Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bad Hair Day

You know how you take a look at some people on the street and you wonder how they walked out the door? I mean, did they really look at themselves in the mirror and say to themselves, "I look good?" Or were they looking at their reflection in the back of a saute pan? Bad clothing choices aside, everyone can have a bad hair day. That I must learn to forgive. After all, I've had about 5 months of bad hair days. And while my hair is starting to grow back, I'm told it will be months before it's long enough to style. And probably even longer before it actually looks like something other than Ronald McDonald. At least now I have an excuse for my bad hair. It's not the 80s or the early 90s. At least I don't have bangs, or a perm, or was attacked by the Crimp Monster.

However, like everyone's bad hair choices, my current bad hair will pass. It will grow out. I will discover what color it really is. (Although it can grow back a completely new color and texture.) I may get to experience curly hair without chemicals or heat. And I will look back on my Cancer bald head with the same sort of nostalgia as I do all my previous not-so-great choices. After all, I thought I looked good back then. And I had no excuse.

So, in honor of bad hair everywhere, and because I know you all LOVE pictures, I will now take you on a magical tour of my childhood hair styles. Grab your jelly shoes, slap bracelets, curling irons, flannel shirts- here we go!

Here I am in Kindergarten. I am cute. I mean, really. Fucking adorable. I'm not sure about the ruffle. I think this dress came with a jacket. The only time in my life bangs have been okay. This is probably my best look for about 15 years.

I can honestly say this is where things started to go horribly wrong. This is third grade. Let's not talk about the glasses, or the teeth, or the unfortunate collar. It's the hair, man. My first perm. And first BAD haircut. I'm not sure what my 9 year old self was going for here. I do know that thanks to this hair, my classmates called me Dolly. As in Parton. Not because of my tits- because of resemblance to her awesome 80s style. I'm not sure if I see it. But they did.

Look closely. I've been attacked by the Crimp Monster. This is circa fourth or fifth grade. The morning after a sleepover. This look took over an hour. An hour I'll never get back.

Why couldn't I just put this hat on my head? Why another perm? Why? Why? Why? Why do my bangs for softball? Why does it looks like I have roots? I had never dyed my hair. Why is there a waterfall falling from my forehead? One Curl up, one curl down. Blend. Spray.

Here we go again. May hair is definitely getting darker. Kinda like someone washed it in pond water. My permed hair is like a bell. Ding ding. And those bangs. Like I said. I spent time to look like this. No wonder Matt Minor wasn't into me.

Who told me that cutting my hair short on one side and longer on the other was cool? Oh yeah, someone else had their hair like this and she was cool. She also had really fine straight hair. Not my lion's mane. I don't have anything else to say. I really can't. It hurts me.

Oh, Lord. The perm was growing out at least. I think maybe my bangs started in the middle of my head. Are they feathered? What happens when a bad haircut grows out. I look scarily like my little brother here.

PS. Do you notice the smiley face big earrings? I had one that were peace signs, too. 1990 was a good year. The sweater went with these plaid pants. Public school boys told me I had a nice ass when I wore them. Nice.

Speaking of public school. This is what happens when your public school friend does your hair. This is the era of really really long bangs that you couldn't see out of. This is when I was in San Francisco for the cheerleading Nationals. Yes, I said cheerleading. Get over it. And one of my teammates wanted to do my hair. I thought it was a bit much even then. But they all thought it looked fierce. Fierce as in scary.

More growing out. My eighth grade graduation picture. At least the bangs are gone. But the color... yuk! The day I took this picture is coincidentally the first day I swore to my parents. No one told me we were leaving school early. I hadn't done my hair. I was working on it in the front seat of our Starcraft conversion van. My father, probably trying to be helpful, but only coming off as a patronizing jackass, told me I looked fine. In my stress over my graduation picture, I told him to fuck off. He was so shocked he shut up. Hey, that shit was a big deal when you're 14.

Why did I get another perm? Why do I look strangely like a poodle? Why did everyone think shoulder pads make you look good? Why does my dad look high? But dudes, check out his dark hair.

Homecoming 1991. I went with the fishizzle of boys. It was major social coup. It established my place in the upper echelon of high school order. I celebrated by wearing velvet and taffeta. And shoulder pads. And a LARGE matching taffeta bow on my head. Matches my corsage. BTW- that pose rocks. Teal is so eighties/early nineties. I could have been in the wedding party of the opening scene of "the Wedding Singer."

The poofy bangs up look stayed with me for a couple of years. Come on girls, you remember it- You grew out your bangs and proceeded to pull them back in a barrette. Then you stick you fingers in it and pull. Make it bigger. Make sure to strike a delicate balance between the top and the sides. Pull out the "tendrils" on the sides. Occasionally you'd curl those with a curling iron- again finding a balance between ringlet and stick straight. On the whole, this look wasn't horrible. I think I'm struck most by oh-so-fake smile and pink eyeshadow. Look closely.

Why do people think posing with a piece of sporting equipment like a supermodel looks acceptable? Just plain silly. This is the beginning of my Sun-In phase. I lightened my hair without dying it. In the process, I fried it. But for some reason, I stood on some highlight high horse, like I was above it all. Meanwhile, I spent two hours in my pink bathroom with peroxide in a bottle and blow dryer. The torture we put our hair through. I'm lucky it didn't fall out back then. And I have a really big mouth here.


This is what I would look like with dark hair. And Jewish. In Russia. Long ago. Of note: You will see my ears are tucked behind my bandana. Our wig guy, also our choreographer, this amazing chain smoking gay man, put my wig on and saw my ears. He proceeded to say, "Oh, my. Those are some ears. We have to tuck those in." Ouch.

Mexico, Summer of 1995. My senior class trip. That's a margarita. Yes, I'm eating it with a spoon from a pitcher. I am very drunk. I was drunk for a week. The only time in my life beer tasted good. Then again, I didn't drink all of high school so rubbing alcohol would have tasted good. I am also very sunburned. And my hair is fried. Too much Sun-In. Too much Chlorine. Too much product. Nasty.

Same summer. Prepping for my role in "West Side Story." That's my best friend Chris. I had the most bitchin' beehive ever. It involved mucho ratting. And apparently, at the age of eighteen in a community theater production set in the fifties, the more blue eyeshadow the better. On the flip side, I'm in awe of how tiny I am. Oh, to be eighteen again. And not have hips. In terms of my hair, it's a wonder it survived.

A cast party. You can tell I'm pleased. We decided to dye our hair fun colors. Mine was supposed to be red. It was punk rock orange instead. I came home this day and my mom looked at me and said, "God made you blonde for a reason." Thankfully it was washable. I was only red for about a month. Then strawberry. My hair wasn't happy. I should have cut it all off and started from scratch.

My college years are not far enough away yet for the trends to look ridiculous. Give it time.

I'd like to look upon this time, my bald head, as a chance for me to start over. All my horribly damaged hair is gone. I will start over. My current look is not pretty. But then again, neither were these. And I grew up. I'm fine. I've recovered from them. I'll recover from this.

This too, shall pass.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Wonder Woman

One of my strongest memories of childhood is being Wonder Woman. I was around 5 or so, and we were living at my grandparents. Maybe I remember it so well because I've seen pictures, or maybe I just truly believed I was a superhero. I had Wonder Woman underoos. Yes, I said underoos- an amazing invention of the early eighties that made it okay for small children to run around in their underwear. I wish I had underoos now. I hate pants. Anyway, back to my story...

My very cool Aunt Megan was visiting, and she took the time- as only cool aunts will- to help make my transformation into Linda Carter complete. She took the time to help fashion the gold cuffs for my wrists and a very excellent tiara- all with their requisite red stars. I had the boots and the attitude. In fact, I'm pretty sure we made a truth lasso as well. So there I was, able to fight crime, catch the bad guys, and generally do whatever I wanted. I had super human powers. I was invincible.

See, aren't I cute? Let's not comment about the amazing blue shag carpet and lime green bedspread. It's best left alone.

Perhaps the reason I remember this so well is because, even at a young age, there was a part of me who believed I could do anything. There was no obstacle I couldn't conquer. Even in my underwear. Some might argue that in my early twenties I conquered most of my challenges in my underwear, but those are stories best told over martini's. And I still have a good pair of Fuji me Boots.

At one point during chemo, I was taking to my Aunt- the very same one who helped me become superhuman. I remember the conversation well. I was standing outside of Old Navy, and I was bitching about how I was too fat for my clothes, my shoes, my wedding ring. I was bitching about how it was hard to work AND fight cancer at the same time. My aunt, a very wise woman, not so subtly told me I was in fact not Super Woman. I should stop trying to do everything. I should prioritize. I should ask for help. I should surrender to the fact that some things that I could do before cancer would just have to wait.

This was a blow to me. What do you mean, I can't do everything I used to do? I don't understand. Doesn't that make me weak? There is NOTHING worse than weakness. Everyone tells me how amazing and strong and inspirational I am. Yada, Yada, Yada. If I am all these things, shouldn't I be able to handle it all? Isn't that what we're taught as little girls, as we're dressed up as Wonder Woman- that we can handle anything?

This is something I've struggled with the entire time I've had cancer. I have continually done too much. Other than the week of my surgery, I haven't take any time off work. I've moved across the country, I've painted a house (okay, Alan, I've painted some of a house). I've probably run myself more into the ground at times. I thought that by giving in to exhaustion sometimes, I was giving in to Cancer.

This past month, it's really hit me. I'm not Wonder Woman. I've been exhausted- so exhausted, its made it almost impossible to do anything sometimes. So I've given in. Some things don't get done. I've prioritized. I get the stuff in that's good for ME- I walk, I sleep, I do things that make me happy. If that means there's dog hair on the floor- then too damn bad. Even better, I hired a cleaning company. They come every two weeks. I've stopped berating myself for not doing everything. I like to call it "delegating." In the time it took me to clean the bathroom, I can now take a nap, or catch up on other things. And I'm not going to feel bad. Maybe I'm not Wonder Woman, but then again, they never showed Wonder Woman scrubbing hardwood floors.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Happy Anniversary to me

Well, to us. This week was our 2 year wedding anniversary. Yep, those of you reading this blog, it was only 2 years ago. In some ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. We celebrated our anniversary by working late. Both of us. Not to fear, we're going out for nice dinner tonight.

Only a year ago, Alan and I were walking around downtown Chicago, excited about the promises our second year of marriage would bring. We had no idea where we'd be the next year. Alan hadn't interviewed for jobs yet, and he had another year of school. We had just gotten our little puppy- Harry, now the monster dog. We were starting to talk about when we'd have little kiddies. Perhaps more importantly, we had no idea I had cancer. I hadn't felt the lump yet. We were blissfully ignorant.

Now, a year later, there are so many wonderful things about your life. We have a beautiful house, good jobs, a fun new car. We're getting settled in a fun new city. We no longer live in the stixx. In so many ways, it is exactly the life we hoped we'd have a year ago. We are so very blessed in many ways.

On the other hand, I thought I'd be fat from baby growing, not chemo. I thought I'd have the wind blowing through my hair when the top was down. I didn't expect to get up at 6 am every morning for toxic radiation. Cancer wasn't even in our vocabulary. Not even a possibility. No one plans for this- especially when you just get married. I never thought saying, "in sickness and health" at my wedding two year ago would be so relevant so soon.

I am so very lucky. That man who stood before me 2 years ago has stood by me every single day of this whole journey. He had no idea he was signing up for this, and has loved me unconditionally every step. When we got married, I specifically said I had no idea where the road would take us, and I was so happy he would be there beside me. And he is. I look forward to fifty some more years...

If we can do this, everything else should be cake. Yum, cake.

Where's Courtney?

It's like "Where's Waldo?" Do you see me? Can you find me? One of the women from Young Survival made this. I feel honored to be among these smart, beautiful strong women.

Coming soon to a doctor's office, sorority house or wherever young women are found.

If you'd like to see a real size poster,
including ages, go to

Monday, August 21, 2006

Thanks, man.

"Thanks, man." That is what I said to my doctor as he left my exam room after checking out my tits. My radiation oncologist is the big wig, but he has a resident I see a lot. I don't believe he is old enough to be a doctor. This is the same one who chatted with me about dirty martini's while marking up my boobs a month ago. I also called this doctor "Doogie." As in "Howser." Upon leaving the room, he told me he had a a diary to type on the computer. Doogie has a sense of humor. I think I should go out drinking with my doctor.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Beam me up, Scotty!

Yeah, yeah, it's been a couple of weeks. I know. Truth be told, other than the whole radiation thing I do every day, I've been beginning to, or trying to begin to put this whole cancer thing behind me. Unfortunately, it's a bit hard when you wake up every morning to be radiated. Or when you're on fire from hot flashes.

Back to this cancer business it is, then. I've been asked some questions about radiation, so here you go...


Q. Do you glow in the dark yet?
A. Not yet. Give me a couple more weeks.

Q. I heard they have to tattoo you... Is that true?
A. Yes and no. Some people get little tattoos. At my hospital, they just mark you up with permanent marker. Kind of reminds me of those sorority hazing stories where they mark up all your fat and laugh. Only there's no beer at the end of it.

Q. Can you taste/smell your own burning flesh?
A. No, sorry Dave. Actually, I usually can't feel anything at all.

Q. Are you stinky?
A. I can't wear deodorant, creams or perfumed anything on my radiated side. Only baby cornstarch power. So, after a big walk, yap, Pretty stinky.

Q. I called you at 8:30pm, where were you?
A. Asleep. Same goes for 10:30 am, Noon, possibly 3pm or before dinner. Radiation makes you tired, plus chemos caught up with me, plus hot flashes keep me from sleeping at night.

Q. Do you have a wicked sunburn?
A. Not yet. I was worried, as I could feel "something" after only about 2 treatments. They told me it usually takes like 3 weeks. But here I am, after 11 treatments, and nothing yet. I have a prescription cream I put on.

Q. Anything else hurt?
A. My back hurts a little and my shoulder's sore. Oh, yeah, and my left boob. It's a little tender, and not in the "love me tender" sort of way.

Q. Do you wear a lead cape?
A. As much as I'd like to be my own radioactive superhero, no. It's not like an x-ray. The radiation is very very focused and specific.

Q. So what happens?
A. Well, I wake up at the ass crack of dawn- strike that, it's before the ass crack as it's still dark outside.
I get to the hospital by 7am.
I greet my little valet guy. At 7am, it's pretty slow so we chat a bit.
I go to the radiation oncology section, which is in the basement. It's very empty, not even the receptionist is there yet.
I check in on a computer touch screen.
I sit down and read some bad business magazine from 1998.
I look for an "Us Weekly". No dice.
I'm called in by my tech, a pretty young woman who directs me to take off my top. Sweet. Keep up that visual boys. That's all you're gone get.
I get to put on the obligatory gown, open to the front of course.
I then enter the room with the linear accelerator. Just like Saturday morning Physics at Fermilab, only I don't have a college application to put this on.
I lay flat on my back, my head in this little cup thing. My arms reach up behind me, holding on to these little handlebars.
The techs line me up with my marks, sometimes involving me to be pulled and yanked into position by my gown.
They leave the room and some crazy ass machine circles around me, first taking pictures to make sure they've lined me up and aren't hitting, say, my heart.
I lay there completely still as the machine circles around me at different angles. There's usually about 5 or six different one. A weird noise, like a buzzing, means it's working. Here's my machine.

After about 5 minutes, it's done. I put the shirt back on, go to my car, and drive home. Usually back to my bed. My insurance company gets a bill for like two grand. I look forward to doing this 20 more times.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What next?

The past month or so I've been struggling with a major decision. Much like when I was 18 and I couldn't decide between two colleges, I went back and forth. Northwestern on Tuesday, NYU on Wednesday. Mom asking what I was going to do on Friday. Still not sure. Finally, on the last day before I had the mail in a decision, I yelled, "Fuck it, I'll go to Northwestern. Mail that one in, Mom." as I walked out the door.

So has been the decision on what treatment to do now that chemo is over. What? You say...More treatment? Yep, more treatment. See in breast cancer, there is local treatment and systemic treatment. Local treatment is to the breast itself and either means lumpectomy and radiation or a mastectomy. Systemic treatment is chemo. I won't even go into hormonal treatment.

Part of my local treatment is already taken care of. I had a lumpectomy. So the standard of care would be to go in and have radiation. However, I've been debating going back in for surgery and having a mastectomy. Actually, I've been thinking of having a double (bilateral for those in the know) mastectomy. Figured if I'm going to cut one off, I might as well have a matched set. And I've been going back and forth. One day, I'm like, "screw it, cut 'em off". The next day, "Damn, I just want to be done."

All of my doctors tell me they are comfortable with me getting radiation. Good, I'm so glad they are comfortable. Let me know when they have cancer. I am told the survival rates are the same for lumpectomy/radiation and a mastectomy. They ask me why I'd want to go back in and cut them off. See, I don't give a shit about survival rates. I'm not worried about dying. At least not today. I'm worried about this bitch coming back, only next time I'll have 3 kids under 10, and I'll have to explain to them why Mommy is sick. Man, it was hard enough this time around. No one seems to give me real stats on recurrence. Then again, if I believed stats, I really wouldn't have gotten cancer in the first place.

This is the worst part of this freaking sickness. The fact that the biggest decisions are inherently, MY DECISIONS. I have waited 6 months for someone to say, This is what you HAVE to do." Other than chemo, I've gotten none of that. The initial choice for what kind of surgery was up to me. I chose a lumpectomy because I wanted Maria out NOW. A mastectomy would have meant meeting more doctors, plastic surgeons, yada yada, longer wait. Plus, everyone told me we'd caught it so early, it was so small, etc.etc. Funny enough, we didn't catch it as early as we thought. And it wasn't as small as we thought either.

Most women do not think about going back and getting a mastectomy after getting a lumpectomy. Once you do surgery, you're done. I mean, when they did my surgery, they got clean margins (meaning there was healthy tissue all the way around the tumor... They got it all), so why go back in? I don't have the BRCA gene, my tumor is not overly aggressive- (it's average)...Why do it?

Couple of reasons. First of all, there's a fear of recurrence. A mastectomy does not guarantee anything, but at least if I do get it again, I can say I did everything. Second of all, radiation is a bit scary for me. There is a small chance of a different kind of cancer long time down the road, thanks to the radiation. Good times. Because of my age, it's a slightly bigger risk.

I think no matter what, I will second guess my decision. I don't think I'll ever be comfortable with this process, with what I have to do. It sucks.

Radiation: PROS- less invasive, can start right away, same stats as bigger surgery
CONS- skin problems, treatment is every day for 6 weeks, could clip a bit of heart and lungs meaning risk of other type of cancer.

Mastectomy: PROS- no boobs mean less chance of worries of any little lump or cyst, I would use my own tissue for reconstruction meaning I'd get a great tummy tuck :)
CONS- long, drawn out surgery, time in hospital, couldn't work for a couple of weeks, harder to detect anything else along chest wall, and well, I wouldn't have my boobs.

I can't say I'm overly attached to my boobs. I mean, I didn't make any decisions because my boobs are a part of my identity or anything. They're boobs. One day, I'd like to breast feed my kids...That's about all I care about. And my nipples. I suppose I'm attached to them. Reconstruction means no nipples....at least for a year or so.

So, based on this entry, which way do you think I'm going to go? Surprisingly enough, even to me, I'm doing radiation. All my doctors think it's overkill to do mastectomies. Maybe I was overreacting. And for me, it wasn't about keeping my boobs, it was about not having new doctors, more consultations, more surgeries. Maybe my laziness won out. Not that every single day for 6 weeks is easy.

Maybe I just want it to be done. And maybe I just don't want to go back in for more surgery, feeling all those feelings I felt when I had my first surgery. I don't want any more needles, IVs, operating rooms. I don't want to feel sick. I don't want to "recover" from anything. I want to have my life back albeit minus an hour and half a day of treatment.

So, fuck it, I'm getting radiation. I start today. I've already had pictures and CT scans and permanent marker all over my body. Good times. I'll tell you all about that another time.