I've only caught a very quick glimpse of it, mid morphine-trip from my hospital bed when a nurse came to inspect my wounds (it might have been the drugs, but I'm sure her name badge said 'Mariwana'), but even in my stoned state I couldn't believe what I'd seen beneath the bloody dressings. Sheesh, it could have taken my eye out. Seriously, it's the size of a grape. It's not just the small mound I'd expected from Phase One of Operation New Tit, but in fact a fully-fledged, proud-as-punch, specially constructed imitation erect nipple. I know! Erect! Hell, that's not even something I can say for my right nipple. That's generally a lazy little bugger, only standing to attention when absolutely necessary. (Or cold. Or covered by the sparkly, see-through, soft-as-sandpaper bra that only ever sees the light on very special occasions.) Not so the nupple. This little baby (sorry, big baby) belongs on a newsagent's top shelf. Or, better still, beneath a smutty bikini in a Carry On film. (Oh behave.)
Actually I fear it might be better suited to a horror film right now, given the stitching and swelling and scabbing. Always-Right Cancer Nurse came to visit me on the ward before my surgery to explain the procedure, forewarning me that the new nip would be 'a bit on the large side' post-surgery. Smiley Surgeon has purposely made it bigger than it will actually end up. Since it's not made from living tissue, part of it will eventually die and fall off like the leftover bit of umbilical cord on a baby's belly button (enjoying your dinner?). So the nupple I'll end up with – thankfully, I think – will be considerably smaller once it shrinks down to a mere shadow of its current form. (Roll up! Roll up! Step right this way for the Amazing Shrinking Nipple!)
It was a brilliant surprise, seeing Always-Right Cancer Nurse. Given that she doesn't usually work on Saturdays, I hadn't expected to see her on the day of my surgery, and her visit to my hospital bed was the one calming tactic that actually worked on me. In many ways, heading back into hospital felt like the same old cancer-treatment routine: turning my nervous frustration into shouting at P the night before (this time about getting the blinds to sit straight, or some other such nonsense), blocking the loo before leaving home, sobbing on the cab journey there, then blocking the loo again when I got to the hospital (what can I say – nerves do funny things to your bowels). It was a surreal, emotional experience, being led back to the same ward where I'd spent several days last June, for the removal of what was about to be replaced. Both Smiley Surgeon and Always-Right Cancer Nurse mentioned that the months seemed to have passed so quickly since the last time we were discussing my left breast on a hospital ward. And I suppose it does seem speedy to them. They're doing this kind of thing every day, but for me it's been a lengthy, loathsome, laborious process that's gifted me my first grey hairs. ('No bloody wonder,' said Dad as he pulled them from my head.)
No amount of pre-op nerves could make me behave around Smiley Surgeon when he came to visit me before his Saturday afternoon melon-twisting session, mind. I was my usual, cringeworthy, goony self. Actually I was worse than that. I was a complete twat. He poked his head around the door and – this being the first time he'd seen me without long hair, a wig or a headscarf – for a couple of seconds he didn't recognise me. 'Wow, your hair!' he exclaimed, realising that he was in the right place and walking towards me purposefully with his clipboard. 'Huh, yeah,' I snorted, embarrassingly. (Goon alert...) 'Hey, look!' I yawped, pointing at his head. 'I'm catching you up!' From the corner of my eye, I saw P wince as his head fell into his hands, and felt my face getting hotter as I kicked myself for being more of a tit than the body part that Smiley Surgeon was about to create. Normally I'm a think-before-you-speak kind of girl, but whenever I'm around this man, I just cannot stop these ridiculous things from spewing out of my mouth. It's like trying to act cool around a Beatle. Though I'm sure I'd be more composed around Paul McCartney than I am around Smiley Surgeon. Hell, compared to him I reckon I'd be a picture of ease if I ever met the Queen or the Dalai Lama or Dave Grohl (well, maybe not Grohl). The man is a legend. Whereas I, on the other hand, am a twonk. (In a similar vein, I once found myself having a drink with the Stereophonics, and realised I was humming one of their tunes out loud as we sat around our tiny pub table. 'What's that you're singing?' enquired the lead singer, knowing full well that he'd recognised one of his own songs. 'Me? Oh, uhm, nothing... I dunno,' I mumbled into my beer bottle.)
As he always does so expertly, Smiley Surgeon delicately side-stepped my fame-blinded faux-pas (surely the breast reconstruction equivalent of 'I carried a watermelon?'), quickly moving onto the business of Operation New Tit. He stood opposite me as I sat topless on my hospital bed, sizing up my real boob against my meantime-boob, and explaining that he didn't think size and weight would be a problem, but that he might have to spend some time getting the projection right (which, I think, was a polite way of saying that my boobs are a good shape, but they don't stick out all that much). Apparently, in preparation for the surgery, he lines up all the available implants in the relevant cup size, then tries out the likeliest ones after he's made the incision before settling on the one that'll stay beneath my skin. I loved the thought of Smiley Surgeon standing behind a table filled with size-ordered fake tits, like a bell ringer ready to perform, and I focused on that image as the anaesthetist sent me off to sleep.
When I woke up three hours later, I caught myself mumbling P's name (thank God it wasn't Smiley Surgeon's) as the anaesthetist who'd put me under handed me a tissue to wipe my tears. I was utterly overwhelmed. There I lay, gowned up and drowsy from the drugs, in the same recovery room I awoke in after my mastectomy, directly opposite the same silver clock and surrounded by the same familiar smells of detergent and dressings that I hadn't realised I'd remembered from last time. There was a woman on a bed beside me, whining loudly after what I gathered had been a minor op, giving the staff a hard time because she was thirsty and they weren't bringing her a glass of water. I rolled my head drunkenly over to look at her, itching to spit out some barbed comment about thinking herself lucky she had her own (massive) tits, but I stopped, instead comforting myself with the thought that my cancer-card-playing days are, hopefully, almost over.
I quietly cried all the way back to the ward, too, and even once I was back in my bed. I couldn't help it. It wasn't necessarily out of pain or discomfort; more out of anguish. Trauma, even. I was shell-shocked by the months of treatment I'd been through to get to this point, yet completely surprised that I'd finally – finally – made it here. The whole experience was unexpectedly turning into a bitter reminder of everything I'd fought so hard to forget, and the disbelieving, impossible-to-stomach impact of my diagnosis was hitting me all over again. From months of trying so hard not to discuss my cancer, and instead talk to my family about Coronation Street or clothes or cooking, I suddenly found myself needing to talk about it. Recounting memories. Asking questions. Expressing shock. Mum reminded me of the people who'd visited me in hospital last time around; of the lovely day we'd spent at Wimbledon before any of us knew what was coming; and of the ward sister who, when Always-Right Cancer Nurse introduced me ahead of my mastectomy, looked with suspicion from my face to my bust, as though we might have been having her on about the breast cancer.
Thankfully P knew just the trick to put a stop to my tears and, perching on the side of my bed, produced a tiny Tiffany bag that brought me round from my morphine-induced sobbing-stupor faster than you can say 'bling'. Inside the little bag was a card that read: 'For my wonderful wife, a wonderful ring to mark our wonderful future.' Of course that set me off all over again, even before I'd seen what was in the box. 'Well,' said P, gesturing to my new tit. 'You've gone through all this to give me something new to play with. The least I can do is give you the same in return.' And what a deal! I'm going to snag some tights on this baby, I tell you. He's right; it is wonderful. A sparkling, proud-standing and fabulously show-offy cocktail ring to wear on my middle finger – our way of sticking one up to The Bullshit. I can't help but think that P's got the raw end of the deal, though. After all, his toy's going to shrink. But not mine. Mine's staying middle-finger-erect forever.