The last chapter

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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.

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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!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you. Everyone.

I am pondering if it says something about the English that despite the richness of our vocabulary which allows us to draw shades of distinction unavailable to non-english speakers, I can find only a couple of words to express thank you.  (For the record Eskimos have 50 words for types of snow and Italians have over 500 names for different types of mararoni!).  And right now that doesn’t seem in any way enough for me to express my gratitude.

I cannot let 2011 get kicked into touch without thanking the army of people who have supported me with love, generosity of spirit, positivity and endless patience. This is a very dangerous post as there are so many people to thank so please blame my chemo brain if I have forgotten to mention you.  I count myself very lucky to have all of you in my life and hope I am a little lower maintenance in 2012! So the biggest ‘thank you’ to:

My amazing Mum and Dad for being so resilient, strong, selfless and loving; for being there literally 24 hours a day; for keeping me well mentally and physically and being 2nd mum and dad to Joe and Lois, not to mention all the help around the house and many things too countless to mention.

Joseph and Lois for being the bravest and most thoughtful children ever.

Tim, for his calmness and presence when I was at my most scared, for the non-stop thankless task of looking after me and refusing to let me do anything! And for putting up with my ever changing and demanding diet and still serving up nutritious meals daily.

My brother David (and Lucie) –for being there from the very first second, sitting through all the consultations with me, for letting nothing be too much trouble, for endless love, energy, creativity, research and positive inspiration.

BF Jenny for being there when I needed her most and also being there for my mum as well as my boy Joe, for her daily funny cards which made me laugh and cry and for keeping me going day after day with bonkers texts, messages and gifts.

Pip for supporting Tim and me, plus keeping us laughing and Leanda, Matt and Ginny for their kind words.

My cousins Becca and Sharon for being more like my sisters, my Aunties and Uncles and more cousins for keeping my sense of humour and showing me how important and amazing my family are.

Adam and Holly, for stepping up their support and love for their bro and sis.

My truly special and long suffering friends;  Jo for taking me away from it all with endless cups of teas and support, for a memorable trip to Eastboune and for looking after Lois and Joe at the drop of a hat; Lauren for her incredible support for me, Joe and Lois, for her uplifting messages, photography, videos and fundraising;  Julie for being there for me but even more importantly Lois without question without asking and just knowing what to do; Andy B for meditation, wisdom, selfless support and keeping me amused with never ending supply of stories and good jokes; Alex for protecting me from stress at work, for lovely cards and letters and for the weekly round-up of news; Alison for massive support, motivation and creative buzz; Tina for reminding me I am still normal! Di for laughs and setting up the bum bandits club and food, food, food and more delicious food!  Mary Y for being the first person to get my head straight on cancer and fix my mental attitude; Jane for being there for me and Lois and becoming a good pal; Kathy for a shoulder when I needed or was scared; Liz M for taking my mind of it! Bex for the craziness. And for Nick, Bruce, Nicole and Glen, Ronnie, Claire S, Tracey OB, Aileen and Burger Joe for just being wonderful and keeping my spirits up.

My colleagues who have become dear friends for their genuine support and kindess:  Elice, Wendy, Simon C, Sally W, Sarah, David W, John P, John B, Siobhan, Chris S, Leah, Sona, Shelley, Anna, Liz, Dave C, Mark S, Simon A & Rachel and Cathy & Diane.

To Mindy and her mum for reassuring me when I get the wierd side effects and courage when I needed it.

And Beating Bowel Cancer for their forums and community support, Tom Van Kaenel for his support for Bananagiraffes and BBC and Mary Holloway (volunteer) for her weekly Reiki sessions.

I feel pretty humble and blessed looking at that list and just terribly sad for people going through this on their own, spare a thought or better still a visit for them this new year!

BBC Radio Oxford interview updated and working now

NOW WORKING.

Had a lovely interview with the nice people at BBC Radio Oxford.  Malcolm Boyden made me so relaxed I think I nearly moved into his comfy chair.  Mentioned bowels on the BBC! Shocking.

Now, I need to put you straight on something

I have been complimented for the way I am dealing with this bit of cancer problem.  Some of you have even worried that I might be hiding what I am really feeling and not doing my fair bit of mourning or raging.

I recognise this as the “there but for the grace of God” syndrome.  I had it myself when colleagues or relatives got ill.  You can’t imagine how you would deal with it, and assume the ‘victim’ has courage beyond your wildest dreams or nightmares.

So here’s the good news should you ever have any bad news, it’s not true!  You would almost certainly cope the same as me. I have had the honour of meeting some inspirational women going through similar treatments as well as those in remission and without exception they are getting on with it and living without the heavy burden of ‘why me’ dragging them down. Mary, Liz, Marion, Kathy, Mindy and Jackie, you have made it easy for me to follow you and I am enormously grateful for you giving me a crash induction course into the cancer club when I became a recent recruit.

The body and brain is designed to cope better with reality, than “whatifery”.  So living and curing yourself becomes a full time occupation and leaves very little space for your brain to indulge in fantasies.

For example, there is absolutely no point in pretending you have the intellectual wordsmithery of Stephen Fry and then getting upset when you can’t finish the Sun crossword!  Or that you are as fit as a butcher’s dog and start whimpering when you can’t lift your back legs off the floor. The sooner you come to accept reality and get on with noticing the kindness and warmth that surrounds you like a protective shield, and spot the amusement that can be found in unexpected quarters, the better for you and everyone. 

I have never been one for taking things too seriously and I find that cancer only exacerbates that character trait in me.  I am not saying everyone will deal with it in the same way, but the more people who realise the harder journey by far is for those watching, caring and worrying for you,  the better.

I have known people who positively thrive on being unhappy, enjoy a good argument and wallow in their own misfortunes.  But my approach is the complete opposite.    The way I see it, there can be few things more unpleasant than living with a grumpy old goat with a life threatening illness, so quite seriously I need to have a good old laugh to make things a little easier around here for all of us. So please feel free to take the micky and point out when I am being a bore or having a sense of humour crisis as it makes me feel more normal and I like that.

Taken at the Churchill Hospital last week!

Radio Ga Ga

First challenge done, radio interview completed!  If you have 15 mins of your life you  feel like chucking away, you can listen to the audio clip below. Live radio certainly brings out the verbally incontinent side of me and I sound like a proper hooray henry! Apologies to Mr Soonawalla (my Liver Surgeon) for any suggestions he sliced me open like a melon and thanks to the nice people at Radio Cherwell, Jill from Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals fundraising team and any poor inpatients who didn’t try to electrocute themselves during the broadcast.

Cancer is spectacular!

Admittedly cancer does have its drawbacks, but it really is pretty spectacular. 

I’ve always been a bit of a positive person (apparently it’s genetic according to the Guardian this week), but even I was beginning to see the worrying trend towards materialistic selfishness amongst my fellow ‘human beings’.   However, I would like to publicly state there is nothing like a bit of cancer to remind you of the goodness of your fellow man and women. 

I’ve come into contact with almost exclusively good people since my diagnosis. Not goody goodies, but real decent, honest, warm, compassionate and helpful people.  And those nearest and dearest to me have become even closer.  So all round not a bad result!