2016 was certainly a strange old year. Like many I’m glad to see the back of it. It brought with it so much conflict, so much horror, so much loss and suffering. It was a year of major upheaval, both at home and worldwide. Our planet appeared to be imploding. WTF was going on? Living with uncertainty is not easy and it seemed that, in the face of global atrocities and seismic political change culminating in that Trump victory, the coping strategy for many Brits was seeking solace in The Great British Bake-Off and Ed Balls, Gangnam Style.
On a personal level I understand all about uncertainty. At the start of 2017 I find myself more-or-less in exactly the same position as I was a year ago – treatment not working, tumours growing, embarking on a new cancer drug trial. The only difference is that now I’m a year older, a little wiser, and my natural optimism, while still there, is tempered by realism. Unlike last time round, I’m no longer expecting Cedric’s eviction; I just want to stop him taking over the house. (If you don’t already know, Cedric is my cancer, an unwelcome lodger, who first showed up 21 years ago and has been making a total arse of himself ever since.) My once lovely home is now a bit dilapidated – largely due to my many efforts to get rid of Cedric – but at least it’s still standing. And, until some miracle solution is found, that’s good enough for me.
Magical moments spent dancing and laughing with the Cancerkin class of 2016.
Over the course of last year I had some wonderful times, teaching, dancing, singing and enjoying the company of family, friends and my belly dance family. But I spent too much time doing things that weren’t good for me – whether for financial reasons, or out of a reluctance to say ‘no’ or let people down, or because I didn’t want to admit defeat. I didn’t cut myself any slack – or ask others to – so I pushed myself beyond my limits, wildly underestimated the time needed to recuperate and consequently gambled with my health. I committed myself to things and saw them through, but all the while was willing them to be over – not a clever move for anyone, but particularly stupid when you have a life-limiting disease! It’s nobody else’s fault; I freely admit that I am my own worst enemy. Rather than seeking refuge in watching TV, my coping strategy over the past year has been to keep busy, and it’s one that hasn’t served me very well. But there’s no point in beating myself up about it; in the words of writer E B White: Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. Wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
This year I feel at a crossroads. Where do I go from here? As I start the trial, I am made aware of my rather precarious health situation by the fact that I have a lump on my sternum that has been growing steadily for the past couple of months. It’s not as if I can forget it; it’s there staring at me every time I get dressed or get ready for bed. I haven’t been receiving any treatment at all for the past six weeks, and that too has been quite unnerving. I worry about what’s been happening to my internal organs in that time. I can’t help but ask myself; just how much time have I got? Of course, there’s no way of knowing. But I’ve promised my long-suffering mother (my rock and reluctant media star) that I won’t die before she does and I know she’ll hold me to it. She doesn’t want to find herself in a Debbie Reynolds/Carrie Fisher scenario, and who can blame her?
The redoubtable Mrs Doreen Cowles gives Death a stern talking to.
Anyway, I hope that fresh air, dance, laughter, good company, solitude, creative visualisation, chanting and sleep are doing me some good. Not to mention letting go – whether of anger, toxic people, challenging situations or my bloody tax return (finally). I believe in taking an integrated approach. Or, as my great aunt Rhoda was fond of saying, ‘God (life/the universe/goddess – insert as you see fit) helps those who help themselves.’
Last year I had lots of teaching engagements and performances, my Cancerkin dance classes, and the BBC1 documentary, The Big C & Me. This year I don’t. It’s daunting in a way. But it’s also an opportunity – both to devote more time to looking after myself and spend time with the people I love, and also to give me the mental space and energy to focus on something new. I need time to breathe. I want to use my experience creatively to help others but I’m just not quite sure how to do it yet. And I’ll never find out if I start cluttering up this year’s calendar.
I don’t intend to waste a single minute of this year, either by stressing about things beyond my control or by wishing away what time I have left. I want to create happy memories not regrets. One of my all-time favourite performers and top women perfectly sums up my feelings about the importance of self-acceptance and making each moment count – however that might be – at the end of her life-affirming one-woman show, Dawn French: 30 Million Minutes (the title referring to the length of time she has been alive):
I have learned to live where I am in what I am… I am 30 million minutes old and I have learned that all the small stuff makes the big. That all the tiny minutes make one big life. Every minute properly matters… so LIVE IT BIG!
365 days, 525,600 minutes, 31536000 seconds; here’s to living each and every moment of 2017and living it BIG!