Some of you may or may not know this but I first started my blog while I was going through Chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Disease (Hodgkin’s Disease is a nice way to say “Lymphoma” which is another nice way to say Cancer). The name of my first blog was Ester Bleu, which I named after my mother. I started the blog because there were so many days I felt chemo robbed me from feeling beautiful and I thought writing about makeup and clothes would make me feel better. Also, I just needed the “icky chemo days” to go by quick and needed a fun project to throw myself into.
The reason why I chose to share, once more, this piece of my life is because today is the first day of July. This month marks 1 year of me being cancer-free. I woke up feeling so emotional! So extremely overjoyed and I literally have been walking around all day mindfully thanking every little thing I do. For example last year I wasn’t able to feel the season change from winter to spring. I was all together just in another world. I didn’t capture the leaves, colors, flowers and sweet air. So, these days when I go for my run the sight before me is something I just don’t ever want to let go. Needless to say, my whole life is so much more colorful now.
So, in honor of my 1 year cancer-free celebration and since blogging about beauty was one way I got through the roughest days; I decided to share with you my chemotherapy experience and how to stay above it all beauty-wise. Perhaps, you can one day share these tips with a female you know that is about to go through chemo or is in the process of it. This is how I combated hair, skin, nail and weight issues and also what I do today to stay healthy and feel beautiful.
I had to come up with a clever way to prepare for alopecia. So, I decided to cut my “own” hair in steps. I know this sounds crazy but I had to take charge. It was so empowering to know that I cut my own hair rather than it be taken away from me from a stupid drug. That was just not about to happen! My first step was cutting my hair from mid-back to shoulder length. Then every week I cut about 2 inches off for four consecutive weeks. Finally, I gave myself a short buzz. I must say I got used to it rather quickly and now understand why guys touch their hair so much after a fresh cut. It feels so nice! This process really prepared me to lose the tiny bit I had left. It was actually seamless after this point.
Shortly after I lost all my hair, I began looking for wigs. I wanted to own the wig before I lost my hair, because I wanted to play with it and try different hairstyles. However, I was told it’s better to wait until you have no hair to get the best fit. Otherwise, I’d go in for a fit and then, when I lost all my hair the wig wouldn’t fit properly. Wig shops can special order wigs to fit your head exactly. This project was kinda dreadful because you have to communicate everything to the insurance company (where you are going to buy the wig, is the shop approved in your plan, prove to the insurance company that you indeed have cancer, um okaaaaay!!! get a letter from the wig store, mail in receipts and then wait a verrry long time to get reimbursed..aahhh) Who wants to go though all this headache? Well, because human hair wigs can cost anywhere from $1,500 – $3,000. It was totally worth it!
Two weeks after my first chemo session, sure enough, my hair started falling out. After three chemo sessions I had no eyebrows, no lashes and no hair on my arms or legs. Kinda nuts! You can say, um yeah, I was pretty low maintenance. I didn’t like wearing my wig. It felt really unnatural to me. So, I really only wore it out at night to dinner or an event.
LIFE WITH SOME SORT OF PEACHY FUZZ…
On a daily basis, I either wore a pretty head scarf or didn’t wear anything and rocked my new “nothing” do. I would buy regular thin cotton scarves (cotton so your head breaths). I would fold it into a triangular shape, took the longest angle of the triangle, placed it on my forehead, gathered the fabric in the back like you are about to do a pony tail and twisted all the fabric into a bun. When I shopped for scarves, I picked up the normal scarves you would put around your neck. Again, just making sure the fabric was light and soft.
When me and my husband went out to dinner on the days I felt up for it, I wore my wig and made sure to dress up really nice with full on makeup and some high heels.
Here are a couple of pictures of the different phases I went through. In the bottom right pictures I’m wearing my wig. Excuse the picture quality they were taken with my old iPhone.
DAZZLING & DECORATING MY HEAD
I went on a complete jewelery haul and purchased a bunch of earrings. Earrings were the one thing I wore every single day. Otherwise my head would have been too bare. They made me feel really feminine and filled in empty space. I bought big, small, and colorful. This really helped a lot in helping me feel pretty.
EYEBROWS, EYEBROWS, EYEBROWS
I can give Anastasia a run for her money!!!! Seriously, I think I can make a living just by doing eyebrows. I had to play with angles, match the side of my nose to the beginning of where my eyebrows would start, be artistic and draw what would appear to be normal eyebrows. Not too thick, not thin. To be honest, I liked my makeup better when I had to draw in my brows from nothing. The following is an illustration of what I used to do my eyebrows.
First, I used the Brow Wiz pencil from Anastasia to draw my shape. I lightly filled in the front part and used a heavier hand from the middle to the end of my brow. You never want to darken the front of your eyebrows too much. They automatically appear drawn in and unnatural. Plus, overly drawn in brows make you look more masculine. The technique you want to use to fill in your eyebrows are lightly feathered strokes…think eyebrow hair! This part requires a gentle hand and patience. Lastly, I set in the Brow Wiz’s waxy consistency with my Anastasia Brow Powder Duo. Done!
Hair should take 6 months to “fully” grow in. This really means that your hair will all be in and you should have no sparse areas. It has been a full year now and honestly, I did think it would be longer by now. I have gotten very frustrated with certain stages. There have been parts around my hairline that, still, haven’t fully grown in. I don’t wear my wig or head scarves at all and actually stopped wearing it 3.5 months after my last chemo (last chemo…July 11th, 2013). In my particular situation, the sparse part in the front is taking light years to grown in. Also, my hair grew back with its same exactly texture. Wavy and curly! I think this is the toughest part for women. Some women decide to keep their hair short after chemo and others don’t, like me. I have gotten many compliments and I do enjoy the way I look with short hair, but, I’m so ready to have my hair back. My favorite part of growing in my hair is that I really get a fresh start. My hair is so healthy and shiny. I vow to put no chemicals in my healthy locks.
My eyebrows took one full month for me to see my first hair. They were fully in by 2 months. I did lose eyebrow hairs that I think may never come back. They are much lighter than before chemo. So, these days, drawing them in is a must.
My skin all around took a hit from chemo. I had a port put in right above my right breast. To this day, there is major discoloration in that area. I know any damage done to skin takes a long time to heal. So, mentally, I am prepared to wait it out and carry spf everywhere I go. Also, your skin becomes very dry. Drinking water and moisturizing are two of the things that must be done religiously during chemo. All together, it’s easy to notice aging as a result of chemo. It’s not just chemo, having cancer is probably top 3 most stressful things that can happen to a human being in this world. Therefore, it really reflects on the largest organ of your body, your skin. So trying to remain calm and peaceful is so key. Not mainly for vanity but for your soul.
Small red lines, yup, small weird red lines appeared throughout my body. It was the weirdest thing! Kinda, sorta resembled a healing scratch found underneath the surface of my skin. I found these on my torso and legs. The dermatologist reassured me they will go away, but again anything skin related can take some time to heal. And again patience is key!
Personally, there was absolutely no change. People have known to get brittle nails but I saw nothing. During chemo, I couldn’t get manicures or pedicures for risk of infections. Your white cell count is really low during chemo so staying away from any possible cut is important.
4. WEIGHT FLUCTUATIONS
One thing I found extremely important was to eat a lot during chemo. Besides drinking a ton of water; eating plentiful is one advice I would stress. Certain cells in your body are depleted so your body needs to work extra hard to make new ones. As your body makes new cells it needs more energy. Scientifically, my whole system needed more energy. I had chemo every other week for 6 months. During my bad week, I craved salads and natural foods, especially fruit. Oranges were my favorite! I think it was because of all the water in fruit. On my good week, while my levels were coming up, I made sure I ate hearty foods full of protein. Cells are mostly made of protein so I knew that’s what those little guys needed. It helped and made me feel good.
After chemo, I went on many vacations and said, “oh freaking well, I want to eat this, that and just anything I desire.” And so I did. Really! Just anything and everything. I got myself into the heaviest weight I’ve ever been. I gained 18lbs in 3-4 months. My oncologist did mention people usually gain weight after chemo. It’s true! And it’s because we are so happy and more relaxed that it’s over. Woohoo!!!
So far, I’ve lost 14lbs. I eased my way into working out. At my worst, I wasn’t able to walk one entire block. My heart would race out of control and it scared me so much I just wanted to stop any type of movement. Today, I am focusing on walking long distances and also working with a personal trainer to get my flexibility, strength and balance back in order.
MAIN TIPS AND ADVICE
1. I know this is the hardest thing you will ever face in your life. Try having a positive attitude it will be better for you and those around you that care about you so much. Practicing positivity is healthy for your mind and body and making the healthiest choices is everything. CHOOSE POSITIVITY!!!
2. Take control of your hair and have a take charge approach to alopecia. It’s more empowering to cut your own hair.
2. Take time in finding the right wig (texture, color, length). Then get it cut to fit your face frame.
3. Have fun with your new short hair. Embrace it. Be Bold and daring.
4. Learn how to draw in your eyebrows to fit your face.
5. Attend a Look Good Feel Good workshop offered by the American Cancer Society. For more information on this workshop click here.
6. Do a light manicure at home. Disinfect all the tools being used for your manicure. DO NOT cut cuticles and wait until chemo is over.
7. Wash your hands as much as you can.
8. Flush your system out by drinking a lot of water. Eat high protein meals.
9. Try to walk “when you can.” Never over exert yourself. Your body is going through a lot already.
10. Dress up! Put on your best outfits.
11. Look in the mirror and smile! Let yourself know how much you love yourself and how much you are and will be there for yourself.
12. Show those around you how happy you are. Show off your strength. It’s a good chance to make yourself and others around you proud. I will never forget what my best friend told me. Her words exactly, “Thank you so much for handling this the way you did. I was always worried and thinking about you, but when I called you, you put me at ease. You sounded so happy and like you had everything under control.”
13. Cry when you want. Be mad when you want. Laugh when you want, but fear? Fear is not an option.
FEAR IS NOT AN OPTION!!!
14. Wear 30 Broad Spectrum SPF with an active ingredient of Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide.
15. After chemotherapy, focus on overall health…sleep, exercise, eat healthy foods, make plans with friends, try to do some activities outdoors and do things that make you happy.