Friday 30 December 2011


Christmas this year had the potential to be really sad. I’d spent the run-up imagining what folk might have been saying about my family and I: the ‘sheesh-what-a-Christmas-they’ll-be-having’ conversations and the ‘cor-it’ll-be-a-difficult-one-for-them-this-year’ observations. And those imaginary folk might well have been right, were it not for my family’s laudable ability to make good – no, to make marvellous – of a shitty situation.

Yeah, okay, there were moments. Moments like the Friday before Christmas when, after a long car journey and a tiredness that subsequently hit me like an asteroid, I was on far from the form I’d have like to have been for visiting family and friends. (Ruddy frustrating, given that earlier in the day I’d made the fate-tempting mistake of cockily pronouncing that I felt better than I had in months.) And then, a few days later, there was the weepy moment that preceded getting in the car to head back down to London; not just a difficult moment for me, but difficult for my parents too. None of us needed to overtly reveal our ‘but-what-if-this-is-our-last-Christmas-together?’ thoughts to one another (between family, that kind of thing is not just implicitly understood but wholly unnecessary to voice) but, bugger me, it hurt.

Those moments, however, were mere bookends either side of a genuinely wonderful Christmas: in fact, along with last year’s festivities at Jamie and Leanne’s new house, it was among my two favourite ever Christmases, simply because nothing about it felt different or unusual; everything was done to the Family Mac’s accustomed running order – with one fantastic, Corey-shaped addition.

There was the morning opening of stockings and the subsequent Terry’s Chocolate Orange breakfast. There was the beautiful moment when we watched Leanne trot excitedly past my parents’ front window, cradling my Santa-Claus-outfit-clad nephew (well, what are aunties for, eh?), then being able to greedily seize the quota of Corey-cuddles I’ve so missed over the last few weeks. There was the customary organised chaos of present-opening with all seven of us (if you can find better – or, for that matter, more ludicrously generous – gift-buyers than the Macs, I’d like to meet them). There was the best turkey dinner I’ve ever eaten, as nailed by Mum and P. There was their teasingly bickering preparation of which that provided far better entertainment for a sofa-settled me and Dad than anything the telly could provide. There was the glorious post-dinner nap sandwiched between P and a brand new, so-adorable-I’m-not-embarrassed-to-admit-it (despite-being-thirty-ruddy-two) teddy bear. And there was the pre-bedtime board game of customised Monopoly – Lisopoly, no less – courtesy of my cousins (and, it seems, a lorra help from my mates: see Community Chest instructions including ‘You’ve won two tickets to a Michael Bublé concert – pay £50 to get someone to take them off your hands’ and ‘A reader spots a grammatical error on your blog – pay a £20 fine and hang your head in shame’). All in all, then, a pretty bloody lovely family Christmas.

It’s getting boring, this, isn’t it? All this incessant wow-my-family-are-amazing stuff? I know, I know, you must be proper sick of hearing it. And I’m sorry. But, daft and nullifying as it may sound, I’m equally as sorry as I am unapologetic. Because, see, my family are amazing. They’re shout-from-the-rooftops amazing; wish-you-were-more-like-them amazing; I’m-so-bloody-lucky-they’re-mine-that-it-makes-the-shit-luck-on-the-cancer-front-feel-not-in-the-least-bit-disproportionate amazing. But, for the purpose of balance, it’s only fair I reveal that they’re not the only ones who’ve made mine and P’s Christmases this year. Because, actually, busily squirreling away behind the scenes like astoundingly efficient elves, have been another amazing group of people: the staff at Trinity Hospice.

In light of their quite indispensable assistance since my secondary diagnosis (which I’ve both mentioned before and urge you to read about again by clicking here), P and I chose not to send Christmas cards this year, instead donating what we would otherwise have spent on cards and postage to them. My parents did the same too and, as a result of each of our emails explaining the decision to those on our Christmas-card lists, between us – and many generous friends – we raised the gift of a donation of almost £500 towards Trinity’s vital care, whether that be home visits, day services or in-patient treatment. (And if you fancy adding to those coffers, I appeal of to you to hit this link.)

The Christmas gifts that P and I found ourselves very unexpectedly receiving from Trinity, however (not, I hasten to add, in response to the above, but out of sheer kind-heartedness) came not as just a welcome and truly touching surprise, but served as further confirmation of the downright ruddy tenacious wonderfulness of the centre’s staff – in particular mine and P’s favourite, er, trinity of three particularly special employees. Which means that now, of course, you’ve got me banging on about the amazingness of this little lot instead of the amazingness of my family. But, by ’eck, it’s nowt less than they deserve.

From our initial introduction, everyone at the majestic, almost Dickensian premises of Trinity Hospice has been hugely welcoming to us, so much in fact that they practically burst into a rendition of Consider Yourself upon our first visit. Which given that, until days prior, neither P nor I had heard of them – despite their charity shops all over London, their enormous building on Clapham Common and the fact that they’re a well-supported service without whom hundreds of people’s lives wouldn’t be half as easy to manage – was quite a turn up for the books. The thing is, though, P and I are in our thirties… so why should we have heard of them? Like the idea of secondary cancer before The Bullshit muscled into our lives, it was just another of those things that wasn’t remotely on our radar. And, equally daft and nullifying as my statement above, both too bloody right and why the bejeezus not? Because, actually, as much as I felt physically sick upon being referred to a – shudder – palliative care team (to the point where seeing those words in my notes and hospital letters still prompts one of the brain-tumour-gifted squiggly light-flashes that I often get in front of my eyes; the kind of which you might find yourself getting before a migraine), in fact, the truth behind Trinity Hospice is not just about providing people in need with a proper place to meet their ends, but instead – as their mission statement affirms – about living every moment in the meantime.

I feel a duty, then – particularly as a thirtysomething under the community care of a hospice – to quash some of the common preconceptions about what hospices are actually for; about what they actually do for those of us who have come to rely upon them. Because, yes, for plenty of folk under their in-patient care, their facilities are about having somewhere peaceful – and, more importantly, prepared – in which to die. But, equally, for all manner of others, that side of things will, hopefully, be a long way off. Like me, for instance. Yes, I’m being cared for by a hospice… but I’m not even close to taking my last breath just yet, ta very much. And yes, Trinity is the kind of place in which I’d be perfectly happy to receive respite care where necessary… but again, I hope I won’t be needing that just yet either. So for now, then, it’s more of a place – a comfortable, understanding, responsible place – in which I’ll have access to physiotherapy or massage or reflexology or art therapy. (Despite Dad’s piss-taking reaction to the latter being ‘Ha! You? Art therapy? And what are you going to draw, a stick man with a “go fuck yourself” speech bubble?’) But, obviously, there’s far more to it all than that. There’s the (cue holy trinity) regular visits from my designated nurse, the emotional support from my counsellor, and the administrative assistance from a planner so damn organised that without whom we wouldn’t have heard about half – heck, any – of the blue-badge/DLA/ESA-shaped assistance available to us.

Imagine our uninhibitedly impressed reaction, then, when – in addition to all of the above – we received a call from Trinity Hospice a few days before Christmas to tell us that, after they’d received a (perfectly understandable) refusal for a MacMillan grant they’d applied for in the hope of treating us to a special evening for our wedding anniversary, our favourite superstaff had turned their disappointment at said knock-back into pure kick-ass, thoughtfully bagging a bunch of donated delights in order for us to have lovely things for us to look forward to in the new year. And boy, what a veritable Santa’s sack: a night in a swanky hotel, a lovely dinner, theatre tickets, a mani/pedi… talk about coming up trumps. And all stuff which – believe me – to a couple very tentatively peering around the corner of 2012, makes a helluva big difference.

The thing is, of course, we’re perfectly capable of arranging these kind of things ourselves. And we’re perfectly capable of paying for them, too – heck, we’d be happy to. But, as you might expect, organising treats for ourselves isn’t exactly on our list of priorities right now, not least with the added hassle of fitting in stuff around chemo dates and surgery dates and hopefully-feeling-well-enough dates, and then planning stuff with wheelchair access where necessary; stuff that can be cancelled at late notice if I’m not fit enough and all that blah… And so, having other people put thought and time and effort into doing that for us so kindly and unexpectedly and of their own volition – well, sheesh. There are no words.

As anyone with an illness like The Bullshit will tell you, upon it crash-landing into your world, you suddenly become aware of charities you’d perhaps never otherwise have paid much attention to. And while, in my case at least, my first ports of call – in a horrified, how-on-earth-could-this-possibly-have-happened-to-me mindset – were to the more research and awareness-centred organisations, since I discovered the incurable nature of my disease, my eyes have been opened to new kinds of charities; charities which exist simply to provide nice experiences for folk in this kind of position. That’s not my way of saying that research and awareness are of little use to me now (because frankly, sod me, click here and marvel at the wealth of information on offer… and when you’re done with that, click here too and learn how to check your norks) that’s my way of saying that, actually, both kinds of charity are as useful and worthwhile as the other.

But then, as I’ve admitted before, there’s still that niggling little part inside of me that can’t help but find it difficult to accept this kind of help: the kind of help that doesn’t treat or support or counsel; the kind of help that simply goes towards creating pleasant, meaningful memories during a time that can otherwise seem pretty bloody bleak. It makes you feel a bit ‘all-right-but-where’s-the-catch?’; a bit like the kind of poor sod one might accuse of being a Jeremy Kyle Show producer’s wet dream. You know what I mean, right? The sort of ill-fated folk who appear on Noel’s Christmas Presents or Text Santa or Little Britain sketches with David Soul beside a sick child’s hospital bed. Because that’s just the way we are, isn’t it? It’s what we do. We feel bad accepting help; embarrassed, even. Particularly so when it’s in receipt of something we hadn’t even asked for. It’s just terribly, indefensibly, bloody British.

And so, for that utterly unnecessary, insultingly inappropriate, completely chuffing wide of the mark moment in which you feel like one of those people, it is awfully, awfully sad to look upon yourself as a charity case; some sort of chancer getting something for nothing. But then, of course, you suddenly remember that, in fact, there is a catch; you are, in fact, one of those poor sods. Because you’re 32 and you’re having palliative care. You’re 32 and you’ve got an illness that can’t be cured. You’re 32 and you’re a ticking fucking timebomb. And very rapidly, in a lightning-flash of sanity, that embarrassment and Britishness and unease immediately evaporates. Because, actually, screw it – of course you ruddy well deserve this kind of stuff… just as you deserve the treatment, and the information, and the happier moments, and everything you unwrapped on Christmas morning.

But as wonderful as all my Christmas gifts were – and in that I include the fancy pyjamas and the nail varnish and the Trinity-gifted new-year treats every bit as much as the invaluable time spent in Derby with both the Mac and Lynch mobs – we received an additional gift yesterday afternoon that trumped them all: a call from my new favourite consultant at the Royal Marsden, about whom I think it’s time I posted in more detail, so watch this space for another puke-maker of a girl-crushing gush-fest.
‘Hi, Lisa. There’s nothing to worry about,’ she said as soon as I picked up the receiver, ‘I just wanted to call you with some good news.’

(I doubt I’ll ever get over being under the care of a hospital who seem to care about the success of my medical care every bit as much as we do; the kind of hospital whose head oncologist has been known to call me on a Friday evening just to check how I’m doing. It makes us quite sincerely want my treatment to work for them every bit as we want it to work for us. And it’s the reason why I, along with my closest family and friends, have signed up to participate in the Marsden March for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity in a couple of months’ time, walking – or, in my case, wheeling – a 14-mile course between their hospitals in Chelsea and Sutton. Our combined target is a rather ambitious £5,000 – and yes, I know it’s a cash-strapped time of year, and I’ve already directed you to donations for Trinity Hospice, but if you can find anything to help us reach our goal, we’d be forever grateful if you’d visit this link to do so. And if you needed any further rationale than the incredible care I’ve been given so far, how’s about reading on for a total corker of a reason…)

‘I was keen to let you know about the results of yesterday’s blood test,’ continued my new favourite consultant.
‘Oh…?’ I asked, expectantly.
‘It’s your tumour marker: it’s come down again… and not just by a tiny bit like last time,’ she revealed, ‘but actually to the level it was at back in September.’
‘That’s incredible news!’ I squealed, as P punched the air in bed beside me. ‘Thank you so much for letting me know!’
‘No problem whatsoever,’ she said. ‘I know when we spoke yesterday you were worried about the increase in your headaches lately, so I just wanted to give you some reassurance before your MRI at the end of next month. Because, along with that and the management of your pain, this is the most encouraging sign we’ve had yet that things are under control.’
‘That’s just amazing. Amazing. So amazing,’ I spluttered, losing the use of my ability to vary adjectives.
‘But also, my love, I just wanted to make sure that you had a happy new year,’ she said so kindly, immediately cementing that very wish.

So, yes. Happy new year indeed. And, more’s the point, here’s to the next one. Because despite the loveliness of it; despite the generosity of it; despite even the sadder moments of it, me and my team are going to do everything humanly possible – be it through treatment, support, or simply happy experiences – to make sure there’s no sodding way this festive season will have been my last.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Christmas crackers: #3

I like to think that, last year, you did pretty well out of me at Christmas. In this blog’s first ever guest-posts, I gave you the gift of Chris Ward and Toby Jones: two of my bestest mates who also happen to be writers of an exceptionally talented, incredibly funny, dammit-I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that nature.

Despite them having likened their invitation to post at Alright Tit as akin to me lending my Porsche keys to the town drunks, I was (as, I hope, were you) really chuffed with the outcome of The WardJonze’s blogging. And so, given both last year’s guest-post success and my fondness for a tradition, I’ve invited another brilliant blogger to hop on board The ’Tit and give us a few Christmas-themed words.

This year’s guest-poster, then, is Alex Ford: a soldier, crazy-successful blogger and genuinely decent bloke (well, apart from the Forest-supporting stuff) who’s perhaps better known to a lot of you as RAF Airman. Alex has been blogging and tweeting about service life – both from home and from Afghanistan – since 2009, doing a helluva lot to educate ignorant civvies like myself about the realities of being in the Armed Forces, both from a military and a family perspective. He’s also the only person I’ve ever guest-posted for (and probably will ever guest-post for) and, since doing so, I’ve been looking for the perfect excuse to get him to blog here too. And, good old Christmas – it looks like we’ve found it.

You’ll have me back next week to fill you in on Christmas from the Lynch perspective (in the meantime, think tying bows in folded-up Quality Street wrappers, unhealthy amounts of cheese, looped viewings of Star Wars, and ‘Justin Bieber’ scribbled on a post-it note stuck to my forehead) but, for today, here’s Christmas from the perspective of somebody else who’s coming to the end of an, erm, shall we say ‘interesting’ twelve months.

Alex’s is a story that’s of particular interest to me, given that another friend of mine was deployed during the same time as him this year. (And both were poor buggers on the receiving end of my ridiculously childish rescue-packages. Because every soldier stranded miles from home craves a box filled with Haribo and Sherbet Dip-Dabs, right?) As merely an acquainted bystander, however, I only had to experience a tiny fraction of the distance and the helplessness that comes when someone you care about is thousands of miles away, so I can’t even begin to imagine what that six-month stretch was like for their families and their best mates and, chief of all, their quite marvellous other halves. But sheesh – try adding Christmas to the mix, and… well, I’ll leave that for Alex to explain, but suffice to say it doesn’t half have you thanking your lucky stars that you’ll be able to chuck Ferrero Rocher wrappers into your husband’s open mouth when he falls asleep in front of the Queen’s speech.

So all that’s left for me to do now, then – after asking, of course, that you make Alex feel welcome in the comments section – is to pass on the very best of the season from me and mine, and wish you a Christmas and new year filled with all the loveliness that you wonderful people so deserve.

Over to Sgt Ford… *salutes*

Merry Christmas, war is… oh.

I’m a little daunted by the honour of being a Christmas guest-poster on this blog. Lisa is one of the reasons I started blogging, and is a bit of a blogging hero of mine. I mean, come on – her stuff is just bloody ace, isn’t it? So I’m slightly unsure of what to say... other than, for me, it’s been a hell of a year.

I spent six months of 2011 out in Afghanistan, deployed there over the summer to do a reconstruction job, helping the Afghan locals rebuild their country, and working on low-level projects like building wells, resurfacing roads and helping to build a school. It was a fairly tough six months – the heat, the fitness, the Taliban trying to blow us up – but that was nothing compared to what my girlfriend and family had to go through back here.

You see, while it was tough for me, I do think that war deployments are far worse on those left behind. At least I knew what was going on. I knew what dangers (or, at times, lack of them!) I faced. Those back here, however, are stuck with the images of war that they see on the TV and in the media. This is almost entirely bad; always talking about deaths and injuries, and never really spending time on the positives. When it comes to war, the news media don’t really like ‘good news’ stories. They’re not dramatic enough. I suppose you just can’t be all punchy about a lead headline with a smile on your face.

So I had it easy. And in a way I still do. At least my deployment out there was over and done with during the summer. Okay, that’s bad because it was fluffing hot – it got to 59 degrees celsius on the roof of one of the check points one day… nice if you’re on the beach with a cocktail, but less so if you’re having to wear a helmet, body armour and bomb-pants (and if you don’t know what they are, don’t ask!). And, yeah, it was also bad because the summer is the so-called ‘fighting season’ (the Taliban tend to bugger off back to their homes in the winter, with only the hardcore fighters sticking around, while the less ideological fighters tend to drift off home for a mince pie and some Christmas pud to do some farming). But in a way, mine was an easy deployment simply because it was over the summer. Yeah, I missed all the BBQs back home and driving along with shades on and the windows down listening to Counting Crows, but that’s nothing compared to being away at this time of year.

Being away at Christmas sucks. Fact. No ups, no downs, no ins, no outs. It just plain sucks. It’s day in, day out for six and a bit months… and at the exact time when everyone else is thinking about being together. It’s more than just the thought of being away for Christmas day that hurts. It’s something that you never forget. And, quite often, during those moments when you and your other half aren’t exactly seeing eye to eye, it becomes the thing that you are never allowed to forget. (‘…AND you weren’t here at Christmas.’)

During the summer I got shot at more times than I wanted to. I had to help out with the medical treatment of an Afghan soldier who’d been shot through his chest. I had to assist a young lad who had stepped on an IED (but thankfully DIDN’T lose his leg). But all of that is easy to put in a box and store away. Being away from my girlfriend and my kids and my family at this time of year is something I consider much, much worse.

You can cope with ‘things’; you can cope with ‘events’ – they fill the days. But time and separation? They’re much harder to cope with. And so, difficult as it was, I’m really glad that I did my tour when I did, so that I’m now able to enjoy all that a family Christmas brings. Eating too many Pringles, having a bit too much Stilton, the tree lights failing and the replacements turning out to be external bulbs that are brighter than I’d like, a two-year-old inspecting the presents under the tree daily, a brand new puppy... because that is the sort of chaos you want to deal with, and are happy to deal with, and look forward to dealing with. And, believe me, it’s far, far nicer than dealing with the Taliban, or dealing with distance, or dealing with separation from your family…

I hope you all have a merry Christmas, and a happy and prosperous (God knows we need it) new year.

Read Alex’s blog by clicking here

Thursday 15 December 2011

All you need.

I was chatting with Mum at chemo yesterday about the blog and how, though it’s a marvellously effective means of keeping everyone posted about what’s going on both health-wise and mind-wise, the people who most need to know that stuff are aware of it already. Yes, they can get the lengthy, considered version here if they so wish but, where the day-to-day realities of The Bullshit are concerned, they get the real story straight from th’oss’s gob, as they say in Derby er, nowhere.

As to the reason Mum and I were talking about such things, I was attempting to explain that, though I know she and Dad are always the first to read each of my published posts (to crazy-competitive, ha-ha-I-saw-it-before-you levels that’d make you giggle with your hand clutched adoringly to your heart), what they read here is never written specifically for them. I mean, obviously, it’s for them in the sense that everything I do is for the people I love, but very, very rarely is anything on my blog written with the intention of sending them a message.

As those who know the genuine-me rather than the blog-me appreciate (and, I fear, everyone else will deride), I’m actually fiercely private. That must appear ludicrously fabricated coming from someone who lays bare her thoughts and experiences and bowel movements for anyone to read, but it’s true. I suppose what I mean is that the other me – the boring me; the me who wouldn’t make the blog edit – is simply kept concealed. Because on here, after all, I am a character; just as I’ve made – hopefully both accurately and flatteringly – of the people I write about. Hence, in much the same way that this blog isn’t written for my parents, nor is it really written for me, either. (Again, yes, it’s obviously for me in the sense that it’s a wonderful catharsis and one of the few things that keeps me [vaguely] sane, but y’know worrimean.) On the whole, however: as Alright Tit has evolved, it has grown (very happily, I might add) to be written for you; the folk with a curious – more than a vested – interest.

Today, however, is different. Today I’m breaking with that new-found tradition and writing it for me instead. Because sometimes, dear reader, you just need to have a word with yourself. (Or, in my gobby case, a couple of thousand.) You see, it’s time for me to have a good old-fashioned, state-of-the-union, rap-on-the-knuckles talking to and, where this issue is concerned, I don’t think anybody can do it (or would dare to do it, judging on my behaviour of late) but me.

It’s been brewing for a few weeks, if truth be known. Probably since the initial discovery of the secondary disease. I’ve noticed it creeping across in tiny increments, like one of the time-lapsed icebergs you might watch forming on Frozen Planet, but I’ve repeatedly been putting it down to a phase; to an inevitability; to a transitory part of the grieving that must inescapably come with a life-changing curveball such as this. But, lately, it’s become a little more than that – oh, who am I kidding, it’s become a LOT more than that – making me, with each passing day, more and more bitter and resentful and someone’s-really-going-to-get-it-one-day-soon angry. And I must have been a sodding nightmare to live with.

That said, for a while P joined in too; the pair of us uniting in our Hulk-like fury at the universe for doing this to us, bitching into the early hours about the unfairness, the disbelief, the rage, the hardship, the heartbreak, the injury, the you’ve-got-to-be-fucking-kidding-us piss-take of a malicious helping of injustice when there are so many malevolent motherfuckers out there who this could – sod it, should – have happened to instead of us; lovely, lovely us. But, for P at least, the phase turned out to be just that, soon passing to make way for more a helpful, practical means of keeping on – admittedly, with the anger still hidden away somewhere for the times when a rant or a purge or a cry is needed – but hidden, both from view and from character. My anger, however, went nowhere. And it started to make me seriously question my mindset, because it just wasn’t just turning me into a horrible cow of a shouty miserablist, it was taking away my fight, too – to a level where the words ‘I just can’t see the fucking point any more’ didn’t just enter my head, but spat their way out of my foul mouth.

I found myself getting increasingly furious with situations, with results, with inanities, with P, with family, with friends, with text messages, with Twitter followers, with Facebook posters, with crisp packets, with bedsheets. I was dreaming up fantasy showdowns with people I care deeply about, drawing up imaginary don’t-think-I-haven’t-noticed lists of the folk who I deemed not to have been present enough, concocting horribly spiteful put-downs for the next dickhead who gawped at me while I was out in the wheelchair. And what’s more, it was making the simple act of just behaving normally – of just acting like a reasonable human being – supremely bloody difficult, using up laborious, back-breaking efforts which, to state the perfectly sodding obvious, would have been put to significantly better use elsewhere.

And so, to cut a lengthy and exhausting story of further unspeakable anger rather short, it culminated a couple of nights ago when, after receiving a heartfelt and exceptionally kind batch of ‘another four-fucking-hundred how-are-you-feeling messages’, I completely lost it. Like I haven’t done yet. And, finding my partner in rage unwilling to indulge me in yet another late-night bitchfest of wholly unreasonable conversation, I lost it some more.

I’m not prepared to go into details about what happened next (as much out of shame at my conduct than privacy), but let’s just say that it took rather more than an ill-advised succession of anti-anxiety pills to calm me down. What eventually did mollify me, however, with the help of P – and, through his levelheaded words, everyone else I hold dear – was facing up to something I’d known all along: I’m just not like this. Nor do I want to be like this. It’s not how I do things; it’s not how I think; it’s not the right way to go about keeping myself well and, ultimately, it’s just not me – be that the blog-me, or the real-me, or whoever and whatever the heck makes up who I am. Yes, the boundaries may sometimes be blurred between the character and the person but please, please believe me when I say that neither girl wants to be this way. Because, fundamentally, down to the very tiniest particles of my DNA, this furious bile is simply not in my character.

I’m not a person who holds on to anger; I’m a person who holds on to love. I love love! It’s the whole point; what it’s all about; all you need! And I love loving! I love talking about how much I love loving! I love loving like a glorious Glastonbury afternoon; like a Sunday-morning lie-in; like my twinkly and painstakingly decorated Christmas tree; like a like a fat kid loves cake! And if all of that wasn’t puke-generating enough, I even love being the flagrantly rose-tinted sap of an optimist who shamelessly has people shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at her naïve brainfarts on what love means and on what love should be and on the glorious people who have made her love what it is.

I love banging on about how in love I am with my family and my friends and – my favourite banging-on of all – my husband. (My husband of five years tomorrow, as it happens.) I love that I continue regardless despite people’s baffled amusement as I blithely natter away about love as though it were as comfortable a conversation as telling someone your weight or your bra size or the consistency of your last poo. And I love that I got to see that amusement in action this week during my blood transfusion, on the faces of P and our friend Nicole (who, incidentally, is the so-talented-we-can’t-believe-we’ve-got-her-onside screenwriter charged with the task of turning The C-Word into a TV drama) who was not only good enough to hang out with us and eat sandwiches while two bags of the A+ good shit pumped their way into my veins, but also to introduce us to rugelach, a confectionery so ruddy delicious I can’t quite believe I’ve made it to 32 without eating. (In fact, so enamoured am I with the cinnamony sweetstuff that I’d even go to far as to state that rugelach-deficiency is probably the whole reason I got cancer.)

But back to the lurve thang. That aforementioned bafflement at my hopeless soppiness was an almost-suppressed look I caught in both of their eyes while I held court from my IV, particularly when our chatter turned to The Most Fun Conversation In The World: who, in a dream scenario, would play P in the TV adaptation. As it goes, P is the one character for whom I’ve struggled to come up with a dream actor (and no, I’m not divulging my thoughts on the rest). Which is precisely why my contribution to said conversation was: ‘Y’know, I’ve actually never had anyone in mind for P. I s’pose my concern is only that, whoever it is, it’s someone that people will completely and utterly fall in love with. Memorably so. I just think it’s important that everyone’s totally smitten by him, because he’s the hero.’ Yes, friends: these are the kinds of things I say out loud.

P visibly squirmed in his chair, giving it all the ‘seriously-love-you’ve-got-to-stop-telling-people-how-perfect-I-am-cos-I’m-just-a-normal-bloke’ shizzle, and Nicole just smiled subtly, doubtless making script notes in the iPad of her mind about how much of a hopelessly dorky romantic I must come across compared to the rest of the rational-thinking world. The thing is, I’m well aware of how embarrassing I can be when I get like that. I suppose I’m just like one of those mortifying parents who dances with their elbows, unashamedly carrying on and making a tit of herself without a care for whoever’s having to bear uninvited witness to the carnage of humiliation. But, embarrassing as my absurdly dreamy worldview may be (so car-crash embarrassing, apparently, that it’s grown bandy legs and bagged its own telly-optioned rights), I want to be like that. I want to be dorky and childlike and unguarded. I want to be the kind of puerile idiot who risks higher falls because of her hopefulness in even the most unimaginable of crappy situations, and I want to enjoy it. Because, faced with a choice between dweeby optimism and festering anger, I know which way I’d rather live.

That said, of course, I could very easily turn all of the above into more resentment; resentment at The Bullshit for forcing a burgeoning rage into my otherwise candy-floss brain. Perhaps it’s the brain tumour itself that’s doing it, quite literally secreting cancerous drops of bitterness into my mind in its predestined pursuit of victory? And fuck it if it is. Fuck it in the bum. Fuck it in the ear. Because, as I can see more easily today – and doubtless will need to work much harder to see another time – that’s exactly what it wants. But I’m buggered if I’m going to roll over and turn into the miserable bastard it wants me to be. Oh no, me and my army and my treatment and my loves are going to put up the mother of all scraps. And given the positive news that, since my blood transfusion on Monday, both my biochemistry and blood results have fought themselves back up to let’s-kick-some-ass levels, I’ve got all the ammo to do it.

As a result (of a total result), yesterday’s was, dare I say it, even a pretty fun chemo. My favourite nurse was looking after me (the one from the book with the naughty sense of humour who calls cannula needles ‘little feckers’), and both P and my folks were around to keep me company and giggle at episodes of Outnumbered on the laptop. We bought cakes for the day-unit staff, and ate sausage butties and Fox’s glacier mints. We even got fast-tracked by the unusually chirpy sister and made it out of the hospital quicker than we’ve ever done before! Mum and Dad went shopping and bought me a fluffy hat! We had cheese and biscuits when we got home! Sgt Pepper was on top cuddle-form! The words ‘orgasmic’ and ‘arousing’ came up on Countdown! (Eh up, she’s exclamation-marking it again.) All of which, I suppose, is my hopelessly romantic way of saying – in the words of Felice Taylor – that it may be winter outside, but in my heart it’s spring. And so I stayed mindful of the levelheaded, anger-soothing words from those who care – as told through the lips of my husband – and happily, lovingly, assumed my best Bullshit-beating defence by gooning my way through the day: cracking inappropriate jokes with my favourite nurse, making indecipherable conversation with the chatty fruitloop in the waiting room, tripping over my wheely IV on the way to the loo, making fun of Dad…

‘Oi you, stop taking the piss,’ he said, before adding one of his signature (and equally piss-taking) lines: ‘I’m a very sensitive person, you know.’
‘Yeah, course you are,’ I said.
‘Actually, Lis…?’ he began to ask.
Never stop taking the piss. Because then I know you’re all right. Then I know it’s still you.’

And so, although it’s The Bullshit that’s occasionally responsible for dragging me down into the angry depths that I’d rather not see, it’s the people I love who pull me back out again. What has the capacity to make me doubly angry, therefore, is that it’s they who have to bear the brunt. I want to be lovely to them, not angry with them. I want them to know, every second of the day – just as I know in return – how much I think of them, and I want them to continually feel how much they’re appreciated and idolised and respected... and loved, like nobody before could ever possibly have been loved.

So when I say that today I’m writing for me, I guess what I actually mean is that I’m writing for them. Because, whether or not it eventually makes the holy grail of your TV screen, The C-Word drama adaptation isn’t, in fact, about what’s going on in my dorky, lovestruck mind; it’s about them. Because, you see, they are my mind. They are me.

Sunday 11 December 2011


I really hate talking about what I've ‘learned’ for fear of coming off like some wanky X-Factor contestant who refers to themselves in the third person by week four of the finals but, occasionally, these things must be done. Worse yet, though, is that I've written about this particular learning on at least one occasion before which, in our continuing X-Factor analogy, is surely the equivalent of Louis Walsh’s insistence on swerving any considered judgement for incessantly repeating the hometowns of each contestant.

But, excuses aside, I might as well get on with my reiteration of the lesson I can’t seem to avoid re-learning by getting back, once again, to the frustrating rediscovery that my emotions aren’t as easy to separate as I’d like them to be.

I say ‘my’. In fact, I suspect this is something we’ve all had to begrudgingly figure out at some point or other, regardless of the bullshit behind it being lower-cased or title-cased. I suppose it’s just that, with the big-B’d Bullshit, finding yourself ribbon-tangled in a number of hugely conflicting emotions at any one time is less an occasional nuisance of a lesson learned than a baffling mindfuck of a rammed-down-your-throat crash-course exam-retake in genetics from a Klingon-speaking Amy Childs.

Perhaps most exasperating of all about this rediscovery, however – at least for a tidy-freak such as I who likes to neatly store all sentiments in the super-organised walk-in wardrobe of her mind – is that it leads to posts like this having to be written immediately after posts like my last. Not that I didn’t want to write the last post, I hasten to add. By ’eck, I wanted to write that post. And I meant it, too. But I was also aware of needing to write that post; of needing to let you read something that didn't include too much of the shock stuff or the heartbreak stuff or the prognosis stuff.

As is The Bullshit's chip-pissing way, though, the day after I published that post saw the chemo-evils begin to kick in. Not, I ought to make clear, to the kind of nasty levels as my chemo for breast cancer (for one thing, I’ve got my hair and I’m ruddy well keeping it), but still pretty fucking shitty nonetheless. First there’s Chemo Wednesday itself: an emotionally fraught and annoyingly long but otherwise manageable day. The following 24 hours is when the drugs start doing their thing, which generally translates into hit-by-a-plank tiredness and a sickness that, mercifully, we’ve been keeping under control with a kitchen-sink approach to anti-emetics. Rubbing Maldon salt into the wounds of Wednesday’s ‘Eat Me’ post, however, Thursday is also the day that my tastebuds, well, piss right off. Which, as you can imagine, is utterly screwing delightful. Then Friday – and, for that matter, Saturday – gets worse yet: the tiredness becomes worrying, and to be perfectly honest I’m pretty bloody useless at anything that doesn’t involve moaning or getting dizzy on my way for a piss. But y’know what? I can cope with all that stuff. What I’m struggling to cope with more and more, however, is when the blues kick in. And this time, after a 15% increase in the drugs administered to me, they kicked in a bit more than we’d seen on my first two chemos.

Hence the Cheese Friday evening I’d carefully planned with my mates, in order to allow P to get to his work Christmas party, rather undesirably became Tears Friday: I wept on P in the morning, then on Tills and Polly in the evening. Much like the occasional necessity to bang on about what I’ve learned, I begrudgingly appreciate that this is just another of those things that must occasionally be done. There are just things that sometimes have to be said, as I so wish there weren't, to the people closest to me; both things I need to get off my chest and ensure are understood, and things that can help those who most need to comprehend the day-to-day realities of mine and P's shituation in order to make themselves most useful, for both for our sakes and theirs. (I don't mean that in an expectant, needy way, I'm just mentioning it because, well, that's just what close family and best mates do.)

And so, back to the conflicting emotions: none of the above is to say that Cheese Friday was a washout, or indeed that mine and P's new lives are either. On the contrary, Tills and Polly and I were able to get past the crying and really enjoy our girly Friday (and all the eating and gossiping that came with it), just as P and I are doing a frankly chuffing stellar job of keeping our lives resembling some kind of vague normality (with all the devotion and love and compassion that comes with it).

But, bugger me, sometimes it's just SO FUCKING HARD. Not hard to adore my husband or appreciate my mates – that stuff is more natural than breathing – but hard just to keep up the effort that’s now required in just being.

I really hate doing that, too. Whingeing and griping and having to make it so abundantly clear what life with secondary Bullshit is like. It's not how I want to be writing, just as it’s not what I want you to be reading. But it's the truth. And, much as I completely bloody loathe admitting to it, the truth is that life has become, at certain times more than others, cruelly testing; a gargantuan effort the like of which I still cannot – oh, let’s be honest, the like of which I will never – believe we’re having to tolerate.

So let me say this again, then – and, my god, let me be heard: this is SO. FUCKING. HARD. I hate to do the me-versus-you thing but, unless you’re in these here shoes of ours, you simply cannot even begin to comprehend – and I hope to all forces that are good in the universe that you never have to begin to comprehend – just how screamingly sodding impossible this is to handle. 

The aforementioned blues, then, are often where the real work comes in when it comes to remembering that it’s okay to feel a number of contradictory things at one time. See, I know that the blues are chemical. And I also know that they’ll pass – usually by the Sunday or Monday following chemo – and that I’ll start to feel a lot better, and hopefully ready to kick some ass again, before the next round. What I also know (insert groan to end all groans) is that – since there’s no end in sight to this chemo, given that it’s designed to, well, y’know, keep me here – is that this is what mine and P’s life looks like now.

Because after week one comes, of course, week two – which, as must be so, goes up a notch in the difficult-to-grapple-with stakes. But while week one comes with a resenting knowledge that similar must be endured again next week, week two comes with, yes, more to deal with shitness-wise, but also a hope that week three – our well-won week off chemo – will be better, bringing with it blissful freedoms in which we can actually do stuff and go places and do work and eat out and see people and get dressed and wear make up (not that eyeliner is an especially good look on P). And, okay, those freedoms might now mean having been forced to give up my b-e-l-o-v-e-d driving licence for a sodding wheelchair, but at least they mean that P and I can do things, and see something other than the walls of our (thankfully very lovely) flat.

And therein lies another contradiction, emotion-spotters: the sight of a thirtysomething husband having to push round his wife in a wheelchair is, on first look, a sad picture. But to anyone who saw us bumbling our way up the rocky pavement edges of Wansdworth in the first of our week-threes, or swerving our way through Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland in the second (speaking of which, general public: stop fucking gawking, will you?), in fact it was neither. Because, to refer you back to the aforementioned stellar job we’re making of this – despite all the hard work, despite the most taxing of efforts to keep on keeping on, and despite the various drugs it’s taking to keep us both going – we are somehow still making this not just tolerable but, wherever humanly possible, pleasant. We’re doing it our way. And I’m really fucking proud of us.

Of course, there are plenty of other conflicting emotions on the table right now, as at any other time. Take tomorrow, for example, and our having to spend an extra full day at the hospital in order for me to have a blood transfusion. By ’eck, it’s a drag having to be there (sorry, Royal Marsden – I love you but… y’know) and I can’t say I’m relishing the thought of notching up another dozen bruises on my junkie-scarred and vein-collapsed right arm, but the reason it’s being done is to make me feel better. And thus I must believe that it will. Then there’s the weirdness of having someone else’s blood pumped into my arm. I mean, whose the hell even is it? What if it belonged to a BNP member or a Forest fan or – shudder – someone to whom grammar isn’t important? What the bejeezus might happen to me after having it? All of which, obviously, are completely daft concerns given that anyone considerate enough to give blood in the first place is obviously just pure cool. (And yes, I’m also saying that because there’s a chance I’ll be needing more – so, um, cough up, will you?)

I fear I’ve lost my way a bit with my message today, and for that I apologise. I guess just all I’m trying to let you know in this chemo-fogged, ham-fisted attempt at an insightful post – whether or not you knew it already – is that, bloody hell, reader, this shit is tough. I appreciate that those closest to me are already transparently aware of this fact (and, dare I say, sick of hearing it). But I also appreciate that those who know me from a greater distance might not be so well informed. Whether that’s for reasons due to my lack of explanation or their disinclination to find out simply doesn’t matter. But sometimes, we all have to learn something that we’d really rather not. And, for Lisa and Peter Lynch (eesh, no – I just can't do that third-person shit), it’s looking increasingly like we’re not just going to have to keep on learning the same old lesson of coming to terms with our continually conflicting emotions, but keep on sitting – no, acing – the same old exam. 

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Eat me.

I’m not one for bucket lists. Never at any point since learning of my secondary cancer – hell, at any point at all – have I ever looked back at my life so far and found gaps in the things I’ve done.

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.)

Hommana hommana.
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.