Archives For Union Chapel

The 12th of February.

Where to begin? I have been reluctant to start this because I feel like it might dilute the memory or I’ll forget stuff.

The journey down was nice and straightforward. The chap was even there with the ramp when we arrived at Euston! We got a taxi to Jen’s in Highgate, where I was going to try on fun clothes in order to find an outfit for the show. I was shown into a little room, one wall full of clothes, one full of shoes, plus a rack of dresses, the floor covered in more shoes and bags and jewellery behind me. First I picked some favourites to try one, because I had to be selective. I looked at four or five in the end, but eventually decided that the first one I’d worn was the best. A navy blue midi dress from Libelula covered in sequins with pink piping, plus some Nadia Vodianova shoes and massive clip on earrings and a two-finger ring. I left with a promise to leave it at the hotel reception in the morning.

We had lunch at the nearby Cafe Rouge (saw so many good dogs), then another taxi to the hotel. When checking in, we each were given a fresh warm cookie, which I ate on my bed very messily. Unpacked, then collected what we needed for the show. Next stop, Union Chapel!

When we arrived, we rang a buzzer and were met by Bea, who works the evening shows. She showed us the backstage/dressing rooms, the facilities, and of course the chapel itself. They had built me a massive ramp to get onto the stage, and I met the sound guys so handed over my old iPhone, plus the cable and power pack.

There was no point going back to the hotel, so I sent Mommy and Daddy to get coffee, then it wasn’t long before the Anthony Nolan team and Christine arrived (separately). I finally met Lucy, then she and her colleagues set up all their tables and banners, and I got changed into my spangly dress. I had a practise run up the ramp, then got talking to lot of Anthony Nolan volunteers, remembering some from previous events. Then the doors opened and it was time to meet my public! For a while, I just watched strangers coming in which was brilliant because they weren’t obliged to come, they were just supporting the cause. Then I started seeing people I knew, like Emmer, Charlie, Denise, Amy, Joy, Lauren and Hannah. Mark and Shereen came over and I gave him a huge hug. I’m so glad he could come. Acaster arrived, then Suzi and Flick, and I went backstage with them. Soon Nish appeared, and before long, it was time to start the show! First up, aside from our lovely host, we had James, during whom Sara arrived, and then Felicity. Nish then introduced me, and I drove up (nearly off) the ramp onto the stage, giving a royal wave. The cheer was immense, and I had to tell them to stop because I was going to cry. I said most of what I’d planned, plus I gave Mark a shout out because he deserves to know what a hero he is. In hindsight, there are things I wish I’d said, but no matter. Everyone said I did really well, and I was happy.

In the interval, I gave Josh the bear for his baby, and met the Anthony Nolan patients who’d come backstage and lots of photos were taken. Josh opened the second half, followed by Suzi and Sara. Everyone was brilliant, it went better than I could have hoped. I said goodbye to the people who had waited at the end, and Nish, Sara and Suzi.

So many hugs. And it was all over. I put my socks and boots back on, and we made our way back to the hotel. Pyjamas, Graham Norton, wind down, bed.

The 13th of February.

I didn’t fall asleep until about three, and woke up at seven. Made myself a cup of tea, and got everything packed back up. I left the garment bag for Jen at reception, then we had coffee next door at Saint Espresso. Breakfast was required, and as it was pancake day, we went to The Diner nearby. We went past The Breakfast Club and its huge queue, but found The Diner nice and quiet, where I had buttermilk pancakes with bacon, maple syrup and whipped honey butter. So good, but I couldn’t finish them.

A last cab back to Euston, where I got another coffee, and we trundled home. This afternoon, I have put all my warm clothes on, curled up in my armchair. So happy.

 

The 10th of February.

Woke up at 6. Let’s be honest, I’m probably not going to have a good sleep until maybe Tuesday night at the earliest? My mind might not be feeling nervous but my body obviously is. I know this because this morning we were talking about nothing in particular yet I nearly burst into tears. Clearly I am not as relaxed as I think I am.

Progress on the photo library bollocks is minimal. It has taken almost the entire day for it to repair, then I tried to be clever to sort them more efficiently but that backfired, so I’ve left it doing something the very slow and tedious way. Be back to it tomorrow.

I have, however, planned what I’m going to say. I’ve decided to keep it short, because nobody wants to hear me wang on for ages and get emotional. After that, I crocheted the monster scarf and watched The Blacklist. Now rugby, dinner, bed.

The 11th of February.

We have sold out.

I couldn’t belive my eyes when I saw the email this morning. I would have screamed, but I was in the bathroom and didn’t want to cause concern. I settled for not being able to stop smiling for a good hour. Unbelievable.

It’s been rather a calm day, to contrast the hectic stress-fest that will be tomorrow. I finally set the computer to do its photo exporting task and have been checking it periodically. I think it will be done by bedtime.

I tried on a dress I’m taking with me in case the thing with Jen falls through, just to check it still fitted, and got out everything I can pack before the morning. Got a list for before we go out. Convinced I will forget something crucial.

I finished the giant chunky scarf, and it will certainly keep me warm when I require it. It’s really heavy! Then I watched some more of The Blacklist, just trying not to think about everything. I don’t think I’ll sleep much tonight. 

Today is World Cancer Day. This time ten years ago, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’d been diagnosed with leukaemia the summer before, and had made it through three rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant relatively easily. I had very few of the horrific side effects, and thought I’d got away with it. I didn’t know that in fact, my cancer story was just beginning.

I’ve told my tale enough times for it to seem superfluous now. Leukaemia, stem cell transplant, relapse, stem cell transplant, graft vs. host disease, liver failure, liver and accidental stem cell transplant, photopheresis, biliary reconstruction, sepsis, pulmonary embolism, collapsed lung, pneumonia. And that’s just the bare bones of it.

Anthony Nolan found my second stem cell donor. Without them and him, my transplant would not have gone the same way, my body would not have reacted in the same way, and my liver and third stem cell transplants would not have happened. I would almost certainly not be here. Not only did they find me a donor, but they have been a continued source of support after my transplants.

In 2016, their Patient Services Team offered me the opportunity to become a Young Ambassador for them, a role in which I am able to use my experience to benefit other people who will receive transplants in the future. My goal is for nobody receiving a stem cell transplant to have to go through what I have, because although I am still here, it has by no means been easy. I have survived, but at times it has felt like that is all, and to really live is something just out of reach. We all deserve the chance to live.

I am not ashamed to say that sometimes it is very difficult. It is no secret that people with chronic illnesses can struggle with depression, and prior to working with Anthony Nolan, I was beginning to feel like despite doing my best to raise awareness, I was not having much impact, and I could not see a purpose for the life I had. I did not feel the world would notice if I stopped. But now I do. Maybe not the entire world, I am not quite so egotistical to think that, but since I started working with Anthony Nolan, I feel like I have been able to make more of a difference, most of all when I have been with them to parliament to speak to people who can really force change for the way stem cell transplant patients are treated in this country. So not only did Anthony Nolan give me a chance at life, but they gave me a reason to live.

A lot has changed in the past decade. When this all started, I was a teenager, completely self-involved yet oblivious to the fact that I was harbouring a fatal disease. Now, I’m still self-involved, but more out of necessity than narcissism, and only too aware of every horror occurring in the wider world. I would say that is partly down to the technological leaps made in the last ten years (for example, I had a flip phone back then), but also due to my personal growth. I’d say it’s almost impossible to confront your own mortality and not be changed by it.

Most immediately, I learned to appreciate my family. Nothing says I love you like a mother who will get up to turn you over in the night when you’ve lost all your muscle mass, a sister who will donate her own stem cells to try to save your life, and a father who continues to work to support a household alone and spend every minute he can with you too.

I’ve also learned a lot about grief. When you become a cancer patient, you become intimately acquainted with it. I have been to more funerals of friends than I can count, and that is something usually said by people sixty years my senior. It doesn’t get easier. It never hurts any less. Even when you know it is coming, you can try to prepare yourself, but you are never ready. Last year I lost a friend I truly loved and the world is a darker place without him, but I am trying to use each day to make him proud and I am so grateful to have known him, even though grief is the price I pay for the privilege.

And I am have grieved for myself. This is not the life I planned, expected, or hoped for. I have lost people I never got to know – the partner I might have loved, the children we could have had. It was a choice I had to make: lose them, or be lost. I wasn’t ready to leave, so I chose the sacrifice.

For all of it, I think I am lucky. I am loved and have people to love; I have enough bodily function to get by, and to enjoy the things in life I like; I know what is important, and who will be with me until the end of the line. For the most part, I am comfortable, and I am happy. It is not our circumstances that make us what we are, but our choices. I choose to celebrate the life that I have, rather than mourn for what I do not. In a week’s time, I am hosting a night of comedy called Still Standing at Union Chapel with my incredible friends Nish Kumar, Suzi Ruffell, Josh Widdicombe and Sara Pascoe in order to raise money for Anthony Nolan and remember how wonderful life can be. Tickets are available from the Union Chapel website here.

 

The 7th of December.

FINALLY I can announce the secret exciting event I’ve been working on for months: I am hosting a comedy show at Union Chapel on 12th February next year to celebrate being alive ten years after my diagnosis with Nish, Suzi, Josh, Sara and hopefully we can rope in a couple more to round off the bill. It’s called Still Standing and you can get tickets here.

This morning, I got a blog post done, then made a call to Chapel to find out when the tickets would go on sale. I had to pay the deposit first, so I got them to send over the invoice so I could get the thing on sale!

Once I had paid, I had to just sit and wait for the link to appear online, so I did Christmas crochet while periodically checking the Union Chapel website/my email. It appeared about half three, so since then I have been generally all over the social media, promoting the shit out of it. I will continue to do so until I have sold all the tickets, and there are a lot!

I am beyond excited. I just really hope it’s a success!

The 8th of December.

I had forgotten it was supposed to snow, so the white blanket covering my garden this morning was a lovely surprise. I would have liked to have put on my knitted Christmas trousers to keep cosy, but I know the kittens would tear them to shreds and I can’t have that, so it was fleecy velvet leggings instead.

My main objective today has been to finish my Christmas shopping. I had only three more items to get, but it’s taken me all day to decide on them. Admittedly I did stop for lunch and to wash my hair, and that took a while because my lip balm rolled under the bed. I spent a good ten minutes swiping a hanger around to try to retrieve it, but to no avail. It’s a good thing I had three spares in my drawer.

I also took a shopping break to work on Mommy’s present because she and Daddy went to get a Christmas tree and logs for the fire, although she did walk in while I was squirrelling it away. Hopefully she didn’t see what it is.

Now I just have to decide on a wrapping theme!