Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beauty Blog: Part One -- Beauty Tips from Bald Head to Numb Toes

Last week when I wrote about organization, labels, and containers, I was totally in my element. Tonight, I'm going to write about beauty tips, which puts me about as far out of my element as I would be if I were writing about baking, and this was my attempt at Christmas cookies last year:

The truth is, I need serious help when it comes to beauty tips, which is why I was so excited when Maggie said that she would write this blog with me. Because not only is Maggie totally beautiful and stylish, but she's patient and kind and she seems to somehow enjoy helping pathetic people like me.

For context, let's start with how pathetic I really am. I have been debating how to describe it, because, well, there are so many ways. In the end, I thought I'd just take a picture of how I look right now as I type this -- make-up washed away, contacts out, pajamas on. And I thought I'd include one of the dumber fashion decisions I have ever made -- a head scarf I purchased from the American Cancer Society. Thanks to my trusty computer cam, here's the snapshot.

Kidding, kind of. I'm still waiting for Photo Booth "Effects" to get old. Years later, they still just don't.

Frog effect
Chipmunk effect -- always my favorite

OK, OK. I'll get serious. This is me right now with "Normal" effect:


Forget the terrible "before" situation of my whole face, let's just start with the fact that that head scarf was an awful idea. Not only is it blue and orange (making it pretty impossible to match to an outfit), but it has this kind of cap-like thing awkwardly protruding from the front. It's hideous, and I needed someone like Maggie to stop me from adding it to my virtual shopping cart.

So this blog is for women like me. Women that could fit all the make-up they typically wear in a plastic sandwich bag; women for whom jeans and boots are dressing up and for whom getting ready in the morning is more about speed than about outcome. It's for women who love their more fashionable friends and are so thankful for any ounce of help they can get from them.

Enter, Maggie. I thought the best way to boost my blog readership would be to introduce Maggie with this photo of her and her brother.

Yes, I know, total hotties. Apologies, but Photoshop was not involved. Lucky I didn't post a photo of me in that bathing suit last summer. My readership would plummet, just like my saggy boobs and C-section pouch did. But they say sex sells, and since Maggie's such a good sport, I thought, What the Hell? Maybe I can get a reader in Antarctica and round out the continents. So that's Maggie. Gorgeous, fun, and willing to give a dorky blogger tons of info for her to write about.

Speaking of dorks, back in school I used to take my scribbly notes from every class back to my desk at night and retype them so that they made some sense to me. I usually wasn't smart enough to catch it the first time around but when I went back and took time to digest, I usually caught on. So tonight I'm going back to all of the scribbles I took down today at my kitchen table and I'm going to report on Maggie's awesome cancer-related beauty tips. When I'm done and put all those tips to work, hopefully I'll look like Maggie does above. Yeah right -- I wish! 

Beauty Blog: Part One
From Bald Head to Numb Toes 

1.  Hair, or the Lack Thereof.

Today Maggie and I talked a lot about hair; how it looked "before," losing it, getting it back. Clearly the losing-the-hair thing is a big part about cancer for many women. But I'm not starting with it because it's important; I'm starting with it because we're literally going head to toe in this beauty blog. Yep, that means we're covering boobs, but that's Part Two. Maggie and I decided we'll need some drinks for that one.

As I have reported before, being bald hasn't been a huge deal to me. But at the same time, getting my hair back is. Because getting it back is going to feel like victory -- pure victory -- and everyone loves that.


Here is a photo of Maggie and one of me, both just before we were each respectively diagnosed (Maggie almost exactly one year ago, me seven months after that).

Maggie, Christmas 2011
June 2012

Bye Bye Hair

I've already reported on my head shave experience in several blogs (for instance, HERE and HERE), but Maggie's experience was a bit different so let's talk about that.

About two to three weeks after Maggie's first chemo infusion (of Taxotere), her hair began to fall out in big clumps. Since her hair was so long and thick to begin with, even as it fell out, she still had lots of it left. Knowing it was on it's way out, she cut it into this adorable bob:

Maggie recalled studying and collecting her hair in a pile on the table. I remember a similar thing happening on my desk at work, but by that time my hair was not more than half an inch long. About a week after her cute haircut, Maggie had her head shaved at a salon.

Maggie said that she wished she had shaved her head earlier because watching it fall out was hard. That wasn't something I wanted to see either. We agreed that there was something very empowering about the head shave. Perhaps the power came from it being a decision we made -- something we could control -- at a time when there was so much going on that we didn't choose and couldn't control.

We agreed that champagne should be present at the head shave. Because that step is big one -- a huge leap closer to your cure. So toast to it, and kick some ass:

The day after her head shave -- empowered!
Maggie and I also both found that right before our hair fell out, our scalps were very sensitive. It felt as if our hair was snagging on something even though it wasn't. But losing our hair wasn't physically painful, and we were still both smiling.

Bald and Beautiful

Here are some ideas for how to "rock it bald," as Maggie says:

The Head Scarf

Maggie and her husband, Drew
I found the head scarves very intimidating. Maggie had given me all of hers but I had no idea how to wear them until today. Here's how:

1. Fold the scarf into a triangle.

2. Put the hypotenuse along your forehead (Brianne, that term's for you). For those of you who don't appreciate my shout out to my high-school-math-teacher best friend, the hypotenuse is the longest side of a right triangle, opposite the right angle. See, I can't even be cool while surrounded by cool people.

3. Twirl the fabric around and around until it naturally twirls around itself and tuck the bottom under the bun like this:

 4. Add a flower like Maggie did here for what she calls "flare." Neat huh?!? I love it, but no one rocked it like she did:

Here was my attempt at the head scarf today after Maggie did me up all pretty: 

Hats and Caps ... Some Ideas ...


The Wig

My wig lives on a stand on the floor behind the chair in our bedroom. A few weeks ago, I found Teddy behind there and when I asked him to come out and show me what he was secretly doing, I found this:

Gotta love that kid. Especially because that is pretty much the face I want to make when I wear the wig, too. As I've said, I'm yet to wear it because it's just not me. When I try it on, I feel like I'm in costume and if I were to wear it out, I would be so self-conscious that everyone was looking at it wondering why I am wearing it. When I'm bald, I just feel like me. Because, well, I'm bald.

Maggie worked on her nursing degree while she was going through chemo (I know, totally incredible), and she wore her wig to her clinicals so as not to freak out her patients. She threw her wig back on for kicks today:

Then she tried on mine:

And I tried on mine:


And I tried on her's:

Amazing how different people can look with different hair cuts, huh?!?

A few other quick notes on the hair loss:

  • If it's summer, don't forget the sunscreen! Maggie used it religiously on the top of her head because she was bald during the summer months. She also wore the great sun hat that you saw above. 
  • If it's winter, don't forget your warm hat! I have learned that we have hair for a reason -- it keeps our heads warm. Without hair, you get cold fast and my cozy knit hats are my best friends.
  • You can go ahead and cancel all those other waxing appointments. Thanks to chemo, they won't be necessary. Enough said about that.  
  • I had the misconception that I would lose more hair with each round of chemo, but both Maggie and I found that not to be the case. We both lost most of our hair after the first round of chemo and then retained a small amount of stubble through the rest of it.
  • I have been scared that because all of my hair didn't fall out, perhaps all of the cancer isn't dead either. Maggie, now a certified nurse practitioner, assured me that there is no correlation. Cancer cells reproduce much more rapidly than do hair cells and the chemo can get all of the former while leaving some of the latter. Music to my ears!

It Grows Back, Really It Does

There have been times when I have doubted that my hair will ever grow back, and amazingly, Maggie said she had the same doubt. But just six weeks after her last chemo, Maggie said she really noticed her hair coming back in. Even now, two weeks out, I think I see some hint of it. We wanted this blog to give women like us out there the comfort that their hair will grow back too, so we thought that a little timeline of Maggie would be helpful to prove it.

Just three months after chemo ended:
G.I. Jane!
Four months after chemo ended:
Classy and sleek
Five months after chemo ended:
Seven months after chemo ended (today):
Maggie confirmed what I have heard from many others -- that hair often comes back very curly after chemo. I love the curly look, and the new color!

2.  Eyebrows: Now You See Them, Now You Don't.

I remember being in the car with my Mom on the way to or from some doctor's appointment a few months ago. I told her that I was fine losing my hair but I would be bummed out when I lost my eyebrows. I'm not really sure why, but I was pleasantly surprised that Maggie said felt the same way. For some reason I thought I'd look much sicker without my eyebrows, even more so than I do without my hair.

I lost my eyebrows gradually. I used to have dark eyebrows:

Sorry, I can't resist a "Space Alien" effect to show you that now, I don't:

But Maggie has me thinking I could still lose my eyebrows because she didn't lose hers until a few weeks after chemo ended. It was hard for her because it surprised her so much to lose them so late in the process. It would surprise the heck out of me too because I would figure, as she did, that things would start to grow back at that point, not keep falling out. But just like hair, eyebrows grow back too, and Maggie's look awesome.

Tomorrow I'll write more about how to color in fading or even non-existant eyebrows. Maggie has some great tips...

3.  Do NOT Blow Your Nose!

No matter how much you want to, once chemo is in full swing, don't blow your nose! If you do, expect a massive nosebleed. We both learned this the hard way.

A few days ago, I had the worst nosebleed of my life. Maggie and I talked about this before we ate our large subs from Papa Gino's today. Yeah, the nosebleeds are disgusting. They are thick, and I mean, thick, and they last way too long. Maggie said that using Simple Saline helped keep her nasal passage ways moist and therefore less prone to nosebleeds but unfortunately that hasn't help me. About a week after chemo, I get a nosebleed every day and a few nights ago, one even started while I was fast asleep.

I haven't asked my doctors about this because it seems low on the list of symptoms so I'm not sure if there is any real solution to it. In the meantime, my advice would be to wear dark clothes and always keep the tissues nearby.

4.  Gurgle, Gurgle, Girl.

As I've talked about before, all sorts of funky things happen in your mouth during chemo. Apparently doctors can prescribe a numbing mouthwash to help with the pain of feeling like the inside of your mouth has been scorched off. I wasn't so keen on such a product. So I stuck with the alcohol-free mouthwash of which my dental hygienist kindly gave me several samples (and then I bought more). I highly recommend it.

 5. Magical Make-Up!

I've been typing for hours and I haven't even gotten to Maggie's biggest accomplishment of the day -- taking this "before" ...

Scary, I know!

... To this "after" ...

Seriously, Maggie and her make-up are a powerful duo! So tomorrow's blog will be all about magical make-up. I'll take today's scribbly notes and try to recount all sorts of techniques about mysterious powders, creams, and brushes. This part will be fun, and very meaningful to me. Especially because when my baby girl dresses herself, she looks like this: 

Poor thing. I hope she finds a friend like Maggie....

To be continued

* * * 

March 11, 2013 Update:

It turns out hair really does grow back!

Just about two and a half months after my last chemo treatment.


  1. I am going to have to find a proficient make up friend to help me, I have not worn make up since nights out in college! And I have to job hunt when this thing is done. I have never worn my wig either... Smart wool beanie has been mostly it on a daily basis. Thanks for this fun read!

    1. You look beautiful with or without make-up but it is really fun :)

  2. I am so grateful for your posts. I'm starting chemotherapy next week, and your open and honest attitude is amazing. It's really helpful--and not to sound creepy, but your posts make me feel like you are a little bit like me, so it gives me hope that I can stay strong and positive like you seem to be. So, thank you!

    1. Wow, I'm so glad these ramblings are helpful! You'll do great and be done before you know it. People said that to me and now I'm saying to others, and soon you will be too! Best of luck and keep up the great work. Definitely stay strong but also freak out and throw stuff when you want to -- you have certainly earned that :)