In a way, I hope today is one of those moments in my life, wherefrom pivotal changes will develop. I hope today is one that I will hold in my memory forever and use it to foster the ongoing strength and courage required to be the best person I can be. A happy, healthy woman, a caring and nurturing mama, who has time for the little things and a kind and generous human, unconcerned with material possessions, or the pursuit of monetary wealth. I hope today will change who I am, for the rest of my life.
For many months, my beautiful cousin, affectionately know to me as ‘Aunty’, has been fighting the most monumental battle of her life, a battle FOR her life, against Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. For the best part of a year, she has undergone some of the most intensely horrific medical treatments, leaving her body ravaged and a mere shell of what it once was. But throughout every treatment, throughout every infection, every setback, every hideously frightening moment, she has held her head high, her hopes even higher and has looked only forward, staying forever positive.
As a child, she lived with our family, while she studied in Melbourne, away from her rural Victorian town. My fondest memories of those years were hanging out with her and her friends, like a little sister would, listening to music and generally feeling cool. I remember vividly her singing to me the one hit wonder, ‘Black Is Black’ and Kiss’ ‘I Was Made For Loving You Baby’, in the bedroom of her family home. More memories of her and her brother, chasing me through their home, wearing hideous dress up masks they had stashed in toy boxes and going down to the farm to ride on Uncle Ned’s red truck. As I grew older, she moved back to the country and I often went down to stay with her over school holidays. She’d take me out for dinner, we’d shop, we’d watch movies and mostly, we’d laugh. Further down the track, she taught me to drive in her Ford Telstar! Ever so patient and and encouraging.
As I became an adult, I continued to visit and for a time, lived with her at her home on the coast, at the back of a petrol station she was running with her family. Those years, were filled with hilarity, ridiculousness and story telling. We’d buy cheap, pink champagne, listen to offensive comedians on tape and sit for hours, well into the night, talking about everything and nothing and laughing our heads off. No matter how much champagne was consumed, she was always the sensible one, knowing when was a reasonable time to go to bed and always making sure I got into mine. She often recounted the story of the night some local lads had set fire to the huge wheelie bins at the side of the store. She’d been alerted by smoke and noise and as she lifted the roller door to see what all the fuss was about, was greeted in her ‘grandma nightie’ by a dozen hot firemen, who had just extinguished the fire. I’m not sure what made her laugh more, the embarrassment of being caught in her best nightie, or the fact that I’d slept through the entire incident, smoke and all. ‘Katie’ she said, ‘how you ever slept through that ruckus and the smoke wafting through your window, I’ll never know’.
On another occasion, I decided it would be a fabulous idea to take a drive out to one of the isolated indigenous communities, ‘just to say hi’. She didn’t agree but came along anyway. I pulled over in the middle of nowhere to have a cigarette and upon getting back into the car, pretended it wouldn’t start. At first she giggled, then the giggle got a little more nervous before she got truly serious and started to panic. Miraculously (wink wink), I got the car going and we drove off into the night, in fits of laughter. Twenty years later, she still tightened her lips and shook her head when remembering that story. I have always threatened to take her back, just for fun. Moving forward, she married her gorgeous fella and it was an honour to be asked to be her bridesmaid — even if she was going make us wear navy blue. I recall her saying it was as close to black as I was going to get. In the years following, I was able to hold their beautiful babies when they came into the world. First a little boy, followed by a little girl, both of whom have grown into absolutely delightful young humans. How could they not, with Aunty on the job.
Fun times were had in Melbourne, too, once they moved back. An epic night at the Elsternwick FC with her hubby’s team, lead to a riotous trip home, with my cousin very soberly at the wheel. I’d spotted a reasonably large rock at a worksite on the side of the road and insisted she stop for me to bring it home as a housewarming gift for them both. The rock lived in their garden for many years and although they have since moved, I’m sure it’s still sitting there. Soberly at the wheel — seems to be an accurate way to describe how this proud and strong woman has lived her life. Even during treatment and lengthy hospital stays, soberly at the wheel was how she rolled.
Only days ago we learned that the recent stem cell treatment had failed. When we chatted last week, she said ‘It’s not good Katie, it’s not good, it’s bad’ but she knew there were still options. We made plans to have a coffee and go through the old photos I have of her children and I promised her some giggles courtesy of my online dating adventures. This afternoon, my Mum called to say that she’d suffered an aneurysm overnight. This evening I spoke to her hubby who said that all treatment had ceased, given the risk of further bleeds and that tomorrow, he would be speaking with the palliative care team to work out how best to move forward. I had no words for him, as he spoke through tears. ‘It’s so fucked up’ was all I could manage. He agreed. So as I sit here tonight, she lies in a hospital bed, in the middle of a busy city, her body, only a shadow of what it was less than twelve months ago. But not that soul, that soul is still soberly at the wheel.
Today I realised that while I’m caught up casting hatred and contempt at my body, there’s a beautiful, strong woman lying in a hospital bed tonight, who would happily swap her sick and devastated body for mine. The body that I have hated so passionately, for so long, that I treat so terribly, that I poisoned for so many years, would be a miracle for her. Today I realised that I have been taking for granted so very much, despite my best efforts to be grateful for all that my life has bestowed upon me. Today I realised that if I am to learn anything from this incredibly heartbreaking time, it must be now. Now is the time to make changes, to shift attitudes, to practice gratitude and to become conscious of how very blessed I am. Now is the time to stop worrying about reflections in the mirror and to relish the miracle that is my body, my healthy, strong body. Now is the time to slow down, to let go, to love more. Now is the time to hold my babies close and make the most of every single moment.
I am far from perfect and have no doubt that from time to time, I will lose focus, but today, I have made a promise to myself to do my very best to make positive changes and to be vigorously mindful of the abundance of blessings that surround me and mine. I will do my best to remember that not everyone has time, not everyone will get to hold their children’s children and not everyone has the privilege of growing old. I will do my best, to make a change for me, for my children and for my beautiful cousin who is fighting for every single moment.
Soberly at the wheel, Aunty.