Thursday, November 1, 2012


I woke up this morning with the coping tank reading 'empty'. It was one of those mornings when all I wanted to do was pull the sheet over my head and shout at everyone who came near me "Go away, I have cancer."

You get that.

Up till now, I've been coping okay with the big things. The diagnosis. The tests. The surgery. But I think it might be a cumulative process for me, one in which cracks start to appear around the edges before there's an implosion.

The prospect of the bone scan, with yet another wait for results culminating in yet another hideously time-warped moment between the doctor opening his mouth and the message reaching me- yes? no? live? die? - was pretty much the last straw today. Crack number one was realising I'd woken up nauseated again, probably partly due to anxiety and partly due to the narcotic painkillers that I'd been taking on an empty stomach (because, of course, I've been too nauseated to eat anything much).

That's a vicious circle from which there's no escape, unless someone kind takes you in hand and puts food in front of you. (Preferably with a bit of attitude.)

And that's what best friends are for, especially best friends with a medical degree and a lot of attitude about food issues. I cursed Jools, silently, for putting a bowl of cereal and fruit under my nose, even though I'd reluctantly agreed to it five minutes earlier. When it appeared, I felt like flushing it down the loo.

But because she's my friend, I forced it down anyway. And of course it helped, eventually, as my brain knew it would- but my inner toddler didn't appreciate it at the time.

Then, crack number two. There was a sudden strong gust of wind, the screen blew out of the window and the beautiful vase full of flowers I'd been given upended itself onto the floor, scattering water and bruised blooms everywhere.

That just about finished me. That was about as close as I've come to having a full-blown tantrum worthy of a two-year-old. The whole bloody world was against me, including nature. Nothing was fair. The expletives flew. And I was buggered if I was cleaning up the mess.

I stomped away to have a hot shower, and bugger not wetting the dressings too. The whole damn breast was going to come off anyway, so who cares?

The Bear and Jools had it sorted by the time I emerged, sodden and somewhat chastened. I tried to thank them graciously, but probably failed. The squadron of airforce helicopters had returned to my stomach and I couldn't hear myself talk over their racket.

You're going to die, you're going to die, you're going to die.

I got dressed. I got in the car. I accepted a kiss from the Bear, trying not to be sullen. Jools drove me to my appointment.

We talked about some pretty heavy stuff on the way.

See, the thing about my best friend is that she's so damn patient with me, and such a damn good listener. If I say something provocative, she just pulls a little bit more information out of me, and a little bit more, all without any judgment, until my emotional entrails are draped all over the place and she can start cleaning them off and piling them back inside me in a much tidier heap. By the time we got to the hospital I'd admitted to some stuff that hasn't got much of an airing here on the blog.

Like, what my fear of the bone scan is about. Like, my terror of losing hope, of being plunged into a pit that I can't climb out of. My nausea is mostly vertigo, from standing on the edge of that pit swaying, waiting to be shoved in.

See, that's probably why I tend to anticipate the worst and try to stare it down, instead of adopting the 100% sunny, positive-energy attitude that everything will be fine. I'd rather climb down a little into the pit. It's less far to fall.

From halfway down, you can see both the bottom and the top. But this morning, all I could see was how deep that pit was.


Something odd happened to me while I was in the anteroom getting my injection of radioactive calcium. It was the same girl who looked after me last time, a very young woman with a sweet attitude and a nice line in clear communication. She didn't deserve my bad mood, so I swept it quickly under the mat and put my smile back on.

We bantered. We laughed. She told me everything I needed to know about what was happening here.

I took back my power then. I looked her in the eye as I went out of the room, and told her she was very damn good at her job. I think she was a little surprised; maybe people don't say that stuff much when they're so weighed down and tossed sideways by their vertigo. Her eyes twinkled, though.

The odd thing was how much better I felt, straight away. I hadn't even had the pictures taken yet, let alone heard the results. But just trying to make someone else's day better had healed my spirit. It was such good medicine.

I think that will be my personal cancer remedy, taken daily. Whose day can I improve today? It has to be honest, it has to be deserved, but I think if I look hard enough I'll be able to find someone to praise every day.

Someone who's not expecting it, preferably.


Everything looked up after that. We had two hours to kill while the calcium turned me into a Hallowe'en skeleton (ooh look, it glows!), so after I'd had Stern Words with the Freeloader ("Did you leave any replicants behind? They're about to be outed, mate...") we went for a bit of a walk, did a bit of window shopping, headed to the supermarket to find something I might actually feel like eating.

I felt like a two tonne truck had been lifted off my shoulders.

At the checkout I tried to grab the first carry bag.

"You can't carry any heavy bags; you've got cancer," declared Jools. Eyes twinkling.

We both exploded into giggles.

Outside, she added "Do you mind me outing you like that?"

"Not at all," I replied. "I want people to talk about it."

And so that became our standing joke of the day.

"I can use the disabled toilet," I said bullishly in the corridor. "I have cancer."

More giggles.

Back in the photo booth, I lay in the sandwich-press-come-blender thingy again and watched it turn me into something off a Hallowe'en t-shirt on the screen above.

"I'm not an expert in this, and I'm looking at a very small picture there, but it all looks beautiful to me," said Jools.

And as I stood at the desk waiting to pay,

"You realise that you'll never be asked to give blood? That could be an advantage," said Jools.

"Why not?" said I, expecting some crack related to my radioactive status. I mean, this was the woman who'd told me while we sat in the cafe downstairs that I was looking radiant.

"You have cancer," said she, and we started to laugh again.

The girl behind the desk looked up and laughed too.

"Is that true?" she said. "You can't give blood?"

"Yes," said Jools.

"That lets me out too, then," she said. "I just got diagnosed."

She was a lot younger than me. At least 15 years younger, at a guess; maybe more. We chatted cheerily for a while then, about all the things we could no longer be asked to do. Because we have cancer.

And you know, whether we have it or not, we should surely be talking about it freely. One in eight women. More and more men. We need to be talking about breast cancer- all of us. Any of us could be next to fall into the pit. If we're watching where we're going, maybe it won't catch us so much by surprise.

And if we're talking about it instead of having nightmares about it, and if we keep trying to take back our power by making other people's days a little bit better instead of staring at our own sad navels, maybe we won't get so paralysed by vertigo.

I'm certainly going to try it.


  1. Love your honesty and courage Candy. You are a legend. And I think Jools just may be your best medicine yet! She is wonderful, true friend! XO :)

  2. Ok, so I was at a wedding last weekend, where we met up with Leon, who we haven't seen in ages. He took one look at Rowan, and went "Wow! You're so thin! You look awesome! Do you have cancer or something?" And me, with my usual knack for breaking the ice with a sledgehammer of subtlety said "Nope, that'd be Candy." I waited for the silence to get awkward, and declares: "And now I have won bluntest comment of the wedding."

    And so I did.