Alice waited outside the bathroom door patiently. She was waiting for Daddy to shave Mommy’s head. Mommy had breast cancer.
The door opened, and then-11-year-old Alice walked in and said, “Well, OK, you’re just Mommy without hair.”
And that was that.
“I think just trying to explain it to her and share it with her the best I could and make her not feel afraid as well was very helpful,” cancer survivor Jan Ping said.
An Emmy-winning make-up artist, Ping, who grew up in the San Diego Valley, was diagnosed with breast cancer in early January 2005. While her first thoughts were regarding her family and how she was going to tell them, she knew she wanted to do something more.
“I gave myself a job…I’m supposed to do something with this, with what I did for a living, and I think it was my way of coping,” Ping said.
Following her chemotherapy treatment, she decided to focus her time on teaching other patients how to stay safe with their beauty regimens and teach lessons on the subject around the country at cancer support centers. She works with the Chemotherapy Myths vs. Facts Campaign (find it athttp://www.neulasta.com/landing/myths-or-facts ) to help people understand the disease and work through it.
She said there is no specific type of makeup for chemotherapy patients because everyone’s skin and treatment varies tremendously.
“I recommend trying a few out to make sure; it’s an individual choice,” she said. “I would confirm it with your doctor and nurses if that’s OK for you, and if is, try a few different things. I know for myself I had some skin reactions and my sense of smell was pretty intense so I used natural products, but that was what I did personally.”
Ping said her initial diagnosis was scary and made her realize her ignorance of the disease. “The fear of the unknown was quite substantial. I want to try and help educate as much as I can and share my expertise,” she said. “I always recommend people speaking with their doctors or nurses. Something that I did was I went online and like most people tried to find some information to educate myself…it was pretty overwhelming.”
She recommends the Chemotherapy Myths vs. Facts Campaign because the facts are clear, something not all websites can help with.
While there are many tips out there, Ping added that everyone’s experience will be different. Ping herself thought wearing a wig was her best way to feel normal during the chemotherapy process, but it did not feel right to her.
“I wore a wig because I was working at the time. I didn’t want to freak people out,” she said. “I came in and I had it on and was sporting my little wig. I was not comfortable in it…halfway through (putting make-up) on someone I had this crazy hot flash and I just pulled that wig off and the woman looked at me, scared.”
Ping reassured her, “It’s no big deal. I’m going through this treatment and I’m doing really well.”
Ping said she never put the wig on again. “That was what was comfortable to me. I always suggest to people in general, do what makes you most comfortable. If that’s wear a wig, wear a wig, but if it’s not don’t. That was what was comfortable to me, to go around with my bald head that I embraced and it was actually quite empowering for me.”
She did her best to shield her daughter Alice, now 19, from the experience, but dealt with harsh realities along the way. “I did my best not to act up around her when I wasn’t feeling my best. My family helped a lot with that,” she said. “I also was pretty honest with her. When I was officially losing my hair we were down to the end of it, I talked with her about it because I thought she needed to know. Children are so visual.”
Ping also said that having treatment doesn’t mean the world stops turning. “I did what I could. I did try and exercise a little bit, I did try and keep a positive attitude…it’s not as scary as it can appear. People function every day. I know I did. I worked through my treatment. I went to school events. I went to New York with my daughter during the time. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I just tried to take care of myself through the process.”
Ping, eight years later, said, “I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been.”