This year has been kinder than the last. It couldn’t have been otherwise, really, without being farcical. This year didn’t involve any high drama or shocks, just the slow adjustment to the way our lives are, now. And yet, there were still three major surgeries in my immediate family: my double mastectomy and reconstruction in January, Mum’s mastectomy and reconstruction in June and Rachel’s cranioplasty in September. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that a year containing all of that would feel like a blessing.
In 2016, the year I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my sister had her stroke, I switched to survival mode, doing what needed to be done, getting by. And this year, I’ve been dealing with the emotional fallout. Because you can put this stuff off, but you can’t avoid it. I had some counselling and it was amazing. I learned a lot about myself and my relationships and how I deal with things, and I began, very slowly, to heal.
I try to focus on the positive when possible, so I’ve been thinking about my highlights of the year. And when I started to list them, mentally, they seemed to add up to quite a lot. So here they are:
- When I was in hospital after my double mastectomy in January, people sent really thoughtful cards and gifts. Emily Devane, a friend I’d made online but never met, sent me a not-yet-published copy of a novel written by one of my favourite authors (Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor). I read it while I recovered, and felt grateful for my life, for great writing and for great friends.
- In March, we went away with four other families for a couple of nights. It’s the third time we’ve gathered like that, as a group, and they are old friends, which are sometimes the kind you need. One couple had the ingenious idea of hiring a bouncy castle and a load of soft play equipment for the day, and we adults looked on while our ten children wore themselves out in the happiest of ways.
- For my birthday in April, Paul took me to a beautiful spa hotel for a couple of nights, and his parents looked after the kids (for approximately the one millionth time). We stayed in a treehouse with a hot tub on the balcony, and our breakfast was delivered in a hamper via a hatch so that it was just there when we got out of bed, and it was pure bliss.
- In June, Elodie turned one and we took her back to the hospital in Sheffield to see the doctors and nurses who saved her life when she was born. I’ll always be glad we did that. Every year, as well as celebrating her birthday, we’ll take the time to be grateful for her.
- In July, I gained a writing mentor in the form of the Sunday Times bestselling author Gillian McAllister. She’s been amazing, answering a lot of questions and reading a lot of words, and I’m so proud to have her on my side.
- In August, I finally got to meet Rachael Smart, a woman I’d grown very fond of through her writing and online chats. We only live about half an hour from each other, so we met in a park with our kids for playing and picnic-ing. It’s strange and oddly nerve-wracking to meet someone you already feel you know, but it was truly one of the loveliest days of the summer.
- In September, I went to London for the Breast Cancer Care fashion show and finally got to meet Marianne Doherty, who has been wonderful to me as we’ve negotiated cancer together. Sitting beside her, I watched another cancer buddy, Rachel Kitching, glide down the catwalk with a huge smile on her face, and, through a deluge of tears, felt proud and privileged.
- Also in September, I met with Ipso Books, and they talked about the novel I’d sent them with enormous respect and admiration, and said they’d like to publish it. Those were the words I’d wanted to hear my whole life, and finally hearing them was just as sweet as I’d imagined.
- September was a good month. Paul turned forty, and we had drinks in London with some old friends. There’s nothing quite like standing in a room with a lot of people you love. Some from old jobs, some from university, some from NCT, and even one from school (that’s you, Steve Arnold). I even snuck out towards the end to meet a good friend’s new baby for a few minutes, because we happened to be round the corner from her flat.
- In November, my sister turned forty, and thanks to the kindness of friends and strangers, I was able to present her with a box full of letters and cards and drawings and love. We’re still getting through them, but reading aloud the letter I wrote to her, when I pulled it out of the box at random, was tough but important.
It’s strange, summing up a year like I’ve tried to do. I’m painfully aware that there’s no mention of Joseph in the list above, which is because it’s rarely about the big moments with your own children. Joseph and Elodie have made me smile every day, and they’re always my reasons for getting up in the morning (both literally and figuratively). It’s also been a year in which acquaintances have become friends and mine and Paul’s families have continued to support us in comforting and astonishing ways. Overall, I’m heading into 2018 feeling lucky, and loved.
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