So. I have breast cancer again.
This is rubbish, depressing, worrying and also kind of amazing – 14 years since the last one! My body (and the medics) did good.
I expect to get a surgery date in a few days and, all being well, will be having a mastectomy and reconstruction. (A few tricky bits to do with having already had some surgery and radiotherapy to the same site, AND with having lost 20lbs – intentionally, in the past year – so there’s less ‘useful’ reconstructive fat!, but hopefully we can get round that.)
Please don’t tell me about diets and miracle cures – medicine, sensible eating, acupuncture, massage and a ton of chanting did great for me last time, I expect to do all of that again, but in no way would I only do ONE of those things. I’ll take all the cures I can get. I just won’t take any miracles. They don’t exist.
Please don’t tell me to rest. Why? IF this is a bad one (and we won’t know until post-surgery) why on earth would I live my life any less than I’m already doing? Work (writing, speaking, Fun Palaces) is not WORK, as in a horrible thing, to me. It is WORK, as in what I care about, what I believe in, what I am driven to do and passionate for, what I am living for. I AM passionate and driven. I do not see these as bad things. (And yes, of course I’ll rest post-surgery, but after that, no, I won’t be cutting back on LIVING.)
What does it do to Fun Palaces? Nothing at all, except make me even more passionate about inclusion, engagement. Can we get more hospitals engaged? Can we enthuse more venues to engage with medical scientists? Can we make sure our Fun Palaces are accessible for sick and/or disabled people too? Can we do it all, and more? (Also had a wonderful conversation about Fun Palaces and arts and medicine with doc WHILE he was taking biopsy the other day. Really inspiring and hopeful for our professions, our missions, working together.)
There’s also a brilliant team of already-engaged, already-enthused volunteer Fun Palaces maker-mates, who are ready and willing to take over the email-answering while I have a couple of weeks to get my strength back post-op. (But hey, post-op from-bed emailing is what laptops are all about, right?!)
And of course there is Sarah-Jane. My work partner, my friend, my co-believer in the brilliance, strength and NECESSITY of the project. If I happen to be too tired to come to those speaking engagements we’ve already talked about, she’ll do it. Fun Palaces is hers too.
(nb, I admit, I have been a little nervous about talking about this publicly, scared it will scare off potential Fun Palace funders. But I have always been public about my experience of cancer, I think we make a difference when we are public about illness, as with any coming out, our honesty helps others. I have been so very helped by the honesty of a few friends about their illness in the past days. And so I have now chosen to believe that the funders are as capable as I am of believing in the wider project and not being scared off by one person’s illness.)
What does it do to my writing work? Nothing at all. It all stays on track, new book to deliver (third draft!) to agent in spring. And I’m totally up for all the same events/workshops etc as soon as I’m recovered from surgery. The mentoring continues – that one can be done prone!
What does it do to my directing work? See above. Working on the new idea with Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence will continue. Work with Shaky Isles will continue. Times and people are flexible and willing.
So, finally, what does it do to my life? Everything and nothing.
I had cancer 14 years ago. It was terrifying and awful. In many ways the worst part about it was that chemo led to my early infertility and me not being able to be a mother.
Having had cancer means I’m fore-armed. I know loads now. I know my surgeon and breast care nurse. I know they know me. I do not have to persuade them that I’m freelance and need to work. They know that, just like last time, I have no sick pay. And unlike last time, I’m not about to go to the US to do a show (and taking chemo with me!)
I have never felt like I was “all clear”. I had a grade 3 breast cancer, surgery, chemo and radiotherapy at 36. OF COURSE I have always known it might come back. I think my body has done so well to get me this far. I trust it will get me through this and on to the next part of my life.
It is horrible for Shelley, it is horrible for my family and friends, it is horrible for me. None of us wants to go through pain and illness.
BUT, even when I’m down and sad about this (and I have been, and will no doubt be again), I know I have waves of love and determination coming at me from those who love and care for me.
I know I have a HUGE dream – the Fun Palaces project – to achieve. I believe that my being ill now can feed that dream, can help us make even better Fun Palaces, more inclusive Fun Palaces, I don’t think this will detract from the project at all, not my ability to create it, nor OUR ability to make it the best we ALL can.
I don’t think I’m being stupidly positive. I think I’m being the only thing I can be – me, who does getting on with it.
If you’re a close mate and we haven’t had a chance to tell you yet, I’m REALLY sorry. We have been trying to tell people and hoping people would tell people, but I know there are bound to be people we’ve missed. My apologies.
And yes, I do think there’s another show in this. Breaststrokes 2, The Return, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the pool …
I’m off to the gym now. Have a great day. xxx
Edited to add – to anyone having a bad cancer day, I have OF COURSE had them. I’ve no doubt I will again. That’s why I posted this on a good day! You feel whatever you feel. As my Buddhist practice teaches, “Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy.” Both are valid.