And then I posed in lingerie

I was about 20 minutes away before it hit me: soon, I would be standing in my panties in front of a stranger. This is just not something I do

Right after I was diagnosed, I started thinking of ways to commemorate this process, to celebrate what I would go through and where I would end up. Something to look back on later and feel – dare I say – good about myself.

It seemed obvious: boudoir photos.

In my mind, I knew what I wanted. A story – now, chemo, surgery, reconstruction. I wanted it to be pretty. To celebrate me. Photos of me. For me. Through some of the toughest times. I just wanted the story to be a beautiful telling of…me (and the superficial things that make me…me like hair and boobs).

I started researching photographers right away. Some were sketchy (“rent a hotel room and I’ll come take photos”). Some were too focused on sex (whips, chains, handcuffs, lots of nudes). But there was one photographer’s website that spoke to me.

She profiled ladies of various sizes, all beautifully photographed. I loved that she brought in her own hair and makeup person (instead of going to a salon then the studio). I liked that it was an “all ladies” team.

I sent her a message right away, explaining my situation and what I was looking for. I also told her that I was kind of tight on time since I’d be losing my hair soon.

I didn’t hear back right away, and I started to second guess my idea. But then Jenn did email and was very apologetic for the delay. It was Valentine’s season (dammit – didn’t even consider that!), and she was completely booked. We went back and forth on email a few times, and I was resigned to this just not happening.

On Wednesday, she emailed saying she was having lunch with another boudoir photographer in town who would be able to get me in before I lost my hair. She sent me a link to the website. It was fine. It would certainly satisfy my desire to have photos, but the photographer’s style wasn’t as soft as I wanted. I ignored the email.

Yesterday, Jenn emailed again. She had a last minute cancellation and wanted to offer it to me. I jumped at the chance. I had less than 20 hours to get ready.

There wasn’t time to shop (or get waxed or do any real thinking). I grabbed a duffle bag and tossed some lingerie, scarves and jewelry into it. “Just wing it,” I thought.

Then I fell asleep super early last night, and never gave it another thought.

This morning I had an early doc appointment. (More on that later, but woo-doggy, chemo is working! Cell counts are crazy low, but the doc isn’t placing any restrictions on me.) Then I went to my mom’s for breakfast. She wanted to see my lab work and make me eggs and bacon. An hour after breakfast, it was off to the photographer.

The studio was in an old warehouse building, full of various artist studios. Jenn’s studio was on the fourth floor (with no working elevator). Of course I was early. I sat on the cold concrete floor and thought about what was about to happen.

“In an hour, you will be almost naked, in front of a stranger, posing for photos,” I thought. “What the fuck are you thinking?”

I don’t kiss on the first date (or second….). I’m a suburban mom who isn’t overly adventurous or crazy. I have no piercings (outside of my ears) or tattoos. I drive a very neutral colored SUV. I’ve never dyed my hair an unnatural color. Look up conservative in the dictionary, I might be featured. And I’m okay with that.

And I was about to take off my clothes.

I played on Facebook while I waited. Theresa, the hair and makeup artist arrived. We made small talk while waiting for Jenn. Then it was time.

“What did you bring?” Jenn asked as she showed me into a makeshift dressing area behind a silky purple curtain. She and Theresa stood behind me as I opened my bag. Suddenly, I wasn’t very confident with my choices.

“Um…It was so last minute that I just grabbed stuff I had,” I tried to explain. “No time to go shopping or stuff…”

“That’s what usually happens,” said Jenn. “Let’s just see.”

I took out some bras and panties and set them in a pile. A few camisole/teddy kind of things. A corset. Some scarves. A longer gown. A pair of nude heels. Random jewelry, mostly pearls (as if I was trying to hang onto some sort of innocence through this).

Jenn and Theresa rummaged through the piles. A few things were discarded because of lack of support (“We want the girls to look good.”) The longer gown would cover too much. We settled on a black and white camisole, a purple corset, and a turquoise scarf.

Next was hair and makeup. We talked about what I wanted, and settled on a more polished version of me. A little sexy, but not slutty or sex vixen. Theresa cleaned off my makeup and got started. She noted my super dry skin (which will only get worse), and said it looked like it was dehydrated. (OMG, I can’t possibly drink MORE water!) She got to work. So many brushes and colors and…stuff. Now, I enjoy spending time in a Sephora or a good makeup counter, but I had NO idea what most of the stuff in her kit was. I was turned away from the mirror, so I couldn’t see anything. I could only follow commands (look up, look down, lips slack).

Every few minutes Jenn would come into the room and ooh and ahhh. They both went on and on about my eyes and playing up that feature. They both agreed to do minimal stuff to my hair (“just some boost at the roots!”). An hour or so later, and I was turned around to look in the mirror.


It was perfect. Sexy eyes, but very, very natural otherwise. And I couldn’t believe what a difference false eyelashes make. (Note to self: buy false eyelashes because…hotness.)

Jenn wanted to start with the black and white camisole, and she ushered me back to the dressing room to change. I closed the curtain behind me and stood there. This was getting real – and weird. I looked at my piles of stuff. I slowly took off my shoes and tank top. I started to get self-conscious about my panties. What ones will I wear with the cami? Does it matter?

Full strip. Full change. Toss on heels. I added a long pearl necklace, and I walked into the bright studio. Jenn had me start by sitting on a white couch against white sheer curtains. I felt awkward. Where should my legs go? How could I look casual while I was sitting in panties, a camisole and three-inch heels? And I was very aware that my necklace was hanging between my breasts, calling attention to the reason I was there.

Immediately, Jenn put me at ease. She walked me through how to sit, pose and lay. Where to look, how to hold me head, where my hands should go. And I just went with it.

A few clicks later, and it didn’t matter if I was almost naked, posing for photos. I wasn’t holding in my stomach or worrying about bulges. I posed on the couch, a chaise, and a bed, against the windows. I completely trusted Jenn to make this happen. She showed me a few of the photos on her camera. It was perfect. It was the prettiness I wanted.

We went through the same process with the corset, but with a more sexy lip color and a huge tulle skirt (her skirt added to the corset was FANTASTIC!). For the final look, I decided to go with a high waisted boyshort and completely topless with the scarf covering my nipples.

Then it was over. I changed back into yoga pants and a tank top (yay, hot flashes!), and Jenn and I talked about future sessions. I’m thinking the next one will be in May, toward the end of chemo. She’s super excited about being part of this journey with me, and I cannot wait to see how it all comes together.

I would have NEVER considered a boudoir shoot, but now I’m a convert. Completely out of my comfort zone, but I’m still riding a high from it. So, so, so happy that I did it.


Weekend update

It’s Sunday night, and I’m feeling pretty damn okay. Little lazy, but not over fatigued. Aware of my bones, but not in pain or discomfort. Slight headache from lack of caffeine since I’m concentrating on water consumption. (I’m allowing one coffee or one soda a day.) I’d say on a scale from 1 (feeling completely shitty) to 10 (feeling great), I’m about a 7. I’m okay with that, especially since the docs predicted today would be the worst day post-treatment.

  • The day of and the day after my first chemo, I felt somewhat hyper. Lots of energy, lots of talking, almost restless. I got some stuff done around the house I’d been putting off. I played with the kiddos. Ran a few errands. No nausea at all, but I’m on four different anti-nausea meds through Tuesday. I did start having hot flashes, though. Oh boy, hot flashes are going to suck. (Luckily, not as many today.)
  • Big lesson learned over the last two days: when the nurse says “drink as much water as you can to flush the meds,” she is not issuing a challenge. Day of chemo, I drank 200 ounces of water in about eight hours. Saturday, I drank the same over about 10 hours. Too much. I felt like a beached whale by the end of the night.
  • Yesterday, my mom (who hasn’t left my house since Thursday night) deep cleaned/disinfected the entire house. I’m talking bleach and Lysol and every nook and cranny. My house smells super sterile.
  • I found my “cranial prosthesis” (aka wig). It was a great experience. The shop is owned by a woman who has been through cancer two times. I explained that I didn’t want to be old-looking or look like helmet-head, newscaster hair. I tried on about six wigs. One was a complete no, the other five were contenders. I took pictures and mom, the kids, a few very trusted friends and B weighted in. Everyone agreed on my first choice, which is very close to how my hair looks when straightened. A few positive comments on a second one (one friend called it “French assassin. Cute but sexy,” so I decided to order both. Unfortunately, there aren’t any nice curly hair wigs, so I’ll be straight for a few months. But, it’s probably for the best – if my hair grows back straight, I’ll be used to it.

Glad to be going back to work tomorrow. It wasn’t the holiday break I imagined, but I’m thankful I had the time to get so much medical stuff accomplished and have the time to process what’s going on. I feel good about where I am with my medical team and treatment plan. I feel pretty good physically and mentally.

No doctors until Friday, then it’s a quick appointment to check my blood levels and discuss how the week went. Next chemo treatment: February 6.


Chemo 1

Biggest dilemma Friday morning? What to wear to chemo. I wasn’t looking to look good, but I wanted an easy way for the nurses to access the port without having to change into a gown. I don’t own many button up shirts and most of my lower-cut shirts seemed too dressy (or showing too much cleavage) for chemo. I finally settled on a tank top under a zip-down Columbia fleece. I think this will be my uniform on Fridays through May. (Note to self: I probably need to buy another fleece.)

Chemo started at 8:15 with blood work, but there was a delay as soon I as entered the lab. Everything involving the port (where the blood would be drawn and chemo meds administered) must be sterile. So everything is prepackaged for convenience – the gloves, the tubing, the needle, everything. Unfortunately, I have a latex allergy – and the gloves in the kit are made of latex. There was a scramble to find non-latex sterile gloves (couldn’t be the gloves hanging on the wall since those aren’t sterile), and when they did find them, the stink from the gloves was overwhelming (like burning rubber), overall a delay of about 15 minutes before blood could be drawn from my new port (yay, it works!). The lidocaine cream I applied before leaving the house worked, and I couldn’t feel the needle going into my skin.

Met with the nurse, vitals taken, health reviewed, more talk about what to expect with chemo. Then met with the doctor and everything was repeated – with an emphasis on follow up visits (one week for more blood work and to meet with the oncologist). The oncologist asked how the kids reacted to learning of the cancer. Then he shared a story of when he learned his mom had breast cancer. He was 9 years old, same as Ethan. I knew I liked this dude.

During this time, a friend texted a few funny memories, making me LOL. B also sent a few lovey texts (so appreciated and needed XO) from his business trip to Colorado. Another friend sent encouraging words of support. All exactly what I needed.

Then to the infusion room. Because of the cost of chemo meds and the customized cocktail each patient receives, the pharmacy doesn’t start mixing the blend until this point (after blood tests confirm red/white blood counts and electrolyte measurements, and the physical exam is okay). Then everything is confirmed by multiple pharmacists and nurses. So another 25 minute wait. I settled back in my comfy recliner, plugged in the laptop, and waited. That lasted about two minutes. I was feeling antsy. Since I still wasn’t hooked up to anything, I walked around the infusion room – there’s a communal area with about seven chairs (where I sat), a handful of private rooms, and a few private rooms with beds (if you want a nap or can’t physically sit up for the duration of the treatment). There were some snacky things and a fridge of waters, juices, and sodas. There were some crafty things people made and donated for the taking. (I picked up knitted hat with a flower). Someone started a communal weave-thing (“Pick a ribbon and weave it through the strings. Leave a note for why you selected the color ribbon you did.” I did not participate this time.)

About 30 minutes after I arrived in the infusion room, saline was started through the IV in the port. The oncologist came back to find me. “You’re still having periods?” he asked. “You will be post-menopausal after a few treatments. Are you okay with that?”

“Is there an option if I’m not okay with that?” I smiled, laughed and asked.

“Not really,” he laughed.

“Then I’m okay with it. Let’s get started.”

He reiterated that he thought I would do really well with chemo.

A few more minutes of saline and then the nurse started a combination of three anti-nausea meds and a steroid. This was scheduled to take another 20 minutes or so before the actual chemo drugs would start. Lesson learned: there’s nothing hurried about this process. Sit, relax, watch Wendy Williams, chill. Know what I don’t do well? Sit, relax, chill. (I do, however, watch Wendy Williams well. I like her; she makes me laugh.)

Around 11:15 (and after I finished all three syllabi – YES!), the chemo drugs started.

“The Red Devil” was administered first. Three syringes of a bright red liquid needed to be inserted by hand by a nurse wearing full protective gear. “This is just to protect me if there are any spills…” she started.

“Toxic spills of what you’re injecting into my body,” I laughed.

The Red Devil is the drug that causes most of the problems – hair loss, mouth sores, major nausea, red pee. Twenty minutes later, the line was flushed, and the cyclophosphamide started. It would take an hour for it to run into my system. This is the drug that causes bone pain.

Overall, chemo wasn’t…bad. Comfy chairs. Cable TV. Wifi. Plenty of electrical outlets for iPhone, laptop, DVD player. Super nice nurses.

A woman named Roberta sat in the chair next to me. She was working on a watercolor of a bird. When she left, she gave me this painting and said, "It sounds like your journey is just starting. Best of luck to you." I teared up.

A woman named Roberta sat in the chair next to me. She was working on a watercolor of a bird during her treatment. When she left, she gave me this painting and said, “It sounds like your journey is just starting. Best of luck to you.” I teared up.

So, right now, I feel fine. Four different nausea meds should keep my stomach in check. Claritin should minimize the inevitable bone pain associated with my first two months of meds – as will a shot I’ll receive in 24 hours. Probably feel super tired Sunday/early Monday. Hair loss is anticipated at the two week mark.

I’m just glad to get this process started. We can’t end if we don’t start somewhere, right?

NOTE: I didn’t have my playlist from friends with me today, but I will next time. If you have any music recommendations, let me know. Doesn’t matter what kind of music – I just want music YOU recommend, to make me feel like I’m being hugged by my friends. (And thank you SO MUCH to those who’ve sent music!)

Added: the oncologist and surgeon both called tonight to see how I’m doing (completely fine). Also, wig fitting scheduled for tomorrow morning. Yippee!

My kryptonite

I found my kryptonite – Breast MRI. I tried again, with lorazepam this time. The test didn’t even get started before I quit. I just couldn’t get enough oxygen laying on my stomach. I was worried about hurting my recent port insertion site. And I fought the “relaxing” effects of lorazepam with all my might. I was the opposite of relaxed. See, lorazepam was one of the anti-anxiety meds Mike took after he lost his job. He took the pills like candy, to the point of being zombie-ish. Then he started combining the pills with alcohol, which rendered him virtually comatose. I just couldn’t shake the image of him on the couch, not opening his eyes, mumbling incoherently. I wouldn’t let myself relax, not with THIS in my body. I didn’t want to be like THAT. So, I basically walked in the MRI room and walked out – didn’t even start the imaging. Not happening.

Thanks (for the last time)

Dear Reader, If you’re squeamish or don’t like to read about menstrual cycles, periods, or Aunt Flo, you may want to skip this post.

Dear Period,

I just want to thank you for being there for me one more time. Oh, that’s right, this might be the last time, you know, so I appreciate how you’ve been present with (“super plus”-worthy) gusto this week. It’s hard to believe you and I have been together for more than 27 years, and that – NOW – we have to say goodbye.

Month after month, you’re there. A reminder that my body is working properly. That it’s been almost 30 days since the last time I saw you. It’s a cue to mentally review what bills I paid this month, to know that payday is coming soon, and to find my birth control pills for next month. (Oh, and during the college years, you were the “medical reason” insurance covered that prescription AND why my dad was okay with me “being on the pill,” so thanks for that, too.)

I’m torn. The security you bring when you arrive is fantastic. “You’re here! Great, I’m not pregnant!”

But you can also be a total drag. You’ve come at really bad times (hello, honeymoon). And really good times – “You’re not here? Great, I AM pregnant!” You’re how I knew I was carrying a baby in my uterus before any test could prove it – twice.

You see, I can almost set my watch and calendar by you. That’s how ridiculously consistent you’ve been, old friend. Like clockwork. No surprises.

And now we’ll be saying goodbye. Oh, it’s not that I want to. This ending comes much earlier than I anticipated. I really thought we’d have another 10 or 15 years together, at least. I even bought the jumbo box of tampons last month, never thinking we’d NOT be together. That’s commitment, that Costco-sized box in my bathroom.

But the chemo will take you away from me. Since I’m over 40, I’ve been told you’ll most likely be gone forever. How will I know it’s been a month? How will I know I’m not pregnant? How will I remember to pay my cell phone bill or mortgage (both due mid-flow)?

And of course, losing you comes with other consequences, other “stuff” I’m just not ready for – hot flashes, emotional rollercoasters, vaginal dryness. (I can’t even… Typing that last one sounds so… granny-ish.)

It’s almost like you knew this might be our last time together. You came in so quietly and sweetly, like “knock, knock, anyone home?” but woo-diggity, you made up for it after a few days. Crampiness, heaviness, fatigue – see, that’s the stuff that I won’t miss. You really could have done without going there. Seriously.

You’ll be with me another day or so, then you’ll slip away. Quietly, I hope. We may never be with one another again, you and I. But I’ll remember you.

Or not…since there won’t be a physical reminder, other than that big box of tampons, next month…

(Damn, what am I going to do with all those leftover tampons?)


Jax XO