one gets used to change. I remember only three months ago being distraught at the lack of hair on my head, at the handfuls coming out around myself, and now? Now I put my hand constantly up to my scalp to feel my baby fuzz. The only drawback is that I do feel, how shall I put this...vaguely related to King Kong when I do. I feel that I should be picking nits out of the person next door to me, jumping up and down and grunting with hands locked under my arms like all the best imitations that we used to do at school.
But things are changing... I have become used to the feeling of fuzz on my head, but notice, as the days pass, that my scalp is itself not so exposed..that beneath that level of spiky, very short hair, is another layer, a layer of very soft fuzz, an undercoat almost and I hardly dare to hope, hardly dare to even put into words that I think this is my hair growing back... It is so soft, so shallow a layer that I couldn't even try to put a colour onto it. No, because it is almost only by touch that I can feel it, this soft, downy mattress beneath my spiky clumps.
And there, there, in that tiny, personal fact lies one of the eternal dichotomies surrounding cancer.
Yes, I am thrilled it is growing back, I am so pleased that my few months of complete poison have resulted only in temporary hair loss, that I am lucky enough to have it grow back but does that mean that the chemo isn't working? Does the fact that I am not being so sick, that my hair is growing back mean that the effect upon that evil traitor above my heart is diminished? Because, if it is, bring on the sick bowl, fire up the steroids, and get the ulcer cream out again. And that, as I understand so many survivors' writings, is one of the ways cancer changes your life. You are never so blithe, so innocent about the effects of your life again. When you get a pain in your back, you don't ever just think 'too much gardening yesterday', but worry about bone cancer. When you get a cough, it is never a possible cold, your mind leaps into the world of lung cancer.
Once in your life, it changes you, it changes those around you and it changes the world that one looks at too.. Certainly, this means that that state of young innocence is gone, and gone forever. Once you have felt the breath of Cancer down your neck, close enough that all the little hairs go up, you do not forget his shadow.
But it isn't all bad. You remember the fragility of life, you see the value of gesture, of touch and of words, and you see that all the events that normally punctuate a winter's weekend in London are put in a spotlight of appreciation. My nephews' red cheeks as they came in from football, my brother's hug, my sister in law's laughter as we cleared up a mountain of children's clothes, my friends' delicious lunch, all become part of a snapped collage to take out and treasure on monotonous days where the four antiseptic walls and anonymous faces of a hospital become our temporary normality...