Finding ways to feel pretty after cancer

Staff writer Andrea Torres chronicles her breast cancer experiences in Tropical Life. Read past stories at MiamiHerald.com/health.

06/12/2012 12:00 AM

08/19/2014 6:03 PM

Getting “dolled up” after breast cancer treatment can be challenging.

I have referred to my newly curly hair as “electrocution in cartoon world,” “the Colombian soccer’s team Afro” and “my new spongy hair.”

I try to remind myself that when you have lost all of your hair after chemotherapy and something healthy that’s your own is covering your scalp, there is no such thing as a bad hair day.

At a Miami Beach salon, a stylist cut my hair and straightened it. While she applied a serum, she said, “Let’s take out the big guns here.”

She used five products: a treatment conditioner, a leave-in conditioner, a heat-protector spray, a styling cream and, last but not least, an anti-freeze serum.

My hair is only about two inches long, but she was a magician. The change was so dramatic that the cashier did not recognize me when I went to pay. (And I’m glad someone treated me to the salon visit; my hair nearly spiked out in shock at the price.)

My skin seems to have forgotten we are in humid South Florida and not in Alaska. It is really dry. I have been using a mild exfoliant, aloe gel and moisturizers, but it flakes and cracks anyway.

Makeup has become my best ally. I’m artistic, and in a previous life I was briefly a makeup artist. Foundation barely works, so most days I only wear lip gloss and mascara. When I have the time, concealer, eyebrow pencil and eyebrow powder let me create a look I like.

Getting dressed is also difficult. I’m more than 25 pounds over my ideal weight of 125, and trying on clothes is depressing. My arms are too fat and my legs are too flabby, so they have to be covered.

I have scars on my chest and neck, so that has to be covered, too. I don’t like wearing fake bras, so I can’t wear anything too tight. And I now have cellulite, so fabrics can’t be too thin. Shopping used to be fun, but these days it can be stressful.

I recently stopped at one of my favorite boutiques. I grabbed about eight items and walked into the fitting room. An image of a woman who is happy to be alive despite the circumstances was staring back at me.

I was tired and stressed. I had been to four stores and nothing made me feel pretty. I put on a sheer white shirt. It covered everything but it was lightweight enough to be comfortable. I imagined it with black skinny jeans and colorful shoes. It worked.

This is Miami. And I’m Colombian. Flashing your beauty is expected when you go to a party.

“Andrea, you have to wear a dress!” commanded a caring friend who works in the fashion industry.

“What do you mean you are going to wear jeans?” said my best friend, an executive with a makeup company.

I thought of them, but settled for what made me feel comfortable.

“I’m not a superficial soul. There is depth to me. And that is real beauty,” I told myself.

I took the white shirt to the cashier, who asked for identification. He looked at my driver’s license and then looked at me. Twice.

“Wait, is this you? Did you change your hair?”

I nodded. “Cancer changed it for me.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” he said, a stricken look on his face.

“I didn’t meant it that way. It was a wig, and here, look at my Colombian ID. I’m really going to have trouble explaining that one.”

The Colombian cedula showed a tanned girl with long, highlighted brown hair.

“You look great now,” he said. “You gotta work with what you got, girl.”

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