The weight of paper

With my change in swimming venue of a morning there have been a few accompanying changes.  One of those is the company I keep.  While there are rarely other humans in the pool with me, I am regularly joined by a frog (who refuses to be rescued), a squirrel who runs along the fence, a melodic mynah bird and a rowdy dispatch of crows.  But the most regular company I have is that of a gloriously coloured blue kingfisher who watches me rather haughtily as I encroach on his personal inland waterway as I swim up and down the pool.  The first time I caught sight of his bright blue wings I felt that the colour was almost an unnatural blue, as if he had slipped into a tub of thick blue emulsion.

wiki White_Collared_Kingfisher

One morning, I was in my usual meditative state of mind, my mind drifting about the kingfisher and wondering how I would describe the blue of his wings. There are so many blues in the colour palette, Prussian blue, cobalt, ultramarine, azure, turquoise, cerulean……… never ending blues.  I resolved to Google “shades of blue” when I got home.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

However, that sparked another train of thought.  Perhaps I should emphasise that my swimming style permits me to soak in what is going on around me (in other words a head-above-the-water style).  Thus the morning swim has been the starting point for many ideas, blog posts and even a petty major work project!  Off my mind went on its own to a recognition of how quickly we refer or rather resort to Google or other technological sources of reference and information.  In those hazy distant pre-Google days we used to have a wealth of reference sources, either in our possession or in what used to be a favourite haunt of mine – the library.  That treasure cave, overflowing with my favourite thing – books!  I had all kinds of books and I would spend many happy hours reading and leafing through the illustrated encyclopaedia in our home.

Libraries used to be a key part of my life, and not only during my life as a student.  My love of books was demonstrated when I left my job in 1989 to take up a place at university as a mature student.  Our small, cosy office had a collection and I was gifted a sum of money as a leaving present.  Most people were very surprised at what I bought with that money.  I was delighted with my acquisition – a brand new Collins Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus.  I was all set for university!

Libraries were integral elements of life.  For example,  I have only really two clear memories of that intensely emotional time following my mother’s death 15 years ago.  The first was of losing all composure and completely breaking down at our first meeting with the undertaker, it was a desperate moment bring all those emotions and sense of being truly bereft  bursting to the surface.  The other intense memory stems from my compulsion to find a quotation from a certain poem as a reading. And what I remember is spending a great deal of time in the local library searching for “that quote”.

library2

That was a time, not so long ago just before the dawn of the 21st century and the proliferation of the internet.  Well, before its proliferation in my life anyway. Nowadays I would have been able to consult Professor Google and find out the quote and the poem in several editions in all likelihood in a matter of moments.  But I can clearly remember, finding myself a table in the local village library, anthologies of poetry opened beside me as I leafed through for several hours.  And that in itself was cathartic and somehow comforting in a way which I suspect a thirty second internet search would not have been.

Of course, researching from books was significantly more time consuming.  However, I used to find it generally a real pleasure and I could happily while away hours buried in dictionaries, thesaures or encyclopaediae or in all manner of reference books.  And even in those days, it was entirely usual to “surf” off in different directions as new gems of information and kernels of new questions would form.  However, there was still the pre-internet older cousin of Dr Google who existed in the medical reference books on dusty library shelves, and who was just as alarmist!

As a student of modern languages at university, I needed to have my own reference dictionaries.  Translation was a key part of our course, as well as language analysis and critical reading of literature and journalism in my languages of study.  For French we had our main chunky French-English/English-French Dictionary as well as the monolingual “Le Petit Robert” which was an absolute Aladdin’s cave of language treasure.  Looking up one word would send me off on a trail to understand all the nuances of that word in French.

petit Robert

Our Russian Dictionaries were a little different.  The English – Russian dictionary was in its own volume, as was the Russian – English one.  These were large, heavy books as were the French dictionaries, somewhat larger than A4 so not possible to carry out for easy reference!

English_russian_dictionary

Hence our regular lengthy periods of “residence” in the university library!

Reading room library Glasgow Uni

Much as I love our internet age and rapid access to almost any kind of information, books are still important to me.  The Kindle, for example, could have been invented for me, someone who regularly has difficulty closing travel bags and dreads airport check in scales because of a book addiction. And the Kindle is indeed amazing (of course I have one 😉 ) and there are many things I love about it. It astounds and delights me that it does not matter how many books it stores, the Kindle never gets any heavier.  Don’t ask me to try and understand that!  I also love being able to lie in bed and buy books.  That really must be the height of decadence! I love being able to hear or read a book recommendation and be able to search on the kindle bookstore and buy it within seconds. This is particularly welcome as we still do not have a huge selection of books available for sale. It also gets round the fact that sending a book through the post or by mail is likely to take a lengthy time, and delivery complicated so far away. Electronic books have gone a great distance to resolve that.  For example, I recently won a book (in a draw) and the book was emailed to me as a link/electronic document.  And I was eventually able (with the guidance of the Google Technology Support Team 😉 ) to transfer it to my Kindle.  (Although I do have to confess that it is not quite as special as the signed copy of Gok Wan’s autobiography which I won a couple of years ago and which sits proudly on my bookshelf!

Many people have told me that they have converted easily to Kindle and don’t miss books.  However, I can’t say the same.  I do miss books.  I joke that my Kindle looks silly with little post its stuck all over it as page markers of something I liked and want to remember.  But I am only half joking.  I really do like having those markers in a book.  They are visible reminders and I do revisit favourite quotes (such as “I fall down. I get up again.”  Although I did find myself tempted to try and press on a word in a real book to see if the dictionary definition would come up, as it does in Kindle!

One of my friends similarly maintains a blend of real books and Kindle.  She loves being able to download the daily UK newspapers here in Yangon, as well as key periodicals on her Kindle, but still buys books for actual “reading”.  And of course there are those memories of Sunday newspapers, serial pots of coffee and leisurely days working through the “step-back-from-the-world-for-a while” features and analytical studies.  Although I have to confess that I also have clear memories of getting myself all wrapped up and tangled in the broadsheets and suspect that my Sunday recollection is actually more a nostalgic memory than actually really enjoying the papers!

This week I had another interesting book encounter.  As I was walking along the street, I passed a lovely little roadside stall with calenders, books and lots of stationery goodies. My eye was caught by a little book, which I realised was a full calendar from 1900 through to the end of 2013.  A 113 year calendar!  Sure enough, I could look up any date in that time and find out what day of the week it was (very important in Myanmar culture), whether it was a full or new moon, festival and the Myanmar date.  No need to Google birth dates for visitors to the country and no need to rely on connectivity.  Perhaps it would have been more timely to stumble upon it a bit earlier and share the Myanmar calendar, as a way of balancing the fears of the Mayan calendar!  It could have saved a deal of angst (where’s the tongue-in-cheek icon 😉 )

myanmar calendar

It is clear that I am holding on tightly to real paper and books as the world shifts in the way we store information and reading material, while using the convenience of technology for what it can provide for me.  The internet has changed and continues to change so much.  One area which is not the focus of this post, but which warrants a passing mention, is of course the whole area of friendship, support and community which the internet has gifted us.  In my case, living at a significant physical distance the internet has enabled a completely different experience than I would have had even a few years earlier thanks to sophisticated online communication mechanisms and systems.

As I step back and reflect on this, I think it is not so complicated really.  I think it is simply (as it is with so many aspects of our life) about maintaining a balance.  With regard to information, books and technology we do not need to opt for one of the other. We can make a concerted effort to keep the parts we like. There is no rule which says we must choose now – “Kindle or paperback novel”,  “Google or illustrated Bird Book” or even “Mayan Stone calendar, little Myanmar 113 year calendar or hang on-the-wall paper calendar”!  I believe that the challenge might be more in maintaining an understanding and recognition of that balance.  The convenience of the internet draws us in more subtly than we realise.

All of which is a rather winding trail of thought and deliberation sparked off by a kingfisher! And thanks to a variety of reference sources, I am able to say that my morning time company is in fact a white-collared kingfisher, a species prevalent in South East Asia.

white-collared-kingfisher

Thank you, my morning time friend, for your inspiration. 

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Off on a tandem!

You can see from my blogroll on the right that I follow a large number of blogs, most of them Breast Cancer related.  Keeping up to date with the diverse and rich postings might take time but never fails to move me. I am humbled and inspired, I laugh and cry, I am inspired and challenged.  Through this I have “met” some phenomenal women (and a few men too, of course, but this domain is very much dominated by women).  Everyone has a powerful story to tell and there is an incredible level of spirit, intellect, snark, feist and debate.

When I first started this blog, it was an outlet to help me process the extreme stuff I was being faced with, and focused mainly on the immediate.  While I was in the thick of treatment in the months following diagnosis it formed a detailed account of diagnosis and treatment in my rather unusual setting.  Blogging was a lifeline.

Over a year later and in a different space, when I step back and look at it, I find that the blog has a different character too.  Now I find there are still some updates, but my ramblings are more reflective and often trying to make sense of life lived through the Breast Cancer lens.  I find that many of my thoughts are inspired by the rich material there is in each other’s blog posts. I love the variety in our posts, in our approaches and styles, reflecting how different we all are and our experience is.  I have special “thinking time” when I let my mind develop some of the thoughts which are stirred.  I love to let my thoughts develop during my daily swim, though it is a bit difficult then to note down any nuggets which I really want to remember, so I find myself repeating and mentally refining these ideas as I plough up and down the pool, mixing ideas with the number of lengths swum.  I also love that time after I put my book down at night and switch off the bedside light before I fall asleep for thinking creatively.  That is also a challenge in terms of somehow recording these ideas as they often disappear into a dream world rather too quickly!

So recently, when I read about Terri’s Big Dream, my mind started firing with a barrage of random ideas and thoughts.  Terri dreams, (which I believe means plans and will find a way of doing) of establishing a non-profit to help other cancer survivors volunteer internationally.  A vey exciting project, and one which we will connect about to chat and perhaps brainstorm a bit.

My mind however, went careering off on its own “tandem” ( as I love to say 😉 ) It made me think of the very different experiences which women have, depending on where they happen to be.  There can be quite a variation within countries, even where there are policies and guidelines such as the NICE guidelines in the UK. Living in Asia has given me an acute kind of better sweet cancer experience.  I personally have had an incredibly sophisticated treatment and care plan, with state of the art medical facilities and practice, the latest medication and no waiting time for surgery and results.

Very many are not nearly so fortunate though.  Facilities, diagnostics, pathology can be limited and medical specialists not easily accessible.  The costs of care can be completely out of the reach of many.  There but for the grace of God, go I indeed.

There is another aspect though which I find fascinating given the level of sophistication to the debate and dialogue regarding Breast Cancer demonstrating that many women are empowered and informed with regard to their treatment and care.  I regularly stand in awe of many of my co-canceristas when I read complex analytical discussions, thought provoking and carefully researched posts, powerful personal accounts and challenging articles.  There is a very strong Breast Cancer lobby driven by articulate, intelligent and dedicated people, passionate about the plethora of issues.  There is a strong challenge to the pink marketing and lack of progress in research and debate.  There is a drive to move beyond awareness raising and address the lack of research, particularly into metastatic cancer.  This is critical, there is no question of it.  Too many are affected by metastatic disease.  Cancer is still stealing so many.

However, I would like to just stick my neck out a little, and share my thoughts about awareness raising from a different perspective.

After I was diagnosed, I returned to Yangon and buckled down for the long ride of treatment.  I was blown away by the amount of support and help from friends and colleagues here. Then one day I received a phone call from a colleague.  She was very upset about my diagnosis and wanted to send her love and prayers.  It was incredibly touching, and bear in mind I had only been in this new job (and country) just over three months.  Then she told me that everyone was really surprised that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Apparently, it is believed to be a “spinster” disease which only (or usually) affects women who have never married or had children here.  I was totally taken aback and responded quite strongly.  Many traditional beliefs have their origins in in a remote truth and I can kind of see where that might have roots, after all apparently having children at a younger age and breast feed your babies are seen to be factors which relate to reduced likelihood of developing breast cancer.  But I was shocked that the belief was so strong and I immediately vowed to raise awareness as widely and appropriately as I could do in my local setting.

To me this is a reminder that there is and clear and pressing need for awareness raising in a number of contexts, and this is not limited to the example I have shared here.

Nor does this mean that the question of research and particularly understanding and treating metastasis should come later.  It is not an “either/or” question.  There is no doubt that there is an urgent need to shift emphasis in the more advanced contexts, while seeking contextually appropriate ways of raising awareness where this is clearly needed.  My aim here is to convey the message that there is enormous diversity in levels of awareness and debate and I for one need to be reminded of that and the role I can play in it.

I am intrigued to hear how Terri’s big dream develops and while I know that the direction that my mind took does not reflect how the dream will come to life, it just shows how much we inspire each other in every sense.

 

Three words to guide and inspire as we move into 2011

Last year I was prompted to select 3 words to guide and inspire me throughout the year.  The 3 words recovery, discovery and laughter came easily to me and they stayed with me as a mantra. I have found the task more difficult this year, perhaps because I really like last year’s words.  However, things must move forward and I very much trust that the coming year will be different from the outgoing one.

So in that spirit, after night time and daytime deliberations, I feel that I have settled on my new guide for 2011.

Harmony, vitality and adventure.

Harmony is the main essence of how I want to see the year.  It represents the need to maintain a balance in life, especially between work, health and leisure.  It shows the importance I hold in keeping a space for creativity in my life.  It also shows my dislike of conflict and wish for peace, in my life and in the wider world.  It also has the dimension of being in harmony with my body.  Much as I wish for NED I know that there are no guarantees.  So no matter what the year throws at me, I intend to be at one with how I handle it physically.  And in a very different vein, harmony in the musical sense shows my love of music and its importance in my life.

Vitality covers my wish to feel the full benefit of feeling well, and enjoying life to the full.  In a wider sense, I feel it can also cover a broader approach to life, embracing and each new day and new challenges.

I decided to pick adventure as my third word, as it also has a range of meanings which I feel will guide and inspire in the coming year.  It shows that I want to push myself and reach for new experiences.  If we look at its origins – (I knew learning Latin all those years ago would have a use) the word is made up of the verb to go, or move.  The prefix “ad” brings the notion of forward to the motion.  So adventure also represents moving forward.  I most definitely intend to keep moving forward, no matter what the year throws at me.

My wish for 2011 is that the year is kind and brings health, happiness and harmony in every sense to us all.

Happy New Year!

Chemo treat update

I might have mentioned that I find Chemo pretty horrible. This is my excuse and reasoning for providing myself with a treat after every cycle (after my friend suggested it – thanks J!)

I realise that I have developed a kind of chemo treat system.  Unwritten rules have evolved as well as some kind of criteria. 

The first treat was quite a big one – a replacement camera as my camera had collapsed after 5 years of very heavy use.  I am still not sure if it was a treat as criteria no 1 is that the treat must not be something essential.  I had already bought books, but they are clearly essentials, so the camera was an appropriate treat. 

Treat number 2 was the famous music download disaster which I am repairing.  Treat number 3 was more music to try and replace the massive music library loss.  Another criteria – something which is for keeping and lifting my spirits.

Treat number 4 – the famous swimsuit – which is in serious danger of disintegration through overuse!   This also fits the criteria of being something which will motivate me and make me feel good.

I have to say that I have been finding it quite difficult latterly to shop for the chemo treats.  I have to make my mind up beforehand what I want and then find ut where I can find it, as energy and shopping outings are limited.  For treat Number 5 I decided that I needed some art materials to inspire creativity time at home. 

This is waiting for me at home, and was worth the trek and tiredness to get them.

And today, I have to say I did struggle to get treat number 6.  Another criteria is that I can’t get the treat before the chemo (it would be tempting fate) and I am just finding it a bit tiring when the side effects are piling in.  Treat number 6?  Some lovely modern jazz music and a sketch book.  Perfect.

Now I need to think ahead for treats 7 and 8…………………  suggestions very welcome!