Ovarian Cancer…A Three-Part Series
1. Quite the Journey. The First Step.
What a kick in the pants! Cancer! Who would have thought?
Have you experienced over a 12-week length of time:
- Exhaustion! or
- Frequent urination-
- Head ache -
- Infrequent lower back pain-
I had all these symptoms for more than two years on and off and I didn’t think of any of these as being connected or relevant. All women experience these “symptoms.” What is normal? What should you complain about? I was clueless.
Ovarian cancer is known as the whisperer disease and with good reason.
When asked by my gynecologist how I was, I groused about exhaustion, but I quickly stated that I thought that was probably due to stress. I didn't want to complain or waste his time. I never thought the rest of the list - frequent urination, headaches, constipation and back pain were - were not normal.
A year later I was urinating so often I could not play four holes of golf without seeking a bathroom, got up during a Board meeting to relieve myself, and finally, I could not drive from my home - a half hour away from work- without bursting from the car to the restroom upon arrival. I wet myself one morning as I ran to the toilet; that was the wake-up call that got me back to my doctor’s office. To his credit. after sending me to get a sonogram and a CA 125 blood test, and actively listening to all that ailed me (including my family history of cancer), he sent me to an oncology surgeon who specialized in gynecology.
Fast forward. I woke up in the ICU ward post-surgery with a pronouncement that I had stage 3 c Ovarian Cancer. Once discharged from the hospital, my next steps were to see an oncologist who would provide chemotherapy for 17 weeks. It was like falling through the rabbit’s hole in Alice In Wonderland. Everything was surreal. My chemotherapy resulted in total hair loss and exceedingly dry skin.
In a nutshell, I was totally in the dark about the new circumstance and very desirous of regaining my life before cancer. So I sought out resources to help me - live. Look Good Feel Better became one of my key ingredients to moving forward.
With a new wig and skin going downhill fast, I went to the Look Good Feel Better program feeling diminished and self-conscious. Cancer hits the body hard, and it also has a stunning and unexpected impact on one’s self esteem. The Look Good Feel Better program was my first non-medical step to healing. As an ovarian cancer survivor, that step energized my re-entry to grabbing my life back.
2. Look Good Feel Better… A Program of Confidence
Everyone needs to start somewhere in the search for “normalcy” as a cancer survivor. At this point, I am bald. I have just purchased a wig and I am waffling between “it is obvious I have cancer and I am wearing a wig” and “I look okay.” I go back to the hospital for a workshop entitled “Look Good Feel Better” and know it has to do with makeup, but I am unsure what I may get out of it. I go seeking reassurance, camaraderie and a place to test my wig among people who don’t know me.
Hans, a volunteer instructor, opens the seminar with the day’s agenda. At his right is a pretty woman who nods in agreement, as he tee’s up the subjects he intends to cover. The first topic - wigs! He turns to a woman in the workshop and asks her to remove her wig.
I am totally surprised she is wearing a wig! She looked beautiful and when she takes off her wig and shows her fuzzy head, they have my full attention. Here was a person who looked terrific and her wig was a non-issue for anyone who saw her. Exhale! It was possible that my wig would be one tool to reclaim my life.
Hans then had her put her wig back on and showed us she could style it – with a headband, barrette or ribbon. His point, not lost on me, it looked natural.
He then showed us scarf tricks, hats and ball caps with hair. As a group we chatted about the possibilities, the positive vibes filed the room. He planted the seed - all of us - had the potential to meet the public with our heads up and no one would be the wiser.
We received a kit of skincare and cosmetic products, and spent time talking about makeup, changes to our skin and skin tone. He noted that many of us would lose all of our hair, including eye lashes and brows. At that point, I was listening but not internalizing the possibility of no brows and lashes, in addition to no hair...
Flash forward a couple months later, and I resumed going to work. This included attending Board meetings and conferences. I even had to be on stage as a presenter. The seed that Hans planted during my Look Good Feel Better class came to fruition. I was able to function with confidence, not giving a thought to my baldness or my wig. My picture appeared in trade journals and one never would have guessed my status as a cancer patient, or as someone who was wearing a wig.
Look good, feel better - indeed- the workshop gave me the gift to present myself as myself. My epiphany that morning was that I had the tools to pick up where I left off pre-chemo. Attending the Look Good Feel Better workshop gave me a confidence boost, just when I needed it.
3. Look Good Feel Better… Keeps Giving
Just when I thought I had reached safe ground, my eyebrows disappeared along with my beautiful, long eye lashes!
It was the very last week of chemotherapy. I had thought I had dodged the bullet. They were right, you do lose all hair as a result of this particular chemotherapy. I had been feeling good about how I presented myself to the world with a wig and my normal face in place. Again, I was humbled.
I can't say I was knocked out, but I can say I was unhappy, especially when my office mates noted that I looked “different.” They meant well with their questions, but I was not keen on explaining what was askew.
My eyes had always been my best feature, so my make-up had always featured my eyes. Feeling blue, once again I looked to my Look Good Feel Better bag of goodies and came across two resources: a stencil and a booklet that explained how to draw eyebrows. Simple, but these tools guided me back to a more normal look and a safe harbor.
In all honesty my brows and eye lashes grew back rather fast compared to my hair. It was being an oddity and the many questions that I really wanted to avoid. Clear instructions and a pencil gave me back my privacy, as well as my “public” face.
When I first attended the program, I had no idea that I would obtain long-term comfort for challenges so foreign to me that I could not have guessed my needs. Everything I had once taken for granted…my hair, my skin tone, my face had become an issue. The Look Good Feel Better workshop, just a short program, gave me information to help me cope, and regain balance and normalcy.
Quite a program!
For information about free Look Good Feel Better workshops in your area, please visit lookgoodfeelbetter.org and enter your zip code to search for a program near you.