Remember Svetlana, the one-legged, chain-smoking Russian home help? And remember the episode where she has sex with Tony on the sofa, while her prosthetic leg rests against the wall? Well it got me thinking about what's worse: having sex with a woman without her prosthetic leg, or without her wig? Clearly having no leg is far, far worse than losing your hair through chemo (the medical world is a bit behind in the growing-a-new-limb stakes) but, thinking short-term, I'm tempted to conclude that most people would find a wigless partner more of a turn-off. Because, let's be honest, did you really spend your last shag looking at your other half's legs?
I'm lucky. Fortunately P is only interested in wig-off mode. And for more than just sex. The moment we get home and our front door closes behind us, he's quick to whip off the syrup, despite the not-so-hot nature of what's underneath it. I'm still surprised by this. Not surprised that I'm married to a man so wonderful that he prefers his wife au naturel, but surprised that anyone can possibly prefer to look at me in the way that cancer intended. Since chemo ended, I've been busy convincing myself that the worst is over. But is it? Because, as much as I've trivialised it here, among the worst parts of The Bullshit for me has been – and continues to be – having to let other people see me like this.
I really wish I could have done a Kylie and fucked off to France for the duration of my treatment. Granted, with the paparazzi intrusion and all, she had more reason to turn recluse than I have, but that's not to say that I don't want to shut myself away any more than she did. And I'll be honest, I'm no Catherine Zeta-Jones in even my finest moments, but I am the kind of girl who only ever wants to be seen at her best, and not just looks-wise. I've cancelled many a night out after a bad day at work that's left me narked, or a bad hair day that's left me curly. (Curly! Ha! What a wonderful problem to have.) So now that The Bullshit has washed its hands of my appearance, leaving me bald, bloated, blotchy and with a hefty dose of the blues, it takes hours of persuading – not to mention preening – myself before I'm game enough to even head out of the door.
And yes, the worst of the treatment is over (at least I hope it is – phase three of The Bullshit begins this afternoon with my first radiotherapy session). But the worst of this kind of agony is far from finished, as P and I were forced to discover last week on our lovely break in the Lakes. Because, no matter how far up the motorway you drive, and however little space you leave in your suitcase, cancer still finds a way to come with you. Don't get me wrong, we had a wonderful week (the scenery/snow/sloe gin/Sopranos combo is a winner), but it was a bit like coming off a fast-moving treadmill that you know you've got to jump back on as soon as you've caught your breath. It did give us a breather, but it was a breather that forced us to think about the life that was still waiting for us 300 miles south, steadfastly refusing to go away. It was brilliant to step out of survival mode for a few days but, by Friday night, the tormenting thought of what was yet to come loomed large over the Lake District. It's like I told Mr Marbles: The Bullshit is every bit as much a mental battle as it is a physical one, and the seemingly endless, miserable anguish is unquestionably as difficult as enduring the horrors of chemo, or the heart-stopping bombshell of the diagnosis (hell, the diagnosis is a carnival compared to what follows). The medical world may know how to kill off a tumour, but it doesn't know how to rebuild the self-esteem that the tumour-busting treatment ruined in the process. So coming to terms with the magnitude of breast cancer, and the way it's changed your life, body and personality beyond recognition, is an absurdly difficult task. And it's bound to overwhelm you every now and then, leaving you and your husband weeping into each other's dressing gowns in a hotel room in the hills, utterly unimpressed by the spectacular sunset that's competing for your attention.
After the gut-wrenching, hideous heartache of the previous night, the following evening we dolled ourselves up (or, at least, P slept for two hours while I applied my disguise), ordered some champagne and headed down for one of those amazing, drawn-out, drunken dinners where you talk for hours on end, completely ignoring the rest of the room. It was the first time we'd dared review the story so far. We talked about the play-fight we had that came to a sudden halt once P grabbed hold of a lump in my left boob. We talked about changing everyone's lives forever as P made that impossible phonecall to my Dad with news of my diagnosis. The first time I looked down after my mastectomy to see the alien circle of skin where my nipple once was. The way none of us knew what to do, how to react or where to put ourselves when I fell so ill after the first chemo. The look on my brother and sister-in-law's faces when they saw how the second chemo was affecting me. The first time P had to unblock the toilet of masses of thick, blonde hair. The tantrum I threw at Tills when trying on my first wig. The helplessness of my father-in-law, and the chicken broth that he wished was a cure. The people who've been so fantastic and supportive, and those who've suddenly disappeared. And the way I used to refuse to even fetch a paper without first straightening my hair, and how ludicrous that seems now that my looks and self-confidence have sunk to their lowest. It's only when you break it down like that, daringly pausing to remember the enormity of what you've been through, that you appreciate how completely bloody incredible you've been to endure everything you have. After six months like that, P and I ought to have been throwing ourselves off Scafell Pike, let alone crying into each other's arms before ordering room service.