– by Jennifer Glass
“I see your true colors shining through… True colors are beautiful.” – Cyndi Lauper
My particular red is a deep, chewy red; a winter red with no orange in it. It is rubies, pomegranate, Christmas, blood. In this color I feel invincible, magical, beautiful.
When I was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer last year, it sucked the color right out of me. My form-fitting red dresses went to the back of the closet, replaced by soft, baggy clothes in blacks and blues, the hues of a bruise.
Friends in the pink made me green with envy. How do you get your color back when you feel like a negative of your former self?
I got the moody blues when I started my treatment. Chemotherapy drained me and radiation discolored my skin, making it blister and burn. During this time I lived in my sweats – shades of storm cloud gray that matched my mood.
My husband Harlan was at my side throughout, my chemo-sabe. We had gotten married only four months before my diagnosis and were just learning how to be a family. This should have been a time for us to make plans for a bright future together. Instead, our newlywed year was darkened by cancer.
Whatever I may have looked like on the outside, Harlan saw what I was made of inside. He saw my true colors and every day he made it clear that he recognized beauty where I could not, and that he loved me.
A few weeks into chemo I began to lose my hair. It was horrible to feel it come away in my hands and see it blanket our bed in the morning. I asked Harlan to get the razor, and he gently, solicitously shaved my head. I was startled by my face in the mirror – blanched white and bald as an egg.
As I stared at my reflection, I got angry. So mad I saw red. I opened my make-up bag, which I hadn’t touched in weeks. Slowly I began a process I’d been perfecting since high school: foundation, powder, blush, then the eyes. I went heavy on the eyes. Watching the canvas of my face come to life I thought, “Well, if my body is at war, let’s put on the war paint.”
I applied my best red lipstick, Clinique Vintage Wine. At a different time in my life this was the lipstick I wore to do battle in the board room, or go hunting on the dance floor. I reached for my sparkly red earrings and around my neck I tied a red sequined scarf that my cousin Faith had sent when I started chemo because she knew how this color feeds my soul.
As I walked into our bedroom Harlan turned to look at me. His eyes widened and his face lit up as he breathed, “Oh, wow!”
I felt regal. I felt fierce. I felt beautiful.
Jennifer Glass was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer in January, 2013. Her column, “At the Top of My Lungs: Living with Lung Cancer,” is published on Parade.com and The Huffington Post. See more from Jennifer at www.facebook.com/jenglass01.