Monday, June 30, 2008

The Hour of Our Death

When I "went public" with my cancer diagnosis in October 2006 on this blog; and when I wrote two "op-ed" pieces on cancer and blogging and the consumerism of the pink ribbon campaigns ("Shop for the Cure" -- urrghh) for the Sunday Age, I was unprepared for the correspondence that ensued.

My blog was only a few months old and was only just starting to expand beyond its intended readership, when I suddenly had to start thinking of myself as a sick person, when I became a somewhat different person from the woman who had begun the blog. Moreover, I don't think I fully understood the nature of blogging; or rather, the engagement with readers that would follow.

So in addition to comments on the blog, I received many letters, emails and phone messages, because of course I have never been a pseudonymous blogger, and am easy to find. Most people who made contact were very sympathetic. Some were less so, especially after my criticisms of the schmaltzy, sentimental marketing of unhealthy or infantilising products to women in the name of "breast cancer awareness".

Most were simply heartfelt messages, from people who were similarly struggling with cancer, or who had nursed partners who had died, or were living in fear of the disease with mothers or sisters who had been ill. I am by nature, I think, a person who finds it very easy to empathise with others, and so I found these stories very moving. But I also found that being ill had shaken me up completely, so that I had very little emotional strength, many days, to hold myself together.

Going back to work last year, re-appearing in public, was immensely difficult. There was only one day when I got as far as the car-park, sat there for ten minutes then drove home again, but there were many other days when I felt the same way.

So while I might have wanted to help others, I felt pretty much unable to do so.

One of the things about sickness is that one develops a very sensitive antenna to one's disease. You see it everywhere. And when that disease is a very common and highly publicised one, like breast cancer, the problem is magnified. So the death of people like Jane McGrath and Belinda Emmett strikes hard. And you know pretty clearly that other people with cancer will be feeling the same shudder, asking the same question of how much time we'll have left, and what will be the nature, and the hour of our death. And yes, even people like me, in (relatively) excellent health.

But today I heard of the death, earlier this month, of Graham, from another faculty at Melbourne. He had written to me after one of the pieces I wrote in The Age, and we exchanged a few emails. Graham was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumour; and seemed to be doing ok, until he collapsed with another inoperable one. He wrote to me in April:

After a couple of days they moved me down to a general ward, as the risk of another seizure diminished, but I'll probably not be allowed to drive for the rest of my life. I'm currently having daily radiation therapy to my brain to try and slow these down a bit, but it looks like I have only months to go. This is upsetting, obviously, but I'm ok - I'm cherishing every day with my family, as much as they'll let me, you know how it is! ;-) I'm still enjoying a bit of work, you know, replanning the entire university's strategy, solving all the world's environmental problems, that sort of thing! ;-)

I'm going to fight this hard - I believe in benefits of faith, and have it by the truckload. Sometimes I get weak, and falter, but most of the time I'm strong. You know, its about being there for the kids, being strong for the kids, so they remember me that way. I don't want to falter too much in front of them - they need to learn something from this about life, but sometimes its inevitable to break down and look weak.

I never met this man, but his death reminds me that in addition to the high profile deaths around us, there are hundreds of people like Graham who face death with quiet dignity and courage, still teaching, even in their dying. I couldn't do anything for Graham. I could have made an effort and gone to visit him, but I didn't. There was an instant ease and camaraderie about our correspondence, an instant recognition, if you like, but there were also huge limits to what I felt I could do, by way of reaching out. Tonight, though, I'm holding his spirit here for a moment.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday Garter prose blogging

Oh well. In line with my theory that blogging is the perfect example of the pleasure principle at work in the life and time-management of a busy academic, it'd be no fun if we kept all the rules all the time.

So yesterday was a day for running round. In the morning, two completely ridiculous examiners' meetings, where we struggle vainly and furiously (in both senses) to make our marks and grades fit the straitjacket of faculty and university requirements about averages, spreads and distributions of grades, etc. while also making sure we protect the postgraduate scholarship chances of our best honours students. Then a dash to the hairdresser where I fell asleep during the head massage. Bliss! And for the second time in my life had my hair ironed...

Then drinks for a colleague who's just been promoted — congratulations, Nikos! — then dinner with friends, then back to pick up Joel from the house of our normal Friday night companions. We'd had a lovely meal, but still sank into their chairs and started wondering when they were going to order pizza.

Anyway, no time yesterday to blog, and today is a prose day. Here's an extract from Virginia Woolf's Orlando. I had forgotten about this moment till I was scanning around the blogs the other day and came across this image:




‘Come!’ she said. She was sitting bolt upright beside the fire. And she held him a foot’s pace from her and looked him up and down. Was she matching her speculations the other night with the truth now visible? Did she find her guesses justified? Eyes, mouth, nose, breast, hips, hands—she ran them over; her lips twitched visibly as she looked; but when she saw his legs she laughed out loud. He was the very image of a noble gentleman. But inwardly? She flashed her yellow hawk’s eyes upon him as if she would pierce his soul. The young man withstood her gaze blushing only a damask rose as became him. Strength, grace, romance, folly, poetry, youth—she read him like a page. Instantly she plucked a ring from her finger (the joint was swollen rather) and as she fitted it to his, named him her Treasurer and Steward; next hung about him chains of office; and bidding him bend his knee, tied round it at the slenderest part the jewelled order of the Garter. Nothing after that was denied him. When she drove in state he rode at her carriage door. She sent him to Scotland on a sad embassy to the unhappy Queen. He was about to sail for the Polish wars when she recalled him. For how could she bear to think of that tender flesh torn and that curly head rolled in the dust? She kept him with her. At the height of her triumph when the guns were booming at the Tower and the air was thick enough with gunpowder to make one sneeze and the huzzas of the people rang beneath the windows, she pulled him down among the cushions where her women had laid her (she was so worn and old) and made him bury his face in that astonishing composition—she had not changed her dress for a month—which smelt for all the world, he thought, recalling his boyish memory, like some old cabinet at home where his mother’s furs were stored. He rose, half suffocated from the embrace. ‘This’, she breathed, ‘is my victory!’—even as a rocket roared up and dyed her cheeks scarlet.


There are a couple of instances where we know the Queen did tie the garter on with her own hands, as a sign of special favour, but it's extremely rare to see this portrayed visually. In fact, I know of only one other illustration of a monarch, whether Edward III or anyone else, tying the Garter on anyone else's knee. The example I have is a book for children, with a drawing of the original moment of Edward tying the Countess's garter on his own knee (The Story of St George's Chapel, 1981). I'd love to know if anyone else has ever seen an illustration of the monarch kneeling.

The other reason this moment from the movie is so cool is because it is so ... queer. Quentin Crisp cross-dresses as Elizabeth to tie the Garter on the knee of Tilda Swinton cross-dressed as Orlando, who will later become female. I'm going to write a section in Chapter Six called "The Queer Garter" and will use this moment as the starting-point for thinking about Dinshaw's queer historicism and what it might mean for the Order's medievalism. I'm not saying I've done any of the thinking about this yet; I'm just saying I've got a juicy bit of text to talk about.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Doing Things in Groups

If you had asked me, say, four years ago, whether I preferred doing things in groups, or on my own, I would have answered resoundingly with a preference for the latter. Exercise, research and singing would have been three obvious categories for me where solitude was the preferable state.

But over the last few years, I have come to see the fun of working and teaching collaboratively. I still prefer to walk or run (in the rare intervals when I have calves and ankles that will sustain such activity) or swim on my own: that kind of exercise is meditative for me. But now that I am getting stronger at tennis, I am starting to enjoy the communality of playing doubles.

These days, I'm working on three big research projects. One, the book on the Order of the Garter, is a solitary project. I've just finished a draft of Chapter Five (yay me!). Another is a co-authored book and related projects on theories of medievalism with Tom. The third is our collaborative project on Australian medievalism: I love this team, and working with Louise, Andrew and John, and also Toby and Anne. I'm also thinking about cooking up another international collaboration on the teaching of medieval studies and medievalism...

Today, too, I took part in three joyous group activities.

First up, the Middle English reading group. We are reading Havelok the Dane, for an hour, every fortnight. It's hysterical and fun, even on days, like today, when I've been too busy to do any preparation. Anyone in Melbourne want to join in? Email me.

Second, we held the first of our methodology workshops for research students. Now that the old Department of English has become part of the new School of Culture and Communication, our students are part of an enormous cohort that straddles "English", Theatre, Creative Writing, Cultural Studies, Publishing, Media and Communication, Art History, Arts Management, Cinema Studies and parts of the old School of Creative Arts. So when we hold School-based "work in progress" days for students, they are talking into a ferociously interdisciplinary context. And while that's tremendously interesting, there was the danger of losing a degree of focus, so we have decided to hold regular methodology workshops for graduate students in English, Creative Writing and Publishing, and today's was the first. It was wonderful to have two terrific presentations from John and Anne, PhD students approaching the first major hurdle — confirmation — of their candidature. Heaps of people turned up: perhaps 25? People concentrating hard, thinking and talking and asking and answering questions, with a tremendous spirit of collegiality and co-operation. Really, an ideal example of supportive and collegial work. Frankly, I was unspeakably proud of our students.

Third, our weekly tennis fixture. I play with a group of women from this newly aggregated school, plus the partner of one of our male colleagues, plus a woman from another school who's just come through the fiery trials of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and is grapping with the rigours of hormone therapy. And sometimes Joel comes along, as he did today. The poor boy is still sick. He nearly made it to school today, but couldn't in the end get up from the breakfast table to get dressed. But he dragged his aching knees and his barking cough onto the court this afternoon and had about a fifteen-minute hit with me and Denise. We all love our tennis. You might look at us and think we are very uneven, and not all that good, often, and mock us for not being able, or not caring enough, to keep score properly, but you could not dispute the pleasure we serve up (!) to each other. Even Joel caught the spirit and was cheerfully talking about going back to school tomorrow (he's missed 7 days, which is a lot for a thirteen-year-old).

So... groups? I'm converted!

But what's missing from this picture? "Exercise, research and singing..." I wonder, could I really find a choir to join???

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mind, Matter, Nature: Paper, Scissors, Rock

On my walk this morning, I came to the spot where I regularly pause, and make a modest obeisance to the goddess, and breathe deeply and in the morning sun visualise any cancer cells being rinsed from my body and passing down the creek. As I approached the spot, I saw there was a little clump of brown mushrooms glistening in the sun.

Oh good! I first thought. Here's a sign that something is working: a kind of energy field I have tapped into, or produced (honestly, I'm not normally one who goes in for this kind of thing, but the radio was full of Jane McGrath and breast cancer and death, so I reckon I'm excused).

But then I thought. Oh no! This clump of mushrooms is almost exactly the same shape as the image of breast cancer cells I had also posted about. Was this an omen of a less positive kind?

But then I thought. Oh good! This means my meditations are working; as the cells have been expelled from my body.

What an elaborate mental game of paper, scissors, rock to play with oneself, reading and re-reading signs from nature in this way.

I also had a dream about Glenn McGrath last night: we were saving some dolphins, or discovering some new ones after another had died. Vague, shifting memory I can't fully recall now. Perhaps also coloured by anxiety about my child, now heading in to the ninth day of a horrible flu.

There's obviously something here about the power of celebrity death to cathect emotion. But I don't have time to process it further: just entering the chaos of the last week before going to England for three and a half weeks.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Our Sisters, Our Selves. R.I.P. Jane McGrath

Can't help but be moved by the death of Jane McGrath this week, after complications from surgery for secondary cancers. If it's easy, sometimes, to mock the WAGs of international football and cricketing stars, here was a woman who faced breast cancer and its ghastly aftermath with courage and grace.

When I was given my passport to the country of illness, it was inevitable to look around me and acknowledge my travelling companions. Over the months of waiting in doctor's rooms, I read more than enough trashy mags, but always poured over stories about Kylie, Belinda, Jane. Of course all these accounts are heavily mediated, but the McGrath story always moved me, because the two of them just seemed so matter-of-fact about it all. And it was fascinating to get a glimpse of the non-cricketing side of Glenn McGrath. Sports gossip says he has a tremendous temper, but there was no sign of it in their dignified accounts of their struggle. Jane McGrath was only 42 when she died, but she and her husband established a foundation which raises money, very practically, for specialist breast care nurses, especially in regional areas.

I shuddered when I first heard the news this afternoon, and when we were watching the tv news tonight, I had to hold in a little sob. She leaves behind a loving husband and two young children. Requiescat in pace.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Garter Poetry Blogging: A Nuptial Ring

I'm willing to bet my entire fortune (heh) that whoever invented blogging did not conceive it would be used to disseminate poems written about the Order of the Garter. And who amongst us would have thought the genre would be so much fun?

Today's poem comes from the reign of James I. It's memorable for its excruciating syntax — "Catcht up the ribbon had a leg imbract/That never capor’d with a step unchast"; its unabashed avowal of the Order's homosocial bonds being like marriage — "A poesye in’t, as in a nuptiall ring"; and for its triumphal protestantism: "God keepe our King and them from Rome’s black pen".


The Originall and Continuance of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, as it was Spoken before the King’s Majestie on Saint George’s Day Last, anno domn. 1616. By W.Fennor.

Edward the Third, that truly potent King,
Whose temples worthily wore England’s Crowne,
This Noble Order, of whose fame I’ll sing,
Invents for Britaine’s trophy of renowne.
Salsburie’s Countesse hath all Ladies grac’t
That loose their garter, yet keepe honour chast.

From honor’d chastitie the Garter fell,
And in a moment rose to Royaltie;
King Edward grac’t this Ladie’s favour well,
Who humbly bends his Kingly Majesty,
Catcht up the ribbon had a leg imbract
That never capor’d with a step unchast.

The Lady dies her cheekes with tell-tale redde,
Which blabs she blushes that her garter’s found,
By him that had advanct it to a head
Which with Imperiall dignity was crown’d;
The Nobles murmur, and the King, by chance
Perceived, spoke, Hony soit qui mal y pense!

Exchanges lawlesse love for lawfull armes,
Buckles on armour, weells [wields] his warlike sword,
Beats his brac’t drums, with trumpets sounds alarms;
Thus like old Hector rode he to the field,
Subdued his foes, and for his deeds in fight,
Of the rich Garter was instal’d a Knight.

Which bred such luster in each noble brest,
As if new Troy had mustred up the sonnes
Of strong-back’t Priam, and amongst the rest,
The bold Blacke Prince to th’ field most fiercely runs,
And with his sword hammer’d in Vulcan’s forge,
Made the French Dennys kneele to English George.

For which he with the Garter was instal’d,
And made a Knight of that most Noble Order;
With many other Nobles that were call’d
Worthy by Fame, that ancient true recorder.
The Garter bred such luster in great hearts,
Each strove for excellence in armes and arts.

Saint Patrick’s Crosse did to the Garter vayle,
Saint Jaques’ Order was with anger pale;
Saint David’s leeke began to droupe i’th’tale [tail] ,
Saint Dennys he sate mourning in a dale;
Saint Andrew lookt with cheereful appetite,
As though to th’Garter he had future right.

But dragon-killing George, that still depends
Upon the Garter since Third Edward’s dayes,
In this age present hath as many friends,
As well deserving high eternall praise;
As many ages ever had before,
Never at one time better, never more.

Hannibal strove for Rome’s triumphant bayes,
Scipio for the Carthaginians’ bough;
But thanklesse Senators did dimme the rayes
Of these two worthies, and would not allow,
Nor wreath, nor branch; they died and left their fame.
Unto the glory of the Garter’s name.

Impartially a Royall King bestowes, it,
Upon some subject worthy of the wearing;
His armes advanct within a church that owes it,
The oath administred in publique hearing,
Which being falsifyed, the Honor’s crost
By heraldry, the Armes and Garter lost.

Say that a man long languishing in love,
Whose heart with hope and feare grows cold and warme;
Admit some pitty should his sweethearte move,
To knit a favour on his feeble arme;
All parts would joyne to make that one joint strong,
To oppose any that his love should wrong.

The Garter is the favour of a King,
Clasping the leg on which man’s best part stands;
A poesye in’t, as in a nuptiall ring,
Binding the heart to their liege Lord in bands;
That whilst the leg hath strength, or the arme power,
To kill that serpent would their King devoure.

For which the George is as a trophy worne,
And may it long, and long remaine with those,
Which to that excellent dignitie are borne,
As opposites unto their country’s foes.
God keepe our King and them from Rome’s black pen,
Let all that love the Garter say, Amen!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Garter curtain ties

I'm replying to Highly Eccentric's comment on the previous post in a new post, as I wanted to show some pictures. This is Edward, Prince of Wales, from Bruges' Garter Book of c. 1430, with a much older version of the ties holding the mantle:



And then by Charles I's time, they had become so long (especially on a young man: here he is as Duke of York) they had to be looped up into his sword belt:



At the Restoration, Charles II regularised the Garter "underhabits" with "the old trunkhose" of cloth of silver, which persisted at least until Edward VIII's time (shown here as Prince of Wales, complete with enormous ties):



And yes, you are right that the blue ribbon is worn when the full robes aren't being worn. The image of St George on a ribbon is called "the lesser George", and replaces the big chain, or collar, with the little model of George killing the dragon you can see hanging on William's chest in the previous post. By 1508, it was recognised that this collar was to be worn only on feastdays, and "on the other days the image of St George shall be worn at the end of a little gold chain, or in time of war; sickness or on a long journey, at the end of a silk lace or ribbon." In the early seventeenth century, it became customary to put it over the left shoulder and under the right armpit, "for conveniency of riding or action" in Ashmole's words. You sometimes see this in portraits that emphasise the military accomplishments of the knights.

As ever, I'm indebted to Peter Begent and Hubert Chesshyre's authoritative book, The Most Noble Order of the Garter: 600 Years, published by Spink in 1999, for many of these details.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Life in the OG

One of the things I love thinking about with the Order of the Garter is the slightly uncomfortable effect of dressing up. The Queen's recent encounter with Annie Liebovitz touched this nerve; and there is always something "lunatic" about the Order and its pageantry (the word is the Duke of Edinburgh's).

So I was delighted when C sent me this link to a bunch of pictures of Prince William's recent investiture with the Order, with this wonderful moment of abashedness across the young Prince's face:



There is also a lovely shot of some royal women, and Prince Harry, who aren't members of the Order, smiling and waving at the others: is there a soup├žon of mockery in those smiles?



I'm also fascinated in Baroness Thatcher's dress, very similar to the gown the Queen and Princess Anne wear under their Garter robes. Has this become, by default, the women's Garter uniform? In August, I start writing my chapter on dress and fashion and costume in the Order: will need this photo again then!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Edward's Silk or Richard's Leather? Friday Garter Poetry Blogging

While the traditional story about Edward III picking up the garter of the Countess of Salisbury (or the Queen, or some other woman) persists in English tradition, there has long been a rival theory, propounded by those who cannot accept that a military and chivalric order can have been organised around such a chance encounter, and such a "mean" item. Accordingly, it is often proposed that Edward was reviving a tradition that dates back to Richard I at the siege of Acre. Wanting to encourage his knights to further heights of courage, he is said to have promised to found an Order around a strap of leather or a buckle, perhaps, that he would take as a symbol of chivalric brotherhood. Of course this actually repeats the pattern of elevating a trivial object to symbolic greatness, through the masterful exercise of sovereign power; but it does have the advantage of displacing the messy world of women's underclothes.

In 1631, Charles Allen, writing The Battailes of Crescey and Poictiers under the Leading of King Edward the Third of That Name; and His Sonne Edward Prince of Wales, was cheerfully insouciant about the origins of the Order.


Yet in the raigne of this first sonne of Mars,
All is not sternely rugged, some delights
Sweete amorous sports to sweeten tarter-wars,
And then a dance began the garter Knights.
They dwell with love, that are with vallour fild,
And Venus doves may in a head peice build

As Sarum beauteous Countesse in a dance
Her loosened garter unawares let fall,
Renouned Edward tooke it up by chance,
Which gave that order first originall.
Thus saying to the wondring standers by.
There shall be honour to this silken ty

Some the beginning from first Richard bring,
(Counting too meanelie of this pedegree)
When he at Acon tyde a leather string
About his Soldiars legges, whose memorie
Might stir their vallour up, yet choose you whether
You’ll Edwards silke prefer, or Richards leather.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My clever graduate students

.. have wonderful blogs. I have links to two already in place; and here are two new ones.

One is a craft blog demonstrating that there is a wonderful life of social activity and artistic endeavour beyond the world of the thesis; the other is an away-from-home journal by a former student working in a small European town. A beautiful example of writerly blogging.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This is how you make stuff

Check this out: a card made by one of my students in the Medievalism class, who is not deficient in the designer's gene: the day they are handing in their essays, no less. In addition to the real ribbon tied on the bottom, it's complete with picture from the blog, and Marion and Belle from our Robin Hood and fairy-tale lectures. I discreetly won't mention her name, but thanks so much. You know who you are!!

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Drawing Gene

I do not exaggerate when I say I don't have any visual or design skills. My talents in this area go only so far as experimenting with a larger size of Times New Roman as a header. And even my stick figure drawings are laughable (seriously: they make people LOL). So you can imagine my delight when I realised my son had inherited my partner's talents in this regard, which are not inconsiderable. Here's a drawing Joel did yesterday of the little cat Mima, now approaching her eighteenth birthday.





Long-time readers of this blog may remember the drawing he did of the radiotherapy machine, back in January last year.

And here is another self-portrait, drawn from the digitally enhanced photograph on his computer desktop:



I'm off to the picture framer's tomorrow...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Why I love the intertubes

Dr Virago's post on Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" video prompted me to search for a video I had never seen, but always knew of: her "Hounds of Love", which features my ex brother-in-law as the male lead. The story in this video seems almost completely obscure to me, but it's great fun to see Gow in this role. He was a dancer with the Australian ballet, but was living in London with convenient English ancestry when my sister was wanting to stay on in the UK. He is a charming man (now working as a textile designer in Japan, after some major health scares); and if you watch through to the scene where he is dancing with Kate, you can get an idea of the fun I had at my sister's second wedding, when I got to dance with him. I am a pretty hopeless dancer (can never get free of wanting to move my feet to the beat of the music), but knew enough to recognise the bliss of being partnered by someone who knew what they were doing. How delightful to find him, sitting at my desk this morning!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friday Garter blogging: back to the source

When I told a medievalist friend I was starting work on the Order of the Garter, he said something like, "oh, so that's a real return for you!" And I swear, I honestly had to think for a moment before I remembered that the topic of my PhD was the poem Wynnere and Wastoure, which features a long description of a prince and a king, presumably the Black Prince and Edward III, wearing garter robes of various kinds, as you'll see.

The poem was written between 1352 and 1370 (the Order was founded in 1348), and features an allegorical debate between Winner and Waster, or the principles of providential saving and courtly largesse, though over the course of the debate, the opposition between these two terms becomes radically destabilised, and it becomes harder and harder to offer easy definitions. It's a poem about how to manage the royal budget, perhaps.

After a dream-introduction, the poet describes his vision of two armies gathered and ready to fight it out. But the scene looks more like a tournament, or some kind of pageantry, and he describes the prince and the king who appear on a cliff top, looking down on the action. The poem features the first translation of the Garter motto (Honi soit qui mal y pense) into English: "Hethyng haue the hathell that any harme thynkes". Hethyng is something like "contempt, scorn" rather than shame as such.

The language is tricky; it's mid-fourteenth century, from a corrupt mid-fifteenth-century manuscript, of mixed dialect. So just an extract will do, I'm sure. I'm modernising yoghs and thorns, and also u and v. I'm also putting the key garter bits in bold type. The edition? Mine, of course. Ahem.

At the creste of a clyffe a caban was rerede [raised]
Alle raylede with rede the rofe and the sydes
With Ynglysse besantes full brighte betyn of golde
And ichone gayly umbygone with garters of inde [surrounded]
And iche a gartare of golde gerede full riche.
Then were th[er] wordes in the webbe werped of he[u], [worked in colour]
Payntted of plunket and poyntes bytwene [light blue]
That were fourmed full fayre appon fresche lettres
And all was it one sawe appon Ynglysse tonge, [saying, motto]
'Hethyng have the hathell that any harme thynkes'.
Now the kyng of this kythe kepe hym oure lorde!
... the poet describes a noble prince wearing the arms of the Prince of Wales...
And als I waytted withinn I was warre sone [peered]
Of a comliche kynge crowned with golde
Sett one a silken bynch with septure in honde,
One of the lovelyeste ledis whoso loveth hym in hert
That ever segge under sonn sawe with his eghne. [man] [eyes]
This kynge was comliche clade in kirtill and mantill,
Bery-brown was [the bleaunt] brouderede with fewlyes, [material] [embroidered] [birds]
Fawkons of fyne golde flakerande with wynges [flapping]
And ichone bare in ble blewe als me thought [blue material]
A grete gartare of ynde [gerede full riche]. [indigo] [adorned]
Fully fayly was that grete lorde girde in the myddis
A brighte belte of ble broudirde with fewles
With drakes and with dukkes daderande tham semede [quaking]
For ferdnes of fawkons fete lesse fawked thay were. [fear] [seized by falcons: falconed??]

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

It must be cancer season

Every day, it seems, there are more and more news reports about cancer and cancer treatments. Within the last week, Melbourne researchers have reported finding that a "positive attitude", while it might make the rigours of cancer treatment more bearable, has no impact on the spread of the disease.

Also, news of a possible screening test for ovarian cancer (women taking Tamoxifen have a higher risk of developing this cancer, which is hard to detect in its early stages).

There's been a reported drop in the number of breast cancer cases, coinciding with a drop in hormone therapy use for menopausal symptoms.

And today, news from a team of Canadian researchers at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference linking vitamin D deficiencies to the more rapid spread of breast cancer.

That's four articles in four days, practically, all on breast cancer, and three out of four from Australian researchers. What an extraordinary amount of research into this disease — or perhaps it's just the disease that is regarded as newsworthy.

It's a bit hard to know how to respond to these developments. I'm grateful, of course, that such research has made my own outlook so good. For the record, I'm now in the twentieth month of a five year treatment plan. In five months I'll have my second annual mammogram and ultrasound, but I see my oncologist every three months and the general consensus is that I'm doing very well. I've cut down on my consumption of alcohol and processed meats; and generally improved my diet. I'm exercising regularly; and meditating occasionally; and trying to keep my stress levels down (though in the current climate at my university, about which I think I have been extraordinarily discreet on this blog, that is exceptionally difficult).

Many of these developments are coming too late for me, of course, though I've always liked the idea of getting a little vitamin D from the sun. Australians find it hard to balance the need for vitamin D against the need to guard against skin cancer, which is rife here.

My own prognosis is so good I'm not really at all on the lookout for alternative treatments or needing to hunt down the latest research. But I can imagine how people with more advanced cancers must greet this kind of research; and how people with much rarer conditions must despair at the uneven distribution of research funds.

At the very least, though, I now have a cancer antenna. People sometimes make a special point of telling me about their friends and relations who have cancer, though I'm still not always strong enough to doanything about this. But there is also a lovely solidarity amongst people I know with cancer. I feel closer, I think, than I would otherwise have done, to three friends in particular: Peter, Trish and Alison. And actually, special congratulations to Alison, who's just finished radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and who joined our Tuesday tennis group at work and played throughout her radiotherapy treatment. And to Trish (Crawford), too, a much-loved figure in early modern and women's history who was presented with a festschrift on just one of the fields in which she works at the Perth conference last week. Trish is an inspirational figure to many historians and feminist scholars, and was one of the first people to comment on an academic paper I gave (on Christine de Pisan, in 1985, I think). She's an inspiration to me now, for facing the difficulties of advanced breast cancer with courage and dignity and as clear an intellect as an academic scholar, or anyone, really, could wish.