Monthly Archives: December 2011

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September 27  2011

Herein Lies a Tail – 4: September to December 2011

Welcome to Sue’s continuing gallery of “Portraits after cancer.”   If you want the full story, visit the Intro and the other “Herein Lies a Tail” posts in order.  The interval between shots is getting a little longer now, but I still intend to keep posting.
 

September 27 2011

October 4 2011

November 21 2011

December 8 2011

 

September 5, 2011

Herein Lies a Tail – 3: July to September 2011

On this post my faithful readers will find a pretty complete portrait gallery of the evolution of the mane of Sue, proving that there is life after cancer. I will also continue the “Career As An Imposter” because there are some amazing shots in here. I seem to have gone through a lot of famous figures. There is no better example than this first picture. John Denver anyone??!

July 26, 2011, taken by GSY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or how about this one? Does it remind you of President Clinton? It does me…

August 2 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These next two shots were the first I started sending out to my parents. I really should have started earlier, but, well, I was shy. A lifetime of rarely having my picture taken needed to be overcome.

August 3 2011

August 3 2011

August 3 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m putting this one in for the sake of completeness and to show that I’m not always smiling.

August 13 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George thinks this one should be labelled “Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.” I cannot object.  The coloring can be explained by the fact it was taken at sunset.

August 19 2011

 

 

This one beautifully demonstrates the “wings” over the temples. These white ends are some of those descended from the “Second Growth.” I happen to love this color and how it’s all turning out. And how about this fellow on the right? Captain, no, Admiral James T. Kirk –??!?

August 29 2011

September 5  2011

September 5 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This next portrait, taken in late September, is my favorite. I call it my Press Release picture. For many relatives it was their first good glimpse of me after the end of treatment. The hair is long enough for a central part to be needed and established.  It is at this point, with the curls so clearly handsome, that several people (you know who you are) started asking why I didn’t want to keep it this way. “So long buried!!” exclaims one. “You don’t need that old rope,” says another. Note that these comments were both from old men, whose ideal of female beauty was formed in the 40s. While I acknowledge the point — short hair is gorgeous on me, to my surprise — against them I note that every one of my model horse friends has assumed I’d be growing it out again. What can I say?  I do intend to grow it out. I made a promise to myself, and that promise helped me get through the whole adventure. Everybody can go whole-hog on a few things in their life; this is mine.

September 22 2011

See Tail – 4 for the next chapter.

201103.04aDL

Herein Lies a Tail – 2: Oct 2010 to July 2011

One of the most incredibly hilarious happenings in the whole course of my cancer treatments was the timing of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Driver and Vehicle Services.  We get our licenses renewed every four years.  Guess who got to renew in the spring of 2011?!?

In the long dark teatime of that winter, when I was relying entirely on feel as to what was going on up there, and wearing bandannas and scarves in many inventive ways, this shot would come the closest to the classic ‘bald’ picture. Due to the extrordinary understanding of the PennDOT clerk I was kindly allowed to “Think Pink” instead.

For the next 4 years, I’d get to explain what was going on.

My radiology treatments, all to the pelvic area, ended on November 21, 2010.  I got a graduation certificate!!  My third chemo occurred on December 13.  I had become an expert on living a 21 day cycle; the higher the number of the day, the better and more normal I would feel.  A week after the 13th, the bit between our teeth, we drove to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for our Christmas vacation.  I found out I could hike 5 miles.  It was wonderful.

My fourth chemo was on January 3, 2011.  My fifth was on January 24th.  I had been fearing  January for it was my only month with 2 treatments; chemo’s effects are cumulative, and I thought everything would just get worse and worse.  True enough, we had a scare in January when I thought I had caught cold, the one thing we were striving to avoid above all else.  The draconian measures to avoid catching cold were unbelieveable (no fresh fruit or vegetables for fear of contamination, no crowd contact of any sort — not a restaurant, not a store (grocery shopping meant a lot of dodging and holding my breath, black looks at anyone who coughed) — and no visitors without a mask) and could not have worked without a willing partner!  Yet looking back, I think that ‘cold’ was merely me experiencing chemo on a deeper level.  Smells and tastes had changed to where I did not recognize them.  The nurses were kind and supplied antibiotics.  January turned out to be a far more relaxing month than any before —  by now I knew the ropes.  In the end we accomplished the impossible: I didn’t catch cold until sometime in May, — and beat that one normally.

Because of the two months between my second and third chemos, my hair had a chance to start growing again.  What we called the “Second Growth” started out pure white and fine.  The remaining chemos knocked out the Old Growth but the second growth never really stopped; it just thinned.  I am basing these statements on my beloved’s reports, he who thought I looked wonderful no matter the state of my scalp.  There is a quote from C. S. Lewis’ 1946 book That Hideous Strength which applies:

“Isn’t that just like a man!” exclaimed Mrs. Dimble.  “There’s not a mirror in the room.”  “I don’t believe we were meant to see ourselves,” said Jane.  “He said something about being mirrors enough to see [one] another.”

How humbling, how precious, to so trust another that their very eyes become yours.  Yet this was only one instance of a galaxy of trust between us.  Great tragedies and stresses either bind you closer or push you apart.  I was very lucky.

My last chemo was on February 14, 2011.  The joke went round and made the nurse laugh:  Most girls get diamonds for Valentine’s but I was getting platinum. This was a reference to Carboplatin which is made with platinum.  I could by then claim to have been poisoned, scalped and nuked.  In March we took our Spring Break vacation on the beaches of Maryland and Virginia, and it was on that trip I saw a biker couple wearing rolled-up bandannas as headbands.  Great idea!!  promptly borrowed.  Scarf-wearing tech was my collection love by then, yet how soon the situation changed.  Although it was hard to detect the precise start of regrowth, I fixed on mid-March.  I remember a hike deep in the brush of Bombay Hook where, safe from all prying eyes, I took off my headcoverings and let the breeze cross me bare.  George said later  “The look on yor face!”  It was a funny thing but I had gotten used to going about with no tail in the house; yet upon hiking and birding outdoors, I seriously needed the Tail.  It gave me balance.  At this point I’d rebraided the leather several times and finally put a new shorter tassel on it, having plenty of raw material.

April was noteworthy for a journey down to Harrisburg, the capital (2 hours one way) to visit Dr P. I’d had a PET scan March 28. Typically, I did not find out the results until 2 weeks later — and had to drive 2 hours to get there! But this just made seeing him all the more rewarding. Dr P. gave us a clean bill of health. The trip back up was one glorious, ringing sojourn of discovery and specialness: the first eating out in a public restaurant (previously I’d had to settle for takeout) was just one of the freedoms restored. Even the salad sort of shimmered. No clandestine lovers could ever have experienced eating out the way we did that day. I shall always remember it: it was like getting out of jail.

For various reasons our 2011 Spring vacation was going to be not 3 weeks but 6, and touch Colorado, WY, NE and KS.  We would stay with my parents in Boulder, CO.  It was here, in early May, that I looked in the mirror again; and picture-taking entered my life again.  For purposes of these posts it has not stopped!!  Fair warning oh readers!  From here on out I resort to a refrain that sums up my hair situation:  No one counted on the curls.

In Boulder, taken by Mom (Jeanne E Bensema)

At the bench in Boulder, May 27 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

This shot, taken by my mother in the basement of the family home, shows me at my temporary tack bench. This place, in space if not in time, was where I began my tiny tack shop; my first pieces of tack were made near this very spot, on a card table, in the 1970s.

Jennifer and Sue

Jennifer Buxton and Sue, May 28 2011

One of the most wonderful coincidences of being in Boulder during May was that I had a chance to go to the Springamathing on May 28. This was a Stone-sponsored model horse show in Golden, about an hour south of Boulder CO. I couldn’t miss it!!  I had to deliver a hackamore to Teresa; it was my donation to the 2011 NAN Auction.  Jennifer Buxton, Teresa Buzzell, Karen Gerhardt and many others would be there. I saw Christie Partee, Jane Schneider, Sheila Bishop, Tiffany Purdy and Jennifer Scott as well as others I don’t recall. In a very real sense this was my coming out party. This picture, taken by Teresa, turned out to be the only one ever taken of me that showed both the Tail and my developing forelock.  To my amazement and secret delight, no one said a word about my hair… bless em.

 

At Boulder, May 30 2011, taken by J E Bensema

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
This is one you must meet: my life’s companion, George Young. If it weren’t for him, this blog and indeed me would not exist. Or if we did, it would be under far less congenial circumstances. He made everything possible; I owe him nothing less than my life.

At Boulder, taken June 9, 2011 by J E Bensema

 

 

Back home in PA, July 24, 2011, taken by GSY

The next series of pictures can easily be titled “My career as impersonator.” I’m not quite sure who I look like in the green t-shirt, but it isn’t me.

 

By now, July 2011, BreyerFest had come and gone and I was flush with success.  I had a wonderful time there, completely making up for having missed it the year before. I wore a bandanna without the Tail, as near as I can remember; but I was so happy just to be there that it didn’t really matter.

 

 

Go to Tail – 3 for the next chapter.

Jennifer and Sue

Herein Lies a Tail – 1: Up to Oct 2010

[Dec 2011]  I have struggled over how to tell these tales, and while I’m struggling they keep evolving.  I keep a diary in 200-page notebooks; each Notebook usually lasts about a year.  But for the 7 months of my cancer treatments I went through three Notebooks.  This blog is not, at least not for now, going to be a transcription; I can remember it all quite well enough!  This blog is going to based on pictures of me, something my former life is amazing short on. If you want to know “what Sue looks like now,” then go to the most recent post; I will be trying to keep up to date. But if you want to know the larger story… what happened and when… start here.

NAN 2004

NAN 2004

This picture was taken at North American Nationals (NAN) July 2004 by fellow model horse collector and performance shower Danielle Miller. My Walnut Woodgrain Stone Arab, named Solis, had just won Champion Stone Light Breed of Unrealistic Color! Believe it or not, this was and is my only NAN Champion — my only gold cookie won solely by myself. This shot shows “Sue as of old.” At this time my hair had not been cut since 1979.

 

Between this and the next series of pictures, many things happened. In May of 2010 I had my endometrial biopsy (IF YOU BLEED MORE THAN 10 DAYS SEE YOUR GYNOCOLOGIST); on June 7 I had my first diagnosis, Stage I endometrial adenocarcinoma.  “It’s a puppy, you don’t need chemo, you don’t need radiation, Just let me do a hysterectomy and all will be well.”  [Endometrium = lining of the uterus.]  On July 13, I had a hysterectomy (thus busting my perfect BreyerFest attendance record); on July 16, the day I left the hospital, the pathology report came, and with it my second diagnosis.  My beloved gynocologist said, “I am shocked.”  Three of 15 pelvic lymph nodes sampled were cancerous; Stage IIIC.  Not a puppy.

No one knows how it escaped. An autopsy of the tumor block showed a penetration of one quarter through the uterine wall; even halfway is still considered safe against cancer escaping.  The odds of this happening were quoted as one in a hundred.  I never gamble; but now I begin to understand gambling.

On August 4 2010 we met with my radiologist for the first time (fortunately, he looked very much like my father). This was the first time I heard the word ‘chemotherapy’ applied to me.  Even so there was emphasis on “some do, some don’t” [lose their hair].  The most recent research indicated combining chemo with radiation, so once again I was lucky.  (What if we hadn’t sampled enough lymphs?  Rare to do that just a few years ago!)  A trio of doctors, one a nationally-known specialist in uterine cancer (all praise to Dr Podczaski — you are the best! :), customized a ‘sandwich’ plan for me, so called because it sandwiches radiology between doses of chemo.

On August 16 and 17 we met with my chemo doctor; but this time there was no “some don’t.”  The talk was brutal.  Thus began 6 days of terrible horror; my Personal Nadir.  Take away what felt like my right arm:  and I was going to LET them??!  and be GRATEFUL?!?  Many stories came out of these 6 days and I will be linking to them later.

I had 6 days, August 17 through August 23 [2010], to fully comprehend the fact I was going to lose my hair. During those 6 days, on August 19, I went out to the picture-taking spot on the back deck, and my dear husband took a bunch of pictures. This is the spot where I take pictures of most of my tack orders, right before shipment. These views are so often the only way I get to keep part of my work. The shots go into my tack scrapbooks, to be enjoyed for years to come, standing as reference of what I’ve made.

Old growth from the rear

Old growth from the rear

Side view

Old growth from front

Old growth from front

Old growth brushing

Brushing

The frown...

The frown...

I’m including this last frowny one because it seems so prescient, although I wasn’t aware of such a feeling at the time–!

 

My custom sandwich consisted of 2 rounds of chemo 3 weeks apart, followed by 5 or 6 weeks of radiology (it was 6), followed by 4 more chemos 3 weeks apart.  A month of healing was in there after the rads.  My first chemotherapy treatment was August 24.  Drugs used were Paclitaxel and Carboplatin.  The second treatment was September 13.  Radiology began October 11, 2010.

The party line advice for chemo patients with long hair is to “cut it, so you can use it to match the wig.”  I can stand much — far more than I ever dreampt!! — but I could not stand to cut it.  I hadn’t cut it in 30 years; why now? I would let it fall naturally; fortunately this took a long time (something they don’t tell you!), and I was able to adapt to it.  The rate of fall was an exponential decay, of course, but the last hair didn’t fall until February.  The Tail was originally George’s idea but I leapt on it.  I’m not sure when I started making it; it was wearable by late September.  I had many splendid ideas: silver beads, dark glossy leather strands, braided hair.  The first incarnation of the Tail had a very long tassel.  You can see it below with a white band around the tassel.

 

 

We kept on doing activities we loved; physical activity is supposed to benefit chemo patients.  I can attest to that. 🙂

 

 

 

 

Dos Riendas” means “two reins” and refers to the stage in the training of a California hackamore horse when he is under both bosal and bridle. The phrase was perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

My leather Tail was thick and braided, just like a bosal and its horsehair mecate; my Old Growth was slender and light now, very rein-like in comparison. At the time I really liked the extra-long tassel; I found that a little hair can go an amazingly long way to making me feel ‘normal’ again. I was also pleased to be brave enough to be photo’d at all.

 

In August a funny thing happened: I became very interested in collecting bandannas.  The Flame Kerchief, which ultimately accompanied me on all my chemos, was purchased at #1 Cycle Center, a local landmark and mecca for motorcyclists.

 

From my point of view these were the last pictures but one to be taken for a good 7 months.   Around this time, early October, I had stopped looking at myself in the mirror without a headcovering of some sort.  This episode of my life has given me a much deeper understanding of religions that require women to cover their heads.  I would not look facefirst ‘bare’ in a mirror again until, it turned out, early May.

A bit tricky for showering….

Go to the next Post, Tail – 2, for the next chapter. 

Herein Lies a Tail: Intro

This page is dedicated to two classes of readers:  fellow cancer survivors, and those who want to know what Sue looks like now.  For the former, the story will eventually, in time, be long and full and sprout branches.  For the latter, I offer a collection of portraits taken along the way.  Don’t worry, there are NO bald pictures.  Since I am a professional braider, it is my hope that (when I have time!) these two story strands can be united into one tale… and therein lies a very long tail. Read More