Adding insult to balding injury was the corker of a burn it left on my right bum-cheek; a branding from the tribe of GHD. Two angry, parallel lines, each about three inches long, ensuring that the least attractive part of my body was granted another blemish to compete with my cellulite for unwanted beachside attention. I showed P and my folks the damage when my squeals beckoned them in. 'You know what?' said Mum, ever keen to find the bright side, 'I'm sure it'll have gone by the time you need to use those straighteners again.' But, looking in the mirror when I got out of the shower last night, my short hair isn't the only reminder of my Bobby Charlton period. My steroid-sculpted behind also tells a tale. (Actually, since I've now lost my cancer weight, I've got to stop blaming my shapely rear on the steroids – so perhaps shortbread-sculpted would be a more accurate description.) Because, half-hidden by my knicker line but nevertheless visible, the bum-brand remains. Not quite as angry as before, but still obvious enough to demonstrate my idiocy to whoever's on the next sunlounger.
Evening out the calamitous nature of my final straightening experience, however, was a super-smart decision to prepare for a moment such as last night: the first time I've plugged in the straighteners since that scorching day in July. When I unfolded the heat-protective mat, I noticed that it wasn't covered in blonde hairs, as it always had been. What I then remembered was that, immediately after screaming down south-west London with burn-induced expletives, I painstakingly removed every single strand of long hair that had attached itself to the mat, figuring that it'd be just too damn depressing to be faced with my lost locks if ever I found myself with enough hair to straighten again. (Dear Old Me. Bloody good call. Love, New Me.)
Getting the straighteners out again turned out to be a tad premature, actually. It was a bit like the time I assured P I could rectify his short frizz after a ten-minute session with the appliance, but just ended up scalding his scalp instead. (Keep well back, kids. She's got a pair of hair straighteners and she's not afraid to use them.) It's not that I'm not happy to embrace my new curls (hell, any hair is better than no hair), but right now my 'do is more Brillo pad than brill. And so this week I'll be spending the GDP of a small country on my first post-chemo cut and colour.
The advice is to wait six months after the date of your final chemo before putting any colour onto your hair. And although my appointment falls a fortnight short of that time, I'm hoping it won't matter, since I've carefully chosen an environmentally aware (and therefore rinse-your-wallet-dry expensive) salon with 97% natural hair colourants. (Who am I trying to convince here? Something tells me that the last time I tried this optimism lark, it was to assure myself that I'd be the one lucky git in a million who clung onto their hair through chemo. Pah.) Plus, since it's been just shy of a year since I had a haircut I was happy with, I'm taking impatience to kid-on-Christmas-Eve levels and just. can't. wait. any. longer. In hideous hair terms, two weeks feels like several millennia.
You'd think that I'd have got used to my short crop by now, but it still surprises me when I catch sight of my reflection. In my mind's eye, I've still got hair like Jessica Rabbit. Not that I'd have admitted to that little boast before. Actually, 'admitted to' isn't right – I'd never have believed it. But it's funny how six sessions of chemo can change your mind. (Don't it always seem to go?) Now, when I look back at photos of Old Me, I realise that the ex-colleague I met in the pub not long before my diagnosis was right. Despite being perhaps the unlikeliest source of a compliment I'd ever known, he stood back and looked admiringly at my newly grown-out fringe. 'Bloody hell, lass,' he said, 'Your hair's looking gorgeous.' And he wasn't wrong. (On my stupider days, I talk myself into thinking that The Bullshit might have been all his fault, for saying that. Then I come to my senses and realise that it's actually down to the slippy floor I fell on in Debenhams. Or the ex-boss who sent my stress levels into the stratosphere. Or my heavy-handed first boyfriend. Because these are the kind of things that cause cancer. Obviously.)
My post-chemo hairdo comes as part of a carefully choreographed New Image Week, in which I'll also be seeing a Topshop style advisor (I haven't got a spring/summer stitch to wear, having thrown away much of last year's wardrobe in a tearful, post-diagnosis rage), as well as investing in red lipstick for the first time, enrolling at the Claudia Winkleman School Of Eyeliner and disguising my pasty pallor with enough St Tropez to make me look like the spawn of David Dickinson. Also on the list is re-learning how to walk in heels, having been equally as embarrassed by my Bambi-on-ice trot as I was by my short, mud-coloured crop when catching my reflection in a coffee-shop window earlier this week. I looked like a drag queen in training, tottering along unsteadily and animatedly like a dizzy kid on plastic stilts. (Good job I can't afford the Louboutins yet.)
And then there's the new lingerie. From what I gathered in a bored ten minutes with a tape measure yesterday, my 36B days are over. (From a lack of a fabric tape measure, I had to plump for a cold, metal one. Seems I'll try anything to make my right nipple look as erect as the left.) So it appears that I'm now a C-cup (she says, as her husband rubs his hands together with glee). Well, I am on the left side, anyway. For the meantime at least, my right tit remains an unbalanced B (husband's mojo heads back into hibernation). And so there's some serious underwear shopping to be done, too. It's going to be an expensive week. (Is it okay to use the L'Oreal excuse with your bank manager? 'And why do you need this overdraft extension, Mrs Lynch?' 'Because I'm worth it.')
I'd love to tell you that all of this is about making myself feel better. Something I'm doing just for me, because I'm long overdue some self-attention, because I've earned it and because it's a damn good opportunity to test out all the looks I would never have been game enough to try pre-Bullshit. And while all of those things are indeed true, they're not the only reasons behind the New Me. (Truth is, breast cancer or no breast cancer, I can a-l-w-a-y-s find an excuse to shop.) Just like my tattoo was, New Image Week is also my way of sending a message to all of the many people I'll be seeing again in pubs and bars and cafes and restaurants and dining rooms and the office. It's a statement: 'Hello, I've changed.' Because there's no getting away from it. I have changed. I'm not the same girl who left the office for a doctor's appointment one Tuesday afternoon in June, on the promise of being back again the next morning. That girl had a naive, I'll-be-okay optimism, got narked when the rain made her hair go curly and kept one eye on her fertility monitor. This girl is more realistic (or should that be cynical?), with a lowered tolerance for everyday gripes, a sudden interest in styling wax and one eye on a lifetime of lie-ins. But since that's hardly going to be my opening line upon bumping into someone I haven't seen for a year (and it's too long to wear as a T-shirt slogan), the new hair – along with all the other trappings of New Image Week – are going to have to do it for me.
Not that the Old Me is completely dead and buried, mind. There might be a permanent star-shaped symbol of the New Me on the inside of my right wrist, but there'll always be a reminder of the girl I once was on my right buttock.