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 30 May 2015


Dear Fellowship,

So here we are again, with Chemo #5 now just around the corner on Tuesday. Let us call this one Chemo the Goddamn Penultimate. 
The way I feel about these 2 remaining chemo sessions reminds me of the first time I ran City2Surf in Sydney back in 2009. That makes it sound like I'm running it every year - I've only done it twice to be honest, both times reluctantly, unlike some lunatics I know who seem to see it as the equivalent of a light jog to the shops. 
On race day itself, I was trotting along quite nicely and somewhat loving my own work ("look at me, I'm the kind of perky fool who just knocks out a quick 14k run of a morning") when I hit the accurately-nicknamed Heartbreak Hill at the 7k halfway mark. I'd been warned about the perils of Heartbreak Hill beforehand but true to VC form, I'd ignored all friendly advice and chosen to make up my own mind about how to tackle its delights when I got there. 
I started to run up it with the same gusto of the previous 7km but found myself effectively running on the spot for 2 minutes like Scooby Doo before coming to an abrupt and confused halt. 
All my so-called training and technique instantly went out of the window, my legs turned to concrete and being at the exact halfway point meant I couldn't even turn round, jump in a cab and sneak off home. The anguish of having to keep going for another 7km when all I wanted was to lie down in the nearest hedge and give up was horrendous. 
In a way, this current stage of the old chemo road trip reminds me of staggering, sweating and swearing my way up Heartbreak Hill that day. The legs are starting to get tired, doubts are creeping in and the old confidence is getting knocked a little bit by this unpredictable and unfamiliar part of the course. 
To be fair, Chemo #4 was the first round of this brand new drug and dear Dr Dear did warn me this one had a bit of a temper. She wasn't wrong. 
The good news is that being the ever-attentive cancery scholar I am, I have as always learnt some important lessons this time around.
1. When your oncologist says 'take all these preventative painkillers per day', do not think 'gosh, that seems like an awful lot of pills. I'll just wait to see how rubbish I feel and then I'll take some just when I need them'. Chemo is not a tricky hangover. Take them ALL.
2. Chemo is not a fan of Coco Pops. I'm not even sure I am. Pretty sure they're not on the chemo-approved breakfast list. But I'm glad chemo made its feelings clear before and not during that nice helicopter ride over the Harbour with my mum and bro. Could have been messy. Coco Pops now in bin. 
3. Chemo does not consider you to be any sort of hero just because your climbed the Harbour Bridge in the rain. Neither does the wiggage. The wig sulked. Chemo got its own back the following day. But my bro and I did get a lovely sunset photo out of it so every cloud...
4. Do not ring your your oncologist and say 'is it ok if I pop to a remote island in Fiji for a few days next week?' two days after chemo with a compromised immune system, low white blood cell count and expect her to give you a positive and affirmative response. No Bula! time for VC just yet.
5. Just because all the experts merrily assure you that this new chemo drug will take your remaining baby bouff hair as well as eyebrows and eyelashes doesn't mean it will. Unicorn Tears: 1 Chemo: 0. 
6. You are never too old, too big or too cool to be tucked in by your Mum, especially when you feel a bit average. Even if you're under a massive king size duvet which can't actually be tucked into anything. Thanks for trying though, Mum.
But I digress... One of the best things about doing City2Surf that day was the unmitigated joy and relief I felt when I finally turned the corner down into Bondi and could actually see the beach and the finish line in the distance. 
So with that in mind, as much as I'd like to sometimes dive into the nearest hedge and press the 'pause' button on this chemo shizzle for a while, the very idea of reaching my final session and metaphorical Bondi on the 23rd June is enough to get my head down, elbow chemo in the ribs and press on up that hill for just a bit longer! 
Thanks to my mum and Jon for getting me through Chemo #4 by hook, by crook or by some of the worst movies iTunes has to offer and big love to my sis Liz, my gorgeous niece Molster and my favourite lads for providing the perfect Jervis Bay-based tonic beforehand. Let us never speak again of that freezing cold 90 min dolphin-watching trip, where not even a single lonely fin was spotted...
And finally, a massive thanks to so many of you for reading and liking and sharing that article I penned last week!! According to the Debrief Daily website http://www.debriefdaily.com/health/diagnosed-with-cancer/, it's been shared over 2,800 times so far which is unbelievable really and in no small part down to the Fellowship for smashing it out there for me. So thank you again. What a sensational bunch you are and how very lucky indeed I am. 
As always, see you on the flipside of Chemo the Penultimate - in the next three weeks, I will have a birthday, become an official Aussie and we shall astonishingly have just one more chemo sesh to go!! Wahay!

VC x

Saturday 23 May 2015


Dear, Fellowship,

Some of you may recall a little (potentially chemo roid-rage-induced) reply I wrote a couple of weeks ago to an article that I read about the overwhelming fear around a potential cancer diagnosis - see below for the original piece and my initial reply.  

The author, Mia Freedman, was very gracious in her response to my somewhat scathing tone and kindly asked me to write a longer post for them from my perspective. I've been a bit busy wafting about in helicopters, climbing the Harbour Bridge, hanging with the fam and also getting totally schooled by this latest chemo drug (more of which I'll cover at a later date) but I finally got round to finishing the piece yesterday - see below!

Cabs are so 2014...

Just a quick post-chemo Harbour Bridge climb with my bro...

I would LOVE it if you could share, comment or just 'like' the article - it took me a while to write, I think it's an important conversation to keep having and I don't know if I've mentioned it but I'm having chemo so it's probably just safer not to mess with me right now. Plus you're part of the Fellowship, and there are unspoken rules and contractual obligations attached to your membership that you may have missed on the way in…sorry.
Oh yes, and I just got home to a letter from my good friend the Hon Peter Dutton MP (lovely lad), informing me that my application for Aussie citizenship has formally been approved, they cannot WAIT to embrace me as one of their own and I am a mere hand-shaking ceremony away from being able to say 'flaming galah' all day long, without hint of irony. I am officially more Aussie than Paul Hogan. 
Big and unexpectedly emotional day today but all happy tears - the family are now gone, but they gave me an unimaginable boost just by being here. So thank you to them for travelling so far to bring my two worlds together for a couple of weeks and thank you to you all for continuing to 'like' my nonsensical ramblings and cancer musings.
Now I'm off to drink a XXXX GOLD and check my article every 10 seconds for any sign of evil trolls - yikes!

VC x

Love this bloody town!! I'm almost an Aussie!

Tuesday 12 May 2015

* CHEMO 4 DONE - 2 TO GO..

Dear Fellowship,

4 down and just 2 to go! I believe this equates to being two thirds of the way through, despite maths not being a strong point. Wahay! This drug promises to be a bit more hardcore apparently - if I could sum up my chat with 'no sugar-coating for VC' Dr Dear yesterday, my key take-out would be that the last drug was all about managing nausea (which I did quite well with the help of an indecent amount of anti-nausea pills) and this one is all about managing pain - uh oh...
Plus just when I was getting smug about my re-growing hair and my eyelashes and eyebrows remaining intact, she said casually "oh yeah, this drug will take those"... Ho hum. 
The pics below, as well as confusing the devil out of all passer-bys - "why are those idiots posing inappropriately outside a cancer centre?" - also show the delightful and massive ice mitts that I have to wear for these next three rounds to apparently protect my lovely Shellac manicure or more probably, fingernails. My priorities may not be in quite the right order…

Imagine sticking your hands into a freezer for 90 mins and that should give you an understanding of why my facial expression is less than joyful. Reminded me of that time a bunch of us were boarding in Banff in Canada in -40 (because we were young, thought we were hardcore but were actually largely stupid), got up to the top of the first run of the day and came down with frostbite, snapped bindings, tears in our eyes and a lesson learnt. Whereas that time we sacked it off and stumbled home defeated by the elements in Banff, today was the equivalent of getting back on the ski lift and going back up. Without gloves. Good times.
But I digress. Amazing to have my bro and mum there today on Team Cheem #4 - not sure Jon really knew where he was (jetlag, he claims) but Mum did really well, only a couple of sad 'mum watching daughter have chemo' moments that made us both well up momentarily before regaining our British composure in true Connerty-esque style and deciding to laugh at my massive ice jazz hands instead!

Thank you for your lovely messages of support - as ever, they spur me on to power through these chemo sessions more than you know. smile emoticon
So, today is done - another milestone reached and passed, and as always, I'll take the next few days easy with my loungewear, box sets and family before emerging, fully rejuvenated hopefully, on the weekend! 
See you on the flipside...


Monday 11 May 2015


Dear Fellowship,

It is always better to laugh than go 'waaaaah' so on the eve of evil-sounding chemo #4, I thought I'd share this pic of my loving family getting involved in some comedy wig action at the weekend. 
My bro liked Wiggy's work a bit too much, as you can probably tell from the pouting. As for Mum, there really are no words. Largely as we couldn't get any out from laughing too hard...
See you on the flipside of #4, my friends!

VC x

The clan wig up. 

Thursday 7 May 2015


Dear Fellowship,

So after 4 long months, the family are finally here! Well, half of them - my mum, my sis and niece arrived on Sunday after a predictably hideous 24 hour flight to Oz.
I'd banked on some serious tear-shedding at the airport but as always, nothing ran according to plan. Mum got whizzed past me, waving frantically from her wheelchair by a well-meaning steward before I could even say hi. At the same time, my niece Molly launched herself at me and my one good arm, thus making for the most lopsided hug ever while my poor sister struggled behind her, trying desperately to steer the overloaded trolley through the chaos of Arrivals. Gratifyingly, Liz was crying but I'm not sure whether that was about me or just the weight of the bags…

Either way, it's sensational to have them here in the flesh at last, even if they're all asleep like jetlagged narcoleptics every 10 minutes. Mol has only been here 3 days and already she's worn a wig, been pecked by a parrot in the Botanical Gardens, bought some Uggs, hung out on Bondi, swum in the sea and found a cockroach sitting on her jar of Nutella. No one can accuse me of not ticking off all the tourist boxes while they're here. Apart from the wig-wearing - that was an extra treat. Friday, my bro Jon also arrives from London and we're all off to beautiful Jervis Bay for the weekend - I expect he should be awake and just about ready to add some conversational value by about Sunday afternoon…

Meanwhile, Chemo #4 is next Tuesday and a new cocktail of drugs beckons. Mixed reviews about this one - Dr Dear told me a lot of women 'struggle' with this one (thank you, Dear) but the chick in the chemo ward who actually dishes it out reckons it's easier than the first. Who knows? Much like the last one, I'm not really paying much attention to the potential side effects. All I know is I have to wear jazzy little ice gloves during treatment to protect my fingernails (eek!) and that this drug mix could make me blow up like an almighty puffa fish - yikes. Rest assured I'll be exercising full editorial control over any photos taken over the next 9 weeks whilst hurriedly inventing the 'non fat face' filter on Instagram. 
Met my radiation oncologist last week - she was jolly nice. She's called Sue but obviously, like all my other specialists she cannot simply be just called Sue, because that would be of no amusement to me whatsoever. So let us call her Sunburn Sue. Because quite frankly, she is going to give me the worst sunburn I've ever had. Even worse than that time in Gran Canaria when I got so sunburnt I couldn't wear a bra or hug anyone for a week. Or on that school trip when I spent the majority of it crying in my room, covered in Calamine lotion. Sigh. 
Anyway, Sunburn Sue and I had a nice chat about the radiation plan which sounds pretty intense - basically they stick me in a room with a radiation machine, run away and blast me with radiation while they have a cup of tea in the canteen. Or something. Every day for 6 weeks. Wowsers. I will be auditioning to join The Avengers after this level of radiation exposure. Predictably, Limpy gave her some cause for concern - radiation and damaged nerves are not the best of mates apparently - so my dosage has been slightly lowered to accommodate the much-maligned limb. Yet again, Limpy elbowing his way into the limelight, as always.
On that note, Limpy has actually been making considerable progress over the last few weeks, thank God - I can now open a spring-locked bin chute and I even drove for the first time since January yesterday, much to the horror of everyone in the car with me. They were very patient on the whole and once I'd turned the music up loud enough to drown out the screams, it was fine. The problem now is that, after 4 months, whilst Limpy's nerves are returning, the muscles in my arm are non-existent and the joints are like those of a rusty old Tin Man.
My physios - ridiculously I have three because I can't decide who I like best and because I'm terribly British, I don't want to let any of them down so keep booking repeat appointments with them all - have meanwhile been trying to help me avoid the perils of a frozen shoulder. I have no idea what that is really but it sounds bad and they all have serious physio faces when they say the words 'frozen shoulder', so I'm subjecting myself to weekly sessions where they essentially beat me up for an hour in return for cold hard cash. But at least the arm is coming back - my sister just told me about a friend of a friend of hers who suffered the same thing post-op and her poor arm is still dead, 6 YEARS LATER. Gulp. 
Thank you all as always for continuing to check in and check up on me - please know that your messages never go unappreciated or unnoticed, even if it sometimes takes me days to think "Gaaaaah! I never replied!!". Perhaps this is the chemo brain people talk about. But more likely, it's just me being a little bit useless… :)

VC x