Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 - an unexpected year!

2018 was quite the year!!!!

It did not go according to plan but what years ever do!?!

Well this one was quite the ride and, depending on how you look at it, 2018 was the worst year of my life or the best.

I had a lot of shit go down this year, there is no pleasant way to put it. But hey, it is December 31 and I am here writing about it all, so to survive all the shit is rather extraordinary. Hence despite it all, it is probably the best year of my life!!!

And I guess it all depends on whether you are a glass half full or half empty person. Don't you just hate those phrases? I do. I am a how much more can I fit in my glass gal, always have been. Just call me Veruca Salt, I want it all and I want it a nice way of course!! But there have been many moments of half empty and half full this year depending on my mood and my health, which I guess is understandable! But I am getting ahead of myself...let's start at the beginning, cause it was a really, really good beginning. Possibly the best NYE of my life. Maybe when you start that high, the only way is down.

I started the year in Hawaii, with my sisters, brother-in-law, nephew, and niece. It was glorious, we shopped, swam, rested, ate, drank, saw sights, walked, and just soaked up the brilliance that is Hawaii. I have never really been a resorty/beach kind of holiday person but it was perfect and just what I needed. I came home feeling more relaxed and zen than I ever had in my life. I will return.

After that life continued one, busy at work, busy socially, the usual until I was stopped - dare I say - dead in my tracks.

It was only 7 weeks into the year when I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Boom! What a shock! So that has been my focus this year sadly. However it was not all bad, I was operated on and cancer free within a month exactly! So incredibly lucky. But the treatment was worse than the cure, and it laid me up for some months. Then due to the radiation and my immunity being compromised I had a throat infection which led to a bad leg infection and then a kidney infection, all of which delayed any recovery significantly. 

Given the early resolution, I barely got my head around the fact I had cancer and then it was gone. But the fact death - albeit fleetingly - passed me by has not gone by unnoticed. It has been a factor in a lot of my life this year. I had some moments of extreme lowness, mentally and physically. Because despite not having cancer anymore, the radiation made me really very very sick. But as the year ends I am feeling better than I have in a long time, not quite at pre-cancer health but very close. You can read all about it here, here, and here

I wrote a lot about the experience, because it really helped me process what was happening, because I was lucky and it felt important to document everything, and mostly because I wanted to educate those around me. I am sure it irritated a lot of people, although that certainly was not my intent. People do not want to hear about other's bad shit. They want to stay in their bubble of goodness, and I don't blame them one bit. But shit happens to all of us at some point, directly or indirectly. Best to wise up and then it won't such a shock. Sounds, harsh I guess, but life can be harsh. But that doesn't mean it has to be dour. I really tried to keep a positive approach to the ups and downs, and I think this helped me a lot. I also kept it real. It was a weird balance, but it worked and it helped.

So it you didn't get the message, please check your breasts, or those of your partner, this is why I kept going on about it all this year, to educate that these things can be easily fixed, if you catch them early, you should be as lucky as me!

The experience or journey (aren't both those words just awful in relation to bad shit) taught me a lot. I would not say I am a changed person, but internally there has been a shift. Most of what I learnt I already knew, but did not really do so well.

  • Patience - I have never had patience, but I had no option but to be patient with this, could not change a thing. I had to go at the pace of the illness and I managed ok. I wouldn't say I am now super patient, but I sure have more patience than I used to.
  • Let It Be - I have learned to let things be. There is a lot in life you cannot change and there if not point getting worked up over it. I was never really that person, now I am still not that person, but I am much much better at just letting things go.
  • Don't Overthink it - much the same as let it be, but as a Librarian, research and knowing stuff is my thing. I realised early on, knowing too much about my situation was not worth it. I decided, especially when it seemed this would have a good outcome, that I would just listen to what the Doctor's told me and believe them and go with it. I knew just enough to get me through each step. It saved a lot of additional anxiety and stress.
  • Ask for Help - I am a very very independent person, I always have been. I rarely ask for help. But it came a point I had to ask for help and I did. Reflecting back, I should have asked for even more. Please never feel bad about asking for help. If you need help, ask away. People are kinder than you imagine. This also means seeing a therapist, something I encourage everyone to do, and something that helped me with a lot of these things listed here.
  • Get over FOMO - I never really had the Fear of Missing Out until this year. SO much I wanted to do that I did not have the energy to do, so much I missed out on. At first I was really upset and cranky about this, over time I just let it go and things felt better. You cannot do it all, even if you are well. Just do what works for you at the time and makes you happy.
  • Everyone is different - loads of family and friends came to the party, and were outstanding  and helpful and wonderful. Others not so much, and that's ok. It didn't mean they didn't care or didn't want to, it was more they were stuck. As mentioned above, some people do not cope with bad shit. And I totally get it. I never judged those that held back. Leigh Sales' has just written a book about this called Any Ordinary Day, where she investigates people who have been through really horrible shit (worse than me, far worse than me) and how they coped and how those around them coped. Every single one of them had stories of those that avoided them or they didn't hear from. Every single one of them said it was ok. But the collective advice, is you will not make things worse, you will not make things better, but just be there. Even if you turn up and say and do nothing and just sit by my side. That is all. Or bring food, that always helps. Or as I said to a few of my friends who were struggling, pretend like nothing is wrong, just talk to me or message me as you normally would, tell me what is going on in your life. I needed the distraction. Having people ghost or ignore you is actually worse, so don't do that!
  • Love - There is so much love in people. It shone through, it made me cry and made me smile. It still does, the love of everyone I know got me through this as much as amazing medicine. It brings me to my knees thinking of it, it always will and it will never ever be forgotten. 
  • Emotions ( an aside)  - my emotions have been severely heightened since all of this. If I am sad, it feels sadder than normal, crankier, happier, more chilled etc. How long this will last I have no idea, but I do not consider it a bad thing.
  • Love and live my life - I spent a lot of this year on hold. It needed to be that way. It got me there in the long run. I am slowly getting back into regular life and once I am properly mended and healed look out!! I have a lot of living to do. I have always lived my life fully, I have always been about experiences and learning. I want to experience more and learn more. I want to fully explore this wonderful world, close to home and over seas. I am not wasting this renewed opportunity, believe me.
  • Be Still and Dream - I had no choice but to be still a lot of this year and it gave me a lot of time to contemplate life and all the things I have written here. I dreamed and day dreamed and thought. I have always done this to a certain degree and hope I will always continue to do so. It helps me relax, it helps me create, it helps me continue on to the next thing, it helps me with ideas, it clears my very full brain, and it helps me be me.
I know this is a lot but you cannot go through a year like I have without learning a lot. I hope some of it helps some of you. At the very least get yourself checked out (or felt up if you will!) and know it is ok not to know what to do or say when someone is going through something shitty, just please don't ignore them, now that makes them feel bad!!!

And of course my whole year wasn't about Cancer, even thought it might seem that way!

Work was quite incredible this year, I had more sick leave than I had ever had and had all up quite a few months off. But to assist with my recovery I moved into a special project position at Library HQ at Speers Point, near to where I live. I would not have gotten through any of this had I been in the more physical job of working in a branch. Of course, after managing Swansea Library for 12 years I missed it and my lovely team there terribly. However the pressure of managing people (which as lovely as people can be, can also be stressful) and a branch and such was one less thing to worry about. My projects were important, but I was all over them, and whilst there were a lot of meetings with management, I had time to do them well, and mostly just me to worry about. So it was a really good move. However, all this means I am in a temporary position while we are being restructured and it looks highly likely I will not return to Swansea, and therefore my future is uncertain. I am hoping that my good working track record will hold me in good stead, but mostly trying not to think about it for the sake of my mental health. Much like Cancer, I cannot change anything, but go with it and hope for the best!

Whilst I spent most of the year on the couch resting and recovering and pretty much sleeping my life away, but I did manage to get a few lovely things in.

I had a great time at Newcastle Writers Festival this year, I always do. But there were some extra super sessions, and I was just starting to heal from my surgery and ran into loads of people who I knew and felt the love and it all felt wonderful. I headed to Melbourne for a holiday in August, my sister had just moved there, and had a weekend in Sydney with my bestie. I might have been sick, but i timed these kind of things well, in times I was feeling a bit better.

I didn't get to many gigs, but the ones I did see were high quality.

Bob Dylan

Belle and Sebastian

John Paul Young

The White Album Concert

Kate Miller-Heidke

I saw some great art at Sydney Art Gallery, NGV, ACMI, Newcastle Art Gallery, and Maitland Art Gallery.

I even managed to participate in Kate Bush Day, which is always a joy.

I kept up my fortnightly routine of visiting the Lake Macquarie Farmers Markets, the odd dinner out, plenty of family love, and some photography. These little routines helped me move through some of the rougher periods.

While I was off sick I spent a fair bit of time at Nobbys, sitting in the sun, having brunch, looking for whales. This was all part of my recovery. Water, book, sunshine, whales, and the best strawberry milkshakes!!!

Whilst I had many many months away, the times I spent at Choir and in the later part of the year, One Song Sing, were indeed the most fruitful and important in terms of my recovery mentally. I don't know where I would have been this year without my music. It is the only thing in my life at present that feels exactly right. The joy it brings me leaves me wordless. The people I sing with are gorgeous friends, the songs are a sheer delight, the endorphins it releases cannot be denied. When everything felt like shit, I always had my music.

So I can look at this year of being the worst of my life because at times it was. But I am a tough old broad, and I'd rather look at it as one of my best. Because I got through it all, I am here to write about it, whine about it, and smile about it. Because as much as there was so much to whine about, there was much more to smile about.

So my Top Ten Moments of this year are:

1. Cancer is gone/I don't have serious kidney disease - I cannot begin to explain the joy of both of those Specialist appointments!!!!
2. My beautiful family and friends and the support and love given to me during the entire year - this could fill out the top ten in and of itself!
3. Performing with my choir at Town Hall for the Ukulele Festival AND One Song Sing at the Ukulele Festival, Somebody to Love - I was moved to tears on more than one occasion that glorious afternoon.
4. Seeing Whales on the final day of my sick leave after so many visits to Nobbys without seeing any.
5. Hawaii - what a beautiful place with beautiful people.
6. Bob Dylan live - the master.
7. White Album Concert - unexpectedly perfect
8. Receiving my Jeff Goldblum towel - sometimes it's the little things, the silly things and the love and intent behind the gift!
9. Reading Insomniac City - the most beautiful book read right when I needed to read it, during a harrowing period of my life.
10. Watching The Marvelous Mrs Maisel - Never have I felt such joy watching something than that first episode (and the rest of course) of television!

So NYE is here, and I will spend time with myself, much like most of the year. I am pretty good company, I have my favourite champagne from Peterson's Champagne House, Nachos and Eton Mess to wine and dine on. I have my music, a good jigsaw, and the last few episodes of Mrs Maisel to watch. I might be by myself, which does make me a little melancholy, but I am here to do whatever pleases me. I am trying not to reflect on what I do not have  but what I do have. Sure the love of a decent man would be lovely, but I guess I have been lucky enough this year, maybe save that for next year. And I have so very much it seems churlish to even feel remotely melancholy.

Whatever you are up to, please embrace your loved ones, be grateful for your good health and all the beauty in your life. And know that I am so very blessed to know you, to be loved by you, and that love is returned in abundance.

See ya next year!!!!!!!


The month started beautifully with a trip to Maitland Art Gallery. It is my favourite gallery to visit and always has amazing exhibitions. The main exhibit by Rosemary Valadon, Textures of Desire featured lush tables of fruit and vege and flowers. There was also a great exhibit of Aboriginal Art called Finding Country. Such beauty and colour. Also a great display of JFK photos, from childhood to assassination and beyond.

I then met Jenny for lunch at Morpeth Pub, we always have a great meal there, but they had changed the menu and really upped the ante.

The following day I had lunch with the gals at Foghorn and then farewelled The Towers by seeing Bohemian Rhapsody again. It was a bittersweet day. You can read about The Towers here.

The following week was incredibly stressful and all about my health...again. I had a small procedure to biopsy my kidney. Not painful but uncomfortable, but things ended up ok. I only had a secondary infection, my kidneys were a-ok, and the infection would disappear in time! What a relief!!

The family celebrated Dad's birthday at the local pub and had a lovely meal and time as always.

I finally returned to choir and we celebrated Christmas with yummy food and drinks, and sang Happy Christmas by John Lennon.

Work finished on a high, with one project finished and highly praised, and another well on the go.  We had Christmas drinks at LM Art Gallery which was most enjoyable.

I celebrated Christmas and birthdays with Vince, Nole, and Kathy. We had a lovely long afternoon tea of laughter and chatter.

I bought an electric keyboard, and whilst I really cannot play properly, I can fiddle a little and it will be fun to play with. Maybe I will get some lessons in the new year!

The first week of my holidays had a lot of rest and napping. I ate out at the Mary Ellen, went to the beauticians, finished my Christmas shopping, visited the Newcastle Art Gallery, drove around the beach, and saw Fantastic Beasts at the movies.

Mary dropped by for drinks, and Cathy and I had brunch at Awaba House, followed by a trip to LM Art Gallery.

My lovely sister returned home for Christmas and we had a BBQ to celebrate.

Jayne and I caught up with Mark for drinks at The Wicko and we enjoyed the joy and charm of Fish Fry and our company and chatter of course.

Christmas Eve and Day were spent on my sister's property with my family. We had a great time. My brother in law's Christmas present was a proper pool table so a lot of challenges were had. We ate, drank, laughed, and just chilled out. My sister Amanda came home with me for Christmas night and we sat and watched The Bruce Springsteen on Broadway show. 

Boxing Day is my birthday so she took me to Espresso 1 to brunch after a lovely sleep in, and we spent the afternoon chilling and watching The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, easily my favourite show of the year. In the evening we went for a drive into the beach before meeting the family at The Mary Ellen for dinner.

Between my birthday and New Years I was pretty chilled, I slept, watched tele, worked on my end of year blogs, caught up with friends for my birthday, worked on the Saturday, and had a farewell dinner for Amanda at Newcastle Yacht Club before she headed back to Melbourne.

New Years isn't as fabulous as last year, on the beach in Hawaii, it is much more low key. I have a lot to be grateful for, a lot to reflect on, and I am keen to get this year behind me. I'll stay at home and potter about, it is just another night. I am still not 100% recovered and I will celebrate accordingly when that happens.

Here are my reviews for the month.

And some extra pics...