Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

It’s Monday, and of course it’s glorious weather. It would be, as everyone’s back to work. Saturday night was rather different though, for the annual Sobell House Hospice Moonlight Stroll around the streets of Oxford. Over a thousand of us set off at half past ten at night in pouring rain to try to raise money for a place that does some incredible work. I should know – I go once a week. (Anyone remember when toothpaste tubes were made of metal? I like to think of Sobell as the little pegs you could buy that you wound the end of the tube round to help you get all the toothpaste out. They’re the peg that helps us all find the life lurking in places we thought we’d never reach. I really should work on my metaphors….)

The atmosphere was incredible on Saturday, despite the truly appalling weather. People were joking or singing in that wonderful way that makes you proud to be British. But one thing became apparent very quickly – Oxford’s pavements were NOT made for wheelchairs. My husband Andrew and our friends Rob and Jayne struggled to even keep me on the pavement, as the whole thing is sloped towards the road. And then there’s the drop kerbs which aren’t dropped enough, meaning either a detour to find somewhere to get off the side and onto the road, or the fun of being hauled up and down the kerb backwards with the help of passers-by. Factor in also Oxford’s fondness for cobbles (which can stop a chair in its tracks in a way that made me fear I was going to be flung out and break the other leg several times) and the erratic street lighting, and it became clear after nearly two hours that we just couldn’t continue. We squelched back to a hotel in the centre of the city. (This room was organised by the marvellous Karen at Jack FM at no cost to us and boy, are we grateful for it!)

Once we’d dried off and changed clothes, Andrew and I settled in for the night. And in case you’re wondering eeeeuuwwww: is this where the sex bit comes in?! Don’t worry! No! I know I’ve been talking about a hospice, and that sex and death are favourite bedfellows for writers, but you’ll be spared, I promise.

But lying in the beautiful bedroom of the hotel we spent our wedding night in, it did strike me as a society that we don’t talk about sex and illness very much. It seems weird even to shoehorn those two words into a sentence, actually. Yet cancer can have a profound effect on life AND libido. I wonder every day just how on earth my husband can still fancy me. My body’s swollen from years of cancer treatments and the resulting inactivity, and mutilated by surgery. My face is enlarged, tight and shiny from the steroids I’m on, and my hair is now so thin it’s barely covering the scalp. I’ve never been fussy about my appearance (as one glance at my wardrobe will confirm!) but I confess that night I wept for my body. For the lost potential and energy.

But this too shall pass, of course. I mean, what’s looks compared to life? I’ve been handed extra time with my family, and if it were my husband going through this, I wouldn’t fancy him any the less! So why should it be different the other way around?!

(First published in July 2009)

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