A Burning Inside


It’s a New Year’s Day and I write “The year of being healthy” in my diary. During the day, I stay in bed and watch The Great Escape. I’ve always enjoyed that film, but the title has a different meaning for me now.

I have lots of ticks on the radiotherapy appointment list. But each one means I feel more ill. It is my son, Jack’s, fifth birthday party and we’ve booked a play centre. I’ve missed all the preparations because I’m either in hospital or bed. I have a radiotherapy session in the morning, but refuse to miss the party. It will be full of life and I need to be there. I arrive late, but at least I make it.

The radiation has burnt my nose and forehead red and there’s no hair on the back of my head so I have a sort-of slipped bald patch. I’m a right looker. Conscious of the circular loss of hair – which is the ‘Exit wound’ from the radiation leaving my head – I wear a woolly hat. Luckily, its winter otherwise I would have looked odd, or cool, depending on your outlook. The party goes well and Jack has a great time with his friends. I’m exhausted, but manage to chat with some parents there, although everything is clouded.

When I get home, I feel the back of my head and it’s smooth. The doctors warned me about this and it’s a small price to pay for living. I’m not sure if it will grow back, but I can always just get a skinhead and be done with it. When I get home, I decide to look in a mirror at the patch for the first time. Michelle holds the mirror for me and, when I see it, my heart jumps – I look freakish. Feeling it is one thing. Seeing is quite another.

A week or so afterwards, I still haven’t gone to get my hair cut short, but decide to go out without wearing a hat. In a local supermarket, I stand in a queue to pay and notice a woman staring at my head. I glance round to let her know I’ve seen her stares. This has no effect because she just carries on with fixated eyes and mouth wide open. I feel isolated and am finding it really difficult having a physical reminder of my cancer, but it doesn’t help to have someone gawping at me. I turn around and face her. She continues to stare right at me, so I snarl “Fuck off” at her. That seems to resolve the situation because, although there’s a murmur of dissatisfaction in the vicinity, my offensiveness detracts from further stares. I’m jaded, but at least my aggression remains intact. I get a short haircut the next day.

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