The upside of cancer has been all the wonderful people I’ve met, and some of my attitudes have changed for the better. Even though I felt my energy drain away over Xmas lunch I stayed with it and concentrated so hard on our guest that I missed the Queen’s Speech for the first time.
I feel strangely fascinated by people, even my mother’s old friends, and want to hear what they have to say, whereas I used to drift off like a teenager, often removing myself bodily to my bedroom when they arrived. Now I want to stay put and enjoy them, perhaps because I might be gone soon and never see them again.
But from Christmas lunch onwards I felt increasingly anxious, especially in the evenings.
My mother would start watching TV at about 6pm with the obligatory hunt for the news which she felt had been so recklessly moved about in the schedules, and from then on I would feel my insides start to slowly clench, my stomach knotting as the hours ticked by.
I could feel there was something wrong, I had a pain in my diaphragm, a slight burning feeling, was it the bloating I wondered that is a sign of ovarian cancer, there was a strange vibration too, a bit like a stomach rumble but fainter, like a mild charge of electricity, sometimes it went down to my toes, what was that? I became convinced that the tumour or tumours had returned, but where they in the diaphragm, the stomach, the liver, and where are those organs exactly? There was no medical book in the house so I sat there full of unhappy fantasies like an old hypochondriac.
Life demands courage from us and it’s like a pressing debt, somehow it has to be found. Over the festive season I came across a few epithets to hold on to:
Critic Sarah Dunant on BBC4 looking at a painting of the Holy Family by Fra Lippo Lippi:
“It’s a difficult painting, but it says that if you can stay with the dark, you can see the Holy Spirit.”
On Radio 4 they had a programme about the poem, At the Gate of the Year
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'
And he replied,
'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'
So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.
So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention."
It was written by Minnie Louise Harkins 1875-1957, a social scientist from
The first verse was quoted by King George V1 in his Christmas Day broadcast in 1939 hitting exactly the right note with the public who were deeply apprehensive about the coming war. My mother remembers at that time having, “a feeling of dread.”
The poem had been given to the King by his wife Queen Elizabeth, and the first five lines were recited 63 years later at her funeral.
And on a lighter note, I heard Islam defined by VS Naipaul as, "Sanctified rage."