Tuesday, 7 October 2014

58. When Owl had a make-up lesson

We've been to class, Owl and I.

A two hour afternoon make-up workshop, specially for women with cancer.

I came in looking tired and feeling tired, and left looking sprightly and feeling tired. Result. (Or is it? Now people will look at me with renewed hope and tell me how very well I look, leaving me to decide whether or not to give them the bad news... Thank you, but I feel rubbish.)

So, here we are at the end of the session. Looking good and feeling tired, clutching our free goodie bag full of beauty products, donated by the make-up industry to a charity that runs these sessions.

They call the sessions Look good, feel better. I suppose that's a better name than Look good, still feel rubbish.

In all fairness, though, it was lovely. And most of our group of eight women (plus Owl, who was let in on account of having cancer, even though he's not a woman) did seem very happy afterwards. It is indeed nice to look in the mirror and not see that exhausted cancer face.

Now, let's start by putting all this make-up in the perspective of my sparsely made-up life.

"I'm different from the other girls because I don't use make-up, and I don't want to either... They keep wanting to do a make-over on me but I don't want all that rubbish on my face. I don't know whether I'll ever use make-up in the future."

I was almost 14 when I wrote this in my diary, and I can finally answer the girl I once was.

It took me until my wedding day, aged 31, to put "that rubbish" on my face.

Not having a clue, I got my younger sister to do it for me. She was the one beautifying her barbies whilst I put my life-like baby doll in its pram, so she had know-how I sorely lacked. She used four ingredients. Brown eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, blusher.

I was so impressed that I started using it occasionally. For special occasions, and later, for work. Sometimes, I'd have a phase of making a daily effort. The four ingredients only take me a few minutes to slap on. I can just about do that before rushing out, looking good. (Or so I think. My younger daughter, taking after my younger sister, begs to differ and deems me to be a hopeless case with absolutely no eye for eyeliner.)

But the spirit of my teenage self is still there. The wedding mascara lasted over a decade, and then I had to throw it out, not because it was finished but because it had decayed. My effort-making phase usually disintegrates after a few days. Mostly because when it comes to evening time, I remember, just as I am about to hit the pillows with a contented sigh, that I have to take all "that rubbish" off again.

This is a long way of explaining why, when I was offered the make-up session, I jumped at it.

Not because I felt the need to be beautified, and not because I thought it might make me feel better. Although that was the stated aim: "to help women combat the visible side effects of cancer", with the result that many women "regain a sense of normality and control," their website says.

Clearly, that won't be me. Putting on lots of make-up is definitely not normal.

But I've sometimes wondered whether I was missing out. There's a whole world out there, endless pots and tubes in shops, and I haven't a clue what they are for. Plus, there must surely be more to it than brown eye shadow. So I signed up.

The sessions are run monthly at my hospital. I couldn't make the first one, because if was only a week after my first chemo. So this one was perfect, on the final day of week three. My next lot of chemo is due tomorrow morning. If I was going to have any semblance of energy, this was going be it.

Plus, they've put me on a high dose of steroids from today, prepping my body to cope with the side effects of tomorrow's different chemo drug. That should leave me buzzing nicely. (It is, indeed. But it's only kicking in now, in the late hours. I might as well have drunk ten mugs of strong coffee. This afternoon, I was quite tired.)

Then they rang me a couple of days ago. Did I mind being filmed?

There would be a TV crew keen to promote the charity on their breakfast show. No matter if you don't want to, they can leave you out of the picture.

I thought about this. Why did I feel so unhappy? I'm merrily blogging away, posting pictures of me with no hair, weeping in woods. Everyone knows I've got cancer.

Yet, somehow, this felt too intimate to be filmed. What about the promise of a safe, intimate setting? I decided I didn't want to be presented as a recipient of charity. Look at that poor bald woman, and isn't it lovely that they are making her presentable with a bit of make-up.

Not only that, but as a grown-up make-up novice I wasn't happy to be watched putting blusher on. (Just as well, as it turned out. I slapped on so much that I was blushing through the blusher. Unable to wipe of these bright red cheeks, I had to cover it up with more foundation and concealer. Told you: I'm a novice. And as you can see, I've not only learned new words, I now own these things, and know what they do.)

It wasn't just that I was unhappy about being watched by the nation. I was also unhappy about being watched by the TV people. So I pulled out, disappointed. Thankfully, they found that there was another workshop down the road in Wimbledon. They were happy to take in a refugee from Tooting.

It was a pleasure, sitting down with all these women.

Some of them had finished treatments (hair grown back and all); some were just starting (still waiting for the hair loss); others were bang in the middle of chemo. The woman on my left, as it turned out, was at exactly the same point as me. Breast cancer, FEC-T chemo, about to have cycle 4. She looked as shattered as I felt. We kept muttering how exhausting it was to go to things like this (however nice). It was lovely to meet her.

I've fiercely resisted going to any share-your-cancer-experiences groups. I would simply turn back into being a nurse, supporting everyone else. Been there, done that. This workshop was different. There was no round-robin of introductions, Hello I am Irene and I have breast cancer, which would have reminded me of work.

The woman on my right was having various operations for nose cancer. (Never heard of it, and that is saying something, with my years of experience as a hospice nurse. Perhaps you don't die of nose cancer? I didn't tell her that. I know how annoying it can be when people say "Oh you'll be fine, you'll survive this." It sounds like a platitude.)

Next to her was a woman with a recent diagnosis of cervical cancer, who, after one round of chemo, was quizzing me on the hair loss she had been promised.

There were a couple of wig wearers, I think, but wigs really are good these days. You can hardly tell. There was a woman with a scarf covering her (presumably scarce) long hair. I was the only one dispensing with my scarf as soon as I sat down. Can't  be doing with annoying head coverage whilst fiddling with pots and tubes. The others were told that they, to, should feel free to take their wigs off if they wanted to. But no-one did.

It didn't matter. It showed, once again, how different we all are, and how important it is that you do what you feel comfortable with. For most, that was covering their head. For me, it was not covering my head.

There were three volunteers. They were all beauticians, two with a proper qualification, one with a job in the make-up section of a department store (the kind of woman I whizz past at speed for fear of getting sprayed with perfume).

As we took our place around the large oval table, laid out with mirrors and cotton pads, we were handed our make-up goodie bag.

Blimey. It was large enough to do me for a weekend away, and twice as heavy. I have never, ever owned this many beauty products in my whole life put together (not counting shampoo). Properly sized stuff with brand names I recognize, Estee Lauder, No 7, Lancome. We were impressed. It was like Christmas. It took us ages to lay it all out. 

Finally, all laid out and ready to go.

They showed us what to do, step-by-step (and goodness, there are a lot of steps), demonstrating on one of us whilst we all copied. Hovering around with help and personal advice. Definitely needed. Do I use my Gentle Cleanser here? Or my Make Up Remover? Something called "Perfectly Clean", a Balancing Toner? Goodness, I'm going to have to number these various pots, so I don't use them in the wrong order.

Turns out that I have indeed been missing out.

On hours, weeks, months of my life not spent creaming and toning and painting; of thousands of pounds/euros/guilders not spent on beauty products.

We were handed a leaflet that showed the 12 steps of doing make-up. It was even called that: "The Twelve Step Make-Up Programme." Some of these steps involve more than one product (Don't use your mosturiser around your eyes! Use eye cream!) I counted 17 steps altogether. My humble four items at home, clearly, weren't going to make the grade.

Nor was my stock control.

"Once you've opened it, you have to use it within six weeks, otherwise it'll be full of bacteria and you'll get an eye infection," the volunteer warned. Or was it six months?

Either way, using the same mascara tube for over a decade didn't sound great. I lied and told her I'd used mine for five years, and she was almost struck speechless, looking horrified.

Looking good? I think so.
I have to admit: it did look good.

My skin looked better, the heavy bags under my eyes had miraculously disappeared - even if it did take so many layers of stuff that I lost count. The make-up wasn't over-the-top.

The woman on my left looked particularly wonderful and particularly pleased. Quite rightly so. We wished each other luck.

Coming home, my younger daughter opened the door, snitched my heavy goody bag and ran to the kitchen with thieving intent.

"Mine!" she said, separating the pink-looking things from the boring cover-ups for old people. But I grabbed it all back, even the pink lipstick. The only thing I let her keep was the perfume. We were told not to open it during the session ("People on chemotherapy often can't stand the smell"), and for good reason. Wafts of it hit my nostrils with a vengeance when she tried it out.

Even she admitted that I looked OK. But when Bear peered at Owl, he was rather bothered by it all.

"Doesn't he look good?" I asked.

"Well, ehhmm, yes, I suppose so," mumbled Bear. "But he doesn't look himself."

I suppose I feel like that, a little bit.

Even so, I'll keep it all. I might even use it all, sometime. Not every day, mind you. I haven't really changed since I was 14. I still prefer to spend my morning hour swimming, or meditating, or reading a book in bed.

Now, it's well past my bedtime and although I'm still buzzing on those steroids, I long to go to bed. Goodnight.

Oh no... I can't. I have cleansing to do, and toning, not forgetting the different products for eyes and cheeks. Bother.

My younger daughter wants all things on the right. She won't need a lesson when she is 51.

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