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.

Post-Chemo Hair Update: The Last Three Months

My last hair update was August 1, so it's time for a new one. When my hair was beginning to grow out after chemo in the spring of 2012, it made sense to take weekly photos so I could keep track of what it looked like at each stage, to remember if I liked a particular length. But now that it's getting longer, I can no longer observe changes from week to week, so I've been taking monthly photos instead. Here's August, September, and October.

Post-Chemo Hair Growing Out and a Clean Bill of Health

Life is pretty damn good these days. The Henery Press edition of Artifact comes out next week, I finished a rough outline of the third Jaya Jones book a few days ago, and I got a clean bill of health at my annual post-cancer doctor appointments.

Still... I couldn't help grumbling about how long it takes hair to grow back! I've been taking weekly photos of my hair as it grows out, and tracking my progress has made it feel sooooo sloooooow.

But then I took a step back. Looking at photos from every other month during the past 10 months, it's easy to spot the change from a super-short pixie cut to whatever you call a big curly swirl of hair that the wind is constantly blowing into my eyes. Cancer can't stop either me or my hair.

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.

Done With Revisions: PIRATE VISHNU Comes Out September 3, 2013

Gigi Pandian post-chemo hair, March 2013
Gigi's post-chemo hair, March 2013. 
Revisions inevitably take longer than anticipated. For me, it tends to take me about twice as long as I estimate. Since I've learned a thing or two over the last few years, I doubled the time I thought I needed to finish revising Pirate Vishnu: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery. 

It worked! I made my deadline!

I sent off the manuscript to my copy editor over the weekend. Advance Reader Copies will be out in May, and the novel will be published September 3, 2013.

Now it's time to relax and have some fun! Well, perhaps I'd better clean my house, too... After ignoring housework while finishing these revisions, the house is a bit of a disaster area, especially my study. But even though I neglected housework while finishing the book, I remembered to take photos of my hair growing out. Here's the latest one.

Later this week I'm heading to Colorado Springs for Left Coast Crime. I'll be on two panels at the mystery convention. If you'll be there, please find me and say hello!

Literary Inspirations for Traditional Mysteries
Friday, March 22 at 9 a.m.
With panelists: Sara J. Henry, Charlotte Hinger, Christopher Lord, Susan Shea, and Mary Vensel White

Occupations to Die For
Saturday, March 23 at 11 a.m.
With panelists: Ellen Byerrum, Naoimi Hirahara, Tammy Kaehler, and Patricia Wood

Here's a tiny teaser of the new book I just turned in. More details will follow in April, along with the book cover.

Pirate Vishnu: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery

A century-old treasure map of San Francisco.
A sacred treasure from India.
Two murders, a century apart. 

Historian Jaya Jones has her work cut out for her. 

Post-Chemo Haircut Photos: Weeks 9, 10, 11

Life got away from me after the release of my first mystery one month ago. It was one of those months that felt simultaneously like it went by in a flash and that it was endless. I posted about fun book news, but didn't step back and upload my post-chemo hair photos, though I continued to take them each week. Below are the last three week's worth of photo of my hair growing out.

Post-chemo hair, week 9.

Post-chemo hair, week 10.

Post-chemo hair, week 11.
My curls are coming back, so the hair is starting to get crazy. I've got wax it in to keep it from being completely mad-scientist-esque, but the curls are starting to stand their ground! The guy I bought coffee from today said I had artist hair, which sounded about right.

The First of Many Post-Cancer Vacations: New York City

Almost exactly one year ago, I was supposed to go to New York City. The week before that trip, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I cancelled the trip, unsure of when I'd be able to travel again.

I was rushed into surgery to have the tiny cancerous lump removed. Then chemotherapy wiped out my immune system, making travel a very bad idea. Post-chemo radiation wasn't so bad, but it was every single day for five weeks. I've still got some minor treatments, but with the big stuff over, my body bounced back amazingly well—so well that my doctor gave me the green light to travel! A new trip to New York came together, and since my diagnosis made me see clearly how much it means to me to travel, I'm also in the process of planning a trip abroad this fall after my book launch. I haven't quite figured out where we're going yet, since I want to do everything. But for now, this New York trip was a great start to live being not just back to normal, but even better.

We went to the top of the Rockefeller Center at sunset:

One of my favorite things about New York City is the gorgeous architecture that's filled with ornamental details. If you stop and look up, you're bound to see a carving through the trees like the ones below.

And even after an building has been demolished, its stone carvings might end up at the Brooklyn Museum's sculpture garden, like the figure below that found his new home in the grass lawn of the garden. (I'll be posting photos of the gargoyles and grotesques of New York over on the Gargoyle Girl blog this month.)

The apartment we stayed in made great use of space and had a solid dining table perfect for writing over morning coffee.

The apartment had a great view, but after a great trip I'm happy to be sitting at home in my Bay Window with the view of my giant cactus.


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.

One Writing Frenzy for Chemo & One for Radiation

I'm convinced that one the main reasons I felt so healthy during chemotherapy was because I stayed busy.

I took a bit of time off work at the beginning of my cancer treatments, but I quickly realized I was feeling well enough to work from home. During my four months of chemo, I did my day job, formed my new Gargoyle Girl Productions business, and wrote over 50,000 words during November for National Novel Writing Month. (Um, yes, I also watched a whole lot of bad television on the days I was feeling tired. What's up with the Forever Lazy pajamas for adults being marketed as a Snuggie you can wear outside??)

I won't lie and say the months flew by, but thanks to the overwhelming support of family and friends who cooked for me and came to visit when I couldn't leave the house, the time did go by pretty quickly.

Now that I'm done with chemo, I've got a little over five weeks of radiation — last week through January 27. So what are my plans during radiation, you ask? I'm giving myself another writing challenge:

This January, I'm going to write a novella.

Since I'm publishing the first book in my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery series in August, this 25,000-word novella will be a Jaya Jones adventure that readers can enjoy before the second full-length novel in the series comes out. (The second novel in the series is already written but needs editing.) I came up with the idea for this novella while experimenting with another story during NaNoWriMo, so I'm eager to dive into it.

I'm working on some fun ideas for publishing the novella, so stay tuned for details!