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If I knew then what I know now...

Reviewed by Marta June 12, 2013 13 Comments

If I knew then... I found myself asking when I came across a couple of pictures of a 20-something me. Old photos of me are rare. Very few ever passed my neurotic, judgmental and unforgiving criteria (there’s one – yes only one – of a cute toddler and a solitary snap of a sulky teenager). The 20-something me has a bad 80s hair cut and oddly squinty eyes (hangover?), but I feel more kindly than embarrassed as I look back. When that picture was taken, so many things were about to change in my life and I had no idea.

One thing I didn’t know was that I was about to land the job of my dreams. At 27, I went to work at the London Times (Sunday edition). And one thing I now know is that I should have made more of it. I was a working-class kid from the north of England and felt self-conscious and awkward amongst people who I thought intrinsically belonged. Of course, I should have just chilled out and realized I was pretty good at my job instead of fretting that I obviously hadn’t been to the right boarding school. I was probably the only person on the paper that even cared. But it would take many years for me to shake off imposter syndrome.

The next thing that I couldn’t have anticipated was that I was soon to be afflicted by a potentially life-threatening virus. It took nearly three years of doggedly visiting doctors who told me the itching and discomfort were nothing to worry about. When I was eventually correctly diagnosed, it was with stage three cancer. Granted, not stage four but, as my father had died of cancer, I was very scared.

The specific cancer that I had was rare in someone of my age. It was rare at any age, but more common amongst women in their 50s and above. Hence, I was greeted with great excitement and curiosity by the medical community. I was also told that the only recourse was surgery and reconstructive surgery. Fortunately, I was journalist and trained not to take no for an answer. I did my research and with the help of my husband-to-be’s family, we found a doctor who zapped me with a laser. It took a few sessions and was terribly painful, but I came out of the process intact (and the cancer has never returned).

In general, cancers that used typically afflict older people have in the last 30 years become more common in younger people. There’s a growing body of opinion that the causes are “environmental” and may be due to the amount of carcinogenic chemicals we come into contact with, the diets of processed food with only sparse helpings of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables and so on.

I didn’t really think about this at the time though and it was many years before I cleaned up my diet and cleaned out my bathroom cabinet. I now believe that a holistic approach with as much fresh organic food and regular exercise is the key to good health. Then I researched skincare seriously when I started Truth In Aging and was appalled at the amount of harsh and even harmful things that I had been slathering all over my skin for decades.

As any regular reader knows, I am not a purist. If that eye cream is marred by the necessary evil of the preservative I’ll use it if it works. But I try to ensure that the good outweighs the bad and that the good is very good. If I’d known then what I know now, my skin would be amazing. But, hey, accumulating knowledge is what getting older is all about. As Carla Bruni said in a recent issue of Vanity Fair, “wrinkles without wisdom are boring.”

What would you tell your 20-something self with the wisdom you have now? I'd love to hear from you.

  • December 28, 2016

    by sUPHIE Wesner

    Cute old photo! You are such an interesting person! I wish I could know more about you!


  • July 11, 2013

    by Marta

    Dani, you just made me break into a huge smile. There's nothing better than hearing that someone followed a dream to do something that they love. Wise words too! I'm proud of you.

  • July 10, 2013

    by Dani

    I am only 25 but I feel like I have had my midlife crisis at 20. I was in law school in my early 20s (somewhere I had wanted to end up since I was 7) and found myself growing continuously dissatisfied and uninspired by the career I was paving out for myself. I was there because I was always told I SHOULD end up a lawyer or doctor because "i was smart enough, and thats what smart people should do" But after much soul-searching I decided to follow my heart and become a musician. I now work full time for myself doing what I love.

    What I would tell someone in their 20s is do not get bogged down with the expectations of others and trying to please anyone else. Spend time finding out what inspires you and pave your own path in that direction. It is never too early or too late to listen to your heart - it speaks surprisingly loudly when you learn to silence the noise of the world around you

  • June 21, 2013

    by Judy

    What wonderful wisdom and thank you for your vulnerability Marta. I was also a Northern lass who migrated to London and Surrey (!) in the 1970s. I can really relate to your experience. No more "chip butties" down South! Ay up! My wisdom to my 20 year-old self would be: You don't have to "Keep calm and carry on!" Open up, let go. Your feelings matter. Vulnerability is courage and strength, not weakness.

  • June 19, 2013

    by Marta

    Sophia, you made my day with the Mick Jagger/George Melley quote. Thanks for sharing.

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