By that stage I had been hospitalised once, and had made several more visits to the Emergency Medical Unit where doctors searched to find the cause of the pain on my right side which I had woken up with on January 1. This included a somewhat painful and awkward biopsy, under X-ray conditions, in which radiologists ‘went in’ through my back to access the malignant material they needed to find.
I began writing because I was afraid. I found that recording the new words that were being said to me -CT scan, abnormality, night sweats- I was able to take a measure of control over my rapidly disintegrating grip on normal health. Suddenly every exchange seemed freighted with unsolicited significance. How could my friends be so sure that it was ‘probably nothing’ when the doctors I spoke with were so circumspect behind their frowns?
Looking back at it now, I think I persuaded myself that if I kept writing I would somehow ‘triumph’ over the cancer growing inside me. I could not have been more wrong. I quickly came to understand that treatment for cancer is not a battle fought by patients but is one done to them. If it is a battle, a word I am highly suspicious of, let it be one for the doctors and researchers, who can at least go home at night without throwing up their lunch.
But I was right about the writing giving me a sense of control. The more I wrote the more it became in an of itself a debt of honour, recording for myself, my family and friends as precisely as possible the words that were said and the actions they precipitated in the order they occurred.
My late friend, the lecturer and critic Mary Jacobs, reminded me that I had told her this during the worst excesses of my treatment. We were sitting in her kitchen, in warm autumn sunlight, going over notes she had kindly made on my manuscript. Even though she was now seriously ill with cancer herself, and knew that she would not live to see my book published, she most stridently reminded me of that word, honour, saying it would be a travesty not to finish the project properly with one final edit.
Halfway through my treatment my son, who was 10 at the time, asked me why, having finished a whole exercise book of writing, I still sat up each night recording the details of my day. I answered him: ‘Because true stories are what people want to read.’ I did not think it would ever come to be published, but secretly hoped it would. In a few days you will be able to judge for yourselves whether or not I was right.
You can buy Love for Now here.
You can read about my experience of chemotherapy here
You can read about my experience of radiotherapy here
You can read about my experience of diagnosis for cancer here