10 December 2011

A Very Festive Spa

The chemo ward on the 12 floor of Mount Sinai Hotel & Spa is a jolly place this time of year. The fabulous volunteers are dressed in red and green, and bejewelled with festive accessories. The Scottish snack lady jingled as she speed down the hall with her wheeled  trolley.

In the spirit of Christmas, I brought a tin of homemade ginger cookies. I don’t normally bake (not fun) but my little sister gave me the best recipe ever, and chemo people love ginger. So do the nurses apparently, as they were beating out the Arrowroots as the cookie du jour.

No more Lazyboys for me at the Spa! I’ve graduated to a bed! This is much more fun as there is more room for my cell phone, my coconut water, my trashy movie magazines, and my big sister.

Of course the real reason is much more functional. I’ve switched up my chemo cocktails and the immediate side effects need to be monitored. One possible, and not so pleasing side effect, is the discolouration of the nails. Or worse. As a precaution we slip or hands and feet into plastic ice bags which may protect the nails. (Would also be handy for champagne). As a result, my sister had to turn the pages of my National Enquirer, and she was none to pleased.

Lying under a warm blanket, listening to my lovely nurse Marion talk about her Christmas plans, it felt like the start of a holiday. Of course, this is also my second last treatment, and there’s nothing more fun that saying "One more to go.”

I am no longer the new person there, so I feel quite at home. I actually look forward to seeing my nursing posse, and challenging myself to getting my IV without cringing. I wave to some of the other people, and we compliment each other on our hats. One young man, sitting in his lazy boy under his homemade blanket was giving me tips on how to use my ipad. I told one gorgeous bald woman how gorgeous I thought she was.  She translated my compliment into Spanish for her dad, and he was beaming.

By the time the Scottish lady wheeled her way to my sunny side of the room, she only had tuna. No egg salad, but it only slightly blemished the day.  Sister Sue and I were preoccupied by pictures of a topless Chaz Bono rollerblading down a Hollywood street, so we almost didn’t notice.

At 1:30 nurse Miriam, who was looking over our shoulder and eating a cookie, said “You know, you’re free to go anytime girls.”  So soon?  Well then Mt Sinai, see you in 2012!

7 December 2011

Merry Christmas, Pie Face!

The problem with losing all your facial hair is that you end up looking like a pie. This is exacerbated by the steroids, which create fleshy roundness where cheekbones ought to be. The technical term for this side effect is ‘Moon Face’ but as most women end up the colour and texture of pastry, I think pie-face works well. Pie-face, with eyes, that is.

I went to my first make-up session back in September, just before I started chemo. It took place at the Princess Margaret Hotel & Spa, and my very favourite nurse strongly urged me to attend.  She knew, better than I did, that there would come a time when cosmetics would give me the boost I need. Back then, I wasn’t terribly interested in make-up. I’d managed to get by for years with a little mascara and really good hair.

Loot Bag
There were fifteen women at the' Look Good Feel Good Seminar', sitting around a table, each with their own oval mirror. In front of each mirror was a plethora of products, which we’d eventually be able to take home. Each woman had the same facial expression as me, looking as though they were mildly surprised to be there. With cancer. Playing dress-up.

A make-up artist told us about all the products and their proper applications. Behind us stood an army of volunteers who were ready to snatch the eyebrow pencils out of our hands, if we didn’t know how to use them. I didn’t know how to use anything, so my volunteer basically did my whole face. Toner, moisturizer, foundation, powder, concealer, eye shadow, eyeliner, eyebrow pencil, blush, lip liner, lipstick, and lip-gloss, which apparently I wasn’t using properly either.

We all started hesitantly, then as we transformed, became a little more enthusiastic. Tentative laughter turned to ‘ooh’s’ and ‘ahh’s’ as our loyal volunteers made us beautiful. One lady in sweatpants was busily giving herself Cirque de Soleil eyelids, and was well on her way to looking like a cheap hooker when a volunteer lunged across the table to wrestle the eye shadow wand out of her hands.

Over the course of the hour there were many beauty tips, but here are the five top tips for the lovely and the hairless.

  1. Eyebrows. Use a stencil and an eyebrow pencil to create your new eyebrows. Apply them one at time, and remember that they go in different directions; otherwise it will appear that you are looking sideways
  2. Eyelashes. Falsies are forbidden! The glue aggravates already fragile lids. Use eyeliner instead.
  3. Mascara. Even if you lose your eyelashes, there are likely a few invisible ones on the bottom. Apply a little mascara, because it will find something to cling to.
  4. Concealer is your second best friend.
  5. Moisturizer is your best friend, because without it you’re going to turn into a raisin.
  6. If you’re wearing a nylon wig, don’t check on the turkey. If your head goes near the oven, your hair will start to sizzle.
And of course, never ever leave the house without lipstick. It’s Christmas. It’s party season. Let the games begin!

5 December 2011


Today I took a subway across town, and it was full of germs. Microscopic organisms were everywhere, while stranger invaded my personal space. When I wasn’t getting run over by a dirty stroller, I was getting hit in the back by mindless teenagers strapped into their giant Jansport knapsacks.

I sat very still in my seat, my hands folded in my lap. Around me, people in shapeless black coats were coughing and sneezing, and I was planning my escape route so that I wouldn’t have to actually touch anything. Inside my bag were my trusty ‘YES to Blueberries' towelettes. ( Paraben free, and 99% natural!)

I never used to be afraid of germs. Raised in the 60’s, our playtime meant finding anything on the street that could be put in a bucket with a pile of earth so we could make castles. This could be worms, spare change, old nails, and candy wrappers, with which we could make a flag. Occasionally I’d even peel a piece of old gum of the road, and once I even popped it in my mouth.  When we were thirsty, we’d grab Pop Shoppe cola, and pass around the bottle.

My mother, who was a nurse, packed us full of fibre rich sugarless foods.  We got lots of sleep, plenty of exercise and lived a carefree life, unburdened by thoughts of germs, or washing our hands. Our immune systems were through the roof! But now that everybody bathes in Purell, immune systems are compromised, and the world is full of dangerous bacteria. 

I looked around. Across from me, on a three-seater, were two people. One was a lady in a parka with a baby,  both of whom were sniffling. (But bless her, she still managed red lipstick). Beside her was a very large Rastafarian with long dreadlocks who took up two seats, and was full of facial piercings. He was starting at nothing, and rocking slightly to invisible music. It looked like he had a metal bone through his nose.

The lady coughed. I glared at her. She had done nothing to cover her mouth and her germs were hovering only a few feet away. The big man glared at her too. He stopped rocking. After a moment everything went back to normal, and then she coughed again. One at a time he removed the earphones from his ears, and then he turned to her.  “Ma’am," he said, in deep baritone. All eyes swivelled his way. “Ma’am,” he repeated, “When you sneeze, it’s a good idea to sneeze into the crook of your elbow. Like this,” he demonstrated, fake-coughing into his leather arm.

She looked at him. “Okay,” she sniffled. “You’re right.” (Damn right, brother!) He nodded, and as he continued, his voice rolled through the train. “I know old habits die hard. But I’m a body piercer, and I’m a freak for hygiene.”

Then he slowly replaced his earphones, nodded, and went back to his music.  A quiet superhero covered in metal and leather, saving me and many others form certain disaster. In a perfect world he was on the way to meet my mother. Giant Pierced Rasta Man & Violet. Together they could make the world a safer place.