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

Saturday 25 July 2015


Dear Fellowship,

Below is my 'smug / loving my own work' face. Some of you may recognise it. Today I started my 5 week floristry course. Please stop laughing.

No one finds the idea of me doing a floristry course more hilarious than me but this is the sort of thing I do nowadays. 
I don't drink anymore, I get more annoyed with inanimate objects than people, I haven't sat behind a desk for more than 6 months (and I'm not even sure I could find it since the office move), I have no idea what my password is and now I'm doing a floristry course. I'm not sure I could actually pick the 2014 VC out of a line-up right now.
Today, as I watched Limpy hold these flowers together, perfect the 'spiralling' technique and hand tie a beautiful posy with a flourish, I got a bit emotional. And not just because I knew I didn't have the right bloody vase for it back at the gaff, although that did bring a tear to my bouquet-loving eye…. 
Six months ago, I woke up post-surgery to discover that I'd lost the whole use of my right arm, thanks to the pressure of an extra rib no one knew I had on all the nerves that supply the arm. 
Six months ago, I couldn't brush my teeth, open a door or even pick up a pen with my right hand, and not a single one of the numerous specialists I badgered and threw money at could give me a straight answer as to when or, more ominously, if it would return. 
I've said to lots of people since that day that if I'd known my surgery would result in no right arm for over 20 long weeks, I'd have probably headed straight to chemo without passing Go. 
I look back on those 5 months now and find it bizarre that I didn't feel more panicked at my arm's uncertain future. Certainly, I had my moments - kicking off in Jervis Bay when I couldn't tie my bikini, crying silent tears of frustration at dinner in the Hunter Valley when I had to wait for Matt or Jez to cut my food up for me and the embarrassment of my awkward one-armed hugs all stick in the mind. But on the whole, I largely just seemed to accept it was gone for a while and would re-appear when it was ready. Very Zen Master of me, I know…
In May, after weeks and months of Groundhog Day-type mornings when I'd wake up and see if I could lift my right arm off the bed without help from the left, Limpy finally started to stutter back to life, completely without warning. 
Every day since then has brought with it more and more progress and every day I still revel in wins as tiny as holding coffee or turning my house key in the lock. I have many theories as to why it re-appeared and I'm sure my neurologist, naturopath and physio would all take some credit, but the truth is, we will never really know and to be honest, I don't really care. 
The arm is still a bit weak and feeble - holding and pouring stuff needs a lot of work so my tea-making skills aren't what they were (some people will argue they never existed in the first place), my hand is still numb and I think chemo and radiation have slowed progress a bit but every time I hold a coffee or hand-tie a posy (one happens more frequently than the other), I'm beyond grateful. A sentiment I didn't expect to feel much at the beginning of this year but which has actually turned up more times in the last 7 months than I care to remember. 
Radiation is going well - 9 down, 21 to go and feeling good, with no major fatigue or signs of sunburn as yet although I'm told the first two weeks are fine and then it starts to take a toll. We shall see. Either way, I've got just 4 weeks to go till we're done and as always my eye is firmly on the final prize. 
The Bouff is definitely growing back albeit entirely upwards like a tray of out-of-control but enthusiastic watercress so it's still not ready for human interaction, unless you Skype me at 7am (gotta love a UK time difference) when I can't be bothered to sit up, let alone hat up. I'm not lazy, people, it's fatigue…

Right, gotta go get these ridiculously well-presented flowers in water and pick the wig up from the dry cleaners…

VC x
p.s The wig's not really at the dry cleaners. It's at the hairdressers. Life is good when you can literally drop your hair off for a wash and blow dry… 

Tuesday 14 July 2015


Dear Fellowship, 

So after a delightful weekend in NZ with the team and a false start yesterday, Radiation #1 kicked off this arvo instead. 1 down, 29 to go. Yikes.

Got a call late Friday to say they'd be postponing Monday's kick-off sesh by a day because they "weren't ready" - now I don't know much about this old radiation process but I do know that it's probably better that the folk hitting me with daily bursts of radiation are completely ready as opposed to all standing around looking a bit confused, daring each other to hit the red button...

So this morning was locked in. At least till yesterday evening when I got another phone call that started with 'Hello, it's St Vincent's Radiation unit here....Um, now why am I ringing?'. I suggested with a tiny amount of sarcasm that it might be because I was due to have radiation in 12 hours which seemed to jolt her memory, at which point she asked me to come in in the afternoon as opposed to the morning. A lie-in - lovely.

Had a quick chat with Sunburn Sue pre-radio about the results of an MRI she sent me for a week or so ago. At the time, she told me she wanted to look at Limpy's progress since January which seemed fairly sensible in light of them wanting to smash the lazy limb with a load of nerve-jangling radiation for the next 6 weeks. Today I asked what the MRI showed up and she confirmed that Limpy was definitely looking much improved but the good news was that "there was no signs of any tumour".

 I'm sorry, what?! When did we start checking for tumours under the pretext of just giving Limpy a cheeky MRI?! Gaaaah!

"Yep, we injected you with dye that would show up any tumours and it didn't show up anything, so happy days, let's crack on." Blimey.

She didn't actually say 'happy days, let's crack on' but that was the overriding sentiment. And I suppose it obviously is good news, even though I didn't actually know they were secretly looking for tumours, whilst claiming to be checking out poor old, much-maligned Limpy. That's the last time I say 'yeah go on then' when someone offers to stick me in a giant metal tube for 100 minutes...

The radiation itself was all fine and literally took 6 short minutes. My radiation techie for the next 6 weeks is a nice bloke called Richard. So he's now Radiation Rich, obviously. They're making these nicknames too easy for my bored little #chemobrain really. When it was finished, Rich then came back in and at my request, spent 5 mins explaining how it all worked, where the radiation came from, how apparently it's easiest and less invasive to apply radiation to things that stick out like boobs etc. All very interesting but  you know you're living in a parallel universe when you're having a lively discussion about radiation whilst lying on a table with your wig off and boobs out. Dear oh dear. Where did my British sense of decorum and dignity go?! Sigh. :)

Special thanks today to my amazing pal and Gemini twin Charl who has secretly spent the best part of 6 long months searching, cutting out and glueing the best inspirational and kick-ass quotes she could find into an enormous book for me ahead of these 30 days of radiation.

Like a radiation-loving Ron Weasley, I have been instructed to open this beautiful Book of Spells every day at a random point and take inspiration and strength from whatever I find on the pages. Below was today's! Love this so much and thank you Charl for neglecting your beautiful first-born daughter to create this mighty tome just for me - I will treasure it forever!

So in short, all is well back at Casa Victoire, I'm currently making a cottage pie and am glad to have kicked off the final part of this puzzle!

Gotta go chop some onions and peel some potatoes - til the next time...


VC #radiohead x

Friday 10 July 2015


Dear Fellowship, 

So this particular post is coming to you from about 39,000 feet up, as I push off to sunny but freezing Auckland for a weekend of fun, friends and fine wine. The fun and friends better be bringing their A-game because sadly, the fine wines of Waiheke Island will have little to offer this chemofaced teetotaller. I know. Me. Teetotal. Madness. It's the vineyards of the world I feel sorry for.

Aussie passport debut!
Seemed only fitting that I get in a trip to New Zealand just before radiation with Sunburn Sue kicks off on Monday. The last time I got on a plane was to my beloved Queenstown just before things got all egg-freezing, ringlet-chopping, chemo-serious, and that seemed to set me in pretty good stead for the coming months, so I'm thinking a quick recharge of the Connerty batteries in NZ and some quality time with good people is perhaps the perfect way to prep for the final 6 weeks of this cancery tale.

Low key Kiwi weekend pad 

Jez's 30th in NZ

Hard to believe chemo is now done and dusted - this final round was pretty good with no major dramas. I now have about 4 stubborn eyelashes valiantly hanging on for dear life and trying to do the job of several times their number, namely to protect my delicate eyes from the elements, bless 'em. In all honesty, they should just give up - my eyes are watering constantly which is very confusing for everyone. Is she crying? Why are her eyes so puffy? Has she been punched in the face? Why is she wearing shades indoors?

On that note, I took Jez to see Les Miserables the other day as part of my ongoing mission to inject some culture into his life - entirely his own fault for recently admitting much to my horror that he'd never heard of Fagin and thought The Artful Dodger was a rapper - and I essentially cried all the way through it, thanks to my 'sorry, we cannot cope with any level of light or darkness so we must send a tsunami of water down your face immediately' eyes. The downside was that after 3 long hours, I looked like I'd gone ten rounds with Tyson, however the upside was that lots of Les Mis superfans nodded at me indulgently on the way out, clearly mistaking my chemo face for 'I've seen this fifty times, am in love with Jean Valjean and still cry like a loon every time' face.

Apart from the ongoing puffy crying face and a weird numb toe ('ah yes that'll be the neuropathy, side effect of the chemo, can last aaaaaaages" said my oncologist helpfully when I mentioned it), I'm in pretty good nick, I think. Am giving the Bouff a little reassuring "this is now a place of safety, feel free to come back anytime you like" pep talk every morning to encourage its speedy return and I think it's working. That said, really must stop visiting my friends' newborn babies and getting competitive over who has more hair...

Had my radiation simulation day last week where you essentially pop in and they measure you up so that they make sure they hit the right place. What I didn't know (probably because I didn't read the leaflet beforehand) is that they also tattoo you by sticking ink in a syringe to mark 4 points in the skin, presumably so they can line the machine up accurately to laser me while they pop out for a cup of tea. So now I have 4 tattoos which in my mind means I'm virtually a Hells Angel, which is nice. Anyway Sunburn Sue and the team are all very pleasant - I plan to inject their daily lives with 20 minutes of quality radiation banter, they will be begging me to leave by August 21st...

So yes, August 21st is my final day of radiation and the day when nearly 8 months of cancery madness will draw to a close, save some badass hormone drug that I'll worry about at a later date. I've been told numerous times in the last few weeks that aside from a bit of sunburn, this daily radiation will bring the fatigue that I've been warned about from the beginning, so I've downloaded Season 4 of Suits and got my loungewear and Uggs on standby.

With that in mind, along with my raging cabin fever and plummeting Qantas points, I'm heading back to the UK for a couple of months from early September to hang with the fam, enjoy the delights of my sister's spare room, walk my niece to school, take some strolls along the river and ideally see the end of the Great British summer.

Hoping I'll also get to see many of the UK members of this merry Fellowship who, despite being so far away, have been so predictably tremendous in their support this year. Apparently I hear the Rugby World Cup is also on - what good timing!

So we bid a fond farewell to #chemoface, give a big Kia Ora to #radiohead and brace ourselves for 6 weeks of sunburn... :)

VC x