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The Power of a Pink Pom-Pom

Funny how life has a way of connecting complete strangers and transforming this connection into so much more! A few days following her guest talk at the Rose of Hope luncheon supporting the Norma Pfreim Cancer Center in Fairefield, Connecticut, One Wig Stand’s founder and managing director Loryne Atoui-Laham had the chance to bump into Alexandra Wallace-Currie of The Pink Pom-Pom Project at a local design fair (who it turned out had been at the luncheon a few days earlier and heard about our organization). The name alone is enough to draw you in, but wait till you hear how this charity is empowering (and keeping stylishly cozy) cancer patients within Fairfield and beyond:

  1. What inspired you to start “The Pink Pom-Pom Project” and where did the catchy name originate from?

I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer in October 2010 in London, UK. After the initial shock, horror and reality of my situation, I had to be a realist and get back to being a Mommy first. My kids were young and did not understand, let alone would not stand for mommy sitting or laying around the house. As cancer treatment goes, my chemotherapy sessions quickly started after surgery in November. My hair began to fall out in clumps everywhere I went: in the mall, in the shower – it was disheartening however, I had my three kids to look forward to, especially their beautiful smiles! Chemotherapy is not doubt horrible and sitting alone in the sessions is even worse. I am an eternal optimist and always try the find the good in every situation. So I would walk around the clinic trying to talk to people, but none were interested. I was so bored even catching up on sleep was boring! So I started to blog and knit hats and scarves for other cancer survivors.

One chilly afternoon in London and in my cozy room after chemo, I began to shiver. Women do not realize when your hair is gone, life can be freezing! So I started knitting a hat for myself.

“The Pink Pom-Pom Project” was named after I had knitted my own ‘floppy cancer hat’ and popped a huge pink pom-pom on top. My girls came into the room and cheered when they saw it. I asked if they would like to learn how to knit to help make hats and scarves for others. They both agreed and asked if we could call it “The Pink Pom-Pom”, I added the “Project” and three weeks later we were applying for a trademark!

Alexandra wearing the Pom-Pom that inspired her to launch this initiative. Image Source: The Pink Pom-Pom Project

Alexandra wearing the Pom-Pom that inspired her to launch this initiative. Image Source: The Pink Pom-Pom Project

I’ll say the PPPP came in the nick of time because my cancer treatment was a rough one. I had been hospitalized four separate times, other than surgeries even on Christmas morning and Valentine’s Day! We started the PPPP in London and we moved to the United States in December 2011. I opened my first physical shop in February 2012 and started our very first “Stitch & B*tch” group soon-after. These sessions take place every week on Monday and Thursdays. We try to help every woman we can in any way during cancer treatment and afterwards by providing art classes as a means of emotional therapy. In two and half years, we have connected with seven different organizations through Fairfield County and work with cancer survivors and inner-city youth. We teach arts and crafts and life skills, i.e. knitting and sewing to children ages 7 years+.

  1. What are the benefits of crafting for patients undergoing cancer treatment, or for cancer survivors, and what’s it like at one of your “Stitch & B*tch” groups?

When I was undergoing treatment – and I had mentioned before how boring chemotherapy can be – arts and crafts got my mind off my current situation. It helped me escape into a world of creativity.

xx

Everyone hard at work during a stitching session. Image Source: The Pink Pom-Pom Project

It was especially fun because between chemo sessions I would hold “Stitch & B*tch” parties at my home. We spread to crafting because a lot of people did not know how to knit. And I always provide instruction at all group sessions in case any one wants to learn, or has any issues. “Stich & B*tch* is fun and productive. We’ve also started introducing other projects, like lavender sachets as sleep aids and small quilts.

When women in need get together, it’s amazing how powerful just talking and sharing can be. Especially to someone who may have trouble expressing themselves or who is completely overwhelmed with fear by this disease.

  1. Your shop, “A Little Square” in Fairfield, plays a direct role in helping support “The Pink Pom-Pom Project”. Where do these two ventures overlap and how are they different?

”A Little Square” was started in London when I arrived pregnant with my second child. It was first a hobby. I would import hand-painted baby clothing and accessories by my twin sister, Shepherd. There were no cute preppy Americana gifts and baby stuff that was affordable for everyone to enjoy. Everything was too expensive, especially when you have to purchase ten gifts for all your new mommy friends! “A Little Square” has been in business since 2005 and was mainly a home-run/trunk show business for the first year. It then expanded to gift shows and became known as the Americana Chic Gift store – apparently I found a niche and it was fun while it lasted!

Now “A Little Square” serves an even bigger and better purpose. It currently underwrites “The Pink Pom-Pom Project” and provides supplies, materials, equipment, and instruction to the groups we work with all for free.

The PPPP prides itself on providing the same classes to under-privileged children. One of its many mottos is ‘Why take a child to K-Mart when you can take them all to Coco Chanel’ – the playing fields should be the same!

When you shop at “A Little Square” you are directly giving back to the local community. It’s a ying-and-yang kind of charity!

  1. The headscarves you make are not only beautiful with uplifting colors, but also very practical and comfy. How did you draw on your own experience to design them and what other items have you designed for patients?

I grew up in the 70’s and my mother’s hair started thinning after having six kids. So she made this amazing scarf that she would wear almost every day of the summer.

The design of our scarf is completely based off her own design with extra padding in front to give the illusion of ‘hair’ for patients. The crown part is slightly poofier too because when you are undergoing Chemotherapy, although you may be cold or hot, the skin on your head must breathe.

Because in spring it’s too hot to wear hats and beanies, we patterned our scarf in bright-colored fabrics designed by very talented textile designers, like Amy Butler, Heather Bailey, Kaffee Fassett and many more. PPPPImage_CraftSession1 In terms of designing other products, we make other things like Lavender Sachets, Prayer Shawls, Hats and Scarves, PPPP Pillows and now, thin Cotton Quilts for Chemotherapy.

  1. How many women do you work with/have you worked with on making these headscarves (and other products for patients) and what are some of the reactions of the patients who’ve received these lovingly-made gifts?

I would say from the time we started The PPPP crafting parties in 2011, easily 400+ people. We not only work with women undergoing treatment, but their families participate as well. We also work with The Girl Scouts of CT. We schedule GS Troops, many groups come between 13-20 kids, and they make Lavender Sachets for cancer survivors [to aid in sleep]. We also ask the children from our community centers to help make the Lavender Sachets.

My favorite part is the reactions from everyone involved. From the moment we start a project, I explain to groups about our charity and why they come together. When everyone understands the project, the excitement builds and goods get made faster! It’s really sweet.

We have a program called The Volunteer Of The Year (V.O.T.Y.) Quilt, which is made exclusively by cancer survivors for a dedicated volunteer in a cancer clinic. Their reactions are priceless because they never expect anything back!

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Volunteers hard at work knitting to support cancer patients. Image Source: The Pink Pom-Pom Project

  1. You founded “The Pink Pom-Pom Project” while living in London and now you’ve expanded your reach to the U.S.A. Where do you see the charity heading next and what exciting projects can we expect in the future?

Well, that is a good question!

Because 1 in 3 will get cancer in the US, it is imperative we reach out into other communities and establish the PPPP as an optional therapy tool. I have always thought franchising was a possibility. I have been asked by other hospitals to come and share, that is on the agenda!

However, for the remainder of 2015, we have a very exciting project that will take The PPPP into a whole new direction. We are sponsoring Art Rooms within the inner-city youth community centers we teach at. Our very first Art Room will be at The Cardinal Shehan Center in Bridgeport. We will be redesigning their space, providing new options for art, especially offering Sewing Classes as an important life skill. Their current room is a little out-dated and needs a new bright look to encourage creativity. We are really looking forward to it!

  1. “The Pink Pom-Pom Project” donated more than 25 headscarves to our organization last month (June 2015) to be passed on to patients in Lebanon. We are beyond touched by this very kind and generous gesture. What message do you hope to send across to the patients who’ll be receiving them?
Our wig stand modeling the beautiful headscarves donated to our patients by The Pink Pom-Pom Project. Doesn't she look fabulous? Image Source: The Pink Pom-Pom Project

Our wig stand modeling the gorgeous headscarves donated to our patients by “The Pink Pom-Pom Project”. Doesn’t she look fabulous? Photographs by: Sally Mansour

There was an angel in my mist after I was diagnosed. After the initial diagnosis, I was in shock but I did not want to strike fear in anyone else. I could not walk, my legs would not support me. I was devastated and could not see the future, I could not see my life, I could not see my children. While I waited for the final results, a young woman walked in to the room I was waiting in. She was not a counselor or a Doctor: she was a Secretary in the Accounting Department. She said these two magical words to me “Six Years”. For a moment, I did not understand what she said. I assumed after diagnosis I was headed for the crematorium: life was over for me.

“Six Years I have survived from Stage 3 Breast Cancer. I am 27-years-old and know I have a future ahead of me,” she said. “You can do this my friend.”

So I stood up, wiped my face and tears away and said she was right. The fear subsided for the moment and I walked out of the clinic with a whole new perspective on life.

That young woman saved my life. Cancer saved my life as I watched the days drift away with frivolous activities that meant nothing to me or anyone else. Now I look at everything and live every day to the fullest. I pay it forward by working with people who need help.

This is my therapy and I hope you can help someone else in their journey back to health. others in their journey back to health. I would encourage women to make things for newly-diagnosed women because it would really help lift them up during this phase. Thank you and God Bless!

We’d like to take this chance to thank Alexandra, her team and everyone who’s worked on the headscarves through The Pink Pom-Pom Project for donating these gorgeous headscarves to our organization. The patients that have started receiving them as a result of this kind gesture absolutely love them!

Find out more about The Pink Pom-Pom Project:

* Feeling inspired to do something to help patients here too, but don’t know what yet? Or maybe you already have an idea but don’t know how to make it a reality? Get in touch with us and we’ll find a way!

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Flashback. Then Forward.

Written by Lara Safar

Today 4 years ago, I learned something that changed my life forever.
Today 4 years ago, I had discovered a piece of me I never knew existed.
Today 4 years ago, I said shit and actually felt it.
Today 4 years ago, I understood how unknown the future is.
Today 4 years ago, I had to break the heart of the people I love most.
Today 4 years ago, I cried my balls out.

But all that was 4 years ago. It was when I thought that that piece of me was toxic.
When actually – that little piece (little but powerful piece) made me taste survival. It also presented me to everything I love today.

So today I’m thankful.
Today I’m hopeful.
Today is a new day. And I hope many more of those will keep comin’.
And today – I call every woman out there to listen to her body if it ever cries, to always have hope, and most importantly, to keep that killer smile.
Because damn what a killer that smile is.

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The Un-accidental Accident

Written by Jennifer Kanaan

When I first decided to write this, I thought I would know exactly what I wanted to say, but it turned out, I didn’t. It has taken me a couple of trials to get it out on virtual paper but I kept trying because it is important for me that my message reaches the people who may need it most.

The story I would like to share with you started about two years ago when I had a terrible karting accident in the Netherlands.

Although the accident itself was minor and I was able to walk out of the car, I felt a pain in my ankle. I didn’t want to go to the hospital at first but friends and colleagues insisted to be on the safe side. I entered the ER and did not leave the hospital for the next 10 weeks.

Jennifer before the accident that would change her life.

Jennifer before the accident that would change her life.

The accident had resulted in a ruptured pancreas and a broken ankle. Although I was in indescribable pain, I had no idea (at the time) of the severity of the injuries I had encountered.

As I learned more about the impact of these injuries, I began falling deeper and deeper into an unwillingness to fight for my life.

I was really struggling to accept what was happening to me and kept asking myself: how did I end up here? what did I do to deserve this? This made me very angry – and mostly, at myself! It was so much harder for the doctors and everyone else around me to help me when I felt this way. After all, how could they help me if I was unwilling to help myself?

Accepting and getting over that anger was the first and most important step towards my recovery. The sooner you do that, the sooner you start allowing the treatment (any type of treatment) to work.

After two months of excruciating pain and many repeated medical procedures, I decided to return home (to Lebanon) with the idea that being surrounded by friends and family would help me want to get better. And that slowly worked out.

The next major step in the recovery process was accepting that I had to go through surgery. The type of injury I had was rare and the type of surgery that would help save me was even rarer. The surgery had to be performed by an experienced surgeon and under the most calculated conditions otherwise I could very easily end up with diabetes at the young age of 25.

Being home was helping me heal. I was getting much better than when I had been in the hospital in the Netherlands, to the point where I was told to start preparing for the surgery (mentally and otherwise).

And because I was not mentally-ready for this, I desperately wanted to find a non-surgical solution, which is why I sought out the best gastroenterologist in the country. However, by the time I got to his office, I was screaming of pain. I couldn’t even stand up anymore. After a few exams, we unfortunately discovered that my health status was back at square one. It was as if nothing had changed since I was being treated in the Netherlands. I had to be hospitalized, again.

I did not believe how strongly you could affect your own health until that moment.

For some reason, I did not want to get better and when they told me that I was finally medically ready for surgery, I subconsciously allowed my health to regress in order to simply avoid it.

Nothing happens by accident, not even accidents. They are there for you to learn what you need to from them and move on. They will keep on happening until you do.

I obviously needed to learn another lesson at this stage to be able to move on, and that lesson was that your mind can affect your body in ways you wouldn’t think possible. I generally fear change and believe it or not, I found a certain comfort in being sick and stuck in the hospital. My fear of getting back to a normal life made me realize that I was avoiding getting better because that would mean back to independence and responsibility – and that was scaring me.

The moment I was hospitalized this time, I had to stop eating food in order to allow my pancreas to rest. And this, under my doctor’s orders, was until further notice or until I was ready for surgery. Out of everything I had gone through up until then, that was the hardest thing I had to do. There I was: in pain gain, stuck in the hospital, and to top it off, not even allowed to eat!

At this point, you might be asking yourself: why is this article being posted on a cancer support blog?

Well, because besides the steps towards recovery being similar for anyone going through a traumatizing experience, a few of the experiences I went through actually helped me relate to some of the challenges cancer patients face.

The three months I had to spend without eating and taking nutrition from a bag took their toll on me. Needless to say, I was losing weight dramatically and my hair with it. Slowly, I started cutting my hair shorter and shorter until even the water drainage pipes at home got clogged. Just running my hand through my hair, I would wind up with a huge clump of hair within my fingers.

It was getting exhausting to do any kind of activity and I was starting to see my bones. At this point, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain so I decided to do what I never would have thought of doing: shaving my head.

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The photograph Jennifer shared on Facebook after shaving her head.

For the first couple of days, I felt judgment in the eyes of others. Those who didn’t know me (or what I had gone through), thought I had cancer and were staring at me with pity. I would only leave the house to go to the hospital, but even there, people would look at you, making you feel empty of anything except the “disease” you were carrying.

I was feeling it, even though I did not have cancer.

At first, I opted to cover my shaved head until my friends convinced me that I actually looked good like that. To show my revolt against people’s judgement, I took a picture of myself and uploaded it onto Facebook.

The support I received from my friends was really heart-warming. From this point forward, I walked with pride – even along the corridors of the many hospitals I had to visit when I began looking for a surgeon qualified, decent and honest enough to operate on me. I was ready to go through with it.

I ended up getting the surgery done soon-after and I am now in much, much better health – even better than before the accident!

Jennifer boldly embracing her new look.

Jennifer boldly embracing her new look.

A very important part of the story, which I forgot to mention earlier, was what finally motivated me to get better and fight for my life: at the beginning of this experience, I saw the whole accident as a dark period in my life that was not going to get any better. I was convinced that everything in this world was evil and that there was no reason to put any hope in the goodness of mankind.. until I met a doctor who had faith in me and who also put up with my depression and mood changes. He was, and still is, one of the most humane, honest and dedicated persons I have ever met.

That was the moment I regained hope in humanity.

He prepared me for the surgery I was so-dreading, stood by me and walked all the way with me until he was sure I had the best possible surgery outcome.

Now, two years after the accident and one year after surgery, I thank god for making me go through this experience as it has changed me in so many ways and helped me know myself better. I am a much better person because of this and this is the only way you should see any negative experiences in your life.

Celebrating one year since surgery - she did it!

Celebrating one year since the surgery – she did it!

For someone who had no idea what she wanted to write, I think I have said enough and hope these messages stay with you. Let go of anger and fear, accept the pain as it is the only way for you to release it and, most importantly, forgive yourself because this is the only way to heal – both mentally and physically.

Jennifer now works as a Social Media Specialist in Beirut and blogs regularly about Nutrition and Holistic Health on New Trends in Nutrition. Follow her on Facebook too.

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Lara’s Story: Two Years Later

We first interviewed Lara two years ago but even with the time that’s passed since, her story continues to inspire until today – as has been proven with the tremendous response her post has garnered in the past week when we re-shared the original post. And it comes at a perfectly-fitting time with breast cancer month in full swing and the need for the right awareness ever-present. Nothing gets the message across better than hearing it from someone who has not only fought but beat cancer because of early detection.

For those of you who have been closely following Lara’s story and are wondering how she’s doing today, we did the following interview to share with you the latest chapter in her ever-inspiring story. Life may be going one way once you’ve just completed treatment, but how much (or little) do things change when one year, two years, or more have passed?

To get more insight on this subject, we posed a few questions to this very inspirational survivor and here’s what she had to say:

1. In our first interview, you introduced yourself as Lara, the “twenty-seven-year-old breast cancer survivor”. How has this introduction evolved since and how do you introduce yourself today?

I was chatting with a friend of mine last week about someone who recently got diagnosed with breast cancer – and for a moment I had completely forgotten that I had undergone the same thing!

I think our mind is programmed in a way to keep us going without looking behind – except when we purposely choose to.

2. Has the experience left any physical scars?

I have a couple but they are barely noticeable thanks to my genius doctor, whom I love!

Other than that, does a tattoo count?

I was once labeled as a girl who had cancer. Now, I am labeled as a survivor – literally.

Lara's tattoo

3. More than 5K views and 1.6K likes later: your post on our website has undoubtedly reached a wide audience and touched many. How did people, in general, react to your story (especially those who didn’t know it before) and are there any notable responses that were shared as a result of the post?

I’ve received lots of messages from friends and random people admiring my courage and stating I was an inspiration; all of which delighted me. However, my aim is to raise awareness and encourage women to get examined. I guess I’ll never know for sure whether they’re doing it or not, but I’d like to think they are.

4. How would you describe life post-cancer? Any self-discoveries along the way since our last chat?

In the previous interview two years ago, I had mentioned how I am still very much the same person: still the same friends and still enjoying the same things in life. This still stands. And all those stories you hear or read about how someone had completely metamorphosed are either fictional or perhaps I am just odd. I hope it isn’t the latter!

I must say, though, that today my appetite towards discovering new things has definitely multiplied; simple pleasures can make me euphoric.

Oh – and one thing that has constantly been changing in the past three years is my hairstyle.

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5. Speaking of which: has your hair grown back to the way it used to be before chemotherapy? What’s happened to your wig since?

When I had very long hair, I used to threaten hairdressers not to cut more than a centimeter or so. Now I can’t stay away from my adored hairdresser for more than a month.

Only recently have I been growing it back a little but every time I come across a woman with short hair, my heart goes “boom!”: it’s bold, it’s got attitude – it’s different.

Concerning my wig, it’s in the same place it has been since my bald days: deep down in the closet – speaking of which, I’d like to donate it to a cancer patient who will actually wear it!

6. We can’t help but smile each time we look at your “Finish Line” photograph in our previous interview. Do you do anything special to celebrate each year since completing your treatment?

The ultimate celebration will happen once they find a cure. There are so many women out there fighting breast cancer, so we haven’t won the war yet. However, we’re winning many battles thanks to early detection.

I’d like to quote my dear brother here:

“Every milestone is a celebration. Every survivor is a celebration of life. It springs hope in people and inspires them to remain positive and be mentally ready to challenge and beat cancer. We always have to celebrate our small wins in everything we do. This leads the path to bigger celebration – which in this case is cure.”

7. One of the biggest fears women who’ve undergone cancer treatment share is a fear of recurrence. Does that fear diminish as the years pass and what are your particular thoughts on this?

I don’t really think about it unless I’m prompted. There’s no point in living in anxiety and fear of something that’s uncertain: it just drains all your energy and for nothing! This applies to everything in life, not just health.

Hopefully it will never come back, but if it does, I now know the drill and I will do my utmost best to kick its ass the same way I did before.. if not stronger!

8. What does the month of October mean to you as a survivor?

I love it when in October I see random people wearing the pink ribbon, shops changing their window display to pink or nail bars promoting their pink range. It’s just so cool!

But at the same time, I hope awareness is being raised through all of this and that it’s not just for show. I also hope that awareness is not just brought up during this particular month but rather continued all year long.

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9. Is there any advice you’d like to share with other women reading this?

For starters, stop postponing your routine medical check-ups.

Yes, we all dislike wasting those two hours at the doctor’s waiting area but what are two hours compared to hundreds of hours spent in chemotherapy sessions, radiation therapy, surgery, bed rest.. You get the picture.

Even more so: those two hours could extend someone’s lifetime so please go waste them – and with a smile.

And take your mama with ya!

10. We would like to end our interview with a similar question to that with which we closed our first interview: What kind of breast cancer work and/or awareness would you like to see more of in the region?

Currently, most awareness campaigns are targeted towards women above a certain age. They are often lunches for socialites where large donations are expected, where awareness is disseminated in an old-fashioned way, etc. So what I’d love to witness is more striking campaigns and events targeting the younger generation who seem to believe they are not at risk.

Ideally, awareness campaigns that are able to convert into results whereby each and every woman gets a check-up and help us really fight the war against breast cancer.

So whomever wants to join forces, please raise your hand!

LaraTwoYearsLater-04* All photographs in this interview are provided courtesy of Lara.

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Hope Not Fear: Finding the Silver Lining

Most women dread losing their hair and having to wear a wig during their treatment. It’s really hard to accept losing such an integral part of your appearance and femininity – even if temporary. An added concern is how others will perceive that hair loss and treat you as a result of it. To add a fresh perspective to this important and sensitive subject, we conducted an interview with Cheri who we first met a few days.

What stood us for us immediately upon meeting Cheri is her refreshing attitude to wearing wigs, adding her own creative approach to making the experience more fun in light of a difficult situation. She shares all about her diagnosis, the daily ups and the downs, on her blog “Hope Not Fear“.

A strong woman worth getting to know a little further, here’s our interview with Cheri and we hope it inspires you as much as it inspired us:

  • Tell us a little a bit about yourself and your blog.

My name is Cheri Lewis. I am 38 years old and I live on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. I am happily married to an amazing, supportive man. We have no children, but we have 2 dogs (who are like my children).

In July 2012, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I created my blog “Hope Not Fear” to keep my friends and family updated on my journey. It’s been a way to share with the world all the good and the bad. It allows me to express how I’m feeling throughout my fight. I hope that by sharing my journey, I can help others fighting their own battles find hope, stay positive and realize they are not alone in this.

  • How did you react when you were first diagnosed with breast cancer?

When I was 20 years old, the University of British Columbia approached my family to do some genetic research on our blood line because my family has had a large number of breast and ovarian cancer cases (going back generations). They ended up finding a mutated gene in our blood line: the BRCA gene. This was an amazing discovery as now women all over the world can get tested for this gene to know how high a risk they have in getting breast and/or ovarian cancer.

I tested positive for both BRCA 1 & 2 –  which is breast and ovarian. I had the option of removing my breasts and ovaries at that time but as I was only 21 years old, I wasn’t ready to make that kind of decision. I was screened every 6 months through mammograms and MRIs after that.

Although I knew for several years that I had an increased likelihood of getting cancer, nothing could quite prepare me for the day my doctor informed me that I had breast cancer.

I stayed composed at first (perhaps it hadn’t really set in) and asked lots of questions: “What was our next step?” “How far had it progressed?” etc. It wasn’t until my sister hugged me that I broke down in tears.

The weeks and months that followed seemed unreal. I was mostly in a daze. The scariest part for me was when I had my first appointment with my chemotherapy oncologist. After discussing my options, he started explaining survival rates. The numbers and reality of the situation really hit home that day. This shocked and scared me because not once before did I think I wouldn’t survive this. But I will survive this.

Cheri meeting with surgeons following her diagnosis (Image Source: Hope Not Fear)

Cheri meeting with surgeons following her breast cancer diagnosis (Image Source: Hope Not Fear)

I choose to stay positive. I really believe that positivity and hope cures all. If your thoughts are negative, your body will not respond as well to treatment. I was given this life because I am strong enough to live it!

  • For many women, a big fear upon hearing that they have to do undergo chemotherapy is the impending hair loss. Was that of particular concern to you?

Yes – I think it is a HUGE concern for every woman.

It seems silly that hair would be the biggest concern. They inform you of the many other scary side-effects, like sores in the mouth, menopause, finger nails lifting-off (the list goes on and on), but the one that sucks the most is the hair loss.

Many people have said to me “It’s just hair, no big deal…” – I don’t see them shaving their heads. They also say “It’ll grow back” – yes, eventually it will but going through all the emotional turmoil that comes with being diagnosed with cancer and then having that somewhat-alien reflection in the mirror reminding you everyday [that you’re sick] is very challenging.

For men, it is also different. Many men live daily with a shaved or bald head. They wouldn’t really get looked twice, but when people see a bald woman, they instantly see a cancer patient and I don’t like the look of pity in their eyes.

Don’t pity me: I am a warrior and shaving my head was just a part of preparing for battle.

  • Have you been able to go bald in public since starting treatment?

Only my close friends and family have seen me bald. At home, I don’t wear a wig or scarf, but if someone I don’t know that well comes over, I will throw something on my head. It’s more for them not to feel awkward than for me.

A few days after I’d shaved my head and completed my second chemo treatment, I went out to lunch with my sister. I hadn’t purchased any wigs yet and was just wearing a toque. Then, we started talking about exposing my bald, pale, shiny head to the whole restaurant. We giggled about it but I got so nervous!

It was funny how I could be brave enough to battle cancer but too afraid to show my bald head to strangers in public.

After a few more silly, nervous giggles and a few deep breaths, my sister counted to three and I removed my toque. I sat through my entire lunch bald. I felt more empowered than ever that day because I had conquered a fear. I felt that I can really do anything!

  •  You recently shared photographs of yourself with the different wigs that you’re wearing during this period, each reflecting a different side of your personality (or so we presumed). How did you choose these wigs and how many do you currently own?

At first, I purchased two high-quality wigs from a local wig shop. I wanted some expert advice on fit, comfort and to have different options to choose from. “Ginger” is synthetic; what you see is what you get. She cannot be styled. I chose her because of the fun color.

All the other wig options in the shop were pretty “safe” styles, and in my perspective, boring (I have always had fun with my hair). “Mary-Anne” was my splurge – she wasn’t cheap. She is 100% real human hair. I can wash, curl, flat-iron, cut and color it – anything I could do if I still had my own hair.

I purchased four more wigs online from Hair Sisters. This was the only website I found with some fun, funky-styled wigs that were also very reasonably-priced. I wasn’t sure how “real” these wigs would look as they are synthetic and sometimes synthetic hair can be very shiny (plastic-looking). Even if they look a little more “fake” than my more expensive wigs, they are fun with wild colors so that’s fine.

I have many options now. If you could see my closet and my huge selection of shoes, you would understand my need for more than a few hair choices.

Source: Hope Not Fear

Some of Cheri’s wigs and their personas (Image Source: Hope Not Fear)

Anything that can bring excitement and fun to a scary situation is worth it.

Rather than be sad about facing my day in public, I get to have some fun deciding which “personality” I wish to wear that day. Each wig is a personality and a piece of my own personality.

  • Which one’s your favorite? And why?

Mmm… I’m not sure. I really like them all!

I would have to say it’s a tie between “Ginger” and “Mona”. My friends and family love “Ginger” the most. They request I wear her the most but sometimes she is a hassle as her hair is pretty long and tends to get tangled up. On the other hand, “Mona” is a super-short style so she’s very easy to wear and never gets in the way. I can wear big scarves around my neck without having it compete with the hair.

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Cheri, second from the left, is wearing “Ginger” here (Image Source: Hope Not Fear)

I have had random strangers compliment me on these two wigs, asking who my hairdresser is because they love the cut and color. I have them all fooled!

  • How do you decide which one you’ll wear each day?

Having so many choices is sometimes a bad thing. It makes it harder to decide.

Sometimes it depends on the weather conditions: wind and rain can reek havoc on certain wigs. It also depends on my outfit for the day, where I’m going and what I’m doing. For example, “Ginger” being the fun red color that she is, can clash with certain outfits. If I am hosting a dinner, I stick to my shorter styles as I don’t want to have a fire hazard attached to my head.

  • Has taking this approach helped you cope better with the physical side-effects of chemotherapy and the way you look? 

Yes, as I mentioned earlier, anything that makes you feel better when going through so much is definitely worth it. You can be seen in public and not get pitied just because you’re a cancer patient.

It’s also exciting to choose a style for each day.

Getting complimented on your “hair” is therapeutic in a strange way.

  • Would you encourage other women to do the same? And why?

Definitely if it helps them feel better but to each her own. Some women embrace “the bald” and feel powerful – like that day I went bald in the restaurant. I felt powerful too, but for me, that was more of a hurdle to cross. I may do it again one day.

In my case, feeling a little more “normal” on the outside makes me feel a little more “normal” on the inside too.

With my body going through so much because of the chemo, something as seemingly “trivial” or “vain” (to some) as hair, can be uplifting and fun, improving a crappy situation. When faced with a life-changing hurdle, try to make the best of it by finding a silver lining.

  • What advice would you give to a fellow breast cancer patient reading this?

My biggest advice is to choose hope, not fear.

Cheri's motto in her fight against breast cancer (Image Source: Hope Not Fear)

Cheri’s motto in her fight against breast cancer (Image Source: Hope Not Fear)

Being afraid is, of course, a natural first reaction. I have been there too, but fear is a cancer in and of itself. Being sad and afraid will not help you heal. At the same time, it is also o.k. to be angry sometimes and to have bad days but always remember that life is to short to wallow in sadness.

As horrible as cancer is, it has had a positive impact on my life. In the last few months, I have discovered more about myself than I ever thought I could. I don’t sweat the small things anymore. I now appreciate the little life experiences that I may have overlooked before. I am very thankful for myself, my strength and positivity.

My relationship with my husband has also grown much stronger than ever and I’m overwhelmed by the support of my friends and family. I have also made new friends (some I haven’t even met in person) with other warriors and survivors that have shared with me their battles. We’ve laughed about the coincidences and the humorous sides of chemo and reconstruction.

My final advice: Be strong. Stay strong. Lean on your loved ones. Be a warrior. Fight like a girl! Find the silver lining. Enjoy life. Don’t let this get you down. You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.

If I can do it, so can you!

Follow Cheri’s journey on her blog “Hope Not Fear” and feel free to share with others who might benefit from her powerful message.