Under normal circumstances I would moan about how hideous I look in all the photographs from my speech at the 10th Annual Breast Care Fundraiser Breakfast and how I’ll have to go on a starvation diet waaaaaahhhhhh, but the speech itself is 20 minutes long, so I figure you don’t have time for my self-pity …
Here’s a brief rundown:
I’m thrilled to say the sold-out breakfast at Wests New Lambton to raise money to support local breast care nurses was a success. NBN newsreader Natasha Beyersdorf was the MC for the event – which was sponsored by PKF, the Newcastle Herald, and Wests. It raised $22,112 through donations and a raffle.
I also raised a little laughter with my speech, though I really should have mentioned dinosaur porn and DIY Brazilians when I got to the “TMI” comment … ah, well …
Natasha was kind enough to say on Facebook afterwards: “An early start hosting the annual Hunter Breast Care brekkie & listening to the fabulously entertaining Alana House. Check out her blog housecomeshome.com for a laugh with a message.”
Unfortunately I haven’t been publishing my finest work this week as I scramble to clear up my house post-renovation, tend to a sick child and fret over giving a speech, but hopefully anyone intrigued by Natasha’s call out will give my back catalogue a work-out.
There was also an article in The Newcastle Herald! Click here to read it.
Here are a few photographs from my Newie trip, with the speech afterwards … if you have the stamina.
And here’s the speech …
I have a confession to make: when I was asked to be guest speaker at today’s breakfast I thought there’d been a mistake.
I gently explained to the woman on the other end of the phone: “Er, I’m nobody these days.”
Not that I was ever “somebody” but I had a certain 15 minutes of fame.
I spent 20 years working in the magazine industry, including editing Singapore CLEO and Australian Woman’s Day.
As editor of Woman’s Day, my heavily airbrushed photograph even appeared on the side of a Melbourne tram, Sex in the City Carrie Bradshaw style.
Now I’m just a suburban single mum. Why would anyone want to listen to me on stage?
Jacqui assured me it wasn’t a mistake.
She’d heard me speak in this room around seven years ago when I was editorial director of weekly magazines at Australian Consolidated Press and has wanted me to appear at one of her events ever since, bless her.
So I took a deep breath and said yes.
I’m a local girl – I grew up in Adamstown Heights dreaming about editing Dolly magazine one day.
But I was such a weird, shy, nervous little thing, it seemed like pure fantasy it could ever happen.
I remember my parents saying: “Alana! You have your head in the clouds!”
Looking back, it seems like pure fantasy that I ever DID have a successful magazine career.
I never had the metal for magazines – you need to be pretty damn ruthless to survive. Being good at your job comes third to how well you play the game and how nice your shoes are.
Five years on, it feels like my media career happened to another person in another lifetime, not me.
My life way back then sounds like a fairy tale: local girl makes good, edits one of Australia’s biggest selling magazines, schmoozes celebrities, boyfriend proposes in Paris on bended knee, gets married, has two gorgeous children …
But the fairytale turned out to be more Brothers Grimm than Disney.
Actually, what IS it with Brothers Grimm? I’ve always wondered how those stories are classified as “fairytales”. I mean, The Little Match girl? How is that a bedtime story for small children? Poor little girl begs on street and then freezes to death one night …
My life took a Brothers Grimm turn around seven years ago. Nasty stuff went down in my career and personal life that would be fodder for quite a few public speaking gigs in itself.
But I digress … it’s one of my talents …
The second reason I feel weird standing here today is that I don’t have a personal breast cancer story to tell.
Well, as a woman of a “certain age” I’ve had a brush with a mammogram machine.
I discovered lumps in my breast two years ago and had my first-ever mammogram to check them out. Afterwards, as I sat in the waiting room, I noticed staff huddled in a corner, staring at a scan then looking up at me with concern.
I was TOTALLY freaking out, until they apologized and explained they’d mixed me up with some other poor woman. My boobs were perfectly fine, I just had some hormonal cysts.
That’s just one of the endless oops moments that seem destined to follow me through life.
The “best” one came last year. I’ve been having lady plumbing problems and I’m doing everything I can to avoid getting – as a laconic friend of mine describes it – my muffler removed through my tailpipe.
I had an embolisation the week before Christmas to try and shrink a large fibroid.
That’s a procedure where the major blood is supply cut off to your womb.
Things got a little scary afterwards, as I lay in the hospital bed in the middle of the night. Nurses started taking my blood pressure every 20 minutes and tsk-tsking.
Then they wheeled in an ECG machine and that’s when things got REALLY interesting. Soon after, I was surrounded by three doctors and four nurses and informed I’d had an “abnormal cardiac incident.”
Cardiac specialists were roused from their beds and endless questions about my physical health were fired at me.
I quite love a chat about my health, so I started blathering to my captive audience about the heart palpitations I had during my career hiccup and how I always have a tightness in my chest, which I’d thought was anxiety related.
They looked VERY worried and did another ECG.
Then everyone scurried out of the room to discuss their plan of action and I lay in the darkness feeling very, very alone … while thinking heart attacks weren’t quite as dramatic as I thought they’d be … surely you’d KNOW you’d had one?
I didn’t know what to do. Should I wake my boyfriend or my mum or my sister or SOMEONE and tell them the terrible news?
As I pondered what a heart attack meant for my future, one of the doctors came back into my room, sat down beside the bed, looked at me very gravely … then started profusely apologising.
Turns out they’d forgotten to reset the ECG machine after the last poor bastard had theirs done. My heart was perfectly fine.
I burst out laughing.
The doctor looked a little startled by my reaction, I think he was expecting me to tear strips off him. As I suspect the cardiac specialists he roused from their slumbers were going to.
But all I could think was – THIS is why I write a blog because stuff like this ALWAYS happens to me.
Have you heard of blogs? They’re like a public diary that you publish on-line. Some people write about parenting, others write about beauty or decorating or food.
I write a daily blog called Housegoeshome. I started it when my magazine career ended because I wanted to give my stay-at-home mum days a creative centre.
It’s called Housegoeshome because I’m Alana House and I went home after seven years of being the major breadwinner in my family. When I had my first daughter, I was back in the office eight weeks later, leaving my husband to be the primary carer.
When he went back to work, things got pretty hairy. I felt like I was failing at both motherhood and my career as I scrambled to do both properly.
When it got to the point I was leaving my handbag beside my desk – so it would look like I was still in the building when I was actually sneaking out to collect my kids from childcare – I knew something had to give.
Then there were those heart palpitations … and a bonus workplace sociopath.
I realized it was time to stop before I lost the plot.
The first few years of Housegoeshome were pretty bleak reading, full of signs my marriage was breaking down that I was too scared to acknowledge.
And then it became about surviving after my husband walked out.
And now it’s about what comes next as I reinvent myself at 48.
It’s a little TMI at times – as my poor mother who is sitting in the audience will tell you – but I’ve decided there’s too much pretending on social media these days and not enough telling it like it really is.
So I tell it like it really is every day, warts and all.
Sometimes life is unicorns and rainbows. Sometimes it feels like I’m held together with chewing gum and string.
It can be pretty bloody hard to be a single mum working full time in big, bad Sydney.
Sorry, I’ve digressed again. What I’m really supposed to be doing today is entertaining you with amusing celebrity anecdotes.
Like the time I saw Hugh Jackman in the nuddy in real life. I’ve been agonizing over whether to tell you this story, because it’s a little R-rated, so I’ll skirt around the naughty bit and hope you can join the dots.
Hugh was young and delicious – he’d just finished filming a movie called Paperback Hero. I was working for Cosmopolitan magazine and was tasked with interviewing him during the photo shoot.
The photographer was going through a rocky patch and decided to drink a whole bottle of wine during the shoot. She was so off her trolley her assistant had to focus the camera for her.
As Hugh was posing, she said to him … “Give me the look you get when you’re just about to …”
Hint: it has something to do with sex and happy endings.
Hugh froze. The whole room froze with him.
Oh. My. God.
I was petrified. Would he storm off in a huff? Would Cosmo’s name be mud?
But Hugh has always been a consummate professional. After a brief flash of consternation crossed his face he pretended it had never happened.
Then there was the time Antony LPaglia yelled at me for an hour – no, I’m not exaggerating – because a sub-editor at Woman’s Day thought it would be funny to call him “Anthony La Pudgier” in the caption of a photo of him taking his shirt off after a soccer match.
HE didn’t think it was funny AT ALL. Neither did his mum.
Or the time I took Dr Chris Brown out to lunch to beg him to be Woman’s Day’s celebrity vet … please Dr Chris … and every woman in the room (and quite a few men) stared daggers at me. Yep, he really is Roger Ramjet brought to life …
Or the time I partied with Cindy Crawford, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Bill Paxton at the opening of Planet Hollywood Sydney and Charlie Sheen held my hand …
Or the time Portia di Rossi took me out to dinner after I interviewed her and I possibly missed the signs that she fancied me. She hadn’t come out at that stage.
Maybe she just drove 45 minutes out of her way to drop me back to my hotel afterwards because she’s a really nice person …
I’ll never know because I just thanked her for the lift, jumped out of the car, and wandered blithely off into the night …
Or the time had dinner with Kylie Minogue … [click here if you need a refresher]
Ah, those were the days.
Actually, I don’t really miss them, heady as they were, because ultimately I realised satisfaction wasn’t to be found in watching Kylie Minogue eat creme brûlée.
And here’s another confession: I don’t miss my husband either, although in the first months after he left I could have filled bathtubs with my tears.
Losing my career and my marriage made me realise the things that matter most: friends, family, love.
Before my husband walked out, I was going through the motions.
Like the John Mellencamp song says: “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”
I didn’t facing a life or death health battle, I was grappling with the fear of the unknown and the loss of a 23-year relationship.
It just felt like the end of the world.
But, as the heading on my blog says: The end was just the beginning.
And that’s a whole other story for a whole other time about how I’m getting my mojo back. But the highlights are that I’ve fallen in love with a doctor I met on RSVP – of all places – who run trials on cancer drugs.
And I’ve started a whole new career in the not-for-profit sector. I work for an organization called the drinks association, which supports Australia’s drinks industry.
It’s wonderful to wake up every day and go to work with a group of people who are kind and genuine and supportive and slip you the occasional bottle of champagne. It’s restored my faith in corporate life.
While I no longer have my high-paying job or husband or fancy house, I’ve discovered how wonderful people can be.
Many of those who reached out to me at my lowest point were fighting much bigger battles of their own, but their hearts and schedules found time to offer comfort and support to me.
And that brings me to this morning. It can be tempting to think, like I said at the start of this speech, that you’re nobody special who can’t make a difference when it comes to fighting the good fight against breast cancer.
The thing I’ve learned and the message I want to give you is that we all have something to contribute.
We might not be breast cancer nurses or researchers or crusaders, we might not have much money or time, but we can care.
We can hug a friend who has been diagnosed and be there for them when they need us.
We can dismiss the little voice that says “but I’m nobody” and step forward.
I no longer have the power to donate a percentage of Woman’s Day sales to breast cancer research, but I can drive from Sydney to speak to you today.
And all of you have given your time to sit here listening to me.
And if we keep taking the time to care – even when it feels like life is giving us a rough trot – we’re doing the best we can.