As the remnants of the delicious meal are cleared away on my flight home from London to Melbourne, the soul-lifting tunes of Vance Joy filling my head, the massage chair gently pummelling my lumbar region, maybe it’s the Macedon Ranges Chardonnay or maybe it’s not, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude for how unbelievably good life is. I am on my way home from attending the International NetCord Foundation Board meeting and the World Cord Blood Congress in Monaco. It was an excellent conference, with plenty of opportunity to chat to the gods in the field of cord blood banking and cord blood transplantation. I feel completely up to date with where things are at, the exciting new cord blood therapies in clinical trials, and actions we need to implement in Australia in order to ensure we continue to offer world’s best practice to Australian patients. The conference was held in the Prince Ranier III Auditorium, with attendees staying at the beautiful Fairmont Monte Carlo. The best French champagne was on offer at the reception hosted by HRH Prince Albert’s people and I had the pleasure of being invited to a couple of dinners in wonderful Monte Carlo restaurants by international colleagues who are now new friends. Following closure of the conference on Sunday, an Australian friend and colleague and I wandered down to the Monaco Marina for a lazy lunch in the sun at the water’s edge, surrounded by luxury yachts, listening to American country & western sung in a French accent, while looking up at the pink palace and the incredible beauty of Monaco. It was all so surreal.
Prior to the commencement of the meetings I stayed in Nice for three days to burn off the jet lag. When I booked my hotel in Nice I decided to pay just a little more and book a room with a terrace overlooking Massena Square and the old town – the best decision I’ve made in a long time! I ended up having front row seats for the over-the-top Carnaval parade, the amazing fireworks display, the water fountains where the children squealed in delight as the plumes of water caught them by surprise, the soul-stilling sunrises over the Old Town and the ethereal sunsets across the Cote D’Azur. Highlights of my days in Nice were wandering for miles along the Promenade d’Anglaise, getting lost in the Old Town and flower markets, visiting the Musee Matisse and spending quiet time in the Franciscan Monastery gardens with sweeping views to the snow-capped French Alps through to the city of Nice and the ocean beyond. The incredible meals partaken of in Nice and Monaco go without saying.
All this just three weeks after I attended an International Board meeting for the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapies and the Bone Marrow Transplant Tandem meetings in San Diego, USA. Once again interacting with different international colleagues and representing the Australian interests of cord blood banking, quality and transplant. The conference was held at the Grand Hyatt San Diego, a magnificent hotel on the bay in San Diego. I managed to nab some spare time to visit the gorgeous Hotel Del Coronado and take a 2-hour cruise on the bay in San Diego under perfect blue skies.
In all this magnificence of living, always, every minute of the day, I remember how I got to be here. Back home is my ever-patient and supportive husband, caring for our three boys. Never once has he hinted that perhaps I should not travel for work this time. Whenever I’ve asked his “permission” his response is always “Are you stupid?”. Then there are my boys, whom I love more than life itself. We miss each other like crazy but I think they know I’m ultimately trying to help improve the lives of children and adults with life-threatening illnesses. The beauty of long-distance correspondence is that we get to say things via messaging that perhaps would go unsaid in the real world of verbal correspondence. I cherish the heart-felt messages I receive from my boys. Plus I bring them gifts!
The support of my work colleagues and institute are paramount to me being able to attend these international meetings. They work to cover my absence and ensure that day-to-day things are taken care of. For this I am grateful. Returning with chocolates is a small price to pay.
And then there is the legacy of what I’ve been through over the past two years in having breast cancer, chemotherapy and too-many surgeries. When I think of this I choke with emotion, not because I feel sorry for myself, but because I think of the incredible friends and family who got me through. It took a whole community of friends and family, providing meals, support, comfort and prayers to get me to where I am today. For eternity this will be remembered and acknowledged, and it’s always there, even as I gaze across the blue waters of the Mediterranean now leading a seemingly charmed life.
My health is not great. The Tamoxifen makes my skin brittle and flaky, my throat dry and has affected my voice. My joints and muscles are stiff and achy more than they’re not and I still get attacks of that all-consuming fatigue. But I am alive and as long as I’m alive I will live. I go by the grace of God and the universe provides in abundance. I am more content than I have ever been; I try to eat whole and healthy foods (when I’m not in France!), I am trying to exercise more and get more sleep, I practice mindfulness and stillness and I hope that kindness and love underpin everything I do. I’d like to leave the world a little better than I found it, and to have children who also strive for this goal. But it’s only through the kindness and love of others than I am here to even practice this intent. We are all connected, and it doesn’t matter where I travel in the world, I feel this connectivity.
So my upgrade request to Business Class came through, affording me the time and comfort to reflect on these things. I just bought some duty-free gifts and had a lovely chat to the flight attendant who handles duty-free purchases. It turns out he grew up in Riddells Creek, his parents live in Gap Road and his sister lives at Bolobek. He is based in London, but loves to visit the Mount whenever he’s home to visit. He happily offered me another glass of the Macedon Ranges Chardonnay. We are all connected.