Breast Cancer and the Burlesque Dancer…#MondayBlogs

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, it can be hard to identify with being a feminist when you are going through treatment for breast cancer. When the attributes that differentiate you as a “female” are working strongly against you, when you barely feel like you are a female at all – instead just a mass of illness and treatments – it seems easier to go on strike against the whole concept.

Enter “Lolita.” Obviously not her real name, but appropriate for today’s purposes.

Lolita sat next to me every other Tuesday during chemotherapy. She was 80 years old, and an absolute, bombshell knockout. Yes – I said that correctly! She came in with amazing Dolly Parton hair, eyelashes that sparkled, cigarette skirts and high heeled boots. I’ll be honest, I felt like a frump in my jeans and my flannel and my beloved quilt, with nothing but a scarf on my head.

Lolita had a huge grin for all of us, and jokingly called me “Dahhhling” when her humor was in high gear.

And she gave me “tips.”

“You know,” she said confidentially to me one day, “I was a Burlesque girl. I was a pin-up, too.” When I told her she looked fantastic, she grew excited and gave me tips.

1. Fake Eyelashes – “And if they have little baubles on them, even better.”
2. The Wig – “Go for a Hollywood hooker look – when else can you get away with it?”
3. The breasts – “Enjoy the new ones! No one will ever know they’re not real, as long as you keep your clothes on.”

She made me laugh, and threatened to make me over in the bathroom at the infusion center. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I rarely used makeup, even when I was healthy, or that my hot flashes made wearing my “cute Meg Ryan” wig desperately uncomfortable.

A gentleman going through chemo with us used to have extremely bad reactions to the medications – he was on a different “cocktail” than those of us going through breast cancer treatment.

Lolita shook her head sadly as he took another trip to the bathroom one Tuesday afternoon. “They’re weaker, you know.” she told me.

I must have stared at her blankly, because she chuckled and explained, “Men. They are truly the weaker sex. I’ve never met a fight I couldn’t win, and that’s because I’m a woman.”

For Lolita, with whom I have completely lost touch, my teacher, my friend, my fearless beauty advisor: thank you for showing me that, even when I couldn’t feel like a “girl” (and when I certainly didn’t look like one) my strength was in me and through me to my core.

And one day, I’ll purchase some crazy eyelashes in your honor.

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