The Face of Cancer

We heard about an exhibit that a photographer had done, called the Beautiful Faces of Cancer. It's a great concept, and indeed, there are beautiful faces. However, while last time I went through this, cancer had a smell, this time it has a face. Come to think of it, it's actually the smell and the face of chemo...

Losing my hair was pretty bad. It had grown, it was long, I liked it, and I liked how it looked on me. Then it started to fall out. Traumatic, certainly. I still struggle with what the heck to put on my head on any given day if I have to go out into the world, and while I've made my peace with not wearing the wig to work, I still struggle if I have to go outside the office. If only I could hibernate for the next 7 weeks. But, that isn't going to happen.

The thing is, the more time passed, I realized it wasn't my hair as much as my face. This cancer has really taken a toll on my face. People say I have such a great head shape, and a nice face for baldness (isn't that ridiculous, to begin with?) but the thing is, I look in the mirror on a daily basis and most of the time don't even recognize the person looking back at me. Indeed, cancer has a face.

Sometimes I stare at that face, and at each of its parts separately. I see glassy eyes, sometimes red, constantly filling with Taxotere-induced tears that run down my face throughout the day. The whites aren't white anymore most of the time, and if I lean in closely, I can see the muscles twitching. I see the darkening around those eyes, particularly when I get out of the shower, for some reason. Maybe it's the hot water that brings out the pigmentation, but the dark rings are immense. I can't remember what color my eyelid used to be, and the darkness sweeps around to the corner of my eye and over the front of my cheek, creating the appearance of bags under my eyes, even when they are not swollen. That's not to say the bags aren't there anyhow...

There's the left eye, with it's one eyelash on the bottom and half a lid of lashes on the top - and the right eye, with nearly a full lid of lashes on the top and the ones on the bottom rapidly thinning. And the nose. The nose in and of itself isn't bad, but the tearing causes it to run, and the running causes it to become dry around the nostrils, and the running and the dryness causes nosebleeds on occasion when I blow too hard... non-discriminate of time or place of course. If you look closely you can often see a bit of dried blood around at least one nostril. Or perhaps I'm spending too much time looking up my nose in the rear view mirror when I drive. My mouth has held up reasonably well, save for the slight cracking of one side, potentially due to the cold. It's starting to darken a bit at the corners of my bottom lip, but I have a feeling that is only perceptible to me. One can only hope.

All I can do is stare sometimes, in amazement, at this strange face staring back at me. I can't look away from the eyes sometimes, as I search for what is behind the face I see in the mirror. And the ritual begins. The concealer, dotted below the eye, above the eye, on the eyelid, at the corners - carefully blended in so that the dark circles slowly start to fade. The packed powder, applied over the concealer, under the eyes in particular, carefully blended in so that the darkness fades to a shadow. Eyeliner, carefully applied to first the bottom lid, then the top. Mascara, only on the top lashes now as there aren't enough on the bottom any longer. Blush, and more blush, on the cheeks, and in an attempt to find the shadow of a cheekbone. Then more, to ensure I still look as though I have color in my face in the right places. A bit of eye shadow, darker on the outsides, and lighter towards the center - hopefully it will bring out my eyes - or maybe it will conceal them entirely. All of a sudden it's a different face looking back at me. I see the layers of spackle and paint, and the cracks in the powder. I notice the slight smudge in the eyeliner and know that there are no eyelashes there that will conceal the fact that it will never perfectly follow the line of the eye. I know I look a bit more human, but as someone who is used to wearing very little makeup I still have no idea who this person is in the mirror. And sometimes the tears in my eyes aren't from the Taxotere. But I can say they are, can't I?

This is the face of cancer. This is the face of chemo.
It's not beautiful at all...

Yesterday Greg walked into the bathroom as all this was going on, fresh out of the shower, and I just looked at him in wonder. The tears (not Taxo-tears) started to well up in my eyes as I realized that somehow, I have no idea how, but somehow he has been able to look past that face and still see what is there, and what will be there again. I am so grateful for that. I'm not sure I'll ever understand how he manages to look past it, but I suppose the important thing I know is that somehow, he does. The thing is, I know he wishes I could look past it, too. Even more powerful than the face of cancer, is the face of love.

Then, this morning, I saw a photo of myself. It was taken at the closing ceremonies of the 3-Day, and I know I had seen it before, but for some reason this morning, it just struck me. I got the tiniest glimpse of what he sees when he looks past the face in the mirror, I think. I can't let myself for a second forget that this is the face of cancer, too. All of a sudden, it doesn't look quite so bad to me... (Thank God for sunglasses.) she's actually still kind of cute.

Seven more weeks. Tomorrow I'll be 3/4 of the way to the finish line. Just a hair closer to getting my face back... (A hair. How ridiculous to say. Hair.)

We met with Dr. Magrina back at the Mayo Clinic yesterday and surgery is scheduled for January 18 to remove whatever the hell is in there causing me angst and a growing waistline. Based upon the lab reports, he was in agreement that he didn't think it was cancerous, but that whatever it was, it needed to come out, along with my ovaries. The thing is, this will kick me right into menopause, and there isn't a doctor in the world that will prescribe me estrogen. I suppose I'll just have to wait it out, pray I don't have severe mood swings, and plan to stick my head in the freezer when necessary. Although I'm a bit nervous about this, as I am with any surgery, we really, REALLY like Dr. Magrina, and he'll be doing a very minimally invasive, laproscopic, robot-assisted procedure. Pretty cool, huh?

The end is nearly in sight...


    I love you voo.

    I'm sorry you aren't feeling prettylicious. 7 more weeks, 7 more weeks. you can weather this.


    7 more weeks, 7 more can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You are doing so great sweetie!!!

    As far as being "kicked right into menopause" having been there, I can say that it really isn't all that terrible. Call me, we'll talk......

    On November 28, 2007 at 8:23 AM alyson said...

    I love your face- tears and all. and Yeah, come join the ranks of your prematurely menopausal friends. We can sit and laugh about others with their "TOM" and fan ourselves while we suck on ice cubes and pluck the fast growing chin hairs! HA!

    yeah.. i've had the wonderful night flashes all week that leave me soaking wet at night and unable to sleep. not to mention.. chin hair.. yeah. fun.

    wait, am I the only one of us NOT in menopause?

    WHOO HOO!!!

    Smartass Jill......