I’m home from a weekend in London where, with the help of wonderful friends and a small wheelie suitcase I celebrated the end of chemo by taking a few baby steps back into the world beyond Brighton hospital clinics – and a big breath of freedom before my operation on Dec 6th. Thanks to the success of my chemotherapy cycles, during which my tumour disappeared, this will be minor day surgery on my lymph nodes, but still, my first time under the knife: I will be spending the next couple of weeks mentally and physically building calm strength.
The weekend was a great start in that direction. Saturday night I saw the musical ‘A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer’ at the National Theatre. A musical about cancer, featuring dance numbers with people dressed up as tumours in weird glitzy knitted costumes . . . what an outlandish idea, but it so worked! Also featuring interwoven true stories by turns touching, humorous, sinister, heartbreaking; tunes ranging from funkadelic to country to tap dance; a set that developed cancer as the show went on; and a script that took big risks with the ‘fourth wall’, the show’s proof of success was the unembarrassed audience participation at the end, creating the palpable atmosphere of a shared deeply personal experience.
Add to this a diverse cast, with three women of colour, two white working class male characters, several female doctors, and a small actor whose height became an integral part of some stunning choreography, and this radical musical firmly occupied places far more theatre ought to be going – challenging cultural narratives as much as exploring individual stories. My one main wish was for more script and shorter songs, as the character conflicts came alive most for me through dialogue. But overall, riveting – my three friends who have seen both all rated it higher than the current King Lear. (With the caveat that Glenda Jackson herself was phenomenal – I so wish I’d been able to see that show too!) Highly recommended, though if you can’t afford to go, but you’re on the South Bank while it’s running, do pop into the Dorfman Theatre lobby and watch the moving and informative video interviews (subtitled) with the cast, creators, researchers and real-life people the characters are based on.
I’m still tired and weak, so didn’t race around galleries. The rest of the weekend was spent being pampered by friends in cosy homes, catching up on poetry, travels and the state of the world. Although I haven’t been participating in online discussions lately, naturally I’ve been thinking a lot about the giant steps the world is suddenly, rapidly taking toward fascism. In my last blog, I celebrated the loving kindness I’ve been shown by so many people during my alchemical treatment by posting an image of a Rose Window by another Toronto friend, stained glass artist worker John Wilcox. You might think I’m understandably looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses – but in fact my experience being ill is leading me to believe the opposite: that when we lead from the heart, and put ourselves in the service of beauty and healing, we create powerful collective resistance to the sickness that is violent intolerance of any kind. Thinking about it further this evening I realised that fighting the world’s current slide into fascism and healing cancer both require determined and organised commitments to:
1) challenging corporations that poison the planet with dangerous chemicals
2) ensuring safe food (organic plants and well-treated animals)
3) making that food affordable (economic justice)
4) priority public spending on health and education, with strong awareness of how some socioeconomic groups are more vulnerable to disease. Black British women, for example, are twice as likely to die of breast cancer than white women, mostly for reasons of late diagnosis, so public health education needs to be better at reaching these women.
5) valuing every single person as an individual with sovereign rights over his or her own body
6) gratitude for the gifts we all – scientists, cooks, exercise boffins, artists, thinkers, mystics – bring to the table.
Well, I guess that’s my 2017 cut out for me then! Oh, and maybe some knitting and tap dance lessons too . . .