Monday, April 11, 2016

Fear in the time of cancer

Fear is not the same as negativity. Being terrified is not a form of self pity. 

It's frustrating trying to express your fears and having people telling you to stay positive. 

It's exhausting being brave ALL the time. Do you know how much energy goes into holding your shit together when you have a disease that's killing so many people around you?

You'd be mad not to be afraid when you have cancer. 

I'm allowed to worry. I'm allowed to be scared. I'm allowed to treat the doctors' positive opining with suspicion. I'm allowed to be sceptical of words like 'hope' and 'probably'. 

Yes, I'll 'probably' be ok. I 'hope' all will be well. But allow me the space to be scared shitless that I won't. I haven't given up. I have no intention of giving into darkness and negativity. But let me feel grief for the loss of my blissful ignorance and days never ever spent considering things like cancer. I miss that time. I'll never get them back. 

*This is written simply for purposes of release. I'm finding it hard to hold things in at the moment. And truthfully, it's very difficult to find people who are willing to entertain the "what happens if I don't make it?" conversation. It's not a popular one. 

**My surgery went "very well" on Tuesday. I'm in pretty awful pain and look like I've been a couple of rounds with an axe murderer, but after removing my whole thyroid, lymph nodes and all the surrounding tissue, the surgeon seems confident he got all the cancer out of my neck. We'll only know the final outcome after more scans in about a month. 

***A lot of this fear has been prompted by the loss of two kick-ass young people this week. They were both strong and determined to beat cancer, but they lost their battles. Chantel Rall and Igor Najbicz, you're in my heart and my thoughts. Their passing has shaken me to my core. 

****If you have someone in your life dealing with cancer, let them tell you how scared they are. Avoid the temptation to minimise their fear, or squash it into a little rainbow ball and try and make it go away. One of the things I'm most grateful for is my oldest and dearest friend who let me sit in her lounge and cry big cancer tears when this all started. She let me be afraid. 


Friday, March 25, 2016

My Disneyland Diagnosis #fuckcancer

I am overwhelmed by the love, support, messages and calls I've received over the past five months. I'll never be able to fully describe how incredibly frightening it's been and how comforting it is to have so many special people in my corner.

The abridged version of my very long story is this...

After 11 biopsies, 12 different doctors, and more blood tests and scans than I can count, it turns out that the lymphoma was a misdiagnosis.

Since this journey started, I have been investigated for three different kinds of cancer in four different places in my body. (One of which only has a 6% survival rate, so you can imagine how fun googling that one was.)

It turns out that I only have one kind of cancer and it's in two different places. It's thyroid cancer, which, in the land of cancers, is basically Disneyland. 

In just less than two weeks, I'll be going in to have my thyroid and all the lymph nodes and tissue in my neck removed. (Even Disneyland has some scary rides.) The upside is that chemo is off the table for now and I'll most likely get away with a little bit of radioactive treatment.

Honestly, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world and can't wait for this chapter to be over so that I can move on and live a life that doesn't involve needles and waiting rooms.

Being referred to as a "cancer patient" is humbling as fuck. I have learnt unimaginably meaningful lessons and can truly say that I have never been more present in my life than in this scary part of it.

Again, thank you for keeping me close to your hearts and in your thoughts. 

I can't wait to leave Disneyland! x

Monday, February 15, 2016


The story of my life for the past three months. 

It's hard to believe that I sit here still waiting for answers. It's inconceivable to me that I'm waiting for my seventh doctor to come back to me with results. 

I have been poked, prodded, cut open, stuck with needles and I've practically had my body weight in blood drawn. 

Still, I wait. 

I have ridden every level of this roller coaster. I have accepted, I have hoped, I have forgotten, I have had to accept all over again. 

I have watched each of the doctors become fixated with squashing me into whatever box it is that they're peddling. The oncologists are obsessed with the cancer, the surgeons are desperate to cut you open and the radiologists explore you like you're harbouring hidden treasure. 

So what exactly am I waiting for? Months after being diagnosed, the doctors still need hard evidence of what type of lymphoma is living inside of me. My cancer isn't leaving clues. Sneaky fucker. 

Also, in the past month, a scan showed I now have four tumours. One of them is in my pelvis. Yes, I have crotch cancer. Awesome. 

So now they have four places to examine, poke, prod, cut and stick needles into. 

Until they figure it out, there'll be no treatment, which is fine because now would be a pretty shitty time for that. Although, I checked my diary and I'm not seeing any good time for chemo. 

That said, I've actually made peace with the chemo. Waiting for this long is bizarrely calming. In the same way that moms get a nine month head start, I feel peacefully prepared for what's coming. 

In the meantime, I still have zero symptoms (not even the weight loss one). In fact, I may be the only person with cancer who's picked up the Freshman 10 (except I'm not a freshman). 

My life is pretty fantastic right now. I'm moving into a beautiful new home and I got a massive promotion at work. The latter blows me away as I've been very upfront with them about my cancer from the start and they still have enough faith in me to come along for the cancer ride. 

So, fuck you, cancer. You don't get to steal anything from me; except my patience. 


Saturday, December 12, 2015


Tumour. Lymphoma. Cancer. Chemo. Crisis.

The five words you never want to hear together in a sentence. The five words I'll never forget hearing together in a sentence.

Six weeks ago, I disembarked a flight from Cape Town with a heart full of happiness, a liver full of alcohol and, unknowingly, a chest full of cancer.

All I knew was that I had really swollen feet and I was short of breath. 

Let’s be real honest, I'm not an athlete, but I can hold my own in the gym, so I became increasingly concerned when walking from one end of a passage to another became a problem.

I'm going to cut a long story short and tell you that after a lot of testing for other things, we accidentally arrived at "Tumour. Lymphoma. Cancer. Chemo. Crisis."

The news was delivered to me and my mom in a room with some bullshit wisdoms and fucked up cancer platitudes painted on the wall. (I took a picture of it while I was being told I had cancer because I just couldn't actually believe what a cliché it was.)

I’m not going to gloss over the feelings of overwhelming fear, nausea and grief that came over me in those moments. Even for a pretty medically educated girl, I can’t pretend that I didn’t immediately associate the ‘c word’ with immediate death.

I turned to my mom and told her that she was going to be ok. I told her she would need to be ok and carry on without me. She needed to stick around for her two year old grandson. It all sounds so over the top now, but trust me, the moment called for it. 

I then turned to the doctor who had just vomited “Tumour. Lymphoma. Cancer. Chemo. Crisis.” all over me, and I asked her how soon I was going to die. She didn’t have an answer. She told me I needed to see a cardiothoracic surgeon as soon as possible, but it might take a week. I asked her if I could die in the next week. She said no. Finally, an answer.

So, I left the hospital that day knowing that I had at least a week to live. I know that sounds dramatic, but it was every bit as dramatic as it sounds.

I immediately started googling the fuck out of lymphoma and started to believe that I probably had much more than a week left to live.

Here are some things I learnt that you should know about my cancer:

  •  Lymphoma is highly treatable and dying just really isn't an option for me.
  • I have zero symptoms of the cancer. None. 
  • Cancer did not show up in either of the two full blood screenings that I had (the most recent was on the "Tumour. Lymphoma. Cancer. Chemo. Crisis." morning.) Apparently, contrary to popular belief, cancer often doesn’t show up in your blood work.
  • The shortness of breath was simply a side-effect of the placement of the tumour.
  • My lungs are perfect, but I quit smoking anyway because I think I have enough cancer in my life at the moment.
  • Had I not been a paranoid, over anxious hypochondriac, it's likely that this would have all ended really badly.
  • The thought of having chemotherapy is every bit as scary as you imagine it is.
Here are some pretty mind blowing things I've discovered in the past few weeks about myself and some of you:

Cancer makes people uncomfortable
Some people leave the room really quickly when you tell them your news. Others stick around and give you Cancer Face.

I have been on the receiving end of more Cancer Face in the last few weeks than I even knew existed. 

Cancer Face involves a quite significant tilt of the head, dropping of the lip and excessive blinking of the eyes.

I used to think that the You’re Still Single Face was bad, but Cancer Face trumps it. And then the You’re Still Single and you have Cancer Face is a bit like watching puppies being clubbed. HORRIFYING.

Another strange thing I’ve discovered is that I'm most often left consoling you. I find myself having to talk you off the ledge about my cancer. I have to convince you that I won’t die. I have to remind you that Lymphoma isn’t a “scary cancer”. It gets tiring.

*Disclaimer: I know all of this comes from a good place.

Cancer makes people angry
I don’t mean, like, in a #FuckCancer kind of way. I like that kind of anger. I mean that it makes them really angry with me.

Some people are pissed off because I didn’t tell them in a sensitive enough way. Some people are pissed off because I didn’t tell them at all. Some people are pissed off because they don’t feel I’m taking this seriously enough. Some people are pissed off because I won’t update them constantly on my cancer. Some people are pissed off because I’m not sad all the time. Mostly, people are pissed off because I reject having every moment of my life consumed by cancer. I refuse to talk, live and breathe cancer from the moment I open my eyes to the moment I close them.

Some people are pissed off because I’m not answering a lot of calls. Please rather just drop me a message. I’m not a good phone person on the best of days, and I know you want to talk to me about my cancer, but I don’t always want to be on the phone talking about my cancer.

Cancer is part of my new normal. And that’s only a small part of it. I still get on with my regular life and do regular things. I just happen to have cancer while doing it.

There is no great way of telling you I have cancer. If I didn’t tell you about it, I probably thought you didn’t need to know or I had no interest in you knowing (Although there are some exceptions to this. I did try telling a couple of people and the moment just wasn’t right.). How I handle my cancer is my prerogative. I’m taking it very seriously, but I’m also allowed to laugh at it, see the absurdity in it and make inappropriate jokes. Trust me, there have been many tears and a lot of anger. I have felt all the feels.

The angry people need to take a deep breath. It’s my cancer and I’m the boss of it.

*Disclaimer: I know some of this comes from a good place.

I'm fierce as fuck
I always knew I was tough. I always knew that I was competitive and would never play a game I didn’t think I could win. I always knew I was stubborn and extra motivated by achieving things people said I couldn’t.

But who knew I was fierce as fuck? I am blown away by the strength of what lives inside my mind, my heart and my gut. I hadn’t seen this Jo before, but I like her a lot.

I go into fierce as fuck mode when I'm terrified
I’m going to try and find a new way to trigger this mode without having the absolute shit scared out of me.

I’m also terrified that people will see me as the sick girl, or they’ll treat me like I’m feeble. Fierce as fuck mode hopefully stops that in its tracks.

I don't want you to post a no-makeup selfie for me. DON'T.
This was one of my earlier thoughts when I found out I had cancer. I had always wondered what I’d think of these selfies if I was on the receiving end of them. I can now tell you without reservation that I couldn’t find a single fuck to give about seeing you without make up.

I do have some thoughts about a Random Acts of Cancer Kindness project that I’d like to chat to you about soon.

I'm vain
I’m much vainer than I ever thought. I’m horrified just how vain. One of the first things that I thought when I heard I’d need chemo, was the hair loss. I had no idea how attached I was to how other people saw me. This is still a VERY big thing for me, but I have a definite plan in place for the hair loss. I wish I could own being that girl who rocks the Britney (circa 2007), but I just don’t see it happening.

Our lives are so small
Having cancer follow you around puts things squarely into perspective. It also heightens your senses and turns up the volume nauseatingly loud on the insignificant shit people complain about.

While I’m the first to say that cancer isn’t everything and life goes on, there are so many reasons for us to feel shitty about our lives; Why do we go look for more?

My people are the best fucking people
It’s too difficult for me to explain how my people have stepped up for me. The thing about cancer that has made me cry the most, is the incredible kindness, loyalty, humour and support that has come from my corner.

None of them have expected me to console them. None of them have minimised this or pretended it could be nothing. They've all boarded the cancer train as willing passengers (even though none of us want to be on it). They’ve made space for tears, they’ve made space for inappropriate laughs, and most importantly, they’ve made space for absolute normality.

They still give me the same shit they did before, they are still every bit as bossy as they were before and they’re still perfectly in tune with when I need an ass kicking.

My amazing handful of friends and family, you know who you are and I fucking love you with a ferocity that should scare you a little.

And my Mom. My mind-blowing mom. My mom who deserves to go through none of this. You are the centre of my world and I swear I will fight with everything in me so that you don’t have to experience any more heart ache.

So here is where we’re at…

We’re still waiting for exact staging and grading of my tumour, so that we can start working on a treatment plan. We know it’s Lymphoma, but we need confirmation of type and subtype (cancer is complicated), in order to determine what cocktail of chemo I need.

It’s a waiting game, so we’re just hurrying up and waiting.

In the meantime, I just want you to know how blown away I have been by how many of you have sent messages, flowers, love, support, encouragement, prayers, and kindness. You have made me feel a million feet tall and even more fierce as fuck.

If this is the first you're hearing of this, just know that I'm in good health and great spirits. Don't worry too much! Also, don't send me a no makeup selfie and don't try and call me. I probably won't answer ;)

Lastly, I just want you to know that this blog post is not a cry for help, an attention seeking exercise or an invitation to reopen closed doors. More than anything, this is a cautionary tale. I'm 37 and I have cancer. Who the fuck knew? NO ONE.

Ignore nothing. It’s ok to be a bit of a hypochondriac. Nag your doctors until you feel heard. Don’t procrastinate when it comes to your health. Let me tell you this while I’m still very much immersed in the moment, there is nothing in this world as important as your health and having people who love you in your corner. NOTHING.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Dear @spillly

Dear @spillly,

We met in a dark corner of a bar too many years ago to really count. It was post Facebook, but pre Twitter.

We spent hours talking about everything and nothing.

I knew then that we’d be BFFE. What I didn’t know was the man you’d turn out to be.

You tweeted something this morning that blew my mind. You said “I don’t know when it happened, but I have become rather a nice guy. I like me. The new me.”

I love that. I love that you like yourself now as much as we’ve always liked you. The new you is bold, brave, fearless, open-minded, unbelievably smart and capable of anything. But I just want you to know that so was the old you. You’re just the better version of the old you now.

I thought you were amazing when you were just spilly with 2 Ls and no @. I thought you were cool even when you had a Blackberry much longer than you should have. I thought you kicked ass when you wanted to take selfies long before selfies were a thing.

Our friendship has changed shape and form a million times over the years, but your ability to make me laugh, your honesty (sometimes brutal) and your very unique perspective on the world, has meant that I have always liked who I am when I’m around you.

I’ve never had to edit myself or dumb myself down. I have always been able to be myself, for better and for worse. You’ve seen my happy face, my sad face, my cross face (sorry), my big girl tears face (even sorrier) and lots and lots of my fun face.

You’ve stepped out into the world on a brave new path and it’s turning out for you exactly as I always knew it would. There’s nothing you can’t do and there’s no one you can’t floor with your mind.

Work, stress and life will always mean that I don’t get to see your freckles as much as I’d like or chat as often as I’d want. Age and adulthood mean that we’ll probably no longer have conversations which consist mainly of sound effects. We most likely won’t head off on a spontaneous overseas trip again.

I have had the most fun with you. I have a million memories and a billion scars on my liver from you, but I somehow think there are more memories to be made and more drinks to be drunk.

Let’s be BFFs forever ever. Ok?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Before you put all your eggs in Helen's basket...

I have a friend I've known for almost 2 decades. People change over the years, but there was always 1 constant with her: she despised hard boiled eggs.

Recently, I had breakfast with her and her boyfriend and there she was ordering hard boiled eggs.

Sensing the confusion on my face, she explained that her guy loved hard boiled eggs and she decided to like them too. It seemed to come as a surprise to him that she had a chequered past filled with fried eggs.

While she struggled to get her eggs down (I could see the pain on her face), my thoughts turned to another girl who keeps her egg secrets close to her chest...Helen Zille.

Helen gets around and has lots of egg breakfasts in lots of different beds. Sometimes she's eating them poached, other times she's ordering them over easy.

The only thing I know about the way she likes her eggs is that she HATES scrambled eggs. She tells us constantly just how silly, useless and tasteless scrambled eggs are.

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the scrambled egg. I always have been and even though I often question why they can't be more like omelettes and less scrambled and why the eggs need to be eaten next to a fire pool, nobody else has offered me eggs that I love as much or more.

Helen, it’s too late for you to try and get me to change the way I eat my eggs, but I know there are many people out there looking for an alternative to scrambled eggs. They’d like to know more about what you plan to do with the eggs if they decide to put them in your basket.

I know you've had an upset this week and your eggs got stuffed, but that's no reason not to pick yourself up, pull yourself together and start experimenting with your own eggs and find out how you really like them done.

Once you figure it out, please let the country know. They're going to need to make a choice about how they will like their eggs done for the next 5 years. I’m sure you want them to pick your eggs because they’re good eggs and not just because they aren’t scrambled eggs.

Come on, Helen. Stop talking about everybody else's eggs and tell us about your eggs.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Black Pimpernel

I started to feel an anger building in me.
A simmering resentment.
A burning need to challenge and preach, but it's not what he would have wanted.
He would have wanted me to ask the questions, but not judge you based on your answers.
I needed to know if all the people who were crying shared his politics.
I had to know if they loved the ANC as much as he did.
I had a hunger for answers. I wanted to know why none of them would ever talk about what landed him in prison.
Why some believed he was sentenced to life in prison simply for his blackness.
They accused me of being racist when I mentioned bombings and revolutions.
I was being regarded as treasonous for mentioning the very things that he was regarded as treasonous for doing.
Let me be the first to tell you that he would never regret what he did to get where he did.
He was not ashamed.
Are you?
My bitterness is growing. I want us to love him for the right reasons.
I want us to respect him because he gave his life, his breath, his love, his family to the ANC.
He gave his youth, his hearing, his lungs, his health to the cause.
He was not a teddy bear.
It minimises his legacy to treat the revolutionary, the soldier of liberation, the radical, the rebel, as a stuffed animal.
This 'teddy bear' had guts and teeth and weapons in all the right places.
I love him with all my heart.
I love him because of his politics, not in spite of them.
I love him because he managed to make you all believe he wasn't political, even though he was.
I love him because he loved the ANC even more than he loved his freedom.
I love him because he still loved the ANC, even though we make up stories in our heads about how much he'd disapprove of them right now.
He would never have defected.
He would never have broken away.
He might have had a quiet word with leadership, but he wouldn't have publicly dressed them down.
I beg you to love him for all of him, not just the pieces you pick.
I ask that you accept the hard edge with the soft heart.
I urge you to spend this next week of mourning celebrating 'The Black Pimpernel' as much as you do 'Tata'.
Before he was the grandfather of the nation, he was the country's 'most dangerous man'.
I love that about him.
I hope you do too.
But he would never have let me tell you why you should love him.
He would be angry at me for dictating the terms of your feelings.
He would have asked me to be fair, kind and tolerant.
He would not have endorsed this blog post, but I can't help feeling that he might have secretly liked it.