If you haven’t seen me in person for a couple of years, you might not recognize me. I’ve changed quite a bit.
Below is a picture of me before the pandemic, before I got cancer, before I was faced with a family crisis that is today still unresolved. Basically, before the cack hit the ventilator.
That month in particular was very important to me. It marked several points of transition in my life.
I attended the Frankfurt Book Fair, which I love to do. I’d been there before, but health issues had kept me from going for a couple of years. In 2018, I felt strong enough to attend again. The fair is very exciting, but for someone whose health isn’t optimal, it’s also draining.
The event is the largest international book fair in the world. Being an accredited blogger means that I get a Press Pass for that event. I had access to secured rooms and that made me feel like a super spy!
Shortly before, I got admitted into an exclusive writer’s convention hosted by a literary agency. It meant that in 2019, I would be flying to America to meet several editors, agents and fellow writers.
Plans to visit London and Stonehenge for the first time ever were in the making (and it happened, 2019) and I had just gotten a pay increase as a teacher.
In June 2020, in the midst of the pandemic lockdown, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctors told me that it was the most aggressive kind of tumor, very rare, and that it had already reached Stage Three. Chemotherapy was a must.
This is me at the hospital where I’ve been treated for breast cancer since June 2020. Hanging on the wall behind me is a print of one of my paintings, on metal. It’s in the waiting room of the Oncology Department. This was a very special moment for me.
Read More about the painting RIGHT HERE.
From the first moment I’d found a small, strange lump to the meeting when my doctor told me the biopsy results, I could feel the tumor getting larger and hotter. It was burning me. In talking to fellow cancer patients, I’ve learned that this is unusual.
Typically, women don’t feel their tumor(s) at all. Breast cancer can be sneaky and that’s why regular checks with a gynecologist are so essential, especially for women who have breastfed.
This is me the day I got my second Covid-19 vaccination. It landed on the anniversary of my first chemotherapy session, July 28, 2020.
People ask me why I celebrate the first day of chemotherapy. I do that because it marks a time in my life where I endured so much, so many things that I never would have thought myself capable of surviving.
But I did survive it. It’s a day that’s currently more important to me than my birthday. Maybe when I’m over 100 I’ll feel differently about that.
You can see my hair is growing back pretty well at this point, and it’s curly! And also rather white! That tank top is kind of significant too, because it’s one I purchased at a clothier near my chemo rehab clinic in Freiburg.
It was at the rehab clinic that I started wearing make-up again, daily. The experience there was actually extremely social, which was especially helpful to me. Being around other cancer patients was wonderful, because it meant I could talk freely about what I’d been going through without scaring anyone.
It was also super important to just be around people again because while I’d been going through chemotherapy, we were in a lockdown. The best part of having cancer during a pandemic lockdown is that most people are wearing a mask. That’s actually really important to someone who’s getting chemo because the immune system is just getting hammered.
This is me at the Chemotherapy Rehabilitation Center in Freiburg. I was starting to feel better here, as at this point I was done with chemo and surgery. You can see my eyebrows are coming back.
At that time, it was still quite difficult for me to move my arm (due to the surgery). Actually, there was a lot that I couldn’t really do. The chemo caused nerve damage in my hands and feet, so I was very clumsy and movements were unreliable and weak.
I could not curl my toes, for example. It was painful and difficult for me to bend my fingers. Stuff like that.
Learning how to move, how to do any kind of sports again without hurting myself, was essential to my recovery. At the clinic, I was able to learn all that. I wouldn’t be doing so well now if it weren’t for my experiences there.
Read More about my rehab experience RIGHT HERE.
Chemotherapy made all my hair fall out, of course. But once it grew back, it came back curly and considerably more white. As a result, I could easily walk past people I knew without being recognized until I said something.
This is me after I got to come back home after my mastectomy.
While my hair started coming back much sooner than I expected, certain bald spots were still obvious.
You can see in this picture that my face is somewhat swollen. It felt strange, a little as if I’d been to the dentist.
It was a side effect of the surgery (actually, the drugs needed for that surgery), but more than that I just don’t know.
Most of the time, I only took my picture if I felt like I could manage a smile. But there was one time where I decided to photograph myself feeling miserable (just below). I wanted a reminder, something to mark a low point as exactly that: something I would overcome, and where in the future I could look back at it and say, “I overcame that.”
I did not know that I would be able to ever do that, but I did hope. I think that’s significant, that pinch of hope.
Ugly, right? Brows: all gone.
So this is me doing a pretty good job looking like a Sith Lord. I had definitely embraced the Dark Side here. Fear, doubt, anger – all that.
It’s me before the mastectomy. This was a bad day, though nowhere near my lowest point. I’d had considerably worse days than this. But on this day, I was extremely afraid of the coming surgery.
I felt that absolutely nothing in my life was right, nothing was going well at all. Everything sucked. This was of course not true and I did realize that I truly did have a lot going for me.
I was able to get the mastectomy that I needed. I had family that was supportive of me, and friends who sent me funny messages to make me feel better. All in all, I had it pretty damn good.
But I can forgive myself for the dark days. I felt like crap and I was in a lot of pain – pain of every kind there is. I think it’s ok to own that. Pretending there’s no reason to be angry is also unhealthy. I had reasons.
Wigs were absolutely a MUST HAVE for me. I was completely bald for about 9 months. I mean like an egg. I had this great idea of filming a short story where my bald head could have a starring role as the Far Off Planet, upon which small toy-characters would enact a plot.
It was my dream to do this for my niece, as she had sewn for me a little giraffe toy, Ginni Pelosi Giraffi. But I couldn’t gather the energy to do it. I was just so sick so much of the time, it took a lot out of me to just exist. I was very busy with that. Full schedule.
Making even a short film does take time and energy. I’m still bummed about that. Missed my window to get my noggin on film!
What I was able to do was to doodle on my iPad. Sometimes I could manage some painting, but that required more energy, and less feeling like I needed to vomit. But it’s during this time I started creating designs on RedBubble. It was fun being able to share my artwork on a public platform and to get it produced.
Browse through those designs on my RedBubble PROFILE HERE.
I could not write fiction. Fiction is far too demanding and my brain could not find words – not in that way. I did try. But more than sit with a pen in my hand? Nope. That’s as far as I got. Chemo sucks.
I always wore a hat of some sort with my wigs, otherwise I just looked like a transvestite. My era of wig wearing was mostly in 2020. I had fun with it, playing with different looks. All me, just different aspects of me. I could have teamed up with Sherlock Holmes, no problem.
January 12, 2021
This is me getting one of my last chemo doses. As I recall, I was thinking at the time, “I look pretty good today.”
I look like hell, in fact. But as the chemo phase came to an end, the toll was obvious even on a good day.
Interestingly, my hair started to return before the treatments stopped.
But then my eyebrows finally gave out. They held on for quite a while though.
I went through two courses of chemo cocktails. First one cocktail for a few months, and then another cocktail for several months.
The longest chemo session I had to have was close to seven hours. A short session was about three hours.
As I write (October 4, 2021), this is the most recent picture of me. I’m 100% cancer free!
I’m still going through antibody treatments. They’re pretty ok after chemo, really. Just a needle in my leg for ten minutes, a blood test and I can go home. Nothing like before.
Though the treatments do have chemo-similar side effects, they’re much lighter. I’m lucky here too, because my doses will be finite. They’ll end early January.
I’ve got plans again (other than: don’t barf) and I can write fiction again. It’s a big deal for me. A really big deal.
I still have nerve damage, but I have physical therapy and I exercise daily to help my body heal.
I’ve decided that I won’t be getting my breast rebuilt. For me, it just isn’t worth it, but it wasn’t easy for me to make this decision.
Read More about my reasons behind not going through reconstructive surgery RIGHT HERE.