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Today was a good day. After a gruelling couple of weeks at work I gave myself the day off. My father is in poor health with a neurological disorder and brain damage caused by a fall last year. He is mostly in a wheelchair but manages to shuffle a few feet on a frame. It is only through the amazing love and care of my mother and her sheer determination that he still manages to live at home. While they do get assistance with showering, meals and home care throughout the week, she is his prime carer. Mum has some serious health issues herself, including an auto-immune disorder, and yet she is up at all hours of the night attending to his needs and cannot leave him in the house on his own for more than a few minutes during the day. The indignity and helplessness and hard work that dad’s illness has brought into their 52 years of married life is unspeakable. My mother is incredible. At a family dinner recently the siblings were chatting as to where the next holidays were going to be. I knew it had been a particularly tough week for mum and it broke my heart to hear her comment sadly that she will never get a holiday; she was feeling so defeated and down. I told her that once the major deadline at work was over in a few weeks that we would arrange a few hours respite care for dad and that her and I would go out for the afternoon. That day was today.
We had 4 precious hours of in-home respite care for dad. I was there to pick mum up shortly before the carer arrived at 12pm; we were in the car by 12.03pm. Mum had no idea, and didn’t care, what we were doing. I had so much fun in the week prior, planning a special 4 hours to spoil her. We drove 45 minutes to Woodend, near where we live. The first stop was to visit the wonderful Arnie at the florist, Flowers In A Vase. Arnie used to run this florist around the corner from our house in Mount Macedon. Arnie and mum became friends years ago when Arnie was walking past our house and found mum lying in the ditch out the front of our house. Mum had been out picking flowers and fallen in a hole and, with two artificial hips, could not get up. She’d been lying there for ages, calling out to Craig and the boys in the house, but no-one heard her. Arnie was able to go to our front door and summon Craig so that the two of them could help mum up. Arnie and mum became friends that day and whenever mum was visiting us on the mount she would go and visit Arnie in her florist and have a good chat; mum really missed Arnie when she moved to Woodend a year or so ago. Arnie always makes me think of the Juliette Binoche character in Chocolat, who always knew exactly which chocolates would help to make an individual happy. Arnie is like that with flowers; she knows exactly what people need. I had the absolute pleasure of receiving many of her heart-felt floral arrangements from friends during my surgeries and treatments; her little car would buzz into the driveway and she’d always stop for a short chat. It was therefore a thrill for me to be able to make mum’s first stop today at Arnie’s new florist in Woodend. Mum loved catching up with her. They chatted for about 10minutes before we came away with some magnificent orchids and a posy of daphne.
Next stop was lunch at Top of the Range on the top of Mount Macedon. I know mum particularly loves this place with the windows looking over the bush to the plains below, and the best scones and jam and cream in Australia. We sat at a sunny window seat and enjoyed delicious Thai pumpkin soup and the compulsory scones and pots of tea. It was all so filling we could barely move but we had to press on. Mum had not been to our place since they visited at Christmas time. My parents used to regularly come and stay with us and mum loves the mount as much as we do. She wanted to see what was happening in our garden, along with some new items of furniture we’d purchased since she was last there, such as my chair. We made a 5-minute stop at our house – the daffodils are not quite out in full bloom yet, but getting very close. Mum said she just wanted to be able to picture us in our home when I talked to her about our daily lives.
The final part of the outing was a surprise booking at the Spa in Gisborne for mum to have a pedicure. Never having had a pedicure before, I think she was a bit nervous about what was in store, but it was wonderful. Instead of painting her toe-nails they spent the extra time with foot and calf massage – she came out floating on air. She kept talking about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and how she really gets it now. I know it was an experience she’ll never forget. While she was having her pedicure I popped into the shops and bought some pastry slices to take home to dad and a cool drink for mum for the ride home. Like Cinderella and the pumpkin coach we then high-tailed it back to the city to get mum home in time for the carer’s departure. It was a magic day. We didn’t let on to dad where we’d been as we knew he would be sad he wasn’t with us – we’ll take him for a drive up home soon when the daffodils are in full bloom and spring is in full force on the mount. Mum said she couldn’t wait to sit and ponder and re-live every moment of the outing. I loved being with my mum and can’t wait to steal a few hours with her again. I wasn’t able to linger at their place as it was the gala opening night for the school musical production where my 11-year old baby Joshua sang a solo and performed. Today was a very good day.
As I trawled through my photos of sunsets, mountains, gardens, trees and sea to find one that would best depict the inspiration I derive from nature’s beauty, I came across this one. This is my chair that I knew I had to have the second I laid eyes on it and then sat in it. It now sits in our lovely study, looking out to the trees outside. It is here that I receive inspiration as I sit in stillness and peace. I love the words on the chair – LIVE, LIFE, LAUGH, RELAX – how could one not feel happy in this chair. I love that it mentions my two favourite cities in the world – PARIS and ROME – I can return to these cities by simply closing my eyes. The chair enfolds me with its wingback, and it is oh so comfy, made for someone like me with short legs. It’s a little bit of luxury in an often chaotic house – how could one fail to be inspired when resting a moment within its arms.
29th April….my thoughts always turn to my grandmother. It was nice to be able to phone my Pop to chat and share Nana stories.
The footsteps echo softly down the corridors of time,
And memories gently stir like windmills of the mind,
Faces flicker silently like pictures on a screen,
And voices have a cadence heard only in a dream.
Days gone by, how dear they are –
Loved ones, long gone, seem not so far
When memory works her magic spell
And brings them back with us to dwell.
Childhood days remembered with affection deep and true,
Girlhood days, the friendships made with those we knew;
As we remember fondly the many things we’ve done
The laughter, joys and tears and, oh! the fun.
So many friendships stood the test of time
Down through the years, through every clime;
But now, the hands of time move on –
And so many of those dear ones have passed…
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Today I awoke to read the news of the incredible discovery of a “Supervoid”, a gigantic hole in the universe and the largest structure ever identified by humans. At 1.8 billion light years across, astronomers are calling it “huge”. An international team of astronomers discovered the void while studying an unusually cold patch in the universe; since 2008 they’d been working on the hypothesis that this particular cold part could be due to an extremely large void.
“[The] cold spot seems to defy physics in the sense that you would expect only a small amount of variation [in temperature] and the cold spot seems to exceed the amount of variation,” the Australian Astronomical Observatory’s Fred Watson said.
“So [it] was an anomaly, it was something that puzzled scientists and hinted that there might be things going on that we don’t understand. What we call ‘new physics'”…….. But how a gigantic hole in the universe forms in the first place, however, is a question that still remains unanswered.
This news report has blown my mind. While I often gaze in wonder at the magnificence of the night sky and ponder the stars and God’s handiwork, to know now that there is a big, blank void up there, that is 1.8 BILLION light years across, is unfathomable for the human mind to comprehend. There is so much we just don’t know or understand about our universe. Why should I therefore continue to be surprised about other unseen things that occur in this universe?
Earlier this week I had an experience that initially freaked me out, but then brought me great comfort. It was quite late in the evening and I was driving home after attending a meeting in the city. I started to feel a bit sorry for myself and was frustrated with the fatigue and general “blah” I’d been feeling lately and wondering to myself when will I ever truly get over the effects of having had breast cancer – it is now two years since I was diagnosed and the various treatments finished many months ago. Then my thoughts turned to my friend Amanda and how tired and “blah” she must have felt all the time, and yet it didn’t stop her living her life, until right at the end. Amanda was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer and lived for three years making wonderful memories with her family and friends. It is now nearly two years since Amanda passed away. On the drive home I spent quite some time thinking about Amanda, and how it would have been her birthday in a few weeks, and remembering in awe again how she lived her life. She was such an inspiration. Suddenly my jaw dropped and I let out a gasp – in the midst of my reflections Amanda’s song came onto the radio! It was an obscure song from the 90’s that was played at Amanda’s funeral as the coffin was being carried out of the church and the hearse driven away. I’ve written about this song before, not long after she died. I have no idea what inspired her to choose this song – I suspect it was partly her deliciously irreverent sense of humour, but perhaps also it was a final shout of frustration. Regardless, it is not a song that is heard very often and I’ve only ever heard it on the airwaves a handful of times. Tears poured down my face as I recognised this as a Divine moment. As the shock subsided I felt incredibly grateful and comforted that stuff like this happens. I can’t explain how or why these experiences happen but I do believe there is a 4th dimension of energy around us, involving God and the universe. I don’t believe experiences like this are coincidental, simply a random event in a chaotic cosmos. If scientists can find cold spots in the heavens that defy physics but are happy to admit they have absolutely no idea how such a gigantic hole could be formed, I am happy to leave unexplained how such a song could interrupt my thoughts on a dark drive home.
I love science, I love research and I love working on problems that, if solved, could make a difference to the well-being of others. I love to relax at night and on planes by opening up the spread sheets, performing statistical analysis of the data and seeing if there is something novel and useful there…..usually there isn’t, but it’s fun anyway. I love a research collaboration, the scientific banter and playing my part in a larger, more complex story. But the life of a research scientist is cursed, always wanting and needing to scheme and plan and work and analyse and find things that nobody else knows. There is no rest.
It has been a particularly tough week, where the tamoxifen and my general out-of-shapeness have conspired to raise my blood pressure to the point that requires medication for the time being. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I survived two different types of cancers to end up being taken by a heart attack or stroke, so I’ll make my doctor happy and take the damn blood pressure pill just until I can get myself back on track. In monitoring my blood pressure twice daily for the past few weeks I did make a scientific discovery that if I can get the numbers up, may be worth publishing. There were a handful of evenings over the past two weeks where my blood pressure was normal. Further investigation revealed that these were the nights where I’d had a glass of wine with dinner. I still need to do the double-blind placebo study, but I think I may be on to something. In lieu of starting each day with a big glass of wine, I spent an hour at the gym this morning with the wonderful exercise physiologist who is going to help me get my fitness, flexibility and core strength back. She took all the baseline measurements today and, let’s just say, the only way is up! But I’m feeling really positive and it’s great to have a plan to work towards.
After dealing (but not dealing well) with some teenage dramas on the home front, and then being put through the paces at the gym, I arrived at work in time for a crazy, hectic day that involved shipment of a cord blood unit for transplant (where I actually had to do some of the work because 2/3 of the transplant team are on leave) and reporting to the board at the bi-monthly meeting. I presented to the board a discussion paper to explore the possibility of recruiting a mid-career research scientist into my lab, to establish a new cord blood translational research project. The juxtaposition of cord blood bank with clinical and research departments, along with access to state-of-the-art technologies, means we have a unique niche in which to perform research towards improving cord blood transplant outcomes and extending the use of cord blood for cellular therapies. I feel very strongly that we should be doing more to build on these opportunities; the infrastructure is all in place, it just requires money. I have many ideas regarding where the gaps are in our cord blood stem cell knowledge, and many ideas as to the best type of research project we could undertake, with the right person recruited to the group. A positive discussion ensued at the meeting, and I came away with further work that I need to do to fully flesh out the proposal.
It was an early evening discussion with a senior colleague, before I left work for the day, that brought me to the sad realisation that once a research scientist, always a research scientist….there is no escape. This female colleague knows me very well, and we embarked upon a lengthy discussion about research, and the amount of work required. The conversation was going along well until she said something along the lines of, “Maybe it’s time to pass the research side of things onto another group…..you’re not getting any younger and you have had significant health problems in recent times, and you’ve got kids. Aren’t you tired of doing research out of hours, when you could be doing other things? You have a very demanding job running the cord blood bank, but it’s relatively secure and you don’t have to apply for grants in order to feed yourself….” . I can’t even remember exactly how I responded, but I know it was with defence, feeling affronted and hurt. However I also know this colleague has my best interests at heart.
I spent the weary drive home thinking about what she said, and if I look at it at face value, she’s right. Running the cord blood bank is a demanding full-time job in its own right, why am I putting myself through the effort of maintaining a research group? It’s not like I’m a big player amongst the research giants at the institute. I’m an excellent collaborator with diverse research groups across the campus, and I think I’m a good scientist and making a contribution, but I am small fry. My research group is very small these days. Maybe I’m wasting my time. But I can’t do it. I can’t possibly work at a research institute and not do research. One of the key attractions with taking on the role of director of the cord blood bank was to be able to leverage off the relationships and undertake cord blood research in a unique niche environment. There are definitely times that this drive for knowledge and wanting to improve the health outcomes of others through research is a curse. It’s like an itch to scratch that won’t go away while I remain in such an environment. But I also want to not work such long hours and I want to spend time doing other things in my life. I want to be home early evening to cook dinner while supervising homework (or at least be there to nag about the homework not getting done). I want to spend time on my front porch listening to the birds. And after the events of the past two years, doing these other things is now a priority. But so is doing research.
In the blink of an eye they are no longer children. Oh to capture and hold on to those ephemeral moments of childish joy and fearlessness of the world.