By way of explaining the addition of yet more cheesy disco routines to my cancer treatment, it's fair to say that the novelty of radiotherapy-as-pretty-cool has well and truly worn off. In fact, it's started to wind me up to Grinch-like levels. (It's still a rave compared to chemotherapy, mind, but I hope the fact that it's bad enough to whinge about further emphasises just what a motherfucker chemo was.) I'd somehow managed to get away with its annoying effects after one week but, after the second, the radio-targeted cross-section of my body had become burned, painful, itchy and achy. It was starting to give my left arm jip, too, to the point where my fingers repeatedly swelled up like one of those giant foam hands you get at the baseball or in the audience on Gladiators (New Embarrassing Side-Effect #1). And so to the lymphoedema clinic, where they fitted me for the best, hi-tech, swelling-solving device that contemporary medical science has to offer: a glove. And not even a nice-looking glove, either (NES-E #2). It's cut-off-your-circulation tight, skin coloured (well, it is if you're Nancy Dell'Olio) and fingerless, with messy-looking seams on the outside. Frankly it makes me look like a reject from the Michael Jackson school of disguises. But even that isn't credibility-destroying enough for the nurses in the clinic, who've also taught me some daily physiotherapy exercises that are basically tantamount to doing the Birdie Song. Half of it's done sitting down, the rest lying on the floor. So actually I suppose it's more of a Birdie Song/Oops Upside Ya Head hybrid. Just bring on Agadoo and let's be done with it.
The absurdity doesn't stop there. There's the sunburnt skin, too. Actually, that I had accounted for, but not the swelling. It's a good job bra-wearing is too painful at the moment, because my left boob is now so swollen that it's easily a cup size bigger than my right. There's no way I'd be able to squeeze it in there. Not that even the squeezing would be possible, now that my saline implant is hardening with every treatment. Remember when you were a kid and couldn't be arsed to put the lid back on the Play-Doh, so it went hard overnight? That's kind of what my left tit feels like. Gorgeous, huh?
Along the way, I've kept forgetting the still-unfathomable fact that all this began with a tumour in my boob. My lovely boob. One of the few parts of my body that I always said I wouldn't change (just like I always said that alopecia was among my biggest fears – seems you don't have to be careful what you wish for; more what you're afraid of). I especially wouldn't have wanted to change my left boob, though – that was always my favourite. (I just re-read that post, by the way, and had a little cry.) But that was six months ago – now it's a huge, round lump of hardened, red Play-Doh, without even the crowning glory of a nipple. A tiny part of me wishes that I'd let it have its day – a page-three photoshoot, some topless sunbathing, a cheeky chavvy flash on someone's shoulders in the crowd of an Oasis gig. (I fear now it's more a case of 'get your top on for the lads'.) It's only ever had what I consider a modest number of public outings – a number that won't be increasing, and not just because there's a ring on my finger.
I wonder what I'd do in the future sex-wise if I weren't married. I'm intrigued to know what single, Bullshit-befallen women do when they're recovered and having fun and ready to get back on the horse (ooer). Because how do you broach the subject? 'Single fabulous F, 5'7", GSOH, nipple a bit on the dodgy side, WLTM understanding man who won't scarper at the sight of her tits'? Seriously though, the I've-had-a-mastectomy line is something of a turn-off, no? Or is it the ultimate test of a man, to see whether or not he's bothered by it? Does it make you a bra-on girl for evermore? Should you even mention it beforehand, or just crack on and see whether he notices?
At this stage of my reconstruction, there's no hiding the fact. As I've mentioned before, there's currently a Toffee Penny-shaped circle where my nipple should be (enjoy your Quality Street this Christmas, eh?). Hardly the stuff that wet dreams are made of, I'm sure you'll agree. And, as I discovered in radio last week – when Pepsi & Shirlie became Bucks Fizz thanks to the addition of two male nurses in the treatment room – P's not the only one who has to look me in the nipple and keep a straight face. So far, all but two of the medical professionals I've seen have been women, and the two men I've seen have been considerably older than me. But last week, all of a sudden, there were two lads my age charged with the task of radiating my bust (and neck and shoulder and armpit, but I'm less bothered about those bits), and I couldn't help but wonder what they thought of me and my bizarre bosom. (Help! I'm running out of tit-terms!)
Not that the opinion of other men should matter, of course. Luckily, all I need to concern myself with is whether or not P can stand the sight of a naked new-me, and experience would suggest that it's not a problem. But of course that didn't stop me worrying about it all weekend. And so yesterday, I decided to test the water with the radio boys, and do my best to judge whether I completely grossed them out. Since I've now begun a daily routine of strutting in, all headscarf and lip gloss, and indulging in a morning mini-flirt with the boy on reception, I decided to extend it a bit further down the corridor and try my luck in the treatment room, too. Radio Boy 1 was Play-Doh in my hands: one highly unoriginal comment about being topless in a dark room, and we were bang into the banter. Radio Boy 2 proved harder to break. I threw everything at it, from the local drinking holes to their Christmas-party scandal, but nothing doing. And just when I gave up and resorted to my usual inane gossip-column chatter – this time about Rihanna and how I'm making her my hair muse – I finally got my answer. Radio Boy 2 is, indeed, appalled by the sight of my tits. But it turns out that not even Rihanna is his thing. He much prefers Chris Brown. So I'm happy to admit defeat on those grounds. And anyway, much like my status quo on the nipple front, one out of two ain't bad.