Thursday 20 October 2011

Cross purposes.

I’ll begin today’s post with a confession. Right around now, if The Bullshit hadn’t come along to screw everything up, there’s a strong chance I’d have been opening this post with another kind of confession: that I was shaving my head into a punk-rock mohican.

It was early September when I equated the probability of P and I having children as ‘no likelier to happen than either of us getting a mohawk’. Well, that was a bit of a fib, designed to throw you – ‘you’ mostly meaning our family and close friends – off the scent, leaving us with the kind of space and time in which we could consider The Kid Question without fear of scrutiny or raised hopes or enforced opinion. You see, in that tricky period when we were daring to look ahead for the first time since The Bullshit’s initial appearance, considering what we might like to do with our newly rosy-looking futures, P and I were beginning to think about what it might be like to adopt children, whether we thought we might be up to the job, and how we might go about looking into it. And so we registered interest with our local council and signed up to a meeting in which we could figure out how it all worked and then be in a position to decide, one way or another, whether this really was something we could – and wanted to – commit to. As it happened, however, that meeting took place while I was in a hospital bed, a day after we’d learned of the incurable spread to my bones.

But before you get all teary on me, pack it in. Yes, it’s very sad; yes, we’d have been wonderful parents; and yes, it’s just such a shame when so many ill-prepared, Jeremy-Kyle-auditionee twatclackers can get pregnant so damn easily blah blah. But let me stop you there. Because, actually, this confession simply doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything; it doesn’t make the new diagnosis any more heartbreaking; and it doesn’t mean that P and I have lost anything other than the opportunity to try out a crazy new hairdo. Hence, we don’t want sympathy, we don’t want oh-what-a-shames, and if you don’t immediately adjust that tilted head I swear I’m officially banning you from my blog. I’m merely using this confession as a means with which to introduce what I wanted to write about today: having a purpose.

And so, here’s another confession. For me, a significant part of entering into the should-we-adopt debate was because, probably even more than I wanted children, I wanted a purpose. I wanted a drive, a reason to be, something to call myself. It’s most likely an issue that many non-parents consider, before deciding either that actually, yes, they’d like to give this child-rearing thing a go, or hell no, they’re perfectly happy with their purpose being freedom and spontaneity and having a marvellous, guilt-free career, thank you very much. But, I suspect, the what’s-my-purpose question is one I’ve considered more than most.

As those of you who know me personally – or know me through years of reading this blog – will understand, it’s always been my purpose to be purposeful. I do like a purpose. It’s incredibly important to me. Hence, unsurprisingly, some of the most troubling moments of my life have been those in which I’ve struggled to define my purpose: the odd, pre-birthday, panic-attack-laden period earlier this year, for example. And while I hate having been right about those moments of panic (which, I might as well admit now, were not borne of worry about whether P and I would adopt, but whether we’d finally do so and I’d then discover what I since have), I can perfectly understand why they existed. Strange as this may sound, my days of partial remission were, of course, hugely celebratory, but also bloody frightening: because what was my life all about now, now that it wasn’t about beating cancer?

Today, of course, it’s not about beating cancer, but keeping it at bay for as long as possible. And shitty a purpose as that is to have, at least I’ve got one. I appreciate that probably sounds like a sick thing to say; cancer having given me a raison d’être where I was otherwise scrabbling around for one, but that’s not what I mean. Because, jeez, I’d happily scrabble around on my hands and knees all my sodding life in return for my purpose being something other than trying to make it to thirty-fucking-five. How I – we – deal with that purpose, though, is a whole other ball game.

It’s something Dad and I talked about last week while he was on looking-after-me duty (speaking of which, you’ve never seen this flat so spick and span: Dad spent the entirety of the week with a paintbrush in his hand and, now Mum’s swapped over to relieve him, my ironing pile has magically disappeared and my cupboards have suddenly organised themselves). The conclusion of our discussion was, unsurprisingly, that there is no right way to deal with this stuff (as I’ve said before, there is no ‘how’ in managing this kind of thing; you just manage) but simply ‘doing what you do’ is probably the best way to go. Hell, the only way to go.

And so, now we’re over the initial horror and heartbreak and shock and sadness, ‘doing what I do’ is exactly what I need to crack on with. Because, if I don’t, we’re in danger of life carrying on as it is right now: with everything being about cancer. And boy, do I mean everything. This is the point where I come across as a miserably ungrateful cow, but that’s just something I’m going to have to take on the chin – because things simply. cannot. continue. in the way they currently are, lest I suddenly flip out and do a Falling Down on your ass.

Seriously, it’s suffocating – arguably even worse than the shituation itself. Not a single conversation or phonecall or email or text message or Facebook post or goes by without me being reminded of the state I’m in. Every ‘how are things?’ or ‘thinking of you’ or ‘hope things are improving’ is more loaded than a semi-automatic; every ‘how was the hospital?’ or ‘what’s going on with your meds?’ or ‘have you been sick today?’ is more impossible to answer than the last. In fact, I’ve now simply stopped answering, instead sending ludicrous, nonsensical responses to people’s well-meaning kindness. (‘Are the new anti-sickness drugs working?’  ‘Bacon.’)

‘Crikey, you’re popular,’ said Mum earlier this week in response to the incessant beeping of my phone and my inability to fit in all the people who want to stop by.
‘But I’m not,’ I said. ‘All these people aren’t coming to visit me because they just want to hang out. They’re visiting me because I’ve got cancer.’
And, if we’re being brutally honest, they’re not even doing it for that reason: they’re doing it because they’re afraid of how many more hanging-out times we’ve got left.

I’m not stone-hearted enough to roll my eyes at everyone who wants to visit or text or tweet in reference to my health. It is, obviously, very kind of them to do so. But let’s cut to the chase here: my time left is limited. Hopefully limited to many years – but limited nonetheless. Hence I don’t want to spend that time talking about the reason why that is the case. It’s like knowing you’ve got to give birth to triplets in six months’ time and people reminding you every sodding minute about how much it’s going to hurt. It sort of defeats the purpose.

I’m sick sick sick of having to talk about it. Because, let’s not forget, that’s why I have this blog. It’s why writing has worked so well for me throughout the thorny mental terrain of dealing with The Bullshit: it gives me the opportunity to say everything I need to say, in an accessible place for anyone who wants to read it, so that I can get on with the important things in life, like making playlists, watching Coronation Street and wondering what I’m going to have for tea.

That said, though, perhaps the blog is the problem? Perhaps writing so honestly about my experiences has made a rod for my own back?
‘You’ve done well to be so honest about the latest news,’ said my friend Kris yesterday. ‘A lot of people wouldn’t be so open about it.’
‘Ah, but I have to be, don’t I?’ I said. And I do. I’ve started, so I’ll finish. What that means, however, is that discussing my situation with anyone and everyone is fair game – as well it should be. I’ve put it out there, and I should be able to deal with whatever comes back. Hence, people I don’t know – and will most likely never know – contact me regularly, whether for advice on their own Bullshit struggles, to tell me how they’re doing, or simply to ask how I am. And, by ’eck, it’s an incredibly privileged position to be in, and one I take seriously. What I can’t handle, however, are the grief-trolls that piggy-back on top. It’s alarming to me how many of these people exist (particularly, I have to say, on Twitter), positively revelling in the chance to join in with the talk of my new diagnosis, as though it’s granted me access to some kind of secret club of folk who just love to be ill, relishing in the sickly deliciousness of medication names and pain one-upmanship and hospital-whinges. So let me say this now: I am not one of you. I am not my cancer, and my cancer is not me. Yes, it’s affected the course of my life, and yes, I write about it – but it is, quite simply, not who I am.

I am a wife. I am a daughter. I am a sister and a friend and a colleague and a writer. I am a woman. I am a Ram. I am a postgraduate. I am a cat-owner. I am an author. I am a neighbour. I am a driver. I am a music buff. I am a traveller. I am a soon-to-be-auntie. I am a Mac. I am a perfectionist and a baker and a secret rapper. I am an online shopper. I am a home-maker. I am a Virgo. I am a lover. I am a terrible sleeper. I am a latecomer. I am a gin drinker. I am a doofus and a telly-addict and a clumsy bugger who’s terrible at geography. I am all of these things – and so many, many more – before I am a cancer patient. And though my new purpose is set, it simply cannot be achieved without all of these things. When Dad and I talked about ‘doing what I do’, the above paragraph is what we meant.

I’m not intending to belittle the seriousness of my new diagnosis with this post. I appreciate how heartbreaking it is for those who love me, because my heart is breaking for them too. I also appreciate that ‘doing what I do’ must incorporate talking, where necessary, about the reality of the situation Im in – just as I always have – and listening to what other people feel they need to say to me about it. But, bloody hell, the grief has got to end somewhere. And I’d like it to be now, please.

There are going to be difficult times ahead. Even more difficult than those we’ve seen over the last few weeks. But they’re not happening right now. Right now, things are returning to some semblance of normal. My pain is under control. My sickness is a lot better. I’m going to be on looking-after-myself duty next week and I’m going to start getting back to work. I’m seeing the right specialists, the right nurses, the right community services, the right therapists. I’m back in the system, and it’s doing everything it can possibly do. Everything is under control.

I appreciate more than anyone that my secondary cancer is, bit by bit, taking away everything. It’s taking our optimism and our hopes and our tentative plans for the future. And what it hasn’t already taken, it one day will. But what it hasn’t yet taken are the little things; the day-to-day trivialities which, it turns out, are even more important than the big stuff. So now it’s my turn to take something from The Bullshit. And what I’m taking is a new purpose: to do what I do, for as long as I can. So, I beg of you: let me, eh?

Friday 14 October 2011


Much as I loathe the reason for being there, I’d forgotten how much I relished certain aspects of being at the hospital. There’s plenty I hate about it, mind – the smell, the waiting, the (ugh) other people – but that tragically inclusive feeling of being in a place where folk know your name is something I fear I’ll never stop appreciating.

As you may have read the last time I was having treatment, I was embarrassingly goofy about making myself known to all the staff I’d encounter on my trips to the hospital: asking after the chemo nurses’ kids, baking trays of cupcakes for doctors, winking at the terrified boy on reception in radiotherapy... This time around, however, there’s a whole new level of goofiness to be enjoyed – for now, with the revelation of my new diagnosis, I’ve somehow been upgraded to a whole new level of access.

It’s rather like having your bog-standard Mr & Mrs Smith membership swapped for an elite, special-members-only gold card, except instead of concierge services and personal shoppers, you get access to restricted new contacts, hitherto unrevealed telephone numbers and the names of specialists unavailable to your average cancer-pleb. Worried that your new anti-sickness meds aren’t working? No problem, madam, just contact this secret specialist pharmacist and she’ll sort it out for you. Can’t get in for an appointment when you really need one? Don’t fret, madam, here’s the number of a dedicated registrar who’ll ensure you get in. Want to surpass the usual check-over by a junior consultant? Very good, madam, the big cheese will be in to see you shortly. Seriously, I’ve never been given more business cards in my life. Decades of networking couldn’t get you to this stuff. I swear even the way The Curly Professor greeted us was different this time; the secret handshake of the uber-exclusive secondary cancer club.

And so, shameless hussy of an illness-tart that I am, I’m bloody well going to exploit it. I mean, hell, I’ve paid my taxes, I’ve been a good citizen, and I’ve sure as shit got a few extra quid in the karma account. Hence, I’ve been embracing the shiny new services like Imogen Thomas embraces a chance to get on telly, and being every bit as brazen with it. This isn’t just The Bullshit, it’s The Bullshit iOS 5 – which I chose to match by turning up to this week’s clinic not with a notebook of questions to ask, but an iPad onto which I could simultaneously type the answers as The Curly Professor spoke. (Never mind cancer-bitch; I suspect cancer-wanker may be more appropriate.) 

As this week’s long day at the hospital progressed, however, I began to feel a bit guilty about my upgrade, even to the point of feeling bad about my early-thirties, skinny-jeaned, shoulder-length-haired presence in the chemo room – which, I’ve got to say, is a world away from the place in which I was treated in 2008: gone are the peeling yellow walls and uncomfortable, edge-of-the-room chairs facing in; now it’s all recliners and personal TV screens and five-star style. Even three years down the line, I’m still the youngest patient in the room – but this time, thankfully, I’m not there for chemo (that’s something that comes home with me and is taken in tablet form, with the second cycle starting this evening), but instead for my bone treatment. Which is a rather daft thing to feel self-conscious about but, as my fellow patients in the room begin to look iller and balder and paler as their chemo does its thing, I will – or at least I hope I will – look much the same with every three-weekly visit, like some kind of cheating chemo pretender.

The truth, of course, is that I’m probably in an unfortunate minority. The chances are that most women in that room are being treated for a primary cancer that’s perfectly manageable, and so feeling daft about having a decidedly less hardcore treatment for a decidedly more hardcore cancer is about as dumb as it gets. It’s not like you can advertise that stuff, though. I mean, it’s just not the done thing to loudly wax lyrical about your diagnosis in such a scenario, and I haven’t yet been given a special membership badge that’ll explain away my presence. Plus, I can’t really meet every ‘what the hell are you doing here’ look with my secondary sob-story – it’s not fair on anyone concerned and, besides, it’d make me and my iPad look decidedly less flash. However I ought to feel, though, the guilt remains – and not just in the chemo room.

Since we discovered what we discovered just over three weeks ago, it’s been a dizzying old time – not just in terms of getting our heads around the reality of my diagnosis, or dealing with the treatment, or managing the change in our day-to-day-lives, but also in terms of accepting the help that is suddenly available. Because the upgraded attention at the hospital is one thing, but quite another is that which is available in the community – largely through the quite marvellous Trinity Hospice. I first baulked at the sheer mention of it, of course, taking my referral to a palliative care team as a sure sign that my numbered days were of rather a smaller count than I’d like, but in fact I’ve discovered that it’s quite the opposite. Trinity are, simply, there to help not just those at the end of their lives, but those dealing with the kind of shit that’s landed in my lap; the kind of shit that, yes, has a conclusion nobody can escape but, more importantly, has a meantime that can be managed, be it with additional nursing and counselling, physio and complementary therapies, or occupational therapy and administrative assistance… all of which I’m entitled to, and all of which I’ve been feeling awkward about. Add to that the charities wanting to offer me grants, the organisations wanting to arrange special days out and the friends trying to organise once-in-a-lifetime treats, and I’ve got more guilt than a Catholic condom salesman.

‘But surely there are people worse off than me who’d benefit more from all this help?’ I said to two of the Trinity girls who visited me at home yesterday.
‘There might well be,’ said one, ‘but they’re getting it too. It’s not like you’re having something that could be going to someone else – this is available to everyone in your position.’
‘But, y’know, I’m okay, aren’t I? I mean, aside from the cancer stuff. There must be people in worse positions?’
‘And there are plenty of people in better ones,’ she said, as I squirmed in my armchair. ‘Seriously, Lisa, you don’t need to feel bad about accepting help. It’s there to make your life easier.’
‘Hm, I s’pose,’ I said, wholly unconvincingly.

Perhaps, then, the problem is that I’ve been viewing all this new treatment and assistance as some kind of upgrade; some kind of sneakily acquired benefit for which I haven’t sufficiently paid. Because the more likely reality, I suppose, is that it’s not an upgrade at all, and simply a double-headed fact that a) my new diagnosis opens me up to a different kind of approach, and b) three years on, facilities and treatments have improved. (And if it is indeed the latter, it makes me even more chuffed to have signed up a team for the Marsden March next spring – for which you can sponsor us by clicking here, or by hitting the button at the bottom of this post.) Because, in the time that I’ve been busily recovering and returning to some kind of normal, the medical (and charitable) worlds have been busily advancing, making the 2G of three years ago look rather laughable in comparison to the 4S of today.

Which, as The Curly Professor said himself, only bodes well for my precariously indeterminate future. ‘Look, Lisa,’ he said, pulling my attention away from my iPad and back to him. ‘We can’t yet tell what’s around the corner. Because, even in the time since we last treated you, we’re already doing things differently. And as for what else will be available to you in another five years… Well, who’s to say?’ All of which I’m roughly translating as: ‘We can’t guarantee your upgrade on this flight, madam, but if you ask for Jeeves at the special concierge desk, we’ll see what we can do.’

The Marsden March: walking together to take on cancer

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Textual healing.

As I mentioned last week, there are a lot of questions for me to answer at the moment. The one that’s asked more often than any other is, of course, the simple ‘how are you?’, the answer to which can never be quite as easy, given that it’s never the same one day as it is the next – hell, often even one hour as it is the next – which makes responding frustratingly difficult.

This week, however, has been a little more stable than last, given that it’s my first ‘week off’ chemo and has therefore come with significantly less sickness. I’m back at the hospital tomorrow to talk about (read: get seriously kick-ass about) what can be done to help me feel more human during the fortnights that I’m taking chemo pills, and also to have the second of my bone-juice IVs to keep the pain under control (which it currently largely is), so I’ll report back after that with a more detailed update of what’s going on both physically and emotionally. Until then, though, I wanted to post a lovely example of one of the ‘how are you?’ conversations I had earlier this week.

Since I’m famously averse to speaking on the phone, the below transcript is of an SMS conversation (as is much of my contact with friends – no bloody wonder I’m such a fan of Twitter) with my mate Lorna, someone who understands the Bullshit stuff more than most. One of the many reasons I love her so, however, is because of the below kind of conversation. Because Lorna, if you don’t know already, just gets it. And what she said here hasn’t half given me something sweet to chew on...

Lorna: How are you Mrs L? 

Lisa: Aw, y’know, up and down. More of an up couple of hours tonight, mind, which is good (albeit frustratingly disproportionate). How’s you, my favourite Essex girl? 

Lorna: Im alright, you been on my mind. x
I may snog you when I see you, so pucker up lady. I guess it must be a heartbreaking time and you must still be in shock really. Im sure up and down is normal. How is P? 

Lisa: Aye, Im sure it is normal. Were both in shock I suppose, but cant make as much time as wed like for thinking because of all this ruddy illness. Feel like Ive been on a sponsored puke. Apparently I cant even handle the ‘easy’ chemo, paffetic! 

Lorna: I did tablet chemo as well. Seasick mind fuckness? Did they say how the fuck it was missed? All those back scans etc? I’m just outraged for you, outraged. 

Lisa: Yes, seasick! All the fucking time! And they want me on this shite FOREVER? They can fuck off. And nowt was missed – I only ever had two back scans, when it broke, and that area was clear 16 months ago. Whatever’s all up in me is a fast-moving motherfucker. 

Lorna: Man, cancer is scary. It’s like it just hides and pounces, like a cunting ninga cuntfuck. 

Lisa: It’s scarier than even I’ve managed to get my head around yet...  
It can win. x

Lorna: Have they given you the anti-nausea stuff as well? I found chemo pills got easier as time went on. Oh, Lisa Lisa. Why the fuck?

Lisa: They have, but it’s positively not working, need to try sommat else. And why? Because were the best ones. If we weren’t so bloody brilliant in the first place, none of this shite would be a problem.

Lorna: Do you know what I think, Lisa? I think through all this we have stayed nice girls. We love our families, we love our work, we love our lives. Cancer won’t take that away from us. I really believe everything happens for a reason – some of us pull the short straw health-wise, but the long straw life-wise. We are long straws. 

Lisa: THAT, Lorna Lornchops, is going on my blog, because it is absolutely spot on. I love you. x 

Lorna: I love you more and I’m proud to have met you. Take that, Bullshit. #karatechopsit 

Lisa: Do me a lemon, eh? Forward me this conversation on email? I want to remember how it made me feel. (Better.) 

Lorna: I love our new long-straw phrase. 

Lisa: We OWN it.

Lorna: Totes – so every time the short-straw thoughts are winning, you gotta match it with a long straw, dealio? 

Lisa: I will. I’m long-straw surfing all the way now...

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Question time.

If I have a talent for anything, I like to think that it’s rapping my way with words. But, to my mind, not even the most gifted of scribes could find an easy way to tell people that they have incurable cancer. Nor is there an easy way to know what to say in return. And so what comes in response is, for the most part, a barrage of questions. How did this happen? How was it allowed to happen? How did you suspect something was wrong? How was it discovered? How are you feeling physically? How are you dealing with it emotionally? How will this be managed? How long are you looking at? Just, y’know… how?

Hence, in all the messages I’ve been sent since the revelation of The Bullshit’s sinister return, very few have avoided including some kind of ‘how’; some kind of puzzlement; some kind of furious question; some kind of fist-shaking interrogation of the universe. And rightly so. Because, really, what do you say when your friend/colleague/family member tells you that? What is there to say other than ‘fuck’ and ‘sorry’ and ‘how did this happen?’ (Were I of a mind to be writing a different kind of post today, I’d be recalling one example of particular note in which none of those things were said and, in fact, no reference at all was made to the news I’d painfully revealed in my prior message – because, of course, my incurable cancer is far less important than such trivialities as the name of someone’s new dog.  I can only hope and assume that my email was never actually read, lest I realise what a terrible judgement of friendship I once made.)

And yet, despite my so-called talent for writing, I still haven’t found the words or the might or the answers to appropriately respond to the many questions in the many kind messages that remain unanswered in my email inbox (or voicemail or texts or Twitter stream or Facebook page). So this post, then, is for the benefit of anyone who’s asked. And, to be perfectly honest, it’s for my benefit too. Because, as I discovered the first time the word ‘cancer’ was said to me in that way, I often just don’t know the answer to how I’m feeling until I’ve written it down.

But first, a story. As you may have read in the Tupperware post several weeks ago, a series of panic attacks that began around July time (coinciding with the heightened pain in my back) eventually brought me to the conclusion that it was time to go back to therapy. And so, an appointment was made for the end of September: an appointment which, I assumed, would set me back on the track marked ‘coping’ with its clever survival strategies and mantras of reasonable thought. But in the meantime, of course, The Bullshit reappeared in the most spectacularly terrifying way, proving me right about all the worry and panic and rather altering my need for therapy in the first place. But hey, the appointment was there, and I was damn well going to use it – no, we were damn well going to use it. And so P and I duly turned up, tissues tucked into one palm, each other’s spare hand tucked into the other.

Given that, since the last time I saw Mr Marbles, I’ve published a book in which I comment inappropriately cutely on his corduroy slacks, I thought best to find a therapist this time who knew nothing about The C-Word: hence I – we – are now seeing Mrs Marbles: a young, spunky alternative to Mr Marbles with patent pumps, kids’ drawings on the walls and man-sized tissues on the table; the Holly Willoughby to his Phillip Schofield, if you will. We went through the usual introductory pleasantries: my health history, our families, how long we’d been married, our jobs…
‘And you, Lisa?’
‘I’m a writer.’
‘Great, good.’
‘Which, I should say, has largely been my way of coping.’
‘That’s a good tactic.’
‘Well, we both like to have things out in the open; it’s important that we face things head-on,’ I said, such clichés doubtless leading her to believe that I am a writer of the truly terrible sort.
‘You genuinely want to face this thing down?’ she asked.
‘Exactly. We know it’s hard, but it’s the only way we can deal with it.’
‘I think that’s brilliant. I mean, some people can’t even say the c-word, can they? Speaking of which, have you read that book? Because I really think…’
‘Oh,’ I said, turning to P and blushing.
‘You have?’ she asked.
‘Erm, it’s my book.’
She looked down at her notes, up at me, and down at her notes again. ‘Of course! You’re Lisa Lynch!’
‘Ha, yeah.’
‘Well it’s very nice to meet you… to meet you both,’ she added, giving P a look that said ‘crikey, so you’re the incredible man I’ve read about’. I grabbed his hand a little tighter, my daft way of hanging an imaginary ‘MINE’ sign around his neck. Mrs M was awfully kind about my book, saying how many of her patients talk about it, and how they say it’s helped them. I can never take that stuff on board, so I shuffled my way past it as best I could, moving swiftly onto the Bigger Issues. It goes some way to describing how uncomfortable I am with a compliment, I think, that I’d rather discuss my concern about how P will cope once I’ve gone than talk about the benefits of some daft thing I’ve written.

But hey, even I have to admit that having your own book recommended to you by your new therapist is rather on the cool side. And, given the dearth of situations in which we’ve been able to find laughter lately (alas, no funny nipple stories to be had where terminal cancer is concerned), it was a welcome change from a mood that’s mostly been pure grey. But, anyway, back to the hows.

‘I know I’m an idiot,’ said Busby: my lovely mate who is categorically anything but, ‘But I haven’t been able to work out why you were admitted to hospital straight after the diagnosis? I mean, did the worst of the pain start only once you’d been told?’
I scrunched up my nose as she perched on the edge of my bed, my cop-out signal of the stuff I hadn’t been telling her over the previous few weeks.
‘Oh… so it’d been really painful for a while?’ she said.
I nodded.
‘And you’d been keeping it quiet…?’
I nodded again.

This, I suspect, has been one of the bigger unanswered questions, and with good reason. Because, annoyingly, it’s just not as simple as last time. Last time there was a lump in my boob, a GP appointment, a biopsy, all that stuff. This time, though? Well it’s all a big bloody mess – made even messier by the back-break. (If, indeed, it wasn’t the back-break that messed everything up in the first place.) You see, since breaking my back some 16 months ago I have, of course, felt a certain amount of pain. And yes, it got a lot better – but then some days it’s been, for seemingly no reason whatsoever, a lot worse. So it’s been impossible to distinguish between back-break pain and anything more sinister. Hence, the only signals I had that something was seriously wrong were when a) it very suddenly began to get worse this July, b) the Tupperware-bump hurt my skull way more than it ought to have and c) I started to develop pain in my shoulders and clavicles. And so, of course, I took it all to the GP (which is to say, I took it to the GP several times, and also to A&E), who eventually referred it to x-ray, who then sent it back with a stamp saying ‘cancer’.

In the meantime, my pain was getting worse by the hour. So much worse, in fact, that by the afternoon of my initial diagnosis, I found myself in Smiley Surgeon’s clinic (for he was the only person who’d see me at such short notice) being loaded into an ambulance and packed off to the Royal Marsden, from where I eventually broke the news.

Since then, the hows have been equally – and frustratingly ­– difficult to answer; and yet they still come thick and fast. Because in the seemingly innocuous ‘how are you feeling’, for example, there are endless answers. First, the physical: I’m feeling sick, constantly. I’m being sick, often. I feel the way I do when I’m sitting on a bus and attempt to do anything (looking at my phone, listening to music, reading a book, having a conversation) only to end up with motion sickness; I feel like that all the time. Even writing makes me feel sick; a fact which makes me feel even sicker. I’m light-headed. I’m constipated. I’m tired. So tired. I can’t walk very far. I can’t talk very much. I can’t get a grip on what day it is. I’m often in pain. And yes, the pain is under control thanks to all the morphine – but that, coupled with the chemo, is probably what’s contributing to all the sickness in the first place.

And so to the emotional: I’m angry. I’m very, very angry. I’m angry at being a patient – I HATE being a patient – and I’m angry that I can’t do much for myself. I’m angry that I can’t be left on my own and I’m angry that we’re all back here again… and that being ‘back here’ is so much worse. I appreciate that it’s going to take several weeks before we can ascertain what my quality of life will look like, but all this waiting and hanging on and putting up with things in the meantime leaves me with little hope – sometimes no hope at all. I simply cannot abide what this is doing to the people I love, and I further cannot abide my reaction to it. I should be easier on them, providing a shoulder of strength for their palpable heartbreak – not getting frustrated and feeling hard done by and getting even angrier. Because what are they supposed to do? They are, after all, already grieving me – even though I’m still here. They’re hopelessly upset at their inability to do anything to help. And yet all I want from them is a triviality; a joke; a snippet of normal conversation that will rescue me from the feeling that I’ve lost my life already. Because right now, that’s how it feels. This mystical ‘quality of life’ for which everyone is striving – where the hell is it now?

But also, I’m angry that I can’t answer all of the questions. I’m angry that there are so many questions in the first place, yes, but I’m even angrier that I can’t find a better way of answering them than this. I wish it were as easy as being able to give people a diagnosis less woolly than ‘it’s in my bones – all of them’, and packing them off with a fact sheet, as I did in my initial post. But actually, that stuff sort of doesn’t matter any more. Because we’re not coming to terms with cancer; we’re coming to terms with death. And yes, that death may be a long, long way off yet – and despite all of the above, I hope with every inch of my being that it is… heck, we might all find ourselves fifteen years down the line with you guys tapping your watches at me – but in the meantime, all that appears to remain is a bloody great question to which, quite simply, I have no answer.