Thursday, July 2, 2009

Celebrity Makeover Part 1

Here it is--what y'all been waiting for!  Yeah, it was kinda weird to watch myself on national tv, and in high def no less (who knew I had so many freckles? I didn't.). And what was extra weird for me was seeing how emotional I was.  Maybe it was just so shocking and surreal at the time that I had no memory of what I was saying or how I felt (other than the shock). I'll admit it--I teared up a bit.  Yeah.

And in other fab friend Victoria Namkung, who is journalist to the stars, posted an entry on her amazing Las Angelenas blog about my makeover. Thanks, Girl!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Black Humor Thought of the Day

This image just popped into my head:  Cheryl Hickey, at my door, saying, "This whole year and a half of crap that was your life?...It was all a ploy for ET Canada's "'Celebrity Makeover'!"  Or worse, Ashton Kutcher pops up around the corner and screams, "You've been PUNKED!"

Oh well.  Either way, I still got to look pretty and take home shoes.


I was a least for one day.  I have to say, it was pretty sweet--probably one of the best days I've had in the last year and a half.  If life for celebrities is like this all the time, sign me up!  It was exactly what I needed (and more) to pick me up from the gutter I was drowning in.

My celebrity makeover extravaganza began at 9 in the morning at Holt Renfrew in downtown Vancouver.  My buddy Chris dropped me off, and I was promptly whisked upstairs to the store, which wasn't yet open.  Rebecca, my stylist, put me into a dressing room with four armfuls of clothes.  Thus began my dream come true.

Here I am, looking frightened.  It took a little while getting used to putting on clothes and having a small crowd of producers, hosts, Holt Renfrew people, and camera crew giving their opinions about what I was wearing.

I kinda knew right away that this dress was a keeper.  It's a Tory Burch dress with Prada heels.  I never thought I'd be using the word "prada" so casually, but yeah, I guess I am.

This dress was pretty dope too.  But it kinda made me feel like my Meemaw (godmother).  I think it was the texture of the material that reminded me of Meemaw's muumuus (try saying that five times).

I almost took this outfit home.  It was a freakin' leather pleated skirt!  Talk about hotttt...

Jenn really liked this outfit.  It was her favourite.  It was nice enough, but perhaps too nice, if you know what I mean.  And I wasn't really going for "nice"...

Here I am getting my hair cut off.  Cut it off!  Cut it off!

Makeup and nails.  Between the haircut and the makeup and manicure, I ate lobster sushi and drank champagne while getting a pedicure. Oh yeah...

Weeeeeee! I'm pretty!

Here's Mr. Fussypants attacking a stray hair that was resistant to his industrial hairspray. My photog is in the background. He was nice too.

Do you like that necklace I'm wearing? It can be yours for $900.

Surprise! My buddy Chris shows up.  The expression on his face means, "I thought I was looking at a mannequin, but holy crap! It's Brandy!"  Yep.

This cowl neck thing I'm wearing here was super comfy and soft.  Kinda like a Slanket, except way more expensive.

You might be surprised to know that I hadn't had much practice straddling a chair until that day.

What do you do when you have a buttload of people working on you? Stand very still.

My. Shoes. Are. Awesome.

Me and ET Canada host Cheryl Hickey talking about the radness of the makeover.

My lying, scheming friends and me.  Without their deception, none of this would have been possible.  Thanks, guys!

Jenn would make a lovely ET Canada host, doncha think?

And I do believe that Chris should give up his job as English prof. and switch careers.

Me, Cheryl, and my super stylist, Rebecca.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Make Me Over

If there's one thing I haven't been able to complain about during the past four months, it's been boredom in my life. Actually, there are a lot of things I can complain about, yet at this moment I find myself slightly smiling. A grin, perhaps.

I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop, even though I've had about 50 pairs dropped on my head already. And I tell myself to NEVER say that it can't get any worse, because frankly, it can.

Now that I'm all out of cryptic aphorisms, I will report some exciting yet extremely odd news. I was nonchalantly chilling with my buddy C., waiting for our buddy J. to show up to go out to lunch, waiting, waiting, waiting...Now, J. isn't the type of person you would call "flaky," but she was being kinda flaky today--which I found to be odd behavior. Actually, she and C. were both acting goofy, but I blamed C.'s jetlag for his goofiness.

Anyway, after waiting for J. for almost 90 minutes, the doorbell rang. And who is standing on the other side of the door but a cameradude, a producer, and Cheryl Hickey, of Entertainment Tonight Canada! Freakin' WEIRD. Like, not something you expect to happen to you on a random Tuesday afternoon, while waiting for your friend to come to your house so you can go get lunch at a Korean restaurant (which was a total set-up, obviously, and so after Cheryl and the gang departed, C. and I went for schwarma on Main). So yeah, Cheryl is there at MY house--which, by the way, is totally chaotic from remnants of my craft-fest on Saturday night--telling me that I'm going to have a "celebrity makeover" tomorrow--complete with clothes, hair, make-up and photoshoot! What?! Yes!

Um, okay.

So there you go.

It's the middle of June, the middle of 2009, and it's time for a whole new me (with some of the good-ol'-me thrown in for good measure).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

One Year Later...

It is 11:55 pm, April 15, 2009. It is the tail-end of the one-year anniversary of my double mastectomy. I didn't even realize it was the one-year anniversary until I was at my therapist's today, and she asked me how long it had been since the mastectomy. Then it dawned on me and I said, "Exactly one year ago today." People celebrate all sorts of anniversaries, but this particular anniversary is extra-special.

Okay, give me a moment. One year? Has it really been one year already? I vaguely remember the terror that I had on the eve of April 14, 2008-April 15, 2008. I didn't sleep a wink and took my last bath at 3:30 am. I watched the sun come up as I walked with DH and my parents to the hospital (we live practically across the street from it). We crossed Fraser, passed through Robson Park, waited for the pedestrian-controlled light to turn green, crossed Kingsway, passed the Thankga Buddha store, and walked down into the outdoor parking lot of the hospital. I held DH's hand as we waited for the doors to the surgical daycare unit to open at 6:30 am. And if you want to hear the rest of the story, you can go back one year on this blog.

And that's what I've been doing tonight. I've been going back through my blog. I laugh in some parts, I shudder at others, and I almost cry and can't finish reading some entries. It's just a little something that I started writing for my friends and family when I was diagnosed in July 2007, but it became something bigger. I still get media requests for interviews about my blog, that has somehow touched other cancer patients, survivors, and those who love them. I found some purpose in what I had been going through, and one of those things was to educate the audience about what it can be like to go through cancer treatment at a young age, to be a mother to two young children, a wife to a successful man, and a professional woman getting another graduate degree--to be a cancer patient during a time when your life is just starting to make sense and come together. And then, you're not so sure about any of that anymore because now, you could die a lot sooner than you ever thought you would. The thought that I struggled with on a daily basis: I finally have all this--and now, NOW?, I have to leave it all?

A year later, I'm still struggling with that question.

Let's get this straight: as honest as I am in this blog, I frankly don't report EVERYTHING. I mean, who would? There's lot of stuff that we go through every day that is just too lame or annoying or tiresome to tell anybody. Plus, I respect the privacy of my loved ones who might not exactly enjoy being showcased here. But I know some of you might have heard that DH and I have been going through an extremely rough patch in our marriage. And you could be asking yourself, What's this have to do with your cancer? Well, if it had nothing to do with cancer, I certainly wouldn't be talking about it. And if I even thought that it had nothing to do with cancer, then I'd say I was in complete denial.

The truth is, cancer took a toll on us. It's funny--I hear so many "success" stories--those that involve The Journey and The Reawakening or The Enlightenment. And I'm not saying that I haven't had those kinds of moments in my own journey during this past year and a half. But if you're looking for a certain kind of success story where everyone lives happier than ever post-cancer, this isn't it.

It's the one-year anniversary of the cancer being gone, and I'm celebrating it alone. In a way, that's fitting. Cancer is a really existential experience. You go inwards to places that you never even thought of, so far in you almost disappear. It really is one of those things that unless you've gone through it, you have no idea what I'm talking about. And that kind of experience is really difficult on the caregiver. Here is this person that you're trying to help and take care of, but they are so sick--so dying--that you can't reach them, that nothing you do will save them from that end. Truth is, we all come to an end. But to witness it day after day after week after month, for a whole year--that's another kind of torture and existential experience that is not understandable to someone who has not gone through that either.

For us, our experiences didn't match up. You might think that from the way I describe these experiences, that they share similarities, and in recognizing that, the two parties could help one another through the suffering. I can only speak from my experience obviously, but that was not the case for us. What happened? It's not that neither of us didn't care about the other's suffering. I feel that it was just the enormous sense of helplessness, from all around, that did us in. And during the months after the surgery, we tried very hard to rebuild our lives, but that pain and suffering ran so deep in each of us, that it was too late for damage-control.

It's a bitch--facing death at the age of 31. You look at your husband of three years, your children who are 3 and 4 years old. And you're just stunned, breathless. How? Why? Two simple questions that take the wind right out of you. And you see it in his eyes, in your husband's eyes--that mixture of courage and fear. He has to be strong for you, but truthfully, he's scared shitless. What do you do with that?

I can't tell you the story from that moment to this one. It's too painful for me to try to piece together the remnants that I still carry. DH and I have faced moments like the one now, here, in the present, way too many times--much more than a couple of our age ever should have to. And it's that tightness in the chest, the way you look through your tears into the light bulb on the ceiling, and you know that if you survive this moment, you can survive anything. And you will.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


gravity is something my current boobs defy. they are swell (in various ways). the skin graft is still healing, so they're not the prettiest pair you've ever seen...yet. in fact, chloe saw them and said, "mama, your boobs look funny!" but then again, i'm not sure if she said this because she had gotten used to seeing them flat and sans nipple, or just because they look funny. i like them though. here's a picture of me and my boobs (kind of):

Friday, January 30, 2009

12 days and counting

It's only 12 days until I get boobs, again. This isn't like the first time I got boobs, when I was about 14 years old (late bloomer), praying to God every night (still a believer back then) to give me boobs--any boobs--so the junior high ridicule would stop (it didn't). I stared at my flat chest in the full-length mirror in the bathroom, rub the small nubs and do some ritualistic chant after my Christian prayer. Eventually, I got boobs, but dammit, for all that anxiety and work and concentration, all I ended up with were barely-B's? Well, beggars can't be choosers, so they say. But this time, I get some choice.

I met with my plastic surgeon a week and a bit ago. She took a look at what I gots, and she said that full B/small C cup would probably be the way to go. For some reason, I felt bashful and didn't pipe up that perhaps I wanted to go up a size or so...I thought, heck, she's the expert, she knows best. So she showed me a saline implant that would be about my size, and I said, "Looks good to me." I don't know why I felt like I didn't have a say in this; it wasn't the way the doc was acting or anything. I think it was just some weird thing of mine. I didn't even talk about what kind of nipples I would like (mental note: remember to tell her I like them pointy when I go in for the surgery).

Anyway, I agonized over this for a good part of the morning after my appointment. I kept thinking, "What's wrong with you, girl? It's now or never...get the big boobies you want, dammit!" So I sheepishly sent the doc this email from my iPhone:

Hello Dr. __:

I was just in to see you this morning concerning my surgery scheduled for February 11th. You had talked about giving me saline implants to make me a full B/small C cup. I was giving this some more thought, and I was wondering if I could get more volume to make me a full/bigger C/small D? I just keep hearing my girlfriends say in my head, "Go for the gusto!" so I thought maybe now's not the time to be bashful, especially since I know very well that you only live once.


A few days later, I got this reply:

No problem. Dr. ___ has ordered you bigger implants.
Ms. Assistant

So I'm like, great, big boobs! But a part of me was a little weirded out that the size of my boobs was just decided over email, just like that. Oh well.

And here's some other weirdness...I thought of how Chloe and Mylo have gotten used to see my nippleless chest, with the big scars and mottled tissue. I think it's kind of cool how that's their normative view of the female body, but I guess I'm just going to go back to being the stereotype in less than two weeks. As much as I enjoy the radical feminist notion that I had a chance to subvert the female body ideal, I pretty much have grown up with that ideal and desire to achieve it if I am able to. That admission makes me kind of sick, but I have to acknowledge that. But I'm still grateful in a way that I exposed my children to my body images issues rather than hid it from them, and that we were able to communicate about it. Chloe still asks me now and then if my boobs feel better or if they still hurt (her words), and we talk about it.

I just read a really good book called Lopsided: How Having Breast Cancer Can Be Really Distracting. I think there's this new trend in cancer memoirs to talk frankly about how one deals with the pain and self-pity rather than giving life advice on how to buck up and accept the journey. I found this book to be humorous and heartbreaking, and it really spoke to my experience.

Another book I'm reading is Lymphedema: A Breast Cancer Patient's Guide to Recovery and Healing. It's useful in its clear explanation of the illness, and gives great advice on self-massage and exercises to help clear out some of the lymph. Even Dude is reading it so he can see how to give me a massage. Fun for the whole family!

So I think I need serious makeover. DH said to me the other morning, "Now that your hair is getting longer, you should do something stylish with it." It's not as mean as it sounds; he was saying, like treat myself to a salon appointment or something. But I don't know. I'm tired. And I guess I'll have to buy new clothes and bras when I get the new tatas. That's exciting!

So FUCK YOU CANCER, Brandy's almost back in town.

Friday, January 23, 2009


just got the call that the biopsy is clear--no cancer!  yeah.  just the old body doing its usual mostly-harmless weirdness.


Here I am again, waiting for biopsy results.

I've talked to some of you readers in the past couple months who said that you look at my blog and when you don't see an update, you're happy because it must mean I'm doing well.  Well, yes and no.  It means that I'm hiding, and that I have nothing that I think is exciting enough for people to read, and that I'm doing okay otherwise.  But the funny thing is, despite me not giving a daily or more regular update on my blog, I've got a million unposted entries in my head.  I often walk around in life with a picture of the blog and what I would write if I sat down to do so, but they just kind of evaporate into the rot of my brain before I reach a computer.

So, since I mentioned the biopsy, let me talk about that.  When I saw the doc about the lymphedema on my right arm, she also checked out my left armpit, which I told her was sore.  Sure enough, she felt a lump.  So then she told me to get an ultrasound, which I did this week.  When I got the ultrasound done, the radiologist was concern about the images, and she ordered me to come back in a couple days for a fine needle aspiration, which is a way to get samples from the lymph node.  So I had that done.  I watched them stab the shit out of the poor lymph node, sticking in the needle and wriggling it around like crazy (don't worry--they administered freezing to the area, so I didn't feel anything).  They got a few samples they were happy with.  They thought the image of the node changed a bit after they sampled it, so the doc said it could be a hematoma, but I'm like, how in the world would I have a hematoma on the lymph node?  Anyway, I gave my doc a heads-up on the results coming in, so she said she'd get the results on Monday and give me a call asap.

As for my lymphedema--last week was a pain in the ass, or arm, I guess.  The compression bandaging was awful, excruciating torture.  I really, honestly wanted to cut off my arm.  I really wanted to just be over with it, and get a hook.  One of my professors from UCLA has a hook arm, and I always thought it was pretty cool.  I want one of those.  Better than having this arm that's going to cause me pain and discomfort for the rest of my freakin' life.  Anyway, the massage part of the treatment was actually good and relaxing.  It's a gentle massage that's used to move the lymph fluid so that it doesn't pool as much in the arm.  After each massage treatment, my RMT would bandage my arm in a compression wrap that looked like a cast.  That pretty much sucked.  When it's bandaged like that, I can't really use my arm at all (except maybe as a bludgeoning weapon).  Then after five treatments, I went to a medical supply store called Regency in Burnaby to get fitted for a custom sleeve that extends to a glove.  I'm supposed to wear this every day, forever.  While I'm waiting for the custom to get made (it's gonna take a month or so), I got an off-the-shelf sleeve and glove, which I wear all the time.  And I also bandage on top of that for extra compression.  So I'm learning how to manage wearing these things and keep typing and doing stuff around the house.  It's a new challenge.

I have my moments when I just keep going at life, things are fine, I'm doing okay though still battling fatigue and chemo brain.  Then I have my moments when I wonder how much of Chloe and Mylo's growing up I'll be here for.  But I can't go there.  I just need to be in the Now.  Speaking of, here comes Mylo now, wanting me to see a robot he made.  Oh, there he goes again.  They're too fast to keep up with, but I try. 

Friday, January 9, 2009

A New Year for Moving On

I've been in hiding mode again.  I've got a bad case of denial.  It's actually bizarre.  Lately, when I see people I haven't seen in a while, they kindly make a comment about how good I look, especially when they see my full head of super curly hair.  I look healthy, robust, normal.  And I realize it's quite a contrast to how I looked a year ago--bald, sickly, at death's door.  I also thank people for their kind comments, but inwardly, I feel embarrassed.  It's kind of the same reaction when I see pictures of myself from last year--I cringe.  I feel sick.  I feel repulsed at how I was.  That probably doesn't make sense to most people--why would I feel embarrassed?  It wasn't my fault.  But to remember my vulnerability and sickness--it's the opposite of empowerment.  Again, this is quite a contradiction, I realize logically and intellectually.  But my honest reaction is that I just don't want to see myself as that seriously ill person.

Nonetheless, I have to deal with life as a cancer survivor.  Currently, I have lymphedema.  On Christmas eve, I noticed that my arm was swollen, but I thought it would just go away.  My arm has swollen a bit in the past since the surgery, but it would go down if I put my compression sleeve on and kept my arm raised a bit.  This time, it didn't go down and in  fact kept swelling.  After almost a week of this, I went to the doctor.  She ordered an immediate ultrasound because she wanted to see if I had a blood clot.  It was a scary moment, because I thought it was no big deal--just a nuisance to have a big arm.  But now, I was dealing with a potentially urgent situation.  So I got  my ultrasound, but luckily, there was no clot to be seen.  Still, my arm was huge.  And now, it was starting to feel sore.  The doc said that was because blood vessels were breaking from the pressure of the lymph fluid building up.

I went back to the doctor after the ultrasound.  What's difficult is that lymphedema is still one of those conditions that's not well understood, and therefore, treatment options are still very limited.  But while I was there, I also told my doc that I'd been experiencing pain on the left side, which was the side that didn't have cancer.  I've been having throbbing pain in my armpit, which is the axilla lymph node area.  She felt under there, and there was indeed a hard round ball under my pit.  So I'm having an ultrasound for that in a week and a half.  It's probably scar tissue, but now, we have to make sure--for everything.  Thank god my doc is on top of things and tells me she'd rather be on the side of paranoia than not worrying about things.

Lucky for me, I have access to one of the few registered massage therapists who specializes in manual lymphatic drainage massage.  So I'm starting a daily treatment on Monday for five days, during which I will receive a one-hour treatment on my arm, followed by a wrap to try to get the swelling down.  Next Saturday, I'm going to get fitted for a custom compression sleeve that will extend down to my fingers.  Hopefully, this treatment will work.

And I finally got my reconstruction surgery scheduled for February 11th.  The original plan was to get implants and nipple reconstruction, but now with my lymphedema, I'm not sure about that.  I have an appointment with the surgeon two days after my ultrasound, so I'll have the opportunity to discuss that with her.

I'm wondering if this is normal--continuing to deal with cancer even after it's supposedly gone.  Will I ever be able to live without having to think about cancer?  Is it possible to move on?