Sunday, September 30, 2007

Do Your Thing


Last week, I sent an impersonal generic email to my family, and another to my friends, announcing my new blog. “There,” I thought after hitting the send button. “Nothing like self-expression to infuse some creativity into my life and re-energize my spirit!”

Still, I worried.

Blogging is weird. Many people (including myself until recently) have never read a blog. Ocho and I, after he got his new MacBook Pro, were talking about the blogging phenomenon. We went online and found an article by Technorati, an internet search engine and indexer of more than 11 million weblogs. It reported that in July of last year there were 50 million blogs and counting. More than 175,000 blogs are created each day—that’s two for every second of each day—with an average of 1.6 million posts. “Why would anyone want to spend time reading drivel about another person’s life?” Ocho asked. I agreed.

Still, I wondered…

I puzzled over why someone would post personal, even intimate, info in a public space. My friend J. had created a work blog, offering weekly advice and pep talks to people who work in inside sales, a tough and often isolating job, and I thought it was brilliant. I also was inadvertently directed to someone’s Apple 2.0 blog while reading another article about Apple’s decision to lower the price of its iPhone. It, too, was well-written, smart and useful.

But I’d never actually seen anyone’s personal blog. Curious, I sat down at Ocho’s new laptop while he arranged some hot-pink gladiolas, his favorite flowers, in a green glass vase.(“I know you think this is gay,” he announced, glancing over at me. “No, I don’t,” I protested, thinking otherwise while simultaneously running a list of his masculine traits through my head.)

I Googled "best blogs" and found www.thebestofblogs.com. Once there, I energetically avoided the categories of Best Book/Literary Blog, Best Inspirational Blog, Best Parenting Blog. I even shunned the Best Health Blog category and headed straight for the Funniest Blog entries. Priorities, as usual, properly aligned.

Since my parents are now “subscribers” to my blog, I won’t quote directly from the runners up. But I will say that the writers are ridiculously clever and produce some of the best comic writing I’ve ever read. Right up there with my heroes, Anne Lamott and David Sedaris.

While letting inspiration sink in, my friend Hedgie, who has been on the same breast cancer train that I’ve been on (same timing, same treatments, same oncologist, same street, kids in same school, same caustic sense of humor, etc.) created her own blog: www.princesshedgehogchronicles.blogspot.com. She produces incredibly tender and lovely essays on cancer, camping, dead cats and micro-organization.

Inspiration took root, and I created my blog, named after a phrase that Sam and I overused in our high school days. As waitresses, whenever someone would suggest that we do something we didn’t want to do, we’d respond with the phrase.

Example:

Irritated customer: “This apple pie is cold. Can you reheat it?”

Me or Sam: “Hey, reheat this.”


Hence, the name Reconstruct This… Cancer has demanded that I reconstruct myself. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Sometimes I’m happy to oblige. Other times, not so much.

After writing a Reconstruct This… piece, I would send the link to Ocho and Sam, but since writing is meant to be read, I longed for a larger audience. So, I sent my blog announcement email. Then I began to perseverate. I worried that people would find the whole thing overly precious and self-absorbed.

The next morning, I found several emails in my inbox, including one from a co-worker: “What are you doing working here?” he asked, magnanimously. My sister and her best friend, who a couple years ago had inflammatory breast cancer and continues to bravely receive treatment for brain metastases, each wrote, as did friends from the city, friends from my kids’ school, and folks from my breast cancer writers’ group in Palo Alto. The encouragement was healing beyond words.

There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have been able to put my fragile and self-conscious self on the line, especially a line that is so exposing. These days, however, I feel differently. I still angst about what people think, and I always will. But I’ve learned something in the past 16 months, and that’s that people are extraordinarily kind and generous.

“Do your thing,” wrote my friend, LM.

I will. Thank you.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Surf Lessons



I've been on a surfboard. I haven't actually surfed, if you want to get technical, but I've come close.

While down in Southern California for my brother's wedding, Ocho took me out for a surf lesson. I don't go surfing with him in Half Moon Bay. The water on that length of coast averages 40 degrees, which, for a delicate Southern girl like me, is just too frickin' cold. To surf in water that cold, you have to wear a wetsuit.

Now I've been in every surf shop from here to Santa Cruz, and I've taken notice of the posters they hang inside: dudes in board shorts, chicks in tiny swimsuits. But, not once have I seen a poster of a menopausal woman with a little gut and a big 'fro in an O'Neill wetsuit hanging on a wall. I'm guessing there is a good reason for that.

In SoCal, however, you don't have to wear a wetsuit, as the water is deliciously warm. On the day of my lesson with Ocho, I wore a swimsuit and a pair of his board shorts. (Now I know why they call them board shorts; you actually do need to wear shorts that long when you ride a board, otherwise you get a hideous rash on your thighs). Still, I got a hideous rash. In fact, I got little blisters on both my inner thighs and upper arms from paddling and trying to "pop up." But I hadn't had that much fun in months.

The next morning, while Ocho and my son surfed the warm waves of San Clemente beach, I took another surf lesson, this one arranged by my brother and his fiancee for their out-of-town guests. The instructors looked like the dudes and chicks on the surf shop posters with their sun-bleached hair, surf logo tees, long shorts and flip flops. There were 20 of us students, most of us middle aged. After we'd all squeezed into our tight, red, rental rash-guards, we huddled together in a group on the sand while one of the surf dudes demonstrated the art of the pop-up on one of the rental longboards. I was the second to try.

"What's your name?" the surf dude asked. "Jill," I said. "But today I'd like to be called Chill."

Surf dude, smiling and flashing stunningly white teeth: "Ok, Chill, show us how to pop up."

Chill [lying face-down on a 9-foot longboard--the surfboard equivalent of a Chevy Suburban]: "Ok! I look behind me. I see a big wave coming. I paddle, paddle, paddle, kick, kick, kick. Then I pop up!"

Only, I didn't exactly "pop" up. Instead, I struggled to my knees, thrust my left foot in front of me, and began the slow, agonizing ascent to vertical. Once there, I bent my legs and stretched my trembling arms out to either side.

Surf dude: "No worries! It's all good!"

Only it wasn't. I was like a Pop-Tart stuck in a toaster. I tried to pop up, the real way, three times before giving the board to the next student.

"Here you go, Max," I said, lurching off the board. I placed my hand on my hips and arched one brow to affect a superior attitude. "It's harder than it looks."

Max popped up instantly.

I later told my brother that I couldn't pop up because of my tissue expanders. My reconstruction wasn't for two more weeks. "These expanders feel like river rocks in my chest," I complained. But the more likely reason I couldn't pop up, and I say this with lots of self love (no worries! it's all good), is the newly acquired poundage on my chemo-soaked, radiation-burned, estrogen-free body.

And, hey, Max, not to take anything away from you...but out in the water, where it actually counts, dude, it really is harder than it looks.

To catch a wave, you have to paddle out to where the waves break, then straddle your board and look out to sea. When you see a good wave coming, you lie down and whip the board around quickly. Then you paddle and kick like hell to get some momentum going. Next comes the adrenaline-pumping pop up, followed by the ride.

Because I'm feeling all sorts of existential these days, the instructions for how to surf remind me of instructions for how to live life in the bigger sense:

1. Sit tight and wait for a nice, clean wave.

2. When that wave comes, acknowledge the adrenaline, but paddle and kick hard; focus on getting your momentum going. Then pop up with as much grace as you have available.

3. Be satisfied in the knowledge that your technique is good because you've worked long and hard on it.

4. Take in the incredible beauty and power of your surroundings.

5. Ride that wave as long as you can.


I watched Ocho, my son and his buddy surf today. It was a rare gorgeous day on the coast. Ocho caught wave after wave. M was on one of Ocho's faster boards and caught a couple good ones, as did his buddy. My heart was full, except for one small thing: I wished I had been out there, too.

While driving back over the hill to Belmont, I decided to plan a weekend surf trip to SoCal this winter. And this time, I'm going to learn how to get up on a board for real, bra.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ocho II


Little did I know when I looked at Ocho’s 8 fingers for the first time that afternoon at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company that they would make him particularly sensitive to other people’s bodily trauma.

Ocho was in the room when my plastic surgeon carefully unveiled the new girls. They didn’t look like boobs, actually, but they did look like the cupcakes I’d recently made for my brother’s bachelor party. I think I mentioned I was my brother D.’s best man.

Pumped-up pecs, poor sense of direction and propensity for foul language aside, I’d angsted for months about the bachelor party, which—in addition to the obligatory college buddies—was also going to include my 15-year-old son and my ex. That didn’t sound too awkward. Pause. Not. (No more awkward than seeing Borat with my son and my parents…)

Brilliantly, I decided instead to hire a professional poker dealer and have a poker party for D. and his friends on the coast at Ocho’s. “I feel bad,” I told Ocho. “I feel like I’m denying D. the real deal: a bachelor party at the Mitchell Brothers with a bunch of college buddies, a stretch limo, and a stack of fives.” To make the poker party a little more guy-friendly, I purchased a bottle of Macallan Single Malt Scotch (15 years old), pulled out the vodka, tequila and Jack Daniels left over from my 1989 wedding, and baked cupcakes.

Cupcakes, you ask? My ex, who is not usually so detail-minded, asked me who was going to jump out of the cake at the poker party. “Hello??? That would be me!” I laughed. But even with my totally wrong sense of humor, that image was so disturbing that I had to come up with something, and come up with it snappy. The answer? Boobie cupcakes.

On the day of the bachelor party, Ocho and I went to Trader Joe’s and purchased potato chips, pistachios, pretzels, pop and other items that begin with the letter P. I made the cupcakes and let them cool. I asked, Ocho, who’s a graphic artist, how to make boobie-colored frosting. He put white frosting in a plastic bowl and began adding drops of green and yellow and red. The resulting color was pleasingly peachy. He then offered to make a cup of “nipple pink.” “Puhleeze,” I emoted. “If these are the only titties that are going to be at the party, they have to be realistic. I need to make the nipples out of something other than frosting.” I drove to Longs and returned with a bag of nipple possibilities. I tried little pink marshmallows: too squared-off. I tried pink M&Ms: too round, and too small. I tried pink gumdrops: troublingly large and glittery. I drove back to Longs, and after spending another 20 minutes in the candy aisle, left with a bag of Good n’ Plentys and 8 rolls of Necco Wafers. Back at Ocho’s, I cut a pink Good n’ Plenty in half and glued it to a pink Necco Wafer with a small dab of Betty Crocker Cream Cheese Icing. Bullseye! The perfect nipple.

That night at the poker party, I realized no one was touching the cupcakes, even after getting Good n’ Lubed on the Macallan’s. “Hey, Dave," I asked one of D's friends conspiratorially. "Are the cupcakes kind of disturbing?” “No, Jill.” he said. “I’m feeling strangely aroused by them.” I appreciated the sweet answer. But I did notice that after the party, there were still 24 boobie cupcakes on the titty bar.

Back to Dr. G’s office: “That’s amazing,” Ocho said, when he saw the newly constructed nipples. The areolas had been created out of a skin graft taken from my left thigh; the projecting part of each nipple had been created out of my own breast skin—cut into a half star shape then folded like origami and stitched to form a little nub. I was grateful for Ocho’s response.

Later, Dr. G noticed Ocho’s fingers. He asked how it had happened. Ocho told him about the rocket and how he’d put a bit too much explosive in it before lighting the fuse. Dr. G was impressed with the work Ocho’s plastic surgeons had donein 1967. “You must have a particular sensitivity to what Jill’s gone through, having gone through something physically traumatic yourself,” he said.

Dr. G was right. Meeting Ocho and having him as my partner during the past 17 months has been what my friend A. calls “one of those God things.” He’s not only been particularly sensitive, he’s been absolutely remarkable in every way.

He even ate one of my cupcakes.

(BTW: To solve the mystery of the plastic, see-through coffin on the sushi counter, referenced in the Ocho post of September 18…it housed a dead uni, or sea urchin. The damp little orange blanket on top of it was there to keep it moist. And the spoon lying on top of both was for the sushi dude to gag himself with whenever someone ordered uni.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lucky Stars


I called Sam yesterday afternoon. That's what I do when I hate the world. Sam and I live on opposite coasts. We believe in opposite things (she believes in Jesus; I believe in good therapy). And we use opposite brain hemispheres (she teaches math; I manage a magazine and a company intranet). But the one thing we do share is the ability to laugh at the absurdities in our lives. And there have been a few...

I met Sam at Coco's in Sandy Springs, Georgia. We both had the late shift one night, and I was cleaning the soup well while she was "marrying" bottles of Heinz ketchup. "Are you happy with yourself?" she asked me. Surprised by her question, I lied (of course) and told her that I was ridiculously happy with my agonizingly self-conscious 18-year-old self. She wasn't buying it, but instead of challenging me, she admitted to having deep feelings of unhappiness herself. A difficult statement to believe. Sam had the charisma of a Kennedy, stratospheric intelligence, New England good looks, and private-school presence. She would have been completely intimidating if not for her soul-searching questions, which were both revealing and disarming.

Sam and I became immediate friends and spent that summer and the next year cruising Marietta in my copper Ford Pinto, obsessing about guys, doing the Sunday New York Times crossword with a pack of Benson and Hedges and a couple of Tabs, and waiting tables for gas money and tight jeans. Since then, we've had spells when we haven't been in close contact; Sam went to the University of Georgia in Athens, while I went to Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta. We've also had a few fights, after which we don't speak for a couple months. "Are you breaking up with me?" she asked after a recent disagreement. I was going to, but she made me laugh, so I didn't ask her to return my stuff.

These days, Sam and I will go for a week or so without contact. And that's only because I'm on a deadline or she has papers to grade and lessons to plan. She was free Sunday, though. Thank God. I'd been feeling depressed, and Sam understands depression. In these 30-something years we've been friends, Sam has suffered from sometimes debilitating depression, while I have suffered from sometimes paralyzing anxiety.

Sam called me frequently when she was going through a divorce that left her with three small children in military housing in Florida. And I called her the afternoon I got my breast cancer diagnosis. I was trying to be cool-headed, but I went online and read about infiltratring lobular carcinoma. I called Sam back in a panic, and she was exactly what you want in a friend when you're having a colossal breakdown: calm, compassionate and focused. She also offered this: "We'll get through this together." And I believed her. We've been through everything together.

I also believed her because she's been around cancer before. Sam's sister survived Stage II breast cancer, and her mother died from ovarian cancer. To reduce her own cancer risks, Sam took herself in for a total hysterectomy. (And she did that without anyone being her overnight advocate--or just plain company--in the hospital.)

It pisses me off when people talk about cancer being a gift. And not because I don't think it's true. I actually do think cancer has been a gift. I've changed and grown in ways that I wouldn't have changed and grown without it. But, I don't want anyone--especially someone who hasn't personally received that gift for himself or herself--to suggest that instead of sometimes feeling angry or disappointed or terrified--that I should only feel immense gratitude and to count my lucky stars.

I know exactly where each lucky star exists in my galaxy: There's a star for each of my children. For my ex. My boyfriend. My brother. My sister. My parents. My friends. My primary physician and oncologists. My therapist. Sam.

When I called Sam on Sunday and told her that I hated the world, she said, "Of course, you do. It makes total sense you'd feel that way." Later we exchanged this email:

Me:

Life is short. I am going to feel good and depressed for a while, but not much longer. I need to move on. Let's keep talking about what we're going to do with the next half of our lives. That chick who made Spanx is now a millionaire. We can do something like that. We're smart. And we're funny. And you're cute, so you can be the face of the company.

Sam:

What the heck are Spanx? You know, I am proud of your body. It may not look like it did, but it produced that little bump so you could find the cancer in your breast, it went through surgery, it went through chemo, it went through radiation. And you're out now riding your bike with Ocho. It's incredibly strong! You have done a great job hanging in there and you are definitely on the last leg of this Cancer Party you've been going to for the last year. Can you believe it has only been a year since the diagnosis? Think of all the things we are free from and how much we've grown up."

It was vintage Sam: direct, supportive, kind. But I've gotta disagree with her about how much we've matured. We may have houses, partners, kids, jobs, 401(k)s, eight seats in our rigs, Beano in our purses and AARP invitations in our mailboxes. But our humor hasn't moved the needle at all. It's still solidly pre-adolescent. And I thank my lucky stars for that.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ocho


My brother, upon hearing that my new boyfriend has only eight fingers, nicknamed him Ocho in eight seconds flat. And the moniker kinda stuck. By kinda, I mean that Ocho—like Dubya—at first balked at his new tag. But, 18 months later, he now signs his emails with the name.

I met Ocho in March 2006. I’d seen his photo on Match.com and bullied him into emailing me. We met a few weeks later for coffee and ahi. It was supposed to be coffee and a hike, but I wanted to impress, so I wore surgically pointy black boots and a cute necklace that I’d bought that morning from a sidewalk vendor for good dating Feng Shui. My hair was down to the middle of my back.

The boots must have done the trick. After coffee, Ocho invited me over to the Brewing Company for a glass of wine, down to the Jetty to get some fresh ahi, and up to his house to grill it.

Our second date was at Sushi Sams. It was packed (as usual), so we sat at the counter. Ocho was pouring sweat from the wad of wasabi that frosted the unagi he’d just popped in his mouth, when I asked him what he thought was under the clear plastic container on the Sushi dude’s counter. It actually looked like a little see-through coffin. Inside was a piece of orange cloth with a silver spoon on it. I was completely puzzled. Ocho mopped his brow with his napkin, looked at the coffin and ordered more sake. "I don't know, but it's weird," he said.

The next morning at work, I found the attached photo in my inbox at work. The text read:
“Look what I found on the internet! I knew I’d seen that spoon somewhere…”

If the cute smile didn’t get me, the Stalin/spoon photo sealed the deal.

That email is dated 3/31/2006. Six weeks later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Enough of cancer, let's talk about Ocho's fingers. While sitting outside the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company with a glass of wine on that first date, Ocho told me he’d blown himself up in a rocket accident when he was 12. “Let me get this out of the way,” he said by way of introducing the topic. (To be continued…)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tits Are for Kids


Being a girl who loves a project, I got kind of excited when I found out I had breast cancer. Wow, I thought to myself, I’ll be able to conduct some kick-ass research, consider weighty options, make life-altering decisions, and bask in the afterglow of my ability to handle adversity with grace and intelligence. I also thought I’d be hanging with a couple nice-sized “girls.”

Having breast-fed two children until they both got incisors left me with a couple girls that I could sometimes tuck into a “nearly-A” bra-lette from the junior department. The only problem was most juniors are small elsewhere, too, which made it difficult to find a 36 nearly-A with cups that were located at least two inches apart and straps that suspended the cups lower than the clavicle. Other than swimsuit shopping, nothing could send me into a complete and total funk like scouring the mall for a well-fitting bra. (Note the lack of a plural; I was happy to find one bra every five years and buy 10 of the same style.)

“It looks like the kids sucked the architecture out of your boobs,” my ex used to note. To his credit, he usually followed that observation with one of his basic tenets of life: Tits are for kids. It’s one reason I loved being married to my ex. While other husbands were sent into another orbit by an ample rack, mine seemed satisfied with an ample hip-to-waist ratio, which I was able to supply non-surgically.

These days I’m slightly tit-centric myself. I see breasts everywhere: in the double D-cup muffins at Starbucks, on the Bebe mannequins in the mall, under the Prana yoga tops at the gym, at my daughter’s middle school. On the first day of 6th grade, my daughter asked that I wait in the quad with her until a few friends arrived. While waiting, I noticed a mom with a blond pony tail wearing tight boot-cut jeans and a snug little black T, under which were perfect Barbie cones. “Dang,” I said to my daughter. “Do you think she’s a student? Try competing with that!” K. asked me to get in the car and go to work.

I worked for a few hours then had lunch with a co-worker, M. While sitting on the sidewalk at Chloe’s cafĂ© in Noe Valley, I admitted that I’d been feeling disappointed with my surgery and was investigating further options. “Worst-case scenario,” I said, “is that I’ll be told that this is as good as it gets. And if that happens, I’ll just have to totally focus on my booty; I’ll just have to have a kick-ass ass.”

I’ll first thoroughly investigate Plan A: Getting two boobs instead of the one and a half I currently own. If the plastic surgery options are good, I’ll have corrective surgery and hopefully feel OK (fabulous, I realize, is not available) about the outcome. If the plastic surgery options are no good, then I’ll go with Plan BB, aka Plan Bodacious Booty. That’s a double-B, and I’ll take it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Done" with Cancer


It never rains in California. And that’s a drag because what I could use right now is a cold chardonnay, a depressing Neil Young CD, and a rockin’ good thunderstorm.

What’s my problem? I’m done. I just had my reconstruction, which marks the end of my cancer road. No more side trips to the oncologists for chemo or radiation, to the cardiologist for EKGs, to the plastic surgeon for expander fill-ups, to the physical therapist for myo-fascial release, to my primary for Wellbutrin refills.

I’m done with all that. So why am I sad, scared and more than a little pissed off, when instead I should be happy, relieved and grateful?

After I was diagnosed in May 2006, the wheels started turning, and they turned fast. I motored through a double mastectomy, five chemos, 28 radiations, and the related side effects of all three: complete hair loss, the inability to construct a thought, abrupt menopause, severely limited range of motion, fatigue, weight gain. I also had just gone back to work after raising kids and doing freelance for 15 years, and I’d just begun seeing someone.

I rocketed through it all.

I’d like to think I was able to successfully navigate cancer treatment, single-motherhood, and a new job because I was strong, determined and optimistic. But I think the truer statement is that I got through it because I had no other choice. None of it was optional.

I also got through it because I had stellar support. My friends rallied; they went with me to appointments, called, met with me for coffee, arranged to have post-chemo dinners brought to my house. My family—my brother and his fiancee, my sister, my mom and dad, my uncle and cousins, my ex and children—provided practical and emotional support (as well as a wicked, and healing, sense of humor). My boss was generous, supportive and kind. The new man in my life was amazing in his ability to say the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.

I recently wrote in an email to my friend and cancer sister L. (aka Princess Hedgehog):
“Sometimes I feel as if the cool, powerful me was drowned in a shallow pond. At one point in this past year, my self-esteem was skyrocketing. I was so proud of myself! Look what I can handle! Look how cool I look with this bald head! Now, I'm just feeling physically and emotionally small and damaged.”

I had my breast reconstruction on July 13, and may need a corrective surgery. At least that’s what I’m hoping for. In the same email to L., I described the new “girls”:
“You have to go wireless with implants, which severely limits your options. So with only four bras to choose from on the entire bra planet(s), it's actually amazing that I could find one that (only kinda) worked. These are not natural looking, feeling, projecting boobs. They're flatish, roundish, asymmetrical, and, well, they're hopefully not finished yet.”

What I didn’t write is that the right “breast” is rippled and its newly constructed nipple kind of collapsed on itself; while the left “breast” has a large dent in the outer quadrants—making it look like half a breast—and its nipple is pointing toward Iceland if I'm facing San Francisco. My plastic surgeon, a talented and well-respected M.D., reminded me that reconstruction is more of an art than a science. He also suggested that I go live my life and be grateful that I don't have bigger complications. I will do those things. But before i do, I want to be sure I've done everything I possibly can to have a good outcome. I'd like two whole breasts with the nipples making eye contact.

I have tentative plans with L. today. We're going to meet for tea while her daughter's at a birthday party. We both admitted on the phone this morning to feeling "a little depressed" and needing support.

Tomorrow, we’re going to a cancer chick brunch hosted by a woman L. met and befriended at Commonweal. A year ago, I would have sprinted from such a gathering. These days, I realize it’s exactly what I need. Friends, family, co-workers and partners cannot be expected to understand the predictable (but somehow still surprising) emotional nosedive that happens when you've made it through surgery, chemo and radiation. That trajectory is best traveled with Princess Hedgehog and other cancer chicks. They know what it means to be "done" with cancer.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Looks Like Frodo


In the twelve months since I lost my hair to AC chemo, I've gone through several transitional--and sometimes transforming--looks.

When I was bald, I felt alive and powerful. Like Yul Brenner in "The King and I," standing barefoot, legs apart, fists on hips, one eyebrow arched, beautiful oval head catching some rare air. (Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera!) I went bald at home. To work, I wore a very pricy wig. My co-worker E. said that when I wore my reading glasses I looked like Nana Mouskouri. He googled a photo of her and emailed it to me. "She's cool looking," I said, realizing at that moment just how gracious and kind E. is. I didn't look like Nana Mouskouri in that wig. I looked like a 46-year-old communications manager with no eyebrows, gray skin and a very shiny brunette pageboy with permanently sideswept bangs.

A few months later, when I began to grow a weird, felt-like substance on my head, my son announced that I'd just been promoted from sargeant to dyke. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...) When the felt grew into actual 1/4-inch-long hair, it produced a dark brown hairline that stood in stark contrast to my pale skin. The straight hairline, with several inches of forehead below it, was a disconcerting look. Those were the "I, Claudius" days.

It's now September 2, Labor Day, and I'm sitting at my kitchen table writing my first entry in this blog. In the mirror on the armoire in the hall, I can see myself. "The sun will come out tomorrow! Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow...there'll be sun!" This--the large, soft fro--is the Annie phase, having passed agonizingly slowly through the Liza Minelli, Ziggy Stardust, Kramer and Frodo Baggins phases.

If I do nothing to my hair, it dries in tight little curls. It'll take at least another six months, or another three inches, before gravity can pull it down. At my brother's lovely wedding in Dana Point this past June, his fiance hired make-up and hair professionals for herself and the wedding party. As I was the best man, I was thrilled to be able to have an expert try to do something with my unruly do ("the do that doesn't," my ex calls it). I showed up with wet hair, as instructed, and was sat in front of a large full-length mirror in the bride's luxurious suite at the St. Regis. My stylist had long, tight black curls, and they looked amazing on her. "Let's go with the curl," she announced, "running her fingers and some Bumble and Bumble shpritz through my hair. I let her experiment with the look for about half an hour before announcing that there was no way I was going to walk onto the St. Regis lawn with what looked like a curly brown swim cap on my head. "Ok," she shrugged, and proceeded to blow-dry it into a nice little matronly bouffant, the only thing she could do with what I had available.

Now, I know that instead of writing about bad hair days (months, seasons), I should be writing about the "gift" of cancer and how it's transformed my life. But sometimes a girl just needs to whinge about her hair.