- Hi, I'm Vanessa. In 2010, when I was 25, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I blog about my life after cancer, my love of knitting and cage fighting. I make sewn and stuffed body parts at Survival Organs.
One of the bigger issues facing cancer patients and survivors is body image and sex appeal. It effects survivors of all ages, races, and genders and gets little to no attention from the medical community. It’s also something that very few survivors also talk about amongst each other.
Well, I’m talking about it today!
During chemotherapy and radiation, your body changes and it changes quickly and permanently, sometimes. The photo on the right was taken two weeks after the photo on the left. In two short weeks, all the hair on my head and pubic hair (I wasn’t prepared for that part!) fell out. In four weeks, my eyelashes were gone. After four months of chemo, my eyebrows finally left.
Your hair falls out which can be permanent. Some people have lost a limb or have under gone a biopsy which has left a scar. You’ve got either a port installed or a PICC line sticking out of your chest/arm like some new weird invention put out by Google. The removal of your port or PICC also leaves a scar. I have a scar between my breasts from the pericardial catheter was inserted and one on my arm from my PICC line.
And if you’re prescribed steroids, like I was, your face is now swollen and you look like a chipmunk.
And while all of that is going on, you feel cranky, nauseous, and overwhelmed. Your body is no longer responding or looking like it had in ways that are familiar to you. You look bad and feel even worse.
As a cancer community, we’re not talking about the emotional and psychological impact these changes are having.
We, as patients and survivors, are too overwhelmed with what can be done and just getting through the day. Our doctors aren’t bringing it up because there isn’t enough research to nor is it really on their radar. They’re trying to get us through our days as well. And our family and friends? I think they have no idea where to even begin if they’re to talk about it.
My hair fell out in big fistfuls. I was leaving odd dark brown tumbleweeds everywhere. I finally decided to take matters into my own hands and had the SGT shave my head. When my husband was done, I looked in the mirror and burst into tears. In high school, I had a lime green mohawk. I did that on my own and I proudly rocked it. This? Was suddenly very different. There was nothing punk rock and anti-establishment about having my head shaved.
Seeing me break down in sobs over my hair was difficult for him. I avoided looking into mirrors or talking about how I felt. I thought I looked horrible and wigs made me look worse. I felt like my body had betrayed me and I had no real idea why. One my hair started coming in, I again didn’t want to go back to those dark times that I had just escaped.
We, as a community of doctors, survivors and family/friends, can talk about our body image issues. Telling our loved ones that we are feeling low, asking our oncologists to hook us up with cancer support therapists, and for survivors to bring it up with doctors and loved ones.
As a survivor, I’ve found that that there’s a new normal with my body. As more time passes between my last chemo and today, I’ve learned that “normal” has a fluid and evolving definition.
Cancer patient or not, you need to figure out just who are you? What does that mean to you? What makes you special? What do you want from life, from your loved ones and from your body?
Yes, this will be a post in two parts about Stitches South! Part one featuring the goodies I picked up will be up tomorrow. I had the pleasure of splitting a room with Stacey from FreshStitches (check out her blog post about our weekend over here) and she is a hoot! And a great roommate, too.
We had a delicious Southern home-style lunch at Folks‘. When I saw the giant rooster in front, I had to get a photo of us in front of it.
As you can probably guess, we were up to no good for most of the weekend. The food was amazing! And tasted so fresh and from scratch. For example, the gravy that came with my mashed potatoes had a strong beef flavor and not like it came from a packet. That taste only comes from making gravy from beef drippings.
I also had the pleasure of meeting (and purchasing from) the fine folks at Cephalopod Yarns.
As some of you may know, they were the Sanguine Gryphon and now operate as Cephalopod Yarns. They were hilarious and delightful to talk to along with (not pictured) Shannon Okey from Cooperative Press.
Her yarns are super textured while still being soft. I like working with art yarns so I treated myself to some of her mini skeins, but more on that tomorrow.
I had a blast this year at Stitches South (I did last year too!) and I was pleased to see that there were more vendors this year. I still don’t quite fit into the ‘target’ market (I saw a lot more women who are older than I am by quite a bit) I’m glad to see that XRX is trying to lure in more young and independent shops.
I had so much fun at last year’s Fiber in the Boro festival that I eagerly went again. I didn’t come home with any yarn but I did meet some pretty cool people.
The first vendor I saw was Bluebird Legacy Farm. Kim was selling both yarn and art therapy quilt packets. She had a few examples framed
She also had vintage button bracelets up for sale. I had to go home with one of her quilt packets. They’re made from vintage scraps of fabric, lace, buttons and rickrack and packaged together in coordinating colors. I’ve already started on mine so you’ll have to wait until Wednesday to see it.
Another vintage up-cycler was in the booth next door, Sara McLoud of McLoud9.
She takes vintage fabrics and turns them into dresses, pin cushions and aprons. She also teaches sewing and embroidery classes from her Nashville home.
The festival takes place in rural Tennessee and there were farmers with their livestock on display. I think I’m in love with alpacas.
How can you resist those pretty eyes? I was pleasantly surprised that they don’t smell like sheep and goats do. Nor do they spit as often as llamas do. And they’re a lot smaller than llamas.
Of course there were sheep! And they were adorable, if messy and smelly.
It was a bit nippy so they were all huddled up together. Or perhaps, that’s just normal sheep behavior? I’m not sure.
The SGT and I had a good time but we both felt like it was smaller this year with fewer vendors. I’m not into hand spinning but we were shown a demonstration of an electric spinner. I was surprised at how much less expensive they are (the lady who showed me said she paid $300 for hers, as opposed to the $500 manual spinning wheel she also has at home) and much smaller. I like the idea of pushing a button and letting it do most of the work but I think I’ll just stick to buying “pre made” yarn from the store.
She’s so cute! I’m a little sad I missed it but it seems like it was a good time.
Yes folks, today is I Love Yarn Day! And there are few things I love more than yarn. (Note to my family: fight amongst yourselves to figure out who it is.)
One of the things I do love are my wonderful yarny friends, both online and in real life. Amber from Last Yesterday is lucky enough to be both an on and offline friend. A few weeks ago, I received a wonderful belated birthday present from her.
Oh yes, that’s a skein of Wollmeise! It’s from their “We’re Different” batch and it’s called Looks Like Moses. Amber has spoiled me rotten with her gifts. She’s also spoiled me rotten with her wonderful friendship.
I shall be spending today at my local Panera Bread happily knitting in public. I’ll also be meeting up with Twitter friend, Michelle from Ugly Little Thing. If you’re in the Nashville/Hermitage area, stop by and say hello.
Are you doing anything special for I Love Yarn Day?
Yesterday, the SGT and I spent part of the day at the Tennessee State Fair. I was really excited to hear that there would be exhibits of prize-winning needle crafts. I guess I didn’t know that was still a thing that people did. Not all of my favorites were blue ribbon winners but on the whole they were pretty good.
My favorite knitted/crocheted piece was the chess set and I love the portrait embroidery. I think I might do something similar! I also loved the sea themed quilt
We were quite impressed with the “Spoon tomatoes” that are as big as the nail on your little finger. They tasted just like a normal tomato!
I had a lot of fun and perhaps next year, I’ll enter something. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get a blue ribbon!
My cousin, Jorge, put up on Facebook some old photos of my dad’s side of the family. One of them was a photo I’ve never seen before of my mom on her wedding day.
Can you believe she never really considered herself to be pretty? Can you believe I also have the same self-esteem issues? Like mother like daughter!
How she met my dad is a great story that I love to tell anyone who will listen and since y’all are a captive audience, here goes!
Picture it. Gibara, Cuba, 1957. A 16-year-old girl has returned home after living with family friends following the death of her mother. Her older sister received a letter from a new pen pal but is no longer interested. The girl says that she’ll write to this man. He’s also Cuban but from Regla, a city near the capital of Havana. The girl has other pen pals, particularly one in Mexico, but none intrigue her quite so much as this man.
Things in Gibara and all of Cuba are getting tense. Fulgencio Batista is still in power but los barbudos, led by a young man named Fidel Castro, are trying to over throw his dictatorship. Neighbors are showing up dead or missing or worse. There are near daily attacks from helicopters over head. Her father has closed the town’s only bakery. The milkman refuses to deliver milk in the early morning. The postman showed up missing fingers. He was mistakenly blamed for planting a bomb.
But in the midst of all this chaos and terror, the seeds of love are being planted and are taking root. Here’s my photo, the man writes, I hope you like it. Perhaps, I’ll make a trip back home and see you?
Her heart skips a beat and her other pen pals, including the boy in Mexico, are soon forgotten. A friend of the man, who is also from the girl’s town, visits her. He reports back to the man that she is much younger than he is, however, she’s funny and bubbly and comes from a well-respected family in town. He’d be hard pressed to find anyone better.
The man writes to the girl that he’ll be visiting in February. And perhaps, if they like each other, she could come back as his bride? Things are getting worse in Cuba, her father points out. He lives in New York City, she thinks. Perhaps she’ll be able to go to high school there. Maybe even meet Elvis, her sisters say. The girl assents.
He arrives and they are wed on February 9, 1958. She is 17 and he is 29. Her wedding was the talk of her small town. The daughter of Angel, the baker, is going to America. It was front page news. The streets were flooded with people trying to get a glimpse of their taxi. She is going to America and honeymooning in Havana? A humble baker’s daughter?
It was like a fairy tale come to life.
The SGT and I spent all day yesterday out on Percy Priest Lake with our friends. A few weeks ago, Phong found that one of the islands is an actual camp ground that is rarely used. So he claimed it in name of himself and we’ve been hanging out there a few times. Our friends are the out doors-y type so we were well equipped to spend the whole day (we got there at 9am and left around 630pm) hanging out.
We had hammocks! Three of them!
We had a bunch of kayaks:
And a photographer.
And a ton of food. The food was difficult to photograph but we had lots of chips, cookies, cupcakes, grilled shrimp, grilled steak, grilled chicken wings, grilled veggies, grilled bread and lots of water and alcohol. Some folks brought fishing poles in hopes of catching fish and then grilling them but alas, the tides were literally against us. We had a great time and I learned a few things about myself:
I don’t do well in high heat/humidity.
Apparently, I do get motion sick from the water.
I should not wear flip flops when trying to walk over rocks.
Pack more water than I think I will need.
I did bring my knitting and gave a demonstration lesson to most of the guys there. Everyone thought it was cute that I brought a hexipuff to work on but they’re using to me KIP-ing everywhere.
All in all, I also learned that the SGT and I are blessed with really great friends.
Bear with me while I piggy back on yesterday’s blog post. Warning: yarn porn ahead!
My latest social media obsession is Fitocracy. If you follow me on Twitter, you might have notice that I’ve tweeted the number of points I’ve earned. On Fitocracy, you log your work outs which are then given points. Get enough points and you level up. There are also achievement badges to earn for doing certain work outs (going for a swim, hiking, and lifting weights) and there are quests you can go on. An example of a quest would be to do 20 jumping jacks, 100 dips, and 30 push ups. The community over there is super positive and it’s given me that extra boost to get off my butt.
The best part? There are a ton of crafters that I’ve met. One of whom is the most amazing Kate. She is crazy motivating (she did 5000 push ups in a month!), is a video game geek like me and…dyes her own yarn over at A Hundred Ravens. Some time ago, she sent me a gift of yarn after commiserating with her about being a girl who wants to lift big.* How amazing is this sock yarn? (FULL DISCLOSURE: She sent this yarn as a gift, I’m blogging about it because it’s just that awesome.)
It’s a bright Barbie-ish pink with flecks of a deeper pink. It’s incredibly soft and sproingy and I can’t wait to use it. Thank you again, Kate!
*Yes, as a female you can lift a crazy amount of weight and not turn into She-Hulk unless you want to. Check out the women’s Olympic weight lifting team. They’re slender but strong looking gals. Also, doing weight bearing work outs are good for your bones!