This road to recovery is certainly an undulating one. A couple of weeks ago I went to a Breast Cancer Now event with my friend Jan who has raised money for research into breast cancer since her sister died of the disease several years ago. She nominated my name for a fundraising wall at the Institute of Cancer Research and we went to see it being unveiled. It was a lovely event and a wonderful expression of friendship and support. I talked to one of the researchers there about the causes of cancer and found myself really moved when she said that cancer is a random event. I realised that deep down I thought I’d brought this on myself in some way; so deep down that I hadn’t realised that was a burden I was carrying until that conversation. Jan and I had lunch afterwards and I travelled home feeling grateful and loved. And then that evening I crashed into a deep despair, and went to bed feeling lost and broken. Of course, I’ve had those kind of days before where I’ve gone from joy to gloom in the space of a few hours, perhaps most of us do, but the presence of illness somehow intensifies it all because fear seeps in.
The next day I went to Pickwell in Devon on a mission entrepreneur’s course, a structured week to help people who have an idea for bringing about social change to turn that into reality. I went partly because Pickwell is such a beautiful place and some of my family are involved in running the week, and partly to think some more about the greeting card idea I had a while ago. I arrived in Devon feeling withdrawn and slightly prickly, but actually it was just what I needed – an opportunity to focus on and talk about something creative and positive, to meet really interesting and inspiring people, and for cancer to retreat to a whisper in the background rather than dominating the conversation.
As I recover, I’ve found the idea of ‘practicing’ really helpful, as in the sense of actively working at a profession, or actively following a way of life. Practicing is the doing of something whether you feel like it or not, in the expectation that what might seem strange at the beginning will eventually flow and become a natural part of who you are. So the practice of massaging oil into my scars makes me look at and touch my changed body, and although it doesn’t feel quite like ‘me’ yet, I trust that the practice will get me there. The practice of working on ideas with other entrepreneurs, when my confidence is wavering and I’ve forgotten what I’m good at, puts me in a place where I’m expected to be creative and relate to other people, so of course I am and I can, which is a very healing thing. And like the dreadful clarinet practice I did as a child, it doesn’t matter if you get it wrong as long as you keep doing it. It’s not about being fake or about pushing yourself unhelpfully; it’s having faith that this version of yourself is not permanent and acting accordingly.
And this week I feel really well. I tell people I’m on the mend, and I am. I’m on the mend.