I am currently sitting on the chemotherapy ward writing this. When I first arrived this morning, I was discussing dough and how it is much more challenging to roll out than it looks when people do it on TV. I had an epiphany halfway through me uttering a sentence about it. “When did I become someone who can discuss baking?” I thought to myself. Suddenly, I felt like I had been possessed by another being. “I wonder what I’d have said to myself 6 months ago if I knew I’d be having this conversation,” I said to the nurse. She laughed and said, “I’ve seen cancer do much worse to people than get them into baking”. Probably a fair point.
There was a similar adjustment period when I first started speaking about being a person with cancer. Suddenly, I would watch the Cancer Research adverts on TV, where you witness someone receiving a heart-breaking cancer diagnosis, and I would have flashbacks to my own diagnosis. It took a while for me to confidently say that I am a cancer sufferer; it still felt alien to me. Once you start having procedures to install devices under your skin and attending chemotherapy appointments, you quickly get with the programme. Baking doesn’t come with such luxuries, though, other than my little challenge to bake the nurses something new every treatment day. That is the only deadline holding me to any account on that front.
Baking has become a bit of a sanity project for me, similar to the blog. I am a fairly active person in my regular life – I like to be up and doing things in the morning, get out and see friends, go running etc. The pace of life was significantly reduced when I was diagnosed. Cooking and baking require me to be up and thinking, but not so active that I cannot do them when feeling a bit lousy. Both have been a welcome distraction throughout my treatment so far.
I’ve been into cooking for a few years now, primarily since turning vegetarian in 2016. When I told my flatmates at university that I was giving up meat, they all laughed at me. “I wonder how long that’ll last,” one of my best friend’s Cam said to me, or something to that effect. His doubt is probably 95% responsible for me still being vegetarian. I can be pretty stubborn when I want to be, and nothing eggs me on more than when I have doubters to silence. Baking is a new hobby, though, and one that I have only really taken up since starting chemotherapy.
Armed with several baking books, thanks to presents from various family members and friends, I am never short of inspiration. A particular favourite book of mine is the Leon – Happy Baking book, purchased for me by my friend Yasmin. It was a pleasant surprise that arrived a few weeks after Christmas. I’ve made quite a few recipes from it already, and they have all been delicious. Today’s blueberry cheesecake I baked for the nurses is from that book, along with these vegan chocolate cookies (at the back in the picture) and the oat, cranberry and nut cookies (right of the cheesecake in the picture). The oat, cranberry and nut cookies were dry and not sweet enough, but I suspect that is due to the 150g of soft brown sugar that I did not see in the recipe and completely ignored. I’m going back for round 2 with them as soon as I’m feeling up to it this week, as it is the first thing I consider an actual ‘failure’ in my current baking record. I won’t stand for it.
As you can tell, I am still not at the stage that presentation is key. I figure I need to get good at the taste side before I start trying to make them look good too. It also feels like a better reflection of me as a person; I like to think I have a lot of good inside of me but don’t necessarily package it up in a visually appealing way. Whenever I see videos of myself, I physically cringe at things like the way I walk. My ego has an idea of what I look like externally, but when I see videos of myself doing mundane everyday things like walking, it does not correspond to that image. I usually avert my eyes, choosing to remain in blissful ignorance.
I have picked up and dropped many hobbies in my life, which I assume is relatively normal. I used to play a lot of squash and considered myself quite good at that. So good in fact that when I first moved to London, I decided to join a club and try my luck. There was an 11-year-old prodigy there who I was matched against first. I felt his disrespect as he dominated the T in the middle of the court and casually strolled to any returns I managed to muster. At one point he was shouting up to the coach who ran the club about a competition he had been in at the weekend, passionately playing back the detail of a close match between him and a known rival from another London club. All of this whilst he made me run rings around the court. I wondered if we were playing the same game – I hadn’t seen him run once. I decided to retire my racket that day and keep my squash skills between friends, the ones that had given me a false sense of proficiency.
The guitar was a big hobby of mine for years. More than a hobby, really – a passion. My first guitar was an electric guitar by a company called Crafter. It was an entry-level model, but I loved it so much. Greg, my younger brother, got the same guitar but with a black finish on it. Mine had a wood-look finish. We’d learn both guitar parts to Metallica songs, me always playing the lead. I had an older brother complex, whereas Greg was always more holistic and just enjoyed playing. For me, it was a competition, and so long as I was playing the lead, I felt like I was winning. Luckily for Greg, he was blessed with the looks, hairline, singing voice, brains, fitness, and most other valuable attributes in life, so this was a small win for me. Whenever I heard a new song that had 2 guitar parts playing in harmony, I’d get really excited to show it to Greg. The first time I listened to a song called Bat Country by a band called Avenged Sevenfold, my head nearly exploded. It was the coolest thing I’d ever heard on a guitar. It was too hard for me to play at the time, though… the perfect incentive to play more.
I used to think about the notes of a new guitar solo that I was learning whilst sitting in lessons at school. My foot would rhythmically tap throughout lessons as I played the section repeatedly in my head, thinking about how I could better fret the notes to increase the speed to that of the song. By the time I got home, I felt like I’d been practising all day. It was cathartic finally getting the chance to act on something I had been visualising in my head, and I really believe that thinking on it all day helped me improve when it came to playing.
In my Passion as a Life Choice post, I spoke about passions. My description of a passion was based on how I used to think and feel about the guitar. When I was 13, nothing excited me more than playing the guitar. I thought about it constantly and would be looking for new things to learn all of the time. It dominated my life. But after going to university, I just stopped playing. There have been a few periods where I have sworn I will get back into it; I had a productive playing period when I first moved to Philadelphia. Upon moving, I realised that I did not have much to do outside of work hours. Online I went to find myself a new acoustic guitar. It was great, and I played it a lot for a month or 2, but then I slipped into my typical pattern. I ran out of things that I felt interested in playing, stopped making time to practice, and it became another burden, another stick to beat myself with. The truth is, I just don’t have the same pull to the guitar anymore for some reason. It is melancholic to admit such a thing, but it’s unfortunately true. The song that made me want to buy an acoustic guitar again was the below one by Andy Mckee, well worth a listen if you want some relaxing and beautiful background music. Shoutout to him.
So, my hobbies of choice are currently cooking, baking, blogging and trying to exercise as much as possible under the circumstances. Between them, I don’t feel bored often, which is a good sign. Anna and I are also planning our wedding. It is an exciting addition to my hobbies and having such an exciting life event to look forward to makes a world of difference to my mood. This week I decided to try out running in week 1 of the cycle to help understand what I need to do to achieve the Run 40 in February. Despite the runs being horrible on my body, I have managed two 5Ks and plan on doing another one today, which is also really positive. The amount raised just keeps going up too, which is crazy, so thank you so much to everyone who donated. I keep having to raise the target as I feel stupid reaching it before even hitting Feb! To anyone who hasn’t donated, the Just Giving page can be found here. I will start posting updates on the page soon; I am just waiting for my Pancreatic Cancer UK top to arrive so I can burst onto the scene with an appropriate picture.