Picture day in Toronto

Okay, I’m here at my cafe and ready to write. The weather outside is bizarrely fine considering it’s still March, and I’m dressed in an outfit that my husband would 100% hate (I look like a neon pink hippie). So, the time has come to relive yesterday in the written form, and it involves owl eyes, bright yellow dresses, and throwing flowers in the air.

Doesn’t that sounds quite idyllic. Actually it was a photo shoot in Toronto (not exactly idyllic, but still good fun) for the Look Good Feel Better 20th anniversary magazine, Lives Affected by Cancer. As mentioned, I’ve written an article for the issue that dips into the impact of cancer and treatment on a couple’s love life, which is huge, freaking huge, and ripples out into everything, then ripples back in upon itself . . . like some freaking never ending cycle of crabbiness and – !!!! A man in the cafe just unleashed a hurricane from his mouth – Where was I? Oh, it’s a difficult situation that hardly ever gets discussed. So we’re discussing it.

And it’s a tricky concept to photograph as well. But wisely the art director choose to work with the idea of flowers and lightness – and hey, how brilliant? While sex is SEX (Wohoo!), it’s also sweetness, gentleness and romance. Flowers are very appropriate.

So yesterday morning I go up way too early and joined the art director (I so want to say his name, but lately I’m not really sure if I’m able. Am I able?) as we took a cab across Toronto and arrived at the studio. We initially arrived at the wrong studio, a few buildings down and only realized this upon knocking on the wrong apartment door, which sheds some light on how tired we felt.

But eventually we made it.

Unlike the first photo shoot for Glow, this place had a completely different vibe. Firstly, it was empty except for the photographer and her assistant. Secondly, it was a huge space. Big windows and 30 foot ceilings, white painted everything and pillars so large I couldn’t wrap my arms around them. Why, why, why don’t they make these buildings anymore? It was magnificent.

People began to trickle in. And in. And in. Seems to me these photo shoots are highly complex – not to mention the editing and planning of a magazine. The magazine designer was explaining how much work went into the project, and it sounds nearly endless. No wonder every little job needs to be considered, and it’s incredible to watch them integrate their roles like clockwork.

So we stared with makeup and a lovely man helped me look natural, fresh and beautiful. He took the curlers to my lashes and gave them a good pinching (during which I was frozen – mannequin like), then added mascara and a tiny bit of shadow at the edges of my eyes. Sexy! Yet sweet. Way more make emphasis than I’d ever dare to use, but the result was striking.

And then came the dress. Think of something from the 1960s that a woman would wear to lunch out with the girls . . . think lemon drops and traces of white flowers . . . think about Jackie Onassis and Audrey Hepburn. That was my dress.  (It was too large so they clipped it at the back, and I wore my hiking socks since they weren’t photographing my full body. Ridiculous yet comfortable.) The makeup artist (and he was certainly an artist) touched up my lips with a bit of pink that popped against the yellow.

And then the shooting began. Goodness me. I am NOT a model – it makes me wonder, why is it easy to look interesting and friendly in front of the mirror at home, but when people are watching and the camera pops, and someone says “Happy! Be happy” . . . why is it suddenly so darn awkward?

But I did my best. The previous Glow shoot photographer had me saying, “Ha ha ha!” so I tried it here : “Ha ha ha!” And then other people started saying “Ha ha ha!” along with me . . . we were all standing there saying, “Ha ha ha!” and it was quite surreal.

Ha-ha-ha.

Surreal, but fun. The makeup artist came over and fixed my hair constantly, thank goodness for that because often times he’d give me little tips on how to move or what to do with my legs which was really helpful.

Along the theme of flowers, I threw petals into the air, picked at a bouquet, and smelled the chrysanthemums. It was all very light and fun. Really fun, despite my nerves.

And then there was the video. Talk about uncomfortable! You see, during the shoot not everyone came round to watch – just the photographer, the prop stylist, the clothing stylist, the assistant, the makeup artist and the designer. There were a ton of other people hanging around too. But with the video EVERYONE had to watch.

Basically this video is going to be shown around the web and at events. It’s about Look Good Feel Better and Facing Cancer Together – my particular bit was mostly about blogging and the online community. (Hello community!)

Therefore, the light switches were flipped off and spot lights were turned onto my face (“Good lighting” assured the makeup artist, which somehow made me feel comforted – not that lighting worries had ever entered my mind . . . but nevertheless, I felt better.) and everyone had to be quiet. No mobiles. No moving. No talking. No light (except for the spotlight.)

So basically it was impossible to not watch the filming. However, while the idea intimidated me, the actual execution was alright. When bright lights get shot into your eyes, the watching crowd disappears.  Hopefully I was coherent – sometimes I’d use the wrong word and catch myself about ten seconds later, way after the sentence had passed by and couldn’t be corrected. But whatever. It was the real, second-guessing, me, and I reckon that translates okay onto film. (Or at least, I hope!)

The truly remarkable thing about this photo shoot was how smoothly it ran. With so many people criss-crossing one another, and so many aspects of the production collected in one room – it’s a miracle of good planning and professionalism that the project ran so smoothly. I’m truly impressed with each person in that room and the role they played.

Despite being nervous – totally nervous – about getting my photo taken . . . it was great to be in such a capable crowd, and supported 100% by their kindness and vision for this magazine. The upcoming issue of Lives Affected by Cancer will be hitting stands (as an insert in fashion magazines – how exciting) come next August. Judging by the way things went yesterday, it’s going to be an outstanding issue.

Sometimes you get lucky, eh, and get to be part of something great. Yesterday was something great, and I know Look Good Feel Better and Facing Cancer Together are programs that certainly deserve greatness.

So keep an eye on those newsstands. But don’t let this weather trick you, it’s not August yet.

P.S. I met Michael Carrera – blogger at Facing Cancer Together and personal trainer extraordinaire. But you know what, I’ll write more about that later, because I feel quite strongly about the usefulness of getting a physical trainer post chemotherapy, and it deserves a separate post.

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Sex and Cancer reposted

Hello Ladies and Germs,

This past week I hopped off to Toronto for a photo shoot. The photo shoot is to be coupled with an article I’ve written for the upcoming (i.e. August) edition of Lives Affected By Cancer magazine. But, before I indulge myself with a blog post all about how fun it is to get dressed up and look pretty .  . . I thought it  might be high-time to share the source of this article inspiration.

A while back I wrote a post on my other blogging home, Facingcancer.ca, entitled “Sex after cancer – how we coped with the difficulties and had a huge reaction on the site. You lovely people here at Bumpyboobs – the original boob, didn’t get to read that article simply because, at that time, my grandmother read this page and I was not keen on exposing her to my lady parts.

However, things have changed and it’s high time this was shared. So here you go, below is my original post about coping with the challenges of sexuality and intimacy. Feel free to comment, share with someone newly diagnosed (so they can brace themselves and know what’s going on – or even better, get prepared!), or just read in silence. Sex is the pink elephant in the room (because it’s blushing so much), but man, it matters hugely.  Anyhow, enough stalling. If you are family/friends and are uncomfortable with these past couple paragraphs, then stop reading now and save yourself further anguish. Otherwise, enjoy the ride.

Sex after cancer – how we coped with the difficulties.

You know what I don’t talk about – or at least, what I don’t blog about? Sex.  This is partly out of respect for my husband, who was an incredible gentleman during the past year, and partly out of the fact that my grandmother reads each and every entry of my Bumpyboobs.com blog.

However . . .

Grandma doesn’t read this blog.  (I never gave her the link, otherwise she’d totally be reading this right now.)

And my husband understands that when talking about recovery and moving on, essentially when talking about life after diagnosis  – sex matters.  While during treatment it was more than a slightly difficult subject (for reasons I’ll explain below), now we’re in our summer of healing, which includes (te-he) sexual healing.

But I’ll spare you the HBO drama details. No risky scenes of dropped clothing and ferocious passion (Though yesterday after that glass of wine and a night to ourselves, there was, I’ll admit, a copious amount of both – but you know what, it hasn’t come easy. No sir re bob. Not at all. It’s taken heaps of effort to recover from what was, essentially a very difficult year sexually speaking*.) Instead I’ll write you two sections.

1) Ways in which cancer messed up my sex life.

2) Ways in which I took my sex life back.

So, first: Ways in which cancer messed up my sex life.

Surgery.

Often times the solution to cancer is to cut-it-out, meaning often times, the body undergoes a drastic loss. I was lucky, the cancer was in my breast, and as far as invasive surgery goes, so the nurse told me, this was the best cancer to have. (Wohoo?) All I lost was my right breast, many women lose much more.

But nevertheless – it was my right breast. For ages it was difficult to see the scar. I didn’t trust that part of my body. I was terrified of lymphodemia. I wasn’t sure how to dress. I threw away my bikinis. And if my husband’s hand would even hover above the area – swap­I’d swat it away like a fly. No touching. Because touching meant I dipped into instant depression and rumination over cancer, and our lives changing, and the threat, and the treatment, and will anything ever be the same again?

No touching.

It took a while to recover, and to be honest, I feel like maybe just now I can allow my husband to freely explore that side of my body and not flashback to the chemo or surgery.  It’s gotten better, but it’s also taken time.

Exhaustion and Depression.

This is like a game of duck, duck, goose. Exhaustion is walking around the circle of possible reactions, hand above their heads, and we all wonder who she’ll pick – then bam! Exhaustion picks Depression, and Depression is up and running, chasing Exhaustion in a circle – running, running, running – and Exhaustion makes it to the open space, sitting down untouched! So now it’s Depression’s turn to pick a goose . . .duck, duck, duck . . . then guess who he picks since chemo is tomorrow and everything starts again? That’s right: Exhaustion.  They’re up and running again.

Well that long winded description was basically to say that I was tired. Dead tired. No matter how many times my husband might have poked me in bed, or kissed me on the neck (when the depression hit hard, I didn’t even understand how he could look  at me with that thought on his mind. Ugh. Chemo Catherine wasn’t like your average 28 year old. She looked sick. Sick and bald and sick) . . . my answer was a constant and firm: “No.”

The Narrowing.

Now this is a tricky topic. Who wants to talk about their vagina (who wants to say vagina?) narrowing. But it happened. Who the heck knows why? Why does chemo narrow a woman’s downstairs passage?  Two things happened. First, menopause struck and I dried up like the Sahara. Second, I tightened.  Dry and tight. Guess how fun sex becomes when that happens?  It was like trying to squeeze your head through a children-sized turtleneck.

The pain was sharp – in fact, it’s still sharp today – seven months post chemotherapy, and every time there is that moment of supreme discomfort . . . only now I know it will pass. Back then I thought it might never stop. That’s a horrible feeling.

So my shop closed up for about five months straight.  Also coinciding with some of the most difficult days of our relationship. With the stress of cancer, the difficulties of chemo, the lack of energy and the absence of love making . . . well, it was challenging.

Now for the happier list! Ways in which I took back my sex life.

Actually, I’m no longer in the mood for listing things. I’ll just tell you straight. Firstly, we waited.

Also, once chemo ended, I decided to try some vitamin E. Now doctors can prescribe a variety of things to help the juices flow – there’s even a forum conversation on facingcaner.ca, so do go check that out. But for me, I’d had enough of the lubricants and certainly didn’t want any more drugs. . . so I combined vitamin E with a dilator. And step by step, with a tolerable level of pain, the dilator was expanded over a month or so.  Ugh. I cringe at the thought of my grandmother – or anyone’s grandmother – reading about my expanding lady part.

Whatever!

And finally we used the ultimate ingredients: patience and persistence. After five months of no action, even with the dilator helping, things were madly uncomfortable down there. But we tried again and again (with several instances of me saying, “Stop!” because it was really too much), and the discomfort began to last shorter periods of time. Now, here in August, it’s only in the first moments that I feel that pain. . . and I think it’s worth enduring for the fun that comes after.

And that’s where we are today, having fun, thank God, after months  of really having to try and persist and work to regain our sex life.

Frankly, I was lucky. Not all partners are able to cope with the intensity of chemotherapy or cancer  . . . and I’m guessing none of them initially realized that all ‘fun, slippery times’ will be cleared from the table till recovery starts to happen. I’ve heard of relationships which have crumbled . . . I’ve heard of relationships that have strengthened.  Also, I’ve heard of women who had sex all the way through chemotherapy – so good for you are one of them.

And if you are in the middle of a sexual slump, and feeling guilty or frustrated, all I can say is this: hang in there, this isn’t your fault and any good partner will keep that in mind. Let the body react as it needs, and recover at its own pace. Then, when you feel ready talk to your doctor about options. Maybe buy yourself a dilator (with vibration for added blood flow) and get started on the project.

Right – sitting up from the computer – enough sex talk. It’s not even breakfast yet and I still haven’t had my cup of tea. But if you have anything to add, or any advice to give, do take this chance to say something. You never know who you may help. I was certainly scanning the forums when this problem first developed, and it was a relief to learn that other women had similar issues.

Now. Time for tea.

Have a lovely day.

PS. A big thank you to my husband for kindly allowing me to discuss this intimate aspect of our lives. While it is intimate, it’s also so universal. Thanks, babe. You are an incredible man.

PPS. An updated PS here – the response to this article was huge. If you’d like to read some of the insightful and touching comments, scroll to the bottom of this page and learn that you are not alone.

Going on a business trip!

Eight days since I’ve written a post! Wow. Well, here’s a quick update that I’m excited to share. At this moment I’m at the Ottawa International Airport about to fly off to Toronto. This is a business trip – and it gives me goose bumps all over to say, “Business Trip” – how very professional, eh? Can you imagine me here in my charcoal business suit with the pencil skirt and too high heels? Leather briefcase by my side and a crisp button up shirt underneath my suit jacket?

Probably not. Because in reality I’m in my trainers, with lulu lemons I forgot to wash after getting saw dust on them yesterday, carrying a purse that reads, “Keep Calm and Carry On” with my favourite polka dot jacket draped behind me.

Not exactly business class apparel. But certainly more comfortable for travelling.

Here’s the fun bit that only Canadian readers would appreciate – I’m going to be flying Porter Airlines, which will basically cruise me into Toronto and deposit me directly in front of my hotel (Royal York). This is certainly an easy way to fly – I wish international travels could be so perfectly executed.

Anyhow – this post needs to be a quickie. I’ll write and tell you more later, when I’ve actually had the photo shoot. In the meanwhile have yourself a lovely day. Enjoy this ridiculously warm weather. And eat your vegetables!

 

🙂

Catherine