My Mum the Shearer

It seems that I’ve inherited my mother’s ability to find, be found by and adopt any lost sheep. In some cases, her ability is literal. We adopted a large, lost sheep. We were in Central Australia, the year I turned 9. We’d been travelling for 6 months around the country and now had taken up residence in a single carriage of a converted silver bullet train (something like this). My bed was over the hot water service in the ‘laundry’; Mum and Dad had a fold out bed in the lounge room so my brother and sister could share the double bed in the single bedroom that there was.

When cattle or sheep were rounded up, little ones would often be brought into the community, almost like a toy, and, as toys often are, they’d be discarded and forgotten. This had happened to Sheepy. He had been around the place for a while. He was no longer little and cute, but full grown, fat and fluffy. Well, he would have been had his overgrown wool not resembled a large and fibrous tumbleweed, complete with spinifex grass and felted matting. Sheepy had wandered into our yard one day and, as I mentioned, Mum is genetically predisposed to be unable to resist something or someone in need of assistance. Sheepy became her personal project. She blunted the few pairs of scissors we had, regardless of their original purpose, trying to create a coiff from a conglomerate. The community thought it was hilarious, but I could understand her concerns. Desert days are not cool and Sheepy was lumbered with inches of filthy thermal insulation. Each day, scissors of various sizes and Mum waged war against Sheepy’s many extra layers.

With time and perseverance, Mum won the war against the wool. Sheepy bore his new, attacked by vicious lawn mower, wool cut with lightness and freedom, if not pride. His accepting personality was overcome, layer by layer, with the more realistic taciturn nature of a scruffy, hot male specimen. So Sheepy left his temporary home and ran off to rejoin the community at large. And, not long after, and not shared with the shorter siblings, Sheepy made a guest appearance at a local barbecue. Such is life, I suppose.

Nuts, a ball and other four-letter words. A young man’s journey with testicular cancer. Part 5.

This is Part 5 in a series. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.

I admired Sam’s casualness and candour when I asked him to read the fictionalised (my best guess) version of what thinking about sex and masturbation might have been like after going through chemo and trying to come to terms with one testicle. I said that it was really a way of asking him some of the tough questions – had hair grown back? How had sex been? What did he feel like at the time?

He took it in his stride, especially since we were in a food court at our local shopping centre at the time. He gave me some straightforward comments during reading –

“We haven’t. Ever.”

“I only threw up once during chemo.”

“We couldn’t kiss while I was having chemo, my white cell count was too low and I could’ve caught anything.”

“Is this supposed to be me masturbating?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Nah, couldn’t do that either during chemo, all the chemicals going down there and everything.”

So I haven’t changed it, cause apart from those comments, the ideas are right and the fears are very true. Just so you know, this 5th part, then, is fiction, for story sharing and understanding of emotions. Sometimes it’s hard to put words to the exact truth, especially when your general description of emotions is, “Like crying and stuff.”

On his better days, he wanted more than to just hold her. On his better days, his mind was clear enough to let him think at all. Ordinarily this would have been a good thing. Any thing to get out of the cloudy fog of the drug haze he was in much of the time. But right about now the only thing clarity was good for was helping him see what he was missing.

As the hours drifted by and his mind cleared, he could see her face. She was so pretty, all blue eyes and beautiful smile. She was more than pretty and she wanted to be with him! Bit unbelievable sometimes. During the chemo – when he was feeling his worst, he couldn’t think of why that was. Why would she want him? Useless body couldn’t even keep itself together, wasting from these foul chemicals, not much to look at. And that was on the good days. On the worst, he was too weak to hold his own head up while he threw up. Over and over. Hadn’t eaten a damned thing but it didn’t make any difference – he’d vomit til he felt like he was about to turn inside out.

But still, when he returned to school, she was still there, still his. He could barely believe it when she’d let him kiss her; when she’d linked her hand with his and kept it there even as the duty teacher walked by. He’d known they’d been seen; he could see it on the teacher’s face and was torn between jumping up from the bench and shouting that he didn’t need the pity, and closing his eyes and hoping they wouldn’t be reminded of the ‘daylight’ rule. Didn’t want pity, but he didn’t want to let her hand go either. Her hand was so different to his. Long, slim fingers as opposed to his shorter, thicker ones. Beautiful clean nails, beautifully soft skin.

On the bad days he imagined holding her hand even as the needle pierced his skin. It was almost enough to make him forget about the chemicals that would push him over the sick/well border line. On those days, he rested his own hand on the sheet draped over his own thigh, wishing, imagining it was hers. It had to be above the sheet, not only cause it would look suss – not that he could imagine doing that in a shared room; let alone with that damned cannula in the back of his hand. Not only because of what it would look like, but because if he touched his own softness, lack of muscle, lack of hair. Shit, he hoped that grew back! Wasn’t so bad on his head – lots of guys got around skin head and no one cared. Josh was doing it even now and he was getting along ok. No, but most other places, where there was meant to be hair, no one would think that was normal. If he touched his own hairless, smooth skin he could no longer imagine her touching him. Why would she want to? He certainly didn’t. He had. Before. Not that he’d readily admit it.

He’d been home on his own. More out of boredom than real need, he’d tried to imagine her there. He could manage that bit ok, she was easy enough to picture, even though she’d been in her school uniform in his imagination – weird! Oh yeah, he could definitely imagine her there. He’d run it through in his mind a time or two; he’d seen enough to know what it was supposed to be like. In his mind, she put her hand on his and he’d pulled her gently towards him and kissed her. That bit he knew. That bit was true. But in his mind, that wasn’t the end. At home, by himself, he felt her lean over him, push him back on his pillows and stretch out on her side beside him. He closed his eyes and felt her hand (his) run down his chest and onto his stomach. Even as he felt the satin of his boxers, he knew that she wouldn’t have done that, not yet anyway, but hell it was his fantasy, so why not? So he continued, willing himself to believe she was really there. It was easy at first, the satin slid under his hand so easily. He closed his eyes and felt her fingers stroke him. He pressed up and felt himself stiffen against the satin fabric. In a very short time that wasn’t enough. He pressed up again and breathed in hard as he felt skin against skin under his boxers. Just thinking about her hand on him made him harder and his grip tightened. Ah, if only. If only she was here. If only it was her hand on him right now. If only she could be moving against him like this, just like this, and like this…ah.

It was only afterwards, eyes open, frustratedly aware that she wasn’t there and wasn’t going to be any time soon. It was only then, as he washed, that he could see it clearly. He’d heard the expression, “In the cold light of day” but suddenly for him it was, “By the cold dampness of a washcloth.” She’d never be there. Her hand would never hold him like he wanted her to. You needed to be normal for that sort of thing to happen and he wasn’t, not at the moment, not anymore, maybe not ever. He looked down at himself. Friggin’ chemo – meant to kill off the sick cells – killing off his body hair as well. Smooth as a little boy. Smooth and hairless. What the hell would she want with a little boy? Fuck it, she wasn’t going to be holding someone there. If she did, it wasn’t going to be him, smooth and hairless.

It wasn’t that he never got hard at the thought of her again. That did happen and how! But he couldn’t even bring himself pretend it was her, skin on skin – and it wasn’t even easy in the dark, under cover.

Not long after, he’d been back at school and she noticed his flinch when she put her hand on his thigh,
“What? Ticklish?” she laughed, bright eyes lit up as she danced her fingers down his leg. Her pretty fingers walked over the bare skin of his knee. He couldn’t breathe – did she notice? That he was hairless there, too?

“So soft,” she flicked a glance at him, cheeky. She couldn’t know what she was putting him through. Not soft, nuh uh. Don’t say it, he silently begged, don’t ask me if this goes all the way up. Just keep dancing your fingers over me. Don’t say soft. She obliged unknowingly, circling his knee cap with her nails,
“Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear….”
He breathed in slowly, don’t say soft, don’t say I’m soft…
“One step…” Her fingers left his bare knee as she goose stepped them along his thigh and he could breathe out again, for the moment.
“Two step…” She looked up at him as he drew in another breath, her eyes showing a teasing light. His eyes locked on hers, his breath held now. What if she stopped? What if she didn’t?

He knew the exact moment that she remembered where they were – in public, at school – and where her teasing, dancing fingers were headed. He knew exactly where her thoughts went as she laughingly began the next line,
“Tickle you under…oh…”
It was her breath that left in a rush then, her face flushing as she drew her now still fingers up to her mouth. Her eyes squeezed tightly shut and then opened just as quickly as he repeated her last word,
“‘Oh’ Yeah, I reckon.”

Neither of them spoke again for a moment. What was there to say? Too soon the bell sounded, signalling the start of afternoon classes and they were surrounded by classmates. Now what? Some invisible line had been crossed, now there was THAT between them.
“Later?”
“Later.”

She couldn’t believe her own stupidity! Now what? What if he thought she’d meant to say it? What a ridiculous come on would that be? Tickling! Yeah, that was exactly what guys wanted. Actually, how would she know what guys wanted? But she was pretty sure nursery rhymes weren’t high on the list.

Nuts, a ball and other four-letter words. A young man’s journey with testicular cancer. Part 3

This is Part 3 in a series. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

I don’t think I have ever been so devastated in my life and I never want to be again. I’ve never had to use the word devastated before, but that’s what I was. I’ve lost my left ball for fuck’s sake! I cried until I couldn’t breathe and then I cried more. My body hurt like hell from the surgery and my lungs were gasping for breath and still I couldn’t stop. At the time I couldn’t think straight and even when I could, I couldn’t get my head around it. Why would they do that? I’m only sixteen. My body hasn’t got enough testosterone to make me fully a man. One ball, that’s like half a eunuch / half a gelding – good for nothing. What if my voice doesn’t finish breaking properly? Will I LOOK lopsided? I’ve only just got most of my body hair, will that go too? Of course, I don’t want kids now, but I might, later. I haven’t even slept with my girlfriend – will I ever get to do that? Oh, Tasha! I’ve read in books sometimes that “he cried like a little girl” but I didn’t. I bawled and screamed and cried and sniffled just like a guy whose life has been cut off, just like his left nut, before he’s had a chance to do all that bloke stuff. I must have passed out again then, what was I gonna I tell Tash?

The doctor and Mum explained it to me more once I was fully awake, but it felt like the worst nightmare ever. I was trapped in it and couldn’t get out. Instead of a cut in my sack, I had stitches and pain just above where my pubes had been. That’s a story in itself, the shaving there. So, pain and stitches on what they called the ‘bikini line’ – yeah right, bikini line! But I’m getting a bit off track. It turns out that when I was fully under, the doctor had another grope around and didn’t like the feel of my left ball. Great. So, for some reason I still don’t fully get, they cut me to the left of my dick and pulled the whole ball up through there. When he saw it, the doc went straight out to Mum in the waiting room,

“Ms Brown, I think its cancer.”

I reckon he probably told her more than that. All the technical stuff that she has always known more about than me; the fact that the cyst had overtaken the whole epididymis on my left nut and that the reason it stayed enlarged was that as the swelling from the knock to the groin was going down, cancer was coming in and taking its place. Mum reckons that there had always been the concern that my cyst might go cancerous, but we hadn’t talked about it – Mum’s a ‘don’t borrow trouble’ sort of person.

Right now though, she wasn’t borrowing trouble, it was standing in front of her and Gary in surgical scrubs offering to give her the lab results just as soon as he’d finished cutting my nut off, stuffing what was left of me back in, stitching me up and dissecting the traitorous, disloyal, backstabbing thing. I don’t blame my mum, I wouldn’t have wanted to hang on to a cancerous nut, but shit it scared me when I first felt it gone. What is the world coming to when you can’t trust your own gonads?

Later, after my chemo, I was allowed to wear a beanie to school. A teacher at the Junior School called me on it when we were over there for the some assembly or service. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it definitely had the words “disrespectful” and “inappropriate” thrown in for good measure. I could have done it any number of ways, but I thought, damn it, she’s being so rude to me, getting up in my face. So I snapped,

“I’ve had cancer!”

I felt like adding, “Bitch” but managed to stop myself. I made her feel like shit though, which felt pretty good actually. She knew who I was, I suppose stories like mine are too good to stay secret, not that it was ever supposed to be a secret.

“Oh, you’re Sam,” and she walked off, no sorry or anything. Bitch.

After my surgery and chemo, I started riding my bike again – had mates ask about that – the pressure on my groin was obviously not a problem when I stopped catching the bus and started riding to school. Mates are funny like that; maybe it’s a guy thing. We are always, according to my sister, giving each other stick about being a man, or not. She’s probably right though, way back in Primary school I remember playing footy with my mates and it was a badge of honour to be able to walk after a good hit to the groin. So most of them knew a bit about what was going on, but not much, and while I reckon they cared, what could they do? I had a third nut, and then that I’d lost my nut in surgery. Not much chat, guys don’t do that,

“You alright?”

“Yep.”

And that’s it. Miss reckons that girls would have laughed and cried about it together and talked about every little feeling. I don’t get it.

Nuts, a ball and other four-letter words. A young man’s journey with testicular cancer. Part 2

{This is Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here.}

So, we’re at the doctors, like I said. I’m trying to concentrate on the really uninteresting ceiling while he feels around. It’s slow going, this examination, cause even though I’m trying to relax and he’s treating me casually, there are certain physical reactions that just happen, regardless of how interesting the ceiling is. He keeps on reminding me to relax which is frustrating me even more. Doesn’t he think I would if I could? So my sack keeps tightening and shrinking up, which is bloody hopeless for the doc. Finally, either from boredom – white ceilings aren’t really much of a distraction, or from sheer dumb luck, my body does what it’s supposed to and the doc gets a chance to check out the lump I had felt not long after Craig kneed me during the game. I’m a little bit sore and that’s a bit scary, especially when the doc covers me up and tells me to get dressed and sit back at his desk with Mum.

While I’m dressing, he and Mum are talking pretty quietly on the other side of the curtain. They’re not trying to keep secrets from me, I don’t think, but I can’t hear them properly and I’m still zipping my jeans up as I walk back to the chair by Mum. I want to say something casual and funny to show that I can take it, whatever it is,

“So, no grandkids today, hey Mum?”

But I can’t and the doctor looks me over before telling me what he’s obviously already told Mum,

“Sam, I felt the same swelling that you did and I’m a bit concerned about it. Considering your previous history, I’d like to get a closer look. I’d like you to have another ultrasound and we can see what it is we’re dealing with exactly.”

I don’t really get it, but the doctor must see that in my face and continues with more explanation. He thinks that the cyst I’ve got, a damaged bit on my ball, like a blister, is changing and not in a good way. The ultrasound is going to give a clearer picture of it, an ultrasound being a bit like an x-ray for bits of the body that aren’t bones. The short of it though is that it means another trip to another doctor; another indecent exposure and another experience of gel and a kind of microphone looking thing skidding about around my scrotum. Forgive me if I’m not thrilled by the idea!

“Shit! No.”

“Sam,” Mum starts to warn me of my language, but then must realise how I feel and breathes out deeply, “Well, yes, fair enough.”

Referrals are made and Mum and I are on our way home. I can tell she’s freaking out a bit, and I am not really sure what I am feeling. Are there emotion rules on this?

Dad and I get on ok. I’ve been visiting him every second weekend for about 8 years. Best of both worlds, Mum used to say; that I could be with her and my brother and sister during the weeks and then to Dad’s every other weekend. I used to spend a bit of each weekend riding down to this little fishing spot with my step brother. We’d sit there for hours; not always catching much, but it was good to hang out. Jake is about my age, a year younger, another thing Mum said was good about going to Dad’s, and we hung out together, fishing and biking and stuff. I didn’t tell him much about the whole check up thing. If I did have to do any explaining, if anyone asked, I’d just say I had a third nut. That was as easy as it got and it was pretty much what I thought anyway. Going into detail about epididymal cysts and ultrasounds just wasn’t a topic of conversation. Still isn’t. It’s not the sort of thing you generally share with anyone, and most of the time it was just a hassle, part of the stuff I did at Mum’s house.

Mum said that she would keep the school in the loop and I wouldn’t have to say anything. She was trying to save me the embarrassment of talking about it, but you know what? After you go through what I have in the past nine months, you get pretty casual about it. What might have been embarrassing before is now just routine. Words, technical or slang or swearing, are just words and whether or not I tell a teacher that my nut had to be removed or agree with a counsellor that I do freak out about sex and getting it up makes no difference really. Not compared to what I’ve been through.

The doctors ultrasound it again and decide that the cyst has changed some and they need to go in and have a look. My understanding of the op was that once I was under the general anaesthetic, the surgeon would open me up, like cut my sack, and take out the original cyst and kind of scrape the left testicle to get the still swollen, enlarged bits off it. So that’s what I expected to have happened when I woke up; scar and stitches in my scrotum and to feel pretty sore around the balls, as you would. When I woke up and came to, that’s not what I felt like. I put my hand down to check it out, to see if I could feel the incision, but I felt nothing. Honestly, nothing. No ball on the left side at all. What the hell? Then I panicked. What was going on?

Nuts, a ball and other 4-letter words! A young man’s story of testicular cancer. Part 1.

A number of years ago, I wrote a short memoir in first person perspective for a young man who I knew through a school I previously taught at. I had recently broken both my ankles whilst on holidays in Indonesia (perhaps more about that in another post) and needed to do something that helped me look outside myself and my situation. Here’s the first installment:

Hey,
Found you on face book and thought I’d say hello and ask you a couple of things that maybe would be harder to ask in person. I’m doing a lot of writing at the moment, since walking is out of the question, and I wondered if I could ask something. I know you’ve been ill this year (that’s about all I know about it) and I wondered if you might consider sharing your story with me. I would be honoured to write it, if you feel like sharing. Maybe it’s something you want to do yourself, so that’s ok too. I don’t know you real well, so if this isn’t ok, let me know. Just thought I could ask and you could honestly tell me what you think.
Thanks for even thinking about it,
Mrs Ross

It’s one thing being monitored for a condition to do with your nuts when you’re 12. That’s one thing, that’s a Mum thing, that’s a thing we don’t talk about. Well I don’t! It’s quite another to have to say to your mum, when you are 16, that not only have you been hit there, hard, during a footy game, but you think there is something wrong. How do you say that?

“Ah, Mum, my balls are hurt. Kinda swollen or something.”

And then the kicker,

“Can you have a look?”

Not easy to ask and harder to let her do it. You can probably imagine how it went from there. Both of us a bit embarrassed, mostly me, but this is mum after all. She’s pretty cool, but this isn’t good. Did I mention we were in the car on the way to footy training when I told her? Now that would’ve been hilarious if she’d had an accident then. Just to have to tell the police what she’d been doing and why she had her hand off the wheel. Anyway, we got through it and she agreed with me that there was something else going on. So then we take it (them? ha ha) to the professionals.

This isn’t that unusual for me. Apparently I have this hormone that is supposed to stop doing its stuff when you’re about 12 and mine didn’t. It’s caused docs some concern and I’ve had to be checked out every 6 months or so, with ultrasounds since I was 14. The first thing I thought when we got referred for an ultrasound was; pregnant women have ultrasounds, don’t they? And I’m pretty damn sure that whatever these odd hormones have done to me, I’m not pregnant!

They monitored me for changes in hormones and a benign epididymal cyst that I figured was like having a smaller third testicle and that’s what I told anyone who ever questioned me. So, having to strip in the doctor’s surgery is not new to me. About now, you’re probably thinking one of a couple of things – I’ve heard most of it before:

a) Shit! I’d hate to do that, imagine if the doctor touched you and….well, you know…?

b) Oh, that poor boy. That would be very traumatic through his puberty; I wonder how it is for his self esteem?

c) No way! Not now, not ever – keep it to yourself, man!

Or some combination of the above. So, let’s leave me there for the moment. In front of doctor, flat on my back, knees up, letting the guy with the gloves feel around my balls…

As I said, I’ve been checked out more than most guys my age, but apart from that, I’m pretty average I reckon. Got an older brother, younger sister and we get on ok I guess. My mum and dad split when I was 8 and I’ve always been pretty close to my mum. Pretty into football, been playing for 4 years and this year I’ve made the A grade. I’m supposed to make this as honest as possible, so I’ll tell you that I was pretty buff then. Training 3 nights a week and games on the weekend will do that for you. So I was feeling alright. And, before you ask, yes, I’ve got a girlfriend. She’s hot. I’m playing A grade and going out with Tash for about 6 months. School is ok. Life is pretty good. Then some *#@!wit gets his shin up hard in my groin in the second match of the season. I go down, winded, and that, I reckon, is where it all really starts.

I don’t know yet where it ends, but it’s been a long journey and it’s only been nine months since it started. There have been good days and bad, ups and downs I guess you could say. Each time I go down it feels like I can’t go any lower, but rock bottom is a LONG way down. I wonder whether it’s harder to fall when you’ve been so high before that. As I said, I’ve led a reasonably average life, but I’ve had it better than some.

{More to come next week.}

Updated: Part 2 is available here.

No fear of flying!

There is nothing like the feeling of flying – even if it is down a concrete path in a wheelchair!  A boy I don’t know very well, from year 11, who makes me laugh and teases along with the best of them, offered to push me back down to the next class I was helping with.  Actually, he first asked if he could sit on my knee and I could take him down to the ITD building.  I’m not sure who was more surprised when I compromised and said I would only take him as far as the concrete path went cause I didn’t do “off road” real well.  I think I would have had my bluff called if he had agreed, but I’d like to think that we would have given it a good go.  So I think that taking me to my next class was the trade off.  I certainly could have done that bit on my own, but I think there is a certain buzz from pushing people in wheelchairs, maybe it’s the control, so who am I to say no?  Sam is not careful.  Well, that’s what I reckon it looked like as we whizzed down the hill.  The three of us flying.  Me in the chair, Sam running behind me, holding the handles carefully as he pushed, and Josh trying to run and laugh at the same time beside his best mate.  I think I was more worried for the innocents who might inadvertently get in our path; there is no such thing as power steering on my wheelchair.  Although I did promise (some might say threaten) as we flew, that I would hunt him down on crutches if he let me go, I actually felt amazing.  Yes, I like being the centre of attention.  Yes, it’s exhilarating and a bit of adrenalin on a Monday afternoon can be a good thing.  But it’s more than that.  Sam’s been sick.  I haven’t asked him about it and I don’t know many details, but it’s been a long haul for him this year.  Cancer and chemo don’t make for a party sort of feeling.  Tears started for me when, at a staff meeting, he was given special uniform dispensation, cause apparently his formal one just “felt too heavy.”  There are the highlights though.  He’s back in his formal uniform now, as scruffy as they seem to be able to make it look, and having your best friend have his head shaved at the same time as you in solidarity and support must feel pretty good.  I’m going to have to ask, maybe.  Maybe it’s not important that I know.  But my guess is that if I felt like I was flying, I’m pretty sure that being able to run like that, laughing, in control of a teacher’s transport and scattering juniors as you go must have felt pretty good too.  Maybe I’m trying to make it into something it’s not. All of us were breathless as they stopped me at the door and wandered off – there was no ‘moment’ – but it was great!

Awkward Eating

I’m currently at the other end of the state to where I usually am, visiting my sister and newest niece.


My own children would have liked to come with me, especially the youngest. He adores babies; we (he) often stop prams simply by standing in front of them to talk to ANYBODY’S baby. So to have one of our own is a big deal…and she’s gorgeous!

Tuesday morning on the way to school and daycare, I reminded him that I was going on the plane that evening.

“Can I come, please?”

“Not this time, I’m sorry. It’s pretty expensive to go on the plane and we don’t have that much money. Everyone would have liked to come.”

🤔 “Do you have money for YOU to go on the plane?”

“Well, my ticket has been paid and so jowett I have no money. Luckily though, when I get there, Grandma and Aunty will feed me.”

🤔🤔😕 “Do you mean like Aunty feeds the baby?”

😲😲😂😂

“No. Maybe a sandwich.”

“I didn’t think it was right but I had to see if it was like that.”

Kids!

🖒🐛