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Monthly Archives: November 2015


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This morning, I twitched with rage as I lay under my German machine.  I despise nothing more than a bully. Always have, always will.  And I’d just read a story that made me want to punch someone. But, see, that’s never the answer. Here’s why.

A friend of a friend of mine died in January this year. I’ll call her Michelle. She was a mother of three, living overseas with her husband.  He is a corporate man, wears a good suit. Let’s call him Suit. He’s liked by his clients, has a firm handshake. He also had a firm hand when it came to hitting Michelle across the side of the head.

I will assume, from the job Suit does and the outfit for whom he works, that his clients like his persuasive manner and his charm. So, I guess, did Michelle in the early days. And his powers of persuasion would have worked a treat when it came to making her feel like a worthless speck of dust on his shoe.

Like I said, though, she’s gone now. She took her own life. She did this even though she had finally summoned the courage to leave Suit. But getting away wasn’t enough: he was still in her head, an earwig telling her she was a bad mother, a useless person, a nothing. He’s a professional persuader. And we all know the bad stuff is easier to believe than the good.

The good stuff was there too: Michelle was bolstered by an army of tiger-women working hard to offset the damage done by Suit. They tried to give her courage to leave, bravery to believe she was worth more, that her kids deserved better. But it wasn’t enough. She had asked Suit for years to take her home, back to Australia, back to her family. He’d refused.

On the day she died, his employer flew her family back to Australia. Her final act meant her children would grow up near her family, but without her.

Suit is getting on with his life. He is working in his respected job, walking about the big Australian city, shoulders back, a man people seek out for advice. A man people listen to.

What a shame Michelle listened to him. And what a shame more people don’t know what he did.

I’m mercifully lacking in first-hand experience of family violence. My father is loving and kind. My husband and brothers are marshmallows. My male friends are good men. But like the old adage that if you’re in London you’re never more than ten feet from a rat, violent men are not far away: insidious b*stards, vile cowards, exacting an unimaginable price from the women and children in their lives. Modelling behaviour young boys might adopt and young girls might come to think of as all they deserve.

For more eloquent words on family violence than mine, look here and here and here. But I will say this: we need to raise good men, brave men who define strength not as control and brawn, but as integrity and compassion. We need to surround ourselves with these men, and raise girls who do too. Girls who see the signs early and know they deserve better. And if they walk away from the Suits of this world, we must throw our arms around them and keep them safe.

Today is White Ribbon Day, and it’s also the anniversary of the day Michelle married her abuser.  I hope today the caged bear of his conscience rouses itself and puts a stink of remorse on his breath, and a stone of guilt in his shoe. He’s not the only bad guy around, but he’s the bad guy I’m mad at today.

Look out.

*Apologies to Triv readers who miss the days of sweating the small stuff. Swear we’ll perspire it together again soon, once we’ve nailed cancer and family violence.


Deep inspiration

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It says a lot about motherhood and middle age that I’m grateful for any opportunity to lie down and close my eyes. Even radiotherapy.

It’s day two of a 28-session, 20-minute-a-day regime of atomic blasting. More humming German machines, more kindly health professionals, more concerned inquiries of “How are you?”, complete with furrowed brows.

(Sometimes I’m confused when people ask me how I am in that extra-specially-concerned tone, then I remember the cancer thing. I’d so begun to move on.)

I’ve been through “planning” (tattoos and x-rays) and now it’s “treatment”. I even have my own glamorous attire.


It’s not Erdem, but it’ll do for the next month.

This is what the set-up looks like. Sheesh, there’s no avoiding pink, is there?


My arms lie in the pink holders, my head rests on the donut, my backside abuts the wedge. Then the German machine, which looks worryingly retro, descends and does its cell-murderous work.

My monkey mind goes crazy:

“Do the baby radiographers know how to use it?”

“What if one of them is hungover?”

“What if they press the wrong button and this thing squashes me?”

“What if they press the wrong button and it’s Hiroshima in here?”

“When was this thing last serviced?”

“When was it last cleaned — will rogue dust bunnies make it malfunction?”

“Is it really from the 50s or does it just look like that?”

“Was it used to break coded Luftwaffe transmissions at Bletchley?”

“What if it’s not German at all???” At that point, real panic sets in.


Radiotherapy, like processed meat and bungee jumping, is not without its risks — especially when it’s treating breast cancer. Some basic body geography will tell you boobs are near hearts and lungs. So, ideally, these need to stay clear of the nuclear beam.

I’ve been told a teeny corner of one of my lungs will cop a serve, but the method for keeping my heart out of the way is ingenious in its simplicity: I take a deep breath.

Its proper name is “deep inspiration breath hold”, or DIBH, and it shrinks the heart away from the radioactive beam. Because, as our medical friends say in that link, “radiation treatment to the left breast is associated with increased cardiac morbidity and mortality”. Yep, fun!

So when the embryonic radiographers in the next room tell me, through a mic, “OK, now take a deep breath and hold” — I suck it in and hold as if my life depends on it. Because, apparently, it sort of does.


Whenever I’m in the waiting room, I’m sad. I am conspicuous in my smart clothes and rude health. I tell myself the chemo people with no hair and emaciated frames — the ones who are really sick, as opposed to me, the pretender — are looking at me thinking, “But she’s so young.” It’s all relative though, isn’t it? Too old for babies, too young for cancer. Where was the sweet spot?

george v

I remember when my grandma had cancer and we drove her here, to the King George V hospital across the road from where I am now, to have her radium implant. She cried; she was dreading the pain and the sickness. She apologised for her outward display of emotion, and my gruff but oh-so-kind grandpa — who always held it in — said, “There’s no point holding it in.”

Except when it’s breath.


George V. I think of the Georges V. And Paris. And life after this. And life for living. And deep inspiration. And holding breaths, and being grateful that this nuking means I’ll still be taking them, in France, when I’m an old lady, wearing Erdem and carrying my Birkin.

And I lie under the machine, and close my eyes, and my monkey mind goes quiet.