My name is Shirley Pattan, I live in Jacksonville, Florida with my spouse, two (of five!) kids, and three fur babies. I was diagnosed at 40 in July 2017 with stage 3c high grade serous ovarian cancer, which prompted testing for the BRCA mutation. Upon discovering I am BRCA 1 positive, and reaching remission for OvCa in 2018, I underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy, followed by reconstruction. In January 2019, I learned that my ovarian cancer had recurred, and metastasized to my liver. Currently, finding strength in my faith, my wonderful family, friends, and many amazing warriors I have met, I’m going through aggressive chemotherapy, and will kick cancer’s butt once again!!
A cancer diagnosis of any kind, at any age, is devastating. From the moment the words are said, it suddenly becomes like you are watching a movie about someone else’s life. You find yourself in a precarious situation that needs to be solved quickly, things that normally would take time, suddenly happen in rapid succession almost in a dreamlike sequence, and you find yourself hoping for a happy ending.
As I prepared myself for surgery, chemotherapy, and defying the scary statistics, I had little time for vanity. That being said, I have always taken great pride in my hair. Every piece perfectly flat ironed and smoothed, highlights and color as fresh as I could afford. When I found out I would lose my hair from the chemotherapy, I was sad, but it was expected. I was ill prepared for losing my eyebrows.
I had my first treatment and within 12 days, I was shedding hair rapidly. The Sunday before I
shaved it out of necessity, while blow drying it, I had to chase tufts of hair around the bathroom like tumble weed. It was literally blowing off my head, like a scene from a cartoon.
It was then I realized I needed some hats, and had dried my hair for the last time. After I recovered from the shock of losing my hair, I started noticing my eyebrows and eyelashes slowly following a similar exit strategy.
A friend told me that were products available with stencils that I could use to draw on
eyebrows. I was excited about this, because having no hair is one thing, no eyebrows changes
your look in a way that makes you wonder if you are now starring in a sci-fi film. Thus, I began the practice of drawing on my eyebrows to help me feel and look a little more “normal.”
Some days, my eyebrows resembled a popular “swoosh” one might find on a certain sneaker, other days they resembled those thick, angry, kind attached to a pair of glasses and a fake nose.
Either way, I was not without eyebrows, and continued to perfect them over time. I had a hard time remembering not to touch my faux brows, because although they were fairly sweat proof, which is necessary in the Florida climate year-round, they weren’t rub proof. There were a few times where I would go into the bathroom at work, and realize one was drifting toward my temple because I had forgotten this rule.
One day, while washing the dishes, I started to have a horrendous hot flash (thank you, surgical menopause). I had a little bit of trickle of sweat on my “brow” and it started to itch.
Absentmindedly, I used the back of my wrist to itch my forehead vigorously. As I continued to clean up the kitchen, I had forgotten (thank you, chemo brain) that I had ever wiped my
forehead. Looking for the last specs of dirt and grime on the counters, I noticed this ugly brown streak running up my wrist and forearm. I froze immediately, thinking I had contracted some rare disorder that changes my skin color before it kills me (thank you, cancer induced anxiety).
Then it dawned on me what might have happened.
I turned to my spouse and said “How are my eyebrows?” The reply?
“Well your eyebrow looks fine, the other one, is missing.” I would have raised my eyebrow in a scowl at the sarcasm, but it was currently sitting on my left wrist.