Cancer, Chemo, and What I Wore: 10 Years Later

Ten years ago today, I completed chemotherapy for Stage 1 Breast Cancer. Right now everyone's thoughts and energies are focused (rightly) on COVID19, but I also am asked on a regular basis about the posts I did for each of my chemotherapy sessions. So to mark this momentous occasion, and to remind all my women (and hell, men too) customers to check your breasts regularly and let your doctor know if there is any change, here are all four posts, "Cancer, Chemo, and What I Wore."

Cancer, Chemo, and What I Wore -  Part 1  - Feb. 12, 2010

With all due apologies to Ilene Beckerman.

Yesterday I had my first chemo treatment. This all came as a bit of a surprise. The results from the surgery and pathology were great, but just as I was getting ready to set up for radiation, my oncologist called. It turns out there was a genetic marker that raised a red flag for her, so she wanted to send a sample out for more testing. The test took two weeks to get back. Thank god for my husband and his healthcare, which covered the test.  The test came back indicating that there is a double digit chance of distant recurrence in 10 years. Frankly, even small single digit percentages give me hives when you attach them to the words "distant recurrence", so I told her "Let's do it. I bought myself an Hermes scarf in case it came back that way." So there you are. I specifically asked to have the chemo late in the week so any feeling yucky would happen over the weekend. But that meant that I had to wait one more week.

Now, One More Week in cancer-land is one more week of worrying and sleepless nights. I watched my father die of cancer, and I saw my mother-in-law go through hell with chemotherapy for her metastatic breast cancer. I'm normally a very happy person. But let me tell you - a total of three weeks waiting to get hooked up to an IV dripping poison into my veins? Hmmm, that sucked, big time. It also sapped my sewing mojo, thus helping to explain my woeful lack of progress on the Chanel Jacket. For Wednesday, the weather people were forecasting the second coming of Snowmaggedon, which threatened to postpone it further. I'll tell you, I have never had so many sleepless nights in my life.

Fortunately, the snowstorm failed to materialize in Boston and life went along as usual. I slept terribly the night before, and to say that I was a panic sandwich is a gross understatement. Heart racing, blood pressure about 20 points above normal (seriously), I walked into the room and got hooked up. And...

Nothing.

No bad feeling, no pain, no nasty side effects. Just 6 hours of me working online, entering fabrics, answering customer emails and catching up on paperwork. That's it? My god, how far we've come from my childhood "Movie of the Week" horror show about how sick people are, and how far we've come since my father (18 years ago) and my mother-in-law (10 years ago) were going through this.

I realize that things may change. I have three more sessions to go. Hopefully that will be enough to blast the little bugger out of me for good. Hopefully I'll feel this way after each session. They warned me that I would probably not sleep well thanks to the steroids, but last night I slept like a log. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and keeping my spirits up.

So, What did I wear?

No pictures on me, sorry. I thought about it, but decided not to. I've found that the best way to face something Big and Scary is with utter fabulosity of dress. So I dug through my closet and came up with this:

What is better at battling Big and Scary things than Scooby Doo and Thelma (IMO the unsung heroine of the Scooby Gang), so I picked out my "We've Got Some Work to Do Now" tee (available from Threadless - NAYY, I just LOVE my shirt). With that I wore a belt I got last summer and my Rich and Skinny Jeans (a girl can dream, right?). Last, but not least, I wore my ponyskin mules. I'll tell you, I was the fashion hit at the clinic. All the nurses were coming over to see the shirt and mules. I think I set the bar. Forget about cancer, now I'll be stressing out for the next three weeks over my wardrobe choice for the next session.

While I was sitting there entering orders, DH came in with a package that had arrived at home. It was a beautiful present from my dear friend Bill! He and his husband own the Farmhouse Store in Westfield, NJ, a beautiful little boite with all sorts of treasures. If you are in the area, you must stop in! Anyway, Bill sent me this wonderful ring to cheer me up:

Is that fabulous or what? Thank you Bill! The timing was impeccable and it was a huge hit with all the nurses! And yes, every girl needs bling when she's feeling scared.

For makeup, I went full-on warpaint. All of it: foundation, blush, full eye makeup with liner (inner and outer lids), tons of mascara and lipstick. If I'm going to kick this thing's ass I'm going to look good doing it. I took extra time styling my hair too. Might as well while I still have a full head of it, right?

So why am I telling you all this? I assure you, I'm not looking for sympathy. Far from it. I'm telling you this in case someone who reads this is, or ends up, going through what I have been for the last two months. Getting a diagnosis of breast cancer will scare the crap out of anyone. They tell you, and then you wait, and while you wait your imagination, if it's like mine, starts dreaming up all sorts of unpleasant scenarios. That leads to sleepless nights, anxiety and lots of tears. But the reality is nowhere near as bad as anything I could come up with. The only side effects I've noticed are the occasional warm flush (not hot flash, warm flush) feeling, and when I had a cup of coffee this morning I ended up running around like a chipmunk on speed. Other than that, knock on wood, it hasn't been that bad. I was tempted to go to the gym today but I took Hoover on a nice walk instead. Tomorrow I'll hit the gym. While it is my most fervent prayer that you never go through this yourself, if I can do it, anyone can.

So please, stay well, be healthy, if you are a woman over 40, get your annual mammogram. It could save your life.

Oh, and I got my sewing mojo back! I'm going to do a muslin of the bodice of my Vogue dress tomorrow and hopefully get the dress sewn up to wear to my next chemo session. I'm thinking I'll wear it with my Stuart Weitzman Sand Suede pumps. That will truly be an outfit to kick cancerous ass!

Happy sewing!

***

Cancer, Chemo, and What I Wore -  Part 2  - March 4, 2010

Today was my second treatment. The leadup to it was nowhere near as excruciating as the first one. I knew what to expect. I still slept pretty poorly last night and I'm paying the price, but it'll be okay.

But before I tell you about that, let me tell you about the wig buying experience I had this week! My hair started falling out two weeks to the day after my first treatment. That's pretty much the norm. It wasn't so bad the first day, it got a little more the second day, and by Saturday, the night of DH's gig at Foxwoods, it was really bad. I had to be very careful styling it to make sure I didn't pull it out. I had told DH that I would be happy to shave it off after Saturday, but I wanted to still have it that night. It lasted, no problem.

By Monday, I felt like Charlie Brown's Christmas Tree

Everywhere I went, I left a trail. You wouldn't lose me in a forest. By Tuesday I had had enough. The hospital recommended someone who works closely with them. I scoped out wig styles online with Phyllis' help and picked out a few styles to show her. My friend Lisa, who is a hair stylist, came with me for support and advice. When the lady came out, I watched her size me up, in a couple of different ways, and I got a bad impression. She had me sit down in the chair. My hair was wrapped in a scarf, so she said, "Let's see what we've got to work with." I took off the scarf, dropping needles, er, hair all over as I did.

She did a quick look."Okay, you've got your hair still so we'll match the color to it."

"No - I want to change it up. This is too dark. I want lighter. I was even thinking strawberry blonde."

"Oh no. You're not going strawberry blonde."I looked at Lisa; Lisa looked at me and the communication was obvious. This was going to be trouble. The wig lady pulled out a wig and put it on me.

"This is perfect for you. The color, the cut, everything."

Now, I was not about to just say yes to the first wig I saw. I wanted to try on every style and every color and see what suited me. I'll just say, she wasn't really wild about that. And I had Lisa take pictures with my phone so we could send them to Emmett for his BFAM approval. Here are the rejects first:

Ann tries out for Bravo's new show "Real Housewives of Lexington, MA"

Wig lady was all, "That looks great on you."
I was all, "No, it just isn't fabulous enough."
Lisa was laughing

This is the next one she put on me:

Hard no.

Clearly the look on my face is "You have GOT to be kidding." Emmett called me immediately and said, "Ann, you look like you just got f*cked in a hayloft. NO."
I couldn't get it off fast enough.

I tried on wig after wig after wig. Nothing suited. Wig lady was getting agitated and I was getting snarkier by the moment at her. Not a good combination. Finally she pulled out the first wig I tried on:

Much better, and close to my pre-cancerous hair.

Then she pulled out this one, which I think could be totally fun!

Wigs.com has it in stock, so I think I'll order it from them. Keep DH guessing who he's coming home to, you know?

Okay, so back to What I Wore

As I mentioned, today was round 2 of 4. I'm halfway done, babies!!!! Once again it wasn't bad, but this one really wore me out. I was exhausted when I got home.

Barbara, my hairstylist, trimmed and styled my wig so it's much much better. I wore full-on makeup, which, as a silver lining, is much easier to apply when you are bald. Do a perfect job, pop on the wig, style with your fingers and you are ready to go! I wore my Orange Vogue Dress. Note that the bracelet length sleeves are the perfect length for IV sticks. I put a lot of thought into that. And check this out. I bought myself an absolutely fabulous pair of Giuseppe Zanotti shoes from Rue La La.

Fierce times call for Fierce Shoes. And these are surprisingly comfortable. There's lots of room in the toe box, and the heels, while 3 1/2 inches, are mitigated by a hidden 1/2 inch platform. Love. Them! Here's a picture of the whole schmeer, taken by DH when he came to join me for lunch.

Yep, I sit at chemo and enter orders and fabrics. How mundane, eh? But at least I looked good! All the nurses and staff were coming in to see what I was wearing and they all wanted to steal my shoes. My oncologist wants me to make her my dress, but in black. Even the patients were saying nice things about the way I was dressed! If you have to go through something sucky like this, at least do it with style.

***

Cancer, Chemo, and What I Wore -  Part 3  - March 25, 2010

Three of Four!!! I only have one session left. So today, I decided to once again go in full warpaint and body armor. Today's dress is from my BFAM Emmett. I wore his "Farrah" dress, fishnets and my Stuart Weitzman sand suede pumps. Fierce!. To top it off, I wore a necklace I inherited from my MIL and my Sonya bracelets from St. Croix. Emmett says I look like "That Girl". Kewl!

Oh yes, and the long red wig made an appearance. It was a close race between the short blonde wig and the long red, but the short blonde scuttled off, yelping, into a corner at one glance from the long red wig. I think I need a long blonde or brown wig so we can have a Divas vs Dames style cage match.

Today wasn't too bad. I arrived early and went right in for my hookup. One funny story is that Lenora, the nurse, looked at my veins and said, "Wow, nice veins!" My response was, "After 20 plus years of at least 4 workouts per week, I'd hope so!" Seriously, phlebotomists love me. Whenever I hear someone complaining about celebrities' veiny hands, I want to say, "For crying out loud! They probably work out 8 days a week. Yours would look like that too!"

Chemo Buddies! I had two companions with me today, too:

When in doubt, fall back on logic and make it work! Tim came from Emmett. Mr. Spock has a fun story. I had to get my blood labs done yesterday in prep for today. The lab tech who did it was a really nice guy, and he had a huge collage on his wall of pictures of his family, house, Marvel comic characters, Heros characters, and lots of other neat stuff. On the windowsill next to the chair, he had these little Star Trek characters. I was talking to him about them and how much I liked them. Then we got talking about Star Trek and he and I shared out inner Trek geeks. Did you know that R2D2 makes a cameo appearance in the new Star Trek Movie? He goes flying across the screen during the first battle between Enterprise and the Romulan ship. It's true! You can see it on the DVD or on YouTube. Anyway, once we finished, he asked me, "Who's your favorite character?" I responded, "Spock, of course." So he handed me Spock and said, "He's yours." I was so touched, I gave him a big hug!

Like I say, I'm wiped. I hope you had a great day. I'm signing off for a while.

***

Cancer, Chemo, and What I Wore -  Part 4  - April 15, 2010

Stick a fork in me, I'm DONE!!!!!!

Yes, today was my fourth and final chemo session. I never thought I would be excited to go to chemo, which tells you how surreal this whole experience has been. Get yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of wine (Raise one for me, will you? I'm still off booze for 3 weeks), this is going to be a long one...

First thing, of course, is what I wore. I finished hemming my Vogue 1089 at 8:00 this morning (my appointment was at 9:15). Here I am in it, avec pink wig and a pair of pink stiletto mules by Andrea Pfister. I wasn't able to find any new shoes I liked before my last session, so I went with these. They are nice shoes, but they are several years old, and they have been my go-to date night shoes in the spring and summer since I bought them. Date night around here usually means going into Boston. Going into Boston means walking on (and frequently falling in between) cobblestones, so the heels are more beat than I like, hence no closeups. For jewelry, I wore a necklace my husband gave me for our 15th anniversary.

Full makeup, and leg makeup (no stockings today).

Of course, for the first time ever, traffic was terrible, so I was late, but I called to let them know. When I got there, my doctor took me right in, did the usual workup and then brought me into the chemo room. Everyone was running in to see my wig and outfit, and all the patients were asking me where I got the wig. It really does bring a smile to everyone's face, including mine. Hookup and drip per usual, no problems. DH took a picture of me working entering orders.

I brought my Hermes scarf and hung it on the IV pole like a knight's battle standard. The staff was laughing every time they walked by. I also brought a huge box of Godiva chocolates for the staff. I think I got fave rave patient of the day. Everything was uneventful. In fact, I was finished about an hour before I expected. YAY!!!! Big shout out to Winchester Hospital's staff and the Medical Oncology staff at Montvale in Stoneham. As I said to them, "You guys made a sucky experience a whole lot less sucky." We were all giving each other hugs and kisses and high fives as I left. Here's hoping we blasted the little bastard into oblivion.

Some Thoughts and Helpful Hints (I hope)

It is my most fervent hope that none of my readers ever have to go through this, but if the unthinkable happens to you, there are a few things to keep in mind. I'll keep it on the light side:

The bad things about Chemotherapy

Well, the whole Cancer thing kind of really sucks
Your hair falls out. Adding insult to injury, in my case, only the non-gray fell out!
You keep asking, WTF? Like when they tell you
"You need to use barrier contraception while you're on chemo." (uh, what???)
"No salads, berries or raw food that can't be thoroughly washed and peeled"
"You shouldn't have manicures or pedicures" (that's a no-go in my world, sorry)

The good things about Chemotherapy - Believe it or not, there are some

Showers/morning prep take a lot less time.
You save a lot of money on razor blades.
You don't need to worry about bikini waxing.
Makeup application becomes easier - no worries about blending to the hairline.
You can change your hairstyle/color every day if you want.

A couple of things to keep in mind also to help you out if you do have to go through this. First, never feel like you're being a bother if you have questions. The doctors and nurses are there to help you. They want you to get better. They want you to have the information you need to make an informed decision.

Second, try to find the humor and joy in these situations. It's there, and it will get you through the tough time. Silly things like pink wigs, "giving the big fangou to the big C", adopting songs like "It Sucks to be Me" as your theme song... things like that take the edge off, both for you and for those around you.

Third, allow yourself some self-pity. My friend Marilyn, who is coming up on her 6th anniversary, told me, "Give yourself 20 minutes a day or when you feel you need it. Then dust yourself off and get back to living." I found that spin class is a great time to indulge in a self-pity party. The lights are down low, and everyone is sweating so if you're crying it just looks like you're sweating heavily. Don't sob though. That's a dead giveaway and overly dramatic, even for me.

Finally, lean on those around you. Larry, my husband, has been my rock and a godsend through this whole thing. My kids, family, neighbors and friends have all rallied around. Even getting little notes and emails from folks has been so helpful keeping my spirits up.  I couldn't do it without them (and you!). Take the help and support they offer. Of course, every time someone says, "Let me know what I can do to help." I say, "Well, my basement needs cleaning." The basement still needs cleaning. Sigh...

About Those Damned Pink Ribbons

If you ask any breast cancer patient, the vast majority will tell you this: Forget the Pink Ribbon. Wear one if it makes you feel better, but buying something that has a pink ribbon on it? Don't bother. The amount of funds those things actually send to charities that need it is minuscule. And if you read the fine print, most of them say that they are sending a percentage to the charity after expenses, overhead, royalties and whatever are taken out. People slap pink ribbons on items for marketing purposes. I'm all for marketing services and products. But if you really want to make a difference, don't buy something because it has a pink ribbon on it. Write a check, large or small, to the breast cancer charity of your choice. They'll put that money directly to good use. All of it. And they won't have to wait the better part of a year, if ever, to get the moneys from the company. And besides, by sending a check directly to the charity, YOU get to take the tax deduction, not some fatcat.

Parting Shot: Freedom!!!

Be well, and happy sewing!