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

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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

Rachel

Sarah's post card painting of Plot 44. Posted to Rachel early this morning, before we knew.

Earlier today we learned that our friend and fellow blogger, Rachel, from The Cancer Culture Chronicles died this morning from the effects of metastatic breast cancer. We will have a great many words to say about our beloved friend. But not today. Today we are too sad to speak much.