Something strange happened in my local M&S yesterday. I was reaching for the last silver star Christmas decoration when my hand collided with a man who was doing exactly the same thing. We exchanged polite smiles. I may have even giggled, I tend to do that in awkward situations… But then he smiled again and started talking to me.
I was so surprised that I turned on my heel and scarpered like a frightened rabbit, only to spend the next five minutes hiding behind the Christmas hamper display until he wondered off. Had that man (the youngish, attractive one without a wedding ring) been attempting to chat me up? The thought was so absurd that I banished it immediately and busied myself in the chocolate aisle instead.
It was only on the way home that I remembered the incident. That’s when it hit me: My cancer diagnosis has stripped away so much of the belief in myself that I can’t actually comprehend being attractive to the opposite sex anymore.
These days my bedroom mirror is like Snow White’s stepmother’s wicked twin. It never tells me I’m (sort of) beautiful. Instead it projects an all-too-depressing image of a round face bloated by steroids, scruffy unkempt hair (because I’m too scared to cut off what’s left of it) and a stomach that has earned me the affectionate nickname of ‘Mrs. Potatohead’ by my eldest daughter.
Chemotherapy was meant to strip the excess weight away. Instead I’ve piled on two stone and my skinny jeans don’t fit me. My treatment has sent me hurtling ‘over the top’ like a WW1 soldier but now I’m stuck in some sort of beauty No Man’s Land, halfway between 9 stone and a fat farm.
Would I have more of a cancer identity if I’d lost my hair? The first line of bowel cancer chemotherapy is relatively kind to you in that respect. During my treatment I was forever apologising for not actually looking like a cancer patient, despite feeling like one. In truth, I felt like a fraud, even when I was projectile vomiting across the chemo suite.
My oncologist warned me that it would take at least six months once my treatment ended to feel like myself again. Looking back, I think she was referring more to my self-esteem than anything else. My energy levels bounced back within a month but I’m still avoiding mirrors and giving my husband ‘that look’ when he tells me that he loves me.
Once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient. I used to think that phrase referred to the ongoing fear or recurrence. Now I know differently. My diagnosis turned my confidence into a muddy puddle and a posse of welly-clad three-year-olds are still stomping up and down in it.
But I need to get a grip. The time for wallowing has passed. I somehow need to find that pre-cancer woman who smiled at her reflection instead of pulling faces. To set the wheels in motion I joined a gym so, with a bit of luck, ‘Mrs Potatohead’ is going on a permanent vacation once her mince pie addiction is under control…
I would also like to publically apologise to that nice man in M&S. I hope his ego recovers as quickly as my blood count has, and I hope he finds a lovely woman under the mistletoe who can boost his self-confidence just as much as he’s boosted mine.
*Like reading steamy romance? Don’t forget to pick up a copy of my new book, ‘Eyes To The Wind’. Available HERE on Amazon. All proceeds will go directly to Bowel Cancer UK.
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