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  • All about Gertrude

    Gertrude is the name we decided to call my cancerous breast hence the title of this blog. Although I had to keep my breast through chemo and radiation due to the nature of IBC - once it 'blew up' it no longer looked like my breast and I couldn't wait to get rid of it. Calling it Gertrude was a way of seperating it from myself. This main page is where I write about the general goings on that relate to Gertrude, there is another page that are more a diary of treatments etc This blog is a public blog so although I am being very honest about my battle with Gertrude I have "changed names to protect the innocent" - because everyone can see it if you write comments on the blog pages please use the same abbreviations for other family member or friends that I do. Please feel free to ask questions if you want clarification because then other people who might have been wondering the same thing can read your question and our answers.
  • Abbreviations

    OH- Other Half (Hubby), OD- Oldest Daughter, MD- Middle Daugher, YD- Youngest Daughter, SB- soulja boi MD's fiance in the army (now ex fiance), OD's R OD's partner, BS- Breast surgeon whose initials just happen to be BS as well, BC- our GP (family doctor), Dr H- my medical oncologist, all other friends family etc will be referred to as initials etc
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    No Princess Alone button


I am heading to Samoa tomorrow morning for a 12 day holiday with OH.  This will be a wonderful relaxing time which will allow us to reconnect to both our individual selves and to each other. 

The other reason I am going to Samoa is to reconnect with one of my family’s roots.  My father’s parents went to Samoa from New Zealand in the 1920’s for employment opportunities and had my dad and his sister while they were living there.  I have never been able to go before now but after he died my mother and some of my sisters scattered some of his ashes near the site where the coconut plantation he grew up on used to be.  To go to Samoa and see where my Dad grew up is always been one of the items on my ‘bucket list’ and I am finally getting to do it.

This last few months has been all about connections.  I have learnt which of my brain functions are still connecting correctly and which ones have a few loose wires.  My short term memory has proved to be the biggest problem especially trying to remember stuff for exams.  I have been understanding things as they are presented in lectures and been able to get good marks for the assignments when I have got the readings etc in front of me to interweave with my own words.  In an exam situation its quite different  I cannot remember in any detail the quotes, authors or theories to reguritate the way we are supposed to in an exam. 

I have made real connections with some of the lecture material on a ‘gut’ level and it has reinforced that social work is what I need to be doing with my life.

I have made real and close  connections with some of my classmates and authentic friendly connections with all the others in the class.

I have reconnected with a very dear old school friend and remembered how important my real friends are.  I have realised I have to make time to spend time with both the old and the new friends now I am at uni.

I have made connections in my mind and emotions with how I am going to move forward in my life.

And now that I have written this blog post I have to disconnect from my blog for the next two weeks – will have travelogue blogs when I come back.

The TMI file


When I was diagnosed I was 45 and premenopausal.  The last period I had arrived with lovely synchronicity to coincide with the day of my second treatment cycle with taxotere and herceptin during my initial treatment in September 2008.  Yes I still remember – nothing like being hit with a double whammy of feeling totally crap. My cancer isnt hormone driven therefore I don’t have to take hormone suppressing medication.  So it was uncertain whether or not my periods would return.  I had had a discussion with a oncology consultant that was filling in for Dr H. about this time last year, where he suggested if they did not return of their own accord they could give me hormone treatment to ensure I didn’t go into menopause prematurely.  My view was that at 46 I was quite happy never to have a period agian.  Of course with Gertrude making a reappearance the point became mute. But it has always been in the back of my mind that I would not know whether I would have more periods or when they would resume.  So guess what arrives two days before my holiday to a tropical island where I want to go snorkelling etc – Just absolutely wonderful timing – not!!

and while we are on the subject of weird bodily reactions to chemo – why has this second chemo thinned the hair on my head, my eyebrows and fingerrnails etc have not recovered properly from the first lot but the couple of ‘witches’ hairs I have to pluck from underneath my chin are growing just as strong as ever -WHY????

I have learnt…..

I’m down to my last two exams of my first semester of my four-year degree (Bachelor of Social Work)

I have been a busy little study bee but thought I would destress by having a break and writing a blog post of what I have learnt in the past few months

I have learnt:  ….

 – that whatever class you take on the day after chemo, you are never going to absorb as much as in your other classes.  You will hear a theory or concept and go: “Was I there for that lecture – I don’t remember anything about it.”

 – that no matter how organised you are at the beginning of the semester if you don’t put some proper structure into the way you organise your readings/notes/time – once the assignment due dates came rolling round everything else falls to pieces

 – if you are in treatment for half the semester with chemo remember from the last time how you crash energy-wise when it finishes.  You stop running on adrenalin and you are tired and more prone to get sick etc

 – that you can achieve regardless of these problems as long as you give yourself enough time and space to concentrate

 – that you are naturally a group organiser – organising a Facebook group and contact list for the class within the first few weeks.

 – that if you put yourself out there, being as authentic as possible people will respond to that and you will make a lot of new friends

 – that you will be so busy with Uni that you will forget to make plans with your other friends – sorry J and S etc, I promise I will try better next semester

 – that you also need to structure some me time into the timetable, and some us time for me and OH.

 – that  its ok to say no to YD and put yourself first

– that you need to make some time for physical exercise – sitting in lecture rooms or in the library, on trains and sitting at home doing assignments does not keep you fit.  Working up and down the stairs at Uni helps but all the sitting doesn’t and not only does it make your general fitness worse but it increases the severity of your lymphodema as well.

 – to remember key phrases for exams make up silly things for them.  Using Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy to help remember something about ethics. In the HH2G ’42’ was the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything,  and one of the things I want to use in the exam is that ‘ in order to learn about safe social work practice we need to explore our ideas and beliefs about right and wrong, good and bad, life and death and basically the meaning of life and everything” so if I remember 42 I should be sweet – LOL

– be realistic about study for exam – realise when your eyes are glazing over and you are not absorbing/understanding anything.  Take short breaks when you need them but set time limits to both study and breaks otherwise you can just get sidetracked.

The two main things I have learnt this semester is 

 –  that this semester has just reaffirmed Social Work is what I should be doing

 – and that I am going to be ok whatever happens with Gertrude, that I am now in a place where although the fear of recurrence is still there, it has no place in my everyday life.



Psychological analysis?

Subtitled:  Stray thoughts from a psyched out psyche!!

Just a collection of thoughts that have popped into my head with doing my study for my Psychology exam that is on this coming Thursday morning

Extroversion vs Introversion – in our little study group N said she would like to meet an introvert and was surprised when I said she was sitting next to one i.e. me!  Just because I’m outwardly seeming to be outgoing and friendly doesnt necessarily mean I’m an extrovert it just means I push myself to make friends and be friendly and both having YD have special  needs and my own IBC battle have made me more assertive.  And we talked about how most people felt like I stated in my post   that I felt at high school – different etc, but I said the difference is that extroverts will seek to make more friends when they feel like that because they need validation from other people where introverts seek it from themselves.

My blog is both a way of me both processing the information for my own benefit and a tool to allow me not to have to constantly tell everyone everything.  Extroverts blog too but they do it to get the validation and input from others.  I think it would be interesting to know where bloggers think they sit on the introversion/extroversion scale.

Was on the phone last night – talking to N and AE about our study and several amusing thoughts popped into my head:-

What is it about the fact that my talking on the phone about psych disturbed OH so he couldnt do his work on his computer and he stopped.  If he had asked me to move to another room that would have negative reinforcement of him being able to work as he would have removed the aversive stimuli (me talking) and got a positive result (being able to work).  As it is he punished himself by stopping working.

Does the fact he threatened to hit me over the head (joking) constitute him punishing me?

When I was talking on the phone to N about psychological disorders and discussing schizophrenia, OH was walking around muttering “I havent got schizophrenia” – was he having auditory hallucinations (voices in his head) suggesting he had?

On facebook I posed the question “wonders is there such a thing as psyched-down – definitely not psyched-up for psychology exam on Thursday” – one of the comment answers was they think the antonym of psyched-up could be psyched-out not psyched-down so thanks RC for the contribution towards the subtitle of this blog post

As much as these stray thoughts have been in fun and amusing I actually think they will help me in the exam

And in the interests of being honest and authentic I will tell you about the “brain fart”  that I had in the sociology exam on Tuesday.

The exam is worth 50% of our final grade and so the marks for the exam are out of 50 – the last section was identifying quotes – author, subject how we understand their viewpoint sociologically… we had to pick 3 out of 11 and each was worth 5 marks – when I looked at that section I thought “oh good i know most of these quotations” – I knew 10 out of 11 of them but could not decide which ones to do so by the time I got to that section I did the first two and then for some stupid reason thought I had finished the exam and did not do the third one – I threw away 5 marks just like that.  I am hoping I still did well enough to pass the  exam but even if I didnt as long as I get the points to pass the course in total then I’ll be ok. I’ve put it down as a learning experience.   I don’t think I will ever make the same mistake in another exam.

Anyway back to errand running and study – trying to balance study with making sure I have things organised for Samoa

Studying sociology and sickness

I actually wrote a post about this yesterday (pre-exam) but for some reason my computer and the wordpress website weren’t meshing last night and when I hit publish it disappeared into the ether and was not recorded on my blog or as a draft.  It was quite frustrating as I had done it as a wind-down exercise before heading off to bed to get a good sleep before the exam and it ended up winding me up tighter.

I had my first of 4 exams this morning and although I think I have done OK – there are some gaps in my knowledge and in my ability to write it down.  While I have been studying I have realised I have got a good overview of the papers as a whole but I am struggling to retain the detailed stuff in my memory to churn it out for the exam.  There came a time in the weekend where I decided if I didn’t know it by then I wasnt going to know enough for the exams and just let it go.

I missed the last week of Uni lectures where they went over exam prep and giving us hints what to study due to the flu and I now have a throat/sinus infection on top of it. I am grateful to my classmates who took really good notes and passed them on to me.  I debated whether to go for compassionate marking on impaired performance but decided to just see how well I did any way.  As I have done fairly well in my assignments (2B+ in Sociology, 2A- in Psychology (which is the next exam upon Thursday 17th with my herceptin treatment straight after) B+ & B for ‘Culture and Diversity’ and A- & another still to be received mark for ‘The Social Work Environment’ )and that because of being in treatment and now being sick my goal for this semester was just to get a pass even if it was only a C – I am trying not to stress too much about the exams. 

MD thought it was amusing that the last ‘C & D” assignment I got back that I said I “only” achieved a ‘B’ for and that I was a bit disappointed as it was my lowest mark so far.  The realisation I have had reading my lecturers comments on that assignment is that I missed out one complete theory of analysing the case study and I have realised with going through my notes for the”C & D” exam because it was the Friday  class after having chemo on Thursdays  I don’t have the depth of understanding I have for the other classes and for certain concepts I was either not there or “away with the fairies” on those days – those concepts I have to study more over the course of this week and hope some of them sink in enough for me to pass the exam. 

It is my last exam next Tuesday 22nd and then I have 1 day to get organised for mine and OH’s Samoa trip on the 24th June.  I am really looking forward to it and I also think it will be good from taking my mind off waiting for the exam results.

 I still think it has been a major achievement just to get through this semester regardless of marks but next semester I hope to get a much better focus on my studies and I will also work on getting my general health and fitness levels back up.

Oh well,  back to the books – time to forget about Marx, Durkheim, Weber and Woolstonecraft and concentrate on Freud, Maslow, Skinner and Rogers et al.

being honest and authentic.

Just Enjoy Him on her blog “blogging is powerful” wrote some word that exactly mirrored what I wanted to say this week to and as she expressed better than I could, I have quoted her here –

My latest favorite quote is this one:

If you ask me what I came to life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.
~ Emile Zola

Blogging is, in a sense, living out loud. Being honest about ourselves — our strengths and flaws — is living out loud. Being open to the ideas of others is, I think, living out loud. Stating who we are, even if it’s only at that moment in time, is living out loud.

Living out loud is sometimes scary, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the only way I know to live an honest, authentic life which is the only way that I know to get some peace in my life.

I find I’m also drawn to people who live out loud, who are honest and authentic and allow themselves to be vulnerable, no matter what others might think of them. I’ve met some of the biggest Live Out Loud people via blogging.

Yes, blogging is powerful. It’s a life — or, part of a life, anyways — lived out loud, the only way I know how to live anymore.

She is another woman who like me has had to face IBC – and there is something about facing one’s own mortality that wakes you up to the fact that you need to live life more authentically.

This blog started as purely a way to let people know what was happening with me and my treatments –  ‘My battle with Gertrude’ but along the way it has become also a way of me being more honest and open about how dealing with ‘Gertrude’ has made me think and feel.

It may surprise some of you to know that at high school I was very quiet, shy and reserved.  I felt very much an outsider – that I didnt fit the mold of all the other girls.  Some people thought I was aloof or a bit stand-offish but in reality it was because I didnt think I fitted in… and I spent a lot of years beating myself up for being ‘different’.  My family tagged me the emotional/temperamental one and so for many years I was very wary about letting my feelings out.  It took a long time for me to realise that by talking about my feelings and acknowledging them instead of bottling them up was the way to live a better life.

Two things happened since I last wrote a post that very much validated this new view of life I have.  One of them is  the very strange coincidence that one of the people I was quoting for one of my University assignments turned out to be one of my first boyfriends -as I explained to him “it was all a bit of innocent fun – procrastinating over doing my assignment and having seen your name in the text book – thinking to myself “wouldn’t it be hilarious if it was the same  person  I knew” – oh just for shits and giggles I’ll type in “____  _____ health social work” and see what happens – oh my god it is the one I know!!”   This guy I “went round” with when I was 14 – it was all very sweet and innocent but I felt like we had had a real connection.  I wouldn’t necessarily say he was my first love but he was someone really special to me, but all of a sudden he didn’t want to hang out with me anymore and I never knew why.  We became friends ‘sort of’ again when we were in our last year of school (when I was 17 – by then I had had other boyfriends and was with what could be termed my first more serious one). Now I hadn’t seen him for approximately 30 years when I made contact with him last week by email.  I had debated whether or not to email him because I would have to explain why I starting to do a Bachelor of Social Work at this stage of my life – i.e “oh by the way my youngest daughters got special needs and I’ve just been dealing with breast cancer” is not something you want to write in an initial email.  Oh and just in case you are wondering OH knows all about this correspondence.  Anyway he wrote back so I bit the bullet and told him why I was doing social work and what had been going on in my life and I admitted that I had thought about not telling him or not emailing him because I knew I would have to tell him – anyway the upshot of the fact that I had been honest with him was that he was honest with me back and said “oh by the way this is what was happening with me in highschool”.  So its a bit weird but I’ve got closure on something that happened over 30 years ago and I have my friend again.  The old me would never have been bold enough to email him but I am so glad I did. Thank you D!

The other thing that happened was that Bro was up visiting this weekend.  We had gone out to dinner with him and his wife, SisM and SisMOH, and niece S and her partner J, OD and her R and over dinner I had a conversation with SisMOH about how sometimes he has read my blog and thought that I have been very honest and authentic and at times he’s thought “hey yeah she’s right about that” and it is stuff people dont tend to say out loud too often.  The honesty theme carried over into today when we went out for a coffee/lunch with Bro and wife R.  We started talking about family and we got onto the subject of how we got on with our father (who died in 2001).  I loved my dad but I didn’t like/respect  him very much and for the first time today I actually said to one of the family how much I resented being labelled the temperamental one etc growing up when Dad had more problems than I did.  Its the first time I have said that out loud to someone other than OH .

Its really is liberating living a more honest, authentic life – I just wish I hadn’t needed Gertrude to come into it to fully realise it.