‘She never complained.’

I reflect from time to time, on what people say about me, about others, other women and men, as they endure – and yes I did mean to use that word – endure their treatments for cancer. Sometimes they say we are brave, and that we don’t complain.

I’ve never understood the ‘brave’ comment. What’s brave about making decisions involving chemical and drug treatments and surgery or multiple surgeries? Or more tests? Or more observations over time to see what happens?

What’s brave about agreeing to take a drug that has a statistical chance of increasing your life span? What’s brave about agreeing to surgery, to anaesthesia, to the potential complications, and possible side-ffects of all of them?

What’s brave about any of that?

It’s simply a choice, and not a choice that anyone would ever want to make. It’s not like choosing a new outfit, or where to go on holiday, or even what kind of an occupation you would like to pursue. It’s a choice from a lesser, more complicated, and sometimes painful set of options. A choice weighted with life and death statistics. It’s a choice made hoping that you wind up in the ‘good’ statistics, in the hope that your outcome doesn’t have the  worst side-effects (or at least not all of them), or the unforeseen complications. The ‘unusual’ patient. I know.

I know all of that.

22 February 2007, day after diagnosis. Brave? No, pissed off.

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The essence of Rach

The essence of a friend. What is the essence of Rach? How Mandy and I pondered that. In the end sections of Rachel’s book, after we’d completed the blog posts and the resources, Mandy said she wanted it to contain the ‘essence of Rach’. So, what would that be? Newman, her dog, obviously. Her beloved husband Anthony Moro. But more, her family, and all her friends from across the world who wrote and spoke tributes for her. Her love of gardening, her delight in heirloom tomatoes, her culinary skills. And more. I hope we’ve somehow captured the essence of Rach in her book.

Dear Rach, during this summer I have been wrapped in your words. In more ways than you will ever know. They surround me. All 94,000 of them. Every one is balm.I think now, of the time we had together. On an edge. Meeting on the edge. Your edge doesn’t frighten me. My edge doesn’t frighten you.

I miss you.

November 2011, Rach and her beloved dog Newman

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Future safe

This post is being published on 1 October 2012. On that day I will be somewhere in Cumbria, with Gemma, walking and remembering my friend Rach. It’s the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. So, here’s a refreshing antidote to all that pink. We are publishing Rachel’s blog, ‘The Cancer Culture Chronicles’ as a book.

While I am away, my blog is left in the capable hands of my guest editor, Ronnie Hughes. I will catch up with you when I return.

“I will never forget you Rach.”

I have written that and said that over and over again. I didn’t write it as a promise, but in a way it has become one. Although, would Rach have laughed at that with its ring of ‘the promise’ that Susan G Komen’s Nancy Brinker made to her dying sister?

Dying sisters aside – although it certainly felt like I lost a sister – this is about never forgetting. And future-safing. Future-safe. What’s that? In January 2011 Rachel wrote a blog post called ‘Preserving our Digital Legacy’, where she asked the important question of:

‘What will really happen to our blogs etc., once we are gone?’ Continue reading

We only know we have it now

Today – 31 August – is the ‘anniversary’ of my father’s death. Is it really 13 years? And so every year at this time, I feel sad. I’m now able to remember Frank, my father, happily and recall memories fondly; but he was my first experience of deep grief. But today is also a Friday. And now, on Fridays, me and Ronnie go for a walk – somewhere. Ronnie writes a regular blog post of ‘The Friday Walks’. Sometimes it’s over on the shining shore on the Wirral, the Dee estuary with its beaches and marshes; and often we combine a visit to my favourite botanic garden at Ness; sometimes further afield like Anglesey; sometimes it’s here in Liverpool, an urban walk; and sometimes it’s somewhere new. And today is a new walk.

New walks are tricky. We don’t have the route fully mapped out, we might not like it… but we like to find new places to extend our walk repertoire. Ronnie has suggested Churchtown, north of Southport and the marsh beyond, about 30 miles north of Liverpool. I’m not sure, but when Ronnie tells me there is a botanical garden at Churchtown then I’m keen to go.

I won’t describe our walk in detail, after all I know Ronnie will sum it up perfectly. (In fact he has done here – and if you look at the photos on Ronnie’s blog you will see I am sporting a rather large rucksack for a day walk, but I am practising with a heavier pack for my pilgrimage walk for Rach in a few weeks). Anyway, we arrive at Churchtown – which is delightful – we walk round the village, the churchyard, the lovely thatched cottages and old brick buildings, and we arrive at the botanic gardens, which are quite simply a gem. We find a bench and, as usual on the Friday walk, settle down to have our packed lunch.

As we are sat there I say, ‘This is great, isn’t it?’ but not really a question. Ronnie looks up from his lunch and says, ‘Yes, we’re doing alright aren’t we, in our after,‘ and then pauses. We are both silent. We both know we weren’t guaranteed an after. By any means. We also don’t know how long this after will last. We only know we have it now. My eyes fill with tears.

‘This is our weekly holiday,’ says Ronnie. So matter-of-factly. Yes. It is. Every Friday, we do this. We just do it. Other people exclaim over our ritual, but all we do is decide to do it. It’s not special, it’s ordinary now. The Friday walk.

The gardens are lovely, sort of gardens mixed with municipal park, but green and lush with a lake and lots of other people using them.

After the botanic garden we drive up to the marsh and walk out along the salty, empty sandy road to nowhere, just the edge of a wide estuary. I love it. The open-ness, the green-ness, the birds and the space.

And so, in the ‘unknowingness of breast cancer‘ which I wrote about before on our walks, we find ‘ordinary’.

I’m having a tough time this summer, losing my dear friend Rach this year has been very, very hard. The grief is immense. I’m taking a lot of time for myself. But in a moment when I dip back into the blog world I see that Marie is ‘celebrating ordinary‘. And that’s something I’ve longed for, snatched at, selfishly wanting the plain and simple ‘ordinary’ of everyday life. I realise that I have so much ordinary now… but it’s taken five years to find it again. But it’s definitely back.

25 August 2012. Ordinary.

Yes, that’s Saturday morning in Liverpool. It’s sunny and I peg the washing out, our sheets, on the line in our back yard. An ordinary yard, an ordinary sky. But really, not ordinary at all. If you think about it.

And what today reminded us about, is that you can find all sorts of lovely (and ordinary) places just by deciding to do it. And I’ll take ‘ordinary’ any day of the week.