I’m quietly proud of this photograph. It was taken on holiday when our boys were about four months old, and I’d asked my husband to get a picture for posterity. It’s never been in the family album, but not because I care if people are offended by a photo of my tits doing the job they were designed for (hell, I’d tandem feed anywhere – once, I even propped up the children against my nipples on the window ledge of an overhead walkway at a service station on the M6, having fed them earlier that day during church communion.) I didn’t give a shit as long as the boys were nourished, but I simply couldn’t bear for anyone to look at the photo and think I’d chosen the hideous fabric on that sofa.
I’ve blurred out my face – not because I’m embarrassed, but because the two little generic-looking blond chaps sucking merrily away on my nipples might be, now that they’re in high school.
Those boys are growing up to be fine, strapping, strong pains in the backside, and I’m proud of the role my breasts played in getting them there. I can take or leave my face and my arse, but I’ve always liked my boobs. Small, pert, and perfectly formed. My husband was pretty keen on them too, although (following our return from the IVF clinic, full of hope, progesterone and embryos) when my breasts almost immediately ballooned in size, he didn’t complain. In fact, he thought all his Christmases had come at once. Shame for him that I was also spotty, hormonal, sick and sensitive, and for nine months I pushed him away in case he got too close and knocked the babies out of place with his overenthusiastic penis.
We’ve had some adventures, my tits and I. They’ve been on the front page of our local newspaper, having been signed by an entire cricket team on a drunken night out (and thereafter followed a somewhat embarrassing appeal to find their owner.) They’ve been on full display at a Middle Eastern water park; as the rest of the clientele donned burkinis, my skimpy top flew off half way down a Death Slide, and only a miracle and some makeshift communication in Tourist Semaphore saved me from being arrested. They’ve been bared in clubs when I was too high to care, and later they fed and nurtured our children. I like them. But, one of them has to go.
It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. The day before I went in for my cancer-removal surgery (in which we were attempting to save my breast,) a friend for a decade – and who I’d used as a fine example to our boys of how breast cancer is NO BIG DEAL ANY MORE – died. Just like that. She’d beaten her cancer 18 months ago – a 9cm tumour, to be exact, so hugely bigger than mine – and had been complaining of stomach cramps for months, yet her GP seemingly hadn’t sent her for any scans or tests. By the time anyone really heard any alarm bells, it was too late. She had three beautiful children. SHE was beautiful, inside and out. Now, at 41, she is dead. None of us can quite take it in. I was choosing mastectomy bras in John Lewis (“would you like the fucking disgusting frilly white one with front fastening popper, Madam, or the ghastly peach one?”) when the call came in from a friend to warn me that she probably wouldn’t last the night. I couldn’t any longer concentrate on the wares within Foul Bra section. I decided to buy the first one I saw and sobbed all the way home.
Her little boy, who had been all the way through nursery and primary school with my two (who, seven months ago had followed their father’s coffin into church and read beautifully at his funeral) helped to carry his mother’s coffin down the aisle of the church, as he said a final farewell. I couldn’t decide if it was wonderful that he was tall enough to do so, or an absolute tragedy. I was glad, but sad for her, that I had “Cancer Lite.” No chemo, just a bit of surgery, and maybe a little radiotherapy. Mine was really no big deal. It was never going to kill me. I felt a bit guilty to even be put in her awful, elite club. Until yesterday.
Yesterday, my little world fell apart, yet again, before I’d even finished rebuilding it. It was 11.50am. The last appointment of the morning. In the absence of a living husband, Team Tits ‘n’ Fanny came to hold my hand.
I don’t know why I even thought it might be OK. In the past, whenever we’d been into the cancer hospital with my husband, it was always bad news. Good news happens to other people. Not to us. The words would swirl around our heads: The scan wasn’t quite what we thought it might be. The operation results weren’t as positive as we’d said they were. When we said the tumour was all gone, we meant the visible tumour. Sorry, yes, there’s some cancer left in the margin. That means your survival prospects are low, but not outside the realms of possibility. Sorry, yes, it’s in your lungs now. Ah. Sorry. You might have a year. Or so. He actually had ten months, in the end.
And thus, it came to pass, that it was exactly the fucking same for me. I had my operation. It was a great success. They drew all over my tit in marker pen (disappointingly, it didn’t make the paper this time and nobody bought me a drink,) and, as the tears rolled down my face, they stuck wires into my tumours during a mammogram so the surgeon could find them. They filled my veins full of radioactive fluid, sliced me open, and I woke up with a boob swollen to twice its normal size (and still no husband to enjoy it.) Much to the amusement of Team Tits ‘n’ Fanny, I had a faint blue tinge to my skin and was pissing blue fluid. They called me The Smurf.
But, ten days on, WHOOPS. We thought it was three little tumours – nice and small, nothing to worry about, yes of course you can go to Center Parcs with the Merry Widows, just have it done when you get back – in fact, it was an eight centimetre tumour, with lymph nodes involved. I keep looking from my tiny tits to the tape measure and wondering where on earth it could have been hiding. Either way, I now definitely need a mastectomy. But first, a bone scan. And a CT scan. Then we’ll know the plan. But there’ll be six months of chemo. Then radiotherapy. They want to know if I’m in pain anywhere else, or if my joints are aching. I said I’m struggling to swallow, but I’ve assured them that it’s probably stress which just so happens to mimic my husband’s oesophageal nightmare. Who knows, though? Nobody is saying that it’s curable any more. Everyone is hedging their bets. I have to wait a week for the scan and another week for the results, and all of a sudden the grim memory has resurfaced of my husband skipping out of the hospital when they’d told him he was terminal, because at least we finally knew what we were dealing with. And I’m glad that I never got around to burying my husband’s ashes, because now I can picture us being shaken up together and placed in the ground with his hilarious idea of a headstone bearing the date of death and the words “Best Before” written above.
I remember what it was like, all of a sudden, for him. And for me. That desperation. Being just that little bit over the edge from “curable” with still a chance to step back to safety, even though falling off would be far easier. That fighting spirit. The Tumour Humour. When we looked around the house at all the changes we’d wanted to make, or had already made, and realised that the shitty bathroom tiles just didn’t fucking matter in the great scheme of things. I remember how I’ve cried buckets this week simply because it had made sense to finally switch off my husband’s computer. How a friend had to remind me that his computer wasn’t actually him (although, it kind of was, he tapped away at the bloody thing so often.) I can’t remember how it felt when grief was the only thing that was bothering me.
All of a sudden, I’m a mortal being. All of a sudden, it doesn’t matter how great my tits are, or what they mean to me, or meant to my husband. I want the left one off. NOW. Let’s not wait. It isn’t an adventure. I’ve cremated my husband and a friend has just died. We are all susceptible to death, and my kids are running out of people to bring them up. I want a hug, and to be told it’ll be OK… but the person to do that has already left before me. I desperately want to see him, to hold him, but not to do so yet, because that would mean leaving our beloved boys. I miss him so much that it aches. My son, meanwhile, sleeps wearing his Daddy’s dressing gown, with an urn full of ashes beside him on the pillow.
I wonder if it will only be fair when the other twin has my dressing gown and ashes to comfort him, too. I dismiss that thought and vow to give it everything I’ve got. For now, and for many years to come, you can have all the bras you want, but that dressing gown is mine.
Love Fanny x