Tuesday 25 November 2008

To boldly go.

Something weird happened yesterday. Either I had my radiotherapy planning appointment or I was abducted by aliens. And no, for once I'm not talking about one of my trippy dreams. (Although, while we're onto trippy dreams, I had a corker the other night. All the cats in the neighbourhood were having a mini civil-war-style dispute and Sgt Pepper – being the highest-ranked in the local cat army – decided that the only way forward would be to get a human involved. So she woke me up in the middle of the night, wearing glasses for some reason, and asked me – yes, asked me – to come out into the garden and help her sort out the feline feud. Turns out, I'm quite the peacemaker.)

But back to the weird. (Well, weirder.) For an actually-pretty-serious hospital appointment, I found this one the most entertaining yet. It was like a cross between Star Trek and the 'Cartman Gets an Anal Probe' episode of South Park. Except instead of a satellite up my arse, I've been left with three very questionable-looking tattoos on my chest. I'd tell you that they're preferable to an anal probe but actually I'm not so sure, given that I now look like someone's been playing dot-to-dot in my cleavage with a blue biro. The rest of the planning appointment was much more space-age, thankfully. You gown up and lie topless on a black leather bed (not as S&M as it sounds, I assure you) in the middle of a huge, futuristic room that looks like it ought to be a recording studio on the Starship Enterprise. Then the radiographer versions of Captain Kirk and Uhura come out from behind the mixing desk to press buttons on a bunch of different computers that whirr around your body before fixing you into the unnatural position (again, not in a kinky way) that you've got to stay in for the next 50 minutes, and for each subsequent radiotherapy session. And who'd have thought that years of cheesy discos could prepare you for such an event? Because, until the end of January, for 20 minutes every weekday, you'll be able to find me on a hospital bed doing a stationary version of the YMCA. Actually it's more like the YM. Y with the left arm, M with the right. (And it's a good job; I've always found C and A to be the trickier parts of the dance.)

So there you are, like a spare member of the Village People, unable to laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of the situation because the Enterprise crew have warned you not to move. And considering the intricate, no-margin-for-error measuring they're having to do to make sure the rays will always target the right area, I guess it's fair enough. It was all rulers, angles and trigonometry, with all kinds of crew members looking serious, shouting out numbers and talking to each other in a complicated, technical language (Klingon, perhaps?). Now don't get me wrong, they're very lovely, but the radiotherapy staff are completely different to the chemo crowd. The 'therapy' part of each treatment kids you into thinking that the two must somehow be linked, when actually they're at opposite ends of the cancer stratosphere. In chemo, you can have a bit of a giggle with the nurses while they're hooking you up to your drip (the smile's soon wiped off your face by the time you get home, mind). But radiotherapy seems to be that bit more serious – more of an exact science – so joking about with the staff (while you're lying on the bed, at least) is a bit like knocking the back of Steve Davis's snooker cue when he's about to pot the black for the world championship.

Now I think about it, maybe all this business with permanent biro dots isn't actually as necessary as they'd have you believe? Maybe it's just the radiographers' concession to having a laugh in the office? Because, really, how serious can you be about a medical practice that requires you to be tattooed? If I'd known about that convenient little loophole, I could have used it as a teenager. 'Look, Mum, I know you don't approve of my body art, but I can explain. The medical community made me do it.' Not that I'd have chosen blue dots as a teenager, mind. But then, 'I heart Gary Barlow' might have sent the radiotherapy waves all skew-whiff.

Anyway, after the acid-trip of hospital appointments, we're finally all systems go for the radiotherapy to start a week on Monday. And, this Friday aside, I don't have to go back to the hospital until then. Result or what? I fear I'll get withdrawal symptoms and start showing up there out of habit, but fortunately P and I are taking our chance to escape for a few days and are heading up to the cold weather of the Lakes so I can test out the head-warming capabilities of my wig. (Sgt Pepper's staying with my folks. Dad revealed on the phone last night that Mum's planning to 'spoil that cat so much she won't want to go back home'. Consider yourself rumbled, Ma.) And get this – before our mini-break, I'm even getting the chance to dust off my gladrags to go to an awards do with work. I know! An actual night out! (Is it just me, or are things beginning to look up?) Thankfully there's still one dress in my wardrobe I can fit into. Quite a busty little number, as it goes. I'm secretly hoping someone will pull me to one side and say, 'Excuse me, love, you've got a biro mark in your cleavage.'

Saturday 22 November 2008

I got my head checked.

Well, I've done it. I've crossed the line. Turned to the dark side. I am now a woman in therapy. Actually, they don't call it 'therapy' at my hospital. It's 'counselling'. But since I'm not fond of either of those words, I'm going to call it Brain Training instead. A bit like on the Nintendo DS, but they don't make you do maths, count syllables or draw kangaroos.

And what are you supposed to wear to your Brain Training debut? What kind of outfit is chic but cancer-comfy, straight-talking but not straight-laced and shows personality but doesn't scream crazy? (A polo neck/floral dress/black opaques/flat boots combo, apparently.) And when you get there, are you supposed to smile at your counsellor – sorry, Brain Trainer – or look sullen and traumatised? Are you allowed to make jokes? Is it okay to cry? Clearly, I went into this with very little knowledge of therapy. The little I do know I've learned from Tony Soprano, and I'm not convinced he's the best example of how to act. (Actually I've watched so much Sopranos this week that I had to stop myself asking for Dr Melfi at reception.)

Even after Thursday's session, I'm still not sure how much I know about therapy. But now, at least, I don't think it really matters. Because what is there to know, other than whether or not you like it, and whether or not you think it can do you any good? As it goes, I'm sold already. Not that I wasn't trying to talk myself out of it in the waiting room, mind. At that point, the slightest excuse would have done: I was having a bad wig day, I didn't have any tissues, my chipped nails would give the wrong impression. In the end I took my mind off doing a runner by reading the posters in the waiting room and, just as I spotted one calling for patients to judge a poetry competition and not-so-surreptitiously balanced on my chair to take a photo of the contact details (ie, just as I reached new lows of spoddy and uncool), in walked my counsellor. Let's call him Mr Marbles, since it's his job to find them.

Mr Marbles steadfastly ignored my pleasantries about what kind of week he'd had as we walked along the oddly familiar corridor to his office (can you call it an office if it's got a coffee table instead of a desk, table lamps instead of strip lighting, a box of tissues and a cushion on the chair?). My corridor-induced déja vu suddenly made sense when I heard the instantly recognisable sound of Crap FM coming from the cupboard-like room several doors down. A sneaky look as I walked by left me surprised to discover that the figure in there, surrounded by boxes of grey syrups and tapping their feet to Destiny's Child, was not, in fact, Wig Man, but an equally bored-looking and lacking-in-job-satisfaction Wig Woman. I giggled on my way into the Brain Training room, then stopped when I realised it might make me look too jovial and unworthy of free NHS therapy. 

And then – at the risk of depriving you of the good stuff – the next thing I knew it was 50 minutes later, I had a handful of crumpled tissues, redder eyes than I went in with and was listening to Mr Marbles read out the notes he'd written throughout the seemingly lightning-speed session. By heck, you don't half get going when someone gives you the opportunity to talk about yourself. Poor sod could hardly get a peep in. When I finally gave him the chance to speak, though, every single thing he said was another word to further convince me that the Brain Training is a good idea. Just like everyone else I've encountered at the hospital, Mr Marbles is great. Again, I felt that now-familiar, wonderful, uber-professional mix of total understanding and a means-business determination to help. He's sensible and serious, but not to the point of being unable to crack a smile (particularly at mention of my keeping-occupied-by-adopting-a-kitten tactic and the 'can't come out, I'm washing my hair' gag. I'll say it again: why do I always turn into such a goon when I'm around medical professionals?). He puts you at immediate ease, doesn't pass judgement and never lets his face give away what he's thinking. Plus he wears corduroy slacks. Of course he wears corduroy slacks. I'd have been disappointed if he didn't wear corduroy slacks.

Despite my initial 'go ahead, therapise me' attitude (a bit like sitting in a comedy club, arms folded, thinking 'come on then, funny boy, make me laugh'), I was very quick to open up to Mr Marbles. Maybe it was the firm handshake, the reassuring voice, or the fact that he didn't once tilt his head or treat me like a sympathy-worthy cancer patient. Either way, I started the session with ruler-straight posture and my handbag perched on my lap (clearly I wanted him to meet me and my Marc Jacobs) and ended it with casually crossed legs and my spine comfortably moulded to the back of the chair.

We spoke about survival instincts and concerns and expectations and outlooks and fears. I talked endlessly, sobbed and apologised a fair bit. He nodded, scribbled notes in an orange file and revealed that the best-known way to feel instantly better is to make sure your husband buys you a pair of Louboutins. (He also identified humour as one of my coping strategies. I fear it's more sarcasm.) The whole coping-strategy shiz is a funny one, though. Not least because the words 'coping strategy' sound like something David Brent would say. But, semantics aside, I reckon that, in a roundabout way, I'd already realised that I had a few coping strategies up my sleeve. I'd just been calling them 'projects', is all. (Yep, we're back to the old blogging/baking/kitten equation.)

Naturally, that conversation backed me into a better-tell-him-about-the-blog corner. And so I did. I told him how often I posted, the kind of things I blog about, what writing it has meant to me, how it's helped my family and friends understand my experience of breast cancer and how it's made me realise that I want to keep writing, even when The Bullshit is a distant memory. (I didn't call it The Bullshit, by the way. Probably best to save the expletives until session three or four.) Mr Marbles asked how people had responded to the blog, whether I'd ever re-read it from the beginning (I haven't) and how I think it'd make me feel if I were reading, as opposed to writing, it. I started to worry that he'd ask for the web address, too, but (a) I'm sure that'd be against some sort of Counsellor's Code and (b) after spending all day listening to people's neuroses, the last thing he'll want to do when he gets home is read 60,000 words of the same. He's got telly to watch and wine to drink and slacks to iron. I'm still paranoid that he's on here somewhere, though, reading about the constipation and the pubes-as-eyelashes and preparing to have me committed. Shit, what if he leaves a comment? Right, I'm heading straight to my blog settings. There's a gadget that enforces background checks on anonymous commenters, right?

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Fade out.

I've been thinking more about when it is that I'll finally have my Nicole Kidman moment. You know, the punching-the-air-in-relieved-celebration thing. Not that I'm comparing having breast cancer to being married to Tom Cruise, of course. The Bullshit must be a cake-walk compared to that. But at least she had the chance to celebrate a divorce.

Whether or not it's really the conclusion, the goal I'm aiming for is getting the last bit of surgery out of the way in April – it's the time at which I'll finally begin to feel like my healthy old self again plus, the way I see it, surgery is how all of this started, so that's how it ought to finish. My breast cancer road began with the removal of my left boob, and my finish-line medal is the chance to get it back for good. Of course the reality, however, is that reconstructive surgery isn't actually the end. In fact there is no 'end' to speak of. And it's really frustrating to realise that there's never going to be a clearly defined finale to punctuate this period of my life. Especially as you know how much I like to punctuate. 

If you count out the surgery, it all starts and ends so differently (and by 'ends' I mean 'fizzles out'). Life-changing and heartbreaking and terrifying and shocking and dark and disastrous as the moment is, there's a ceremony around being told that you have breast cancer. There's a sombre appointment in a specialist's office with all manner of people on hand to answer your questions, hand you a tissue and bring you a cup of tea. You make the hardest phonecalls of your life, and break the hearts of your parents. You quickly get hold of your closest friends and hurriedly sort things out with your employers. You send a hundred emails breaking the same devastating news or, in my case, kill two birds with one group email instead (I've kept the email I sent, and can't help but shake my head and laugh patronisingly at it. The ill-prepared, misinformed, cancer's-messing-with-the-wrong-girl tone makes me cringe at how stupidly ignorant I was). You get sent cards, flowers, chocolates, books, toiletries, DVDs, magazines, poems, soft toys (if cancer has an upside, surely this is it). You have a seemingly endless stream of visitors. You become the topic of conversation in the offices and pubs and kitchens and inboxes and Facebook walls that you're suddenly absent from. And it's the weirdest thing. Nothing is more disconcerting. But there's no doubting that it all marks a definite, no-question, breast-cancer-begins-here starting point.

So, by that token, isn't it only fair to have a breast-cancer-ends-here moment? A moment when you can make happier calls and send I'm-free emails and get more flowers and receive celebratory 'you beat The Bullshit' cards? Well yes, that would be fair. But we've already established that nothing about cancer is fair. Cancer is an attention-seeking, party-pooping bitch of a ruiner. It takes over. It takes your hair, your confidence, your social life, your immune system, your figure (the least it could do is make you thin, for fuck's sake), your energy, your tastebuds, your sense of smell, your sex life. And just when you think it's pissed on your chips as much as it possibly can, it takes away your chance to celebrate the end of it all. 

The problem is this: once you've had cancer, no medical professional will ever say the words 'cancer free' to you. You're too much of a risk, and they'd be opening themselves up to a world of trouble if it turned out that the cancer was sneakily plotting a return, as it often does. Thus, the 'all clear' is a bit of a myth. That's why the word 'remission' comes in so handy. And so, pitifully few cancer journeys end neatly with a concern-free CT scan or a clear set of test results or a finish-it-off bit of surgery, as I'm pretending mine will. There's a lifetime of tablets, appointments, tests, scans, mammograms. And while it's hugely comforting that the NHS doesn't just spit you back out as soon as you've had the necessary treatment, it does seem like a case of once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient.

I like a clear finish, not a fade-out (it's the reason I've always preferred Please Please Me to Love Me Do). I appreciate a wrap-up; a good, old-fashioned full stop. Loose ends don't sit well with me. (About eight years ago, I failed to tie up a situation and, to this day, my subconscious is still beating me round the head about it by insisting that it often features in my dreams.) But this fade-out is, I concede, another thing that I've got no control over. I can't create a false conclusion to all this just to satisfy my need for closure. I suppose some things just aren't meant to reach a proper conclusion (hell, there's never a final episode of Coronation Street and that's never bothered me). So maybe celebrating the 'end' of The Bullshit as I've known it will be something I get to do every day, with each opportunity I have to do something simple yet emancipatory that the past miserable months haven't allowed me. I'm still determined to punctuate the passing of these strange few months, mind. But I guess the chapter will have to finish with ... instead of .

Thursday 13 November 2008

One step beyond.

I do like an excuse for a celebration, and here's a corker for you: CHEMO IS OVER. Feel free to break into applause. 

Actually, the celebrations only lasted as long as Friday evening, when P and I counted down the last milliletres of drugs running through my drip, said our emotional goodbyes to the nurses (after plying them with fairy cakes) and bid a final, fond fuck-off to the chemo room. When we got back to the car, we allowed ourselves five minutes of exhausted tears (as opposed to worried tears or downhearted tears or frightened tears – just as eskimos have their numerous types of snow, cancer patients have their numerous types of crying) before taking a detour on the way home to pick up Sgt Pepper, adding a nice full stop to the end of our chemo nightmare. (Told you I should have named her after a punctuation mark.)

But as celebrations go, that was about it. And I can't help feeling that it's all a bit lacking. Granted, I've hardly been up to raising my arms in joy since Friday; I have, inevitably, been a bit on the rubbish side (to put it mildly) and doing congas round the flat isn't all that simple when you're out-on-your-arse ill and feeling like you've been victim to a gangland kneecapping. I look like it, too. You bruise like a peach when you're on chemo and, thanks to the addition of an eager-to-clamber-up-for-a-cuddle kitten, the bruises and scratches make it look like I've spent the past week self-harming.

As rites of passage go, I appreciate that finishing my course of chemo is about as big a milestone as I'm going to achieve, and celebrating the occasion by a week (so far) of enforced illness doesn't, I'm sure you'll agree, quite hit the spot. But I wonder whether, if I were well enough, I'd be marking the occasion anyway? Because, really, how do you go about punctuating the end of the no-question worst five months of your life? Plant a tree? Unveil a plaque? Throw a party? Run naked down Oxford Street? (Which, incidentally, Lil said she'd do if I ever got a pet. Time to get your kit off, love.) Me, Busby, Tills, Weeza and the boys let off a few fireworks in the back garden the night before my final chemo, which I think was a fitting ceremony. Or at least it was until my normally-volume-challenged neighbour (the one who sat in her garden and held court about her chafing nipples all summer long) cut the festivities short by pulling out the sleeping-baby excuse. I wish I'd have been quick enough to retaliate because I'm pretty certain that, in Excuses Top Trumps, cancer beats baby.

I've questioned whether or not it's even appropriate to mark the end of a shitty few months when there are numerous other battles to take on in the probably-similarly-shitty period ahead. But I reckon a small hooray can't be out of the question – after all, what kind of joyless existence would it be if you couldn't pat yourself on the back for completing a course of potentially life-saving treatment? It's a good job I said 'small' there, given the meagre few hours of smugness chemo allowed me before turning my body to bilge and my mind to mud for the last time. Not that the tiny nature of my celebration is the only issue – I suspect that, even without the chemo-ills, I'd have been reluctant to revel for long. It's partly to do with a deviously party-pooping, sadist part of my makeup (that black eyeliner's a bitch), and partly to do with the fact that I've finally asked my consultant to refer me to a counsellor. And, me being me, I've already cut the end-of-chemo celebrations short and set to worrying about that instead, even before I've made the appointment. 

Why can't I just enjoy the moment, even for a short while? Why am I so intent on peering round the corner to anticipate the next shit-pie that's hurtling towards me? Why can't I pause for a minute and bask in the glorious achievement of having seen off an almost impossibly traumatic, utterly exhausting, immune-system-destroying, tumour-killing, total motherfucker of a course of chemo? Because, God knows, now's my time to lap it up. Instead, though, I've brushed all of that aside in favour of fretting about another issue altogether, and forcing my husband to stay up til 2.30am so we can chew it over.

As you know, one of the main reasons (the main reason?) I've asked for a therapy referral (ick, that word still gives me the shudders) is that I'm worrying about the process of moving into a life of remission; specifically, a life that's very different from the one I left behind when I heard the words 'signs consistent with breast cancer'. As a quick catch-up ('previously on Alright Tit', if you will), one of my main concerns stems from the fact that, pre-Bullshit, everything for P and I was geared towards having a baby. But now, thanks to the cancer-creating effects of oestrogen on my body, everything is geared towards us not having a baby. As you'll know from previous posts, it's not as though P and I had never before been forced to consider a childless life: with a number of hormone issues, two miscarriages and a fertility history that reads like a comedy of errors, it's something we've given more thought to than most. But now, knowing that the no-kids issue is no longer an 'if', it's created another hurdle for us to negotiate, and I'm worrying about what to do next. It's time I learned to stop panicking when faced with situations that weren't part of my Grand Life Plan. Because, hell, if getting breast cancer can't teach me that it's impossible to map out your life, it looks like I need to find another way to get a kick up the arse. But, tell me, how are you supposed to communicate that kind of stuff to a therapist? 'Hi, my name's L and I'm a fret-aholic. Would you mind booting me up the jacksie?'

The no-kids issue bothers me for more reasons than never having a baby of our own, though. In all truth, I've never felt that maternal, ticking-clock urge to have kids that you read about in women's magazines. It was always more something I knew I wanted someday, and figured I ought to set about doing once I'd got married. In the same way that I always like to have a project on the go (blogging, baking, kitten... you know the way I work), having a baby would have been something else – albeit infinitely more significant – that I could happily throw myself into, like planning a wedding or moving house. (You're probably thinking that, with this attitude, I was never fit to be a parent anyway.) And so, with no kids on the horizon, what's in store for me? I'm not worried about whether or not I'll be content and fulfilled in the future – once the health stuff and the work stuff fall into place, I've got all the right ingredients in front of me (perfect husband + unbeatable family + wonderful friends = a very happy life). It's more a case of worrying that, if P and I aren't going to have kids, then what, exactly, are we going to do? What's in the Grand Life Plan now? (This, by the way, is precisely the reason nobody's ever arranged a surprise party for me – the shock of not having been involved in the planning would finish me off.) And if you think that I'm alone in this kind of introspection, think again. Because, in our 2.30am chew-over-athon, P revealed that he's been having much the same thoughts (match made in heaven or what?).

At about 1.45am, over a bag of Malteasers, it hit us that the no-kids issue isn't just going to affect us, but our friends and family too. We're in that happy stage of our lives where the people around us are endlessly announcing engagements, weddings, pregnancies and christenings, and P and I are very good at the business of being impossibly interested, enthusiastic and delighted on their behalves. Not because we're trying to be, but because we genuinely are. (Yeah, we're lovely like that. We should hire ourselves out. Rent-A-Reaction.) But what we don't want to happen, now there's no kids on the table, is for people to be anxiously anticipating how we're going to react to their news, or for them to feel they've got to water down their joy because of us. Yes, with every pregnancy that's announced there'll be a wistful window into what could have been. Yes, it's going to hurt. And yes, we'll probably shed a few tears over it behind closed doors. But we're not the kind of people who'll piss on anyone's fireworks (hear that, next-door neighbour?) with the unfortunate reality of our situation. Instead, we want to prep ourselves for the inevitable, and be ready at a moment's notice to dish out all the right hand-shakes, back-slaps, hugs and congratulations whenever they're necessary. So, in true plan-the-arse-off-it style, we set to making a mental list of all the friends and family we're expecting to announce baby news over the next few years, and in what order. Crazy it may be, but it makes us feel better for the moment. And actually, it's quite a fun game. Twenty quid says you're making the same list now.

I wish I could tell you that our worrying stopped there, at the impending few years. But you know me better than that by now, so I might as well admit to us also fretting about future dinner-party situations, when we'll have nothing to add to the birthing/childcare/latest toys/tuition fees conversations. (Sheesh, if I'm ever at a dinner party like that, shoot me.) Our point is, just as some people are defined by their children, we don't want to be defined by not having had them. We never want to hear the words 'you wouldn't understand until you'd had kids' (actually, we never want to hear them again, thank you). We don't want to be the first to leave that dinner party (probably because of the appalling conversation) and for the hosts to turn back to their table after we've walked out of the door and say, 'L and P. Lovely couple,' and then, with a faux-sympathetic, saccharine head-tilt, 'Couldn't have kids. Shame.' This, I guess, is my long-winded way of saying that we don't ever want anyone to feel sorry for us. Because there's nothing to feel sorry for. Yes, life's thrown us a few hum-dingers and no, things haven't panned out quite the way we'd expected, but that's no reason for anyone's pity. If anything, people ought to be envious. Because, while I appreciate this isn't a competition, I don't know of anybody with a happier relationship than P and I. And, kids or no kids, that's quite the lucky break. 

So much for worrying about how to communicate all that to a therapist, eh? Maybe I should save myself the weekly visits and just email over my blog posts, then ask my counsellor to respond in the comments? Hang on, that's pretty much what I'm already doing, no? I think I'd better dial it down on the self-analysis. You'll be demanding an hourly rate before long.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Hero worship.

Well I didn't get a kitten, but I did get a bigger boob. The RSPCA Cat Woman (thankfully no PVC) came round to check out the flat and gave me the go-ahead to pick up Sgt Pepper (I didn't tell her about Miss Ellie), but the little tyke's gone and got a cold so the vet's got to hang onto her for a couple of days while she has medical treatment. (And yes, I do see the irony in me choosing a sick cat, thank you very much.) But, after Tuesday's hospital visit for the final part of my implant inflation, it might not be altogether a bad thing that I didn't have a kitten crawling all over me and my painful left boob. And if you believe that, you've not been reading this blog long enough. In truth, the kitten – just like the baking and the blogging – has been a cheerful distraction from just how panicked, worried and want-to-run-away scared I am about the next chemo. And now she's not able to come home yet, I'm back to fretting and crying uncontrollably. So that 'might not altogether be a bad thing' line is, of course, a load of toot. I'd much rather be crying about a kitten having jumped on my sore tit than the prospect of another horrific chemo, and the reality of the damage it's done to me so far, physically and emotionally. 

But back to business. The falsie is actually more tender than painful now, and no bloody wonder considering what it's been put through. To compensate for the implant-shrinking effects of radiotherapy, Smiley Surgeon inflated it to a size slightly larger than my right one. Not to the point where anyone other than me, P and Smiley Surgeon (the only other man allowed to mess with my boobs) would notice, mind, but it still feels like I've got a bowling ball stuffed down the left side of my T-shirt. I'm starting to understand the gravity-defying, fixed-in-place busts of the Strictly dancers. No matter how much you jump up and down (and even in my weak state, I've given it a go), fake tits just don't jiggle around like normal ones. They're quite the feat of engineering, I tells ya. That said, it's going to be weird in the future when my right boob goes south and my left one stays perky. Sod it, I'll just have to treat myself to another bit of surgery. Then, if nothing else, I'll at least have a perfect pair to show for this ordeal.  

I've learned, though, that this implant won't be sticking around for much longer and, to be honest, I'm glad. As brilliant as it is to have a lovely round boob and a killer cleavage again, it's not at all comfortable. I can feel the plastic edge of the implant underneath my skin, and the valve attached to it that Smiley Surgeon uses for inflation doesn't just dig in, but can be easily located by an ugly-looking bruise. But thankfully all of that will be a thing of the past when I have my next lot of surgery. What I hadn't realised was that, at the same time as creating a new nipple, Smiley Surgeon will also replace the plastic boob with the Gold Standard of falsies: a silicone implant. (Maybe I'll contact Max Clifford and see whether he can get me a few quid for a Jordan-esque story. 'My New Boob: Revealed! Exclusively in OK! Magazine.') A while back, Smiley Surgeon gave me a silicone implant to hold and I loved it. Smooth and malleable and, well, boob-like, it's a bit like transparent Silly Putty or Play-Doh (sadly without the gorgeous smell). I can't wait. The meantime-implant isn't without its uses, though – it's stretching the skin around my boob enough for it to easily accommodate the A-list implant next April.

I was hoping it could all be done a bit sooner than that, actually (it looks like Barbados will have to wait – besides, I only want to show off my bikini'd bust when it's at its most fabulous), but apparently I'm underestimating the effects of radiotherapy and how long it'll take for me to recover from it. Yet again, Smiley Surgeon was quick to sit me down and stress just how much strain it's going to put on my body at a time when it'll be battered from months of chemo. I'm starting to think that he knows my mind as well as my tits because, tattooed dots aside, I've not given radiotherapy much thought. Well, it can't be as bad as chemo, so what is there really to think about? Lots, as it turns out. Smiley Surgeon has clearly been trying to make me realise this for the last three or four appointments I've had with him but, frankly, I've just not had the space in my head to deal with it. But with my final chemo tomorrow and radiotherapy not far off, I finally took in all the things he was saying about how tired, queasy and sore it was going to make me feel, and how it was going to take a fair few weeks of getting over before I'd be surgery-ready again.

I adore Smiley Surgeon. (But I'm guessing that, with eight mentions over four paragraphs, you'd already figured that out.) I'm so eager to please that I save my best brave face for my appointments with him, I look up to him as though he were a rock star and I hang on every last word he says. I love him. Not like that. It's not a crush. I'm much more goofy than flirty when I'm around him – actually, I'm an embarrassing suck-up. And anyway, the love's not just reserved for Smiley Surgeon, but also for his sidekick, Always-Right Cancer Nurse. Batman and Robin have got nothing on these two – they're incredible. So often, medical professionals know all the facts of a condition, but lack the emotional understanding of how to deal with their patients. Not these two. They're the perfect mix of matter-of-fact and empathetic, and they always – always – hit the right note.

Something P and I particularly love about them is the fact that they'd got the pair of us sussed from the very beginning. We come as a team, P and I, and Smiley Surgeon and Always-Right Cancer Nurse were quick to recognise it. Just as often as P gets asked how I am, people ask me how he is. It's wonderfully thoughtful of people to ask, but also a bit problematic. It's another question that neither of us can bring ourselves to answer truthfully. Nobody could ever know the extent of how almost-impossibly difficult all of this is for P and I. And for that reason, it's utterly heartbreaking for us to have to consider how dreadful the other is feeling. It's just too much to bear. So, however selfish it seems, it's easier for P and I to see this as something we're feeling, fighting and dealing with not individually, but as a couple. It's the only way we can get through it. And that's something that Smiley Surgeon and Always-Right Cancer Nurse understand completely. They always ask how we are. The you in 'how did you find the last chemo?' is collective. When there's a decision to make, they ask what both of us think about it. And how can you not fall in love with people like that?

But, all of that aside, there's a bigger reason for my adulation. These people saved my life! So tell me, just how are you supposed to act around the woman who held your hand while you shouted, sobbed and screamed at her about your difficult-to-believe diagnosis, and the man who found the tumour in the first place and swiftly removed it from your body before it had the chance to do any more damage? Every time Smiley Surgeon shakes my hand, I want to grab him and hug him instead. With every bit of advice he gives me, I want to reply with an eloquent response that lets him know just how brilliant I think he is. I want to make him dinner and bake him cakes and write him poems and nominate him for awards and commission a statue of him and shout from the rooftops of London about what a bloody marvellous genius of a man he is. But even I know that none of that's appropriate (well, perhaps apart from the cake-baking). So until I find a better way to express my gratitude, I'm going to keep acting goofy and sucking up and grinning like an idiot at every appointment. Maybe he'll start calling me Smiley Patient. 

Monday 3 November 2008

Lonely hearts club.

As I've told you before, and as more than one person has said to me this past week, I don't do things by halves. Since I began my baking mission just over a week ago, I've averaged 1.25 cakes a day. And since making the previously mentioned completely-out-of-character decision at around the same time, I've gone online-shopping-crazy and bought everything possible (and then some) to prepare myself, P and the flat for the arrival of the completely-out-of-character secret. But since I'm a bit rubbish at keeping secrets, I might as well let you in on this: tomorrow – all being well – I'm going to collect my new kitten, Sgt Pepper. 

That distant thud you may have just heard is the sound of my stunned mates collectively falling off their wheelie chairs. They're all pulling themselves back up to their desks now, convincing themselves that I must be yanking their chain. But I'm not. As of tomorrow, I will be a pet owner. 

I think I'd better clarify a few things. First and foremost, don't be fooled into thinking that I'm now an 'animal person'. I still think there are far more worthy charities than the local donkey sanctuary, I still especially hate dogs (sorry Ant) and I'm still going to struggle to raise an 'aah' when forced to look at pet photos. Let me say this again: I. Am. Not. An. Animal. Person. It's like that thing so many people tell me about kids: they love their own, but hate everyone else's. And that's how it's going to be with me and Sgt Pepper. She's ace. She's pretty and inquisitive and super-chilled and I'm excited to the point of losing sleep about having her come to live with us. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to feel the same way about your pet, right? Or any other animal, for that matter.

So why the sudden decision to get a kitten? In short, this being-ill-at-home lark is so bloody lonely and boring that even I, Chief Animal Hater, am getting a pet. It's largely Tills's fault. She recently gave a home to an RSPCA rescue kitten and the damn thing won me over. It was the first animal ever to show a favourable interest in me (and vice versa), and it got me thinking how great it would be to have some company while I'm spending all this time in the flat on my own. (And beyond, of course – a cat's not just for Christmas. Or cancer.) When we got home from Tills & Si's, I even found myself feeling a bit sad that there wasn't a kitten waiting for me, and P made the fatal error of saying he 'wouldn't say no' if I decided to adopt one of my own. So it's kind of his fault, too.

I didn't ought to be so apologetic about it, really. The truth is, I'm can't-stop-grinning excited about it all. The bowls and beds and litter tray and scratching post are all in position (and all complementary to the décor – sheesh, I've not changed that much), and the Sainsbury's order has been amended to include all the things a soon-to-be-spoiled kitten needs. Even Mum, Deputy Chief Animal Hater, has been sucked in and has bought Sgt Pepper a catnip dragonfly toy. 

My family are equally as baffled by all of this as my friends. The last they knew of me caring for an animal was Miss Ellie, the goldfish I used to stir around in its bowl with a wooden spoon. (And before you report me to the RSPCA, I was two.) But they're all on board for this reason: already, even before bringing her home, this kitten has made me happy. Planning her arrival has been something I've cheerfully sank my teeth into, and it's taken my mind off The Bullshit in a week when I'd otherwise have been terrified about it. Like P said, 'Whatever makes you smile this much can't be a bad thing.'

I hope that's enough to explain my way out of the kitten-decision. I'd not normally feel the need to justify myself this way, but don't doubt how much this is going to baffle my mates. To them, this is such an about-turn that I fear they'll be expecting a totally different girl to walk into the pub next spring. They'll be checking my bag to see if I still carry around a pen to correct any punctuation, spelling or grammar errors I see (affirmative). Anyway, I'm hoping that the Beatles-referencing name will make them realise that, kitten aside, I'm still me. Besides, Sgt Pepper is a far better name than Apostrophe.