Monday 27 April 2009

Quitting image.

A few years back, I got pretty fat. Not quite to Beth Ditto levels; more on a Kirstie Alley scale. Either way, I'd chalked up a few extra pounds and it wasn't pretty. But, as far as I was concerned, it wasn't a big deal, either – I was also happy and in love and had just bought a flat with a man who was a demon in the kitchen. It wasn't until seeing a photograph of myself, however, that I realised how fat I'd become. And boy, did it give me a tearful surprise.

At the risk of this sounding like a Slim Fast commercial, I swore then that never again would I put myself through that kind of shock. (You can see the ad, can't you? Here's a cardboard cutout of Fat Me, and look at me now! I eat salads! With wine! I wear red dresses! I dance salsa with creepy men! And you can too! All of this over a sickly, sisterhood soundtrack of Shania Twain or Heather Small or somesuch. Screw the Slim Fast – that's enough to put you off food for life.) And so, keen to put my hefty days behind me, I signed up to Fat Club, learned how to photograph better and threw away the thirty-years-too-old-for-me, baggy, brown clothes I'd been wearing in the photo.

Cut to last week, AKA New Image Day. Me and my brilliant friend Tills (EVERYONE should have a Tills, by the way; I've never known such unending support from someone who wasn't contractually obliged through blood or marriage) had spent a lovely girly morning at the salon, turning my hair impossibly blonde, getting our nails done and chatting our way through everything from cancer to cats. The colourist had listened to everything I'd asked for and duly obliged, and the hairdresser had somehow managed to rid my head of its wispy chemo curls and yet still keep my hair looking the same length. Things were going well. New Image Day was looking like a success, and with everyone around me being especially lovely and complimentary about the shock of short, platinum hair that was confidently contrasting with my black gown, there was no reason to feel anything other than chuffed. Finally, I had hair I'd chosen to have.

But, as the harsh light of day and several suspicious sideways glances expertly demonstrated, the hair I'd chosen didn't suit me. I might have wanted a funky, punky, peroxide, statement 'do, but Lady Gaga I ain't. And so my poker face lasted the distance from the hairdressers to the Topshop changing room, where Tills took a few photos of my new crop on her mobile phone, and I collapsed into sobs when I saw them, just as I had when looking at a photo of myself at my fattest.

The fault was entirely my own. I had got what I'd asked for: the trendy, relevant, never-would-have-tried-it-otherwise look that would tell the world how I'd changed; how I was on top of cancer; how I was ready to take on anything that life threw at me. But what I'd asked for wasn't right. Not only did it make me realise that this wasn't, in fact, hair that I'd chosen to have (if I could choose hair, I'd have it exactly the way it was pre-Bullshit, and not have cancer force my hand into a pixie crop), but it also made me confront the fact that right now, I'm just not feeling feisty enough to carry off the look I thought I wanted. It was hair that stood out from the crowd – and, as it turns out, I don't want to stand out. It was hair that screamed confidence – and I don't have as much as I'd thought. It was hair that suggested its owner was cool, attractive, hot and edgy – and, baldness aside, I've never felt further from those things. I can talk the talk all I want, confidently proclaiming my new image to be the triumphant, cancer-beating look that's all mine, making me way cooler than the girl I was pre-Bullshit. But, having surrendered all the goods to back it up along with the hair I lost in the first place, now is categorically not the time to be cashing in on my confidence. It's the time to start slowly building it back up again.

Sobbing in a post-salon Starbucks stop with Tills and P either side of me, I kicked myself for learning nothing since the last time the three of us attempted to make the best of my hair-loss situation. Here we are again, I thought, back at my first wig-buying experience. Back then, I walked into the room expecting to skip out with something I loved as much as my original hair. And this time around, I'd expected exactly the same. Better yet, I wanted people to pass me in the street and think nothing of me. Not 'ooh, is she wearing a wig?' or 'crikey, she's young to be wearing a headscarf'. Not even 'wow, look how confidently she's carrying that crop'. Nothing. Because them thinking nothing would mean that I'm no different to anyone else. And when it comes down to it, that's the kind of normal I'm after.

My problem wasn't just in failing to realise that a girl with freckles needs something a bit warmer than bright, white hair. It was in allowing my expectations to run away with me. In my mind, I was going to walk out of that salon the new Agyness Deyn. Better than that, actually – I was going to walk out of there the New Me. I had built up New Image Day to be a defining moment in my escape from cancer's grip. The day on which I stopped being the girl with breast cancer, and started being the girl with the funky hair. The day on which I could stop hiding away, and return to the world with a bright, blonde bang. I'd even given it a name, for fuck's sake. New Image Day was going to be as significant a turning point as the day of my diagnosis or my mastectomy or my final chemo. 

When am I going to learn my lesson? Almost 11 months into my experience of The Bullshit, and I still can't get my head around the fact that I'm not in control. Cancer is in control. (There, I said it.) And no amount of new clothes or hair colourant or New Image Days can change that. The reality is that the milestones aren't the scripted occasions, but the seemingly insignificant rites of passage that you don't notice until they've passed. Washing your hair for the first time after losing it. Walking the length of your street without having to stop for a rest. Falling asleep without the help of Nytol. Catching yourself saying 'I've had cancer' instead of 'I've got cancer'. These are the things that matter. These are the things that make a difference. They're the niggling, nil-nil away draws that guarantee your safety at the end of the season. They're not pretty, they're not memorable, and they're definitely not going to make it onto Match of the Day, but they're vital nonetheless. They're the things I should have been writing about, when instead I've been more interested in the showy wonder-goals that'll make for a better highlights package. As my old man says, 'the unplanned moments are the best moments'. (And given that I always make a point of swerving New Year's Eve parties, you'd think I could have figured that out for myself.)

'Nobody talks about this part,' I whined to P and Tills over a mug of tea. 'People warn you how hard it is to get a diagnosis and go through chemo and lose your hair. Nobody ever warned me how hard it would be to get over treatment, or how long it takes to feel right after chemo, or how difficult it is to get your hair back. There isn't a leaflet for this stuff.' But how could there be? Hell, I've been writing about all this for the best part of a year and I still wouldn't know how to tell someone who'd just been diagnosed that there's so much more tricky stuff to negotiate once treatment has finished; that you're suddenly left to deal with the gravity of what's happened to you; that you've somehow got to alter all of your expectations. 

But harder than even doing those things is accepting that you've got to do them in the first place. I still feel like I'm having a tantrum about it. Yes, cancer has changed my life. But I shouldn't have to change the way I live to accommodate it. It's just not fair. I don't want to lower my expectations. I want to get excited and look forward and face my future with optimism. Right now, as it goes, there's lots of stuff I ought to be getting excited about, and I want to be able to run downhill with it guilt-free, waving my arms around in the air. I want to plan ahead. I want to feel normal. I want to stop seeing cancer when I look in the mirror. I want to take the credit for my crop. I want to turn the things that cancer's making me do into significant, fun moments that I'm in control of. I want to turn The Bullshit into something brilliant. I want to slap on a brave face and make the very best I can of every single shitty situation I've been strong-armed into. But not only does that kind of thing lead to disappointment, it's also really bloody exhausting. Particularly when you're already working so damned hard at keeping it together when all the while it feels like you might spontaneously combust.

After pouring out my heart to the third hair colourist I visited within 24 hours, he couldn't believe that I'd wanted such a drastic change of colour in the first place. 'You've always had long hair before this, yes?,' he asked in his lovely French accent. I nodded. 'Then suddenly having short hair is enough of a new image for you! You don't need crazy blonde too,' he advised, before turning my hair just a couple of shades lighter than its natural colour. And he was right. For now, at least, the short hair is a big enough life-change to get used to. (And, let's be honest, I've had more than my fair share of those already.) So I'm sorry to disappoint, but there is no New Me. But nor is there an Old Me. There's just Me. Albeit with a little less hair (and a little more tit).

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Fitting image.

The last time I used my hair straighteners, I sat on them. Not with a quick glance of a jeans pocket, but flat onto bare skin; arse cheeks expertly manoeuvring themselves over the 100-degree aluminium, then lowering down carefully like a fairground grab-a-prize game. I dare say it was nature's way of calling my hair-straightening proceedings to a halt. Because, in my quest to make good the hair that remained on my head, I wasn't so much sleekening my locks as giving alopecia a helping hand. 

Adding insult to balding injury was the corker of a burn it left on my right bum-cheek; a branding from the tribe of GHD. Two angry, parallel lines, each about three inches long, ensuring that the least attractive part of my body was granted another blemish to compete with my cellulite for unwanted beachside attention. I showed P and my folks the damage when my squeals beckoned them in. 'You know what?' said Mum, ever keen to find the bright side, 'I'm sure it'll have gone by the time you need to use those straighteners again.' But, looking in the mirror when I got out of the shower last night, my short hair isn't the only reminder of my Bobby Charlton period. My steroid-sculpted behind also tells a tale. (Actually, since I've now lost my cancer weight, I've got to stop blaming my shapely rear on the steroids – so perhaps shortbread-sculpted would be a more accurate description.) Because, half-hidden by my knicker line but nevertheless visible, the bum-brand remains. Not quite as angry as before, but still obvious enough to demonstrate my idiocy to whoever's on the next sunlounger.

Evening out the calamitous nature of my final straightening experience, however, was a super-smart decision to prepare for a moment such as last night: the first time I've plugged in the straighteners since that scorching day in July. When I unfolded the heat-protective mat, I noticed that it wasn't covered in blonde hairs, as it always had been. What I then remembered was that, immediately after screaming down south-west London with burn-induced expletives, I painstakingly removed every single strand of long hair that had attached itself to the mat, figuring that it'd be just too damn depressing to be faced with my lost locks if ever I found myself with enough hair to straighten again. (Dear Old Me. Bloody good call. Love, New Me.)

Getting the straighteners out again turned out to be a tad premature, actually. It was a bit like the time I assured P I could rectify his short frizz after a ten-minute session with the appliance, but just ended up scalding his scalp instead. (Keep well back, kids. She's got a pair of hair straighteners and she's not afraid to use them.) It's not that I'm not happy to embrace my new curls (hell, any hair is better than no hair), but right now my 'do is more Brillo pad than brill. And so this week I'll be spending the GDP of a small country on my first post-chemo cut and colour.

The advice is to wait six months after the date of your final chemo before putting any colour onto your hair. And although my appointment falls a fortnight short of that time, I'm hoping it won't matter, since I've carefully chosen an environmentally aware (and therefore rinse-your-wallet-dry expensive) salon with 97% natural hair colourants. (Who am I trying to convince here? Something tells me that the last time I tried this optimism lark, it was to assure myself that I'd be the one lucky git in a million who clung onto their hair through chemo. Pah.) Plus, since it's been just shy of a year since I had a haircut I was happy with, I'm taking impatience to kid-on-Christmas-Eve levels and just. can't. wait. any. longer. In hideous hair terms, two weeks feels like several millennia.

You'd think that I'd have got used to my short crop by now, but it still surprises me when I catch sight of my reflection. In my mind's eye, I've still got hair like Jessica Rabbit. Not that I'd have admitted to that little boast before. Actually, 'admitted to' isn't right – I'd never have believed it. But it's funny how six sessions of chemo can change your mind. (Don't it always seem to go?) Now, when I look back at photos of Old Me, I realise that the ex-colleague I met in the pub not long before my diagnosis was right. Despite being perhaps the unlikeliest source of a compliment I'd ever known, he stood back and looked admiringly at my newly grown-out fringe. 'Bloody hell, lass,' he said, 'Your hair's looking gorgeous.' And he wasn't wrong. (On my stupider days, I talk myself into thinking that The Bullshit might have been all his fault, for saying that. Then I come to my senses and realise that it's actually down to the slippy floor I fell on in Debenhams. Or the ex-boss who sent my stress levels into the stratosphere. Or my heavy-handed first boyfriend. Because these are the kind of things that cause cancer. Obviously.)

My post-chemo hairdo comes as part of a carefully choreographed New Image Week, in which I'll also be seeing a Topshop style advisor (I haven't got a spring/summer stitch to wear, having thrown away much of last year's wardrobe in a tearful, post-diagnosis rage), as well as investing in red lipstick for the first time, enrolling at the Claudia Winkleman School Of Eyeliner and disguising my pasty pallor with enough St Tropez to make me look like the spawn of David Dickinson. Also on the list is re-learning how to walk in heels, having been equally as embarrassed by my Bambi-on-ice trot as I was by my short, mud-coloured crop when catching my reflection in a coffee-shop window earlier this week. I looked like a drag queen in training, tottering along unsteadily and animatedly like a dizzy kid on plastic stilts. (Good job I can't afford the Louboutins yet.) 

And then there's the new lingerie. From what I gathered in a bored ten minutes with a tape measure yesterday, my 36B days are over. (From a lack of a fabric tape measure, I had to plump for a cold, metal one. Seems I'll try anything to make my right nipple look as erect as the left.) So it appears that I'm now a C-cup (she says, as her husband rubs his hands together with glee). Well, I am on the left side, anyway. For the meantime at least, my right tit remains an unbalanced B (husband's mojo heads back into hibernation). And so there's some serious underwear shopping to be done, too. It's going to be an expensive week. (Is it okay to use the L'Oreal excuse with your bank manager? 'And why do you need this overdraft extension, Mrs Lynch?' 'Because I'm worth it.')

I'd love to tell you that all of this is about making myself feel better. Something I'm doing just for me, because I'm long overdue some self-attention, because I've earned it and because it's a damn good opportunity to test out all the looks I would never have been game enough to try pre-Bullshit. And while all of those things are indeed true, they're not the only reasons behind the New Me. (Truth is, breast cancer or no breast cancer, I can a-l-w-a-y-s find an excuse to shop.) Just like my tattoo was, New Image Week is also my way of sending a message to all of the many people I'll be seeing again in pubs and bars and cafes and restaurants and dining rooms and the office. It's a statement: 'Hello, I've changed.' Because there's no getting away from it. I have changed. I'm not the same girl who left the office for a doctor's appointment one Tuesday afternoon in June, on the promise of being back again the next morning. That girl had a naive, I'll-be-okay optimism, got narked when the rain made her hair go curly and kept one eye on her fertility monitor. This girl is more realistic (or should that be cynical?), with a lowered tolerance for everyday gripes, a sudden interest in styling wax and one eye on a lifetime of lie-ins. But since that's hardly going to be my opening line upon bumping into someone I haven't seen for a year (and it's too long to wear as a T-shirt slogan), the new hair – along with all the other trappings of New Image Week – are going to have to do it for me.

Not that the Old Me is completely dead and buried, mind. There might be a permanent star-shaped symbol of the New Me on the inside of my right wrist, but there'll always be a reminder of the girl I once was on my right buttock.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Trouble in the message centre.

I've always kept a tidy inbox. Just as I've always been one-in-one-out with the items in my wardrobe, I've applied the same mantra to my email account. Get one, respond to one. Tidy inbox = tidy mind. I hate it when my messages don't fit onto one page. Scrolling down is simply not an option where my digital contact is concerned. Or at least it used to be that way. These days, I'm too afraid to scroll down for fear of the unanswered missives I'll be faced with, staring up at me and giving me the guilts like an empty box of Cadbury's Fingers at the top of the bin. Right now, I've got a total of 66 unanswered emails and, pitiful as that may sound to the more laissez-faire emailers among you, I just. can't. handle. it.

While contact is not necessarily one of them, lots of things appear to have begun tailing to an end recently, or dropping off altogether (and I'm not just talking about the nupple). Like the soreness of my New Tit, or the number of times per day that I think about The Bullshit. Both of which, let me tell you, are nothing short of glorious. For ten months, I've done nothing but think about The Bullshit. But now, I occasionally catch myself not thinking about it, realising that a whole, say, 20 minutes – or sometimes even an hour – has passed without me worrying about my health, or seeing the word 'cancer' flashing through my head (always in this font, oddly enough). Some smart cookie recently commented that one day I'd turn around to notice that things had become normal again, without even realising they had got that way. And while life is certainly not normal just yet, I do think I've turned around to notice that normality is deliciously close.

In many ways, my email account has become my barometer for normality. And as long as my inbox runneth over, I can't quite say that normal service has resumed. It's not just the emails, of course. It's the staggering level of contact I've had – and have been grateful to have, I might add – since Smiley Surgeon broke the news of my Killer Tit. Don't get me wrong, compared to the phone-ringing-off-the-hook early days of my diagnosis, right now I'm positively Old News. When I came out of hospital post-reconstruction, for example, I had nine cards. Post-mastectomy, I had 49. It's perfectly reasonable, of course, but also quite weird. Because, in many ways, the beginning of The Bullshit is more of an event than the end. There's more of a fanfare around the bad news than there is the good. There are phonecalls to make and news to break, there are flowers every day and a volume of greetings cards that makes the cleaner roll her eyes every time she steps into the living room. But then, as cancer hyperactivity turns into merely cancer activity, there's more to celebrate and yet far less fanfare. But, dwindling as it is, the fact that I received such shitty news in the first place still equates to a hell of a lot more contact than I've ever previously known.

Mid-treatment, I had an excuse. I could get away with turning off my phone and ignoring text messages and failing to log into my email account, because people knew how ill I was. And granted, I'm not exactly fighting fit just yet, but at the moment I'm positively Paula Radcliffe compared with the mid-chemo me, so I dare say the people on the other end of my as-yet-unanswered messages are more impatient than they might have been a couple of months ago. It's like writing thank-you letters as a kid. You're made up with your Christmas gifts, but suddenly it's March and you've still not put a stamp on your gratitude. Except now, my Mum isn't on hand to chain me to the kitchen table and watch over my shoulder as I begrudgingly scribble my way through a handful of half-arsed notecards on the promise of playing out on the pogo ball I'm thanking my auntie for in the first place. Besides, half-arsed replies just aren't going to cut it now. Because, frankly, all the pogo balls in the world can't make up for the thoughtful contact I've had from my friends and family. They deserve more than those awful, apologetic, thank-you-note opening lines. The 'sorry I've not written sooner; I've had lots of homework' of 20 years ago has now become 'apologies for the tardy reply – this cancer lark doesn't half keep you busy'.

The problem isn't just that I'm a lazy sod. It's that I'm as sick of answering questions about my health as I felt six hours after leaving the chemo room. (And yes, I appreciate the irony in choosing to constantly write about my health here. But this stuff is on my terms, and I like to think that the days of describing every puke and constipation pain are long since gone. You are now free to pick up your sandwich.) I long to begin a conversation with something other than the state of my immune system or my scars or my infection or my hot flushes or my boobs (apparently Jordan and I have something in common). I've lost count of the number of people who have opened telephone calls with 'how are you feeling?' instead of 'hello'.

It's overwhelmingly lovely that everyone has so much invested in me getting better, and that they're so interested in what stage I'm at with my recovery and how I'm feeling through it. But the repeated questions about my wellbeing also mean that something must be wrong. And when you're on the cusp of getting used to the novelty of not thinking about cancer for however brief a moment, being asked about your health  a-g-a-i-n  is a mother of a jolt back to reality. But then, of course, there's the additional worry that, by saying all this, people will stop calling or emailing or writing on my Facebook wall or texting altogether, and I'll feel like a bitch for mentioning it in the first place. (Get me, I'm a cancer diva.) And I don't want that to happen. Of course I don't want that to happen. 

So what, then, do I want? In short: normality. And with a more normal existence so tantalisingly close, I'm becoming really bloody impatient about finally getting there. (Sheesh, for a lass with no periods, this is suspiciously close to PMS-like behaviour.) Normality is discussing Coronation Street before cancer. Normality is being sick because I drank too much, and not because my immune system can't handle even the smallest bit of excitement. Normality is 'how's things?' instead of 'how are you feeling today?'. 

I once read an interview with Kylie in which she said that she was sick of talking about cancer. And while I'm not sick of talking about cancer per se, I am sick of being a sick person. Of being seen as a sick person; spoken to like a sick person; worried about like a sick person. And, right now, the far-from-normal, panic-inducing, where-do-I-begin situation of 66 unanswered emails just serves as a reminder that all is not – or, at least, has not been – well. Sometimes at university, I had so many exams to revise for and assignments due in that I didn't know what to do first, so I just headed to the student union with my mates and got pissed on a fiver instead. (Which, I guess, makes this post the equivalent of my first pint.) Not that a hangover has ever been a good getting-stuff-done tactic, mind. Just like Mum used to say about the post-Christmas letters, 'they won't write themselves, you know'. Sooner or later, I suppose, you've just got to get stuck in. So, if you'll excuse me, I've got 66 half-arsed emails to write. Either that or one corker of a group mailer. 'Dear friends and family. Thank you for the pogo ball...'

Tuesday 7 April 2009

April Barnet Bulletin.

I recently watched Sgt Pepper go out into the garden for the first time. Off she skipped, all independent and fearless with her look-at-me-I'm-invincible teenage attichood (I give her three weeks until she's speaking like the local Wandsworf kids, innit dhough) and, I'll admit, I was jealous. Little over a week of her being outside, and she's already got a mate who calls for her at the back door. (It's a boy mate. P's already grilled him on his intentions.)

Sgt Pepper has been my partner in sickness. Since picking her up on my last day of chemo, we've kept each other occupied as I've recuperated at home. She's slept by my feet when I've been in bed. She's entertained me from the sofa as I've lay flat out. She even came to my rescue this weekend when I had a hot flush, fainted and fell into an awkward heap. (I seriously reckon I could train her up to become one of those 'cat calls 999' pets you read about in local newspapers.) Ludicrous as it seemed at the time, getting her has been one of my all-time Brilliant Decisions. And, wanky as it undoubtedly is to say it, she's formed part of my treatment. 

But then spring came, and there's not just been a change in the season. I remember replying to an email from an ex-colleague well-wisher just before I was starting chemo. She asked when I'd be back out and about again, and my reply was something along the lines of, 'Hopefully by the time the spring flowers are out, I will be too.' And here we are. But my bloody cat's beaten me to it. 

I'm damned if Sgt Pepper's going to be getting all the outdoor fun. I too want to be hanging wiv my homies; back out there, enjoying all the simple pint-and-crisps fun that seems such a distant memory. And so I declare this April as Pull Your Finger Out Your Arse And Face The World Month. Granted, there's still some healing to do on the tit-front, but it's about time I re-learned how to multi-task (note to self: typing a blog post while watching Loose Women does not a multi-tasker make), and find a way to recuperate and regenerate at the same time.

It's time to hunt out the fake tan, book in a manicure (and leg wax – one area in which I can't reason with my newly accelerated hair growth), build up some activity by walking around my lovely local area, treat myself to some new togs, get serious about Fat Club (properly this time) and lose the best part of a Glasto-ne in time for festival season. And then there's the barnet. A hairdo for the New Me. Not just baby-like regrowth; an actual style.

I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but I'm getting kind of used to seeing myself with short hair. That's not to say that I like it. But, hey, it's hair. And since I was pretty much bald at the beginning of this year, it's about a hundred million times better than that. But, say what you will, it does still look like hair that has regrown after chemo. It looks like something that's happened to me. And I want my hair to look like I've happened to it

So I'm going blonde. Not blonde like before. Stand-up-and-take-notice blonde. Think Marilyn Monroe, Agyness Deyn, Gwen Stefani, that gorgeous little gal from Alphabeat or Gary Barlow circa 1992. That way, it'll look like a hairdo that was done out of choice; on purpose – and not because cancer forced its hairdressing hand. And, with any luck, it'll mean that my next Barnet Bulletin will be my last. Unless, of course, I end up looking more Marilyn Manson than Marilyn Monroe. In which case, we'll be back to square one. Either that or I'd better switch my Glastonbury tickets for Ozzfest ones.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Alright tits.

Before my reconstruction, I took a photo of my Old Tit. And, just now, despite it being covered in dressings, I took one of my New Tit, too. (If anyone steals my iPhone this week they're in for a surprise. I'm also being extra careful when uploading pics to Twitter, in case my thumb slips and the digital world suddenly gets an eyeful of my definitely NSFW bust.) Perhaps unusually, I want to keep a record of my tit's progress so that, once it's completed, I can remind myself of how it used to look and be incredibly grateful that I've got the pair I have. And what a pair they're going to be, given the revelation that my right boob will be getting a makeover, too.

'So, what do you think of it?' beamed a proud Smiley Surgeon, staring intently at my chest as I walked into his room for my post-op check-up. (I've become so used to people staring at my tits that I imagine I'm going to be quite offended when people out in the Real World speak to my face. How dare they.) Carefully avoiding my usual levels of goondom but inexplicably turning scouse in the process, I replied in an oddly high-pitched voice with, 'I'm made up, la!' (Okay, so I just added the 'la' for dramatic effect, but still. What. Is. My. Problem?) 'Oh-kaay,' he replied. 'Let's have a look,' gesturing to the bed behind the curtain. Always Right Cancer Nurse was on hand to remove my dressings and, for the first time since the sneaky look in my hospital bed, I got to see the full glory of my newly formed nupple. Not to mention the beautiful, perfectly round, A-listers-would-kill-for-it mound that it sat atop, like an especially delicious cherry bakewell or iced bun. For some reason, while SS prodded at my new boob and I looked on admiringly (at him and the New Tit), I couldn't help but think of the Generation Game. Because, believe me, if Brucie had handed you a lump of clay and a pottery wheel and given you 60 seconds to create a breast, this is what you'd have made. Although I dare say yours wouldn't have measured up to Smiley Surgeon's masterpiece. (Didn't he do well?)

Confirming what he'd suspected about struggling to match the projection of my right tit, SS explained that, in cases where there isn't a perfect symmetry with the other side, one in three women go on to have a filler implant in their healthy breast to even things out. For me it's a no brainer. Free boob job on the NHS? Um, yes please. Frankly, it'd be an unexpected, would-never-have-done-it-otherwise treat, being given the reward of perfect, perky, superstar tits. (Maybe then people will stop looking me in the face?) But that's all for later on down the line. For now there's still the business of Operation New Tit: Phase Two to contend with and, given that I've contracted a-n-o-t-h-e-r infection, this time in one of my wounds, it's going to have to be done a bit later than I'd have hoped while I sink yet more antibiotics and wait for it to heal. (To quote my fellow cancer blogger Jamie Ross, I've currently got 'the immune system of a small, HIV-positive insect'. Seriously, if you've got any bugs or viruses you'd like rid of, just hoof them over in an email, and that'll be more than enough contact for me to take them off your hands.)

Undoubtedly the sweetest part of my check-up, however, was watching SS's smiling face (P is convinced he only smiles for me, by the way, and that he's more Serious Surgeon with his other patients) as he explained that, mid-surgery, he'd had a 'good look around in there'. (That, flatteringly, makes my tit sound like Mary Poppins's handbag, when I'm sure that a 'good look around' my B-cup is actually tantamount to a 20-second shufty.) But he continued with a sentence that ended in those few little words that every girl dreams of hearing: ' sign of cancer.' I'd been too afraid to ask him myself what he'd discovered while inside my boob, for fear of letting slip my vision of an Alien-style tumour bursting out and creating havoc in the operating theatre, so I was as pleased that he'd picked up on my unspoken worry as I was about the words he'd said. No. Sign. Of. Cancer. Forget 'cellar door', these are the most beautiful words in the English language.

But, beautiful as those words indeed are, hearing them was strangely unsettling. I didn't know what to say, plumping for a simple, 'Phew.' You'd think that hearing the words 'no sign of cancer' would have you doing backflips across the kitchen. And beside the fact that (a) it would hurt too much, (b) I can't do a backflip, and (c) even if I could, the size of our kitchen would mean me crashing into a wall mid-air, that's oddly not how you feel you ought to react. It's weirdly anticlimactic, which is a lesson you'd think I'd have learned by now, given the many stalling, false-finishes I've come to expect of The Bullshit. The mastectomy is over... but then there's the chemotherapy. Chemo is over... but then there's the radiotherapy. Radio is over... but then there's the reconstruction. Recon is over... but then there's the nipple-tattooing of Phase Two. Phase Two is over... but then there's the surgery on my right tit. Surgery is over... but then there's the five years of Tamoxifen. And so it goes. It just never fucking ends, does it? (And, having lived my life through a hurdle-jumping series of mini-goals like that, it's no wonder that I'm suddenly spending so much time catching up on all the shut-eye I was learning to live without. Remember when Jenny came back to Forrest Gump and 'slept and slept, like she hadn't slept in years'? I know how she felt.) So 'no sign of cancer' is admittedly unbeatable, but it also brings with it its fair share of worries. 

I worked myself up after recounting to my family and friends the words that SS had told me. Was I speaking too soon? Should I shut up about it? I thought I was healthy once before – was The Bullshit going to come back to bite me on the ass again? I hate raining on my own parade in this way. Because, fuck it, this is amazing news. Better than that. It's the best news in the history of the known world. But it's also just another false finish. 

It's all about semantics – something in which the medical world is deviously skilled. 'No sign of cancer' doesn't mean 'cancer free'. Once you've had cancer, there is no 'cancer free'. 'No sign of cancer' also doesn't mean 'no sign of cancer anywhere in your body'. It refers to a localised area. No medical professional would be idiot enough to tell someone that there was definitely no cancer in their body. The thing is, while there's isn't even a hint of a tumour in my left breast, nobody can say for sure whether or not there are any cancerous cells floating about the rest of me, just as nobody could say whether you had any, either. But since I've had reason to worry about this kind of stuff more than your average 29 year old, that's a thought that'll continue to put the shits up me. There's no getting around it – it's just something I'll have to learn to live with, like the regular check-ups and the six-monthly mammograms and the compromised immune system and the daily pill-popping.

I want to scream, 'I did it!' I want to tell people that I 'beat' breast cancer. I want to refer to it in the past tense. But bloody, sodding, know-all medical science dictates that I can never say that. As I've said before, there is no definite cure for breast cancer. There is no 'all clear'. And so you've got to be happy with second place on the podium. (Kind of how I felt after Derby lost to Leicester in the play-off final of 1994, and I've still not got over that.) That doesn't mean that there's nothing to celebrate, of course. The 'it' in 'I did it' just means something different, is all. It means that I've seen off six successful sessions of chemo, 28 successful sessions of radio, the first stage of a successful reconstruction, and that I'm successfully edging ever closer to leading a more normal life. And since we all know from bitter experience that not everyone gets to celebrate those kind of successes, I'm going to enjoy the moment as best I can. So, just this once, sod the medical community. I did it! I fucking did it!