It was a beautiful sunny morning and the only thing I had to do is get dressed and go to the doctors office for a follow up. There was no one I needed to impress at the doctors, no after-doctor parties to attend, no cameras around to document what I looked like and yet I was in a full-scale wardrobe melt down.
I’m not a stranger to this phenomenon. I have spent a larger part of my life, than I want to admit, wailing in front of my wardrobe in the throes of what I call ‘fat attacks’. It is when all my clothes either don’t fit or make me look frumpy, this inevitable leads to a ‘life attack’ where I feel I have failed at everything because I can’t afford cute clothes and I can’t work out enough to look good in what I have. This leads to anger, tears, bargaining and on a good day promises that I will do better in curbing the fat and life failures if I can just find an outfit. On bad days I feel so disgusting I won’t go out in public
Having a fat attack while on chemo is like a fat attack on crack.
I am officially, certifiably, not just in my head but in my waistband fatter that I have ever been. I also don’t have hair. On a tall slender lady that could look exotic, a lean athletic body could that look militarily sporty, on me, I look like a squat little man.
Without a head covering I look ridiculous in girlie clothes like a guy who just stuck on a dress for a halloween costume. If I put on earrings with my bald head I look like a bad bad drag queen. I am scared of wearing mascara in case the action of putting it on makes my eyelashes fall out. I am scared of wearing foundation in case I will sweat it off and make it patchy with my numerous hot flushes. I am frequently nauseous so I don’t want to wear anything that constricts my stomach or frankly anything that is uncomfortable including high heels.
The average woman with breast cancer gains anywhere from 10-20 pounds during treatment. The reasons for the gains are numerous. Each round of my chemo is 2 pounds of liquid being pumped my system. For each cycle I am given steroids to counter the bad effects of the chemo. Steroids encourage weight gain and for me they make me insatiably hungry. The nausea also makes me want to eat, it sounds weird but if feels like as long as food is going down it isn’t coming up. The chemo and subsequent low blood counts also causes extreme fatigue which means less exercise. I try to still walk and do yoga but everything is harder and it isn’t anywhere near my usual level of activity. Plus, and here is where is gets really really fun, the chemo causes menopause. The hot flushes mean I am rarely asleep for more that 2 hours at a time. I haven’t slept a full night in months.
Lack of sleep also causes, you guessed it, weight gain. Plus the menopause is causing my body to think it is shutting up shop on babies so there is no need to look cute to attract someone. I can feel my body start to shift to look like a woman in her 60’s. Dinner lady arms and indistinct hips from stomach here I come.
When you add up all the factors it is actually amazing women only put on 10-20 pounds.
My closet was not designed for headscarves and clothing combos. My outfits were meant for hair. With stupid pieces of cloth on my head I either look like a fish wife, an orthadox jew, an old greek lady in mourning for her dead husband, a middle eastern middle-aged mum out doing her shopping, an alternative white girl trying to look like an African lady and not pulling it off, a pirate, a romanian peasant and if the scarf is too tight I look like a thug in a scull cap. The one thing I can’t look like is me.
I knew a wig would help but on that sunny day with temperatures nearing a 100 degrees combined with my own ‘private summer’ of hot flushes it just wasn’t feasible.
I knew logically that all this is a small price to pay for life, but my hormones, lack of sleep and a lifetime of wanting to look cute and presentable made me feel otherwise. I cried for 3 hours. I threw clothes on, threw them off, picked them up and threw them down. I tried to start with a scarf and match an outfit, then grab an outfit to match with a scarf. My room looked like a stage 5 hurricane had just come through.
I felt like I had just fast forwarded 25 years of my life. There is nothing wrong with being 60 but I don’t want to feel it at 36. I haven’t had time to adjust to feeling older but my body is just racing there on warp speed. I felt old, unattractive and helpless to fight it.
The truth was as much as I wanted to look cute , stretch waisted pants sounded delicious, oversize Chicos flowy blouses would be perfect. Me and my best friend have a pact that if one of us ever shops at Chicos it is all over and the other has to shoot them. I hated myself for feeling that I might just give in and be frumpy. I hated myself for being too fat before this all started and then I just hated myself. I imagined years and years of hating myself of always feeling old and never having sex again, I wondered if the choice of 20 pounds or death was really all that clear.
I was so late for my appointment I had to just grab any body covering garb quickly. I put on the wig, a cleavalicious dress and a big pair of glasses and ran to my doctors. I can usually always girl up and stop crying when absolutely necessary but not on this day. I cried all the way into my appointment, and all the way out of it. I only stopped crying when I ate an amazing vegan french dip sandwich.
I got home, took off my wig and changed into yoga clothes. They have the stretchy comfortable waist, by wearing them there is the promise of impending activity, no make up looks appropriate with it and there is absolutely no need to wear heels.