Butterflies, blue geckos and a backstory all on a Blog Tour!

I am delighted to pick up this Blog Tour baton, and wallow in the luxury of gazing at my writing navel! My Yangon friend, fellow blogger, member of our cosy writing group and owner of 2 Large and Friendly Dogs,  Cliff Lonsdale introduced this idea to me recently, when he decided to pick up the challenge.  He threw the blog tour gauntlet at my feet and today it is my turn to pick up the baton and run a little with it.

It feels luxurious and a little wicked to sit back, and reflect on my writing! I use my writing as a reflective process or tool so I feel as I am opening up the workings of something I do not truly understand. A bit like physics, I know it is there and it guides me through the world but how does it work? Of that I am not sure, neither am I convinced that I am able to understand.

At this stage of so-called maturity, I realise that I am a butterfly in many areas of my life. I flit around, my attention snatched by an image or a random thought from nowhere, or something amusing which I just have to stop in mid-sentence to share. I find my thoughts in a very different place to where I started out from. I was in the middle of a serious conversation yesterday, when I spotted a motorbike go past the window of my Bangkok hotel. Standing behind the driver, as some kind of pillion passenger was a beefy little dog quite happily travelling along Sukhumvit amidst lines of traffic and fumes, somehow maintaining his balance. I had to break my sentence and share this moment or it would have been lost forever. I had darted away from one train of thought and conversation, and off instantly into another.

Backyard butterfly

Backyard butterfly

I am captivated by the simplest and seemingly everyday things in this life. I can spend long moments watching with fascination as a line of ants transports a crumb many times larger than each of them across the path, gazing at the monsoon rains pounding down and creating magical lakes on the grass and leaving little rainbow pools in the upturned leaves many hours later. I can sit at night and listen while the tokay gecko gives out his distinctive call and the frogs clamour to shout the loudest. I can spend a great deal of time, watching butterflies flit around the bushes in the garden, darting from leaf to leaf, from flower to flower and then onto another bush as something calls them onwards. My attention is caught by these prompts, and I find myself snatched into a different moment.

Maybe I was a butterfly in a previous life and I have kept my butterfly approach to my world. Maybe I will be a butterfly next time round? Maybe I am a butterfly now, in human guise? A butterfly that writes?

I have always wanted to write, especially a book with proper pages and a cover I cherish. I remember when I was a young child, I started my first attempt at a book. I must have been was inspired by the CS Lewis books about Narnia as I realised that the paragraphs I had created, revealed some considerable likeness to the Narnia tales, even down to the name of the imaginary land. What a good job I realised that at the tender age of 11. I kept this fantasy to myself  after that, clearly unable to produce anything resembling originality. Much later, I remember reading Francoise Sagan’s novel “Bonjour la tristesse”, and being stunned that the written word could have such an effect on my emotions. I wanted to be able to do that. I tried writing again a few years later, and on one occasion managed to put some words on paper. I must have produced a couple of paragraphs with a bland, insipid main character based on all sorts of idealistic and mildly feminist aspirations. Another non-starter.

For many years, the ideas and dreams continued to flourish but nothing actually moved forward, and I did little about it apart from keeping journals of time travelling and overseas.

Then something rather strange happened. I was on holiday in Thailand ten years ago, and decided to consult an astrologer as I was pretty curious. I veer between sceptical and believer and was probably not the most cooperative person to give a reading to. However, I was considerably surprised and impressed by the amount of information the astrologer gave. Some things would be a fairly safe guess, but he also said some things which were not really possible to guess which were very specific and interesting. After the consultation was finished he asked if there was anything specific I wanted to know, and I asked a couple of questions, but then he said “another thing – one day your name will be famous by writing”. I didn’t understand what he meant at first, and asked him to clarify. He said that one day I would write a book which would make name  well known.

Those words had a great effect on me. I picked up the dream again, and bought a laptop. I was living in Nepal at the time, and surrounded by inspiration. To my surprise, these words took the shape of poetry and by the time I left Nepal in 2005 I had a healthy little portfolio of poetry with me. The astrologer had re-ignited that light in me, and quite deliberately I wrote.

My next step forward, came in April 2007 when I closed my eyes, took a very deep breath and stepped into a space I had been longing to have the courage to move into. I started blogging. I was trembling as I went through the steps to start my relationship with “blogspot”, looking over the Andaman sea as the light faded, colour bled from the sky and a series of pinks, purples, indigo and shades of darker blue slowly disappeared under the cloak of the night sky. I knew I had to keep the momentum and get this new being online yet I did not have a name for the blog. I had no idea what to call this space where I would bare my writing soul. It must have taken a couple of hours to come with “Feisty Blue Gecko” but I knew it was me! Feisty is a label a few previous bosses have called me, and I like it! I like the thought of having spirit and principles as that is what the term says to me. If there is only one word permitted on my tombstone or obituary, then I would be happy to rest if that word were “feisty”. Blue is easy – the same Thai astrologer told me that my most auspicious colour was blue. This instantly resonated – I choose blues in all manner of ways, from fabrics, clothes, images, paint. I love blue and quite how the astrologer knew, is another mystery as I was wearing burning desert colours that day of vibrant orange and reds. And gecko was also an obvious one. Since a child I have had a fascination with lizards though in Scotland, you can imagine that I did not see so many. I remember catching one once, and making it a wonderful home in a wooden box, furbished with grasses, stones and a dish of water. I named him (I was only around 9 years old, remember) “Swift Stone” because of his rapid movement and camouflage. I never saw him again, and I am not convinced that he even made it into his carefully designed home. Moving to Asia meant a proliferation of lizards and geckos and I can never tire of them darting across the ceiling, chirruping and as a bonus, scoffing little beasties and bugs that might otherwise trouble me. So that is the “why” of the moniker Feisty Blue Gecko, and we have been a team now for approaching 7 years! Feisty Blue Gecko was the space where I shared observations and experiences through my time in India and Sri Lanka, focusing particularly on my own personal take on this and not in any way venturing into analysis or controversy. That was not my kind of space.

When I moved to Myanmar, blogspot was not accessible in those days, so there was a blogging silence for a while until I discovered that WordPress was, for some reason, open and doing business. I migrated over and set up a new space, although said very little. There are two reasons for that. Firstly, the context was very sensitive and so I was keen not to give any cause for concern so my posts were few and gentle. The second reason is that only weeks after arriving in Myanmar I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And that pushed me over into a very new world. I quickly knew that writing and specifically, blogging would be one of the ways I would work my way forward and this very space, blog space No 3 was set up for this very particular experience. This was my breast cancer blog, and I was in a new universe.

Initially I purged my head of the detail of treatments by writing it down. It was a way of keeping friends and family updated about what was happening, but I did not realise that it provided an insight to my thoughts and emotions and not just the bare facts. It was a way of recording what was happening as I knew that I would forget detail and how I felt. And it quickly became a way of communicating with others all around the globe, who were in a very similar situation to the one I had unexpectedly found myself in. There was a whole world of breast cancer bloggers out there!

It is now over four years since I set up that new space, and in that time both myself and the blog have evolved in ways I would not have imagined. Now my strapline really says it all. I see my blog very much as the Life and work of a Scottish woman in Asia – with the added complication of Breast Cancer thrown into the mix!

And one of the most important parts of that life is that writing plays a very serious part in it. Since arriving in Yangon, I have become part of a writing group here, which has provided a nurturing place for me to learn and enabling me to experiment and stretch my writing in ways I could never have imagined.

So this opportunity to step back and explore my writing self is very welcome, even if it might feel uncomfortably revealing.

Now that my I have limbered up a little, let’s have a look at those questions of the Blog Tour…..

1) What am I working on?

What am I not working on? I am a butterfly in so many areas of my life, but none is more apparent than in my writing. I am surrounded by inspiration and ideas swamp my mind, so many fading from my memory before they have the chance to take shape and grow. I have notebooks with Morning Pages, a journal, an “ideas” jotter and even a ”things I must jot down right now as I will forget it for sure” cute little notebook. We have some writing group assignments, prompts and experiments. I love to write the occasional guest blog for others. I have been playing with flash fiction and love it! My greatest investment in terms of writing time would surely be devoted to the blog. I post most weeks, sometimes more if there is something especially stirring. And occasionally I skip a week if other responsibilities and commitments have to compete the blog loses out.

This year I made a “writing plan” and set out some concrete things I want to have in place, and some steps towards achieving these. The main “big” projects are:

A memoir. Original, huh? And a cancer memoir it is too. But, this is a kind of expat, tropical cancer memoir and I hope that will make it a little different.

A collection. I have a heap of bits and pieces which have taken shape as I have flitted around Asia. I have some poetry, some short stories and some snippets which I am working to shape. I see the result as some kind of collection which together will give a sense of how life in this part of the world for someone with blue eyes, living amongst mainly brown eyed people.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My work has aspects in common with many others. The subjects I write about, for example are not unique to me – breast cancer, living in Yangon, visiting interesting places and meeting cool folks. I do have a little bit of a “niche” however, in that expat breast cancer is more rare as a blog and writing topic. Rare but not desirable, I hasten to add!

However, the main distinguishing feature of my writing is that it comes out of my head, is formed by my own slant on the universe, and frequently is based on the tiniest of seemingly insignificant actions or observations, seen or experienced either only by me, or in my own peculiar way. Often those moments are the catalyst for a great deal more thought, and ideas come from somewhere I did not existed. The poetry I wrote in Nepal was not deep and elusive but very much a way of capturing often everyday details which otherwise would rapidly melt and disappear. This is an example – I was travelling in southern Nepal and spotted a boy with a bike trying to catch chickens……… this is how it developed.  (Babu is a term for son or boy, and amaa is Nepali for mother)

Babu and the chickens

Babu babu,

go for chickens,

we need chickens to celebrate

ten fat healthy chickens

take the bike

yes that one

it’s big

but you are big now

quickly quickly

go and get the chickens

nice lively clucking ones

 

Amaa amaa

I got the chickens

I took the bike

it was so big

I couldn’t reach the seat

I got to the shop

slipping my little short legs

through the bars

trying to pedal

 

I got the chickens

ten big clucking chickens

nice fat ones to celebrate

In each hand

I had five chickens

clutching their claws

and the handlebars

their heads swinging as I pedalled

beady eyes

peering upwards

at me.

And the big big bike

wobbling all over the road

all the time, I was

tightly clutching the chickens

 

But amaa I slipped

the bike fell over

I fell over

and the chickens jumped

out of my hands

in all directions.

I ran to gather up the chickens

squawking

clucking

wandering

in the road

everywhere

rickshaws rattling

bikes swerving

 

I got the chickens

but amaa

only seven chickens

and the bike is broken

I’m sorry amaa

please don’t cry amaa

we have to celebrate

****************

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write what I do for a number of reasons.

  • I write to capture an experience, or a tiny detail, or a particular moment which I want to remember.
  • I write to develop an idea, not sure where it might be going but allowing creativity and inspiration take me somewhere unexpected.
  • Often I write simply so that I don’t forget.
  • I write because I want to share things I see and experience, the tiny things which are so significant but so easily lost.
  • I write because I find it healing and cathartic. When something is troubling me, I find that writing with abandon, letting the worry or pain be drawn from my mind, exorcising that which is causing my anguish. I know that these words will stay on the written page, and that I will probably never look at them again, but they have been removed from the destructive process going on in my mind.
  • I particularly found that I have written my way through the trauma of diagnosis, the stresses of subsequent scares and more recently the raw grief of losing my father.
  • I write because I feel I have something different to say.
  • I write because I have some simply brilliant ideas, which no one has ever thought of and no one ever will 😉
  • And of course, I write because I want to be published…….. Well, don’t we all?

4) How does my writing process work?

We’re back to the butterfly. My writing process flits about in spare moments around full time work and other commitments and tends to vary depending on the genre.

However, broadly there tends to be a prompt first of all, that spark of an idea. I might see something which causes me to smile, to wrinkle my eyebrow in puzzlement or a random thought which appears and then takes a life of its own.

From the idea or prompt, I often write in my head. I work and rework phrases and take an idea on a journey, swept along on beautiful prose. I try and capture those wonderful rich words, and write them down but somehow they have too often disappeared and I struggle to retrieve them.

I find that many ideas and thoughts come while I am swimming. As I plough up and down the pool, head above the water in case I miss anything, I can form the most original ideas, and express them in artful sentences. But there is no pen to hand when in a swimming pool and as I climb out of the water, those precious creations drain away.

I do find though that my writing process varies according to the different pieces I write, along with the mood or tone of that writing. I reflect a great deal and will mull over whatever it is that is playing on my mind until the shape appears. By the time I set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, the idea is already quite advanced. I especially love paper, I love the feel of a pen in my hand and as far as practical write in longhand.  Having said that, I am extremely thankful for the technology which saves us having to re-write or re-type as that makes life such a great deal easier. So when I write it up. I edit but do not tend to re-write significantly, more a touch of polish and tweaking.

There is an exception.  I rarely edit a rant! Rants do not happen often but they have their own identity. For example, last year on the eve of my major annual medical checks, I saw a horribly offensive and ineffective “campaign” supposedly in the interests of breast cancer awareness. In around fifteen minutes I had spat out my argument and clicked “publish”. That was particularly frightening the post took hold and was in no time doing its own world tour!

Some of my work is quite factual and aims to be informative, for example sharing aspects of life here in Myanmar that would be very different to other contexts. That writing process includes more research than other pieces of work.

The one grain through all of my writing is the hunger I have to move my reader, to touch emotions through my words to prompt a smile or a sigh. I play with words in my mind, turning them over to find the one which is just right, and conveys just what I want to.

And my final word on this should really be a caveat. I think long, and I write long. What started out as a short post has turned into a long one as I have flitted through these questions, just like the little orange butterflies which must be sleeping by now. Oh, I wonder – where do butterflies sleep …………..

This blog tour is ready to leave Yangon.  I am passing the baton to two bloggers who I have met online, but never in real life. However, in addition to be amazing women and talented writers, I consider them to be my friends.

I am handing the baton to Canada – to Catherine:

Catherine Brunelle is a Canadian writer and author of The Adventures of Claire Never-Ending. Born in Canada, she met the love of her life in France, studied creative writing in England, swam Lake Balaton in Hungary, and currently calls Ottawa her home. Happily married, she is busy typing on her laptop while attempting to carpe that diem with her best friend and husband, Zsolt.

Check Catherine’s blog here

us

And to Marie, an Irishwoman currently living in Australia.

Marie Ennis-O’Connor is a PR consultant and blogger with a passionate interest in healthcare social media. A nine-year breast cancer survivor, she is a board member of Europa Donna Ireland –  The Irish Breast Cancer Campaign, a patient advocacy group that  is one of 46 EUROPA DONNA member countries across Europe. Marie’s interest in the impact of breast cancer on younger women led to her editing a patient information booklet, Younger Women,Breast Cancer and Fertility which is distributed widely in breast cancer centres throughout Ireland. She writes about the experience of transitioning from breast cancer patient to survivor on her blog Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer.  Marie blog awards

Great!  We’re connecting North America, Asia, Europe and Australia in one sweep!  And I am very much looking forward to reading their posts next Monday.

The world we live in

What a fascinating world we live in.

Scotland 2010 171

Last Monday morning, I was sitting in the departures area of Yangon airport, checking email and sipping a cup of tea when my eye caught sight of what was to become the subject of a major gecko rant.  On the other side of the world, as my day was getting underway, night had fallen where the post had originated. As my day progressed and I travelled to my next door country, my thoughts kept returning to the inappropriate nature of this post and little mini rants formed in my mind.  By the time I had checked into my hotel room in the evening, these had gathered speed to such an extent that I had to activate the offload and download function in the form of a rare, sweet rant. Within ten minutes, I was quickly reviewing the words on the page, and pressing “publish”.  I immediately felt better for this being “off my chest”.  In more ways than one! In a matter of nanoseconds, my rant was online and visible right around the planet.  Our side of the globe was in darkness, and the day was beginning across where the original post had come from.

What an amazing world we live in.

What happened next was dizzying.  I realised that the rant was attracting interest and attention by the way the stats started to rise.  However, it was late and I was soon tucked up in bed and nodding off, preoccupied and focused on the coming day.  After my usual night time bathroom visit, I peaked at the stats to see if the rant was still being read and was astounded to see that the hourly views reported hundreds of visits per hour.  Hundreds?  Mine is just a modest little blog which has a cosy space in the blogosphere.  I am delighted to have days when there are over a hundred visits, and more usually have tens of visits.  My previous record was 398 in one day and that had been a very happy day!  Now I was seeing more than that in an hour!  I almost wanted to press some magic “stop” button as this was starting to feel rather scary and out of control.  I am not sure what constitutes “viral” but I would class this as at least”ballistic”!

What a surprising world we live in.

It is not very often that I slip off my comfortable spot on the fence in this space. I much prefer to share thoughts, inspirations, experience and reflections which are less contentious.  But sometimes, there is just no choice, A rant is all that will do and rant I will.  What does not fail to surprise me however, is the attention which my rants receive in comparison with posts and writing which have been far more carefully  considered and composed.  I usually spend time thinking before writing and reviewing my blog posts, gently refining language to convey just what I wish to say.  Whereas the rants take shape very quickly and with not enough review and revision.  So for this particular one to reach so many parts of the world was overwhelming and dizzying. How ironic that a rant rattled off the keyboard in ten minutes than attracts far more attention than carefully composed poetic reflective prose.

What an intriguing world we live in.

Most of Tuesday I was offline as I worked my way through the hospital checks, so I was even more surprised that evening to see that the blog had not been at rest at all while I was disconnected.  I watched the stats soar through the evening as visits from all around the world were being logged.

Zizzing around the world

I continued to check with one wary eye into Wednesday and the stats continued to rise.  My regular viewing numbers had all but disappeared against this sudden and unusual high level of activity.

stats

In that first day alone, there were over 4000 views.  This continued and within 3 days the rant had ranted in over 60 countries (the figures below are a 24 hour snapshot). Astonishingly there had been more visits in those 72 hours than the blog had welcomed in the whole of 2010! I have to admit that I was really rather relieved when the views started to slow down.  It is a strange sensation knowing that your words are being read by such a variety of people and you realise just how vulnerable and exposed we are online.

# Country ↓ Last 24h (21:00 – 21:00) Current Hour Complete Interval
Pages Hourly Pages Cities Pages
Min Pages Max Pages Avg Pages Min Cities Max Cities Avg Cities
1  Vietnam 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
2  United States 2,647 10 273 110.29 7 174 75.92 157 107 2,804
3  United Kingdom 284 0 53 11.83 0 32 7.13 33 16 317
4  United Arab Emirates 2 0 1 0.08 0 1 0.08 0 0 2
5  Turkey 4 0 1 0.17 0 1 0.17 1 1 5
6  Thailand 42 0 11 1.75 0 2 0.54 4 1 46
7  Switzerland 15 0 4 0.63 0 3 0.54 0 0 15
8  Sweden 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 1 1 2
9  Spain 7 0 3 0.29 0 3 0.25 1 1 8
10  South Africa 2 0 2 0.08 0 1 0.04 0 0 2
11  Singapore 4 0 1 0.17 0 1 0.17 0 0 4
12  Puerto Rico 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
13  Portugal 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
14  Pakistan 3 0 1 0.13 0 1 0.13 0 0 3
15  Oman 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
16  Norway 3 0 2 0.13 0 2 0.13 0 0 3
17  Nicaragua 2 0 2 0.08 0 1 0.04 0 0 2
18  New Zealand 8 0 2 0.33 0 2 0.33 0 0 8
19  Netherlands 11 0 2 0.46 0 1 0.42 1 1 12
20  Myanmar 17 0 6 0.71 0 2 0.38 0 0 17
21  Mexico 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
22  Malaysia 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
23  Lithuania 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
24  Korea, Republic of 4 0 2 0.17 0 1 0.13 0 0 4
25  Kenya 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
26  Japan 4 0 1 0.17 0 1 0.17 0 0 4
27  Italy 11 0 4 0.46 0 3 0.38 0 0 11
28  Israel 10 0 7 0.42 0 1 0.13 0 0 10
29  Ireland 11 0 4 0.46 0 3 0.33 1 1 12
30  Indonesia 2 0 1 0.08 0 1 0.08 0 0 2
31  India 5 0 1 0.21 0 1 0.21 0 0 5
32  Iceland 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
33  Hungary 3 0 1 0.13 0 1 0.13 0 0 3
34  Hong Kong 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
35  Guyana 2 0 1 0.08 0 1 0.08 0 0 2
36  Guernsey 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
37  Germany 12 0 3 0.50 0 2 0.42 0 0 12
38  France 12 0 3 0.50 0 2 0.42 0 0 12
39  Finland 3 0 2 0.13 0 1 0.08 0 0 3
40 ?? Europe 2 0 2 0.08 0 1 0.04 0 0 2
41  Egypt 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
42  Dominican Republic 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
43  Denmark 2 0 1 0.08 0 1 0.08 0 0 2
44  Cyprus 2 0 1 0.08 0 1 0.08 0 0 2
45  Costa Rica 2 0 2 0.08 0 1 0.04 0 0 2
46  Chile 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
47  Canada 145 0 20 6.04 0 14 4.75 1 1 146
48  Bolivia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 2
49  Bermuda 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
50  Belgium 27 0 10 1.13 0 6 0.88 0 0 27
51  Bangladesh 4 0 1 0.17 0 1 0.17 0 0 4
52  Bahamas 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
53  Austria 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1
54  Australia 37 0 7 1.54 0 5 1.17 2 2 39
55  Afghanistan 1 0 1 0.04 0 1 0.04 0 0 1

What an astonishingly interconnected world we live in.

Scotland 2010 171

If I had been diagnosed ten or more years earlier, there would have been little or no online community.  My breast cancer world would have been so much smaller and more contained.  Now we have Facebook, Twitter and all manner of communication on devices which we carry around with us.  With one click, a thought or rant is sent over the blogosphere, scattering and sharing the words we key in, to land in the most unexpected dusty corners of the planet.

What an incredible world we live in.

Who would have thought?

Who would have thought? 

As I write this, it is exactly four years since we were making that journey from Safdarjung in Delhi to the domestic airport.  We were clutching our nomadic essentials from an unexpectedly long stay in Delhi, along with a bundle of paperwork which included those precious visas.  The reason for our longer stay.

We were bound initially for Calcutta on a domestic flight and would arrive late in the evening.  We would then fly onwards to Bangkok on a three hour flight  departing in the early hours of the morning of the 18th June.  We would have a ninety minute transfer in Bangkok airport before boarding the first flight of the day to Yangon, bleary eyed and with virtually no sleep.  We would arrive, those bleary eyes bug-like, in Yangon ready for the next chapter.

Who would have thought we would still be here four years later, in a very different and exciting Myanmar?

We knew that we would need to get used to certain changes, for example, that internet was difficult to access.  I had been blogging in India and Sri Lanka,  and recorded our farewell thoughts as we prepared to leave.

Who would have thought that I would not return to Delhi in at least four years?

Who would have known that life was about to take such an unexpected turn?

Who would have known that hidden away amongst our belongings and paperwork, I was concealing two tumours and conveying them safely to our new home?

Who would have known that I would find that writing my way through this would be such a critical lifeline?

Who would have known how many friends I would meet through this?

Of course we cannot know.  To paraphrase  Soren Kierkegaard- We might understand life more easily by looking back, but we have to live it looking forward, not knowing what is ahead.

So, four years later it is fascinating to look back and realise just how much the ground has shifted in so many ways.  When I read the original Feisty Blue Gecko, so many memories come back.  It is strange to read those words and feel a strange innocence, which we realise has been wrenched from us when we crossed that line in the sand.

How much has happened in these past four years.

Who would ever have thought?  And who would have known, indeed?

In praise of my fish pickling flair

There is a wonderful Myanmar expression which describes an act which is pointless, or will not be understood or appreciated (similar to throwing pearls among swine) and that is “playing harp for a water buffalo”. I just love the image it conjures up, although who knows – perhaps we are not judging buffalo fairly! How do we know that buffalo really do not enjoy harp playing?

This morning I read another Myanmar expression – “to praise the pickling of your own fish”. This was explained by relating it to the phrase “blowing your own trumpet” in other words boasting about your own work or achievement. Something I usually feel rather uncomfortable about.

pickled fish

However, this post is all about singing the praises of my own pickled fish! As I have been preparing my three words for 2013, I have also been reflecting back over the year, and the challenges it has thrown, the adventures and surprises which have come my way and the thoughts which have been inspired by all manner of sources. These have led to an eclectic mix of topics and a wide range of blog posts! This year, to date I have pressed “publish” 69 times sending a new post into the unknown space that is the blogosphere with each of those clicks.

The year has been a mix. There have been unexpected health issues which have sabotaged plans and shaken the confidence which I had been building, in the process destroying plans and dreams to a certain extent. However, among those difficult times, there have been some amazing experiences, and more than a few escapades. And I have visited 2 new countries (Norway and Timor Leste), as well as a new territory (Macau), which is not bad at all, all things considered.  I have gone back over the posts of the year and selected a few of them to highlight the year, and to reflect on some of the ideas and thoughts which have taken shape.

It has been a tough year in the breast cancer blogging community, with too many of our friends being stolen as the disease marches on relentlessly, and the emotional, physical and psychological toil that takes on us all. Even in Yangon, I have been distraught that three women I know here have been diagnosed recently. I continue to be moved and motivated to highlight the enormous challenges for women where the do not have access to information or treatment for breast cancer. It tears at our souls and rips our hearts. We must keep on.

My choice of blogging headlines is thus a mix, reflecting this mixed year.

I started the year by relating the tale of my travels to the ancient city of Mrauk U in a remote part of the country, and a highly memorable day with the women in Chin villages.

At the beginning of February, I was off on another escapade. My blogging friend Terri was not far from me, as she worked through her Adventure of Hope. It was an irresistible opportunity to meet up with her, I knew we were like minds and we managed to meet up in Hong Kong! The trip was inspirational, but in some ways was bittersweet as the same week has seen a health worry of my father and still palpable shock as two incredible blogging friends were stolen by cancer. This prompted thoughts on the incredible strength of voices, and the extent to which they belie the physical fragility caused by cancer as it progresses.  I struggled to believe that women with such strong and vital voices were so terribly ill and would die.

At the same time, we were again confronted with the spectre of a cancer diagnosis in the family, and this stirred thoughts on my own experiences of cancer and parenting and what I found to be the most difficult challenges of my life.

The end of the February saw me visiting the very young country of Timor Leste and spending an incredible weekend with the Dr who I first consulted with “the lump”. It was wonderful to see her again and to see how friendships form from some of the most difficult challenges thrown in our path.

In March, I was packing my bags again and dreaming of starfish! That was followed up at the start of April by my regular oncology checks and the surprise de-portation, which derailed my plans to travel to India to spend time with family.

I was shaken to learn this year, that the trust I have in the blogging community could on occasion be niaive and this prompted a great deal of thought, and a discussion which I called “in trust we blog”.  A lively and fascinating discussion ensued which spawned a follow up and exposure of the expression “gobsmacked“!

The theme of packing, unpacking and re-packing continued as June approached, as I embarked on what i knew would be an emotional and intense visit back to Scotland. The priority was to spend time with my father and help with the practical arrangements with his care.  That time was special, but limited and demanding both emotionally and physically.  On my return to Yangon I became very ill and there started the unwanted escapade involving pulmonary embolism, believed to be linked to Tamoxifen (a rare side effect) and exacerbated by the tough schedule and lack of rest.  That was a frightening and low point and I remember being horribly afraid in a different way to the fear which the “you have cancer” words bring.  This was much more immediate.  An unexpected week in hospital and further week in Bangkok stopped me very much in my tracks and I returned quietly to Yangon late in July and lay low for a while, licking my wounds and regrouping.

My recovery became evident again, when I decided to have a bit of a makeover of the blog both in its look and format, but also by revisiting my purpose of blogging.  After all it had been some time since this was hatched!  This post generated a great deal of discussion and further thought, which I still intend to revisit.

As I was overhauling the blog and explicity intending to share more of life and work here, Marie of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer was forming a wonderful challenge in which we were invited to Celebrate the Ordinary around us.  This was a wonderful project and for seven days I took delight in sharing images of the everyday.  My gentle recovery and rebuilding was demonstrated in my very special acquisition of the year – a happy green bicycle built for three!

October is a strange time in the Breast Cancer Community, and one I find particularly poignant as the run of landmark days including the anniversary of diagnosis, surgery, first chemo pass right through the month.  My own focus remains around the concern of women (particularly) in places where access to information and treatment is highly limited and was the focus of my plea to remember that the world is not an equal place.  This unease was heightened by the timing of my Big Check early in October and some unexpected and unwanted blood results and extra tests.  I used writing as a way to deal with this and my post In a scary space was written in the two hours between injection of radioactive dye, and the ensuing bone scan to evaluate whether there could be metastasis to my bones.  I still find it difficult to re-read, but I am glad that I recorded that very unique time when confronted with such fear.

As we moved into November, the atmosphere of optimism and change continued to build and we were all very excited and encouraged to learn that the newly returned President of the United States, Barack Obama would be visiting our country. Not only did he visit our country, he came to our city, drove down our road and WAVED RIGHT AT US!!  Yes, I am still all of a flutter about that day and even followed up with a personal note to President Obama!

As I arrive in December, I realise that the month took on a rather bookish flavour with a post inspired by the quotation “I fall down. I get up again.” from a book I was reading and which I found strongly resonated with my own experience of breast cancer. and my final favourite post was also about paper and books and all inspired by a kingfisher!

pickled fish2So as the year closes, and I look back at what has been a packed year with many unexpected challenges, I can clearly see from these bloggly headlines, that I am one incredibly lucky individual who has pickled a good many fish.  I have only been able to do that, however, thanks to the inspiration, support and encouragement of very many talented and prolific fish picklers!  Thank you!

Wishing you all a 2013 which is kind, fulfilling and enables your dreams and aspirations!

Time for Cake!

Today is another landmark day.  Three years ago today, after yet another sleepless night with the weight of too many thoughts crowding my post diagnosis headspace, I took the plunge.  I had already been blogging as Feisty Blue Gecko for a couple of years, but needed a new online space for the new real space I had stepped into.  And this gecko-flavoured breast cancer blog was duly hatched.

Last year, on my second blogaversary, I wrote a long post with some background detail, and characters which have evolved as the blog has taken on a life of its own.  It is quite a blogossary.

This morning, I took a big step back in time, and visited that very first post when I dipped my toes into the blogospheric waters. And this is how I saw things then, on 28 October 2009:

This really is a record of the unexpected.  I don’t know where it is going, and I don’t know how it will look, but life changed 3 weeks ago and I have a lot to get off my chest.  Quite literally.

And the purpose of this?  To help me process and deal with what has and is happening.  To share one experience of what is a very common disease.  To tell my story as it unfolds, in a way that helps me.  And the rest…………….

This is the biggest and scariest challenge of my life.  Breast cancer is unknown in our family and I have not really been close to anyone while they have been fighting cancer.  But I have such a lot going for me, this is not going to be a tale (tail) of woe, (well maybe sometimes), but a rise to the challenge.  I have such amazing support – I am not in this alone.  I also know that much of this will be revealing and personal, but I have been encouraged by the number of other blogs by women with breast cancer so I think I’m entitled to have a shout too!  We are all different and I know my perspective will be different.

This part of the story starts on September 23 so there is a bit of catching up to do.  I will try and fill in the details and bring things up to date but it will take a bit of time.  This is partly because so much has happened, and partly because I am feeling the grand theft of many lymph nodes from under my left arm which makes typing slow and full of mistakes.  And partly because there is so much going on in my head which, as I said above – I need to get off my chest!

28 October  2009

I could never have imagined how important the blog would become in my life, and how many incredible people I have connected with, the friendships I have formed and the lorryloads I have learned.

And here I am, after three years.  Still writing.  Still ranting and venting.  Still reflecting.  Still making friendships and connections.  Still processing and deliberating.  And still getting a great deal off my chest!

So this is one to celebrate.  I even Googled “gecko cake” because it is much sweeter than Googling “is-this-funny-mark-a-sign-of-cancer?”

And guess what?  There are heaps and heaps of images of gecko cakes!  And not only gecko cakes, but even a gecko shaped cake cutter! Who would have imagined that?

So, thank you dear gecko and dear blog.  Here’s to many returns of the day, and many more years of irreverence and feistiness together!

In a scary space – the details of the past days

Pre-script/spoiler alert

As promised, here is the detail of this latest twist in the tale.  I particularly wanted to provide the previous short post, to share the news promptly that the investigative tests had been clear.  This is absolutely not intended to bring concern or suspense, but rather to document and probably moreover, process and offload, download and upload the events of this week.  Hence the “spoiler alert”.  There is no bad news in this post.

While I was waiting for the bone scan, I had two hours to wait after the radioactive dye was injected.  I sat down with my laptop and hammered away at the keys, just banging down what was going on in my head.  Looking back, it was just like being in an exam, that sense of purpose and pressure as the words flowed.  The following is what I wrote during that time.  I have tidied rather than edited, so it does come across as rather messy and lurches from big serious thoughts to the utterly trivial.  I did not want to re-work this apart from correcting errors and clarifying aspects which in hindsight might be inaccurate or unclear, because it is a snapshot of where my mind was right at that time, when I did not know.  I have added this pre-script and a post script to situate what I wrote while in that scared space.

I am sitting writing this while the radioactive dye does its preparatory work.  Ironic as I am “dying” to know what the bone scan is going to reveal.  Dying to know that I am not stage 4 and not in a inevitable process which will ultimately lead to my body dying.  And my mind, although not for as long as I can keep my hands on it.

When I am worried, I tend to retreat into myself.  Contradictorily I crave support and reassurance, but something inside me retreats and works through whatever needs to be worked through until there is at best reassurance and relief and at worst clarity on where I’m heading and what options there are.

And that is the space where I find myself right now.  Usually I don’t write about this, either on the blog to the wide (wide blogging anyway) world, but also not really to family, friends or colleagues either.  Since my original diagnosis in 2009 when I told hardly a soul, I have developed a slightly more “let’s not tempt fate” approach to follow up tests and usually share a concern or worry if I have one.

I approached the tests this time with a slight sense of complacency.  And that was thanks to the CT scan I had had in July at the time of the Pulmonary Embolism.  Dr W2 had reviewed that CT scan not just from the perspective of the clot, but also (and particularly I suspect) through his oncologist glasses.  He told me that the CT scan gave no indication that cancer was a factor in the pulmonary embolism and lung/ chest trouble.  What a huge relief that was.

And so this has been not so much in the back, but very much in the forefront of my mind.  If there was no sign of anything worrisome back in July, then surely things have a better chance of being ok through these results.  Surely.

Having the Big Annual Checks so soon after the PE episode added to this complacency for sure, although I would not be me if I was not anxious and worried about the checks.  That is the way I rock and roll.  I am the Worry Queen after all.

The checks had to span two days as the number of specialists (aka superheroes) I see increases with each extra bonus “thanks to freaking cancer” condition I collect as time wears on. So on Monday 8 October I presented myself at my second home, Counter No 2 so that the process could begin.  I had to ensure that the staff knew to take all the blood they needed for all the docs – I have a range of checks including the usual full blood counts, thyroid monitoring, glucose, kidney function, liver function, INR and clottery levels, hormone levels and of course the scary old tumour markers.  To name but a few.  A few phone calls confirmed the final count and several vials (felt like litres) of blood were syphoned off.  (And they seem to be surprised that I am mildly anaemic when I am constantly being bled?)

I then had a couple of hours before seeing Dr M, the latest addition to my A team – my cardiologist, who was enlisted at PE time.  That permitted time to run out and undertake a rapid procurement of a couple of new swimsuits.  All this daily swimming is resulting in perishing swimsuits so replacement was getting urgent.  Before very long I was back at the hospital and waiting for Dr M.

He was happy with my results, and paid particular attention to the  INR result (my blood needs to be in a specific range, knows as the therapeutic range) while I am on warfarin for PE.  The result sat comfortably in the range and he was happy with that and the reasonable stability of results since returning to Yangon.  He was very happy with liver, kidney, thyroid and the other results that he was interested.  He will review how long I will be on warfarin, but we are still talking at least 6 months.

As he turned the page for the final results (which he was also happy with), my seasoned eye sought out the tumour marker results, as I know where they are on the page, and I know the reference ranges by heart. (no pun intended, siting in a cardiologist’s office!)

The CEA was comfortably in range at 3.62, but my eye was caught by the CA marker which has a reference range from 0 – 22.  This one tends to vary a bit, although it did reach 26 once which totally freaked me out, but it tends to be late teens early twenties.  Yesterday the figure of 30.2 screamed out at me. Now of course I am no expert, and much as Captain Paranoia is instantly leaping around me, jabbing his finger at the number and generally “high-fiving” around the room, I knew that his mischief was premature.  I asked Dr M and he said that this was not his area of specialism and that Dr W2 and I should talk about this.

So that was the start of the worry kernel planted in my head.  Dr Google’s advertising campaign sprang into action and for once I ignored it. I don’t want to hear his unreliable scaremongering.  No point in adding to my sleepless night with more scary thoughts.  I know his tricks.  Unfortunately this is one of his super-busy bonus seasons with all the “awareness campaigns” so the fact that has given up on me for the time being is more likely to be an indication of how busy he is rather than a shift in my own mind!

Of course, the tumour marker nagged away at my mind all night and I did not have a good night’s sleep.  I also had my range of tests due in the morning, so was generally cranky and nervous.  I was scheduled for mammo, ultrasound of breast and upper abdomen as well as X-ray.  No CT scan thankfully, as I hate them, really hate them.  Unfortunately the instruction to fast for the ultrasound had not reached me, and I had provided my bloods the day before after fasting so was surprised to learn that I should not have had breakfast.  This prolonged the scanning timetable as I had to return later for the abdominal ultrasound.

Finally, the scans were all done, I was well and truly squished and scanned and waiting nervously outside Dr W2’s room.

Dr W2 is a hero. He was happy with the mammo, X-ray and ultrasound results and said I was looking good.  We talked about the warfarin briefly, and then I asked about the elevated tumour marker.  His words of response were:

“That is a concern I have”.

GULP!

Those are NOT the words I wanted to hear.  I wanted to hear his usual “pah”, with his reassurance that there was nothing to worry about. That is the deal – I worry, and he reassures.

Next was the physical.  This was a bit different.  More checks, different prods, including the lymph node areas.  And different questions.  Have I noticed any unusual pain?  When was I planning to return to Yangon?

I really didn’t like this change to the routine.  Alarm bells were clanging loud and clear.

After the physical I sat back down and he started to go through a plan.  He talked about the Femara switch and if that was working out ok. Then he said he wanted to re-run a CT scan.  Mainly for follow up of the embolism.  Oh the dreaded CT scans, how I hate them.  I had thought with all the scanning and monitoring of the morning that those bits were done. 

Then he hit me with “and I will send you for a bone scan”. 

A bone scan??  What The What is that about? 

I should know better, that if you ask a direct question, especially to Dr W2, you need to be able to handle the direct answer.  I don’t think I was.

Is that to do with the Femara?”  I asked, knowing that Femara is more aggressive in depleting calcium in the bones.

“No” he said.

“No, we need to see if there is any cancer in the bones.  With your type of cancer, metastasis to the bones is more common than in other cancers”.

GULP!

“ Once you have had the scans, then come right back and see me.”

I was utterly stunned.

Appointments were rapidly scheduled, and the CT planned and carried out a couple of hours later.

The bone scan cannot be done in my hospital so I have returned to Wattanoosooth Cancer Centre of Bangkok Hospital where they have the radiology facilities for the city. 

And that is where I am siting right now, after turning up this morning and being seen almost immediately.  The radioactive dye was injected gently into the back of my hand and I have been asked to return in 2 hours for the scan.  This is a living nightmare.

I knew I would need a bit of help with this.  I joke that blogging is my Xanax, but when push comes to shove and I am at my wit’s end with worry and fear, then Xanax is the only thing I can think of that will do the trick.  I had already left the consulting room yesterday, but knew I needed something to lean on so asked Dr W2’s lovely assistant if I could ask Dr W2 for some Xanax.  A strange interaction ensued as she popped her head into his room.  Yes he would give me one Xanax for the scans.  ONE XANAX???????  I need a wheelbarrow full to get me through the next few days I screamed silently.  I’ll give you a strip of ten, he said, seeing my face.  Success.  Plenty to tide me over.

But blogging or writing is still my Xanax and that is why I am sitting here right now, battering away at the keys while the radioactive dye does its work and I wait for the two hours before the scan itself starts.  I think the Xanax is probably doing its work too as I think it has taken the edge of the extreme nervousness about the procedure itself.  It hasn’t taken away the fear, though nor has it prevented my mind rattling all over the place and heading in so many directions.  I know that this scan is specifically to investigate whether or not there is any sign of bone mets.  My mind leaps from the optimism that this will be fine, that there is only one raised marker, no other signs or symptoms.  To the scenario that the cancer has metastised to my bones.  And onwards to the bonus scenario that whether or not I have bone mets, that might perhaps mean that other organs could be affected, which is even more frightening.  Perhaps there is an entirely innocent explanation to the marker.  But deep down, or not so deep down I know that markers are less reliable when report low levels rather than high levels.  A raised marker is less likely to have a benign cause than the reverse.

This takes me right back to the space I was in just over three years ago.  After Dr H had told me that I should have the “asymmetry” investigated in Bangkok.  I remember veering from “I’ll be fine, there’s no history of cancer in our family and it just can’t be” to “if this is cancer, I will not let it take me, I will fight it and win” (oh the naivety) to “this is cancer, there are too many “let’s get worried” boxes that are ticked by my presenting symptoms.  I am afraid, how long do I have?  I could be gone by Christmas”.  Oh this is all so startlingly familiar.

My head is in such a similar space just now.  Part of me is optimistic based purely n the fact that the “only” alert has come in the form of the raised tumour marker.  And hey, it is not THAT raised.  30 is not so high, it is not in the hundreds.  And it has been 26 before and gone back down.  And that was also in October.  Must be something to be with stupid Awarenss Month my friend and I “rationalised”.  Based on no rationale whatsoever.  A bigger part of me is facing the fact that there cannot be many benign reasons for the marker to be raised.  And that is where my mind keeps returning.

The thing that terrifies me, apart from facing acute treatment again, management rather than cure, no end of the treatment this time, is about my future.  I cannot see it being possible to continue working with stage 4 cancer, overseas and in humanitarian and development work.  So what on earth do I do?  We would, in all likelihood have to relocate to the UK, and after 12 years in Asia that would be a massive change, even without the prospect of investigating how to get treatment and care in place.  I would have to set up home again in the UK, and what about all the paperwork and documentation to ensure hubby J could also relocate.

It is all utterly overwhelming. What the on earth are my options, what am I going to do in every sense.

As my mind continues to hurtle in all directions, I try to stay in charge of it.  Undoubtedly this will continue, and intensify until I see Dr W2 again.  At that point I know there are likely to be a few possible scenarios

  • Bone scan is clear.  High fives. Tears.
  • Bone scan shows clear metastasis and we will be looking at diagnostic investigations to identify treatment plan. Get hubby here pronto and speak with family.
  • Bone scan clear but signs of other worrying stuff going on elsewhere in my body.  Needs more investigation.  Biopsy etc. Tensed jaw, questions, trying to remember the answers to the questions which I must not forget to ask.  Get hubby here pronto and speak with family.

How can I tell my family?  What words will I use?  How much should I forewarn them that this bombshell could be coming?  What do I do about the visitors we expect in 3 weeks time? What about all the Big Stuff going on at work, the major project just approved after two years work?  All the changes going on around us?  How can this be happening now? What about my new bike?  Can I ship it to the UK if needed?  How long will I still be able to ride the darn thing? What about my hair?  No point in booking the cut and colour I had planned.  And the birthday thing?  My mother died on her 65th birthday, and my step mother on her 75th.  Am I going to die on my 55th birthday?  How do I tell everyone if the scan results are bad?  When should I start to make a list of those to phone, those to email and start on that dreaded “bad news” blog post…….

If it is in my bones, then I am stage 4, pure and simple.  If I am stage 4 then we are talking treatment and management rather than cure.  Not beatable, but treatable.  And that is the thing.  Treatment of Stage 4 (from the little I know) is about management, finding the option which best delays or slows progression of the disease.  And that treatment just keeps on going as long as it works.  8 cycles of chemo felt like a lifetime back at diagnosis time.  But there would be no more being able to count down towards the end of chemo, this is quite literally chemo or other treatment for life.

Writing this, has helped somewhat to control my mind and organise my thoughts.  I am still overwhelmed and terrified but the two hours has almost passed as I have battered out my thoughts.  Writing and Xanax, working in harmony.

Time’s up. Now it is time, time to enter the scanning bunker and do the tests which will determine my immediate future.

Post script

I found the scan was much easier than a CT.  Perhaps that is in part thanks to the Xanax?  For half an hour I lay, swaddled in a blanket and my arms held in place by my side while the scanner moved around silently and unobtrusively around me.  I probably drifted off.  My mind was nowhere in particular.  I was in a very different zone.  I was a passenger.

After the scan, I was taken back to the changing area, but on the way the technician asked me if I wanted to take the report with me.  If so, could I wait for half an hour.  Of COURSE, I wanted the report.

I replied affirmatively, but emphasised “I will read it if I have it, perhaps my Dr would prefer to go over the results with me?”  However, I knew that I would take the report with me, and read it no matter what it said.  I HAD to know.

I returned to the changing area, which was actually a small bathroom.  I took my clothes from the locker and placed them on the side next to the sink.  As I removed the gown, I heard a brrr, brrr noise, and turned round just in time to see the automomatic soap dispenser beside the sink, happily dispensing soap onto my clothes.  I returned to the waiting area, shaking and with the remnants of liquid soap all over my blouse.

It did not seem like very long at all before the technician returned. I could feel myself struggling to keep it together as she handed me the envelope.

I repeated.  “I am going to read it”.

She said, it’s ok, you can read it and take it to Dr W2”.

Reading the words, seeing the result brought my guard down and I completely crumbled in the waiting area, weeping and clutching my reprieve.

This feels like a huge overreaction, now with the results and the reassurance.  I know that compared with so many I am hugely fortunate.  Not only did I have clear results, although the tumour markers will be monitored more frequently over the coming months, my nightmare was so much shorter than is often the case.  They might have four of the longest days of my life, but it was all done within those four days.  From the initial bloods, seeing four consultants, mammo, ultrasounds, CT scan, and review it took just over four days.  I cannot imagine the anguish that protracted investigations cause and I know I am lucky.

Of course there were no high fives in Dr W2’s office.  I know it doesn’t work like that.  More a sense of numbness, physical exhaustion and utter emotional depletion.

However, one comment on my last blog posting said it all.  “We get it”.  Yes, my results were clear, yes everything was done quickly but look at the emotional and psychological torture we go through to get there.  And there is no point at which we can say that we have absolute relief and reassurance.  Because it is only valid until the next round of tests and checks. Yes, as my blogging  friend said “we get it”.

That is my validation and reassurance of my reaction to this whole experience, and even although it has been over  only four days, it is massive and a Very Big Deal.

The Meaning of Life and the Why of Blogging

 

There is something going on in the blogosphere. There is a shifting in the breeze and a sense of unsettledness. The groundswell of a movement is still there but amidst it s a sense of questioning. Questioning, why we blog, for what purpose and with what aim? We seem to be drowning in questions, and struggling to find many answers.  A bit like the meaning of life, perhaps.

In many senses the blogsphere is awash with breast cancer related blogs. (My own blogroll miserably fails to capture too many brilliant blogs). Of course the scale of breast cancer blogging reflects the enormity and diversity of the disease on top of our own individuality. The fact that there is such variety in the approaches we each take to blogging, reflects the uniqueness of our own diagnosis and experience and what breast cancer means to us individually.

I can see that I am not alone in feeling the need to spring clean the blog, peeking into the dusty corners of the archives and emerge with a shiny new, squeaky clean refreshed Feisty Blue Gecko space. I worked on the visual side a few weeks ago, and am quite pleased with the revamped look, although it might experience some tweakings and refinement.

That is the easy part though. The visual side is far less complex and much clearer than the “what’s in it” aspect. So following some heavy weeks at work, residual tiredness and gradual recovery from the recent ill health, it has taken some time in this post taking shape. Added to that is the continued feed of posts from fellow blogesses who are also thinking about the Why of Blogging.

It is interesting to see how our blogs develop and evolve as time marches forward. I remember the thinking processes I went through as this blog entered the blogosphere in October 2009, not long after diagnosis. Being so far away from family, many friends and support networks, I wanted to keep folks informed and updated as I was propelled along the diagnosis-treatment path. I also wanted to record the tiny details that I knew I would forget as time wore on. This would be a record of my experience that I could revisit. And connected with that was the interest to revisit when I would be in a different place emotionally and physically. I find it very powerful re-reading some of the posts from my earlier days following diagnosis. It is difficult to recall just how you felt long after the event. The level of detail I have written preserves that.


However, by far the biggest catalyst for my blogging about breast cancer was to try and get a grip on what was going on in my mind. I would lie awake at night, thinking, worrying and fearing. Starting to record everything and process it was incredibly cathartic, and still is. Having the blog to focus those thoughts and shape them into a post which would have to be coherent enough for others to read provided an outlet for the the scary thoughts, a kind of download button. Yes, blogging really helped to bring some meaning to life in the new cancer world that we are thrown into.

If my original Why of Blogging was multipurpose, then no wonder I am having difficulty making sense of the current Why of Blogging nearly three years on. And this is where I find myself far from alone.

Take Lauren’s blog,  After Five Years, for example. I would look forward to Sunday evenings and luxuriate in Lauren’s insightful and eloquent writing as I prepared for the new week ahead. On a Sunday even in Asia, I could time fairly accurately when the Tweet would arrive, which would tell me that Lauren had clicked publish on her latest post.  The end of last year brought a break in her weekly blogging, which I found quite unsettling and disconcerting. As the weeks turned into months, I would continue to click regularly on the link in the hope that there would be a new post. And then one day, there was. And her post was a discussion linked to the Why of Blogging and how this was shifting for Lauren.

Last month, within days of each other, Uneasy Pink and Bringing up Goliath published posts sharing very similar thoughts. Uneasy Pink expressed a tiredness. Tiredness of cancer, of the lack of real progress, and so tired of good people dying. And tiredness of trying to find some new to say when the nothing is really changing. Bringing Up Goliath shares a similar fatigue as she says she will be stepping back a bit to re-think.  She expresses a deep sense sadness, especially in seeing the progression of metastatic disease in women diagnosed at the same time as she was early in 2009.  Not long before I was diagnosed myself.

I feel as if I am in a kind of “cohort” amongst women who were diagnosed around the same time. A kind of “Class of 2009”. However, we are all in different places depending on our various diagnoses, stages, treatment paths and situations. I keenly feel injustice, guilt and uncomfortable relief simultaneously that so many are living with Stage 4 metastatic disease while I count my blessings daily that I am still in NED’s company. That very fact, that so many women are dying of metastatic breast cancer, despite advances and despite often early diagnosis and regular screening, is one of the drivers for many to advocate and shout for change through their blogs. There is a wealth of articulate, clearly argued and passionate debate in the breast cancer blogosphere which is a major Why of Blogging.

The Accidental Amazon is one such tireless advocate. She is the Queen of Snark and one very smart cookie. And she has told us that she is also feeling the fatigue and taking time to step back for a bit. She says:

“So, here’s the thing. I’m taking a break. No idea how long a break it will be. But I’m going to just live my life for a while — you know, that life I used to have before cancer. That life that has, in very large part, been on hold for four years”.

And that leads us to another kind of development in the blogosphere. Just a month ago, I was inspired to read news of another “blogging change of direction” from Second Base Dispatch.  She clearly articulates the complexity of finding her way, and the relationship between her new path and the breast cancer which probably put her back on the path and describes how she is now making her way forward:

“I’m going to have to devote time to poetry, likely at the expense of my breast cancer social media activity and blogging (unless I can figure out how to give up sleeping).

It might feel like you’re giving up if you don’t continue to fight for the friends you’ve lost, and we’ve all lost too many. But I also feel very strongly that if we don’t live the life that matters to us, we’re doing them an even bigger disservice. We owe it to them to make every minute count.

I don’t plan to walk away from breast cancer advocacy completely. The community I’ve found online means too much to me. I may not be blogging as often and instead of focusing on breast cancer, I may want to share what I’ve learned in case anyone wants to try their hand at writing as therapy.”

Being Sarah, for example, has been a launchpad for things broader than breast cancer, such as the wonderful sounding “Friday Walks which she and her partner have developed into a protected and precious Friday routine, and reports from Pot 44 which is a vital part of her life. This is amidst the grief she is reeling from, since losing Rachel earlier this year and most certainly does not mean she does not continue to shout when the need arises.  This is abundantly clear in her latest post. At the start of the year, she launched her new Shine like a Bee blog to share things creative, as well as gardening and updates from plot 44. Being Sarah, meanwhile, is focused on her breast cancer advocacy and experience, and matters related to her authorship. The Friday walks have now moved to A Sense of Place. She is also in a stage of thinking and organising how she keeps the content of the blogs discrete and focused. Questions, more questions.</

Time is a major factor too.  Blogging is a time-consuming lark.  It involves a great deal of thinking, writing and refining words carefully, selecting (and uploading which can take ages here) the right images, and then the tidying of links and tags and then often a great many deep breaths before the “publish” button can be hit.  This process can be sabotaged by breaks in connection and although I usually write most of my posts offline, there are times when I find myself on a roll, craft the best words and exactly the right tone only to have it all disappear in the ether when connection cuts.  I really should learn, and promise myself to every time it happens.  Until the next time……  Furthermore, I find myself pretty busy trying to fill my days with non cancery stuff and carpe the diem, so time can be pretty tight at weekends and evenings.  I have the latest Book Club book to read, writing exercises for the Writing Group, and Masterchef Australia to keep up with.  Not to mention the day job….  So the balance of trying to keep the blog alive and fresh, while living for the day is also tricky.

And that brings me neatly back round to my own personal Why of Blogging and how that fits with this recent overhaul of things gecko. I started blogging in April 2007, with the original Feisty Blue Gecko intended to note and document aspects of life and work in Asia. There were so many details, which would make me smile or surprise me and partly I did not want to forget them, but also I wanted to share these gems. When I was diagnosed in 2009, I created the current blog as I felt the clear need to create a different space dedicated to the breast cancer experience. However, I did not want to maintain the previous space. Nor do I want to return to it now.

I had no idea when I started blogging that I would become part of a community of bloggers and others online and become so emotionally involved and feel so supported and connected.  That is a very important Why of my Blogging.

All that brings me to the present day. As life moves forward, I know I will not return to the life I had back in Feisty Blue Gecko Days because my life is different now that it is lived through the breast cancer lens. It just is. So in terms of blogging, I might have posts which reflect or rant about on breast cancery stuff. I will also be updating and recording how things are going with health stuff generally, as well as the cancery stuff specifically. I am in fairly good health now, but I realise how fragile this is as I recover from the recent embolic escapade, and when I look at the cocktail of daily drugs I have to take. And there will undoubtedly be times when I feel I have nothing new or original to say.

However, I am in a fortunate position. I live in a fascinating environment at a very interesting time. I live in a culture in which I learn and observe new things constantly. There is a great deal to share as I experience and see new things.

Thus, the plan is to continue to blog in a similar vein, but perhaps to share more of the “life and work of a Scottish Woman in Asia” part of the new strapline. Who knows what will happen in my breast cancer future. It is impossible to predict. No matter what does happen to me, you can be assured that I will be blogging about it. When I see something that lights my touchpaper, you will be seeing a rant on here. When I go through checks and scans, or experience other steps in the path forwards, yes, that will be here too. I will aim to share the snippets and images of life and work here and the moments which make me stop and pinch myself in wonder that I am following the path that I am.

So in fact there may probably not be a great deal of change here. But then again, there just might be …..