In fact, so great had I considered my Great New Thing ideas – for businesses, for movies, for books – to be, that I’d barely even worn a slick of mascara to the get-together, for fear of my genius concepts being overshadowed by my outfit (jeans and Radiohead t-shirt) or styling (birds-nest hair and wonky glasses). It was only upon finding my Great New Thing game-changers on the receiving end of hundreds of barely stifled titters and pitying eye-rolls, however, that I began to realise my pecking-order in this enormous room of writers: I was barely fit to shine their similes.
So why, then, had I been asked to attend in the first place? I mean, yeah, I make an amazing brew, but was that really it? Perhaps they just needed an easy target to mock, or had some kind of work-experience quota to fill. Whatever the case, my personal invitation was beginning to bother me – just why the hell would Jack Black invite me to something like that? Well, I’ll tell you why Jack Black would invite me to something like that: because I’m on an inordinate amount of morphine.
And also because, the moment my eyes are closed, I appear to be existing in a freakish parallel universe in which all that’s important is leaving behind a serious, high-profile – and seriously high-profile – mark on the world. I mean, sheesh – the other afternoon I interrupted Pete’s nap by nattering away about the necessity for an immediate weapons amnesty, ferfuckssake.
Back to my morphine-induced alternative reality, however, and among its most freakish features is its ability to pick up where it left off – or, at least, vaguely where it left off – several hours between sleeps. Hence last night I found myself at another ‘writing collaborative’, albeit on a much smaller scale, in a library’s basement room with only Jack Black, Sean Lock and that woman who did the judging on Show Me The Funny – who, for the purposes of proper identification, we shall call Kate Copstick.
Kate Copstick’s idea for a Great New Thing was to produce a book called How To Live (I do hope my dreamtime colleagues have better ideas in real life) – a book which wouldn’t just write about all the many ways and means in which one might, as she put it, ‘live well’, but would display them, almost like a magical scrapbook: hence, pleasing textures would be there to feel, gorgeous pictures would be there to see, beautiful noises would be there to hear, and wonderful feelings would be there to, well, feel.
‘Does anyone actually need a book for that, though?’ I’d asked. ‘Isn’t that just, y’know, life?’
‘No. It’s the experience of life,’ was her patronising answer. (I’m very sorry about this fictitious exchange, by the way, Kate Copstick. Why it was you in my dream and not, I don’t know, Meryl Streep or Zac Efron or Wile E Coyote, I have absolutely no idea. I actually happen to think that you’re a rather lovely human being and that, were we to meet in a Jack-Black-arranged ‘writing collaborative’ in the basement of a central London library, we might perhaps get on rather well.)
‘Precisely,’ I’d said, ignoring Jack’s sideways death-stares by continuing to argue back. ‘So nobody needs a book telling them how to live it.’
‘Well I think we’ve already established that your ideas are worth shit,’ said Kate, having a little giggle with Sean Lock about my pitiful performance at last night’s meeting to establish the nature of the Great New Thing.
And then, calm as anything, I allowed my real and virtual worlds to collide. ‘Actually, Kate Copstick,’ I said, hands on hips, ‘I think you’ll find that, on this particular subject, I am the WORLD FUCKING AUTHORITY.’
Kate Copstick looked like she wasn’t normally argued with in such a manner.
‘Because as it happens,’ I continued, ‘in the last few days, I have discovered that, in fact, if ANYONE knows how to live, it’s ME. For I have, at the age of 32, with the revelation of widespread secondary cancer in my bones, discovered that my days of living the glorious life which you are so keen to replicate in book form are, I’m afraid, rather limited.’
Well that sure took the wind out of Kate Copstick’s sails. Sean Lock’s, too: in fact, to such a point that he instantly disappeared. Kate looked to Jack, Jack looked to me, I looked to Kate. And, with a sudden ‘aah’ of realisation, Kate looked right back at me.
‘Ah, okay, I get it,’ she said. ‘I get it!’
‘The Great New Thing…’ Kate said to Jack. ‘She’ll be doing it.’
Now, there are a lot of things that these dreams could mean. They might mean that, after three years and three months of writing this blog, I have finally – finally – marched over the do-not-cross line of sanity. They might mean that morphine is a more powerful drug than even this long-time user gave it credit for. They might mean that, proud as I am of my achievements to date, they’re a mere drop in the ocean; they might mean that, however old I get, I’ll never escape feeling like a teenage dork; or they might mean that I’ve developed an unexpected crush on Jack Black. I’m more inclined to conclude, however, that my dreams point to two things: firstly, that – as is perhaps perfectly natural upon being told you have a disease that cannot be cured – I am concerned about the legacy of work I’ll leave behind. But secondly – and more importantly – that no amount of subliminal messages in freaky morphine dreams can tell me How To Live, thank you very much.
But that’s for another time. And so, as is customary, let’s address the first thing first: my legacy. Having written so long about the alternative reality (which, to be perfectly honest, is far more interesting than what’s going on in my pyjamas right now) I ought to spend some time here giving you the real-world picture: the one that, I am afraid, is even more difficult to read than a drug-induced hallucinatory argument with Kate Copstick. My last post revealed to you that for some time I’ve been in a fair bit of pain; pain which was – only naturally – attributed to my back-break of 16 months ago but which has, in fact, revealed itself to be a secondary cancer spread to my bones: one which cannot be cured, but can, as we are now beginning to attempt, to be managed for some time yet.
With my first diagnosis, then, there was an internal dialogue that went: ‘Oh shit I’m going to die’ / ‘Oh get over yourself of course you’re not going to die’. This time, however, was more ‘Oh shit I’m going to die’ / ‘Oh SHIT I really AM going to die’. And so, if you’ll forgive my bluntness, there’s an acceptance that comes with it now; that has to come with it; that I want to come with it. (Hence let’s cull the ‘you’ll beat this thing just like you did before!’ messages, please, lest I be forced to retort with ‘er yeah, but I won’t, will I?’) Thus, where once I was scrapping to stay alive in order to have a long future, now I’m scrapping to stay alive in order to have an immediate future – and, daft as it might seem, a past. Previously I wondered what I was going to do, now I’m wondering what I’m going to have done. And right now, that’s learning to be content with being remembered as ‘the one who wrote about cancer’. If indeed, it’s not cocky to assume that I’ll be remembered at all.
But back to the immediate reality. The time between my last post and this has seen an often frightening schedule of scans and tests and consultations with all manner of different specialists (oncologists, secondary breast cancer nurses, pain consultants, palliative experts, relaxation therapists, you name it) all designed to keep my pain – AKA, the stuff of cruciatus curses – to a level which we’ll be able to manage indefinitely. My course of treatment has since been decided as well, and I am hereby on a three-weekly cycle of chemotherapy designed to keep my cancer at bay, which I’m taking in tablet form (two weeks on, one week off) and which will, I promise you, be nothing like that which I experienced for my primary cancer. As well as that, I’m having a ‘bone juice’ called pamidronate aimed at keeping my bones as strong as possible, administered by IV drip every third Wednesday in the Royal Marsden’s day unit, along with continued morphine and calcium and various other pain killers and gut-protectors and shiz. These things will, as far as anyone is able to say at present, continue forever. To which, of course, Peter and I had to ask the most difficult of questions: ‘what are we to assume by “forever”?’
I’ll preface what comes next with there being no hard-and-fast rules where life expectancy is concerned, and there being no way to predict what might happen in the meantime… but of course you’re not listening to that, are you? So instead I’ll tell you exactly what we were told: that an average prognosis of someone in my position is around the four-and-a-half-year mark. I’ll also tell you that fronting up to my diagnosis in that way (and when I say ‘me’ I of course mean Pete, Mum, Dad, Jamie, Leanne…) hurt us all like hell and that I therefore simply cannot allow us to do that any more. We’re not going to think of it like that. AND NEITHER ARE YOU. We’re just going to carry on as normal, aren’t we, blogging and piss-taking and shopping and holiday-planning and telly-watching and singing and snoring and laughing and loving and being as daft as we are every other normal day. AREN’T WE? Good.
Which brings me, quite neatly, onto my second point, about the ‘living well’ stuff. Because, in first wondering why the morphine-dream Jack Black asked me along to his ‘writing collaborative’, and then in wondering why he agreed with Kate Copstick’s realisation that I’d be responsible for the ‘Great New Thing’, whatever it may be, I can only see one answer. Because I’m the right girl for the role.
See, maybe the Great New Thing isn’t a business or a movie or a book or anything like that: maybe the Great New Thing is, quite simply, the process of looking at your life and realising, with enormous gratitude and stratospheric jamminess, that there’s absolutely nothing you’d change about it – not the way you’ve done it so far; not the way it’s going to be lived from now on; not even the legacy you’ll leave behind. So maybe I’m the girl for the job because I just don’t need the advice of Hollywood writers nor worldwide super-achievers nor multi-millionaires nor bolshy comedy critics. Because, when it comes to that magical business of How To Live, by ’eck, I challenge anyone to do it better than I have.