At the risk of this sounding like a Slim Fast commercial, I swore then that never again would I put myself through that kind of shock. (You can see the ad, can't you? Here's a cardboard cutout of Fat Me, and look at me now! I eat salads! With wine! I wear red dresses! I dance salsa with creepy men! And you can too! All of this over a sickly, sisterhood soundtrack of Shania Twain or Heather Small or somesuch. Screw the Slim Fast – that's enough to put you off food for life.) And so, keen to put my hefty days behind me, I signed up to Fat Club, learned how to photograph better and threw away the thirty-years-too-old-for-me, baggy, brown clothes I'd been wearing in the photo.
Cut to last week, AKA New Image Day. Me and my brilliant friend Tills (EVERYONE should have a Tills, by the way; I've never known such unending support from someone who wasn't contractually obliged through blood or marriage) had spent a lovely girly morning at the salon, turning my hair impossibly blonde, getting our nails done and chatting our way through everything from cancer to cats. The colourist had listened to everything I'd asked for and duly obliged, and the hairdresser had somehow managed to rid my head of its wispy chemo curls and yet still keep my hair looking the same length. Things were going well. New Image Day was looking like a success, and with everyone around me being especially lovely and complimentary about the shock of short, platinum hair that was confidently contrasting with my black gown, there was no reason to feel anything other than chuffed. Finally, I had hair I'd chosen to have.
But, as the harsh light of day and several suspicious sideways glances expertly demonstrated, the hair I'd chosen didn't suit me. I might have wanted a funky, punky, peroxide, statement 'do, but Lady Gaga I ain't. And so my poker face lasted the distance from the hairdressers to the Topshop changing room, where Tills took a few photos of my new crop on her mobile phone, and I collapsed into sobs when I saw them, just as I had when looking at a photo of myself at my fattest.
The fault was entirely my own. I had got what I'd asked for: the trendy, relevant, never-would-have-tried-it-otherwise look that would tell the world how I'd changed; how I was on top of cancer; how I was ready to take on anything that life threw at me. But what I'd asked for wasn't right. Not only did it make me realise that this wasn't, in fact, hair that I'd chosen to have (if I could choose hair, I'd have it exactly the way it was pre-Bullshit, and not have cancer force my hand into a pixie crop), but it also made me confront the fact that right now, I'm just not feeling feisty enough to carry off the look I thought I wanted. It was hair that stood out from the crowd – and, as it turns out, I don't want to stand out. It was hair that screamed confidence – and I don't have as much as I'd thought. It was hair that suggested its owner was cool, attractive, hot and edgy – and, baldness aside, I've never felt further from those things. I can talk the talk all I want, confidently proclaiming my new image to be the triumphant, cancer-beating look that's all mine, making me way cooler than the girl I was pre-Bullshit. But, having surrendered all the goods to back it up along with the hair I lost in the first place, now is categorically not the time to be cashing in on my confidence. It's the time to start slowly building it back up again.
Sobbing in a post-salon Starbucks stop with Tills and P either side of me, I kicked myself for learning nothing since the last time the three of us attempted to make the best of my hair-loss situation. Here we are again, I thought, back at my first wig-buying experience. Back then, I walked into the room expecting to skip out with something I loved as much as my original hair. And this time around, I'd expected exactly the same. Better yet, I wanted people to pass me in the street and think nothing of me. Not 'ooh, is she wearing a wig?' or 'crikey, she's young to be wearing a headscarf'. Not even 'wow, look how confidently she's carrying that crop'. Nothing. Because them thinking nothing would mean that I'm no different to anyone else. And when it comes down to it, that's the kind of normal I'm after.
My problem wasn't just in failing to realise that a girl with freckles needs something a bit warmer than bright, white hair. It was in allowing my expectations to run away with me. In my mind, I was going to walk out of that salon the new Agyness Deyn. Better than that, actually – I was going to walk out of there the New Me. I had built up New Image Day to be a defining moment in my escape from cancer's grip. The day on which I stopped being the girl with breast cancer, and started being the girl with the funky hair. The day on which I could stop hiding away, and return to the world with a bright, blonde bang. I'd even given it a name, for fuck's sake. New Image Day was going to be as significant a turning point as the day of my diagnosis or my mastectomy or my final chemo.
When am I going to learn my lesson? Almost 11 months into my experience of The Bullshit, and I still can't get my head around the fact that I'm not in control. Cancer is in control. (There, I said it.) And no amount of new clothes or hair colourant or New Image Days can change that. The reality is that the milestones aren't the scripted occasions, but the seemingly insignificant rites of passage that you don't notice until they've passed. Washing your hair for the first time after losing it. Walking the length of your street without having to stop for a rest. Falling asleep without the help of Nytol. Catching yourself saying 'I've had cancer' instead of 'I've got cancer'. These are the things that matter. These are the things that make a difference. They're the niggling, nil-nil away draws that guarantee your safety at the end of the season. They're not pretty, they're not memorable, and they're definitely not going to make it onto Match of the Day, but they're vital nonetheless. They're the things I should have been writing about, when instead I've been more interested in the showy wonder-goals that'll make for a better highlights package. As my old man says, 'the unplanned moments are the best moments'. (And given that I always make a point of swerving New Year's Eve parties, you'd think I could have figured that out for myself.)
'Nobody talks about this part,' I whined to P and Tills over a mug of tea. 'People warn you how hard it is to get a diagnosis and go through chemo and lose your hair. Nobody ever warned me how hard it would be to get over treatment, or how long it takes to feel right after chemo, or how difficult it is to get your hair back. There isn't a leaflet for this stuff.' But how could there be? Hell, I've been writing about all this for the best part of a year and I still wouldn't know how to tell someone who'd just been diagnosed that there's so much more tricky stuff to negotiate once treatment has finished; that you're suddenly left to deal with the gravity of what's happened to you; that you've somehow got to alter all of your expectations.
But harder than even doing those things is accepting that you've got to do them in the first place. I still feel like I'm having a tantrum about it. Yes, cancer has changed my life. But I shouldn't have to change the way I live to accommodate it. It's just not fair. I don't want to lower my expectations. I want to get excited and look forward and face my future with optimism. Right now, as it goes, there's lots of stuff I ought to be getting excited about, and I want to be able to run downhill with it guilt-free, waving my arms around in the air. I want to plan ahead. I want to feel normal. I want to stop seeing cancer when I look in the mirror. I want to take the credit for my crop. I want to turn the things that cancer's making me do into significant, fun moments that I'm in control of. I want to turn The Bullshit into something brilliant. I want to slap on a brave face and make the very best I can of every single shitty situation I've been strong-armed into. But not only does that kind of thing lead to disappointment, it's also really bloody exhausting. Particularly when you're already working so damned hard at keeping it together when all the while it feels like you might spontaneously combust.
After pouring out my heart to the third hair colourist I visited within 24 hours, he couldn't believe that I'd wanted such a drastic change of colour in the first place. 'You've always had long hair before this, yes?,' he asked in his lovely French accent. I nodded. 'Then suddenly having short hair is enough of a new image for you! You don't need crazy blonde too,' he advised, before turning my hair just a couple of shades lighter than its natural colour. And he was right. For now, at least, the short hair is a big enough life-change to get used to. (And, let's be honest, I've had more than my fair share of those already.) So I'm sorry to disappoint, but there is no New Me. But nor is there an Old Me. There's just Me. Albeit with a little less hair (and a little more tit).