Hello, Boobie Tuesday.

A friend recently remarked that you’re all so heavily invested in my story that it would be only fair to let you see a picture of the new knocker. She’s probably right. So, here’s the result of my trip to the Build-A-Boob Workshop back on that Tuesday in late February. I’m actually quite proud of it – and, simply from a surgical perspective, it IS pretty impressive (in comparison with the flat-chested butchery which was there before, anyway). Unless there’s a market for MastectomyPorn™ – which, to be fair, there probably is somewhere – I guess this is only interesting to those who really care. So, here you go.

This is the norkitecture. My DIEP/TRAM autologous breast reconstruction, should you care to Google it (though readers of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now). No implants whatsoever. What little tummy fat I had has now been re-sited into a brand spanking new boob, and the remains of my tummy have been sewn up so tightly that it took a couple of weeks for the skin to stretch sufficiently for me to be able to stand up straight. My tummy button has been relocated further up, and – joy of joys – my lower abdomen has been pulled up so far that my pubes practically reach my nipples. Er, nipple. The left one is still missing for now. There’s a reason for this.

Breast reconstruction isn’t an exact science, and – while my surgeon promised she’d get as much of my stomach fat to work with as she could – there were no guarantees that the new left side would match the existing right side. In the next six months, the new boob will drop into its natural place, and the left will be reduced (or boosted) to match. In my case, it looks like it’ll have to be boosted a cup size or two with fat taken from my bum (I feel that this is one of the few bonus prizes from the pain of these last few years) – at which point, they’ll tattoo my new nipple to match the other side. I can only hope they boost the remaining boob correctly the first time, otherwise I could end up being the proud owner of the Forth Road Bridge of tits, with one chest melon always being slightly more enlarged than the other, meaning that I’ll eventually have to transport them in front of me in a wheelbarrow.

So, as with all the cancer treatment I’ve either witnessed or received over the last five years, this breast reconstruction is a process rather than an event, and I’m still not quite in the clothes I want to wear. But, we’re getting there.

Arriving at the hospital was nerve-wracking. It felt like the last piece of a very complicated jigsaw, but despite the booblessness, I had been feeling better physically than I’ve felt for years. I was running regularly, eating well, my body was toned, and I was feeling perfectly able to take on the challenges that life was continuing to send my way. I knew I’d go in feeling well, and come out, a few days later, totally incapacitated for quite some time. After two years of waiting, I suddenly wasn’t sure if the new boob was going to be worth all the aggravation.

My surgeon put me in a hospital gown, along with paper knickers and compression stockings, and began to draw a huge lip-shaped outline on my abdomen in permanent marker, so she knew where to cut. It went from my left hip, to my right hip, and all the way up to my breastbone. I burst into tears. I’d never imagined they’d take so much of me. She said I didn’t have to go through with it. The New Chap said he’d love me whatever I decided to do, but reminded me that I’d been waiting for this day for two years, and the recovery – whatever it took – would be something we could cope with together. I decided that if he could see me in that outfit, and still love me, then he was probably a keeper, and/or deluded.

I remembered them drawing similar shapes on my husband, and how he was never quite the same after surgery, with half his stomach and oesophagus removed. In fact, his lung had collapsed in surgery and he didn’t wake up for an extra 24 agonising hours. Even though I knew it was a different type of surgery, I panicked in case the same thing should happen to me. But then, I also remembered the feeling I’d had when I was told that the waiting list for reconstruction was over a year long. I thought of all those women behind me in the queue, desperately waiting for the chance to feel like women again. Of my other half, having patiently waited for eighteen months, never being able to get his highly-anticipated soapy titwank. (Not from me, anyway.)

I took a deep breath, said “fuck it” on the exhale, and told them to crack on before I had a chance to run away and change my mind. They parted my gown and took a series of “before” photos, in what might possibly have been the shittest porno ever. (There’s probably a market for that somewhere, too.) New Chap and I embraced, kissed, and parted ways. I’m not sure if it was easier to go into ten hours’ worth of surgery knowing I was leaving him anxiously waiting, or whether it was easier to go into surgery all those months before, knowing that nobody was alive to care.

The surgical team were amazing. They knew I was petrified. They knew this reconstruction was coming at the end of a particularly long road, and were gentle and reassuring. They wiped my tears as they sent me to sleep, and I was totally unaware of everything until I woke up in recovery, unable to move my arms across my chest. Fortunately, it turns out that this was not because my new knocker was so enormous, but because I was lying under a hot inflatable blanket to promote healing. My nurse kept coming along to check my new boob’s blood vessel function with a Doppler. If there was no pulse, it would mean that the surgery hadn’t worked, and the boob would die. All the jelly and heartbeats reminded me of being pregnant again, except that the heartbeat they were listening out for wouldn’t turn out to leave all its wet towels on the floor, or constantly ask me for money and lifts in a few years’ time.

The New Chap came in with my boys. They all told me they loved me. The boys smiled out of sheer relief, and I smiled back, feeling the same. The New Chap wanted to know if I’d had a chance to take a gander under my blanket. For three days, I didn’t move much – my brain was switching between totally wired and totally wiped, and my blood pressure was so low that I couldn’t stand for a while. But, slowly, surely, we got there. I got up. I couldn’t stand up straight because I’d been sewn up so tightly, and once I was discharged a few days later, the pain in my back from being bent double was worse than the pain anywhere else. (Note to any readers about to undergo this very surgery: eat more cake.) It took me a long time to feel normal. I was told to take three months off, but – helloooo, I’m self-employed – I was sending emails from my hospital bed and was back at my desk in my home office within a week. Seven weeks on, I still don’t feel completely right, and I tire very easily, but I’m getting better and stronger by the day. I’ve even started to run again, but rather than knocking out 15K at a time, I’m stumbling along in 5K bursts, provided I use enough scaffolding to keep the new jubbly from bouncing out of my (still rather lopsided) sports bra.

It’ll take a while to feel completely well, and I’m frustrated by the amount of time it’s taking to get back to being me. Frankly, the only thing about me that’s remotely perky is my new left boob. I’m still not quite at the stage of being glad I had the surgery, but I’m sure I will be soon. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to return to whoever “me” is, though. At every crucial moment on this Godforsaken journey: every time we’ve had news which, once said, couldn’t be undone; every time we had to give more bad news to the children; every time one of us was put to sleep to have our body altered beyond all recognition; that moment when my husband took his last breath… those moments have stopped us from ever going back to the person we were before. I realise now that I shouldn’t try to go backwards. Seven weeks ago, I woke up to yet another version of myself – hacked to bits and physically back to square one, but ready to become even stronger, fitter, and more grateful for my life. And, for the first time in a long time, with a living, breathing, loving fella beside me, and a properly cracking set of knockers.

Love Fanny x

CHECK OUT THE NORKITECTURE

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A Picture of Denial.

I spoke to a friend the other day. A friend who was deeply upset, because one of his friends had left it too late to check himself out… and now has a cancer which can’t be cured. We don’t yet know how long he has. It’s heartbreaking, and more so because it could have been avoided.

In the meantime, I’ve been receiving – for two bloody years – requests to put a heart on my wall, or an eight ball as my status, or to accept the challenge of posting a black and white picture, or a no make-up selfie, to raise awareness for cancer. Well, challenge accepted. Here’s my black and white, no make-up selfie, no hair selfie, no boob selfie, and no husband selfie. Our most recent portrait together, a few weeks ahead of our fifteenth wedding anniversary. ❤️

You don’t raise awareness of cancer by putting little gimmicks on Facebook. You raise awareness of cancer by sharing links to websites which outline the signs of cancer, like this one. You raise awareness by talking about cancer, and not being frightened to tell your doctor, or your friend, or you partner, that you’ve got a lump in your boob or bollock, or that you’re pooing blood, or that you’re struggling to swallow. The earlier you catch a cancer, the easier it is to treat. It’s not going to stop growing just because you don’t want it to be there, but it might not kill you if you do something about it early enough. And guess what? The process of my husband’s death was far more undignified than any check-up or operation, and had we caught his cancer earlier, he would still be here now – healthy, happy, and bringing up his children.

I’ve had more people pummelling my boobs over the last few months than I’d ever thought would be appropriate only weeks after being widowed, but it’s been worth it, because our little boys won’t have to watch another parent die. My left breast is now dangling in formaldehyde in a lab somewhere, probably. My hair is in landfill. And my husband is ashes, in a box. We miss him every second of every day.

I hate the way I look at the moment, but I hate the way my husband looks more. He’s going to look like that for far longer than I’ll look like this. Anyway, he was always keen to make a point at any cost, so maybe, together, at our least glamorous, we could save a life.

What are you most frightened of? Looking like me? Or looking like him?

See your doctor if you’re worried. This is what denial looks like.

Love Fanny x

Fanny’s Family Portrait 2017

Warts and All.

I haven’t buried my husband’s ashes yet. I still can’t bring myself to do it, although there have been some conversations with the vicar, so we’re moving forward, slowly. The other day, our son – who had hitherto been quite reluctant to part with them – asked when his Dad would be buried. I said I wasn’t sure.

“Oh,” he said, with obvious disappointment. “I wanted to go and lay some flowers on his grave for Fathers’ Day.”

Those boys are hurting, badly. And it’s only now that I realise just how much, and how much twelve-year-old boys without a father, or even a father figure, struggle – because I can try to be Mum and Dad, but it’s always going to be a compromise. I’m stretched so thinly that I can’t give them everything they need, and I’m taking a lot of my own stress and anger out on them.

Our boys were lucky. For ten years, they had the very best dad in the world, and I don’t use that term lightly. They really did. Nobody adored their children the way he did. He wasn’t always soft with them, but they were exceptionally close and the boys knew just how much they were loved. I was looking through some family photos last night, and what struck me the most was that the same little boy who asked to lay some flowers on his Daddy’s grave was always – always – pictured nuzzling into his father. Not just standing there. Nuzzling him. They adored each other. Even as his mother, I can’t begin to comprehend that child’s loss.

One thing I’m beginning to notice, now I’m a double – not single – parent, is how jealous and angry the boys are with other children whose father is still alive. They are furious. It isn’t fair. These dads – great as they are – are not my children’s dads. They’re pretty good prototype dads, but our boys’ dad was the real deal. The best in the world. They don’t want their friends’ dads. They want their own. When kids complain about their dads being grumpy old arseholes, my boys are cross about it. But at least you’ve got one, they think. You don’t know how lucky you are, they think. They’ve chosen to forget what a grumpy old arsehole their own dad could be.

It’s easy to look back with rose tinted spectacles, and my two do. Of course they do. They are children, and they think like children, but it surprises me that many adults think that way, too. On the online forums, widows and widowers write with great bitterness about friends who turn to them to complain about their (still very much alive) spouse, expecting their widowed friend to listen with sympathy. They don’t. They listen with rage and regret, because they’d give anything to have their own spouse back. They are angry. Angry with anyone who still has their family.

I don’t feel quite like that. Much as I wish my own family was still complete, I actually love to hear my friends complain about their partners. It’s what we do, we women, and being confided in makes me feel as if I’m still valid as a wife, mother and confidante. That I’m still normal. One of the gang. Men are terminally idiotic, and rolling our eyes at how stupid they are is every woman’s favourite pastime. My husband was no exception. He was grumpy, untidy, and out of shape. He never got around to finishing odd jobs, or picking up his wet towels. Don’t get me started on how keen he was to share his opinions, or what a terrible back seat driver he was. I’ve stopped and thrown the car keys at him in the middle of a busy road and told him to drive the fucking car instead then on more than one occasion. He could be a complete twat at times. But, as a husband, and a father, he was the whole package – from wanker to wonderful – and the only person we wanted to fill those very special roles. He was OUR massive fucking annoying twatbastard, and we wouldn’t have changed him. Well, not completely.

As a grieving widow, I’m so desperate to have him back – warts and all – that it’s actually important to remember that there were warts. Plenty of them. My husband’s greatest fear, before he died, was that he’d be canonised in our minds and remembered as some remarkable and faultless being. I assured him that this would never happen. While I can accept that he had faults, and love him because of them – not in spite of them – our children don’t yet have the emotional intelligence or maturity to take anything other than offence at other children’s comments – both positive and negative – about their own fathers. They miss their own too much.

Since he died – actually, no. Since before he died, when we knew he’d never get better, the boys have begged me to provide them with a new stepdad. This seemed odd to me at first, and actually a little offensive, because I couldn’t understand why they would suddenly want someone to take their beloved father’s place. But, they tell me that they just want to be a foursome again. They hate having to divide me in two, and think that if someone made me happy then I would stop crying all the time. (I also think there’s another rather significant element, in that they could really do with someone else around to offer lifts.) In their imagination, their stepdad is a man just like their Daddy. In reality, if they ever do have a stepdad, he’ll have baggage – probably a few kids that they may or may not get along with – different opinions, and a whole new selection of funny little ways. He won’t love them the way their Daddy loved them, because – by definition – he will not be their Daddy. He will be, just like my husband, unique. Irreplaceable. Different. I’m not sure I’m ready for different. I’m not even ready to accept that there’s a vacancy.

When other women whinge to me about their stupid fucking husbands, it doesn’t bother me at all, partly because I like to remember how often I felt like punching my own, and partly because it reminds me that I really am in no hurry to meet another man. I pity my friends, because they never had the privilege of being married to my husband. (Well, a couple of people did, but we’re not really in touch with them any more.) And I pity anyone who one day thinks they could fill my husband’s shoes. The only thing that hurts me deeply is seeing other couples loved up, and their children behaving, as ours used to do. A few weeks ago, I stood with extended family on a beach – the rest of them cuddling their spouses and adoring their wonderful children – as I screamed at my two to stop twatting each other and drawing massive cocks in the sand. My little family was unravelling in front of my eyes and I’d never felt so alone or missed my husband more.

I don’t want a new one, though. Maybe because I’m approaching the end of my treatment, and beginning to see a new start in life ahead of me which I know my husband would want me to grab with both hands, I do occasionally wonder if it’s time to start thinking about dating – not because I need male attention, or rampant sex, but because I’m beyond knackered and could really do with someone to let the dog out early in the morning every now and again.

I can only imagine the internet profile: Bald, one-titted widow. Mediocre cook. Needs a bit of a hand with the kids. Struggling to put up some shelves.

No thank you. Yes, I’m exhausted. Yes, I’m beginning to realise just how desperately my children need a father figure. Yes, I’m finding being Mum and Dad very, very tough. But I’ve just spent Fathers’ Day with our boys, ignoring the significance of the day, mending some garden equipment and building a new drum kit. I even changed a lightbulb. There was no trip to a grave, because there still isn’t one, but I know that their real dad will have been with me all the way, watching me use the wrong bloody spanner, and desperate to jump in and criticise. But he can’t. And what I wouldn’t give to roll my eyes, throw the spanner at him, and tell him to fucking well get on with it himself then, one more time.

We miss you, Superdad. Warts and all.

Love Fanny x

 

 

Bastard Funeral

Not my husband’s funeral flowers. He’d have approved, though. Image from Pinterest.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Dear Chemo.

My relentless positivity is waning. The dark thoughts are setting in, and becoming far harder to shake off than the last few eyelashes which have long been sobbed into a snotty tissue. I have two children who miss their father, but I miss him too, and if it weren’t for them, perhaps I wouldn’t have bothered to fight this at all. In fact, I think I resent the fact that I can’t just say fuck it and join him, wherever he is. Because I do have his beloved children, though, and no family nearby to bring them up, I don’t have a choice. But, Christ, it’s hard – especially when the two children you’re doing it for are not helping you to row upstream, but are standing on the riverbank, chucking rocks at you as you try to do it alone.

They’re eleven. Nearly twelve. And they’re about as much fun as you’d imagine a pair of bereaved pre-teen boys dealing with yet more cancer to be. We’ve been talking about their forthcoming birthday celebrations. Supermum here has always made sure they had a party – and a bloody good one. Well, they’re twins, so I massively overcompensated for the fact that they never got to have a party of their own (the obscene quantities of pirate bunting in our loft are testament to that.) But, yet again, this year, the thought of a whole load of boys in the house (all, inevitably, being dickheads – none more so than our elder twin) fills me with fear. And I’m trying to plan the date around my chemotherapy, and find a weekend when I’m most likely to be well enough to cope.
So why not postpone their birthday? Well, because this is the fourth birthday of shit, and they barely remember what life was like before cancer. The boys were eight when our world was turned upside down. On their ninth birthday, I handled things, because their dad was on chemo. He was involved in the party, but not feeling too well. They understood that it needed to be low-key, and that their next birthday would be better. On their tenth birthday, I handled things, because their dad’s first round of palliative chemo had just begun. They had a sleepover, but it was low-key, and they were really good about it, because they knew it might be the last one with their dad. On their eleventh birthday, their dad had just died. They had a sleepover and a trampoline party, but it had to be low-key, and we were all feeling pretty flat but didn’t want to not celebrate, because that’s not what Dad would have wanted. Just widowed, I didn’t have the energy to field a whole houseful of Year 6 boys, but I’d promised them, now that the whole cancer thing was over, their twelfth would be one to celebrate. And now, yet again, one of us is bald, sick, and having to crawl through yet another birthday on our knees.

None of this is fair – not on me, but not on them either. Recently, I’ve begun to identify the problems, and there are so many, I don’t even know where to begin. My husband and I had all the answers, you see. We were the greatest team in the world, and our children were brilliant. Not perfect – still little shits at times – but loved, secure, interesting, engaging, and funny. Happy. Really happy. We were so fucking smug about how happy they were, because we were getting the whole parenthood thing pretty much right. We decided, when they were tiny, that the greatest gift we could give to them was The World, and went on wonderful adventures to faraway lands with two little smiling blond boys, all skater shorts and smiles, who could have stepped straight out of a Boden catalogue. People would stop us in the street and talk to us, wherever we went. Our openness and sense of fun must have shone out of us. I didn’t realise at the time how precious this was, or how far down the spiral of shit we’d all fallen, until I walked into the house the other day to find one twin in his new natural habitat, fingers glued to the X Box controller and half an eye on a YouTube video about Fifa or wanking or whatever, and the other screaming into a kebab because the idiot in the shop had put salad on it. The stupid fucking twat.

They’re awful, gobby and angry, and I’m beginning to understand why. Because, three years ago, I was the same. I hated their dad being ill. I sympathised with him, because I’m an adult and (three weeks out of four, anyway) more rational than a little boy, so we talked about it at night and hugged each other better. We were both fucking furious with the disease, but while he just laid there being ill, I had to run around and pick up the pieces of the life we had before, and it made me bloody angry, but he understood, and he kissed me better. Our entire life as we knew it had been ruined, but I thought if he could just get off the sofa and pretend to be well, or turn up to football matches, or attend parents’ evenings, everything would be OK again. All those feelings of rage within me have now been turned on to me, by our children, who see me being defeated by the same damn disease which claimed their dad. They are afraid – quite legitimately – of becoming orphans. At their age, I’m fairly sure that my greatest concern was which member of New Kids on the Block I’d marry first. (Not Donny.)

Well-meaning people constantly tell our boys to look after me, but it’s the worst thing they could possibly say. It implies that we could all have done more as a family to save their dad, if only we’d looked after him better. It isn’t true, and it hurts so bloody much. We could not have saved him, and the boys can’t save me. We just have to hope that I’ll be fortunate enough to be on the right side of the survival statistics, and I believe I will be. Either way, there’s not much I can do about it, but by the time they really start to believe I’m fine, when this is all a dim and distant memory, their childhoods will be over for good.

In only a few weeks, we’ll be back to normal. It won’t kill the boys to have a bit more screen time until then. It won’t hurt to just eat freezer food with oven chips. It’s fine if they go to bed a bit late, or haven’t brushed their teeth for precisely two minutes. Or at all. It doesn’t matter if they didn’t work all that hard at school today. Only a little while to go, and we can pick up again where we left off. Never mind that they don’t want to do drama at the moment, or cricket, or roller skating, or football. It’s fine. We’ll go back to it in a few weeks. It won’t permanently damage them if they don’t eat their vegetables for a while. Just let’s get through this bit of chemo and then we’ll slide back into normality again.

We’ve been saying all that for their last four birthdays. This brief hump of chemo, to overcome in whichever way we can – and another, and another – has become a lifestyle. An entire childhood. Because I don’t have the energy to pick many battles, I’m letting a lot of things slide. In fact, half the time, I’m lying down and crying while the pre-teen cavalry ride roughshod over me with their Xbox controllers and tracksuits, grunting into their phones, and dropping bits of unwanted kebab salad in my ear.

We’d always been honest with our children about cancer, from day one. They knew their Dad’s would be a tough one to fight, respected our honesty, and believed us. We shared our triumphs and our darkest moments, and realised that no amount of stretching the truth would stretch out his life, so saving their feelings with white lies was pointless. As the oncologist said, if a miracle happened, the boys weren’t going to come back and punch him in the face for making their Daddy better. However, the doctors made a mistake. They thought he was getting better, and we told the boys we’d still be a family for a year or more. We hugged each other with delight, and booked another holiday. Six weeks later, he sat on our sofa late on a Friday night, having been brought home in an ambulance, hooked up to an oxygen tank and permanently discharged from hospital. We hugged and cried with our beloved boys again, as he told them they’d missed the biggest tumour of them all. It wasn’t fluid on his lung. He had been brought home to die. And guess what? Our boys now don’t believe anything that the cancer doctors say. So, why would they believe that I’ll be alive for their thirteenth birthday, even though the doctors are sure that I will be? Why would they trust that we’ll ever go on a Christmas adventure holiday again, when the last three have been cancelled?

And nobody really, truly understands. Even I don’t understand. That’s why, maybe, despite my kids being the most difficult, angry, stubborn, malnourished, over-screentimed, worst people in the world at the moment, I still feel the need to fight their corner. I observe the boys and their friends a lot, and canvass opinion with other parents, and the general consensus is that they’re no worse than anyone else’s children at this stage in their lives. In fact, considering what they’ve been through, they’re doing bloody well. They’re working hard(ish) at school, seem popular with teachers (mainly,) are maintaining and developing friendships, and are also going through all the usual shit of being picked on or dropped by others. But that’s what kids do, and – for the most part – I let them get on with it, because two oversensitive kids who are already struggling with friendships probably don’t want some bald-headed titless wonder wading in and cramping their style. Apparently, some of their friends are bored with hearing about cancer now. Well, so the fuck are we.

In a few weeks, when the chemotherapy and radiotherapy are over with, I like to think we will – somehow – find this elusive New Normal. The one we’ve been trying to find for so long. The one with discipline and energy and fun and good manners. And possibly even one or two vegetables. (Sadly, I think I’ve probably lost the Battle of Boden, and the tracksuits are here to stay for the foreseeable future.) Until then, I know I have to just keep a lid on it and understand things from our children’s point of view, when I’ve stopped screaming at them. Our children, who still play football on a team run by dads, who desperately miss their own dad being on the sidelines, cheering them on. Our children, whose mum had no sooner taken the role of Dad, than she’d begun to disappear from the football sidelines as well. They don’t believe it’s temporary. They don’t believe I’ll be back, willing them to victory next season, along with their friends. I intend to prove them wrong.

Until then, I’m going to give them the one thing that their friends have had every year, even though our boys probably don’t deserve it – a birthday party, with cake and candles, friends and fun. And, next year, there will be no cloud of doubt to choke them when the candles are blown out.

I promise.

Love Fanny x

The shittiest birthday cake of them all. (Source: Google Images.)

Blue Lights and Red Lipstick.

I don’t like to do things by halves. If you’re going to have cancer, you may as well do it properly, so I’ve been in hospital these last few days with neutropenic sepsis. Much to the disappointment of our children, who were out playing a football match, they missed a very dramatic ride in an ambulance as I was rushed off to A&E (but not before I’d left a present and card on the kitchen table for one of them to take to a birthday party that afternoon, because, you know, motherhood.) Like most women, I’ve always been fearful of having my jeans whipped off by a handsome paramedic on a hairy-leg day, but the chemo has sorted out that problem for me. My blood count had dropped so low that the common cold I caught last week could very well have killed me, but hey – at least my legs are smooth and shiny. As is my head.

Infection is a well-known complication of chemo, and easily fixed with antibiotics and blood-boosting injections, and because our children have already lost a parent, I didn’t mess about or wait a few hours when my temperature went up. By the time you read this, I’ll be home. They can save lives at our local hospital, but they can’t provide wifi. That’s a trade-off I’m happy to take, although our adolescent twins would probably think twice.
A few days before my admission, I’d been feeling really fed up. This latest recipe of chemo has floored me with flu-like symptoms, and a general feeling of exhaustion. I’d been fantasising of a nice lie down in a hotel room, with the boys and dog taken care of. Just me, on my own, relaxing with a book or two. I’ve decided not to make any more wishes as they obviously get lost in translation.

To keep life normal for the boys as I go through chemo, I’ve still been playing Mum’s Taxi, I’ve still worked full time from home, still attended school events, still watched them play football and cricket, still walked four miles a day with the dog, still played badminton with them in the garden, and I’ve even driven the three of us on a fourteen hour round trip, and spent two nights in a hotel, to attend a family gathering on the south coast – because if I carry on as normal, paint on some eyebrows, pop on a hat, and don’t behave like I’m ill, then I’m not ill. Right?

Wrong. The last few days have been an eye-opener, and a lesson in self-care, to say the least. Much as I remain impressed with our amazing NHS, I don’t want to come back into hospital again. I was placed in Protective Isolation in the world’s most uncomfortable hospital bed, and until the IV antibiotics started to work, and until my temperature came down after 36 hours or so, I didn’t even have the energy to read or write. Fortunately, Twin 1 very kindly loaded up his iPad with films for me to watch. His choice, not mine – a handpicked selection of movies about aeroplanes, terrorism, and a documentary on brothels.

I wasn’t allowed to drink tap water (and sterile water is, well, fucking disgusting) but they did let me wander up and down the corridors to keep myself moving during the long and miserable nights – partly to ease the lower back pain of lying down for too long, and partly so I could perfect my Lady with the Lamp impression, but with a drip, and a less attractive silhouette featuring one boob and a bald head. Oh, and there was always a people-watching opportunity outside Maternity, as the expectant mothers squeezed in one last cigarette just before the baby’s head started to crown.

Family and friends have been wonderful, as ever, and rallied around to help us, but my Mum and Dad live two and four hours’ drive away, respectively, and it can take some time to mobilise family troops. The reality of the situation here remains the same. No amount of eyebrow pencil, no supply of sparkly headgear, no carrying on regardless, can change things on a day-to-day basis. It’s getting tougher. When my husband was ill, he had me to keep everything going, and I remember so vividly that he said it was harder to be the carer. I think he’s right, but I’m now the patient as well. Having an ambulance sent for you because you’re alone; having to miss your kids’ football match (and then having to start making panicky calls from the back of said ambulance, under the blare of the sirens, to try to get them brought home and looked after,) and leaving some cash for them to go to the chippy for lunch because you’ve been too tired and weak to go to the supermarket (my Parent of the Year award is in the post) is properly, properly shit. The boys have eaten nothing but crap, and barely a vegetable or a vitamin has passed their lips, for weeks and weeks. I’m hoping that’s one of the fonder memories they’ll have of Mum’s Chemo Days.

On admission to hospital, I was asked about my marital status, and my next of kin. I should be used to the questions by now, but I still hesitated. I didn’t really want to say the answer out loud. All I know is that the tears came yet again as I let them tick the boxes about alcohol intake and stool consistency, and told them why I was there alone; that my real next of kin was dead. That the last time we raced to A&E, he was here, in the cubicle opposite the one I was now in. Just like him, I came in with a high temperature, collapsed veins, and a bald head, but this time, without a spouse to hold my hand, or to go in search of magazines and coffee machines. To carry the load of responsibilities still waiting at home.

I’m home now, where life is our own brand of normal. Where I can keep busy with work, and start every day in heels and war paint, once I’ve walked the dog. Where I pretend to the boys that I’m OK, because none of us can bear the alternative. Where I came out of hospital to a huge pile of work, but three hours after discharge returned to A&E with further complications. Everything was sorted without another admission, and I returned home in the early hours to find the boys sleeping side by side in mine and their Dad’s bed, for comfort. I slept in Twin 2’s bed instead – which definitely wouldn’t pass any Infection Control inspection.

My parents have done a brilliant job of keeping things going, even though the boys associate Grandparental Visits with Dying Parents, and respond accordingly, like proper little shitbags. Because they’re frightened. Because when their Daddy started to get taken away in ambulances, and grandparents arrived to help, he died soon after. They’re taking their anger out on everyone, especially me – as I did with my husband and children, when I thought life couldn’t get any worse. I was angry with the cancer, not with them; but I couldn’t always differentiate, and nor can they. How I wish we could go back to those days when being a family of four with terminal cancer was so much better than this.
When my husband and I could still be parents together.

Six weeks more of chemotherapy. Six weeks more of pretending I’m fine for the sake of the boys, but being a little more careful with myself to make sure I really am – because they will suffer the most in the long run if I’m not. I’m almost at the end of the road, and the end of this road will be the start of a new beginning, but perhaps I need to trade the heels for slippers, wear pyjamas more, bare the reality of my pasty and puffy chemo face, and admit that I’m not finding it all so easy.

My husband called me Wonder Woman. (He also called me TwatFace.) He knew I’d be OK, that it was safe to leave us, and that the boys would be alright in the end; that I would throw my heart and soul into the vacant position of Dad. He didn’t realise I’d go so far as to chop off my boob and shave my head to get into character, but – as I said – I don’t do things by halves. In a few weeks, Wonder Woman will be reborn – with a new razor for her legs, some hairspray, a sparkly scarf, and a brand new shade of lipstick.

Love Fanny x

Dedicated to Karen, who loved my husband, loved me, and encouraged us to love each other, despite the challenges which lay ahead. Who went to hospital last week, and wasn’t lucky enough to return home to her beloved family. A true Wonder Woman, and champion of the world. Rest in peace, my friend. X