Lately, I realized I was ducking my head when I passed people in public, especially when I had a hat on that revealed my bare head. Embarrassed, the cancer patient, I looked down and away. Not always but enough times for me to notice. And then at my oncologist, there was an article in some cancer magazine about Kathy Bates going through cancer twice and her quote caught my eye “I realized it wasn’t necessary to hide. Nobody should be ashamed to have cancer.”
Was that why I didn’t tell anyone when I had melanoma in 2011? Is that why I was hanging my head when I passed people? Because I was ashamed? Screw that! I didn’t even realize that’s what I was feeling until I saw that quote. Last night, I went on a walk to the beach with a friend (because thankfully I live in a city where I can DO THAT, sooo grateful) and my head was hot. For the first time in two weeks, I took my hat off in public. Nobody even glanced at me! Granted I still have some hair – not completely bald (yet?). But still, it’s pretty bare. It was liberating to realize that I don’t need to hide! I don’t need to feel embarrassed or ashamed! Ridiculous, isn’t it? But based on how many people are calling me brave, I’m not alone in feeling ashamed to share my diagnosis, or my pain. Why is that? Why are ASHAMED of going through something hard in life when it happens to everyone at some point?
Having cancer sucks. No doubt. But the best thing about it is gaining perspective. And realizing how resilient we really are. I remember thinking it was the end of the world in January when they said I had to lose part of my colon. Ha! As the news kept getting heavier, everything before it seemed smaller and less significant. That’s how I feel about a lot of things now including the hair loss. While it’s still hard for me – granted I still have eyebrows and lashes which is pretty awesome – it’s shifted my perspective on: a) what makes me feel beautiful (lots of other things besides hair!) b) what I appreciate about my body – I have never in my life been so damn grateful for eyebrows and lashes! c) how much I can really handle which ends up being quite a lot.
This last point has been on my mind lately. Many people are struck by my attitude throughout this experience. I realized that having a chronic age 17 to 26 helped me pick up a lot of coping skills. While other people came of age in prime health, I grew from kid to adult as a sick patient. I think that and the melanoma experience taught me how important it is to just ride the wave. Sometimes life sucks and sometimes it’s awesome. Most importantly, I learned that I can HEAL. I defied the doctors the first time by healing my colon which they said I could never do, I got strong again the second time after barely walking for four months, and I WILL DO BOTH AGAIN THIS THIRD TIME. I must believe that.
The other huge lesson I’m learning this round is to not be ashamed! The difference between my melanoma experience and this bout is HUGE. That was intense but this is technically way worse. And yet I was way more depressed that time. This time, I’ve felt a lot of emotions but not that dragged down depressed feeling. And I think a lot of it has to do with opening myself up and sharing my REAL experience and my REAL feelings. Bates is right. We shouldn’t be embarrassed. I have cancer right now but I have no reason to duck my head. Or hide. It’s simply something I’m going through right now. So, now when I walk by people with my bare head peaking out, I just smile and say hello. So what if I’m bald? I can do this.