Friday, 27 February 2009

Reality bites.

I've just been to the shop to buy OK! Magazine. I tap-danced around getting it for a while, but conceded when I nipped out for some Flash and had enough change left in my pocket to buy the last copy on my newsagent's shelf. Sod the tap dancing. Of course I was going to buy it. The Jade Goody topic is one I've done my darndest to avoid confronting until now, like a new album I stubbornly insist on listening to only after the hype's died down – but this particular hype is showing no sign of slowing. And since I'm going to have to front up to it all at some point, I've just spent several hours watching the 8% of my Sky+ that was dedicated to Jade's Living TV documentary show, and now have her wedding issue of OK! sitting next to me, the cover half disguised by my discarded headscarf.

Over the past few weeks, a number of people have asked me what I think of The Jade Goody Story, and so far I've found it difficult to comment. In truth, I've never paid Jade that much attention. And since she's never recorded an album I've listened to, written for any of the media I read or acted in a film I've seen, I can't really say I've ever formed much of an opinion of her, either. I've never read her book or smelled her perfume. I've never bought a magazine because she was on the cover. At least I hadn't until this morning.

I'm hardly breaking any news by saying that Jade's decision to fight cervical cancer in the spotlight, making money from her experience in the process, has been the subject of widespread coverage, debate and attack. From what I've pieced together, her critics' issue appears to be the crass way in which she's chosen to broadcast her life with cancer, through newspaper exclusives and documentary shows and magazine spreads and TV appearances. But is Jade's public experience of cancer all that different to the way the rest of us choose to handle it? Isn't it just an extension of sending emailed progress reports to your friends, updating your Facebook status or Twitter feed with treatment news, or keeping a blog about the whole thing? Is the problem less that she's being tell-it-to-the-world open about her experience, and more that she's making money out of it? For me, whether or not the money she's making is for the benefit of her kids, her pets, her agent or her wardrobe is beside the point. The point is that she's dealing with having cancer in her way; in the only way she knows how. Just like the rest of us.

I can't help but conclude that a lot of the vitriol directed at Jade's life choices post-cancer stems purely from the fact that she is Jade Goody. The same Jade Goody who made herself look stupid by assuming that East Anglia was a foreign country. The same Jade Goody who collapsed during the London Marathon after a training schedule of 'Chinese food, curry and drinking'. The same Jade Goody who joined in with Celebrity Big Brother bullying, famously referring to Shilpa Shetty as 'Shilpa Poppadom'. The same Jade Goody who, I'm sure we'd all agree, has chalked up a catalogue of bloody stupid actions. But what I really can't stomach about this is the tone that suggests she somehow deserved to get cervical cancer as a result of this catalogue of stupidity. Granted, if she'd twisted her ankle or broken a rib or got the flu, maybe then I could understand how people's karmic radars could have flashed red. But terminal cancer? I've done some stupid things. I once ripped off a newspaper headline in a magazine I worked for and passed it off as my own. I made a spewing tit of myself at an office party and had to be unceremoniously dragged out of the building on a wheelie chair. I was briefly the other woman in a relationship. Does that mean I deserved cancer too?

If it were another celebrity in Jade's position – Colleen Rooney, say, or Peaches Geldof – would people have the same issues? If Kylie had chosen not to turn away from the public gaze and head to France for treatment, instead living the toughest moments of her breast cancer in front of film crews and photographers, would she have been picked on in the same way? Do the people who've bitched about Jade's choices feel the same about Terry Pratchett making documentaries about his Alzheimer's? What if Jade had chosen to turn her back on Max Clifford and OK! Magazine and Living TV and go covert with her cancer? Would the interest in her life have suddenly evaporated? Or might there have still been a public debate about this reality TV star's decision to shun the public eye when the 'reality' got all too real?

And therein lies the problem. 'Reality' TV isn't, of course, real. We all accept that. We accept that Big Brother is edited to within an inch of its life. We accept that The Hills is scripted and staged. We accept that I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here has very little bearing on the reality of bush life. But have we really accepted that this 27-year-old mother is dying of cervical cancer? Because that is the reality. People have asked me whether I think it's a publicity stunt. Whether I'm suspicious that Jade's eyebrows and lashes appear to remain intact. Whether she's 'putting it on a bit', or whether, from my cancer-experienced perspective, it looks like 'the real deal'. And I can understand why they've questioned the reality of this situation. Because, seeing it there in the pages of OK! Magazine, alongside stories of Kerry Katona's liposuction or Katie Price's latest boob job or Michelle Heaton's weight loss – well, it's just not real is it? Like a rented location passed off as a glamour model's London townhouse, or the words passed off as a former pop star's column. But this story IS real. This isn't just another seen-it-all-before, 'My Hell', tell-all deal. Jade Goody is dying of cancer. For once, 'reality' is fulfilling its definition.

You might think that I'm bound to say these things, by virtue of the fact that Jade's story is so close to home for me. But I'd argue otherwise. Because, while you might find the media's ramming-it-down-your-throat approach to Jade annoying, I'm finding it really bloody painful. For me, it's yet another stinging reminder of cancer's potential life-ending seriousness for women as young as Jade and myself. So yes, this is dangerously close to home for me – hell, Jade and I are even being treated at the same hospital (albeit one of us privately and one on the NHS). But, through watching her documentary show on TV, I've come to realise that the building in which we're both being treated is not where our similarities end. Her nervous sickness in the car on the way to chemo. Being cradled by her Mum as she sat on the loo seat with hair in her hands, crying so hard that she couldn't speak. Swearing at her unfamiliar reflection in the mirror as she struggled to tie a headscarf for the first time. Her repetitive insistence that she'd beat cancer – because she had to; because she couldn't not. I was in as many tears watching Jade in those scenes as I was myself during those times.

Just as writing this blog has, in many ways, been a distraction from my darker thoughts, the frantic media activity has undoubtedly been a similar distraction for Jade – particularly in light of the revelation that her spreading cancer is at an advanced stage. Yes, she's kept herself busy with pantos and photo shoots and TV crews and interviews, painting on a brave face and a cheeky smile. But that doesn't mean that her world-endingly terrifying time – the stuff you haven't necessarily seen in the pages of a magazine or on your TV screen – has been any less horrific for Jade than it has for any other non-celebrity in her situation.

The major difference between Jade and I, however, is this: Jade's doctors have used the word 'terminal'. Mine haven't. I haven't been given a prognosis. I am to go along assuming that I'll be all right. Jade hasn't been so fortunate. My next steps are to prepare for reconstructive surgery and a life living with cancer (as Kylie said at this stage of her treatment, it's not like you can suddenly say 'that's it, it's over' – you have to learn to live with it). Jade's next steps are to prepare for a life that will soon come to an end; and to die as she has lived, under the media microscope. If my diagnosis had been terminal, I wouldn't have called time on this blog. I'd have kept writing. And, while it might not have been between glossy, handbag-sized covers or celebrity-endorsed shampoo ad-breaks, it would still have been a public death. It's not a new phenomenon. John Diamond did it in his book. Dina Rabinovitch did it in The Guardian. Jade Goody will do it on Living TV. But whether Jade lives with – and dies from – cancer in the privacy of her home, in the pages of OK! Magazine, shouting from a tannoy at the top of the Empire State Building, or broadcast live to every TV set on the planet doesn't matter. What matters is that we quietly respect her choice and allow her to do it in the way she chooses.

So that's what I think about The Jade Goody Story. There, I've said my piece. And I'll continue to say it. Not about Jade's life with cancer, but about my own. It's my way of dealing with things, its my coping mechanism, and it's my perogative. And if people are happy for me to deal with cancer in the way I please, they ought to be happy for Jade to do the same.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Lessons learned.

I had lunch with my boss recently. 'So, having cancer,' she said over a bowl of miso soup. 'Do you think it's changed you?' Without really thinking, I immediately answered 'yes', cannon-launching myself into a monologue about my newly lowered tolerance for tears, particularly on reality TV shows. Whingeing on Masterchef because you ballsed up your halibut and all you've ever wanted from life is to 'spread joy' with your food. Crying at American Idol auditions because you've 'been through hell and back' to get to the second round. Sobbing in front of Sralan on The Apprentice because being 'successful in business' (whatever that means) is your life's ambition. Oh do fuck off and find some sodding perspective.

I'd have thought that my tolerance for illness would have gone the same way, but actually I suspect I've become oddly empathetic. I found myself unusually sympathetic to my brother's cold this weekend (and bear in mind that this is my brother – given our glorious, piss-taking relationship, I'm more likely to find sympathy for a jobless city banker who's had to trade in his 5 Series for a Ford Focus). But I was genuinely sorry that J lagged behind feeling so crappy while the rest of us skipped around Rome on our chirpy, family, treatment-is-over trip. Feeling ill – whether it's through a cold or through cancer – is rubbish and, given my miserable reaction to having immediately caught the same cold (all hail The World's Most Useless Immune System), I'm no less grumpy sneezing than I am spewing. Whatever the cause of it, I can't help feeling that I've paid my dues when it comes to days spent feeling ill, and being laid up under a duvet with a tub of Vicks by my side only serves as a reminder of those endless bed-ridden days during chemo. (I'm sure even the pissed-up-pukes will remind me of the chemo-chunders.) I'm as whingeing a day-long sick-note as I was a months-long one, and I'm making no apologies for it. I've done my stint. (I also think that if you've had cancer, you should never again have to pay prescription charges or work full time or clean the bathroom floor, but let's save that for another rant, shall we?)

But while all of the above is pretty surface-skimming and flippant in answer, the 'have I changed?' question is one I've spent a lot of time thinking about since. Of course you could argue that everything changes you in one way or another. A different job changes you. A new handbag changes you. Hell, a good shit changes you. But I'm talking about the more profound changes. Am I a better person as a result of having cancer? Do I have a new-found gratitude for each dawn? Have I uncovered a cosmic significance to all of this? No. I don't have a new appreciation for the scent of a rose or the taste of champagne or the beauty of a discarded newspaper tumbling along a windy Soho pavement. Cancer may have made me many things, but spiritually enlightened ain't one of them. Zen and the Art of Cancer this is not. 

All that said, I am unquestionably different, and not just in appearance. And, while I'm sure my family and friends are better equipped to list the ways in which I have altered post-Bullshit (maybe that's an exercise I'll give them one day), that doesn't mean I can't recognise some of the more subtle differences myself. Just as everything has the potential to change you in some small way, I guess it has the potential to teach you something, too, whether it's as significant as being more vigilant about niggling health worries that you might not ordinarily trouble your GP with, or as simple as learning that your shirt sleeve doesn't make a good oven glove. 

So what has cancer taught me? I desperately want to say 'nothing', but that would be simplifying the point somewhat, since there are things I've learned since my diagnosis. For one, I've learned how to blog. And through blogging, I've been surprised – at times even overwhelmed – to learn that people are much nicer than I ever thought possible. I've learned how loved I am by the amazing people closest to me. I've learned that I have a rather lovely-shaped head. I've learned how to tie a headscarf and draw on eyebrows. I've learned that pubes are overrated. I've learned that I can just about carry off dark nail polish. I've learned to be wary of sentences starting with 'I will never'. I've learned that Ugg boots and tattoos and cats and therapy aren't necessarily a bad thing. I've learned how much I love to write.

But I'm damned if I'm attributing cancer with any one of those things. Cancer hasn't taught me anything I couldn't have figured out without it. Not how fortunate I am to have such a wonderful husband/family/friends. Not the ways in which I need to improve my life. Not the revelatory self-discovery of who I really am. Not the eureka-like moment about where my future is heading. Not even the benefits of eyeliner. All of those things I could have figured out – one way or another – without the life-threatening disease, thank you very much.

I had the same cancer debrief in my last (and possibly final) session with Mr Marbles. After vehemently confirming that he's 100% with me on the I'm Not Depressed, It's My Cancer Treatment debate (someone get that on a T-shirt, quick), he asked me to list the good things that have come out of the last few months. 'Nothing good has happened as a result of this,' I spat. 'I'd challenge that,' he replied, in that lovely, non-commital therapist-speak that basically translates as 'stop talking shite'. And, of course, he's right, damn him. (Maybe he should form a tag-team with Always-Right Cancer Nurse and go on Blockbusters.)

I just don't want to give anyone the false impression that breast cancer can in some way be a good thing. Nor do I want to give it credit for the better things that have come out of my cancer experience. (Note the use of 'experience' instead of 'journey'. Journey is surely #1 in the Wanky Cancer Clich├ęs Chart. 'Bravely battling' coming in at #2.) So instead me and Marbles settled on a compromise: of course I've changed as a result of having breast cancer, and a number of pleasant things have undoubtedly come along as a consequence – but, with or without The Bullshit (just as with or without the therapy), I'd have got there eventually.

But know this. All of those good things – this blog, discovering other blogs, the writing, the kitten, the beautiful future with my husband (and only my husband), the love for and from my family and friends, the ability to occasionally say 'fuck' in front of my parents and get away with it, the sister-like relationship with Tills, the lessons in eye make-up, the upgraded contents of my underwear drawer – none of these were breast cancer's doing. Those things are my doing – me and the people I'm surrounded by. Cancer was just the catalyst, is all. It just got me there faster. And, like taking the Heathrow Express instead of the tube, it cost me a fair bit more, too.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Restoration.

The last time we saw Smiley Surgeon it was snowing, and central London looked as beautiful as I'd ever seen it. The usually busy waiting room at the hospital was deserted thanks to cancelled appointments, and the reception staff were giddy with the work-light excitement of two kids who'd been snowed out of school. P and I arrived early (only the second time in my life I've managed this; the first being our wedding day) and bagged the best seats directly outside the door to Smiley Surgeon's consultation room.

He's got a tough job, old SS. In one appointment he's telling someone they have breast cancer, the next he's congratulating them on getting so far through it (or, better still, letting them know there's nothing to worry about). And, from the looks on the faces of the couple who saw him immediately before us, that woman had clearly been thrown down the rabbit-hole of the former category.

She stared straight ahead as she walked out of the room on auto-pilot, subconsciously tearing the edges off a crumpled tissue. Her husband followed close behind, his hand resting helplessly in the small of her back, carrying his wife's coat and handbag because it was the only helpful thing he could do. And, just as we did after hearing the same news, they turned left out of SS's door and walked towards a room down the corridor where a core biopsy would be done to assess the extent of the tumour. As I wondered whether the woman would also come to loathe watercolour paintings – as I do – as a result of the artwork on the wall of that room, I tutted, shook my head and turned to P. 'Poor sods,' I whispered. 'They won't be able to enjoy the snow now.'

I sure as hell wouldn't have been able to appreciate a picturesque capital after hearing that news. The glorious mid-June day on which I was diagnosed completely passed me by. But – eight months on – there I was, a decent way around The Bullshit's racetrack, running downhill while another unfortunate bugger was blindly limbering up at the starting line. It would have been too soon – and too foolish – to stop her on her way down the corridor to assure her that it can get better (albeit eventually), however much I might want to tell the world that things are finally improving for me. (I certainly wouldn't have thanked anyone for offering me any advice at that moment. I dare say they'd have skulked off with a split lip.)

But, for P and I at least, London looked even more beautiful when we came out of our appointment, having heard from Smiley Surgeon that he was impressed with my attitude throughout treatment (he clearly missed this post) and that my radiated skin was healing well enough for him to book in a date for my first reconstructive surgery. A vote of confidence from SS is like getting a gold star from the teacher you've been brown-nosingly, arm-wavingly busting your gut to suck up to all term. And since it's no secret how much I adore the man, I'm not embarrassed to boast about it. (Ner ner ner ner ner.)

And so, the chapter-ending goal of Operation New Tit has since been scheduled. I'll be going in for the first part in a month's time – that's the surgery to ensure a better shape for my boob (at the moment I fear it looks like a clenched fist) and to fit me with an A-list implant worthy of a modest-busted Dolly Parton. ('Fit' is the wrong terminology, I'm sure. That makes me sound like a BMW going in for a service.) I then have four weeks to recover before going back for the second, smaller procedure. And that's the one that fascinates me most, because its purpose is to make me a nipple. 

I know that getting a new nipple is hardly life-changingly necessary. I was never a topless sunbather, nor does my livelihood depend on me having the perfect pair. (I wonder whether Keeley Hazell's earnings would halve if she were a nipple down?) The new nip won't serve any purpose on a cancer-curing front, and I'm not even going to have any sensation in it – there's next to no feeling in my left boob, and it can't be restored. So I'm kind of thinking of it as a gift to P. After all, he's going to be the only one who sees it. Then again, after my mastectomy I happily showed off my non-tit to any interested party within a ten-mile radius, so maybe there's hope for my page three debut yet.

The nip-op will most likely be done under local anaesthetic, which I'm really chuffed about – hell, this is a process I'm going to want to be party to. Not least after the way Smiley Surgeon described it. If you'll excuse the non-medical terminology, in short what he'll be doing is lifting the skin that lies where my nipple was (the skin that originally came from my back, as those of you who've been concentrating will remember), then twisting it into a point which he'll then fix in place to form a small mound that pretty much matches the height of my right nipple. It'll be higher than a bee sting, but flatter than a coconut macaroon. More of a nub, I suppose. (A nupple, if you will.) As Smiley Surgeon described this to me (not in confectionery terms, I should add), he opened his suit jacket slightly and mimed the process by pointing to his own nipple. In much the same way that it's impossible to say 'spiral staircase' without doing that twirly motion with your index finger. I couldn't help but titter like a pubescent boy at the back of the class, of course. P looked mortified.

I doubt I'm alone in wanting to witness a medical marvel such as the creation of a nipple. And I'm sure that, for SS, being able to answer 'I made a nipple' to the 'what did you do at work today?' question is worth his doctorate alone. I wonder whether he uses the same mould as the faux-nipples made famous by Samantha in Sex and the City? Or whether it's more like the plastic tits made famous by Gazza? Either way, it's a project that's more than worthy of a Blue Peter badge. 'All you'll need today, kids, is the lid from a Fairy Liquid bottle and some sticky-back plastic. Here's one I made earlier.' (If the BBC are looking for a new scandal, I'm happy to hand this one over.)

A washing-up-bottle nozzle is probably a bit ambitious, actually. Nozzle suggests erect, and I think that's a nipple-status-quo I've kissed goodbye, at least on the left side. I'm not too bothered by it, really – it's a fact I've got used to over the last few months, particularly since my bra drawer has had to remain unopened. (This winter, I've been smuggling peanut.) But still, any nipple (sorry, nupple) is better than none at all. Right now, here in my white vest, I look like the second image in a spot-the-difference game. Something's wrong with the picture, but you can't quite put your finger on what. But, like a once-glorious but now destroyed building, I'm slowly being restored to my former glory. A bit like The Hawley Arms after the Camden fire. It'll never be quite the same again, but hopefully the regulars won't be put off going back.

Friday, 13 February 2009

School of rock.

We had a bit of an open-house day at our flat last Saturday. An opportunity to catch up with all the people who've been wanting to visit over the past few months, but who we haven't been able to see because The Bullshit got in the way. It was what my Mum would call a 'gathering'. But then she'll do anything to avoid the word 'party'. Gathering implies Monopoly and Twiglets and last tube home. Party implies gatecrashers and irritated neighbours and fag burns in the sofa. But, given our worktop-long row of spirit bottles, a table full of cava, the Beastie Boys played at volume and the fact that I was wearing heels indoors, I think we can safely label Saturday the latter. (We had Twiglets as well, mind. I mean, bloody hell, it's not a party without Twiglets. Not even a gathering.)

And, as is customary at parties, I got drunk. Which, I'm sure, is just a normal Saturday night to many of you. But not for this cancer patient. For me, getting drunk at home with mates is positively throw-your-TV-out-the-window, set-fire-to-a-million-quid, drive-a-car-into-a-swimming-pool rock 'n' roll. Of course having had The Bullshit hardly does wonders for your drinking prowess (making me the perfect credit-crunch date). And, judging by my mammoth hangover the following day, it doesn't do an awful lot for your ability to shake it off, either. I felt sick, couldn't hold my brew for shaking, spoke in a voice that you could gravel a driveway with and had a head so painful I felt like I'd had a run-in with Chris Brown. (Ooh, topical.) Man, I felt like hell. But it was the sweetest hangover I've ever had.

Since June, whenever I've felt like shit, it's been for an equally shitty reason. But feeling like shit because I'd drunk too much (translation: a modest amount for most people) was marvellous; my emancipatory rebirth into normal life. And, baby, I worked it. I went to bed in full make-up. I made a grease-tastic bacon, egg and tomato ketchup sandwich when I got up. I watched sport on the sofa in the clothes I fell asleep in, then retired to my memory foam when sitting upright became too much effort. I watched the Sex and the City movie twice (second time with director's commentary) and ate an entire box of Green & Black's chocolates. To myself. (And I thought I wasn't girly.) I caught up on Coronation Street over a beef curry with egg fried rice and chips, then polished off the prawn crackers during an episode of Shameless. (Week five weigh-in: cancelled.) It was a glorious, lardy Sunday, and I went to bed early with a contented smile on my face, nestling my cheeks into a pillow of eyeliner-smudge and prawn-cracker dust. This, I thought, is what normal people do.

My flirt with normality didn't stop at the weekend. Because, just when I thought the reckless abandon of my cancer shackles had reached its Twiglet-eating, dancing-in-the-living-room pinnacle, I pushed ordinary life to its limits on Monday and went into the office for a few hours. And, lawks, things have changed since I've been holed up in my Bullshit bubble. Lots of lovely Soho shops have closed. There was a new security code on the front door. Different faces sat at different desks. I had a new log-in. Same old weak tea in chipped mugs, mind, but there's something quite poetic about that. I might be slowly rejoining an alien world with my blinking, newborn vision, but it's good to know that some of the old stuff remains the same. (Seems the baby metaphor extends further than my fluffy head, then.)

You might think all this rather boring of me. You probably had a Saturday night like an episode of Skins and ditched work on Monday morning to go drinking in Camden with the Gallaghers, and here's me harping on about getting pissed at home and enthusing about a day in the office as though I'm the new Keith Moon. But I guess it just depends on your perspective of what constitutes a good time. I appreciate that this is kids stuff, but given that over the last few months, my definition of a good time has been baking in my pyjamas during Women's Hour, these are lessons I need to re-learn. Right now I'm in party-school kindergarten (more McFly than Metallica). 

House parties and Twiglets and curries over Corrie... I know. It's hardly rock 'n' roll. But I like it.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

25 things.

I know, I know, this is a poor excuse for a post, but in my defence: (a) I've had an unusually busy few days (more of this later in the week), (b) I've been emailed this '25 Things You Might Not Know About Me' exercise so many times that finally giving in will put an end to it and (c) since I've previously owned up to (i) filling in The Guardian Weekend's Q&A with my own answers and (ii) being a sucker for reply-to-all email questionnaires, I figure the ghost is long since given up, so I'm going in.

  1. In my head, these answers are actually for the This Much I Know feature in The Observer Magazine.
  2. I am completely in love with Stevie Wonder.
  3. In a recent daily phonecall from my Dad, he opened with, 'Now, about this tattoo.'  'Oh heck,' I thought, 'Here we go.'  'There's something I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist on,' he went on. 'Well, this conversation was inevitable,' I figured, 'You knew this was coming. Just let it play out.'  'What I must insist about the tattoo,' continued Dad, 'Is that I pay for it. That way I can't whinge about it, because it will have been my doing.'
  4. The above point is news to my Mum.
  5. I eat Skittles in reverse order of preference. The purples, the greens, the yellows, then – because I can't decide which is best – a mix of orange and red.
  6. I have never seen Gone With The Wind.
  7. I got nervous and messed up at the first funeral I ever went to. After the service, I walked along the greeting line, panicking about what to say to the mourning family I didn't know. 'Thanks for coming,' they were saying to each well-wishing person. I hurriedly tried to lip-read the kind, supportive words that the rest of the congregation were offering, but all I could make out were the family's replies. 'Good to see you, thanks for coming.'  'That's nice of you to say, thanks for coming.' When I reached the first relative in line, I froze. He put out his hand for me to shake. 'Oh. Erm. Thanks for coming,' I mumbled. I don't think he heard me, but I was mortified and I've continually kicked myself about it since. (This coming from the girl who's just written a feature on the best thing to say when your mate has been diagnosed with cancer. Still, I like to think I've learned something about compassion over the last 15 years. Or months. Whatever.)
  8. I bumped the car yesterday, reversing into a concrete post. Parallel parking ace. Three-point turn dunce.
  9. I worry that I will never again have nice nails. 
  10. Now that my hair is growing back, I've changed my Wii Fit character to reflect my new look. My Mii has a short crop, pretty eyes, lipstick and a blue jumper.
  11. I haven't had a period for five months. A year ago, this would have meant there was something to celebrate.
  12. I am amused and appalled in equal measure that I am officially no longer a young person. Over the past six months, I've turned off Radio 1 because it was too shouty, started listening to Radio 4, said the words 'all new music is crap' and begun to check the regular news before the entertainment news. All that said, I am strangely addicted to Hollyoaks and fancy the boys in the new cast of Skins.
  13. Never engage me in conversation when I am walking down stairs. I'm afraid of them, and cope by counting the steps in my head.
  14. I have a crush on Nick Frost.
  15. I once met Pete Doherty. He was handsome and charming, and he poured me a whiskey from the bar he was standing behind. Neither of us paid for it.
  16. The monthly Barnet Bulletin came about after a dear friend of mine tagged a photo of me on Facebook. It was a miserable day, and I was looking back at a snap of a fat lass in a wig. It made me cry. I'm not one for ever having cross words with my friends, but I kicked up a small fuss about it. And then felt awful for being such a tosser to my wonderful mate. There I was crying at a photograph of myself effectively in disguise, when what lay underneath it was just as unpleasant. I figured it was time to slowly come out of hiding my appearance, took the first photo of myself sans-wig, posted it online and sent it to my friend with an apology.
  17. I don't like talking on the phone (except to my folks and brother).
  18. I wrote to Jim'll Fix It, asking if he could arrange for me to meet Paul Young. But the day after I sent the letter, someone else was on the show doing just that. A while later, I received a package in the post that contained a year's membership to the Paul Young fan club and a framed photo, signed with the message: 'To Lisa. Sorry Jim couldn't fix-it for you. Love you. Paul Young.' I've still got it.
  19. My Nan made pickled onions for Brian Clough. I mention this fact whenever possible.
  20. I lived in Norway for six months. While there, I was irritated (I'm stopping short of 'stalked') by a polite but worrying man who would follow me to the supermarket, then call me to tell me what I'd been buying and said he had a photograph of me on his notice board. I was also woken up one night by a commotion in the corridor of our top-floor level of bedsit flats. A man had broken in and was holding a knife up to a girl on our floor. Two of the boys wrestled him to the ground, pretty easily. The man was drunk and probably on a fair bit of medication, having run away from the local hospital for the mentally ill. Despite these events, my time in Norway was among the loveliest of my life.
  21. I recommend online social networks as a form of therapy. I discovered Facebook while off work following a miscarriage. I discovered Twitter after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Both made me feel a little better.
  22. When I was a child, I misheard the Karma Chameleon lyric as: 'You're my lover, not my trifle.'
  23. As each day passes, my left tit gets closer to its normal colour.
  24. I've somewhat foolishly decided to do the Cancer Research UK Race for Life this July. It's a 5k run round Hyde Park and it's going to kill me. Seriously, in my lard-arsed, sofa-bound, exercise-starved world, beating breast cancer is nothing compared to this. Please help. 
  25. While I've been writing this post, my mate Busby has completed a far cooler 'What Does Your Music Library Say About You?' quiz. Dammit. This thing ain't over.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Never say never again.

I'm starting to think I should be more careful about sentences that begin with 'I will never'. I've spoken before about my aversion to pets and Ugg boots and daytime TV, and look where that's got me. I've spent much of today watching my kitten scale the TV unit to place a paw on Phillip Schofield's forehead while listening out for a knock at the door with a certain footwear delivery.

The furry/fleecy/fluffy stuff is just the beginning. There's the therapy, the tattoo, the short haircut... Before you know it I'll be wearing hotpants to a Big Brother audition with Celine Dion on my imitation iPod. And okay, so the short hair stuff is out of my control, but still, it feels like everything I once held sacred has turned to cat litter. Not least because I can now add a brand new I-will-never to my list: this weekend, I took antidepressants. 

It was all as a result of Friday's hospital visit, and my admission to the consultant that, since radiotherapy finished, I'd been having panic attacks and not getting much sleep (though frankly I blame the latter on a combination of 24 and Twitter). Doubtless sensing a ranting, mentally unstable, waterwork-prone idiot on her hands, she packed me off with a prescription for antidepressants, telling me to start them when I got home. Which is precisely what I did as soon as I'd settled on the sofa to write my blog post.

By the time I'd finished writing, I was seeing the world through a Chemical Brothers video, watching as my slippers doubled up, bouncing off the walls on my way to be sick and unable to recognise my husband (who had to type up the remainder of the drafted post when I zonked out). Not a pleasant experience. Actually, it was really bloody scary. If the drugs were supposed to calm my nerves and keep me from panicking, they were about as effective as a fart in a tornado. (I narrowly resisted calling this post 'The drugs don't work' - apparently I've finally learned something from years of writing obvious headlines for home-interest magazines. Apologies if you've ever read 'Deck the halls', 'Cupboard love' or [gasp] 'Wonder walls'.)

The following morning, frantically trying to keep it together for my mate's wedding, I handed over the car keys to P who, strictly speaking, should have been on a drinking green card for the day. But even some 12 hours after taking the antidepressant tablet, I was shaky, struggling to focus and generally a bit on the loopy side (which probably explains why I found it so side-splittingly hilarious when the toddler in the pew in front of me announced, 'But I need a poo' in the middle of the wedding vows). Needless to say, the pill box has remained unopened since.

To me, antidepressants instantly conjure up images of Britney's head-shave, Kerry 'I'm not drunk, it's my bipolar medicine' Katona, Arizona rehab clinics and 'my depression hell' interviews arranged by Max Clifford. Of course that's a narrow-minded – and not a little sarcastic – view, but I hope you'll forgive my frustrated flippancy in this instance. The thing is, I'm as sure as Amy Winehouse is a crackhead that I just. don't. need. them. (They tried to make me take antidepressants and I said no, no, no.)

Granted, this past couple of weeks has been a tough time. Yes, I've been feeling freaked out and, yes, I've had the odd panic attack, but that does not, thank you very much, make me depressed. Mr Marbles was quick to point out that the immediate post-treatment period is often the hardest part to negotiate, and it's no coincidence that it's also the most popular therapy referral point for cancer patients. It's the first, proper, structure-free time you've had in which to fully consider the gravity of what's happened to you. From the moment you're diagnosed, you're instantly launched into someone else's dictated schedule, forced to look no further than the next day of treatment, swept along in the process of Getting Over It. So, given the fact that eight months ago, I was having a lovely, carefree, Corona-filled time in Mexico, and I'm now flat out in pyjamas on my sofa, recovering from some pretty hardcore cancer treatment, I think you'll forgive me a few flip-outs. And, hopefully, you'll agree that a huge life change does not automatically result in depression.

The trouble now is that everyone's over-concerned about me. ('How are you today? Really? But how are you in yourself?') Clearly, the word 'antidepressant' set off the same alarms in their heads as it did in mine, and I can see them making all the wrong conclusions. Is she depressed? Should we go easy on her? Do you think we ought to say that? The other night I made some God-awful low-fat cookies that were tantamount to eating chocolate-chip jiffy-bags, and yet nobody dared admit how bad they were. All these presumptions about my mental state are, of course, making me pretty bloody tetchy. And I'm sure that my tetchiness is giving people even more reason to think that I'm depressed.

So let me say this for the record: I. Am. Not. Depressed. What I am is shell-shocked and pissed off and actually pretty angry (still) that The Bullshit chose me from its one-in-three lineup, particularly at a time when my biggest concerns ought to be wedded bliss, fun with friends, professional satisfaction and what to wear at Glastonbury. (Actually this year I've renamed it Middle-class-tonbury, since we're doing it in a huge motorhome with bedlinen, a barbecue and endless cava.) And, I'll admit, all of those crappy feelings have made me prone to the occasional mood swing, as the often-cavernous leap between blog-post subjects, clothing colour choices and iTunes playlists will attest (one minute Shiny Happy People, the next Everybody Hurts). But I'm not suddenly teetering on the brink of despair. As well as all of the above, I'm also relieved and hopeful and even quite emancipated that I've made it through such a torrid time with my relationships and values and sense of humour and health(ish) intact.

I'm not, of course, saying that there's anything wrong with being depressed. I'm well aware that depression is a gravely important issue, which is why I don't want to belittle the matter by pretending that my post-cancer-treatment freakery is actually a serious mental illness. There's nothing shameful in genuinely being depressed. I'm just not, is all. I'd be equally narked if someone tried to tell me I was a Nottingham Forest fan or bad at spelling or preferred The Stones to The Beatles. Or, indeed, that I resemble Dermot O'Leary, as P oh-so-kindly noted the other day. I naturally jumped down his throat. But that's not me being tetchy and depressed. That's me not wanting to look like a bloke. 

February Barnet Bulletin.

What a difference a month makes, eh? If you look closely, you might even see a few eyebrows and lashes pushing through. Man, compared to a couple of months ago I'm practically Jessica Rabbit.