How to STAND OUT during chemo and beyond

I don’t know why I’m writing about this today, except that last week I met and chatted with a women who is going through chemotherapy. We met in a coffee shop, and while it’s clear from our chatting that there is much going on with treatment and life, I couldn’t stop thinking how lovely she was looking; she undoubtedly stood out from the coffee shop crowd, and it was largely because she choose to be striking with her clothes and makeup alongside with her bald head.

All of this made me think back in time, as I realised, “Geez, like this beautiful lady (she has a name, I’m just not using it here), I really stood out after chemo with the bald-to-short hair.” Which led to other thoughts like, “Should I cut my hair short again?” (NO!) “Didn’t I promise myself to be fabulous ever moment possible once my body had recovered?” (YES!) “Maybe I should write a post about standing out.” (Which I’m doing right now.)

Here’s the thing about chemotherapy – it knocks you on your ass. And frankly, if you decide to leave your home, which is rather inevitable during treatments, you will attract attention even if you’d rather be invisible to the world.

Let me say it again. You will attract attention.

And after treatment there’s still months upon months of very short hair. Once again, you will attract attention.

But is that a bad thing? If you are going to stand out, then why not do it on your own terms? And hey, why not use the months following chemo as a practise trial for standing out for the rest of your life? Let it be a warm-up for becoming a spectacular presence in your everyday life – a unique energy people can’t help noticing.

Personally, this is a big challenge for me since I grew up being the too-tall-for-the-boys constant wall flower. But the more I try with things like pink glasses, big blue rain boots, funky jackets, pretty clothes, blond highlights to come . . . the easier it becomes. No joke, practice makes this easier, and really satisfying too. Every wall flower wants to be noticed.

Therefore, I present to you, with an invitation to add your own ideas in the comments: Five ideas for standing out during chemo (i.e. whenever you can manage the energy) and beyond!

1. Find some beautiful accessories, e.g. scarves, bracelets, statement necklaces, earrings. Remember, scarves are not exclusively for your head – these can be worn around your neck as well. The lady in the coffee shop wore a beautiful combination of a pale pink scarf wound around a gold thread scarf. The result was so complimentary, I just kept looking at it and thinking how pretty she looked.

2. Smile at people. If they are going to be looking at you, look back at them. Smile, nod, say hello. I’m not saying you need to stop and converse with everyone about cancer or whatever else is on your mind that day, but smiling makes you instantly more relatable. It’s the universal ‘hello’ and everyone is better looking with a smile on their face.

3. Invest in an interesting and impeccably flattering piece of clothing, make it different from the crowd . . . you could snap up something from a local designer, or search a vintage shop for some old-time charm. If you don’t have the energy to shop, no worries – just keep a general eye out, and in the meanwhile look for daring pieces in your closet you’ve never had the guts to wear before this moment in life. (But obviously wanted to, cause how did it end up there otherwise?) Maybe it’s a jacket that’s tailored to your curves, maybe it’s an asymmetrical dress or shirt – I don’t know. All I know is it should be well made and different from anything else you’ve been seeing on the streets.

4. Embrace the short hair . . . at least for a while. I had mixed feelings about my short hair, but while it was there – I tried to style the blond curls (throw-back to my baby hair) sky high like Kramer from Seinfeld. Why not? Having pixie short hair is such a unique experience, and it instantly marks you from the crowd as a daring individual. Instead of hating the hair – love every second of your re-growth, from punk-rocker shaved to Natalie Portman sweet. . . you will stand out with that short hair, so make the most of the experience.  (Speaking of which, I really need to get some highlights put in. I’m aching to go BLOND again!)

5.Embrace colour. Please resist the urge to hide behind black or grey on a daily basis. Okay, I agree that black and muted tones can be very flattering . . . but if you want to be striking, find colour that flatters your skin tones. Couple darker tones (if that’s your comfort zone) with pops of coral, strong blue, light pink, oranges & reds with with blueish tones, green or yellow. Combine those colours with your statement piece, and lady, you’ll be smoking hot – and not because of the menopause!

I have this blue jacket that I wear whenever the weather allows . . . it’s cut quite uniquely, has polka dots and is rather flattering. People say to me often enough, “oh, you’re the girl in the polka dot jacket. I’ve seen you before!” You bet your ass they have. Chances are they’ve seen a lot of people before, but not everyone stands out.

You are fantastic, you are alive, you are YOU. So I reckon take the attention and twist it in your favour. Everyone deserves attention, why not use now to practise how to be present and seen? It’ll get you off to a running start for all those lovely and healthy days to follow treatment.

And that’s my two cents about that!


13 thoughts on “How to STAND OUT during chemo and beyond

  1. Amen to that! I have never looked good in hats so I was worried what I would look like when i lost my hair. But i bought some really cute newspaper boy caps, and some funky scarves and I actually looked really cute in the hats. Now that I have hair again, I tried on the hats and I look stupid again. hats don’t look good with short hair.

    Here is my advice for newly shaved heads: Wear makeup. Even if you never did before, start now. It will make your eyes and lips stand out instead of your bald head. You will also look less tired, and healthier rather than drawn out and sallow. When you look your best, you feel better.

  2. I love this post! I’m forwarding it to a friend who has a friend going through all this now. I don’t knew the friend of my friend but I do know she will benefit greatly from your wisdom. One of the very best things about being on the other side of the cancer “journey” is being able to offer practical advice for those who are in the midst of it. Well done!

    • Yes, I agree. Please do forward it along with my best wishes. Honestly, when I was in chemotherapy I was so exhausted all the time it was a real challenge to make myself presentable – but I promised that once it was over, I’d dress and look fabulous as often as possible. It was a real realization back then, and it’s done me well ever since.

  3. In your picture, I see Zsolt’s face giving you a loving kiss, and you are radiating from the support he provides you.

    Catherine, you do stand out for the honesty, emotion, understanding, wisdom, creativity and a unique style that you pour into your writing. I also like your artwork which inspires me.

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  5. What a great post… I love love love how you turned what was inevitable and used it to your advantage. And.. to add to the list….. HATS! I’m not a hat person and I didn’t lose my hair when I was on chemo but when I was speaking to someone who did, she used those hats as a way of breaking the conversation barrier. People can be uncomfortable, not know what they should (or should not) say….. Which is a post I’m sure we’ve ALL written…. She would simply say, “I’m okay, and how do you like my hat?” ….. (She had tons of them) ….. and it “normalized” things.

    And.. FYI…. I can attest to the fact that you are GORGEOUS….. stunning, striking and unforgettable!


    • 🙂 Thank you so much. I remembering being in that little Brooklyn cafe with you and feeling like we were two fabulous women. That was certainly a moment where everything felt beautiful.

      Hats are great idea – I can’t believe I missed hats. And up here in Canada (and down where you are too), they basically become essential in the winter.

  6. What a great post! I am much more of a girly girl now vs. before treatment. I definitely found scarves to feel more feminine and ultimately more comfortable than hats. I have a friend that rocked it bald and beautiful (I never ventured out without my head covered, but I never wore anything on my head at home).

    • I remember you had those beautiful photographs taken when you were bare headed. They were really lovely – I bet you could have rocked the bald look! Though scarves are very pretty too – I remain a fan of the ‘head sock’ as well. 🙂

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