Winging It: Shakespeare, Cancer, & Me

The British solution when a cuppa just won't do it.

The British solution, when a cuppa simply won’t do.

“Billy said it better.” – “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window”, Lorraine Hainsbury

… but Billy’s not here, having shuffled off this mortal coil 400 years ago on Saturday (23 April), on the same date as his birth, 53 years earlier.

The plan was to write a blog about how I saw the great Kenneth Branagh as Richard III for 50p – yes, only 50 honest British pennies! – in 2001, at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. (1) That pips at the post – if only just – seeing David Tennant as Hamlet in an RSC production which also featured Patrick Stewart as Claudius. That, in turn, only just surpasses seeing the wonder that is Derek Jacobi as Prospero in The Tempest, also at the Crucible. I’ve been a big fan of Jacobi’s ever since I first saw him in I, Claudius. (2)

Instead, I’m writing about cancer, and me.

That last is a sentence I honestly never anticipated writing. A few days after being told I have early stage breast cancer, I’m still telling myself things like, “They didn’t really say cancer. I’m just imagining that”, or “It’s only early stage – that’s not really cancer.”

No one knows what the hell they’re doing, everyone is winging it.” – Armando Iannucci, Scottish writer, director & producer (attributed)

It turns that most irritating of greetings, “How are you?” into even more of a dilemma. Do I answer truthfully? So far, the answer is “Sometimes.”

Yet here I am, blogging about it.

This is probably not the best time to read Plath.

This is probably not the best time to start reading Plath.


Writing is how I try to get my head round things. And my head – witness the anxiety & depression filled and fueled wheeze that was February & March – has a justifiably poor  reputation for reliability.

Maybe it’s that phrase “early stage”. I am far less concerned about becoming seriously physically ill, let alone buying the farm, than going round the twist. After all, the twist & I are old companions, if not pals. I know that bipolar bend like the back of my hand: better, in fact, since I seldom stare at the back of my hands.

I have enough hobbies.

Incidentally, the small hillock of pamphlets and papers which the breast cancer clinic folks – who, by the way, were lovely – provided with me includes a piece of pink paper with a picture of boobies on it. Because, after all, I don’t know what boobies look like.

I haven’t seen a sketch like that since 6th grade. Or, for that matter, much pink paper.

The first hour or so after getting back from the clinic – having of course first made a brew – were spent filling my diary with dates for such things as another biopsy (because the first one was super fun), a “wire insertion”, and day surgery. Plus, of course, who I needed to tell about what (eg, this employer about that date, the other about the other). I was disappointed to discover that my radiotherapy sessions will mean I can’t give blood anymore.

I’ve had over 56 years of a comparatively healthy body. Plus, “early” stage. Meaning I needn’t worry about hurling on the train and bus back from my radiotherapy appointments. I may fall asleep, but what’s the worst than can happen?

Not even Cleethorpes. (It’s the opposite direction.)

Minerva looking over a city centre street, York, 2015.

Minerva looking over a city centre street: York, 2015.

(1) So much more than a venue for the annual snooker competition.
(2) Had I known that Derek Jacobi would later play The Master in Doctor Who, my head would have probably have exploded. (3)
(3) Speaking of Doctor Who, what do you make of the new companion, Bill? I think she’s Ace: not literally, of course, but she did remind me slightly of her. Also, even more strongly, Donna.

Tagged: bipolar, breast cancer, Britain, Cancer, custard, Doctor Who, Kenneth Branagh, mental health, Shakespeare, tea

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