Monday, 11 July 2011

A reminder.

Last week, blogger @billygean tweeted me a link to a story about familial breast cancer; specifically, about some poor bugger who’s had it seven times. As it was, I somehow missed the link and so when, later, Billygean mentioned it, I had to admit the truth that I would be giving the story a miss. ‘Think I’m going to swerve it, pet,’ I said. ‘I’m not giving the c-word any attention today.’

In short, ‘not giving the c-word any attention’ is pretty much how I like to live my life. Admittedly, that’s not always easy when a) you’ve had it, b) you’re living with the consequences of it, c) you’ve made a career move out of it, and d) people are, quite naturally, keen to talk to you about other instances of it, but – for the good of my sanity – I give it a go regardless. But, alas, it’s a tactic that’s not without its downfalls.

Take Glastonbury, for instance. Given the frequency at which I bang on about the festival, you’re doubtless sick of hearing that it’s my favourite place in the world. And, for those of you who’ve never been, I ought to explain why. Yes, there’s great music and yes, it’s a brilliant laugh – but, actually, my reasons for loving it so are more to do with the relaxation, the freedom from contact (and I mean genuine, no-juice-left-in-your-iPhone freedom – as opposed to the didn’t-ought-to-be-on-data-roaming-but-I-am-anyway kind), the slow pace, the fresh air, the kindness with which everyone treats each other, and ­– at the risk of sounding like an irrecoverable hippy – all that lovely sky.

Spot the cancer patient.
It’s the relaxation thing that does it for me most, though. This coming from a girl who, quite honestly, is never relaxed. I’m not relaxed on holiday (far more concerned with how awful I look in a swimsuit); I’m not relaxed in bed (for that’s when my worries present themselves in full technicolour); I’m not even fully relaxed in the company of friends and family, so continually paranoid am I about the way I’m coming across. But the moment we drive our van through those farm gates: bam – I’m as chilled as a penguin in a freezer compartment. I’m unconcerned with who’s jacket is cooler than mine, I couldn’t give a crap about my visible pores, and the last things on my mind are flyaway hair or WeightWatchers points. (‘Do you know what’s amazing about this place?’ said my first-time Glasto-buddy Jess. ‘Everyone stops being tied up with their looks. Nobody gives a shit any more; it’s amazing.’) All of a sudden, every worry – however daft or however significant – falls by the wayside, flushed down a long-drop loo along with… well, I’m sure you can imagine the rest. For this Glasto-goer perhaps more than most, then, it’s a pretty special thing. Because, at Glastonbury, I don’t feel like the recovering cancer patient I do everywhere else; I just feel like one of the crowd. And bugger me, it’s bloody wonderful.

Usually I am, of course, acutely aware of my worries. That’s not to say that I can’t live a wonderful life because of them – quite the contrary. But, much as The Bullshit has left behind a number of parting shots that necessitate daily acknowledgement (the lymphoedema in my left arm, the decreasing bone density, the various scars on my body, the unusual – but nonetheless fabulous – rack), I do work hard at not ‘giving the c-word any attention’. But, alas, there’s always bound to be a moment when that can’t work. Ignorance is indeed bliss... but by ’eck, it’s risky. And so, when something comes along to remind you of your real-world status – finding your arm rapidly swelling up in a crush on the way to the John Peel stage, for instance, or struggling to find something other than a can of pre-mixed G&T with which to take your oestrogen-suppressing pills – it hits like a sledgehammer.  

But, compared with the other reminders that cancer has up its sleeve, that’s nothing. Because, lately, it issued another reminder: specifically, when it planted The Bullshit – and then, as if that weren’t quite enough, a Bullshit recurrence – inside my mate Leo’s body. I first ought to point out that his is a body so fit (yes, ladies, in every sense of the word) that cancer has got a serious bloody cheek renting space there in the first place. I mean, I can just about get my head around a tumour having found a cosy home inside this lard-arsed structure, but he’s a decathlete, ferfuckssake! Surely there’s no space within his frame for anything other than muscle and Lucozade and frighteningly focused PMA?

It’s with some confusion, then, that I find myself still able to be shocked by this stuff. I’ve said before that there’s a strange comfort to be had in the lightning-strike of this happening to you. But to then discover that said lightning isn’t just striking elsewhere in the abstract world, but directly at someone in your Twitter stream? Sheesh. And so apparently I’m still as much a Bullshit shock-target as the rest of the world. I mean, yes, we’ve established that it’s possible to be surprised by the reminder of cancer even when you’ve had it, but to be shocked by other occurrences of it in your pitifully young age group is a whole other beast; less slap-in-face than piano-on-head. And all of that’s quite aside from the shock of discovering another cancer blogger so bloody brilliant with words that it rather puts you to shame. (Not that I’m shocked that clever, fit, funny, cancerous Leo is raining on my parade, of course. Although, let’s be honest, he is.)

Of course, neither I nor Leo want to be examples. (That said, we’re shameless attention-whores, so perhaps we secretly do.) Neither of us chose to be the kind of reminders that make you snap out of your blissful ignorance and wonder whether, even at its best, your health might not be everything you assume it to be. But they’re the roles we’ve been given, and we’re stuck with them. Hence what I perhaps ought to be saying – as much to myself as to you – is that, instead of getting angry about the Bullshit reminders that occasionally present themselves (whether theoretical or in person), what’s more important is to learn from them, being vigilant where necessary and keeping in the back of your mind that nothing is so precious that it can’t be snatched away from you at a millisecond’s notice.

That’s what I ought to be saying. But actually, sod all that. Because Leo, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, is more proof than I’ve ever seen that you can be as healthy and positive and determined and young and whatever else as you like – it simply doesn’t matter to The Bullshit. And so, actually, I’d much rather tell you to ignore the above paragraph and live your life however the bloody hell you want to live it. Because, yeah, unwanted reminders may rear their ugly heads from time to time, administering the occasional shock-treatment but, if it’s all the same, I’d much rather ignore mine as much as I’m able, and take my blissfully ignorant moments where I can get them. Because, whether they come at Glastonbury or on holiday or in an average hour wasted away on Twitter, they’re just too good to spoil.


Richard Ashton said...

Lisa, as somebody who has now had thyroid cancer three times I agree with every sentiment!

Fletcher of the Day said...

My friend's husband has had cancer for 9 years and been terminal for 5 of them. When she found out Maarten had Cancer, She had a really tough time with it. Cancer was something she lived with on a daily basis and the last thing she wanted was someone close to her to live in that reality.I was her escape from Cancer (me and Mr. Darcy, anyway) and suddenly I was in the same position (well, not as bad, fortunately). 3 years later and We are fortunate to have moved on, when she is still living with it (though it's nearing an unfortunate conclusion).

I don't live with it daily anymore, though Maarten most likely does, but reading your blog, seeing the things you do in your life is a big reminder to enjoy those moments. So keep living in moment. It's inspiring! (no pressure :)

xx Lori

Anonymous said...

Definately agree - those moments of ignorance of forgetting are bliss - bit of a bump back down to earth afterwards but worth it.
Fi xxx

Jo said...

Lisa, I first came across you in some of my darkest days (no Bullshit just regular city life Bollocks) and here I am about to set off on a world trip. Thanks for being an inspiration.

I'm gagging for Glasto 2013 already is that wrong?!

keep it real
xx Kiwijobloggs

Jacinta Geraghty said...

I think thats Emma Hannigan from here in Ireland you're talking about! She actually has it for the EIGHTth time now! She's an amazing woman. Since I started my blog I have found so many other young people that have breast cancer, wouldn't you think it would just FECK OFF and go invade the bad people of this world and leave us alone! Hope you're keeping well Lisa!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa

I had breast cancer and am now in my second year, first mammogram clear. Well I look at life like this - I have missed out on one year of my life to give cancer any thought or to take up the rest of my life. I party, laugh and enjoy the good times. I have seen that woman on telly that has had it 8 times and to be honest I think she is getting on every programme she can and it seems she's everywhere, which can give people going through breast cancer the wrong idea, that it will keep coming back. I know 2 women who had breast cancer, one was 23 years ago and the other 27 years ago and they were young and the only prevention they got was a mastectomy and tablets. I enjoy sex with my partner and I continued to do so last year when I has just one boob and no hair, I would strip off and do my thing, and you know what he loved it and so did I. So to all young women going through it or that have had it, remember there is an afterwards and it is up to you how that afterwards will be. Now I am sporting a funky curly hair do with big hairband, I look so chic and I am getting the latest in technology breast reconstruction available; next year, it is going to cost €17,000 - but you know what I am worth it!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa, I started following your blog as a lowly medical student, interested in hearing a (highly witty) patient's side of the tale. Couldn't quite believe it when diagnosed with a brain tumour last summer on holiday in South Africa. Still too wholly immersed in the rigmarole of treatment at the moment to imagine ever having completely-forgetful cancer moments but your description of Glastonbury has me gagging for 2013, when this should all be over.

I guess what i'm trying to say is , brillinat sentiment, but that i'm grateful for the moments when you slip, because that's when you blog and make us all laugh.

Millie said...

Bollocks, now I feel guilty for e-mailing you a cancer related whinge.

None the less, bring on Glasto 2013!!!!