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

Monday 23 November 2015


Dear Fellowship, 

So welcome to National Hypochondriac Day. Where I mostly wander around Sydney complaining to anyone (who’s paid to listen to me) about my various ailments.

Back in Sydney. Hideous view. 

As far as I know there isn’t actually a day in the calendar dedicated to imaginary aches and pains but if there was one, it would be today and if there was an award involved, then I would almost certainly win some sort of Grand Wizardy Whingeing Pom Lifetime Achievement type accolade.

My long-suffering GP Jacqui, after a 3 month respite from listening to my arm, foot, hair and boob-related woes, reluctantly booked a whole hour in her diary with me this morning to ostensibly sign some forms and write some referrals. 48 minutes later, I suspected that behind the sympathetic head tilt, she was mentally banging her head against her desk whilst I regaled her with yet more symptoms to have a crack at.

The good news is that the nerve pain in my foot that has had me muttering about neuropathy and gulping down old man levels of nerve drugs since July isn’t actually anything to do with chemo, cancer or neuropathy.

The bad news is that it’s probably something called ‘Morton’s Neuroma’ which is basically a delightful-sounding thickening of nerve tissue and is commonly found in women who wear heels a lot. Anyone who’s ever seen my Imelda Marcos-size shoe collection will not be remotely surprised by this new twist in the tale.

The good news is that it can be treated by either injecting steroids into it (gulp) or via surgery to remove it (gulp), resulting in a few days on crutches.

The bad news is that the last time I had to use crutches for more than 10 minutes back in 2004, I accidentally flung a whole pint of Lucozade onto a brand new cream carpet, resulting in our whole flat having to be re-carpeted. The lesson is never balance a pint of Lucozade on a book whilst moving from one room to another on crutches. Seems obvious, I know...

Anyway, I digress. X-Ray and ultrasound locked in for later this week but it’s looking like there is at least a better outcome for the old right foot than ‘it’s just down to the chemo, innit?’ explanation I’ve been offering up for months. Well done to Cath Walters for listening to me whinge for half an hour about it last week before getting on Google and texting me ten minutes later “I reckon the pain in your toe could be a Morton’s Neuroma…”. She’s so smug right now.

 Meanwhile, I now have good old Morton to add to Lumpy, Lymphy and Limpy - together, they sound like the ugliest Scandinavian boy band ever.

Next up and a trip to Sunburn Sue. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I bloody love Sue. We had a nice chat about my holidays, how much we both love the Scottish Highlands, isn’t Skye amazing and wasn’t the Harry Potter train over the Viaduct fun etc - if I hadn’t been sat there chatting away with top off and boobs out, it would have been a bit like going to the hairdressers. As it was, she’s very happy with everything and reassured me that yes, I am now definitely, most assuredly 'well' and no, I did not need to take up precious space in her room anymore. Then she booted me out. Sad face. I miss Sue already.

Then I popped upstairs to see Dr Dave to book in my annual mammogram for January, which as a breast cancer survivor, I am now entitled to. Sadly, Dave wasn’t in - probably off saving women everywhere like the legend he is - so I had a chat with his PA, Kate.

“When do you want to do it?" she said “You choose.”
“Next week?”
“December’s terrible. Don’t say December.”
“Ok then, how about mid-Jan?”
“Locked in. Want an ultrasound with that? You might as well.”

I’m not even joking. It was like being at a McDonalds Drive-Thru for boobs. Which I know would be a dream come true in many ways for several of you lads.

Then I spent 5 minutes explaining to Kate and her colleague on reception exactly how a mammogram worked while they both pulled faces only 22 year olds can pull when confronted with the words ‘boobs’, ’squashed’ and ‘like an ice cold sandwich press’.

I’ve been back nearly a fortnight and am starting to settle back in after ten tremendously recuperative and gorgeous weeks back in the Motherland. The ridiculous 30+ degree temperatures are certainly helping with this re-adjustment back into Sydney life but if it makes my English pals feel better, I did cry for pretty much the whole day when I landed. Cried driving to a massage, cried during the massage (not recommended), cried unpacking my bag, cried on my friend and her baby. Literally, all day. Then I took a sleeping pill, had 12 hours solid sleep, the sun came out and I felt much better. I still miss you all very much though. :)

In other exciting news, the Bouff has had its first official haircut! Yes! The Return of the Ringlets is all systems go! Both my mum and my sister both remarked in the UK how much like Dad’s hair it looked which, though I loved my Dad and his hair very much, is not exactly the look that I was quite aiming for. Another friend who shall remain nameless suggested it looked a bit like a wet tennis ball. He is still apologising, 2 weeks later. So the first thing I did post-crying massage was push off and see my hairdresser Roger.

“Too soon?” I said, anxiously as he strode towards me in the salon. “Never too soon!” he replied, whipping out his tiny nail scissors. Had a lovely time, a little ‘fro trimmage and Rog pretended there was a long-term strategy in place for Bouff-growth and maintenance which made me happy.

Before - wet tennis ball...

After - tennis ball. hmm. 

 I have to say as an aside that wrestling with the new Bouff has become my least favourite pastime. How much wax is too much wax? Why, o why does it insist on curling out at the sides like Count Duckula’s tail? I mostly just look like I’m auditioning for a role in Bugsy Malone. As a lad. And now they’re telling me I’ve got to go easy on the heels. Man alive. No online dating for me for a while...

But for now, sensible shoes and hair wax aside, we shall simply press on with getting back to normal. Whatever the devil that might be. :)

VC x

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