Friday, July 6, 2012

The Cancer Residue: part two


Photo's by Tim


Dave and I started dating in my final year of high school. He was adorable with his mop of brown hair and motor mouth. I loved him straight away. He was refreshingly comfortable in his own skin and unapologetically kind to everyone that crossed his path.




I saw surprise on his freckled face when I first told him about my eye. He was in his first year of Uni and we must have only been dating for a few months. His reaction was gentle, reassuring and kind - he kissed my eye lids and told me I was beautiful. 

The following day I caught him looking at me with one eye closed. I couldn't help but giggle when I asked him what he was doing. He answered 'seeing what you see' before explaining that he had spent the day walking around closing his right eye so he could fully appreciate what it was like for me. I loved him even more then.


 As I followed lifes journey down the usual path - from child, adolescent, adult, memories of being teased or victimised for being different all but faded away. Most adults have the tact and courtesy that children lack and are kind enough to bite their tongue if they do notice something amiss with my face.

So when I initially wrote 'my story', I intentionally avoided making any direct references to my history of being a kid with cancer, resulting in a 'fake eye'. Not because it's sad or because I'm ashamed, more because it's not really something I considered to be all that important. Yet as I shuffle through my memories to write this, I realise that it is indeed as weighty as it appears and deeply important.

 Soon enough I found myself back in the school yard- this time as a teacher. I'll be honest, it was with trepidation that I re-entered the classroom and I knew that at some point I would have to face the 'eye' issue with a student or two (or thirty as the case may be).

On a sunny summers day I took a year eight art class onto the oval for some landscape drawing. Notebooks and charcoal in hand, they took their positions on the grass before going about doing very little actual work. As I went about encouraging them to put pencil to paper another nameless faceless boy, just like so many years before called 'Oi, who are you even looking at Miss? Are you cross eyed or something?'. He was joined by the rest of his group in suggesting that I look at them when talking to them - if indeed I could cast both of my eyes in the same direction.

I was completely and utterly floored. Speechless. Dumbfounded.

Sensing my shock, a well meaning kid shouted 'shut up ya dickheads'. I vividly remember that student’s fabulous face.

It was a Christian school and I probably should have reprimanded the swearing. But I didn't.

On another occasion the Head of School took it upon himself (in my absence) to inform my class of year eight girls that I had lost my eye to cancer as a child and that as a result I now had a prosthetic eye. I only found out because the girls told me.

Whilst I always knew that I would need to address the eye issue at various times in my teaching career, never did I expect it to happen quite like that. Nor did I expect to feel so powerless.

In an instant, I was a child again and falling victim to nasty children. It was only 'professional conduct' that stopped me from retaliating in the manner I learned to cope with in my younger years – bite back.

On both occasions I was utterly belittled and humiliated. I had’t yet developed the skills needed to deal with such confrontation in an adult way. There is something about reliving childhood experiences as a fully grown, responsible human being - the instinctual reaction is to behave as child and fall back into a defence and attack pattern, rather than control the situation as an adult. Sadly, tantrums and insults are no longer an acceptable form of communicating my emotions.



These days, I find myself living in a velour cocoon where I hide inside in my trackies all day, taking care of the perfect little people I grew in my tummy. It's been years since my last unpleasant eye related encounter and I suspect many more years will pass before I need to confront it again.

Maybe it will be when my children first start asking about it, maybe it'll be when I re-enter the classroom. Who knows. But what I do know is that in the meantime, a new language needs to be learnt. A language full of grace, compassion and understanding - the language of a secure, confident woman with an artificial eye.

A language I'm still coming to terms with.


Having a fake eye has never been my favourite thing about myself, I'll be honest. It's uncomfortable, awkward to look at and quite frankly a pain in my arse. I don't like it. If i could choose, I'd rather two seeing eyes.

 But my one eye has seen every good thing this life has to offer. It's seen love in the face of my family members and tears in the eyes of my husband, it's seen fleshy new born babies placed on my naked chest, the first steps of each of my children, freshly cut blooms and waves crashing in the majestic ocean. 

My life, in its entirety has been nothing short of blessed. 






Read part one here
If you'd like some context, read this.
If you'd like to read my mum's story about having a baby with cancer you can do so here.
To read my life's story minus the cancer/eye saga read here.

55 comments:

  1. awww I loved all those photos and you and your hubby make a sweet couple. thanks for sharing your story, I never would have known from looking at any of those pics or on your blog!
    I love the bit about being at home in a cocoon in your trackies with your little ones - it's a great stage of life for me and probably why I've got 4 here:)

    corrie:)

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  2. In my experience people who have had to overcome adversity in their life become positive, generous souls. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog, especially these posts. Thank you for sharing your story and your beautiful photos.

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  3. Em I love all this last images of you of past you. Every single one from high school to the birth of O - you are shining, beautiful and happy. A credit to you and your bravery and to your amazing parents to raise a happy child through all the terribleness with Cancer. Big hugs lovely woman... you totally rock in my world. xxx

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  4. You are awesome. Blessed. Sexy. Wonderful.

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  5. gorgeous girl gorgeous words - love your take on this and echo Corrie above with loving the cocoon par and all the photos awesome especially love the black and white guitar one that is love right there on the page. Love seeing peoples history in pics and hearing the back-stories of how they met their loves (what a honey he is looking around with one eye...hes a keeper!). Also really loved the truth of the things you have been blessed and experienced and seen with with that "one good eye". Doesnt take the hard and the crud and the nasties away but yes ...blessed indeed.
    PS You have seriously good hair. Think I may have hair envy : )

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  6. Oh you are such a gorgeous sparkly vibrant creature- totally obvious why that spunky boy chose you. I agree with Averil- experiences like this make you kinder, more compassionate and more grateful for all the wonderful bits. Thankyou for sharing. melx

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  7. thanks for sharing your story emily. it's lovely as are you.

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  8. Thanks so much for your honesty and this insight into your experience. You really do write beautifully. I have been a reader of your blog for a long time, but am a slack commenter - apologies! But wanted to say thanks for sharing this part of yourself with us.

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  9. I really enjoyed reading this. What a journey. I admire you, and your husband, you seems like a pretty wonderful person. Great collection of photos of the both of you. (By the way, do you realise how pretty you are?? You're gorgeous!)

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  10. Thank you for sharing your beautiful honest story. I think your kiddos will enjoy reading both yours and your mother's stories one day. They are lucky to have such women in their lives.

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  11. Absolutely beautiful, you and your heart.

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  12. And the only way to do it is to practice it. Afford the "dick heads" your grace and let those who can, appreciate your honesty. Thankyou for starting that process here, where I can read it.

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  13. Its funny , I just don't notice when I talk to you. You are so beautiful and you engage when you talk to people which is probably why it is not apparent that you have a dicky eye...

    Remind me to show you my dicky back next time I see you.. we share another story and mine was filled with harsh, harsh taunts growing up but I too found my love and he doesn't care. I have shared my story with my kids and they don't care either.. I hope to raise kids that can work out when to keep their manners in check xx

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  14. Bravo, thanks for sharing. As a parent i can't imagine how your parents must have felt when they recieved the news from doctors. Here's to happy healthy families.

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  15. I think you are absolutely beautiful.

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  16. Wow!!! I'm speechless!! What a heartfelt post!! A lesson to everyone to teach their children that words can hurt...even to adults... And those pictures.... Stunningly beautiful xx

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  17. Such a beautiful post and story. A friend of mine lost an eye to cancer too. I can't even begin to fathom how difficult it must be. xx

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  18. Gosh you're a stunner, Em!

    Thank you (again!) for sharing. These posts are incredibly empowering! I'm sure so many people can take so much and relate to your story; whether we have one, two or four eyes, scars or none at all. We all experience times of trial and it's how we overcome these moments that make us who we are...yours has made you into a loving wife, devoted mama and beautiful soul.

    xx

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  19. So sweet of Dave to be walking around with one eye opened to see what YOU see ♥ I love all pictures of you two, guitar and kisses.

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  20. You make me cry Em. You're so bloody beautiful. I admire you so very much. And your Dave, well, he is the just the ultimate keeper. A delightful love story. Thank you again for sharing your story and the precious images to go with it. I really enjoyed scrolling through this batch of pics xoxo

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  21. Inside and out, a spectacularly beautiful woman. Xx

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  22. Beautiful pictures and words! Thanks for your openness! I'd also like to thank you for your blog visit :-) The bubble thing was swesome, daughter is still talking about it!

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  23. wow! i love all of your pictures you are toooo cute! :D i hope when I have a family I will be as cool of a mom- (especially since im not really that "cool" now tehe) kami from thebluekazoo.blogspot.com

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  24. You are certainly a beauty - inside and out. I loved reading your honest, heartfelt story.

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  25. I love this post. Thank you for sharing your story. Beautiful photos!!!
    ~FringeGirl

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  26. Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are absolutely positively Beautiful. I was born with a cleft lip and palate and grew up feeling not normal. The hardest thing I had to learn was to believe in myself and that I am beautiful just the way I am, even with a scar on my face, my husband played a big part in that. It will never go away and will always be there staring straight back at me from the mirror, but it has help shape the woman, wife and mummy I am today. So, I couldn't say I would change a thing, as like you it has brought me some of my greatest lessons and blessings. Again, thank you for sharing your story, I would have never noticed.

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  27. Thank you for sharing your story with us, in your usual honest way. A heartfelt thank you.
    Fine

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  28. Oh that was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your story, and photos. I have to say the title of your post really grabbed me to start reading it and I'm glad I did. I have plenty of cancer residue - I struggle with body image post breast cancer diagnosis, and this just really served to remind me that there is more beauty and more to life than just our outer shells. Something I have to remind myself of constantly so I don't retreat back into my self-conscious teen self rather than a 32 yr old mother of three who's giving the staunch middle finger to cancer.

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  29. You are a bloody spunkrat. Your words about reliving childhood teasing as an adult really resonate- that's why I stick to the very little people in the classroom. thanks for the lovely read and thoughts.

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  30. we are each of us learning to respond with both grace and strength to the things we nurse that we sometimes feel make us lesser. Not that they do make us lesser - they in fact enlarge us, enlarge our experience, our compassion, our ability to appreciate life. But we secretly want normal - and I think that is everyone of us - all wanting normal none of us stopping to realise if we aren't normal nor is any one else.
    Beautiful story thanks for the grace and courage to share x

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  31. Oh Em, what an incredible story. I can't even begin to fathom what you've been through, and I think you're all the more amazing for it. Kellie xx
    LOVE the old photos. What is Harrington SUFM?

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  32. I've hit a similar point recently where I realized maybe I did care baout certain snide remarks from others when I was a kid more than I thought and maybe it was time to face those lingering defenses and let them go and say like you did "I am so blessed," and all that has happened in my life is a part of me and I can now choose how I allow each person in my life to affect my now and my future. I loved reading this post, thanks.

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  33. it's always so strange to me, how mean people can be. Don't they have a heart somewhere in there?

    When I was little, I had a lazy eye. I was cross-eyed, you could say. I was often asked about it. For some reason, it never made me feel uncomfortable. Also, it was corrected at 11 years old; maybe if i was still dealing with it in my adolescent years, I would have felt more strange about it. I just knew that I looked different, and that people couldn't help themselves but to ask me about it.

    Looking at your photos, I have to say, you really are quite stunning. I'm sorry that anyone could ever make you feel uncomfortable.

    I wish we all lifted each other up just a bit more. We all need it.

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  34. All I can say is you're amazing! Thanks for sharing such a story xx

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  35. Iv gone back and re read all the posts - not sure how i missed so many...you are incredible - I hope you know and understand that. You inspire me to be a better person not becouse of your cancer or your courage in telling your story but just as a person - you amaze me!!
    Thank you for this blog

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  36. Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your story with us Em. Dave's reaction brought tears eyes and a smile to my face. What a keeper.
    You are beautiful.
    I loved wandering through the old photos, and catching glimpses of your life. Thanks gorgeous girl!

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  37. I read your blog from time to time and just wanted to make the comment that I've never noticed your eye and often think to myself that you are a really attractive 'real woman'. You are stylish and have a beautiful face. I love the shots of you with short spiky hair and the white singlet top! Your husband sound lovely. Apologies for the layout of this message, am typing one handed as I feed my baby boy. X

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  38. It's the loss of symmetry that gets me. As an art teacher, I like a bit of symmetry and now I have lost one of my bits that should be in a pair, I wonder how I'll go when I get back into a secondary classroom and all the local kids know. Chances are I still won't have hair either but I have decided that if they ask I will be so honest it will completely disarm them. I might even whip off the beanie if they push it! There is no shame in surviving and being strong. In fact they might even learn something at school that day! Having said all that the idea of going back post cancer is SOOO scary!

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  39. I've just read both parts of your story and all I can say is you are one brave lady, Em. I have a sneaking suspicion that when you do go back into the classroom, you'll be able to handle things with humour and grace. Thanks for sharing your story. xx

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  40. you are one awesome, huge spunk of a lady. Honestly you deserve all kinds of awesome for the rest of your life. Tears welled up as soon as I hit the part about your husband walking around with one eye closed for the day. You not only have shared your story, you have shared a whole lot more of how someone can be so brave to face a childhood memory as an adult.

    Don't even get me started on the part about what your eye has seen.... {huge tears}...there is nothing like that new baby on your chest. A feeling I still feel, and something I can see clearly in my mind.

    You rock! x

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  41. Emily, you could not be more beautiful, inside & out, after such fantastic posts & look at the blog community reaction, you will bound back to any classroom or group with gusto, handle any questions any time. I wonder if you could be, with such obvious beauty, a role model for teenage girls, who seriously SERIOUSLY do not have a clue!! Maybe you've found, through motherhood & time out of teaching, a new dimension to the old you & what you have to offer students?? Love Posie

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  42. I know it's a totally crazy thing to say, but I think it's all because you are so beautiful, Em. You are beautiful enough to 'get away with it'... do you know that I mean? I don't mean that disrespectfully at all. I just think that most people wouldn't even notice because there is so much beauty in your face and eyes to look at first. x

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  43. you are beautiful! I'm a little jealous of your amazing smile

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  44. Oh Em. No child should ever have to go through what you've endured. And your poor parents. Talk about ripping your heart out. But look at you now and that beautiful family of yours. You are a survivor, an inspiration and a bloody gorgeous woman to boot! And even though I've never met you I know I would fall in love with you straight away. Thanks for sharing your story. I know you found it hard but I'm so glad you persevered. I think we all are : )

    And Dave? He's a keeper. xx

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  45. I think you're absolutely beautiful, and I'd never have known if you didn't mention it. I have also worked in schools, mostly high school, and I know how vicious the little bastards can be! But boy, if they see a vulnerability, they'll exploit it... I found it best to answer their snotty little cruelties with an offhand "yes, this is what it is, no biggie" then immediately changing the subject. If it's not a big deal for me then they tend to move on. Kids suck!

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  46. Completely shallow comment, but I think you are beautiful, I would love to look like you.

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  47. It is freaky I should find you and this post this week, when I have been thinking a lot about my (awful) childhood due to the constant teasing - I have worn glasses all my life due to extreme long sightedness and a turn in one eye. This week I made an appointment for my youngest daughter to be checked by a paed ophthalmologist, to make sure she has not inherited my eye conditions. It has brought forward a wave of emotions about my eye conditions and so much fear that I could have passed this on to my children (my oldest is fine)
    Your story and that of your mums, are so beautifully written. I hated being poked and prodded all the time as a kid too, all those appointments, I so understand your relief when they are over.
    Thank you for sharing your story. Cat.

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  48. Thank you so much for sharing your story so honestly with us all here in the blog world. As much as I love the usual design inspiration, crafty DIY, recipes, and fashion posts, it's real life stories like this that I truly enjoy reading. So thank you!

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  49. you're gorgeous, I hope you know that. :D

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  50. I love your perception of life. You are positive and upbeat. I'm happy that your enjoying your life and have found someone to share that happiness with.

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  51. You are an absolute beauty! A stunner. And if I was to choose your most gorgeous feature I would say it is your eyes. Just gorgeous!!

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  52. Sant Ritz's charming address offers a world of opportunities for your little ones in the future.the interlace condo

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  53. i'm crying! This is so wonderfully inspiring and honest! xxx

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  54. Sorry that we so invasively questioned you about your eye when we were in school. We honestly didn't know better and can see now how we actually know nothing as teenagers.
    Even though we have left you with that impression of us, you have left us with much more of an impression than just 'the teacher with a glass eye'. You were our fiery art teacher whose passion for learning the history of art and artists was inspiring. It made us love and appreciate art and made us want to think - in terms of art, and about all things. To question and not just take things as they are. You were the coolest, and also the bitchiest ;) teacher but that just made you all the more relatable. You were the pretty art lover teacher we all wanted to be - with the hot husband (ha ha ha)

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Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, advice and solidarity.

xo em