Tag Archives: NHS

Jade Goody & the mythology of redemption: the spectre of cancer in the media

Jade Goody–the Big Brother reality television “star”-cum-cancer martyr–died the day before I started my own chemotherapy. I remember standing on the platform at the Royal Oak train station, waiting to go to the hospital for my first chemo treatment, looking at everybody’s greedily-grabbed copies of the Metro and the London Lite; even in the “real” papers, Jade Goody was the front-page news (alongside findings of a recently-published study, coincidence or no, about the non-improvement of cancer survival rates in the UK).

 I don’t know how large the storm surrounding this woman was in the American media, but in England she was as ubiquitous as Big Brother himself: first for the car-crash entertainment value of her all-around ignorance and repugnance, with the cherry-on-top of racist allegations–and then for the car-crash entertainment value of her stage 4 cervical cancer, and society’s ensuing Schadenfreude at observing her decline, glued to the television with eyes wide.

She made a mint out of that damn cancer, and, maybe even more sickeningly, seemingly won everybody’s sympathy from the media exploitation of her sickness –from her showstoppin’ Cancer Special, to her eight-weeks-to-live “fairy-tale” white(trash) wedding, to which she sold the rights to Ok! magazine for £700,000. (A  few months after Goody’s death, her previously-incarcerated Prince Charming was arrested yet again for an alleged sexual assault on a teenager. This may want to be excluded from the Disney version of the Jade Goody Story).

The debate raged as to whether Jade, being dumb as pig shit, was the victim of the media’s agressive manipulation of her, or whether Jade, being an unscrupulous media whore, was in fact the one doing the manipulating of her audiences. But whoever was pulling the strings, the result was the same–as her Guardian obituary put it:

The pig who deserved burning had become our sacrificial lamb, garnished with sentiment. Britain had turned 180 degrees to embrace a woman it had earlier scorned. Symbolically, at least, it was the right time for Goody to die.

–what someone on the BBC referred to, as I listened to Radio 4 while waiting for my chemo, as “the mythology of redemption.” Continue reading

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19 March 2009: Pre-treatment

Three days of relative normalcy before I’m due to begin chemo. I know they’ll skip by almost thoughtlessly, and in the weeks and months to come I’ll long for that sense of health. Yesterday the NHS treated me to a battery of tests–bone scan, MRI, CT scan, mammogram–endured with surprisingly few complicaitons and refreshingly good humour. I was in near tears with laughter in the MRI waiting room as two armed guards led in a handcuffed inmate on a metal lead, clanking his chain while I considered the questionnaire: “Do you have anything metal on or about your person?”

I went to the gym this morning for possibly the last time. I left feeling light, unburdened, capable, and came home to a delivery of cardboard boxes in which to pack and deliver my books, my life–a more complicated undertaking than I originally surmised.

More and more today I’ve doubted my decision to stay here. I still have two days to call it all off, I suppose. I’m riddled with guilt; I don’t deserve the support and kindness they’re extending me, and yet I’m taking it all anyway.

I will be trapped wherever I go.

Tomorrow I’ll cut my hair short–become grotesque in stages.

I’ve been able to sleep lately, but am constantly exhausted anyway. It’s been a week. I’ve surprised myself by hardly crying, by making arrangements, or moving toward making them. But I can’t anticipate how it will be to have my body, mind and emotions ruled by drugs. To be so removed from life.

Though I wonder whether anyone will actually notice a difference in my absence.

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12 February 2009: Waiting

Lately I’ve been terrified by the thought that I could die and no one would know for days. It’s the worst thing I can imagine–not death, but the emptiness, the absence in my life which would make my death so utterly inconsequential.

The NHS continues to disappoint. Still no word from the breast clinic I’ve been referred to. I’m starting not to care.

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28 January 2009: There is a lump in my breast and it increasingly defines me

I began this blog post treatment, but I kept a written journal during the worst of it. In an attempt to begin to synthesize the experience and give some sense of chronology, I’ve decided to begin writing up bits of that journal. I’ve split the blog into regular “uncategorized” current posts, and journal extracts as flashbacks, which I will post regularly.

I found the lump on January 25. Here is the first recorded reality of it. 

There is a lump in my breast and it increasingly defines me. Feeling it. Flashes of worry. Waiting for the possibility of an appointment with the NHS–first an appointment to re-register for a medical centre in Bayswater, then an ‘actual’ appointment–a distant prospect at this point. Three days and still waiting for news on the status of pre-registration application. It’s killing me–or will (morbid indeed).

Somehow I manage to allow the day to dwindle to this–five o’clock and staring out at other people’s unlit windows. The last two days have been a coma–in bed at eight, unable to sustain the awareness that must accompany being awake; sleeping through the alarm at six, getting up groggy and despairing at seven. Today more hopeful, a result of rain–there is always something comforting in it, snug in purple Wellingtons. Trotting across the park with an umbrella, feeling protected. And later, at school, with my new student ‘poorly’ and allowing me to get paid to sit with my own blissful silence–staring out the window in a cold room alone, entranced by the collection of water drops on the untouchable trees. Secret glimpses into an upstairs window. And of course feeling the hard grape growth in my body, wondering if I’m harbouring something poisonous.

Last night I dreamt I’d gone back to the US–realized myself there, like Dorothy, without my books and clothes and everything else left in England, without (I thought thankfully) even the memory of the painfulness of leaving, leaving K.

I consider again and again that scene; my guts wrench with it. I look around the space I inhabit and feel it, fear it: 1.) packing books into boxes and 2.) giving a knowing last kiss. I’m sick with it. Even moreso that he does not seem to consider it.

Desparate for consolation. No books offer it at the minute–dragging myself through As I Lay Dying, which for all its poetry screams very much like dying in my mind. Otherwise a terrible difficulty getting invested in The Adventures of Augie March, which I’ve been picking at piecemeal for some time, so that I cannot connect one page to the next. I rushed through This Side of Paradise in the space of 36 hours; I seem to be developing what must surely be a belated romance with Fitzgerald. I don’t know what it is about my literary development that suddently things to which I was once entirely indifferent consume me like fire.

As awhile ago, Yeats made me weep.

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the prime minister’s human shield of cancer patients

Every so often Gordon Brown sticks his head out of his hole with a promise between his teeth like a peanut.

“On cancer, Mr Brown said that the waiting time for women for the results of cervical screening tests would be cut from six weeks or more to a maximum of 14 days.

The age range for routine screening for women for breast cancer – currently 50 to 70 – will be extended to 47 to 73, bringing an extra 200,000 women a year into the programme.

Mr Brown said that the government would deliver on its manifesto commitment to ensure an appointment with a specialist within two weeks of referral for all patients with suspected breast problems. ”

So that’s a start I suppose.

I don’t think 200,000 women can cushion his career.

Sarah Brown’s charity seems impressive; despite the fact it sat right outside the hospital where I was treated, I never made use of it. I can’t exactly say why; there was something awkward in it for me. That it would make everything more real somehow — to have walk into anywhere and say the words hello, I have cancer.

[more’s the pity, cuz I missed the opportunity to have Michelle Obama make me tea]

And I had this sort of irrational fear they wouldn’t believe me. I barely believed it myself.

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I survived the NHS

I think I need to get this printed on a T-shirt and wear it around Western Pennsylvania.NHS

One of the things I am most dreading about my imminent return to the US is having to face the omnipresent Republican propaganda which, in absence of cogent analysis of the issue at hand, somehow makes continual recourse to the following tagline:

“If I lived in England, I’d be dead.”

I lived in England. I got breast cancer. I was treated. On the NHS. And am living to tell about it. Continue reading

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