Monday, 13 September 2010

The Big C can also mean Christmas

Illness has changed my life, filled it with fear, and bought me unexpected benefits; contact with old friends and colleagues, lager drinking and more work; I’ve finished two pieces for a national newspaper on my situation and there is more work to come, after six very lean years.

(The link to my D Telegraph piece)

I have also got a painting into a public art competition. Something I haven’t done since I got into the RA Summer Show in 2000.;

(Link to the paintings in the show)

OK so you have to nearly die to get work nowadays, and if I do expire the value of my paintings with increase, but such is life, that is one of its great jokes.

I once thought that having cancer, I can still hardly bear to write that word, would mean a complete waste of my time, I'd be like a limp rag, lying about in the afternoons watching Fanny By Gaslight and old Powell & Pressburger films on TV. Well I do do that, but it has also galvanised me, between five to seven day bouts of chemo nastiness.

At the moment I am going through one of those, my fingers tingle and throb on the key board, my feet are numb apart from one ridge of sensation down the middle, so it feels as if I am skating on bones. At night I keep changing temperature and when I can sleep I have lurid dreams. But I’ve got that moment of transformation to come, and all the days when I feel great again have become separately valuable. Days no longer run into one.

Last week I heard the last episode of a dramatisation of The Count of Monte Christo on BBC 7. I first came across this yarn in October 1964 aged eight, when it was one of the BBC’s Sunday tea time serials. I was at an age when I could still be astonished by human wickedness and was fascinated, especially when Edmond, played by Alan Badel, was transferred to prison by boat and first saw his gaol looming up out of the dark. I heard it again on radio in January 1979 when I was living in southern Poland. Just after it finished I was hauled off to prison along with two other people, a case of guilt by association. Unlike the Count we only languished in our freezing cells for a mere twenty four hours.

This time I caught the Count’s last words of advice: “Wait and hope.”


  1. I read your article today about hair loss. Then went to the Chemo suite at the Royal Free Hospital and saw a poster advertising my new hair the new charity founded by and inspired by Trevor Sorbie MBE.

    "We provide public advice, and support a national network of independent salons and professionals who provide a wig styling service for people suffering from cancer and medical hair loss. Importantly, each of these professionals have approached us personally. They pledge their commitment to responsible training and provide a caring and respectful service for their clients."

    Hope this is of some help to you and others who read your column.


  2. Hi Jane - Like Leanne I too have just read your article this afternoon. A great piece that lifts awareness and understanding and I'm sure will inspire many women. I'm a milliner that designs and makes hats for women experiencing hair loss. I have done so for 3 years and I'm thrilled that the turban style has evoked images of 'Joanie' and would love to give you another one to add to your collection. I'm not sure how I can do this, (if I'm allowed to leave our website details) but please contact me and I'll forward. All good wishes to you.

  3. Hi Jane, I have just read your article and it really did brighten my evening, I too found the hair loss in the shower following my radiotherapy to be distressing; nothing can prepare you for it. As a man, of course, I do not need to worry so much about wearing a wig, though I did make myself a range of “beanie” hats to wear, partly to keep my head warm; funny how your body’s temperature control seems to go haywire; and partly to hide the baldness.
    I also recognise your description of the "moon face" effect the steroids have on you. I just wonder if all the lines will reappear more pronounced than ever, once I manage to get off the steroids? Of course in hindsight I am not sure anyone would agree to chemo or radio if they told you all the side effects in advance, you know, the feeling sick for weeks, the messed up taste buds, the appetite that is all over the place, the high risk of DVTs, the risk of water retention problems, the “moon face”, the hair loss etc. etc.
    Like you, I have rediscovered my art and have started drawing again after a number of years, the art class at the local hospice certainly has helped re-inspire me.
    I would be curious to find out your experience (and that of others) in obtaining information about free prescriptions and access to benefits (Disability Living Allowance) especially what Macmillan told you; despite a senior nurse being at all my consultations, I was given no advice or information. Thankfully my partner along with the local hospice sorted it out in the end.

  4. Dear Leanne and Suburbanturban, I would love to get back to you but you haven't left your details! You can contact me on

  5. Hi Jane
    I read your article in The Daily Telegraph, (Monday 13th September 2010) with great interest.
    My sister and I set up our business 7 years ago. The business is called ‘Hats 4 Heads’ and was started as a result of my sister losing her hair through cancer treatment. My sister was diagnosed with cancer in her twenties and decided very quickly that she would not be taking up the offer of a scratchy, uncomfortable and an obviously ‘fake hair’ wig.
    A couple of years ago I started talks with the NHS to try to persuade them to let people have the choice of either a wig or to use the funding towards alternative head coverings, but so far to no avail.
    We supply a wide variety of head coverings for people suffering from hair loss. They are designed for comfort, dignity, fashion, casual or more formal wear. It is beyond my comprehension that alternatives to a wig are not offered. Perhaps we could join forces to put pressure on the NHS to use some common sense and reason to give a choice to those suffering from hair loss so that they can regain their confidence and literally ‘hold their head up high’ in the way they choose to?
    Do let me know if you think we could do anything.
    Best wishes.

  6. Dear Corinne, thank you for your message - I will contact you by e mail.

  7. Sorry, Web address is