I chose the title of this post partly because of Pat Barker’s classic trilogy set during the First World War. Along with Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Birdsong’, it is responsible for my interest in the period, and gave me the context that I needed to dramatise the events of ‘Summertime’. Every author owes something to the books which they have read, and these are mine.
But I chose the title for another reason, because it feels like my life is regenerating. The past 9 months of cancer treatment have been all about destruction, of the invading cells trying to kill me, and their evil progeny. Cutting and poisoning are the weapons, and they are oh so horribly, mercilessly crude.
My last chemo treatment was Nov. 6th. Several choir members joined me in the hospital for an informal concert for the patients and staff. We belted out our favourite numbers and I nearly tore the drip from my chest in my enthusiasm. Nurses danced around the corridors. It all helped to take my mind off waiting for the final blood result, which was necessary to insure that my immune system could cope again with the drugs. Suffering from a nasty cold, I hoped that my valiant white cells could multi-task. To stumble then, on the 12th treatment, was unthinkable.
The bloods came back normal again. Saline, pre-meds, paclataxol went in. For the last time.
I was done. Cooked. Marinated in cancer-killing chemicals. When I surfaced from the worst of the effects, I rejoiced in my good fortune: for my wonderful husband, for the skill of the medical team who saved me, for the astounding support of my family, friends, and choir. And for the agents who believed in me, and the publishers who saw something in my book worth sharing with the reading public. Through it all, I have felt cocooned by so much love, like being wrapped in a huge, warm duvet.
Come December, the first reviews of the book started to appear. The publicity team unveiled their plans. As I struggled to my feet, the magic was happening. Strangers were reading my words, words that I wrote to shine a light on something which I thought shouldn’t be forgotten. I visited the publisher and together with the sales and marketing team we watched a documentary about the Labor Day hurricane. Although everyone in the room had read ‘Summertime’, they watched rapt, open-mouthed at the destruction depicted on the screen.
The first copy of the hardback arrived two days before Christmas. I held it in my hands, mesmerised. It was everything that I hoped it would be. The cover design perfectly captured the mood of the book, and I loved the little sketch of a conch shell on each chapter opening. It looked substantial, and most of all, real. In my bald helplessness, barely able to climb the stairs, I was like an infant again. It felt like a new life was starting. I savoured the moment and thought: no matter how many other books I write, it will never be like this again.
At the same time, the first fuzz appeared on my scalp. I took it as a sign. Eyelashes signalled a return. I was astounded by the body’s capacity to heal itself. I imagined that I could feel the repairs happening inside, as millions of cells woke up and got to work, fixing themselves.
We passed the solstice, and headed back towards the sun.
And now, 10 days before publication, things are growing again, some visible and some not. Physical and mental stamina, which have been low for so long, are increasing. Scars, still livid, have begun to fade, likewise the dread which has been my constant companion since my diagnosis in May. I no longer look like a peeled egg: I have the same amount of head fuzz as a Marine recruit, and baby eyebrows have appeared. I can feel tingles of hope, and its flashier cousin, optimism, like blood returning to a numbed appendage. The tips of bulb shoots are emerging from the earth in the pots outside the door.
Regeneration. It’s about forward, not back. The damage is in the past, quickly healing over now.
I can finally say good-bye to 2014, the most extraordinary, wonderful, awful year of my life.