One year after leukemia

It was a year ago today I was called into the doctor’s for the results of some routine blood tests. Tests that were only ordered because I saw a new doctor (for a routine script repeat) and she thought it was a good idea to see if anything could be seen to do with iron levels, hormones etc. Peri-menopausal womens troubles. I didn’t even mention my fatigue, I was so convinced it was just being a working Mum getting through a difficult winter of lots of colds. I didn’t even mention my back pain. Which seems crazy now, but at the time I thought I just needed a holiday, which was happening the next day.

Well the results put a sudden end to that. “This is not a diagnosis, but the labs believe there is no other explanation for these blood results than leukaemia. We will refer you to the Peter Maccallum Cancer Centre for immediate testing and a diagnosis. Try not to worry, this is not a diagnosis.”

Holiday cancelled. Extended family plans all changed (we missed one party that was going to be worked into our driving the next day, but went to another one to leave our daughters there while we sought answers). Carl and I staying in cheap accommodation in Melbourne with the unknown hanging over us like a death sentence. Even in everything that’s followed this past year, those first few days of the complete unknown were the longest and worst.

The day after the initial local doctor news, and basically today. I had no idea back then I looked so drawn.

Our plan was to be at the Peter Mac while the doctor sent the urgent referral through on the Monday. We figured if we were already there I could be seen, without the added delay of getting there from 2-3 hours drive away. Our local doctor was amazing. I called reception at the hospital and was told getting triaged would take a few days. The local doctor went direct to the haematology professors and somehow got me seen that afternoon. After an examination and review of the blood results I was booked in for a bone marrow biopsy the following morning, ordered to stay in the city and to call an ambulance if anything happened overnight. Errr, Ok. From that point we expected anything could suddenly happen.

That first doctor at the Peter Mac was matter of fact and reassuring. She told me it was likely either Chronic or Acute Myeloid Leukemia and that depending which, the treatment would either be as an outpatient or inpatient at the neighbouring Royal Melbourne hospital. She told me she would treat me as if I were her sister. And not to google! In the whirlwind of confusion over what was happening my brain felt like it was shutting down, but these words gave me a small sense of calm, and kept me off the internet!

The first bone marrow biopsy was scary but not as bad as they sound. Having a great big needle shoved into the back of your pelvis to suck marrow out from the centre of your bone doesn’t sound great, but there’s only a couple of seconds of intense pain that the local anaesthetic and green whistle don’t block out. And in the first of many small world moments, the doctor who performed it was a griend of a friend!

Within an hour I got a phone call with the news that they had a bed ready for me in 7B at the Royal Melbourne. OK, I guess that means it’s acute!

From that point the next few days were a blur. Telling people. Breaking the news to work and coming to terms with the fact that it would keep going on without me and my students would be fine. Trying to understand what was going on medically. Talking to the social worker and organising the financial side of things. Getting a Hickmann central line inserted into my chest for treatment and the daily blood tests. Working out how we would celebrate my youngest’s birthday.

The medical side was kept on a need to know basis, I think to avoid overwhelming us. As far as I knew, treatment was a month of IV chemotherapy then another bone marrow biopsy and we would see how I was and adjust the plan as needed after that. I was told the overall timeline was likely to be 3 months of treatment with 6 months off work. But at the same time, in the background, just in case it would be needed, they started the ball rolling on testing my brothers in case a bone marrow transplant were needed.

My consultant was the incredibly positive Dr Kate Burberry. She explained my disease was one that was curable (not all blood cancers are) and we were going for a cure. Not any sort of guarantee by a long shot, but enough to face each step positively and with hope.

I’m going to end this installment here and continue in further posts. It’s cathartic to get the story down, but it’s lengthy!

One year on and I’m still here and plan on being for a long time to come. I’m in remission, I’m home. I’m getting my strength back and doing things I love each day. I’m so grateful.

If you have any nagging niggly health symptoms, tell them to a doctor. Get blood tests. It may well be nothing, but then again it just might save your life. I have been incredibly lucky.

Wishing you love and health, Shell.

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It’s love – the simple shift dress for me

This is one of those simple shapes I have wanted in my wardrobe for a long time. I’ve tried a few but until now they’ve never been quite right for my unique body (we’ve all got one). The Esme tunic and top had popped up on my radar through many lovely versions on instagram but it wasn’t until seeing the book Everyday Style in person in a bookshop that I was swept up in Lotta’s styling and decided it was worth a try. Plus there’s quite a few other good-looking basic styles to explore.

The pattern

Esme tunic and top from Lotta Jansdotter’s book Everyday Style

Size made

Medium, graded to Large from waist down on the longer versions.

Fabric

Top – quilting cotton from the stash with a chambray back.

Tunic – Art Gallery Fabrics Voile

Dress – Outback Wife back cloth

The fit

As is my usual, I started with the smallest fabric-commitment to test the fit. I raided my girls’ clothes fabric tub to come up with a pink and chambray scrapbusting version. Pink has never been my colour but my post-treatment grey hair has freed me to experiment much more with colour. I’m actually craving all the colours at the moment.

Amazingly the top fit perfectly! I rattled about in indecision about the fit over my tummy, but the bust and shoulders were just right.

I eventually decided a bit more room across the tummy and hips might be good and graded out to a large for subsequent versions.

This is the tunic length from the pattern. It’s quite long as a tunic or short as a dress (I’m 178cm). I have worn it with leggings but felt a bit self-conscious, like I was out in my mini-dress! I love the drape in this voile and there’s no shoulder/bust wrinkles in this apparel fabric.

What I love

The perfect not too high, not too low, not too wide neckline. The finish of the stitched down neckline facing. The silhouette, fitted over the bust then flowing out over my pear shape.

In the cut on cap sleeve version there’s room for layering.

So next up was to try the cap sleeve in my precious Outback Wife fabric. I purchased the last 2.4m in this design from Darn Cheap Fabrics so my dress plans were a little limited. At first I tried to get a muslin of the Gertrude Made Simplicity 8294 to fit with the non-gathered skirt. However after some playing with this I realized even if I spent the time to make it fit, I wasn’t going to be happy with this more fitted style on myself. Time for my new-found basic shift style again!

I lengthened the dress by 5 inches and gave it a decent weighty hem.

Challenges

My biggest challenge was deciding to be happy with the fit. As in not obsessing over every wrinkle and going down a pattern tweaking path that messes with my joy in sewing, for very little difference in outcome. I think the different fabric weights of these three makes makes far more difference to the look than the usual pattern adjusting I try.

Will I make it again?

Yes! Expect iterations of these to become the basis of my wardrobe.

Each of these in turn has brought me increasing joy. I’m loving a simple shape to use with bright fabrics I love. I can’t wait to sew up more styles from this book and see if I have as much success with them.

Happy sewing,

Shell.

Chalk and Notch Fringe Dress and Top

Blog posts are piling up waiting for photos! I’ve had plenty of wear from my Fringe dress and top already, enjoying some warmer weather at the end of winter on our holiday to Port Macquarie and Sydney. As is my norm, I’m too busy enjoying life to get halfway decent photos to share. So today being my first bare-legged spring day at home I decided to grab the opportunity for pics while walking between errands in Shepparton, our nearest big town.

The pattern

The Fringe Dress and Top by Chalk and Notch

Size made

10

Fabric

Palm print rayon from Spotlight. It’s a black and cream leaf against a dark green background and I love it.

Fit

As it was the first time I’d sewn this pattern, I started by sewing a wearable muslin top using a thrifted broderie anglaise doona cover.

I loved the way it fit and only needed to lower the bust darts by an inch and waist by 1/2 an inch for my 178cm frame. Or so I thought…

On sewing up the dress with both adjustments I realised lowering the waistline automatically took care of the bust dart position. Details like this are things I’m sure I would used to realise but they’re beyond me until I actually experience them now. It’s no big deal, in drapy rayon the dress looks fine, but now I know to follow the original bust darts for next time. I also lengthened the skirt by 1 inch and am completely happy.

What I love

The shaped neckline is interesting but not too low. The bodice is comfy and loose yet fitted at the same time. The curved hem. Pockets….not much not to love really, I can see why the world went mad for this pattern!

Challenges

None. This was a really well written set of instructions that were fool proof for my chemo brain! It would be a great beginner pattern for someone who has a simple project or 2 under their belt.

Will I make it again?

Yes, this is my new favourite dress pattern. I resisted it for so long given its similar vibe to the Made by Rae Washi dress, but it turns out I do need this pattern in my life!

Have you ever resisted a pattern only to discover you love it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Happy sewing,

Shell.

Lounging around – True Bias Hudson Pants and Grainline Studio Penny Raglan Tee

The sewing roll continues. I really am very grateful for this recovery time. Being able to get in a walk and sew each day while the girls are at school is my dream life.

In this current relaxed life, I’ve worn out my much-loved Hudson pants and many of my t-shirts got trashed during hospital life. So new lounge clothes were needed.

The pattern

Grainline Studio Penny Raglan T-shirt

Size made

6

Fabric

Art Gallery Fabrics knit jersey.

Fit

There is a ton of design ease in this top, for fitted styles I usually make a 10 but in this style a 6 gives me heaps of ease without completely swamping me in fabric.

It’s also designed to be cropped, but I carry the majority of my 5ft 8 height in my lower torso from crotch to waist. I’ve added 5 inches at the lengthen/shorten lines.

What I love

Drapy, soft, raglan style t-shirt.

Happy with the neckline

Challenges

My big challenge with any t-shirt is to slow down and get the neckline and hems right! I did pretty well on this one, but the sleeve hems could be better.

Will I make it again?

Yes, this is my 4th so far, I’m sure there will be more.

The pattern

True Bias Hudson Pants

Size made

12

Fabric

Supplex-like charcoal marle knit from Sewsquirrel

Fit

I’ve added 2 inches to the leg length at the lengthen/shorten lines. For this pair I added 1/2 inch to the front and back rise and scooped out the back crotch curve up to 3/4 inch. I also added 1/4 inch to the length of the crotch curve at the back inner leg, so overall that curve has lengthened quite a bit. This has resulted in an even comfier pair of pants than my original Hudsons. I can squat in these without worrying about what I’m flashing!

What I love

This fabric feels amazing! So soft. Sewing it, feeling it pass through my fingers was a joy and wearing them is even better. These pants are a great quick make that don’t need any twin needling to achieve a good result, which I appreciate in a knit project.

Challenges

None. I omitted the drawstring as I don’t use it and don’t have the waistband on display.

Will I make it again?

Yes, as soon as I can get more fabric!

Do you have favourite tried and true patterns you come back to? What do you like to wear for staying at home?

Happy sewing,

Shell.

Elizabeth Zimmermann Knit-along Stripy Sweater

My knitting output has increased out of sight this past year. Amazing what you can get done hanging out in hospitals and resting around the house! It’s truly been a sanity saver.

All of my family have been putting in their beanie requests lately and I’ve made some other small items as gifts also so I’ve been busy with one project after another.

Amongst all this, a Knit-along on Kate of Fabrickated’s blog caught my eye. I follow Kate on instagram and her sweater collection is simply beautiful. Many are made following Elizabeth Zimmermann’s method and I was intrigued. How could you knit anything without a traditional pattern? After a short time of telling myself I had enough projects lined-up I stopped resisting and launched into catch-up mode, late starter that I was.

I made my sweater completely following the Knit-along posts on Fabrickated. I plan on buying Elizabeth Zimmermann’s book Knitting Without Tears where the whole approach is outlined, but that can wait until our finances are a little better. Yarn and fabric (and food!) are the priorities.

Kate has been very clear and generous with her instructions. I love that with this method you start with the yarn and needles you plan to use and calculate the stitches to cast on using your measurements. It results in a perfectly fitting sweater. If you check out the hashtag #ezraglankal on instagram you’ll see many unique sweaters all made following this process and all fitting their makers perfectly.

This stripy sweater is perfect for using scraps, but most of mine are worsted weight and I wanted a lighter weight jumper for cross-seasonal wear. I had half a ball of 2-tone Bendigo Woollen Mills wool in DK plus another small blue DK scrap, so I decided to coordinate these with some colours from the bamboo/wool Stellar line from Bendigo. This yarn is beautifully soft and light to work with. I hope it washes well as I really enjoyed it and love the colour range.

If you look closely you can see the stripe colour change points in front of my arm.

I learnt lots making this jumper. Joining yarns while knitting in the round to minimise the bump up of rows at the colour change, kitchener stitch to graft the underarms together and picking up my stitches from frogging it back! I’ve since learnt that I should have put a lifelife in to make that stressful process easier so that’s a future knitting goal!

I kept the simplest of necklines for this version, simply continuing in the round for a boat neck. Kate includes instructions for knitting short rows for alternate neck shaping which I will try in the future. Because yes, there will be (many) more.

Happy knitting,

Shell.

Sewaholic Minoru Jacket – unlined softshell version

Last year, before I knew I was ill, I planned a mini capsule of workout wear. To inspire me to exercise more to feel better!

The t-shirts and tanks got sewn up immediately. The leggings got done as soon as we returned home (they were waiting there, cut out). But I didn’t have a pattern in mind for the jacket. Nothing out there in the activewear sewing world was quite what I wanted. Then, when pondering my other sewing plans yet again, it hit me. The right jacket pattern was already in my stash, but in it’s usual guise as a lined jacket. Surely if I used an athletic type fabric and didn’t line it, Sewaholic’s Minoru Jacket could be the athletic jacket of my dreams.

The pattern

Sewaholic Minoru Jacket

Size made

8

Fabric

Softshell fleece from Spotlight.

Fit

I sized down from my measurements, which placed me in a 10, as I wanted a more fitted exercise-style jacket. I shortened the waist elastic to be back only and not extend around the front as per the design.

What I love

The big collar and surprisingly the gathers at the neckline. Before starting I wasn’t too sure about the look of these but I really like the effect.

Challenges

The pattern itself and instructions are excellent. My challenge was taking a lined pattern I’d never made before and working out how to make it unlined, as I wanted to enjoy the feel of the snug fleece side of the fabric. This probably shouldn’t have been that hard, but it had me nutting the steps out for weeks!

I stitched the placket and collar down by stitching in the ditch from the right side. Not one of my greatest sewing skills but I got to a result I was happy with after the seam ripper had come out to play many times. For the waist elastic I simply added a casing inside the jacket and secured the ends on the side seams.

Softshell fleece was a little bulky for this pattern which was most apparent in the cuffs. Sewing with softshell fleece was a first for me, and I didn’t press any seams as I was too scared I’d melt the fabric.

I added in-seam pockets which was easy following this tutorial by Amy from Sew Well. Bonus, my pockets are soft and fleecy!

Will I make it again?

Yes, I still plan on making the lined olive version I’ve been dreaming of for a couple of years! I will make a 12, to wear as an outer layer.

I will also investigate the many different alternate cuff ideas others have used.

It’s still a bit too cold here to get much use from this, but I’m looking forward to it getting out on my daily walks come spring.

Have you ever sewn with softshell fleece or similar synthetic fabrics? Any advice?

Happy sewing, Shell.

Style Arc Airlie Stretch Pants

My first proper post on this blog and it has turned out to be a Style Arc pattern, so that’s fitting.

How I would typically wear these, with a longer top

The pattern

Style Arc, Airlie Stretch Pant

Size made

12

Fabric

Style Arc’s light denim coloured bengaline.

Fit

My measurements place me in a size 12 and I frequently wear a pair of Style Arc Beth stretch woven pants made about a year ago, so I was fairly confident the fit would be great.

Unfortunately the Airlie pants felt a lot more snug than the Beths.  They were pulling everywhere with so many lines no particular fitting issue could be diagnosed (by me anyway). The before version photo isn’t being posted! I took out the side seams as much as possible, which gave me about 2cm more overall around the whole area from thigh to waist. As well as adding this to my pattern for future pants, I will be trying a full seat adjustment.

Intrepid sewing detective I am, I then compared the Beth and Airlie pattern pieces, and both pairs of pants. The verdict: slightly different crotch curves and more fabric in the front legs of the Beth, which evened out once I had increased the Airlies.

What I love

The lightness and stretchiness of this Bengaline. I’ve been unable to wear jeans lately as they’ve been irritating my skin – hopefully just a temporary reaction to medications. Wearing pants from this fabric gives me slightly dressier options than knit fabric tracksuit pants or joggers. The pockets are a great design, providing functional pockets that don’t gape.

Challenges

(Aside from formatting this post!?!

Did someone say learning curve!)

There are more diagrams with the instructions than I’ve found in previous Style Arc makes, but I still found the pockets impossible to fathom from the instructions. Fortunately there is a Youtube tutorial on how to sew them, but it took me many watches to figure it out. It’s not difficult to sew, just tricky to understand the concept if that makes sense. My pockets ended up perfect though.

Airlie pants front with pockets

Will I make it again?

Yes, I’m tracing the pattern and adding to the side seams so I can do a full seat adjustment and try again.

The quest for perfect pants continues… I never know how much to be concerned about wrinkles and how much is simply being a 3D body within clothing. I do know these are super comfy and I have no skin irritation wearing them.

How do you decide the line between good enough or continuing to tweak fit?

Happy sewing, Shell