By: Sophie van der Stap
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Publication Date: 9/29/2015
My Rating: 5 Stars
A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Sophie van der Stap delivers a well-written, poignant, and inspiring personal journey with cancer, THE GIRL WITH NINE WIGS ---real words, tears, and pain she has faced. From friends gained, and those lost; family, friends, nurses, IV drips, doctors, blood transfusions, white coats, pills, tubes, scans, blood counts, and her own bald head.
Everyone is real; the wigs, the last hairs, her scars, her new personalities: Stella, Daisy, Sue, Blondie, Platina, Uma, Pam, Lydia and Bebe---all real. From humor, fear, wit, and a strong need to survive, with a little help from her nine new personalities. Sophie has been given a second chance, and starts living once again to tell her uplifting story of triumph. She will make you laugh, cry and smile!
Sophie, age twenty-one, a normal gal attending university. She has a loving family and does all the fun things girls do at this age. Then the symptoms begin. Tests. Needles. Hospitals. Doctors. Scans. Procedures. The heartbreaking news. Instead of going back to university the next Monday. The news is delivered. Cancer. The nightmare has been confirmed. All she hears is aggressive, advanced, rare, Rhabdomyosarcoma (a rare malignant tumor involving striated muscle tissue).
How could she have cancer? She could die. First her mom had cancer. Now her? She is afraid of what is to come.
The diary entry begins starting in mid-January. She will get through this. What about her hair, her eyebrows, eyelashes. Chemotherapy. Hooked to an IV. The side effects. Fluid retention, nausea, vomiting. A nasty disease. A rare cancer. Her life?
Her older twenty-five year old sis has a role, her mom, and dad, are all there to help support her. She has one job. To survive chemo. To get better. She is depressed. Empty. Fifty-four weeks of chemo.
By mid-February, next comes wig shopping. The previous year when her mom when through breast cancer, she was there helping her, get a wig and now, here she is. Her mom, sister, and Annabel, her friend. Be positive Sophie. The hairdos look stupid. A disaster. She wants to hide, to escape. Not just from the disease but from the reactions of everyone around her, confirming what she wants to forget. The neighbors. The pity. The family, friends, the crying. She has to give the wig thing a try; however, all she sees is a stranger.
Playing with headbands, hairspray, and trying to get rid of the itch of something on her head. She is numb with a perfect diet of fear, stress, and night sweats. Tumor fever. She is scared. Her real hair is falling out in clumps. It is time for the razor. She is bald. She will avoid mirrors. She hates her head.
• Daisy is a keeper. Long Blond curls. She is mischievous and playful. Perfect for sundresses. Barbie like. Romantic
• Sue: Short and spicy red. Edgy cut brings out her boldness. Strong and decisive. Headstrong. She makes an impression. Attention getter. Sassy
• Stella: Makes her understand what she is not. Her hair is always the same. It never moves. Rigid. Insecure
• Blondie: short sexy blonde bob. Real hair. Most expensive. Thoughtful. She makes her feel different. Independent. Blondes has more fun. They get the attention and free drinks.
A wig turns out to be much more than a bunch of hair. Each one does something for Sophie. They affect her sense of self. She soon finds when she puts on Daisy with the long curls, her Italian sandals become sexy stilettos, her jeans, a hip-hugging skirt, and her humble cleavage becomes a real showstopper. Everyone wants to know who is hiding behind the blonde ringlets.
All four ladies have something in common. In all four there is a little of her. A Sophie who grows by stealing a little inspiration from them all. A Sophie who can see the changes in herself by observing how these ladies tackle life. Together Daisy, Blondie, Sue and Stella are forming a new her.
She meets Jurriaan (Jur), a young man diagnosed with cancer when he was twenty-one. He is now twenty-six, full of energy. He tells her to break down the fear and illness day by day. Meditation. Writing. He has mantras. He has a girlfriend. He wants to be friends. There are three stages of her disease and she is in the middle. Her disease is rare. She has friends who want to help. All guys want to be her friend, and nothing more.
Everyone wants to pick her apart, from pathologists, anatomists, and oncologists. What is normally a children’s disease, her age is puzzling to the specialists. Blood transfusions, low red blood cell count, injections for white blood cells, and transfusions to boost her blood count. A weak immune system, bruises. Pale skin. A lack of energy.
Sophie learns she can change wigs to transform her mood, when she wants to leave her current life behind. Then there is her old faithful guardian, her IV, always beside her. Hospitals, death, diseases. Then she finds she needs another look that the four cannot provide.
Next we meet the new wigs and personalities:
• Platina: Electric white bob. Least expensive. Fun-loving. Made to impress. Freedom.
• Uma: Sensual. A perfect look to meet up with the boys. Jur likes her the best.
• Pam: The girl next door. Blonde streaks. Jennifer Aniston’s younger sister look. She likes Pam. Her 7th new look. She cannot wait to show Rob. Goes with her wardrobe
• Lydia: Given to her by Bebe, she wore back in the sixties. Warm Auburn.
• Bebé: Platinum-blond locks, exotic, sexy; a tribute to Bebe in Andalusia
Now she has nine characters to choose from – with endless options to pair with her wardrobe. A green top for Uma and Sue on her shopping list—to give their red locks a bit more oomph. Also on her list: a pink floral shirt to give Daisy a little extra sweetness, and a sexy black blouse to flaunt Bebe. When she goes into town she goes for sexy and sultry for obvious reasons. Bebe, Uma, and Palm have been the ones to see most of the restaurants, clubs, and parties. They are the only ladies who traveled with her to Barcelona.
She learns to seize the day, her breakfasts, her cups of tea, and the occasional glass of wine, her afternoons outside in the sun, or snuggled up inside when it rains. She seizes the evening sun and thunderstorms. The cancer makes her feel more loved. Every time she turns up with a new wig, it is high praise. Wearing the illness on the outside makes the situation easier for others, and for her. The wigs make it easy to switch worlds. Her wigs are becoming more of a solution rather than a problem.
She looks in the mirror and hardly recognizes her old self. It helps dressing up as all the different personalities, to learn how she sees herself. Maybe she will figure out who she is underneath.
Sometimes she prefers the peace and silence of her own thoughts, where she has an apple pie with Jur, not to commiserate with fellow victims. or rooms full of baldies or a spiritual weekend in a country castle with scalps and wigs. The chemo wears her out while it is killing her nasty tumors. She also learns to eat healthy. From quinoa, beets, pumpkin seeds, millet, and spirulina, chlorella, aloe vera, ginseng, and other organic produce and delights. From yoga to meditation. From vitamins, boxes of herbal remedies, and hot flashes due to chemo—menopause?
On her strong days wearing a wig to match her mood, she appears healthy and on her low days, she hides out in her bed. She can hate the world, she can dislike others. Moan, call people names and life is no longer her friend, but her enemy.
Dying is not an option. When she transforms herself into a femme fatale, she feels like one. When she does her makeup and puts on high heels and a wig, she feels stronger, bigger, and less afraid. Her wigs do not make her anonymous; they give her a chance to another, parallel life where caner does not exist.
She always associated cancer with old people and unhealthy lifestyles, but the past few years have shown her that nothing could be further from the truth. Look at her mom and all the celebrities who have dealt with it. Sometimes even underneath the clothes and wigs, and makeup she looks like a cancer patient. She has a bald head and scars. However she is used to the wigs and likes seeing them on her dresser as part of her. Then there are her dreams.
She reaches her twenty-second birthday and appreciates her day more realizing you are around to grow another year older than when you were healthy. Twenty-two and in a wheel chair at the hospital. Now she needs an MRI. Radiation. An operation is not an option. They have to hunt down the very last cancer cell. She feels like she is staring in a sci-fi movie. The men in white coats. The machines.
She lives for the day she will be clean, clean, clean (better than a triple orgasm)! If she gets the good news, can she trust it?
When she gets asked to appear on live TV, she has no clue which wig to wear…who will come and sit with her between the hosts? Her wigs have become a media sensation! All she has to do is how people that you can live with cancer, that you can still laugh and enjoy yourself. That she still shops, wears fake eyelashes, dresses up, and goes on dates. That life with cancer does not have to be just an emaciated body, pain, and endless vomiting.
Wigs can be fun, not just for her, but for anyone with cancer. Is she a sensation…..emails from everyone with unknown names. When she receives an email from a cancer patient with cynical humor, she has to meet her. She goes to churches, to embrace the silence, the calm, and the fact she is always welcome, not matter what she says or does the previous day.
Chantal, age thirty-four, terminally ill, with breast cancer, enjoying life, making jokes, flirting, and shoe shopping. Sophie wants to feel her strength. She is her new hero. The doctors have given her two years. There is a lot that have had to give up, but a lot left. They have every second, minute, and hour of the day for their selves. They live for themselves and those they love. She can make jokes about cancer bitches (ends up at random parties and wakes up in the morning with a killer hangover).
After all, a girl with cancer has to work harder for a bit of attention than a girl without. A life with a secret.
When the following year approaches she reflects on her new friend, her family, her love life, and her prognosis. She has to ween off the meds with good news. She decides to write. A manuscript. Nine Wigs. The Girl with Nine Wigs.
Wow! An inspiring story assured to empower you, through illness, and especially cancer—to put you in touch with life, how to embrace life, joy and laughter. Choose to waste, or treasure the time. The author demonstrates with brutal honesty and compassion, how to turn an illness into something good. (loved the Epilogue and the Postscript)
Even with the overwhelming cancer, her wigs offered her joy during her deepest despair to find a refuge, an escape, and comfort. A lesson for us all not to take anything for granted, we should celebrate life and love.
On a personal note:
A perfect book to lift my spirits-- my healthy and fit mom with all her annual doctor appointments, discovered two years ago she had colon cancer. She has been through surgeries, complications, hospital stays, eight months of chemo, blood transfusions and many of the same procedures covered in the book; to discover, she was in remission; to later find it has spread to the liver and outside to the abdominal area, and now unable to operate. Trying a stronger chemo was not working, as caused many other complications wearing her body down at age 83. She will not give up. Her friends are amazed at her tenacity.
Currently she is doing much better, and not taking chemo, taking one day at a time and enjoying life. The book meant so much to me as throughout all this my mom never lost her hair; however wears a short pixie cut. Now that she is off the chemo, they have taken her off her calcium, due to her kidneys, and her hair is now falling out with bald spots. I have tried to persuade her to see about a short sassy wig, but she continues to say she cannot stand anything on her head. However, she has not tried on a wig in twenty years, so I am positive we could find her one to boost her spirits. Cannot wait to tell her about this incredible book!
Thank you, Sophie van der Stap (beautiful in every way) for sharing your incredible journey, of strength; from pain to joy---you are an inspiration at age thirty-two, and wish you continued best of health and happiness! It was a pleasure to read your story--and highly recommend to anyone who is going through cancer, or to share with family and friends, who need a boost to get them through the dark valleys.