Six words I never thought I would be excited to say?! I have a 5 O’Clock shadow! Yes! In a world where women pluck and wax and thread to achieve the appearance of two separate, perfectly arched eyebrows, I was so excited to wake up to tiny stubble starting to form where my full eyebrows (now thinned by months of chemo) once were.
Today I asked my father-in-law if he could tell that I was raising one eyebrow from across the room, and I sent zoomed in photos of my face to my friends asking if they could see anything and I was delighted when friends and father-in-law said “Yes! Tiny hairs!” No one is prepared to hear the words, you have cancer-in my case, I actually blurted out-“I have cancer!” at the same time as my breast surgeon, and it created a jinx-like moment. Sometimes I wonder if I was the easiest patient he ever had to tell, because I already knew deep down/blurted out I had cancer? I wasn’t fully prepared to take on my role as a cancer patient (I just started this new mom role), but I was even less prepared for how cancer would change my appearance. When I heard that one of my chemo drugs could cause me to permanently lose hair, I opted to cold cap, which took a lot of energy for both my husband and me, but it was also a welcome distraction from chemo. I had practice losing hair a few times, first as a side effect of my Celiac Disease, second as a new Mama, just months prior to my cancer diagnosis and my first thought was just when I got it back, it’s going to shed again. And it did.
Along with my eyebrows and thinning lashes. The latter two hit me the hardest. It’s fine I told myself…and I remembered that models and all different celebrities bleached their eyebrows for fashion’s sake all the time. It’s fine I told myself…It will be ok. Until it wasn’t. Who would have thought that eyebrows matter so much? In 5Th grade when my Grandma (who I called Nanny) was babysitting me, I went and took a look at myself in the mirror and hated my full brows so much that I tried to shape them to look like my sister’s. When I came out of the bathroom with bald spots in each brow (and I mean BALD spots), I just stood in front of Nanny silent, waiting for her to notice. I was prepared for her to be shocked, but I wasn’t prepared for how she actually reacted. Nanny gently took my hand, sat me down and laughed and said, “Bella Mia, I did the same thing when I was your age”. Nanny whipped out the eyebrow pencil from her purse and over the next hour or so, she taught me how to fill and shape my brows to look natural and my Mama was none the wiser when she got home (or at least she pretended not to notice). Who would have thought that the loss of some of my eyebrows that night would leave me feeling deeply connected to a woman I admired so much? We were bonded together by one too many flicks of a tweezer, razor or my mom’s Nair-stop asking me for the details, do the exact details really matter? Ok, I admit, it was Nair. For the most part my eyebrow pencil coverup worked, except that time Eric asked me in English class why I was mad, and I knew I had been heavy handed that day! My eyebrow snafu was our inside joke-just Nanny and I knew the secrets of that night and through the years we would often laugh about that it. Later on, when I would do her makeup, I would always spend extra time filling in her brows because I knew how much she liked it. Our conversation always went a little something like this- “Nanny, do you remember when I tried to take my brows off” and she would cut me off with-“Well at least yours grew back, mine didn’t!”
Fast forward, I’m a new mom, and halfway through my chemo, I wake up and despite applying a brow saving serum, they have drastically thinned. (BTW, if I had to do it over, I would still apply the serum). I ran to my husband who assured me that it was ok, but it didn’t feel ok. Actually, it was definitely not ok. In fact, it seemed like I became that little girl again in the bathroom, looking at my eyebrows in the mirror, wanting them to be different. This time, instead of wanting them to be thinner, I wanted them thicker, basically, I wished to have them back. I don’t know what it was, but even as my hair continued to fall out, and my skin became sallow, it was my eyebrows thinning that I made me feel like I looked unhealthy. I felt like the girl staring back at me was a shadow of who I once was. My oncologist told me brows and lashes usually fall out a month after chemo ends, so how could this be-I am only halfway in? Also, why isn’t there cold capping for eyebrows? Just kidding, please don’t try this! For the first time in my life I wondered if I was too hung up on outside appearance (the answer is probably yes), but then I remembered that I have cancer and that I shouldn’t spend too much time being mad at myself for having an existential crisis.
In today’s world of microblading and tattoo powder brows on Real Housewives, I thought about how I viewed myself truly. Blah, blah, I know deep down my eyebrows and hair don’t DEFINE me (eyebrow pun), but I was upset because I was losing a PART of Me to breast cancer. Cancer was robbing me of precious time with my baby, zapping me of my energy to watch a movie with my husband, stealing my appetite and strength. Couldn’t it leave my brows alone? When you are diagnosed with cancer, you don’t really get to decide what parts of your body you get to keep or not, but I have learned that I can decide how to approach the losses that I might come across. I have gained so many important lessons. I learned to advocate for myself. I learned to speak to myself with kindness and give myself grace. I learned to allow myself to feel my emotions because they are valid. It’s ok to mourn my losses. Perhaps the biggest lesson of all that I learned through my cancer/eyebrow journey, it that I am resilient and that I have a genuine belief in the power of positivity. The lows are so valid, but finding hope and being optimistic has carried me through my biggest struggles, and there have been big struggles and there will be more, as is the story of life.
On that day that I woke up and discovered my eyebrows thinning, that little girl turned grown up stood in front of the mirror, taking in her appearance, wondering what the rest of her cancer journey would be like. Will chemo wipe away my cancer like it wiped away my eyebrows? I remember asking myself how Nanny would react in this situation, but she had passed about a year before my diagnosis. I longed to talk to her and ask her advice. Our connection was always so deep, so special, it was hard not to hear her that day. “Bella Mia” she said, with her gentle, musical laugh. And I reached for my eyebrow pencil. Roberta Casanova was diagnosed with stage 3 young breast cancer as a new mom in a new city. Born and raised in Chicago, she lived her dream as a professional dancer and choreographer whose work has been seen on TV, in commercials and music videos. Some of her best memories were as a host for Radio Disney where she opened for artists like Ariana Grande, Zendaya, Debby Ryan and more. Roberta opened a dance studio with her older sister Carla and enjoyed connecting with young dancers. Today Roberta lives in the Nashville-area with her amazing and supportive husband Logan and the best thing to happen to them both, Greyson.
Click to view Eye Brow and Make Up products Roberta can also be found on Instasgram @bertasupernova. See one of her posts below:
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Blah. That’s the best word I can come up with to describe my cancer skin. Sallow and dry from chemo, dark circles under those eyes, itchy and red from radiation-I just started so hopefully I can keep most of that at bay! Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I’ve been ultra careful about the types of products I use on my skin, and I absolutely loooove my clean products (cleanser, lip balm, serum and face spray) from @jenniferyoungtraining! Specially formulated for those under going cancer treatments, they are light and gentle sooo soothing (such a bonus for radiated skin)! Plus, this is so major for a #celiac like me, they are gluten free!!! I brought my Defiant Beauty cool and refresh facial spray and Defiant Beauty Intensive Serum with me and did a little post radiation spa moment 😂 who needs to wait ‘til Sunday? Self care EVERYDAY! If you’re interested in reading a little something I wrote about one of the chemo side effects that affected me the most, check out my blog on their blog (link in bio) Thanks, @jenniferyoungtraining 🥰🥰🥰 you made me feel so pampered today!