In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Beauty Director of Elle UK writes a personal essay for Tory Daily.
“There’s a philosophical thinking that you can’t step in the same river twice, since the first step altered it irrevocably into a whole different river. The same can be applied to the life of a 31 year old with a breast-cancer diagnosis. Getting back to the old you afterwards? Not as easy as you’d think. That’s not to say the new river is any worse than the old river though, just different. Still with me?
“My new version of normal is so far removed from the old one precisely because of the way my life was interrupted with my initial diagnosis. I now think of the year of treatment as a life sabbatical. Every time I traveled to the hospital, past streets littered with people my age enjoying their evenings al fresco, with a glass of wine and a worry far less significant than mine (how arrogant of me to assume other people don’t have their own worries hidden away like I tried to hide mine, by the way), I assured myself I’d be back there the following year with them. Little did I know it’s the mental journey after the treatment that takes as much effort to recover from as the cancer itself.
“For someone so ingrained in appearance (for my job as a Beauty Director, you understand), my prospect of a cancer journey started with hair loss and ended with a strappy-top-negating mastectomy. The life-threatening aspect was a given, and something I could pass over to the doctors who were experts in that field. Find me an expert in wearing a wig convincingly or getting around the one-sided bra issue and I’ll step down. But there isn’t one, which is where I come in.
“I threw myself into the trials and errors of living through the experience as ‘normally’ as possible — and for me that was looking as normal as possible. I researched and gathered knowledge excessively. I learned that a coral blusher with a hint of shimmer was the best cheat for faking a glowing complexion. I worked out that pressing the mascara wand into my naked lash line gave the illusion of eyelashes (if you didn’t look too closely). I worked through the pros and cons of a synthetic vs natural hair wig. I went out the first time with my wig on back-to-front, which precisely explains the need for more guidance in this area. Who the hell knows how to wear a wig until they’ve had to wear one? I am a bona-fide expert, now.
“The sad part is I keep all my wigs because a niggling part of me thinks I might need them again one day. And how annoying would that be? You see how irrational cancer makes you? My new normal compartmentalizes the traumatic experience of going through treatment and diagnosis into a little box in my brain with a tamper-proof chain so it’s easier to try not to get in. It focuses on recovering from the emotional side effects that make you appreciate Christmas like a child again — but not for the nicest reasons — and ticking off the months of health like no 30-something year old should really have to. In essence my new normal is far from the ordinary that by rights it should be. But that’s life, and life is what I’m concentrating on these days. And what’s so great about ordinary anyway?” — Sophie Beresiner