Thursday 31 December 2015

Two Years Hence

It slipped itself in between Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, waved, smiled, winked and left. I gave a nod of appreciation, lifted an imaginary glass of champagne (imaginary because you know The Body That Got Cancer likes to keep a firm eye on its units and the bubbles had been flowing since Christmas Eve) and took just a moment, a quiet moment - I'm still not ready to dance on the tables - to say thank you.

With the 27th December came my second Cancerversary. I'm superstitious. I know enough to know that we can never dismiss the potential for secondaries or, indeed, that any of us can be complacent about the potential for a primary cancer to form, but I'm grateful for the relative peace and calm that my Two Year Cancerversary brings.

Last year I wrote about my first Cancerversary here. It was a cautious celebration in a sort of raw, new girl at school kind of way: knowing it should be fun but not quite ready to let down all my defences. This year I feel more settled in, comfortable, that I understand the post cancer diagnosis and treatment world into which I was plunged and most days I can cope with it quite effortlessly, thank you.

The Fear which I wrote about here, does still haunt me from time to time. I've had a few scares, just admirable vigilance on behalf of the medical profession, and although my style is to busy myself so that I have no room left to fret, the fear does nonetheless manage to settle itself in over the top of my brain sometimes and leak into my thoughts. It's not an undue pressure, nothing like the early days of The Wait and The Not Knowing, nothing like the fear of recurrence when chemo finished and for a few months after, but it's 'just there', in an annoying little tic kind of way.

So, from the position of being two years post cancer diagnosis, I would like to say to anybody who is further back on this rocky road than I am, it does get better and it gets a whole lot easier.

So much had happened since my first anniversary a year ago. Last 27th December, I hadn't even heard of the pioneering publishers, Urbane Publications, let alone submitted to them and here I am with Tea And Chemo published and Glass Houses on its way out of the door next June.

Most of my work was on hold during my year of treatments so I only really started back to teaching and editing at the beginning of 2015 and you know, I'd really missed the buzz of writers excited about their stories. My return to work this year has been a baptism of fire with the writing and promotion of Tea And Chemo to throw into the mix, plus the small matter of my final edits on Glass Houses, which we'll gloss over because I'm a little behind on those. But it's been wonderful to be back to full busy-ness again. Although sometimes I curse the stairs up to my office after dinner or at the weekend, cancer taught me, if I didn't already know, that sitting still doesn't really work for me.

This year other people I know have been diagnosed with cancer, some very young people in my online group have developed secondaries. Some have died from them. My heart breaks a little every time. Not for me, so far I continue to be one of the lucky ones, but because cancer is still such an enormous thorn in the side of human health. Great strides have been made in all areas of cancer diagnoses, cure and care but until we can take a pill to rid ourselves of cancer before it even suggests any danger, until we have 100% accurate diagnostic tests to take action before it dares to become a possibility, we must keep fundraising, caring and raising awareness.

This Cancerversary, in addition to the wonders of the medical profession that blasted the cancer cells and my family and friends who kept me sane and continue to do so, I'd also like to thank Matthew Smith, owner of Urbane Publications. Right from the start, when Tea And Chemo was a collection of blog posts and an idea, Matthew determined that Urbane Publications would also give every penny of profit to the three charities I was keen to support:The Haven in Leeds, The Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre in Harrogate and the national charity, Breast Cancer Now.

If you are interested in buying a copy of Tea And Chemo, your purchase will help the three charities. If you are not interested in buying a copy of Tea And Chemo, that's ok, I need never know… but you could still give your pennies to one of these three charities and then you wouldn't feel half as bad :)

Meanwhile, I'm off to celebrate because it's New Year's Eve and the new year coming, the adventures we don't yet know, now that's something I really love to celebrate. Have a wonderful new year lovely readers, may 2016 be filled with life-affirming moments.

Saturday 12 December 2015

A Reminder

Seeking help from The Top
Because the Christmas Goddess crown is still sitting somewhere around my midriff and because I can't remember a year when I have been quite so ill prepared for the festivities which I can unfashionably say, I nonetheless adore, I thought I'd share this post with you. I wrote it a staggering five years ago and when I stumbled across it this morning, felt compelled to seek out the Christmas Crooners. Dean Martin's Silver Bells has been playing on repeat ever since. Phew! I even wrote some Christmas cards - only the ones for America and Australia, granted. 

Confessions of a Christmas writer

Not everybody likes Christmas starting in November.  I respect such frustration, understand the logic but don’t count myself among these protestors.  The anticipation, the decoration, the spendification just can’t start early enough for me.  I’m the dreadful mother who allows her children to play the Christmas CD in the car in September, actively encourages letter writing to Father Christmas and Mother Wrapalot in October and remembers she should have made the Christmas cake in November.  (I write Christmas cards two days before Christmas but that’s another story.)

It’s best when the children break up from school a week early so we can wrap presents together in front of Wife Swap USA, make another batch of mince pies as soon as the next pack of pre-rolled pastry has defrosted and play Winter Wonderland on the piano pretending not to notice the unintentional rhythmic alterations. 

I tend to have a tear at the school’s Nativity, even when I can only hear every second word and my own children have long since graduated.  There’s something just so appealing about a three foot Mary.  And I even like the slightly over zealous Vicar pleading with us to stop and think.

I like snowy walks with my family, meeting friends in the pub en route.  I like my presents, scant in number certainly, perhaps not of the highest quality but chosen so very much with me in mind.  I’m wearing those pink USB heated slippers now, for example, reluctant as I am to put on the heating when it’s only me in the house.

I even ‘get’ turkey; fifth day turkey, curried turkey. I read that 86% of people eat turkey only because they feel they ought. I read a tweet about eating duck instead.  I eat duck but I’m not so keen on it curried.  I like, no I love, people coming to stay, leaving late morning after two jugs of coffee and more chat after the chat and wine and food and chocolates of the night before, the children all playing dutifully on the Wii, still in their pyjamas.

Then it’s back to normality.  They all go back – back to work, back to school and I go back to my desk, to writing again from 11pm, to going to bed late and waking four hours later with a sense of foggy satisfaction about the volume of words written when the house was quiet.

I miss them all on their first day back: hubbie with his cold, eldest with her hormones, youngest with her scruffy old pinafore when I can’t coax her into one of the skirts which hangs pristine in her wardrobe. 

But I have to admit to a small smile as I wave goodbye to the last to leave at 8.45. 

And so I run.  I stuff the remaining breakfast items in the dishwasher, yank some sopping clothes from the washer and toss them over the drier, flick on the kettle, write a cheque for the milk, trip over the forgotten PE kit and make my way upstairs to my desk.  I switch on the computer - an unusual phenomenon caught as it is in a perpetual energy loop over the holidays.  I remove plastic heart shaped key rings, miniature playing cards, screwdrivers and whoopee cushions from my desk and replace them with 344 pages of A4 manuscript. 

After an hour or two I make tea.  I take a few pages of the manuscript with me to read through as the kettle boils and luxuriate in the lack of a call to find the recycled batteries, the guinea pigs’ spare water bottle, the Christmas cake.  After forgetting to eat lunch I set the alarm on my desk to 3.20 to remind me to return to this world before my children get home.

When they’re all back, I smother them with ridiculously large bear hugs.  I’ve missed them, you see, I really have – as much as I’d missed my writing over the past couple of weeks.

Friday 4 December 2015

Late for Christmas

I have lost my Christmas Goddess crown. Not that I ever really had it. Truly. I've never sent a Christmas card before the 23rd December and console myself that at least my card wouldn't be lost in the deluge of those arriving before Christmas from properly organised people. 3am on Christmas Day was when Mother Christmas finished wrapping presents when our children were small (Father Christmas there in spirit as he snoozed on the sofa) and the mince pies? Bought pastry and a jar of mincemeat have always served me well.

However, I have normally pretty much bought all the presents by the time that page on the calendar flips over onto crisp white snowy lanes and blue skies.

Not so this year. I have spent one day Christmas shopping with my Mum. It was great fun, but the amount of coffee stops was greater than the presents bought.

If you're joining me in your own Christmas tardiness (thank you for the solidarity), you might like to look at pages 40 and 41 of the gorgeous Christmas issue of Chase Magazine. Obviously, I wrote my pages a few weeks ago but fell in love with the books all over again when I saw my reviews in print. All suggestions for your Christmas shopping list, or even better, for your own present list, were hand-picked. I adored them all, even The Runaway Smile for small children (I always think that's a funny expression because you do get some very tall children who haven't yet seen the lofty heights of double figures, in fact, most children are taller than me by the time they reach their fifth birthday), which I wish had been written when my children were young.

Happy reading and enjoy the preparations! I'm off to buy some pastry and mincemeat.