The Secret Benefactor

I realize the title of this post sounds like a bad 1970’s French porn novel, but in my case…there really is one.

Earlier this week, my friend Britni of Princess and the C texted me asking if I wanted to come over to her house for dinner and a movie. Thinking that sounded fun I of course agreed. Britni recently started a new job so I thought nothing of it when she said she had to reschedule for a breakfast on the same day because of work responsibilities. She said she knew of a cute place in Old Roseville where we could go. Always ready to try a new restaurant, I thought nothing of it. I still didn’t suspect anything as we were driving into the mall because Britni says she needed to pick something up from the Gap. As we were walking in the opposite direction of Gap she said she wanted to look in the windows of Lush and see if they had something. I just recently turned her onto my favorite store so I still didn’t think anything was awry. I didn’t suspect anything until I was in the store and they sprang it on me that there was not going to be a brunch.

And even then…I still wasn’t completely getting it. Damn chemo brain.

But they explained to me that someone I knew who didn’t want to be identified (because they believed that good deeds are done anonymously) paid for both of us to have a little private party at my favorite store. They had a full spread of food for us and gave us facials, arm treatments and foot treatments and topped it off with a gift.

Me with Amber and Alicia – the two fabulous Lush girls who attended us.

Britni with the aforementioned fabulous Amber and Alicia

Rocking face masks. Yeah I know…we’re HAWT.

They gave me a Wiccy Magic Muscles (which is sort of like a natural icy/hot) to ease the aches and pains of chemo, a honey trap lip balm (Whoever chose this MUST know me – I love anything sweet and vanilla) and a Ocean salt body scrub all wrapped in a Lush headscarf. It was incredibly thoughtful and sweet and it touched me deeply.  Even the Lush girls said they read my blog – which was surprising to me.

So to whomever my secret benefactor is – Thank you. :)

Back in the Saddle

Literally.

My mother, in an effort to get me out of the house and active has sprung for riding lessons for me.  Now, I grew up taking riding lessons but it has been a good 22 years since my last lesson. Where my parents live now is in the country so we are at no loss for stables. We chose a prominent stable out here and I decided to learn English Style since I already knew Western.

There is something about the elegance of English Tack and dressage that I like. English Tack has left it’s mark on high fashion and Haute Couture. Open any Fall issue of Vogue or Harper’s and you’ll inevitably notice the riding boots, tight pants and flouncy shirts so prolific in show. It satiates the bourgeoisie inside me. The outfit I chose probably looked a bit silly to the veteran horse people, but I really don’t care. Yes I want new knee high riding boots for lessons. Yes I will wear a flouncy white dress shirt for lessons. If I am going to do something I at least want to look good doing it.

Riding that horse also helped in other ways of course.

One of the challenges I have been struggling with lately is people seeing me as a poor, dying, sick cancer patient. I don’t view myself in that light at all. I have always been seen as a tough, aggressive, no-nonsense type. Last summer I kicked a crack head in the face when I came out and found him trying to steal my $700 bike. I survived 4 years in New York and was considered the nice one (In CA generally I am considered sort of a bitch. ). When I agreed to take these lessons one of my fears is that I would hurt myself by falling off the horse or having a seizure. Well, that fear was realized but I am sort of glad it was.

I ended up falling off the horse and I was ok. I didn’t have to go to the hospital. I didn’t get hurt. Just because I’m going through chemo and have cancer doesn’t mean I am some delicate flower. I can take a fall and get right back up and in that saddle again (which is what I did). Nobody treated me like a cancer patient. Nobody coddled me. Instead, the trainer after making sure I was alright let me know what I did wrong so I could correct myself next time. I appreciated that. If you never fall, you never learn. It reinforced in my brain that I am still that tough NY girl who will kick you in the face if you try to steal my bike. I am still fearless.

And after every fall I will still keep dragging myself up and getting back on that horse.

What NOT to say to a Cancer Patient

When I was 26 I volunteered to be a hospice counselor. In our training, they went over how to speak to someone who is dying. It turns out if you try to say things like “I Understand” no matter how sympathetic you are it can really piss the sick and dying off.

I now really do…understand.

The one thing I really hate no matter how well intentioned is when people tell me how I should feel. “You shouldn’t feel scared Sarena, everything will be ok” . Oh really? Tell that to the 3 out of 4  women who DIE FROM OVARIAN CANCER. “You shouldn’t feel sad about losing your hair because beauty comes from the inside”. Ok, then you’re going to shave YOUR head when? And my personal favorite – “I know exactly how you feel. My friend went through cancer”. No. No you don’t. That’s like me telling a mother that I know exactly what it feels like to give birth because I’ve seen it on TV (I have no children). You will NEVER know how I feel until you have a doctor look you in the eyes and tell you there is a 50% chance you will DIE. You will never know how I feel until you lose everything and have to move back in with your parents to undergo treatment. You will never know how I feel until they pump poison into your body that is slowly killing you as well as your cancer. You will never know how it feels to walk down the street bald and have small children and the rude stare at you.

What works much better with me is when people listen instead of talk. I know in our superfluously verbose society this is a foreign concept but it will get you farther than trying to tell me to “stay positive”. If I do in fact tell you how I feel say something along the lines of “wow, that sounds really hard. I know I could never really understand what you’re going through but it sounds like your doing a good job”.

Lastly, what pisses me off the most…the supernaturals and god freaks. “I know what you feel like because I can feel it too”. Really? Because if you really could then you would know not to tell me that because you’d be able to feel how angry it would make me. Fail. EPIC FAIL.

I absolutely refuse to be some trick and pony cancer show for people. I think about and talk about death – Deal with it. I’m not always happy and I’m not going to pretend to be for you – Deal with it.

Feeling Ugly

Trying to cover that which makes me uncomfortable.The last little hairlets on my head have finally fallen out.

For the last week or so, I have been proudly going out bald. For those of you who read my blog you’ll know that I shaved my head when my hair started to fall out. I did not want to see myself grow to look sicker and sicker so I took control while I still looked normal and took my hair myself instead of cancer. At the time I felt liberated. It was shaved down to about a quarter of an inch. I still had a visible hairline. I looked tough – like G.I. Jane.

Last night in the bath I washed my head and as I sat in the bath rubbing my head with water, my hands became covered in little, 1/4″ pieces of my hair. My hands were literally covered with them. I washed for a good 5 minutes trying to get them all. When I emerged, my head was soft and smooth and patchy bald. I now finally look like a cancer patient.

I have not cried and I doubt I will, but I feel sad. I feel sad because I look so different than the me I know. Right now I am redefining how I feel about myself and how to see myself in a positive light and it is not easy. There is a part of me that is ashamed to not have hair. Britni and I went to get massages today and I was wearing my wig.The little Asian lady thought it was my real hair until I took it off so she could give me my scalp massage. I knew she spoke little English so I tried as best I could to prepare her that I was bald. But why should I feel the need to “prepare” her at all? I was afraid that after she wouldn’t want to rub my bald head. That she would be afraid to touch me.

Today, for the first time in a week I felt the need to leave the house with my wig on. I have felt ugly all day and nothing has been able to make it relent. As I sit here typing this it is 10:24pm on a Saturday night. I am sitting here wearing a pretty silk scarf on my head. Even though I am alone and no one sees me it is my way of trying to make myself feel better. I don’t want to see the sick, patchy bald me. I am tossing around the idea of shaving my head so it looks less patchy.

Who knows, maybe I will.

Fate

Sometimes, I wonder if fate hasn’t played a hand in directing my life. If the universe has been trying to tell me something – first subtlety, and then when I didn’t listen louder. I have to wonder if my cancer isn’t fate’s way of trying to tell me something.

But what?

When I lost my finance job in NY and had my boyfriend break up with me it felt like fate was telling me my time in NY was over. I moved back to a slower pace of life in CA and the change was hard. Since I was 18 I had been on the go. Always moving, always going always kinetic. I thought in some ways fate was trying to get me to relax a little. Perhaps to appreciate family now that I had to live with them. All I could think about was how to escape. And I did. Four months after I moved in I moved to the bay area. Seven months later I was back with cancer.

I feel like fate is trying to get me to rest a little. I quite often take naps during the day now….something I never did before. I was often tired and worked a lot. On my days off all I would pretty much do was sleep and watch TV because I needed rest. Now, I’m getting plenty of it.

My mind wanders now to what I am supposed to do after cancer. If there will be an ‘after cancer’ for me. I imagine going to India, Thailand, Columbia, Paris, hiking the Inca trail….going everywhere. I want to learn Spanish and French. I want to learn to tap dance. I want to do so many things. My heart soars and my body wants to follow, it just can’t at the moment.

But maybe next year…

Taking the Plunge

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On Wednesday, February 1st 2012 my hair started to fall out.

In the mandatory chemotherapy class Kaiser makes you take the oncology nurse really pushes this one detail to the extreme. I was told that within ten days after my first infusion ALL my hair would have fallen out of its own accord. So every single day after my infusion I tread very lightly with my scalp. Not brushing my hair too hard or too much, looking for bald patches etc.

And nothing was happening,

It wasn’t until 2/1/12 that I took a shower and as I ran my fingers through my shampooed hair I noticed locks of chestnut brown hair looped through my fingers. Much, much more than what was normal. This meant that the chemo was killing my hair follicle cells. I tried to feel that happen. I tried to feel the cells die as my hair was falling out. As I watched my hair swirl down the drain all I could do was stamp my feet and yell “NO!!”. As if throwing an adult tantrum would somehow command my chemo cells to stop killing my hair. At that point all I could do was laugh.

The next day however more came out. I woke up with hair just everywhere. It fell off as I walked. It came out if you touched it. It was really depressing me and making me feel like a cancer patient. So, I decided to take a weekend trip to my old home (Oakland/Berkeley/SF) and do some things to make myself feel better.

Friday night I checked into a hotel with my boyfriend. We walked around Jack London square, visited a few bars and stocked up on liquid courage at bevmo. After a few drinks and watching the first half of the movie I.Q. (I was never much for Meg Ryan) I was ready to take the plunge. I brought a head shaver with me on this trip specifically to use and now was the time.

As I stood in front of the mirror I was scared. I was scared because I didn’t yet look “sick” and I didn’t want to after either. I turned it on. It came alive with an abrupt “BUZZ” and hummed slowly and evenly to me. I brought it closer to the left side of my ear and allowed it to eat away at the hair I had there. I looked at it – not so bad. Now it became sort of fun. Now I was taking large swaths of hair and giving myself a mohawk. I even enlisted jeremy to shave the back of my head. When all was finished, It wasn’t so bad

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    The next day I went and got my wig styled and bought some cute berets and scarves to wear. My boyfriend still tells me I’m beautiful and no one knows the wiser when I wear my wig. Now, I just have to think of a faulous drag queen name for my wig head. What do you think?

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I’m voting on Felicia Jollygoodfellow . :)