On the fourth day after treatment I was still raw – literally – and my skin had broken out in a predictable and nasty allergic reaction to the dressings. My back was on fire with that special itch so well known, and loathed, in childhood.

Unfortunately, this meant that I had to grit my teeth and venture out to an upscale lady store, where they sell premium potions that actually work.

I wouldn’t like to chat at makeup counters anywhere in the world, but the whole thing is so much worse here in England. I like the standoffish silent customer service prevalent in most stores. I do not understand why the people employed in the beauty industry are required to pretend they care. It is all just very awkward and artificial.

Which might be the point, but it makes me indignant when people suggest that I wear blusher, change my eyeliner, or buy a new shampoo. Do they think my appearance is an accident? Because, you know, it isn’t. Everything about me is excessively deliberate, verging on obsessive. I would think that is obvious.

I picked up the tiny yet massively expensive pot of salve and queued at the counter to pay, silently hoping for an efficient check-out. But the (very nice) woman at the till, apparently unable to read my urgent need to be elsewhere, started to rattle off the standard solicitations to join loyalty card schemes, take advantage of multi-buy discounts, etc.

I politely declined all of the offers, including a chance to partake of a free massage. This of course generated a puzzled delay in the proceedings: who turns down a free massage? The person who has recently had a string of tumours removed from her neck and back, duh. But I couldn’t say that. Talking would not expedite the encounter.

The (very nice) woman held up my purchase quizzically. “Lots of people have been buying this,” she said. “What is it for?”

Well, as it says on the packaging, it is healing gel. Designed to treat scars and wounds.

Flummoxed, I wondered if she really wanted to know, if it would be appropriate to tell? But no, honestly, it would not. I’ve had people ranging from professors to strangers burst into tears upon hearing the word ‘cancer’ issue from my flippant lips.

Instead I held up my calloused fingers and told a sideways sort of truth. “I’m a writer, and holding the pen all day hurts my hands. This stuff makes them feel better.”

She turned over the jar in her hand, reading the description. “Does it really work?”

“Yes, totally. Works a treat.”

She finally handed over my purchase and receipt and I departed to hide at the library, where nobody talks to me, or anyone, ever.

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