Sitting in my mother’s garden

My mother’s garden is sustaining me at the moment while staying over to keep my father company and help him as he fights his own battle with cancer. For four years he cared for my mother while she was in and out of chemotherapy, hospitals and various other treatments. He was at her side the whole time. Now he is burdened with the same demands: chemotherapy, doctor’s visits, and other treatments.

While I take my turn in the family care roster, I spend a lot of time in the garden. And it is a beautiful little garden. There is a pond with a fountain in the centre, and two gold fish live on despite neglect. A shady fernery. Another small bird bath lower in the garden. Roses, a lemon tree, various Australian native shrubs, and other small flowering shrubs. The veranda is sheltered from the weather and is a lovely spot to sit and watch the birds as they flit about. In the afternoons they plunge into the fountain, then alight on the rose arbour to shake themselves vigorously, before another plunge, shake and happy chirp.

I pick flowers and put them in a vase on the kitchen table as Mum would have done. She collected small ornamental elephants and also blue and white patterned crockery, so I place the little blue and white elephant beside the vase of flowers as a memento to her. And I sit in her house surrounded by her treasured things, while Dad sits in fortitude against the ensuing internal war.


The Cruel C

I was so lucky to be able to look my mother in the eyes before The Big C finally claimed her after a four year battle. With both of her parents living healthily into their mid-90’s, it was a surprise to us all that she would be gone before her 78th birthday.

Cancer is a cruel disease robbing a person of all vanity, dignity, and hope. It ravages the body, is successfully excised with toxic drugs, only to sneak up in another area where no one is looking.

My mum was lucky in many ways; she had my father beside her for the whole treacherous trip and he tended to her every need without complaint, nor a moments wavering of resolve. It began in 2008 with a diagnosis of secondary lung cancer developed from undiagnosed breast cancer. Ironically mum was never a smoker.

They beat the lung cancer but the chemotherapy wiped out her immune system. The cancer morphed into Leukaemia. As an Australian with white freckled skin inherited from British ancestry she had already been treated for many years for squamous cell carcinoma. The Leukaemia needed an accomplice so the SCC assisted. Time after time the skin sores budded, bloomed and were excised by the surgeon’s knife. Bigger and nastier they became until skin grafts became the norm.

It was a skin infection arising from Necrotizing fascitis that proved to be a foe too mean for her weakened immunity. How cruel!! How much indignity can a person bare?

As I sat holding her hand in the intensive care unit watching her machine-assisted breathing get slower I considered the double-edged sword of the privileged Western existence. Cancer is our plight borne of our environment, production, food, lifestyle, modern developments, and privilege. It runs rampant among us. Yet she lay on a high-tech bed connected to multi-million dollar equipment in a brand new ICU in a public hospital on a public health scheme. Our taxes might be high but we know how to care for our loved ones when they are sick. The hospital staff were amazing catering to all the psychological needs of the family as we fumbled with our personal goodbyes. This was an exceptional level of care that Mum and Dad received from Day 1 through all of their varied treatments and doctors rooms.

Last night as I sat in the glorious St. John’s Anglican Church listening to the music of dead composers, Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Paganini, and Borne, brought to life by Sergey Didorenko, Evrydiki Iladou, Alexandra Castle, and the Chamber Philharmonia of Cologne, I realised that my love and appreciation of classical music was a precious gift given to me by my mother.


Margaret Smith
22 December 2012

Thank you Margaret Lillian (McKinna) Smith ~

(17/3/1935 – 23/01/2013).

Funeral to be held on Tuesday 29th January 2013.

You are what you read

Are you influenced by what you read? Does your mind absorb the ideas set down by others? Do you live inside the scenes created, even temporarily? I suppose that’s why reading fiction is a form of escapism.


As a Librarian it is no surprise that I value books and reading for self improvement. I value learning from the experiences, and thoughts that others have worked so hard to set down in words. The more you read the more you learn. Even if you don’t retain it all and reject some ideas, we grow and evolve by taking on a little bit from each book we read.


At the moment I am reading a novel titled Deception” by Michael Meehan. It is about a young Australian man who traces his ancestry to France in order to unravel his family history. It is exquisitely told, set in the Australian desert, Paris and New Caledonia. He weaves his tale masterfully between the past and the present. I have engaged in tracing my family history in the past and yet for the first time it has occurred to me to trace the one French branch of my family tree. It would be so interesting to learn some more French history while unraveling my own family tree, also fulfilling my love of all things French.


Meanwhile someone close to me has discovered they have cancer. It is a shock. I remember reading a few years ago a book titled Your Life In Your Hands” by Jane Plant. She is a UK scientist who had breast cancer, suffered through chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiation treatment, and was eventually given 6 months to live. As a scientist she researched the situation thoroughly, eventually having a “light-bulb” moment thinking that in Asian cultures the incidence of breast and prostrate cancer is remarkably low and they don’t eat dairy products. Eliminating dairy products from her diet from that moment the tumors shrank and disappeared altogether. She wrote her book in 2000 and now in 2008 she is alive and cancer free. Her experience, research and discoveries provide hope and practical advice for others facing the cancer death sentence. I gave the book to that person to read and make up their own mind. After all what have they got to lose?


Not only are we what we read but we are what we eat!