“Give me a year of your life and I will give you your life.”
I can’t really remember the conversation that followed, I felt like a child sitting in the headmaster’s office. This was serious, this was actually happening. Why couldn’t I react? I was 49 years old. A wife, a mum, but cancer has no prejudice.
Despite the grueling treatment, I was inspired by the courage of others who showed me that there was humour to be found even in the most bizarre situations. From losing my hair to losing my memory, there was one clear message: I lost my boob, not my sense of humour.
A number of years ago I visited the beautiful Caribbean island of Jamaica. I was staying in Montego Bay and one day, on my way to the beach, I saw a hand-painted sign which said, ‘Beware of Falling Coconuts’. It stopped me in my tracks. I had never thought about a coconut being dangerous before, but apparently coconuts kill more people than sharks… fifteen times more people. A silent predator, hanging in wait. Without warning it can attack, dropping from a great height at a ferocious speed. At that moment a voice in my head told me, ‘This is the title of a book you are going to write’. It took me by surprise because I had no burning desire to write a book. Writers wrote books and I was not a writer. I certainly didn’t think that I would one day be writing about another silent and much feared predator: cancer.
Nowadays, most people you meet are affected, either directly or indirectly, by cancer. The thing is, when you’ve come through it and survived, or know someone who has, it makes you want to give something back. Most of us have participated in some way, or at least thought about it, to raise money for cancer charities or cancer research. There’s no end to the weird and wacky ideas. Those who go sober for October, then cannae remember November. Those who buy cakes, bake cakes, and eat cakes. Those who hold coffee mornings and participate in a slice of life, and those who brave the shave, from top to bottom. (On the subject of bottoms, I include the full monty in that!) They dare to bare, whilst some choose to donate their hair. Then there are the 5k, 10k, midnight walkers and kilt walkers… those cycling or racing for life, the bloggers and the joggers wearing yellow or pink t-shirts, tutus, wristbands, bows, deely-boppers, and daffodils. No matter what it is, we all have one thing in common and that is the desire to help other people.
During my illness I was fortunate to meet some inspiring people… some who are sadly no longer with us. Despite the black cloud of cancer hanging over them they showed me that sometimes there was laughter to be found even in the most bizarre situations.
As well as family members, I lost a friend and colleague, Lesley Fitz-Simons to the disease. I met Lesley when we were both young actresses working at Scottish Television filming Take the High Road. We shared a dressing room, we socialised together and even went on holiday together. During that time we shared a lot of champagne and a lot of laughter. That’s what I remember about Lesley, her infectious laughter. Over the years, work and family life took us in different directions and we lost touch. However, we met by chance a few months before she died and she told me about her cancer. It was actually a very positive conversation. She spoke about the happiness her daughter and partner gave her and she was keen to share her stories and hear mine. Although she was clearly in pain, she still managed to find plenty to laugh about.
I remember how encouraged I was and how positive I felt after listening to a woman who claimed comedy cured her cancer. However far-fetched that sounds, I certainly know that humour helped me through mine. I hope that, as you read this, you will find something in it to make you smile, because this is my way of giving something back. After all, they do say laughter is the best medicine!
Thank you, Gillian McNeill and Love Books Group
About the author
Gillian was born and brought up in Monifieth. After graduating from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, Gillian worked as an actress in theatre, radio and television. She is probably best known for playing the character of Lynne McNeil, in the long running soap opera Take the High Road, for Scottish Television.
After living in London, and then Australia for several years, she returned to Glasgow where she currently lives with her husband Alan, daughter Molly and Toy Poodle Maggie.
Gillian began writing and performing shows for children when Molly started school. These proved to be very popular amongst the early years audiences and gave her a taste for writing and creating her own work.
BEWARE OF FALLING COCONUTS is her first book.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, and successfully treated, she wanted to do something to help others. Having previously lost her own mother, mother in law, auntie and friend to the disease, she understood only too well, the fear receiving a cancer diagnosis brought.
“I didn’t want Molly growing up scared. I wanted to give her a positive message. If I could laugh it allowed her and others to laugh with me. After all I had the easy job, I just had to take the drugs and stay positive, it was far tougher for Alan and Molly. When I started writing Beware of Falling Coconuts, I was terrified. I didn’t want to revisit that place in my head. I was scared to go back….I wasn’t sure if it was a play, a book, or just a lot of nonsense. I wanted to do this not just for Molly, but for all the brave women and men who hadn’t been as lucky as me.”
Gillian was inspired by the courage of people she met, who showed her that there was humour to be found even in the most bizarre situations. From losing her hair to losing her memory, there was one clear message:
“I lost my boob not my sense of humour.”