It’s been a while since I posted an update, and the truth is that I haven’t felt the need to. Literary Fanny has been having a rest while Actual Fanny has… well… been busy enjoying a wonderful new relationship. I’ve been feeling far more contented than I’ve felt for a long time, and – although my new chap is keen for me to keep writing, and hopes to feature more in future blogs – I felt it was wise to let our relationship develop privately for a little while. This is partly because he hasn’t been a twat (yet) so there’s not an awful lot to complain about at this point, and I’ve begun to realise that my urge to write seems to be fuelled, at least in part, by misery. I also think I needed a break from Facebook, which in recent years has – for me, anyway – become synonymous with grief and cancer. It’s been my outlet – and a bloody wonderful one, where friends and strangers have held me up in so many ways – but I wanted a bit of time to just be cancer-free, to find out who I am again, and to remember my husband in my own way, without the constant reminder that I’m a widow.
It’s strange, being in a relationship with someone other than my husband, but it also feels completely right, and in many ways, heaven sent. Although New Chap is a mutantly tall neuroscientist who runs ultra marathons for fun (so cannot in any way be compared to my husband in physical appearance, or matters of extra-curricular interest,) he is a keen inhabitant of Pedants’ Corner, where he snuggles up beside me to tell me tales of how he was once nearly electrocuted by Ronnie Corbett’s lawnmower, and that his ex-wife’s lesbian sister thinks I’m as hot as fuck (it must be the haircut.) All this is wonderfully reminiscent of the mind of the man that cancer snatched away, and I love it. Heaven sent? Yes, and I know exactly who sent him.
Neither of us ever expected to be where we are. Neither of us had planned for it. Of course I wish my husband hadn’t died. Of course he wishes his wife hadn’t left him. (OK, wives.) But we are where we are, and are enjoying finding our Plan B. Or, in his case, Plan C. In fact, our relationship is probably stronger for the fact that we’re both determined to learn from the past and embrace a different future. Things are looking brighter and better, and as we moved into a new year cancer-free and with renewed vigour, I was looking forward to making some changes to match the fact that 2018 was also going to be The Year of the Tit. I was optimistic, happy, and buoyant. (Unlike my left boob.)
I’ve had a couple of setbacks over the last few weeks, but with New Chap by my side, we tackled my return to the cancer hospital together. It was OK. It was so much easier to walk down those corridors holding hands with someone who actually cared whether or not I survived. We walked back through the door that my husband had been wheeled out of when he was brought home to die, and I was glad that my guy was there beside me. My husband would have been, too. Luckily, with a new cocktail of drugs, I’ll be OK again. I will survive. The final job (apart from growing out this abomination of a haircut) is to get my left breast reconstructed – something I was expecting to happen early this year – and apart from the next ten years of daily tablets, monthly injections, and the stupid twatting compression sleeve, I can well and truly leave cancer behind for good.
A couple of weeks ago, I went back to see my surgeon alone. I knew that I’d only be going there to book in for the reconstruction, and wouldn’t need any moral support. I was fine. In fact, I was more than fine. I was excited. New life, new boobs, new hope. I told the surgeon that I had a place on the London Marathon in April, so it didn’t need to be done urgently – in fact, if I could wait to have my reconstruction in early May, that would be bloody lovely, thanks.
But yet again, as with every time before in that stupid fucking side room, the stupid flowery frieze of wallpaper span around as my eyes exploded with tears because reconstructions don’t just happen like that, apparently. No. If I’d had a smaller cancer, they’d have reconstructed when they took it out. I knew that. But because I’d had a large tumour, invading my chest wall, skin and lymph nodes, a mastectomy was my only option. In fact, it wasn’t an option. I did what I was told. The cancer has gone, so that means my reconstructive surgery isn’t classed as cancer surgery. It’s plastic surgery. And because it’s not urgent, there’s a wait of eighteen months. Worse, I’ve developed mild lymphedema, so I can’t have the standard reconstruction that my local hospital offers because that involves fiddling about inside my armpits… so I need to be referred to a specialist centre, where the surgery is more complicated and the waiting lists are even longer. Most women have their surgeries cancelled three times or more before they even get to lie on the operating table, apparently. Fucking bastard twatting arsehole Tories.
This year, my plan had been to make some changes around the house, including redecorating the room where my husband died, and replacing the orthopaedic bed which we had to buy when he could no longer lie flat. I also wanted to change the car – which my husband got three years ago from Motability when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and which I bought from them for cost price after he died – because it’s just another reminder of the life of hell. The cancer hospital is still the top destination in the Sat Nav, for fuck’s sake. I want rid. I’d done the sums, and with a loan I could trade it in for something else. But instead of changing the house and car, I’m going to change my boobs. I need to move on, and quickly – so I booked in for a private appointment. I have no insurance, but I needed to know the cost of the surgery, and of course this couldn’t be done without a consultation. The surgeon who’d be working on me in a year or two can’t see me in the NHS clinic for six months, but for £150 she could see me on Thursday. And at THAT point she could give me a price. Funny, that. I decided to go for it. To own it. To take control of how, when, and where my tits go back on (and the sooner the better.)
The other day, while I was pushing my trolley around Sainsbury’s (buying ingredients for something for the slow cooker so I could go out and see the surgeon the following afternoon, but still find a way to feed the boys,) her secretary rang. She wasn’t sure what I’d booked in for, and wanted to check a few things before the consultation. Did I realise that the £150 fee was for cosmetic consultations? The fee for cancer patients is actually £250 (because we haven’t fucking well suffered enough) and the receptionist I’d originally spoken to obviously hadn’t understood what I needed. I wasn’t insured? Shame. To be fair, she did offer to ask if the surgeon would see me for £150 as a goodwill gesture. She promised to ring me back.
Ironically, I was standing beside a selection of melons when she delivered the news that the reconstructive surgery I need isn’t available privately, to anyone. I’d had my heart set on it. I didn’t care about the cost. I was ready to remortgage, or do whatever it took to move on. To move away from cancer, forever. I sobbed and sobbed, with old ladies walking past, squeezing the cantaloupes on display, and sympathetically clucking at the poor woman with the terrible haircut talking on her mobile phone in aisle 15 with tears streaming down her face. All the money in the world can’t buy the thing I most desperately want. I should be used to that by now.
I’ve cried all day. I can’t stop. It’s just too fucking much. There is one more option. A surgeon in London, who can see me for a consultation in March, but the operation would take place 200 miles from home, and I can probably manage to get there but it’ll be a logistical nightmare leaving the boys at home while I’m in hospital for a week. That’s it. Until then, I wait. And wait. And hope to move up the NHS waiting list as quickly as possible. I feel utterly deflated (just like my left boob.) And I feel angry. Angry that it took four months for them to diagnose my cancer in the first place. For all I know, if the sanctimonious little twat who told me there was no cancer on the first scan had actually seen something, they might have caught it in time to reconstruct immediately. I’m angry that they were so quick to whip away my breast with the promise it would only be gone for a year, when in fact the wait will be so much longer. Why don’t they put us all on the list the moment we have our tits removed? I don’t get it. But I also know that a) I’m better alive with one boob than lying in a coffin with a perfect and perky set of knockers (it would be difficult to close the lid, for a start,) and b) if you put me in an actual queue, with an actual person who needed emergency surgery, I’d obviously let them go first because reconstructing my tit could wait. I do get it. But my head being able to understand all this doesn’t stop my heart from breaking anyway.
In all of this, remarkably, New Chap seems to remain as keen on me as ever – uniboobity and all – as I am on him; but (although he’ll undoubtedly benefit from it,) this reconstruction is for nobody but me.
As for my husband… I’ll never forget him. Ever. He is on my mind all the time, and I’m sure he always will be. I still look at his beloved boys and wish they had their Daddy (and not just when I’m standing on the side of a freezing cold football pitch every bastard Saturday morning.) When I’m up and dressed and facing the world, though, I’m beginning to think more of the good times we had together than what was left of the man who died, and I smile with love and affection – all the while looking forward to a different future. Yet, every time I’m naked and I look in the mirror, I see that there’s something missing, and I’m reminded of just how much I’ve lost. I don’t just see the missing breast. I see a succession of bald heads, cannulas and sick bowls. I see the dying husband, and the children who’ve coped with so much. I can’t forget the past, but I don’t want to be a “cancer survivor” forever (they’re almost as irritating as vegans, and people who don’t own a television.) I want to move on. This is the right time to rebuild, using the strong foundations of the physical and emotional scars that cancer left behind. I guess just have to take my place in the queue, and wait, and remember to be grateful that I’m still here at all.
Love Fanny x