Now this is a bit weird…

They say animals and their owners grow to resemble each other, but this is ridiculous. In a spooky echo of my own diagnosis, there I was yesterday afternoon in the vet’s, looking at an X-ray he had taken of the nether regions of our 11 year old moggy, Charlie, hearing him say ‘I am very suspicious that we are looking at a lymphoma.’ In other words, it looks like Chaz has got cancer too.

Charlie Cat

This would be blacky funny if it weren’t horribly true. And when our lovely vet went on to start talking about cat chemo, I fear I did actually smirk. Who knew cat chemo existed?! Extraordinary.

We knew something quite bad was wrong. Towards the end of last year, our enormously long, fat cat, who had been on an expensive dry prescription diet for five years to try and get him down from nearly 6kg to under 5kg, with absolutely no discernable effect whatsoever, suddenly stopped eating, starting vomiting and lost shedloads of weight. He didn’t eat for nearly a week until I tempted him with some posh wet food, but he’s now around 3kg, so he’s lost half his body weight. After 10 years of bracing ourselves to pick him up, we now shoot backwards on lifting him because he’s light as a feather.

The vomiting continued, on and off, to the point that we are nervous about what we’re going to step in in the mornings when we come downstairs, and what little gift he may have left on the sofa. He alternates between refusing all food and raiding the kitchen worktops, famished. His coat is still glossy and his eyes are bright, but apparently cats are better at hiding pain than dogs, so he may well be in a lot of pain or discomfort.

Obviously it was time to take him to the vet. I know, we should have gone months ago. But, again spookily, he started being sick the week I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and in the shock and whirl of tests and scans and starting chemo, we were just hoping he would get better, I suppose.

When I told the vet Charlie started being unwell at the same time I was diagnosed, he didn’t look at all surprised, and just said ‘animals pick up more than we know’. I’ve heard about the dogs that can smell certain types of cancer, and a neighbour of my sister’s also had cancer at the same time as his dog. Who knows what subtle links we have with the animals we live with?

Anyway, the vet is currently running more tests to rule out pancreatitis, then we can give him a course of steroids to treat any inflammatory bowel disease, which might make him more comfortable and reduce the vomiting. But basically it’s a quality of life issue, and as the vet said, while doctors pledge to prolong life, the vet’ s oath is to end suffering. Quite a different basis for treatment choices. So in a couple of weeks we are probably going to have to make a very tough decision, because there’s no way I’m putting him through an aggressive treatment like chemotherapy.

I cried all the way back from the vet. I feel very bad that he’s been uncomfortable for so long. I feel bad for not being kinder to him and just being annoyed about the sick every morning. I feel bad that he has been at the bottom of the food chain in our house since the kiddies came along, and I haven’t loved him enough or given him enough attention. He was a wedding present from our best friends, and we picked him up the week I went freelance in 2001 – he was a rescue cat who was found on Purley tip – when we lived in our first tiny house in Croydon.

I noticed his absence even just yesterday morning when he was being sedated. If we have to say goodbye, it will leave a cat-shaped hole in the energetic fabric of our household. Poor old Chaz.

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High five!

Yesterday morning I dragged myself from my sick bed to go for a mammogram so my surgeon could start planning the Pruning of Pinchy. I was feeling rubbish with a capital Ar, since it was only four days since my fifth chemo; on Sunday and Monday while languishing in bed at my wonderful parents’ house the thought had actually passed my mind that one would only feel quite so crap if one was imminently about to shuffle off one’s mortal coil.

After enduring the Tit Squashing Machine, though, I soon perked up on seeing a set of pretty pictures featuring a complete absence of tumour. Yes siree, with one chemo left to go, as predicted by my consultant, the lump est disparu! [Cue Team Pinchy cheerleaders chanting ‘F&ck Caaancer, whoop whoop!’). It was rather affecting to see an X-ray of my dear old boob without that scary white mass in the middle this time. Such a bloody shame about the lurking pre-cancerous stuff meaning the surgery still needs to be extensive, but ain’t that amazing? This drug combo I’m on is seriously doing the business.

And I know I’m not the only one: yesterday afternoon I met another young (for breast cancer, anyway) mum who was on the same pertuzumab trial as me, had her chemo and surgery last year, and had a similarly dramatic result. The cancer had gone to her lymph too, and she had the same surgeon and said it was all fine with no problems. She’s just on the Herceptin every three weeks now and looks fab. She was the first person I’ve met around my age in sort of the same situation and it was hugely reassuring to speak to her.

I met her at the Look Good Feel Better workshop at the Royal Surrey’s Fountain Centre yesterday afternoon. This is a genius idea by the cosmetics industry: a load of women with cancer bowl up looking a bit grey and depressed with varying degrees of hair loss, and sashay out after two hours of attention by a crack squad of beauticians looking frankly much better than the girls on Take Me Out, with slap measurable in centimetres and big smiles. And a fabulous goody bag of make-up and toiletries: I wouldn’t exactly forage in the fields around Chernobyl in the hope I’d become eligible, but it’s nice to know that some silver linings come with a Chanel logo.

So today I am feeling almost back to normal. I’ve bounced back quickly again, I think partly due to the holistic support I’m getting from loads of acupuncture and absolutely foul tasting Chinese herbs pressed on me by my fabulous Chinese professor, Erwen. She’s very skilled, kind and funny and seems to actually care about my whole body getting through the chemo, being ready for surgery and sailing through radiotherapy.

And thence to the southern coast of Espana, where at the end of June the Pinchy family will be joining our Friends from Essex on a week at La Manga in a big villa with a private pool on the edge of a golf course with a spa and kids club near a beach (see how many boxes we ticked there?). It’s a bit of a L’Oreal holiday (“we’re worth it”) because we’ve all had a rather shite 18 months and need to spoil ourselves.

It might even be fun doing a slightly different sort of holiday clothes shopping, including a swimming costume with a pocket for a prosthesis  (or ‘shell’ as the breast care nurses coyly put it) so my new small bionic boob doesn’t embarrass its more comely neighbour before the surgery to even up the landscape of my torso. I will report back on the retail opportunities of temporarily looking like I simultaneously have a melon and a peach nestled in my top, though I can reassure you I won’t be posting any shots of me modelling my Special Swimsuit. [Cue further action from cheerleaders etc etc…]

Meet my new friend Sophia

Yesterday I did the thing I’d been putting off for a long time. I went for a wig fitting.

I’ve still got lots of hair but it’s thin enough on top for me not to want to leave the house without a hat/turban/scarf. My confidence about how I was looking had dipped to an all-time low, worse than post-babies, and I had gone through upset and resistance and was actually quite looking forward to the experience. It was Time.

So me and my entourage (my gorgeous sister and my delicious six month old niece) bowled up at Joseph’s Wigs . It was all very discreet: you have to ring on the doorbell, the shop front has blinds across it, and we were shown through to a private room at the back. Surrounded by polystyrene heads sporting wigs of all colours and styles, I sat down in front of a big mirror to have a chat about what I needed and what sort of things I might like to try, and have my head measured (not as small as I’d always thought, incidentally).

The lovely, kind, gentle woman who was looking after us (discreetly) sussed out my budget (the deal with referral from a hospital is that you pay £60 and the NHS pays the rest, up to a max of £120. But if you want a more expensive wig, you have to also pay the extra, and decent wigs are more like double that).

We started with a top-of-the-range wig: a classy chick called Sophia (£250). This is a ‘classic chin-length bob with a light fringe’, according to manufacturer Feather Premier. I quite fancied a fringe: in pre-syrup life I’d always been told by hairdressers that my low forehead and hairline made a fringe a no-no. It is handmade, with each bit of nylon hair hand knotted, and is made from stuff that is soft and comfortable on the skin. Apparently it also has a ‘double monofilament layer and a fine lace front to provide an undetectable front hairline’. (A whole new vocabulary!)

Me and Sophia

I was told not to panic until it was properly on and styled, because at the moment of putting a wig on, everyone looks like Rod Stewart. To put a wig on, you don’t dip your head; you look into the wig, with one hand holding the front and the other holding the label at the back, and bring the wig up to your head, holding onto the front while you pull the back down. Then there are two little tabs near your temples to adjust it so it’s straight.

Me and my sis were seriously impressed. It looks like actual hair. In fact, it looks like my hair with a really expensive haircut and highlights. Off my head, you’d never call it a red wig, but the ‘Autumn Harvest’ colour actually blends in perfectly with my own hair. My sis was saying all the right things about looking pretty, young and groomed, and I liked it so much I was pretty sure it was The One.

I did try on a few more, just to be sure. It was good fun, now the fear factor was removed. The longer wigs look a lot more…wiggy, somehow (and not in a lapdancer way, as DH was hoping). As do the cheaper ones: you really do get what you pay for. It is possible to get cheaper wigs cut and styled so they look more natural – Trevor Sorbie is behind a wonderful charity called My New Hair, which trains hairdressers in salons across the country to cut cancer patients’ real hair and wigs.

Not a lapdancer, yesterday

A wig in a much darker red just looked odd – I had been thinking of playing around with a new colour but I just don’t look myself in anything a lot darker or lighter than usual, and that wasn’t going to make me feel less self-conscious.

I also tried on a very short wig, just to see. If my own hair gets a lot thinner and I decide to wear the wig a lot, it would make sense to do an Emma Watson (without the youth, Ivy League degree and Burberry modelling contract). I was a bit shocked because I always had quite harshly short hair as a child, and there was an eight year old me starring back in the mirror. With bigger eye bags, obvs. But at least I know now I can get away with really short hair if required.

Too short!!!

So Sophia it was. She was bagged up and I had a crash course in Wig Care: they need washing and conditioning with special products every two weeks (in the basin, not on your head) because the inside gets a bit sweaty and smelly (nice!). I also need to use a metal brush or comb to prevent static, presumably so I don’t become a frizzy fire risk, and when the ends get a bit dry, it needs a special oil treatment. And she needs keeping away from cats (looks like a dead rodent) and all sources of heat so she doesn’t, well, melt.

I left feeling really pleased, quite elated. I called DH to tell him I was bringing my new friend home. I said while wearing it I’d looked in the mirror and smiled at myself because I liked the way I looked for the first time in many, many weeks, and for a moment I was overcome with emotion and I could hear his voice cracking (in the middles of Wickes, of all places), too.

I put it on after school to see what the kiddies thought. DS looked at me strangely and said ‘What you doin’ with your hair mummy?’ so I showed him it was a wig, and he lost interest pretty quickly, since it isn’t anything to do with Toy Story. DD wanted to feel it and try it on (she looked like a tiny pageant queen: weirdly too grown up!), and this morning said she liked me with the wig better than a hat. Phew. When DH came home and clocked me, he was a bit shocked, because it’s so different to how I’ve ever had my hair, but he says he likes it. I suspect he’s more interested in me feeling confident and relaxed than anything else, and if I’d declared a purple ‘fro was going to be my look for the next six months he’d be cool with it as long as I was happy.

Sophia accompanied me on the school and nursery run this morning. I was a bit nervous because I’m just learning how to get it looking right, but I got loads of compliments from other mums, the wonderful school-crossing-slash-dinner-lady, the nursery team, and DD’s teachers. And popping into the hospital for a meeting with the breast care nurse about recovering from surgery (of which more another time), I found myself striding in with my head held high, in the way I used to walk everywhere. I hadn’t realised until that point how my much self-consciousness had affected my posture and bearing.

Tonight we’re off out for a girls’ night in to plan The Holiday. I wasn’t ready to meet her before now, but I think I’m going to like Sophia tagging along, she seems quite smart and fun. She certainly makes me smile, anyway.