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

Wednesday 24 June 2015


Dear Fellowship, 

If you want to do one great thing today to make your heart a little fuller and your pocket a little lighter (but in a good way) ,then read this post by my favourite cancer arse-kicker Greig Trout and make a donation to help this gorgeous and most-deserving little boy, Edmund..



Edmund & Greig

Tuesday 23 June 2015


Dear Fellowship,

And so, 18 weeks are finally at an end and we can bid a fond farewell to the chemo chapter of this cancery tale!! Wahay! 

Crown? Sequins? Seems reasonable for Chemo #6...
 Earlier, I re-read the 'Twas the Night Before Chemo' post I wrote on the 9 March - seems a lifetime ago in some respects and yet as if it was yesterday in others. 
When I wrote that piece, I genuinely had no idea what I was really facing over the forthcoming 3.5 months and was just keen to get cracking, despite the tales of evil chemo and its effects bouncing around my brain! 
Having now gone through 6 rounds of chemo, stuck a multitude of canulas in numerous poor veins, engaged in relentless chemo banter with my weary nurses and come out the other side of 18 weeks relatively intact, I can now say that as I had hoped, the fear of the unknown was far worse than the day-to-day reality of being all ‪#‎chemoface‬
Last chemo and last evil ice mitts!
I'm very aware that chemo can knock people to the floor and so I hope that I haven't been too irritatingly upbeat over the last few months, especially unwittingly to those who have struggled perhaps more than me. 
That said, I won't lie and say it's been a total stroll in the park - chemo is not for the faint-hearted but I think I wrote previously of my strong desire to not focus on or overly share with you all the less joyous of the chemo side effects and I stand by that decision. Every time I felt pretty average, I told myself that any cancery cells lurking about definitely felt much worse, and that approach and mental image worked pretty well for me. Chemo is part of the cure, I'm lucky I'm in a position to have it available to me and so all things considered, it's ok by me. 
I hope that if nothing else, I have shown at least one person reading these chemo-based musings of mine over the last 18 weeks that having this treatment is not the end of the world. It doesn't have to break you, it doesn't have to rob you of your very physical and mental essence, it doesn't have to turn you into a weak and feeble shadow of your former self and indeed often it can make you discover that you have enormous balls of steel you never knew existed! Obviously I knew mine existed already - are you mad? Have we even met?! Do you even know I've jumped out of a plane 4 times? Admittedly all tandem jumps with someone way more mentally on the ball than me but even so... Jeez. 
There are of course a gazillion people without whom this last 18 weeks would have been so much tougher and I count every one of you that has read these posts (or even pretended to when they were really long) and flung love and support at me since the very start of the Fellowship in this elite number!
I have been lucky enough to have amazing friends accompany me to every chemo session without a word of complaint and believe me, there are seriously better places to hang out than chemo wards of an afternoon. I have had beautiful friends and family fly from the UK just to hang out with me and fuss over me for a while, there are legends here in Oz, the UK and scattered around the world who have taken my breath away with their endless gestures of love, from cooking me dinners to sending surprise cards, flowers and gifts to just being on the end of whatsapp, texts, facetime and the old-fashioned medium of telephone when I needed them and sometimes even when I didn't realise I needed them. 
A cancer diagnosis is not great but it has absolutely opened my eyes to how fundamentally awesome people are and the last 6 months have genuinely been, in the stolen and paraphrased words of Charles Dickens, the worst of times but also the very best of times. Who would have thought?! 
Special thanks to Team Cheem #6, Jezza, Matt and Cathy for taking time off work to come along to the Grand Finale and drinking celebratory champers with me in the park afterwards - never have 4 champagne-swigging vagrants looked so well turned-out! Love you all. 
My fabulous Team Cheem #6

Celebratory sparkling wine in the park…all class. 
And now my thoughts turn to Sunburn Sue and the 6 weeks of daily radiation ahead. Meeting her next week to discuss the plan which I'm assuming involves lasering the shit out of me with hardcore radiation. Yikes. I should probably read the pamphlet they gave me first...either way, I'm heading into it the same way as chemo - it's part of the cure so bring it on! 
Forgive the sentimentality but I shall end this chemo chapter if I may with a little quote from my favourite track by the great man Frank Sinatra which I think sums up the last chemo-tastic 18 weeks quite well...I've left out the opening verses about 'the end is near / final curtain' etc for obvious 'hopefully it's not' reasons but the rest says in a few verses what I've struggled to articulate about my chemo trip in a whole page...

.....Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.
I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.
I've loved, I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.
To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
"Oh no, oh no not me,
I did it my way".
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way! 

Replace the 'man/ he/ himself' bit with the female equivalent in the last verse accordingly - my balls of steel are very much metaphorical...
Going dark for a few days as always to ride out this last wave - see you on the flipside, my fabulous Fellowship kinsmen! 
Over and out! :)

VC x

18 weeks - start to finish...

Friday 19 June 2015


Dear Fellowship,

So today, after almost exactly 7 years in this fine land, a curly-haired clown from Crewe finally became a fully-fledged Australian. And quite emotional it was too. 

It's nearly 15 years since I first set foot on Aussie soil with my pal Di to wander down the East Coast for a month, pretending we were fresh-faced backpackers. It may possibly have been our 5* treehouse in the rainforest that alerted our fellow travellers / the great unwashed to the fact our A-level results were just a distant memory but I can't be sure.
That trip was inevitably fraught with dramas - Di and I were admittedly slightly more focused on the prospect of a month off work and seeing in the Millennium in Sydney than we were on doing any actual trip planning. I think I started reading the Lonely Planet guide to Australia on the plane but got distracted by the free choc ices on offer instead. 
We learnt the cost of our laissez-faire approach in a hostel in Brisbane (our treehouse fund was depleted by then) when we realised our complete lack of planning combined with our lack of Greyhound bus timetable-reading abilities and general lack of organisational skills would see us stranded in a fairly rancid Brisbane hostel on Christmas Eve instead of spending Christmas Day in Sydney with our mates. 
Pretty sure Mary and Joseph didn't get embroiled in the level of blame-apportioning that happened between Di and I that night when they were searching for a room at the inn but who knows what goes on behind closed (stable) doors? 
But despite spending Christmas Day in a Brisbane restaurant with a heavily perspiring Father Christmas (that's another story), it was a truly unforgettable trip. 
For a start, there was that time that we learnt to scuba dive on a liveaboard boat on the Great Barrier Reef and spent our first proud solo PADI-qualified dive circling a tiny underwater rock, pointing at the same single bored stripey fish 38 times till we ran out of air, popping up like total amateurs in the same spot we'd been dropped off. We lied obviously and told our fellow divers we'd seen 3 sharks, a manta ray and a dolphin. Not sure they believed us but a lot of them were Canadian so they just said 'awesooooome!' and carried on drawing pictures of obscure fish in their logbook, the jobsworths. 
Then there was that time we hugged some koalas and rode jetskis on Magnetic Island like total legends until we got told off by the instructor for deliberately hitting the waves at angles so that whoever was on the back would fly off. Hours of fun for 2 immature flashpackers. Don't try that at home, kids - strictly for stunt riders only. Like me, obviously. 
Then we went horse-riding up in Cape Tribulation, which was the first time I'd been on anything resembling a horse since that time I'd been plonked on a donkey as a child at Rhyl Pleasure Beach in Wales. Ironically, I didn't remember that experience as being remotely pleasurable but Di, being ever the accomplished horsewoman, convinced me I'd be fine going slow at the back of the pack. 
This was, as it transpired, initially a good strategy. However these horses genuinely did not give 2 hoots whether or not their rider knew the difference between a canter, a trot or a gallop - to be fair, they do the same route every day and at the same point on said route they get to have a canter / gallop / trot / whatever. 
Needless to say, as the speed suddenly picked up, my feet flew out of the stirrups, the reins might as well have been made out of spaghetti and I was convinced in those few seconds that I was actually going to fall off and be trampled underfoot on just my second day in Australia. I therefore took control of the situation and, much like a sack of spuds, simply flung myself off old Grey Thunder before he could throw me off. "That showed him", I thought as I lay winded and groaning in the long grass covered in red ants while he galloped off into the distance without a backward glance, no doubt glad to be rid of his curly burden. 
But, despite the predictable ups and downs of our trip or maybe because of them, I fell in love with Australia and vowed one day to return to its fair shores. 
Procrastination is my forté however so inevitably it took me 8 years to get my act together and my bag packed but when I finally arrived in Sydney in June 2008 with nothing but a rucksack, a CV and a winning smile, I knew straightaway that I'd be here a while. 
Over the last 7 years, Australia has given me the greatest of new friends, re-connected me with tremendous old ones, showed me the very best of good times and even by my heady standards, bestowed upon me the most nauseating of lifestyles in one of the most fabulous cities in the world. None of this goes un-noticed or un-appreciated by me and I'm grateful every day for that moment of mid-thirties madness in 2008 when I sat in my lovely new flat in London that I'd spent months getting just right and thought 'right then, I think I might resign tomorrow and push off to Oz'. 
This year in particular, I have been so thankful to have both my treatment and recuperation in a place as beautiful and restorative as Australia and I think just being here has played a big part in helping me just keep cracking on with this cancery tale without too many dramas. 
I got all choked up reading out the pledge at the ceremony earlier and it wasn't just because my low-key gold heels got wet in the rain or because I was worried Jez would fail to take enough good photos or because I thought I might trip up the stairs. Although I was genuinely anxious about all the above. 
Today I became a fully paid-up citizen of an amazing country that for 7 years has delivered nothing but good times, great people and happy memories, and thinking about that during the pledge brought on the old Connerty waterworks. Well, less waterworks, more of a controlled welling-up really - in my defence, I was fake eyelash'd up to my eyeballs (literally) and didn't fancy them shimmying down my cheek like runaway spiders 5 mins before the official photo...priorities, people. 
Thanks and love to my esteemed and honourable 3 guests / slaves Matt, Jezza and Clare who dutifully dressed up, came along, took photos, waved the flags I bought them and ate more free pavlova than a small nation. You all made my day that bit more spesh. 

Chemo #6 aka The Last Hurrah is looming on the horizon next week - big few days ahead so Clare and I have taken ourselves off to a Zen retreat this weekend in the Hunter Valley to prepare. Luckily her broken ankle and my ‪#‎chemoface‬ mean we've already been excused from most of the 'activities' that the other Zen masters are doing but I might pop to the class called 'breathing' tomorrow and see if I can manage that...sigh. 
Sorry it's a long one - blame the Aussie me...

VC x

Saturday 13 June 2015


Dear Fellowship,

So it was my birthday this week. I might not have mentioned it. I like to keep these things low-key. 
Not really. I bloody love my birthday. Let's be clear - I am not one of those types who prefers their birthday to waft gently past un-noticed while I sit in a corner, grumbling to myself about the extravagance of it all. I like the occasion to be marked, acknowledged and ideally celebrated in some over-the-top way. 
My 40th became known as the Festival of Forty, largely as the birthday celebrations (mostly just me celebrating - everyone else lost interest after about 8 seconds) dragged on over several months in many forms across multiple continents. Sydney, London, Fiji and even Tasmania all got a birthday nod. And rightly so, quite frankly. Life begins at 40 and all that..
This time last year, six of us popped over to Queenstown in NZ for the weekend so I could have fulfil my birthday wish to be snowboarding up a mountain on the big day itself. The boys were less delighted when I left the lights on in the car all day (although I didn't actually admit this to them at the time obviously) and drained the battery, thus leaving us to be rescued from the top of Coronet Peak by a passing skier and some jump leads. Oops. Still, it was my birthday and it was an adventure so it was fine. And we got to see a lovely sunset at the summit, which I know they all secretly loved. 



This year however, I actually considered doing very little, what with potentially being all tired, baldy and ‪#‎chemoface‬. As an aside, #chemoface is my new way of quickly explaining to people why I'm going to be late, why I'm not going to be doing something I may have previously agreed to or by way of explanation when I have damaged their beloved Jeep etc (sorry, Chris). Noone dares argue with #chemoface in a text. #chemoface always wins. I shall almost be sad to see it go. 
Anyway, based on the solemn beating I took from Chemo #4, I figured that on my birthday (day 7 post-chemo #5), I might feel fairly average so maybe this was a good time to finally embrace the notion of just letting the day gently pass by without too much fuss. Like grown-ups do apparently. 
I mentioned this plan in passing to my friend Greig, who has beaten cancer twice and is one of the few blokes I know who unapologetically loves his birthday. And with good reason - when you have punched a life-threatening illness in the face, every birthday is a giant balloon-laden reminder of just how hard you can punch and therefore your punching prowess should always be celebrated as loudly and as inappropriately as possible. Greig was of course utterly dismissive of my 'I might just ignore it this year' plans and thanks to him, I realised somewhat gratefully that from this year onwards, I will never ever have to explain why I am having loud, inappropriate and drawn-out birthday celebrations at an age where one should really just be popping down to the local Harvester for a nice meal, average chat and an early night. 
So thanks to the handsome and long-suffering man-slaves (Jez, Matt & Chris), my girls Robbo and Rookey (they're indeed beautiful generous ladies even though I've just made them sound like they both drive a Ute and drink pints) and the fabulous surpriiiiiiise-organising Connerty clan back home, I had the most delightful of birthdays despite it being broken up sporadically by power naps which are swiftly becoming my new favourite thing. Plus a whole heap of gorgeous love, birthday cheer, beautiful flowers, gifts and comedy video messages that I've rudely not properly thanked any of you for yet. Thankyou letters will be in the post once Limpy gets his act together. Until then, I'm afraid I'm pulling the old #chemoface card…

Birthday sunrise

Lovely birthday slaves

Birthday cakes by House of Clark

Unique Fellowship candles by Hutwoods
 I'm now emerging from my Chemo #5 cocoon like a grumpy ginger butterfly after 10 days of keeping my head down and out of trouble. I went full-OCD on the drugs which seems to have worked and there was certainly no dragging my sorry ass to hospital with a raging fever this time around, thank God. That said, I sensibly avoided climbing any bridges in the rain this time too. Noone can accuse me of not learning anything on this merry journey. 
I've noticed I'm getting a bit more lethargic but I don't actually know if this is the old cumulative chemo shizzle people bang on about, whether it's just the white blood cell count dropping like a stone again as expected this week or whether just seeing the finishing post in sight is making me dip my head a bit. Who knows? Maybe it's just post-birthday old age. Either way, in just 10 days, we shall wave goodbye to our chemo pal for good and await the return of the ringlets! Wahay!
I am of course already planning my chemo exit outfit though am slightly worried that wearing an inflatable gold crown, a sequinned sweatshirt with a picture of a unicorn on it and massive ice gloves may do little for my burgeoning reputation as a future fashion blogger…ho hum. We shall see. 
Finally, this time next week, I will be a fully-fledged true Blue Aussie - my citizenship ceremony is at lunchtime next Friday. I am convinced I will trip up the stairs on the way to get my certificate, the wiggage will fly off and land on the Mayor, the Town Hall will erupt in chaos and I will be front page news so please cross your fingers for the event to pass entirely without incident. I know many of you will now be feverishly hoping for the opposite.
Til then, big birthday love from an older and wiser
VC x

Did I mention it was my birthday?? 

Tuesday 2 June 2015


Dear Fellowship,

Chemo #5 - tick! One more to go, my friends and we are DONE!! Wahay! 

Some inevitable minor league dramas yesterday when my routine pre-chemo blood test revealed my neutrophil (the cells that fight infection and ward off germs) count was at a lowly 0.1. 
I had no idea what that meant of course, but you know when you get a anxious-sounding voicemail from Dr Dear the night before chemo that all is not well. 
Basically, the chemo folk like your neutrophil count to be at at least 2.0 pre-chemo - 0.1 means that if a ladybird sneezes on you, you could be laid up in hospital with a raging fever for a week. Or something. 
Anyway, I was dragged back in for another blood test this morning in the hope that my neutrophil minions had got their act together overnight. Then ensued lots of serious chats with Dr Dear about delaying this round of chemo, dropping the dosage etc, neither option being ideal with everyone ultimately just crossing fingers and hoping for a better blood result today. 
I was somewhat confused as to why I felt so bloody good when internally I was apparently as vulnerable as a newborn gerbil. Popped off to do some baby whispering with my friend Caroline and baby Violet and then came the call to say that oops sorry, actually they'd given me the wrong results yesterday and my count was actually 4.3. Sigh. 
So chemo was back on. More comedy moments when it took 4 attempts this time (new record) to get a canula in my veins. Darren, who trains the other nurses how to insert canulas in veins eventually came wafting over confidently, made 2 failed attempts and went off to kick some recycling bins in a rage while his protégée Joy was next to have a go (prior to the bird off reception probably) and nailed it. Smug Joy is now her new nickname. Darren has become Shit Darren - she loved it, him not so much...
Anyway, big love and thanks to my briefly-returned man-slave just over from Singapore Chris Stephenson to do his rightful stint as chemo supporter for Chemo #5. 
Witnessing me getting stuck like a pig four times and then performing an excellent watery-eyed bottom lip tremble during ice gloves hideousness can't have been easy but he rolled with it like a pro. Thank you, Christopher and delightful to have you back carrying my stuff around again! Love you. 
So there we are - Chemo #5 all done and now I shall retire from public life for a few days to take my pills properly this time, avoid climbing Harbour Bridges and keep my eye firmly on the prize. Which is of course that I have one more of these and then we're done. Phew! 
See you on the flipside...

VC x