WHAT IS THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGLETS?


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, 31 March 2015

* CHEMO 2 DONE AND DUSTED!


Dear Fellowship, 

Chemo #2 done and dusted and now officially one-third of the way through! 
Am slightly concerned that my 'round 2 done' hand gesture actually makes me look a bit like a touristy weirdo getting a pic taken of herself making a victory sign outside a cancer centre. Just going to add that to the growing list of inappropriate cancer things I say or do over the next few months and move casually on...
Thanks to you all for your sensationally positive feedback on Wiggy Pop / Wiggy Azalea / Wiggy Smalls (amazing what 3 bored minds can come up with during chemo) - you will never truly know how much easier you all make it every day to keep riding this cancery wave with a smile...
Special thanks today to my two ports in a storm and boys on the ground Jez Clark and Matt Furlong for coming along, holding my metaphorical and literal hand and keeping me fed, watered and entertained. As ever, you both absolutely rock this weird little world of mine. 
I'm feeling pretty good right now but if you need me over the next few days, I'll be largely taking it easy in my tremendous loungewear and devouring back to back eps of House of Cards. See you on the flip side!

Love,
VCx


Post-chemo celebratory Gelato Messina, anyone?


Monday, 30 March 2015

* BYE TO THE BOUFF & A BIG HELLO TO WIGGY


Dear Fellowship,

In the (paraphrased) words of Billy Ocean, when the going gets tough, the tough grab a wig, stick on a massive pair of shades and go shoe shopping…


So the Bouff had been smugly defying medical statistics, laughing in the face of 'begone by Day 16' and hanging on for dear life, possibly spurred on by the prospect of an hour with its ginger hero, Ed Sheeran, on Friday afternoon. 
There may or may not have been a murmured conversation at some point chez Victoire that went along the lines of 'if you don't hang on till Friday, then the wig gets to see Ed - up to you..." but I can't be sure. Emotionally blackmailing one's own hair with the promise of Ed Sheeran would be sinking to new depths even for me. 
But continue to hang on it did and celebrated Hug-a-Ginger Day with me, Sheeran and my good pals and ex-radio colleagues at 2Day FM on Friday. Special thanks to the delightful Sophie Cook for pulling some powerful strings and making a little ginger's day. Ed's, not mine obviously - I'm strawberry blonde. Just a shame we didn't manage to do the meet and greet but sure he'll get over the disappointment eventually, bless him…



Saturday morning and it was clear from Bob chasing random strawberry-blonde hairballs round the bedroom, that the Bouff was finally ready to take a long-overdue leave of absence. Concerned that one gust of wind would have a dandelion-esque effect, I sent up an emergency flare to the man-slaves. We had already established some weeks ago that their inexperienced (and frankly unwilling) hands would not be allowed within ten paces of my head with a pair of clippers so instead we set off in search of a responsible adult and a hair salon. 
Having encountered a dead-eyed teenage receptionist in the nearest barbers who strangely didn't react as quickly I would have liked when faced with 3 latte-waving nutters at 9am shouting 'chemo', 'hair loss' and 'clippers NOW!' at her, we instead headed straight for my regular hairdresser Roger who had previously offered to do it after hours at his salon when the time came. Roger took one look at me and said 'Come back at 5. If I'm going to give you the shortest haircut you'll ever have, let's wait till everyone's gone". Gulp. 
So after a lovely day wafting about and avoiding the sea breeze with my favourite boys in Bondi, we headed back to Rog to give the bouff a final farewell. It felt weirdly karmic getting a bloke called Roger to send the bouff off to the big hair salon in the sky - for those who don't know, my curly-haired Dad was also called Roger and whilst he, like Matt and Jez, may have also been slightly intimidated by the massive scissor-wielding guns, I think that he would have been proud to hear his namesake mutter 'the curl is strong' like a beefed-up Obi-Wan Kenobi as he snipped away...
So in short (no pun intended), it's Day 21 and Le Bouff is no more. Please welcome Wiggy to the Fellowship. 
I was supposed to do an all-day meditation course on Sunday but after 30 minutes of attempting to stick various hats and scarves on my bonce with one arm and zero success, I texted my friend Nikki and whinged that I was currently treading a fine sartorial line with the headwear and was either looking like Captain Jack Sparrow or Toad of Toad Hall disguised as a washerwoman.
"What would bloody Kylie do?" I asked.
"She'd ditch the meditation, wig up, put some hotpants on and go shoe shopping" came the helpful reply. 
So Wiggy finally got her swishy, straight-haired debut. The hotpants, I hasten to add, did not. My meditation course was missed but shoe shopping with a pal in a brand new swishy wig and massive shades should be up there as one of the best forms of relaxation there is. 
On a semi-serious note, I'm aware the hair loss thing is one of the most confronting elements of this cancery journey for us chicks, and this has been no different for me, as I'm sure all of you have gathered from the multiple posts dedicated to it. Having gone from an Aslan-esque ringlety mane to bugger all bouff in 12 weeks is somewhat surreal and was the one thing I genuinely could not get my head around back in January. Hence my constant badgering of poor Dr Dave and Dr Dear 'But are you sure? Really? Like properly ALL go? But what if I've got a weird-shaped head? Waaaah!' 
Now the day is here however, it's actually ok. I've been waiting to have the waaaaah moment since Saturday but so far it hasn't come and I'm not sure why.
Maybe it's because I'm a drama queen at heart and the idea of wafting about incognito in a straight haired wig for a few months appeals to the show-off / master of disguise in me. Maybe it's because I'm enjoying finally buying hats that would never previously fit over the bouff. Maybe it's because a few people have confessed they prefer the wig to the ringlets. Or maybe it's because it's finally dawned on me that in the grand scheme of things, it's just hair, it will grow back and I have a few other things to concentrate on over the coming months. 
So I've decided after much thought (and probably to everyone's relief) that there won't be a 'VC goes bald' shot. Despite the hair-related name of this group, I'm not devastated by the loss of my hair and my posts are categorically NOT about repeating and reinforcing the sometimes gloomy side effects of cancer treatment that we all already know about and that largely tend to scare the living bejesus out of us. 
Personally, I don't think that dwelling on the downsides and details is massively helpful, either to me now or to anyone else facing treatment in the future. This hair loss is part of the cure, it means chemo is working and as a result should be embraced, not feared. It's just another step on the road to good health and full recovery so with that in mind, it will get no more special attention from me than any of the other side effects. 
However, there will of course be a fabulous wig-alicious selfie because it's important that my family and my friends (that's you lot) know that I'm ok and not crying salty tears under my duvet or burying my face nostalgically in the Bag of Bouff (where my ringlets now live).
Checkpoint reached. Checkpoint passed. All is well. 
Tomorrow is Chemo #2. One-third of the way through. Bring it on.

Love,
VC x

P.S Meanwhile, here's little Ed playing my current favourite tune, (the appropriately-titled for a chemo patient), 'Bloodstream' like a guitar-thumping ginger ledge...(this apparently won't work if you're outside Oz, everyone therefore move to Sydney immediately!) 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

* ONE-ARMED BOXING IN BONDI

Dear Fellowship,

This is Rich. Rich used to play village cricket with my dad and brother when he was younger. Now he's moved to Sydney and is a personal trainer in beautiful Bondi. 

Rich doesn't know me that well but contacted me last week anyway to see if I fancied a free weekly training session with him to keep me moving. Don't know where he got the completely accurate idea that I'd become a human sloth? I challenged him to come up with a training plan for a reluctant, one-armed bandit and in response he quite rightly pointed out I still had 3 working limbs and that we could easily work around Limpy. Damn.
So today I went to Bondi and started boxing again for the first time in months with one arm in a sling, one in a glove and it was a proper comedy sight to behold. But it was ace. Thanks so much Rich and sorry for roundhouse-kicking you in an overly aggressive way.
One important thing I have learnt over the last 11 weeks and continue to witness every day in some shape or form is how bloody lovely and generous people are, regardless of how well they know me or how long I've known them. As my friend Matt succinctly put it last night "People are just really good, aren't they? It's just good to see." And he's absolutely right.
And even though I know it sounds a bit mad to be grateful in any way to the dark overlord that is cancer, today I'm grateful that it's reminded me how lucky I am to have those good people in my life. Bonkers. I'm off for a juice and a lie-down...
Love from Bondi Beach,
VC x

P.s the Bouff is still refusing to bugger off. It's getting awkward...


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

* THE BOUFF HANGS ON FOR DEAR LIFE!

Dear Fellowship, 

Well, by some follicular miracle, the Bouff has made it to fateful Day 16, the day by which I was told my hair would all be gone. 

Its days are numbered for sure but I'm quite proud of it for neither leaving quietly nor when told. 

Mum just said "who does that remind me of?". Can't imagine...

Love,
VC x



Thursday, 19 March 2015

* THE HAIR AND THE TORTOISE


Dear Fellowship,

So forget the insouciance with which I cast aside the beloved ringlets a fortnight ago and embraced the new 'trendy geography teacher-esque' cheeky crop, this week we are officially on Hair Watch. 
My oncologist said it would all be gone by day 16 post 1st treatment. It is now Day 9 of the Great Hair Stakeout of 2015 and to be honest, I reckon so far I've pulled out more myself than has actually fallen out of its own accord. 
This is currently my daily routine:
Wake up. Sit bolt upright fearfully. Check hair. Still there. Phew. 
Check pillow. What is THAT?!!!!! Bloody cat hair. Mental note to throw Bob and his abundance of cat hair off balcony later. 
Shower. Check hair. Still there. Phew. 
Pat hair dry like am petting tiny delicate mouse. Check hair. Still there. Phew. 
Go outside. Bit of a breeze. Yikes. Retreat back inside. Check hair. Still there. Phew. 
Bit tired from hair-checking. Have rest. Try to levitate head over pillow. Fail. Wake up. Sit bolt upright fearfully. Check hair. Still there. Phew. 
Get Jez to come round and check hair for bald patches and give second opinion. Still there. Phew. 
And so on. It's exhausting. 
Despite the above hysteria, I'm actually pretty ok with it going - hoping I'll look more Natalie Portman than Voldemort obviously - but the waiting game is beyond tedious. The old wiggage is waiting patiently for an outing and I bought a load of headscarves and hats in readiness the other day. That said, I tried one of the hats on and the response from my supportive man-slaves was 'yeeeeeees, ok, hmmm, wowsers, let's see the scarves then?'. Not the reaction I was quite hoping for...
The scarves themselves however are actually a nightmare from a Limpy perspective - if I thought tying a bikini with one arm was a challenge then I seriously hadn't thought through the logistics of wrapping and tying a scarf around my bonce with one limb. Let's just say, there are some advantages to living alone - witnessing me simultaneously grappling with Limpy and a metre-long headscarf is something no one else ever need see in their lifetime. No wonder Bob is moulting furiously and hiding under the sofa in tears.
So hair-stalking aside, it's been a fairly incident-free week post-chemo #1. Luckily, I seem to have escaped Round 1 relatively unscathed with no major side effects so far - yes, I'm sure they're coming - and now I have another 2 weeks to wait until round 2. 
I've struggled a bit this week with lethargy and extreme levels of 'can't be bothered' apathy - I was alerted to these by the enormous amount of cash I spent on 'loungewear' in Peter Alexander the other day. I need to keep a bit of a eye on this over the coming months, I think although the upside is that I am SMASHING through the box sets like there's no tomorrow! I suspect that the transition from moving at breakneck speed through life and seemingly never having enough downtime to slowing down to a tortoise pace overnight with more time on my hands than I know what to do with is going to present a fairly significant personal challenge.
That said, it's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just the new normal for 2015 and now treatment is finally underway and I'm not running about quite so much to appointments, harvesting eggs, getting ringlets lopped off etc, I can hopefully establish some decent routines to get me to each checkpoint along the way. So if I haven't replied to your messages or have been fairly monosyllabic this week, then don't be offended - I am either checking my hair for bald patches or immersed in another ep of Scandal. What would Olivia Pope do?! I'm guessing she probably wouldn't make herself a Cup-a-Soup and shuffle about in her new loungewear for hours….
Thanks as always for still checking in, both in person and via t'interweb - it's bonkers how, every single time I've been a bit waaaaaah this week, my phone has pinged to life with a message from one of you, largely nagging me to eat/ get dressed / get outside / stop watching Scandal. It's like you KNOW….
Special mention finally to my 7 year old niece Molly who has discovered the joys of Skype and likes to send me random messages that I don't usually see for days. This morning I found another one. Best poem ever attached. Gulp. Sob.

Love,
VC x



Friday, 13 March 2015

* IAN WRIGHT JOINS THE FELLOWSHIP!

Dear Fellowship, 

Woke up early this morning to this comedy video from ex-Gooner Ian Wright sent to me all the way from London Town by my good pal and northern monkey extraordinaire, Mr Matthew Wilson, co-founder of the magnificent Ball Street Youtube channel. 

Despite my being a Scouser by birth with full Anfield allegiance, this message from the legendary ex-Arsenal man made me laugh out at 6am - no mean feat in the Connerty household!

My favourite line? "Am I being presumptuous?". Yes, Wrighty, yes you are but top marks anyway.

Ringlet in the post to that man!

Cheers to Wrighty and Willo for taking time out of their busy Ball Street schedules to record this is a draughty corridor - both legends! 

Love,
VCx









Thursday, 12 March 2015

* POST-CHEMO - ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES


Sydney sunrise from the balcony


Dear Fellowship, 

Morning all, just a quick update from the Connerty boudoir - what a treat! Just to reassure you that all is well on day 3 post-chemo.
No dramas to report and thanks to the always-one-step-ahead Cathy Walters , my flat has more pharmaceutical paraphernalia contained within it than a scene from Breaking Bad, so i'm fully locked and loaded, should there be any unexpected mishaps. In fact, if you feel a mishap of your own coming on, then pop over - I'll have you cleaned up in seconds!
Luckily the anti-nausea drugs are working a treat and I'm feeling pretty good so far. Following my friend Fishy's advice and eating little but often which seems to be working - an empty stomach is not a chemo patient's friend apparently! Bit knackered, but it's been a fairly full-on couple of months so i'm not even sure if this is chemo-related or just the luxury of having no appointments this week to dart to and from on a daily basis! Am sure this will ebb and flow over the next few months - chemo is irritatingly cumulative - but for now, I feel good so I'll take that as a win!

In other news, www.fellowshipoftheringlets.com is now live on t'interweb! Yikes! My gorgeous friend and queen blogger extraordinaire, Nicola Daniel has been a total legend in helping me to get all my Facebook group posts contained in one easy-to-read place so MASSIVE thanks to her, largely as my only contribution to the process has been to confirm the name of the URL I wanted, which wasn't really that challenging...

Thanks for all your good wishes and messages this week, they've all been outstanding in their encouragement and set me up beautifully for the Chemo chair. Special on-the-ground praise though goes to Matt, Jez, Vix and Cath for being such an awesome foursome and Team Cheem #1. 

Legends, one and all.

Love,
VCx

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

* CHEMO 1 - ONE DOWN, 5 TO GO..

One chemo sesh down!

Dear Fellowship 

I am please to announce that Chemo No.1 is done and dusted!

Despite a minor league drama (of course there was going to be one) when Lefty failed to produce any decent veins, resulting in two canulas in my hand for the price of one (ouch) , all went as well as an inaugural chemo day could go. The Kinghorn Centre is as lovely as a chemo centre can be, the nurses are ace and excellent Fellowship support provided today by my trusty twosome, Victoire and Old Furls.
Not feeling too ropey this evening, Vix and Jez Clark slaving over a hot stove for me as we speak and overall, just very happy to now be a sixth of the way in!

Team Cheem #1

Willing my veins to come to the chemo party

Thanks for all your support as always from far and wide. Your words and messages properly bring a tear to my cynical eye. But then, watery eyes are a side effect apparently so could just be that.. 

Love,
VC x

Monday, 9 March 2015

* TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHEMO

Juice. Tick. Phone. Tick. Matching bag and T-shirt. Dick. 


Writing room with a view

Dear Fellowship, 

So after 8 crazy weeks, a bout of boob surgery, one dead arm, some egg harvesting and the snipping of ringlets, I'm now ready for tomorrow's big Chemo Day #1.

In a weird way, I'm glad this day is finally here. Over the last 8 weeks, it feels like I've heard nothing but chemo chat from a gazillion different sources - most of it has been fairly terrifying and hearing about all the potential side effects from puking to hair loss to chemo brain to fingernails falling off would strike fear into the hardiest of souls.

But oddly, I'm not actually scared of tomorrow despite all the horror stories, I'm keen to crack on with this next phase and it's not just because I have the finest of cancer survivor mentors setting me the very best of examples. To me, it's very simple but I'll spell it out.

In short, chemo is there to cure me and ensure that those cancery little cells never return to mess with me again. Chemo is going to make me feel really quite average at times without a doubt. It will make me sick, make me tired, piss me off more than an 8am client meeting and probably make me look like Voldemort and Dr Evil's illegitimate child for a while. It will hammer my immune system, compromise my fertility and make me as weak as a kitten when all my life I have been as strong as an ox.

But here's the point. Chemo's job is to kill my cancer so it can frankly do whatever it needs to do to make that happen. If I feel shit, then it's guaranteed that cancer probably feels shitter. And we should all be ok with that. Even if we're not ok with the increased levels of bad language hitting this page from me...

Please rest assured I am not in denial about this treatment plan, I am not relentlessly and irritatingly cheerful (as my nearest and dearest will willingly testify) but I will also not be cowering in fear of either cancer or chemo.

I'm outrageously lucky to have the greatest of people around me, both near and far, and as I venture into the unknown tomorrow, I'm yet again grateful I chose my team and my Fellowship wisely.

Seeya on the flipside of CD#1 kids and finally, Happy Birthday to my beautiful mum, the toughest bird and greatest example-setter of them all...

Meanwhile, here's a quote I like.

"When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly." (Patrick Overton, The Leaning Tree).

Love,
VC x

P.S I'm not getting enough credit for typing all these posts with one hand frankly. Hence a pic of my concentrating face and Lefty in action at Tamarama Beach earlier today 

Friday, 6 March 2015

* A FOND FAREWELL TO THE RINGLETS

The Bouff, The Crop and The Wig. 
Dear Fellowship, 

Today was way more fun than I ever imagined! Thanks to you all for your sensational support and gorgeous messages and thanks to my girls,Victoria Smith and Cathy Walters for helping me to wave goodbye to the ringlets in the best possible way. 

All is well in the Kingdom of Connerty, big love from me, the Bouff, the Crop and the Wig... 

Love,
VCx

Thursday, 5 March 2015

* HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW


Dear Fellowship, 

So it's with a heavy heart that I sit down to write this little post. It's Bye Bye to the Connerty Bouff Day tomorrow when decades of absent-minded ringlet-twirling and hairdryer-avoiding will finally come to an end.
I made the decision a few weeks ago to take control of this inevitable hair loss situation (despite numerous wheedling attempts to find a way out of it) before chemo has a crack and so booked an appointment to get it all cut off ahead of my first sesh next Tuesday.

Unsurprisingly, this has been the toughest and most head-spinning of weeks so far for me I think as I stand on the edge of the chemo precipice, but the Bouff and I have been spending some quality time together, just hanging out in caf├ęs, buying juices, kicking leaves about in the park, going for long walks and laughing at Limpy's pathetic attempt at breaststroke in the pool. We've had a great last week reminiscing about old times and typically, the ringlets have never looked better. Manipulative little follicles.

My friend Cath and I went on a wig-exploring expedition last week to check out the lay of the synthetic hairpiece land. A lot of friends, after I rejected trying cold caps to try and keep my hair then suggested that I simply make a wig out of my own hair. Easy! Yikes. I had some minor reservations about this, the main one being whether it would be a bit Silence of the Lambs-y and maybe I should just go the whole hog and get a matching suit of skin as well. That said, I did like the comedy potential of responding to the usual 'is your hair natural?' question from randoms by whipping off the ringlets with a flourish and handing them over for a closer look...

So our first stop was a wigmaker who seemed confident she could simply chop off the ringlets, one at a time (whaaaaat?!?) and stick 'em in a wig for the princely sum of $3600. All seemed a bit too easy and expensive to me and I didn't like the way she was eyeing up the Bouff like a lion might eye up an antelope. We beat a hasty exit.

Next up was a wig emporium designed possibly for the older lady about town. They had a great video on their website -I'm a sucker for quality online content - featuring a 20yr old model, which of course is what I think I am in my head. Certainly, they were a bit flummoxed when I walked in, sat down, pointed to the ringlets and said, "Got anything like this?". Next minute, I'm wearing a wig with a demi-wave and a fringe that turned me instantly into someone called Pam who's probably working in a bank and going through the menopause. Apologies to any Pams out there - your hair is truly magnificent but probably not for me. My friend Dave confirmed this today at lunch when he was nearly sick from laughing so hard at the pic of me in it. I bought 2 beanies and legged it.

Finally we arrived at the third appointment by which time Cath and I had lost both the will to live as well as our senses of humour. This one was with the self-proclaimed 'inventor of the spiral perm' and a qualified curl technician. I figured we'd either hit it off immediately or wrestle to the death for the illustrious title of Ringlet Guru.

As it turned out, despite being largely bonkers and banging on about my auras and chakras, she nailed it on the wig brief. At one point I thought she was veering towards a wig that would have made me look like a human cavoodle, but luckily she landed on something far more acceptable that we were all happy with. Wig mission accomplished.

I have entrusted her to cut the Bouff with care tomorrow - my nan always said people would pay a lot of money for my hair. I'm hoping that's true because my medical bills are out of control...

So, despite the ridiculous wig tales, tomorrow is a big day and also the start of the next 23 weeks of weirdness so big deep breaths all round this end. My beautiful friend Vix is currently in the air from London to hold my hand and pour the wine (abstinence is dead to me tomorrow) and Cath, ever the calming influence, will be there to hand Vix tissues when she gets all emotional and jetlagged.

As for me, the curls are my Dad's legacy and our Connerty family trademark so whilst everyone keeps telling me they don't define me, I'll still be sad to see them go after so many years defending my turf against the perils of hair straightening. That said, it's only hair, it's simply taking one for the team and besides, I'm quite looking forward to skulking around Sydney scaring people in my new role as a master of disguise...

Thank you to everyone who's offered me advice, wisdom, an ear or just a cup of tea this week - even though I know I've been pretty average company, I'm very aware of how lucky I am to have you all.

Here's to the Return of the Ringlets!

Love,
VC x

P.S Happy 40th to my curly-haired sis this weekend. Sending you some superior ringlets in the post, love. xxx