Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Blackbird Syndrome, and some hamsters

You're probably wondering if this post is about some new cancer symptom I've developed. I suppose that's true to some extent. When something goes very pear-shaped in one's life- and believe me, a life-threatening cancer is about as pear-shaped as things can get- one really does gain a new understanding of the Blackbird Syndrome.

Bloggers know all about it, too. If you want to get a high number of 'hits' (which for the uninitiated means 'lots of people viewing what you've written'), you need to attract the blackbirds.

How to do that is common knowledge.

1. Use a pretty picture.
2. Don't write too much text.
3. Above all- don't go too deep.

Make it eye-catching rather than thought-provoking, and the blackbirds will pick it up and add it to their collection of bright shiny things, before moving on quickly to the next glittering prize. (See: Pinterest. Lots of hits. Not much genuine human connection.)

Well, here you are reading my cancer blog.

1. No pictures to speak of.
2. Lots of complex text.
3. A hell of a lot of deep, and sometimes troubling, thought.

I'm not exactly holding my breath on the stats.

So if you're here reading this, either you're no blackbird (and maybe never have been), or you're a blackbird who's just embarked on a very difficult and challenging journey towards deeper thought- out of respect for me. And so I have the greatest respect for you, my readers. This isn't exactly an airport novel, but you're here struggling through it, experiencing my journey with me.

The true blackbirds are not here. When you have cancer, the blackbirds drop away. Some people just avoid you. Some manufacture a reason not to keep in touch. It's too confronting for them; they desperately want to believe that life is bright, and shiny, and unrelentingly hopeful. That life is just a jewellery box full of sparkling trinkets.

If they come face to face with you by chance, they'll say things like "You'll be right," or "You're looking well," or (god help them) "Everything happens for a reason" (smiiiiiile!!). They'll skilfully terminate any conversation about the deeper issues, or try to 'comfort' you with more hokey sound bites.

And you'll probably want to drop them with a bit of 4x2 the moment they turn away.

And then you'll take a deep breath and start to mourn, because your 'friendship' was made of nothing more substantial than feathers and air and loud cawing.

I'm not actually afraid of dying, if that's how this story ends. What I'm afraid of- one of the reasons I dread finding out the results of the bone scan- is that any seeming loss of hope for my recovery would flush out the blackbirds in my life. That would be a crashing and heart-breaking disappointment to me, I know. The remaining blackbirds would fly away without looking back.

(It would also, of course, force another hard reality check on those who've had the courage to travel with me. And I don't want you beautiful people to suffer, either.)

Writing the blog has saved me so many confrontational moments like that. I see who's reading it, and who simply won't pick it up. (I've had some surprises there.) Sometimes I see who's struggling, because they tell me so, and I hold out my hand to them if I can.

It's hard to stop being a blackbird. It hurts. I respect those people's struggle with my blog.

Maybe you're now thinking "Shit, am I a blackbird? I said some really stupidly positive things at the start of this, and I was wrong..."

Well STOP that right now. You're still here, so you're not a blackbird.

Let's just make that a little clearer, so you know you said things that were just fine- even if they now seem to have been wrong. I'm not saying that there's no place for positive thinking in my recovery. 

Look at this.

My son sent me a link to this article from New Scientist about an experiment on hamsters, which has shown that believing in a positive outcome contributes to better immune function. To summarise the article: if Siberian hamsters are fooled into believing it's summer by scientists (who manipulate the lights to mimic the appropriate length of day and night), and so believe that they have a greater chance of surviving their illness than they would have had in winter (due to better weather and better availability of food), their immune system kicks in to make them get better more quickly.

Even if, actually, it's not summer at all. Even if they don't get better weather and more food.

So all your positive thoughts and support, which boost my spirits amazingly, are actually helping me to believe I can get better- which is actually contributing to my chance of getting better.

Please don't think I'm telling you to stop saying positive things! I'm not!

What I AM saying is that I recognise how hard it is for some of you to get through the desire to believe only in the bright and shiny, to avoid the temptation of the trite and to connect with me here about the dark reality (and deal with the demons that brings up for you about your own mortality), and then to come out the other side saying something that is actually helpful to me.

That is a huge journey for you to undertake. For taking that journey, I thank you with all my heart.

And what about my own beliefs? Am I helping my own immune system?

My friend Vi is coming to help out once Jools goes home. Let me be completely open with you and admit that Vi and I share a certain amount of psychic power. Both of us, occasionally, see things that haven't happened yet. Both of us know when we're seeing something that hasn't happened yet.

We both tend to put it down to quantum physics and unexplained characteristics of the universe, not so much to ghosts or the supernatural. But we know from experience that there are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in some philosophies or than can be explained by coincidence.

Vi told me, before I knew I was sick, that I had a long life- but with a huge cross to bear which might be illness. It was something she saw, in that way that we both understand.

After I was diagnosed, she saw that I would be okay. I would survive this. She maintains this vehemently every time I speak to her.

I choose to trust in what she saw. My own gut feeling is that I will survive this. Every time I get a bad result, it shakes me to the core and I doubt my belief- I blog about it and process it- and then I breathe deeply, talk to Vi or Jools or to my inner self, and get back to believing.

I may need to do a lot of deep breathing and shoring up my belief when I get the next set of results. You can help me. All together now!

It's summer. Do you hear me? It's summer.


  1. Often life just isn't bright and shiny. Sometimes, it sucks. Your posts are honest and heartfelt and that is SO much more beautiful than bright and shiny.

    So glad you've had Jools there and that Vi is coming after. I can't wait to hear more about this connection you have!

    (And here's where it sucks to be me---it's getting to be winter here. Man, I miss summer! :)

    1. Believe it's summer, Ayn! My scan was all clear!

  2. Yes! It sucks AND it's Summer...Thank you for your honesty, and courage, and for sharing the deep, important stuff. I'm with you here.

    1. Thank you, Lisa. Ditto ditto to you- your blog is most definitely not for blackbirds. xx

  3. Bring on Summer I say! Glad you aren't facing up to a gloomy winter as you go into battle with the freeloader. I suffer (probably not the right word right here and now) with seasonal effective disorder and I know what a difference that could make to your battle. We all feel better with a bit of sunshine, even hamsters apparently!

    I have blackbird moments. Particularly when I am tired. But I also think it is fair to say that sometimes a picture can speak a thousand words, so being a blackbird is not all bad. Maybe it comes down to 'learning styles' or 'multiple intelligences' or just being time poor? Some people are just very visual. With words, we create our own images, and our own sense of the authors reality. And how close we come to that reality depends on our capacity to empathize. To place ourselves in another person shoes.

    I'll admit, it has been tough reading some of your posts. I have sat here on occasions with tears running down my cheeks. It would be easy for some to turn away and avoid the pain that comes with a strong capacity for empathy. But, true friends don't turn away. True friends are ready to feel pain with you.

    When the shit hits the fan, that's when you find out who your true friends are, and sometimes, as you say, that can be surprising! xo

    1. Oh Karen, you are so right about summer. I have mood problems even with dull weather in summer! And 'suffer' is definitely the right word, regardless of the circumstances.

      Oh, and you are NOT a blackbird, either in your blog or in real life. You are honest about how hard stuff can be. You are travelling a tough road with me. Thank you.

  4. God dam candy.....I value not only reading the truly beautiful and honest things you write but knowing that before all this shit, you were just the same. You know too well about dealing with 'career blackbirds' weve had and at times i felt like it wasnt worth the fight, but every time i read your post. You empower me to think, I REGRET nothing, those blackbirds will never be half the person you are. We might not get that coffee we were gonna get for a while, but i know ill never say "everything happens for a reason" cos this is shit. Ps. I hear its gonna be a record SUMMER this year! xxxx

    1. Thanks LisaM. It's ALWAYS worth the fight. We both know that. There is a movement towards children's rights to respect, and you and I and Lisa and Karen and Ayn up above in these comments are all moving in the same direction. There is power in sharing thoughts and strength in numbers. Don't you forget it.