Breast cancer lesson number 99: You are so much more than the illness that tried to take your life away

As my official 100th post (before you think I’ve mislaid my abacus, the first one wasn’t actually a numbered lesson), I have felt under pressure to say something more meaningful than offering an extra strong mint or Ladycare magnet update. That’s why it’s taken me a good few days to sit down and start writing!

The inspiration for this post actually came from my neighbour. Sat next door in the kitchen sipping tea (naturally) on Sunday, she turned to me and said: ‘It’s so important we remember that you’re not just an illness.’ And, you know what, she’s so right.

I was a fairly-rounded person with hopes, dreams, ambitions and smiles long before I made friends with the hospital waiting room. And, I am still that person – albeit with a few cosmetic adjustments! I re-read my first ‘Dear cancer’ (click here if you missed it) post just yesterday and I am glad to report I still mean every word. The engagement Champagne is slowly being enjoyed – in a glass not the bath. (Quite frankly, when you’re tumour-free every day is a celebration!) And, I’m still smiling (most of the time when my cancer isn’t being upgraded and my body isn’t conjuring up another new chemo side effect to catch me off guard).

So, I thought, for my 100th message, it would be apt to talk not about cancer and lymph nodes and lobules, but to go back to the beginning and offer a glimpse of the person behind the shopping list sized prescriptions. The person I was, am and will be, but the person that sometimes gets lost (like my veins).

For those who don’t know me well, I would liken myself to the following table of food.


Here’s why:

1) Home is where the heart is: With my love of nesting, cooking, crafting and cleaning (admittedly less love and more satisfaction), I often think I was born in the wrong era. For me, being at home is like waking up to a long and happy hug every morning. There’s no queuing, no travelling, you get to pick the menu and, most importantly, you get to fill every inch of your home with happy memories. There’s only downside I can see – the washing up!

2) Family means the world to me: the only dessert I ordered at grannie’s house for a good decade was her special lemon cheesecake. I loved it so much that when Kraft changed the packet sizes of their Philadelphia cheese many years back (the recipe always talked in packet sizes not weights) it caused such cheesy chaos, I contacted them for advise on my grannie’s behalf. Without a conventional oven, however, the recipe had always been beyond my reach. What a great gift it was when we moved into our house in 2012 (complete with correct oven) and I could start cooking it. My version doesn’t taste quite as good as grannie’s version, but every mouthful comes complete with a whole lifetime of happy family memories.

3) The more I share, the more I have: My bread was made to be broken with friends. Good friends make the good times better and the bad times easier and I feel so blessed to have some many to try out recipes on!

4) If at first I don’t succeed, I just keep trying: determination is cooking a quiche recipe for the second time when you know the first one was a complete disaster – so much so the pastry dripped its way to the bottom of the oven and we had to munch on cubes of cheese and bacon. The second one worked! Just have to find time to squeeze in those falafel scotch eggs I have promised at two parties now (I even got as far as boiling the eggs this time)!

5) I take life a bit too seriously: No lunchtime event is complete without a timing plan, recipe list, homemade bread, fresh pesto and at least 10 hours in the kitchen. Did I need to do it? Nope. Did I love every minute of it? Absolutely (if we overlook the scotch eggs)! I may always want to get things right, but it’s only because I care so much about everything I do. It’s part of who I am and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Happy faces and happy stomachs are a wonderful reward.

6) While I love baking, it’s savoury all the way: I surprised a friend a few weeks back by ordering a starter and a main rather than a pudding. When you love baking for the office, clients, parties and the chemo ward, it does seem strange to not be attached to some sort of sweet tooth. Give me a bit of homemade bread, quiche, cheese and some salad and I am a very (if slightly stuffed) happy woman. A table with 75% beige and 25% bake works for me (two of my favourites are on the pic, including these white chocolate and raspberry tarts). After all, even a savoury girl knows the stomach has its own dessert compartment.

So, that’s what I’d look like if I were a spread of food. I am not cancer. I am an imperfectly-formed pastry case with a soft and creamy centre and lots of cheese. I may not be much to look at most of the time, but there’s a lot of filling, it’s quite nice (when it makes it out of the oven) and there’s always time for extra helpings!

Let’s hope the hospital agrees tomorrow when I am back for my pre-chemo blood test…