Kimberli’s Blog

Week 4 – Attitude is not everything. On being bald.

Week 4

August 9, 2013

It’s 4:00AM and I wake up screaming.  The house is on fire.  My younger brother, sister and I are gathering up our favorite shoes and try to save the curtains for our mother.  I’m not sure which mother.  Meanwhile we feel the heat rising from the bottom floor.  It’s hot, very hot.   I fall down the stairs before there’s time to get out.  I hear the scream before I actually scream it.  The dream feels so real the back of my legs are warm to the touch.  The bones in my thighs and hips hurt from the post chemo shot.  I rise up and stumble to the bathroom for Advil.  I catch myself in the mirror and think perhaps I’m heading to the gym to swim at such an early hour.  My bald head is covered in a blue cap that makes me think of an athlete or Portland hipster.  I pretend, for a moment, I am both then realize the hipsters are all still asleep.  This is the second nightmare recently.  In the first I’m climbing up a mountain that is nearly vertical.  It’s in the Netherlands.  I can feel the sensation, the point where the incline is too steep and I begin to fall backward instead of propelling myself forward.  My counterbalance is a cat that sits on my shoulders and  keeps me from careening over.  In the dream there’s an entire country of us living our lives on this incline.

It’s odd being bald.  The sensations against my head.  The way the shower jets feel like a real massage.   The wind through the window at night making my head cold while my body isn’t sure what to feel and sweats in response.  The feeling of a friend’s hand running over the bristles on my scalp.  It’s like reverse velcro where I feel what the velcro feels.   I’m not used to it yet, this new bald look.  I’m trying it on.  I have wigs but don’t want to wear them yet.  I need to get comfortable in my own skin with my new form of beauty.  I realize now that I’m not my hair and my hair is not my beauty.  I was actually quite worried about this as my long red hair was such a part of how I identified myself.   I pretend I’m a high fashion model with an assignment.  I straighten my back and walk taller, wear heals to cross the 6’ mark.  I put on more make up and dangly earrings.   I notice my neck looks much longer and I feel exotic.  I keep my red lipstick fresh and I think I do actually feel better.  People respond to me with a mixture of emotions.  I hate the, “I’m so sorry,” and love the “you rock it.”  I’m sorry too but somehow don’t want to hear that when someone sees I’ve lost my hair.   I want to hear I’m “still beautiful,” or even, “you actually look okay,” as my neighbor Craig at the studio building said.  Honesty, love, not pity.  I know we all have emotion around our reaction to seeing someone bald from chemo.  I have been that person who got teary when I saw a friend lose their hair.  I know it, I accept it and yet it’s not where I am at this moment.   Yes, the moments are always changing by the way.  I want empathy but not sympathy.  Yet how difficult for my friends to empathize with what is constantly changing.   Within any given 15 minutes I can feel energized, grateful, totally exhausted, nauseated, grief and happiness.  My body is up and down without notice and my emotions can follow.

I’m amazed at how often people, including myself in the past, say it’s “all attitude.”  I don’t actually believe this.  Who is to say that without having had the experience themselves?   Speculation?  Wishful thinking?  Ignorance?   What we say so we can fit cancer, and how we imagine we might process cancer, into a box?  Easy enough to say but I’m realizing it’s far more complicated.   On my bad week my body is flooded with chemicals.  I hurt, I can’t see well, I’m fatigued beyond belief, I want to throw up every hour or more, my ability to work is severely compromised.  I have to get through this as just as everyone with cancer going through chemo does.  My mind and how I think about the process, as well as respond to each of the symptoms, does matter but I can’t say that “having a good attitude” is a constant or something that will keep the cancer from doing whatever it wants to do to my body.  My attitude won’t save me from cancer if cancer decides to spread and kill me.  It will make the journey my own however.  I want some choice over the journey regardless of the outcome.  Yes, I believe my outcome will be health.  I’m living my life that way but with the understanding that I’ve seen many people die of cancer who also had great attitudes.   Mine is not the “right” attitude to have.  I don’t fault anyone who goes through this and feels sorry for themselves or decides to quit.  I can’t imagine how millions of people have made it through this before me.  Just like I couldn’t imagine how millions of people made it through a divorce or death in the family.  We do it because we are human and it’s part of our experience.  Somehow most of us do it when and if our time comes.   I’m only in my 4th week of chemo having had just 2 rounds.  I can’t imagine what I’ll feel like by week 16.  How exhausted and depleted I might be then.   I can barely take all the pills three and four times a day I have to get down now.  What about after four months?  My cat is no help in the middle of the night or when I’m both wired on steroids and wiped out from chemo.  Useless cat.

Something to do, Something to love, Something to hope for.  I put this quote on my fridge several months ago before I knew, or perhaps even had, cancer.   I was reading a book called, “Calling in the One” by Katherine Woodward Thomas which is about finding a soulmate.  I did almost a years worth of exercises in personal growth, exploration and wine drinking with two of my best girlfriends while reading the book.  Those were the things I came away with.  Not the perfect person to find but the person to be.  The basics that motivate us in life, get us up in the morning,   propel us forward to “be” happy not “find” happy.   I’m finding that the real challenge in “attitude” is how to adjust my thoughts around these things that motivate and move me.  When the symptoms are too much for me to do the something I do, photography, can I shift to be okay with thinking about it or planning my project from the couch?  When ‘something to love’ is everyone & everything in my real life instead of dating to find a particular man, am I good with that?  When something to hope for is the immediate future, feeling good enough later today to ride my bike for 10 minutes, instead of how I’ll build my business to the next level this year, am I content and happy with that?   My attitude is about transforming what I see as success, love, beauty with each day in my new circumstances.  My attitude is not about fighting or going to war with my cancer but about living my life fully right now and rockin’ what I’ve got!


Week 3 – Updates and thank you

Week 3 –  Updates and thank you

Sunday, August 4, 2013

THANK YOU to all those who helped this week in all the ways you know you did. From thoughts to emails, text messages to sitting in chemo with me last Tuesday, thank you.  I so appreciate the love and support. Thank you to those who donated financially through this blog.  I cried as each donation came in and am deeply touched.

MEDICAL:   The week was full of both overwhelming fatigue and gratitude for what and whom I have in my life.  Today is 5 days since chemo and only now able to finally stay awake and keep some focus.  I think there is more that can be done for the nausea.  The pain is not bad at all.  The real problem is not being able to keep my eyes open.

MORE THANK YOU: Thanks to my mom, Helen, for coming from Milton-Freewater, OR, to stay with me, organize the myriad of medications, cook my food and keep me company through the hard time.  Thanks to my birth mother, Pat, and siblings for the visits, food and for installing a new A/C unit in the bedroom as the weather approaches 90 degrees again.  My brother, Dean, along with my old friend from my music days, Stacy Hall, who did the work and made it all right.  Nice to have more of my music life come back today when Tim Ellis played guitar during a mass held in my honor through my Portland Executives friends, Scott Pillsbury and Sherrill Corbett Madeleine Church.  Thanks to all my good PX friends who joined me this morning.  Thanks for those who dropped off fresh Sauvie Island peaches, the great soup and salads –  You know who you are.  I love you dearly.

FOOD:  Groceries and some meals seem to be my main need right now.  Thank you to Pasha Gross, my friend of over 20 years, for offering to create an online Google calendar where you can schedule to assist with a bag of specific groceries or meals.  She will help organize a “soup wheel,” as I don’t feel like cooking and shopping right now.  I have such a specialized diet right now, I know it’s hard to know what to bring.  I think this will help.




Week 0 – Finding Beauty Shoot: “Before” Nudes by Lloyd Lemmerman

Week 0, “Before Nudes” by Photographer Lloyd Lemmermann

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Lloyd Lemmermann is always my first choice as a photo assistant on commercial shoots.  A fabulous creative photographer on his own, his easy-going personality and technical ability always make me want to work and create with him.  Lloyd didn’t hesitate when I asked him to photograph me for the “Finding Beauty – in cancer” project as a before session.  He took his time to make me feel 100% comfortable and beautiful in my own skin.   Whereas I probably would have edited the flaws and bumps for a client I wanted Lloyd to leave them for me to remember my body as it was.  I’ve enjoyed every session I’ve ever shot with Lloyd and being on the other side of the camera from him this time only made me appreciate his heart, talent and empathy that much more.  Thank you, Lloyd.


LemmermannCollage2LemmermanCollage3 LemmermanCollage4

Week 3 – Hair Hair Everywhere

Week 3 – August 2nd after 2nd chemo treatment.

Hair, Hair, Everywhere!

Even my cat is impressed.

It comes out as I run my fingers through it, on my pillow, in the shower…  Don’t touch.  The hairspray will only hold it together for so long.  The time is coming to be bald!  We’ll see if that means bald and beautiful or just bald.  I tried on the wigs and scarves people have lent me this morning.  7 versions of myself.  I’m must curious about the bald one I have yet to see.  I suppose that any shade of red lipstick will work then.


Week 1- Poem 1 by Ken Arnold

Week 1- Poem 1 by Ken Arnold

July 30, 2013

Wow, I cried when my good friend and poet, Ken Arnold, sent me this poem today.  He was inspired by the “Finding Beauty in Cancer” project to write what may become a collection of poetry.  I can think of nothing more personally rewarding than to see my creative friends take this project and run with it in their own way!    Ken and I originally met when he selected one of my travel photos from Greece as the cover photo for his book about his journey with prostate cancer, Circle of the Way.   I also created his author photo as well as photographed several of the authors under his publishing company.  In the process we become good friends.  Ken is a deeply spiritual man, a retired minister,  and we have had more than many amazing conversations about life, love and cancer over the years.  We both went through divorces around the same time and then Ken’s cancer relapse where I promised to be there with the Tibetan book of Living and Dying if need be.   His girlfriend’s was diagnosed with breast cancer treatment recently as well.  Now it’s my turn.  Amazing how life really does bring the right people into your life at the right time.



I wrote this poem, which is the first of what I imagine will be a series of poems, in response to Finding Beauty in Cancer.

with love



Finding Beauty in Kimberli


The body is the proper

home for cancer. It covets

beauty, our


improbable perfection,


we are only light


and empty spaces,

like the universe itself,

seductively spread


before us on a summer

night, the stars so

close and glittering,


the nebula like plates

of tomatoes in oil,

the planets in their


rounds: it’s all for us,

this fabulous array

that like our cancers


multiplies outrageously

because we’re beautiful,

because we live.


Oh, look! She’s nude,

sing the stars, Oh, look!

She’s nude, mourns the night.

Ken Arnold

read a new poem every Monday at

Circle Cover Final 475


Week 2 – Finding Beauty Shoot: 4 haircut extravaganza!

July 25th, 9 days after 1st chemo treatment.

Finding Beauty -in cancer. Fabulous hair cut photo shoot! Let the recreation begin! Thank you to: Photography Michael Schoenholtz, Videography Lloyd Lemmermann, Hair stylist Tamara Hansen of Oranjstudio Make up artistry by Kirstie Rall /Wright Thank you for orange dress from YO VINTAGE!

This was simply an amazing night for me. Thank you to all the creatives and family that came together that night.  What could have been a really traumatic experience, of cutting off my hair before it all falls out the following week, became a joyful, beautiful evening celebrating and laughing with my friends.  I’m 5 days past this now, today is my next chemo treatment, and as predicted my pixie is beginning to fall out.  I cry and laugh as it comes away in my hands.  This is the part that scares me and it’s starting to happen now.  I hope I am able to experience it as an experience without adding too much to what it means about me or how the next few months will go.  I’m scared but hopeful and having the project helps me refocus my thoughts toward creation and fun.

Week 2 – Self Portrait

This is from the week after the 1st Chemo treatment on July 25th.  This is right before the big haircut shoot.  Each week I’ll photograph myself from the waist up to document the progression of treatment on my body.  Just however I look.  I forgot to take my jewelry off this week.  Red lipstick in honor of my grandmother, girlfriends and beauty.  Note the bandaid from the port placement surgery the previous week.  At the time of the photo I’m about 9 days out from the 1st treatment and feeling pretty good aside from a bit of nausea and fatigue. I’m able to stay up past 8pm and this night was pure magic with the haircut photo shoot and family in the studio.



Week 1 – Self Portrait

Each week I’ll do a self portrait showing exactly how my body looks with nothing aside from red lipstick in honor of my grandmother, girlfriends and beauty.  This is from the first week I started chemo, including the port placement surgery the day prior.  I’m likely just coming off of being high as a kite on Valium which was controlling the pain here.  I felt nausea, fatigue, bone and port placement surgery pain on this day.  The beauty of the day was simply going into my photography studio for an hour.  I love my studio and the fellow creatives in the Towne Storage Building.


Week 0, Finding Beauty Shoot: “Before Nudes” by Photographers Joni Kabana and Bill Purcell


Week 0, “Before Nudes” by Photographers Joni Kabana and Bill Purcell

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Photography by Joni Kabana, Photography of photographer Joni Kabana by Bill Purcell, Hair by Tamara Dayton of Oranjstudio Make up artistry by Terresa Clark.

One of my favorite human beings is my friend, mentor and photographer Joni Kabana.  Joni has the hub of creative people, projects and energy, and my world in this arena often overlaps with her.  I feel lucky beyond words to have met her nearly 8 years ago when I left my career at The Art Institute of Portland to go back out on my own as a creative.  At the time I was torn between photography and painting and looking for studio space to sublet and explore.  Joni encouraged me to move into her small studio and really dive into photography.  She gave me the push and support I needed to launch a new business by sharing with me how she had done it just two years prior.  I’m not sure I would be a professional now without that crucial intersection of colliding with her powerfully loving force.

When I asked Joni to photograph me for the “Before” images for the “Finding Beauty –in cancer” project she immediately said yes.  The problem was finding an hour in her incredibly busy schedule to make that happen prior to my starting chemotherapy on July 15.  In her usual engaging fashion, Joni was able to incorporate me into a huge 2-day fashion shoot she was doing with a studio full of designers and artists.  She rallied them around my project and both the hair stylist and make up artist volunteered to add me to the shoot on their own time.  I got to sit and watch Joni work her fashion magic with the young gorgeous models then step into the lights myself.  Our friend, Bill Purcell, was assisting her that day and when I handed him my Canon 5D and asked him to photograph Joni photographing me he didn’t hesitate.  I forgot he shoots Nikon and everything would be completely backwards for him.  I also forgot that he would have no light and this was a very complicated task.  I expected a couple snapshots and instead I got back some amazingly creative images like the ones where he framed me through the triangle of Joni’s arm.  The entire experience of being photographed naked, my first time, was very liberating.  I had never considered doing a shoot like this before, no less putting them out there in the world.  However, along with the diagnosis of cancer, I felt a need to document my body.  How it looks now and has looked for the past few years and the process of change it will go through now with chemotherapy, surgery, reconstruction and radiation.  It’s suddenly important to remember what I’ve always taken for granted.  I’m no longer shy.  My body is no longer something only I or an intimate partner sees.  Many many doctors have looked at my breasts now.  Many more will.  They will look, touch, poison, remove, rebuild and radiate them now.  The body I have will no longer be the same very soon.  Bionic, perhaps!  Better, maybe.  Not the same however and I somehow need to watch and show the transition as I’ve never witnessed it in another woman.

I feel exhausted, beautiful, privileged and indulged by the end.  Joni cries at some point during the shoot.  Walks straight up to me and lays her hands on my breasts.  It seems the most natural thing in the world to do.  Not sexual, but an acknowledgement that there they are, a part of me that will transition.  She cries and then I cry and then we continue the shoot.   I’m very grateful for these images by her.  Thank you Joni Kabana and Bill Purcell.



Photographer Joni Kabana above

Photographer Bill Purcell below



Week 0 – Self Portrait

Week 0 – Self Portrait

Each week through the project I will post a raw self portrait regardless of how I feel.  Just however I actually look each week.  With or without hair, breasts.  No makeup except for red lipstick in honor of my grandmother, girlfriends and beauty.  I hope to show the transition of my body as well as the contract between the canvas and the recreation which will happen every other week in collaboration with other creatives.

This is where it all begins.