Since last week’s ‘hunger strike’, the process of recovering my strength has been a slow one, but it’s given me a lot of time for reflection. Sure, to some my situation looks dire, but things could be a lot worse. I could have been given days or weeks to live, instead of six months. The cancer could have also spread to the bone – a chronically painful condition – but it did not. In fact, I am very lucky to be pain-free. My only complaint, apart from ongoing fatigue, is a sore left shoulder. This has actually been the root of my recent back problems, as a result of the operation in Italy six months ago. But I am seeing a physio for that, and it is already much improved.
While I rest and nurse my shoulder, as I cannot start treatment until I am stronger, I realise how lucky I am to have so many friends, family members and even complete strangers helping me. To date, there has been a lot of ego in my writing, and it’s all been very ‘me, me, me’. But it would be dishonest of me to say I’ve been going this cancer journey alone. So, for a change, I’m going to try a little humility. This week’s blog is dedicated to all the wonderful people in my life who have helped me. Without you, I would not be where I am today.
Merci Matt (thank you in French)
First of all, I’d like to thank Matt, my partner for six years; four of which you were also my carer. A cancer diagnosis when you’re single is hard, but you made things so much easier. The physical, emotional, mental and financial support you gave me was absolutely amazing. I could not have made it through the last four years without you, especially as I had no immediate family around me in Melbourne at the time. You looked after me during chemo, radio, after the operation in Milan, and after the treatment in Rome and Perth. You paid for all my expensive organic food for the last year, all our household bills, all our dinner and movie dates, all the petrol for our beach trips and camping trips, as well as some of the hefty Rome and Perth costs. You carried me up our apartment stairs when I was too tired to walk and drove me to endless appointments. You helped me see Europe, Tasmania, Adelaide, Vietnam and Vanuatu, none of which I could have done alone. You bought me beautiful gifts which I still use daily. You proposed to me, and showered me with love. You taught me to snorkel, snowboard and bodyboard better, you introduced me to great music, recipes, film directors and Meredith Music Festival. You taught me to plan something fun every day. You cooked me many yummy vegan dinners. You were my I.T. go-to man. You did all the chores. You did all the fruit and veg shopping. You single-handedly moved my possessions from Cecil Street to Rose Street, and packed everything again for me in recent weeks. You supported me so much and made me laugh often. A paid nurse could not have a done a better job than you. I can never repay you for all the help you’ve given me over the last four years, and ordinary words of gratitude seem inadequate. So, to use primary school parlance, thank you to the power of infinity plus one. I couldn’t have made it this far without you.
Arigato to my immediate family (thank you in Japanese)
Mum, you have been absolutely amazing. Every day I thank my lucky stars that you know so much about yoga, meditation, diet and health, as all your knowledge has helped me greatly. You flew over to Melbourne to look after me after my mastectomy, despite being an unconfident traveller. You helped find the sodium bicarbonate therapy for me and saved me from further chemo. You drove me to treatment and looked after me as I recovered, on top of working six days a week in a very physically demanding job. This superhuman effort has seen you come close to a physical and nervous breakdown, yet still you push on. You paid for so much of my treatment, supplements, clothes, organic food, plus numerous other things, and put yourself into debt many times because of me. For all of this, and more, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without you, I would have been lost.
Dad, you have been my rock. Your absolute faith in my ability to recover is something I have come to depend on. Naturally, there have been times when I doubted if I would ever get well, but after a phone call from you, my faith and confidence would be restored. You flew to Melbourne many times to visit me and look after me, when I couldn’t fly to you. You have made the ultimate sacrifice in giving up work for 12 months in Sydney to be my carer in Perth. I have never needed you more and you have certainly delivered in my hour of need. This can’t be easy for you after losing your late wife to the same illness that afflicts me. But still, you are there for me. Thank you.
Neil, my ‘little brother’, who I lean on so much you act more like my older brother. Thank you for the many thousands you have spent on my treatment. Your ability to buy a house has now been severely reduced. This sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. I also thank you for the many days you took off work to look after me in both Perth and Melbourne, for driving me to treatment, for cooking me dinner when Mum was working nights, and for helping put me to bed when I needed it. Your advice and help in reading through the reams of information out there on alternative treatments is much appreciated. You question things that I don’t, but should. Indeed, you are my second brain when mine stops working from sheer tiredness.
Gracias to my grandparents (thank you in Spanish)
To my paternal grandparents, Sheila and Bill, a massive thank you. You have cooked me many delicious vegan meals, paid many thousands towards my treatment and also made me feel so welcome at your house by providing a spare room for me to sleep and meditate in, and live in with you and Dad. Thank you for driving me to treatment, for the phone and email support, and for your company on days when I needed it. Your pace of life is the same as mine, and in some ways it is easier to hang out with you than with people my own age.
To my maternal grandparents, Eng Guan and Wil Mee, thank you for the thousands you have paid towards my treatment. I have loved seeing you during your annual trips to Australia from Singapore. Grandad, I love being able to talk about our respective treatments. And I love our ‘competitions’ to see who weighs more, considering we are both underweight from treatment. We both used to be 45kg, but now that I am 43kg, I think you’re winning. Grandma, you always made me feel so welcome in your house, and have cooked me many beautiful Singaporean delicacies. Thank you also for giving me my first succulent, which started my love affair with all things cacti. I thank the pair of you for your long distance support via phone calls and letters from Singapore.
Tank ‘em very much to my extended family (Pigdin English for thanks as spoken in Vanuatu)
To my great Aunty Edith and great uncle David, thank you for your donation of thousands towards my treatment, the beautiful gifts, the lovely cards, emails and the surprise visit to me in hospital in Melbourne. That really was the highlight of my week-long hospital stay.
To my great Aunty Connie and great uncle Bill, thank you for the many delicious home cooked meals, both at your house and the frozen ones I took away during chemo; for the bags of organic fruit and vegies from your garden; for the Scrabble games, phone calls, emails and more.
To my Aunty Kathryn, Uncle Jerome and family, thank you for arranging to get a second opinion, for accompanying me to the doctor, for visiting me in hospital and offering your support. You treated me to many delicious meals, you gave me many bags of fruit to take home, you invited me to many birthdays and Chinese New Year dinners, introduced me to durien cake and sweet red bean soup desserts and more. All this made me feel part of your family when I had none in Melbourne.
To my Aunty Fran and Uncle John, thank you for setting up the spare room at my grandparents’ house for me. The bedspread, the underlay, the gloves, and the anti-cancer diet book you picked up, they have all helped tremendously.
To my other uncles, aunties, cousins and first cousins once removed, I have loved receiving cards, emails and phone calls from you all. Your lovely words of support and feelings of goodwill en masse, have left me feeling like I have no choice but to get well, with so much collective willpower behind me.
Danke to Matt’s family (thank you in German)
Pauline, Colin, Aimie and Katie, you’ve all been, and continue to be, wonderful to me. Thank you for the many gifts, cards, letters, newspaper articles, dinners, thoughtful emails, help with the foundation, and for making the effort to fly over to Melbourne to see me when I was too weak to travel for pleasure (on top of travelling for treatment). Thank you also to Matt’s English relatives, who accommodated us so well in rural France. And Matt’s extended Adelaide family who shared their delicious Christmas dinner with us.
Terima kasih to my friends (thank you in Malay)
Dear friends, you were like my second family in Melbourne. I could write a paragraph thanking each one of you, but for purely selfish reasons – a sore left shoulder which makes typing uncomfortable, and a lack of energy – I won’t. Ewa and Jonathon, Trish, Ellie, Brooke and Scott, Annika and Shane, Simon and Kirsty, Evita and Mario, Donna and Paul M., Ross B. and Anna, Pip, Paul G. and Jemma, Em and Grant, Liesl and Ant, Diana, John, Jeremy, Helen, Yow and Tamika, Mel T., Fabian, Emma and Michael, Mish W., Mich B., Subha, Jess, Sabina and Steve, Claire and Tom, Tim, Darren and Irish Dave, Adam, Anton, Gabe, Cecila and Geoff, Beatrice and Ostian, Ewan, Pauline and Rob, thank you all. For the lovely gifts, clothes, postcards, camping trips, surf trips, soccer games in the park, New Year’s Eve memories, book recommendations, house-sitting favours, plants, gardening advice, journalism advice, home-made crepes, company in the pool, vegies and herbs from your garden, art work and home made cards, tailoring, massage gift vouchers, blog, website, computer and internet help, international phone calls and emails, freelance work, the Epilady, music CDs, DVDs, for introducing me to meditation groups, the meditation discussions, the classical concerts, plays, dance performances, comedy shows and films, the lunches, the parties – costumed, warehouse, AFL Grand Final themed and otherwise, the crazy nights on the dance-floor at Meccanoid, the dinners, picnics, Frisbee games, cups of tea, for the snowboarding trips, for coming with me to hospital, for the painkiller advice, for the cancer articles, for accommodating me in Molloy Island, Melbourne, Yallingup, Venus Bay, London, Singapore, Hobart, Aire River and the Tasman Peninsula, for the shared experiences on growing up Aussie with Asian heritage, the folio help, your presence at my end-of-chemo, end-of-radio, and end-of-treatment celebratory drinks and more.
Tack to myself and Matt’s mutual friends (thank you in Swedish)
Anita and Ben S., Micah and Sal, Max, Ross A. and Renée, Adrian and Kym, James and Lacy, Jo and Germaine, Ben B. and Merryn, Lachie and Min, Adam and Mandy, Vikki and Scott M., Therese and Tobias, Linda and Brian, Bec and Shannon, Danielle and Anthony, Adelaide Gus, Melbourne Gus, Troy, thank you all. For the wonderful gifts, the crazy-big Easter egg, the beautiful Rittenhouse clothes, for accommodating me in Medina, Jan Juc, Wye River, Vanuatu, Red Hill and more, for the wedding invites, for the party invites, for the dinners, for the lunches, for the BBQs, for the Stockholm tours, for the music CDs, for the gigs, for the home-made wood-fired pizza, for the interpretative dance, the good times and more.
Xie xie to my parents’ friends (thank you in Mandarin)
To the friends of my mum – Michael, Bernice, Cae-lee, Jennifer and others – thank you for your pharmaceutical advice, supplement help, wound-dressing advice and your moxy, the videos, the nose-stud removal advice, the Triumph help, the toxicology research, the organic food contacts, financial contributions to my treatment, cooking offers, kind words, emails and support for both me and my mum. I am not related to you by blood, yet you have often treated me like your own daughter.
To my dad’s friends, some of whom I’ve met (Joy, Rod, Judy, Shauna) and others who I haven’t; thank you for your support. I’ve never had thousands of people praying for me simultaneously before, and with so many people putting in a good word for me with the man upstairs, it will certainly make a difference.
To my grandparents’ friends and church colleagues, thank you for your prayers also. I feel very lucky to have people praying for me in Anglican churches in Singapore and Perth, on top of the Pentecostal support from Dad’s friends at Hillsong in Sydney.
Cám ơn to the complete strangers (thank you in Vietnamese)
Even people I have never met are pitching in. To my mum’s farmer contact, thank you for providing me with beautifully fresh organic fruit and veg at cost price. Organic prices in Perth are ridiculous (much higher than Melbourne) and you have saved us from much financial stress. To the 91-year-old mother of one of my mum’s yoga students, who hand-knitted me a woollen rug, wow, thank you. To the people at the Ticket Infringement Office who waived my tram fines when I was doing chemo, thank you. To the people at Telstra who fixed our home phone in 24 hours when I was doing chemo, thank you. To the people at Centrelink who helped me get the Disability Support Pension, thank you. To the strangers on the street who tap my shoulder to tell me I’ve dropped something, which happens more and more as I tire easily, thank you. Forgive the reference to the over-used quote, but like Blanche Duboir in A Street Car Named Desire, kindness – from strangers, friends and family alike – is something I’ve come to rely on more and more during my ill health.
Shukriya to my teachers (thank you in Hindi)
Thank you to my yoga, meditation and Feldenkrais teachers. You taught me about asanas, pranayama, yoga nidra, and the deeper meaning of yoga, about transcendental meditation, the mindfulness of breathing and loving-kindness meditation, about the Eight Fold Noble Path and five hindrances, about awareness through movement and always being open to the present moment. You imparted your knowledge onto me, so that I might gain a little more.
Go raibh maith agaibh to my medical team (thank you in Irish Gaelic)
To the doctors and other staff at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, The Cancer Support Association of WA, my sodium bicarb therapy doctors in Australia and Europe, my CT, ultrasound and MRI scanners, your help made my cancer experiences much better than they could have been. To my GPs, naturopaths, Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors, Ayurvedic practitioner, chiropractors, osteopath, physiotherapist and others in the allied health sector, thank you all so much. Seeing you for appointments felt more like catch-ups with old friends.
Dziekuje to all the people that encouraged me to write (thank you in Polish)
My high school history teacher, my first creative director at JWT, the people who published my work – Alan, Louise and Paul M. – and the people who didn’t, The Cancer Council Victoria Arts Awards ‘Short Story’ judges, the CLEO editors who responded to my letters as a child, my dad for helping me write, edit and print my own newspaper – The Western Express – in primary school, Neil and Matt for your editorial and proof-reading help, Amanda, Annika and Sabina for your encouragement as fellow writers, all my art directors who proof-read my work, my journalism lecturers at RMIT, the makers of Moleskin journals, and all my other friends and family who egged me on.
Gum xia to everyone else (thank you in Hokkien/Singaporean)
My other teachers, my breast cancer support support groups TYO, YAOBC, BreaCan and BCNA, fellow cancer patients Jo (R.I.P.), Brian, Eng Guan, Jan, Noel, Mel W. and others, my organic food suppliers, my supplement suppliers, every shop assistant that has ever served me, my friends’ friends, my brother’s friends, my brother’s girlfriend and his family, friends I have since lost contact with, my canine friends P.K., Billy (R.I.P.) and Molly, my feline friends Tiny, Bud, Moxy and your bro (R.I.P), my pint-sized friends Leila, Clarke, ‘Small Engine’, Amy and others, my stuffed friends Cinnamon Junior and Spud (both teddybears), all my employers, all my work colleagues, authors of all the books, magazine, newspaper and online pieces I have read – fiction and non-fiction alike, and more.
Makasih for reading this far (thank you in Indonesian)
After 10 years of experience as an advertising copywriter, where words were the tools of my trade, I still cannot express my gratitude adequately. So I’ll evoke an old jingle for Cadbury’s Roses instead. Sure, it’s cheesy, but the underlying message still holds true. Thank you to everyone, for the big gestures and the small ones. Your help, support, words spoken and unspoken, well wishes, and random acts of kindness have made my last 29 years on this planet all the more enjoyable. You gave freely, without expecting anything in return. For that, I am deeply indebted, and eternally grateful. I figure the least I can do is say thanks, cheers, hankyay ouyay etc.