually rocking up to a destination 20 minutes late because at the last second, most likely just as the smug thought is forming, she missed a vital turn. Smug Helen is a pain in the arse.
In today’s story, as we know, Smug Helen has recently returned from a trip to Perth. During the uneventful drive, fairly smug declarations were made about how despite 350k on the odometer and a decades worth of crackers squashed into every crevice, Smug Helen loves her car and has no pressing desire to trade it in. After all, it’s worth very little now, and as long as there is a screw driver and a can of WD40 in it, she can even deal with the back door that regularly seizes (open, if there are groceries rolling around in the back, shut if she has a trolley of groceries next to her that need to go in. Obviously.) In fact, Smug Helen has even been known to feel a little, well, smug, at her resourcefulness and ability to hold a bag or 10, her dress, and in times gone by at least one child on her hip, while she ‘fixed’ it.
There are several layers to this story, so let me set the scene. Kids are on the bus, dishes are washed - she smugly did them last night, anticipating today’s trip to geraldton. All the washing is put away, Heidis rogue knickers were located behind the couch and her ambulance uniform is washed and stowed back in the car. She’s looking forward to shopping in the big supermarket, a potter in Spotlight and maybe even a cheeky pedicure as a trade off for all the random blisters developed from walking. Not gonna lie, she even pondered a #blessed type filtered photo of newly painted toenails and a story about supporting local businesses for today’s post. Consider yourselves lucky you dodged that one. Cue: alarm bells. Not that Smug Helen listens. Nuh uh.
She put back the sleeved dress, and pulled out a lovely strappy number - ‘why wouldn’t I wear this one?’ She said ‘it’s not like I’ll be outside much.” Same with shoes; there are the comfy ones, but the prettier ones that do rub her toes a smidge, are so nice! Not like she’ll need to walk far after all. Smug Helen tops off the look by swapping her normal handbag with her brown one, as it matches better... she’s feeling pretty pleased with herself for thinking of it, and for emptying some of the heavy stuff like the spare phone battery, out.
Smug Helen heads off to Gero, enjoying her audio book, planning a coffee stop on the way in. Hmm oil light flicks on just as she gets to town... meh, thinks Smug Helen, that’s happened before. Car chugs a bit. Meh! Thinks Smug Helen again- maybe I’ll call Marcus when I’m waiting for my coffee. And then... nothing. Nada. Zilch. Prado is kaput. Steering wheel locked, engine dead and its bloody lucky she can roll into a car park that’s nearly, but not quite, in the shade. Bugger.
Smug Helen isn’t too worried really- it could have been so much worse! She calls RAC and does Marcus’s Breakdown Diagnosis: 101 course via teleconference, to no avail. RAC man gives her a lecture on oil lights and a random story about how he used to sleep on the north side of the house in Morawa when he was 8 (WTF?) and soon the tow truck arrives to cart the Prado away. RIP Prado.
That’s sounds like the end of the story doesn’t it? But remember all those little smug moments prior to this? Stay with me. Smug Helen walks and texts, it’s a bit amusing after all, lugging grocery bags, mail, brown bag... SNAP! Satchel strap on brown bag randomly breaks, causing bag to fall, spewing its contents all over the footpath, lip balm rolling into the road. Sigh. She picks it up, and lugs her crap up to woolies, in order to get groceries and put them in parcel pick up. Maybe she can sneak in that pedicure after, while waiting for a lift. Of course Woolies doesn’t offer parcel pick up any more. Smug Helen could of course get a coffee and do click and collect... only the coffee shop is shut and her phone is nearly flat, and oh yeah - she took out the spare phone battery from the brown bag. Sigh.
As she stomped down the road to the other supermarket, she notes the nail place appears to have closed down anyway. Those pretty shoes are now giving new blisters, and the strappy dress has resulted in a delicious shade of beetroot sunburn on arms, chest and shoulders, to match her face. Of course.
It wasn’t all bad- groceries were found, she had a lift back to Mingenew and a bonus hour chatting with a good friend on the way. The school bus delivered both Smug Helen and groceries to the farm, and another good friend helped get the kids to piano. Was a bit of a nuisance to find that freshly washed ambo uniform is now locked in the car, parked out the back of a mechanic in geraldton. Not useful.
But thus illustrates the typical sequelae that regularly follow the idle, smug thoughts of Smug Helen. Like I said, she’s a pain in the arse. It’s a bit crass to try and dig some deeper meaning out of the days adventures in relation to cancer - do I walk for tow truck drivers? The RAC? Hmm.
I guess I’ll just put it down to walking for the days that things that just don’t go to plan. That irregardless of health, diagnoses, outcomes and worries, sometimes the only answer is to laugh, shake your head and go to bed.
Tomorrow is a new day. Let’s hope Smug Helen keeps her smugness to herself!
Love Helen x
Life changing gadgets
March on a farm is perhaps one of the more challenging. The farmers all get ants in their pants, watching for rain that could mean a wonderful bonus of soil moisture for the season ahead, but also requires a greater outlay in time and money controlling the weeds. Summer weeds thrive in warm wet conditions, using up the moisture and nutrients we want to have in reserve for our emerging crops in a couple of months time.
‘Ants in their pants’ is not just a figure of speech either, as thanks to summer rain resulting in insect plagues of biblical proportions and regularity, the bull ants are currently enjoying their own bountiful harvest of dead bugs from my paths, lawn, kitchen windowsill and sink. It’s often a bit funny at first, amusing my sisters with stories of the farm, and how I vacuum the bugs and moths off my dishes before I wash them. You know how moths leave that weird powdery black stuff behind if you accidentally squash one? My eye starts getting twitchy when everything is covered in that stuff x1000 moths swimming in the washing up water. But after I’ve told the funny story, elaborating the details a smidge to make them laugh, omitting a few details like the fact they get in through the hole in the fly screen that a mouse chewed (after all, they’ve all just booked flights to come visit at Easter, and that could be considered crossing the line a tad), things take a turn for the worse. Because bull ants have incredibly grippy little feet and a vacuum that isn’t operating in optimum condition, just cant suck those buggers off.
I’d been a bit cranky before I went to Perth, at the presence of the bull ants in the kitchen, and the apathy of my beloved vacuum cleaner when it came to sucking them up. In years gone past, I could hand on heart swear, the vacuum cleaner is my favourite appliance in the house (Pip, I see you nodding right now). I even remember when we got it, after I found myself picking up the grot off the floor and poking it in the vacuum. The canister after canister of filth I emptied that first vacuum was so satisfying, I even caught myself a little wistful, assuming that now I’d obviously vacuum ALL THE TIME, and surely I’d never get such voluminous satisfaction again (obviously I was high on spray and wipe at the time... I still laugh at my naivety.)
So when I came home and found Marcus had fixed my vacuum cleaner?? Well. There were hardly words. ‘Acts of Service’ is the number one language of love we speak fluently in this house, and the reason it is also quite likely that this particular act, is potentially also my birthday present for a few weeks time. I sucked bugs up with gay abandon today - bull ants and all. After being distracted from the view by the national Geographic worthy, life and death battle between predator and prey on my windowsill, I can now see the view beyond (or I could, if I was to get the glass out of the window and suck up my old mate the spider and his cronies, who live between the glass and fly screen...).
These random observations come with a side of gratitude for all the new technology that makes my life easier, particularly on the farm. I’m currently listening to an audio book, set in the farm land on the prairies of Texas during the Great Depression, and boy, could they have done with a Dyson after those dust storms. We have a bit of a love hate relationship with technology here - I love my vacuum, cricut and iPad, but phones and internet are the bane of our lives; service always dropping out, the wires of our home line regularly eaten through by those same bull ants, or cockies, cows and unicorns.
For all my soapbox rants of kids on devices, which you can witness at nearly every P&C meeting if you are unlucky, there is no denying the incredible advantage technology has brought us. It’s application in the lives of those suffering chronic disease brings immeasurable benefits. Today I’ll walk for the inventors of the truely life changing gadgets. While the popcorn maker and and pretzel maker with inbuilt cheese melter inventor probably wont get a guernsey in my list, feel free to add them to yours - the vacuum cleaner is definitely on mine.
I hope the inventors of today and the whiz kids of tomorrow apply their smarts to develop products that can make life more manageable for the incapacitated, handicapped and physically disadvantaged. Facilitating just a whisper of autonomy for someone who may have very few avenues to retain their sense of independence is a worthy test for the whether an appliance is useful, or just landfill. Gadgets that have recently entered my awareness such as a chemo port, are so simple in their design and so important in treatment, I hope the inventors were celebrated for their genius*, and the technique is further refined and improved in years to come.
*a quick google revealed it was a joint effort by many people, over many years.
In the meantime, while you all ponder what appliance would change your lives, I’m off to see what lego creation I must have sucked up that has blocked my vacuum, before the kids get off the bus and catch me out...
Love Helen x
Today I ticked over 100km kilometres - phew! At halfway through the month, its a relief to be on track, and my minimum daily distance required has dropped slightly to 6km. It was a bit harder to get going today though, a bit more effort required to get out of bed and heading into the strong easterly wind uphill was no where near as pleasant as usual. Mavis wisely said no thanks, and took herself home for a nap.
Essentially, I’m just a bit tired. It was a busy weekend, with minimal sleep, covering large distances in geography and conversation. I enjoyed a chance to potter quietly though, to unpack, wash dishes, put away things and generally just square away the detritus of a week lived at high speed, before knuckling down and planning this week. I don’t need music on these days, or any extra noise, just the space to let my mind wind down.
I’ve only recently learned a different definition of the words ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’, and I’ve pondered them off and on all day today. Rather than shy vs outgoing, as I always assumed, a quick google offered two alternatives for each word. Extraversion may be seen as annoying, noisy and preventing others from speaking, or could be perceived as someone who is open, friendly and gets things moving. In contrast, an introvert could be deliberately silent, unnerving and non-contributory, or calm, thoughtful and taking time to think about the right this to do. Wise Bec from down the road explained it in a way I prefer - an extrovert draws strength and energy from the company of others, while an introvert tends to be inwardly oriented and and draws strength from being alone. We all sit on a sliding scale between the two, never fixed, but tending one way or the other according to what is happening in our lives.
It was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me. I’m not overly shy, or particularly quiet - I love public speaking, I could be considered gregarious in the right company, and potentially obnoxious after a few drinks with a conversation topic I’m passionate about. But I have quite a high requirement for quiet, alone time to regroup. It’s occasionally felt like a failure, that I’m being antisocial. Once while admiring a particularly busy woman in my village and her myriad of commitments, she stated she’d rather be busy than to stay home and wallow when things are tough, I became a bit concerned. Do I wallow? Am I being self indulgent in my need for time out? It bothered me a bit.
So the concept of drawing strength from being alone, was actually a bit of welcome discovery. I love being with friends and family, but equally I find constant noise and busy-ness quite overwhelming. I’m more comfortable with writing, texting or emailing than making phone calls, as I like to consider what I’m saying before I say it. I have the memory of an elephant for silly things I’ve said, and I’ve never actually passed an oral exam in my life, despite enjoying public speaking. It’s quite freeing really, to view these simply as a result of how myself and so many are wired, as opposed to a failing.
In the same way the words introvert and extrovert can be defined in both positive and negative ways, so too can the ways support can be given and received. Wonderful outpourings of love, generosity and good will, such as we are experiencing and highlighting in the March Charge are so beautiful, and so well intentioned, but for the introvert at the receiving end of this good will, it can be a bit much. For the extrovert suffering in their cancer battle or supporting someone who is, this support can replenish their reserves build their strength for the battle and be incredibly empowering.
For the introvert who is already faced with coordinating more appointments than they usually make in a lifetime, fielding more calls, soothing more loved ones and constantly being required to be grateful and gracious in the receiving of the help they wish they didn’t need, it can be incredibly overwhelming. Today I’m walking for those who need a little time out to build their strength, without triggering a cascade of concerned phone calls and check ups. Who love us for loving them enough to pour time and effort into trying to help, but can’t hear their own thought for all the noise. The introverts who need us to listen when they tell us they need to tag out, and not put our fear that something is wrong, over their needs.
It’s really tough. I’m walking for them today, while reassuring those who might recognise this situation and squirm uncomfortably, that our intentions are honourable and our love is felt. But maybe just for a moment, we should redirect the phone call or message to someone who has a bit more in their cup, or someone for whom a call will add to their own stores of strength by hearing from us.
For my fellow introverts, breath deeply close your eyes and try not to be annoyed. Just tell those who will be worried you are ok, but will be in touch. Don’t let them worry but don’t give in. You need this, and we all understand.
Love Helen x
P.s Mavis is the perfect ambassador or this concept - she is exhausted at 10:30am, camped on Heidis bed and unimpressed at the interruption... but at 10:30pm she’ll be swinging off Pennys ears and poking Elizas tail hoping for a reaction...
The long winding road
Back home tonight, met at the door by my surprised and happy family - one of my regular party tricks is to text when I’m leaving somewhere... and forget to press send, so I’m often arriving to very concerned family who have spent hours worrying about me on the road! Oops. Penny was very also pleased to see me (she was fairly unpopular today after having been loudly looking for me since 3am this morning... oops again!) and I popped on my joggers for a quick walk with a gazillion of my fly buddies to stretch out the driving kinks.
Today’s 400km trip flew past in yet another wide ranging conversation with my gorgeous neighbour, who was catching a lift. We were both tired, happy, and smidge dehydrated from perhaps a couple more celebratory champagnes with our friends than probably recommended - but most definitely enjoyed!
I hugged my dear friends goodbye this morning, and we returned to our families- cricket games, ratbag babies, Coles online orders and long drives. I managed a quick visit to my mum, and popped in on my dear Grandma, or ‘Gma’ as we call her, after her abbreviation of Grandma and Grandad in our birthday cards to Gma and Gdad was just too cute to forget. I adore my Gma, and even though as usual, I was ever the time optimist and arrived only a few minutes before lunch, I’d drive anywhere for a 2 minute talc scented hug from my Gma.
Lots of today’s conversations, coincidently, revolved around the beloved elderly members of our families. It was an odd juxtaposition, after a weekend of discussing caring for children and young families, to be exploring the different care needs of our loved ones who have a lifetime of stories. It was not unlike the experience of watching the first of our friends to become mothers; a glimpse through the window of time to what could be ahead in our own futures.
It made me think, if cancer and its treatment can ravage a young healthy body, the devastation it can bestow on a body already carrying a lifetime of changes, is even more extreme. It has the ability to result in outcomes so medically complex, that lives can turn on a dime. Sometimes, the speed at which this can happen is so rapid, whole families are left scrambling, trying to deal with the emotional, financial and logistical fall out.
The landscape of aged care, whether it is needed at 90, 70 or 50, seems complicated, so full of unexpected landslides, roadblocks and dead ends, it seems unfathomable how someone could traverse it even in the best of mental and physical health. Today I walked for those people for who cancer has directly or indirectly ejected them from familiar terrain, into rocky new ground. For those who are advocating for loved ones, and those attempting to hang on to even the smallest amount of autonomy. May your path be well lit, the lines marked and the street signs intact. That you will be given a road map, a coffee and a mix tape of support on your journey. May those in control of their care, ensure the elderly are afforded the highest standards of humanity, dignity and respect.
And may Taboo talcum powder never be discontinued, for in the unexpectedly fierce embrace of my Gma’s arms, it’s scent is that of my childhood, of home and of pure love.
love Helen xx
P.s penny and I are discussing how very uncool barking at 3am is....
Somewhere, over the Rainbow
The air is soft, the company engaging and there isn’t a fly in sight.. or up my nose, or in my mouth. City walking is so civilised!! I’ve dipped my feet in the ocean and the conversation has meandered from our children, to joint acquaintances, jobs and the future.
I am in the utterly luxurious position of writing a few words before going out with old friends for cocktails and dinner in Fremantle, and the unfamiliar freedom of thinking purely of ourselves is heady.
The women I stayed up to all hours of last night with, talking, laughing and crying together, represent distinct chapters of my life- one I have known from infancy, one primary school and one university. All four of us shared a house during uni times, affectionately known as ‘The Aviary’, as it was a house full of chicks. We have so many shared experiences and even once we became separated by geography and busy lives, we can pick up threads of our last conversation and in a moment we have woven them together into the colourful fabric of true friendship.
Over the years we have imagined and planned for so many versions of our futures - as country girls becoming city students, new graduates masquerading as professionals, travellers, couples, brides, mothers and now find ourselves on the cusp of a new chapter, and what comes next.
We walked for the future today. For future dreams and plans, with an even keener sense of just how indulgent and unconscious that process can be. The assumption that we have total control over what the future could look like. We know each other so well that the flip side of that coin is unspoken but still acknowledged - what an utter privilege that is when we all know too many for which that idle indulgence is no longer something that can be undertaken so frivolously.
It has made us deeply appreciative of the need to focus on what really matters, learning to simplify the noise in our lives. This newer wisdom is partly a product of age, but is more strongly influenced by the stories of those around us who have suddenly and cruelly found their futures altered.
We walked for our futures and theirs today, for peace, acceptance and love. To find something beautiful in the darkness to knit together for a rainbow of moments that will create an alternative future. It won’t look like the one of our dreams, but it is worthy, and beautiful and treasured.
How I love these women! It’s time to buy a round of cocktails!
Love Helen xx
Start the Car!
March Charge 12.3.21
Well it looks like I may have jumped the gun when it comes to waxing lyrical over yesterdays sunrise - this morning was spectacular! Thought I’d see if any particularly poetic colour names applied to the shade I saw, but when google suggested ‘macaroni cheese’ was a potential name for a colour in the orange spectrum, I gagged a little and stopped looking. Blerg.
It was only a brisk 5km today - incredible how quickly I’ve been able to shift my mental attitude to what is a ‘quick’ walk. I honesty doubt it could have happened with out this unexpected ground swell of support for the March Charge fundraiser. Thank you to all of you, for inspiring me to challenge myself to dig a little deeper, make the time and commit.
It’s a big day here today - Marcus has been out spraying since 2am, and I’ve been restless since, with lists of ‘don’t forgets’ rewriting themselves in my brain. It’s our school swimming carnival today in Three Springs, and I’ll head to Perth straight after for my much anticipated weekend with three of the most special women in my life. In getting from A to B, I will encounter so many of these incredible women, who make my life richer, more inspired, more fulfilled and more balanced.
These women will be cheering on their children and mine, donating cakes, running a stall, marshalling kids and applying sunscreen. They have jobs, careers, families and manage all of it while driving hundreds of kilometres, sometimes thousands, a week. I’ll get to fill my metaphorical cup when I cuddle their babies, we’ll cover topics big and small when we car pool to Perth, and they’ll drive my wet, exhausted children back to Mingenew, feed them and look after them until Marcus can get there to pick them up.
And then when I get to Perth, I have the ultimate luxury of spending 2 whole nights with three of my oldest friends, who have known me through all the chapters of my life. I. CAN’T. WAIT.
So today I’m walking for the women in my life and yours. I feel like the clock is against me today, to really explore the impact women have on in the lives of each other, but perhaps there would never be enough time for me to write it all and for anyone to bother reading! Rest assured I’ll be rewriting this in my head at multiple times during the day, wishing I’d done the topic more justice. But that’s just the thing- these women are there when I’m at my most poetic and when I swear like a sailor (don’t read that bit to Grandma, mum... ) and I know it’s irrelevant to them, what I may forget to write. They forgive me silly things things I say before I engage my brain, being stroppy, my chronic indecision, my inability to commit and a multitude of personal flaws. Cos these women are just plain awesome.
Some of these women will have cancer, or have lost someone to cancer. They’ll be supporting people they love, friends of friends and reaching out to those they don’t even know, in recognition of the shared pathway we walk as women.
Arg! Time is up!! Chuck out the list, its too late for that! Corrina, I’ll pick you up in 40mins, Ebony, Kobie and Fran - chill the wine, I’m coming!!!! As soon as I find Heidis goggles....
Love Helen xx
Vermillion contrails... say what?
There was a stunning sunrise this morning, a treat for those out of bed early enough to see the sky beginning to lighten. The clouds became illuminated and then cast in soft shades of apricot and rose, becoming radiant coral, and inviting me to list exotic colours in my head like cerise, crimson, magenta and vermillion. Those descriptors might be gilding the lilly just a tad, but still - it sure was pretty.
In the middle of the show, I was admiring a long straight line of cloud, glowing like someone had used their orange highlighter and drawn a slash through the sky. I couldn’t think of the word for the trail of white cloud that a plane leaves, and wondered whether it could also be a natural phenomenon, so I decided to do a ‘quick’ google before I started some work. Turns out the word I was searching for is a ‘contrail’, and the science behind how they form is quite fascinating. I also learned that it is possible to joint the ‘Cloud Appreciation Society’ (membership is $48.67 a year, which seems a little steep) and looking at cool pictures of clouds, ostensibly to match up one with my own pic, is a much of a time sucking vortex as Baby Panda Cam. Darn it.
Before I fell down the google rabbit hole into cloud land however, (can’t google while walking as there is no service, and I’d probably break my neck falling into an actual rabbit hole while looking at my phone), I was thinking about the cloud formations on the amazing weather calendar we get every year from the Bureau of Meterology. My ridiculously clever big sister (incidentally, also another fabulous Dr Aunty) is a senior research scientist there, and we’ve been enjoying their calendars for years - FYI they make excellent repeat Xmas gifts for the bloke who has everything... you’re welcome! Calendars then lead to musings about research and why I was up walking and watching the sunrise, in aid of funding it.
Raising funding for research is REALLY tough. And that’s even in times when the government isn’t in the midst of a fiscal crisis, trying to stabilise an economy ravaged by the impact of corona virus. While I’m more familiar with the process of agricultural research, medical research is another thing entirely - the costs of equipment, the scale of the studies, the complexity of human bodies and the consequences of getting it wrong, means funds don’t stretch anywhere near as far as we need or might assume.
So todays walk - you guessed it - is for the researchers. The people who have the ability to focus on a factor that is so tiny, it could seem almost ludicrous to imagine, or a system so complex it similarly seems impossible to draw an accurate conclusion.
Thank you for choosing to make research part of your life. Rarely lauded or even understood outside of the specific professional circles to which the research applies, I’m fairly confident no one is ever drawn to research for the glamour or the pay. Thank you for your passion, your curiosity and your focus.
In many cases, the research finish line is so indistinct, the goal so nebulous, it must surely be hard to not be overwhelmed by the enormity of a task like ‘curing cancer’. It’s also possible that all the people we hold in our hearts when we contribute to a fundraiser such as this, will never actually benefit from the research to come. But there is always a chance. Always the hope for a eureka moment out of the blue that could stop this alternate future no one would ever chose, in its tracks.
So to all those in the research field, the administrators, those coming up with new and innovative ways of raising the necessary funds, and those keeping our dreams of cure alive, we walk for you. Thank you for your service.
Love Helen x
Caltrop and Cancer
A late night second date plan with my lovely neighbour saw me back down the river this morning for excellent conversation while the sun came up. The time and distance flies in Bec’s engaging company! It seems impossible to do small talk with Bec, there’s no looking for something to say, idle comments about weather to fill silences (though yes, we established it was cooler, and darker than that time yesterday, and impossibly, the flies were even worse!) just an excellent progression through a variety of topics that are generally bigger than the trivial matters of day to day living.
At times though our focussed narrowed - specifically to the presence of a weed called caltrop along our route. Caltrop is a nasty piece of work. It isn’t a declared weed, it can be readily sprayed and sheep eat it (though FYI, my sheep producer peeps, it can be toxic) so you might wonder what is so nasty about it... that is until you step on it in your thongs or worse, bare feet! It’s like a double gee, but with longer spikes.
At our farm, Marcus and his dad fight an ongoing battle against it- no monsters under the bed in their nightmares, just wall to wall caltrop. It can be so unremarkable to look at, easy to miss if you don’t have your eye in, but the secret to its success is that it can produce seeds only a few weeks after germinating. Sometimes the tiniest of plants can have those whopping big prickles on them, which then can lay dormant in the soil for more than 4 years, just waiting til conditions are right and BAM. You have a big problem. Marcus and his dad know where the likely spots on our farm are - despite our thousands of hectares, they spend days after summer rain out there with a bin bag, picking it by hand to try and get as many prickles as possible and reduce its reoccurrence. Even so, sometimes it still gets away from us, and the focus becomes isolating it and reducing its spread.
Can you see where this analogy is going? It occurred to me today, that cancer can be just as tricky, just as insidious and just as easy to miss until the problem is so much bigger. So my walk today, is for primary care physicians. Those on the front line, to who we entrust our health and have faith that they will pick up on the tiniest of abnormalities that could be relevant, identifying it amongst the impossible number of red herrings and clinically insignificant findings of every human body.
Often we don’t even give them a chance to help us - we put off making appointments, we don’t look after our bodies, we don’t tell them the full story and we don’t follow their instructions. After all that’s what Dr Google is for, right?
In my own village, we are blessed to have the Dr Aunties. Three gorgeous, insanely clever, observant, thoughtful young women. Sisters to myself and 2 close friends, who have spent years of their lives studying to be those very General Practitioners we expect so much of. All 3 are so generous with their knowledge and time, careful, and thorough, yet they already carry the emotional weight of the outcomes for patients that no one saw coming, the tiny signs that might have been buried in other complicating factors.
Let’s all walk for them, and hope they have a chance to walk for themselves too. To take care of their own physical and emotional needs so they can work with clear minds and healthy bodies. Let’s help them, help us - follow their advice, tell them the truth, do the preventative testing. A family GP who knows your family, has a head start on picking up on those tiny nuances that may uncover something that can be nipped in the bud before it sets seed. Let’s pay them properly, make sure we don’t work them into the ground and support them as they do their very best to look after us.
To the Doctor Aunties in our lives - you are so loved.
Love Helen x
P.s Mavis may soon need a visit to her own primary care physician if she doesn’t look where she steps...
P.p.s in true Smug Helen form (it’s a thing. I may tell you about it this month!) I was just congratulating myself for the impressive, somewhat unexpected kilometre tally I wracked up... Alas I then found it’s because two days were counted twice when I worked out how to link the fitness app. Doh!!
For the Village
I hit double digits today! Yippee! 12km on the nose. Building a bit of a buffer into my schedule, just in case I hit a snag along the way (eg. a much anticipated weekend away with 3 of my favourite people! There will be wine...)
Today’s walk was a glorious early morning stroll along the Irwin river with my lovely neighbour Bec. We headed off in semi darkness, but Penny and Eliza had to stay home this time, as I had visions of them galumphing through tick infested vegetation to chase kangaroos, followed by a gloriously muddy splash in the river ... ain’t no one got time to deal with that mess on a Tuesday morning!! Instead the dogs got a walk after we walked the girls to the bus stop, hence wracking up a few more kilometres. I’m hoping I can repeat the exercise tomorrow!
The first walk of the morning just flew past, in a small part as the track was wonderfully flat, but mostly because of the excellent company. Bec is one of those incredibly engaging people, whose superpower is radiating truth serum - the perfect combination of asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answer. A few years younger than me, she grew up on the farm next door, and is the inspiration for today’s walk dedication - today’s walk is for our village.
Small towns are such interesting places to live, and I honestly think I hit the jackpot when I was adopted by this town I have called home for the last 12 years. Your ‘village’ can exist in all kinds of forms, united because of geography or despite it, people who come together due to similarities in age, circumstance, interests, employment, family or perhaps none of the above.
As Bec and I wandered literally down the track and metaphorically from topic to topic, we appreciated the unique opportunities presented in the small local school both Bec and my husband Marcus attended, and our girls attend now. In particular, it was the opportunity for children to form strong bonds across gender and age, outside of their family, purely because if you want have a decent game of cricket or chasey at lunch time, you need everyone to make up the numbers.
In our own lives, we observed much of our social interaction is an added bonus to fulfilling an obligation. My list of committee roles and meetings often baffles my city based family, but is simply a product of the fact that in a small town, if you want to play sport, go to playgroup, and have good facilities, you can’t just expect someone will do it for you. While it can definitely be frustrating at times and overwhelming (‘volunteer fatigue’ is a very well known term around here!), the rewards are immeasurable.
Because regardless of what kind of committee it is, the true benefit lies in the connections they bring. My village spans generations, geography, gender and more. These are the beautiful people who delivered food to our door when we had the twins and then Heidi, who see lights out in the paddock when everyone else is finished harvest and check to see if you need a hand. They’ll send me a nice message to compliment me on a job I’ve done, film my kids if I miss an assembly and feed them at any time of day if we have over stayed our welcome. They’ll see me sign up to March Charge, and even if they don’t know the specific story behind it, they’ll donate, read my ramblings and then offer to come walking with me.
There are so many roles to play in a village. You don’t have to be everything to everyone, or compete with someone else - you’ve got your own thing going on. Different people will fill your metaphorical cup (and your coffee cup/wine glass/gin goblet) at different times.
I am so incredibly fortunate in the kinds of people who fill my village, both locally and across Australia, and I love seeing how all those people in the lives of my family members have also rallied in the last year, forming bridges between them. You just have to look at some of the gorgeous messages from my sponsors and you can feel how far these connections reach.
So I walked with my village and for my village today, for yours and for all the gorgeous people we share between us. If there is one thing about cancer that’s not completely terrible, probably the only thing, it’s how it draws us together.
Thank you for being part of my village
Love Helen xx
P.s Mavis and Penny have their own village thing going on too...
Horses for courses... or dogs...
No lounging in bed today - up and at ‘em early to log some kilometres! You can see in the picture that Penny needs to catch up on her rest after this early start, and Vera is recharging her batteries after a busy day at school.
In keeping with the observation that there is no hierarchy when it comes to suffering, I’m taking a bit of a sideways step today - today I’m walking for the animals in our lives.
I know it’s probably a bit naff, and most will assume it is because I’m a vet, but honestly, is there anything more comforting than the uncomplicated pleasure that can be derived from watching, patting or nurturing an animal? I’m sure there is a reason why many of us might shuffle a bit guiltily when we see references to the time vortex that is Baby Panda Cam, or funny cat videos online...
My lovely friend Chloe once asked me such an insightful question about my reasons for studying to be a vet, it has stayed with me for many years. We stood at the back of a dark hockey oval on a Wednesday night, studiously trying to avoid any serious hockey (Chloe through choice, me through a dismal lack of hockey skills), and she asked if it was because I just love animals, or is it more the science I like. I don’t think I’d ever considered that myself, let alone been asked it, and as I reflected, I decided in all honesty it was the science that attracted me. Plus people were impressed by my choice and I couldn’t think of an alternative. Must remember that when it comes to guiding my own girls through their choices.
As I ventured out as a very green, overwhelmed new graduate, my strengths and weaknesses as a veterinarian quickly became obvious, and rather than the science, it was relationships that emerged as my forte. By understanding what an animal means to their human, I could better judge whether we needed a ‘whatever it costs’ approach, or whether the owner needed me to put options on the table that they may have been worried I would judge them for.
We could go down a number of rabbit holes at this juncture, but I’ll try and stay true to what I was trying to say. In the way that an animal may fill a different role in every individuals life, from surrogate child, to part of the furniture, the keeper of secrets to a fun distraction on a Tuesday arvo, so too we all need different things from the professionals in a cancer journey.
Some cope by having all the facts. Every detail, treatment, test result and potential outcome, as a way of holding onto the illusion of control that helps keep everything together. Some value nurturing more highly - what does it matter if the result is this or that, if both results feel the same? It makes me appreciate all the different qualities individuals bring to a profession and that no one personality type is suited to a job.
It’s just another way to illustrate the reasons why there is no single right approach to treating cancer. Our needs differ, our bodies differ, and our coping strategies differ. What is most important that the patient is empowered to chose the pathway that meets their needs, and despite our emotional investment, we respect those needs.
My own personal strategy to bridge the gaping hole in my heart left by the cancer bullet was to search for Penny, and I am forever grateful to Cheryl for answering that call. Penny is distraction, she is cuddles, she is morning walks, uncomplicated love and she is utterly devoted. Works for me!
Love Helen x
P.S I promise I love Eliza too... it’s just she has never forgiven me for some unknown slight and is more cat like in her affections... its tough on my ego!
Doing it for the kids
Goodness, where did that weekend go? Luckily I decided to walk in the morning as it warmed up by afternoon and I realised my overly ambitious weekend to-do list was sporting very few satisfying ticks on it. I’d planned to do a second shorter walk with the kids in the afternoon, but we got distracted - Marcus mowed the lawn and I gave Eliza an over due haircut. Am feeling particularly proud of bribing Penny into letting me trim her ears up! She told me in no uncertain terms however, that roast meat and cuddles were not going to cut it for feet trimming - will have to up my bribery game for that!
Lots on my mind today, but mostly the minutiae of busy family life- are there clean school uniforms for tomorrow? Why is there lego on every surface? You’re hungry AGAIN? Where did all the fruit go? Why is every pair of knickers Heidi owns in the wash, when I only washed 2 days ago? That’s a real mystery that one...
This decided my dedication for today- the kids. The kids who fight their own cancer battles,the kids who live with it in their families and the kids who watch the adults in their lives trying to rationalise that which will never make sense.
The presence of children in any capacity when it comes to cancer just makes it all the more heartbreaking. The addition of words like ‘cancer’, and ‘chemotherapy’ to young vocabularies sound so much more harsh in their voices. But isn’t it incredible just how resilient little people are? Their natural tendency toward egocentricity protecting them from many of the details an adult may fixate on, except those that directly affect them. Sometimes the result can be unbearably cruel - they may lack the maturity to seperate the circumstances from the result. Misplaced resentment toward the person who is using all of their time and all of their energy to fight something unseen. They may not be able to understand that this sacrifice they are being made to endure now, is for the hope that they might gain that precious time and energy to lavish on that same small person for years to come. A frustrated child can unwittingly inflict deep wounds on a psyche that is already at its most vulnerable.
Then there is the other side of the coin, which is the glorious distraction their very neediness creates. Good days or bad, little people will still need to be fed, to be cuddled, reminded to brush their teeth, pick up their lego and put their knickers in the wash. Life does seem to just go on, and sometimes that’s a blessed relief, to be lost in the multitude of little tasks that don’t go away when cancer intrudes into our lives.
I try to be mindful of how much I expect my girls to carry. To walk that fine line of keeping them informed but not frightened, and to explain things in a logical, factual way at a level they can understand. I am beyond grateful to the clever people who come up with children’s tv shows like ‘Operation Ouch’, introducing concepts such as serious illness, hospitals, and procedures in an engaging and non threatening way, so that my girls have a point of reference for the information they are trying to process.
And I need reminding constantly of how intuitive children can be, and how sensitive they are to the moods of the people around them. It’s natural to try and hide the anxiety, the fear and the worry, but in my children they see it regardless and it heightens their own anxiety. Sometimes it’s easier for them if I label how I am feeling - I can almost seeing them ticking a mental box thinking ‘ah that explains it’ before reverting to how that information affects them... and specifically, what’s for dinner? It’s all a learning curve and every day is another chance to do it differently.
I was recently recommended a beautiful children’s book by my dear friend Kobie, called ‘The Invisible String’, by Patrice Karst. It explores how we all remain connected despite physical distance and fitted so perfectly with my families lives at the moment, whether we are separated by distance, through Covid, sickness, starting school and even death. I highly recommend this story for all families.
Gosh if you made it to the end of today’s musings you did well!! I shall need to be far more succinct in the week ahead - it’s a busy one!
Let’s stride it out for the kids (and don’t let them insist on wearing thongs if you want to walk more than a kilometre..)
Love Helen xx
P.s Penny has very quickly worked out the drinks station on our extended walking track!
Reasons for Walking
It’s Saturday today, warmer, breezy and humid on the farm - the flies are VERY friendly. Penny suggested (loudly) that we start walking soon after 5am, but without the pressure of the school routine ahead, I declined and suggested she, Mavis and Eliza go for their own walk for a while.
So it’s an afternoon walk today, which is also quite a luxury I’m just rediscovering now my girls are a bit older. I’m planning to walk a lap of closest paddocks which is roughly 6km with Penny (and possibly Mavis, though she is significantly less frisky in the afternoon... it’s exhausting being a cat, after all), then collect kids +/- the geriatric pets on my way past the house again. We will see how far we get!
I was contemplating who I’d walk for today - the list is long. Should I consider who is the next ‘most’ affected by a diagnosis after the patient? How do I decide that? Is a mother’s grief and anxiety more or less than that of a child’s? Does being family automatically ‘promote’ you in the hierarchy of suffering? I think it would take a far more philosophical person than I am to attempt to untangle those questions. Instead I’ve decided to just go with whoever is in my mind on the day, an approach I’m finding is a bit trickier at the end of the day than the start, as the conversations, experiences, observations and general over thinking of the day jostling for mental real estate.
And yet. I keep coming back to the other person I feel is right in that inner vortex, who carry a cancer diagnosis in every part of their being except their body. It’s the spouse. The partner. The significant other. The person who shares a bed, home and life. How integral that person is, and how unfathomable that a person could face a cancer diagnosis without someone who fills that space - I’ll be walking for them, too.
For these partners, whose lives are also irrevocably changed in so many way, we can never do enough. Because the only thing that could be enough is to make it all go away. If only we could. Whether you have had a lifetime together, a chapter or two, or only just at the very beginning of your future together, there is no hierarchy of suffering here either.
I salute you and will stand guard for you while you walk this path. If you falter- before you falter, let us help. The additional emotional, physical, logistical and financial burden of cancer is simply too great for any one person to carry alone. Your village has anxious energy to spare, and if it can be channeled in to taking something off your metaphorical plate, it might just clear a bit more space for the things we can’t do.
Again I’m struck by what a privilege it is to be able to go walking. It is not an inspirational act, nor brave or even particularly useful- I have no doubt the donations pouring in would have come whether I walked 200km or just 2. It is a luxury born of good health for myself and my household, and one I hope I never take for granted.
Love Helen xx
Time for a new goal
Late start but I’m IN!
I am taking part in The March Charge with Cancer Council and telling cancer where to go! Sadly cancer still takes too many of us. 1 in 2 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. Research sees more people than ever survive but we’ve still got a way to go. And we need your help to end cancer. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s nothing compared to those who experience cancer. Please sponsor me today to support my challenge and join me in telling cancer where to go! Your donation will help our local Cancer Council support those affected right now and fund world-changing research to help more people survive. Thank you for your support
Thank you to my Sponsors
Dr Aunty L
Marg & Mike
Pop And Pam
Pop & Pam
Tony And Shirley
Vanessa Van Beek
Marcus Vera Isla Heidi Blake
Cheryl And Guy Macleod