I'm So Vain - Body Image after Cancer

17/05/2016 13:54

I once flashed my tits on stage at a concert. I'm not entirely sure what came over me. I am easily encouraged to rash and attention seeking behaviour in the face of a crowd, my boobs were new-formed and I believe there were wet t-shirts and prizes from long forgotten drink brands in the offing. However, it's probably been close on 18 months since anyone other than a medic has had sight of my mammaries - of the natural or prosthetic kind. That is until the other morning when I got my boob out for the plumber.

I'd just finished showering, I was wearing my dressing gown and in my right hand I was holding my prosthetic tit. Making ready to stick it to my chest I heard the sound of water trickling. I turned to check if I had left a tap running and saw that there was water dripping from the ceiling. My upstairs neighbour is having work done to his bathroom and I realised that the source of the leak must be from the flat above. Quick as a flash I dashed out into the hallway to call him and his workman down to inspect the damage. As both men entered my flat, it didn't occur to me to put down the object in my hand. My neighbour is partially sighted and interpreted the upturned breast form in my palm as my morning bowl of muesli. His fully sighted workman however, on spotting the object in my clutches, was both confused and embarrassed. Not the effect one hopes to achieve with the flashing of a tit.

There once was a time when I might have relied on alcohol and the horrors of the night bus to lure men into my home in order to unleash my boobies for their delectation - now I can remain fully clothed and hold one of them aloft like a trophy. This is just one of the tricks I can turn since my "active" treatment ended. The treatment may be over but things have changed.

"You must be pleased that's it's all over now" say well-meaning friends. What precisely they mean by "over" is another question. I may be alive but my body and my looks are not what they once were and forgive my vanity but I am not best pleased by that.

Returning from a recent weekend away with the family, my sister-in-law mailed me photos taken on the trip. One was a picture of my brother running on the beach away from the camera. Beside him was a short balding bloke. On closer inspection I realised that the bloke was me. I never had the thickest tresses but I used to spend considerable sums on maintaining whichever hairstyle was my latest fancy. From a Joanna Lumley inspired "Purdy", a heavily hair-sprayed attempt at a Farrah Fawcett flick, through to a particularly pathetic shaggy perm and a glorified mullet, all required regular cuts every six to eight weeks. I have had four haircuts since 2014 and one of those includes getting my head shaved when most of my hair dropped out in the shower after a chemo session.

I am currently rocking the Mia Farrow in "Rosemary's Baby" look so it's fair to say I am no longer bald, but my hair refuses to grow back everywhere it was before. This might be welcome when it comes to one's underarms or lady-garden but is more distressing when it applies to the back of my head, my eyebrows and eyelashes.

It is now over a year since I completed what is termed "active treatment". Now I hate to seem ungrateful but however delighted I am to be alive, I would still welcome a head of hair without a bald patch, eyebrows that do not need drawing on each day and eyelashes that reach a lash count in excess of ten. Okay, okay, maybe my joie de vivre should not be dashed by such cosmetic trifles but maybe you can forgive me for wishing I had full feeling in my fingers and toes (I still suffer from chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy) and I didn't have to store a body part next to the basin in the bathroom.

But back to my looks, consider me shallow, consider me vain, but I do care about what this treatment has done to me. I used to be blonde. I am no longer blonde, my hair is dark with bits of grey. I can already imagine ex-boyfriends seeking a refund and muttering "collars and cuffs". From behind, my scalp is still stubbornly visible through my thin and patchy hair.

"But you must be grateful that you are alive" gushes a friend who uses mousse and products to enhance her own thick tresses, gets a regular cut and blow dry and wails whenever she has what is commonly referred to as a bad hair day. For me every day is a bad hair day. But I should not give a damn because I survived god dammit and vanity ill-befits the gratitude I should feel. Well it's my life and I'll be ungrateful if I want to. There's a whole beauty industry based on the fact that people don't leap out of bed each morning so delighted to be alive that they don't give a shit what they look like.

So, as you brush your own hair, pluck your eyebrows and put mascara on your eyelashes forgive me if I feel like a little moan over the loss of my looks even if I give thanks to the doctors and medicines that saved my life. I might have "kicked cancer's butt", but I'm flawed and just as vain as the next person.