It’s the bogeyman under every woman’s bed. You know, the one that surfaces when it’s time for your mammogram or when your doctor calls with test results.
A few years ago, my bogeyman turned into stark reality, as he crawled out through the dust bunnies, pushing aside my daughter’s missing slipper and we squared off, face-to-face. I was diagnosed with cancer. Invasive ductal breast cancer. Very quickly, my family and I were launched into a cancer-induced free fall.
With the clock ticking away the two weeks until my bi-lateral mastectomy, critical decisions had to be made that required urgent doctor visits, insurance company phone calls and masterful planning to ensure that one husband and two school-age daughters would be carpooled, comforted and fed.
As prepared as I thought I was pre-surgery, it soon became clear that I was unprepared for life post-surgery. I had a new figure to adjust to (sans breasts); a hair-free body (hairless legs — nice; bald head — not so nice); weight gain from steroids; and skin that looked like it needed a good pressing. I used to joke to friends that “cancer makes you check your vanity at the door.”
In reality, it’s not about being vain. It’s about holding on to your sense of self when the sand is constantly shifting under your feet. My mother used to say, “Illness is a thief.” She was so right, and I was bound and determined not to let cancer rob me of my dignity, self-esteem or style.
Yes, I used the “s” word – “style” – and cancer in the same sentence. I prefer, though, to pair “style” with “life.”
Living with cancer or any chronic illness can be a daily challenge to preserve your lifestyle — yours and the one you create with your family.
To battle my chemo “style” blues, I tried to look as good as I could when I could, because it made me feel better. And it helped provide some comfort for my family as well, seeing me looking a bit more like my regular self.
I’m not saying that I didn’t have any sweatpants-wearing, three-day-old T-shirt kinds of days. I did! But when I could, I opted for a little glam.
Simple things like wearing a beautiful head scarf instead of a bandana, and accessorizing with jewelry, especially eye-catching earrings. I chose shawls and pashminas for warmth and color instead of my threadbare (though much beloved) cardigan, and I found a comfy alternative to sweats — yoga pants! Little touches that kept me from spiraling into an emotional black hole — and taking my family with me.
Thankfully, today there are functional yet fashionable products like wicking clothing and sleepwear that draw moisture away from the skin (great for hot flashes and night sweats). There are beautiful head scarves made of luxurious materials, clothing with sun protection built into the fabric and even companies that will sew pockets into any bra you like, transforming it instantly into mastectomy-wear.
As for the care and feeding of my family during my ride on the cancer roller coaster, I relied on these four lovely words — “delivered to your door.” By clicking “add to your cart” on a variety of websites, I was able to have birthday parties for my kids, buy girlfriend gifts for my friends to thank them for all their support and even serve dinner for four — all from the comfort of my bed.
To the casual observer, these achievements may not seem like much. But for me, they were daily victories in my private war on cancer, as I fought to defend my life and my lifestyle. Bruised and bloodied, my bogeyman limped away, unsatisfied, to the door.
Lisa Lurie is co-founder of CancerBeGlammed.com, a website that offers stylish, practical products for women suffering or recovering from cancer. She lives in Squirrel Hill.
First Person: Defending My Life(Style) – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette