Part 28. Joy
Joy is one of my favourite words in the English language. That’s a bit obvious and simplistic I hear you say. When I say ‘you’ I mean the arsehole in my own head who likes to give me ‘constructive’ criticism. It is though. Joy is the 3 letter word that expresses the peaks, the highs, the deep happy feels in life. It’s those moments of throw-your-head-back laughter, squeals of delight, tasting something divine, feeling free, looking down at your newborn baby’s eyes staring back at you because you’re the only human that matters to her. It’s also just 3 letters and for me 3 is the magic number. It’s our family unit and the number of things I can safely recall as a mental list. There’s that voice again telling me I must be thick then. Whatever bitchy internal voice, I like singing De la Soul whenever possible too. Who doesn’t?
At the end of August I went to the opening session and subsequent barbeque for the Art of Management Conference being held in Brighton this year. Richard Olivier spoke at the formal opening and asked us, the audience, to participate. One thing he asked us to do was to write an end for a poem he read to us, the theme being our inherent power to create change for good. Not a bad subject considering the shit show that is the world right now. Again, deep Emma. Shut up horrible Emma. Anyway, Richard gave us time to write. I had a little word with myself before pen hit paper as my instinct was to hide my page, write some words (maybe), then put page upside down and destroy as soon as physically possible given that I was squidged between lots of other (academic/arty/clever) delegates. Good Emma voice spoke pretty fast. This isn’t a competition, she said, and you’re not being judged, and so what if someone does judge. You’ve dealt with something far tougher than that lately, so fuck it. Oh, and what about all that writing you’ve been sharing publicly?
So I put pen to paper. I didn’t even try to finish the poem with a poem, I’m no poet (no shit sherlock says meanie voice). Instead I just wrote. Then something joyous happened. Greg, who I’d met about 20 minutes before, having been introduced on Facebook via my parents, looked at my page and commented that I have nice writing. He didn’t glance, he looked, and I didn’t hide it or feel the slightest bit of embarrassment. Pre-cancer Emma would’ve had hot cheeks and said some self depreciating shit, or actually flipped the page over. So Greg (who I bonded with immediately because he’s clearly an excellent human) and I shared our words. He had taken the poetic route and a little inspo from the rose tattoo on my right wrist. I enjoyed his words. They were smart, simple and cute. And I read the following to him as he couldn’t read my nice handwriting. We’ll blame Greg’s eyes, not my scrawl!
It is, when I wake up, all achievable. But I have to wake up first. I have to realise that I’m not an imposter, I am a great Knight who dreams wonderful dreams by night. I can create wonderful things by day and so can my fellow knights. So be vital Emma and push away the apathy that’s never present at night.
Why was writing this jumble of words joyous? Because I just did it. It was liberating, it created connection, and it freed me of my own shackles. The ones that tell me I’m not a writer, that sharing is embarrassing, that public participation in arty things isn’t me. Isn’t it? I’ve sung in front of several hundred people many times, what’s the difference? I’m good but I’m not the greatest singer in the world (RIP Aretha my love), but I got up and got ballsy with a microphone. I’m not the greatest writer in the world either and the lack of context and unedited stream of consciousness make the mini paragraph I wrote on the back of a hand-out a bit lame. But it’s mine and it felt good. It felt liberating. Writing those words allowed me to share something with a fab human and allow myself to be open, doubtless making firmer the bond we’d already begun. I am, after all, now considered his daughter from across the water (he lives in Boston). It was freeing, I was free and it was joyful. And Greg didn’t laugh! He complemented me, as I did him, we smiled and we moved on to the next, even more potentially embarrassing activity – there was lots of standing up and vocalising and stuff. I watched. Sometimes there’s a line to be drawn, right?
This is an example of one of the cancer gifts. Cancer has done many things to me and for me. I expect I’ll explore all of those things step by step as I walk through the maze that is life after invasive treatment, life after cancer. One of the things it has done for me, gifted me, is a new sense of freedom, a constant reminder that I should not be afraid. The most frightening thing ever to happen to me has happened. It has made me look at life for my children without their mother. That’s the most frightening, painful and crushing vision I’ve ever experienced. Fuck my pain, the treatment, the toxic meds, the needles and the illness. The fear of leaving my girls without the woman they need, cherish and learn from every day is my worst nightmare, for them. They are too young with too much joy and potential to have the pain of such loss put upon them. Why then should anything make me fearful ever again? Sure, I’m as likely as the next person to get hit by a bus, although I do take great care not to. I’m not signing up for any extreme sports or traveling to war zones. So the immediate fear of leaving my babies has been removed. If I can deal with that, with cancer, with my body fighting to exist thrive for me and my girls, nothing can scare me.
Now then, if any of you are meanies and now considering jumping out at me on Halloween, or chucking a giant rubber spider at me, I’ll scream like the next person. What I mean is that the things that may have made me anxious or doubtful before are the things I now push myself to think about differently. I’m still a vulnerable human being, able to be hurt both inside and out, but I am more powerful now. I flash through images of pouches of bright red meds attached to the line in my arm; to my mum sobbing in a treatment room; my girls faces on Saturday February 3rd 2018; the sound of the biopsy equipment banging in to my breast then my armpit over and over and over again. The list goes on. Write some words and show them to a stranger? Fuck yes. Do something I’ve never done before? Yes. Care what people think? No. As long as the people I love are happy, I’m happy. And those that love me always support me. So when I’m nervous now I simply say, “it’s not cancer, so fuck it.”
Being alive and recognising the many wondrous things this year has given me is cause for celebration. The people who have stepped in and helped me save my life will never really understand the power of the love (ooo cue song) they’ve given me. But I can start by throwing a fuck-off, fuck you cancer party, a party called JOY. On November 10th all the special people, including the chemo team, will be in one room to celebrate THEM and to celebrate life. Each person has been asked to make a ticket donation and we’re holding a raffle with prizes including a villa in Ibiza for a week and a donation from Brighton’s award-winning Baroque Jewellers. Thank you amazing people! All the profits will go to the Sussex Cancer Fund, the fund that supports the Sussex Cancer Centre where life saving treatment ensured my girls still have their mum.
I’ve been anxious about this party wondering if enough people will come, whether it’ll be good, whether I can create a thank you that is inclusive enough and strong enough for all the people in that room. I’ve been anxious about pulling it all together, despite the full throttle help of my friends Affy and Neil. I’ve been anxious about fitting the planning in around radiotherapy, recovery, being back at work, being mum, arranging school trips, life admin and getting myself away for a break.
Fuck all of that, I’m doing it. I’ve had cancer. I can do anything. By being together, eating (pies!), drinking, story telling and dancing to some shit-hot music, we’re going to feel and spread joy. As The Kids From Fame said, were going to celebrate life.