My name is Liz. Until fairly recently, I was a social worker living in Sydney with my husband and two young sons. In late 2010, an exciting job opportunity came up for my husband in Darwin, the remote tropical capital of Australia's sparsely populated Northern Territory. Deciding to embrace the adventure, we overrode the objections of our distraught children and dragged them across the continent to a distinctly different way of life.
Several months later, things were going well. The boys were happier than crocs in a mangrove. My husband was enjoying his role, and I had found an interesting job and joined a book club and a choir. While I pined dreadfully for family and friends ‘Down South’, I sensed that there would be a lot to relish about Darwin life. To top it off, we’d survived our first cyclone. We felt like true Territorians-in-training.
And then I found a lump in my left breast. Shortly afterwards, I was diagnosed with Stage 2(b) breast cancer "with some Stage 3 features", as my oncologist describes it (for those interested in such things, there were two moderately sized invasive tumours on the left side - one nastily enmeshed in the pectoral muscle - and there proved to be 'micro-deposits' in three lymph nodes). For a range of reasons, I chose to return to Sydney where I could receive care through a multi-disciplinary breast cancer centre. I arrived in Sydney in early July 2011 and returned to Darwin eight months later. During that time I had a radical mastectomy (involving removal of breast tissue and underlying cancer-affected muscle), a breast reconstruction, a bunch of lymph nodes removed from my armpit, six rounds of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation treatment. It was a riot. The support of our amazing families and friends - who rallied at both ends of the country during the separation - and the fantastic care from my treatment team got me through.
I am now back up North with my husband and sons - body and spirit more than a little battered - taking my Tamoxifen and trying to get a grip on the complicated, hopeful-but-terrifying reality of living in remission from cancer. I’m also attempting to catch up with my husband and sons in adjusting to life in the tropics. Top End Take 2, I’m calling it.
The photos on the masthead of this blog were taken in our garden. This picture of my fetching post-chemo hairdo was taken on the verandah of our up-on-stilts Darwin home. And yes, that is a sundress with a lurid hibiscus motif. Go easy on me. I never anticipated that I'd live spitting distance from the Equator, and the shock appears to have left me vulnerable to a nasty Tropical Cliche infection. I'm hoping it'll clear up at the end of the wet season.
I hope to use this blog to stay in touch with folk ‘Down South’, and to describe the charms of life in this unique part of the world. I also plan for it to be a space to reflect on my experiences with breast cancer, which I’m only now feeling ready to explore. Family and friends may hear more about my breasts than they ever wanted to know, but I'm hoping that's a risk they're willing to take. I’m expecting this blog to be one part cancer, one part Northern Territory and one part family life, with a splash of frivolous gossip. Like Paw Paw Salad – which is prepared with mortar and pestle at all of Darwin’s famed markets – I’m hoping that a roughly thrown together mixture of wildly varied ingredients will prove tasty.