I have spent much of my adult life budgeting for bills, mortgage payments and haven’t spent a lot of money on fashion or girly things. Most of our money goes on our children, domestic holidays, restaurants or triathlon related getup. I am quite the stinge when it comes to spending money on myself. This may have arisen from watching my Mum manage her finances as the “Supreme Queen Saver”. It may also have stemmed from never having a large disposable income at my peril. So I chose to make do with what I can, recycle things, wear second hand clothes, fill my house with secondhand furnishings which I affectionately think of as my “shamtiques”. But there is something about a cancer diagnosis that makes you stop and say, “You know what? Who cares? Time to live a little and clear those cobwebs off that purse!”
In the immediate days post diagnosis, we went shopping and I made some spontaneous and unnecessary purchases. Cancer immediately placed me in a frame of mind of reckless financial abandon. I was running around in a bit of denial about who might be left to pay the visa bill if I died. Perhaps I was trying to medicate with something new and snazzy even though I have never in the past fallen into the trap of the shopping high. I think it was more about the fact that this terrible thing had happened to me so I deserved to drop the usual rules of deprivation and sacrifice for something new. No point depriving myself anymore as I might only have 5 years left. Lol. Irrational thoughts relating to mortality come frequently post diagnosis.
There are some things you save money on when diagnosed with cancer. There is no point purchasing expensive shampoos and conditioners anymore. No point going to the hairdressers. Why start now? I’ve only ever been 7 times in 38 years anyway. No point buying expensive razors when I can’t shave both my armpits anymore. The other arm and legs might as well miss out from now on too! I can’t lift my useless arm high enough and with damaged nerves and the numb sensation, I could very easily hack a great hole in it and I wouldn’t feel it. And with no armpit lymph nodes anymore, a minor cut or scrape puts me at a greater risk for infection in the limb and lymphodema. So there is not a lot of point buying certain things.
But stools, stools are another thing. Every cancer patient needs a pair of funky (read ugly), eclectic (read uncoordinated) kitchen stools made from the finest rainforest timber from developing nations. I have been looking at stools for almost a year but had never found anything I liked enough to shell out hard earned cash for. All it took was one cancer diagnosis, one frivolous, self indulgent, self absorbed, pity purchase. From the shop to the boot of my car faster than you can say the words Visa debt!
Every newly diagnosed cancer patient needs to load up on headscarves. Go out for milk, come home with a paisley/floral/vintage headscarf. Why not all three? Wallah! Every newly diagnosed cancer patient needs to buy some bright new clothes. Go out to get some children’s birthday party staples, come home with a bag of clothes for self indulgent Mummy. I don’t want to be looking drab when chemo hits. So out I go to buy the most colourful clothing I have in years. All of a sudden I feel like Carson Kressley: fashion savant, personal stylist extraordinaire. Thanks again cancer!
The most humourous element in all of this newfound love of retail therapy, is the deep need to blurt out the details of my breast cancer diagnosis to any unsuspecting shop girl. You know, those women working in retail? Well they have been getting more than they bargained for when they benignly ask me what occasion the dress has been purchased for or how my day has been, or how am I? How am I? Well let me give you the honest truth!
A week after diagnosis, I was shopping for a dress to wear to a friends wedding. It just happened that my awesome friends had come from Melbourne to support me in my first sprint distance triathlon. In it, I announced to a runner that I had cancer as I passed her 4kms into the run leg, but that is another story. Anyway, my friends and I found ourselves in the oldest Myer Store in Australia. It’s as though it hasn’t been renovated since the fifties as it still has some very old single width escalators up the middle of it which are lined with mirrors. Shamefully there has never been a time when I have not turned or glanced sideways to look at my reflection on this escalator. A bad habit I started in my teenage years because at home we had a mirror inside the front door and my brothers and I used to endlessly stare at ourselves and squeeze our zits, practise facial expressions and check ourselves whenever we went out or came home.
Anyhoo, this escalator takes you to the women’s clothing section on the second floor. Not the section for young women, but the section with the more mature women’s clothing. I have been shopping on this second level for 15 years, letting go of my place as a fashionable youth a long time ago. The three of us shopped like we were back in our high school days. We crazily chose 6 or so dresses and the other women in the change rooms could hear us talking about not worrying about the price as it was a special occasion and I had cancer. As they left the change rooms there were some empathetic glances. One woman even stopped to tell us a dress I was trying on in front of my friends looked fabulous on me. The retail assistant was very supportive as well. Lets all rally around the outdoor education lady who is buying a dress for the first time since her wedding day. Oh and she has cancer too! Very, very special!
One of my Besties, JRF took pictures of me in each of said dresses on his iPhone under the guise of me being able to see myself in them better. (As if a mirror wasn’t enough!) Though I am guessing he did this more as evidence that this old tomboy did actually try on dresses in public. When we made our way to the counter to pay for the dress that got a 2/3 majority vote, my other awesome friend MK explained the chosen dress was the best choice because you couldn’t see my undie lines. I never knew undie lines were fashion faux pas, but there you go. I am learning so much since cancer.
At the register, we were met by a couple of new retail assistants. The new shopgirl said “Wow, you’ve chosen a beautiful dress for yourself. What is the occasion for?” A simple question except my response was … “My friend is getting married on the weekend and I don’t often get dressed up for things and I, I, I have cancer.” The retail lady could not wrap the dress and process my visa card fast enough. We laughed all the way down the rickety escalator and out of the department store.
Last Friday, I found myself in the shops sans children which happens rarely. I had spent a hour in the grocery store. It happened to be the slowest night in service history. I spent ten minutes lining up at the deli to get some ham for children’s birthday sandwiches. All the while thinking about how processed meat is a carcinogen and asking myself why I had agreed to purchase it. As luck would have it, I then picked a checkout with the slowest checkout girl in history. She could not log into the register. She couldn’t get the automatic grocery conveyor belt thingo to work, and it took her five minutes to undo my bags. I remember feeling like I was on the clock. Hurry up, I’ve got lots to do. I have children’s birthdays to prepare for and I am very busy with breast cancer.
After this mind numbingly slow transaction took place, I decided to wheel my heavily laden grocery trolley with my totally thawed products over to the clothing section of the mall to purchase a couple of outfits. I’ll be dammed if chemo is going to make me look drab! The shop assistant noticed I was in some manic buying state and made the mistake of asking me how I was. Poor lady. I said “Oh I don’t have my kids with me. I usually shop for clothes once or twice a year, but I have cancer so it’s a special occasion.” WTF? Who says that? I even bought a full priced shirt which is unheard of for me. I am always seen flicking through the discount racks. But hey, I deserve it don’t I? Surely with cancer, two surgeries, a brand new boob and useless arm all in the last 7 weeks!
Ever the salesperson she seized on the opportunity to sell me a scarf, pointing out the new season scarves in the store. Her manager would have been proud. I told her I am all scarved up at the moment. She told me about a place in town where you can loan wigs. I’m not quite ready to think about wigs yet. They remind me of furry animals. Take it off, hang it over the back of a chair, and in the morning it has moved itself to another part of the house. Scary critters wigs are! She wished me well on my cancer journey, called me darl a few times, did one of those pity head tilts and we parted ways.
So with some new outfits and some scarves, and a new handbag that Mr Cool bought me for our wedding anniversary (my third handbag in 38 years) I am going to look stupendously smart and cancer-y in the coming months. Might even drape myself across my new kitchen stools.