‘Have faith and try to change the world.’

This was the message from political strategist and terminal cancer sufferer Phillip Gould speaking on the Andrew Marr show this morning. He talked candidly about his illness, having been given just three months to live. He described the intensity of  ‘living in the death zone’ and described how cancer had made him a better person.

Of all the recent political memoirs written about the Labour years, his – newly updated – is the one I most want to read, not for any further revelations about Brown/Blair differences but for his insight into how to deal with such a prognosis.

We are going to download it onto John’s iPad so I can read it on holiday. Now I never thought I would read a book on an electronic device, but recently read Return of the Goon Squad on the iPad and found reading on screen tolerable, if a little strange. Possibly not the best book to read electronically – it’s a novel that jumps around a lot, each chapter introducing new groups of interconnecting characters, and I wanted to flick back and remind myself of who the people were and what had gone before, but couldn’t – although there’s probably some techie way of doing so.

So I wouldn’t say I’m a convert, although less of a luddite than I used to be. John on the other hand always embraces new technology and devours e-books by the hundred. I can see the advantages, particularly when heading off on holiday which we are due to do soon. Greece this time – wonder if their economy will withstand our visit?

The road to Santiago

Last night I watched The Way, a film about someone who walks the 800 km trail to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, scattering his son’s ashes as he goes. The Camino (Spanish for ‘way’) is an ancient pilgrimage route still trekked by hundreds of thousands of people each year. It takes a month to do the whole thing.

It’s a beautiful film, sad in parts with a nice smattering of understated humour. And significant for me because about 15 years ago Rob, Cathy and I walked the last 100 miles of the trail.  Rob, new to backpacking, struggled through the first few days, complaining his rucksack was hurting.  When Cathy and I tried to adjust it for him we realised it was weighed down by at least ten books!

Walking the trail you enter into  different mindset, where the minutae of daily life slips away. You encounter all sorts of characters along the way, all sharing a common goal – to reach Santiago. People do it for different reasons, be they social, spiritual, cultural or health related. It attracts a fair number of religious zealots; some people do the last little bit on their knees! To me that’s just unnecessary. 

Back in Medieval times, pilgrims were likely to encounter bears and bandits. Our main obstacle was blisters. And the weather; we discovered the rain in Spain falls mainly in Santiago.

Watching the film last night made me want to tackle the whole route some time.

Hidden treasure

We’ve got decorators in who are keeping odd hours. Last night one of them was here till midnight! They are awash with work apparently, so flitting between jobs to fit everything in. Painting and decorating must be one of those trades that’s bucked the trend. People can’t afford to move so into homes improvements instead.

While they’ve been painting our bedroom we’ve been camping out in odd places, including on the boat. While there we decided to clear out some of the many storage spaces – some of which we’d never looked in before. We found a real treasure trove of stuff, including this rather tasteful branded knitwear!

Talking of boats, we are thinking of taking White Lancer down to the riverside festival later if the weather holds. I fancy watching the fireworks from the water.

Boob job booked

Got a date for my op – 6 April. The Brilliant Miss Bello is going to create a nipple for me while I’m under. Is there no end to her talents?

Recovery time is two to four weeks, so I will have to have some more time off work. Shame! 

Meanwhile, it’s pancakes for tea.

Out with the old

2010 – a year of leaking oil and leaking secrets, cruel cuts, and deep relief for 33 trapped miners.

A year in which an Icelandic volcano cast a three week shadow over European air travel; it snowed, and snowed again; and the students were revolting.

A year when more than 12 million people were diagnosed with cancer. 

In which two friends have died of the disease, four more were diagnosed and five received the all clear.

I’d like to raise a glass to those who’ve crossed my path who have done battle with the disease.  So here’s to the cancer cast of 2010:  Jane I, Jane T, Sue, Margaret, Suzanne, Lisa, Maria, Hilary, Jenny, Cindy, Maureen, Maria, Beverley, Stuart, Lynette, Vicki-Jean, Michael, Joanne, Annette, Liz, and the countless others I’ve met whose names I never knew.

JP doesn’t like New Year. He wants to drive a pin through the world to stop it spinning, or turn it round the other way. I have always believed in it. To me it spells hope and promise, because ‘tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further…And one fine morning…’

When you’ve had cancer, you travel hopefully…

They don’t give you the ‘all clear’

They just zap you with everything they’ve got then send you merrily on your way, with a wave and a smile and a ‘come back next year’.

I thought they’d do a scan or something.

Saw a registrar yesterday, who looked about 19. He assured me the pimple on my tongue (a small thing but it’s wreaking havoc with my neurosis) is NOT anything sinister like a secondary cancer but merely a pimple on my tongue. He also refused to refer me to a cognitive behaviour therapist because he says I’m not depressed. I know I’m not, at the moment anyway. I just fancied talking to an expert about the way I think.

Been dog walking again this morning. This time she behaved herself. She found a flourescent pink squeaky ball in the snow, which helped.

Going for work Christmas do later. Question is, what to wear? Can’t go for anything vaguely low cut as it will show off the radiotherapy marks. (They draw on you daily in enduring marker pen and I can’t be bothered to scrub it off). Think I’ll go for something warm but mildly festive, as it’s still bloody cold out there.

Thought for the year

Someone said to me today: “You can write off 2010 and let your life begin again in the new year.”

They meant well but they don’t get it. My life is not on hold. To live through this illness is to live fully. Perversely cancer, bringing with it the shadow of death, puts into sharp focus what it is to be alive.

It has by no means been an annus horribilis. It has been a time of many triumphs and surprises; the wave of goodwill that took me by storm at the beginning and still propels me through every hurdle; the people, some already close, some re-discovered, others strangers, who have stepped forward to help, knowingly or not; the luxury of having time to write,  reflect, and just to be; the realisation of what’s important and what’s not.

And what’s most important to me, I realise, is connection with others. I cannot imagine going through this in isolation. Also important is physical fitness. Whether I can walk up the hill or not in Woodthorpe Park can make the difference between a good or a bad day. Something else that matters to me is writing – it’s my therapy – and I’m proud of having completed an OU course in creative writing in August, despite cancer. And last but not least is faith. There have been low spots when the only thing that brings peace is prayer. Someone said there are no atheists in the trenches, and I know where they’re coming from. When I think my life’s in danger I pray like there’s no tomorrow…

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