What a strange feeling it is. Life goes on in the midst of death and it’s an unknown combination to try to juggle. I don’t know what we do. I don’t know about putting announcements in the paper or ordering flowers for the funeral. These are things done by the older generation and now I’m unwillingly becoming the older generation, I feel ill-equipped to deal with these things. Ask me about finding something online, a recipe, a book, buying a mattress and I’m your woman. All the rest is a foreign land to all of us. Me and my siblings. I speak to a florist who looks like she might be able to produce something nice for the funeral, judging by her website. The wreath I think may do the job looks good and as I start to give her the details, she says “Oh, there is a £6.99 delivery charge”. I said I thought the funeral directors, who are only round the corner, would come and collect them. “There’s still a delivery charge. We only do delivery”. What, even if someone comes in to collect them? “Yes, we only do delivery.” I feel that not only am I in uncharted waters but that I am entering a slightly surreal world. I decline her wreath with all of its stupid delivery charges and I’m back to the internet to search for something we like.
So the rest of life indeed continues with an invitation to speak at Macmillan’s Question Time at the House of Commons. I do not worry about it, I don’t even really think about it until I get the text from the taxi driver. The wait to get into the Commons is very short and I get straight through security with a slight hitch as they want to examine my pedometer. “Are you getting enough steps in?” one of the policemen asks. I explain we’re supposed to take 10,000 steps each day to keep healthy. He pulls a face. “Sounds an awful lot to me” but then if you stand on security at the Commons each day, I doubt if there is much walking going on. I am planning on meeting 2 friends at the event but somehow I am taken on a route which by-passes where they are waiting for me. While I sip coffee and nibble on Commons’ biscuits (very good, by the way), they sit in another room and it is only when I phone that we realise I am in a good place and they are missing out on the refreshments. They are soon with me, however, and we find seats, sip coffee and have a quick catch up before the session gets going.
I am asking a question about care for cancer patients in the light of the Francis report and the RCN saying we will be short of 100,000 nurses by 2020. Before I ask my question I respond to a comment made by David Dimbleby about psychological care. When I asked my (then) breast care nurse (since fired – by me) if I could see one of the oncology psychologists, she asked “Why?” I am pleased to see his jaw drop. One of the panel members dislikes my question and starts banging on about compassion and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not and that’s not what my question is about. I’m talking about the chemotherapy nurses who work their socks off and yet are always understaffed. Giving treatment that requires a plastic surgeon to be on standby in case any of it gets into the flesh or onto the skin and ensuring each toxin is given in the right dosage to the right person at the right time. Unable to get the right level of cover as they do their work, they smile, miss breaks and remember people from one appointment to the next, no matter how many weeks are in between. I’m talking about the struggle to see a lymphoedema nurse to combat increasing lymphoedema and how I find out this service is provided by Macmillan as is my new breast care nurse and my psychologist. So if funds are reduced further when a large part of care is already being taken up by the charity sector, then what? It’s a depressing picture but the debate was good. On the way out, someone suggests we take photos of ourselves in the lobby. There are no signs saying DON’T so we do! For some reason, one of our party who shall remain anonymous is obsessed with us becoming couple of the year on the cover of Viva! Whilst we snuggle up to each other in a variety of loving poses, we hear a police woman shout “No photographs!” so we stop and I realise it’s the second time this year I have been caught taking photos in places I shouldn’t. We are not taken to the Tower, at any rate, nor does Dave come down and give us a personal admonition. So, here for the very first time… that front page!