Hair- raising…. not quite! and stem cell implants…

Here I sit on the eve of another Christmas Day.  I have just a small glass of wine for company as hubby, Jim, is watching “Home Alone”. Now that takes a bit of figuring… 1. it’s really not his type of movie… 2. I’ve seen it at least twice… 3. he’d usually rather we watched something together…. mmmmm… oh well, I’ll go with the flow and enjoy some solitude…  And, actually, I rather hope you’re not reading this on Christmas Eve or even worse, Christmas Day!! Tomorrow will be different which is why I’m quite content sitting here alone… we will spend the day, or as much of it as we chose, with family and extended family… 18 or so, I think I counted. What is nice is that we can come and go as we chose… eat some, open some prezzies, have a drink or two, come home for some peace and quiet, play some games, eat some more…

 But I digress… I was writing about Jim’s and my journey dealing with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

If we ever mentioned Jim was not well, or receiving treatment we talked about him having lymphoma, not cancer. I think, then, folk just presumed it was something like diabetes or arthritis, rather than the “big C” – scary! I read the books we were given and checked with Dr Google but we were advised not to spend too much time consulting him as “he” could come across quite negatively.

So life carried on with regular check-ups, more chemotherapy drugs, a bit of radiation here and there and a ” we’ll just go with the flow” attitude. One lot of chemo drugs did promise to leave Jim hair-less but before I shaved his lovely locks he noticed they were falling out of their own accord. He was working in his office one day when things were getting a little stressful. He leant over to his co-worker and said , “This is so bad I could pull my hair out!” as he did indeed do so! And I guess that’s Lesson No 5: Don’t Lose Your Sense of Humour.

And then in 2013 Jim was offered a supposed reprieve – a stem cell transplant. I won’t bore you with details but simply, his bone marrow cells were “harvested” and frozen; he went through a serious course of chemo before being admitted to hospital where his immune system was “killed” and the harvested stem cells then re-introduced into his body. There are plenty of risks in this procedure but we had complete confidence in the hospital staff – and they were in God’s hands!

Now all this happened at the time my Mum passed away back in New Plymouth… and then Christmas was upon us (here in Christchurch) while Jim was having the actual stem cell implant – his own cells implanted back into his body.

So Christmas and New Year 2013/2014 were spent in an isolation room in the hospital… visitors were okay as the room had air constantly passsing through sterilisation but, of course, Jim didn’t feel like “entertaining” anyway so we told minimal people where he was “holidaying”.

Well, it was worth it for a good five years to follow… we hoped!


Some things don’t need to be told… and other lessons

Some folk draw or paint, others sing or play musical instruments, still more take it out on their bodies with strenuous exercise …. me, I find that expressing myself in words releases that “energy”… so, with hubby still in hospital, here I am releasing my stresses for the day…

In my last blog a couple of days ago I explained how it was revealed to us that Jim had lymphoma – not very tactfully! However, we got over our little “panic”, saw an oncologist who explained that the lymphoma was indeed treatable and, in fact, wasn’t likely to kill him – he would die “with” the disease rather than “of” it.

Jim attended several chemotherapy appointments in the day ward at the local hospital. He was very chirpy through this whole experience, chatted to fellow patients, read books and did Sudoku and similar, and returned to work in the afternoon if the session was in the morning. He also didn’t lose any hair.

And here is…

Lesson number 2: There are some things folk just don’t need to know. We never mentioned the word “cancer” to anyone (have you noticed that it has immediate negative conotations in people’s minds?) and we didn’t tell anyone about the “chemotherapy”… after all, life really didn’t change much at all.

Which leads me to …

Lesson number 3: Keep life rotating as normally as possible. I understand that some treatment is more restrictive and debilitating than others but, as far as Jim was concerned, this was just a “blimp” in his life, so why disrupt anything more than necessary?

Over the next few years, which included a move to Christchurch, Jim received radiotherapy treatments, a little surgery to remove lumps and still more chemotherapy. He did lose his hair on a couple of occassions which, of course, drew some comments but it grew back each time and folk soon forgot the bald head – anyway, men commonly shave their heads now, don’t they!

The attitude that defined Jim each and every time was…

Lesson number 4: Be positive! People live with diabetes (as did Jim), mental illness, missing limbs and innumerable other physical disabilities. What separates some from others is attitude. Jim’s attitude was always one of hope and a positive future.

So the years have ticked by (too quickly) and other lessons have been learned along the way… we’ll  discuss another one or two next time…

Gently, gently…

Gosh, it has been a while…

…over a year in fact…

Facebook keeps diligently prompting me to write… “your readers haven’t heard from you in a while…”

Why?” I ask…  (note: I’m sure you couldn’t care less, in spite of FB’s promptings!)

Well, lots of reasons, actually… and I’m not going to bore you with any of them!

But, I am back… with one post anyway.

And what has prompted me (as well as Facebook, of course) to put fingers to keyboard?

Probably, at this particular point in time, lack of a husband to talk to … you see, my husband, Jim (who wrote a couple of posts on my blog a while back) is in hospital… again… 5th time in the last couple of months, actually.

First visit: Pneumonia; second visit: pneumonia; third visit: serious blood infection/virus (the same one that causes meningitis); fourth visit: an operation to give him a voice back (that was only a day trip);  fifth visit: The man has given up on food (not willingly as anyone who knows him knows he actually loves his food!) and when he tries a little it just comes right back at him (or preferably into the ever-handy receptacle!)

But, let’s back up a little…

Nine years ago when he fell off some scaffolding (not from a great height) and cracked a vertbrae in his neck, it was discovered, after further tests, that he had Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

A lump the “size of a grapefruit” was found in Jim’s abdomen and a biopsy had been taken and examined. We were directed to outpatients in the local hospital – supposedly to discuss surgery to remove said lump. The surgeon we saw took one look at the x-ray and said,

You’re in the wrong place.  I can’t operate on this, it is cancer and I can’t remove it.”

And here lies lesson number one (this one for doctors and medical professionals)…

Break the news of a serious illness to the recipients gently!

We had not been informed in any way at that stage that Jim’s lump may be cancer – of any sort. Imagine hearing “that” word thrown at us with no compassion or concern of any sort!

We were both rather devasated to say the least, as I’m sure many of you understand!

Well, we drove to a local beach and sat and looked out to sea.  I don’t know what was going on in Jim’s mind but my head was thinking, Three months (not that that time had been mentioned)… Christmasthe house (we had not long begun building our ‘dream home’)…” It is interesting what goes through one’s mind when presented with a crisis!

Well, as I said, that was nine years ago (September 2009 to be precise) and Jim is still here with us….

Next post:  “Lesson number two”…

Fitzroy Beach, New Plymouth

Te Maika – 19… fresh milk…

Our children certainly learned to get “up close and personal” with farm animals over the years… Several different species of animals roamed the paddocks of Te Maika. Sheep have been the most consistent and prolific and horses enjoy the freedom of unbounded grazing before being rounded up and driven (as in a horse drive) to Taharoa for breaking and possible sale, I guess. Cows and their young were once also grazed on the lush grass. Of course, there’s no need to mention the rabbits …

A few of the abundant birds around the bay.

and the  birds… some rare species, some not so rare,…  like geese that match the rabbits in number and far out-do them in noise!

Geese spend most of their time in the swamp behind the baches.

The animals have free roaming all over the peninsula since fences fell over and were never replaced. They visit the beach and water’s edge for their salt intake. They are our regular lawnmowers (and lawn fertilisers!) but barricades do need to be erected beside the bach when we’re absent as sheep love to shelter in the verandah and horses use the walls of the bach as scratching boards and shelter from prevailing winds and rain.

A horse and a lamb graze contentedly right outside our door.

These animals have provided much entertainment over the years. As mentioned in a previous post, my cousin and I rode the horses one year, and we have watched mares give birth a couple of times. The children now love to see how close they get to the foals (… not very…) and we love to see them gallop past the bach, along the beach and, ocassionally, wander into the water.

A mare leads her foal through the water in our bay.

One episode remains a “photo” in my memory… cows and their young were grazing right outside the window where we also happpened to be eating (or playing card games). One mumma cow was looking paricularly placid and full of milk, and one of our mums was feeling paticularly adventurous and bold.

“Quick, quick, get me a bowl!”

“Shhhh….. you lot keep real still…” Our Mum calmly went outside, bowl in hand, and approached the mumma cow, not uttering a sound. Mumma cow remained where she was quielty munching on the lush grass. Our Mum slowly approached her, placed the bowl under her udder, crouched down and reached for her teats….

Inside, we all held our breaths…

…Milk!! … one squirt… two squirts…

… oohhh… disappointment … mumma cow decided that was enough and moved on to fresh grazing grounds… well beyond the bach and pesky hands anyway!

And that was the end of the cows as they haven’t inhabited the penisula for several years…


Te Maika – 18… bumps, bruises and sore bums…

Cardboard cartons have numerous uses… usually involving packing and carrying of any number and size of a variety of goods… and such did ours… they were carriers of food to Te Maika.  But once that food had arrived and was unpacked those cartons were put to a much more fun activity…  transport for my brothers and me down grassy slopes.

We helped disgorge the contents of those cartons as quickly as possible because they then became ours! The bach is nestled into the hillside and, after a year of growth (except for the sporadic grazing of various beasts), the grass was long as were numerous prickly bushes among scattered around. The first attempts to slide down the slopes were more to flatten the grass and the prickles than anything but soon tracks were worn and it became a challenge to see who could slide the furthest, from the highest point and over the biggest bumps… until those cartons fell to so many pieces they were no longer ride-able!

Parents left us to explore new personal boundaries unless called upon…

“Mum! Dad! Come and see this jump!”

“Mum! Dad! Come and watch!”

Photographs were occasional and black and white so “moments” were not recorded every step of the way.  And accidents?… Don’t remember any of those either!

Hard plastic boogie boards don’t slide like cardboard… and the hill was more overgrown 10 years ago…

It seems that each generation of children seem to be little more cautious…Today’s children prefer to take old plastic boogie boards to the sand hills… are they afraid of the prickles and horse manure??  In truth, the grass and prickles have been taken over by bracken… much harder to break down and slide over than grass and prickles!


And last holidays, with all the grandkids, we rode hard plastic kayaks down the sandhill… the quest to reach the bottom of hills as quickly as possible is one that children (and adults) must conquer, it seems!


Te Maika -17… BBQs and bed-times…. well, pre-bedtimes….

Have you built a fire on the beach and cooked sausages, damper, marshmallows?   A true Kiwi experience to be savoured…. Each year we would make the annual trek over the hills or around the rocks to “Barbeque Beach”.

Looking down on Barbeque Beach.

Backpacks were filled with sausages, tomato sauce, damper dough, drinks, bread, butter, jam, honey, bananas, marshmallows, chocolate, paper towels, newspaper and matches and togs and towels. Barbeque beach was a sheltered little bay between rocky outcrops lining the coast.   If the tide was out we would clamber over and around the rocks, if the tide was in it was a trek over the hills and down a steep slope; the return trip home in reverse as the tide ebbed or flowed.

Once at the beach it would be all hands to the task bringing sticks and logs together to set the fire. The second most important task was to find suitable sticks on which to cook sausages and damper. Once that was all under control, the fire would be lit and left to die down until it reached the perfect heat on which to cook said sausages and damper. In the meantime, the children would scatter off to play in the waves, find caves to explore or check on the rock pools for swimming.

“Come and cook your sausages!” The call would go out and children would come from all directions. Sausages poked onto sticks, damper rolled around other sticks and tea would be served to oneself in five minutes or so – sausages inside damper and squishing out tomato sauce; or some would wrap the sausages in bread and save the damper for dessert – butter, honey or jam spilling out of the hot, freshly-cooked bread!

But our true dessert was something special…. Bananas sliced lengthways through their skins, filled with marshmallows and chocolate and placed on the embers of the fire. These would be left until one could see the chocolate and marshmallows melting and the banana skins turned black. Not everyone enjoyed the texture and taste of hot, soggy bananas but their contents were soon digested anyway! And then there were always the remaining marshmallows to roast on the fire….

Every evening …. games…  a card or a board game – no TV or internet or other such devices back then! And even when portable radios and CD players became the gift of choice for young people we banned them for a few years… “You might get sand in it and ruin it”….  Although the rule was not initially received very well and I was deemed not to be at all in keeping up with the times, any devices were soon forgotten!

The evening rule was “when you come inside you get ready for bed and we have a game.” This ensured the children stayed outside as long as possible to give the adults some peace inside and also to wear the children out as much as possible so they would collapse into a quick sleep without any shenanigans! A different game was chosen each night from the selection of cards games we knew or board games stock-piled on a shelf. And once during our week-long stay we must have a game of “Midnight” where torches were mustered and outside we would venture, under the stars. For the uninformed, in playing “Midnight” one person was “it” and the others would go and hide.  A spot was selected as “home” and the aim of the scattered would be to reach “home” before “it”. This game became a hilarious activity as ‘it” and the person running for “home” would trip and stumble in the dark sand dunes in their race to “home”.  It was not uncommon for certain children to forget to attend to toileting needs in excitement and amidst much laughter and having to take a quick break mid-game to change certain items of clothing!

The area around the bach where “Midnight” was played – under the stars.

Te Maika – 16… reminiscing… lights, BBQs and games

My children both loved our annual holidays at Te Maika. Initially we accompanied my parents and I had the added blessing of live-in babysitters (with nowhere to go!) but once my friends started coming up too, my father was happy to transport us over the harbour and leave us there for a week. Swimming, walking, beach barbeques, exploring, night-time games, rowing, fishing, clambering around rocks … what more could a child or teenager want??

One ritual which has now passed with the advent of solar lighting was the lighting of the lamp each evening. … the children clustered around the table; the lamp was lifted off its hook of wire hanging from a ceiling rafter; the kerosene tank at the base of the lamp was filled if necessary and then pumped to the “red line”. The small circular tray underneath the mantle was topped up with methylated spirits… ready to go… The meths was lit and all eyes were on the decreasing liquid in the tray as it evaporated and heated the mantle above. A little more pumping, another match ready for action and … an even bigger “whoosh!” as the gas inside the glass mantle cavity caught the flame of the match… flames flared and died and the ash mantle shone forth with a glow to light the room and, even more importantly, the table for playing whatever game was chosen for that evening.

We had a few mishaps over the years, as to be expected, and several times needed to take the lamp outside when the flames rose higher than expected, beyond the ceiling of the lamp. This, of course, put the bach at risk and was more likely to occur when the wind was blowing and the draught inside the bach made the flames flicker awkwardly. To remove the lamp outside on such occasions was not likely to solve any problems but there was no alternative if we didn’t want to lose the bach to a fire!

Several years ago these lamps were replaced with various high-powered torches and now solar panels on the roof of the bach allow us to have light at the flick of a switch. On a visit recently my daughter asked if we could light the old lamp simply because it was an experience she wanted to recall. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!), the lamps have been retired to a shelf well out of the way and the mantles are not available for purchase any more….

And what about beach barbeques…?? Read my next blog post…