Wheatgrass and lemon juice

As I empty the green powder into the glass the smell alone turns my stomach. Each swig is accompanied by a specific action that turns the downing of wheatgrass into a kind of ridiculous dance routine. First I hold my nose and take two big gulps, prompting an involuntary, primal cry of revulsion (generally accompanied by the sticking out of my tongue). Next comes a clumsy prancing from one foot to the other whilst shaking my left fist. The final swig is preceded by a silence; I know this will be the worst bit. All the leftover powder thickens the water into a paste and I can feel it sticking in my teeth. Occasionally I’ll retch. I continue to hold my nose and reach for some fruit juice to wash the taste away but it always remains, like the stench from an old person’s foisty slipper!

Everyday I go through this rigmarole and it’s not for show; this little performance takes place with or without an audience.

“You’re so brave in so many ways and then you behave like this!”

While Tom was away my brother John was staying with me. He’d been reading up on cancer preventative diet on the internet and after an expensive trip to Holland and Barrett the cupboards were stocked with linseeds, multi-vitamins, turmeric, green algae tablets, and of course the dreaded wheatgrass, or ‘the green shit’ as we renamed it.

Living together again we reverted back to our old relationship. We share the same sense of humour, me often trying to impress him with some quick remark, him teasing me or the pair of us ganging up on whoever is with us at the time. But in his capacity of big brother he was as stern with me as he was playful; he knew that occasionally I would conveniently forget to down my wheatgrass and every day he would prompt me, “Have you done the green shit?  Have you done the turmeric?  Have you done your chemo?”

I think John’s focus on diet was a way for him to play his part, to try to help in a situation where people ordinarily feel useless. The cancer doesn’t just ‘happen’ to me it happens to all those who are close to me. I’ve never lost someone or had the threat of losing someone very close to me so I simply don’t know what my loved ones are going through. Sometimes I think it’s easier for me than for them, once I’m gone I’m gone, but they’ll have to carry on, feel the pain, pick up the pieces and reassemble their lives.

During the hours I felt unwell my brother would sit with me, watching TV and researching the internet. John could have left to go out and enjoy the sunshine but he never did, he just stayed with me, telling me about all the positive stories he’d been reading about.

After a visit to a research centre I said, “I’d love to be that first person, the person who lives with cancer but doesn’t die from it.” My brother replied, “I think you’ll be disappointed. There already are people doing that.”  There was no sign of defeatism and his confidence bred the same in me.

He took a perverse pleasure in watching me drink the repulsive green shit; it was like entertainment to him. It reminded me of a time when I was about six and he would have been twelve when I’d fallen over in the street and scraped the side of my hip. With no parents around to complain to I found my brother bored in the kitchen and I showed him my bloody graze. “I know what will make it better,” he announced with authority. I remember him opening up the fridge door and reaching for something that I couldn’t quite see.  As I stood waiting, from behind his back he produced a plastic Jif lemon and handed it to me. “Squeeze the juice over it, it’ll take the pain away.” My trusting, six-year-old self followed his advice and predictably, it was agony.

What a little shit! A child psychologist hearing that story wouldn’t recognise the responsible, caring adult who had flown across the world to help look after his younger sister. Twenty years on there were no cruel jokes to be played. My brother was making me drink the wheatgrass and swallow the pills because he wanted me to get better.

My illness had changed our relationship. Like many siblings, for us hugs were always reserved for hellos and goodbyes and even then it would be an awkward stilted embrace. A few days into John’s stay, however, I woke up feeling unwell from the radiotherapy and I must have looked particularly pathetic. He grabbed me for a hug and we stood there holding onto each other in silence, both desperately wishing that this wasn’t happening. The cancer, that is, not the hug.


19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ann
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 07:13:32

    What a lovely piece Ellie; I am wondering through, whether you have asked your oncologist whether you are able to take all this extra ‘stuff’; unfortunately, there could be a problem with your chemo and all your ‘stuff’. So, just to be on the safe side give your oncologist a ring and ask to pass a brief question i.e. is it okay to take all this ‘stuff’. If he says its okay, then all well and good. Sometimes, holistic therapies can interfere with the chemo. Please just check. If your oncologist is unavailable, you can always speak with one of his team – you don’t need an appointment, just a brief chat on the phone. All the very best to you Ellie – love really is a wonderful thing, keep your brother close. Ann x


    • Ellie Jeffery
      Sep 06, 2011 @ 16:23:52

      Hi Ann, thank you for reading the post. I have checked about the turmeric and wheatgrass and I’m told they are fine as they’re natural supplements. Thanks for the concern and taking the time out to comment, Ellie x


  2. Rachel
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:47:43

    This really touched me Ellie, I have a brother i’m close to and that sibling bond really can be special. Your brother sounds great, he should fly across the world and be there for you but not all would. I say this piece really touched me but they all do-you’re amazing, the way you write is so captivating and I regularly log on for your next piece. Keep them coming Ellie. Lots of love.xx


    • Ellie Jeffery
      Sep 06, 2011 @ 16:22:12

      Thanks for continuing to read Rachel. I thought my brother deserved a mention after he’s been so great. I’ll keep the posts coming, don’t you worry! Ellie x


  3. Gary Leese (Journalist)
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 22:52:47

    That is True Brotherly Love. You have a Great Shoulder to lean on.


    • Ellie Jeffery
      Sep 08, 2011 @ 08:56:18

      Thanks for reading and taking the time out to comment. I am very lucky when it comes to family and friends and I think that support will make all the difference!


  4. Geoff
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 23:45:38

    Please may I use some of your blog – with reference to you as author – in my blog to help bring to life some of the emotions around my fundraising?

    My training for my Polar trek interests some but it’s the realities of day to day challenges people face that make the real impact



    • Ellie Jeffery
      Sep 08, 2011 @ 08:52:12

      Hi Geoff, thanks for reading. Of course you can use some of the blog, thanks for asking first – a link to writtenoff.net would be appreciated too!


      • Geoff
        Sep 08, 2011 @ 10:06:27

        Definitely be a link to ‘writtenoff’ – the more people read, the more they understand.

        With you all the way Ellie xx

  5. Graham Birkbeck
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 10:46:20

    I love this piece Ellie. Big love xxx


  6. Martha de Lacey
    Oct 13, 2011 @ 00:29:03

    Too beautiful xxx


  7. Heidi Henson
    Oct 18, 2011 @ 21:05:25

    Hi Ellie. My husband Paul went to school with Tom and told me about your blog. I have just sat and read and read and read your entries one after the other. The one that started the tears was about your brother just hugging you in the kitchen but each of your entries is so moving and raw. I dont know how or what to say to you but i just wanted to say hello and that you are quite simply incredible, inspirational. If you are interested in reading an amazing story about someone beating the odds look at Justinelaymond.com. Justine is my first cousin who since her early 20s suffered from an extrememly rare lung disease (1 in a millionpeople get it). She has survived and is currently training for the paralympics. I hope it helps in some way. Keep strong. X


    • Ellie Jeffery
      Oct 18, 2011 @ 21:31:03

      Hi Helen,
      Thank you for reading the blog and leaving such a lovely comment. I will definitely check out Justine’s website and story – thanks for flagging it up. Tom says hello too, Ellie xx


  8. Rachael g
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 23:00:57

    A little hint for you regarding the wheatgrass, I take the fresh stuff everyday as an immune system booster and I invested in a wheatgrass juicer I buy a bag of fresh wheatgrass weekly for about €5.00 and mulch it daily it doesn’t taste too bad at all. The machine cost me about €30 and it only takes a few minutes to assemble and juice everyday. Hope this is helpful, best of luck with everything you have amazing fighting spirit xxx


  9. Rachael g
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 23:12:09

    I just remembered that spirulina has many great healing & detoxing properties. It has been used to help chemo patients and boost iron levels it comes in tablet form too xoxo


    • Ellie Jeffery
      Oct 21, 2011 @ 09:22:06

      Thanks for the tips and for coming along and reading the blog. I’ll definitely look into the wheatgrass and spirulina. Ellie xx


      • Rachael g
        Oct 23, 2011 @ 03:02:51

        I read about your blog in grazia recently and decided to look you up. I think you are very inspirational and brave and I hope and pray that you can win the fight. We have lost 2 relatives in recent years to cancer and there are two more relatives fighting the disease at the moment. I think the more we learn about it with research and through trying alternative remedies combined with medicine that more people can beat it and survive……. So Ellie I am looking forward to your wedding pictures next year xxxxx

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