I’m very pleased to have Ella Ward on The Spike today. I “met” Ella on Instagram (not IRL because Ella lives in Australia) when she was social media-ing her way through some cancer treatment.
She has a background in advertising and came up with all these outrageous alternative cancer slogans on her feed like “NO, you can’t have my husband if I die,” and “I understand. You’re following me to see if it gets worse. Hey – me too!” and my personal favourite: “Please, tell me how your lifestyle protects you against illness… now I’m certain where I went wrong!”
Following a recent clear PET scan, (which I think is the has it/has it not worked post-chemo scan), I asked Ella to write us a little typically outrageous thing about the whole ordeal.
- People aren’t cruel. Sometimes, they’re just a bit stupid.
When you’re first diagnosed, you’ll come up against a range of responses. Some people will cry and fiercely grab hold of your elbows (it’s always the elbows). Others will become Florence Fucking Nightingale and decide they’re your ‘special cancer buddy’, when it’s clearly about gaining them more social traction in the school playground. These people aren’t mean. They aren’t doing it to upset you. They just don’t know any better.
Which is why you need to…
- … Use your Cancer Dog Whistle.
This is a fantastic tool that all cancer sufferers will deploy, whether they know it or not. Women are better at blowing it than men, because we’re schooled in the dark art of passive aggression.
You will use phrases, relate anecdotes and answer questions in the same language you want to flow back at you. Whether this is raw profanity or spiritually enlightened positivity, you’ll quickly weed out the people who aren’t on your page. Those who can’t cope with your approach will back right off. Your people? They’ll hunker down with you for the long haul.
- Now is not the time for kale.
Look. Your body is trying to kill you, and now you’re taking medicine that is trying to kill your body. It is not the time to become a spirulina-loving Goop-reader. You’ll have plenty of time to correctly balance out your diet, so for today live on crisps and Coke and whatever else your chemo appetite will allow you to keep down.
Just don’t tell the vegans.
- Humiliation is in the eye of the beholder
Regardless of your own special brand of cancer, there will be a moments that’ll have you lifting your eyes to the Gods of Embarrassment. One of mine included a jolly nurse slathering my nether regions in Vaseline then wrapping me up clingfilm like a roast chook. You can control what feels awkward. If you radiate shame, or embarrassment, or any other bullshit emotion – everyone else will pick up on it. Owning your treatment and the compromising positions it puts you in will chill everyone out, including you.
- You’ve been gifted the mother of all excuses.
This is a miraculous revelation. You literally never have to do anything, or go anywhere, ever again. It’s brilliant. Texts remains unanswered. Birthday drinks unvisited. Act like a jerk and no-one can do a thing about it.
- Hospital is not a bad place.
However, the one thing you sort of have to do is take your medicine. But that’s not bad either! In hospital you’re treated like a duchess. You’re cooked for, cleaned up after, you watch TV all day and people send you nice things. As a mother of a young child, my two weeks in hospital was as close as I’d come to a spa retreat – but with MUCH better drugs.
- There’s no clinical benefit to pain.
A nurse said this to me as she plunged a magnum of morphine into my stomach. She was right: there’s no prize for ‘toughing it out’. Your job is to fuck yourself up with cancer treatment, which means you can also fuck yourself up with clinically prescribed opiods. I’d always been a bit pissweak when it came to recreational drugs. Cancer was my time to shine.
- Yes, everyone’s sick of talking about it.
They’ll say they aren’t, but they are SO BORED of your cancer chat. Try and remember to throw the odd question about them into conversation. While they answer, it’ll give you time to tune out and think of the next piece of profound life wisdom you can share.
- Even if you’re going to die, you’re not going to die immediately.
Stop panicking about writing your memoirs and planning your funeral playlist. Don’t spend all your money on holidays and good booze, whilst eating like Mr Creosote … I did, and now we’re poor, I’m fat and no-one’s died yet.
- Grief hides in plain sight.
It’s a sneaky fucker. It’ll get you when you’re folding your kids’ socks and you remember you’re not having any more children, ever. And then you’re crying in the bedroom and shaking your proverbial fist at what makes this all so unfair. It’s OK. Do it, let the pain lift you up like a wave, and then watch it pass on by.
- Perspective doesn’t last.
You will be draped in a Magic Cancer Cloak from the moment you’re diagnosed. Wrap up tight. It provides you with a second sight that blasts through twenty first century middle-class bullshit and shows you what’s important. This is a cheats’ shortcut to Spiritual Enlightenment and you’ve got it! Relish as it reveals what truly matters: family, love, mid-winter sunshine on your face.
It’ll take a while, but when you’re squabbling with your husband over who’s bringing the Christmas pudding to lunch you’ll need to squint back to remember what real perspective felt like.
Ella Ward is an Aussie mum, wife, advertising boss lady and now (unfortunately) one of Those Cancer People. She’s currently oversharing on Instagram @_msellabella … come say hi!