Breast cancer changed some things about Noelle Smith, but not the things that matter most.
Big hair? Big boobs? Big personality? Big news.
Most of my life, I have been known for my big personality. In the past 10 years, I have become known for my really long curly hair.
I have been giving demonstrations on how to best care for and style curly hair (actually washing and styling my own hair in front of people), at Ellenoire, my bath and body products boutique in Dundas, Canada. What my customers don’t know is that my mother (who was Caucasian), did not know what to do with my hair or my sisters’, so she kept it cut short. Through the 80’s, I had a trendy short haircut, often blow-dried into a "new wave" 'do.
Once I was out on my own, I grew my hair long. Of course, I spent tons of time and money trying to figure out how to make it look its best. Once I found the best products, I started selling them at my boutique.
Last December I found a lump in my breast. The next morning, I was at my doctor. In less than a month, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I chose to have my breast removed because I was assured chemotherapy was unlikely, meaning I could keep my precious hair!
As a single parent and entrepreneur, being ill on chemo would be expensive. My hair demos help drive sales, so losing my hair would be costly. I was relieved that having surgery meant my cancer ordeal was simple in comparison to other cancer patients. I figured breast reconstruction would give me a new sexy (maybe even bigger!) bustline, and then it would be over.
Alas, this was not to be. Once surgery was complete and the reports were in everything changed. The doctors recommended high dose chemo, sentencing me to lose my trademark hair. I was sad and scared, and most of all angry that I was misled about the chemo.
Chemo started in April.
A few days after the first treatment, I did my last curly demo and chopped my hair short. We made it into an event at the boutique, and in a sense that gave me a sense of control and strength. I was the one taking my hair off, NOT chemo.
Just for fun, I had a blond mohawk for a week before my hair fell out. The mohawk made me feel powerful. And I needed this power to carry me through the physical and emotional ravages of high-dose chemo. My hair fell out in handfuls, my body bloated, my skin became tight and dry, my mouth tasted like an ashtray and aluminum foil. I thought I knew what I was up against; I read as much as I could about the disease and the treatments, and had watched my mother go through chemo. But nothing prepared me for the reality of chemo on top of a mastectomy.
The emotional turmoil of having my body taken over by the drugs and their horrific side effects consumed my every moment. I could barely work, and some days I could barely walk. I convinced myself that the person in the mirror must be a warrior — a warrior against cancer. I was a bald and bloated one-breasted warrior with no eyelashes. It was hard not to cry every morning at the sight of myself, but I knew being strong was my best defense. My son needed me, my store needed me and I was not about to let this take me out! I forgot about how I looked and did the best I could, with a smile on my face. I blogged and Facebooked and told others what I was learning.
Chemo ended in July, and I am thankful for the gifts cancer has given me. I have new friendships with other women in the same predicament. I have a renewed sense of myself, and the confidence to know I can battle anything. I am a warrior — not quite as bloated or scared. I am the strongest I have ever been. Today, I stand here in my boutique without my curls, without big breasts (yet!?), but with my personality intact. And it is bigger than ever!
Read more about Noelle Smith