Marlborough author Vanessa Lafaye sadly died on Wednesday 28 February after living with aggressive cancer for several years. It was a privilege to have known her and I recommend everyone read her Living While Dying blog for an honest and humorous insight into her experience, as well as her two novels Summertime and At First Light.
Introduction from Vanessa’s Living While Dying Blog
I have just learned that the breast cancer which spread to my brain and bones last year has now taken up residence in my lung and liver. I have had a lot of treatment since my first diagnosis in 2009, and more will follow.
Although the medics have done their best, we can’t say that it’s been a raging success. But I am still here.
And I’m not ready to go, may never be ready, even when it’s time. Nevertheless, this latest news forces me to engage with my death as a real, tangible event, much sooner than I ever expected: big, scary, and way too close.
I am not a religious person. I have no comforting beliefs, no faith to fall back on, nothing to ease the overwhelming, gut-curdling terror of staring into total, unending darkness. I am a writer. The one thing I know how to do is communicate with words.
So I’m going to write a diary, like the Bridget Jones of Death, to chart my progress from here until the end of all that is me. I’ve been inspired by others’ blogs like this in the recent past, because it accomplishes two important things: it helps the writer to express their thoughts with total frankness, without worrying about upsetting or offending people; and it informs those who are dying, or are caring for someone at the end of their life.
I’ve called it Living While Dying because I’m in the surreal situation of thinking about death every minute of every day, yet trying to live every day to the full. It makes for some utterly bizarre juxtapositions – like going on a spa break with my oldest friend, to brief her on my Advance Directive (death plan).
There will be profanity. There will be bodily fluids and other disgusting stuff. I’m not holding anything back because there is no point in that. If any of this bothers you, then fuck off and look at pictures of food on Instagram. If not, then please come with me, stay with me. Share your stories in the comments. I’d really like to have your company.
So here we go…
Cancer: Metastatic breast
Disease stage: 4, terminal
Type: Triple negative (does not respond to hormone therapy or Herceptin)
2009 – 16 Three breast tumours (2009, 2914, 2016), 1 lumpectomy, 2 mastectomies; 2 courses of chemo; 1 course of radiotherapy
2016 Brain tumour, surgery, radiation to treat 6 more tumours; bone lesion
2016-17 Third course of chemo, scans all clear, chemo stopped
May 2017 3 new brain tumours, treated with radiation; take new drug hoping to prevent any more; infected lymph node collapses left lung
July 2017 Radiotherapy to lymph node, lung re-inflated
Aug 2017 3 new tumours in liver, 2 in lung; chemo started again
Living While Dying Blogs
Part 1: A stalker, not a battle
Part 2: Embrace the suck
Part 3: Here We Go
Part 4: The Power of Love
Part 5: What (Not) to Say
Part 6: A Conversation with My Stalker
Part 7: Fucking Pinktober
Part 8: A Dilemma
Part 9: Restoration
That River in Egypt
Christmas in Cancerland
Part 10: Pain Week
Part 13: About Time: There is Only Now
Part 14: There and Back Again