Preparing to look awful

September 27, 2011 § 4 Comments

My previous experience with medicine has been this: I felt ill, took some medicine, felt better. This lot though, this chemo, is rather the reverse: feel fine, take medicine, feel bad. Feel and, indeed, look bad. No hair, sickly pallour, weird finger-nails, all that.

I’ve been trying to prepare for this.

Wig and hair

On the advice of my friend, Cheryl, who has been through all this herself, I headed to Vicki Ullah in Harrods for a wig. If ever there was a time to shop big, this was it, we decided. My friend Hilary came with me, as did Rex3000. Hilary is much smarter than I am, wears many more accessories, and her clothes match.  She is also observant and very kind, so I knew she would be a good person to offer an opinion. I worried a little about taking Rex300. Either it was a great, “include him in the whole process” move, as recommended in many leaflets, or else something he will need a bucket’s worth of therapy to get over.

In the end, it proved to be a reasonably jolly trip. Vicki Ullah, the wig lady, was great. Not fussy, but knew what she was about. I walked out with a wig, some scarves, a couple of cooking turbans (“Don’t go near heat in your wig”), and a super-unattractive sleep hat, like something out of Little House of the Prairie.

Soft toys modelling hair replacement items

We discussed whether I should have my eyebrows tattooed on…

Make up

…which leads me to Sunday’s keeping busy activity. My neighbour works on a make up counter at John Lewis. I was chatting to her about how I am about to look awful and that, even though I am old enough to know better, I still don’t know how to put on make up. She very kindly offered to make me over. Hence, on Sunday I was perched on a high stool, having my skin tested (it’s dry and slack, by the way), followed by the steady application of creams, primers, foundations, eye creams, liners, blushers, and lip sticks.

I think that briefly, it was ok. I was not quite so tired looking, a bit fresh-faced even. But it was a brief window. The eye-liner was a step too far. Not that it wasn’t applied well, just that it was unusual for me, confirmed by RMD and @Rex3000 falling about with laugher on seeing me. The word “clown” was used.


My young friend, Aggie, an expert in all things appearance based, took me to the House of Fraser to have my nails done. I heard that chemo does strange things to your fingernails which can be prevented by painting them, and Agnes generously offered to help me with this. I chose a rather dark blue, and listened to a lecture on how my cuticles need softening up.

Two days later, the lovely paintwork was chipped and ruined.

The problem…

…is that I will be caught between A) looking different (bald, pasty, etc), and B) looking different (wearing eyeliner, painting my fingernails, sporting hats and/or a wig). The activities involved in B may well just draw more attention to A.  I will be self-conscious enough in a headscarf without trying a new shade of emerald green for my eyes at the same time.

If there’s a point to having a major event turning your life upside down (and I’m not convinced there is), it may something about challenging the things you have always done. Well, this hasn’t really worked in the case of make up and nails. It’s still not really me. Even with more time on my hands, and a desire to keep busy and look better, there seem to be more interesting things to do than practice with an eyeliner.

Maybe, in this case, challenging myself has to be about something different. Perhaps it will be about learning what it feels like to look different. Some people cope with this day in, day out.  According to the charity, Changing Faces, 542,000 (or one in 111) people in the UK have a significant disfigurement to their face. Here’s one of them,

Brave man; brave folk. So, a few months of no hair and a grey face, with a will, it’s probably do-able.

(By the way, just so we’re clear, all this “other people are worse off than me” may be withdrawn at any moment as the chemo progresses and it becomes clear that, indeed, I am the most unfortunate person in the world.)

§ 4 Responses to Preparing to look awful

  • Emily says:

    Mmm, tricky one the whole make-up thing. For what it’s worth I think it’s ok to spend a bit of time looking under parr. It’s hard work trying to look great when you don’t feel it. But, on the days that you want to go out there looking fabulous I would recommend one product only – CLARINS Beauty Flash Balm. It’ll perk that skin up just enough without the need for any make-up at all. Go try it out at your local Boots counter. (This is not spam ! 🙂

  • Mary says:

    You are dry but not slack, unlike your skin! xx

  • Jamesb says:

    I have very little hair. I have not contemplated wigs, but rather hats of which I have 6 (one bought in geneva with Russell which is too tight and camp). My favourite is a flat cap. If you’d like to discuss millinery and follicle related things I can be reached in Sheffield.

  • Rachel says:

    Love the blog and while I don’t like make-up either, none of us past the age of ten are blessed with radient complexions on a good day, so my tips are bare escentuals, bare minerals.All natural, tons of shades.IMHO the best are the radiences as you buff them on with a brush and they just make your skin glow, They can all be mixed as they are just powders and they look like you just have great skin, there is no ‘make-up’ look.
    My next greatest find is josie Marans argan oil, can be put all over, face, body etc. It is organic, helps the women who harvest it and added to moisturiser gives a glowy look. She also has these great sticks that give washes of colour to lips and cheeks again minus clown appearence!!! Hope this helps, btw loved the soft toys !!!!xxxxxx

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