Despite the fact that they make me cry like an X-Factor contestant every time I see them, I keep reading through the acknowledgements in my book. I dare say I could even recite them by heart. (See also: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the entire Beatles back catalogue, series six of Friends.) It’s a daft thing to do – particularly in light of the book being printed this week – yet I still insist on repeatedly poring over those last few pages. I suppose it’s rather like denying yourself a biscuit before you put on your wedding dress – everyone knows it’s way too late to make a difference, but you stubbornly do it anyway.
If I were still able to make changes to my tributes to those who helped me get the book written (and The Bullshit beaten), I don’t for a moment doubt that I’d be busily scrawling red pen all over those pages. But then I suppose that goes for the whole book, really. Because, much like staring in the mirror, every time you look at it, you’re bound to wish that something was different (unless you’re Kanye West) – which, obviously, is why we have deadlines (and why cosmetic surgery tends to be on the pricey side).
There is something of the wedding guest list about it, though. See, I’ve listed the few folk who played the biggest part in getting me through The Bullshit but, inevitably, as time goes on, that list is going to look rather dated. And where, when you look back at your wedding photos, you might wish you’d invited X instead of Y (ooh, how enigmatic of me), the roll-call of gratitudes after you’ve got through an illness might also begin to look a little lacking (even if it does rock in at four pages).
But – much like I did with my wedding guest list – where my book acknowledgements were concerned, I had to call it as I saw it at the time. And ‘the time’, officially, was July 2009 – the point at which the book ends. Of course, the wider Bullshit story didn’t end there – hell, it still hasn’t ended – but that is the point at which the printed narrative comes to its conclusion. And so there’s no acknowledgement for the likes of Ms and Mr Magic Hands, for example, who’ve done so much for my lymphoedema and fatigue respectively; nor is there a mention of my immediate colleagues who show such animated interest in my writing; nor are there any thanks for the friends who I’ve only seen more of since my active treatment ended. But that’s the way it is.
Every time I read those pages, though, I’m relieved that I’ve said a special thank-you to a more indefinable, web-based collective: you. Yes, you. Because, though I’ve never met a lot of you in person, that’s not to say that I don’t think of you as friends. Yeah, yeah, I know – pass the sick bucket. And you’re right – that is an impossibly wanky thing to say. It makes me sound like some kind of spotty, light-starved, virgin gamer who shuns actual human contact for role-playing online chats about military formations with his Dungeons and Dragons buddies. When obviously I’m way cooler than that. [Frantically deletes Sgt Pepper’s Twitter account.]
And if you thought that was a wanky thing to say, look away now. Because another thing I genuinely believe is that social networking has been as beneficial to my recovery as therapy. [Waves goodbye to remaining credibility.] But I’m serious: Twitter and its ilk have undoubtedly Helped Me Through. Not like a Westlife album played to a coma patient; more like an epidural given to a woman in labour. Yeah, I could have got through it otherwise, but it didn’t half make the ride smoother.
To many people that’s not going to be a popular opinion. Numerous folk with loud media presences (hello, Piers Morgan) make much of the opinion that ‘Twitter is for twits’ or – in the words of my secret husband Dave Grohl – that it’s a ‘waste of time’. (Make that secret ex-husband.) But couldn’t you say that about any form of communication? Some meetings are a waste of time. Some phonecalls are a waste of time. Some emails are a waste of time. So, to me at least, social networking itself isn’t a waste of time. Slagging off social networking is a waste of time… but not half as much as overlooking its potential.
Allow me to explain. When I wrote my first post, I wasn’t consciously starting a blog. I just wrote something because it was cathartic, and because it kept me busy at a time when everyone around me was asking a hundred questions about how I felt. It was honestly never my intention for this blog to become the comparative beast that it has – I had absolutely no idea what blogging might be able to do for me. Sheesh, if you’d have told me two years ago that I’d be bearing my innermost thoughts to strangers on the internet in a way that I’d never be able to manage in conversations with my real-life friends, I’m sure I’d have told you to get knotted. But – again – that’s the way it is. And I don’t regret any of it.
I regularly assert (to blank faces, usually) that there’s something strangely healing about social networking. (A term which I hope you’ll forgive me using in its widest possible sense to also include blogging.) I discovered Facebook while off work following a miscarriage, reconnecting with old friends and nosily losing myself in the stories of ex-classmates at a time when I desperately needed a distraction. And so it followed that I discovered blogging and Twitter when I was diagnosed with cancer; this time distracting myself via communications with people I didn’t know personally, getting my writing out to a wider audience and discovering in an instant what it was that people found interesting or funny or frustrating.
Granted, that isn’t how everyone stumbles across social networking (that would just add fuel to certain tabloid-columnists’ fires that we’re all pyjama-wearing, socially inept saddos looking for a support group), but I don’t doubt that anyone finding themselves in a situation in which they’d rather not be has, at some point, found solace in a blog comment or a wall post or an @ reply.
When I came out of hospital following a successful mastectomy, I broke the news in my Facebook status. Right the way through chemo, I wasn’t just being willed on by the people around my bed, but by an assembly of blog-readers who continually made their presence known with encouraging messages. When my last mammogram came back clear, it wasn’t just my family who celebrated, but the Twitter followers I’d alerted, too.
It’s thanks to social networking that I’m back in touch with my best mate from school. It’s thanks to social networking that I discovered this album. It’s thanks to social networking that I came across some wonderful writers whose words I might not have read otherwise. It’s thanks to social networking that I’m able to see friends’ babies as soon as they’ve been born. It’s thanks to social networking that I learned to employ the rubber-ring trick when I had crippling piles, or found out why my pubes grew back weirdly straight after chemo. And it’s thanks to social networking that I was able to organise a charity auction for my 30th birthday party in which people I did and didn’t know helped me to raise over £10,000 for Breast Cancer Care.
And that’s aside from what social networking has done for me professionally. Were it not for Twitter (and the fortuitous turn of events that led to Stephen Fry saying some hugely flattering things about this blog), right now I’d more than likely still be dragging my manuscript around to nonplussed literary agents – let alone getting excited about being days away from seeing the first copy of my book. A book in which the lead characters are, admittedly, the immediate family and friends who dragged my ample arse kicking and screaming through The Bullshit. But though they’re the ones with the dialogue, I’d be a prize twit(ter) not to admit that I couldn’t have done it without a little help from my virtual friends.