In almost three years as a blogger, I have come into contact with myriad people from different corners of the globe. Some have stood the test of time and are still in regular contact; others have departed, maybe to greener pastures. Some pop in, every now and then, like the friends we have in real life. Then, there are the ones who leave an indelible mark on you.
Renee, the blogger behind the 'Circling My Head' blog was in the latter category. She has sadly died of cancer at the age of fifty-three.
In vain have I tried to look for Renee's first comment on my blog. I couldn't find it, and that's because she was an omnipresent figure. Whether it was from her cyber-house, or commenting on other people's online posts, Renee was an inspiring woman. And as a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, aunt, wife and friend, she drew us, fellow bloggers, into her rich family life. The way she wrote about her husband, Wahid, her children or her siblings will forever be etched in my mind because of the candour and affection in her posts. There are a handful of words, amongst many others, I could use to describe her and these were also terms I used many times when responding to her articulate columns: witty, humourous, strong.
I'm not the type of person who throws compliments around lazily. I mean what I say most of the time and say what's on my mind. If I praise a post or a picture, that's because I've felt touched. It seems to me, from the distance that this medium provides, that Renee and I shared that trait. Her online entries of 'Cancer – 50 Essential Things to Do', a book by Greg Anderson, were obligatory reading for anyone who, like me, was not necessarily acquainted with the brutal reality this condition represents. Her language, when referring to the illness that ultimately killed her, was blunt and very often beautifully honest. Here's a post from Wednesday 28th October, 2009:
'A Lump Is Not Necessary To Have Breast Cancer No.2
Since October is Breast Cancer month, and I unfortunately know that bitch too well, I would like you to read a post I did on Inflammatory Breast Cancer in February, 2008.
Know what you know and know what you need to know. Had I only seen this I would have known what I already knew.'
Likewise, Renee was a lover of all things beautiful. And you knew that from the moment you entered her blog with that marvellous header and the illustrations she regularly posted every week. That love for creativity influenced her own writing. One of the most heart-rending posts I've ever read in my life was the one about the bats tormenting her:
'Did I tell you that I have a colony of bats who hang upside down in my guts? Well I do.
All day long they fly around and hit the walls of whatever is inside those guts. Bang, bang, bang, BANG, BANG, bang, bang……..BANG, BANG…..
It is not comfortable to say the least.You know it is hard to maintain my girlish figure of 217 pounds and right now I am worried about doing so as I am always starving and can’t get things down my throat...' You can read the rest of this post here.
In January I thought of contacting Renee about a piece that had come out in The Guardian newspaper the weekend before. It was an article written by US author Barbara Ehrenreich where the controversial essayist laid into the 'positive thinking' brigade within the breast cancer movement. What's your take on it, Renee? I wanted to ask her, but never got the chance to, because her own mother was dying at the time and it would have been most inappropriate to approach her with such a trivial question. I wonder sometimes what her answer would have been, given the fact that her blog was so vibrant and welcoming, that her attitude to life was a big 'Fuck You Cancer, You'll Probably Take Me in the End, But You Won't Beat Me Whilst I'm Still Alive!' (That swear word is dedicated to you, too, Renee, with utmost respect). Barbara talks about the tone that surrounds breast cancer activism: upbeat, stoic and cheerful. I can't help feeling that Renee didn't fit any category. She was a totally unique person. Read her post published on Thursday 28th January and you will find a person deeply in tune with her aesthetic side. And although many people don't think too much of awards given to bloggers by other bloggers, in Renee's case every single one was justified.
It's only fitting that I finish my little tribute today to this remarkable woman with a clip of another equally extraordinary artist, Lhasa de Sela, who died on 1st January 2010, at the age of thirty-seven of breast cancer. You can read her obituary here. This, I don't need to say, is not how I would have preferred to write about cancer, and specifically breast cancer, but by remembering Renee and Lhasa, I know I am contributing to raising awareness of this terrible, devastating plague. May they always be remembered. After all, those bats cannot win all the battles.
Next Post: 'Feminism: Has It Gone Wrong?', to be published on Wednesday 24th March at 11:59am (GMT)