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How I Masked The Effects Of Chemotherapy At Work

I went through chemotherapy for breast cancer in the Spring through Summer of 2007.  By choice and necessity, I worked during treatment, missing a couple of days here and there for transfusions and the next day weakness. I was very lucky to have been able to continue working, it really helped to keep my mind off of my illness and dwelling about my condition. I told my Bosses about my illness, but needed to keep it a secret from others unfortunately. I learned how to do my makeup and wigs realistically, and used my clothing to hide the weight changes I went through.

I just wanted to encourage others to not feel bad about their appearance during this time –  it is temporary – and to take the time to use makeup and wigs to simply feel better.

Before chemo I had below shoulder length hair, when I found out I would be going through chemo, I immediately cut my hair very short so that the “fall out” would be less shocking. I went to my favorite wig store and got a similar length wig, which I would style with a side ponytail – styling it this way made it seem more real and not “plopped on my head. This wig and my three other styles (I progressively went shorter for the Summer heat) fooled everyone.

Women often came up to me to ask who my hairdresser was, they were serious! Wigs look great because they are straightened or curled perfectly – I used this time to have fun with different styles.

All of my wigs were synthetic so they were reasonable in price and I was able to switch styles and revolve them for cleaning at the wig store.

As for make up, I was finally able to shape my brows in the shape I always wanted because I had none! I drew them on with a pencil, filled in with a powder and stiff angle brush, then fixed them with clear mascara. I used a powder eyeliner close to my bare lash line so no one noticed I had lost my lashes, and omitted a bottom liner – sometimes it smears and makes a raccoon eye, attracting more attention to the area. Powder foundation, a line of bronzer on my cheeks, a sweep of blush over the bronzer and lip gloss and I was ready to go!

Finger and toenails were another battle. Mine became very yellow or brownish red, some even fell off. Of course it was Summer-sandal weather! I kept the nails I had very short, painted them a dark color, even painting the skin where I had lost nails. My hands and feet looked pretty good.

During my treatment, I began to tell more people about what I was going through, but even today, two years later, some are shocked to hear I had cancer! I saw them regularly during my treatment, they hadn’t noticed in my appearance that I was ill.

I know all of this sounds shallow but keeping my appearance up was good for my morale. It is easy to dwell on how horrible you may feel or look when you lose your hair, feel nauseous, etc, so trying to look normal, even having fun with your look really helps. It also helps people around you who know what you are going through. If they see you coping and doing ok, they don’t pity you or feel uncomfortable around you. They are also less afraid of the illness and treatment. I had a few friends who began going to the doctor, getting checkups and mammograms on schedule after seeing me dealing with things. Before, they were actually frightened or nervous to go get checked! I also felt great, thinking that I helped make them realize how important it is for them to take their health seriously.

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