Credit to: The Yahoo fansite, Jane Preston
Content from: The Yahoo Fansite

Don't call me a victim;
sent to the fansite: Sat Jan 18, 2003 1:44 pm

Don't call me a victim;
Life & Style: She has been told she won't see 30. But Alice Martineau, 28, is releasing her debut album, and is defiant about her future

Jane Preston

IN today's fly-by-night pop market, where most artists can expect to enjoy little more than a three-year career, Alice Martineau is a refreshing breath of fresh air. She writes and performs the kind of "real music" that critics predict will give her a long and healthy career.

However, it is a cruel irony that Martineau has neither time nor good health on her side. She was born with cystic fibrosis, an inherited condition that causes changes in the body's chemistry, producing thick mucus. In the lungs, this creates a breeding ground for infection and makes breathing difficult; in the digestive system, food is not absorbed properly, leading to stunted growth. At birth, doctors gave her just 10 years to live.

Eighteen months ago she was told she is unlikely to live another five years. But that hasn't stopped Sony Records from signing her to a multi-album deal. Today, she is waiting for a lifesaving heart, lung and liver transplant - an operation that has been performed just five times in this country and been successful only once. But despite having to live with her illness, she is incredibly optimistic. "I had always put any thoughts about needing a transplant to the back of my mind," she says.

"I've never wanted to be known as 'the ill girl'. I wasn't going to let this illness defeat me. But I had to face up to it 18 months ago when my doctor said: 'I think you've definitely got two more years, but if you were to ask me whether you had five more years, I couldn't honestly answer.' "I couldn't believe he was giving me a 'best before' date, like a product on a supermarket shelf. Facing up to your own mortality is never easy. People might assume that if you have lived with a life-threatening illness all your life that you must be prepared to reach a stage where death is inevitable.

But nothing can prepare you for being told you are going to die."

Alice lives as normal a life as she can with her boyfriend of four years, Al, a computer software designer, who she says has helped her to overcome the kind of obstacles that most of us can barely imagine. Sitting opposite Martineau in a cafe close to her flat in the basement of her parents' Notting Hill home, it's hard to believe this frail and delicate woman - who looks a decade younger than her 28 years - could possibly possess the necessary resolve.

SINCE going on the national transplant waiting list, Martineau has carried with her a special bleeper which, should it go off, will give her just two hours to get to hospital, where a new set of organs will be waiting for her.

"In the early days of being on the list, every time the phone rang I thought it was the hospital with a perfect set of organs. It's not easy to come to terms with the fact that the call could come tomorrow, in five years time or it could never come," she says.

"I try not to think about my transplant any more because I don't think it will ever happen.

Of course, I still pray that it will, but I can't let myself have that hope."

There is little wonder that Martineau isn't holding out much hope. In the past year there have only been two heart and lung transplants, compared to 17 the year before.

"It's a lottery," she says. "There are 6,000 people in this country waiting for a transplant, so why should I be picked? But then, why shouldn't I?

However, the fact that I am waiting for three organs from one donor makes it less likely."

It is impossible to imagine what it must be like to need somebody to die in order to give you the chance of life.

Martineau admits she has extreme and mixed emotions. "Every time there is a massive train crash or some other disaster I think: 'Oh, maybe there'll be some organs'," she says. "Of course I don't want there to be any fatalities, but there is a bit of me that is almost wishing someone to die. If there is a tragedy and someone loses their life, they could give me or someone else the chance of life."

Even if the organs were to become available, the 15-hour operation needed is an extremely complicated procedure. "There are great risks, so I've had to ask myself, do I actually want it?" she says. "But I do. I want the chance of life.

Because it is my only chance.

Without it - well, you know."

Martineau's voice trails off, but there is a flash of steely determination in her eyes that gives some indication of her inner strength. "How do I cope?

I deal with it because I have to," she says. "But I've now got this album out, which is really exciting, so I'm able to focus all my energy on that."

It has taken her five years of near-misses, raised hopes and crushing disappointments to get a record deal. Every record company she approached had responded favourably, until they found out she was ill.

"I couldn't believe it when Sony offered me a deal. I was absolutely bowled over," she says. "It was weird because I'm at a stage in my life where I am more ill than I've ever been."

Martineau admits her health has deteriorated in the past year.

She is attached to a machine that delivers oxygen to her lungs 24 hours a day via a transparent tube in her nostrils - she calls the machine her "best friend".

Every day she endures three sessions of physiotherapy where she is thumped on the chest to bring up the mucus in her lungs.

She has diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver - common secondary conditions - and takes more than 40 pills a day.

Once a month she has a 14-day course of intravenous antibiotics. Amazingly, she has coped with the rigours of writing and recording an album, making a video and performing live gigs.

"I just don't overstretch myself and make sure I rest when I need to," she says.

"And on stage I can't leap around, otherwise I get too breathless." People might think that singing is a strange career for somebody who has such profound health problems, but it is all she has ever wanted to do. Born and raised in west London by her lawyer father and mother, she was surrounded by music.

Her grandmother was a concert pianist and her uncle made his name in the Eighties, producing Def Leppard and Judas Priest, while her brother is in a band.

After school, where she was bullied because of her illness, she read English at King's College, where she graduated with a first. She then worked as a model, appearing in teenage magazines and on MTV before deciding to put the poetry she had always written to music. "Because of the cystic fibrosis people are very surprised that I have a strong voice. But I spend so much of my life coughing that it has strengthened my diaphragm," she says.

"It is so exciting to be taken seriously for something other than being ill.

The element of escapism while I am performing means that, for brief moments while I'm singing, I can forget all the machines in my bedroom. I can make believe I'm fit and healthy.

It is the thought of what I might be able to achieve once I've had the transplant that helps me get through it. If my transplant is meant to work, it will. It is in the hands of the gods."