One more spring

Many of my readers will know that my dear friend Rachel Cheetham died on the 6th February 2012 of metastatic breast cancer. She was 41. I miss her. That’s an understatement. 

Yes – one more spring is what I would have wanted with Rach. A spring shared – in person, by Skype, by email, with photographs and films. But it didn’t happen.

On the 6th February 2012, a Monday, I got up late, as usual, and didn’t do very much until I got the bus, at 12.30pm, into town. To Hope Street. Where I have my piano lesson with Barry. My jazz piano lesson. My notes from that day tell me we were discussing my piece – Duke Ellington’s ‘Satin Doll’ – and minor sevenths and key modes.

At just after 2pm I leave in a bouyant mood. I’ve been telling Barry how excited I am about my trip to New Jersey in a few weeks to stay with my friend Rach. ‘Sounds great,’ says Barry. ‘Fun.’ Yes, that’s what it will be – fun. Continue reading

The shit filter

All in all I think I’ve done OK with this social media thing. I mean given that just over two years ago I didn’t know what Facebook was. Really. I emerged into 2010 from three years in ‘hosptial-land’ (thanks to breast cancer for that) and was plunged back into the ‘real’ world, and when I first heard the socially accepted end of conversation line, ‘Find me on Facebook.’ I said, ‘What’s Facebook?’

Well times move on and now I comfortably use Facebook, Twitter less so (and could somebody tell me what LinkedIn is for?), but I recognise that there are things about this social media stuff that means that I can stay in touch with people, find new friends who share my interests…. all good stuff. But it’s not all good. I mean, there’s just so much STUFF out there. How do you find the good or relevant stuff?

I recently read an article in The Word magazine (no I don’t read it but Ronnie does), and he’d told me about ‘frictionless sharing’. Mark Zukerberg, creator of Facebook, coined this phrase, and the concept is discussed in an article by Eamonn Forde:

“If everything we consume is being shared socially… does anything actually stand out? Sharing just becomes about quantity rather than quality.”

Exactly my feeling too. Continue reading

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

What is a friend?


Does knitting gloves for a friend define friendship?

Today’s post has been jointly written by me and my friend Rach, blogger at The Cancer Culture Chronicles, following a Skype where we talked about my ‘World without cancer‘ post.

One of the themes of the week has been one of deep reflecting about friendship. Rach was saying to me yesterday that some of her ‘friends’ have simply stopped asking her how she is, now she has metastatic breast cancer. Or they’ll send one line emails that say ‘How are you?’. Do they want the truthful reply that might take more than one line, or do they just want to hear that she’s ‘good’?  ‘Just read my blog’, she sometimes curtly replies. Others might just send meaningless, closed messages, like ‘Thinking of you.’ Messages encouraging no reply.

So, we’d like to ask our friends. Are you prepared to go down cancer’s rabbit hole? All the way?

Thinking about cancer, and death, has meant that I now view friends differently. Friendship, post cancer diagnosis, is deeper. Rach has similar feelings on friendships today. She simply doesn’t have the physical or emotional energy to manage friends who, through the passage of time and lives moving on, have really just become acquaintances. Her circle of friends is now much smaller, but she knows they are people she can rely on. And that’s never been more important.

And these reflections on friendship had prompted me to do a hefty Facebook clear-out of my friends, realising that many of them aren’t really my ‘friends’ after all, and I was telling Rach about this. In our usual snarky way me and Rach started joking about it. ‘Did I make the cut?’ Rach sarcastically asked, and then, ‘What’s the criteria Sarah?’

I said, ‘Well you know real friends you go to lunch with don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ said Rach, ‘so is the definition of a friend someone you would go to lunch with?’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘it’s probably more than that.’ And so began much snorting with laughter and sarcasm. And our list of criteria for ‘What is a friend?’ was born. Continue reading

My friend Rach

Rach in New York City

Today, the 13th October 2011, is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness day. I started this week with a post about metastatic breast cancer – The ‘M’ word – which did get people talking about it.

And today I’ve written a piece about my friend Rach, in particular our very special friendship. She’s a fellow blogger, that’s how we met, but she’s become much more than that. I recently published a post by Rachel in which she talks about the reality of living with metastatic disease, The well trodden path. You’ll probably know her as Rachel from The Cancer Culture Chronicles, to me she is just Rach.

Rach’s writing has always touched me very deeply and I swing from laughter to tears as I read her lively and angry posts.

I mean who wouldn’t love writing like this:

I’ve been reading a lot of things lately that make me want to run into the street, take all my clothes off, scream like a banshee, and then poke my eyeballs out with hot needles.

And this:

I feel like someone has removed my brain, stomped on it and reinserted it into my head.

But humour aside, there’s a truth in her writing that shines out, a truth about the reality of metastatic breast cancer:

It all comes down to the fact, that I want something better for myself. There I said it. Selfish me. Wanting to live a long life as well. Wanting to live the dream of the victorious cancer survivor.

And yes, that’s Rach in the photo, right there in New York City. And she’s wearing my hat. Continue reading