Alison Napier New Normal

Armour on, weapons primed, bullets at the ready, let battle commence, because cancer is aggressive and sometimes deadly and there is a fight to be fought.

Surgery, drugs, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the conventional weapons of choice in this battle to the end, a struggle that must ultimately defeat cancer, beat it and destroy it, a battle that must be, ideally, won, or fought heroically to the death. Those who win the battle will have triumphed, often defiantly, frequently against the odds. They will not surrender or succumb; they will fight with courage and bravery to the bitter end.

These people, the plucky fighters, are brave. Very brave. They are courageous. They battle on and do not give up. They win the fight (except of course when they lose the fight, bravely fought). They stare cancer in the eye and shout, 'Take that, dastardly cancer!'

I do not want to fight cancer. In the language of war this makes me a coward perhaps, though I prefer to think of myself as a refusnik, or a conscientious objector. In the 1980s I was a tiny cog in the women's peace movement opposing global militarisation and nuclear weapons. Sometimes I drove a battered minibus full of women and cigarette smoke six hundred miles down the motorway to the peace camp outside USAF Greenham Common in Berkshire. We embraced the base, fifty thousand of us, in December 1983, and now I try, often awkwardly and not always successfully, to embrace cancer because condoning violence and promoting aggression in either word or deed has never, in my opinion, made anything in the world better for anyone.

(Apart of course from the money men in the arms trade and people wanting to be elected but that is a discussion for a quite different article.)

In my head I greet this stranger, this Triple Negative Breast Cancer stranger to whom I did not issue an invitation. I try to learn about it, about its history, its intentions, its current needs. It, or at least the treatment, causes me physical distress, occasional pain and discomfort and fear. I think about it and I write about it, but I will not engage in a war with it. Perhaps this makes me a cheese-eating surrender monkey! Yay.

The adverts say 'Let's beat cancer!' Even 'Join our kick-ass rebellion against cancer' [both from current ads at Cancer Research UK]. This does not even make linguistic sense! The Oxford Dictionary defines a rebellion as 'an act of armed resistance to an established government or leader'. You can (almost) rebel against homework or the council tax. You cannot 'rebel' against an illness.

Anyway – so if I 'lose the battle' does this mean that I did not fight hard enough? Did I fail? Why did I not conquer cancer? Did I wave a white flag too soon? Or perhaps I will be a survivor?

OED again. Survivor - 'A person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.' The phrase was initially used to describe those who survived the Holocaust. War-time talk again. Have I been invaded by cancerous cells? Did they sneak in through a tunnel under cover of darkness when I was looking the other way? Or is it biological warfare? No. It is just bad luck and almost certainly some dodgy genetic history.

I did not consider engaging with 'alternative' treatment options for this illness and sometimes this surprises me as I like to think that I have a fairly open mind. The alternatives are things like The Gerson Diet, where you drink one glass of juiced organic fruit and vegetable juice thirteen times a day plus take five coffee enemas daily. That's nine kilos of fruit and veg. There is also the Brandt Grape Cure which consists of 'a diet of nothing but grapes' and is, as its website claims, 'an excellent cancer treatment'. Others claim to have cured their cancer with carrots, with pure oxygen and with high doses of vitamin C. Or cannabis oil. Or meditation. Or baking soda.

Quite apart from the fact that any long-term alternative treatment is going to cost an eye-watering amount of money, I remain unconvinced that the outcomes (usually measured in survival rates) are improved. Anecdotal evidence does not equal credible data. But each to their own I guess.

There can also be a whiff of blame attached to the alternative suggestions. The cancer guilt trip. That your lifestyle was all wrong and you were too stressed. Perhaps I ate one too many scotch pies when I was a student, consumed too much beer, worried too much about things I couldn’t change, and just generally failed to take adequate care of myself. Perhaps I am reaping what I sowed over the course of half a century. But we are where we are. I have always eaten a lot of fish and vegetables, I love broccoli and sprouts, I rarely eat biscuits and a box of chocolates received last year from a student is still sitting on the bookcase unopened.

I cannot wait to get back on my bike and to potter in the allotment again.

So I will keep calm and carry on, not by fighting or 'kicking ass' or brandishing unwieldy weapons into battle, and not by turning my life upside down in a frantic sea of carrot juice and coffee enemas. I am supported by the love of Suz and family and friends, and the good things in life.

Is it time for fish and chips yet?

To be continued....

See Episode 1 here.

See Episode 2 here

See Episode 3 here

See Episode 4 here

See Episode 5 here

See Episode 6 here

See Episode 7 here

See Episode 8 here

See Episode 9 here

See Episode 10 here

See Episode 11 here

See Episode 12 here

See Episode 13 here.

See Episode 14 here.

See Episode 15 here.

See Episode 16 here.

{module comment link}