The last chapter

imagesCAF02P0M
Artwork and imagination courtesy of my bro

So we have established I’m a procrastinator. An overthinker. The last post pointed to a further update and then resolutely stayed silent.

This is now the last blog I will write on bananagiraffes.com.

Which means this is impossibly hard to get right. I’m genuinely out of ‘recognisable’ vocabulary, unable to find any word which manages to combine both insane happiness and responsibility.

First for the insanely happy bit. My nearest & dearest know, but I’ve taken some time to process it in written form. So here goes.

November 27th. Sitting in the waiting room on scan result day, hearing my previous surname (through a lack of trust in NHS record keeping, or a desire not to have my old cancerous bits leak into my new ‘surnamed’ me), the outstretched hand, the impenetrable expression, the motioning to the 2 upright seats positioned next to his rotating seat, and in eyeline of the scrambled, occasional seat for the nurse in the corner. The screen angled just enough for me to see, but not enough for me to read. The huge file on the desk starving the room of oxygen and time hanging weightlessly on a thread.

This place holds so much history. 7 years to be precise.

Where my father had first accompanied me, holding his finger over the little recording device on that very first slapathon that was treatment option day. Where my brother had once taken my place when I had been too terrified to hear out loud the sentence I already knew was coming. And where John and I now held our hands and breath.

And here it was finally.

“Your scans are excellent. I now consider after 5 years with no further relapses that you are cured from stage 4 bowel cancer. As you know, this is very good news. Please put all this behind you and go and live your life”

Impossible happiness and responsibility condensed into one sentence.

I can not and will never know why me and why not them. There have been so many.

So many people who prayed and are praying for a fraction of the things and time I will never again take for granted.

I’ve prayed, lots. And given thanks lots. As have so many others, which is incredibly humbling. Thank you just falls hopelessly short. And the list is too long. I’m getting used to this feeling of indebtedness. To God first and foremost. To my dearest family. To all my surgeons. My oncologist. My doctor. My dear friends. And my supportive social media family.

And so onto the harder bit, the responsibility.

Now I have moved back considerably from the edge of the precipice I owe it to those still hanging on and those gone, to do something good and valuable with my time.

I am going to have to think about what this means. I don’t have the luxury of wallowing. I am ashamed to be anything other than grateful. In some ways facing death was an amazing gift. It got my attention and turned it towards things that were more important and I don’t want to loose that feeling.

You know when you get an unexpected Christmas gift of money and before long it’s absorbed into your bank account and leaves no trace of where it went. Well, I’m scared of that. So I’m putting it out there now, publicly to stop me falling back into the same old, same old.

I understand the need to do something meaningful with all this. But I’m not at all sure what that is yet. But if anyone has suggestions, wants to join me, I’m really open to anything! Please do get in touch.

In the meantime, I probably need to be a bit more financially savvy as my son would say.

Living on borrowed time was expensive. Finding out I’m now cured has also been expensive!

Thank you all for your love and support and God bless anyone facing or living with cancer in 2019.

Advertisements

Teaching myself to have faith in what will be

About now I should be anxiously waiting for that coin to flip on heads (doesn’t everyone choose heads?).  But I am not.  At least not this month.  And I can’t help wondering whether I made the right decision.

During my last visit to my liver surgeon (the spare one, tucked up my waistband where I keep spare tyres) he made a BIG thing about the number of CT scans I have had and looked at me gravely telling me I am having too many and this was DANGEROUS.  More dangerous than perhaps missing the early re-growth of a nasty I asked? To which more tssking was heard.  Go and live your life he said.  And slammed the HUGE file shut. 

“So what do you suggest? Mr Spare Liver man?”

He prescribed an alternating diet of MRI and CT scans every 6 months.  A big jump from my 3 monthly check ups since the hiccup last year.  

Meanwhile The Siamese Cat (The one and only bowel surgeon) had been busy processing my 3 monthly CT scan for May.  Whilst Mr Spare Liver was sitting in front of me expecting an answer for his preferred plan of an MRI instead in August, giving me nice things to think about in the meantime like living.   Option 1 would have left me dealing with the results (good or bad) 6 weeks before The Wedding whereas Option 2 has me dealing with the results (good or bad) one month after The Wedding.

So, lacking a coin to flip, we played rock, paper, scissors and option 2 won.  “Ah very good” said the spare liver man. “Now where are you going on your honeymoon?” 

“Greek Islands, Santorini” I said “we’re hiring a motorbike to see the island and maybe a sailing boat”.  This elicited even larger tsskkks “I haven’t saved your life twice (well technically only once Mr Spare Liver Man, The Siamese Cat & Felix the Cat did the first time) only for you to squander it on the Greek roads “.  

Which makes me think, there must be a guide somewhere to this ‘baby bear’ living.  Too much of anything, ooh that’s bad, too little, tut what a waste, but getting it just about right, now there’s a challenge.  I am currently sitting on the settee writing this having had a little too much and suffering for it.  John knows about this only too well.  He regularly rebuilds me over the weekend only to see me crumble away as we get towards the end of the week again!

So I have a plan and this involved sitting in the same waiting room expecting to collect a shiny new medic to join my ever growing menagerie; we will call this one, Mr Handsome the pain controller.  Mr Spare Liver had kindly decided that I couldn’t Live My Baby Bear Life happily if I was still in pain, so referred me to get it sorted once and for all.  Whilst waiting, I saw Felix The Cat (aka Liver Surgeon Number 1) who assumed I was there to see him and authoritatively said “follow me”… which I very nearly did before I remembered I was having my sacrum injected today, not my liver tampered with.

The pain injections into the sacrum were painful but I have had worse.  Mr Handsome insisted I went into recovery afterwards to be monitored for half an hour before he could dismiss me.  I felt a massive wobbly fraud.  Even more as I ‘walked’ into recovery and was met by the Sister who said; “Oh, you fancied a little spoiling as a patient, did you?”  Now I may be mistaken but I think of spoiling as taking me to a nice hotel, feeding me good wine and chocolates, stroking my hair and being trusted to drive nice cars.  No-where on my list does dressing in blue backless gowns and having needles stuck into parts of my body only reserved for sitting on feature as spoiling. If that’s all the same to you.

So there is much living to be getting on with.  With a wedding fast approaching to the ever patient John. 

“Where are the blue authorities?” Asked John over the phone this morning, when caught slightly off guard by the registrar asking him for documents ahead of our appointment this Monday.

I asked Google but he didn’t know.  Too busy collecting our brains to make robot cars I suspect to bother himself with such trifles.

If ever there was a need for a list it was now.  And my lack of one means we I forgot to pick up our ‘blue approvals’ from the grilling we were given a couple of months ago by the registrar.  Luckily John located them in the registry office awaiting our collection, tapping their dusty blue fingers and sighing theatrically when he picked them up.  Which means I now need to write a LONG list over the weekend as it is now less than 6 weeks and I suspect there are things which need doing.

Until then keep out of trouble and much love to all x

Image

How did that happen? Getting published the C List way (other ways are available!)

Some of you lovely folk have asked me recently what was it like getting published and any tips I might want to share. So for those of you who are interested, here’s how it was for me. There is a list at the bottom in true C List style.

Having a book published is an exciting but very slow process. Deadlines from publishers will be issued months or even years in advance and seemingly very little is done until the last half an hour when all hell breaks loose.

Before taking me on, my agent put me through a resilience test because she said in her experience, people who write memoirs can be quite emotionally fragile and take rejection more personally than normal.  I must have passed the test as she then proceeded to tell me to expect lots of rejections.  She did round the conversation off on a positive note though saying she liked my writing style and the concept of lists to accompany each chapter (hence the name of my book, The C List).   For her troubles I was to pay her a slice of commission and she would negotiate on my behalf and try her hardest to get me a publisher.  She believed in me which was the best feeling.

I had some wonderful rejections from Random House and Hay House who apparently loved The C List but had their quota of cancer memoirs on the books and as the market is still very fragile, publishers don’t like to take risks.  I was told the cancer memoir genre either does very well or very poorly.

And then, came the long awaited call from Watkins Publishing, part of The Osprey Group who signed me up on a bit of an advance which was even nicer; half payable of completion of the manuscript and half on publication of the book.  They agreed that in addition to the UK, the book would also be published in America, Australia and New Zealand after I supplied them with stats of the top 3 countries for bowel cancer incidence.

I was to complete the manuscript by 31 March 2012, submitting around 80,000 words.  I heard very little if anything for six months and then helpfully they dropped their edits into my email box during a particularly stressful patch at work requesting my amendments, ideally, within  a couple of weeks.

Then it was back to the waiting game.  Meanwhile I was asked to get a celebrity endorsement as apparently you lovely lot don’t like buying books unless you have them endorsed by a well known name.   I think they underestimate you, but nevertheless I tried my best to oblige.

“Could you use your publishing contacts?” I reasonably asked. “Oh no, we think it comes much better from the author” they told me authoritatively.

So how on earth do you get the attention of a ‘celebrity’? Well not very easily I can tell you from my experience. I decided it would be easier to try people affected by bowel cancer. So, I approached Chris Evans as his dad had died of bowel cancer but he didn’t reply, not to any of my charming approaches.  And then I tried Stephen Mangan as his mum had died of bowel cancer.  His agent replied saying he was interested but was overseas.  He never came back, well at least not to me.  Finally I contacted Matthew Wright as his dad died of bowel cancer.  Not only did he say yes immediately, but he invited me onto his show, The Wright Stuff (twice) and is now almost a friend – well we send each other emails regularly with kisses on and I endured the odd bit of ridicule when I voted for him in the jungle.  So I guess that counts.  But he has kept his word and has been pretty awesome.

To cut a long story short, the book finally got printed after lots of negotiations about the cover.  I didn’t like their version as I thought it was humourless and didn’t reflect the contents very well and they didn’t like my version (supplied by my talented brother along with the illustrations in the book) as they said it was in danger of looking like chick lit. So we settled on theirs with some creative encouragement from me.

The C List was finally published on 3 April in the UK and on 22 April overseas and it took so long to get into print that I even managed a relapse and had some more liver surgery during the process.  This caused a last minute flurry as I had to squeeze in a postscript (PS) as the printer was standing by tapping his feet and inhaling loudly.

I am now in the thick of the publicity phase, which if, like me you suffer from the British disease, is a bit awkward. The famous childhood saying that still sticks with me (along with “Money doesn’t grow on trees you know….”) was not to ‘blow my own trumpet’, so instead,  I like to think of pushing my book as doing my bit for bowel cancer by breaking down a few taboos.  And even more importantly, to sprinkle some hope that you can beat stage 4 bowel cancer or at least repeatedly beat it back into submission.

If you fancy buying The C List, I would of course be permanently in your debt and might pop around and do a spot of clearing up as thanks.  The publishers did a sterling job of getting it sold into the major book retailers;  Waterstones, Foyles, WHSmith etc as well as online through most outlets including Amazon, so you shouldn’t be too inconvenienced.  But just to be on the safe side, here is a link http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-C-List-Survived-Bowel-Cancer/dp/1780286791

And now for the top 13 titbits;

  1. If you are thinking about writing a book, just start. Now. No procrastinating.
  2. I was given a good tip by my writing friend Andy. He said just put the hours in. Reserve time each week to write. Don’t worry about structure or trying to finesse it, you will have plenty of time to do this later. There are so many people who have half finished books on laptops; so finishing it is the name of the game.
  3. Come up with an angle, an idea, a concept that will carry your book and differentiate it from the crowd. Mine was lists after each chapter – I even have a list of lists at the back of the book.
  4. Getting a publisher is hard. It is easier if you have an agent who will have all the contacts and at least be able to get you through the door. But getting an agent is hard too!
  5. There is a book called Writers’ & Artists’ yearbook which has some good advice and the names of all literary agents and publishers. You will need to do your research and identify agents or publishers which have experience in your chosen genre.
  6. Be prepared to do your research on your target market. I supplied figures of the number of people diagnosed with bowel cancer each year to size the market roughly and how many were living with bowel cancer in the UK. And the same for overseas. I dug up plenty of stats which convinced my publisher there is a market out there (please don’t prove me wrong).
  7. Before my publisher took me on I was invited to meet the PR team for them to decide whether I was PR-able. So it’s a good idea to come up with angles and suggestions beforehand. I must have been given the nod as the Publisher subsequently sent out the contract.
  8. Be prepared to summarise your book and yourself many times in different templates and format for the publisher’s sales teams and publicity departments.
  9. I was given an editor to work with who was wonderful and sent back my manuscript with her marked up comments for me to embellish, amend or delete. It was quite a democratic process.
  10. Although I had a proof reader as well, I was still picking up the odd inconsistency long after it was supposed to go to print! Hopefully you will kindly gloss over any I have missed.
  11. The type setter will then do his magic and page set your A4 manuscript into proper ‘book ready’ pages. I caused a bit of bother as I insisted on preceding each chapter with an illustration from my brother, followed by a formatted list. But I think it was worth it.
  12. My press pack was sent out with a picture of me, a bit of a biog, background on the book and bowel cancer as well as some example interview and feature ideas.
  13. I am paid a small % in royalties on every sale but it’s very complicated and varies a lot and I will need to sell tens of thousands before I can buy that lovely little Alfa Romeo Spider!

photo (5)

Thank you for reading. And good luck if you are writing.  X

 

 

 

 

 

 

The C List and other stories

“When are you going to get your writing mojo back?”  I was asked from time to time as moss gathered on the inside of my blog.

The truth is after Kate’s death, every time I tried to write it just felt contrived and to be perfectly honest jabbering on about the pressures of life just didn’t seem a fitting follow up post. So I kept schtum and got on with the busy business of living.  As Barbara on twitter beautifully summed it up; “the first wish of those dying untimely is to live their dreams for them”.

So I have been doing lots of dreaming and as Kate got so much pleasure from working, I tried to do quite a lot of that too.  At times so much working that I was beginning to leak yin all over my new found yang.

But with 2 clear scans since we last spoke, I am in a good place again and I have more news.

The book that I cranked out during chemo, called The C List, got picked up by a publisher and is being released finally on the 3rd of April in the UK and the 22nd in America.  And as Kate helped me so much with this book from the first edit to being my daily muse, I feel it is only right and proper to announce it here now in her memory.

I have also been signed up to blog for The Huffington Post so there will be all manner of thoughts spilling out of me now I have got my writing mojo back (or my blah blah blah as my Spanish CEO prefers to call it!). Please feel free to suggest topics. No reasonable request turned down.

My publisher has fixed me up with more interviews for the book so if I apologise in advance, can you please put up with the odd shameless plug from time to time if I promise not to overdo it? And please, don’t just point the finger at me, spread your blame wide to Melinda Lord who challenged me on this very blog to write this book in the first place!  And Andy Blackford who forced me to write daily and supplied the title. And anyone else who told me I should write.  You only have yourselves to blame!  And no, I have never pretended to know where to put apostrophes so apologies for that too.

photo (5)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-C-List-Survived-Bowel-Cancer/dp/1780286791

(you may have to copy and paste link for the mo as I need to do some stuff on Amazon to get the link working apparently)

Much love till next time x

Stuck in neutral

Over the last 12 days or so I seem to have alarmingly slept IQ points out of my body. I would like to say my dog sleeping on my bed has soaked them up, but he looks as vacant as I do still.  My Brain is as empty as a whistle and I am stuck in this twilight world between being sick and being really well and just need to find the strength to jolt myself back into gear!

The one thing I have learnt over the last couple of weeks is there is no amount of telling myself I will feel fine again in a week or so which will really convince the real me that I believe myself.  Yes I did have to reread that sentence a few times as well…

Of course I can reread my posts and listen to countless people wiser than me informing me I will start to feel normal soon, but knowing something and believing it are two very different states of mind.

The best advice is to be patient and remember that nothing stays the same for long. I can see that now as I am emerging from the fog and nausea.  We all live in a constant state of flux and hanging on to one state too long or worrying you are stuck with it is futile.  I just need to go with it and be ready for the next phase when it comes along, as I now believe it will and make the most of it when it arrives!

This is also valuable advice to any parent with teenagers!  Admittedly the units of time you measure these good moments might be nearer to attoseconds (shortest time now measurable) rather than Olympiads (4 year cyles), but you get the point. Blinking during these periods is obviously not advisable.

As they say “Change is inevitable.  Unless you use a vending machine”.

Sometimes you do want to shoot the messenger…

A man goes to his doctor for a complete checkup. He hasn’t been feeling well and wants to find out if he’s ill. After the checkup the doctor comes out with the results of the examination.

“I’m afraid I have some bad news. You’re dying and you don’t have much time,” the doctor says.

“Oh no, that’s terrible. How long have I got?” the man asks.

“10…” says the doctor.

“10? 10 what? Months? Weeks? What?!” he asks desperately.

“10…9…8…7…”

I do love black humour, but why do some people in the medical profession believe anyone facing the shock of a cancer diagnosis must be in complete denial and in urgent need of a nice little chat about death?

Personally I would have thought this is the very time you could do with a bit of gentle brain reconditioning to build up your mental strength, but there appears a rush to unload both barrels on you faster than quick draw McGraw with the occasional book recommendation for your children on losing a parent lobbed in to lighten the mood!

Facing your demons is in my opinion a bogus concept which causes even more anxiety than the hard working journalists from the Daily Mail!

Once upon a time I enjoyed the perverse pleasure to be had from a misery memoir, but these days I crave informed positivity and happy news even more than I crave the mute button on the nickelodeon channel, or a solid chocolate KitKat.

My own experience, which still stains my memory, was from the Ian Rennie nurses who introduced themselves with a motivational  “Hi we are from the end of life and terminal care team”.  Friends have also reported priceless gems such as “So I hear you want to talk about your death” to “If you pay into a pension, I wouldn’t bother to continue if I were you”. Now should you manage to get over this punch in the gut (possibly by holding your brain under a running hot water tap and scrubbing thoroughly for several months), there is amazing support, care and positivity out there and I can’t fault the dedication.  It just seems a shame that we have to go through this ritual first, rather like an initiation into a street gang!

Surely with the amount of evidence available on the effect of meditation, visualisation and keeping a positive outlook, there should be more support focused here? I am sure I am not alone in calling for more guidance or training for the medical profession on giving life changing news like this?

Anyway, I have just about recovered my composure and am doing well thanks to all the support and medical attention I have received and I hope the same can be said for any newcomers into the club.  The joys of Chemo cycle 7 await on Monday morning so I will be getting friendly with my bed again for a few days, after which I need to get on with some sculpting or pottery  to keep myself busy and away from the pull of the virtual world and back into the real one!

Thanks to everyone for keeping me positive and healthy!

.

Just when I was getting ready to give up on my bone idle bone marrow…..

David you were right! 6 attempts needed!

I was totally caught out this morning when my white blood cells stopped acting like French air traffic controllers and finally got back to work.  Granted they dragged their little white blood cell feet and needed 6 attempts to tempt them back into the chemo ward today. But I can now look forward to 3 weeks absence from needles, having sported more cotton wall buds these last 4 weeks than your average reception art class.

Which goes to prove you must never give up; “It’s always darkest before the dawn,so if you are going to steal your neighbours newspaper, that’s the time to do it” or perhaps more suitably from Winston Churchill, “If you are going through hell, keep going!”. Life is anything but predictable at the moment and it does me good to remember faith and loads of love is the key to getting through this.

As we descend back into winter this week, I am consoled by the weeks of enforced rest I ‘endured’ basking in hot sunshine like a job lot of beef jerky.  All I can look forward to over the next 12 days is my body and face swelling back up like an air bed and the aversion to anything cold which has started already with my knife and fork causing my fingers to tingle and swallowing food becoming a dangerous sport with my throat going into spasms.

Oh well, see you on the other side!   zzzzzzzz