Friday, 25 February 2011

Grown Up Lipstick

I am a self-admitted lipstick lover. I collect them in much the same way that a magpie picks up shiny bottle tops: I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it but I rather like the look of it.

Then every few years I have a big clearout and dispose of dozens of unused cylinders of Pearly Gates Pink, Hallowe’en Green, Cadaver Black, Deep Purple, William of Orange, Putrid Puce and Miami Midas Gold.

My most recent cosmetic clearance though was altogether different. Last year I threw out my favourite lippies – the ones that I wore every day. It was a wrench to lose them but they had to go, you see I discovered that they didn’t love me like I loved them. In fact, they were full of horrible things like parabens, lead and liquid paraffin. (Well I did keep the Schiap by Nars. It’s screaming matte pink is irreplaceable. But I resolved to wear it no more than once a month.)

There are only three colours that I actually truly wear: shocking pink; deep fuchsia and RED. Red lipstick is the ultimate seducer. Picture Marilyn Monroe or Rita Hayworth in your mind’s eye for a moment. What do you see? Exactly. Red is for women, not girls. It needs to be deep. It needs to be rich. It needs to be luscious.

Over dinner Iris’s friend Donald leans towards me with a conspiratorial air. “Do you know what red lipstick was first made of?” he asks. “Cockroaches,” I reply nonchalantly. Actually, I know that the red dye is not really made from cockroaches, rather from the cochineal insect but I enjoy the frissance of saying “cockroaches” loudly in a crowded restaurant.

Donald ups the stakes: “OK so do you know why women first wore red lipstick?” I try to appear magnanimous in defeat. “No. Please do tell me.”

“Well, it was Roman prostitutes,” he raises his voice a couple of notches, “they wore it to signify that they would give blow jobs!” Donald is a top model agent in New York so I guess he knows what he's talking about. He grins from ear to ear like a contemporary Caligula.

When it comes to the new beauty, skincare is in the vanguard. Independent alchemists all over the world have been mixing and refining rare herbs and oils to create some of the most luxurious creams and unctions that womankind has known. But on the make-up front the beauty revolution is still skirmishing in the trenches. I don’t understand why that is.

“It may be because the product development is so expensive,” says Imelda. When I think about it that makes sense. Once you’ve blended a basic face cream it’s just a matter of adding various precious extracts to create a line of cosmetics. But make-up requires a large array of colours and formulations. It’s obviously much more complex.

If there is one brand that is taking groundbreaking strides towards the future of face paint it is Organic Glam. They produce a small range but every product that I have tried so far has been stellar.

I unwrap my tube of Organic Glam Red lipstick. The packaging is classic: a slim oblong of black with discreet gold trim. At first inspection the colour looks disappointingly brownish. But wait, we’re in the magical world of natural beauty – everything is not what it seems. I twist the cylinder and slick on the lippy. On my lips it turns out a beautiful shade of intense, long-lasting carmine with a deep, velvety gloss. It glows. It smoulders. It rocks!

Organic Glam is the ultimate come-hither red. Make sure that you carry an exquisitely enamelled compact mirror in your handbag so that you can seductively touch up your red in a public place and enjoy those backward glances. They know they can't afford you.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

With Problems Like These

My life so far has been spectacularly studded with what self-help writers call 'opportunities for growth'.

I welcome them all. My aim in life is not to find a way to live problem-free, rather it is to learn how to make the most of whatever this wacky, wonderful world may throw at me from day-to-day. From paralysis to addiction to bad boyfriends to breast cancer to today’s conundrum: how does a person manage to burn chick peas?

These problems mean Lily is living. The day I don’t have them is the day I am in my coffin.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. - Anais Nin 

Friday, 18 February 2011

I'm Free

Yes I am!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Stepping Through a Doorway

A long day is in prospect. I’m having the big scary bone scan.

Sitting on the bus I notice that I have forgotten to wear the opal ring that Miranda gave me for Christmas. I feel doomed.

9.30 - Princess Grace Hospital, Nottingham Place. I’m here for a bone densitometry scan. Confusingly, this has nothing to do with the bone scan. Rather, it is to see if I have any osteoporosis. It’s as well to be on the safe side. This scan involves lying on my back whilst low dose x-rays are wafted over my body.

10. 15 - The Harley Street Clinic. A radioactive isotope is injected from a lead cylinder into my vein. I leave after being given the usual warnings about steering clear of children and pregnant women. As if I’d fraternise with them anyway.

10.45 - Content Wellbeing. I rush in and pick up this week’s beauty product I can’t live without: Hurraw! raw, fair-trade, vegan, cold-pressed black cherry lip balm.

11.00 - Cocorino, Thayer Street. Tess meets me for coffee at this tiny Italian café. I order a huge serving of scrambled eggs with sun-dried tomatoes on sourdough toast and a soya latte. Well I am trying to gain four kilos. Tess has a more restrained bowl of granola. Tess was in hospital herself this week but she’s looking fabulous in her usual yoga-casual way. 

12.15 - LOC, Harley Street. I have a follow-up appointment with nutritionist Jane Clarke. She has asked me to keep a food diary for the past week. I rummage in my bag, pull out the diary and a can of Coke, pop the Coke and push the diary across the desk to her. “I feel that just keeping the diary has helped. I’ve drunk a lot more water and I have put on about a kilo already." As my friend Jimmy always says “What you stare at gets bigger,” – only he has a much more snappy and memorable way of putting it that I can’t remember right now. Do I imagine it or did Jane glance at the can in my hand?

“I’m drinking this for medical reasons,” I exclaim, “Jane Plant says that the phosphates in Coke leach calcium from your bones and help to flush out the radioactivity.”*

“I’m not proscriptive,” she replies. Jane’s non-judgemental approach raises her even further in my esteem. She flicks through my diary. “Gosh, you eat well.” I glow with pride. “There are two areas you need to focus on. The first is proteins – you need to eat at least two protein rich meals a day. For you, the best proteins are eggs; all kinds of seafood; lentils, chick peas and all kinds of beans – hummus on oatcakes is great - also nuts and nut butters on wholegrain toast. Second, load up on antioxidants. Drink a fresh juice every day and vary the colours – have a green juice one day, an orange one the next and a red one another day. Eat loads of salad with lots of raw stuff: add in avocado, sprouts, chicory, raw broccoli, ginger, fresh herbs, seeds or onions. Adding hummus, a boiled egg or a tahini dressing gives your salad a protein boost. Beta-carotene is important. You get that from red and orange vegetables. Interestingly, beta-carotene is more available if the vegetables are cooked – so roast tomatoes, beetroot and pumpkin and add them into your salads. Do eat your brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat pasta but don’t fill up on carbohydrates. You need to leave room to boost your protein and antioxidants. Your body is exhausted from all the chemo and emotional stress. It’s as if you’ve had you foot to the floor for the last year and a half. When you get this depleted, your body starts to break down its own muscles in order to get the amino acids it needs. For a sweet eat organic dark chocolate. Have some cake from time to time if you want. This isn’t an exercise in self-deprivation. But try to choose a cake that has lots of good stuff in it and isn’t just white flour, sugar and cream. Keep up the good work. I will see you again in two weeks.”


13.15 - The Harley Street Clinic - in the basement where they keep the big guns. I don the ghastly gown and lie down on the table. Here we go. June, the radiographer, chats away. “Would you like some music? We have classics: Puccini, Mozart; or some easy listening piano music; jazz – or Michael Bublé?” I remember the endless Elton John cds that Big Bruce and I listened to in the radiotherapy chamber. We were given no choice in the matter back then. “Do you have any Elton John?” I ask. June shakes her head. “Mozart then.”

“This is a new scanner,” June explains about this gigantic machine. The camera will come down very close to your face and then as it moves down it will actually touch you. Don’t panic. It is searching for the heat of your body”

“But what will happen,” I ask, panicking immediately, “if it just keeps coming down and then starts slowly crushing the life out of me, like in a James Bond film?”

“If that happens, shout really loud and we will rush in and save you.” June ties my feet together to be sure there's no possibility of escape, gives me a look and leaves the room.

I lie on the bench and try to concentrate on breathing. The big camera descends to within a couple of centimetres of my face. It begins its slow crawl along the length of my body. It lightly touches my collarbone. I glance down at the giant, beige head. I now understand what it feels like to be nuzzled by a dinosaur. A dinosaur with the word PHILIPS tattooed across its forehead. Mozart fiddles away. I become aware that the head is rising and falling, almost imperceptibly. It’s as if the dinosaur is breathing. Or am I imagining it? I take a deep breath. The big head lifts noticeably. I breathe out. It falls back. Oh my god - this creature is closely following every slight movement of my body.

There is a screen to the left of my head, showing images of what the camera is seeing. The screen is on the periphery of my vision. I strain to pull it into focus and make out two little ghostly figures, lit up and glowing from the abdomen to the top of the legs. This is the part of me that the creature is inspecting now. But I simply can’t hold the focus. I mentally recommit to getting my eyes lasered.

Some long time later an alarm sounds. I jump involuntarily. The gentle undulations of the machine and the soft strains of Mozart have lulled me into a trance. Radiographer Susan enters the room. I have often noticed that whenever I have anything like radiotherapy or an MRI or a CT scan, one radiographer walks out the door and a different one walks in at the end of the procedure. I wonder if it has anything to do with mutating qualities of the radiation?

“All done Lily. Take a seat in the waiting area and we’ll bring you the films.”


14.15 - A Japanese café on Marylebone High Street. I take a seat and carefully place the sealed A4 envelope containing the films on the table in front of me.

“Here is the sixty-four million dollar answer.”

“Let’s have a look then,“ says Flossie, “I’ve been watching lots of episodes of House lately so I’m sure I can figure it out a few scans.” 

I’m getting through the anxiety of this long day with a lot of help from my friends. It’s great to see Flossie. Over sushi we chat about cosmetics with a dash of discussion about love addiction and love avoidance. These are our two favourite topics.

15.15 - The Wallace Collection, Manchester Square. If you’re ever wandering about in the west end with an hour or two to kill before you discover whether or not you have cancer in your bones this is THE place to go. It’s an eclectic, almost eccentric bunch of paintings, furniture, ceramics, sculptures, miniatures, swords, daggers, medals, suits of armour, jewelled trinket boxes and the like that was collected by various Marquesses of Hertford and, most notably, Sir Richard Wallace – who lived in this house between about 1760 and 1890. There is room upon room of stuff and a lovely café in the glass-roofed courtyard. Today I spend time with the Rembrandts, the fascinating miniatures of Napoleon and Marie Antoinette’s Sèvres porcelain before relaxing in the courtyard with a fresh pineapple, melon and ginger juice. Top spot.

17.00 - LOC, Harley Street. Iris and Lily enter the building. “That’s a good new look,” I say, complimenting Iris on her ensemble of slim trousers, bias-cut grey t-shirt, long grey silk scarf and mushroom leather jacket.

“It’s very business class in here,” comments Iris as she plops her monochrome self into an oyster grey suedette armchair. I judge from her expression that 'business class' is not necessarily what we desire. Suzy Cleator tears in from another hospital down the road. These top consultants flit like butterflies from clinic to clinic up and down Harley Street. “Come on Lily.”  She bustles. Iris and I follow her slipstream into the lift.

Upstairs we sit in more oyster grey suedette armchairs whilst Suzy sits in a high-backed swivel chair behind a cherry wood desk. She peels open the envelope. I study a minimalist arrangement of magnolia buds on the empty sideboard.

Suzy glances at the films and, quick as you like, says: “these are fine.”

There is a brief silence in the room and then the words pour out. “Oh that’s fantastic!” “What do you think is causing all the pains?”

“You have a slight scoliosis,” says Suzy.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a curvature of the spine, see?” She holds up the photographs. I can distinctly see a gentle S shape in the line of my backbones. “What causes that?” asks Iris.

“Usually you’re born with it.”

“And what is that? I ask, pointing to a noticeable black spot in the centre of my chest.

“It’s probably a tiny bit of arthritis.”

“In my spine? Should I be concerned about that?”

“Oh no, everyone has it. At your age. At our age,” Suzy corrects herself swiftly waving her hand about to include Iris and herself. “Everyone over thirty has it,” she concludes, limping across the finishing line.


Some days the greatest joy a person can have is to walk through a door and step back out into the world. Iris and I do just that.

“See?” says Iris, “I told you there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just old with a black heart.”

“That’s ok with me. I’m looking forward to getting a lot older, even if I do have to spend the rest of my newly granted existence with you.”

*In her book 'Your Life in Your Hands'. Scary huh?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The New Glamour

“Welcome Madam,” says the beauty consultant, “please sit.” She indicates the closed lid of a toilet seat. I sit.

I’m here to check out Aqua - a new concept in pampering.

“Please choose from our menu madam.” She passes me a small catalogue. AQWA it says on the cover. Inside are illustrations of clothing and all manner of hairdos and make-up products. Aqua, you see, is a total makeover experience.

“These are our coats. And here are our gowns.” There are pictures of sumptuous Cindarella style garments. I indicate a couple that I prefer. “But first we will do your hair and make-up.” Flicking through we peruse the hairstyles. I choose one.

Now my consultant pulls and grips my hair into a tight bunch on the side of my head. It falls out a couple of times because my hair is still on the short side but she perseveres until she is happy with the look. To frame my face she adds a bright pink silk flower clip.

“Please choose a colour.” She sweeps her hand expansively towards a long rank of nail varnish pots - some are glittery, most are nearly empty. The slim shelf almost groans under the weight of its toxic load. I opt for a nail polish that I have brought myself. It’s a coppery pink by SpaRitual, one of the less hazardous brands. My consultant dabs it delicately onto my fingernails.

Make-up comes next. I choose a burgundy red lipstick. The lipstick is applied and the therapist inspects her work with satisfaction. “The most important thing about this lipstick,” she tells me, “is don’t do this.” She rubs her lips together.

“Why ever not?”

“Because it tastes horrible.”

Next, a brown eye shadow is applied. As a finishing touch she rubs some kind of pink light reflecting cream all over one side of my face. “Hmmm,” she says with a thoughtful squint, “I think it would look better if we put it on both sides.”

Makeover complete I am led to a mirror for the big reveal. I gaze at my altered image. An escapee from a locked ward stares back at me.

“It’s beautiful Eloise,” I say, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome aunty Lily. Can we go to Pizza Express now?”

Thursday, 3 February 2011

A Pain in the Neck

“You’re looking very well,” says Suzy Cleator, shaking my hand. She ushers me into her swanky designer consulting room at LOC.*

Suzy is also looking very well and I tell her so. After a bit of complimentary chitchat about the length and colour of my hair Suzy looks at my blood test results. “These are fine. How are you feeling? How are you getting on with the Tamoxifen?”

“I’m not having any side effects. Occasional hot flushes. That’s about it but I’m still very tired a lot of the time. And I’m worried about my weight.”

“How much do you weigh?”

“58.4 kilos...”

“Well that’s probably ok.”

“... but when I was having the chemo I was 67 kilos.”

It’s true. I had never been so solid in my life before that time. The steroids that they gave me made me ravenous. When I wasn’t engulfed by nausea I was ramming down three course meals interspersed with éclairs and bars of Green & Black’s chocolate.

Suzy speaks words of reassurance: “Weight loss is not generally associated with breast cancer. But with all the trauma and anxiety you’ve been through it’s not surprising that you’ve lost weight. And the anti-depressants you’re taking can make you feel tired. “Let me have a look at you.”

I strip off behind the screen.

“Mmm. You are very thin.” I can’t help thinking that if Suzy were Mr H these words would be accompanied by a poke in the ribs. “Is there anything else worrying you? Are your stools pale?”

“No!” I exclaim. “But I am having a lot of pain in my upper back and neck.”

“Does the pain come and go?”

“It gets better and worse but it is always there.”

“I will get your thyroid function tested. I’d like you to see a nutritionist too. We have an excellent one here at the clinic. And I think maybe you should have another bone scan.”

My eyes goggle. There is no getting away from it. My cousin Gaby died from cancer. It began with pains in her back. I often lie awake at night trying to relax my neck and shoulders and at the same time trying tell myself that it’s just tension. Too much time spent at the keyboard. I’ve had a muscle removed from my back haven’t I? That’s bound to cause other muscles to compensate. Isn’t it? I don’t want to make a pain in the neck into another drama.

“Just to be on the safe side,” adds Suzy. “I’m going to be away for a couple of weeks. You could have the scan but you’d have to wait until I get back for the results.”

“No,” I reply, “Let’s do it all on the same day.”

“OK. So we'll book you in for the bone scan on the 17th.”

And the waiting begins.

*Leaders in Oncology Care