Monday 24 August 2009

Jump around.

Before my diagnosis, P and I had finally got our heads around occasionally peeling our arses off the sofa and into a gym. We’d found a decent place near to where we live with a pool and a beautician and Sky Sports (serious exercisers that we are), and were enjoying our thrice-weekly visits. Until, that is, The Bullshit came along to press the emergency-stop button on our treadmill, after which P made the rather sensible decision to put our membership on hold for a year. And, within the last couple of weeks, that year expired – so we’re now back in the exercise game (albeit rather slower and with less room to spare in our gym kits).

Despite never having been the kind of girl who enjoys exercise (cardio training to me is skipping to the corner shop for a box of Cadbury’s Fingers), I’m taking a lot of pleasure from my workouts – not just the smugness that comes with being a gym member, but ticking off the calories as I cycle, watching the minutes pass as I swim, and no longer having to worry about 45 minutes’ worth of blow-drying when I get out. But there’s one thing getting in the way: my boobs. (Okay, two things.)

Since P and I have been absent from the gym, it’s been taken over by a new company who’ve made all kinds of welcome changes, from a better colour on the walls of the changing rooms to a limitless supply of towels. One of the main differences, however, is in the gym itself, where TV screens have been added to each treadmill. And it’s a damn good idea, saving you a restricted view of your programme thanks to other joggers’ bobbing heads. The issue, however, is that you can see yourself in its reflection as you jog (or power-walk, in my case) – which might not be a problem if you’re a lithe, Sporty Spice type. But it sure as hell throws up a few issues for the post-mastectomy gym-goers among us, who are suddenly witness to one tit bouncing about like a ping-pong ball in a bingo machine and the other staying rigidly pert, like Nicole Kidman’s botoxed forehead.

Panicking that other people had noticed the strange goings-on in my chest, I quickly hit the ‘cool down’ button (in the hope that it’d do the same for my blushing cheeks) and made a sharp exit. Catching myself in the reflection of vending-machine glass on my way back to the changing room, I stopped, looked around to check I was alone, and did a little bounce on the balls of my feet to generate some movement in my sports bra. And yep – it hadn’t been an illusion. The right one moves like, well, like a boob should, and the left just isn’t playing.

So now I’m even more paranoid about my chest than I was previously – which is rather a mean feat. Does it move like that when I walk down the street? What about when the bus goes over a speed bump? And when the tube pulls to a sudden halt – did I ought to be hanging onto my tits instead of the hand rail? If anything, this discovery has hardened my resolve to speak to Smiley Surgeon about getting my right one ‘done’ to ensure I’ve got a matching pair – in both shape and movement. I know it’s hardly a necessary, life-saving operation, but when you’re as fond of symmetry as I am (it is my life’s dream to live in the kind of symmetrical house I used to draw as a kid), this kind of thing matters more than it might to most people. And besides, the least I’m owed after all this cancer nonsense is a perfect pair, right?

Not that a perfect pair would see a move from my surreptitious dressing routine in the changing room of the gym. Apologies if this applies to you, but what is it with those women who parade around naked, admiring themselves in the mirror? The other day I threw my head back after drying the underneath of my hair, and discovered that the woman combing her locks beside me was starkers; flaunting her perfect tits in my face like a supermodel at fat camp. ‘Oh ferchrissake, I could do without having to look at that,’ I muttered quietly under my breath, wiping unwanted hair mousse down the front of my leggings as I walked away. ‘Some of us haven’t got tits worthy of public attention. It shouldn’t be allowed.’ (And yes, I appreciate that’s a bit like saying that anyone with lovely long hair out to be forced into a pixie-cut now that mine is short and chemo-curled.)

Looking back across the changing room, I realised it was the same woman who’d frowned in my direction as I put my covert-changing plan into effect: pull knickers on underneath the towel, fasten bra over the towel, pull my top over it, then lose the towel in exchange for my leggings. Done. It’s a routine I perfected as a kid, way before I had a fake boob, tattooed nipple and visible surgery scars to worry about. After every PE class at school, our Stalinist teacher would force us to run through a short corridor of showers in a line, with our towels held up over our heads, as she stood on the other side of the shower wall. Leaving us to shower on our own (as other PE teachers allowed) would have been fine – but this, we objected to. So me and my partner-in-crime Weeza, ever keen to do the opposite of whatever this woman asked, would instead bring two towels – leaving our underwear on underneath one that we held in place with our bras (or training-bras, in my case), and carrying the other over our heads to save ourselves both a detention and the shame of playing naked-lemmings with our classmates.

Since then, I’ve been similarly subtle in changing rooms. And not always out of coyness – more out of respect for my fellow changees. Because really, even if I did have a stomach like Scarlett, pins like Paltrow and a booty like Beyonce, who, exactly, would be interested? (Except, perhaps, P.) But of course, these days, coyness is part and parcel of the number that The Bullshit has done on my body. Aside from the steroid-assisted additional pounds (and the difficulty of shifting them while taking menopause-inducing Tamoxifen) and the need to keep my left’un hidden from anyone other than my husband, I’m particularly conscious of the long scar on my back.

Without ruining your lunch with the details of my back-to-front reconstruction (there’s more here if you’re genuinely interested), the scar across my back was a necessary evil in getting my boob back. And, though it’s long and wide and angry-looking, it’s only really when it comes to things like gym changing rooms or buying swimsuits that it becomes a problem – as I discovered in M&S last week while trying to find a bikini for this week’s birthday-break in Spain. Because not only did stringy two-pieces leave my scar on display for all to see, but they really dug into it, too. Having sacrificed some muscle from the area, it’s a weird enough sensation at the best of times, but having lycra forced into it was a bit like someone putting an uninvited finger in your belly button: you don’t know whether to laugh nervously or report them for abuse. ‘Still, it’s not like bikini-buying has ever been a nice experience,’ said a colleague when I told her about how I’d settled on a couple of concealing tankinis after a half-hour changing-room strop. ‘So at least that’s one thing cancer can’t take credit for ruining, eh?’ And she’s got a point.

I once said that, when my hair and boob returned, I would make a point of never again whingeing about them; always being grateful for getting back what I’d lost. But sod all that – I’m just not that zen. Besides, moaning about these things is part and parcel of living a normal life, no? That said, I do hope that one day I’ll be less terrified at the prospect of my towel slipping in the changing room. And maybe, if I spend a bit more time in the gym, I might even learn to love my lop-sided body. But first, I think, I’m going to need to invest in one hell of a sports bra.


Lynne said...

Agree totally. What's wrong with a bit of modesty in the changing rooms. Where I go, there is some bint who has the most perfect rear end who parades up and down. Most annoying when you have a blancmange for an arse......

Bon courage!!! I impressed that you even made it to the gym - more than I can be bothered to do most days.!

Emma said...

i dream of a double fronted house like i used to draw too!
i read an amazing mag article the other day about breast implants with minimal scarring, it said they can put them in through an insertion under your nipple, in your armpit or, most amazingly i thought, through your belly button! rather than having an under boob scar

Megan said...

Oooh I hate bikinis. Probably because of the great big scar just above my belly button that goes from one side of my stomach to the other, or maybe because of the more recent scar from a feeding tube directly into my stomach, that has given me what looks like a second belly button. I feel like a human doodle sometimes, and will always, always, be sticking to tankinis.

And thats not even mentioning the two scars on my shoulders.

As for the woman in the changing room, maybe she's a loud and proud nudist. Just a thought. Xx

shimacat said...

I have to admit that back in the days when I was a keen gym-goer, I was one of the nudists in the changing room. Not that I have anything to flaunt, and nor did I, but I reasoned that the rest of the women in the changing room had exactly what I had (more or less) - a female body, complete with lumps, bumps, extra layers you'd rather be without, and bodyhair. I didn't really care about looking at other folk, and didn't really have an issue with them looking at me (although I preferred it if they didn't). I just prefer getting changed without a fuss, and without hiding every scrap of bare skin under a towel.

But how do you square your changing-room modesty with trying on bikinis? In contrast to you, I bought a hyper-strong elastic-sided swimming costume for my holidays. I'm a size 10, but no way would I ever be seen in a bikini!

Aren't we weird?

Rebecca said...

We are all, indeed, very weird, lol. I hate being naked in a changing room, would NEVER wear a bikini and won't even wear shorts outside the house, even if it is 100 degrees in the shade... but at the grand old age of 42 have done a nude photo shoot!! Eh? What's more, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would do it again, but I'll still never wear shorts in public again, hahaha, xx

alhi said...

Try bio-oil for any scars. I used it on my hip replacement scar and think it made a difference.
As for scars: flaunt them! without them you wouldn't be here!

swisslet said...

It's not just women who stroll around naked in gyms changing rooms. In my gym, there's an ever-growing number of would-be David Beckham-esque metrosexuals standing in front of full length mirrors and lovingly rubbing body cream into their pecs and mousse into their dyed hair. It's not terribly edifying, to be honest, and not many of them have physiques that justify their vanity. And, as my wife pointed out, the ones with the really chiselled bodies probably aren't in the vagina business.

Strange people in gyms, innit.


Margery said...

I used to go swimming. Post-mastectomy, pre-reconstruction, I used to be very modest in the changing room, but I don't think anyone was looking anyway. Now I have two Bs instead of two Gs (hooray) I think I look better clothed than I used to, but naked I look like an exercise in patchwork, and I don't care.

One bonus (?) from the back-to-front reconstruction - can you twitch your new breast? I can. Probably because it's made of muscle ... I haven't yet pointed this out to my husband, in case it freaks him out.


jenheffa said...

There's a woman at my gym who uses the hairdryer to dry all of her body. Everywhere. Arms, legs, boobs and *all* her hair ifyaknowwhatimean. She stands completely starkers in front of the mirror and blows away.

I find it reassuring that there's someone weirder than me in the changing rooms :)

Anonymous said...

You are so lucky to have two, my doc wouldn`t allow me reconstruction for 3 years. So I am using a prothese, which is so far from natural looking even with cloths on... nevermind moving, jumping, doing some exercise... And every shopping experience is quite painful when in the changing-room and having to look to the desaster in the mirror...

Attitude at Altitude said...

Love your blog, you so have the right attitude. I'm currently in the one boob club (diagnosed at 43) and on the waiting list for a new one, two infact as I've decided to have the other one off at the same time. Hoping it will be sooner rather than later as planning a little walk up Kilimanjaro next year. Follow me and my maties on Twitter @4pinkbras. Good luck pinking your party - enjoy every minute, Debs x

Ant said...

I've seen you on the beach and - wait, don't be irritated at the prospect of some platitude here - genuinely, GENUINELY you did not look remotely lopsided. I had a really good look. As for the bouncing factor, I'm really nosy and yet have never looked at the bounce rate of someone's boobs while they worked out. No one will ever notice that, just as a shocking amount of people never think beyond what their own bodies look like in the changing room. None of that remotely helps how you feel, obviously, but I wanted you to know that you look great, like any very attractive young woman. That's what I saw. Love you. Xxx