On The Ragged Edge Of Drop Dead Gorgeous
. . . . by Ivy! Gunter and Paul Kartsonis (TIGO Publishing, Tucker, Georgia)
"The courageous story of New York model, Ivy! Gunter,who lost a leg to cancer"
I must confess I'm kind of a traditional guy, never muchfor acid rock or nose rings. Therefore, I'm naturally inclined to be a bitleery of anyone whose first name has an exclamation point after it. I don'tdo flamboyance well and I've always thought Ivy! Gunter was at best flamboyant,and at worst a shameless self-promoter. That was before I read this book!
Now, I understand that Ivy! was born flamboyant.That's just her natural style. She grew up "different," in herwords. So being even more "different" after her amputation camenaturally. Moreover, I understand now that this quality was probably oneof the major factors that helped her survive cancer, the loss of her leg,and all the other bad stuff that goes with it - chemotherapy, hair fallingout, fear of recurrence, pain - in the very highest of style.
The first several chapters of this 158 page paperback areautobiographical in nature. However, the best stuff for people with newamputations - and it is very good stuff, indeed - is in the last three chapters.This isn't to say that one should skip the first part. On the contrary,there are lessons for recovery on every page. They should all be read carefully.
In fact, one of the best lessons comes even before pageone. In the Forward, Ivy! observes that we are all faced with challengesin our lives. How we meet them determines whether we control them or theycontrol us. Her point is that there are always choices, and the most importantchoice is about attitude. "That choice gives you power and a will toovercome your challenge. Whether obvious or not... YOU ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE,"she says.
Reminds me of the wonderful aphorism, "If it's goingto be, it's up to me!" (which is credited to the Reverend Robert Schuler,of Crystal Cathedral fame) Or, as Ivy! puts it, "Life is what you makeit. Enjoy the journey."
In a nutshell, Ivy! lost her leg at age 29 after havingestablished herself as a rapidly-rising New York fashion model. She hada pain, sometimes excruciating, in her right leg, which she ignored forsix months simply because she was busy and it was never convenient to attendto it. After the pain became simply unbearable and the tumor became "navelorange sized," however, she couldn't ignore it any longer, (There'sa lesson!) and ended up having her leg amputated at the knee (later revisedupward).
Ivy! understands power and control better than most ofus. As she observes, "...it's important when you're faced with a life-changingevent to think about how you're reacting to what's happening to you By decidinghow you're going to approach it, you lay the groundrules. That puts youin control, and as small as it seems, it will play a large part in yourdestiny." Ivy! quickly took control of her medical treatment, and later,her prosthetic treatment. "Sometimes the circumstances of your lifedon't leave you empowered. You must find the power within you, and onlyyou know where it is."
As with most people who are diagnosed with cancer and endup losing limbs, the cancer tends to be more of a concern than the lossof limb. It was no different for Ivy! Always in control, she decided thefirst step to getting well was to get rid of the leg. On waking up seeingthat her leg was gone, "...all I could feel was relief."
Her first shock was when a "prosthesis salesman"came to her bedside ant flatly told her, "You won't be able to wearslim skirts, designer jeans, or high heels any more." ("Say what?")Ivy! decided that simply wasn't going to be, regained control, and guesswhat? It wasn't!
Her first challenge was when, only a couple of days post-operatively,her agent informed her that her contract wouldn't be renewed. But as soonas she was mobile again she went out and found her own jobs.
Another challenge came after she left the hospital andhad to endure the guarded stares of adults and the typically disingenuouscomments of children about her one-leggedness. Every new amputee faces this.Some deal with it well - some not so well. Ivy! (Why am I not surprised?)dealt with it by understanding that she now had to see herself through others'eyes and she figured out that "the way you perceive yourself and howbig a deal you make out of your 'misfortune,' is the way others are goingto see you." She saw herself as having two legs - "only one isshorter than the other" and stopped worrying about other people.
Ivy! also gained a new appreciation for the present. "Thepresent is all we really have," she says, "and the present isa gift." She remembers her mother's edict that she must eat her dinnerbefore she can have dessert and vows that, from now on, she'll eat dessertfirst!
Ivy! also figured out that it helps not to be bashful.In five months - in the midst of chemotherapy - she was back in front ofthe camera. As her hair was falling out, she decided to have her head shavedand peddle herself to modeling agencies as an "exotic model."The stories about her reemergence into the modeling business - at firstone legged and later with her "glamour prosthesis" (which shedesigned herself and persisted until she found a prosthetist who would makeit!) are legend - at once inspirational and hilarious.
Ivy! gives Don, her devoted husband, a lot of credit forsupporting her during her worst times. She has a lot of good words to saythroughout the book about Don. But Don gets his turn, too. There's a wholechapter - in Don's words - where he tells how he always felt about Ivy!and says, without coming right out and saying it, that it wasn't a big deal."It was just something that we had to face...together."
There's good stuff about sexuality and attractiveness here,too. So many people who suffer limb loss - especially, I suppose, attractive29 year-old fashion models - automatically come to think that, being damagedgoods, they're no longer attractive. Ivy! had to deal with this too -- butbriefly! She decided (with the help of her hormones, she says) that shewanted to feel sexy, she was sexy, and that was that!
Well, that leaves those last three wonderful chapters --The Gunter Formula for recovery. I'm tempted to quote them word for word.But, of course, I can't do that. Instead I'll just include a few comments:
Self Esteem - Ivy! understandsthat, if you can't like yourself, no one else will be able to like you.Self esteem and self confidence are inexorably linked in Ivy's! eyes. "Selfconfidence is an acquired trait," she professes. "Remember,"she adds," your head is just like a computer. Garbage in, garbage out.""If you look better, you'll feel better." "It's not easyto find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere."
Personal and Spiritual Growth- "When things are taken away from you, that is the point that youbegin to see their real value. . . . you find something very valuable atthe end of your search... yourself." Ivy! points out that she now putsmore into her career and her life because of the loss. She spends more ofher time and energy on her work. She has become more creative with her timeand energy. She finds herself to be "much more forgiving, and kinder"than she was before. and she has found peace of mind and purpose.
Goal Setting - Don't set goalsthat are too lofty, Ivy! advises. "That makes the journey too longand there's no place to stop and enjoy the scenery." Instead, "setsmaller milestone goals on the way to the larger goal . . . ." Thatwill provide more self-satisfaction and reward. That's only on the firstpage of the chapter! What follows is truly great stuff!
If there's a bottom line to this book, it may be in Ivy's!words when asked how she got through her ordeal. "Well, ladies andgentlemen," she said. "I am stubborn and I subscribe to the worldfamous philosophy of Mr. Don Gunter; you simply take the straight roadand plow through one day at a time. Maybe, just maybe, that's all thereis to it."
This is an "as told to..." story and Paul Kartsonis,a writer and producer who has worked a lot in television, was the one Ivy!told it to. He can probably be credited with a lot of this book's easy-to-readness.But it's clear that the ideas, the substance, and the inspiration are Ivy's!To her credit, she probably realized she wasn't a writer and got a pro tohelp her. I know a lot of other 'first-person' authors who should have donethe same!
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