Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Tea and Chemo

I have no problem with the concept of ‘luck’ but I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with the word. I feel a little squeamish when people say that someone is ‘so lucky’. It smacks a little of their fortune coming through ill-gotten means, chance perhaps, cutting corners, cheating, even.

There are people in my life who really do seem to have more than their ‘fair share’ of bad luck. They’re the ones we all know, where you raise your eyes to god, the powers-that-be, fate or whatever holds the reins in your life, to just ‘give these people a break’. And difficult times do seem to have a habit of clumping together. But here’s the thing, the people who I consider to ‘deserve a break’, don’t seem to be the ones to describe themselves as unlucky. And vice versa.

And so I wonder if luck is all a matter of perception. I think that happiness lies in rejoicing when the toast falls the right side up rather than lamenting for too long when it falls sticky side down.

Granted, it’s annoying when you have to stop your day to mop up the gooeyness. And that pales into insignificance when compared to dropping a full bottle of milk onto quarry tiles in the kitchen and watching it seep faster than you can mop underneath the fridge, cooker, freezer... You’re not meant to cry over spilt milk, but when I think about it, I’ve come close.

I am always dropping milk bottles and they’re always full and they always smash. But then, I’m also always taking chunks out of plates with a slightly too speedy approach to stacking, bashing my hip on the side of the unit as I rush past the large piece of furniture which has been in the same position in our kitchen for the entire eleven years we’ve occupied the house, and have scars on my forearms to boast my devotion, if a little unfocused, to domesticity. If the toast falls sticky side down in my house, it’s probably more down to the inhabitation of fairies in my brain, and the law of averages, than luck.

When it comes to good luck in my life, I’ve had great deluges of it, for which I almost have to catch my breath. My daughter’s amazing recovery from a stroke could have been very different. I could have lost my arm in that spin drier instead of emerging with a scar and a story to bore my grandchildren and a great many others along the way. And I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be currently free of cancer. I am one of the lucky ones and very mindful of that. Even though the side effects of the drugs can contrive to make you forget it, it’s toast sticky side down to lament for too long.

And then there are the moments of fortune on a smaller scale which are nonetheless as sweet.

Such as when I saw That Tweet.

Call it luck, chance, providence, fate or fortune, I thank my lucky stars I happened to be on Twitter that day, when I happened upon a tweet from an author praising the brilliance and general loveliness of their publisher, Urbane Publications. How happy am I that I was playing around on Twitter when I should have been ironing; that I ever signed up to Twitter in the first place?

For whatever reason, I did notice the tweet, it did pique my interest and it did propel me to the Urbane Publications website. Once there, I started reading about collaboration and team working and proper editing and then I was hooked. A quick look at its list of authors and pending publications and a glance at page 17 of Google to check this too-good-to-be-true, small but perfectly formed and, in my humble opinion, going places press was kosher, and I’d dropped everything to draft my submission letter.

Roll forward a couple of months and the cover for my book is being finalised. I’m beavering away on the content for my copy deadline at the end of June ready for Urbane Publications to publish ‘Tea and Chemo’ in November.

When I was diagnosed with cancer I was swamped with factual information about the little blighter as well as the reasons for the treatments I was to have, together with their side effects. It was illuminating and helped me feel more secure. However there’s a difference between knowing what’s going to happen and knowing how it’s going to feel.

As well as the facts, I wanted an honest account of the experience of cancer. What does it mean to lose your hair? I mean, really mean, emotionally? I wanted to hear it from someone who’d been there, done that and got the hat and wig and scarf to show for it. I wanted a book which would educate me in a softly, softly way. I wanted the author to be an ordinary person who was still enjoying life, who’d got through to the other side, and, crucially, done it without any Super Powers.

My aim is for Tea and Chemo to be that book. With my blog posts as a framework and many more anecdotes added, I hope that it will inform cancer sufferers and their loved ones whilst also making readers smile. It’s useful information served with an empathetic hug, the story around the camp fire or a cup of tea with friends on a lazy afternoon.

Since taking my first steps into the cavernous universe of cancer, I have learnt a little in my non-scientific, better-if-you-give-me-an-analogy kind of way about hormones (your body doesn’t take kindly to you changing their levels), medicine induced water retention (who’d have thought to get rid of water retention, or ‘Herceptin Bum’, you should drink err, water?), Vitamin D, Parabens, free make-up, eyebrow tattoos, Prosecco over white wine, Chemo Brain (it’s for real and it sucks but it gets better), chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, tea therapy (ok, I made that one up) and time (that one’s for real because time really does help you get used to anything – and then you can deal with it).

Tea and Chemo is about sharing what I’ve learnt. It’s an outstretched hand if chemo gives you a mouth full of ulcers, your bones feel like they’ve been squeezed in a vice and you just want to go to bed and wake up when the whole darned cancer thing has been sorted.  I hope it will give you a hug when all your food tastes as though it’s been sprinkled with bicarbonate of soda and stirred with mud. And I hope it will help your loved ones, too.

And I know some chemo secrets. I know that white sauce (sweet, not savoury) and Rich Tea biscuits are the only things which taste as they should in the first two weeks after a dose of chemo, and quite frankly, this is a time in your life when you can eat five bowl-fulls on the trot (I did) and even mash a packet of biscuits guilt-free into the bowl. You see, treatment has its perks.

So, was I lucky to have found Urbane Publications? You bet I was. My experience so far is everything that Urbane Publications promises. I’m working as part of a team with people who know what they’re doing, and who are just as excited as I am about Tea and Chemo’s publication.

Regarding my good fortune in reading That Tweet, I am not allowed to complain about sticky toast on the floor, or even a crate of smashed milk bottles, for a good few years to come.


  1. Dear Jackie, I am a great believer in celebrating the small achievements in life, whether they be toast landing non-sticky side down or me actually managing to get through the day without checking posts on facebook... (damn!)
    I am massively excited for you for this book. But I'm not putting it down to luck or good fortune, but hard work and perseverance on your part at a time when a lot of people would have put their writing aside altogether. It seems clichéd to say that you are an inspiration but you are and I'm pretty sure most people reading this post will agree.
    Much love
    Cathy x

    1. Cathy, bless you, I'm really not sure I'm that great at all but if I can show a few people that although scary, life with cancer is doable and for many of us, really not too bad at all, then I'll feel I've achieved something. I'm mindful that many people don't have a good prognosis and I hope that proceeds from the book (divided between the Haven Cancer Centres and Harrogate Hospital) will play a tiny party in improving quality of life until we find the medicine to propel the little blighter from our existence. Much love to you too, Cathy x

  2. Yes I agree!! Definitely an inspiration and the book sounds great, good luck with it and all your other writing.

    1. Thank you :) I will keep you posted, Lyn, rest assured...!!

  3. Lucky for you, yes - but also lucky for the many people that this book will help in the future. If it's written in the same easy, conversational style as your blog, it'll definitely be worthwhile - it sounds as though there a gap in the market that you'll be able to fill.

    I'm off to scroll through Twitter for a while, you know, just in case... :-)

    Huge congratulations!

    1. Haha Annalisa, that made me smile! I hope the Twitter scrolling was productive?? And thank you for your kind words, I'm touched by your confidence in the my writing and the book. Here's hoping!

  4. Having walked in your shoes in 2008, I think writing is a brilliant form of cathersis. Better still it lets people in the same boat know that they are not alone on this journey. Sorry you had to join the club, no one wants to be in. Stay strong x

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Zoe. There are so many of us who've walked this darned cancer path aren't there, and I'm sorry you were one of them too. Although it is great to hear of you talking of it seven years behind you. How are you now?

  5. Jackie - this is just the best news! I'm thrilled to bits for you. No one deserves a twist of good fortune more - but there is so much more to it than that: perseverance, determination and bloody raw talent have played their part too! This may not have been how you envisaged your name would first appear on a book cover - but there will be many more covers to come. Well done you. I can't wait! xx

  6. Awww Lesley, thanks for your lovely comment and from someone who knows all about perseverance, determination and bloody raw talent :)

  7. Hi Jackie,
    I write from the distant shores of Cancer Land... I too had stage 3 breast cancer and wish Tea and Chemo had been written when I was in treatment. Nine years down the road and so much wiser...I look forward to reading TandC and am sure (judging from your superb blog) that it will be a great addition to the "sick chick lit" oeuvre. I'm a friend of Jane Alexander who put me on to you and your site.

  8. Hi EyeforeignI (love the name :) Thank you so much for your wonderful comment which has made me smile from ear to ear. Not, obviously, to hear that you also had cancer. Every time I hear of anyone who has/had cancer I feel a mixture of sadness and crossness that we still haven't beaten this thing (but we're getting there :). I'm so glad to hear you're talking of it in the past tense, though. Good old Jane passing you on to my site, and I really hope I can do the book justice. Thanks for your support and for popping in to say hello x


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