My friend Alice has flowers in her blood. Apparently, those flowers could be the key to everything. She explained that to me to today, as she described her shittily rapid descent into having cancer, and the slow clawing back that she is currently undertaking.
Sitting at my kitchen table, as she talked me through how a new experimental vaccination will help, I was transported back twenty years to when we first became friends at Sixth Form. I admit it, part of the reason I sought her out then was because I knew she’d be able to prop me up as I flailed through my Social Biology A Level, and that she did, explaining mitrochondrial powerhouses and veins versus arteries. I also became her friend because she was strong, independent and funny. There was no messing with Alice.
But cancer is now messing with her. Today she told me that this is one of the most surprising parts of being ill. As a clinical psychologist she is qualified to be kind, caring and understanding as she helps people to solve their problems. She has been taught how to do these things – she has the bits of paper that tell her she is good at doing these things, and yet here she is, forced to rely on her friends, family and partner to be kind. She doesn’t trust us amateurs to do it right. And it’s true, I feel as clumsy as a bear in oven gloves as I probe indelicately, trying to understand how she is feeling, so that I can empathise and repair and support.
But before we got to that bit, good old Alice listened to me as I blethered and burbled my way through the inane and tiresome occurences in my life. Recently I have been suffering from ‘the jealousy babs’. I’ve felt sulky and brattish and quite desperately disconcerted by where I find myself. I’ve been comparing my results with others and feeling I was coming up short. But being with Alice gave me the slap round the face I needed. Not from her, but from myself. Because Alice has been given a time limit. Where in my selfishness I tell myself that this stage of my life is temporary, just a thing I’m doing for a while, for Alice this stage might be the only stage.
As she accompanied me on Dull Mission of the Day (collect white clothes and bread products from As-dah) I wondered just how she is going to get through the next few years. Alice’s cancer started in her eye. One day the world just folded in half. A flipped up cinema seat, her retina was pushed forward by the mass of cells behind, within weeks her eyeball had been removed. The trouble with the eye, though, is that is connected to all those blood vessels, those pipes and rivers and streams flowing round the body. It took months to find out whether any of the cells had escaped, punted off downriver to take up residence elsewhere.
She was finally given the all-clear a few weeks ago, nearly ten months after she first went to the opticians, and as a result was given the go ahead to take part in a trial in Holland. She is one of 20 people worldwide who have had their blood removed, drip by drip, spun and examined for sticky flowers, and then drip by drip fed back in again. A vaccination is being made from the blood that’s been removed and this will be injected back into Alice’s body once a special crime-busting protein has been added.