Thursday, November 29, 2012

Humans of What an Amazing Tribe

So, add this to the list of, "Things that are super f*g cool that I never thought I'd have the guts to do because they're way too big and scary, and so I did it anyways".

The nonprofit Stupid Cancer started an awesome tumblr page filled with beautiful photos and intense, meaningful and lovingly real stories. I found out about it through Facebook. And, I feel so grateful. I submitted one of my "crazy eyes" photos and a version of my short can't-sir story to date, and they accepted my story to be included in the line up and shared in their social media channels. 

Super cool, super crazy. Time for a Snoopy Dance.

Just one month ago I really wasn't sure I even wanted to tell my closest friends about what I was going through, let alone a bunch of strangers. I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea or pity me or think of me as "that girl with the can't-sir," and I'd really seriously considered how I could just sort of take a short leave and hide out from the world, staying small and safe and secret through all this. But then I started walking the actual healing path. 

And I realized: part of my healing journey has been coming to understand that I don't want anyone on this planet to ever have to go through triple negative breast can't-sir again. And if they do have to, for reasons of karma or dharma or whatever, I don't want anyone to have to go through it feeling alone or weird or any of that icky stuff. If my story, or anything I say or do during this time, can make just one person on a can't-sir journey smile, laugh, or feel a tiny bit less alone, or whatever it is they need in that moment to remember they can do this thing they need to do right now, then I'm all-in.  I hitched up my britches and straightened my wig and sent my story in to Humans of Stupid Cancer, despite the fact that it's terrifying to be so publicly "out there", so that people could see that this is also what can't-sir looks like, and that there are a lot of us out here busy living with can't-sir, learning a new way to navigate in a world that suddenly got weird, and that no matter what, really, we can do this, and all is well.
The tumblr page w my pic. When you click the photos,
the stories appear. These humans are amazing.

Small and safe just went out the window. Super cool, super crazy. Holy crap. One more Snoopy Dance for luck.

You'll find I already tagged on my nonprofits page. I like the work they're doing specifically focused on bringing awareness and empowerment to adults under the age of 40 who have been diagnosed with can't-sir. I love their tough, fun style. I love that they talk with and for and about young adults who get cancer... and then get busy living, rather than the apparent, rather depressing alternatives we're all supposed to just settle for. And I love, love, love their take-no-prisoners luchador approach

From the website:
"Young adults, a largely unknown group in the war on cancer, account for 72,000 new diagnoses each year. That's one every eight minutes. It's also seven times more all than pediatric cancers. This is not OK!"
Amen to that. 

Can You Have Cancer and Be in Perfect Health?

One of the realizations, which has been nothing short of miraculous for me, since I began my healing journey from can’t-sir has been the growing awareness that I am always in perfect health. 

Now, given that these words were just written by someone diagnosed with Stage II Triple Negative Breast Cancer, you might be thinking I’m either one of those dreaded “glass is half full” kind of people, trying to B.S. my way through this situation, or simply crazy.

How amazing is this? Thank this awesome person
But I’m not any of these things. In fact, I suspect I'm something entirely different. Let me explain

Over the last month, I’ve looked back through the pages of my life, and I’ve realized that with each challenge in my life, long before this latest one, my body was always there for me. Sometimes I was thinner. Sometimes I had more hair. Sometimes I was coughing up something nasty and green. Sometimes I couldn’t fit in my jeans anymore. Sometimes I was passed out exhausted on the couch. Sometimes I was kickboxing 6 days a week and sleeping hardly at all. Nevertheless, always, always, my body was there. We made it through whatever was going on, together.

I love quirky affirmations.
Since being diagnosed, my body has been my constant, intimate companion. She feeds me breakfast and gets me dressed. She show up on time and takes me to all my appointments. She submits to the needles, scalpels, drugs, x-rays, MRIs, and chemo drips without protest. Sure, my body gets sore. She gets cranky. She loses bits and pieces, especially hair. She gets tired. In fact, she gets downright exhausted sometimes and I have to clean her up red-faced after finding her snoring on the couch in a pond of her own drool and some leftover Saltine crumbs. So what? Nevertheless, always, always, my body is there. We are making it through can’t-sir, together. We are surviving. In fact, we are thriving.

My body, my self, my companion, my home, my temple. I have never once actively spent time on thinking about “being sick,” since being diagnosed with the sidecar. Instead, I have always considered it that I am on a healing journey, and my body is the vessel in which I am traveling. Together, we are navigating a new path, an unknown way, through a land called, “Can’t-sir”. Today, a month and a half into this new land, I see with greater clarity than ever how fortunate I am to have this amazing travel companion, whom I never, not once in my life, truly, deeply, loved and appreciated.

My version, based on
the classic Louise Hay self-love affirmation.

But life is different now.

In the wasteland of can’t-sir, we are growing a flower garden, my body and I. Each day, instead of ignoring my body or hating the various bits and pieces of her and the way she shows up in skirts, I just love on her. I love on myself. I spend a few moment thanking my breasts, and commending them for their loveliness -- fresh, pink healing scars and all. I talk to all the parts of my body that are sore, and I thank them for all they are teaching me about learning to embrace change in my life. I talk to myself in the mirror, looking deep into my eyes, and I tell myself how much of a warrior I am, and how proud I am of myself for creating the way this can’t-sir journey will uniquely look for me, as an individual, not as some nameless, faceless statistic. I love on myself all day long. And, when I notice I’m not doing it, I do it.

It is my belief that my body is in perfect health at this very moment. I am exactly in the state of physical and mental acuity that is required to take the steps required of me today. My body, no matter how weakened or weird she might show up on a given day, is still my own, a powerful co-creation, shaping the world I live in. My body supports me in every step I take, and is always there for me, giving me exactly what I need in that moment. I may not realize it. I may feel she has failed me or let me down in some way. But in fact, what I need in any given moment from my body is always precisely available to me. I just have to open my eyes and recognize the wonders that she has been trying my whole life to support me to become aware of.

A daily affirmation I have recently started using.
In what ways might you be undermining your health or well-being through harsh or critical self-talk?

How might it be useful to shift the way you speak to yourself to experience your relationship with your body in a new way? 

What’s one new affirmation you could replace an old pattern of self-talk with to create a different outcome than the one you’re receiving today?

Inspiration: On Courage, via Viscott, Lennon and Thompson

This David Viscott quote recently swirled around my Facebook page a couple weeks ago, and immediately became one of my favorites. 

I was right off a couple more big weeks of new tests, procedures and pokes. Quite frankly, it hadn't all gone quite as planned, and I hadn't shown up quite as loving and compassionate as I like. In fact, I was a mega-raging b!tch on at least one occassion. (Girl, don't smack your lunch in my face after leaving me in a windowless room waiting for 30 minutes!) But I digress...

On 11/21/2012, I wrote this in my journal, right as this quote started to really percolate in my brain:

It’s been another big few weeks. Monday was my post-port placement check in and MRI results with Dr. C. 

Then a pre-chemo education session and my first port access for a blood draw with the fantastic Nurse Brooke, over at Dr. B’s. (Good news, we learned the port would not immediately rip out if I did have a good day and got to do something fun like go skiing. Bad news, if I got hurt doing anything crazy like that, my clotting would be most likely be decreased, so I’d want to think strongly about my desire to bleed out on the slopes before attempting any feats of strength. And, I definitely have to wear a helmet and take it easy. Ah, well. Maybe we'll stick with the short walks!)

Bummer, we got some unexpected info out of the MRI results. It honestly hadn't even occurred to me that there still might be more to all this. I was living in my little fantasyland that because my mammogram only showed right breast involvement, and the surgery went so well, with no lymph involvement and clear margins, and because my genetics came back with no BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, there couldn't possibly be any left breast involvement. I've been so focusy-focused on what's left of my little right boobie, murmuring sweet nothings to her and rubbing Vitamin E oil on my scars, I kind of just have been gently appreciating and quietly ignoring the left, hoping she'll just hang in there for me!

Now, while the doc says all the initial signs are promising, it still means more tests, more wondering, more waiting. Honestly, it's not as bad as round 1, because hey, I've already been diagnosed with the can't-sir, and have been given my initial treatment plan of 8 sessions of dense-dose chemo and approximately 7 weeks full-breast radiation, so it's a little bit less stressful than the first time hearing, "The tumors are cancerous." It could mean some slight changes to that treatment plan, it could mean more surgeries, it could mean any number of uncomfortable things... but it's still not like hearing the big C-word for the first time.

The MRI findings were honestly just a bit of a bugger. This is one of the known problems with breast MRIs right now. They’re really sensitive and so what they’re seeing may or may not be anything. So, while Dr. C luckily felt like we could ruled out the "floaters" in the right breast for now as benign and nothing to worry about, she still thought I should have the left ones checked out. Turns out they were super small, so under ultrasound, they were only able to biopsy one.

Either I'm getting more pain-tolerant (highly likely at this point), or it really did hurt less than my first biopsies (since that was also a double-hitter), but it still ain't a walk in the park to have a vacuum-aspirated needle stuck in your boobie, flesh sucked out, and a titanium marker inserted in its place. Sigh. And quite frankly, it was just an enough-is-enough moment. I wasn't quite ready for a surprise biopsy on the day I had only planned to be psyched up for chemo #1. Too bad, girl! As a friend reminded me this week, it's like Mr. Lennon said: "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." And gotta love my hubs, who so sweetly said, "Honey, only you would have the guts to go for a biopsy in the morning and chemo all afternoon. You go, girl!" God, I love that man!

So, Monday was MRI results, chemo education and blood draw, and Tuesday was, indeed, an ultrasound and unexpected biopsy of the left breast, plus Rousing Round 1 of A/C chemo. And Wednesday, I wrapped it up my first Neulasta shot. 

Chemo day itself was, as promised, pretty uneventful. No big highs, no big lows, during my 2-hour treatment. Actually, it was an amazingly sweet time... texting with friends from afar, re-connecting via Facebook with others. I felt so loved and supported over the miles. It was a fantastic use of technology. And the treatment itself wasn't too bad. No huge pain or excitement. Later in the evening, I got a little nausea around 5pm, but it went away with a anti-nausea med and some food. It was the headache that was the worst... I think it was from the Cytoxan, and it lasted til about noon Wednesday. Finally started to recede, came back a bit, and then later on Wednesday, I took a Claritin-D to help wth the potential bone pain from the Neulasta shot, and that resolved the headache really well. And so far, no bone pain, so yay.

I just had some mild fatigue Wednesday morning, so I took it easy and saved my energy for the afternoon’s doctor appointment and a short visit with some dear friends. And, yes, I wore my Michael Jackson mask for our friends' visit, since I’m technically not supposed to see folks this week, and they'd had some flu going around in their circles, so just as an extra precaution. Pretty awesome. With my pink wig, I looked like an anime nurse assassin or something. Just needed the sword.

Food-wise, I have a light appetite but nothing tastes very good. I think the best thing all day was my banana smoothie this morning and some cranberry juice this evening. First round of chicken noodle soup was good too at lunch, but late dinner, nope, totally gross. 

Now, back to the quote. I just love it. And you can start to see why, I'm sure. This can't-sir ride is a constant stream of learning to be flexible. Things change moment to moment. Just when I think I have the guts to do one thing, and maybe even do it really well, like with some modicum of grace and dignity, another thing comes down the pipeline, and I'm left a little shocky, and typically somewhat maimed and bloody, to pick up the pieces. And go again.

But if we have the courage just to begin a thing, yes, I think it does make sense: we have the courage to keep beginning it. To keep picking up the next piece, and the next piece, and the next, one at a time, until they're all done with. I love the certainty this gives me. The feeling that I really can handle anything, as long as I just take it as it comes, honoring my own courage, knowing that all is truly well. I began it, which means I have the courage to see it through to the finish. How powerful we are, when we choose to "buy the ticket, take the ride"...

In fact, I kind of freaking love it.

What do you see about having the courage to begin a thing? 

Where have you already taken that first step in your own journey, enabling the next to peel away almost seamlessly?

Share your comments. Share your voice.

P.S. Have you had a week of surprises too? Feeling a bit done with introspection for a bit, and just want to laugh? If so, may I recommend an oldie but a goodie? And also this one.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Crafting through Chemo: Becoming Shokunin

Thanks to the ironic timing of my diagnosis, I now have the chance to experience the coming together of can’t-sir and crafting through three of the major Western holidays. 
I was diagnosed mid-October, right before my favorite holiday, Halloween. My initial diagnosis, tests, biopsies and surgeries had me in a state of shock, for sure. Plus, I was about as worn down physically as I’d ever been in my life, just from the life I’d been living which had led me to this moment and physical condition. I had about zero energy for decorating or crafting for All Hallow’s Eve, even though I love it so much. Having just had a sentinel node biopsy surgery, I also had no strength in my arm to use a knife to create a jack o’lantern -- and I always carve a jack, to keep the ghouls away.
So, I went online to Martha, and printed out these mustache templates
Mustachioed Jacks.
I made these little mustachioed jacks, and added a little top hat for one. A little glue stick, and voila! I also got some Martha spider window clings and a gel skeleton cling at Michael’s, and changed the front light bulb to orange. Deco complete! Funny and cute for the handful of adults and kids who actually saw my door, and it totally made me feel like we were in the spirit despite all that was going on. 
Best of all, the mustachioed jacks carried us through Thanksgiving, since they also looked somewhat pilgrim-like, or Movember-like, depending on your perspective. Either way, it was important to me to carry on a little festiveness as I went into additional rounds of tests and biopsies, and my first chemo treatment. After all, chemo is usually spelled s-u-c-k-y, and I was really just hoping for the best.
Now, Christmas is approaching. Note: I am not a mad Christmas crafter. Each year, time gets away from me, and I can do only a few small things. I especially like to make paper crafts --as you can tell -- gift tags and holiday cards, and I usually do at least one gnome-related project or something else cute for around the house and to give away to friends and family. Some years I go crazy and bake or make soaps or bath stuffs, but, I knew this wasn’t going to be that kind of year. I started making a few simple gift cards and some paper gnomes, but I got sidelined with medical appointments and chemo recovery. Then I came back to it, and my energy just wasn’t there anymore. 
My paper gnome, 1 of 2 from a 6-pc kit
I had downloaded a copy of these advent calendar numbers from d.Sharp, but in the midst of everything, my desk was now completely covered in piles of bills and mail and the crafts were left lurking underneath!
I decided to just go for it anyways. I rationalized that I was having an "up" day, and time is precious. I cleared a little space and started doing a few paper cuts. I immediately realized, "WOAH, chemo-induced neuropathy is real, and it's here!" My normal level of sensation was far decreased. It validated a fleeting sensation I had thought I’d experienced the day before while cooking dinner, and made it even more real, because my life as an artist means that I'm constantly working with paper, paint, and all kinds of textures. These things are keys to how I understand the world.
The impact of chemo on my ability to think was also front and center for me. I’d been noticing a few small changes, like having trouble calling up the right word for things, or feeling generally slower. But trying to craft, it was as if I literally could not think. And if I tried to multi-task, it was as if my brain froze up. I was suddenly sitting at my cluttered desk, staring, but nothing was happening at all. 
I realized that to accomplish this project, I’d need to apply a new skill: Precision. 
I had just watched the movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and it suddenly swam into my consciousness and Jiro became my iconic reference point. Not only is this movie total sushi-porn for all of us currently unable to eat it (dear God, my kingdom for a California Roll!), but it also teaches of the concept of shokunin
“The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning.  The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people.  This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” – Tasio Odate
One of 24 completed advent envelopes.
Now, I am absolutely no shokunin. My work has never been about precision. I do have a social consciousness, but my writing, my art, my very act of thinking has always been about sparking ideas, encouraging spontaneity, and creating beautiful messes. Not so much about discipline, me. All that, clearly, is about to change.
I began making, piece by piece, each section of the advent calendar. Thinking way too hard about how each would need to come together. Carefully cutting and trimming and attaching adhesives and tying tiny threads with hands that could feel only a fraction of what they could just a couple weeks ago. Sticking and assembling the pieces in numerical order, stacking and re-stacking like Rainman, so that I would remember exactly where I was in the project, so that each piece would get properly completed. 
When it came time to do my layout, I had to call my husband in from fixing motorcycles in the garage. I couldn’t do the math to figure out how many to lay across, up and down, to make an even, aesthetically pleasing calendar with the paper backing I had available. I listened carefully to his thoughts. I explained and re-explained what I wanted. He patiently explained and re-explained his thoughts. Then I waited until he left so I could write down what he told me in a precise script that didn’t even look like my own. It said, “4 rows of 3”, but to me, it was the most complex instruction ever. 
One of three panels completed.
In the end, I built an advent calendar, and to me, who went through the process of the build, it is a work of art that could rival the Cistine Chapel. 
It took far more effort than anything I've every made in my life. But what I learned through all this was: I am capable of precision, and I am capable of completing the seemingly impossible. I had to think harder than I’ve thought about much more complex tasks in the past. In fact, just trimming a piece of red super tape was akin to the level of thinking I was just a couple months ago applying daily on detailed strategies at work! 
I had to move my fingers and hands precisely, with deep concentration and focus, just to get the work done without injuring myself or ruining the piece and having to start again. I had to take breaks. A lot of breaks, to drink cranberry juice and stretch my hands and walk around and go pee way too many times. And, I had to work at my new pace, accept it, and gradually, learn to appreciate and even enjoy it. It took me 4 days to do what normally would have been a project of at most a few hours. F-O-U-R days. Sometimes, that’s what can’t-sir looks like. And, that’s okay. In fact, it’s really good. 
Done! And hanging on the wall.
Because I have spent the whole of my life easily rushing around, multi-tasking, working on every single thing all at the same time. Now, I have been forced to slow down, and in this, given a chance to experience what it is to be required to go slow, both physically and mentally. As frustrating as it can be, it also gives me a new appreciation for every single second, every motion, every gesture, every skill, every nerve. I realize now how complex our bodies, minds and spirits are. How powerful each of our cells is. How important it is that everything be firing and wiring optimally, and, how possible it still is to thrive, even when they are not.
Crafting through chemo is just one way I’m learning to navigate the new landscape of my life. 
What are some techniques and tools you use to navigate your journey?

Isn’t it Ironic? Energetic Tracking and Cancer Recovery

Yes, I was diagnosed in October. Smack in the middle of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Ironic in so many ways. I found my own lump, so I guess I have to say that in some ways, Awareness Works. But I have to admit, it had nothing to do with the pink-ification of the month, and everything to do with pain. You see, while people will tell you breast cancer is not painful, the lump I found -- like those of many I have since learned of -- in fact, was.

A little sketch I did upon hearing my diagnosis.
That's a sabre-toothed tiger. Obviously. ;)
That’s the reason I found it to begin with. That’s the reason I bothered to get it checked out in the first place. I don’t like to hurt, and for about a week, I kept hitting it with my hand in the shower when I’d go to soap up, and I’d think, something just isn’t right about this. So, after talking with my hubs, who agree, something just isn’t right about this, within a week, I was at my GP’s.

Thank God.

Because it meant I got diagnosed early. We’re still considering me, even with some of the complexities of my situation, Stage II. Which is really good news, and gives me a great fighting chance.

The point I want to make here is LISTEN to yourself. It was my body wisdom, demonstrated through physical pain; my mental wisdom, demonstrated through a negative reaction to that pain; and my spirit wisdom, demonstrated through an inner knowing that something wasn’t right; which, in the long run, is what will have saved my life the first time.

I am a Reiki Master Teacher, and I have also taken some shamanic healing classes. In both of these, we use different forms of body scanning, or tracking, essentially to assess where the energy in the body field is, and what it’s doing. I consider the work that led to the discovery of the lump a very practical example of one way that tracking works.

Now, each day of my own life is about tracking. Tracking the pains in my body to understand what is healing and what is hurting anew. Tracking the very earliest warning signs that could indicate nausea or vomiting, so that I can adjust and accommodate with appropriate medication. Tracking the loss of feeling or pain, the neuropathy, in my extremities, and observing its slow progression while trying to understand how best to counteract it in that moment. Tracking my mental acuity, how long it takes me to form words or do simple equations, and noting when they are lost altogether. Tracking the intuitive feelings of right, wrong, confused, upset, emotional, and observing when there is nothing at all, just a blank slate, knowing it is from the chemo and the meds and the work they are doing in my body. Each day I am tracking for signs, for symptoms, for symbols, and searching for the appropriate remedy to put into action.

It’s about watching for signs at each level of my consciousness, at each level of my energy field, and then attempting to take an action that seems to match it energy for energy. Through this way of working with my body, mind, spirit, I believe can find new ways to communicate with this dis-ease, and those caring for me through it, and to move beyond it. It is not longer about ignoring my needs and wants, but rather, about being intensely fashioned around them from the cellular level up.

How often do you ignore pain in your body, push through, only to come through the initial stage with something worse?

How might you be able to serve your own needs and wants, if you were not putting something or someone else first?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wild and Precious

What I started thinking about this morning was: love changes everything and love conquers all.

The idea that only through loving ourselves enough, and then loving all others, can we eliminate TNBC forever. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think a lack of true, mad, deep self-love is a big part of what has caused this sidecar of destructive cells to form, multiply and begin to ravage me. Not taking care of myself. Eating terribly, drinking bad stuff, avoiding work I feel absolutely called to be doing and allowing in the stress, anger, upset until there was far too little room left for self-love, self-care, simplicity, or really, much of anything else.

Earlier this week, I started to work on a small craft project, and realized, the neuropathy has begun. I can feel it today as I type. I struggled to get enough feeling in my fingers to tie the tiny little loops of baker twine I was using, and to feel the paper I was using. Next, it was the whole hands, into the fingers, like a very mild, annoying numbness. Just slight enough you almost wouldn’t notice it. Except of course, as an artist and writer and healer, that is all I notice, because that is where I spend the bulk of my time... a part of my consciousness is always in my hands.

I think part of it is also learning to savor each and every moment. Really, really savor, not just sort of think you are or hope you are when really you are still just going through the motions. Last night as I started making my little advent calendar, I realized it required that same amount of deep thought, precision, that I typically reserve for my day job. I could no longer be half-in, half-out, multi-tasking. It required all my concentration and thought to punch a small hole, feed the thread through, and clove hitch it together. I couldn’t think about anything else, or it wouldn’t go. I couldn’t think about anything else, or I wouldn’t be able to feel it well enough to tell if it had gone. Precision has now become a part of who I wish and need to be.

Is this again another aspect of how can’t-sir gives focus? 

The quote in my head upon waking was the one from Mary Oliver, above: "What will you do with your one wild and precious life?" And the response for me now was, we always try to make that answer so big, don't we? But life isn’t about making it big. It’s about what I’ve just been describing: it’s about being immersed, engulfed, enravaged by every single precious moment of your wild life.

In this day and age in particular, we are distracted by every little thing, all the time. Can’t-sir forces me to focus in new ways: everything is in such a sharp relief. The very act of nicking myself on a knife could now mean an infection I cannot afford. I must check and double-check the weight on the grocery bags, handling them with two hands and removing cargo, ensuring I do not lift more than 10 pounds, so as not to unwittingly cause myself a lymphedema episode. Every morsel of food affects my body differently than ever before, so each bit is both a savoring belief that it will feed me beautiful, much-needed nutrition, and an enquiry, "If this bit of nutrition still upsets me, what will I need to do to counteract it, and how severe will the reaction be?"

And, so I feel a deep celebration and loving with each moment, recognizing truly how precious and fleeting my life really is, how delicate and sweet this little body is, how precarious every single thing is inside this body, outside this body. I feel a heightened awareness that it is not about figuring out your giant dream of the world, as much as it is about having this awareness, this depth of field, this understanding that in one second it literally could all change, be taken from you, and that it, and you, could be gone from the earth forever. That is the level of wild and precious we are talking about: that we are both gifted the earth and gifts to the earth, and that in one heartbeat, we could literally be snuffed out. Think of your life in that amazing glory. That we are that gigantic a gift to The Universe, from The Universal.

Not that we are here only to DO important, relevant, timely things, but that we are here to BE important, relevant, timely things. The very things we set out to be when we incarnated. It feels to me today that life is very much a process of remembering our way to that level of appreciation, of savoring, to that depth of field.

Friday, November 23, 2012

How-to: 6 Tips on How to Rock Your Wig

First question everyone asked me when they found out I was having chemo: “When are you getting your wig?” My reaction: sheer panic! How about you?

Was this to be my fate???
I couldn’t imagine it. Wearing a) someone else’s hair b) someone else’s hair dyed to look like mine c) a synthetic wig cut in some dorky and clearly fake style. Let alone paying 100s to 1000s of dollars for one! I sure as heck didn't want to end up looking like some crazy Barbie doll!

But then I realized: every day of this journey, when I wake up, I’m literally a new me, and every day, my love of fashion gives me a chance to express myself through my headscarf, hat or wig choice.

So I embraced the wig in my own unique way, and now I am having SO much fun with it. Here’s a few tips to help if you’re considering the wig journey.

#1: Relax... it’s okay have fun with this wig thing. You are not under any pressure here. Just because you’ve always been a blond or a brunette, doesn’t mean you can’t be a redhead today. Just because you’ve always been long doesn’t mean you can’t go short, and vice-versa. Find a good wig shop in your area and explore some options. 

Working with a professional who knows wigs makes it much easier -- they can help you select, color and style your wigs exactly as you want so you get something comfy and confidence-boosting. One easy way to find a quality shop in your area attend a local Look Good, Feel Better session.  In my area, that led me to the wonderful folks at Bellissima Salon and Wigs, who not only do you up, but make you feel gorgeous. I’m linking to them both because they're awesome people, and so you can get an idea of the style of shop you’re after in your area. 

Now, that's more like it.
Crazy eyes and all!
#2: In fact.. it’s even okay to go totally crazy with this wig thing. I tried on a bunch of lovely “normal” wigs, and made my personal choice to go anime style. Yep, think the brightest fuschia, red, blue, green, purple, in every crazy cut you can imagine. I know most of these chicks are drawn to ridiculous, offensive proportions. That’s not what inspired me. 

Here’s the thing: I feel like a kick-@ss can’t-sir warrior and I want to look like a kick-@ss can’t-sir warrior. Like Milla Jovovich in Ultraviolet and Resident Evil. Or Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill. Believe me, if I can rock this sh!t, you can too. I checked out a bunch of costume-type stores online, but the quality wasn’t always great. Then I found Epic Cosplay -- holy motherload! My favorite. Lightweight, comfortable, fully stylable, quality synthetic wigs in the craziest colors ever and great prices.

#3: Build a good foundation. Just like scarves, wigs need to feel secure on your head, so you feel secure wearing them out in public. To me, a wig feels even more wild than a headscarf, because the truth is, yes, the wind loves to catch in your wig, just like it used to do in your hair. This more natural feeling is actually super empowering, but also a little freaky the first few times. 

But like I always say, now’s as good a time as any to fly your freak flag, baby! People are going to literally follow you around and talk to you when you wear your wigs with style and confidence. So you have to rock your wig with confidence. And, confidence starts with keeping the dang thing in place! There are many different options for securing your wig. For me, I keep it simple. I put a cotton/spandex 3-seam basic turban in black, wine or brown under it, just like I do with my scarves, and I make sure all my wigs are adjustable so I can tighten or loosen them easily. And then I...  

Betsy Johnson + My wild red wig.
So fun!
#4: ...Accessorize, Accessorize! I’m not gonna lie... underneath my often conservative corporate-worker exterior, I’ve always had a love affair with Blondie, Manic Panic, and all things NYC punk, which I bust out as often as possible, usually on going out nights and Halloween!  But the great thing about hairstyles and colors today is that so many people are “costume-y”, it’s pretty impossible to tell if you’re wearing a wig, or just went wild at the salon today. 

Accessories can really help with keeping that mystery going, adding some security to the wig itself, and allowing you to express your personal style. Think scarves, headbands, hairpins, bows and ribbons. So fun! 

Honestly, I have yet to have one person ask me if my hot-pink hair is a wig. Instead, they always tell me how much they love it, ask me how I got this great color, how much they hate their own hair, how brave I am for wearing such a wild color, and how cool they think my hair accents are. And, that positive feedback is a boost I think we we can all use!

I like to try on my new looks in the Hub's
bathroom, and make funny duckfaces.
That's just how I roll!
#5: Try some of your new looks out at home first. I’m kind of terrible about this. I try all my wigs on when they arrive, and that’s about it. After that, I give myself an hour max to get showered, made up and hair-do’ed. So that means I often throw my look together and run out the door and I do some adjusting on the fly if things get loose... 

But, the goal here is to rock your wig with style and confidence, not look like a costumed freak show, so do as I say, not as I do on this one! A wig definitely feels different on your head than normal hair and the wilder you go, the more confident you need to feel. 

Also, think about where you’ll be wearing your wigs: I find even great wigs are just less comfortable for me than my headscarves, so if it’s chemo day or a day of doctors’s appointments where I’ll be poked, prodded and stuck in compromising positions in German photo booths, I opt for the scarf. Unleash your inner warrior woman at home, put on a full face, and play, play, play to discover what works for you. Or, better yet, invite some friends over for a dress-up and make-up evening, and hit the town when you’re all dolled up. Just have fun!

Rockin' the Purple Wig, with headache
band and DIY hatpin for Turkey Day.
Yep, random duck by my head!
#6: Let it all go, but bring back-up. Despite my laissez-fair attitude toward practice, I have had no wig malfunctions... yet! That said, I embrace the fact that there could very well be wardrobe malfunctions up top, just like there are every day with the rest of my clothing. So I really do my best to just laugh, and let it all go after I step out the door. 

And, that said, I like to look good and have fun, because it makes me feel good. So as I style-up for the day, I note any potential weak spots in my coiffure, and I formulate my back-up plan. One reason I love wearing the turban underneath is it means I can always whip that sucker off and still have a head covering to keep my warm! 

If I’m with a friend or my hubs, I put them on duty: “Tell me if this scarf starts to slip below my ear! Tell me if this wig tab starts to show!” That’s what your posse’s for, so use them.

Now go rock the sh!t out of your wig and show me how you did it!

Ready to rock the sh!t out of your scarves? Check out this post for some tips.

How to: 6 Tips to Rock Your Headscarf

Oh, I love scarves! I loved them pre-can’t-sir diagnosis, and I love them even more now. 

See that groovy skunk stripe?
Awww, yeah!
After all, it’s winter and I have a shaved-and-soon-to-be-totally-bald head with a gorgeous skunk stripe right down the middle and the cherubic beginnings of my new wrinkle-free face thanks to the early chemo steroid-puff. That means I'm cold, I'm trying to figure out how best to add some angles and shape to my face, and I want to try to play up my best features, all while being comfy and cozy, since most my days involve some form of medical intervention! Whew, that's a lot of work!

What I am not a huge fan of on me when it comes to scarves, however, is the basic bandana-tie-down look -- you know, where the scarf lies flat against the forehead and then gets tied in a knot at the back and poof you’re done, like this -- which does nothing but make me look like I have a big ol’ round head and no hair or angles left in my face. If it works for you, awesome. But, me, I need a little more help.

Here are some tips I’ve used that I think create some pretty awesome looks. I’d love it if you’d share yours in the comments!

Blondie, one of our quinetessential
rock goddess icons.

#1: Turn up the Volume. Just like gorgeous 80s Rocker Chick hair, a rockin’ scarf look starts with good height and shape. Keep in mind, we’re not trying to hide hair loss here. We’re making a fashion statement. We’re using the scarf to help accentuate our best features and accessorize our look and most of all, to feel GOOD. Scarves worn well make your face look awesome by highlighting your eyes, lips and angles (even the ones that seem to be disappearing or arriving!), and take an outfit from so-so to fabulous.

#2: Build a good foundation. Scarves need to feel secure on your head, so you feel secure wearing them out in public. Especially if you’ve not been much of a headwear person before, a headscarf can suddenly feel like a major walk on the wildside. That’s a good thing. Now’s as good a time as any to fly your freak flag, baby! People are going to ooh and ahh over your scarf when you wear it with style and confidence. My experience has been they have no idea I’m bald underneath and just oogle that I’m wearing such a dramatic look. But it really starts with rockin’ your scarf with confidence. And confidence starts with keeping the dang thing in place!

I use 2 elements under most all of my scarves to accomplish objectives #1 and #2:
I start with a scarf liner (no, I don’t wear the bangs, but if you find some you like, I say go for it).  And after adjusting it, I put a cotton/spandex 3-seam basic turban in black, wine or brown over it. The scarf liners look dorky, but they’re seriously amazing. These suckers add like a diaper’s worth of volume to your noggin right off, giving you a shape you can really do some nice folds over, and they give you a sturdy elastic band to start anchoring to.

I’ve worn the layers both ways, but generally, I like to wear the turban over the scarf liner: it gives a cleaner line over the liner, and adds a simple solid dark base for under the scarf in the unlikely event my scarf shifts slightly during wear, rather than seeing the weird white elastic exposed on the liner. With these two foundation pieces in place, I also get a much better hold for the scarf itself than on my bare head -- and less slipping and sliding means more confidence.

Me, rockin' a simple crown look.
Note the difference some foundation
volume makes.
#3: Choose the right size scarf for your look, and one that you feel confident wrapping and wearing. The truth is, you can wear just about any size scarf as a headscarf. It’s all about the look you’re going for and personal style preference. If you’re just starting out, my experience is that 35”-36” squares offer the easiest place to begin to learn to tie some basic looks with just enough fabric to give you coverage and confidence, without having too much leftover volume to try to get all snazzy with knotting and such. 

Once you feel good about tying this size, the next easiest type to tie are fringe-free rectangular scarves. The trick here is enough width to adequately cover your head, while not adding so much volume through length that you end up with a total turban look (unless you’re after the Swanky Sultana look!) I have a couple of these inexpensive but beautiful prayer shawls from India via CostPlus,  and I absolutely love them. 

As you continue in the world of headscarves, you can also explore wilder things like really huge wraps, and fringed scarves. See what makes you feel good and looks good with your outfits. That’s what it’s about!

#4: Be aware of how different fabrics will act on your head. Especially when you are starting out, this is soooo important. Here are a few of my learnings:

From ACS' TLC website.
Challis (soft, lightweight and usually wool, cotton, rayon or blend):
I grabbed this one to start, because it wasn’t too spendy, and it said it was warmer for winter. It is a doll to tie and a nice fabric, and great to create a rather basic look and get your confidence under you.

Viscose: (a kind of rayon, super soft and flowy) I also picked up one of these, thinking it looked so soft and comfy. 
Come to find out, it is super soft and comfy, but it looked horrible on me! Like a squidgy t-shirt wrapped on my head! I couldn’t ever find a way to make it tie that I liked, and I don’t feel all the comfort anyways because I was using foundation materials. But, it was great to understand how the more blousy fabrics may or may not work for me. 

100% Rayon (crisp, lightweight fabric): So fantastic to tie, especially if you are interested in using larger rectangle scarves like this one or this one to create unique looks. You may even have a bunch of these around the house already if you’re a scarf-wearer, so you can reuse and repurpose! 

This fabric is really nice for some of the more intricate styles of head wraps. It's much more turban-inspired than straight scarf wearing, which only makes me love it more. Plus, it just knots up really nice, and feels really secure and tough on your head. Awesome!

1 of my first days with silk, so I was
still learning to go
wild -- but check out that volume already!
100% Silk: For about 10 years, I’ve had some beautiful Chinese square silk scarves lying around that my mom brought me back from a trip, that I’ve never figured out how to wear as neck accessories, so I thought this was the perfect chance to try them. I admit, I absolutely love the richness of silk scarves, and once I figured out how to tie my old ones, I couldn’t resist splurging on this one, too

Check out the color. Amazing!  The real trick with silk -- and I’m sure you already know or can imagine it -- is that it is very slippery. You need to get a good sized scarf but not too large, or you end up with a lot of fabric to worry about securing -- 35x35 is really the best in silk, I find. 

Build your foundation. Pull it just a bit more forward more than usual. Tie it tight. If you’re still worried it will move too much, you can pin it to your foundation elements. It probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere, but better safe than sorry. 

Not the best photo... but it gives you
the idea for a super simple look,
using the Betsy Johnson silk-rayon scarf.

Silk-Chiffon (super lightweight, sheer silk fabric): OMG, how I love the feeling of silk-chiffon! And the patterns and brights. Again, a total splurge, but I love Betsey Johnson so much, and butterflies, so it was irresistable. And this one: hello animal print! 

One thing I love about silk-chiffon is that it is a very low-volume fabric, meaning it’s good for when you don’t want to go massive on your headscarf, want to wear it under a hat, or need to repurpose as a headband over wigs. The downside is, you can see through it pretty easily, and it doesn’t have a lot of volume by itself, so you’ll need those foundation elements, and in coordinating colors, and may wish to pin, because it moves even easier than silk. 

But, the looks are amazing, so definitely be bold and give it a try!

Another silk-chiffon, tied-Rosie-the-Riveter
style, and accessorized with a glittery little

#5: Practice tying and wearing your scarves at home. I admit, I often tend to just dive in, tie a new scarf on, and run out the door. But, the goal here is to rock your scarf with style and confidence. That's why I have so many dorky photos of myself! I try stuff on, and take iPhone shots to get comfortable with my new look. All this stuff on your head feels way different from your normal hair. The layers can be comfy, or suddenly too hot. Foundation layers can go from seamless to all pinch and poke. Large scarf volume that seemed awesome when wrapping can suddenly feel heavy. Intricate knots can pinch your neck. Simple tucks or folds can come loose and create tails when you were going for smooth. It’s ok to take some time to get comfortable with all this new stuff. Unleash that little girl inside you, and better yet, invite some friends over for a dress-up and make-up day or even a totally cheesy slumber party! Have fun!

The goddess Erykah Badu:
rockin' it beyond all measure.
#6: Honor your headwear as a connection to your divine femininity and your global sisterhood. One truly empowering thing to remember is that women all over the world wear headscarves every day for reasons of fashion, faith, culture and tradition -- and have done so for literally thousands of years. If you’ve never been a headscarf wearer, it’s easy to imagine others will think your new look is just about hiding hair loss. In fact, most people I encounter haven’t even realized I was bald! They just thought I was rockin’ an amazing style! As an alternative to worry, I encourage you to use this as a moment to empower yourself and connect energetically with the incredible, strong women all around the world who rock this look every day for reasons all their own.

Here are just a few places I draw some basic inspiration from -- you can also search YouTube for the terms similar to those below, or whatever else you can think of, and find just about everything you can imagine!

Now go rock the sh!t out of your scarf and show me how you did it!

Ready to rock the sh!t out of your wigs? Check out this post for some tips.

How-to: 4 Tips to Look Like the Sultana of Swank in Your Comfy Turban

Ahhh, turbans... Hubs still isn’t quite used to them, but I freaking love them. 

They’re easy, comfortable, and totally dramatize a look instantly. You can add hat pins, scarf pins, or basically any kind of jewelry or ribbons you can skewer into or hot glue onto them. If you’re still easing into this part of the chemo fashion journey, I urge you... ease faster! Turbans are way too much fun to let pass you by.

Lovingly poached from The Chriselle Factor.
Check out her piece on turbans here.

I love the ornate ones

Most of all, I love the DIY ones, like these. And while this is a small scarf, I love to use really, really big ones to create massive volume and a veritable accessory landscape, so don’t feel limited by size here!

Here are a few tips to help you get all swanky with your turban:

#1: Get started with some less expensive pre-made base turbans. These cotton-spandex types are nice because they’re simple, fit well, and easy to dress up, but they are also more like hats than a traditional turban, which means you don’t get that nice up-peak in the front. These are more traditional, and might be a better place to start if you like that look.

I went with the first style, mainly because they are more flexible for me -- I wear them with scarves, wigs and under hats -- saving me money and space. I also bought some of the cotton velcro braids thinking those might be an easy way to dress up the turban like, but to me, they were a bit of a disappointment. I thought I’d look like Greta Garbo or one of these other cool chicks, but I really just looked like I had a weird velcro thing stuck around my turban. No disses, you might like them. But I liked it better when I just used my own accessories that I had around the house.

#2: Build a good foundation. All head coverings need to feel secure on your head, so you feel secure wearing them out in public. To me, a turban is the easiest of all coverings, because it fits snugly against the head and is either already secure (if you’ve bought a pre-made) or easy to secure (because the ties are simple to knot tightly). Turbans are serious head-turners, especially when worn well. So you have to rock your turban with confidence. And, confidence in a turban starts with having good volume. For volume, I start with a scarf liner (no, I don’t wear the bangs, I like a cleanswept turban look)  While not mandatory, especially if you’re going DIY with a large scarf, they still give a nice full shape to the crown of the head, which adds that regal touch!

#3: Think like a Sultana. No, not the raisin, the lady of the Sultanate! Turbans are great plain, but be not afraid to add baubles, pins and jewels. The volume of material in a turban means you can really dress them up and express your personal style. For me, I like to make my own DIY steampunk-vintage inspired hatpins, pull out old clip earrings and snap them on, and pin crazy flowers or hot glue dazzlers on to them. Why not? It’s a turban for gosh sake! You can also tie additional scarves and ribbons around them, tuck, and create all new looks. So fun!

#4: Have fun, and walk like a “lady”. Turbans are one of the most fun, and if done well, bordering on just the slightly ridiculous, headwear you can rock. So just take a deep breath and enjoy your look. And do keep your shoulders back. Seriously, because if you lean forward too much in a big-volume turban, or one with lots of encrusted jewels, you may very well lose your bobbles!

Get inspired by some more amazing turban looks looks:

How are you swankin' up your turbans?
I'd love it if you'd share with me. 
And while you're swankin', make sure you check out how some tips on how to Rock the Sh!t Out of Your Wigs and How to Rock the Sh!t Out of A Headscarf.