Wednesday 29 October 2008

Something changed.

Right now I should be sitting in the stalls of the Savoy Theatre with my mate Leaks, overhead-clapping along to the Take That musical. Instead, I'm flat out on my sofa in my pyjamas, feeling like I've been hit by a truck and having spent a decent portion of the day with my head down the toilet.

It's entirely my own fault, of course (and not just for buying tickets to see the World's Cheesiest Musical). Earlier this morning, I told Dad that I was feeling 'pretty chirpy' because I was 'finally getting to spend time away from the flat tonight'. Idiot. Will I never learn? You'd think I'd know by now that The Bullshit eavesdrops on all my conversations and uses the gleaned information against me. ('So you think you're having fun tonight, do you? We'll see about that.')

Understatement alert: cancer is really starting to piss me off. Now, not only does it owe me several months of my life, but tickets to the Take That musical. Which (sod's law) will have finished its run by the time I'm well enough to go again. I tell you what, Bullshit, fix me up with a meet-and-greet with the real Take That and we'll call it quits, eh? (Well, I've exhausted the hell out of the Dave Grohl appeals; might as well try a new tack.) I've had quite enough of cancer thinking it can waltz in and muck up my plans. And actually, it's not just my plans that it's changing, but me as well. Lately I've caught myself making decisions and doing things that Old Me would have barfed at the thought of. Maybe that's the reason I puked so much today.

Pre-sickness, I made a phonecall that put the wheels in motion to do something so completely out of character that I reckon my friends will be far more shocked by it than they were by my breast cancer news. I'll not ruin the surprise for them now (besides, it might not come off, plus I'm still a little freaked out by it myself) but suffice to say, it's something I said I'd never do. But then, so is getting a tattoo. And yet, here I am, collecting images of the nicest-looking star designs I've seen in a neat little folder on my desktop. Which, I have to say, freaks me out even more. Neither of these very un-me things can even be blamed on the spur of the moment. I'm actively thinking them through, doing my research, planning the arse off them (actually, the forward planning offers a small glimpse of the Old Me). And that's not even the end of it – New Me has even started baking. Old Me was happy to tell anyone who'd listen that the kitchen was purely P's territory; New Me is emailing her mates for icing recipes and sending her husband to work with a different Tupperware (Tupperware!) of cakes every morning. What have I become?

Cancer changes you. That much we know. But are these things my way of proving this fact to the world? Are they borne out of sheer boredom? Or are they really just subconscious decisions that, while surprising, are probably pretty inevitable given the life-threatening-illness shizzle? Because, while thinking too hard about the New Me stuff does, as I say, freak me out a little, I have to admit that all of these new things feel perfectly natural to me. My life is different now, I've accepted that.

That's not to say that I'm happy with it, mind. I'm actually pretty fucking angry about it and, if I'm honest, really bloody panicky about what kind of life is waiting for me once I've stamped on The Bullshit with a killer heel. The life I'll be going back to isn't the one I left behind. I'm not really sure what it'll be, but it's definitely not the life I'd carefully mapped out for myself (and don't underestimate my mapping-out abilities – pre-Bullshit, I'd done my darndest to life-plan the whole shebang and, both professionally and personally, it got me a long way). Which is precisely why, when I next see my consultant at the hospital, New Me will be doing yet another previously sworn-off thing and finally taking him up on his offer of seeing a counsellor. Old Me tuts and rolls her eyes. New Me wonders whether it's appropriate to bake your therapist a cake.

Saturday 25 October 2008

Saturday night's alright (for staying in).

I'm starting to realise that a lot of the people I know remain pretty ignorant about what having breast cancer means for me. I've had inklings before, after receiving a handful of puzzling, fancy-coming-out-this-weekend texts, but a few things Lil told me on the phone last night finally confirmed it. I'm not having a go, here. Sheesh, after Thursday's post I fear I'm already on shaky ground. Of course people don't understand. Why should they? After all, some folk can lead near-to-normal lives with The Bullshit. But I'm just not one of them, given the highly aggressive nature of my Rich-Tea-biscuit-sized tumour that was this close to spreading further than my lymph nodes, and is having the shit kicked out of it with the Master Blaster of cancer treatments. I don't do things by halves, me. (Months later, I still can't quite believe that the biscuit managed to wreak undetected havoc for so long beneath my left nipple. If my modest tits can disguise that, what the hell else is hidden in my body that I don't know about? Spare change? An old boot? A family of refugees?)

What Lil innocently mentioned on the phone last night was that she'd recently been to a boozy party (disguised as an industry do) and was taken aback by the number of people who'd asked her whether I'd be going out, too. 'They're on another planet,' she said. 'I wanted to say "don't you get it?" but I didn't bother – I mean, where do you start?' She's right, of course. Where do you start? Because, despite my willingness to write chapter and verse of my cancer story on here, I actually don't talk about the details with very many people outside of this blog. It's a combination of not wanting them to always equate me with cancer, and wondering whether they really want to hear about it in the first place. It's that age-old thing of folk never really being interested in the answer to innocent, throw-away questions like 'are you all right?' or 'how was your weekend?'.

P has precisely the same issues with the people around him. He told me yesterday that he's sick of getting into work on a Monday morning and having to lie about what kind of weekend he's had. He always answers 'great, thanks' when, in fact, P's weekends (and weekdays, for that matter) have been every bit as shit as mine have since The Bullshit chose to trespass on our lovely lives. (With the notable exception of J's wedding, of course. That was worth a hundred weekends.) P's not being mean by lying; quite the opposite. He, like me, knows better than to tell people the real truth about how our weekend was. Nobody wants that kind of answer.

While I'm talking about this very matter-of-factly, it's actually bloody depressing having had so little fun for so damn long. I got quite tearful about it (and a few other things) last night. It's the lack-of-mental-energy factor again. After getting some more rubbish news this week (the kind that finally puts my life into the so-tragic-it's-laughable-and-probably-fit-for-a-film-plot category) I've been doing my best to hold it together, despite there being a part of me that's desperate to freak out. Keeping it together is tiring, and being tired makes me tearful. That and Coronation Street. It's a mad-as-a-cut-snake plot line, but I've found myself empathising with Rosie Webster. (God help me.) The thing is, I kind of know how she feels, being locked away against her will with nothing but pasta salads for comfort. So after watching that, after talking to Lil, and after replying 'April, probably' to an email that asked when I'd next be out on the town, it was kind of inevitable that I'd end up sobbing about the distant memory of my normal life, and not being able to remember what it's like to feel well and healthy. (I'm not exaggerating; I can't.)

So, after breaking down on P, he came up with a plan. (I'm not always breaking down on him, you know, much as it might sometimes read that way. As it goes, we're mostly giggling our way through The Bullshit where we can, and even our bleakest times together are somehow rose-tinted.) When he goes back to work next week, P's determined that he's not going to lie about what kind of weekend he's had. Instead, we're going to do our darndest to live as normal a couple of days as my health will allow. This morning we had breakfast in bed, then spent a valuable few hours cuddling and reading the papers. As I type, P's outside sweeping up leaves (and chasing squirrels, by the sound of it). When he's done, we're going to the shop to buy a baking tin so I can bake us a cake before curling up in front of the telly with a curry. Tomorrow we're going to Tills and Si's for lunch, then going home to drink tea and scout out hotels in Barbados. It's hardly karaoke and cocktails and dancing til dawn, I know. But, to me and P, getting back to this kind of normality is going to make for a pretty perfect weekend. So feel free to ask us about it on Monday morning, eh?

Thursday 23 October 2008

How should I put this?

A whole week and no blogging. Well, I think that speaks volumes about how this last chemo cycle has been treating me. Except that it doesn't, really. Not even the most eloquent writer could explain what it's been like, so instead I'll tell you in a far less eloquent way: it's been fucking horrendous.

I've heard new mothers say that childbirth was so awful that they can't completely remember the horror of it all – as though their brain recognised how hideous it was and did its best to blur the memory, otherwise they'd never put themselves through it again. And given that I'll never have the luxury of knowing what childbirth feels like, I'm instead equating this description with chemo. My brain has done me the favour of making it impossible to remember just how horrific I've felt this past few days, but know this (and know it good): it was horrific. And while I might not remember enough to tell you about every pain and symptom and effect, I do remember enough to tell you that I just don't think I can go through it again.

I can hear what you're thinking. I'm almost there... nearly done it... just one more chemo to go. But that's not just easy for you to say, it's also no comfort whatsoever. It just serves as a reminder that I've got to endure this hell again. 'You're almost there' is indeed a nice thing to say, but it's also the wrong thing to say. And yes, I'm aware how much of a bitch that makes me sound, particularly to all the many people who've said that very thing to me lately. (At the expense of whingeing even more, this warts-and-all honesty is difficult when you have a compulsive need to feel liked. Last night, unable to sleep, I lay awake drafting letters in my head to all the people I've liked but, I suspect, didn't like me back, asking them what it was about me that made them keep their distance. Does everyone who has a life-threatening illness do this kind of soppy, confessional soul-searching? I know, it's pathetic. It makes counting sheep look cool.)

But on with the bitchiness (I've started so I'll finish). I've had a similar problem with all the messages I've received while I've been laid up this past week. It's a damn good job I was too sick to pick up my phone until last night because, in my state of mind over the last few days, I don't think anyone would have liked the sarcastic replies. ('You've been quiet lately, how's things?' 'How's things? Well, I've still got cancer, I'm in such excruciating pain that I can barely move, I'm suffocating from constant hot flushes, I can't swallow for lumps all over my tongue and, despite being 29, my Mum is having to take me to the loo, which I'm going to pretty often thanks to the fact that I've got the raging shits. So yeah, things are pretty peachy, thanks.') I don't like reacting like this, I don't like P and my folks seeing me react like this, and I don't like you reading about me reacting like this. I like to keep as many people as possible sheltered from this stuff, in just the same way that I don't let anyone other than my immediate family see me during my sickest weeks. I'm worried that the sight of me looking like a cross between Voldemort and the Albino Monk will taint people's perception of me in the future, however better I manage to make myself look after The Bullshit is over. My folks have no choice about whether or not they see me that way because, well, they made me. And P signed up for it with the 'in sickness and in health' stuff (more fool him). But nobody else should have to be around me when I'm in that state, be it the bitchiness or the sarcasm or the assisted toilet trips or the rotten way I look. So, in weeks like the last one, I tend to hide myself away and instead go contact-cold-turkey. And, given my aforementioned reaction to innocent 'how are you doing' messages and 'you're almost there' encouragements, it's probably a good job I do.

Which begs the question, then: what, exactly, is the right thing to say? And there's the trouble. I'm as clueless as you. (I'm a great help, aren't I?) But surely the answer to what's best to say has got to be different for everyone, right? Some people might want to be ignored. Some people may want fawning sympathy ('poor you, must be awful'). Some might prefer outright anger ('I can't fucking believe this is happening to you'). Others might want complete medical understanding ('so was it day three or four that the thrush hit this time?'). Me? Generally, anything that's either quietly understanding ('love you, thinking of you, no need to reply'), funny ('it could be worse, you could be a McQueen on Hollyoaks') or puts gossip above cancer ('I heard today that Cher has her arse vacuumed') pretty much hits the spot. (All actual texts, by the way.)

Among all the messages I had this week, though, was one that even I haven't got a smart-arsed response for. It was a lovely blog comment from a 20-year-old lass with a clearly terrific sense of humour. And ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer. At 20. How fucking rubbish is that? Since I read her comment about having just started chemo, I've been wondering how best to respond, knowing what I know. Four months into this blog, I can hardly go back on everything I've written, play down the effects and tell her it's not as bad as she might think. It'd be equally foolish to take it upon myself to prepare her in some way by detailing the full, no-holds-barred shitness of it all. I want to tell her to hang in there, to put one foot in front of the other, to keep calm and carry on. But what use is that? Everyone's got to play The Bullshit their own way. And there's no bloody way I'd fob her off with the save-for-an-awkward-moment cancer quips I've previously talked about ('think of all the money/time/effort you'll save on mascara/your hair/shaving your legs') because, well, they're just not fucking funny, are they?

So instead, anonymous (and any other amazing Bullshit Babe who's emailed or commented on here), I'll just keep it simple and say this: cancer may do all manner of shitty, shitty things, but I promise it won't even so much as make a dent in your brilliant, gutsy, can't-keep-a-great-girl-down fabulousness. Unless you start vacuuming your arse, that is. After that, you're on your own.

Friday 17 October 2008

Bad lashes.

Now I'm not normally one to boast but, looking around, I've definitely got the best wig in chemo. One of the regulars (I do enjoy equating chemo patients with pub-goers) even told me as much today. Actually, I suppose it doesn't really count as boasting when you're bragging about a wig you're being forced to wear against your own will. I've got the best eye make-up in chemo too, but more of that later. First, another boast, but this time justified: this, ladies and gentlemen (more ladies, I suspect), is my second to last chemo. Five down, one to go. My penultimate visit to this miserable, makes-you-ill, dreadfully decorated (but superbly staffed) hospital floor with awful tea and out-of-date magazines. (On the dreadfully decorated front, a big part of my jobs over the last few years has been scouting out contenders for interior makeovers and, I have to say, I've never seen a more worthy project. Extreme Makeover, are you listening?) Still, I guess all that really matters is that, even though the drugs they give you make you really poorly, the point is that they're doing you the world of good (fingers crossed) and the terrific nurses who administer them deserve medals, payrises, OBEs and more time off. But in the absence of being able to help them on that front, I figured I'd treat them all to cupcakes on my last visit there next month. And cupcakes are almost up there with OBEs to my mind (not that I'd knock one back if it were offered, Liz).

Now that I'm a chemo old hat and feeling a tiny bit less nervous about going there every three weeks (not that it stopped me chewing at P again this time, mind, though I did it last night rather than this morning on the grounds that he hadn't been snogging me enough lately and it was making me feel like a cancer patient, not a wife), I've been putting a bit more thought into my chemo-day outfits, and choosing to glam it up a bit more each time I go. (Though I suspect that's got little to do with keeping up with the regulars in the fashion stakes, and more to do with making myself feel better for having gained weight each time I'm there. 9lbs and counting. Bastard steroids. And ginger biscuits.) I went with the old-faithful pinafore-dress-and-boots option today (when you step out the flat as little as me, wearing jeans to the hospital will simply not do), but decided to crank things up a bit by completely overdoing it with the eye make-up. (The Claudia Winkleman look – have you been watching It Takes Two?) It's basically my way of overcompensating for my sudden lack of eyelashes (plus I thought I'd give the chemo newbies something else to think about when they saw me: less, 'God, she's young,' and more, 'Blimey, has she been beaten up?').

Cancer changes many things in your life, and this week it's changed my make-up bag (my day-to-day one, not the huge bag of tricks I was gifted by Look Good, Feel Better). My foundation has been ditched (chemo has been mercifully good to my skin since the acne episode) in favour of an eyebrow pencil (they're close behind my lashes in the falling-out stakes), and my mascara has been replaced by two different eyeliners and a bunch of eyeshadows. I reckon I've previously been missing the eye-make-up gene (just like I'm missing the pets gene, the Ugg boots gene and the Red Hot Chili Peppers gene); I've always been more of a mascara-and-nowt-else girl, but these days my eyes are hamming it up so much I could teach drag queens a thing or two.

I'm clearly doing this for the same reason that I wanted to wear a wig rather than a headscarf (and that I want my husband to keep up the snog-count): much as I feel like a cancer patient, I don't want to look like one, too. And so, however lengthy a process it is to take the necessary beautifying steps to make me look like a normal person when I'm being visited by my mates or out in public at the hospital or wherever, I'm damn well going to take them and at least attempt to fool the world that there's nothing wrong with me (until I start fiddling with my wig, that is). Don't get me wrong, the rest of the time – sans wig, sans make-up – there's simply no escaping the fact that I'm a cancer patient – something only my immediate family (or the woman who did my pre-wedding spray tan last week) are ever party to, the poor sods. Because, God knows, it's not a pretty sight. Speaking of which, with Halloween coming up, if anyone's looking for someone to go trick-or-treating with, I've got my costume ready made: just dress me in black and call me Uncle Fester. Or I could always bring out the glittery eye make-up, stick on a trilby and go as Boy George. I wonder which is scarier?

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Four eyelashes and a wedding.

Ooh heck, I think I've broken myself. Which part of my brain thought it would be a good idea to completely exhaust myself with endless off-balanced Amy Winehouse/Kanye West/Dirty Dancing routines at J's wedding? The bloody brilliant part, that's what. But blimey, am I in trouble now. I'm waddling rather than walking, my creaking bones could provide the sound effects to a horror film, and I'm sneezing and blowing my nose so much that I'm getting through more tissues than I did on Saturday (and that's saying something; at one point I caught myself doing that childlike crying where- you- just- can't- get- your- words- out- without- a- pause- to- sniff- after- each- one).

It was always going to happen. I'm a germ-magnet right now (attractive, huh?) so whatever innocent bugs the 100-odd guests were carrying were bound to gravitate towards me. But sod it; each sniff is well worth it. Hell, if it had meant sacrificing an arm, I'd have still been itching to use every last shred of energy at my kid brother's (and new little sis's) wedding. Not that enjoying it took any effort, of course – the wedding was spectacular; enough to melt the heart of anyone who was lucky enough to witness it. I'll admit that I'd been more than a tad worried about how I'd feel on the day, and not just physically. The venue was the same as mine and P's wedding so I was concerned that being there again would upset me, in the same way that looking at our wedding photos makes us realise how little we knew about our future (and thank God we didn't). And then there was the baby issue: we'd fully expected to be 'plus one' by this point – when J&L announced their engagement we grabbed our diaries to work out which months to try (man, I hate that term) and which months to give it a rest, to avoid the chance of me squeezing one out on the big day. But, in fact, none of those things mattered – or even occurred to me – on Saturday. A few times, I even forgot I'd got cancer – and that's damn high praise. I got to keep my promise of dancing to an indie classic with J, as we'd done at my wedding (Parklife has never sounded so good), and I was delighted when the DJ played Gold Digger – not just because I love the track, but it proved that I'm not the only frustrated rapper in the village.

There were a couple of minor cancer-calamities, of course (this is me, after all) but nothing that couldn't be fixed. Minutes before the ceremony, I had a few wig issues: much as there's the obvious keeping-the-rug-secure benefit to the wig/hat combo, what I hadn't bargained for was the making-your-ears-poke-through-your-hair effect (not a great look), so that had to be rectified surreptitiously as the beautiful bride walked down the aisle, all glittery and gorgeous. (Thank God all eyes were on her, and not the freak in the front row doing her darndest to look glamorous while fiddling with her wig – I fear I gave the glam-game away pretty early on.) Now I think about it, actually, that wig was determined to piss on my chips all day, the sneaky bitch (it's obviously still not forgiven me for our shaky start). Whoever invented digital cameras clearly had wig-wearers in mind – it's thanks to them that I realised just how embarrassingly light-reflecting and shamelessly shiny my wig becomes when confronted with flash photography. Thanks to various people's camera screens, I got wise to this effect pretty soon after the sun went down, so I took my chance to storm upstairs to my room and cover my wily wig with face powder in an attempt to de-shine it a bit (I'm not convinced it worked, mind, but boy was it cathartic). And then there was the biggest mishap of the lot – the night before the wedding (of course it was the night before the wedding) my eyelashes finally gave up and, with terrific comedy timing, the lot of them dropped out in one blink. Actually it wasn't quite the lot of them – they at least had the decency to leave me with four or five stragglers on each eyelid which we managed to glue false lashes onto the following morning. I tried my best not to cry them off throughout the day, and managed admirably through the ceremony, but much less so during J's speech – not that I was the only one blubbing, mind. It was the best, most heartfelt thing I've ever heard; J had some tough things to say, but did it magnificently. I almost felt guilty for giving his best man all that ammunition... almost.

It's a good job I've now got a couple of pre-chemo days to rest up and recover after all the excitement. But it feels weird now that the wedding's over – every step of The Bullshit up to this point has been geared towards me making it there. Not just making it there, but having a bloody good time too (mission accomplished). So that, I suppose, is Phase One completed. (Phase One is my own convenient theory, by the way – I've not been to some happy-clappy, new-age workshop where they give you a gold star for making it to your first cancer milestone.) Anyone who's been reading this blog since June (I salute you) will know that seeing J&L get hitched has been the prize that my eyes have been firmly fixed on for months. And now they've become man and wife, it doesn't just mark a new start for them, but one for me, too. (Though I doubt Phase Two will be anything half as fabulous as their honeymoon.) I'm not sure how many phases there are or how long they last (you can tell I've not really thought this concept through), but after I was diagnosed, countless cancer-experienced people told me that I could expect to write off the next 12 months. I'm hoping to get back to normal life a bit quicker than that, though – the way I see it, I've made it through the group stages, I've just won my quarter final, and now I'm in training for the semis (and I probably deserve a yellow card for persevering with this ridiculous cancer-as-football-match analogy).

I do think it's good to punctuate your treatment with goals, though (red card, second bookable offence), so perhaps it's time to busy myself with some new projects. Step one: book a holiday for the moment I'm able to fly again. Step two: prepare myself for an image change. Operation Elfin, if you will. Now that I can just about make out the disco lights at the end of the chemo-tunnel, I ought to get ready for the return of my hair. And yes, I know it's going to take aaages for it to grow back to a decent, wig-ditching length (commonly known as the Kylie Crop) but, since we've already established that elfin cuts don't work on curvy girls, it's time to shift a few pounds in preparation for my new look (goodbye ginger biscuits, hello watercress). I'm expecting that the steroids might get in the way of my weight-loss plans for a wee while, but there's no harm in giving it a go in the meantime. Not that my bonce has shown any signs of sprouting an acceptable hairdo yet (I still look like a monk), but I reckon it can't be that far off, given that my pubes are now on the comeback and determined to get back to business (whatever the business of pubic hair is, exactly). Speaking of which, there was an insane moment on Friday night when my eyelashes fell out and I wondered – in a frankly absurd split-second panic – whether I should cut off a few pubes and, with the help of some lash-glue, try to pass them off as eyelashes. (What can I say, cancer messes with your mind.) Thankfully I regained a few brain cells pretty quickly and plotted to stick on some falsies instead. And it's a good job I did – after all, it's never a good idea to deflect attention from the bride, particularly with curly ginger eyelashes. 

Friday 10 October 2008

Pull out the stopper.

Ooh it's all go in here. Morning suits hanging from every curtain rail, hat boxes out in the spare room, marks on the carpet from new shoes being worn in, and me and Mum look like we've been dipped in gravy after getting a spray tan. Oh, and a certain kid brother of mine is sitting beside me with a grin the size of a banana (let's see if he's still smiling at me tomorrow when he realises who fed his best man all those stories). 

I'm equally smiley. Not only is there the excitement of J's wedding day to keep me perma-grinned, but the added anticipation of finally being able to go to an actual social occasion. Better still, one where I'm not the centre of attention. That makes it sound like I've been in solitary confinement for four months which isn't exactly the case (she says crouched in the corner, rocking back and forth). But the closest I've got to a social event of late is five people staring at me in a living room. So being able to not only go to a big do (and not just any old big do), but be there as one of a crowd will be fan-bloody-tastic. (That said, I'll be wearing a hat the size of a small planet so maybe I won't be quite that camouflaged. Well, it'll give people something other than the wig to stare at.)

Fancy me having a social life again, eh? I'm starting to forget what it was like to be out among people, acting daft and putting the world to rights over a G&T. The other night I spent longer than I care to admit trying to remember every detail about my favourite London pub, wondering whether they've cranked up the log fire yet, if the flush in the toilet on the left has been fixed, and whether the colder weather has forced my drinking buddies to move from the benches outside to the rickety stools in the bar. Classic withdrawal symptoms, I imagine. I just can't shake the feeling that I'm being left out of a brilliant social scene and loads of gossip and good times that I'll never be able to catch up on.

Those very same drinking buddies met up at the pub in question on Friday night and, by heck, was I narked. My mate Lil sensed as much and, the moment she got back home, updated her Facebook status with: 'Lil had a great time at the pub but really missed Mac.' (That's me, by the way. Mac's my nickname, not some new blog character I've just invented.) But, much as I appreciated Lil's efforts to make me feel better, I'd had a whole evening of sofa-bound boredom to work myself up by then. I knew full well how ridiculous it was to get so wound up, and instead tried to console myself with thoughts that my mates weren't, in fact, having a blinding time without me but had instead been plotting to make and sell charity T-shirts with 'Save Mac' on them, and debating which bands they could get to play at Mac Aid. But of course they bloody weren't. They were drinking dodgy wine, slagging off X Factor contestants for their transparently insincere tears (I'm telling you, I could sob my way to the final of that thing next year) and eating endless bags of crisps, the carefree gits. It's not like I think the world should stop turning just because I've got breast cancer. But apparently I do think that everyone should put their social lives on hold until I'm better. So, in typical worked-up and overly-sarcastic fashion, I retaliated with my own Facebook update: 'L thinks you lot are a bunch of bastards for going to the pub without her. Can't you wait til she's beaten cancer, you impatient sods?' (Actually I've been getting increasingly sarky and smartarse-ish in my status updates of late. This week I got all excited about my new boob and updated with: 'L has got tits. That's right. Tits. Plural. Count 'em.')

It's time I had a word with myself, really. All this obsessing about what's going on in the world outside my cancer bubble isn't very productive. Much more useful would be to plan how I'm going to make up for all these months of staying in once all this shite (technical term) is out of the way. I've already bought my Glastonbury tickets, I've got Busby on hand to help me plan a kick-ass Super Sweet 30th and I'm considering a big karaoke-fest for the moment I get told I'm in remission. Add a few more weddings into the mix, a summer of Ashes-induced drinking and a pub visit whenever I get the chance, and you've got one hell of a fun-filled back half of 2009. Well, after all this enforced sobriety, God knows I'll be playing catch-up.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

My lovely lady lumps.

I've just frightened the bejeezers out of a guy on my street by nonchalantly whipping off the wig in my front room, forgetting I was in full view of the world outside. The poor sod went white, standing there perplexed with his car keys falling out of his hand. Even as he drove off, he was still staring through my bay window, trying to figure out what the hell he'd just seen. What fun. I have got to do that again.

It's topped off a good day, actually. I've just spent a delightful half hour playing with my boobs. (Not in front of the living room window.) And not in the way you might be thinking, either. But that's not the point. The point is that I just said 'boobs'. Plural. As in, more than one. That's right, people, I've got my humps back. And there's nothing like a new tit to perk a girl up. (Not that I'm advocating a boob job as a cure for depression, you understand. And nor am I any happier with the term 'depression', even though so many of you lovely people have sent me messages to say that I needn't be embarrassed by it, considering the seriousness of The Bullshit and the effect of the drugs on my body. You make a fair point, too – hell, I get tearful on a hangover, so this was bound to hit me hard – but I'm still going to avoid that icky, awkward d-word and instead opt for 'exhaustion', if it's all the same.)

I'd been really nervous about turning up to see Smiley Surgeon today in case he said I was still too swollen to have my empty implant inflated – aside from anything else, I'd have had an odd-looking, baggy side to the strapless dress I'm wearing on Saturday. But thankfully, he gave me the go-ahead and pulled out the bike bump (disappointingly, it was more of a huge-needle-and-saline-drip combo) and now I can finally, FINALLY get rid of the Mastectomy Bra From Hell and my comedy false boob (honk honk). I feel like I should do something ceremonial with them. I could burn them, I suppose, but that's a bit too Germaine Greer. Maybe I could make a slingshot out of the bra and do some damage to those bastard squirrels in our back garden? Or thread some elastic through the prosthesis and use it to mask the fumes when I'm painting (ha, as if I ever paint). I could always raffle them off for charity, I guess. Yeah right – I'm sure my crappy, off-white bra and dodgy-looking falsie would be in huge demand. My designated charity would need one hell of an oversized cheque for the 50p I'd raise for them.

But again, I'm missing the point. Because, relieved as I am to be able to ditch the questionable lingerie, I'm even more chuffed to have my boob back. Not that it's my old boob, of course (you can shove that one) but, by heck, it looks every bit as good. It's round and soft and symmetrical and even a little bit bouncy and, were it not for the fact that I'm still singular in the nipple department, it'd be perfect. But I'm told that even that'll be rectified by the beginning of March (the process is fascinating – the existing nipple-circle gets cut out a bit and twisted around so it sticks out more and can be moulded into the right shape, then the tattooing can happen once it's healed up – cool eh?). But even without the nipple, I'm made up. I just tried on my favourite bikini top and, excruciating as it was from the soreness of the inflation, I was anaesthetised by the shock of the fabulous cleavage I saw in the mirror. 

Remember that bloke I told you about who said how sorry he was that I'd got The Bullshit because I had such 'magnificent breasts'? Well, like I promised him, they're well on their way to being magnificent again. It's push-up bras and low-cut tops all the way from here on in. Hello, boys.

Saturday 4 October 2008

It's serious.

There's a bit of a vibe of The Smiths about my posts this week, but then I'm in a very Smiths place. Introspective, deep, alienated and gloomy, but with a chirpy, jangly Johnny Marr melody over the top, at odds with the rest.

Last night, I dreamt that somebody loved me. (I promise to pack it in quoting these lyrics next week, non-Smiths fans.) But I did, as it goes. It was Dave Grohl (obv) and he began to fall in love with me while I was busy hiding my cancer from him. But when I finally gave in to the truth and took off my wig (after he chased some kids who'd nicked my handbag), rather than run a mile from me, it made him love me even more. He took me on holiday and I revealed, while we were swimming in the sea, that I was pregnant with his child but would have to terminate it because the oestrogen levels were too dangerous to me. He was lovely about it, and promised to give up the Foo Fighters to look after me. (Kath and Keith, take responsibility – this dream is all your fault.) Seriously though, last night – pre-dream – while trying to get to sleep, I saw a star out of the bedroom window, and made a wish on it. I'm not normally one for such superstition but, admittedly, there's been a lot of wishing on stars over the past few months. No prizes for guessing what about. (It'll come as no surprise to you, then, that my tattoo is going to be of a star. A tiny one, on my right wrist – thumb side – in the place that currently makes me look like a pin cushion, thanks to all the chemo needles that have been inserted there. It's a place where I could do with something nicer to look at.) But anyway, last night's wish was a bit different to all the others: I wished – no, I begged – that, rather than falling alseep, I would instead fall into a coma, to avoid any more evenings like the one I had last night, and wake up when all of this is over.

I thought that all this week's whingeing was just me taking the opportunity to have a moan, and letting the bubbling-under-the-surface anger have its moment, but now I know it's more than that. It's depression. I'm almost cross with myself for writing that. I HATE having to say it. Depression is a word I loathe. Like 'stress', it's bandied about too much by people with no sense of its meaning. Exam-age schoolkids, lovestruck teenagers, fortysomething women looking to get signed off work. It makes me look weaker than I like to think I am. It's like admitting defeat. But it's the truth.

In reality, depression is something that is stuck, rigidly, in your mind (or your soul or your body, I don't know), that shows its face only when you allow it. Not that you consciously allow it. It senses when you're vulnerable and lacking the compulsion to keep it hidden, and surprises you with a mini mental breakdown in the middle of Deal Or No Deal.  (Or was it because of Deal Or No Deal?) It makes it impossible to do all the little things that show the world you're okay: laughing at a joke, winking at your husband, tapping along to a tune, enjoying a cup of tea, idly singing to yourself as you get dressed (and I'm always singing or humming – ask my colleagues; I imagine our corner of the office is unusually quiet at the moment). It presents you head-on with all the worries you try so hard not to think about: that the pains you're having might be a sign that the treatment's not working; that you might instead be dying; whether you'll make it through the night; whether or not you can trust your family to pick a decent song to play at your funeral; whether you've got time left to listen to all the favourite albums you've not heard for ages... The worries get more and more ridiculous as they come, and it's the trivial ones that panic you the most. And then, as the panic reaches its peak, it all implodes in your head and you're left with a bleak, grey nothingness and uncontrollable weeping that makes you tell your Dad – the one person you most want to keep up the front for – that you've got no fight left and that you haven't got the energy to go on. And then you feel even worse for letting him hear it. You go from a strong-on-the-outside, brave-faced girl to a consumed, cloaked, troubled mess with a dark side to rival Anakin.

All of this... all the blogging. All the banal things I talk about. Every stupid sentence I say that doesn't reveal what's underneath. Every time I set the Sky+ for Coronation Street. Every smile I offer and joke I crack and 'I'm fine' answer I give (and of course I give that answer; you've got to tell people what they want to hear, right?). All of that – ALL of that – every. single. thing. is an effort I'm making not to let the dark stuff surface. Because it's there all the time, much as I disguise it by acting normal or jovial or angry or brave or whatever else. And it is an act. This whole cancer game forces you to act. And soon the acting becomes the reality, because you're so bloody determined to put out the right signals, come across a certain way and get the better of the stuff that could ruin it all for you. It's the role of my life; my Hannibal Lecter, my Don Corleone, my Scarlett O'Hara. And it's exhausting. 

When the physical exhaustion reaches its peak – like it did yesterday evening – the emotional exhaustion is that bit more acute, giving the depression its cue to enter stage left and perform. And, my God, did it show off last night. It's left me with chapped, raw, painful eyes from all the crying and a gut full of guilt from letting P and my folks hear all the stuff I try so damned hard to keep from them. But even a few hours of broken sleep seems to have topped up my lifeline, like a character in a Grand Theft Auto video game. But rather than using my energy to steal cars and take drugs and shoot people (much as I'd like to), mine's back to the business of burying my dark side. Using the force, if you will.

So for once I'm pleased that the stars didn't grant my wish (if nothing else, I'd have missed J's wedding, and you can hardly do a reading from a coma). Maybe the stars don't work that way anyway. Because in the bath a couple of hours ago, I found myself humming again, and what was the song? Girlfriend In A Coma. Not quite the wish I'd asked for, granted, but I can forgive the stars that – they've got one hell of a sense of humour.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Heaven knows...

Well I've been a right miserable git this week. Frustrated, angry, feeling sorry for myself, moaning at every opportunity. I've become the Morrissey of breast cancer. (I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour... but then The Bullshit came along and fucked it all up. Or so the lyric goes.) EVERYTHING is pissing me off at the moment: my tongue (green and furry), the squirrels in our garden (sneaky, mess-making bastards), quilted loo roll (never quilted enough for an arse that's seeing this much action), even people's well-wishes. (I am an idiot for saying that the aftermath of this chemo was any better than the last – true to form, along it came to bite me on the ass and now I want to strangle anyone who says they're so pleased that things are looking up. They're fucking not, okay? But, y'know, thanks for asking.)

People keep telling me that having cancer entitles me to a whinge whenever I want one so – more fool them – I've taken advantage of their obliged kindness and cranked up the moanometer to a level that'd make you want to check yourself in for chemo rather than listen to any more of my constant complaining. Last night I ruined what should have been a perfectly lovely dinner with my folks by grumbling all the way through the meal, then crying over dessert. I'm actually starting to piss myself off. And, much as I'd take a vicious swipe at anyone who tried it, I think what I secretly want is for someone to finally have enough of it, kick me up the arse and say, 'Oh for fuck's sake, stop your whining, will you?' Don't go trying it, mind. These kind of things are best tested on P. (I knew very early on that he was the man for me when it became clear that he wasn't afraid to tell me to shut the hell up whenever I tried to pick a pre-menstrual fight. That and the fact that he punctuated his text messages. What can I say? I'm a sucker for good grammar.)

My incessant moaning is undoubtedly thanks to the painful, debilitating side-effects of this new chemo, and all the enforced sitting around it involves. (Oh you've been in the house too long, she said. And I, naturally... stayed there a bit longer and whinged about it to anyone in a half-mile radius.) It's no fun, all this having to lie still with nothing else to do but watch crap TV and think about the reason you're lying still and watching crap TV in the first place. I'm just so bloody bored of it all. Bored of cancer. Bored of whingeing. The novelty has well and truly worn off. 

The thing is, despite The Bullshit having been around for months now (sheesh, is it only months?), I still  c-a-n-n-o-t  b-e-l-i-e-v-e  I've got cancer. You'd think all the boob-and-hair-loss fun would have made damn sure the reality had sunk in by now, but apparently not. It's just such a fucking ridiculous idea: me with breast cancer. Yeah right! I want to laugh, it's that ludicrous. I'm still half expecting to find out that this is all some kind of huge, Truman Show-style experiment that Channel 4 are secretly filming. And no amount of me actually saying the word 'cancer' is making the truth any more believable. And it really should, considering the fact that I say it all the sodding time. Aside from anything else, it's the Top Trumps of excuses. 

'No, I've not been to the gym in ages – well, I can't really, I've got cancer.'
'Stick the kettle on, eh?' 'No, you do it, I've got cancer.'
'Sorry your birthday card didn't arrive on time; I've been really busy with cancer stuff.'
'Christ, I'm putting on weight. Damn cancer.'

(My favourite excuse by far, though, is still this: 'You coming to the pub on Friday?' 'Nah sorry, I can't. I'm washing my hair.')

But regardless of all that, it still comes as a shock to hear other people say 'cancer' with reference to me. (Not that anyone's gone 'hey, cancer!' yet, but you know what I mean.) The other night, in another of my pathetic, long-faced, sympathy-seeking moments, P pulled a blanket over me as I lay on the sofa, and I looked up at him with those pity-me eyes that even I'm annoyed by and whinged, 'P, I'm pooooorly.' (Those extra ooos don't even come close to describing how whiny I sounded, by the way. Screeching toddlers have got nothing on me.) 'Well yes, of course you're poorly,' said P, with the patience of a saint on death row. 'That's because you've got cancer.' I almost slapped him. 'What the fuck are you on about?' I thought, before remembering that yes, actually, I do have cancer. (And apparently it's making me stupider by the day.)

Not everyone is comfortable saying 'cancer', mind. Even the nurses in chemo try not to say it out loud, instead calling it 'it' or purposely missing it out of sentences altogether. ('Yeah, it's different with each day in here. All the women here today have got breast. Mondays is ovarian. And on Thursdays everyone's prostate.') The other day I caught Mum mouthing the word 'cancer' mid-sentence, in that over-enunciated, speaking-through-glass way that some people still revert to when saying 'lesbian' or 'black'. Which makes me think that cancer must be a different kind of c-word. Hearing people say 'cancer' is equally as surprising to me as hearing them say the other c-word. Excuse the censoring there. It's not that I'm completely against using those four letters but, y'know, my folks read this and it's hard enough for them at the moment having to listen to their daughter's expletive-ridden ranting, without me upping the ante in the swearing stakes. Cunt might just push them over the edge. Oh.