Post-Chemo Hair Update: A Milestone!

As my hair was growing out shortly after chemotherapy two years ago, I took weekly photos of my hair. With short hair, change happened quickly. I wanted to keep track of what I looked like with my hair at different lengths, because before stupid cancer, I'd never had short hair. But as my hair grew longer, change became harder to detect, so my last hair-focused photos were taken over six months ago.

Until now. This week, I hit a milestone. Looking in the mirror, I realized my hair is now as long as it was when I cut if off my freshman year of college! It's still shorter than it's been for most of my adult life, but I look like my old self again. Maybe I'll decide to cut my hair short again at some point, but it's a great feeling to be in charge of the decision this time around.

Fifteen Months After Cancer: Fearless & Feeling Like Myself Again

It's been fifteen months since I finished chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

I definitely fall into the camp that believes what doesn't destroy me makes me stronger. I continue to feel healthier than I've ever been -- thank you Kris Carr and Post Punk Kitchen! -- and am enjoying life more than ever.

However, as I've recovered, I've felt strangely unlike myself in two key ways. First, I no longer had my old (BIG) hair. Second, I no longer had my ability to eat or drink anything I wanted to.

Though it turns out I can pull off short hair (here I am in August of 2012), I didn't really feel like me with that hair.

Now, though my hair isn't nearly as long as it used to be, it's long enough that it gets blown over in the wind and has a life of its own. In other words: I'm back to feeling like my hair is my own. 

As for food, I used to take pride in the fact that I would try any dish put in front of me, a la Anthony Bordain or Andrew Zimmerman (of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods show), and drink any spirits no matter how high the proof (absinthe, anyone?).

After finding out that certain foods would greatly increase my risk of cancer recurrence, I realized I needed to change my eating habits. But where would I be without my identity as a fearless eater? There was no way I was going to become a boring eater. Well, it turns out there was a different way for me to be fearless with food: I learned to cook.

When I got sick, we'd recently moved into a house with an amazing kitchen. Before that, living in Berkeley and San Francisco made it easy to walk five minutes in any direction and get any type of food we desired, so there was no need to cook in cramped apartment kitchens with electric stoves. But in a gorgeous kitchen with a gas stove and plenty of counter space, I was already tempted to learn to cook.

It turned out that cooking from scratch was easier than I ever imagined. Granted, it's not fast; it's quite time consuming. But who knew that cooking could be so much fun, and that healthy foods could taste so absolutely amazing? So now instead of being someone who will try any food, I'm someone who can cook up any dish I feel like eating -- and have it be both delectable and good for me. Not too bad, as trades go.

And yes, I do all my writing in the morning so I have time for leisurely cooking in the evening.

Mixing the ingredients in a wild ride salad. 

Homemade vegan butter with a cashew base.

Homemade raw chocolate.

Our greenhouse in the backyard.

One Crazy Week

Artifact poster in a bookstore window.
Somehow it's been over a week since Artifact went on sale. You'd think it was more work to *write* the book, and yes, to some extent that's quite true. But it turns out it's true that publicity is important to help people find the book, so I've been busy attending to opportunities that arise.

Today, I'm featured on Jenny Milchman's "Made It Moments" blog. Jenny is a mystery author whose first novel, Cover of Snow, debuts in 2013. For years, she's had a feature on her blog where she invites authors to share the story of when they feel like they've "made it" as an author. I used to think the answer would be when your book is published, but that's not generally what authors choose as their moment! It's not what I chose either.

It's really fun, and slightly surreal, so be hearing from mystery fans who already read the book. And it was cool to see this review of Artifact that appeared in ForeWord Reviews magazine. The most interesting thing is to hear the specifics of what different people think--the book is no longer mine alone, but a freestanding entity.

Post-chemo hair, week 8.
I'm getting ready for my book launch party at A Great Good Place for Books this weekend (there's a photo above of an Artifact poster in the window of the bookstore), and in the meantime of course it's a busy week at work so I can't take time off! But that's what coffee is for....

Lastly, so I don't slack off taking photos of my hair as it grows out, here's this week's photo. For the first time since it's been growing back, it's long enough that I feel the hair resting on my forehead. But at the same time, I'm also finally getting used to having short hair! Who knows if I'll decide to keep it.


Goodreads and Good Hair (post-chemo hair: weeks 5, 6, and 7)

I know, I know. I slacked off posting weekly photos of my hair. It's not that I didn't remember to take photos each week. It's because it turns out there's so much work to do with a book release that I didn't think about downloading and posting the photos! I also didn't remember to publicize a last chance for members of Goodreads to win an Advance Reader Copy of Artifact.

So below, good hair and a Goodreads giveaway:

I got a new haircut! Yes, I'm growing out my hair, but it was getting so scraggly and unruly that it needed a clean-up. I still don't think I quite look like myself, but I think it's kind of cute. I suspect it's going to be one of the great ironies of life that as soon as my hair has grown back out to how long it was before cancer, I'll finally have stopped thinking of myself as a long-haired person. 

Post-chemo hair, week 7.

Post-chemo hair, weeks 5 and 6.

Are you on Goodreads? Through Monday, August 27 (the day before Artifact is officially on sale), you can enter to win one of five signed ARCs:


The Haircut: Week 3 / Plus a Note About Comments

This week was a tipping point. My post-chemo hair growth became long enough that I can no longer spike it straight up. When I try to do so, it looks rather like a pathetic attempt at a mohawk. Not an awesome mohawk, mind you. Just a sad little silly one.

Instead, I'm going to see if taming my curls downward works. Here's my first shot. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes my curls to rebel.

I previously blogged about my inadvertent sociological experiment that took place during chemo, in which different wigs received vastly different responses from the people I interacted with. This continues to be the case with short hair! More than any other change of appearance I've ever had, hair changes the way strangers interact with me.

I'm not sure if it's these thrilling posts about my hair that are increasing the number of people reading the blog (kidding, I know it's the how-to posts), but I've started to receive SPAM comments that I've had to delete. Therefore I've changed the settings and comments will only appear once I've had a chance to approve them.


The Haircut: Week 2

Last week I began a weekly ritual: taking a photo of my hair once a week as it grows out after chemotherapy. This way I'll be able to remember what it looks like at different lengths, so I can decide how long I'd like to keep it.

I'm much better at sticking to things if I declare publicly that I'm going to do them. Much like participating in NaNoWriMo pretty much ensures I'll complete a 50,000-word draft of a novel within a month, and starting Gargoyle Girl got me to sort through years of gargoyle and other mysterious photographs, promising to take a weekly photo of my post-cancer hair means I have to do it—even if I've got a bit of Alfalfa hair going on like I do right here.

One Year Later: The Post-Cancer Recap

Last week was the one year anniversary of when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. What a year! I never expected so many of the things that happened this year:
  • Getting cancer in my 30s.
  • Going through chemo, which sucked but also had the wonderful side effect of bringing out the best in my husband and friends.
  • Deciding to stop waiting for my agent to hear from publishers and instead form my own imprint and publish my first book myself.
  • The support of so many people regarding my controversial decision.
  • Feeling healthier than I ever have in my life. 
  • Eating a diet that's pretty close to vegan. This is after previously being someone who prided myself on my ability to try any food, anywhere. I never expected it, but food tastes more amazing than ever.
  • Finding myself completely comfortable with hospitals and needles. 
  • Having short hair—and thinking that it doesn't actually look so bad!
Regarding that last point, after the first inch grew back thin and straight, my hair is now growing back as fierce and curly as ever. In the picture above, you can see my short cut is starting to curl at the edges. That picture was taken a little over a week ago, and it's already visibly longer. I'm stealing an idea from a friend and am going to take a photo of myself each week as my hair grows out, so I can decide what length I like best. As long as I don't look too ridiculous—and those curls will start to look silly—I'll share the photos here. Okay, okay, I'll post photos here regardless. But I don't promise that I won't sometimes be wearing a cute hat.

And how did I fare with my New Year's Resolutions that I came up with right as I finished up chemo and began radiation? I stuck to the important ones (my first mystery novel is coming out at the end of August, I'm working on other fun writing projects, and I'm cooking delicious healthy food) but I failed in a few ways that surprised me:

It's true. Hell has frozen over. And look outside your window; you'll see some pigs flying. Yup, I'm now on Facebook. With my first book coming out in less than two months, I set up an author page (not a personal one). I haven't yet decided what I think of it, but I'm around, so you can find me there.

I wanted to practice my French, but I haven't spoken a word of French since 2012 began. Okay, maybe three words. Or thirty. But I didn't start a new French language course. It turns out it's so much work to be one's own publisher. (More on that next week.) Getting my book ready for publication didn't leave me with much free time. I also didn't keep a sketchbook, or keep up with this blog as much as I would have liked. I did keep a notebook of notes, and I see I've got lots to blog about, so that's one thing that'll be easy to do more of. But French? I apologize in advance to the French, whose language I will slaughter when I visit France this fall after my last cancer treatments are complete.

This year has taught me that it's true you can never know what will happen in your life—but you can be prepared. Having wonderful people in my life got me through this year, and I know now that I can get through anything.


10 Things I Wish I'd Known About Wigs Before Starting Chemotherapy

I'm one of those people who's good at staying positive. But when I learned that in addition to having cancer I had to go through chemotherapy and lose my hair, I wasn't happy. It turned out I was needn't have worried. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. There was even some fun to be had.

Since I've been going through this experience, a lot of people have asked me all sorts of questions about wigs. Six months ago, I knew nothing about wigs. Now I've learned so much that I thought I'd share everything I wish I'd known when I began the process.

Here are the ten things I wish I'd known about wigs before starting chemo:

1. You don't need to spend a fortune to buy a wig everyone thinks is real.

Wigs made of real hair, which are more expensive, seem to last longer than synthetic ones. But inexpensive wigs can look just as good. I was worried I'd have to invest in a super-expensive wig to feel comfortable leaving the house, but that didn't turn out to be the case at all. What do you think? Can you tell which is real?

2. The cost of buying wigs. 

Some insurance covers the cost of a good wig if you have to have chemotherapy. The American Cancer Society also offers a free wig to cancer patients, that you can select in person at your local office. Beauty stores offer a range of wigs. My wigs cost between $35 and $250. My favorite cost $60.

3. What to expect at the wig store. 

I bought my wigs at beauty stores, which stock lots of wigs and have knowledgeable saleswomen. You'll need to wear a nylon stocking cap when you try on wigs, and all the stores I visited charged around $2 for the wig cap. Many beauticians can also trim your wig so it better fits your face.

4. Take your friends with you when you go wig shopping.

Taking your friends with you is great to turn the experience of temporarily losing your hair into something fun. It also has the added bonus of letting your friends pick things out that you'd never select for yourself. My friends were so right!

5. How to get a good fit. 

I initially imagined it would be necessary to get a custom-made wig, or at least to measure my head to get the right size. I learned that neither was necessary. Wigs have sizing straps so that you can adjust the size on your head. There are also cut-outs that fall above your ears to make it easy to put the wig on straight. Not all wigs will fit you, though, so you'll still need to try them on.

6. How to get a comfortable fit. 

That stocking cap you used at the store to try on wigs can help if your scalp is sensitive and the wig feels itchy. I didn't find that to be the case most of the time, but it was nice to have some nylon stocking caps when I wanted one. I was also given a silicone wig strap that was meant to keep a wig in place, but it didn't work well with my glasses. That didn't turn out to be a problem either. If you've correctly used those sizing straps on the inside of the wig, the wig doesn't move at all throughout the day. (I live in California, though, so I haven't tested this in bad weather conditions.)

7. If your doctor says you'll lose your hair, go ahead and cut it short before that happens.

Having short hair will make it less traumatic as your hair thins. It also lets you try out short hair styles so you can see what you might like to do while your hair grows back out. I tried out two lengths of short hair. Surprisingly, super-short looked pretty damn good.

8. Buy more than one wig.

You're going to need to wash your wig, so even as a practical matter it's a good idea to have more than one. Some wigs will also become worn around the edges (I found it to be the less expensive ones), and it's much easier to purchase an extra wig before you start feeling poorly. And the biggest reason to buy more than one wig? To have fun with the experience.

9. Yes, you want to have some fun with your wigs. 

I had the same long curly hair for twenty years, from age 16 to 36. It worked for me, so I had no reason to change it. I only changed because I was forced to do so. But now I know I don't have to keep that style to feel like myself.

10. Go with your gut. 

Regardless of what anyone else says, you'll know when you've found the wigs you feel happy with. I tried on some wigs that might have technically looked good on me, but they didn't feel right. I got the ones I loved, and that's one of the reasons this challenging year has gone by as quickly as it has.

11 Lessons from 2011

2011 was a crazy year for me. In spite of everything, 2011 is finishing up even better than it began. Here are 11 things I learned in 2011:

Gigi with her dad in India.
1. Writing a novel always takes longer than you think it will. After a late 2010 trip to India, I thought it would be easy to finish up the second book in my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery series, much of which takes place in India. Ha! It was June before I gave it to my agent. 

2. Conventions and conferences are worth the expense. I'm not talking strictly about monetary calculations, but rather about life experiences. My non-writer friends and family are supportive of my quirky writing habits, but they don't really get it. Hanging out with inspiring mystery writers at Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe in March got me re-energized to finish the above-mentioned novel. I was also on my first panel, and it was exciting to have attendees come up to me afterwards to tell me they looked forward to buying my book once it was out. 

3. Being Zen about changes of plans is the way to go. I'm a planner, both in life and when it comes to writing. I was planning on attending Thrillerfest for the first time, but a week before I was set to fly to New York, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had to cancel all of my upcoming travel plans. The only way I could imagine getting through the rest of the year was to let go of the desire to continue life as usual. Thus began my crazy cancer summer.  

4. Wig shopping is best done with friends. I could have been secretive about going through chemotherapy and needing to buy wigs, but that's not my style. I'm so glad I brought my friends wig shopping with me. They picked out wig styles I never would have selected myself, but they were so right! (I've had enough people ask me for details about buying wigs that I'm going to do a separate blog post about it in the new year.)  

5. Chemotherapy isn't as scary as it is in the movies. I was so relieved this was the case. It wasn't fun to to be poisoned for the greater good, but thanks to modern medicine, drinking plenty of water, getting plenty of sleep, staying active, and remaining connected through the internet once my immune system dropped, I was able to get through it while accomplishing more than I thought possible (more on that below). 

6. Good friends, a great husband, and Victoria Laurie's Ghost Hunter mysteries are all fantastic ways to get through individual chemotherapy sessions. How did I miss out on Victoria Laurie's amazing mystery series until now? I have no idea how I missed it before, but I'm glad I found it at the exact time that I needed a new series to entertain me for several hours every few weeks. And while I didn't exactly take the people in my life for granted before, I certainly have a greater appreciation for them now.

7. Cancer can help you see what you want in your life. For me, I could see it was the right time for me to publish my mystery novels myself. I won't regurgitate what I already wrote about here, but point is that I'm no longer bound to doing what I'm "supposed" to do. I was able to see what was right for me, and not to worry about what anybody else thought about it. And I knew exactly what I wanted to do: spend more time on my creative passions—photography, art, and writing—in ways that were meaningful to me. Thus Gargoyle Girl Productions was born.

8. Setting a long-term dream goal can keep you grounded. In addition to my creative passions above, another passion of mine is travel. It's not something I can do this year, but I found that looking forward to traveling once I was better made me all the more committed to helping myself get well. In addition to planning individual trips starting next year, I decided I'd start saving up for a three-month round-the-world trip for my five year anniversary of being cancer-free.
    9. While stuck at home due to an illness, only watch TV when at your most tired. We got cable TV once I found out about the treatments I needed for my cancer. It was definitely worth it for those days when I was tired. But as soon as I felt better a couple days after each chemo treatment, I grew antsy and felt there was something I could be doing besides watching TV. I went back to work remotely, formed Gargoyle Girl productions, and wrote a draft of an experimental new novel.

    10. However busy you think your life is, NaNoWriMo can be done. I wasn't sure if I could complete the 50,000-word challenge of National Novel Writing Month this year, but those tend to be the times when we're most successful, right?

    11. Remember to not take things for granted in 2012 and beyond. It's easy to go back to life as usual, but I'm resolving to remember to be grateful for all of the things in my life. Like coffee. Oh God it's good to be done with chemo and be able to drink coffee again.

    Happy New Year!