Extreme Makeover


In September 2012, I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of uterine cancer. Treatment was successful, and I am happy to report that I am cancer-free and doing well. I wrote for a private circle of friends and family about my experiences at the time, and am now sharing some of my musings here.


Last week I went to Look Good, Feel Better, the American Cancer Society’s class on hair and make-up tips. The first part was all right, because I learned you could buy fake hair fringes to Velcro into your hats when you don’t want to bother with putting on your wig. Since I had been contemplating rigging up something similar using duct tape with my own hair after I start to molt, this seemed like it could save me a lot of trouble.

But then the real trouble started when we moved onto make-up. It’s not that I’m opposed to artifice, but most of the time I can’t be bothered. I made an exception for my wedding day, entrusting my face as well as my locks to my hairdresser. When I emerged, Jonathan looked at me in horror. I looked like a prostitute who’d seen better days. After scrubbing my face, I beseeched my 16-year-old niece Debbie to work some magic with her compact, and all was well.

Since then, I’ve stayed away from the professionals. Except when my daughters shame me into buying them tubes of mascara that cost more than a nice dinner out, I stick to the stuff from drugstores, and I make it last. I even have some of my mother’s drugstore eye shadow, and she’s been dead for 18 years.

So when the Cancer Society cosmetologist started talking, my heart sank even before she got to the cancer part. Who knew that even basic moisturizer needed to be applied using only an upward-sweeping motion? All these years I’ve been giving gravity an unnecessary assist.

Everyone at the class got little tote bags filled with donated product. It was just like leaving the counter at Nordstrom, if Nordstrom rebranded itself using cheap red nylon and a new “Look Good, Feel Better” logo. By this point I was hoping for maybe some donated pharmaceuticals, but alas, there was no Xanax in the bag. Only a million little pots and tubes. My tote didn’t seem to have any of the stuff the cosmetologist was talking about, but maybe that’s because even basic identification is beyond me.

Before we got to watch her apply make-up to a real, live cancer patient, however, we learned about proper sanitation techniques. Like sterilizing all your manicure equipment in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. This was easy, since I spend even less time on my nails than on my hair and make-up (although manicuring through nail biting is especially frowned upon for those with compromised immune systems). The cosmetologist then described washing down your countertops with hydrogen peroxide and laying in a supply of tiny disposable spatulas so that your fingers don’t spread bacteria as you dip into your various lotions and anti-age potions. Finally, she concluded the Germphobia FunFest with a surefire way to tell if your powdered make-up is contaminated. It involves a fine mist of witch hazel oil and blotting. But cancer or not, you’re apparently supposed to discard all make-up after 3-12 months. So I didn’t need any witch hazel oil to tell me I’d better find something besides that soft shade of green to sustain my sentimental attachment to my mother.

And I thought I’d been doing well to keep a separate Chapstick from my husband’s!


Postscript: I decided to ignore the cosmetologist’s advice on make-up hygiene. Nothing bad happened, and I still have my mother’s heirloom eye shadow:

Mom's eye shadow

4 thoughts on “Extreme Makeover

  1. Delightful. As a low makeup wearer I could relate. A visiting cousin once opened my makeup drawer & said, “Well where is it?” Is the humour I read here from the you now looking back or did you feel it then?

    • Thanks, Sue. Life is a lot easier as a low make-up wearer, isn’t it? I don’t know how people find the time. And to answer your question, I found a lot of humor all the way through my cancer ordeal, and it helped a lot.

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