When I returned home to the farm between uni and finding a job, I began walking the couple of miles down to the front gate each afternoon. It was a hot and dry walk; another big dry had our family farm firmly in its grip.

Undeterred by the heat, and with John Mellancamp Jnr blasting in my ears, I strode out across the paddocks with my eye firmly on the horizon, at the place where an orange sunset met the red earth.

Black crows circled overhead and, despite their caws, there was a stillness and a peace about the land. Somehow the big dry was as natural as the green paddocks that had rolled into a blue horizon only a few years before.

On those hot, burnished afternoons, I loved that land. It spoke to me with a sense of place and of belonging. It was a belonging that drove away all fear; that somehow, if I were to die there and then, its peace and stillness would wash over me and I would become part of it.

I never forgot that feeling or the way a sense of place and belonging can drive away all insecurities; all fears.

I travelled overseas in my youth and across Australia for work. I’ve lived in a city and in other rural communities but I’ve never found a place like my childhood home. It’s not with regret that I look back at that home that was eventually sold, but with gratitude that I was able to experience a childhood in the country.

As I grew into adulthood, I made the deliberate decision not to live in the cities. My spirit craves nature; I need to look at the horizon and everything in between.

Today I live in the country and I’m happy with that decision. I walk out of my front door to trees and birds, snakes and lizards. Every now and then, there is an orange sunset and that sense of belonging stirs. When I get that feeling I know that time is endless, and that our spirits are a part of something much bigger, yet the same, as ourselves.

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“Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.” – Winston Churchill

There is something reverent about Christmas and the end of the year. It’s a sacred time for me, where memories of the past year come flooding back and I get to really think about the year’s events. Needless to say the end of 2015 gave me plenty to mull over. I approached this with a sense of gratitude and acknowledgment of just how lucky I’d been to catch my bowel cancer early.

While I’ve been better at looking after my health at different times in my life than others, I can say that I probably wasn’t doing all I could to remain healthy. For starters I let other people’s problems and shortcomings weigh on me. As an empath it’s hard not to – I sense the undercurrents and they worry me, whereas a ‘normal’ person would not give someone’s mood another thought. They certainly wouldn’t feel responsible for it, which is how I have been in the past. Let me give you an example: if someone is angry, worried or sad I know it when they enter a room, without them saying anything, and I try and fix it. You can’t ‘fix’ other people, nor take responsibility for their path, but I used to try. Now I acknowledge that it is their path to walk and that I have enough of my own worries to try and ‘fix’. I’m much more willing to see that I (like everyone else) am a precious human soul that needs nurturing, loving and looking after.

So I’ve hit that particular problem out of the ball park, thank God.

Next, I have a hedonistic bent to my nature – I love wine and food but too much of a good thing is never a good thing and I’ve let my over indulgences interfere with my good health. Now I’m less inclined to give into weaknesses.  A life of ‘limitation’ is only as limiting as you make it. Now, I replace vice with victory and have a fruit smoothie instead of a chocolate and a mineral water and ice instead of a wine. That’s not to say that I don’t allow myself the occasional treat – I do – and, guess what – it tastes and feels twice as good.

So, yeah, I’ve knocked that particular problem on the head – well mitigated it, at least…hopefully.

And then there is exercise, or lack of it. Now I walk daily and one of my best Christmas presents was a Vivofit which is getting a workout. I am now walking at least three to four kilometers a day – this activity from a couch potato who upon remembering the competitive sports of youth, hit the gym or pool hard…for all of a couple of months of the year. I now understand that exercise is a daily requirement.

However, one of the biggest reflections for me this Christmas was in gratitude. I experienced and felt everything more keenly, all the while with a heart filled with gratitude for life. I may have had to pop the dreaded chemo pills over Christmas but that didn’t stop me trying to give as much as I could to my family. I did this because I knew that had my diagnosis been different, I may have been absent this Christmas or struggling to survive.

I cooked the most beautiful turkey, stuffed with a ham, onion, herb and garlic mixture and I basted a huge ham with the best glaze that I’ve used year after year because it is so divine. My husband and I shopped up a storm, buying treats like individual Christmas puddings which were absolutely beautiful, and the Christmas staples like Panettone, a wonderful European invention.

I allowed myself a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc which I sipped slowly through dinner and the hilarious card games which followed. I had a good Christmas despite the chemo.

But behind the positive there was also a sense of the magnitude of what I experienced in 2015. I tried not to look too hard, or think too long, about this. There was the awful radiation and chemo, the huge six hour operation and the mop up chemo when your body has, simply, had enough but asked to stay in the ring and ‘go a few more rounds’. As always, I returned to that feeling of gratitude; that cancer is commonplace and I had faced it and survived to this point…and my prognosis was good. I thought instead of how much I’d grown spiritually as a result of cancer; that I’d felt invisibly supported by something greater than what we can realise here on earth. Of all the signs and omens that had been placed in my path to testify that ‘yes, you are going to be ok; you are going to survive this’.

That’s what I thought over Christmas and as the New Year rang in. I thought about something higher than myself and yet of myself. I am very lucky to be able to use my cancer experiences to grow spiritually, and as a human being. Cancer has not silenced me; on the contrary it has given me my voice.

As 2015 ticked over to 2016, I wondered what purpose I had yet to fulfill. I don’t have that answer yet, but I do know that the right things happen at the right time.

I’m looking forward in 2016, not backwards. I’ll be continuing some tertiary study – because the uni that I kept asking for deferrals said ‘study this semester or lose your place’. That’s a good thing. I’m looking forward to it and I will be one step closer to earning my Bachelor of Social Sciences (Social Welfare).

I’ll also be working hard at my current workplace, on work that really does matter and that does good rather than causes harm to people. And I’ll be finishing my treatment. Chemo ends on 12 January, wherein I will purchase a nice bottle of champagne to share with family.

There will be a few milestones in the early part of the year before treatment finishes and then I will have time to think about how I am fully going to use my experiences to help others. There is purpose left for me to find and act upon yet.

 

I was raised a Catholic and unwittingly consumed all the usual religious teachings over my formative years, including the most ridiculous of all: ‘turn the other cheek’. For years I think I actually believed that heaven would be attainable if I gave the horrible people I met (between the nice ones that is) the opportunity to be horrible…again.

My Zambian friend once said to me that I had the patience of Job. She was right, I do…or did. Most of my blog readers would know this year has been monumental for me. In January, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer and have spent most of this year fighting through some pretty hard treatment yards. When I look back on the person I was before cancer, and now, a lot has changed.

One of the most significant of these changes is in my tolerance of people who offend, who are rude, who have no self-reflection compass, who are arrogant and thoughtless or those who believe competitiveness and ruthless self advancement (of the materialistic kind) is ok. Just like Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” creed, ego-based behaviour that seeks to dominate or compensate for an undiagnosed failing within is not excusable or ok.

Post cancer diagnosis and treatment, that good little Catholic girl has finally been erased. There is no more ‘turn the other cheek’ for me these days. Life is too short, and peace of mind and happiness are gifts that should be fiercely protected.

And the Gordon Gekkos of this world? Well let’s just say they can make friends with like minded people. It’s one party I won’t be lining up to attend.

Every morning multitudes of people wake up and reach for their phone to check their facebook newsfeeds. On their specially crafted reel of favourites, they’ll scroll through and maybe like or share content with other users. Instead of going to websites, perhaps even newspapers now, people open facebook for connection to society and the world.

It’s the portal to end all portals; one that sucks us in and keeps us there. There are quizzes and tests to take on facebook that predict everything from which movie star you look like, to the year you are going to die. It’s both infotainment and a humongous time waster.

I took one of the tests once – the one about which celebrity you look like. I got the ‘grumpy cat’ – a facebook famous identity. Yes, it’s a real cat who looks grumpy and has more than 8,000,000 followers.

Are we stupid to devote so much time to an artificial and I would say influential learning environment? As of the third quarter of 2015, Facebook had 1.55 billion monthly active users. While the grumpy cat mightn’t have much to teach us, the news, lifestyle and new age sites might. Just about everyone – artists, authors, the Dalai Lama – is on facebook.

I remember when I first started out on facebook. I liked Oxfam and the RSPCA, spiritual sites and the New York Post. As newspapers realised the news distribution had entered a new era, they too began to build their facebook platforms but the twist for them is they don’t control the advertising dollars. Facebook does.

And it is attempting to control our memories now too. Aside from the greeting facebook gives you when you logon in the morning, it is now providing you with ‘anniversary’ posts for you to share – so you and your friends can reminisce.

What’s next? Hopefully it won’t attempt political influence though I’m sure there are subtle signs there if you looked.

I would really ‘like’ to take a break from facebook for a week. It would take real discipline, as I’m one of those people who reach for their phone and newsfeed each morning upon waking. Someone once likened that to reaching for a glass of whiskey. They might be right.

It’s Saturday; a beautiful and gentle sunny day. Right now I’m overlooking poplar trees swaying in the breeze, a graceful liquid amber and a gnarled (and most likely dead) ghost gum. All things of beauty, even the twisted, dry branches of the gum, still standing despite a lightening bolt hit and a termite infestation.

Like the breeze that feathers my bare arms and cheeks, I’m feeling easy as I also overlook the golf course next door to our home. It’s dotted with the bright colours of the golfers who, literally, play rain, hail or shine.

Today is a good day – a busy day and a relaxing day.

I’ve decided I like good days. They’re the ones with just the right combination of activity, sometimes even action, and that sit back and survey the world, let it pass you by feeling. They are definitely days for positive thinking, for creativity and for enjoying the company of those lovable human beings you were lucky enough to meet in the past, on another good day.

That’s not to say that every day is good. It isn’t; can’t be. You need the dark to appreciate the light; the grey to appreciate the rainbow.

And that’s ok with me. I’ll take it all because that’s what it means to live. What I hope never comes my way is the despair or the bitterness I just can’t shake. I choose to have as many good days as I can, in the here and now and to create memories for me and those closest to me. There is everything right with generosity and little with selfishness.

My word for today is gratitude.

We all have them. They are the times when we’ve been hurt and scarred by unfairness and, at worst, inhumanity and evil.

It’s these dark moments and our understanding of what, and who, caused them that helps us eventually understand the dark moments of others and, potentially, the perpetrators of our pain. We understand the pain of others because we’ve experienced it.

In my new novel Blood Visions I’ve taken this theme and built the story of Fortuna Cavalieri and her dark moments. Blood Visions is a horror/paranormal thriller that stares evil in the face an12193364_924946864253046_4061271237306570367_nd asks, ‘why?’

Fortuna Cavalieri is an unwilling receiver. After a car crash which nearly claims her life, Fortuna is cursed with a psychic link to evil which she numbs with the help of bottle of whiskey.

When serial killer Brandon Keys goes on his murderous rampage, Fortuna is drawn into the edges of his world like prey to a spider’s web. Every time Keys kills, Fortuna knows. She knows because her sixth sense is activated by evil; she knows because she can see him in what she calls her blood visions.

But Fortuna is not the only one with a psychic ability. Keys too has been blessed with the second sight since childhood – the ultimate gift for an efficient killer.

With Brandon Keys closing in on her, Fortuna must try and outwit a serial killer and find a way to stop their mind links. If she can find the courage, and the sobriety, she must stop the killings, but Fortuna is no hero. She’s just a drunk carrying a curse.

It’s only with the help of washed up ex cop Danny Manchester whom she meets randomly at a bar one night, that Fortuna stands any chance of staying alive…but somewhere between a new dawn and a blood red sunset, and an ex cop finding himself again, Fortuna finds the courage to turn the tables on Keys.

It’s a showdown with a high price. Who will survive to see the dawn?

Blood Visions is out on 12 November 2015 via Whiskey Creek Press. You can head over to Amazon for more information.

At the beginning of this year I was diagnosed with early stage Bowel Cancer.

It sent me into shock for months and I told very few people. I wanted privacy and time to deal with my own emotions rather than worrying about what other people were feeling. The other reason for privacy was my fear of my looming, major bowel surgery.

I was right to be fearful. It was a huge and dreadful surgery that my surgeon likened to open heart surgery in its invasive-ness. What a relief I felt when it was over, even though the road to rehabilitation was long and hard with a post operative wound infection and other complications.

For the first time in my life, I experienced total and utter physical helplessness. I could hardly move, except to go from the bed to the chair. The pain levels were acute, and I have a reasonably high pain threshold.

It was a good milestone to get out of the road. Then as soon as I was feeling a little bit better, it was time to get back on the chemotherapy treadmill (I had 5.5 weeks of radiation and chemo in March/April).

Cancer teaches you many things. It has been the single, most defining moment in my life – aside from bringing children into this world. It has changed me beyond what I thought would be possible. It has changed me for the better.

That’s shocked you hasn’t it. How could getting cancer change you for the better? It’s hard to explain but I’ll try because it’s hard to understand for people who have lived without a serious disease or illness that could take their lives.

The easiest way to describe it is that I no longer live my life on some sort of invisible auto pilot. I now make the most of each and every day and I am joyful to see a sunrise. I take great pleasure in downloadthe smallest things, in living a simple life – in a sunny day dotted with yellow daisies and brilliant green earth and trees that are responding to the Spring, right before my eyes.

I have a heightened sense of awareness now, perhaps because I live in the moment; in the now.

I have a strengthened belief in God or Buddha or the Divine Presence…whatever it is that you want to call divinity. Names don’t matter much really.

It sounds cliched but I see the sheer power of love to change everything in the universe. At the end of the day, it is all that matters.

If something or someone bothers me now, I simply turn away. Time is precious and I don’t want to waste it on people or situations that are not doing me any good. I value happiness and that simple joy I feel most days.

That ability to decide and act in my own best interests has finally lifted my self esteem which has been a lifelong struggle. It feels good to be free.

I was lucky. I had early stage bowel cancer and for most people, if it is caught early, it is curable. I hope I’m cured.

So tonight, I finished Round 2 of chemo. That’s 2 down and 4 to go. I’m whittling it away and looking forward to the day when I don’t have to poison my body any more and cope with the resultant side effects.

I would urge anyone with any symptoms no matter how slight, to get them checked out. Don’t ignore what your body might be trying to tell you.

Yes s**t does happen in life but it’s entirely possible to recover and emerge stronger and better than before.

Namaste.