My Unglamorous Life

November 20, 2010

Leo the Zebra

One o’clock in the afternoon found me sobbing on my back on the bathroom floor. My stoma (the small intestine that protrudes through my belly) had prolapsed and a good 5 inches of fat, beefy red intestine rested on my stomach. I had known that something was wrong before I removed the bag. I told myself: “Be prepared. Don’t be afraid. It’s just your body.” But knowing and seeing are different stories. The moment my intestine unraveled, I did too.

I talked myself into calming down long enough to watch with odd fascination as my intestine shimmied back and forth in a snake dance of peristalsis, and then I quickly resumed crying.

The stoma didn’t cause any pain, so why was I so upset? I’ll tell you why. Your intestines are supposed to be inside your body, that’s why, and to see so much viscera falling out of a hole in one’s abdomen is not a pretty sight. I called my surgeon’s office and was placed on hold for nearly 30 minutes while they tried to track down an ostomy nurse. In the meantime, wet, naked, and shivering from the shower, I held my intestine against my body while I juggled the phone in the other hand and somehow managed to pull on warm clothes.

The ostomy nurse finally came on the line. She was so sweet and reassuring. Clearly, she’s seen and heard it all before. Her instructions were to lie down for a while and just wait for the intestine to recede back into place. This meant that I had total permission to lie on the bed with a hot cup of tea and watch hours of mindless TV. David was already on his way home from work (I very well couldn’t show up at Toby’s preschool holding my small intestine) and would take the kids to a playground after he did the pick ups.

It was quiet. No kids. No computer. Nothing to DO but wait. I flipped on the TV to the Bravo channel–I’m a closet reality TV competition lover–and tuned in to The Rachel Zoe Project. If you don’t know the show, Rachel Zoe is a Hollywood stylist and this is her reality TV program, which basically chronicles the stressful life of making stars glamorous. I’ve watched the show a few times, and in each episode the poor woman looks emaciated, totally stressed out, and ready to collapse in exhaustion (or from lack of calories).

Today’s show was no exception. Rachel Zoe had her hands full dressing her clients for the Emmys. As usual, crises were averted (a hotel mistakenly gave a $100,000 gown awaiting Zoe’s courier to the wrong messenger and then it actually dared to rain in L.A. on the day of the awards show) and the stars looked sparkly and beautiful as always. I was totally captivated watching this woman work. It took my mind off the situation at hand, which, remember, was the slow coaxing of my intestine back into its rabbit hole.

So there Rachel was, frantically flapping around her studio trying to find the perfect shoes to go with the perfect dress to go with the perfect diamonds to create the perfect image, and here I was, with 5 inches of intestine propped up by cold, wet baby wipes. I wondered, if Rachel Zoe could look through the TV set into my “reality show” what might she think? It’s bad enough that I’m normally in grungy Old Navy drawstring velour pants and spit-up stained fleece tops which I wear for days at a time, but this moment kind of took the cake. If she could see me in my natural habitat with intestine waving in the wind, she’d probably scream in horror and run away as fast as she could on her 5-inch heels. I don’t think I would blame her. I would run, too, only it’s kind of difficult to run away from yourself, or so I am learning again and again during these last months.

A young, upbeat, funny and irreverent woman with a rare and incurable cancer made a documentary called “Crazy Sexy Cancer” following her explorations into the world of alternative treatments. The hip, cowboy-boot wearing Kris Carr had decided that “cancer needed a makeover and that she was just the gal to do it.” Since the successful release of her film, Carr has come out with companion books, a popular web site, has toured the talk show circuits endlessly and charges a hefty $275 fee for 1 hour consultations. I applaud her efforts to take control of her disease and in the process to help other young men, and especially women, to feel less isolated, ugly, unwanted, and depressed by cancer.

It also intimidates me. I read her Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips from middle to beginning to end. Some of her suggestions were new to me, and truly helpful. There were also plenty of laughs. But the image of crazy sexy cancer is so far from my reality that it’s kind of hard to relate to the “go to the spa” tip or “get sexy lingerie” tip (though even my ostomy nurse has suggested several times that I visit Fredrick’s of Hollywood for “naughty underwear”…I’ll save that for another post at another time).

If I were to publish my own version of a cancer book, it would be more like Crazy Cancer since there isn’t a whole lot of sexy in my life at the moment. Most days, I’m covered in spit up and drool. Leo once spit up into my bowl of morning supplements and I had to wash off each pill as I took it. Yum. And if it isn’t baby slime, then it’s toddler grime. Toby has a fondness for wiping his nose on my clothes, his food-caked hands on the walls, and his diapers stink to high heaven because he adamantly refuses to use the toilet, even though he’s 3.5 years old. And if it isn’t the kids’ gross bodily fluids, it’s my own. (Just mopped up another huge poop explosion today, which involved cutting off my underwear while sitting in the passenger seat of our car in the middle of the city.)

This isn’t hip New Yorkster or celebrity L.A. cancer, this is mommy exhausted and trying to make it through each day remembering where I put the keys cancer.

So if Bravo wants to make a reality TV show of my life, and I don’t think the ratings would be very good, I might suggest calling it “My Unglamorous Life.” It’s definitely got more reality going for it than I can sometimes handle. But it’s my life, and it’s all I’ve got. Cancer treatment. Two small children. A bone-tired husband. A circle of amazing friends. And I’m so deeply grateful for all of it.


  1. Shira, thanks for being so real and for sharing your true life journey. Sending love from afar, Lisa

  2. Dear Shira,
    It was a blessing to see you and hug you and look into your beautiful eyes today! You certainly didn’t look “unglamorous.” Instead, I would describe you as glowing with warmth and love as your adorable Leo nestled against your body.
    Know that you are “healing” all who know you with your writings and your incredible strength and spirit.
    Love, Hedda

  3. I would watch your show. You’re witty, courageous and a much better role model than Rachel Zoe. Do you watch any of the Housewives shows? Now that’s a reality I don’t understand.

  4. Shira – I’m so grateful you stumbled upon my cancer blog and left your sweet comment so I could have the chance to read about you and your dance with cancer. Now it’s my turn to tell YOU how truly AMAZING you are!

    I’m a few years older than you, and there are no kids tugging at me, but I can so totally relate to your words! My prolapse was also a little less dramatic than yours, but my internal drama was equally over-the-top (I could easily have won an Emmy for the performance!).

    I read that your ostomy was going to be reversible and wondered if you’ve had that surgery yet? Mine is permanent, so I’ll continue to live with “the poopy bag” (which is such an adorable comment from your little guy). Actually, it’s becoming easier to deal with all the time…and it’s been a good excuse for an entirely new wardrobe!

    Thankfully, I’m cancer-free and healthy, and I certainly wish you the very same. I’m planning to keep up with you thru your blog – you’re an inspiration and a beautiful example of “wholeness” my dear!

    Many blessing for 2011.

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