Taking stock of post-cancer-treatment me

Not really.

Not really.

I like to think about my breast cancer experience as little possible, and on a good day I succeed. I have many physical reminders of my BC that have nothing to do with the preponderance of pink ribbons and their campaigns:
• my lymphoarm and all the joy it brings me,
• dark ashy hair without a touch of blond,
• aches and pains in my breasts,
• the fact that no bra will ever fit right again (until I get a custom made one with different-sized cups, or wear a prosthesis or padding),
• the suspicion that the lopsidedness is visible to casual onlookers,
• scars on chest/breasts and under my arm, and finally,
• the radiation tattoos.

What I tell myself about each of these points:
• can’t hide the bandages or the sleeve and glove, gonna have them for the rest of my life, so I just have to deal
• thinking that getting some blond highlights back in my hair is a great idea as part of my back to work preparation—just need a whack of cash that I don’t have just now
• can’t take pain pills for that, gonna have them for the rest of my life, so I have to deal
• could have a third breast surgery to reduce the left one, and even though my plastic surgeon is an accomplished anatomical artiste I think I do not want another go-round, so I will just have to deal
• if someone is staring at my chest and discovers one breast is larger than the other, really, what the hell can I do? At present I’m home all day, or running kids around in the car, or going to appointments where I guarantee no one is staring at breasts with anything but a passing or clinical interest, so if that reminder really gets to be too much I will just get fitted for a prosthesis
• I am on my third bottle of Bio Oil in efforts to decrease the appearance of my scars and as long as I keep my arm down and clothing on, the only one that is visible is the one from my port and it’s not so bad now
• the radiation tattoos, particularly the one in the centre of my chest, above almost every neckline I wear, is the one thing I CAN do something about. There is a plastic surgeon here in Toronto who does radiation tattoo removals for free in the month of October (and hopefully shortly thereafter).

Chemo nails

This post is out of order as far as my treatment goes: my fingernails were at their worst in March and April. They are back to their original state now. My toenails have not fared so well—I lost five of them, and while three of the little ones have entirely grown back, my two big toes are nailless, or rather, half-nailed (my control of the English language is not at its best now either, hmmm). I have a referral to chiropody to check out what’s going on there, but I digress.

I have always loved painting my nails, from Grade 7 on (prior to Grade 7, we had to line up at the back door of St. Aloyisus School, hands held out in front, palms down, so Mother Anacleta Miles could inspect our nails and their nakedness—even a hint of colourless nail polish meant you were sent home). It’s a tiny bit of prettiness, along with wearing rings, that I came to enjoy even more when working on a keyboard all day long (particularly because I never took typing at school, and still have to look at the keyboard to type, which means I really do see my nails a lot).

So when cancer was making me feel like I was out of control of just about everything, and I was spending a lot of time at home, I did my nails. One of the side effects of chemo is damage to nails, both finger and toe. As my nails got uglier to look at, I did then more often. It is even recommended to use colourless polish to keep nails strong. Two of the chemos that do the most damage are Taxol and Doxorubicin, both of which I took. Beau-Reil lines are lines that go across each nail, marking each high dose chemo like the rings of a tree, while koilonychia is the spooning of the nail. They turn yellow, crack, break, even pop or tear right off.

I took pics of my nails on their way to luckiness. I’ve been carrying those photos on my phone, and when I needed to make space on the phone, I found them. Hence, this post. Here goes (check out the middle finger—it was the first nail on each hand to go):

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After four of my eight rounds of chemo, this is what my nails looked like. Yech! But once the chemo drugs cleared out of my system, the nails that I lost grew back, and the ones that just broke and got gross grew out. I still have some lingering neuropathy in three fingertips on my right hand, but that’s it.

The jury is still out on the toenails, though. Fingernails grow three times faster than toenails, but the complete lack of nail growth on the tootsies has me happy that sandal weather is long gone. 😉

Triple negative celeb cover: Joan Lunden on People

Even before the October pinkwashing began, our latest celebrity triple negative breast cancer patient was spreading her personal battle with TNBC on every newsstand with her People magazine cover. I was already dipping out of going to WalMart, Targé and malls of any kind (I’m completely creeped out by all the breast cancer pink on everything) when this appeared:

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It’s a far cry from this crazy hair day cover:

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I was all over Joan Lunden’s story in June when she revealed that she had been diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. With only 15 to 20 per cent of women with breast cancer being diagnosed with triple negative, and with all the articles and stories and reports saying the prognosis for TNBC is poor, I latched on to her story. I checked her website, read her blog, etc. This cover was about her not waiting for her hair to fall out, but shaving her head. Yuk. I did that too. Either way, we were both still bald., and I still hate how I look.

But Joan was out and about all October, appearing with the WWE, Susan G. Komen, on the Today Show as a guest host for the first week of October (video of her and hundreds of breast cancer patients/survivors/warriors), so triple negative is getting some press, finally.

It’s hard to be vain when you look like this: Another post devoted to my hair

Finally, enough hair to show up in a photo!

Finally, enough hair to show up in a photo!

I finished my chemotherapy on April 8 with four rounds of Paclitaxel. I took this photo last night, June 26, and there’s enough to show up on a photo! My onc said that many women actually shave their heads for a while when their hair starts to grow back because it comes in unevenly or patchy. I intended to shave mine too, particularly when I gave Luka permission to shave out a Bat-Signal centred on the back of my head, maybe like this one:

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Unfortunately, Luka and I were too ambitious, because you actually need a decent growth to do a fade like this. Mine was a washout. The good thing was, even though Luka cut loose with the shaver, after a few weeks you could barely see the shape, so I plunged ahead and did not do an all-over shave.

Now I just have to wait, and wait, and wait…

 

To eyebrow, or not to eyebrow?

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Way back in February Tessa and I attended a Look Good, Feel Better seminar. I was pretty successful at getting my skin cleansed and toned and moisturized and made-up, all except for the eyebrows. From that day:

After putting the eyebrow pencil dots at the right co-ordinates, using the inside of my eye and the outside of the iris to line it all up, the seminar leader came over and told me I had lovely eyebrows and we had to get rid of the dots. But what do I do when the eyebrows go the way of the rest of the hair on my head? Then I’ll be making strategic dots and filling in the rest. Ugh.

So, here I am, parked outside of a hospital, with barely any eyebrows left, but what I thought were artfully feathery-pencilled-in fauxbrows. When I checked in the mirror for a last look before exiting the car, the right one didn’t look so good. I tried adding a bit more, and the curse was cast. A little more was too much, so I had to add a bit more to the left side. That proved to be too much, so I wiped it all off. I drew the dots, filled them in and it looked like I was trying to channel Jean Harlow from Bombshell. I supply a poster image:

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I scrubbed off both fauxbrows to start all over. By the time I thought I was happy with the right side and started the left again, I saw Jean staring back at me. I wiped off the left side once more, then took this picture, hoping to get a more objective look from a photo than from my visor mirror. I did. It was a disaster! I removed both sides, fluffed the bangs from my wig well over my forehead and into my eyes and vowed not to attempt eyebrows again, but wait for them to grow back.

They’re starting! And I have peach fuzz, and some horrible little eyelashes, but anything will be better than the lizard/alien eyes I have had for the last two months or so. Yay!

 

Bye bye eyebrows: Look Good, Feel Better brush-up needed, fast!

 

She has a strong face, and can carry this off. I cannot. I'll be looking for a lighter presentation. Thank you to http://affordablebeautiful.blogspot.ca/2012/12/how-i-do-my-eyebrows.html

She has a strong face, and can carry this off. I cannot. I’ll be looking for a lighter presentation. Thank you to http://affordablebeautiful.blogspot.ca/2012/12/how-i-do-my-eyebrows.html

Back on Feb 1 or 2, when I first warily then enthusiastically attended a Look Good, Feel Better seminar at Princess Margaret Hospital, I had full eyebrows. I don’t pluck them, because I am a-scared of the pain and a-scared of the responsibility of making them the same on each side, seeing a “Oh, a little more off here. No, now wait, then three more from this side. Now that looks odd. Maybe a few from under this side…” scenario, so I never went there. I’ve had my eyebrows tweezed once by Paul Venoit (a god in makeup artistry) and twice by a lovely Scandinavian woman on Bloor Street, and that’s it. I’ve always let Nature take its course, but now cancer is taking its course, and it isn’t pretty.

 

If I had these brows, it would be Botox next to keep my forehead in line! Thank you Alphablonde, but I need a less incredulous look: http://www.lovelyish.com/2009/09/09/how-to-cover-your-eyebrows-and-draw-on-dramatic-ones/

If I had these brows, it would be Botox next to keep my forehead in line! Thank you Alphablonde, but I need a less incredulous look: http://www.lovelyish.com/2009/09/09/how-to-cover-your-eyebrows-and-draw-on-dramatic-ones/

Brows were covered in the Look Better, Feel Better seminar. It had to do with lining up the corner of your eye with where your brow should start, then establishing another sight line to do the arch, etc. At the seminar, and I now quote myself from the February 2 post: “After putting the eyebrow pencil dots at the right co-ordinates, using the inside of my eye and the outside of the iris to line it all up, the seminar leader came over and told me I had lovely eyebrows and we had to get rid of the dots. But what do I do when the eyebrows go the way of the rest of the hair on my head? Then I’ll be making strategic dots and filling in the rest. Ugh.”

 

Then I thought this decent-looking young guy might have the answer—eyebrows with a message. I counted out the letters of my message, and I'll have 10 letters and 10 letters—perfectly symmetrical.. Right eye: CHEMO STOLE    Left eye: MY EYEBROWS. Thank you to http://gothorsomething.blogspot.ca/2013/11/crazy-eyebrows.html for the idea!

Then I thought this decent-looking young guy might have the answer—eyebrows with a message. I counted out the letters of my message, and I’ll have 10 letters and 10 letters—perfectly symmetrical.. Right eye: CHEMO STOLE Left eye: MY EYEBROWS.
Thank you to http://gothorsomething.blogspot.ca/2013/11/crazy-eyebrows.html for the idea!

Well, that time has come. I now really look like a chemo patient, with blond eyebrows in the first place, and now not too many of them left.

 

Now, these are the brows I'm shooting for nothing shocking, nothing too wild, just beautiful. Thank you Zinnia at http://www.stylecraze.com/articles/how-to-get-perfect-arched-eyebrows/

Now, these are the brows I’m shooting for nothing shocking, nothing too wild, just beautiful. Thank you Zinnia at http://www.stylecraze.com/articles/how-to-get-perfect-arched-eyebrows/

Graydon’s girlfriend has a girlfriend who is a professional makeup artist, and she is doing makeovers at a Shoppers Drug Mart, so maybe, if I have the energy, we’ll head on over and I will get some eyebrows added… I might take a couple of fine Sharpies from Curry’s the art store, in my shade, and see if I can talk her into that. Then I won’t have to recreate them for a while…

 

Bald me

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Graydon and I were coming back from an appointment Monday morning when we decided to use our Timmy’s rims to get coffees (large latte, yay!). I had taken my cap off while driving, and because we’d been at a meeting, I had used some of my “Look good, feel better” mad makeup skills and looked more presentable than usual. We were discussing my eyebrows and how I know they have thinned considerably, Graydon saying they haven’t thinned, and that all of us have weird eyebrows, when I pulled up to the window.

The woman there looked at me and said, “I love your look!” My look. Waaa? I do not have a look. I touched my hair, oops, no hair! and realized what she meant. No hat, I’m bald. “Ha! Really? I was just saying to my son, I think my eyebrows are falling out too.” “Falling out?,” she asks? “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m on chemotherapy—my hair came out.” “Oh my, I see, well I love your look! You are beautiful! You don’t need hair, girl!” I laughed, said thank you, she said again I was beautiful, and that I was laughing and must be beautiful inside too, and I should love and love every day because every day was a gift.

All of this at a Tim’s drive through.

I thanked her for the kind words, told her she was beautiful, and off we went.

In honour of her, here’s a second bald photo, finally. Can’t say I love it, but at least I can accept it now.