Sunday, 31 January 2016

138. In the hair and now

My Hairy Situation has happily stopped us from having to talk about the weather for roughly a year and a half. 

That glamorous I-wouldn't-dare-to-go-that-short look, but doesn't it suit you!
Those curls that have, quite literally, come out of nowhere.

The hair loss has made me cry (once or twice) and laugh (countless times), and has provided all of us with plenty of entertainment.

But this is the end of that era. My friends, I have paid a visit to Andrew the hairdresser. (Remember him?)

About, oh, once a month or so, I would look in the mirror and decide that something had to be done at last. Too wild! Too strange!

But I never dialled Andrew's number, because I was too intrigued. What would happen to the curls? Would it suit me to wear it a bit longer? I decided to leave it uncut for exactly one year after it started growing.

This was quite a safe thing to do. I have discovered that no-one, but NO-ONE, will dare to criticise the hairdo of a recovering cancer patient. However outrageous it might look, I could safely predict that people would fall over themselves to compliment me on it. With relief in their eyes, because frankly, they couldn't really compliment me on the bald look. They tried, and many of you sounded reasonably convincing, but really: looking at the photo gallery below, you will have to admit that you wouldn't pick the first one out of Andrew's catalogue of options.

But now the year is over. I finished my treatment at the end of January 2015 and stopped shaving the miserly stubble there and then. A year on, it had grown exactly 12 centimetres.

This is what 12 centimetres looks like.

The wild hair, untamed

Welcome back to the 1980s. It's not an era you'd like to recommend to your stylist.

Andrew was booked in.

Cries of protests erupted from friends and even from daughters.
NOOOO!!! It looks lovely, so thick and luscious and amazing etc etc.
Don't cut it, was the consensus instruction.

I sort of agreed and almost cancelled Andrew, but not having seen him for so long, I thought I'd go anyway and ask his opinion. He cheered me into the salon, took one look and said, "It doesn't need cutting."

He sat me down and ran his fingers through the curls, marvelling. We stared in the mirror.

The wild hair, tamed
"Why change it?" he asked. "You like it. It suits you. It's not offending me in any way. Not the back, not the longer bits on the top. I can tidy it up, but you'll walk out of here looking pretty much the same."

So whilst catching up on a year and a half of news, he made me look less like Wild Woman of Cancerland, more like someone with a choice. For good measure, and on the spur of the moment, I went straight from the hair chair to an eyebrow chair. I have never, ever had my eyebrows plucked (I confess that until fairly recently, I didn't even know that eyebrow chairs existed).

I discovered the effect of organised eyebrows when I had none and occasionally painted them on - and on those fake-brow-days, I would miraculously get multiple comments on how well and glamorous I looked.

(Don't be fooled by people looking well and glamorous. It's war paint, mostly.)

Nobody has noticed either the hair cut or the tidy brows.

The only person in our household who usually does notice such things is in bed with a fever. But who cares?

Having gone through a wide range of diverse looks, I now know with great clarity and certainty that your looks truly don't matter beyond fleeting first impressions (which your friends don't need, as they are impressed already). But strangely, simultaneously, looks DO matter.

Because you might not notice my tamed locks, but I notice. That's what matters. 

So here I am, in the Hair And Now.

I leave you with a gallery of the past year.

These selfies were taken at monthly intervals. And that is the final word on my hair. I'm afraid we'll now have to go back to discussing the weather. Did you hear about the havoc caused by storm Gertrude?
January 2015 (0 cm)

February 2015 (1 cm)

March 2015 (2 cm)

April 2015 (3 cm)

May 2015 (4 cm)

June 2015 (5 cm)

July 2015 (6 cm)

August 2015 (7 cm)

September 2015 (8 cm)

October 2015 (9 cm)

November 2015 (10 cm)

December 2015 (11 cm)

January 2016.  (12 cm. The end)

Friday, 8 January 2016

137. Taking each day

This is the fourth time I have sat down at my computer to write a blog post.

First of all, there was the Happy Christmas one.
Then the Happy New Year one.
Then the "Hope you've all had a lovely Christmas/New Year" one.

Each of these drafts was deleted. I'd envisaged something Meaningful and Profound, along the lines of I've looked back on my year / forward to the next year / reflected on my colourful cancer experiences / learned so much / let me tell you all about it.

Christmas, then New Year, seemed auspicious times to write such profundities. Nothing profound was forthcoming.

Alas, I thought. Tomorrow perhaps. But now, it seems to me that you've had a lucky escape. Who wants to hear about someone else's deep and meaningful thoughts? You'd only compare them to your own thoughts (the ones about chocolate and shopping and the latest whodunnit) and find yourself wanting.

And what cancer patient wants to hear about the life lessons other cancer patients have learnt? You'd only sit down exhausted and find yourself wanting even more.

The trouble is, life's lessons are alarmingly easy to forget.

I'm not sure I've learnt anything new during the past few years; it's just that some things become blindingly obvious when you are ill, because you don't have the energy to rush around and Do Stuff.

The absolute need for the support of family and friends, even if you've always pretended to be Superwoman; and the deeply life-affirming discovery that such family and friends really are there.

The joy that can be found in the smallest of things (well, you don't have a choice, because the big things have been cancelled).

The need to take each day as it comes.

That last one is nothing new either. I've even written about it, well before my cancer diagnosis, in one of my books:

"People with cancer need to find ways of living with the knowledge that life may change in a way that is unimaginable and devastating. One way of coping is to learn to ‘take each day as it comes’. It is not unusual to hear a cancer patient say, ‘I am living much more in the moment now. I try and enjoy every day, because you never know what will happen next.’"

(The point I went on to make was that many people with learning disabilities are rather good at living in the moment, and therefore have an advantage when it comes to coping with cancer.)

So, I'd like to be able to say "Right folks! I've cracked it! I'm taking each day as it comes!"

No such luck. With each bit of new energy comes a new expectation. Aha! I can do full working days again! Let me plan a new project, cook dinner, do the shopping and then clear out the garden at the weekend. Oh, and write that deep and meaningful blog post."

The trouble is, when you're physically and mentally healthy, life actually involves planning and looking forward to things. The trouble is in knowing how healthy and able you are. Personally, I haven't yet figured it out.

So, with each new expectation comes frustration. Because A doesn't necessarily lead to B. Swimming 40 lengths one day doesn't mean I can swim 50 the next (in fact it usually means I can swim none the next). It's hard to take that next day as it comes.

New year's resolution: I'm cancelling my swim membership this month. Yes, I'll still swim, but no more than once a week (it used to be three or four times a week), because instead of invigorating me as it did in the past, now it just exhausts me. Cue failed expectation, cue frustration. I've kept the swimming going all through my treatment, but I've taken so many days as they came (and they came without the 50 lengths) that I'm admitting defeat. Or, if I'm into rephrasing things positively, focusing my energies elsewhere.

There's one small triumph though.

Just before my cancer diagnosis, I started practicing for my first ever music exam. I'd been learning the cello for three years - fiendishly difficult; being able to play other instruments (guitar, recorder, piano accordion) was no help. I wanted to set myself a target, plus, I hoped it would give my efforts a bit of gravitas in the eyes of my children, who have worked through many such exams.

It was all put on hold. I didn't play for a whole year. I tried a few times, but I discovered that playing instruments (and singing, for that matter) is physically rather exhausting.

But last summer, I picked up my cello again. And just before Christmas, I appeared before the examiner.

Readers, I passed my grade 3 cello exam with distinction. This is an unashamed boast. It involved hours and hours and hours of practice, and I'm rather proud of it.

Have I learned any lessons from having breast cancer?

Perhaps this: if you have a choice, then focus on the things that give you pleasure and energy. I missed playing my cello when I was ill, but enjoyed Escape To The Country. I don't have time for Escape To The Country now. There's a cello to play.

Who knows? One day, I might not have time to play my cello, because there is the daily swim to fit in. I'm trying not to plan for it though.

There are 357 days of 2016 left. I doubt I will take each one as it comes, but I'll try. Wish me luck.

Happy new year.