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

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

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