In “Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls,” authors Marybeth Maida and Debbie Kiederer hope to inspire women undergoing breast cancer treatment to feel as confident, beautiful, and “normal” as their bodies will allow. All-encompassing in its approach, the book features tips from dermatologists, gynecologists, and a host of experts from leading beauty and fashion brands.
A breast cancer survivor herself, Marybeth dealt firsthand with the loss of control anyone experiencing treatment faces. We caught up with her to discuss what inspired her to create such a unique guide for women undergoing chemotherapy.
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer and how long did treatment take?
I discovered a lump in my left breast in September 2004, was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer and underwent bilateral lumpectomies, six months of chemotherapy, and then double mastectomies and reconstruction. My last breast surgery was in February 2006.
What side effect of chemotherapy surprised you the most?
Gaining a lot of weight due to steroids, breaking out, and losing my eyelashes.
When did you decide you wanted to write this book, and why?
When I lost my eyelashes, the full reality of my situation hit me. I could not find any information as to how to camouflage this condition — I looked like an albino rabbit! And once I realized the type of help I needed was not yet available, I made a vow to the universe that once I was better I would make sure no one ever had to feel as lost and alone as I did then.
You’ve described yourself as feeling lost during treatment. Can you talk about how and why?
I had throughout my life been a professional woman who thought she was in control of her life, and cancer showed me that I had no real control over anything. Not knowing what to do, or where to turn for solutions to the problems chemotherapy created was a very difficult place for me. Writing the book, I learned that one of the biggest issues people under treatment face is this sense of lost control, loss of normalcy, loss of personal power. It is the intent of our book to help women and their caregivers regain some of that sense of normalcy, power, and control over their bodies and spirits.
Why do you think so many cancer patients feel embarrassed by something they can’t control?
We place so much focus on appearance — if someone looks sick or weak or too thin or bald, they are perceived as being weak, or afflicted. The physical manifestations of treatment call attention to the patient and in many cases make them feel isolated and different from everyone else, which causes embarrassment and can lead them to further isolation as well as anguish, depression, and despair. We aim to alleviate some of that with the advice of our experts.
How did you meet Debbie, and how did your professions guide the progress of the book?
Debbie and I began working together in the mid-1990s when she was a cosmetics executive and I was a producer at a boutique interactive agency in New York City. Debbie’s contacts inside the cosmetics and fashion industries secured many of the original experts we brought on to interview for the book. My background as a journalist and producer enabled me to successfully identify and interview the experts we wanted to speak with, and being a writer allowed me to pull the hundreds of recorded transcript pages of our interviews into a narrative that was informative and inspiring.
What sorts of experts did you speak to for this guide?
We interviewed 52 experts in the fields of hair care, wig care, skin care, fashion, makeup, oncology, spirituality, integrative or alternative therapies, gynecology, nutrition, and we also related the stories of five cancer survivors who offered their own tips and insights on how to cope.
Were you surprised by how many notable figures jumped at the chance to take part?
All of our experts understood the importance of our project and were eager to participate. It was very gratifying and inspiring to Debbie and me to be so well-received and to be able to amass such an enormous amount of time and information from these very generous and busy people.
What sorts of tips did you feel most strongly about including in the book?
Anything that would reduce fear, increase confidence, and help solve the problems women undergoing chemo faced.
What issues faced by women undergoing chemotherapy deserve more attention than they are getting now?
The fear is huge. Many women are caregivers, or professionals who do not want to let those who depend on them down by not being able to perform as they had before treatment. Women’s personal body issues are also usually not spoken of because we are not, as a culture, taught to speak of issues such as vaginal dryness, gynecological issues, etc. But these are real and we dedicated a chapter, “A Girl Thing,” to this topic. It’s usually one of our most popular stand-alone chapters.
What else can doctors and breast cancer experts do to prepare people for the effects of treatment on their body and appearance?
Medical teams are focused on positive medical outcomes for their patients, which means that many of the issues we address in our book may be considered beyond their scope of care. The best thing any patient can be is fully informed about their disease, treatment, side effects, and prognosis. Doctors and others caring for cancer and chemo patients can help most by simply informing their patients of what is going on and what they can expect. And everyone trying to help a chemo patient make it through can do their part by simply being there, and most importantly, listening without judgment to whatever the patient may need, want, or say.
Learn more about “Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls” here.