‘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

The walking (for Rachel)

When someone close to us dies we grieve. And that grieving can take many forms. We cry, of course. We cross the earth to attend their funeral. We put together collections of photos of the departed one. Maybe of their writings. Sometimes we run. And maybe we’ll walk, ‘in remembrance of’ them. And in my experience there is an urgent need to do some or all of these things in the first year after the person has died. By year, I mean, the actual 12 months. I know from my father’s death that the first year was ‘special’ and the grief did not end at the one year point, but the marking of that year was important. You go through a cycle of grief because you pass ‘this time last year’ moments so often. Anniversaries arrive and catch you unawares, a birthday, the last time you were together; these moments have significance, especially so in the first year.

Of course the person I am thinking about this year is Rachel – it’s her birthday soon. And I’ve been thinking about doing a walk that would be like a pilgrimage – for Rach. For me. Yes I want to walk with Rachel, my beloved friend who died in February. And I have a feeling of ‘If I don’t do it now I may never do it’. It’s the grief, I know. A deeply personal need to in some way still be ‘with’ the one who has died. And I was wondering if you might like to walk with me?

So… this summer I’ve been entertaining fantasies of walking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (also known in English as The Way of St James) in Northern Spain, maybe in October when the weather is cooler. It’s 485 miles (780km) in total from the start in France to the cathedral in Santiago in Spain, although you can walk part of it, or walk it in sections. So, nearly 500 miles? On foot. Why? Well, it started after I’d watched the film ‘The Way‘ starring Martin Sheen (Jed Bartlet from the TV series West Wing). He plays a father who doesn’t understand why his grown son has given up everything and gone to Europe to ‘find himself’, and they part angrily. Several months later the father ends up following his son to retrieve his ashes…. he’s died on the Camino in a storm. And so, of course, with it being Hollywood, Martin Sheen has a revelation and well, of course proceeds to walk the Camino himself and experiences enlightenment along the way, plus meets other ‘pilgrims’ and they talk about why they are walking and deeper questions about life. It’s well-filmed and has a great sense of place, but is also done without sentimentality. One of those films that makes you say, as the credits roll, ‘Mmm, I fancy going there.’

I’ve since mentioned it to a few people, some of whom have heard of the Camino, who have desires to walk it themselves. But it’s a big commitment, at least to walk it all. If you walk it in one go, it’ll take you about 40 days. On foot. Carrying all your possessions, well that is all your two pairs of socks and a change of underwear. Staying along the way in primitive ‘refugios‘ in dormitories. So to a lipstick-wearing, self-confessed co-ordinated dresser (ie me) does that still sound attractive?

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