Treating Cancer Like a Legal Adversary
My name is Jenn. I'm 40-years-old and live in NYC. I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer on May 1, 2018 -- I was 39 and my husband and I had just gotten married six months prior. We certainly didn’t expect the “in sickness” part of our vows to be tested so quickly and didn’t think we’d be spending our first year of marriage in doctor’s offices and chemo suites! My active treatment was surgery, chemo, and radiation. I finished in November 2018 and then started hormone treatment for at least the next 10 years. So I felt like an old lady just in time for my 40th birthday!
I know it sounds cliché, but I really tried to stay as positive as possible through this whole thing (at least after an initial couple weeks of meltdowns). I am a super Type A litigation attorney, so once there was a plan in place with the doctors I started doing what I do best -- organizing, managing and executing many moving parts to reach a resolution. Basically treating cancer like an adversary in a lawsuit! Focusing on the plan helped me stay positive and kept some of the larger fears at bay- as did finding humor where possible!
One of the things I was most stressed about was losing my hair- not from a vanity perspective, but I dreaded that once it was gone, it would be obvious I was sick. In my job, I spend a lot of time meeting with clients, co-workers and other lawyers on cases or at industry events, and the idea of getting questions EVERY time I saw someone for the first time with a scarf or a wig was really daunting. Since I planned to work through treatment, I knew this might happen a lot. This was a lot to process, so I tried to make the hair part as "fun" as I could.
First, a few girlfriends went wig shopping with me. We picked out a fancy human hair wig that looked exactly like my real brunette hair. We made it fun, trying on some crazy styles and then going out to "celebrate" afterwards. Then, a week into chemo, my mom and best friend came over for a little “farewell to my hair” party. We drank lots of pink bubbles and my husband had the honor of the first cut (he shouldn’t quit his day job). And we took some funny pictures of the process -- one of which made it onto our Christmas card that year! I'm sure there were many confused recipients, but I felt it was the perfect way to acknowledge how tough our year was, in a funny, light way.
That was a pretty liberating day and helped me deal with the hair loss more easily (well, except for a couple days later when it seemed that UPS or my building reception desk had lost my hair, which I was sending off to a halo wig maker. I had a complete meltdown in the lobby, yelling for all to hear that I had cancer and that they had LOST MY HAIR! Maybe I wasn’t handling it quite as well as I thought?? PS: Eventually the package was found.).
I had always intended that the first day I went to work after my cut, I'd wear my fancy wig and fool everyone. Instead, I went in with my newly short hair because I shockingly LOVED it! It looked pretty badass if I do say so myself, which is SO not me. I'm more of a designer bag and Lilly print kind of girl. As the weeks went by and I was losing it all, I started showing up to work with a different look every day -- first the short hair, then scarves (with big earrings and bright lipstick of course!), and then in what I liked to call my Britney Spears blond wig that brought me back to my college/law school days. I think the revolving hair styles were how most people eventually figured things out!
Cancer also brings so many other weird physical things that you just have to laugh at (or you might cry!): turning blue from the surgical dye they use to find your lymph nodes (I looked like the purple girl in Willy Wonka); having to stay away from small dogs and babies when you're radioactive (at those times I thought a lot about a card I received from a special kid that told me to remember this was my superhero origin story); or the time the Taxol turned my hands bright red and peel-y and I had to wear winter running gloves outside in the middle of July that made me look a bit like Michael Jackson.
Don't they say laughter is the best medicine?