Fashion, Beauty and Wellness Tips From My Year With Cancer

“Slashed, Poisoned and Burned and Still Standing*”

A year with Cancer

One year ago today, I woke up very early to head to the hospital for the results of a biopsy I had gotten two days earlier. Waiting 48 hours for test results is decidedly inhumane but I had kept myself busy with work and reassurances that nothing was wrong. Even the night before, my mom had come in to say goodnight and after a quick pow wow and assessment of the blood that lay dried on the tip of my nipple, we both concluded I was probably fine. I slept very soundly and woke up ready, if not for good news, then at worst, some mildly inconvenient news.

I approached the check-in desk, joking with my mom and the clerk about their insistence on always asking about my marital status before every appointment. Having just turned 30 two months before, my least favorite ritual was repeating over and over that I was single, childless and unemployed.

I sat in the waiting room of the breast center, the youngest in the vicinity by a long shot. Earlier in the week, knowing I was going to get results that day, I had tried to get an appointment with the world class breast specialist Dr. Silverstein. I was told that he didn’t see new patients unless there is a serious diagnosis and that I would have to see Dr. Guerra who was in the same office.

The nurse called my name to come with her and told my mom to go wait in a room while they checked my biopsy scar and bandages.

“Looks good!” she announced pleasantly. “You can go wait with your mom now. When you are done getting your results, you will see Dr. Silverstein.”

“Oh, I was told I couldn’t see him. I’m here to see Dr. Guerra,” I said, somewhat distractedly as I was attempting to put my shirt back on over mounds of gauze that covered my wound.

I looked up just in time to see her gaze drop.

“Um…yeah-uh I think you’re…uh…going to see Dr. Sil…,” her voice trailing off into a mumble as she hurried me out of the room.

Or maybe she said it clear as day. I wouldn’t know because from that point on,  I could only hear a fog horn blaring in my head. An all-encompassing moan of panic, as if an irate driver was laying on his steering wheel. In the five steps from that room to the room I was meeting my mom in, the equation crystallized in my head. If “x”, then “y”. Now, I’ve never been good at math but even with the persistent cacophony in my ears, I knew that “x” was Dr. Silverstein and “y” was bad news.

They led me to my mom, waiting in her own version of panic, in a nice room with a couch and chair. No exam table in sight. This was the bad news room.

“It’s happening!” I practically screamed as soon as the nurse shut the door, leaving us alone. I was borderline manic. I paced the room, unloading all of the evidence to support my theory, while my mom tried to calm me down. This has always been a familiar dynamic with us. She remains positive until proven wrong and I insist on being negative until I’m right. There was every reason to believe this was another instance of my mom talking down her dramatic daughter. But that damn horn was relentlessly screaming inside me and I knew what it was telling me.

The doctor finally came in to give us the results and before she could even ask how I was, I saw “Carcinoma” written on her chart. This time, being right did not feel good.

It’s been a year since that day. At times, it has felt like I’ve lived an entire decade since then. My body believes it’s 20 years older, having been thrust into menopause overnight. It seems comfortable, settling into it’s early retirement, happily getting rid of a lot of it’s duties and lavishly padding itself with the extra fat of a woman of leisure. My brain doesn’t feel the same way, mourning the loss of many parts of me. Some parts are tangible: every ounce of breast tissue was taken from me by a very skilled hand. But some things that were taken from me can’t be measured, such as the ability to ever think “It’s probably nothing.”

Some days I feel like a warrior. Some days I feel an absolute state of bliss as I attempt to relinquish control over things I can’t change. Sometimes I feel the support of thousands of people. Other days, I feel alone, though I never am. Some days, I feel cancer was the greatest gift I ever received. Other times, I feel robbed by a cunning and masterful thief who has ransacked my body, taken what it wanted and then put everything back almost the way they found it. For 365 days, I have been myself, plus something else.

As a musical theatre devotee, I can’t help but ask myself, “How do you measure, measure a year?” In vials of blood. In breasts lost. In dollars that chemo saved me in shampoo and bikini waxes. In dollars I spent in fantastic wigs. In the amount of people who have told me they’ve lost a loved one. In jokes I tried to make with my oncologists that landed flat (They’re a tough crowed). In tears. In more tears. In milestones. In “martini’s”. In the lessons I learned and the ones I’m still too stubborn to receive. In times I surprised myself. In minutes I’ve laughed when I should have cried. In times I felt loved.

Today, I will celebrate. I woke up with a partner who has never left my side since we met three weeks after being diagnosed. I will go to rehearsal for my Broadway show that I am deeply in love with. And maybe I’ll check in with my frozen eggs, the precursors of my family that is waiting for me when the time is right. Single, childless and unemployed no more.

I will seen my parents tomorrow to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Not in the way we celebrated last year, waiting for the results of a PET scan to see if the cancer had spread to other parts of my body, what my parents both describe as the worst day of their lives. No, this year we will have dinner and they will watch me open my 7th Broadway show.

And one more thing will be different today. Something that’s missing. What is it…?

Oh yeah. Cancer.


*This quote was taken from a comment on my first blog post. I’m very gratefully re-purposing it for the title because I loved it.

Springin’, Singin’ and Swingin’!

Besides basically breathing life back into my body, Spring also opened up a lot of creative looks for me. The warmer temperatures allowed me to take more risks, rock more colors and show more skin, most notably, my scalp! I became more comfortable strolling around au natural when a wig was inconvenient or too warm.

My new Spring wardrobe was kicked off when I received an email from a friend and former colleague Marcy Hariell. Marcy and I worked together during In The Heights when she played Vanessa and I was her understudy. To add to her long list of talents: singer, dancer, actor, bad ass mofo, total sweetheart and possessor of the greatest head of hair you’ve ever seen, she is also an incredibly talented clothing designer. When she heard about my diagnosis, she contacted me to ask if she could design something for me. That’s a girl who knows what’s up! What a gift to have someone understand that what I needed in that horrific moment was to be clothed in beauty made with love.

I started out by browsing her own website which you should all do. That’s Marcy modeling all the outfits, looking sexy as hell, in case you were wondering. Once I got inspired by something, she and I brainstormed ideas. What I love about her style is the strong influence of vintage shapes and silhouettes without sacrificing a modern edge. I had an instant vision of 1940’s crooner, ala Billie Holiday, singing the blues but dripping in technicolor, surrounded by the burst of florals that nature was providing outside. Marcy instantly knew what she wanted to do and got to work on a dress/light coat combo. What she created was so perfect and beautiful and instantly turned my hazy vision into a bold reality.

These first photos came about from two ideas I had. One part was the Jazz motif I described above. The other was something very out of character for me. I have never wanted a tattoo. Ever. It never seemed like something I would be able to decide on. Permanent alteration of my body? I was intensely reluctant. I joked to people that I would get one as long as I would never have to see it. I felt that nothing important enough had happened to me that required commemoration. Combine that with the nuisance that they can be to an actor. Therefore, tattoos remained the lowest on the list of beauty wishes.

Cancer changed that to some degree. My concerns were no longer valid. Here was a significant period of my life and the survival of it certainly deserved acknowledgment. And I was about to become a specialist in permanent alteration of my body so that worry went out the window. All of a sudden, I wanted a tattoo. And not just any tattoo, a scalp tattoo. It seemed so logical. I could display it while I was going through chemo and then my hair would grow back over it, leaving a little secret hidden neatly under my regrowth. I went to my doctor, an older man who is also a father of a 22 year old, and said “Can you give me the DOCTOR reason, not the DAD reason, why I can’t get a tattoo.” After he shook his head, rolled his eyes, and gave a heavy sigh akin to a teenager bringing their father home a bad report card, he delivered his verdict. I was strongly advised against it because I’m supposed to avoid needles and their infectious potential while during chemo. This meant I would have to wait until after chemo which would mean my hair would be growing back already and I’ll be damned if I’m going to shave all that hard work!

The desire eventually passed until I dreamed up this Spring look. One of Billie Holiday’s signature accessories was a flower in her hair, tucked gingerly over the ear. What better way to integrate that bit of irreverent modernity into a classic pose than a temporary tattoo. All the reward and none of the pain. Here are the results!




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I rocked the temp tattoo look for about two weeks. I totally loved it and loved my new dress even more!

The next look I dreamed up with Marcy’s help was a combination of a swingin’ 60’s woman about town and a modern east village hipster paying homage to a more glamorous time. The coat she made me was a flirty lilac wool in a mod shape that evoked a very put together woman. Then she added a bold lining that created some unexpected urban flair. Again, I wanted to throw a wrench in convention so I put on my recently purchased violet bob and a vintage hat to concoct my own aubergine Mary Tyler Moore.




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Once I enjoyed my fashion trip through the decades, I wanted to punk it up a bit more so I added my own knit hat I had been wearing all winter and flashed the inside of the coat and shiny metallic-like trim on the bottom. Trash? Hardly!




I hope your Spring was full of fun fashion experiments like mine was! Summer will most likely be full of surgery pajamas but I will continue to challenge myself and find beauty and fun in any way I can!



All Photos by Peter Westervelt

Photo edit and color correction: Adam Deen

Gorgeous clothes: Marcy Hariell

Special Thanks to Vince and Audrey for the props!


The Glory of the Spring!

Yes, I know it’s the end of June. Yes, I’m aware that means that Summer has announced itself in no uncertain terms (or temperatures). It hardly seems an appropriate time to rhapsodize about the life-giving season that is Spring. Although it may be a little late, I assure you, this Spring was worth acknowledging, both in health and in fashion!

Now that Spring has already opened up our hearts and wardrobes (Sheep Meadow, Mr Softee, sundresses!) it’s hard to recall what a wretched winter we had. Or at least, I had. Winter became the designated season of loss. Sweeping my newly chopped hair off the floor in February was just the beginning. I lost energy, eyebrows, motivation, mobility, courage, confidence, fingernails, and fight. Chemo hit me at all the weak spots in my life and bulldozed through them with no apologies until I had perfected the art of losing. While my self esteem was plummeting, there was one area of my life that was gaining. My weight.

As much as I had worked through the shock of my baldness, the almost 25 pound weight gain that accompanied my 6 treatments threw me into a tailspin that I could not bounce back from. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Aren’t you supposed to lose weight during chemo?! I had heard endless stories of losing all desire for food. The nurses hammered in the idea to eat whatever appealed to me since almost nothing will. I was supposed to eat all I could leading up to chemo (which I excelled at on our pre-treatment trip to Europe!) because for the next few months, eating would be a chore. But the first time the nausea hit, I wanted bread. The next day, mac and cheese. When I would wake up at 3am with unrelenting insomnia, cold leftovers eased my ravenous appetite. Huddled in the light of the fridge, cooling my hot flashes, I could rationalize it all: “I DESERVE THIS.” Didn’t I deserve this? I had cut out all bread, sugars, grains, unstable oils, anything that even hinted at feeding my cancer for four months. Now I wanted dessert. ALL OF THE DESSERT. Every meal required it. I had rewritten the rules of the cancer diet. Rule #1: Eat whatever the fuck you want. You have cancer and you deserve it. No need for any more rules.

Turns out, you can’t eat 7 full meals a day and exclusively lay on the couch without gaining some weight. More weight than I had ever held on my body. I began to feel like a science experiment. Every doctor’s appointment weigh-in showed a higher number on the scale. Once, I saw the same nurse in April that I hadn’t seen since January. When I stepped on the scale her eyes bulged out of her head more than my stomach bulged over my jeans. She double checked the number three times before I finally told her “Yeah, I’ve gained a little weight”.

“A LOT of weight,” she corrected me as she shoved the thermometer in my mouth.

Spring arrived just in time.

Basically everything in my life changed as soon as the blooms started arriving on the trees. My chemo ended in April but my mastectomy wasn’t coming up until the summer which allowed me a glorious sweet spot of replenishing. My health sprung back into action. My chemo brain melted slowly, washing away like the black snow on the sidewalk. Peter and I relocated to Los Angeles via a cross country road trip filled with memories and yes, more food. But the best thing by far to happen was the “Spring” that revisited me when I was sure the season had past.

In late March, I was cast as Ilse, my favorite role I’ve ever had the pleasure to play, in the Deaf West production of the musical Spring Awakening. For those of you who don’t know, I was in the original Broadway production of this show almost ten years ago. But this version incorporated hearing and deaf actors in a breathtaking display of song and sign language. I would have never imagined this show would come back around but the director, Michael Arden, gave me the gift of revisiting it. At my lowest opinion of myself, he gave me an opportunity to shine, to feel useful, to step outside of my own pain and into the beauty of a new world. We incorporated my baldness into the character which allowed me to be brave with my appearance. My weight began to decrease steadily as I threw my body into performing. It was a glorious feeling. I could almost feel the old me waking slowly after spending the winter hibernating inside my soft body.

There’s a lyric in Spring Awakening that has always been my favorite and it was particularly relevant to me in this phase of my life. I would listen to it every night and breathe in it’s meaning, allowing the truth of it to wash over me.

The stars, too,

They tell of Spring returning.

And summer with another wind that no one yet has known.

Everything in my life was pointing toward a new beginning. Spring was on it’s way and I just had to follow my destiny there. This lyric eased me every time I would think about my impending summer surgery. Each season has it’s own wind, it’s unique emotional weight that cannot be anticipated. It can only be felt as it’s arriving. I still have a long way to go in accepting my new appearance and accepting it is the first step to changing it. But in the meantime, I will honor each season as it comes, releasing it when it is time to face the next. Let’s see what the summer brings!



Stay tuned to see some of my favorite Spring looks!




Chemo Style! Part 5


In the world of film and television production, there is a special name for the last shot of the day. This magic moment is called The Martini. Everyone looks forward to it, waiting anxiously until a crew member finally shouts “The martini is up!” and everyone steps up their game to make the last shot perfect so they can go home.

We’ve been referring to my last treatment as The Martini for awhile. Peter, my boyfriend who makes his living behind the camera, was the one who coined it’s use in my situation and it seemed very fitting. We were finally going to be done with this! It was time to step up, take my final bow and say “that’s a wrap!” No more nausea, no more aches and sleepless nights, no more peeling feet and sore heels. I just had to get through one more “shot”. But as fate would have it, my martini turned into quite the dramatic final scene.

I bounded into the treatment room with so much energy I was practically levitating. I greeted each nurse with a fervent smile and a chipper “Hello!” which was code for “You’ve been great but I never want to see you again!”. I chatted excitedly with them, barely minding the horrible prick of the I.V. I had both my mom and Peter with me this time, a first, since his work schedule had kept him from coming to the previous treatments. We were all wearing the shirts he made us for Christmas, emblazoned with a smiley face sporting a crossed out left eye. He designed them as a humorous nod to my doomed left breast, that even though it’s marked for demolition, it won’t disrupt my happiness. It’s become my trademark symbol throughout all this and it makes me happy during the times I should be crumbling. It was a hilarious sight, seeing all of us in our matching shirts. So much so that it made me believe this could actually be a twisted kind of fun!

I handled my pre-meds like a champ, probably subconsciously trying to impress Peter with how hardcore I was. “Look how calmly and nonchalantly I can handle poison coursing through my veins,” my body language implied. And then the chemo started it’s drip. It was not two minutes later that my face turned bright red, my chest tightened and my throat closed up. If you ever want to make a mother shout and 7 nurses swarm, I could give you some tips. They stopped the drip and gave me more pre-meds as I sulked, embarrassed that my carefree facade was shattered. Even when you think you’ve got it handled with 5 treatments under your belt, cancer quickly reminds you that you are not in charge of this. Not yet at least.

Fortunately, once the reaction was under control, the rest of the treatment was uneventful. We met up with my dad after work  (wearing his smiley shirt of course!) at our favorite healthy spot, True Food. I ordered my usual green veggie juice and four martini glasses. It was time for a toast. “To chemo! The shittiest thing I ever put my body through. I can only hope my cancer hates you as much as I do. And to you, cancer, I hope you didn’t have plans to stick around. Your performance has been life-altering. I laughed, I cried, it was worse than Cats. But the martini is up and this is your last closeup.”




Chemo Style! Part 4

Treatment #5: Art Imitates Life

I swear, this may be the most surreal my life will ever get.


The photo on the left was taken on Wednesday, on set at my new guest stint on television.

The photo on the right was taken the next day at my real chemo session.

For those of you who don’t know, I recently started work on the ABC Family show “Chasing Life” which follows the topsy turvy world of a young woman diagnosed with cancer. I’m playing the role of Vanessa, a tough, straight-talking cancer patient who drops some truth bombs in the transfusion room. It’s been such a fun and emotionally invigorating experience to incorporate my real life into my character and a total joy to work the with cast and crew.

It’s also been incredibly eerie.

This particular day I showed up at my call time and had a wardrobe fitting for some comfy pj’s that would be realistic to what someone would wear to a treatment center. Of course, the designers found some with a little style and edge, just how I like to do it at my own sessions, and it’s always a treat when you can show up to work and put on sweats. I then headed over to hair/makeup where I finally got to don my second-times-a-charm-no-thanks-to-fed-ex wig! Isn’t she pretty?? She’s going to get her own post dedicated to her for all she’s been through so stay tuned on that. For the show, an incredible hairstylist Garry Allyn treated my little beauty to a spa day, washing and blow drying her with care. Here’s the kicker: Garry is also a cancer survivor! We gabbed forever about our experiences, swapped stories about the devastation and the unexpected joys we had, even talked about potential tattoo ideas. There is truly nothing like being able to converse with someone who knows the terrain of this odd little patch of life, especially one who is thriving on the other side.

Getting my makeup done on this show is such a funny experience to me. While the other stunning actresses are in the chair, they are gradually getting shed of their glamour to portray cancer patients accurately. Hair is covered, lips are paled, and everything is dialed down. Since my character is new to treatments and I am decidedly not, my process included putting hair ON, adding fake eyelashes and rouging my cheeks to give the appearance of someone at the start of her journey. So if you’re keeping track, I have gotten to put on pajamas and get pampered with beauty products while yucking it up with new friends. Best job ever? I’m thinking so.

Once it was time to shoot my scene, I cozied up in my big leather arm charm with the fluffy white pillow that goes on your lap and allowed someone to tape a fake IV tube to my arm. Oh how I wish this was the real way those things got attached! I loathe, ABHOR even, getting the IV put in my arm at chemo. Still, after everything I’ve been through with treatments, the worst part about cancer is the needles. The veins stop cooperating and I’m left dizzy and bruised while each nurse searches for a spot. “Just a little prick,” they always say, right before the deep pain jumps through my sensitive arm crook. Prick is definitely the word I would use to describe that grubby needle. A stupid, nasty prick.

But I digress. I had a wonderful time shooting the scenes and “acting” like I had cancer for a change. In the script, my character sheds some perspective to April (the lovely Italia Ricci) which makes her change the way she looks at some aspects of her life. It felt great to work again and have a nice distraction from what I knew was coming just a day later: Treatment #5


I rolled out of bed with no stylist picking out my sporty chemo clothes. It was all up to me now. I wanted to feel bright and springy since we have officially crossed over the threshold of this egregious winter and I wanted to celebrate that. A pair of light stretchy jeans, a bold red fringed top and a floral scarf made me feel like I was bringing a little sun inside. I had fun twisting the end of the scarf into a floret of sorts, adding a simple flair that made me smile.

I opted out of makeup for my real life scene as chemo receiver. After having put so much on my face the day before, I wanted to give my weary face a rest, especially my little champions: my eyebrows. These little nuggets have been holding down the fort this whole time and they deserve a parade. I spread some Brian Joseph’s lash and brow conditioning on them and headed out.

To seal the deal, my Chemo-rella fantasy officially turned back into a pumpkin when that damn needle came out. I laughed and joked my way through it, even showing the nurse my pictures from the day before and suggesting the fake tape idea in the future. Can’t hurt to ask right? But as soon as I felt that familiar sting it was official. I was no longer acting.

The last thing that brought my two days into sync is the conversations I had with the people around me in treatment. A marked shift has occurred in my attitude since I’ve been going in for chemo. In my first entry about treatments, I described feeling like the rookie in the room while the more experienced patients were rolling their eyes at my naivete. I am definitely not a novice anymore. As it turns out, I’m grateful for the experience I’m amassing. Despite the fact that I typically feel uncomfortable talking to strangers, I find myself striking up conversations with other people around me. I started a lovely exchange with an older woman who was starting her first treatment that day. I wanted to give her as much information as possible, as much encouragement as she needed and any anecdotes that might ease some of her anxiety. Just like my T.V. alter ego, I felt like I had some knowledge to share that could set someone on the right path. To be clear, I’m not under any assumptions that my opinion is worth anything or needs to be followed (especially since I don’t have the skilled writers to formulate my well crafted speeches like I did on set). But I’m trying to open up as much as I can. If I can share what I know here, or on T.V., I feel like I would have done my job.



8 Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer

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Looking to catch up on my Cosmo blog? Check out my recent list of less than helpful things to say:

1. “At least they caught it early.” How early is early enough? Any kind of cancer is going to require a major life change, likely surgery, possibly chemo, and a load of scars and pain. Sure, it can always be worse, and there are better scenarios than others. But anyone who has been diagnosed is most likely going to wish he or she had known a little sooner. Don’t rub it in.

2. “Are you scared?” How on earth am I supposed to answer that?! Of course I’m scared. I’ve just snagged myself a diagnosis that everyone fears. But I’m trying to be brave. My only option is to fight. So fight with me! Be fun and fearless, and we will conquer it together. If I’m upbeat, be upbeat too. When I get negative, just listen. No need to pile on to my already mounting anxieties.

 3. “My problems seem so stupid now!” OK, I’m going to be honest with you, sometimes they do. But they were always stupid before! Most day-to-day problems are when you really get down to it. But that’s what I love about our friendship. We can gab for hours about anything. We can analyze every part of your new crush’s most mundane text messages. I still want to do that. Cancer didn’t make me dull or prude or unable to listen to you bitch about your boss. In fact, your problems might just be the highlight of my day. Just remember, though, I have some bitching to do too. Let me go first and then have at it.

4. “Natalie Portman looked really beautiful with a shaved head.” Yes, she did. How could she not? She had a hair and makeup team and a whole film crew making sure she looked exactly how she should. I have a razor in my bathroom and a life-threatening illness. Not the same thing. Tell me that I look beautiful once you see my newly shaved head. Heck, shave yours too! What are friends for?

5. “I saw this article about a cure on Facebook…” Everyone from my colleagues to old acquaintances to the Thai food delivery guy has a new way to cure cancer. I have been told that eating raw snakeskin can do it! I’m not saying that none of this stuff is true. Some of the advice is interesting and helpful. But at a certain point, I have to trust my own instincts and my doctors to know the ins and outs of my particular circumstance. If you’ve had cancer and something worked for you, I’m happy to hear your experience. But too many untested Internet suggestions just make me feel like I’m not doing enough. Please don’t be offended if I pass on the reptile remedies.

6. “How did you get it?” Yes, people have asked me this. I don’t know. My doctors don’t know. Sometimes life is just random, and you have a stroke of bad luck. This question just puts me in the past instead of pointing me toward the future. And speaking of the future, don’t ask if I’m worried about getting cancer again. One thing at a time, my friend.

7. “This must be AWFUL for you!” Cancer sucks. It’s ugly and indiscriminate and shatters lives and families. That is a given. But life is beautiful. Living it with or without a disease is a privilege. I can honestly say there are moments of my life with cancer that have been happier than during my greatest successes. Don’t assume I’m resentful. Tell me stories of survivors you know (we all have them). Let’s talk about how freakin’ amazing it is to be on this planet. Then let’s shop for new clothes to wear with my new boobs!

8. “…” Whatever you do, don’t say nothing. “I figured everyone was calling you” or “I just wanted to give you space” are not good excuses in these situations. Maybe you’ll put your foot in your mouth. It wouldn’t be the first time. Don’t let it make you afraid to be supportive. As much as we may get stupid questions, we do have some grace for you. You didn’t ask cancer to come in your life anymore than we did. Be honest and tell us you don’t know what to say. Ask how you can help. Be there when we need it. That’s what life is all about anyway, cancer or not.



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Chemo Style! Part 3

Treatment #4-Rosy outlook!

First of all, to borrow from an episode of Seinfeld, WE HAVE SHRINKAGE! My MRI has revealed that although its not a huge amount, my tumor has shrunk by a centimeter. When you are starting with the behemoth lump that I had, you can understand why there is dancing in the streets. I got the news right before my fourth treatment so it was exactly what I needed to put a pep in my step and suck it up for three more.

For the morning of number four, I decided to go all out blush. When I was diagnosed I started to see really quickly that if you’re going to have breast cancer, you better like pink. It’s everywhere and it’s your job to wear it and wear it proudly. I’ve never been a fan of baby pinks or rosy hues so I decided bold and bright was the way to go! It all started with my new favorite lipstick: NYX brand in Shocking Pink. That has a nice ring to it!

As KISS-met would have it, I got a package in the mail a few days earlier from Fighting Pretty, an organization who makes it a point to make women feel beautiful while fighting cancer. You’re speaking my language ladies! They sent me a gorgeous care package with nail polishes, lipsticks, scarves, a hat and the most amazing pink boxing gloves! “Never never never give up” it said on the inside. This parade of pink spurred me on for my next round like no other. I painted my nails to avoid the pain that the chemo can cause them and did up my head with a pink polka dot scarf from Michael’s ($1.99 people! Buy em up!)

To top off my pretty in pink theme, I donned some dreamy white glasses and one of my favorite sweatshirts from Mink Pink (the name is a total coincidence). I love this sweater. The enthusiastic YAY is perfect for when you need a little pep talk, but the sassy period at the end is a cheeky little reminder to chill a bit. It’s chemo after all, let’s not get too excited. An optimist for the future but a realist in the moment. We can’t celebrate just yet. Those centimeters aren’t going to shrink themselves!


Side Effects

Good thing I was feeling good in pink because Holy Mother of GOD here come the hot flashes! Ladies, your mom’s have talked about them. You’ve heard lore of them your whole life. You have NO IDEA! These things are brutal. It’s like there are little elves in your body operating a thermostat that you can’t even comprehend. Thank the lord I have no hair. You sweat, you steam, you heat up with the fire of a thousand suns, and then it’s over. It’s so consuming you want to ask everyone, “Did you feel that?!” as if it were an earthquake you were all experiencing at once. Nope, it’s just you. Just the crazy combo of steroids and menopause they’ve got you on. Breathe through it. Another one is on the way.

I wanted a fashionable way to combat these raging fires so I went to my trusty eBay and ordered up a beautiful fan to carry with me at all times. It’s lightweight, fits easily in my bag and gives me an appropriately exotic flair when I feel like I’m in the Burmese Jungle while in the dead of winter. I whipped this out at the doctor’s office last week and about three other women pulled theirs out too. Looks like I’m not the only one who wants to accentuate the HOT in the flashes. This fan’s for you, my beautiful cancer kicking ladies!


Chemo Style! Part 2

Photo: ME! Colorist: Adam Deen


Treatment #3 You can do it! (Sorry, I had to!)

When chemo forced itself into my cancer journey, I was not a happy camper. I didn’t want to be vain. I didn’t want the hair loss to be something I worried about. Who cares? It’s a little hair that will grow back in no time. This was a much bigger fight I had gotten myself into and I wasn’t going to have time to worry about the trivial things. In my quest for positivity I tried to take a proactive route. Before I lost my hair, I stood in front of the mirror, armed with every kind of scarf you can imagine. I tried the pirate, I tried the headband, I tried anything to make me feel like I wouldn’t hate looking at myself in the mirror. Everything looked really adorable actually! That is, until I tucked my remaining bangs under the scarf. That’s when the inner monologue started it’s chant: SICK! YOU LOOK SICK! It’s all I could think of. Sick, ugly, cancer. No one walks around without hair unless they have no choice! I flung off the prospective covering and figured I would just deal with it when the day came.

The day came pretty quickly. I was going out and needed to wear a scarf, not for vanity purposes but because I can’t let the sunny Southern California sun scorch my dome. In a moment of desperation, my mom pulled out a red bandana she had in her closet. I looked up a quick online tutorial on how to wrap it and all of a sudden I felt strength jump through my veins. How could I feel anything but powerful wearing my bright red Rosie the Riveter bandana? She is the epitome of ass kicking. She didn’t care what was on her head, she had to roll up her sleeves and do a dirty job that only she could do. It may be cliche but it got me through my bald slump and my next round of chemo. There is nothing more feminine to me than a woman who can get shit done!

get shit

Side Effects

All hail Taxol! My new drug, which is the cousin to Taxotere, solved all my allergy problems! I had no issues with rashes or walking, although I took EXTRA care and stayed off my feet for a full five days just in case. I also tried a new cocktail of pre meds. Though it had been lovely for me to sleep the whole time, it turns out I’m a bit of a sleeptalker and a nasty one at that! Poor mom was dealing with the loopy things that were coming out of my mouth so in order to spare her some stress, we backed off on the Ativan. I was a much more pleasant patient and was aware of the whole thing. Better for everyone for sure.

Now the new thing I’m dealing with is Chemo Brain. THIS IS FOR REAL FOLKS! I have lost my damn mind! Full portions of my brain feel like they are missing. Words disappear from memory and if my train of thought gets interrupted it’s a painful experience trying to get back on. I had heard of this before but I didn’t really think it would affect me. I have always had a steel trap brain. I started my Broadway career being a swing which means you have to learn every part in the show and go on without any rehearsal. I knew my lines and everyone else’s immediately and I got paid the bucks to do it. I really thought this part of my brain would hold up but it went out as quickly as you could say “what?!” I’ve had to have a very particular amount of grace with myself during this time. It’s very disconcerting to lose something you rely on so heavily, but it’s temporary. The people around me love me anyway and will be there waiting for me to finally supply the word I’m looking for. Wait for it… It’s coming, I swear.



What Chemotherapy Taught Me About Motherhood

In case you missed my second Cosmo post, here it is!

I am extremely proud to be a woman. Who wouldn’t be? We can do so many remarkable things that are unique to only us. The most fundamental characteristic is the ability to have children. We can make HUMANS, ya’ll! This is incredible! A mom friend of mine once told me that after the birth of her son she felt almost superhuman in her strength. I never forgot that. I knew women described some amazing feelings after giving birth, but superpowers?! I was listening!

I had always just assumed I would have children and have them young. My mom had all her kids by age 23 so it just felt natural to follow that path. In my mind, the minimal age difference between my mother and I was a main factor in us being so close. We are great friends and I could easily confide in her without too much generational translation. It was an ideal situation and one that made sense to emulate.

My plan was simple: fall in love, marry young, have kids, and then relax knowing I had fulfilled what I had assumed was my “womanly destiny.”

None of this happened. At least not in the way I’d imagined.

I did fall in love at a young age … with theater. At age 5, I saw a production of Annie and never looked back. I was intoxicated by every aspect of performing and couldn’t believe my luck that I locked down exactly what I wanted to do in life so early. Then, at age 17, I got into a passionate and committed relationship … with New York City. I set lofty goals and achieved them one by one. And while I focused on living this wild and unpredictable life, I sort of just assumed the baby desire would conveniently announce itself. Surely I would wake up one day with an actual man next to me and all of a sudden it would be baby time! But this revelation never came, and as I moved into upper-20s, I sometimes wondered why that feeling wasn’t nagging at me.

“You’re so young! You have plenty of time for kids! Your career is important!” I heard this from everyone, and I didn’t disagree. Sure, this wasn’t how my mom had done it, but I was part of a new generation! I could choose when I wanted to start a family. There was no reason in my mind to not believe this would be my path.

Again, my plan was thwarted.

As I listened to my oncologist explain how the chemotherapy that would be imperative to ridding my body of breast cancer could make it impossible to have children, I suddenly felt like every choice I ever made was a mistake. Why didn’t I make this a priority?! These words screeched through my brain on a loop. Being “so young” had turned into “time’s up!” in an instant.

My tumor was feeding on my estrogen so we had to starve that sucker out with a monthly shot that would put me into a medically induced state of menopause. The shot was also going to potentially protect my ovaries from the “poison” I would be introducing into my body through chemo. In the course of one day, my estrogen would hit rock bottom and my ovaries would be put to sleep for five years, rendering it not only virtually impossible to have a child but incredibly harmful to my body. A surge of estrogen from a pregnancy could kill me. Oh boy, this was doing wonders for my already complicated maternal instinct!


Thankfully, I had doctors who were very sensitive to this issue and a tumor that was happy to stay put for a while, which gave me a small but necessary window to freeze my eggs. I felt comfortable with this plan, as they would remain a desirable 30 years old even as I continued to age. Plus, a uterus never expires. My fertility doctor was confident that because of my age and general good health I could get up to 15 eggs saved in the one cycle I was allotted before I had to start treatment. I was going to be given a rare opportunity to push the reset button on my biological clock. For the first time since my diagnosis, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Unfortunately, a standard blood test found that even without cancer, my fertility was very low. By the time I’m 35, when we wake up my ovaries, I will have a slim chance of conceiving naturally. Hearing this news, I had finally had enough. The “positivity goggles” I had been wearing flew off. For the first time I allowed myself to dip my toe in the “WHY ME?!” pool. I had listened to my heart, and my body had betrayed me. It never spoke up! How could it give up on me without even letting me know? I threw myself a proper pity party but in cancer land there is very little room for this sort of behavior. And to be honest, it didn’t make me feel any better. I went forward with the fertility treatments, giving myself up to three shots in the abdomen every day for 10 days. Each time I prepared the syringe, my inner monologue vacillated between “My future kids better LOVE ME after all this crap I’m doing for them” and “Am I even sure I want to be a mother?” I was taking drastic measures to ensure a future that I couldn’t even envision as the right one for me.

The procedure itself was easy peasy. They put me under, and the whole thing was done in 15 minutes. My doctor was able to retrieve four eggs — certainly not 15, but better than nothing. Afterward, the fact that I had these frozen little potential futures made something click in me. I realized that I don’t have to regret anything. I had made the right choices for me with all information I had, just as I had my entire life. I wouldn’t have traded my career experiences for anything. They offered me joy, confidence, perseverance, financial autonomy, and chapters upon chapters of stories. Stories that one day I may tell to my children, though for now that particular future is just chilling, literally, while I fight to have any future at all.

One thing I learned in my quest for motherhood is this: A woman is not defined by her fertility. The ability to carry and birth a child is a miracle. But so is adoption. So is deciding motherhood is not your bag and instead you will nurture the hell out of your partner, your best friends, or your shoe collection. Maybe one day I will simply say, “My body doesn’t do that. Can I interest you in the millions of OTHER things it does?”

I never stopped having options. It just took cancer to open my eyes to how many I really have.

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Chemo Style! Part 1

I am living my own version of Groundhog’s Day.

At my first treatment, my nurse told me to keep a diary of my symptoms because they were going to be similar each time I did a course. I loved this idea as I am a planner from way back. Every treatment would be exactly the same and I would have no icky surprises to worry about!

Well obviously that’s an exaggeration. While the courses have been very similar, each one comes with it’s own unique road. So let’s play some catch up (I’ve already done four treatments!) and I can show you some of my chemo style and tips for each treatment I did.

Treatment 2: Don’t believe everything you read in Star Magazine

When I was a little girl, my grandmother had a subscription to Star Magazine. The flimsy paper pages lay piled in a basket by her bed and I couldn’t wait to lock myself in her room and dive into the Style section or the latest celebrity gossip. But the one section that always bothered me was the horoscopes. Now to be honest, I’ve never put much stock in the “stars” so it wasn’t the actual readings that gave me pause. It was my sign. Because of my July 23rd birthday falling on the cusp, I found myself in a section that was less than desirable for me: Cancer. “What an icky word for a sign,” I always thought. To be labeled a crab was bad enough but to add the name of an ominous illness felt like drawing the short end of the stick. And furthermore, the descriptions never seemed to fit me. So even though I never used the horoscopes to plan my life, I always felt mismatched with my fates.

Years later, I finally stumbled upon another publication revealed my cusp birthday actually puts me in Leo territory. “Warm, action-oriented and driven by the desire to be loved and admired, the Leo have an air of royalty about them. They love to be in the limelight, which is why many of them make a career in the performing arts. The Lions are always admired for their kindness and helpful nature. Big-hearted that they are, the Leo graciously showers love and affection on people. While they demand loyalty from the people associated with them, the Leos themselves are also loyal and trustworthy individuals.” This was all sounding pretty spot on. Of course there were negatives as well: “The Leos are opinionated and headstrong, and it takes a lot of convincing to make them change their stance. The Leo wants to be in control of situations and expect people to follow them. Their dominating nature may not go down well with everyone.They want to get things done and over with as soon as possible. But their impatience leads them to unnecessary anxiety and even failures and disappointments.” I suddenly felt like my position in the cosmos was starting to make sense. A performer who is fiercely loyal and loves her mane: check! Some impatience and strong will: Yup! I eagerly accepted my destiny as a Leo and never looked back.

I guess it turns out you can’t run from Cancer forever. About a week before my second treatment I saw this shirt at H&M and knew I had to have it. A cheeky nod to my “crabby” new life. I’m trying to take the Leo approach to this new phase: headstrong, immovable, and getting it over with quickly! I’m also surrounded by the people who love and admire me so I can’t lose. The shirt seemed to be the admittance that no matter how much you try to change your stars, sometimes there are other plans for you. So here I am, a mane-less Leo with Cancer. Who says you can’t have it all?!


Side Effects

This treatment started very similarly to the last one, even including me flying in from New York at the last second and plopping into the treatment chair. This time, however, I had an unexpected reaction to my chemo drug, Taxotere. I had a hard time breathing and swallowing and quickly developed a rash. We slowed down the drip but come to find out, I am allergic to something in the meds. I wasn’t aware of this, but this chemo comes from the bark of a Yew tree which my body apparently was not a fan of. After we got this sorted, I went back to sleep like last time and was woken up just in time to shuffle on home.

The symptoms came as usual, the nausea and pain, restless nights and general fatigue. I thought I had seen the end of it around 5 days later but that darn Yew tree reared it’s ugly head again. In addition to the reaction I was having, I developed something called hand/foot syndrome. Basically the chemo is making a mad dash out of my body, hence the hair loss and pore cleansing (which I am actually loving). But unfortunately, it’s escaping through my hands and feet as well, basically burning my skin on the way out. My poor feet were bright red with skin falling off them in droves. I spent two days with my little piggies wrapped in ice while my heels were so sore I couldn’t walk. This was an incredibly disheartening time for me since my mobility and energy have been a major saving grace for my optimism. But I lotioned and iced up a storm and after several days rest, I was actually dancing the night away at a wedding with zero pain. In heels no less! I oddly found the heels to be more comfortable since it put the pressure on the balls of my feet instead of the sore part in the back. So sorry, cancer! You tried but you just can’t keep me from Uptown Funk-ing my way through the dance floor. Don’t believe me? Just watch!