Friday 30 July 2010

Beauty and the breast.

On my little pootle around the neighbourhood this morning, I got honked at by a passing van. Now, granted, I’m sure it doesn’t take much for your average bored skip-hire man to wolf-whistle at a passing skirt, but – whether or not it’s the correct reaction for a 21st-century woman to have – I’m still rather grateful to him for doing it. See, it came at a good time. Said ‘good time’ being a month and a half until the removal of my ovaries and remaining natural tit. Or, to be blunt about it, 45 days until I no longer have any feeling in my boobs.

Ironically enough, at the time of the honk I was walking along, asking a not-entirely-unrelated question of myself: what makes us sexy? And really, I suppose that’s a conundrum to which it’s impossible to give an objective answer. Perhaps a better wording of the question, then, is: what makes us feel sexy? But again, that’s entirely open to interpretation. Some folk, for example, feel particularly tempting in a thong – while I can’t shake a constant urge to run to the loo while wearing one (besides, Sisqo officially declared the thong dead in 1999). Some women are consistently seduced by the ‘bad boy’ – but I’ve always found decent, considerate blokes much more alluring (hell, the most dangerous celebrity on my ‘freebie list’ is the so-called ‘nicest guy in rock’). And some people can’t help but fall for a sultry, smoky French accent – whereas I once found myself having snogged every Welsh boy I knew through absolutely no coincidence whatsoever.

And so, instead – in light of my right tit having long since claimed its bus pass – I’ve been asking myself this: what makes me feel sexy? And, more to the point, can I rely on it when the sensation in my right nipple goes for a Burton?

Last week I read this story about women hitting their beauty zenith at 31 – the age I’ll find myself this time next month. But, a mere fortnight into my ‘beauty peak’, after the removal of my ovaries and my second mastectomy in as many years, am I really going to feel as desired as this study claims I should? The thing is – pre-Bullshit, obviously – my boobs have never failed to make me feel sexy. And though I’m hardly Christina Hendricks in bra-size, I’ve always been grateful to have the kind of B-cup that creates an impressive cleavage – and so, where necessary, I haven’t been afraid to trade off it, either. Despite what’s gone on beneath my bra in the past two years, that respectable cleavage still remains (thank you, Smiley Surgeon) and will, I am certain, return after my next reconstructive op.

But what else is there that makes me feel sexy? Nothing particularly unusual, I expect: heels, matching underwear, red-painted fingernails, accomplishment, lots of eyeliner, the back row of the cinema, big hair, (self-)tanned skin, a raised eyebrow from my husband, Blur’s Swamp Song, a skinful of gin… Though whether that modest little list will be sufficient to see me through the rest of my beauty-peaking year and beyond remains to be seen.

As most couples who’ve experienced breast cancer will attest, after frustratingly long periods in which sex simply isn’t an option down to the illness that treatment can bring, what’s ten times more frustrating is having to – if you’ll pardon the pun – feel your way back to a different kind of sex life thereafter. One that doesn’t just work for your new body, but works for the way you feel about your new body, too. And, as I’ve certainly discovered, getting your groove back can be a lengthy, disquieting process – and the ‘helpful’ literature available on the subject is, typically, not only aimed at women much older than myself, but also completely bloody archaic. (‘Why not try wearing a feather boa to cover up your scars?’ Oh, do fuck off.) The simple truth is, it can take an annoyingly long time to rebuild the sexiness that The Bullshit destroyed but – as I’ve proved before and will sure as my cleavage is fabulous prove again – it is doable.

I was encouraged to be approached recently by Pink Ribbon Lingerie, a new start-up company specialising in underwear for post-mastectomy women, who asked what I’ve found problematic about buying bras since my diagnosis. ‘I’m so pleased you’re doing this,’ I told them. ‘Buying comfortable bras is the bane of my life. Just because I’ve lost my natural tits doesn’t mean I don’t want to feel sexy.’ My gobbiness, however, has since led me into a discussion about whether I’d be interested in modelling for the eventual catalogue – the answer to which has so far been a string of ums, buts and erms that would make Wayne Rooney proud.

Right now, who’s to say whether my confidence will return post-reconstruction to a self-assured point where I’d be game enough to take part? (Or indeed whether they’ll hurriedly retract their offer when they see the size of my arse.) See, losing the feeling in one tit has been option-limiting enough – perhaps losing the sensitivity in the other will end up with the removal of my bra being rather akin to going to Alton Towers only to find that Oblivion has broken down?

For now, though, I’ve got a mere 45 days of boob-based thrill rides remaining until Adventure Land becomes the Forbidden Valley. And then, while the theme park is closed for maintenance, it’ll be time to work on the notion that my sexiness can be down to much more than just my boobs. But, natural tits or no natural tits, one thing’s for sure – I’m determined to bring my sexy back. Because, whether or not it’s especially enlightened, I really don’t want today’s to have been the final whistle.

Saturday 24 July 2010

The chemical bothers.

The thing about blogging is that when your posts go quiet for a while, people assume there's something wrong. It’s not always the case, of course – you might be on holiday or have run off to join the circus or have left an important part of your brain somewhere in a field in Hampshire – but, on this occasion at least, 10 days after my last post, people who know me (whether in person or virtually) would have been right in their assumptions.

In his self-appointed role as my Guardian Of All Online Activity, Dad was among the first to question my blogging silence.
‘I figured you weren’t having a great time lately,’ he said on the phone.
‘Oh? Why,’ I asked.
‘Well, you haven’t been as active online as you usually are,’ he pointed out.
‘Yeah I know.’
‘So I assumed you were a bit blue. That’s why I’ve left you alone for a while,’ he added.
(If this seems mean, I assure you it's not. It’s absolutely the best tactic.)
‘How are you anyway?,’ he asked. (The loaded ‘how are you’. Not the just-arrived-in-the-office ‘how are you’. The kind of ‘how are you’ where the emphasis is on the ‘you’ rather than the ‘how’.)
‘I’m not having the best time, Dad,’ I admitted. ‘I’m getting so down, so easily.’ (I’m always loath to use the word ‘depressed’.)
‘And with good reason, shitface,’ he empathised. ‘Tell me about it.’
‘I’m sick of all the pills I’m having to take. I get up in the morning and see them all in bathroom, and the sight of them makes me feel physically sick. I’ve had enough of them, but it’s tough because I can’t stop taking them.’
‘Is Tamoxifen the problem?’
‘I think so. I know how I felt off it, and I know how I feel on it. Even when I was in the depths of chemo I could find a way of getting through it. But now – when things aren’t even nearly that shit – things somehow seem darker. This week’s been awful.’

I went on to describe how I’d spent the previous evening in uncontrollable tears, and had been experiencing so many hot flushes and night sweats that I’d been sleeping in the spare room so as not to piss off P. I told him how P had worked from home that day because he was so concerned about me, and I told him about the horrendous nightmares I’d been having.

‘I read on Twitter that you’d been in bad pain with your back, too,’ he said.
‘Really bad,’ I confirmed. ‘My Tramadol have stopped working so I’m not taking them any more.’
‘And that’s obviously making things worse.’
‘I spose, yeah,’ I said, stopping short of telling him about the hallucinations and the nervousness and the fact that I’d been Googling rehab centres, convinced I was having a breakdown.
‘But I really think it’s the pills, Dad. I’m convinced it’s chemical. I just don’t feel like me.’

There’s no resolution to that kind of conversation, though, and so beyond agreeing to ‘take care’ and ‘look after yourself’ there’s little more to do than carry on talking about what’s going on this week, how far away the next holiday is and what you’re having for tea. But, of course, after freaking out your old man like that, there’s nothing for tea, because you feel too guilty about having offloaded on him to eat anything. (And ain’t that freedom from guilt just the most wonderful thing about therapy? Screw getting antsy about talking to a stranger. That ‘stranger’ is paid handsomely to listen to your troubles, and it’s amazing how quickly you’re able to open up to them once there’s no longer any worry about how what you’re saying is going to affect the person hearing it. Frankly, I think therapy should be compulsory. I know I’ve benefitted from it. And, cop-out as it is to suggest as much on one’s blog, I think my husband and parents are lunatics for not trying it themselves, given the shitstorm of the past two years, which I’ve had much more assistance in dealing with than they have.) But that’s beside the point. The point being that last night, my awful week came to an equally awful head, with a panic attack and sudden purge of my stomach’s contents in the disabled loo of Nando’s. (I only puke in the classiest places. See also: Costa Coffee, out of a moving taxi window, into a rubbish bin in my student dorm. Oh, and Claridges. Claridges was a swanky puke.)

Frustratingly, it wasn’t a therapist or a rehab doctor – hell even a sodding stuffed animal – who had to be witness to my crappy week’s culmination, but my friend Weeza.
‘Mate, are you sure you’re all right?’ she said as I pretended to nibble on a chicken wrap, following a three-minute car ride in which I’d had five hot flushes.
‘Hm? Yeah, yeah,’ I answered unconvincingly, my eyes darting nervously from side to side.
‘You’re not though, are you?’ she pushed, and I was pleased she did. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, other than feeling like I couldn’t focus and might drop my corn on the cob from shaking so much.
‘I don’t feel too well, if truth be told,’ I admitted.
‘What, like you might be sick?’
‘Well there’s a disabled loo right behind you, so if you need to, just dash in there.’
‘Yuh, maybe,’ I dismissed, before finding myself hunched over a raised toilet bowl two minutes later.
‘Right you, come on,’ she mothered as I appeared from behind the door. ‘We’re taking you home.’ It reminded me of the time when we were teenagers and I’d left my wallet and house keys in the pocket of some boy I’d been snogging, and she called my Mum from the nightclub to ask her to unlock the front door because doing so myself would have got me a bollocking, while Mum would never have balled out Weeza.

‘I think you were having a panic attack then,’ she said, hugging my tears away when we got back into the car.
‘Weez, I’m going mad,’ I sniffed. ‘I can’t get anything right. I think I’m losing it.’
‘You’re not losing it,’ she asserted. ‘Not at all. You just need to get home.’
‘I’ve hurt my back throwing up, as well.’
‘We’ll get you some painkillers when we get back.’
‘Nah, they’re not working any more. I took four in one go the other night and they didn’t even touch the sides.’
‘But hang on, they were making you so spaced out to start with,’ she half-questioned. ‘When did you stop taking them?’
‘Um, about 48 hours ago.’
‘And when did they stop working?’
‘About a week ago.’

With the conversation unfinished, I began to wonder whether she might have been getting at a solution. Earlier in the week, when I’d whinged to Twitter about my Tramadol no longer doing their job, a cautious reply told me to be ‘very careful’ of the drug and its effects. I checked the leaflet as soon as we got home.
‘Fuck,’ I cried, as my eyes scanned the passage warning of dependency, and the withdrawal symptoms that can follow when stopping the drug after prolonged use. Nausea, hallucinations, nervousness, panic attacks, sweats, difficulty sleeping… it was like I’d written it myself.
‘That’s it! That’s fucking it!’
‘Funny,’ said Jonny, Weeza’s husband. ‘I asked P when you girls went out whether the pills not working might point to a dependency.’
‘WHAT?’ screeched Weez and I, alarmed both by the coincidence and IT-expert Jonny’s sudden medical know-how.
‘Actually,’ added P. ‘When I told my Mum what painkillers you were on, she said they were ridiculously strong and you ought to be careful.’
‘WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME THIS?’ I wailed. Relieved resolution as this was, it was a bit like breaking up with a long-term boyfriend only for your family and friends to admit that they never liked him in the first place.

Concerned that I hadn’t been warned – whether by my GP or anyone else with even the most cursory knowledge of the drug – I messaged a couple of Tramadol-experienced folk I know.
‘Is this right?’ I questioned, simultaneously relieved by the chemical reason behind my wobbly week and freaked out that I hadn’t been smart enough to see it coming.
‘Totally,’ said one. ‘I had a dreadful time with it. Sickness, shakes, the lot.’
‘It’s a fucker,’ confirmed the other. ‘It’s screwed me over every time I’ve stopped taking it.

Now, I’m not usually in the business of public-service blogging (Alright Tit isn’t medically literate, nor particularly useful, nor the kind of resource that your doctor might advise reading – it’s simply the story of someone learning to negotiate life through and beyond The Bullshit as they go), but in this instance, I’ll be pleased to see this post show up in people’s Tramadol-related Googling. (Plus, it’ll make a pleasant change from people stumbling upon this blog having searched for ‘angry miss piggy’, ‘pink nipples jogging’, or ‘this time next year Rodney we’ll be millionaires’.) Because, frankly, this is information I could have done with two months ago.
‘I can give you more if you need it,’ said my doctor when handing me the initial prescription. ‘Just see how you go and listen to what your body’s telling you.’ But given that, if I listened to what my body wanted, I’d be shunning my cancer-preventing drugs for chocolate biscuts, gin and fags, I dare say a better line of advice might have been to, y’know, just go steady.

So yep, that’s why I’ve been quiet. And that, I suppose, is the other thing about blogging. Just when you thought you had nothing worthy to write about and that publishing another post was more of a chore than an outlet after too long since your last one, along comes an episode like that to make you put fingers to keyboard.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Independence day.

I think anyone who’s known me for a long time would agree that I’ve always been pretty independent. I left home as soon as I was able (not from a wanting-to-get-away-from-my-parents desire, I ought to add; more from there’s-a-world-beyond-Derby-and-I’m-going-to-find-it aspirations), I studied in Norway for a while, moved straight from uni into a London house-share, and lived a very contented six months on my own before moving in with some scouser I fell in love with.

I enjoy looking after myself, and I like to think I’m good at it. (I just looked up the dictionary definition of ‘independence’, actually, and breathed a happy sigh when reading the words ‘direction of one’s own affairs without interference’. Mm, it’s like birdsong to me, is that.) Granted, I might not do things the way everyone else does things (translation: the way my mum would) – I might sleep in til 10am or eat a jar of jalapeños for my lunch or only do my washing when there’s no room left in the basket ­– but I ‘direct my affairs’ in a manner that doesn’t just suit me, but works, too.

It’s no secret nor surprise, then, that one of the hardest things to deal with when it comes to my dodgy health (aside from the dodgy health itself) is the theft of my independence. It’s the being looked after that I just can’t handle. I’m as bad at being cared for as I am good at caring for myself. Which, of course, rarely helps matters because – after a life-changing couple of years in which I’ve gone from thinking very little about my health to making permanent adjustments to deal with a dramatically altered future – I ought to be getting better at being looked after. But I ain’t. Not from a stubborn ignorance, necessarily – I’ve recognised that I could make things easier by learning to deal with it better, it’s just that it’s so profoundly difficult to do when you’ve already had more than your fill of being everyone’s concern.

I had my first physio session for my broken back this week and, after seven weeks of invariably sitting bolt upright/shuffling about my flat/lying down flat (repeat ad infinitum) and venturing little further than the post box on the corner of my street, I’m now at a stage where I’m no longer having to hang around waiting for my back to heal itself, but rather at the far juicier juncture of being able to do something about it myself. Whether it’s taking my painkillers at the recommended time, pushing myself to walk a little further, doing my physio exercises every day or keeping a hot water bottle on the site of the pain, it’s in my hands now. It's the stuff I can affect that I love; it’s where I win all my money back.

I loved it during chemo, too (okay, so ‘loved’ may not be the right word there): once the painfully boring process of ‘sitting it out’ during the shit weeks subsided, I enjoyed forcing myself into something other than pyjamas and out of the front door. It felt like I was a little more in control again, more able to help myself along. I couldn’t do anything about a lot of my process of getting better – I wasn’t able to administer my own treatment, or fix my own meals, or even take myself to the loo at times – but when the ‘buggery bit’ (as my favourite nurse often put it) began to disappear, I reveled in my ability to spend days on my own, sorting myself out and doing things because I thought they’d make me feel better – and not because they’d been instructed.

The subject of control came up while P and I were talking to an oncologist at the clinic the other day; specifically about whether, following my upcoming surgery to do something about my worringly high chance of cancer recurrence, I’d be able to come off Tamoxifen. (The way I saw it, Tamoxifen is there to hamper the production of oestrogen, and so removing my ovaries would negate its use.) This winter I’ll have had two years on the drug, and the thought of a further three doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. I haven’t often talked about Tamoxifen any further than my therapy room, but I think the main headline is that I FUCKING HATE IT.

I’d long suspected that Tamoxifen wasn’t just responsible for my hot flushes, lowered libido and inability to lose weight, but also for the ease at which I find myself slipping into depressive thought (seriously, they should rename that drug The Fun Police). Like I say, I’ve mostly kept its effects on my mood between myself and Mr Marbles – because, really, who wants to talk about that kind of stuff over a glass of cava? (My friends and I have an unspoken understanding: whenever I’m having a low few days, I just go a bit quiet and off-radar. Tills left a voicemail message the other day telling me not to worry about ringing back; she understood that I might have ‘gone dormouse’.) But, following that recent chat at the oncology clinic, I’ve opened up about it a bit more to P. (The rest of you can hear it on here. Because that’ll hopefully save us having to ruin a conversation talking about it.)

In short, my doctors are going to have a think about The Tamoxifen Question once my surgery is done, but they suspect that they’ll keep me on it  – or at least a similar alternative – thanks to its benefits of ‘mopping up’ any cancerous micro-cells that may be moseying about my body like a game of Snake. Which, obviously, is fair enough: cancer-beating benefits will always trump depressive drawbacks. But it’s still a bit of a pisser.

I said as much to a woman I met in the clinic that day... if by ’met’ you mean that a registrar interrupted my appointment to say that someone in the waiting room had read The C-Word, recognised me and wanted to say hello. (A sure-fire new entry into the Coolest Things Ever To Happen To Me chart.) She completely concurred on my experience of Tamoxifen: ‘You remember how you were off it, which is why you recognise what it’s doing to you while you’re on it,’ she said, in a sentence I couldn’t have put better myself. (Tamoxifen-takers will be nodding in agreement here. Anyone else would do well to liken it to the way you feel on a hangover – you know that you wouldn’t ordinarily find yourself crying at a Coronation Street omnibus and, after your second box of Cadbury’s Fingers, eventually attribute your teariness to the twelve vodkas you drank last night.)

This woman, too, was trying to regain the reins on her life and take charge of her wellbeing. ‘They’ve allowed me to come off Tamoxifen for a while, but I still don’t like what it’s all done to me,’ she said. ‘I never had all this before,’ she went on, pointing to a supposedly flabby midriff that I suspect was far bigger in her mirror’s reflection than it was in my eyes. ‘So I’m trying to do something about it by walking more. I just stick my iPod on and head out. It’s a way of taking control, isn’t it?’

I thought about her words after physio the other day. ‘So I’ve got to build up my strength walking little by little and doing these exercises every day,’ I said to P.
‘And you are going to do those things, right?’ he asked, as though I might somehow prefer not being able to get out to the shops.
‘Of course I will,’ I said. ‘It’s in my hands now.’
‘Cos you really must,’ he said.
‘I’ve already said I will!’ I said.
‘I’m just saying!’ he said.
‘Yeah, well, there’s no need. I’m going to do it. End of.’
‘Good,’ he said. ‘You should.’
‘Sheesh,’ I thought after putting down the phone. ‘It’s like being a kid again.’

And it is, really – it’s like being told by your mum to tidy your room, when you had every intention of doing it anyway. But the fact that she’s now asked you to tidy up makes you not want to do it any more, because you wanted to do it off your own back – and not because you’d been directed. Then when you eventually move out of home you find yourself disproportionately pleased with yourself for doing the kind of daft things that – if you weren’t living alone – someone would have to nag you about. Washing the pots because they look messy in your sink. Having a sort-out in your bedroom because it’s time to make some new wardrobe space. Filing your tax papers because they’re making your dresser untidy. Directing your own affairs without interference. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading out for a walk now. But I’m doing it because I can, and because I fancy it. Not because I’ve been told to. Right?

Friday 2 July 2010

News in full.

Since becoming so engrossed with Twitter that it’s become the first thing I check when I wake up in the morning (before even my email), my Facebook status updates have, inevitably, fallen more and more by the wayside. Where once I considered myself the kind of girl who was rather good at Facebook – making all the right comments about people’s holiday photos, not sending invitation requests to games about pirates or farms, updating my status every day – I’ve now become a distinctly average Facebook user.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve not degenerated into painfully dull status updates (if one more person says they are too hot/hungry/hate Mondays I’m going on a defriending spree), poking rather than wall-posting or leaving photos untagged (the horror!). It’s more that Facebook tends to get the news-in-brief headlines while Twitter is ‘treated’ to the full story (with a few ‘and finally’ nuggets thrown in for good measure).

That said, there are some stories I choose to save for the blog, and thus neither Facebook nor Twitter got to hear about my visit to the hospital earlier this week. The beauty of blogging over a 140-character Twitter update is, of course, that you have more time to think about what it is you want to say. And, in the case of this week’s appointments, time to digest what had happened was exactly what I needed. So while the Facebook headline read simply ‘Lisa is clear’, the full story went something like this…

Despite the green-light MRI scan recently, I was nonetheless scheduled for a mammogram to mark my cancerversary. My broken back put paid to the usual timely appointment, however, and so my mammogram – and subsequent consultation with Smiley Surgeon – was put off until I was a little more upright.

The mammogram itself proceeded in the usual way, making pizza dough of my right tit and forcing me to suck in sharp intakes of air in order to stop a confetti of hurt expletives from raining down on the nurse. I trudged back out into the waiting room (as much as one is able to trudge in a back brace) to sit with P, expecting to be called in pretty soon as a result of the unusually quiet clinic. And indeed I was – although not by Smiley Surgeon, but by the same nurse.

‘Do you mind coming back in for another scan?’ she asked.
‘No, of course. Why?’
‘Oh, just that the doctor wants to get another picture done, is all.’
‘Riiight,’ I said, shooting P a suspicious sideways glance as I limped off.
‘Is there anything to worry about?’ I queried as I unzipped my dress for a second time.
‘The doctor just wants to be sure that nothing has changed since your mammogram last year, that’s all,’ she assured.

After my second scan, she handed me a gown and asked me to wait a while before getting dressed. Leaving me alone in the room (well, alone but for the imposing mammography machine and the inexplicable presence of Blame It On The Boogie in my head), I fiddled nervously with the Velcro straps on my back brace, cursing this room in which I’d been called back once before, two years ago. I remembered the red wedges, floral ra-ra skirt and black sequin-star-motif T-shirt I’d been wearing last time, and surprised myself at how much your fashion preferences can change in such a short time. I’d never wear that outfit now.

‘This fucking room,’ I said to myself, still tapping anxiously (and out of time) to the song in my head. ‘This fuck-ing room.’ I thought about P on the other side of the door. I couldn’t believe the pair of us were going to have to go through all of this again. I thought back to last year’s Glastonbury, trying to remember the length my hair had grown back to by that point – because that’s what I’d be looking at for next year’s festival. I thought about what stage of treatment I would be at by Christmas, and what I might do differently this time around. And all the while, completely at odds with my fears, my Jacksons earworm harmonised and discoed and woo-hood and ee-heed its way into my brain, remixing itself into a dodgy B-side.

Sunshine… ‘Maybe now we’ve had the garden done I can sit outside more while I’m recovering?’
Moonlight… ‘Perhaps this time I’ll shave my head sooner – it might save a load of heartbreak if I just shear it all off once it starts falling out.’
Good times… ‘Why do my cancer diagnoses always begin with a fall? 2008 in Debenhams, 2010 in Mexico… I s’pose at least I raised the bar this time.’
Boogie… ‘How can I put everyone through this again? Maybe there’s a way of P and me buggering off for a year and not telling anyone what’s going on?’
Before I knew it I was singing out loud. Bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum-ber-du-bum.

I simply cannot trust my brain’s responses to nervousness. Before flying out to Mexico, I’d natterned my way through a particularly excruciating leg wax at breakneck speed and, in an equally excruciating break in conversation, unfathomably asked the World Bizarrest Question of the beauty therapist: ‘So, did you ever get a perm when you were younger?’ We weren’t even talking about hair, ferfuckssake. My mind, it seems, will always revert to extreme lengths to overcompensate for my nervousness – no matter how inappropriate. Which probably explains why I act like such a turbo-chatty dork each time I see Smiley Surgeon.

‘Lisa! I’m so sorry,’ said the nurse, bursting into the room in the nick of time. Any longer and I’d have been goading the mammography machine into an arm-wave dance-off. ‘Really sorry to have worried you. It’s fine. It’s absolutely fine. We just have to be sure.’
‘Bloodyhell,’ I exhaled in a single breath. ‘You had me worried.’ (‘And a bit deranged, to be honest,’ added my subconscious.)
‘I know, I know, I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘We just…’
‘…have to be sure, I understand,’ I conceded, pulling off the gown.

P’s face was grey by the time I joined him on the waiting-room sofa.
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘But fucking hell, eh? Talk about hairy.’
His head dropped into his hands and shook from side to side.
‘Has he been out?’ I asked, gesturing to Smiley Surgeon’s office.
‘Yep, he knows we’re here,’ said P. ‘We’ll be in in a minute.’

Right on cue, Smiley Surgeon appeared at the door of his consultation room. ‘Come on in, famous author!’ he bellowed.
Shit – the book. With all the mammogram palaver I’d forgotten the copy I’d slid across his desk the last time I was here. (The same copy inside which I’d written the most sickeningly earnest suck-up of a message and signed my name with a heart. In pink pen.)
‘Oh. Er. Blimey,’ I stuttered while he beamed in what could have either been pride at his literary portrayal or amusement at knowing all about my godlike worship of him; I couldn’t tell which.
‘I’ve read it too,’ squealed Always Right Cancer Nurse’s sidekick. ‘The Nurse Who’s Always Right isn’t here today,’ she added, as I sidestepped the pedantic urge to correct her mistaken use of the character’s name.
‘And you’ve seen people reading it on the tube, haven’t you?’ continued Smiley Surgeon.
‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘And we saw you in that magazine, too.’
‘Right. Brilliant!’ I said, trying to gauge from their respective tones whether they were pleased by my book’s content or whether I was about to get a rap over the knuckles with the envelope containing scans of my right tit.
‘How’s it going, anyway?’ asked Smiley Surgeon. ‘Has it been successful?’
‘I believe so, yes,’ I said, egging myself on to pull the trump card from my imaginary pocket. ‘In fact, we’re even having conversations about a possible screen adaptation.’
‘REALLY?’ he said, dropping my scans to clap his hands together in delight.
‘Ooh, I wonder who’d play each of us!’ he enthused, rather prematurely. ‘Would you have any say in the casting?’
‘Oh heck, I don’t know just yet,’ I said, reeling him back in. ‘But I’m sure that if it happens I’ll be able to make sure you get someone good.’ (For fear of him spontaneously combusting with excitement, I decided against telling him that, in my head, he’s played by Stephen Fry.)

P stifled a laugh beside me.
‘Anyway,’ I said. ‘The mastectomy.’
Smiley Surgeon’s ego landed back down to earth with an audible thud as I stripped off behind the curtain as per usual.
‘The right breast looks swollen, don’t you think?’ he asked.
‘No bloody wonder,’ I thought. ‘It’s just been kneaded out of all recognition by that ruddy machine.’
‘But not to worry,’ he continued. ‘I’m confident of getting you a good, symmetrical result when we do the mastectomy.’
‘And you’re still happy to do the oophorectomy in the same procedure?’ I asked.
‘Yup,’ he quipped. ‘So have you always written?’
‘Oh. Oh, right. Yes, I suppose I have, in one way or another.’
‘It really is brilliant,’ he said.
I blushed.
‘And you’re writing more?’ he asked of his still-topless patient.
‘I am indeed. But not about this.’
‘Oh, may I ask what?’
‘I’m giving fiction a go now,’ I said. ‘But it’s early days.’
‘Great. I’m sure you’ll be a success,’ he complimented. I swear I almost saw him wink.

P was still sniggering by the time I emerged from the other side of the curtain. I raised my eyebrows above a smug smirk.
‘So what kind of timescale are we looking at?’ asked P.
‘Whenever you’re ready,’ said Smiley Surgeon. ‘July? Oh no, not July. We’ve got to wait until your back is healed. How about September?’
‘Perfect,’ P and I chorused.
‘And then that’s it?’ I asked, somewhat optimistically.
‘Perhaps not,’ added Always Right Cancer Nurse’s sidekick.
My brow furrowed into wavy lines worthy of a Vienetta.
‘We might have to go for a tissue expander again,’ she revealed to my louder-than-intended sigh. ‘It all depends on the strength of the muscle we find inside. If it’s not strong enough – which it often isn’t – we’ll use a flat tissue expander and then pump it up gradually over six weeks before having you back in to switch it for the silicone implant.’
I couldn’t hide my disappointment at having to spend another six weeks of wonky asymmetry, and adjusted my expectations of my new falsie to include the same dint that blights my left tit, thanks to the uncomfortable digging-in of the port through which my previous tissue expander was inflated.
‘Don’t worry about that though,’ said Smiley Surgeon, still demonstrably more interested in seeing his name in lights than my soon-to-be-flat tit.
‘Mmhm,’ I murmured, grabbing my bag to leave.
‘Listen, keep me posted with the screenplay stuff won’t you?’ he said as I shuffled to the door. And then, as though I were leaving him in a bar rather than a surgeon’s office, he added: ‘I have friends high up in TV, you know, so if ever you need any help, just call me.’

‘Bloody hell,’ said P as we made our way back downstairs. ‘It’s usually you making a complete goon of yourself in there, but this time it was him.’
‘Ha, do you reckon?’
‘Totally. You’re his star patient now.’
I grinned at P’s assessment even more than I had after learning of my clear mammogram. Maybe I should have worn that star-motif T-shirt after all.
‘Seriously. You could actually see his head getting bigger. He wouldn’t shut up about it.’
‘Aww. I’ll miss him when I’m not going back as much.’
‘You’ll see him in September though, babe.’
‘And October, probably,’ I grumbled in response to the tissue-expander news.

‘So, it’s the usual Mac rollercoaster of mostly good news with a few bits of shit stuff thrown in, right?’ said Tills after I filled her in on my day.
‘Pretty much, aye,’ I conceded. ‘You know me, Tills. Never quiet.’
‘It never is, is it?’ she agreed.
‘I’d quite like for nothing to happen for a while,’ I said. ‘I’d quite like things to be really boring.’
‘Ah, but then what would you blog about?’ she said.
And it’s a fair point. See, a day like that isn’t exactly something you can squeeze into the Twitter-standard 140 characters. And nor is it particularly Facebook-status appropriate. Thus my status remained at a minimum-detail ‘Lisa is clear’… despite an irresistible urge to update it with ‘Lisa has been out-gooned’.