Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cancer and relationships

No - not mine, before everyone starts to panic - my father's. He's been having real difficulties swallowing again, but (as with his last scare over Christmas) has been declared cancer free in that part of his body.

However, the cancer is still in his body. This past week he showed up at our house with large, deep red patches on his face. They looked like really bad mosquito bites, and since 'tis the season for them here in the southern hemispheres, I thought nothing of it. That was, until he told me they were cancerous.

Apparently, there's this new whiz cream on the market. You apply it to your skin and wait. If the skin turns dark red, it's cancerous. If not, it isn't. He has two patches on his face, one on each cheek. This cream also destroys cancerous (or maybe it's pre-cancerous) cells, which is what causes the colour change. In a few weeks, those cells should be completely dead, and should just flake off, looking like really bad eczema.

At first, it didn't freak me out. I guess the biologist in me was too fascinated by the workings of the cream to register the implications. But yesterday, at lunch with my dad, step-mom and several of the grandchildren, he said something that really brought it home to me.

My dad has cancer. Being in remission doesn't mean you have no cancer. It means that the cancer isn't growing. It's still there, lurking n the depths of your genes somewhere. It can jump out and bite you at any stage. I always thought that when you got to 5 years of being 'cancer free', you were in the clear. But, my dad told me, this is not the case. So he will continue to have check-ups every 6 months to a year, for the rest of his life.

Because, as has been proven by these patches on his skin, the cancer can re-appear at any time. I guess the truth is that he's living on borrowed time. All of which only makes days like yesterday even more special...

... while I was making lunch for all of us, he took the time to sit on the ground and play with the grandchildren, Nellie included. I haven't heard him laugh like that in ages. He adores the kids, but is so busy and is often so tired/ sore that he doesn't really have the time and energy to play with them. This is the reason we came home - so that Nellie has the opportunity to get to know and enjoy her Oupa, and for him to enjoy her, both of which are blessings I never had as 3 of my grandparents died before I knew them.

Following our grief counselling session, I was thinking that, in hindsight, coming home so soon after Zoe's death was the wrong thing to do. We should have remained in the midst of our community, both for them to support us, and so that our grief would be held in context. But after yesterday's lunch I can only say that the sacrifice of having to grieve in isolation is worth it all for moments like that. I got such joy from listening to my dad and the grandkids playing together, and I know they did too.

While we were out playing croquet this afternoon (tell you more about that some other time) one of the other women there commented that Nellie was very independent, and seemed to go off and do her own thing a lot of the time, rather than playing with the other kids. My heart broke when she said that, because what I heard was that Nellie doesn't know how to make friends or play with others. This is yet another reason we have come home.

Where we were, Nellie didn't have many friends. She had the 2 other kids in her childminder group, but that was all, really. She didn't have a ready-made play group of cousins or siblings, and I want that for her. I know what it is to grow up alone. My brothers were out of the house before I was even in high school. My cousins were (on the whole) also so much older than me that I didn't have friends amongst them either. It sucks to be an only child (which is why I've always wanted a brood).

I want her to learn how to be amongst a big group of people and find her feet. I want her to be a confident, outgoing child (and adult) who knows her own worth so well that she has the wherewithal to reach out and befriend others. Instead, I see a shy, insecure child, afraid of big gatherings and strange people - very much like both her parents, if truth be told.

(Despite what people may think, I do actually prefer my own company and solitude to being with people, and I do get incredibly overwhelmed by large groups of people. Meeting new people stresses me out, especially if I have to be the one to make the first move. I think the difference is that I can hide my fears a lot of the time.)

My hope is that by being around her cousins (and there are a lot of them! although less now that 4 of them have emigrated to the UK this past week) she will develop confidence to just be herself, and hold her own. She's already getting better at it, and I know that this exposure will be good for her. While I value the fact that she can entertain herself for a measure of time, I don't want that to be because she's too scared to interact with strangers her own age.

So, all in all, coming home was the right thing to do - even if it's made my grieving a whole lot harder.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I didn't think of that!

We went for grief counselling this afternoon, which was good. It was good to be able to talk about Zoe without worrying about the person we were telling falling apart or not knowing how to respond. I've really missed having that kind of freedom...

But equally important was something our counsellor said, which is something that I just hadn't realised. We're grieving in a vacuum. In London, our friends and community all knew about Zoe in a personal way - they'd seen my bump growing, they'd prayed for her and walked the road with us through all the little problems along the way. They were at her funeral. But here at home, no-one has done any of that. They never saw me pregnant. They never connected with Zoe in any way. So for them, there is no-one and nothing to grieve, not really. So Graeme and I are in a vacuum.

I'd never seen it like that, but she's absolutely right of course. That explains why I've felt a need to clam up and grieve in private rather than in public (although this blog is one public space in which I feel free to grieve). No-one 'out there' can grieve with me, whereas back in London, all our friends were grieving with us to some extent.

Anyway, tonight we're going to do something for us - we've invited friends over for home-made pizza. So I need to get going to make dough...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What does it take?

Some people have self-control, others have none. Some have control in one area of their lives, while others have it in another. Why? Why are some people able to learn this skill and others not?

I have an Internet friend, a guy who's blog I read regularly. He's an alcoholic and schizophrenic. He's desperately trying to get his life together, but his medication for his schizophrenia makes that really difficult to do. He's been attending AA meetings for a few months now, and is mostly on the wagon, but almost every day he talks about how much he's been thinking about going and getting drunk, and some days he does. His marriage has been destroyed by his problems, and the only friends he seems to be able to keep are the homeless drunks and other outcasts in his little town. Yet, he perseveres.

Almost every time he wants a drink, he manages to talk himself out of it. Almost every time he needs a drink, he manages to find a way to stop from taking that step. He has self-discipline to a degree that I could only wish for.

I've been trying to get started on a diet and exercise programme for months now. Having hurt my knee about a fortnight ago, the little bit of walking I was doing has gone out of the window. I keep looking at my Rollerblades and thinking about how much I'd like to get back to learning to use them (especially now that we have a nice, smooth driveway for me to practice on!), but it will have to wait till my knee is better. We don't have money, or I'd join a gym. And our pool is still WAY to cold to swim in - although summer is on the way, it's going to take a week of some seriously hot weather before it heats up sufficiently.

So that leaves me with trying to reduce my calorie intake by cutting out junk - biscuits, sweets, icecream, puddings, cakes, chocolate. But I simply can't. I just don't have the willpower to say 'no'. Even as I'm reaching for the biscuit, I'm telling myself that eating that biscuit is really not a good idea, and then I reply to myself that, frankly, I don't give a hoot. I WANT that biscuit. I MUST HAVE that biscuit. So I eat it, and then for good measure I have to eat a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or sometimes even the entire packet. One is simply not enough.

I know this is a habit I had before we left for the UK, but then my metabolism was high enough that it didn't matter. Since living in cold London, I got the Heathrow jab. Having 2 kids so close together means that I never lost the weight I put on with Janel before I was putting on more weight with Zoe. As a result, I guess I'm easily 10kg overweight now, if not 15kg.

Giving up smoking is not a matter of being convinced that it's the right thing to do, and then stopping. If it were, then giving up would be easy. For me, dieting is the same. I KNOW that it's the right thing to do - to eat healthily and sensibly, to stop gorging on rubbish, to eat more fish and vegetables... but that's not enough for me. I simply don't have the self-discipline.

And not having the stuff in the house is not an option either. I simply eat more at school (because there are usually people around with stuff that they're offering to me) or I binge over the weekends when we visit friends and family.

I feel the same way about my relationship with God. I was emailing some friends the other night with an update on our lives when I realised that I hadn't mentioned God once during the emails. He simply did not get a mention. That's because I don't have the self-discipline to be a faithful follower. It's not that I don't have time, because if it was a priority I would make time (after all, I make time to blog!). And it's not that I don't want to, because in my heart of hearts, I miss God. It's simply that I'm sulking and don't have the self-discipline to pull myself out of it.

When Graeme and I had some counselling a while back (we start another lot of that tomorrow) our counsellor mentioned that being in a downward spiral draws us further down passively, and as long as we sit and do nothing about it, we will continue down the spiral. If we want to get out of it, then we have to be active. When you're depressed you feel tired all the time, so you feel like you have no energy to fight being depressed - no energy to do anything that might make you feel better. As time goes by you feel more depressed because you're not doing anything to help yourself feel better, so you feel even more tired. Etc.

I'm there. In that downward spiral. I'm too tired to do school work in the evenings any more, even though I need to. I'm too tired to prepare my lessons properly anymore during the day (I spend the time fart-assing around instead). I'm too tired to spend quality time with Nellie - I'd rather be sitting in front of the TV or the computer, vegging. I'm too tired to look after the house, but not doing so means I feel overwhelmed by the mess when I look around. I'm too tired to spend time talking to Graeme. I'm too tired to make love. I'm too tired to follow up the business stuff I need to. I'm too tired to spend time with God, or pray. I'm too tired to exercise. I'm too tired to fight my food cravings. I'm too tired to do all the things I know I should. I'm just too tired.

But doing none of those things means I only wind up feeling more overwhelmed, more tired, more useless, more pathetic. So really, I need to have the discipline to get up off my butt and DO something, be proactive.

And I know that some of you will say that this is just the stress of the recent months catching up with me. That may well be true, and I may well need a proper holiday, but I think that's only a small portion of it. I think the majority of the reason behind all this is simply that I'm a lazy slob who lacks the self-discipline to do what's right - for myself, for my family.

And there-in lies the rub. How do I teach myself, at this 'ripe old age', to become more self-disciplined? Can an old dog learn new tricks? And how do I go from just wanting to, or just knowing that it's the right thing to do, to actually having what it takes to start this life change and see it through to completion?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rugby mania

Thank God we won. That's all I can say. Can you imagine this nation if we'd lost? It would be a national disaster and the entire country would be in mourning.

Of course, I'm thrilled that we won, and I'm proudly South African today, but I'm not a fanatic. I can keep perspective. Rugby is just a game, not the b-all and end-all of life. (Thank God for that too!). Still - well done, Bokke! You made me so proud of you!

Another group I'm really proud of are the boys at school who put on a cabaret this past week to raise funds for their matric year. It was fantastic! I can't even begin to describe how brilliant they were. Not only was the stuff they played performed to a standard well beyond what I would expect from school children (as young as 15 in some cases), but they played it without sheet music, and with such passion and obvious enjoyment. I was so proud to be able to say that I teach these incredible boys.

And I'm even more proud of the teacher who organised them, a personal friend of mine. She is an incredible woman and was such an inspiration to them all. How she did it, I don't know. Not a word of complaint from her, although she was obviously stressed by a lot of the details that had to be negotiated and sorted out. What an inspiration she is to me. Paola - you go, girl!

And I'm equally proud of my little girl who went to nursery this week without crying when Daddy left her! What a big girl!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nellie's videos

Just to say that there are new videos of Nellie on her website, for those who don't keep a regular check on that site.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Head, shoulders, knees and toes...

Yet again I've been in the wars. On Friday I slipped and fell, landing on my knee. At first, the pain was so bad and the swelling so massive, I thought I'd cracked my kneecap. However, after several x-rays I was told that it's just ligament damage (just a really bad sprain).

So, several hours of treatment later I'm recovering nicely. I can now walk without pain, but climbing up or down stairs is still painful.

At least this week has been easier at work - the Gd 9's are doing exams; the Gd 8's are doing a unit I taught in the UK, so there's no prep for me as I've got everything I need all ready; the Gd 10's are doing PPT presentations on a section of the work they need to learn (so again, I get to avoid doing any prep!); and the Gd 11's are doing exercises on theory work they've done - but because the whole grade is involved in evening fund raisers this week, there's no homework. Sjoe! It feels weird not taking work home with me, but I'm enjoying it as much as I can because the marking starts soon! And when it does, I will have to disappear for a few weeks. I worked out that I have 10 sets of exams to mark. Oh joy!

Something that keeps me going is my little darling. Tonight she spontaneously came up to me, gave me a hug and said 'Miss you'!!! How cute is that?!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Only in Africa...

So, Graeme's calling Home Affairs in Cape Town, on speaker phone, to find out something regarding Janel's passport (yes, that saga continues!).

Ring ring, ring ring,...

...when an automated voice answers.

"The number you have dialled no longer exists. The new number is not currently available."

Hello? Did I just hear right? Umm... ok, so how do we get hold of you guys? Oh! Wait! I get it now - you're doing such a rubbish job that you've gone into hiding!! Yes, that's it!

Monday, October 08, 2007

How'd they do that? Gotta love Photoshop!

I just love Science!

Ok - here's the biologist in me. One of the RSS feeds I've subscribed to is "EurekAlert!-Biology". Of course, I get about 50 feeds a day, so I don't read them all, but as I was trawling through them this evening (work avoidance behaviour.... I'm supposed to be setting a Gd 10 exam paper...) I found this INCREDIBLE news. I just LOVE it when something we don't understand is proved to be useful/ necessary/ good. That just makes the creationist in me want to shout - 'See, God knew what he was doing! You evolutionists aren't even close to catching up with him!'

So - what is this incredible news? The appendix is not the useless item we thought it was. No, it is, in fact, still a life saver.

The short story is that it is the place where good bacteria live. In fact, we have immune tissue there that specifically protects and nurtures good bacteria (while attacking and killing the bad bacteria). When we get diarrhoea, the good bacteria ride it out in the appendix while the rest of the gut is completely evacuated. Then, when all the fuss is over, they climb out again and repopulate the gut before the bad bacteria can.


So why do we get appendicitis? Because we aren't regularly exposing our bodies to parasites and intestinal germs our immune response over-reacts to the smallest of infections. The appendix swelling is just such an over-reaction. Unfortunately, a swollen appendix causes massive problems for us. In other words - our life style is killing us.

So maybe we should all let our dogs and cats lick us in the mouth a bit more, and not deworm them quite so often...

maybe we should undercook our meat a bit more and eat chicken that's a little raw...

maybe we should eat cooked rice a few days after cooking...

maybe we should eat more raw fish....

maybe we should eat food dropped on the floor after the 3 second rule has expired...

But that's beside the point. I just LOVE science! And I just love how incredible our bodies are - how incredible creation is. I know that some people will look at this say that we evolved that way to cope with all the parasites we faced in eons past. Believe what you will, it doesn't detract from the fact that our appendix is just the most incredible little organ. And here we all thought it was useless and pointless. More fool, we!

Wise advice

by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


The light at the end of the tunnel is a rubbish analogy when it comes to grief. A much better one would be a storm....

I'm sitting in my classroom, marking tests, with some music playing, when I suddenly realise that I'm singing out loud.

Enthusiastically. Loudly.

And it's a worship song.

Then it hits me - I'm no longer angry with God.

How did this happen, and when? I don't know. But it strikes me that I feel like I'm in a Cape winter storm. Above me a small gap has appeared in the clouds. I can see blue (grey) skies above me. The wind is still howling; the rain is still falling; but for a moment I can feel the warmth of the sun. I know that this may only be a brief respite from the anger of grief, but I'm going to revel in it while it lasts, remembering that 'summer' is just around the corner.

In the words of Geoffrey Rush's character in 'Shakespeare in Love': "It all ends happily. How? I don't know. It's a mystery."