Look Good Feel Better

It’s funny to be in a room full of women who don’t want to cry. Fact is that all of us in yesterday’s seminar had good reason to burst into tears, but not a single lady let the waterworks  flow.  Was this an act of strength, or a retreat into cowardice? I don’t know. All I know is that never before has makeup application been so emotional. Tear jerking, without the tears.

And that is how it felt to start the LookGoodFeelBetter seminar.  Delayed due to bus scheduling, I arrived five minutes into the session when everyone had already found their seats and were each positioned in front of a placemat and mirror. Some of them wore headscarves, others wigs, some hats and a several, like me, had their hair. The room was thick with that  ‘first day of school’  kind of anxiety and excitement (with glances around the table, quick smiles, and fidgeting fingers).

Part of me wanted to say, ‘Hello my name is Catherine. I had breast cancer, have finished my treatment, and life is getting better.’ But there were no round of introductions. Instead each woman wore a name tag and volunteers (one esthetician for every two or three women) would call us all by our names as though we’d all known each other forever.

“Oh, Mary has the good blush.”

“Doesn’t Catherine look like Mia Farrow?”

“Now watch how Trudy’s eye pop with this mascara”

So despite no introduction, we were all on a first name basis.

I suppose when you only have two hours to guide twelve women in a makeover, there’s no time for crying. Introductions would have led to inevitable tears – Goodness knows I wouldn’t have made it past ‘hello’ without bursting. Even coming through the door was an effort of nerves and determination; I truly admire those who attend during their chemotherapy, it’s more than I could have managed. (But what a difference it made to those women!)

Anyhow, there we are in front of the mirrors feeling emotionally delicate, and we’re handed these large white bags as welcomed points of focus. What’s in the bag? My goodness, what isn’t in the bag! You’ve got full size cleansers, toners, moisturizers, concealers , blushes, powders, brushes, foundation, pencils, lipsticks AND a bottle of perfume. Wow.


And then the volunteers launch into the day. Step by step (there are twelve steps all outlined on a handy sheet they provide) we moved through the afternoon with a series of ‘technique explanations’ when the women, in theory, would stop chatting and pay attention to the lesson. Of course, it’s hard to get a group of women with free makeup to stop talking. They don’t even stop talking when receiving chemotherapy, and there’s nothing thrilling about that. So while demonstrations went on, we were charging ahead with opening this product, testing that colour, and sipping our cups of tea.

Now you may think, ‘great opportunity for company X to hook you on their products via charity’, but you’d be totally wrong. Yes, there are great products, but the LGFB ladies don’t advocate any particular brand over the other, and the goodie bags are full of various (randomized) brands donated by a variety of cosmetic companies. It’s a collaborative effort across the industry.

And as we moved along – cleaning milk to toner to moisturizer to concealer  to foundation to loose powder, I watched a substantial change in my mirror. Suddenly my face was glowing (Thank you make up!), and I looked like the young and pretty thing I was twelve months earlier. Then throw on the eye makeup and wowzers, it was so different.

There was this moment with the mascara . . . who knew mascara could be so powerful . . . I was holding up the brush *straight up first, sideways after* for the lump on the end to catch all the wee little bottom lashes, and as I was moving that around, my lashes picked up the black and turned so dark and became so long. I knew they had grown in, but hadn’t realized how much.

Needless to say, I was amazed and again could have started crying like an idiot. It might have been cowardice not to cry – because since when are tears of joy a bad thing? But it’s hard to be the first. . . plus, and most importantly, I’d just applied mascara.  So, come on. Buck up, woman.

However, I’d propose a LGFB follow up session where we all get together for a big cry fest – crying for the losses, crying for the hopes, crying because we’re so pretty in our makeup. Actually, that sounds depressing once written. Okay, how about a LGFB session that lasts 3 hours instead of 2 so that we can get the introduction and tears out of our system?

After the session was over – and it was wonderful. The volunteers are so positive, and the ladies around the table are so transformed – after it was over I packed up my white bag and left, throwing ‘thank you’s and ‘you’re lovely’s over my shoulder. I would have liked to stick around, but wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I remember there was one woman with very short white hair who kept it covered with a hat. But she looked entirely beautiful when she didn’t wear the hat, particularly after the makeup session. I had wanted to mention her good looks, but she was too far down the table and I was too shy to approach her afterwards. Oh well. Hopefully someone else let her know.

Overall it was an event that exceeded my expectations with how easily things moved, how much support was available, and how much LOOT was in the bag. Really quite exciting.

And this morning, after my shower, I’ll crack open that white bag and give it another try. It’s true, to look good is to feel better. After the crazy, ugly, and depressing few months I’ve just navigated, it’s wonderful to feel pretty once again.

This calls for a song:

“I feel pretty, oh so pretty. I feel pretty and witty and gay! And I pity, any girl who isn’t me today.”

Post-chemotherapy physical

And finally I can relax. The past few days have been jammed packed, so it’s very good to lay here in bed and talk with you. Outside, in typical British style, the sky is grey. For Canada winter means snow and ice and deep freeze. In England winter means grey and rain and wet. I could take either climate, but my apartment grows mould with too much humidity and that is not fun, nor healthy. Sooner than later we’ll ditch this accommodation.

Anyhow! Good morning! Today I’m doing a body check. It’s been a little over one month since my last chemotherapy treatment. So head-to-toe inventory:

Toes: Still painted and enjoying the result of a post-Christmas pedicure with Mom. The ladies are lovely in their pale green varnish, though if I could go back I’d have gotten a hot pink instead. During the pedicure, despite the tingling that had occurred during chemo, there was no discomfort. And since then no tingling has returned. This is a very good thing for which I’m thankful. Paxlitaxel did not disable my toes.

Shins: Leg hair is sparsely returning, though not as Amazonian and fierce as it once was (it was like a black jungle). Due to winter and my new adoption of legging/tights beneath my dresses, I will not be shaving this season.  But it doesn’t even matter. I’ve now got my father’s legs (what every woman wants), totally bare of hair.

Nether Regions: aka The Lady. Five shots of Zolodex threw me into menopause and took away my menstruation. It’s a dry well. Unfortunate for several reasons (use your imagination) but the greatest worry is that my period hasn’t returned. Right – here is the thing. If chemo knocked out my baby-making abilities, then the periods will never return. If the Zolodex is simply taking time to wear off, it’ll return eventually. Some women get it back immediatly, others wait months – like even up to half a year. I’m not too worried, just sick of the hot flashes.

Belly: Happy. It hasn’t had a needle in over a month. Yay! I’d like to maintain the trend.

Boobs: Or boob. Whatever. Chest. Apart from my bi-weekly meltdown with fear of reoccurrence (something I really need to work on) things are great. At the moment my skin is a rich cream colour, and the scar is still red, and will likely become redder as radiotherapy progresses, but for now things are okay. My left nipple still intimidates me. I try to ignore it.

Hands: Improving daily. The extreme sensation has reduced significantly, and it’s only my thumbs that feel the discomfort. Mind you, my nails have all suffered. Oh they are UGLY. Like rotten teeth. Hopefully this disgusting mess grows out quickly. Although, as a reflection of what happened within my body during chemo, it’s quite revealing.

Face: Smiling. It’s good to be done chemotherapy. Oh, and my left bottom eyelid is essentially without lash, and I suspect my eyebrows have further thinned since I’ve returned to England. Cursed allergies! This apartment has got to go. (or rather, we need to go from the apartment)

Head: Give me a head with hair! Long beautiful hairrr! I get hair-envy, and wonder what Freud would  say about that? I look at people’s gorgeous heads of hair and crave. I crave hair. At the moment it’s thickening up on the side and back, but the top front is completely sans new growth. Hopefully I’m reverse balding, but there is a fear that I’ve simply gone bald at the front of my head. That would suck: Bye bye bangs.  AH! No way! It’s got to grow back.

Overall: I’m doing great & feeling good. Sure I get tired, but this little island between treatments has been an excellent holiday destination.

There you go – body check complete. This is the body of a post-chemo babe, and it’s coming back nicely. Yes, the hair could grow more quickly (and more evenly) but I’m thankful nevertheless.

Have a lovely day and thanks for reading this self-fixated post. Next time I’ll talk about the killer whales, which has a further reaching meaning than stuff like leg hair, pedicures and reverse balding.

What comes next?

Yesterday morning I visited a clinic in Ottawa that combines medical practices with alternative therapies. For me this concept is far from radical; my parents’ practices involve chiropractic, naturopathic, holistic, and intuitive healing approaches. I grew up learning about craniosacral therapy and homeopathic medicine and how emotions effect our bodies. But this clinic does offer something different: intravenous vitamin C.

From what I’ve researched there’s been evidence showing that intravenous vitamin C can help reduce tumours in the body. Apparently the vitamin C turns into hydrogen peroxide and somehow (can’t remember how, but feel free to look this up if you like) cancer cells fail in that environment. Anyhow, that is the idea. So yesterday we (Marcelle and I) hoped to learn more about this option and see whether I’d be eligible for treatment. I don’t have a tumour in my body, but do I really have to wait until one appears before trying to kill more cancer cells?

After a really long ‘taking of the history’ (about 30 minutes worth of questions where a man stared at his computer and typed in my answers) we met the doctor. He seems a competent fellow.

“First thing, you have to give up gluten,” he tells me. Sigh. Further enforcement that I can no longer eat my pizzas, langos, or molasses cookies from Starbucks. But Mom (Marcelle) has been telling me this all along. Fair enough – during chemo I ate everything and anything, but now that it’s over my diet needs to adapt.

He then proceeded to question why cancer appeared in my body. He has five areas that might cause illness: physical trauma (surgeries, injuries etc), emotional trauma (any big stessors in the past?), infections (do you wake up feeling achy, do you get chills unexpectedly?), toxicity (have you been around any factories lately?), and fifth – the category he thinks I fall into – immune system problems.

And maybe we should add genetics, which can give one  a predisposition to cancer . . .  although, that cancer still needs to be activated, so maybe the question here would be: what triggered your cancer gene to wake up?

Anyhow, why immune system problems? Well I get allergies like crazy, I may have had chicken pox twice, and clearly my immune system wasn’t working properly when it failed to kill those original cancer cells forming in my breast.

Interesting aside: cancer cells are often forming in our body, but a tip-top immune system destorys these rude buggers before they become a problem.

And here is something strange – for about a year before my cancer I had terrible allergies. Frankly, I should have left my apartment ages ago, but the location and rent are both excellent. So I tolerated the allergies. But after my mastectomy those allergies disappeared for months, only returning recently. Was it the strangely dry summer? Was is the shock to my body? Was it because the cancer was gone? Who knows. All I can say is that allergies have always been a problem, and never ever would I have connected them to cancer. In fact, I’d once heard that people with allergies were less likely to get cancer because they react so easily. However, on the other hand (and now I’m rambling) maybe an overworked immune system begins to tire eventually and miss important stuff.

Anyhow, in order to look at what may have caused my cancer he suggested the following (much of which my parents have already suggested, and in some cases done)

First, some tests to check what caused the cancer:

Allergy testing – what foods do I react to?

Hormones – what type of estrogen does my body produce?

Well, this is where Marcelle, my mom, steps in: we’re going to wait on the allergy testing for my body to recover from the chemotherapy. At the moment, I’m likely more reactive to all kinds of things.  And as for hormones, I’ve already had my estrogen tested. Shame I didn’t’ have it tested WAYYYYY earlier, because one of my estrogens – 4-Hydroxestrone (4-OHE 1), which apparently has been connected to cancer development, is really high. Like, really high. It would have been nice to catch that earlier (i.e. before the cancer developed).

But good news: it’s a baseline for me to compare against in the future. We’re working on correcting my estrogen, and so in the future I’ll get tested again and see if the bad stuff has been reduced.

Next: addressing the cancer at hand.

He had a lot of ideas, and I thought, ‘this is good, it’s great to be able to keep fighting even after the treatment has finished.’ And true, Mom already has me doing much of this stuff (even though I didn’t know it) but I think it might be useful to write it down here in case anyone wants to bring it up with their doctor (or their naturopath, or doctor who focuses on alternative therapies, etc).

Read “Anti-Cancer” –  Haven’t read this, can’t tell you if it’s any good. However, the doctor yesterday thought it was absolutely worth a read. I wonder if my library carries the title?

Start exercising – Easier said than done following chemotherapy, but certainly a good idea. I’m starting with Just Dance and will hopefully begin walking when I’m home – then soon Yoga and maybe swimming. We’ll see.

Take anti-oxidants. He gave me some specific ones, though I cannot quite remember why – apparently it will help with my liver, damaged nerves (fingers are still messed up) and address the toxins in the body. How this is specifically cancer-related is a bit confusing to me.

Medicinal mushrooms. Oh man! I just hate mushrooms – but apparently they’re great for fighting cancer. This isn’t the first time I’ve been told to increase my mushrooms. Mind you, he said it might interfere with the tamoxifem, so it was then crossed off the list. However, if I wasn’t taking Tamoxifen, I’d consider these ‘medicinal mushrooms’.

Eat brassica vegetables – this is something my mother-in-law pointed out to me ages ago. Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc. Apparently they’re great for reducing the bad estrogen that is so outrageously high in my body.

Melatonin. I don’t know the exact story behind this one. Apparently this is something we produce in our sleep, and a lack of it has been related to cancer. Anyhow, he suggested to take one before falling asleep each night. It’s not a sleeping pill, but does induce deeper rest.

Mistletoe shots. Ewww, more needles. Apparently there is evidence that this can help, even though it’s not a shot any oncologist has mentioned to me.  I want to look into this more before deciding whether or not to move forward.

Intravenous vitamin C – the entire reason for my presence at this clinic, because honestly my parents are aware of all of the above for fighting cancer. Apparently they administer this treatment and tumours can (not always, but can) shrink. However because I don’t have a tumour it seems slightly unclear about how he would proceed.

Now here is the thing. It’s great to have these lists and all the ideas for fighting. After the treatment I think – apart from tamoxifem, because my cancer was estrogen positive – we patients are kicked out of the nest and expected to fly. “Go forth into the world, my patients, and live!” (i.e. keep being alive, and then in five years if no reoccurrence has developed you are cured! Yay!)

BUT regardless of this list with proactive initiatives, I’m still exhausted. It is EXHAUSTING to navigate through the shock, the coping, the chemo, the therapy and then, of course, the suspense. Anyone who has been sick can understand – and I do not only mean cancer, but the kind of sick that kicks your ass and slaps you down.

And frankly, without my parents and husband pushing me along –getting me these tests, checking on my diet, encouraging me to exercise, helping me cope with stress – all this ‘fight fight fight’ would deflate into ‘sleep sleep sleep’. Lucky for me that my parents are health care practitioners, lucky for me that my brother is an acupuncturist, lucky for me that I have people who know what to do next.

But if I didn’t have these incredible resources, it’d be worth seeking them out. After all, I’m only 28 years old  – there’s a whole life ahead of me and I don’t want to miss a thing.

What the doctor told me yesterday helped solidify the efforts that my parents have all along been promoting. Therefore, it was a worthwhile visit. After all, it isn’t instinctual for a kid to listen to their mom and dad. Doctors yes, parents . . . not so easy.

One more thing for the list (to cope with the fall out of chemo, and something that’s unique to my parents because this doctor didn’t mention it at all): detox. That’ll be coming up soon, but not until the radiotherapy is done.

Anyhow, it was a really interesting visit.

* Another thing to consider, did birth control play a role in my getting cancer? I was on the thing for seven years, it’s connected to my hormones . . . funny the topic didn’t arise during my consultation.  Anyhow, it’s done with now, but I’m still curious. I guess there will always be questions.