Losing Rachel

Rachel and her dog Newman

My friend Rachel died on 6 February this year. From metastatic breast cancer. She was 41. She will be greatly missed by her beloved husband Anthony, her family, her friends, her dog and the thousands of people who read her sharp, angry and witty words on her blog where she challenged mainstream breast cancer culture: The Cancer Culture Chronicles. She was my friend. In fact, she was one of my closest friends, found in the blogosphere and we became close despite the 3,500 miles that separated us. Her death came too soon, I was not ready for this and the grief has been profound.

In the grief of Rach I’ve been remembering other things. Sort of introspectively remembering my life since my breast cancer diagnosis, things that happened. 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

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. Continue reading

‘The enormity of our task.’

Audre Lorde

I’ve recently finished reading The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde for the sixth or seventh time. It’s such a deep and inspiring read. Every time I read it I find I am touched again on many levels by Audre Lorde’s insightful and skilfully expressed emotions – anger, loss, fear – they jump off the page.

I bought this book over four years ago newly diagnosed with breast cancer having recently had a mastectomy in March 2007. At that time I hung around in the cancer sections of bookshops looking for, well, looking for what? I’m not sure  – answers maybe to all the ‘whys?’ I had:

Why me? Why so young? Why so little choice? Why do I feel so alone?

And did Audre Lorde answer my questions? I think, actually, now looking back through the years which I see now as layers, I see there are shards of answers to all the ‘big’ important connections I’ve started to piece together, and they have all started from seeds in this book:

  • the links between the causes of breast cancer and the environment;
  • the sense of a ‘bigger’ industry, Cancer Inc.;
  • and particularly about how women are encouraged to treat breast cancer so, ‘nobody will know the difference’.

Audre Lorde writes The Cancer Journals in 1980. That’s 30 years ago. 30 years. Wow – that’s a long time. For so little change. Continue reading

Return to me

I am now 16 days into the fifth year of my life ‘since’. Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That dividing line drawn on that day where everything comes ‘after’. Where life changes in an instant. Except you don’t know it at the time. This time of year when the anniversaries come thick and fast – diagnosis, surgery, more surgery… decisions… second opinions…. and so on. The time of year that’s my favourite time of year; the growing light, the signs of spring, our wedding anniversary, and now it’s all messed up – with thoughts of dying.

Because four years later I didn’t know what to expect.

The words from Rumer’s song ‘Take me as I am’ come to me:

“Is there a place where all I’ve lost will be returned to me?”

And that’s what I expected really. That my life post-treatment would be about finding everything that was lost. But over the last months I am finding it’s not about loss… those things are gone, not lost – they are stolen. That’s different. It feels as though they are irretrievable. Continue reading