In January 2015, following a routine check by my vigilant GP, I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

As a Brit living in Sydney, Australia since 2008, I realised over the following days just how many of my friends and family were scattered across the globe and different timezones.

The Fellowship of the Ringlets was originally just a tremendous pun and the title of a closed Facebook group I created to keep those distant friends and family in the loop and worry-free.

But over 12 months, my little group somehow grew from 80 to 800+ and became a veritable band of brothers, a support team like no other and a true Fellowship in every sense of the word.

Their love, laughter and rallying cries have been the greatest tonic a little ringlet'd cancer-face like me could have wished for.

The following letters, musings, incoherent ramblings and occasional bouts of bad language are for them all.

Welcome to the Fellowship of the Ringlets.

VC x

Friday 27 February 2015


Thirsty work, this egg-harvesting...

Dear Fellowship, 

So after 14 days, 29 self-administered injections (apart from the one my friend Matt did out of curiosity - an experiment never to be repeated, I might add), 3 hormonally-charged meltdowns (that I recall) and 1 undeservedly grumpy Whatsapp conversation with one of my favourite people, the (Egg) Harvest Festival took place yesterday. And not before time frankly as I suspect several of The Fellowship were beginning to doubt the wisdom of their lifetime membership...

As a result of my chemo treatment starting on the 10th March , I only have time for one crack (egg pun alert) at this egg freezing malarkey so I have been pretty obsessive about the whole 'inject at 10.15pm' in an attempt to rally my snoozing Connerty troops into immediate action. I imagine my eggs to be a fairly chaotic and disorganised bunch, all knocking about looking confused in the wrong uniforms, some only wearing one sock and others missing a shoe etc. Hence I was keen to literally inject some order into proceedings and whip them into shape with my twice daily needle bootcamps.

On Weds, the IVF nurse declared I had 8 SAS-type follicles ready to go and 2 slightly weedier ones that probably weren't quite as keen to leave the safety of the ovarian barracks. Predictably, I felt bad for the weedy ones and hoped they'd down some protein shakes and pack on the pounds before being booted out on Extraction Day, bless them.

Awkwardly, after that appointment, I then had to actually google 'is a follicle an egg?' - turns out they are not. Does everyone know this but me? Then I absent-mindedly wandered onto some chat forums where there was a real-life 23 year old whingeing (showing off) about her 40 follicles only producing 20 eggs or something, no doubt depressing all the other poor women around her. 40 follicles?! 20 eggs? That's a battery hen! Shouldn't she be out enjoying her twenties instead of worrying about her eggs? With 40 follicles, she must have been staggering around town on all fours like a human gerbil weighed down by the sheer magnitude of her over-performing ovaries. Ugh.

Ignored her and took my 'quality over quantity' Ocean's 10 in for extraction yesterday and hoped that 14 days of bootcamp would be enough. Limpy caused a few problems for the sweating anaesthetist - all I did was ask him to promise me I would wake up from this operation with my left arm intact as I couldn't afford to lose another one. That seemed to stress him out slightly, he made a couple more visits back to my cubicle beforehand, asked some more questions, stared at Limpy in growing horror and shuffled off again.

30 mins later, I woke up with the number 10 written on my hand, which basically meant all my follicles had delivered and 10 little Connerty eggs had made it through - I had a little proud VC moment with my recovery tea and biscuits. Then I just had to wait for a few hours to hear from the scientists to learn how many, if any, were good enough to freeze. Love a waiting game, me.

The call came in about 3 hours later when I was busy making my daily nuisance call to Bupa, running verbal rings round their weary staff and no doubt being recorded yet again for training purposes. Good news - 8 of my 10 eggs were considered mature enough and are now currently residing in a 5 star freezer in North Sydney. Go, mature eggs!

So the ancestral line maintenance and egg-freezing part of this cancery tale are now done and dusted and it's another win for VC and the Fellowship. I did shed a few happy tears and neck a celebratory green juice when they confirmed they'd frozen 8 ringlet'd eggs yesterday - must have been some leftover hormones I reckon because I am hard as nails, they are just eggs and this is just a process, as we all know...

Finally, thank you all as ever for your ongoing support, messages, late-night calls, lifts and good humour in the face of some stiff challenges this last fortnight - apologies to those who have been forced to nod politely whilst desperately seeking an escape route as I discuss my ovaries, egg count and possible infertility in great detail with them at the bus stop. Rest assured that I have no idea who this new VC is either but apparently she likes to chat...

Till next week, my friends,

VC / Octo-Mum x

p.s amazing what you find in Google images under 'frozen eggs'. Wowsers, Disney.

Tuesday 17 February 2015


Pick me!! 
Dear Fellowship, 

So this week's post from the rabbit hole is brought to you by Vicki 'Cry Me An Hormonally Induced River' Connerty...
Popped into IVF Australia last Thursday to see Dr Kwik (real name, I promise) - not a sentence I thought I'd be writing 7 weeks into 2015 - and astonishingly learnt more about my own reproductive system in 20 minutes than I ever picked up during all my years in Biology class at school. This does finally perhaps substantiate Mum's long-held belief that a Biology qualification would have been slightly more useful in the real world than the Latin GCSE I plumped for instead. Still, I knew 'ovum' meant 'egg' so maybe those painful hours studying an ancient long-dead language weren't all for nothing.

Dr Kwik and I decided fairly swiftly to go for egg-freezing over embryo-freezing - turns out despite some genuinely excellent (eggcellent?) and appealing offers of sperm via the Fellowship, the process of getting said donors to relinquish paternal rights, agree to be on birth certificate, me to promise never to set the Child Support Agency on them or leave child on their doorstep in the snow when it all got too much etc would have been way too hard and, bearing in mind I have only 3 weeks till treatment starts, far too time-consuming. So a lucky escape for those willing donor boys or a chance missed? We will never know...

So less than 12 hours post-appointment and my new Dr Kwik was living up to her name. My fridge had the obligatory kale, coconut water, and chocolate fingers (don't judge me, a girl needs treats) nestled happily alongside a multitude of hormone drugs and syringes. Meanwhile I was about to inject myself IN THE STOMACH (gaaaaaaaah!) in front of I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Understandably, my cat Bob took immediate refuge under the sofa, faced with the horrifyingly middle-class version of Trainspotting being played out in his living room. Welcome to the rabbit hole. Pull up a chair and get comfy. We might be here a while.

Met Dave on Friday for a post-op check up. I was all tearful and pathetic because I was ten minutes late, couldn't find my shades and had got out of the lift at the wrong floor at the hospital. All entirely normal hysterical tantrum-inducing stuff, NOT because I was suffering from any injection-related side effects obviously. I laugh in the face of side effects. Clearly sensing the oestrogen overload in the room, he took one look at my grumpy face and said 'Ah, you've started the hormone injections...'. Sometimes it's really no fun having a smug boob surgeon.

Managed to get the sporadic waaaaah moments under control in time for the delightful wedding of my friends Keeley and Lawrence at the weekend. First wedding I've been to with a) cancer chat, b) my arm in a sling c) a syringe in my bag. So lots of Connerty firsts. I decided to go to the ceremony with the sling off ( it was ruining my outfit) but then had about a dozen people trying to introduce themselves to me with a handshake which got awkward - Limpy ignored them of course, they looked confused and I didn't feel I could just swing him at them and hope for the best so my left hand took over the pleasantries for a while before the sling got re-introduced to act as a silent handshake warning. Exhausting.

Then I skidded into the reception (thankfully back at the house) in order to refrigerate my hormone-laden syringe, found the kitchen and scared the bejesus out of the poor caterers who unsurprisingly stepped quickly aside when confronted with a wild-haired, wild-eyed mentalist in a sling waving a syringe about at a wedding. A beautiful day for a beautiful couple though and one I won't forget, and not just because I was sober - a wedding ain't a real wedding till you've shot up hormones at 10pm in the bridal ensuite listening to Come On Eileen.

Keeley & Lawrence get wed!

Robbo & I with the blushing bride
It's been a fairly bonkers few days with more to come but I have a newfound respect and admiration for all the gorgeous girls I know who've either done IVF or are still doing it. You are all tremendously hardcore. Equally, lots of man points to your respective boys for weathering the storm. Because apparently there can be a few stormy moments. Not that I'd know of course. Because I am completely level-headed and immune to any stormy, emotional, batshit crazy side effects. But a special thanks this week goes to my Gemini twin /new mum Charl for spending 2 precious hours of her sleep-deprived Sunday talking sense into my possibly overloaded, over-tired and hormone-addled brain - I'm lucky to have you, despite the fact you once locked me in a cupboard at school and wouldn't let me out until I sang the 'Annie' musical classic, 'The Sun Come Out Tomorrow'. Consider this payback, my friend.

VC x

P.S Limpy drew on that egg. Check out those skills.

Tuesday 10 February 2015


Beautiful Queenstown

Dear Fellowship, 

That awkward moment when your oncologist writes 'heart failure' under 'leukaemia' on the paper headed 'Side Effects' and you realise on a rainy day in Sydney that shit is finally getting real....

After 4 blissful, beautiful and restful days in Queenstown, NZ with my kindred spirit, pep-talker-in-chief and the Puzzle World-loving Trouty, I returned to Sydney feeling perfectly prepped for T-Day and bizarrely almost looking forward to finishing the final part of this cancery jigsaw.

Over the last few weeks, I've been submerged by a deluge of info about treatment for my cancer : facts and stats, cold caps chat, juicing and nutrition advice, wig library madness, infertility and early menopause, chemo side effects from the inevitable to the downright weird. I've got more brochures about support networks than I can ever possibly read in one lifetime and I'm ashamed to say that I am now deliberately avoiding TMI (too much info) Debbie's calls, for fear she will overload and explode my already-saturated brain.

The reality is, and I say this without being at all ungrateful for all the amazing advice I've been given, what has become crystal clear to me over the last few weeks is that there is simply no one rule of thumb when it comes to cancer. What works treatment-wise for someone may not work so well for someone else, what one person can withstand might be too much for someone else. So in the best of ways, it's every man for himself on T-Day.

Heading into the eye of the storm yesterday, I was quietly bricking it thanks to my fervent imagination, but when I was in NZ and discussing my Connerty-esque worst fears with zero 'woe is me' tolerance Greig, we both agreed that it's got to be all about the end goal and nothing else is really important. Ditch that 'it's about the journey, not the destination' nonsense we're all told - when it comes to cancer, the opposite is true. Keeping your eyes on the prize is what stops you going properly bonkers.

As it turned out there was nothing really unexpected about yesterday. Dr Dear was great and did a tremendous job of educating me without confusing me and reassuring me without patronising me. As I already knew, they are going to smash me with chemo and radio because of Lymphy's promiscuous nodal nature but also because my breast cancer is still considered early BC and their end goal, like mine, is to ensure it never pays me another visit.

So we're looking at 6 x 3 week chemo cycles, 3 cycles on one drug and the last 3 on another. The second can affect the nerves which Limpy will be delighted about - just as he finally gets his arse back to work, the lazy limb will get to potentially take more unpaid leave - it was twitching with excitement at the very thought.

Radiotherapy will then follow daily for 5 weeks and then finally hormone therapy - a pill a day for 5-10years which is a worry as most days I can't remember to feed my cat, let alone pop a pill. My cancer (like most BC's) apparently loves a bit of oestrogen so we need to go cold turkey on its female hormone-loving ass.

Inevitable loss of ringlets was briefly addressed - Dr Dear looked up, said "yeah, the hair is always gone by Day 16 after the first treatment. Weird!", shook her head and then carried on writing. Meanwhile I swear I felt my curly follicles recede into themselves in horror. I've decided not to bother with cold caps - have heard some ok results but I'm not convinced it's worth the effort, don't fancy the ice cream head and migraines that much plus they prolong the time I'm sat with a chemo drip in my arm. Frankly, I think my bouff deserves to take a leave of absence on its own magnificent terms rather than leave me looking like a poor man's Rab C Nesbitt. Not sure exactly how or when I'll release it into the wild, but that day is coming and it will be one to remember!

But immediate next steps before we kick off is to ensure that the Connerty ancestral line can continue if need be, something that has provided another new area of contemplation for me over the last few weeks. There's a 50/50 chance that this hardcore chemo will bring with it the joys of infertility and so there has been much chat of egg freezing since the beginning. Always one to keep my options open, I've been keen to do this and have an appointment in with the folk at IVF Australia on Thursday. Talked briefly to Dr Dear about it and at that point inevitably, things took on a surreal turn.

Dr: "Have you got a partner?"
Me: "Nope. So no awkward convos to be had there!" 
Dr: "Ah. The thing is, egg freezing can be a lot less successful than embryo freezing...."
Me: "Hmmm. Okaaaaay. So just to be clear, basically on top of everything else, I need to now ideally find a sperm donor. In the next couple of weeks. Can you just give me a random 6"2' Dane with good bone structure and a medical degree?"

Thus ensued a conversation that probably hasn't happened in her office before whereby my friend Cath, Dr Dear, a student nurse and I discussed the challenges of inviting a first date to pop in at the sperm bank pre-dinner. Dr Dear warmed to her theme and even suggested North Bondi as a potential hunting /breeding ground as "they're all so good-looking over there". I've had a few tempting offers already of course - who wouldn't want to produce a mini-Mick Hucknall for goodness sake? The man has the voice of an angel! - but I think I'll leave the babydaddy decision till I've had a chat on Thursday. Thanks though, lads.

So once the egg hunt is complete, we can crack on with treatment which should start around 9th March (Happy Birthday, Mum!) for the next 23 weeks. Wowsers. Yesterday was a fairly full-on day as I knew it would be and I had a few waaaaaah! moments on my own, looking at what is now very much looming on the horizon. Luckily, I spoke to a few wise old Fellowship owls and today I'm back in the game, with my eyes very much on the mid-August prize.

Thank you all for your kind messages of support as ever and for asking about yesterday's outcome. I am very aware, having been on the other side of this cancer malarkey, that it's hard to know whether to ask or whether not to but I'm finding that the answer is invariably the former so apologies if I haven't yet replied to you!

Special thanks to the awesome Cath Walters for wing-womaning me yesterday and also to my delightful travelling hobo Greig Trout for your pre-match words of wisdom in NZ and for continuing to portray me in your sensational 101 blogs as someone who maintains Zen-like calm, poise and positivity in the face of a smashed phone screen. Which, as we all know, couldn't be further from the truth...

VC x

Wednesday 4 February 2015


Cancer arse-kickers reunited!

Our view from our perfect Bannockburn hideaway

Dear Fellowship, 

Kia Ora from New Zealand on World Cancer Day, my friends!

So, rather than mooch about the flat and Surry Hills for another week as the clock ticks down to T-Day on Monday and all the madness that will doubtless follow, I have taken myself off for a few days of R&R to see one of my favourite people in one of my favourite places.

I landed in beautiful Queenstown today and am soaking up some mountain air, mirrored lakes and apparently Puzzle World (not my idea - I am not 12) for the next few days with the Mr Miyagi to my Karate Kid and the veritable High Priest of Cancer Arse Kicking, Mr Greig '101' Trout, founder of www.whenyousurvive.com 

Our main aim over the next few days is to do as little as possible which is working out better for me than Greig so far - unfortunately the chopping of veg, making of tea, cooking of dinner and washing up of plates are duties that can only really be done safely and properly with two functioning arms. Who knew?

A rare shot of GT at the stove
The journey here was inevitably not without its challenges - my physio advised me to get myself a delightful flesh-coloured compression sleeve for the trip, just to add to the already woeful appearance of my right limb. Due to the lymph node removal, I am now at risk (as is everyone who loses nodes) of lymphodema which is basically when your arm swells up to ludicrous Popeye-esque proportions. Unbelievable really that a month ago my right arm was my pride and joy, lifting weights and hailing cabs like a boss and now I have to carry it onto planes looking like a ventriloquist's low-budget sock puppet.

Prior to boarding, I'd had to ask some hapless Qantas employee in the lounge to help me actually get the sleeve on over Limpy - let's just say it would have taken less time and effort to blow up 6 balloons, craft a sausage dog out of them before attempting to poke said work of balloon art through a tiny keyhole. Thank god for my Platinum Frequent Flyer status that forced staff to go beyond the call of duty or I suspect I'd still be grappling with my own arm in the departure lounge, 12 hours on...

Update on Limpy - had EMG / nerve test / electrocution thing yesterday. I was joking on Saturday when I referred to it as electrocution - turns out the joke was on me. I was essentially electrocuted for 40 mins, the initial harmless electrodes were replaced by massive electric-shocking needles jabbed into my arm muscles. If I'd had any secrets that my neurologist would have been interested in, I'd have given them up in a heartbeat.

The good news is that the EMG showed that the nerves are all still intact (though some of them are clearly as weak as kittens) so I won't have to deal with what sounded like truly hideous surgery involving nerve grafts, bionic arms (probably) etc - phew. Less good news is that he reckons it'll be a good 3 months till Limpy is rehabilitated and ready to re-enter society. But I'll take this as the win.

Til then, prepare to find me rocking the sling, tying my bikini with my teeth and swimming in one-armed circles like a goddamn pro.

Over and out from NZ,

VC x

Mountain ranges, rivers and vineyards. What's not to love?

Last night with this goon x