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!


Sometimes I get angry

Alright. Here we go. Radiotherapy has begun and today wasn’t so bad. Honestly, sometimes I get so angry at being in a situation that requires chemo, surgery, radiotherapy, hormone therapy (etc), that it’s  easy to forget the benefits.  Chemotherapy coupled with hormone therapy dropped my chances of re-occurrence from 90% to 50%. Not the whole pizza, but not terrible. And radiotherapy will help ensure I don’t redevelop cancer in the site where the original tumour grew.

These are good things. So when I harp about the possibility of cancer down the line (because admittedly it’s a very low chance of secondary cancer resulting from treatment), it’s mostly defensive against the fact that I have cancer, and that I need to hurt my body to help it.

I’m angry – you know? Not all the time, but sometimes.

However, I nevertheless appreciate the smiling doctor who recollects skating the canal, and the nurses who chat about their day, and the patience with which my left breast is repeatedly checked. I appreciate it.  They are on my side.

So I forget that occasionally and get mad at every damn thing associated with cancer. From the ache in my side to the drip of a medication.

Zsolt pointed out to me today that having such a negative perspective isn’t helping, and he’s right. Sometimes I get angry, but that doesn’t mean I’m not appreciative (even when it doesn’t sound like it).  This crap is hard. I think the treatments could be better – but then, who doesn’t? That’s why bazillions of dollars of research are poured into the area. In twenty years, who knows what great advances will be made?

SO, that’s me eating my words. Filling.

Tomorrow (or sometime soon) I’ll write about radiotherapy – the actual session. It was certainly an experience, if only a brief one, and totally worth sharing.

Walking home

So today I visited with my oldest friend. She and I have known each other since we were about three years old. Having lived on the same street for over twenty five years, it’s easy to keep in touch. Sure, we’ve both now moved away from the area – but so long as our parents remain here, our roots stay connected.

Anyhow, she and I had a nice outing which involved Starbucks –pumpkin spiced latte, hello! – followed by some Walmart browsing (flash back to age ten and us walking to the Hazeldean Mall for a first sans-parent shopping spree. We went to Zellers and tried on some mini-skirts, followed by the dollar bin where I bought cheap florescent red lipstick), and after Walmart she dropped me off at her house (instead of mine) so I could take my well-loved, fondly remembered ‘walk down the street’.

Walk down the street: How many times have I strolled home along this road? Many. Countless. Each time with my head in the clouds and some stupid grin on my face. Who knows why it makes me so happy. Maybe because of the houses.

Here is the two story red brick; that women in the window had breast cancer but it’s not like I’m going to ring her doorbell. Further along is the home of my first crush, another two story; I used to bike by his house and hope that he’d be watching. And that home with the tree fort  just by the path, they had a dog who kept getting loose. Over there with the fancy garden and dark windows, the dad here once gave me a music box and I still have it today (unfortunately, the mechanism broke). Next is the place with those little blond girls, and beside it the house of our neighbours, who always have a wine opener when we need one. And there is my house, single story – the place where so much has happened. It’s like being on a game show of ‘this is your life’ except it’s not only my life, it’s my community – these people are part of me in some weird way that almost no longer seems relevant, and yet is unforgettable. I love walking down this street. It always feels good.

Funny, eh. I look at the houses and the paintwork and the driveways and the snow soaked lawns . . . but forget home renovations, it’s the feelings that impress me –  I feel the memories.   Maybe that’s why I smile.