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Colourful Stories

Natalie Bock – Bus Peeps

After a shock diagnosis of a brain tumour, Natalie Bock’s surgery left her vulnerable and isolated at home while she recovered, and many support services wouldn’t help her.

Funded by City of Joondalup and produced by Centre for Stories, Colourful Stories is a collection of experiences set to the theme of ‘Better Together’ and showcased at the Joondalup Festival 2024. These stories came from residents living in Joondalup and the surrounding suburbs who shared a belief in the power of connection and community, reminding us of the strength and value we gain when we overcome individual desires, ego and biases to value unexpected people and places around us.

This story was shared by Natalie Bock. After a shock diagnosis of a brain tumour, Natalie’s surgery left her vulnerable and isolated at home while she recovered. She couldn’t work, she couldn’t drive, and as she wasn’t technically a ‘senior’ or ‘living with a disability’, many support services wouldn’t help her. Desperate, she decided to make friends in unexpected places.

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Copyright © 2024 Natalie Bock

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

Photo by Aaron Claringbold. Story published 21 March 2024.

View Story Transcript

INTRO: Hi there. In today’s episode, we bring you a special live recording of Colourful Stories featuring community voices from Joondalup and the surrounding suburbs, made possible with funding from the City of Joondalup and training by Centre for Stories. These experiences come from local residents who had never shared their stories in front of a live audience before, but stepped up to the challenge for one special evening to share their belief in the power of connection and community. Set to the theme of ‘Better Together,’ their stories remind us of the strength and value we gain when we overcome individual desires, ego and biases to value unexpected people and places around us. Recorded in the City of Joondalup in March 2024, this next story comes from Natalie Bock. Enjoy. 

NB: In 2016, I spent six months without part of my skull. The brain tumour was found as a surprise during a sinus scan. Before the diagnosis, I was a busy working mum who ferried her kids everywhere, never had a moment to her herself, and complained constantly to anyone who would listen to me. I didn’t know how much I actually wanted that way of life until I didn’t have it anymore. As soon as the technician saw the mass in my brain on his screen, he revoked my right to drive, but he didn’t tell me why. I had to find someone to take me from the imaging center to the doctors to be given the shock diagnosis. Within 24 hours, I was in front of a professor of neurosurgery. Two weeks later, the tumour was removed. I cannot begin to tell you what it feels like to lie on an operating table, going to sleep, not knowing if you’re going to wake up again or if you’re going to wake up unable to communicate, or if you’re going to wake up drastically different to the person who went to sleep. 

I didn’t know that you could have brain surgery and not have your skull repaired afterwards, but the square of bone that the surgeon removed couldn’t be put back in place because my brain was so swollen that to have done so would’ve crock-potted it. He couldn’t tell me how long I would have a hole in my head because it depended on how quickly my brain recovered. It might be six months, it might be more than a year. There were no guarantees. There were no certainties to clinging to. The square of bone was just above my left eyebrow. All that protected my brain from danger was a thin layer of skin and muscle. If anything poked me in that spot, it could cause damage or even death. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t go anywhere by myself in case I fell or fainted and hit my head. 

I couldn’t go back to work because no primary school wants a special needs education assistant who can’t afford a knock to the head, even if accidental. My life was geared to being on the go, not to staying home all day. My husband was at work. My friends were mostly at work as well. My children were at school. Everyone had lives to get out there and live except me. I was lonely. I felt lost. I watched ‘House Hunters International’ every day and pretended that everything was okay because I was traveling the world from my lounge room. But deep down, I felt disconnected, like I’d lost my place in society. There was a whole world outside my lounge room window, and I wasn’t a part of it anymore. A visiting occupational therapist told me that most people in my situation build a nest for themselves somewhere in the house and don’t leave leading to depression and anxiety. 

That scared me. I didn’t want that. So I set about finding places that could help me. I rang countless organizations that offered support and care to their clients, asking if they could somehow include me on their list. But the answer from everyone was no. I was 46, not 65, so I couldn’t be included in aged care. I was considered temporarily injured, not permanently disabled. So those agencies couldn’t help me either. Finally, I rang the Joondalup Library and asked whether maybe they had a volunteer visiting service who could come and see me, but there was nothing available at the time. However, one of the staff members suggested that I ring the City of Joondalup and speak to someone about the senior bus run. I wasn’t sure what that was all about. So I rang and I spoke to a lovely young woman named Nicole who explained to me that the City of Joondalup is local government, not state or federal, and that meant that they could extend their services to include me. 

I was so grateful that finally someone could help me, but I couldn’t really see what good a bus run was going to do. I didn’t have much money to spend ’cause I wasn’t working, and I still couldn’t go anywhere without a companion. So Nicole gave it some thought and arranged for a security guard to meet the shopping run bus in the shopping centre car park with a gopher, a mobility scooter with a seatbelt and armrests. I didn’t have to walk anywhere. I couldn’t fall out of it, and even if I fainted, I wasn’t going anywhere. I decided to give the shopping bus run a go despite being scared, and I am so glad that I did. I quickly discovered that this bus run was nothing like an impersonal TransPerth bus that runs up and down the road to the shops. This was a coach complete with volunteers who greeted me at my door, escorted me to the bus, helped me up the stairs, and then settled me into a seat and talked to me. 

The bus run took 30 minutes to get from my place to Whitford’s, even though it’s only four kilometers by car because it picked up other travelers on the way, and as we went, they talked. I quickly discovered that the bus run was considered to be one of their social highlights of the week. I was surprised, thrilled, delighted to have new people to meet and to talk to. They didn’t care that I wasn’t their age or that sometimes I spoke a little bit slowly or sometimes I couldn’t find the right words because my tumour had been in the speech and language center of my brain, which meant that for me, even though I kept most of my words, accessing them wasn’t a given, but they didn’t mind and they talked to me anyway. If we were out in the shopping center and we passed, they would smile and wave and invite me to have a mid-outing coffee. 

They didn’t care that I was on a mobility scooter wearing a hard plastic, hot pink helmet. They just included me. I felt accepted. I felt wanted. I quickly tagged my fellow travelers my “bus peeps”. Sometimes while I was out in the shopping center, people targeted me for looking different. They saw the mobility scooter and they saw the hot pink helmet that I had covered with glitter gems given to me by a friend to help cheer me up and they would say things like, “Hey, love, did you forget where you left your bike?” Someone knocked on my helmet not knowing that it was there to protect my head. I was pointed at and laughed at by people who had no idea what I was going through, but I always knew that my bus peeps had my back and I felt safe with them. One of my bus peeps suggested that I ring the Spears Center in Heathridge and inquire about the senior social afternoons. 

I rang, and again, nobody minded that I wasn’t quite old enough. I live quite close to the Centre and I could even walk myself as long as someone was willing to look out for me. And again, they just helped. One of the admin teams stood at the bottom of the very steep ramp waiting for me to to approach, and then took my arm and helped me get up so I could access the Centre safely. I felt included, accepted, seen. Those afternoons at the senior social centre were amazing. I was regaled with story after story about days gone by through the recollections of the senior residents. I traveled on cruises across the world. I danced with sweethearts and soldiers in ballrooms, and I marveled and raged at the rapid rampant pace of technology. Most afternoons, someone would play a tune and everybody would sing to old Broadway songs. It wasn’t how I expected to spend my life that year, but it was wonderful. I was with my tribe and that is all that mattered. 

After six months, a scan revealed that my brain had recovered enough to have the second surgery. Nicole, who had arranged the bus run, even came and visited me in hospital, which really touched me. When I had recovered from the surgery, I was given back permission to drive, but that meant that I couldn’t go on the bus run anymore. I also went back to work a few hours here and a few hours more until I was back to my full capacity. But that meant that I couldn’t go to the senior social afternoons anymore because they were held while I was at work. As much as I had wanted my old life back, I had grown to love the life I experienced between my surgeries. I missed the company on the buses, the friendly waves, the smiles, the invitations to join people for a coffee, the conversations, the stories, the singalongs, and the sense of traveling together through life with people who I would never have encountered otherwise. 

I was genuinely sad to say goodbye and I missed the warmth and the friendship of my bus peeps and my seniors tribe. It has now been eight years since my surgeries, eight years that I didn’t think that I would get to have with family and friends. I think back often with fondness for the people I encountered and with appreciation for an administration who could see a person with needs who didn’t fit anywhere else and find a way to help me help me. And whenever I see one of the white shopping run buses with its curved overhead side vision mirrors that make it look for all the world like a caterpillar, I smile because life truly is better when we are in it together. 


OUTRO: Thank you for listening to our courageous, brilliant storyteller. The stories we’ve shared today are what drive our organization. Centre for Stories is a small, not-for-profit, relying in part on your support. If you liked these stories today, please let us know by emailing us your thoughts or any feedback you have to or by making a donation at our website Big or small, all donations help us to keep sharing these important experiences from our community and support our mission of changing the world through building empathy and connection one story at a time. Thank you. 



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