- Symptoms: twinges on right side under ribs; mild wheeze; ocular migraine
- Pain level: 0
- Current treatment: none, on a week’s break while failed drug clears my system, before recommencing chemo
- Featured emotion: Anger
There are a lot of things to be angry about: the future that I’m being denied; the unfairness of having this horrific disease, despite no risk factors and a lifestyle healthier than many Tibetan monks’; the lack of research funding into metastatic or secondary breast cancer, because there are not enough of us dying to attract drug company interest; the medical establishment’s utter lack of attention on cancer prevention. I get pissed off at people who smoke. I want to slap the shit out of them, then hook them up to a drip that will fill them with poison, give them volcanic diarrhea, and make their hair fall out. And this includes several close friends. (Love you, but seriously: look at me. Really look at me.)
One thing which is guaranteed to make my language even worse is hearing about someone, usually in the press, ‘battling cancer’, or having ‘lost their battle with cancer’. How one thinks about cancer is very personal, but to me the analogy is unhelpful, degrading, and grossly inadequate for the purpose. And as a writer, I have views on such things.
For me, cancer is a stalker. (Prepare for me to beat this analogy to the point where it’s lying on the ground in bloody pieces, begging for death.) Disclaimer: I am in now way trivivilialising the experience of having a stalker.
The first time you notice him (male to me, more threatening), he’s hiding behind a big old oak tree at the front of your house. So you report it to the police, who say, ‘Ma’am, we take these allegations very seriously, but we don’t have any laws we can use to put him away. Instead, we’ll cut down the tree he’s using for cover and, for good measure, burn the stump. And pour weed killer on the lawn around it.’
So now he has nowhere to hide. You loved that tree. You’re looking out on a scene of devastation, but at least you can sleep at night.
A couple of years later, and he’s back, this time spying through your hedge, which is the only thing left between you and the street. So the hedge gets chopped down, torched and poisoned too. You were very fond of that hedge, the last bit of greenness at the front. The house feels exposed, vulnerable, incomplete. The police say, ‘We got all of it. He won’t bother you again.’
All is peaceful until you wake one morning to find a hideous, grinning face pressed against your bedroom window. You scream, phone the police, who are there quickly. You can tell by their posture that they’re troubled. ‘Ma’am,’ they say, ‘this is a different guy, different MO. He doesn’t need anywhere to hide.’ A sigh. ‘We were hoping it wouldn’t come to this. In these situations, we think it’s best to black up your windows and stay indoors. Some people opt to have their eyes removed, so they can’t see him. Those are your choices.’
‘But what about my life?’ you cry. ‘What about my plans? My hopes and dreams? Don’t they count for anything?’ They apologise, but explain they are at the limits of their powers. They hint that you should feel lucky, as some others on the street have it worse. But then one pauses and says, ‘There’s a new idea, from Kazakhstan. It’s pretty radical, still experimental.’
‘Please,’ you say, ‘I’ll try anything.’
‘We surround your house with a lake of acid. Nothing can get through that, but it will only work for a while.’ The police exchange glances. ‘Eventually, it will eat through your house’s foundations and bring it crashing down, but it’s generally well tolerated.’
‘Do it,’ you say.
You take up crochet and start a gratitude diary.
Well-meaning friends say, ‘Have you tried talking to him? To find out why he’s in your life?’ Another says, ‘My aunt had a stalker like this. She put some licorice in a muslin bag in her window and he never came back.’
Then one day, as you sit in your crochet chair, looking out at the sterile, shriveled remains of your garden, you see him again. He splashes through the lake of acid, laughing. He breaks down your patio doors and takes a dump on your kitchen table.
You shriek and run upstairs, dialing 999. Through gasps and tears, you explain what is happening. To your utter horror, the officer at the other end sounds unsurprised.
‘I’m really sorry,’ he says. ‘It looks like you have one of those who likes acid. It even makes him stronger. It’s rare, but it does happen, especially if there have been a lot of other…interventions.’
‘Please, please help me.’
From downstairs comes the sound of smashing furniture. Then you get a whiff of smoke.
‘He’s set the house on fire!’ you cry. ‘He’s going to kill both of us!’
‘Yes,’ says the police, with the utmost sympathy, ‘that is what happens in these cases. We really are vcry sorry. We tried our best.’