Last time I posted on this subject, back in November 2007, it was to mourn the loss of the local beauty salon, after a takeover by a cosmetic surgery firm. Where, I asked, was I going to have my legs waxed now?
The problem is solved, for the time being. I am being treated for breast cancer, so I have no hair to remove on my legs, or anywhere else.
Everyone knows that you lose your hair from chemotherapy it features in a thousand television dramas. What they don’t tell you is that it hurts. Losing it, that is. First the scalp itches, dementedly. Then, when you put your hand up to push a lock of hair, each strand rocks back and forth in its follicle, like a tree trunk being levered out of the ground. Finally, after a couple of weeks, someone shouts “Timber!” and the hair falls out in clumps. Even with the warning, the final falling away is swift and shocking.
The other surprise is that head hair is not the only kind that counts. The absence of eyelashes has been a much bigger shock. Who knew? I now feel very exposed to the world, and the world is very exposed to me. When I cry, my tears splatter and leak in all directions, without hindrance.
I am not one of those people who lap up illness stories. Unless you are going through it yourself, it is not all that useful, and you don’t want to know. The narrative cliches – courage, black humour or gritty realism – are hard to fight. And my own reality, which includes personal problems beyond the illness, has been a bit too gritty. So I hesitated.
But in the end, I am interested to hear what Prospect readers think. Is there a place for the personal in this blog, or should it remain ‘issues’-orientated? Or a mix of the two? What makes writing about illness interesting to others?
If you want issues, I can come up with a few. My cancer was missed by the local hospital (Whittington) and was only caught later on a national screening programme. As The Observer reported recently, missed diagnoses still result in unnecessarily harsh treatments and extra deaths.
One reason it was missed first time was because the ultrasound view was blocked by a cyst. I had asked radiology to drain the cyst but they refused – too much time and bother. I have since learned that in the US, they routinely draw the fluid from cysts of any size and redo the scan, because they know the risk of having an impeded view.
A gap in UK attitudes worth exploring? Do let me know if you have any interesting stories or information on this point.