Saturday, 22 November 2014

75. The bra shop

Buoyed by a half-forgotten feeling of wellness, I decided that today, Saturday, was the perfect day for filling up the emptied bra drawer.

Amazing how much difference a few extra days off the chemo makes. I can ignore the tiredness and keep going if I put my mind to it; even the aching leg muscles give in after a few streets.

There is strong evidence that exercise helps with cancer-related fatigue, I have heard from several authoritative sources. (I thought I'd throw that in, to stop you from wagging a concerned finger at me, telling me to take it easy.)

Having only the one bra is workable but not desirable. Now that I've got my long-term Bosom Buddy (let's call her Buddy for short, as Droopy sounds somewhat unkind, and it's not that bad), I resolved to get myself some proper mastectomy bras. And if I didn't do that today, I wouldn't have another chance for several weeks.

Chemo on Thursday. Scotland on Wednesday and Tuesday. And Monday is filled with hospital appointments: not only the usual pre-chemo chat with my consultant at St George's Hospital, but also a trip to the Royal Marsden Hospital (a specialist cancer centre) to discuss radiotherapy.

That appointment with the radiotherapy consultant came in the post yesterday, at long last.

Don't get me started. You wait for months, you chase it up several times, you get more and more frustrated that you still don't know whether the impending last shot of chemo spells the end of cancer treatment - and then when the appointment finally comes, they give you all of three days' notice. Never mind, I should have remembered Rule Number One Of Being A Patient: BE PATIENT. I have nothing else to do but sit and wait and wait and spring to attention when summoned. I don't have work to do, or a family to run, or a Christmas to plan. 

But at least the appointment doesn't clash with Scotland. I am desperate to find out whether (and if so when) I will need radiotherapy after the chemo.

So today is the day for shopping.

There are some excellent mail order companies for mastectomy wear. I'm discovering a whole new world out there.

But one of the perks of living in London is that you can visit the actual shop. So, feeling sprightly and grinning like a Cheshire cat, I walked to the tube this morning. I haven't been shopping for months, apart from the occasional impulse buy that would qualify as Truitje Kopen, also known as Top Shopping. I actually need the new clothes.

I got off the tube in an unfamiliar part of London. The long road didn't promise the glamour I was hoping for, with dirty-grey-or-brown buildings, the odd tattoo parlour and a suspiciously dark shop with a flashy red sign.

But once I found the mastectomy fashion shop, with its discreet window display, it was brilliant (and yes, glamorous).

I could hear one other customer chatting to a shop assistant in a cubicle. Her friend was chatting to the other shop assistant as if they were old mates. I know she was a friend, because I asked her: was she a customer, or the customer's friend? ("Both," she said after a bit of thought. "I've brought my friend here." This woman and her friend had got up early this morning, coming all the way from Cambridge.

This was the kind of shop, I felt, where you do ask fellow-customers that kind of thing. I can't think of any other shop where I'd be this chatty. But if you are going to discuss your personal requirements in a small and quiet place like this, you might as well involve the one or two other customers, because what else are they going to do? Pretend not to overhear, and not to be watching you? Best to behave as if you are, well, bosom buddies. Which, I suppose, we are. 

The shop assistant couldn't have been more helpful.

She let me browse (I wasn't just after bras, I wanted to try some tops and swimming costumes as well). She settled me in the changing cubicle. Plenty of space; fluffy dressing gown on a hook; tight-fitting T-shirt in a basket, presumable to see if your bra looks good under clothes (I didn't need it, having come prepared wearing my own tight T-shirt). She measured me, got me what I needed, fetched a glass of water when I was there for ages trying on almost all the swimming costumes in the shop.

The bras were great. I bought three, including one with a lacy modesty panel that will look good peeping out of my too-low-cut dresses. I also got a couple of swimming costumes, plus a foam prosthesis that weighs nothing and can be easily rinsed. It's fine wearing my current costume without Buddy, but I'll use the new costumes for lounging around a pool or on a beach, when I don't want to embarrass the children (and, let's be honest, I'll feel more at ease without the lopsided look).

A good hour later, I was outside again with my bulging bag.

Why stop at bras? Miraculously, I still had some leftover energy, so I got on the bus to Oxford Street.

Trousers! Jackets! Shirts! Scarves! I need some of these, I told myself; and even if I didn't, well, there's the old cancer excuse that always works well. I deserve it! I've got cancer!

The bus journey delivered one of those small rites of passage that might pass unnoticed. Every double seat was taken by a single passenger. When a young woman came up the stairs, appraising the situation, she walked to the back of the bus, past all the other passengers flanking an empty seat, and chose to sit down next to me. Clearly, I have now entered a stage of life where I am considered Harmless, with my old and tired looks, my wrinkles and raincoat and scarf. (This is in sharp contrast with my harmless son, who finds that women - it's mostly women - cross the road when they see him coming. Even when he's wearing his smart school jacket and tie. Tall teenage boys are scary; tired-looking middle-aged women are safe.)

When I came home again some hours later, my wallet was a few hundred pounds lighter, but so was my spirit.

And I've caught the clearing-out bug. That dustbin-full of bras has inspired me. (It's not just me: a blog-reading friend told me that she, too, has been inspired to throw out her old bras.)

Here is the drawer that always took such a lot of rummaging before finding the right things - and let's be honest, the right things are always the same things. It now even has space for those swimming costumes.

The blissfully clear spacious drawer

I'm not even stopping at drawers. This evening, I took all my clothes out of my wardrobe and only put back in what I might actually wear. I tried on all the tops and dresses I feared I could never wear again, and found that with my excellent new bras, they not only look fine, but they've got a different lease of life. Worth every penny, today's acquisitions.

But all those trousers that don't quite fit, the tops I've had for decades (not joking) and always liked, but honestly, will I ever give them another outing? The things that are lovely, but they've got holes. Out with them. The bin is full, and there's a teetering pile of rejects waiting to be taken to the charity shop.

Now I've got a plan. Once I'm better (and I'll need to be quite a lot better for this plan), I am going to move beyond wardrobes and do exactly the same thing with the entire house. New breathing space, new start. I can't wait.

The charity shop pile

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