A personal review of 2016 through the lens of the 3 word mantra

As I sit in these emerald hills, on retreat, I have much to occupy my mind and my body in the coming days. This is a time of replenishment, to build energy and health after a year of immense change. This is a time for reflection over the past months, and a time to focus on the coming year. It is a time to open my eyes to see what is new and extraordinary around me, and a time to close my eyes in rest and meditative thought. It is a time to pick up the pen and notebook and shake off months of silence. A time to pause and lift up my camera when I see a new type of bird or flower. These are days to walk in the hills, listen to the roar of the waterfall and marvel at the lava rocks. To sit in a hammock and doze. There is much to do on retreat.

This is a fitting time to look back over the year and where it has taken me, through the lens of my 2016 three word mantra “reorient, nurture and crystalize”. I have, in past years, reflected back on the mantra from which I am moving on, and shared the new set of three words at the same time. This year, I find that I am separating these and as the days of 2016 draw to a close I share a review of the words while still refining the words I will choose for 2017. They will be revealed when they are ready, as early into the new year as possible.


At the end of 2015, I had already experienced a great shift but I knew that there would have to be even more significant change ahead. I knew that this was likely to involve a new job and possibly a relocation. Furthermore, I knew that I had to recalibrate my inner compass. This was apparent in the choice of my first word “reorient”. I had no idea of the massive changes ahead, ones which have been needed and exciting, but demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. I had no idea that as the mid point of the year approached, I would be leaving Myanmar, my home, my colleagues and friends and my familiar surroundings. It did not for a moment occur to me that I would also leave the continent which had been my home for the past 16 years. Leave Asia? Impossible! But that is what happened. In the early hours of a June morning, just before daylight, I was on my way to Yangon airport with too much luggage and a little dog, with a ticket to Africa in my hand, a yellow fever certificate, a thick folder full of canine export/import documentation and a contract for a new and inspiring position a day’s travel away. The transition has been rapid, with little time for adjustment or recuperation before launching into the new life where I have had so much to learn.

Reorientation has been such an apt word. I have truly been going through a process of reorientation mentally, physically and professionally. I had not realised how “Asia-centric” I had become. My compass has been firmly set in Asia. I know how far it is to Europe, to Australia and other parts of Asia. I know how much the time differences are, and I know how long it takes to get to these places. Living in Africa has shaken my compass. I cannot get my mind to understand that I am only one or two hours ahead of UK time now, depending on the time of year, yet the journey is so long. How can it be that the flight to Amsterdam takes seven or eight hours, yet I do not need to change my watch? This is reorientation I could not have imagined. It has been challenging, but revitalising to realise that such a shift is underway.


My second word has been “nurture”. This has been important, because with such great change comes mental and physical exhaustion in a new and unfamiliar place. It is important to nurture the soul and find like minds, to nurture my professional and personal growth, and to nurture my health. I feel as if I have been transplanted, and need to be nurtured and looked after in order to thrive. This has been more difficult, and I have work still to do here. The journeys of the year have been demanding, and in a post cancer and “not getting any younger” life, there have been health blips. I also need to nurture my creative side, which has been neglected. In that, there could be a suggestion for the coming three word mantra.


The final word of 2016 has been “crystalize”, a beautiful word which mirrors “reorient”. After change and tumult, there needs to be a settling into the new. All aspects of my new life must take shape and crystalize into a firm shape so that I can truly settle. This has also complemented “thrive” in that it is important to be deliberate and intentional as I settle. I brought few, but a few possessions from my Asian, and especially Burmese life into Africa. Now I have a little creative writing corner in my African home which is distinctly Burmese in character.


I am working on finding creative spaces, similar to the writing group, the book club, and photography group which were important aspects to my life in Myanmar. This process of crystallization will take time, but is underway.

This year has been one of journey. I have travelled a greater distance than ever before, in every sense. I have tales to tell of these journeys and stepping foot on new continents. But for now, through the lens of my three words, this is my personal review of 2016.

This has been a tumultuous year globally, and I cannot begin to relate this to the changes in my own world. While the year has been kinder to me than most of recent years, this has not been the case for many close to me, and certainly not a global trend. I am thankful for 2016, yet appreciate and understand that this is not the case more broadly. I wish for kindness and humility across the world in the coming year.


As the sun sets on the outgoing year, let us all pledge to do what each of us can to make 2017 a good year.

Up to speed

Some housekeeping is overdue!

I have been remiss in caring for the bloglet, and with updating on news from my end.  The last thing I remember, I was packing bags on January 2 and heading for Bangkok for the additional and scary review with Dr W2.  Now it is January 13 and I am not sure what has been happening in between times.

That is not entirely true, actually.  Life has been happening.

As soon as I arrived in Bangkok, I swung immediately into the “preparing for the tests” mindset with the gritted teeth and clenched knuckles that accompanies and characterises that tense time.  I moved through the checks like an automaton and was spat out the other side in one day.  Exhausted, numb and emotionally drained.    The main things to check were the clottability factor due to the embolism and of course, the dreaded tumour markers. In a nutshell, I have been released back into the wide world again and will be reviewed again in another three months.  The cloattability is pretty stable which is fine, although I do have that checked regularly in Yangon too so was not hugely concerned about that.  It was the tumour marker which was stressing me.  The important thing about the markers is the trend rather than the individual result, so it is important to see this over a period of time and a number of tests.  I knew that a further increase would be the most worrying scenario and was very glad that although the markers are still above the reference range, they have decreased slightly.  So now we just have to see how a trend plays out over the coming months, but I do have some reassurance and can breathe out for now.

That gave me a day in Bangkok to do around a week’s worth of chores and tasks and before I knew it I was back at Bangkok airport waiting to board the return flight to Yangon, along with a number of friends and colleagues also returning after the seasonal break.  I arrived home without incident, unpacked, ate, went to bed all set for the first day back after my break.  And indeed, before very long the alarm woke me, I forced myself to get up in the pitch dark, put on my swimming stuff, and some warmer clothing and shake the dust off my bike in a return to my morning routine before work.

The days have thus been full, with the early start in the cool (and now even cold) Yangon mornings and intense activity at work so my first weekend has been very welcome although it has brought quite a backlog with it.  Hence a game of catch up and a need for bloggish housekeeping.

While I was in Bangkok, I took advantage of the superfast internet and uploaded a few photos.  I decided to change the background picture here, and decided eventually on this image.

Angkor Birthday

This is a photograph from my visit to Angkor (Siem Reap) in Cambodia last year, a wonderful adventure and a truly confidence building exercise.  I loved the ruined temples, and especially the way nature and the temples have evolved with tree roots holding the structures together in some places and dividing them in others.  I was continually struck and by the resultant impression of man-made and natural elements in complete fusion.  As well as being a photograph I like, it has particular happy associations and that is how I would like to set the tone for the on my background.  There are many more photographs on the sister (photography) blog.

As we move into 2013, I remain enthused by my three word mantra (focus, treasure and design) and am embracing the coming year.  I am taking the time to focus in on what I want to achieve and draw up clear goals for my year.  And in a beautiful and unexpected gift I received from a friend and colleague, I have the perfect reminder.  A pair of stunning Feisty Blue Gecko earrings, something to keep me focused, to treasure and of an intricate and precious design.


So with a galloping account of hospital visits, early mornings, plans and goals, Cambodian temples and opal earrings, I trust that I am now getting back up to speed.

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!

Scary Thursday

I have a knot in my stomach and feel as nervous as I did before the Scary Chemo Sundays.  Tomorrow is Scary Thursday.

In the late afternoon I will see Dr W, my Breast Surgeon.  I have not seen him since just after Chemo 6 and I am pretty nervous about it.  Firstly, he will be most unhappy at the revenge of Twang Arm (I am too).  Since very early in the radiation, Twang Arm really stiffened and has become painful again.  I have continued to excercise but the range of motion has decreased quite a bit.  It has not helped that I have not been able to swim.  I am also nervous as I do not know what he plans next for me.  Will he want to order a review mammogram?  An ultrasound?  Scan?  Will it involve needles?  Will these show up any scary things?  Scary stuff.

Then I will see Dr W2, my Oncologist.  That will involve a blood test.  The blood test will involve a needle – eech!  Dr W2 also wants to flush my port – that will definitely involve a needles and I hear from others who have this done, that it hurts.  Ouch!  He will also want to carry out some review tests which are scary.  I am also apprehensive about what he wants to do about my port.  If he wants to remove it, that will be scary as it involves a small operation – eeech!  If he wants it to stay, then that means regular flushing, and more importantly, my questioning why he wants the port to stay.

The most important thing for tomorrow though, is that I am relying on him declaring that I am fit to travel to the UK.  I can’t confirm our travel arrangements until I have medical clearance.  If I do get the “all clear” then we will have less than 48 hours to pack and prepare!

I am trying not to think too much about Scary Thursday, and instead to focus on what I hope will be Frantic Friday – packing and getting ready to head to Scotland……….