I was back at the hospital last week and, on the bus prior to my appointment, I went through the usual rigmarole of wrapping a scarf around my neck and pulling up my collar in an attempt to disguise the hair I’ve grown. I didn’t ought to feel so guilty for looking well whenever I enter a place in which most people are quite obviously the opposite. Because, hell, I was one of those people myself not so long ago. So I’ve done my time; I’ve paid my dues. But it still doesn’t stop me feeling like I’m strutting through a fat camp in skinny jeans.
‘It’s really growing, isn’t it?’ people will say. And yeah, it is. But now that I’ve got my fringe back (to a point where it’s made me realise that it was that which I missed more than the length), I’d like my hair to stop being an ongoing project. Which is why, this weekend, I shall be asking my hairdresser to no longer worry about shaping it into a style that it can grow into, but instead to give it a damn good cut that suits the length it currently is. Because that, at long (or short) last, is how I want my hair to be. Case closed.
Unfortunately, though, I can’t quite say the same for the rest of me. Because everything from my fringe down remains an ongoing project – and I suspect it will for some time. The hair image was easy enough to sort out. The body image, however, is going to take more than a few trips to a stylist to rectify.
I’m continually making excuses for my body. In the last week alone, I’ve used the Cancer Defence with a gym instructor to explain my pitiful fitness levels, whined to an oncologist about Tamoxifen’s effect on my (painfully slow) weight-loss progress, and apologised to my husband for continually insisting on bra-on sex. (Speaking of Tamoxifen, some furious Googling on the subject revealed that some women get so fed up with its effects that they stop taking it altogether. I mean, fuck, it’s pissing me off too – but I’d rather be fat and alive than thin and dead.) Now, I know all of that stuff shouldn’t matter in light of the altogether more substantial picture of The Bullshit but, hey, it does. The thing is, I may look 30 – but I sure as shit don’t feel it.
At the risk of wading knee-deep into TMI territory, it’s now 18 months since I had a period. The combination of chemotherapy and Tamoxifen often calls a halt to the reds’ home fixtures for a while but, more often than not, hormones return to their normal monthly function within half a year of finishing chemo. But mine, however, haven’t. I can’t say I’m bothered about it, either. I’ve never exactly relished the process of menstruation and, as far as I’m concerned, no periods = no oestrogen to morph its evil way into another tumour. My doctors have said much the same. They’ve been testing my hormone levels since my active treatment ended, ready to pounce whenever my ovaries get back to work with monthly injections of Zoladex designed to make them redundant again. (Kinda like medical treatment for the recession era.) And every time I’ve been back for my three-monthly check-ups so far, my doctors have questioned my periods’ whereabouts, as though they were a misplaced set of keys or a missing earring.
‘Have they showed up yet?’ asked the doctor last week.
‘Still nothing,’ I said.
‘Not even a hint of their return?’
‘Not a peep.’
‘Right,’ she said. ‘Then, judging on your latest test results, I think we can say that you’re almost certainly in the menopause.’
While it had never been confirmed, I’d long assumed as much myself, and so what surprised me more was actually hearing it said by a doctor for the first time. Previously it’s been very much ‘your periods will most likely return’ and ‘keep an eye out for them’, but not now. Now it was ‘almost certainly’ the menopause. Meh.
Again, in light of that Bigger Picture, it’s not exactly a massive deal. Consider what the menopause actually means. It’s the process of hanging a ‘closing down’ sign in the shop-front of your reproductive system, right? And given that P and I boarded up our shop – let’s call it Woolworths – so long ago that we’re not just over it but are now browsing the aisles of the Tesco Metro that replaced it, you could say that learning I’m actually in the menopause is, as P put it, ‘almost even good news’. Granted, if we’d been told that I was 20 years too early for the menopause two years ago, say, we’d have been devastated. But now? I’ll say it again: meh.
‘So that’ll be another reason why it’s so difficult to lose weight,’ added my doctor.
(Not so meh.)
‘Bugger,’ I said. ‘So it’s a double whammy, then, of that and the Tamoxifen?’
‘I’m afraid so. But it will come off,’ she reasoned.
‘Just not half as fast as it would otherwise.’
‘I’m afraid not, no. Your metabolism will have slowed right down.’
‘You’re not kidding,’ I said. ‘I’ve lost six pounds in two months. That’s rubbish.’ (I stopped short of adding, 'I mean, bloody hell, you can shit six pounds!')
‘But it’s going in the right direction,’ she said. ‘And in the grand scheme--’
‘I know, I know,’ I interrupted. ‘Not a massive deal.’
‘It will come off,’ she said again.
Just like the people who commented on the growth of my hair, she’s right. It is coming off. But, by heck, I’m not half having to work hard for it. I’m calculating; I’m measuring; I’m weighing by the micro-milligram anything it’s possible to swallow. Sheesh, I’ve got so damn good at correctly guessing food weights by sight that if You Bet! were still on telly, I’d have not just won my challenge, but raised £1000 for charity and forced Keith Chegwin into a gunk-tank forfeit weeks ago. It’s painful progress. (Almost as painful as watching an episode of You Bet!, come to think.)
The menopause stuff explains a lot more than just my disappointing diet, though. And I don’t know whether it’s because my memory of puberty is fresher than most menopausal women, but it sort of feels like I’ve been here before. Because the menopause is as much of a ‘change’ as puberty, right? Which probably explains why I’m feeling much the same now as I did back then – skin changes, growing pains, blushing at the slightest hint of embarrassment – except with 18 more years on the clock. P must be out of his mind, poor sod, living with a stroppy 12 year old one day and a moody 60 year old the next.
But that, I’m afraid, is how it’s going to be. And so I’m going to have to accept – just as I did as a teenager – that this is the body I’m in. It’s not the fittest, it’s not the healthiest, and it’s not the slimmest. But it’s what I’ve got. So I can count calories and faff with my hair all I want. But one thing I can’t change is The Change.