My friend Minnie wants me to do a piece of work for her, only she doesn’t have any money to pay me. Poverty is relative. In the eyes of an everyday citizen of the Calcutta I am prosperous beyond imagining but I am feeling the pinch in every direction. In my eyes Minnie is more than comfortably wealthy. In Minnie’s eyes, she’s broke. I decide to embrace abundance: I’ve got a lovely home; my bills are paid; there’s food in my cupboards and petrol in my car. I’m rich!
And I know that, broke or not, Minnie is extremely well connected. “Ok Min, I’ll do it,” I say. “Could you arrange some free face injections for me?”
“Darling, of course I can.”
So that is how I have come to be flicking through Vogue in the West End waiting room of Dr Jean-Louis Sebagh, face filler to the stars. I’m not seeing Dr Sebagh himself – he is booked up until sometime after the end of the Mayan calendar. Obviously I want to be looking my best when the apocalypse comes so I am to be treated by his sidekick, Dr Anne. Minnie is here to hold my hand.
On the outside I’m calmly perusing the latest handbags for winter. On the inside I’m suffering a paroxysm of moral turmoil. “Ha!” crowed Iris when I told her where I was going, so much for you and your organic rose oil.” “She’s right,” I admonish myself, “maybe I should just cut down my lentil consumption, save up a grand and buy myself a new handbag instead.”
But then again, Chemo Chic is not meant to be an alternative lifestyle campaign. It is a blog about surviving cancer with style. Here is how I view the situation. You may recall that for the first half of this year my psychiatrists in Sydney and London did not want me to take anti-depressants. “You need to feel your grief,” they said. But further down the road I received a revised analysis. When grief and depression go on for a long time one’s brain chemistry can be altered. At that point there is no way to take the first step on the ladder that leads back to the sunny side. No matter how much psychotherapy, hypnotherapy or manicure therapy one has, one cannot climb out of the hole one is in until one’s serotonin levels increase. So at that point I was advised to start taking anti-depressants. And, I have to say they have helped a great deal. I don’t regard anti-depressants as a cure all. I’m still seeing a psychotherapist, going to twelve step meetings and erratically practising ‘Lily’s Stress Reduction Programme.’ I’m glad that I didn’t take anti-depressants at the beginning. I’m glad that I’m taking them now.
With only a small amount of mental gymnastics I transpose the above logic to justify the current sitch. Here we go... The amount of weight I’ve lost and the amount of stress I’ve experienced have left my face looking drawn. I try to be cheery but every time I look in the mirror this miserable visage gazes back at me. Seeing my face looking so sad makes me feel sad, and so the downward spiral perpetuates. A spot of Restylane seems to be just what the doctor ordered.
To be fair, I have done some research. I spoke to an eminent dermatologist. “Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in your skin,” he said. “It’s harmless.” I googled ‘hyaluronic acid side effects’ and ‘hyaluronic acid + cancer’ but found nothing alarming. I searched the Cosmetics Database. There was no information either way. So, two possibilities: either it is completely safe or there has been no research. With everything I’ve learned about the cosmetics industry so far I suspect that the latter scenario is the most likely. I cross my fingers and go with the former. Do I feel like a hypocrite? Of course I do.
I glance at the woman sitting opposite. She looks like a chipmunk that’s eaten a wasp. It’s not reassuring.
After a short wait of about an hour we are shown in to see Dr Madeleine. “She’s had a rough year,” Minnie tells Dr Madeleine, pointing at me, “we need to freshen her up.” Dr Madeleine takes my chin in her hand and tilts my face towards her. “Yes,” she says to Min, “she’s too thin. The volume has gone from her face.” It’s true. I weigh eight kilos less than I did at the beginning of this year. “Her bone structure is very good,” she tells Min, “but you see here,” she runs a finger diagonally down the centre of my cheek, “I think some filler in her cheeks will plump that out. And here...” Dr Madeleine traces the lines from my nose to the corners of my mouth.
I’m a little bit perturbed that Dr Madeleine and Min are having this conversation entirely above my head but they both have masses more experience in cosmetic therapies than I do, so I trust that they know what they’re talking about. I lie on the couch. It’s time for Minnie to hold my hand. Minnie spies someone outside the door that she urgently wants to talk to and skips. Dr Madeleine starts jabbing a needle into my forehead. “What’s that?” I ask. “Botox,” replies Dr Madeleine. Now, I have mentally prepared myself for the hyaluronic acid injections but Botox is another matter. I don’t know anything about it at all but the tox part of the name rouses my suspicions. My head is in a whirl, “Stop!” I want to shout but then I think better of it. I mean she’s already started it. If I stop this now I will be left with Botox in only half of my forehead. I bite my tongue.
“We won’t have time to do your cheeks today,” says Dr Madeleine. She injects some hyaluronic acid filler into the crease between my brows and then into the lines beside my nostrils. It hurts. “Oh my,” says Dr Madeleine, “you’re going to have a bruise. I’m so sorry”
I reel from the room. Minnie is still gossiping. I can see the bruise developing already. It looks as though I’ve been punched in the mouth. “I’m just going to run down to Ainsworth’s and get some arnica cream.” I mouth, pointing to the door.
The man behind the counter at Ainsworth’s gives me a knowing look. Harley Street is the Mecca for cosmetic surgery and facial procedures. I’m sure that well-heeled women of a certain age regularly stagger through their doors sporting bruised and swollen faces. Arnica cream on board I head back to the clinic. Minnie is ready to go.
To be honest I’ve found the last couple of hours less than relaxing. It’s now dark and pouring with rain. Minnie chats away to one of her friends as she drives, holding her phone in her left hand and reaching across to change gears with her right hand. Pretty soon we collide with a Mercedes. The whole street grinds to a standstill. I jump out and try to direct the traffic around the two scraped cars. Taxi drivers start yelling at me. “Don’t yell at me,” I yell. “I’m the passenger.” After Minnie and the other woman have exchanged numbers we crawl down Marylebone road and finally onto the White City roundabout. The roundabout is closed. Completely coned off. All the traffic is being forced in a nose-to-tail procession down towards Shepherd’s Bush. Minnie points her car at the orange cones and drives straight between them, scattering gravel left and right. With one hand I hold onto my hat and with the other I instinctively protect my black-and-blue face. We skitter through the road works and out the other side. We’re free.
I go straight home, knock back a cup of valerian tea and go to bed.
My verdict: having facial injections may be somewhat stressful, not to mention hypocritical. You might come home looking like you've been smacked round the chops. Is it worth it? Of course it is.