Saturday 30 August 2008

My Super Sweet 30th.

Only when you've got cancer and it's your birthday is it acceptable for your friend's husband to buy you knickers. It's a little-known present-giving loophole that Tills' husband Si took advantage of the other night when they gave me my birthday presents. And they're not just any old knickers, oh no. They're the Best Knickers In The World: a white thong with 'Mrs Dave Grohl' on the front. And, since it's my birthday today and I'm officially allowed to use them (a rule I've flouted to make use of the 'Keep Calm And Carry On' mug they also bought me), I shall be putting them on as soon as I can be arsed to change out of my pyjamas. Right now I've got my feet up after an exciting morning's present-opening. I've had two beautiful bouquets delivered and have opened a frankly ridiculous number of gifts, many of them ginger-themed (good work, friends and family). Tills thinks I should exploit this kindness for a bit, and start blogging about how Miu Miu shoes and Chloé handbags will really aid my recovery. She's right, of course, but not about the exploiting bit – recent studies have conclusively proved that wearing designer gear is the quickest way to kill cancer cells, and you can't argue with that.

It's a dreadful thing to admit, but I'm almost (almost) getting used to all the kindness I'm being shown at the moment. Not that the people around me aren't normally kind to me (I think we've already established how fortunate I am on the friends-and-family front). I'm sure I've mentioned before that, on my better days, I joke that breast cancer has so far felt like having a birthday every day. I'm continually getting cards and presents (today I've taken down the get-well cards and replaced them with birthday ones), my friends keep baking delicious things for me, I'm rarely off the phone or email, there have been wonderful gestures from people I've not even seen for years, and I've not been without fresh flowers since the day of my diagnosis. And, cancer aside, how wonderful is that? This kind of continual pampering is difficult to get your head around, and I fear its going to turn me into Veruca Salt. When all The Bullshit is over, will I have become a horribly spoilt, me-me-me brat like one of those awful kids on My Super Sweet 16? Or will I just be relieved that this episode is over and glad to get back to my normal life? (There's that phrase again.)

Speaking of horrible MTV brats (and normal life), earlier this week I spent a really happy afternoon giggling on the sofa with Busby. While drinking green tea, eating biscuits (ginger, obviously) and talking rubbish, we devised a plan, inspired by an afternoon-long MTV marathon of My Super Sweet 16 (I'm becoming obsessed), to make my birthday next year, well, super sweet. Party-wise, this year's celebrations will have to be on the tame side (theatre tonight, then tea and birthday cake with some mates tomorrow). At the moment, dare I say it, quiet time with my nearest and dearest is looking far preferable to dancing my patent heels off in the 100 Club. (Christ, am I really only 29 or actually 79? Perhaps my next wig should be a blue rinse.) That said, I'm continually worrying that I'm missing out on all kinds of brilliant nights out while I'm cooped up in my cancer bubble (my mates assure me it's not the case, but I'm not sure I believe them) and, until this week, I'd been fretting about the lack of a Big Birthday Night Out this year. But really, what's so special about turning 29? Nada. 30's the big one. And, all being well, by this time next year I'll have a lot more to celebrate than just the big 3-0. So Busby and I are staying true to our Virgoan selves and planning my shindig WELL in advance. With a little help from the pampered princesses on MTV.

We've learned from excessive MTV viewing that there are rules to having a Super Sweet birthday party. For starters, I'll have to gain about three stone and squeeze myself into a heinous slutty pink dress that squeezes my boobs together in a way that cannot be healthy (I will, of course, have perfect boobs by then (or, at least, one perfect boob and one natural boob). I'll also have to force my folks to remortgage their house in order to buy me an Audi (which will, of course, come wrapped in a huge pink bow). Busby and I will have a pyjama party in which we sit on my bed and eat Doritos while compiling a list of people to invite and people not to invite (entitled 'friends' and 'losers'). I'll stand outside the gates of my school where I've gathered together all the lucky invitees (and a few from the loser list), then call out their names over a megaphone, with a pause for dramatic effect when they share the same first name. ('Sarah... Jones! Here's your invite. Sarah... Williams! Here's yours.' Meanwhile the camera pans over to a grumpy-looking Sarah Thomas.) At some point during the planning process I'll need to have a strop at my Mum (probably when she tells me my dress is too slutty) after which she'll cancel my credit card and I'll call her a bitch in front of a shop full of people. I'll spend weeks pestering my Dad (sorry, Daddy) to book a performer for his little princess, on the understanding that anyone less than P Diddy will make my party lame and leave me embarrassed. I'll tell my party planners over and over that 'this party is all about me' and 'it's really important that this party is remembered forever' and I'll throw a tantrum when they can't get me perfectly white horses for my grand entrance. And, despite being married (that's not a juicy enough story for MTV), I'll invite my school crush, give him access to the VIP area and then cry when I catch him making out with another girl (I'll get security to throw her out, and he'll come back grovelling when he catches sight of my super-fly Audi).

Or, we could just do it like the UK version and have a chav-fest in a church hall with cheese and pineapple on sticks and Chesney Hawkes booked to perform. Actually, is it the chemo drugs or does that actually sound like a much more fun option? Anyone got Chesney's number? Daddy, pleeeeeease? (Just for the record, Dad, I'm joking about Chesney Hawkes. What with all the success on the ginger-gifts front, I'm starting to think I should be careful what I wish for. But if you happen to have Dave Grohl's number...)

Thursday 28 August 2008

Papa's got a brand new brag.

Apparently it's worth putting on a bit of slap and a nice top to visit your local mini-mart. Last night, on my way round to the corner shop, I got checked out. And I didn't imagine it either. A bloke I was walking past glanced over at me (less glanced, more looked me up and down) and gave me a smile. (And no, cynics, he wasn't smirking at my wig. I know this because the shopkeeper commented on how glowing my skin and hair were looking despite the chemo. Result!) Anyway, I was so happy to be looked at approvingly that I could have snogged the face off him but realised that (a) P might not approve and (b) snogging the face off a stranger in reaction to an innocent smile is a sure-fire way to get a bloke's hopes up for evermore. He'd tell his mates that the tactic worked, they'd tell theirs and before you know it there'd be an epidemic of men getting frustrated by women refusing to snog them in the street, sparking a huge battle-of-the-sexes debate that they write about in The Guardian, and it'd all be my fault. (Tragically, this is genuinely the kind of thing I think about as I'm walking along.) I smiled back though, and P won't mind about that – he knows I'm a terrible flirt (something I inherited from my Nan, so I feel it's my duty to carry on). 

It says a lot, I fear, that such an event has become the highlight of my day. Funny what normal life becomes. I keep going on about 'getting back to my normal life once The Bullshit is over' but actually, in a weird way, this kind of is 'normal life' now. Granted, it's probably a long way off most people's definition of normal but for me – sitting here in my pyjamas with a brew by my side and a head of short, fuzzy hair that makes me look like a newly hatched chick – this is normality. I get up, eat some prunes (yep, that old chestnut), write a bit, sleep a lot, reassure people on the other end of the phone that I'm okay, and constantly check my calendar to work out how many more days of normality I've got until the next chemo (you'd think I'd be able to remember, but the brain fog has seen to that). Normal life today is, at least, a bit more on the thrilling side – to match my new-look hairdo, I've now got a new-look blog (you like?), P's hidden my birthday presents somewhere in the flat, and later on I'm going to sample the ginger cake that Tills has baked for me. But usually, the most exciting part of my day is when the post arrives. And, to make yesterday that bit more exciting, I had a Topshop package to open.

At least I thought it would be exciting. It turns out my Topshop order revealed an awful lot about me, and not all of it good. I wonder whether, over in the Topshop warehouse, they conjure up an image of their customers as they're packing their goods. Because, if they do, I've gone from classic-chic London professional to sensible-jumper-wearing sad case. My order contained one cardigan, two jumpers and a long-sleeved white top. None of which says 'cool'. Neither does the Batman logo T-shirt I bought, but it tickled me in light of the whole me-as-Batgirl-versus-The-Oestrogen-Villainess shizzle. (Oh, give me a break. I'm barely seeing the light of day, I spend more time with my Mac than I do my husband and I regularly find myself talking to the TV – is it any wonder I'm entertained by this stuff?)

The trying-on was fun though. Especially with Rhymefest's Brand New as my dancing-in-front-of-the-mirror soundtrack. (What can I say? This is the kind of stuff you end up doing when you're spending so much time on your own. I'd love to tell you it was a strategy to knacker me out in preparation for a nap, but actually I'm pretty knackered anyway, and am apparently just a frustrated rapper.) I first made the mistake of trying on my new clobber sans-wig. And, while I have to admit that discovering what the shape of my head looks like has been a rather pleasant surprise, it's a look that unfortunately turns all my clothes from lovely to lesbian, so I reached for the rug to femme it up a bit. My skull shape has been one of a number of discoveries I've only happened upon as a result of losing my hair – I've got a longer neck than I realised, for starters. And my nose is much smaller than I thought. I'm starting to think I've lost a bit of weight off my bum, too (I'm hoping that's not a balding-head illusion). It's still more Beyoncé than Beckham, mind (actually, let's be honest, it's more Beth Ditto than Beyoncé) but I really do think there's ever so slightly less of it. And, believe me, there shouldn't be. I'm sitting or lying most of the time and practically crapping ginger biscuits. Perhaps it's all the sitting down that's squashed my bum flat. Either way, I like it more than I did two months ago.

Sheesh, when did this turn into such a boast-post? Get a load of me bragging about my long neck, cute nose and curvy bottom. That smile from a stranger has clearly gone to my (shapely) head. Don't for a second be getting envious though – after all, you can only be so jealous of a balding, breast-cancer-befallen bird with very questionable rapping skills, right homie? (God, I'm even embarrassed for myself.)

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Much hairdo about nothing.

I've spent years faffing with my hair. I've demanded impossibly high standards from it. (I'd better clarify that I'm talking post-school, by the way – 1990-1995 was a half-decade hair-mare. With that and the braces, it's amazing I ever got snogged.) I've blow-dried, straightened, sprayed, lacquered, highlighted, lowlighted... all in a quest for the perfect 'do. Newsreader hair, if you will. You know, the kind that stays straight when you want it to, with the parting and fringe always in the right place and none of those wispy strands that stick up, no matter how much serum you plaster on. (A mate of mine once interviewed Jennifer Aniston, by the way, and revealed that she has those same wispy bits. I'm assuming The Ostrogen Villainess has none.) And that's what we all want, right? That pristine, shiny, well-conditioned, weather-proof, always-looking-perfect kind of hair that just doesn't exist. Well, six o'clock news just in, people: perfect hair does exist. And I've got it. But it's not without its occasional drawbacks. 

This bank holiday was my Get Over Yourself And Show People The Wig weekend. And I think it's fair to say that it made an impressive debut. Sorry, they made an impressive debut. First up was Wig 2 for a picnic in the park (a choice I still don't understand, considering Wig 1 is my favourite). My future sis-in-law's hen do was this weekend and, from a lack of being able to stay standing for the Big Night Out (again, DAMN The Bullshit for messing with my social life), I instead showed my face for an hour at the pre-cocktails picnic. Well aware that twentysomething hens can be tough crowds, I had never felt more self-conscious. A feeling not helped by the fact that, as I tentatively walked towards the tiara-wearing group with my sunglasses perched on top of my head (because that look's got 'natural hair' written all over it, right?), I promptly got my aviators stuck in my wig and had to prise them out as surreptitiously as I could (ie, not very). Suffice to say, I chose not to wear my designated tiara after that.

That's what I mean by drawbacks: leave the wig alone, and it's perfect. But start to fiddle, and you've given the game away. And therein lies my problem. I'm a fiddler. The thing is, wigs are itchy. (All that 'surprisingly comfy' stuff I was spouting the other day apparently only applies for about twenty minutes. After that it's just plain irritating.) And when I've got an itch, I'll scratch it (I've never been a sidle-up-against-a-wall-to-scratch-your-bum kind of gal) which, these days, means my fringe can grow beyond my eyebrows in a matter of seconds, or my parting can magically move two inches to the right without the help of a comb. I might as well leave the label hanging out. I have GOT to learn to leave the wig alone. 

But, minor mishaps aside, it's been a successful hair-show thus far. Hen do, lunch with family, a cuppa with mates (the latter two wearing Wig 1)... my wedding day aside, I've never had so many compliments. And whether or not they're all blowing smoke up my ass, I don't care. Because I like the wigs and P likes the wigs (and I can always tell when he's blowing smoke up my ass) and, now I've got some confidence back, it's made me feel happier than I have in ages. It doesn't make wearing a wig any better than having real hair, mind. But, for the meantime, it's a bloody good second best. I wonder whether, when it grows back, I'll still sweat the small stuff about my hair? Like when it goes frizzy in the rain, or kinks at the back because I've missed a bit with my straighteners. I hope so – I'd hate to turn all cancer-survivor-zen and refuse to get wound up by the little things. I'm going to milk the hell out of having a cold for the same reason.

I've acquired a Wig 3 now, too. My lovely, almost-makes-me-forget-I've-got-cancer friend Busby (who wishes to be played by Stephen Hawking in the film, by the way, having been previously been described in this blog as 'genius') came over yesterday afternoon, having just returned from a trip to Edinburgh. And she brought with her a brilliant gift: a novelty tartan hat with a mass of ginger felt hair attached. It quite suits me, actually. Newsreader hair it ain't (well, GMTV might let it pass) but the good news is I'd be hard pushed to get my sunglasses caught in this one. Which makes it a very natural-looking choice. (And, judging by the look of my few remaining pubes, the ginger hair could be terrifyingly close to the truth.)

Saturday 23 August 2008

Hi, my name is...

When I first met P, I hated him. I took his initial shyness as arrogance (I told a colleague he was 'practising to be a git') and did all I could to avoid him around the office. But that changed over the course of two nights. The first was a very VERY debauched house party at which I was introduced to absinthe and woke up the following morning draped over a boy on the kitchen floor (thankfully the boy in question was an understanding and equally absinthe-wrecked mate). Pre-debauchery, however, P turned up, despite neither of us moving in the same circles (one of those weird coincidences that never happens in London), so we were forced to speak to each other, and I was forced to concede (a bit) that my immediate impression of him had been wrong. The second was a work night out in which P allowed me to join in his game of arcade golf – an ice-breaker that saw us get progressively rat-arsed, to the point where he offered to accompany me home safely. And not just to the front door. See? Not such a git after all. (There may be a taking-advantage-of-a-drunken-girl argument here that supports my git theory, but I disagree. I was more than happy to be taken home by a tall, dark, handsome scouser and, anyway, leaving him at the door would have been a waste of my pulling knickers.) My lengthy point, however, is that first impressions often mean squat. Anyone or anything that immediately impresses me makes me wary (and, believe me, it's a theory I've put to the test – and wished I hadn’t). I'm a big believer in the slow burn.

And, true to form, the same has happened on the wig front. From hating Wig 1 a matter of days ago, I’ve now come to really like it – and its new sister, Wig 2. I’m sticking with the numbering system, by the way, despite the fact that the wigs have names. Not names I’ve given them, you understand (although I heard from an ex-boss recently who told me about a brilliant naming system he and his wife devised to covertly ensure her wig looked good when they were out at a restaurant: ‘Have you seen Sharon recently? Is she well?’ Fantastic idea, and one I look forward to nicking – code name suggestions welcome). But anyway, all wigs have names already. Names to distinguish them from one anther in the catalogue and, my god, how brilliant they are. Wig 1’s name is Codi. Wig 2 is called Erika. (I wonder whether people switch from jobs in paint-naming to wig-naming?)

I bought Wig 2 (sorry, Erika) yesterday, from a different Wig Place to the last. This time, it wasn’t Wig Man or Wig Girl, but Camp-As-Christmas Wig Guy – the best of all the Wig Folk so far. He was ace: the perfect mix of a bloody good laugh, super-knowledgable and empathetic to the reason I was there in the first place. He even offered to shave my head to make the wigs fit better. I politely declined, instead opting to GI Jane it in my own time (this morning, as it happens – so much hair came out in the bath that P and I took the scissors to the lot of it. I’m now less Andy-from-Little-Britain, more Aryan army recruit. Call it Hitler Youth Chic). Camp-As-Christmas Wig Guy stuck rigidly to the wigs’ catalogue names throughout my appointment with him. ‘Samantha’s lovely; see the way she’s feathered around the face. Let’s try her and let’s take in Miranda too.’ (Disappointingly, there was no Carrie or Charlotte.) And, despite thinking I’d walk out with a long wig this time, I’ve still been unable to find one that doesn’t make me look like a member of the Mexico ’86 England squad. So Wig 2 is another bob. A longer one, though, with a slightly wispier fringe. And this time it’s Spring Honey, in comparison to Wig 1’s Creamy Toffee (see what I mean about the paint-naming thing?)

I’ve even been looking into Wig 3. This time I’ll be trying yet another different Wig Place (total hussy of a wig slag that I am), and I’ve already had a look at their wares online. I’m so excited. At this place, the wigs don’t have women’s names (do men’s wigs have men’s names, I wonder?), but instead brilliantly wanky titles like Emotion, Ecstasy and Rendezvous. I can see it now: ‘Endearing could really be your thing, but let’s try an Embrace too.’ There’s even one called Ominous. I mean, come on. Even if it wasn’t reminiscent of Dame Edna, who the hell would want a wig called Ominous? But my favourite by far is from the Delboy Trotter school of wig-naming: Tres Bien. Tres Bien! Now that could definitely work in a covert restaurant wig-checking situation. ‘C’est bon?’ ‘Tres Bien, Rodney, Tres Bien.’

Thursday 21 August 2008

Putting it about.

I've still not made my peace with the wig. I've moved it to the bathroom windowsill, given it a headband for company and stood my new wig brush beside it, but me and it are still a long way off being friends. We're sizing each other up. It's a Mexican stand-off every time I walk past the bathroom door.

But I'm not wearing it. I've not even put it on once today, instead opting to leave the flat to see NHS Wig Man wearing a baseball cap that's now too big and, frankly, makes me look a bit retarded. (The NHS wig was borderline albino, by the way. Suffice to say it's not on my bathroom windowsill.) My boss popped round for a cuppa this afternoon on the promise of a wig debut, but had to make do with a syrup on a stand. I feel bad – I should at least have given her a glimpse of the bald head by way of compensation. People want the good stuff, right? (Oh give over, of course you do – I would if the roles were reversed.) Okay then, new rule: from now on, I'm happy to show you the slaphead. I mean, sheesh, I've been flashing my non-tit all over the place, so what's a bit of baldness between friends?

What the hell is it, then, about my reluctance with the rug? You know I've had a mastectomy; I'm happy to show you the scars. You know I'm having chemo; I'm happy to show you the baldness. You know I've lost my hair, but I still won't let you see the wig? Fuck it. This is getting ridiculous. I'm putting it on.

[Excuse the short interlude here – it's a slippery little bugger but I'll get used to it.]

There. Done. I'm wearing it. I'm blogging in a wig. It doesn't feel that unusual actually. I dare say it's even comfy. And, okay, I admit it – it looks better on my head than it does on the stand. It still doesn't look like my old hair but, well, it's never bloody going to, is it? And I can throw all the broken-biscuit tantrums I want, but that's one thing that is never going to change. So I'd better get used to it. (Consider that my eureka moment. Can you hear the Hallelujah Chorus?)

So then, new rule number two: if I can't have my own hair, then I'm damn well going to have everyone else's. Consider this Wig 1 of a New Wig Army. I want a shelf of wigs like my shelf of shoes. I want a wig for weddings, a wig for work, a wig for shopping, a wig for the pub. (Actually, there's your answer to what I'd like for my birthday.) Starting from tomorrow, I'm going to be a wig slag. And what the hell. I've spent my whole life being monogamous to men and, pleased as I am to have done that, now's the time to have a bit of slutty fun with my headwear instead. Apparently I'm just not a love-the-wig-you're-with kind of girl.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Does my bum look big in this?

As I type, I'm looking down from my bed at a foreign, furry, blonde rodent. Otherwise known as my new wig. It's balanced carefully on a stand on the floor and, despite the low light in here, it still looks glossy and healthy and wholesome. It's everything I'm not.

I've never felt further from healthy than I did last night. The nausea may have subsided, but the aches haven't. I was – and still am – in a lot of pain. Not pain like the time I sliced through my finger or the day I broke my wrist at Rollerworld. Chemo aches are in a pain league of their own. They get into every bit of bone and cartilage and gum and tooth and hair and nail, and they piss you off to the point where you just cannot get comfy, no matter how many pillows/blankets/stuffed toys you cushion yourself with. It really bloody hurts.

After a troubled night of the chemo-pains, I awoke this morning to a different painful sight on TV: a ludicrous Olympic sport in which about 20 tightly-packed competitors swim (and fight) their way around a fresh-water course for what feels like three weeks. And sheesh, that looked painful. But still not as painful as this. (I appreciate how ludicrous that might sound, by the way. And I'm not for a second comparing myself to Olympic athletes. Far from it. I may love sport, but sporty I ain't. Hell, my PE report once praised my ability to pack away the equipment at the end of the lesson.) But back to my point. Despite that restless night of crying and whingeing (P's a lucky lad, ain't he?), today's waking-up still compared favourably to the depressed 5am-er I mentioned in my last post. This morning there was a glimmer of hope in the form of another wig-fitting appointment – and not the NHS kind.

Next week it's my birthday, and the one thing I wanted was to still have fabulous hair by that point. (I wanted a gift-wrapped Dave Grohl too, but apparently you can't always get what you want.) Next best on the birthday wish-list, then, was to have a fabulous wig instead. And, ta-dah! I've got exactly what I asked for. But I hate it.

There's nothing wrong with the wig I bought today. It's a damn good wig. As good a wig as I'm going to get, that's for sure. It's just that the whole experience was so... oh, I don't know. Just not what I was expecting. And what the hell was I expecting? It's not like this was my first time trying on wigs. It was, however, my first time trying on wigs knowing for certain that I'd need one of them. Last time around I was clinging onto the hope that the hair underneath the wigs would stick around. This time there was barely any hair left to cover. Don't get me wrong, it was a whole lot better than the stationery-cupboard NHS experience. Wig Man was replaced by Wig Girl who had a far better understanding of what would suit me and how it should be worn. And this time, I didn't just have the moral support of P, but also my fantastic friend Tills. Even by the time P and I arrived, Tills had got the measure of Wig Girl and the designs she had to offer, and had even picked out the mops that would suit me most. Everything was in its right place, and going as well as it could. But this time it was real, and not just pissing about in front of a mirror with Crap FM on the radio. (Actually, that's a bit of a fib – apparently all wig places listen to Crap FM.)

But mind over matter and all that. Trying my best to be a cool customer and perfectly at ease, I slapped on my brave face and even played along with a few of the usual losing-your-hair lines. 'Just think of all the money I'll save on highlights!' and 'Blimey, P, I'll be able to get ready so quickly!' Ha ha ha! Well, no, actually. Not ha ha. Because, I realised, this is fucking rubbish. Here I am, at 28, trying on wigs. Not for fun, but because I've got breast cancer. Not so funny now, eh? And it was about that point at which I lost my sense of humour, got really bloody angry and burst into tears. I quickly asked Tills to tell me about something else that was happening in the world. She recalled a brilliant story about our friends' little girl, who recently threw a tantrum when her mum gave her a biscuit, and nobody could understand why. Much questioning revealed that the issue with the biscuit was that it was slightly broken, so it was quickly replaced with another one from the same pack. But that brought on an even bigger tantrum because, in fact, what the (frankly, genius) little lass wanted was the very first biscuit she was handed, just without the broken bit. She wanted the perfect version of her original biscuit. Just like I wanted the perfect version of my original hair. I was having the same tantrum.

In my tantrum, I may not have thrown myself on the floor and screamed and kicked. (I wanted to, mind.) Instead, I sobbed and had a go at two of my favourite people for telling me how great I looked, when what we were really looking at was a cancer patient in a wig. 'The reason I've got you two here,' I spluttered, 'Is not so you can tell me what you think I want to hear. Stop fucking telling me I look good. I look like I'm wearing a wig.' And then I felt worse for yelling at them, in just the same way I did after yelling at Dad last week.

I know I keep talking a lot about what I want (and, believe me, you're not even hearing the half of what I want) but at these angry, shouting-at-people-I-love moments, what I want is someone to take it all out on. Someone to really kick the crap out of. (Just where is Sting when you need him?) But, because I'm lucky enough to only ever be surrounded by lovely people, there's never anyone to kick the crap out of. So instead, my most incredible, supportive, wonderful friend gets it in the neck, after giving up her morning to be with me for this ridiculous wig-buying trip. I don't just want to do all this crap-kicking because I got breast cancer in the first place, or because I feel so ill or because I've lost my hair. I want to do it in retaliation for turning my time with Tills from cava-drinking, tapas-eating loveliness into shitty, cancer-focused experiences like this. At least with P I can still have those fantastic, normal moments I value so much. We can cuddle in bed and dance in the kitchen and snog in the bath. But I'm not getting those normal moments with Tills and my friends, and I'm really crap-kickingly pissed off about it. (Not that I want to snog you lot in the bath too.)

I know those times will come back. And then some. But I really miss my mates, dammit. I'm sick of being the cancer patient on the sofa, talking about myself and skirting around the truth of how very, very shit all of this is, in case people don't want to hear it. I want my mates to see me in normal circumstances with a brew, a load of gossip and a bloody lovely head of hair. I want them to say, 'Wow, L, I honestly can't believe it's a wig! It's exactly like your old hair!' And I want them to mean it. But again, that's one more thing I can't have. Because if anyone does say that, they're lying.

So let's get this straight now. I am wearing a wig. It's a good wig. The colour is nice, the cut's not bad and it's pretty bloody comfortable, if truth be known. But it's a wig. It's not like my old hair, it doesn't move like my old hair and it doesn't feel like my old hair. But how do I look in it? Well that's what I can't tell you. Because what I see in the mirror is me... in a wig. Which makes it difficult to judge. P says I look lovely. Tills says I look lovely. Mum and Dad have seen a picture and they say I look lovely. Lovely. Right.

But what I really want to know – and what I can never know – is what the average person on the street thinks I look like. I want to stand on the corner of my road and survey every person who goes past. ('Good morning, madam, I'm from Market Research For The Borderline Insane, and I'd like to ask you a few questions about the way I look.') Will people I don't know realise I'm wearing a wig? Or will they not think anything of it and walk right past? That, by the way, is the preferred option – being completely ignored is very appealing at the moment. That said, on the drive back from the wig place earlier, we passed a bunch of builders on a tea break (yeah, I know – a tea break!) and, as our car pulled up alongside them, I stared intently to see whether any of them clocked me, and what their reaction was. One of them looked straight at me, but didn't flinch. Did his blank stare say, 'By 'eck, this is a good cuppa,' or 'Stop staring at me you wiggy weirdo'? Is it good that he didn't do anything? Or should I take it as a sign and ditch the wig for good? Or should I just stop worrying about beer-bellied builders and be happy that my husband still fancies me? There's way too much going on in my head right now. Thank god the wig is stretchy enough to keep it all in.

Monday 18 August 2008

This is a low (but it won't hurt you).

I once got food poisoning on holiday in South Africa after eating monkfish with olives. After an evening watching my meal reappear down the loo (or 'singing into the big white telephone' as my Dad would put it), I knew I'd never eat olives again. We've all got ruined favourites – foods that you've previously liked but, having had to taste them again in a not-so-favourable pukey fashion, you're suddenly off them for life. And no amount of 'oh you'll grow into them' will make you change your mind. (What is it about olive-eaters and that excuse, by the way? It's as if olives have some sort of magic, grown-up 'like-by' date that only people older than you know about. 'Grow into them.' Pur-lease. Well not me, okay? Me and olives, we've had our time.)

I'm fast learning that you have to be careful what you eat pre-chemo, for exactly the same reason. Last time around, broccoli got struck off the list (actually, make that all M&S salads – it's a crying shame, but better to be off the salads than their mini flapjacks, eh?). And this time, it's cheese. So rank was the smell (not to mention taste) of my cheesy regurgitation on Friday night that I had my Mum take away my sick bowl, despite not being finished with it. (Thankfully the remaining puke has come out of my favourite pyjamas.) And, not that I've been drinking it (honest, docs), but all of a sudden I can no longer bear the smell of alcohol either. Or the thought of chocolate bars. Man, I've changed. Were it not for the sickness and the aching and the exhaustion (and the weird feeling that my hands are constantly growing – how's that for a weird side effect?), I'd be starting to think that cancer was doing my diet some good. Booze, cheese and chocolate are the three things our fridge is never normally without.

I've got other favourites now, though. My chemo survival kit, if you will. Marmite is right at the top (and, Marmite haters, don't knock it until you've been through chemo). It's the one thing I fancy in chemo days 1-3. Ice cubes, too. The relief of an ice cube dripping water onto your tongue when you've been barfing all evening and your mouth feels like the inside of a hamster cage can't be beaten. And then there's ginger. Ah, lovely ginger. Ginger biscuits, ginger tea, ginger sweets, crystallised ginger, even ginger bath foam. (I'm starting to sound like Bubba and his shrimp, aren't I? Shrimp gumbo, shrimp creole, shrimp soup, shrimp salad... actually that's making me feel sick again.)

I'd love to be able to tell you that this survival kit has made Chemo 2 that bit easier than the first. But I can't. I've definitely managed the physical stuff better this time around. During the last cycle, I honestly didn't think it was possible to feel that lousy and come out the other side. But, of course, you do. And that meant less panicking this time around. If not less swearing. Some things'll never change. 

What it hasn't meant, however, is less of the mind-messing, or less of the depression. Because Chemo 2 hasn't just brought with it the same old side effects as last time. This time it's taken my fucking hair as well. That hairball picture I posted last week looks really pathetic now (not half as pathetic as the photo of the cuttings on the hairdresser's floor, mind), because far more hair than that has been coming out, morning and night, for the last few days. Far, FAR more. In fact, were I to add a picture to accompany this post, it'd give you a shocking look at my frightening Keith-from-The-Prodigy bald patch with longer Andy-from-Little-Britain wispy bits at the side (told you I'd turn into Matt Lucas). But, thankfully for you and for me, that's a photo you'll never see because (a) I'm just too bloody embarrassed and (b) I fear that even holding a camera over my head to take that photo would make me fall apart. 

Don't take that falling-apart comment lightly. As much as I might make jokes and take the piss, there's often – unfortunately – a horrible truth beneath the humour. I've not talked about the depression side of cancer much (whether for fear of it damaging my mental state further, or of you no longer reading this blog, I don't know), but if this is going to be an honest account of my breast cancer experience, it's something I've got to 'fess up to. This blog isn't a performance or a novel – it's my life. My real life. Hence it's doubtless an often frustrating, up-one-minute-down-the-next read (God love you for sticking with it). But that's got to be the way it is, because that's the way my life is. And so, as difficult as this may be to read, I'm going to admit the following: I woke up at 5am today in floods of tears. 'What's wrong, angel? Was it a bad dream?' said P, rolling over to give me a cuddle. 'No. I woke up,' I replied. And I meant it. I didn't want to wake up. I was livid with the world for allowing me to wake up, and for putting me through this shit for another miserable day. At 5am today, I'd rather have packed it all in.

I'm disgusted and ashamed that I woke up feeling like that. That's not how I think. It's not how I do things. It's just not me. I'm even more disgusted and ashamed now my closest family and friends have had to read that sentence from a girl they all know as happy and optimistic and perma-grinned. As you know, I've got more reasons than anyone not to pack this in. And all that 'lucky' stuff I was on about the other day still stands. But I was warned that cancer would come with its trying, dark, angry moments, and this morning was one of them.

That's another worry that keeps me awake at night. I worry that this angriness will change my nature in the same way that losing my hair is changing my looks. And speaking of my looks, despite always taking pride in my appearance, I've spent a lifetime thinking I've always looked just average. Maybe occasionally even good. An 'almost-would' in bloke terms (if hopefully not a '10-to-2-er'). And what a massive waste that is. Because it's not until you're wiping the hair off your pillow, off your sofa, out of your food (hell, even out of your microwave) and then looking in the mirror at a tired, balding woman you just do not recognise that you realise how good you've looked in the past, and never given yourself credit for it. So way down the line, when all of this is over, if you pay me a compliment on how I look, I'm damn well going to take it, thank you very much. But for now, I can't take any compliments, because there are none to take (although P did kiss me on my bald patch last night, and that's pretty damn good for now). I mean it, too. If you know me and it's been even as little as a week since you last saw me, prepare yourself for a shock. Now, I'm not just a cancer patient. I look like a cancer patient.

I know that some days are going to be like this. Some days I just won't have the energy to feel like I can keep going. And, as difficult as that's going to be at the time, for me and everyone around me, I suppose it's just sometimes got to be that way ('sometimes' meaning once every three weeks until the end of November). 'Difficult' doesn't do it justice, of course. Telling my parents I'd burned through my bedroom wallpaper was difficult. My A-levels were difficult. Getting my heart broken as a teenager (and a twentysomething) was difficult. Being told I had breast cancer was difficult. But this? This isn't difficult. It's near fucking impossible. Because, when the shock of the diagnosis goes away and all the initial attention you get dies right down, what are you left with? A big, ugly, horrible, grim, morbid mess to scrap your way through, that nobody can fight but you.

But I'll do it. Of course I'll bloody do it. Right now, that's a begrudging statement, but – despite the low I've been feeling today – I don't mean it any less. Because what choice do I have? This awful, awful thing came along, and it changed the course of my lovely life. I didn't ask for it, I hadn't planned for it, I did nothing to deserve it, I don't want it. I HATE IT. But I'll tell you one thing. I love my life more than I loathe this cancer. And I'm going to get it back.

Friday 15 August 2008

Back in 'therapy.

By 'eck, this cancer lark's expensive. While waiting for my chemo drugs to be made up earlier today, P & I walked round the corner to Accessorize and begrudgingly exchanged over £100 for a selection of headscarves and headbands that I wouldn't ordinarily look twice at. It was emergency headwear shopping – this morning, another chunk of my barnet ended up down the loo, resulting in a nice, obvious bald patch right in the middle of my parting, dammit. Bobby Charlton comb-over, here we come. (Not to mention a costly call to Dial-a-Rod, if I continue to clog up the drains with my hair-flushing.)

Then next week, I've got to spend a couple of months worth of mortgage payments on wigs. I resent this expenditure. I've spent 28 years wasting money on stuff that'll barely see me through a season, but that's my choice. Splashing cash out of necessity is just plain unfair. I hate buying tampons on similar grounds. (Speaking of which, just when I thought the chemo would at least do me one favour and call a halt to my periods for a while, guess what showed up this morning? The Oestrogen Villainess strikes back. Bitch.) I have issues with Clearblue for precisely the same reason. Hundreds of pounds worth of pregnancy tests, ovulation sticks and digital thermometers, and still no baby? I should have just saved myself the hassle and bought one on eBay.

Forgive me today's whingeing, but chemo day is hardly going to be my happiest of the month. I've been in Sarcastic Sod mode for most of the day, not helped by the fact that I got sat next to Holy Mary while having my cannula put in. There's a lot of hanging around and staring at other people in chemo and, now I've been twice, I've had the chance to size everyone up. Along with Holy Mary, there's Wonky Wig, Glamazon (pink slingbacks and blingy jewellery), French Stick (skinny Parisienne), Head Honcho (fabulous headscarves) and Speaking Clock, who I adore, despite the fact that she barely comes up for breath. (I suspect I'm known as Get A Room, on account of the glued-to-my-face husband.) But back to Holy Mary. It's very stiff-upper-lip British in the chemo room; everyone quietly waits their turn and smiles politely, with no dramatics or serious conversation. Until Holy Mary rolls up. This morning, she was having a go at her nurse for not having baptised her children. 'If they die, they'll end up in purgatory!' she shrieked. Sensing the poor nurse's inability to find a suitable answer, I butted in. 'Well there's a happy conversation for the chemo room to hear,' I chirped, as my broad Irish nurse fiddled with my cannula and – with perfect comedy timing – shouted, 'I can't get this little fucker in!' Even Speaking Clock was lost for words, and gave me a cheeky wink as we watched a stunned Holy Mary turn more Holy Ghost as her horrified face drained of colour.

The extra attention I got from the nurses today would suggest that I've gained a few popularity points as a result of that episode. Holy Mary could learn a thing or two from me and the others, and here's lesson one: always be nice to the nurse with the needle.  

Thursday 14 August 2008

To see you, nice.

I keep forgetting how dangerous this disease is. It's something I've been doing all along, even straight after hearing the words 'I'm afraid it's breast cancer'. My immediate reaction wasn't 'shit, that's life threatening,' but 'oh heck, my hair.' Even in chemo last week, when a number of doctors warned me to keep my arm still for fear of the drugs seeping into my skin and causing massive problems, I still couldn't help but gesture wildly and continually reach inside my bag to show the nurses my iPhone/magazines/photos/lip gloss.

I often surprise myself with this frankly ridiculous oh-it'll-be-okay attitude. If this were a Tom & Jerry cartoon, the 'angel me' (sitting on my right shoulder, wearing my wedding dress) would be chastising me for not taking things more seriously and failing to appreciate the magnitude of the situation, while the 'devil me' (in killer heels, Wonderbra and a low-cut top) is instead advocating the life's-too-short-to-worry stuff and handing me another glass of cava. And, just like in any good cartoon, agreeing with the devilish version makes for a far better storyline, so I'm inclined to go with her (but in the angel's outfit – any excuse to show off that terrific dress again).

Joking aside, I actually think that conveniently ignoring the scary stuff is a bloody good tactic. It ensures you never frighten yourself by thinking too far ahead, and forces you to deal with the more pressing business of just putting one foot in front of the other. That wartime 'keep calm and carry on' slogan is a design for life, if ever I heard one. (But try reminding me of that after chemo tomorrow when I'm puking and panicking, and I'll bite your ear off.)

While staying with my folks over the last couple of days (P's been away with work on a 'team building' thing – two words that make me shudder more than 'breast cancer'), I've caught up with lots of different people who I've not seen since my diagnosis. And, while lovely, their reactions to me have been another reminder that other people seem to be more terrified by The Bullshit than I am. Not that they've been overly sympathetic, weepy or pitying – quite the opposite, thankfully. There are a lot of things I want (free iTunes downloads and an hour in a locked room with Dave Grohl for starters) but pity is categorically not one of them. So instead of commiseratory head-tilting, everyone has instead offered giant, beaming smiles that scream out how pleased they are to see me. 

It's a brilliant reaction to be on the receiving end of (and also makes you feel like a celeb). I've had hugs and kisses, been picked up and squeezed, had heartfelt arm-rubs and meaningful back-slaps. When I saw my 86-year-old uncle, his eyes (and mine) filled with delighted tears as he gave me the loveliest cuddle and said, 'I've been trying so hard to think what you'd look like, but it's you! It's still you!' (And he, by the way, has got more than enough to occupy his mind right now, let alone what I look like. His wife, and my amazing auntie, is also in the middle of cancer treatment, and yet is still as magnificent and matriarchal as ever. As she made me a brew and showed off her wig, my uncle leaned over and said, 'You know what? I still fancy her more than ever.')

While these kind of relieved reactions to seeing little ole me are genuinely, make-life-worth-living fantastic (and please please don't let them stop), it did make me wonder whether the relief on people's faces was more 'thank god she's well' or 'thank god she's still here'. Because, however much I might want to avoid the fact, cancer IS life threatening. And that's something I was forced to remember yesterday, after getting some truly awful news from a friend. I shan't expand on it here but, despite the head-spinning shitness of my friend's revelation, I know for a fact that she'd tell me to keep calm (and carry on), whack on some loud records and stick two fingers up to The Bullshit. And so that's precisely what I'm going to do (with a little help from Led Zep).

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Alright Tit: The Movie

Despite yesterday's comment about any poor sod living with cancer being 'bloody unlucky' (and I stand by it – in fact, consider it another mahoosive understatement), I still think of myself as an inherently lucky person.

I can remember the first time I considered the fact that I might have been born with the lucky gene. It was back in infant school, when I won a 'name the teddy' competition and went home at the end of term the proud owner of a big blue Care Bear. While it's hardly the same as discovering that you're due a huge tax rebate or winning a Topshop trolley dash (now that's what I call a windfall), I felt equally grateful to have won that stuffed toy. And, from that day on, I've always wondered whether good fortune is simply innate in me. (I've sometimes wondered whether I have a superhuman threshold for pain, too, but the yelp when I sat on my hair straighteners this morning may have confirmed otherwise. As if my arse weren't in enough trouble.)

While my competition-winning streak was pretty much limited to childhood (a Postman Pat colouring-in prize was another trophy-cupboard highlight) and I've barely won a tenner on the lottery since, I still believe that my seven-year-old self was onto something. Only these days, it's more people than prizes that ignites the same what-a-lucky-cow-I-am feeling. And specifically, it's those brilliant buggers with the ability to make me forget about The Bullshit that make me so pleased to be me.

Take my husband (and no, you needn't flee for fear of another vomit-inducing story). The night before last, when I was all red-eyed and knackered after an afternoon's crying, P found the perfect way to put a smile back on my face (oi, not like that – well, actually, that may have perked me up a bit, but that's not my point). Rather than opting for a deep conversation about my emotional state or doing his head-tilting best to sympathise, he chose instead to dance around the bedroom like Dizzee Rascal. And how many wives are lucky enough to have that kind of entertainment on tap, eh?

I even felt fortunate to be on the receiving end of abuse from my brother earlier this evening. Despite not having seen me since super-sick weekend, J rolled up after work, did away with the cancer niceties and promptly had a go at me for the lack of mentions he's been getting in my posts. (You should know that such a bollocking represents an infringement on The First Rule Of The Blog: 'By accepting this URL, I, the undersigned family member, agree to make no comment on the contents of my daughter/sister's blog, no matter how much I may want to pass judgement on her foul language/social smoking/sex life/toilet habits or, indeed, the way I am portrayed herein.')

J's beef, by the way, was that, in the event of my blog being turned into a film (hell, I'm lucky, but not that lucky) there's no way Macaulay Culkin would agree to playing him unless the role became much more significant. J, don't be so bloody stupid. You're my homeboy. But if you think I'm going to let you have all the witty dialogue in the film as well as real life, you're more deluded than I am in hoping Reese Witherspoon will agree to play your big sis.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Sob story.

It's funny what makes you cry. I was inconsolable when Vera died on Coronation Street, but more interested in spilling popcorn than tears while watching Titanic, Braveheart and Watership Down. (But sit me in front of Billy Elliot and you'd better be wearing waterproofs.) When Michael Vaughan retired as England cricket captain, I got as choked as he did while watching his press conference, but no amount of Gareth Southgate/Chris Waddle/Stuart Pearce missed penalties could get me watery-eyed. (Actually, I fear that's more to do with learning from experience.) So it's odd, then, that losing a terrifying, tennis-ball-sized clump of hair could see me so stoic, but a few cross words with my Dad and I'm in tears for the rest of the day.

This morning I made the decision to wash my hair. It had been well over a week since the last time it saw any shampoo (and gents, that's equivalent to about a month in woman terms) and I knew it had to be done sooner or later – they recommend leaving it alone for a few days before your next chemo, and this looked like my last chance. So I ran a bath, lit a few candles, put on some chirpy tunes (thank you, Bluetones) and set to it. I stuck to all the hair-care rules (super-gentle massaging, pH balanced shampoo, lukewarm water, no rubbing with the towel) and so far, so good. I even allowed myself to think for a second that I'd got away with it (when will I learn?). But when it came to the drying (low temperature, slow speed, wide-tooth comb, yadda yadda), that's where it all unravelled. Literally.

Even when drying without the necessary combing (if I left my hair to dry on its own I'd end up looking like Gene Wilder, and that's worse than bald), hairs were flying right off my head. Run a comb through it, and they were coming out even easier. Call me a fool, but for as long as I've got hair I want it to look as good as it can, so I carried on, drying and combing as little as I could get away with. But still it thinned and thinned, covering my back, my shoulders, the floor, the bedspread and filling my baggy bra (at least if I lose my prosthesis, I've got a plan B). It was e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. Imagining P's reaction to our new bedroom carpet, I set about scooping it up and, despite having watched it all fall out, I couldn't get over the amount I collected (hence posting the above photo, and the fact that the hairball is now sitting on our bathroom shelf so I can show it to P). A couple of days ago I could get away with running a comb through it. Now I can barely stand in a breeze. Mum was right – losing my hair is going to be even more traumatic than losing my boob.

All that said, it didn't make me cry. I sat and stared blankly at myself in the mirror for a good 20 minutes, but no tears. I must have been having a brave moment (and just because I've used the 'b' word, doesn't mean you can too, right?). But when, later that afternoon, I spoke to my Dad and he made some minor comment about my hands-free kit and my ability to hear the road, I completely lost it.

You know those stupid, niggling worries that you sit on for a while, then in the heat of the moment they pour out of your mouth all at once, at Vicky Pollard speed? It usually kicks off with the words 'And another thing...' (or 'yeah but, no but...'). Well that's exactly what happened today. What I wanted to say to Dad was that he and Mum have been incredible from day one, that no-one could have done more for me than they have, and that I can't imagine how difficult it must be for them to watch their daughter go through this... but could they perhaps remember that while The Bullshit may be having many effects on me, it hasn't robbed me of my ability to make good decisions or look after myself in the way my doctors have advised.

But, of course, it didn't come out like that.

It was more along the lines of: 'And you need to realise that [sniff] I'm not a little girl any more and [snort] I'm doing all the right things and [splutter] the symptoms are not my fault, you know... [whimper] the acne's not caused by drinking ginger beer and the piles aren't down to my diet [sob] they're because of the BLOODY TOXIC CHEMICALS in me [snivel] and you need to trust me to look after myself!' Dad told me that I was right, that he was sorry, that he trusts me and that parental instinct sometimes makes he and Mum say the wrong thing. And, of course, that made me feel even worse. Those things needed to be said (maybe not in the way they came out), but saying them didn't make me feel any better. Because nobody deserves to be on the end of my criticism less than my Dad. I've never known a person that I want to be more like. (You'd say the same if you met him.) My folks aren't just parents. They're my best friends. And, as much as I might sometimes want to tell them to do things differently, I should instead shut my trap for once and be grateful for the millions of things they've done so brilliantly.

None of us knows the right way to handle this. Cancer doesn't come with a manual. Every symptom and every emotion feels so different for each bloody unlucky sod who's living with this shitty disease, so who knows the best way to play it? As for me, I can handle the diagnosis and the surgery and the chemo and the illness. But difficult conversations with my family? I'm sorry, but that's where I draw the line. Let's call it the hair that broke the cancer patient's back.

A warning.

I've just received a text message from a mate: 'You do realise that, after reading your last post, everyone's now going to buy you Sudocrem for your birthday.'

Don't even think about it.

Monday 11 August 2008

And it burns, burns, burns.

Just when I thought cancer couldn't get any more glamorous, now I've got piles.

Look, you've been warned before about this being a warts-and-all account of my experience. Just offering up the fluffy bits would be an unfair representation of The Bullshit, not to mention completely made up (there are, of course, no fluffy bits). And so, if you want the complete picture of what all of this is like for me, well, you're just going to have to hear about my toilet traumas as well. Put down your biscuits, readers, we're going in.

Last night, I spent the most unbelievably excruciating, bloody, exhausting half hour on the loo. (That's 'bloody, exhausting', by the way, not 'bloody exhausting'. Although, judging by the hour-long nap I needed afterwards, you could say it was that too.) Jeez, all this chemical intake sure takes its toll on your arse. First the constipation, then the painful 'relief' from it, then getting the runs... and then back to the start of the crappy cycle again. (Now I finally understand why, right back as early as my diagnosis, every cancer-experienced person I came across recommended that I keep in a constant supply of Sudocrem. Bloody good advice – it's the single most brilliant gift you can buy a cancer patient.) Seriously though, all these drugs are bad for your bum. Even though it's not quite the same thing, I reckon this side-effect could be used as a very successful anti-drugs message. Never mind that freaky look-what-chemicals-can-do-to-your-brain advert. How about this simple statement? Kids, mess with drugs and you'll end up with an arse like a chewed orange. Problem solved.

Honestly, though, yesterday wasn't half as comical as it might sound. It was an ordeal, I tells ya. I have a new respect for women who've endured labour. I was pretty lacking in energy last night anyway, having caught a chill from being outside earlier in the day (I know, only I could catch a chill in August). So, because of that, every mini-push took it out of me even more, and each required its own little pep-talk. It looked like turning into what my Dad would call a 'head-squeezer' (and, frankly, I'm doing all I can to keep my hands away from my head at the moment – I'd rather not lose any more hair than necessary) so, 15 minutes in, I decided that some sort of lubrication might be my only way out. From a lack of anything else to hand, I called in the big guns and had P fetch the olive oil (not that I let him past the bathroom door, mind – there are some things a husband should never have to see). And, I have to say, the olive oil did the trick. But I can't see myself wanting it on my salad for a while. (And, I suspect, neither will you.)

Despite my alleviation from the Poo From Hell, I was forced to sleep on my side last night, so torturous is it to put any pressure on my damaged derriere. Even as I type I'm sitting a couple of inches taller, thanks to a new trick I've discovered. A little piece of advice for the arse-ached among you: in the absence of a rubber ring to sit on, those neck cushions you wear on planes can come in very handy. Bet you never look at one of those in the same light. (The olive oil and neck pillow industries aren't going to thank me for this post, are they?)

Saturday 9 August 2008

Careful what you wish for.

Another one of the annoying things about cancer (expect to read that sentence a lot) is how utterly boring it can get. At least my tumour had the good sense to show up in time for Wimbledon, a summer of cricket, the Olympics and the start of football season (come on you Rams!), so I'd have a load of sport to keep me entertained. Yesterday, though, was a typically dull day – so dull, in fact, that the excitement of being able to do a morning's work made my hands quiver and my heartbeat quicken (even the smallest event gives me the shakes at the moment – the other night P fell out of bed and I had to lie still for 20 minutes afterwards to calm myself down from the thrill of it all).

Along with all the boredom, it's easy to feel low and cranky when you wake up every morning with that same hangover-mixed-with-jetlag exhaustion. But – if you'll excuse me going all new-age on you for a moment – I'm buggered if I'm going to let The Bullshit take over my mind as well as my body. Everyone needs a strategy to keep boredom at bay during these times, and you're reading mine. Other things help too: being able to do some work from home, the plentiful contact from my mates, occasional walks round the block and following the test match more closely than Richie Benaud. It's not much, but it works. And it beats the arse off moping around in my dressing gown, eating lemon curd from the jar and watching Loose Women.

But when yesterday's cricket-viewing was over and the golf went on (not my sport of choice, but I was outnumbered by P and Dad), I made the mistake of drifting off into boredom. I started worrying that, with so little going on at the moment, I'd never again have anything interesting to write about. (Well, nothing other than the sore arse I had as a result of that morning's upset tummy, but that's hardly the kind of thing to include in your blog. Oh.) I found myself willing something to happen, and there's the fatal error. Because, when I went into the bedroom to change out of my Mickey Mouse sweater (don't worry, it's been washed since the last time I mentioned it), I pulled it over my head and with it came a clump of my hair.

Now, despite my optimistic hope that my hair would stick around (told you I was an idiot), deep down I guess I always knew that this day would come. But that doesn't mean it came as any less of a shock. Cue hysterical crying and more shaking. P and Dad ran in to see what was up – how lucky that two of my three favourite boys (the other being my brother J... or maybe Dave Grohl) were around to give me a cuddle (Dad) and instinctively prise the hair from my hands and flush it down the loo (P). The tears continued for quite a while (long enough for the boys to order a take-away) and, once I'd got over the shock, I surprised myself to discover that it wasn't so much the hair loss I was crying about, but more the fact that I could have been so bloody cretinous to think there might be a chance – however small – of this not happening. I hate being wrong at the best of times, but this dumb denial takes the cake. (On the upside, though, I'm no longer sweating the small stuff about my pubes.)

So there it is. It's started. I'm still hoping that, thanks to my hair being so thick, it'll take a few months before I reach Bobby Charlton comb-over stage. But that's probably foolishly optimistic too. (What is it with this misguided, rose-coloured outlook of mine?) The thing is, it wasn't a horribly massive clump of hair that came out. But it was more than enough to know for certain that this was the beginning of the part I've been fearing most. And while it's not yet noticeable (yet), I'm still really pissed off that the first bit to fall out came from the front of my head (my lovely fringe, dammit) and not at the back or sides where I've definitely got hair to spare. I'm equally pissed off that it came out in the hood of my favourite feel-good jumper, and not some nondescript top that I'd be happy to throw away in protest. And, while we're at it, I'm also pissed off that it had to happen on a Friday night. What is it with Fridays at the moment? First the Exorcist-style puking, then the acne, now the hair loss. What the hell's going to happen next Friday? Is my arm suddenly going to drop off? Oh hang on, it's back to the puking again, isn't it? T'riffic.

I'll admit I've been pretty nervy about my barnet over the last couple of weeks. I've analysed each hair that came out of my head, and even counted 61 fallen strands the last time I blow-dried. That may sound like a lot but, in fact, it's about average – count for yourself the next time you get your hairdryer out. (Actually, don't – it's tragic enough that I've been indulging in this kind of mental behaviour, without trying to inflict it on you too.) To be honest, even on an average day I moult like a cat – you should see the state of my chair at work. Maybe it's this kind of thing that made me think I'd get away with it during chemo. Whatever it was, I was wrong. So you won't catch me blow-drying my hair again in a hurry. Or washing it or combing it or running my fingers through it, for that matter. Actually, from this point on, consider it officially out of bounds. I've mentioned before how much I hate people touching my hair normally, but go anywhere near it now and I WILL POUND YOU INTO THE GROUND. (Oh great, there's another three on my keyboard. And four in my bra. Bollocks.)

I'm not sure how you're supposed to react to these kind of events. I actually felt like a bit of a divvy for crying so much. But what, exactly, is the correct thing to do once that's happened for the first time? After a pep-talk from Mum, I chose the unorthodox route of watching The Simpsons Movie, scoffing the remains of a banoffee pie that my friend brought round the night before (see, Weeza, told you I wouldn't last 24 hours without eating it) and spending £120 on a five-match package to watch Derby County in my chemo 'good weeks'. Because, I figured, if I'm going to end up bald and scary-looking, there's no better place to feel at home than among the skinheads at the footy. Perhaps I'll even go the whole hog and get 'RAMS' tattooed across my knuckles.

Thursday 7 August 2008

Getting wiggy with it.

How did I get through a whole post yesterday without telling you about my wig fitting? That was the one thing I'd specifically planned to write about, but I guess I must've got waylaid by the pubes stuff. Sheesh, they're not wrong about the brain fog, are they? 'You'll probably find that it becomes difficult to concentrate,' warned the Curly Professor's Glamorous Assistant. No shit! Yesterday it took me longer than I care to admit to finish an easy Sudoku. Then last night I managed to delete everything off my iPhone. This morning I started taking the washing out of the machine and realised it was still dirty – I'd not turned it on. Next I'll be doing that classic old-person trick of sending birthday cards without writing anything inside.

But back to the wig fitting (before I forget it ever happened). Actually I'm quite entertained by the fact that I keep calling it a wig 'fitting'. That makes it sound like buying a wedding dress, when the two experiences couldn't be more different. In one, your Mum cries while you spend an hour trying on a dress you'll wear for 12 hours. In the other, you cry with laughter while you spend 15 minutes trying on a wig that you might have to wear for 12 months. The only similarity is showing off in front of a mirror although, again, in one experience your reflection looks as good as it ever will, and in the other you're staring back at Rod Stewart.

On the NHS, you're entitled to an acrylic wig, paying a prescription fee of about £60 (human hair wigs bought privately can cost anything upwards of £1,000). It was never really my intention to go down the acrylic route, but I figured I'd take what I'm entitled to and see how I get on with it. (Plus there's a tiny, foolishly optimistic part of me that thinks my hair might just hang on in there, and that I'll never need a wig. Probably the same part of my brain that thought they'd got it wrong about the breast cancer. I know, I'm an idiot.) If needs be, I'm perfectly prepared to throw some money at the problem (the Louboutins can wait) and buy myself a real hair wig from a specialist shop, but for now I'd rather not have to think about it. Frankly I've got enough on my mind with Pube-gate.

The NHS being the NHS, there was zero sense of style in the process. Instead, P & I were ushered into a hospital back room the size of a stationery cupboard, by a man with surprisingly small feet who reminded me of that funny little gay bloke from the park bench scene in the Extras Christmas special (no, not George Michael). The stationery cupboard had very high shelves displaying mannequin heads with truly awful hairdos that the Wig Man had to stand on a chair to reach (Wig Man is, by the way, completely bald – I wonder if he tries on the wigs when nobody is looking?). The lower shelves were home to an ancient-looking radio buried among lots of boxes containing wigs that had been ordered for other patients. I had a sneaky look and noticed that most of them were grey – another reminder of the lottery-winning odds of getting The Bullshit at my age.

Wig Man handed me a catalogue and told me to point out the styles that appealed to me most. I was tempted to show him a curly black wig reminiscent of The Scousers, but I feared this wasn't a man to be joking with. (Which, of course, made it even more impossible for P & I to stifle our laughter when Getting Jiggy With It came on the radio.) I pointed out a couple of bobs and one or two longer styles to give him an idea of what I was after, and he pulled down a handful of wigs from the top shelf, sat me in front of the mirror and combed back my hair so it wouldn't show beneath the wigs I was trying on. 

Oddly, Wig Man referred to each wig as though it were an actual person ('She's too square for you, try this – her style is much more suited to your face shape'), but then I guess a little craziness is permitted when you spend your life in a hospital cupboard listening to Crap FM with only mannequin heads for company. Anyway, after quickly realising that the longer wigs made me look a bit like that tosser from The Darkness, I settled on a bob with a parting and fringe a bit like my usual hair, only fuller. And, to be fair, I was pleasantly surprised at how natural it felt for an acrylic wig. Once you've chosen your design, you fiddle about with swatches until you've found the colour that most resembles your own, then go back in again once your order has arrived. If you like it (sorry, I mean 'her') you hand over your £60, then take your wig to a hairdresser who'll hopefully be able to cut it into a style that's a bit more contemporary. (I'm hoping Mathew will do mine, so I can avoid going to some dreadful wig-cutting-for-the-over-50s place called 'Hair To Stay' or 'Curl Up & Dye'.)

Later that afternoon I went to the other (nicer) hospital to see two of my favourite people: Smiley Surgeon and Always-Right Cancer Nurse. Smiley Surgeon greeted me with beaming excitement. 'I see your CT scan was clear!' he exclaimed, and it felt wonderful to see someone as ecstatic about the outcome as I am. (By the way, I fear this spectacular news may have been lost amongst all the chemo crap, so I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you what a BLOODY BRILLIANT RESULT it is that there was no trace of cancer growth elsewhere in my body. Have a drink to that the next time you open a bottle, eh?) The happy moment didn't last long, mind – Smiley Surgeon hadn't yet seen my new haircut and asked whether it was a wig. (Right. Cheers for that.) He was quick to rectify the insult, though, and repeatedly told me how well I looked for someone who's having chemotherapy (£20 says it's a different story when I see him in a couple of months for the implant-inflation).

Anyway, I had my back wound drained again by Always-Right Cancer Nurse (who had to keep telling me to stay still – I'm always unusually chatty when I'm around those two), and I had Smiley Surgeon check out my right boob, as it's been feeling a bit tender recently. I suspect it's just attention-seeking, but better to be sure. He said it felt perfectly normal, and that the tenderness could well be another chemo side-effect. He is, of course, right – my skin feels pretty delicate all over; I guess I'm just paranoid about the boob area (and rightly so, considering my predicament). After checking out my right'un, SS had another look at his nifty needlework on the left side. 'Has anyone at the other hospital commented on how good it looks?' he enquired, and his chest puffed out a bit when I confirmed that not just the other doctors but, in fact, everyone who's seen it has said how neat it is. (I'm not shy about showing it off – a few weeks back, Tills and I got kicked out of a changing room when I was attempting to show her his handiwork.) On second thought, maybe I shouldn't have given him such an enthusiastic answer – when all of this is over, there's every chance I'll become another of the case-study photos on his website. Flashing my tits on the internet – now there's something I never thought I'd do.

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Stories from the bush.

There's something really emancipatory about feeling even slightly better after you've been ill. The day before yesterday, something felt different when I woke up – maybe it was the decent night's sleep, the lack of that usual sickly taste, or the fact that the Amplified Aussie upstairs had kept the volume down for once – either way, for the first time in a wee while, I felt good. (Just to clarify, feeling good when you're having cancer treatment is different to the normal feeling good. You're not up for the usual nights in the pub, you probably won't look so hot and you get pretty knackered after, well, most things. But none of that makes the feeling good any less brilliant.)

So I took my chirpy self out for a walk up the road to buy a frappuccino, wearing my look-at-me Mickey Mouse-emblazoned hoodie and no bra (apparently I've not just accepted my new chest, but am actively flaunting it). Even the banality of walking along my street felt better than it ever has. Here I was, going to the cafe like a normal person, having seen off chemo number one and looking ahead to the next cycle knowing exactly what's in store. (I believe this is what my mate Jonze calls the Raymond K Hessel Moment: a brilliant Fight Club analogy that I wish I'd thought of myself but (a) I'm not sharp enough and (b) even I haven't got the time to watch Fight Club as often as Jonze.) I must have looked like the local crazy, thinking about it. Your average Londoner isn't that comfortable with the sight of a wonky-boobed, grinning idiot with a spring in her step, as one woman demonstrated by looking me up and down in horror as we passed each other. 'What you don't realise, love,' I thought, 'is that the fool you've just walked past is actually an amazing woman.' And then I quickly chastised myself for being so damn cocky and empowered. Next thing you know I'll have Independent Women blasting out over the top of Amplified Aussie's Mr Brightside. Yeesh.

But anyway. The shitty thing about cancer (not the only shitty thing, like, but it's pretty shitty nonetheless) is that it'll sneak up on you and piss all over your chips the moment you think you're in control of it all. And so, later on the same day, I found myself lying in bed with an embarrassingly musical arse and nagging constipation pains (a problem I've since resolved by breaking the World Prune Eating record), and wondering just how long it would be before I felt sexy again. And then I went to the toilet and (cue chip-pissing) looked down to discover that a handful of pubes had come out on the loo roll. 
And so it begins.

I've read that pubes are often the first hairs to go and, let's be honest, their falling out is hardly an unwelcome side effect. It's just what the pube-shedding symbolises: next, it'll be my head hair, and I'm guessing that part won't be quite so welcome. (Thankfully my wig appointment was lined up for the following morning.) I dragged myself back to bed and told P the news. 'Why do these things have to happen?' I whinged, and promptly burst into tears. And so did he. Because this isn't just happening to me; it's happening to us. P may not be wired up to the drugs or experiencing the side effects or seeing his pubes come out in clumps (although our bathroom floor says otherwise), but I can assure you that he is feeling every bit of it. Arguably more so. Having to watch the person you love go through this stuff must be a horrible, helpless position to be in. But being married to a man who not only understands The Bullshit but feels it all too and, better still, doesn't treat you any differently because of it, beats the crap out of any Raymond K Hessel Moment. (And you can pack it in with the finger-down-throat gestures right now – if you can handle the constipation stories, you can handle the soppy bits, too.)

Speaking of the not-treating-me-any-differently stuff, by the way, I've got to say that my brother has been equally skilled on that level. He delights in teasing me for being a hypochondriac, calls me 'tit face' and says that the breast cancer is just another one of my attention-seeking tactics. It's a wonderfully welcome piss-taking precedent that was set right back on Mastectomy Day, when I managed to open my eyes long enough to give him the middle finger on my way out of the operating theatre, and he duly returned the gesture.

Sunday 3 August 2008

Dream a little dream.

Thanks to my constant, energy-drained need for a nap, I've been getting increasingly narked by the potential sleep-preventing sounds around me. The fan in the bedroom that blows the TV wire against the wall every seven seconds. The volume-challenged Aussie upstairs and his continual playing of Hot Fuss (decent album and all, but twice a day?). The thieving pigeons who flap about while nabbing the fruit from my pear tree. And the noisy new couple next door whose baby is demonstrably taking after its mother in the loving-the-sound-of-your-own-voice stakes. Thanks to this woman's public broadcasts, I now know what colour she's painting the kitchen (a lovely cappuccino), how many kids she'd like (four), what she thinks of the previous owners' taste in patio slabs (truly hideous) and how badly her nipples have been chafing since she began breastfeeding. Give it a rest eh, love? (And leave the tit talk to me.)

Last night, though, for the first time in a while, I managed to get a mostly uninterrupted night's kip. (I say 'mostly' because, in their infinite ruining ways, the Chemo Gods have decided that, now the spots are showing signs of clearing up, I'm obviously equipped to handle a nice bout of cystitis. Bastards.) Either way, last night's sleep kept me under long enough to have another of my weird-ass dreams. Here goes.

Having learned of The Bullshit, a bunch of my school friends got together (and I'm talking about people I've not thought about for years, not the limited few I still see) to throw a soiree for me in a private room at the rear of a petrol station (classy). For some reason I turned up to the party in my dressing gown (actually, that's not so difficult to suss – I'm always in my dressing gown these days) and, rather than everyone hanging out together, the girls and boys stayed on separate sides of the venue, similar to the way we gathered round different tables in our form room. While the girls gossiped in one corner, each boy took it in turns to take me aside for a chat about their favourite school memories of me, a bit like in that episode of Friends where they each have a separate goodbye talk with Rachel before she leaves for Paris. 

One (a boy I went to nursery school with) sat me down for a chat on the sofa and, inexplicably, introduced me to his sausage dog. (I've just read that back and would like to point out that it wasn't as dodgy as that may have sounded. He actually had a sausage dog. A brown one. Enough now.) Then his twin brother took me for a country walk and we reminisced while sitting on a fence overlooking a field. From there, two more lads from my class (again related, oddly – this time cousins) pulled up in their car and took me for a drive around town to point out all the places we used to go as teenagers. On getting back to the petrol-station venue, waiting in a private room a bit like a Lucky Voice karaoke booth were two more lads from my year: a favourite old class-clown friend that I've not seen for ages and his best mate (and former object of my teenage affections). As the most confident and big-gobbed of my school friends, they had been nominated to present me with a special gift that they'd planted in my dressing-gown pockets. The right pocket was filled with sweets (the kind you'd buy in a pick-n-mix) and the left pocket contained a beautiful purple leather Smythson notebook (the kind that'd cost you a lifetime supply of pick-n-mix).

The lads looked on as I opened the notebook, filled with messages from all of my old mates. It was a bit like one of those leavers' books that you'd get everyone to sign when you left school but, rather than being full of drivel about how you were a 'nice person' and a 'good listener' and that you'd be 'wiv your [unsuitable] boyfriend 4 eva', each person had instead left a note revealing the single thing they really wanted to tell me, assuming I was, well, 'leaving for Paris', shall we say. (Incidentally, I have just dug out my old leavers' book and it is a bloody hilarious read. All the girls have made references to Take That and drawn either a flower or a CND symbol, and all the boys have made references to a Derby County player they nicknamed 'The Beast' and taken the piss out of each other's messages. My favourite scribble by far, however, comes from someone I can't recall and reads: 'Sorry about the messy writing and remember me as the one who went abroad for the eczema treatment.')

Anyway, back to the dream. Realising that the notebook contained such personal messages and that the lads were looking on, I told them that I'd take it home to read later (the same etiquette that stops you reading everyone's notes in your birthday card from work, when all everyone really wants is to see you tear into the present). When I got back from the party and read through the notebook, it was filled with all kinds of missives, each from an actual school friend (rather than made-up dream folk). Some people said thank you for something or other. Others apologised. One said sorry for blanking me in a bar years after we'd left school – something that actually happened and I've always wondered why. One girl told me she'd never really liked me and knew that the feeling was mutual (she was right), but hadn't we done well for staying civil all those years. And another one was from a boyfriend (the only person from another school who'd written in the book) that simply read: 'I thought about you'.

Now, as ridiculous as it is, that dream is pretty morbid, no? People from my past having one last opportunity to tell me the one thing they never did? My subconscious can be a right wanker sometimes. It's got a really irritating habit of gathering up all the emotions I'm not feeling and the people I'm no longer seeing and the things I'm not thinking about, and mixing them all together to create one big dream recipe that'll give me something to chew on for days on end. As it goes, I'm actually feeling pretty chirpy at the moment (acne and burning sensation aside), and all those early-stages doubts about mortality and future illness have since been replaced with excited plans of all the good times I'm going to have as soon as The Bullshit is done with. (Last night I was plotting weeks of Stateside fun with my LA friend who promised she'd arrange for there to be a mini-earthquake while I'm visiting, just so I can say that I've experienced one.) But no. My subconscious would much rather I woke up feeling cross, then sat about fretting in my dressing gown. Just as I was coming round from my dream and angrily yanking off my sleep mask to tell P how I was feeling, he rolled over, gave me a kiss and made up a little song about how lovely it was to be in bed with me. And there it is. I just don't have the energy to stay mad with my subconscious when the real-life stuff is this good.