Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
Broadband from £5.99 a month with an included wireless router when you sign up to Plusnet - terms apply

Monday 16 January 2012

Walking with my Nana.

WHEN I was eight years old we went to see my Nana.

She was my dad's mum and she was in a hospice because she wasn't very well. I didn't know what a hospice was but because it wasn't quite as long a word as hospital I decided it must be for people who were a bit sick but not very.

I remember holding mum's hand while we walked through corridors which smelled funny, and the tan-coloured boots she was wearing.

When we got to Nana's room she was in a bed facing the window, and she noticed us stood in the doorway. Nana held her arms out to me and said: "I'm so sorry."

I let go of mum's hand and ran to give Nana a cuddle, and she swept me up in her arms. My face was pressed against her neck and it felt funny, all cold and fleshy, and there seemed to be more of it than normal.

Anyway she let me go and the rest of the family came in. I don't remember much else except sitting on the window sill, watching my parents at the bed and reading my book.

A few weeks later I came down for breakfast and mum said Nana had died in her sleep. Dad was looking out at the garden, and mum gave me a hug while I cried. She said I could go to the funeral and I didn't have to go to school.

Afterwards mum and dad said I could pick one thing from Nana's house to remember her by. I chose a teddy bear which she kept on her green sofa in the living room. She used to have lots of bears, and told me since my Gramps died they looked after her when she was asleep. Over a year or so she gave them, one at a time, to me. On our last visit there was only one small bear left, and when I asked her how such a small bear was going to look after her she said he was all she needed. So after she died I asked for that bear, because although he hadn't looked after her very well he might be happier with all the other bears in my toy box.

The years passed. When I was 14 years old, over Sunday lunch one day, my parents for some reason were talking about Nana and I, for once, didn't have my head buried in a book. They said she died from breast cancer, and I said: "Did she?"

Mum said I was too young to know at the time, but Nana had a tumour under her arm which grew up her neck and went into her brain. She knew for a year before she died that there was nothing they could do, and in the last few months in that hospice she was in so much pain that the amount of morphine she needed made her do funny things. One day she packed a suitcase and tried to walk home in her nightie, and mum found her halfway down the road.

That night as I lay in bed I remembered how my Nana said sorry when she saw me in the hospice, her lumpy neck, and how she gave me all her teddy bears when she knew she was going to die. I didn't stop crying all night, or trying to remember everything I could about her.

She was an immigrant, came over here on a ship from Denmark at 13 years old to be a housemaid in a big house in a little village. She married the doctor's chauffeur, and he died very young, before my parents ever met. When I knew her she was old and walked with a stick, but in my wallet is a picture of her with jet black hair and a tea dress, smiling on a summer day with my Gramps who had those funny metal armbands on his shirtsleeves.

When we visited she always bought a Sara Lee cake just for me, and was the first person I ever knew to provide a special knife just for butter. Tea was always in the living room on a table with a white cotton cloth on it, and the cake on a special plate with a doily underneath. She had a parlour which we weren't allowed in, carpets that didn't reach the edge of the stairs and a big glass bottle filled with marbles. She was really good at drawing and newspaper puzzles, and had a thing for musicians because her first husband played the accordion and her second one played the cornet.

My dad says I remind him of his mum. I make huge dramas out of little things just like she did, and most of the boys I've been out with have been in a band. I love my Nana very much but because I was so young when she died the main impact she has had on my life is that I worry my boobs might kill me.

I had a mole removed from my ribcage when I was 18 even though there was nothing wrong with it, because I was terrified it would give me cancer. I've never had the least urge to smoke, because the memories of that hospice are so painful and besides, smokers smell. And I read research about the genetic links to cancer very carefully.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I want your money. When my Nana was diagnosed just half of breast cancer patients in England survived for 10 years - thanks to research and better treatment that figure's now over 70 per cent. It has to improve more though, because one in eight women will get breast cancer, and one in 1,000 men.

I can't do anything to help my Nana now, although I'd give anything to sit and eat a Sara Lee cake with her again. But when and if my turn comes I want to know I did all I could. I want to have had a healthy(ish) lifestyle that kept cancer at arm's length and to know that the doctors can fix me. That's why even though it makes your toenails fall off I am taking part in the Moonwalk this May, an overnight marathon to raise money and awareness for a grant-giving charity called Walk the Walk.

I have joined a team of around 30 people - writers, actors, presenters and others in the media - which last year raised £50,000 this way. We'd like to do better this time so if you can, please sponsor us by clicking here. You can donate to us as a team, or if you want to sponsor me personally you need to select 'Fleet Street Fox' on the donations page.

Every pound you can spare, every effort you make to spread the word about this event and our goals, will make it harder for my boobs to kill me or for yours to do the same to you. By happy coincidence, regular walking can also make them perter and less likely to get cancer, so we all ought to do that too.

Your tits will thank you for it and believe me, you don't want to piss them off. Now if you don't mind I have about four months of training and an awful lot of dramatic moaning and flouncing to do.

My Nana will be with me all the way.