I remember sitting stunned in the oncologist office during my diagnosis as chemo regimens, remission rates, side effect management, and survival percentages swirled and bubbled around me. It was all happening so fast, it was hard to digest it all. My mind wanted to pick up and race with every word that the doctor was saying, but it was like it couldn't decide which to grab on to first. Because every option he was telling me seemed to be bigger, and scarier than the next, the only thing I could do was to blink and nod my head. Blink and nod. It was as I was blinking and nodding that the bits and pieces of what he was telling me started to crystallize in a small, dark clearing somewhere behind my ears.
I have cancer. He's telling me I have cancer.
I remember that I just couldn't believe these words. I couldn't believe I was sitting in that pale orange chair, in the Weil Cornell Oncology Center, with my mother's hand clutched in mine. I couldn't believe the doctor's words were coming straight at me. They were for me. I just couldn't wrap my head around what exactly they meant, when applied to my life as I knew it. Even though cancer is all around us, and all too familiar, I realized that I had no reference for what it meant to me. I had no reference for how it would feel, what it would do, or even what would happen next. There was no data in my life experience that I could use to help me digest the doctor's words.
This was uncharted.
I sat blankly blinking as the diagnosis swirled around me, and my mind immediately tried to apply a visual to help me understand.
A bald head.
That's what it came up with. A bald head, with no eyebrows. Yup. That was my visual. Pathetic, I know.
"Am I going to lose my hair?" I had asked.
This was the first and only question that gurgled out of my mouth during that initial diagnosis appointment with my oncologist. I felt ridiculous asking this question. I felt vain. Petty. What an insignificant worry, at a time when my life was in question, right?
But, I've had some time to think about this one.
And now, after it is all behind me, it makes sense. For those who have sat in that chair across from an oncologist as they speak terrifying words to you that you don't know how to apply, for those who's minds went someplace similar, know that you are not really asking about your looks. Know that that question is drummed up from a place much deeper, much more complex. What you are asking is so much more than just hair.
You are asking if you will lose yourself.
You are asking if you will be stripped of how you see, and feel, about yourself. You are asking if you will lose your identity in this, be robbed of your relationship with your world in this, all in one cancerous, malignant swipe. You are asking if you and everyone around you - friends and strangers alike - will see you as inherently different. Different from them, different from the person you have designed yourself to be, different from before. Not just different, but less than, weaker, broken. These were the words that flooded me while I sat stunned across from the oncologist. And my looming fear was that this separation went beyond the six months of chemo that lay ahead. That I would be different from here on forward.
You see, I was asking if this diagnosis was sentencing me to a life out of my control. It is with this question that I was asking - no - pleading - for my life, as I have defined it.
In the days that followed that initial diagnosis, I was desperate to regain my hold on the steering wheel of my life, on my terms. I was desperate to keep hold of the control that shrank, slithered, and slipped through my fingers.
I was determined to keep hold of myself. This was not going to take me. I was going to weather this.
I was going to do cancer on my terms.
And so I looked for inspiration to show myself that I can have a different version of me, and still be me. Cue the search for androgynous models, Hermes scarves, fur hats, buzz cuts, smokey eye makeup, oversized earrings, and all things bare and brazen and fabulous. I was going to feel good, damnit. I was going to be proud, damnit.
Because this shit is badass. Because awakening your inner, sleeping warrior is badass. Because being tested to your very limit, and then busting right past those thin, imaginary lines, is badass. Because finding your superpower as you morph into versions unrecognizable, is badass.
So I got to decide what this new person was going to look like. There would be strength and grace. There would be bravery and softness. There would be boy looks and girl looks. There would be humor and fun. There would be fire and there would be peaceful calm. And it would all be me. Fiercely, truly, and authentically me.
Sharing a collection of all the bold, bare, and brazen that inspired me to embrace myself in all of my forms, that made me less scared of the out-of-control inevitable, and that showed me the badass beauty that lives in us all.
So go on.
Embrace yourself in all of your forms, you beautiful badass.
Know someone that might like to read this? Share with love, my friend.