Greg, his dad Mike, my brother Rich and I are sat in the waiting room of the Royal Marsden hospital in London. We are waiting for a second opinion on Greg’s stage 4 cancer; another doctor we are paying to see in the hope they will give us better news. I weirdly enjoy these trips up to London as a group – these meetings are an emotional roller coaster so to have a team on board softens the blow. We always drive in Rich’s enormous people mover that is totally inappropriate for the entrepreneur bachelor that he is. I make the most of the space with pillows and blankets and doze to the sounds of LBC and its political chat, the perfect accompaniment to spark the political unrest in the others and let them argue for the whole journey and take their minds off our destination.
The waiting room is full of groups; everyone seems to have their ‘cancer gang’, which I’m really happy about. No one should be here on their own. It’s rammed but relaxed and colourful; you don’t feel like you’re in a hospital, more like you’re about to have a massage. This is the private wing – 20ft down the hall doesn’t look like this.
We are told there’s a long wait. Waiting in oncology means mental torture and harrowing imaginary outcomes. Waiting to have all your worst fears confirmed or letting you finally exhale.
We start watching a program with no sound and subtitles on the massive screen in front of us. It’s about a family who are thinking of emigrating to New Zealand from the UK. You don’t need to hear the dialogue to see what’s happening – the mum is so happy at the prospect of leaving but the production team have wheeled out the relatives who look sad and say things to reduce the family to tears. Every time the camera cuts back to the mum, the subtitles say #Tracey sobs, again and again. She doesn’t stop crying. Greg leans over and whispers “that would be the name of your biography…#Stacey Sobs”. I’m pretty annoyed that he thinks my life is defined by being an emotional wreck.
Admittedly, I have done a lot of crying over the past 18 months, mostly due to the triple whammy of postnatal depression, extreme sleep deprivation and cancer. I used to cry a lot before this but it was a different type of crying. When my friend Neil and I went to see Titanic at the cinema in 1997, I cried non-stop through the last hour, as we left, as we sat on the curb waiting for my mum to pick us up and as I lay in bed that night. YOU FOOL ROSE! LET HIM ONTO YOUR PIECE OF WOOD, YOU WILL NEVER LOVE LIKE THIS AGAIN! Greg also likes to tell people that I sobbed at the game show Eggheads when an old man struggled to think of an answer. Yes, that’s true but it was extreme EMOTIONAL TORTURE. I cry when I hear the song from ‘An American Tail’. I can’t watch Beaches because that’s just an insane amount of weeping. Any sad story about dogs. But these are all measured tears and generally, someone is around to either join in or laugh at me. I’ve been happy to cry because I am in control.
The new crying has smashed that control to pieces. Desperation, exhaustion, and terror will do that to you. I have no control over what emotions I show anyone anymore. This means when my baby won’t stop crying in a queue in John Lewis, I will sit on the floor, hold my head and sob in front of aghast shoppers who stand and stare. It means I will take her for a walk in the rain and cry so hard that I hear school children walk past whispering that I’m having a nervous breakdown. It means when the bank won’t let me move money between accounts without a billion pieces of photographic ID, I will cry so hard that the manager RUNS out of his office and takes me to the VIP lounge where he overrides all protocol to get me to stop. It means I will kneel and sob on the lap of a stranger who is wearing a ‘cancer fucked with the wrong man’ florescent t-shirt while he is having chemotherapy drugs pumped through him, as I’m stroked by his wife who lost her first husband to leukaemia.
These tears are as honest as it gets – I’m hurting and I’m overwhelmed and I’m tired, so fucking tired and I’m scared and sometimes I can’t breath and sometimes I wish I was a little girl again so someone would look after me, that I could cry the real and honest unfiltered tears of a child and everyone would come running to pick me up and wrap me in a blanket. To see my car crash subconscious plough through the previously well-preserved walls of my mind is terrifying but I’m even more scared about what it looks like to other people. For them to see the black snakes writhe and the chaos that comes from falling into depression and anxiety.
In this horror show is a revelation. In honesty, however brutal and unflattering, there is beauty. The beauty of being of this world, of flesh and bones and blood and everything that goes with keeping your eyes open. I taught myself how to conceal feelings and not show the bad but in doing so, I missed out on the freedom that a lack of control gives you. Of how to connect fully with others and open yourself up to the joy of the every day.
I have no control over emotions I show anyone anymore. It means I will be moved to tears as nearly 1000 people sing one of Greg’s songs up at me at a gig that raised £25,000 for his treatment. It means I will have tears running down my face as I watch a fundraising total rise on a screen and with every refresh of the page, I see Greg melt slightly in the knowledge that he is loved. It means I will cry with laughter at our hurricane toddler and delight in the fact that she will change the world with her loud voice and determined will.
It also means I’m in love and this tear stained haze I walk around in is tinged with gold.