Like I said last year, 2009 is the year of Sorting Shit Out. Seriously, check the Chinese zodiac. (Do you like how I said 'last year' back then? See, it's all just a bad memory.) This is the year when I'll be able to once again pick up a hairdryer, go bra shopping, have more sex, pay attention to my bikini line, get off my steroid-swelled arse and generally execute a Houdini-like escape from the evil grip of The Bullshit. Ta-dah!
Right now, I don't look great. Actually that's somewhat generous. I look like the long-lost sister of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. And it's time to do something about it. I appreciate that it'll take a fair bit of doing, which is why I've kicked off early, before the final whistle of my surgery and the end of my active treatment. I'm realistic about the timeframe, too – I know I'm not going to wake up from my op with the looks and figure of Selma Blair (Hair Muse #2). Hell, I've not just got hair to grow, but weight to shift, a left tit to transform, eyelashes to sprout and eyebrows to fill (though I guess if all else fails I could always go the Mutya Buena route – do you reckon they're included in her tally of 14 tattoos?). So the plan is this: screw my 20s, I'm writing them off. Instead, I'm going to make damn sure I look super-hot in preparation for my 30s, just in time to flaunt the New Me at My Super Sweet 30th. (Your Tit Needs You part 1: After hearing from an ex-boss that his wife did something similar, I'm shamelessly ripping off their idea and will be turning my SS30th into a charity fundraiser. So, eight months in advance of the bash, I'm already on the hunt for a London venue and some fan-fucking-tastic things to auction off. I'm talking big stuff, please – event tickets, backstage passes, signed memorabilia, once-in-a-lifetime prizes... you name it, I'm after it. Drop me an email if you can help, and I'll make sure there's an invite and some good karma in the post.)
But back to Operation Elfin. The issue here is that cancer is forcing me into an image change. Just as bouncing back to the life I had pre-Bullshit is unrealistic, so is the thought that I'll have my long blonde locks back within six months. So image change it is. And, if you're interested in following me on my journey from cancer-patient George Dawes to picture-of-health Gwyneth Paltrow (circa Sliding Doors), I'm afraid there's something you're going to have to see. Hold tight, now.
Christ, have I really just done that? [Blink.] Yep, looks like it. Fuck. Right, well, that's me (and P in the background there). I'd love to be able to tell you that the girl in the photographs is someone else, but it ain't. It's me. That said, even I view those photos as though I'm looking at some other poor sod. When P and I downloaded them, I shook my head and said, 'Cor, that's sad, isn't it?' And yes, it is sad. But those photos were taken on 1 January and, believe me, they're far better better images than the ones I could have shown you on 1 December. Still, have a word with yourself if you think you're having a bad hair day, eh?
The purpose of that horror show isn't just to satisfy your curiosity about what I've been keeping under my hat (or headscarf) all this time, but instead to chart the progress of my regrowth in a monthly Barnet Bulletin. Right now, as you can see, the trouble is less length, more coverage. And since Wikipedia tells me that human hair grows at a rate of 0.4mm per day, I reckon the most I'm looking at is a Posh pixie crop by the time I hit Glastonbury (and in Posh's colour, too – for those of you who hadn't seen the Old Me, my hair was never this dark, even beneath the highlights). But of course, if I'm going to carry off hair like Rihanna/Selma/Gwyneth/Posh, I'm going to need the frame to suit it. So as well as the hair-spurt mission, I'm also on a shrink-down health-kick to shift the 16lbs (shock! horror!) that cancer so kindly gifted me (my fitness DVD will be in the shops next Christmas). I'm thinking of the unwanted bulk as a bit like baby weight, but without actually having had to squeeze one out. And, if you think about it, it's not all that far off, really: the nine months of suffering, the removal of a funny-shaped lump from my body, the sleepless nights, even the mothering – albeit kitten rather than baby. (And correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think five-month-old babies are generally known to scale the drapes and perch on top of the curtain rail, like mini daredevil recruits for Fathers 4 Justice.) Still, baby weight/cancer weight, potato/potahtoe (ooh, jacket potato...) – whatever you want to call it, it's on the way out.
Health-wise I'm still a long way off jogging round the park (hell, even jogging to the loo). Radiotherapy continues to take its toll, and the exhaustion is reminding me of the time at uni when I had one too many late nights, snogged one too many smelly boys and ended up with glandular fever. It's utterly knackering – debilitating, even – and, in many ways, I'll be glad when it's over. But as much as it's kicking me up the arse when I'm not there, I don't half love having somewhere to go every day, and a brilliant bunch of people to see it through with. It's like going into the office – I chirp a cheery hello to the (still fit) boy on reception, say 'good morning' to the other 11 o'clock regulars in the waiting room, then enjoy a bit of banter with the radio staff. And, for the last couple of weeks, it's been my favourite lass and lad in the radio room (from Pepsi & Shirlie to Bucks Fizz, and now Dollar – what's next, UB40?). I love Dollar (seriously, this is getting daft) – they always let me in on the department in-jokes and the three of us have a right good giggle every morning (plus I think I've gained a few favouritism points after slipping them some golden gossip nuggets from my LA-reporter mate Ant). I've only got nine treatments left, and I'm going to miss the arses off those two when I finish. Do you think it's acceptable to befriend them on Facebook? Or is the cupcake-baking option a better display of gratitude? On second thoughts I'd better not, if they end up anything like the diet-friendly cake I baked last week. Citrus omelette, anyone?
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Your Tit Needs You part 2
I was chatting with one half of Dollar today (heck, that makes him David Van Day, right?) about the hideousness of my chemo experience, and the comparative carnival that radiotherapy has been. Just as some people's treatment means that their reaction to chemo won't be half as bad as mine was, he was telling me that it works exactly the same for radiotherapy – some folk have a horribly torrid time of it, while others get off lightly like I have, with just the painful skin, swelling and tiredness. DVD was saying how sick he is of society's blanket approach to cancer, and that I'm a good example of how different it is for everyone affected by it. As he went on to say, there's no rhyme or reason to this disease. Without wanting to put the shits up you, it can strike whoever it wants, whenever it wants, with no symptoms or warning, and no way of knowing how it'll affect you – physically or mentally – until you're busy battling it. And, tricky as the subject matter may be, it was nice for me to hear someone who hasn't had cancer describe it like that, and to know that the 'blanket approach' pisses them off as much as it does me. DVD knows about my blog, and I got the sense that he wanted me to reiterate this point on his behalf. So here I am, doing it again, and asking you to help me do it some more.
This is where you come in. I'm working on something, in tandem with Alright Tit, that will hopefully open more people's eyes to the shitty, painful, heartbreaking and sometimes humorous reality of the c-word (no, Dad, not the rude one) – and not just from my perspective. I'm collecting quotes from anyone affected by cancer – whether you've had it yourself or know someone who has, whether you work in a hospital or at a charity, whether you cry at the Cancer Research ads on TV, whether you've Raced for Life, whether you're a Kylie fan, whether you've read this or other cancer books/blogs/whatever... or even whether you know nothing at all about it. I'm looking to gather quotes that are as honest and no-holds-barred as I hope this blog is. Quotes about diagnoses, people's responses to them, family and friends' reactions, angry moments, embarrassing side effects of treatment, hair loss, wigs, headscarves, doctors, relationships, marriages, sex, cancer-affected appearances, the missing tastebuds, the cravings, the tantrums, the helpful things people have done, the people who've gone MIA, the bravery you've witnessed, the recoveries, end-of-treatment celebrations, survival, death, the highs, the lows, the things that make you wince or smile or grit your teeth or want to tear out what's left of your hair in sheer bloody frustration. Everyone's got a story, whether they've had a cancer diagnosis – of any sort – or not. So whatever you've got to say, I'd love to hear it. As long as it's honest. I'll get the ball rolling, shall I?
On the day of my diagnosis but before I'd been told, I knew something was up when the nurse doing my mammogram didn't stop banging on about how fabulous my shoes were. They weren't. They were 12 quid in the Dorothy Perkins sale, the buckle was broken and I'd scuffed the hell out of them on tube escalators. I knew she was blowing smoke up my ass; I knew I had breast cancer. (I've since thrown away the shoes.)
Once I'd broken the news to my family and friends, there was a small, conceited, ego-driven part of me that – I'm not proud to admit – loved being the subject of gossip; loved the thought of being talked about over pints of bitter and G&Ts. I wanted to know exactly who was talking about me, who to, what they were saying, and what people's reactions were. A couple of years ago, when I heard that a friend of mine had been diagnosed with cancer, I cried. I wondered whether people were doing the same about me. I still do, if I'm totally honest.
I'll never again eat cous cous. I had it for lunch before my first chemo, and it was all I could see in my first post-chemo puke.
One of the experts I met on one of my many distressing wig-fitting appointments commented on my then-thinning hair and how, if I wore a thick headband, I could probably get away without wearing a wig for a couple of weeks yet. 'No I bloody can't,' I spat. 'I look like fucking Mo Mowlam.' Enforced wig wearing, I think you'll agree, did not make me a nice person. As it goes, I'd kill to have that thinning hair now.
I'd tell you again about the time I broke down when trying on hospital-appropriate pyjamas in M&S or the day when my chemo-constipation got so bad that I screamed out from the loo in excruciated pain for P to bring me the olive oil, but I dare say those things were hard enough to read about the first time and, besides, I'm sure you've got the picture by now. So, in the words of the Manic Street Preachers: this is my truth, tell me yours.
Send me an email, leave a comment, direct me to your blog (oh, and do let me know your name and location, and whether you're happy for them to be published) and please PLEASE pass on this link to anyone and everyone you know who may have their own quote to add. Sheesh, it's all favours on here today, isn't it? Well, fair's fair – I showed you my slaphead, now it's your turn...