Tag Archives: cancer

Gawler: For and against

Many of you will have heard of Ian Gawler, author of the best-selling book, first published in 1984, You Can Conquer Cancer. Like The Lucky Country, the title of the book is a sort of ambient phrase in Australian culture. Even if you haven’t read the book or paid much attention, its four bold words lurk somewhere in the background. I’ve been thinking about the book since washing the dishes on Saturday afternoon while listening to a podcast featuring Tim Baker, author of Patting the Shark. Tim’s book is a both a beautifully-written cancer memoir and a plea for a more wholistic approach to cancer treatment. Rather than dropping an earth-shattering diagnosis on people and leaving them to it, Tim says doctors should be directing their patients to information about diet, exercise, meditation, counselling and even other supportive activities such as writing workshops. Treat the whole person, not just a body part. In the podcast, Tim, who is living well and for a long time in the aftermath of a metastatic prostate cancer diagnosis, repeated a striking quote from Ian Gawler, with which I wholeheartedly agree (I’ll come back to this below).

But first, I want to set out the case against Gawler’s claim that you can conquer cancer, just as he did. Gawler’s claim, that he cured his metastatic bone cancer using diet and meditation, was always intriguing to me, but not particularly salient until I first got cancer myself, back in 2014. Then it came more sharply into focus as a way of thinking about cancer and science and medicine. While my first response to my diagnosis was Nuke it. Gimmee everything you got., I had people telling me there was another way. There was an alternative to mainstream medicine with its phalanx of scans, tests, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, surgeries, drugs and searing side-effects. There were more “natural” ways to treat cancer.

Yes, there are always other ways, other choices to be made, when confronting a shattering diagnosis. There could be any number of reasons for rejecting conventional cancer treatment. At an individual level, they’re all valid responses. What concerns me is how Gawler’s enormously influential book plays into what seems to me to be a growing rejection of, or misunderstanding of, the scientific method.

Okay, one more thing to get out of the way before I go on: Ian and Ruth Gawler would vehemently dispute my use of the word “alternative” to describe their approach to medicine. They prefer to use the phrase lifestyle medicine, describing this as a way of focusing on “what we can do for ourselves to recover from illness, and improve our prognosis and symptoms”. Their website does not advocate the Gawler program as something you should do instead of conventional cancer treatment. Their website simply sets out the case for the benefits of lifestyle interventions, meditation in particular. I also want to acknowledge that thousands have found Gawler’s meditation retreats enormously helpful.

But. But. Gawler’s great persuasive power rests on his claim that he conquered his metastatic cancer through lifestyle medicine after conventional treatments had stopped working. It is a claim that has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. Claims such as Gawler’s – intentionally or not – give credence to all sorts of quacks and shysters operating in the cancerverse. In 2014, as I was undergoing sometimes gruelling chemotherapy and surgery for advanced cancer, Belle Gibson was looking gorgeous, being feted by the media, gaining a national profile, and making a lot of money. Gibson was claiming that she had had terminal brain cancer (and a host of other types of cancer), and that she had cured herself by “natural” means, mainly diet. Her recipe app had been downloaded 200,000 times within its first month. A lavish cookbook based on her recipe collection was published by Lantern Books (an imprint of Penguin Australia) in October 2014. By March 2015, Gibson’s whole house of cards was crashing down. She was forced to admit she had never had cancer, and that her whole enterprise had been based on a tissue of lies. Penguin withdrew the book from sale (although you can still get it on eBay) and apologised for not scrutinising Gibson’s clearly controversial claims. All those involved in promoting Gibson quietly withdrew with their various tails between their legs.

A decade later, Gibson might be gone from the scene, but the snake oil continues. A quick Google search produces a piece published by Yahoo! News last Wednesday titled How to survive cancer without chemotherapy? by Roman Franco. “There is a great variety of alternative treatments to fight this terrible disease and the best option in this area is located in the city of Tijuana, Baja California,” writes Franco. The puff-piece for BahaMed lists treatments including “special diets, high vitamin dosages, laser therapies, emotional balance therapies, immunotherapies among others”; these are described as “minimally invasive” with low side-effects. (BahaMed’s particular modus operandi for getting desperate people to part their cash is is detailed in this piece by McGill University‘s Office for Science and Society.) Closer to home, Apricot Seeds Australia claims that a concoction made up of the juice of 1 beet, 1 carrot, 1 celery stick, half a potato and a radish is a “cancer killer”.

Gawler’s intentions are no doubt far from the Belle Gibsons and apricot seed purveyors, but that ambient phrase, You can conquer cancer, and widespread knowledge of his own particular cancer story, has been out in the world since 1984, doing its own work.

The fact is that there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence that lifestyle medicine, used instead of conventional cancer treatment, can cure cancer or produce long-lasting remission. Claimed cases of complete remission brought about in the absence of conventional treatments tend to falter under sustained interrogation. Investigation often reveals that surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation or other conventional treatments were used at some point along the road. Or what was thought to be cancer was actually a misdiagnosis. Oncologists Ray Lowenthal and Ian Haines argue that Ian Gawler’s primary cancer might have been completely removed when surgeons amputated his leg back in 1975, and that what appeared to be secondary cancer may actually have been tuberculosis, which can look similar on X-rays. Anita Moorjani‘s spectacular remission after a near-death experience may have owed more to chemotherapy than she allows. In conversations with people claiming to know someone who had cured their own cancer “naturally”, I’ve noticed that they get vague when asked about the details of diagnoses and treatments. They can’t tell me the names of the diagnosing doctors or whether the person had had conventional treatment somewhere along the line. As I said, every choice is a valid one for people with cancer. How we do this is up to us, whether that’s about relying on prayer or meditation or doing nothing at all and simply letting things run their course. But if you really do want the best shot at extending your life or going into remission, the science is clear: conventional medical treatments are where it’s at. There are no guarantees, but they give you the best shot.

My other beef with You Can Conquer Cancer is that sometimes, you really can’t. You might go into remission, only to have the cancer come back within months. You might try every therapy under the sun, and find that it still gets you in the end. Sadly, this is a very common story. The phrase, You Can Conquer Cancer, feeds the idea that to “lose” the “battle” with cancer is to fail to be positive enough, courageous enough, disciplined enough. As a person living with an inherited genetic mutation that dramatically increases the risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer, it makes me angry. I’m sure the cancer-conquering narrative is not meant to make people like me feel bad – quite the opposite, I’m sure – but I can’t help feeling a distinct lack of compassion, a judgemental tone, in the idea that it’s all down to me to take control of my own destiny and “win”.

Actually, it’s laughable. Can I conquer cancer? Little old me? Really? The idea is individualism gone mad. The other day I watched the first episode of the ABC TV series The Chemical World presented by biomedical engineer Dr Jordan Nguyen (this came out three years ago; I saw it on iView). In it, Nguyen discussed the common DNA that exists in human beings and sea sponges. Yes, it would appear that you and me and sea sponges all have a common animal ancestor. DNA mutation (“errors” in copying genetic information) drove the process of evolution that allowed us to branch off from our spongy cousins, grow fingers and eventually learn to crochet. Genetic mutation, whether inherited (the BRCA1 gene mutation, for example) or acquired from the environment (from a lifetime of smoking, for example), is what causes cancer. Damaged or faulty genetic coding makes cells go rogue, multiplying recklessly, threatening the host organism and, ultimately, their own lives (they go down with the ship). So, genetic mutation comes as a job lot: on the one hand it gave us a pathway out of the primordial soup; on the other, it can cause cancer. Cancer is as natural as a sea sponge. That I might be able to “conquer” an ancient force like genetic mutation, all by myself, seems ridiculous to me. Yes, as a species, drawing on millennia of accumulated knowledge and skill, human beings might be able to pull off a cure for cancer. That day may be coming soon; bring it on! But me? With nothing but my own food choices, exercise regime and YouTube meditation clips, I can extinguish the fast-growing tumours inside me? No, I don’t think so.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that meditation, diet, yoga, tai chi, exercise and a host of other “lifestyle” measures are not enormously helpful for people with cancer (and people in general). In some cases the benefits are backed by scientific research; others may be anecdotally effective but have not (yet) been through rigorous trials. A therapy may go all the way from “alternative” to “mainstream” after extensive clinical trials. Cannabis and magic mushrooms now have a place in mainstream medicine due to scientific evidence that they do help some people to cope with serious mental and physical illnesses. As Tim Minchin entertainingly put it, “alternative” medicine that is backed by scientific evidence is actually just … medicine.

Another thing to clear up is the difference between alternative (untested or tested and found ineffective) therapies and complementary medicine. Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional medicine; complementary therapies are used alongside conventional treatment (often with great results). Tim Baker calls this taking his MEDS. This stands for Meditation, Exercise, Diet and Sleep. His MEDS are self-prescribed, and he attributes his quality of life to them. But he also undergoes conventional treatments when indicated. Once again: A healthy lifestyle can help prevent cancer, and improve quality of life after diagnosis, but the evidence is clear: it can’t, on its own, cure it.

I’m also keen to dismantle the false division between “natural” and “unnatural” products or therapies or lifestyles. Nothing on this Earth (in “this dimension” at least – see footnote below) stands outside of the fundamental facts of nature, of physics and chemistry. In that sense, everything is “natural”, by definition. Chamomile has been used for centuries for its calming, sedative effects. Studies like this one provide a scientific explanation for what many have experienced. It’s a folk remedy with scientific backing. Taxol, a substance originally derived from the Pacific Yew Tree, has been shown to be an effective treatment for ovarian cancer, but because it is used in chemotherapy, it is seen as “unnatural” by some in the alternative medicine camp. So why is one plant-based substance natural and the other not? Arguing about whether something is or isn’t “natural” doesn’t make much sense. What makes more sense is finding out about how things actually work, and whether they help or hinder the goal of maintaining human (and non-human) health. Ingesting the tiny bit of arsenic that is found in apple seeds? No problem. A teaspoonful of concentrated arsenic added to a cup of tea? Death within minutes.

I’m concerned that the baby (science) is being thrown out with what I acknowledge is really filthy bathwater (the predatory inclinations of Big Pharma, Big Food, industrial polluters, etc). I want to say: That baby is precious. By all means throw out the bathwater, but don’t send her down the drain along with it. We need to acknowledge that this biosphere, and the universe as it is gradually revealed to us, operates according to rules (of physics and chemistry) that must be heeded.1 The scientific method means that over time, we replace good explanations with even better ones. We used to think the Sun revolved around the Earth. That explanation made perfect intuitive sense, and served most of the purposes of daily life. There’s the Sun, rising in the East and setting in the West. You can see it with your own eyes! After much scientific discussion (and the odd accusation of heresy), most of us now agree that the Earth orbits the Sun. This explanation is now supported by a mountain of evidence (including successful moon landings). As a society, when it comes to making decisions like action on climate change, or whether to allow a particular drug to come onto the market, our decisions need to be based on evidence, not on wishful thinking or intuition or belief or the loudest voices.

Of course, Western science is not the only way to achieve wellbeing and sustainability. Sixty thousand years of sustainable living on this continent shows us that. First Nations peoples threaded the rules of sustainability and health for all living things – care for Country – through every aspect of their culture. Today, the scientific method can help modern industrial societies return to principles such as constraint and a respect for non-human creatures. How many parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will tip us into unliveable global warming? What can we do about outbreaks of blue-green algae that kill fish in the millions? Of course, science can be used to work out how to maximise salt and sugar in children’s food to make it addictive, or to track and catch the last fish in the sea. Science, like the English language or the telephone, is a tool. It’s how we use it that matters.

And now, finally (this might be my longest blog post ever; thank you for hanging in there), I’ll return to Ian Gawler’s striking quote, as repeated by Tim Baker in the podcast I was listening to as I did the dishes.

“I did a couple of retreats with a guy named Ian Gawler, the noted cancer survivor, and Ian said something that’s always stayed with me,” said Tim. “He said, ‘An acceptance of one’s mortality is entirely compatible with the will to live’.”

Like Tim, I find this a powerful and refreshing statement. I want to live, and yet I accept that at some point, along with all other living things, I’m going to die. Life, like genetic mutation, is a job lot. Life holds death in its belly; life is unimaginable without death. To really embrace these two facts, together, rather than hang on grimly to one while denying the other, is to suddenly feel the preciousness of life.

“When it’s actually embodied, when you actually feel it in your bones that life is temporary, then everything’s enhanced,” said Tim. “You know, I felt like my life was in high definition.”

I, too have had moments of life in high-definition. Cancer certainly focuses the mind. You look at a flower, or clouds in a blue sky, or a kelpie shaking water off itself, and want to cry over them because they are all so beautiful and you have taken them for granted.

  1. At least in this physical world, the one we were all thrown into at birth, the one that affects us and that we affect. There may be other worlds in the multiverse that operate according to different rules; we may be living in a giant simulation; we may leave this vale of tears and go somewhere much nicer after death, or come back over and over again until we’ve learned our damn lesson. These are all interesting possibilities. But they’re outside the scope of this blog post. ↩︎

On side effects

Just thought I’d add some musings about side effects. The Zejula tablets are working beautifully, confirmed by a recent blood test. But they do come with side effects. I’m not grizzling about this (much) because they’re very good at what they do. But for the sake of public information (and maybe a bit of grizzling) I think they’re worth enumerating.

This pic shows the box of Zejula tablets surrounded by a whole lot of other substances that I have used against their side effects: Movicol for constipation, lozenges for an on-and-off sore throat, antacid for indigestion, a lipid-based spray for dry eyes, paracetamol for headaches and mouth wash for dry mouth. There are other side effects too, that I haven’t tried to visualise here: brain fog, yellowish skin, a touch of anaemia, random moments of sudden-onset tiredness. But if you set these aside the far greater danger of not taking the tablets, these are pretty inconsequential. I’m up for it, and so glad these tablets exist.

Anyway, I feel pretty good today. Today, the side effects are way in the background. In the foreground I’m enjoying this beautiful day and the ever-blooming portulacas that self-seeded into a bit of dirt between the pavers just outside the back door. And doing a spot of sewing and craft and thinking about writing if not actually writing. (Yes, this is writing, but not writing-writing.)

This morning, despite feeling great, I found myself thinking about side effects. All of life on earth is just one big side effect. Evolution (giving us flowers and dolphins) and cancer (giving us trouble) are both “side effects” of genetic mutation. The death of old shells gives hermit crabs somewhere to live. The colonisation of Australia that began on January 26, 1788, was done in the name of crown and glory and somewhere to put convicts. The side effects of this adventure included the dispossession of the locals (rationalised through terra nullius, the idea that this land belonged to “nobody”), and, later, Peter Dutton’s call to boycott Woollies for not stocking Australia Day merch. While some side effects might be “worth it”, others have been dubious from the outset. One side effect of of discovering how to split the atom – equations written in chalk on blackboards – was the creation of weapons that could obliterate our own species. In some ways we are quite good at thinking through the potential side effects of a given course of action. It’s core business for the insurance industry and teachers who take primary school students on excursions. In other ways, though, we suck. See climate change and stockpiled nuclear weapons and over-fishing. On issues like these, our species is still in pre-school, running around with our hands over our ears, yelling la-la-la over voices urging caution.

Side effects both make us and unmake us. It’s all terrible and glorious. It’s a job-lot.

Here we go again

And just like that, I’m back in cancer-land. I was cancer free for eight and a half years; long enough to make me feel that every damn cancer cell had been vanquished for good. Earlier this year, like just about everyone else, I had a lingering cough. It lasted through a few days at a music festival, a long drive to and from my uncle’s funeral in Brisbane and quiet festivities for Steve’s mother’s 90th birthday on the south coast. “Oh, that’s the hundred day cough!” people said. So I wasn’t particularly concerned, just tired of it, always on the lookout for a nice lozenge that would soothe my throat.

Then one day I was doing my usual walk that goes in a big loop past the dog pound, past the cows and alpacas, past the Catholic girls’ school, and through the soccer fields to join up with the road back home. I sometimes do this walk while talking on the phone to a friend who is also walking, in her case along the Linear Park Trail that follows the River Torrens through in Adelaide. This time, just past the dog pound, where the road goes up a bit of a rise, I found it hard to walk and talk at the same time. I was short of breath. I’d never felt out of breath on this stretch before. It was a bit of a worry. I mentioned it to my friend. We agreed I should see my doctor.

A pile of crocheted guts with Bunny the tumour sitting on top.

My GP ordered a chest scan. A few days later, I was fully expecting to be told I had walking pneumonia or something that could be zapped with a course of antibiotics. Turns out it was something far more sinister. A few blood tests and a CT scan later, Steve and I were back where we’d been nine years ago: shaking in our boots, staring at the doctor, receiving information that we were barely able to process. Damn. Back here. There was a week of Googling and worrying before we got in to see the medical oncologist in Orange, a town about 40 minutes’ drive to the west. The oncologist assured us that while the situation was certainly bad, it was not hopeless. Yes, my original cancer (primary peritoneal cancer, a form of ovarian cancer) had crept into my lungs when no-one was looking, but it was “eminently treatable” with a course of chemotherapy. “Eminently treatable” is a good pair of words. There are no guarantees in them, but room for hope. Buoyed up, I slid him a copy of my new novel, The Vitals. Not wanting to take up too much of his time – the waiting room was full of others in their own personal combinations of hope and fear – I gabbled about how, funnily enough, my cancer had come back just as my book about cancer was about to be launched! He leafed politely through the first few pages as we bundled ourselves out of the room.

The Vitals has a rabbit on the front cover (by Sandy Cull). This is because, in The Vitals, one of the tumours goes by the name of Bunny. Bunny’s replicating cells are getting ready to run free across the wide brown land of my body (okay, it’s fairly wide but not at all brown), dodging all attempts to eradicate them. The connection between rabbits and my cancer came early after my first cancer diagnosis in 2014, when I’d been told that one of my tumours inhabited a piece of territory in the female body called the pouch of Douglas. This territory was named after Dr Douglas, a “man midwife” in the era when midwifery, until then part of women’s business, was being taken over by (male) doctors. In London in 1726, Dr Douglas was invited to examine a certain Mary Toft, a poor woman who claimed to be able to give birth to baby rabbits. Toft was a national sensation, but Douglas was very suspicious. He soon outed her as a fraud who had been procuring baby rabbits, secreting them inside herself, and giving excellent performances of the birthing process.

The rabbits made me think of Ginge, a cat we knew when I was kid. Ginge’s mistress would say, “Go and catch a rabby, Ginge!” Yesterday, I started work on a crochet portrait of Ginge. It will be almost life-size, from a pattern. I need all the help I can get in catching rabbits.

Meanwhile, The Vitals is now on sale in bookshops across the land, or online.

It isn’t easy being green (or pink, teal or purple)

I’m writing this with Australia batting against India in the background. Steve is standing behind the sofa watching, making “ooff” sounds, which is what he does when watching any sort of sport, whenever there is a significant movement.

On New Year’s Eve at Fiona Green’s place I found myself saying that this year I’d learn the rules of cricket. It’s weird when you hear yourself say something surprising. Where the hell did that come from? I can only guess it had something to do with Dad, who might have been hovering around in spirit – drinks and a big bonfire in a backyard could easily have attracted him. Dad always played and watched cricket and I always sidestepped it because to be honest it always seemed deadly boring to me. Men in white clothes standing solemnly around in the belting sun; the occasional flurry followed by more standing around. My evasion became a lifelong habit. But Steve likes to watch the cricket and when he does, there’s an echo of earlier times. And now I feel slightly bad about living through all these Australian summers and still not knowing the rules of cricket. So I’m going to give it a go. This will not be easy. I will have to fight a strong desire to immediately do something else. Like maybe arranging crockery shards by colour or size, in anticipation of one day making a mosaic table top. Or sorting old photos into albums. Rules of cricket. Why did I say that?


When I sat down to write this I was distracted by the cricket. What I was really going to write about to today was Purple Day! Today is international epilepsy awareness day. Epilepsy makes the brain fire off in all directions, leading to fits and seizures. My little nephew Joey succumbed just after his third birthday with a particularly nasty form of the disease, the Doose syndrome, which is resistant to medication. He was having twenty or more seizures a day. These involved sudden “drops” or “flops” to the floor. He’d be conscious again immediately, and sometimes crying because on the way down he might have hit something hard like the edge of a coffee table or a concrete birdbath. So he took to wearing a blue helmet. At the end of 2013, a few months after Dad died, things got so bad that he

Joey with Hazel the therapy dog.

Joey with Hazel the therapy dog.

ended up in Sydney Children’s hospital for a long stretch. I remember going to see him there when he was visited by Hazel the therapy dog. I also went upstairs with him and Deb for one of his brain tests. His little scalp had electrodes taped all over it. And he was well and truly over it. Sick of all this crap going on. The good news is that a few weeks later, the seizures had stopped. He got all the way through last year, his first year at school, seizure free! Did the medication combo finally hit the right spot? Had he simply grown out of it? Nobody really knows. Today, in honour of Joey, I’ve purpled up my Facebook profile picture and I’m writing these paragraphs in this blog.


Meanwhile, at the end of 2013, I wasn’t feeling that crash-hot myself. It turned out to be primary peritoneal cancer, a variation on ovarian cancer, explored at great length here in this blog. The awareness ribbon for this is teal. Shortly before that, Mum got in on the illness act with a spot of bowel cancer, which thankfully was removed all in one go in one operation, and she didn’t have to have chemo or any further treatments. Now, what colour is the awareness ribbon for bowel cancer? Could it be …. brown? Surely not. Must Google it. Back in a moment.

Wow. There are a lot of awareness ribbons. I guess there’s a lot to be aware of. “Use the search box to find your illness or cause”. Okay. Looks like blue or periwinkle covers the bowel. But using the search term “colon” does in fact bring up a brown ribbon! Speaking of bowel cancer, an ex boyfriend has been diagnosed with it, and is in for a long and involved treatment regime. Thinking of you (while not breaking your anonymity here!)


After Deb got breast cancer (pink ribbon, everyone knows that) and Joey started having seizures and Dad died of pulmonary fibrosis and Mum got bowel cancer and before I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Deb did say, at one point, “What were we in a past life? Axe murderers?” We don’t subscribe to deserved illness theory any more than we subscribe to the deserved good fortune theory. But there are moments that make you wonder. Anyway, we’ve almost got a rainbow of ribbons, just in one family, and all just in the past few years. Before that we’d had a very good run.


Which brings me, finally, to the green ribbon, or should I say Greens ribbon, that I’ll be wearing on Saturday, the day of the New South Wales state election. I’m not a member, but I’m happy to support the local candidate, Tracey Carpenter, who has been running a very serious and successful campaign. It’s actually not that hard being green, if you’re able to steel yourself against the waves of warmings and extinctions, fracking and fossil fuel-burning. I’ve been doing a spot of handing out how to vote cards at the pre-polling booth in Bathurst. A couple of weeks ago I went along with Tracey when she drove up to Rylstone in the north of the Bathurst electorate to meet and greet at the annual Rylstone-Kandos show. With iPhone in hand, I spontaneously decided to record her talking about her policies, as she drove. Here it is:



It’s time to consider my hair. Oh – there’s that well-used phrase of the past couple of weeks. It’s Time. Okay, so I’ll start with Gough: I thank the Whitlam government for abolishing tertiary tuition fees. As a result, this daughter of a truck driver and seamstress grew up thinking it would be perfectly reasonable to go to university after high school. Which I did, followed by my sister. A few years later Mum, who hadn’t finished high school herself, got in on the act. We’re all now bristling with degrees and diplomas. At the time, we assumed this was just part of the march of progress; we had no idea that this door was on a spring; that it was always ready to slam shut again. And then there’s free universal health care, and ditto. The latest encroachment on Medicare is the proposal to let private health insurers run agencies that would oversee the work of GPs in Medicare Local services. In other words, the privatisation of Medicare, a reversal of one of the outstanding reforms of the Whitlam government.

In amongst the orgy of nostalgia and Whitlam worship there are those pointing out that Whitlam was rising a wave of radicalism driven by people’s movements all through the 1960s. Whitlam’s reforms weren’t entirely down to Whitlam himself (although his leadership and strength of character were an essential part of the mix). Feminism, civil rights, Aboriginal rights, student activism … It was the spirit of the times, as expressed in the musical Hair.

So now I can segue quite nicely back to hair. My hair.

Yesterday, I went to the first face to face meeting with colleagues since I was struck down by cancer diagnosis in February. In February I had long straight brown hair. By July every single strand of hair on my body had disappeared. Now, I have a greying stubble, a tufty regrowth. I look in the mirror and don’t quite recognise myself. I’ve been wearing hats and occasionally a brown wig (or a pink one) and sometimes scarves, although I find the scarves tend to shift around a lot and I spend all day fiddling with them. For a while now I’ve been working from home (marking); but yesterday I needed to Go In. In through the Door of Workplace. At 8.30am yesterday morning I was dithering around, wondering what I should look like. Should I be out and proud, an obvious cancer survivor? Should I wear a cheerful turban? Hat? Wig? In the end I decided on the brown wig. I had the idea that I should invoke continuity with my former, pre-illness self. This would show that I was ready to simply step back in, business-as-usual. I regretted this almost immediately, but it was too late to turn back. The wig was itchy. I kept fiddling with it. The meeting was a video conference. Up there on the screen you could see not only the people around the table in Wagga, but a mirror-like image of ourselves around our own table here in Bathurst. My hair looked deeply wig-like. I looked like someone who had come back to work in a wig after having chemotherapy. Worse, I felt I looked like someone who wasn’t owning up to a year of illness and struggle. After all my bold sharing of details like my colostomy bag on this blog, I was retreating to a position of trying to pretend that everything was normal. When I should be breaking down the stigma, the barriers, by turning up boldly in a hat or scarf or greying tufty stubble. I followed along and participated in the meeting, but I never forgot my hair.

Anyway, funnily enough, the meeting wasn’t all about me. It was about something else entirely. It’s quite possible that what I was wearing on my head wasn’t an issue for anyone else in Bathurst or Wagga.

I still haven’t decided what I look like. Continuity or a revolutionary break with the past? It’s only hair. But hair means so much.