Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Come all ye faithful

Back in the mid-1980s I used to like George. As in Michael, rather than Boy, Bush or Orwell. I was old enough to understand that I wasn’t going to grow up and marry a popstar, but still naive enough to think that George was gazing into my eyes as he sang in the Careless Whisper video. Though of course in reality he was looking right past me, and even the Princess Di look-a-like, and checking out the cameraman instead. By the time news broke that he was gay, that he had a penchant for taking drugs and driving into walls, I had moved on to some other unsuspecting idol ... probably Clooney.  The only time Mr Michael has hit my radar in recent years was when he was arrested for lewd conduct in a public loo in Los Angeles. I thought that escapade was a bit below the belt ... excuse the puns.

During the horrid haze of weeks of waiting to see the GP, to see the consultant, to have the tests, to be told the results, I kept hearing the same song on the radio. I hadn’t heard it in years. It was George Michael’s 1987 hit Faith. How many times? I don’t know. Maybe a dozen. 'Cause I gotta have faith... a faith ... a faith. And the more I heard it ... the more I sang along ... And then it occurred to me perhaps it was a ‘sign’ and that somebody or something was telling me to have a little faith. So each time I heard it I started to sing-along ... 'Cause I gotta have faith ...

The day I returned to the Breast Care Unit for my results it was warm. It was mid-August. Not sunny, but hot and humid. The little waiting room was full of anxious patients, all suffering from the consequences of the oppressive heat and raw nervousness, all on tenterhooks waiting to hear their destiny. The radio was on this time. I didn’t recall it being on during my previous visit. I can’t tell you all the songs they played. Just one. Faith. I sat upright. Faith. George Michael’s Faith. It must be another sign. Perhaps the consultant is wrong after all. Perhaps I was wrong. Miracles do happen. Perhaps I am going to go in there and he is going to say “It is good news after all. There is a lump. But it is just one of those things. We see them sometimes. It will disappear. Now go home and pack your bags and go on holiday. Go back to your ticking-along-life-life. Come along, get a move on, I’ve got patients with life-threatening conditions to see.” Of course this didn’t happen. It was my vivid imagination ... again.

Just after I had been diagnosed, and whilst I was waiting for my treatment to start, I was driving along and happened to pass one of those pretty little village churches that are quite common down this way. For the first time in ages, well maybe ever, I was tempted to stop and go in. To park the car up on the grassy verge, go through the peeling wrought iron gates and meander across the pretty and peaceful graveyard. Enter the church through the side entrance, rather than using the large and heavy front door, as this would rudely disturb the reassuring calm and tranquillity on the inside. Tip toe across the well worn flagstones, which have witnessed thousands of footprints over thousands of years. Take a seat amongst the domino of solid oak pews, choosing one underneath the suspended dancing rainbow mosaic squares of light, cast by the sun radiating through the huge and imposing stain-glassed window. Pull out the dusty dappled tapestry-style carpeted cushion ... and kneel.

Yes ... I was tempted. But I didn’t.

Instead I drove by ...

I can't say I am religious. I always have a bit of a dilemma when I am asked on application forms to indicate my faith. Although I was christened, and went to a Church of England school, I don't feel that my religious beliefs are strong enough to mark the Christian option. However, the Atheist box feels too extreme, and, if at some point it is proven that there is indeed a "God", that I could be unintentionally cutting my chances and dramatically slamming the door on their spiritual support and guidance, perhaps at a point in my life when I might really need it. So I usually sit on the fence, and quietly and gently tick Prefer not to say, so that I keep all the options open.

My views on religion are pretty ambivalent. I don't have a problem with other people having a faith, that is fine, as long as they don't bang on about it, in some kind of preaching evangelical manner. I don't even have a strong argument for not being religious. I would love to have an original, convincing and powerful case for not upholding the faith ... but I don't. I am going to fall unashamedly on those old clichés. You know the ones. Millions of people across the world have lost their lives due to wars over money and religion. If there was a God we wouldn't see child cruelty ... adult abuse ... people dying ... because of poverty, through starvation ... or because of horrid medical conditions, like cancer ...

This time last year I never thought I would be saying that I am the proud owner of two cats. Though admittedly, it was probably, in my mind anyway, a tad more likely than hearing myself say I am the reluctant owner of a horrid cancerous lump in my breast. The arrival of the cats followed many months of junior pressure to have a pet. A dog was a no, no. Far too much hassle and responsibility in my already hectic life - after all, I am no fool - who would end up going for early, dark rainy morning walks and doing the poo-pick-ups? No, neither was I going to have a rabbit that would dig up the lawn, the lawn that quite frankly already looks like a football pitch. Actually, is a football pitch, cricket field, rugby ground, golf course ... And, once the conversation turned to goldfish ... stick insects ... crawly things with eight legs ... crawly things with no legs ... I knew I had to make a proactive decision. So I begrudgingly I agreed to a cat or two. After all, they are independent, self-sufficient, no hassle. Aren't they?

The cats arrived back in the early summer and when they were about six months old. They couldn’t say precisely as nobody knew their exact age. This is due to the fact that they had been abandoned in Haldon Woods between Chudleigh and Exeter. Not near the car park, nor on a path, but deep, deep amongst the dark foliage, where nobody would find them, so that they were certain to perish and die. But fortunately there was redemption as by chance on that particular day a jogger or cyclist decided to go a little off-track and found the box with two white, fluffy, cold and hungry little bundles.

If you were to see the cats you would say they are beautiful. You probably wouldn't be able to tell them apart as they do look similar to the untrained eye - and this is not helped by the ironic fact that they don't actually like each other so you very rarely see them together. ‘Little’ Lily is smaller with yellow eyes. She is long-haired, feline and pretty. Lily is feisty and independent. A hunter of voles and mice. She returns home for food and then disappears again .. until the next meal time.

And then, then there is Daisy. Still white with dark patches. Still long-haired. Except her tail is even fluffier. Do you remember when Pink Panther got his tail stuck in the tumble-drier - hers looks like that - quite comical. Daisy is bigger and chunkier - which is why she is ‘Dumpy’ Daisy. Daisy the house cat. Daisy really isn't bothered about going anywhere - the food bowl in the kitchen is usually just far enough. Occasionally she does hurtle through the backdoor, meowing like mad, proudly announcing that she has ‘caught’ something. Except Daisy doesn’t catch mice or moles or voles. Daisy ‘catches’ socks and gloves. Usually from my neighbour’s washing line. Daisy is affectionate. She needs lots of loving and attention - and demands it.

Whilst I was still in ticking-along-nicely mode I didn’t really take too much notice of the cats. I fed them occasionally. Stroked them occasionally. But generally they were doing their own thing and I was doing mine. But this changed ... when my life changed. I was around more, so they were around more, particularly Daisy.

After my first chemo I suffered some of the side effects that you generally hear about, such as nausea and tiredness. Under strict instructions to take it easy I got in to this habit of spending the morning in bed, with a book, my laptop or watching TV. Not only did I like this routine but Daisy did too. She would have breakfast and then come upstairs and join me. A bit like a baby she would need some soothing but would eventually settle and spend the rest of the morning napping next to me. By day 3 I found this quite comforting and, as she lay there snoozing, I leant over and said very quietly, so even Jeremy Kyle couldn’t hear, I wouldn’t know what to do if anything happened to you. Her response? A dozy meow and then she turned over for another hour of two. Before she went out ... and failed to return.

Daisy didn’t come back for her dinner that night, which was very much unlike her. I tried to not to worry too much. She is probably up in the fields chasing crickets and butterflies. She’ll return soon – so tired out that she won’t move for a week. But she didn’t. And when she failed to return for breakfast I knew there was something desperately wrong. By mid-morning I was doing the Kite-Kat-ie-Biccy shake in the back garden. By lunchtime I was hanging out of my bedroom window calling her name. By mid-afternoon I was literally pounding the neighbourhood, scouring the gutters and gardens for her. By suppertime I was worried, seriously worried. ‘Reassuring’ comments like “well, she is only a cat” were immediately dismissed.

That night I went to bed and fell to sleep, just for a few hours, waking again during that terrible no-man’s time which they must be referring to when they say the dead of night. Waking up when something horrible has happened to you is is awful. There are about 7 milliseconds where you just feel calm and rested and then you suddenly remember ... that horrible thing that has had a monumental impact on your life. Up to that point the previous few weeks had meant waking, at all times, day or night, and remembering that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and having this long, arduous and scary journey of treatment and surgery lying ahead of me, for what seemed like the foreseeable future. But this night was different. For the first time in days ... weeks ... I thought of something else. Daisy. And for the first time in days ... weeks ... I cried for something other than me. Horrible thoughts went through my head. Perhaps she had been knocked over and injured. Perhaps she was caught in barbed wire and crying in pain. Perhaps hooded youths (OK so I don’t get too many of those down my way) had caught her and were torturing her. Yes, she is only a cat but that wasn’t the point. It was the fact that she had been abandoned, left to die. That someone had fortunately found her and as a consequence I had agreed to give her a happy home.  A safe and happy home.

And there was more. It wasn’t just that my cat had gone missing. It was the fact that in those previous weeks so much had already just been unexpectantly, unexplicitedly and cruelly taken from me. And now, something that had become part of my life, something that I became fond of, that I admitted to caring for, had once again unexpectantly ... unexplicitedy ... and cruelly been snatched from me. So, for the first time in a long long time, I prayed. There in my bed, in the darkness, for the safe return of my cat. Not for me. Not for the horrific things that are going on in the world. But for a ruddy cat.

Daisy didn’t return for breakfast. Or lunch. I went upstairs and went back to bed. I felt physically well but emotionally ... down trodden. I had a nap. Woke. Got up. I didn’t get the sinking feeling. I knew it was too late. She was gone. I opened the bedroom door and walked down the stairs. Lily was sitting in Daisy’s spot. Except it didn’t look like Lily ... it looked like Daisy. Surely, my eyes are playing silly buggers. I bent down and sure it enough it was Daisy. Daisy sleeping. Not hurt, bedraggled or distressed as I had anticipated if she were ever to return. Just Dumpy Daisy dozing. No explanation.

Now as I recover from my second cycle of chemotherapy, Daisy and I are back together. I am sitting on that sofa, under that blanket, enjoying some peace and quiet. I could say that I am about to pop a DVD on – maybe Redemption Day, Sister Act, The Dark Knight, Cat in the Hat, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – but that would be corny. And I would be lying. So what am I doing? Well, I’ve finished the Cold Feet box set for the second time – and yes, I did cry again when Rachel died - and now I am moving on to my Sex and the City box set. I have just checked it out and I have over 2,500 minutes of sex, cosmopolitans and designer shoes. What more could a couple of gals want? That, and of course, Mr Big.


  1. P. Im so pleased Daisy is back with you....I had my fingers crossed right to the end! Loved the blog, keep on with the writing - its amazing.

  2. I was holding my breath for so long, waiting to hear of Daisy's fate, that I started a coughing fit! So pleased to hear she's back. Brilliant writing. love Deb x

  3. You did it again, tears pouring down my face. Thank heavens Daisy is safe and at home with you to love her. She's a very lucky little kitty.

    I once said in a joke that you would'nt go to heaven. I really didnt mean it. YOU CERTAINLY WILL!

    Big hugs

  4. I understand .... & love you all the more for your amazing insight. B xxxxxx

  5. I came across a link to your blog via The Pink Ribbon (on Facebook). I have only just started reading today, but I am completely addicted. This entry had my eyes watering up and made me breath a huge sigh of relief at the end. I cannot wait to read more.


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