Discovering my 'new normal' after breast cancer diagnosis at 34.

03 October 2014


This is just a quick post to share my good news that after 5 years of treatment for breast cancer (diagnosis in Jan 2009 at age 34), as of 24 September 2014 I am finally off all my medications.

This is rather a huge milestone for me, as I am sure you can imagine. I switched from the hormonal treatment of Zoladex + Arimidex in Sept 2013 to Tamoxifen, and seeing as Sept 2014 is 5 years since commencing hormonal treatment, I am have now officially been given the all clear to come off the Tamoxifen too. I have strict instructions to remain vigilant however, and act on any changes that may occur. I will continue to have yearly mammograms most likely for the rest of my life.

I am looking forward to non-cancer related challenges and events in 2015, including - hopefully - my 50th parkrun!

With love and best wishes,


13 August 2013

GPS Watch

I like doing my own runs on a regular basis, usually 3 - 5 km at a time and perhaps twice to three times per week. Since getting my little Garmin Forerunner 10 watch with GPS, I have been able to really push myself to run that extra 30 metres or so to reach the goal I had set at the beginning of my run.

Unfortunately, my iPod nano did not survive a wash cycle in the pocket of my shorts, so that has been out of action for over a year now. Sadly, Apple does not provide any warrantee or guarantee for "water damage".

The upside is that I much prefer my Garmin to the iPod & Nike tracker anyway!

I don't have to worry about earphones,  I can easily check the distance any time, and I can pause it  and restart it with the touch of a button. The GPS is accurate, and because I can also view my runs on google maps, I now pretty much know exactly where each kilometre marker is on my regular routes.

Highly recommended for walkers, runners, and cyclists. I chose the smaller of the GPS watches available because I wanted the simplest one. It comes in several colour choices: pink, green, and black. I decided I needed a break from pink and opted for my favourite colour: green.

29 January 2012

The anniversaries begin

As with many people living with cancer or who currently have no evidence of disease (NED), the anniversaries are imprinted on us: dates, months, years. Usually they are marked by a check-up around the date that something significant happened. I know exactly what I was doing on Friday, 30 Jan 2009.

That was the day I heard from my GP:

Well, you have a little cancer.

Life-changing words to say the least. And I don't know if I would call the 'moderately differentiated infiltrating ductal carcinoma and intermediate grade ductal carcinoma in-situ' "little": it measured around 20mm.

It's now 3 years later and although the shock of that news - and subsequent assaults on my body in the form of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation - is dwindling, I find that the closer I get to my 5-year-post-intensive-treatment mark, the more the fear that it will return creeps up on me.

It's a bittersweet anniversary: I can count my blessings every day that I am alive. I know not to "sweat the small stuff" and I know to "stop and smell the roses". But I still struggle with fatigue, memory and word loss, having zero oestrogen, and the side-effects of my regular ongoing treatment. It's also been a financial set-back and has put a (possibly indefinite) hold on any family plans we might have had. I worry that I will get sick again, just when things are looking good in terms of work, fitness, love, and life in general. I get frustrated with this New Normal and sometimes just want my Old Life back.

Having said that, without this roller-coaster of an event, I wouldn't have got to know many of the wonderful people I have since met both online and in real life, nor would I be the proud businesswoman running not one but three ventures: Hatiheri, YES! IELTS and my English language tutoring service.

Tomorrow will be the first of many anniversaries for the year.

I'm hoping there will continue to be many more.

27 December 2011

2011: It's a wrap. 2012: Bring it on.

First of all, I'm sorry I have been so slow at posting since the last post. I have been very busy with my "normal" working life, which I am thrilled to announce is somewhat returning.

Yes, I still..
  • get tired
  • am much of a home-body
  • work part time, although this is slowly increasing and I'm pushing it to the limits
  • don't drink (a hangover after half a glass of wine really doesn't make it worth it)
  • need naps during the day, although these have gone from 5 days a week napping to around 2 - 3 
  • get driven crazy with fatigue and migraines on a 4-weekly basis thanks to Zolodex
  • am on Arimidex, which is a heck of a lot better for me than Tamoxifen was
  • am exercising - running - perhaps not as much as before but at least once a week
  • am going to do the 2012 Mothers' Day Classic
  • am not sure if it's Mothers' (collective) or Mother's (singular). I am veering towards collective.
The beginning of 2012 marks 3 years post-diagnosis. Three years ago my future was a complete blank slate. In 2009 I really had absolutely no idea what I would be doing in 2012; and no idea I would be doing what I am doing.

2012 also marks the half-way mark of my 5-year treatment plan, half-way through Zolodex+Arimidex. I can distinctly remember the half-way mark of chemo: 3 sessions down and 3 to go. Now it's 2.5 years down and 2.5 to go. I am very much looking forward to being off the drugs, but anxious about it too. On the odd day when I forget to take my Arimidex, I get that glimmer of exuberance and energy levels that my body is capable of; it's not until the next day when I see the pill still in its packet that I realise the reason for my temporary new-found but soon-lost surge of vitality. At least it's there - waiting to be captured in its full essence in 2014/15.

So, bring on 2012 and let the countdown continue.


14 August 2011

Creations: Portable Desk & File Storage

Mike likes to work on his computer and filing while sitting on the couch, because it's nice and warm in the living room. He bought himself this nice handy plastic filing box from a local stationery shop and I spent a few weeks looking at it on the floor of the living room. I couldn't think how to make it easier for him to move it around and have somewhere to keep his laptop until I realised this bedside table from Ikea might do the trick. This is what it normally looks like:
I had to alter the height of the bottom shelf to make the cavity larger and as you can see I have flipped it over so that pens etc do not roll off the sides. There is enough room for a mouse or for charging his phone from the laptop. I got the castors from Ikea too, and drilled holes into the top (my base) and glued them in place.

The bedside table was $AU14.99 and the castors $AU 1.99 for a 4-pack. It works a treat and we can roll it away into the spare room or even into Mike's office in the front room if necessary. It also means the laptop has its own place.

28 July 2011

Cancer vocabulary: 'Awareness'

People often talk about "awareness" when referring to a certain cause or organisation. "Raise awareness" they say. What does this really mean?

According to my dictionary, aware is an adjective:
  • "having knowledge or perception of a situation or fact"
  • "concerned and well-informed about a particular situation or development"
... and the noun awareness in the thesaurus has these synonyms:
  • "consciousness, recognition, realization; understanding, grasp, appreciation, knowledge, insight; familiarity; cognizance"

    Well, here's what "raising awareness" means to me:
    • Awareness about (knowledge of) a particular support organisation and what they can help with. For example, being aware of the Cancer Council Queensland means I am able to contact them if I need to, maybe to ask some questions or get some information.
    • Awareness is also about early detection - noticing any unusual changes to your body (if you can; some changes are not easily detectable) and seeking advice and assistance if there is something that doesn't seem right.

    What does "raising awareness" mean to you? Is it simply a euphemism for "raising money"? Or is it more than that?

    21 July 2011

    My 'other life'

    What do I do when I'm not sewing headscarves, running, or blogging?

    My professional background is in English language teaching. I've been doing that for almost 10 years now.

    The great thing about this job is that I have been able to work it into my 'new normal'. For most of my life, I've worked as an employee at various language organisations but now, in addition to Hatiheri, I run my own English tutoring business. I'm "English-Tutor-Brisbane" and I teach from my home, via skype, and online via moodle. Many of my students need assistance with IELTS writing in order to get that elusive band 7 (or band 8) usually for nursing registration or for permanent residence. I've developed my own course with original materials to help them with this. The flexibility is great in that I can choose my own hours.

    In addition to this, I've recently started contracting to OET Online, developing and writing materials for their website and new face-to-face teaching course. I also tutor OET reading and speaking students using skype and guide students' writing. OET is the 'Occupational English Test', a language proficiency test for medical professionals wanting to work in Australia and New Zealand. It's a very interesting job because I have had a fair bit of experience both as a patient and as an EFL teacher. Again, I can work to my own schedule, which is ideal.

    I volunteer with Look Good Feel Better at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital every month. We do a workshop on skin care, make-up and hair accessories (wigs, turbans) for people going through appearance changes due to cancer treatment. I love working with our fabulous team there.

    18 July 2011

    Running Accessories: ipod

    Recently I wrote that I like to run because I don't need too many peripherals. I still maintain that a decent bra and comfortable, functional shoes are all that are necessary.

    However, lately I have been running with my new 'toy', an ipod nano with the nike+running attachment. The red oval shaped device attaches to my shoe and the white part attaches to my iopd nano. It has a pedometer which keeps track of my 'workouts' (as they call them). It's very handy because once calibrated, I can use it to check how far I have run. I'm usually checking it every 100m towards the end of a run, trying to get to that elusive 8km! While I run, I can also listen to music playlists, podcasts, or the radio.

    At the end of every run, I can upload my data and see how I am going and achieving my goals. I can keep track of my workouts and check if I am keeping up with the programme I set for myself. I can also share my results on social media sites, map past and future runs, and play online games with other runners. I haven't done the last one yet because I don't really have that competitive edge, but I can see the attraction.

    Here is one of my runs, displayed on my nike+running website.

    16 July 2011

    Media: Brisbane Running Festival

    This is from the 'Brisbane Running Festival' website:

    Your inspiration Inspired to run because "I want to stay alive"
    Distance Brisbane 10km Fun Run
    Name Tish Kirkland - (Support Tish as a Hero on EverydayHero and help raise funds for Cancer research)
    Where do you reside Milton, Queensland
    Favourite Food Norwegian "Gjetost" goat's cheese
    Greatest Achievement Outside of fitness: conquering breast cancer (or more accurately: conquering chemotherapy). Fitness-related: running 5km without stopping!
    How far have you come since your diagnosis? That's a difficult question. Since diagnosis in January 2009, it's been a huge roller-coaster: physically, mentally, financially and emotionally. It was a rough ride for the first 10 months and continues to be a steady but challenging one to this day. I started running only 3 months ago (March 2011) to train for the 4.5km Brisbane Mother's Day Classic and two weeks after that I ran 5km at the Rotary Fun Run at UQ. Dealing with the side effects of ongoing treatment is an uphill battle.

    I find that I like to use any (and all) energy I have to run, but that might be followed by a 1-hour nap to recover. I run so that I can stay within my BMI, which means my chances of cancer returning are reduced but also so that if it does return, I can fight it with all I've got.
    Any tips for those competing Do a few practice runs of the circuit. Train with a couple of friends and then run with them on the day. You'll know your pace and it's nice to run with others.
    Do you have any advice to other cancer survivors out there? I don't think cancer survivors need any advice from me - they know they are awesome. But if you've just been diagnosed or are going through treatment: go for a walk every day. Even 10 minutes, which was a true struggle for me (Heussler Terrace!) helped in the long run. I would be so exhausted after a walk and might sleep for hours afterwards but it really helped me get better. And if you've had surgery: do the homework stretches your physio gives you. It's a drag at the time but again, it pays off. I think the worst thing about cancer is the fear of the unknown. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

    The major beneficiary this year; Cancer Council, has a hotline - use it! (ph. 13 11 20) I had a hard time sorting out what the different organisations were, so I've since listed a "who's who" of cancer-related resources on my website. And for friends and family of survivors - be patient. When the intense treatment finishes that is just the beginning of the patient's struggle back to normality.
    What has inspired you to participate in Brisbane Running Festival? My body has been through the wringer with cancer, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and now hormonal treatment. Now it's time to treat it with some respect and give it a good chance of getting back to normal - and hopefully beyond my previous 'normal' to an even better condition. They call life post-cancer your "new normal". It does change your life; I was never a runner and now I run regularly.

    I was forging a career and I suddenly had to take time out of that. I was hoping to start a family and I had to put those plans on hold. My "new normal" is definitely a new life. Part of this has been the evolution of my own business, Hatiheri - headwear and accessories for hair loss. I can still only work part time, and the challenge of running my own small "cottage industry" is perfect for me
    Anything else you want others to know? & And I am happy to report that I can now RUN up Heussler Terrace when 24 months ago I could barely walk up it. I think about that every time I struggle up the hill.