Wednesday 30 December 2009

Don’t stop believing.

As we left my parents’ place in Derby earlier this week to drive back home, Mum stopped P and I on our way out. ‘Oooh hangonhangonhangon,’ she fretted, her slippers skipping hurriedly across the kitchen floor. ‘I almost forgot. I saved this for you when I cooked the turkey.’
‘Oh, um, ta,’ I said, accepting the greasy, V-shaped bone and holding it up to Ps line of sight with a raised eyebrow.
‘I know you weren’t here for your Christmas dinner,’ Mum continued, ‘but I thought it was only right that you two should have the wishbone.’
P and I winked at each other as Mum turned back to the fridge, then held it between our little fingers, closed our eyes as we wished (mine longer than his – lately my wishes have become less simple desires than contractual requirements with sub-clauses), then watched as the bone snapped on his side.
‘Who won?’ he asked.
‘Er, I dunno,’ I mumbled, trying to remember whether wishbone-winning was more Christmas cracker than short straw.
‘Let me see. Where did it break?’ questioned Mum, parting us from our pinky-grip and peering over to assess the situation like a boxing referee. ‘Ah, P’s side,’ she concluded. ‘Then it’s your wish, Lis.’

‘What were you wishing for?’ P later asked from the driver’s seat as we approached the M1.
‘What, seriously?’ I frowned.
‘Yeah, tell me.’
‘Do you really need to ask?’
‘Well, y’know, it just took you such a long time, is all.’
‘That’s because it had three parts.’
‘Yes, love, three.’
‘What about?’
‘I think you know full well what about.’
‘What, health?’ he queried, neatly sidestepping the c-word.
‘Yeah, course.’
‘All three?’
‘In a roundabout way, aye.’
All three were about health?’ he accused.
‘Kinda, yeah. Two were about straightforward health and the other was about the career thing that the health thing played rather a large part in,’ I answered awkwardly, adding to my requests of the universe with the hope that paraphrasing a wish doesn’t render it invalid. ‘Look, love, if I tell you exactly what I wished for it won’t come true, right?’
‘Ah, okay. Right,’ he agreed, getting back to something far more important on Five Live.

P didn’t need to ask what I’d wished for, of course. Nobody needs to ask. Because The Bullshit saw to it, from the moment it pulled up in my drive, that whenever I’m tugging on a wishbone or blowing out birthday candles or wishing on a star, it’ll be pretty bloody obvious to anyone in the immediate vicinity what it is that I’m after. (Dave Grohl in a broken lift. Obvs.)

Frankly, throughout my life, I’ve done pretty well out of wishes. I passed my GCSEs and A-levels, got into the postgraduate course I applied for, married the man I loved and saw to it that Derby County won the 2007 play-off final. Hell, who’s to know whether I’d be writing this post with a real left tit and a ponytail, had I been wishing not to get breast cancer all these years. But meh, whatever. If I had hindsight that sharp I’d probably have decided against that shellsuit.

From spending a bit of time with the ’rents over Christmas, though, it became clear that I’m not the only one with wishes as transparent as turkey stock. On Christmas morning, P and I sat on his folks’ sofa, polishing off bacon sarnies and the best part of an M&S chocolate biscuit assortment (surely the adult equivalent of a selection box) while we waited for his Mum to get back from church. In our house, going to church was never a feature of Christmas day – hell, of any day – but there’s nothing unusual, of course, in religion being as much of a 25 December tradition as new socks and heartburn.

P’s family aren’t, I suppose, what you’d call staunch Catholics. Of all the Lynch mob, I think there’s only actually his Mum who goes to church and, certainly for as long as I’ve known her, those visits haven’t always been that regular. Or, at least, they hadn’t been until I was diagnosed.
‘Mum’s started going back to church,’ P said, puzzled, putting down the phone as he nudged aside my sick bowl to perch on our bed. ‘I think it’s helping her.’
‘Then that’s a good thing,’ I reasoned. ‘We all need to cling onto whatever we can to get through this.’ (The Bullshit had a tendency to occasionally turn me into Yoda.)
‘She’s praying every night,’ he continued. ‘And she’s lighting candles to ask God to help you get better.’
‘That’s nice of her,’ I nodded. ‘But it’s probably a bit late for his help, eh?’ I said, gesturing to the dressings on my chest with the nod of a balding head.
But flippant as I was – am? – about the role of religion in Stuff We Can’t Control, I was grateful for P’s Mum putting her healing efforts into something so unscientific.

As the wishbone story makes clear, my Mum has different unscientific beliefs. Where P’s Mum has religion, mine has superstition. Where P’s Mum says a prayer and lights a candle, mine salutes lone magpies and tells you off for putting new shoes on the coffee table. And where P’s Mum has a crucifix on the wall of her landing, mine has a PG Tips monkey on her kitchen shelf. A monkey that, for as long she’s had it, I’ve beheaded on every visit to Derby, pushing its ears down beneath its shirt in the not-very-grown-up equivalent of scrawling ‘Lisa woz ere’ on her worktop. It’s an age-old prank she’s come to expect, like pressing the spare doorbell and watching as she answers the front door, or shifting the letters of her festive NOEL decoration so that it spells LEON. I’ll distract Mum with doorbell-ringing or tea requests, then mischievously shove my thumb down the monkey’s neck, forcing its head into its belly. Twenty minutes later she’ll scream ‘Liiis!’ followed by ‘that’s cruel’ or ‘put him right’ or ‘imagine if I did that to Piglet’. (She’s right, mind, I’d have the bollocks of anyone who assaulted Piglet.)

But just as P noticed that his Mum stepped up the church visits after my diagnosis, this week I noticed that the PG Tips monkey on Mum’s shelf remains headless. And when I thought about how long it was since I last assaulted her soft toy, I realised it had been well over a year. Over 18 months, even. In fact, I hadn’t decapitated that monkey since the week I was diagnosed, and Mum – contrary to what she would have done prior to The Bullshit – hasn’t pulled his head back from out of his shirt.

Call it superstition, call it religion, call it what you like. Whatever it is, it’s gratifying to know that, by doing the daft, irrational little things they believe in, the people who matter are doing whatever they can to help keep me Bullshit-free... touch wood.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

The hat-trick.

On P’s phone (the one you’ve not been able to call him on for months, not the BlackBerry that barely anyone has the number to – not that it annoys me or anything, gawd no) is a photo of the two of us that’s set as his wallpaper. The photo in question was taken a week after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, two days before my mastectomy, on an open-top bus tour around London, as part of a take-our-minds-off-surgery day that P had arranged. It’s a lovely photo. It’s one of those turn-your-phone-around-and-take-it-yourself jobbies, where the only way to get both people in shot is to hold it way above your head – simultaneously guaranteeing a flattering, cheekbone-enhancing angle. The same trick that anyone born after 1990 uses in their Facebook profile pictures (but, for this generation at least, without the padded cleavage, boypants and cropped vest).

In the photo, P looks jovial and relaxed. (Which is saying something, given that having his picture taken makes him feel about as comfortable as Dame Kelly Holmes in a cocktail dress.) In fact, we both do. We’re each clinging onto the remnants of the tans we caught on our recent holiday and, were it not for the honking great cold sore on my lip (whose presence, I kid you not, I first felt during the appointment in which I was diagnosed), we’d look the perfect picture of health – all shiny hair, rosy skin and pearly teeth. But more importantly, despite the news we had been forced to digest, we look happy. Mostly, I expect, because neither of us had a bloody clue that what was about to come next was going to hit us harder than the bus we were sitting atop ever could. (And probably also because I was rather enjoying wearing a favourite pashmina which I’d later foolishly scissor to pieces in the hope of turning it into a headscarf.) But that’s not the point.

My point is that this past weekend, on the King Of Work Trips in which I was sent to Paris to review a swanky hotel (pfft, the hardship), P and I took another photo of ourselves. Though captured in a different city, it was another snapshot of a similarly lovely, unapologetically touristy day in which my husband and I snogged our way around a stunning capital, just like we’d done back in June 2008. Back then, we were newlyweds in honeymoon phase, enjoying what time we could in the knowledge that our Days Of Fun would soon be numbered. This weekend, we were newly-ish-weds who’d settled into our marriage, enjoying what time we could in the knowledge that we’d once not been able to do so.

And while in the first picture, I had lovely long locks, two real tits and a scarf I hadn’t ruined; P had fewer grey hairs and a T-shirt I hadn't shrunk in the wash; and we each shared a naïve sense of things not being as bad as they seemed, I’ve got to admit – the 'after' photo is my favourite. Grey hairs, a fake tit, short hair and added wrinkles there may be, but that photo – and the lovely, normal world in which it was taken – is testament to a marriage that's stayed so gloriously unruffled in the face of The Bullshit.

So, with this post, I wish my P a very happy third anniversary. If I had a choice between three cancer-free years of an average marriage over the same of our wonderful, wonderful time as man and wife – even with all the bullshit that The Bullshit has given us – I’d take the latter every time.

Oh, and P – I reckon it might be time to change the wallpaper on your phone, love. And get it fixed while you’re at it. And start giving folk the number for your BlackBerry. And pick those socks up from your side of the bed. Well, three years of marriage gives me the right to step up the nagging a bit, right?

Thursday 3 December 2009

Nice and cool.

At school, we were taught about acronyms by taking each letter of our names and using the string of initials to choose the adjectives that best described us. Our form teacher then read them out to the class, while we collectively envied Tak Tran for having such a short name and giggled at David Derbyshire for beginning his with ‘debonair’. (Have you ever met a debonair 13-year-old?)

I was goofy little Lisa McFarlane back then and, if my memory serves me correctly, the adjectives I chose were: loyal, impatient, silly, ambitious, modest, cool, friendly, amiable, reliable, light-hearted, accident-prone (I really struggled with the As), nice and enthusiastic.

I don’t think there’s anything hugely ground-breaking in that; they’re pretty much the first adjectives that would spring out of any early teen’s mind.  (Or, in the case of ‘amiable’, spring out of a pocket thesaurus.) Generally, I don’t recall a lot of what I was taught at school (hell, I’ve got an A-level in German and don’t remember a word of it), but this lesson has stayed with me. And yes, anything English-language-related was often better than breaktime for me, but in this case I suspect my impressive memory is more to do with one of my adjective choices: cool.

I’ve spent as long as I care to remember striving to be cool. And it’s taken me even longer than that to realise that, in fact, I’m anything but cool. Because cool, as I’ve finally figured out, isn’t actually about subscribing to Grazia, having a dedicated iPhone pocket in your Marc Jacobs tote and wearing an Obama ‘yes we can’ pin on your Julian Casablancas-inspired blazer. Nah, cool is an attitude; a state of mind; an ability to stay stoically unruffled, whatever the situation. Cool is Jay-Z opening a controversial Glastonbury headline set with Wonderwall. Cool is knowing how to walk in six-inch heels. Cool is stifling a grin and staying composed when you’re offered a payrise.
I ain’t cool.

‘And you’re travelling alone today?’ asked the airport check-in guy earlier this year.
‘Yup,’ I answered.
‘Well there’s good news – your flight is full, so we’ll be offering you a complimentary upgrade.’
‘That IS good news,’ I enthused, slapping my hands flat onto his desk. ‘Brilliant. Smashing. Nice one, cheers, thanks.’
‘And you’ll be able to use the executive lounge before you board.’
‘Really? Wow. Are you sure?’ I gushed.
‘Of course,’ said a smirking Check-in Guy, demonstrably entertained.

I’ll say it again: I ain’t cool. Cool would have been to say, ‘ah, thank you’ and waltz off into the executive area with an air of I-do-this-all-the-time nonchalance; not to skip cheerily up to the lounge desk with a McDonald’s take-away in one hand while texting ‘HA! UPGRADE!’ to my kid bro with the other.

I couldn’t even manage to be cool at Derby County this weekend, when our folks took me and Jamie along to watch the game from the directors box, as part of the auction prize they successfully bid for at my Super Sweet 30th. My usual spot for the match is several rows behind the directors box, up in the stands with the paying supporters who don’t have the luxury of a leather seat or cheese and wine at half-time. And every time I’m at Pride Park, I sit and watch who’s taking their places beside the directors, mouthing ‘you jammy bastard’ into my Bovril as they walk up the steps, all imperturbable in their local importance. I, however, hopped up those same stairs grinning like a tipsy loon, elbowing my brother as I went. ‘Padded seats! We’ve got padded seats! And a free programme! And isn’t that Frank Lampard’s dad? Mum! Look! That’s Frank Lampard’s dad!’ Even less cool was then having the audacity to shush Mum when she started shouting commands at the midfield.

And then there was yesterday’s meeting with my publishers.
‘I loved your post on telling Smiley Surgeon about your book,’ said one of the team charged with selling The C-Word into bookshops.
‘Ha yeah,’ I snorted. ‘It all came out at once – I just couldn’t say it calmly.’
‘Just like you can’t be cool right now, you bloody great dork,’ said the voice in my head.

The voice is right. It’s not just in front of Smiley Surgeon that I act like a goon. Granted, I save my most exceptional levels of goondom for him, but still – it seems my uncool rears its embarrassing head around pretty much anyone I’m trying to impress. When my publisher talked about moving the publication date forward, I squealed and clapped my hands. When the marketing manager talked about competitions and discounted offers, I stuttered my way through an emphatic agreement. When the publicity team mentioned contacting Women’s Hour, I tittered like a 12-year-old who’d just been passed a pencil-drawn willy at the back of maths class. Because, you see, it’s especially difficult to be cool about something so enormously exciting.

And so I’m sorry, 13-year-old me, but I’m giving up on cool. (At this point, I suppose, it’d be cool to declare that uncool is the new cool, but I don’t think even I’m uncool enough to pull that off.) You might have thought you were pretty awesome in your beaded Doc Marten shoes, baggy T-shirts and that bloody awful silver star dangling from a long bootlace around your neck, but believe me, your relentless pursuit of cool just isn’t worth the chase. And yeah, adolescence might seem like a cruel trick designed to continually catch you at your most goofy – and in many ways, I guess it is. Which is why I hate to break this to you, Lisa Mac: your thirties aren’t much different. But, by heck, there ain’t half a lot to be uncool about.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Say what you say.

One of the many ace things about writing this blog (besides not having to repeat myself about health stuff, the lovely folk I’ve met through it, and being able to tell people how I’m really feeling without having to stutter, blush and shuffle my feet nervously) is the immediate feedback I get.

‘How many are you up to?’ Dad will ask in a phonecall from his car on the way home from work.
‘Eh?’ I’ll grunt.
‘Comments. How many? Because I checked just before I left and you had four, so I was just wondering whether you’d had any more since I got in the car?’
‘No Dad, still four,’ I’ll say, with my head tilted to one side in that ‘aww, ain’t he cute’ way that I used to reserve for Grandad when he’d falsely boast to everyone at the nursing home about his granddaughter’s Business Studies degree.

‘You’ve got another one,’ Dad will say in a mid-morning call from his desk the following day.
‘Eh?’ I’ll reply again, wondering what it could possibly be that I’ve suddenly got another one of before my third brew of the day has had its chance to wake me up.
‘Comment. Another comment. I just saw it. Who’s that then?’
‘I don’t know, Dad,’ I’ll say. ‘I don’t know everyone who comments on the blog, y’know.’
‘Oh right, okay,’ he’ll say. ‘I wonder who all these people are, then?’

My parents are baffled by the freedom of reply that the internet offers. ‘Who’s this @lilianavonk?’ Mum will ask after reading my tweets. ‘Do you know her through @zuhamy?’
‘I don’t know them personally, Mum,’ I’ll explain. ‘Just through Twitter.’
‘Oh. But how do they know you?’
‘The blog, probably.’
‘Oh... Oh, right,’ she’ll say, in a confused manner that suggests we’ll be having the same conversation again next week.

It’s not that my folks are idiot technophobes who don’t know the difference between a weblog and a wiki. It’s just that in the same time it’s taken their daughter to get through – and, mostly, over – The Bullshit, they’ve also had to come to terms with the online world in which she now operates. A world in which your friends are no longer just the people you meet at the pub, but the people you meet through the internet-specific personality you’ve created. And that kind of seismic shift is bewildering enough for my generation – who laughed when given an email address upon enrolling at uni, as though it were as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike – let alone their own.

‘I’ve left a comment,’ said Dad last week, seconds after reading my The other side of defence post.
‘I know, I just got the email,’ I said.
‘I hope I’ve not offended you,’ he continued, sheepishly. ‘It’s just that I wanted to comment that it was fair enough for Anonymous to have their say. Who is Anonymous, anyway?’
‘I don’t know, Dad, they’re anonymous.’
‘Oh, right.’
‘And don’t be daft, shitface – of course you’ve not offended me,’ I said, easing his worry with a choice pet name.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘I just felt strongly about the comments people had made, is all, so I thought I’d add my tuppence worth.’
‘Fair enough,’ I answered.

And fair enough indeed. Because that’s what we love about blogging and social networking and the like, right? The ability to say what we want to say. The ability to open ourselves up to hearing other people’s opinions – whether we like them or not. The ability to respond immediately to something we’ve read, heard or seen, without having to endure endless hold-music on automated phone lines, or decide whether sincerely or faithfully is the right sign-off.

Last week, I blogged about asking Smiley Surgeon for an elective mastectomy, but having my mind put to rest when he suggested otherwise. Anonymous then sparked a debate with the comment that post-breast-cancer, she’d decided to have further surgery herself and had never regretted it, and that – were The Bullshit ever to return – I’d be the one having to go through chemo again, not Smiley Surgeon. And, as I say – fair enough.

Different bloggers deal with their comments in different ways. I particularly like the way that Bete de Jour responds to each of his readers and, much as I’d like to tell you that I don’t do the same because I think you’ve heard enough from me already, the truth is that he is an exceptionally dedicated blogger and I’m a lazy fatarse. But while the I’ve-said-my-piece approach is more my style, in this case I think that – wonderful as it was for my Dad to do so – the comments on the aforementioned post didn’t ought to be tied up by my old man.

The thing is, there’s some stuff I didn’t say in that post which, in the spirit of honesty, I probably ought to decant. I didn’t say, for instance, that as much as I thought it might be the right thing to do to have an elective mastectomy, I was hugely uneasy about the idea of losing another nipple. Something I suspect I’ve never made clear is that, in losing my left tit, I’ve also lost the sensation – that glorious, glorious sensation – that came with it. So by choosing to do away with my right’un too, I worry that I’d effectively be doing the same with my enjoyment of sex. You might think that’s like refusing chemo because I want to keep my hair. I prefer to think of it in terms of wanting as pleasurable a life as possible.

Something else I didn’t say – but which regular readers of this blog will doubtless know already – is that I trust Smiley Surgeon implicitly, and have complete confidence in his opinions. If Smiley Surgeon said that buying Toploader albums or supporting Nottingham Forest or wearing shell-suits would improve my chances of avoiding Round 2 with The Bullshit, I’d do it. And if Smiley Surgeon said that an elective mastectomy were a good idea, I’d be in a hospital gown faster than you can say fun-bags, quickly brushing aside my orgasm worries (while immediately sending off for an Ann Summers catalogue).

So while we’re sharing here, I might as well also admit to initially being a bit defensive when Anonymous posted her comment.
‘Ere, have a read of this,’ I said to P, thrusting my iPhone into his palm. ‘Does that mean that if I ever get cancer again, it’ll be my fault because I didn’t have an elective mastectomy?’
‘Course it doesn’t,’ he said.
‘But is that what she’s suggesting?’ I persisted.
‘I don’t think it is, babe. I think she’s just saying that’s how she felt.’
‘Okay, that’s fair enough then.’
‘It was right for her, Lis – that doesn’t mean it’s right for you too. You’ve got to find your own way.’
‘Hm,’ I hummed. ‘You’re always the voice of reason.’
‘Weeeell,’ said P, purposely not disagreeing. ‘It’s each to their own, innit? That’s what you always say.’
‘Yeah, I s’pose I do. But for the record, if I do get The Bullshit again, I simply WILL NOT ACCEPT that it was my fault, okay?’
‘Well it won’t be your fault, babe, so why should you?’
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘Exactly.’

The problem, of course, was all mine – and not what Anonymous posted. I’m a touchy little sod at the best of times (one school teacher once wrote on my report that I was ‘at times sensitive to criticism’ – and how right she was, the nit-picking bitch), so being forced to consider a future in which I could have done something to prevent a recurrence of The Bullshit instantly got my back up, and wrongly so. Because P and my Dad were right: though I don’t know her personally (I think), I do know that Anonymous’ intentions with her comment weren’t to piss me off, but simply to communicate how she had dealt with breast cancer. The exact same thing I’m doing right now.

To use a wanky phrase I promise you’ll never read on this blog again, the problem with putting yourself out there (yeesh) online is that people will have an emotional response to you. They might pity you; they might warm to you; they might think you’re a whingeing old git and never click on your site again. They might feel protective of you; they might want to offer you advice; they might become as defensive of you as you are of the comments that make you reconsider your decisions. But whatever they might think of you and what you have to say, your job as a blogger is to make like David Dimbleby (minus the increasingly dodgy ties) and point your pen in the direction of whoever wants to add, in the words of my old man, ‘their tuppence worth’.

Which leads me onto something else I haven’t said. I might try to act cool when Dad rings me to talk about new comments on my blog, but his excitement when a new one appears is nothing on mine. So, whatever it is you’ve said, however often you’ve said it, or whatever it is you’re yet to say – I thank you.

Monday 23 November 2009

A parting gesture.

One of the loveliest things about writing this blog is the number of friends I’ve made as a result of it. Not friends in the traditional sense – rather, people I’ve never met but often have more regular contact with than folk I’ve known for years. One of them is Andy Greig, writer of the Grumpy Old Git blog (or @mac_kix_windoze to those of you on Twitter).

A fellow Bullshitter (his term, not mine!), Andy was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his right femur in February 2008, aged 41 – which is at once tragically young and also unusually old for osteosarcoma; hence his ‘Grumpy Old Git’ handle.

Andy and I have been in touch for a year or so, sending each other updates on our treatment, commenting on each other’s blog posts, joining up expletives to make super-swearwords and keeping up the spirit of sticking one to The Bullshit with as much humour as we could manage. 

When Stephen Fry dubbed me a ‘cancer bitch’, Andy looked into getting it printed on a T-shirt. When my old laptop imploded into a sea of indecipherable code, Andy coached me through the steps to retrieve my data. And when my pubes grew back unusually straight, Andy was the first to tell me that it was both normal and temporary (but that, y’know, P might prefer them gone altogether).

When it came to scrapping through cancer, I was the Anakin to Andy’s Yoda, horribly experienced as he was with The Bullshit thanks to the discovery of secondary tumours in his lungs. Real persistent little fuckers, too. The kind that saw him repeatedly in hospital for more treatment than he ever could have bargained for, but which he endured with an enviable calm, a defiant Blitzkreig spirit and a wry sense of humour. Until this weekend.

With apocalyptic rain pouring from angry skies – as if to forewarn the world of such a miserable, miserable day – Andy died on Saturday, at home with the adored wife, son and three daughters he so often spoke about.

‘The thing that I love and hate about cancer,’ Andy once said to me, ‘is that it's changed me. I hate it because it's changed me physically and I'll never be the same again, even if I'm cured. I hate it because it messes with my head. I hate it because it makes me a victim. But I love the way it has changed me for the better too. It's changed my outlook, it's changed my attitude to people and it's made me appreciate life more than I ever thought I could.’

I never met Andy. But that’s not to say that he didn’t make an instant impression on me, or that I wasn’t incredibly fond of him. As I told him a number of times, he was, quite simply, ace. And if I’m saying those things on the strength of only having known Andy through the glorious world of the internet, then I do hope that his family and friends will be able to take some comfort in having been lucky enough to know – in person – such a demonstrably top bloke.

Here’s to you, Andy Greig.

Andy was fundraising for the Bone Cancer Research Trust. 
If you can, please donate by clicking here

Tuesday 17 November 2009

The other side of defence.

‘Ivewrittenabookandyoureinit,’ I clumsily exhaled in a single, drawling syllable to Smiley Surgeon. ‘I mean, not by name. You’re not in it by name.’ (I thought best not to reveal my pet name for him at this stage. He can discover that himself, once I’ve taken my advance and emigrated to Hawaii.) ‘I haven’t mentioned any medical staff by name,’ I continued, awkwardly. ‘But it’s a book about this whole experience, you see. It’s a book about all of this,’ I went on, gesturing overanimatedly with open arms, as though I were a butler introducing him to a feast at a palatial dining table. ‘And so I’ve had to mention the people who’ve helped me through it, because they’re integral to the story.’

I realised I hadn’t yet looked him in the eye, and quickly met his gaze with, ‘But it’s all good stuff! Very good. Really very good. Of course it is; it’s all true.’ I forced myself to stop talking.
‘Well, wow, that’s wonderful,’ he said, obviously entertained by my clumsiness. ‘When will it be out?’
‘April. End of April,’ I beamed, catching sight of P beside me, sitting relaxed in his tub chair, smirking like a front-row punter at a comedy club.
‘And who’s publishing it?’
‘Arrow at Random House,’ I answered, simultaneously shooting P a stop-finding-this-so-entertaining look.
‘Oh!’ said Surprised Surgeon. ‘Random House! They’re big!’
‘Um, yes,’ I said. ‘I suppose they are.’

For a split second, I took offence. ‘What, did you think I’d be publishing it myself like some kind of Mel C solo album?’ I thought, mildly hurt by his surprise. But then, I realised, of course he was surprised. Smiley Surgeon is one of the few people in my stratosphere who doesn’t know about this blog – who still doesn’t know about this blog – so, as far as he was concerned, I was just some part-time branded content editor who figured she could sell books, like a call-centre worker at an X Factor audition proclaiming to be the new Mariah Carey.

The door handle turned, and we craned our necks to watch a cheery Always Right Cancer Nurse (who’s Always Right Breast Nurse in the book, just to confuse matters) and her equally cheery sidekick, Other Always Right Cancer Nurse pull up chairs to P’s right, each giving him a pat on the shoulder as they did.
‘Lisa’s written a book!’ exclaimed Smiley Surgeon. ‘And Random House are publishing it!’ (Despite his happy demeanour, Smiley Surgeon isn’t a man to often warrant exclamation marks at the end of his dialogue, but in this case I assure you they’re necessary.)

‘Ooh!’ they both chirped, as I wondered whether Other Always Right Cancer Nurse might take offence at not being a character in The C Word. ‘Will you send us a copy?’ asked Always Right Cancer Nurse The First.
‘Oh yes, you must,’ interrupted Smiley Surgeon. ‘Signed, please.’
‘Haha!’ I giggled, trying to be coy but secretly lapping up their interest. ‘Well, if you’re happy for me to devalue it with my scrawl, that’s your call,’ I said, trotting out my now-standard line. ‘But yes, I’ll make sure you have one as soon as I do.’

There was a reason for my consultation other than breaking the book news, of course. As far as Smiley Surgeon was concerned, this was an appointment at which he’d have his first chance to evaluate my New Tit since my nupple was tattooed. P winked in my direction as SS raved about my falsie. ‘It’s a really wonderful result,’ he beamed, as though looking at a Monet rather than a fake boob. He studied it with a furrowed brow, mentally patting himself on the back. I half expected him to do one of those Ali G-style finger-snaps. ‘It’s a shame I don’t have my camera today,’ he said, ‘as I’d love to show this in my lectures as an example of an excellent cosmetic outcome.’
‘Whoa now, steady on,’ I thought, instead opting for a calmer, ‘Oh, blimey.’
‘No, I’m serious,’ he said, gesturing at me to pull my dress back up. ‘I do hope you’re as pleased with the result as I am.’ (It had never occurred to me that surgeons have the same pride in the aesthetics of their work as Michelin-starred chefs. Perhaps I should pitch Mastersurgeon to the BBC?)
‘I really am,’ I assured him. ‘You’ve done a wonderful job.’

Perhaps it was because he’d done such a brilliant number on my New Tit that I then brought up a concern I’d spent some months agonising over. For Smiley Surgeon, this appointment was for the purpose of the above paragraph. For me, however, it was to bring up the issue of elective mastectomy.

Being, as I am, at a higher risk than most of getting The Bullshit again, it’s fair to say that I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about what’s going on beneath my right nipple. And so, probably unsurprisingly, I had been considering the removal of my right breast to further reduce that risk. ‘Considering’ puts it lightly, actually. I’d done more than that. I’d read excessively about the procedure, had long conversations with P, my folks and my best mates about their opinions and had even looked ahead to see which month might be best for me to have the operation.

It’s perhaps a fatalistic view but, in my mind, I remain utterly convinced that this wasn’t to be my only scrape with The Bullshit. I don’t have any evidence to support that opinion – and perhaps it’s more a case of wanting to be prepared for a diagnosis next time, and not have shock make such a fool of me – and I’m loath to give such a wanky excuse as ‘I’ve just got a feeling about it’, but the truth is, I kind of have. I’m not being defeatist – I like to think of it more as accepting. And in accepting that there’ll be a rematch with The Bullshit, I’m more than prepared to pull on my gloves ready for round two, arming myself with all the defensive tactics that medical science can offer, be they an elective mastectomy, the removal of my ovaries, a hysterectomy… whatever. I will simply do anything necessary to (a) reduce my risk of this happening again and (b) make sure I’m as prepared for another cancer battle as a person can possibly be.

Which is why, prior to our conversation about my book, I asked Smiley Surgeon if he’d remove my right breast, with a tone that was less ‘if’ and more ‘when’.
‘No,’ he said.
‘Oh,’ I said.
‘I really would advise against it,’ he continued.
‘But I want to do whatever I can to stop this happening again,’ I protested.
‘Of course you do, that’s perfectly natural,’ he added. ‘But I promise you – I’m going to keep you under such close observation that if ever there was an occurrence of cancer in your right breast, I will get to it.’ I instantly believed him, trusting him, as I do, with my life. 
‘Lisa,’ he assured me, with a quick look towards my left tit, ‘It will NEVER get to that stage again.’
‘Okay,’ I answered sheepishly, trying not to cry.
‘I’m not saying that there never will be another cancer,’ Smiley Surgeon went on, ‘Just that if there is, we will find it, and I will do anything necessary to remove it.’
‘Good,’ I said, still swallowing tears.
‘But let’s not put you through that unnecessarily,’ he said. ‘Not after everything you’ve already been through.’
P reached out to hold the hand that was wiping nervous sweat onto my knee. A moment ago, it had been clenched into a fist but now, with the reassurance of the only other man I’d trust with my chest, it was relaxing.

‘So come back to see me in June,’ said Smiley Surgeon at the end of our appointment as P and I were leaving the room. ‘We’ll do your mammogram then and I’ll make sure you have the results the same day.’
‘That’s brilliant,’ I said, remembering those torturous, sickening few days earlier this year between my scan at another hospital and the phonecall with my results.
‘No problem,’ he answered. ‘But send me a book first, won’t you?’
‘Gladly,’ I smiled.