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.
‘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’.