The breast is yet to come
by Courtney Mizel
I always fantasized about having a celebrity makeover: Hair, makeup, body, clothes. I wondered what it would be like to have my own team of miracle workers looking at every detail and helping me to achieve physical perfection. But I never expected that I would have a team of celebrity endorsed professionals at my disposal, until I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36.
On Memorial Day in 2009, I found a lump on my left breast in the shower. 2 days later, my doctor tried to drain the “cyst” and sent the slide in “just in case.” 2 days after that, he called and referred me to a breast surgeon. A week after that, I decided that the most prudent course of treatment, considering my age and the number of spots that showed up on the MRI, would be a bilateral mastectomy.
My concern, of course, went to the reconstruction portion of my “treatment.” I called people I knew, asked about doctors, called other doctors about doctors, and was finally referred to Ken Slate. Dr. Slate was impressive – he took his time explaining the procedure to me, drew pictures, answered questions, and genuinely seemed caring and concerned. Still, choosing someone for reconstructive surgery is not an easy decision. Not easy, until I heard that he had “done” Christina Applegate’s boobs after her mastectomy. I was sold. He wasn’t just any reconstructive surgeon, he was a celebrity reconstructive surgeon. Christina Applegate could have had anyone and she chose him. Good enough for her, good enough for me (plus, of all the doctors I met with, I liked and trusted him the most!).
Two days after my surgery, I woke from my morphine mist to my oncologist, a beautiful, raven-haired woman named Philomena McAndrew (who though I can’t specifically name her celebrity patients, does have an IMDB biography posted), explaining that due to the aggressive nature of my cancer and the fact that it had spread into a lymph node, I was going to need chemotherapy. My thoughts, of course, went straight to my hair which I asked about immediately. She told me that I would lose my hair, but that she could write me a prescription for a “cranial prosthesis” aka a wig. I asked her for a reference for someone who made good ones, and she gave me information for a man named Piny.
Driving up to Piny’s salon, in the back of an older building on Robertson and Olympic mostly comprised of dental offices, I was not impressed. But when I walked in, I realized that I was once again among greatness. But this time, it was not just one celebrity! The photographs of every major star, from Cher to Kim Kardashian adorned his walls. Apparently, Piny was another undiscovered celebrity stylist – his specialty is wigs and extensions. Once again, after realizing his high profile clientele (and the fact that he is wonderfully talented and incredibly kind), I was sold. This man would be the purveyor of my new, beautiful hair, which also got to be dropped off every few weeks for styling – without me even having to sit there with the hot blow dryer burning my ears and the round brush pulling at my scalp! He was also the person who I chose to shave my head when my hair started to fall out in handfuls — which he did, while surrounded by my closest friends.
I struggled greatly with my self-image during treatment, while my breasts were replaced by two Frankenstein-eqsue scars across my chest with expanders made of thick plastic underneath. Each week I would go in to have more saline added to them through a very long, thick needle to expand the skin covering them to make room for implants. I had a 3 inch incision on my right arm where I had a port slightly visible under the skin. This is what they used to administer the chemotherapy drugs and provided direct access to my arteries.
On top of my pouch from carrying 2 children, I had an extra 5 pound “cancer baby,” which was a result of indulging myself in carbs to keep the chemo-induced nausea at bay. Not to mention that treatments curbed my ability to exercise.
And then there was the hair. Or lack thereof. I had started dating someone before my diagnosis who just couldn’t get comfortable with my hair loss, so that didn’t last long into treatment. I had my beautiful “Piny” wig, but I always felt that I was “hiding” something when I wore it. Not to mention it was hot and the double stick tape used to hold it on was really uncomfortable. While the most physical trauma had been to my breasts, the most emotional trauma was the loss of my hair.
When Halloween rolled around, I had just finished my last chemo treatment. I was feeling pretty good and was ready to go out and celebrate. I was invited to a party at the Sky Bar (it was still kind of cool then) and I wracked my brain as to what I could wear that was appropriately Halloween sexy. I really didn’t want to wear my expensive and high maintenance wig to a party with a bunch of drunk people in costumes, so I went and looked at all the costumes incorporating those funky foil wigs. Nothing really seemed that interesting. Then it came to me … Here was my chance to rock my celebrity makeover – Piny shaved head and all.
So I put on a short skirt, a tight, low-cut tank top (they may have been hard plastic, but they sure were big and perky), boots and my shiny bald head. I also added a headset microphone, and as my own celebrity stylist, I was transformed into “Britney Spears.”
Only on Halloween could I get away with people actually thinking I “planned” the bald look. Surprisingly, I felt great. I felt confident, free, and even sexy. A week later, at the encouragement of a friend, I had professional headshots taken. I must admit, they are still some of my favorite photographs.
When women call me who are newly diagnosed, the discussion never goes on for long without the question of hair loss coming up. I am always honest. It was the hardest thing I have ever dealt with, but it is temporary, and it will grow back.
I am so thankful for everyone including doctors, nurses, family, friends and even strangers who came together to get me through such a difficult time in my life. And while I still would love that celebrity makeover, I have my own “dream team” to whom I owe my life.
It has been a wild ride, but here I am 4 years later – in a loving relationship, have two amazing little girls who have enormous empathy and hearts as a result of our shared experience, and I am happy, healthy and strong. I produced a successful play and movie (Jewtopia), and have participated in a number of fundraising efforts for cancer-related charities.
It is ironic for me that Halloween coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As I am considering my costume for this year, my main criterion is that it doesn’t require me to wear a wig. I worked hard for this hair and it seems a shame to cover it up. Yet there is a tiny part of me that wishes for just one night I could be bald again – or at least close. After all, Miley Cyrus is pretty hot right now …Tags: Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Courtney Mizel, Dr. Ken Slate, Dr. Philomena McAndrew, Hollywood