‘…and be careful,’ Mum will say at the end of every phonecall/visit/conversation we have with her.
‘Cor, it’s a good job you said that, Mum,’ I’ll mock, ‘because otherwise I really don’t think I would have been.’
‘Listen, Mum,’ Jamie will add, ‘let’s just make a deal that, until you instruct me otherwise, I’ll be careful, okay?’
‘Piss off,’ she’ll retort. And then we’ll have the exact same conversation all over again the next time we leave the house/cross the road/put keys in the ignition. But that, I’m told, is ‘what parents do’. And it’s cute, ain’t it?
It does make me wonder, though, at what point will it stop? It’s more than twelve years now since I left home, and yet that level of overprotection is no different at 30 to that which it was when I was 13. That’s mostly cancer’s fault, of course. It may be a rose-tinted, hindsight-facing view, but I really do think that pre-Bullshit, the balance was just about getting right. My folks didn’t feel the need to know exactly where I was at any given point despite the 120 miles between us, nor did they freak out if I hadn’t answered the phone within five rings. Throw cancer into the equation, however, and I don’t need powers of telepathy to figure out that my parents’ #1 activity – wholly understandably – is Worrying About Lisa.
It’s not just them, of course. These days, even my closest mates ask how I’m doing without the usual not-really-interested-in-the-answer breeziness that comes with the question, and just today P expressed a worry about me going back into my freezing office tomorrow, given that I ‘have to be more careful than most people about getting ill’. The concern even stretches to GPs, as though having the magic word ‘cancer’ on your record opens up a secret, golden-ticket world of swift appointments, fast referrals and on-tap prescriptions, like some kind of Disneyworld FastPass for ill people. (I might try using it elsewhere actually. ‘Sorry, madam, The Ivy only takes bookings three months in advance.’ ‘But I once had cancer, don’t you know?’ ‘Oh, well in that case, madam, we can get you in at 7.30 this evening. We’ll sit you next to David and Victoria.’)
When, over Christmas, a niggling cold persisted for longer than the turkey lasted, my parents/in-laws/husband/friends nagged me to see a doctor. They were all absolutely right in the end, of course – it wasn’t a cold, but an infection – but I wanted to visit the doctor on my own terms, not because I’d been hassled into it. Because the problem with being told to be careful all the time, of course, is that it makes you want to do the complete opposite (in the same way that being told to tidy your room makes you want to do a Keith Moon). It makes you want to cross Spaghetti Junction blindfolded, run around a rush-hour Victoria station with a pair of scissors or carelessly yank your bread out of a red-hot toaster with a knife.
‘I know I should’ve come sooner,’ I admitted to my overly concerned sixtysomething GP, ‘but I figured this’d be gone by now and I can’t shake it off.’
‘Well you won’t do, darling,’ she said, her head so tilted she could have passed for a contortionist. ‘Not like other people do, not after what you’ve been through.’
‘Meh, I guess not,’ I conceded.
‘I must say, though, you’re looking wonderful,’ she added, in a comment that was about as relevant as telling me how many sugars she takes in her tea. (That’s another thing about having previously had cancer – people are crazy-nice. And marvellous as my newly grown hair is when compared to the George Dawes look, since getting it back I’ve had so many unjustified compliments on my appearance that I’m often surprised not to find J-Lo staring back at me in the mirror.)
‘Oh, um, thank you, that’s awfully kind,’ I mumbled.
‘Really, you are,’ she gushed. ‘But you’ve got to remember that you’re more vulnerable now.’
‘Hmm,’ I growled, à la Marge Simpson. ‘Vulnerable. Right.’
And there it is. According to medical science, I have now been moved from the pigeonhole marked ‘cancer’ to the one marked ‘vulnerable’. Which, of course, is fair enough. I know that; my immune system knows that; my doctors know that; my family know that; my husband knows that; and my friends know that. But whether I am vulnerable or not isn’t the point. The point is that – just as I never wanted to be treated like a cancer patient – I don’t now want to be treated like I’m made of porcelain, either. I want to be treated like a normal 30-year-old lass who’s big enough and daft enough to look after herself. (For the record, nobody gets that more spot-on than Jamie. He was as good at treating me like Lisa Lynch when I was bedridden and hairless as he ever was before – and still is today. Piss-taking little shyster.)
See, the beauty of this new year isn’t just having a crapload of exciting stuff to look forward to in 2010 – it’s the distance it puts between me and The Bullshit. It’s no longer having to say that I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. And that’s a sentence I get one helluva kick out of. So, in the wonderful words of the yoof: don’t harsh my mellow, man.