Thursday, 30 July 2009

Hot Off the Catwalks

From: Iris
To: Canalily
Subject: Chemo Chic

So chic its fabulous as ever you are ahead of the curve

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Look Good, Feel Better

To Harley Street for a make-up workshop. The cosmetics industry has its own cancer charity Look Good, Feel Better. I’m sure that some Fleet Street whizz kid could come up with a snappier title but their intentions are honourable: to give women the wherewithal to look good and hence feel better even though their hair has fallen out, their skin is dry, their nails are brittle, they have acne and they feel sick all the time.

Anne at the Macmillan Centre booked me in a few weeks ago. At the time I hadn’t yet come to appreciate how important the timing of everything is in relation to one’s chemo cycle. It is fortunate that this has worked out well. My next chemo session is tomorrow which means that this is the last day of the cycle. So I feel quite chipper today. A make-up workshop is just what I need to pick me up after this week’s horrible hair trauma.

I am shown into a smart room where a gang of women in varying stages of baldness are seated around a polished mahogany boardroom table. One could be forgiven for assuming that the Addams Family have taken over the management of the HCA Hospital Group.

Helpful assistants show me to my seat at the table and provide me with a sticky name tag and a cup of tea. Conversation around the table is desultory. I get the feeling that most of the women here are not overbrimming with self-confidence. In fact, it is quite possible that they feel ashamed of looking the way they do. I know that I have those feelings. And that’s why we are here.

After attempting to strike up chats with the ladies opposite I busy myself by fiddling with the cotton buds and lip brushes that are laid out in front of us. We are each given a very large goodie bag and admonished not to open it yet. But some of the ladies simply cannot wait.

Stephan bustles in, an immaculately groomed gentleman of a certain age. He is the workshop leader-du-jour. His model arrives. She is pretty with smooth skin. I judge her to be in her late twenties. I guess that she has cancer too. Stephan has a good line in patter and begins to put everyone at ease. I feel the atmosphere in the room relax a notch.

Beginning with cleansing and toning Stephan takes us through the Look Good, Feel Better 12 Step Programme. It is a concept that is strangely familiar to me. Pretty soon we are all laughing and chatting and ripping the cellophane off our free beauty products. I may not necessarily agree with all of Stephan’s methods (too much blusher!) but that is hardly the point. Look Good, Feel Better is about giving women a lift in their darkest days. I leave the building smiling and feeling immensely cheered up.

Things I got for free today:

L’Oreal Re Nourish Cleansing Milk

L’Oreal Re Nourish Velvety Toner

Garnier Clean & Fresh eye make-up remover

Vichy Thermal Fix UV moisturiser

Lancôme Hydra Zen Yeux eye contour gel (always welcome)

No 7 Colour Calming make-up base (the green stuff)

Rimmel Hide the Blemish concealer

L’Oreal Age Re Perfect Vita Collagen foundation (great! I’ve nearly run out of my MAC foundation)

No 7 Perfect Light translucent loose powder

L’Oreal Brow & Duo Eyeshadow (really useful)

Clinique Colour Surge eyeshadow duo

Max Factor Flawless Perfection blush

Yves Saint Laurent Dessin Des Lèvres Lip Liner (I was wanting one of these)

Max Factor Modernist Pink lipstick

Chanel Sensation lipstick

Cover Girl Lash Exact mascara

Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely Eau de Parfum shimmer spray (will make an excellent prize for my charity tombola)

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Losing Hair With Grace and Dignity

If you don’t have a good relationship with your hairdresser, develop one - fast. Otherwise one day your hair might fall out and you’ll find yourself crying in Sainsbury’s car park and you’ll be on your own, baby. Thank God that didn’t happen to me.

My wonderful hairdresser Kell Skott has helped me to get through the horrifying process of losing my hair with grace and dignity.

So, as I’m brushing away the tears and stowing the groceries in the boot of my car the phone rings. It’s Kell. “Can you come in right away?” he asks.

I fire up the Beamer and zip straight round to Golborne Road at top speed – by hair ambulance you might say. Kell gets me a cup of mint tea and one of their world-famous home made chocolate brownies to soothe my nerves.

“Just shave it all off” I instruct him. But Kell has other ideas. Using only scissors and a comb he begins to sculpt this monstrous mess. He clips it all to about an inch long. It’s more baldy on the left hand side than it is on the right. He manipulates the hair so that it is all lying flat and forward and sideways. Sort of a high-art comb-over. He feathers the front into a little fringe. Watching him work is like watching a magician intently conjuring a silk purse from a sow’s ear. When he’s finished it looks sort of like Audrey Tautou 2001 meets Mary Quant 1966. Only shorter than either of them. It’s just so cute.

I want to take a moment here to praise Kell Skott. Today has been without doubt the low point of my life as far as how unattractive I feel. Despite that, Kell made me look great. He opened up his salon early to come to my aid. He didn’t charge me a penny for doing it. In my past life I’ve had the displeasure of the acquaintance of prima-donna hairdressers who wouldn’t deign to pass one a hairpin, let alone deal with one when half one’s hair has fallen out. I mean it can’t be good for business can it? Having a bald woman walk out of your salon.

I have an appointment with Dr Ducker, my wonderful GP. This is a very opportune moment to see her. The last time I met with Suzy Cleator she discerned that I was overly anxious. “It’s not uncommon,” she said, “having chemotherapy is a major crisis in your life.” She suggested I try some anti-anxiety medication.

I felt hesitant about that. I wondered about side effects. I was concerned about how to come off them when this is all over. And wasn’t I taking enough drugs and pills already? I didn’t know if I could cope with another one. “Well, see how you get on,” she said and we left it at that.

Following the big hair fall out I began to revise my position. I explain myself to Dr Ducker: “Well you see I’m having the chemo and I don’t know what I’m going to do about money and I feel sick I can’t sleep and Dr Cleator suggested anti-depressants but I don’t know if I should take them but most of my hair fell out on Sunday and it was such a shock what do you think I should do?”

“Yes,” she says. “Why don’t you try some anti-anxiety medication? I’ll give you the lowest dose.”

My shoulders relax. “And you’re going to need a wig” she adds. My shoulders shoot up towards my ears again. “But how do I get one?” I plead. “I don’t know but I will find out,” she says in a soothing tone. Now that’s the kind of practical help I need.
The Breast Cancer Haven is an oasis of calm friendliness in the daily sandstorm that is breast cancer. It feels safe. They offer a free course of complementary therapies to anyone suffering from breast cancer. I chose shiatsu. It’s a Japanese form of massage that works on the same points as acupuncture but without the scary needles.

Jamie and I arrive early and help ourselves to cups of complementary Organic Honey Mountainbush tea, just the thing to complement the complementary therapy. I compliment myself on my ability to completely fit into the complementary scene. I only wish there was some other word to describe it.

Enough of that. Sarah arrives to show me to her treatment room. I try to imagine Sarah getting het up in a supermarket queue or making a rude finger gesture to a fellow road user as she cuts them up in her BMW. I just can’t do it. She is so calm and beatific. And I’m sure she must ride a bicycle. If that’s what shiatsu does for you, then bring it on I say.

I settle myself face down on the specially designed, ergonomic shiatsu cushions. Sarah begins to press her fingers into my back and then she says softly, “Ok, get up in your own time.” “But we’ve only just started” I think, groggily. Turns out I’ve been asleep for nearly the whole session.

Downstairs, Jamie has also been snoozing on the comfy sofa. The Breast Cancer Haven is one of those places where they make one feel at home.

By the reception desk is a basket full of big jars of Rose With No Clothes Shimmering Body Cream. ‘Kindly donated by Naked, please take one’ says the sign. Fabulous.
In times of trouble I have found it a useful strategy to write a gratitude list. Just five things but they must be a different five things each morning. It’s amazing what a turnaround in one’s perspective this simple strategy can affect in just seven days. Only it doesn’t seem to be working at the moment. “I’m grateful for the sky,” and “I’m grateful that I don’t have cancer in the other breast,” “I’m grateful that we live in a land where there is social security, even if they make it so bizarrely complicated that one might think that they’re hoping that one might die before they send one any money.” Oh do bugger off.

But I’ve come up with a more pragmatic approach that may help: ‘Things I Got for Free Today’.

From: Canalily
To: Ben
Subject: The best things in life are free
Things I've had for free today:
A free haircut
Free consultation with my GP
Free prescriptions
A free jar of body lotion
Free shiatsu treatment
A free lift to the breast cancer Haven
2 free iPhone apps
still to come...
free dinner at Jamie’s place
What an abundant world!
Lily xx
It’s Jamie’s birthday. It’s my first time going out with almost no hair. The trick to working the Chemo Chic look is to wear the hugest most glittering earrings and the reddest lipstick one can get a hold of.

I don’t mind showing my friends my new coiffe but I’m hesitant to let the neighbours see me like this. What’s that all about? You may well ask. I’m not sure I know. Am I ashamed? Or do I not want my neighbours to pity me? Am I afraid of appearing weak? I can’t put my finger on it but I think you might feel the same way in this situation. I grab one of the new crocheted cloches before I walk out the door.

Jamie comes to pick me up. He's just been so generous and thoughtful with all the lifts to and fro. Back round at Mayhem Mansions in Marylebone the usual bedlam is in progress. The two Chihuahuas – Iris’s Chilli and Jamie’s Hugo – attempt to refuse me entry with frenzied yapping. Valentina wiggles about in tight Lycra, batting her eyelids and calling everybody ‘Dahlink’. Muttiah, recently sprung from the nut house, swans in and out of the kitchen dressed in a Sari. Sheldon arrives looking very Gonzo in his sport’s shirt and flat cap.

I remove my hat and sit back to gauge the effect. “Oh, it looks really cute” they say and “lovely” and so on. About ten minutes later I join Iris on the balcony. “I think I’m pleased with it,” I say “only I’m worried that it’s quite bald on the crown.” “It doesn’t matter,” she replies, “you’re so tall nobody can see it.” That’s it. I jam the hat back on.

Dinner is the most delightful free-for-all. For the first course, Valentina has bough about £100 worth of supermarket sushi. It ranks high amongst the worst sushi I have ever eaten. The next course is a delicious French salad that Iris has made. Next up is a selection of Middle Eastern starters: Baba Ganoush, Hummous and Tabbouleh, made by Valentina, also delicious. There follows a spicy Malaysian fish and potato curry with Paratha bread that Muttiah has whipped up. The crowning glory of the meal is undoubtedly Ted’s black forest cake with blackberries and fresh cream. I have never had a cake so meltingly soft and chocolaty on the inside yet nicely crisp on the outside, so wonderfully balanced in flavour between the sweet, the sharp and the creamy. It is a triumph, a symphony and a magnum opus of a cake.
Today has been quite eventful enough. Good night.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Bad Timing

My hair is awful. I look like I’ve just escaped from Abu Ghraib prison. It will all have to go now. I call my hairdresser. “This is Kell Skott Salon. We are closed for essential maintenance work today. The salon will re-open tomorrow. Please leave a message.”

The one day of my life that I have a genuine hairdressing emergency turns out to be the one day of the year that my hairdresser’s has a refit.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

New Hats

I’m meeting Iris to see ‘Coco Before Chanel’ at the Electric Cinema. I arrive a bit early and notice that Appletree is open. This shop is a little treasure trove of quirky, funky and inexpensive dresses, bags, belts, brollies and hats. I slip in to see if they have any affordably fabulous headgear. They do – lovely crocheted cotton cloches for £12 each. I take three: one in olive green, one in cornflower blue and one in sunflower yellow.

Iris catches me coming out of the shop. I confess to her about this morning’s big hair fallout. For some reason it feels like a horrible secret. Iris looks at me with genuine sympathy. “That’s just crap” she says.

All My Hair Just Came Out in My Hands

My head was so itchy this morning I decided to wash my hair. I lathered it up and as I rinsed it through, it all just started to come away in big clumps. So there I was, sitting in the bath with half my hair in my hands, like a mop.

Nothing anyone said could have prepared me for that.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

A Touching and Generous Gift

My cousin Gaby had / has (I’m not sure of the correct tense in this case) a good friend, Marianne. Marianne’s mother and sister both died from cancer. Marianne nursed each of them in turn. When Gaby fell ill, Marianne flew from America to nurse her too. Marianne was with Gaby on the day she died.

I saw Marianne at Gaby’s memorial service only six weeks ago. I was wearing a vintage 1970’s pendant in the shape of an owl. Marianne remarked on the pendant: “That’s great. My grandmother used to wear jewellery like that. She left me some pieces in her will.”

This morning a package arrived from the USA. Inside were two of Marianne’s grandmother’s pendants, one in the shape of an owl and the other in the shape of a tortoise.