'The playlist that helped me through two rounds of cancer.'

The sky is filled with dark, brooding clouds, which does little to help my tired and fragile state of mind. Indeed, I’m not coping too well right now, as the fatigue from the radiotherapy slowly sets in to my body like hardening epoxy. Still, to help me get back on top of things, I google the ‘Top 10 happy songs of all time’. And my strategy works, because I’m tapping my toes before I even scroll down to number one. The list is:

10. ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin

9. ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2

8. ‘Feelin’ Groovy’ by Simon & Garfunkel

7. ‘I’m a Believer’ by The Monkees

6. ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ by Johnny Nash

5. ‘Walking on Sunshine’ by Katrina And The Waves

4. ‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive’ by Ella Fitzgerald

3. ‘All You Need Is Love’ by The Beatles

2. ‘What A Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong

1. ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by the Beatles

It makes me smile just to read the list through, let alone play them. And yes, positive thinking works, because the minute I hit the PLAY button for ‘Here Comes the Sun’, the sun does indeed come out, and shines so brightly into my study I’m tempted to reach for my sunnies. It reminds me of a quote by Tom Krause, a motivational speaker: ‘The more sunshine you bring into the world, the more the dark clouds go away.’

Sunshine? Yes, I can do that. On Monday I think I’ll take in a fresh batch of blueberry muffins for my Sisters and Brothers of the Flesh.

Bambi before surgery. Image supplied.

Greg appears to have got over his initial weirdness about my breast cancer, and is being very supportive. This is a great relief, because lately I’ve been worried he might be going off me. After all, a breast is a very personal attachment, intrinsically tied up with romance and sex and society’s definition of femininity. But having recently had mine sliced, gouged and now irradiated, hasn’t made my girls exactly look like the perfect twin orbs in Manet’s Olympia. So I’m grateful that Greg is back to treating me with love, attention, and tenderness, because it means that once I’m through all this, the only scars I’ll be carrying from the experience will be physical.

‘Can you pass radiation on to other people?’ a friend tentatively asks me when I ring to organise dinner with him and his wife later in the week.

I’m tempted to say, ‘Yes indeed, but it’s worse if you actually have sex with them,’ but I bite my tongue, because it’s probably a fair enough question. Indeed, I should be grateful that my friends aren’t avoiding me altogether in case I go one step further and breathe cancer all over them and they catch it – like people used to think happened back in the dark old days of medicine.

Bambi after surgery. Images supplied.

‘No,’ I reply cheerfully, as I sense an anxious pause on the other end of the line. ‘Of course not. But if you’re worried I’ll wear my lead vest. See you at seven.’


Today I get my first hot flush from the Tamoxifen. It appears suddenly out of nowhere, starting on the back of my neck and then erupting over my entire body, causing an instant clammy sweat from top to toe, like I’m sitting in a sauna.

Given I’m not sitting in a sauna, it’s extremely unpleasant, but with another 1,781 days to go, I’m just going to have to get used to it. Still, I’m a great believer in mind over matter, so I decide that every time it happens, I’ll simply shut my eyes and pretend I’m holidaying in Bali, or Africa, or somewhere hot and gorgeous, and then the discomfort of it won’t seem so bad. And I’ll even have avoided the booster shots for typhoid and rabies. Way to go.

On my way home from treatment I pop into the supermarket. At the checkout counter a smartly coiffed woman ahead of me is complaining shrilly to the cashier that he's not packing her bags properly.

‘Don't you know that you don't put frozen blueberries in with the toilet paper?’, she’s screeching. ‘Heavens, do I have to do it myself? It's not my job to sort my own groceries you know’. She re-packs her bags angrily, and smacks her credit card down on the counter as if she’s swatting a nasty bug.

Two years later. Image supplied.

Such behaviour confounds me. Losing her temper over frozen blueberries? Ridiculous. How on earth would she react to something really serious happening in her life – like getting a brain tumour? Or breast cancer? Or heck, even an ingrown toenail for that matter? I suspect she wouldn’t handle it all that well, and I shake my head in disbelief as she stalks from the supermarket, red-faced and breathless, with her chin held high in indignation. What a total drama queen.

But then I feel rather sorry for her. Imagine having such a negative, hostile outlook on life. It must be exhausting.

When I put my own groceries up on the conveyor belt, fresh-faced Tom – I know that’s his name because it’s on his badge – winks at me and cheekily asks how my day has been.

‘Great, thank you’, I reply cheerfully. ‘Every day is good when you're alive’.

And I mean it.

This is an extract from Bad Hair Year by Bambi Smyth. You can purchase a copy here