Written by Victoria King

Health

“Do you miss your arsehole?”

Victoria King’s been proper poorly. So has her mate Debs. But they got through it together, allowing them to celebrate the medicinal power of friendship. (Just to clarify: they took the prescribed drugs and surgery, too.)

Victoria and Debs on a much-deserved night out.

Victoria and Debs on a much-deserved night out.

Sometimes the most extreme life circumstances bring together people who otherwise wouldn’t have met. In mine and Debs’ case it was Crohn’s and cancer, respectively.

June 2013, and I was back in hospital with a resurgence of my nemesis. Our bay held six women with various unpleasant illnesses, yet was a hive of camaraderie and comedy. We were a team, supporting each other when we got bad results, cheering when they were good; imagine if you will, a cross between Dad’s Army and Only When I Laugh with added surgical stocking-fuelled burlesque routines.

Debs arrived on the Thursday for her surgery, spent Friday in a post-surgery haze and by Saturday we were firm friends, sharing our medical stories like old world war veterans.

Debs and I are the same age and we’ve lived in the same town for years but never met. Turns out that being properly poorly makes for excellent bonding. Debs had undergone many operations for breast cancer over the previous four years and in June 2013 was in for an elective hysterectomy. I’ve battled Crohn’s since I was 17, a fight involving lots of surgery, but in June 2013, it was back.

“When you’re on the treadmill to getting better, you tend to forgo enjoying the simple things in life: laughing, meals out with mates, watching a film, or buying a dress, rather than yet another nightie, for no reason.”

We instantly respected one another. She took the fear out of cancer for me: she was doing well, fighting it and had new boobs that, like those of a 17-year-old, stood up in a vest. The main thing was that she got it, we both did. We didn’t need to explain that it was shit, we just felt it.

When we came out of hospital we stayed in touch and our friendship has developed as if we’ve known each other forever. We regularly go out for tea and cake (always cake) to chat about what’s crap (or not), drug regimes, painful joints, mood swings and how tired we are of it all.

Since we met, we’ve regularly lifted each other up, moving the other from tears to laughter.

Just before Christmas 2015, we both had good news (keep your fingers crossed, please): Debs has passed her five-year mark and come off her tablets and I was told my disease is currently inactive. To put it simply: we’re both in remission.

Medical professionals don’t seem to like the word remission; it makes them nervous, because with my and Debs’ diseases nothing is guaranteed and there is, as yet, no cure. But we have the measure of what we’re dealing with and simply won’t let our illnesses own us.

And so we made a pact to celebrate being well, a state that we have both had to re-learn, swapping a scan for a haircut, surgery for a manicure. When you’re on the treadmill to getting better, you tend to forgo enjoying the simple things in life: laughing, meals out with mates, watching a film, or buying a dress (rather than yet another nightie) for no reason.

Debs in December 2015.

Debs in December 2015.

I asked Debs what about her experience made her most angry, and she said losing her boobs, allowing me to point to her new ones and their aforementioned ability to stand up in a vest.

“Do you miss your arsehole?*” she asked me, at which point I nearly coughed up a lung laughing. Our candid conversation and ability to laugh at ourselves and each other is key to our friendship; a friendship that has played a vital sanity-saving role throughout our respective illnesses.

*I still have one, it’s just been diverted.

When people didn’t understand or didn’t care or were simply arseholes, we had each other. When people asked Debs, “How many times are you going to have cancer?” or quizzed me with, “Are you fixed yet?” (like I was a Ford Focus in for a service), being in it together made it easier to endure. I thank my disease for its timing for being in the same hospital ward when Debs arrived. (And I am ready for it if it ever comes back.)

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Written by Victoria King

Victoria is working on her first book. She is also a flag-waving survivor of Crohn’s Disease. And she loves a Mr Whippy.