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January 10 2010, 5:45 PM

Yesterday’s Globe and Mail featured a preview of the upcoming trends for 2001 in its Style section.  Generally – not being of the mind that style and trendiness are synonymous – I could give two flying hoots about the latest trends. In fact, as I read about the “…cheeky bras over t-shirts…” gracing the runways, all I could think was, Will you please give me a break? Do I want to look like I have underwear dyslexia?

But I was reading the Style page for a reason: because when I picked up the paper, something caught my eye.  Or my eyebrow, I should say.  The banner on the front page encouraged me to check out the Style section to “get set for the year of the invisi-brow.”  Yes, the invisi-brow. As in, no eyebrows.  Models, apparently, are bleaching or otherwise disappearing the fuzzy little caterpillars that reside above each eye in what is giddily billed as “surely the edgiest make-up trend of the season.”  Yeah, okay… or, Surely the most inane, pointless and desperate trend of the season.  (Followed closely by those cheeky bras over t-shirts.)

What to expect next from these daring denizens of the fashion world? The year of the plucked-out eyelashes? Perhaps a celebration of the bikini-ready chemo-zillian, just in time for beach season? (Actually I confess: that one I did count as a cancer perk…saved so much money on waxing!)

I feel like writing to the Style reporters to inform them that, avante garde trend-setter that I clearly am, last year was my own personal “year of the invisi-brow” and frankly, it completely sucked.

Or, maybe I’m looking at this all wrong; maybe I’m just bitter because last year when I was bald and blinking dust out of my lash-less, brow-less eyes, nobody thought it was particularly chic. Perhaps I should cut this little clip out of the paper and pass it around the chemo ward on Thursday for all my browless chemo compadres and see what they think. After all, having the fashion world declare a common chemo side effect edgy and desirable might make people feel better about hair loss, if only in that one localized area.

And anyway, I should be looking for silver linings: it’s entirely possible I’ll be joining the hairless ranks once again – I’m shedding like a husky in July.

Though I cringe and get a little teary-eyed at the mere prospect of losing my hair and having that bald cancer-face stare back at me from the mirror again (telling me every day how sick I am) if it must be, so be it.  Time will tell. 

If I go bald, at least I know I’ll endure it.  Hell, I may even figure out a way to own it this time – anything to avoid it owning me again.

Encouragingly, my oncologist says it’s unlikely I’ll lose my hair completely, but she’s not cleaning my hairbrush every day, or seeing my pillow every morning… Mind you, I’ve got lots of it, so I count myself lucky; with what I’ve lost so far, some people would already be dealing with rather barren cranial terrain.

At least I’ve still got my thick, sumptuous, decidedly visible eyebrows – and trendy or not, I want them to stay exactly where they are.

Photo: Artsy Vibes


Neutropenia

Neutropenia occurs when the body’s white blood cell count is too low. 

When a person with cancer undergoes chemotherapy treatment to target and kill the fast-growing cancer cells in their body, the treatment can also kill the non-cancerous cells. Neutrophils – a type of white blood cell produced in the body’s bone marrow – imitate cancer cells by reproducing very quickly. Because of this, chemotherapy treatment often kills these cells too, leading to neutropenia. People with neutropenia are at a higher risk of infection (most commonly: mouth, lungs, throat, skin, or sinuses) because their body lacks the white blood cells needed to fight back. Doctors can tell if a person suffers from neutropenia by taking samples of their blood and calculating the absolute neutrophil count (ANC).

Common symptoms of neutropenia include:
– Nasal congestion
– Coughing/shortness of breath
– Fever
– Diarrhea
– Pain during urination
– Chills
– Sore throat

For more information on Neutropenia, visit this webpage or ask your healthcare provider if you are concerned about your risk.

Early Menopause

Sometimes, chemotherapy treatment can affect a woman’s ovaries, damaging them and (temporarily or permanently) stopping their menstrual cycle.

Going through early menopause can be devastating for women, particularly because of its affect on their ability to have children. Early menopause has many of the same symptoms as regular menopause (night sweats, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness). However, because of its unexpected nature the symptoms can be more severe.

Find out more about how to manage menopause’s symptoms HERE. And check out our “Ask the Expert” article on fertility and breast cancer to find out about the different options available to you.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis occurs when the body’s bone mass and bone density levels are below normal – increasing the likelihood of breaking a bone. 

Going through menopause puts you at risk for osteoporosis, or bone loss. So, if someone has undergone menopause early because of cancer treatment, they may be at risk for developing osteoporosis at a younger age. Bone loss means that your bones are generally weaker and at greater risk of breaking. The most common breaks that occur as a result of osteoporosis are in the spine, wrist, and hip.

For more information about osteoporosis and cancer or how to manage it, check out this article.

Lymphedema

When fluid collects in the lymph nodes of the arm, hand, chest, back, or fingers and causes them to swell, it’s called lymphedema. 

Often times, when someone undergoes breast surgery (mastectomy or lumpectomy), lymph nodes from the underarm will also be removed and tested for cancer. Sometimes this surgery and radiation therapy can cause some of the lymph vessels to become blocked and unable to release fluid. Lymphedema can be extremely uncomfortable, especially if the blockage is severe.

For more information on lymphedema, how to treat it, and how to reduce your risk, click HERE.

Cognitive Function

AKA Chemo Brain: Commonly described as a (long-term or short-term) lack of “mental sharpness” during or after cancer treatment. 

According to the American Cancer Society, many people with cancer have described “chemo brain” as:
– Memory lapses
– Difficulty concentrating
– Inability to multi-task
– Forgetting common words
– Taking longer to finish tasks
– Difficulty remembering details

Doctors and researchers have found that these brain function problems could be from a combination of many factors, like: cancer treatment drugs, low blood counts, sleep problems, depression, stress and anxiety, or the cancer itself.

To find out more about chemo brain and how to manage it, visit the American Cancer Society’s webpage. And don’t forget to check out our list of helpful apps for people going through cancer treatment!

Neuropathy

Neuropathy is the result of damage to the peripheral nervous system within the body, affecting the way the brain communicates with various parts of the body.

Neuropathy that occurs after chemotherapy treatment is called “chemotherapy-associated peripheral neuropathy.” Since chemotherapy treatments and medications travel throughout the body, they have the ability to damage nerves. The peripheral nervous system is in control of the peripheral parts of the body (such as the hands and feet). When this system is damaged, it affects the brain and spinal cord’s ability to communicate with the body’s joints and muscles. This can result in pain, numbness, and a variety of other symptoms.

For more information on neuropathy, it’s symptoms, and which chemotherapy treatments can cause it, check out this article. 


 

Just how treatment side effects aren’t limited to hair loss, they also aren’t limited to physical effects.

 

Check out our blog series, “The Psychosocial,” to find out how cancer diagnoses and treatments can affect the mind just as much as the body. 

On June 21st, 2017, Rethink partnered with Aphria to host our second annual Medical Cannabis and Cancer Care forum. If you weren’t able to join us, here’s what you missed. And, if you were there, here’s a recap! 


On June 21st it was all about medical cannabis and cancer care. There was a great turnout as people were eager to hear about the latest in medical cannabis information, research, and advocacy.

THE QUESTIONS:

How can medical cannabis help someone who is undergoing cancer treatment?

How can someone access medical cannabis in Canada?

Why is there so much stigma around medical cannabis use?

What needs to be done in terms of medical cannabis education for health care professionals and government agencies in Canada?

THE CONCLUSIONS:

Ultimately, it was concluded that there is still a lot to be done for medical cannabis research and education in Canada. Our panelists argued that without proper education as to what medical cannabis is and how it is beneficial, the stigma about its use cannot and will not be reduced.

But, in the mean time, we must continue to advocate and educate – focusing on the breakthroughs in research around medical cannabis and cancer care, as opposed to vilifying the plant because recreational use is not yet legal in Canada. Patients have the right to ask for a second opinion if their doctor refuses to suggest medical cannabis as part of their treatment plan. And, ultimately, as Canadian citizens, we “vote with our wallets” (Erin Prosk) by choosing to support trustworthy cannabis clinics/centres and raising the standard of care that they offer.

If you weren’t able to make it to the forum and you want to know more about medical cannabis and cancer care:

Check out the full recording of the forum on our Facebook page!

A BIG THANK YOU

Thank you to our amazing panelists, Dr. Vincent Maida, Lynda Balneaves, Erin Prosk, Beth Harris, and Julie Vickaryous. And thank you to Aphria for partnering with us in making this forum possible.


If you have followed Rethink before or read any of our previous content, you know that young people with cancer face unique challenges throughout – and after – their diagnosis.

Recently, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer published a report on the challenges AYAs (Adolescents and Young Adults – ages 15-39) with cancer face. The report argued that young adults with cancer have greater psychosocial and medical needs. Here are just a few of the medical needs:

  • Their diagnoses are more complex, landing somewhere between pediatric and adult oncology, and require a broader range of expertise;
  • They are more susceptible to delayed diagnosis due to low suspicion; and
  • Their cancers are often more advanced, requiring more aggressive treatment.

It’s the cancer treatment that causes the risk of infertility. With their need for more aggressive treatments, this risk is big for AYAs with cancer. As people are increasingly waiting until their 30s and 40s to have children, many AYAs have not yet started or completed their families when diagnosed with cancer (The Asco Post). So, fertility after cancer is a major concern for them and, research shows, this concern goes unresolved year after year.

HERE’S HOW:

A Lack of Referral

Even though fertility has proven to be a major concern for AYAs with cancer, studies show that most of them are not spoken to regularly about fertility by their doctors and are often not referred to a fertility specialist or counsellor.

The Cost of Preservation

Even when AYAs are referred to fertility counsellors and/or clinics, the options presented to them are easily out of price-range. For example: according to an article by Huffington Post, egg freezing can cost anywhere from $10-12,000, plus up to $800 per year for storage (depending on the clinic). Often, this cost is not covered by insurance. While some clinics offer discounts to cancer patients, these discounts are not guaranteed and are often still not enough to make the procedure affordable.

A Limited Amount of Clinics

Turns out, even if they were able to afford it, there aren’t enough IVF clinics in Canada to serve AYAs with cancer. According to the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, if all AYA women diagnosed with cancer were referred to a clinic, there would be an increase of 103 patients per clinic per year (Ontario) and 230 patients per clinic per year (Alberta).

A Lack of Research

One of the main reasons AYAs are so under-served in this area is a lack of well-targeted research. Only 4% of Canada’s total cancer research investment goes to AYA-specific cancer. That’s only $1.8 million over the 8 years between 2005 and 2013. And while the overall research investment for cancer in Canada has gone up over the years, the amount of money going towards AYA-specific research has stayed the same. And this research has focused mainly on cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research as opposed to the unique needs and concerns of AYAs specific (like fertility).

SO…

It’s clear that we have a long way to go in addressing the fertility needs and concerns of young people with cancer. A fact that’s often overlooked is: young people with cancer are still young people. Yes, their lives are drastically different from the average young person, but many of their desires will still be the same. For most AYAs with cancer, it’s not enough for oncologists and treatments to get rid of their cancer. Yes, they want to get better and they plan to get better. But, when they do, they want cancer to have a minimal impact on their future plans.

And, for that reason, we need to do better when it comes to fertility.

 

(Source)

November 5 2009, 1:23 PM

I have a high tolerance for pain.  Anyone who knows me well – family members, doctors, estheticians – will confirm this.  My husband and I agree: I am tough. Not French Foreign Legion tough, but maybe Canadian Special Forces tough.

However, for the last 12 hours and, to a lesser extent, for 48 hours before that, I’ve been enduring wave after wave of intense abdominal pain. I emit weird primal noises and make fists and kick one foot around like a dog dreaming of chasing rabbits… And then the pain passes and, like a crazy person, I type some more.

It’s the drugs – my hitherto mild-mannered capecitabine and lapatinib are now mercilessly kicking my butt.  Causing stomach cramps, intestinal cramps, nasty, painful, crampity-cramps and no small measure of the trotskys…

If it were possible to be punched in the solar plexus and kneed in the nuts while in labour, that’s how I feel.

I have a hot water bottle pressed against my stomach at all times. My husband makes them so hot they have to be wrapped in gigantic towels for the first couple of hours. I may have poached my innards. Don’t care – the relief is glorious.

My mom is now here, taking over where my husband left off when he went to work this morning.  She has fed me mashed bananas and electrolytes and soda crackers. She is busy in the kitchen now – I can hear her over my own weird primal noises; the comforting sound of her clattering around down there.

Another wave is coming.  I really need to stop with the typing. Viva Imodium! Charge!

Tomorrow April 7th is World Health Day: A global health awareness day sponsored by The World Health Organization (WHO). This year’s focus is mental health. It is interesting to me that the World Health Organization has chosen this topic for their campaign this year. Surely there are other more important health crisis across the globe that trump (no pun intended) depression and mental health? Or are there?

According to a press release put out by WHO in March:

Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. Lack of support for people with mental disorders, coupled with a fear of stigma, prevent many from accessing the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives.

They go on to say that they have identified strong links between depression and “non-communicable disorders and diseases” meaning that people with, let’s say… CANCER have a higher risk of depression.

This is a huge acknowledgement in the psychosocial oncology world and one that people diagnosed with cancer need to be aware of. I have heard one too many times from women with earlier stage breast cancer that once treatment is over they felt like they were hit with a title wave of sadness and grief. These two questions linger once the dust settles:

What the F*%k just happened?

Followed by….

Why don’t I feel relieved and happy to be finished with that part of my life?

No cancer equals all better

There is a clear expectation that if you look good you feel better. There is even a program based on this assumption. Just because someone doesn’t look ill or the poster image of a cancer patient doesn’t mean that they are completely healed. There are often lingering physical and emotional side-effects (laundry list here), post-treatment or adjuvant therapies like Tamoxifen and the biggie – recovering from trauma.

Note: Those with metastatic or stage 4 cancer often experience some form of depression or anxiety that requires treatment. They are in perpetual fear and anxiety as they are scanned every 3-4 months.

Many people have heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when it comes to war or an act of violence, but often people don’t think of a cancer diagnosis as the cause of that kind of extreme stress. I am not sure if this belief comes from some sort of normalization of cancer in our society (the “everyone gets cancer” attitude) or maybe it is a belief that cancer is curable? A diagnosis can and does cause some people such extreme stress that 1/3 of people with cancer experience anxiety disorders or depression. That’s 32% of cancer patients according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2013.

Let me break down some examples of cancer related trauma:

Being diagnosed with the disease

THOUGHT: I may die.

Diagnosis of an advanced cancer

THOUGHT: This disease is incurable and I will die from it.

Painful tests and treatments

THOUGHT: People are poking and prodding me. My body is not my own.

Pain from the cancer itself or other physical issues

THOUGHT: I feel pain and my body is never going to feel the same.

Test results

THOUGHT: The cancer has progressed and attacked other parts of my body.

Long hospital stays or treatments

THOUGHT: I am in a place with sick people. I am a sick person. I am a cancer patient.

A cancer recurrence or the potential for recurrence

THOUGHT: I might get cancer again and there is nothing I can do to stop it or control it. I am at the mercy of this disease.

Often people don’t know they are experiencing any type of cancer related mental health issue until they are there, and they can sometimes feel quite shocked and ashamed. There can be feelings of guilt – you should be feeling grateful or “lucky” that you made it through and your body is showing no evidence of disease. Or you may feel pressure to be happy and to move on from the experience but you can’t.

Being Prepared

I know I say it a lot but I am going to say it again…wait for it…Knowledge is power! Especially when you are blind-sided by feelings that seem antithetical to what you think you are supposed to feel. We hear this with post-partum depression a lot. Here you are – you just had a baby. The joy and happiness you are supposed to be feeling is clouded by anxiety, fear and sadness. No one prepared you for this. You always wanted to be a mother and you always heard this is supposed to be the happiest moment of your life. And then it’s not.

I had post-partum depression and I remember desperately wishing someone had told me or warned me this might happen. Wishing I had the heads up and was prepared so that it was less scary and frightening when it came so that I could be pro-active and put supports and measures in place just in case…and I did with my second child.

It is important that those diagnosed with cancer are prepared in a similar way. While referrals are often made to psychosocial oncology resources DURING treatment, patients are left holding the proverbial bag after treatment. Many are not aware these support services are accessible once their hospital treatment is over, and most initially feel like maybe they don’t need them. This can leave you scrambling in your darkest hour when you are most vulnerable.

As mental health continues to get more and more attention as a health epidemic, it is important that we start with educating our most vulnerable populations. Healthcare providers need to acknowledge risk factors pre-emptively before it becomes a crisis so that those who are at risk can feel empowered to speak up if and when the time comes. They can also arm patients with tools and resources to determine whether they need help and where to go to get it.

The Check-List

The following is a great list from Cancer.net.

If you are experiencing the following, it’s time to follow up!

Mood-related symptoms

  • Feeling down
  • Feeling sad
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling worthless

Behavioral symptoms

  • Loss of interest in activities that you previously enjoyed
  • Frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends or family
  • Loss of motivation to do daily activities

Cognitive symptoms

  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Memory problems
  • Negative thoughts. In extreme situations, these may include thoughts that life is not worth living or thoughts of hurting yourself.

Physical symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Insomnia, which is the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep
  • Hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness)
  • Sexual problems, such as decreased sexual desire

Note: The cognitive and physical symptoms listed above may be side effects of the cancer or cancer treatment. As a result, doctors place more emphasis on mood-related and behavior symptoms when diagnosing depression in a person with cancer.

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For more on the Psychosocial click HERE!

Now that you have explored the use of marijuana to help manage your side-effects and symptoms, you may find there is a still a stigma and lack of knowledge attached to using the drug which can make talking to your healthcare provider challenging.

You may even be afraid afraid to broach the subject of using medical marijuana with your doctor and your caregivers! The following is a guide to walk you through the discussion process and what to prepare for your appointment.

Keep in mind that this is likely not the first time that your oncologist has been asked about this!

You have the right to try complimentary therapies and medical cannabis is LEGAL with a prescription in Canada.

PREP:

  • List the condition or symptoms you are trying to treat that can be alleviated or controlled by medical cannabis.
  • Bring a detailed list of medications and forms of therapy you have tried, their pros and cons, and how you are accessing them
  • Know the legalities are in obtaining a prescription in your city (often healthcare providers won’t know the ins and outs of obtaining the drug). For example, in Canada patients who receive a prescription are then responsible for finding licensed producer (or LP) on their own to purchase the right product for them.
  • Ask are there any side-effects or contraindications in using medical cannabis with your current treatments? Should you be using medical cannabis with other pain medications? Is there a way to obtain compassionate pricing on medical cannabis and how can you access it?

For additional information on medical marijuana, LP’s  like Aphria or Medreleaf will often have experts on hand who can help to guide you on what are the best strains for your medical needs, the best way to ingest it, and track your usage.

Remember, everyone is different and it may take time to find the best way to manage your symptoms through medical cannabis. Communication with experts and personal knowledge is key in receiving the greatest benefit!

For more information on accessing medical cannabis in Canada click HERE.

In the spring Rethink dove into the world of medical cannabis and discovered how it can help cancer patients cope with some of the symptoms and side-effects of treatment. The choice and ability to access medicinal cannabis is specifically important to those living with metastatic disease or stage 4 cancer. These patients are often in ongoing treatment with side-effects that can last the rest of their lives, and often the spread of the cancer itself can cause a huge amount of discomfort, pain and anxiety.

Many women I have worked with over the years are reluctant to use the pharmaceutical drugs and painkillers they are prescribed on a continual basis for an indefinite period of time.  Cannabis becomes an alternative for them to get relief from nausea, pain, anxiety and sleep deprivation without some of the nasty side-effects that come with narcotics or steroids.

It should be an easy transition, and an easy conversation with their doctors – Cannabis is legal in Canada with a prescription right? Check.  And the medical community has validated the indication of cannabis for therapeutic use right? Check.

So why is the process super challenging and tiresome for people who need it and what can they do about it to make their lives easier?

In the most recent Journal of Current Oncology dedicated to cannabis and cancer care, a woman from Quebec describes all the barriers she had to face in order to obtain cannabis for therapeutic use here.

Everything from talking to your healthcare professional to explaining cannabis use to your friends and family becomes a hurdle. Below are some tips for getting through these hurdles one step at a time:

Start the TALK

Using cannabis is still taboo in our society amongst a certain set who see the drug as purely recreational. Thanks to the “WAR ON DRUGS!” in the 80s, many of the attitudes perceive cannabis as a “gateway drug” that can lead to a slew of other problems – and let’s face it, it is illegal. This makes broaching the subject with your physician very difficult, especially if you are shy by nature.

My advice? SPEAK UP. Chances are this is likely not the first time that your oncologist has been asked about this. You have the right to try complimentary therapies and medical cannabis is LEGAL with a prescription in Canada.

Be the Expert

If they seem cold to the idea, be persistent and show them that you know what you’re talking about. Finding and citing legitimate studies and work being done in the field goes a long way with docs. Specifically note research on:

  • The condition or symptoms you are trying to treat that can be alleviated or controlled by medical cannabis.
  • Any active studies or clinical trials
  • Any potential risks associated with your condition and cannabis

And educate yourself on the following:

  • A detailed list of medications and forms of therapy you have tried, their pros and cons, and how you are accessing them
  • What the legalities are in obtaining a prescription in your city (often healthcare providers won’t know the ins and outs of obtaining the drug). For example, in Canada patients who receive a prescription are then responsible for finding a licensed producer (or LP) on their own to purchase the right product for them. (Your doctor may have no idea what this process looks like!)

Keep in mind that if your healthcare provider is not warming up to the idea it is most likely because they don’t know a lot about it or they still have some preconceived notions. You are the best person to educate them on why this is important to you and why it is something you want to explore.

Bring a Communication Strategy + Strategist

This goes for anything having to do with a cancer diagnosis. You ought to know by now that having the right person in the room with you always helps when it comes to asking questions and explaining your POV as the patient. Keep in mind that you may not get the answer or openness you are looking for in the first appointment, but having someone with you who is listening and taking notes may help you with your communication strategy for next time.

Do the Educating

When you have cancer there are a million things to educate your people about, especially when it comes to treatment options and the choices you make. The decision to try cannabis is no different. You may have people in your life who have strong feelings about this idea – the same way they want you to try a specific vitamin that promises to cure you.

At the end of the day, it’s your circus, your monkeys. You ultimately get to decide what treatments are best for you, when to stop a treatment and when to move on to something else. As always there will be strong opinions from the people who love you, and often with some honesty and convincing they come around. At the end of the day they want what is best for you, and if that means reliving your hippy youth through your cancer treatment, they will most like be okay with that.

Stay tuned for our#Rethinkchat @Rethinktweet on September 13th 8pm EST to learn more…

Want to learn more about medical cannabis? Click here!

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My long brown hair fell to the floor in chunks, which brought a sweet relief to the aching hair follicles on my scalp. It was 14 days since my first chemo treatment, and my hair had been littering the house like tumbleweeds for the past two days.

I didn’t look at myself in the mirror while my head was shaved in a private room at a cancer apparel boutique. Instead, I glanced at my friend Tiffany, who gave me a warm but sad smile. My son, Sam, played with a mannequin modeling a peacock-coloured headscarf.

“What do you think?” I asked Sam while my former hair surrounded the barber’s chair like a moat.

Sam looked up at me and broke out into a huge smile. “You look really cool!” he exclaimed as he came over to sit on my lap.

 Sam and I celebrate my hair’s last days during our family’s pre-chemo vacation to Canmore, Alberta, on March 21, 2015.

Sam and I celebrate my hair’s last days during our family’s pre-chemo vacation to Canmore, Alberta, on March 21, 2015.

That’s the best compliment I have ever received on my appearance. I sometimes can even believe it in my heart.

I looked in the mirror for the first time. Oh, that’s not too bad!

Tiffany snapped a picture for my wife, Brett, and my best friend, Alexis, and then I sent it off to them. Everyone was complimentary, and I kind of liked my new G.I. Jane appearance.

My badass bald look! Brett caught this candid shot of me smiling at Sam on our patio, June 19, 2015
My badass bald look! Brett caught this candid shot of me smiling at Sam on our patio, June 19, 2015.

Then it was time to put on the new headscarf that Sam had picked out for me from a selection of dozens: a cozy cap of purples, greens, yellows, and blues with two long tails to tie up. With this armour chosen by my son, I felt ready to conquer the year ahead of intense cancer treatments.

Brett has been growing her hair out for the past several years of her gender transition. After my head had been shorn, I graciously bestowed upon Brett the family title of “The Hair.” This was a joke that had started several years ago when my youngest brother, Scott, wore his hair a bit longer than I usually did. After Scott cut his hair short, the title was given to me. And now that I had very little hair, I felt it was Brett’s time. Her hair is a shimmery blend of light brown with many blond highlights and sports a natural, beautiful wave. She is gorgeous and definitely “The Hair” of the family.

A few days after my head shave, even the cute G.I. Jane look started to hurt my scalp. So I got the shaving cream, my razor, and a towel before proceeding to carefully shave off the buzz cut in front of the bathroom mirror.

After my head was shaved; my face is bright red from chemo side effects, April 17, 2015
After my head was shaved; my face is bright red from chemo side effects, April 17, 2015

Shaving my own head is the most badass thing I’ve ever done. Even after the body dysphoria started, I still felt this to be true.

I caught a flash of a bald head in my bedroom mirror. Who is that? I momentarily wondered. That’s when I remembered that this bald head belonged to me, but even after a few months of being hairless, I failed to recognize myself.

When I would see Brett with her beautiful hair and feminine appearance, I would think about how I get, as much as a cis person can, what it must be like for some trans people to look in the mirror and not see their true selves. I always knew it was me with my headscarf on, but I didn’t know this weirdly ethereal creature who was completely hairless, and that’s why I never once recognized her at first glance.

Okay, Beatrice. Breathe. Just breathe. It’s not the worst thing in the world.

In my hands I held my beloved headscarf, which now sported a rather large hole running along the seam after I’d taken it from the dryer. The hole would create a gap where my unruly medium brown chemo curls could sprout through. I sat in the dark on the bright white linoleum floor in my parents-in-law’s laundry room. Sam, Brett, and I were visiting family in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and if I needed a new scarf, I had no idea where to get one.

me, Brett, and Sam at the Hamilton airport at the start of our Ontario vacation, June 21, 2016
me, Brett, and Sam at the Hamilton airport at the start of our Ontario vacation, June 21, 2016

My chemo curls felt completely wrong to me, and sometimes I had distressing pulling urges as my hair was growing back. The trichotillomania I’ve battled on and off since my earliest childhood memories threatened to come back in full force if I went too long with my head uncovered. Trichotillomania and the dysphoria kept me wearing my headscarf long after the point many cancer patients would have stopped wearing any sort of cancer-related head covering.

Brett and me on our way to a wedding on June 25, 2016; this was shortly after I found my headscarf had a hole in it.
Brett and me on our way to a wedding on June 25, 2016; this was shortly after I found my headscarf had a hole in it.

Fretfully, I walked from the laundry room to the mirror at the front entrance to the house. My mother-in-law, Alma, passed by me in the hallway, and I don’t think I sounded as panicked as I felt when I mentioned to her what had just happened. The sunlight gleamed through the windows along the door as I anxiously slid the scarf over my head and tied the tails to cover the hole. There, now you couldn’t see the hole. You couldn’t see this first dent in my armour against trichotillomania and body dysphoria. But I knew the dent was there, even if no one else could see it.

That’s when I decided after we got back to Calgary from Ontario, it was finally time for my first post-chemo haircut.

Check out Beatrice’s last post here.

 

 

For some other ideas check out Sheri Stroh’s best tips for styling short hair here and our LiveLaughLearn video here!