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

Thursday 29 October 2015


Me, my niece Lottie, Peppa Pig and my dad's tree. :)

Dear Fellowship,

So with 8 weeks down and just a fortnight to go until I head back to Aussie shores, I thought a post might be a reasonable plan!
There have been plenty of moments over the last couple of months when I’ve considered relaying to the Fellowship the details of this recuperative period but for some reason - time, inclination, the dreaded ‘fatigue’, fear of not appearing withery enough versus fear of looking too smug - I haven’t quite managed to get pen to paper or numb thumb to keyboard. 
The big news is of course that we have officially bid an emotional farewell to Wiggy after 6 months of loyal service, much to my dismay. As soon as I posted that picture of the re-sprouting bouff, I knew her days were numbered. As a result, this trip has largely been what I lovingly refer to as the 'Jean-Paul Gaultier' chapter. 
Because of course what every girl recovering from cancer treatment wants is to look like a small grey-haired gay Frenchman in a stripy T-shirt. It also does not help that every T-shirt I own is stripy. Plus I have a French degree. It turns out I virtually AM Jean-Paul Gaultier. 
It was therefore with some trepidation that I headed to Sitges in Spain for Tom & Becky’s beautiful wedding. Who knew that Sitges is in fact the gay capital of Europe and thus where better to debut the new ‘Jesus Christ, there’s just so much FACE’ Connerty / Gaultier haircut? 
Big love to the patron saint of patience Jez Clark for tolerating 3 days of me badgering and boring him with "Wig on? Wig off? Do I look aggressive? I look aggressive, don’t I? Aggressive and bald. You look scared. Right, that’s it - I’m wigging up. I can’t go to a wedding looking aggressive and bald. Where’s the wig? Oh my god, it’s so hot I might faint.” etc etc ad infinitum. 
Wig-free wedding!
So poor old Wiggy remained confined to the wardrobe for the entire trip and once I’d got through the most glamorous of Spanish weddings without anyone running screaming for the hills at the sight of the aggressive little baldy on table 6, I realised that my girls meeting me in Ibiza a few days later would sadly never get to truly experience the power of the Wiggage. 
As I write, Wiggy is sitting forlornly on a little polystyrene head, staring at me. I must say that regardless of how grateful I am to finally have a relatively decent head of hair again, I genuinely miss her straight-haired swishy disguise more than anyone will ever quite know.
What with a Spanish wedding, a week in Ibiza, a 10 day jaunt around the Scottish Highlands, an upcoming few days in NYC and of course precious downtime with friends and fam in beautiful Henley, this, without doubt, will have been a trip of epic proportions which was of course entirely my intention when I sat planning it during chemo and radiation house arrest back in Sydney. 
Ibiza with my gals (and niece)

Chasing the sunset with my Gemini twin

Beautiful sunrise on the Isle of Skye in Scotland

Seaplane-ing over Loch Lomond with the boy Trout 
Having enough time to see my favourite people when I want to, rest when I need to and get my arse into gear when I have to has made it pretty much the perfect recuperation strategy. Well done, me.
That said, it’s been interesting to come out the other side of cancer treatment and experience what I suspect I've been subconsciously preparing myself for all year. You see, the trouble with cancer, as I always saw it, was never the actual treatment itself. For me, getting through treatment surrounded by love, care and kind words was a bit like being cocooned in a snug duvet on a cold day. By contrast, I feared that the post-treatment experience would be more like getting booted out into the snow without a coat or socks. To be fair, it's not been quite as bad or dramatic as catching hypothermia but the real challenge certainly lies in the 'getting back to normal'. 
Because to be honest, ’normal’ for me nowadays is having a grey-haired/ice-blonde crop, a wonky arm and a numb hand and foot. 
’Normal’ is voluntarily taking a drug for the next 5 years that, if you believe all the potential side effects, will possibly make me one of the least eligible bachelorettes in town, if not the world.
‘Normal’ is chatting with my girlfriends about babies while my 8 eggs chill out in a North Sydney freezer. 
‘Normal’ is getting my mum to teach me how to knit as it might be good for my right hand’s reduced motor function, or in layman’s terms, my numb thumb. 
'Normal' is wearing a compression sleeve on a plane and worrying more about the risk of blood clots than which films and choc ices are on offer.
‘Normal’ is being more desperate for my physio, a hot bath and a kip than a Sav Blanc. 
‘Normal’ is breaking into a cold sweat every time I have an ache or pain because my addled and over-thinking brain says it might be cancer back again. 
My new normal is officially as mad as a bag of frogs and more importantly, it doesn't remotely resemble my old normal which makes it tricky to merge the two. 
Today, my sister tagged me in a photo from my brother-in-law’s 40th last Saturday where I’m drinking a beer. In a terribly ladylike way of course. The photo looks like a lot of other photos taken of me before this cancery tale began (hairstyle aside, obvs) and is very much, in many ways, a glimpse of the old normal. 

Yet I looked at it and thought "you shouldn’t be drinking a beer, you mug. You’ve had cancer. You should definitely be drinking nettle tea or something with turmeric in it. You shouldn’t even be out. You should be indoors, reading something about mindfulness and doing those boring arm exercises the physio gave you”…Welcome to my new normal, what a massive killjoy. 
So this new definition of normal in a post-treatment world is what I’m currently trying to clumsily navigate. Admittedly, it’s a tricky beast and so it might take a while for me to eradicate the madder bits of this new perspective on life. Sit back, relax and continue to enjoy my ever-dignified, none-too-silent ongoing struggle with that.
Till then, rest assured that while i might have taken up knitting, I am also pretty sure that I’m smashing the definition of cancer recuperation out of the park. I think there may well be actual books being written right now about how to get over cancer that feature this particular trip’s tremendous itinerary! If not, then I shall write one! 
But first I must finish knitting this tiny scarf fit for a Borrower, plan my Halloween costume for this weekend’s NYC Parade and make a little 'C’mon Lou!' banner ahead of the New York Marathon on Sunday. So goddamn BUSY right now!

VC x

My welcome home cake with scary Half-Face me...