Why I love my husband

I fessed up to DH this week how worried I was about various aches and pains in my back, ribs, abdomen and hips. He made me say it: I’m scared the cancer has or will come back. I don’t know where, or how, but that’s my vague, nebulous, all-pervading fear. I’m probably healthier than the rest of you put together, in fact, but terror is a powerful thing and it twists every thought and sensation into ugly shapes.

And after blanching and taking a deep, ragged breath, he put his hands on my shoulders and looked down into my eyes and said: ‘Pinchy, you are exhausted. You have not stopped this summer. Get some sleep, keep off the booze for a bit, get back into a routine with school and work, and see how you feel. If you’re still concerned in 10 days, go to the doc.’

Wow. So that’s why I married him. That’s why we’re still together after 22 years and 12 rollercoastery years of marriage. That’s why he’s my best friend and my rock and why I love him very deeply despite our occasional off-the-scale rows and frequent miscommunication. He takes the piss out of me constantly; he annoys me in a million tiny ways (wet towels, dirty socks left by the sofa, loading the dishwasher wrongly, tuning me out when he is on his Blackberry, the usual);  he worries about things that to me seem inconsequential, and is infamous for sometimes being moody, anti-social and monosyllabic. But put the man in a crisis – or the threat of one – and he can be a frickin’ hero.

My boy at the summer party – a rare smiley photo!

He says the right things. He remains calm and rational. He can be astonishingly wise. He is kind. He tries to look after me, when I let him. He listens. I fell in love with him when I was 15 because he made me laugh, and was tall and strong with floppy blonde hair and outlandish sartorial taste. He still makes me laugh now the hair is almost disparu, and although he has replaced tartan trousers with the Surrey Dad uniform of Superdry, Crew, Ralph Lauren and Joules, he does still look adorably eccentric in his lycra cycling get-up. He is an extremely capable, involved and loving father to DS and DD, and knows when I have officially Had Enough and whisks them off to the park for an hour so I can ‘re-group’.

He’s the only person on the planet who sees the very worst of me, and yet he still loves me in all ways to the absolute best of his ability. He writes notes in birthday and Christmas cards that make me cry. I take him completely for granted, most of the time. But the spontaneous little leap of happiness in my heart when I see him turn into the drive in his car or bicycle at 7pm says it all. I’ll inevitably be snapping at him five minutes later, but that’s tired working parents for you. We’ve been together a very, very long time, since school, and not having him around would be like losing a limb (though as the Paralympics has shown, that’s not necessarily the end of the world these days ;-)). I can’t say that I’ve never looked at another man in all those years and I can’t say I don’t enjoy a bit of flirting. I can’t say I haven’t thought – as I’m sure he has – that our marriage has been challenging. But I wouldn’t be without him for all the Earl Grey in the Home Counties.

And, annoyingly, he is right: this summer has been exhausting. Memorable and wonderful, but really quite tiring. The last day of term was a whirl of watching the Olympic torch and a very champagne-fuelled hen do, immediately followed by a few days en famille on the Isle of Wight, glamping at Tom’s Eco Lodge during that heatwave we had at the end of July. I was relaxed and happy from the moment we got on the ferry, and the kiddies adored every second of it, from running feral in the woods with other campers’ children, to swimming in the surprisingly warm English sea. DD hadn’t believed there was such a thing as a beach in Britain (mummy fail…) so being with them for the whole collecting shells/rock pools/sand castles/ice-cream thing was even more magical than our trip to Disneyland Paris last summer. We accidentally saw the Queen on her trip to Cowes, had a boiling hot afternoon at Robin Hill Park, met up with my gorgeous sis and her best friend and their broods for some paddling, and all ate together in the evening after firing up the wood burner. There was no telly, and no internet access, and it was bliss.

‘Roughing it’ on the Isle de Blanc.

Then there were the Three August Birthdays. My beautiful DD’s 6th was a lovely, giggly day at Build-A-Bear Workshop and Pizza Express. For my 39th, DH presented me with a guitar, sketchbook and fencing lesson. He had clearly been sneaking a look at my bucket list – he always buys me the most thoughtful, generous presents. And, thrillingly, my best friends S&J treated us to Derren Brown tickets on my birthday, which also happens to be their anniversary. And what a perfect surprise it was to see them on the station platform and to have champagne and pre-theatre supper at Christopher’s  in Covent Garden together before the best evening’s entertainment ever. (Still can’t work out how he did it…) And for my cheeky DS’s 4th birthday, lunch at Jamie’s and a trip to see Brave at the cinema with his little chums.

Not to mention the Big Fat Summer Party, our combined birthday party, which I’d been planning for months. This involved: around 60 of my favourite grown-ups and children chillaxing in our garden on picnic blankets; a gorgeous hot day; a gazebo;  great tunes; groaning tables of yummy food and cold beverages; a bouncy castle; a face painter; children’s entertainers and ‘movie time’ for the kids with popcorn, so the adults had plenty of child-free time. That took some organising, and although I’m glad I was hosting because it was all exactly how I wanted it (control freakery), I would have liked to have been able to hang out with everyone too.

And between all of this was a big work project, DS finishing pre-school, a trip to London with DD and her best friend to see the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and eat ice cream on a lion in Trafalgar Square, and a week of one-to-one swimming lessons. Almost zero time to myself, to catch my breath. I thought there would be more time for just doing bugger all and more laid-back playdates with old friends this summer, but it’s amazing how quickly you can fill up six weeks of ‘free’ time.

We finished the summer with a week in the Cotswolds, staying in one of the stunning modern glass-backed houses set around lakes at Lower Mill Estate. Best friends in another house round the corner, lots of swimming in the indoor pool, spa treatments, kids scooting around in safety, days out in beautiful countryside (loved Bourton-on-the-Water, which was NOT anything like Venice, as advertised, but did have a great model village which featured itself many times over, getting smaller and smaller, like something from Borges). The week also notably featured too many heavily-salted prawn cocktail snacks, and an awful lot of wine. Us five adults basically pickled ourselves for a week in sauvignon blanc and malbec. It was our 12 year anniversary while we were there and we went out for supper a deux, though we managed to have a couple of blazing drunken rows during the week. And towards the last day of the holidays all the twinges and anxiety I had back in June and July reappeared. Too much wine, too little quality sleep, too much going on, too much emotional turmoil. It is possible to have too much fun, it transpires.

Crazy kids at Bourton-on-the-Water. Not Venice.

So I have Taken Action. Plan Pinchy is thus: Sobriety, Sleep, School. I am on day 5 with no alcohol and committing to a Dry September. (I KNOW! Totally unlike me. I hope that didn’t make you spit your tea out.) It’s the first time for months that I’ve gone for more than a day without a nice glass of something but, weirdly, am not missing it at all. So far. I’ve been taking all my supplements, including the powerful anti-cancer ones: carotenoids, Indole-3 carbinol, turmeric. I have a kinesiology appointment coming up, and a session with my health creation mentor. I am going for a walk every night, chanting affirmations like the mad crazy-haired middle-aged woman I am. I am trying to go to bed early, though I am still having difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, and waking up in the morning. Nytol doesn’t help: I am like sodding Rasputin, nothing knocks me out.

Tomorrow DS starts school (of which more very soon), DD goes up to Year 2, and I get back to editing in silence at my desk overlooking my monkey puzzle tree. And at the end of next week, if I don’t have more energy, less discomfort, smaller bags under my eyes and a bigger smile on my face, hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to the GP I go. Holding DH’s big old paw very tightly.

How to be good

Some years ago, I read a book by Nick Hornby called ‘How to Be Good’.  (Amazon tells me I purchased it on 11 June 2002, to be precise.) The blurb: ‘According to her own complex moral calculations, Katie Carr has earned her affair. She’s a doctor, after all, and doctors are decent people, and on top of that, her husband David is the self-styled Angriest Man in Holloway. But when David suddenly becomes good – properly, maddeningly, give-away-all-his-money good – Katie’s sums no longer add up, and she is forced to ask herself some very hard questions. Nick Hornby’s brilliant new novel offers a painfully funny account of modern marriage and parenthood, and asks that most difficult of questions: what does it mean to be good?’

I remembered the story this week when I was thinking about how deeply I am striving, post-caaancer, to be a good person. To lead a ‘good’ life. Which is not about giving my spare room to a homeless person, because it’s also my office and that just wouldn’t, y’know, work. For me, being good means: being kind, giving and receiving love, maintaining mental and emotional equilibrium, going with the flow, being true and genuine, being faithful, being in the moment, choosing to fill my life with joy, forgiving myself and others, responding rather than reacting, listening, paying attention to my inner wisdom, looking after my body, being there for my friends and family, achieving my potential, being cheerful.

And not: spending waaay much time in my head, being something of a fantasist, procrastinating, being angry, cold, and hard, withholding love, shouting, being impatient, wallowing in intermittent Black Dog days, being lazy, being resentful, trying to control everyone and everything, taking no exercise, drinking unhealthy levels of wine, worrying about what everyone thinks of me, spending too much time on social media instead of playing with the children, not supporting others, being too busy for the people I love and care about, not smiling, being absent, feeling guilty, being utterly selfish. Being horrible to DH, mean to my precious babies, critical about everyone.

I am all those things, and more. Trying to Be Good requires a monumental shift in the way I am in the world. Often, I don’t think I am a very nice person. People who don’t know me well may think I’m delightful, because I’ve only ever been polite and funny and sweet to them, or they may despise me, like the poor postman whose head I bit off recently. But I know I have the potential – and certainly the desire – to be a better, kinder, gentler, more authentic, more loving and lovable human being. Connecting with the pure love and light at the centre of my being: that sort of thing.

There’s a coaching exercise called ‘Eighty Today’ where you imagine you are 80 years old, and consider what you would like your friends, partner, children, colleagues to say about you as you near the end of your life. It’s basically the same as fantasising about what people are saying at your funeral, though less morbid. I have to say, with my literary proclivities, I quite like the Gothic aspect of imagining everyone in black crepe talking in muted tones at my woodland burial, over the strains of Mumford & Sons’ ‘After the Storm’ between the oak trees, about what a bloody marvellous chap I was. No-one wants, Scrooge-style, to be thought of as not a terribly nice person to have around. I don’t want the people I love deeply (but don’t always show it), to be shouting gleefully: ‘Thank goodness that miserable old bat has shuffled off her mortal coil, let’s have a partay!’

But there’s a motivation to Being Good that is far, far more important than what everything thinks of me when I’m old, or dead, or both. It’s my belief – I might even say my knowledge – that the physical body, the emotions, and one’s thoughts are interconnected so closely that you cannot separate out what’s going on in your head and your heart from what happens in your body. My body expresses or manifests everything that I think and feel. I’ve written before about my lack of surprise at being diagnosed with breast cancer, precisely for this reason. There’s no blame attached to this, by the way: I don’t think it’s my ‘fault’, I just understand that it was inevitable. According to Louise L Hay, cancer is always connected with deep anger and resentment, often directed at oneself. Every physical dis-ease or ailment is connected to a thought pattern. Identifying and releasing those old patterns of thinking and being, and replacing them (through tools such as affirmations) with something healthier, can help to heal. If holistic stuff isn’t your bag, this probably sounds bonkers, but even Western doctors accept that numerous physical conditions, ranging from digestive and skin disorders to stroke and heart attacks, are rooted in emotional disturbance or ‘stress’.

And so Being Good could mean the difference between life and death, for me. Post-cancer existence is like being in a post-apocalyptic territory. Every familiar feature of the landscape has shifted. Finding a new reality is hard, and painful, and fraught with wrong turns. I am acutely aware of the need to make the right choices about what I think and feel and how I behave, because I really, really don’t want to go to the Badlands of Cancerville again. And as I said in June, every ache and pain and twinge in my body and bones makes me scared shitless that I have secondaries lurking somewhere. Perhaps this is just about the illusion of control, but I know I feel so much better when I am calm, and sober, and have plenty of sleep, and eat well, and get fresh air, and laugh, and am kind and loving to everyone, especially me.

Perhaps it’s not about battling to change completely, though. I Am, as Birley Shassey belted out, What I Am. Perhaps it’s simply about being a Good Enough person, like childcare guru Donald Winnicott’s concept of the Good Enough Mother. Not trying to be perfect, because it’s impossible and you set yourself up to fail, creating a vicious circle. But being a little bit kinder, a little bit more cheerful, a little bit more chilled, a little bit healthier, a little bit more forgiving. As my health creation mentor Kit once wisely remarked to me, ‘Having cancer doesn’t turn you into a Saint’.

(Or Greavsie.)