Monday, 27 June 2011

The Big Bra Hunt

Yes, there may have been other things to consider pre and post mastectomy, but instead of dwelling on absent friend, bra hunting has basically occupied my time for the last two weeks. Aversive maybe, but effective, yes!

After an hour long session with the breast nurse talking counselling, relationships, comfies (these are temporary foam replacements for real boobs), and scars, I left clutching a pamphlet that would depress me almost as much as the op itself. Mastectomy Lingerie.

I have had a lifelong love affair with underwear - one of the advantages of wee boobs is pretty bras - so imagine my despair at the new necessities a prosthetic presents. Namely huge, non-wired, fuller than full cupped, fat-strapped monstrosities. Ok, I may be exaggerating a little, but the catalogues cater for the majority of mastectomy customers: older ladies with massive bazookas. They don't sell a bra to a 31 year old c-cup so well.

The good news is smaller boob (I must start getting used to the singular), requires less support, and a smaller prosthetic, so I can get away with a 'normal' bra in theory, but I'd never usually go for the full, high cup that a stick-on boob requires, so this is a mission and a half. I went for the recommended pre- op fitting in Harvey Nicks, and discovered there is precisely one, non-specialist bra that fits my criteria. Thank goodness it is a blooming wondrous one. Wolford Mat De Luxe Skin Bra is plain, petite, pretty and perfect. It's so comfy, does every job it needs to do, and I'd wear it under happier circumstances anyway, so this is a find all women should know about. I have it in three colours.

I then went on a Figleaves rampage and bought the recommended Sloggi (have since discovered overhead is impossible), front fastening sports bra (waay too constrictive), two mastectomy bras that I deem acceptable (this is harsh, they're actually really pretty, it's just the ginormous-jangered models that do them a scary injustice), and a load of hopeful normal bras to try. I've also been sent some gorgeous Wolford-a likes from Boux Avenue, and am basically drowning in comfortable but good-looking undies. Problem is, just looking at them makes my stitches twitch, so I haven't tried out full benefits yet. I got Katie to trial them over her tshirt for me. Ineffective but hilarious.

You won't be suprised to hear that after waking in the ward at 5.30am after my op, I filled the time on - You just can't keep an Internet shopper down. Even though I was loony on anaesthetic I made a genius purchase, a discovery on a par with The Americas. As of that day, I am the Christopher Columbus of swimwear.
This Moulle bikini is asymmetrical, just like me, covers the majority of my left side (as major luck would have it), and has enough ruffles to distract and delight in equal measures. It is so post-op appropriate I 100% feel like I can look forward to a beach holiday before my reconstruction. Which is bloody lucky since I'm told that won't be for another one or two years. I'm ok with this - my fruitful bra hunt is another step closer to cheating normality, and with the bonus thrill of shopping thrown in.

I'm not sure how to explain away my new Opening Ceremony Fringe Jumper though. I'll say it was the drugs doing...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Hairy Situation

Although I am lucky to have an entire wig wardrobe, I really cannot wait for one consistent hairstyle, that doesn't come off at the end of the day. Not least to help out the mail man at work. He was very hesitant to hand over my post today. When I managed to convince him it was me he said 'you look so different every day, I get confused'. Bless...

So, a progress report, in order of distance from the sun:

Weirdly enough (or not so weirdly as I later found out), my head fluff started to grow back before my last cycle of chemo. Apparently this does happen quite often but they don't like to say to avoid disappointment. Instead I got neurotic about the chemo not working since it allowed my hair to break through.

If you can call it that. Mine is, on 16.21 on the 22nd June (happy birthday DadJokes btw), 3/4 inch long fluff. It's progressed from fuzz to actual ear-tickling fluff, but it's still not hair as such. Basically I look like a receding lesbian, so the wig is going to be the centre of my universe for a good few months yet, sorry mail man.

I try for a side parting every morning, just for fun, but so far the most exciting 'do I've managed is a minuscule Mohawk. I didn't even try, it just went like that and stayed there. Does this mean it'll be curly and unruly? Most likely.

Even though this June is less than delightful I'm still checking my met office app every day, willing it to stay cold so I can avoid the excessive wig-induced head sweats for as long as possible. To speed the process along I've been sent a Nioxin cleansing system by Salonlines. It's supposed to be good for chemo patients (apparently Kylie used it no less), so anything that speeds along the return of the pixie crop is good for me. I tried it for the first time this morning - till now I've been using Baby Shampoo - but that just doesn't feel very audacious of me, so I'll keep you posted.

They're a bit shy, but definitely thinking about making a proper appearance very soon. Some little faint peeps here and there, just enough to get a better idea of where to put the brow pencil, but not enough to make the damn thing redundant just yet. I do look forward to that day. Still a few more weeks of man-made asymmetry to go there.

I'm not sure why but these face-changing, look-transforming, lady-beautifying, instant pretty-making ESSENTIAL bits of hair are remaining in hiding. They sometimes threaten to show through, and I get disproportionately excited, but then they just don't. No matter how much Rapidlash I coax them out with, nope. Resolutely invisible.

This progress is difficult to measure since I had laser hair removal a few years ago. I am praying chemo doesn't reverse the effects, since I'm promised the challenge of hair removal cream (too chemical) v's razor (too lymphedema risky) is next.

Yes, a slight croppage - we'll leave it at that.

I have SHAVED them. There was one day when I could wear shorts without my eyes watering and this day necessitated shaving. Oh the happy joy of that arduous task. I'm surprised I didn't do some damage through lack of practice. To be honest, there wasn't a huge amount to get rid of, but still...! Hair removal was required!

In conclusion my extreme and slightly strange lash envy continues, whereby I gaze longingly at everyone else's, from waiters to colleagues, and wonder rapturously at how long they are. Even boys. Especially DadJokes, the generously lash endowed bastard. But I am happily learning to be bored of my hair removal regime again, like a normal woman should.  A normal lesbian looking woman with a seemingly receding hairline.

(disclaimer: I have met plenty of beautiful lesbians with long hair...)

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

What is the opposite of glamorous?

...Because there are a couple of things I need to address today that fall into that category.

In a word or two: Armpits and fingernails. These two things have been bugging me for sometime, and definitely fall under my beauty remit, but till now I've been struggling.

For one thing, although it is June according to my calender, but November according to Zeus (god of sky etc), it's still sporadically hot - not least for myself and fellow hot-flush sufferers. Mild to moderate sweating is the consequence, anti-perspirant is the answer. Unless that is, you've developed a paranoid health kick when it comes to all things chemical, especially around the boob area, so my armpits have been Sure free for some time now.
On the other hand I am as far removed from hippy mentality as is humanly possible, I'm also a bit obsessed with odour and there is little more I hate than sweating. You could say I am anti-perspirance. I swear I read a press release when all the aluminium = breast cancer hoo ha came about a few years ago, saying this one mega brand had aluminium free options, but I've googled the depths of the Internet and can't find it now. Any PR's feel free to enlighten me.

The smell part is fine - I do wash regularly, thanks. Also there are plenty of natural, chemical free deodorants, so I've got pleasantly perfumed pits covered. (May I say those crystal rock sticks don't cut the summer sweat mustard).
It's the anti-perspirant part I'm struggling with. A lot of googling and PR schmoozing later and a box of Perspi-guard landed on my desk, including an alcohol and aluminium free anti-perspirant treatment! Hallelujah, praise the tight-tshirt, I can confidently hold the overhead bar on the tube once again. I'm also using a mineral rock spritz that you refill with water when it runs out, and yes, they do do a crystal stick, but I'll gloss over that one.

In other news I had a Fly moment last week. Not in the cool sense of the word, no I'm talking about the film classic. Every clinic appointment the oncologist asked me how my nails were doing, the nurses congratulated me on keeping my nails, I even wrote a post about some little white lines and ridges and things. Oh how little I knew then. Weeks after the end of chemo and my nails have embarked on an Amy Winehouse pre-rehab binge. They've done enough hard drugs to tell a few stories, with the little ones getting off lightly, but the big dogs - that's forefinger and thumb btw - basically one fizzy drink ringpull away from death. They've been sore for a while, they've metamorphosed into something resembling a bad acrylic job loooong overdue for an infill, and then I tried to open a tin and my thumb nail cracked right at the bottom. I remained calm, was a little bit sick in my mouth, got DadJokes to squeeze my hand to ease the situation, then put on a plaster and tried not to think about it.

Since then I've discovered that there is such a thing as brush on glue - which works wonders to heal superficially until the dead bit grows out - and as much as I love pastels and pinks at this time of year, dark polish is more camouflaging than light. It's the law of LBD. Dark things, like little black dresses, don't contrast with the shadows, so bulgy bits - be they love handles or drug-induced nail lifting - are disguised. Clever huh? You wouldn't know unless you knew...

Unfortunately I am now mortally afraid of opening anything, which is not so helpful around the house, and I'm distinctly more A/W than S/S but that's only relevant in fashion world, so I'm pretty sure it really doesn't matter. Any more little surprises around the side-effects corner? I do love a challenge...

p.s. I Googled my original question, surprised at my uninspired need for Google in fact. Answer: unglamorous. Oh...

Elegant Touch Glue, and Maybelline Forever
Strong Pro in Midnight Red

Sunday, 12 June 2011

A One Boob Wonder

I have made the official discovery that there are downsides to being thin outside of Jamaica - where a large ar*e is revered - and that, coming from a member of the fashion industry, is nothing to be sniffed at. Were I a larger lady, the tit to tumour ratio would probably have worked more in my favour, and a radical mastectomy would not now be on the cards for me in less than two weeks time.

As it is my own pair have shrunk along with the rest of me (apart from the cancerous part which decided to maintain its optimum weight), to the point where there's little else in my left one, so it has to go to the great brassiere in the sky. 

I'm OK with this news now. Mostly because I've spent the last two weeks since chemo finished in a sort of arm flailing purgatory where nothing is happening. I'm not being treated, which means it's just me and the traitorous boob carrying on unassaulted, but with the added benefit of an over active imagination and a very large dose of anxiety. I understand this is a common occurrence in this in-between time, and with that in mind I have kept well away from the Internet, hospital literature, well-meaning friends with friends-of-friends stories. I also refrain from asking medical professionals questions which I really should, because I'm afraid of the answers they might give me, which doesn't really help the imagination side of things. Not so brave now, am I? I think this is the emotional roller coaster bit they all talk about, but I've squeezed mine into a very short space of time. Which did feature a  wobble of massive proportions, but I'm back to my baking internet shopping self now.

The benefit of this patheticism is I can't bloody wait to get the damn thing out, and that has resulted in a calm (ish) acceptance of the surgery I have to have. 

Also, If I'm going to have a part of my body amputated, that is surely the best bit. I had the unappetising debate with my friend Olivia over lunch in Leon - sorry Liv. I said, maybe a buttock would be OK, she said, no, you need to sit on it, and it would be harder to sufficiently fill your jeans. Boobs are the easiest thing to fake too - we already know this from the bouncy abundance we're faced with on every trip to the newsagent (I mean the magazines, not the staff). Toes? A little finger? Not so much. And I've never led with my chest, always been happy with my littler ones. (Although I'm not adverse to the boob boosting opportunity this has presented me with out the other side, I must say).

OK so I'm not a huge fan of asymmetry (those wonky hemlines? All Saints love them a hell of a lot more than I do), but a healthy boob in the hand is better than two high risk ones in the bush, right. And although I do thank god for DadJokes and his I-couldn't-care-less stance, I know if I was single it wouldn't be the end of the dating world either. As my friend Lucy pointed out, most men will be of the basic opinion 'woohoo! There's one!' and play with it anyway. Or I'd find myself a bum man instead...

So, I have two weeks left with a nipple I've known all my life, I think I'll take it out to dinners, treat it to some final low cut tops and demi-bras. But the boob is definitely guilty of it's death row sentence, so the last supper will be a good one (it happens to be DadJokes birthday, poor boy), but I won't be making an appeal. I will however be going to Harvey Nichols for some essential brand new bra purchases, but you know me. Every cloud has a shopping lining and all that...

Saturday, 4 June 2011

My New Synthetic Hair

Pat, my lovely chemo nurse told me about Trevor Sorbie's charity, My New Hair, since in my job I had only heard of his hair dressing fame. I spent a delightful day with him, and now it is my very important job to let everyone else know what he does for people like me (bald people, not beauty editors).

By now you know my wigs like they were your wigs I suspect - I bang on about them enough - so while I've covered real hair like there is no tomorrow, the bigger and probably more relevant subject of synthetic wigs (since they are cheaper, more readily available and generally NHS prescribed), has alluded me. But now I have one - thank you Trevor - so let me fill you in...

These were my issues with synthetic wigs:

They are very 'wiggy' and obvious. Trevor cleared this up for me with an analogy that he developed from 5 years experience cutting the things for chemo patients with similar worries. 'If you walk past a woman in the street and I ask you what colour her shoes are, you most likely wouldn't have noticed, unless she had no shoes on.' So wise... And perfectly proven when I left his salon in my new wig, and one of those irritating guys in the street tried to sell me some package for a local hair salon, opening with the line 'where do you get your hair done?' Oh if only he knew...

The NHS one will be sh!t. Let us never underestimate the importance of our hair. Trevor has met no less than three women who have refused chemotherapy in favour of keeping their hair. Although that is mental to me, I have never had to deal with an NHS wig. Of which I should also point out, there is no such thing. Suppliers pitch for the hospital account, and as Trevor points out, if someone is offering a fifty pounder over an £80 equivalent, which is going to win? If we take hospital catering accounts as a similar example, we know where the dreaded NHS reputation comes from. (Not the case universally, some are better than others, some offer real hair, and even wig mecca Trendco is an NHS contracted supplier).

They won't look like my real hair. OK so some are better than others, and obviously the better the wig, the more natural it will look, but that doesn't mean the NHS freebie needs to sit in the packet it came in for the duration of treatment (I know this happens a LOT). There are things you can do, and top of the list should be see someone like Trevor who can cut it to perfection - or as near as possible. And never underestimate the transforming power of dry shampoo - a synthetic wig wearers BFF.

Our first stop was Trendco in Notting Hill. Now this may seem silly, since I am now a chemotherapy and wig veteran, but I was still nervous. Going into a wig shop out of necessity and due to illness is a daunting thing, even at the end of treatment (my initial NHS voucher to pick one out from a place in Paddington was politely declined on D-Day - I couldn't bear the thought of having to go through that seemingly humiliating experience on top of everything else). Trevor knows all this stuff, which is why he takes his charity clients to the shop himself, and it definitely helps.

We went through a process of elimination (no poker straight, nothing blonde, no 'Rachel's'), which is important with synthetic because the style you get is the style you get: Aside from a cut, there is no colouring or heat styling these things, which is good even if it doesn't sound it. The maintenance is ridiculously low - no need to get Katie or Claire round to help me me with this one - you just swish it in soapy water, put a little bit of fabric conditioner in (yes really) and it dries back to it's original style. This also saves on rain-induced anxiety and means I am less likely to leave so disgustingly long between washes. Trevor recommends synthetic over real hair for chemo patients for this very reason - not the wash thing, the effort thing. Since we now know the less bother the better when it comes to anything during treatment.

We tried a few out in a private room, (the highlight of which was Trevor stroking my fluffy head like he was part of my family), and settled on the first one we picked out. It came back to his Covent Garden Salon with us, into another private room, where he cut it into my unique new hair, resplendent with fringe.

So far I was mightily impressed. My thoughts of synthetic wigs had been this: cheap, too shiny, obvious. This one has a monofilament layer under the parting, which makes it look more realistic and feel more comfy. The texture is incredibly natural - ever so slightly unkempt, which is very me - if not a tiny bit shiny at the crown, but I fixed that with dry shampoo, since yes, using products on it is fine.

So now I have and love one, there is only one issue with synthetic wigs, and that is matting. Real hair wigs have the same problem but to a lesser degree. It's where it rubs on your collar I guess, but always along the back hairline. Synthetic mattes on a daily basis and is harder to un-matte. This is where the fabric conditioner trick helps, but even better is T-Range Fibre Conditioning spray that I also got from Trendco. It smells a bit funny but it gets the job done.

Due to the common issue of too few hours in a day, sadly not everyone can get the Trevor Treatment (but you really should try), so he has personally trained 380 hairstylists nationwide to do the same thing. In every county in the UK there is someone who can offer his service, and counting. And he doesn't get paid a penny. The man is a philanthropic genius, and I think I love him a bit.

His words as we chatted on the way back to the salon; "If I can make you leave here with a big smile on your face, then I'm happy."

Mission accomplished Trevor, x

Friday, 3 June 2011

I'd Just Like To Thank...

I woke up smiling this morning, for today my dear readers, this blog is blinking award winning! After a horrendously roller coaster day yesterday - which I won't go into now - I ended up at the 7th P&G Beauty & Grooming Awards. This is a leading industry ceremony where the leading beauty and grooming journalists are honoured every year, judged by a panel of leading industry experts.

I entered SophieFeelsBetter for best independent beauty blog, and, well, won! I'm not really one to blow my own trumpet, unless it is absolutely necessary, but this morning I feel like I need to round up the London Philharmonic and get a conductor in because my trumpet is getting an audience.

I only want to say it means a lot to me to be honoured for this here thing that has been a cathartic experience for me and, I understand from you who email me, helpful to some of you too. So it really is very, very pleasing. And it means I get to put a little icon somewhere on the right hand side for ever more. And it was held at Bafta in Piccadilly, so you could really say I won an award at (the) Bafta(s)! Which I think I will do from now on...

The only down point was the necessity to get on stage and making a bloody speech. Another thing I'm not so fond of. I can't remember the exact details but it started with 'blimey' and ended in 'miraculous', and that was about it! Oh, and I broke my own rule and had a half a glass of wine, ahead of schedule, but blimey was that miraculous tasting too.

Thank you for reading me!