In all truth, it's a while since I paid any attention to my bikini line. Largely because I haven't had to (Lessons In Cancer #1: at least some of the hair-loss stuff is a blessing). Frankly, it's been so long since I looked south of my belly button that I wouldn't have been surprised to find that my oestrogen-suppressing drugs had gifted me a cock and balls. And while, thankfully, that's not the case, I wasn't any less alarmed to discover that my pubes are growing back unusually straight. (Too much information? Sheesh, I've not even started.) 'Now there's a thing,' I thought, slightly baffled by the down-there development but nonetheless determined to remove the lot of them as soon as I get the chance (translation: as soon as I can stop staring at them). And I thought little else of it... until yesterday.
Lessons In Cancer #2: I'm not alone! According to the more loose-lipped amongst you who've emailed over the last couple of days (and thank you), the Straight Pube Phenomenon is yet another of those unspoken cancer consequences, like the sunken eyes or lost fingernails or crippling piles (speaking of which, it turns out aqueous cream is good for more than radiotherapy burns). Nobody had previously mentioned the weird leg-hair regrowth, either. Remember when you were a kid, and your Mum used to say that if you started shaving your legs, the hair would grow back faster, thicker and darker? Fallacy. Just like traffic wardens and the 'I've started so I'll finish' myth. What your Mum meant was that your leg hair will grow back faster, thicker and darker if you've lost it through chemo. And, frankly, that would have been a far better hair-removal discouragement for the 13-year-old me to hear. Mums fib about the chocolate = spots thing, too. She and I had blamed my teenage acne on everything from a bad diet and pollution to trashy make-up and trashier break-ups. Turns out it was all down to that pesky oestrogen stuff (oestrogen's a bastard, ain't it?) because, since taking Tamoxifen, my skin's never looked better. (Advice for teenagers: eat crap and epilate.)
It's been quite the week of revelations, actually. For starters, the female half of Dollar (better click back here if the 1980s radiotherapy reference is lost on you) told me this morning that – drumroll please – I'm her favourite patient. Hoorah! It's an accolade I've been working hard to achieve for some time, actually (hell, how many other patients lie back on the treatment bed singing along to The Four Tops?), and it's a comment that's bought the radiotherapy staff a barrage of cupcakes at my final treatment session on Monday (that's right, people – 27 down, a measly one to go). I've mentioned before what an utter suck-up I am around health professionals, and it seems I'm not becoming any less embarrassing the more I visit the hospital. I reckon I've turned into the annoying, brown-nosing patient that all the other patients hate. And I (not so) secretly love it. Maybe I'll go all-out on the milking-it front on Monday and turn up in a T-shirt with 'FAVOURITE PATIENT' emblazoned on the front (and 'CANCER BITCH' on the back, just for good measure). But anyway, what's a bit of ass-kissing between friends? These people are potentially saving my life – the least I can do is bake a few cupcakes and give them a blast of Reach Out (I'll Be There).
On a less-rewarding revelation front, my radiated skin has been giving me a bit of jip lately (read: waking me up in the night thanks to being so. bloody. sore.) and I've been seeing the radiotherapy nurse about it a couple of times a week. And, love her, she's throwing everything at it – two types of cream, sleeping pills, wet flannels – in the hope of taking some of the pain and heat out of the area. Frankly, you could fry eggs on my tit at the moment. And probably grill a couple of sausages under my armpit. So I've been given some cool gel pads to stick onto my skin whenever it feels too hot. It's basically tantamount to taking the orangey bit out of the middle of a Jaffa Cake and pressing it against your boob (which, in altogether different circumstances, might be a bit of a laugh, actually). My temporary implant has taken quite a hit thanks to the radiotherapy, too. For one, it's really shrunk. Not quite to post-mastectomy levels, but it's definitely smaller. (I keep thinking about the nurse who changed my dressings the day after my mastectomy, and the reassuring comment that all modest-busted women should hear: 'Listen to me, darlin'. You be glad your titties weren't all that big to begin with. My husband says any more than a mouthful is a waste.') As well as the shrinking, it's hardened and flipped over so the valve is now sitting at the bottom and digging into my ribcage (here's where the cushioning of the extra pounds comes in handy). And thanks to all of that, it feels pretty gross, too. Kind of like touching a boob through one of those solid, gravity-defying padded bras, but less lacy and more, well, Jaffa Cakey. Even the cat won't lean on it, and she's always snuggling up on my chest. (In fact here she is right now – say hello, Sgt Pepper. Christ, I've turned into one of those people who speaks for their pet, haven't I? Next thing you know I'll be signing cards 'love L&P & Sgt Pepper' and creating her a blog of her own. Screw the hair loss. This is what cancer does to you.)
The biggest surprise of all this week, however, was learning from the nurse that the symptoms of radiotherapy – soreness, redness, exhaustion and all – don't peak until seven to ten days after treatment has finished. 'Oh no, my love,' she told me. 'You'll get much worse before you get better.' So that's something to look forward to, then. I'd just assumed I'd be well on my way to feeling more normal by the time I see Smiley Surgeon at the beginning of next month to set the date for my operation (it's got to be done quickly, but can't be done before my skin has fully healed). But it turns out he'll be seeing my skin at its worst, and I'm keen to get this op over with. In shameless truth, I'm pissed off about more than just the potential delaying of the surgery date. I'm pissed off that the low-cut dress I've bought to wear at my mate Jonze's wedding in a couple of weeks might now be unsuitable, dammit. What is it with all this impatience, eh? You'd think that after all this time I'd be able to wait a mere couple of months before getting out my cleavage again. Still, with the fuzzy head, leg hair, hanging-on-for-dear-life nails, dodgy pubes and shrinking, puce-coloured left tit, I suspect it'll be a while before I can start getting too hung up on vanity.