This month my good friend Jackie Buxton – Author of ‘Tea and Chemo’ and ‘Glass houses’ agreed to open herself up to our questions below:
- If you could go on a run with a group of people alive or passed, who would you choose and why?
- Michelle Obama: I love her attitude and I don’t think we’d run out of things to say! And she can do a three minute plank – I think I’d have my work cut out keeping up.
- Bruce Forsyth: terrifically talented, hard-working, massive ball of energy. I’d love to know what he thought of this place before he left.
- Kofi Annan: Just the sound of his voice could calm a world, if we all listened. The world is a poorer place without him.
- Russell Howard: funny guy and you’ve gotta love a man who makes a brilliantly inspiring and utterly hilarious programme from good news. Pleasing on the eye, too.
- Can you name a person who has had an instant impact on you? Why & how did they impact your life?
In my twenties, I worked with a young man who had severe cerebral palsy. His attitude to his disabilities, which were many and varied, was inspirational. He taught me that it’s all about perspective. We can’t change some things, but we absolutely can influence how we choose to let them impact us.
- How do you keep yourself motivated?
I stole a motto from the opening credits of Cold Feet many years ago: Life’s a journey, travel it well! And I really believe that. It isn’t about the end point, it’s about living every second along the way. I try to fill every minute and I have too much I need to do, too much I want to do and too many people I want to spend time with, to ever sit down and say I can’t be bothered.
I’ve always lived more in the moment, a little in the future and never in the past – there is nothing to be gained from regrets and bitterness. I have my dreams and if I ever have a moment of thinking that fitting in writing my next book is just too difficult (I do get tired of knowing that if I ever have a minute spare, I must squeeze some writing into it) I quickly go to imagining not finishing the book and the prospect of that is much worse. That motivates me to pick up my pen, and I think I transfer that to the rest of life, too.
- When you were diagnosed with secondary cancer how did you make peace with the situation?
Two things came into play and the first was, ‘time’. I think the brain, together with the human condition, is amazing at managing to adjust to new situations. I have learnt through the death of my boyfriend when he was only 17, my now fabulously healthy 18 year old daughter when she had a stroke at 15 months old, through my primary diagnosis and then the secondary, and I’m sure from the smaller stuff along the way, that even when you are faced with your absolute worst fear, time helps you find a place from which you can deal with it, with wobbles of course, but at least for most of the time. Because I know this from experience, even though it’s hard to imagine in the early days of these pretty dire situations, I can calm myself that things will get easier.
My second answer is peculiar to secondary cancer. It’s a new strategy and it’s one of, ‘denial’. I’m not sure it’s particularly ‘text book’ but you know, it works for me and if it ever stops working, then we’ll try something else. I just don’t believe this disease is going to get me, not in the foreseeable future anyway. I believe that we are on the cusp of great breakthroughs in cancer treatment, indeed, some are already here in the form of immunotherapy. They are in their infancy and are at best, not reliable yet. But they are coming. I just hope that all of us can stay alive long enough for secondary cancer to become a treatable, chronic disease, rather than a terminal one.
- When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I was always a scribbler. I have a shelf full of hard-backed diaries written between the age of 13 and 23 and I recognised fairly early on that writing a diary was 1. enjoyable and 2. cathartic. More specifically, I think my ‘new style’ English Language O-level with its twelve assignments, or rather, twelve stories written over a year, was the defining factor, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. I’d always been a bit of a swot at school (!) but still, I remember being surprised that I could love a subject quite so much. I was so, so disappointed when there was no English Language A-level option to go on to, but I guess the seed had been sub-consciously sewn by then. Instead I studied languages moving on to work in charity PR and Fundraising, which I really enjoyed and which involved lots of different forms of writing, but I had the itch to write fiction, resistance was futile, and it became my mission to create the opportunity to scratch this fiction writing itch.
- Where do you find the inspiration/ideas for your storylines?
Hmmm, everywhere really! It can be a bizarre situation, something quirky, sad or disturbing in the news, or even just something someone says or does and my brain goes into story mode, asking, ‘what if…?’ If I have the gem of an idea and can get excited about it, the first thing I do is try to trace it to the end, see if I can picture an end point, end of the journey. If I can’t, then I don’t pursue it. If I can, I become all-consumed with it.
- What has been one of the most defining moments in your life?
It’s probably a couple of moments, both when our daughter had her stroke. My hubbie was at home looking after our eldest, also only two and a half, whilst I was at A&E with our baby. When the seriousness of the situation was dawning (I’d taken her in for what seemed like a totally unexplainable broken arm, which we then learnt was the beginning of the paralysis which would take over the entire right side of her body over the course of the next few hours) I asked the nurses if I could call the hubbie. Mobile phones were in their infancy and although I’d taken the phone-for-emergencies we shared, nobody would ever have used their phone in hospital. Funny how things change, huh! After taking our eldest to wonderful friends for the night, hubbie raced to hospital. Our poorly, lifeless baby in my arms, I remember him walking in to our cubicle and I had an amazing feeling of calm. I knew that together, we could deal with this. It was hugely empowering.
The second was a few days later. Our baby had entered a new world – I should say at this point that she is a fabulously healthy, unswervingly happy and capable eighteen year old now – but back then, it was all about rehabilitation. Our ambitions for her went as far as being capable enough to attend school. I remember her ‘big’ sister holding her hand as she sat slumped in her pram, with one side of her mouth smiling, the other drooped. Our two and a half year old took it upon herself to teach her to smile properly again. She just kept smiling and frowning and clearly making her little sister laugh, even though her stroke-affected face didn’t reflect that. And then she did it. Right there in the high dependency unit of Leeds General Infirmary, our poorly baby smiled, her whole face smiled and it was against all odds at this early stage in her recovery. I remember the joy from all four of us and again, I remember this feeling of calm rush over me, that it would all be ok. Nobody’s love for her had changed at all so we could, and would, cope with anything. We were all in this together, our little family, and that nothing else really mattered.
It’s ironic saying this now as actually, our reality isn’t that different to how it might have been, but I guess it gets back to the point that if you can find a way to cope with what’s happening to you at that moment, that’s all you need to inch forward.
- If you could only keep 5 possessions what would they be and why?
- trainers: so I can run
- kettle: so I can always have a cup of tea
- grass engagement ring: made by my then hubbie-to-be and still survives to this day 21 years later… (not on my finger, I hasten to add, he did replace it with a sturdier one!!)
- my hearing aids: I can’t function without them
- pen and endless supply of paper (if that’s not allowed: my iPad).
- If you could witness any event of the past, present or future, what would it be?
The very, very beginning! I just don’t get it and it’s always bugged me, even as a child (and one not remotely interested in physics): before something there was nothing, but how can something come from nothing? Where did the nothing come from? I want to go back to the ‘nothing’ and come back and tell you all how the impossible became possible. Clear as mud, I know…
10. If you could say one statement to the world in regards to incurable cancer what would it be?
Protest! Even taking into account the cost of past and future research, the large pharmaceuticals make enormous margin which could be cut, still leaving enormous profit but allowing the NHS and health services across the world to say yes to the purchase of currently price prohibitive medicines. In short, some medicines aren’t prescribed because they are too expensive and they don’t need to be. Just Treatment says this so much better than I do. See here: https://justtreatment.org/
11. If you could say one statement to somebody recently diagnosed with incurable cancer what would it be?
Incurable cancer is becoming more curable all the time. Hang on in there! Take the treatments offered, keep your body and your immune system as healthy as you possibly can, seize every day but never, ever give up hope.