|Go on, then.|
I haven’t visited every continent, but I don’t need to. I haven’t become a best-selling author, but I don’t need to. Everything I could have hoped to achieve in my life – let alone by the time I’m 32 – I have done. I have an insanely happy marriage, I own my own home, I’ve made a living doing something I love, and I’ve surrounded myself by the loveliest of lovely people while I’ve done it. Job’s a good’un. I mean, yeah, it’d be nice to see New York someday and yeah, it’d be nice to finally get a cheeky snog off Dave Grohl – but neither are things that I’d be devastated to never have done. (Especially, I have to say, the Grohl thing. Soon after hearing about my cancer spread, I thought: ‘Well you’ve had your chance, mate… and besides, you’re no Peter Lynch’.)
That’s not to say that I don’t still have goals – quite the contrary; it’ll take more than The Bullshit to do away with my ambitious streak – more that I just don’t believe in looking at your life in terms of the stuff you haven’t done. Nor do I believe in having regrets. I mean, fair enough, that hugely unflattering bob with the side parting practically skimming the top of my left ear might not have been the smartest idea I’ve ever had, and I probably could have done without the seventh tequila that saw me sharing a cab home with a boy who, rather than finding his luck in, found himself being puked on… but hey, you can’t be repenting the kind of daft decisions that have made you who you are. (Unless, I s’pose, you’re Kim Kardashian.)
|Yes, slimline tonic. Because that made |
all the difference at Glastonbury.
There is something, however, that I have, very recently, felt shamefacedly defeated into having to class as a regret; something that, to anyone not staring down the barrel of the most bullshitty of Bullshit prognoses, might seem pretty insignificant. Petty, even. But – having not just admitted to it in one of mine and P’s signature world-to-rights chats, but found myself noisily sobbing at the confession – let me assure you that it’s far from trivial. In fact, even as I write about this, I’m getting progressively more angry with myself. Furious, in fact, at all the time – all the precious, precious time – that I’ve squandered worrying myself into a frenzy about what I look like. Because now – in a place where, coof, am I fast realising what’s important – nothing seems like more of a criminal misuse of a life than the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months (dare I say even years?) spent fretting about my weight, my skin, the size of my arse, the circumference of my thighs, the thickness of my ankles, the shape of my belly button, the shovel-like span of my hands, the inward slant of my left knee, the… well, you get the picture. Doubtless because, in your own way, you’ve probably done it too.
Over the last few days we’ve had P’s eldest brother staying with us: officially the easiest company to whom you could ever grant the use of a spare room. Terry is the spa-visit of house guests; never expectant of being ‘entertained’, never mindful of a schedule, simply happy to just hang out; to just relax; to just be. One of the most brilliant things for P about having his big brother visit from Spain, however, is the time they spend in the kitchen – and, when not in the kitchen, in the local deli, or with their heads in cook books, or on the sofa watching food shows. Ordinarily, I’d let them get on with it, busying myself with other stuff, but this time I got involved, taking an interest in the recipes and salivating along with every egg-crack and every chopped herb of Nigel Slater’s latest creation. And cor blimey, was it a joy.
Because it IS a joy, isn’t it, food? It’s there to feel glorious about, not guilty about. And yet, far too often have I seen it as the latter. ‘Ooh, well I didn’t ought to be having butter over Flora, lest I find myself unable to squeeze into that frock.’ ‘And hm, perhaps we could meet for dinner at Wagamama instead of Itsu? I can recite the Weight Watchers points of their entire menu, see, so if we go there I’m all set.’ What a fucking drag. It’s shameful, really: if you add it all up, I’d be willing to bet my flat that I’ve spent more minutes worrying about what the outside of my body looks like than worrying about the preposterously vile things that have been happening within it. And what a stupendously idiotic waste of time. (Either way, to be fair.)
Frankly, I should have spent more time channeling Nigella. Not necessarily in a making-pea-and-pesto-soup-to-drink-from-a-flask-on-the-back-seat-of-the-bus way because, well, come ON. (In real life, some little shopping-centre twatclacker with his arse hanging out of his kecks would see you sitting smugly on the number 53, use said flask to thwack you round the head and nick your handbag.) But certainly I should have spent more time channeling Nigella in the way that she approaches eating: as an unbridled pleasure. Nigella loves food – and she loves telling you that she loves food. And yeah, it might have made her fluctuating weight the source of gossip-column fascination (hello, Daily Mail) but really, who gives a shish kebab? The fact is, Nigella Lawson is HAWT, saucy hips and all, and anyone who thinks otherwise is clearly a few peas short of a casserole. It’s like she said herself in Stylist this week: 'I think that appetite is seen as hearty in a male and slightly wanton and lascivious in a female, but that's just about perception… Eating is a great joy in life. One's got to make sure it does give happiness.' Well, amen to that.
This last few days, then, I’ve rejoiced in the delight of food as though it were an old mate who I’d always been fond of but with whom I’d never really spent the requisite time. (A reality that’s even more criminal when you’re married to a chef as talented as my husband.) Hence, with Terry staying, we treated ourselves to chicken and sweet potato chips while watching Corrie; we woke up to Marmite on crumpets and milkshakes packed with banana and strawberries; we enjoyed a Monday-night beef rendang with a spicy salad and, before we went to bed, cradled mugs of hot chocolate with mini marshmallows on top. We put P’s first ever pizza dough to the test with pancetta and spicy tomatoes and basil. We watched endless episodes of Man vs Food (go, Adam, go!) and planned a dream route of all the chow-down stops we’d call at on a drive across America. We baked two Christmas cakes and fed them with insane amounts of brandy. And, having asked of one of my doctors ‘is there anything I could be eating that might help my bones?’ and being told ‘cheese and milk’, I made a plan to give P a night off caring for me so he can go to his work Christmas party while two of my best mates come over to scoff our way through a cheese board. (Today, prior to my chemo being administered, it was revealed that my haemoglobin levels were unusually low, meaning that I’ll have to be given a blood transfusion on Monday. Softening the blow somewhat, however, was the advice that eating more red meat and drinking the odd half of Guinness wouldn’t do me any harm. Tsk – the hardship, eh?)
|Pie = joy.|
And not once over the last few days of happy eating – not even once, not even a little bit – did I feel bad about doing so. And you know what? I suspect I might even look better because of it. (Do you know how many calories there are in guilt?) Because, at last, I’m allowing myself to have what I want without mentally beating myself up about it afterwards. Not to an excessive point, you understand: just to a point where, if I fancy a hot chocolate and a Tunnocks Teacake, then I’m damn well going to have one. (In the Best Present Idea Ever, a mate of mine was excellent enough to have THREE BOXES of them delivered to my flat this week.) And what’s more, I’m going to have a big old cheeky grin on my face while I do. And probably get the sticky marshmallow bit all over my gob. And not give a shiny, shameful shit.
While we’re at it, then, I might as well admit to further making up for wasted time by – in a move that’s surprised me every bit as much as my startled reflection – allowing people to see me without make-up. And you know what? The world hasn’t imploded in on itself! I’m scraping back my hair into a half-arsed ponytail when I can’t be bothered straightening it. I’m allowing my pyjamas to become acceptable attire to be seen in when people come to visit (‘Yoda Says Relax’ T-shirt and all). I’m letting the pile of unorganised mail remain on the ottoman in the front room because I’ve got better things to do than file it away. And, bugger me, nobody appears to think any less of me because of it. Don’t take from this that I’m letting myself go. Quite, I hope, the opposite – I can still overdo the eyeshadow and style the arse off a mantelpiece of candles with the best of ’em. It’s just that, along with the revelation that there are far bigger concerns than the numbers on the scales, has come a freedom; an abandon; a permission to enjoy.
There will doubtless be people reading this with a skepticism about my new-found couldn’t-give-a-shit-ness when it comes to stressing about my weight and suchlike. ‘But being overweight can increase one’s risk of cancer!’ they’ll be thinking – and, to a certain extent, rightly so. But I’m afraid that overly simplified logic (hello again, Daily Mail) simply does. not. apply. to the millions of normal, everyday, unremarkable people like me who’ve lived their lives eating cautiously (while still being able to put away a box of Cadbury’s Fingers in one inhalation), looking after themselves (while still occasionally overdoing it on the gin), and getting a sporadic bee in their bonnet about doing more exercise (while still refusing ever to run for a bus, no matter how late).
It’d be dead easy to attribute those parenthesesed simple joys to the occurrence of cancer in otherwise healthy, everyday people (actually, it’d be a masterclass in lazy journalism) but, sitting here in my chemo chair with an egg and spinach sarnie in one hand while typing with the other, I dare say I’m qualified to state that, actually, that’s utter bollocks. Because, hey! Guess what? There might be a thousand blah-causes-cancer studies to keep the right-wing press in business but, in fact, most of those things have got fuck all to do with The Bullshit. Cancer just happens. And it happens to people like me and you – healthy, happy, mindful, mostly looked-after, not-especially-overweight people who’ve wasted chunks of their lives worrying about far more trivial concerns. It happens to us every damn day of the week, with sod all explanation. So if avoiding cancer really was about living like a saintly, well exercised, sensibly fed, low-stressed, spa-treated picture of virtue, then why the hell has it happened to a decathlete mate of mine, a runner mate of mine, a vegan mate of mine, and a mate of mine so supermodel-gorgeous that the presence of The Bullshit beneath her beautiful skin seems as inappropriately at odds as Mary Poppins being a child-thumping chain-smoker of a battleaxe. Because, contrary to what we’d all like to believe, The Bullshit is something of which we’re not, in fact, in any kind of control.
With every passing month, the business of ‘curing yourself’ of cancer through eating a certain way is getting bigger and bigger and, even as a faithful proponent of the drugs-for-the-good approach, I can perfectly understand why. It must feel like seizing back some power; taking charge; managing things for yourself. And, given that there are many success stories to be found, fair dos for anyone giving it a go. For me, though, the idea of denying myself certain foods, or certain activities, in the belief that they’ll not be good for my health isn’t one that fits with my way – okay, my new way – of doing things. I’m not suggesting that I’m going to be blindfoldedly rollerblading my way to the chippy for a deep-fried Mars bar – just that, after a lifetime mentally kicking myself in the coochie for anything that might have had even the tiniest of adverse effects on my stomach, I’m going to pay more attention to the things that have a favorable effect on my soul instead. My doctors are doing their bit, and I’m doing mine: by keeping myself happy. And in my belief system, daft as it may sound, keeping happy is what’s going to keep me alive.
|My home city in sandwich-board form.|
See, without wanting to sound like some sort of super-wanky born-again new-ager, there are things that I’ve come to realise lately about the greater meaning of this thing called life. (Sheesh, if I should be kicking myself in the coochie about anything, it’s that sentence.) Specifically, that the small pleasures are ALL. Hence these past few days – which, incidentally, have come at the end of my three-weekly phase of chemo (two Wednesdays on, one Wednesday off), during which I feel better than at any other time throughout the mostly crappy cycle – have not been about grabbing the opportunity to go large, but instead taking pleasure in the simple joys. Getting in bed at 7pm and chatting until 1; trying to outdo each other at Countdown; taking receipt of my new wheelchair and using it as an excuse to get to the chirpy little caff down the road for a fish-finger butty; wooly socks; wrapping Christmas presents; Stevie Wonder; inventing new expletives to text to my mate Ward; writing; Plants vs Zombies; predicting the next four weeks of Coronation Street storylines; pleasing punctuation; cobs and pop; eating cheese and biscuits in bed and having them nicked by the cat; dreaming up competitive eating challenges at which we reckon we could excel (introducing the Battle of the Barrelful of Cadbury’s Fingers); snogging in inappropriate places; tweeting in the bath; new pyjamas; jokes from friends; funny little SMS chats with Busby about the Daily Mail’s latest obsession with Miranda Kerr (She drinks coffee! She runs errands! She wears leather trousers! She’s the only person in the world ever to have a baby! She knows how to get her husband ‘in the mood’! She’s JUST LIKE US!); perfect cups of tea; crap telly; fairy lights around the front window; White Company tree decorations; mixtapes made by mates; listening to P sing Alejandro while he’s cooking... This – the uncomplicated, contented, daft little delights, and appreciating how lucky you are to have them – are surely what life is all about? I may be completely wide of the mark, of course – it might turn out that, in fact, the most important things are career and kids and never missing a mortgage payment – but if I’m wrong, well, I’ll be glad to be.
Because, actually, I’m all for the small things. I don’t care if they mean I’m a simpleton; I don’t care if they contain more calories; I don’t even care if they make me look like the kind of vacuous mop-head who considers The Only Way Is Essex to be an important social commentary. (Because I don’t, obviously. I really, really don’t. *cough*). It’s just that these are the kind of things that tickle my pickle, that blow up my skirt and twist my melon. And though I’m sure the more serious folk out there may view these kind of pleasures as unnecessary stuff that could easily be trimmed – the flab of life, if you will – I’m sticking with them. Because, as I heard one of the Hairy Bakers say on telly the other night, ‘fat means flavour’. And, by ’eck, that’s a corker of a mantra that I can’t help regretting it took incurable cancer to make me understand.