The Color of Cancer: A Piece about Feeling Beautiful


 – by Jennifer Glass

 “I see your true colors shining through… True colors are beautiful.” – Cyndi Lauper

jg-bioFor years my motto was, “Have red dress, will travel.”  With a red dress, passport and credit card, I was ready for any adventure.

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 and The Huffington Post.  See more from Jennifer at


  1. Ashley Gross says:

    Great piece, Jen. Love the idea of putting on your war paint to do battle with cancer.

  2. James A. Martin says:

    Beautiful story, as usual for this amazing woman and writer.

  3. Kathy Parker says:

    Beautiful article Jennifer. As I am close to starting my 4th year since my lung cancer diagnosis, I have just in the last few weeks decided I need to start wearing clothes and makeup that make me feel feminine again. I will be in search of my color. In the mean time, our beauty from the inside, does make its way to the outside. I look forward to each article your write, knowing that my heart will be touched, as well as my funny bone.


  4. Sally Samuels says:

    Another winner blog, Jen. Of course, you are THE BIGGEST winner of all. Lots of hugs.

  5. Marilyn says:

    You are one brave, beautiful woman. Marilyn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *