Post Chemo – Who Is That in the Mirror?

I’m thinking this will be my last post on my own chemo induced hair loss, 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 succumbed and shaved off the rest of my hair with David’s help. Even though I was definitely ready, it was still difficult and emotional. Tears started flowing pretty freely during the process.  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 I think that makes me seem shallow, but I think it’s just that looking at my reflection is so startling now. I hardly recognize the person staring back at me and sometimes I 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.” Thank you David.

My new look has made me stop and reflect upon what I used to think were my “best features.” When I went to high school and college, most girls had long straight hair and mine was as well. A couple of my friends always told me they really liked my hair, even though I’m pretty sure mine looked about the same as theirs! Then I got older and my hair started turning gray and a bit thinner. I started coloring it and it looked alright, but it was definitely no longer my best feature. Now when I look at recent pictures of myself, I marvel at how much hair I had only a few months ago and I’m pretty envious.

Next, there are my eyelashes and eye brows. It seems I need to squint while looking in the mirror to see them these days. Again, they used to be one of my better features, or at least I worked hard at trying to make them that. I started wearing mascara probably in seventh or eighth grade. That adds up to a lot 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 clump onto two lashes per eye.  I end up just looking kind of silly.

Then there is the rest of my body between my neck and ankles. I’ll just lump it all together to spare myself additional uneasiness. Needless to say after a bilateral mastectomy with ongoing reconstruction, I look nothing like I once did in that region either. However, I must say I’m actually pretty amazed at how easy these particular changes were to adapt to.

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 are still numb, but hopefully that’s temporary. At least my fingernails and toenails never fell off from chemo.

The simple but important point of all this silly reflection is actually pretty serious. I try not to judge people anymore by their appearance. That goes on a lot in our society. I always tried not to do that before cancer, but now I actually really think seriously about never doing it again.

I try to remember that beautiful qualities on the inside of people 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 lesson, but yet it’s not.

Cancer is indeed a great “hands on” teacher. It makes such things crystal clear, even things we thought we already knew.

What feature about yourself do you love or hate the most? Time for some honesty here! If it’s easier, what have other people told you is your best (or worst) feature?




22 thoughts to “Post Chemo – Who Is That in the Mirror?”

  1. So many people only look at cancer as a negative, and I love the way you turn it right around.

    Your story reminds me of a time in my childhood. I was born with a very large birthmark on my cheek, and whenever my parents insisted I have it removed, I said no, it was a part of me. When I entered high school, it was just around the same time that the new Austin Powers movie came out (with the character that they repeatedly said, ‘Moley moley moley’ to.. ughhh). I quickly became a walking joke. At the movies, at the mall, everywhere- I was pointed at, laughed at, and whispered about. Eventually, I stopped wanting to go out altogether. My parents took me to a plastic surgeon (they had always been worried about it being cancerous), and viola! Now I’m ‘normal’. But a lot changed– not just on the outside. I had previously hung out with the popular “Mean Girls”, I think out of fear of what my life would be like on the other side of their little circle. With my new confidence, I widened my friend circle to include a lot of the people we used to pick on. I stopped judging people. And when my mom was diagnosed with cancer during my senior year, I was so glad I had changed because I had so much support from my peers.

    Now I think my best quality is my ability to strike up a genuine conversation with just about anyone! My worst is that I still care way too much about what other people think of me… but I’m working on it 🙂

    1. Sami, It’s hard to imagine people being so cruel over something so insignificant as a birthmark. You learned a valuable lesson from that experience and widening your circle of friends undoubtedly helped them as well as yourself. Being able to strike up a conversation with just about anyone is a great quality. I know this because I’m not that good at it! I think it’s hard for all of us to stop caring about what other people think of us, although I have to say, my concern has lessened with age and now cancer.

  2. Nancy,

    I completely understand the hesitation to look in the mirror. I mostly avoid it because with my bald head, lack of eyelashes and eyebrows, and chemo induced acne, I look like an adolescent Yoda. If I look too long, I figure I may as well paint my head blue and become a member of The Blue Man Group.

    But, this too will pass. Our hair will sprout again and we’ll love whatever comes in. (And isn’t it amazing how we can look at previous pictures of ourselves and miss the hair, regardless of what it looked like?)

    When I complain about my scars and pudgy body with which cancer has left me, my husband says at least you’re still here.

    We’re still here, Nancy. Don’t be so hard on yourself – I have been trying to learn that lesson – and just enjoy life.


    1. Tina, That would make quite an interesting Blue Man Group addition wouldn’t it? ha. Yes, previous pictures now look darn good! It’s funny, my husband says that exact same thing! Thanks for your encouraging words, Tina.

  3. Nancy, this is a tough one. I was always way too hard on myself. I never really liked any features. Hair was too curly, skin was yucky, too tall, etc. Now, when I face the many scars, and after two reconstructive surgeries since the mastectomy, there are many, I just take it in stride. I did what I had to do. Battle scars, part of the life we’re still living and I suppose that counts for something

    I think it’s part of why I like talking about it so much. It’s something we’ve faced and hopefully, conquered. It sets us apart and I’m proud of what I’ve done. I was strong, as you are. As we all have to be.

    1. Stacey, Good for you, taking those scars in stride! I guess that’s what they are indeed – battle scars! Thinking of them that way does help.

  4. Nancy,

    Thank you for sharing your courage and candor. You are right that cancer is a really good life lesson.

    I, too, believe that beauty is inside, but the truth is, as we all know, that the outside matters to us, too. Why else would our body changes as a result of treatment matter so much to us?

    I was lucky enough not to lose my hair during chemo. However, the several lumpectomies and finally the double mastectomy with reconstruction has wrecked havoc on my torso.

    The breast that had had cancer is one bra size smaller than the other one, which is the best the plastic surgeon could do. Unfortunately, I have many clothing misfunctions, due to an ugly indent above my right breast. The scarring and swollen tummy (nah the tummy tuck thing is a myth somethimes) bother me, too.

    Luckily, I found a wonderful bra shop and a prosthetic device that helps counter the breast size discrepency. I’m going to write about this in an upcoming blog. Now, when I have clothes on, my breasts are the same size, and the fit is wonderful.

    I feel beautiful with this, even if it is an illusion.

    At the end of the day, I still must live with the scars.

    Hang in there. Did the doctors say when you would get your hair back?

    1. Beth, Thanks for reading and commenting. Like a lot of things, truly believing beauty is on the inside not the outside seems easier said than done and I think sometimes we are hardest on ourselves. Isn’t it great when something or someone makes us feel beautiful, illusion or not? The doctors never really said how long it would take, it can vary quite a bit, but generally hair starts regrowing a couple of weeks post chemo.

  5. When I was bald I depended a lot on my smile to put people at ease. I hated my wig. I generally wore scarves tied over my head. But as soon as I had a silver stubble, I began going bare. My hair is now about half an inch long but it lies totally flat on my head, making it seem shorter.

    I see people watching me…checking me out…wondering if I am getting better or worse. I’m glad of that. Their looks always seem compassionate.

    My best feature? Oh, how I would love to have my long white bob again. I really did have lovely hair.

    1. WhiteStone, Thanks for returning and commenting. It sounds as if your white bob is on its way back! Somehow I can’t get the scarves to accomplish anything flattering.

  6. Nancy, Thanks for stopping by my blog! Margaret had told me about your cancer, and I added you to my prayer list.
    My mother had breast cancer, but it didn’t spread. The mastectomy apparently got all of it.
    I have regular mammograms, and have had two non-cancerous lumps removed. I remember how scared I was before the first one… the dr. told me that if it tested positive for cancer, they would remove the entire breast. When I woke up, I put my hand on my chest and everything was still there! I was one of the lucky ones!
    Please take care, and keep in touch! Say ‘hi’ to David! He was always my favorite cousin.

  7. 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.


  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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. 😉

    1. 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!

  10. 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.

    1. 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!

  11. 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

    1. 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.

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