If I had it to do over…

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Somehow the new year and all the talk of resolutions got me to thinking about second chances, do-overs. With the advantage of hindsight, I started to think about what I wish I had done differently. Thankfully, I can’t honestly think of any “big” things I’d change. Really, only two came to mind.

First, I’d let people know that I needed them more. No, I don’t wish that I’d accepted more help, but I do hope that everyone who went to coffee with me, brought my family dinner, or took care of my kids knows that it really was a big deal to me.  I needed their help, and I was (and remain) so very grateful.

Second, I’d take more pictures.  I’m sure there are a lot of you shaking your head– more pictures?  But yes.  I realized that I don’t have any pictures with my port– it was never my goal to hide it, but it didn’t seem to show up in any pictures. And yes, it was freaky-ugly, but Turner really loved gently petting it– he is so compassionate and I think he was reacting to the pain that I felt there when it first went in.  But the pictures I really wish I had? All those coffee dates, lunches, and chemo visitors. There must be at least ten of fifteen different friends who spent mornings with me, and I would love to have taken a quick snap of myself with each of those ladies. Sure, I didn’t always look glorious. I was bald, that’s not how most women want to be remembered. But I like to think that if I had those pictures, I wouldn’t see the bald head. I would see the smiling face of a woman who is loved.

Pixies by Choice

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A few days following my most recent haircut wearing Russian Red lipstick by MAC

charlize          michelle williams

beyonce 2                   pam anderson

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Charlize Theron was one of the first celebs with whom I related when my hair was growing back in.  I still love her hair in that first picture– she is so beautiful, and her hair just looks perfect to me.  And of course, Michelle Williams has been sporting her pixie ‘do long enough to be one of the first images that pops up when you google it.  Beyonce chopped off all her hair this summer, but I have to admit being a little disappointed when she was photographed in a long wig just a few days later.  And just this week, Pamela Anderson ditched the long locks that have been a major part of her identity for decades, and Jennifer Lawrence followed suit.

It’s probably easier to keep up with a pixie hair cut when frequent haircuts are de rigueur and a stylist follows you around with an armload of product, ready any time a hair goes awry.  And of course, when they’re ready to grow it out again, they’ll have the support of that same fabulous stylist, helping them make the best of a hard hair situation.  I’m so glad that I have Dragan by my side, helping me as I try to grow mine out.  I love it short, but I loved it long, too, so we’re going to see if I can stand to let it grow.  But at least I know that I’m in the very best hands, or scissors, to make the growing out process as painless as possible.

photos: Charlize Theron/Michelle Williams/Beyonce/Pamela Anderson/Jennifer Lawrence

Missing Cancer | Scarves

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A couple of weeks ago, Sally and I were at one of our favorite shops, Covet Boutique in Arlington, getting ready for a party we’re helping host this weekend.  I saw this scarf on a display and loved it.  I was so disappointed that Autumn, the shop owner, hadn’t found these last year.  Even though I’ve got hair now, I couldn’t resist tying it on my head, wishing I’d had it a year ago.  I love everything about this scarf– the soft, knit jersey, the red color, the chevron pattern, the long tail, the contrast of turquoise and navy.  As I recall, there was another print or two of these soft, knit scarves, but I can’t even remember what they look like, this was so clearly my favorite.  It almost makes me miss the bald head that required a scarf. (And if you happen to be local and would like to join us this Saturday afternoon, you can check out this scarf and the rest of our favorite gift shop– details here.)

This post is part of a series of what I’ll miss from my time as a cancer patient.  I know cancer is a serious thing, not everyone tolerates treatment well, and not everyone recovers.  I don’t mean to offend by making light of a serious subject.  These posts are just a glimpse of my efforts to make the best of my situation—to find the silver linings wherever I can.

Breast Cancer and My Kiddos

kiddos breast cancer

I met a young woman last week who was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months before I was and so we instantly started talking about our shared experiences.  Being moms, chemo, baldness, those wretched tissue expanders…  But as we chatted, she said something that left me speechless.  (And this blog would indicate that I am rarely speechless!) She hadn’t told her kids that she had breast cancer.  They range in age from preschool to upper elementary school.  I couldn’t imagine trying to keep that up– making excuses for missing out on activities because of doctors appointments and fatigue, explaining why people were bringing us dinner, hiding a port, scars, post-surgery pain…  But most of all, it exhausted me to think that she couldn’t let her kids know that she was bald.

That’s not the way we decided to handle it for our family.  Let me make it clear though, the way we handled it was definitely the best way. For OUR family. Not the best way for her family, she needed to make that decision, and there’s no way that I would judge her or try to tell her that she did it wrongly.

But it did get me to thinking.  There are probably women who struggle with how to talk to their children about their cancer diagnosis.  Or whether to talk to their children.  And when we had that conversation with the kiddos a year ago, it was a very raw time for me.  That fell into the category of things that I just couldn’t blog.

We decided to wait until we knew for sure the treatment course, I wanted to be sure that the kids got the full information when we had that conversation.  We wanted them to hear the whole story the first time. So once we knew for sure that I would have chemo and then surgery, we sat down with them.  I thought that it was important that we were honest with them and answered their answered their questions truthfully, but I know that there is such a thing as giving kids too much information.  Answer only what they ask, no more.

So when we sat them down, I reminded them that I’d had a couple of doctor’s appointments that week.  Then I told them that the doctors told me I had breast cancer.  Emma Clare gasped. Turner immediately said, “So you’re going to die, right?” Insert knife into heart. As quickly and as confidently as I could muster, I answered.  No. I explained to them that cancer is when some normal cells go out of control and don’t stop growing when they’re supposed to.  If the cancer cells get to an important part of a person’s body, that can make them die.  But my cancer was in my breast, and while they were important for feeding my babies, I didn’t need them to live. So I was going to have to take some pretty nasty medicine to kill the cancer that might make me sick and would make my hair fall out, and I would have surgery so that they could take out all the cancer in my breast.  But the doctors would do their very best to kill all the cancer and then make sure that I felt and looked as good as new when it was all over.  They didn’t love the idea of me being bald, and they really didn’t like the idea of me having to stay in the hospital overnight when I had my surgery.  But after we talked, I had several weeks before chemo started.  They had time to process, ask questions, and get used to the idea. They talked about it with us, with their teachers, with their friends. I think being able to talk about it made it less scary, little by little. By the time they went with me to have my head shaved, they were excited about it, and months later, they were even ok with the surgery, too.

I won’t say that we handled it perfectly.  I won’t say that it was easy. I cried a little.  I was honest and told them I was scared, too. (Maybe I should have been stronger?) At one point, Clay had to take over because my heart was broken, and so was my voice. But we told them that we had so much confidence in my doctors, and more than that, I was confident that God had a plan for me and for our family, and we would come through it all fine.  Believe me, just this week, I’ve had a couple of doses of reality.  Cancer isn’t pretty and pink, it isn’t easy, it doesn’t always have a happy ending, and my kids might not have the most realistic perspective of how bad it can get.  But you know what? I’m totally ok with that.  They’re just kids. They can grow up later.

Strong vs. Beautiful

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Have you forgotten what I looked like this time last year?  With long hair?  I nearly have. Crystal took this top image just two days before Dragan shaved my head.  I loved my hair long.  So beautiful.

short hair

This picture is one Sally took last week.  I guess my hair really does look darker, now that I see these two images next to each other.  I was thinking it was closer to the same color as before.  Ah well.  Either way.

Still people ask, will I grow my hair back out?  Still, I answer with uncertainty.  I like it short, and I do get lots of compliments.  But the compliments have changed.  With long hair, those loose waves, usually people told me that I had beautiful hair.  And that’s an awesome compliment.  Who wouldn’t want to be beautiful?  With it short, the compliments are different. “You really rock that short hair.” People tell me that I look fierce, powerful, strong.  And those are great compliments, too.

I think of my family, my husband who fell in love with a girl with a ponytail, my daughter whose long hair is as much a part of her identity as mine used to be, and my sweet boy who is so empathetic that he is attached to my long hair because his sister is.  I imagine they’d love for things to be the way they used to be. And the idea of having that long, flowing hair is certainly attractive to me some days. But I’ve come to realize that even though we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, most of us do. Hearing you’re beautiful? Always good. But today, I like the idea that when someone I don’t know sees me, words like strong, powerful, or fierce come to mind. I may change my mind tomorrow, but today, I’d rather be strong than beautiful.

Photography: Lily B Photography and Sally Brewer Photography Lipstick: MAC Dubonnet and NARS 413BLKR

New Hair | New Earrings

then and now blue dress

Sally took the picture on the left two years ago when our families vacationed together at the beach.  The picture on the right was taken this summer in Old Town. I really do love that dress! Emma Clare saw the older one recently and remarked that it hardly looked like me.  “I sure had a lot of hair there, didn’t I?” Her reply, “Well, yeah.  And you look a lot younger.” Thanks kid.  Anyway, I thought I’d use the two side by side to demonstrate how my taste in earrings has changed.  I stopped wearing the big hoop earrings as soon as I shaved my head– with a scarf tied around my head, I felt like a pirate.  No thank you.  I still held onto my other favorite big earrings, though, I think the fact that the scarf I usually wore had a long tail made it still feel like I had long hair. Now, though, my hair is decidedly short.  Every once in a while I try the big earrings again, and I just don’t feel like they’re right.  So now, I tend to favor chunky studs– Kate Spade makes several different pair that I love and are actually pretty reasonable. Plus, now that they’re so popular, there are a lot of knock offs around! I think I’ve got two or three pair of Kate Spade studs and a couple from covet, a favorite local boutique. I want them to be big enough to be seen, but not big enough to fall past my earlobes. I’ve got enough basics to keep me happy, but now I’m on the lookout for something new.