I’m sitting up in bed at my parental home, writing this on Mum’s computer. At the moment I spend about four days per week here, and three days at my flat. This house, where I spent the first thirty years of my life, is in Radlett in leafy Hertfordshire, just on the edge of the green belt. My cat Spitfire, also known as the Fluffy Monster, or more recently, Precious Angel Fluffball lives here as I am too ill to look after him.
At the moment, my life looks like this: personal training once a week; two regular dog walking clients, Pilates once a week, Barre Pilates twice a week. No actual job since being sacked from my dream one at a new bookshop in Radlett. Before that I worked part-time at an authors’ and actors’ agency for nigh on fifteen years. Seb, the love of my life, split up with me at the end of March five years ago. We’d been together on and off over a period of eleven years. More, no doubt much more, to come on Seb later. My new man is called Film Chap. We will meet him soon.
This is the house where A Clockwork Orange was filmed. Designed by Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, it was hailed as a modernist masterpiece and Stanley Kubrick saw it whilst scouting for locations for the film and fell in love with it. It’s the house of the writer who is injured and whose wife is raped by Alex and the Droogs. Spitfire has just turned seven and a half. My brother lives in Haifa in Israel. The panther is here now.
“What’s the point of you writing a Memoir?” the panther says, gazing at me with amber eyes. “Who do you think is going to want to read about your life? You don’t do anything or…”
“It’s going to be a book about living with mental illness, living with cancer, living in recovery from addiction,” I say. “People say that I’m brave and inspirational and…”
“But you’re not,” the panther says. “You’re fat, unemployed and unemployable as far as I can tell, lazy…”
“If I write it, and it’s good they will read it,” I say, feeling unsure about this. The panther returns to grooming his flank with his sandpaper tongue. I stroke the soft back of his neck. He rests his enormous head on my shoulder. His breath smells of rotting meat.
I used to suffer with Writer’s Block until I completed a Nanowrimo Write A Novel In a Month challenge, set up by a group of techies in San Francisco. It’s an output challenge, the aim is to write fifty thousand words of a new novel in a month. That first November I wrote sixty thousand words. Ever since then, I haven’t had a problem with writer’s block. Also: for the last few years I’ve been writing a blog. First it was a Dating after Breast Cancer Surgery one called Scars, Tears and Training Bras, and now it’s one about exercise and my life, my Bipolar Disorder and Secondary Breast Cancer called The Rapid Cyclist. So, I write every day. And people read my writing every day. As to whether it’s any good or not, I try not to worry about that. I’ve just published my first novel “In Bloom” to rave reviews. It’s doing really well.
This, though: this has to be good or no-one will publish it. And no-one will read it. And ever since a whole army of publishers rejected my first novel some thirteen years ago, I’ve been putting off starting another major project due to the fear of writing hundreds and thousands of words that no-one will read. But in recent times I have been reading a lot of memoirs: Amy Liptrot’s brilliant The Outrun about her recovery from alcoholism, A A Gill’s Pour Me about overcoming alcoholism and Bryony Gordon’s Mad Girl about her obsessive compulsive disorder. I’ve just read the Karl Knausgaard series which begins with ‘A Death in the Family’. There’s been a thought at the back of my mind that I’m reading these memoirs for research, that perhaps a memoir rather than another novel is what I will write. And so at last I’m starting.
My psychiatrist Dr Joshua Stein, who I’ve been seeing privately for nearly twenty years – put me on Librium to stop me drinking when I went into hospital for a major cancer operation on 30th August 2016, so I’ve been sober for almost five years now. Part of me thought that it was the drinking stopping me from doing proper writing. I no longer have that excuse: I have a clear head, space, time and writing to do. Now is the time for action. I’m almost forty-two, I wanted to publish a book by forty and managed to publish In Bloom just a year later.
I’m tired, so very tired. I’m on thirteen I think different medications for my breast cancer and my Bipolar and other things. Let me list them:
1. Latuda/ lurasidone: antipsychotic for my Bipolar, as a mood stabiliser.
2. Venlafaxine: SSNRI antidepressant. I can’t take SSRIs due to the ‘manic switch’.
3. Gemcarbo chemotherapy: gemcitabine and carboplatin.
4. Fexofenadine: a non-drowsy antihistamine: for my allergies.
5. Clonazepam: an anti-anxiety benzodiazepine to help me stay off alcohol.
6. Sodium docusate: for constipation caused by the cancer drugs.
7. Zolpidem to help me sleep.
8. Bisphosphonate implant: to seal my bones against cancer and to strengthen them as osteoporosis is a common menopausal side effect.
9. Colecalciferol and calcium carbonate: Calcium and vitamin D supplement to go with the bisphosphonates.
10. Vitamin C to guard against colds, from which I suffer due to abnormally thickened nasal passages. The result of allergic rhinitis which I have had all my life.
So, the cumulative effect of all these treatments is to make me exhausted and nauseated. Plus I do Pilates or Barre or personal training on Zoom every day. I tend to sleep for up to three hours in the afternoon. This book will be written in one late morning session and one early evening session every day. I’m starting to worry about it. And my shoulder is hurting. But I must focus, and write.
When he found out that my cancer had spread to my lungs, my oncologist gave me two years. I’ve already survived another seven years on top of that, so I’m living on borrowed time. All the more reason to start this book. It’s going to be tough going though: due to feeling so ill most of the time. The medical treatment described in this book is a mixture of NHS and private: NHS Breast Care Clinic: Cancer diagnosis at Accident and Emergency; NHS chemotherapy; private surgery; private radiotherapy; ongoing check-up appointments with private oncologist and breast surgeon; private appointments with plastic surgeon, private psychiatrist for the last twenty years and later private psychologist; bisphosphonate and Gemcarbo chemotherapy administered privately Like various other cancer patients I know, my treatment has been a mixture of some treatments available on the NHS and others – like bisphosphonates – that at the moment are just available with health insurance.
As I write this I’m in a period of hypomania which has been going on for six weeks. Now my mood has come up, writing and life have become easier. I’m going to do two thousand words of this before turning to the blog, which I have to write and post every day without fail. One second: I must find some lemon squash. Now I don’t drink alcohol I consume vast quantities of lemon squash and fizzy water, Diet Coke and coffee. It’s swings and roundabouts once you’re sober.
Cordelia Jade Feldman (15th May 1979-8th January 2022), completed her MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck in 2007. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, after many years of suffering and debilitating treatment, which Cordelia confronted with indefatigable courage and humour, she eventually succumbed to the illness, but not before she had published two books. In Bloom (Dandelion, 2021), Cordelia’s first book, was conceived and took shape during her MA at Birkbeck. An autobiographical novel, In Bloom is work of young adult fiction concerned with teenagers’ experiences of recreational drug use on the 90s techno and drum n bass scene, and their psychiatric consequences, depicted through the richly imagined interior life of the novel’s protagonist, Tanya.
Cordelia’s second book, a memoir entitled Well Done Me (Dandelion, 2021), is an intimate portrayal of the illnesses from which she suffered and the strategies she evolved to cope with them, mingling pain and humour, the stark realities and indignities of Cordelia’s everyday life and the surpassing optimism and bravery with which she confronted them, retaining always a sense of the beauty of the natural world that surrounds us, the animals and birds and flowers with which she shared her life, and in which she found solace.