Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Who's Got Cancer?

I spend a fair amount of time each day sitting in the waiting room of the Cancer Clinic, so I've invented a game to stop myself getting bored. It's a little macabre, and I can't see Hasbro fighting for the copyright. It's called: Who's Got Cancer?

You see most people come in with a partner or a buddy. You know one of them has cancer, but not which one. Until the receptionist calls a name, and you see who responds.

Sometimes it's pretty easy to deduce. It's the one with the suspiciously luxuriant hair, but no eyebrows, eyelashes or arm hair, for example.

However, sometimes it's really difficult.

I try very hard to NOT look like a cancer patient. I turn up as if dressed for the theatre (Shakespeare, not operating). I wear heels, cashmere and fur trim. It makes me feel better. Plus, I'm usually the youngest person there by a decade or two, which makes me feel additionally glamorous (if a tad unlucky).

Today a young couple walked in. They were both gorgeous. Radiantly healthy looking. I was bamboozled. Turns out it was him - poor sod. Testicular? Hope so - it's got good odds.

(The problem is that I know everyone else is playing this game too. I've had a cold, but try desperately not to cough, Because every time I do I can see someone thinking uh oh. Secondary tumours in the lungs (terminal) All of us have become amateur medics, you see).

Then a middle aged lady arrived. She was French, and had that effortless, Parisian chic. I assumed early stage breast cancer (like me).

She had her daughter with her, around twelve years old - the same age as #1. Nice of her to come with her Mum, I thought. And she looked really cheerful about it, despite it being a precious day of the Christmas holidays.

As I watched surreptitiously, the daughter pushed up her sleeve revealing a chemo cannula. I felt like I'd been punched. You see, there is something way worse than having cancer treatment: watching your child have cancer treatment.

(Listen up, angel of destiny. I'm taking this bullet for my family, so don't even think about pointing a finger at one of my children. Or Mr SM).

What this game has taught me is that you can never tell what's really going on in people's lives.

Maybe part of the reason you drank was because you looked at the perfect lives of the people around you and wondered where you went wrong? Drink was a consolation, taking the edge off that feeling of dissatisfaction, of unfulfilled potential, of stuck-in-a-rut-ness.

But the truth is, nobody's life is perfect. You never know who's dealing with a life threatening illness, a sick child, a parent with dementia, a job that bores them stupid or a partner they secretly despise.

A friend told me that after her parents got divorced, her mother told her never to take the 'life-and-soul' couples at face value. She said that the reason they're always at every party, always having fun, is that they can't bear being alone together. She knew because that used to be her.

So stop envying other people's lives, and start living your own. Really living it. Because, like the grit in the oyster that forms a pearl, it's the imperfections in our lives that (eventually) make us strong, unique and beautiful. So long as we deal with them, and don't just drown them out with buckets of vino.

Here's to all of us perfectly, imperfect people, making our imperfect lives just that bit more perfect - one day at a time.

SM x


  1. This is so true and seems to be one of those ideas that keeps cropping up for me recently, along with its-not-what-happens-its-how-you-deal-with-it. Must look into CBT. Yesterday morning got a text from #1 (he's a young 23 and on the uni ski club trip) sent at 4am saying the gendarmerie were outside and the hotel was "smashed to s***". I immediately assume that he and his mates got drunk and did it, which actually turns out not to be the case at all. We ended up having an interesting (yes really!) text conversation about the structure of french and italian police forces...

    1. I bet in the old days that text would have turned into an argument based on jumping to conclusions and misunderstandings?!? Big hugs to you MLC! xxx

  2. It is very humbling to visit cancer patients. When I used to visit my mum in hospital and then hospice, she refused any sympathy as felt she had been lucky living to 77, and felt for the many younger women in around her who had terminal diagnoses it was heartbreaking.

  3. Beautifully put and, as always, completely spot on! Secrets and lies.... Facebook is also an example of what not to believe! Counting my blessings and trying hard to strengthen my AF resolve for the next couple of weeks ahead. My kids are still in school till next Tuesday so not having too much chaos yet but, as you said yesterday, we're going to chill and go with the flow over the holidays. This will be hard for me but I know the kids like it. Hope you are well and the hospital visits are not causing you too much discomfort. Xxx

  4. Well said. What's funny is that its another way social media seems like my enemy. First, everyone's life seems so wonderful. Second, why is there a reference to wine on my facebook feed every time I login. It doesn't bother me much now, but I'm sure there will be a point where the wine witch will use it to her advantage. Grrr!!!!

    But - you are right. What we see doesn't tell us anything about what's going on inside someone's home or inside their head. That was certainly the case for me. I hid it all very well, at least I think so.

    Thanks for you blog. You are so strong. I'm now eight days sober and I love reading your posts from March. I can't even imagine having to deal with a cancer diagnosis in such early stages of this process. That's strength, particularly dealing with it and telling your story at the same time.

    Thank you so much.

  5. I totally get the "life and soul of the party" reference. When I was with my ex, there was barely an evening when we weren't entertaining...to hide the fact that we had nothing to say to each other.
    I agree SM, as horrendous as having your own cancer diagnosis must be, it would be unimaginable having to watch your child go through it.
    Big hugs from over here xxx

  6. Thank you; well put and beautifully written.

  7. You almost made me cry! Very touching thoughts and words. A good friend of mine started chemo yesterday so I imagine she was in a similar position. Hope you all kick cancers butt! Hard. Big hugs LNM x

  8. It is heartbreaking to think of children with serious illnesses.

    You can't judge a book by its cover. That one endures.

  9. So true SM. I sometimes envy other people, thinking they are so much better off than me or are lucky to have to many things (own house, new car etc) but I don't know if they are truly happy. These are just things. And whilst they make life seem easier it's not always the case. I need to practice gratitude and be thankful for what I DO have. Thank you for this post. A x