December 07, 2009

Hiding Missing Body Parts or Covering Baldness?

mannequin

It isn’t couth, compassionate, or politically correct to ogle over a woman’s breasts, whether they come in a pair or not.  Standing around the food table at a house party last night, I tried but couldn’t help steal glances.  I loved that the woman across from me had the audacity to walk through the world with a cute boob on the right, and a pancake flat space on the left.

The woman with a mastectomy and no prosthesis turned out to be S.L. Wisenberg.  She’s the author of The Adventures of Cancer Bitch, a book I have seen on the shelf next to my book in many stores.  We spent most of the evening by each others side talking about exercise, book readings, cancer fundraising, pink washing, and more.  I adored her immediately.

I learned that during cancer treatment, she nixed bandanas and wigs, walking through the world bald with ‘U.S. Out of Iraq’ written on her naked skull.

I’ve never been faced with the decision of prosthetics or head coverings.  Nobody can tell that I’ve had my thyroid and 66 nodes removed.  My scar is so faint doctors often have to search for in during check ups.  And while my hair has thinned significantly, radio active iodine does not cause baldness or hair loss associated with other cancer treatments.

I don’t know what I would do were I forced to part with my perky boobs or my hair.  And it isn’t my place to speculate on such decisions.  I have learned that with cancer, you never know what choices you’d make until you are faced with the reality for yourself.  Since I cannot speak from experience, I’d like to hear yours.

Have you lost a body part, become disfigured, or lost your hair due to illness?  How did it impact yourself image and what choices did you make about reconstruction, prosthesis, and baldness?  Have you ever met someone with one breast who did not get reconstruction and chooses not to wear a prosthetic boob?

Read more about adapting to a new body image in Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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August 28, 2009

Did You Reinvent Your Identity to Accommodate Illness?

carrie-groceries

In 10th grade chemistry I created 40 phonetic spellings of my first name, chose Kairol, and it stuck. (I was born with the Mrs. Brady spelling. And yes, in 1987 you coul make up whatever name you wanted and slap it on a drivers license.)

So, I got curious when I recently learned Matthew Zachary, founder of I’m Too Young For This, is actually named Matthew Greenzweig. He developed Matthew Zachary as an alter ego after treatment. Here’s what he told me:

“When I was a senior in college, I was a concert pianist diagnosed with brain cancer. They said I’d never play again. I had horrific radiation, was so depressed, and thrown into the lion’s den of trying to figure out what happens to your life after treatment. That was the story of Matthew Greenzweig’s life and it was uncomfortable to be him.

I needed to reinvent myself. I taught myself how to use my left hand again and to play piano. I used my middle name ‘Zachary’ as my stage name. It was an identity created out of desperation; I was refusing to let cancer define me. My chaos, grief, and anger got channeled through the anchor of my pseudonym.”

Like Matthew, I messed with my identity during treatment by changing the way I dressed. I created outrageous pseudo-couture outfits from thrift store finds and wore CFM heels to the supermarket. It helped to feel more like Carrie Bradshaw and less like Kairol Rosenthal.  (Funny that my current wardrobe consists of sweatpants and hoodies –I should be thrown to Stacy and Clinton.)

As my cancer has lingered, I’ve switched careers from a choreographer and to a writer. Living with incurable cancer, I feel more comfortable holed up in the contemplative den of my apartment, living the writer’s life. If I had a choice, I would rather something less painful than young adult cancer as the catalyst for a career change, but here I am. And I’m pretty damn comfortable with my identity.

Illness changes many parts of our identity over which we have no control – becoming a bald woman, someone who can no longer work, who cannot conceive children… But, have you ever responded to illness with a temporary or permanent identity change that you do have control over?

Read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s to find out why Nora wore her Chrissy Hynde wig long after her hair grew back, and Mary Ann started dressing in outfits that made her feel like a lobbyist.

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