Softly softly catchee monkey

Slow and steady wins the race. Photo by Erin Simmons courtesy of Unsplash
Slow and steady wins the race. Photo by Erin Simmons courtesy of Unsplash.

Well dear readers, round five of the chemo-hormone inhibitor combo went by in August with the blink of an eye, or as long as it takes to overthrow an Australian Prime Minister. Hang on a minute, that’s not right. Chemo rounds take 21 days and the PM swap out took less than a week! Just after that unseemly political fracas I saw a funny comment on Twitter, claiming that Australian neurosurgeons have ceased asking patient’s emerging from surgery ‘Who is the Prime Minister?’ It appears this question is no longer a reliable indicator that the patient’s brain is functioning normally. 

Speaking of brains, now that I’m deep into round six, I find my own to be inhabiting a very peculiar place – something akin to a cross between a trampoline and a swamp, the veritable love-child of a Cat-on-a-Hot-Tin-Roof and Sid the Sloth.

Cognitive sogginess is probably the most accurate way to describe the swampy feeling and, increasingly, my efforts to skate around it are proving irritating to my loved ones. Most commonly my tactics include:

  • prolific use of closed captions on the TV (and not only during episodes of Shetland on the ABC, which really should come with subtitles as standard);
  • incessant requests for people to repeat themselves and frequent instances where the word I’m looking for simply goes AWOL. What follows is usually an awkward silence while I sit there looking like the village idiot, willing the person I’m conversing with to telepathically understand what I’m thinking. Sometimes I even wave my hands around as if grasping at invisible straws, or click my fingers referring to something as ‘thingamy’ or ‘what’s-his-name’. Other times I just give up, sigh heavily and say, ‘Whatever it was, it’s gone – as you were’.

Any rational person might conclude that cognitive slothfulness should be conducive to rest and recovery, but here’s the kicker – as soon as I lie down or try to calm my roiling spirit with some meditation, that darned cat starts its confounded jig across that hot tin roof. It’s a very strange and frustrating feeling, a sort of ‘wired-tired’ if you will. I am fatigued, to be sure, but the sweet oblivion of sleep, or even just plain old rest, eludes me as my mind feverishly searches for a preoccupation to lock onto, like a radio scanning for a frequency.

Herein lies the paradox – inert yet restless, listless yet edgy, accepting yet struggling, Sid yet Cat. At the urgings of my ever-present, broken-record inner Methodist, I try to harness my jumpiness to ‘get more done’ work-wise and around the home. But alas, as Alice in Wonderland observed, ‘The hurrier I go, the behinder I get’, which invariably leads down a winding, rocky path lined with frustration and, I’m loathe to admit, a bit of self-pity.

I blame cancer, but as Sid the Sloth put it so eloquently in the first Ice Age movie, ‘I’m too lazy to hold a grudge’. Good thing too, if only I could wrestle this incessant jumpiness to the ground or, at the very least, relinquish my urge to conquer the to-do list. Who knew resting could prove so challenging?

Lumosity's Train of Thought
Lumosity’s Train of Thought

I’ve always been crap at meditation and have recently turned to game-playing in a bid to herd my butterfly brain, finding some solace in the Lumosity app, Train of Thought.  This game requires the player to direct coloured trains fed out of a mountain tunnel into their equivalently coloured stations over a two-minute timeframe. The more trains one successfully directs to the correct stations, the greater the number of coloured trains one gets to direct.  I set myself a goal number of trains (OK, it’s 58 if you must know) and I aim for that figure each time I play. Because Train of Thought is so addictive, I have to limit this to three games at a time, which has the side-benefit of being a good discipline for boundary setting. Setting limits and boundaries for myself is another thing I’ve traditionally been rubbish at – so bonus!

Recently, while playing Train of Thought, I’ve noticed something interesting. True to Alice’s ‘hurrier/behinder’ theory, the more I push myself to go faster and to reach my goal of appropriately stationed trains, the worse my score. But if I consciously slow myself down, my goal score is more often within my reach plus, it’s achieved more easily and with less annoyance. Whoever said ‘a fast game’s a good game’ has clearly never tried to actually live life while undergoing protracted chemotherapy treatment.

With a bit of tweaking I’ve been able to apply this principle to my work and home duties as well. When I find my train-engine mind is careening down the rails at speed, pulling carriages loaded with overwhelm and anxiety, I remind myself that, as counter intuitive as it may feel, slowing down can actually help me get where I want to go. Prior to this, I’d never fully appreciated the true value of the ‘slow’ movement, like slow cooking and slow fashion, but now I could be a poster-girl for it.

Photo by Andre Mouton, courtesy of Unsplash.
Photo by Andre Mouton, courtesy of Unsplash.

This blog’s title, ‘Softly softly catchee monkey’, is an old Scottish proverb borrowed from the Ashanti people of Ghana. ‘Patience wins the day’ is said to be its meaning and as I’ve already cited cats and sloths in this post, why not monkeys? Searching for the origins of this idiom I came across others that resonated with me and I share them here because they might speak to you too, whether or not you’re having chemo (and I sincerely hope not):


‘Slow and steady wins the race.’ – Aesop

‘The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.’ – Moliere

‘More haste, less speed.’ – olde English saying

‘I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.’ – Abraham Lincoln

‘The more one hurries, the less time they have.’ – The Universe (

And my personal favourite from the incredible, enduring and outright adorable Lily Tomlin (last seen by me at least in Grace and Frankie on Netflix – well worth a look BTW):

‘For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.’

Until next time or round seven, dear readers – whichever comes first.


  1. John says

    Well…I feel inspired by your insight into this so challenging process. I hope many who may be suffering a myriad of challenges in their lives are able to draw some solace from the wisdom you have proffered here. Thank you.

  2. says

    Well, yes. Don’t want to enter a ‘can you top this’ contest, but it is true that for years now, the quarter century or thereabouts that I have on you, whenever I feel myself spinning out of control, or faced with a task that frustrates or daunts me, I take a deep breath and slow myself down. Wasn’t always like that but I’ve learned over time that it does work a treat. So keep it up, Wonder Woman. But slowly.

  3. kellee douglas says

    Hear, hear John! Sage advice for all of us. I find my daily life is lived at such a speed these days – I welcome this timely blog. All my love Jen.xx

  4. Susan says

    Fantastic to read from you as always Jen. Your wisdom, strength and of course sense of humour shine through in your words – thank you (but subtitles on Shetland – really

  5. Candace says

    I loved this! Also trying to slow down and it’s worked wonders for actually getting things done. Love the cat running over the roof metaphor! And the quotes at the end were just what I needed. Candace xx

  6. Kere Baker says

    “Cognitive sogginess is probably the most accurate way to describe the swampy feeling…” Best description EVER.

    You are always welcome to sit on my couch when I get back, and stare at the wall if you please. Watching me work is a comedic activity, and laughter is good for the soul!

    Big loves precious one x

  7. Fleur says

    Jenny, so eloquently described. Sharing your thoughts must be painful and exhausting but your honesty and wisdom is extraordinary and helps us to understand what you are going through. Slow is a good reminder for all of us. All my love. Fleur x

  8. Warren Reed says

    Jen, as Kere Baker notes above, “cognitive sogginess” is a wonderful way to describe those states we all go into when we’re under medical treatment. If Dr Samuel Johnson, that 18th century master of the English language, were to be monitoring your blog from above he would be giving you a big thumbs-up! He might also be lost in a soggy search for a suitable emoji to convey his approval to you.

    For those of us in a more advanced state of youthfulness, memories often waver mid-conversation – with or without medical treatment – and we all need techniques for handling it. What you’ve outlined, Jen, is particularly useful. I’m going to print it out and stick it on the fridge door.

    My old Mum used to say and that whatever happens in life you must at all costs hold on to your sense of humour. The flip side of humour, she said, was perspective and it’s hard to survive anything without that. If she were looking down on you now, Jen, she’d also be giving you a big thumbs-up. You exemplify survival at its best!

    Warren Reed

  9. Madge the Badge says

    Cats, monkeys, sloths AND a turtle…. I’m hoping that first beautiful picture you posted is somewhere you can retreat to in your meditation… cool, blue, deep, uplifting (the salt in the water!) and when you find yourself there, something even more graceful slips by a -turtle – but in your case I hope it is a break from the nagging of the chemo brain – and some true rest…. great spread of words Jen – you put us all in your world for a minute or two – empathy is a wonderful thing xxxx

  10. Julie McHenry says

    The more I read of your beautiful essay, the more I slowed.
    Thank-you, dear friend.
    For your continuous inspiration.
    Sending back hugs, well-wishes and prayers.

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