After my last cycle of chemotherapy on August 13, 2013, I felt so accomplished. I was done with what I thought would be the most grueling process of this whole ordeal. But I was wrong. When I lost all of my eye lashes, eyebrows and hair, I could barely recognize myself in the mirror. Or even like the person I saw. Yes, I knew that my hair would eventually grow back and my “beauty” will all return but as I was going through the “regrowth”, I was having trouble accepting my appearance. A big scar replaces the spot where my breast would lay and although I am told it’s as best as a scar can get, it’s a scar that I look at and feel pain. Its a constant reminder of what nearly killed me. With time the fleshy mark will fade and blend in with the rest of my skin.
This post is not about me complaining and being ungrateful for what I have now, my life, this is about the feelings that anyone going through the effects of chemo or surgery can relate to. The pain and the nauseous can all be lessened with medicine. Doctors prescribe pain killers and anti emetics for these symptoms, but what do we have to help us deal with our appearance? Wigs, prosthetics, eye liners, false lashes… These aesthetics can look natural and make yourself and others believe that it’s all yours, hiding the nasty truth of chemo. But you will only fool yourself for a short period of time. After awhile, the wig becomes itchy, the brow/eye liner rubs off when you accidentally rub it, and you’re back at feeling unhappy about your appearance.
I was never ashamed of what I was going through, but at the same time I did not want to go yelling from the roof tops “I’m going through chemo”. When I first started losing my hair, the hair on my head went first. I shaved my head and felt more or less normal. When I started losing my eyelashes and my eye brows, I started feeling more self conscious. At this point, I hated looking at my reflection. I looked like a potato, a naked mole rat.
I would have never thought that I would go through such a hard time about my appearance after chemo. I always imagined that only during treatment would be the hardest. One’s hair falls out and one feels uncomfortable with nausea and pain. Truth is, it’s not over when chemo is over. My hair did not stop falling out until one month after my last cycle. Although the hair on my head stopped falling out, I had patches of hair that would not grow back for almost two months. All my eyebrows and eyelashes fell out by September 14, exactly one month after chemo.
During the day I had no problem with the way I looked, I would always draw on eyebrows and draw on black eye liner to hide the fact that I had no eyelashes. I could wear a wig or scarf to hide my bald head. By the time the evening came around, it was a whole other story. After a long day, the make up would smudge off either from me accidentally rubbing it or just because the makeup wore off itself. Before I went to bed, I always washed off all the make up. And there I was. Bald with no eye lashes and no eyebrows. I couldn’t stand to look at myself. All of my beauty was gone. Before chemo I had beautiful long, thick eyelashes and my eyebrows had a natural form to them. Now all I saw was dark eyeballs and pale skin. There were no features that could enhance my face, I looked like a big blob.
Of course my loved ones told me I was still beautiful and encouraged me that it would all come back, even better. But I was not satisfied. I always thought myself as bing pretty but during this time, I hated my reflection. Needless to say, I could not go about my days pouting about my appearance, so instead I would wear as much makeup as I could and dress nicer in order to feel more pretty. I must admit, it helped a lot.
In early September, about 3 weeks after my last chemo cycle, I went back to Poland to write exams that I had missed for my last semester of Basic Sciences in medical school. This is the first time I would be back and see my classmates and professors since my diagnosis and treatment. I had no eyebrows, no lashes and no hair on my head.
Before leaving for Poland, I had taken my sister’s eyebrow stencil and used that every time I had to draw on my eyebrows. Although the stencil is much easier to use since it makes the same shape, I still would end up drawing them crooked sometimes. Before I started chemo, I bought eyebrows that I could glue onto my head. They looked like real eyebrows, just as real as faux lashes can look. I am not sure if the brows were made of human hair or synthetic hair but they looked really natural.
After passing all my exams, I went on a mini european tour. Still hairless. I drew on my eyebrows everyday, for special occasions I would glue on eyebrows and eyelashes. I wore black eyeliner everyday as well. My eyebrows and lashes did not stat coming in until beginning of October. The hair started coming in light and thin. My bottom lashes are currently longer then my top lashes. My eyebrows are back in action and I can look at myself again in the mirror without feeling ugly.
When I look back to last month, I remember the frustration I felt looking like a potato but I can honestly say that I got my hair back pretty quickly. The hair on my head is back although thin, majority of the bald patches have filled up. Although there was no pill to take to make me appreciate my appearance more, I can say that time was my healer and still is. Time is the best healer in this situation. As more time passes by, my hair will grow longer and my body will go back to normal.
My tips for make up during the hairless phase:
Use black eyeliner on top of the eyelids, and even in the top water line of the eye. I found that it is much easier to draw on eyeliner without lashes because there is nothing getting in the way.
Wear faux lashes. There are different varieties of styles. You can buy natural looking lashes and dramatic. I would play with different styles. If you wear glasses, you don’t them just layer on that black liner.
Draw your eyebrows anyway you like. Go with different styles and play with the look. You can do thick brows, or thin archy brows. This way, when your eyebrows come back in you know what style looked best on you! Faux eyebrows can be found on the web, they’re fairly priced and look great. My biggest concern was them falling off, but this was only when I had worn them for several hours. I would recommend wearing them for a night out, not for a whole work day.
Most important advice: CARRY YOUR THE ADHESIVE WITH YOU EVERYWHERE!!! In case your faux lashes start peeling off or your faux eyebrows. This has happened to me, unfortunately I did not bring my adhesive with me. Luckily my sisters fiance went on a quick run to buy it for me.
With eyeshadows and face, I did not change much. I found that the darker the eyeshadow the more I could get away without wearing faux lashes.