My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


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Warrior Pose

I’ve been a bit MIA lately due to being crazy with work and life.  I’ve missed many of your posts lately and I want to apologize for that.  I hope to find time to catch up.  It might be like this for the next month or so since this is my busy time with work.  I just wanted to put this out there.  Now, on to our regularly scheduled blog post!

Back in July, I was reading one of the blogs I had come across called My OBT (One Beautiful Thing), a blog that finds the beauty in every day.  She posted about these amazing headpieces that she found on Etsy.  They were incredible, intricate and fierce!  And in the post, she quoted the artist who mentioned her work with Hidden Warriors, an organization that works with women cancer survivors and treats them to a day of delicious clean food, power posing, and costume therapy.  I became obsessed.  I had to find out more.  I had to get a chance to wear one of those headdresses!!!  Last Sunday, it happened.  I became a warrior.

The mission of Hidden Warriors is “increasing self-esteem in and empowering women who have been affected by cancer. Together, we create an experiential and transformative adventure which tap into the Hidden Warriors they already are. The Warrior Makeover Workshop model is achieving this goal!”

The day started at 10 am.  I entered the building on W 26th St. and took the elevator to the 6th floor.  I was immediately greeted by Mayra, the mother of the Hidden Warriors founder and inspiration behind the organization whose bubbly and excited energy caught me the moment I walked off the elevator.  She was running around, making sure everything was set up and ready for us.  She wanted everything to be perfect.

First, a lovely vegan meal arrived with a kale salad, sandwiches, smoothies and snacks.  It was a beautiful feast.  One of the goals of Hidden Warriors is to show the benefit of clean eating.  I’m not a vegan but this meal was so delicious, I forgot about real cheese.  And I love real cheese.  IMG_5857

Once all of the other women arrived (there were five of us in total), the sessions began.  Marlene, who founded Hidden Warriors, welcomed us to the day and outlined everything that was planned and her vision for the future of the organization.  We were then treated to a session with an OT on channeling positive energy by tapping on certain parts of our body.  I enjoyed learning a new technique for meditation and the ritual was calming.  I’m not sure this specific method of meditation is my taste but I would love to incorporate more meditation into my daily life.  Even taking five minutes to clear the mind was rejuvenating.

Next, we were asked to think about gratitude and how “finding the gold in the darkness” of our cancer experience could be beneficial both for our physical and mental health.  Now, as many of you know, I hate cancer.  I really fucking hate it and, in my opinion, nothing good has come of it.  You know that I am of the belief that cancer was not a gift.  So, to hear that they wanted us to do this stiffened me up a bit.  What would they think of me?  Was I failing warrior 101?

I chose to be honest.  As we went around the circle reading from our list, I listened to the other women and their lists of gratitude.  Some truly have found the good in cancer and have come out the other side either with new perspectives on life or with positive experiences.  I envied them.  “I don’t give a shit about the small stuff anymore.”  Well, I still do and even more so now.  “I only see the good in people.”  I always did but the negative energy that people put out is now amplified for me.  So when it came to my turn I said, “Nothing good has come from cancer.  I have to be honest.  It has really been a curse and my life is worse off for it.  I am grateful for so many things but none of them because of cancer.”  I waited to be chastised or asked to leave or to dig deeper.  But, instead, my point of view was welcomed.  My opinion and my heart had a place there.  I felt accepted.  Even though my opinions might not conform to their philosophy per se, I was not seen as the Debbie downer, the poison, the pessimist.  I was able to say that everything good that happened to me during my cancer experience was not because of my cancer but, in spite of it.  It was empowering for me to say that and to acknowledge that I possessed the tools before cancer that helped me to get through it.

After our gratitude circle, we participated in a short yoga session.  It was simple and light.  I would have liked more but there was costume therapy to be done!

I was paired with makeup artist, Jose Lopez, who generously volunteered his time to be with us.  We sat down and introduced ourselves.  He asked me what I envisioned.  I didn’t really know but I told him that I was not afraid of color and that I like bold colors.  He asked me if I wanted to be pretty or dramatic.  My answer was, “If I want pretty, I’ll go to the Bobbi Brown counter.  I’m here.  Let’s do this!!!!”  It was the answer he was looking for.  I put my makeover completely into his hands.  I adored him from the moment I met him and knew I could trust his expertise.  This was the right decision.  For the next hour and a half, I watched Jose transform me from a breast cancer survivor who, that very morning could not look at herself in the mirror, into a dramatic, tribal like goddess.  It was incredible.  He kept adding on more and more.  And when I didn’t think it could get any better, he added on more lashes, more glitter, more eye makeup, more shadowing…AND IT WAS FABULOUS!!!!!  Here is some of my transformation.

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Before, with no makeup on.

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The beginning of the eye makeup

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With eyes closed

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Add on the glitter.

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Adding in the details

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A side view.

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Another side view.

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Adding glitter onto the lips.

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More time? Let’s add more eye makeup!

 

Once the makeup was complete, I was draped in sequins.  We had a wonderful fashion/costume designer working with us and custom making/cutting all of our outfits right then and there.  All of the fabric and his time was donated.  It was wonderful.

Finally, we had the headdresses placed on our heads by the amazingly talented artist, Darrell Thorne (check out his amazing website!)  He made each of the head pieces and donated his time to be there to make sure they fit perfectly.  My head piece was amazing.  It had rhinestones and twisted metal. It was simultaneously etherial, powerful and haunting.

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IMG_5900IMG_5905Once my headpiece was secured, I was escorted into the studio where my pictures were to be taken.  Before arriving, I was asked to share five songs that made me feel happy or powerful and these became the soundtrack for my photo shoot.  I won’t lie, even though I am an actress, I was totally nervous about my picture being taken.  I haven’t felt attractive in so long so this felt so vulnerable to me.  But there’s something about putting on a mask and costume that allowed me to channel what was deep inside; a confident, powerful woman.  I haven’t gotten any of my final, touched up photos yet but here are some pictures snapped from the computer.

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At the end of the day, what did I get out of this experience?  Number one, I met some incredible women cancer survivors who were inspiring.  I wish that more time could have been spent getting to know them.  That was the one thing missing for me.

The transformation was so much fun and Jose, my makeup artist, was the highlight of my experience.  I loved working with him and felt like he really got who I was and what my Hidden Warrior looked like.  Like Michelangelo, who could see the sculpture underneath the marble slab, Jose could see the warrior underneath the makeup and used his brushes to bring her out.  When the transformation was complete, I did feel empowered, no doubt about it.  But when the makeup, costumes and headpiece came off, I was back to myself again.  I wish that I could say that the warrior you see in these pictures stayed, and I look at her from time to time and feel beautiful and free, but at the end of the day, my scars are still there, my body is still torn.  It’s hard to get rid of that point of view in just one day.  I wish I could.

I do want to try to find a more positive outlook on life.  I know that I will never see cancer as a gift but that doesn’t mean I can’t find the good in my new normal…my after breast cancer life.  I’m not sure what a happy life looks like right now but I know it exists and I want to find it.

I also learned that power can be found in false lashes, glitter, a severe brow and rhinestones!!!!!  No, really!!!!

Thank you, Hidden Warriors for this amazing opportunity.  I’m so glad that you exist and are making it your mission to empower women affected by cancer.  Hidden Warriors can continue only through funding and donations so, if you have a few dollars left over this month after rent, consider donating to their organization.  If you are a woman cancer survivor and are interested in participating in Hidden Warriors in the future, you can get more information on their website.

Here are a few more pictures of some of the other women warriors.

IMG_6004IMG_6006Here’s what happens when you give me a wig….

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Here’s a picture of me and Jose.

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And if you’re curious as to what songs I chose, wonder no more!

Friday I’m In Love

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – Winter

Smooth Criminal

Time of Your Life 

Edge of Glory

 

 

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What Lies Beneath

“In an art form that deliberately conceals the enormity of effort that goes into its creation, we are not meant to see behind the curtain.  But I think that this does a great disservice to the dancers, and that having a sense of what lies beneath both enhances our experience of the performance and leads to a more profound appreciation of the dancer’s essential being.” -Rick Guest, photographer

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The thing I admire most about ballet dancers are their ability to make the super human look effortless.  The leaps, the spins, the balancing on toes from movement to movement…it’s as if their bodies are being carried by the wind.  Or their spines are jelly rather than bone.  Their legs are pulled up straight by a string controlled by an invisible puppeteer.  But what is not often known to, or considered by the audience are the hours upon hours of grueling rehearsal.  We don’t see the bruises or see the winces from the sore muscles.  We never see the sweat wiped from faces and chests backstage between entrances and exits.  We never see the blistered or broken toes that are hidden by the delicate, pale pink pointe shoes.

It is the job of the dancer to dance through and in spite of the pain.  Just like an athlete who must still get a goal, a touchdown, or land solidly, without faltering from the uneven parallel bars despite sprained and broken bones.  The show must always go on and it is the job of the artist to hide the hard work and the pain beneath the costume.

After six weeks of taking a medical leave of absence to recover from my DIEP Flap reconstruction surgery, I will be going back to work.  While I love my job and can’t wait to see my students again, I’m feeling trepidatious about getting back to normal life.  I have recovered well, without much incident, but I feel like I’m still recovering.  I can get around and move normally if I’m careful but I don’t have the same energy or endurance as I did before my surgery.  I get really tired in the middle of the day and find it hard to focus or get my energy back without resting.  Each week I experience dramatic improvements and I have every reason to believe that within the next few weeks my engery and endurance will return.But for now, I feel like I have to hide what I feel.

I am always saying, “fake it ’til you make it.”  I say it to students who tell me that their too tired to get up from their seats to play a game or perform a scene.  I tell them that if they fake having energy, that soon they really will be energized.  It’s mind over matter.  If you put on a smile, eventually, you will feel happier than you did a few minutes ago.

I did this throughout chemo and radiation.  I had to hide my fatigue under the costume of smiles and exuberance.  It ended up working for me.  And now I need to do it again.  I must put on my costume and conceal the awful scars that lie beneath; the scar from hip bone to hip bone, that show all of the hard work and healing I have had to endure these last six weeks.  My students don’t care if I was cut in half on January 8th.  And they shouldn’t care.  I’m there to do a job and the show must always go on.

So, on Monday, the alarm clock will go off.  I’ll groan and complain as I walk to my shower.  But by the time I get off the train and walk into school, I’ll have a smile on my face.  I will teach effortlessly, with grace.  No one will see the work it’s taking for me to keep going.  And maybe I’ll get so lost in the moments, the laughter and stories, that I’ll forget for a little while myself.  No one will see what lies beneath.