I once passed out in an aerobics class. Not that unusual you might think. But the circumstances of my fainting fit have become a bit of a family joke. You see it was during the warm up. It was a Sunday morning class and I was there with my brother’s new fiancée, Marian. While courting Marian my brother had remarked on how fit she was, how she went to aerobics. Aerobics classes were big in the 80s. And it was in the spirit of family relations and getting to know her better I thought I’d go along. In spite of my poor performance in PE at school, I have tried to keep myself reasonably fit as an adult. Mostly so I can eat more and for reasons of vanity.
So, here I am in a village hall somewhere in South Norfolk. We are all wearing leotards. You can probably blame Jane Fonda for our attire. The warm up music begins. “Words Don’t Come Easy to Me” by FR David. I don’t think it was a big hit. For this I am grateful. Otherwise, had it been a song which would be played freely in lifts or shopping malls I would regularly be reminded of this somewhat shameful occasion. You see the highly enthusiastic instructor was just warming us up, loosening our joints ready for the big push ahead. We simply had to roll our heads back and forth and side to side…. Well this is easy I think to myself as I stand feet shoulder width apart, rolling my head. In fact I may have commented to Marian somewhat cockily, “well words may not come easy, but this does…” Next thing I know I am waking up on the floor, someone is asking me if I am alright and shoving my head down between my knees. I imagine someone else in leg warmers had also been sent in search of a cup of sweet tea. It was humiliating. The instructor suggested I sit out the rest of the class.
As I said, thankfully this is not a song I hear too often, when I do – and it’s usually in a pub with an eat all you want salad or serve yourself carvery – it takes me straight back to that village hall. Music has that power. Now if you’ve read any of my blog before you know the score, while this may all seem irrelevant do stick with me.
So, coming back to the present day and I am called through to “Jupiter”. I am not on an immersive sci-fi theatre experience funded by the Arts Council, this is the name of my radiotherapy machine at Barts. I have radiotherapy every day and will generally be seen by the same team working on the same machine. For some reason, whoever designed the radiotherapy centre thought it would be wild to name them after planets. Occasionally I have been to Mars of a morning. I suppose it makes up for the lack of travel opportunities during cancer treatment. And in fact I might be as likely to be approved for travel insurance to Uranus as I am a trip abroad on Earth right now. But having cancer and being able to travel freely is a whole different gripe so I’ll leave that one for now. Back to Jupiter.
Being prepared for your radiotherapy treatment is a little worrying. The consent forms make up a complete A4 booklet. It seems it could really give you cancer. Of course to my mind the benefits far outweigh the risks in terms of making sure Belinda (my tumour) and her ugly sisters (the cancer in my lymph nodes) are well and truly blitzed from my body. I appreciate that not everyone will feel as confident in this decision. My radiotherapy planning appointment involved quite a few people pushing my semi naked body around on a slab, measuring me with rulers and giving me small tattoos. And yes I did say rulers. Rather oddly one finds oneself in a state of the art room full of what appears to be highly expensive equipment and yet they use little hand-held rulers to record measurements. Admittedly the subsequent ruler measurements are then keyed into a PC for future reference but it does seem to be a haphazard combination of science and guesswork. I hope it’s not. I am going to have 25 sessions of radiotherapy. And so, each day I have found myself half naked on this slab being pushed around, measured and then covered in what appears to be an industrial style mouse mat before everyone leaves me in the room, shuts the 3ft thick door and leaves me alone to contemplate stuff. And that’s the strange thing. Physically, having a radiotherapy treatment is possibly the easiest treatment I have had to endure. But emotionally it is not. Not all of my radiotherapy treatment requires me to be covered by the aforementioned mouse mat. When semi naked I can see myself reflected in the equipment. I have time alone to look at my scar, to contemplate where my boob once was. I generally avoid doing this. I have finally gotten over actually getting the screaming hoo-hahs every time I have to touch my scar while washing. But I do avoid looking at myself naked in the mirror. My uni-boobed body fair freaks me out. So I dash quickly around my bedroom or bathroom when naked to avoid an unwelcome glimpse of the mutilation. I know, I know, I have read the magazine articles and know that to gain acceptance I should stand up tall naked in front of the mirror chanting “I am bare, I am beautiful, I am woman”. The word mutilation and self-love are most likely mutually exclusive. But I wasn’t prone to this sort of positivity before I went under the knife. And where once my Buddha belly was obscured by my boobs I now get a clear view and I don’t particularly like it. And, while I wholeheartedly support positive thinking it seems to me that nobody who loses a limb is told to love their stump, so I will come to terms with the loss of my boob in my own way. I doubt I will learn to love it. Who knows. But here now, on the slab it can’t be avoided. Some people on the team seem aware of this and cover me slightly. Others do not. I often find myself crying a bit. But if I look above the eye of the “camera” the rooms have scenes to look at on the ceiling. Dandelions, thistle heads, grass. To stop the weeping I let myself sink into these scenes and imagine myself in a field, like someone out of a 70s flake advertisement. And there is always music. Music on a loop. And somehow I always find myself left alone on the slab as the same song plays. “Hot Dog, Jumping Frog, Albuquerque”.