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The Minnie Stories

Cleaning Up Your Act - Part 5


I remember when my Sarah Jane told me she was pregnant - I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry; to me she was still only a baby herself! Just twenty years old! And she’d always been such a quiet one.. We thought she’d never have the courage to even talk to a boy, let alone, well, you know what I mean……!

But maybe, when you meet the right person, it doesn’t need courage, or even words:- a look, a smile in a special way, and you just know inside. As my mother used to tell me

“Minnie darling, when it’s the one, your hearts will say everything you need to hear!”

And could be she wasn’t talking romantic rubbish; even though when I first met my Jack, which was on a blind date with my best friend Sylvie and her fiancé, I certainly didn’t take one look at him and think

“This is the man I’m going to marry!”

For a start, he wasn’t at all the type I usually found attractive….I liked tall slim blond men - in the film ‘Gone With The Wind’(which I saw every time it was re-released!) it was Leslie Howard I fancied, not Clark Gable! But now here I was, walking along to the Regal Cinema on Stamford Hill next to 5’8” sandy - haired Jack! Mind you, I also liked a man who was serious, yet could surprise me with a good sense of humour, and that was Jack to a T….. he had a way of looking at life, people, the world, that would so often suddenly make me think

“I’ve lived with and loved this man all these years, yet he can still surprise me……!”

So when he shyly asked to see me again, I looked at his deep brown eyes, and his all-over-the-place hair,and I just somehow felt…… safe. And I don’t think I even actually said “Yes”; I just kind of nodded. And that was it……our hearts said everything we needed to hear!.

Oh my God, I’m sounding like mum again!

And now, twenty-two years later, here was our baby, Jack’s special girl, Sarah Jane, telling me she and Sam were expecting a child of their own…………!

I asked all the usual questions, of course….oy, did I ask questions! How far gone are you? How does Sam feel about it? How can you afford a baby now, when Sam is still studying? And all the time she just smiled like she had the secret to life and the universe, so none of these things mattered!

“Mum”, she finally said, “Didn’t you always tell me that if you’d waited ‘til you could afford a baby I’d never have been born?” I just hugged her so tight, then, and told her “Sit down, you shouldn’t stand too long, it’s not good for the baby, you’ll…….”

“Mum, stop already!” she laughed. “I’m not ill, I’m just expecting!” That’s when I said

“So,you and Sam……you’ll get married now?” And she gives me a look that was like curtains closing across the screen at the pictures, and she just says

“When and if we decide, Mum, when - and if - we decide.”

So I had to leave it at that; which took the edge off my happiness a bit…..because we all want what’s best for our kids, don’t we? And we all think that what we did they should do, well in this kind of thing anyway………I just wanted Sarah Jane to be safe, and looked after; to bring up her baby with two parents : sure, old-fashioned, I admit, but those are the values that I was brought up with, and at heart I still believe in them.

But just before she left to go home, she says to me

“Trust me, Mum……what’s the matter? Don’t you believe that if anything ever did go wrong with me and Sam, I’d always be able to manage to earn a living for me and the baby?” “Sure you would darling…………but Please God it’ll never come to that!”

And what wonderful expectant parents-in-waiting they were…….! She and Sam did all the classes together: and Sam used to sing to her tummy, even! Then Sarah Jane started reading all these books- not just the special ones for new parents, but all the works of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, those sisters, the Brontes? I couldn’t believe it!

“What’s all this with the books, all of a sudden?” I asked her one day. And you know what my quiet, but determined, girl says? “I want my baby to grow up smart, Mum!”

And you know what? He did…………my handsome grandson, Anthony. He’s nearly not a teenager any more; and he’s got Sam’s build, but even taller!. And so bright…!He’s going to University now - well, it’s one of the new ones, what used to be a Polytechnic in my day, and he’s going to be a….a……something high up in computer systems, I think he said.

And as you know, I never tried to influence him….just told him to do what would make him happy, challenge him; something he could be passionate about.

What’s more, his sister, my beautiful grand-daughter Rachel, is just as smart as Anthony, as smart as Sarah Jane wanted them to be, but in a different way. Sarah Jane and Sam waited a long time for her to come along - in fact they were beginning to accept that Anthony was going to be an only child, because she just didn’t fall pregnant again. They decided to stop trying, and just enjoy each other.

So what happens? Of course…! Eight years after her first child, Sarah Jane was expecting their second! A miracle can still happen! Not just a miracle, but a blessing, a mitzvah…..because our Rachel was born perfect - healthy and beautiful….perfect! And as I said, bright too.

But whereas Anthony has a clever head on his shoulders, a brain that asks questions, works things out, Rachel is more fantastic with feelings, and caring. In fact, she can’t make up her mind whether to be a nursery nurse or a vet…! And not even eleven years old………..! I tell you, I love them both to bits!

But anyway, I bet you’re wondering what brought all this on suddenly, about the kids? Well…… remember I was going to the hospital for the results of my tests? So Sarah Jane insists on coming with me - and between you and me, I was really happy she was there, sitting next to me, when the specialist tells me that my lump has cancer cells in it.

Funny thing, the difference how something is said changes how you feel hearing it……I think if he’d told me

“Mrs Kerchevsky, you’ve got breast cancer”, I’d probably have gone to pieces. But the way he put it, it wasn’t me who had the cancer, it was the lump! So Sarah Jane squeezes my hand really tight, like I used to do to her when she was little and she had to go to the dentist. And part of me is remembering that, and thinking how we’ve swapped places, while another part of me is repeating, over and over inside my head

“It’s breast cancer, breast cancer, breast cancer”, and wanting to scream. But it wasn’t a scream that came out of my mouth………it was the Minnie part of me - Minnie the cleaner from Clapton, who just needed to get on with clearing it up!

“So what happens now?” I asked him..

“Now? Well first we can operate…….”

I interrupted him.

“What kind of operation?”

“To remove the breast”

“The breast? You mean my breast! But why?”

“Well, if we remove your breast the cancer can’t come back into it”

“But it might never come back anyway!” I protested. “No!”

Suddenly I was protecting, possessive almost.

“No, I won’t agree to that! You can cut out my lump, but not cut off my breast!”

“That’s entirely up to you, of course; I can only recommend”, he replied.

So he makes arrangements for me to have it done a couple of weeks from then.

Going home, Sarah Jane is upset. “Mum, why don’t you let him do the whole thing? Isn’t it better safe than sorry?”

“Maybe,darling. But, you know, I’ve had a lot of time to think about whatif they etll me it’s cancer, what that will all be about. And the funny thing is, not once have I asked “Why me?”Like it was some terrible punishment from someone or something outside of me. I just don’t see it that way.

I just believe it’s my breast, my cancer - and so it’s also my reason for having it………… probably sounds daft, I know, but I feel as if my body has been trying to tell me something, and I didn’t listen; like it’s been whispering to me to speak out for myself more, not bottle things up, keep them close to my chest,” I laughed as I heard myself say that!

“But I ignored all its whispers, so I think that finally it’s had to shout. And that’s what I think my cancer is all about……something for my own good. So I can’t think of it as an enemy - it’s me! And now I‘ve worked that out, I’m going to thank my lump, and explain that now I’ve got the message, it’s done its job, so I’m setting it free”

I had the operation. And they did more tests and it hasn’t spread;

But now guess what I’d been doing every day before the operation….? Well promise you won’t laugh, ….but all the time I was imagining I was inside my breast, and I put my lump carefully on one side, then I got a little tiny Henry vacuum cleaner, and went all round inside myself making sure there wasn’t a speck of any cancer anywhere except in my lump! So when I said a last “Thank you” to it as they gave me the anaesthetic, I was satisfied that I’d done my usual good cleaning job!

But I can hear you thinking, I still haven’t explained why I started this by talking about the kids. Well one reason was the way Sarah Jane looked after me like she was my mother instead of my daughter! And the second reason is because young Rachel came round to see me today, and asked me

“Grandma, Mum told me you’ve had an operation on your breast. But aren’t breast operations really serious?”

She looked so worried, bless her.

And as I’ve always believed in answering any of the kids’ questions truthfully - though not always all of the truth, I admit! - I said

“Well not always. But yes, Rachel darling, they can sometimes be serious”

“You mean things like breast cancer?”

There’s not much they don’t hear about these days is there?

“Yes, that kind of thing”.

She hesitated, then she said very quietly

“Is that what you’ve got Grandma?”

“No my darling….it’s what I had”

“So that’s why you had an operation - to get rid of it?”

“Not to ‘get rid’ of it, no - to let it go” I said.

“and you’re alright again now?”

“Yes, Bubbelah, I’m alright again now”

And she went off happy. And I felt I’d cleared up something there, as well…..because yes, she’s only a kid; but soon she’ll be a woman. And I want her to grow up respecting, but not automatically expecting that sometimes serious things happen.

And most of all I don’t want her to believe that that word cancer always means death.

Seems to me that if we changed the word, we’d change how we feel about it…………try it for yourself, like I did, while I was “Henry-ing” inside my breast……instead of saying to myself

“I’m cleaning away any bits of cancer that might be laying around”,

I giggled, and said

“I’m cleaning away any bits of lobster that might be laying around!”

Sure,I could have picked any word, but lobster was the most ridiculous one I could come up with…….

And you know something….? It worked!

Read next chapter >>



Cleaning Up Your Act

Introduction To The Story Collection

The Minnie Kerchevsky Stories

Real wisdom can often be found in the most unlikely places....not from teachers, coaches, professors and so on, but from ordinary people who have their own life experiences to draw on to help others.

Cleaning Up Your Act is a collection of the stories of one of these very special people.........

Minnie Kerchevsky is a so-called ‘ordinary woman’, a cleaner, a 'daily', with no pretensions, no super-ego... just a desire to make things better in any way she can; helping those around her to “clean up their acts” in her own unique and heart-warming way!

Minnie believes that what stops us being happy is thinking we don’t have choices - and that feel-good is a state of mind we can always choose to be in!

So in ‘Cleaning Up Your Act’, we gradually learn about Minnie’s own life and events - and how she dealt with challenges and learned how to see raindrops as sunbeams in disguise! - interwoven through the stories she shares about the people she impacts with the homespun wisdom that is the essence of who and how she is, because of who and how she has been.

Each of us has met Minnie, or someone like her, in our lives... and if we haven’t, we’re the poorer for it - so here’s our chance to put that right!



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