How to Read a Label


Whilst lurking around in the Liberty cafe, earwigging at women chatting over green tea and gluten-free toast, or nonchalantly strolling up and down the cosmetics hall at Selfridges, I hear a moan escape from many a glossed lip: “I really want to buy non toxic beauty products but it does my head in trying to remember what to avoid.”  Continue reading


Writing to Heal

You don't have to be Bob Dylan to benefit from expressive writing

I am a writer by trade. When I was going through chemotherapy my friends urged me to write a blog. Write a blog? I thought, No way! – because A: it’s work, and B: who on earth would want to read a blog about somebody having cancer? Not me.

One day, en-route to the hospital and bedecked with headscarf, chandelier earrings, red lipstick and dark glasses, I stepped into my friend Jamie’s car to be greeted with his remark, ‘You’re really working the chemo chic look today girl.’ And that was it – a blog was born: Chemo Chic – A Guide to Surviving Cancer With Style. And then a book: The Elegant Art of Falling Apart. And then this website: The Chemo Chic Project.

All the way through my illness I wrote and wrote. On occasions it was difficult to describe the ghastliness of the chemo, the tediousness of the radiotherapy and the fear and desolation that I sometimes experienced. Other times it was pure joy to write about the silliness of encounters with my doctors, the kindness of the nurses and the love that landed on me in unexpected ways from all of my friends. No matter what I wrote about, after writing I always felt better.

My instinct was, and is, that writing is good for you but there is more to this than just my fancy.American psychologist Dr James Pennebaker did the first research in this area as long ago as 1986 and since then hundreds of studies have been carried out (if you are academically inclined you may read some of them here). The majority of studies have confirmed that writing about emotional trauma Continue reading

Things I Wish I’d Known Before #3 – How to evaluate complementary therapies

Angelina Jolie - anyone can be affected by breast cancer

Debate rages on the internet following Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she has had a preventative double-mastectomy. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion. But where does this leave the person who really matters – the patient?

When serious illness strikes, we search for cures. It’s a perfectly sane reaction to a life-threatening situation. In fact, it may feel almost irresponsible not to do so. Unfortunately there are some people ready and willing to exploit our fear and desperation, whether it be for profit or personal aggrandisement. Others have more philanthropic motives but may be strongly influenced by their own personal belief system.

Then we must contend with our friends – and their friends. Everybody knows somebody whose aunty’s husband’s cousin was ‘cured’ by eating apricot pips or drinking twig tea. Try not to get irritable with them. It’s their way of letting you know that they don’t want you to die.

The problem is that there is just so much information and advice swirling around on the internet. There are websites devoted to promoting the healing properties of flax oil, herbal extracts, mistletoe and bicarbonate of soda. And there are websites that are vehement in their damnation of all complementary therapies without exception.

For the patient, this situation is not helped by the fact that the conventional and complementary professions Continue reading

The Elegant Art of Falling Apart – An Excerpt

  The Elegant Art of Falling Apart cover

7.03.1961 – 17.10.2008


How does one judge one’s life: success or failure?

I remember an old story …

Bad news: a man was trapped in a burning building. Good news: he jumped out the window. Bad news: the window was on the fourth floor. Good news: there was a haystack beneath him. Bad news: there was a pitchfork in the haystack. Good news: he missed the pitchfork. Bad news: he missed the haystack …

I never could get the point of that story when I was at school. Now I totally get it. Our perspective on life just depends on where we start and end the story. Pick a day. Pick a moment.


My default position had always been: ‘I can manage on my own. I don’t need anybody.’ It’s not true. I am convinced that I would not have made it through the ordeals of the past two years without an enormous amount of support and help from family, friends and strangers. From the outset I had the advantage of a long history of attending self-help groups. My friends and my family supported me all the way through. But I still had to learn a lot about asking for and accepting help.

I have written this book in the hope that sharing my experience will go some way towards demystifying some of the horribly frightening and confusing moments that you may be experiencing if you or somebody you love is going through cancer or a similar traumatic event. It is not my intention to give medical advice or opinions. There are many excellent and informative books and websites, as well as numerous crazy ones, dedicated to saving your life. This book is about saving your sanity.

Some names have been changed.




On a sultry Sydney evening I step hesitantly through a new doorway. My eyes scan a room filled with strangers as my heart does a quick calculation: Which vacant chair to occupy? Where will I feel involved yet not exposed? Safe but not isolated?

Sit in the middle of a block of empty seats? Too aloof. Sit next to the hard-faced blonde? Scary. The sweaty guy with darting eyes? Just no. The mousy girl nervously sipping tea? She may want to buddy up with me.

The cute guy contemplating his feet?

I sit down next to him.

Continue reading

Things I Wish I’d Known Before #2: How to Break Bad News

I found that telling my friends and family, especially my mother, that I had cancer was way harder than receiving the news myself. I was so concerned about upsetting them – or crying myself – that I often ended up putting a jokey spin on things or being utterly deadpan.

There is no easy way to do this…

How not to break bad news: “Guess what?”, “Ummm, you’ve won the lottery?”, “No! Guess again…”

Continue reading

Top Chemo Glamour Tips

At first, you may feel that you want to decline every social invitation. And that is perfectly fine. You are ill and you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to.

Cancer really knocked my confidence. I shied away from groups of people, particularly people that I didn’t know. At first I was nervous to go out. Would my turban slip off in the middle of dinner? Would people snigger at my wig? Would I suddenly throw up all over Continue reading


pink ribbon

October sweeps in on a wave of insanely glorious sunshine and a tsunami of bonkers pink ribbon promotions.

If you were reading Chemo Chic this time last year, you will know that I am all in favour of raising money for breast cancer charities and being generally aware of the signs of BC to look out for. But some of the ways that companies latch onto this particular good cause to push their products is suspect, bordering on outright exploitative.  Continue reading