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.


Helen said...


You rock.

Have missed your posts xx

Emma said...

tears in my eyes, what comforting words from SS x
i'd be exactly the same as you in wanting both my breasts removed if i had breast cancer, nice to have people looking out for you

marsha said...

You are VERY funny.

Good to have you back.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, don't mean to put a dampner on it but having been through all this and opted for the other side to be taken off as well as I was young and had that strange gut feeling that it would be my luck to cop it again, I thought I'd just add my ten pennith worth.
I know they all say they'll be looking out for anything appearing but when you're young, it doesn't always show up, it might not be in a 'feelable' position and even if they do catch it, who's to say you won't need chemo etc again. Sod that for a laugh! Looking like Uncle Fester was not somthing I ever want to go through again if I can help it. Plus the 2 funbags were never gonna look the same again so why keep one and take the risk. Smiley S or not, it's your body, you'd have the op and you'd be the one having chemo if it does appear so you decide girl.
Take care & thanks for making me laugh ;-)

News Update said...

Fucking hell! Who's Anonymous? Trainee Samaratin? Or professional miserablist.
You put youself out there with blogging and your blog has been brilliant and I think a lot of readers have gained strenght from it.
Enjoy the rest of your journey.
Much Love

Ant said...

I agree with Ian. On every count. I've missed your bloggings love. Can't WAIT for the book!!!!!! love you

Lisa's Dad said...

Anonymous has the right to give her views as she sees it.
She decided on a course of action based upon her feelings and experiences, she lived through the crap just like Lisa and just like Lisa that makes her qualified to comment.
The fact that they both took a different course of action does not matter.
I am delighted she was brave enough to make her feelings known just as I am delighted with and support the decisions Lisa has made.

Carolyn said...

I love your blog - it is one of the thing that kept me going through my brush with breast cancer.

Like anonymous, I have also decided to have the other breast removed next year (along with the nipple from my ex-boob which was preserved) - as well as my ovaries. I have the BRCA 1 gene, and so have a high chance of recurrence in either breast or ovaries - and nothing will ever persuade me to go through chemo again!! Or indeed be in the place I have been in since May - with all the fear, panic and shit stuff that comes with cancer. I need to be aggressive in prevention - and then be able to move on without fear.

I trust my surgeon with my life (sort of have no choice, but I do anyway) but I know he will not be there for the rest of my life - and I am planning on having a long one!!

But that is the choice that I have made and that is right for me. The bottom line is that we all make different choices on this journey - and every choice is valid.

BTW can't wait to see the book!

Sarah said...

Gosh, you're a kind, thoughtful man, Lisa's Dad.