World without cancer

Some days chocolate is a necessity. Real friends know when.

Let’s face it, Facebook has redefined what we mean by ‘Friends’. You know when someone asks if you know so and so, and maybe you reply, ‘Well I do know her/him, I mean she/he is my friend, well my friend on Facebook that is.’

Does it mean anything?

I’m one of those people who have in the past accepted every friend request on Facebook, only to regret it days later when my News Feed is filled up with Farmville requests or some other Jewel type annoying games. Well I think they’re annoying anyway. That’s not what I want to use Facebook for. Or announcements about what you’re watching on TV right now. No thanks, I’m just not interested. And it amazes me how the most banal comment can attract 28 comments. I just can’t do trivial. I mean I love to engage with real lives, and lives lived in joy and delight. And I do enjoy ‘normal’ now a lot more than I ever thought I could. But sometimes I feel that my world is filling up with trivia that doesn’t enhance it, and anyway, really how can anyone have 1,159 friends? Or 159? Maybe 59 at most? If you are seriously going to engage with them and have meaningful conversations as well as some fun. By the way, I don’t know the right answer. I hate those Facebook messages that go ‘post this if you’re really my friend, let’s see who is paying attention’, because what I think is well, no actually, if you’re really my friend – TALK TO ME.

So, I’m one of those Facebook users who does cull their Friend list. Yup, I unfriend people. And you know when I unfriend someone with 2,543 friends, I know they won’t even notice. If I wrote on their wall, would they even notice? And when I get a Friend Request, I respond with a message, ‘Do I know you? Have we met? Do we have something in common?’ Because I’m not interested in becoming ‘friends’ with someone if we don’t have something to talk about. I mean, real friends, that is people I know in the flesh, I interact with them, I chat, heck I even have lunch with them sometimes. And I am careful who I spend my time with. Because I know that time is limited. I feel that more keenly now. No, I’m not being a miserable cancer patient who’s predicting doom and gloom that will result in my early death. That’s not what I mean. I also know that I have less energy now too, and the energy I do have I want to spend it wisely. Not waste it. I can’t. It would be unfair on myself.

What I mean is, that doing this blogaday has shown me something. It has shown me how deeply affected I am by the conversations I have when they are real. That they are the ones that matter. Of course I want fun sometimes (you should try boxing, that’s one load of fun), but I also want real conversations. In fact, let it be said, I want to change the world. You know what I’m going to say here… I want a world without cancer. I want my words to be heard. I want my actions to be meaningful. I want my time on earth to matter. I want my conversations and my interactions with friends to be meaningful. And that includes the Facebook ones too.

Just to come back to my favourite feminist icon, Audre Lorde, here, quoting – again – from her powerful book ‘The Cancer Journals’ written in 1980 after her mastectomy.

Living a self-conscious life, under the pressure of time, I work with the consciousness of death at my shoulder, not constantly, but often enough to leave a mark upon all of my life’s decisions and actions. And it does not matter whether this death comes next week or thrity years from now; this consciousness gives my life another breadth. It helps shape the  words I speak, the ways I love, my politic of action, the strength of my vision and purpose, the depth of my appreciation of living.

These words resonate so deeply for me. I have a ‘consciousness of death’ that I didn’t have before. Yes, I am alive. Yes I have been treated, and treated well as far as we know. And yes, the life I am living now is far preferable to dying. But.

But I still wish it hadn’t all happened and I still wish it won’t happen to other women. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I speak.

Last week I spoke at an event in Liverpool, organised by a new friend, yes we did meet on Facebook. Jennifer Hartstone of Shabby-Chic Clothes Agency approached me to do ‘something’ for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Just before I started this October blogaday I wrote about the conversation we had, and how I challenged her assumptions about breast cancer. Which resulted in the event being about ‘What do you really know about breast cancer?’ and me making ‘Open your eyes‘, a little book of BIG FACTS about breast cancer – you can download the pdf and make your own here.

The evening was held last week, at Liverpool’s newest venue, The Brink. And it was a very special evening. I spoke briefly about my breast cancer experience following diagnosis in 2007, but more about what’s happened since publishing ‘Being Sarah‘ in October 2010. About going to the European Parliament in Brussels for cancer prevention and the environment, recognition of my work from an invite to Buckingham Palace and the British Medical Association 2011 Book Awards. The big things. But equally big, my new friendships, including Rach in New Jersey. And also Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues. Yes me and Gayle hung out together this summer for a few days while I was in the States, having fun, but having serious conversations too. There’s room for both, but it’s always genuine. And if we are going to change the conversation about breast cancer I think me, Rach and Gayle are making a good start, along with the many other bloggers I only know as cyber friends, but they are definitely friends.

I talked about my experience following diagnosis of how old friends fell away. Sad but true. But in way it’s allowed the space for new friendships to develop. So the friendships I have now have to matter. They have to see the darker side of life as well as the fun. Why wouldn’t my Facebook friends be any different? And some of these new friendships are people who’ve written on my blog this month, who have been deeply affected by breast cancer and are not afraid to express what it means to them.

I am always very open when I speak. I am honest and I tell truths. I talk about loss, depression, fear of death, the way a cancer diagnosis completely changes your life and the lives of everyone around you, and not everyone will stay. When I’d finished speaking we had question-time. And I was astounded actually by the depth of the questions. I think we could have carried on all evening. People wanted to ask about the reality of cancer. About death. About how to talk about it. It’s amazing isn’t it that we’re not having these conversations. But I want to. And I can see that other people do too.

And so that’s the nature of real friendship I think. Real friends like the one who just sent me three bars of my favourite chocolate in the post because she knew I was feeling overwhelmed (thank you, you know who you are). That’s what real friends do. And they’re the ones I want along with me for whatever’s next in my life.

Here’s a five minute film of Women at The Brink. Here’s me speaking my truth, from the perspective of someone with a ‘possibly shortened life’ (Audre Lorde again) and how that changes things. And how I’d like us to have a world without cancer. For all our sakes.

There’s also a 30 second trailer for this film, which you can find here.

21 thoughts on “World without cancer

  1. Fantastic film. Wish you didn’t have to make it though, and you had your wish of a World Without Cancer. Thank you so much for going out of your way to help and inspire others. I am honoured to have you as a friend and will continue to share what I have learnt from you. Love and admiration, Jen. xx

  2. This is a really wonderful post Sarah, and your thoughts on friendship “after cancer” are right on target. I don’t have the energy either unless it’s real engagement and friendship with real feeling.

    I thought your speech at The Brink was very powerful – I don’t think I could have done that without disintegrating into a blubbering mess, so well done! I think you really are changing the world. I’m so delighted to count you as my friend.

    • Rach. I have a short acronym to share with you. LTS. Use it to measure things. It means; Life’s Too Short. Add a swear word if you please! Delighted back at you all the way from Liverpool.

  3. Oh, Sarah, this is brilliant — the post, the video, the singing at the end of the video, all of it. You are definitely one of the cyber-sisters on whom I can count to ‘get it’ & to be authentic. What an apt word that is — authentic — for what so many of us are trying to do in speaking about breast cancer & pink culture. Merely to be authentic. I am still awaiting an actual copy of your book (out of print months ago when I ordered it) but I already know how much I will love reading it. I’m so glad we’ve met in cyberspace and I look forward to meeting you in person one of these days. You are one of the people I can count on for some sanity in this crazed pink culture. Love to Ronnie, too, who is, as we all know, dah bomb!

    • Hi Rose Mary, thanks for coming by. I think delivering this message is up to all of us actually, we all need to be speaking out and asking for a world without cancer. Best, Sarah

  4. Sarah, you are my goto now for a good, honest, passionate rant. The way the Audre Lorde quote is clarifying and cathartic, so too is that wonderful rant. Thank you. X X

  5. Thank you, Sarah. When we finally met in 3D it was almost like being on the Holodeck of the Star Trek Enterprise! Are we real? Is this real? Suddenly, sisters across time and space gather. You and Rach, and me, in the flesh. Conversations just as we always do in this virtual world about what to do to clarify and clear out this cancer mess, about the desperate need to get real, to be authentic, to speak as if our lives depend on it, because they do. The joy of being fully present, sharing fears, concerns, frustrations, all alongside the joy of good food and friendship and creativity and tears and laughter and the desire to change the world. Ah, when the sherpas come together… there is power, and compassion, and not to sound all corny… but there is love… (and also chocolate). Thank you, dear Sarah, for counting me as friend and for sharing yourself with the world. –Gayle

  6. Thank you for writing and all that you. I love you from far away through the intertubes.

    The permanent, and severe peripheral neuropathy pain I have is so isolating and hopeless. Yes, I’m in remission but I’m in a sort of living hell. And this is how I must spend the rest of my days. I suppose if the revolution needs a suicide bomber I’d be a good candidate for the job.

    Class dismissed.


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