An unexpected birthday

Early on Friday afternoon 10 March my youngest son drove me down to Raglan to the Farmstay place the family had booked for the weekend. On Saturday I turned 67 and I was keen to treasure every moment of the birthday that this time last year I did not expect to make.

It also proved to be the best place to be as far as the weather was concerned. While parts of Auckland were deluged with rain, on Saturday morning the rain and clouds disappeared in Raglan and by lunch time we were all outside on the deck seated round the huge table enjoying a birthday lunch in the sun and admiring the wonderful view across the estuary to Mt Karioi. A glorious home-baked chocolate birthday cake with both my name and my son-in-law’s on it – my son-in-law’s birthday is the day before mine – completed the simple feast. As the afternoon wore on the clouds finally lifted from the peak of this ancient volcano.

While my eldest son took his son for a surfing lesson in the afternoon, the rest of us lazed in the sun, chatted, read, and/or took a nap. It was a totally unexpected bonus as we had come prepared to spend the forecast wet weekend inside playing board games. (There is no TV at the Farmstay but there is a fantastic sound system for the play lists that all my children appear to have). In the evening we headed off to the Orca restaurant for another wonderful meal. Of course, we all ate too much, including me, which is the added bonus of being two and half months’ post-chemotherapy and having regained both my appetite and a taste for food.

On Sunday the rain returned as we were packing up to leave. I could happily have stayed another day or two in this wonderful place. The view of the mountain from my bedroom window in the barn made my stay very special. The rest of the family stayed in the main house with its two bedrooms, two beautiful bathrooms, and one sunroom, in one of the other two separate dwellings, with my youngest son choosing to stay in one of the old caravans on the property.

It was a great weekend, made all the more special because it felt like such a bonus.

Resigning from the Auckland Women’s Health Council

In April 1995 I began working part-time – 25 hours a week – for the Auckland Women’s Health Council, taking on the position of co-ordinator after Judi Strid left to set up the Women’s Health Information Centre at National Women’s Hospital. Now, after almost 22 years, I have resigned. Friday 3 March was officially my last day, although I will be involved in many of the handover activities over the next few weeks as the new co-ordinator settles into the role.

It is going to take a while to get used to being an officially retired person, someone who is no longer in the paid workforce. I am very aware that although the demands of the job have got beyond what my energy levels will allow and it is definitely time to step down, taking such a huge step feels like a really significant milestone. While I am really looking forward to having more time to myself over the next few months, I am not at all sure what lies beyond the door I have just stepped through. I have mixed feelings about it, and my dreams are currently providing proof of my distress over the loss of this aspect of my identity.

I am also in unknown territory physically. My gastrointestinal tract is in good shape – the best it has been since I first began chemotherapy in December 2015 – and my appetite has slowly improved over the past month or so. The last CT scan suggested that the cancer is stable, and the latest blood test I had revealed that the pancreatic cancer biomarker had halved again for the third time. At the end of January it was down to 654, and the result of the blood test I had 10 days ago showed it was now 354. Given that it was 6,800 when I first received the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, this is amazing. I am not sure what this means, so I emailed Dr S. and asked him what he thought was behind the continued downward trend. Could it be the ongoing effects of the paclitaxel I had in November and December last year, I asked. That was a possibility, he said, and if it was it was a shame that I had not been able to tolerate the weekly chemotherapy sessions. Maybe it was time for another chat, he suggested.

As my feet are still numb, and the soles of my feet feel like they have a layer of thick sponge which interferes with walking and my sense of balance – a side effect of both cisplatin which was one of the four PEXG drugs, and the more recent paclitaxel sessions I underwent – I am in no mind to consider having any more chemotherapy. But I feel as though I am in some kind of limbo land where the cancer is currently stable, as in not progressing or spreading, and I am feeling reasonably okay.

So it’s time to think about adding a couple of things to my bucket list.