(I wrote the following piece seven weeks ago but couldn’t find the enthusiasm or inclination to post it until now)
31st March 2013: The Things We Do
In a couple of days I have an interview with a plastic surgeon. This is a departure for me. From the sort of person I normally interview, from what I normally think about. Artists, designers, writers, travel, fashion, culture, these are some of my subjects of choice. I love the thrill of a new brief, the research I have to carry out, the questions I’ll have to ask, thinking about the shape of a piece, the direction it will take, what I want to achieve, the message I want to put across.
In the office, working from home, walking my dog, or doing some exercise, lots of my time is spent thinking about what I’m writing or what I’m going to write next. The rest of my time is spent looking after my family.
And now I’m off to see a plastic surgeon to discuss breasts. Shapes; sizes; various options; surgical procedures. The street in which this clinic is located has more Beauty Clinics, more Spas, and more Cupcake Boutiques than anywhere else I know. But I live in Dubai and nothing much surprises me anymore. In the city where anything is possible, we think a lot about our appearance. We have a lot of help, much free time and of course money (why dispel the myth?). What could be more important than taking care of ourselves, of ensuring our constant happiness.
I’ve been to a plastic surgeon’s clinic once before, in Bahrain, when I was conducting a series of features on Reader Makeovers for a lifestyle mag. That was a revelation and something of a learning curve on Botox and fillers and everything in between. Very young women, with more money than sense, sat in the waiting room to have non-existent wrinkles smoothed away.
Talking of wrinkles, and to digress a moment, a couple of weeks earlier, I threw caution to the wind. A photograph of Jessica Biel on the cover of South African Marie Claire inspired me. I took my scissors and a deep breath and cut myself a fringe. My heart raced as long hair fell in the sink, and again, even faster, as I realised that when you have naturally curly hair, it looks particularly stupid as a fringe unless you straighten it. My hair, until that point, had been so low maintenance, I had to bbm my daughter immediately at school to find out how to use her GHDs. It’s been a steep learning curve, the maintenance levels of a fringe, tinged with little regret that I complicated my hairstyle. On the plus side I’ve been told that it makes me look a lot younger. (The wrinkles are covered up now). Which worries me a little because how old was I looking before? And someone thought my 20-year-old son was my boyfriend. Which is a bit weird, but perversely flattering for me and not at all for him. So on balance the fringe thing was a good move.
I’ve been told that the clinic I’m visiting is very, very good and if I fancied I could get some Botox done as well, whilst I was there. But, to be honest, the fringe is doing such a great job all by itself that instead of cheek fillers, I think I could probably slice some wispy feathery bits into my hair and arrange them artfully over my cheeks to cover the ‘parenthesis lines’, or nasolabial folds to give them their technical name. It might look a bit contrived, a bit Wolverine, but what the hell. If I am brave enough to cut a fringe, then I’m sure I can razor in some wispy feathers. After I’ve discussed the boobs.
New pert breasts will be the icing on the cake. That’s what I’m thinking. Folk will wonder: Has she? Hasn’t she? She’s looking so like Jessica Biel. She’s looking younger than her son? Who cut her fringe? What are those wispy feathers plastered over her face? What’s she had done? How? Where? When? Why?
Breast cancer. You have a lot to answer for.
Back on Mother’s Day, Sunday 10th March 2013, in my diary there is a reminder of my nephew’s 7th birthday, an appointment at 1.30 with my GP and scrawled in a corner:
‘diagnosed with cancer what a fuck’
I have been reticent about spewing my guts about My Life With Cancer. I am quite a private person and a recent email updating friends in the UAE, titled All About Meeeeeee….,is not how I normally do things. Nor do I believe that I have anything new to add. I do not wish to be defined by it, and as far as I’m aware once I’ve undergone treatment I’ll be better. I have no history in my family, live a ‘healthy’ lifestyle, eat my greens, breast fed all my children, and, and, and…when push comes to shove, life is, I have discovered, just a bit of a lottery.
I’ve been off twitter and blogging for quite some time because I’ve been overwhelmed by the last two months’ revelations. Last Sunday, I returned to the UK to start my treatment – and so my time as an expat has come to an end. For the foreseeable future. And that makes me sad. Currently I feel like I have lost my identity. Days filled with briefs for features, interviews, writing travel pieces, meetings with my colleagues, at the magazine office, discussing the guidebook, my family’s needs, warmth, light, sun and a sense of adventure are now spent analysing my symptoms as I undergo my first cycle of chemo.
When I first found out I had the C-Dog as my daughter calls it, but which according to the Urban Dictionary can mean something far more vulgar, yet no less apt, I could not talk about it, tell anyone, acknowledge it or even come to terms with the fact that healthy, dynamic, writer-person me, should be vulnerable and ‘ill’. I underplayed it to one and all and only when the treatment plan was established did I understand that cancer is cancer. It’s not eczema or a broken leg. It’s serious.
It was only after reading a great feature in the Guardian this weekend by and about the very talented Matilda Tristram that I wondered why I wasn’t writing my blog anymore? My blog is about what I do and what I get up to, and this is part of that and isn’t something to be ashamed of, which is how I was feeling.
So just to fill you in on my geographical whereabouts: I’ve left Dubai and I’m staying with my parents for a month or two until the rest of my family join me. For my parents, as well as me, this is an interesting time. We’ve not lived together for nearly 30 years. Whilst I feel like someone on day release – I take a daily, gentle walk around the town where my parents live (above an amble leaves me breathless), sporting the same brutal haircut I bizarrely chose to have when I was 17, bundled up in a motley assortment of my warmest clothes (seven years of life in the desert has prepared me poorly for May in the UK), and take photos of the baby ducks in the park, my parents are now having to babysit me, make sure I’m not shivering and take me with them to see their friends like a wayward 14 year old who’s under surveillance for bad behaviour.
Were I to suggest that there’s a right way and a wrong way to support someone with cancer, and I am aware that I might be stepping into the murky depths of ingratitude, I would go so far as to say this: Do not write me messages telling me I must be Devastated. Nor how Fragile a Path we Tread. Nor that Life is so Precious and Fragile (same person. Seriously???) Nor that, as a Woman and Mother how lost I must feel but I have so much to fight for.
This is not useful.
Ditto Diets and Useful Links off the Internet. Sugar feeds cancer and blue stuff is good for me. Marvellous. I ate the good stuff all my life and I got the cancer. My priority at the moment is keeping everything down, not 50 Ways With Pulses. I’m wondering if perhaps the breast lump is a baby, what with all the cravings for salty stuff – I really want smoked haddock with a lump of melted butter on. And failing that, hummus, anchovies and cheese. Chocolate tastes manky. Water a bit beugh. Little and Often is my mantra. Talking of which…Some days I feel positive, some days I’m self-absorbed; Woe is Me, Life’s so Unfair. I am not wallowing. I am just a bit pissed off. The cancer came and it will go, but chanting upbeat, positive mantras with a benign smile on my face will not make the tumor shrink. Toxic drugs will. Toxic drugs that are fluorescent orange and make you pee Tizer-coloured pee. And I don’t want to research anything on the internet or be sent links from weird online forums or be told to question my treatment plan. The hospital treating me is pioneering the research. Is there a remote chance that they might actually know what they’re talking about?
The rest of the family will join me in a month or so’s time and we will eventually move back to our old home (tenants be gone! A two year no-break clause contract on your UK home is such a good idea when you live abroad – ensures continuity of tenancy, ongoing rental payments. Bit of a disaster when you need to return home 6 months into the agreement and want your home back). I am continuing to write and work, nothing could stop me, and I have the opportunity to spend time with old friends who never went away. I’m learning not to sweat the small stuff. Everything sorts itself out in the end, nothing is insurmountable.
And I am surprisingly excited about this next phase. I’m no longer residing in the land of bling, but I love London and I can work anywhere. I get to buy lots of new clothes, do something other than walking the dog and eating out in 5*star restaurants. (I’ll be honest for a moment – there’s not a HUGE amount to do in Dubai) And we have the chance to make plans for a brand new adventure. I missed markets, restaurants with live music, conkers, baby ducks (I discover), walking the dog off its lead, and greenery. Now I have it all. I may be temporarily back in my teenage bedroom and I may have left behind my life of the last seven years. But as wise, positive, upbeat folk say – ‘when one door closes another one opens’. I’d be the first to agree.