Wednesday, April 18, 2018

My involvement in Melanoma Month this year

On my fourth anniversary of diagnosis of advanced melanoma skin cancer (which is this week), I am reflecting on my experience, and that of those around me.  Above all, I am grateful for all of the support I have received, and I am motivated to carry forward that feeling.  That is why I do what I do, in working for Save Your Skin Foundation.  

I have told you lots about Save Your Skin and how they have helped me - just check the label to the right of this blog. I have also told Save Your Skin lots about how you have helped me... my family and friends in Ontario, who really floated this boat in those couple years where the water was extremely rough.  

I love you both, and my girls love you both. And now, by some bizarre miracle, I have the chance to connect you - my family and friends, with my Save Your Skin family and friends.  May 10, in melanoma awareness month, in Toronto, we are having a party. :-)   A big, kickass party.

https://saveyourskinfoundationgivinghopegala2018.eventbrite.ca

If there is any way you may be interested in helping to support this event (that I am seriously devoted to) (for many reasons that I have already explained on this blog) (many times), I would love it.  Claire and Cass would love it, my co-workers would love it, and all of the patients we represent would love it.  

Tickets include delicious catering, yummy cocktails, a super fun night with a silent auction and entertainment, lots of hugs, and a sprinkling of updates on how awesome it is to be sun safe and melanoma patient supportive.  We're even launching a big project we've been working on, a lovely video of some patient friends who represent the work we do at Save Your Skin Foundation.  

Here is the link to the Eventbrite information page, for more details or to buy tickets: 

If you can't make it, I understand, but if there is anything you can or want to do to support the event, and you know I never ask for donations.. but if you wish to, you could do so here: 

Thank you 



 


 




Friday, March 30, 2018

Queen's Park 2.0

Again this week I had the opportunity to visit Queen's Park, a little more than two years since the first time the girls and I were invited by Save Your Skin Foundation to attend a reception and presentation on the landscape of melanoma treatment in Canada. 


In fact I was there twice this week, once to meet with our very own Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker, and a second time to attend a breakfast event to inform on the topic of immuno-oncology in cancer treatment.  One of the big parts of my cancer story is that I was lucky enough to receive immunotherapy treatments in the adjuvant setting, following my stage IIIb nodular melanoma diagnosis in April 2014.  I am a special snowflake in this regard, as I received it by clinical trial, when it wasn't (and still isn't) available in Ontario - or Canada.  It quite possibly saved my life; with each month that passes I celebrate that I am getting that much more time than I was first given when diagnosed.  

Anyway, in the name of sharing the importance of a story like mine in order to to give hope to others, and to advocate for better access to these life-saving treatments, I was invited this week to represent Save Your Skin at the "Queen's Park Advocacy Days" in Toronto.  This event was coordinated and hosted by Canadian Cancer Survivor Network (CCSN), and included a series of advocacy meetings with MPPs and other provincial government advisors and representatives, to discuss the importance of timely access to the cancer treatments that Ontario patients need.  

CCSN is a patient organization based in Ottawa, which works on behalf of all cancer indications, recognizing the value of immunotherapy treatments in various types of cancer such as lung cancer, some types of lymphoma and myeloma, and even bladder cancer.  Melanoma is the poster child for research in immunotherapy, as it was among the first to respond to this type of treatment, one that uses the body's own immune system to fight cancer cells.  

CCSN President Jackie Manthorne delivered heart-warming opening remarks at the breakfast event, and then we heard from an Ottawa-based Oncologist as to how immunotherapy works and what benefit it holds for treatment of lung cancer, as well as Sudbury MPP France GĂ©linas who commented on the need for improvement in the Ontario healthcare system, and the importance of the patient voice in our drug approval process across Canada. 

It was my first time seeing Jackie speak, since I first "met" CCSN online in 2016, and she did a great job of addressing the patient advocates in the room, as well as the government folks who took the time to attend the event.  Any opportunity to connect patients with decision-makers is a great one.  I was pleased to represent Save Your Skin Foundation as a friend of CCSN, and enjoyed seeing my colleagues from fellow patient groups such as Lung Cancer Canada, Myeloma Canada, and Lymphoma Canada.  We often work together in this field and join voices at events such as these.  

Another group we have crossed paths with in the past is Bladder Cancer Canada, and I had the pleasure of chatting with one of their representatives this week at both meetings.  Bladder cancer survivor and incoming Chair of their Board Ferg Devins, a communications strategist in Toronto, was my advocate-buddy in meeting with Bill Walker, and an experienced navigator of the many hallways and entrances/exits of the "pink palace" that is the Queen's Park main building.  We had a productive discussion about cancer care in Ontario with Bill, and I expect we will collaborate again in future. Shout-out to Ferg - and thanks to Bill Walker for generously offering for us to use his parking spot yesterday! (super huge help for this non-city girl trying to find a parking spot anywhere in downtown Toronto agh! - and a nice bonus for those of us who wear stylish high heels to meetings ;-) 

I also had the honour of bringing my daughter Cass with me, so she saw first-hand what I work on in my job every day.  She was pleased to realize she understood what everyone was talking about, and she even had a nice conversation with a curious MPP who asked her what it was like being the caregiver of a cancer patient who received "this immunotherapy stuff."  
She had expressed some nervousness on the way to the event, worried that she might not know what to say if anyone asked her a question, but I assured her she would be great, as she has first-hand experience with the topic at hand... and sure enough she was a fantastic spokesperson!  And who knows, she may have touched a nerve with the gentleman she spoke to, and he may have left the meeting with just that little bit more insight into the reason for the event and the need for government to understand and work to improve. 


After the immunotherapy information session we were invited to attend Question Period!  Thanks to CCSN and to Bill Walker MPP, Cass and I, along with my colleague Louise Binder, Health Policy Consultant (Toronto) with Save Your Skin, were introduced in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.  It was awesome to hear our names and that of Save Your Skin Foundation go on record in Ontario, an experience I was happy to relay to my boss and friend Kathy Barnard, President & Founder of this Vancouver-based group. Save Your Skin Foundation is a national not-for-profit patient organization, and we were all thrilled to be recognized in Ontario.  We support patients across the country, and have many friends in Ontario, so it was a sweet moment to make it official.

Was interesting to witness Question Period too, especially the day after the budget dropped - woo hoo lots of clapping and table-banging theatrics between party representatives! You can view archives of the Question Period HERE. Of course we couldn't take any photos inside the chambers, but at that link you can see what we saw.  Cass and I concur it was worth leaving Meaford at 4am to travel to!   
I also got a look at the new Minister of Health and Long-Term Care for Ontario, so I can picture who I will be addressing in an upcoming letter about melanoma patients' needs in immunotherapy treatment.  :-) 


A few more pics from the day, enjoy...









Oh and as we were walking around the outside of the building too, and I was oooh-ing and ahhh-ing about the architecture and lamenting the history of this building, Cass sweetly breezed past me unconcerned, and with a flip of her hand said "MOM... please remember I just travelled to EUROPE!"  LMAO - point made.  This is not Gaudi.  But I do appreciate the history of our local capital.  Huff.  ;-)


PS - the kid did have a great trip to Italy and Spain, we all survived. LOL  I am proud of her for putting herself far outside her comfort zone and achieving that trip (and daily gelato tastings!)  And I am proud of her twin, for holding her own while her sister was away, and for going to school yesterday while Cass and I went to the city.  Claire - I will ask Mr. Walker for another opportunity to visit Queen's Park, so you too can see the spectacle that can be our government in action.   Love you both!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Patient First

I woke up this morning to an email from youTube that my favourite account had posted a new video.  Naturally, I clicked on it, watched the video. Then I snuggled back down, and spent an hour lying there watching more and more (great job youTube, just as you intended!).  As I lay there daydreaming about my favourite car, I thought about how I have had little time to write on my blog anymore.  I rarely have a quiet Saturday morning to myself anymore, and I rarely put money into the savings account that is to fund the lifestyle which is portrayed in my video-watching guilty pleasure this morning.  But today I was brought back into the room, so to speak.  



Hearing the rumble of the subject in the video reminded me of why my blog is named what it is - and thinking of blogging reminded me of why I started in the first place.  

I am a patient, first.  I am a writer, patient advocate, and now full-time Managing Director of a fabulous Canadian skin cancer patient support organization, but I am a patient first.  Almost four years ago I was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, and I remain at high risk for recurrence of the disease. That will never change.  In the time that I am here I feel it is my responsibility to talk about this, share it, help others the way I have been helped.  

But there is also a natural progression that comes with all of that. I am learning so much about the disease, and about the landscape of treatment access (or lack thereof) in Canada, that I sometimes find it difficult to separate my work from my personal, especially in a public forum such as this blog on the big ole' world wide web.  I don't want to become one of those advocates that becomes just another name in the melanoma world that can't relate to those who are newly diagnosed.  

I am now farther along in my journey and one would have to use the tags to the right side of this screen to go back to see all of what my family and I went through.  Not many people want to do that, which is okay, it's there if they change their minds, but I still want to stay relevant, let others know they are not alone.  

Though I am now working in the field and traveling a bunch to further this work for Canadian patients like me, and haven't had time to write about it as much, I am still dealing with the every day challenges of being an advanced melanoma patient.  
I still parent my kids 24-7, I still have CT scans (and Scanxiety!) every six months, I still have bloodwork every six weeks to monitor my health (because I have proven inconsistent in taking my prescribed meds and supplements - tisk!), I still have the very valid fear that the next mole or bump or swollen lymph node could land me back on the surgeon's table, and I still really fear the possibility that I won't get treatment if I need it, because my government doesn't deem it (but I digress..). 

I follow several well-known melanoma advocates and bloggers around the world that were a huge support to me personally; we went through a lot "together," they helped me so much (though they are not aware of me LOL).  Actually in October in Australia after one session I was on Twitter and realized that I had been sitting LITERALLY two seats behind one of my fave Aussie bloggers!! I missed my chance to meet her but we did have a brief Twitter conversation afterward, where I could adequately fan-girl over her presence in the room I had been in. Yah, you remember me Naked Gardiner, I know you do. ;-)

But sometimes I read their articles and feel they are harder to reach than normal people, normal patients.  These blog celebrities shared their painful experiences, their challenges and their triumphs as they encountered them, as I have, but they have moved on to the higher-level advocacy that comes with the territory.  When I was first diagnosed I didn't understand those things, and I felt they weren't entirely accessible.  
Now I do understand those things, and I want to remain accessible. That's part of why I don't post as much as I used to, the stuff I talk about on the advocacy front is perhaps more applicable to those who seek out an organization like Save Your Skin, not necessarily "regular people" like myself, who are simply melanoma patients.  But I still am that regular person, and I still want to speak to melanoma patients.  Give hope.  You too can survive.

Recently I have been in the situation where my blog has come up, and I have told my story, and shared tears with the new friends I made in that conversation, and I remembered that this is where it all started.  My blog to keep friends and family updated, turned place to vent my whiny fears and frustrations, turned dream career, is still the mainstay of my goals for my future and that of my kiddos.  

I still want to move to Italy and live in my Maserati. Just saying.  (and my boss says no problem - I can work from there just as well!)

But in the meantime, I will stay here, get the girls through high school in the town they have lived all their lives, and continue my work in the Canadian melanoma space, as an advocate, as a patient.  

Actually there are a couple of opportunities on the horizon where I will be sharing my story in a public space again.  Both happen to be in Montreal (poor me, I know, having to randomly fly to this lovely city); one is a speaking engagement in which I will share my story with a room full of pharmaceutical industry representatives (who are wonderful people by the way - don't let the tree-huggers make you think they are the evil in the world) (THEY saved my life).  
The other is a filmed interview for a website that was launched in 2016 in conjunction with our patient project "Melanoma Through My Lens."  More to come on these, I will be facebooking them etc. as well as sharing them through the Save Your Skin Foundation website - shameless plug - on which I spend a lot of time writing and updating. 

In the meantime I'll be working on our report from attending the Canadian Melanoma Conference in Banff last weekend.  Since I have heard that there is such a thing, I have wanted to go, so that was a very cool experience.  I was fortunate to meet in person many of the Oncologists from around the world that we work with on a regular basis, plus, from Sunnybrook, my very own Medical Oncologist AND my Surgical Oncologist (who I haven't seen in a couple years!) were there and presenting on the agenda.  It was an unspeakable honour to be in the same room as all of these melanoma experts and to be able to bring back their teachings to our knowledge base. 



Was awesome too, to be having lunch with my Surgical Onc. and she recognized me, I certainly didn't expect her to.  I had spotted her name on the program and planned to stalk her at the conference teehee - She said she saw my name as an author on the scientific poster displayed at the conference and wondered if I was the same one as her patient - sure enough it is me. :-)  We had a nice chat to catch up.  

And yes we did just complete our poster, we are working to have it peer-reviewed, and possibly published at the Society for Melanoma Research Congress in October in Manchester UK.  I am making that a personal mission.  The poster is based on our patient survey results from last Fall, about the mental wellness of patients after a melanoma diagnosis.  Feel free to check it out here.  We are continuing work on this project so I'll keep you posted.  hehe  posted... on the poster... get it  ;-)    OK time for me to stop rambling and get to work on the report.  

http://saveyourskin.ca/updates-on-our-support-of-mental-wellness-after-melanoma-diagnosis/


Happy Saturday All, and thank you again for your interest and support (extra thanks if you have made it this far in yet another long blog post).  

For your viewing pleasure, here is a photo of my future Maserati.  Mine is the black one, although I haven't yet decided whether or not it will be a convertible... I'm leaning toward not, to help protect myself from gratuitous sun exposure (for which I used to be a glutton, hence the melanoma blog).  

https://www.maserati.com/maserati/international/en/models/granturismo




PS - Eleven years ago I spent a week in Florence, and next Tuesday my daughter is going there on a school trip.  Emotions are high in my house at the moment, as this is the first time the twins will be so far apart for so long.  And because I am jealous as hell. LOL  I want to go too waaaannhh 



Sunday, November 12, 2017

About that week I spent in Australia...

So this happened...


You know me well enough to know I don't usually post photos of myself, but... me with this little cutie is worth breaking my rule.  Flattering pic it is not (my hair reacts to sub-tropical climate humidity, I digress...) but lovely moment in my life captured on film, I must share.  I got to cuddle this little beauty for a few minutes.  Her name is Vinnie, and yes she does have sharp-ish claws so I was grateful for the advice to wear long sleeves.  She did not smell bad, contrary to popular belief, and she did not pee on me.  Her fur was incredibly soft - like a cross between chinchilla hair and sheeps' wool, if I could describe it that way... super soft and fine on the surface, but very deep and floofy, my hand sunk in a bit when petting her.  Totally worth the 20 extra AUD dollars at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, just outside of Brisbane, Australia.  :-D


I also got to feed kangaroos - like real live hopping huge kangaroos.  Many of them were lying around just chillin', and they preferred their food to be delivered by hand directly to muzzle, but they were cool to observe, and pet.  Unbelievable experience!  One large 'roo hopped right by me and it shook the earth a bit... they are clearly very powerful animals.  I also saw a platypus swimming around like a mad man, couldn't catch him on camera (bought the post card though!), and hung out with the cutest Tasmanian Devil I have ever seen.. Oh wait, that was the only Tasmanian Devil I have ever seen.  Australia's largest predatory mammal didn't look too predatory to me - until it yawned and I saw it's razor-sharp teeth large enough to notice in a quick glance.


Not even an intro for this blog LOL - just STRAIGHT to the Aussie animal experience! :-)  

To say this trip was a dream come true is an understatement, but I'll try to keep the gushing and gratitude talk to a minimum, just give you the scoops on the trip itself.  Many of my friends know that I have ALWAYS wanted to go to Australia, but I had taken it off my bucket list a few... oh at least three... years ago when I thought my life was over.  #cancer  

Another time, I will write more about the reason for the trip itself, my attendance at the World Congress of Melanoma, and the Global Coalition for Melanoma Patient Advocacy annual meeting, but for the purpose of this blog I will share the personal stuff and highlights of photos.  For those of you who know me on facebook or instagram you have already seen a couple of these.  


Blogger's Lounge at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.  
A TRUE blogger, I suppose, would have posted notes and photos as they were happening, but frankly, I was too busy with the conference to be able to do that, so... you'll have to trust me now that I am home, comfortably sharing my stories, reminiscing from my couch.  


My flights were largely uneventful, and not nearly as bad as some had warned, I highly recommend Qantas, totally great food and staff, and every consideration.  Individual movie screens make the flight pass quickly between naps (of which I had several) - I even watched Crocodile Dundee on my way to Australia!  Yes, I am a tourist.  

I flew through Los Angeles from Toronto, so after that first flight and the few hours connecting, my Qantas flight to Brisbane finally took off around 4am Toronto time, so I was pretty beat.  I fell asleep for a couple hours immediately after take-off.  Funny part of this is that I woke up at one point, looked out my window, and saw lights below!  I was like - WHAT - did I just sleep 13 hours? No, couldn't be... but city lights? We're flying over the ocean!  I turned on my seat-TV thingy to the flight tracker and lo and behold, we were flying over Hawaii.  LOL!  I fell asleep again, pretty pleased with myself that I woke up just long enough to be able to say I saw Hawaii.  Amateur traveller I am not.  :-P



Got to Brisbane, uneventful trip through customs - I watch Border Security, so I certainly know what NOT to pack to Australia!  Made my way to a taxi to the city and, dead stop, cars and drivers of cars are on opposite side!  Enter my first tourist moment of the trip - taking pics to send the kids of the taxi driver driving to my right and our car careening around on the wrong side of the road!!  My first time, yes.  
My Aussie friends did warn me to look both ways before crossing any streets - like really - look the opposite way!  Which was helpful, and by the end of the week I did get used to it, though on day two I was almost taken out by a bicyclist.  Not for lack of signage though, it should be clear to any foreigner which side is which.  Even the roads and pathways are marked (they all walk on the opposite side too, which makes sense, I guess):


I did manage to take a few modes of transportation while in Brisbane, happy to say.  Taxi, uber, ferry, bus, bici-taxi, and I did walk a tonne.  The Conference Centre was on the opposite side of the river but not far from my hotel, so it gave me lots of chances to walk around and explore "South Bank."
 


Hotel was nice, and situated on the North Quay as it is called, a short walk to downtown and the Queen Street Mall, a pedestrian shopping/eateries area, totally safe for Canadians walking around oblivious of the side of the sidewalk.  I had a few meals there, and did most of my shopping there, got the touristy Aussie swag in the open-air shops all around, got a new plug adaptor as the one I brought from home conked out on the first night, hit the currency exchange booth, and brought the girls some treats from Lush Cosmetics LOL.  

 These birds, called Ibis, were everywhere! ---^

I tried lots of different foods, had the local "Moreton Bay Bugs" which are like large shrimp, but from the bay directly off the coast by the city of Brisbane.  The food in general was varied, all fresh, quite a bit of "fusion" food, Asian influence but also lots of English/British; it felt quite European to me.  Lots of staples like avocado toast with poached eggs, oh and grilled tomatoes with every breakfast

 Australian coffee speak: 
above-pictured espresso is called a "short black," 
a normal-sized coffee coffee is called "long black," 
and a "flat white" is a coffee-milk latte sort of thing but small.

(Aside - it is Spring in Brisbane now, so the temperature was pretty warm and humid. And rainy!  It rained every day that I was there, was cloudy most of the time, and that made great fodder for the presenters at the skin cancer conference.  After all, almost 2,000 people were gathered for four days in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, the "melanoma capital of the world" - and none of us were in danger of getting any sun all week.  Many jokes were made over that, but it also gave me a great excuse to buy a local umbrella haha - why would I have brought one with me to a sub-tropical climate?  Silly traveller, always pack your umbrella, just saying)

(Chocolate Lab photo bomb- I just took this pic at home today, 
I was too busy using this umbrella in Australia to take pics of it then LOL)

Back to the food - yum, I love to explore local food when traveling.  In addition to the British pub fare and fresh sushi and Thai, I found an Italian restaurant making Napoli pizza, YUM.  Mine had buffala mozzarella and braised beef cheeks - and a glass or two of local Shiraz on the side.  for a long time my favourite wine at home has been Aussie Shiraz, I just like it.  It's a bit spicy, and the weight of it is perfect for me, not watery bland like a Zinfandel or heavy like a Cab, but right in the middle.  Going into the trip I made the mistake of thinking I would be able to enjoy lots of Shiraz while in the land down under, but it's not like traveling to a Caribbean country (or even the States) where the local booze is cheap and easy to bring home.  HA!  Not in Australia it's not! 

I drank the same wine in Aus that I buy at the LCBO here, but for the same price if not more.  In fact, I did manage to seek out one liquor store, and I did buy one bottle to bring home, but there was not a Shiraz for less than $28 AUD!  I was shocked; we pay half that for an everyday Aus Shiraz here.  I'm thinking maybe they send their cheapie stuff to Canada, and save the good stuff for in Australia  haha  


Most of the items I saw or purchased were very expensive actually, I would venture to say it was even more expensive than in Europe.  I'm not criticizing, it was just an experience I didn't expect.  The rate on currency wasn't bad, but the prices of things in restaurants and stores were quite high.  Oh and you don't leave tips at restaurants - Australian wages are quite a bit higher than ours, my friend told me that their minimum wage is $22-ish or something like that?  They are paid more, and valued more, from what I observed.  Which is nice.
  
One thing I did notice was cheaper there - passion fruit.  LOL  One day on my way to the conference there was a Farmer's Market setting up in Brisbane Square, so I got a few photos of what a tropical outdoor vendor market looks like.  Bags upon bags of passion fruit at one stall, and for only a few bucks!  Here we are hard-pressed to get passion fruit in the grocery store, and if we were to be able to, it would be about five dollars for one. 


One night after the conference sessions of the day I did manage to find a local grocery store.  YAY - one of my mandatory excursions when traveling.  At the direction of an interesting guy I met in the afternoon, who happens to be part of a macadamia nut farming family, I walked to the neighborhood "Woolies" or Woolworth's, to get some Vegemite, Timtams, and check out the fare.  I got a few things and a grocery bag, so now when grocery shopping around home I can casually pull out my Woolworths and Koala Sanctuary re-usable cloth bags and reminisce about my Australian grocery shopping.  Here is some of the stuff I bought (minus the TimTams, those did not last - apparently the "TimTam Slam" is a thing for a very delicious reason! The girls were very happily my official taste-testers):

Ahem yes, that is kangaroo jerky... I bought it for a friend. I did not eat any kangaroo meat while in Australia, though some of my colleagues did, as it was an option on the menu at one of the dinners we attended.  Apparently it is common to eat kangaroo meat there, and I am typically an adventurous eater in foreign countries, but this I just couldn't do.  They are too cute for me to eat.  (I'll spare you the details of the conversation I had with an Aussie on the topic, about the "cute" Bambi-deer (we consider pests) that Canadians are known to eat)

Speaking of the girls, they did a great job while I was away.  It was an emotional time for us, as that is the longest - and farthest apart! - we had ever been away from each other.  They were proud of me, and I was ambitious to go, but we were always on each others' minds and we were quite conscious of exactly how far apart we were.  Timezone-wise it worked out fairly well, as with my roam-like-home cell package from Rogers I was able to call home as much as I wanted for only $10/day, so the girls and I could talk anytime (except when I was flying of course). The 14-hour time difference worked with their school schedule, I was getting ready for bed when they were getting ready for school, and we could also talk when they got home from school in the afternoon, I was getting ready for work.
   

 (a few of my snapchat story pics keeping the kids posted on my whereabouts)

It helped that I didn't really sleep much, I suspect jet lag was minimized by adrenaline, and the incredible honour I felt for being invited to this event, plus my typical zest for exploration when I travel all caused me to check out everything I could from 6am to 10pm.  I knew I was one lucky SOB just to be standing on Australian soil, and I was going to make the most out of every moment I was there.

I feel I was able to cover a good portion of the city, though my photos aren't stellar for the most part due to the cloudy skies and my old/crappy phone camera.  I got a thorough feeling for Australia's "new-world city," Brisbane.  I went on the giant ferris wheel, put my feet in the sand on Streets Beach, sniffed the flowers all through the South Bank Parklands, and talked with everyone who would entertain conversation with me.  



Much of the city is open-air, restaurants and stores all wide open, but many many covered walkways or funky roof-type structures - all in the name of sun protection! That's truly what they are for, though I found them handy for rain protection the week I was there

 The Wheel of Brisbane
 City Hall Tower, downtown Brisbane


 Brisbane Square

Australian people are truly lovely.  I was impressed - Canadians have a reputation for being very polite - well in my experience, Aussies have us beat!  Sweet people, helpful, open, well-travelled, intelligent, and progressive.  I felt humbled but also very much at home, if that makes sense.  They were very welcoming, and proud of their heritage.  I was worried that Aussies might think me very touristy to be so ga-ga over the koalas and stuff, but no, they really seem to embrace it.  They are openly proud of their unique land and they seem genuinely happy to share their culture and specialties with visitors.  Lots of kangaroos and koala souvenirs all over, and koalas in every logo and crest around.  And so many Aussies I spoke with had either been to Canada or wanted to go.  Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal were all popularly named Canadian destinations for them, so I was happy to be able to reciprocate some patriotic descriptions of my country, especially since having been to each of those cities within the past year.  Yes, maybe now I'm bragging a bit.  ;-)  

Polymer bills like ours, and toonies and loonies but also a 20-cent coin!

I will wrap up with saying this trip was the most amazing experience.  It was the trip of a lifetime, and I am so very grateful to have had it.  I got to work in one of the most unique places in the world, on a topic that is very close to my heart.  I met many amazing people, and have made connections and friends that will last a lifetime-- shout out to my new friend Di - looking forward to a home exchange vacation in your lovely home in Tasmania!!  (hope you find Meaford as exciting as I will find Tazzy hehe)  :-)

A few more random Aussie wildlife photos for you.... and a major THANK YOU going out to my life-saver in many ways, Save Your Skin Foundation: thank you for making this possible. Thank you to everyone also, who helped make this trip feasible for me, who helped check in on the girls - and the pooch! - while I was away, and who supported me in the emotional and psychological ways it took to get me across that big wide ocean and back in one piece.  Love you. 

There is a eucalyptus plantation on the sanctuary grounds, so they can feed all these koalas - they eat tonnes of the stuff!  Fun fact: eucalyptus has very low nutritional value so koalas sleep 18-20 hours per day to conserve energy.






 Saw lots of these!  ----^ 
 Sculptural art in the street



Oh and LOL.... more snapchat anecdotes that I sent to the kids....





I made every effort to support the Australian economy, including the purchase of a couple Didgeridoos (spelling negotiable?), and one boomerang:


 And flying out of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia: 


...and into Los Angeles... I saw the Hollywood sign from the plane: