Monday 29 September 2008

Pills 'n' thrills and bellyaches.

Okay okay, I spoke too soon. I've hit the 'buggery bit' that my favourite nurse warned me about. What I'm not experiencing in puking, I'm making up for in pain – this type of chemo ain't half rough on your bones. But, useless as I am here on the sofa, the not-spewing stuff has made me about as happy as you can be when you're flat on your back (well, not quite that happy, but you get my point). And I'm even happier now I've been given the go-ahead to take some painkillers. The bone-aches were verging on the unbearable so, from the lack of a full-body plastercast to wear (can you believe Topshop don't sell them?), P called the hospital to see whether there was anything I could take to ease the pain. Now normally I knock back paracetamol like Smarties, but another drawback of The Bullshit is that I have to double-check before doing even the most seemingly harmless thing. Having a painkiller, taking vitamins, buying deodorant, using a new moisturiser, getting a manicure... So knowing that P is on his way back from the chemist armed with ibuprofen feels like a brilliantly guilty pleasure. I'm that excited, you'd think he'd gone out to buy speed.

In truth, though, this chemo has been about a 6% improvement on the last. There's no medical grounding in that estimation, by the way, I've just chosen to award it a few extra marks on account of me not feeling so sick. Don't get me wrong, it's still bloody horrible, but I remain really surprised at just how different this cycle has felt to the last three. The pain is one thing (if you've ever had shin splints or broken a bone, that's the closest I can get to describing it), but I'm purposely not awarding marks up to the 10% improvement level on the grounds of my sore throat, earache, sloppy footwork (apologies – I've been watching too much Strictly Come Dancing), pins and needles, iffy tummy, weird metallic taste and a very disconcerting green tongue that no amount of brushing can get shut of. Still, if the ibuprofen can dull a bit of the pain, that's one step closer to me (a) walking properly again and (b) doing it in heels. I've spent a frankly ridiculous amount on some fabulous shoes for J's wedding next week (next week!) and I'm damned if they're going to waste. Hm, dropping painkillers for fashion. There's an inventive excuse for taking drugs. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some experimenting to do.

Saturday 27 September 2008

I shall be released.

Well this is weird. My legs don't work too well, the signals from my brain are much slower in getting to my body parts, my heart is thumping, my bones are painful, I've got a dodgy tummy, I've been put on more than double my usual amount of bloat-inducing steroids (told you I'd reach George Dawes stakes by my brother's wedding) and I've got a weird taste in my mouth that's like sucking on coins. But I can't remember the last time I felt this happy.

Drumroll please... I've not thrown up! Yes, I still feel like complete shit, but at least it's a different kind of shit, thanks to my new type of chemo. Apparently a change is as good as a rest. From the moment Chemo 4 began making its way through my drip and into my veins, it felt totally different. I felt sicker, sooner. But rather than it getting worse within an hour of me reaching my sofa it instead began to ease, and the sick feeling sank from my mouth to my stomach, where I'm happy for it to stay. It even allowed me a crackerbreads-and-soft-cheese interval. And even the hallucinations gave me a break long enough to watch The Goonies and Sex and The City. I did have a weird delirium in the night, though, where it felt like my teeth and tongue were growing too big for my mouth – but still, it was only the one, and this time it came without that pain-in-the-arse voice in my head. (It was always my voice I heard, by the way, but an older version of it, annoyingly trying to coach me through the worst and give me ill-founded advice on what to do, like an embarrassing parent on the sidelines of a Sunday League football game.)

Actually, the whole process of chemo yesterday was better than it has ever been. Dare I say it was almost fun? Granted, Chemo Friday started as it usually would (this time I inflicted the crying fit on my in-laws), though P avoided the usual coping-strategy bollocking thanks to me directing my anger at the loo roll instead. (It was doing that bloody irritating new-loo-roll trick where the layers separate and it only comes off in ripped chunks. I like my toilet paper neatly perforated, dammit, so I made it known by throwing the roll across the bathroom and watching as it landed in a wet-feet patch outside the shower. Which made me even angrier, because I then had to do the pre-wipe, knees-together walk to the other side of the room to fetch it.) But from the moment we left the flat, everything went well. We had a smoother ride to the hospital by choosing to go in our own car, rather than suffering the questionable driving of the World's Dodgiest Cab Firm. When we got there, the receptionist gave us a Golden Ticket in the form of a free parking pass, thanks to my ongoing treatment (see, cancer's not without its upsides). I also decided to overdress for the occasion, beginning my new life-tactic of saving nothing for 'best'. And I went prepared by uploading Gavin and Stacey onto the iPod so P and I could lose ourselves watching that in the waiting room, rather than having to acknowledge every other patient who walked in with a head-tilted, sympathetic half-smile. We even got everything right the night before chemo with the brilliant, take-our-minds-off-it tactic of taking my mother-in-law to the theatre for her birthday. (The only drawback being that theatres are no place for wigs and hot flushes – I completely gave the game away by continually blowing my fringe off my forehead and scratching my head vigorously. I was this close to ripping off the rug and fanning myself with it, though I fear the audience would have been so freaked out that I'd have taken attention away from the actors and I'd have become the show. Besides, I'm saving that little trick for such a time as some thieving hoodie tries to rob my handbag. A quick whip-off of the wig and the little shyster would soon piss off.)

Things were even pretty fun in the chemo room yesterday. All the coolest nurses were on shift, including my favourite who swears as much as I do. There was a real Friday Feeling, too – it was quieter in there than usual, which meant more banter between the nurses, good sweets out on the counter, a bit of flirting when the male doctors came in and a whiff of gossip in the air. I can sniff out a story brewing from 100 paces, so goaded my favourite nurse into letting me in on a few inter-staff snippets. She was reluctant at first, worrying unnecessarily about professionalism, but once you've spent the afternoon hearing your cannula needle referred to as a 'fecker' and your chemo drugs as 'this shite', professionalism suddenly looks a bit overrated. 'Bloody hell, love,' I told her. 'Save your professionalism for someone else. I think we both know it's wasted on me.'

And so, ill and old and wobbly on my feet and slow in the typing department as I feel at the moment, I'm also pretty excited. Actually, excited doesn't even nearly cover it. I'm emancipated. I know I may be speaking too soon (fave nurse warned me that the 'buggery bit' of this kind of chemo may come between days three and nine), but even the possibility that I may never again have to endure Puke Friday (at least, not of chemo's doing) is the best news I've had in ages. Knowing I've got all three cycles of that first  f-u-c-k-i-n-g  h-o-r-r-i-b-l-e  chemo type out of the way is, I reckon, as close to the undoubtedly wonderful feeling of being told you're cancer-free as I can get right now. And while I know it's far from over, this is relief like I've never experienced, and makes me feel – for the first time since The Bullshit began – that I'm back in charge. I can handle this. I'm on top of it. I've pulled one back. Is the worst of it over?

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Keeping up appearances.

I've mentioned before that my bedroom behaviour has always been a bit on the weird side. Not necessarily the stuff in bed (although I'm probably not the best judge of that), more the stuff leading up to bedtime. What with the nightmares and P's snoring habits I find it difficult to relax, so we've devised a system where P tells me a little story to get me off to sleep – sometimes the 'story of the day', other times a daft tale created to order. It's a ridiculous, childish system, I know, but listening to his voice is a lovely, soothing way to drift off. (I'm hoping that reasoning will make you think it's more cute than crazy.) The stories are just the start of it, really: I'll try anything to get to sleep. Ear plugs, sleep masks (my favourite being the one Busby bought me with 'fuck off' embroidered onto it), lavender... you name it. The lavender thing is probably getting a bit out of hand, actually. I've got fresh lavender on my chest of drawers, a lavender pillow, a lavender face spritz and I'm single-handedly keeping the essential oils industry in business. Whatever it takes to help me chill out before bed, I'll try it.

This week has seen plenty more pre-bedtime freakery, and all of my own making. The other night, when rolling on my lavender pulse-point stick (I kid you not), I was examining my face in the mirror and discovered some blackheads on my cheek. Nothing unusual, right? But I somehow convinced myself that they were a sign that my cancer had spread, and that I now had it in my face, too (is there such a thing as face cancer?). I've been warned to expect this kind of paranoia and I can't ever see it improving (my GP is going to be sick of the sight of me, and she'll bloody well have to lump it) but worrying that blackheads = cancer is bordering on the ludicrous. I can see that now, of course, but at the time I managed to whip myself into a panicked frenzy that resulted in P having to lift me away from the mirror and physically put me in bed with tight sheets tucked around me like a mental patient.

Then last night, while changing into my pyjamas, I caught sight of my mutilated boob and balding head in the mirror and, boy, did it ruin my mood (not to mention my carefully choreographed pre-bed routine). While I allow myself the occasional sob about it, I try not to get too bogged down with fretting about the way I look. There's not a damn thing I can do about it, after all. But last night I really let it get me down, and revealed to P how unattractive, freakish and undesired I felt. What I hadn't bargained for – and couldn't understand – was my comment hurting P's feelings, and him taking it so personally. And so, in my grumpy tiredness, I got the hump about it and stormed off to hide under the duvet, ignoring the one piece of marriage advice my Dad offered us in his speech at our wedding: never go to bed on a bad word. 

Dad's right, of course (I don't call him Yoda for nothing). Rather than discussing why P was upset by me revealing how hideous I felt, I instead got angrier and angrier as I lay alone in bed. Why the hell should it upset him? I'm the one suffering here – he looks as handsome as ever while I'm busy being beaten with the ugly stick. But of course it upsets him, and not just because I don't look like I used to. Let's just reverse the roles for a minute: if this were me watching P go through this, it'd be equally difficult for me to see him suffer from the physical effects as it would be to stand by, helpless, as he takes such a massive hit to his confidence and self esteem. This whole experience can be so isolating sometimes that you forget it's affecting other people too, and rowing with your husband is a horribly harsh way to be reminded that you're not alone. But it's better to be angry together while cuddling in bed than it is to be angry in separate rooms. And so that's what we did. P told me how angry he was that The Bullshit is impossible to reason with, and I told him how angry I was about it coming along at a time when I had the most to lose: the plans we had for our future, the twentysomething fun I was busy having, and the looks I'd never appreciated.

Thank God all of my many, many gripes don't ever come along at once. One day I'll feel aggrieved about having so little energy all the time, another I'll be fed up of missing out on the career and social life I so treasure, next I'll be pissed off that I can't taste my tea, then I'll be cross that my parents are having to give up so much of their time to sort me out at a stage in their lives when they ought to be finally enjoying some freedom. But yesterday's anger was mostly directed elsewhere. I was angry (still am angry) that my body has been ruined by this fucking disease, and I'm constantly worried about other people's reactions to it. Even way in the future, when I'm in remission and my hair's grown back and I've had the last part of my reconstruction, will people stare at my scars on the beach when I'm in my bikini? And later today, when my in-laws arrive to stay with us for a few days (we've given my folks this chemo session off – it's time they went a whole six weeks without having to hold a sick bowl), will they be horrified by the change since they last saw me? When they were here in July, I was just one chemo in and still had all my hair. Man, are they in for a shock.

It's a shitty state of affairs, worrying about whether or not your appearance might upset people. And worse when you don't have the energy to do very much about it. I know from my conversations with Smiley Surgeon that a common initial reaction to being told you have cancer is, 'What will it do to the way I look?'. But you're encouraged not to think about it too much, and instead to concentrate on your treatment schedule, keeping free from infection and staying as mentally strong as you can. But isn't having confidence in the way you look part of that mental strength? There's no way to avoid thinking about what you look like when it's there in the mirror, staring you in the face every sodding day. Which is why, of all the help I've been offered on various leaflets and websites from numerous different cancer charities, I've only paid attention to one: the one that confronts the appearance issue. I reckon I've dealt with everything else pretty well. I don't need a support group – I'm as positive and practical as I can be, and I'm keeping my mind active too. I don't need a 'cancer buddy' to share my experience with – it's not everyone's way, but I find it much more helpful to fight my own fight and concentrate only on me. I don't even need to attend one of the many headscarf-tying classes out there – as you know, I've taken the wig option and, besides, I've tried hundreds of headscarves and there's no escaping the fact that I look like a fortune teller. What I do need is someone to show me how I can make the best of what I've been left with, and send me back out into the world feeling confident and beautiful. And that's exactly what I got earlier on yesterday, thanks to a charity called Look Good, Feel Better.

Yesterday's hospital visit was much nicer than the kind I'm used to (and at a much posher hospital that's left me with serious chemo-envy). I was met at the door by a representative from the charity (who did a double-take that had 'but you're so young' written all over it) and ushered into a small conference room with six other women, each of whom gave me the same look. Not surprising, considering I was the youngest there by a long chalk. (I almost felt a bit of a fraud, actually, like Marla Singer in Fight Club, pretending to be a cancer patient just to pick up a few make-up tips. Thankfully the wig and a brilliantly timed hot flush gave me away.) The idea behind Look Good, Feel Better is that they run small workshops for women with cancer, offering tips on making the best of what you've got, looks wise. They give each participant a bag full of make-up and skin care goodies – all donated from the beauty industry – with different products to suit your skin tone (they'd clearly run out of 'transparent' so gave me 'fair' instead), then teach you all the tricks that'll fool people into thinking you're a normal, healthy person. Looking after your skin when it's at its most sensitive, drawing on eyebrows when yours have done a bunk, evening out your skin tone and covering up the blotchy red bits, making your eyes stand out when you haven't got eyelashes to rely on, hiding the dark circles...  all the seemingly surface-skimming things that women with cancer really want to know but often feel daft asking about, considering the weight of the 'serious stuff' we're supposed to be focusing on instead. Now that's my kind of charity.

And yes, beneath the slap and the wig is the same old self-conscious me that cries at the sight of her body in the mirror. But knowing that it's possible to work a bit of make-up magic to make yourself feel even temporarily terrific is worth its weight in gold eyeshadow. I've never been much of a make-up connoisseur (up until yesterday I had a pathetic little out-of-date collection) and putting it on has always been less personal-pamper treat, more can't-escape chore, like brushing my teeth or shaving my legs. But from now on I'm not going to have a skanky little make-up bag, but instead a fabulous, super-organised make-up drawer (sorry P, your football socks will have to find a new home). I'm going to enjoy the process of glamming it up, and sod it if it makes me even later for everything than I normally am. At least when I get there I'll look okay.

I'm even taking steps to make my wonky bust look good and feel better. Gone are the days of mismatched bras and washing-day knickers; I'm having an underwear revolution. In preparation for my implant-inflation in a couple of weeks (and the ceremonial burning of my heinous mastectomy bra), I've spent an unhealthy amount in an online underwear spree (only sassy, sexy sets will do), the first of which arrived this morning. And, despite the current unevenness in the boob department, I've put it on anyway (it defies the 'sassy, sexy' mantra, but I've shoved my prosthesis in the cup and am staying still so it doesn't creep out the top of my bra). And yes, I know none of this will change what's beneath the gorgeous underwear or the beautiful make-up, but if it stops me sobbing when I change into my pyjamas tonight, it'll be money well spent. 

Sunday 21 September 2008

I'll be there for you.

There's every chance you'll disagree with me, but I find the concept of 'best friends' a dangerous one. For kids it's perfectly acceptable (I'd never have made it through school without my 'terrible twin', as we were known), but when you grow up I reckon it's far healthier to have a group of mates at which no person in particular is at the pinnacle. So why, then, have I suddenly started playing favourites with my friends?

I appreciate what a shameful admission this is, but... actually, there is no 'but'. I almost used the 'but sod it, I've got cancer' excuse there, but my brother will tell you that I've already exhausted that one this weekend, having beaten him to the TV remote, the front seat in the car, and used it as a reason for him to stop taking the piss when he called me a minger (for the record, we are 29 and 25, but enjoying making up for a childhood of being unusually nice to each other).

This playing-favourites revelation is especially ridiculous when you consider that I even feel guilty when I wear a certain top more often than my others (for the past couple of weeks, my Batman T-shirt has been ousted by my Jimi Hendrix one, and already I can tell it's sulking by the way it keeps falling off the hanger), which probably gives you a decent picture of how ashamed I am that my mates are now falling prey to such preferential treatment. It's not like I've got a Santa-style list of who's been naughty and nice, or even that any of my friends are aware of this behaviour (at least they weren't until now, but I'm hoping they'll let it slide on account of the cancer stuff – there's that excuse again). It's just that with me getting so much attention and support and wonderful gestures and love from so many of them, it's no wonder that they've moved up several places in my mates league. Having done a bit of research (read: discussed it with Mum), it seems a lot of people view their friends in a core-of-the-earth kind of diagram, with their best pal(s) in the middle, their closest mates in a circle around that, good friends on the next layer, followed by see-less-often people and then acquaintances near the edge. But mine's become more of a hierarchy.

It's a top-heavy structure we have here at Friends Inc (less pyramid, more ice-cream cone), and I'm a lucky CEO in that the top level of my hierarchy – director level, if you will – is jam-packed with magnificent mates. They keep me going: they're in constant contact, they make sure I'm up to speed on the world outside my cancer bubble, they don't treat me any differently (probably because they know I'd knock their tilted heads off if they tried doing the sympathy thing), and yet they're happy to let me have a whinge if ever I need one. In short, they're brilliant, and they're all in for a serious pay rise once The Bullshit is over (ie, the beers are on me). But – cue more favouritism – within this level have emerged three people (they know who they are) who really ought to have a level of their own. They've taken magnificence to new heights, this little lot, and if we were all still at school I'd form a special club for them and make membership cards and pin badges and devise a secret handshake. (Incidentally, I did once form a club at junior school – only Brosettes were allowed, and I gave each member a welcome card [a badly drawn Bros logo on a bit of graph paper], song sheets [lyrics ripped from the pages of Smash Hits] and a membership number [we never made it higher than 003]. I expect we encouraged a fair bit of piss-taking, actually – I might as well have just made us 'kick me' badges.)

Then there's the management level – they also keep in regular contact, but probably not so much as the directors. They'll send the odd text or occasional Facebook wall post, but they're always up to speed with my progress, love 'em, despite asking fewer questions than the directors (the blog helps a lot on that front). Next is the shop floor. These small few are still in contact about as much as they ever were but, thus far, have made absolutely no mention of The Bullshit, despite being well aware of it. And that's fine (though it is a bit like me suddenly getting a bright green mohawk and them asking where I bought my shoes). Actually, I secretly appreciate it. God knows it's difficult for a lot of people to know what to say to someone they've always known as being on-form who's now living with cancer, and there's absolutely no shame in that. (By the way, 'living with cancer' is a little trick I learned from my cousin who once worked for a charity. Apparently it's not politically correct to say that someone is 'fighting' or 'battling' cancer – 'living with' is the acceptable alternative. Well sod being PC – I'm fighting and battling my arse off here, and anyway, 'living with' sounds like cancer is paying rent in my spare room.) Besides, at least the shop-floor few are still in touch, unlike the cleaning staff at Friends Inc. (I'd like to say that I meant no offence to cleaning staff with that comment, but that would be as PC as 'living with cancer'.)

The cleaning staff comprises a much, much smaller number of people who have suddenly stopped showing up for work and disappeared off the radar completely. I'm not necessarily talking about 'mates' here, rather acquaintances who'd normally be in contact from time to time. 'Facebook friends', if you will – y'know, the ones who make up the numbers. Those same numbers that I suspect will suddenly dwindle as soon as I hit 'publish post'. (For the record, I'm not expecting folk to befriend me just because I've got cancer, like the slow kid at school who you felt a bit sorry for. That would make me the human version of Timmy from South Park, and I'm happy being Tweek, thanks very much.)

My intentions for this post weren't for it to become some kind of name-and-shame missive in which I point the finger at anyone who's avoided me since I dropped my cancer bomb. I don't mean to sound like a paedophile-outing Sun journalist here. And, guilty fun as it may seem, I don't want to rank my friends in a Eurovision Song Contest-style league table (cleaning staff, nul points!). Lovely as it is to be reminded on a daily – hell, hourly – basis that I'm on people's minds, I'm not daft enough to think that the world has stopped turning just because I've got breast cancer. Everyone's still out there, leading their normal lives, buying groceries, arguing about where to spend Christmas, shouting at referees, ironing holes in their shirts and elbowing space-hogging commuters on the District Line. It's a comforting thought, actually, so I'm hardly going to strike off my Christmas-card list anyone who puts their regular routine in front of sending me an email, ferchrissake. But that doesn't stop a mischievous part of me (probably the same part that secretly wants 'Save Ferris'-style T-shirts made in my honour) from wanting to update my Facebook status with: 'L has still got cancer, in case you were wondering'.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Misery loves company.

I miss pubs. And restaurants and cafes and bars (my clubbing days were over long before the arrival of The Bullshit). And that's fine; that's the way it's got to be for now (I intend to spend the rest of my life making up for it – a damn good master plan, if you ask me). The thing is, with the lack of socialising of late, I'm becoming increasingly doubtful about how to behave in company. Not around P or my folks or my bro and future sister-in-law (speaking of which, I'd better lay off the ginger biscuits – it's only three weeks til the wedding). There's no hiding from that lot – they've already been witness to me at my foul-mouthed, whingeing, wigless worst. It's the rarer, wig-on moments with everyone else that are starting to trouble me. It's not like I'm barely getting to see anyone at the moment – I'm lucky enough to have lots of visitors and that's great (even if it sometimes makes me feel like an exhibit). It's just that the only place I'm really doing any socialising at the moment is, invariably, my living room. Or my folks' living room. Not in bustling restaurants or noisy bars or West End pubs. (This could be considered a good thing, mind. On the run-up to my diagnosis, I was developing a habit of getting more pissed than usual on the same amount of booze – I still maintain that this has everything to do with The Bullshit and not that I am, in fact, just a bit of a lightweight.)

I'm much more confident in blog than in person. My emails are far more interesting than any actual conversation with me. Come to think of it, I'm not so good on the phone either. (Actually, you'd do well to avoid meeting me altogether – I'm a total let-down.) And it's being all too aware of this fact that has always made me quite nervous socially. That's maybe a wee bit of an exaggeration – I'm fine if there's, say, six or so of us around a beer-garden bench. It's just when the numbers creep up – and especially if there are people present that I don't know – that I suddenly find myself conscious of the way I'm sitting, wondering what my choice of top says about me, silently berating myself for saying such stupid things and not knowing where to put my hands. (This, by the way, is the only reason I've ever smoked socially. Not because I like it, but because it gives me something to do with my hands.) This admission of nervousness may come as a surprise to a few of my mates because, despite all this, I'm not exactly a wallflower. I just happen to do a great imitation of a chatty, amiable, far-more-confident version of myself. (I'd like to thank the academy...)

And so, of late, when I've found myself back in a non-living-room situation, I've noticed that same old nervousness creeping in, and I'm more aware than ever of how I'm acting. The wig doesn't do much to help, of course. While I'm definitely more used to it now, it's not getting any comfier, plus I'm continually paranoid about whether people are looking at it or me. (Like that scene in Austin Powers 3 with the kid from The Wonder Years and his huge mole.) Are people really listening to what I'm saying or just chanting 'wiggy! wig! wig! wiggy!' in their heads as I speak? Because, God knows, if it was me I'd go all Basil Fawlty and trip over myself trying not to mention it (don't mention the wig – I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it). I'd frantically try to think of interesting questions to ask, but end up dithering and making a complete tit of myself in the process. ('Delicious meal, Rachel. Remind me, wigch – sorry, which – wigsite – sorry, website – had the recipe for that lovely wigted – oops, wilted – spinach and roast wig – dammit! – fig salad?')

In truth, I'm as guilty of drifting off during conversation as anyone fixated on my wig. I'm becoming obsessed with other people's hair. Apparently my friends have had impressive hair-growth spurts while I've been busy losing mine. Actually, I suspect they're stealing the hair that ends up on my pillow and adding it to their own, the thieving sods. Or have I just never noticed what lovely long locks they all have? It's not just the girls, either. I'm equally engrossed by my male friends' barnets, too – specifically their hairlines and balding bits. See, I caught sight of the back of my head the other day, and I really am balding in the oddest way. There's still a decent little tuft at the front that's determinedly hanging in there (I love that bit), and at the very top of my head – the bit where it starts to curve down at the back – there's a lawn-like strip that's more fur than fluff. But the rest of it has either gone completely or thinned down to the point of new-born-baby hair. And, from my limited research, that's not your average balding pattern. So, lads, apologies for the staring – I'm not judging or turning my nose up, but simply comparing notes. And girls, if you catch me gawping at you, take it as a compliment – I'm just jealous, is all.

The wig doesn't help on the temperature front either – another reason I'm not completely comfortable in company at the moment. Thanks to both the rug and the onset of early-fucking-menopause (cancer just gets better and better), I'm equally paranoid about whether the hot flushes are making me red-faced and blotchy and sweating off my make-up (turns out Sex and The City got it spot on with Samantha's 'bad enough I lose my hair, now I have my face running down my couture' moment.) So I'm constantly checking myself in a mirror which, of course, makes everyone else think I'm even more paranoid about how the wig is sitting. Either that or they think I love it so much that I've become ridiculously vain and can't stop checking myself out. (For the record, this is not the case – I still think it's a bit helmet-like, if truth be known.)

But the worst of my nervous twitches at the moment is more of a physical issue. Another of the lovely, flattering, feminine, sweet-smelling side-effects of chemo is how embarrassingly windy it makes you. I've said it before and I'll say it again, cancer treatment is hard on your bum. After the first week of crippling constipation (I never thought I'd have a go at P for his farting on grounds of showboating, but that's week one for you), then comes the relief. But with it comes an uncontrollable urge to let one rip. Add that to a social situation, and you've got one very fidgety lass with a can't-get-comfy stomach ache, an expanding, air-filled belly (thank God for the Empire line) and a noisily rumbling tummy. No wonder dinner at Busby's last night ended up with a conversation about colonic irrigation.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

A new perspective.

Always-Right Cancer Nurse warned me very early on in The Bullshit to keep off the internet as much as possible (I've not told her about the blog) to save confusing myself with pages and pages of information that might not be relevant to me. All that mattered, she said, was dealing with my own experience, and that she or anyone else at the hospital would be able to answer any questions I had. And, true to form, she was spot on. (Apparently another thing I'm not supposed to be doing is picking my nose, to decrease my chances of getting an infection. But sod that lark. A happy bit of nose-picking is my only vice at the moment and, as vices go, I think you'll agree that it's pretty pathetic anyway.)

It's less the medical information online that's left me confused, and more some people's opinions about their experience of having cancer. I like to think I'm pretty difficult to rile, and I don't tend to get angry about things I can't change, but this has completely incensed me. I keep reading the following sentence: 'getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.' Now I'm the first to trot out the 'each to their own' line but, to my mind, saying this kind of thing is completely fucking irresponsible.

I can see the reasons behind people saying it. If their experience of The Bullshit has been anything like mine so far, they too will have had the wonderful, Amelie-like moments where you're on the receiving end of so much love that the world seems a rosier place. It reminds you how incredible your family are, how you're lucky to have such amazing friends, and that you married the most brilliant, brilliant man. There are flowers and gifts and cards. Home-baked cakes and biscuits. Lovely, cheer-you-up visits and thoughtful phonecalls. I've had incredible, heartfelt and much-appreciated comments and emails from people I've never even met. And while all of this helps (and it really, REALLY helps), it doesn't for a second mean that getting breast cancer was the best thing to ever happen to me. Because for every rose-tinted moment comes a lifetime's share of dark times that leave you lonely and frightened and confused, and being cradled by your husband in a dark bedroom as you both weep at the thought that what you've got is, in fact, life threatening.

P and I had one such moment last night, following an afternoon at the hospital talking to various people about my radiotherapy. Turns out it's going to be done over a much larger area than we'd originally thought, thanks to the number of lymph nodes that my cancer had spread to. So, rather than just directing the radiotherapy at my chest wall, it'll also hit my left arm and shoulder, and the left side of my neck (this season I will mostly be wearing polo necks). This means that, as well as the three standard tattooed dots (one in the cleavage, one on the boob, one underneath the arm), I'll also be having a fourth dot inked onto my collar bone. Which has, of course, pissed me right off (I happen to like my collar bone and, just like my hair and my boobs, it's another of my favourite bits that's getting ruined). It's also hardened my resolve to get a nicer tattoo done out of choice rather than necessity (this I'll report back on later, but I do have an idea).

The four dots (hey, that's a good name for a band) stuff is a ballache. But it's the real reason behind having them that utterly terrifies me. 'The reason we're doing this radiotherapy,' said Chelsea Consultant (very west-London posh in her Tod's and diamond engagement ring that could take your eye out), 'is that we want to localise the zapping of the cancer cells to the specific area where the tumour was, unlike chemotherapy which works on the cells all over your body.' All fair enough, I thought. And then came the bombshell. 'But the main reason we're doing this – and doing it over such a large area – is to increase your chance of survival.' And there it is. Another reminder of the grim, makes-you-want-to-scream seriousness of breast cancer. It suddenly makes the illness and the hair loss and all the rest of the crap seem like welcome distractions when you're reminded that, actually, this thing has the potential to kill you. I don't ever allow myself to think about that. I can't begin to describe how much of my flagging energy I use not thinking about that, always finding other things to occupy my mind (why do you think I'm writing this blog?). So it comes as a horrible, jolting shock when I do hear it.

Please don't think that getting cancer has been the best thing to ever happen to me, or that it could be the best thing to happen to anyone else, for that matter. Yes, it changes your life. Yes, it changes your outlook. And yes, it changes you. But that doesn't make it a great thing. Cancer changes your life because it threatens it. Cancer changes your outlook because it muddies it. And cancer changes you in far more ways than just losing a boob or going bald or getting dots tattooed on your chest. Cancer IS NOT the best thing that could ever happen to you. Cancer is shit. (Maybe that should be my tattoo?)

Saturday 13 September 2008

A matter of taste: an update.

Don't worry, this isn't an update on my turd-status (although I'm back on track, thanks very much – probably thanks to Mum who, when some family friends came over last night, put out a big bowl of crisps for her guests and, beside it, a small bowl of prunes for me). Nor is it an update on my tastebuds (also getting there, cheers – P’s spicy soup was delicious, and probably more fiery than I could taste, judging by his red-faced, sweaty reaction after eating it). ­No, this is a far more trivial update: it's been bothering me for days that I didn't answer the questions at the beginning of Wednesday's post. So, just for the record:

1) In alphabetical order: A Day In The Life by The Beatles, Beautiful Child by Rufus Wainwright, For Once In My Life by Stevie Wonder, Lucky by Radiohead, Pride And Joy by Marvin Gaye. (If I were allowed a sixth, which I know I'm not, it would be (Love Is Like A) Heatwave by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. I only mention this because it concerns me that all five of my top songs are by men, and I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m averse to a female vocal.)

2) Derby County (incidentally where I should be right now, but I'm completely whacked and I fear that being witness to their shitness may put me back a few steps in my recovery).

3) Paul.

That’s a relief, I’ll sleep better tonight. Or will I? Maybe now I’ll start fretting that you’ll judge me on my answers, conclude that I’m a stupid-questionnaire-obsessed, male-vocal-biased, football-challenged, McCartney-loving fool, then stop reading the blog in disgust. Actually, if anything, you should take pity on me for the football thing. More for that than the cancer stuff, even.

Thursday 11 September 2008

Let's hear it for the boys.

Last night I dreamt that my hair had grown back long enough for me to be able to go out without a wig. I was meeting up with some friends (as is always the case in dreams, it was a really disparate bunch that no real-life circumstance would ever put together) and we were due to be having some kind of water-fight-themed summer party in Tills' back garden. Thinking that I could get away with sweeping the front bit of my barnet back to disguise my balding crown (still the one part of my head that refuses to hang onto a decent fuzz), I tied up the rest of my hair into a ponytail and crafted a mini-bouffant at the front that I proudly wore to the party. The thing was, my new 'do didn't quite get the reaction from my mates that I'd hoped, considering this was the first time they'd seen me since being able to ditch the wig. I tried to forget about it and instead occupied myself at the party throwing water balloons and firing super-soakers (now there's an idea for My Super Sweet 30th) until one of my friends pulled me to one side and asked if she could have a word with me in the bathroom. When we got in there, she stood me in front of the mirror and I looked at my reflection to see that my carefully crafted bouffant had fallen flat to reveal the glaring, bounce-light-in-all-directions bald patch. I was mortified.

You don't have to read much into my dream to figure out my current state of mind. I'll make no bones about it; I've felt pretty bloody miserable this week. (News just in: cancer gets you down. Who'd have thought!) It's mainly a self-confidence thing, and by 'thing' I mean I've barely got any left. Actually, that's an exaggeration – I do have self-confidence: confidence in my staying power and my toughness and my ability to keep smiling and always find an inappropriate joke. What I'm really lacking is confidence in my looks: I'm on my final descent into uglydom.

It'll probably sound ridiculous when I reveal that what's prompted this crisis of confidence is the loss of my first few eyelashes. After losing my hair and waving goodbye to my cleavage, it hardly reads like a big deal. But it's just one more element of feeling like a woman that I'm losing my grip on, and it's really bloody frustrating. I appreciate that, as a lass, it's easier to cover up the unfortunate, appearance-ruining side-effects of cancer (whack on a wig, slap on some make-up) and I'm grateful to be able to do those things. But realising that your husband has prettier eyelashes than you is a bitter pill to swallow.

For an extra-self-conscious, image-fixated 29 year old, this kind of stuff is difficult to deal with, and I guess letting it get you down occasionally is an inevitable part of the leave-your-vanity-at-the-door reality of The Bullshit. It's an easy spiral to fall into, and one I'm not going to give myself too much of a hard time about. It was always going to happen: here I am, spending all my time in the same place (it's a good job I love this flat so much), in the same slob-around jeans, staring at the same walls adorned with the same fantastic wedding photos of me looking beautiful and P looking handsome. I look up at those photos and, happy as they make me, I can't help but shake my head and say to the bride, 'Blimey, love, you haven't got a clue.' Neither has the groom, for that matter – little did he know that within 20 months he'd be married to a real-life version of Tweek from South Park. (Yes, I'm still obsessed with what I look like when my wig's off. And at least the Tweek similarity is better than my conclusion earlier this week that I look like Ted Danson's love child.)

I'm not fishing for compliments with this post. This isn't a vehicle to subliminally persuade you to comment with lovely, thoughtful things about how I'm still beautiful to you (P keeps using that line and I don't believe him either). I have mirrors. I know all too well what I look like (each time I can bear to check my reflection, I shock myself at how much uglier I've got since the last time). And, nice as it is that you might want to persuade me otherwise, we both know what we're dealing with here – and it doesn't look good. But none of this is my point. Because – in a week when I'm clinging onto the last shreds of my self-confidence, when I've started losing my eyelashes and when Posh Spice cuts her hair super-short to remind me that in no way will her elfin cut look good on a curvy girl – two wonderful, stay-in-my-mind-forever remarks came my way from the unlikeliest of sources (ie, boys).

The first was from one of my best mates, JB. He's one of the most thoughtful men you could hope to meet but, that said, he's not one to offer up an easy compliment, even at a time when you might need it most. (I remember once going to meet him in town while we were seeing each other, and me trying really hard to look impressive despite a crippling hangover. I thought I'd done a decent job, too, until I strutted over and he said, 'Wow, you look like shit.') But a couple of days ago, he called to see how I was doing. 'Now, there's something I've got to tell you,' he said, ominously. 'The other day when I was round at yours I was, of course, aware that you were wearing a wig. Because you've told me about it, and because I've been reading about it. But when I was sitting talking to you in your front room, I wasn't thinking, "here I am having a brew with L in a wig," but, "here I am having a brew with L." After initially seeing it, the wig just didn't occur to me at any other point.' That was a very nice thing to hear from JB, and I told him so (plus it'll save him giving me another compliment for, ooh, the rest of my life).

The second remark came from a boy I worked with years ago, who'd only just heard about The Bullshit. 'That's awful,' he said. 'You've got such magnificent breasts.' Now I know there's not much going on in that area at the moment but, nonetheless, hearing that made my chest puff out a bit. 'And they'll be magnificent again,' I told him.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

A matter of taste.

One of my favourite questions to ask people – along with their top five songs, football team and favourite Beatle – is what their death-row, last-ever meal would be (you can tell I'm a sucker for those inane, reply-to-all email questionnaire things). My answer's been the same for years: a cheese and crisps sandwich (white bread, plenty of butter, Cheddar cheese, salt and vinegar crisps) and a mug of tea (very strong, no sugar). It's a pedestrian answer, I know, but a cheese and crisps sarnie and a good brew is my idea of the ultimate comfort food. (And if you think my death-row chow-down is chav, you should know that my Dad's would be a packet of Sports Mixtures and a pint of bitter.) So yesterday, anticipating the return of my tastebuds (something that usually happens on day five – AKA Fajita Tuesday for reasons I'll expand on later), I opened the fridge and carefully crafted my death-row lunch. And it sucked.

It's my own fault. I ought to have made sure my tastebuds were back in place before making the sandwich in the first place (that's about the limit of my culinary crafting, by the way – P's the chef around these parts). But I didn't, and it tasted like carpet. And now I'm worried that I've ruined the enjoyment of my favourite death-row meal forever. (That 'carpet' simile, by the way, seemed preferable to the usual 'cardboard' one. Likening taste to cardboard, as they do in the chemo leaflets, serves a good enough purpose but in truth it's lacking a bit, since food in those first few post-chemo days actually tastes of nothing. Not cardboard. Just nothing. So carpet seemed as good a bet as any. The sandwich might have tasted like wax or feet or concrete or fabric softener for all I know.)

Still, there was Fajita Tuesday to look forward to: P's invention to celebrate my return to taste with a spice-fest of a dinner. Even though I'd fallen short of getting any flavour from my lunch, I was sure that this would hit the spot – after all, it's proved a sizzling success two chemos running, and I was becoming impatient to get my favourite sense back. (The not-being-able-to-taste stuff hasn't hampered my appetite, sadly – and with experiments like this I fear it'll be the ruined tastebuds that get to my waistline before the steroids.) But again, nothing doing. There was something there, I'll give you that, and I definitely appreciated the consistency of the peppers, but it still didn't, well, taste. (Did I really just write that I 'appreciated the consistency of the peppers'? Sheesh. AA Gill, your job is safe.) After that disappointment I called in the big guns (actually, first I sulked a bit, then I called in the big guns) and took myself to bed with a tub of Banoffee Pie Haagen Dazs to give my palate one last chance. (Twisted logic, I know – like the chilli couldn't do it so the dairy would?) Now normally I can hoover up a tub of ice cream faster than you can say Rik Waller, but last night I only managed to scrape off the top layer of my Banoffee Pie tub (that's about half an inch in my book) before realising that it was fruitless (probably in more ways than one) and throwing in the towel. After the let-down of the cheese and crisps sarnie, not being able to taste Haagen Dazs is my final straw.

By the looks of it, all these tasteless troubles are getting to P every bit as much as they are me. He's not just the head chef in our household, but a bloody brilliant one to boot. P takes his cooking VERY seriously and, like every successful chef, he's a competitive little bugger too. And if I know him (and the frightening, defeat-will-simply-not-do look on his face right now), he's not going to be beaten to the palate punch by my chemo drugs. So as I type this daft post about what I've eaten over the last 24 hours (why I think you'll be interested in this stuff is beyond me), P is going in for the kill in our kitchen. He's got a super-spicy, master-blaster, choc-full-of-chilli soup on the stove and there's a powerful whiff of garlic making its way into the bedroom. This is it, people – it's tastebud boom or bust.

I fear it says a lot about my current predicament of bed-ridden boredom that I can type for so long about what I've been eating. (It says an equal amount about your work-avoidance tactics that you're still reading, but if you're prepared to let this one go I'll say nothing to the boss.) And anyway – cheese and crisps sandwiches, Sports Mixtures, fajitas, spicy soup... it's all good to make a turd, right? And, after days of chewing on constipation-causing pills, I dare say that's almost higher on my menu than a decent dinner.

Monday 8 September 2008

Old red eyes is back.

In chemo on Friday, one of the nurses commented that I looked 'very glam'. If only she could see me now: I look like a smackhead. Dark circles, red eyes, sunken features, greying skin... And, not that I know what being a smackhead feels like, but I imagine it's better than this (you don't tend to get many highs with these kind of drugs). The first couple of days post-chemo went pretty much as I'd come to expect. I shan't bore you with the details – you know the drill by now – and, besides, no matter how much I try to write about those miserable few days, nothing comes close to describing it. (That said, my folks may have hit it on the head when likening that first night to watching someone in torture – they're now convinced that chemo drugs are used for that purpose, and I'm not going to disagree. Ask me what you like in the midst of those few hours and I'll tell you anything to make it stop.)

Anyway, I'm through the worst of it again now. Not that it's made me feel any chirpier, mind. I'm three chemos down, which means I've got three to go. And while everyone keeps going on about how brilliant it is that I'm half way through, what I can't believe is that I'm ONLY half way through, dammit. And by being 'through the worst of it', what I mean is that I feel a tiny, tiny fraction better than I did a couple of days ago. I don't feel as sick now, I've stopped hallucinating (this time, as well as the now-standard feeling that my feet and hands are expanding, I was convinced I had a lump growing beneath my left nostril) and I'm definitely standing up straighter whenever I have to move anywhere (not that the being-accompanied-to-the-loo days have passed yet; I'm hoping that's a treat I can look forward to tomorrow – that and a nice, private number two once my course of constipation-inducing pills is over). But boy, they're right about the tiredness symptoms being accumulative. I feel like a frail old woman. P ran me a lovely bath yesterday with posh Molton Brown bubbles and candles all around the tub, but all I found myself craving was one of those old-person baths with a door in the side that fills up around you and saves you collapsing on your husband when you climb out of it. Sheesh, it's a good job we live in a ground-floor flat, or I'd be scouring the tabloid Sunday supplements for a Stannah stairlift too. (That and a porcelain dog statuette, a poorly painted commemorative Charles and Camilla wall plate and a pair of those sensible, tapered-to-the-ankle cream trousers with an elasticated waistband that sits just beneath your sagging bust – man, I love those crappy adverts.)

The best thing about getting past the first four days, though, is not having to sink a handful of pills every few hours. The pills do their job, don't get me wrong, but they end up starving you of any decent sleep at a time when you've never needed it more. For me, that means lying awake and thinking far too much than is healthy. And wowzers – sod the smack. Looking back on my train of thought, I'm starting to think that my brain is all kinds of screwed up as it is, ta very much. So smackheads, let's compare notes. Because here's a taster of the stuff that's been occupying my mind over the last few days.

1. The Ivy. Now here's an analogy I'll bet you haven't heard before, but I've been starting to think that the waiting room in chemo is a bit like the dining room in The Ivy: each time the door opens, everyone in the room looks up to see who's walked in. The only difference being that in The Ivy, everyone's looking see whether it's a celeb who's waltzed through the door, and in chemo they're nosily craning their necks to see how different each patient looks since the last time they were in there (I noticed that my hospital wig debut turned a few heads, as did Glamazon's break from tradition in wearing trainers instead of her usual slingbacks). By saying 'the only difference' back there I am, of course, lying. The soggy tuna and cucumber sarnies in chemo have got nothing on an Ivy Burger. But the service is still pretty darned good. (I feel I ought to clarify that I've been to The Ivy but twice: once on a press freebie, the other time as a birthday lunch treat for P. So I hardly make a habit of it. Though I might do once all of this is over – besides, I'll need somewhere swanky to take my Louboutins.)

2. My hair. Strange things are afoot on my barnet: it's growing. Not in a lovely-long-Jessica-Rabbit-locks kind of way, sadly. But I reckon that I'm now looking less Steve McClaren, more Kenickie (and that's got to be heading in the right direction, no?). Don't read too much into the hair-growth – I'm still a long way off being able to ditch the wigs thanks to a bothersome bald patch behind my '50s quiff, and I don't expect the T-Birds 'do to hang around long, having taken the decision to ditch the twat hat for a shorter stay in chemo last week. But it's still nice to know that my hair is capable of growing back quickly. 

3. Sex. I miss my left nipple. I miss seeing it and I miss feeling it. It had a function, dammit, and I want it back. Not that there's an awful lot going on in the sex stakes at the moment, but being one nipple down definitely limits your options: in short, the right one is still sensitive in all the right ways (admittedly not on the super-sensitive front I'd originally imagined), while I'd never know if you were touching the left one – any feeling in it has been completely deadened. (Which I guess would make me a prime target in the game of 'nipple tennis' the lads invented at uni to pass a few hours in the students' union. Simple rules: brush a part of your arm past as many nipples as you can get away with over the course of one evening without being caught. Five points for brushing past one nipple, 10 points for both. Get caught, and lose all your points. Correct me if I'm wrong, lads. Either that or shut up altogether for fear of a sexual harassment lawsuit.) P says he's not bothered about the lack of boob options but, hell, he has to say that. He's stuck with them (I mean it). And I'm not daft enough to think that looking amorously at one perfectly formed nip and one Quality Street Toffee Penny is every man's dream of the perfect pair. (But then, I bet P never thought he'd be getting it on with Kenickie either, so I guess the nipple stuff is small fry compared to that.) Still, at least the nipple imbalance can be rectified (if only in part) because, as the icing on the cake once my treatment is over, I'm going to become the proud owner of a shiny, new surgery-constructed nipple, complete with perfect pink tattooing to match the other side. And I can't stop thinking about it. (Actually, forget the icing – that'll be more like the cherry on the cake, right?)

4. Death. Sorry to raise this but, come on, don't tell me you wouldn't let this thought slip into your mind occasionally if you were in my situation. I really do mean it when I say occasionally, too. It's just something that tends to happen on the Sunday after chemo, when I invariably hit my mental low. And it's not all as dark as it sounds. It's not like I lie awake planning my funeral (mainly for two reasons: (a) I haven't got a clue what I want, and (b) there's no bloody way you're going to find me planning a party I can't go to). It's more that I'm keen to tie up any loose ends before I go. I'm not normally one to repent – and, frankly, I blame all the Sopranos I've been watching for this paragraph – but I have been thinking about the people I ought to say sorry to before I do bugger off. (Not that I plan to for a LONG time yet, right?) And anyway, they're not even major apologies: I'd like to say sorry to the kids at school I used to take the piss out of for wearing white socks with black shoes and trousers. And to a woman I once had a go at on a pedestrian crossing for mumbling under her breath when I accidentally knocked her with my bag – I fear I overreacted a tad vociferously and may have frightened her a bit. To the very decent bloke I had long-distance contact with for years following a couple of very fun dates in our home town, then gave the brush-off when he travelled miles to visit me in London (not because I didn't like him, but because I'd had my heart broken in the meantime and was petrified of getting close to another boy again). And to my friend Weeza, who I lost touch with for years – to the point where she missed out on my wedding. It upsets me, because we've been back in contact again this year and she's been a bloody brilliant buddy throughout all this rubbish, and I know she'll continue to be after it. But most of all (and I can't help this one, but I'm apologising all the same), I'm gutted that I got The Bullshit at a point where it threatened to rain on the parade of my kid brother J and his amazing fiancee L. Trust the big sis to swoop in with her cancer news right in the middle of their engagement, eh? My left boob deserved to go for trying that on. Anyway, despite all those seemingly ridiculous apologies (this'd make for a much better post if I were able to say sorry for shaving off someone's eyebrows or running over Amy Winehouse's foot – not that I'd necessarily feel bad about that), I still like to think that I'll have plenty more time to make a few more (blog-worthy) mistakes that I can happily regret later.

5. Tattoos (again). A few days ago, I received a referral letter to see the radiotherapy department about the course of pain-in-the-arse sunburn (actually, make that pain-in-the-arm-and-tit sunburn) that I'll be starting in December once the chemo's done with. And along with the letter came an information sheet telling me what radiotherapy's all about. It all seemed pretty standard – daily visits for six or so weeks, lying on another futuristic bed like the one in Kanye's Stronger video, burned skin, feeling tired, yadda yadda – but there was one thing I hadn't bargained for: the tattoos. (Now there's a thing I hadn't realised you could get on the NHS.) Apparently, they give you three small tattoos (blue dots) to ensure the radiotherapy is beamed at exactly the same area each time, and to guarantee they don't administer rays to the same place again in future, should The Bullshit come back. And, granted, I'm hardly set to become the Amy Winehouse of breast cancer (though heaven help her if she ever needs radiotherapy; they'll have a job locating the blue dots amidst her Etch-A-Sketch chest). But even so, I'm miffed. Because if I'm having tattoos, don't you think I should be getting them out of choice, rather than stupid cancer-dictated necessity? So, despite the fact that I've barely considered having one before, I've now started thinking I might get one done to celebrate getting through my treatment. (Don't panic just yet, Dad, that's still a might.) And, to be fair, now's not the time to be making these kind of decisions. But, who knows, perhaps after I'm through with The Bullshit, I might go mental and get a topless girl drawn onto my upper arm. Or join up the blue dots into a pocket-style tattoo, a la Winehouse. Because if The Bullshit is ballsy enough to make a recurrence in the future, the radiographers can damn well work around my new body art. (And, for the record, if it ever does come back again, I'm going all out and having 'oh for fuck's sake' tattooed across my forehead.)

Friday 5 September 2008

The magic number.

Well here we are again: Chemo Friday (volume three). And what a pisser. I'm starting to think that the being-at-hospital stuff is worse than the shit that comes after chemo (remind me of that in a few hours and I WILL KILL YOU – first rule of cancer: never mess with a woman who's got it). I really fucking hate being at that fucking hospital (second rule of cancer: it may induce Tourettes). Every day I work really hard to forget I'm living with The Bullshit – even when I'm ill I try to pretend it's for another reason – and then on Chemo Friday I have a day-long reminder that I've got bloody breast cancer. And it sucks ass. (These chemo-day posts, by the way, are devised from my hospital chair, then typed up as soon as I get home in the hour before all the vomiting fun begins. Talk about dedication to the cause, eh? Either that or it's just a damn good excuse to think about something other than chemo drugs and side effects and whether old Wonky Wig has moved the rug even further back on her forehead this week.)

All that said, this morning I managed the mean feat of not crying in the taxi to the hospital, as I normally do on Chemo Friday (London cabbies, you can relax again now). I had a little sniffle when I got to the waiting room, mind, but managing to keep dry-eyed on the journey there was an achievement I'd not yet mastered. I still yelled at P this morning, though. It's shit for him, but this irrational shouting has unfortunately – and unexpectedly – become my Chemo Friday coping strategy. Of course, there's nothing I can actually have a go at him about, so I have to come up with really pathetic reasons instead. 'You're seriously wearing that T-shirt?' 'What do you mean you're going to buy a paper? You're supposed to talk to me, not gen up on the US Open.' 'I left that light on for a reason – now just fucking leave everything alone will you?' 'Look, are you walking two steps behind me or with me?' I know, I'm a total cow. By the time we've reached the waiting room, though, I've apologised. (And anyway, I want the chemo nurses to think I'm cheery and impossibly lovely, not some tetchy bitch who shouts at her husband.) But back to my point. On my planet, not crying in the cab to chemo is a Big Deal.

I think it's because I was still feeling a teensy bit smug after yesterday actually. What with the blog being in Glamour magazine, and the subsequent bombardment of loveliness I've had, I walked around with my head held slightly higher this morning. (Apologies for the blatant agenda-pushing there, by the way. Apparently I'm not just a Wig Slag but a Media Whore too.) Don't worry, though, it won't last – give me an hour or so and I'll be hobbling back and forth from the loo with puke on my pyjamas. Nothing like a dose of toxic drugs to bring a girl back down to earth. Speaking of better outfits, I've since bought that pink dress I wore in the mag shoot, by the way. And when I get a chance to wear it, I'll be sure to tie the belt a bit tighter – I took one look at those photos and, after checking to see whether my boobs looked wonky, I immediately chastised myself for my shoddy bow-tying. (Oh balls, now I've encouraged you to look at my boobs too, haven't I? Well don't get excited, one of them's pure pad. No prizes for guessing which.)

Anyway, this new attention isn't without its drawbacks: I'm suddenly feeling the pressure to perform. (Is there such a thing as blog Viagra?) Which, I guess, makes this post my equivalent of the 'difficult second album'. The Second Coming of Alright Tit, if you will. You'd think I'd have some brilliant, space-filling cancer stories up my sleeve for such an occasion, but sadly not. I'm ill prepared for blogger's block. I wonder if this is the point at which I should wheel out the emergency joke I've been sitting on about using my cancer sob story to win next year's X Factor, but worrying that I'll become another one-tit wonder? (Erm, no – apparently there's never a good time to use that line. Apologies.)

But, just for the record, thanks for the aforementioned loveliness. If nothing else, it freaks the hell out of people when you walk into the chemo room with a massive grin on your face. But anyway, enough of that. All this talk of blog-love is making me sound like Darius (can you feel the love in this post?) and I'm feeling sick enough as it is, so I'll pack it in right now with the soppy stuff. Any more of that and I'll be forced to tell you more Sudocrem stories. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some serious barfing to attend to (I suspect hoummous will be next on my foods-to-avoid list).

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Memory almost full.

I'm known among my family and friends for two things: I'm always late and my memory is terrible. I forget names and dates (an affliction I keep on top of with a ridiculously organised diary and a propensity to write lists), important tasks, whole conversations, nights out (though I fear a lot of that is self-inflicted), childhood memories... you name it, I've forgotten it. I revealed to Tills yesterday that I can barely remember anything I learned at school, college or uni. (Except to only use a colon after a complete statement. And never begin a sentence with 'and'. Oh.) I accepted very early on that my memory was goldfish-like, and devised a way to remember the stuff I'd been taught simply for the short-term purpose of downloading it onto my essay paper. Even as soon as walking home from an exam, I'd forget what I'd written in it. (I'm not kidding – I have a C in A-level German, but all I'm able to say is 'Das Kind ist in den Flughafen'. And even that's cheating, since I learned it from Eddie Izzard.)

All that said, my music memory is second to none. I'm a demon in a pop quiz. Even after a few Tizers I can recall lyrics, years, song titles, album opening tracks, band members' favourite foods (okay, so I'm lying about that bit, but I can tell you that Mark Owen had a pet iguana called Nirvana and that Michael Stipe's actual first name is John). So it seems my music memory is stored in an altogether different part of my brain. Or maybe even elsewhere? I'm starting to wonder whether my iPod isn't just loaded with MP3s, but actually holds the key to my memory as well as its own. Seriously – name me a song, and I bet you I've got a long-since-stored-away memory attached to it.

Having chatted about this at length with my friend Lil, neither of us can get our heads around the fact that it's almost 15 years since Kurt Cobain died (incidentally, my brother tried on Wig 1 the other day and looked frighteningly Cobain-like), 13 years since Wonderwall and 10 years since one of my all-time favourite albums, Gomez's Bring It On, was released. And each of these things not only makes me feel old (I'm breaking with tradition and getting my ageing worries out of the way before My Super Sweet 30th), but prompts many previously forgotten memories. Kurt's death = my Mum's refusal to let me have Dr Marten boots, and threading red and yellow beads through the laces of the DM shoes she bought me instead. Wonderwall = my first boyfriend's bedroom, and looking up at his Oasis poster during my First Time (see also: Parklife and a dodgy Stars In Their Eyes version of A Million Love Songs). Bring It On = receiving a copy of the album from my cousin while I was living in Norway, then immediately falling in love with the lead singer – and subsequently a boy at uni who looked exactly like him (now one of my best mates – or at least he was until buying me Wig 5, the cheeky shyster). I'm willing to wager you've got a similar playlist.

All of this record recollection came about after the aforementioned conversation with Tills (hence writing this post now – by tomorrow I'll have forgotten it ever happened). I'm back in chemo on Friday, and I'm bricking it. Even more so than I was after the last time; probably because this past week has been so damn good. And I suspect I'm bricking it so much because I can't remember exactly what it felt like (the post-chemo bit, I mean – the mid-chemo needles I can handle). And actually, that's one thing I'm glad I can't remember. Trouble is, it works both ways. Because I know for a fact that come Friday night, Saturday morning, Sunday afternoon, I won't be able to get my head around recovering from The Bullshit. In the midst of chemo-hell, it's just too awful to think about anything other than how dreadful you feel. Tills was spot on when she likened it to the horrible, drowning feeling of getting your heart broken – you can't imagine a time when you'll feel any better, let alone consider falling in love again. But, of course, you do. And I will, of course, get back to my old self. I'll just need a nudge to remember it. Tills' brilliant idea is to write notes to remind myself that I'll feel better in a few days, then plaster them all over my bedroom walls so I see them every time I look up (incidentally that's the same way I memorised everything I needed for my exams). I'm thinking a Chemo Playlist could also be in order (suggestions welcome). Then P or my folks can just press play and I'll at least be able to feel like shit to a decent soundtrack that makes me think of better times. But will somebody please remind me to leave Wonderwall off it?

Monday 1 September 2008

It's a wonderful life.

There's something wrong with my tear ducts. I've been back through all my chemo leaflets and lists of side-effects, but it looks like this is one thing I can't blame on the drugs. The problem is me – I'm turning into a cry baby. Over the past week, I've felt happier than I have at any point throughout The Bullshit, and probably even happier than I've felt for a while before it. That's a seemingly crazy thing to say, but nonetheless true. Last night I almost felt guilty for being so chuffed with my lot – cancer isn't supposed to feel this good, surely? So why do I keep sobbing at the slightest thing?

On Friday I cried in two different taxis (London cabbies, you have been warned). The first was on my way into the West End to head back to the office for the first time since my diagnosis. And wow. I'd almost forgot I lived in London. Pretty much all I'm seeing of the city at the moment is the view from the car on my way to the hospital, but on Friday I looked up from the cab window and found myself on Westminster Bridge – Houses of Parliament on one side, London Eye on the other. It felt like I was seeing it all for the first time, and I beamed so much it brought tears to my eyes. The capital has never looked so beautiful.

Then I cried on the way back home, this time from a mix of emotions; most of them wonderful, some less so. But first, the wonderful. Being back in the office again was weirdly exhilarating (my colleagues will piss themselves laughing when they read this, and probably so will I after I've been back there for a couple of weeks). Everything had a new excitement to it: the dodgy lift, my swivel chair, the banter, the tea in a chipped mug, the compliment on my top from the woman on the front desk, my stationery holder (I'm very fond of my stationery holder), flicking through schedules, being able to talk about something other than cancer... it was fantastic. Knackering, but fantastic. But best of all was being around people again. Not that I've been locked in a cage for the last couple of months. What I mean is being around people in a normal, everyday setting. I hadn't realised how much I'd missed it.

And then there's the less wonderful stuff (I hate having to include it in a post with this title, but even the film wasn't without its sad bits). For every few people in the office who smiled and winked and said hello, there seemed to be another who completely ignored me. One even stared straight through me when I looked him in the eye and said 'hi'. (And it's not as though he didn't recognise me either – I might be wearing a wig, but actually it's not too far away from my pre-chemo hair. It's not like I'm doing a Michael Jackson and walking around in a baseball cap with a handkerchief across my face.) I appreciate it's difficult for some people to know what to say, knowing what they now know about me. And I'm definitely not expecting people I don't know to suddenly start being all friendly because they feel they ought to. But being ignored by someone you'd normally talk to every day is a pretty shitty thing, and makes you feel a bit like a leper. Granted, I don't look the same as I did the last time I was in the office but, hell, I've not sprouted a second head. People in the street don't stare and point. It's still me, in spite of the cancer and the wig and the bags around the eyes. And, despite all my crying (I keep my tears to myself), I've not turned into some timid, super-sensitive, can't-talk-about-it cancer patient that you have to tiptoe around. What I've lost in boobs, I've gained in confidence. And, if I hadn't been so taken aback by his reaction to me, I might have reeled off that little speech to the bloke in question rather than you. (You'd be right in guessing that I've relived the event several times in my head since, and not once have I let him get away with it.) Then, after my cab ride back from the office, a similar thing happened – I arrived home at the same moment as my normally-very-chatty upstairs neighbour who, on seeing me, couldn't get away fast enough, using a poorly improvised cold as her excuse (which didn't stop her going out for a jog later on).

Thankfully the people who matter still treat me exactly as they always did – actually, better than they always did, judging by this weekend's barrage of birthday love. Which, of course, had me in tears. Several times. Reading cards, opening presents (not least the scouse wig [AKA Wig 4] I received, but probably for different reasons), during a show at the theatre, when my family and friends left after a lovely afternoon cake-fest... you name it, I cried at it. (Oddly, the realisation that under my wig I look frighteningly like Steve McClaren didn't make my cry. Sorry, I mean Schteve McClaren.) All that talk of booze-free, tame celebrations might have been true, but it didn't make my 29th any less fantastic than any other birthday. In fact I dare say it was better than my last few birthdays put together. (My Super Sweet 30th is going to have to go some to beat it, but I don't half like a challenge. Plus I'm well on my way to gaining the MTV-necessary three stone after all the cake I ate yesterday.)

So, with having such a lovely time of late, why all the tears? Having spent most of today thinking about it (to the point where my brain hurts), I think the reasons are three-fold. (1.) I'm overwhelmed. Since The Bullshit came along, my life has had to be a bit slower paced. So perhaps the emotion-packed excitement of the last few days was almost a bit too much to handle. (2.) Tiredness. I'm like a baby at the moment – let me have the requisite sleep and food, and I'm a little angel. Allow me to get tired or hungry, and you'll wish I'd never been born. (3.) Fear. All these wonderful things and all these wonderful people... it's something else, I tells ya. My life is the stuff that dreams are made of. And while I wouldn't change any of it for the world, every now and then it reminds me how utterly, completely, wake-up-in-the-night terrified I am that The Bullshit has come along to put it all in jeopardy. How fucking dare it.

The philosophical part of me (don't worry, I keep it chained up most of the time) often wonders why I got breast cancer in the first place. Was it to make me realise how good I've got it? I don't think so – I like to think that I've always realised how good I've got it. Even back as a worry-laden 15-year-old (not real worries, of course, just boy ones) when my form teacher wrote the following in my school leavers' book: 'always remember how good it is to be you.' (Very good advice, and a sentence I've never forgotten.) If not that, then, did cancer come along to give me a kick up the arse? I doubt that, too. I've always been super-disciplined about my direction in life, to the point where I've probably hurried it a bit. Left home for uni at 18, magazine editor by 25, married by 27 – hell, I even got breast cancer earlier than most. So no, it can't be that. Maybe The Bullshit came along when it did to make me realise that there's more to life than babies? Pre-cancer, I suspect P and I were becoming dangerously close to obsessed with the business of getting pregnant – a lot of fun in many ways but, with two miscarriages and many inquisitive friends, the pressure was on to get knocked up again. Of course all that's changed now, and it's forced us to put things in better perspective: all we really want is each other. So actually, if getting breast cancer has done anything for me – for us – it's that. But I still don't think it's reason enough to explain getting it in the first place.

So why me? After a lot of thought (and, believe me, I'm not ordinarily one to search for answers like this – I'm normally a very black-and-white kind of girl, and not just in football terms), I'm sticking with my original answer. In those dark days after my diagnosis, P used to question why all of this shitty stuff had to happen to us, and I'd tell him this: 'because we can handle it.'