Wednesday, April 09, 2014


I’ve been tired for about eighteen months now.

I read an article about Arianna Huffington and her collapse from overwork. She talked about how a lot of people are sleep deprived. Although I’m not sleep deprived, I think chronic tiredness has the same effect.

‘Even traits that we associate with our core personality and values are affected by too little sleep. According to a study from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, sleep deprivation reduces our emotional intelligence, self-regard, assertiveness, sense of independence, empathy toward others, the quality of our interpersonal relationships, positive thinking, and impulse control.’
Arianna Huffington

Yep. I relate to that.

Being chronically tired is depressing. You just don’t bother doing what you would normally do if you had the energy. Things like dressing well or disciplining children, or baking treats or visiting friends.

Just when I’m worried that I’m not going to improve, and that my life will be based on lying down for naps, and dragging myself around to get things done,  I’ve had a few little glimpses of feeling better. When it happens, I notice. I’m expecting the tiredness to lift, like when morning sickness goes away. I’ve had a little taste of that.

But then I got a cold. Now I’m back to feeling rubbish and looking for spaces to lie down. I didn’t complain much about having leukaemia, but I’m complaining about having a cold.

I’d been thinking that, when the mist rises, I can just forget all about being sick because I’ll feel normal. Then I read a report on stem cell transplants written by members  of my medical team. No such luck. Soon I’ll be having lots of medical tests - bone density, skin cancer, heart, lungs, liver. I’ll eventually get cataracts. I’m higher risk for secondary cancers, especially skin cancer. I realised how many bullets I’ve dodged already. There was a lot that could have gone wrong that I avoided.  I’ll be taking my leukaemia medication for the rest of my life, ignoring my bone pain, and wondering if it is waking me up when I’m asleep. But when I feel better, I’ll be able to think less about myself, which will be healthy.

I’m glad the weather is changing. I’m ready for a new season. I feel like it’s been summer forever.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Motherhood and Literature

This is what I'd like to be working on rather than writing my uni assignments. I wish I could go. Parking this here for when I get around to doing that PhD. By then, the papers from the conference will be available as a book.

In the meantime I'm happy to be reading this, which also suggests titles for those interested in the topic. Thanks to blue milk for sharing.


Hosted by the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) and Ryerson University

(Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Life Writing, Creative  
Non-Fiction, Social Media)

October 22-24, 2014  
Heaslip House, Ryerson University  
(297 Victoria Street, Toronto)
In 1976, Adrienne Rich broke new ground with her text Of Woman Born, in which she challenged scholars to confront their tendency to avoid discussions of motherhood, observing: "We know more about the air we breathe, the seas we travel, than about the nature and meaning of motherhood." Rich's book helped to launch the academic study of mothering in literature, as evidenced by the publication of several key texts: The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in Literature (1980), Mother Puzzles: Daughters and Mothers in Contemporary American Literature (1989), Women's Fiction Between the Wars: Mothers, Daughters, and Writing (1998), This Giving Birth: Pregnancy and Childbirth in American Women's Writing (2000), and Textual Mothers, Maternal Texts (2010). The aim of this conference is to advance the study of maternal representations in literary texts throughout history, across diverse narrative genres (fiction, poetry, drama, life writing, creative non-fiction, and social media), and from various maternal perspectives (nationality, ethnicity, race, class, ability, sexuality, ability, age, etc.). Papers from a wide range of disciplines and cultural perspectives, both theoretical/scholarly and creative (stories, narrative, creative non-fiction, poetry) are highly encouraged.
If you are interested in being considered as a presenter, please send a
250-word abstract and a 50-word bio by
April 15, 2014 to BOTH
Andrea O'Reilly: and Liz Podnieks:

Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) 140 Holland St. West, PO Box 13022, Bradford, ON, L3Z 2Y5 (905) 775-9089

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Talking to children about leukaemia

This week my daughter's primary school is having a 'Giving Back to the Community Week'. As part of that they're having a Crazy Hair Day to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation. I offered to give a little talk at the school assembly to explain leukaemia and what the Foundation does. This is the speech I gave (with a few asides).

Hello. I’m Catherine Walsh, [name]’s mum, and I’m going to talk a little bit about leukaemia, my experience with leukaemia and what the Leukaemia Foundation does.

What is leukaemia?
We think of blood as red. It looks red. But actually there are different parts of the blood. Each part has a different job to do. The white cells fight infection. Haemoglobin carries oxygen around the blood to give us energy and platelets make the blood clot so, when you get cut you stop bleeding. Leukaemia is cancer of the white blood cells. Cancer is when bad cells grow in the body. They tend to keep growing until you stop then. The word ‘leukaemia' means ‘white blood’ - that’s how it looked under a microscope when it was discovered. There are other types of blood cancers that are about other parts of the blood. Those cancers are mainly myelomas and lymphomas. All blood cancers are deadly diseases if left untreated. We don’t know why some people get it.

About a year and half ago I found out I had leukaemia. It is a sneaky disease, and you don’t know that you have it until you have a blood test. The main symptom is tiredness, but you can be tired for lots of reasons, and that’s normal. When you have a cold, you can feel that you have a cold, but you can’t feel you have leukaemia. That’s how I found out - I had a blood test. There are different types of leukaemia. For my type of leukaemia most people are treated with medication - they take a pill everyday and that keeps it under control. But my leukaemia looked like it was about to get much worse, so my doctors decided I needed another treatment, and that I should have a stem cell transplant. (It used to be called a bone marrow transplant - your blood gets made inside your bones in your bone marrow). That meant I needed chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a strong drug that kills cancer cells. Usually it is in liquid form that goes straight into your veins. It doesn’t hurt but it can make you feel sick. And it makes your hair fall out. That’s why you often see that cancer patients are bald. That’s what happened to me - my hair started falling out so I shaved it off. For the stem cell transplant the doctors killed my bone marrow, so I couldn’t make my own blood. They took some of my sister’s blood and put it in me, so my body grew new bone marrow and started a new blood supply system. It’s a dangerous thing to do, and can get pretty tricky, but I was lucky and everything went smoothly. I’m going to be OK.

 I spent ten weeks in hospital last year, and I met lots of patients with blood cancers. Some of them will get better and some of them won’t. People talk about the battle to fight cancer. Scientists and doctors might think of it that way, but as a patient, I don’t - I’ve spent too much time sleeping to think of myself as fighting. I’ve just been obeying my doctors. We’ve made a lot of progress in treating blood cancers, and I’ve been lucky that we have such good medical treatment in Australia, but there is still a lot of work to do, especially for people with other blood cancers, particularly multiple myeloma.

So, what does the Leukaemia Foundation do?
The Leukaemia Foundation helps people in a number of ways. They provide information to patients - they make booklets about the diseases and their treatments. They provide counselling. They provide somewhere for people to stay if they need to travel from the country to the city for their treatment. They can provide a driver and transport to and from medical appointments. And they organise research to be able to better treat people with blood cancer. Their main fundraiser is the ‘Be Brave and Shave’ campaign. They ask people to raise money by shaving their heads, because if you go bald you might make cancer patients feel they are not alone, and they’ll feel supported. We don’t expect children to shave their heads, so [school] is having a Crazy Hair Day on Friday.

So, thankyou for doing the Crazy Hair Day and raising money for the Leukaemia Foundation. I know we’re not the only family at [school] who has been affected by blood cancer. It really is a worthwhile cause.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

I want to go off my medication

The one that switches off the leukaemia. The one that costs $5000 full price. The one that is my insurance policy.

I'm sick of feeling nauseas and tired. I'm sick of bone pain. I'm sick of feeling like I can't do things and go places and enjoy myself. I feel like I'm just trudging through life. I want to feel light and happy and energetic.

I know my doctor won't be happy with my suggestion. I'll remind him he said I'm 'probably cured'. If the leukaemia returns I can return to the medication, of course. Or maybe I can try an alternate drug that does the same things with fewer side effects - it's different for each patient.

I want to return to feeling normal. Wish me luck!

Monday, February 03, 2014

And so the year begins

Only now because the year doesn’t really begin until the kids go back to school and the weekly schedule emerges and the calendar fills once more.

It’s a bit of a shock. We’ve spent January sleeping in, going to the pool, mooching about. The jobs we didn’t do one day could just as well not be done the next. Now it’s all commitments and appointments and filling in forms and putting money into envelopes and preparing for the many activities of each day and watching the clock.

I started the term with my uni exam, which turned out to be better than I expected. I’ve spent every day since on medical stuff; three days of vaccinations and a hospital checkup. I’m reading a book that lives on the shelf of my doctor’s waiting room.

The children’s schedules are nearly complete (music, dance and drama - anyone would think I’m preparing them for the stage), but I’m still working out what I’m doing this year. I’m teaching ethics at the primary school. I’m helping to prepare the Mamapalooza festival. I’m trying to gain more energy. That means eating well, getting some exercise and getting enough rest. What more I can do this year depends on my energy levels. I have four more units and two more pracs to do to finish my degree. Normally I’d do two units and a prac each trimester. I’m not sure I’m up to that yet, so I’ll have to just see what I’m capable of doing. It’s the pracs that will require a lot of energy. I’m still having a nap every afternoon. If I can’t finish the degree this year, I may as well spread it out. I’m keen to be well enough to work. I don’t know if my recovery has plateaued and I should just work with what I have. Everybody’s tired. Tired is the new normal. And it’s not measurable. Maybe I just need to blunder through. Fake it ‘til I make it. Otherwise I might have to find a way to work from home, or reduced hours, or create something to sell, or write a popular Christmas song. I’m taking transplant medication until May, and have convinced my doctor to let me take my leukaemia medication every second day (it causes tiredness, nausea and bone pain). I’m sure I was feeling lighter before starting on the leukaemia medication. My blood counts are now good, but my specialist is keeping an eye on liver function, which means extra check-ups. Add on the normal mothering tasks of cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and running around after children, and I really don’t think I’ll have the time and energy to study more than a minimal load. But I’m going to give it a go. I also want to factor in some fun. Card games. Singing with a choir. Seeing people. What’s the point if I don’t have some fun? The more I write the more I’m convincing myself to go slowly, where I can. We’ll see what fits.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Summer Reading 2014

I have been reading short stories. I have a collection of short stories by Shirley Jackson, and her ‘momoir’, published in 1953, ‘Life Among the Savages’, pioneering this style of fun housewifely writing. It’s true. There has been lots written about mothering, but each generation forgets and writes their own. Her stories are interesting to compare how parenting has changed. She smoked. A lot. Even when in labour on the way to hospital. The children walked to school or caught the bus themselves from their first day. Boys had guns and girls had dolls. And no seat belts. Children just rolled about in the back seat. But they survived. Well the children survived; Shirley Jackson died at the age of 48. I wonder if today’s mothers’ tales will be viewed the same way I view these stories.

The collection I’m reading has been collated by Joyce Carol Oates. I’m also reading a collection of her short stories. The problem though, is that I need to take a break between each story to absorb each one and let the dust settle before setting out with another. It makes for slow reading.

In between I’m studying for my uni exam and clearing out space. Studying for an exam is not an ideal way to spend the summer holidays. I hope to never do it again.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Questions about religion

I could write about how I’m still tired, how I’m sick of taking medication, concern for whether my brain is damaged, how I sometimes miss being in hospital and how if we don’t get employed early in the new year I could become a parking officer, but instead I’d rather talk about something meaty. Politics at the moment is too scary and, so religion it is. If you see me at the pool this summer, this is what I’d like to discuss.

1. Jesus was a Jew who followed the Jewish traditions. How do we know he wanted to start a whole new church rather than just a branch of Judaism?

2. Jesus wrote nothing himself. How can we quote him with any confidence when his words were written decades after his death, then transcribed a few times before coming to us in their present form?

3. If you study an ancient text, do you read other ancient texts to gain context about what ancient peoples thought, felt and believed? If not, why not?

5. Why were the lost gospels omitted from the New Testament? What were the forces that went into compiling the bible?

5. If you are Christian, why not be Catholic, if that is the most unbroken line to the original church? Why follow a breakaway, particularly a branch that was started by a King for his own reason (divorce, and taking property)? Were the policies to differentiate The Church of England from Catholicism (the end of worshipping Mary and the Saints, the end of idolatry, the end of purgatory, the end of monasteries, allowing priests to marry) based on theology or other factors?  

6. Why have some religions survived but most have failed? Is it due to geopolitical factors? Why are failed religions, eg, ancient Greek and Roman polytheism, considered childish or naive, but survived religions should be treated with respect?

7. What purpose did ancient, now defunct, religions serve? How do surviving religions serve different purposes?   

8. For parents who teach their children about religion and about Santa, when the children find out that Santa isn’t real, do they also question their faith in God?

9. Some believers say that God has a sense of humour. Where is the evidence for that?

10. If a self-appointed prophet appeared today, what scrutiny would that prophet be under? Is this scrutiny different from that applied to dead prophets?

11. How do people who treat the Bible as an historical document feel when historians say things like Jesus was born in April, or there is no evidence of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt?

12. What is the relationship between religion and mythology?

13. Do people of faith discuss these issues at church/bible study?