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Friday, January 14, 2011

Clouds, mud and toothpaste

It’s an overcast morning once again; overcast as it has been for so many mornings over past months. Melbourne is having its turn at flooding at the moment – even northern Tassie. And up there in the tropical seas to the north of Australia, the rain clouds are brewing again.
   I guess for most of the flood victims, the prospects are for cleaning up and coming to terms with loss. Grievous loss in many cases. For most of us who sympathise but are bystanders, it is still unimaginable.
   I look at that richly coloured muddy water flowing through the Brisbane Valley and out to sea and try to imagine the loss of the scarce, irreplaceable topsoil miles out now in the ocean, with all sorts of the flotsam and jetsam of people’s lives on top of it.
   The last time I saw water as richly coloured as this was in China, when the Yangtze was in flood. There, the gigantic loess plateaux in western China are almost annually stripped of billions of tonnes of yellow soil, in floods that turn the giant river into a torrent that looks like creamy caramel. To change the metaphor, you could almost spread it on to canvas with a palette knife, or so it appears. It fills the dams with mud but makes the flood plains fertile enough to support a billion people.
   Australia has only pockets of rich soil compared with say, the USA. Traverse the US, and you see the whole Midwest is rich farmland; Australia is mostly desert – which is why the population of the USA is 308 million and we are 22 million. Yet somehow we still can’t tend this vital resource properly, and see countless tons of it washed into the ocean. Think of the rich blacksoil of the Darling Downs, and the bright red rich volcanic soils of Toowoomba.
   So much of it now in Morton Bay. Irreplaceable. Hey and let's not blame the farmers. Most of them know what they are doing and many are the most balanced ecologists in the country these days. A lot of that topsoil is from urban gardens.
   We all face our battles, personal, family, state, national – even, for the longer term thinkers, global. There are precious places to protect and, vitally, there are people to feed. Sometimes that second one is forgotten, though in the next few months it might come to the fore given the destruction of crops and stock losses. These two are not incompatible, but it takes genuine action and not the political posturing we see that is supposed to look like someone is doing something. They’re not. They are just shunting figures around. Nothing is happening.
But I wasn’t going to talk about these matters, even though they are way more vital to your future life than anything happening in mine. What happens to me is irrelevant, except to the little group of people who might prefer to have me around. When I’m gone, the tiny tiny ripple will disappear nearly as quickly as that made by a raindrop in the Brisbane River last week.
   Sylvia has gone for a little run (as the sun bursts through, destroying my gloomy image for the moment at least.) She will be with us a few more days yet. My brother (in-law-ish! - in the sense that he is more a brother than a relation by marriage) John is staying in Armidale till Sunday, and it is a delight to have him here, with his bright good humour and thoughtfulness. (I had written more about him here, but it was starting to look like a reference, and I don’t want him to get a swollen head **smile** so I deleted it….) As I said before, all my sisters chose well.
   I slept less well last night. I suspect the realisation that the latest MRI indicates that we are now fighting the tumour with the last of our weapons tends to hit hardest in the darkness of the night. But I did get some sleep and woke with stronger resolve. I forced myself to do exercises aimed at getting more flexible, and strengthening my back a bit more, as I get the feeling sometimes that, if I bend over for too long to tie my shoelaces, I am simply going to stay in that position – jack-knifed.
   I always feel better for taking positive action and remind myself that the tumour and the oedema that surrounds it may not be substantially increased, and that I can still do things to slow down its progress however relentless that has proven to be over the past 14 months.
   I remind myself that the prognosis, if the tumour were left untreated, was three months. If so, I would have been dead fairly close to a year now, like the Haiti earthquake victims. Well, we have used all the weapons available, and they did their job at the times we used them – the surgery, the oral chemo, the radiotherapy, the intravenous chemotherapy and Avastin.
   I think of them all having a kind of half-life, like something that’s radioactive. They each delivered a hit; the tumour recoiled, and then struck back each time. The first hit of Avastin was quite a knockdown, but the half-life factor cuts in. I have now had five doses; the next one due next Wednesday.
   Each time it is almost certain to be a bit less effective.
   I was a little self-indulgent with foods at Christmas time, with family and friends around. Why would I not be, under the circumstances? Looking candidly at timelines and the way 2010 progressed, I would be kidding myself if I didn’t see that there was a bottom line. I don’t insult my own intelligence and I won’t insult yours.
   There are many ‘last times’ I think about, even with a tube of toothpaste. Will I need another one, ever? Few of you, I am sure, have that thought cross your mind when you put the paste on your brush, and nor should you. Or clothes and shoes - will I need more? But I don’t let such thoughts dominate my existence. 
   Yesterday I walked with Sylvia further than I have done since returning from Melbourne last March. My shaky old right arm, though seriously out of alignment, is stronger than it has been since we controlled the seizures. Though the holes in my memory seem to be increasing and though recent events can confuse me, I am retaining some degree of lucidity or I wouldn’t be writing this.
   So there you go. We are not down to pure bravado – not yet at least!


  1. It hasn't yet come to wondering if I should bother to buy another tube of toothpaste, but I do find myself thinking along those lines. "This will see me out...", often comes to mind when I buy something or make something. I decide not to do some things because I don't have enough time to develop them. I hesitate to plant trees as I won't see them mature. I don't worry about the gum tree growing close to my study as I won't be here when it starts to be a problem. One day, it will be the toothpaste I decide I don't need to buy anymore.

    It's not easy now to make those decisions or observations. It sends a bit of shock wave through my guts -- the shock of truth. I'm hoping when it's time to decide about the toothpaste, it will be easier because of all the practice. But then, maybe it will be harder.

  2. Joan Joan Joan - you're so healthy you will live to be a hundred, so I suspect when Woolies have a bargain on toothpaste, you buy a pallette load. :) You'll shuffle off with the best set of teeth in town!

  3. PS Idly wondering what toothpaste will be like or whether toothpaste will even be needed in forty or so years! 2050!!!!! OMG!!!!

  4. From the age of 4 to 18, I was bathed in an ocean of DDT, 24D, Deildrin, Aldrin, and other tasty delights whose names I cannot remember. All of these are banned now because they cause cancer, etc. My father managed an agricultural chemical plant, in which I also worked during my school holidays. My mother's houseplants mutated. What delicate damage does that stuff do to a 4 year old? I have yet to see, but I would not be surprised if pay back arrived one day.

    Also, it doesn't matter how long I look like I'm going to live, my body knows that something drastic changed a few years ago and I am now on the other side of the great dividing age range. My body knows this, and is telling my deep unconscious this truth. In unguarded moments, that knowledge bubbles up to consciousness, where it demands attention.

    We are told by our culture, "Don't talk about death. It's morbid." And then when the time comes, our close friends and rellies lament, "She won't talk about IT!!! We need to talk about IT!!"

    So I shall think about it on my own, as I always have done and trust in my body that it knows how to prepare itself.

  5. Denis, looking at that photo of you and Joan I sent recently, which was taken 4 years ago, I really notice how beaming with health you are. How suddenly things can change, for any of us! But no matter how much we may think about it, there's no preparing (in my opinion) for the actual WORD coming down :this is it.

    On a similar topic, I was amazed to hear that there were people in Australia, far from Brisbane, who were having counselling because they were so upset by the floods! My theory was that people can't contemplate that humans are actually not in control all the time (if ever!) -life is unpredictable even in our safe suburban boxes!!!

  6. PS I'm so pleased to hear John is staying with you just now. He looks (from FB)to be a delightful person - go ahead, write him a reference!


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