Thursday, 20 November 2014

74. Bosom Buddies

Remember Wig Lady? Well, it's her, running the Breast Prostheses Clinic.

Wig Lady, as it turns out, is Wig-and-Bosom Lady.

I fear as much, waiting among the proper patients, the ones with slings and crutches. The receptionist has waved me to the corner outside Wig Lady's cupboard-sized room: "Go and sit somewhere over there."

So it isn't next door to Wish You Were Hair at all. It's in the very same space, although it does feel somewhat roomier without two daughters, a friend, a bear, a pig and an owl in tow. For this particular appointment, I thought I'd rather be on my own. I haven't even brought Owl. (He doesn't need Bosom Buddies, he needs Wonder Wings. I doubt they do wings here.)

I did discuss with the friend whether that ghastly name (Breast Prostheses Clinic) could be improved on, à la Hair Today. We didn't get much further than False Friends and settled on Bosom Buddies.  

Like myself, Wig-and-Bosom Lady is without assistance today, which is a shame, because the assistant was lovely. But, thankfully, she is also without her efficient let's-type-your-choice-into-the-computer manner.

Will she remember me? Yes! she smiles. I remember you! (I suppose it's hard to forget a Bear in a wig.) Oh dear, will she ask me what on earth has happened to Denise? I can't very well tell her that Denise has never been worn and now makes herself useful as a doorstop.

Doorstop Owl and Denise
Actually, it turns out that I can. (Telling her the not wearing my wig part, that is. I don't own up to the doorstop part, and fingers crossed that she doesn't read this blog.) "Well, that's OK," she says. "Some people don't want to wear it. You just never know how you'll feel, do you? It's good to have it anyway, just in case you suddenly feel you want it when you go out."

So that's settled: we are on friendly, smiley terms, and I can relax. Which is just as well, because if you can't relax and smile about choosing a breast prosthesis, it would be a bit grim.

I know for sure that unlike Denise, my False Friend will get daily outings.

I have been getting increasingly frustrated with my Softie. It served its purpose, creating a fairly comfortable mound whilst my scar healed. But it has gradually morphed into a Lumpie, despite various re-fillings with the invaluable Brain Fluff. Breast Care Nurse number 1 was quite wrong when she said it could be easily washed and dried in a jiffy. I have resorted to Sock Bra on numerous occasions, which doesn't do much for one's feelings of dignity.

It's not just the dubious shape of either Softie or Sock. It's also their tendency to migrate to the wrong corner (upwards, preferably), despite being tethered with a safety pin, creating an effect that is more Picasso than Botticelli.

No matter. Breast Care Nurse number 1 had said that after a month or two, when the scar had healed, I'd be given a proper prosthesis. A nicely shaped one, fitted to match her sister.

But where was that appointment? Month after month went by, and I was too busy feeling sick and tired to remember asking. Finally, I did; by now, I had been passed on (thankfully) to Breast Care Nurse number 2, who was more efficient with referrals.

An appointment arrived in the post. It coincided with Chemo number 4. I rang Bosom Lady (not realising I was speaking to Wig Lady).

"I'm only here on Wednesday afternoons," she said. "Tell them to give you the chemo after this appointment."

I didn't (I knew where my priorities lay), which was just as well, as I ended up staying in the chemo lounge for over five hours. So a new appointment was made for Bosom Buddies. Again, it coincided with Chemo Day, but that was OK because the chemo has been postponed.

It's a waste of energy to get annoyed about little things, but it does annoy me that I had to chase this up.

I need help with this kind of thing.

It was the same with getting a mastectomy bra. I was making do with the safety-pin-and-softie-and-old-bra technique. I knew there was such a thing as a special bra, but I didn't have the energy to source one and see how much it would help. Then my sister turned up, who happened to have one ("I found it in a department store and it's so comfortable, I thought, why reserve it for women who've had a mastectomy?"). It fitted me perfectly, so she gave it to me. Daily bliss. The lining has been turned into a pocket. Pop in the Softie (or the Sock) and bingo. There's still the Picasso effect, but less so.

So here I am, in Bosom Buddies, keen on a more realistic replacement.

Will I be given a catalogue again, I wondered? But no. The boxes of wigs that had been stacked up on a trolley have been replaced by boxes of boobs. Wig-and-Bosom Lady glances at my cleavage and fishes one out. "Try this, I think that's the right size."

It looks the right size, but when I pop it into the bra pocket, I am not so sure. Is it not slightly bigger than the real thing? We both ponder the matter carefully. I put my T-shirt back on for further contemplation. I should have brought a friend after all, the kind of friend who is good at the Does my bum look big in this question.

"Perhaps you do need a smaller one," says Wig-and-Bosom Lady. "I don't have one here though, so I'll have to order it. Or maybe you just need one that is..." She pats the top of my breasts, "Look here, it starts filling out a bit higher up than on the other side. Take it out and try this one."

She shows me the two models together. "See? This one is just a bit less rounded at the top."

Ah, yes, I see. "I need the droopy one," I say. "That first one was a younger model."

She laughs apologetically. "Well, you're quite young," she says kindly.

But you can't fool me. No matter how tactful Wig-and-Bosom Lady tries to be, 35 years of gravity and three years of baby-feeding have taken its toll. Now I see what caused the Picasso effect: it wasn't so much migration as the fact that the Softie, unlike the real thing, defies gravity. I have, effectively, been wearing a one-sided push-up bra.

Once Perky is replaced by Droopy, I look fine.

I'm told I must keep Droopy in her box, to keep her shape.
Don't want her to perk up, I suppose. I'll need a new cupboard to house the thing.
Done and dusted within 20 minutes. Droopy feels lovely, soft and squishy and gloriously lump-free. She can be washed and dried like normal skin. No need for patience and a washing line. Exit Sock Bra.

There's a nice bit of weight to her. I can't resist: when Wig-and-Bosom Lady briefly leaves the room to answer her mobile, I open one of the largest boxes and pick up an enormous Falsie. Blimey, it's heavy. Is this what well-endowed women have to carry around? 

(Are these weights realistic? Scientifically minded as usual, I take out the kitchen scales once I get home. Droopy weighs 179 grams. How to weigh the real one? Ah, I know. After my mastectomy, I asked for a copy of my pathology report... where is it... here we are. My lost breast, or rather the "specimen", weighed 410 grams - more than twice the Falsie! Well-endowed ladies, if that is the case, how on earth do you keep your shoulders straight? I look at you with renewed respect.)

Now that I've been to Bosom Buddies, my annoyance about having to chase things up is forgotten.

In fact I am rather amazed, once again, by what the NHS provides. I can come back any time, Wig-and-Bosom Lady tells me. They will happily give me another one, an extra one, a different one. I might buy a different bra and find that this shape isn't quite right for it. Or I myself might change shape.

"Get droopier, you mean," I say.

Well, yes, that is what she means, but she is trying not to say it. When asked, she tells me that my Falsie isn't the droopiest on offer, so another 35 years of gravity needn't upset the balance. 
You learn something new every day.

On my way out, Wig-and-Bosom Lady hands me a brand new Softie. She is appalled at the state of my old one.

More generous, clearly, than Breast Care Nurse number 1, who (when I asked if I could have a spare one for washing days) said no: "To be honest, we don't have that many of them." 

But now I hope I won't need them anymore. Owl can have the full set.

Spot the difference: the old Lumpie and the new Softie
This morning, I finally did what I have been avoiding for months, as I just couldn't bring myself to it.

I emptied my drawer of all my old bras and binned them.

You change your life in small steps, and this was one of them. It was a close shave, but I didn't cry. The dustbin lorry is coming tomorrow morning.

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