Thursday, 11 October 2012

Truckloads of Life

Thank you for all the lovely and supportive feedback you've given me about last night's blog entry with all the photos - it really has been heart-warming and quite overwhelming. I've always been reluctant to use photos before because I'm no great classical beauty, and I'm normally the most unphotogenic person on the planet, but Anita did such an amazing job, that even I have to admit I almost look half decent in some of them. I'd forgotten that her father was a photographer, so she knows a lot of the tricks of the trade like lighting - we had the front door wide open and took them all in the hallway, kind of embarrassing with passers-by gawping and neighbours wondering, but hey ho. She also was very good at directing - normally when someone takes photos you just stand there with a silly self-conscious grin on your face until the shutter has decided to fall, but Anita was telling me do this, stand like that, put some attitude into it, etc etc, and a lot of the expressions I'm pulling are in response to her saying something hilarious off the cuff just as she was about to shoot. She even nearly injured me for life by fetching the widest chair I own, and getting me to do the classic "Christine Keeler" pose sitting on it backwards, but with clothes on. 

It hadn't occurred to me before, but now that I'm 5 months into the cancer treatment there may be a perception among people who either don't know me or who haven't seen me in ages that I probably look like a washed-out concentration camp victim by now, and of course, I don't, which is good, and in fact that wig does me far more favours than my natural hair ever did.
My big fear when all of this started was that I’d be stuck in bed too ill to do anything for month on end, and most of the time that isn’t the case. Sometimes I even forget I’ve got cancer completely.  My oomph and energy isn’t what is used to be, and it’s hard to be active for more than 15 minutes at a time, and concentration isn’t what I’d like it to be, but overall, it’s not too bad.

Life is never easy, and when you get something big happening as well,  it doesn't happen in isolation. The world still turns, the stresses still happen, and the house still needs cleaning, the clothes still need washing, the cooking needs to get done, and the constant, never-ending paperwork still just keeps cascading onto the doormat. Teenagers still forget to bring their washing and their plates downstairs a lot of the time, and just because their mother has cancer, doesn’t mean that the teenage years, with all the hormones, upsets and anger, are any less tricky. The same balls still need juggling and kept in the air at all times, but with a thick blanket of cancer over the top that just makes doing it all that little bit harder. Then the good stuff happens, too; birthdays, celebrations, lovely meals out and lovely meals in. With WM’s constant support for all of us, we are all somehow pulling together as a family and making it all work, but  sometimes it just needs a little bit more planning, patience and negotiating to make it happen.  

Cancer isn’t the only thing that makes life a bit more of a struggle. Life can just deliver a truckload of tough stuff to any of us, without a moment’s warning or a backward glance. One friend of mine was nearly killed a few days before my mastectomy, when she was hit on a pedestrian crossing by a motorbike and sustained a very serious head-injury. She is doing very well and coping amazingly well, and we’re all thrilled that she has certainly retained her wickedly sharp sense of humour, but full recovery will take a very long time, and meanwhile she’s still being an amazing mum to her three little boys. 

Yesterday, someone else I knew had to have an emergency operation spending two days away from her little boy, and still finding the resources to send me some lovely thoughts about my photos late last night. Another friend had both her teenage boys in separate serious accidents within days of each other - one nearly lost his fingers in a chainsaw, the other was in a bus when it crashed – so she has certainly had to deal with far more than her fair share of worry and stress, but no one would know because she still manages a laugh and a nice word for everyone. 

Life can be marvellous, but it sometimes seems like a relentless slog through treacle that's just miserable and flipping hard work. Things hit us from all directions when we're least expecting it. That's true whether you have cancer or not. 

Some people with cancer worry that they'll never be or feel the same again. I know I won't, but I'm pleased about that. I think that life is all about learning, developing, growing and understanding, and if we aren't altered by our experiences we'll never learn to dig deep and discover what amazing resilience and resources we actually have, what strength and coping skills we are developing with every new challenge.

Yes, OK, so I’m having a good chemo week, so the world does seem like a fairly nice place right now. This time next week, on day 4 of chemo 3, I doubt I'll feel as magnificently philosophical as I do now. I'll probably be miserable and grumpy, and feel as ill as if I'd been hit by a steam-roller, an articulated lorry and a passing train within minutes of each other. I’ll just have to remember to go with the flow, and sit it out until I’m feeling better – something that’s much easier to write down now than to actually do next week.

I think one of the secrets in all of this, which I'm still hundreds of miles away from perfecting, is the ability to separate your mind from what is happening to your body. Cancer treatment isn't always terrific fun, but to be able deal with the pain or the illness side of things without sinking into the pits emotionally too would be really helpful. I can do it sometimes, but I still fail dismally at other times, and always when they come at me with a needle. 

Mostly I think I'm doing OK, and coping with it all pretty well, Just like the amazing friends I have who are also grappling with the tough stuff at the moment. We'll all get through it and come out the other side as better, more resourceful people, even more ready to deal with the next passing truckload of life. 

PS I was just about to upload this, and my lovely daughter has just shown me the website for one of her favourite clothes shops and guess what? Turbans seem to be the height of fashion this winter – how lucky is that!


  1. My favourite mantra at the moment:
    It'll be alright in the end. If it's not alright, it's not the end yet!
    Love you!

  2. I just love that film, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel! Thank you Benedicte, hope your day's going well today too xx

  3. I SO want to see that film - and I just love that quote! I hope this blog is being turned into a book by the way!!!