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Post Chemo – Who Is That in the Mirror?

Post chemo (or other cancer treatment), have you ever asked, who is that in the mirror?

I sure have.

I’m thinking this will be my last post on my own chemo-induced hair loss. Okay, at least for a while. The hair loss thing has been a pretty big deal for me, as it is with most chemo patients, but even I’m getting tired of the topic.

I finally shaved off the rest of my hair with Dear Hubby’s help. Even though I was definitely ready, it was still difficult and emotional. Tears started flowing pretty freely. I’m glad I waited until finishing chemo. For me, that was the right time.

After shaving my hair off, I’m finding it even less fun to look in the mirror these days. Sometimes, this makes me feel shallow, but I think it’s just that looking at my reflection is so startling.

I hardly recognize the person staring back at me, and sometimes say to myself, who is that?

When I think of all the physical changes my body has gone through over the past few months, it’s pretty staggering. It certainly gives a whole new meaning to the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” 

My new look has made me stop and reflect upon what I used to think were my best features. When I was in high school and college, most girls had long straight hair, and mine was as well. Some of my friends told me they liked my hair, even though I’m pretty sure mine looked about the same as theirs.

When I got older, my hair started turning gray and became thinner. I started coloring it and with care it remained one of my better features, in my mind anyway. Then, came cancer and a lot things, including my hair, went to hell.

Now, when I look at recent pictures of myself, I marvel at how much hair I had only a few months ago, and yeah, I’m pretty envious. There’s probably a lesson in there about appreciating how you look in the moment…

Next, let’s talk about eyelashes and eye brows.

I need to squint when looking in the mirror to see them these days. I kid you not. They used to be included in my better features list, or at least I worked hard at trying to make them that.

I started wearing mascara in seventh or eighth grade. That adds up to lots of tubes of black mascara over the years!

Today, it seems almost pointless attempting to curl my sparse lashes and apply thickening mascara that only seems to glob onto two lashes per eye. It’s frustrating.

Then, there is the rest of my body between my neck and ankles.

I’ll just lump all that together to spare you from too many details. Needless to say, after a bilateral mastectomy and too many to count reconstruction surgeries, I look nothing like I once did in that region either. 

That gets me down to my feet.

Along with my hands, they are pretty much the only body parts that haven’t changed much over the past months. Oh wait, they’re still numb, but hopefully that’s temporary. At least my fingernails and toenails never fell off from chemo. Some aren’t so lucky.

The simple but important point of all this reflection is actually pretty serious.

I try not to judge people anymore by their appearance. That goes on a lot in society. I always tried not to do that before cancer, but now I think more determinedly about never doing it again.

I try to remember that beautiful qualities on the inside of a person are indeed what really matter. We need to look beneath the outer layer. That’s what I always tried to teach my own kids, as well as the ones in my classrooms.

Such a simple concept, but yet it’s not.

What have you always considered your best features to be?

Has cancer changed things?

Post #chemo, when looking in the mirror, have you ever asked, who is that? #breastcancer #selfimage #chemotherapy
Post #chemo, when looking in the mirror, have you ever asked, who is that? #cancer #breastcancer #cancersucks #selfimage
Read about how I dealt with hair #chemotherapy, hair loss and more in my user-friendly guide #breastcancer #cancerbooks
Read about my experience with chemo and hair loss in my user-friendly guide, available on Amazon or as a pdf here.

Marie Ennis-O'Connor

Sunday 28th of November 2010

Oh honey, what you are writing about, is something we've all experienced on the chemo journey but my heart sure did go out to you. Is it any consolation to say that all of this passes? Reading your words catapulted me right back to my own similar feelings five years ago, and I am amazed that it is five years ago already, for when you are in the midst of it, it feels like you will never feel any differently, but time passes, the memories fade and soon you will look back on this time and marvel at your strength xxx


Sunday 28th of November 2010

Marie, Thanks for your encouraging comments. You have certainly come a long way in five years. I hope I will be able to say that about myself as well when five years time has passed. I know you DO understand, Marie.

Kim Vander Poel

Thursday 11th of November 2010

Nancy, I am a no frills gal and when growing up, I missed the class on "girly girl stuff!" So, I was real surprised at my reaction when I went bald. I cried from the bottom of my toes, a deep, heart wrenching cry. The amazing thing to me is that when I was bald, frumpy and sick is when I discovered the beauty within me. Praying for you on this next step of healing.


Thursday 11th of November 2010

Kim, Thanks for taking time to comment. I can certainly relate to your reaction and I don't think it was surprising even for a "no frills" sort of gal like yourself!

Anna Rachnel

Tuesday 9th of November 2010

Nancy - I think the hair loss is tough because in many respects it's the only really visible sign (to others) that something is wrong, and that comes with a whole new set of uncomfortable dynamics and emotions. I think it's also a moment when we really have to confront what we are going through with quite a raw honesty. I know it grows back and all of that, but still it is very tough and you don't need to apologize for writing and thinking about it. All I can say is you'll get through this.

In answer to your question, I like my height. Tall beanpole. I hate my calves. No shape whatsoever.

P.S. I'm writing this with my naughty little dog insisting on sitting on my lap and licking my fingers as I type. ;)


Tuesday 9th of November 2010

Anna, I think everything you said is exactly right. Having no hair makes cancer so obvious - even though I am done with treatment it doesn't look like I am. Your dog sounds like a real character! Mine are too big to be lap dogs, but sometimes they still try, especially Sophie!

Cheryl Radford

Tuesday 9th of November 2010

Nancy there is just so much here that I can relate to it would take more space than we have. I have the hair but can no longer manage it as I have lost the use of my dominant right arm/hand which means I am unable to cut my nails or even write. Thanks for the reminder of the things that are important Nancy.


Tuesday 9th of November 2010

Chez, I actually don't think you need any reminding about the important things after all you have been through. You know all too well. I'm glad you are able to type away at your computer if writing is too difficult.

Teri S.

Tuesday 9th of November 2010

Hi Nancy,

Great post. I don't think it makes you shallow at all to feel sad about losing your hair. That's just normal, you are female after all. The good news is, when it's all said and done, you'll have beaten that cancer, and your hair will grow back, good as new.

((hugs)) Teri


Tuesday 9th of November 2010

Teri, Thanks for reading and commenting. Hope you are feeling better.

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