Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Dotting the i.

Is there a Guinness World Record entry for the world's biggest nipple? Because I think I've got it. For verification purposes, I suppose it's strictly a nupple. And since there aren't even half as many nupples in the world as there are nipples, I'm skipping the adjudication and taking the crown. Well done me.

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.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Cut some rug.

I've heard of short-man syndrome, but never realised there was such a thing as short-hair syndrome. It's been almost a week since I decided to out myself as a very-short-haired person (so much for my headscarves-until-May plan) and I can't say I very much like the tetchy girl who's revealed herself since the wigs and scarves were relegated to a bottom drawer. The overwhelming consensus, by the way, has been to throw them away in spectacular fashion. Firing them from a cannon or sending them off on a burning log out to sea or somesuch. Both of which sound very appealing, were it not for the fact that I'm completely fucking terrified that the moment I do ditch my baldness-covering devices, I'll discover that they're still needed. And not just through a cancer recurrence, either – each time I wash my hair, I'm studying the shower floor in case I lose my not-so-lengthy locks, and despite now needing to groom the hair I've got, I've not so much as run a comb through it since it grew back, for fear of it all unravelling in the bristles. (Wanted: patient hairdresser who'll ply me with champagne, make my boy-crop look pretty and remain understanding if I cry like a baby throughout the proceedings.)

Last Saturday I wore my wig for the very last time. And, just like the first time I wore it, it was all a bit of an anticlimax. I had visions of strutting out of the pub and getting a mate to animatedly tear it off my head in the middle of Soho, freaking out the drag queens to the sound of trumpets and adoring applause from the revellers of W1 (seems I'm more drama queen than drag queen). But in fact, it wasn't quite as liberating as I'd have hoped. Instead, I was narked and sweaty from a hot-flush-filled evening, and struggling to hold myself upright in my sky-high peep-toes, so out of practice am I at the business of central-London socialising. Instead of ripping off the rug to an emancipatory, horn-section soundtrack, it was instead done in a huff to an exasperated, car-horn chorus as I attempted to three-point-turn my way out of a tricky parking space. Which pretty much sums up my experience as a wig-wearer: clumsy, begrudging and not a little embarrassing.

So now I'm just a normal girl with a very short crop – if by 'normal' you mean snappy, easily offended, whiny, irritable and picky. (Actually, I took picky to extremes a couple of days ago when a very handsome bloke came round to quote for some work on our flat. He had piercing eyes, a terrific physique, film-star teeth... and visibly thinning hair, which I allowed to put me off a bit. This coming from the girl who, just three months ago, was so bald she couldn't wear a polo neck for fear of being mistaken for a roll-on deodorant.) I reckon I've had a go at everyone within a 500-yard radius this week – P, my folks, even Sgt Pepper got it in the neck for her messy eating habits. The slightest thing is getting on my wick – the ticking of the kitchen clock, the fridge door's refusal to stay shut, my Wii Fit trainer's insistence on telling me how crap my balance is (he should have seen me in heels last Saturday). I am simply not fit for human – or animated – contact. If I've been ignoring your calls/emails/texts, this is the reason. But of course it's more than just the boyish haircut that's got under my collar.

Operation New Tit: Phase One is scheduled for Saturday morning, and I've gone from kid-on-Christmas Eve excited to night-before-exam-results brick-shitting. This is the part I've been waiting for – the chance to finally get back the beautiful breast that cancer took from me. It's the finish line I've been heading towards; the chequered flag at the end of my race to reconstruction; the chance to neatly bookend my cancer treatment with the surgery that will, at last, level out my playing field (well, P's playing field – no amount of handsome builders can change that). And yes, I understand it's nothing like as serious as the surgery I was in the same hospital for last time around, that the reason for this procedure is a more welcome one, and that the hospital stay won't be as long this time. But it's still an operation, dammit, and it's still something I'm having to have as a result of last June's diagnosis. But whether it's for the removal or replacement of a tit or of a tooth, surgery is surgery and it's only natural that nerves are part of the deal. (Speaking of teeth, my brother J's got to have a wisdom tooth removed soon and, in his usual piss-taking fashion, insists that my mastectomy's got nothing on his op. He's even talking about starting a blog in its honour. Alright Tooth, anyone?)

I fear my nervousness is bordering on the irrational, though. The last time I came around from my anaesthetic, Smiley Surgeon came to my bed with the news that my cancer had spread. And, while I know that Operation New Tit isn't an investigative procedure, I can't help but prepare myself for bad news when I wake up this time, too. I hate not knowing what's going on in my body. I appreciate that I didn't know what was happening in there pre-Bullshit either, but now it's driving me to obsession. Smiley Surgeon discovered more in there than either of us had bargained for last time, so heaven knows what surprises might be in store ten months later. It could end up like that scene from Alien where a gross-looking creature bursts out of that guy's stomach. (In my mind, that's what tumours look like.)

Everyone's quick to tell me that it'll be okay, that there's nothing to worry about, that I should just focus on the end result. But, as well as trying to avoid the surgery-subject by snapping at people instead, I'm actively trying not to think about the end result. I don't want to get my hopes up, like I did about the wig-buying. Back then, I wanted the perfect replica of my original hair. Now, I want the perfect replica of my original boob. But I've learned my lesson; I know I'm not going to get it. The wig may have been poker-straight and frizz-free and kink-proof, but it wasn't my hair. And I'm worried that I'll feel the same way about the specially constructed, all-singing, all-dancing Super Tit that Smiley Surgeon's going to spend his Saturday crafting. Remember when Carrie Bradshaw lost her treasured 'Carrie' nameplate necklace and the little Russian dude bought her a diamond one to replace it? Now substitute the 'Carrie' necklace with my old tit, and the diamond necklace with my new tit, and you've got the idea. (Note to self: Sex And the City = not. real. life.)

Sgt Pepper went in for her own surgery recently, when I took her to be spayed. And even that was traumatic. It was a window into what it must have been like for P and J and my parents during my seven-hour mastectomy. I was a right bloody mess while she was at the vet's – waiting nervously by the phone, trying to keep busy by writing a blog post (which I later binned, utter shit that it was), spilling my tea down the side of the sofa, chewing off what was left of my fingernails. (It got more entertaining later, when the poor mite came home and, drunk from the anaesthetic, staggered around the living room bumping into walls like a stilettoed teenager who'd had one too many WKDs.) So I suppose in many ways I've got the easy part this weekend. I'll be knocked out, none the wiser while my family count the minutes, drink endless cups of tea and try to busy themselves. Fortunately, unlike Sgt Pepper, I won't be coming round from my operation to find a plastic cone around my neck. Though I'm hoping I'll find something rather cone-shaped beneath the left side of my T-shirt.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Superstition ain't the way.

I recently walked under a ladder. That's a sentence with the potential to finish off my Mum. I suspect she secretly believes that I got breast cancer because I once put new shoes on a table or broke a mirror or forgot to say 'white rabbits' on the first of the month. Because, of course, these are the kind of things that cause cancer – at least according to the likes of the Daily Mail. Even just within the past few weeks, I've read news stories that attribute cancer to Facebook, working at night, vinyl and drinking. (Apparently, then, being a student gave me cancer.)

I know why I got cancer: bad luck. Not Facebook-induced bad luck, or bad luck caused by failing to salute a solitary magpie or cutting my fingernails on a Sunday. Just normal, run-of-the-mill, hit-by-a-bus, step-in-dog-shit bad luck. So walking under a window cleaner's ladder last week was both an act of anti-superstitious defiance, and my way of giving myself a kick up the arse when I found myself on the verge of attributing my bad luck (and therefore breast cancer) to the place I live.

In my stupider moments, I've considered whether P and I are living in an unlucky flat. There's no getting away from the fact that we've had a monumental run of poor fortune since moving in two years ago – the deaths of several family members, two miscarriages, work trouble, The Bullshit... and, I guess, with an unfortunate recent past such as that, even people as seemingly reasonable as P and I can't help but wonder in our darker moments whether there's more to it than just crap luck. 

So by adding to that my desire for an office, we somehow ended up having the shall-we-move conversation, and invited round an estate agent to value our flat. And along came Mistress Doom: a joyless, negative woman who clearly thought the word 'mortgage' would flummox me, patronisingly speaking in the I-know-more-about-the-housing-market-than-you equivalent of an English tourist who TALKS REALLY LOUDLY to Spanish waiters, as though speaking a different language also makes them deaf and stupid. She whined about the state of the market and grunted as she made her way around each room, as though she were peering round the doors of a Croxteth crack den instead of our actually-rather-bloody-delightful-thank-you-very-much west London flat. Needless to say I quickly packed her off without a cup of tea, oddly pleased that she had been so negative and joyless. Because, I realised, this moving house malarkey could turn out to be equally negative and joyless, and are P and I really up for that kind of stress after the year we've had? In the new house versus nice holiday debate, I know which side I'm on.

The trouble is that when something as huge as cancer suddenly lands in your lap (or tit), being forced to put it down to bad luck falls way short of the mark. You want to find something to blame it on. You want to be furious with whatever caused it. You want to attribute it to a specific thing, because then at least you can reason with it being there in the first place. Your mind runs wild with the numerous things you could have done to create the situation, just as you would with any other kind of bad luck, be it life-changing or simply nuisance-making. (I momentarily wondered whether my failure to walk through my brother's favoured 'lucky turnstile' at the Derby games I went to last season might have contributed to their subsequent relegation.) But of course there's no reasoning with The Bullshit. It's there. That's it. Get on with it. And that's a really fucking difficult lesson to learn. 

There's also the sense that when something changes your life in such a gargantuan way, you want to change something else to reflect it – be it your haircut or style or career or surroundings. Which is why, I imagine, we've suddenly turned to our home in the hope that it can shoulder the burden of the massive about-turn in our lives. But the truth is – bad luck or no bad luck – we've loved living here. This place is testament to our ability to have a bloody lovely time whatever the weather. And actually, with no kids on the horizon and having finally put our flat through its party paces to see it cope admirably, where we are right now is just fine.

We could bankrupt ourselves for the sake of more space. Or we could stay where we're happy, do all the finishing-touches jobs that will turn our little flat from fine to fabulous, and swap stamp-duty payments for flights to the sun. I'll pretend I'm Carrie Bradshaw and make the spare room my own by creating a little office space for these moments (the Ikea flat-pack desk is already up – and I thought chemo was an endurance test). We'll turn our garden into THE place to be this summer. We'll fix the niggling/boring/non-cosmetic jobs that'll keep my Dad happy. We'll buy window shutters and concede that the cat takes the crown in the battle of Sgt Pepper vs Tord Boontje curtain. (I know. Cat over curtain. It's surprised me too.) We'll go on amazing holidays and eat in lovely restaurants and have weekends away and I'll buy my moisturiser in Clinique instead of Costcutter. We'll save ourselves more stress, and instead have fun making up for the lost time that The Bullshit robbed. 

Last Saturday we bought a lottery ticket. I can't say I checked it all that thoroughly. I just glanced over the numbers to see if I recognised any I'd seen on the draw earlier that night, quickly figured I hadn't, then threw it away. Forget crossed fingers and lucky numbers – I reckon that's as sure a sign as any that, when it comes to the things I have the power to change, I'm happy with my life as it is.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

What's my age again?

My Mum's favourite poem is called Warning, by Jenny Joseph. I'm sure you know the one. It begins like this:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

It's a poem I've been thinking a lot about lately. Which is hardly surprising, since it's written for menopausal women. Of which, thank you Tamoxifen, I am one. I just spent an hour's menopause-related Googling, during which I discovered a 'menopause scoresheet', can you believe, on which you can log the severity of your symptoms and learn... well, nothing you didn't already know. But there is an image of three smiling fiftysomething women at the top of the page, by way of we're-all-in-it-together reassurance. One of them is even wearing sports gear, clearly in preparation for an afternoon of tea and tennis at the Menopausal Ladies' Club, of which I'm now a scoresheet-approved member.

The thing is, this isn't exactly a club I want to be part of. Granted, I may be membership-eligible and I may share some physical similarities with these women, but at the moment I think of myself as more Mean Girls than Calendar Girls. And yes, there's the hot flushes (I now sleep with a cold flannel over my face – P calls it the 'wet hat'), the trouble sleeping (possibly not assisted by the wet hat), the change in my skin (not altogether unwelcome) and the joint aches of a woman twice my age. And, of course, the obvious downstairs changes – the loss of my periods, the libido issues and the fact that I am reproductively... what's the correct medical term?... oh yeah, fucked. But has The Change really changed me to the point where I'm ready for my Menopausal Ladies' Club welcome pack? Let's look at the (wildly generalised) evidence. Menopausal women bake, right? Yep, so do I. They watch their weight. Okay, so I just logged my Fat Club points over an episode of Loose Women. And they look after their gardens. Well, I suppose my daffs are doing well this year, but I think we all know that my bush-pruning tends to be more of the bathroom-based sort. But menopausal women don't, I believe, plan mad weeks at Glastonbury, rap into their toothbrushes or get stars tattooed on their wrists. Or do they?

Which brings me back to Warning – specifically the line, 'And make up for the sobriety of my youth'. See, I've always been a Good Girl. I did well at school, I passed up on a gap year to carry on my studies, got two degrees, met the right man, bought a flat, did well in my career, got married... you know the rest. (My favourite poem was always Solomon Grundy – go figure.) I've always acted my age. I never had a wild-child phase as a teenager. I've never got into serious trouble or been arrested. And yes, I had all the hard-drinking, bed-hopping, cringe-making fun that a British university education affords you, but I don't think I've ever done anything that could really be considered massively off the rails when it came to my Grand Life Plan. (I guess I'm just more Winslet than Winehouse.) And, until cancer came along, I'm sure I'd have dutifully plodded along and checked off the other predictable items on the to-do list: buy a house, have kids, get National Trust membership, retire...

But since I always considered issues like breast cancer, wig-wearing and menopause to be things that I'd have to worry about many years down the line – if at all – my carefully adhered-to Grand Life Plan suddenly looks a bit skew-whiff. I've got the mind of a 29 year old but the body of a 59 year old and, for the first time in my life, I've got no idea how to act my age. Which probably explains how last week, 15 years late for teenage rebellion, I found myself in a tattoo parlour with Calum Best. I suppose you'd call it 'making up for the sobriety of my youth' while, strictly speaking, still in my youth – one foot in Kurt Geiger heels, the other in Barbour wellies. (I should clear up, by the way, that the Calum Best thing was pure coincidence. We didn't call each other up one morning and decide to get matching tattoos. But his being there didn't half make the news easier for my surprisingly-celebrity-aware Mum to hear. 'What can I say, Mum, Calum Best persuaded me to do it.'  'Did he really? Well, he is rather charming. Now, less about the tattoo – what did he look like?')

In many ways I guess my tattoo punctuates the end of my old Grand Life Plan, and the beginning of a new – infinitely less rigid – one. (Or perhaps I've just had too much therapy and it is what it is – a star-shaped bit of ink.) I do like to think, though, that it marks the full-stop to many a sentence: the end of my active treatment (it's on my right wrist, beside the point at which my chemo needles were inserted), the reward for seeing through these difficult few months (it's no coincidence that the shape isn't unlike that of the star stickers that teachers award at primary school), plus the recognition that my life has changed irreparably, and that Solomon Grundy life-plans aren't all they're cracked up to be. That said, I'm pleased I stuck to the old plan for as long as I was able. I'm glad I was a Good Girl. It got things done. But now there is no plan to speak of – just a new tattoo and a blank page. And, while that terrifies and excites me in equal measure, I'm intrigued to see what comes next, once Operation New Tit is done with (11 days and counting). 

The life-planners were out in force on the day Tills and I went to get my tattoo, as we discovered over a celebratory post-ink drink in the nearest licensed place we could find (a department store cafe, how very Kings Road of us). There we were, strutting in with our designer handbags while other women our age struggled in with designer prams. We clinked beer bottles while they shook milk bottles. We talked tattoos while they talked toddlers. And while, several months ago, I'd have been envious of the women on the tables surrounding us, I realised there was a lot to like about my screwed-up, Benjamin Button approach to age (welcome to The Curious Case of Lisa Lynch). So, in honour of my fucked-up, twentysomething menopause, here's my own Warning.

When I am 30 I shall have a short, punky haircut
And wear Vivienne Westwood frocks with New Look heels.
I shall spank my Premium Bonds on pedicures and shiny Mac gadgets
And five-star holidays, and flip the bird to my pension.
I shall teach my friends' kids filthy jokes
And swear at traffic wardens and wink at builders
And flirt with shy-looking teenage waiters
And pretend I'm in an episode of Skins.
I shall show off my tattoo in cropped-sleeve jackets
And wear glittery makeup to the supermarket
And learn to rap.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

March Barnet Bulletin.

My kid brother J has muscled in on the Barnet Bulletin by challenging me to a hair race. He's had his shaved to as close to my length as he could get, and we're now racing each other to see who can grow it the quickest. On your marks, get set, go...

Is it weird that I'm a bit jealous of J's sideburns?

Anyway, if, when you look at that photograph, your reaction is to leave a comment saying something along the lines of, 'you could definitely get away without wearing a wig/headscarf now,' let me stop you right there. Because 'you could get away with it' is ALL I'VE HEARD from the well-meaning family members and select friends who I've allowed a good, close-up look of what's underneath my cranium covering of choice. Thanks all the same, like, but I'm sick of hearing it. Consider it the hair-regrowth equivalent of being told how much I look like my Mum.

Here's the thing: I don't want to 'get away with it'. I want to look fabulous. And I want to do it quicker than my brother. So, until then (early May, by my calculations), I'll be keeping up the pretense, be it beneath a headscarf or wig or hat or paper bag. I want it to be like an episode of Extreme Makeover, with an impressive Big Reveal at the end, when all the work is done – albeit cutting and colouring instead of botox and a boob job. (Actually, does half a boob job count?)

Probably conscious that its days are numbered, I've actually been taking the wig option more often of late, despite the fact that what's growing underneath makes wearing it even more uncomfortable. Plus, I reckon I'll miss making that relieved 'ahh' noise whenever I take it off. (Also applicable to being released from handcuffs, the first sip of lager on a hot day and taking off your high heels in the cab home.) Back in my early wig-wearing days – when my hair was falling out fast, but I wasn't quite bald (the Bobby Charlton stage, if you will) – I bought a little lycra cap that's specially designed for wig-wearers to flatten what remains beneath the syrup, ensuring a better wig-fit. It was a bit like pulling a pop sock over my head. If I'd yanked it down over my eyes, I'd have been one swag bag and a stripy jumper away from turning into a cartoon bank robber. But the pop sock worked, and I suspect that, if I keep up the current wig-wearing status quo with the barnet I'm now growing, I'll be forced to head back to one of the wig shops I swore I'd never again set foot in to buy myself a new hair-flattening device.

I've not ditched the headscarf altogether. It's just that, lately, I've found myself in a few wig-necessary situations. Passport control, for one. What's the protocol on hair loss and passport photos? (See, that's the kind of thing those 'welcome to cancer' leaflets should tell you. I want practicalities, dammit, not a namby-pamby side-panel on 'understanding your emotions'.) In my passport photo, I'm a tanned lass with long, blonde hair (who, inexplicably, looks like she's overdone the valium). But the reality now is, of course, different (I look like I've overdone the Veet, not the valium). So does that necessitate a new passport photo? Would they stop me if I went through airport security in a headscarf, and publicly humiliate me by forcing me to run it through the X-ray machine with my boots, then carry it on board in a see-through plastic bag? Are headscarves now up there with matches, tweezers and copies of the Qur'an as terrorist-suspicion-arousing signals? (Piss-taker that he is, J goes to the other extreme when flying, never travelling without his reading material of The 9/11 Report and Inside The Jihad. Not the recommended way to get an upgrade, I imagine.) All of this only occurred to me the night before our trip to Rome so, to save my blushes, I reached for the rug in the hope that it'd just look like I'd had a haircut, and not had my head shaved by some loony School For Terrorists. Not that the wig stopped me acting suspiciously when I handed over my passport, mind. I put on my very best show of I-get-on-flights-to-Italy-all-the-time nonchalance (chewing gum + headphones + fiddling with iPhone = seasoned traveller), but couldn't do much to disguise the shaking hands, sweaty palms and hot flush. They let me through anyway, of course. I'm sure even airport security staff would rather mess with a terrorist than an early menopausal woman.

Then there's the recommended wig-wearing business of being a tourist in Rome. And not just because I suspect the fashion-conscious Italians would be more receptive to a Hermes headscarf than my H&M one. Nope, tourism = photo-taking, and I was buggered if I was going to look back on family photos of everyone gathered around an obvious-looking cancer patient posing unsteadily outside the Colosseum, like a doddery old dear on day release from the nursing home. There are very few photos in existence of me in a headscarf, and I'm keeping it that way. 

All that said, I found out the hard way that certain city-sightseeing situations are less rug-receptive than others. Tourism Tip For Cancer Patients #1: wigs and open-top buses don't mix.