Monday, 10 May 2010

Can’t be ...

A woman can’t be too rich or too thin
Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

Well ... it has been a pretty momentous week ...

Tuesday ... and for the first time in nearly nine months I returned to work. It was lovely ... back at my old desk ... working on my computer ... answering the phone ... and best of all seeing my wonderful friends and colleagues. Honestly ... it felt as if I had never been away ...

Wednesday ... my first session of radiotherapy. It was OK ... it doesn’t hurt ... but it is daunting. You lie there in a darkened room ... alone ... with the red “Radiation on” sign flashing ... and the machinery clunking around you. I will admit that on that first day I got a bit low ... there on my back ... knowing that this was the inaugural session of 20. It has been two months since surgery ... where did that time go ... and four months since my last chemo ... and there I am ... back to being a patient again. But ... as always ... I turned my situation around ... remembered that the consent form that Dr Oh-so-luv-ver-ly had asked me to sign had said “precautionary treatment”. That he thinks the Yukky Lump has gone away and that this is a belt and braces job ... to make sure it doesn’t come back ... and I need to be grateful for that.

Then on Thursday I jumped on the scales and was delighted to see I had shed the final couple of pounds to get me back to my pre-chemo weight. OK ... I am not suggesting that I don’t need to shed some more ... ‘cos I do ... but at least the scales are saying the same as they were last August before I went off work ... and I can now comfortably fit into my clothes.

And finally ... Friday. I popped into Marksies to buy some sausages for the boys ... yep my life has returned to that level of normality ... and I bought .... mmm .... a copy of Hello magazine.

Now ... I have never purchased a copy of Hello before ... though I am not saying I have never read it ... if it is loitering on top of the coffee table in the hospital waiting room then I will take peek and flick ... but it is not something that I actually buy. Why? Because it is usually full of slim and bronzed young soap actors and actresses ... that I don’t even recognise ... let alone name ... and who generally make me feel very old and frumpy ... heck I don’t need to pay for that privilege ... so what swung it on this occasion ...

Last weekend I was really quite shocked to read a small newspaper article which reported that the actress Sally Whittaker, who plays the character of Sally Webster in the TV soap, Coronation Street, had been diagnosed with breast cancer back in October ... a case of life imitating art when she discovered she had the disease after a plotline in which her character underwent treatment for breast cancer. So when I caught sight of her picture on the front of Hello ... with the subtitle “My battle to beat breast cancer” ... my curiosity got the better of me.

Now ... I have mentioned Kylie before.  Yes, that Kylie. Cute, sweet, girl-next-door Australian Kylie with the gold lycra hotpants ... who was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2005. And I have admitted that the announcement and media coverage floated past me ... not really hitting my radar ... even though we are exactly the same age. Probably because I didn’t think it would ever happen to me.

Well ... over the last nine months I have thought about Kylie quite a lot. Mostly during the dire time of chemo ... when I felt really rough ... and looked really ill. As I lay in bed ... contemplating whether I had been transported to a living hell ... I would think of Kylie ... reminding myself that although she was rich ... famous ... pretty ... with a hot-totty-botty ... that she had to endure exactly the same as me. Similar treatment ... comparable sickness ... the loss of hair ... and eyebrows ... and eyelashes ...

Some years on Kylie described her treatment. “It’s like a prison sentence. I can’t quite articulate it. It’s a bit like being in an atomic explosion and people asking you to describe it: ‘ So, exactly how big is the hole?’ I don’t think anyone who hasn’t had it can understand it.”

So what did Sally Whittaker have to say in Hello? Well ... she explains that she discovered the cancerous lump in her breast herself, prompted by her storyline. "If I had not been researching this storyline, I may not have discovered the lump in my breast and had it looked at so quickly. I had never properly checked my breast before because I thought this wasn’t going to happen to me. It’s a stupid thing to think, but I think a lot of women are like that.”

Sally was diagnosed with a 1.8cm grade 1 tumour. "We got into the car and I cried like I’d never cried before in my life. It was uncontrollable sobbing. I didn’t want to die. I said to Tim, ‘I’ve got three children, I can’t die’. I would hate to be sat on a fluffy cloud looking down on them. I couldn’t cope with that. I had to be there to see them grow-up."

Despite the coincidence Sally agreed to continue filming her soap scenes in a bid to raise awareness about the condition. “Those were the hardest scenes I’ve ever had to film,” she explains. She undertook her cancer plotline scenes in a month’s block then took a break to undergo surgery, chemo and radiotherapy.

Sally says she now has a new outlook on life. "It’s made my appreciate life more and I feel humbled. Everybody I love, I love a million times more."

The photos of Sally in the mag are great ... but as someone who has been there ... the first things I notice are the painted eyebrows and false eyelashes ... And although she is pictured with her little blonde prickles she admits “I would love to go around with a bald head, but sometimes I wear headscarves because I don’t want to draw attention to myself and I don’t want pitying looks.”

She received no payment for her interview and instead asked that a donation be made to The Genesis Breast Cancer Appeal and The Christie Hospital Appeal, the hospital where she has been receiving treatment.

And that is the first article that I read this week and I wanted to tell you about ... the second ... was the announcement by her publicist, that actress Lynn Redgrave had this week “passed away peacefully after a seven-year journey with breast cancer.”

After she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, Lynn asked her daughter Annabel Clark, then a photography student at Parsons School of Design, if she would photograph the course of treatment and recovery.  Following her death, at the age of 67, these intimate and emotive photos are now displayed on the New York Times website.

I must admit that I find some of them difficult to look at ... especially the post-operative ones ... particularly the one with the drains ... perhaps it doesn’t feel like such a short time since my own surgery ...

And then, under the picture of Lynn doing her recuperation exercises, there is an inscription taken from her diary which rings so true.  It says: “I have my moments of such sadness. They hit me quite suddenly. My loss of innocence. The innocence that made me feel that cancer couldn't happen to me.”

There are a number of events taking place over the next few weeks ... including the many Run for Life races, organised by Cancer Research UK, as well as the Playtex Moonwalk in London, which a number of my friends and colleagues are participating in. I would like to wish all those that I know, as well as those I don’t, the best of luck with raising awareness and attracting funds to improve the treatment of cancer. Sadly it is too late for the likes of Kylie ... and Sally ... and Lynn... and me ... and the many millions of people who have already been diagnosed with cancer ... and who have already had to endure the horrid side effects of chemotherapy ... and radiotherapy ... and surgery ...

But we don’t know who will be next ... you ... a family member ... or a friend ... or a colleague ... or a neighbour ...

You can’t be too rich or too thin ... or too old ... or too young.  You can't be too famous ... or too pretty ... or too popular ... or too talented ...

Cancer ... it doesn’t discriminate ... so never think “It couldn’t happen to me”.


  1. Another thought provoking one btw!

    M x

  2. Good luck with your radiotherapy. It is a bit scary at first but you soon get into a routine. I don't want to be a 'Job's Comforter' (see the Old Testament Bible) but do be aware that radiotherapy can make you feel very tired. You may sail through and sing and dance all the way but it can be a difficult period. I had 25 sessions and was fine until about session 13 and then the fatigue set in and then lasted beyond session 25 by several weeks. I hope your employers will be sympathetic.

    Good wishes,


  3. I have to say that the death of Lynn Redgrave came as a bit of a shock to me. You know, you continue on after cancer with all these questions that you try like crazy to suppress, and then suddenly, there it is, square in your face: Breast cancer can come back. It can kill you. I found myself crying about Lynn Redgrave. For myself, too, I suppose. And then you wipe the tears and continue on. I'm swiping the link. I'm glad you're back to work. For me, radiation was not bad until like the last two weeks. I kept a bottle of aloe vera in the fridge (get the kind with no fragrance, no color) and I slathered that on icy cold right from the fridge. It felt so wonderful I can't tell you.

  4. Paula, I've just caught up on few weeks. Wow so much has happened, you really have got through so much and you are doing amazingly well. Such good news you are back at work. I hope the radiotherapy is kind to you.
    Take care

  5. Hope the rest of your week has been good and not too exhausting, and now you are getting the benefit of the weekend. I hope the rads is ok and the pinkiness not getting worse?

    I loved reading your post - so many similar things had been going through my own mind when I learned of Sally Whittaker and Lynn Redgrave.

    I am well impressed with your flags too ;)
    Take care


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