Monday, October 13, 2014
Saturday, October 11, 2014
My wig (I named her Sally) was looking worse for wear. I decided to use a trip to visit my grandchildren in Manhattan as an opportunity to get another so-called “cranial prosthesis.” That way I could give Sally a much needed shampoo.
I picked up the phone and made the appointment. Afterward, a strange thing happened. I felt the spirit of the poet-activist Audre Lorde descend on my shoulder. (Are such visitations the reason parents discourage their children from becoming English majors?) In her book, “The Cancer Journals,” Ms. Lorde was voluble in her attack on prostheses, inveighing especially against bra inserts and breast reconstruction. Her objections to cancer patients engaging in any and all forms of camouflaging went well beyond the fact that in her historical moment surgical implants could be dangerous.
Glaring at Sally, Ms. Lorde hissed in my right ear, “Power vs. Prosthesis,” which also happened to be the name of one of her book chapters. By denying the mutilations of cancer treatments, she argued, we become complicit in a culture that refuses to acknowledge its manufacturing and marketing of carcinogenic products. Women, she cautioned, ought not to conform to some ridiculous definition of what constitutes attractive femininity. Like the honorable wounds of war, scars and lopsidedness, a flat chest and hair loss bear witness to the disfigurement resulting from the battle against disease.
If we remain invisible, Ms. Lorde insisted, the population at large will never understand how many people are being destroyed by an epidemic that has taken untold lives and continues to do so decades after her death. We should be directing our energies into working for cancer prevention and cure, not into pretending we are unharmed.
I mulled Ms. Lorde’s heroic message. But what was this odd presence alighting on my other shoulder? An ungainly specter holding a mask murmured in my left ear the words of Voltaire, “Illusion is the first of all pleasures.”
Since cancer patients are robbed of physical stamina and libido as well as a sense of security and of a normal body, why not at least create an illusion of well-being?
And then I imagined the spirit of the playwright Oscar Wilde, patting Sally on the head and confiding why he loved acting. “It is so much more real than life,” he said.
Could it be that a prosthesis is not a lie but a costume that allows us to pass as healthy people? Or perhaps it allows us to experiment with a series of personae that short circuit the pathos produced by thinking of oneself as a victim. When a misshapen, aberrant, or downright ugly body emerges from treatment — if only in one’s own mind’s eye (and what other eyes count?) — there is no need to be tethered to it. What else is artistry for?
Brushing off these spectral voices was not easy as I made my way to New York and then to Bitz-n-Pieces, a salon I had read about in cancer memoirs. The waiting room — all chrome and white — featured a wall of photographs, each inscribed to its founder, Barry Hendrickson. They were a gorgeous crew: Katie Couric, Robin Roberts, Carly Simon, Raquel Welch, Susan Sarandon, Marilyn Horne, Mary Wilson.
An emaciated woman paying the cashier glanced at me and then came over to where I was sitting. “Is this your first time?” she asked. When I nodded, she said, “On my first visit, I loved seeing these glamorous people. Next year, you and I will be up there.” I sort of doubted that, but relished the camaraderie.
Moments later I was ushered into a private booth where a youthful man named Edward asked me what wig style I thought would look best. “An urbane relative of Sally’s,” I thought. He went off and brought back three wigs, and I picked the one that resembled a city mouse to Sally’s country mouse.
I asked Edward if my new wig had a name. “Her name is Tori,” he replied, “But we call her Torian Gray.” English majors rule!
At the end of “The Cancer Journals,” Audre Lorde corrected an earlier declaration that she would “give anything not to have cancer.” She knew that she would not give up her life, her partner, her poetry or her arms. I agree: I would not give up my vision or hearing; I would not give up the health of my children and grandchildren.
Like Audre Lorde, I do not want to deny the mutilations of cancer. And I do want to protest the lack of prevention and cures. So why in the world would I continue to walk around with a synthetic helmet on my head?
Perhaps it’s because I refuse to relinquish my various identities prior to and unrelated to the onset of disease. I do not want to be instantaneously pigeon-holed as a cancer patient in every social situation I encounter. My wigs, Sally and Torian Gray, give me that freedom.
Though I have cancer, it does not have all of me … yet.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Living with cancer blog
Resistance training helps cancer survivorsBy Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.
Living With Cancer
Subscribe to our Living With Cancer e-newsletter to stay up to date on cancer topics.Sign up now
Research shows that cancer survivors may benefit from weight training. Resistance training is exercise that uses weights, weight machines or elastic bands.
The study, published last year in "Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise", looked at both men and women who were being treated or had completed treatment for cancer (breast, prostate and head/neck cancers).
Participants did light to moderate resistance training two to three times a week. Early results after 12 weeks showed that participants increased muscle mass and decreased body fat.
After one year, the effects continued with participants reporting a positive effect on their quality of life with a notable decrease in cancer-related fatigue, which is a common and long-lasting symptom reported in cancer survivors.
Resistance training can help to increase strength, range of motion and balance which is important as survivors recover and move on to life after treatment. Exercising with free weights and resistance bands is inexpensive and easy to work into a home routine.
If you'd like to get started, ask for a referral to meet with an exercise physiologist, physical therapist or rehabilitation specialist who can provide the tools and knowledge you need to learn the proper technique. While resistance training is safe for most people, it's always wise to check with your provider to see if it's a good idea for you.
Remember to begin slowly with lower intensity until you feel comfortable moving up a level to higher intensity. Even low intensity exercises make a difference.
I'd love to hear from survivors who have tried resistance training. What's been your experience?
Join the discussion at #livingwithcancer.