Who, what, wear
My cancer/closet connection
“I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn’t itch.”
– Gilda Radner
Jeans or jeggings? Short-sleeved tee-shirt or long-sleeved tunic? Miniskirt or maxidress? Until I entered the swirl of seemingly nonstop cancer appointments, I used to dress according to occasion and weather; but now, I base my choices on that day’s medical events: Am I getting poked, probed or pricked today? Not to mention size. Can you believe my weight changes week-to-week right now? It’s enough of a difference that I own three sizes of my favorite pants: medium (perfect during treatments, when I’m shrinking due to no appetite), large (my regular size when I’m in a routine, crisis-free zone) and extra-large (when I’m on steroids and can’t stop eating).
For an MRI brain scan, no metal is allowed, so that rules out zippers, snaps and rivets. Those days, I go with leggings, warm socks and a tunic top that covers even with my arms above my head. For a full-body PET scan, I need easy access to the port by my collarbone and blood pressure access to my arm, so a long-sleeved shirt and pull-on pants are the way to go (which is also a great combination for my radiation treatments). And since I lie down for these procedures, I skip my short skirts or hoodies that tend to bunch up. X-rays mean easy-off-and-on separates, so I can remove as little clothing as possible but stay warm in the chilly room.
For weekly medical appointments and chemotherapy infusion, I need access to my port and arms for blood draws, vitals and treatment, so I wear tops where the sleeves push up easily. And if it’s my monthly doctor visit, I wear separates and use my own hospital gown. At the chiropractor, I go with pieces that are comfortable while lying on my stomach. Ever since losing my hair, my head gets cold quickly. I now wear as many hoodies as my kids do, and I bring an extra hat along in my bag, too. As Kanye says, “Sweatshirts are f****** important.”
As far as footwear, that’s affected by my med-sched too (med-sched = medical schedule; I just came up with that!). I move more slowly than I used to before cancer, and my hands have weakness and coordination issues: It’s like I’m wearing gloves all the time, so tying my shoes takes a little longer now, since the “rabbit” keeps looping around the tree or skipping the tree entirely as I clumsily attempt to make a simple bow. Instead, I wear slip-on shoes or boots with Velcro or zippers if I will need to remove them for that day’s plans. Also, nowadays my feet demand more than style: They insist on actual support. Lately, I’m going for ankle boots that are easy to take off and put on again, are supportive and protect against the elements.
My scalp looks like Mr. McGregor’s garden after Peter Rabbit has been there: a hot mess of bald spots where the radiation was. But there’s not much I can do about that; and besides, all of that time I used to spend on gel and mousse and styling wax can now be allotted to my daily dressing puzzle.
I have come to loathe the color pink due to its embedded connection to breast cancer awareness – but not the Stage IV killing kind that I have, which is symbolized by the color purple. I’ve enjoyed infusing more of my favorite color, red, into the wardrobe mix this season. Plus, who am I to question Bill Blass? “When in doubt, wear red.”
Head On and Heart Strong!
Kids’ Almanac columnist Erica Chase-Salerno was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the Summer of 2015. To read more about her experience, visit https://hudsonvalleyone.com/tag/ericas-cancer-journey.