A Tale of Two Titties.

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

Image from Rethink Canada - http://rethinkcanada.com/blog/2015/11/melons-get-makeovers-for-breast-cancer-awareness/

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Fanny for Grabs.

A few weeks ago, I did a deal with my son. My angry, grieving, difficult son. It wasn’t a deal I wanted to do, and – in many ways – it felt like a pact with the devil. I told him that if he would engage with a course of counselling, then I’d do what he’d been asking for, and start to look for a new partner. 

I knew that it would take several weeks to sort out my son’s head, and, through counselling, he’d probably realise that his problems were not going to be easily solved by my acquiring a substitute for his dad. I wasn’t ready for a relationship, and was otherwise muddling along as a double – not single – parent, but at my wits’ end.

Both boys have been desperate to see me happy again – and that, they believe, means for me to be married off as quickly as possible. Even when my husband was still alive – on the day we sat the boys down at nine years old, and told them their Daddy was dying – one of them disappeared with the laptop to look for a dating website so they could find me a new husband as a matter of some urgency. It took a little while to explain the concept of marriage vows, sickness, health, and death us doing part etc., but we got there in the end.

Since my husband died, though, the boys have made several less-than-subtle suggestions. On holiday last year, barely four months after I’d been widowed, they danced around me singing Love Is In the Air while I was having a perfectly genial conversation about table tennis with a 19-year-old member of the Croatian animation team. They’ve come home from school full of optimism every time one of their friends happens to have a set of parents in the throes of divorce. On the holiday we’ve just returned from, I sat in the bar most nights being elbowed in the ribs by an enthusiastic twelve-year-old who had spotted the multi-millionaire Saudi Arabian fortysomething with a penchant for $160 shots of cognac. Although he seemed like a nice guy, and we found commonality in being widowed parents of teenage boys, I couldn’t quite shake off the thought that anyone who could spend $160 on a single shot of cognac was probably more than a bit of a twat. All I wanted was a cuddle and a conversation with my ageing scruffy intellectual, who was usually floored by half a lager – the cheapest one available.

I’ve apparently had sniffs of interest via friends – which has been flattering, but unreciprocated. I’ve just not been ready to even contemplate a relationship with someone other than my husband. Since we interred his ashes in the churchyard a week after my treatment ended, though, I’ve felt an element of closure and optimism that I haven’t felt for a long time. I miss him, terribly. I always will. But he is dead – and burying a box in the ground with his name on it hasn’t brought him back to life, much as we all wish it could have done. Now, with every new hair that appears on my head, I feel a strand of hope; of a future which is new, exciting, and seems to be within my grasp. It’s been such a long time.

A few weeks ago, having returned from another very lonely holiday in which the children mainly made friends and buggered off, just as I’d expected and wanted them to do, I asked my husband’s dearest friends for advice and reassurance about the next tentative step I thought I might want to take. Without exception, they gave me a monumental thumbs up, and later that night, I got myself royally pissed and set up an internet dating profile.

I met my husband at work over 16 years ago, at a time when entire families were sharing a single dial-up internet connection, so online dating is completely new territory for me. As a widowed parent working from home, though, it seemed like the best place to start.

I knew that my husband had wanted me to move on after – and I quote – a “suitable period of mourning,” but my mourning period has been long and difficult, and isn’t over yet. It never will be, completely. Nonetheless, I was nervous as I filled in all the criteria (including an upper age limit of 48 – the age my husband was when I met him,) and selected that any potential suitor must be educated, and that he must have a proper job. There was no option to request that he have no pre-existing medical conditions, or a family history of cancer.

Out of about 25 possibilities, only one face leapt out at me, but I duly went through each profile one by one. As more and more so-called “compatible” matches appeared, and as I read through each one (deleting them with gay abandon) it became clear to me that I had a few more criteria of my own, which couldn’t have been picked up by the website’s algorithms.

– He must have a nice traditional name, but not the one belonging to our dog.

– He must be able to spell and punctuate.  

– He must not be a Tory.

– He must not be topless on his profile picture, although bonus points for removing his anorak.

– He must not be wearing a football shirt.

– He must not still be proud to display one of those Celtic arm tattoos.

– He must use a picture of his face, not his car.

– He must not use “LOL” at any point, especially not as an appendage to an otherwise rather dull statement.

– He must write something to make me smile.

– He must be someone that my husband would have liked. A lot.

Likewise, I tried to answer all the questions as honestly as I could.

– I explained that I liked all types of music, but that I wasn’t allowed to like anything too modern on account of it being embarrassing for the children. I also warned that I’m rather keen on musicals – particularly reenacting certain death scenes at full volume during long car journeys – and that I tend to forget that I am not in fact a member of Little Mix.

– I listed my hobbies, which include refereeing arguments between twin boys, swearing, and being the world’s most unremarkable cook.

– I said I was widowed with pre-teen twins, and looking for someone who, like me, was not in a rush, but who would enjoy intelligent debate, wine, sarcasm, and companionship. I also asked that he should be a dab hand at DIY, an enthusiastic grammar pedant, and enjoy getting up early to let the dog out.

I decided not to mention the missing boob and ghastly post-chemo crop at this point. I expected the search to take several months. I also knew that anyone who could jump unscathed through all the hoops would be a chap worth getting to know better, and if he still managed not to care about how many mammaries I currently possess, then that would say everything I needed to know about him.

I whittled my own shortlist to a grand total of one. A tall, handsome, marathon-running scientist, with an attractive smile and a self-effacing biography, who also happened to live the closest to me – just up the road in the next valley. The one whose picture had stood out in the first place. He was probably way out of my league in intellect and looks, but I’ve learned that life’s too short to not even try. We exchanged messages, and I was relieved to find that he used the correct version of “you’re” in a sentence. He had found my profile to be quirky and interesting, although I’d made the first move – it turns out, if left to his own devices, he wouldn’t have given me a second look as he normally goes for leggy blondes. As did my husband. My husband had not been a health freak – in fact, he got out of breath running a bath – and that was often a stumbling block in our relationship. A whole new outlook on health from a partner would not be unwelcome, but in the long term, I want a man who can stimulate my mind as much as he can stimulate my somewhat imperfect body. A man as imperfect as me. A man as imperfect as – though different from – my husband.

I will report back. Even if nothing long-term comes of this, I’ve had the joy of communicating with another adult, on the same wavelength, whose epic banter (in exquisitely-punctuated messages) has made my heart leap and a smile reach across the full width of my face. Who knows what will happen? We’ve been on a few dates already, and the connection is strong. We miss each other when we’re not together. He knows the score. All of it. He’s had his nose in my Fanny for the last few days (which is absolutely not a euphemism) and still hasn’t been put off by the grief, the booblessness, or the frequently awful children. If all else fails, he knows he could end up as material for the next blog post, so he’s trying his best to not be too much of a twat. And so am I.

I wasn’t expecting to click with anyone so soon. In fact, I realise now that I wasn’t really expecting any kind of life at all. I’ve simply been existing, day to day, for three and a half years. Three months ago, I was quietly planning my own funeral (I was going to have Brimful of Asha as my coffin came in, by the way. I thought it would be funny,) but now I’m planning a future, and it feels wonderful. The boys haven’t met him yet (nor has he endured Trial by Friends,) but they’re delighted that we’re going out on dates and keep asking me why I’m smiling for no reason. And, they’re both still receiving and engaging with counselling. These are still very early days, but they’re good days, and – far from feeling like cheating – being with this man already feels like the most natural thing on earth.

In actual fact, it feels as if somebody, somewhere, has played a very special part in this. He knows that the time is right for the boys and me to smile again after so many years of pain. Maybe, a loving hand from heaven has given things a nudge in the right direction. Time will tell, and I have plenty of that.

Love Fanny x

A Future for Fanny.

Following a few nail-biting weeks, I’ve just heard the two wonderful words which my husband never got to hear.

All clear.

Thank you to everyone who helped to drag me along the darkest path I’ve ever had to walk alone – in particular to The Fanny Pack, and to so many others, whose kindnesses will never be forgotten.

Thank you to friends, and strangers, who have joined me here on the blog, and supported the boys and me practically, at home or in hospital.

There is a new life at the end of the tunnel, and my wonderful, brave, much-missed husband is holding the light which guides us there. He always will.

Life, Part Three, starts here. (Well, when I’ve handed back my radiotherapy gown and finished setting fire to my wig.)

Love Fanny x

Chemo accoutrements, no longer required.

Blue Peter Boobies.

Almost as distressing as losing a left boob, my hair, and quite a lot of my dignity over the last few months, is the cost of mastectomy bikinis. Now, I’ve always objected quite heavily to paying handsomely for anything which is basically a couple of pieces of string and two cloth triangles to keep your tits held up on the beach, but holidays are the only time I ever seem to think about having my photo taken (weirdly, I tend not to capture the memories of everyday family life, such as shoving fish fingers in the oven, screaming at the kids, or filing away the gas bill.) So, it’s nice to go on holiday with a few decent clothes, and wear something that makes me feel good on photos and in the sun.

We’re now on our much-anticipated family holiday, which marks a new start for us all – and while I would probably have been happy enough to sit in a tshirt, just for the joy of feeling some warmth on my skin, I didn’t want to miss out on being able to splash around in the pool with my boys. They’ve had little enough of me lately as it is.

Marks and Sparks, and George at Asda, do a couple of good and inexpensive mastectomy swimsuits… but I don’t want a swimsuit. I’m not even 40. Even though I’m still in the process of shedding the Chemo Stone (not easy when there’s always free booze and a buffet) I want to wear a bikini. This summer, I’ve discovered that mastectomy bikinis are generally available on specialist cancer websites at around £120.

Having lost my husband to cancer and gone through a year of treatment on my own, I want our children and I to live our lives to the full – and spending ridiculous sums on a piece of cloth with a pocket in which to stuff my falsie is not part of the deal. £120 could buy us more days out and holiday memories, and making memories is something our family will never regret.

So, here’s what I made earlier. In light of the missing cleavage situation, I’ve bought some ordinary bandeau bikinis from a high street shop for about a tenner each. They have little pockets in the side with a boob-shaped insert, presumably to keep everything looking even, and to minimise the chilly post-swim “light switch nipple” situation.

I’ve stuffed some quick-dry material in the pockets (the same stuff as those exfoliator puff things you use in the shower;) enough to match the other side. It sits quite happily behind the insert, safely and comfortably, doesn’t lose its shape, and dries out quickly after a swim. You would simply never know. (And as a bonus, I don’t need to worry about my false boob falling out and bobbing around in the pool.)

It’s hard enough having to lose such an important part of my body, but it’s even harder when doing normal things like swimming become seemingly unaffordable. Although I won’t be able to wear anything with a cleavage until after my reconstruction next year, there’s no reason why I – and so many other women – shouldn’t be able to join in with the simple pleasures in life. I know I’m not a big lady, but given the way bandeau bikini tops squish everything a little flatter, I don’t see why it couldn’t work for everyone. I’ve also decided to keep the straps on, so it’s less likely to end up around my neck, half way down a water slide.

Nobody here has noticed that I’m any differently endowed than anyone else. I guess they will if I decide to pop up (or out) over here…

Love Fanny x


Three Chicken Fillets and a Pencil Test.

It’s almost a week since my mastectomy. And do you know what? I’m actually OK. The worst thing that was going to happen to my body, ever, has happened. My left breast has gone.

It was bad enough, almost twelve years ago, when – having sat through NCT meetings, smugly proclaiming that I wouldn’t be having any pain relief and heaven forbid a Caesarean section – I had to be knocked out cold to have two babies ripped from my womb in a dire state of emergency following a placental abruption. As parents of IVF babies, we were the only couple we knew who could honestly say that we hadn’t been either present or awake for the conception or the birth of our own biological children. Although I was traumatised by the boys’ birth for weeks, and cried buckets over the loss of the one experience I’d so desperately craved, I soon learned to love our babies so much that it didn’t matter how they’d arrived in the world, because they’d arrived alive. And my husband couldn’t help but admit that he was rather pleased I’d managed to deliver twins, yet still avoid ending up with a fanny like a clown’s pocket. 

I feel the same about my breast. I didn’t think I would, but I do. It’s OK. I’m OK. Sore and tired, but OK. The greatest pain comes from where they took my lymph nodes, not from the breast area itself. For the first couple of days, I couldn’t bear to look at what was left. I cried when they woke me up from my operation, and when my friends came to the hospital to collect what was left of me. The wound was covered with dressings, and it still will be until they remove them at my results clinic on Friday, but the flatness is something that can’t be hidden. I’d been showering as normal, but making sure I avoided going anywhere near the mirror.  

About three days in, I decided to look. And the good news is that I definitely still pass the pencil test.  

It’s a little like when you meet someone who has an unusual face. At first, you think, oh fuck. And then, after a while, you stop noticing. They just become who they are, and you love them anyway – because of their faults, not in spite of them. We all know enough supposedly pretty people who are ugly inside, and vice versa, that the soul is always what shines through the most strongly, and I refuse to have mine tainted with bitterness and anger. This new land of uniboobity hasn’t changed who I am in the slightest, and nobody’s more surprised about that than I am. I’m determined to keep my soul intact; to learn and grow, to find some positivity in all of this (fuck knows what,) and to choose how I deal with my life experiences. I am not a victim. I’m not a warrior. I’m still just me. Unevenly-cleavaged me. My husband’s soul is holding mine tightly, and through asking myself what he might say, I’m finding the strength to love the imperfect me as I loved – and always will love – the imperfect him. He really was imperfect (I mean, for fuck’s sake, aren’t they all?) but I’d give away my other boob if it meant I could have him back again. I can’t. So what now? I can’t change my past, but I can take control of my own happiness. Within all this pain, something good must come. Otherwise, what’s the point in going through it at all?  

Maybe if I thought they weren’t going to reconstruct my breast after my treatment, I’d be mourning it more. But, the worst thing that could possibly have happened to our family, already has. My husband has died. What’s worse than dying? Not a lot. There’s absolutely nothing left of him, yet we still love and want him more than ever. At the moment, I’m trying to be the best mum I can be with temporarily limited mobility, and I’m even up and about, doing a bit of work, and cooking meals for the three of us. Chicken fillets, obviously. 

What I’ve got – well, it’s only cancer. Not terminal cancer. So, I remain grateful. I’m going to put my best boob forward and carry the fuck on. 

Love Fanny x