Words for Rach

February 2012. From Liverpool to New Jersey, rosemary for remembrance. For Rach.

On Monday 6 February 2012 my dear friend Rachel Cheetham, blogger at The Cancer Culture Chronicles, died of metastatic breast cancer. This last week I left the blog in the good hands of my beloved partner Ronnie Hughes, as I travelled over to New Jersey to say goodbye to Rach. I’ll be posting more about this, and also editing film of the service. But for now, here are my words for Rach, as read by me on Saturday 11 February 2012 at the ‘Celebration of Life’ service for Rachel in New Jersey.

I’ve only known Rach for a fairly short time, but we very quickly became close. I was looking back through my emails to see when we started to get to know each other and I found the first message from her in November 2010. You see Rach and I both inhabit the ‘blogosphere’ – that’s what we call the space where we bloggers meet. Yes I have a breast cancer blog, like Rach. I too have been diagnosed with breast cancer, at a relatively early age, have been treated, have spent years of my life being a patient. But unlike Rach, I’m lucky. I’m lucky because my cancer hasn’t behaved like Rach’s did – at least not yet. So I’m still here to talk about the life I’m living after diagnosis, which for the most part doesn’t involve much medical intervention. But the thing that Rach and I immediately had in common was that we disliked the culture of breast cancer that wanted us to be triumphal survivors. You may have read Rachel’s obituary, written by Anthony (her beloved husband), about how they got on with their lives after Rachel’s diagnosis and treatment….

Confident treatment was successful, because everyone “survives” breast cancer, don’t they?

But in fact, not everyone survives breast cancer, and bloggers like me and Rach felt that telling the truth about breast cancer might actually help us start finding a cure, and eradicating the disease in the first place. Continue reading

Oh Rach

The Skyping begins. Rachel interviewing Sarah for her Can Do Women blog, January 2011

Still Ronnie, standing in while Sarah is New Jersey.

Is it still too soon? I want to write Rachel something lovely. Something as good as anything I’ve ever written. (Something as beautiful as her friend Chemobabe’s eulogy, or as world-changingly essential as Gayle’s) She deserves at least that. But I can’t, yet. I need to take the fact and my feelings about her death to the park, to the cathedral, to the river – to my sacred places. I need to tell them about her. And my sense of loss. Until I’ve done that I won’t find the words, my words, for my friend Rachel.

So, for now, here is a very short poem. Continue reading

Rachel and Sarah

Rachel, June 2011

Ronnie here, standing in while Sarah’s away

Early this morning I took Sarah to Manchester Airport for her plane to New Jersey, to join everybody else there and say goodbye to Rachel. Going there, at the same time and the same terminal, reminded me of a happier day last June, when Sarah set off to go and stay with Rachel and Anthony for a week. Later in the year the two friends both mentioned this magical week, when they published these two parallel posts about each other and their friendship, on the same day, last October.

My Friend Sarah, by Rachel Cheetham Moro

“This year I have spent a lot of time in Liverpool. Yes! The Liverpool of Beatles fame in Northern England. I was surprised to learn that Liverpool’s climate actually rarely sees snow because it’s temperate maritime and the city is a recipient of warm bands of Gulfstream air. So this is why I’ve seen daffodils growing in Liverpool’s parks in February. Spring comes early in Liverpool.

On the deck of the allotment

I’ve meandered down Penny Lane in March and have been a regular visitor to a wonderful public space known as an “allotment”. It’s a kind of cooperative where the good citizens of Liverpool may rent garden plots to raise fruit and vegetables or whatever their inner gardener desires.I’ve clomped around in garden beds and dug for spring onions of all colors, fresh bulbs of garlic, and delicious little new potatoes. I’ve picked tomatoes and cucumbers and wondered aloud what to do with them all. I’ve even picked a pomegranate. A tropical fruit grown in Liverpool? Must be that Gulfstream air.I’ve strolled down flower and tree lined rows of allotments. I’ve shaded myself under an apple tree and I’ve marveled at the bounty of the most beautiful pear tree I’ve ever seen. I’ve sat on the deck of the allotment shed, sharing a picnic and catching the last few rays of summer sunshine and I feel like I never want to leave. Continue reading

There is…

1 February, the sky today.

Today the sky is David Hockney blue. An unexpected bonus. A piece of delight, of joy. Normal.

There is normal in moments, the visit to the snowdrop garden on Sunday with my friend, the joy of the snowdrops, the mooching in the kitchen utensils section together in the garden centre, the decision of buying a colander for the allotment; shall I get the dinky turquoise one, or this lime green silicone one that folds flat? It is a good feeling when you know at the time you are having a good day. There is the yellow sign flashing on the motorway as I drive home. SALT SPREADING. Are we expecting a frost? Sherbet lemons that fizz in my mouth.

Several evenings this last week at sunset the sky is clear and there is Venus appearing first, followed by Jupiter, they hang in a line with a crescent moon between them. They are where they should be, where we know they will be. I can pick a random date three weeks from now (not actually random at all, 21 February, my fifth year ‘anniversary’ from diagnosis) and I can know where they will be in the night sky. I find that reassuring. Normal. Continue reading

Bruised

My least favourite version of a hospital gown. Printed with the words 'hospital use only' - that's funny because I thought it would look good as a party dress.

Having been so open about my recent surgery for nipple reconstruction I feel it’s only fair to update you on how it’s all turned out. OK so the administration of my hospital experience was ‘not ideal’ and I’ve written plenty about that (please note just over 7,000 words, and all of them, together with Ronnie’s accompanying blog, sent hard-copy to the hospital – more about their response will follow in another blog post). But surgically this was very straightforward and has gone well. I also have the most wonderful kind and gentle and skilled plastic surgeon – Ken Graham – who I trust completely. And I know he will always do his best for me.

So for ten days after surgery I have a blue foam block covering my new nipple and dressings on the other breast where I’ve had some revision for symmetry. And a four-inch suture line on the inside of my upper thigh which is frankly, very uncomfortable. That was the donor site for the skin which was used to create an areola (which will mean I don’t need any tattoo-ing if the colour works out well). And I don’t mind telling you that having three surgical sites in particularly senstive areas do in fact hurt, I feel delicate and bruised. The effort of bending over to paint my toe nails, the tenderness, the way I am frightened that I will knock myself and hurt. Impossible to sleep on my side, too uncomfortable because of the stitches on both sides. All those things that are familiar post-surgery.

And all this healing time is frankly boring. I don’t get out much, I can’t do anything very active. I sleep long and nap often. I have some visitors who bring me chocolate and cake and we chat. I’ve been to the cinema and also went out for delicious pizza with my friend Karen, but post-surgery is a time for rest and healing.

So as I anxiously look at myself I get to see bits of stitches, dried blood and bruising. That’s what surgery looks like while it’s healing. Continue reading