I was never a total tomboy. Just tomboy-ish when it suited me. It was a conscious – and pretty successful – decision to get boys to like me. Being 'one of the lads' was my Way In. Liking football was my USP. (An old boyfriend often talks about the first night he came back to my place and how, as he was unbuttoning his shirt, he turned around to find me checking FA Cup scores on Teletext.) But, after finally reaching a new ladylike low in the week in which I discovered that my legs are in danger of getting hairier than my husband's, and revealed on Twitter that I once peed into a Pringles tube at Glastonbury (classy, eh?), I fear it's time I took my old man's advice.
And so I write this from my loo seat, with legs apart and blinds closed. It's where I've spent much of today, actually – the suggestion from the radiotherapy staff that my symptoms would peak seven to 10 days after treatment had finished was, again, bang on the money. I reckon my skin is just past its worst now, but I've been feeling a bit on the groggy side and wound up with my head down the loo earlier on today. (A little tip: when doctors say, 'You might find that...' what they actually mean is, 'This is a dead cert.' Derren Brown has got nothing on the staff at my hospital, I tells ya.) But fortunately, this current toilet trip is more out of choice than necessity. And the legs-akimbo stuff is nothing kinky, I assure you (hell, I'm not that good at multi-tasking). Instead, I'm waiting the 10 to 12 minutes recommended by Veet while the Straight Pube Phenomenon becomes a thing of the past.
I'd forgotten what a palaver personal grooming was. With all the hairlessness and pyjama-wearing of the past few months, getting dolled up has been something of a rarity. Not that I'm dusting off my gladrags tonight – I'm preening for a night in with P. He's been away this weekend and, what with getting back late last night and leaving for work early this morning, tonight will be the first he's properly seen of me for a few days. And since I'm keen to avoid looking like an extra from the Thriller video and instead unearth the fairly presentable girl who's hiding in here somewhere, the practice of prettifying is something of a must.
I suspect radiotherapy did most of the damage. If you'll excuse the sweeping generalisations, fellas, I fear 28 sessions of radiation has helped me acquire a few more typically male traits (or helped me lose a few typically female ones). For starters, I have a new reluctance to dance at discos. As predicted a few weeks back, I've become pretty good at doing the YMCA. So good, in fact, that it's time to announce my retirement from the dance. Sad as it may be, I suspect the world just isn't ready for my perfectly honed routine, YMCA Jedi Master that I am. (Come to think of it, 'Young man, I was once in your shoes' sounds a bit like something Yoda would say, don't you think? 'Once in your shoes, I was.') But if I'm a Jedi Master in the YMCA, I'm a Jedi Grand Master when it comes to parallel parking. Six weeks' practice of reversing into hospital bays, and I can squeeze my Astra into a pram-sized spot faster than you can say En-Ra-Ha. And it's taken a good month and a half, but I've also perfected the art of leaving the flat within 30 minutes of waking up. Alarm, phonecall from P to follow up on the alarm, shower, aqueous cream, clean teeth while cream is drying, put on clothes abandoned on bedroom floor, pull on the boots that don't require socks, tie my headscarf on my way out of the door – job's a good'un.
It's not necessarily that I feel like a man. But nor do I feel particularly womanly. And I sure as hell can't remember what it's like to feel sexy. (The one thing that always made me feel flirty and feminine was my hair. Well, my hair and my boobs. And when both of those are shot to shit, what else have I got to work with?) I doubt I'll be causing any sharp intakes of breath by telling you that cancer is basically a sex-free zone. The mere mention of the word is the ultimate moment-killer (not to mention its effects on your appearance) and with the added, menopause-inducing effects of Tamoxifen, it's no huge surprise that I feel the way I do.
I wonder, though, whether my fall from femininity has less to do with my lack of oestrogen, and more to do with the simple fact that I'm just out of practice when it comes to being a girl? Cancer does not a woman make. Nor a man, for that matter. When you're in the throes of The Bullshit, you're neither man nor woman – you're a being. A being with one function: survive. There's just no space for anything else. Not shaving your legs or waxing your bikini line. Not spraying yourself with perfume. Not choosing a pair of earrings in the morning. Sheesh, not even putting on deodorant (it was banned during radiotherapy).
But now that my active treatment is over, there's suddenly some newly vacated room in my brain for face masks and moisturiser and nail varnish and bronzer. So I guess P's return from his weekend away couldn't have come at a better time in my cancer schedule (after chemotherapy and radiotherapy comes beauty therapy). And since one of my new year's resolutions was to look hot by the time I hit 30 – and stay that way – that gives me exactly seven months to re-learn all the stuff I forgot over the same amount of time. Better get started, then.
And so, in my quest to regain my girly self and make my husband fancy me, my bathroom currently looks like that Mel-Gibson-in-tights scene from What Women Want (I'm back on the sofa now, away from the devastation). The place has been beauty-bombed: tweezers abandoned on the side of the sink, chunks of my ankles in the bath, blood on my white towels, fake tan up the walls, pink hair removal cream smeared on the side of the cabinet and peeling flakes of radiated skin all over the floor. Actually, that's just reminded me about a kid at school who used to eat his peeling skin (he was friends with the transvestite-comment boy – go figure). I seem to remember he ate grass, insects and banana skins, too. And I'm the one who got cancer.