Monday, 31 January 2011



The whole day seemed to be about cancer. This was because it started early with a relaxation class at Maggie’s. Last week they lifted a weight from my shoulders, I feel better, but I still needed to come to the class before going to Hammersmith to get my results.

The group wasn’t so intimidating this time. Some people never speak, some go on too much. When our leader asked for any other comments near the end, I said there is a problem about expectations. I have felt let down by a couple of friends and that plays on my mind. At night I get some bitter thoughts. This unleashed a gallon of tears from the others – most people seem to have these bitter blooms growing under their beds.

The young girl with brain cancer suddenly wept as she mentioned her brother, whom she feels has rejected her because, she says, “He can’t cope with it.”

I felt my emotions well up seeing her face as she said this. I managed to control myself but I am facing up to this tearfulness. I no longer want to cheat myself out of my own emotions. I spent years pretending not to feel things. Now I am surrounded by unremitting emotion and I am trying to allow myself to respond.

An elderly Irish lady told us that her two daughters no longer visit her, and her husband has left.

“I have my little dog,” she said, “and I take it for walks, but it’s not the same. Once I had everything, now I have nothing.”

My problems were nothing compared to these.

I’d brought some food with me and shared it out at lunch time. Quite a lot of people sat down at the big table and we all got rather jolly for a change.

In the afternoon I left for the hospital. My appointment was 2.45pm but I waited till nearly six. While I was sitting there I saw my cancer support nurse. What seems years ago now I complained about the treatment I’d received from nurses on the Victor Bonney Ward in Queen Charlotte’s. In their reply they dismissed my complaints and said they had discussed the matter with my Macmillan nurse. Now I had my chance to ask her. She could not remember having had any contact with them. Pretty much as I expected.

We sat there with our radical haircuts, strangely fashionable since that film, An Education, starring Carey Mulligan. I got chatting to a very brave, pleasant Guardian reading lady from Norfolk, but as the hours went on I realised I was getting a bit tired of people and I still had an evening class to go.

At last it was my turn. I had asked to see a woman as I am scared of the male consultants with their bravado. To me they seem like male TV chefs, what they do is not just about the end product, it’s also about them.

This doctor was young, attractive and cool but friendly. She asked me how I’d been. I told her I’d been stressed because of some of the things said to me previously by a doctor. Her smile tightened. She didn’t want to hear about any of that, and I felt a fool for saying it.

I told her about a few aches and pains, the same ones I had during chemo. I managed to mention aches around my, “xiphoid process,” which widened her eyes for a moment. I am taking an anatomy class and it has its uses outside drawing.

My results were all that I could hope - the CA125 which indicates the cancer was down to 5, it was 7 in November. Normal is 0 to 30.
She didn’t seem particularly happy, as one of the prophets of gloom she said they wouldn’t be able to fix my hernia yet, “Until we are sure the cancer has really gone.” An admission at last that it really might go!

A friend of mine was going to sit in with me, but I felt OK to be there by myself. She was getting her results later. When I met her in the clinic she was on her second round of chemo, after a remission of two years. She has two young children.

When I went back into the waiting room I saw her marching out towards the door. I waited awhile then thinking she must have gone home without saying goodbye, I decided to leave too.

As I left I saw her coming back up the long dark tunnel that connects one part of the hospital to another. I started to tell her about my results, not noticing anything different about her – the distraught expression, the staring eyes. Then I registered them. “Is everything OK?” I said.

“Nope,” she said. “It isn’t.” She broke down for a moment and I gripped hold of the shoulders of her sheepskin jacket. It was a moment of black despair.

“Jane, how can I face a third round of chemo?” she asked. “This whole thing is just a bloody nightmare,” I said. I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Her husband collected her and I set out for Central St. Martin’s college of art, at their Back Hill site, up near Farringdon, where I have my anatomy class.

It’s a horrible building on a dark Victorian street. Filthy, cold, with no café and no lift but the teacher is gently charming, and I was glad to be there. As I stood at the easel trying to draw from Stan, our genial looking skeleton with a broken leg, scenes from the day returned with all those voices babbling away in my head.

Remembering my friend and that terrible moment I sometimes felt teary, my view of Stan on his Stand blurring. I’d had a reprieve. Others had not been so lucky. I had escaped, but for how long? If I’d had bad news what would I be doing, who would I be with?

Now I am busy again, the fear has lifted, and I wander about like it’s the morning after a bombing raid. I almost miss it, wondering where its gone. There is a an empty space full of small twinges and anticipation suddenly turning into dread then dying away quickly into nothing again.


  1. So pleased about your result. Have you thought about asking your gp about the hernia repair. Mine had to go back there and be referred out again. No news on a date for me yet! Its all a mystery. A bit like being hung out to dry on a line....

  2. I will see what happens in April, at the next check up!

  3. My next check-up is in April too!
    Latest news is no hernia op by my 18 week target date, which is next week. When will depend how many urgent referrals they get. Seems like urgent bowel cancer is flooding the list. I'm only half-way on the non-urgent list. So could be May, June, July or later. Just encouraging you to start the process if they permit it.

    Pleased to see your cookery school article in the online Telegraph. Its a nice book.

  4. Glad you saw the article! Conner is coming to London soon, to do a talk and demonstration at Maggie's, Charing Cross.