Anna Donald starts unpacking

Anna DonaldWe moved. We are now living between piles of boxes and unpacked, random items: spoons; piles of sports socks; a wooden statue made from a tree in Oxford; the iron; a huge Herend teapot.

The first day was totally chaotic. It took me an hour to get dressed. I put on my socks. Then realised I had no idea where a shirt, trousers, or indeed any useful item of clothing might be. I hopped about the boxes and suitcases, freezing cold (it is mid-winter here), trying to locate anything wearable. Stuffed toys, ink cartridges, garbage bags and sleeping bags (all of which I managed to find before I found a shirt) didn’t count.

I finally managed to assemble a hodge-podge of tops and bottoms, which I camouflaged with a large coat. I was late for an appointment with the pathetic and true excuse that I couldn’t find my shoes, which my strange attire at least made credible.

Anyway, we’re installed, sort of, and can start to settle down in our new home. The apartment was built in the 1930s and has a late Deco feel with a touch of Arts and Crafts. It has immensely high ceilings (not helping the freezing-to-death situation), pretty architraves, rather whimsical etched and stain glass features all over the place, and wooden carvings in the stairway plinths outside. In short, it’s pretty, a bit creaky, and needs a lot of heating up. We like it, even though my husband and I are in the middle of World War III about a) where and what to hang on the numerous big walls b) how to arrange our 1500+ books and c) what to throw out.

My husband has a drawer of cricket balls, whiskey shot containers, sealing wax and the like, none of which he uses or even looks at, but which is a sort of shrine to boyhood or manhood (not sure which). I know I’ve got Buckley’s chance of getting him to throw out any of those items, but maybe I can get some movement on his great aunt’s first attempt at oil painting of an undiscernible floral object.

Not that I can talk. I have somehow managed to collect four containers of Mr Sheen (a product we don’t use), an unbelievable number of white tights (a colour I never wear) and my grandmother’s horrendous Royal Doulton tea-set: cream with pink orchids and a black rim, because some semi-royal person had died that year. My mother managed to land it on me by sending it without my consent to England. I stupidly shipped it back (meaning it has circumnavigated the globe twice in its lifetime) and now have no idea what to do with it. Absolutely no one wants it and I don’t quite have the heart to throw it away.

The books are a bigger problem. We both love books and have far too many of them. But we have different ideas about what they represent and therefore how to manage them. My mother was a university librarian with a robust approach to purchasing, storing, and culling books. I think I imbibed her attitude. I can’t wait for the day when I can store, read, and organise my entire collection on an electronic device, like Amazon’s Kindle (only available in the US at the moment), and ditch the hard copies (with a few notable exceptions, like the Winnie the Pooh my parents bought the day I was born).

My husband, on the other hand, likes to have and to hold the books as precious objects. For him, they are more than just stories but totems: symbolic objects signifying intellectual endeavour and understanding of the human condition. So when I want to throw out the admittedly worthy paperbacks that a) we’ll never read again b) cost 50p second-hand and c) can be loaned from every library in Sydney, I am tearing him from the source of his being. Hence World War III. I know I should be more compassionate. I am doing my best to struggle with my inner librarian.

Another obstacle of sorts is the oral chemotherapy I’m taking. It has two anti-house-moving features. The worst, as with most forms of chemotherapy, is an insidious fatigue. It means that if you unpack boxes for a full (ie normal) day, you are completely shattered and need to sleep until midday the next day. In other words, there is no chance of whizzing through the boxes and getting things unpacked quickly. There is no chance of whizzing through anything.

The second is its drying and cracking the tips of your fingers and toes. At present, the toes aren’t a problem. But the cuts in my fingers make touching anything surprisingly painful. (It brought to mind those rather gross medical maps of the body according to nerve-ending density, portraying homunculi with enormous tongues, genitals and finger tips.) To make matters slightly worse, the cuts in my fingers keep opening up and bleeding on whatever I’m handling. This is annoying, as little streaks of blood are a pest to remove and I’ve already stained several documents and books. So far, diclofenac cream and a stream of small bandages have helped but not eliminated the problem. I tried wearing a clear rubber, medical glove on my right hand. Which worked quite well until some friends came over when I forgot I was still wearing it. It wasn’t a good look.

My geriatric speed means that it’ll be weeks before we can get dressed, make dinner, or welcome guests without omitting something critical. But we’re delighted to have a home at last. And to having such lovely encouragement from all quarters, including readers of this blog.

Anna Donald Blog 13, 27 July 2008

  • Tom

    HOOORAY! I’m so happy for you two.
    For Gawd’s sake hire someone to unpack for you, and you can direct them. A student or similar. It’ll save your sanity and your poor cracking fingers.

  • Karen

    Anna – Hearty, hearty congrats. What a feat. Well done. ANd how amazing that you found the energy to blog. Totally agree with Tom: anything about moving that can be contracted out whilst you retain control is an absolute must. Will try and call you on your old phone number this weekend if you are up to it. love k x

  • Cat Sparks

    Urgh. I hate moving. I will never move house again — I’m planning to go straight to the old folks home from here, or else be buried in the garden. Rob still hasn’t unpacked all his boxes of crap from when we moved in here 6 years ago.

    I do like the sound of that ‘orrible black rimmed tea set. You must show it to me when I next visit.


  • Dear Anna

    Congratulations! May the new home bring lots of happiness, good health and love. I can’t wait to see the photos.

    Totally agree with Tom that if you can hire help, that’s the best option. Wish I was there to help you!

    Much love,

  • justin

    Congratulations on the move.
    And you are a tough lady to talk about culling a book without shedding a tear – some of my best friends are dog- eared Janet and John “readers”, which my wife keeps making unprovoked attacks on every few years!! I have developed insomnia over being on constant guard against the removal of one of my seven copies of 5 go off in a boat (Titanic chapter)together.
    Much love and Joy for both of you in your new home.

    Justin (from the tribe of J)

  • Anna Donald

    Justin – I would not be parted with my Janet and John readers if I still had them. We also had Peter and Jane ones. Ditto. And my Ant and Bee books – still in good condition chez my mother – are apparently worth a small fortune. Not to mention Zeralda’s Ogre, The Nutshell Library, the Heath Robinson collections. I might be tough but I’m not a sadist 🙂 Anna

  • Dr.Viveck Atheya

    Dear Anna ,
    Now I know that you will be able to defeat your enemy,without any doubt.Keep it up.You are a tough one-there.
    Viveck Atheya

  • Emily

    Thank you for your inspiring choices Anna – there are many who will follow the path you have illuminated with your compassionate response to this cancer. What an extraordinary paradigm shift in a culture so filled with fear. I salute you and send you love and many joyful blessings for your journey. With gratitude, Emily.

  • Hi Anna,
    I have just printed my book So you think medicine is modren? Just read your story in good weekend. I think you will like the book I have acopy for you.

    Eddie Price

  • Lyn

    Hi Anna, I read your story today in the ‘Good Weekend’. I found it very interesting and inspiring. I was particularly interested to read that you have been using EFT and meditation as part of your regime. I was also very interested to hear of your experiences of energy. I have found both techniques invaluable in managing stress and in moving forward emotionally and spiritually. I feel energy very strongly when I meditate and to a lesser extent when I do EFT.
    I would love to chat to you about it further if you are interested and have the time.

    In any case all the very best. I’ll include you in my prayers, God bless!

  • Warren

    You inpire me Anna and make me want to live a better life as one who escaped death because of the wonders of modern medicine. One question: what point is there in suffering and through it developing character if there is nowhere and nothing beyond this world to exercise this character? Without eternity, it all just takes years from the few we are alloted. For most of us the worst suffering occurs prior to death when we are in no position to benifit from the lessons we may have learned.

  • Kate (Landers) Penrose

    Hello Anna, I came across your name and face today in the SMH. Although I haven’t seen you since we were young anxious teenagers I remember you with great fondness. Don’t know if you remember me… but I remember you most from our times in Kangaroo Valley, which made such a big impression on me. And of course school too. Anyway, although it is sad to read you are struggling with cancer, it is also wonderful to read that your life has been happy and full. And also wonderful that even the tragedy of cancer can be a gift which brings new depth and insight to living. Wonderful to read the article about you, and your blogs. It is indeed so very true that all that we have is ourselves and the present moment. Thanks for sharing some of those moments and insights. Katie Landers

  • Diane

    Dear Anna,
    I met you at the Sydney EFT workshop last October and have wanted to keep in touch but haven’t known your address. I was talking to Maggie Adkins last month and she also wants to know how you’re travelling. I have just read the article in GW, through which I found your blog, and also read it to my medical student daughter, who you may remember me speaking of. (Her response was ‘Hmm.’) Thank you for your continued inspiration!
    P.S. I remembered you looking beautiful without hair; the final photo in GW confirms it.

  • Anna

    The blog, the Good Weekend story and just your presence have bouyed and delighted me.

    I work for a Buddhist-run hospice service in Brisbane and would (a) like to link to the blog from our website and (b) like to chat with you more about how we could do more together.

    We are moving from just providing free in-home hospice care (although I cringe at the word “just” in that sentence) to providing community education on issues surrounding grief and loss, death and dying, resilience and much more.

    Please feel free to respond through my email address.

    I look forward to chatting more when you can.

    Thank you … for you!


  • michelle

    i found your blog via the story in this week’s herald, which was both confirming and inspiring. i couldn’t help but notice many shared situations and i really just want to send you all my love and support.
    secondly i wanted to tune you into paw paw cream by lucas.
    you can find it many chemists these days but it will always be on hand at the health food shop. try to get to the new blend in a black tube which has the tissue healing wonder herb calendula (aka marigold) in it. It works wonders on splits and cracks and cuts and scratches of the skin so i’m sure it will work even on drug induced cracking.

    all the best


  • Inez

    I read the GoodWeekend yesterday, and felt I have received a great gift from reading your interview three times already. Now I am browsing your blog and find this is another gift, another light of what now part of my life. Looking how great you are with all aspects of your life, I feel inferior to leave a reply to your post. But .. heyyy, nothing to loose, I feel that I want to celebrate my finding of your existence, so I write this.
    Although I feel that I am just a speck of dust compared to you with your CV (I am an overseas GP living in Australia with Australian postgraduate degrees in population health but working as a middle level bureaucrat in a state dept of health), but I feel I experience a similar situation with trying to find the ‘answer beyond the scientific concepts that I’ve ever known’. At the very very much lower scale compared to what you’re doing, expressing and experiencing, I have been struggling to find out where and how should I refer myself to in facing my fears.

    I was diagnosed with early breast cancer in Sept 2006. The experience as a cancer patient having surgery, chemo and then now the fear of having it back has thrown me to (at first) a roller coaster anxiety and hectic effort to find information and (now)a continuing wonders and effort of how and where to I can explore (within all my constraints) the alternative ways to beat the cancer from coming back. A very difficult part was when I realised that I had no answer to comfort me from reading lots of research articles from medical journals, partly because of my limited knowledge, as well as, hopelessness of being in the patient’s journey with the fact that my great doctors cannot provide me with what I need in the spiritual ways including recognising my specific situation as a cancer patient with a background of western medical & research training as well as culturally non-English speaking. I’ve been reading books re body and mind – such as Deepak Chopra’s – learning meditation (& more yoga, having acupunture and massage and taking herbal medicines as prescribed by a naturopath (although the last two were part of my culture where I grew up – and I ignored these before cancer). With the help of my husband (with his background as an academic/researcher in soc sci etc etc) and my oncology-psychiatrist, I am engaged in a series of sessions in order to find my inner self – I am hoping to find anger and grieves stored in my cells and free them. As I feel that I often ‘hit the walls’ due to my inability to express my questions and confusions – I am so happy to find your writings.

    Your extremely eloquent writing and sharing is generously giving me a light and hope, make me feel I am not alone in this journey. I really hope someday there is a miracle that I can be in contact with you personally. Thank you for being available to be a hero for an individual like me.

  • Cherry

    Hi Anna,

    I met you and your husband at Ian Gowler’s seminar last May (or was it early June, I’m not good with dates) in Sydney. I was the lady whose husband died from bladder cancer.

    I read the article on you in the GW magazine last Saturday. You’re a truly awesome person. I felt honoured to have spoken to both you and you husband Michael.

    I’m not sure that this is the right place to give you this info but this is the only way I know to reach you.
    I attended a healing mass by a priest called Father Suarez which you may be interested. If you are he has a few more sessions around Sydney, 19th of Aug at 6:30 pm at All Saints’ Parish in Liverpool, 20th of Aug at 6:30 pm St Joseph’s church in Rozelle, 21st Aug at 6:30 pm at St Brigid’s in Marrickville also at 6:30. For more info on this priest and his healing power you can check this website

    Keep up the fight, your fight is our fight and your win is our win.

    My best wishes to you both,

  • Dear Anna, Read the article in the SMH. I too approached the cancer experience from a conscious perspective and surprise, surprise, am still alive 4 years later! Feel better than I ever thought possible and find joy in the ordinary experiences of living daily life.
    All the best to you, Vivian Waddell, PhD

  • Annie Bohun

    Darling Anna,

    I just read about you in the good weekend; just so typical of you,you generous gorgeous brave lady. I still have photos of us at one of the Union Christmas parties, remember them (and remember me?) Seems like yesterday you rang Marian D’s office and announced that you’d won the Rhodes scholarship, so glad I answered the phone. I think of you often, Anna and will have you constantly in my prayers now. Would love to see you if possible. Just keep doing all you can to beat this bugger.

    Lots and lots of love

    Annie Suttor (was Bohun)

  • Jo Smith (now Jouin)

    Dear Anna,
    Just thought I’d send you all my loving wishes. We missed you at the school reunion, and had no idea you were so sick until recently when I was having an all NSGHS lunch at home (a cheer up for Sarah Wilson) with Kylie Turner, Cris Giacomini, Sarah Franks, Karin Bishop, and Michelle Huntsmann (a rare occurrence!). Didn’t realise you were back from London until Beth Pickworth called to tell me about the Good Weekend. I was away and Mum had already put it aside (she remembers you too…) Anyway you were always gorgeous and have often wondered what you were up to. Would love to see you. Anything I can do to help? I give a mean foot rub. In Sydney, not far, love to see you. Think the last time I saw you was in about 2nd year uni. Could never catch you, you were always running around on a mission. You have never ceased to amaze me, and so you continue to do so.

    Lots of love,
    Jo Smith (I married a frog – went from Jo Smith to Joanna Jouin. Much better!)

  • Jane Lehmann

    Dear Anna,
    It’s Jane here – from our old East Balmain days. Peter’s brother just emailed me about your article in the Good Weekend and a link to this blog. We were just in Australia, and I am sorry we didn’t get to catch up (it was my first trip back for 2 years). I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2006 – had surgery, chemo, radiation. I’m so sorry we are both in this club – not one I would want anyone to join. I’d love to talk – can you email me your phone number.
    Love, Jane (and Peter)(

  • Paula Kelly (nee George)

    Dear Anna
    Imagine all the places your story finds its way to. My mum sent it to me in Singapore. Made me think back and I see I’m not the only one. Made me think about my life differently. I am sorry to hear of the huge challenge that you face down each day. I like the comment above about keep doing all you can to fight this bugger!
    I thought of how you were always doing maths homework in French class, English in maths and so on. You were so far ahead of us, even then. You had funny cool fountain pen type italics writing. Your hair was unruly – your eyebrows used to go so high. You wanted to raise money and baked an absurd number of carrot cakes. You were mucking around with ideas for a musical. I remember Woolcott. I think we went to a holiday house around Pittwater where I was horrified by a teapot that had been invaded by ants. If I say you were from another planet, it sounds like you were disconnected from people around you – you weren’t. But I think you had ideas that were far beyond what most of us were capable of. I remember you going to Bourges(?) and being jealous of that, but I don’t really remember much about when you came back. The piece said something about being disenchanted with your girls school and heading to Canberra. I guess I had my own troubles to deal with by then. For me, it was not a supportive or happy place to be.
    You are a rare and astonishing person. I mean in terms of the energy and passion that you bring to everything you do and you are always doing so much. I hope you are also gentle on yourself. Good luck. Like all those thousands of other people (yes, thousands) who wish you good health and whose lives you have touched, I say: Go you good thing!