‘Dude, you are going to be so proud of me,’ I wrote to my friend Ant. ‘I had a conversation. About POLITICS.’ I knew it was a comment that only Ant would appreciate, given that she and I were the two students on our journalism postgrad who were more interested in the state of Carrie and Big than the state of the nation. We thought of ourselves as the token magazine journalists among a room of super-intelligent, politically-confident, broadsheet-bound folk and, before she moved to LA, we’d regularly work out emergency ways to change conversational subjects from politics, like get-out-of-jail-free cards to rescue each other from potentially twonk-making situations. And so, having hit 30 and had my very first proper chat about my political principles, I knew she’d be as chuffed on my behalf as I felt smug about having finally grown up enough to begin a conversation with something other than who’s at number one.
The thing is, tragic as it may sound, politics is just one of those things that’s pretty much passed me by for the last three decades. Well perhaps not ‘passed me by’ as such; more that I’ve tended to worry more about Coronation Street storylines than policy decisions. (How I ever made it onto that journalism postgrad is beyond me.) And so politics has always been a subject that I’ve been rather uncertain about: uncertain of the way it works, uncertain of my beliefs, uncertain of the appropriate thing to say...
I should add, however, that I haven’t exactly been comfortable with that status quo. As I’ve said before, I like to be in control of what I feel, I like to be ready with an answer, and I like to avoid making myself look like a tit by dithering about my opinions. Since having The Bullshit, however, I’ve had to get used to not always knowing exactly what I think or feel. I’ve felt pissed off about having to spend so much time at the hospital, but longed for it when I wasn’t there. I’ve felt extraordinarily angry about having to wear a wig, but laughed like a drain when Dad tried it on and looked like a 50-year-old Kurt Cobain. I’ve felt pleased to have beaten The Bullshit as much as I am able, but experienced huge pangs of guilt that it doesn’t end that way for everyone. And it’s the same again now with regard to my upcoming surgery: I’m worried about losing my ladybits, the loss of femininity that goes with it, the pain of recovery, and the prospect of a life with no feeling in my boobs… but, at the same time, I simply cannot wait for those things to happen – almost to the point of excitement – because that’ll mean that my chances of a cancer recurrence have sunk like the flushed turd they are.
As Mr Marbles has repeatedly told me, when it comes to cancer in particular, you’re confronted with so many conflicting emotions and opinions that there’s simply no room for the black and white thinking to which I’ve always defaulted. Time and time again, he’s made assurances that it’s okay for me to feel several different things at once. And it’s a mantra I’ve often called into effect. Particularly after a phonecall with my mid-chemo auntie earlier this week.
‘I have news,’ she said. ‘I’ve just had the results of my BRCA testing.’
(To fill you in on the background here, since we discovered that I am carrying the BRCA-2 gene, my family have been plunged into an unfortunate routine of counselling and testing to ascertain which side of the family the gene has come from – and whether they are prepared to find out. And given that, before my auntie’s diagnosis in February, I was the only sorry sod in the family tree to have had breast cancer, we’ve since assumed that the gene must have come from Dad’s side of the family, what with the auntie in question being his sister.)
‘Ah,’ I said tentatively. ‘I hadn’t realised you’d be getting the results this week.’
‘Me neither,’ she said. ‘But it’s good.’
I struggled to imagine what ‘good’ could possibly mean in this situation.
‘I don’t have it,’ she revealed.
‘I don’t have it. I don’t have the BRCA gene.’
‘Are they sure?’ I said, quickly realising that ‘congratulations’ may have been more appropriate.
‘Positive,’ she said.
‘Omigod. That’s amazing,’ I said.
And it is. It’s amazing that, once her treatment is over, she won’t need to consider the cancer-preventing surgery I’m soon to have. It’s amazing that her children and grandchildren no longer need to worry about whether their likelihood of getting The Bullshit is greatly increased. And it’s amazing that my auntie can charge her way through the rest of her treatment, safe in the knowledge that everything has been done to ensure that this bastard of a disease stands a pitiably feeble chance of making a comeback.
But – cue Marbles’ mantra – with that amazing news came new concerns. The worry that my Mum was now back in the genetic frame as well as Dad. The anxiety about the possibility that the BRCA mutation could have begun in this body in which I sit, and not further down my ancestral DNA. The mystification about how I’d feel if indeed that were the case. (Were it not for the fact that I am the World’s Most Obvious Carbon Copy Of Her Parents, I’d have been calling into question the legitimacy of my genetic lineage.) But also, there emerged a tacit sadness that my auntie had been so bloody unlucky to get breast cancer in the first place, with no decent genetic explanation for its existence.
‘That’s daft though,’ said Jamie when I explained it to him. ‘You should be feeling unlucky that you’re the one who’s got it; not that she’s got no way to explain her own Bullshit.’
‘I can’t help it though mate,’ I admitted. ‘I know I should be happy for her – and I am – but also I can’t help but feel just so desperately sad at her shit luck.’
‘Then you’re a nobhead, sis,’ said J, always quick to call a halt to my lower-cased bullshit.
Nobhead I may indeed be, but what I later came to realise was that my attributing such misfortune to my auntie’s reasonless Bullshit suggested that I had unwittingly taken some comfort from the BRCA-centred rationale behind my own diagnosis. Previously I saw it as a chance lightning-strike; now it’s a falling piano that – all being well – I can dodge with a drastic yet utterly worthwhile process of prevention. And I suppose that, in turn, bodes well for the way I’m going to handle my surgery.
So, you see, the thoughts in my head are as messy as a cupboard full of tangled coat hangers. It’s taken me 30 years to realise it, but most emotions just aren’t as easy to separate as political beliefs – not least those to do with cancer. So perhaps I should be emailing Ant on the occasions when I get to grips with my life with The Bullshit, and not when I’ve succeeded in talking about electoral reform over dessert? (Alas, yet another thing I’m undecided about.) But, among all the issues on which I remain uncertain, when it comes to my preventative surgery, there’s one thing I do know: bring it on.