19. Use Your Words.

27th October

We are driving from the DOVE Palliative Care unit to Happy Valley in Caloundra. I look at Rani who is gazing out her window at the sky.

‘The Skeleton Woman scares me,’ I say.

‘Did you see the link at the bottom of that blog?’ Replies Rani, adjusting her morphine pump tubes.

I shuffle in my seat. ‘No. I didn’t. Sorry.’

‘It’s basically a myth told by Clarissa Estes. One day a fisherman scoops up a skeleton woman. He goes home and one night finds her looking at him through his window. He is haunted by her. Until one night he decides to accept her and he takes her bones with him to bed. He awakes to find a beautiful woman lying next to him. He marries her.’

Death is Regeneration. I indicate.

‘I like that idea Ranz. If you don’t have enough time can I finish your blog for you?’

‘Yes. That would be nice Nath.’ Rani smiles and looks out her window.

***

Flashback. 24th October.

I dream of diving in caves for pearls of wisdom. I dream of letting go of fear.

Awake. I’m in the reality of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital with a specialist team peering over their notebooks at Rani who lies in pain in a medi-bed. I hear their words, I have had a year to prepare myself, but not like this. This is all too soon. This is exponential.

‘Rani, you have a mutation of your cancer called B-Raf.’ Rani’s Oncologist is holding back her own tears. ‘B-Raf is very rare and extremely aggressive. This second round of chemo treatment has less than a 5% chance it will succeed, also you need functioning kidneys for the chemo to work.’

The Oncologist is a mother of a 3-year-old. Rani’s story has hit her hard too.

I look at the CT scans. Rani’s cancer has visually changed within one week. The tumour burden on her ovaries is pressing on her ureters and closing them off, causing her kidneys to ‘back-up’.

Our options are limited. Radiotherapy will blow out her ureters. A nephroscopic solution would be best described as agricultural. Two pipes in her back to drain her kidneys.

It’s not an option.

She has no options.

‘Could I have done anything differently?’ Rani searches for answers.

‘No Rani. The B-raf only applies to stage 4 cancer. The previous treatment you received would have been the same in the UK, USA or Germany.’ The Oncologist straightens up in her chair.

‘How long do I have?’ asks Rani.

‘Weeks,’ sobs the Oncologist.

I look at a floating rainbow unicorn balloon that Teo and I purchased for Rani.

Rani needs a fucking rainbow unicorn. My thoughts are interrupted by the Oncologist.

‘Do you have any questions Nathan?’

‘No. Just. Well. How do I transport a body interstate?’ I ask. I’m serious. Rani and I had been talking about it before they came in the room. We knew things were changing rapidly.

The specialist team all look at me with sterility.

‘I mean do I book her a seat next to me on the plane?’ I jest.

Rani snorts with laughter as we start to act out aircraft scenes from Weekend at Rani’s.

‘Are you going to eat those crackers Rani? No! Ok I’ll just eat them for you then’. I snicker as I pretend to reach over Rani’s plane seat to steal food from her corpse.

The team look at us blankly. Smiles start.

***

The next morning I’m alone driving in to the hospital to see Rani before she is taken to the Palliative Care Unit. The stereo is at decibels. Its my Deathproof playlist.  I, The Creator by Monuments comes on.

‘This is the end,’ chugs the chorus.

I scream along, ‘This is the end’.

This is the end. I sob.

This playlist has carried me through the last year. A year of loss. Loss of our unborn child, then my father, then my father’s mother, yesterday my mother’s mother and now, soon to be my wife, the mother of my child. Music has carried me through all of this in all its bandwidths, I don’t discriminate.

Later in the day we are driving Rani to the Palliative Care Unit. Right next door is a sign for the Crematorium. That is just too much. It sets me off again.

Rani settles into her new bed. The nursing team work to hone Rani’s morphine pump and get the dosage right so that she doesn’t experience break-through pain. I kiss Rani. I drive home on high frequency.

That night I go through the usual routine with Teo. Feed. Bath-time. Books. Grizzle. Sleep.

I then go and grab my pen, note book and headphones. I need to write a eulogy for my mother’s mother. I listen to the Uncarved Block / Zen Aesthetics lecture by Alan Watts. It sinks deep. I feel my father, Ivan. He washes over me in a wave. I feel him digging at me.

Ah you have finally fucking found it Nath, he jests within me.

Ivan had many interests. Zen Landscaping was one of them.

Watts is talking about Zen moods. One of these is Wabi. Another is Sabi. Rani and I had always joked that she was the Wabi to my Sabi. Yin and Yang. Watts tells me the deeper meaning of Wabi.

‘It is the feeling shift from depression into realisation,’ he says.

His words fit. The epiphany that chaos provides us with the quest. Without chaos we would be in a closed loop system. Rani has chaos in her system. Chaos is an agent of change.

‘Life would be ruined by all logic and all control,’ adds Watts.

My mind starts to meander. Chaos. Cancer. Nan. Zen. Rani. Teo. Resilience.

I remember Rani teaching me that one of the analogies used for Wabi Sabi is that of the broken pot repaired with gold. Ruptured and repaired. The gold shimmering through the cracks.

My mother’s mother was a porcelain artist. I write her eulogy.

 

28th October

Rani and I are back at Happy Valley with Teo and Sophia. It has become a daily ritual. Rani wakes in pain. Nausea sets in. The nurses tweak her drugs. She settles. Lunch is served. She feels normal. We go to Happy Valley, which is a beach at the Bribie Island inlet. Rani settles in under the pandanus palms and feels normal for 2 hrs.

While Rani and Soph shuffle along the beach with Rani’s mobile morphine pump named Niki, Teo and I don our dive masks and ‘go diving for shells for mum’.  We see a stingray, a mud crab, a flat head and big schools of whiting. I laugh at the fishermen in the wrong location up the sand bar.

‘That’s what happens when you only look at the surface of things Teo,’ I say. ‘You miss the magic that lies beneath. You hunt for things in the wrong spot’.

Teo’s a good swimmer. He loves diving.

He is learning quickly about going with currents and not against them.

We walk up the beach with a shell in hand for Rani.

‘Nath please make sure Teo joins a swim club as he gets older,’ she says.

‘I will baby. He can’t kick a footy but jeez he can swim.’

 

30th October

 

The daily ritual at Happy Valley repeats but today we are with Holly & Mike.

I watch Rani as she shuffles through the shallows. Smiling at the ocean. Looking at the ocean for the last time. Knowing.

I flash back to Alan Watts.

Enlightenment is going with death and knowing that you are going with death.

Rani is moved from the DOVE Palliative care unit to her parent’s home in Mooloolah Valley.

 

31st October

Rani is enjoying being back at her parent’s home. Her father and sister oversee the drug cabinet. Both are nurses, both have healing hearts, broad shoulders and loads of gumption. It’s Halloween and Teo’s Alabaman ‘Uncle Jenna’ has dressed him up in a narwhal costume for trick or treat. Rani has a day of the dead fascinator on. She shuffles from door to door with Teo. The tombstones. The corpses. The skeleton woman. Reality.

 

2nd November

I fly to Perth for my Nan’s funeral. I’m afraid to leave Rani and Teo.

Wabi Sabi. Porcelain. Family. Eulogy.

I fly back with my mum and her father. Mum and I hold Pa’s hands to stop him from falling.

 

4th November

It is Rani’s 34th birthday. She is on oxygen now. Life support. She has a rough morning. She snaps at me for bringing my pre-grief into her space. The short fuse is a part of the cancer. It’s the low oxygen. I remind myself not to bite back. Fair enough she has enough on her plate let alone finishing off my meal. The plates are cleaned. Her oxygen levels lift and the day is followed by a lush afternoon with family and friends. My pa sobs as he holds Rani’s hand and wishes her Happy Birthday. Pa has Bowel Cancer too. Only his is less aggressive and he has had a great innings.

After we circle and sing Happy Birthday, Rani jokes to us all that she might do a Johnny Farnham tour on us.

Rani is grinning blissfully.

Regretfully.

Sadly.

This will be her last birthday. I think about her snapping at me earlier in the day. I can’t imagine what is going through her mind. The universe has dealt her a real doozy. I’d be angry with the universe too and behind that anger lies the tears.

 

5th November

Rani’s condition worsens. She has moments of panic as she struggles to breathe. The drugs soothe. They mediate between the two wolves fighting inside her. Her mobility is decreasing. This is such a rapid decline. I can’t comprehend it. This is just too mad.

I take our dear friend Dom to see my mum and pa at their air-bnb. Dom is visiting and his daughter Na’ita is playing with Teo while we talk about sacred things.

Teo is not great at socialising. He gets angry quick these days. His anger distracts me.

‘What’s wrong Teo?’ I ask.

‘I’m angry,’ he replies. I’m glad that he can recognise his emotion.

‘Nita says I can’t dive,’ he mutters.

‘No. I just said you are not the bestest diver in the widest world,’ adds Na’ita who is a couple of years older than Teo. She is right. I see her point.

‘Teo you can dive but Na’ita is just saying you are not the best.’ I lecture him.

He is an amazing diver for his age.

We get back into the car and we drive back to Rani’s parents.

Deeper Water by Paul Kelly comes on the Deathproof playlist. It cuts deep. Real deep. To the bone. I tell the world.

 

6th November

Rani barely moves all day. She meditates through much of her anxiety. She is focused but struggling to breathe. She spends most of her day bombed out. In the afternoon her friends visit her one by one. Single file. In procession. She bombs out again. Her mother, brother, father, sister and I all have concerned looks on our faces. The kind of look where your eyes are saying ‘BRB’ and your throat is saying ‘HFS’.

Rani sits bolt upright. From the X axis to the Y.

‘I want to go for a walk. Now. Right Now.’ She sprouts.

We all surround her. The oxygen tank. The Niki. The backup wheelchair. The dog. The smiles.

We shuffle to the end of the street and back.

Rani’s breath is shallow and laboured.

‘You have to walk. Movement is life. As long as you are moving you are alive.’ Rani is prophesying.

We all look at each other with that same conflicted look.

Ordinary people are the buddha. The true buddha knows this. Watts mutters away in my mind.

This is her spirit walk.

 

That night Teo wakes at 2am and starts to scream.

‘Is everything ok?’ wheezes Rani from her medi-bed.

I don’t know. I’m half asleep.

I can’t seem to settle him. I carry him outside for a spirit walk of our own.

Under the stars I ask him if he is ‘sad because of mummy?’

‘Yeah’ he sniffles.

I stroke his hair. ‘Daddy is sad too bub. It is ok to be sad’.

His soul is hurting. This event is like a wrecking ball in his little temple.

I have to protect him. I have to guide him.

I look at the trees in the star light. Teo needs to fight like a tree. Bend and not break.

He finally gets back to sleep an hour later. He whimpers through the night.

 

7th November.

 

Rani’s dad wakes me up.

‘Nath. Rani wants you.’ He whispers.

I rush to her. She is sitting up in bed. She hugs me. Her breathing is extreme. I sob into her shoulder. I kiss her neck. I tell her I love her. This would be the last time that we would embrace. We both knew it. She falls back into bed, puts her oxygen back on and rests. She doesn’t hinge at her hips ever again.

 

The palliative care nurse visits and does a check up on Rani.

‘You may find that Rani won’t open her eyes again,’ says the nurse.

Rani opens her eyes and glares at her sarcastically then closes them and drifts off to sleep.

The Johnny Farnham tour.

Throughout the day Rani slips in and out of consciousness. Her breathing becomes congested.

It is haunting.

 

Her grandparents arrive. She awakes to show them with her eyes that she loves them deeply.

 

I sit with her alone and as the tears stream down my cheeks I whisper to her.

‘He will be tall. He will be kind. He’ll be smart. He’ll be stubborn.’ I pause.

Rani’s voice crackles but no words come out.

‘He will be a good swimmer. He’ll be handsome. He’ll be well-read. He will be a deep thinker.’

I kiss her on the lips. My tears on her cheek.

‘He will be a nature lover. He will be an artist. He will be independent. He will be amazing’.

I choke up more.

‘He will be a carer. He will be happy. I promise this to you.’

Rani’s brother is sobbing next to me too.

 

Rani’s cousin Reuben flies in from India. He walks in the door late that arvo, straight in from the airport. Fresh from the land of the brahman. He is the last visitor that she has been waiting for.

We all surround her.

 

‘She is waiting for the sun to set,’ says her dad.

 

I repeat my evening ritual with Teo. Feed. Bath. Books. Rani’s mum rasps on the door.

‘Nath,’ she starts.

I run out the door. I turn around I grab Teo. This is it. This is the end.

We rush in to see Rani.

She is choking.

I shield Teo’s eyes. I look around the room to see if I can see Rani floating. I see nothing. I want to see her pass through the door that the magic lies behind. I want to know she is safe. I can’t. This is her journey.

I look back at Rani. These are her last seconds. I hold Teo fiercely.

Rani’s dad and sister are on the front line cleaning out her mouth and consoling her. They are my new heroes. Us newbies are freaking out. They are the veterans holding us together.

Rani passes. A peace comes over the room. Teo looks at her.

‘I’m hungry dad’ he says.

‘Mummy’s dead Teo. She is having a long sleep now,’ I whisper as I kiss his forehead.

Rani’s brother runs outside wailing and then the house goes quiet.

I take Teo back to bed and read him a book.

I feel Rani guiding Teo towards sleep.

‘Rani is in the room,’ I whisper to myself.

‘Where?’ he rouses, confused about my insensitive comment.

‘Sorry bub daddy didn’t mean it like that. Just. In spirit. Oh. Never mind. I’m sorry to confuse you.’ I regret.

He passes out instantly. I stroke his hair.

 

I get up from bed and go back to see Rani. Her mum has combed her hair. She looks peaceful. She looks happy. Her father is cleaning up around her and slowly we all return to be by her side. We bathe her. We dress her in her favourite dress. We joke. We cry. Rani’s sister braids her hair and I put some essential oils on her temples. Laughter and tears, Rani’s favourite emotion.

While Rani is still warm Rani’s dad lights a candle.

She has the face of the true buddha. Smiling and crying at the same time. Radiant. A Shield Maiden.

 

I take a lock of her hair and look around the room for somewhere meaningful to place it. I find a little green journal that has ‘Use Your Words’ embossed into the cover. This is her blog journal. I crash to sleep.

 

I awake at 3am.

I am a single father with a single child. I dwell on this.

I grew up a single child with a single mother. I built my mutual love with Ivan in my mature years. Now the big wheel has turned. Though changed it has arisen the same.

Eadem Mutato Resurgo.

 

I think deeply.

 

How do I teach my child to fight like a tree? To bend with the wind but never break, when I am stumped.

 

How do I repair him with gold? To let the gold shimmer through the cracks, when I am shattered.

 

How do I teach him to dive with the currents of life? To see what lies beneath and not drown, when I am out of breath.

 

How do I teach him resilience?

 

Use your words, Rani teaches within me. Use your words.

 

I write.

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18. Skeleton Woman

She raises her head from the sea and looks straight at me. Run Rani. As fast as you can. When I turn back, she has emerged from the ocean and is following me. Her bones rattle.

12th September

I didn’t sleep too well. Woke up at 3am and tried to meditate myself back to sleep. Mateo shuffled in for a cuddle around 3.30am. I gratefully scoop him up and carry him back to his bed where I snuggle us both back to sleep.

In the morning I meditate listening to Tara Brach who invites me to greet life with gentle curiosity.

Teo and I are driving to Cable Beach. A song comes on the radio and suddenly I’m coughing up tears.

‘Why are you crying Mummy?’ Teo asks. I look in the rear view vision mirror at his little face.

‘I’m feeling sad baby,’ I reply.

‘Why are you feeling sad?’ he asks.

‘I’m thinking about death and dying… Humans die. But I’m also happy that I’m alive now with you though,’ I reply. I smile at him, my sunglasses covering my tears. He smiles back at me.

How do you live while your heart is breaking?

Teo is obsessed with his hand reel at the moment. Nath’s attached a little jelly lure at the end (no hooks). We meet Fi and Nia at the beach where we explore the rocks. We dunk ourselves in the waves and drench ourselves in the sunlight.

Temperature is ramping up. Change of season. Ground is baking. Back home, I’m lying on the couch reading a book entitled, ‘Can diet be a medicine?’ while Teo is quietly smelling all the essential oils next to me. Nek minute, we’re both in the bath. Teo is screaming that ‘It hurts me!’ His face is going red. I call Jun who calmly talks me through first aid for exposure to lavender oil. Thankfully, it’s simply soap and water and he calms down in 10 minutes.

I peel potatoes to roast up for the boys’ dinner. Panic is dawning on the horizon of my mind. It’s as unobtrusive as an opera singer or a Scott playing the bagpipes. I try to stay present through paying attention to my senses. But I’m falling. Everything is different. The world for me has changed. It’s like I’m suddenly scaling a cliff without any safety device.

I make it to my car and fling myself into the drivers seat. I hoon out of the carpark and head for home. She can’t follow me on foot.

13th September

‘I can understand why people watch horror films now,’ Nath says. He’s in the kitchen making a cup of tea. ‘Nothing is scarier than our reality right now,’ he says.

‘So true!’ I reply from the yoga mat.

I’m halfway home and decide to stop speeding. I glance up at the rear-view mirror for the 20thtime. I can’t see anyone following. I start to breath deeply. I’ve lost her. She can’t find me now.

16th September

The ground is reappearing under my feet. I’m finding solid ground again.

Meditation is helping.

Mateo and I are listening to Monster Mash on ABC kids radio and making a banana cake. Well, I’m making the cake. He lost his enthusiasm while mashing the banana.

My friend Ang has just left after filling our freezer with fish. Again, I am humbled and overwhelmed by all the generosity and love and practical help we are being given. I post this on facebook:

Thank you for baking us fresh bread. Thank you for popping in to give Teo a toy shark. Thank you for holding me when I fell apart. Thank you for carefully selecting a huge shopping bag full of food that fits within the strict confines of my new diet. Thank you for cracking the champagne. Thank you for telling me to ‘feel, reveal and heal’ while I sobbed in your arms. Thank you for baking us cookies. Thank you for your bunches of greens from your garden. Thank you for lighting candles and picking me flowers. Thank you for your messages of love and support and confidence. Thank you for coming around with a chocolate cake topped with berries. Thank you for looking after my son. Thank you for making a keto dessert that is creamy and as fluffy as a cloud. Thank you for filling our freezer with freshly caught fish. Thank you for catching us as we fall and thank you for helping us as pick ourselves back-up and move forward even though the ground beneath us has disappeared.

Thank you.

Thank you for home-made chocolate with almonds. Thank you for the skip bin in our driveway. Thank you for more garden greens. Thank you for meditating weekly for me and my family. Thank you for coming to Cable Beach to say goodbye. Thank you for giving Teo a wooden toy hospital for his play therapy. Thank you for chopping up fresh fruit and veggies for Nath’s trip across Australia. Thank you for the dried mango. Thank you for looking after our house. Thank you for doing my Chinese astrological horiscope and sending me a stuffed Tiger for good luck and protection. Thank you for sending me the care package complete with emergency chocolate, massage voucher and a bible of keto recipes. Thank you for making a book for Teo. Thank you for loving us.

I pull into the driveway. Home safe.

17th September, Monday

Mateo and I head to the beach. He chucks a trantrum the whole way until he sees the playground near Cable Beach. There is an actual digger in the sandpit and construction tape around the perimeter. The tall blue slide is lying on its side.

‘What are they doing with the slide, Mummy?’ Teo asks. We approach a man in fluro orange who is sitting under a tree.

‘It was all rusted. Time to put a new one up,’ he answers. We wander down the stairs. Teo holds onto the rail and my hand. Tides out and we make our way to the flags, stepping on balls of sand that the crabs have made.

I’m cradling Teo in the waves. ‘My eyes hurt Mummy,’ Teo says. He’s a bundle of blue rashy. He’s easy to hold as we are half submerged in the waves. Tides coming in slowly. Rocking us. Teo presses his face into my shoulder his eyes scrunched shut. I breathe in this moment. Sun is shining bright. Water is deliciously cool and refreshing. Pull up the horses Slim.

I go for a shuffle jog through Minyirr park to the heart-rate inducing stairs which scale the dunes. I walk home and compose letters to Teo in my head for his future birthdays.

Later that night I go to Reiki with Lynny at her place. The fruit bats are cackling outside. Cool breeze blowing. Lyn’s hands on my heart.

I open a book of quotes – don’t take life too seriously, no one’s getting out of here alive! This thought is incredibly comforting.

18th September

I decide to go running in the morning. I come back red in the face. Take a cold shower and don’t fully recover for 2 hours.

Teo is playing with Julia and Carla. I come home to find Liz. It’s the day before she goes in for a caesarean to give birth to her second child. She is waiting for me in her car in my driveway. She is cradling a bowl full of a creamy keo dessert over her belly bump. I get goosebumps thinking about just how generous this woman is.  Later that night, I go to pregnancy yoga with Mel. She surrounds my mat with freshly picked frangipanis and candle lights. Her voice soothes me. I float home

20th September, Thursday

I wake up with aches and pains. Nath comes home early and we all go to the beach. It’s 3pm. There is a light grey crochet of cloud over the sky. Neap tides. Far out across the ocean the light is spilling. An arresting streak of silver gleaming on the horizon. We walk into the waves. Mahoo and Teo shout and splash and play.

‘Waves coming!’

After I do my laps, the boys are already towelling themselves. I stand submerged in the ocean. Shoulder deep. I look West to the setting sun. I see a line of birds skimming across the surface. I notice raindrops on the surface of the waves. Sunshower! I’m suddenly caught up in an instagram filter as the ocean around me turns iridescent turquoise.

21st September

I wake with aches and pains again. Neurofen helps. It’s 9am and we decide to head to the beach again. Clear skies again. Gentle ocean. I’m diving underneath. Goggles on. My arms are stretched out in front of me. The sunlight is playing on my skin like the shadow play of lace curtains in the breeze. The sand ripples out below me. I surface take a deep breath and push myself down and try to roll my body like a dolphin. You’re alive! I tell my body. I stretch out and freestyle between the flags.

23rd September, Sunday

I sort out the bathroom cupboards. We are packing up our house so that Sophia and Matt can look after it while we head over to Qld for my next round of treatment. Dad and I head to the beach afterwards. We swim in a turquoise universe marvelling at the sun streaming through the water creating an underwater garden of fairy lights. It’s midday when we drive back along the highway. Sun is high. Dad is in the passenger seat. My skin tingles – fresh from the salt and sand and sun. I’m listening to Radio Goolarri. 99.7.

I never did believe in miracles
But I’ve a feeling it’s time to try
I never did believe in the ways of magic
But I’m beginning to wonder why

Fleetwood Mac comes on – ‘You make loving fun’. The music reminds me of diving into the salty bubbly waves. This. Moment. Pull the horses up Slim.

Sophia and Mari and Mike and Janette popped round in the arvo.

We head around to Sue’s for a Morrocan feast.

25th September, Tuesday

I wake with with aches and pains at 3am and have a choppy nights snooze until the morning. Panadol isn’t cutting it. I go to see my GP later that day.

‘Rani, you’re a young woman. This pain in your back would only be coming from the cancer,’ she said.

I burst into tears in her office. She hands me a box of tissues. This news undoes something within me. I manage to walk back to the car. I hop in and notice that she is sitting right beside me in the passenger seat. I start howling with fear and the depths of my sobs shake me to my very core. She doesn’t leave me. We drive to Nath’s work where I hand him a prescription for painkillers to pick up for me. He leans in through the car window and hugs me. He seems very familiar already with my unwelcome passenger. I go home and walk in Minyirr. I feel better, although she follows me every step of the way.

26th September

There is a white tub sitting on our kitchen bench. Someone has written on the lid in black texta: SAVE

It’s Mateo’s placenta. It’s been sitting in our freezer for 3 years. Time to finally bury it tomorrow. We’ll plant it under a tree or something.

I drove Dad to the airport. It’s 5.30pm. We head along Port Drive in the soft afternoon light. There are no other cars on the road. Radio Goolarri.

‘Baby, there aint no mountain high enough, aint no valley low enough, to keep me from coming to you.

‘This song reminds me of you Dad,’ I say.

‘What do you mean?’ he replies.

‘Well, there aint no country wide enough – to keep me from flying to you,’ I sing along to the chorus.

‘Of course I came here Rani, your mum would be here too,’ he says. ‘Rani, we would do anything to help you,’ he says.

‘Well, speaking of anything, can you cure me of this terminal illnesss?’ I ask – then roar with laughter. Dad splutters. I pat him on the back.

‘Sorry, my sense of humour is getting darker,’ I say.

‘I’d feel better about this conversation if you had both hands on the wheel Rani,’ he replies.

We laugh together. Both hand back on the wheel. She grins at me from the backseat. 

27th September, Thursday

We decide to drop Teo’s placenta into the waters at Entrance Point. It floats down into the opaque blue like a jellyfish.

28th September

Day of pain. Push through it. Drive through coffee, lunch from bakery, order two umbrellas at beach and stay there until our noses grow pink. Two scoops of ice cream for Teo afterwards– chocolate and boysenberry.

29th September

Again – wake up with back spasms. Take panadol. Go to beach and swim with Robyn. Head to pregnancy yoga. Frangipanis and candles and Mel. Relax into pain. Breath into pain. Transform the pain. Family photoshoot with Jules. Grandfinal. Eagles win.

5th October, Friday

It’s twilight in the cabin of the plane. The clouds form a pearly horizon. We’ve just passed the bite and are heading towards the Flinders at 940km/h on our way to Brisbane.

‘I did it,’ Mateo looks up at me with pride. He’s navigating a snake though a maze on the Gruffallo’s Child app on our ipad with the cracked screen that Nath taped up for as last night. Teo’s face is illuminated by the screen. His plump cheeks. Curl of an ear. Long eyelashes. Snub Nathan nose. Trish Pepper has given me the book, ‘Gratitude’ by Oliver Sacks. There’s a passage that makes me tear up. It’s something about love.

This morning at the Broome airport, Nanny Sue arrived with home-made muffins, and we sat on the edge of the wishing pond with the floating crocodile head and the spiral pandanus. It was 8.30am and I was sweating.

‘I’m jealous of you escaping the wet,’ says my friend Sophia.

‘I’m trying to think of this next chapter in Qld as a summer holiday over East!’ I reply.

‘You can feel it warming up already,’ says Michelle as she cradles Clancy.

Harry, Ingrid and Zack arrive.

‘Next time we see you, you’ll be so tall Teo,’ says Ingrid.

‘I’ll be bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger!’ replies Teo, his face shines.

We fly over Cable Beach, the umbrellas look like toothpicks in a kid’s diorama of a beach scape. Cable stretches out forever. The plane tilts. One window the bay. One window the sky. We zoom back over Broome. Those pindan dunes. My rusty town.

Holly, Mike and Uncle Greg came to meet Teo and I at the Perth airport today during our stop over. Mike carried a big gift bag full of duplo, magnet puzzles, finger puppets and books. Greg brought roses from this garden, a freshly picked blood orange, chocolates and blueberries. Holly carried a basket filled with freshly made kale chips, homemade sundried tomatoe and cashew dip, veggie sticks, almond butter fudge and sandwiches for Teo. We head through security to our departure gate where Mike rolls out a blanket in a corner and we picnic for an hour and bit and exclaim over the crispy goodness of kale chips, and wonder why people stick needles in strawberries. Teo is building an ‘animal tower’ with duplo. Our flight is eventually called.

‘Thank you for being here,’ I say and tears well up in my eyes. To be loved by these wondrous people.

***

I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve been in pain. Back spasms that leave me gasping. A creeping nausea. The pain evokes a panic in me.

‘But I’ve doing all I can!’ I yell at her. ‘Why are you following me? I’m meditating, I’m exercising, I’m fasting, I’m following a strict ketogenic diet, Do you know how hard that is for an emotional eater? I’m going to the beach to get my vitamin D. I’m spending time laughing with my loved ones!’

I know I am going to die. Everyone dies eventually. I just didn’t expect this so soon. Not now. Not while Teo is still so little. Not now, when I’m the age where I bring life into the world. A new little baby. I don’t wish to burden everyone with my death. The grief. The loss. The pain.

3 and a bit years ago, I’m holding Teo who is 8 days old. I’m crying irrationally as I’ve suddenly realised what I’ve done in bringing this new life into being. ‘But life is hard,’ I sob to Nath. ‘He’s going to experience pain,’ I say.

‘Yes,’ Nath bows his head over new-born Teo and strokes his forehead. He wraps his arm around me. ‘But life is also wonderful.’

24th October, Wednesday

I’m tucked up in bed at the Caloundra Palliative Care Centre. Last week, the pain escalated drastically. I couldn’t roll over in bed without sobbing in agony. She lies in a crumpled mess of bones in the corner of my room. I present to ED and the scans showed my cancer is now in my ovaries and along my spine. Western medicine is unable to cure this condition. I have decided against the chemo and radiation that was offered in order to protect my quality of life in these precious weeks ahead.

She lies next to me now. I’ve tucked her up in bed with me. I’m not sure when I started to lose my fear in her presence. Tonight, I will start to untangle her bones, and brush out her hair. I’ll call her Polly. She’ll be my friend.

 

https://www.tarabrach.com/skeleton-woman/

17. The earth shifts

“Where we had thought to slay another
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards
we shall come to the centre of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone
we shall be with all the world. 
Joseph Campbell

So, you know those rogue cells I was serenading last post with Fleetwood Mac. Turns out – they’re super rebellious and don’t respond to chemo. Here’s how things unfolded…

6th September, 2018

Bright white hallway. Sounds of trolleys wheeling around on the laminated floor. Professionals in pyjamas are walking purposefully. Rows of chairs in a corridor. I’m in the Medical Imaging Department at Fiona Stanley waiting for my post-chemo CT scan.

I’ve had a dull ache in my lower right rib cage for about a month now. Where my liver is. Tomorrow, I am booked in to see my oncologist to review the scan results. I want him to channel his best Arnie Schwartznegger voice and tell me: ‘It is NOT a TUMOUR!’

‘Rani?’ a nurse appears.

‘That’s me,’ I say.

I notice she’s holding a large jug of milky liquid. It has a label with words written in caps: WATER FOR IRRIGATION.

‘You’ll need to sip this over an hour. It’s going to highlight your GI tract in the scan. One cup every 15 minutes. Don’t chug it all at once,’ she instructs.

There’s an elderly gentleman sitting opposite me. He’s wearing a white fedora and clutching a cane. He’s got a jug of the same substance next to him.

I pour out a cup and hold it up at him.

‘Bottoms up!’

We share a smile and sip at our plastic cups.

Next to me, a lady flips through the pages to her magazine. Quiet footsteps in the corridor. A mobile chirps like a cricket. Another makes an R2D2 squawk. Orderlies wheel hospital beds past us. One patient is curled up on his side, barely conscious. It is strange to see someone so vulnerable, in the private space of a bed, wheeled around in public.

‘Middleton? Raynee?’ another nurse appears.

‘That’s me, Rani, ’ I say. I juggle the jug and cup and my bag and follow him down the hallway into a curtained cubicle where I sit in a chair and proffer my right elbow so he can cannulate me.

‘4thNovember,’ he is looking at my chart. ‘You share the same birthday as my mum,’ he says.

‘She must be a brilliant lady,’ I reply.

‘She’s a big personality,’ he says and quickly looks away to the metallic trolley. ‘Both my sons are born in November too,’ he says.

‘It’s a good month. My dad is born on the 17thNov. When’s your birthday?’ I ask.

‘10thSeptember,’ he replies.

‘Same as my nephew. That’s next week isn’t it? Happy Birthday,’ I say.

‘Thanks, but I’m trying not to think about it. I don’t like getting older,’ he replies. He peels his gloves on and approaches me with the needle.

‘I used to think like that too. Now, I just see getting older as a privilege,’ I reply. ‘You get to see your sons grow up.’

‘That’s true,’ he says. He looks at me.

‘Have you got kids?’ he asks.

‘Yes, I do, a 3 year old,’ I reply.

‘Sharp scratch,’ he says.

I wiggle my toes as he pushes the needle into my vein.

‘I’m hoping that this scan will say that I get to see him grow old too,’ I say.

Later that day, I jog around the oval near Mike and Holly’s place and approach an elderly lady moving slowly along the footpath. I overtake her in a heartbeat.

7th September, 2018

It’s chilly in Perth. There are raindrops on the car windows. Mateo marvels at them. Broome kid hasn’t seen rain since March. He touches the inside of the car window and wonders why his hands aren’t wet?

12.50pm. Nath and I are sitting in the cancer centre at Fiona Stanley waiting for my psycho-oncologist appointment at 1pm, and then my oncologist at 3 to get the scan results from yesterday. The last time Nath was here with me was in January when it was summer and bright and light in the waiting room. 9 months later and the weather is moody and people are wrapped in woolly jumpers, cardigans, scarves and puffer jackets. 9 months later and I’m on the other side of chemo. 9 months later and Mateo is just over 3. He is talking and seems like a little adult at times compared with the toddler we had in Jan. 9 months later and I’m greeting the nurses like old friends. 9 months later and I’m no longer the newbie.

2.30pm Jim, my oncologist, ushers Nath and I through to his office. We sit down and talk about the dull ache I’ve been experiencing in my lower right rib cage.

‘So, I guess now we can rule out what it might be?’ I ask him. I see the look in his eyes and a siren begins in my head.

‘Rani, I’m sorry, there’s no easy way to say this, that the CT scan has showed that the cancer has spread,’ he says.

Nath leans forwards and puts his head in his hands. The siren is getting louder.

‘I should have seen my psychologist after this appointment,’ I reply.

‘I did think that when I saw you both today in the waiting room,’ Jim says. ‘I can let her know that you might need a follow up appointment soon.’

‘That might be a good idea!’ I say with a half-laugh.

I notice that all three of us are on the brink of tears.

‘If you like, I can make another time to see you both to explain the results,’ he says.

‘That might be a good idea,’ Nath says. His face has gone grey and he looks like he’s going to vomit.

I rub his back and address Jim.

‘If you don’t mind, I’d rather look at the CT results now. I’ve just spoken to Jill (my psychologist) about this scenario and I said to her: if I am told bad news, there will be a part of me, the little girl part of me who is crying her heart out and screaming ‘why me!’ to the universe, but there is another part of me who will be saying: ‘Rani, you’ve been here before. You’ve already been told you have cancer. You already have been told you had a tumour. You have a choice how to react to this,’ I say.

‘What I want to know now, is what has shown up on the scan? And how long have I got to live?’ I ask. Siren is blaring.

‘So, I have spent a long time looking at the scans. And I wish there was another way to interpret the results but given your initial staging – it is pretty clear that it has spread into other parts of your body,’ he replies. He is speaking slowly and with great care. The word grace springs to mind.

‘Whereabouts?’ I ask him.

‘The results show that multiple nodules have appeared in your lungs and there is also a lesion in your liver,’ he says.

‘This means I’m stage 4,’ I say. He nods. The siren screams.

‘This means we can’t have another baby,’ I say. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say as I begin to cry.

‘We can do this later, when you’ve had time to process this information,’ Jim says.

I brush away my tears.

‘It would make me feel better to know a bit more before we go. How many nodules? Is that the report there?’ I point to the two pieces of A4 pieces of paper on his desk.

‘Yes. If you like, I can go through the findings with you now?’ he asks.

Nathan shakes his head.

‘Yes please, I’d rather know now,’ I reply.

‘Ok, just wait til I put my glasses on,’ says Nath.

‘Actually, do you have any chocolate in your office?’ I ask.

Jim looks surprised and then delighted.

‘Yes, yes I do,’ he says. ‘Someone gave me this block last week and I’ve been slowly nibbling away at it.’ He reaches across and takes out ½ a block of old gold dark chocolate with roasted almonds.

‘Thank goodness! Emergency chocolate supplies!’ I reply and break off a triangle. The siren quiets.

The three of us bend our heads over the document. There are 6 small ‘nodules’ on my lungs. He shows us the scan of my lungs on his computer screens. There are small arrows pointing out the nodules. He points at enlarged lymph nodes in my chest and scrolls in to reveal a lesion in my liver.

I cover my mouth with my hand and don’t trust myself to speak. I wanted to know the nitty gritty details but now this seems too much.

‘So the chemo didn’t work,’ I say.

‘No, it didn’t,’ he confirms. ‘Everyone’s genetic makeup is different, and unfortunately, this regime didn’t make an affect in your case.’

‘God, I wish we had a crystal ball!’ I lament. ‘To think I didn’t need to go through chemo hell!’

We talk about alternative and complementary therapies. We talk about the next stage of chemo should I choose to go down that path again.

‘We are no longer talking about a cure Rani. The chemo I would recommend would be to slow the growth of your tumours,’ he says.

‘How long have I got left?’ I ask.

‘Statistically speaking, two years,’ he says.

‘Let’s hope I’m not a statistic then!’ I reply.

We make a follow up booking for next week – a telehealth booking as we’ll be back in Broome. We give him a hug before we go.

‘You have a hard job Jim. But we really appreciate your professionalism,’ Nath says.

Nath and I cry our way to the car. We drive to pick up Teo. I call each member of my immediate family and break the news.

I’m sitting in the back seat next to Teo.

‘Dad and I are a bit sad this afternoon,’ I explain to Teo.

‘Why?’ he asks.

‘The doctor has told me that I am still sick,’ I say to him. He makes a sad face.

‘Poor mummy,’ he says and pats my hand.

‘So if you see Dad or me crying -it’s because we’re a bit sad about me being sick,’ I explain to him.

‘Would you like a drink of my water?’ he asks me.

‘Yes please Teo,’ I say.

Later, back at Mike and Holly’s we crack open a bottle of champagne after Teo goes to bed. The bottle was bought earlier that day when we were all expecting the news to be the opposite. We chink glasses and enjoy it anyway.

I’m sitting at the table – glass of champagne bubbling up before me when I burst into tears for the 50th time that afternoon.

‘I can’t ignore that my oncologist has laid the card on the table that says that I might become really sick and die within two years,’ I say. ‘This scares the shit out of me.’ I breathe deep.

‘But, I can choose to lay another card on the table which says that if I follow my gut instincts that were telling me from the get go – to meditate, to eat well, to exercise my heart out – all the things I couldn’t do properly during chemo – that maybe I will hang in there for a few more years at least,’ I say.

‘What have I got to lose?’ I ask.

8th September

‘I hear you opened a bottle of champagne last night?’ Nan asks.

‘Yes, we bought it thinking we’d be celebrating good news and decided to celebrate life anyway,’ I say.

‘I’m so proud of you Rani. That is the right attitude. Chin up.’

‘My chin is up Nan,’ I reply.

•••

Four days later, the crying starts. It’s like the milk comes in after birth. Kinda unexpected and overwhelming.

*Since the champagne night – I have followed and will follow a strict keto diet. Combined with meditation, exercise and quality time with my loved ones. Still working out what the next step is in terms of conventional treatment.

Hope is real.

I look forwards to the day when they say, ‘Rani, you are in remission.’

16. I didn’t lose my hair

3rd July 2018

I went to see the specialist at the hospital today to book my colonoscopy. I sat down on the proffered chair as he perused my medical file (which is busting at the seams by now).

‘Your hair has grown back quickly,’ he remarks.

‘You don’t necessarily lose your hair during the chemo regime for bowel cancer,’ I reply.

‘I see,’ he says looking back down at the paperwork.

‘I’ve known two people to die during chemotherapy for bowel cancer,’ he says.

I stare at him.

‘Not something you necessarily want to hear at this stage,’ he states.

I manage a grim smile in response.

‘Not really,’ I say.

Later I stand on the scales. I’m the most overweight I can recall being in years. Theoretically I should be more upset by this. But in this case – sugar really did help get the medicine go down. All the marmalade on toast and weetbix and pasta and chocolate and rice and apples helped me to swallow those goddamm tablets. For the last 6 months I attacked carbs with gusto.

Before I got sick, I had the usual hang ups about my body. I compartmentalised myself into parts. Thighs. Tummy. Arms. Legs. Too fat. Too thin. Too flabby. Too stretched. Too hairy. Too many freckles. Now I’m just thankful I have a body that is alive. I may have a scar dissecting my torso but I can walk and run and breathe. I may only have half my large intestine but I can still eat food and digest and poo. Our bodies are a bloody marvel. I’ve never been so grateful for my ability to fart in my life.

A letter from my geneticist arrives in the post. They confirm that my early onset bowel cancer is most probably due to serrated polyposis syndrome (sps). Basically, my genes have caused some of my cells to go rogue and create a party of polyps in my bowel.

When I was teaching, there was a part of me that secretly respected those students who completely disregarded the rules. Out loud, I’d have to chastise but inside I’d be applauding.  (Maybe it was because I was such a goody-two-shoes as a kid. Socially conditioned to obey: to say yes). I regard my rogue cells in a similar fashion. They’ve given the finger to the rules and are happily doing their own thing. Granted, their efforts, if left unchecked, would lead to my untimely demise, but I can’t help but wonder at their audacity.

Still, I’d rather live a bit longer. So my cheeky rogue cells, I shall serenade you with some Fleetwood Mac and smash you with 6months of chemo.

You can go your own way. Go your own way.

“You’re looking well?’ people remark with wonder.

‘I’m pretty sure it’s been a combination of carbs plus family care plus all the love from my community,’ I reply. ‘Or maybe it’s my age?’

On my 13thbirthday I got the chicken pox. Red itching sores covered my pubescent body. Don’t scratch the itch or you’ll be scarred for life I was warned. They were right. 20 years later and I’ve still got pockmarks on my cheeks. I don’t remember the pain or the unbearable itch from that time. I do remember staying home from school to watch Forest Gump in my PJs. I do remember the beautiful bunch of pink and yellow roses my parents gave me. I do remember camomile lotion and the extra tlc. I remember a November electrical storm and wanting to run out and feel the rain on my burning skin. I remember Dad telling me to come back inside before I got struck by lightning. I remember the kindness.

I wonder if that’s how it will be for me in 20 years time. Maybe I won’t remember the pain, the exhaustion, the nausea. Instead, maybe I’ll remember the deliveries of home-made chicken curries, the flowers, the gifts, the messages flooding in filled with loving wishes.  I’ll remember the gift vouchers for cleaners and massages. I’ll remember the gifts of books and pjs and puzzles and a unicorn mood ring. I’ll remember the home-made bread and routine deliveries of boxes of fruit and veggies. I’ll remember my parents, my brother, my uncle and my godmother spending weeks of their life cooking for my family, playing with my son, making cups of luke-warm water, rubbing lotion into my cracking feet. I’ll remember the kindness.

15. Crossing the finishing line

‘This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper’ T.S.Eliot

29th July, 2018

No more sleeps. I swallow the last of the 1,120 tablets I’ve taken in the last 6 months. Just like a happy zombie, I’m flattened by fatigue yet stoked.

Holly and Michelle write this email to all the generous people who contributed to the crowd fund.

 Last week, Rani returned to Perth to start the final round of chemo. It has been a long and intense six months of treatment. Rani’s blog gives some insight into her experience: https://meandmysemicolon.wordpress.com/

Waking up the morning after starting this crowdfund back in February we felt blessed. Your response was overwhelming. We are so pleased the campaign was well received by a beautiful community of people who responded quickly and lovingly. Rani, Nathan, family and friends are very grateful to every one who donated to this campaign, dropped in for a visit, and/or offered help and love in all sorts of ways. 

As organisers we would like to take this moment to say thank you. Thank you for helping our dear friend, sister, daughter, mother, teacher, wife. This campaign has helped someone from Rani’s family travel from the east coast to be with her for the entire six months. What that has for meant for Rani and her family can’t be put into words easily.

 The target goal has been reached with funds from the campaign and private donations**. Again, thank you, for your love and generosity.

 

A week ago I told my friend Deb about the swearing routine I’d get into before taking my tablets. I’d rage and grumble and spit swear words as I pulled on my gloves and carefully broke the tablets free from their blister pack. She wrote me this poem.

As you prepare to take that final pill,
Pushing against your body’s will,
Just do whatever you have to do:
Swear until your face is blue,
Scream as loud as a banshee’s call,
Pound a pillow, punch the walls…
Whatever you need to get you through,
And know that we’re all there with you.
Remember, it’s only chemicals
And chemicals will dissolve
While you go on, strong and beautiful:
Nothing’s as robust as your resolve.
Tonight, as that pill dissipates
Together, we will celebrate
The end of this ordeal,
Of all this shit you’ve had to feel.
It’s over! It’s done.
You’ve fought and you’ve won. 
These challenges, you have risen above,
To cross the finish line, surrounded by love.

Deb Hannagan

14. My resolution

10th June, 2018

So, don’t you worry/ You’ll be my resolution Matt Corby

 We had Teo’s 3rd birthday party yesterday. It was at Town Beach next to the red Torii. A group of people are Tai Chi-ing on the lawn overlooking the blue bay melting into sky. Nath drapes the bunting that Jun made for our wedding around the picnic shelter. We spread mats on the lawn and plonk playdough and bubble blowers on little tables. Most of the kids end up taking the little spades and buckets and wander down to the water’s edge in search of hermit crabs and sea slugs and shells. Little girls in frilly dresses and sun hats run down sand dunes. We sing happy birthday to him. He flings an arm around my shoulder and looks up wide-eyed and wondrous at the singing throng. We’re pretending it’s his actual birthday today as next Friday (15thJune) I’ll be down in Perth in the chair to start my final round. One more to go.

One month down and it’s in sight/ Oh, I’m guaranteed to lose my mind Matt Corby

11th June, 2018

Teo just did a ‘pop off’.

‘We could put something in this wheel ballow,’ he says as he squats in the sand. ‘Lizards b’long on here, you think?’ Teo places small replica reptiles on a mound of sand his Dad has shaped for him. He fills up a little red bucket full of ocean and fills up the ‘big waterhole for all the dinosaurs and lizards to swim in’ in his Dad’s words. He is humming to himself. Nath lies on his belly, long legs stretching out on the sand.

‘You can play with me if you like to. Let’s dig a bigger hole,’ Teo says.

‘Look at me,’ Nath says as he adjusts Teo’s sunhat. It’s a cap with fabric that covers his neck. It makes Teo look like a little sheik or a blue frill neck lizard. He goes back to digging his hole while Nath strips off for a swim. He lopes off towards the waves with a yellow surfboard and Teo in tow. That aqua-marine horizon trimmed with the lace of little waves lapping the shore.

We’re North of the Rocks. Nudie beach without the nudes. They’ve been replaced by a car park of 4WDs. A light breeze blows. Teo clambers on board in the shallows and Nath gets a run up and charges into the waves. He wades out until he is waist deep, wraps his arm around the board and they wait for a wave. A 4WD navigates around the exposed islands of rock. An airnorth plane descends over the dunes. Teo and Nath catch a wave and ride it hooting and giggling into shore.

13th June, 2018

Broome airport. Dry season. Thick with new faces and the odd local. I’m wearing a cardigan and closed-in shoes and a layer of fatigue. Yesterday, Teo and I made a carrot cake and danced around to Toto’s Africa. I serenade him with my wooden spoon microphone.

‘It’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you’.

There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do…. Gonna take some time to do the things we never had….’

Sometimes, I catch myself staring at the calendar filling up with stars. I number the days I have left. It’s a strange thing to be looking forward to chemo – but this next round may be my last one. The thought brings me to my knees but I can’t drop my bundle just yet.

15th June, 2018

3 years ago I was in the maternity ward at the Broome District Hospital in labour, occupying that space between life and death. Squatting. Roaring. Breathing. Birthing. Today, I’m in another hospital, in another space but still caught between life and death. The chemotherapy ward. Sitting in the chair while the drug is slowly administered through my body. Face twitching. Hands shaking. Breathing. Today that newborn baby turns 3 years old. My son. My resolution.

Later that night, I play that Matt Corby song and take my tablets. 14 days to go.

So, don’t you worry

You’ll be my resolution

 

13. Stormy weather

19th May, 2018

It’s been windy for days. I’m wearing a cardigan, scarf, singlet, shorts and birkenstocks. I’m perched on a rock at Entrance Point. Sun’s setting. Some people are fishing off the rocks. A mob of kids and mums pushing prams wander below me. The sky is glowing a calypso orange.

This morning, Teo asked me a question: ‘Is it tomorrow now?’

I wish. I can’t bloody wait until the tomorrow comes when I swallow that last tablet. But then I’d be wishing away the silver lining that’s come with chemo. I’d be wishing away the time my family are spending with me, caring for me and getting to know my son.

The sun sets. I clamber back down off the rocks and drive home.

24th May, 2018

It’s raining in down here in Perth.  There were news crews in Kings Park this morning. The ladies with makeup talk earnestly to the camera about the ‘big storm’ coming. They stand against that backdrop of Perth’s high-rises and the Swan expands behind them.

There’s been a lot of big storms in the last 6 months. It started with the cyclones up in Broome. TC Hilda arrived first, a few days after Nath’s dad had passed and the day after Boxing Day. It took everyone by surprise. The intensity of the storm occurring bang on shift change for the nurses at the hospital. You could tell everyone at the weather bureau was on holidays as the town was still on blue alert as the Category 1 cyclone passed right overhead.

Then came Joyce. There was a lot of hype over Joyce to compensate for Hilda sneaking up on us. But Joyce turned out to be relatively mild and ‘failed to intensify’ off the coast.

Then came the unnamed low in late Jan – where we all learnt a lesson in meteorology. If a tropical low forms over water – it is classified a cyclone and is christened with a first name. If a low forms over land – it is simply referred to as a Tropical Low. Turns out a Low can be more cyclonic than a cyclone. Wind and rain for days. Every second tree toppled. Even trees that withstood the fabled Rosita succumbed. Town Beach still looks naked. Footage of trucks apparently driving through an ocean appeared on social media. The highway closed. The plains became an extension of the bay. No trucks = no food = someone buying all the toilet paper in Woolies.

TC Kelvin arrived in mid-February. Is there such thing as cyclone-fatigue? Apocalyptic skies. Mum and I had to make a run for it at Cable. One minute we were admiring the dramatic sky – nek minute we were running for our life – paranoid about getting struck by the spears of light springing up all around us. By then, the streets of Broome were best navigated by dinghy.

After the rain, Mum and I went searching with Teo for the best puddles to swim in. An inland lake had formed opposed Minyirr park beside Gubinge Road. Kids on paddleboards floating past trees crammed with frogs and snakes who’d made a mad scramble for higher ground. Down at Cable Beach, the drains opposite Sunset Bar had turned into Niagra falls and exposed all sandstone underneath. 150 million year old sandstone from the Cretacious period. More dinosaur trackways were uncovered again to be inspected by the curious.

Back in Perth, the ‘big storm’ arrives. The next day, Magda drives Mum and I to Fiona Stanley to begin Round 7. I get my favourite window seat. An hour in and a young man with his dad are installed in chairs opposite me. The son still has all his red hair, thick and glorious, but his auburn beard has a big streak of white in it. It makes him look a bit like Fantastic Mr Fox. On my back from the loo, I park my drip in front of his chair.

‘You’re too young to be here,’ I say.

‘Yeah, I know. 27. How about you?’ he asks.

’33. Bowel cancer. Stage 3,’ I reply.

‘Melanoma. It’s spread to my kidney and my liver,’ he says.

We talk about our kids. He’s got an 8 month old. He found out he had cancer the day his son was born.

I’m snappy and rude after chemo. It’s still raining so Kings Park is not an option. I run up the internal stairway 10 times at Trish’s place. (Her apartment is on the 3rd floor). Matt, Helen and Hannah from Barking Gecko have invited us to their showing of their latest work: A Ghost in My Suitcase. My godmother and I go along. My body has started the descent to rock-bottom – so I figure it might be a good distraction. It is. It is brilliant work that has us laughing and marvelling at the athleticism of the actors. By the end, I work hard at controlling my tears. It’s still raining as we exit the theatre.

The next day, it’s time to farewell Magda and fly back to Broome with Mum.