Let’s WhatsApp: Chatting About Nutrition

On March 4th, we held our first “Let’s WhatsApp” group chat for Breast Cancer patients and survivors. This was the first of an on-going support program we’ll be offering to help connect patients from across Lebanon and provide them an opportunity to benefit from specialists’ advice from the comfort of their own home. S1Nutrition_Feb2015_AR

For our first “Let’s WhatsApp”, clinical nutritionist Diane Nicolas, who has extensive experience working with cancer patients, was the featured specialist who volunteered her time and expertise for the session on Nutrition.

The group chat setting was intimate with five women (the majority of which had never met in person) taking part and asking their questions on topics of interest to each of them while also sharing their own tips amongst each other. Their enthusiasm and curiosity about the subject was evident from the onset!

Trigging the first discussion was the link between nutrition and cancer – and the majority agreed, that yes, it does play a role. One of the patients held a different perspective as despite having a very healthy lifestyle and diet, she still got diagnosed with cancer. So is there or isn’t there a link? Diane shed insight by explaining that although improper nutrition doesn’t necessarily lead to cancer, following the right diet and maintaining your health increases your chances of preventing it. Genetics and the environment are very important factors that also play a role, so it isn’t just nutrition that may affect your diagnosis.

Coffee was another hot topic among the women: How much was too much? What were the benefits and was there harm in adding coffee creamers, like Coffeemate, to ones cup? Another topic of much interest was meats, chickens and fish. Questions ranged from how best to cook it (Well-done? Over-cooked? Tip: Avoid burning it!) to whether eating local mezza specialties like raw meat (kebbe and kasbe naye) were harmful. Even sushi came up! LetsWhatsApp_ChatQuestion1 Topics that always often raise question marks, like the rumored link of soy to cancer, how much chocolate is good for you and even the role of ashta in helping one lost weight came up too and were discussed further. (PS: The answers to all the above are below) LetsWhatsApp_ChatQuestion2 Diane was very helpful and quickly answered all the questions brought up during the chat. She additionally helped break the ice at the start so that no one felt uncomfortable. Jokes, questions and even personal tips were being shared among the participants by the end of the chat – a very positive sign!

For those who missed the chat or were curious about the topics covered, we’ve compiled a short summary for you below of the top nutrition tips shared by Diane Nicolas:

  • Coffeemate is not bad, but it should preferably be replaced with a more nutritious food such as milk (liquid or powdered are both good). Skimmed milk? Even better!
  • Chocolate in moderation is not harmful for the health, but we must be careful not to gain weight because weight gain is closely linked to cancer.
  • Chicken is not harmful if you trust the source as some chicken is injected with hormones so be careful where you get or eat it from (the size of the chicken is a helpful indication)
  • A myth that was challenged? Kachta and avocado don’t help you lose weight. It’s all about reducing calories. One avocado is actually equivalent to 8 spoons of oil so avoid eating too much of it.

 The Dos:

  • Eat Fresh
  • Eat fruits, vegetables and legumes more often.
  • Eat only fresh Frish…
  • Consume meat 2 times per week, try to avoid raw meats
  • Eat preferably chicken breast.
  • Consume more whole grain Lebanese bread (“2am7a kemle”)
  • Limit your coffee intake to 2 cups per day.

The Donts:

  • Don’t eat caned or smoked tuna and salmon.
  • Don’t eat over-cooked meat (ma7rou2).
  • Avoid raw meat (kassbeh and kebbe Nayye)
  • Avoid soybeans as they are genetically modified.
  • If your treatment includes cortisone, do not abuse sugar and deserts.
  • Our Mediterranean diet is very healthy and complete, so don’t search for exotic foods in order to be healthier or to prevent diseases.

“Don’t eat less, but EAT RIGHT; this is the response to all illness and diseases linked to nutrition. Flash news: We are lucky to be Lebanese since our diet is known to be the best among hundred of diets all over the world. We have the healthiest mix and match: 3adas b7amod, taboule, fatouch, ma7aché, sbenikh, mloukhieh, bemye, makhlouta, labne, jebne bayda, kebbe… ” – Diane Nicolas

LetsWhatsApp_Feedback

“I’d like to thank every person that took part in the group chat and encourage One Wig Stand for this amazing project. We are lucky to have such a support that offers knowledge and care at the same time. Thank you!” – Diane Nicolas

All the feedback we received from those who took part was very encouraging and we’re looking forward to hosting more of these group chats on different topics to benefit patients and survivors in the future. Thank you to all the ladies who took part and to the lovely Diane Nicolas for lending her time and expertise for these sessions!

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Do you have a subject in mind that you’d like us to discuss in the next WhatsApp session? Is there a certain specialist you’d like to recommend who’d be interested in sharing their knowledge with others? Please feel free to suggest a topic or specialist you’d like to chat with us in the comments section below and we’ll do our best to make it happen!

If you’re a breast cancer patient, survivor or caregiver that would be interested in signing up for the next session, please send us an email to: info@onewigstand.org or call us at +961 79 158 471 so we keep you posted.

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Interview: “The Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project”

It all started with a painting of her son as Spiderman – and then it became much more than just realizing a child’s innocent daydream!

The Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project is an inspiring initiative that celebrates the superhero inside every breast cancer patient. We reached out to the artist behind these empowering portraits, Barbara Porwit, to find out more about the project and to get to know these captivating superheroes better:

1. What (or who) inspired you to start “The Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project”?

This project started as many things do – an unexpected journey.

As an artist, I’d always been fascinated with figures and faces and in 2009 I did a portrait of my son as Spider-man. As you might expect, it was fun – and the image is fun — but it was also something more. As a viewer, you can tell that it’s a kid in a costume, but he KNOWS he can do it, he KNOWS he’s going to get the bad guy and save the day.

Zander as Spiderman: the original Superhero Portrait!

Zander as Spiderman: the original Superhero Portrait!

I realized this was about something that is in ALL of us. I was just beginning to explore this idea of the everyday superhero when it seemed everyone I knew started to get breast cancer.

Well, that is a journey that no one wants to go on – and like most people I was shocked, I was worried about my friends but I didn’t know what to do. Then I realized – what am I doing in the studio?

I connected the dots, and the Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project was born.

2. You are the one who usually asks this question, but we’d like to ask it this time: If you were to be immortalized as your superhero of choice, who would you be and why?

My goodness, thank you for asking this question. I am even more impressed with you now – this is one that is often overlooked (which I am fine with – the project really is about honoring and celebrating others).

It’s funny, I HAVE grappled with this question a bit and found I’m a bit hesitant to step into the superhero ring myself, but even so there have been a couple answers to that question that have been floating around.

One would be that we would do a family portrait, with me as Wonder Woman and with my son drawing the monsters that I would be fighting — another is something that pulled from my simple hometown roots as a girl growing up on a farm in Wisconsin: that I would be 4-H girl: that I would dedicate “my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living – for my club, my community, my country and my world.” and my costume would be just a t-shirt with the 4-H clover on the front and pictures of head, heart, hands on the back.

Another idea is that I would be the “Scient-artist” — and my superpowers would be science and art, and I would use them to help the world. My costume would be my studio pants all covered in paint with a white lab coat, lab goggles, a palette and paintbrushes.

I was always good at math and science and the other thing I am doing right now is taking classes to hopefully become a physician’s assistant – so hopefully I WILL use that power for good too in this world— as you can see I find that we have powers already within us and it’s about how we use them. I guess I haven’t thought that much lately about if I myself can fly….

3. Superheroes have a history of empowering cancer patients and promoting awareness (among them the viral super-heroine self-check posters featuring cat woman and wonderwoman). What’s the appeal and benefit of using superheroes in relation to cancer, in your own perspective?

Superheroines urge you to Self-Examine in these Mozambican Breast Cancer PSAs by Maisa Chaves.

Superheroines urge you to Self-Examine in these Mozambican Breast Cancer PSAs by Maisa Chaves.

This project, for me, is really just one focused application of the much broader concept of the Everyday Superhero portrait. Over the long haul, I believe I will end up working with people from all walks of life with this concept and help them find the superhero in themselves.

But for people affected by breast cancer, there are a few things I believe are special for them. One, we are lifting up for them what they have the opportunity to recognize themselves as going through the universal hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell: “An individual is called away from “normal life” and asked to go on an adventure away from society where they will face a great danger and undergo an extreme ordeal. If successful, they return to society bearing some treasure they are able to share with their community and they are celebrated and honored as the hero they have become”

We know that for all people facing a life-threatening illness, you cannot assume what “victory” is or what the “outcome” will be. But if they retain a victorious spirit, that is something that cancer cannot take.

Even so, we are also hoping that connecting with inner strength in a fun and unintimidating way will contribute to benefits of positive emotions, which is something research is finding can have significant impact on outcomes – in health, in life measures and in relationships.

"Wonder Woman Katy" from The Breast Cancer Superhero Project

Meet Wonder Woman Katy from The Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project

At a time when most of the decisions they have to make are gut wrenching, it is also a chance for these women to be in control of something that is limited only by their imagination – at least in their minds (and on canvas!) they get to be immensely powerful and capable of fantastic feats – and they get to look however they want and wear whatever they want. I give them the gift of coming up with the visual that tells their story the way they want it told.

4. How do you select the women for this project?

Well the project is still young.I started with women I knew, but we are now starting to work with people who come to us from coming through the studio and finding out about the project.

Lisa Phoenix Rising - the real-life inspiration (right) with her daughter (left).

Meet Lisa Phoenix Rising – the real-life inspiration (right) with her daughter (left).

In the future, it will depend on funding – how many we can choose from those nominated by loved ones, and how many may be sponsored by community organizations who want me to work with the hero they want to raise up and celebrate. We do have a nomination form and an interview form for potential subjects.

5. Does it take long to develop the superhero’s character and how involved are the patients/survivors in the process itself?

Oh, it’s very much about the process that each subject goes through.

We do not hurry it, it can take anywhere from 3-6 months from the first conversation to the last stroke of paint. I want them to take their time and be very comfortable with each step along the way.

We have a first meeting where I ask a few questions and listen a LOT. I have to find out about them – who they are, their cancer journey — that is key —- and then we turn the page by starting the process of re-imagining themselves after cancer. It really is an organic process individualized for each woman. Some come up with a strong simple concept right away, some take more time to really ponder things. Then we get to talk about boots! (and hair, and pose, and costume… it’s fun and meaningful all at the same time).

Wonder Woman Katy and the real life inspiration!

Wonder Woman Katy and the real-life inspiration!

6. Several of the superheroes you’ve developed have unique superpowers closely linked to the cancer experience, like Radiation Diva. Do you find it makes them more relatable to other cancer patients? Please share why.

Well, Jill (AKA Radiation Diva) was one of the women who tipped the scale for me and made me know I HAD to do this project. She – totally independently of knowing I was even doing something with superheroes in the studio, sent out posts during her radiation every day saying “such and such song was playing on the sound system during my treatment today -what superpower do you think that gave me?” — and people would write back and say “you got the power to make people walk the line – ” or “you got the power to make animals strike curious poses” or “you got the power to get Jessie’s girl” – so now she has her Radiation Playlist with all the songs and her list of superpowers she got FROM her radiation.

That just blew me away. You are going through cancer and THIS is what you are doing with it.

Yes, we DO hope that others going down a similar road, seeing these images and reading the stories about how these women have responded to cancer will open up their minds to options they have to respond to their own situation differently.

"She wanted her hospital bracelets transformed into “Wonder Woman” style bracelets, and now she’s deflecting those darn cancer bullets – big time!" - Meet Radiation Diva from the Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project. 

“She wanted her hospital bracelets transformed into “Wonder Woman” style bracelets, and now she’s deflecting those darn cancer bullets – big time!” – Meet Radiation Diva from the Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project.

What’s different about this project also is we are taking real individual people and giving them access to this superhero persona development, it’s not a superhero that is far off in the distance and outside themselves.

The other thing that is different is that we aren’t just talking about “fight like a girl” or focusing on the “battle” part. We are opening this up to letting their imaginations play with however they would be and whatever they would be able to do if there were no limits – and it’s much more playful and fun than just talking about battles and winning.

They are rededicating themselves to whatever cause they want to use their powers for – like Suzi Kazal Forst, who found joy and justice rose to the top and is now using her powers of humor to bring joy to the world and going on international justice missions to help widows in Uganda.

7. How have patients/survivors reacted to their character depictions and to the project itself (in general)? Please share any interesting stories or anecdotes, if possible.

There is something profoundly powerful that has happened not only for the superheroes, but also for their friends and family, their medical care providers and other people who have been through cancer or know someone who has been through cancer. It’s something that touches everyone seeing people they can relate to depicted in this way.

Katy Tessman Stanoch, AKA Wonder Woman Katy ( says that becoming Wonder Woman represented her return after the awful experience that cancer was – like it is for most people. She has gone on to write a book to help children understand what is happening when their mothers are going through breast cancer. Her book, “Our Mama is a Beautiful Garden” helps instill hope and understanding at a time when things can be bleak and scary. Her life is entwining with her new persona in big ways.

Meet Ruby Runner from the Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project (Photo Credit: Doug Webb)

Meet Ruby Runner from the Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project (Photo Credit: Doug Webb)

Anne Drow, AKA Ruby Runner, recently said this:

Anne “Ruby Runner” Drow: “When Barbara first asked me to be part of this project, it was almost like a dream come true. I was getting tired of being just someone who suffered because of the ravages of cancer. I wanted to be more than someone who survived.

I wanted the inner me to still shine through, and becoming the Ruby Runner gave me that opportunity. We have all changed in big ways and small. Some of the changes you can see, others you can feel. Some days I can move mountains, other days I could take on a newborn kitten and lose.

But, though the “new normal” is not my choice, I’m still here, I’m still fighting the good fight and still making people smile. So, it’s all good… No, I still can’t run and run and never get tired, but when the days are long and painful, I can look at her and know she is in there biding her time, waiting to come out and run!”  

8. What message(s) do you hope to send across to breast cancer patients through this project?

Basically, we hope to help inspire and celebrate the heroic nature of individuals affected by breast cancer.

By re-imagining themselves as playfully powerful, we hope to help breast cancer patients reconnect with inner resources they may have forgotten they had.

We also hope to create more opportunities for people to experience positive emotions and genuine connections with others during difficult times, and to help friends, family and community share in celebrating and honoring people they love and care about.

9. In a country, like Lebanon, where people struggle to talk openly about their cancer experience, do you find that relating it to superheroes and illustrations like yours helps bypass the taboo by giving it a different dimension? 

What is kind of magical about this project is that it is instantly approachable, playful and fun, at the same time moving and heartfelt. The underlying messages are definitely delivered and understood.

Everyone knows at least one person who has been through breast cancer (that’s too many people by the way) – and they all come away thinking about that person and what they went through – sometimes in a different way.

If that person is still alive, they might think about telling this person “I saw breast cancer survivors as superheroes today, and I think you are a superhero too –” it’s a way to change the conversation.

10. What are your plans for The Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project? Where do you see it heading?

There are many dreams for this project – but most of them will be dependent on the funds we can raise.

We want to go into different communities and serve them in whatever way works best for them – to bring the show with the paintings and the stories as a way to bring hope and encouragement and inspiration — we hope to offer additional art therapy “Show us your Superhero” workshops for patient support groups, family members and care providers so each community can create its own hall of heroes which will stay with them long after the paintings go to the next town — and of course the availability of commissioning their own superhero portrait to raise up their own hero to honor and have the large scale painting to be a permanent addition to their hospital or other community site reminding them of their own success story in future years.

Inspiring women at a Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project exhibition.

Inspiring women at a Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project exhibition.

We also are just starting the process of one of the other long term goals of the project: to offer the use of the images to help raise money for local patient support programs and potentially someday to help fund research looking into prevention and cause. Regla de Oro Gallery in Minneapolis, MN is currently seeking sponsorship to create merchandise (tote bags, Tshirts etc) to sell to raise revenue for the project and will donate a portion of proceeds to Angel Foundation which provides financial assistance and other support to cancer patients and their families here in Minnesota. The show will be at Regla de Oro March 17-April 26 with a fundraiser reception for Angel Foundation on March 21!

To find out more about the project and the superheroes, please visit “The Breast Cancer Superhero Portrait Project” Website and Facebook Page.


So, since we’re on the topic of superheroes: Which superhero do YOU relate to most or would like to be immortalized as – and WHY? We would love to hear your answers! Please share in the comments section below 🙂

Interview: “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

Alyscia Cunningham is a US-based portrait and editorial photographer who recently launched a crowd-funding campaign for “I Am More than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”.

“I Am More than My Hair” is an awareness/social-change photography project that focuses on the beauty of being bald and follows Alyscia’s first book “Feminine Transitions” featuring a series of portraits that reveal the natural beauty of women of diverse ages and backgrounds without make-up on. Alyscia’s work celebrates natural beauty while also inviting us to challenge what beauty – real beauty – means to us, even when hair is lost.

Amy

Amy – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

We reached out to Alyscia to find out more about her project and share her insight throughout this experience below:

1. In October 2013, you decided to make the cut and donate your hair to a cancer organization. This move, as well as the reactions of those around you, raised many questions for you about beauty standards. What were some of the notable reactions you received after cutting your hair so short and how did this inspire your latest project “I am More than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”?

I’ve often heard, “A woman’s hair is her beauty” and “Your hair is your strength” from two different communities. I completely disagree with both statements.

It got to a point where I would tell myself “I am not my hair”. That single thought gave birth the the idea of my project I Am More Than My Hair, which is a response to that fact that I wasn’t my hair.

On that day, 16” [approx. 41 cm] of my locks were cut by Johnny Wright, Michelle Obama’s hair stylist, and donated for cancer patients. I’ve always had long hair and this was the first time I had ever cut my hair into a short style. I’ve wanted to cut it off once I realized my consistent head colds after swimming were related to the heavy weight of my locks not drying in time. Two years later, I was informed about the “Big Chop” and I gladly volunteered my hair to be donated.

2. You’ve been interested in beauty and addressing our relationship with it for a while now. Your previously published “Feminine Transitions” book features women without make-up and highlights the struggle of being vulnerable behind a lens. How are your two projects linked and how are they different in your perspective?

Both “Feminine Transitions” and “I Am More Than My Hair” relate to each other because they deal mostly with vulnerability. The participants were required to shed a layer to be photographed, whether it was make-up or a wig. The immediate difference that comes to mind is the subject matter.

However, there are more similarities than there are differences.

3. Tell us about your journey driving throughout Washington D.C. photographing girls and women for “Bald and Beautiful Me”. What stories came out of this experience and did you face any obstacles taking the photographs?

It has been a wonderful experience visiting new places within the DC metro area and meeting women I may not have bumped into otherwise. All the photos were taken outdoors or in a natural lighting environment: a favorite park, the backyard, by their bedroom window..

I wanted everyone to choose a location they connected with most.

I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me

Tamela – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

Most women opened up, telling me their personal stories about their experience with hair loss. Some shed tears. Others simply accepted it for what it was. Either way, it is a blessing to connect with women from all walks of life.

4. You have photographed more than 35 women of different backgrounds, ages and ethnicities for your project so far. What were common themes you encountered and how did your definition of beauty change as a result of those interactions?

My first reaction was noticing so much more than the hair of bald women and girls. I really got a chance to see the beauty in their features, their smile.

Hair not being there was less of a distraction. They had a natural radiance. It was raw beauty in all colors, shapes and forms.

Sala

Sala – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

5. What message would you like to get across to women struggling with insecurities about their beauty? What would you tell your younger self today?

I always tell women that we are all uniquely beautiful. Don’t look to the media for an answer to beauty. The media bombards us with Photoshopped images and Photoshop is a lie.

I would tell my younger self to look for my worth within myself, and not from what others say to or about me.

6. In Lebanon (and much of the Middle East), beauty standards are quite high and this add lots of pressure on women to constantly keep up appearances. As such, when a woman loses her hair as a result of cancer treatment, it is even more difficult for her to cope and the majority will avoid being seen or opt to wear wigs during this period. This is also related to the taboo linked to cancer still being witnessed in our society, but the issue of beauty and social perception remains. What insight can you shed for women living in our part of the world on this issue and what kind of awareness do you think is needed to help overcome it?

In no way do I tell a woman going through cancer treatment how to feel. What I can offer is encouragement. I will do my best to let her know that she is beautiful despite her temporary (or permanent) hair loss. I can also offer a connection with another women on this side of the world going through the same experience, who can also encourage her.

I also make it a point to speak about the media’s view of beauty as compared to reality. Showing non-Photoshopped and Photoshopped has a huge impact on our self-perception.

From my experience, real pictures of well-known people in the media make the idea of beauty less threatening. The media sells insecurity. I use that outlet as a tool to sell positive self-imagery, showing individuals as everyday ordinary people.

Erika - Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham's photography book "I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me"

Erika – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

7. You recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a documentary you’d like to develop based on “Bald and Beautiful Me” How was the experience for you and do you plan to relaunch the campaign in the future?

Unfortunately, there were complications with Kickstarter so I decided to launch my crowdfunding campaign on YouCaring.com. My goal is to raise $25,228 in order to be able to produce 1,000 copies of the book and 500 copies of the DVD documentary. Many people don’t understand that this small number of production still takes a great deal of work and dedication, which in turn takes money.

The money raised will also go towards the marking cost of producing both the book and DVD. At first, I was recording the stories of the participants for my crowd-funding campaign but decided to actually compile them into a documentary.

There stories are so personal and heartfelt that I had to share them along with the book.

8. In closing, please continue the statement in your own words: “I am more than my hair and/because …”

… my hair does not determine my strength or ability.

Jameelah

Jameelah – Photograph from Alyscia Cunningham’s photography book “I Am More Than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me”

Keep posted for more on “I Am More than My Hair: Bald and Beautiful Me” here.

We’d like to turn to you now: How would you continue the statement “I am more than my hair and/because …”Please share in the comments section below.

Take the Pledge!

OCTOBER is the international Breast Cancer Awareness month and what better way to show your support for women fighting cancer than by donating from your own hair to help them cope better with the harsh side effects of chemotherapy? 

One Wig Stand in collaboration with L’Oreal Professionnel are organizing a special hair donation event at City Centre Beirut, teaming up with top L’Oreal hair stylists for an afternoon of free cuts and styling for all who wish to donate.

We have some special surprises also planned for all who make the cut that day. Feel free to spread the word to friends and family who may be interested!

If you’ve made the cut recently and want to drop off your hair donation that day, please do!

MTC2_owsblog_graphicEVENT DETAILS
Date: Sunday, October 19, 2014
Venue: City Centre Beirut – Galleria Level (L0)
Time: 2pm – 8pm
To book your spot, call us on: 79-158471
Please come with pre-washed hair.

EVENT SPONSORS
City Centre Beirut
DIGIPrint
Essie
Hair & More
Kellogg’s Special K
Merlun Group
RTB: Ready to Broadcast
Sakr Printing
Teleperformance

HAIR DONATION GUIDELINES
Minimum Length: 20 cm
Type of Hair: Wavy or curly hair is completely acceptable so long as it is in good condition (not dried out or damaged).
Colored Hair: Even if your hair is colored and/or with highlights, it might still be used unless it has been bleached. Bleached hair is more apt to break during the wig-making process, and as such, preferably avoided.
Grey Hair: No more than 5% grey please as grey hair becomes fragile during processing and may not absorb color as well.

MAKE THE PLEDGE!
How many centimeters are you planning to donate? Select the number of centimeters from this album and post it on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to represent your goal. This is a great encouragement for friends and family to also take part!

MTC2_pledgebadge20

For more information and donation guidelines, please visit: www.onewigstand.org/makethecut 

If you are or know a cancer patient in need of a wig for her treatment, we are here to help. Contact us on 79-158471 or info@onewigstand.org to set a meeting and find the right match.

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.

Image Source

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.