Month

May 2017

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Go ahead, insult me. I dare you.

There is a disheveled little karaoke bar that is walking distance from my old address. It’s across from a strip of beach that’s lined with predominantly vacant snowbird condo buildings that are older than me. Inside the nautical-themed bar, it’s a sea of peppered gray and balding heads bobbing above a tide of Tommy Bahama button-ups and sun-bleached T-shirts advertising various Key West bars. It’s the least pretentious bar you could ever imagine visiting.

The South Florida city where I live is famously pretentious. It’s a place where money and beauty are common, and deciding whether to drive the Bentley or the Maybach to the grocery store is an actual choice for a lot of people. Where the hard-bodied weekend warriors masquerade through the sleek nightlife in their designer camouflage to atone for their insecurities. They’re peacocks fanning out their Chanel feathers.

The karaoke bar is a sanctuary away from the peacocks. After chemo, I sought out these safe places where I could avoid the size 0 birds and their irrationally beautiful skin and hair. Girls can be cruel, and when you don’t have hair, eyebrows, or eyelashes, the thought of being caught in the sightline of a Regina George-type (Mean Girls) will make you sweat like a polar bear on South Beach.

That evening, I was wearing a long, brown wig and a floppy, black hat. I had on fake eyelashes and stenciled eyebrows. It always was quite exhausting to get my face ready for public view, but I did it wearily because I needed a liquid remedy with friends after my week. Upon ordering our drinks at the bar, I overheard a male voice near me say, “Why would she wear a hat indoors at night? It’s dark out. You’d look better in that hat, anyways, babe.”

I froze. I came here to escape those exact words that he spoke, and yet here I was in my secure little nest being judged. The peacocks had infiltrated. I could have pretended that I didn’t hear it. But I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t stand up to this pejorative frat boy in the name of all of those who have been victims of the mean girls and boys in life.

So, I turned slowly to him with squinty eyes and said,“Oh, you don’t like my hat? If you want to know why I’m wearing a hat indoors, then you should just ask me. Because this is why.” I dramatically ripped off my hat and wig to reveal my bald head. “I had cancer. So, NEXT TIME … before you open your mouth to judge someone, you’d better think about me (insert expletive).” Drop mic.

The horrified faces of the frat boy and the girl almost made me feel bad for what I had done. Almost.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only time something like that happened. Cancer can make you fragile, but its moments like these that will ignite a fire deep within. We have a confidence that is unshakable because it does not rely on our outward appearance. Go ahead, insult me. I dare you.

By condemning each other, we’re only breaking ourselves and submerging our own insecurities — women, especially. We need to stick together. We need to empower each other instead of condemning, because a rising tide lifts all boats. I encourage you to strip away your own intangible veils the way I ripped off my wig. If we remove the façade, we’ll realize we’re all just men and women fighting the same struggles.

Bury the gossip, the office chatter, the neighborhood rants. Who are you really competing with or trying to impress? Think about it. And then go watch Mean Girls for a good laugh.

This article first appeared on breastcancer-news.com.

Buy the Good Shoes and Don’t Take Your Arms for Granted

Change (v): Make or become different.

Cancer will change you. It will become a catalyst of transformation, a revolution of your existence. It separates your life into two versions of yourself: You before cancer and you after cancer. My before-cancer self is someone who took things for granted; who was blindly unaware of many things, including her health and the delicate brevity of life.

When I was three days post-mastectomy, I couldn’t lift my arms to wash my hair or brush my teeth. I had tubes that dangled under my armpits; they were sewn into my skin and collected blood from the inside of my chest. I laid back over the bathtub as my boyfriend Jeff washed my hair, and I couldn’t help but think how ludicrous this was. At that moment it dawned on me – I had taken my own arms for granted my entire life. Arms! What I wouldn’t have given to be able to use my arms in that instant. Then, a few months later, as I raised my arms to touch my cold, bald head, I thought: What I wouldn’t give to have that hair again, even when I was unable to wash it with my T. Rex arms.

After things are taken from you, you miss them. We sulk and reflect back to the “old days” with sad, polar eyes. When familiar comforts, like working arms and hair, are no longer there, you realize how you’ve foolishly been unaware of their importance. As Joni Mitchell sang, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

With cancer, you’ll gain more than you lose. Sure, I lost some physical attributes, but I gained confidence, acceptance and wisdom. When all of my material crutches were taken – pretty hair, long eyelashes, breasts, a skinny body­ – I was left with only my mind and soul. It’s a blank slate, a clean canvas, a new birth, a reawakening. Cancer will make you hit rock bottom, but it’s never felt so good. You may think you were left for dead and buried in the soil, but you’ve actually just been replanted. I was buried so I could grow again.

The saying is true: The healthy wear a crown that only the sick can see. I wear that crown now, but I can see it, and I kept the receipt to remember how much I paid for it. Nothing is to be taken for granted. I have lived, I have learned, and now I upgrade. All of those things the pre-cancer me said she was going to do … I’m actually doing them. I had preventive surgery this week to remove all my moles, something I said years ago I was going to do (because I’m not trying to get skin cancer, too). I took a real estate class last week to get my license in Florida. I am currently writing a book. I dyed my hair lavender. I’m doing ALL THE THINGS because I can. I will always strive to be a better me than the day before. A healthier me, a stronger me.

If you’re waiting for a catalyst of change in your life, don’t wait until you hit rock bottom. Make this that day. Complacency is an ugly weed that will slowly suffocate your roses. Nothing will grow in the stagnant dust of your comfort zone. So, get moving, young grasshoppers! Seize each day, because tomorrow you might not be able to wash your own hair. Grab your life and elevate it like you’re Rafiki holding up baby Simba in The Lion King, screaming something in Swahili. BAHHHHHH-SOWHENYAAAAA-BABABISH-KIBABAAAAAAA.

There is plenty of time to make mistakes, but there is no time to be average. Death may stalk me, but I’m skipping around and waving my middle finger back at him saying, “You can’t catch me!” Because, newsflash: We are all going to die. He will catch me one day, but until then I’ll be that girl who is out there buying the good shoes, dying her hair like a rainbow, changing jobs, moving cities, and never ever settling in the dirt.

Namaste, pink sisters.

This article first appeared on breastcancer-news.com.