Tuesday 17 February 2009


The last time we saw Smiley Surgeon it was snowing, and central London looked as beautiful as I'd ever seen it. The usually busy waiting room at the hospital was deserted thanks to cancelled appointments, and the reception staff were giddy with the work-light excitement of two kids who'd been snowed out of school. P and I arrived early (only the second time in my life I've managed this; the first being our wedding day) and bagged the best seats directly outside the door to Smiley Surgeon's consultation room.

He's got a tough job, old SS. In one appointment he's telling someone they have breast cancer, the next he's congratulating them on getting so far through it (or, better still, letting them know there's nothing to worry about). And, from the looks on the faces of the couple who saw him immediately before us, that woman had clearly been thrown down the rabbit-hole of the former category.

She stared straight ahead as she walked out of the room on auto-pilot, subconsciously tearing the edges off a crumpled tissue. Her husband followed close behind, his hand resting helplessly in the small of her back, carrying his wife's coat and handbag because it was the only helpful thing he could do. And, just as we did after hearing the same news, they turned left out of SS's door and walked towards a room down the corridor where a core biopsy would be done to assess the extent of the tumour. As I wondered whether the woman would also come to loathe watercolour paintings – as I do – as a result of the artwork on the wall of that room, I tutted, shook my head and turned to P. 'Poor sods,' I whispered. 'They won't be able to enjoy the snow now.'

I sure as hell wouldn't have been able to appreciate a picturesque capital after hearing that news. The glorious mid-June day on which I was diagnosed completely passed me by. But – eight months on – there I was, a decent way around The Bullshit's racetrack, running downhill while another unfortunate bugger was blindly limbering up at the starting line. It would have been too soon – and too foolish – to stop her on her way down the corridor to assure her that it can get better (albeit eventually), however much I might want to tell the world that things are finally improving for me. (I certainly wouldn't have thanked anyone for offering me any advice at that moment. I dare say they'd have skulked off with a split lip.)

But, for P and I at least, London looked even more beautiful when we came out of our appointment, having heard from Smiley Surgeon that he was impressed with my attitude throughout treatment (he clearly missed this post) and that my radiated skin was healing well enough for him to book in a date for my first reconstructive surgery. A vote of confidence from SS is like getting a gold star from the teacher you've been brown-nosingly, arm-wavingly busting your gut to suck up to all term. And since it's no secret how much I adore the man, I'm not embarrassed to boast about it. (Ner ner ner ner ner.)

And so, the chapter-ending goal of Operation New Tit has since been scheduled. I'll be going in for the first part in a month's time – that's the surgery to ensure a better shape for my boob (at the moment I fear it looks like a clenched fist) and to fit me with an A-list implant worthy of a modest-busted Dolly Parton. ('Fit' is the wrong terminology, I'm sure. That makes me sound like a BMW going in for a service.) I then have four weeks to recover before going back for the second, smaller procedure. And that's the one that fascinates me most, because its purpose is to make me a nipple. 

I know that getting a new nipple is hardly life-changingly necessary. I was never a topless sunbather, nor does my livelihood depend on me having the perfect pair. (I wonder whether Keeley Hazell's earnings would halve if she were a nipple down?) The new nip won't serve any purpose on a cancer-curing front, and I'm not even going to have any sensation in it – there's next to no feeling in my left boob, and it can't be restored. So I'm kind of thinking of it as a gift to P. After all, he's going to be the only one who sees it. Then again, after my mastectomy I happily showed off my non-tit to any interested party within a ten-mile radius, so maybe there's hope for my page three debut yet.

The nip-op will most likely be done under local anaesthetic, which I'm really chuffed about – hell, this is a process I'm going to want to be party to. Not least after the way Smiley Surgeon described it. If you'll excuse the non-medical terminology, in short what he'll be doing is lifting the skin that lies where my nipple was (the skin that originally came from my back, as those of you who've been concentrating will remember), then twisting it into a point which he'll then fix in place to form a small mound that pretty much matches the height of my right nipple. It'll be higher than a bee sting, but flatter than a coconut macaroon. More of a nub, I suppose. (A nupple, if you will.) As Smiley Surgeon described this to me (not in confectionery terms, I should add), he opened his suit jacket slightly and mimed the process by pointing to his own nipple. In much the same way that it's impossible to say 'spiral staircase' without doing that twirly motion with your index finger. I couldn't help but titter like a pubescent boy at the back of the class, of course. P looked mortified.

I doubt I'm alone in wanting to witness a medical marvel such as the creation of a nipple. And I'm sure that, for SS, being able to answer 'I made a nipple' to the 'what did you do at work today?' question is worth his doctorate alone. I wonder whether he uses the same mould as the faux-nipples made famous by Samantha in Sex and the City? Or whether it's more like the plastic tits made famous by Gazza? Either way, it's a project that's more than worthy of a Blue Peter badge. 'All you'll need today, kids, is the lid from a Fairy Liquid bottle and some sticky-back plastic. Here's one I made earlier.' (If the BBC are looking for a new scandal, I'm happy to hand this one over.)

A washing-up-bottle nozzle is probably a bit ambitious, actually. Nozzle suggests erect, and I think that's a nipple-status-quo I've kissed goodbye, at least on the left side. I'm not too bothered by it, really – it's a fact I've got used to over the last few months, particularly since my bra drawer has had to remain unopened. (This winter, I've been smuggling peanut.) But still, any nipple (sorry, nupple) is better than none at all. Right now, here in my white vest, I look like the second image in a spot-the-difference game. Something's wrong with the picture, but you can't quite put your finger on what. But, like a once-glorious but now destroyed building, I'm slowly being restored to my former glory. A bit like The Hawley Arms after the Camden fire. It'll never be quite the same again, but hopefully the regulars won't be put off going back.


Anonymous said...

The image of SS miming the nipple process made me actually cry with laughter.

Do you think you might be more self-conscious about wopping it out once it's decorated?

Good luck. And thanks, again, still for such amazing writing


Anonymous said...

Operation New Tit what a fantastic phrase ;-)

Another fab blog post, lovely hearing positivity creeping back in.

Love you lots x x x x

Fletcher of the Day said...

Wow. Sure fire signs that things are returning to new normal: Drunken party and reconstructive surgery. What you and my husband have are totally different (breast vs testicular) but weirdly parallel in your diagnosis (june 4th), treatment and recovery. Two weeks ago we celebrated my birthday. it was the first party we've had at home since the diagnosis, our version of return to the 'new normal'. These small milestones are quite significant and I'm pleased to be able to read about your continuing recovery. btw- my husbands nails are almost normal again...how are yours?

Another fabulous post Lisa! Thank you for allowing us to share!


Nonamoose said...

Brilliant post!! Glad to hear that Operation New Tit (which made me roar with laughter btw, the upstairs neighbour must think I'm a loon!) is imminent.

Take good care girl and know you're in my thoughts as always x

drollgirl said...

wow. just found yer blog. my mom had breast cancer at 40, and i thought that was young. and i am not 38 and feel like i am doomed to the same fate.

i hope things work out well for you (and your nupple). i'll be following and commenting along!

Sam Currie said...

Lisa, yet again your writing talent blows me away. Your description of the waiting and getting "the news" is so real and correct , snd I know about this ,having been there.

Then we get the "nipple narrative" and yet again we are reminded of the fact we have to laugh in the face of this "thing" we have to face.

As always, I am in awe and look forward to your next post x

Anonymous said...

Didn't you drop a "Friends" reference somewhere on your blog along the lines of "it's laminated"? Well, maybe Chandler could actually have donated his third nipple (aka nubbin) to you - apart from the obvious fact that he's fictional, which I know of course. But find hard to accept.

Anyway: great post - I'll never be able to look at a bottle of washing-up liquid the same way.

Anonymous said...

Hey, congratulations on your nupple! You should have a nupple party to celebrate!

Anonymous said...

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve SS is not the only one who’s been impressed with your attitude throughout treatment.
Oh, and spiral staircase- nipple analogy is inspired. Damn, you can write.

Anonymous said...

Oh no. And I can't. x