During this National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we're featuring a series of blog posts about Janet Simpson, Vice President of Network Operations for WesleyLife. Janet is being treated for breast cancer, and today, she's offering her take on the offbeat -- even funny! -- components of her cancer journey. "You have to be able to laugh at some of it, or you'd go crazy!" Janet says.
Below, Janet walks us through some of the more unique aspects of cancer treatment and offers advice for others facing similar challenges. The moral of the day, from Janet's perspective? Be grateful for your nose hair.
Surprise #1: Eyebrow wigs.
"Most people have not heard about these! My niece introduced me to them in a way that was completely separate from my cancer. They come in a two-pack and aren’t cheap, and you have to use face adhesive to stick them on. They're pretty realistic! They're also a really good option when your doctor tells you, as mine did, that you can't do anything like permanent makeup or microblading, which puncture the skin -- unless you do those things before chemo starts."
Surprise #2: Wigs for your head: there are SO many options!
"One of the hardest and most personal challenges of chemotherapy is losing your hair. I have always enjoyed having my hairstyle be a part of my personality, and so to see it fall out was really hard to deal with. Mine started to come out slowly, and I kept holding out hope that I was the one person undergoing chemo who was NOT going to lose her hair!
"When it started to happen, my husband helped me shave my head, and we both cried. But you get over it. The less hair you have, the more comfortable your wig is, if you choose to go that route -- wigs can be hot, especially if you wear the head cover that is recommended.
"Wigs are an interesting journey! Finding the right one is not an easy task. There are so many kinds of caps AND wigs, from real-hair ones you can use your normal products on and ones you have to have special stuff for, to ones you can curl and ones that melt if you curl them! Most people want one that looks like their own hair, but that's easier said than done.
"There are local stores with great variety, but you can't try them on. So I turned to Amazon! You have to do some guessing and hoping, as can't tell exactly what color they are, or exactly what the length will be on you. I've ordered probably 20-plus wigs and sent at least 15 back, but the great thing is they are inexpensive, starting at about $12.99 for the synthetic ones. Amazon also sells real-hair wigs, but they are more expensive. There is also a great variety of caps to hold the wig in place.
"I had a lot of fun trying many on and taking pictures! I learned that I should never, ever be a blond, and that I really like long long hair, but also how hard it is to put long, thick hair in a ponytail. I love my ball-cap wig, which has hair attached to the cap -- how great is that? I bought two at $12.99 each; such a deal and what I wear most of the time around the house because my head does get cold!
"On a serious note, Strands of Strength is an amazing organization. They assist with covering the cost of a wig for someone with cancer -- and not just any wig! I was blown away when I walked in to Roslin's on 5th in Valley Junction, expecting to choose from a small rack of pre-selected wigs, but they said, 'Pick any wig you want.' Any wig -- without looking at the prices, which went all the way up to $1,000. What a wonderful experience; I tried on multiple wigs in a private room with the help of someone who makes you feel okay with all the silly questions about cutting it, caring for it, and brushing this new-found friend!
"I also was lucky enough to have a stylist of 18 years, Dawn Frye at Allegory Salon, who helped me get a wig that she had hand-picked for me as she has known me for so long. I cried when I saw it, as she had colored it to my exact color! We also had a wig-cutting party; I brought all my wigs in and she cut them all so they fit my personality and my face."
Surprise #3: Children's toothpaste!
"Who knew that children's toothpaste helps heal the mouth sores that can be a side effect of chemo? The fluoride and alcohol in my normal toothpaste were irritating my mouth, and I read that toddler toothpaste -- which is free of those things -- could help. So, now I enjoy my strawberry and bubble gum-flavored toothpaste, and I found a super-duper cotton-ball-soft toothbrush. I'm not sure my teeth are as clean as they used to be, but they sure feel better and my mouth issues are gone!"
Surprise #4: The "eyes" have it!
"When your eyelashes fall out, magnetic eyelashes work like a charm. And it's great that eyelash extensions are a craze right now! Who would have thought to make magnetic eyeliner and the lashes that attach to it? It's crazy, but it works!"
Surprise #5: Ice mittens? "Yes, ice mittens are a thing! Neuropathy happens to a lot of people taking chemo. It's basically weakness, numbness, and pain from nerve damage, and with chemo, it affects your fingers and toes. The premise is that if you ice your hands and toes before and after treatment, you can help prevent it. So I wear ice mittens and ice socks that my husband helps me put on 20 minutes before my chemo starts, and they have to stay on during treatment. He changes the ice packs as they get warm. For someone who is always cold anyway, this is awful, but after nine chemo sessions, I don’t have any signs of neuropathy -- so I am not stopping now!"
Surprise #6: I've grown close to a group of women I've never met.
"My online support group, the August '21ers, is 10 strong women from all across the country who just happened to be diagnosed with the same triple negative breast cancer around the same time and start chemo in August 2021. We share stories, as we are all going through the same things at the same time. This is the blessing I couldn’t have imagined would be there. We share what's working and what's not, vitamins we've read about, and research that we are learning about. Most of all, we offer support and encouragement for each other on the up days and the down days."
Surprise #7: About that nose hair ...
"Chemo can cause you to lose ALL your hair -- even your nose hair! Now, I don't know about you, but I never thought about my nose hair. But when you lose it, you miss it! Who knew that nose hair plays such an important role. When you don't have it, your nose runs all the time! My friends in the August '21ers and I all joke that we all want stock in tissue companies!"
Surprise #8: There's room for humor on a cancer journey.
"There's nothing funny about cancer or cancer treatment, but my husband and I are able to laugh about things like the nose hair and the ice mittens and my bald head. Laughing reminds me that there is light at the end of the tunnel and it also helps me feel more like myself. In any situation, laughter is great medicine!"
Next week, we’ll talk to Janet about staying mentally and emotionally well during the cancer journey -- and how physical exercise is still an important part of her self-care.