My Cancer, My Lipstick
I have always loved lipstick, well at least since big lips became popular. My lips are full size and for awhile when I was younger I tried to hide their fullness by keeping a smirk on my face and not highlighting them at all. Fast forward to Angelina Jolie, Scarlet Johansson, Liv Tyler…yes, big lips are back with a vengeance, hooray! I search for the perfect shade, texture, and staying power; but sometimes, I buy lipstick solely based on my mood. Lipstick is the one cosmetic that can completely change your look and on top of that, the people at the cosmetic counters are paid to compliment you (cheap therapy)!
I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in early January of 2008 and by the end of the month I was on the operating table having a complete thyroidectomy. Prior to the diagnosis I was a wife, mother, singer, and sales professional. Life was normal, active, and dare I say, easy. I remember the surgeon coming in after the 7 hour surgery and saying, “It’s serious, cancer is everywhere, your prognosis is not good, and your right laryngeal nerve was cut which means your right vocal chord is permanently paralyzed…you’ll never sing again.” Yes, my life forever changed and I had lost my voice in the process. By early March I was doing dosimetry testing which is a test used to determine how much RAI my body could take before it affected me negatively. They determined my max dose was 260mc so they gave me 256mc and kept me in the ICU for four days. My left vocal chord slowly started functioning again and by mid-April my voice was returning. I returned to work in May wearing red lipstick because I had felt new boldness for life.
Eighteen months later, a PET scan showed my cancer had returned; it’s hard to describe the emotions. I was in a show because miraculously I was singing again with one vocal chord, and I had just won a sales trip to Hawaii for being top in sales that year. But, here I was, going through the grieving process again. I started buying orange, bronze, even white shimmery lipsticks and glosses, for two reasons; one, to improve my mood and two, because I’m a sucker for trends. I was on the operating table by September. The surgeon took out cancerous lymph nodes without harming my left vocal chord and I was back to work in a few weeks! I was in red lipstick again because I had an even greater passion for life. I felt like I had defeated the big ‘C’ twice and was on fire.
December cooled that fire for life; my 3 month PET scan showed a tumor that was large and completely wrapped around my healthy left laryngeal nerve. The surgeon told me the tumor was deeply embedded in my neck and compared the surgery to ‘chipping a brick off a spaghetti noodle.’ He also said that he may not be able to spare the nerve, which in that case, I would need a tracheotomy; singing and speaking had a greater possibility of being gone. I wore nude, brown, beige lipsticks because that’s how I felt, defeated, blank. My third surgery was in March 2010. After 4 hours I awoke to smiling faces; the surgeon saved my left nerve but took a part of my trachea. Soon after, my doctors decided I should be treated aggressively with external beam radiation. I wore raisin lipstick because I was being fried and dried up, well, like a raisin. The radiation caused even more scar tissue to form around my left nerve which in turn, partially paralyzed my left vocal chord.
One year later and after a lot of hard work with my speech pathologist and laryngologist, I am speaking and yes, singing once again. I still have difficulty breathing at times and my voice is weaker, but it’s there. My doctors don’t understand how I can sound so clear or how with half a vocal chord I can sing; chalk it up to a miracle. It’s been one year and I’m currently cancer free. Lipstick (along with journaling) was and is a great outlet for me. Like an artist given a new palette of colors, it allows me to play, to lift my mood, to express myself simply by changing the color on my lips. I’m alive, I’m excited, and I’m taking more risks with my lipstick colors and of course in life! Life is for the living so LIVE!
-Written by Anna Warner
Tags: Anna Warner author of My Lipstick Journey, Anna Warner thyroid cancer survivor, how lipstick can express our feelings, lipstick to express emotions, the beauty of lipstick, thyroid cancer and lipstick, thyroid cancer patient journeys, thyroid cancer survivor stories